Flight of The Blackbird
I sat on a barstool at Benny’s restaurant, waiting for the customers to begin pouring in. I had a morning shift, so I was preparing for the rush. Opening time on a Saturday was 10:00 am, and it was currently 9:55. Marie’s oven and stove top were beginning to heat up, and the delicious and nostalgic smell of grease filled my nose. Benny was standing behind the bar, talking with his son Alex, who worked at the front of the building. I was listening idly, but caught snippets of their conversation.
“Today’s likely to be a busy day, I can just feel it in my old bones.”
“But… you’re not old, you’re like forty-eight.”
“Aw shaddup and let me have my moment, knucklehead.”
The father/son banter was enough to crack any person up, but I held in my laughter. Can’t have a stupid face on when customers start coming in. It’s not good for business.
The clock struck ten, and a few families were already walking in. Lively chatter soon filled the restaurant, and it continued to fill up. I began taking orders and eventually delivering food to different tables. Thankfully, the day was fairly busy and there was no shortage of customers. After a few hours working in my section I noticed a man sitting alone at a table. He looked to be in his forties, with greying brown hair, a clean goatee, and reading glasses. He was wearing a suit and tie, which made me think he was an unlucky businessman with Saturday work. His attention was dedicated to reading the local newspaper, the Genesis Gazette.
I went up to his table, wondering how long he had already been sitting there. “Can I get you anything, sir?” I asked.
He looked up from his paper and at me with a pleasant smile.
“Yes please. Could I get a coffee with a splash of milk and a pinch of sugar, and an egg and cheese bagel, please?” he responded. His voice was a bit scruffier than I was expecting, but he sounded like a kind person.
“Of course, sir.”
I wrote down his order on a holographic notepad and went to the kitchen to tell Marie and John. As I left, I glanced back at him. He had returned to his newspaper, but I came to notice that we would look up from his paper and at the door from time to time.
Is he waiting for someone?
I shook the thought from my head and went into the kitchen. Marie was flipping eggs, pancakes, and all sorts of other breakfast items on the large stovetop. I brought up the hologram again and showed it to her, who nodded and sent me back out to continue taking orders.
I continued to serve and take orders in my area, including the man’s. He was very polite, and the more I interacted with him, the more familiar he seemed to me. I was nearly certain that I’d served him a few times before. Benny’s had plenty of repeat customers, so it made sense. It was a family-owned restaurant, after all. Benny likely knew ninety percent of the people in the restaurant at any given time. That thought gave me an idea.
“Hey Benny,” I started as I walked towards the bar, “Do you happen to know that man in the suit over there?”
“I’ve seen him around here quite a few times, but I never actually spoken to him before. Why, does he interest you in some way?”
“Yeah, he does.” I said simply.
“Then talk to him! Ask if he has somewhere to be first, of course, but speak to him. This is the type of place where you’re allowed to do that. Go on, get to it!”
I nodded, silently thanking him, and made my way back to the man.
“Hello again, sir. It just occurred to me that I may have served you before. Have we met, or am I just imagining things?” I asked in my most professional voice, attempting to mask my simple curiosity with legitimate reasoning.
“Why yes, I do believe you have,” he responded. I nodded.
So I was right huh? Well, guess I’ll pick your brain a bit.
“Well, because it seems you’re a regular customer, may I have your name please?”
“Ah yes, my name is James Oakman, and you are?”
“I’m Reiji. Just Reiji.”
“Well, nice to meet you Reiji.”
He stuck his hand out in front of him. I returned the gesture. His grip was firm, just as I’d expect from a businessman.
“Likewise.” I replied.
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to speak with you a bit more. That is, if you don’t have anywhere to be.”
“Ah, no, I’m free. Please, sit down.”
And so we began to talk. At first it began as mindless small talk, simply two people getting to know each other despite the age difference. I learned a few things about him in the process, which is what I came to do in the first place. He was, in fact, a businessman, though he didn’t tell me who he worked for. Also, he talks like he’s a lot older than he looks, which made him even more mysterious. It’s like for every answer I get, two more questions spring up.
However, just because I couldn’t figure him out didn’t mean I didn’t enjoy our conversation. He was very knowledgeable about many things, which meant there wasn’t a dull moment. When it came time that I had to return to work, I said goodbye and went back to Benny.
“Didja learn anything about the guy?”
“A few things, but I’m left with more questions than answers.”
“Sounds like a mind game. Well, if he’s as much of a repeat as you say, I’m sure you’ll have time to speak to him again.”
“Yeah, you’re right.”
“Well, if you’re done speaking to him, get back ‘ta work!”
He jokingly shouted that at me as he ruffled my hair, just like a father would to his son. I smiled inwardly and got back to work as he’d asked.
