Authors: C L Walker
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Spies & Politics, #Assassinations, #Supernatural, #Ghosts, #Psychics, #Witches & Wizards, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Paranormal & Urban, #Superheroes, #Literature & Fiction, #Horror, #Dark Fantasy, #Thrillers, #Metaphysical & Visionary, #New Adult & College, #Superhero
The diner was practically empty, as expected. Taylor Swift was a subdued sound in the background as the waitress, Claire, moved around the room completing a looping series of busywork to keep herself occupied. She smiled at me whenever she passed nearby, perhaps hoping I’d try to strike up a conversation and relieve the monotony.
I smiled back but otherwise kept my eyes on the coffee cooling on the counter in front of me. It was almost time to engage her.
The other occupant was the target, the large, noisy eater in the corner booth. He came for dinner every Tuesday as soon as the sun went down, and he always had the place to himself. It was an unwritten law in town, somehow communicated and enforced, that the target wasn’t to be disturbed when he came in.
Claire the waitress stood behind the counter with a pot of coffee at the ready and looked at me expectantly. “Refill?”
“Yes, please,” I said, smiling and moving the cup closer to her. “Slow night?”
“It’s a small town on a Tuesday.” She topped me up but didn’t step away. I’d given her an opening and she seemed ready to exploit it.
I glanced at the guy in the booth and her eyes followed, snapping back as soon as they landed on him. The target went on eating, apparently oblivious to us.
“I’m Merikh,” I said, already forgetting to use my cover name. I was supposed to say Mark, so as not to stand out. Mouse would be annoyed.
“Dumbass,” Mouse said on cue through my earpiece. “A white guy can’t go around calling himself Merikh. We’ve discussed this.” She came off more amused than annoyed.
I answered using the Blackberry on my lap under the counter, my thumb speeding over the keys. I’d gotten really good at it. -- We’re only in town for a few more hours. We’ll survive. --
“Claire,” the waitress replied, oblivious to the discussion. “You work for the bank?”
“How did you know?” Even as I said it I looked down at the tatty suit I was wearing. It was mean to convey that I was a working stiff, but still allow me to blend into the background.
“You’re a new face in town. You don't look like a banker, though.”
“I'll take that as a compliment.” I flashed her my most charming smile and was pleased to see it have the intended effect. She smiled back, putting the coffee pot on the counter as she leaned in.
“So what do you do, then?”
“I work in IT.”
“Are you one of the guys in the back room or are you crawling around under desks?”
“Under the desk, I'm afraid. But I'm studying. I'm aiming to get locked in that back room and never come out.” I held her gaze and allowed my hand to move an inch closer to hers. She responded without thinking, leaning further in. It was basic social manipulation, drummed into me from first year. I can do it in my sleep.
“Oh no, that sounds terrible,” she said, shaking her head. “I need to be around people. I couldn't be trapped in a room all day by myself.”
“I get it,” I said, looking around at the empty diner. “You need the hustle and bustle, the constant social interaction.” I kept smiling, making sure my words were playful. There’s a fine line between playful and asshole. “Where is everyone?”
“Like I said, it's a Tuesday.” Her gaze shifted to the man in the corner. He'd grunted something while we were talking and it took me a second to work out what he'd said. He'd called her and she was already on her way to see to him, forgetting I existed in a moment.
I waited until she was at the end of the counter before making my move. With Claire's back to me and the target still hunched over his plate, there was no one to see as I quickly reached over to the coffee pot and dropped in the poison. Though Claire stepped away from the booth almost immediately, I was back in position before she had a chance to see. I’m a sneaky one when I want to be.
“I'll be back in a sec,” she said as she moved into the back room.
The target's name was Trevor Foster, a local businessman and something of a bigwig in the small town. He owned or had invested in most of the local businesses, and it gave him a surprising amount of power. He exercised this power like a tin-pot dictator, even making sure his favorite diner was empty on a Tuesday and his favorite waitress was always working. He was a dick, basically, and now someone wanted him dead. The contract didn't specify how he had to die, only that it had to be this week. Mouse and I have a broker who arranges these sorts of things and he heavily suggested that we were specifically chosen for this job, though we couldn’t work out who might know who we were and also want some small town asshole dead.
Claire reappeared with another burger and hurried over to his table. She handed the plate over and smoothly stepped away as Trevor's hand went to touch her leg. She was used to this, long practiced in the art of avoiding his wandering hands. He grinned at her briefly before turning to his third course.
He’d ask for his coffee next. He had a routine on Tuesdays and he stuck to it religiously. The rest of the time he was unpredictable and more importantly, accompanied by guards. His goons were outside, across the street, sitting in front of the bank. They also had a routine, making this job – our first since putting together our little business – the best kind of job. It was easy, uncomplicated, and over quickly.
“Sorry about that,” she said as she took up a position opposite me again. She leaned over the counter and gave me a view of her cleavage.
“No problem, duty calls.”
“More coffee?” She lifted the pot and pantomimed pouring into my mug. I put my hand in the way, keeping it smooth and trying not to look suspicious. I’m immune to the poison – through years of tiny doses and near misses – but it never hurts to be cautious.
“Can I get a glass of milk?”
She nodded and turned away, grabbing a glass before walking into the back room again.
“Before he dies, you have to get his secret,” Mouse said. “Our boy Trevor is really putting it away and he looks good for his age.” I allowed myself a surreptitious glance at the target. He was well built, slightly too big to be described as athletic. In the week we’d been watching him, we hadn't seen him do more exercise than walking to and from his car, but he must have been putting the burgers somewhere.
