I take my last sip as I open the door. The whiskey that originally burnt my throat is dulled down to a numbing swallow. I watch my cherry flicker for a moment before the wind carries it away. It flies high into the air, scattering into a million sparkling pieces. The party was dull, not my kind of vibe. These parties are all the same to me; people with too much money trying to dip their hands into the pockets of others. And the Senator has his hands in plenty. My eye is caught by a shimmer in the distance. I see her standing in the courtyard under the freshly painted gazebo. The smell of rich varnish still lingers in the air. Her dress is a fiery red spark against the dark abyss of night. The gas lights perfectly illuminate her curvy figure. Our eyes meet as she hears my shoes splash in the puddles. She shivers like the leaves in the autumn wind. I walk up the small wooden steps to reach her. I take my jacket off and wrap it around her. She hesitates at first but settles into the warmth.
“Care for a cigarette?” I ask.
“Why not?” she replies in the delicate tone I have become so fond of. Her red lips flicker for a moment as the fire dances across her mouth. She blows the smoke away from me over the garden. The rain beats it down creating a mural in the sky. She is holding her glass of whiskey with the poise of a duchess. I’ve never seen a broad drink as elegant as she does. Her lips caress the glass. They leave no smudge of the red lipstick that illuminates against her skin. The girls down at the club don’t hold a candle to this one.
“It’s a wonder there’s even a party at this place,” I mutter aloud. “This rich prick spends more time in the cathouse than at his own home, it’s a miracle his dick hasn’t fallen off yet.”
She laughs and my stomach takes a flip. She blows a cloud of smoke towards me, kissing the air. “All these people have their own secrets.”
I look out over the bustling city. Lights tower into the sky and for one minute the place doesn’t look like the shithole that it is.
Her cigarette is running low, the last flickers of flame struggle for breath. With her back to me her milky smooth skin is like a canvas perfectly painted for one lucky man. What I wouldn’t give to pull those straps off her shoulders one last time and run my beaten hands down her neck. Her perfume dances across my nose as I try to breathe it in. It’s the same scent that has been trapped in my mind ever since she came to my office. The smell latches onto my brain and strangles the life out of me.
I take a draw from my cigarette and place my hat on the bench. I check for a new packet in my breast pocket, brushing past my Colt 45. “I didn’t expect to see you at one of these parties.”
She turns to face me. Her eyes stare into mine. She still looks as beautiful as the day she waltzed into my office begging for my help. There’s a worried look in her eyes though, they tremble; almost conjuring a tear. But she wouldn’t cry. Not now. And not when she hired me.
She moves her glass across the railing. “You take it.”
All the better for me. I drink half the whiskey in one swift movement.
“So why did you come here?” I ask her.
“The Senator is a close friend. He has helped me out of some troubles in the past.” Her voice whimpers a little, gracing her fingertips over where the bruises used to be.
“Isn’t that why you hired me?” my lips mutter as I light another cigarette. She stares at me again. She looks lost, like she has been running away for far too long. Her eyes seem distant as if she is looking right through me, through to the big city lights. She moves closer to me and grabs my hand. She is soft like the velvet couches at Johnnie’s bar downtown. Her hands are warmer than mine. She brushes her fingers over my scarred knuckles. I take another gulp from her glass. I should never have agreed to take this case.
“You’re a very desirable broad,” I say to her, “though it seems I’m not the only one you’ve been playing along.” I look her up and down, remembering what she looked like the first time I saw her. Her hair is still as golden as the whiskey in her glass and her breasts would make even Hercules fall to his knees. I fight my desires as I scan my eyes along her curves, wondering what I would give to be the man to undress this beauty. The bruises have faded and her fat lip has settled down. I guess the makeup helps too. “You had me for a while,” I say to her after I rip my eyes away. “You had me up and down the city, from back alley to high-rise, running around chasing one of most powerful men in the city.” But in the end you still run back to him.”
“But Jake, you wouldn’t have gone after him if you knew how deep his circle goes. He has half of the city’s cops in his wallet. But I always knew you had a soft spot for me, even when we were kids.” She begins to shake as she asks for another cigarette. “I knew you would help even after all these years.”
I think back to the original story she told me. The hatred she exclaimed brought her to tears.
“The Senator says I owe him $10,000. I don’t have that kind of money Jake. I just need you to help me out. I know his dealings aren’t legal, all I need is for you to take a look and get me out of this. I’ve got nothing to do with him anymore, I promise. But his goons keep following me,” she cried to me after fifteen years apart.
“This party, these people, this is the crowd you told me about. You’re still hanging around.”
“I knew you’d find me some time,” she replied. Her voice was shaky. Maybe it’s the wind. Maybe it’s the relief that she doesn’t need to run anymore.
“Now what are you going to do about it big boy?” she asks me in her soft, sweet tone. I take one last sip of the whiskey and put the glass down. The rain picks up, belting the wooden roof of the gazebo, reminding me of the times when I used to throw rocks on the roof of the loony bin as a kid.
She asks me one more time, looking at me with those blue eyes of hers. I tell her I can take her away from this party and from this scum rotten city. She can start fresh. I tell her she doesn’t need to worry anymore, that everything will be okay. A small smile appears on her face. It’s the first time I’ve seen her smile all night. I bring her in close to me and kiss her. She tastes like the whiskey I just poured down my gut. But I don’t mind. Her perfume hits me with a punch, knocking my brain around and sending me crazy. Her skin is warm regardless of the rain.
I hold her close for one last second. She looks up at me and brushes her palm across my stubble covered cheek. I reach into my breast pocket and grab the handle to my Colt 45. Her red lips are still smiling that subtle smile. She closes her eyes as the gun goes off. The silencer dulls the shot, a mere whisper with the rain. The smile fades away as her body goes limp and falls. The blood hides in her red dress. I sit on the ground, holding her until the final beat of her heart has stopped. My heart races just as fast as it did when I saw her take a step through my door. My stomach churns; twisting into sickening positions. I reach into her purse, grabbing my cheque. I stand up and lean against the railing, ripping the piece of paper. I light a cigarette and throw the paper into the wind. It glides with the wind, over the garden into the valley beyond. I pick up her glass, polishing off the last drops and walk back to the party. I wipe away the resemblance of tears as The Senator hands me a cheque. $10,000. That will do nicely.