By R. G. Crossley

Serendipity. Life is filled with moments of serendipity. After all my life's work was as much a surprise to me as anyone. After serving in the first Gulf War I found killing people was my destiny. Being paid large sums of money for doing something you love is the bonus.

Now here I sit in a smoky pub of a cockroach-infested hotel on the downtown eastside of Vancouver, sipping a warm beer, beside one of the cockroaches. He's the most hard luck thief you have ever met. And I wondered how I was going to slip away without him noticing.

I couldn't very well walk out the front door, because I had stirred up the cops like an angry hornets nest after I had dotted the "I" of Mrs. Reginald Phillips.

My signature is to shoot the target once in the head — what I call "dotting the I" — with a soft-tipped bullet. This creates maximum splatter as the bullet spreads out after contact, then blows a large hole in the back of the skull thus creating a shower of brain matter and blood. This causes witnesses to react with horror and panic allowing me time to escape. The challenge is you have to get relatively close to the target. Dangerous I assure you. But I love the adrenalin rush.

Mr. Reginald Phillips is the Donald Trump of Vancouver. He owns most of the glass and steel monuments-to-better-living that decorated the downtown skyline. The guy has a net worth of at least a billion bucks.

Unfortunately, for Mrs. Phillips, 'ol Reggie won't cooperate with the nastier elements in the construction industry. While it is not my place to speculate about the reasons for the elimination of a target, I read the newspapers like everyone else.

Two days after a very public dispute with the heads of the construction unions an envelope arrived in my drop box filled with cash and surveillance photos of the target. My fee is twenty-thousand dollars.

The unnamed client paid me twice my usual fee, because this was a high profile job. A larger payment would also allow me to lie low on a foreign beach for an extended holiday. Tropical breezes, Pina Colata's and girls in bikinis is really living.

At first, I was doubtful if I could make this a clean kill and considered refusing the job. I knew 'ol Reggie boy had his own security goons so I'd need to plan this one carefully. After all, I want to get away from it all to enjoy my fee, and my travel junket.

I followed the Phillips around town for two months prior to the hit. I needed to document their every move. Finally, an opportunity presented itself that was made-to-order. I decided to make the hit today. Wednesday the first day of lent.

Frankly, even I'm surprised when my plan plays out exactly as I envisioned it.

Today, Reggie and his wife — whose name was Veronica. Or was it Victoria? Not that it matters — will be at the grand opening ribbon cutting ceremony of his new luxury apartment tower. There was a large crowd comprised of his employees, and every local newspaper, radio, and television news crew from around town.

It was a perfect crowd of unfamiliar faces to mingle with and get in close. I even made a fake press pass to get me past security. My adrenaline raged through my veins. I love the thrill of a close-in kill.

My scouting report said the egotistical Reggie had forced his employees to attend the opening to applaud his growing empire, and his increase to his personal wealth. To any of his employees who refuse to attend he gives them their walking papers. Charming fellow.

My plan is to disguise myself as a man older than myself. My father was a movie makeup artist. He taught me his craft when I was a teenager with the hope I would eventually join him in the family business. Unfortunately, Dad and Mom died in a car crash just before I left for the gulf.

My disguise works perfect. Wherever he is, I'm certain Dad's proud of me.

After mingling with the crowd, I get close then, with my homemade silencer affixed to the barrel of my untraceable Beretta; I dot Mrs. Phillips "I". As anticipated, the resulting pandemonium covers my escape to the nearby alley selected in advance. I discard my disguise and dispose of the gun in a dumpster then disappear into a pre-selected pub.

So here I am, sitting next to Avi Kumar who reeks of mold. He sat down at the table after I arrived. And he's talking my ear off. I nod my head as if I'm listening to his every word, while taking the occasional sip of the warm sleeve of beer that long ago lost its foam cap.

My eyes scrutinize the dimly lit pub. From the plain black plastic dust-covered fixtures hanging low over the round terrycloth covered tables, to the vacant faces of the customers it is a seedy place. It reeks of beer, stale cigarette smoke, and sweat. A real working man's bar. My kind of place.

