No one was supposed to be on the roof.
The time was ten-thirty-two in the evening and Raymond yawned as he headed up the roof access stairs. He’d just woken up from a well-deserved nap. The sun was long set and the stars would push themselves through the light pollution, shining their frail light through the incandescent smog. The moon waxed in the sky, still too thin to reflect much sunlight back onto the Earth. Fortunate, really. It made it easier to escape notice.
He reached the door to the roof. Raymond jangled the janitor’s keys in his pocket, feeling for the right one in the dim light. On the other side of that door was darkness and death, and he was eager to meet it.
The door opened with a twist of the right key and Raymond stepped out onto the roof, fifty-six floors above the streets. A cool breeze played with his bedhead and wicked away the sweat from his hairline. He took a moment to revel in the solitude-
Except he wasn’t alone.
A figure, squatting and hunched over the roof rail, turned to face Raymond as the door closed behind him with a click. Bags and a tripod with some mounted instrument were arranged carefully along the edge of the roof, the figure with one hand on the tripod. Both stared at each other in disbelief.
No one was supposed to be on the roof.
Raymond drew his gun. He released the safety and aimed down the barrel at the stranger. A flash of metal in the slim moonlight told him the stranger had drawn a gun too. Raymond took a step forward, slowly. Then another step. And another.
“I’d stop,” the stranger said.
They stared at each other down the barrels of their guns. The stranger’s hood and night goggles obscured most of their face. Raymond couldn’t get a read on their expression or who they might be. Or who they worked for.
“Tell me why I shouldn’t shoot you right now,” Raymond said, finger poised on the trigger.
The stranger was silent.
Raymond began to take another step, saying, “I’d answer-“
“Listen, friend, I don’t have time for warning shots,” the stranger interrupted, “So put your foot back where it was before I blow your brains out.”
Raymond set his foot back on the roof and waited. They stood at that standstill for what felt like hours, listening to the sound of cars hundreds of feet below them. The night was hot. Sweat ran into Raymond’s eye and he struggled not to swipe it away.
“It seems we’re at an impasse,” Raymond said, “How would you like to proceed?”
The stranger cocked their head to the side, as if thinking.
After a moment, they replied, “I really don’t want to fire this gun. The noise would be a problem I don’t need tonight.”
“I’d rather not fire either. How about we put our guns down and talk like civilized people?” Raymond suggested.
The stranger nodded. Their gun slowly lowered, staying on his midline. Raymond understood. Better safe than sorry. He lowered his in the same manner, watching the stranger’s face as he did for any sign of duplicity.
Their guns touched the roof but both hesitated to release. In an act of good faith, Raymond released his first and stepped back, hands up. The stranger’s lips turned up in the briefest smile before they released their gun, sliding it off to their side.
“Alright. Let’s talk,” Raymond said, lowering himself to the ground. He sat cross-legged, hands on his knees and looked at the stranger, awaiting a reply.
The stranger took off their night goggles and hood, releasing a furl of dark hair. She looked at him, lips pursed, arms crossed.
“I won’t ask your name,” Raymond said, smiling, “I have a feeling I won’t get the truth. But I do have to ask what you’re doing here. This roof is supposed to be off-limits for residents.”
The woman chewed her lip a moment before saying, “I’m not a resident.”
“Then you’re not supposed to be in the building.”
Raymond raised an eyebrow.
“I’m not in the building, I’m on it,” she clarified, “And you’re not a resident either. Or the janitor.”
He nodded. The janitor’s key ring must have slipped out of his pocket when he sat down. He didn’t dare glance away from the stranger to check.
“So neither of us are supposed to be here. We’ve managed that much,” Raymond said, still smiling pleasantly, “Now let’s figure out why.”
The woman’s eyebrows folded into the center of her brow.
“Alright, alright. I won’t make you say it. But your kit on the ledge, the time of night, the location- I have a feeling I could guess even if I was some lost civilian.”
The woman’s frown upgraded to a scowl. He saw her fingers twitch at the insult, and he made a mental note of how far his gun was from him, and whether he could get his knife out in time.
Raymond sighed. He couldn’t see another way to diffuse the situation.
“I believe,” he said, enunciating every word carefully, “That you and I are after the same prey.”
The woman’s scowl disappeared, but the crease in her brow deepened. While she processed that information, Raymond tried to think of a clever way out of the situation. That’s what he was good at, after all. It’s why he’d been hired.
All he could think of was the truth. And that was risky.
He waited to see if she would say anything. She didn’t seem particularly talkative, but he hoped she might give him something to work off of. Any information. When she didn’t and continued to frown instead, he chanced looking up at the night sky and groaning.
The chance was well taken- she hadn’t moved, though her brow was more relaxed. Good. Progress.
