The below was written shortly after Christmas 2010 in Bangkok, Thailand.
“What we offer is a clean conscience, Mr. Gant.”
Silence impregnated the air in the well-lit, unadorned room. Only two chairs facing a table furnished the space.
The recipient of these words had heard, but did not register a reaction. It wasn’t that they were hard words to understand, but rather a combination of surprise and anger that delayed Elliot Gant’s response—surprise at their brevity, and anger at having his real name pronounced, again, without having offered it.
It became clear as the silence lengthened that the speaker would not be the one to break it. Gant shifted in his seat. “Is that all?” he asked.
“At the present time, yes.”
Gant’s anger grew two-fold. “No—is that the extent of your explanation?”
“Ah. I misunderstood,” said the unnamed man, betraying a hint of amusement from the corners of his mouth. “Though curiously, my answer remains the same.”
Gant was neither curious nor amused by this exchange of words. He looked at the man with silent loathing—small, close-set eyes behind designer frames—likely shaves twice a day—expertly tailored slacks—and a generic white coat. A lab rat, Gant thought, but a lab rat with good taste.
The man’s gaiety lingered, but was held in check just enough to make an outburst inappropriate. Gant could only mask his rising temper by speaking simply and slowly. “My employer,” he began, “provided me with no details regarding the reasons behind, nor the topic of, this meeting. He only stressed its—”
“Your employer had no details to give.”
Gant began again: “He only stressed its necessity toward my continued employment. My occupation requires—”
“You can speak openly about your occupation, Mr. Gant. We are well-informed regarding your activities.”
This statement was not worth addressing because it was impossible. Gant again ignored the interruption. “My occupation requires anonymity. You will understand my… hesitation… in coming here at all. That you know my real name is a serious betrayal of trust. My employer knows better.”
“What my organization knows about you, Mr. Gant, we obtained without the aid of your employer. Do not doubt him on our account.”
Silence reigned. Impossible, thought Gant. It simply was not possible. Before he spoke again, he took the opportunity to recompose himself: he adjusted his seated posture to perfect erectness, pulled his plain black suit jacket straight, and assumed an expression of complete impassivity.
“What do you think you know about me?” he asked. His voice—a decibel lower than it hitherto had been—carried a promise of violence, depending on the answer.
The man had not missed it. There were few certainties in the orbit of his life, but this one he could count on: Elliot Gant was armed. He was armed for the reason the man was about to pronounce:
“You’re an assassin for hire, Mr. Gant.”
He said it plainly and innocently. It carried no judgment. He knew that by doing so, he would delay any hasty actions on Gant’s part. He was not wrong, but Gant inched his hand closer to the gun on his hip all the same.
“You’re going to tell me the source of that information, sir,” said Gant. “And before you decline to answer, I encourage you to keep in mind what you think I am. If you’re right, I trust that a clever man such as yourself can imagine the consequences of refusing me.”
The man allowed himself a smile, but it was tinged with regret. “Elliot—may I call you Elliot?”
“Tell me your name, and you can call me by mine.”
The sad smile slowly disappeared. The man re-assumed an air of formality. “Mr. Gant, I did not put together our profile on you. It was done by our Research department. While I have been provided with the pertinent information, I was offered little regarding its sources.”
Department. The word hung in the air like a specter. A whole team of people potentially know me and my business.
This was a nightmare.
“However,” the man continued, “if I had this information I would share it with you—but not because of your thinly veiled threats. I would suggest you let me tell you why before you do anything rash.”
Gant could not see the harm in delaying this man’s death sentence one more moment. He inclined his head in assent. “Go ahead.”
His next words would tip the conversation one way or the other. He considered them carefully before speaking: “The reason I would tell you whatever you want to know is because you will agree not to remember it.”
Gant felt like they had finally arrived at the point. “Confidentiality. You want me to act as though this meeting never happened?” he asked.
“No, Mr. Gant. It will not be an act.”
Just as quickly as comprehension came to light, it fled back into the dark. Something was missing. The one thing that would make sense of the situation was the one thing not being said. It will not be an act, he thought… I will not remember… and agree to… not remember… He might have considered this a threat to his life, if not for the matter of agreement.
Words that did not form sentences stuck in his throat. He couldn’t speak or stand, and he certainly wouldn’t endure another extended silence. In the absence of any alternative, he did what he had not done in 17 years as a professional assassin: he pulled his gun—but not to kill. He handled it with abandon, muzzle pointed at the ceiling. Giving a show of being “unhinged” might produce some quick answers—if show, indeed, it was.
It had the desired effect: the man spoke more quickly. “Mr. Gant, it is not my intention to antagonize you. You asked me why you were here, and I gave you the only answer that I am permitted. We offer a—“
“—‘clean conscience.’ And you say it as though you were making sense. You do not elaborate, and you do not explain what this has to do with myself or my employer. You speak my name and my business casually as though you were not aware they’re secrets that few may know and live. You’re smarter than that. I know you know the danger of the information you possess.”
