Jenny glanced over at the other member of the audience, feeling confused. Old Hillpaw was nodding, as if this made sense to him, but she was lost. With the strange sensation that she was back in the single room farmhouse where she struggled through all six grades of school, she put her hand up in the air.
“I’m lost,” she blurted out as the man in black turned his gaze towards her. “Who are you, anyway? What do you do?”
Old Hillpaw’s eyebrows drew together into a thunderstorm of a frown, as if this knowledge should be obvious. But the man in black just sighed, shaking his head back and forth.
“Ah, how quickly we fade into obscurity,” he said, speaking more to the empty air than to his bar companions. “Let me try something else, miss.
“Have you heard of the Priests in Black?”
Even Jenny knew that name. She physically jerked back in her chair, her mouth dropping open as she stared at the man in black. As the new and terrifying realization made its way through her mind, she pushed her chair back, as if trying to put physical distance between her and the story’s narrator.
“You- you’re one of them?” she gasped out, shaking her head back and forth in a tangle of hair as if trying to deny reality. “But they’re killers! They assassinate people, shoot people! They’re murderers, and worse!”
Unbelievably, the man in black tossed back his head and laughed, a surprisingly hearty laugh that shook his whole frame. “Relax, young lady,” he said, as he reached up to wipe a tear from his eye. “I haven’t killed someone in longer than you’ve been alive.”
At his urging, Jenny settled down a little, although the whites of her eyes were still wide around the edges of her harried and insecure expression.
“But yes, I was one of them,” the man in black said, once he was sure one of his audience members wasn’t about to bolt from the table. “Of course, we called it the Organization. Loyal, we were, as well we should be after the time and training they invested in us. But even still, I didn’t mind the other nickname we picked up.”
The man nodded to Old Hillpaw. “I wager you know it.”
Hillpaw licked his lips. Even though he hadn’t physically reacted, the old-timer looked almost as nervous as the waitress next to him. “Machine gun priests,” the old man said, his voice hoarser than usual.
“That’s the one,” the man in black nodded.
Jenny glanced over, confused again. “Wait, they were priests? I thought they were assassins?”
Even this new revelation about their storyteller couldn’t prevent Old Hillpaw from giving a lecture when he knew more than another. “Oh, they weren’t true priests,” he explained. “But they dressed all in black, long coats like robes, with their guns hidden underneath. And when they wanted someone dead, they’d deliver last rites with a machine gun. Hence the name, see?”
The waitress still didn’t quite understand, but she nodded. Hillpaw opened his mouth, about to add more, but he then remembered the other person at the table, and decided to not completely dominate the conversation.
“That’s how the public saw us,” the man in black said, quietly. “But to us, it was a calling. We were the arm of the Organization, keeping the world on track, eliminating the criminals, the insane, those that caused a threat to the order.”
“To your Organization’s order,” Old Hillpaw challenged.
The man in black didn’t respond, but his eyes settled on the old man. After a second, Hillpaw flushed, dropping his gaze down. “Sorry,” he muttered into his nearly empty drink, and then tossed back the rest.
“We eliminated threats,” the man in black repeated. “And so, one morning, a sketch and a description arrived at my desk.
“The sketch showed a girl, once with her face bare, and once with a black bandana covering up her nose and mouth. The description called her slender, lithe, with blazing red hair. She was armed and considered extremely dangerous.”
The man in black glanced over at his stack of papers beside his typewriter, and shook his head. “I didn’t know her name, didn’t know her story. Not yet.
“All I knew was that she was my next target.”