He was waiting in the booth when she arrived, a glass of whiskey in front of him. Somewhat ironic, he thought, meeting for this purpose with the bane of their relationship between them. I think you love Johnnie Walker much more than me, she once said to him. He didn't answer. She might have been right.
Her sideways glance and accompanying frown told him she was not happy to see him sitting there with a drink. He could read her face like a book. She would not have made a poker player, not when she wore her thoughts so plainly. After nine years he had learned to read that tick in the corner of her eye when anger was coming, that upward twitch at the margin of her eyebrow moments before a lie came. There had been too many of both in the past few months.
"You're getting an early start," she said crossly, sliding into the booth. She was wearing a blue pantsuit that matched her eyes. She looked, as always, like the professional woman she was. Professional and very attractive.
"Just something to knock the edge off," he said, trying to smile. "It's the first. I'm a little nervous for some reason." He meant that as a joke, but he had never been good with jokes.
"You should be," she said.
The waitress had come to stand by the booth, and she ordered coffee. "Would you care for another?" the girl asked him. He shook his head no.
"Why should I be?" he asked. He took a small sip of the remaining whiskey, holding her eye over the rim of the glass. Fuck her, he would not let her break him down.
"Why should you be what?"
It was her time to smile then. Her lovely, red lips spread wide, showing two rows of even white teeth. Eight thousand bucks worth of caps. The lips moved in the typical smile configuration, but the eyes showed no mirth. They were cold as blue ice. He remembered when they used to burn with something that had been gone for a long time. The memory made the place in his chest hurt just for a moment.
"Look, there's no point in dancing around the rosebush," she said.
"I've spoken with my lawyer, as you know. He wants to take you for everything you have. I haven't made up my mind about that yet, so you should keep that in mind." She sipped her coffee. "And what's more, he says I will have no problem getting a piece of the farm."
"Like hell!" he replied suddenly. The farm was his, he had inherited it from his family. He would die and go to hell before she would get it. "I'll go along with most anything, but there I draw the line."
He signaled for the waitress and ordered another drink: "A double, please." Double fuck her now, she had him pissed.
"There you go," she said. "That's your problem, Jack. You don't use your head. You let whiskey do your thinking and talking for you."
"Goddammit, I've only had one!" he answered. "Why are you doing this to me?"
"Why did you screw that twentysomething blonde?"
"That was a mistake, I told you," he replied. And it had been, a terrible mistake. The girl had given him a venereal disease and he had of course passed it along to her. She would never forgive him for that and she was divorcing him because of it. And other things.
"It was probably the most costly mistake you've ever made, and you've made a lot of them," she said smugly. "And now it's time to pay the piper."
It was then that he knew he was down to two options: he could let her take everything he had and disgrace him, or he could kill her.
"Well, I've been paying the piper most of my life it seems, won't be anything new in that," he smiled. He took the fresh double and finished about half it in one gulp. "I was willing to be accommodating with you, but if you're simply out to ruin me then fuck it. We'll go to the wall with it. I have a lawyer too, remember, and a damned good one. You will not get the farm, I can tell you that."
"Oh, I don't really want that shitty pile of sticks," she said. "It's worthless to me, although I could probably sell it for something."
"So, you just want it to punish me?"
"Well, give the man a cigar!" she said. "That's what it's all about at this point. I loved you and you did me that way. Now all I want to do is punish you. I don't feel anything but disgust when I look at you now. Nothing. You killed all the love I had for you."
He grinned then and lit a cigarette. He took a deep drag and expelled the smoke in her direction. She had never let him smoke in the house.
"Well, I appreciate you telling me that," he said. "It helped me make up my mind about something." He drained the remainder of the Scotch and pushed himself up from the booth. She seemed somewhat startled.
"Where do you think you're going? We haven't discussed this properly," she said.
"I've heard all I need to hear," he replied evenly. "Have you lawyer take his best shot. In fact, I'll have mine contact him. You want dirt, we'll have dirty. I'll subpoena the pool boy, see what he has to say."
"You bastard!" Her cold blue eyes were fiery then, but not a fire of passion. It was hatred that poured out of them.
"Yeah," he continued, "I never bought your story when I came in early that day and you two were so chummy in the kitchen. I thought he fucked you and I still think he fucked you. At least he can say he didn't in open court. Now, I must run. You have a nice day, hear?"
