A/N: I'm warning you that since this story has been written by me, there are some unpleasant people engaging in ill-advised activity in this thing. There's also character death. (I've been told it's not okay to just let people find out about that after the character is dead, so I'm trying to be nicer.)
It wasn't much to look at. A small, one level house with Haint Blue outside walls, a front door that jammed whenever it rained, and a street lamp that shone right into the master bedroom at night. It was close to the train tracks, which wasn't as big of a problem as it would have been seventy years ago, but still made for a particular kind of nuisance. The neighbours had washing machines on their front lawns, and broken down Hondas in the back gardens.
But, for all its faults, it was theirs.
She looked at it, sitting in their car with both hands on the wheel, and wondered what it would feel like when he was gone.
"Come on," He said, reaching over and squeezing her shoulder, "No use sitting out here."
She smiled at him. His long blond hair was tied at the nape of his neck, like he was the last of the grunge rockers. The pendant she'd given him years ago dangled against the chest of his white t-shirt. His favourite leather jacket worn and beaten from years upon years of use. His jeans with a hole in one knee, and charms hanging from the belt loops. Charms that were souvenirs from a life spent mostly together.
What was she supposed to do without him?
"I'm scared." She said.
"Don't be scared," He scoffed, "There's nothing to be scared of. Let's go in, it's getting cold out here."
They went in. She threw her keys and purse on the table by the door, he kicked off his shoes and went straight to the refrigerator. They'd forgotten to turn off the television before they'd left, and it was babbling away in the background. Some noon hour news show talking about children's charities.
"What if I get another job?" She asked, leaning against the kitchen doorframe and watching him pop the top off a bottle of beer with the edge of the counter. He took a long swig of it, sighed, and looked her in the eye. His own eyes were brown, with a hard dark shimmer, like a cup of black coffee. It was always impossible to tell what he was thinking.
"You can't get another job," He said, "You have two jobs already, and nobody'll hire you if they can't give you any shifts."
"I could work nights."
"When would you sleep?"
"In between. I've heard about people doing that. They sleep for two hours every eight hours or something…"
He glanced at the clock on the wall. It was shaped like a red cat with slim black pupils, ticking as the tail and eyes moved back and forth. 12:45.
"I gotta get changed. I told Laurent I'd meet him out there for the afternoon." He said with a nod.
"You didn't take the whole day off?"
"Nope." He handed her the bottle, "Here. Finish this."
She slumped down into one of the chairs at their little formica table, slipped off her shoes and took a swig. The beer was so cold that it burned.
All afternoon, she sat there alone and cried.
Lunch was in a downtown restaurant she'd never been to before. It had tinted glass windows instead of front walls, so that diners could see out onto the street but nobody could see the tables inside. The linens were all starkly white, the menu came in a heavy-boarded leather book with a clean sans-serif font listing appetizers like crab-stuffed jalapeños, and steamed edamame with kosher sea salt. The cheapest main course was 13.50 - the house cheeseburger and fries.
It wasn't the kind of place she ate in very often, but she wasn't the one who'd chosen it.
She'd worn the outfit she had for job interviews. A neat black skirt, a dark blue button-up blouse, grey pantyhose and black high heels. She'd also combed her unruly red hair into something presentable. To her surprise, she managed to blend in with the other professional women sitting at tables around her.
"Something to drink?" A handsome young server dressed in all black asked. He was probably a college student. She wondered how much he was paid.
"Um, just an iced tea." She smiled at him, and continued to scan the menu.
The person she was meeting, who had chosen the restaurant and made the reservation, was late. She was nervous that she'd be stood up. If that happened, she didn't want to be left holding the bill for a nine dollar glass of pineapple juice.
Finally, a sharp and fashionable woman with mahogany hair, bright blue eyes and the body of a supermodel from the 1980's came in. Back when they had long legs and athletic curves, so they could look better in swimsuits than the average woman. She beamed a flawless smile, and the perfectly styled waves in her hair bounced a little as she made her way through the crowd, with the straps of a Prada bag resting in the crook of her elbow.
