The Chemist’s phone interrupted his sleep with a muted buzzing. His brain, foggy with sleep, compelled him to blindly reach for it on the nightstand.
It wasn’t there.
He opened his eyes and stared at the unfamiliar apartment. His brain kicked into second gear; trying to make sense of it all. It registered a milky white arm draped across his torso and the warm, naked, feminine body pressing against him beneath the sheets. He glanced over his shoulder to get a look at her face. Bad idea, she was too close and the only reward he got for straining his neck was a glimpse of blonde hair.
He shrugged her arm off his chest and rolled out of bed to get a good look at her. A name came to him, along with memories of last night.
Her eyes stayed shut, and she seemed oblivious to his actions, yet her eyelashes and lower lip trembled. Was she going to cry?
‘Girl got problems’ he decided as he yawned and stretched his neck muscles.
His phone was still ringing. He padded across the soft woolen carpet and fished through his jeans as Mandy lay unmoving. Like a corpse. His brain, still in second gear and burning off the last fumes of sleep, neglected to check the caller ID.
‘Yeah?’ he said into the receiver.
‘Where are you?’ The voice was brusque, impatient. The Client.
That woke him up quick. His heart skipped a beat as his brain revved into third gear.
‘I, uh, don’t actually know.’ He bit his lip and cursed himself as the words left his lips.
‘You don’t know’ repeated the Client slowly.
‘I went to grab some…stuff.’
The voice on the other end sighed, and then-
‘We’ve talked about this. The cops will be rounding up all the bouncers and workers. You’ll be the prime suspect if you don’t show. Get yourself cleaned up.’
‘Yeah, yeah…’ said the Chemist, forcing back the wave of exasperation which flooded his soul. This man was not someone to piss off.
‘Sort it out’ said the Client. The Chemist heard a beep, and then the line went dead. Seething, he checked the time.
His phone read 6:23am. His heart contracted painfully in his chest as he stared at the screen, fighting the urge to punch something. He’d overslept. He slipped into his boxers, then jeans with a feverish urgency.
The soft ruffling of sheets and creaking of metal caused him to turn round. Mandy was lying on her back, her eyes were open. They stared at each other for an awkward moment.
‘Morning, big stuff’ she said, stifling a yawn.
He grinned, or tried to, it felt more like a leer. ‘Morning babe. How you feeling?’
She smiled. ‘Amazing. A little hungover. I guess I drank more than I thought. But you more than made up for it.’
He smirked. ‘Glad to hear it.’
‘I’m not usually like this though. I’m not that kind of girl.’
Oh I’m sure you are. He remained silent as he put on his sneakers.
His feet were itching to leave. His brain, now cruising, informed him there was something else he’d forgotten. Another reason he shouldn’t be here. It eluded him; dangling just beyond his mental grasp.
‘I’ve gotta go’ he said, he turned towards the bedroom door, brow furrowed in concentration.
‘I could make you breakfast’ said Mandy. The eagerness in her voice was palpable, suffocating. The thought of his first decent meal in years was appealing but his instincts warned against it. The promise of breakfast was in itself harmless; a desperate offer. But it was also a distraction from the more pressing and potentially fatal error he failed to recall.
He realised she would mistake his hesitation for interest. He stooped and scooped up his jacket, flung to the floor a few hours ago in a moment of primal passion. ‘Nah, I’ve got a meeting. See ya.’
Her question hung unanswered as he wriggled into the jacket. He ignored the urge to reply, to look back as he stepped towards the door.
He almost made it. A buzzing sound caused him to pause without turning around. Aphone, hers, was ringing, buzzing somewhere behind him. What were the odds of that happening?
He stayed still, risking a few extra seconds to listen as his hand hovered over the door handle. The bed creaked again as she moved around behind him. And then:
‘Hello? Yes I’m Mandy, Detective…What? Jazmin? No…no…wait, what? Oh my –‘
Her words regressed into an unintelligible babble as she choked back her sobs. However, her distress paled in comparison to the emotional whirlwind the Chemist fought to keep within him.
The text, of course! To the detectives Mandy was Jazmin’s last contact, and their first line of enquiry. Her sniffs interrupted his thoughts as she listened to the detective on the other end of the line.
A few seconds of silence interspersed with sniffs and sobs followed. The detective had hung up it seemed. The Chemist took a deep breath then turned around. Mandy was curled up on the edge of the bed like a wounded animal, her face buried in her knees.
‘What’s up?’ he said.
‘Jazmin’s dead! She got shot after leaving last night. I should have checked to see if she was okay! I should have checked!’
He blinked. How did a professional killer comfort someone who’d lost a loved one?
‘Oh, that’s messed up.’
The words felt empty as soon as he said them, probably because he didn’t really give a shit. Mandy must have picked up on this because she looked up at him; eyes wide and wet; face scrunched in pain.
‘Stay, please. The detective will be here in 30 minutes.’
He shook his head. ‘Girl, I told you I’ve got a meeting.’
‘No! You can’t leave me like this, not now…please!’
An overwhelming sense of disgust pulsed through him and he glared at her. She recoiled, shrinking back against the bed’s headboard as though she desired to vanish through it. That made him pause.
He couldn’t reason with Mandy as she was, if he left now she’d cause a scene or, at best, view his actions as suspicious. Who knew what she’d tell the cops when they came? If he waited for them they’d question him too. Would they search him? He hadn’t planned for this and had thirty minutes before the cops showed. There wasn’t enough time to prep his story.
What could he do? He pushed himself, willing his instincts to find an answer. His instincts delivered:
Give them something else to think about.
