Copyright © 2013 Geonn Cannon
“Business or pleasure?”
She almost ignored the question, but after a moment looked up from her computer to look at the man who had asked. He was wedged between her and the small Chiclet-shaped window and seemed to be doing his best not to infringe on her space. It was more than most people attempted so she allowed him the question. She smiled and looked down at the laptop screen as if contemplating her answer.
“A little of both, actually.”
“Ah-ha, that's the way to do it. The way to get it done. Do something you like and you'll never work a day in your life, right?”
“Absolutely.” She focused on her screen in the hopes he would take the hint.
“So are you coming home or heading out?”
“Home,” she said. “I live just outside of Pierre.”
He nodded and looked out the window. “What I love about coming back, is this old dam down here. The damn dam.” He laughed at his own joke and pointed. “See? It waves all around and then it, it's like an arrow pointing home. Like it's saying, ‘yep. That's where you oughta be, bubba. Right home in Pierre.' Name's Elmore Forrest. Sounds kind of like a nature preserve, don't it?”
She offered him a tight, polite smile.
“I'm not trying to like hit on you or anything. I mean, I see the ring. I just get a little nervous when I fly. Pill's wearing off a little early. I get talkative.”
She bit back a weary sigh. “Jocelyn Webb.”
She managed to tune out the rest of the man's talk, focusing on her report. Her eyes glazed over and she listened just close enough to make appropriate sounds at the proper moments. Blessedly, they were soon on the ground. She stepped out into the aisle so Mr. Forrest could shuffle past her and then waited until most of the plane was empty before she got her bags and joined the emigration. A stewardess at the door smiled in a plastic way.
“Thank you for choosing Delta.”
Jocelyn gave the woman a weak smile and continued down the curving retractable umbilical that connected them to the building.
She affected an unhurried stride, head up and eyes straight ahead. She wore a charcoal gray pantsuit and flat shoes, moving quickly enough that no one would get stuck behind her but not so fast that she appeared to be in a hurry. Her brown hair, cut short and kept straight so that it fell on her shoulders, was unremarkable. She had a strong jaw, a long neck, and a pair of thin lips set in a no-nonsense line that made people either ignore her or do whatever she needed as quickly as possible. Her look was designed to ensure no one looked too long at her or registered her presence in any way. She was invisible.
She waited at baggage claim until hers was the only bag left. She took it off the conveyer belt, extended the handle, and rolled it out to the short-term parking. Her car was exactly where she left it, and she dialed her cell phone as soon as she was behind the wheel.
Colin answered quickly. “Right on time, as always.”
“Sounding surprised, as always.” She moved the rearview mirror until it reflected her face, and she watched herself as she spoke. “Want me to pick up anything on my way home?”
“We have lunchmeat for the kids tomorrow and Tuesday, but after that it would be lettuce sandwiches and pickles. Unless you...”
“I'll stop at the Albertsons on the way home. Anything you need?”
“Nope, I think I'm good.”
She smiled. “Okay, sweetheart. I'll see you soon. Bye-bye.”
She hung up the phone, adjusted her mirror, and reversed out of the spot. The drive home was a hypnotic sweep of streetlights and red taillights, a monotonous drone broken only by a detour into the grocery store. She bought lunchmeat, bread, cheese, and those juice boxes that Thomas was always asking for. Why not give him a little treat? She also bought a box of condoms since she wasn't sure if they had any left. She'd been gone four days, and Colin sometimes liked to welcome her back in private.
At home she pulled into the garage next to Colin's Buick. The inner door connected to a laundry room - a load was already tumbling, she noted as she passed - and then into the kitchen. Colin was at the dining room table on his laptop, lit by the screen and the cast-off light from the living room. He was two inches shorter than her, his curly black hair hanging down over his forehead to hide his piercingly dark eyes. He moved like a boxer, swaying from side to side, straightening here before duking to the left. She loved his constant motion, the way his shoulders hunched when he would cross his arms on the table in front of him. She loved the gruff, grunting sound of his voice; it was the grumble that most men had when they woke up in the morning but vanished as soon as they cleared their throat or drank some water. Colin's was permanent, and she loved it.
