Mercenaries – Chapter Two

April 8, 2012 at 10:37 pm (Mercenaries)

One Month Later

P.J. walked into Thierry’s Bakery and Café and spotted Lizzy sitting in the back with a pot of green tea and an enormous croissant on a plate. Her black velvet sleeveless coat hung over the back of her chair. Her blouse was made of lacy fabric in a soft cream colour, fitted to the bodice and with leg-o-mutton sleeves. It was a style favoured for a brief period in the late 1800s. The colour of the blouse looked great against her mocha skin, but the monster sleeves weren’t the most flattering.

The interior of the café was outfitted with small tables and narrow chairs. Seating was always at a premium, given that there were only twelve tables inside and around the same outside. Being January in Vancouver, it was actually snowing outside. The temperature had dropped to -6 degrees, which wouldn’t bother anyone from back east, but Vancouverites simply weren’t used to frigid temperatures.

Vancouver was a wet climate as well, which made the negative temperatures even more unbearable. The best place to be was tucked inside the café with a pot of something hot and a pastry. P.J. stopped at the table and hugged Lizzy. Mairi would arrive once her temp showed up for work. She was the third temp that Mairi had hired to cover for her only employee while the woman recovered from pneumonia.

Shedding her coat and placing her bag on the floor, P.J. approached the display case. Thierry’s had a wide assortment of goodies, but P.J. always ordered the same thing. The lemon curd tart was a large wedge of pie with a nice bite to it. They didn’t fuss with meringue, only sprinkling a light dusting of powdered sugar on top. A large cappuccino rounded out her regular order. She, Lizzy and Mairi came to the café every Sunday and Wednesday at one in the afternoon. Lizzy usually arrived first and scouted out the table. Somehow she always managed to get a table against the wall.

“I know you like to have your back to the wall, so no one can sneak up on you,” Lizzy said as P.J. brought her selections back to the table and took her seat.

P.J. didn’t want to admit that she was that paranoid, but her friends knew her too well. If she’d been forced to sit with her back to the room, she’d have spent the entire time fidgeting and looking over her shoulder. “What’s with the sleeves?”

“They hide the ham hocks,” Lizzy said, fingering the loose material covering her upper arms.

“What ham hocks? You weigh ninety pounds soaking wet.” Mairi was the one who was worried about her ham hocks. She had the tiniest bit of extra flab on the backs of her upper arms. P.J. had made the mistake of telling her that a little less fat in her diet would take care of that. Now Mairi was obsessed with her ham hocks. Sometimes she called them batwings, convinced that a stiff wind would give her lift off.

“I could have ham hocks and you wouldn’t know it, because of these sleeves. That’s their magic,” Lizzy said.

P.J. shook her head and changed the subject. “How’s business?”

Lizzy was co-owner of Lizzy’s Lingerie in Pacific Centre Mall. Her husband had owned half of the business before they’d married and they’d kept it separated once they’d tied the knot. It had Lizzy’s name on it and she’d fronted half the start up costs. Her husband was the business manager.

“Our mysterious benefactor bought us out of fleece pajamas, socks and boring underwear again.” Lizzy tried to stare her down, but P.J. didn’t even blink. “I know it’s you. Why won’t you just admit it?” she demanded.

P.J. shoved a piece of pie in her mouth and chewed slowly. They both knew that it was P.J., but P.J. refused to admit it. Lizzy’s business barely broke even some months. Canada may not have gone through a recession quite like the US did, but people still had a good grip on their purse strings. Lingerie wasn’t a necessity and the rent on a shop in the mall wasn’t cheap. P.J. donated the goods to Covenant House to benefit battered women.

“Buy any flowers recently?” Lizzy asked with a smirk.

P.J. wouldn’t admit to that one, either. Neither of her friends would have taken a handout the way Julie did. But they couldn’t turn away business when they didn’t know who was paying the bill. P.J. bought some lingerie herself and she always had fresh flowers in her apartment. The larger orders, the ones that allowed her friends to take time off in the middle of their work day, were always handled through intermediaries. P.J. preferred it that way.

