|The hammer ratcheted back inches behind my skull. No matter what happens, there is no mistaking that sound.
“You had everybody fooled, didn’t you?” I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised as the heavily accented voice snaked its way through the shadows. “But not me lad, you cannot fool me.”
I imagined him smiling impishly, as if he had just spoiled a great something; which, in fact, he had, though I resisted in rewarding him the satisfaction of my current surprise.
Instead I gave him silence.
My eyes found hers then and, for reasons I am unable to explain, could not pull away from her expectant, almost hopeful gaze that called to me as if I were her only ally, her only friend. Some people talk about that one particular moment in their life that changed them, as if they are defined by it. I have never experienced that moment. It made me wonder what could possibly follow, but it all seems so impractical.
Relationships based on extreme circumstances never last.
A click of the gun brought me back. It was odd, because in similar situations people will do anything to keep from meeting their end. They will deny the inevitable, they will beg, they will bargain, but most of all they will cry out.
The tears usually hold until all hope is finally abandoned.
Mira did not cry.
I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised when her eyes widened even before the first click of the trigger, before the hammer snapped forward, before the bullet entered my skull.
And now, well… this will certainly ruin my night.
Wait a moment, let’s go back.
In this game, it is important to identify a mark that is both plausible and controllable. This is, as a matter of fact, an increasingly short and difficult list to navigate by. I saw her first outside of the Lux, and then again at Egan’s, chatting with a few well-to-do tycoon types, though I suppose they call them magnates these days.
I had always been told that the pretty ones never panned out, too many variables to control.
Didn't Jefferson say something ill about beauty?
I didn't care what Jefferson said.
I approached her inside of Greston’s, a martini bar on upper fifth. She wore a simple black dress, innocuous diamond earrings and, to further impress upon her simplicity, she draped her jet black hair well past her shoulder blades. I caught her name among the chatter on the way to the bar. Mira, it would seem, was the current infatuation of a number of men around the room, laced with boasts of vain and primal expectations. Her eyes skittered over mine, dismissing my approach as another ill-suited banker or lawyer or whoever.
“You are the only woman in the bar it seems.” I picked the magnanimous mogul advance, hence the wardrobe.
It was odd, but my every fiber told me to leave, to walk away.
I ignored them.
She glanced back at me, an eyebrow raised. “Excuse me?”
“Mira, isn’t it?” I did not wait for her to answer. “You see, I could not help but notice that the whispers dancing across the room all have one thing in common.”
She was smiling coyly now; her face slim, her eyes deep, her demeanor suddenly playful. “And what might that be?”
I tossed the ice around in my tumbler. “You, I am afraid. Only you.”
“And here you stand, contributing to the theme.” Her eyes danced from my shoes to my dinner jacket, clearly intrigued, equally impressed, but I witnessed a speck of distrust flutter across her face.
I shrugged. “You are surprised?”
She only laughed at that; a quiet, carefree laugh. “You are quite the charmer, Mr.?”
“Aaron, please, just Aaron.” I paused and shot her my most innocent look. “You wouldn’t want to go to a party, would you?”
Her demeanor shifted slightly, a wall raised, a gate shut. “Well, that depends.”
“On whether or not I am a rapist, serial killer, or all around psychopath?” She then witnessed my most mischievous smile.
“On what party, and where,” she said, her smile returned, her guard lowered slightly.
I downed what was left of my drink. “Heard of the Winch Mansion?”
“You know Eliot Winch?” Skepticism, enter stage left.
It is important to play off questions such as these. I placed my empty glass on the bar before answering. “Doesn’t everyone know Eliot Winch?”
She thought about that. “Well, yes, I mean in a People Magazine sort of way, but if you are going to a party at his mansion, then you must know him.”
“So, you mean you don’t?” I was beginning to like this mark. “Know him, that is, and not in the People Magazine way.”
She took a last sip of her martini, narrowing her eyes at me as she moved away from the bar. “Come on, I know a shortcut.” She didn't even look back to see if I was following.
Of course I was following.
The mansion was a good forty-five minutes away. We spent the time in the limo tossing back drinks and feeling each other out. She was testing my sociopathic tendencies while I was making sure this whole thing was even going to work.
No, I hadn’t figured it all out yet. Yes, I am aware of how cavalier that sounds.
When we finally pulled up at the mansion, a thug in a thousand dollar suit opened up the door and ushered us out. “Evening Miss Russo.” She nodded to the large man.
“I’m impressed,” I whispered as we made our way up the longer than necessary walkway.
She shrugged indifferently. “Who knows Eliot Winch again?” Sarcasm, the root of war since man mastered speech.
Or was that religion?
Either way, I let her win that one. “You have proven you know Eliot Winch’s doorman, but not the man himself.” We were going in a different entrance.
