The ashes from the cigarette flicked off and landed on the tabletop, dissolving into powder clumps upon impact. Judy Shields did not notice as her hand nervously trembled across the counters surface, leaving long grey streaks. She placed the filter between her lips and inhaled another hit. The stranger sitting across from her observed. He could feel her leg bouncing uncontrollably under her, making the floorboard’s squeak. The Snack and Rack Diner was nearly empty, and their booth was located in the rear of the establishment. The waitress, the only one working the night shift, had just placed two cups of fresh coffee before returning behind the counter to dry off the rest of the dinner trays.
“What is that, your third cigarette?”
“What?” Judy replied. She ran her hand through her neatly kept hair, trying her best to avoid direct eye-contact with him. A hundred thoughts raced through her mind.
“Cigarette,” he pointed at the plastic ashtray next to her. “I believe that’s your third straight. Do you usually chain smoke them like that?” She looked down at the half-smoked cigarette between her fingers, and quickly put it out. The butts were stained with her bright red lipstick. A feature the stranger thought she could do without.
“No. Of course not.” She said. “I’m just…a little on edge.”
“Yes. I can see that.”
She adjusted herself in her seat. “Are we here to get down to business or to discuss my smoking habits?” The man gave her the chills. He did not take his eyes off her, looking her over with an unsettling smile on his face. But she promised herself she would not show her fear, regardless of how he came off. They had only spoken over the phone once a few days before, the rest of their interactions, had been over text messages.
“I don’t wish to be here any longer than I have to be,” she continued. She drew out another cigarette from the pack in her bag and fired it up.
” So, can we please just get this over with?”
“Sure lady!” he said. “As long as the money is right, I’m all ears!”
Judy did not appreciate his wit. Looking over her shoulder, making sure no one was within ears-reach, she leaned in cautiously and spoke.
“Like I said on the phone,” she said in a low voice. “I would like this to be done fast. The person I mentioned to you before –”
“Yes. My husband. I want him gone.”
A long pause.
“Yes,” she said, finally. “He needs to disappear. I don’t want him found. Can you guarantee that?”
“Lady, for fifty-thousand dollars, I’ll grind that poor bastard into fine powder. Don’t you worry, you’ll never see him again.”
“Please,” she insisted. “keep your voice down! Someone is liable to hear you!”
“You been watching too many murder mysteries! We’re practically the only ones in here.” He leaned over and caught a glimpse of the waitress preoccupied with the stack of food trays. He nodded towards her. “I doubt that bitch behind the counter will hear us kicking up a fuss.”
“Even so,” she maintained. “Let’s keep this conversation as low as possible.” He raised his hands, submissively, his smile unchanged.
“Alright, you got it,” he whispered, mockingly. “Let’s get this over with. If I’m not mistaken, I believe we agreed on half the payment now, half when it’s done.” He looked her over, disappointed. “I don’t see my twenty-five thousand. Is it in that fancy bag of yours?”
“No! It’s not.” She drew the bag near to her. “I don’t have it with me. But don’t worry, I assure you, you’ll receive every penny. I must be sure I have the right man for the job first.”
“You don’t pay, we don’t play,” he said. “This isn’t a hitman department store. I don’t see any other kill-for-hires standing around. You want to stop fucking around, and stop wasting my time?” She swallowed hard, leaning back in her chair.
“I meant to say, I just needed to make sure we both were on the same page.” She drew a lengthy hit from the cigarette. “Shall we proceed?”
“That depends,” he said. “Will I be walking outta here with the first payment?”
“Yes,” she said. “It’s in my car. Forgive me, I had to know…”
The man lowered his brow. “Know I was the right man for the job?”
She took a deep breath.
“Whatever,” he said, exhausted. “What’s the plan?” She smashed the cigarette on the ashtray and rubbed her hands together.
“He’s taking that skank to a Broadway show tomorrow night. Hamilton, I believe. Fucking hypocrite! He swore he’d never see that show as long as blacks portrayed the founding fathers. I guess cheap pussy did wonders on his racist views, huh?” Her knuckles grew white at the tips from tightening her grip.
“What can I say,” he said. “Men are pieces of shit! But then again, you did marry him, So there’s that.” He raised his cup, blew on it, then took a cautious sip. “Nevertheless, I don’t have a problem getting rid of such a character. It isn’t my first time.”
“Good,” She approved. “The show starts at 7:00pm, and they should be getting back to her apartment around 10:00pm or so. That’s plenty of time for you to sneak in and wait for them to arrive. Then you…do what you have to do.”
“You’ve really given this some thought, huh?”
“Enough. I’ve given it enough.”
“Okay, then, Tomorrow night. Did you remember to bring a picture of him? And her?”
Reaching into her bag, she pulled out a photograph, a yellow post-it-note attached to the back. She placed it face down and slowly slid it to him. He shook his head, amused, and picked it up. He flipped it over and analyzed it.
“I pictured him more of a… sleaze bag. But I gotta say, this guy looks half decent. What the hell did he do to deserve an early death?” He threw the image down on the table.
“What difference does it make? I’m paying you to get rid of both of them. If this is going to eat at your conscience, let me know and I’ll find someone who — “
“More coffee?” the waitress said, walking up behind Judy. Startled, she quickly placed her palms over the photograph, veiling it from view.
“I’m sorry,” she said, apologetically. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I just wanted to see if you two wanted any more— “
“NO!” Judy stopped her mid-sentence. “WERE FINE, thank you!” The waitress sensing her rudeness, pressed her lips tight, holding in words she wished not to say out loud.
