Mary’s Night Job

It must have been midnight the first time that Mary woke up. A deep and heavy sigh reverberated through her spacious room and cut straight through her dreams of skiing in the far-away Alps. With a sigh of her own, Mary turned over and snuggled deeper into her blankets and returned to her dream.

Almost an hour later the second sigh woke Mary again. This time the sigh was tinged with impatience as well as boredom.

“Not tonight, please!” Mary yawned sleepily.

“Need I remind you, you signed a contract?” A deep musical voice replied.

Reluctantly Mary sat up and rubbed her eyes. “No you don’t. But you’ve got me working 4 nights a week now! When you recruited me you told me it would be once a week max.”

“Well, now you’ve got skills, and fame. Clients request you specifically.”

“Doesn’t mean that you have to tell them I’m always available!” Mary complained.

“It doesn’t.” The deep voice agreed.

After a long pause Mary finally relented. “Fine…”

“Good.”

Reluctantly Mary got out of bed and stumbled through the dark towards her walk-in wardrobe. “Any special requests from this one Joe?”

“Not really,” Joe’s deep voice replied. “Just make sure you look less like a whore and more like an escort. And remember our motto is ‘superior service’ not ‘affordable service’. Ouch!”

The yelp of pain pierced Mary’s ears, but she smiled anyway. “Thanks Pippa.”

“Any time, darling.” A girlish voice replied. “You shouldn’t let Joe speak to you like that.”

“I don’t really have the options that you do in retaliation, do I?” Mary replied while selecting a dark blue dress from the rack. “And anyway, Joe knows almost all my secrets by now. He can tease me all he likes.”

“Should I be jealous?” Pippa asked jokingly, but Mary heard the flicker in the voice that spelled dangerous waters. Mary made sure she replied tactfully as well as playfully.

“Not to worry, I’ve kept the best secrets for you, honey.”

“Glad to hear it.” Pippa replied.

“Anything Joe’s not telling me about this one?” Mary asked changing the subject.

“Not really.” Pippa replied, “the client specifically asked for discretion, but you know that’s not really unusual.”

“I told you.” Joe interjected.

“You did.” Mary agreed. As she turned to her make-up table she sighed. “I have got to get another job.” Only silence greeted her so Mary continued, “I only meant for this to be a college job.”

“Most people do.” Pippa agreed non-committally.

“But then college was done and there were all these student loans to pay off and…” Mary trailed off.

“And you enjoyed the luxury this job affords you.” Joe finished for Mary with his usual bluntness.

“You’re lucky that I can’t actually see you.” Mary called to Joe. “Pippa? Care to do the honours?”

A pleasing yelp answered Mary. “Thanks babe.”

“Don’t worry so much,” Pippa tried to reassure Mary, “You’ve got skills. Is it such a pain to use them for good?”

“I meant I’d like to get out of the business, Pippa.”

“And I meant that you have other skills than the ones this job requires!”

“Right, sorry, honey.” Mary sighed. “I’m almost done in here, so anything else you want to tell me, Joe?”

“Address has been sent to your phone,” a brief buzzing confirmed Joe’s words, “and there is a chance that this might become a double-job.”

“You might have told me earlier!” Mary complained. “Why do you always give me the long assignments?”

“You’re the best.” Came Joe’s straight-forward answer.

“Why thanks.” Mary’s voice dripped with sarcasm. “Well, ready or not. I’m coming out.”

Mary strutted from the wardrobe with an exaggerated swagger and struck a pose at the foot of her bed, facing a painting on the far wall. She wore a very short dark blue skirt, high-heeled shoes that forced her feet vertical and had tied her hair back mainly for functionality, but also for aesthetics.

“Damn.” Pippa breathed. Joe’s silence confirmed Pippa’s reaction.

“Glad the two of you still like it.” Mary told the wall.

“Like is a bit of an understatement.” Pippa exclaimed.

“You could come get yourself some of this…” Mary suggested playfully. Only silence greeted her words though, and she knew she had crossed the line. “Sorry, babe. I didn’t mean that the way it came out.”

“I know.” Pippa replied. “It’s just…”

Joe, still tactless as ever jumped in as Pippa’s voice trailed off. “Can I remind you that you’re on the job?”

“Switching to the earbud.” Mary grimmaced, holding the bud up so the other two could see.

“Just between you, and me,… and Joe I guess,” Pippa whispered in Mary’s ear, “I kind of wish you did get out of the firm. Even though you wouldn’t know me, we could meet instead of having this weird one-way relationship thing.”

“I know.” Mary replied just as softly. “But can I pay the price?”

