“My anaconda don’t want none unless she’s got buns, son!” Tyler coordinated the word ‘buns’ with Marcella walking by his desk, and because of her height and his total lack of it—and the fact that he was sitting, but Marcella never reality get in the way of a mean thought—his eyes were exactly at a level with her ass.
She sat down at her desk, trying not to give Tyler the satisfaction of showing that her dignity was offended. It was beneath her dignity to be the pool secretary for this group of idiotic, over-privileged jackasses. She wouldn’t even be working at a hedge fund if she hadn’t been implicated in one teeny-tiny little embezzlement scandal at her last job. Well, she’d been young and stupid. Now she was on the level, paying her dues, and if it meant working with the likes of Tyler, it was worth it. Right?
She opened her desk drawer and pulled out a stack of business cards. Nestled among the creamy, matte cards, all from other Tylers, or the even more hideous creatures that Tylers grew into, was a black one with white embossed lettering on it. She grimaced at the styling—none of her supervisors would have been allowed to order a card like that on her watch.
“Martin Blank” was all it said, plus a pager number, but Marcella had gotten this card from people who were very clear about what he did. She looked at it for a moment and closed the desk drawer again. She wasn’t going to have Tyler killed. She wasn’t. She shouldn’t even have that card.
“I like tall chicks and I cannot lie, you other fellas can’t deny, when a girl walks in with a sour face and a big butt in your face…”
She picked up the phone.
The man had dark hair, and a vaguely hang-dog expression. He’d been sitting at the other end of the bar for the last hour, while Marcella sipped her red wine and flipped the pages of the Forbes magazine. She sighed. She really had not come here to be hit on. And anyway, in her experience, the kinds of men who hit on her in a bar were the kinds of men who wanted her to tie them up and fuck them with a strap on.
She just attracted that kind of guy. Something about her height and sensible shoes.
Not that she wouldn’t be into that later on in a relationship, but it was always a bit too much to be handed a guy’s entire slate of mommy issues in the first hour of a date. She should get a t-shirt that says “Just because I’m bossy doesn’t mean I want to tie you up.” If she were the t-shirt wearing type.
This one had all the hallmarks of a guy who wanted a woman to run his life for him. She sighed as he started to come over.
“I’ve been thinking about it,” he said. “And I don’t think I’m going to do it.”
“What,” she said, rolling her eyes. This was going to be where he said wasn’t going to hit on her, as a way of hitting on her. Lord preserve her from the passive aggressive.
“Umm, this is going to be awkward,” he said.
She stood and gestured for the bartender to come over so she could pay and get the hell out of here. “It’s really not,” she said. “At least not for longer than a few minutes.”
“Do you remember a guy named Barry Atkinson?” he asked.
Marcella frowned at him. That wasn’t how she anticipated this conversation going.
Yes, she remembered Barry, from back when she thought it was cool and kind of naughty when a guy wanted to get kinky on the first date. Before it had become an annoying pattern.
“Mustache, balding, some kind of minor politician?” she asked.
“He doesn’t have a mustache anymore, and the Republican party wants him to run for governor,” said the man. “Otherwise, well, actually, he’s completely bald now.”
“He was a Republican?” She picked up her glass and drained it. “My taste has gotten better since then. Don’t get your hopes up.”
“Yeah, well, everyone makes mistakes. He’s running for office and he doesn’t want anyone talking about what he does in bed. So.”
“And he thinks I’m going to talk? What is this—are you going to bribe me or threaten me? Because I’ll tell you, I’d rather have money.”
“No, he sent me to kill you,” said the man.
Marcella wanted to laugh, but something about the guy’s even delivery choked it off in her throat. Her hands felt very cold. This guy was for real—he wasn’t hang-dog, he didn’t need a mommy, what she had mistaken for passivity was just him not giving a fuck.
She swallowed a few times. “But you’re not going to?”
“No,” he said. “That guy’s a jerk. I prefer the people I kill to deserve it.”
“Do they?” she asked. She put her hands on the bar to steady them. Asking him was a way of getting control. Her voice sounded very far away.
“Most of them,” he said.
“He deserves it,” she said viciously. The anger felt better than the fear.
“He does,” said the man. “I’m for hire, but I’m pretty expensive.” He smiled, self-deprecating. A cute hit-man.
“Do you think he’ll send someone else after me if you don’t do it?” Marcella asked. She couldn’t believe she was discussing this as if it was real.
“Could be,” he said. “I really should—it’s going to be bad for business, if I don’t. But now I’ve talked to you, and, as I said, I prefer for the person to deserve it.”
“How expensive are we talking, here?” she asked, before he talked himself back into doing it.
He named a figure, and watched her face, seeming to expect her to blanch. It was expensive, but she had been working in the business world for a while—people mentioned numbers like that all the time. You learned not to worry about it.
“I don’t have that,” she said. “But do you, by any chance, need an executive assistant?”
He smiled. “A secretary?”
“I’m not an executive.”
“Just an executioner,” she said, half to herself. “To handle your bookings,” she added quickly.” I’m sure you need—bullets, and things. And I think I’m going to have to get out of town for a while.”
“Okay.” He gave her a bemused smile.
“And if it doesn’t work out, I’ll pay you back,” she said. Just don’t kill me.
“So that’s a yes on the Barry Atkinson contract?” he asked.