“I’ll have some more, sweetheart,” the man said. He pushed the saucer towards the edge of the counter. “Fill her up to the rim this time, would ya?”
She poured the hot coffee into the cup; her presence created an awkward moment between the two of them. When she finished, he smiled and winked at her. She smiled back hesitantly and went on her way. He stared at her ass with approval as she walked away, then slowly focused on Judy.
“You really need to relax, lady. Your starting to make me nervous. In fact,” he straightened. “I’m starting to think you might be a cop. You isn’t no pig, is you?” His smile disappeared and his face turned ice-cold. She looked at him, befuddled, unsure of what to say. Immense fear washed over her.
“I….no, I’m not a cop. Jesus! I’m just nervous that’s—-“
He belted out a laugh.
“I’m fucking joking with you! Loosen up a little!” He took up the photograph, still unable to compose himself. He peeled off the post-it-note.
“This is where she lives?”
“Yes,” she replied. “45th and Sloan. Apartment 38.”
“I’ll give him this much; he certainly has great taste in ass!” He stared at the image with admiration, rotating the image as if trying to look up her skirt.
“Can we get serious?” she said.
A pause followed.
“And what shall become of her? Will she be disappearing as well?”
“NO.” She paused. “Death would be too merciful for her. I want her to suffer!”
“Suffer? Like what, kick the shit outta her?”
“YES! I want her to remember the day she chose to fuck with me! Even if she’ll never know it.”
“Wow! Fucked him that good, did she?”
“She destroyed my life! My family! He’s divorcing me and threatening to take away my kids. AND THAT I will not allow!” The stranger ran his finger around the rim of his cup.
“So why kill him?” He said. “Take him for half of everything he’s got! Custody. Child support. The courts always side with you broads! I’m telling you, lady, you want to make him pay? That’s the way to do it.”
“Are you suggesting I reconsider? You’re willing to lose out on all that money for this piece of shit?”
“Woah take it easy! Let’s no go that far. I’m just saying, sometimes revenge is sweeter when you stick the court system up ones ass.”
“No! He has to die!”
He observed her hatred and knew she was set on seeing it carried out her way.
“It’s your dime,” he continued. “So, I beat her to a bloody pulp. Then what?”
“Acid,” she said, promptly. “I want you to pour battery acid all over her face! Every inch of it!”
“HOLY FUCK, are you serious? That’s kind of fucked up. Even for me!”
“Don’t grow squeamish on me now. Can you do this or— “
“I’ll do it, I’ll do it! Don’t start that up again.”
“Very well. How will I know it’s done? I don’t want you calling my cell or showing up at my home. These text messages are bad enough.”
He raised the cup and took the last drink.
“Get yourself one of them pay-as-you-go phones, then give me a call on it. I’ll call you on that number when the job is done, then get rid of it immediately. Understand?”
She nodded in agreement.
“Now, about that money?”
“Yes. Of course.” She looked around again. “Wait here while I go get it. I trust that you can take care of the bill?”
“Lady, it would be my uttermost pleasure!”
She left him and headed towards the exit.
She sat on the passenger side seat of her vehicle, looking around for any sign of him. When she saw no one, she reached down the side of the seats fabric, and dug her fingers into a slit she had made the day before. It was large enough to fit a medium sized envelope stuffed with cash. She struggled to pull it free, when she did, she opened it and scanned through the brand new hundred dollar bills that were stacked inside.
“Is that my payment?”
Judy jumped and turned. She saw him towering over her in the darkness of night. His eyes did not wander from the money in her hands.
“…I thought I told you to wait inside?”
“I did. Then I didn’t…and now… I’m here.” He stretched out his hand, gesturing for the envelope. “Twenty-five thousand. That was the price.”
She hesitated, clutching the envelope tight, making the paper crinkle. After a moment, she loosened her grip and placed it in his hand. He quickly snatched it away and opened it, skimming through it carefully.
“It’s all there,” she said. “I counted it.”
He gave her an unsettled glance. “All the same, I’ll have a look anyway.” She lowered her head and looked off to the side, clutching her keys into several spears.
After he finished, he said, “Looks to be okay. So far so good.”
“Good,” she said, hurriedly. She pressed the lock down on the driver side door and began rolling up the window. “So? Were good then?”
His demeanor relaxed as he stuffed the thick envelope inside his coat pocket.
“What do you mean? What else is there to discuss?”
He took a step forward and bent down to meet her at eye level. He placed his hand on the top of the glass window, keeping it from rising. She leaned back in her seat, the fear returning to her. She raised the keys sticking out from between her fingers. He chuckled.
“It’s gonna take more than that to stop someone like me, lady. You go ahead and take a swing if it makes you feel better.”
Her posture did not change.
“What else did you want to say? I would like to leave as soon as you’re done.”
“Alright,” he said. “You should know, the next time you go looking for a hitman, the last place you’ll want to do it is from a computer the way you did.” He reached and pulled his coat aside, revealing a revolver tucked in his waist. Her heart sank into her stomach and her eyes grew wide like a corpse.
“No!” she said, frantically. “Please, don’t hurt me!” Thoughts raced through her mind, but she quickly managed to compose herself.
“…if you do…you won’t get the other half of the money! You wouldn’t want that, now would you?”
“Oh, I think twenty-five thousand is enough for a guy like me. No need for greed, my daddy used to say.”
He straightened. She panicked and screamed, fearing he would go for his weapon. Then, with his other hand, he pulled back the other side of his coat, waist level, revealing a shiny police badge looped around his belt. Her eyes grew even wider and her heart pounded.
“What’s the matter?” he said. “You look as if you wanted somebody killed?”