A successful hitman requires three things; a dead conscience and a keen sense of survival are standard. Clarity when things go bust is the essential third trait which sets the men apart from those who serve time or get killed. And the Chemist had all three, in spades.
So now he knew the ‘what’, the crucial bit was the ‘how’. His mind churned furiously as he watched Mandy cower against the headboard, her chest rising and falling between shallow breaths. Then he saw the solution, in plain sight.
Sometimes the speed at which his mind connected dots scared him.
‘You’re having a panic attack. Have you got your meds?’ he asked.
‘How did you-?’
‘I’m sharp like that. Take painkillers for the hangover too. Double dose; you’ll think clearer.’
Mandy staggered off the bed and stumbled toward her en suite bathroom. He smiled as she opened the cabinet. She had a small pharmacy in there! That usually meant prescriptions from different doctors, each obtained without revealing what other medication she was on.
A fairly common practice, but a dangerous one. Painkillers and anti-anxiety meds were harmless in isolation and moderation, but potentially deadly when combined. She was ignorant of this, as he had suspected. This would work.
Mandy’s hands trembled as she followed his instructions to the letter. She flipped the toilet lid down and sat on it, head in hands, avoiding his gaze.
The Chemist grinned.
‘Good girl. I’m not moving till the cops get here. You’ll feel a little woozy for a bit but will be better after it’s all over.’
In other words, you won’t feel anything at all.
Mandy nodded. Tears ran down her cheeks as her breathing slowed. The Chemist glanced at his phone, 6:34am. The cocktail would lower her heart rate to dangerous levels, inducing a coma and paralysing her lungs within 10 minutes. Permanent brain damage would commence within four minutes of oxygen deprivation. Emergency services won’t arrive in time to save her. He had a 15 minute escape window, give or take.
She sat, he stood, the seconds ticked by.
Finally, she lifted her head, her movements sluggish. ‘I feel funny’ she said. Her words were slurred, her voice barely more than a whisper.
‘The detective will be here soon’ he said.
‘No, this is…what did you do to me?’
He raised an eyebrow. ‘How is this my fault?’
Mandy shook her head. Her breathing grew laboured, each breath deliberate as she gasped for air.
‘Look at me’ he said.
Her blue eyes locked on him with a mixture of disappointment and horror. Then they lost their focus and she struggled to hold his gaze as tears began pouring from them again.
‘Oh now that’s just pathetic.’
Her bawl reduced to a whimper but the tears down her cheeks increased, right about now her lungs should be getting slack and she would be sinking into an unconsciousness from which she would never return. She stumbled and grasped for the sink to break her fall. It was almost painful to watch her struggle with gravity before her knees gave way and she fell. Her temple struck the sink with a sickening crack and a pool of blood formed under her head where she lay.
The Chemist stood and watched her for another minute, then he turned to leave.
Ryan groaned. First came the consciousness, then the pain.
It was excruciating. His head throbbed with a pounding migraine. His lips stung and jaw… someone had hit him, hard. And repeatedly. His mind buckled under the strain and threatened to switch off again.
Had he been mugged? He tried to open his eyes but the lids protested. They felt…sandy and raw on the inside. Pain and discomfort in his head. That was all he felt. He probed his body with his mind.
He couldn’t move anything. His lungs froze at the realisation. His heart thumped madly against his ribcage. Somehow, through the sheer horror of the situation he accepted those sensations as signs of life. Alive, but paralysed? Was he in a hospital? He heard nothing, saw nothing. He groaned again and realised his mouth felt parched. He hadn’t felt that a couple of moments ago.
More sensations came with time. Minutes? Hours? He couldn’t tell. He was overwhelmed with gratitude as he became more aware of his body and surroundings. His clothes, shoes. The smell of perfume and booze. His face pressed against something soft and familiar.
Something bit into his right thigh. He tried to yank it off but it wouldn’t budge. He slid his hand into his pocket and felt a cold and familiar shape.
‘Wha- oh fuck!’
He rolled off the bed and hit the ground with a loud thud. Sight; sound; terror; pain; all assaulted his mind as he pulled out the gun and stared at it.
It was a small revolver. He racked his brain, trying to remember.
The Void, Jazmin. They’d argued. She wanted to break up. And then the memories tapered off.
Why couldn’t he remember?
He reached into his right pocket for his smartphone, but there was something else beside it. A smaller phone, he decided. He put the gun aside and pulled both phones out.
He looked at the small phone. It was basic, cheap and disposable. Whose was it?
His brain provided no answers. He couldn’t call anyone. A quick web search via his smartphone brought up the damning words which leaped out of the page as he skimmed over them.
Student dead in Foggy Bottom… gunshots to the chest…small calibre…more to follow.
He began to shake as he put down the phones and reached again for the revolver. He opened the chamber. Three bullets missing.
‘Fuuuuck’ he whined. His knees danced uncontrollably.
He couldn’t have done it, how could he have done it? Who would believe him? Who’d want to hear his story when he had none to tell?
He couldn’t think clearly. He was aware of the tunnel vision and began to accept the possibility he had really messed things up.
He felt the urge for a strong drink. Something to calm his thoughts. He walked dejectedly to the kitchen and pulled a Budweiser from the fridge. It would have to do.
The beer calmed his nerves a little. He realized his paranoia had blurred his thinking. He would need to change his clothing and have a shower. He ripped off the offending clothes and shoved them in a plastic bag.
No suspects mentioned, there’s still time.
He checked his watch. If he could get there unnoticed, he had a chance of making a clean getaway.
And perhaps put all this behind him.