How I Learned to Dance

By Yutaka Dirks



I leaned back in my seat and stared down from the helicopter at the grey, jagged rocks rising from the wooded hills. I’d seen the Rocky Mountains, but never the Canadian version. They looked just as beautiful and lonely as their American cousins.

“Spectacular, isn’t it?”

I turned to the middle-aged woman in the seat across the aisle. She had evidently given up on conversation with her husband, a Nick Nolte look-a-like who was lost in his Blackberry. She waited for me to pick up the conversation.

I nodded with a smile and turned back to the window. I keep to myself. It makes my job easier if people don’t remember me. She sighed and took another sip of champagne.

“It looks lonely,” said the only other passenger, a young Latina woman.

Startled, I looked at her closely. She was beautiful, with a strong, angular face and shoulder length black hair. Underneath her cashmere sweater I could see the solid arms and shoulders of someone who worked out. A lot. If not for her long, manicured nails curled protectively over her Gucci purse, I would have guessed her a professional athlete or a prize fighter.

“Lonely?” replied the woman. “Oh no, the mountains are teeming with life. Especially tonight! Isn’t that right, David? This party is going to be fabulous.”

Her husband nodded and went back to punching out emails on his phone. The younger woman pursed her lips into a tight smile, but said nothing more.

Tonight certainly would be something. We were headed to the Chateau Lake Louise, the entire resort hotel booked exclusively for the guests of Phillip Allen Wolfe and his wife, Gloria Patterson-Wolfe. Wolfe, a visionary extraction technology entrepreneur, was the ninth-richest man in North America, the richest man in Canada by a mile. Today was his fiftieth birthday.

“I heard that Gloria booked U2 for the party,” the woman whispered excitedly, but none of us took the bait.

I tried not to smile. Anyone expecting to see Bono tonight would be disappointed. If my sources were correct, at precisely 9pm, after the assembled crowd was well into their second glass of Catena Zapata, Gloria would invite her husband onto the courtyard stage. Waiting behind a large curtain would be Wolfe’s favourite band: Doctor and the Medics.

Who?

Exactly.

Their one hit – “Spirit in the Sky” was in the eighties. Despite their lack of commercial staying-power, they apparently stayed with our esteemed birthday boy. When the curtain drops, he’s going to just die.

The helicopter made its approach over the hundred-year old hotel. The afternoon sun glinted bright off the lake. I pulled on my sunglasses and ran my hands through my jet-black hair. I look better in my natural blonde, but a survey of the guest-list had found seventy-three percent of the men had dark hair.

In the shuffle of unloading the young woman disappeared. I followed the couple to the lobby.

“James Carrey,” I announced to the concierge. “I’m a guest of Mrs. Patterson-Wolfe.”

I had developed a soft-spot for the juvenile comedy of Jim Carrey after a sixteen-hour flight from Calcutta to Washington, which had showed the Ace Ventura: Pet Detective series on repeat. But he really shines in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

I found my room. There was a large window that faced the lake, the mountains rising behind it. Perpendicular to the window was a flat screen TV that took up half the wall. A large bed sat empty in the middle of the room, like an island. How many nights had I spent in rooms like these, waiting on a job? How many fitful sleeps marooned in half-empty beds?

Well.

Time to get to work.

I went to the dresser and pulled out a package, folded in a towel in the back of the third drawer. Everything was as expected. I snapped open the case and the collapsed rifle inside gleamed.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Wolfe.

The hotel was beautiful; large hallways, fine wood and stone pillars everywhere. I walked outside and surveyed the grounds. The snow-capped mountains rose above the crystal green waters of Lake Louise. Knotted around patio tables were dozens of people I recognized from the New York Times, and the gossip rags. One doesn’t become the ninth richest man in North America without making a few famous friends.

Joseph Navel – CEO of Empire Oil, Leon Book of the US Environmental Commission, April Boyden of Harker Grey Securities. Was that Chad Krueger of Nickleback? I wondered how Chad would react when he realized that Wolfe liked a washed-up eighties pop group more than his best-selling arena rock act? Maybe Mr. Wolfe would gain himself a new enemy. Though, those seemed not to be in short supply.

There were the corporate players in Toronto and Calgary, bristling at Wolfe Industries’ continued dominance in the field of oil-sands extraction technology. They claimed he’d stolen patents, pirated designs. I’d also seen the reports about the protests by Native American youth from communities downstream of the oil fields, the rates of cancers which they blamed on the process – which Wolfe was ultimately responsible for accelerating.  And there were the rumours that members of the Esparragoza cartel had attempted to influence Wolfe Industries Mexico for their own ends.

