fiction, short fiction, women

Had It Coming

Sarah looked out the window, her thin, pale hands wrapped around a large mug of hot chocolate. The marshmallows had melted, but she kept sipping it, even with the frosting of melted goo on her upper lip. Martin didn’t mention it to her, deriving a quiet stab of childish pleasure watching it settle on her upper lip before she swiped it away with her tongue.

 

She looked at him, thanked him for the hot chocolate and turned to look back outside. All he saw was their reflection, distorted and robbed of detail by the overhead lights and the night outside. He turned away with a sigh and went over to the couch, picked up the book and tried to read.

 

He scowled, knowing she couldn’t see it but felt another burst of malign delight at, to borrow the Italian phrase, biting his thumb at her.

 

Sarah had it coming.

 

Responsibility without authority was slavery, Martin believed and the years he had worked, maintained and pursued for a life of stability was such an example. A wealthy businessman, with an attractive wife and she had betrayed him.

 

With someone penniless in comparison.

 

Sarah looked out the window.

 

The chocolate had lumps in the bottom, so it was too weak and she had clumps of damp powder on her teeth. He had sulked over to the couch, and it was a relief. She was accustomed to his sullen silences, a small but anxious cloud of self-reproach and covert contracts never fulfilled. His squat, little body had softened out around the middle and wisps of hair clung to the side of his head. A perfect catalogue of his flaws was hers with a single thought.

 

She hears the splash before the quinine comes to her across the room. He’s having a drink, she thinks. It is his excuse for his inability to get an erection, or why he slept in the spare room most evenings. Sarah ached for comfort but he denied it to her, long before she ever sought anyone else.

 

At least, she tells herself that.

 

The first time she saw herself through John’s eyes had been in a bookshop. She ordered from the internet, but when she had met her mother for lunch, she had an hour spare before Martin came home and walked into the Book Hive.

 

The newer titles reminded her of how sparse her inner life had become. She was about to leave, unable to bear the sharp edge of her insight.

 

Which was when she saw him.

 

Warm, brown eyes. An awareness equidistant between the faint glimmering of need and a wry, playful hunger. Some white in the beard, but clear skin and he had good posture. Her eyes fell to his hands and her stomach flipped with a slow curious interest at his long fingers and the soft, brown curls of hair on the backs of his hands as he held the book.

 

They said nothing. A small, slow smile from him. A little overbite, but his teeth were white and his lips were full and the colour of fresh salmon.

 

Shaved head, which lent him an arrogance she found compelling. He followed her eyes.

 

Their words were ineffective jockeys riding vast primal beasts of want, stirred into being and her interest became an amusement.

 

She was open about being married as much to test his reaction. He smiled and asked none further.

 

They exchanged numbers. It all felt inevitable in hindsight. The free market of ideas, and this one, breaking a cardinal, ancient tenet.

 

Adultery.

 

They went to his, coupled with a ferocious energy which she hadn’t enjoyed since her twenties and he reintroduced her to her body and its capacity for joy with amused mastery and invention.

 

John never specified what he did for a living. She saw him writing a lot, and he travelled. A consultant, he said. He listened more than spoke, his implacable strong fingers running along the soles of her feet.

 

The curve of her buttocks.

 

She had a drawer of toys at his, plus some underwear she never wore for her husband.

 

They wrote to one another, bought the letters with them and left them in a lacquered box he made for her. A present she could not display, but it spoke to her heart in a way nothing her husband gave her ever could.

 

Not even the fucking car, she thought.

 

She was lost in a fog of hormones. Sarah missed the battered Ford Escort which followed her drive from home into the city.

 

Deaf to the small click when she called him.

 

Blind to the short, dark man who left the restaurant just after them and tucked a small leather notebook into his coat pocket.

 

Mute when she came home and found Martin sat there, flushed with indignation and gin as he slapped the manila folder on the coffee table.

 

She wouldn’t get a thing in the divorce.

 

He would get custody of the children.

 

Martin was an awful husband but an excellent businessman.

 

A sense memory came to her, cruel in its beautiful clarity. John on top of her, looking into her eyes with a hunger which made them dark whilst his fingers curled around her throat. She blinked it away as tears came.

 

After that, it was a negotiation.

 

She finished it by email. He made her delete and block his number from her phone. Martin walked her between the computer and the phone like a recalcitrant child.