He smiled when she came into the house. “Welcome home, sweetie.”
“Good to be home. Where are the kids?”
“Tommy is upstairs playing something with a lot of explosions, and Madison is at her friend Jessica's house.”
Jocelyn sighed as she put away the groceries. “On a school night?”
“I know, I know. But she swore she would be home by ten.”
She clicked her tongue, showed him the condoms she had bought, and winked as she stuck them in the pocket of her blazer until she could take them to the bedroom. Colin got out of his seat and went into the dark kitchen to put his arms around her. He hugged her from behind and she chuckled as he nibbled her ear.
“You are kind of a bad girl, aren't you?”
“I'm not so bad once you get to know me.”
He chuckled and moved one hand to her pocket. Part of her wondered if he planned to open the box right there, to use the first rubber to bend her over the kitchen island and have his way with her. The thought actually thrilled her for a moment, but then his hand moved lower and stroked her hip.
“I really missed you this time.”
Apparently not enough. “I did my best to make it as quick as possible.”
“I know. I know, it's just... I wish there was a way for you to do your job without traveling two hundred and twenty days of the year, you know?”
She rolled her eyes. “I go to troubled companies and I talk them through whatever rough patch they're having. I'm a marriage counselor where the couple is fifteen to twenty mid-level businessmen who can't work well together. What's the company supposed to do, fly the whole lot of them here so I can sit them down in my office?”
Colin shook his head. “I know. I don't mean to be unreasonable here, but I do miss my wife. Maybe one of these days I could come with you.”
“And who will watch the kids? Or are they coming to? That's a heck of a bill, with airfare and the hotel. And you know I spend pretty much the entire time working. So I don't know what you expect--”
“Okay! Geez, okay. I get it.”
She turned to face him and touched his cheeks. He hadn't shaven and his skin was bristly under her fingers. “It's not that I don't want you there.”
“Maybe tonight I can show you how much I missed you, too.”
She angled her face up to kiss him, but they were interrupted by a call from the living room. “Dad! Is Mom home?”
“Why don't you ask her yourself, Sport?” He came into the kitchen and she crouched down with her arms extended. “There's my guy.”
He jumped into her arms and she groaned as he squeezed her. “Daddy says you were playing an explosions game. You know I don't like those.”
“Daddy said I could.”
“Don't blame your father. You knew the rules, and you knew you were breaking them.”
“I'm sorry, Mommy.”
She released him and stood up. “It's okay. Why don't you go find something on TV for us to watch? I'll come in there in a second when I've found a snack, okay?”
He scurried off and Jocelyn watched him go. She turned to lock her gaze on her husband. “He did know the rules. But he's six. What's your excuse?”
“It's just a game, Jocelyn.”
“He's an impressionable little boy with a head just waiting to be filled with ideas. I don't want those ideas to be violent. And I don't want him staring at a screen getting hypnotized. Honestly, Colin. Between your son brainwashing himself and your daughter traipsing home from god knows where in the middle of the night, on a school night, it's a wonder the kids are even alive when I come home.”
He sighed. “Well, there's only so much I can do being a single parent two-thirds of the year.”
“And yet I still have to pick up groceries. What exactly do you do when I'm not here? Because at the moment the question baffles me.”
“Jocelyn,” he said, as if preparing a long speech. But when he spoke again, all he said was, “Go to hell.”
She patted him on the cheek as she passed. “Dear man. How would I ever notice the difference?”
They watched a cartoon that Thomas assured her she had enjoyed in the past, and finally she asked Colin to put the boy to bed. At three minutes past ten, Madison came home and was subjected to a Speech from Jocelyn about staying out so late on a school night. The fight ended with the girl stomping upstairs and slamming her bedroom door. Colin, who had remained passive and neutral in the kitchen doorway through the tirade, had shaken his shaggy head and pushed away from the wall.
“Nice negotiating. Is that how you handle your, uh, business marriage counseling? No wonder it takes four days.”
She stayed downstairs to email her report. The house quickly became silent as the kids went to sleep, and she made the circuit downstairs to make sure the doors and windows were all locked. She slipped out of her blazer as she went upstairs, tossing it onto the bed as she passed. Colin was up and looking at his phone, and they didn't spare a glance for each other as she crossed in front of him to the master bathroom.
