In the crowded bar, it was easy to spot the man who’d just lost his father, come straight from the funeral to forget as much. He looked gentle, quiet. The youngest of four brothers, he was a senior at Harvard, where he attended as a history major, of all the wasteful things. He had not been admitted to the prestigious university thanks to his father’s funding, which was sizeable, but on the basis of his own intellect. Of the four brothers, she considered him the second most handsome, shadowed only by the eldest—the man who’d hired her.
Yes, she easily pulled the young man from the crowd of posh academics, near as they were to the university where he studied. Not that he looked very different; on the contrary, he was clean-shaven and in an expensive, black suit. Expensive? She recognized those sorts of things; considered those sorts of things part of her job. Knowing the cut of a man’s suit said a lot about him, and she was all about knowing.
For instance, take the mournful youngest brother at the bar: simple black meant he wasn’t showy, didn’t have a big ego, not like the men who wore suits with silver pinstripes or slick, red ties. Thin lapels meant modern, not retro, so he didn’t look to the past for respite. Finally, the suit was slimly cut, snugly tailored, which meant someone who was used to movement—someone in good shape, athletic.
Of course, she cheated on all accounts. She knew these things about the young man; his brother had told her. She knew he was intelligent and subdued. She knew he swam laps every night at six PM, and his name was Duncan Sadler.
She had arranged to be surrounded by people that night so as not to arouse suspicion. Being an attractive woman, alone in a bar, playing pool, only attracted attention from men, and there was only one man she planned on talking to at the Sphinx, Duncan Sadler’s bar of choice. She knew that about him, too.
Her so-called friends, more like acquaintances, were in on it, in her same profession. They understood the need to blend in, so they all played pool together until someone won. Then, she took a sip of beer. With her eyes, she told them she was going in and didn’t need their backup anymore. It had all been arranged; once she struck up the youngest Sadler in conversation, her friends would leave, say they were going somewhere else. She could play the lonely damsel card, if only long enough to get Duncan to the alley.
She approached the bar, slow, sultry. In her sky-high heels, it was easy to feign a fall, right against the man in the smart black suit. She made a show of spilling the end of her beer on his arm. Then, she sputtered, acted embarrassed. “Oh, shit, I am so sorry.” He barely moved, only to lean back some on his barstool. He didn’t seem to notice his wet arm, which she pawed at as if his suit was a table she could merely dust until clean.
“It’s all right.” He didn’t look at her.
“I could get you a napkin or something.” She giggled.
“No, I’m—” He saw her for the first time. “I’m fine.”
She stood on her tiptoes and did a little hip dance. “I could buy you a drink.”
“No. Please, just go back to your pool game.”
“How’d you know I was playing pool?” She leaned closer and put her hand on his shoulder. “You keeping an eye on me?”
He leaned away from her but moved like a man in mud. His hands touched the bar, slow and clumsy, and even in the bar light, she saw his eyes were red.
He said, “There are a couple dozen men in this bar who probably enjoy giggling and flirting and your fucking tight jeans. Why don’t you talk to one of them?”
Time to change direction. She used her real voice and dropped the flirty girl routine. “You looked like an easy mark.”
He folded his arms. “I suppose I do.”
She slid onto the barstool at his side. “You’re not even going to ask for what?”
“Dunno, money, drinks?”
“Either. Both.” She reached her hand out to him. “I’m Jossa.”
He didn’t take her hand, perhaps didn’t notice it. “Duncan.”
“What’s the matter with you, Duncan?”
“Right now, just you.”
She leaned forward so she could see his face and smiled. She had the desired effect: a little twitch on the outside of his lips.
He glanced over his shoulder. “So are your friends waiting outside in the alley to beat me up?”
She looked at the now empty pool table. “Not that I know of. They’re going to a rave.” She gestured to the bartender. “I’m not big on raves.”
A girl with curly blond hair stood in front of them. Jossa ordered another crappy light beer. She usually drank tequila, but she needed to stay alert while fitting into the bar atmosphere. Then, the blond looked at Duncan. “You want another, sweetie?”
“How you holding up?” she asked.
Jossa watched his response. He didn’t speak, just looked up at the bartender and squinted his eyes.
The girl reached across the bar and touched his hand. “I’ll keep ‘em coming.”
“Have a bad day?”
He finished the last of his rocks glass. “Jesus, are you still here?”
“You bet. Now you got me intrigued.”
“I have never seen you here before. Did you show up tonight just to bother me?”
