The afternoon heat bounced off the faded brick building. Air conditioners dangled from shallow windows shielded by grizzled blinds. He sat on a bench, twirling a cigarette between his fingers, watching tourists ooze along the street. The tangy scent of sunscreen tainted with baked rubbish drifted on the air.
A young kid approached him. “Hey, can I bum a cigarette off you?”
“Sorry kid. This is my last.”
“Yeah, whatever.” The kid flipped him the bird and sauntered off.
He tucked the cigarette inside his shirt pocket, his fingers grazing the hard steel of his gun. It might be a while before Charlene returned. He went to a small bistro and sat on the patio with a cold beer. The liquid soothed his throat, chasing away the desire for a smoke. He watched a slim woman in red stroll by – something about the way she moved looked familiar. Charlene’s face replaced her image reminding him he still had some business to finish.
It was close to sunset when she appeared, strutting down the narrow sidewalk, smoking a cigarette, the scent of stale wine trailing behind her. He spotted a satisfied smile on her face and pitied the poor schmuck whose bank account was now empty in the wake of her existence.
He leaned against a tree outside her building, watching her paw through an oversized bag. Her throaty voice cursed at forgetting her keys. She flopped down on the front stoop and looked across at him, watching a cigarette dance in his hand. “Hey”, she called. “You need a light?”
“Yeah. You got one?”
“Sure.” She slid down the stairs towards him. “Do I know you?”
“You look familiar.”
“I get that a lot”.
She flipped open an elegant silver lighter. He leaned in towards her, watching the end of his cigarette flare up. They inhaled in silence for a few moments. “Care for a friendly drink?” he asked.
She flicked some ash to the ground. “Maybe. What’s the catch?”
“No catch. Consider it a thank you for the light.”
“Okay. But I pick the place.”
He followed her to a small bar lit with anaemic candles. She led him to a dark table in the back of the room.
“What’s your poison?” she asked.
“Be right back.”
His cell phone vibrated. A message flashed across the screen. He typed back: Stay close.
Charlene returned with two drinks in hand. “So…got a name?”
“I’m Charlene. You live around here Ray?”
“Nope, just visiting. Business.”
“Is it worth a lot…this business?”
“Are you married?”
“Got a girl?”
He chuckled. “No”.
“Must get lonely.”
“I do alright.”
“Well Ray…maybe we can hook up while you’re here. Interested?”
Charlene slid her tongue over the edge of her martini glass. He watched her with a reserved civility. She put the glass down, and slid one hand over her thigh towards her ankle, offering him a slick smile. “I’ll be real good to you.”
He gestured towards the door. “Why don’t we discuss it on the way to my place?”
The streets were doused in the flaming color of dusk. He hailed a green cab and whispered some instructions to the driver. Dense traffic turned a forty minute drive into an hour. He tolerated her frivolous talk about money and sex.
The cab pulled up to an abandoned dock along the riverbank. Charlene stumbled out of the back passenger door, drinking from a polished flask. “Thought we were going to your place.”
He didn’t answer.
“Oh…I get it…Stopping for a little deal first, huh?” She took another swig from the flask.
He signalled to the driver and the cab drove a few feet away. Reaching inside his coat, he pulled out his gun, aimed and fired, watching the force of impact fling her body backwards onto the pavement. A stream of blood pooled into a small divot in the road.
He walked up to the cab and leaned in through the driver’s window, pulling another cigarette from his jacket. “Got a light?”
The driver pulled out a silver lighter. “Thought you quit.”
“This is my last one.”