Thursday, December 20, 2007

Two Guns 15 - Hungry Like The Wolf

Christmas Eve in Sharon's apartment didn't look very Christmas-y at all; in fact, it looked rather like the rest of the year, a kind of cold disregard for holiday spirit that would make Baby Jesus cry. Well, at least that's what Mark made of it when he stepped inside; there was a pile of guns on her table in various states of cleaning, and Sharon looking stressed out while talking on the phone. Mark set down the large shopping bag, closed the door behind him and leaned against the wall, hands deep in his pockets.

"...I understand, but you're not...I'm not putting you down, I'm just saying...Look, if you'll listen to me for a second. Nobody's there now...yes, yes, emergency response. Okay. Nobody you want to talk to is there. It's Christmas. You do know what Christmas is, right?...Yeah, you too, bitch."

Mark raised an eyebrow, Sharon raised her arms and nobody raised their voice. Sharon just ran her fingers through her hair, eyes closed and head tilted back, as if the annoyance could be massaged out of her skull. Mark stepped forward, a fresh suit under a slightly classier trench coat. He walked behind her, clasped his hands in front of her belly and bowed his head to whisper into her ear.

"Is this a bad time?"
"No worse than any other," she replied. "Aftershave?"
"Some people indulge their inner slob, I indulge my inner snob."
"Occasionally?" she asked playfully.
"Very occasionally. Now, I know just the naughty thing to do..."
"Go on."
"I say you don't pick up that phone tonight..."
"...and let the machine get your calls."
"I'm shivering from excitement, but I don't really believe in delegating. Now suppose I give in to this delightful madness, what would you have us do with the evening?"
"I have a reservation at Elio's," he said, his gaze shifting about as if he was John Wilkes Booth on the way to the gun shop.
"That's great. I could go for something to eat."
"...and a new dress."
"That's great, too, but what do I wear?"

Sharon realized about two seconds too late that the placement of Mark's hands was no accident; she doubled over and cringed from the revenge tickling, then burst out laughing before she could free herself. He pulled her back in, lifted her off the ground and turned on the spot, carrying her to the door.

"How did you - wooaah! - how did you know my size?" she giggled, finally getting a grip on Mark's hands and forcing them apart. To his credit, he let her down before she had to continue to the painful stage of that move.
"I can read clothes tags, too," he said with a knowing smile. He grabbed the shopping bag and held it open; Sharon drew a long evening dress from it, made of black velvet with a greenish tinge. Wordlessly but with a smile on her face, she held it up to her body for a size sanity check. "Think I know every saleswoman down Fifth Avenue now," he continued.
"It's lovely. And my color, too."
"The photos helped."

Mark silently pointed to a cupboard. Sharon gave him a glance.

"It occurs to me now," he said by way of apology, "that I could have just asked to look at some pictures of you."
"Oh, you want to get to know me better, then?" she said with a devilish smile. "I have a slideshow, family history...just the thing after lunch tomorrow. And then you'll tell me about your family, okay?" Without waiting for a reply, she snuck away into the bathroom to prepare. That was a prudent measure, as no reply was forthcoming - Mark just stood there, wordlessly. Slowly, a small smile snuck onto his lips.

Well played, milady. Well played.


What makes a gentleman, then? Mark looked the part, but Sharon found the little touches lacking. She topped up her glass with more Pergole Torte '79, and wistfully remembered a time where she thought any man who could date her would do this for her, no questions asked. But she could tell Mark wasn't being a jerk about this - he just didn't know, and she didn't want to lecture him. The wine was excellent, no doubt, but that wasn't on her mind - the more time she spent with Mark, the more he managed to convince her that his omnicompetent act was just that. Lots of trivia, but raw, unfocussed. And that's how he worked, basically: he would land his first strike around a nugget of insight, then switch topics before a true master could tell he was faking it. That didn't make him incompetent, far from it, but it did make him seem more...human. And in turn, she felt better about herself, once she stopped assuming things and realized that she knew a lot of things he'd never heard of. There was something like parity in that.

"Thank you for the dinner. For the dress," she said, some small blush escaping from beneath the makeup. "And for everything else."
"It's been a pleasure," he replied, raising his glass. "To chance."
"To chance," she repeated and took another sip of wine.
"Did you enjoy the ride?" he asked, setting down his glass. His eyes twinkled with the steel of business, if only for a moment.
"A lot. And I don't want to stop here."

This is the moment it all goes to shit, she thought.

"All I can promise you is terror for breakfast, pressure for lunch, and aggravation for sleep," he said. He tried to look serious, but she couldn't hold back her grin.
"That was a terrible movie," she said, laughing softly.
"I watched it five times. I'm one of those men who dig terrible movies." She laughed some more. "I also never share my popcorn. You'll always have to buy your own bag. And I sing in the shower."

He waited for her to quiet down, then leaned forward.

"Could you..." he whispered, "could you love a guy like that?"
"I already do," she answered, then leaned in and kissed him.

No room for thought, just candlelight in his eyes and hellfire in her blood.


"Evenin', Captain," came the words from the medical examiner's mouth; Paul Whitton hardly registered them anymore. It was like listening to a record of Bing Crosby's White Christmas - eventually, you don't need to listen anymore, you already hear every word in your head. To the morgue staff's credit, the place actually looked slightly festive, with evergreen twigs on the walls, a diorama of Santa Claus on his sleigh and even mistletoe over the door to the supply closet. Whitton couldn't imagine much romance going on here, but he knew that people down here could get very bored and very lonely. All bets are off when you work shifts in a basement.

"Dental work checks out, then?" he asked; the ME merely nodded.

The corpse wasn't pretty, even for a corpse. Just a bloated, middle-aged guy, his face blown off by a rendezvous with firepower. The kind of Kodak moment that made Whitton thankful for his insomnia.

"Any foul play?" he asked.
"Nothing fancy, no. Just got a bullet through the back of his skull, it bounced around a bit inside, then tore out through the front."
"Something small and subsonic. Like I said, it went back out, so I can't get any more precise than that. Only thing I can say for sure is that this was an execution, well-aimed shot. Not point blank, though, there's no powder burns on the skin."
"No, and that's the strangest thing. It's like he just stood there while somebody shot him in the head."
"But the shot came from behind. Somebody could've snuck up on him."
"Possible, but this was pretty close. We're talking about a pretty sneaky bastard here, Captain."
"I know a couple of those. Well, that's it, then. Thanks for your time, Josh."
"Merry Christmas, Captain."
"Yeah, merry Christmas."

He waited until the medical examiner was out of earshot, then stepped over to the corpse and bowed down.

"And merry fucking Christmas to you, too. For all it's worth."

Leaving the corpse behind, Whitton wasted little time on his way to the elevator. He stepped inside and felt the doors close like the embrace of a lover long gone, the cab shaking as it brought him back to the city of the living.

Goddammit. What happened to you, Berkovitz?

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