The cold November air howled through the empty streets like a vicious wolf. Newspapers, cans and disposed remnants of other lives blew through the avenues like grimy fairies, fleeting and transient. A dark figure trudged down a dark alley, wrapping his tattered coat around him for any extra bit of warmth, but there was none to be had. His matted hair flailed in the wind, obscuring his tired face, worn well by the ravages of stress and time. He silently moved through the islands of lamplight and shadow. No place to go, but always on the move.
"Hey buddy" shot out a voice from the darkness. "Got a light?"
"What?" was the old man's response, taken off-guard.
"Do you have a match? A lighter?"
"Uh, no, I don't. Sorry, pal."
The voice stepped out of the shadows in the form of a well-dressed man in a white felt fedora.
"No," he said, "I'll the one that's sorry. It's a sad state of affairs when I man doesn't have a book of matches to his name."
The old man let his eyes drop to the pavement, "Well, that's the way it is, I guess." He slowly turned and started to trudge off into the whispering night.
"Wait!" the called the voice of the man with the hat with a half-crooked smile. "I think I can fix that for you."
The old man turned sharply on his heal and looked back with eyes full of resentment, "Oh yeah? What can you do? What can you possibly do to change my life?"
"I can give you a job," the man in the white hat smirked back.
The old man felt anger billowing up inside of him. Didn't he know that he'd already tied a million and more times to get a job? Didn't this Madison Avenue streetwalker know that it isn't that easy? Yet at the same time he thought this his feet were moving the two men closer together again.
The old man narrowed his eyes, "What job can you possibly offer me that would make any difference in my life?"
The man in the white hat smiled in a somewhat quirky manner, like he knew something. "It involves this," he said, as he reached deeply in his jacket pocket and is a smooth motion produced, and cocked the hammer on, a shining silver revolver.
The old man's heart leaped, his eyes turning to the size of dinner plates, his hands shooting in the air as if to beg for clemency.
"I don't have any money! I don't have anything worth stealing! Put that away" whimpered the old man, his eyes now filled with fear.
The man in the white hat looked back at the old man with a puzzled expression on his face. "Oh, put your hands down, it's unbecoming of a man of your stature. I'm not going to kill you."
Now it was the old man's turn to look quizzical. "If you're not going to kill me with it, what are you going to do with it?" The old man inquired.
"Me," smiled the man in the hat. "I'm not going to kill anyone with this gun. What a silly concept."
In a swift gesture, the man in the white hat twirled the pistol in his hands, deftly, until it came again to a halt with the handle pointed toward the old man.
"You, my friend, are going to kill me with it," the man in the white fedora said, without a hint of humour or jest.
"What? Why?" yelped the old man, as though someone has knocked the wind out of his chest, "I thought you said you had a job for me?"
"This is a job, my good man! Hey, what is a job, anyway? A job is where you do something, and you get money for doing it, right?"
"I... I suppose."
"And so--" The man in the hat cut himself off at this. "Sorry, I forgot the main part, forgive me..."
The man in the hat lifted and attache case from the ground that the old man hadn't noticed before. It was a plain, aluminum attache case of the kind you find a lot of in airports. He laid it on his forearms in front of the man, released each latch with a soft 'klack' and then slowly pulled it open, the light of a nearby lamp-post illuminating it's contents enough as so there could be no mistake.
The old man looked at the inside of the case, jaw shaking in astonishment.
"This, my good man, is more money then you have ever seen in your life. It is more money than you could ever earn in one thousand years of working a 'regular' job. No more living on the streets, grubbing for food. You could live like a king." sang the man with the hat, like some sort of twisted car salesman.
"There has to be a catch," choked the old man.
The man with the hat snapped the case closed with a loud "whoosh", the sound of the latches echoing through the dim alleyway.
"The only catch you need worry about is the catch that's hold this hammer back," laughed the man.
Once again, the revolver was outstretched to him, pearl handles glittering in the night like the evil eyes of some mythical beast.