The bartender is a raven-haired woman with a lean figure. She appears to be no more than thirty-five, but her hard features give her the appearance of a weather beaten sailor. Her emotionless gaze suggests she has fought off one too many drunks in her day. The waiter, who's large belly hangs over his belt, has obviously consumed generous quantities of this establishments wares, grunts as he drops another glass of beer on the table in front of the cockroach.

My plan is to leave after a couple of hours and take a bus home. For now I am listening to the felonious exploits of a two-time loser.

Avi's dark skin is marred with an angry scar that runs down the right side of his face from beside his right eye to his wide chin. He sports the baggy clothing gangsta-look that is part of the age of the music videos. His bald head appears oddly shaped like one of those misshapen pumpkins unsold after Halloween.

Avi's not the master criminal type. He tells me he held up a laundry mat on his last job. He did two years less a day for the soiled diapers caper that netted him five dollars in change.

I am surprised he's telling me any of this crap. I might be a cop for all he knows. He talks too much.

Yeah, the guy's a real super villain. Where's Superman when you need him?

It was a good thing I had dropped my Beretta in the dumpster in the alley two blocks away. If I still had my gun I would definitely have a hard time resisting the urge to dot this guys "I" for free.

"I have a great job planned and I need a wanta come with me?" says Avi his words slurred from the two beers he has inhaled since he sat down.

I was about to refuse this excellent career opportunity when I see two uniformed cops, accompanied by what could only be two plain-clothes detectives, enter the bar through the twin oak doors leading to the sidewalk. A cloud of steam follows them in and I smell the rain that has started to fall outside.

It's time to leave.

"Sure, Avi I'd be happy to," I try to sound cheery. For a second I think I might be laying it on a little thick, but my doubts are quickly erased when a sloppy smile crosses Avi's face and he grunts. "I gotta a car parked nearby," he says.

I slap him on the shoulder. His faded blue jean jacket is soft under my touch. "Great. Why don't you and I talk about the job on the way?" I indicate the uniforms making their way through the pub. They stop occasionally asking for identification from patrons chosen at random. The low murmur of conversation masks the questions-asked-and-answers-given.

The bar is packed for a Wednesday night, but since we're far enough back in the gloom, they don't notice us yet. Unfortunately, this situation won't last long.

Avi glances at the cops and nods. "I hate pigs," he mutters.

He and I stand as one and head for the rear door that leads to the alley. Once outside I consider breaking his neck and leaving him. But since I am no longer in disguise, and since the waiter that served us has seen us together, I decide to wait.

We make it to his car, a rusting late model Chevy. I offer to drive. Given his unsteady feet the cops'd stop him if he drove. I conclude 'ol Avi has had a snoot full before he got to the pub.

As we drive on the rain-slicked streets, he instructs me to head for Southwest Marine Drive. Avi says a new Happy-Mart has opened. He tells me his second cousin went to high school with the night manager, a fat wimp named Albert. Fat Albert is going to be taking the afternoon bank deposit to the bank an hour from now at ten o'clock. His plan is to jump Albert and steal the deposit.

I want to strangle this moron. Hasn't he ever heard of debit cards, credit cards, and checks?

He grins and says, "I know what you're thinking. There won't be a lot of cash, right?" I nod but keep my eyes on the road, and the speedometer so I don't drive too fast. We don't need to attract unwanted attention from some eager cop.

He laughs, his arm resting across the back of the bench seat of the ancient Chevy, and says, "My cousin says half of their daily take is cash, and they do twenty thousand per shift."

Ten thousand? Cash? Hmmm...if it's true then I'll be able to extend my holiday. I glance at Avi and wonder about the shape of the splatter pattern his misshapen head would make if I blew a hole through it. Too bad I don't have my gun anymore. I guess I'll have to break his neck. No one is gonna miss this guy.

"You help me with the job and I'll cut you in for twenty-five percent."

"A quarter share? That's all?" I try to sound indignant because I know I'm going to get a one hundred percent share.

He laughs again. "My cousin gets twenty-five and you get twenty-five. I get half because," he pats his jacket, "I have the gun."

* * *

We arrive with half an hour to spare. I get us some coffee in Styrofoam cups from a nearby 7-11 and we sit in the parking lot waiting for Albert. Finally, when my patience is waning, the fat guy appears.