 

Martin said he would have John hurt if she saw him again.

 

Or worse. He did business with some Polish construction companies. Men who were directors on paper but thugs in person. They would understand his anger, and act to help him. It was the closest he had come to potency for years.

 

Her worst fear was John coming to the house. Yet each day he didn’t, hurt even more. She held her children more, but it didn’t take from the anguish.

 

The cottage was his idea. Her sister had the children and been the one person she told about John. Lucy had never liked Martin, but loved her sister enough to listen saying nothing.

 

They didn’t have sex. He was enjoying his anger too much to allow himself the pleasure and the thought of having him inside appalled her. Talking things through, they agreed.

 

It had been silence for most of the evening. He communicated his disdain through his glances and the theatrical sighs which he did in between drinks.

 

He decided he would go through with it.

 

Lucy could have the children. He’d claim insanity and there was enough stashed offshore to keep the children until he got out. Wiping her from the face of the earth was a simple business decision. He had negotiated a deal which no longer benefited him.

 

She was so fucking beautiful and he disgusted her. His weakness burned like acid in his chest. He got up from the sofa and went to the bedroom. Sarah sighed with relief and kept looking out of the window.

 

There was a flash of a headlamp and then more of the damp dark kissing the windows.

 

It was small in his hand. Heavy and cold but it sat in his palm and when he curled his fingers around it, his cock stiffened with an electric urge as he opened the cylinder and checked the load. Six rounds.

 

He had perfume to confuse the gunshot residue. A revolver meant he could pick up the casings, dispose of them without incriminating himself.

 

A drive to the shops to get milk. She would have been alone in the cottage.

 

There had been burglaries along the coast. Bored teenagers, they said.

 

But, Martin had decided, what if they weren’t?

 

Even if he did time, it wouldn’t be long and he had resources. Friends in high places.

 

Low ones, too. His heart thumped against his ribs. Martin brightened and swelled as he left the bedroom.

 

She screamed when she saw the gun in his hand. His grin was a death rictus and his chin shone with a glaze of gin-scented saliva.

 

If only she had been looking at him.

 

Martin had time to turn before he stared into John’s eyes, no longer warm as something caught him in the windpipe. John’s leg swept his feet from under him.

 

The floor smacked him between the shoulderblades as his finger squeezed the trigger.

 

John let go, clutching his left ear from where the gun had gone off. Sarah saw he was wearing black leather gloves which shone from the rain outside.

 

A pane of glass shattered and Sarah felt something splatter her cheek.

 

She fell forwards, crying out but moving towards John.

 

He staggered for a moment before he looked at her. He nodded before he turned around and drove the heel of his right boot into Martin’s sternum then onto his left wrist. Martin wheezed his protest before the slick crack of his bones breaking made him scream as much as his empty lungs allowed. The gun hung from his useless fingers but John stamped on his hand twice more just to make sure.

 

John knelt over and drew out a pen from inside his jacket and hooked it through the trigger guard before he retrieved a clear plastic bag and slipped the gun inside. Martin gurgled as he aspirated bloodied scraps of cartilage. John stood up and sealed the bag shut.

He turned and looked at Sarah.

 

‘You ok?’ he said.

 

She touched her cheek. Her fingertips came away wet with her blood and her knees were hollow as he put the bag on the floor and unzipped his jacket. She collapsed into his embrace, warm fur and muscle against her. It was like cool water on a hot day and she looked past him as her husband twitched out his last breath on the wooden floor.

 

‘What did you do?’ she said.

 

He took off his jacket and put it around her.

 

‘Go wait in the hallway. Touch nothing and wait for me.’

 

She said his name. He moved with an experienced economy as he lent over Martin before glancing over his shoulder.

 

It took only twenty minutes. He came to her and found another coat for her to wear.

 

‘Your sister will vouch you were there after the kids were asleep. You left him here because he was drunk. You called an Uber and he will testify you were upset and had a mark on your cheek from where he struck you.’

 

She shuddered and wrapped her arms around herself. He put his hand out to her and she took it.

 

‘He bought the gun a few days ago. Saw him leaving and did the percentages.’

 

‘What percentages? I don’t get it, John, you don’t know things like this.’ she said.

 

His eyes shone with a quiet, cold light.

 

‘With you, I got to come away from all that.’ he said.

