Dark night in the city. The streetlights are on, turning muddy puddles into orange reflecting pools. I am sitting on a bench outside the Jamaica-Van Wyck Station, covered in a heavy jacket and resisting the urge to smoke a cigarette so I can avoid attention from the homeless snoring gently around me. Homeless people all look the same to me and I have a sneaking suspicion that this is because I always run into the same ones. Or maybe they just come in archetypes; the seminal hairy woman, the ubiquitous and mysteriously mobile amputee, the omnipresent alcoholic. There could be some sort of homeless factory somewhere. Anything's possible.
I scratch at my face absently. It has not seen a razor in some months and I have not undertaken any measures to clean the resulting growth. A few unidentifiable crumbs drop from the scruff to my lap. The things we do for money, I think. The warm air of a subway vent touches me from behind, silently alerting me to the approach of the E train. I hunch myself over and reach inside my jacket, as if trying to keep myself warm from the chilly October wind but my fingers wrap themselves around something colder than any autumn breeze. An unremarkable and somewhat dented blue Buick pulls off the Van Wyck and parks itself across from the subway entrance. Inside I spot a female driver, alone. She's within range, but not part of the contract.
Distantly, I can hear the echoes of a man's footsteps as he makes his way up through the subway tunnels. They grow more hurried as he comes closer. I can tell he's nervous. Rightly so, I think, enjoying the private joke with a grin. My hand grips more tightly around the Glock. And then he's there, wearing a blue Giants hoodie and trying to bridge the few feet between himself and his lover in as few steps as possible. I like to imagine that it's a testament to my skill with subterfuge that he never sees the gun, but the credit probably belongs more to his already panicked state. One, two, three, and he drops. His ladyfriend gawks for a moment before I put one in the back of her Buick to make her drive off. The homeless have already scurried off. Like a good cockroach, I do the same.
I show up at the client's house the next day. My face is clean shaven again, thankfully, but so is my head, having contracted a rather annoying case of lice during the night. I am, however, wearing my nicest suit. I always wear my nicest suit on pay day. It's just classier that way.
I reach out and ring the doorbell, then pull back to wait for someone to answer the door. The house is quite massive, an symbol of affluence if I ever saw one. The grounds are equally impressive. The lawn alone probably commands a small army of landscapers. There's some rustling and a click as the door pulls open to reveal a tall, handsome man in his thirties. He too, is wearing his finest suit. We exchange grins and he gestures for me to come in. Inside, he offers me a cigar and a seat in his dining room. The floor is marble, cold and smooth. I ask him how much it cost and he just smiles as he pours the wine into my glass and hands it to me. Then he sits down across from me.
"You're Mrs. Wendall's lover?" I ask.
"Of course. And you're the man she hired then?"
"Why yes. You don't happen to know where Mrs. Wendall is? Or Ms. Wendall now, I suppose. We've only talked by phone and I was rather hoping to meet her."
He grins even wider and sips some wine before he answers.
"She's out. Someone close to her died, you understand."
We laugh together at that. But it's time to get back to business.
"So you'll be paying me?"
He laughs again, somewhat inappropriately, I think.
"I suppose so. You did do an excellent job on Harry."
"Harry?" I feel my back stiffen. Wendall's husband's name had been Peter, not Harry.
"Yes, yes. I've deducted for the bullet you put in Anna's car, but I appreciate your decision not to harm her. If you had, well..." He gave a sweeping gesture in the direction of the marble flooring.
I complete his sentence for him, no longer smiling.
"You'd already be cleaning me up. Just like you cleaned up your wife's lover."
"I see she hired the best. I always tried to teach her that. Do you want to know how I did it?"
"How you lured him to the station where you regularly meet your woman and got him to dress as you? I can imagine a few ways without your help, Mr. Wendall."
"Ah well, I thought we could exchange some professional advice."
I notice that my glass of wine seems to have become spontaneously empty.
"I'd rather not chit-chat when there is still money to be paid."
"Right, right." He places a large briefcase on the table and opens it. The money is in tens, just as I requested on the phone with Mrs. Wendall. I look at it, then him, and then back at the money again.
"That's all?" I ask, dubious. "No conditions, no terms?"
"Only that you never speak of this to anyone. And that you leave me a business card. I may have a job for you in the coming weeks."
"Fine." I toss one of my cards to him as he pushes the briefcase across the table. Then I get up and begin to walk away. Before I make my way out the door, I pause.
"Mr. Wendall... A single question before I go."
"What do you do for a living?"
"Hedge fund manager."