The thing about it was the eyes. That's what it came down to. In the end, everything was about how long a man could hold his gaze—that's what really put a fire into the soul. When a man looks a dog in the eyes, only one of two things will happen: the dog will ease back, or the dog will bite. Nigel was a biter. A man looks him in the eyes a half-second too long and something snaps inside him and it's a tangible, lethal pop that can unleash something so devastating that he's got to up and disappear like fog in a breeze. The way that little cunt Charlie looked him in the eyes. The way he insisted with huffing, struggling breaths that he was in control—it was more than he could stand. The way he could actually bring himself to stare upward even for a moment to lock into his stare was enough to inspire the most hateful of rage and for what? For what?
For the memory of her. Every time he dreamed of his Gabi—and she was his—her eyes when she stared at him with her delicate little nose just brushing the tip of his... She stared at him and he eased back. He always eased back for Gabi. She had conquered him and he had been unconquerable before her and he would be unconquerable again. She had somehow disarmed him with her music and her softness. Those eyes, ringed with dark, smudging shadows had been some kind of a mystery and surely he could never have truly known her, even though he was certain that he had. She had lied to him.
He took a deep breath, trying to rip himself from these horrible memories, these terrible moments when he had found that his love had been forsaken, that the woman he had sold his soul to love had betrayed him so completely. Here he was in New York and here he was fucking everything up. There weren't supposed to be witnesses. The whole thing was just some small business, of course, and who was he but a man who could take care of business? It was only some little things at first with certain contracts and in the beginning, there was no fear of any kind of involvement from outside parties. Of course not, why should there be? But this? This was a little bit more and it was something that had given him pause.
After all, this was the same kind of thing that Victor had been hiding from him on that goddamned tape. He wasn't the kind of man who developed cold feet so he found himself here. Driving. The long road in front of him and a cigarette firmly planted between his teeth. He was cold. He was always so cold now that Gabi was gone. She had been his heat. His fire. She had held his gaze with those sharpened eyes and made him submit in a way he'd never once felt was necessary before. She had been his weakness.
So why did he feel weak now? With this creature in the seat beside him? With this boy who could never seem to look directly at him? How had he truly seen anything at all, really? He was quiet and fearful and he rocked with an alarming and frantic pace until he calmed and stared quietly out the window as if he had somehow made peace with the idea of having been taken like a dog to be put down. After all, that's what Nigel was doing. There could be no witnesses and to have one was to be sloppy and Nigel had learned what it meant to be sloppy.
It was being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people noticing. This boy, pale and shivering and awkward, had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people noticing.
You'll have to put him down.
He was a liability and that was all and those were things that Nigel was very acquainted with. Things that had to be taken care of or his life could get messy. That's how things had gotten in many places, last of all, Bucharest. Messy. That's all his life ever was and that's all his life would ever be. No matter how many silencers. No matter how many times he slipped off into nothingness and left no trail behind him. Bucharest wouldn't be his last mess. Not by a long shot.
So as the lights on the freeway tumbled past and each in turn gradually illuminated the dark curls and uncertain eyes of the little lost puppy beside him, he wondered whether or not this had to be it. He didn't know anything about this boy and whether or not he would be missed. Was there a chance that this mess was bigger than he thought? Was there a chance that he'd have to stay out of New York for longer than a few nights? He flicked a glance to the man's lap and felt the edge of his mouth twitch upward at the sight of his blue grocery bag sitting in his lap. The poor guy hadn't even dropped it when Nigel had forced him into the passenger seat of his waiting car. He hadn't even dropped it when he'd innocently wandered into a scene and found three unlucky saps dead or dying in the dimly lit stairwell of the apartment building. He hadn't even said anything at all, seemingly incapable of speech through his immense shock.
Shock was a hell of a drug and for this kid, it seemed devastating. His whole body jarred at the sound of Nigel's low voice, his hands coming to whatever was in the plastic bag as if to use it as protection or maybe to protect it.
“Anyone waiting for you up there?”
There was a semi-long pause as the young man stared at the dashboard of the Taurus. No...that was wrong. He wasn't staring at the dash of the Taurus, he was staring through it. It was almost as if he were blind, his focus unclear and his lips gently parted as he tried to formulate an answer with his brows tilting downward in the center. His voice was so perfectly flat despite the confusion and the fear that made him tremble where he sat. “Where?”
“The apartment, you little fuck,” he let fall out of his mouth in a tumble of words so quick he wasn't certain if the boy could understand him or not. Nigel's patience was a small, weary thing that died at a glance and often did so when he wasn't answered quickly or predictably which happened far too often with these flighty American boys. “Was anyone waiting for you?”
“N-No.” The slight shake of his head was followed by a hard swallow that bobbed his slender throat and begged Nigel to choke him until his strangely wandering eyes rolled up into his skull.
“Who are you? And don't fucking jerk me around or I swear I'll dump you over the side of the fucking freeway right now.”