Mairi breezed in, her face flushed from the cold. “Sorry I’m late! It took longer than I’d anticipated it would to teach the temp how to use the cash register.”

Mairi’s shop had a brand new computerized cash register and it had taken her the better part of three days to figure out how to operate it. She’d cracked open the manual and even that hadn’t been much help. Finally Mairi had broken down and called the company she’d bought the register from and asked them to send someone to train her on it. Turnover on her temps was taking its toll.

Mairi purchased her pastry and returned to the table. Eyeing Lizzy’s latest outfit, Mairi rubbed her fingers over the lacy sleeves. “I should adopt this style. It would hide my ham hocks.”

P.J. sighed. “You don’t have ham hocks any more than Lizzy does.”

“I swear my upper arms are getting quite hocky,” Mairi protested, testing the flabbiness of her triceps. “Those sleeves would fix that.”

“I could make you a couple of blouses if you want,” Lizzy offered. “You’ll want a coat with some room in the shoulders though. The sleeves tend to bunch up a bit.”

Which would add insult to injury, P.J. thought, but wisely kept her mouth shut. She didn’t think Mairi had anything to be concerned about, but what did she know about ham hock arms? She was a bit of a freak about her own fitness and wouldn’t allow any extra flab to appear on her triceps. A few good moves with some dumbbells and a little less fat in her diet would fix Mairi’s supposed problem in a jiffy. P.J. knew that the fashion adjustment was the easy route, which made it far more compelling.

Once Mairi and Lizzy had settled on the fabric and colours for Mairi’s new blouses, Mairi tucked into her pastry. She had ordered a mound of profiteroles and three macaroons, which definitely wouldn’t help her ham hocks. P.J. turned her attention to Lizzy. They met at Thierry’s twice a week and rarely did anyone cancel, but Lizzy had expressly asked them both to make this visit. She had something she needed to discuss with them and she didn’t want to wait until the weekend.

P.J. watched Mairi give Lizzy an encouraging nod and realized that Mairi already knew the story. Whatever it was, Lizzy had shared it with Mairi first. P.J. didn’t know if she should be amused or disappointed. That feeling of being on the outside looking in settled on her once again.

“Mairi and I have decided to start a new business,” Lizzy said.

P.J. wouldn’t have guessed that in a million years. They both already worked like dogs, in P.J.’s opinion, at the businesses they owned. Adding a new one to the mix sounded ambitious at best. “When are you going to find the time to run another business?”

“That’s the thing, this one doesn’t keep regular hours. In fact, we can set our own hours.” Lizzy tapped her fingers against the side of her teapot.

“Well, what’s the business plan?” P.J. only hoped that whatever they intended to do, it had some way for her to buy things to support them.

“We’re going to be hitmen,” Mairi blurted out.

P.J. inhaled crumbs from her pie and choked. She coughed a few times and then took a sip of her coffee to soothe her throat. “Did I hear that right?”

“Yeah, you heard us. You got a problem with that?” Lizzy demanded.

P.J. refrained from rolling her eyes. Lizzy’s attitude came out when she thought people were looking down on her. Sometimes Lizzy liked to misinterpret things on purpose just to get up in people’s faces. It made her memorable, which wasn’t a good thing for a hitman. P.J. didn’t think she was getting aggravated on purpose this time.

“Why on earth would you want to be a hitman?” P.J. said.

“You do it and you make good money at it,” Mairi said. “We figured we could do some local work, since you never touch anything local. If we do it as a team then we won’t chicken out. We’ll split the fee and watch each other’s back.”

“Yeah and we already got a job,” Lizzy said.

P.J. raised her eyebrows in surprise. If they already had a job then they were serious about this new enterprise. Neither one had any training to fall back on, not that P.J. had had any when she’d gotten started either. She’d since gotten that training. Thinking about it, she realized that Lizzy might have enough attitude to carry it off.