-- I don't think I'm doing too badly. --
“Yes, but you work out like a crazy person. That guy looks like he could take you and he spends as much time on the couch as you do exercising.”
-- I'm almost done here. Start packing up. I'll be there soon. --
“Getting a little touchy?” I could hear the grin in her voice and I smiled in response. “Dear Merikh, have I hurt your feelings?”
-- You know I'm a fragile butterfly. --
Claire returned and put the fresh glass of milk in front of me as she took away my coffee cup. She glanced at the corner to make sure the target didn't need her before settling back into position opposite me. She smiled at me and said, “I don't recognize your accent. Where are you from?”
“Denver, originally. But my parents dragged me around the world and it messed up my accent. And you? Are you from anywhere interesting?” I had to get the conversation off myself before it turned to something I hadn’t prepared for.
“Nope. I'm from here.” She was lying, which was unexpected. Mouse and I had a full workup on all key components of the job, of which Claire was one, and she'd only moved there five years before from another no-name small town. “Most people from around here never go anywhere. I'm saving up to move to the city.”
It was another lie. She owned the diner free and clear, having borrowed the money from her parents. Her bank account said she wasn't paying anything back so we assumed it was a gift, a graduation present. I suddenly realized that she was playing me as much as I was playing her. It made the smile on my face more authentic; I’ve got a thing for deceitful women.
Trevor disturbed my newly found interest by raising his hand and clicking his fingers for attention. Claire responded like he'd screamed her name, jumping before hurrying to his side.
“Here we go,” Mouse said.
This was where he'd order his coffee, the last step in his evening. He’d down it quickly before relaxing back in his chair to let everything settle. Normally this would take ten minutes, at which point he’d stand, stretch, and leave. Tonight things would be a little different, though.
Claire returned to collect the coffee pot and grab a mug, pouring as she walked. She placed the mug on his table and grabbed his plates, stacking all three along one arm so she could hold his milkshake glass in her free hand. She left the coffee, though Trevor never asked for more.
-- Okay, I'm out of here. --
“No, you need to stick around. It'll be suspicious if you leave a minute before somebody dies.”
-- It'll be a lot more suspicious if the sheriff turns up and I can't answer any of his questions. Because everything about me is a lie. --
“As soon as he starts spluttering say you're going to get help, then leave. That way she won't think anything is weird until long after you’re gone.” I could hear Mouse packing in the background, transferring the gear from the motel room to the back of the van.
Claire returned but she wasn't really paying attention to me anymore. Her smile was gone and her eyes remained fixed on the corner booth. She was nearly free for the evening and I could see the anticipation in her posture.
The silence dragged in the moments before Trevor's death as my own anticipation had me sitting up straight, preparing the next lines of this play. First Trevor would cough, maybe grunt again to clear his throat. He'd suspect indigestion, or maybe there would be a hidden fear of heart attack, but he wouldn't overreact. The first hint of the blossoming pain in his chest would come a moment later, but he probably still wouldn't react. Most people don’t. By the time he took the pain seriously it would be a torrent, wiping away all thought, wiping him away. He'd be dead a minute later.
A fat, black fly buzzed overhead, veering drunkenly through the air. I followed the sound in the image I’d built of the room in my head. Pictured it approaching Trevor before turning and heading for the back room and the tasty treats waiting within. Claire would have her hands full and probably wouldn't notice it until the next day, at which point it would have laid eggs and probably died, as well.
“Shouldn't something be happening now?” Mouse said. “Isn't this the part where he starts to die?”
My eyes shifted to the corner as the target slid from the booth and stood, stretching the muscles in his back. No sign of a cough, no sign of pain. The pot of coffee sat beside the mug, which was empty. He'd taken the poison and he should be dying, but there was nothing unusual about his expression, nothing to show that he was feeling any pain at all. He moved up to the counter and gestured Claire over with a crooked finger on his right hand.
“Quick question,” he said. He had a roll of bills clutched in his left hand but he didn't hold them out as she approached. “What are you thinking?”
The smile on his face was enough to make the hairs on my neck stand on end. There was a sickness there, under the surface. Something only barely hidden.
“What do you mean?” she said, her eyes roaming the room as though looking for a way out.
He lashed out, his meaty hand gripping her wrist and dragging her toward him.
I was on my feet without thinking, my hands already rising to take up a fighting stance. Claire looked back, raised her free hand, and said, “Don’t.”
Trevor’s eyes never left her, never concerning himself with the potential threat.
“I treat you well, don't I?” the big man said when I forced myself to sit back down.
“Yes, of course you do.”
“I renew your permits when you request them. I make sure your inspections always go well. I'm your friend, right?”
“Why are you doing this?” There was a tremor in her voice now. Her eyes were locked on his face, on that sick smile.
“You know poison is only going to piss me off, right?”
I took in the scene in preparation; this was my fault. Trevor knew about the poison, though how he'd managed to avoid drinking it was a mystery. The mug was empty. It had to have gone somewhere.
“It's time to go to work,” I said out loud to Mouse. This time Trevor noticed me, but only his eyes moved as I got off the stool again.
“You'll want to sit down, stranger. The lady was right, you don't want to do this.”
Mouse echoed him. “I don't know if this is a good idea. We’re not set up for a confrontation like this.” When I didn't answer she knew there was no point in arguing. “Okay. I'm checking the camera. The goons are still across the street. You're clear to do your thing.”
My first instinct was to jump into the fray, to start dismantling my opponent and not stop until there was nothing left. That’s always my first instinct, for good or ill. The problem was, Trevor was taller and better built. There were unknown variables in the scenario. I had to go a different way.