Irish Luck


The client was a thirty-something blonde with a face like a bowl of strawberry ice cream. She handed me a drugstore print and said, "How much for his head?" in a piping lilt way younger than she was.

I'll admit up front that I'm getting a little old for the job; if the guy is under forty, sometimes it's more work to pull him than I like. These misogynist assholes -- and don't lie to yourself, that's what they are, no matter how much they tell you they love women -- are always after something younger. In those cases I often have to take a pass on my own entertainment and just do them in an alley somewhere. Kind of disappointing. I mean, most of them don't deserve a quick death. It upsets the balance of the universe. But I still get the job done.

I tilted the photo to get a better view in the dimming sundown. Real good-looking, in that dark auburn Irish way -- pale eyes, thick rusty hair combed back, smile that'd make your panties fly right off.

"Fifty," I said, "but it's a shame. He's pretty."

The client snorted at me across the park bench. "On the outside, maybe."

"I'll need more than a head shot."

"He's big," she said. "Six-four, maybe two-twenty. Fifty-one but doesn't look it. Snappy dresser, always wears a blazer to cover the fat creeping onto his ass. He'll come on like a nice guy, polite and soft-spoken and quick with a shy touch on your arm. That's how he gets up next to your tender underbelly. Then he'll rip you open and pretend he's not enjoying it."

I knew the type. One less of them was fine with me.

+++++++++

It was surprisingly easy to find Cagney online and start chatting him up, sending him teaser selfies and being coy about when and where we could meet. He followed a pretty standard script, acting like we had some kind of magic emotional connection that wasn't based on appearances. We finally set a date for drinks at a downtown hotel bar outside my usual stomping grounds, one of those places with quiet corner booths where you have to sit right next to your date.

As soon as he walked in, I knew I was in trouble. The client's picture and description had left a lot out. Not that an image or a string of words could have captured the way he moved and what it did to the air around him, changing it to something with fingers that slipped under my clothes and touched me all over.

What looked like genuine admiration gleamed in his face as he sat down. "It's really nice to meet you in person, finally."

The core of blood at the center of my body had started to pulse. I could feel the heat of it climbing my neck. "You, too."

We grinned at each other like a couple of high school kids. I started to doubt that I was acting.

The waitress appeared, a statuesque brunette with a rack like whoa. He didn't even glance at her.

"What's somebody like you doing talking to guys on the internet?"

"I could ask you the same thing," I said.

He looked away, his face going shy, but didn't say anything.

My professional radar had snapped back into place, and it was telling me something was wrong. This guy wasn't the dickbag the client had described. I don't mind paying back a grudge, but it's got to be deserved. Cagney was no pro; he didn't have the swagger. Yeah, he made me sweat, but that wasn't a crime.

We did surface small talk for a while, then he shifted into more personal stuff, talking about his mother, who'd recently passed. There was also an ex who matched my client.

"It was mostly my fault," Cagney admitted, looking down into his martini. "I didn't really make room for her in my life."

"So you broke it off?" I asked, rooting around for her motive.

"No, she did," he said. "I tried to keep in touch, but she stopped responding after a while."

And then hired somebody to kill him? It didn't make sense.

Contrary to the warning, he didn't try to touch me, carefully keeping a hand's-breadth between our thighs on the Naugahyde booth seat. He kept looking at my hair and my mouth like he wanted to taste them, though, and by the time we'd finished our second round, I wanted to let him.

I ordered a glass of water to douse the burn, and dragged myself away. It felt like I was ripping off a limb.

+++++++++

"You idiot," the blonde sneered when I called her the next day. "That's his schtick. I hired you because word was you wouldn't fall for it."

"I know people," I insisted. "I've been killing them for twenty years. Whatever you've got against this guy, it's on you, not him. Find yourself another gun."

My phone buzzed before I could put it down. It was a text message from Cagney: "Thx for nice time last night. Hope 2 see U again soon."

I hesitated, then punched in: "Me 2. Just say when."

He didn't reply, and after half an hour I was about ready to chew glass. I'd texted him right back; why hadn't he answered? I kept thinking about his long, square-tipped fingers, pressing those tiny black keys. Freckles on the backs. Fine golden hairs between each knuckle.