"Victoria!" The beautiful woman called brightly, waving off the hostess who was showing her to the table, "My god, you look good!"
"Heidi." Victoria said warmly, standing and giving her a hug.
"I can't believe how long it's been!" Heidi slid into the booth across from her old friend.
They had known each other since high school. Days that seemed like they were centuries ago. SpongeBob SquarePants was new then, and they'd drawn the same cards in life. But, somewhere along the way, Heidi had managed to keep scrambling upwards. Victioria just got stuck. Comfortable, maybe.
Time had slipped away, along with a handful of dreams, and it had been two years since they'd last seen one another.
"How's James?" Heidi asked.
"That's what I wanted to talk to you about, actually…" Victoria said, bracing herself by putting her palms flat on the table in front of her. Almost like she was getting ready to hold onto it for support.
"Oh, no. Bad news?" Heidi shook her head sympathetically. Every one of her emotions looked like a photograph from a print ad for diamonds.
"He's sick." Victoria began, and the waiter brought her the glass of ice tea, "Thank you."
"What kind of sick?" Heidi asked, then turned to their server, "A glass of white wine, please."
He nodded and left.
"Um," Victoria stalled. It was the first time she'd talked about it with anyone, the first time she'd had to explain it, "He has a condition called Lampington's Disease. It's a cluster of tumours in his brain. They're fatal - terminal, is what the doctors actually say."
"Oh, god," Heidi patted her friend's hand across the table, "I'm so sorry, Vicki."
"There's an operation," Victoria said, a lump forming in her throat, "There's a specialist our doctor is trying to get in touch with. He lives in this part of the country, and he's the only doctor who'll be able to perform the procedure in time. But even if he's willing to do it, we can't afford it."
"Your insurance won't cover it?"
"We don't have insurance."
"And you can't borrow the money?"
"We're already up to our eyeballs in debt," She shook her head, "And with the economy how it is, nobody wants to lend to liabilities like us. I was… I was hoping you knew somebody…"
Heidi leaned back, and looked at her old friend with narrowed eyes. Thinking of what she'd heard through the grapevine, trying to remember who was doing what and could use a girl like Victoria.
"How much do you need?"
"A lot. Eighty thousand. And that's the hospital being really generous."
She let out a low, surprised whistle.
"That's a hell of a lot."
"I'll make some calls for you. How much time does he…?"
"A month and a half."
"I'll try and find something for you. I really will."
It was three days later when the doorbell rang. Three days later when the man in the charcoal grey suit showed up at her house and introduced himself as Demetri. His hair was frosted blond, each strand as fine as silk and finger-combed into a messy, fashionable style. His skin was soft as a rose petal, in that impossibly delicate way that only ever seems to grace the appearance of dangerous men and incompetent seductresses; and his eyes were a deep shade of hazel. The murky greens and browns of a swamp.
"Heidi sent me." He explained, with a smile that curled his thin and shapely lips in an almost reptilian way, "Mind if I come in?"
Victoria didn't want to let him into her house - it felt a little like she was watching a long-legged spider walk on a birthday cake at a picnic. But she couldn't just leave him on the doorstep, especially if he knew about a chance to make some fast cash.
"Can I get you anything?" She asked, ushering him towards the dining table, "Maybe a beer?"
"Sure," Demetri shrugged, "Is the sick boyfriend around? Or is he confined to a hospital bed somewhere?"
Victoria froze, the fridge door half open. An electric jolt of panic surged through her. How much had Heidi told this guy? He shouldn't have known so much. It made her feel too vulnerable, and James was never going to be any of his business.
"He's at work." She answered, grabbing two bottles and handing him one.
"Really?" He raised an eyebrow at her, "I was under the impression he was knocking on heaven's door."
"The symptoms aren't really bad yet. Just headaches. He'll work until they drag him away from it." Just enough to get him to stop talking about it; to stop him prying into her personal life.
"What does he do?"
"Construction," She said quickly, "But that's enough about him. I think it's time you told me more about yourself."
Demetri tilted his head to the side, so that he could give her an appraising glance out of the corners of his eyes. He did it this way so that she would have no doubt that he was the one doing the evaluating, and that he was the one who was going to decide how things would or would not happen.
