CATCH ME WAITING
By Regina Harvey
Regina Harvey was shortlisted for the 2005 Debut Dagger for her novel TAKING THE VILLAGE. As McLean Jacobson, she is working on a humorous paranormal mystery series. She lives in Columbia, MD with her husband and three children.
I hoped he would find me before I had to kill someone else.
It wasn’t easy to be patient, especially for me. I was used to waking in an instant, used to furtive phone calls from booths encased in fog, and to rooftops with crazy freight-train winds whipping my face raw. The only kind of waiting I was familiar with was the kind that involved a gun, the trigger, and my eye telling me it was the perfect shot.
And now I was waiting for him. Who would have thought? It’s not that I didn’t like men. On the contrary, I’d had my share of tall, lean Swedes flushed pink from the ski slopes and dark, stocky Italians who recited Hail Marys when I stepped out of my slip. I’d nibbled and savored a fusion feast of men over the years.
But that was just it. It’d been years. Years of jobs. Years of men. How many years? Well, somewhere between the number of weeks in a year and the number of carats in the Sancy diamond. And it was just like Fate to shove that job in my face right when I was thinking of slowing down. Let’s make it real clear, says Fate. Here, have a stab at a job that’ll tell you for sure if you’re past your prime.
I had a certain reputation for flexibility, and not just from my Swedes and Italians, if you know what I mean. I had pulled all kinds of jobs, from kidnapping the heir to an animal cracker fortune to making a hit on a Chinese rhino poacher. And yes, I’d stolen diamonds. Enough to fill the ice machine in a shabby hotel.
Could I have learned the latest technology well enough to direct a gang of frat boys? Sure. Did I want to? No. I didn’t want the Sancy job. The team fixing to unburden the Louvre of its pin-mounted rock would have been even more eclectic than my career had been. Drivers, look-outs, tall young fillies named Distraction, but also tech guys, programmers, wire-crazed teeny-boppers who got off more on the device they were tucking in your cleavage than on the cleavage itself. That’s what it took these days, I know, but these kids were young enough to have suckled at my breast, much less tape a mike there.
What I wanted was the old days. I wanted night-black slacks and turtlenecks and long hair tucked up under a coal-colored cap. I wanted rappelling gear strapped to my waist and between my thighs, pulled tight. I wanted a slim knife slid into my boot, just in case.
And anyway, I liked to work alone.
I passed on the Sancy job. There weren’t too many jobs for me anymore, though. There weren’t too many pros like me left either. But there was one. The way I saw it, if I stepped out of the arena, he’d do just fine picking up the slack. So that’s what I did. I stepped out for just about a year. And got bored. Real quick. With the rest of my life stretched out in front of me like some unbroken, color-drained field of autumn wheat just waiting to be cut, I found it hard to resist spicing things up.
I’d hatched the plan sitting on the stone patio of the ancient house I’d bought. It hung on the edge of a ravine, overlooking a stream and wild boars, and hills covered in – you guessed it – fields of wheat, or maybe sunflowers in that yellow patch far down and away. And somewhere grapes. The stone patio had a low wall ringed around it, an edging really, holding me back, penning me in from the certain death a fall would mean. But there was one section where the stone had broken away, a gap just the size of a person with hips still slim. I’d started pulling my chair right up to that break, started letting my feet hang over the edge while I sipped too much local Chianti and induced cats that had been hiding since my arrival out of their sanctuaries with too many vinegared, plump anchovies and planks of dusty, hand-slapped bread.
No matter how many books had been written and how many films made, this was not the good life. At least not for me.
The plan wasn’t really a plan. It was more like a test. For me and for him. Could I entice him to join me, like I’d done with the anchovies and the skinny, wild cats getting fatter? Could I let him know at the same time that, while I may have retired, I hadn’t lost my touch? Could he figure out where I was if I sent him clues only he and I would understand? Advertising my whereabouts was not an option, after all. Not if I wanted to stay in one place, even if for just a while.
And if he could recognize my clues, my breadcrumbs dropped for only one Hansel, would he want to find me? After all these years?
He had wanted to find me once. Had done a damn good job of it too, cornering me in the dark cabin of a Portuguese cargo ship. I hadn’t been able to see his face, but that was okay. It was him alright. Luke. At least, that’s what I called him when he made me bite his ear a little harder than I’d needed to.
