When Magda contacted him several days ago, at first, he thought that she was joking. She could not possibly be serious about this... Then, a little while later, he realized that she was, in fact, dead-serious about this.
“Hmm,” he said with fake thoughtfulness. “Let me think about it for a couple of seconds...”
She watched him with patient eyes.
“Let’s see,” he said in the same slow, thoughtful drawl. “How badly do I want to reduce my life span to just several days...? And how badly do I want to spend those days in agony...? God, Magda, this is so insanely tempting!”
“Raven...” she sighed and started mechanically folding the napkin, without even noticing it. “Just consider...”
“No,” he interrupted her calmly. “I’ll pass. I do not enjoy pain, and I am not suicidal. Therefore, I am going to decline this incredibly tempting offer to rob one of the most insane men in history of the world.”
“He is not insane,” she grimaced. “He is...” Here she shrugged lightly. “...kinky,” she finished.
“No, Magda,” he said patiently. “I am kinky; he is downright insane. I am not doing it, all right? Tell whoever contacted you that they would have to find someone else.”
“They want you, Raven,” she sighed and put the napkin aside. “They specified that. They want you and nobody else.”
She sighed again and wrote something quickly on the folded napkin.
“Here,” she pushed it towards him. “This they are willing to pay up front. After the job is finished, they will pay three times as much.”
He looked at the number and blinked. His math was good. He wasn’t in dire need for money; in fact, he was rather well off, but this amount was beyond obscene. Also, he couldn’t help but think that if he managed to pull this off, he would be the first (and probably the only) one to take something away from Julian Salamander.
“Goddammit,” he thought while his fingers absent-mindedly played with the small spoon, which rested on the side of the saucer with a coffee cup on it. “Raven, greed is the reason for so many failures for so many great men...”
He was using his actual name – Raven – while he worked. He knew that everyone thought it was just a nickname, and it was fine with him. He didn’t feel like coming up with some sort of an alias.
“I will consider this,” he said finally and finished his coffee. “I am not accepting the deal, but I will consider it.”
“They need an answer by the end of the next week,” Magda said and poured more cream into her cup. “Today is Tuesday; they need your answer next Sunday night at the latest.”
“I will give it to them...” He glanced at her. “...you before that,” he finished. “Who are those people?”
“No idea,” she shrugged indifferently. “All I know is that they were willing to pay a hell of a lot to a messenger,” she flashed him a quick smile. “I would have to work my ass off to get that amount of money normally, so...” she shrugged and drank more of her coffee. “Let’s just say, I jumped at the opportunity,” she finished with a slight nod.
“I see,” he said thoughtfully (no faking this time). “All right, let me review this real quick... They want me to get a green rock from his house, correct?”
“Yup,” Magda nodded and licked her lips quickly, getting the last traces of cream.
“A rock,” Raven repeated slowly.
“Yup,” she nodded again.
“Is it some sort of a precious stone?” he narrowed his eyes.
“I don’t know...” Magda looked into her cup and sighed. “I don’t think so,” she said several seconds later. “I think it’s just a rock.”
“They are willing to pay that much for a rock they could get for free from any beach if they looked hard enough?” Raven’s suspicion of being prank-ed returned with full force.
Magda shrugged and drained the last drops of coffee from her cup.
“Yup,” she said finally. “They never said why they needed the rock for...” She looked at him steadily. “...and I never asked,” she finished. “See, when you are someone like me, you don’t ask any questions when someone offers you a triple amount of your monthly paycheck to deliver a message...”
“Right,” Raven muttered and copied her ‘I-wonder-if-there-is-anything-left-in-there’ look when he looked in his cup. “Well, as I said... Tell them that I will consider it... They will get their answer next Sunday morning,” he looked at her, and she let out a small sigh and silently nodded. “You still gonna get paid, right?” he asked with a small frown, and she laughed at that.
“Yeah,” she nodded with a wide grin. “They are going to pay me regardless of your answer.”
“Good,” he gave her a small smile. “I would hate to see you working too hard...”
“I will never work too hard,” she said seriously. “I won’t slack, but I am not going to work too hard either...” She sighed and pushed her empty cup away. “I am too lazy,” she finished with a small shrug.
“I know,” he said as seriously, and she smiled at him.
“So how exactly are you going to consider it?” she asked a minute later.
“Thoroughly,” he said without a smile, and she let out another small sigh. “Why?” he squinted his eyes. “Is there some sort of a bonus in case I say ‘Yes’?”
“I hope so,” she muttered, folding another napkin. “ ‘Cause if you say ‘Yes,’ and thereis,in fact, a bonus...” She smiled again. “I am going to take a vacation! I hate that bloody bank with a passion!”
He grinned at her.
“All right,” he said and pushed his cup away as well. “Next Sunday, ten in the morning, right here... I will give you my answer, okay?”
“For the phantom bonus’ sake,” she said solemnly. “Say ‘yes,’ will you?”
“Sunday,” he repeated firmly. “Ten in the morning, right here...”
“I’ll be here,” Magda nodded and got up. “Coffee’s on you.”
“You are about to get paid,” he said with defeated reproach, and she gave him a light shrug.
“Coffee is on you,” she said again with a firm nod, and he rolled his eyes.
“Fine,” he grumbled. “See you next Sunday.”
“See you...!” she gave him a light wave before walking out.
“You arenotgoing to accept that offer...!” his inner voice said beyond firmly. “You so do not want to fuck with Julian...!”
“I am going to consider,” he muttered inaudibly.
“How...?” his inner voice almost shrieked.
“Well,” he smiled at himself. “Let’s take the safest route, shall we...? The wallet first...”