“So, the senator, right? Who hired you?” he asked.
There was a pause that went on so long, Raymond thought he wouldn’t get an answer, but then she spat out, “One of the senator’s colleagues.”
“Oh!” he said, clapping his hands together, “Good, then! Good to know my contact didn’t double book, at least.”
She didn’t smile, but the frown was gone. “Not hired by a jealous rival, then?” she asked.
“No, no, government agency.”
She nodded. “They always contract for dirty work.”
“Right? You’d think with all that money, they’d just have some sort of special department for this stuff,” he said, grinning. Finally. He was getting somewhere.
She didn’t grin back and her eyes seemed unfocused. If Raymond had to guess, the wheels in her head were turning, trying to think up a solution just as he was. He took advantage of her distracted gaze to scan her equipment. The rifle mounted on the rail had a silencer and the bag on the ground next to it still had ammo in it. Anything else, he couldn’t tell. Her night vision goggles were on the ground next to her and he wondered what she thought she’d need those for. Unless-
The pieces clicked. He had an idea of who she was and how she worked.
“So,” he started again, this time with the sketch of her he’d made in his mind, “How much are you getting paid?”
Her eyes refocused on him. “Why?”
Raymond shrugged, palms facing up. “Trying to figure out a solution to our problem, here.”
She stole a glance at her crossed arms before her eyes flashed back to meet his. The movement could’ve been mistaken for a blink if he’d been anyone else. He wondered what her watch had told her.
The figure brought his mind to a halt. Five thousand? He quickly began rebuilding his idea of her in his mind. Either she was an amateur or she enjoyed the work. Both options scared him a little. It made her more unpredictable.
“Five?” he asked, “This job is worth more than five thousand! Christ, you’re getting ripped off, you should be hitting six figures at least.”
At this, she grinned. He hadn’t expected that.
Raymond opened his mouth to reply but nothing came out. He closed it and stared at the woman in front of him. It wasn’t often someone stumped him.
“You’re getting five million?” he finally managed.
“Good God,” he said, “I’ve been screwed.”
“How much are you working for?” she asked.
“Not even one mil?” she scoffed.
Raymond didn’t answer.
“That’s what you get for doing government work,” she said, “I never take those contracts. Private sector pays way more.”
“I didn’t realize it was that much more! I don’t exactly meet with other people in our line of work much.”
“Think we should unionize?”
Raymond barked out a surprised laugh. The woman was still grinning. He threw the idea of her in his head out for good. She was funny, unpredictable- that was all he needed to know right now.
He got back to the task at hand, figuring she’d been properly loosened up by now. “So, to be honest, I’ve already set some things in motion here. But you’re clearly getting paid more. How do you want to split this?”
“Split?” she said, her grin fading, “If you’re talking about money, fat chance. And I doubt we can split killing him.”
“Well, I mean- I guess-“ he said, struggling with a solution. Finally, he sighed. “Yeah, you’re right. We can’t.”
He watched her shoulders tense and her eyes flick to her gun. He needed to stop the train of thought she was riding before it arrived at the Kill Raymond Station. As good as he was with guns, it wasn’t his specialty. Quick drawing and gun duels were hard to practice without dying.
“How about this,” he said, hands up and palms facing her, “I tell you the things I’ve prepared. You tell me how you prepared. Then we move from there.”
The bunching on her jacket smoothed as she relaxed her shoulders. Raymond let himself relax a moment too.
She turned her head and used her chin to point at the mounted rifle. “That’s my plan. That’s how I’ve prepared.”
Wrong thing to say. The scowl was back.
“I mean, if that’s how your client asked you to operate, it’s as good as any,” he smoothed over, “It’s just not very discreet, is all.”
“And what did you have planned?” she said, gesturing to his plain clothes.
He smiled. “Well, actually, I’ve been staking this place for a week.”
Her scowl softened.
“I’m sure you figured out; this is the only roof you can access that has the ability to look into all three floors of his condo. The first few days I just stayed up here and figured out his routine. Then I started planting little parts of my plan- dressing as the help, posing as the building’s janitor, pretending to be an electrician, that sort of thing. I managed to figure out that every night at around ten he has the help prep him a bath and some wine. He usually drinks two full bottles, sipping the first while the bath is drawn and then submerging himself in the bath with the second. Once the help brings the second bottle, most all of them go into the guest bedroom to smoke and have a break, so the senator is truly alone.
“I poisoned the bottle that should be tonight’s second bottle, while he’s in the bath. He’ll have a seizure and either die of a heart attack or drown. It’s really just whether or not he drowns before the poison catches up to his heart and stops it.”
She looked at him with wide eyes and, forgetting he was a potential threat, looked at her watch and then turned and looked over the balcony.
Looking back at him, she said, “Then why are you even up here?”