 

She took a deep breath and fought tears.

 

‘I can’t believe he bought me here to fucking kill me. The cunt.’ she said.

 

He put his arms around her.

 

‘We need to go.’ he said.

 

The bike was outside. He passed her a helmet and she slipped it on.

 

The cottage compressed as they rode away. His jacket was warm from his skin and he smelled of the dark tobacco he smoked. She wrapped her arms around his waist and pressed herself against him as he opened the throttle up on the bike.

 

She had it coming, she told herself and ached to see her children again. Meanwhile with her arms slipped around his taut waist, she leaned into John’s back as the cottage grew smaller and flickered with activity.  

 

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Precop

https://alexandre-deschaumes.deviantart.com/art/The-light-at-the-end-of-the-world-372773387

They knocked out the lights in the hallway. The glass from the lightbulb crunched under her boot and she heard someone moving towards her and the palm strike to her nose, feeling it crunch and then the knife punching through her vest. She falls back, bangs the back of her head. She didn’t get to draw her gun.

 

She came in low, drove the tomahawk into the meat of his thigh and dragged it down. There is an artery there, and he was dead before she went up the stairs.

 

The shotgun came as a surprise and the force of the round slammed her back down the hallway.

 

Next time, she had the revolver up, squeezed off a clean shot which clipped him in the temple before he brought the shotgun up. His blood and brains made a comma shaped mark on the wall behind him. She looked back at the bodies and crept up the stairs.

 

She died twice before she shot through the floorboards with the shotgun, took out two people before she walked up, cruising on adrenaline like a migrating bird on the thermals. Every swallow tasted of copper as she cut down a young man who pointed a cheap revolver from a doorway at her.

 

He fell onto his side, stared out at nothing. Imogen had been at the last Thanksgiving turkey hand out, he couldn’t have been over ten sporting a swollen lip from another of his mother’s endless loop of men and she’d gone into the apartment, shot out a hard right which took him by surprise, gave the kid a twenty and warned his mother if she saw the boy with so much a frown, she’d come back and fuck her up.

 

That had been before she’d volunteered for the enhancement programme, laid in a hospital looking at three dimensional images of her brain and body as the doctors explained where they were cutting and why.

 

The implants in her brain. Carbons in her bones. Artificial muscle grafts and fullerenes to strengthen her and heighten her reflexes.

 

She was recovering from a knife in her gut when the man from the government visited her. He smelled of the curry he’d eaten for lunch and he had a spot on his cheek where he had missed it when shaving. He discussed her record, her former military service.

Policing was becoming militarised and once the military had installed the enhancive program, deploying them in Venezuela, it became a matter of time and public acceptance.

 

Politics was downriver from culture and culture was downriver from biology. A woman officer was good optics and the man explained it all in a warm, soft voice which cut through the fog of painkillers and antibiotics. She was thinking about the box cutter digging through the skin of her stomach, how her last thought had been if she lived, she’d never be able to wear a bikini again.

 

Two years later, she walked into the squad room, claps on the back and hard hugs, the wary light in the eyes of her crew as she sat with them.

 

Imogen closed her eyes, visualised the teeming mist of the valley and the warm, damp earth beneath her feet. An image of tropical perfection, part of her meditative practice as she ignored the rumble of the road beneath her feet. The darkness was a blanket draped around her shoulders, and she sank into it as they drove to the warehouse.

 

Her crew were quiet, saving their nerves for the job.  

 

The car stopped and she felt a hand at her shoulder. Imogen opened her eyes and smacked her lips.

 

She knew her enhancements frightened them and she compensated by going on point. It kept them alive, and grateful for having her there. Detective Imogen Capaldi was better than any vest, any gun but they didn’t know the cost she paid to be a better breed of cop.

 

Imogen got out the car, breathed in the warm, dank air of a summer midnight in New York and looked at the scarred front door of the drop house. Precognition ran its nails down her spine as she checked her revolver and looked at the rest of her crew.

 

They asked her if she saw their deaths but she shook her head.

 

It was what she told them if they pressed her.

 

She knew it would be another eight years, defusing a dirty bomb planted in Grand Central Station, without a child or a family to mourn her passing. The job would bury her with reverence, but it was no comfort against feeling her flesh melt on her bones from the brutal waves of radiation.

