Ben reached in his pocket and pulled out the set of keys his brother had given him two nights prior. He unlocked the deadbolt then the handle itself. The office light turned on as he went to the desk drawer that held the fish food. The drawer was locked - as were all the drawers in the desk. From the flight, his brother had called to tell him that although the one key acted as a skeleton key and unlocked all the drawers, all the drawers were not to be opened. This piece of information was used as an excuse to look through all the drawers. Checking the bottom drawer he found the gun, which was obviously his brothers main concern in him not finding.
He walked over and watched the fish swim in circles within the small bowl sitting atop the file cabinet. Taking a pinch of food, Ben rubbed his fingers back and forth, causing flakes to fall into the bowl. The fish ate at the food that fell in its path.
‘That was easy enough.’ Ben thought.
Walking back to the desk, he returned the fish food to its drawer. Sitting in the chair, he put his feet on the desk and thought of what it would be like to have his brother’s job. Not that his own job was bad; there just wasn’t the sense of excitement that he felt was ingrained with the work his brother did.
While thinking about where he should stop for food on the way home, Ben heard a knock on the door. He sat as still as he could, hoping whoever it was would go away. The knocking grew louder.
“Hello?” A woman said. “Is somebody in there?”
The lights were on and Ben saw the obviousness of his occupancy.
“Are you Mr. Coast?” The woman said.
The question had two separate answers. Yes, he was Mr. Coast. No, he was not the Mr. Coast referred to on the door.
“Yes, I’m Mr. Coast.” Ben replied, feeling it was more truth than lie.
She entered and took off her jacket, draping it across the back of the chair in front of the desk. She sat down and looked around the office.
“A friend of mine recommended you.” She said, taking a pack of smokes out of her purse. “Do you mind?” She lit the cigarette before he could respond. “I don’t know how you work, but first I want you to guarantee that if I take on your services, no police will be involved. If you can’t, I’ll find help elsewhere. Do you guarantee that?”
While fumbling to find an answer for the question, the phone on the desk began ringing.
“Are you going to answer it?” The woman said.
One of the rules his brother had specifically emphasized was that while in the office to feed the wish, in no way was he to do anything else; including answering the phone. The woman exhaled a large cloud of smoke, french-inhaling the last wisps of it.
Ben picked up the phone as it rang for the forth time.
“Mr. Coast, Private detective. How may I help you?”
“Hey, Mick, how’s the vacation? Is the weather treating you well?”
“Why are you answering the phone, Ben? I told you to feed the fish and do nothing else.”
Ben smiled across the desk at the woman and then mouthed the words ‘I’ll just be a moment’.
“I call to check my messages, and you answer the phone pretending to be me. What are you still doing there?”
Ben turned around in the chair so his back was to the woman.
“It’s a long drive,” Ben whispered. “I’m relaxing for awhile before I get back on the road.”
“Why are you whispering?”
“Is there an ashtray I can use?” The woman said.
“Who’s there, Ben?”
Ben turned back in his chair and slid his brothers coffee cup towards the woman.
“You can use this if you’d like.” Ben said, holding his hand over the mouthpiece of the phone.
“No one, I’m here by myself.”
“I just heard you talking to someone. If you’re entertaining at my place of work, I’m going to…”
“All right, sounds good.” Ben said, smiling at the woman across the desk. “Call back soon, have fun. Bye.”
“Ben! If you hang up on me I’ll…”
Ben placed the phone back on the receiver.
“Sorry about that. Clients always call at the most inconvenient times.”
The phone began ringing so Ben reached over and unplugged it from the wall.
“Now that we’re free of interruptions, how may I be of service to you?”
Sitting in his car across the street, Plastic Pete called the Boss.
“Yeah, it’s Plastic. I found her, she went into an office…right, sure thing, Boss.”
Turning off his cellular, Plastic stepped out of his car. His hand went to his hip as he crossed the street and stepped onto the sidewalk in front of the door marked: ‘Mr. Coast Private Investigator.’
“It started when my grandfather died.” The woman said.
Ben watched her take the last drag of her cigarette. He thought of asking for one, but since he didn’t smoke, he decided against it.
“It seems my grandfather owed some people money, and now I’m expected to pay.”
