“Mr. Huffman’s first name is not relevant,” the man in the black suit said, deadpan. The lyrics, I wear my sunglasses at night, ran through my mind. The dark lenses kept me from seeing what he was thinking, but his body language told the story of a man who didn’t want to be here, talking to me.
It made me smile. What can I say? I’m annoying like that.
“I can’t continue Mr. Huffman’s travel arrangements without his first name. I’m sure you know that,” I said to the bodyguard, though I kept my eyes on the man sitting on the other side of my desk.
He wore a suit that could pay the rent for my small apartment and my business for the next year, easy. Thin, silver-framed glasses graced his equally slender face, and his hands rested calmly on the top knee of his crossed legs. The only indication of nervousness was the tightening of the skin around his emerald eyes, which were vivid enough to make any jeweler jealous.
He wasn’t my usual customer. My clients were looking for cheap, family vacations, and I loved the challenge of finding the best deals within their budgets. Even save them money when possible. This guy gave me a, ‘no budget’ vibe.
“Of course.” It was the first time the man spoke since walking through my door, having let his ogre speak for him until now. His voice was surprisingly deep for someone his size. “It’s John.”
“Is it now?” I asked, skeptical.
I said this guy wasn’t my usual client. But every so often I’d get someone who’d come in, throw some money around, and expect me to do something under the table. People who used money and threats to try and bully me into doing something illegal. They were the reason I had a small revolver under my desk, in a holster mounted to the cheap wood with heavy duty Velcro. I don’t know if having it this way was illegal, though it probably was, but I figured it was the lesser of two illegals. Eh? No? Anyway, aside from my computer, it was the costliest thing I owned. I didn’t like my chances against Secret Agent Man, but what’s life without a few risks?
“It is, actually.”
I shrugged. “What can I help you with, Mr. Huffman?” I doubted either of the names were real, but I wasn’t so rude that I’d dismiss him without hearing him out.
“I need to get out of the country before some very angry people decide to do horrible things to me,” he replied calmly, as though it was just another Wednesday for him: ‘Have lunch. Meet with travel agent to flee for my life.’ Same old, same old. “I can’t utilize my usual means of travel, as I’m being watched, which has led me to you, Ms. Pagett.”
“I’m sorry, I just don’t think I can help you,” I said, in my most professional, unhelpful voice. You know the one–you’ve heard it in every voice of every customer service rep who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, help you. Though in light of his circumstances, my tone rose an octave, or two. I was used to dealers trying to get me to help smuggle their drug mules. Not millionaires on the run.
I swear the ogre behind him grumbled something about eating my firstborn, or perhaps just putting a bullet through my brain.
“Enough, Jeffrey,” Mr. Hoffman said, and held up a hand to silence the bodyguard. “I understand, Ms. Pagett. We’ll be on our way. Though I’m sure I don’t need to ask you to refrain from speaking of this meeting?” Something cold, and dare I say reptilian, slithered through his eyes.
A chill scuttled down my spine. “Of course,” I said, my voice more confident than the slight tremble in my hands.
“Good,” he replied, and stood, tugging his jacket back into place and smoothing the front of his pants. “Have a nice–”
Before he could finish his sentence, a shadow passed over my curtain-drawn window. I opened my mouth to say something, and all hell broke loose. Bullets ripped through the curtain, buzzing like angry bees whose nest had been disturbed, and tore everything in their path apart. I fell to the ground, or more accurately did an unceremonious flop onto the rough, brown berber carpet I hated. I covered my ears. The staccato fire and impact of the bullets exchanged between the unknown assailant and the ogre bodyguard were ringing with a high-pitched drone.
“Someone really is trying to kill you!” I shrieked, panic welling up in my chest like a fist. I was curled in on myself, trying to make myself a smaller target. Or would it just be easier for a single bullet to rip through more of me? Now my brain was babbling nonsense, and I wasn’t sure if I was making my chances better, or worse. I was trained to hunt down bargains on flights, not avoid bullet fire.
“Yes,” he replied, cool as a cucumber, though he did have to shout. Our faces were right next to each other, having fallen toward the same corner of my desk.
Then the gunman outside stopped, and though I hated myself for it, I hoped the bodyguard had gotten him. I’d take the shooting maniac who wasn’t actively shooting at me, over the one who considered me nothing more than collateral damage.
Then there was a soft whumph of air pressure change in the hallway, which always happened when the outside door leading to our drab, dimly-lit hallway, closed. I sucked in a breath, and scooted back to put the desk between myself and the door, not noticing if any of the debris scraped my skin.
The last thing I saw of Mr. Hoffman were his determined, cold green eyes, and the fact that he was perfectly still. I couldn’t see the bodyguard’s position from where I was, which was fine with me. Though I did send a silent, blasphemous prayer out that the killer on our side was still alive enough to kill the other killer.
I moved to the leg space beneath my desk. The holster of my gun snagged on my bun, pulling it more askew than the mayhem had already, as evidenced by the wispy, coppery brown strands tickling my nose. I went to yank my head to free my hair, when the office door creaked open, just a touch. Then, something hit the floor close to the window, and everything turned bright white, and a concussive force like a punch in the chest sent me back down to the floor. I curled in on myself, face on the ground, eyes clamped shut, and with the holster dragging on my bun after ripping free from the desk.