"You will regret this worse than any foolish thing you have ever done," she hissed. "God, I hate you!"
He turned and walked out of the restaurant. She could not see the smile on his lips.
He went to his apartment to think. His first thought was that he was going to an apartment, and not the two-story Tudor they had shared until last month. He had moved out, which he thought now might have been his first mistake. He had helped transform a young cocktail waitress/college student into an MBA, and now he was paying the price. She had learned her lessons well, maybe too well. She went into the real estate business and made a bundle. She bought her own Mercedes. She didn't need him anymore.
On the way home he stopped and bought a couple bottles of whiskey. He knew she was right. It did nothing to enhance thinking. But for what he was preparing to do, he needed them.
How was the question. If she turned up murdered he would be the first one they came looking for. It would be that obvious and he knew it. No, it had to be an accident.
Something beyond question. But how, how?
Christ, he couldn't believe he was thinking such a thing! But he was, and the more he drank the more he thought about it. The alcohol began to fog his mind and then the plans began to form one after the other.
He could steal a car and run over her. Then ditch the car in some out of the way place.
No, that wasn't good. The cops had too much technology today. All they needed was to find one hair and they could tie him to the car. And, somebody might see him coming or going; hell, with his luck he'd probably get caught stealing the car. It was not a good idea.
He drank the rest of the first bottle and thought of several others methods of murder. He could sneak into her home and put poison in her food. He could mail her a letter bomb. He could drop a flowerpot off a building onto her head.
I'm reaching, he told herself. The booze has me foggy and I'm coming up with surefire roads to the penitentiary or the death chamber.
He went to bed in the early morning hours and the solution came to him in a dream.
He was up by noon, his head splitting. There was nothing on the court docket that day, but he had two appointments in the afternoon. He called his office and cancelled them both. Then he called Geno.
"You remember saying you owed me one?" he asked Geno. "Well, I'd like to call it in if I can."
"Who do ya want killed?" the big Mafioso laughed on the other end of the line. He felt suddenly as though Geno had read his mind.
"We'll talk about that later," he answered. "Can you meet me at Drake's around 2:30?"
"I'll be there."
"OK, I'll clue you then."
The bar was only three blocks from Jack's apartment. He left the building at 2:15, figuring to walk and beat the traffic. Walking seemed more dangerous than driving; at the first intersection a cab almost ran him over. It reminded him of his silly plan of the night before and he smiled.
Geno was there when he arrived, sitting in a booth in the back corner. Big and bulky, wearing designer shades even in the darkness of the place. He knew that, beneath the tailored suit coat, Geno wore a big pistol. He knew that Geno had used the gun--or one similar--to dispatch quite a few people. He knew that because he had been Geno's attorney on one such charge and had convinced the jury that Geno was innocent. It was after that the button man told him that he was forever in his debt. Whatever you need, man, he had said.
He took a seat and got right down to brass tacks. He didn't beat around the bush. He quickly summarized the situation and the need to do what must be done. Geno sat quietly listening. He nodded his big head a couple of times, his eyes hidden behind the glasses.
When he finished, Geno still hadn't said anything. And then the big man nodded again and said, "Let's go for a ride. My car's out back."
They cut through the kitchen and went to the alley outside. Geno's Caddy was parked there and they got in. Geno pulled out and made a right, still saying nothing.
"Where we headed?" Jack asked. He didn't know that it would do his reputation any good to be seen riding around with a known mobster, even if he had defended the man.
"Over by the docks, I wanna show you something," Geno said easily, steering the big car through gaps in the traffic like a professional race car driver. "Don't let my driving bug you," he added. "I started out as a wheel man."
"No shit," said Jack. "Well, you must have been a good one."
"It got me here," said Geno, turning to him and smiling behind the shades.
They drove down into the warehouse district near the docks. There was nothing but block after block of ancient brick buildings, most of which looked deserted. The farther they went the more uneasy Jack became.
"Where did you say we were going?"
"It's right up here. We're almost there."
Geno whipped the Caddy to the left down a narrow alley. At the end was a large building with a metal door and he hit a remote device laying on the dash as they drove up to the building. The big steel door began to roll up and when it was up enough to clear the roof of the car, he gunned it inside.
"What the hell is this place?" Jack asked.
"Just get out," Geno said. It sounded more like an order than a request.
"What the fuck is going on, I want to know," asked Jack.