“To watch. Confirm.”
“But the windows are tinted!” she said, “You can’t see through them without help!”
Raymond shrugged, smiling. “I busted his AC today. The bath will get hot and steam will fill the room with no good ventilation in place, so he’ll open a window.”
She turned to look back at the building. Raymond craned his neck to look past her. Sure enough, the bathroom window was open, and they had a perfect view.
“You only got paid seven hundred for that?”
He laughed. “Why do you think I was so upset?”
The woman chewed her lip looking at the rifle, the window, and then Raymond.
“I don’t have much time then.”
“No,” he said, checking his watch, “You don’t. I was supposed to make it look as natural as possible. If you want to make it very clear he was assassinated, you’ve only got a few minutes. What’s he doing?”
She turned back to look through the window. Her lip curled in disgust.
“He’s naked. Toeing the water.”
“Then the second bottle should be here any minute.”
Her teeth dug into her bottom lip so hard, he saw it split open. She ran her tongue across the cut to lap up the blood. Then, “You’re good. I hate for all that work to go to waste. But it’ll look like an accident and my client wants it very clearly to be an assassination.”
She groaned. “Five million, though.”
“Yeah. Which is understandable. Hard to really bargain with you with my measly seven hundred.”
Her eyes glazed over, distracted again. Raymond didn’t mind. The more time she spent thinking, the more time the senator had to drink his wine. Then no one could stop it, not even her with her bullets.
Clarity came back to her face and she looked at him with intensity.
“Why does he have a hit on him?”
With a few moments of hesitation, he admitted, “I don’t really know. Some bill or something they don’t want him to vote for, I think.”
“No. I mean, we could look up what the senate is set to vote on tomorrow, if you like?”
Her movement was so sudden, Raymond realized that if she had meant to kill him he would have been dead several minutes ago. She was sitting beside him, phone out, pulling up a search bar. His heart hammering, he pulled his out and searched the senator’s name.
After a tense minute of waiting for web pages to load, they both knew.
“He’s voting for more worker’s rights,” he whispered, “He may be the deciding vote in a split senate.”
“There’s a clause that specifically talks about contract-based employees,” she said, scrolling through the bill.
“What, about us?”
“It’s a lot of legal jargon, but it gives us more rights and more power in negotiation. Even with states and federal agencies.”
They both looked at each other and Raymond knew.
“Fuck the five million,” she said, “It’s not like I’ve got kids to feed or anything. I can buy a Lambo later.”
“And shit, if I can negotiate better contracts in the future, the FBI can shove that seven hundred up their ass.”
“But the wine.”
They both crawled over to the roof rail, each of them on one side of the rifle, looking down into the senator’s bathroom window. He was fully in the tub now, bubbles and jets disguising his distended torso and likely as unpleasant nether regions. The wine sat, unopened on the bathtub’s rim, a glass and a corkscrew next to it. The senator hadn’t reached for it yet but based on the empty glass and the amount of bubbles, Raymond knew he’d open it soon.
“We don’t have much time,” he said, “Once he gets comfortable-“
He was interrupted by her shifting positions. He heard the click of the safety on the rifle and realized she’d loaded it. Now she crouched, aiming down the sights and into the bathroom.
“I thought we weren’t doing this!” he hissed.
“We’re not. Get ready to run.”
Raymond dutifully plugged his ears and waited for the shot. Whatever she decided, the senator’s fate was in her hands now. He’d already given up on the seven hundred.
There was a bang, even with the silencer, and Raymond shut his eyes. When he opened them, the woman was already packing the gun up, tripod torn down and ammo stored. He looked into the open bathroom window.
The senator had leapt out of the tub and was crawling on the ground. Red coated the tub’s rim, the floor, the steps into the tub, but Raymond couldn’t pick out a wound. Then he saw it. Broken glass.
She’d shot the wine bottle.
He turned at her voice coming from behind him. “Are you coming or not?”
She stood at the access door, kit over her shoulder arranged to look like an oblong purse. Raymond looked back for a moment at the bathroom, but black suits began looking out the window, so he backed away from the edge. He stood and walked towards the door to meet the woman he still didn’t have a name for.
As she opened the door, she asked, “Do you still have the key ring?”
He patted the keys in his pocket and they jangled.
“Good. Let’s split up and drop the gear.”
“Agreed. Want to meet up somewhere?”
She stopped going down the stairs and turned to look at him, questioningly.
He shrugged. “I don’t know. Get a bite to eat? Start an assassin’s union or something?”
She laughed, a loud, hoarse laugh of someone who wasn’t in the practice of it. They continued going down the stairs.
“Sure,” she said, glancing back up at him, “I like Chinese.”
No one was supposed to be on the roof.
He was glad there was.