"Heidi said you used to be her locks expert." He said.
"You haven't done a job in awhile."
"No, I tried to make something out of myself, on the level." She shrugged; it had been about three and a half years since she'd given up her old life and her old connections. Three and a half years trying to get out from under and build her life with James.
"Wow," Demetri sneered, "You did well. You got all this and a man dying from brain cancer."
He gestured grandly to the humble home, the hand-me-down furniture. He was sitting there, at her table, in his fitted pinstripe suit that was probably Gucci or Armani or some other designer label she'd never be able to afford, and she hated him. She absolutely despised him.
"Is there a reason you came to see me? A job, maybe?" She tried to keep her temper down, but the question came out sharp. Unfriendly.
"There's a house in Magnolia - on Viewmont - with a safe inside of it," He finally twisted the cap off his beer, "The safe has some jewels in it. Some papers. And two-hundred and fifty thousand dollars in cash."
"How'd you find out what's in the safe?" Victoria asked.
"An angry former employee of the household told me about it."
"How much does she want for the tip?"
"That's not the part you have to worry about," He shook his head, almost playfully, like a child keeping a secret, "I'm willing to give you sixty thousand. Twenty for the front door, forty for cracking the safe."
"I need eighty. Heidi should have told you I need eighty."
"Beggars can't be choosers, Red."
Victoria smiled a very bitter smile, and glared at him. The eel from the darkest parts of the ocean, slithering his way into her honest life. Trying to play her weaknesses, and hoping she was some kind of idiot.
"Nobody in their right mind would do the job for less than a hundred," She told him, "You keep the jewels, you keep the papers; whoever this maid or housekeeper is gets fifty, and you get the other hundred. Somebody else cased the job, and you can't crack the safe by yourself. So why should you get anything? Just because you put the pieces together? How much do they pay middlemen these days?"
"Seventy," He offered, "Just because your house makes me feel so sad."
"I need eighty," She said, "And I want eighty."
"Fine. I'm sorry we couldn't work something out," Demetri stood up and smoothed out the jacket of his suit, "If you change your mind - if you'll do it for seventy - give me a call."
He tossed a business card down onto the table. It was dark grey on both sides, and didn't have a name or occupation listed on it. Just a phone number in engraved white text.
When he was gone, Victoria hid the card in her purse so that James wouldn't see it when he came home.
It was the kind of place they take pictures of to sell the character of a city. The kind of house nobody real ever seemed to live in, but sometimes dreamed about one day buying. A house for the wealthy. A house for the lucky. It had a roof with two large peaks on either side, and two small peaks further back between them. The front garden looked like something out of an anime, with fat little flower bushes all in bloom, and a lawn so green it might have been the gardener's job to paint it. The windows all had lead mullions, and the front door was sturdy and intricately carved.
A real estate agent would have said that the place had its own distinct personality.
By the thin light of dusk, the lamps hanging in sconces on either side of the door glowed with a lazy amber light. The door opened and two figures stepped out, a man and a woman dressed for an evening out. Probably the opera or the ballet, or something else it was impossible to get tickets for - even if you could afford them.
Victoria sat in the passenger's seat of a dark blue SUV, parked just a little further up the street than the house itself. She watched the couple walk arm-in-arm to the open garage and get inside some cheerful looking sports car. She didn't watch the car go by; she kept her gaze locked on the wing mirror next to her window, and the reflection of that lovely house.
"Okay," Demetri said from the driver's seat, "That's them gone for the night."
He turned the key in the ignition, and drove up the street without saying anything more. They had to switch vehicles, since he'd been using the SUV to watch the house a few times. At the end of the evening, he was going to take it in to have the plates changed, and to have a friend at a body shop put a nice dent in the front of it and say it had been brought in that morning if anybody asked.
In the back parking lot of a motel, they got into a beige four-door that had been rented for the week from the airport. All of these details had been planned out carefully by Demetri beforehand, all of the traffic routes mapped out and the checkpoints arranged. He was pretty good, Victoria had to admit, despite his being as likeable as an oil spill. He was clever.
