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Wednesday, 15 December 2010 04:26

Fashionably Late

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Keep focus. All she has to do is look back and she’ll see him, even though it’s dark. She’s bad about that, not checking her rear-view. This is good for him because he’s a bit of an amateur. He’s been way too close a number of times and he’s only been tailing her for two or three miles. Maybe he doesn’t care if she sees him, that would explain him being so brazen. Maybe she sees him but doesn’t care, that would explain her being so unaware.

The roads are glittery wet with rain and the hiss from the tires is quite lulling. Coupled with the hazy streetlamps, a collision is much more probable. He doesn’t care; he briskly tails her Nissan Fairlady Z. It’s a nice sports car, not quite the car to drive in these conditions though. If she needed a quick getaway, however, it’s the one to drive. She’s a clever one, this girl. He’s lumbering around in a bland, dented Impala, probably used to belong to the police. Not a bad machine but not half the machine a 300zx is.

Now he’s realized he’s too close, he falls back a few car lengths and switches lanes. Damn this rain, this whole thing would be worlds easier without it. It’s all defrost and hydroplaning for the Impala for sure. She pilots her little car along, cutting little channels into the wet freeway, with an abandon best reserved for a teenager or a drunk. She can’t be drunk yet, better not be drunk yet. Especially not on these roads, although she’s probably seen worse conditions for sure. Most of her freelance work saw to that fact.

She’s been “retired” for several years now, only picking up the occasional security work or helping G-men snag a hacker. She was never one for murder though, unless her own life depended on it. That’s probably a good reason why she didn’t stick with the CIA longer than half a decade. Her stalker mustn’t have a full scope of her background; otherwise he wouldn’t be so sloppy. His sloppiness doesn’t make sense.

She signals, he doesn’t. Where is she going? This isn’t her exit. Maybe she’s tired of the freeway. No, that doesn’t make sense; she loves driving that car. Women don’t use public restrooms on the side of the road, or decent women don’t. Better not be that. The rain is starting to pick up again when she pulls off the freeway. He tails a few car-lengths behind her still. Now’s a tricky part, there’s a red light at the intersection ahead and only a few cars. She’s all the way over in the right lane as graceful as a diving bird. He stays in the middle lane and stops behind the car parallel to her. It’s almost a smart move. Where is she going?

The rain taps down on everyone, it’s the prominent sound; the freeway’s just an echo now. Dashboards glow red from the intersection, fenders shimmer from blinking signals. She turns right just as the light goes green and he pauses before cutting over and turning as well. Then it’s to the left lane and into a shopping center. The liquor store, of course that’s where she’s headed. Patience. Tailing can be so frustrating. The only thing worse is staking out or casing something out. At least with casing out, you’re taking in info, you’re mapping escape routes, you’re looking for patterns. With staking out, you’re mostly just waiting. Tailing is essentially the same.

She parks in front of the liquor store, he parks in the middle of the lot next to a light pole. His face is lit almost perfectly now. His sloping forehead casts a shadow where his eyes should be and he has a noticeable slouch. Perhaps he’s just tired of following her already. She steps out gracefully into the rain and cinches her overcoat at the neck. Then she walks, the lovely lady, she walks through the rain and into the liquor store. He sits tight; it’s much too bright and public here for him to do anything, as reprehensible as that anything may be. A leather jacket hangs fixed on his shoulders and an indiscriminate tank top sags underneath. He’s resting his mouth against the top of his hands on the steering wheel.

As if on cue, the rain slows to a cold, dim drizzle as she reappears from the liquor store with a crinkled brown bag. Her stride is swift and abrupt as usual. It’s a defense mechanism, she said once. It throws off any potential suitors or attackers. She takes no notice of her stalker and slides behind the wheel and backs the car up so quickly, it all looks synchronized. Then she’s off.

He doesn’t move for a full minute, and then he backs up and takes off back to the freeway. She’s driving much faster this time. She must have seen a clock in the liquor store. The cars in front of her slow her down and he passes right by. That’s an audacious move. She signals and crosses over two lanes and punches the gas. She passes him in seconds and sails towards the skyline ahead. He doesn’t need to keep pace with her anymore, she’s almost home. He can’t be seen turning down her street right behind her. He might be sloppy but he’s no rookie.

By the time he turns down her street, she’s already parked and in her modest white house. She can afford much better but all those years of covert training have made her discreet. The avenue is silent and the trees shift uncomfortably with the breeze. He sidles the Impala up to the curb, right in front of her house. It must be stolen. He pulls on tight leather gloves and adjusts his jacket and steps out onto her lawn. After a quick stretch, he plods across it, each foot in step with each arm. It’s an oddly confident stride for someone about to meet his fate. I suppose he doesn’t know which fate he’s about to meet.

All he has to do is look back and he’ll see me, even though it’s dark. I consider a strangle but I have a party to get to and I don’t quite feel like changing clothes again. I step in his footprints in the grass as to not make a sound and I hide in his shadow, even though it drags along behind him. He’s creeping now, trying to see around the back corner of her house. It’s difficult not to smile. Steady now, act like you’ve done this before.

The silencer makes a “Chop-Chop Chop” of the gun shots, two in the back, one in the head and his body jerks and his blood and brains cascade black down her siding. Shit, that’s a good mess. In one movement, I catch him by the arm and I reach into his pockets for anything. In his jacket is an envelope stuffed with cash and in his jeans is a long wallet with two hundred dollar bills. Out of my own pocket I slide a cell phone. Deep breath. The phone rings smoothly on the other line, cradled to my ear. I drop him to the grass.

“Hullo, love,” she answers, “Who is it this time?”

“Another faceless thug, probably hired today. His pockets are full of cash. ‘Were’, I should say.”

“Lovely.”

“You must have really made someone angry,” I say, folding his belongings into my pocket. “Third one this year and they’re getting more and more incompetent. It’s strange.”

“Well, they say you can judge one by their enemies as well as their friends, darling.”

“Clever. I’m afraid I’ve splashed the side of your house with some of his brains.”

“I’ll give it a quick spray-down before I go. Weapons?”

“Just a .380 and a mean little knife in his boot. Would you like me to take care of the body?”

“No, dear, Anderson will dispose of it. You’d best be on your way.”

“I trust you’ll be late to the party then?”

“Yes. Fashionably so.”




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Last modified on Thursday, 15 March 2012 04:53
Stephen Conley

Stephen's single claim to fame is interviewing crime master James Ellroy, which may or may not be published in a 2011 collection. His work can be seen at Pulp Metal Magazine and in local rag SWIRL Magazine. When he's not writing or drinking himself into a stupor, he can be found watching Peep Show on BBC or fruitlessly chasing girls with boyfriends.

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