“Could be.” She leaned her elbow on the bar and leaned closer to him. He didn’t back away at her advancement, but she suspected that was because he didn’t want to move and perhaps even feared falling from his seat. She could smell the whiskey on his breath, along with something else, sweet, like white lilies—perfume of the funereal.
She may have been wrong about him, maybe. Duncan Sadler may have been the best looking brother. All of them, all four, had the same deep, black hair, of varying lengths and thickness. Duncan and his eldest brother had their mother’s eyes, large and dark brown, but only Duncan had his father’s face. Whereas the other brothers looked like their mother with round, soft, full features, Duncan looked like old dad—thin nose, sharp angles, carved out cheeks.
The bartender returned with their drinks.
“So tell me about your day.”
“I don’t want to be your mark.”
“You’re not my mark anymore. Now, you’re interesting.”
She did it, made him smile; even if it was small, she saw a flash of white.
Jossa put her hand on his knee. “Come on. Be interesting.”
“I had a funeral today.”
“Oh.” She pulled her hand away. “Well, that blows. Someone you knew well?”
“That’s a matter of opinion.”
She stayed quiet for a reasonable amount of time, as though taking in the unfortunate news for the first time. “I’m sorry, Duncan.”
“You don’t even know me.” He took a sip of whiskey. “You don’t have to be sorry.”
“What was your dad like?”
She smiled, acted like she thought he was joking. Then, she kept acting. She went through the motions of amused, thoughtful, and then, light bulb. “Holy shit, you’re not Doug Sadler’s son.”
He didn’t look at her. “So she reads the news.”
“Wow. Okay. Well, you look really clean cut for being part of a crime syndicate.”
“I’m not part of a crime syndicate.”
Jossa knew that wasn’t true—Duncan was known on the street for some dark dealings—but then, his expression changed. He looked scared, but he chased his fear with whiskey and the fear soon disappeared.
“This would be a good time for you to stop talking to me. Make up some excuse about checking on your cat.”
“I don’t want to stop talking to you.”
He turned to look at her. His brow crinkled into rows of wrinkles, and his right eye pinched on the outside. The resemblance to his father was uncanny; it could have been Duncan, aged forty years, in the casket a couple blocks away.
“Why are you interested in me?”
“Because you’re the hottest guy in this bar.”
“That can’t be true, and if it is, I’m sorry.”
Jossa mirrored his wrinkled look. “Do you know how to talk to girls?”
He chuckled. “On occasion, I’ve been told I’m quite good at it.”
“So when a girl is hitting on you, you usually reciprocate.”
He poked at a cocktail napkin. “It’s been known to happen.”
“So hit on me.” She scooted closer until she could feel the warmth of his skin.
He had his elbow on the bar, his forehead resting in the open palm of his hand. From beneath his hand, he looked at her. “You have a nice mouth.”
She laughed, which made him laugh, too, if only for a second. In that second, she remembered he was twenty-three. The suit made him seem older, as did the grief, but if his father hadn’t died, he would be thinking about graduation. He would be playing pool, hitting on girls, getting laid, because she knew that about Duncan, too; those were the things he did but not on the day of his father’s funeral.
“I’m going to have a smoke outside. Will you come with me?”
He sighed. “Friends in the alley.”
She stood up. “No one’s gonna beat you up in the alley, okay? Just come with me.”
It took some doing for him to escape the edge of the bar and his barstool. He finished his newest glass of whiskey before waving at Cleo. He pantomimed a cigarette, and the blond bartender gave him a thumbs-up. Then, Jossa moved. She walked out the front of the bar and didn’t look back to see if he followed; she knew he would because he was drunk and not thinking properly.
She stepped around the corner of the Sphinx, into an alley that felt wet and smelled of stale beer. No matter the ambience; as soon as he turned the corner, she grabbed onto the lapels of his suit. Jossa wanted to stretch things out. She wanted to taste his mouth and know how his lips felt—soft, warm, forceful. He didn’t feel surprised or hesitant; she suspected the alcohol was to thank.
She considered a quick screw, and why not? Give a man his last rites, but then, his hands traveled where they weren’t supposed to, never expected, and he pulled her revolver from the hidden holster between her shoulder blades. She pulled back enough to head butt him in the face, but he didn’t seem to register the pain. He just shoved her away, into the center of the alley. He leaned his back against the brick wall of the bar’s exterior and pointed her pistol.
“Who sent you?”
She put her hands in her pockets and watched his lip bleed. He used the back of his hand to wipe his chin. “Your brother.”
“Does it matter?”
His expression said no. “Why?”
