Authors: Simon Wood
Bell seemed unaffected by the accusation.
“You never can tell.”
“Why did we have to come here?
It’s too public.”
She looked away and briefly surveyed the zoo, its animals and its patrons.
Without looking at Josh she spoke seriously, a side of her Josh rarely saw.
“It’s strange, I’ve been away less than two years and I had a yearning for the weirdest things.
I don’t know why, but it’s the little things you miss.
This is one of them.
I haven’t been to this zoo since I was a kid and a lot’s changed since then.
I’m not even a big zoo fan, but when I came back to Sac, the memories flooded back and I just had to come.
Do you like zoos?”
Josh wasn’t sure whether to believe what Bell was saying.
She never seemed that sentimental before but maybe San Diego hadn’t been kind to her.
Bell snapped out of her reverie and returned to her normal self.
“Well, do you have my money?”
Josh removed the envelope from underneath his denim shirt.
He placed the envelope on the bench between the two of them, letting his hand rest on it.
As he went to ease his hand back, Bell placed her hand on the back of it and applied pressure to keep it in place for a moment.
Josh yanked his hand out from under hers.
The transaction looked more conspicuous than if Josh had just given her the five thousand straight from his wallet.
Bell laughed and threw her head back.
She picked up the envelope and slipped it into her purse.
People meandered past without noticing the transaction.
Unable to comprehend their behavior, the lion watched with keen interest the activities of the two people on the bench.
“Josh, you’re so easy.”
Her sense of humor didn’t impress him.
“Does this money mean you’ll keep out of my life here?”
“I don’t know.”
“Jesus, Bell, I can’t have that.
I can’t live not knowing when you’re going to pop up next.”
Josh felt his cool slip from his grasp.
That’s the price you have to pay for being a criminal.
If you’d been a good man, a faithful man, you wouldn’t be in this situation.”
Bell’s expression hardened into a sneer.
“So you’d better get used to it.”
“But every criminal eventually pays his debt to society,” he said.
“Yeah, but some crimes warrant the death penalty.”
Josh said nothing.
She had him.
He was cornered just like these animals.
He couldn’t live like this.
His only way out was to confess and take his chances.
He would only tie himself in frustrated knots waiting for Bell to issue another demand.
He would tell Kate about the kickback and the affair and hope to God she would forgive him.
It wasn’t an enviable choice.
“It won’t be that easy to get rid of me, Josh.”
“You wouldn’t have much hold over me if I told Kate.”
She looked at him with a crooked smile, amused by his attempt at trying to get the upper hand.
“Do you think Kate would understand what you did?
Besides, even if you did, I’ve still got you for the bribe.
I’m sure that your employers, the police and the people living in that apartment complex would be most interested in your part in its dubious construction.”
Josh looked around furtively, checking that someone hadn’t overheard them.
“Don’t worry, Josh.
No one here cares about you and your sordid past,” she reassured.
“But what will it take to get rid of you?”
She paused for a moment.
“A lifetime of watching you squirm because of what you did to me.”
He saw the hatred ablaze in her eyes.
“What did I do to make you hate me that much?”
“You dumped me.
You had your fun.
You came to me when you had problems at home.
You promised you’d leave her for me but you chickened out when things got all lovey dovey again.
You shit on me, Josh.”
A woman with her pre-school age child walked past Josh and Bell.
Shocked by the foul language, she grabbed her daughter’s hand and sped past.
She muttered her disgust as she went.
Bell embarrassed him, but she ignored the woman.
“I don’t regret breaking up with you.
It was wrong to cheat on Kate.
I regret the affair.
I betrayed my family and I was wrong.”
“What about me?” she demanded.
“What I did to you was wrong.
I never should have gotten involved with you and I apologize to you, right now.
“And you think that’s enough?”
“I want it to be enough.
I want to be left alone.
I don’t care about the money.
I don’t want to see you prosecuted for blackmail.
I just want peace in my life.”
“I’m not sure that I can grant you that.”
Bell stood up.
“We all have wants but we rarely get them.”
Still seated, Josh grabbed her wrist.
“This can’t continue.
You know that.”
Her smile weakened and she looked away.
He let go of her wrist.
Bell walked towards the exit.
He watched the bustling crowd moving from one habitat to another swallow her up.
The professional was perfectly camouflaged amongst the tourists.