“Yes. But you should probably pin it on someone else—I bet murdering people who try to hire you is bad for business.”
“Yeah, probably. Republican party’s a pretty good customer, though,” he said. “I don’t see them going anywhere.”
Marcella sighed and gathered her purse. “I can’t believe he was a Republican.”
This could not possibly be the right office. She was supposed to be interviewing for a position assisting an entertainment lawyer. He would not have offices this small or dingy. And there would be records on the walls, or awards, or magazine clippings at the least. Right?
Still, she sat on the cracked leather couch that served as a seating area, and waited. And when the phone rang, she answered it. It never hurt, in her experience, to show a little initiative on these interviews.
“Hello Martin Blank’s office. How can I help you?”
The man on the other end of the phone rattled off a bunch of details, time, place, weapon, and Marcella noted it all dutifully down. She was looking at the information she had just been given, when the door opened.
“Who—?” he said, before pulling a gun on her. She immediately dropped to the ground under the desk. “Who are you?” he asked.
“Marcella,” she said, voice breathless with fear. “I’m here for the assistant position.”
“I’m not looking for an assistant. Good reflexes, by the way.”
“Thank you,” she said. It was filthy under the desk here, dust bunnies and paper-clips everywhere. This man needed an assistant, whether he wanted to or not. “I was wondering—this didn’t look like an entertainment lawyer’s office.”
“There’s another M. Blank in the building—I thought it would be good camouflage,” he said. She watched his feet move and tried to wedge herself further under the desk. There was a gun taped under here, which seemed like good thinking. She peeled it off, hoping he would hear, and know she was armed too. Or maybe that would make him more prone to shoot her.
“Turns out it’s a bit confusing,” she said, congratulating herself on sounding so calm.
“It does seem to be turning out that way,” he said.
“What are your neighbors going to think if you shoot me?”
“Silencer,” he said.
She watched his feet as he circled her for a few more seconds. “There was a Mr. Tolliver on the phone. He wants a General Rodrigues—that’s Brazilian Army—killed, with a specific kind of rifle.”
“Sounds right,” said Mr. Blank. “There’s some kind of munitions dispute happening down there.”
“Do you have that kind of rifle, sir?” she asked. He could have shot her already, through the desk. And it wasn’t such a nice desk he wouldn’t want to damage it. Which meant he didn’t want to shoot her, not really. Or so she hoped.
“No,” he said, “but I can just steal one when I get there.”
“Sir, wouldn’t it be better for me to order one for you in advance so you could practice?”
“I’m pretty good with guns.”
“Okay, well, I’m sure you’ll get plenty of chances to do the job, if you somehow miss the first time. Sir.”
“You just don’t want me to kill you.”
“That’s true,” she said. “But I also think you could use an assistant yourself. What do you say?”
“What’s your name again?”
“I’m going to have you checked out, Marcella.”
“Of course, sir.”
“And if I don’t like what I find…”
“I would expect nothing less, sir.”
“The new president of Paraguay sends his regards,” said Marcella stiffly. Her suit had a big bow on it, which was his idea, which she hated, of course. She went in more for military fashion. Helped dictators remember what side you were on.
“That was nice of him,” said Martin. He looked her up and down in a way that was not at all sexual, but was still irritating.
“He’s using a human-being as payment. I don’t think that’s very nice.” She paused, and remembered she was talking to a trained killer, who might have other ideas about nice than the rest of humanity, and added, “Sir.”
“Oh, you’re not payment, you’re a present. He paid me very well,” said Mr. Blank.
“That doesn’t make it better. Sir.”
“Well, you’re free to go, don’t tell anyone about this or I’ll kill you, blah blah blah.”
“Wait, why would he give me to you as a present?”
“Well, I told him I needed a secretary. And he knew you wanted to get back to the states.”
“Yeah, my sister’s pregnant with her first—wait, so he actually was doing something nice? In his typical, horrible way?”
“That’s what I said.”
“And you do need a secretary? That’s actually perfect. It’s a little hard to get references when your most recent achievement is helping to mastermind a military coup.”
Martin smiled. “I thought someone with better tactical skills than him was involved with that. Neat work.”
Marcella preened a bit.
“Yes, I do. Need a secretary,” he added.
“When do I start? Sir.”
“As soon as you want. And drop the ‘sir’.”
“Of course, sir.”
“You’re not going to drop it, are you?”
“Don’t fight it, sir. It will just encourage me.”
Unemployed again. Being an executive assistant who liked a challenge had its downsides. Marcella had swooped in and cleaned up some very messy book-keeping issues, a supply chain nightmare and based on her excellent suggestions, the company had restructured her out of a job. Typical.
She had never looked at want ads before. People came to her. In fact, she had several good offers sitting on her desk right now, from people who had heard what a good job she always did.
Which was sort of the problem, now wasn’t it? People came to her when they had insoluble problems, but once she solved them, they didn’t need her anymore. Maybe she would pick the next one, this time.
She ran her fingernail down the line of ads. Boring, boring. Who would want to work for a carpet supplier?
Then there was the one that said, “Professional Hitman seeks office assistant for managing contracts, ordering supplies. Discretion a must.” And a pager number. It could be a joke, although if it was, it was awfully dead-pan. Either way, she liked it.
What harm could there be in calling?