Albert is wearing a white dress shirt and navy windbreaker and black rimmed glasses, and yes, he is a very fat man. Beads of sweat dot his wide pale forehead. Tucked under his right arm is a brown bank deposit bag.

Avi and I get out of the Chevy and walk toward Albert who is concentrating on fishing in his windbreaker pocket for his car keys. He is standing beside a late model steel gray Toyota Corolla.

My temporary partner in crime moves behind the fat man and pulls out a pistol, which he sticks it in Albert's back. For his part Albert looks like he's about to have a heart attack. He's bathed in sweat and trembling and his rubbery legs look about to give way. I detect the odor of urine. Great. The fat boy's bladder has let go.

"Move and I'll kill ya," says Avi. He says it with sufficient menace that even I believe he might kill the poor guy.

I step up and yank the deposit envelope out of Albert's pudgy outstretched hand. I glance at Avi who has a sneering grin on his face and nod.

We turn and start back for the Chevy.

"Hold it!" says a voice behind us. I freeze in place while Avi turns away the gun held level in his right hand. With distain evident in his voice Avi says, "It's okay. It's only Albert."

I turn around to see Albert is holding a snub-nosed revolver in trembling hands. He looks like he's going to shake the thing apart. Is he serious? He's going to get himself killed.

I decide I better stop this crime before it gets messy. "Com'on, Albert. Drop the gun or," I indicate my partner with a nod of my head; "...he'll shoot you. Do you want to die for the Happy-Mart deposit?"

Albert's eyes are wide with his face contorting with inner confusion. "Do you guys know me? Do I know you?"

The air erupts with a gunshot. Albert's white shirt explodes with a flood of red and he drops to his knees the gun leaving his hand to clatter sharply across the pavement. The now very dead Albert falls on his face with a soggy smack.

I look at Avi as if to ask him why he shot fat Albert. He shrugs. I don't care either. Happy-Mart will find another night manager.

"I guess we better get another car," he says. I realize the Chevy wasn't really his car. Interesting. The cockroach really did have a plan. I have new respect for my temporary partner.

I nod. After scanning the parking lot for cars that are easy to steal, I spot a blue Ford Taurus with a plastic cross hanging from the rearview mirror that will fit the bill nicely.

We head for the Ford. We break in easily with a lock pick Avi's carrying. He bends down to get underneath the steering and commences to hot-wire it like a pro. Hmmmm...a cockroach with marketable skills. Too bad he's going to be dead sooner than later.

That is when Avi makes his last mistake. He hands me the gun while he arranges the wires. When the car engine starts, he raises his head and I raise the gun and point it at my soon-to-be-late partner. His dark eyes stare at me quizzically.

"You know one thing that bothers me," I say slowly, "why haven't you asked me my name?"

He smirks. "I know who you are. I don't need your name."

I love the smell of burnt gunpowder. The pistol jerks in my hand and the back of Avi's head explodes. A shower of blood and brain matter covers the driver's side window behind him. After smacking the window his head slumps forward, his chin resting on his chest.

Odd the bullet should have gone through his skull and shattered the window. I hold the pistol up in the dim light coming from the street and notice the serial number is filed off. My heart freezes. The Beretta, with my fingerprints all over it. My specially made soft tipped bullets wouldn't have penetrated the window

I feel the urge to laugh aloud at the irony. Wouldn't the cops love to get their hands on this weapon. The gun used to kill three other people tonight has my fingerprints all over it: Mrs. Phillips, a fat Happy-Mart night manager, and the late Avi Kumar, super criminal. Avi must have found my gun in the dumpster before coming into the pub. No doubt a happy coincidence for him.

The Taurus' engine suddenly dies and a voice comes from the car radio. "Don't move. This is the police. You've stolen a bait car. The doors are locked. You cannot escape."

I stare at the boomerang Beretta. Once the cops test the gun and find out where it was used tonight I'm finished.

Serendipity. I wonder how Avi knew who I was? And I wonder if life has more surprises in store for me. I raise the pistol to my temple. My only hope is there is a beach on the other side.

R. G. Crossley has several short stories published in anthologies published by Pocket Books. His latest novel sale is to Sapphire Blue Press.

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