Maybe he was just being polite. Like I said, I'm not winning any beauty contests these days. Then I remembered his expression when we'd met. He liked what he saw. You can't fake that.

I fingered my phone, scrolling back to his text to bring up the number. Looked at it for thirty, sixty, ninety seconds, my brain starting to boil over, then pressed 'call back.' I hung up before it rang.

The beveled mirror on my war-era vanity, facing me across the bedroom, showed a wreck in the sheets. I got up and went over to brush my hair, watching my face. Something had happened to it. I looked older and younger at the same time.

+++++++++

It was almost three in the morning when I pulled up at the curb across from Cagney's apartment building. I was ice-cold all the way through and so drunk I'd come back around to sober, my head clear as winter. The night doorman gave me a funny look, but after I flashed him my competent smile, he didn't even watch me get on the elevator.

The hallway upstairs was soft-carpeted and wide, dimly lit with low wall sconces. I found 3C and stood at the door for a minute, listening. I could hear a TV somewhere, faintly, but that was it.

I pulled in a deep breath through my nose, carefully gripped the door knob, turned it, and pushed.

Cagney was on the sofa, feet on the coffee table, watching a basketball game. He looked surprised to see me, but not scared.

"Most people knock," he grinned, sitting up and tossing the remote onto the coffee table.

He was shirtless and barefoot, wearing just a pair of light gray pajama pants. His broad, flat chest was hairless and sprinkled with the same orange-brown freckles as his hands. They coalesced below his belly button into a thin stripe that pointed into his waistband. As he got up, I crossed the room and put my hand there. He covered it with one of his own, the other coming around my neck under my hair and wrenching my face up to his.

His mouth was like hot candy, sweet and juicy and tender with no apologies in it. We fucked like the world was coming to an end, sharp and slow, watching each others' faces. On the floor, on the sofa, finally in his big warm bed. We were still at it when the sun came up, my legs wrapped hard around him, sweat slicking us together.

"Christ," he muttered, lifting his head away from me to look at his alarm clock.

"Call in sick," I said. I was still breathing hard. My voice sounded thick.

He grinned and pushed himself up, his ripe golden arms dimpling.

"You can hang out here if you want," he offered over his shoulder on the way to the bathroom. "I'll be back in a couple of hours."

+++++++++

Only he wasn't. I came up out of a sleep like death in the late afternoon, and the place was quiet. The TV was off and there was nobody besides me in the apartment.

I made a cup of coffee and took a shower, masturbating quickly under the heavy hot stream of water as the previous night's memories tumbled through my mind. There didn't seem to be anything else to do after I got dressed but leave, so I wrote him a short note and hit the bricks.

+++++++++

It was barely an hour before I wanted him again, the heat coming on like a sunburn. I paced my bedroom like a junkie, checking my phone every couple of minutes. My brain felt like it was cooking inside my skull. Around midnight I drank myself to sleep.

It was still dark when I woke up, fumbling automatically for my cell. Nothing. I took a deep breath and held it, calming myself, but when I let it go, it came out a scream.

I heard the vanity mirror shatter, and jumped up, grabbing at the nightstand drawer where I keep my gun. It took me a minute to understand that the black rectangle lying on the rug in a ring of broken glass was my phone.

I threw on some clothes, stumbled to my car, and drove the sixteen blocks to Cagney's apartment. His lights were on, and I could see the shadow of him moving around inside. The elevator was too slow. I took the stairs and plunged through his front door as before.

He was on the way from the bedroom to the kitchen, pulling his tie loose. He stopped with his eyebrows up, not grinning now. After several silent seconds, he said, "This is getting a little old."

I came closer, trying to get a better look at his eyes. They were different now. Admiration had changed to amusement in them; amusement and a little bit of pity.

The impact crater in the middle of my body caved closed. My right hand came up with my gun in it. The amusement and pity didn't disappear.

We stood frozen like that for some eternal length of time, a tide of understanding roaring in my ears. Finally, I lowered the gun.

He didn't need killing. He was already dead.