The digital readout on the dash of the rental says the outside temperature is 97 degrees. The sun went down three hours ago. I tap the plastic like that’ll make the numbers drop.
I kill the engine. The air conditioner stops chugging and heat creeps in like it wasn’t even on. When I open the door the swelter clocks me across the jaw.
I hate this kind of weather, but in this economy, it’s hard to say no to a job.
Especially when Ginny Tonic gives it to you.
The aluminum briefcase next to me is still cold. I hold it at arm’s length, try to guess at what’s inside. I can’t, so I drag myself into the parking lot as sweat breaks on my brow.
I hit the lock button on the key fob. The car beeps, and the sound bounces off the empty stretch of road and the laundry across the street. There’s nothing else around beside that, a streetlight, and the building in front of me.
A vegetarian restaurant in Texas. This is like a parallel fucking universe.
The door is open. Inside the lights are off and the place is spotless clean. The tables are made of heavy, weathered wood. Muddy Waters is humming quietly from the overhead speakers. Robust air conditioning makes me chilly and thankful.
Across the restaurant is a guy at a table. He doesn’t move when I shut the door. He doesn’t stand as I walk toward him. He just nods at the seat across from him, pulled out from the table.
He’s got a half-eaten garden salad in front of him that he doesn’t acknowledge. He’s small, but thin and tight, hammered out of iron. I can see him vibrating, even in the dim light. I tense my shoulders, waiting for him to dive at me.
He doesn’t, so I toss the briefcase onto the table. He cocks his head at it.
“From Ginny,” I tell him.
“I know.” His voice echoes like it’s coming from another room.
“I got the first number for you.”
“She didn’t give you all three?”
“Not my job to look inside.”
Ginny was specific. When she slid the briefcase across her desk in Hell’s Kitchen, back where the weather behaves at night, she said: Deliver it and don’t open it. Acknowledge that the contact was in receipt of the contents. Then come home.
She gave me the first number to the lock and said the other two were in Austin.
I did ask Ginny what was inside. She said, “A second chance.”
She didn’t need to explain what that meant. The last job I did, the job I fucked up, I thought that was the end of me, and my next living situations was on the bottom of the Hudson.
It was a generous offer and the whole ride down here I wondered if it was too generous.
The guy cocks his head again, like it’s the only way he can express himself. He asks, “The number?”
He nods, rolls the other two numbers in place, then clicks the top open.
He smiles. It’s the smile of a kid on Christmas morning, but for people like us that can only mean one thing. I don’t even wait. I pull my Walther PPK from my waistband and put a bullet in his forehead.
The ringing in the air drowns out the music. The salad is on the floor but I don’t know how it got there. I wait for something else to happen and nothing does. Then I turn the briefcase around.
Inside is a Smith & Wesson Model 500. This bitch would have blown through me, then the back wall of the restaurant.
Second chance, Ginny?
Maybe I’ll use it to visit you with my new friend here.
The silver gun is heavy in my hand. There’s something stuck to the grip.
A magnet, the size of three stacked dimes.
Under the red felt lining of the briefcase I find another, different kind of digital readout. These numbers are dropping, not in a good way.
I look at the dead guy across from me.
“I guess we both fucked up.”