“Ms. Wire, I’m going to get straight to the fucking point.” The short, balding, sweaty man leans over his desk, planting his fists firmly on the papers slopping around on top of it. A picture of the man with a pretty, anemic woman cringing under his arm and three equally washed-out children teeters precariously on the edge of the desk before tumbling to the ground. The man ignores the picture and glares at Trip as if the difficult situation is her fault. She stares back at him, not dropping her eyes deferentially as he expects. She doesn’t let punks like him get to her because she knows he needs her and not vice-versa, especially since she just deposited the last of the money Harrington gave her. It is quite a thrill to look at her bank statement and see that many zeroes. Per usual, Trip doesn’t answer as the short man postures but waits impatiently for him to get straight to the fucking point. She glances around his office as he blunders about. It’s dark and masculine with his chair ratcheted up so he could lord over his minions beneath him. A Napoleon complex, indeed.
“This is what you might call a delicate situation.” The man, who still hasn’t introduced himself, spits out the cliché with a straight face. Trip doesn’t bother telling him it always is. “Name’s DiCalvo, by the way.” She can’t tell if it’s his first or last name, then decides it doesn’t really matter. “It involves a girl and some indiscretion.” Of course it does. Trip sighs loudly to convey her boredom, but DiCalvo ignores her as he continues talking in his rapid-fire manner. “Some bitch who thinks she can get away with something. You know the kind of bitch I mean?” Trip gazes at him, but doesn’t answer. “I hate nothing more than an uppity woman who thinks she can jack me around by the balls.” He pauses to wipe his forehead with a handkerchief, then starts to rant again. “That’s why I don’t fuck around on my wife. With her, I know what I’m getting. With those girls out there these days, well, who knows what kind of crazy stunts they’ll pull?”
“I don’t do injury,” Trip informs him, watching his anger with a jaundice eye. There’s a studied quality to his ranting, as if he’s practiced the lines. She has the feeling that he is doing it for her benefit, not because he really means it. “If that’s what you want, I’m out of here.”
“Shit, no, that’s not what I want. I want that, I got boys who can do that. I wouldn’t use an amateur like you.” The scorn in his voice is obvious. “I mean, shit, sending a broad to do that to another broad is some sick shit, you know? No way is that what I’m going to have you do. See, this bitch, she’s a real ballbuster. She thinks she’s got a gold-plated one, you know what I mean? God, I hate bitches like that.”
“What’s your problem?” Trip breaks in, no longer willing to play his game. She has already decided to turn him down, so it’s just a matter of hearing him out.
“My boss, you don’t need to know his name, got entangled with this bitch. Angelica Sylvian. Shit!” DiCalvo stops, an upset look on his face. “Forget her name. it’s not important. What’s important is she’s trying to blackmail him. Letters. Pictures. You know the drill. We want them back.” DiCalvo is dripping sweat by this time, despite the air conditioning.
“Where?” Trip asks laconically. Might as well get all the details before having the pleasure of telling this dick to fuck off.
“Where are my manners!” DiCalvo exclaims, slapping himself on the forehead. “Want something to drink?” Trip shakes her head once; she doesn’t want anything from this man. Ignoring her, DiCalvo pours a glass of whiskey and sets it in front of her. “I insist, drink up!” Trip narrows her eyes and shakes her head again. “Water?” Trip hesitates. She’s thirsty, but she’s strangely reluctant to accept anything from this little man. Ignoring her again, DiCalvo pours her a tumbler of water and sets it in front of her. “The bitch keeps them in a jewelry box by her bed. He’s seen them. When they were fucking, you know?”
“How did you hear of me?” Trip asks; it’s a standard question, but this time, she’s especially eager to hear the response. This is not the sort of man to use a woman in any situation, and certainly one who isn’t thoroughly vetted.
“On the streets,” DiCalvo barks. “You’re the best. That’s what I was told. Went to a few bars in The Mission.”
“Why there?” The girl lives here in North Beach or so Trip assumes, so it would make more sense to search for someone around this neighborhood, not the Mission. Trip realizes with a start that she’s been sipping at the water without realizing it and hastily sets down the glass. She feels polluted just touching anything belonging to this man.
“Good muscle. My roots. This area is the shits,” DiCalvo barks, his eyes darting around the room. He is so manic, Trip wonders if he’s on something. “So, do we have a deal?” He sniffs a couple times, blinking rapidly, and Trip is pretty sure he’s done a few lines.