She left her bedroom, making sure to switch off the light and sweep one last gaze over her still tousled bed, the dark wardrobe and the wall with the painting. There was a chance she might never see it again.

It was nearly three AM when Mary made it to the nightclub. All the bouncers in the city knew her by reputation, and even the new ones quickly learned who Mary’s employers were and knew not to anger them. The stocky man that stood at the entrance to the high-class establishment she had been called to frowned to see her, but ushered her hurriedly past the long line and past the men searching for illegal drugs or weapons without stopping. The bouncers just wanted Mary to get in, do her job, and leave as quickly as possible. Once inside Mary was left alone to do her thing, though she knew that all the security guards would make a point of watching her progress through the club warily. It was a hazard of her job.

“Top right corner.” Joe purred in Mary’s ear, “and you might want to bounce a little to the beat.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Mary droned back, but she complied throwing a dark glance towards one of the cameras. “I know how to do my job.”

Before looking towards the upper level and her eventual target Mary made her way to the bar. It was packed with boys and girls clamouring for the attention of those privileged few behind the bar. Mary simply stood at the back of the crowd near one end of the bar, ostensibly awaiting her turn, but only a few seconds later a young bartender called out to her asking for her order. Moments later, a couple coins poorer but with a tall glass of water Mary climbed the stairs.

“What’s with the drink?” Joe asked.

“Appearances.” Mary replied. “In a place like this, if a girl doesn’t hold a glass it’s a sign that someone should get her one.”

“Good to know.”

Mary snorted. “Like you ever come here.”

Joe stayed silent. Mary found the client in one of the private alcoves, his head nestled in the crook of some young filly’s neck. His friend had also found a date of some sort and had become bolder with her, trying to pull her into his lap as they kissed ferociously.

A simple cough sufficed to get her client to notice Mary, even through the pulsating beat, and he grabbed his friend’s shoulder to make him aware as well. The girls looked surprised that someone had come into their alcove, and a little hurt that the boys had apparently been expecting her.

No-one spoke however, the girls too unsure of what was happening, the boys obviously unnerved. Mary rolled her eyes. “You called?”

“We, uhm….” The friend stammered, “We were expecting someone more…”

“Male.” Mary finished. “Well, you got me.”

“Are you…. her?” The client asked.

“I don’t know.” Mary replied, “I don’t know who ‘her’ is. But I’m who you got.”

“Cool.” A stupid grin spread across the client’s face. It made Mary want to hit him.

“Look, can we just get on with this?” She sighed.

“Oh, yeah. Sure.” The client pointed across the room at another alcove. This one had curtains drawn. “He went in there ten minutes ago.”

“Is he alone?” Mary asked.

“I think so.” The client replied.

“According to the security footage.” Joe confirmed.

Mary waited, looking at the client expectantly.

“Oh, right. Here you go.” The client beckoned to his friend who pulled out a fistful of money. Mary gingerly took the creased bills and smoothed them out so that the 1000 could be clearly seen in each corner. Then she neatly put them away in her purse.

Mary raised an eyebrow at the client, “There was talk of this maybe being a double feature?”

The client’s eyes flickered, barely noticeably, towards his friend. “No, no.” He said hastily. “Just… him.”

Without a word to the boys, or their girlfriends Mary stalked away.

“Damned kids.” she muttered.

“A client’s a client.” Joe replied.

“You lied to me!” Mary hissed.

“I did.” Joe stated, “But which time are you referring to?”

“Tonight! You said they had specifically requested me!”

“They did. They asked for the best.”

Mary would have throttled Joe if she could have reached through the mike. Instead she had to content herself with a vile glance at the nearest camera. “You didn’t have to wake ME up. I’m not the best.”

“I thought you would be flattered.” Joe replied. “And anyway. You are the best we’ve got, now that Tim got retired.”

“Tim retired?” Mary asked shocked.

“GOT retired. Last night. Herman’s still pretty shook up about it.” Joe replied with sympathy in his voice.

“Damn.” Mary whispered. She had liked Tim. It was sad to think she’d never see him again.

Outside the curtains Mary did one last check. “Joe, dearest?” She purred with fake charm, “Am I clear to go in?”

“Yup,” came the immediate reply, “He’s just on his phone. Apart from that and the camera signal there is nothing being broadcast from that room… Honey.” Joe dead-panned.

Mary corrected her hair and dress before thrusting the curtains aside. Within, she found the target, sipping aimlessly at his drink with one hand while the other was tapping away animatedly on a smartphone. He didn’t even look up when Mary entered, just grunted: “Go away.”

When Mary closed the curtains behind her the man did look up. “I said, ‘Go away’.”

