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I arrive early and sit at a table with a view of the sidewalk just so I can do this: watch as Mark lopes toward the diner, his bow-shaped mouth in full pout. He shakes his head, crosses the street, and stares into a storefront’s reflective glare. A minute or two later, he comes back. With the full weight of his shoulder, he swings the door open; its belled frame shudders and clangs.
He makes a beeline for me and slams his way into a chair.
“What the fuck? What’s so damn important you had to call the house?” he half-whispers furiously.
“I’ve emailed, I’ve texted, I’ve called. Nothing from you,” I say.
“Right,” he says. “Because we’ve been nothing since your profound revelation or epiphany or some such shit. So, what? Your karma decided to give you a free pass when it comes to my married ass? Good for you. Except I’m no longer interested.”
Mark gets up, like we’re done, like he’s calling the shots.
“Sit down. I need to tell you something important to both of us. Please don’t make this any harder.”
He does this thing guys like him do. He grabs his chair and turns it backward at the table and straddles it, facing me, like his throbbing manhood must be fenced in, contained, lest it wreak havoc upon the place.
“Go ahead, Annie,” he says. “This can’t be worse than our last little meet-up. ‘Cos that was fun. Big, big fucking fun. Ask my wife.”
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I’m sorry for everything. I’m glad she decided to stay.”
Mark stares at me, those emerald greenies more eloquent than he’s ever been. He rubs the blond stubble on his face and takes a deep breath.
“What is it?”
“I’ve been contacted. Rudely. By our former…mentors,” I tell him.
“That’s impossible,” he says. “Are you sure?”
“I’m as sure as I can be, given the circumstances.”
“Mary, mother of…” His right hand curls into a fist.
A woman with a metallic briefcase enters the restaurant and sinks into one of the cracked leather booths near us.
“How could you let this happen?” says Mark.
“Say something unexpected. Just this one time.”
“Fuck you,” he says.
I make a show of looking around, my gaze lingering on the newly occupied booth close by.
“I’m not sure we should be talking about it here. Why don’t we…”
Mark interrupts me.
“I am never. Going anywhere. Ever again with you. Not even around the corner. So let’s get on with it. I have to leave soon.”
“There hasn’t been a day I haven’t regretted…” I begin.
“Shut the hell up! You have no idea what…just tell me why I’m here now or I’m gone.”
“Yesterday I was mugged,” I tell him. “At least that’s what I thought was happening. After I got home and cleaned up, I realized that the guy hadn’t taken anything, he had given me something. In my handbag. You can guess what.”
I watch as he digests this news. In a near-hilarious ‘tell,’ he swipes at a phantom trace of cocaine beneath his nose.
“Christ,” he breathes, and he closes his eyes. “I guess you expect me to handle this. It’s not like you’ve ever been into getting your own hands dirty.”
This bit is certainly true. It’s how I’ve stayed alive in a lethal line of work.
He stands abruptly, and his chair smacks against the table. He stalks toward the restrooms and barrels through the swinging double doors.
While he’s gone, I make a quick phone call to The Accountant. When I look up, Mark is at the counter. He brings two cups of coffee to the table, and places one of them in front of me.
“Still sugar, double cream?”
“Touching, you remembering that,” I say. “So, we do have some options.”
“Not so much,” Mark snarls.
I take a small sip of coffee. It’s very bitter, like my cold dark heart.
“If we work together…” I begin.
“You really want to go there? Look, I can’t stay. Gotta be somewhere. And I need to think.”
“I’ll call you,” I say.
His baby face flushes. “Don’t. I’ll get in touch with you when I’m ready.”
He raises his cup and waves it dramatically. “Salut!” he says.
He takes a long pull of his coffee. I bring my cup to my lips and pretend to swallow.
“Like I said,” Mark says, “I’ll be in touch.” He pins those Irish eyes on mine.
I flutter my eyelids and angle my head slightly before I let it begin to droop slowly toward the tabletop. Mark catches my cheek in the palm of his hand and eases it onto the surface and Jesus, the touch of his skin on mine, even now. I hear him walk away, then listen to the belled door do its thing.
The gunshot is loud enough that my fellow diner patrons jump to their feet. A woman screams, and there’s a lot of shouting. A few people have rushed to the windows.
“Fuck me, that guy was just in here!” says one of them, a guy with a salt and pepper goatee.
“Well, now he’s all over the sidewalk,” says his pal.
Amidst the commotion I slowly raise my head. The first thing I do is rub my lips and tongue with a napkin; my signature crimson gloss glows bright against the white paper. I spit a couple of times for good measure.
I check my phone and find that The Accountant has left me a message: debt paid in full. His version of mission accomplished. The palm tree emoji at the end of his text tells me he’ll be out of pocket for a while.
As I leave, I dump the poisoned liquid out of my coffee cup and put both cups in my carryall. A girl can’t be too careful.
Carolyn R. Russell
Carolyn R. Russell is the author of “In the Fullness of Time,” a dystopian thriller published by Vine Leaves Press in 2020. Her humorous YA mystery, “Same As It Never Was,” was released in 2018 by Big Table. “The Films of Joel and Ethan Coen,” her volume of film criticism, was published by McFarland & Company in 2001. Her poetry, essays and short stories have been featured in numerous publications, including The Boston Globe, Third Wednesday, Flash Fiction Magazine, Club Plum Literary Journal, The Ekphrastic Review, Reflex Press, and Dime Show Review. Carolyn lives on and writes from Boston’s North Shore. More at WWW.CarolynRRussell.com
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