"Well, you certainly don't look like an assassin."
"I'd be worried if I did!"
"In fact, you look like you couldn't hurt a fly."
"I've hurt many a fly," I assured with my steeliest of looks.
She thought that was funny and relaxed. I'd accosted her at the newly opened Overeasy in the renovated Statler Hotel (now with residences!). I assumed she was a resident/guest and she assumed the same of me. But I was only an interloper, posing as a successful something-or-other having valid business in this fine establishment. But, yes, having killed overseas, that does make me an international assassin.
Holidays are horrible times for contract killers. It's a rare time for assignments, I having had only one, in 1997, when I was up and coming, long before the sordid Russian affair. (Yes, I know EXACTLY the methods of aching seduction they used on your American president.) Damn, that's twenty years ago. But I remember the feelings like yesterday.
The job was in Manhattan. The city was electric! I fed off the energy and I remember thinking how sharp my feelings and focus were, almost as if I were floating through the streets. To be outside of everything and yet right in the middle at the same time was a heady experience. Lucky Luciano claimed there is no other feeling in the world like having New York sidewalks underneath your feet. He was right. Christmastime only heightens the sensation.
It was difficult contract, though, and I had to make a helluva silencer but I got the mark in his parking garage. But in that instant a bitter cold wind blew in and I was suddenly transported back into abandonment, apart from everything once again.
I got out of the city quickly as I could, like a scalded cat. The giddiness of before was replaced with a burning fear. I felt every caroler's eye was upon me. "They know! They know!" I couldn't get that out of my head no matter how much I reasoned with myself. The holidays have never been the same since. I ruined Christmas for all time.
My thirty-something stringy-haired blonde companion sitting across from me could not possibly surmise this. Like all professional liars, I compartmentalize my life to show only those parts which I wish to be seen. It's a horrible, terrible way to live (and again, a condition the Russians know how to expertly exploit). I was completely stepping out of bounds to be having this sort of lighthearted conversation. I walked a straining tightrope.
"So who's your target during the holidays? Santa?"
"Santa's more likely to order a hit than be hit. Labor problems and all that. Of course, it could always be you."
I was taking a chance; scared shitless as usual. My defense mechanism pops up in moments like these. If she plays along I'm good but if she freaks out then I am the asshole she fears I am.
"Oh, why would I be your target?"
She's intelligent. I like that. Using logic on me, eh?
"Because there's a secret truth you have not shared. And somebody out there doesn't want you to share it."
"How could you possibly know I have a truth I have not shared?"
She has no intention of letting me out of this trap. I love it! "Because if you were someone with nothing to hide you'd be known to me."
That made her think, maybe even bothered her. Did my blind arrow hit a mark?
"In that case I'm a worthy target."
She had withdrawn into her inner world, revealing it to me, putting me off my game. Careful, I might hurt her for real.
"Then you understand my dilemma..."
Shit, honey, help me out here! I was only saying that to buy time. Can't you give me a hint of what you're talking about? I retreated to using general terms.
"The dilemma of being trapped into doing something you don't want to do." Bite! Bite!
Whew! But I still had to pretend to know more than I did.
"I used to think freedom could be bought." That snapped her out of her melancholy. "If I just get to this certain place - a certain stage in life - then I'd be free. But then you find another prison awaits you when the purposelessness of your false journey is revealed. So you just slowly drift off to sea, hoping for a benevolent wind to set you straight."
"Christ, it's like you read my life."
"No, only your face. It's vital in my business."
"So you're more likely an international pawnbroker."
"Actually, I'm no longer for sale. But you showed no fear when I supposed you a target for assassination."
"That's because I'm already dead."
The melancholy demeanor returned. Detached and disposable, I'd become a "safe outlet" for her. I rejoiced right down to the bottom of my toes. Any taste of usefulness in my life is my constant craving. She continued.
"You'd only be finishing the job. My husband beat you to it." She stopped herself. "No, that's not fair. It's death from a broken-hearted marriage. I fulfilled my Laundry List of Life - that 'certain stage', as you put it - and found out I was more trapped than ever, completely fucking empty. Who am I? I never dare to find out." Her eyes raised to mine. "I'm too afraid of what it might cost me."
I said nothing in understanding silence.
The rest of the cafe came into focus. Only two other couples were in there. It was late, dark and misty outside, holiday lights morbidly flashing in expecting cheer. For the first time I considered her as a sexual being. I wanted to caress her vulnerabilities. But she was one who considered opening the cell door to be criminal. Like most of us, she will die of staleness and rot in her prison while keeping up appearances, consumed with the futile politics of a dying nation and God's angry weather. She knew she could never face the thorns of the world at this stage of her life. But the price of that was to keep out love at the same time. Doomed for all eternity.
We parted in unspoken yearning. I told her we are "Doom-mates". That got a wry smile. I trundled back outside and down the couple of blocks to where my car was parked. I'd previously dropped my Uber fare off at the Joule Hotel before lounging at the Overeasy for a nightcap. She made her way back up to her husband's hotel room to be there when he arrived back from his all day meeting (topped off at the City Club). They'd flown in first class from New York, of all places.
Together, she and I were more alone than ever, but once separated, not as alone as before.