Nothing But Trouble
by Christian Blaine
The story starts as every worthwhile story starts: with a woman.
The air was stagnant, hanging heavy over the city like a wet, wool blanket over a dying body. Shadows lengthened in the tiny office as the sun slipped behind the highrises. The ceiling fan whirred overhead, off balance from the missing blade. Papers fluttered on the desk, the soft rift the only sound against the ever-present hum. I sat on the busted swivel chair, feet on the desk, sipping cheap bourbon with a vengeance. It was one of those days, the kind of day that starts in Hell and then goes south.
I should’ve known things would get worse the second I heard the knock at the door. My watch claimed it was half past seven, too late in the day for any legitimate business. I glared at the knock, considered ignoring it until it went away.
Another knock, almost accusatory, like it had seen my glare. I sucked in a quick breath, weighing my options. Funds were low and rent couldn’t be paid in rainbows and sunshine. The third knock made my decision for me. I finished off the bourbon and yelled for my evening patron to enter. Knowing then what I know now, I’d have barred the windows, hid under the desk, and not opened the door for Huey Long himself.
They say the universe turns on certain moments. My universe turned, spun, jumped, and rolled over the moment she walked into my life.
She was short, barely over five feet, though her heels gave her a couple extra inches, but she walked into the room like bottled lightning. Charged, magnetic, her eyes flashed over the office, looking and judging all in one go. I followed her gaze; the takeout cartons from Jack Wang’s place down the street, a few empty bottles, and a filing cabinet held together with duct tape and prayer. This place was beneath her and it showed in every liquid step she took.
She was a redhead to make a priest kick a hole in a stained glass window. Wearing this little blue number that left a tragic amount to the imagination. She finally deigned to grace me with a glance, taking in three days’ worth of stubble, unkempt hair, and bloodshot eyes with all the emotion of a brick. Her eyes were blue.
As she judged me, I judged her. Her earrings could’ve paid my rent for the rest of the year and that was the cheapest thing she wore. I’ve chased down a few missing jewels in my day, so I knew the bracelet hanging on her wrist was an easy hundred grand. The glitter told me she was rich, but it told me something else as well; she was desperate. No woman like that walks into this side of New Orleans this close to sundown with someplace else to go.
Those full lips compressed into a line when I didn’t stand and, boy, did those eyes flash. I pulled a cigarette and stuck it in the corner of my mouth as insolently as I could manage.
“You know who I am.” It wasn’t a question.
I met her eyes as I lit the cigarette, never dropping her gaze. I knew who she was alright. Her picture had been all over the newspapers for years, hers and her family’s. I nodded.
The barest shadow of a smile. “Who am I, then?”
The smile grew a fraction. “I’m not representing my father, if that’s what you mean.”
“If that’s what I’d meant, sweetheart, that’s what I’d’ve said.” I flicked cigarette ash in the vague direction of an ashtray. “Though, you mentioning your father brings up a point; you came here instead of letting daddy dearest handle whatever mess you’ve gotten yourself into. Which means that whatever you want me to do, I’ll be going against him and the cops.”
Whatever potential smile was on her face vanished. “I don’t like your manners, Mr. Wallace.”
“Don’t care much for them myself. They’re bad. I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve cried myself to sleep over them. But don’t waste your time pretending to be offended.”
Those cold blue eyes stared a hole through my head, the wall, and the building across the street. We sat there, long enough for her to see that I wasn’t intimidated and for me to see that she only had one dimple framing those red lips.
She broke contact first, reaching slowly into her purse, as if she had always intended to do things this way. A white envelope landed on the desk with a thud. The thud of dirty money. The heaviest kind.
“There’s ten thousand dollars. Another ten when the job is complete.”
She spoke with the kind of tone than wasn’t just unaccustomed to hearing disagreement – disagreement had never existed.
I stared at the bundle without taking my eyes off of her. Twenty grand was a lot of things; rent, cigarettes, booze. And not the cheap kind of rotgut that doubles as battery acid in summer and antifreeze in winter, but the good liquor that goes down smoother than a high class call girl.
But that twenty grand was a lot of other things; a noose around my neck and hooks in my soul.
Her eyes narrowed for the briefest of moments. “You need this money, Mr. Wallace.”
“What I need, sweetheart, is a stiff drink and a week in Havana. What I’ve got is a brain and a gun. And right now, one of those is telling me to use the other to get you out of this office.”
She cocked her head to the side, as if seeing me in a new light entirely. When she smiled this time, it was a genuine smile, a fond smile. “They said you were smart.”
A shrug. “People.”
I snorted. “People that know I’m smart ain’t the kind of people you’d be talking to.”
“Lowlifes?” She asked, teasing, smiling.
“Cops,” I said, smiling back.
She laughed, a throaty sound that makes a man forget every line he knows he shouldn’t cross. “That’s not my father’s money,” she said, gesturing to the envelope with her chin, “in case you were wondering. It’s from my personal account. The legitimate one. And because it’s not my father’s money, you don’t have to worry about owing him anything.” She leaned forward, hands on my desk, far enough for me to see nothing but promises. “You’ll just have to worry about owing me.”
I kept my face carefully still, fighting the urge to look down. The longer we held eye contact, the more her eyes sparkled. It was a challenge, and a challenge she always won at that. She licked her lips slowly, allowing her gaze to travel down my jawline, to my shirt unbuttoned at the throat, ending in my crotch. And when she looked up into my eyes, it was with such doe-eyed innocence that I half expected birds to fly in and land on her outstretched hand. Those blue eyes flashed again and smoldered, nothing but raw passion and yearning, her mouth opening briefly to take a deep breath, pushing her chest out.
I was doomed the moment those eyes sparkled. I knew it. She knew it and she knew that I knew it. But I’d be damned if I’d give her the satisfaction.
“Oh, I think I’m going to like you, Mr. Wallace.” She turned without another glance and walked to the door, hips swinging.
“You haven’t even told me the job yet.”
She turned by the door and leaned into it, hard. Her lips parted, purely for effect, just to give me time enough to imagine my lips between them.
“Find out who’s going to kill me.”
Christian Blaine can read and write and enjoys both.