The Hit Man And Her
Carl Henderson squinted as he greeted the tired-sounding American woman who seemingly collapsed onto a bar stool. Because the scorching, midday sun streamed through the bar’s entryway, all he could make out was her silhouette. Upon grabbing his sunglasses atop the liquor well, they availed a slender, fair-skinned woman who appeared to be in her late forties. More, time had been good to her, which only accentuated her blue spaghetti-strap dress. She herself donned sunglasses that looked a lot more expensive than his. She held out a perfectly manicured hand as Henderson took it delicately.
“Linda,” she smiled.
“Craig,” he lied.
“What can I get you?” Henderson asked as he pulled back his hand and placed it opposite his other on the bar.
“Well, it’s just after noon, so that makes it margarita time in my book,” Linda said as she glanced at the clock and flicked her long, auburn hair.
He prepared the drink with a flourish and carefully slid it across to her. “What do you think?”
Linda sipped the drink and gave a shaky thumbs up. Henderson smiled and crossed his arms in confidence. “…nice to know. A cocktail is like a sense of humour—a very personal thing,” he said.
“Too true,” she said and set the margarita down.
He turned back and slammed the till closed so hard that the overhead optics rattled.
“With my late husband, humour was the hardest part at first,” Linda added. Shakenly, she stood and leaned over the bar. “Well, that and the Yorkshire accent.” Firmly gripping the bar, steadying herself, Linda returned to her seat and grabbed the margarita—stroked (caressed). “Rod was like a machine gun, rattling off these one-liners filled with cultural references I just didn’t have a hope of getting.” She smiled. “…never did get a lot of them.” She scraped some margarita salt from the rim and licked it off her finger tip.
Henderson simply nodded, waiting for her to continue. He knew he was in for the long haul with this one. Just by looking at her, he could tell Linda needed a shrink at least as much as the alcohol . He could see how haunted she looked . Still, business was business. The bar was always deserted on Tuesday afternoons—the bloody Spanish and their siestas . Linda was the only customer, apart from the old, English geezer, who sat in the corner, with the walking stick and thick glasses. He’d been nursing a milky coffee for hours and didn’t look particularly keen on buying anything else.
“The first time we met,” Linda said, “was on a boat.”
Looking in the pub mirror behind him, Henderson straightened his tie then turned back to Linda. He grabbed the CD-player remote and activated the CD player. Tim Hardin’s voice wafted into the room—a Leonard Cohen song about trying to be free.
“I was barely in my twenties, trying to prove I could be independent from my rich daddy. He was a big shot executive for General Motors. Anyway, I got a job working as a kids’ entertainer on a cruise ship that was going around the Greek Islands.”
Henderson sipped his lemonade and simultaneously looked up at the ceiling fan. It was working, but the bar was still stiflingly hot. He’d tried to get planning permission for air conditioning; but since it was a listed building, it was out of the question. It had cost plenty already. Almost everything he’d ripped off from Big Howie, in fact. “Sounds great,” he said.
“It was. …another world. I’d never been out of Michigan before, let alone The States. My family didn’t like to travel. Dad always said, ‘why go looking around the world when we have everything we need at home?’”
“Not the most adventurous of blokes, then?”
“Not exactly. So, there I was, trying to entertain the kids—who were a running riot—when this middle-aged English singer turned up. In two minutes, Rod got them organised into two lines. ‘Boys in front of Uncle Ian (him)’ and ‘girls in front of Auntie Myra (me).’ Not that I got the joke at the time.”
“The Moors Murderers? Sick joke, that.”
He grimaced; Linda shrugged.
“But I take it you hit it off anyway?” Henderson asked.
“Yeah, and what a life that led to. I joined the band on backing vocals, and that eventually became a duo—him and me. I played keyboards even though I had no musical training. He put coloured tape and numbers on the keys for each song. We went around the world—Russia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, and Italy.”
“It was in Morocco when I noticed something strange though. Rod always went out for a drink late at night. Sometimes, he didn’t come back ’til the early hours, but he rarely seemed drunk.”
“Not necessarily a bad thing…”
“Yeah, so I started to get a little paranoid. Suspicious. One night in Morocco, I followed him. He walked and walked and eventually ended up in a small, dark bar. He sat with a big, sweaty guy in a stained, white, linen suit —very creepy looking. I saw Rod move up close to the guy and whisper in his ear. I was about to barge in when I saw Rod lean even closer, and the businessman slumped into a heap on the floor.”
Henderson stopped cleaning the pint glass in his hand.
“Then, Rod walked out of the bar—a blank expression on his face. He put a gun in his jeans’ waist band and walked straight past me.”
“So, what did you do?”
“I did nothing—said nothing. …didn’t know what to say. I was in shock or something. A few months later, we returned to England and went to a bank. Rod opened up safety-deposit boxes full of more cash than I’d ever seen. We put on money belts stuffed with hundred-dollar bills.”
“Yep. We headed off to Switzerland and put the money in a bank account there.”
“And did you ever confront him?”
“Eventually. But I knew the score by then—I’d guessed. It was clear that Rod was a hit man—an international assassin for hire. The musician thing was perfect cover.”
“Yeah, perfect,” Henderson said, a little nervous now . He wiped his brow with a handkerchief.
“Anyway, things slowed down a little and then…When we were in Africa, The Gambia, well, Rod died of Malaria.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“I buried him there. …went back to his home town for a memorial. …returned to Michigan for a while.”
“So, did you give up the music?”
“Yes. I never had any talent for that side of the business. But I carried on Rod’s other work.”
Linda dug into her handbag and pulled out a gun. Henderson turned pale and dropped the glass, which shattered on the floor.
“A goodbye from Big Howie.” She fired. Henderson fell backwards—a single bullet in his forehead.
The man with the walking stick sat up.
“You know, I’ve always wanted to invest in a bar,” Rod said and tapped his stick on the stool.
“You’ve invested in far too many as it is!” Linda said as they walked, arm in arm, out into the mid-day sun.