 

She smiled and nodded towards the building, watched the future roll towards her as she smiled and went to face it.

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White Rabbit

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“Men ought either to be well treated or crushed, because they can avenge themselves of lighter injuries, of more serious ones they cannot; therefore, the injury that is to be done to a man ought to be of such a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge.”

Nicollo Machiavelli, The Prince.

 

1.

 

Ibrahim walked down the street, cursing Ellen for making him clean out the frier again before he left to attend mosque with his uncle. He hated the job, but Mohammed insisted he finish out the summer before he got him an internship at the firm.

 

He didn’t want to be late. Mohammed was fastidious without being vain and he had known nothing but his faith but he did business without it being a problem.

 

Ibrahim drew comments and stares. No one wanted to feel alien in their own skin and he would slip out of the way, finding something to do in the back until their attention went elsewhere or he pretended not to have heard anything. He simpered and it hurt to do it but once he was working with his uncle, he would earn respect without being made to suffer for it.

 

He was running late.

 

It was the only thing which saved him.

 

He saw the mosque and quickened his pace before a massive hand slapped him backwards. He smelled his hair burning and his eardrops popped like balloons as he fell backwards, breaking his coccyx against the sidewalk.

 

Ibrahim lay there, mute with pain as his hair burned and his body turned inside out with pain. He had bitten his tongue and each swallow tasted of burnt copper as he struggled to breathe.

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Home – Episode 13

Previous episodes are in the link below

https://mbblissett.com/untitled-wolf-series/

1.

 

They had been walking through the twilight, almost in lockstep with one another, when John heard Kelly give a shiver as she wrapped her arms around herself. He turned and looked at her, the purple half-crescents of exhaustion tattooed beneath her eyes and the waxy pallor of her skin made him stop and put his hand out to touch the small of her back.

 

‘We will stop and get warm now, Kelly.’ he said.

 

His voice was low and rough with the burden of his own exhaustion. He knew he had pushed their pursuit to mitigate his mistake, but he saw the impact of his decisions reflected in her face. She nodded with gratitude as she drew closer to him.

 

‘Good, I’m feeling the cold.’ she said.

 

Kelly resented the admission, but she had been forcing one foot in front of the other for hours, wracked with hunger and cold, as she fought the looming exhaustion which dogged her harder than the men hunting her.

 

He looked ahead and sniffed. The scent of chill, running water ran down his throat as he smiled and gazed at her as he took the tomahawk and gripped it in his right hand. He told her to wait here whilst he found wood for the fire. She sat down before she collapsed, fighting a sudden squall of tears by lowering her chin and letting her hair fall over her face.

 

She awoke to his touch as he squatted in front of her but he shook his head and told her to go back to sleep. A burst of gratitude, gentle and delightful ran through her as she lowered her chin and slipped back into a blank, exhausted sleep.

 

The fire woke her up as John sat there, cross legged and going through his rucksack. She watched him, the fire highlighting the hints of gold in his brown eyes as he worked with a careful diligence.

 

She got up, rubbed her legs to get the blood flowing again and joined him by the fire.

 

‘How long do you think we’ll be out here?’ she said.

 

He gave a hesitant smile as he handed her a strip of jerky and a fresh canteen of water. She chewed as the salty, meat taste flooded her mouth with sustenance but the salt stung and she washed it away with a slug of cold, clean water.

 

‘There’s not many of them but they looked prepared.’ he said.

 

She caught the unspoken fact of the reduction in their numbers by how the skin around his eyes crinkled with a sharp pang of acknowledgement. He sighed and looked down, calculating their odds as Kelly watched him, hopeful for a sign of a positive outcome.

 

Her assessment was as bleak as it was undefined. Despite moving, they were hidden, detached from their lives and circumstances and she wondered if she would ever have cause to feel dissatisfied with a late arriving cab or bad service in a restaurant again. The time spent unplugged had stripped away much of her affectations, but it came to her as a relief. She had a love of puzzles, which is part of why she adapted to computing, then its darker applications but here she had been confronted with two puzzles.

 

John.

 

Herself.

 

Kelly realised she had not touched a computer in days, had missed the flow of information which served as a secondary memory for her with a piquant ache. She dabbled in the self-pity before she saw it as an affectation and let it go. Her skills had earned her a death sentence, and out here, she was safe from the consequences.