“Aww.” Mary pouted. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize there was someone in here. Can I just stay for a moment? Please? My boyfriend is drunk and disgusting and my feet hurt. I just need somewhere to hide for a few moments. Please.”

The target did trail an admiring eye up and down Mary’s body, but he still replied, “No. Go hide in the women’s bathroom. Your boyfriend can’t go in there.”

“But…” Mary began, but then decided to drop the pretence. “Fine. I don’t really have a boyfriend, your friends just hired me.”

“What friends?” the man asked suspiciously.

Mary opened the curtain a crack and pointed straight across the room at the client’s alcove.

“So, what? You’re a prostitute? They hired you for me because they think I’m feeling left out while they slobber over those girls?” The man sneered, though it was obvious he was not completely averse to the idea.

“Actually no.” Mary smiled brightly at the target. “They hired me to get rid of you.”

“Wait… what?” The target was obviously confused. “Is this some joke?”

“No no, absolutely serious.” Mary replied.

“You’re here to kill me?!” The man fell back into the furthest part of the alcove.

“Don’t be silly. Would I be talking to you if I was going to kill you?” Mary replied.

“Then… I don’t get it.” The target was obviously confused.

Mary slid onto the seat next to the target, opened her purse and removed a long thin needle, filled with a clear liquid. “Don’t worry.” She cooed, “You won’t feel a thing.”

Strictly speaking that was not true. With one quick movement Mary had slammed the target’s head down on the table, jabbed the needle in his neck and squirted the clear liquid into the target’s body. All the fight immediately left him, and he slumped down completely.

“That was…. messier than usual.” Joe commented blandly.

“Shut up.” Mary retorted. “I had to improvise, he wasn’t going for the hooker ploy.”

“You’d better hope that his guardians don’t show up soon.” Joe suggested. “And judging by the security camera out onto the street, you may just have alerted the neighbourhood. Place is swarming with blue lights.”

“Shit.” Mary heaved the target onto her shoulders and and stood just behind the curtain.

“Club security is alerted.” Joe warned, “They ain’t going to ignore you anymore.”

“Yeah, I figured as much when you told me about the police.” Mary snapped back. “Just give me the layout.”

“Bathrooms in the back, boarded windows to your right. Dancefloor throughout. Stairs in the middle, emergency stairs next to the bathrooms. Adjoining houses to either side, but both much taller than this one.” Joe fretted. “I don’t see an exit for you Mary.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Mary muttered.

From the sounds of the crowd beyond the curtain the police had made their way into the club and were searching the people. Panic bubbled just under the surface. With one last heavy breath Mary ran through the curtain with the target still on her shoulders right past two stunned club security guards. She bowled over three dancers before careening out of control herself, but luck was on her side and she made it to the far wall safely with her burden still weighed on her shoulders. Mary passed by the women’s toilets and instead went into the men’s. It was always possible some clever security guard would have thought to search the women’s toilets.

Once inside Mary dropped the target to the floor heavily, and began to knock on the walls.

“Tell me one thing, Joe.” She began, trying to calm her nerves.

“Anything.” He replied.

“Why did you pick me?”

“Pick you?”

“Yeah, when you were recruiting — back when I was in college. Why did you ask me to join the firm?”

“You had spunk, and a good heart.”

“That you thought you had to corrupt?”

“That I thought would make you better at your job.”

Mary gave a hollow laugh as she found the point she was looking for behind the mirror. “This isn’t a very nice business Joe.”

“Better than the alternative though. For everyone.”

“Maybe. But I don’t plan on getting ‘retired’ tonight.”

Mary took down the mirror gently. She didn’t need 7 more years of bad luck, and the breaking glass could alert someone. The music outside had finally been turned off. With deft hands she ripped down the cardboard fronting where some cheap repairman had decided that the punch from a violent boyfriend did not need to be plastered over. The wool inside was quickly removed and only a few more tears and punches were needed to rip through the rest of the way. Luckily, on the other side was what seemed to be an abandoned apartment. Mary heaved the target onto her shoulders again and quickly crossed into the neighbouring building.

“So hey, I got another question.” Mary told Joe as she exited the apartment and crept down the stairwell, “how’d the police know I was there even before I got there?”

“I’m working on it.” Joe replied. “It’s creepy though. Recently the police has been hot on our tails almost every job we’re hired to do. That’s why Tim got retired. Some policeman was fast enough to grab some of his hair. It was only a matter of time till they got DNA results and closed him down.”

“I figured.”

