Carl Henderson had to squint when he spoke to the tired sounding American woman that had just melted onto a bar stool. The scorching midday sun was streaming through the open door and all he could see was her silhouette.
He put on a pair of sunglasses and liked what he saw. She was a good looking woman; late forties, stylishly dressed and wearing sunglasses that were a lot more expensive than his. She held out a perfectly manicured hand. He took it delicately.
“Linda,” she said.
“Craig,” he lied.
“What can I get you?” he said.
“Well, it’s just after noon, so that makes it Margarita time in my book,” she said.
He prepared the drink with a flourish and handed it to her to taste.
“What do you think?”
She sipped the drink and gave a shaky thumbs up. He smiled.
“Nice to know. Cocktails are like humour. Very personal things,” he said.
“Too true,” she said.
He turned back and slammed the till closed so hard that the optics hanging overhead rattled.
“With my late husband, the humour was the hardest part at first,” said Linda and unsteadily she got off the bar stool. She moved it closer to the bar. “Well, that and the Yorkshire accent.”
She tightly held onto the bar and edged back onto the bar stool. Gripped her glass. Stroked it. Caressed it.
“Rod was like a machine gun. Rattling off these one-liners that were filled with cultural references that I just didn’t have a hope of getting,” She smiled. “Never did get a lot of them.”
She scraped some salt from the rim of her margarita and licked it from her finger tip.
Henderson just nodded and waited for her to continue. He knew he was in for the long haul with this one. He could tell, just by looking at her that she needed a shrink at least as much as a drink. He could see how haunted she looked.
Still, business was business. The bar was always deserted on Tuesday afternoons. The bloody Spanish and their siestas. And today, Linda was the only customer, apart from the old English geezer in the corner with the walking stick and the thick glasses. He’d been nursing a milky coffee for hours and didn’t look keen on buying anything else.
“The first time we met,” said Linda. “Was on a boat.”
Henderson straightened his tie in the mirror behind the bar and turned back to Linda.
He picked up the remote and clicked on the CD player. Tim Hardin wafted into the room. A Leonard Cohen song about trying to be free.
“I was barely in my twenties. Trying to prove I could be independent from my rich daddy. He was a big shot executive for General Motors. Anyway, I got a job working as a kids’ entertainer on a cruise ship that was going around the Greek Islands.”
Henderson sipped his lemonade and looked up at the ceiling fan. It was working but the bar was still stiflingly hot. Pain in the arse getting planning permission for a listed building , though, so air conditioning was out of the question. It had cost plenty already. Almost everything he’d ripped off from Big Howie, in fact.
“Sounds great,” he said.
“It was. Another world. I’d never been out of Michigan before, let alone the States. My family didn’t like to travel. Dad always said, why go looking around the world when we have everything we need at home?”
“Not the most adventurous of blokes, then?”
“Not exactly. So, there I was trying to entertain the kids – who were running riot – when this middle aged English singer turned up. In two minutes, Rod got them organised into two lines. ‘Boys in front of Uncle Ian’– him – and ‘girls in front of Auntie Myra,’ me. Not that I got the joke at the time.”
“The Moors Murderers? Sick joke, that.”
He grimaced. Linda shrugged.
“But I take it you hit it off, anyway?” said Henderson.
“Yeah, and what a life that led to. I joined the band on backing vocals, and that eventually became a duo. Him and me. I played keyboards even though I had no musical training. He put coloured tape and numbers on the keys for each song. We went around the world; Russia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Italy.”
“It was in Morocco when I noticed something strange, though. Rod always went out for a drink late at night. Sometimes he didn’t come back till the early hours but he rarely seemed drunk.”
“Not necessarily a bad thing …”
“Yeah, so I started to get a little paranoid. Suspicious. One night in Morocco, I followed him. He walked and walked and eventually ended up in a small dark, bar. He sat with a big, sweaty guy in a stained, white, lined suit. Very creepy looking . I saw Rod move up close to the guy, whispering in his ear. I was about to barge in when I saw Rod lean even closer and the businessman slump into a heap on the floor.”
Henderson stopped cleaning the pint glass in his hand.
“Then, Rod walked out of the bar a blank expression on his face. He put a gun in his jean’s waist band and walked straight past me.”
“So, what did you do?”
“I did nothing. Said nothing. Didn’t know what to say. I was in shock or something. A few months later we returned to the England and went to a bank. Rod opened up safety deposit boxes full of more cash than I’d ever seen. We put on money belts stuffed with hundred dollar bills.”
“Yep. Headed off to Switzerland and put it in a bank account there.”
“And did you ever confront him?”
“Eventually. But I knew the score by then. I’d guessed. It was clear that Rod was a hit man. An international assassin for hire. The musician thing was perfect cover.”
“Yeah, perfect,” said Henderson, a little nervous now.
“Anyway, things slowed down a little and then …When we were in Africa, The Gambia, well, Rod died of Malaria.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“I buried him there. Went back to his home town for a memorial. Returned to Michigan for a while.”
“So, did you give up the music?”
“Yes. I never had any talent for that side of the business. But I carried on Rod’s other work.”
Linda dug a hand into her handbag and pulled out a gun.
Henderson turned pale and dropped the glass, which shattered on the floor.
“A goodbye from Big Howie,” she said and fired.
Henderson stumbled and fell. A single bullet in his forehead.
The man with the walking stick sat up.
“You know, I’ve always wanted to invest in a bar,” said Rod. He tapped his stick on the stool.
“You’ve invested in far too many as it is!” said Linda, as they walked, arm in arm, out into the mid-day sun.
(c) Paul D Brazill
Included in the anthology Near2TheKnuckle presents Gloves Off: The First Anthology