Some people are naturally good at cooking. Some are naturally good at singing. And while the world is filled with people who are naturally good at something, Devon hardly thought that many of them were naturally good at killing.
In fact, it seemed like an awful thing to be inherently great at.
Mostly because, while Devon was exceptionally good at predicting the movements of an enemy and even better at calculating their reaction to offensive strategy, he didn’t care for killing at all. In fact, he detested it.
But, like most people who are naturally good at something he chose to follow what he knew and Devon knew murder.
Devon liked cooking very much. He also liked singing, too. He was bad at both.
Devon made brownies (out of a box) turn white and bounce off the floor, and his voice tended to be shrill, like a pull-string doll. If a note could be conjured into a physical entity, Devon could hit it with an AK47 blindfolded.
So, while Devon liked lots of things and wasn’t good at any, he kept to himself and his arsenal of badassery.
Since Devon was extremely good at being what he was, he had no need to practice. While most assassins used their late nights and large rooms for beating up sand-stuffed dummies, Devon spent it attempting to make truffles and lasagna.
When venturing out of his home on a cool fall evening for a few extra throwing stars at his local supplier, he came across a flier posted on a corkboard near the bus station. He passed it by on his way, but coming back Devon paused to give it a read.
Husband spitting out your food?
Did you burn the roast again?
Devon went home without much thought of it, but the more his brain pondered over the idea and the more bored he grew with throwing his new stars, the idea began to possess him. Being exceptionally good at remembering things, which was part of being very good at tracking targets, Devon hadn’t forgotten the number, but it was too late to call.
He woke early, like he always did. He made his breakfast, processed cereal and skim milk, and chewed on the taste of cardboard while pondering how great it would be to cook a breakfast that had flavor. The cereal box stared back at him. The beady-eyed, purple character grinning ear-to-ear at his relative impotence in the realm of culinary arts was the last straw for the assassin.
He broke open a new pay-as-you-go phone and dialed the number.
“Hello?” came a gentle voice from the other end.
This stumped Devon. He was expecting a business name or a long-winded thank you for calling a professional studio. It took him a moment, but he managed to shake off his uncharacteristic momentary hesitation.
“I found a sign offering cooking lessons,” he murmured.
“Oh! Yes, I offer lessons. What are you lacking in?”
She chuckled. “Okay… Well, I can help with that. I cook for a little restaurant at the corner of Meredith and Shaw. Do you know where that is?”
“Yes,” Devon replied.
“It’s closed on Sundays and they let me use the kitchen for lessons. Would this Sunday around 1 o’clock work?”
Devon mentally checked his schedule. “Two would be perfect.”
“Then, two it is! My name is Marissa, by the way. Could I have yours?”
“Well, Alvin, I’ll look forward to meeting you on Sunday. Thank you for calling.”
On Sunday Devon woke as early as he always did. He ate his bland cereal while staring at the annoying character plastered across the box. He dressed in a suit and tie and hid the array of weapons beneath the coat and the hem of his pants.
At 12 he met his client in a well-placed coffee shop that was packed with people.
At 1:05 the client’s impending target was neutralized.
And at 2:00 Devon was waiting outside the Tasty Pastry Restaurant and Bakery with a cookbook and apron in hand.
Marissa was a slender woman of average height. She had curly blond hair that bounced around just above her shoulders, pale blue eyes, and she was five minutes late by Devon’s clock.
“Alvin?” she asked, stopping with a whimsical look on her face.
“Yes,” Devon replied coolly.
“Oh, I wasn’t sure… You’re in a suit. I hope I didn’t rush you, we could have waited until three if that was better,” she replied with a pleasant smile.
Devon glanced down at his black tie, blazer, and trousers with a frown. Normal people didn’t wear suits to cooking class, he thought.
“Oh, it doesn’t matter. I see you have an apron so that should keep your suit clean for the most part. We won’t be getting messy today! This way.”
Marissa unlocked the doors and led Devon into the kitchen.
