Kitty O’Sullivan Kraus lay back, enjoying the heat of the sun as its rays baked her skin to a warm golden brown. Like a perfectly toasted marshmallow. The tether of her hover pool tugged in the breeze. She reached for the tanning oil and thought, “Life doesn’t get better than this.”
The tinkle of a wind chime sounded nearby. Kitty ground her teeth together, sat up, and tossed her platinum hair over her shoulder. She grabbed her telecom, then lifted her dark shades and squinted at the photo ID of the caller.
Kitty growled in the back of her throat as she swiped her thumb across the smooth surface of the screen.
“What do you want?” She half squinted, half glared at the man on the other end of the line.
“Is that any way to greet an old friend?”
“You might be old, but we’re certainly not friends,” said Kitty.
The man smiled, his white teeth shining bright in the darkness of his face. It was a cunning smile, and, to anyone who didn’t know better, it might be seductive. Except that the only thing smiling was his mouth, not his eyes, and Kitty knew better than to trust those lips and the words that came out of them.
“I have a job for you. It’s easy. In and out. One and done. 500k.”
“Nothing with you is ever easy, Cecil. I’m not doing it. I told you, I’m done.”
“Not even for half a mil?”
“Not for anything.”
“Rick said you’d say that.”
“Rick says a lot of things.”
At the mention of the name, Kitty’s heart spun faster than the wind meter at the edge of the pool.
She did her best to hide the feelings that welled up within her, but from the way Cecil’s mouth turned up at the edge, she knew it was too late. Kitty swallowed the memories of cool sheets and sun-warmed skin.
That man. He was the beginning and the end of her. Which was why she had to say no to this. To everything else. She was happy in her floating pool. She had everything she needed right here with the sun and the water.
“What else did Rick say?” She hated herself for asking.
“He said you’re scared.”
The blood already ran warm in her veins from the heat of the sun, but it began to boil as soon as the words hit her ears and sank into her soul.
“I may be a lot of things, Cecil, but I’m not afraid.” Her voice shook, and she hated herself for it, because his smile grew bigger and she knew it was because he thought he was right. Except he wasn’t right, she was angry, but not afraid.
Cecil nodded his dark face and winked one dark eye. “Whatever you say, Kitty O’Sullivan Kraus.”
“I’ll do it for a million.” She spat out the words before she could stop herself.
“Seven-fifty,” Cecil said, in that black velvet voice of his.
“Fine,” Kitty said. “But this is the last job. I mean it. I’m done. Finished. Finito. You hear me?”
“Yeah. Last job, I hear you. Pickup . Usual spot.”
He said, “I love you.” Then he smiled and touched his nose to hers before he wrapped his arms around her and kissed her hard. And Kitty O’Sullivan Kraus believed what he said.
At night, when it was dark and cold and she lay there alone without the sun for company, she still believed it. She felt his strong arms holding her, and it seemed real for a moment, before the other thing flashed into her mind and she remembered the reason she got out.
Kitty woke up with the moonlight shining across the blackness of the ocean, painting her naked body with pale light reflected from the sun, all the way from the other side of the Earth. There was another light that streamed through the cracked door. A warmer, softer light. The rustle of thick brown paper and a glimpse of Rick’s strong shoulder with the promise of his smooth warm skin pulled her from between the sheets.
“It’s late.” Kitty wrapped her arms around his neck, scraped her manicured nails down the front of his chest, and pressed her lips to his earlobe. “Come back to bed.”
The paper fell open then, and she saw it there. The thing she wasn’t supposed to see. Her heart thumped a few times against his shoulder blade before she turned her face into his neck and tasted the sea salt on his skin.
He put his hand on her arm, pried her away, and squeezed as he stared at her face. And Kitty O’Sullivan Kraus pretended. She pretended she didn’t see the thing she wasn’t supposed to see. She pretended she didn’t care that he was up working when he should have been in bed making love to her. She pretended her arm didn’t hurt. She pretended she didn’t understand that look in his eyes right then, the look that was so different from before when he said those words to her and she believed them.
“Go back to bed.”
He pushed her away. Kitty O’Sullivan Kraus went back to bed and pretended she wasn’t scared.
But that was all a long time ago. She’d done twelve jobs since then. Just enough to save up a good pile of money to live on, to travel with, to really get away when the time came.