It was while they were pulling back into the neighbourhood with the marked house in it that she got the first wave of nerves. Suddenly, her stomach was tight as a banker's fist. It had been a long time since she'd worked a lock. An even longer time since she'd cracked a safe. God help her, what if she couldn't do it? What if she made a mistake?
"You ready?" Demetri asked, parking in front of the driveway so that the neighbour's view of the front door would be obscured.
Victoria nodded, and they got out of the car.
He was wearing a tuxedo, like they were meeting the people who lived in the house for drinks before the show. It stood out so much that it didn't stand out. He looked like a young, cocky businessman who was making all of his money off of other people's misery. And she didn't look like herself at all.
The day before, she'd gone to Supercuts and gotten about three inches taken off of her hair. Enough so that she could smooth it down and fit it seamlessly under the blonde wig Demetri had given her for the job. People would remember her hair, he'd said, but everybody always forgot the details of a blonde.
She was wearing the dress she'd bought for a wedding the summer before. It wasn't a quarter as expensive or elegant as the tuxedo, but it was working well enough. Both of them were wearing thin latex gloves that were impossible to see in the shadows. In her hand was a little black bundle that she was holding like a clutch purse.
Inside the bundle was a set of very admirable professional lock picks.
When they got to the door, Demetri rang the bell like they were just ordinary people, waiting for their friends to answer. Nobody came to the door, which was a great relief. Victoria knew that there wasn't supposed to be anybody at the address other than the couple they'd already watched leave, but sometimes things didn't go as smoothly as planned.
She was nervous.
She didn't like that she was there, she didn't trust Demetri. But there was no other way to get the money in time.
As discussed, he pulled out a cell phone and pretended to be talking on it. Like he was surprised nobody had answered the door. While he did this little piece of theatre for the benefit of any nosy onlookers, she began to very delicately work the lock. It wasn't too hard. They were in a very nice neighbourhood, after all, in a city with fairly low robbery statistics. And the door was an authentic heritage piece, from back before the days of electronic keypads.
She was done by the time he was finished the pretence of the call.
"He says we can just go in!" Demetri said in a loud, clear voice tinged with musical cheerfulness. He seemed to enjoy his own showmanship.
Victoria rolled her eyes at him, and popped open the door. Piece of cake. They slipped inside the house, and she readjusted the lock behind her. The idea was that the couple would come home and find nothing amiss. She and Demetri would slip out the back, making as little disruption as possible and leaving that door unlocked. People often forgot to lock the back door, so it wouldn't seem terribly odd. Then, not noticing anything to prompt them to examine the safe, the couple would be less likely to examine it for awhile. It could be days, maybe even months, before they realized that they'd been robbed.
By then, James would have had his surgery.
"It's down here, in the living room. Behind the painting of a sailboat." Demetri said, leading her through the hallways. He moved like he'd never been in the house before, but like someone had done a very thorough job of describing things to him.
The painting of a sailboat turned out to be a very nice print of Rembrant's Storm on the Sea of Galilee, hanging over an art nouveau style fireplace.
"The lamps are on." Victoria noticed, nodding to two Tiffany glass affairs. On standing on the floor, the other resting on an end table beside a sofa.
"People do that sometimes," Demetri shrugged, "When they go out for a long evening. They think it makes the place look occupied. They're hoping to discourage thieves."
He swung the painting to one side, and smiled with satisfaction at the cold metal safe front that greeted him.
"Found you." He smirked, and patted the front of it.
It was a burnished gold colour, with a chrome stripe across the front of it, where the crank handle and combination lock sat like innocent children waiting for a playmate. It was a safe that was chosen more to protect items in case of a house fire, less to stop burglary. They couldn't have been more fortunate if Victoria had picked out which kind she was most likely to crack.
"Think you can do it?" Demetri asked her, backing away so she could get a better look at the mechanics of the thing.
She could do it blindfolded, with one hand behind her back.
"It's a tough one," She said, "Looks like four, maybe five bolts. Probably made out of an armoured composite. Could be tricky."
