Meeting Mr Smith
At first it’s a knock; firm, with purpose. Then somebody begins hammering at my front door.
‘Mr Brown?’ a voice calls. ‘Are you there?’
I peer through the letterbox with complicit eyes. A man is standing a few feet from my front door. The sternness of his knock is corroborated by his granite face and substantial frame. Why now?
‘You have a Mr Jones staying with you?’ The man’s eyes dart to his phone. ‘He updated his status from this position at four o’clock.’
‘Oh? Wonderful things smartphones, they never lie. Or do they?’
‘Er, he was here but only to pick up some clothes. He left his old sweater. Actually, two sweaters, a wristwatch.’ Then my brain farts. ‘Some underpants.’
He gets down on his knees and leans in to the letterbox. I smell stale tobacco mixed with what may have been Hoi-Sin sauce. ‘Underpants? Mr Jones leaves a trail, doesn’t he? He’s left his phone behind too then. The GPS says it’s still in there.’
‘No it isn’t.’
‘Oh.’ He taps at the device in his hand and, after a second, the faint strains of Cream’s “Sunshine of your Love” tickle the air. ‘See. Go get him or let me in.’
I can’t go get him. On the other hand, I can’t let this man in either. I snap the letterbox shut, still wondering who he is. Then it occurs to me. He hasn’t shown any official identification or a warrant.
I creak the letterbox open. ‘You’ll need to show me some identification.’
‘Yes, some kind of warrant or a police badge or something.’
His face softens. Lines appear in the crazy paving around his eyes and his wide, yellow teeth pull a smile from cracked lips. He seems to be fumbling for something. He brings his hand up. I find I’m looking down the barrel of a pistol. ‘This is a 5 mm Bergmann,’ he grins. ‘Will that do?’
My insides clench. Impatiently, he taps the pistol from side to side of the letterbox. The swirling, concentric detail of the barrel flashes repeatedly past my eyes. I’m hypnotised by fear. Even when it dawns on me that keeping my face out of range might be a good idea, I stay locked there: face to face, on my knees.
‘So,’ the gun comes to rest; dead centre, tickling my nose. ‘I won’t ask a third time, Mr Brown…’
‘Can’t come to the door.’
‘And why ever not?’
The man cocks the hammer on the pistol. ‘He’s?’
‘He’s? He’s? He’s what? Spit it out. He’s what?’
I snap the letterbox shut. He hammers his fists on the door and begins to shout.
‘Let me in now, or I’ll shoot.’
I hide behind the hallway table, wrestling with my phone. I dial nine twice then stop myself. I can’t involve the police. What would happen to me? The letterbox creaks open and the barrel of his gun intrudes. A shot. A dead shot, if he had meant to aim for Aunt Purdy’s old vase just above my head. Finally I relent. ‘Okay,’ I say. ‘Okay, I’ll let you in. Just don’t harm me.’
I open the door. He walks through to the kitchen then up the staircase. ‘Where’s Jones?’ he asks.
‘In the lounge,’ I say, nodding towards the door. ‘But he’s…’
‘He’s hiding, I get it.’ He opens the door and strides through.
I rush after him. ‘No, no, he’s…’
The man’s eyes widen. Jones is lying next to the coffee table. His arms and legs are splayed at uncomfortable angles yet there is a peaceful expression on his face. ‘He’s dead,’ I finally say.
‘No! He can’t be!’
The man runs to the body and checks for a pulse then lifts a finger to Jones’ still warm cheek.
‘Don’t move his head,’ I say. ‘There’s blood. I’m trying to save the carpet.’
The man looks devastated. He flops into my armchair, tosses his pistol to the coffee table. He sits with his head in his hands for what seems like an age. All the while I eye the gun.
‘What happened?’ he asks.
‘Heart attack, I think. We were arguing. One moment he was standing there saying I owed him money, the next he collapses and smashes his head off the hearth.’
He picks up the pistol. ‘This is terrible.’
‘My targets keep dying. Ever since I took this job, I turn up to find they’ve already died.’
‘Doesn’t that save you time?’
‘Keeps making the papers, doesn’t it? When my clients find out I had nothing to do with it they don’t pay me. I’ve a family to support, you know. Just last Monday I was supposed to kill the Reverend McDonald. Only I found out he’d died in his sleep the previous morning.’
‘But who gave the sermon?’
‘It was during the sermon, hundreds of witnesses. Then, on Wednesday, on my way to bludgeon Mrs Khan to death, I found I couldn’t find a parking space on Scott Street.’
‘But you found one eventually?'
‘Yes, in her driveway. Mrs Khan had driven off moments earlier. She swerved to avoid her neighbour’s kid and drove straight into an Elm half way down the street. Now this.’
I start to feel for him. ‘You couldn’t have known. Jones didn’t exactly live a healthy life. He was a heart attack waiting to happen.’
‘And did you owe him money?’
‘Yes. Ten thousand quid.’
‘Lucky you, I guess that’s yours now. I could sure use that.’
‘Look. Only you and I know what happened here. Why don’t you just tell your client that you shot him?’
‘You’d do that for me?’
‘It’ll be our secret.’
‘You’re a life saver.’ He conceals the pistol and blushes. ‘Sorry about all the gun business.’
‘That’s ok. No harm done.’
‘I’d be happy to replace your vase.’
‘Thanks, but I never liked it.’ I walk him to the door. Then a thought hits me. How am I going to get rid of the body?
‘You don’t just kill, do you?’ I ask. ‘You dispose of the bodies afterwards?’
A smile breaks over his lips. ‘That’s right. Ten thousand quid a time.’