“We don’t know yet how they’re doing it. Maybe there’s a mole in our organization…”

Mary paused on the landing as she watched the blue lights flash just beyond the front doorway. She put the target down next to the door. “Let me check something. I might just have had a brainwave…”

With deft hands she quickly patted down the target. She found what she was looking for in the sleeves of his jacket. “Damn, Joe. You’d better recall everybody.”

“What, why?”

“We don’t have a mole. They’re setting us up. My target was wired from the start. I want to bet our clients were in on it too.” Mary let the sleeve fall.

“Have you killed the wire?” Joe asked.

“It was just a dead-man’s-switch to tell them when I’d put him to sleep, not an actual microphone.”

“Ah, that would explain how they wouldn’t be detected on the radio scanner.”

“At least, not until the switch had been thrown.” Mary agreed.

“Uh-oh, they found your hole. Time to get out of there.” Joe warned.

Mary heaved the man into a half-standing position with his arm across her shoulders so that it would look like he was just drunk, and exited the front door, dragging the target with her.

“What are you doing? Leave him!” Joe exclaimed.

“What, you’re in this building’s security cameras as well?” Mary hissed.

“No, in the dashboard cameras of the police cars.”

“Doesn’t matter.” Mary replied. “Tell Pippa she is going to owe me big for this. I’m bringing him in. Maybe he can tell you how they’ve been taking us down. Can you get the pick-up a bit closer?”

“I’ll see what I can do.” Joe replied.

Dawn had come and gone when Mary returned to her suite, tired, dishevelled, and generally worn out. Just as dawn had broken she had managed to relieve herself of the slowly awakening burden and dump him in the back of a white van professing to be a cleaning company about five blocks from the club. Mary had waved a greeting to Peter, the driver, and exchanged a few brief words about the job. Then she had walked another four blocks before hailing a taxi to get home.

Once there, Mary walked directly into her bedroom and flopped down on the bed.

“Joe? You there?” She asked the wall.

“I sent him home, Mary.” Pippa answered.

“Oh.” Mary yawned. “Good. He deserves some rest.”

“So do you.” Pippa sounded sad.

“So long as you promise to watch over me.” Mary quipped.

“Always.” Pippa whispered so that Mary almost didn’t catch it.

After a moment, Mary did force herself to get up and wipe away the make-up and get ready for bed. “What now?” She asked Pippa, more just to say something rather than for any real conversation.

“He’s here. From what I’ve been told so far he’s been giving us everything. Herman’s questioning him.” Pippa replied tiredly.

“I hope someone is holding Herman back a little. He’s probably liable to kill the guy after what happened to Tim.”

“Don’t worry, I got some others holding Herman back.”

“At least that…. Is Tim ok?”

“We think so. At least he didn’t see the needle coming when we sent Ricky after him. We sent him to Venice. He was always talking about going to see Italy.”

Mary yawned again and crawled under her covers. “Pippa?”

“Yes baby?” Pippa replied lovingly.

“Are we doing the right thing?”

“Of course we are. These people get completely new lives, can live to their fullest with new identities and new hopes, new dreams, new beginnings.”

“But they don’t choose to do these things. We force them to.”

“We’re hired to.”

“By friends. Not by the people themselves.”

“Or by family.” Pippa replied. “We are a compassionate business. When someone’s life is in a rut, or they are depressed, or suicidal, or they are unhappy with their lives, we offer their friends a chance to change that. That’s all that can be asked of us.”

“And are these people happy with their new lives?”

“Yes.”

“Always?”

“Always.”

“Do they ever remember?” Mary asked.

“Sometimes they get vague flashes of recognition. But very rarely. We just give them amnesia and move them to another continent, we don’t lobotomize them.” Pippa answered.

An awkward pause descended. Then Pippa tentatively asked: “Mary? Why did you bring him?”

“What?”

“It would have been safer to leave him behind — he only slowed you down. Joe told you to leave him behind.”

Mary was confused. “Did you want me to leave him behind? I thought he was more valuable to you if you could question him at headquarters.”

“He is….” Pippa agreed, “but…. Mary, if you had not brought him back we could have shut down our local offices. We wouldn’t have to retire you — you only know about our regional operations. You would be free to go, free of your contract, free to… to…”

“…to see you.” Mary finished. She felt as though she had been punched. “I know…. I knew.”

Another silence descended. Mary slowly calmed herself again. While the silence from the other end seemed ominous. “Pippa?”

“Yes honey.” The reply came immediately, though quavering.

“I want to hire the firm.”

“For what?” Pippa began, then realized that was the wrong question, “On whom?”

Mary sat up and gazed at the picture on the wall. She could almost see the grass waving in the wind and smell the pine from the woods beyond, or hear the eagle’s cry. A tear flowed down her cheek.

“Me.”