Lita turned the corner onto Mission Street. One hand clutched the lapels of her trench coat closed – her useless attempt to block out the wind. The other fingered the car keys in her pocket. She’d parked her silver Saab two blocks away and walked the rest. It wasn’t necessary. Anyone she knew wouldn’t set foot on Mission Street and definitely not at 10 p.m. on a school night. Lita wouldn’t be running into anyone from her garden club or Langston Ladies Who Lunch group. But still, considering everything, it was better to be cautious.
She came upon Mission Bar faster than she’d expected. Nerves had added extra fire to her steps. It was located right where he’d directed; dead center of the block, hugged on either side by a pawn shop and jewelry store that looked as though they had gone out of business.
“The bar behind bars.”
It was a silly thing to say, especially aloud, with no one around and Lita giggled as soon as the words left her mouth. The giggles, too, were a side effect of nerves. The bar’s moniker was spelled out in light bulbs across its only window and lit in red from below. The window, and the black steel door, was behind wrought iron bars. Lita hoped they weren’t a sign of things to come and went inside.
“What I like to do is, get a schedule. I like to know where the project goes every day. If the project eats lunch at the little Greek deli on the corner every Thursday, I need to know. If the project hits the gym every day after work, I need to know. If the project is screwing his secretary every Tuesday and Friday on his lunch break, I need to know.”
He kept referring to her husband as “the project” and for some reason, this annoyed Lita.
“You know, his name is…”
“I know what his name is.”
Blue eyes met her brown eyes and she knew better than to argue further.
“Well, Ti…the project… does go to the gym, but not every day. Monday and Wednesday he plays racquetball at The Phoenix Club. He runs at a track near the house every morning. Around 5 a.m. For about an hour. Um… oh, the third Friday of every month he plays poker at his boss’ house. Shouldn’t you write this down or something?”
“I told you. Nothing in writing. I got it. Keep going.”
Before she could continue their waitress returned.
“Can I freshen that up for ya?”
Lita had ordered a club soda and it remained untouched on the wooden table tagged by previous patrons with delightful phrases like “Fuck Da World” and “Pussy Eater.” The waitress wasn’t talking to her. She had her heavily-lined eyes on him and his empty glass. He nodded and the waitress sashayed away to get another of whatever he’d ordered before Lita arrived.
The bar was relatively empty. Two men sat at the bar drinking and talking quietly. A couple that looked barely old enough to be in a bar and out past sundown whispered over their drinks. It seemed as if everyone were plotting. The air was thick with cigarette smoke and secrets. The perfect place to plan killing my husband, Lita thought.
Well, not Lita directly. The actual act would be carried out by her companion. She watched him as he watched the waitress. He could have been straight out of central casting if the role called for a math teacher. Close haircut, clean shaven, with wire-rimmed glasses, he reminded Lita of her pharmacist.
“You know, this wouldn’t be necessary except that if we divorce I get nothing. Nothing. And…”
“You don’t have to explain because I really don’t care. “
Lita wanted to explain. For some reason, she wanted this man who killed for money to know that she had been backed into a corner, her options taken from her almost the moment she’d said, “I do.” A divorce would leave her with nothing because she’d signed things back when she was young and in love. It would be a lot simpler if he just died. But 45-year-old men that ran, played racquetball, and monitored their cholesterol level like most men followed football scores, didn’t just die.
“The schedule. Is that everything?”
“What? Oh. Yes. I think so. Wait. No. He also goes to Jeremy’s soccer games every Sunday afternoon.”
His son. The one kink in her plan. He was fifteen and with her husband gone, she’d be stuck raising the little snot for another three years at least. He had nowhere to go. Lita supposed it was a small inconvenience considering how much money she stood to gain.
He was watching her from across the table. Lost in thought, she absently traced one of the words carved into the table top with her finger.
“Do I need to take care of him as well?”
Lita stopped tracing and met his gaze. Her lips formed a flash of a smile before she remembered that she should probably look thoroughly outraged, repulsed, or offended. Then she remembered his words from a few moments before and allowed the smile to remain.
I really don’t care.
It was like discovering that your very expensive department store purchase came with a free gift bag, she thought.
“Of course, it would be extra.”
Well, maybe not free.
“How much extra?”
“Half the original fee.”
Lita didn’t have it. She’d been squirreling away money for months just to afford his fee for the first… project. To come up with the rest, she’d have to sell something, or several things, quickly. Something that wouldn’t be missed. Perhaps, jewelry?
Still watching her he said, “Don’t worry about it. You have a little time to make up your mind.”
“When would you, uh, complete the project?”
The waitress returned with his drink. They remained quiet as she placed it in front of him.
“Anything else I can do for ya?”
Without looking at her, he shook his head. She left with a little less sass in her sashay.
“I’ve found, in my experience, that it’s best you don’t know. It lends credibility if your shock seems genuine.”
In his experience. Of course, he’d done it before. It’s how Lita had found him. Fellow Langston Country Club member, and neighbor, Helen Styles was currently on her second world cruise since her husband had “just died.”
He continued. “If you’re sure you’d like to proceed, we’ll meet once more for payment. And then you won’t see me ever again.”
This made sense to Lita. After the job was done, any scenario that involved them meeting again could only be bad… for her.
“Do you still have the prepaid phone I told you to get?”
“Good. I’ll be in touch. Have the money before I call. Cash.”
He finished his drink in one gulp and left the table. Lita watched him walk to the exit without acknowledging anyone he passed. He seemed more out of place than she in his tweed jacket and faded jeans.
Lita prepared to leave; wrapping her dark tresses in the silk scarf she hoped would make her unrecognizable. She’d considered dark sunglasses, but decided it would be overkill. She slipped on the trench coat, reaching into her pocket for cash to pay the tab.
“Don’t bother. He paid before you got here. Tip and all.” The waitress began to clear the table.
Of course he had, Lita thought.
Lita retraced her steps back to the car. The whole way she made plans. She spent money she didn’t yet have and relished in the freedom she saw just at her fingertips. She’d keep the cell phone on her at all times and fill her schedule with as many engagements as she could over the next few weeks. She wanted to have viable alibis just in case.
She also made plans to return to Mission Street. Next time, though, she’d visit the pawn shop and see if she couldn’t raise the fifty percent.