SHE’S A STUNNER, no word of a lie.
Slinky red dress, looks like she’s been poured into it. Heels like daggers. Blonde hair (it’s always got to be blonde hair). A cigarette in one velvet gloved hand, a letter in the other. Smoky eyes, dark and mysterious. The sort of dame you’d sell your soul to in return for just five minutes alone with her.
She’s exactly what I ordered.
‘Mister Collodi?’ Her voice is smooth like fine brandy. I drink it in.
‘That’s me.’ I feel a twinge in my nostrils, brush it off with an idle gesture. ‘What took you so long?’
‘Have you ever tried to cross the city during rush hour wearing heels like these?’ She kicks up a calf, points to her shoes. With all the grace and poise of a ballerina. She fixes me with those eyes, like a predator daring its prey to make a move. I feel my chest splintering.
‘Never mind, you’re here now. Sign this.’ I push the paper across the desk, hand her the pencil I’ve been chewing on. She looks at it with distaste, like I’ve just given her roadkill and asked her to eat it.
‘There.’ She finishes her signature with a flourish. Every move deliberate. Bewitching. I touch the pendant round my neck, make sure it’s still there. Still doing its job.
‘Now, Mister Collodi. What do you want me to do?’
‘A simple job. Should be a cakewalk for someone of your … abilities.’ I hand her the photograph. It’s been taken from a distance, but the subject’s face has been magnified by the guys in the tech team.
She glances down then back at me. Quick as a mousetrap. ‘No Prince Charming, is he? Should be easy enough.’
‘There’s a bonus if you get it done without leaving any trace.’ The guilt is an old friend. It’s used to being ignored.
‘I pride myself on my efficiency, Mister Collodi.’ Eyelids droop like blinds being drawn. ‘I’ll be back before you’re ready to lock up for the evening.’
‘I keep long hours, sister. I’ll be waiting for you.’ I think about asking her if she wants to join me for dinner. Or a drink, at least. Which, over the last few months, has taken the place of dinner anyway.
I remember SB’s orders though. About never getting too close. I cross my arms behind my head and put my feet up on the desk, ignoring the creak of protest from my limbs.
‘Until later then.’ And she’s gone, a curl of cigarette smoke curving in the air where she was standing, a moment before.
I get on with some paperwork, trying not to think about the poor chump somewhere out there, going about his business, unaware of what’s just happened here this afternoon.
Unaware that I’ve just sentenced him to death.