No One Can Know
She is stood in line, her right hand reaching inside her purse as she looks around. Her tongue darts from the right side of her mouth, like a snake tasting the air. It was nervous excitement, fueled by flashes of malevolent, chemical lights in her eyes like an aurora borealis.
The behaviour doesn’t sit with her appearance. She’s classic soccer mom. The ass of a woman who spent hard hours on equipment she would have ordered from a shopping channel. The clothes are copies of major labels, chosen with care to match her skin tone.
Sallow, right now and dark circles under the manic eyes and excitement. None of it fits, which attracted my interest.
People are my business. You can tell a lot by what stands out about them, but it is the ordinary details which have saved my ass more than once. It provides you with useful information. Whether someone is in a manic state.
Or if they’re carrying a gun on them.
It is in her purse. Judging by the material and how it sags, it is too much gun for her frame. She’s fit but kinetic energy will throw back whatever she aims and fires. A perfect shit storm of too much firepower and need, too little training.
The pair of guys with her draw my attention. An amateur would have focused on them first, but there is professionalism I can account for without too much effort. A shotgun sweeps across the store, and the Glock in the other guy’s hand shakes when he holds it up too long. They both shine with flop sweat, which is another problem. No masks mean people will remember their faces. They don’t realise it but once the initial burst of adrenaline ebbs, they will.
Ducking down behind the coffee aisle gives me a good view of her. The other two men fan out, securing the store.
The steak is still in the plastic. It should be on a grill, sizzling in salted garlic butter then chased down with a blunt before a good, easy sleep and then a meeting with the new boss in the morning. No, instead it is in the packaging as the woman’s eyes meet mine.
The smartest thing is to get the woman’s attention in a way which doesn’t frighten her. The fact she’s high out of her mind is a complication but not an imposition.
She sees me, but the hand doesn’t come out of the purse.
‘Miss. You look a little unnerved.’
Formality of speech shows authority. With the guys, it would get me shot but something younger in her reacts like a puppy paid attention.
‘Those men are friends of yours?’
Her eyes welled up with tears as she nodded. To my left, a young Asian man hissed at me to shut the fuck up. One hard look from me and he was scurrying away down the aisles.
‘I partied with them. I left my husband with the kids. I don’t know what happened then.’
Up close, she carried the sour whiff of meth coming through her pores.
‘Do you want to be here right now?’
My directness did not faze her. Shouting or struggling with her would have meant attention and she was high, frightened and responded well to authority. Perfect way to avoid having to shoot her in front of these people.
She shook her head.
I told her which car was mine and gave her the keys. She turned to leave, but I put my hand on her shoulder and looked at the handbag. She reached into her bag. It was a good piece. L Framed Magnum, hand-tooled. She ducked down and slid out through the open doors.
The cylinder was full as one guy came back. Mr Shotgun.
I had to dip the end of the barrel to cock the hammer. On one knee, I looked down the front sight and let it dip onto the hollow of his throat. Black, tattooed flames licked at his chest as my finger squeezed on the trigger.
He folded in half, the impact taking out his throat as blood and cartilage splattered on the tower of kitchen rolls behind him. The shotgun fell from his hands as the air rang with the shot. I was moving towards him, dipping the barrel to cock the hammer again.
Someone was screaming and firing. Just another day at the office as I turned around and waited.
There was an amber puddle of cooking oil in the aisle. An amusing idea came as I held the gun up to bear.
He ran, firing wild, eyes bulging in their sockets as the bullets pinged around me. When the heel of his left foot hit the puddle, I fired and took him in the pelvis. The wet crack when it broke was almost music, but when he hit the tiled floor and wept like a baby, that was my cue to get out of there.
Took the steak too. Least they could do for my efforts as a concerned citizen.
She was in the passenger seat. I pointed the gun at her and said we were making other arrangements.
We got past the cops and were out on the road without so much as a nod from anyone.
It would make the next part easier.
I pop the trunk open and look down at her. She’s passed out and the bruise at her temple isn’t anything she can’t cover up with a little concealer. The gun didn’t have a serial number, tricked out with band aids and now in my collection. Tonight proved you couldn’t have too much gun.
She woke up by degrees.
‘No one can know.’ she said.
Three weeks since she had been home. Lost to a febrile expression of repressed id. It had lost its appeal and now she was getting to go back and make amends.
Or try to.
‘Amnesia. Nothing complicated, which means it will be easier to stick to.’ I said.
She nods and swallows. Then smooths down the front of her dress. She smells sour up close, which is the meth coming out of her pores and the regret, perhaps. I offer my hand and she takes it, holds onto my fingers until the trembling travels down my forearm.
‘Thanks for not -’ she said.
I raised my hand to silence her.
‘I did what needed doing.’
She looked at her small, neat house. I realized it was a fine place to live and raise a family. It wasn’t something which crossed my mind too often, but it wasn’t alien. A place to put your flint to the tinder and make a spark.
Madeline had damn near burned her house down.
I stood there until she walked inside the house. The drive was soothing and gave me time to think. City limits were ahead, and there was time for an hour’s sleep before my meeting with the Dixie Mafia in the morning. Killing ambitious Serbians in return for large amounts of cash.
I had taken my exercise and it was like she said.
No one can know.