Arthur’s nineteen when he makes his first kill. The target is the son of a rich businessman. Arthur’s file says his name is Montgomery Alexander, he’s two years older than Arthur, studying biology at Harvard, and he’s seen something he shouldn’t have.
Arthur’s bullet gets him right between the eyes. The cigarette he’s smoking on his balcony falls from between nerveless fingers to the grass below. His eyes roll up, and Arthur can see the thin trickle of blood and clear fluid from the small hole in his forehead before he slumps to the concrete floor.
Arthur has to put his sniper-rifle down to keep from dropping it. His hands are shaking, but the grin on his face is almost wide enough to hurt. The rush isn’t healthy, but he doesn’t really care.
Arthur’s father teaches Arthur to shoot his pistol when Arthur is nine. Their land is relatively secluded, fields and sparse copses of trees and long stretches of empty road. Arthur’s father sets up empty bottle and cans along the fence and then holds Arthur’s hands, showing him how.
It’s just about the only good thing Arthur’s father does, except leave.
“Where’d you learn to shoot like that, anyway?” Cobb asks, voice conversational. He’s holding his arm, pressing his palm to the graze across his shoulder, but it’s not so bad that Arthur will have to kill him. This is their first real job together, not training at all, and while Arthur could probably pull it off alone, at this point, he’d rather not have to.
He glances back over his shoulder at the dead guards strewn across the hall. There’s blood pooling out of the ruined head of the corpse closest to them. It reminds Arthur of a pleasant memory, and he smiles.
“Oh, you know,” he says, reloading his pistol. “Around.”
Cobb shakes his head but doesn’t press. They’re on a tight schedule.
Arthur’s been out of high school for two months when they approach him. He’s supposed to go off to college in three weeks. He hasn’t lived at home since three weeks before graduation.
The apartment is shitty, but it’s ninety miles from home and not in some middle of nowhere hick town. Arthur takes the roaches as a sign of civilization, and he keeps the place as clean as possible. It’s just a bedroom, and a kitchen, and a bathroom, but it’s all his.
The knock on his door is unexpected. Arthur looks through the peephole, and sees two men standing in the hallway, one smoking a cigarette, the other staring straight ahead. Their suits look out of place next to the peeling paint on the walls, the blotchy stains on the carpet.
“United States Government,” the staring man says, flashing a badge that Arthur can’t make out. “Open up.”
Arthur doesn’t know if they’re actually from the government, but he doesn’t really care. He’s curious. He opens the door.
Arthur only fucks up once. He’s lucky he’s not caught.
Reginald Schmidt is an arms dealer, he’s in talks with the Columbians for some kind of mutual trade deal, and he’s got enough muscle to invade a country. Arthur does his research, he always does, and he does it impeccably. They trained him well. He gets in place, waits for the drop, but he’s not expecting Schmidt’s muscle to scout out his rooftop. He hears the scuffling of footsteps, but the sniper’s too unwieldy to take a shot from here, and he doesn’t have the silencer for his pistol with him. Using it would alert the mark.
Fuck, he thinks, and rolls his shoulders, crouching low to hide behind the giant fuse box.
The muscle never sees him coming. Arthur covers his mouth and brains him with the butt of his pistol, catching him before he falls to the ground. His neck is too wide for Arthur to comfortably break, so Arthur smothers him with his own coat. The muscle writhes, convulses, and goes limp.
Then Arthur stands and gets back in position, hoping he hasn’t missed his shot.
Arthur sits in on classes when he’s not researching for a job, or setting one up. He meets Cobb in an architecture class in Paris. It’s not Arthur’s first time out of the States, but it’s his first time living there. Cobb’s teaching, and Arthur’s auditing. The class is full of serious students, but Arthur’s just here on a whim.
“That’s interesting,” Cobb says, stopping just behind his left shoulder. “You know it can’t really be built, of course.”
Arthur shrugs. “Of course. But I’m not planning on trying.”
Cobb gives him this look, quickly covered up. Arthur recognizes it from the last time he saw it, through a peephole in some shitty apartment he lived in years ago. He could buy the whole building, now.
He wonders what Cobb is recruiting for.
Arthur sees Belize through a fourteenth story window looking out into the window the hotel next door. He’s sees Rome in the wine cellar of a restaurant. He sees Berlin from the driver’s seat of a cab. Mostly, he remembers the click of his sniper, the balance of it on his shoulder. And the way the mark’s hands had raised when he’d felt the pistol pressed to the side of his head. And how it was almost like sex, seeing the life drain out onto the leather upholstery. When asked, he’ll say he’s traveled. It’s mostly true.
Sometimes Arthur thinks about killing his father. He knows where he lives, now, in a tiny apartment over a bar in Montgomery, Alabama. He lives with his girlfriend, and their six-year-old son, and his father takes out other people’s trash while his girlfriend waits tables. Sometimes he thinks about going to Montgomery and shooting his father in the front seat of the garbage truck. His partner would come back from throwing bags of trash into the back and find Arthur’s father’s brains spread all across the cab.
He doesn’t do it, though. He’s never killed someone for himself before. He never will.
Eames is watching him from the across the room, leaning back in his chair and stroking his chin. Arthur is putting away his files, shutting down his computer. Preparing to leave.
“Sometimes I suspect that you enjoy killing people, Arthur,” Eames says, like he’s testing the water. Ariadne’s gone for the evening, and Cobb’s not back, yet, from L.A.
“They’re not real, Eames,” Arthur says, and turns with a raised eyebrow. “Who cares if I like it or not?”
Eames doesn’t say anything at first, but he laughs. He leans forward in his chair, and props his chin on his hands. “At least you don’t deny it,” he says. He’s still smiling.
Arthur shrugs. He doesn’t talk about it. He doubts he’s ever going to, and that’s all right with him.
He’s killed them all before, in dreams. He’s always gentle.