She always saw it coming. It was the easy way out. Here was this supposed brilliant assassin going in for the big kill and instead of some ingenious, carefully thought-out plan, all there is, is a car bomb. Cue the big bright lights, loud noises, and people running around like sheep. Typically there is some sort of glass building around that can shatter for effect. She understood, of course. Explosions look great on screen. It would be anti-climactic if the assassin simply shot the guy in the back while he was walking out of the bathroom. And yet, that was the reality of it. It had all been downhill after seeing Leon and Mathilda clean.
The thing about car bombs, she thought, is that they explode. They make a lot of noise and heat and generally cause a lot of unnecessary hullabaloo. Ask a professional what the last thing he wants on the job is and “attention” will be the first thing out of his mouth. Explosions make people nervous and nervous people mean investigations and never-ending inquiries. Never mind that explosions aren’t exactly precise instruments—killing three people is not the same as killing one. If you have to kill somebody, do it like pastors cheat on their wives—discreetly.
She was generally against anything that attracted any kind of attention but she absolutely hated car bombs—and she’d let the people she worked with know it. So she knew how Henry would react when she called him and asked for one.
“Hey, yam candy, this is fluffy cloud. I need a few things. Call me back.”
She left a message at an answering machine somewhere in Asia. Henry was paranoid about security—perhaps rightly so—and he always insisted she use random pseudonyms when she left him a message. He knew who she was immediately by the sound of her voice.
The call came five minutes later.
“Good morning, Henry.”
“Hey, fluffy cloud, how’s the weather?”
She chuckled sarcastically.
“So, you busy?”
“Not for you, pretty lady. What can I do you for?”
“Just need a couple of things. First of all I need a red Mercedes to put on a light show; bright and loud enough to attract attention but not too dangerous. I need it by Thursday, which is, let me see, two days. Doable?”
“You asking me to rig a car bomb? Yo joking, right?”
“So, you can’t do it?”
“No, no, I can do it, no problem—but I’m gonna have to conveniently forget that long speech you gave after we saw Matador.”
“Whatever you have to do.”
“No, seriously, you joking?”
“I’ll explain later, ‘kay. Can you get’er done?”
“Sure. You got a location for the install?”
“Yep, car’s left alone twice a week at the golf course. We’ve got at least a couple of hours.”
“And the other thing?”
“I need word out on my availability; especially on the corporate side.”
“Looking to expand the client list?”
“You gonna let me pay for this one, right?”
“I’ll let you take me to lunch.”
“If your other clients found out you’re doing freebies, they’d be pissed.”
“With the amount I charge them, I don’t think they can imagine me doing something free.”
“Well, I’ve experienced it several times and I still can’t believe it.”
“Don’t get use to it. I’ve just been in a good mood lately.”
“I’ll pray it lasts. I gotta run. Say hello to the mutt.”
“See ya soon.”
“Any other news we need to cover, Tangiers?”
“Let me see,” Tangiers said, shuffling papers, “Porter is selling off the design division.”
“Story?” said the stocky man sitting near the middle of the long conference table.
“Officially, the division is simply unprofitable in the long term. Unofficially, there’s been bad blood ever since we got a seat on the board. We’ve been pushing for cutbacks in the middle ranks. The pushback has been especially hard on top at that division—lots of lifers.”
“Should we worry about it?” said another man, further up the table.
“I don’t see why. The manufacturing divisions are what we are interested in. It might even help cut the fat,” replied the stocky man.
“I’ll keep an eye on it,” said Tangiers, “Bob, anything else?”
Bob, a skinny man sitting at the far end of the table, shook his head.
“Chairman?” said Tangiers, directing his attention to the end of the table. The Chairman wrinkled his worn face. The meeting was over.
Tangiers stood up first. Besides the phones being silenced for meeting, the room was soundproof. The Chairman insisted on no interruptions. He leaned down to un-silence the phone. It rang immediately. He picked it up calmly.