 

She hoped she was.

 

They sat by the fire in companionable silence until she drew closer and rested her head on his shoulder. He had accepted her overtures with stoicism, and he kept his hands from wandering over her, nor had he forced a kiss on her. Kelly wondered if this was how he was with people, or whether he was too polite to reject her but he embraced her with a tenderness which made her wish, she could stay like this with him.

 

John did not answer her question. He would need to see for himself, which invited further risk and conflict. He had his hungers but no genuine appetite for murder, and each time it took something from him he was unsure he could replace.

 

For now, they were safe and warm, which was enough.

 

Jasper was not fluent in the language of conciliation and failure. If there were an app or a phrase book available, he would have devoured it. Instead, he was sat in a restaurant, plucking the linen napkins instead of smoking, thinking through what he needed to do.

 

His employer was coming to the U.S. This evening.

 

Grant and the others were back, holed up in a secure location and collating their information so Jasper had a hymn sheet to sing from. The waiter came over and took his order as he received a report from Olivia.

 

She had threaded the few facts with supposition. Kelly had lucked into the presence of an eccentric wealthy survivalist, with a dog he trained to hunt, and the charitable nature to help her evade capture. They had fled into the woods but Olivia had been confident they would return to civilisation and had suggested surveillance on any known associates. Jasper did not correct her with the fact her closest friend and collaborator had died in the plane but he figured doing something was better than not doing anything. The briefcase was so much ash, but he had to be seen to be acting in his employer’s interests.

 

Jasper had never met his employer. A lawyer had approached him with a contract, followed by a telephone conversation and a set of directives. A transfusion of credit to his failing security business had smoothed over any concerns and the work kept Jasper busy and wealthy if a little uncertain of his role.

 

Last night, Jasper had received a phone call to announce his employer was coming to the area on business. Jasper had swallowed his nerves, fearful the visit was a termination of their agreement but a phone call would have sufficed. A bullet to the head was an international and expansive gesture, but Jasper feared disappointing his employer more than death.

 

Since his childhood as a twitching nerve, Jasper had bullied his way through basic military training then selection into the SAS before eight years of operations and the nascent idea of his own business. Now, he was little more than an hour away from wondering if this was the last good day he would ever know.

 

He forwarded the report to his employer and by the time his food had arrived, his phone rang.

 

‘Who wrote this report?’

 

Jasper broke out in gooseflesh as he stammered out Olivia’s name.

 

‘Excellent. Will she be available to discuss her findings?’

 

Jasper agreed she would be because it limited his chances of dying. At heart, Jasper had an animal’s instinct for survival. Some breeds chewed off limbs to escape traps, but it did not mean they enjoyed the taste and he was no different.

 

He rang the number for the secure location and told Olivia she needed to meet him at the Chateau Marmont at 1400. He ended the call before she could ask anything and he sat back in his chair with a sense of reprieve lifting his mood.

 

Jasper even found his appetite again.

 

3.

 

Kelly awoke as the blue light of dawn washed over her. John was not in his sleeping bag and she swore under her breath as she looked around for him. He had left her a note, pinned underneath a flat rock.

 

GONE TO SEE THE LAY OF THE LAND.

 

She got out of the sleeping bag when she heard a faint rustling from the foliage to her left. Kelly had the gun in her hands but John poked his head through and looked at the gun with a frown.

 

‘I should have warned you but I have good news.’

 

Kelly lowered the gun, it had gained a weight which drew her arms down as she looked at him with expectation.

 

‘They’ve backed off. I followed the scent trail and it died off. There aren’t any drones and they’ve hidden their two guys.’

 

Kelly was disarmed by the news as she sat back down, her head light and stunned with feeling.

 

‘They’re gone?’ she said.

 

John buttoned up his shirt and raised his eyebrows as he nodded.

 

Kelly put her head down and wept. She felt John’s arms wrap around her, solid and safe as she let go, ensconced in the rich, dark presence of the man.

 

It was time to go, if not home, then somewhere.

 

Anywhere.

 

4.

 

He made no requests. The items were made available, and in duplicate around the world. Installations were completed and tested before his arrival, so he could exist in a state of comfort fitting to his achievements and station.

 

The meeting at the Marmont was to collect the pair of them. He had purchased a beachfront villa, perfect to accommodate the additional equipment which made him comfortable. By the time his plane landed on American soil, his base of operations was complete and correct.

