How do you know if someone really likes you?
'Hi,' I said and ducked, which was just as well as her first shot would have taken my head off. Two more shots followed in quick succession. I glanced at the wall behind me. 'Nice grouping,' but she was already heading for the exit. As first dates went, this one was going better than expected.
It all started on a sun kissed beach and the memory of a magazine article I once read which said something like that as a means of communication women use ten times more non-verbal 'signals' than men do. The problem is men can't read most of them, but even I could tell she wanted me.
'I can't wait.'
She really did want me.
'Give me it.'
'Don't rush me,' I replied. Trust me, you don't want to appear too easy this early in a relationship.
'I want it. Now!'
A bit demanding perhaps, but she was definitely my type, blonde, long legs, lovely personality. The gun was a bit of a problem, that would have to go, but there was definite chemistry.
'Account numbers and codes or -.'
'Or what, you blow my head off?'
In my line of work these sort of threats are an occupational hazard.
'You're actually quite intelligent.'
She could even see my finer points and without too much prompting. Things were definitely looking better and better.
'Thank you,' I said with just the right degree of modesty.
'For a man.'
The amazing thing about all of this was that the gun hadn't moved. I mean it hadn't moved even an inch. Try holding a reasonably heavy object at arms length, soon your arm will start to tremble and, sooner or later, you have to move your arm. The point of all this is for a split second your attention turns to the pain in your arm and that is the moment to strike. Except the gun hadn't moved. She was very good, obviously not as good as me, but genius recognises potential. Time to be assertive.
'I realise this might sound a little picky,' I began, 'but the money wasn't actually yours to begin with.'
'It would have been mine, but for the fact that you blundered your way into stealing it first.'
'That's a little harsh, don't you think? Anyway, stealing it first makes it mine?'
'Since I'm the one with the gun, we're going to agree, it makes it mine.' She stepped back two paces, enough to place her just out of reach of whatever I was planning, then she moved her arm slightly.
'Surely, ' I said, stepping forward, ' we could come to some agreement?'
'Two points. The first, if you take another step I'll shoot you and the second, the only agreement we are going to reach Mr. Grant, if that's your real name, is the one where you give me the money and I let you live.'
'The name's John Robie.'
I gave her my real name. I was being open and honest with just a hint of vulnerability, women like that sort of thing. I know, I read about it in a magazine once.
'To Catch a Thief.'
Okay, I lied, which is probably why I'm still single.
'You know your Cary Grant films.'
The love of my life was not exactly forthcoming on the personal details, but we could work on that.
She smiled. 'And now Mr Robie, your time is up.' She took out her mobile phone and keyed something in. 'And?'
Would she really pull the trigger? There would be time to answer that sort of question when we got to know ourselves a little better.
I gave her the numbers and codes. At the end of the day, it was only a hundred grand stolen from the company owned by that American Billionaire. Did I really care? Of course I bloody well did.
'Lyke as the culver, it's from-'
'Spenser, 'The Amoretti.''
It was enough to make you go weak at the knees.
More keying in then, 'we're done. Turn around.'
'I'd like to see it coming.'
Not true, but facing your opponent always gives your more options. Besides, when you see your potential victim as a real living breathing human being, it is a lot harder to shoot them in cold blood.
'Then she shot you.'
'Yes. It's not funny Julian.'
'No it isn't,' he answered trying to keep a straight face. 'And you think that means she really likes you?'
'Because from the distance you were, you should really be dead?'
'Have you considered she might have just been short sighted?'
Julian and I go way back when I, a mere callow youth, hit three of the most prestigious London jewellers all on the same night and needed to dispose of some quality stuff very, very, quickly. That's when Julian stepped in and made me an offer I couldn't refuse. I wouldn't say we were friends, in my line of work you don't have friends, but we do have a certain unspoken understanding. True, he did try to have me killed a couple of times, but that was purely business.
I handed over a Trevor Pinnock CD.
'I don't believe I have this one, ' he examined the playlist. 'Thank you, I must say you are looking well, the rest has done you good.
I handed over a diamond necklace that I had been saving for a rainy day.
'Nice, French, late Empire. A nice piece.'
Next a string of pearls.
'Are these from ...?' I nodded. 'My you have been busy. Usual terms or do you have something else?'
'There's this.' I said placing a folded piece of paper on the table.
He knew, I knew, it would be something that would really interest him, so naturally he didn't go anywhere near it.
'I hear you have been travelling recently. '
'I fancied a holiday.'
'Which you cut short.'
'Have you been checking up on me Julian?'
'Of course not, I just like to take an interest in what you're doing.'
'And where you're doing it.'
This was the time for the stunning comeback, unfortunately I couldn't think of one. Time to be honest.
'I lost her trail in Miami.'
'Maybe she's not the kind of woman that would take too kindly to being found.'
'I'll take that chance.'
Julian leaned back in his chair. 'You want my help in finding her? Not really my area of expertise and even if it were, why should I help you?'
I glanced at the paper, Julian couldn't resist having a little look.
'This item was believed lost at the end of the war. It still exists?'
'And you can get it?'
Despite himself, Julian was seriously impressed.
'And what, precisely, would you like in return for said item?'
'The answer to a question. What would a woman with an interest in Monet and a serious grudge do next?'