The voice on the other line spoke excitedly. The other men, already walking out of the boardroom, stopped to look at Tangiers.
“Yes, understood. Now, you’re absolutely certain?”
Tangiers motioned to the men to stay put.
“Yes, alert the authorities. Evacuate the building and have Paul get ready to fly us out. You may leave after you do so.”
Tangiers hung up the phone.
“Bob, you’re the one who drives the red Mercedes parked in the plaza?”
“Yes,” said Bob puzzled, “what happened?”
“It just exploded,” said Tangiers dryly.
“It fucking what?” shouted Bob.
“It exploded—without you in it, I might add. Does anybody else park their car out front?”
The men shook their heads. Bob stared at Tangiers, amazed at how coolly he was treating the whole thing.
“You make a lot of money, gentlemen. These things happen.” Tangiers said, looking at Bob specifically, “At the very least, I’m almost certain nobody is trying to kill you, Bob.”
The board members crowded into the executive elevator. Tangiers inserted his keycard and hit the button for the roof. He turned to face the men and saw the Chairman slightly nod at him. The elevator arrived quickly. Tangiers allowed all the men to get out before him—the Chairman wanted to talk privately. They walked out together, letting the men walk a short distance ahead.
“I have a fairly good idea what just happened. Any reason I should think differently?” said the Chairman.
“Not at the moment, sir. We’ll find out soon enough.”
“I take this kind of thing personally, Tangiers.”
“It’s the only way to take it, sir.”
“What I mean, son, is that something is to be done. I will be in my private office downtown, waiting for you to call—and tell me who it needs to done to.”
“Of course, sir,”
The board members climbed into the series of helicopters the lined the roof. Each went to a different location as a safety precaution. One of the helicopters was reserved for the Chairman. He hesitated before climbing in, stopping to give Tangiers another nod.
The Chairman had tried to relax after arriving at his office. He’d prepared himself a drink and changed into comfortable clothing. It hadn’t helped. He was furious. He’d felt the need to do something; he started by making phone calls.
He had a problem and he needed a problem-solver. He’d been lucky—he could count the number of times he’d needed such services of one hand. He’d tried to keep his business methods as clean as possible. Some of his rivals, he knew, had come to rely on such measures—and paid for it dearly.
He made twelve phone calls and made the same inquiry: he needed somebody quickly but he was not willing to compromise. Cost was not an issue. Without much hesitation he’d been given the same name eleven times. That was enough of an endorsement for him.
The name had been given easily but he’d had to barter for a method of contact. It had cost him information. He’d much rather have paid cash. Nonetheless, he had his problem solver.
He dialed the costly phone number and waited.
“Information. What city and state please?” answered a female voice.
“Mountain View, California.”
“L&M Superior Glass.”
“One moment, please.”
The Chairman wondered if it was possible he had been fooled.
“Please hold for your listing.”
The phone line went dead silent for ten seconds before he heard a slight click.
“One, One, Four, Seven, Eight, Parker, Street, Mountain, View, California,Nine,Oh,Five,PM,” said the automated voice. He had not been fooled it seemed.
“Please arrive promptly. A retention fee of—One Hundred, Fifty, Thousand, American—will be required via—cash, payment. If you are seen as a threat, the meeting will be canceled and possible further action taken. Instigating such events is not recommended; therefore, if possible, arrive alone. Thank you. Have a good day.”
The Chairman smiled at the bold, even cunning, contact system. He looked at his watch: it was almost seven. He needed to retrieve the money from his bedroom vault in Palo Alto. He’d better leave promptly. He hoped dearly that Tangiers had done his job.
“I’m almost certain, sir.”
“Tim Searle? How long has he run the division?”
“Twelve years, sir, and he was a lead designer for six before that.”
“So he has a lot to lose.”
“It’s likely that his position would disappear if the division was purchased. Porter has already been pushing to eliminate him. He’s turned many of employees against the board, especially after we arrived.”