It had been a long time since he had been in the country. He was aware, and amused by the changes, ephemeral flickers disguised as fundamental spasms of change but he remained silent as the car took him to his home.

 

A hot meal had been arranged, he was informed and the only thing he said was thank you before returning to his reading. The report was interesting and he read it through twice without blinking, absorbing the pertinent sections and asking questions of his own.

 

The couple were more interesting to him alive, he decided. Jasper’s call to retreat had been a good one, although he would take pleasure from seeing his aide sweat through the details. He closed the laptop and sat back, closing his eyes as he looked forward to a good meal and the assertion of his authority.

 

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Good Meat – Episode 3.

Previous episodes are here and here. If you enjoy my work and want to buy me a coffee, you can do that here .

 

John had left the cabin when she woke up. She found a note on the table, written in a neat, delicate hand that he was out hunting and would be back soon. He had left coffee, and the last of the bread from last night. She had not seen a rifle and then gooseflesh arose on her forearms and thighs.

 

It’s because he doesn’t need one, she thought.

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A hope for peace

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https://marsiams.deviantart.com/art/Peace-450085417

The previous episode is here.

 

 

John made another pot of coffee and offered Kelly co-codamol. she looked at the small bottle with care, saw it was a few years old, the ink where his name was printed had faded to grey.

 

‘ They don’t mix well with my chemistry.’ he said.

 

She ran her tongue over her lips before she picked them up. He frowned and shook his head.

 

‘Take them or not. It’s not something I need, but you might. You’re pretty banged up from the crash.’ he said.

 

She looked at the empty plate, caught the smell of brewing coffee and how good it had been to sleep without fear for a night.

 

‘Thank you.; she said.

 

He leaned back against the counter.

 

‘I am going to have to go out and clean up. There’s the matter of the plane as well. I could smell two, maybe three more bodies. It was difficult to tell with the fuel and the fire.’ he said.

 

Kelly took another sip of coffee and smiled at him.

 

‘Can I have one of those?’ she said.

 

He reached into the breast pocket of his shirt, took out a pouch of rolling tobacco and rolled a smoke. Kelly had not smoked in years but right now, watching his fingers put together an even cylinder of paper and tobacco, she wanted to feel the burn of it in her lungs again.

 

‘We stole something. For a lot of money. We were flying back to hand it over then get out of the country.’ I said.

 

John handed the cigarette over. She raised her eyebrows.

 

‘I thought it was something.’ he said.

 

‘How did you do that?’ she said.

 

His eyes narrowed.

 

‘I pay attention. What you did doesn’t interest me so long as it doesn’t bring anyone to my door. I value my privacy.’ he said

 

She leaned forward and he produced a chrome petrol lighter and held the flame to the end of the cigarette. She put both her hands over his, and looked into his eyes as she inhaled. It was a smooth smoke, hot but not tickling as she sat back and exhaled. The nicotine made her head swim but she focused and nodded. She liked touching his hands. It worried her a little.

 

‘No, it was a private jet. But there were people waiting, I mean, people are waiting for what we took.’

 

He rolled himself a second cigarette with the same care as the first and lit it. He took a deep drag and exhaled through his nostrils as looked at me with a quiet concern.

 

‘I’m going to need to deal with those bodies. This is my land, but if someone were to come looking for what you took, I need to know about it.’ he said.

 

Kelly nodded, took a drag on the cigarette and wondered what she was going to use for an ashtray.

 

‘I’ll come with you. I should help, I mean I want to help bury them, at least.’ she said.

 

John took a glass ashtray from a cupboard and set it on the table between them before sitting down.

 

‘The ground’s frozen solid, but we’ll move and cover them. Kelly, do you want to get the suitcase?’ he said.

 

Kelly jolted at the accusation, shaking her head.

 

‘It’s eighteen million dollars. They’re missile guidance chips. I don’t know who the buyer is, but they were going to meet us tomorrow. All I have is a phone number if anything went wrong.’ she said.

 

He sat back and gave a melancholic, gentle smile.

 

‘I guess this counts.’ he said.

 

Kelly looked down, thinking about Tony, how his family would deal with it. They had been good to her and it hurt to think of them not knowing what had happened.

 

‘Yeah. It does.’ she said.

