“Now, would that be who I pledge to, or whom I pledge to?” muttered Jane chewing on the end of her pen. “Or should it be to whom I pledge?” She sighed and threw the pen down. “This is never going to work.”
“What’s not going to work?” Jane’s colleague, Babs appeared around the corner of her cubicle, munching an apple. She sat on the corner of Jane’s desk and looked down at the paperwork spread out on it.
“You still working on that wedding?”
“I don’t get why it’s so hard to stop a wedding. Just pop off the bride or the groom. I mean, that’s what we’re trained for. It’s what being an assassin is all about.”
Jane sighed. “But I’m supposed to be killing love, not the people involved in it.”
“What kind of stupid job is that?” Babs spoke with her mouth full, and droplets of apple juice splattered across Jane’s desk.
“Well, how many real assassination jobs have we had in the past six months?”
“Exactly. Assassination isn’t stylish anymore. It isn’t the trendy thing to do like it was a couple of years ago. Have you seen the ad the boss ran in the paper last week?”
“Nah, I don’t bother with the paper.”
Jane picked a folded newspaper out of her recycling bin and paged through it to the classified section.
“Here,” she said, handing the paper to Babs and tapping at a quarter-page ad.
“Assassinations Incorporated—more than just bodies,” read Babs. “You’ve trusted us to eliminate your enemies and loved ones for over 35 years. Now Assassinations Inc. has expanded our services to meet all your killing needs. Sick of the cat? We can take care of that! Got roaches? No problem. Tired of undying love? We’ve got you covered. We can kill the lights, the fatted calf, the goose that lays the golden egg, and even two birds with one stone. Need to dress to kill? Let our sartorial staff help. Want to kill with kindness? We have gifts for all occasions. Trying to kill the clock? Let our sports team step in. We’ll even kill time for you, if that’s what you need.” She threw the paper down in disgust. “What is this shit?”
“It’s the brave new world, I suppose,” said Jane, shaking her head. “Anyway, the King of Baumgarte has hired us to stop his daughter marrying that poet guy—Julius what’s-his-name.”
“Julius VonStrueben? I love his stuff!”
“Yeah, well, apparently so does Princess Kalla. But the king can’t stand the guy. Being a thoroughly modern monarch, he doesn’t want to tell Kalla she can’t marry him, but he wants to make sure she doesn’t.”
“So, why not just kill the guy?”
“Kill the national poet of his own country?” Jane shook her head. “Every woman in Baumgarte is in love with the guy—the king would have a popular revolt on his hands if he did that.”
“That’s what our Confidentiality Prime service is for—to guarantee no one ever knows who ordered the job. Surely a king can afford the extra for that?”
Jane shrugged. “Maybe, but like I said, assassination just isn’t fashionable anymore. He’s only asked for us to kill the love, not the lover.”
“And so how are you planning on doing that?” asked Babs as she picked up one of the papers off Jane’s desk.
Jane snatched the paper back, but not before Babs had gotten a good look.
“You’re writing poetry?” She sniggered.
“Well, he’s a poet. I figured that if she happened to find some poems he wrote to other women…”
“And you think you can write poetry like Julius VonStrueben?”
Jane sighed. “I suppose it was a bad idea. But how else would a poet express himself to a lover? How else can I convince Princess Kalla that VonStrueben’s a two-timing jerk?”
The women were silent for a moment. Then Babs’ thoughtful expression turned to a smile.
“There’s more than one way to skin a cat. What if you convinced her that VonStrueben was, in fact, completely besotted with her?”
“How would that help?”
“What if VonStrueben were to write poetry for Kalla? Really bad poetry.”
“Think about it. How would you feel if your boyfriend—”
“I don’t have one.”
Babs dismissed the technicality with a wave.
“Assuming you did, how would you feel if your boyfriend smothered you with really awful love poems?”
Jane wrinkled her nose.
“Yeah, but I’m not a princess. Aren’t princesses supposed to like that sort of thing?”
“Maybe if they’re good poems, but what if Kalla began to think that VonStrueben hadn’t actually written all those poems he’s famous for? What if she thought she was in danger of marrying a guy who not only couldn’t write, but who had become famous by claiming someone else’s writing as his own?”
Jane considered the idea for a moment.
“Not quite as sure as the philanderer tactic.”
Babs picked up a paper off Jane’s desk and read it aloud.
How many ways do I love thee?
I love thee like a tree.
I love thee like a bee.
I love thee like a well-ripened brie.
“You’ve got to be kidding me. Poetry this bad addressed to someone else? She’ll dismiss it for what it is—a ploy to make her ditch VonStrueben. But I’m sure he writes poetry to her—all you’d have to do is exchange the good poetry for your bad stuff, and she’d begin to look for a way out. Half a dozen poems like this, and she’ll be running for the door.”
“You think so?”
“I’m sure of it.”
“And if it doesn’t work?”
Babs shrugged. “You’re an assassin. You’ll figure something out.” She patted Jane on the shoulder and left.
Jane sighed and picked up the poem Babs had read aloud, reading it again to herself.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have included the brie,” she muttered. She tossed the paper aside, pulled out a clean sheet, and got to work.