Disclaimer – the usual
Disclaimer – the usual. It's been a long time but I'm sure you remember.
HEY!! I'm back! I know I got a lot of flack for taking down "To Live Or To Die," but I didn't like it anymore. It was too rushed. There were some good things about it, and some stuff I'll keep – as you'll be able to see from the first chapter – but there were some flaws that I just couldn't live with, so down it came. And you'll be seeing familiar things and new things, new perspectives and old perspectives. I don't know if anybody even cares anymore. I kinda feel like I was one of the first people in this section to begin with, and I'm one of the last to leave. It's been a while, I'm a bit rusty, but when Vincent comes to visit, especially after a long absence, he's a hard muse to ignore. And I'm not talking about the gun, either. LOL
All right, this is going to move slow. And I don't know how often I'll be able to update, between work and everything, but if I get a bunch of hits and some nice reviews I may pick up the pace. Good reviews encourage the author! They also have a tendency to go to her head, so I'll try to avoid that pitfall.
Every chapter is going to be named after a song I think applies to the story. So without further ado – here we go!
Chapter One – Shadow On The Sun
Peter made his way along the beach. Vincent's home was tucked away in the edges of the thick jungle that lined the Thai beach. Songklah was his home, but he'd never been here for this long. He'd never gone this long without a job. And it worried him.
Peter never worried. It wasn't in his creed.
The sun had just set and the colors of the clouds were a brilliant, dazzling display of beauty. During the day, most everyone stayed inside, daunted by the heat and humidity. By sunset things became cooler, and the Night Market opened, and people danced and sang and drank and made love.
Vincent sat in his lounging chair, legs up, a cold drink at his side. He was dressed in shades of beige, almost to blend in with the sand around him. His eyes were covered by his expensive and custom-made sunglasses, but he knew that Peter was there. Peter saw it in the slight incline of his head.
"Have a seat," Vincent said in a conversational tone, when Peter was close enough. He did, watching the rest of the fading glory of nature.
"So how are you?" Peter asked in his muted British accent.
Vincent gave him one of his subdued grins. He didn't look at him, just continued to watch the sunset through dark lenses. "How should I be?" he replied cryptically. Then, he pushed the glasses back so that they perched above his crown of silvered brown hair, and finally gave Peter a look. "I mean, that's why you're here, isn't it? You think something is wrong."
Peter shrugged. There was no game playing with Vincent. He lived and died by manipulation and knew every single trick. Either this conversation was going to be straight up or it wasn't going to happen at all. "You know, personally, I don't care," he said. "I mean, I don't care about anything. But truth be told, Vincent, you and I are the closest thing either of us has in the world to anything even remotely resembling family. So it would just defy the basis of human nature if I didn't show you some concern."
"I'm fine," Vincent said, although it was clipped.
"Oh, yes, you're fine." Peter knew he was going where no one else dared to go. Nobody spoke to Vincent like this, if they didn't want a gun in their face, or at least a few broken ribs. "You're always fine, just like me. And I wouldn't begin to argue the point with you. However, it has been a marked two weeks since you've taken a job. And that is a break in your routine. You never go more than a week, not in the last half dozen years, without a job. So I came looking for you. Isn't that what I should have done? Isn't that what you expected?"
Vincent gave a barely perceptible nod. "So you're saying I wanted you to come here."
"Maybe you did. I would say that you're only human, but we both know you aren't." These words were spoken in a sigh, almost dismissively. No big deal. "I would really like to hear your excuse, however. I'm sure it will provide my empty life with some genuine amusement."
That did manage to get a smile from him. And a bit of a chuckle. "And thus we come to the point. You're here because you're bored."
"And your timing was perfect," Peter supplied. A pause descended between them, both waiting for the other to speak again. It was Peter who said the most dangerous thing to say. "You're still thinking about her, aren't you?"
Vincent's smile, already faded, disappeared entirely as his jaw tightened. Then he pursed his lips and gave a little jerk with his chin – a nervous gesture that Peter knew better than anyone. He was thinking of exactly the right thing to say.
"Well," and Vincent's voice was very, very careful, "it's simply good workmanship to review a job. Spot the flaws. Learn how to avoid future mistakes."
Peter rumbled in his throat. Vincent's mistake had been very bad for business. Luckily, Annie Farrell would never practice law again. She'd be lucky to walk and talk. Still, for Vincent's perfect marksmanship to have taken a dent like that meant one of two things – the silver fox was losing it, or he had been distracted.
And then the unpleasant third option. He'd done it on purpose.
"That's good, I suppose," Peter said, nonchalant. "Perhaps it will come in handy for your next job."
Vincent quirked an eyebrow. "I haven't agreed to any next job," he pointed out.
Peter felt a mild ripple of surprise. "So does that mean you're not planning on ever taking one? Vincent, if you're thinking of retiring, it would have been best to tell me."
Vincent gave a twitch of a shrug. "I'm still thinking about it."
All right, enough was enough. It was bad that the job had made the papers. The Attorney General's office in Los Angeles made so many ripples over the death of its witnesses that it had made the national news stream, and Felix Reyes-Torrena had gone from local infamy to world-wide. For Vincent to walk away now would mean he would retire in disgrace. And pride, Vincent's or his own, didn't allow that.
