It was close to midnight in Manhattan and they were still waiting in the van. Ford, short and wiry, was behind the wheel, while Neuland—bulkier and a foot taller—slouched in his seat trying to keep his head from hitting the ceiling of the van. They were dressed all in black and had black balaclavas on their faces so that the only things visible were their eyes—and someone would have to look carefully to see them. They’d been parked at the edge of the alley since twilight and both men had long since grown bored. Still they waited, their rifles propped against their legs.
Their employer—Mr. Garrick—hadn’t given them a description of their target, just the bare outline of what was supposed to happen and how they were supposed to stop it. It was annoying. They didn’t work that way normally, but Garrick promised to pay them double their normal fee, so they went along with his nonsense.
“Do you think that’s them?” said Neuland.
A few yards ahead of them in the alley, a well-dressed man and a haggard woman appeared to be negotiating some kind of deal. Ford watched through what resembled a pair of binoculars, but the tubes were carved from a yew tree and the lenses were the shaved corneas from the eyes of thirteen hanged men.
“It’s not them,” said Ford. “From the look of them, the girl’s got pills or party potions and the guy’s a tourist who doesn’t know how to haggle. Besides, they’re both dodos.”
Dodo was what Ford occasionally—and many others routinely—called the undead. It bothered Neuland, who was also undead.
“Please don’t use that word. It’s demeaning,” Neuland said. “And it makes you sound like a hick.”
“We prefer Marcheur.”
“You’re right. I’m tired and didn’t think.”
“It’s all right.”
“No. It was rude and I’m sorry.”
“You can’t help how you were raised.”
“But you’re my partner and I should be more considerate.”
“Apology accepted,” said Neuland. “Now, are we going to shoot either of those two or not?”
“No. The deal is supposed to be someone alive selling something to a Marcheur. That lets these two off the hook.”
“Maybe. Let’s keep an eye on them. One of them could still be involved.”
The van felt cramped after all this time, and they’d finished the coffee hours ago. Ford wanted a smoke, but didn’t dare light up where the cherry-red end of the cigarette could be spotted. So, they waited in silence.
The dealer and the tourist finished their business, and the tourist went into the rear of a bodega while the woman remained in the alley. She checked her watch several times.
“You’re right,” said Ford. “She’s part of the deal.”
“Impatient. I mean, look at her twitch. It won’t be long now.”
“I hope you’re right.”
They sat quietly for a few minutes before Ford said, “Really, man, I’m sorry about the dodo thing.”
“I told you it’s all right.”
“You’re welcome, and also, you should look out the window. This might be it.”
Ford sat up as a young woman approached the Marcheur. The woman was in a purple velvet dress and had straight black hair that hung down to her waist. He scanned the two women through his special binoculars.
“You’re right,” he said. “The one in the velvet dress is alive. But I don’t like it.”
“Me neither. Garrick didn’t say the target was a woman. Just dressed in velvet, right?”
Neuland shook his head. “I don’t shoot women.”
Ford looked at him. “We’ve both shot women.”
“Really evil ones. Like Elsbeth Bathory evil. Not some little thing in a party dress.”
“Let’s keep watching. Maybe she’s the right kind for shooting.”
For the first time, the nature of the assignment weighed down on Neuland. He didn’t like the situation one bit, but he knew that if this was indeed their target, he’d have to take the shot. It was his job to kill the living. Ford killed the dead.
Neuland said, “Please tell me they’re plotting something nefarious.”
“Shit,” said Ford. “Shit.”
“What?” He didn’t like the tone of Ford’s voice.
“There’s something else. The party dress?”
Neuland reached out and took the binoculars. The haggard undead woman’s aura was a grayish purple while the young woman’s was a bright purple.
“What the hell is this?” said Neuland. “If she’s selling her kid, I sure as hell will shoot her.”
“Yeah, Sir Galahad? And kill the kid too? I’m going to keep watching. I want to know exactly what’s going on.”
Neuland was mad now. He knew his distaste for shooting women was hypocritical since they were every bit as capable of evil as men. Worse, not wanting to shoot a mother was the rankest kind of sentimentality. He didn’t like having strong emotional responses to these situations. Strong emotions were for the living, like Ford. He could fly into a rage at a moment’s notice and it accomplished nothing. The undead were supposed to be above such things, but here he was. Fretting about some stranger selling what, rationally, was hers to sell.
Another moment passed and Ford said, “A necklace.”
“Not the kid?”
“Not the kid.”
“What kind of necklace?”
“Expensive looking. Earrings too. Some bracelets. All gold. All nice-looking stuff.”
