“Got a job if you’re interested.”
I was drinking a cup of coffee on the balcony of my Chicago high-rise. It was March and fucking freezing. I liked how the hot coffee felt in my mouth. I held the phone in one hand and wrapped my other hand around the mug. I liked how that felt too.
“Come for dinner tonight,” Rosa said. “It’s complicated. I’ll grill some steaks.”
I didn’t say that I wanted the job, but I’d take it, complicated or not. I was bored out of my fucking mind and getting squirrelly.
When people ask what I do, I say I’m a security consultant. I have unusual hours and travel a lot, so I had to come up with something vague yet plausible.
“You mean, you look at people’s homes and businesses and then come up with a plan on how they can be safer?”
“Something like that.”
Only it’s nothing like that. I’m not actually a security consultant, even if that’s what it says on my tax form. Rosa fills them out for me. I guess she’s my employer. She owns Ironclad Security Consulting LLC and supplies bodyguards or killers, depending on what people want. I don’t do much guarding, though I have in the past. That’s how I started before I became Rosa’s best hit man. I’ve been doing it for almost six years. I’ve done it so long I’ve been thinking about doing something different. I’m just not sure what.
My typical day starts with a cup of coffee and then a workout at the condo gym. For two hours, I run and lift weights. Then I shower, eat lunch, and go to the shooting range where I practice for an hour. In the afternoon, I swim in the condo’s indoor pool. If I have an assignment, I do prep work or kill someone. If I don’t, I go back to my condo.
I usually eat out for dinner, often alone. In the evening, I watch TV, usually switching back and forth between HGTV and ESPN.
I check my portfolio at the brokerage firm at least once a week, run calculations, and try to figure out how much more money I need before I can quit. It’s hard to know when you have enough.
I’m usually in bed before ten. I occasionally date, but I’m never going to be the world’s best partner. I’m not good about doing the things that you have to do to keep the other person happy, like returning phone calls and making plans for the future. I’m not even a good friend. I know people, and we go to Cubs games or see movies, but I don’t hang on the phone with anyone. People say that I’m self-contained. I think they mean that I don’t need anyone.
Rosa lives in Glencoe, one of those North Shore suburbs with old brick and stone mansions and lots of old, thick trees. We used to live together until I bought my Lake Shore Drive condo a few years ago. She helped me pick it out and furnish it. We didn’t break up because we were never together. We occasionally sleep together, and when we do it’s good. I’ve known her longer than anyone. Sometimes I think we’ll end up together when we’re old.
“Hi, Wonder Girl,” Rosa greeted me when I arrived at her door.
“Smells good in here,” I said, stamping my boots in the dark foyer. It hadn’t snowed in a few days, but there was gray sludge everywhere. By March, everyone is sick to death of snow and winter.
“I’ve been cooking for you, sweetie,” she said. She handed me a cold Amber Bock.
I saw a chocolate cake under a glass dome. Baked potatoes were wrapped in foil on the countertop. A hand-turned wood bowl held mixed greens with black olives and tomatoes. The dining room table was set with fine china, a white tablecloth, and candles. Rosa is a class act.
“Filet mignon okay?” she asked.
“Sounds great.” I sat on a sleek black leather barstool at the breakfast bar while she pulled two steaks out of her refrigerator. She grilled them on the fancy stovetop and gave me the particulars.
“It’s a husband,” Rosa said. “Outside of Atlanta. You’ll get one hundred.”
“The wife—the client—doesn’t live with him. So his schedule is—” Rosa waved her hand, studying the sizzling steaks. “He walks just about every morning at Stone Mountain Park. Between nine and eleven. You learn the park, the layout, his schedule, bam. It needs to be done soon. You’d have to leave tomorrow. You need to be there a few days. Maybe longer. I hear it’s lovely this time of year. It’s easy in Georgia. Not enough GBI staff. Big backlog at the crime lab. Piece of cake, that’s what it is.” It’d gone from ‘complicated’ to ‘piece of cake.’
