By Nikki Dolson

It’s raining in Denver when I arrive, a good sign. Bad weather means less chance of being identified. The guy I’m looking for, Joe, is checked in at the Liberty Motel. I watch him leave his room and walk down the street to the Roseweed Bar. I follow and park my car. I spend long minutes checking the parking lot.

This assignment would be my third in as many years. Simon, my boss, had wanted to send me here with a partner. I told him I didn’t need training wheels anymore besides, hadn’t I killed and gotten away clean before? To his credit, he didn’t mention that he helped me get away the first time. It wouldn’t be out of character for him to send someone to follow me. Cars are lined up, but no one lingers out here in the rain. I run into the bar.

Music blares but it can't overwhelm the rumble of conversation and laughter. I shake the rain off my coat and hair. I spot Joe across the room at the jukebox. I haven’t decided how I am going to complete my task this evening, but I decide that watching him for a little while might give me an idea. I grab a beer from the bar and meander his direction. My intention is to stake out a booth or corner away from the bulk of the party crowd, but as I pass him, he glances up, does a double take at me and grins. The look on his face stops me dead. It’s not recognition I see, but blatant interest…in me.

“Hello.” He turns his body my direction and leans against the machine. He looks me over quickly but then his gaze falls back on my face and stays there. The picture I have been provided is of an unremarkable man grinning awkwardly at the camera. The man at the jukebox is handsome. He is one of those people that a freeze frame moment doesn’t do justice to.

“Hi.” I haven’t felt shy in ages but his lingering gaze balls up my confidence and tosses it in the garbage. He wants to buy me a drink. He leads me to a booth in the back and we sit, trade names, and talk about nothing while assessing each other.

When Simon had given me the vitals --name and place of residence-- of the second man I killed, I had asked why. Why this man? Did he hurt someone? Did he owe someone? Simon just looked at me then reached across his desk and called into his office my teacher of all things violent, Frank Joyce. Frank was a big man, six-four and weighed in at a respectable two-fifty. He lumbered in and hovered over us both, cracking his knuckles. I flinched and touched my leg where a bruise served as my reminder from our last training session. In an old warehouse, Frank tossed me around like a rag-doll four days a week, ostensibly to toughen me up but more likely to demonstrate why I shouldn’t piss him off.

“She wants to know why.” Simon said to him. Frank grunted as he reached for the paper that contained the vitals. I watched his eyes as they flicked over the information then he crumpled it up and tossed it back on Simon’s desk.

“Because Simon says. Because we have been paid. Because like your mama told you all your baby years, because. These people don’t want to be questioned about their reasons.”

Frank went with me on that assignment watching the street as I slipped into an unsuspecting man’s house and killed him in his sleep. After we got back, he said: “It’s not honest work. But nothing is anymore.” He points a meaty finger in my face to make a point, “You screw up out there, it comes back on me. I trained you. Don’t ask questions. Don’t slip-up. They kill people who ask too many questions. I would hate to see you dead.” The look he gave me said that it would be him to silence me if I asked any more questions. So I don’t any more.

But I wonder what Joe has done to deserve a death sentence. Nothing about him stands out. He rides in the rodeo circuit. A native Texan, an all-American boy: light brown eyes, sandy blonde hair, sideways smile and dimples. Dimples like that should be a crime. His arms are clean, so drugs are probably out though shooting up could be done other places, and I felt a strong need to inspect those places. He has money though he doesn’t seem to be to flush with cash, or strapped for it either. So he probably doesn’t owe any. He looks healthy. He looks good, too good. It’s too bad someone wants him dead. Too bad for him because he’s buying me a drink and probably thinks he’s gonna get laid tonight. Too bad for me because I’ve let him buy me this drink and I am seriously considering what it would be like to have him in my bed tonight. In my head, I can hear Frank cracking his knuckles in anger. I push the sound away and refocus on my cowboy.

He grins at me and fetches two shots of tequila. When he returns, he takes my hand and licks a wet stripe on it. I laugh and shiver. This should not be turning me on--I need a boyfriend or I need to remember to pack my vibrator. He sprinkles salt on my hand and slides my shot to me. Normally, I take my tequila straight, no salt, and no chaser but after watching him lick my hand, I reconsider the whole idea of licking and drinking. Possibilities of drinking now and licking later run unbidden through my mind. I think I have discovered a weakness for cowboys, or at least for Texas boys: all white smiles, weathered faces, lean bodies and jeans, just tight enough. Together we down our shots and follow with the lime chaser. The rest of the drinks go down just as easy and I don’t mind when he kisses me softly.

I say, “Thanks Texas Joe.” Then I slip my hand behind his head and pull him in for another kiss.

“Aren’t you something?” he says, grinning.

“Why yes, I am.” I giggle. I am so tilted. Bad, Laura, bad.

Worse, we go back to his hotel room.

The rain has gone from being a light shower to an ark-worthy deluge during our time in the bar and we are soaked by the time we make it back to his room. We take our shoes off and I peel out of my wet coat and drop it next to my purse on the floor. Foreplay. That is a wonderful word and even better in action. In between the kissing, he asks what I do. I strip his shirt off him.

