It had been twenty four years since she’d last seen it, but the place looked exactly the same. The blinds were drawn to shield the room from the bright sunlight, or what light ever reached the place, and the scattered cushions still had indents in them from where people had leant.
The only sign that time had elapsed was that the clock was no longer ticking, it’s cuckoo trapped forever in a hibernation.
“It’s a bit stuffy in here, isn’t it?” Max asked, wrinkling his nose as he tried not to sneeze.
Shrugging, Layla moved around, her fingertips gently touching the material covering the seats. It’s knitted yarn felt rough. Strange, she had remembered it feeling soft against her skin as she lay across them.
“Some of this furniture might be worth a bit. They’re all antiques now,” Max muttered, examining the coffee table with its ornately carved legs.
Small puffs of dust drifted from the carpet, still plush although discoloured, as Layla stepped on it. Her heels left marks where she’d been.
A tarnished mirror hung above the mantel.
Staring at it, Layla saw herself reflected.
The lines and grey hairs were new, but she could still see how she had looked before. Before they had come into her life.
“Well, where do we look?” Max asked, running a hand through his thinning hair. “ Do you remember where it was?”
“No, I have no idea.”
Grunting with what she assumed was impatience, Max started lifting cushions and replacing them, shoving papers that had been stacked neatly, and then, crawling on all fours, examining the underside of the furniture.
Running her fingers along the mirror’s edge, Layla whispered,” This entire place needs dusting.”
“We don’t have time for that.”
“I know but…,”
“No, there aren’t any ‘buts’ about it. We’ve got a job to do, and we can’t mess it up. Now help me look.”
With his eyes focused as he searched through a drawer, he didn’t notice as she slipped the small key that had been hidden beneath the mirror, into the palm of her hand.
“What did you use to do in here anyway?” Max asked, his forehead creased into a frown as he looked around the room.
“Oh, this and that,” Layla said, turning to hide the grin spreading across her face.
“Must have been pretty boring.”
Layla didn’t bother to answer.
Standing with her back to him, she hoped he wouldn’t notice what she was doing, as the lock on the small, wooden box was proving difficult to open.
“There are other rooms to the apartment,” she said, as she realized Max had been quiet for a few minutes. “Why don’t you check them.”
Silently, Max disappeared through one of the doors leading off of the room.
The other rooms were only tiny, and sparsely furnished. He’d be back very soon.
Gritting her teeth, Layla twisted the key in the lock as forcefully as she dared. It wouldn’t help if it broke in the lock. Max would get the box open anyway.
With a small click, it sprung open.
It’s velvet lining was still bright, and soft.
Sighing with relief, Layla pocketed the wrapped object, hoping he wouldn’t notice the lump in her skirt, and picked up the revolver that had been beside it. Exactly where she’d left it.
It had been a long time since she’d held it.
Twenty four years, but it felt like yesterday. Her fingers automatically gripping, both hands holding.
“Now I’m home,” she muttered.
“What did you say?” Max asked, reappearing in the doorway. His face was tired, drained, but his eyes were still alert.
“I think that this is the end Max,” Layla said quietly, turning to face him, the revolver aimed at his chest.
His mouth feel open, giving him a lost, puppy dog look.
“I don’t understand,” he stammered.
Layla smiled, the corners of her mouth twisting, making her face seem sad, tormented, evil.
“Oh, I think you do,” she said, her eyes remaining locked onto his. “ It might have been twenty four years, but I remember as if it were yesterday.”
Max swallowed. His eyes moved from side to side. Sweat beaded on his forehead and upper lip.
“You’re one of us,” he whispered.
Shaking her head, Layla ignored the strand of hair escaping her high ponytail and now brushing her cheek.
Outside, the traffic on the street below could be heard during peak hour.
No one would hear anything from the apartment.
“No Max,” she said. “I’ve never been one of you. For twenty four years I’ve been one of them. Watching, waiting, hoping that this day would come.”
Slowly, Max lifted his hands in the air, palms facing her.
Layla laughed,” And now it’s time. Goodbye Max.”
She pulled the trigger, but the chamber was empty.
“What the…,” she said, her eyes confused. “ I left it loaded.”
She bent her head and examined it carefully.
It was definitely her revolver. So why wasn’t it loaded, as she left it? Maybe twenty four years had been too long.
Max felt into his pocket, and pulled out his own.
Shiny and new, and loaded.
Surprised, Layla glanced up as she heard him pull the trigger.
“Ohh,” she gasped as she fell, too late to react, blood oozing from her chest.
“Good bye Layla,” Max whispered as he stood next to her and looked down.
He watched as the light slowly died from her eyes. Her hands still holding onto her revolver, loosely. She’d been a good agent to work with.
But the bosses had been right.
At least they’d kept their word and got there before him.
It could have been a disaster for him if they hadn’t.
Sighing, he pulled out the wrapped object from her pocket, trying hard not to remember all the times spent together.
The times spent in the bars and pubs, and restaurants, laughing and joking, and sometimes even crying, their arms wrapped around each other.
Sniffling, he tried to ignore the tears running down his cheeks.
He’d miss her.
Looking down at the object, heavy in his hand, he felt a surge of anger.
Why should either side get it? Was it worth everything?
Quickly, as if he had meant to do it all along, he marched to the bathroom and, hoping the plumbing was still functioning, flushed the object.
He felt relieved.
He’d done his job.
Squatting down beside Layla’s lifeless body, he slowly smoothed the hair off of her cheek.
“I’m coming,” he whispered.
Firing the revolver again, he crumpled next to her.
There would be no one to say where the object had gone, or if it had existed at all, and that was all that mattered.