“I understand your frustration, Mr. Gant. I myself am frustrated by the limitations placed upon me. What I’d have us discuss is a difficult topic to broach, and I cannot even begin to do that unless and until you agree to a certain condition.”
Gant continued to brandish his firearm lazily. “What condition?” he asked.
“You cannot remember our conversation.”
And we were doing so well, thought Gant. Comprehensible words were just being exchanged. He rolled his eyes in a manner that suggested if nothing more sensible was said—and quickly—the next thing he did would involve his gun.
The man swallowed nervously. “M-Mr. Gant, such are the limitations placed upon me, that I cannot go into any further detail at the present time. If you wish to continue this conversation, you must agree not to remember it.”
The man’s fear was tangible. He spoke in riddles, but perhaps he was being straight in his own way. Gant assumed a less threatening pose. “Tell me—how does one choose ‘not to remember’ something?”
“You cannot know even that.”
“How do you intend to achieve something so outrageous?”
The muzzle descended. “I’ll soon grow tired of that word.”
Gant had pointed his firearms at many people—too many to recall without a great effort of memory. They were all dead now. If he had the distinction of doing it face-to-face, it was usually obvious who had faced the barrel of a gun before and who had not.
Clearly the man had not.
Beads of perspiration collected on his forehead. His small, close-set eyes widened as pupils dilated. All memory of his former amusement vanished. Silence again grew between himself and the assassin. This time, however, Gant would not be the one to break it; the onus was on the man.
Then something unexpected happened: the man pulled himself together. He drew himself straighter; his face relaxed; he looked steadily at the killer before him. Put to the test, he found that he was made of sterner stuff than he realized.
But he had no time to appreciate this insight. He cleared his throat and faced his doom: “Mr. Gant, if you kill me here today, you will achieve only one thing—my death. That outcome is of no benefit to you.”
Seconds elapsed. They came together to form an entire minute.
The gun was not fired.
As such, its presence in the conversation became increasingly needless. Elliot Gant holstered it and assumed the mantle of professionalism once more. “Why would I agree to a thing blindly?” he asked. “I could be committing to a hammer being swung at my forehead.”
“I’ll break protocol to admit this much: it is not a hammer to the forehead.”
“Just the same, it could be a thousand other things, and worse.”
“Well, Mr. Gant, it could be. This is a leap of faith. You ask ‘why’? There is only one reason: your employer wishes it. You were told—as you said—that your further employment hinges on the outcome of this meeting. I can tell you more, if it hasn’t already been conveyed: unless you enter into business with my organization, you need not return to Tomás Acuna. That door will be closed to you for the foreseeable future—perhaps indefinitely.”
Gant fell back in his seat as though these words had hands that pushed him. For the past four years, he had worked exclusively for Argentinean billionaire Tomás Acuna—founder, CEO and principle shareholder of Acuna Enterprises, which owns and operates mining operations on four continents. He had not expected an exclusive engagement at the onset, but as the work proved steady and the pay above-average, he soon discovered that he had little reason to seek additional employment.
He had a home in Buenos Aires. He had a girlfriend of two years. He did not want to admit he was getting old, but he was. Gant could not—would not—live the life of a vagrant again.
But it wasn’t enough time! He hadn’t saved enough. A few more years—maybe two more—and then he could retire. He realized with new eyes that he had rested his entire future on Tomás Acuna’s utter lack of morals.
“Do you trust him?”
The question shook Gant from his quiet reverie. It is not a matter of trust, he knew. This was necessity. The time had passed when life was worth living unconditionally. He had certain needs—and only one clear way to fulfill them.
Before Gant spoke, the man knew he had regained control of the conversation. “What would you have me do?” asked Gant quietly.
The man matched his tone and volume: “You will be administered an injection… and left alone in this room for two hours.”
“I presume you won’t tell me what the injection is or what it will do?”
“No,” responded the man kindly. “I can only say that it will not kill or harm you in any way, and afterward, you and I will have a real conversation about why you’re here.”
“A clean conscience…” said Gant thoughtfully. “… You know it’s too late for that, don’t you?” It was too late a long time ago.
The man waited.
“This injection… will make me forget…” It was spoken weakly—starting as a question but ending flat in the realization that no answer would be provided.
The man waited.
Gant sighed. “Do it, then.”
The man opened the briefcase at his feet and produced a needle. After finding a suitable vein, he injected a clear solution into Gant’s arm. Without further words, he replaced the needle, locked the suitcase, and exited the room.
Gant was alone with his internal monologue.
I’ll forget all about this, will I? Nonsense! I’ll remember everything. I’ll remember this snake oil salesman, for one thing. I’ll find him and the men he works with. I need to know from where my identity has been betrayed. I need—