I scanned the faces and realized I was looking for the woman from the helicopter. She wasn’t there. I was about to head back into the hotel when a stunning red-head caught my eye. Familiar. A waiter was shakily handing her a cocktail, clearly awestruck. I’d seen her in a movie recently. Something with Nicholas Cage, I thought. Her name was on the tip of my tongue, but it wouldn’t come. How irritating.

I headed back into the hotel and climbed the east staircase to the second floor. I easily found the small single bathroom. A left-over from the hotel’s older days, it had somehow survived the many renovations over the years. I locked the door and stepped up to the small window above the toilet. Sliding it open, I looked out over the courtyard below. The view to the stage was unobstructed.

Perfect.

The room was far enough away to allow me to rejoin the crowd downstairs before security realized where the shot was fired. It was also close enough that a scope wouldn’t be necessary. In fact, you probably didn’t need the rifle at all. A steady hand and a Glock 23 or Les Baer Prowler would have been sufficient.

I slid the window shut and pulled out the rifle case from my shoulder bag. Before I slid it under the vanity I wiped it clean with a hand towel. I unlocked the door and headed downstairs to join the party.

The lounge was a bustle of well-dressed bodies. Laughing, arguing, flirting. Taking small bites of apple-tumeric brie pastries and enjoying large sips of the Vinedo Chadwick. A small army of staff floated through the room, refilling glasses.

I had initially considered attending this affair disguised as one of the caterers. But, I remembered Havana in ’94, the last time I played the waiter. It had all started with an extremely drunk, unbearably obnoxious Venezualian oil tycoon and a bottle of Paul Hobbs Bramare Cabernet. It ended with a final body-count several times higher than necessary.

Don’t ask.

I looked around the room. The expected captains of industry and their wives. Politicans and mid-level celebrities, from Canada and the US both. Gloria was an American, I’d heard that her brother worked somewhere in government. Some of these guests must have been hers.

There she was. She had her arm around her husband’s waist, clutching him almost possessively. He was a fit man, good-looking. High cheekbones and warm smile. Wavy brown hair, but with streaks of grey at the temples. Something of a George Clooney type.

Gloria looked to be introducing him to the redhead actress I saw earlier.

Jessica? Jenna? This was becoming annoying.

I turned my attention to the bodyguards and secret service agents. I figured on at least eight, considering the guest list. A tall, cinder-block of a man by the chocolate fountain. Another one standing at arms-length from Senator Paley. Two minutes later and I had identified them all. Amateurs.

One of the staff walked by, balancing a full glass on a silver-platter at shoulder-height. I reached for the glass, but it was snatched by deft hands. I looked up. Before me, a playful smile on her lips, was the woman on the plane. She was dressed in a dark purple cocktail dress that left little to the imagination, her matching purse hung off her shoulder.

“Sorry darling, I think this one’s mine,” she winked and lifted the glass to her lips.

“I can get you a glass,” the server said, then added quickly. “Sir.”

The resentful tone caught me, and I glared at the waiter. He was young. His light, reddish brown cheeks were covered in stubble. I ignored him.

“No need,” I said. I wasn’t really planning on drinking anyway. You’ve got to keep a sober hand in this line of work. I had just wanted the glass for a prop.

“Yes,” she said. “We can share.”

She grabbed my wrist lightly and slid her fingers over mine. She kept her gaze on me, ghostly grey eyes. Beautiful. She lifted her hand, and the glass, closer to my lips. I breathed in the faint aroma of the wine and drank.

“Delicious,” I managed. “An Almaviva Cabernet Sauvignon?”

“You know your wine,” she smiled. “Like our host, I’m fond of the finer vineyards of South America. Though, I have a special place in my heart for a red from Casa de Piedra in Mexico.”

I felt a pleasing heat rise in my chest and I couldn’t blame the alcohol. “I’m James. James Carrey.”

“Marianna Echevarria,” she replied. “And what is your relationship to the birthday boy? Perhaps you are the entertainment? Though, you do not look much like the funny Canadian with the weird face.”

I laughed. I hoped she found it charming. “No, that’s the other Jim Carrey. I can’t say I have much of a relationship with Mr. Wolfe.”

“Oh?” Marianna raised her eyebrows. “I thought I was the only free agent here tonight.”

Before I could respond the lights in the room flickered off and on several times. I looked down at my watch. 8:57pm. Damn.

“I’m sorry,” Marrianna said. “It looks like the festivities are about to get going, and I need to freshen up. A pleasure to meet you, James.”

She turned on her heels and disappeared into the throngs of tuxedos and Riccardo Tisci evening gowns. I felt my face go hot. What was I doing? Small talk was one thing, but flirting with a guest who could pick me out of a line-up later? I was slipping. I looked again at my watch and then moved as quickly as I could without drawing attention toward the stairs. 