She showered. Her last port of call had been Tallahassee, oppressively humid and dry. She reveled in the cold air of South Dakota and the refreshingly chilly water of her shower, teasing her nipples with her fingers until they stood erect. When she was ready she turned off the spray and toweled herself off just enough that she wouldn't drip. Her stomach and breasts still shined with the moisture as she walked into the bedroom. She pulled back the blankets and Colin looked up, blinking at her as she prowled forward like a jungle cat.
“What is this?”
“You were going to fuck me hello.”
He slid his hands over her hips as she straddled him, rubbing her bare sex against the growing shape at the front of his boxers. He pressed his shoulders back into the pillow and gazed up at her.
“I thah-- I thought we were having a fight...”
“That's what's going to make it fun.” She took his hands off her hips and hoisted them up over his head, pinning them to the headboard. “Don't move them until I tell you to.”
He smiled and released a heavy breath. “Heh. Yeah.”
Confident he would behave, she let go of his hands. She lifted herself up to move his underwear out of the way and then guided him into position. After that it was just a matter of releasing her pent-up frustrations. She did, however, take the time to retrieve a condom from the box sitting on the nightstand. She put it on well before the end of their coupling.
They'd already made two mistakes, and she wasn't willing to make another.
Madison had a soccer game on Thursday. Jocelyn agreed to drive her so Colin could finish writing. That was his quote-unquote job, though she failed to see any actual results from all his keyboard clacking. It did serve the purpose of keeping him out of her hair. And driving Madison to the park gave her the chance to leave the office early without feeling obligated to go home. She stood on the sidelines, eyes hidden behind her large black sunglasses, arms crossed as she idly watched the behavior on the field. She knew there were goals being scored, plays executed, but to her eyes it was just a method of burning off excess energy. Teenagers run to the point of exhaustion distracted by the tallying of points.
Two people tried to speak with her, other mothers trying to strike up a conversation. She ignored them all until they drifted away. She knew they called her names behind the back. She was particularly fond of Ice Queen. Who wouldn't want her peers to acknowledge she was a queen?
When the game had run its course she followed her daughter back to the car. Madison was fifteen and constantly begging for a chance to “practice” driving. Jocelyn decided to hand over the keys and slid into the passenger seat. She gave no pointers, offered no advice or tips. She would warn when the car drifted too close to the center line or if the girl was following too closely, but otherwise she simply relaxed. Colin asked who had won the game when they got home, and Jocelyn had to admit she hadn't the faintest idea.
Jocelyn had a small windowless office at the Pierre corporate headquarters. When she wasn't traveling she went in and filled out reports and checked for follow-ups. She was a corporate fixer, a mediator, someone who could step into troubled companies and find out what the issue was so it could be resolved. She was the neutral third-party unswayed by emotional interest. The job suited her perfectly.
Ten days after she returned from Florida, she received a call from her boss. Colin hovered nearby and glanced up when she finished talking.
“Heading out again?”
“Dubuque. It doesn't sound like it'll be a big thing. Probably a day or so? Anyway, I figured I could just drive it, save the trouble of buying a plane ticket.”
He nodded and continued to fill his cup from the carafe. “Ten hours in a car both ways, though.”
“I've suffered worse torture.”
Colin looked at her as if he wanted to ask if she was referring to their marriage, but he was afraid of the answer. She kissed his cheek and stroked his stubble, wondering how he couldn't find ten minutes during the day to run a fucking goddamn razor over his cheeks so she wouldn't have to deal with the steel wool on her lips.
She smiled. “I'll miss you.”
That night they made love again. Two condoms out of the box she'd purchased when they left, more than enough to last them for a while. In the morning she packed a bag before he'd woken up. She left the house silently so the kids wouldn't wake, pulled out of the driveway with her headlights off, and drove east. She took the southerly route that took her through Sioux Falls so she could pass directly from South Dakota into Iowa.