"Uh-huh?" He raised a skeptical eyebrow at her, "You're talking eighty thousand worth of tricky, aren't you?"
"Maybe," She smiled, "How badly do you want this thing opened?"
"I can tell that you and Heidi used to be close. You're both the same kind of bitch," He sneered, "Fine. Eighty. If you get it open in less than half an hour."
Twenty-three minutes later, Victoria swung the little metal door open. The inside of the safe was lined with something that was like very soft carpet, and there was a small shelf on which rested a few sealed manila envelopes and four velvet snap-case boxes - no doubt holding some very fine heirloom jewellery. On the bottom of the safe was a neat stack of money.
It was all in hundreds, and it didn't look half as impressive as it would have in a blockbuster movie. Ten straps of bills. Just sitting there. More money than she'd ever seen in person in her life.
"Alright." Demetri said, pulling a reusable shopping bag from his back pocket. It was one of the collapsible ones that folded into a little package with a closure like the kind on umbrellas. Hardly the kind of thing you'd expect to see somebody dumping the contents of a safe into, but there was something to be said for function over form.
"Which way is the back door?" Victoria asked, looking at the two hallways that led out of the living room.
"There." Demetri nodded towards the darker of the two paths. He closed the safe carefully, and put the painting back into place. Simple enough.
Victoria smiled. It was a smile of relief, the first positive emotion she'd felt in a long time. Finally, she let some feelings of hope drift her way and stay awhile. Her heart felt a little lighter, looking at that bag in Demetri's hand.
Then it all went to hell.
The first sound was a soft click. The second sound was a loud clack, and then a sort of low creak that always accompanies the opening of a heavy door. A conversation between a two voices drifted into the living room and froze Victoria and Demetri in place.
Wide-eyed, they stared at one another. Waiting.
"…can't believe somebody just parked there. Right in front of our steps!" A man's voice was saying. It was an easy-going voice that sounded more casually annoyed than concerned.
Demetri pointed towards the hallway that led to the back door. Slowly, carefully, as quietly as she could, Victoria began to make her way out of the living room. The voices kept talking - unaware of the two thieves in their midst.
"They probably didn't see the steps." A woman's voice said in soothing tones.
"It's the third time it's happened this week!" The man complained.
"Well, it's a different car this time…"
"I'm going to write a note and stick it on their windshield."
"Alright, but be quick. As soon as I grab those tickets, we're out of here. If we get there late, they won't let us in until intermission."
There was a sound of footsteps on the stairs going up to the second floor.
Victoria made it into the shadows of the hallway. She was on the kitchen floor, a cold tile it was difficult to walk along without making any noise. She was sure that Demetri was making his way along behind her, but she was nervous to look over her shoulder to check. Any noise might be suddenly too loud.
"Did you want these lights on?" The man's voice called loudly, coming towards the living room. There was a pause, and no answer from upstairs.
"Hey," He called again louder, "Did you want to leave these lights on?"
When there was no answer from the woman's voice, he made an irritated noise in the back of his throat and breezed into the living room. Where he found himself face to face with Demetri.
"Who are you?" The man demanded, very calmly given the circumstances.
Victoria turned slowly to face them. The clean-cut fair-haired man of wealth, standing on the edge of the doorway. The soft light of the stained glass lamps spilling towards him in a triangle. And Demetri, in the fullness of that light, his back to Victoria. Both his arms bent at the elbows.
She couldn't see his hands.
"What are you…?" The man in the doorway asked, with a nervous tremor. He didn't get to finish the question. He certainly didn't get to know the answer.
Two shots tore through the front of his clean white shirt, marking it with widening pools of red. He'd crumpled onto the floor at impact. It all took only a fraction of a second.
"Quick," Demetri whispered harshly, his hands suddenly ushering Victoria towards that back exit, towards escape, "Before the wife comes down and identifies us."
Time blurred itself after that. She knew they'd moved silently along the back wall of the house, she remembered that they didn't even pause when they heard the wail of despair and horror from inside the house, they got to the car and Demetri drove.
Once they were out of Magnolia, he began hitting the steering wheel, over and over with the palm of his gloved hand.
