When I stopped bawling, there was work to do.
It should’ve frightened me that I wanted to be the one to do it, and if I’d known the depravity my own heart would reveal, I would’ve put a bullet in my head that instant.
But Valentine always said I was a hardhead.
It was raining. There was a white sheet over a red blob, and the sheet was soaked through.
“You sure about this, sir?” the cop said, standing just outside the crime tape.
I wasn’t, and he took my hesitation as an answer.
He waved over the ME. I knew him: Larson Hughes, smartest in the business.
Hughes looked up, saw me, put something away in a case, and walked over, peeling off a bloody latex glove.
“Kent.” He nodded.
“Larson. What happened.”
“Explosive of some type.”
“Thrown at her?”
“No. Found traces of it in a briefcase she was carrying.”
My heart sank.
“What color was it?”
“No, Larson, her blood. Yes, the fucking case.”
“Cuz he gave it to her,” the cop said. “There were money fragments all over the place.”
“Larson, shut this kid up.”
“You opened the door, Kent.”
“I didn’t give her that case. I paid her two days ago, and she disappeared. That’s how we worked. That’s how we always worked: I paid her, and she went away while the cops scrambled their eggs and came up with nothing.”
The cop’s jaw hardened.
“Walk away, Gilliam.” Larson advised.
Gilliam took a moment to let me feel the weight of his wrath, and walked off.
“Don’t be stupid, Kent. You’re gonna need them at some point.”
“This ain’t that point.”
Larson sucked in a breath.
“You’ve been at this awhile, so I’m gonna let it go, because I know you know better. Don’t be an asshole on this. Everyone knows what this girl did, they just can’t prove it.
“Either she met somebody better, or the whole thing was a tragic accident, and there’s nothing that’s ever gonna get proven either way.
“You know that too. Don’t’cha.”
I nodded. “You know what I have to do then, ‘don’t cha.’ ”
“If I catch you Kent, you know what I have to do.”
I nodded again.
“Too bad, Kent. Sweet kid, when she didn’t have a gun.”
“Somebody unsweetened her a long time ago, Larson. I need to find out who, and why?”
“Does it matter? Chick assassins are as commonplace now as—“
The look on my face stopped whatever he was going to say next.
He looked away, lit a cigarette. “Head back. Get outta here. I’ll see to it she’s taken care of.”
He waved and turned away.
I stood there a moment longer, looking at the white sheet soaked red, the blood and rain mingling in rivulets that sluiced down the drain in the gutter.
I understood Larson’s point; he’d known her too, before I did, in a different life, when she was a teenager. A lot had happened, and he tried to mentor her, but she wanted something more than the straight and narrow, and my other friend provided that, for awhile.
She would’ve moved on from me too, in time. Perhaps she already had someone else lined up. She never really worked for anyone; she was freelance, and handled her own affairs.
Her rep in the underground markets was impeccable. I’d been lucky to get her.
Most of my problems were gone, but not all, and none of them were good enough to get her like this.
I had to work up a list of her enemies, and her competition; there was room for overlap there, but true pros always left it at competition, and never made it personal.
Valentine had been one of those.
There was the matter of an estate, if she had one, and I decided to start there.
Someone made a ton of money if he was able to take her out, and I decided to find out whom that might be.
A niggling feeling told me I was getting into deep waters: Valentine was international: passports, money, tech, anonymous drops, first class hotels and flights. She knew the ropes, made the loopholes, and walked wires that would make other assassins quit.
She was the best, and someone had taken that away.
I wouldn’t be the only one hunting whoever it was that thought they could replace her.
They were off to a good start, but Valentine was well-liked.
Whoever you are, you better have killer legs and a sunny personality. Being a crack shot might aid your cause too. Explosives were over-reach, cowardly even; just put it down, and slink away like a vole.
She was the only one I knew her age who would get my jazz references.
The last thing I’d said to her was the opening line from a jazz standard, and she knew what to say.
That alone was cause enough to marry her, in my book.
“I’ll find them, Valentine. And when I do, they’re gonna wish I blew them up.”