Once she was over the state lines she pulled into a rest stop and took her bag into the ladies' room. She changed out of her pantsuit and slipped on a pair of jeans, exchanging her high heels for a pair of knee-high leather boots. She folded her blouse and put it into her bag. The plain black cotton T-shirt was infinitely more comfortable, and she locked gazes with the ice-blue reflection in the mirror as she wet her hands under the sink and used them to wet down her hair.
Her transformation complete, she got back onto the road and continued across Iowa to her destination. Once in Dubuque she drove directly to the Mississippi River, which she had only seen from the air. She stood next to the car with her phone and looked up two items. First she input the address of her current assignment and saved it to the memory. Then she did a personal search and got back into the car once she had an address.
It was the middle of the afternoon so the bar was empty when she arrived. Of course it was a dyke bar in Iowa, so maybe it was always dead. The only other soul was the beautiful Asian bartender, pale enough that one of her parents had most likely been white. She had extremely short black hair with a streak of red across the brow, and she wore a sleeveless black T-shirt tucked into jeans so tight Jocelyn knew she would have trouble getting them off. Maybe if she had a little help with it.
When the girl made her way over Jocelyn ordered a Heineken. She wiped down the counter before she put down the bottle.
“In town on business. Thought I'd check out the local talent.”
The bartender glanced at her wedding ring but didn't seem entirely put off by it. “Well, you're a little early for that.”
“Really? Doesn't seem like I am.”
That earned her a smile. “Wanda.”
“I don't think I've ever met a Wanda before. I'm Joss.”
Wanda blinked. “Like Whedon?”
Joss shrugged. “I guess. Short for Jocelyn.”
“That's a pretty name.”
“I don't like it too much.” She took a drink and looked over her shoulder at the empty bar. “Is it always this quiet in the middle of the afternoon?”
Wanda nodded. “Yeah, pretty dead during the after-school hours. We start picking up around five, six. The happy hour crowd.”
“So I only have... what, an hour?”
Wanda tilted her head to the side. “An hour for what?”
“To convince you to go into the back room with me so I can make you come.”
“Hah. Not exactly a clever pick-up line.”
Joss ran her thumb over the mouth of the bottle. “Pick-up lines are a game. I don't have time to play games. You're in the right place at the right time, and I really want to go down on you. Eventually someone is going to come through those doors and I'll have to get to work, and the opportunity will vanish. I can always go somewhere else, find someone else. But I think you, Wanda, will have to wait a lot longer for this opportunity to repeat itself. So what's it going to be?”
Wanda looked around the empty room and then wet her lips. “Let me lock the door.”
Joss took another drink as Wanda crossed the room. She slid off the stool and led the nervous bartender into a narrow corridor with a row of boxes stacked along one side of the wall. She bent down and rearranged the stack to make a sort of throne, then turned to pull Wanda to her. She was taller, so Wanda ended up with her head tilted back and her hips thrust forward against Joss' lower body. Joss undid the button on her jeans, peeled them down along with the underwear beneath it, and hoisted Wanda up onto the box.
Wanda spread her legs as Joss knelt, hooking one arm around Wanda's leg as she bent down. She used her lips to part the folds and then thrust her tongue inside. She remembered the redhead in Florida, the slutty straight girl who had jumped at the chance to be with a woman. She was wild and uninhibited in bed, eager to try anything and everything. She was one reason Joss had stayed for two extra days after finishing the job. She just couldn't bring herself to leave her eager young apprentice. Eventually she left, but she had half a mind to manufacture a job down there again just so they could meet up one more time.
But that could wait until later. She slid her hand under Wanda's top, and Wanda took the hint and peeled the shirt up. She sucked the hard bud of Wanda's clit until it was erect enough to bite, then she stood up and pressed herself between the younger girl's spread legs. She formed a point with three fingers and watched Wanda's face as she rubbed them against her folds. Once they were wet enough, she changed the angle of her wrist and pushed them inside of her. Wanda lifted up to meet her and Joss pushed her down, growling in her ear to be a good girl. Wanda whimpered and squirmed, her legs closing around Joss like a slow vice.
Outside in the bar, there was a tinkling of bells. Wanda's eyes snapped open and she gasped in fear, but Joss clapped a hand over her mouth and kept thrusting with her left hand. The legs of a stool protested against the hardwood floor and a woman exhaled sharply as she sat down.
