Romantic Fiction -- Short Story -- The Mark
Nancy Holzner grew up in western Massachusetts, haunted by ghosts of great writers: Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Edith Wharton all lived within a couple of miles of her house. Nancy began her career as a medievalist and has worked as an English teacher, editor, tech writer, and corporate trainer. She lives with her husband in central New York state. Her novels include Peace, Love, and Murder (Five Star, 8/2009) and Darktown (Ace, 1/2010).View all articles by Nancy Holzner
“Aw, c'mon, baby. We're so good together.”
We were sitting in a fishermen's bar in Gloucester, a dim, seedy place well off the tourist track. Any stranger who wandered in here was likely to stagger out with an empty wallet and a few less teeth. But for us, tucked into our regular booth at the back, it was the safest place north of Boston.
Chaz reached across the table, his fingertips barely touching mine. “You and me, we're a team.” He looked at me with those velvety brown eyes, drawing me toward him. Reeling me in--like a flounder with a bloody hook stuck in its mouth. I pulled back my hand.
“No,” I said. “I'm not doing it anymore.”
He sighed, leaning back in the booth. “OK. If you want to go back to waiting tables or whatever you were doing before I scooped you out of the gutter, that's up to you. But we're halfway through this one. Just finish it with me.”
“But that's the problem. Didn't you hear a word I said? I like this guy.”
Chaz snorted. “Whoever thought little Jamie would go soft?” He shook his head. “So you like him. Great. We do him, he cries on your shoulder for a while, then you two lovebirds can fly off into the sunset.” His fingers fluttered toward the ceiling.
“Are you nuts? You don't steal from people you care about. No wonder you never get a second date.” I lowered my voice in my best Chaz impersonation: “'It was great, sweetheart. I'll call you as soon as I've fenced your jewelry.'”
Laughing, he picked up his mug and took a swig. Then he put it down, wiped his mouth on the back of his hand.
“It would be interesting, wouldn't it,” he said, “if I bumped into Lover Boy one of these days. Invite him out for a Scotch after the next polo match. I bet we'd have some great stories to swap.” He leaned toward me, his voice low, threatening. “I bet he'd love to hear what you do for a living.”
He could pull it off, too. Chaz was almost as good an actor as I was, able to switch from his usual sleazeball self to the yacht club set with a change of clothes. “You'd do that to me?”
He spread his hands and shrugged. “You give me no choice, babe. I gotta earn a living. It takes time to find a good partner, train her up to my standards.” He slapped both hands on the table, making me jump. “Come on. The mark's got insurance. It's a victimless crime. You see me through on this one, and I'll wave bye-bye with a big smile on my face.”
I toyed with my glass, thinking. “In other words, if I quit, you'll make sure he dumps me.”
He grinned. The creep was enjoying the thought.
“But,” I continued, “if I finish this job, it's the last one. You'll leave me alone.”
Chaz made his fingers into a pistol and fired a pretend shot at me. “You got it.”
“So why don't I believe you?”
The finger pistol became an open hand, palm up, all innocence. “Would I lie?”
The question didn't deserve an answer, and we both knew it.
“It's called blackmail, you know,” I said, sliding across the cracked vinyl seat.
He was still smiling his nasty grin as I stood and walked out of the bar.