His target hadn’t spotted him in the crowd.
He was good at just fitting in, disappearing amidst the masses.
And he doubted anyone in the zoo would remember him by the time they got home.
Not even that guy with his two brats in tow who walked slap bang into him at the jaguar enclosure while he watched his target take a seat on the bench.
The family man had looked stunned and apologized profusely, swearing he hadn’t seen the professional.
The hit man took the remark as a compliment.
He watched from no more than twenty feet away, but found it difficult to listen with all those damned kids whooping like monkeys.
The trip to the zoo had puzzled him.
His target had left the house, visited a drug store, gone to the bank, then come to the zoo.
Why hadn’t he brought his daughter?
What good father didn’t bring his daughter to the zoo?
But a short fifteen-minute wait revealed all—a clandestine meeting with a woman.
What is Mr. Michaels up to?
Is he a bad boy?
A lady friend to keep perhaps?
This was something the professional would enjoy watching.
Sometimes in his investigations he came across some interesting alternative lifestyles his targets kept.
One of his targets had a taste for peep shows and prostitutes while having a happy family back home.
Another had been a cross-dresser.
It had been hard not to laugh when he saw an overweight middle-aged man prancing around like a little girl.
Several had kept mistresses and Michaels was turning out to be one of those.
There’d been so many little oddities he had gazed upon in the course of his work.
The human race never failed to amaze him.
This meeting was different, not quite what he had expected.
His target didn’t look too pleased to see the woman.
The professional saw Michaels snap his arm away.
Rejecting her affections.
Is that money I see being exchanged?
Michaels was turning out to be a very interesting assignment.
The professional decided the woman wasn’t a mistress.
She might have been once, but not now.
It looked like extortion was the name of the game these days.
The professional smiled.
There’s an angle here I can exploit.
Mr. Michaels, you’re giving me a lot of material.
A germ of an idea began to grow.
It would be messy but it would be very dramatic if it worked.
It would be one of his best efforts.
He leaned his head against the rail of the polar bear habitat, one amongst many, but his was the only one not turned toward the marine mammal.
He watched the woman get up and leave his target.
It looked like a touching moment and he wished he could tell what was being said.
He would look into lip reading classes after this contract.
She headed in the direction of the exit and he followed.
He could afford to leave Michaels alone, for now.
He had what he needed on him for the moment.
He wanted to find out more about this woman.
She could be useful.
In the parking lot, the woman got into a black, Chevy Cobalt coupe and the professional followed in his Taurus.
He shadowed her progress north across town to the Radisson Hotel.
She went in and he kept a reasonable non-stalking distance behind.
At the entrance, a doorman greeted her and he checked out her ass after she passed him.
The professional was greeted similarly but without having his ass checked.
The woman walked up to the young female desk clerk.
The professional picked up a free local newspaper off the stand and made sure he got close enough to hear the conversation.
“Hello, how can I help you?” the desk clerk asked.
“Any messages for room 307?” she asked.
The desk clerk checked and told her there weren’t any.
The woman headed over to the elevator.
The professional went up to the other clerk on duty, a bored looking man in his thirties.
“Excuse me, could I use your restrooms?”
No problem, just turn left at the restaurant and they’re on your left.”
The desk clerk leaned over the counter and pointed to his right, in the opposite direction of the elevators.
“Thanks,” the professional said and smiled.
“Not at all, sir.”
The professional went off in search of the restrooms as directed.
He locked himself into a stall and sat on the toilet for a respectable time before flushing and leaving the restroom.
He returned to the reception desk.
The male desk clerk the professional had spoken to earlier was occupied with a customer.
He approached the young female desk clerk who had dealt with Josh Michaels’ secret woman.
She smiled at him.
“Excuse me, you have a lady in room 307, an Asian woman, early thirties.
Now I’m sure I know her from a company we used to work for and I wanted to check to see if it was her.”
The professional managed to look benign, hopeless and charming all at the same time.
She checked her computer records.
“Room 307 is a Miss Belinda Wong.”
her,” he beamed.
The desk clerk beamed back, happy for him and for her.
It was probably the first interesting thing to happen all day.
“Do you have a card with a phone number I could call her back on?”
The desk clerk nodded.
She gave him a matchbook and pointed to the number on the back.
“Just change the last three numbers with her room number and you’ll get straight through.”