“Let me see,” said Neuland, and Ford handed him the binoculars. He was right, the undead woman was examining a pile of jewelry in a decorated wooden box that the young woman held out.
Neuland handed the binoculars back to Ford and said, “You know what this means.”
“It might cost us our fee.”
“There’s no helping that.”
“I guess not.”
Ford started the van and they drove to Mr. Garrick’s office, where they’d arranged to meet after the hit. They let themselves into the building with a key Garrick had given them and rode the elevator to the penthouse level of the old office building. Neuland was out of the elevator first and didn’t bother knocking on Garrick’s office door before going in. Garrick, sixtyish and in a sharply tailored suit, looked up in surprise. He smiled at the men.
“That was quick,” he said. “You boys are every bit as efficient as they say.”
The two men came in and Neuland stood very close to Garrick’s desk so he could loom over the man. They’d left their rifles in the van.
“Efficient,” said Neuland. “That’s because we can read a scene and know what’s happening, even from a distance.”
“It’s what keeps me alive and my partner in one piece,” said Ford.
“We read the scene tonight, Mr. Garrick.”
“And we didn’t like it.”
Garrick scowled at the men. “What’s it your business to like or not like a particular killing? I hired you to do a job. Did you do it or not?”
“No,” said Ford.
“You see, the target was pregnant.”
“What difference does that make?” said Garrick.
“She was selling her personal jewelry,” said Ford. “It was in a silly little box. Something cheap and gaudy. The kind someone young like her would love.”
“And?” said Garrick.
“It was very expensive jewelry,” said Neuland. “Much too expensive for her, considering the quality of her dress. The jewelry might have been hers, but she didn’t buy it.”
“They were a gift,” said Ford.
“From you,” said Neuland.
Garrick sat back in his big leather office chair. “What the hell are you talking about? I hired you as killers, not psychics.”
“There’s nothing psychic about it,” said Ford.
“It’s like we said, about being able to read a scene. You see, a young woman selling jewelry like that—jewelry she couldn’t possibly afford—can only mean one thing.”
“And what’s that?” said Garrick snidely.
“That she’s using her rich lover’s gifts to her to finance an escape,” said Ford.
“From the lover,” said Neuland. “You hired us to kill her because you got her pregnant, and that’s an inconvenience. She was smart enough to know that something was up and was buying a ticket out of town.”
Garrick slammed his hands on his desk and stood up. “Don’t get high and mighty with me, boys. You’re murderers. Not priests. And you don’t get a cent until the bitch is dead.”
Ford and Neuland looked at each other.
“I think you should explain it to him,” said Ford.
“Obviously,” said Neuland as he took a Sig Sauer P220 pistol from his jacket and emptied the entire clip of .45 rounds into Garrick’s body. The man slammed to the floor, his blood splashing onto the desk and the curtains and the window behind him.
The moment his partner was finished, Ford began going through the drawers in Garrick’s desk looking for money. Neuland went through Garrick’s pockets.
“Anything?” said Ford.
Neuland shook his head.
“Two thousand in cash in his wallet, but that’s it.”
“Damn. Well, let’s take it and go. We need to leave town.”
“Not yet,” said Neuland. “I don’t think we’re done. Garrick is the kind of guy to have an insurance policy.”
“You’re probably right.”
“We’ll know soon.”
A minute passed before Garrick’s corpse began to twitch. His limbs convulsed and his eyes fluttered open and shut. His shoulders spasmed and his teeth chattered as if he was cold. Then he stopped, grabbed his desk chair, and dragged himself to his feet. Erect, he looked at Ford and Neuland and said, “You’re both dead men.”
“No. I’m the dead one,” said Neuland.
“And I kill the dead,” said Ford, pulling his own pistol. He shot Garrick between the eyes with one of his special cold iron bullets and the man fell back to the floor.
The killers left, knowing he wouldn’t get up again.
“So, where are we going?” said Neuland. “We can’t stay in New York.”
“I don’t like flying and I hate ships even more.”
“We could drive to Montreal. Bigsby is always offering us jobs,” said Ford.
“Too cold. My joints get stiff.”
Ford said, “Right. So where?”
Neuland thought for a moment.
“West. As far west as we can go.”
“Sure. Like cowboys.”
“Goddamn Garrick,” said Ford.
“Lousy dodo,” said Neuland.
Ford looked at him. Neuland laughed, then so did Ford. He said, “I’ll get us train tickets.”
CrimeReads needs your help. The mystery world is vast, and we need your support to cover it the way it deserves. With your contribution, you'll gain access to exclusive newsletters, editors' recommendations, early book giveaways, and our new "Well, Here's to Crime" tote bag.