September 23rd, 2010
Long, slender legs, a red dress that flowed with every step, she walked into the room, jade eyes surveying every corner of it in a glance. It was the kind of office you’d expect to see in a movie. A fancy, wooden desk that sat at the opposite end of the room, behind it a bookcase filled with books the man had probably never read. It would only be complete with a ringing phone and the strident voice of a secretary, she reckoned.
But there was no secretary, and there was no businessman sitting on the other end of the desk. What was waiting for her was a criminal, leader of an up-and-coming gang that had the underworld in a storm. He was devouring her with his gaze, each pendulum movement of her hips as she closed the distance. Next to the door one bodyguard stood, arms crossed and face like stone.
“The man of the hour.” Veronica said as she reached the desk, her fingers tapping on its surface. “Vincenzo Puccio…” Well practiced, her voice a sultry tone as it reached a near-whisper.
“Veronica Montello.” He said, his eyes anywhere but her face. Vincenzo took her hand and kissed it. “It’s a pleasure.”
“The pleasure is all mine, I assure you.” She leaned forward until their eyes met, her body against the desk. “I understand you want to… employ my services?”
“You just… name your price.” He exhaled, feeling his skin break out in goosebumps.
“Something tells me you’re not just interested in a professional relationship.” Veronica grabbed his tie and pulled him close until their faces were but inches apart. There was the tattoo of a knife on her wrist. “Unfortunately, I’m already on somebody’s payroll. Snakecharmer.”
Vincenzo was too dazed to immediately register her words. Veronica held her right hand over her wrist and the ink flowed out of the tattoo like water. It disappeared from her skin, a knife suddenly in her hand.
“Guards–!” was all Vincenzo could manage before she dug the knife into his throat, a spray of blood ejecting from the wound. She moved away from it and pulled the knife out, turning her attention to the bodyguard.
The guard had only managed to pull out his gun when the knife dug into his forehead. A sound of surprise and a small grunt of pain before he collapsed onto the floor, a small pool of blood collecting around him.
Veronica released a breath she didn’t know she had been holding. Taking another, she walked up to the guard and collected her knife, flicking the blood off it.
She looked at her watch as she walked out of the room. “Axel should have started by now. It’s time to do clean-up, then.”
There was the intermittent flicker of a cigarette in front of the gates to the mansion, smoke lazily rising up to the heavens above. He leaned against the wall, mind as blank as the cigarette between his lips. A tap on the shoulder roused him back to reality.
He had only begun to register the golden haired figure beside him before his nose exploded in a sea of blood. His head was brought against the wall, and there was darkness.
“No sleepin’ on the job.” Axel wiped the blood off his knuckles with a handkerchief and let himself into the mansion, sparing one glance to the unconscious man on the ground behind him.
The job was simple. There were four floors. Veronica would slip past Vincenzo’s armed goons and into the boss’ office easily, but once the boss was dead the thugs would get suspicious of Veronica walking without the escort. He knew that Veronica had good chances fighting her way out, but he didn’t want to risk it. The two bottom floors were his to clean up.
It was a richly decorated mansion, an open display of the Puccio family’s growing wealth. There was a staircase directly in front of him and hallways to the sides that led deeper into the first floor. Somewhere far away he could hear a running sink and the clinking of ceramic plates.
Carpet under his feet. It’d make getting around unnoticed easier. Axel crouched as he moved onto the hallway to his right, following the sound of drunken voices. From all the cursing, he guessed the men were playing poker. Turning around the corner, the voices grew nearer and nearer until he was facing a door.
Carefully, slowly, he pushed the door until he could see inside. There were five men sitting around a poker table, drunk as dukes and cursing like sailors. A candelabra hanging overhead illuminated the scene. Axel produced a knife from his pocket.
No guns. That had been Veronica’s rule for this job. One bang and the entire neighborhood would have called the police. They would never find their bodies, if that happened.
“Fellas, let me cut the cards.”
With a swing of his arm the knife cut through the air and sliced the rope that hung the candelabra. It came crashing down upon the collection of men, the room suddenly swallowed in darkness. They were too drunk, too stunned to move for a couple of seconds. It was all Axel needed. He rushed forward with steps that were muffled by the rich carpeting under his feet, executing precise slashes in the darkness.
The gurgle of blood and surprise, clutching at their throats to try and stop the life from leaving their mortal bodies. But within seconds the five men lay dead, slumped against the poker table.
A breath caught in his throat as he heard steps thundering down the hall. Quickly, he pressed against the wall beside the door. Two men, by the sound of it. As the steps neared the doorway, Axel put his leg out, catching the man who had been foolhardy enough to rush into the room.
As soon as the guard’s body hit the floor, Axel sprung from cover towards the man who had stayed in the hallway. There was a look of surprise on the guard’s face as he panicked to take aim, cold steel slipping through the soft skin of his neck, now frozen forever in death.
Axel whirled around, the guard he had tripped up recovering from his fall. He leaped and landed on his back, shooting his hands forward to grasp the guard’s arm. A sickening crack as he twisted the arm into a direction that it had never been meant to go. He grabbed his head by the hair and slammed it against the floor, another explosion of blood, the man unconscious.
