A Simple Trade

I don’t know if this will become a series or random interconnected stories, but this character was interesting enough for me to write him at least one more tale. The first one can be read here though it is not necessary to appreciate this one. 

* * *

I have never taken music lessons in my life. Hell, I had never even touched a piano before tonight. Yet, my fingers felt fused to the ivories of that exquisite instrument. Every note sung out into the audience and reached into their souls. I am not speaking from pride or ego. I saw the emotion dripping from their faces. No one who was within earshot could resist the lure of my music. Ink had worked his magic once more. The pianist’s skill would forever be mine to wield.

I ended my song to applause from the lounge and bar. I sincerely doubt most of the patrons would normally welcome any disturbance to their constant search for inebriation. Such was the power of a well played tune by the hands of a master.

My client would not be ready for a few hours still, so I felt a celebratory drink after my debut performance was in order. Whiskey neat, heavy glass, perfect pour; all that was missing was a rare piece of meat or a good looking woman seated next to me. I should have known trouble was coming when she sat came, especially since there were several empty seats along the bar.

“Is this seat taken?” she asked. I was on the job. Distractions are deadly in my line of work, but it is damn difficult to say no to a fine woman in a little black dress.

“I believe it was actually waiting for you to show up,” I said.

She smiled at my poor attempt at flirting. Her crimson lips parted slightly when she did. The rose hue on her cheeks complimented her lips and alabaster skin. This woman was dangerous. I liked it.

“Does that line ever work?” she asked as she sat down.

I took a sip of my whiskey before responding. “Got you to take a seat, darling.”

“Oh, I was always going to sit next to you this night, Shadow.”

Yup, she was trouble. I slammed my glass hard on the bar. It got the bartender’s attention, yet didn’t faze my female companion at all.

I turned to face her, not bothering to hide the murder in my eyes. She did not retract or flinch from my gaze. “You are not a client, a contact, or a friend, so how the hell do you know my name?”

She picked up my glass and threw the last of its contents down her throat in one quick motion. Just a few seconds ago, I was curious what that neck would smell like as I put my lips on it. Now, I was imagining what it would taste like when I tear it to shreds.

“To be fair, that is not your actual name. It is your chosen title. Everyone among the Darkness has one. Hell, even those in the Light do not go by their true name.”

This dame had knowledge though she did not seem like one of my kind. She still smelled very human.

“Your name, however, is still an odd on. Most of your kind choose a moniker denoting their skill or some inflated sense of ego. Yours does neither. Why is that, Shadow?”

She knew more than she should. Someone had been telling tales out of class and that would not stand. My client would be here within the hour. Assuming I did not enjoy the moment, there was more than enough time to get some answers from her and dispose of the body and any evidence.

“I am not here to cause you trouble, Shadow. I am here to make an offer.”

She could offer me nothing of substance. But if she was willing to provide answers without force, I was not going to stop her.

“Alright, say your peace, woman,” I said.

She ordered another round of whiskey for the both of us. I was not going to risk anything by drinking her olive branch. The drinks arrived quickly and she took a drink of her own just as fast. Her leg was shaking slightly. No doubt the whiskey was a means to calm her nerves. This woman may know something of the Darkness, but she had never truly walked in its depths. I almost felt sorry for her. Almost.

“I know you are here on business.”

“I am here to see a client, yes.” I said.

It was her turn to look incredulous. She did not want to mince words or bullshit at the moment.

“No semantics. You are not here for a ‘client.’ You are here to kill a man on someone else’s dime.”

I was genuinely surprised. “How do you know…” I was silenced by a finger in my face. I really wanted to break that index finger.

“Doesn’t matter. The point is you cannot kill this man or the ones you will be hired to kill after his death.”

I had not been hired to kill anyone else. Granted, my benefactor had insinuated that more work might become available upon a successful and completed job. How did this girl know this? She was definitely human or had some shape shifters just gotten good enough to trick all of my senses and magics? No matter. This girl had to be put down.

“Look lady, I don’t know who this guy is to you, but someone paid for him to die and I have a reputation to uphold. So, I will be taking my leave now. Enjoy the drink and pray that we do not meet one another again.”

She stood up and blocked my path. This woman was becoming a persistent nuisance. She was not very tall. Some would even classify her as petite. She was pretty and, truth be told, she was making the dress work and not the other way around. It was a shame for the world to lose such a specimen, but work was work.

“You misunderstand me, Shadow. The man you are after will die tonight, but not by your hand.”

“Oh,” I asked partially intrigued. “Then by whose?”

“Mine,” she responded showing me the blade she had managed to conceal. I honestly could not find a single place where she could have hidden the knife on her person. I wanted to try to find it, but that seemed ill advised in the bar.

“I don’t care about credit or money. I just want to be the one to end the life of this man and the ones that will come after him. You get the names. You keep the rewards. I take them down.”

“Is this your offer, girl? I don’t know you or how you could possibly have any of the information you possess. Frankly, I am debating whether to kill you now or after my actual assignment is done. Why would I agree to your ridiculous proposal?” It took every ounce of self control to not raise my voice or cause a scene or slit her throat there and now.

“Because I’ll let you keep their blood and give you a vial of my own.” My ears perked up at her suggestion. She knew of my ability. Many would die for that. Some I even considered friends.

“That’s your thing, right? You collect blood as some sort of weird trophies?” So, she did not know the true reason for the blood or at least she was smart enough to pretend to not know. I was actually considering her offer at this point. I needed information and her being alive might be the only way to get it.

“I can acquire what you offer on my own without much difficulty. You give me nothing I desire.” I began to move pass her, but she grabbed my arm before I could move away.

“What about the blood of a changeling? Would that be enough of a prize for you to agree to my terms?”

Changelings, true Changelings, were a rare creature. Most believed they were extinct, but rumors persisted of a few survivors that had managed to avoid that sad fate. If I could get a sample of a living Changeling’s blood or skin or just anything, I would have an unimaginable advantage.

“If you can provide such a trophy, I will slice up anyone you name and present you their remains on a silver platter with a bow.”

“That won’t be necessary. Just agree to work with me and give what I have asked for.” She held out her hand. Bonds and oaths were terrible things in my world. For humans breaking them meant very little ultimately. For us, however, the costs of going back on our explicit word were not without substance. But this was too good an offer to pass.

I grasped her hand in agreement. “You have a deal. Shall we begin?”

She released her soft touch. “Yes, we should.”

We made our way through the lounge bar passing the addled occupants of the hotel lobby toward the elevators. I had the details of our target. She was the instrument of his demise. These terms were acceptable. I inserted the special key to access the upper penthouses and selected our victim’s last abode.

“Since we’ll be working together for the foreseeable future, I think I should have your name like you have mine,” I said over the droll sounds of annoying elevator music.

“Agreed. You can call me Nemesis,” she responded.

“Really? That is your actual name?”

She turned to meet my skeptical gaze. Her eyes were full of fire and rage, yet resolute in what was to come in her journey. “It is as much my name as Shadow is yours. It shall be what I am known as for this job.” She returned her sight to the elevator door grasping the blade in her hand. There was no more shaking, no more jitters, no more hesitation.

I don’t know who you are or what you are doing girlie, but I can tell this is going to be a fun ride. 

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