Okay, Ang, here's the story.
DANCE WITH ME HENRY!
Henry Childs would normally be heading for home now. Being project manager for a large construction company was very stressful and he was always worn to a frazzle by end of day. Today, however, he found himself at the corner table of a dark, corner bar holding a bottle half full of beer with five more empty ones scattered about. He didn't remember getting there but the buzz in his head told him he was the one responsible for the empty bottles. The jukebox was cranking out one of those tear jerkers but his mind wasn't on the music. His eyes burned like fire. Was it from the thick cloud of cigarette smoke in here or had he been crying? Just then a dark, slim figure sat down opposite him.
She was pretty enough but given the dim light, thick smoke, and beer that he'd consumed he doubted very seriously that he was in a position to make an honest evaluation. What did it matter to him anyway?
"Buy a lady a drink?" She cooed, puffing on a cigarette and leaning over the table opposite Henry.
He wanted to tell her to buzz off and find another mark, that he was in no mood for conversations. Instead he said, "Sure." and beckoned the waitress with an uplifted bottle. He regretted it as soon as he said it.
"You look like a man with problems." Said the woman.
"Don't we all?" Henry answered, hoping she would get bored and leave.
"Some are worse than others." She offered. "All problems got solutions."
"Yeah?" Henry said cynically. "I don't think so."
"How about a dance?" She asked with a smile.
"I don't think so." Henry replied, taking a slug from his beer. Maybe she would take the hint and leave Henry thought to himself.
Instead, the woman grew quiet and soon there was a drink in front of her. Evidently she was a regular here and the waitress knew what she drank. Henry didn't particularly want a barfly around him tonight, he wanted to be lonely alone. He thoughts turned to Mary again and he almost cussed out loud. How could she...? Did he really blame her? No. It was that sorry, no account, bald-headed scoundrel...Chuck...that was who was to blame for the whole thing. He was the one that had ruptured his world, had invaded the inner sanctum of his marriage, had defiled his beautiful wife. He had ruined everything. He had taken Henry's secure and tranquil world away from him. He wished he had him here so he could kill him.
Henry was, by nature, a very meek and timid man. Chuck was an arrogant, overbearing know-it-all who always intimidated Henry. He poked fun at Henry at ever opportunity and generally made his life miserable at work. Now had come the ultimate humiliation. Chuck was in bed with his wife, taking from Henry what little dignity and feeling of worth the poor man had. Right now, he could kill boss, Chuck Ames.
"Well?" She asked.
"Uh...Well what?" Henry muttered, angry at having his thoughts disturbed again by the annoying woman.
"I just asked you what your problem was." She said with persistent air.
"Oh, just like that. You see a man trying to drink himself unconscious and you just barge in and ask him what his problem is. What makes you think I want to tell you my business?" The alcohol had put a harsh edge on his normally weak and timid voice.
She took a sip of the amber liquid, swallowed and licked her luscious, red lips. "Everybody wants to talk about their problems whether they admit it or not, hon."
"What's it to you?" Henry asked, staring at those wet lips.
"Hey, why not? The night is young, show me yours and I might show you mine. Who knows maybe we can help each other." She smiled wickedly and squirmed in her seat.
"What is it with you? I haven't got the faintest idea of what you're talking about." Said Henry trying real hard to keep his head from bobbing.
"You don't know me, I don't know you. Tell me your problem, it'll make you feel better. I might tell you mine."
"And that's reason enough for me to spill my guts out? What makes you think I have any interest in your problems?" He asked with a somewhat slurred voice.
"Curiosity, honey." She said, taking another sip and wetting those tantalizing lips again with her tongue. "Everybody's curious."
"Not me." Henry said and drained his beer. He started to raise the empty bottle to call for another round but the waitress was already on her way. Some people are very good at their jobs.
"What is it that you want right this moment more than anything else in the world?" She asked.
"Right this minute I would like to kill Chuck Ames." Henry heard himself say as he pounded the table with his fist. He hadn't intended to say it but now that he had he wasn't sorry. It sounded good, as a matter of fact.
"That can be arranged." She said, matter-of-factly.
"What?" Henry's head was spinning.
"I said that if you want Chuck Ames dead that it can be arranged."
"You know Chuck?" Henry asked.
"Nope. Never heard of him before you mentioned his name just now." She answered. "But if you want him dead -- well that can be arranged."
"How? I mean what are you talking about?" Henry asked, not knowing why he was asking.