“No,” Trip says, rising from her seat. “Not interested.” She nods once at him, then moves towards the door.
“Twenty-five thousand up front.” DiCalvo’s voice carries nicely to Trip’s ears. She wants to ignore him, but it’s impossible to do so. “Another twenty-five thousand when the job is done.” Almost against her will, Trip turns around.
“Fifty thousand for a few pictures and letters?” She asks skeptically. “Your boss must be a pretty important guy.”
“He is. There is one catch. You have to do it tonight.” DiCalvo is bouncing on the balls of his feet, and he has his arms folded across his chest.
“No way,” Trip says immediately. “I don’t work that way. I have to do recon, familiarize myself with the specs, talk to the vic. No.” She shakes her head firmly, then turns back towards the door. There is something about this case that doesn’t seem right, though she can’t quite put her finger on it.
“She won’t be there all night,” DiCalvo calls out. “Fifty thousand dollars for one night. That’s a pretty fucking sweet deal.” Trip knows she should walk out because this guy gives her the creeps, but greed overcomes precaution. Fifty-thousand dollars is a lot of money for a girl like her. She turns around and marches back to DiCalvo.
“My twenty-five thousand, please.” She holds her hand out until DiCalvo drops a check into it. She squints at the signature which says Renaldo F. DiCalvo. She nods, folds the check and places it in the pocket of her shirt. She’ll deposit it on her way home just to make sure it doesn’t bounce. Nothing would piss her off more than to be bilked on this job. She is going to follow procedure to the letter since she’s feeling so uneasy. She seals the deal with DiCalvo, including her standard reminder that she doesn’t kill. DiCalvo keeps nodding his head at every stipulation she makes until she finally winds down. She nods again at DiCalvo before leaving. To her surprise, the check doesn’t bounce. She goes home to think—she has a feeling she’s going to need her wits about her tonight.
“I don’t like it, Mowgli,” I say, my phone pressed firmly against my shoulder. I’m eating a peach at the same time so my words are somewhat indistinct. “It smells fishy.” Something in DiCalvo’s eyes as they darted back and forth, sliding off my face, turns my stomach.
“I like the smell of fish,” Mowgli protests vehemently. He pauses a moment before adding mischievously, “I just don’t like eating it.”
“Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it,” I retort. We both crack up. It’s late Monday afternoon, which means Mowgli is still at work. He’s talking in a low voice so he’s not overheard.
“Del, if you don’t like it, don’t do it,” Mowgli says patiently. “There’s no law that says you have to take every job that comes your way.”
“Fifty-thousand dollars, Mowgli! I know that’s nothing for a guy like you, but for a girl like me…I wouldn’t have to work for months!” My eyes flash as I think of all the cool stuff I could buy with that kind of dough. There’s a leather jacket I’ve been eyeing for the past month as well as leather pants. Hell, I could buy me a whole cow for fifty grand.
“You just did that other job for thirty thou,” Mowgli reminds me. “That should be enough to keep you in crimson and clover for at least a month.” He says it tongue-in-cheek because I tend to go overboard when I make bank. The last time I scored over a thou for a gig, I blew it all on clothes. I looked fine for that week, though, until I gave it all to a consignment shop. It’s ok because I recouped half my money.
“Fifty thou, Mowgli,” I sigh, inhaling a cigarette. Moodily, I crush it out after only two puffs. “This is punk of me. I’m shaking like a virgin getting her cherry busted. I’ll talk to you later.”
On paper, this is a cakewalk for someone of my caliber. Get in, get the shit, get out. Why does it feel wrong, then? It’s not nerves because I don’t get them. I just don’t like the set-up, especially the part of it having to be tonight. That doesn’t give me time to plan as I usually do. I shake off the feeling and dress with particular care. A long-sleeved shirt, black jeans, hair pulled back in a bun. I go to my nightstand and open the drawer. In the very back, in the corner, is a tiny ring that was on my finger when I was left at the orphanage in China—twenty-four carat gold. I shove it in my jeans’ pocket, slip on my jacket and make sure my goody bag is full. I run over the plan—hastily concocted—in my mind over and over until I’m confident that I’ve planned for every detail. Still, the lingering feeling of uneasiness won’t leave me. I hear a murmur in my ear, but I deliberately shut it out. If the ancestors are talking to me, they’re going to have to be a lot louder than that. I wait for dark, then slip out the door.