“So why can’t the police help?” Ben said.
“You said you wouldn’t involve the police.”
Ben leaned back and put his feet on the desk, trying to give off the air of someone who’d know how to help. The woman reached into her purse and pulled out another cigarette.
“Can I get one of those?” Ben said.
She handed him one and then leaned over the desk and lit it for him.
Ben took a deep drag like he had seen her do; he coughed violently. Once he was able to pull himself together, he looked at the woman and smiled with tears in his eyes.
“I usually smoke lights.” Ben said.
Plastic waited for the lone car to pass. He aimed his gun at the doorknob and fired.
Ben did what any normal person would do; he screamed and dove under the desk.
“The Boss wants to see you, Diane.”
“You can tell him I’ll see him when I’m ready.”
“Tough girl, huh?”
Grabbing Diane by the arm, Plastic pulled her out of the office. Once outside, he put his gun back in its holster and then grabbed his cellular: all the while keeping a firm grip on Diane.
“Yeah, I got her…yeah…what…some nobody investigator, he’s shittin’ in his pants as we speak…yeah, give me twenty minutes.”
They reached Pete’s car and Diane bit his arm as hard as she could, causing Pete to loosen his grip. She pulled away and ran back to the shot-open doorway.
Ben fumbled with the key, trying to unlock the bottom drawer of the desk. As he opened it, Diane came running in. Wrapping his fingers around the gun, Ben stood as calmly as he could and told Diane to hide in the closet. He turned the lights off and stood scarred stiff as Plastic Pete walked into the office.
“Freeze!” Ben yelled.
Pete smiled, slowly reaching for his gun.
“You willin’ to kill for this dame, or are you willin’ to die for her?”
Ben closed his eyes and pulled the trigger - impressed with his split second decision yet disappointed that the gun did nothing.
“You got the safety on, kid” Pete pointed his gun at Ben.
Diane ran out of the closet and slid a knife into Pete’s throat. As Pete’s blood hit the carpet, Ben tried to think of how he would explain the red stain to his brother.
From his knees, Pete fell to his side, holding the wound with one hand and trying to grab the gun he had dropped with the other. His fingers grazed the firearm as Diane brought the knife down again and again. The office became quiet once the bloodied man stopped moving.
Diane reached into Pete’s pocket, pulled out his cellular, and hit redial.
Ben still held the ineffective gun; he felt he needed to sit down.
“No, it’s Diane…he’s dead. Just like anyone else you send after me, understand?”
Diane tossed the cell phone out the door, letting it break on the sidewalk.
“Grab his feet,” Diane said. “We’ll put him in my car. I know a place where we can dump him.”
Ben sat behind the desk, the gun sitting in front of him.
Ben stood and walked to the feet of the dead man. The bloodstain was the size of a throw rug (Ben thought that would be the best way to cover it). Ben grabbed the feet while Diane took the hands. Together they dragged the body to Diane’s car. She unlocked the trunk and the two of them hoisted the limp body in.
“Don’t forget your gun.” Diane said, getting behind the wheel.
Ben went into the office and picked the gun up off the desk. Looking at it, he couldn’t find where the safety was.
The car stopped on the bridge that led out of town. It was late enough so that cars traveling past were few and far between. Unlocking the trunk, Diane pulled the body out, while Ben sat in the car watching her in the rearview mirror. She kicked the body under the guardrail and a few seconds later Ben heard a splash in the water below. Diane closed the trunk and got back in the car.
“My place isn’t safe.” Diane said. “Can I hire you full time, or should I drop you off back at the office? I’ll willing to pay you two-thousand dollars a day, in cash, if you stay with me.”
Ben looked at Diane as she kept her eyes fixed on the road. Under the streetlights he saw she had blood splattered on her hands.
‘My brother is going to kill me when he finds out about this.’ Ben thought.
“Of course I’ll stay with you,” Ben said, reaching into Diane’s pack of cigarettes. “I’m a private eye, it’s what I do.”
Lighting the cigarette, he inhaled and began coughing.
After ditching Diane’s car in an alley near the office, they got into Ben’s car and started the drive to his home. It was Ben’s idea that they switch cars, the point being that Diane’s enemies wouldn’t recognize them. He was proud of his decision and felt that maybe P.I. work might be a good career choice after all.