Kitty O’Sullivan Kraus had plans. She wasn’t dumb enough to think she would be left alone. Not since she’d seen the thing she wasn’t supposed to see. No. She knew too much, and knowing too much was always dangerous. Which was why she was leaving after this last job.
Really, the job before this was supposed to be the last job. It’s what she’d said. And she meant it. But she couldn’t very well back out now. She had to do this one last drop and disappear on her own terms. That way they wouldn’t come looking for her.
Kitty cinched the belt of her trench coat a little tighter. Below the clouds, the sky was gray and unwelcoming. She’d never liked it down here. It was too dark, too cold. Kitty needed the warmth of the sun on her face.
The plaza was empty as she scanned her surroundings, then picked up the package wrapped in brown paper from under the bench. She checked the address written neatly on the paper and pretended she didn’t know what was inside as she turned and headed west, toward the water.
The hallway on the third floor of the building was dark. It smelled like boiled cabbage and other things, and Kitty couldn’t wait to get out into the sun again. Deliver the package and leave. Never open the package. Never ask questions. Simple. Easy.
She stopped at the door marked “327” and rapped her knuckles on the red, peeling paint.
The door opened. The windows were covered with thick curtains, and it was even darker inside than in the hallway.
“Delivery,” said Kitty O’Sullivan Kraus.
She’d recognize that voice anywhere, but she couldn’t see him. He was behind the door.
Everything inside Kitty told her to lay that package down on the doorstep and walk away. But his voice told her to come inside. So that’s what she did.
Kitty O’Sullivan Kraus stepped into the middle of the room. It was filled with junk. As if someone had lived there once, but not anymore, and all the neighbors filled the place up with the things they didn’t want. Dark stains ran down the walls.
“I suppose you know what this is.” He said the words softly, like he almost felt sorry to say them.
Kitty O’Sullivan Kraus turned to face him. She hugged the package to her chest, but didn’t say anything. What could she say? She wouldn’t beg.
“I’m sorry it has to be this way, Kitty Kat.” He pulled the gun from the waistband of his trousers. Kitty’s breath caught in her throat. He probably thought it was from the sight of the gun, but it wasn’t. She hated that name. But what good would it do to tell him that now?
“The thing is, I’m getting ready to go away, too.” He clicked the safety off. “And I have to clean house. You understand? No one can know what’s in that package. No one.”
“We’ll go away together then. The two of us. Someplace sunny.”
He smiled and scratched the stubble on his chiseled jaw, and Kitty could taste the sea salt of his skin on her tongue.
Then, she tasted something else, instead. Something bitter and metallic. She coughed once, spraying dark flecks across the collar of his white shirt.
A velvety smooth voice sounded in her ear and a dark hand snaked around her waist as her knees gave out. She hadn’t even seen him there.
As he lowered her to the floor, she was angry. Angry that she didn’t see this coming. Angry that she’d trusted these men. Angry that she hadn’t listened to the voice in her head and walked away.
The knife twisted in her back, and her ears heard a strange sound in the room. A strangled grunt that she realized had come from her own mouth. The package flopped across her lap as her arms stopped holding it. Yet, she hadn’t made it completely to the floor. She was propped up against something, a wall with a dark stain.
“Told you it’d be easy,” Cecil said in that smooth voice, as dark as the room he was standing in.
“How’d you get her here?”
The two men stood there, staring down at her as she struggled to pull another breath of boiled cabbage into her lungs.
Cecil smiled. “Told her you said she was scared.”
“Mm.” Rick shook his head to the side once. It was dark, but Kitty thought his eyes looked sad as he stared down at her. “No. Kitty O’Sullivan Kraus is a lot of things, but never afraid. I always admired that about her.”
“She ain’t anything now.”
The muzzle flashed bright in the darkness, and the shot made her ears ring as Cecil collapsed to the floor at her feet.
“She’s a lot more than you ever were.” Rick turned away without looking back.
The darkness closed in around her. She thought of the sun as she closed her eyes. Pretended she could feel its warmth on her face, toasting her skin to a lovely golden brown, as she floated along in her pool. For a moment, the light reflected on her closed eyelids, winking like the rays of sun on the surface of the water.
And that was the end of Kitty O’Sullivan Kraus.
Sarah L. Blair writes urban fantasy and smexy-type things in between bouts of arguing with her toddler son about whether or not her butt looks good in jeans. You can find her blogging or tweeting pretty much any time, and if you ask her nicely, she'll probably set off a confetti cannon in your honor.