Paul didn’t set out to be a killer, but after his first murder he discovered he had a knack for it. That was the beginning of his long career as a cold-blooded assassin. A cornerstone of his success was his ability to go unnoticed, to fade into the background, to never leave an impression on anyone around him—a talent about to be put to the test one night in a hotel bar.

“First Impression” first appeared in my self-published collection Clothes Make the Man and Other Crimes. When the call for submissions for Castle of Horror 11: Revenge arrived, I immediately thought of “First Impression”—because it was so very revenge-y. I checked with Jason, my editor, to see if they took reprints, and they did. Neverheless, I did try to think up a new story, but “First Impression” had so lodged itself in my noggin that nothing else came to me. Lucky for me, then, that Jason liked it! Castle of Horror 11 was edited by Jason Henderson and In Churl Yo. The excerpt below is the opening scene of the story.

First Impression

Paul stopped in the hotel bar for a cocktail just after killing a man a few floors up. He knew it was an indulgence, but he’d done it before when there was the perfect place to sit. A table out of the way, but not too out of the way as if he had something to hide.
       He appraised the dry gin martini before him with the same cool stare he’d directed around room 514 before he’d left, opening the door with the handkerchief that was now back in his pants pocket. Only when perfectly satisfied did Paul move on.
       Upstairs that meant leaving the room and walking down the corridor, glancing around as if impressed by the pattern in the carpet, the delicate sconces lighting his way, the tasteful wallpaper border near the ceiling, but, in reality, the casual movements of his head were timed to keep his face away from a security camera.
       In the bar it meant eating the single olive he’d requested then taking his first sip. He generally preferred a martini with a twist, but felt that order was more memorable. It was not in his nature to do anything memorable. When he left a public space he liked to think that people didn’t forget he’d been there, but rather that they’d never noticed him in the first place. This was the driving force behind almost everything Paul did.
       He always ripped the paper off the pad, moving it to a hard surface before writing, no matter what the note was going to say: milk, bread, eggs or It’s done—you’ll never have trouble with your husband again. It was true, what they showed on cop shows, that if you left it on the pad, you could leave a readable impression on the paper underneath. And electronic messaging left too many traces, copies on servers, on phones.
       No, he preferred the old ways. Transitory ways. Never be careless, never press too hard, never leave anything behind—never make an impression. . . .

Cover copyright Castle Bridge Media. All text copyright Scott Pearson.
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