Diane pulled the knife out of her purse and wiped it off with napkins she had found in the glove compartment. Ben tried to keep his eyes on the road, but couldn’t help glancing over at Diane as she meticulously cleaned off the murder weapon. Diane rolled down her window and tossed out the knife. Keeping her window down, she lit up a smoke.
Ronnie Ransom stayed far enough behind to remain undetected as he followed Ben’s car. Boss’s orders alone would have been more than enough motivation to do the job, but with these two responsible for the death of his dear friend and associate Plastic Pete, he looked forward to snuffing them out.
He considered running them off the road but knew from past experiences that people have a strange way of surviving car accidents. In the back seat he had three guns and two hand grenades.
Ben pulled into his driveway and then turned off the car. His small house beckoned for him to enter and relax. Ben unlocked the front door of his humble abode to the sound of his phone ringing. After directing Diane to the bathroom, Ben answered the phone.
“First you answer the phone in my office after I specifically told you not to, and then you have the nerve to hang up on me.”
“Sorry, Mick, there was a bad connection. How’s the vacation going? Is the weather treating you all right?”
“The next time you go to my office, just take the fish home with you. I don’t want you hanging around, bringing girls there or whatever you were doing tonight, do you understand?”
“I didn’t bring here, she just showed up.”
As Ben said it, he wished he hadn’t.
“You didn’t open the door for a client?”
“The light was on. I didn’t want to make your business look bad.”
“You don’t know the problems these people have, Ben. Did you at least get her name and information so I can contact her when I get back?”
“Do you have any soap in here?” Diane yelled from the bathroom.
“Look under the sink.” Ben yelled back.
“Who’s that? Is that her?”
“Listen, Mick, I gotta go.”
“What have you done, Ben?”
“Nothing, I’m handling the situation.”
“What situation? Have you taken on one of my clients? Have you? For Christ’s sake, Ben, you’re a librarian!”
Diane entered the living room.
“Have a good trip. Call again real soon.”
“If you hang up on me again, I will fly back to….”
Ben hung the phone up and sat down on the couch next to Diane. The phone began ringing, so Ben turned the ringer off.
“My brother,” Ben said. “He’s always worrying about me.”
Ronnie parked his car across the street from Bens. He got out and looked around at the dark, sleeping houses that lined the street. He usually enjoyed a challenge, but, given his desire to kill these two quickly, he was satisfied to see it would be easy.
Reaching into the back seat, Ronnie grabbed a gun and the grenades.
“So how long have you been a Private eye?” Diane said, taking the tea Ben handed her.
“Oh, a couple of years now, but who’s keeping track. I guess you could say danger is the reason I do it. Danger and adventure, you know? Cause I’m not one to sit around waiting for life to happen.”
Diane picked up the romance novel that sat on the coffee table.
“I see you still find time to relax.”
“Oh, that? That belongs to an old girlfriend. I’ve been meaning to throw it out.”
Diane opened the book and flipped through the pages.
“According to this, you checked it out of the library two days ago.”
The window shattered and Ben watched as the grenade rolled to a stop in front of the couch. Diane grabbed Ben and together they ran towards the back door as the explosion ripped apart the living room.
In the backyard they were met with gunfire as Ronnie walked towards them releasing round after round. Diving over the fence into the neighbors yard, they heard the gunfire stop.
“A present from Plastic Pete.” Ronnie pulled the pin and threw the grenade over the fence.
Ben picked up the grenade that landed beside them and threw it back from whence it came. Not being able to aim properly, Ben sent the grenade hurtling towards his house. The blast caused siding and shingle to rain down upon them. Ronnie resumed firing.
“What do we do?” Ben said, bullets breaking through the wooden fence.
“Shoot him!” Diane yelled.
Ben pulled out the gun from the back of his pants and stood quickly, meeting eyes with Ronnie over the fence. Pointing the gun at Ronnie’s chest, Ben pulled the trigger: nothing happened.
Sitting back down, Ben tried to figure out how to turn the safety off.
“Give me that.” Diane said, taking the gun from Ben.
Diane stood and began firing.