“That son of a bitch thinks he can scare us into backing off. So, you followed the money?”
“It’s very clear, sir. He requested time off and immediately sold most of the shares he’d accumulated. He also made some telling inquiries.”
“Do we know where he is now?”
“Yes, sir, Southern California. I have an address. Do I need to make arrangements?”
“No, I’m already on the way to clear up this business.”
“Very well, sir. As always, I’ll be here if you need anything.”
“Thank you, Tangiers. Your loyalty does not go unnoticed.”
The Chairman hung up the phone. He pressed the intercom button to speak to the driver.
“I’m ready to go, Paul. 11478 Parker Street, Mountain View.”
He looked at his watch: thirty minutes to nine.
“I’ll need to be there before the hour.”
“Yes, sir, it shouldn’t be a problem.”
It was her turn to close today. All the customers were gone for the day—they closed early on Mondays and Tuesdays to make up for the late hours on the weekend. She’d been working at the coffee shop for three weeks now and she was honestly enjoying it.
The sign above the door said “Dino’s”—it was horrible name for a coffee shop—and so did her dark green apron. She turned up the volume on the sound system and grabbed the mop. She danced a little, mopping as she went. When she finished, she took a look around. The place was pretty spotless. She clocked out a little early, sure she’d be forgiven.
She turned off the lights and locked the door behind her. She used her apron to pull the gate down, not wanting to get her hand greasy. She placed the padlock on the gate but did not lock it.
She walked over to the tables outside and pulled the rag she had put in the apron’s front pouch. She began cleaning the tables. She could hear far-off conversations, probably from the restaurant on the first floor. Her floor was deserted.
An older man walked off the escalator, his heavy gait making his suitcase bounce off his thigh, making a sort of flapping sound. He had dark stains under his underarms and looked nervous. He stopped in front of the cigar shop a few shops down, looking at the door for a few seconds before checking his watch. She watched him.
He began pacing back and forth, looking at his watch every few seconds. He glanced at her a few times but immediately looked away when she looked back. He walked toward the railing and set his suitcase down. He crossed his arms and leaned on the rail—it moved slightly. He stood up and shook the railing. It had a little give but he must have deemed it stable enough because he crossed his arms and leaned again.
The tables were finally clean. She walked to the gate and locked it. She wrapped the rag around her left hand and began walking to the escalator. She saw the man look at her out of the corner of his eye before setting his gaze back onto the plaza. As she walked past him she stretched out her arm and pushed the man with her wrapped hand, using her right foot for leverage. Something snapped and the railing gave. The man desperately threw his hands up to try to regain his balance but he was too late. He fell. She continued her walk toward the escalator as casually as before, tucking the rag back into her front pouch.
“Good afternoon, is this Phillip Tangiers?”
“Yes, it is. Who is this?”
“Somebody you should call back.”
“The number is…”
“Who is this?”
“Oh, what’s in a name, really?”
“Who are you?”
“Somebody who hasn’t been paid, Phillip.”
Tangiers struggled not to gasp.
“It was an honest mistake. The driver couldn’t find the place. By the time he arrived nobody was there.”
“You should hire a better driver, Phillip.”
“Yes, well, it was not I who hired him.”
“I will schedule another pickup, Mr. Tangiers, but these things are not cheap. Add another fifty grand to that suitcase of yours. Oh, and make sure you deliver it on time, this time.”
“Yes, I will try to deliver it personally.”
“Very well, have a good day.”
“Your name, in case I need your services again.”
“Let’s hope you don’t, Mr. Tangiers.”
“Yes, let’s hope. However, I would still like a name.”
“Rachel Glass. It’s a name I wouldn’t say out loud in too many places, Phillip.”
“Goodbye, Phillip. I hope you’re still sleeping well.”
Rachel hung up the phone. Now there is an arrogant bastard, she thought. Maybe somebody will wipe him out next. Maybe she’d get the job.