Unlike some professional assassins, who simply eliminated their targets in whatever generic manner was easiest, Robert prided himself on his personalized kills. Since your neighbor had stolen one of your goats a few years back, you now wanted him to choke to death while eating a poisoned goat? Robert would find a way. You had a special phrase you wanted uttered right before your uncle was stabbed in the very same rib that he stabbed your father? Robert would make it happen. 

After twenty some-odd years providing such customized assassinations, Robert was pretty sure he’d heard all the weirdest, most specific requests, from some of the most peculiar people, that he would ever hear. That was, until the day he heard the Emperor describe exactly how he wanted his mother killed.

“The Emperor” was the short nomenclature, of course; the long version was His Imperial and Royal Majesty, the Emperor of the Koruna, King of Lira, Protector of the Confederation of the Mark, Mediator of the People. After that last title was added, and the Emperor started mediating what some people thought was a few too many things, other, unofficial titles were often used, like “Dictator, “Despot,” and “Tyrant.” That was none of Robert’s concern. The man had invited him into a very swanky room in his palace, served him what he assumed was good wine, and said some very complimentary things about how Robert was just the man to “take care of” the Emperor’s mother.

“I confess I don’t especially care exactly how it all goes down in every little detail,” the Emperor admitted, casually swirling the wine in his glass. “You can use a knife, a rope, a pistol, whatever suits you. But,” the Emperor paused his swirling, and looked very intently at Robert, “this is very important: as she dies, you must tell her precisely this: ‘Today, your son has become the Lavender Rabbit.’”

Even Robert had to admit that there was a slightly awkward beat. He recovered quickly: “Oh, okay, I can do that. ‘Today, your son has become the Lavender Rabbit.’ Certainly. Your order will be carried out within the week, unless you have some other timetable in mind.”

The Emperor waved his hand. “No, within the week will do just fine. End of the month would even work, if some complication arises.”

“From what you’ve described of your mother’s guards and habits, I don’t foresee any,” Robert assured him. 

There was another long silence. Finally, the Emperor cleared his throat. “I assume you’re restraining yourself from asking just why your Emperor is reminding his mother of a lavender rabbit as he has her assassinated?”

Robert shook his head. “Not really, your Imperial Majesty. I like to assume that all my clients have their reasons. My job is just to make their vision a reality.”

The Emperor wore a highly amused expression. “Well, you’ll be returning here once the job is done for your payment. If, by that time, curiosity has overwhelmed you, as mine would if I were you, I will be happy to satisfy it.”

Robert and the Emperor parted, and Robert set off to do his job. 

The Emperor’s mother was killed within the week, just as Robert had promised, and, just as the Emperor had predicted, Robert was dying – no pun intended – to know what the Lavender Rabbit referred to, and why the Emperor had become it. It had to be some sort of in-joke. Robert thought he had seen a flash of understanding in the woman’s eyes, but death was often full of very confusing emotions for those undergoing it, so that didn’t necessarily mean anything.

The Emperor appeared very satisfied when Robert told him he was indeed quite curious as to the mysterious phrase. The Emperor sat back in his chair, and propped his legs up on the table in a very un-imperial manner. “I was quite close with my mother as a child, and to all appearances throughout adulthood – by the way, I’m sure you were surprised she was my target, and I doubt many people in this kingdom will dare suspect a thing. Anyway, she used to read to me every night, and my favorite was a little book entitled Lavender Rabbit’s Odd One Out.

“It was a delightful story of a lavender rabbit whose owner’s house was such a mess, and so he took it upon himself to clean it up. He does so by sorting all of the things into piles of like objects – dishes with dishes, blocks with blocks, and so forth – but there was always an “odd one out,” – a paintbrush with the socks, say, or a rubber ducky with the dishes. The rabbit would take that odd one out, and put it where it belonged.” The Emperor paused for a moment. Robert, practiced in being nonjudgmental, simply fingered the envelope of money he’d been given.

The Emperor continued: “I was very inspired by that rabbit. Creating order from chaos, seeing what needed to be done and doing it, molding the world to fit his vision, doing what others would not do. Finding the odd one out, the thing that no longer belonged.” He laughed. “Reading a bit too much into a children’s book, perhaps, but, you know, impressionable youth and all that. I would often joke with my mother that it was that book that made me who I am today…and doubtless you see where this is going.”

Robert nodded as if he did. 

“My mother had become the odd one out,” the Emperor explained. “She was saying things like, ‘Perhaps you shouldn’t take all the peasant’s flour, your birthday cake may be important, and I understand that you want it to be the biggest birthday cake ever, but the people do have to eat…’ That simply wouldn’t do. So, I had her sorted where she belonged. Ridiculous, I’m sure you think.”

Robert shook his head. It took all sorts to make a world.

“I appreciate you being a good sport about all this,” the Emperor said. “Now, I do have just one question before you go.” He reached forward and rang a small silver bell on the table.

“Of course,” Robert agreed.

The door opened, and three guards walked in, sabers drawn, advancing until they stood just behind him. Robert felt his palms, still clutching the cash, grow cold.

The Emperor grinned. “So tell me. Which of us here do you think is the odd one out?”

 

Inspired by Alan Baker’s lovely children’s book “Gray Rabbit’s Odd One Out,” which I highly recommend and contains no murder.

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