Answer to the prompt: What words have reached you?
On the evening of February 14th, 2004, Style crawled ashore the polluted sands of Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. He rasped deeply, his hair matted and his face unshaven. His suit was tattered and hung loosely from his shoulders. He effused exhaustion, not absorbing anything's energy but simply acting as a pitless black hole, wilting the sand's dreams of becoming glass. He dragged himself towards me, ignoring the grit collecting under his fingernails and between his teeth, his glasses' missing lens, and that he was supposed to be dead. Style couldn't simply die at sea. He finally reached my feet and crumpled onto his side. He pursed the butt I'd been smoking seconds ago between his lips and inhaled deeply, savoring the taste, filling his lungs to the brim, smiling. He exhaled, the cinders dimmed, and his life extinguished. He resembled a soldier that had died with his finger in the pin of a grenade. Through the rising wisps of smoke the reflection of an hourly hotel's pink neon sign in his lens reminded me: today was Valentine's Day.
Approximately twenty-two hours earlier, the day before Valentine's Day, my cell phone began to ring Mozart's Requiem in D minor. I can be ready by 10PM tomorrow. I scribbled the order down with a grease pencil: no need for discretion, keep the silencer at home, the Wharf. Yeah, I know that pier. The line was dead. I put out my cigarette in the tray next to the phone. My hands were sweating. I rubbed my index finger on the tray's circumference, then suckled it, the ash's flavor reminding me that all was ephemeral.
I arrived at the pier to find that I was part of an entourage. We all had our cuffs just past our sleeves, our pants hemmed to the exactly appropriate length, and expensive suit jackets with perfectly cut pockets. The phone caller paced the aisle of impersonality we formed.
The one next to me whispered, "They say he's a ghost."
I remembered someone once saying that about me.
The caller stopped abruptly, facing away towards the sea. He paused, letting his pupils take in the gentle crests. He clapped. "Let's go. Five meter spread. No sound."
I positioned myself behind the pier's third support pillar. There was a short symphony of safety clicking, cartridge snapping, and hammer cocking followed by silence. The water washed up against my legs and the pillar, harmonically tapping a floating Dr. Pepper bottle against the wood. A seagull cried in the distance. Listening carefully I could isolate the familiar whooshing noise of cars slicing the night's breeze. The floorboards creaked.
The heat from the onslaught of bullets distorted the midnight air. Damp pine pelleted me from all directions, splinters drilled into my face. I fell, firing towards the explosion of lead. I slammed into the water just in time to see the pillar's foundations crack below the surface.
I focused. The chaos around me dimmed. I rose in vacuum. I pushed both hands upward. The pier crashed down on me, my arms holding, tearing through the wood, as if I had jumped and burst from below. As the pine settled on the waves, I looked ahead and saw him at the edge of the pier, and for a moment we were incredulous of each other. Style let the second pass, then raised his pistol. I realized the ringing in my ears had stopped. We were the only ones left. I anticipated the muzzle flare, the useless flinch. He pulled the trigger.
Miss. He fired again. Miss. He took two steps forward. Miss. He ran towards me, emptying his entire clip save for a single round. I stood up as he held the pistol point blank to my head. I flinched. Miss. I looked down at my own firearm, and back at Style. He ran. I fired. His torso contorted, he spun, and collapsed.
Valentine's Day. Basking in the pink glow, I tried to remember those I loved and had loved. I tried to remember my enemies, my friends, the name of the caller. Who I had betrayed, who betrayed me, the promises I broke and the ones I kept. My childhood, puberty, leaving home. My principles, if I had any. But nothing came. All of my relationships, my history, the arch of my life. Nothing. They seemed, and I seemed... artificial.
I knelt next to Style. I remembered the cigarette. I struck a match and cupped it so as not let my hair drip on it, and relit the nicotine. I remembered how he had inched across the shore to reach me. I let my hand out, and carefully poked his flesh, watching how the skin pulled as I applied pressure. I ran my fingers over his jacket, caressing the material, noting the difference in texture due to moistness. His hair was oily in my palm. I had other characters to meet, other plotlines to play out, but somehow I was inferior to a man smoking as he died from bullet wounds under the Valentine's Day Special sign for a cheap hotel. I knew it then.
Style is substance.