“You’re very trusting,” he remarked as she started pulling pans from hooks and rummaging through the refrigerator.
“What do you mean?” she asked, her voice echoing out from behind the large metal door.
“Strange man in a suit comes for cooking lessons and you let him in to a place with lots of weapons, you being alone,” he muttered, appraising everything in the kitchen. With each object he could count on both hands the number of ways to do someone in.
Marissa poked her head out from around the refrigerator door. “I hadn’t thought about that,” she murmured, tilting her head. “Well, Mr. Alvin, do you plan on killing me in your nice suit with the frying pan or the kettle?” A smirk tugged at her face.
Devon gawked at her. “I’m not going to…”
“I’m joking,” Marissa laughed. “And yes, I’ve heard I’m very trusting. But, I’m a good judge of character and you seem nice…”
Devon’s jaw set tight as he tried not to argue her point. She was an awful judge of character, so he simply nodded and settled himself on a stool.
“Okay, put that on.” She motioned to his apron. “We don’t want you ruining that suit when it looks so good on you.” She winked at him, slipping an apron on over her head and tying it around the waist.
Devon arched an eyebrow as he mimicked her.
The lesson lasted for as long as it took to cook and eat chicken parmesan. They parted ways with the agreement to meet again every Sunday for a month. Devon would pay her seventy-five dollars a lesson which seemed entirely too cheap to him so he planned to pay her two hundred instead.
“You’re a very quiet person,” Marissa commented one lesson later as they waited for the ham and potato casserole to cook.
Devon smoothed his hands over his blue-jeans and watched the oven. “I’m not very good with people,” he admitted, lifting his gaze to meet hers.
She pursed her lips together with a smirk. “My father isn’t very good with people either,” she told him. “Neither is my brother.”
“How about your husband?”
Marissa laughed. “Ex… and he’s not good with them either. They all work together in a business of not being good with people. However, there is ‘not being good with people’ in an innocent way, and then there is ‘not being good with people’ because you hurt them.”
Devon twitched and his eyes flitted to the timer.
Marissa sighed, waving a hand at him. “Let’s not talk about that, though. I want to ask why you decided to learn to cook.”
“I like cooking,” Devon explained. “I’m just not good at it.”
“Well, if there is one thing I’ve learned, it is that what you are not born good at you can learn to be good at,” she replied with a smile.
Devon’s lip twitched with the hint of a smile that never formed. “You work here?”
“For a while. I like it, even if I don’t get to meet the customers. The people here are very nice. They let me use the kitchen for lessons, and on holidays I cook a big meal to feed the homeless. I like helping people.” Devon’s eyes caught on Marissa’s small hand as she pushed her hair behind her ears and smiled a sheepishly.
“Helping people,” he mused. “When do you cook for the homeless again?”
“Thanksgiving. In two weeks.”
“Do you need help?”
Marissa’s pretty blue eyes lifted to him and her smile brightened. “Would you like to help? Usually, I do it by myself because I don’t like to ask people to give up a holiday when I know family time is so important. If you are busy with your family don’t worry about it.”
“I haven’t got any,” Devon admitted plainly.
“Why don’t you spend the time with your family?” he asked, fiddling with the end of his apron.
Marissa’s smile faded. “It’s complicated… I don’t agree with their practices. Not religion wise, mind you, simply how they act as a person.”
“How do they act?”
The timer sent Marissa skipping across the room to the oven.
They ate quietly, musing over the deliciousness of it all. Devon was very proud.
The day before Thanksgiving, Devon met with a client at the Corner Store Market on 5th and Persinger. His client was a short thin man with a balding head and a long coat.
“Are you Mr. Bonner?” Devon asked as he leaned against the wall alongside him.
“Yes,” Mr. Bonner admitted, reaching into his coat. “My employer would like you to remove the member of a local mafia family. It’s meant to send a message, if you understand me correctly. He wants it messy, and wants to strike at the heart of his opponent.”