The hallway was empty. I turned the bathroom handle. It was locked.

I could see a light coming from under the door and hear the shuffle of someone inside. I looked at my watch again. 9:02. I listened for the sounds of the band beginning to play. Instead, I heard the sound of a woman’s voice. Gloria Patterson-Wolfe on the stage microphone, a playful lilt in her voice.

“Phillip? Hiding isn’t going to keep you from aging, dear.”

He’d be on stage soon, and then I’d have just a few minutes to finish the job.

I couldn’t wait any longer. I readied myself to kick down the bathroom door and kill whoever was inside. As I leaned back, I turned my head and saw Mariannna walking toward me. She had her right hand in her purse.

My heart leapt, but just as quickly my stomach sank. It felt great to see her again, but why did it have to be here?

I’d have to kill her too.

I began calculating how long it would take for me to take out Marianna and whoever was in the bathroom, assemble the rifle and fire the single shot I’d been hired for.

I stepped towards her with a smile. That’s when I noticed the waiter. He was coming from the other end of the hall. As he advanced he slid his right hand behind his back. My eyes shot from the waiter, to Marianna and back. A spark flashed through me, and I could see it in their eyes as well.

Phillip Allen Wolfe had many enemies indeed.

Marianna pulled a Glock from her purse in a single smooth arc. In the same instant the waiter whipped out a small Les Baer, his hands shaking. I was caught in the middle, unarmed.

No one spoke. No one breathed. The soft rumblings of the crowd outside were the only sound.

Then Gloria’s amplified voice broke clearly through the din. “Phil, honey. Come on now, don’t ruin your surprise. Phillliiiip!”

The door to the bathroom fell open with a bang. There, wiping lipstick off his cheek, his arms around a stunning woman with dishevelled red hair – an actress named Jasmine Perri, I finally remembered – was the ninth richest man in North America.

I dropped to the ground and kicked at the waiter’s legs. I heard a sickening snap and he fell. I grabbed his gun and was back on my feet before he began to moan. I kicked him again and he fell silent.

Marianna was still there, her cool eyes moving between me and the startled couple.

“What is going on here?” sputtered Wolfe. “Are you hotel security?”

Before I could answer, we heard the strum of a guitar. A second later, the solid smack of a snare drum joined the guitar. And then The Doctor’s voice ran loud through the hall.

“When I die – 

“Wait!” Wolfe jumped up. “This is my favourite song.”

“I know,” I said. I pointed the Les Baer at his chest. “When your wife hired me, she made sure to mention it.”

“My wife?” It took a second, but Wolfe turned pale. Jasmine, a faster study, pulled away from him instantly and looked pleadingly at Marianna, who shrugged apologetically.

“So sorry, sister.” Marianna pointed her gun at Jasmine.

A cheer went up from the crowd outside as the Doctor belted out the chorus. No one noticed the sharp pops, like the celebratory release of corks from two bottles of Dom Perignon.

I wiped down the waiter’s gun and placed it in Jasmine Perri’s lifeless hand. Marianna did the same with her weapon and Phillip Allen Wolfe.

“Esparragoza?” I asked.

“Just for tonight,” Marianna nodded. “Like I said, I’m a free agent. You?”             

I nodded. “But I’ve been thinking lately the lone-wolf thing might be getting old.”

Marianna laughed lightly.

“What should we do about him?” She pointed to the young waiter, who was still unconscious.

“I say we leave him.” I stepped into the bathroom and pulled out the rifle bag from where I’d hidden it. I ejected the bullets, rolling them far under the vanity where you’d need a coat hook to get at them. Then I wiped down the rifle and put it in his hands. “He won’t be in any condition to talk for hours. And anyway, his prints will be all over this.”

Marianna smiled. She stood and with a casual confidence, took my arm in hers. “So, we’ve still got time for a dance?”

In my line of work, there just aren’t that many ballroom parties, contrary to what you might see in the movies. And even when there have been, I’ve been up in the rafters, squinting through a scope.

“Dancing isn’t really my strong suit,” I replied. My heart was pounding as we made our way back to the party. “I hope you’ll be gentle with me.”

“Not on your life,” she said. And with a smile and wink, she pulled me onto the dance floor.



Yutaka Dirks is an associate member of Crime Writers of Canada, credited with several stories published, most of them in small literary journals in Canada (Rhubarb Magazine, White Wall Review, Maple Tree Literary Supplement, etc) and has been long-listed for the CBC Creative Non-fiction Prize, one of Canada's most prestigious open-entry writing contests. The author also loves crime fiction. A flash fiction piece was published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine in 2011 and another short-short story published at Shotgun Honey.

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Copyright 2014 Yutaka Dirks. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!


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