Not the Job (1)
“You there, Maggie?” asked the dainty young voice through the speaker in his ear. “Did you find it?”
The Magpie’s brow furrowed as he stared at the dilapidated apartment building. Its windows were dirty and cracked, covered from the inside with paper and tape. Its brick had crumbled, leaving gaping holes in the outer walls, and grass and weeds pushed their way through the broken pieces. The city should have condemned and demolished this building years ago, yet here it sat, nestled among a row of rundown apartments and shops.
A few people passed him on the sidewalk, eyeing him with an uneasy curiosity while he scowled up the five stories. Pulling the hood of his sweatshirt low over his face, he cleared his throat.
“Are you sure about this, Squirrel?” His face mask muffled his deep voice so passersby wouldn’t hear more than the muttering of a crazy person. “No one lives here. Squatters and addicts maybe, but this place is abandoned.”
There was a light, thoughtful humming in his ear, then, “That’s the last location I have for her. Four-twelve. Guess you’ll just have to go in and check it out, huh?”
The last sentence was playful, the delicate voice cheerfully handing responsibility over to him.
With a low groan, followed by a resigned sigh, the Magpie headed up the worn stone steps and into the main entrance. The metal door sat crooked on its hinges, keeping it permanently wedged open. Inside, the hallway was dark except for the occasional flickering florescent above his head.
Wonderful. I’ve walked into a horror movie. Who would pay the electric bill for a place like this?
It was useless pondering, so he pushed it from his mind and trudged up the four flights of stairs. He noticed an elevator, but with the condition of this place, he wasn’t about to risk it.
“This is a loan shark job?” he asked his friend in a whisper as he reached the fourth-floor landing. “She’s a high paid escort and took out a loan, but she lives here? It doesn’t make any sense.”
“A Rising Suns escort,” the voice in his ear corrected, not as light and cheery now. “Could be servitude. Maybe she’s trying to buy her way out.”
Grunting in reply, he continued down the hall. Squirrel didn’t want to have that conversation. He wasn’t particularly interested in reminiscing, either. The past was better left in the past.
Moaning, coughing, and crying surrounded him, muted sounds eerily seeping out and mixing in the otherwise silent building. From somewhere above came indistinct shouting, followed by stomping feet and who-knows-what crashing to the floor. As he reached his destination, the door next to him opened. A frail, sunken-faced man stepped out. The Magpie kept his head low, but he wasn’t interesting enough. The stranger passed by without a glance.
Lifting a hand to knock, he heard rustling, then low voices coming from inside. He hesitated.
“Someone else is here.”
With a light touch, he tested the handle. It was unlocked, but not by force. He squat low and slipped in, taking a thin knife from his boot. The air in the apartment was thick and stale. Barely across the doorstep, two distinct smells hit him—sex and blood. Crouched by the entry, he let his eyes adjust and saw the slender form of a woman, naked and ravaged, only a few feet ahead.
Guess they’re not getting that money back, he thought, shaking his head at the sight.
Darting his eyes around the room, he took in his surroundings. From the layout, this was a tiny one-bedroom. Overturned furniture filled the cramped living room. Kitchen cupboards and drawers were emptied, their contents strewn across the counters and over the floor. Whatever these intruders wanted, it was clearly urgent. Rummaging sounds came from an open door in the corner, then a gruff voice.
“Where the hell is it?” the voice grumbled. “I don’t even know what the hell I’m looking for.”
“Shut up and keep searching,” another voice ordered. It was younger and lighter, but equally frustrated. “The Boss’ll have our heads if we killed that whore for nothin’.”
The Magpie’s head shook again, and the grip on his knife loosened. It was a shame things ended this way, but this wasn’t the job. There was no longer any reason to stay. He couldn’t risk being discovered. Spinning back toward the door, he was about to stand when he heard a low, menacing cackle.
“Well, who do we have here?” the gruff voice teased.
The question was followed by a snicker from his partner and a tiny, high-pitched cry.
In an instant, the Magpie was in the bedroom, slamming the stranger closest to him hard between the legs. Grabbing the man as his body doubled over in pain, he twisted an arm and kicked at the back of a knee. Before he could resist, a knife rested lightly against the man’s throat.
“Remove your hands and back away,” the Magpie ordered. “Or he dies.”
Only a few feet away, the other stranger froze, caught trying to drag a tiny figure out from under a metal-frame bed. He let go on command and the figure scrambled back into hiding. Standing and lifting his hands in a mocking surrender, the stranger’s eyes shined with wicked anticipation, as if he was eager to confront this newcomer. Or eager to see his partner have his throat sliced open. Wearing an almost gleeful grin, he took a few steps closer.
“Hey man.” With a chuckle, the stranger took another step forward, forcing the Magpie to pull his prisoner back. “I don’t know who you think you are, but I don’t give a shit about that guy. And I can’t leave here empty-handed.”
The hostage began to reply, but his Adam’s apple slid against the blade and his breathing halted in fear. At this distance, in the dim light streaming through the paper-covered window, the cocky stranger’s face was visible. And familiar.
Before the Magpie could search his memory, the man took in a sharp breath and leaned forward. His hands fell to his sides.
“Huh? Nate?” His grin grew wide and his gruff voice trembled with excitement. “Holy shit, it’s Nate!”
The Magpie’s gaze shifted to the gruff man’s neck. The small tattoo behind his left ear was unmistakable. A single line, with a half sun below it.
“Shit,” he said through an annoyed sigh. This day kept getting more complicated. “I really wish you hadn’t recognized me, Lenny.”
In less than a second, the prisoner in his arms collapsed to the floor, his throat slit cleanly from side to side. Without a pause, the knife flew across the room and lodged deep into Lenny’s lung. He dropped to his knees with a thud, gasping for breath. His hand clutched at the metal handle. Calmly stepping around the body at his feet, the Magpie approached and knelt down beside him, moving his weak grip away.
“Sorry. You were so close, I didn’t have time to aim.”
He pulled out the blade, then stabbed again, this time piercing Lenny’s heart. He watched the strength in his thighs falter and felt his bulky torso lean forward into his fist. The panic from earlier faded together with his consciousness. The raspy breathing became infrequent, then halted completely.
The Magpie ran his fingers absentmindedly along his own neck, tracing the raised skin of the black sunflower tattoo below his left ear.
He grimaced. What a mess.