The messenger bag hanging on the Bouncer’s right shoulder bounced against his side as he ran, it held textbooks and notebooks. He punched the air with his left hand and brought his watch close to his sweaty face. He clutched the watch with his right hand to steady it. Time was running out, he needed to catch the last train out of the city. The last thing he wanted was to spend another night at the 24 hour Carl’s Jr with the vagrants. He had nothing against them but it was impossible to sleep comfortably in there waiting until the station opened in the morning. The stench of rancid piss in the air was too much. The twenty-something year old, community college student by day, strip club bouncer by night, raced down the city sidewalk as a thick fog had begun to settle into the streets. His all black suit shimmered under the city lights. His dress shoes snapped against the cement. He regretted his decision earlier to work a bit longer for an extra cash tip buying a bottle of liquor and sneaking it in for one of the dancers. She had told him to keep the change as a tip. One dollar. Gee, thanks, Candy.
The tall, forty-something woman knew she’d been made and was being followed. She thought about the little black notebook and thick envelope that pressed against her torso inside her large inner pocket. She quickened her pace ahead of the two stalking figures behind her. Federal agents? she wondered. Again? The large dark hat she wore cast a shadow over her sharp features. A dark trench coat, with the collar up, hugged her body. She looked like a dark, mysterious Carmen Sandiego. Her high heeled boots pounded the cement as she approached a corner. Just as she looked back over her shoulder, she felt a force of impact and down she went. Instinct kicked in and she shoved the stranger off. The Bouncer landed on his back. He could barely suck in air after getting the wind knocked out. He sat up, and still struggling to breathe, tried to apologize, “Shit! I’m so–so sorry–miss! Are you–are you okay?” Ignoring him, she watched the agents half way down the block move closer and closer. The Bouncer pushed himself up off a knee and offered her a hand. Instead, she tossed his bag at him. It slammed into his gut but he managed to hold on to it. “You idiot!” she scolded. She stood up and towered over him. He felt her anger as she leered down at him. Must be an uptight model or something, he thought, but he got the hint. He clutched the bag against his chest and jetted. “Sorry again!” his voice echoed as he bolted across the intersection. He never noticed the two dark suited men. She watched him off and then turned her attention to them as they approached. She took one last look toward the Bouncer as his figure got smaller and smaller. Shit. She had not expected him to run.
“Hello, Minerva,” one of the men spoke.
“What took you so long?” she replied, her eyes met theirs as she put on black leather gloves.
Two more blocks. He was almost there. The light shone from the station entrance in the distance. He double-stepped it down the escalator when he reached it and zipped down a wide hallway tunnel. The usual sleeping homeless folks on both sides had already been asked to exit. When he reached the fare gate, he had his transit card out and tapped it against the card reader. Beep! The gate opened and he raced down the long escalators to the platform downstairs. The doors of the last train were closing just as he side-stepped in between them. He slumped onto a seat and dumped his bag next to him.
Minerva looked around. She shoved the lifeless body of the second agent on top of the other inside an empty dumpster. She removed her gloves and tossed them in too. She dusted herself off and grabbed her hat off the ground nearby. She adjusted it on her head and slid a hand into her inner coat pocket. A small device beeped as she pulled it out and tossed it into the dumpster. It beeped faster and faster and suddenly a huge blaze of fire shot up into the air behind her as she walked out of the alley. When she reached the sidewalk, she snapped her head owl-like in the direction the idiot that had bumped into her had disappeared toward.
The Bouncer slowed his breathing. He would be able to sleep in his bed tonight after all. He propped up his bag and reached inside to grab a book, he was sleepy but also behind on his reading for tomorrow’s classes. Something inside felt unfamiliar and he opened the bag wider. He saw a small black notebook and thick envelope tucked into the side. He pulled them out slowly as if he were a bomb squad tech. Hell is this? He held each in both hands and looked side to side thinking. The tall woman entered his mind.
Although not a resident, she was familiar with the city and city life. If someone was running, they had either just stolen something or had a bus to catch. Or a train. She approached the station entrance but it was now closed for the night. She knew what to do next.
