Monday, 17 May 2010

one : or forever hold thy piece

“YOU KNOW WHAT, Michael,” the Rev says to me as we stand at the front of the crowded church, listening to the pipe-organ quietly play Moonlight Sonata, waiting for my bride to arrive, “I don't believe I actually know what it is you do for a living.”

“I'm an assassin,” I say, making sure my cuffs are even, “I kill people for money. I like this church, by the way, it's nice.”

The Rev doesn't quite know what to do. He just stands there, looking at me.

“Actually, funny story,” I say, “I was in America this time last week. Y'know. Working.”

“It was a strip joint, downtown Chicago. Lovely little place called 'Spike' on Dearborn Street, south, right in the heart of the theatre district. Keeps itself hidden from casual view by being below street level, 'Cheers'-style. Place like that, though, I guarantee Norm would never have gone home. It's not some seedy, sawdust on the floor type place, either. Dead presidents literally ooze out from between every brick, you don't even get through the door without making yourself a good c-note lighter. Looking at the clientele and the location, it's obviously a place for the city's wealthier and more morally lateral tourists. I know you know what I mean, Reverend.

So anyway, I'm sat at the bar; it stretches right round the place in a huge circle. The guys serve you drinks from behind it and behind them, up on a raised, circular platform are ten or twelve of the hottest bodies you'll see in this part of town. Unless Chicago's on at the Schubert Theatre, obviously. I'm thinking some genius of an enterprising individual finally realised the best way of keeping men at a bar and buying drinks was to wrap it around naked, gyrating females.

The music is some indeterminable, thumping dance tune. The genius who put this place together obviously also realised that when you have naked, gyrating females, you've already got ninety-eight percent of the lure. Shelling out good money for a license to play real music becomes pretty unnecessary when you have a fifteen year old nephew with a computer.

Every so often round the circle, the bar makes way for mini catwalks that connect us lowlifes to the heavenly bodies up on the stage. Just to rub our noses in to how close we are to a paradise we can never have (unless we want to take on some very mean looking bouncers), the hotties amble back and forth along those catwalks. Getting closer to us, then pulling back, bouncing toward us then jiggling away; making us think of the age old saying about hating to see a woman go but loving to watch her leave.

And there's Laurel shaking her moneymaker in my direction, giving me the come to bed eyes that are as seductive as they are fake. I don't know that her name is Laurel, you understand, but then I don't know it isn't. At the end of the day, strip joints are built around the basic tenet that a man can fantasise that he is good looking enough for a sexy woman wearing little or no clothes to be attracted to him over every other guy in the place. So as long as I'm Tom Cruise, she's Laurel.

Anyway, Laurel shakes her moneymaker in my direction, giving me the come to bed eyes and tweaking the elastic on her G-string. I rise from my seat, lean drunkenly against the bar, let out a hearty 'whoo' and swing my arms up like I'm some kind of frat boy at a toga party. And like a frat boy at a toga party, I send some guy's drink flying.

“Hey watch it, buddy!” he says.

I turn to the guy next to me. He's tall, thin, kind of geeky looking. He's wrapped in a couple gee's worth of Armani, easy, but it's creased to hell - like he's been sleeping in it. He is definitely the worse for wear. Unshaven. Shirt half out. Tie pulled halfway down. And very, very drunk.

“Hey sorry, guy, my fault totally,” I slur, “These women, y'know? They drive you crazy in here like they drive you crazy in real life.”

“Who gives a shit? My drink!”

So I offer to get him another one and I ask him what he's having.

“Anything over eighty proof,” he says.

So I turn to the nearest barman, “Two bourbons.” I look back at the guy then turn back to the barman, “Two double bourbons.”

The drinks land on the bar in front of us quicker than Laurel's G-string filled with fifties. That genius again - don't give the clientele time to sober up between drinks. I grab both glasses and start to slide one of them toward my drunk friend. He reaches out to his drink but with my hand still over the top of the glass, he pauses and looks at me.

“What's your name, mac?” I say.

“Look, pal, I don't swing that way,” he says.

“And I do, Einstein, that's why I'm ogling naked women. Just being civil is all,” I say and I let him have the glass. He pounces on it like it's the last drink in the world and downs it before whoever's chasing him catches up. I turn back to Laurel as he slams the empty back on the bar but she's already promising some other guy the world. Floozy.

“Payne,” the guy says.

I'm looking at Laurel's ass, “Ain't it, though.”

“No, my name. Ronald Payne.”

“Oh, right. Bob, Bob Brent. Life Insurance.” I extend my hand to him. He wipes his hand down his silk tie and then shakes mine.

“Hey, me too!” he says with that suddenly excited air drunk people have when they find the slightest commonality between themselves and someone else. All of a sudden we're long lost brothers, “Boring job, huh?”

“Hey,” I say, “what I don't know about life expectancy re-evaluation…”

The guy snorts and drains the absolute dregs out of his glass.

“Sorry I knocked your drink over. But now you know why I get so easily excited.”

“Hey, don't worry about it. There's always more.” He catches the bartender's eye with his glass. The barman has the glass out of Ronald's sweaty little hand and a new, better glass back in his hand in the blink of an eye. A better glass, of course, on account of it being full.

I nod at his new drink, “Either you've had a very good day or a very bad day.”