Mr. Bonner handed Devon a letter envelope that wasn’t sealed. “It’s the daughter of Marcus Scarborough, Melissa Scarborough.”
Devon reached into the envelope and lifted the picture.
“Or maybe it’s Marissa…” murmured Mr. Bonner. “One of them.”
The assassin kept the twitch from his face, but he couldn’t stop his fingers from tightening around the picture. Marissa, with her pretty, short curly hair and blue eyes looked back at Devon with the bright smile that put a happy light in his heart.
“Is this acceptable?”
Devon didn’t respond. He was thinking of the large meal that he and Marissa would be making on Thanksgiving for the people in the homeless shelter down the street. He was thinking of turkey and yams, and… Marissa.
“Is this acceptable?” Mr. Bonner repeated.
“Yes,” Devon muttered, slipping the photograph back into the envelope. “When?”
Devon walked the whole way home in a bad mood. He tried making dinner, and nothing tasted right. Not like it did when he cooked with Marissa. He spent the whole night wondering what he should do. It wasn’t about the money, he had lots of money. It was the principle of it.
He had committed to a job, albeit he had done it out of habit and hadn’t really meant to agree, but he had accepted it nevertheless. And, while he thought that the fact he accepted it was good and that meant no one else would be hunting down Marissa tomorrow, he still felt very torn about the circumstances of it all. He had, in fact, never not completed a job. He had never not accepted a job either.
If something needed killing, Devon was very good at killing it.
The next day Devon met Marissa at the Tasty Pastry Restaurant and Bakery with a deeper frown than usual.
Marissa had started cooking the turkeys hours before without him. He started in with the dressing, mixing the ingredients together with a heavy sigh.
“Is something wrong, Alvin?” Marissa asked as she passed him.
“No,” he lied.
“You seem down today. If you really can’t help, that’s okay. I’ll manage, I think.” She gave him a bright smile.
Devon liked her smile.
The window shattered and metal pinged off the pans. Devon knew in an instant what it was. A bullet.
He grabbed Marissa by the hand and pulled her down behind the metal prep table just as the room filled with lead. It bounced and clanked and punctured walls. Marissa yelped, covering her head and cowering against Devon.
“Assassins!” Marissa growled.
“There assassins…” she told him as the gunfire blared like a thousand gongs.
“I know what they are, but why do you know what they are?” Devon muttered, reaching to the holster hidden beneath his pants leg. “That Bonner bastard double booked…”
He ripped the gun from the holster and jumped to his knees. Marissa lifted her head to peek behind him. He fired on the two intruders at the back kitchen door.
“You missed!” Marissa screamed, ducking down with Devon to avoid the second round of projectiles.
“I missed…” Devon muttered with wild bewilderment. “I never miss.”
The bullets fell like rain and one ricocheted off a pan, striking Devon in the arm.
“Oh, for goodness sakes, give me that!” Marissa snatched the gun from Devon and stood up. He yelped a warning, but it was too late.
Two perfect shots and the assassins fell like potatoes from a burst sack.
Devon stumbled to his feet. His eyes skipped back and forth from the two bodies on the floor to the innocent looking woman with her professional pistol stance and determined furrowed brow.
“What you aren’t born good at, you can learn to be.” Marissa mused, placing the gun back in his hand. “My father is a very bad man, and because he does badly I get into trouble. I took self-defense and gun lessons from a cop that moonlighted as a teacher at the local firing range.”
Devon’s mouth worked for words, but couldn’t seem to form any.
“And that’s why I wasn’t too worried about a tall, handsome man showing up for cooking lessons wearing a suit and the light scent of gunpowder,” she admitted to him with that pretty smile Devon liked so much. “Mr. Assassin.”
“If you took lessons at the firing range why don’t you carry a gun?”
“Right now it’s taped under the table. Yours was easier to get to,” she smirked. “So Alvin…”
The assassin smiled the first real smile he’d ever shown her. “Call me Devon.”
The cook returned his smile. “Call me Melissa.”