"Shit," He spat venomously, "Damn it. I should have shot the wife. She saw the car. No, no. It'll be fine. It'll be fine. She couldn't have seen the plates. The plates are all that matter. And she didn't see us."
He hit the steering wheel again in a burst of frustration.
"Goddamn it!" He shouted.
Victoria sat beside him. Numb.
Demetri parked the beige car so that the SUV would block any view of it either from people driving by or from people walking along the parking lot. His hand shook as he turned the key in the motel door, the shopping bag swinging in his free hand. The gun back in the pocket where Victoria had never realized it to be.
It was a square, grey room with curtains in a burgundy and cream ikat print that had never been in style. The bedspread matched. There was a television that had probably been bought at a Costco, a small bathroom that smelled like recent disinfectant, and a kitchen area dominated mostly by a microwave. Whoever was in the next room was having a nice, cozy party - complete with the pounding baseline of a stereo turned up to full blast.
"Shut the drapes." Demetri said, as soon as the door was closed behind them.
He tossed the bag onto the bed, and laid the gun on top of the television set. He pulled off the latex gloves, and started to change out of his jacket and bow tie. There was a duffel bag of other clothes next to the bathroom door.
Victoria put her back flat against the wall and slumped down until she sat on the floor. Finally, she started to breathe again. What exactly had happened back there? How could it all have gone so wrong so quickly?
"Are you going to go to pieces now?" Demetri asked, unbuttoning the top few buttons of his shirt.
"You didn't have to shoot him." She said, shaking her head.
"You know I did. He saw us. He wasn't going to forget our faces, or let us leave. I had no choice."
"Why do you even have that?" She nodded to the small black gun, sitting like a wallet or a set of keys tossed into the blandness of the room.
"I always carry that," Demetri shrugged, he sat on the edge of the bed across from where she was, "But now, I think you realize, we need to talk."
"I won't say anything to anybody." Victoria told him.
"Of course you won't, you're an accessory to murder now," He smiled that reptilian smile of his, "No, I want to talk about our future. See, I liked the way you got that safe open. I thought it was smooth. And you're quick, and just a little vicious. That's a good match for me. I think we should work together again."
Victoria looked at him, stunned.
"No," She shook her head, "I'm done."
"I don't think you are," Demetri replied, "In fact, I think you're going to do whatever I want you to. Remember, all I have to do is give the police an anonymous tip about your involvement in that tragic killing…"
"You wouldn't do that. You know as soon as they brought me in, I'd turn over on you. No regrets."
"By the time they brought you in, I'd be far away from here. With a new name and a new life. I can leave the city - there's nothing here for me - but you can't. Your boyfriend is here, his doctors are here, and after his surgery, you're going to be the only one to take care of him. You can't leave. You built something here."
"You son of a bitch." Victoria said.
Demetri seemed amused.
"Did you really think you could walk back into this life, take what you needed, and walk back out?"
"I should go to the police myself," She scoffed, "They'd cut me a deal. I'm sure they've been looking for you for a long time, I bet you have all sorts of skeletons in your closet."
He stood up and strolled towards the television. Very casually, he picked up the gun and pointed it at Victoria.
"I don't like to be threatened," He said, "So remember to play nice with me."
"I don't like to be threatened either," She stood up, her voice tired and her muscles weary, "So why don't you stop trying to scare me and put that stupid thing away."
"I don't think I will," He cocked his head to one side, examining her, "I think I could get away with this. Then I'd get to keep your goddamn eighty thousand."
At that, she lunged at him. It was reckless and foolish, but it caught him completely by surprise. She pushed into him with all of her weight, grabbing the arm holding the gun and twisting it away from her.
She was on the floor, on top of Demetri.
He wasn't moving.
She opened her eyes and lifted herself off of him. The gun was resting in his half-open hand, his arm still twisted at the elbow. His eyes were wide, vacant and glassy. During the struggle, he had pulled the trigger. The bullet had gone into his right cheek, and gone out the back of his head.
Victoria waited, kneeling by the corpse. In a few moments, somebody would come knocking on the door. And then she would have nothing.