Taking a deep breath, Axel moved off the unconscious guard and back into the hallway, sliding the sleeve of his coat to glance at his watch. It had been less than five minutes. As he moved upstairs, he could only hope Veronica had the same brand of luck.
Veronica stepped out of the office like a shadow. There was a long hallway that led into the main corridor of that floor, at the end of the hallway two guards that stood side by side. Hiding the knife behind her back, she stepped towards the two of them, carpet under them absorbing the noise.
“Hello, boys…” She whispered, grabbing each guard by the side of the head, smooth fingers caressing the back of their ears. “Goodnight.” And brought the two of them together like a Newton’s cradle, with an appropriate crack that rung in her ears.
The layout of that floor was rather simple. To each side of the corridor she stood in there were stairs leading back down to the third floor, which were where the bedrooms were located. Forgoing the sneaking, she ran down the corridor and down the stairs, heels clicking against the wood.
There was a guard waiting at the end of the staircase, who turned around at the sound of her running, a brief surprise displayed on his face.
“Hell’s the matter with ya’–“
A sentence left unfinished, the end of the question replaced by gargling as she cut open his throat with one slice. The man fell backwards with a loud thud, hands wrapped around his own throat. Veronica peeked around the corner and quickly darted back; another man had spotted the guard falling and rushed towards them.
She knew she wouldn’t be able to overpower the man. Looking down at the bracelet around her wrist, she took a deep breath. “Snakecharmer…” Black tendrils issued from the diamonds on the bracelet and waited, like knives poised to strike.
The man reached the stairs and took aim, spotting Veronica in an instant. But before he could squeeze the trigger, one of the black tentacles shot into the barrel of the gun. The bullet jammed in place, the gun exploded in his hand and the man was hit by a shower of hot metal. Snakecharmer’s tendrils twisted together in an instant, a shield that protected her from the shards.
Although his hand was burnt and bleeding, he drew a knife with his free hand and charged towards Veronica. She gripped her own weapon and watched his movements. They were those of an rookie – no grace, reckless and without the first hint of what balance was.
A swing to the right, a swipe to the left, so telegraphed that Veronica felt like the man was almost standing still. She weaved and dodged as if her body was made of water. Growing frustated, the man stepped forward with a thrust, like a bull that was seeing red.
There it was.
Veronica stepped to the side, raising her arm and bringing down her elbow on the man’s arm. He screamed as it was bent in two, knife falling to the ground as he dropped it. Leaping forward, in one single motion she painted the man’s clothes red as an artery was severed.
In seconds he fell to the ground beside the other man. Veronica walked away from them and towards the stairs, hips swinging from side to side.
“Amateur. I could have taken you in my sleep.”
Half an hour later they stood together on a rooftop a few blocks from the mansion. Their cigarettes flickered under the cover of night as they watched police cars race to the house.
“Pretty clean job.” He said, closing his eyes as the smoke filled him. “No fuss, no mess…”
“You think so? I’ve had a bad feeling about that job for a while now…”
“Bad feeling?” Arching an eyebrow, he glanced at her. “I thought it went off without a hitch.”
“Like it’s gonna come back to haunt us. Vincenzo was Italian. He had connections…”
“Then why did ya’ take the job?”
“Because we were getting paid six times more for this than anything Vincenzo could have offered. He had connections… but that’s it.” She turned away from him, from the mansion, walking to the other end of the rooftop.
“That’s not the only thing that’s bothering ya’.” Following her stride, he stepped into place beside her. “What is it?”
“Axel, I’ve… I found my mother.”
“…what? Ya’ did? Have you… talked ta’ her yet?”
“Somewhat. It’s not… easy, reconnecting.” She crossed her arms, looking up at the starry blanket above. “I almost wanted to hit her.”
“I can understand that. If I meet my father, I’d probably shoot the bastard.”
“But I got to know her… she wasn’t in any position to raise a child. She’s not much better, today.” She still wouldn’t face him, almost turning away.
“So you’ve decided ta’ support her. Ya’ know, if ya’ think reconnecting with your mother will make ya’ happy… what can ya’ lose?”
“Axel, I’m scared.” She finally turned to him, her jaw rigid. “I told her I worked as a model.”
“That ain’t a lie. Ya’ do model.”
“That’s not it. She doesn’t care about where the money comes from. I’m… afraid that I’m pulling her into my life. Our lives. That something will happen to her because of what we do.”
“That’s… fair.” He admitted, removing his hat to scratch the top of his head. “I won’t say that’s impossible. Criminals hold grudges. But, tell me, does having your mother in your life again make you happy?”
“It did, after a while, after I got rid of my anger. She cried when she saw me and held me close. She wouldn’t stop saying, ‘I’m sorry, I’m so sorry’.” Veronica narrowed her eyes, staring into the distance. “I forgave her, eventually. I hadn’t realized how much I missed her.”
“Then, I think it’s a risk worth taking.” As if the issue was settled, he closed his eyes, taking another long drag of his cigarette.
She extinguished her own under her heel. Veronica looked at it, almost entranced by the dying light of the cigarette while her partner’s still flickered in the darkness. Wrapping an arm around Axel’s own, she pulled herself close. “You always know what to say, hm?” A pause. “Thank you.”
“Don’t even mention it. Shouldn’t we get going?”
“We do. Let’s just… stay like this for a while.”