"Get the fuck out and I'll show you," Geno said, a friendly tone back in his voice.
He stepped out of the car onto the concrete floor. There was a bank of flourescent lights directly overhead that bathed the general area he was in, but outside of that things faded to near darkness in a hurry. He just stood there outside the passenger side until Geno turned from where he was standing facing away from the car and motion for him.
"Come over here, somebody wants to see you."
"Who in hell would I know here?" Jack asked. But he began to move around the front of the car. It was then that he heard the footsteps coming out of the darkness across the building. Faint at first, that rhythmic click, click, and then louder. It sounded like a woman's high heels coming across the hard surface. And then he saw a form beginning to move into the light, the form of a woman. She came forward more into the light, and when he saw her face he gasped an audible sound that flew across the huge building and collided with the walls. She had changed out of the blue pantsuit, but she was still smiling.
"What the goddamn hell!" he cried. Geno laughed out loud before speaking to her.
"You were right, baby. He wanted your ass snuffed. I guess you win the bet, I never thought he had it in him."
"I told you he'd come to you," she said. She walked up and put her arm around Geno, then looked over at Jack. "He doesn't look much like a pool boy, does he," she asked Jack. She and Geno both laughed heartily at that one.
Jack was too stunned to speak. And too frightened as well. It was pretty obvious now what had gone down between his wife and Geno. And it seemed pretty obvious to him that he was in a world of shit. He was not going to leave the warehouse alive. The sudden realization of that calmed him, in some strange way he couldn't put a finger on.
"Fuck you, you can shoot me, you two-timing motherfucker, I won't beg," he said. "You played me for a sucker and I bit. Screw it."
Geno laughed. He patted her on the rump. "Remember when you hooked me up with your wife when I was looking for that house?" he asked Jack. "That was a bad move, Jack."
"That seems apparent," Jack replied dryly. "Looks like you got the house and then some. Well, you can have her, who in hell wants her. Now man, do your goddamn thing. You're a big hit man, aren't you? Well, go ahead. I'm sure a dozen people saw me leave with you, the cops will come looking when I don't turn up."
"Hey, be cool," said Geno. The smile was gone. "I didn't bring you here to whack you, man, else you'd be dead right now. Capiche? I don't play shit games."
"Then what the hell is this all about?"
"We're just having a talk, Jack. Or I am. The deal is, you leave the lady the fuck alone, dig? You harm a hair on her and I come get you and it won't be nice...you see Scarface?"
"I saw it," Jack replied.
"Well, you remember the chain saw and the shower rod. You don't want none of that shit, Jack. You understand?"
Jack nodded. "Yeah, I get the point."
"What about my goddamn farm?" Jack asked. "She can have the rest but not that."
Geno threw up his hands and motioned impatiently. "Hey, that's between your lawyers, I got nothing to say there."
"I'll take it for sure now because you tried to have me killed," she said. She glared at Jack.
"Like hell you will," Jack fired back.
"You don't look much like a farmer to me, what's the big deal?" Geno asked him.
"It's property that has been in my family for five generations. It's not worth a damn, but it has sentimental value to me. I won't let it go."
Geno nodded, then he turned to the woman. "Forget the fucking farm," he told her.
"I will not!"
"Yeah you will and I don't want to hear anything else about it. The farm is Jack's and that's that. Leave it out of things. Period." She looked sullen, but she nodded.
Geno then turned to Jack. "I owed you one, man, and that's it. It's not the one you wanted, but it works out better this way."
"I can live with it," Jack said.
Jack refused the offered ride and walked out of the warehouse district. Normally, he would have been frightened walking alone on the empty, silent streets, the sound of his shoes reverberating off the brick walls. But today he felt invincible, as though nothing could harm him. He had been to the edge and he had lived to think about it and relish the trip. He shivered then from the rush of adrenaline that ran up his spine.
He walked for almost an hour until he got to a street where he could hail a cab. He had the cabby stop at a liquor store and he ran in for a quick couple of bottles. Back in front of the apartment, the meter read $7.50. He handed the driver a C-note and said, "Keep the change."
"Oh yes!" exclaimed the cabby. His name, according to the shield over the sun visor, was Abdul Motama. "You win lottery, Sir?"
Jack grinned and nodded.
"Something like that," he replied.
Yeah, a whole hell of a lot better, he thought, riding the elevator up to an apartment that suddenly looked like home.