The piano refrain rocked my body back and forth. The sadness the player put into the keys brought tears to my eyes despite not knowing what he was playing. I felt captured by the anticipation of the next chord he played.
“Gerry,” Pete said, repeating himself for the umpteenth time, finally getting my attention. “I need you to pay attention, bud.”
“Yeah, sorry. This player is amazing,” I said, shaking my head before looking at him. Pete looked less than impressed, but his pressed suit and slick backed hair gave the impression of a night club owner. His cologne didn’t help to dispel that assumption. His gray eyes cut through me, making me slightly uncomfortable.
“Yeah, Gabriel is a phenomenal musician. He often keeps the attention on himself so that we can conduct business without people paying attention to us. Which is what I’m trying to do,” Pete said, reaching beside him into his bag. He produced a manila folder and placed it on the table in front of me. “I need you to do this job for me, and I can’t have it come back to me.”
While Pete was distracted, I spared another glance at the piano player who looked oblivious to everyone around him. His body rocked with the music as though he were also on the verge of tears. I adjusted my tie, making sure it lined up the way it should inside my jacket.
“It’s already done.” I nodded, picking up the folder. “I’ll call you to arrange the payment.”
“It’s great seeing you, Gerry. Give the wife and kids my love,” Pete said, turning away from him as though he didn’t exist.
Typically, when my clients ignored me, it bothered me, but Pete was different. He and I had been friends for more than thirty years, and this was the way we did business. If he called me, I knew it had to be a sensitive job that absolutely couldn’t go tits up. I rose from the table without another word, tucking the folder into my bag as I walked outside.
The cold early spring had finally given way to finer weather, and the sun felt nice on my face. I lit a cigarette and walked down the street toward the garage. I hadn’t walked more than a block when I noticed that two men were following me. I shook my head and smiled as I bent and retied my shoe. They stopped and tried not to look at me, but the concrete jungle gave nowhere else to pretend to look.
I stood and turned the corner onto a smaller, quieter street. The sound of their shoes on the sidewalk echoed here. I walked past a few buildings and ducked into an alleyway, setting my bag on the ground right behind me, removing my jacket, and unbuttoning my sleeves while I waited for them.
The first one came around the corner and didn’t expect the swing that landed squarely in the middle of his face. His nose exploded, spouting blood as he recoiled. The second man caught him and looked at me with an angry expression as I reset my stance.
“Hey, fellas,” I said with a smile. “Is there a reason that a decent fellow, such as I am, can’t walk through this fucking city without being followed by ass hats like you?”
“Boss wants to talk to you,” the second said.
“Which boss would that be?” I replied, “I only know twenty or so.”
“Mr. Finnigan,” he clarified.
“Sorry, but I’m on a job at the moment. You can inform him that I’ll be around once it’s done,” I said, picking up my jacket and bag.
“Boss insisted,” he replied.
“What’s your name, buddy?” I said, adjusting my shirt.
“Harry,” he said.
“Harry, if Mr. Finnigan is that serious, he wouldn’t have sent you pathetic excuses to come fetch me. He would have called my private line at my office. If that’s the case, I’ll call him back as soon as I get his message. Otherwise, I would suggest that you walk away and don’t bother me anymore,” I said, walking past them, “Sorry about the nose.”
“Hey, you can’t just leave,” Harry said, reaching for my shoulder.
I spun, grabbing his wrist with my free hand as I came down on his elbow with the other arm. With a loud pop and a scream from my new friend, his arm broke. I released him and backed away.
“I don’t appreciate your rudeness,” I said. “This will be my last warning before I deal with you the same way I deal with all the problems my clients come to me about. Leave me be, and good day, gentlemen.”
I heard a third person behind me but felt the barrel of a gun against the back of my head before I could react.
“You’re good,” I said, putting my hands up slowly.
“Drop the bag,” a woman’s voice replied. “Let’s not make this complicated.”
“It’s already complicated,” I replied, “I’m afraid that client privilege is a thing for me. I can’t hand it over.”
“I’d hate to kill you,” she replied. The two men that I had injured stumbled past me, their eyes not on me, but the woman behind me.
“You and I agree on that point, I don’t want to die, but alas, you taking my bag won’t help you,” I replied. “If anyone other than me opens it, it destroys the contents as well as a fifty-foot area around it. I wouldn’t recommend it.”
“That will be my problem, thank you for the heads up. Now, please give me the bag,” she replied.
I turned slowly around. She wore a suit similar to my own, her hair up in a tight bun barely visible over the top of her head. Her amber eyes stared into me, looking thoroughly unimpressed as she held the gun lazily toward me. What surprised me was that I knew her.
“Fiona?” I said, dropping my arms, “What the hell are you doing here?”
“Hello, Gerry,” she said, the corner of her mouth teasing a smile.
“What the hell brings you here? I thought you were working in Italy this time of year,” I said.
“You know, jobs take you here and there. A big spender offered me enough money to get me here. It was a bonus when he said it’d be you I needed to see,” she said.
“Well, you know the deal,” I shrugged. “I can’t do it.”
“Come on, Gerry. You know I will, even if I don’t want to,” she replied. “Just hand it over. The job is to deliver the case to my client. That’s it.”
“I see,” I said, stroking my chin, “this client of yours happen to be located nearby?”
“That’s for me to know,” she said.
“Of course,” I said. “Mr. Finnigan is just a ploy, I assume. I only ask about your client, because I need to see the job I just took before I can hand it over. You know it goes. Professionalism and all that. I can’t not do my job. Give me five minutes in a bathroom with it, and I’ll give it to you to do what you will.”
“I don’t know about that, Gerry,” she said, shaking her head, “I know how cunning you can be.”
“Fiona, I told you once, a long time ago, that I’d never hurt you. I meant it then, and it still applies now. I’m not going to stand in the way of you completing your job, but I need to be able to do mine, okay?” I said. “You can even come into the bathroom with me. I just can’t show you how to open my case. Proprietary technology. The gun isn’t even necessary. I give you my word as a professional that this case will be in your possession in twenty minutes if we leave right now.”
“And its contents,” Fiona added.
“Everything that is in it will be in it unharmed and legible in the event that someone can get it open safely,” I said, crossing my heart. “I swear it.”
Fiona holstered her weapon inside her jacket. “Don’t do anything stupid, Gerry.”
“Do you even know me?” I replied, a smile spreading across my face, “I can’t help that, but for you, I’ll try.”