She never asked for his name, and neither did he ask hers. It was a most intimate business conducted in complete anonymity. It didn’t matter to him, anyway; in the end they both got what they wanted. The bartering in the middle was simply professional foreplay. If there was anything Julian was good at, it was professional foreplay.
His hairy left arm dangled down the side of the low bed, scraping the coarse carpet with the tips of his knuckles. A cigar smouldered between two fingers, adding the scent of tobacco to that of posh perfumes that preyed on his nose like a hungry predator looking for its next meal. Long, lacquered black nails scratched red grooves across his bare chest as slender fingers ventured into the dense forest of hair. Beneath a sheet barely thick enough to be translucent, their legs were intertwined; her lithe limbs coiled around his chiselled calves like a serpent around its prey.
Julian glanced over to the polished wooden table at the far side of the room. Upon it, a dimmed lamp cast just enough of its warm yellow light to see by, and threw an assortment of twisted shadows against the walls. The only other thing on the table was a light brown folder. He’d got what he came for, but he couldn’t help wanting to leave with more.
She sensed his unease in his tightening muscles, and drew herself closer to him. Her mane of void-black hair tickled his chest as she rested her head upon it like a cat begging to be stroked. Nails like claws continued to blaze red trails along his body. He peered down at her, allowing himself a small smile at seeing her curled up against him. He’d given it all hours of thought, and this moment seemed about as good as any other. His heart hammered against his ribs, and he feared that she’d think that something was amiss, but she remained still.
Julian began to feel warmer, as if he’d suddenly found himself walking on hot coals. Anxiety crushed his throat as he weighed up his options. Gritting his teeth, he stared at her once more, and let out a sigh.
She rose up from his chest like a cobra, and met his gaze, “I’m sorry.”
“My name is Julian,” He repeated, his courage faltering as he saw a smile sweep across her lips, “I thought that maybe we could-“
She cut him off high with a high-pitched, lilting laugh. “It wasn’t a question, I heard what you said.” Her nails dug into his flesh, causing him to wince at the sharp, unexpected pain. He could feel the gentle trickle of blood running down from where she’d broken the skin. “I’m just sorry to hear you say it. If we’re going to start being honest then I was quite enjoying this little façade we had going. It broke the monotony of the usual meetings,” She released a melodramatic sigh, “but then you had to go and spoil it; typical.”
Julian’s brow furrowed. “I don’t quite follow…”
“No,” She agreed, “I’m sure you don’t. Let me spell it out. Your business doesn’t like my business. We both saw the chance to give our respective establishments a boost, perhaps by ‘finding out’ what their competitor had been doing in their spare time, and it earns us a nice cash bonus on the side.”
“Skip to the point.”
She jabbed his throat with a razor-sharp nail. “Don’t you get snappy with me.” She dragged the nail down with practised precision, drawing blood. Julian remained unflinching. “I’ve got your balls in a bind, and here’s why. You just sold yourself out to me for secrets, and sex. I’ve got your name,” She gestured to a point in the far corner of the room, “I’ve got you on camera.” If snakes could smile, then Julian was positive they’d resemble her. “I could drop you in shit so deep that you’d have to dig for years to reach the light; whereas I… I am anonymous. I’m just another Jane Doe to your corporation. You’ve got no identity to pin to me in your pathetic defence. I can sell you out to the highest bidder.”
Realisation struck Julian as if the woman before him had just sunk her fangs into his neck. How could he have let himself become so blinded? He relied on being critical of everything in order to stay alive, and he’d let his guard down against the enemy he should’ve always suspected, and never did. Seeing her there against him minutes before… he knew that he’d met nobody like her before; had she simply been playing him the entire time? Did she love nothing in this world but money?
He forced himself to focus. He was in a nest of vipers, and the mother was readying to strike. He didn’t have long to act. He felt something rolling between his fingers, and immediately knew what he had to do. Feinting an attempt to flee to her left, he instead used his distraction to drive the smouldering end of his cigar into her eye. She cried out and recoiled in pain as he drove it deeper, pushing her back even as he rose up to leave the bed. His window of opportunity wouldn’t be open forever, and she’d doubtless have a weapon close to hand - a knife or a gun hidden somewhere. He knew that she was trained as well as he, and in her rage suspected that his brawn alone would not guarantee his life.
He dropped the cigar, dashed for the kitchen, picked up the closest knife to hand, and she was upon him. Her own blade, a wicked stiletto, was already flying for his throat. He had no choice. With his knife pressed close to her chest, he gave a sharp thrust whilst simultaneously leaning away from the stiletto. Luck was on his side as the blade passed cleanly between her ribs, and she jerked back. Blood slicked her naked front as she collapsed to the floor with a thud. Julian stared at the blood on his hands – her blood. It had been the only way. A scant few minutes later, he was gone.
She appeared to him again in a window. Once more he ignored her, and kept running. Rain lashed against him, whipping him with chilling chains and spurring him onward. His hair dripped a continuous waterfall in front of his eyes, and every time he wiped the droplets away they’d be back in seconds. The water level in his shoes rose with each puddle he powered through, and his clothes were sodden with sweat and rainwater.
Still they chased him.
He allowed himself a quick glance over his shoulder. He thought he’d lost them for the moment, when a dark-suited man appeared from a corner and fired off a round from a pistol. The bullet flicked past Julian and struck the alley wall beside him. It was all the encouragement he needed. Unstopping, he squeezed off two blind rounds over his shoulder from his own sidearm, and hurriedly looked for an exit. She appeared to him again in the rain-streaked window of a car parked up on the pavement. He wiped her away as he darted past. Another man emerged from the shadows across the street and took aim. Julian ducked low behind another car for protection. She stared up at him from a puddle beneath the dripping door.
Exasperated, he fired into the puddle. Water shot up and ripples spread across the surface, distorting her face for a second. It nevertheless remained. Even in the driving rain, he could hear the calm, managed footsteps of his pursuers. The firm clop of posh leather shoes on tarmac drowned out the sounds of the city in his ears. Squeezing his eyes shut, he tried to think of an answer. He could make a stand; there were only two here. Counting back the bullets he’d fired through the night, he cursed as he came up one short. He could run. He opened his eyes when the footsteps stopped. He saw her again in the puddle. Wherever he could run, she’d be there. It had been the only way. Hadn’t it?
Cold metal kissed the back of his head as he pressed the barrel of his own pistol against the underside of his chin. There was but one place he could go where she couldn’t find him.