by RJ Ellory

“It seemed so uncomplicated,” she said.

“When is anything uncomplicated?” he replied. It was a rhetorical question.

“I thought–”

“Don’t think,” he interjected. “Thinking is for philosophers.”

She hesitated, fingertipped a stray lock of hair behind her ear.

He leaned back. His chair creaked in the cool stillness of the interview room. He lit a cigarette. Arabesques of smoke drifted towards the ceiling.

“And now?” she asked. Her expression was coy. He knew she was anything but.

“I don’t play those games, sister,” he said. He flicked the ash from his cigarette into the silver tray. Her face was reflected in the crystal paperweight that held down the employment contracts.

“You said you needed an assistant,” she said.

“I did. But smart people don’t mix business and pleasure.”

“I can do both.”

“I don’t have money for two salaries.”

“Perhaps I could pay you in kind …”

“Like what we just did?”


“Don’t be evasive, sister … if I want evasive I’ll hire a politician.”

“Yes then, what we just did. That was good, wasn’t it?”

“Can’t say I’ve had better.”

“So what’s the problem … give me the job. I’ll take care of everything, if you get my drift.”

“I get your drift.”

“So, what’s next?”

“I need you to fill out your medical history.”

“My medical history?”

“It’s for Human Resources. They bitch if I don’t get the paperwork done.”

“Screw Human Resources …”

“You don’t screw with HR sister … they have Health & Safety behind them.”

“Well screw them too … I want this job.”

“You want the job enough you’ll do the paperwork.”

“I don’t want to do paperwork!” she said. Her eyes flashed angrily.

“Don’t tell me … if you’d wanted to do paperwork, you’d have applied to be a clerk.”

“Yes … no … Oh, I don’t know, you’ve got me all confused.”

“Can’t have you getting confused sister … If I needed confused I’d have hired … hell, I don’t know, a confused person.”

“Now you’re teasing me.”

“I think you’ll find pot and kettle in the same sentence there, sister.”

“And stop calling me sister …”

“Okay sugar, whichever way you want it.”

“So what now?”

“You can put your clothes on for starters.” He leaned forward. He ground his cigarette out in the ashtray. He lit another.

“What if I don’t want to put my clothes on?”

“Well, you’re gonna catch your death of cold.”

“Oh you’re so smart … you have an answer for everything.”

“I have a whole bunch of questions too.”

“Questions?” Her expression softened.

“Sure thing.”

“What questions?” she purred.

“Full name, age, date of birth, previous work experience …”

“Son-of-a-bitch!” she snapped. “What the hell is this game you’re playing? I quit!”

“You can’t quit before you’ve been hired.”

“You’ve taken me for a ride–”

“Seem to recall something about pot and kettle in the same sentence, maybe?”

She stood up. She was statuesque. Stunning. She knocked the breath right out of him, but he couldn’t let on. He couldn’t show his weakness for her. He had to keep it to himself. Show her where his heart was and she’d take him for the bonus medical plan and three more days’ holiday.

“You are a bad man,” she said.

“And you’re a bad girl,” he replied.

“I thought that was what you wanted.”

“You have no idea.”

She reached for her coat. He watched her disappear inside it. He felt like a kid whose Christmas presents had been taken away. He knew she would break his heart. Girls like this were a million-to-one. There was no way he could keep her. There was no way anyone could keep her. Girls like this were rich for the blood; they gave old men heart attacks. But what a way to die.

“I’m leaving,” she said.

“You’ll be back,” he said, hoping against all hope that she would.

“Well don’t count on it, Mr. Tough Guy.”

“I won’t, sweetheart. Been in this business as long as I have and you learn to count on nothing.”

She grabbed her purse. She marched to the door, grabbed the handle. She turned back. Her eyes said everything.

“You won’t forget this.”

“I know,” he replied.

She wrenched open the door, slammed it shut behind her. Contracts fluttered beneath the paperweight.

He sat there for some time. He smoked another cigarette. Eventually he leaned forward and pressed the intercom button.

“Yes, sir?”

“I’m gone for the day, Miss Wintergreen.”

“Isn’t that a little irregular, sir?”

“Miss Wintergreen … if I’d wanted an interrogator I’d have employed Torquemada.”

“Yes, sir.”

He stood up, buttoned his jacket, took his hat from the stand behind the door. He looked back at the office. The smoke still hung in the air, gave it a dusky atmosphere. Like a nightclub maybe. Like one of those dime-a-dozen juke joints down on 5th and Greenwich.

He looked at the card in his hand. The original application — her name, her address, her phone number.

Hell, it was trouble and he knew it. This was living on the edge. But what did they say? If you weren’t living on the edge you were taking up too much room? Something like that.

He closed the door gently behind him. He didn’t look at Miss Wintergreen. Her eyes burned holes in the back of his head.

He felt the cold snap of wind as he went out through the doors, and then he raised his hand for a cab.

“Where to?” the driver asked him.

“Shangri-La Apartments on Truman and Douglas,” he said. “Gotta finish a job interview …”

RJ Ellory is the author of 12 novels. Twice shortlisted for the CWA Steel Dagger and a further 13 international awards including two Barrys, the Association 813 Trophy, and the Européen du Point, Ellory is also winner of the Livre de Poche Award, The Strand Magazine Novel of the Year, The Mystery Booksellers of America Award, the USA National Indie Excellence Award, the Inaugural Nouvel Observateur Prize, the Quebec Laureat, and both the Villeneuve and St. Maur Prizes. A Simple Act of Violence won the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year 2010. Translated into 26 languages, Ellory is also the guitar player in Zero Navigator and vocalist/guitarist in The Whiskey Poets. He was born in Birmingham, U.K., and continues to make this his home.

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