But the only sound was the baseline of the music next door.
She stood up. Her hands were still in the latex gloves. None of her fingerprints were on anything in the room. Demetri had fallen as though he'd slipped off the bed. He looked like he'd shot himself.
He looked like he'd shot himself.
Victoria scrambled to try and complete the scene. She pulled the jewels out of their cases and flushed them down the toilet in a clump. It clogged, as she was hoping. She dropped a couple of crumpled hundred dollars bills into the slightly overflowing water of the bowl. She made certain to leave the light on and the bathroom door open. Then she pulled the pages out of the document envelopes and tore them into shreds, and stuffed the shreds into the waste basket in the kitchen. Make it look like he was panicking, she reminded herself as she went, make it look like he was overwhelmed. Like he wanted to get rid of everything, trying to make sure there was no evidence to tie him to the crime.
She grabbed the rest of the money, and she went to the duffle bag of clothes Demetri had brought. There were three t-shirts and two pairs of jeans. They'd probably be baggy on her, but it was better than spending the whole night in an evening dress. She bundled the money in one of the shirts and a pair of the pants. Then she fished around in Demetri's pocket for his key ring.
She took the key to the SUV off of it, and put the rest of the keys on top of the bedside table.
Satisfied that she'd done everything she needed to, and that she'd left no traces of her own presence, she headed into the night.
She drank the vodka neat. The bartender poured it from a bottle with a Polish label. She liked it better than the vodka she bought and kept in the freezer at home, but she didn't have enough of her mind to ask what kind it was. The plan was to get drunk enough to need a cab ride home. Then the dark blue SUV outside would get towed, and nobody would ever go to pick it up.
She sat at the bar, in a grey t-shirt and jeans that didn't fit very well, her loose red hair a scruffy mess. The blonde wig had been thrown into a trash can outside of a 24-hour McDonald's. That was the parking lot where she'd changed clothes. She'd gone inside and asked for their largest brown paper bag.
The bag was sitting on the barstool beside her, the top of it rolled down tightly. Inside was her dress, wrapped around a little under two-hundred and fifty thousand dollars, and her lock picks.
There was a television in the corner across from her, one that usually showed football games or boxing matches. The news was on just then. A woman in a very nice coat with perfectly smooth hair stood in front of yellow police tape that stretched across a driveway. It was a driveway Victoria recognized.
"Turn that up, will you?" She asked the bartender, and nodded towards the screen.
"Huh?" He looked up to see what the story was, "Yeah. Sure."
The little green bar appeared on the bottom of the screen and got fuller and fuller as the reporter's voice got louder and clearer.
"…Police do have a suspect," The reporter explained, gesturing with a handful of paper that showed up bright white under the camera's lights, "The victim described a man in his early or mid-twenties, and a police artist is working up a sketch. It's a little tricky, as the victim gave the description to his wife shortly before he died. So we won't know, ultimately, how accurate that sketch will be. But again, police are asking for anybody's help. They're looking for a man driving a beige sedan, wearing a tuxedo, brown hair, probably about five-foot-eleven or six-feet tall…"
"That's enough," Victoria said, "You can turn down the volume again."
"Sure." The bartender nodded, and seemed to be waiting for some explanation about why she wanted to hear that story in the first place.
"I used to know somebody who lived next door to that house." She lied, and drained her small thin glass.
"It's a pretty memorable looking house." The bartender nodded.
James was in bed when she got home, but that was to be expected. She'd told him that she was covering somebody's night shift to pick up extra hours. He didn't suspect anything strange. He thought she'd gotten her hair cut so that it was easier to manage while she was taking care of him.
"Hey," He groaned sleepily as she tiptoed into the bedroom, "I've got news for you."
"I'm beat, baby. Can it wait until morning?" She answered, not turning the light on and grabbing her nightdress from out of the top drawer.
"Yeah." He mumbled, and went back to sleep straight away.
She sighed relief.
In their bathroom, she changed into her own things and started to feel normal again. Like Demetri had been wrong all along. Maybe she could just step in and out of lives. Maybe she was lucky. She washed her face and her hands, and then her arms all the way up to her elbows. The first thing the next morning, she decided, she would take a shower.
