My attempt to write an unlikable protagonist.
The phone always rang at the worst times. And in this case, it was the worst person calling.
“This really isn’t a good time.”
“Then why didn’t you let it go to voice mail?” Her voice, as always, had tinge of obliviousness that he simultaneously thanked and cursed her for.
“Because I know you don’t call this number unless it’s damned important.”
“I’m calling because it’s your son’s birthday this week.”
He glanced to his left, placed a finger to his lips and shook his head.
“Yes, I know. It’s Thursday.”
“He said he’d really like it if you were there.”
Oh, God damn it. “I’ll do what I can. I’m out of town at the moment. Business.”
“Oh?” She sounded genuinely curious. “Where are you?”
“It’s best if I don’t say.” You wouldn’t like ‘in an empty office building nobody ever uses except for things like this’ as an answer. “Look, my clients are sensitive people. They don’t like people knowing where they are at times like this.”
“And you have to be there in person? You can’t arrange things like this from your office?”
The office I don’t have? “They trust me. They prefer to have me close by to coordinate things on site. They need me.”
“I just think your son needs you, too. That’s all.”
He rolled his eyes. “I really do not have time for this. I will do my best to be there. Okay?”
“Oh. Okay. Do you want to talk to him?”
For fuck’s sake… “No, I can’t right now. I have to go.”
He hung up before she could say another word. The man in the chair made a noise. The duct tape made it as hard for him to form words as it did for him to get out of the chair. The estranged father put his cell phone back into his coat pocket.
“Sorry about that. Now, where were we? Oh, right, you were about to tell me what you’ve done with Mr. Vugatti’s merchandise. Let’s talk about that, okay, Steve?”
There was another muffled protest from Steve. The man shook his head and reached into the toolbox he’d brought along. He selected a pair of pliers, grabbed Steve’s left pinkie finger with them, and pulled until something snapped. Steve’s scream was distorted by the tape. The man reached up and yanked it off.
“I’m sorry, Steve, what was that?”
“You… you bastard… just… just let me go and… and I’ll tell you.”
“No, no, Steve, it doesn’t work like that. You tell me what I want to know, and then I set you free. Have you never played this game?”
“Game? This is my life, man!”
“Steve. Steve. I need you to focus.” He broke the other pinkie. Steve howled. “Where’s the merchandise?”
“I… I gave it to someone. For safe-keeping.”
“Well, that was probably smart. You’re a smart guy. So do the smart thing, and tell me who this person is so I can get Mr. Vugatti’s stuff back, okay? I mean, if you’d sold it like you were told to do you wouldn’t be here, and I know you don’t want to be here.”
“He… he works down at the docks.” Steve had to spit blood out of his mouth. He’d already been hit a few times before the phone rang and the duct tape went over his mouth. “Pier Sixteen. His name is Terry. He’ll know… he’ll know which container the merchandise is in.”
“Good. That’s good, Steve. I can work with that.” He put the pliers away and closed the toolbox, turning away.
“Wait! Wait! You said… you said you’d let me go!”
The man stopped and turned back. His suppressed Nighthawk 1911 was in his hand.
“No, Steve.” His tone was sympathetic. “I said I’d set you free.”
He raised the gun and fired. The suppressor made the gunshot slightly louder than a snap of the fingers. Steve’s head snapped back, then rolled forward, blood and mucus seeping from his mouth and nose. Sighing, the assassin unscrewed the suppressor, slid it into his coat pocket and holstered the gun as he fished out the phone.
“Hello, Mr. Caine. I take it you were successful?”
“Yes. Have Mr. Vugatti’s people come around to their office building to clean up Steve. I have to track down another lead.”
“You know he won’t be happy with another delay.”
“He’s the one who wants professional results. If he doesn’t like it, he can find someone else do clean up his mess.”
“I understand, sir, I was simply making sure you were aware of the client’s inclinations.”
Mister Caine got into his sedan, placing his toolbox on the passenger seat. It was the only name he gave in professional circles, the only name by which Lilith knew him. By the same token, he didn’t know her real name, nor how she’d found him after the CIA had burned him. They didn’t like the excuse of ‘incendiary devices are tricky’ when an entire floor of a hotel had burned and nearly taken the whole building after he’d misjudged the device’s mixture.
“I’m fully aware, Lilith, thank you. After you get off the phone with his people, I’ll need a personnel manifest for Pier Sixteen. First name Terry.”
“I will get right on it. In the meantime, may I suggest you make time for your son’s birthday party?”
“Lilith, I told you. Listening into my phone conversations is rude.”
“Keeping your line secure is difficult, sir. If I am listening I can ensure nobody else is. The fact remains that your son has asked for you to be there.”
“If you heard my name, or his, that would be a serious breach of security. Think about that. That’s your job.”
“My job, Mr. Caine, is to keep you alive and working. And if you see your son, you might remember why being those things are good for you. No more excuses.”
She hung up. Caine fought the urge to shoot the phone.