The next few weeks, James Oakman returned to the restaurant frequently. Each time I spoke with him a little bit, and we gradually grew closer and I grew to trust him. I eventually told him about the night my parents died, and my never ending thirst for revenge. I told him that Benny and Marie weren’t my real parents, and how if not for them taking me in and giving me work around the restaurant, I’d be an orphan. He listened closely as I poured my heart out to him, a pensive look on his face. I was honestly grateful to have someone to talk about that night with. Nobody but Benny and Marie truly knew how to help me. Kota, Shiro, and the rest of the people around me could sympathize, but they didn’t really understand how I felt. I was hoping that Oakman would be a bit different.
By the time I had finished speaking, there were tears welling up in my eyes. Though it felt good to talk about it, it was still painful to relieve that night over and over and over again. Oakman opened his mouth and closed it a few times, as if debating whether to say something or not, then finally began speaking.
“Reiji, I’m sure you think right now that nobody else can understand your pain, which is one of the reasons why you find this so hard to talk about. It’s a funny thing that we met really, because both of my parents were murdered too. Luckily for me, it was a bit later in my life, as I was around twenty-two when it happened. Shot on the street by some passing psycho with a handgun. So I understand your pain better than anyone else.”
So he’s just like me, huh? His entire world was shattered in a single day, just like mine was three years ago.
Unexpectedly, it brought the faint hint of a smile to both of our faces.
“Finally, someone who understands.”
“Indeed, it’s good to have someone who can empathize with you.”
“Yeah… it really is.”
I leaned back in my chair and exhaled. With the spent air went some of the pain that I’d been keeping in for three years. Pain that was taking its toll on my sanity. The pain that I could no longer bear was finally being lifted right as I was about to snap. It really did give me something to truly feel content about after such a long time of going through life feeling mostly emptiness.
A comfortable silence drifted over us like a cloud providing shade on an otherwise scorching day. After a few minutes, Oakman broke the silence by adding something else to the conversation. Something I never would have seen coming, not in a million years.
“You want revenge don’t you? For your parents? You want to kill those who take from others?”
Well, that came out of left field…
“Y-yeah I do…” I stuttered, disarmed by the sudden and unexpected question. “But where is this coming from?”
Oakman leaned forward, his voice nothing but a faint whisper. “What if I told you there was something I could do to help quench your thirst for revenge?”
I answered without hesitation.
“I’d take that chance.”
Oakman smiled. “Good. That's exactly what I wanted to hear. There’s a reason that I’ve never told you what I truly do for a living. Now that I know you have a good heart and are perfect for what I’m looking for, let me explain a few things to you. Firstly, I’m not your typical businessman. I’m an entrepreneur, but the business I started deals in… shall we say… the darker side of humanity? You see, after my parents death, I started a group called The Nest. We kill criminals and corrupt members of society, and someone like you, with no blood relatives left and a thirst for revenge, is perfect for this group of assassins.”
“Hold on, hold on… you’re the leader of The Nest!?” I shouted, before covering my mouth. I looked around to make sure that nobody had heard me or was paying any attention. Thankfully, nobody was informing the police as to my location, so I uncovered my mouth.
I’d heard about The Nest before. The group had existed since just before the end of the reconstruction era. They were on the news quite a few times, as they were involved in the killing of quite a few high-profile figures, including politicians. They’re known for being a small, tight-knit group of assassins so good at what they do, that only a few have ever been caught.
A group like this, and I’ve been handpicked by the owner. What in the hell is my life turning into?
Oakman chuckled, likely due to my flabbergasted outburst.
“Ah, so it seems you’ve heard of my team. Glad to know people are finally starting to recognize us. Well, in any case, your training will be hellish and all, but you’ll come out the other end as one of the most powerful people in this city. Are you in or out?”
“I… uhm… I..,” I stammered, attempting to get some grasp on my thoughts.
Of course I want to join this. I’d be able to avenge mom and dad! But… What about Benny and his family? What about Kota and Shiro? What about the life I’ve been building in this world for the past three years? How will I tell them that I’m going to go learn to be a killer?
Rapid fire thoughts ripped through my brain like bullets. How was I supposed to make a life changing decision over a casual breakfast in a few minutes? Just when I thought my brain was going to overheat and combust, Benny walked up behind me.
“Hey… uh… kid? I’ve got something to say, if ya don’t mind.”
My eyes widened slightly and my mind began to race.
Uh oh… what’s with this polite tone and serious attitude. He never does this.
“I… uh… already knew about James’ profession. I’ve known him since we were kids in school. I remember the day his parents were gunned down, because this very restaurant was the first place he came. I knew about The Nest, and I knew exactly who ya were talking about when ya came up and asked me. And I wantcha to know, we support whichever decision ya make. But know this… if ya do decide to take this path, to seek revenge on those who’ve wronged ya, I wantcha to put one bullet in the killer for each of my… no, our family members, one for each of your parents, and three for yourself. You deserve that much.”
One for each of my family members… three for myself. I’ve made my decision. I’m not turning back, there’s no way I could pass up this opportunity. I’d be a fool.
My eyes glittered with determination as I steeled my resolve and said three simple words that changed my entire life.
“I’ll do it.”