“Come for me,” Joss hissed. “Right now, come for me.”
Wanda's eyes rolled back in her head and she trembled, squeezing Joss' fingers as her face flushed with pink. Joss moved her hand faster, eyes narrow but still open. She saw her fingers tight against Wanda's cheek, the way her fingers made white marks where the bartender was blushing.
“Yo, Wanda! You sleeping on the job again?”
Wanda's eyes opened again, briefly, and Joss knew the customer was a friend. “You want her to see you like this? Like a whore? Come for me right now, or I'll call her in here. Now. Come for me, Wanda.”
Wanda's body went rigid and she clutched at Joss with both hands. Joss kept her hand flat against Wanda's body, fingers stretched out completely inside of her as Wanda came. She removed her hand and replaced it with her mouth, kissing Wanda and dueling with her tongue until Wanda relaxed enough for her to remove her hand. She stepped back and licked her fingers dry, eyes on Wanda the entire time.
“But...” She kept her voice low as she reached for Joss' belt. “You...”
“I'll take care of that later. You have a customer. Get dressed.”
She turned and went back out into the main bar. The customer was a slightly overweight woman with short blonde hair, her muscular shoulders hunched as she leaned on her elbows. She glanced up when Joss appeared, straightening with a confused expression.
“Hey. Are you new?”
“Nope. Just passing through.” She picked up her beer and tossed a twenty onto the counter. “Wanda will be out in a second. She's getting dressed.”
Joss heard the woman's laughter behind her as she walked out into the sunshine, replacing her sunglasses as she walked to her car in a lazy stride. She checked her watch as she got back behind the wheel. Five minutes with Wanda had rejuvenated her, almost making up for the two times she'd had to be with her husband. To completely erase the experience, however, she needed to get laid herself. She would take care of that once she was done with work.
Melissa Crane wasn't a bad person. She was simply a woman in love. High school sweethearts, it seemed, on-again and off-again all through college. Through the fights and estrangements, through everything she and Gabriel did to each other, they were still perfect for each other. The last break-up seemed to have taken much longer to mend. Though Melissa believed everything in its time, she couldn't help but feel like time was running short. She had dated others, and she knew Gabriel did as well, but his last rebound girl seemed to be sticking around a lot longer than usual. He was fooling himself into believing it would last. She knew he would; it was just his nature. She just wanted to remind him that the new girl was temporary and he belonged with her.
She didn't know how her calls equaled harassment, and the police agreed with her. She just wanted to talk to Gabriel, who had been a special person in her life for almost twenty years. More than half their lives, they had been orbiting one another. How could she just let him ruin all of that by marrying some other woman? She had an obligation to the relationship to make him see the light.
Melissa sat at her dining room table looking over the latest note. It was perfect. It explained her feelings without sounding hysterical (she had to admit she'd crossed that line more than once, but damn it she was a passionate person! She would not apologize for that). She scented the paper with Gabriel's favorite perfume, knowing it would remind him of all the good times, and then went in search of an envelope. She was passing through the living room when there was a knock on the front door. She peered through the window and saw a woman waiting on the porch. She wore a black T-shirt and had turned back to look at the street. She was oddly attractive, beautiful in a way that it might take an observer a few seconds before they understood just what was appealing about her.
Melissa hated her on sight, but still opened the door with a smile. “Hi! Can I help you?”
“I hope so. My car broke down on the way to a meeting, and my phone is refusing to charge. I just need to make a quick local call to tell the company I'm running late. I hate to be an imposition, but they might fire my ass if I don't get in touch with them. Like. Right now.” She looked at her watch in desperation.
Melissa enjoyed the idea of coming to this woman's rescue. “Sure. Let me go get my phone.”
“Thanks. Thank you, so much.”
“It's fine. Just one second.” She pushed the door until it was only open a crack and then went to retrieve her cell from the charger in the kitchen. She was halfway across the living room when something passed through her field of vision. It looked gauzy and floral but she didn't have time to contemplate the design before it was tightened around her throat. She was kicked in the knee and forced down, feeling hung by the strip of cloth around her neck. She had a mirrored clock on the table next to the sofa, and in its reflection she saw the visitor perched over her like a vulture or a raven.