“Tonight, it’s you,” I say and he kisses me hard.

“I bet,” he looks at me closely, “you are a teacher. High school. You drive all the teenage boys wild.” Ha. He’s all talk, but his muscles are wonderfully defined so he is forgiven. He leans against me, I fall back against the mattress, and he begins to strip me. Slowly. Pulling my t-shirt off and dragging it along my chest and down my thighs. Then he unbuckles my belt making some comment on the size of it. It’s heavy and brass colored. I don’t mention it’s my favorite belt because of that buckle. Heavy and painful, one or two men have woken up to the aftermath of that buckle. He slides it off me and I hear it drop to the floor. Then my jeans come down. He trails his fingers lightly down my legs and then back over my stomach to my bra where he draws lazy figure eights over the lace and between my breasts.

There’s an easiness here in this bed that I haven’t known before. All the others have been hurried and dominating, but Texas Joe takes his time, and I enjoy his attention.

“Stay here a second.”

Where am I going to go? He crosses the room and rummages in his suitcase. I admire his ass. He produces two silk scarves and returns to me smiling. I smile uncertainly back at him. I scoot to the head of the bed, suddenly feeling too exposed in my underwear.

He crawls up next to me and strokes my wrist. “Worry not, Ma’am. They’re just for fun.”

I let him encircle one wrist with the silk. He straddles my legs and kisses me while he wraps the silk around a corner of the headboard. He reaches for the other wrist.

“One is enough I think.” I don’t want to spoil this potential fun but a wave of uneasiness has shot through me. “You know, I need to use the bathroom.”

And the all-American boy’s face descends from angel to demon.

“No.” And he slaps me hard across the face. I taste blood where my teeth have cut my lip. He leans into my face “You’re not going anywhere. We’re gonna have some fun.”

I blink. Tears have sprung up and leave trails down my cheeks. I lean my head back as if resigning myself to this fate. He tastes my tears with a wide swipe of his tongue. Steeling myself for the coming pain, I whip my head to the side, catching his face with the side of my head. He grunts in surprise. I head butt him again, catching his nose with the hardest part of my skull. The cartilage gives way and I feel a warm spurt across my chest. He is reeling back and I buck like the bulls he rides. Fuck eight seconds, he is on the ground bleeding in three. The roar I hear terrifies me but then I realize it's me yelling like that. I yank at the scarf, trying to free my hand. Lucky for me he hasn’t had the chance to tighten it. I grab my belt wrap the leather around my hand and crack him across his face and head with it. Then I run for my clothes. He grabs for my ankle. I crawl away from him. His face is a bloody mess.

“Stupid fucking whore. Just like the others.” Blood spits my direction with every syllable.

He said others. Oh, fuck me. I can guess now why he was supposed to die. Nothing like a good-looking rapist -or worse- to ruin a good night of drinking. I kick him. Missing, but he is in enough pain to flinch back from me. I scramble up and get to my clothes and purse. He staggers upright just as I make it out the door and into the pouring rain. No one is in the parking lot of the motel. No one to help me. Scratch that, no one to help him. The street is fifty yards away; the bar we left is another half block down that street. Between the street and me is a vending machine. I run and hide behind it. I drop my clothes and pull out my weapons. Texas Joe crashes out of his room barefoot. I hear his footsteps on the concrete, the splashes of water displaced as he creeps along.

“Here kitty.” He calls for me. Fear has me twitching. I want to run. Stupid instinct, fight or flight. I have a fucking job to do.

I flick my wrist and my telescoping baton extends to full length. With the near silent clicks of the descending rod, I feel calm wash over me. I step out in front of him. He is ten feet from me. His eyes flick to my baton. He leers at me, then comes after me. I lunge, swinging the baton. The blow lands across his throat bringing him up short. He slips on the wet pavement and goes down hard. I slip too and go down on one knee, my upper body landing on a car’s hood. He rolls back up and springs at me. If he gets a hand on me, I won’t get away again. In my other hand is a little four-inch between-the-fingers beauty of a knife, a gift from Frank.

I am aiming for his throat when I snag his eye with the blade. A howl erupts from his mouth and I keep at him. I cut his throat and listen:

The rain,

Bar sounds from down the street,

His thick wet sputters of last breaths, rising up from the ground then nothing.

My knees give out and I crawl back for my clothes. I get dressed and on unsteady legs, walk back to the bar and to my car.

I run my tongue over the cuts in my mouth. Damn. What is wrong with me? I was nearly done in by my own stupidity. I need to call Simon and tell him how I screwed up. With any luck, the police would believe he died in a drunken brawl. Luck. Yep, I need some luck. I find the car keys, start the engine.

Frank's gonna want to talk to me. Something tells me it's going to be a conversation to remember.

Note to self:

Do not sleep with your assignments.

Do not trust good-looking cowboys.

And above all else, Laura, pack your vibrator and stop these embarrassing slip-ups.


I live in Las Vegas, Nevada where I currently work in the civil engineering field. This is my first published story.

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