Different from the main entrance, not like metaphysically different.
She glanced back at me. “Is that what this is, a test?”
Damn. Why do I always pick the smart ones?
A wave of anger flashed across her face. “Because I don’t think you know Eliot Winch at all, which means you are using me to get close to him, which means you don’t really care about me.” At this point we are stopped; her in between me and the mansion, hands on her hips, classic distrust forming into all out suspicion.
Redeemable? “Some pickup lines are better thought out than others, I am afraid.” I feigned sincerity. “Are you terribly upset?”
Her eyes dissected me for a long moment. “You care nothing about meeting Eliot Winch?”
Redeemed. “I can say honestly that I have no interest in the man.”
Still not convinced? Well, she was, though I am sure she had the same every-fiber-telling-her-no thing going on that I spoke of previously.
What are inhibitions for anyways?
“Come on, this is the back way in.” Don’t ask me why we went in the back door.
The party was pretty much what you would expect from a billionaire philanthropist—which is just a nice way of saying rich tax evader; I know, cynicism, right. Servers made rounds with trays of…well, don’t ask me what it was, rich people snacks I suppose, and glasses of champagne that would hurt most people’s pocketbooks just to look at.
The mansion was ostentatious. If you could combine Picasso’s artistic boredom and the income of a small country, you would be left with Eliot Winch’s abode. The floor was marble, but then again, what else would it be? The staircase wrapped around the entire room, which, might I add, was the size of a normal warehouse. And, spotting the canvas of opulence stood the city’s finest, most sophisticated citizens.
I was seemingly lost, exploring the visual orgasm that was the scene around me.
“Never been here before?” She shook her head, obviously enjoying my reaction.
“It is a bit overwhelming, I must say.” Do people talk like that? “He even has art to exemplify his… art.”
She nodded in amused agreement. “Come on, I want to show you something.”
I was following her again, though this time through a maze of extravagant decorations and what seemed like an endless supply of yuppies.
Mira had access to the inner workings of the mansion. Now, don’t ask me how I knew that, and don’t remind me how terrible of a person that makes me for using her. But honestly, how awful have I been? I mean, if you were going to be robbed and you had to choose how, which would be your preferred option? Granted, I wasn’t actually robbing her.
She showed me the pressurized chambers used to preserve precious paintings and other aged documents posing as art. It was a room about the size of a racquetball court encased by airtight safety glass that could take a full frontal incendiary assault and still remain standing.
Mira opened it with a five digit code and a scan of her eye.
Perhaps beauty is dangerous.
The beep gained us entrance. The chambering of the bullet froze her in her tracks.
The light was terrible, something about radiation on the artifacts? Oh, back to the suspenseful moment.
I raised the pistol and centered it on her chest. “Don’t ask how I knew. You don’t want to hear the answer anyways.”
Her shoulders slumped slightly, but the reins of panic never seemed to hold her emotions, much less change their direction. She just looked at me with those deep brown eyes, as if she knew all along.
And then, I couldn’t pull the trigger.
What is it they say about leafs and turning over? I’m still not convinced that is what happened.
It was a problem I had never faced before, but there was something about her, something I could not hope to explain.
I lowered the pistol and stood there, awkwardly, while we both decided what to do next.
“You wanted to steal the—”
I cut her off. “I did, or at least… I thought I did.”
The hammer ratcheted back inches behind my skull. No matter what happens, there is no mistaking that sound.
Oh, I forgot to tell you about Kale. Damn, what a bad narrator. You know when someone is telling you a story and they go back and say, “Oh, yeah, and the dog could talk.” Damn.
Anyways, Kale would be the man with the gun. I hadn't met him yet, at least not in the physical sense of the word—we did everything over the phone. However, I was, at one time, working for him.
I didn’t like working for Kale. He is one of those kill-you-if-you-mess-up sort of bosses—remember the whole gun pointed at my skull thing—which, if you were wondering, makes those in his employ likely to apply certain measures of subterfuge in order to make some actual money.
Anyways, you know what happened next.
The trigger clicked. The hammer snapped forward. But, the bullet didn’t enter my skull.
Blood spray is also one of those things you simply cannot mistake. Kale’s was no different.
The gun in Mira’s hand was smoking. I was still unclear of where she got it, or more importantly, where she had hid it, though I have a few ideas. I suppose it doesn't matter.
“I don’t under—”
Her lips hit mine before I could grab hold of my thoughts.
I was usually the one that stole things.
When she released me all I could offer was silence... and a curious eyebrow raise.
She tucked her gun away. “You think you are the only thief in this city?”
The moment was quickly ruined by the thunderous entrance of a large force of Winch’s security, weapons drawn and fingers itching.
And now, well… this will certainly ruin my night.
Word Count: 1987