October 20, 1970
The deafening blast of the rifle didn’t make the Asset so much as flinch. Not when he was the one holding the gun.
And like a puppet cut loose of its strings, the target went utterly limp, a spray of blood marking the panel of the car where he’d been crouched.
It had all been so very easy. A small hole in the tire, just big enough to guarantee a slow leak, and a short five miles of following the car in the darkness through the trees.
“Howard?! What was that?!”
The second target, one that shouldn’t have been there but could not be left behind, was neutralized a moment later. She slumped down in the passenger seat, blood trailing down her face and dripping from her blonde hair.
There was really no need to confirm the kills, but the Asset did anyway. He was trained for efficiency and results. There was no pulse in either target, and their eyes were unblinking and staring blankly. Satisfied that his mission had been completed successfully, the Asset stowed the rifle across his back and headed for the motorcycle he’d hidden away in the trees.
A sound, nearly inaudible, caught the Asset’s attention just as he was turning away. He almost ignored it. It was the softness of the noise that made him look back, something that didn’t belong to the environment around him.
The pause in his step right before he looked over his shoulder was a moment that changed his entire life forever.
In the backseat of the car, where there should have been nothing at all… there was a car seat. And it wasn’t empty.
A baby, with dark eyes that seemed to take up half that face, was staring right back at the Asset through the rear window, as if it could see into the space where he didn’t have a soul.
The Asset could do nothing but stare.
He had no idea why he’d taken the baby. None at all.
But he had. After he’d taken care of the scene that he realized he couldn’t leave behind, torching the car and making sure that if any remains were found, they wouldn’t tell any kind of story beyond that of a tragic accident.
He hadn’t even looked at the baby once, not since he’d taken it from the car, wrapped it in the blanket that had been draped over it, and taken the bag that had been next to it in the car.
Figuring out how to transport the baby with him on the motorcycle had him glaring at the bike for several long minutes, turning the problem over in his head. Finally, he emptied the contents of the bag into the small stowing compartment in the motorcycle, then tucked the baby inside the empty bag with the blanket wrapped around it. It would have to do.
Within an hour, a few well-placed hundred dollar bills had a flimsy motel door bolted and the Asset stood over the bed that was covered in a limp, threadbare blanket. Staring down at a baby that was staring right back at him, sucking on its round, pudgy fist and making smacking noises.
Could babies be judgmental?
It turned out that it didn’t matter, because a few minutes later a faint gurgling noise preceded a scrunched face. That rapidly turned into a whine, and then a cry.
The Asset stood there like a deer in the headlights, utterly at a loss, and then he dove for the large bag that had been sitting next to the baby in the car, some forgotten part of him praying for a miracle.
He dug through the contents that he'd stuffed back inside it in a panic, glad to find that they all seemed to be baby supplies, but without the faintest clue of what to do with much of it. The tiny clothes and diapers were fairly self-explanatory, but there was a myriad of little bottles and jars and tubes, plastic packages, a folded up mat, and half of them had no written description to help him.
And all the while, the baby continued to cry, each moment getting louder.
Near the bottom of the bag, the Asset spied the can of formula powder and a glass baby bottle, and he grabbed at them desperately. His hands shook as he frantically read the instructions on the label, and he scrambled into the bathroom, praying that there would at least be hot water.
He filled the bottle to the highest point, and nearly dumped half the formula powder on the cramped counter as he struggled to get it in the bottle. He shook the bottle vigorously once he got the top screwed on, then all but ran back to the bed where the baby was wailing as if it were losing a limb. Jamming the rubber nipple into the baby’s mouth, the Asset swore to himself when the baby immediately gagged, and it took several moments before it seemed to recognize the bottle as food. Once it did, though, the baby latched on with surprising strength, those little hands coming up to inefficiently hold the glass bottle, and it sucked the milk down with great, greedy, hiccuping gulps, tear tracks still wet on its cheeks.
Sagging in his skin and nearly collapsing to the floor, the Asset was fairly certain that not even in the midst of a hail of bullets had he ever been so panic-stricken.
If the Asset had thought that the sobs of hunger had been the worst experience the night could bring him, he was grievously corrected when, with a red face and a grunt, the baby made a truly rude noise and a stench started to fill the room.
The Asset very nearly turned around and walked right out the door.
It took several minutes, but finally the smell became too much, and the Asset pulled a diaper and a box of wet wipes from the pile of supplies on the bed. Wiggling the baby out of the soft body suit it was wearing was as difficult and delicate as dismantling a bomb, and more than once the Asset jumped back when the baby made a noise. It was clearly unhappy, fussing and flailing as those little arms and legs were worked free of the clothes, fighting against the Asset with the surprising strength those tiny limbs held.
At last, however, only the malodorous diaper remained, and the Asset held his breath as he undid the tabs holding it closed.
He took one look at what was in the diaper, then looked into the baby’s face. His voice was slightly hoarse, rough with disuse when he said flatly, “That is absolutely vile.”
With a snuffle, the baby looked up at him with those teary brown eyes, lip stuck out in a pout.
Fumbling a little, the Asset opened the container of wet wipes and spent far longer than it should have taken to get them out. He layered five of the wipes on his hand, unwilling to risk it, and turned back to the baby.
Who had his feet firmly planted right in the disgusting mess inside the diaper.
The Asset stared at the baby for a few moments, frozen with shock and the sudden urge to vomit until he blurted out, “I have killed people for less.”
The Asset wasn’t willing to admit to the extremes he had gone to, avoiding any kind of contact with the diaper's contents. (He certainly wouldn't be approaching the narrow, shallow tub in the bathroom under any circumstances until it had been bleached thoroughly.)
It had been a learning experience that he hoped to never repeat.
And now, he was staring down at a sleeping baby, with absolutely no idea what to do next.
He shouldn’t keep it. That much was overwhelmingly obvious. He had no idea how to care for it, and considering the fact that he didn’t even know the last time he himself had eaten, slept, or bathed, he wasn’t even sure he could take care of himself.
It would be best to leave the child somewhere, anywhere. Surely someone else would take care of him, would find his family. Surely he had more family somewhere to care for him.
However, the longer the Asset considered the situation, the longer he stood over the baby and stared at the little chest rising and falling… the less he was willing to do what he knew would be best.
Not even twelve hours later, a day full of confusion and panic and crying and discomfort, there was no more formula in the bag the Asset had taken, and the baby was wearing the last diaper.
He needed supplies. He needed money. And… he needed to keep the baby safe.
Most important of all, he had to keep the baby safe.