It was after midnight when I got off the train at the metro stop closest to my house. I climbed the from the metro station to the street slowly, still a little wobbly from that last beer. Well, let’s face it. I am a bit of a lightweight, and I had probably had at least three too many.
My phone beeped. I pulled it out and looked at it as I walked. Apparently I had missed a call. I did not recognize the number, but there was a voice mail. I must have missed the call while I was in the subway with no service.
It was a little odd that someone I did not know would be calling me this late. Usually the only people that called me and left messages were businesses of some sort, and I could not think of a business that would call me after midnight.
I called my voicemail.
A woman’s voice came on.
“Hi, um, I’m not sure if this is the right number.” Her voice sounded shaky, like she was scared, or at least out of breath. “I’m looking for someone named Ben Cooper. I am a friend of Michael, your Great-Uncle. He gave me your number in case something happened to him, he said you could help. I think the same people who got him might be after me.”
Wait, what? The lawyer, Johnson, had said nothing about someone “getting” my Great-Uncle! She made it sound like he was killed!
I was so startled that I almost missed the last bit. “I would give you my name but…well. Please, just, please call me back.” She left her number.
What the hell?
I listened to the message again. Yes, she definitely said “people who got him”.
“Okay,” I said out loud. “Let’s think about this. The Johnson guy didn’t say anything about my uncle – er, Great-Uncle, getting killed. But this chick sounds like she does. And if my Great-Uncle told her to call me if something happened to him, that sounds like he knew something might happen. Also, it means that he knew me, and lived like twenty miles away, and never said anything. But whatever.”
A man and woman walking hand-in-hand down the sidewalk toward me gave me a strange look as we passed. I ignored it. Talking things over out loud, even if no one was listening but me, helped me to sort things out.
“That is, if this chick is telling the truth. But then, why would someone lie about that? I guess if she is trying to sell me something, like a private detective agency or something, maybe that’s a reason. But that seems a little out there.”
I kicked at a pebble as I walked. I had questions now, big questions, and no real answers. It was pissing me off. And my buzz was gone.
“Well, fuck it. I guess I’ll call her. What’s the worst that can happen?”
In case you are wondering, for future reference, never, ever, ever say that.
I stopped at the top of the stairs down to my basement apartment, grabbed a pen and a receipt from my wallet, crouched, and listened to the message again. I wrote her number on the back of the receipt, using my knee to write on. And just as I wrote that last digit-
A heavy boot caught the side of my face, and pain exploded in my head.
I went sprawling, falling sideways into the wall of the stairwell. I tumbled, and ended up on my back, at the bottom of the short flight of stairs, looking up at the person who kicked me. I blinked against the pain and the scattering of little stars that were shooting across my vision. It looked like a man, tall, in jeans and a dark hoodie. He was tall and thin, and what little of his face I could see inside the pulled-up hood looked gaunt and pale.
And then he pulled a stumpy revolver out of the pocket of the hoodie, and I stopped looking at his face.
He pointed the gun at me, and pulled the trigger.