“He would have come back to you,” the woman whispered, but Melissa was already almost beyond understanding. “Eventually she knew he would come back to her. Cheat or divorce, it was only a matter of time. She just needed you out of the equation.”
Melissa made a weak sound of desperation as the strength seeped from her body. She couldn't even bring herself to fight off the attack. Her eyes wide, her lips parted, her last conscious thought was, “ I knew he would come back. ”
Melissa Crane would be found in her bedroom in a day or two. Dressed in a beautiful gown, an expensive scarf around her neck and tied to the headboard, she apparently sat next to the bed and used gravity to choke herself to death. She used the letter on the dining room table as a template and forged a suicide note. She kept it brief and to the point, signed Melissa's name, and then spritzed it with perfume before leaving it on the pillow. She wiped off everything she had touched and left the house through the back door. She drove back to the Mississippi River and dialed her handler's number.
“Tell him it's done. Final message delivered, note left... it was all very Romeo and Juliet. Just like he wanted it.”
“You said it was the new girlfriend who ordered it, right?”
“I followed the instructions to the letter.”
“Good. Money in the usual place?”
She hung up and got out of the car. It was her ninety-second kill. She was recruited in college, killing her first victim as an amateur. The organization got in touch with her, made the police investigation go away, and offered her the chance to become a professional. She apprenticed, she learned skills, and she built a protective barrier between herself and the organization so they would both be safe in the event of an arrest. She found a man to play house with, and she cast herself as a boring housewife. Madison was a mistake she'd sworn wouldn't be repeated, but then a decade later Thomas arrived. She hated the time she was forced to take off work for the births, but the pregnancies were convenient. No one was suspicious about a pregnant woman.
Her handlers usually liked her to stick around until the body was discovered, if possible. She figured that would be sometime in the next twenty-four hours. If she left the following afternoon, she would get home too late for Colin to expect welcome-home sex. It would also give her the opportunity to return to the bar so Wanda could repay her debt. She smiled and turned away from the majestic river.
If she drove fast enough, she could still get to the bar in time for Happy Hour.
She got home earlier than she expected, just after dusk. Colin was at his computer in the dining room when she got home. She kissed him hello and he reported Thomas was upstairs in his room and Madison was doing her homework in the living room. She told him she was going upstairs for a shower, checking in on the kids because she knew that was what a normal mother would have done in her place. She was an imposter; she didn't care about her family beyond their purpose to protect her from suspicion. She was a soccer mom, not a hired assassin. She much preferred that assignation to the inaccurate “hit man” or the mouthful of “hit woman.” She knew one assassin working in California who insisted she be called a “hit person.” Merciful Christ.
Jocelyn once more, Joss just a shade that she kept at the back of her mind, she undressed and stepped into the shower. She had scars, wounds that she explained away to her husband as remnants from an abusive relationship. Occasionally she would get a new injury, and she would concoct a story about a kitchen accident. Colin was much readier to believe she was a klutz than she had gotten stabbed by the man she was trying to kill.
She claimed exhaustion from too many hours on the road - not a lie - and went to bed early. She could manage with three or four hours of sleep, so she woke at three in the morning without expectations of getting back to sleep. She left Colin snoring on his pillow and went downstairs in her panties and a loosely buttoned pajama top.
There were beers in the fridge and she took one into the den. She folded herself into Colin's armchair and turned on the television, scanning through the channels without interest until she found something with an actress she vaguely recognized. She would have surfed porn but she knew they only got channels that played shitty softcore where the only women to be had were plastic-enhanced and talentless. Hardly erotic. But Kate Beckinsale in leather? She could work with that.
She kept the volume down low out of deference to the other people in the house, sipping her beer as she remembered licking spilled Heineken off Wanda's chest in a dark Dubuque apartment. It was a good memory, and she would continue to use it to get through the long and tedious suburban nights that stretched out ahead of her as she waited for the next phone call.
Author's Note: For a novel-length story featuring “Joss”, check out Girls Don't Hit at AO3, where it's currently in progress.
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