On November the fourth, at five fifteen in the afternoon, a sharply dressed gentleman in a casual suit, cowboy hat, and shiny snakeskin boots walks into a dive bar on the busy streets of New York City. Approaching the long row of stools aligning the bar top, he chooses one directly adjacent to the only other patron currently inside. Put off by the fact that this guy chose this particular seat considering the rest of the joint is unoccupied, the stranger subtly scoffs, dragging his beer towards himself before continuing to watch the football game on the television mounted overhead.
Lumbering over after not-at-all rushing the rest of his wipe down the end of the bar surface, the bartender slings a towel over his shoulder and nonchalantly nods at the newcomer.
“What’ll it be?”
“Any whiskey. On ice, please!” the man energetically replies.
As the barkeep turns to grab the bottle of Jack behind him, the mysterious man gently taps the football fan on the shoulder. Swiveling around in response, the Lions jersey-wearer raises an annoyed eyebrow.
“Uh, can I help you?” He asks.
Oddly, the tapper’s beaming smile eases into a sort of smug, condescending smirk.
“Actually, you can my friend.”
Leaning forward and quickly peering over both shoulders to ascertain no one is listening in, he elaborates.
“Listen,” he pointedly says, checking his watch as his disposition abruptly shifts to an eerily serious one.
“In forty-eight hours, I am going to murder you. I suggest you get started.”
Obviously caught off guard, the man responds as one would expect.
“What?? Are you crazy? Liam!”
Waiting for the bartender to stop pouring and heed his call, the regular shifts his seat to the side, trying to distance himself from this strange individual.
“Get away from me, weirdo.”
Re-donning his menacing smirk as easily as most change a pair of socks, the man doesn’t break his gaze as the twinkle returns to his eyes.
“I don’t think you understand, Richard. This isn’t a game. I really am going to kill you in two days. Trust me, there is no escaping that reality. It’s going to happen, regardless of whatever efforts you may employ to ensure otherwise. So considering this unavoidable future of yours, in the meantime I strongly suggest you tie any loose ends you might have out there, solemnly fraying away in an empty hope that you’d ever do so without this more-than generous nudge I’m providing. Actually, hell, you know what?, Now that I put it that way, you should be thanking your lucky stars for the opporortunity of doing so. Most people don’t get that chance. You realize that, don’t you son?”
Thinking that this absurd interaction is surely a joke, Richard softly laughs.
“Huh…ha! Who put you up to this? Was it Kurt? I swear, if it was him…”
Still smirking, the man shakes his head, almost as if he feels sorry for the subject.
“It wasn’t Kurt, my friend,” he says, placing an empathetic hand on his arm.
“It was simply the universe, doing its part,” he finishes.
“Wha…what is that supposed to mean?” The increasingly frightened man stutters.
“It means that you have been a very bad boy, and this here is a reckoning,” the stranger says with a wink.
“I still d…don’t understand,” Richard mutters, his voice slightly quivering.
To this the man switches back to his scary, deadly serious demeanor. Leaning further forward, he peers directly into Richard’s now noticeably terrified, green eyes.
“Answer me this. Precisely thirty-seven hours ago,” the man sneers, subtly looking at his watch again, “where were you?”
Trying to come up with an answer, Richard lies, taking a moment to glance at the ceiling as if he’s recounting past events.
“I…I was with my girlfriend. At her flat in Hoboken.”
Chuckling, he changes it up yet again. Reaching for the whiskey he ordered with his left hand, he downs it in one large gulp. With his right, he firmly pats Richard on the back.
“Of course you were!” He cheerfully booms.
The stranger then sets down his glass, places a twenty-dollar bill on the bar, stands up, and makes his way toward the exit. Just before cracking open the door, he turns.
“Of course you were, Richard. Don’t forget! Forty-eight hours. See you soon, buddy,” he says, drifting outside with another sadistic wink.
TWO DAYS LATER
“It was so weird.”
Sitting on a restaurant patio with a bottle of Michelob Ultra in his hand, Richard Ranghorn is chatting with a career colleague.
“At first I figured the guy must have had some kind of mental condition. By looking at that eerie grin, he just looked off somehow. But after he asked me where I was that day…I don’t know. Part of me thinks he might actually know something.”
“Wow. That’s not good,” the friend winces.
“You’re telling me,” Richard nods, sipping his beer.
Taking a moment to mull over the strange recollection, the colleague sets his drink down and crosses his legs, quizzically placing both hands over his knees.