 

Kelly dragged on the cigarette and looked up at him.

 

‘Do you want to expand on that?’ he said.

 

She stared into his eyes and leaned forwards.

 

‘I don’t know. I’m alive right now, and they’re not. I’m still processing you killed two of them, and that you turn into a big fucking wolf, so yes I guess it count. Better?’ she said.

 

He grinned and nodded.

 

‘Can you control it?’ she said.

 

He looked at her, his jaw tightening as he got up to pour the coffee.

 

‘Yes, I can. I’ve got a process. Sometimes I change because it feels good to do it. I don’t hunt people as a rule, but I defend myself as an instinct.’ he said.

 

Kelly shivered and wrapped her arms around herself, rubbing the chill from her arms as she leaned forward.

 

‘ I would have shot you if you’d come close.’ she said.

 

He nodded.

 

‘I didn’t smell it on you, like I did with the others.’ he said.

 

Kelly dated a nerd once, was trying to get his podcast off the ground, but ran drugs for one of Tony’s buddies and he would expound on these weird little detours in pop culture. He told her once about something called the uncanny valley. A hypothetical relationship between resemblance and response when you looked at something. The greater the distance, the more disturbing the response. She was not disturbed by the casual way he demonstrated the difference in him and that disturbed her. Her intuition was like a traffic light, showing green and she decided there and then, to trust him.

 

‘I think we were walking into an ambush. I’ve said about going home, but I think we’d have been shot the moment we handed the case over.’ she said.

 

She wiped away tears and the sobs made her chest hurt. She put the cigarette in the ashtray and reached for the bottle of pills. She struggled with the lid and heard the scrape of his chair before he got up and took the bottle from her and turned the lid with an easy twist before he put it back down and put a hand on her shoulder.

 

‘Kelly. You’re safe here. I won’t hurt you.’ he said.

 

She looked up at him, blinking away tears as she stared into his eyes.

 

He brought his hands up and she smelled the coffee and cigarettes on them. He brushed the balls of his thumbs against her cheekbones, his face still as he wiped them away.

 

‘Thank you.’ she said.

 

He looked at her with an intensity which pinned her to the chair. She realised she had been holding her breath since he touched her.

 

‘My pleasure.’ he said. ‘We all have our baggage, Kelly, I should know more than anyone.’

 

She bowed her head and sobbed as he knelt in front of her and pulled her into his embrace so she could rest her cheek against his shoulder. He was warm through the shirt, and broad enough so she felt small in his arms. His skin smelled of sandalwood and warm leather and she gave in to the fear and the relief of being alive.

 

John held her until the crying smoothed out until she was laid against his shoulder, looking out at nothing.

 

‘I’ll help you clean this up. After that, I don’t know what to do.’ she said.

 

John turned his mouth to her ear.

 

‘How do you know they’d try and kill you? If the chips are worth that much, paying you off seems easier than the alternative.’ she said.

 

‘Because if I were planning a job on this scale, that’s what I would do.’ she said.

 

John said nothing.

 

‘Does that make me a monster, John?’ she said.

 

She felt his mouth curve into a smile.

 

‘No, us monsters know our own.’ he said. ‘You know these kinds of people, I don’t.’

 

Kelly pulled back and wiped her face as she saw where her tears had left a rorschach blot on his shoulder.

 

‘I’ve made a mess of your shirt, John, i’m sorry.’ she said.

 

He looked at it then raised an eyebrow as he stood up.

 

‘You can help me move them. We’ll decide what to do with the chips, if anyone is throwing that much money around, they’ll want to know what happened.’ he said.

 

They agreed they would go out the next day. He didn’t have anything close to her size, but they would pad it out so she was warm out there.

 

They sat and smoked in a companionable silence before Kelly excused herself to go to sleep. She chased the co-codamol down with the last good sip of coffee and he offered to help, which she agreed to as her chest sung with discomfort.

 

He escorted her with care and helped to the bed as he sat her down and stepped back.

 

John wished her a goodnight, stood in the doorway before he closed the door. She heard him turn down the couch as she laid there in the darkness, her mind awash with feeling.

 

She wished for peace, but all the evidence so far was she might make a better investment of her time preparing for war. Kelly wanted to talk to John again, but knowing he was on the other side of the wall helped a little.

 

Kelly fell asleep, feeling something close to peace.