"Just one task, friend, and that's all. You'll never have to worry about money again. You'll never have a care in the world. Just a moment's work," winked the man in the white felt fedora.
"No," stammered the old man, "I can't... I can't"
"Can't what? You can't...kill?" Smirked the man, raising an eyebrow in mockery.
"I can't. I'm not a murderer," said the old man, his voice breaking.
"Oh, come now," the man in the hat said energetically, "You can't get caught. The police are too stupid to finger you, a complete stranger! Besides, here I am, asking for it!"
The old man was silent.
The man in the hat gave a perturbed sigh, tapping his feet on the wet pavement. "Okay, you make this even easier, " he pulled an envelope out of his pocket, "here's the free gift: a one-way, first class ticket to a small, tropical island in the South Pacific. Hula girls, drink with umbrellas and," he winked, "no extradition treaty."
"Sure you can."
"No, I can't... I won't." said the old man in a newfound resolve. "I won't have any part of it." Turning sharply away, he began to walk swiftly in the opposite direction, the wind stabbing into him.
He walked strongly for several more paces when the man with the white hat broke the silence with a loud word:
The old man stopped dead in his tracks, but did not turn around.
"RAYMOND!" shouted the man with the hat a second time, the name echoing of the brownstone like the stings of a thousand wasps.
The old man slowly, silently turned around, staring intently at the other man for what seemed like an eternity.
"How do you know that name?" the old barked back.
There was no answer from the man with the hat. Instead, only more secrets.
"How long has it been, Raymond?" said the man in the white hat, as though reading it from some sinister tome. "It's been almost twenty years, Raymond, hasn't it?' He sighed, "You been running away for almost twenty years."
The old man shouted back in anger, "How do you know all this! Huh? Tell me!"
The man in the hat picked up his briefcase and quickly walked over to the old man, the stiff leather of the soles of his shoes making a hail of stiletto gunfire resonate off all the buildings around. When he reached the old man, he slammed the case down on the stone creating a cannonfire that should not have been able to come from such a small action.
"It doesn't matter how I know, Raymond," hissed the man, "what matters is that I DO know. I know everything about you, who your are."
The man in the hat calmed and composed himself.
"But most importantly I know about what happened that day. You, Raymond, " he was shouting again, "are WEAK. You could have succeeded all those years ago and be living the life of royalty by now. But instead, you chickened out, you looser."
"You failed to do what you had to do, and now you're paying the price." said the man in the fedora, his dark eyes piercing from under the shadowy brim. "You've been hunted for twenty years because you were unwilling to do then what I'm giving you the chance to do now."
The old man thought back to the fateful day, how he was betrayed and how he became a wanted man. The man in the hat spoke the truth, all of it... but something still was not right.
"No," screamed the old man, "I won't be a murderer! Not then, not now, not ever!"
"Oh, come now," mocked the man in the hat, "this is no time for splitting hairs! But still... " The man in the hat grinned menacingly, "maybe you need some, ahem, encouragement."
His free hand was thrust into another pocket, and in another silken gesture, another weapon was produced -- a mobile telephone.
The man with the hat looked the old man straight in the eye.
"See this phone, Raymond?" the man spat through cliched teeth, "This phone means that you don't have a choice in the matter. You have two choices here, Raymond:"
He thrust the revolvers' handle into the old mans hand and tightly wrapped his fingers around it, and brought the barrel of the weapon to his chest.
"You can pull the trigger and take the money and live like a god until your shake loose this mortal coil."
"I make a call on this phone and the authorities come and arrest you. They will then take you and put you in a small, dark HOLE, Raymond. And after you've been there for a few more DECADES, they will take you, strap you to a chair and run electricity through you until you DIE! A nice way to spend you retirement, eh, Raymond?"
An eternal silence past, the two men with their gazes fixed on the others.
"Choose." said the man in the white hat. "You have only two choices."
The wind whipped at the two men, and a soft rain began to fall about them, softly splashing, murmering to all listening. A bolt of lightning rent the sky and a clap of thuder shook the air.
Moments later, a shot cried out through the night and a telephone rang.