"You give me an envelope with five thousand dollars in hundred dollar bills, old money, and when the job's done you bring me five more. That's it."
"Are you nuts or are you just trying to torment me?"
"I'm serious. You want him dead?"
"Just like that?" Henry was getting awful confused. "I give you money and a man dies?"
"Happens every day." She said, draining the last of the Southern Comfort. She looked at her watch and added: "Let's run down to the ATM at your bank, get the money, and we can get the show on the road. Have another beer. You sure you don't want to dance, hon?"
Henry woke up the next morning with the taste of old tennis shoes in his mouth. On the third try he sat up in bed and immediately grabbed his head with both hands to keep it from bursting. He eventually made it to the bathroom and after much moaning and groaning he finally got dressed and dragged himself to the kitchen. With the one eye that was open he saw that Mary had turned off the coffee pot. Since she usually left for work at least half an hour before he got up, he didn't bother checking to see if it was still hot. He opted for some orange juice but a quick peek in the frig told him the kids had taken care of that. He dropped into a chair from sheer lack of energy. Sudden realization struck him like the proverbial bolt of lightning and the other eye popped open. Suddenly he was wide awake. He couldn't be absolutely sure but he thought he remembered ordering someone killed. Yes, Yes, it was coming back to him. The bar, the woman, the ATM at the bank, five thousand dollars, Chuck Ames terminated!
"Oh my God!" Exclaimed Henry out loud. "Is it true? Did I really do it?"
He ran outside and grabbed the paper to see if perhaps Chuck had made the obituary. Too soon, he thought, the woman said it might take a week. A week! Maybe he could get in touch with her and cancel the whole thing. Sure, he was mad at Chuck... but to have him killed? No, he could never do that.
The day dragged on, each minute seemed like an hour at his desk until at long last it was two o'clock and he knew that by the time he got to the bar it would be open. He made his excuses and left the office and took off for the bar. He found his table, ordered a beer and a waitress with a perpetual scowl on her face brought it to him. He felt a hand on his shoulder and he almost jumped out of his skin.
"Easy, boy" Said a feminine voice. "You'd think YOU"RE the one with a contract out on him."
She sat down opposite him and gave him her best smile. He started to speak but then the waitress with the attitude plopped a glass of Southern Comfort in front of the lady.
"Look, I was drunk last night and..."
"I'll say you were. You made a pass at me." She said with a mock scowl on her face.
"I did not!" Henry blurted out.
"Okay, okay, it was just a joke, don't get riled up." She grinned at Henry.
"Look I want to cancel the deal. Just keep the five grand for your trouble and let's forget the whole thing." Henry said and then took a gulp of beer.
"I'm afraid it ain't that easy." She said, taking a sip of her drink and then licking the side while grinning at Henry. She was clearly pleased with his discomfort.
"Will you quit doing that and what do you mean, it ain't that easy? What's so hard about NOT doing something?"
"Look, you can't just draw up a contract and then cancel out." She argued.
"Why the hell not? It's not like we're building a freeway to Illinois. Just don't kill the guy and keep the five thousand. Even my brother in law could understand that." Henry was getting loud and several patrons looked his way. He settled back down.
"No can do, Henry." She said with an air of finality. "We subbed out the job."
"What!" Henry cried out.
"Will you keep your voice down or will I have to jump over this table and stick my tongue down your throat to keep you quiet?" She purred, clearly enjoying his discomfort.
"What do you mean, you subbed it out?" Henry whispered between clinched teeth.
"You're in business, Henry, you oughta' know about sub-contractors."
"Yeah, I know about subletting. We sub out lots of stuff like framing, and the paint work, but how in the hell do you sub out a murder?"
"A hit. Henry, we don't use the term 'murder'. We call it a hit. My boss insists on using the proper terminology."
"Your boss? You mean you work for people who kill people?" Henry could not believe how the conversation was going.
"You didn't think I actually went out with a hatchet and did the job myself, did you?" She took another sip. "I got a boss and he's got other people working for him. I just sell the jobs."
"Good grief!" Henry let out a deep breath. "A commissioned murder salesman!"
"Salesperson. Get with the nineties, honey."
"Well, get with your boss and tell him to get in touch with whoever he hired to do it and just forget the whole thing." Henry told her.
She drained the rest of the glass and said sheepishly: "He doesn't know who ended up with the job."
