Jane was settling into bed when the knocking began – three sharp raps in quick succession, and after a brief pause, three more. The clock on the bedside table flashed 12:00 – the result of a power outage earlier in the day – but even a broken clock can be right, as they say, and this one was probably close.
Jane didn’t make a sound. She hadn’t buzzed anyone into the building, and her neighbours had more respect than to come knocking at such an hour, unannounced. She crept toward the living room to grab her phone from the charger, prepared to call the police if it became necessary.
As she passed the front hall she could see a shadow through the crack under the door. The hair stood up on her arms and she worried that she might cry out. There was a scratching sound as something was shoved into the room, and she had to put a hand over her mouth to stifle the scream.
How long she stood there frozen like that, she couldn’t say. The clock on the microwave kept flashing 12:00, 12:00, 12:00. When she came to her senses the shadow was gone and she realized it was only an envelope that had been pushed through the bottom of the door.
“Jesus Maria,” she muttered to herself, giddy and embarrassed at the overreaction. What the hell was she expecting? The devil himself? She tapped her breast as though to discipline her beating heart, then took a furtive glance through the peephole before picking the package off the floor. There was no one in sight.
Fumbling along the wall for a switch, she flipped the light on to get a better look at the parcel. The envelope itself was unexceptional, but when she opened the flap her eyes widened in surprise, for there she found a crisp stack of $100 bills and a business card, heavily embossed, in the name of Damien St. Pierre & Associates. A note neatly penned on the back of the card read: The limousine will wait. Come down when you are ready.
Jane didn’t know what to make of it. Still counting the money – there were twenty bills in all – she marched to the window and, pushing the curtain aside, saw that there was indeed a limo idling on the other side of the street.
There was obviously some confusion. But it occurred to her that perhaps her neighbours weren’t as respectable as she had imagined: the only thing she could figure was that she had been mistaken for a high-priced prostitute – and the john was downstairs waiting in the car. That was worth a chuckle. Still svelte at 42, Jane wasn’t entirely without her charms, but rare was the man who paid for the privilege of climbing into her bed! Such a thing was yet to happen in this lifetime. Could it be drug money?
Jane suddenly regretted switching the light on, as it now would be obvious to anyone looking up from the street that she was home. On the other hand, the money couldn’t be a gift – not for her at any rate – she was certain of that. Sooner or later someone would be coming around to retrieve it (or whatever it was meant to purchase) – and a sleepless night it would be while she was waiting. Jane picked up the phone and dialled the number on the card.
“You know my name,” she gasped.
“And the money…?”
“…is surely the least we can offer in exchange for your time this evening.”
“I don’t understand. Who the hell are you? And what do you want from me?”
“I represent Damien St. Pierre. And I have a matter of great urgency to discuss with you.”
“'A matter of urgency'? You scared the bejesus out of me.”
“I can assure you, that was not my intention.”
“Well what was your intention?”
“In all honesty, madam, it was to begin this conversation.”
Jane had to pause at that. “Well, you succeeded. But I don’t have time for this. Are you going to tell me what’s going on or do I have to call the police?”
“The police?” The other chuckled lightly. “You misunderstand. You have been paid – and if I may say, paid quite well – to participate in this conversation. You initiated it yourself when you dialled this number, and you may end it whenever you please – and our business will come to a permanent close. I can see no role for the police in this matter.”
“Then tell me what you want already.”
“Mr. St. Pierre has a business proposition he would like to share with you.”
“And this is how Mr. St. Pierre pursues his business? By shoving envelopes of cash under people’s doors in the middle of the night? Tell him I’m not in that line of work.”
“Your misgivings are understandable. Mr. St. Pierre can be unorthodox. It wouldn’t be out of place even to describe him as eccentric. Like any successful businessman he is often forced to navigate a morass of legal and ethical uncertainties, but he is not a criminal. Indeed, I can assure you he is exceptionally scrupulous in his dealings.
“Oh, I’ll just take your word for that. Are you going to tell me what he wants?”
