by Canis Lupis
Contest Entry: Show don't Tell. Short Story (Word Count: 2215)
|Ruby was annoyed that the traffic was stop and go like always in L.A. and she expected to arrive at her new prospect's address sometime between six and seven p.m. since it was already past five p.m. now. What would that do to her chances of sealing a deal with the prospective customer? Probably nothing. With luck he’d be the forgiving and understanding kind that knows L.A. road issues and wouldn’t hold her tardiness against her, but that hadn’t been the kind of luck she’d been having lately. He'd be a pouty bitch most likely. Most of her clientele were rich a-holes with more money than brains, which is why they called upon someone like her in the first place. They were usually abusive megalomaniacs and they were hardly forgiving or caring about their hired help. She'd just have to cope with the tantrum until she could get to the reason for the call.
Her special skills were in high demand, true, but there were only so many jobs she could take on safely, if she wanted to remain undetected by the Feds.
Her mobile phone started ringing again. She fished it out of her stylish Gucci purse and looked at the strange number for the fifth time since she’d entered the limousine. She still didn’t recognize it and she wouldn’t take a call from some solicitor or computerized voice from a random number generator trying to sell her a trip to a timeshare in Hawaii. It was the fifth or maybe even sixth time in the past hour though and that was disconcerting since these things normally just moved on when nobody picked up. That was an oddity she mistrusted.
The limo driver tapped on the privacy glass and Ruby pushed the down button to see what he wanted.
“Sorry miss but there is someone in the car ahead of us that has a sign held up with your name on it.” He said.
“What?” Ruby gasps. She lowered the glass partition a bit further until she could see out the front windshield and confirmed what the driver just told her. There was indeed a sign being held up by some redheaded man sporting a goatee and moustache in the rear window of the vehicle ahead. The sign read the following, "Please answer your phone Ruby.” She didn't recognize the shiny black automotive but could clearly see the diplomatic license plate and made a mental note of the letter/number combination for later investigation.
The phone in her hand chimed with an incoming call at that exact moment and there was that strange number 99-9999 flashing on the screen again! Ruby sat back to get comfortable on the rear seat and closed the privacy glass between her and the front of the car. It was best this be a private conversation she concluded.
“Yes?” She asked, after she hit the accept button.
“Ruby, please forgive the intrusion but I assure you that these theatrics are necessary. My employers have a proposition for you and yet they must remain anonymous at all costs. I’m sure you understand.” The male voice was definitely British she noted. Somehow she felt her life was about to change dramatically.
“I’m sure they have their reasons." Ruby answers. "What do they want of me?” Her mind raced but her voice remained calm and unflustered. She had kept a very low profile since taking up her chosen profession and had never been called directly like this. In usual circumstances her employment opportunities were found and dealt with on the web where she had meticulously prepared a method of making contact with clients that was relatively untraceable to either her or them. This was a surprise, and Ruby hated surprises.
“I have been empowered to offer you the substantial sum of two million dollars for the removal of an offending obstacle. I believe this is double your current rate and therefore a generous amount. The situation is delicate however, and must be handled discreetly which is why they have sent me to you. Your reputation amongst certain powerful people is most impressive. My bosses would appreciate your assistance with this matter and expect you to be not only successful but, as always, to do so without drawing unwanted attention.” He states matter-of-factly.
“Hmm. You pique my interest but I have already made plans for the near future. Also, I do not appreciate being contacted in this way. I have channels set up that work perfectly well and this clandestine method is way outside of what I feel comfortable with. So I respectfully decline your offer of employment at this time, but should you require my services in the future, please feel free to approach me through my network.” Ruby managed to say politely, barely, but inside she churned with anger and concerns about how she'd been compromised. It reeked of betrayal.
“Well, Miss Ruby, there is another thing you must consider before you make your decision.” The man said.
The "ultimatum" Ruby thought to herself. I knew there would be one. Now what could he possibly have to hold over me? she wondered.
“This may come as a bit of a shock Ruby. I would suggest that you prepare a drink but I've read you don't imbibe. Ah well, nothing for it then. Miss Ruby I am happy to inform you that your husband Roscoe, who was reportedly killed in a bombing in Baghdad, is actually alive and quite well. He’s been working for us for the past five years and could possibly continue to do so for many more. Perhaps he may decide to reunite and retire with you after this little side job we need you to do is finished.” The man said amiably.
Ruby is stunned into silence, and felt a surge of elation and disbelief. It couldn’t be! Not after all this time. Roscoe was not dead? His whole team had been wiped out in that suicide bombing, or so the military had reported.
If Roscoe was alive he certainly would have found some way to contact her in five years! He wouldn’t leave her alone all this time thinking he was gone. He couldn’t! She managed to settle herself down quickly, then stoically gets back to business.
“Mr..um. ?” Ruby finally asked.
“Smith.” He replies. Of course, Ruby thinks, how droll.