"You mean he doesn't know who he hired to do it? What did he do, put out an ad and assign a number? How can he not know who he hired?" Henry was getting loud again but a stern look from the woman made him quiet down again.
"Simple." She said. "The subcontractor subbed it out."
"Unbelievable!" Henry almost shouted but when he saw the look in her eyes he brought himself under control again. "How many people are involved here?"
"Well, there's me, I get ten percent of the down payment and then another ten of the final payment after all expenses. My boss gets the initial payment, less my ten percent plus any unusal expense associated with the job. The lawyer, there's one on standby for consultation and if something goes wrong, well, he gets like twenty percent of the final payment. Then there's the usual payoff to the cops, that's usually no more than maybe five percent of the job making their take like five hundred bucks. The subcontractor pretty much gets the rest although the boss holds back twenty percent of his gross just in case he gets sloppy and we have to hire someone else to clean up the mess. In this case, the sub-contractor will have to pay his sub out of his take. In all fairness I have to say that although it appears that my boss is getting the lion's share of all this he has a lot of overhead, the office, phone, utilities, long distance calls. He tells me that the Workman's' Comp is really killing him."
Henry's head was reeling. It sounded all so business like, almost like a real business. Hell, it was a real business!
"How much will the guy who eventually does the job actually get for his services?" He found himself asking.
"In this particular case, I'd say about fifty bucks."
"Fifty bucks! I'm paying out ten thousand dollars and the guy gets fifty bucks? What kind of man kills somebody for fifty bucks?" Henry was breathing hard.
"Look here, Henry, you seem to be developing an attitude here." She said with a serious look on her face. Just then the waitress brought her another Southern Comfort and Henry another beer. "Let's dance, it'll lighten you up." She began smiling again.
"Forget the dance, will you? What's with the dancing?" Henry scowled. "Tell me what kind of person kills another human being for fifty bucks."
"Would you like him any better if he charged more? What about a thousand? Five thousand? What kind of person kills his boss for ten thousand dollars?" She smiled playfully. "Are we getting the picture here, Henry. Are you any better than the trigger man? What makes you better, the nine thousand, nine hundred fifty dollar difference?"
Henry's stomach was in a knot. She was right, he was no better than her and her whole, damned organization. What could he do about it now? It was all so complicated. He took a deep breath and said: "Will you please try, at least. Tell your boss to tell his sub to tell his sub to forget the deal. I'll give you the other five thousand and that should take care of all your overhead and you still have a profit on the deal."
"I don't know, Henry. There's a matter of professional pride, here. If the word gets out that the trigger man, for whatever reason, doesn't fulfill his contract, well his reputation suffers."
"A fifty dollar hit man has a reputation? I'll give you another fifty to soothe his ego."
"It's a deal!" She said, licking her lips again. "Now, that's fifty for the hit man, and we'll have to give the first sub-contractor at least two hundred for the paper work and his inconvenience, the lawyer will want some compensation for any possible complications that might arise out of this deal, then there's my boss' cut, he doesn't like complications. Let's see..." She took a pen out of her purse and began writing on a napkin. "That comes to...wait, I almost forgot my commission on the deal...okay...ummmmm...yes... that comes to a total of..." She looked up from her napkin with a great, big smile on her face. "Hey, how about that, it comes out to another, even ten grand."
It was almost too much for Henry. His face turned red and then purple. He opened his mouth but thought better of it when he saw her wagging her finger and mouthing the word: "No."
"Now, Henry, you do understand that the cancellation of the contract is contingent on the premise that we will actually be able to contact the hit man and stop him before he executes the contract. The ten thousand has to be up front along with the final payment since we're not certain here of exactly what will transpire. I want you to also understand that the money is payable one way or the other. You're paying for the effort, here, no guarantees, it's like going to a doctor or hiring a lawyer, you just pay and hope for the best."
Henry just shook his head in despair. She followed him to the bank and he withdrew the rest of his savings and gave it to her. He went home early only to find that Mary had come home and left a note for him that she had some shopping to do. He knew she was with Chuck and for a minute he wished he hadn't canceled the contract on him.
Henry held his breath for the next week and then the week after that. A month passed and then two and Henry began feeling better. He had stopped going to the corner bar, afraid of being seen with that crazy woman just in case they did hit Chuck. Mary was so preoccupied with Chuck that she had never noticed that they had no more savings and that Henry was working seven days a week now. At three o'clock one Monday afternoon, exactly nine weeks after his ill-fated encounter with the woman, just about the time he had managed to go through one day without twelve aspirins and four rolls of Rolaids, and a bottle of Maalox, the secretary ran into his office and cried out: "Mr. Childs, someone's shot Mr. Ames and he's dead!"