He was easy to locate. I’d always been good at recognizing the patterns of a colleague and Luke was distinctive, to my eye anyway. He was in Peru, smuggling copper from the look of things.
But the first breadcrumb I’d dropped hadn’t been the body. That would have been a bit over the top. I sent a can of surströmming to a certain mining office and hoped he’d remember like I did.
I had first seen Luke when I was less than half this age, seen him through a veil of the hair of a man dying in a dim Stockholm street. I’d held the goner in my arms for the few moments it took to get the injection just right, to make sure the liquid death found its way to his heart. Through the blond hanks of hair that hung off my goner’s lolling head, I saw Luke. He was silhouetted in a window, half-hidden behind a drape. I had looked up at the egg of a moon frozen in the icy Swedish night as I counted to five in my goner’s native tongue, counted to five to ensure my goner was truly gone before I pulled the needle out. If I hadn’t been such a romantic, seeking out the pretty picture of the fat, white moon to hold my eyes while I felt my goner’s pulse slow, I would never have seen Luke. But when I did, he didn’t slide back to hide. No. He stepped out and cranked the casement open with slow turns, then leaned into the frigid air.
His breath turned to fog, but it couldn’t obscure his face, lit with moonlight. As I let my goner slide to the cold cobbles, I knew I was wrong. This wasn’t the first time I’d seen Luke. I’d glimpsed him not a couple times over the past few days as I’d seduced my blond goner. He’d been watching me with silver-gray eyes that matched the gelid air.
He didn’t say a word. I was smart enough to know I couldn’t linger, even if those silver eyes held me like I’d pressed my lips to a frosty lamppost. So I didn’t speak in return, just nodded to him and clicked my heels down the cobbled street, away from the scene.
It was a habit we kept over the years – not often speaking when our paths crossed. We had better things to do with our mouths.
So some Swedish delicacies headed to Peru and I waited for a sign. I got it in the form of a personal run in the International Tribune two months later. “How about some aquavit to wash down the smelly things?” it read and he’d signed it “L.” A bit of tracing and I knew he’d placed it from Malmö. Right continent at least.
And he liked the taste of my breadcrumbs enough to make the trip.
Next came the red Ferrari. I got the idea for it sitting at a café outside the Museum when I’d finally given in and done the touristy stuff that was supposed to make this old cliff-town so great.
At that point, after the satisfaction of putting Luke on the same continent had begun to wear off, I’d started to pull my chair to the gap in my patio wall and begun to tip it back against the table that stood there. I knew if I rocked forward a bit too hard, I’d be sailing down to meet a wild boar and some hard ground, but it felt good to be on edge, to feel that zing. It was all well and good to buy a can of sour herring and ship it to Peru, but it didn’t get me high.
Stealing the Ferrari got me high.
I had sat at the café as the low, wide, red piece of money and ego had come hurtling through the arched gate, the arch that could just barely fit three people abreast. It was an older model but still shone and zipped up the hill dodging pedestrians like it was on a magnet you pulled from underneath, then screeched to a stop outside the gelato shop, its rearing horse emblem glinting in the sun.
A colt-legged girl stepped out from the passenger seat and made a show, to the baker across the street and his son who had both come out to see, of leaning back in for her sunglasses. The driver, who got out and ran his fingers through black curls, was darker than a summer around these parts could have made him, and I wondered if he had driven from the coast in the same way he’d scattered pigeons and German tourists just now. He waited for the girl, hitched up his slacks, and winked at the two young, long-haired clerks who stood in the doorway of the stationery store.
As much as I’d spread myself around when it came to men, I’d always been with the one I was with when I was with him, if you know what I mean. It made me mad to see that wink, while his colt-legged girlfriend looked the other way. Right then, I wanted to kill him.
But I didn’t. I only stole his car.
The second time I had met Luke had been at the races. Not Royal Ascot, but Le Mans. I was bodyguarding a racing buff – not a driver, but a sponsor, the one with the wallet. It was easy money and a place to cool off after a couple of hot jobs. At least that’s what I’d thought before I’d gotten there and actually had my briefing. My employer didn’t just need me to fend off the paparazzi. He had a corporate enemy or two and one with a big enough grudge, determination and cold cash to hire a hit.
