Five years later
My arrival was acknowledged non too enthusiastically, the pudgy teenage waitress offering me her version of a death glare as she heaved herself off of her stool and shuffled over to greet me in a sickeningly false manner, delivering one of those all day breakfast menus that have photos of all the dishes, as though you don't know what bacon and toast look like, and pouring stale coffee into a chipped yellowing mug for me to partake at my leisure. I coaxed her into leaving the pot and tossed the pancake list to the side, opting instead to gaze out into the newly falling rain, keeping an eye out for his arrival, simply relieved that the brew I was sipping was too watery for me to actually distinguish more of the intended flavor.
The bell above the door chimed cheerfully, the only element eager for the arrival of the man who appeared, shaking fresh drops from his cropped hair, further dampening his t-shirt and dripping onto his boots.
His eyes swept the restaurant twice before landing on me. My ability to blend in was one of the qualities that had made me so successful at what I did, however it was no compliment then as he finally picked me out against the orange plastic of the booth I was sitting in, clearly taking a deep breath before he made his way over. I earned another look from the waitress as he joined me, as though it was my fault that she was forced to actually do her job.
He slid onto the seat across from me, taking the time to settle back comfortably whereas I was in my usual position, balanced on the very edge of the bench, legs spread, elbows up, table digging into my ribcage.
"You look good" he offered by way of greeting, giving me one of his small, crooked smiles. Small talk: the bane of my existence. And he knew it. "Being dead becomes you."
"This is your meet "I said, ignoring his attempt. "But if you just wanted platitudes you should have gotten a hooker. Would have been cheaper," I told him. He wasn't bothered in the least by my rudeness, instead his smile seemed to widen.
I refilled my mug with more of the tepid mixture from the pot, but didn't offer him any and wasn't sure I could stomach any more of it myself, instead just holding the warm ceramic between my hands, giving them something to do.
"I'm surprised you even returned my call, let alone agreeing to meet" he tried again.
"So am I," I agreed. "Now what do you want?" I demanded, none too kindly.
"I need a woman," he informed me, glancing around in what was quite possibly the most suspicious manner possible, before leaning forward over the table.
I leaned back in turn, reaffirming the space between us. "Like I said…" I told him.
He rolled his eyes, but his half smile didn't falter. "I've got a contract… a big one. And I want to share it with you."
He cut me off. "It's not a favor. What I mean is," he corrected himself, "That I need your help with this one. Let's just say it requires a woman's touch."
"Just take a look, and then you can walk away if you're not interested. No harm done."
'No harm done.' One of the most obnoxious clichés in the English language. There were few phrases that annoyed me more, yet I chose not to comment, watching as he pulled his shirt up in the back, withdrawing a slightly damp file from the back of his jeans that he slid across the Formica table top. I rolled my eyes but caught it, glared at him for another moment, then flipped it open.
He didn't rush me, knew better. When I was done I closed it slowly, thinking, then passed it back to him, and it disappeared once again.
I nodded once, waited as a father passed by our table with several small children in tow, watching them waddle past in their brightly colored rain gear until they were out of earshot.
"I get why you need me… but seems like I don't need you. You should hand this one off and walk away," I told him.
He shook his head. "Clients choice," he said, "My specific set of skills were requested on this one. I'm good at what I do, possibly even great."
"So am I," I countered. Let's face it, neither of us was modest. Self-confidence was a requirement in our field.
The smile was back. "Which is why you were my first choice. Providing of course…"
That I'm willing to work with you," I filled in the rest.
"For me actually," he corrected.
I ignored this comment altogether. "Who else?"
He shrugged. "Haven't gotten that far just yet, call only came in a few days ago. But now that you're on board it could be up for discussion-"
"I didn't say I was," I told him, suddenly irritated, wanting to get out of there.
He gave an understanding nod, which only irked me further. "This won't be an easy one, but the paycheck may just make up for it," he told me as though I had already accepted the job. I just nodded at this. The possibility of negative ramifications had never stopped me from doing anything in my life, while the promise of large amounts of money had taken me far.
Still, I needed time, to think it through, balance the pros and the cons. It wasn't something I was about to walk into lightly. He seemed to pick up on this, and slid out of the booth.
"You know where to find me" he said, "And I return phone calls" he added pointedly. "Either way it was good seeing you… and you really do look good," he said with a wink, and with that he turned and strode across the tiles and out of the diner, leaving me sitting there, with a strange hollow pinch in my gut that I knew I would end up attributing to a bad feeling about the contract.
I watched him jog across the soaking parking lot to a nondescript black Range Rover parked directly across from my equally nondescript black SUV, slide behind the wheel and disappear into traffic almost instantly, lost in the evening rush.
I slouched in my seat for another minute, mulling over our conversation in my head, then downed the cold coffee in front of me in one go before remembering I had never wanted it. I slapped a fiver on the table and followed a loud group of teens out the door. They didn't spare me a second glance.