You don’t expect to fall in love with the midget who hires you to kill her husband.
She was wearing daffodil-yellow high heels the first time we met at a Frankie & Benny’s on the outskirts of a drab northern seaside resort in dead midwinter. Outside, a freezing wind howled through the empty bus station. The dark deserted promenade only half a mile away was swept clean of any human detritus by the near-gale whipping off the Irish Sea and across the beach.
She was there to brief me. I took a sip of my diet Coke and pushed a deep-fried onion ring around on my plate and listened to Jadwiga the Detonating Dwarf (her professional name) . She was a headline star of Dart’s Circus. Her lovely curly haired head and strong chin were just above the level of the Formica table top in the red leather upholstered private booth in the cosy dimness of the quiet restaurant.
I could tell you about the effect her squeaky high-pitched voice had on me. Or the allure of her tiny pout. Or the way she banged the table with tears running down her cheeks as she described the hell of her domestic life. But it will be safer and simpler if I just sum up and cut to the chase.
Jadwiga was a very well-remunerated performer, with her own trailer and staff at the circus. She only worked three months of the year; that’s how well-remunerated. Her marriage of three years to a fellow dwarf called Heathcliff (another stage name) had gone from bad to worse after the honeymoon.
Heathcliff was a dwarf clown who specialised in aerial and wire work and drove the exploding car that was the clowns’ act climax. At 4‘4“ he was fully six inches taller than Jadwiga and he threw his weight around mercilessly until she got help to throw him out of her trailer. Now he lived in another trailer, less well-appointed, close to the potbellied Siamese pigs, other stars of the show. He was a brutal cruel psycho. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I had two tasks here at Frankie & Benny’s. First, to get my feelings under control so that my intensifying infatuation with Jadwiga would not cloud my professional judgement. And second, to design and execute a scheme to kill an irascible dwarf in a way that would not have witnesses able to trace the plot back to me and Jadwiga. We also had to agree a fee, though this was soon ranking a very low third in my priorities. The whole business began to take on an obsessive character.
* * *
Call me Zack. I should probably tell you a bit more about myself. I get all my work as a cleaner through the dark web. My clients are always shocked the first time they see me even though the disclaimers and explanations are all there on my website with my credentials. Somehow none of it ever seems to make a difference. I see their faces get away from them every time . The eyes widen a bit in surprise. A quickly suppressed smile sometimes. Or the jaw suddenly sets in a kind of taut shock. Anyway.
My IQ is in the region of 200 which is the score they put on me before I saw the downside of the whole profiling thing and learned to fake the test to come in lower. I’m not quite 11 years old at the time of writing this. I can’t wait to hit puberty, I’ve heard great things about it.
I live at home with my Mum. The guy who calls himself my father is away much of the week in London, working for a blue-chip global firm everyone has heard of. Whatever.
This suits me just fine ever since I engineered the temporary exclusion order from that crap school with all those dumb dorks and the even dumber headmistress. Mum is either stuck to her screen during the day or out at one of her business breakfasts or Pilates or networking gigs for her interior design business. This so-called lifestyle is the perfect cover for me and my business.
* * *
This dwarf Heathcliff was not going to be a pushover to kill, I could see that immediately.
For a start he was hideously strong. Part of his act involved throwing around 25kg kettle bells as if they were featherweights. It always got a gasp from the crowd. He would pick up one of these in a pincer grip and hoist it over his head one-handed. You would think it was a papier mache fake. But actually it was the real deal
Being a kid is often a fantastic asset in my work. So it proved this time.
No one does a double-take at a kid in short trousers mooching around at the circus, in the Big Top or even out by the generator trucks. I took the precaution of wearing a school cap and munching (probably quite redundantly) on a huge ball of candy floss to hide much of my face most of the time. In this fashion I was able to carry out pretty much the perfect recce during a matinee show at Dart’s Circus.
I noticed that there would be an interval after Heathcliff staggered spluttering from the exploding car in the centre of the ring, once the wheels and doors flew off, and before he reached the curtains at the back of the tent. I would have a clear line of sight to him if I could only get the end aisle seat. The plumes of white smoke drifting from his clown car might also be helpful for what I had in mind. There would be other people around me, no doubt, because Dart’s Circus was always a complete sell-out and tickets were gold dust. But I was confident I’d find a way around that when it came to the moment.
* * *
I used a customised razor and secateurs to cut a single schoolboy-sized slit just big enough to let me in and out of the Big Top. I returned after dark to do this and it went well enough although the dogs barking around the nearby trailer were bothering me at first. But nobody investigated.
The job took a bit longer than I’d figured. It was raining and the cold damp air on my numb hands slowed me down with the razor and the secateurs. I used clear-plastic sticking plasters to hold the newly cut seams in place. You would have to be looking specially for the cut to see it when I’d finished.
Worst of it all was that Mum was waiting when I got back to the house and she did one about my being missing for a couple of hours (she got back unexpectedly early from one of her bookclub evenings with her pals).
I had to make up some bullshit story on the spot about checking out the rainfall conservation science project in the woods not that far away from our house. She stopped shouting and crying ”Zack Zack” eventually, choosing to accept my bullshit tale and maybe part-persuaded by the fact that I was still soaking wet in my school gabardine. Thank God she didn’t check my backpack with the cutting gear still in it. And the Anglo Arms Gecko Crossbow, a lightweight modern weapon which develops 87 foot pounds of energy for a bolt travelling at 300 feet per second.
* * *
I always keep a log of jobs and I never needed it more than I do now. I don’t think they – the cops – can trace me. But that’s the only good thing about this one. I have to get it all down here, a kind of “Dear Diary” otherwise I’ll go insane, I know I will. Oh my God, why did I ever take this one on? Oh my poor poor Jadwiga. I’m so sorry my love.
* * *
It all went swimmingly at first. The end seats were occupied by a pack of about six infants and their two teenage girl carers. The girls were giggly and chatting all the time and checking their phones in an orgy of distraction. Two people less likely to notice things or to act as reliable witnesses it would be hard to find. I even had time to remove the clear band-aids to make the unobtrusive get-away easier, it would be a simple matter to slip out of the tent in the confusion.
Heathcliff was at his demonic best during his act hurling those weights around. Then the wheels and doors flew off the car at the climax. He bellowed and flopped out of the exploding vehicle onto the sawdust, energetically flapping his elongated clown sneaker-flippers. He headed for the back of the tent waving his arms as if distracted and blind in the smoke.
Under cover of the mock-satchel on my lap, specially adapted for the purpose, I steadied the hidden crossbow with its bolt for the single shot. The sight-line was ideal, I had practised it to perfection.
There was a blur of motion speeding past Heathcliff, something that had not happened at the rehearsal matinee. Too late for me to abort the shot. Heathcliff turned his head suddenly to see Jadwiga on a unicycle rushing past him to the centre of the circus ring. The bolt hissed by him so close it nicked his Adam’s apple. His eyes were bulging alarmingly. The bolt shot past him and buried itself up to the tail feathers in Jadwiga’s side just under her left breast, piercing her heart.
The tent went quiet. Then the screaming began.
Martin Mulligan is a writer living in Oxford. He attended Lancaster University. He has written chiefly for the Financial Times, news and features. He spent a year in Beijing teaching journalism at Xinhua University and has travelled widely in Eastern Europe, Africa and south-east Asia. He is a keen open water swimmer.