The phone vibrated softly on the large glass table. Picking it up, the Boss saw it was Ronnie Ransom reporting back. He put down his cappuccino and answered the phone.
“You got it all taken care of, Ransom?”
Faint mutterings could be heard and the Boss strained to hear what Ronnie was trying to tell him.
“Do you hear that?” Diane said, putting the phone up to her ear. “That’s the second I’ve taken down tonight. You going for three, or can we call a truce?”
Diane tossed the gun over to Ben, who stood staring at his torn apart house; the gun landed at his feet.
“If you send one more after me, I’m coming after you.”
Diane dropped the phone onto the dying Ronnie Ransom and then turned to Ben.
“The cops will be here soon, let’s go.”
“I think we should wait for the cops.” Ben said.
“That’s not what I’m paying you for.”
“But my house…look at it!”
“I will reimburse any expenses, agreed? Now give me your keys, I’m driving.”
Decaf Dave finished his fifth cup of coffee as he sat watching the game on the television that hung in front of him. An overweight girl at the end of the bar smiled at him and he smiled back; exposing the few teeth he had left. The phone in his pocket rang just as he was about to go introduce himself to the robust female.
“Hey, Boss.” Decaf said. “I haven’t heard from you in awhile. I was beginning to think you’d forgotten about me.”
“Things have been going smoothly, I haven’t needed your services.”
“So I take it things aren’t going so smoothly tonight.” Decaf said, motioning the barkeep for a refill. “What can I do for you?”
“I need you to get rid of Diane.”
“I’ll do whatever you say, Boss. But I don’t like taking out one of our own.”
“Diane is no longer apart of the operation.”
“This afternoon. And so far Plastic and Ransom have been unsuccessful in neutralizing her.”
“She get the upper hand on ‘em.”
“You know you can count on me, Boss.”
Decaf downed the fresh cup of coffee in front of him, paid the barkeep, and then winked at the hefty prize that would have to wait for another night.
Diane parked Ben’s car in front of her house. Checking the rearview, she saw that no cars were creeping towards them (she knew they soon would be).
“I thought you said your place wasn’t safe.” Ben said.
“I need to get some supplies.”
Ben got out and followed Diane to the front door. Once inside, Ben noticed how sparsely decorated Diane’s house was. It looked as though she had just moved in, only having time to buy a couch and a few unmatched chairs.
Diane left Ben sitting in the living room. In her bedroom, she pulled out the bag from under her bed and opened it. Guns, plastic explosives, and (her favorite) throwing knives sat waiting to be used. She had hoped she wouldn’t have to use them again, thinking the Boss would let her go her own way after so many years of dedicated service. But paranoia runs deep in crime organizations, and Diane knew too many secrets.
After putting a gun in her ankle holster and wrapping a belt of throwing knifes under her shirt, Diane pushed the bag back under the bed and went to the living room.
Ben watched as Diane peered through a slit in the blinds and then went to the kitchen.
“Do you want some tea?” Diane said.
“I’m all right. Listen, I’ve been thinking. I don’t really believe I can be much help to you, given the situation you seem to be in. So, I think I’m just going to go home and try to assess the damage done to my house. Plus, the cops are probably wondering why there’s a dead guy in my front yard. So…”
Dianne sat down on the couch next to Ben. She blew on her tea then took a small sip.
“I need your help.” Diane said. “If you’re worried about getting paid, I could give you some cash now.”
Ben wasn’t worried about getting paid; he was worried about getting killed. As Diane crossed her legs, Ben saw the gun strapped to her ankle. The gun in the back of Ben’s pants made it uncomfortable to sit, but in no way did he want to rid himself of it.
“Can I use your phone real quick?”
“Room two-zero-two, please.”
“Just a second, sir.”
A song Ben recognized came on and he hummed along.
“This is Mr. Coast.”
“Hey, Mick, how’s the vacation going?”
In the living room, Diane took post looking through a crack in the blinds.
“How’s my vacation? I just got off the phone with a friend mine at the police station. He told me my office appears to be a murder scene, my brother’s house has been blown up, and, this one is my favorite, Ronnie Ransom is lying dead in your front yard!”
“That’s why I’m calling, I need your advice.”
“I thought you were dead! My bags are packed and I’m taking the first flight back. Go to the police station and don’t…”
“What about the client?”