“You really think this guy knows what we do? I mean sure, it would be a heck of a coincidence for him to pinpoint that particular hour without being clued in somehow, but I don’t know.”
He raises an eyebrow.
“You’re sure you’ve never seen him before?”
Richard shakes his head.
“I’m careful, Diego. I’ve never had anything as much as a hiccup on one my contracts. If he’d been hanging around anywhere near enough to realize anything, I would have noticed. You know that. No, this guy must have heard something through the grapevine. If I had to guess, he’s probably a next of. I bet he thinks he has some kind of personal settle to score.”
He rolls his eyes.
“As if we’ve ever given a flying filth about any of these fools.”
“I know I sure haven’t. Yeah, I bet you’re right.” Diego agrees. “Fella probably just can’t turn the page, sorry old sap. But you best be looking over your shoulders when we leave,” he adds with a laugh. Forty-eight hours ain’t far off from now.”
Enjoying the rest of their afternoon following a change of subject the pair eventually call it a day, tabbing out and parting paths. Making his way toward the quiet alley behind the establishment where his car is parked, Richard peers down at his wristwatch, seeing that it’s almost a quarter till five.
“Half an hour until impending doom,” he chuckles to himself.
As he looks toward at the dusky sky that’s beginning to set in, his left index finger taps the unlock button on his key fob as his right glides over the nine millimeter pistol tucked within a vest holster under his jacket’s inner lining. Finally approaching his black sedan he reaches for the driver’s side handle, checking behind just to be sure. Suddenly, he hears a metallic clanking noise ahead coming from the end of the desolate alley. Quickly swiveling his gaze to investigate the origin of the sound, he immediately freezes as his eyes lock in on the rolling lid of a tin garbage can, obviously having been kicked by someone. Peering behind it to see who the trickster is, he notices the out-of-focus silhouette of a waving man.
“Evenin’, Rich!” The sharply-dressed figure cheerfully bursts, gradually coming into view as it struts toward the car, hand in pockets.
Totally caught off guard, Richard’s frozen body begins to awkwardly shudder, the tension in his hand causing him to drop the key from his pocket.
“Wha..uh..er…can I help you?” He murmurs, trying to compose himself to slyly unbutton the quick release from his gun holster.
“Actually yes! Yes you can. You mind?”
Abruptly stopping about fifteen feet from his subject, the grinning man slightly swivels to turn the other way, beckoning the frightened man toward him.
“There’s a tarp over yonder from the reno they’re doing on this old coffee shop ‘round the corner. Would ya mind? I think its prob’ly best we do this there. Be a heck of a lot easier to clean up, don’t ya think?”
Noticing the fumbling hand under Richard’s jacket, the man softly laughs.
“Aw I wouldn’t be doing all that, now,” he warns. “That’s a quick ticket to the end of this show, my friend! You’d miss the whole dang thing!”
Now shaking, the professional contract killer’s knees begin to buckle as he realizes his trembling hands are incapable of maneuvering the pistol from its holster.
“N-n-n-n…now you just listen, alright?? I…I haven’t done a thing to you! I never knew a thing about any of those folks I did, you hear? Not one! You’re after the wrong man! It’s the people that pay me that you want!”
Lowering his head, the cheerful stranger displays the same sinister pity as he did during their first encounter, maintaining that trademark smirk.
“Don’t you worry, boy. They been cast in this play too, so I don’t want you going on there thinkin’ you’re anything special. After all this is just Act One, friend!” He bellows.
“See like I was sayin’ the other night, the universe has a funny way of making sure things come full circle. Tends to, oh I don’t know…” He says, looking around for the right term. “…balance itself, ya know? Now, I get it. I imagine you quite enjoyed all those nice, shiny whatchamajigs your benefactors paid for with you doing all that dirty work. But sadly, I’m gonna have to take those things from you now, m’kay? No hard feelings or anything. Its just business! Right? Surely you of all people, ha…you get that. But if there is in fact an afterlife you find here in just a few, you remember…I gave you plenty of time to tie them loose ends. Don’t you go forgettin’ that, hear?”
Completely in shock at this point, Richard collapses to the pavement, his mind struggling to process this truly is the moment of his death. His entire life, about to end at the mere pull of a trigger. As his brain kicks into hyperdrive, vivid memories of all those times he was on the other end of the barrel dart force a reluctant curl of his lip. The humorous irony is just too rich.
“See ya on the other side,” the man says, raising a silenced pistol at his lowering forehead.