Furthermore, Felix was pissed. Sure, Annie was out of the picture, but she wasn't dead. And worse, ever so much worse, Calliope Fanning was alive. Vincent should have killed her, he should never have let her walk away from him with knowledge of his existence. And yet, foolishly, he'd let her live. Not out of some slip up, some mistake that could happen in situations like that, but deliberately and consciously.
"I've never in the last six years ever made you do anything you didn't want to do," Peter said, his voice friendly but firm, "but I'm afraid that I must insist that you take this next job."
"And what job is that?" He sounded bored, but Peter knew it was to cover up his annoyance.
Peter produced a plain, unmarked envelope from his jacket pocket and set it on the table beside the drink Vincent had not touched. Vincent looked down at it, and then up at Peter.
With a cocky smile, Peter asked, "Would you like to open your present or have me spoil the surprise?"
Vincent frowned at him, and then picked up the envelope. With this thumb he split the top open, reached inside, and her picture came out.
Nobody but Peter would have ever caught Vincent's reaction. But then the hit-man said, "She looks exactly the same." Under his breath, almost to himself.
Peter sighed. "Look, I, of all people, understand eccentricities. I've lived my life on them. You, however, have not, which is what makes this difficult. Felix wants you to fix your mistake. He claims he's giving you a chance. I made it clear that she was not on the list he'd given us, and he accepted that, but made it clear that if I wished to continue conducting business, he would take care of this matter. Now, personally, I don't care. He can threaten me all he likes, and if he becomes a nuisance I could easily send someone after him. I'm bigger and I have more power, and he knows it. He's gotten a bit too full of himself with this world-known-name nonsense. However, it would be foolish of me to ignore it and think I could continue with business as usual. And I hate hassles. So I told him that if your performance was questionable, I could send someone else, someone very good, to solve this matter to his satisfaction."
Vincent straightened in his chair. It made Peter feel a pang, deep in his heart. It was unusual for him to pity anyone, but Vincent was perhaps the only other human being in the world who he felt was worthy of it.
"I have not done this yet," Peter went on smoothly. "I wanted to speak with you first."
"Who would you send?" Vincent asked.
A grin quirked the corner of Peter's mouth. "Rochester."
Vincent bridled. "You can't be—"
"Vincent, you made a choice. Now I have to make mine. You didn't think your actions wouldn't have repercussions, did you? You of all people know how fates intertwine. In spite of your creed, people do notice certain things. They notice when a woman survives driving a taxi cab for a hit man, no matter how indiscernible he was, and especially when that woman has a rather sensational story. I've heard rumors of her writing a book. I'm attempting to have them investigated, see if there's something I can do, pay her off, keep her from publishing."
"That should be easy for you," Vincent said, although his tone was anxious.
"True. But there is the matter of Felix. So, I give you a choice, now. You can take this job and finish what you started. Or, you can retire. And do whatever the damn hell you please." He said this with a knowing smile.
Vincent frowned. "As in?"
Peter sighed. "Sometimes you are very thick. You can take the job, kill Calliope Fanning, and either retire or continue, your choice, with no black mark on your record. Or, you can retire now – or go rogue, if you wish to be more colorful about it – and go and save her. Or you could just do nothing, continue to sit on this beach and watch as many sunsets as you please."
Vincent didn't speak for the longest time. Peter waited, patiently, giving him time to think. More than likely, he wasn't going to get an answer today, but Vincent's life had been about making quick decisions that had to be right. It was one of the reasons he was still alive.
"Why would I want to save her?" Vincent finally said.
Peter clucked his tongue. "You let her live to begin with, Vincent. You're fortunate that I'm the only one who knows what that means. You liked her."
"Maybe, but why would I risk so much for her?"
"I don't know. But once a man shows one eccentricity, it's inevitable that he'll show more. I'm not judging you, Vincent. I would be the last one to ever do that. Whichever of these choices you make, nothing will change between you and I."
Vincent ducked his head a bit. Peter knew it was the closest he'd ever get to seeing his appreciation. Peter understood. He was not one for shows of emotion either.
"If I decide to save her," Vincent said, "you won't be angry about Rochester?"
"Of course not," Peter chuckled. "Of course, I'll also never give you a job again. Hence, the retirement. But that shouldn't be a problem, should it?"
"No," Vincent agreed. "And I guess I won't hold it against you either if he kills me."
"No," Peter agreed. "I'm going to have to tell him, however, that I offered the job to you first. So he might be expecting you. Just to make it fair. I can't let things be too easy for you, can I?"
Vincent chuckled. "No, you can't. But why Rochester? Why not Berk or Sam?"
"Because I have to make it look good," Peter said. "That, and Rochester annoyed me last week."
"Shot off his mouth about going into business for himself to a competitor of mine. He's very smart, Vincent. You'll have to kill him if you expect to ever have a moment's peace in your life again."
"Or you," Vincent pointed out. "You never cease to amaze me with your cleverness."
"It's so much easier to let the dogs finish each other off," Peter agreed.
"Is that what I am to you? A dog?"
Peter just looked at him. Vincent laughed.
All right, if you want more, anybody out there had better review! I'll wait!