“Are you still with her? Who is she?”
The phone was taken from Ben’s hand and placed on the receiver.
“He’s here.” Diane said. “Give me your gun, I’ll show you how the safety works.”
Decaf Dave sat in his car sipping coffee. When he saw Diane peek through the blinds at him sitting directly in front of her house, he held up the coffee he had brought for her and smiled. He knew she would return to her house and not run scared like the other two-bit assassins that had tried to leave. Those ones Dave had easily tracked down and erased, but Diane the Widow would be a challenge, and Decaf Dave was ready for some stimulation.
Getting out of the car, Dave carried his coffee and the one he brought for Dianne to the front door. Kicking at the door with his foot, he called out to be let in.
“I’ll shoot you through the door!” Dane shouted.
“These things are hot, open the door, would ya?”
To Ben’s surprise, Dianne unlocked the door. Dave entered and smiled at Ben as though they were old friends.
“If I‘d known you had company, I would have brought another cup.”
“Ben this is Dave, Dave this is Ben.” Dianne said, accepting the coffee and sitting down on the couch next to Ben.
“It’s nice to meet you, Ben. Any friend of Diane’s is okay in my book.”
“It’s nice to meet you, too.” Ben said.
Dave sat in the chair opposite them, sipping his coffee and looking around the room. Ben welcomed the calming personality.
“So, Diane, the Boss tells me your thinking of leavin’ us.”
“I am leaving. I can’t do this anymore, it’s starting to get to me.”
“It gets to all of us once in awhile, but that’s no reason to quit.”
Ben had no idea what was going on. All he could think to do was watch the rings glisten on Dave’s fingers.
“You won’t be talked out of it?”
“Sorry, Dave, but I’m through.”
They sat in silence finishing their drinks. When they were done, Dave and Diane stood and hugged.
“Remember that job we did together. That guy fell right into your hands.”
“They always did. That’s how I got my name.”
“I’ve got to tell you, Diane,” Dave said, walking to the door, “I’m not looking forward to doing this.”
“The choice is yours.”
Dave pulled the gun out from his pocket, but before he had a chance to fire a throwing knife buried itself deep into his neck. He fell to his knees gasping for air. As the life drained out of him, he made one last attempt at raising his gun and firing.
Diane kicked the gun out of Dave’s hand and then pushed him to the floor.
Diane drove down the highway while Ben held his brother’s gun in one hand and Decaf Dave’s bloodied gun in the other.
“I’ve got the feeling you haven’t been completely honest with me.” Ben said.
Diane rolled down the window and threw out her cigarette.
“Well then, we’re even. Because you’re definitely no Private Eye.”
“What makes you say that?”
“You’ve never fired a gun a day in your life have you?”
“Honestly?” Ben said. “I’ve never even held a gun before today.”
The car exited the highway and entered an upscale part of town. Mansions lined the sides of the streets as Diane navigated around an area Ben had never seen before. Bringing the car to a halt in front of a particularly large mansion, Diane looked in the rearview mirror and began putting on makeup.
“The money is yours after this. Stay close by me and don’t do or say anything.”
They got out of the car and walked to the fence at the end of the driveway. Diane hoisted herself up and over the fence and Ben followed. Half way across the lawn Diane stopped and motioned for Ben to crouch down.
“The window’s in back. Keep low and stay quiet.”
Ben kept close to the side of the house, following a few paces behind Diane. Both guns were tucked into his pants waistband and he wondered if Diane had reset the safeties after showing him how they worked. He feared that if she hadn’t, he would inadvertently shoot himself in the ass.
Diane peeked around to the back of the house and saw a solitary man smoking a cigarette. Reaching under her shirt she pulled out two throwing knives and sent them flying. He gasped quietly and fell to the ground; wisps of smoke rising from the holes in his neck.
Ben followed Diane around to the back of the house and saw the damage she had just done.
“Where did you learn to throw knives like that?”
“Shhh.” Diane said. “Help me get up to the window.”
The thorns on the rose bush clawed at Ben’s pants as Diane crawled up his back and onto his shoulders. With her fingers on the windows ledge, she pulled herself up and in. A moment passed and Diane stuck her head out the window.