He downs the entire glass in one gulp.

“Bad day,” he says, “Very, very bad day.”

“What happened? Someone have to make a claim?” Damn that Laurel. All curves and me with no brakes.

“No, I made a … bad investment.”

“Oh? What, you dabble in the shock market on the side?”

“Something like that. This guy …” he pauses, like he's trying to figure out whether or not to go on.

“Hey, man, I didn't ask for your life story.”

He shrugs, looking forlornly into the bottom of yet another empty glass. That's the thing with drunks. You never know if they're sadder at the start of the drink or the end. I guess it depends on how slaughtered they are and how slaughtered they aim to get.

“Well, let's just say I paid for something but I wasn't specific enough about what I was buying.”

“Didn't get what you thought you were getting?”

“Something like that.”

“I take it you got something worse, rather than better.”

“Definitely something worse. Well, I haven't got it yet. Sure is gonna come soon, though. One way or another.”

“Yeah,” I say, the realistic part of my mind finally telling me that Laurel's probably working her way through law school in the day and is about as interested in bedding anyone here as I am in pretending I'm drunk any longer, “Probably come sooner than you think.”

I drain my glass, give Laurel one last wink as she looks briefly my way and get up from my seat, “Got to go pray to the old porcelain god. Back in two.” I don't really look at Ronald but I see him nod as he raises his hand to order yet another drink. I time my walk to perfection - as soon as I get to the other side of the crowded room, I turn and lean back against the wall and watch.

Back at the bar, Ronald suddenly grabs his arm, his eyes start bulging and his mouth makes this big 'O' but no sound comes out. No-one notices a thing at first, they're too busy looking up at the stage or talking in groups or just being unconscious. He staggers backward off his stool and, left arm still outstretched, his right hand now starts grabbing his chest like he's trying to pluck his heart right out of there. He bumps into a group of Japanese businessmen and they turn around and shout at him. Only for a second, though, because they very quickly see a man having a major heart attack.

I decide now's the time to leave, before everything gets too hectic, before he actually croaks and they stop the music and call an ambulance and turn the lights on and all the rest of it. You might call it unprofessional not waiting to confirm the kill but trust me, I've been doing this a long time. And I know exactly how powerful - and untraceable - the amoxycetalene was that I slipped into his drink. I know for a fact he'll be dead before I even get to the entrance and pick up my coat. I also know how long it takes people to react to things like this and I know I'll be round the corner and long gone before everyone starts raising cain.

It's kind of a pain, killing for free. Not cost effective at all. But when self-preservation comes into the equation, it's pretty hard to put a price on things. At the end of the day, Ronald Payne contacted the Agency and put out a hit on the wrong man. I was the one got assigned the job, ergo I end up killing someone who didn't really need killing. Now that doesn't really bother me; not my screw up so I get paid regardless. Only problem was, the guy I should have killed was a no-good swindler. The guy I actually killed was the no-good swindler's twin brother; businessman, organised crime prodigy and favourite nephew of Ira Giordano, maddest, craziest, most powerful mob boss in Chicago. Now sooner or later, Ira was going to figure out who put on the hit, something Ronnie was clearly already aware of. Which means sooner or later, Ira's men would have been tap dancing on Ronnie's skull. And if I know how these mob guys think (and I do), I know that Ira would have wanted to find out exactly who it was that pulled the trigger on his favourite nephew, the son he never had. The chances are slim, real slim, that he would ever have gotten through the Agency and all the way to me. But slim chance ain't no chance.

So a quick drink with a stranger and Ronnie speaks to no-one. And I'm gone. A faceless nobody who vanishes into the crowd and who no-one ever remembers.

Well, except for Laurel, of course. She'll regret not getting with me the rest of her days.”

I finish up and the Rev's still looking at me. Not moving, not talking, just staring.

Well, okay, he would be if I'd actually just said all that stuff. What do you think I am, crazy? I'm not about to blab all about my secret life to dear old Rev Mann here. Guy'd have a coronary.

The last few seconds actually went;

“You know what, Michael? I don't believe I actually know what it is you do for a living.”

“I'm an insurance salesman. Life, Equity, mostly. Mainly, I sell into corporates, blue chips. Premiere services. High premiums but big payoffs, you know? APRs to die for.”

The Rev's eyes start to glaze over. That's why I do it. Stops people asking questions. They move onto another topic, they don't get bored, I don't have to kill them…win, win, win.

“Ready for the off?” Rev Mann asks. Topic changed. Mission successful.

“Certainly am,” I say, scanning the congregation. A woman in a broad-rimmed hat smiles at me. I nod back, “I can't wait to become George to someone's Mildred.”

“Well, Emily and her father should be pulling up any minute now,” he smiles that kindly smile that all elderly, Anglican Reverends must go on some kind of course to learn, “You've only got about eight minutes to relish being young, free and single.” He pats my shoulder and wanders off to go and memorise his lines or whatever.

Eight minutes. Not a long time. I mentally pat the loaded Beretta .45 with silencer that's snuggled in my inside jacket pocket, a couple inches behind my pastel yellow buttonhole flower.

Eight minutes to figure out which upstanding member of this congregation I have to kill.

And once that unpleasant business is out of the way, perhaps I can finally concentrate on getting married.

No comments:

Post a comment