The Bouncer opened the notebook’s cover. The place where you usually write your name and contact information in case it goes missing was blank. Great, he thought. Now what? He flipped through the pages and found endless names and dates listed. That’s it? He grabbed the envelope and opened it to find two stacks of crisp hundred dollar bills. Each stack was wrapped in white and gold bank paper bands stamped with $10,000 respectively. Holy shit. He looked around and shoved the envelope back into his bag. He flipped through the notebook to the last page written in. The last entry was dated yesterday. The name next to it was Paul Thompson. Paul Thompson? It rang a bell. A distant bell however. He could not recall where he had seen or heard it before. Thompson, Thompson, Thompson, he repeated in his head. He gave up thinking about it after a while, placed the notebook inside his bag, closed his eyes and tried to relax the rest of the way as the train rumbled and screeched along over the tracks.
A red Dodge Challenger roared across the bridge out of the city. Her eyes glared like a predator on the prowl behind the steering wheel. The tall woman would have her notebook and money back in no time.
Names and dates, dates and names. He was unable to get it out of his mind. He looked out the window as lights and vehicles on the freeway passed by. He stared down at his bag. What was the significance of these entries? He thought about the envelope and its contents. Twenty big ones. What was the money for? His nerves kicked in as he thought about the mysterious woman. The angry look she gave him appeared in his mind. How would he return it? Did he want to return it?
A loud vehicle tore down the freeway past the train but he paid it no mind, there was nothing unusual about crazy drivers racing down the highway around here. He did ponder, however, keep commuting via train or buy a brand new car with the money?
The Challenger beat the train to the next station but the tall woman knew she could not make it up to the train in time. She pulled out a pair of high-tech night-vision binoculars and scanned the train as it pulled into the station and the doors opened up to the platform. Come out, come out wherever you are, boy. She placed her right hand over a pistol with a silencer on the passenger seat next to her. She did not recognize any of the passengers exiting the train. The doors closed and the Challenger burned rubber out of the parking lot.
He pulled out his cell phone and thought about telling someone what had just happened, what he had in his possession. He thought against it and instead opened a browser. He punched in his go-to news website and tried to distract himself with the latest stories. He scrolled and scrolled, skimming and skimming the headlines, and there...it...was. Paul Thompson. City Councilman Paul Thompson. “Mysteriously murdered” the day before, the article stated. He looked up from his phone slowly. A student filmmaker, he had seen enough movies to know what was inside the envelope. The names, the dates, it all made sense! He started Googling names written in the notebook. More dates and names in the notebook matched the ones in more articles regarding mysterious homicides and apparent suicides. Blood money.
Fear gripped and chilled his spine. The thundering vehicle from earlier permeated his mind. Was it her? Could it be her? Had she seen him? He grabbed his stuff and quickly moved toward a handicap seat with no window. Would she be waiting for him at the next stop? Should he risk an escape and get off? His mind was racing simultaneously with his pounding heart. He wiped sweat off his brow with his sleeve. He thought about calling 911, but then he also thought about the money. Twenty grand. When would he ever see or hold such an amount again? Was it worth his life? Would she even let him walk if he returned it to her? He could still act like he had not looked inside his bag. Twenty grand, man. Shit! What do I do? His thoughts were interrupted when the train operator announced the next station over the intercom.
The Challenger rolled over and flattened a McDonald’s cup in the station’s parking lot as it came to a stop. Her white knuckled hands gripped the steering wheel. Made it this time. She pulled a pair of black gloves from the glove compartment, slid the silenced pistol into the leather holster under her left armpit and stepped out of the car. She did not have time for games, she made her way toward the station.
Nervous and scared as hell, his bag’s strap now slung across his chest, the Bouncer carefully peeked through the train door’s window panels. The train slowed and stopped. He flinched when the doors opened and the cold air hit his face. Stay on or get off? He stuck his head out slightly and looked up and down the platform. Only a few passengers had exited. No sign of her. Coast clear. Someone tapped his shoulder and he jumped to face them. “Spare a dollar, buddy?” A small disheveled homeless man, with a hand held out, stared back at him.
The Bouncer exited the train and took the stairs down to ground level. He walked through the station looking all around him but the woman was nowhere to be found. He went into the restroom and the door shut behind him. Before he could unzip his pants, the door shut again. He looked over his shoulder to find Minerva blocking the door. “Hey, aren’t you that woman I bump–”
“Where is it? Where’s your bag?” she demanded.
She reached into her coat, her fingertips on the handle of the pistol.
“Oh no, my bag!” he grabbed his head. “I left it on the train again! God, I’m such an idiot! Not again!”
She squinted hard at him for several seconds. She slowly pulled her hand out. Empty. “You are an idiot.” She kicked the door open behind her, stepped out and disappeared.
On the train, now miles away, the small homeless man had just opened the envelope.