She hid the money in the pull-out drawer underneath the dryer. It was for boxes of fabric softener or something, but she never put anything in it. James wouldn't look there.
She would tell him she managed to get a loan from some place.
Very quietly, she snuck out of the kitchen door and threw the clothes she'd taken from Demetri's bag into the big trash can. She hid them underneath a garbage bag that was already in there. After some consideration, she put her dress in there as well. She didn't think she could ever wear it again.
When she finally crawled into bed, she was so exhausted, she fell asleep right away.
Morning rolled around with the beeping of the alarm, and she shut it off with an automatic sweep of her arm. She was still exhausted, but for one blissful moment, she had forgotten everything that had happened. It was a morning like any other. Then it all came flooding back to her, and she sat bolt right up in bed.
"Remember something?" James asked from beside her.
"Huh?" For a second, she was worried that he was asking her if she'd been stricken with a sudden recollection of the night before. A flash of the blood running out of Demetri's head, or the way the wealthy man had fallen backwards as the second bullet tore into him.
Then she realized he was asking the simple question he usually asked when she made a sudden movement. She was always forgetting to put things in places or shut things off, and some mornings she'd sit bolt right up like she'd just done and go and deal with them.
To him, life moving along just like it always did. To him, nothing out of the ordinary had happened the night before.
"Uh-uh," She mumbled, "I thought I did, but it's okay. What do you want for breakfast?"
"Whatever's fine." He answered, and rolled back over.
She made scrambled eggs and toast. She didn't want to watch the morning news like she normally did, so she left the television off. James switched it on as he walked past it to the bathroom. It came to life with a snap, the sound arriving before the picture.
"…suspected in the murder of West Seattle resident Carlisle Cullen last night," A voice-over was saying, as a shot panned across the dingy doors of an all-too-familiar motel, "He was found here early this morning by cleaning staff. Right now, police believe that he committed suicide following the failed robbery that took Dr. Cullen's life. He seems to have destroyed many of the valuables taken from the Cullen home, including the sum of…"
Victoria switched it off.
It had worked. The police didn't seem to have any idea that a second person was even involved. As far as they knew, it was just Demetri. The victim had only seen Demetri, which made his suicide all the more plausible.
She could almost laugh.
"Mmm," James grabbed a piece of toast and bit into it, as he plunked down across the table for her, "No TV this morning?"
"Sick of hearing people talk." She answered.
"Well, maybe you'll like this. They got a hold of the specialist for me, I've got an appointment with him Tuesday morning…"
"Baby, that's great," Victoria beamed, tears welling in her eyes, "Because I think I know somebody we can borrow the money from!"
James smiled rakishly and shook his head.
"That's the best part," He said, "The doctor says he'll do it for free. He's a real humanitarian they say, but I think he just wants to get into a medical journal for it. Name's Dr. Cullen. I got his number, put it up on the fridge."
Victoria's heart stopped.
"Dr… Cullen?" She asked, "What's his first name?"
"Can't remember," James said, digging into his scrambled eggs, "Something fancy. The kind of thing that gets you beat up unless you go to private school."
He snapped his fingers and smiled.
"That's it! You don't know him, do you?"
"No," She answered with a dry and quivering voice, "No, I don't know him. But I think I heard about him once."
The tears that were waiting finally fell, though not from the joy or relief that had put them there. She put her head against the cold, flat surface of the table and she sobbed. Primal wails from deep inside her. Sounds she didn't even know she could make.
James reached out and rubbed her back in slow soft circles. He asked her what was wrong, but she couldn't tell him.
She just sat there and cried.
A/N: Well, that didn't work out the way she was hoping it would. But poor Carlisle! I guess I must've decided he was getting off too easily, living through most of my stories - and with no moral irony or twist endings to bother him either. Oh well. Guess you can't win 'em all.
Anyway, if you made it all the way to the end you might feel inclined to leave me a review. I would like you to know that I really enjoy getting reviews. Good ones and bad ones.