 

2.

 

Jasper sat on the balcony, sipping an espresso when his phone rang with a notification. He communicated with his peers through an app which transmitted images and text via messages which were deleted after being viewed.

 

NO SIGN OF THE PLANE.

 

Jasper replied with a message to call him. He stood up and went inside, adjusted himself through his pyjama bottoms as he looked for a cigarette.

 

He answered on the first ring.

 

‘Don’t say anything. Get the flight plan, follow it back along and find it. We’ve got the dosh to throw at it, but keep it tight. We’ve got drones, remember, but if you do, let me talk to Skenny, he’s a touch delicate.’ he said.

 

He put the phone down and found his cigarettes.His hands shook as he lit one and he looked at the woman on the bed, her hair stuck up in tufts with lipstick smeared across her face.

 

‘You need to go, love. Got a work situation to deal with.’ he said.

 

He had arranged her through an agency but he gave her three hundred dollars as a tip to hasten her departure. She e had the long term survivor’s sense of what constituted a predator and left out without speaking.

 

Jasper smirked to himself that he actually might have a plane to catch.

 

He had two teams of guys waiting to scoop them up when they landed, grab the chips and dispose of the crew. Paying them off would have been easier but his employer had insisted on it. Jasper had a reputation which allowed him to ask if he could expect the same treatment.

 

His employer had told him to make it happen and ended the call.

 

Time to go to work, he thought as he walked to the shower, already worrying about how to make it happen.

 

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beauty, fiction, short fiction, women, writing

The Last Face I’ll See

There’s a kind of relief in knowing it will all be over soon. Acceptance is the key to integration.

We will not live past tonight.

Oh come on, we’ve been running for a long time now. We had a long stretch of good times before that, but we fucked up.

I objected to the mark from the start.

Not because of him. I called that from the start. A mark goes one of two ways.

They bend or they break.

You want the ones that bend. They don’t go to the law because they’re worried what people will think of them, or there’s enough dirt on them they want to just take the hit and keep going.

My concern was with her.

I know you laughed at me behind my back that you thought Mike kept me around like a mascot but I taught him everything he knows.

We’re still here because I didn’t teach him everything I knew.

He was brittle and soft like candy floss. His success had not been of his own making, and when we did the last round of recon, I pointed that out.

Do you remember?

No not, sometimes when you hear hooves, you need to think horses not zebras.

Some cons are too easy because you don’t see what you will owe on the back end.

Here is something useful to remember.

Women need security like men need approval.

Taking that reveals what is underneath a person. The mark is not always the mark.

No, I’m not going soft. I mean, I was fucking right, weren’t I?

You don’t last in the game if you’re soft, but intelligence is a smart trait

Him killing himself wasn’t a surprise. It happens, and I said it would happen.

We thought she would go away. They do that.

Don’t make that face at me. You know computers; I know people. We both got it wrong.

None of us saw her coming.

A year is a long time in the game. The money ran out before we knew what was happening.

It was too late.

Carl was sharp, but he did not recognise her.

It might have been why she was so messy. The coroner said there wasn’t enough unmarked skin to cover a stamp.

We were used to marks coming after us. It never went too violent, but we were picking on start-ups and small businesses. No one could have imagined that it would be the wife that brought us down.

She had engaged his lower brain, a push up bra and a good wig. Making his want simmer into need.

Things like that make me glad to be old. Having a libido, to quote Bertrand Russell, is like being chained to a lunatic in a burning building.

She shot Herc, low in the belly. He had been selling time shares in Orlando and she had sat through his presentation, asked questions that drew his attention but not his memory. She walked up and pulled the pistol from her purse.

Did he recognise her? Men forget.

Women remember everything. They play things over in their heads, they are mysteries sometimes even to themselves.

It is the most wonderful and terrible thing about them.

She’s not a monster. Calling someone that excuses them, and she has no excuse.

She has her reasons.

We gave them to her.

I know she’s checked in. I didn’t hear what room and I don’t care to.

Sure, grab the gun.

It’s as good a way to go out as any.

Me, I’m going to sit here, finish this bottle, a few cigarettes and wait for her.

She’s beautiful, and if I have any choice in going, then if the last thing I see is a beautiful face, then that’s the best I can hope for.

Even if it’s a beauty inflamed by hate.

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