“So how much did you charge for the job?”

“Well, seeing as it’s our first job, we decided to take it on a pro bono basis,” Mairi said.

This time P.J. gave in and rolled her eyes. “Are you joking? You don’t do work like this for free. Who the hell would agree to hire you if you aren’t charging them anything for the work? And how did you find the client? Do they know who you two are? That’s going to blow up in your faces if you’re not careful.”

Lizzy crossed her arms over her chest and glared at P.J. “I just knew you’d get all huffy about this. You think you’re the expert on stuff like this and no one else can be as good as you.”

“That’s not what I was thinking at all. However, you have to admit that I do know a few things about this, seeing as I’ve been doing it for the past decade. Do you two have a plan for how you’re going to get the job done?”

Mairi looked at the people sitting closest to them but the girls were chatting about their recent purchases and the boys in their lives. Mairi sat a little closer and kept her voice down. “Lizzy is our first client and her husband is our first job.”

“Oh.” P.J. wasn’t as surprised as she figured she ought to be. Everyone knew that Lizzy’s marriage was on the outs, but she was hanging on by the tips of her inch-long purple gel nails. “What happened?” P.J. asked.

Lizzy harrumphed and settled her chin against her chest. When she spoke, her voice came out in a mumble. “I caught him with another woman. An older woman!”

P.J. winced. It was bad enough when men left you for a younger woman. At least that was fairly normal. When they left you for an older woman people looked on it as a sign of a poor match in the sack and usually blamed the woman. Older women were expected to know more about sex, though Lizzy wasn’t exactly a prude.

“I also think there’s something funky going on with the books for the business. Even with our mysterious benefactor dropping a wad of cash on three separate occasions this month, we came out in the red. Sales were actually pretty good, so I don’t know where the money is going. Though I can make a damn good guess now can’t I? Old whores are probably just as expensive as the young ones.”

Cheating on Lizzy and stealing from the business. If they hadn’t already come up with their own business model for getting even, P.J. would have considered the pro bono work herself. “So, what’s the plan?” she asked again.

“We’re still working out the details,” Mairi jumped in before Lizzy could open her mouth. Truth was, they didn’t have a plan and if they told P.J. that she’d give them another lecture. Lizzy wasn’t in the best of moods lately and would probably snap if P.J. gave her any grief.

Mairi had suggested the idea during a night of drunken ramblings at her house. P.J. had been away on business and Lizzy had just found her husband with the other woman. A bottle of red wine later, Mairi had offered up a wild plan. She’d said they could catch him alone somewhere and push him over a cliff.

Lizzy had jumped on the idea. She had life insurance that didn’t pay up on a suicide and as long as she didn’t get caught killing him then she was home free. She’d offered to split the take from the life insurance with Mairi for helping her with the job. Mairi hated to admit that she put more stock in the money than she did in the man.

“Well, if you need to talk it through, let me know. And I can help you get any supplies you might need. I know a few people in the trade,” P.J. said. She knew better than to try and talk them out of it. She could only hope they wouldn’t get caught. P.J. knew several local cops, but didn’t think they could help her get two friends off of murder charges.

“Thanks,” Lizzy said. “We may take you up on that.” Fact was, she and Mairi had no idea how to go about killing anyone. Sure, they saw things like that in the movies all the time, but they weren’t stupid enough to think it could be that easy. P.J. didn’t talk about the details either. Lizzy looked at P.J. Her head was down as she quietly sipped her coffee.

P.J. felt eyes on her and looked up. “What?” she asked.

“How would you do it?” Lizzy asked.

P.J. felt a little relief at that question. It was a logical one, to ask someone with some experience at the work. She had a few logistical questions that needed clearing up and she hoped that thinking of the answers might persuade the women to change their minds.

“How much pain do you want him to feel?”

Mairi looked startled, but Lizzy got a gleam in her eye that worried P.J.

“I want him to scream with it,” Lizzy said.

“Then you’ll want him in a secluded area so no one will hear him. Any stipulations on how he dies?”