“In a word, madam, he wishes to buy you out—”
“Buy me out?” Jane nearly spit the words into the receiver.
“—your assets, your liabilities, your interests and rights – it’s quite an extensive list, as you might well imagine – and not one I could begin to recite over the telephone. Mr. St. Pierre is willing to offer quite a substantial sum—”
“—and why would he want to do something like that?”
“As I’ve said, Mr. St. Pierre has certain eccentricities. Unfortunately, I am in no position to explain his thinking on this matter. I am only the messenger, as they say. But I can assure you he is a man of immense power, and fully capable of meeting his obligations.
“You can assure me? I can’t believe I’m even having this conversation.”
“Of course I wouldn’t expect you to rely on my assurances. Everything is spelled out in the contract I have in front of me—”
“—What? You already have the contract written up?”
“As I explained, this is a matter of the utmost urgency for Mr. St. Pierre. He wishes to take immediate possession.”
“This is ridiculous. What could he possibly take possession of – my sofa? My coffee maker?”
“One man’s junk – as they say – is another man’s treasure.”
“Right. And out of curiosity, just how much is he willing to pay for all this treasure?”
“Ten million dollars, plus applicable taxes and expenses.”
“Ten million dollars?” Jane nearly choked on the words. “Now I know I‘m being put on. What the hell does he think he’s buying, my soul?”
The voice at the other end laughed delightedly. “If the law had allowed such a thing, and you were in a position to dispossess yourself of it, no doubt Mr. St. Pierre would have made you an offer. As it is, however, his interests are restricted to what the law can enforce. If you want to sell your soul, you’ll have to call the devil to make arrangements.”
Even Jane had to laugh at that. “Well, if this isn’t the most preposterous hoax I’ve ever heard you can send the contract to my lawyer.”
“—Mr. Green will be arriving shortly. He was apprised of the situation earlier in the evening, and has been examining the contract since. Shall I put him on the line?”
“What? This is unbelievable. Put him on.”
“Hi, Jane. Thomas Green here.”
“Tom? What the hell’s going on?”
“I’ll be honest, Jane. I’ve never seen anything like this in all my life. I take it you’ve already spoken with Mr. Lucien?”
“I didn’t get his name.”
“Well, he claims to be an agent for someone called St. Pierre.”
“I wasn’t able to find out a thing about him – and I’d be surprised if it was his real name. I’ll say this for him, though: he’s got the money. Everything is being paid up front – and at a ridiculous premium. You heard he’s offering ten million dollars?”
“Yeah. That’s what his agent said.”
“Well, believe it or not, it was put in escrow this afternoon. I’ve never seen such a slick operation.”
“But what exactly does he want?”
“Here’s the thing, Jane: he wants it all—”
“Well that’s what the other guy said. But what does that mean?”
“It means you leave tonight and never look back.”
“You’ll have to change your name.”
“You’ll have to leave the city.”
“Come on, what about my parents? What am I supposed to tell them? What about my job?”
“No contact with your parents – no contact with anyone you met prior to this evening. Their agents will manage your resignation and any other dealings with prior associates. Oh, and you’d need to find yourself a new lawyer.”
“Any other surprises?”
“Let me put it this way: there shouldn’t be any surprises at all because there are no loopholes: you give it all up. Any violation – any whiff of a violation – and they’ll come after you for everything you have. Otherwise, it looks legit.”
“How long do I have to think about it?”
“Not long. Ten minutes, maybe?”
“This is outrageous. I’ve got ten minutes to decide whether to become like one of those mafia turncoats, living under an assumed identity?”
“And while I’m spending my newfound wealth, he’ll be in here sniffing my dirty panties and sampling the leftovers in the fridge.”
“Something like that, I suppose.”
“Yeah, I get it now: what do you buy for the guy who has everything already?”
“Do you need the money, Jane?”
“No, not really.”
“Do you need to take the risk?”
“Of course not.”
“Shall I tell him to go fuck himself?”
“No… I’ll be down in ten minutes.”