“Tomorrow,” I said.
“I’ll get you a rental. I’ve got your credit card, phone, and ID ready.”
These days I don’t ask why someone wants someone else dead. I did at the beginning, but it was always the same two reasons. Money and love. Someone has it, and someone else wants it. Like Rosa says, “It’s always the money, honey. Unless it’s the love.”
Rosa was quieter than usual while we ate. I figured she was tired. Business was good, both the legal and the illegal side. Rosa has always done things by the book. She’s a CPA and has a degree from the University of Chicago. She never attempts to defraud the IRS. All taxes are reported and paid quarterly. It’s important, Rosa explained, to look like a legitimate business.
“Well,” she said before we ate the cake, “do you want the job?”
“How long a drive is it?” I didn’t care. Like I said, I’d already decided.
“Thirteen hours. For you, twelve.”
She pointed to a manila folder on the table. I looked through it. It contained several color and black-and-white photographs of the client’s husband. Hank Kingsley was around forty, balding, with a circle beard. A notation said he was 5’9 and weighed 150 pounds. He wasn’t much taller than me. He looked fit, but it wasn’t going to do him any good.
In the folder was a pamphlet on Stone Mountain Park. On the front, in big letters, it said, “Rediscover your sense of Adventure.” I’d think about it.
“This is where he hikes?” I asked, looking through the brochure.
“Yep. Just about every morning. Same time. Same trails. There’s a map in there. It’s a large space, but you’ll see it’s do-able. Want some coffee?”
I nodded. Rosa ground the Colombian beans and started brewing half a pot. I picked up our plates from the dining room table and carried them into the kitchen.
“Just set them on the counter,” Rosa said.
I did as she requested and felt her behind me. She turned me around and kissed me. She unbuttoned one button, then a couple more. It surprised me. It had been months since we’d slept together. It might have been around Thanksgiving. She had my shirt off, tossing it to the floor. She unbuttoned my jeans and slid her hand between my legs. That sealed the deal. We went upstairs to her bedroom and had some fun.
“Happy St. Lisa’s Day,” Rosa said an hour later. According to Rosa, St. Lisa was the patron saint of lesbians. Whenever we had great sex, we’d say it was St. Lisa’s Day.
“Merry St. Lisa’s Day.”
“Coffee’s ready, sweetie,” she said, pulling me up to a seating position.
“Are you still seeing the realtor?” I asked as we ate cake and drank coffee in her living room.
“I haven’t heard from her in a few weeks. She was more interested in the house than me,” she said and laughed.
I laughed too.
“You haven’t seen that cop again, have you?” she asked.
“No.” I gave her a ‘get real’ look. This was a sore subject. I’d had a one-nighter a few months back with an Elmhurst cop who I’d picked up in a dyke bar. Rosa blew a gasket when she found out.
“Good. You seeing anyone?”
“No. Thanks for cooking for me. It’s nice. Great cake.” I was genuinely touched. It was baked-from-scratch. I had a large piece and then another half.
“Take a couple pieces with you tomorrow. I don’t need a whole fucking cake sitting around here.”
When I got ready to leave, Rosa embraced me again, gently biting my neck and my shoulder. “I love you,” she said close to my ear.
I kissed her. “I love you too. You worried about me?”
“I always worry about you, sweetie.”
“I’ll be fine.” I made a face. “Is there something different about this one?”
“No,” she reassured me. “I just want you to know that I love you. Maybe we should think about living together again when you get back.”
It was an odd statement, but I pretty much forgot about it after I left. I had to pack, so I could leave early in the morning.
Shortly after I got back to my condo, Rosa called. “Don’t forget the cake,” she said.
“I’ve already packed it.” I had. I’d put it in my backpack, already loaded with toiletries, makeup, candy bars, nuts, gum, guns and ammo, and water bottles.
“Call me when you get there, Kell,” she said. “Take care of yourself, sweetie.”
“Have a good time—but not too good.”