He spoke in a matter-of-fact sort of way that was as baffling as it was interesting. “A-Adam. I'm Adam.” The anxiety and fear that had brought him into the car rocking and rhythmically squeezing at whatever was in the plastic in his lap was called to the fore again and Adam (just fucking Adam) was compelled to continue. “I l-live upstairs. I was going to eat dinner. I g-got some groceries and I was just going to go upstairs. I don't know what's going on and...and I'd like to get out of the car, please.”
“Afraid I can't do that for you, Adam. You see, you've put a bit of a wrench in the works here. It took months for me to get a good situation in this godforsaken city and here you've wandered right into the wrong place at the wrong time.”
The man was clearly trying very, very hard to not lose control over himself. His fingers were gripped hard into the plastic bag and there were glittering tears brimming in his eyes that shined in the intermittent lights over the freeway. He breathed in ragged sips and his voice was strained when he explained, “I...I was in the right place. You. You didn't belong there. You were the one who wandered in! I...” His tears spilled over, making tiny splats on the plastic. “I live there and I would like very much to go home now.” As an afterthought, he added to the end, “Please.”
“Polite little prick, aren't you? If that could save you, and maybe it has in the past, it won't here. I've got people counting on me, Adam, do you understand? They pay me to do a job and that's what I do for them and sometimes these jobs have a way of requiring discretion. You get it, Adam. I know you do.”
Adam didn't seem to understand. It wasn't surprising, the reality of a situation didn't usually hit right away but this was different, though how, Nigel wasn't exactly certain. Adam closed his eyes and his hands came up from the bag and fisted into his curls by his temples, the heels of his palms pressing into his head. He didn't say anything but his breathing was harsh and maybe he was crying. He was an odd bird, this Adam. It was difficult sometimes for men to come to grips with their plans having gone awry and there were limited ways to cope, surely. Nigel had long ago learned to roll forward with things that happened, jumping from bit to bit and taking everything a moment at a time. Adam was a digger—he set his feet, dug his heels, and refused to move forward. His night was supposed to be simple—get groceries, come home, have a quiet evening, and go to bed. Through no fault of his own, it was ruined. A damn shame.
By the time his unwilling passenger was to the point where he could again put his hands down to the plastic bag, they were out of the city and there were no more lights rolling over the Taurus, the night surrounding them as an oppressive blackened weight. He wasn't certain Adam had any real idea of what was happening. That Nigel was going to eventually pull over, wrench him from the passenger seat and drag him kicking and struggling into a lonely field to put him down. At this point, the trajectory of the event should have been obvious but, Nigel conceded, Adam was an odd bird.
Curiosity was a sickness. Nigel glanced at him. “I'm going to kill you, you know.”
Adam's throat worked again when he swallowed and blinked. His brows, still pinched with his heavy discontent, were dark and defined in the dimness of the car and his voice was almost offended when he gave his nod. “I know.”
“You're not going to try to grab the wheel? Beg for your life?”
“N-Neither of those things are likely to change the outcome.” There were no more tears and that odd matter-of-factness pinged in Nigel's brain. It was true, anyway. There was a weighing of factors going on in that pretty little head of his even if he looked almost like he was off in another world, staring into nothing.
“That's the quickest I've ever seen a man come to terms with his own death. A fucking miracle worker, you are.” He smirked at himself and flipped the lights off on the car before he pulled over to the side on a long stretched of dark pavement. The nearest lights were those of a farmhouse far out into the distance and the wind howled around the Taurus as he made to get out. He opened the door and paused, staring over at Adam for a moment. “You going to run?”
This time there was one tear that escaped and fled down his cheek. “No.”
People were difficult to predict. People lied. Even people you loved and who you thought loved you would lie to you. But Adam didn't and somehow Nigel knew that, the reality of it dawning over him in a warm wash as if he'd found a sun-soaked patch of hardwood with bare feet. Even when he had grabbed a hold of Adam's track jacket and dragged him out of the car, he was reflecting on this strange tidbit. He'd never met someone who wouldn't—or couldn't—deceive him. He tossed the kid to the ground, watching him stagger first and then fall, his grip on the plastic grocery bag failing and sending boxes of little frozen dinners scattering over the dirt and patchy grasses. Pulling out his pistol, he cocked it and gave pause while he watched Adam on his knees, reaching out with shaking hands to gather up the microwavable mac and cheese dinners to place them neatly back into the bag.
“For the love of all fucking Christ, what the fuck are you fucking doing?” Nigel sighed, feeling the weight of the gun against his thigh when he dropped his hands.
“I...I think that you don't really expect an answer, but if you do, you should tell me.” He was still on his knees, gathering up the last of the now mostly-thawed boxes.
“Fucking give me an answer, Adam.”
He sniffed. “I dropped these when you pushed me. They don't belong on the ground.”
Nigel put his eyes in his palm and gave a great sigh. “I don't understand you, Adam.”
He nodded, comprehending immediately and no stranger to the notion. “I know I'm different. It's not something I mean to do. Just like I didn't mean to see what...w-what I saw... Those people don't...they don't live in the building. They didn't. They didn't live there. I've lived there for a long time and I've never seen them before—”
“Hey kid,” he interrupted, lifting his gun and taking aim. “Shut up.”