“Because they found out your father left you everything in the will and that he wants you to run the family business.”
“Fuck, how did they find out?”
“Tortured the family lawyer.”
His chest rose and fell much too fast, and she watched his alcohol-soaked gaze jump back and forth over pavement. “I never wanted this. God, I never did.” His voice cracked, but he kept the gun pointed at her chest. “What did they hire you to do? Kill me?”
“No. It’s supposed to look like you picked me up at a bar. You take me home, we have sex, and then …” She moved her hand in a circle mid-air. “Well, in reality I’m supposed to knock you out and take you to them. They’re going to suicide you.”
His hand shook.
“There are worse ways to go.”
She shrugged. “I can’t let you run.”
She watched his grip tighten on her revolver. “You talk as if there’s a gun in your hand.”
“It doesn’t matter, Duncan.” She took a step forward, certain he wouldn’t shoot. “I already drugged your drink.”
She could tell he knew that, could see the way his body leaned against the building and the way his dark eyes shined with unwelcome tears. “I didn’t want this.”
“I know.” She stepped closer, and the gun dropped to his side.
He melted in front of her until he was nothing more than a dark shape in the angle where building met floor. She knelt down and used her fingers to brush the hair off his forehead.
“You really are the best looking brother.”
“Will you do something for me?”
She nodded but realized he wasn’t seeing her anymore.
“Will you kill me here?”
“I can’t do that.”
“Don’t you think I deserve it?”
There would be a massive investigation if she did—federal, of course. The son of a recently offed crime boss found shot to death in an alley: front page news. His oldest brother said he was smart, and he was; he knew an investigation would lead back to his family, especially when the news broke about the will.
Jossa smiled. She leaned down and kissed his broken bottom lip and decided what the hell? She could say he took off running, and she had no choice but to bump him off. She really hated when she had to suicide people, and Duncan Sadler seemed like an okay guy, but as she reached for her gun, held limply in his hand, her head went fuzzy. His face took on a soft glow, and the tongue in her mouth felt like a soaked sponge. She leaned back on her heels.
“Duncan.” Her head spun. She used his knee for ballast, but then, he moved, and her palms met the cold, wet ground.
Jossa closed her eyes and tried to focus—on the sounds of him moving; the scent of him, like dying flowers; and then, the feel of his hands on her face. “I’m sorry,” he said.
“Is she dead yet?”
Jossa recognized the blond bartender’s voice from the back of the alley—probably a delivery entrance.
“Did you give her enough to kill her?”
“I thought that was what you wanted.”
“Go back inside, Cleo.” Jossa felt his hands still on her face and his warm breath against her lips. “You didn’t drug my drink. Cleo replaced mine and drugged yours.”
“You’re not even drunk, are you?”
He didn’t speak, but she knew the answer.
Jossa forced her eyes open long enough to look at him, see him, really. True, he had his father’s face, but not his countenance. Duncan was gentle, sweet maybe, a history major at Harvard. Or he had been, until someone killed his father, and that was where he’d beat her: the woman good at knowing things. She knew the Duncan Sadler his brothers knew, the one they grew up with, and that was the man they’d told her about. They didn’t know this person in the alley with the black eyes and calm composure—this Oscar-worthy actor, no, they didn’t know Duncan Sadler anymore.
“What will you do now?” She had trouble putting words together.
“What my father expected: run the family business.”
She took in the young face, the playful smirk.
He leaned forward and kissed her forehead before letting her lie limp on the ground. She heard the sound of his suit above her, the sound of tight material moving over skin. “And you’re right,” he said, “I am the best looking brother, now that the rest of them are dead.”
Jossa smelled stale beer. The asphalt was cool beneath her cheek, and the earth seemed to shake with the sound of his dress shoes, footsteps returning him to the bar. She assumed they wouldn’t just leave her corpse out there—would leave too many questions. He probably had a car ready to take her away, once she was dead, because she now knew Duncan Sadler was the kind of man who arranged things, even better than she did.
Sara Dobie Bauer is a writer, blogger, and prison volunteer in Phoenix, Arizona. She has an honor’s degree in creative writing from Ohio University, which means her college experience was more fun than yours. She is the official book nerd at SheKnows.com and author of the novel Life without Harry. She watches bad horror films, roots for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines, and enjoys a good rye whiskey. Although she has a shameless crush on Benedict Cumberbatch, she is married to her best friend, Jacob, and plays mother to dog-children, Ripley and Raylan. For more, visit her blog at http://saradobie.wordpress.com.