When I offered Genna her requested rum and diet coke, I heard the pop and fizz of the bubbles, and fought against a knowing smirk. It had been an easy pour since Martin had already made the mix. In each snap and clink of ice, the powder dissolved into the brown solution, the poison hiding like a knife in the dark.
She cupped the sweating glass and reclined into my leather easy chair. “Why now?”
“I wanted to make sure you weren’t going to say anything once the paperwork went through.”
It was Genna’s turn to smirk. She did so while crossing her legs, revealing her calf and hint of thigh through the slit in her scarlet skirt.
I suppose she was trying to distract me, so I gave the toned muscles a quick glance before sitting in the opposing leather armchair. The bottom of my mostly gin and tonic left a cold ring against my knee, one my jeans couldn’t thwart. My pants were thin and ready to be thrown out. Appropriate attire for taking out the garbage.
“You’re really going to take the money and go, Charlie?”
I winced at her casual drop of the theft she’d witnessed.
Genna hadn’t been in on any of it of course but her knowledge of the accounting system had left my one small change a curiosity she, in her infinite persistence, hadn’t been able to overlook. Her face that night when she’d walked into my kitchen on Martin’s arm had been a mask of pleasantness. When he’d drifted off to seduce the firm’s newest secretary, Genna had cornered me. I suppressed a chuckle remembering how I’d poured her the same drink in that corner, one shooting off from the living room where we now sat. We’d stood by that slab of fake marble-sheeting plastering over the countertop’s spotty construction, bantering innuendos and suppositions.
Thinking back on the exchange got me almost missing the narrow space where you couldn’t open the fridge and dishwasher at the same time, the curl of the linoleum tiles, and the dual burners with their bases rusted through.
Taking a throat-quenching draw on my drink, I toasted the remains of the life I’d soon leave behind once I’d dealt with this last complication.
“I think it’s about time I took off. The investigation’s over. I’ve been cleared by the police. No one’s looking in my direction. I plan to walk off into the sunset and enjoy the fruits of my labor.”
“Unless I stop you.”
I grinned. “Which is why I called.”
Genna tilted her head, her blonde ringlets springing over her too-snug blouse. “You want to what, make me promise to keep my mouth shut?”
“It’d be a start.”
“Haven’t I proven myself already?” She examined the sharpened points of her manicured fingers. “I could have said something.”
“But you haven’t.”
“Precisely.” She coated her logic with her first sip, and my smile spread when the snaps escalated among the shifting ice cubes. “I mean, if I wanted you in jail, then you’d be in jail.”
“But I’m not and I’d like to know why.”
She crossed her legs the other way, hiding the slit and adjusted her skirt with her free hand. “Why do you care? You’re free.”
“I want to make sure I don’t slip up down the road. Don’t give you a reason to change your mind.”
“You think I will?”
“People can be fickle.”
“You mean women.”
I shrugged and let her think what she wanted. Arguing would seem hypocritical though, since the main reason I sat facing her was because of a woman. Genna was Martin’s girl, his third girl to be exact, the third to be dropped for a younger, blonder version. Genna, however, didn’t know, and number four didn’t like the idea of him having a wife. She had him wrapped around her finger enough to make him finally come to terms with his situation. Martin had sounded so relieved when we’d decided on the hows and the wheres to give Genna a final send off and happy to play a part while keeping his fingers clean in the process.
It’s funny how people get when they start thinking devious thoughts. They want the result but never the path there. I didn’t mind. I never did.
Taking another sip on my drink reminded Genna of hers. I winced, and tapped my finger against the beaded side as the three shots I’d taken before our meeting bit back, the bourbon prodding the insides of my eyeballs. I stretched my face with a yawn, shooing them away, and then settled more comfortably in my chair.
“Listen, Genna, I don’t want to have to keep looking over my shoulder, worrying that you’re going to have the FBI or the IRS swooping in on me in my little corner of paradise.”
Genna frowned. She glanced at her drink in thought, drank and then set it on the armrest and squared herself to me. Her features smoothed into that diplomatic mask she wore when about to not simply debate, but to win.
“I’m sure we can arrange something that’ll keep that from happening.”
For the past two months, I’d been waiting for her to spring this trap. I’d known she would, but its arrival managed to push fingernails into my gut regardless. I shifted, relieving the physical discomfort of her snare with a rub against my stomach.
“How much do you want?”
Scoffing, I finished my drink and abandoned it on my coffee table where it would leave a ring on the painted particleboard. I held my side and leaned back.
“40’s a lot.”
She scowled and wrapped an arm around her willowy waist. “I could go higher.”
“No.” I held up the hand not kneading at my liver. “It’ll just mean a little less tequila.”
She snorted. “More for me.”
“Don’t you mean us? You and Martin.”
“That bastard? I thought you’d know. You’re his best friend after all.”
I knew the answer but played innocent. Another pinch in my gut accentuated my frown. “Know what?”
“About his girlfriends.” Genna drew her thumb around the lip of her drink, then sipped and sighed. “40% will cover the lawyers and pad what I’ve already set aside.”
“Sounds like you’ve been preparing for a while.”
“I’m not stupid, Charlie. I know when to play my cards.”
I eyed the glass, feeling suddenly bad about the tainted drink she held. The guilt twisted my stomach, literally, and I couldn’t suppress a sharp groan.
Genna set her drink down and touched my knee, the one warming from where my glass had sat. Her tilt turned into a bow as her back arched. She gasped and her coiffure nails dug into my jeans.
“Are you alright, Genna?”
“No.” She clutched her stomach and retreated into the chair.
I had an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu looking at her fetal curve until I realized why. I might have had a head on her and thirty pounds, but I managed the same ball in the same chair.
The time Martin had taken in the kitchen, tainting the soda, flew through my mind. The bottle of diet coke sat right next to the tonic water on the shelf of my fridge.
“We should call the hospital.” I wheezed and blinked away the sudden spots in my eyes. When they cleared Genna’s hard blue gaze bore into me.
“You know what it is?”
“Yeah.” I forced my feet to the floor, intent on the phone in its charging station. “It’s Martin.”
She smiled, one made slow either because of the poison running through her veins or mine. “He got us both.”
“I guess he did.”
A tunnel started forming in my vision. The end centered around Genna’s face, her contorted features a mirror of my own. I heard myself chuckle from somewhere distant, perhaps my armchair, perhaps halfway to my phone. More likely whatever hell or heaven lay beyond, a limbo of nothingness or maybe my next life. Wherever it was, it wasn’t going to be winter in Tahiti.
The darkness kept shrinking but I couldn’t break my lock with her eyes. Sadness glimmered, I suppose for my betrayal or hers, or maybe Martin’s. It didn’t matter. Genna’s gaze became the last I’d see as blackness crashed down like a hammer and I scattered into the wind.