“Well, Mr. Smith. I have two things to say and you should listen very closely. The first is that I will need proof of life concerning my late husband. The second is that you and your employers would be making a very fatal mistake to be trying to play me for a fool. Am I being clear?” Her tone querulous.
“Crystal clear. I assure you however that Roscoe is indeed alive and will remain that way as long as you assist us with this endeavour. Afterwards we will ensure that you are reunited with your lost love and the happy couple can sail off into the sunset millions richer for your troubles on our behalf. Can we set up a proper meet and discuss the details Ruby?” He asks.
“Yes I really do think we should meet soonest. Call me at this number when you have a suitable, mutually safe, rendezvous spot located. I will await your summons.” She says and hangs up the phone. She turns to look at her reflection in the window. How could this be happening? She depresses the button to lower the privacy glass and tells the driver to take the nearest exit then plot a route back to where he’d picked her up. She would not be able to keep her plans for this evening. After all, she thinks, I've a list of new plans to make.
The beach house was a Cape Cod done in cloud white with seafoam green trim around the mandarin door and the storm shutters. The driveway was gated and had electronic surveillance set up strategically to show any vehicles arriving and especially any persons approaching the front or back entries. The windows were barred and had stainless steel panels that could drop down and make them impervious. Other cameras were further placed to provide Ruby with a 360 degree view of all the angles around her home, overlapping to prevent blind spots, and she could view them all from a central panel in her panic room. The plans to how the entire security system was set up were known only by her because she had installed it all herself. With voice recognition the house would be on lockdown with a simple phrase she'd encoded.
Although the land sported manicured lawns and gardens with low growing plantings that were both fragrant and beautiful, they also were designed specifically to not provide any cover for intruders and would allow Ruby a killing ground of 100 feet all around her residence.
Her shiny white limousine pulled up to the large bronze coloured gate of her L.A. residence and stopped. Ruby pressed in the code on her phone and the huge iron barriers swung inward. The security cameras on the pillars tracked the vehicles movement continuously. The driver waited for the proper amount of clearance before accelerating further into the property following the curving paved driveway. He stopped again just in front of the house and proceeded to get out of the limo to open the door for his client. Ruby handed him a generous tip and thanked him for the ride. He waited until he saw that she was safely inside, and had closed her door, before he climbed back into the vehicle and drove away.
Home at last, Ruby slipped off her expensive Italian red leather stiletto shoes and headed immediately to her office. She untied her scarlet Versace wrap-around dress as she walked, took it off, and casually draped it over the winged back chair facing her ornate bird’s eye maple desk. In just her pink lace teddy and sheer pink stockings, she moved around to the back of the desk and took a seat in the large chair there. It was an ornate walnut and black leather antique from Belgium that was surprisingly cool and comfortable on her practically bare bottom. She pressed on a button and the hidden monitor rose up out of the desk and a keyboard flipped down conveniently before her anxiously awaiting fingers. She began typing immediately to her "trusted" contacts to see if there was anyway to confirm or refute that her dearly departed husband was actually still breathing. Her hands trembled slightly she noted and bit her lip. It had been a long time since anything shook her this badly. About five years in fact.
According to the DMV database, the license plate of the mystery vehicle was registered to a South African embassy as one of those provided for high level diplomats who were ambassadors to this country for extended periods. Ruby quickly located photos of all such political figures presently residing within the USA with an emphasis particularly on those staying at the local embassy. There were five people on her screen that included two men and three women. She knew none of them and was certain that she had worked for neither before. So, she thought, the possibility is that she had been referred by a previous client. That was distressing since Ruby always ensured her true identity remained secret when she accepted employment. The South Africans appeared to have intimate knowledge of her which may have been provided by Roscoe if he was indeed alive. (that thought again sent a shiver along her spine). The only other alternative was that someone in her small network had betrayed her. She hoped it wasn't the latter for then she'd have to be sure to "take out the trash" as it were. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath over a seven second count and expanding her stomach not her chest. She then expired the air slowly for a count of eleven and again moving just her stomach. She did this several times and focused on her diaphragmatic breathing until she felt calmer.
Now fully in the present, she began to research the five people on her screen to find out all she could about their backgrounds, political agendas, business dealings, and allies within the U.S. She'd found that one of the women was in a heated battle over South African diamond sales vs the Canadian diamonds that apparently had much fewer impurities due to forming in something called kimberlite. That was a debacle that could bring someone into an enemy's crosshairs for sure. Moving on.
One of the men was suspected of having been financed into his position by members of the mob here in the U.S. as a pawn for their smuggling of illegal goods and merchandise through Africa into the Middle East. This included pretty girls and children. Part of Ruby almost hoped it would be this person she had to deal with so that she could do a little sabotage to the human traffickers. She really hated those bastards and would enjoy breaking up one of their rings. She couldn't stop them all, she regretted, but she'd be damned if she'd let one thrive if an opportunity to break it presented itself.