I’d spotted Luke in the crowd of people wearing sunglasses against the French sun and earpieces to follow the radio broadcast of the race, and knew he was the one with the contract. Even before he slid the sunglasses down his nose to survey the crowd, those eyes alighting on me for just a second, I’d fixed on him and knew the next hours weren’t going to be a day at the races after all.
My employer had wanted to add to my job description ever since I arrived and he had gotten to look me up and down. I’d been able to skate out of that duty and kept to the basics of keeping him alive until that next night when we crawled into bed after the twenty-four hour race. I figured I ought to stay close to him if Luke was out there, but the experience wasn’t anything I could honestly add to my list of worthy conquests, my Swedes and Italians.
It was when I pulled back the sheets, finally sure he was asleep, and went to the window that I knew Luke was there. He came in the window like a cat and rubbed against me in that way too and kissed me hard, then breathed heavily into my hair, a counterpoint to the spent snores from the bed.
“I can’t let you kill him, you know. Not yet.” It was all I said and it was all I needed to say because Luke was much more interested in satisfying me in the way my employer just hadn’t. I was quick to cooperate. I’d been waiting for him and thinking of him and his hands were deft and knowing. He left after that, left me panting against the wall. The job he’d been hired to do was undone, but he’d accomplished something there in the dark, alright.
I left that position after a few more weeks and about a month later I heard Luke brought something else to completion in that bedroom, other than me. The driver my employer sponsored would need another sugardaddy, but at least it hadn’t happened on my watch.
This new curly-headed driver of that testosterone-fueled red beauty was pretty easy to seduce. I caught him and bedded him and that made me feel good, just to know I still could. And while he slept, I drove his car away, lucky it was a model two decades old that needed only a key and some quick rewiring of the alarm, then returned, a fresh set of keys made and safely hidden like the car. I woke up with him and made him cappuccino and later drank my own while he screamed at the local police about their incompetence.
A friend of a friend found a guy who could be trusted to drive the car to Malmö and leave it outside a certain hotel, then mail the key a few days later.
In the International Tribune, just two weeks later, he wrote, “Red’s not my best color, but a trip to Maranello sounds lovely,” and he signed it Enzo, using the name of his new toy’s company founder.
It was about this time that I found the tomb. The hillsides surrounding my little hideaway are spotted with ancient Etruscan tombs. Many have been discovered, many are even open to those ubiquitous German tourists to explore, but some remain unviolated.
To pass time, I had started to walk restlessly the grounds that were now mine. The fattening cats followed, but left me after the underbrush grew thick and they realized I was not just going for more anchovies. I discovered a path of sorts nearing obscurity in the vegetation. Even the boars had abandoned it. It became a routine, to hack away at the vines and growth every day for a while. I had a favourite knife, as any self-respecting woman of my line should, and I was happy to put it to use again.
It was a few weeks before this led to anything, but in the end, the path descended until it led through a topless tunnel of sorts, a ravine a man’s shoulder-width wide. I didn’t need to clear anything then; what plants had overgrown the sunken path formed a tangled canopy, but they did not impede my steps.
It was a tomb like the ones I had seen on tours and in photos, nothing special. I’m only interested in archaeology when the market makes it interesting, but this rough-cut hole in the hillside intrigued me. It was only two chambers with painted walls. In the first, on the benches carved out of the wall that ringed the area, rested two sarcophagi. They were not the length of a man, being the smaller variety indicative of this region and the practice of cremation. The lids bore the carved, foreshortened statuettes of a man and a woman. The second chamber lay empty.
I left it as I found it. I knew local law had it that I should report the find so it could be protected and explored, but I was the last person who would want agents of the government crawling around her property. I did take a souvenir though, a smooth vase of black and red ceramic.
Luke was much more a connoisseur of such things than I. He would recognize it in an instant and know its provenance. Just such a vase had been part of a job he’d pulled a decade before, in the same city where I’d stalked and ridded society of a matron who wouldn’t let her daughter spend her inheritance without a little help.
A tomb-raided artifact made such a nice clue. Very cliché and Hollywood. Luke was a movie buff, or so I remember from when he rang me up and enticed me to meet him in a Paris cinema. His eyes had never left the screen while I’d made him happy he’d called.