Henry's heart stopped. He tried to get details but no one seemed to know anything except that Chuck Ames had been shot dead. Henry ate six Rolaids and then ran out of the office and to the only place he could think of going...the corner bar. He made for his usual table and found her there talking to a man.
"We need to talk." Henry interrupted.
"Buzz off, creep, the lady's with me." The man shot an angry glance at Henry.
"You buzz off, this is my husband." She said.
The man made a hasty retreat and Henry slid into the seat. "Why did you tell him that?" He asked.
"He moved, didn't he? How about a dance, Henry?"
"Will you can it with the dancing? What's the matter with you? I thought we had a deal." He said. "You were supposed to cancel the contract. Why in the hell did it take you so long..."
"Hold on, there boy. We didn't kill Chuck."
"I just got the news that somebody shot him." Henry said.
"Not us." She replied.
"How can you be so sure, you had so many people involved?" Henry asked.
"Did it myself." Was her answer. "Lucked up on the trigger man Thursday night when I was working Vine Street."
"Working Vine Street?"
"Yeah, a girl's gotta make a living."
"I thought you had people killed for a living." Henry said and watched the waitress set their drinks down.
"That's just part time, Henry. Look this town's got maybe, what? Forty five, fifty thousand people? That ain't enough to keep one agency busy all the time, let alone three."
"Three!" Henry exclaimed. "There are two other outfits killing people here?"
"Yeah but we're the best." She said with a measure of pride.
"What do you do on your regular job?" He asked.
With downcast eyes and a blush on her cheeks she whispered: "I'm a lady of the night."
"A hooker?" Henry blurted out.
"I don't like that term." She said with a frown on her face. "Sounds too coarse. Anyway" She resumed with a smile on her face, "I was uh...soliciting clients... when I ran across the guy. I decided to short circuit the system and end it right at the source. I paid him off and told him I'd take care of the details. The next day I paid off the sub's secretary and she doctored up the papers and as far as anybody knows, the mark got hit."
"You keep paper work on the people you kill?"
"Sure, records are important. Anyway I know the guy didn't kill Chuck."
"How much did you pay him?" Asked Henry
"I gave him his fifty bucks and," She looked down and blushed again, "...And a little bonus."
"Oh, for crying out loud, what did you do with the extra ten thousand?" He asked.
"It's mine." She said rather indignantly. "You agreed to the price for stopping the hit and I stopped it. I'll give you a hundred back if you dance with me, though."
"Keep it." Said Henry between clinched teeth. "Who killed Chuck?"
"I can find out but it'll cost you five hundred bucks." She smiled.
"Never mind, I'll wait for the evening news." He said as he rose from the table.
On the way home Henry thought about the woman at the bar and realized for the first time just how pretty she was. She was small, no more that four feet, ten. She had long, black, curly hair that spilled over on her shoulders and rather large... He shook his head and concentrated on his driving. He could see how she would make a good living on the street. He began regretting not dancing with her. It had been six months since he and Mary had slept together, it was either a headache or the wrong time of the month or her nerves. That's what had started him suspecting her and that wood rat, Chuck. He pulled into his drive and Mary came running out of the house.
"Henry, have you heard? Chuck is dead." She was crying and screaming at the same time.
"I heard." He managed. "You know how it happened?"
"Yes." She said and immediately calmed down and her face soured into a frown. "That filthy, dirty, stinking, two-timing, lying piece of trash was sleeping with his secretary and her husband caught them in his own bed and shot both of them. Serves him right."
"Why are you so upset about his infidelity, Mary, it's nothing to you, is it?" Henry said. He was mad as hell that she was so angry at Chuck. What about him? HE was the one that had the right to be angry, not her!
"No, of course, it's nothing to me. I...I was just concerned about Helen, his wife. Poor thing!" Mary feigned a sigh.
"Of course." Henry said, relieved at how the fink had finally received his reward and glad to have him out of he and Mary's life. Now maybe things could get back to normal.
"Oh, in all the excitement I almost forgot." Mary said, her face perking up. "I have some great news, honey. I went for my check up this morning and Dr Chang says I'm two months pregnant, isn't that great?"
-Seen it all, done it all, can't remember most of it-