I don’t know how long it was before I reached up toward the gun. When I cracked open my eyes and saw what was going on in the inch or two of space between my desk and the floor, I froze in mid-movement. I couldn’t hear what was going on, as the voices were still muffled. However, Mr. Hoffman and Jeffrey had their backs to my desks, sitting in the debris that was once my office, and their hands were tied behind them.
There was one set of feet, between my desk and my door, wearing some kind of black boot. I couldn’t see anything else, and my hearing was coming back in small increments. Someone was speaking, but it was the ‘wah-wah’ of Charlie Brown’s teacher. All I knew is that the shoes did not belong to either of the suit wearing gentlemen currently tied up, and the man would probably kill me once he was done with said gentlemen.
I did the only thing I could. I reached up, oh, so slowly toward the top of my head, while holding my breath. I wanted to move faster, but I figured the bad guy’s hearing hadn’t been mangled, and if I moved too fast he’s hear me. Getting the gun out of the holster was a little trickier, but I managed without too much noise. Good thing I went for the soft holster and not the hard one.
Getting a decent shot wasn’t going to be simple. I was average on a good day, without adrenaline and fear pumping through me like racing fuel through a Formula One car. As it was, I had an inch or so of clearance, laying on my side, muscles starting to cramp, and unable to make any quick movements without getting me, or all of us, killed. No pressure.
I lined up the shot as best as I could. This is for my deposit, jerk. Then I shot the gun-toting, turn my life upside-down, asshole in his right foot. Well, I tried to, anyway. It ended up going a little high, and hitting him right above the ankle. It did make him go down, screaming, and clutching his leg, though. Mission accomplished.
In his temporary lapse of gun situational awareness, I scrambled out from under my desk, around it, and aimed the gun back on him. He was in head-to-toe black, including a ski mask, and had just started reaching for his weapon.
“Stop, or I’ll shoot you again. With my aim, you’ll be lucky if I don’t shoot something you’d rather not lose,” I said, and the moved from center mass down to his goods, and back up again.
He stilled, and though his eyes were covered by a pair of sunglasses, not too unlike the bodyguard, I could also tell from his body language that he didn’t like me too much, either. I was making friends today.
“Are you two okay?” I asked, never taking my eyes from the gunman.
“Yes,” Mr. Hoffman said. “Though I think Jeffrey’s pride is wounded more than anything.”
If he was teasing his bodyguard, he was definitely okay. Jeffrey grunted, though not in indignation, but instead from falling on his side to bring his arms in front of him. I watched out of my peripheral as he turned his back toward Mr. Hoffman, who drew a knife from a sheath concealed up Jeffrey’s sleeve. Apparently Jeffrey brings knives and guns to gunfights. Best of both worlds.
He cut through the restraints on Jeffrey’s wrists, then Jeffrey did the same for him. Sirens sounded in the distance, which either meant my hearing was back to normal, or they were close and my hearing was still shot.
“Time to go, Jeffrey,” Mr. Hoffman said once he’d stood up, and brushed off his suit again.
Jeffrey leveled the gun on the masked man in one swift move.
“Stop!” I said, and the gun swung on me.
I gulped and raised my hand. Even though I still had my gun in hand, I didn’t like my chances against Jeffrey.
“This man just tried to kill us, Ms. Pagett, and would have killed you, too,” Mr. Hoffman reasoned.
“Well, yeah, but I can’t just let you shoot him right in front of me. He’s down,” I argued, and the siren’s wailing grew louder.
“He’s probably killed before, and will kill again. I’m just doing the world a favor.”
“Do you think maybe that attitude is why someone’s trying to kill you now?” I asked hotly, losing my patience.
Mr. Hoffman pondered me for a moment. “Perhaps.” Then he waved a hand at Jeffrey. “Disable and disarm. We’ll leave him for the police.” Then Mr. Hoffman raised an eyebrow at me, as though to ask; Happy?
I nodded, and then Jeffrey walked over and kicked the man across the head. I cringed. Hopefully I didn’t just make the guy a vegetable for the rest of his life. Jeffrey disarmed him, taking the smaller weapons, but leaving the bigger one he’d used against us.
“I’m not sure if we should leave you here, or take you with us,” Mr. Hoffman said, voicing his options out loud.
“Or kill her,” Jeffrey rumbled.
Mr. Hoffman’s eyes cut over to his bodyguard. “You don’t repay someone saving your life by turning around and killing them, Jeffrey. I’d like to think I’m more civilized than that.”
I swallowed the cold lump of fear in my throat. “I-I swear I won’t talk.”
After a moment Mr. Hoffman sighed. “I don’t see how you can explain yourself out of this one, and I doubt you’re up for police interrogation. You’re going to have to come with us. If it makes you feel any better, we’ll drop you off on a resort island somewhere, while everything simmers down.”
“I hardly thing that’s necessary,” I stammered.
“Have you considered the fact the ones after me will come after you to get information?” He gestured to the man on the floor. “This was a light jab. This was nothing. They will rip you, and any family you have, apart,” he assured me.
When I considered my mother, my only family, my heart nearly stopped.
“When do we leave?” I asked, before my brain had finished processing.
An unusual Wednesday, indeed.