The Gift


"Hey, Lady, could ya move it?" the kid with the skateboard said, behind me. I'm slow going down stairs, with my leg, and the train was throbbing at the platform below. 
 
I took a look at him as he went by; sixteen, maybe, all baggy clothes and attitude. That elastic step, fresh round limbs and skin like browned pie crust, trying so hard to be world-weary. He should enjoy it more. You never know when some punk is going to put a bullet in your ass.

The train hissed off, dragging hot air across the commuters still waiting. It was the standard five o'clock crowd -- business guys in damp suits and expensive haircuts, pasty secretaries, overdressed department store clerks. Gordon stuck out like a dandelion on a suburban lawn.

He was standing all the way across from me, close to the mouth of the far tunnel, looking at a newspaper. I stopped at the bottom of the stairs to evaluate, make sure everything was laid out the way I'd been told: row of vending machines along the tiled wall between the staircases, no benches, janitor's closet closed and locked up tight. Metro cameras at either end of the platform, both of them jacked offline for the next hour.

Gordon looked bigger than I remembered, and for an instant I quailed. It was going to be tricky to meander near him without getting clocked, and even if I accomplished it, what if he put up a fight?

He glanced over while I was chewing on this, and his complete lack of recognition braced me. I was invisible now. I hadn't been, when he'd tried to kill me seven years ago. Men were still looking at me on the street then, at my glossy wild hair and burlesque figure. Now the hair was steel-colored and lusterless, the figure sagging, the face etched behind its bifocals. Constant pain had turned me into a middle-aged fat broad, common and unremarkable as a clod of dirt.

Except, I was a gift. That's what the Old Man had called me, when I went to him. Not right after, of course. It took a couple of years, wearing out the justice system first.

"You've never been in trouble," he said, leaning forward across his laughably massive desk. There was a haze of cigarette smoke in the dimly lit room, and his face seemed to float into focus out of it.

"I don't care," I told him. "I had three marriage proposals the year before that son of a bitch shot me just for the fun of it. Look at me now."

The Old Man averted his eyes and sat back. "Gordon is an old problem."

I watched him lay his right hand on the polished wood chair arm, a glint coming off the gold pinky ring. It matched his cuff links.

Then he said I could do him a favor. In return, he'd make sure I didn't go to jail. That took the sting out of him laughing at the price I'd offered for Gordon's scalp.

Another train was coming. Gordon folded up the paper and glanced down the tunnel. Show time.

People were picking up their briefcases, folding up their laptops. I came along the vending machines, angling into the crowd about ten feet from the opposite staircase. Barely limping at all. Adrenaline was damping the pain down.

The tunnel exhaled another hot breath, and I surged forward, bringing my arms up across my chest. Gordon's weight resisted and then gave as he lost his footing. He half-turned and grappled at me, tilting wildly; one hand flailed across my elbow and caught.

I could see the conductor's face, every orifice wide with horror, as Gordon wrenched around. My leg went, and the rails jumped toward me.

No more nights up late popping Hydrocodone and avoiding myself in the mirror. The acid resentment that had become the fuel of my existence fizzled away. Down at the core of darkness ahead of me, I heard my voice, whispering back at my killer:

"Thank you."