“Can’t look like suicide.”

P.J. nodded at Lizzy. She knew that most insurance policies didn’t pay up on suicide, so that point was obvious. It was a tricky business killing someone for the insurance. Most people got caught at it. Lizzy would have to have a solid alibi for her whereabouts in order to escape suspicion. Hell, P.J. thought, there would be no way she could escape suspicion, but Lizzy had big enough balls to brazen her way through an interrogation.

“You’ll want him to be discovered by someone else when it’s convenient for you. That means you have to kill him in a fashion that screws with the time of death.”

“How do you do that?” Mairi asked.

“Not many things can mask the time of death. You could put him on ice for a while. You could incinerate him so that he’s ID’d by his dental work. Or you could drown him and weigh the body down so that it’s not found for a while.”

“That won’t work,” Lizzy said. “I want him found right away so I can close on the insurance thing.”

P.J. nodded, tamping down the worry in her chest. Eagerness to see a job done could leave evidence behind that pointed to them. Incineration could take care of most of that, but P.J. didn’t think they were up for that sort of work.

“If you get him somewhere secluded, kill him and then turn up the heat in the place, you’ll mess with body temperature enough to throw the M.E. off. He doesn’t have to remain more than a few days in the heat before he can be found by someone.”

“That might work best,” Mairi said. Her stomach felt a little queasy just thinking about it, but she’d never tell Lizzy that. It had been her idea after all. She had no idea where they’d find a secluded place with good heating.

“What about a cabin in the woods?” Lizzy asked. “Could we dump a body there and then cook him with the heat?”

“You own a cabin in the woods?” P.J. asked.

“No, but we could commandeer one, right?”

“Wrong. Too many risks. You would have to scope it out to make sure the owner didn’t come across you at the wrong time. Then you’d have to get your husband out there and if he didn’t want to go, you’d have to force him. Kidnapping him and transporting him any great distance is too risky for your first job.”

The longer they talked, the more worried P.J. got. Thinking of all the things that could go wrong reminded her of her own first jobs. Once she’d killed the guy that she had couriered the drugs to she’d accepted her friend’s request to help thin out his competition. She’d had the mind for the job, but she’d had no skills. It was a good thing a drug pusher’s life was fraught with danger, because she’d made a giant mess killing that second guy. Her first kill had been so clean. Her second had been about the messiest she’d ever done.

She’d carried the knife with her and she’d thought about getting a gun, but she hadn’t known how to fire one, never mind aim with any sort of accuracy. She’d signed up for lessons the day after her second kill. The guy had come up with a gun and he’d shot at her, but his aim had been deflected by one of his customers. P.J. felt bad about that. The customer had been jonesing for a hit and had gotten in the way of the bullet. He’d laid there on the ground bleeding like a stuck pig and all he could do was moan about how he needed his fix.

P.J. had used the confusion surrounding the shooting to move in close and stick the dealer. Instead of a clean stab to the heart she tripped and her knife sliced a foot long gash across his chest. The blade ripped through flesh and muscle, spilling blood and tearing through organs. P.J. had been covered in his blood. The dealer had crashed to the ground unable to make a sound. The wounded customer was making enough sound for both of them. P.J. had turned and rushed down an alley.

She’d gained a reputation for doing a thorough, if bloody and painful, job. Once she’d gained some skill with weapons her jobs hadn’t been anywhere near as gruesome. When it had occurred to her that she was gaining a reputation, she’d opted out of local work. The last thing she needed was the same thing she worried about for Lizzy and Mairi; making a name for themselves by taking on clients who lived nearby. In the end, P.J. agreed to work out the details of their first job with them. The relief in Mairi’s eyes told P.J. that that had been her hope all along.

P.J. had her work cut out for her. If she couldn’t convince them to give up the idea entirely, then she’d do everything she could to ensure they got away clean. She didn’t have enough money in her various bank accounts to pay off all the cops she’d need to, to get them off murder charges.

And she couldn’t kill them all, either.

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