When I shipped off my little present for Luke – thousands of years wrapped carefully in a blanket of plastic bubbles and straw – I knew I had time to kill before I’d hear from him. I just leaned back in my chair and let my toes dangle while a particularly bold kitten sniffed at the open air and lay down on a sun-baked stone. I thought again what a nice little clue it was, not realizing it would be a clue for anyone other than Luke.
My adopted hilltop town sported ruins galore. Where there were ruins, they were sure to be archaeologists. I had seen one of them digging and measuring between pillars of a Roman bathhouse. I had watched him, along with the tourists one day, watched him toil in the sun and sweat. He was a light-haired baby and sunburned and he didn’t pay a lick of attention to any of us, gathered at the fenceline. Didn’t even look twice the one time I’d caught his eye for a second.
Imagine my surprise when, only a week after I’d smiled at the young postal clerk and handed him the innocuous package bound for Luke, a skitter of gravel and a hail sailed down my steep drive, announcing the only company I’d had in a year. It was my sun-burnt archaeologist, and though he greeted me as one English-speaking transplant to another, and talked to me about the things of home, I felt the visit was more than he said. But I played along and baked him scones with this country’s rough flour and served him tea like his dear mother had.
I’d bedded him twice before he told me of the postal truck that had tipped going down the hill out of town, right next to his dig. While the locals had cursed and prayed and righted the truck, my archaeologist had discovered a certain innocuous package tumbled in the weeds at the fenceline, its sides split to reveal my little clue. It spoke to him of finds much more interesting than the shards around his Roman bathhouse and he tasked himself with a secret hunt that would pull him above the pack of academics who shared now in every discovery. It spoke to him of a hill yet undug and of someone who addressed things in a hand not Continental.
I asked him to let me see it. I couldn’t be sure otherwise, and when he grinned at me like the schoolboy that he was, I knew I would have to kill him.
He meant more, you see, than an inconvenient bump in the road that would lead Luke to me. He grinned at me like those boys would have done if I’d taken the Sancy job. Though he surrounded himself with ancient dust every day and brushed carefully away layers of years, he was fresh and young and clever. His taut body would see him through many decades if I left him alone. He had decades left, and I…well…did not.
While he went for his pack to show me the prize I’d meant for Luke, I dressed and slipped my favorite knife close to my skin. I would show him the tomb, and I could imagine the greedy look in his eye. After all, I had seen the greedy look already when I’d pulled him to me and planted my lips on his skin. He would run ahead when we got close, through the rough cut passage, and enter the tomb without me. I would find him, maybe, in the second chamber. The empty one. Empty and waiting for a body of its own.
Later that week, I mailed a package again, winking this time at the postal clerk and asking sweetly if he wouldn’t mind addressing something for me. I sipped a latte and watched the mail truck teeter down the hill and safely away. And I spent more days on the patio and let the path I’d cut to the tomb begin to regrow with newfledged camouflage.
The International Tribune ran a story about the disappearance of my downy-cheeked archaeologist, but he didn’t have enough clout to make news for more than a day. He wasn’t the first young stud to take off on a romantic adventure without notice, so he was soon forgotten. I thought the article added just the right amount of extra something to the clue Luke must have received by now.
The Tribune’s personals didn’t yield anything else, however. After a month turned into two and then three, I pulled my chair even closer to the gap in the wall, so close now that if I did rock forward, the front two legs would meet nothing at all and I would fall and fall, taking the fat, purring tom on my lap with me.
I had never been one to give up, but months went by and I came closer and closer to buying a vat of anchovies to hold the cats over after I launched myself into the ravine.
How many months passed? I don’t know for sure, but the path to the tomb was as gone as my youth when I finally heard the scrape of the underbody of a fine automobile on the gravel of my steep drive. I slid off my chair, carefully this time, and followed curious cats to see my Luke stepping up and out of the low-slung car, a red and black vase full of bright and brash wildflowers in his hand. When the cats scurried and darted for cover from this new arrival, I stepped forward. I looked Luke in his fog-colored eyes, and he smiled and raised the vase in salute.
I didn’t ask what had kept him. In fact, we didn’t speak at all. We had better things to do with our mouths.
Regina Harvey ©2006
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