“Son of a...” his inner voice moaned in despair. “You are nuts...!”
“Yup,” he agreed melancholically and threw several bills on the table. “I know,” he nodded to himself while walking outside. “I know...”
Of course, Raven was not foolish and arrogant enough to go straight for the wallet swap with the flourish of someone eager and inexperienced. The wallet swapping wasn’t anything difficult; in fact, it was merely a child’s game to him by now. Except, when it came to this particular wallet, the game turned into a deadly one-bullet-in-the-round roulette. Raven played that game before, a long time ago, when he merely turned nineteen. He was young and overconfident; he had that ‘I-am-invincible’ feeling that most of young people have; and at that particular hour, he was drunk. No, discard that. He was plastered.
He and two of his then-friends had been drinking for seven hours straight, and when one of them (Raven couldn’t even remember which one; the only thing he was sure of – it wasn’t his idea) slurringly offered a game that required a single-bullet-loaded gun shoved down one’s throat with its safety off, the other two cheered at that with drunken enthusiasm. It sounded like the best idea ever. Therefore, one of the guys (once again, Raven could not remember for the life of his, which one) got a revolver from somewhere in his apartment, and several minutes later, they were pulling straws at who would go first. Now, the next part Raven remembered bright and clear. He was the lucky winner. He remembered sobering up somewhat after staring at the revolver’s unforgiving muzzle; everything became much more real and a hell of a lot less fun.
“Do it,” one of the guys hiccupped heartily. “Come on, pussy...! Do it...!”
Raven was not the one to be called pussy, so he spun the cylinder, shoved the muzzle into his mouth, and without thinking anything else (if he thought about it, he would never do it, he knew that), pulled the trigger. The revolver let out a short, dry click, and Raven’s heartbeat slowed down to crawling speed. He slowly pulled the revolver out of his mouth, his hand trembling, and carefully laid it on the table, realizing that he just flirted with a very pointless and premature death.
Both guys cheered at him with the same drunken enthusiasm, and he just sat there, eyes locked on the black revolver. The next participant of this insane gamble received the same result as Raven – a dry, short (almost bored) click. The last gambler, however, was less lucky. The revolver went off so loudly that Raven had gone deaf for several minutes. When he could hear again, all he heard was the sound of blood dripping onto the floor from the mutilated, red-and-white pulsating mess, which only a couple of minutes ago was a very live, drunken head, attached to the rest of an equally drunken body.
Raven never got plastered again ever since that happened. “I guess that’s one way of curing one from a possible case of alcoholism,” he thought melancholically after recalling the entire scene right now. The upcoming wallet swiping from Julian felt the same way as the revolver in his hand felt that one night. It was Monday afternoon; he had been watching the man and studying his habits every day since he left that coffee shop on Tuesday morning. Finding him was not a problem, of course. He was a bloody celebrity. Well, a sadistic, twisted, fucked-up-in-the-head celebrity, but a celebrity nevertheless.
Raven decided that his ‘considering’ would consist of two parts. Part one – the wallet. Simple, somewhat easy, but at the same time, so dangerous that it made him feel high. He was almost positive that even if the swiping didn’t go the way he intended (very unlikely), he still would be able to get out of harm’s way. First of all, he would do it in a public place (for obvious reasons; you don’t want to be in an intimate setting with Salamander for the first time you are trying to get into his pants, figuratively speaking). The second reason he felt relatively safe was that nifty ability of his. Even if the blond realized that something was off and someone was trying to sneak their fingers into his pocket, Raven would disappear out of sight immediately. Literally. Of course, he knew that even with a public place and his ability combined, there was still a huge risk of him getting into the blond’s quite unpleasant (to say mildly) possession. He was willing to take his chances, however.
He absent-mindedly played with a very thin, filed to the point of razor-sharp old coin. He drew a quick, shallow line on the inside of his wrist, slightly wincing at the sensation. He glanced at his wrist, noticing the blood that flowed out of the cut, let out a small smile, and latched onto his skin with his mouth, while watching the blond. He lapped at the cut without taking his eyes off Julian, who emerged from the bank five minutes earlier. Raven knew that Salamander had some business deal to take care of this morning; he was also aware of the fact that it was almost lunch hour – time he was waiting for. He threw a very quick glance at his watch and started walking towards the blond, who was clearly heading towards the garage.
Raven didn’t want to get into the underground garage, knowing that it would be worse than a rat trap down there, therefore he lapped at the cut a couple more times, savoring the taste of blood on his tongue, and walked faster. Julian was absent-mindedly swinging a key ring on his finger, without as much as glancing around, his expression indifferent and bored. Right before he got to the intersection, the light turned red, and the blond stopped, a small shadow of annoyance running over his face.
Right when he stopped, the glorious lunch hour had finally arrived, to Raven’s greatest satisfaction. People started pouring out into the street from different buildings – shops, offices, bigger stores. Soon enough, the blond was surrounded by a hefty crowd of impatient to cross the street people. The thought of which pocket he should go for, never even occurred to Raven. He knew exactly which pocket he needed. He had no idea how he knew that, he just did. It was as if the money called out silently to him, as if he could smell it.
He brushed against the shoulder of the person who stood right next to Julian, and the person automatically moved aside, just as Raven predicted. The blond didn’t even look at whomever it was who just pressed against him; he just let out a small, annoyed sigh without taking his eyes off the blinking red light. Raven’s fingers gently, almost lovingly ran the sharp-edged coin on one of the pockets on the blond’s jacket, and when the light finally turned green, he was heading across the street with one more wallet in his pocket than he possessed a minute ago. He watched Salamander walk into the garage, and then he let out a deep sigh, and disappeared in the crowd.