“What are you doing?” Diane whispered down at Ben.
“What am I supposed to be doing?”
“Climb up here.”
Using the first floors windows ledge, Ben awkwardly scaled the side of the house. Once through the window he saw they were in the master bedroom. Portraits hung on the walls and the bed looked big enough to fit eight people. A silver statue of a half-naked woman caught Ben’s attention; he walked over to admire it.
“Don’t touch anything.” Diane said as she got down on her stomach and looked under the door into the hallway.
“Who lives here?”
“Shut up, I hear someone coming.”
“I don’t think you should stay her tonight, Boss. It ain’t safe.”
“You worry too much, Hearse. Its bad for your health.”
“But Boss, the Widow’s not gonna go down quietly.”
“How’s it gonna look if I let some skirt chase me out of town? Go tell High Note he can go home. I’m going to sleep, don’t bother me till morning.”
Entering his darkened bedroom, the Boss unbuttoned his shirt and draped it across the back of a chair. As he pulled back the sheets, Hearse could be heard yelling up to him from the yard below. The Boss leaned out the open window and saw High Note lying dead at Hearse’s feet.
The closet door opened and Diane walked out. She stood behind the Boss, pressing a gun against his back.
“Boss? Hey, Boss, everything all right up there?”
Hank the Hearse rushed back inside. As he started up the steps to the bedroom, Ben stepped out holding a gun in each hand. Hank stopped on the stairs and smiled up at the stranger.
“You with the Widow?”
“Maybe.” Ben said, trying to sound tough.
“You must be good then.”
“Oh, I’m good.”
Diane came down the hall behind the Boss, the gun still against his back.
“Hey, Widow.” Hearse said. “Long time no see. Who’s this, your new partner or something?”
“Shoot him.” Diane said to Ben.
Hearse reached for his gun and Ben pulled the triggers; nothing happened.
Hearse laughed and looked at Diane.
“Where’d you find this kid?”
Diane pushed the Boss forward then shot Hank the Hearse as he stood laughing.
As Diane led the Boss to the wall safe in the basement, Ben finally figured out how the gun’s safety worked.
“Sweetheart, if you think you’re going to walk away from this, you don’t know who you’re dealing with.”
Diane brought the gun up quickly and slapped the Boss across the face.
“I don’t think you remember who you’re dealing with.” Diane said. “I’ve made more money for you then anyone else, all I want now is my share.”
The Boss wiped the blood off his chin and started working at the combination.
“Since when do you need back-up, Diane? I thought you liked to work alone.”
The safe opened and Ben saw piles of cash.
“We all need some help now and again.” Diane said.
“You trust her, kid?” The Boss said to Ben. “They don’t call her the Widow for nuthin’.”
Placing her gun to the back of the Boss’s head, Diane pulled the trigger.
As Mick sat watching the door of his office being replaced, the phone on his desk began ringing.
“This is Mr. Coast, Private Investigator. How may I help you?”
“Hey, Mick, how was the trip?”
“Where are you, Ben? I’ve been worried sick.”
“Diane said I shouldn’t tell you where I am. But listen, I sent you some cash to pay for what happened to your office, so, I hope you can forgive me.”
“Are you safe?”
“Oh, yeah. I figured, since my house was wrecked, I’d travel with Diane for awhile.”
“Ben, the woman you’re with is one of the Stride Family assassins. You have got to…”
“Ben, the Boss of that family doesn’t let people just walk away. You’re in real danger.”
“The Boss is dead.” Ben said.
“How do you know that?”
“Trust me, they don’t call her the Widow for nothing. I’ll call again soon, take care.”
“If you hang up that phone …”
Ben hung up the phone as Diane handed him a drink.
“How’s your brother?” Diane said, sitting down next to Ben.
“Sometimes I don’t understand him.” Ben said, taking a sip from his drink. “He’s always worrying about me.”
Diane looked out at the sea. She was glad for the company Ben had given her, and sorry it had to come to this. Ben was a nice guy; Diane wished she had never met him.
“This is pretty strong.” Ben said, his vision blurring. “What’s in it?”
“It’s a mixture I came up with.”
The glass fell from Ben’s hand, breaking to pieces on the floor.