This creative writing tasked called for me to sketch out an introduction chapter for a novel that follows a hero’s journey narrative.
‘Marcus asked for you,’ sighed Hank.
‘I already said no,’ snapped Harry.
‘He’ll pay anything, you know that.’
‘It’s not about the money. I told you, I don’t do that work anymore.’
‘C’mon man, you don’t wanna get on his bad side…you remember what happened to Jack.’
‘I left on mutual ground with Marcus. I owe him nothing.’
There was a pause on the other end of the line.
Harry stopped rummaging through the liquor cupboard in his one-bedroom apartment. He took the phone from between his shoulder and ear and gripped it in his hand. Taking a breath and squeezing his eyes shut, he brought the disposable phone back to his ear.
‘Is she ok?’ he asked, his jaw clenching in preparation for the blow.
His stomach dropped. Harry moved his gaze up from the coffee-stained floor tiles of his messy kitchen to the pink skyline outside.
Fairy floss he thought, this was her favourite time of day because it always looks the colour of fairy floss.
He swallowed, regaining his composure before replying:
‘Last night. They found her car still parked outside the UCLA campus. Security claim they only saw her rock up about five p-m and walk to class. Nothin’ after that though.’
Harry walked towards the glass door that led out onto a balcony just big enough to hold two plastic chairs and a small table. Over the past fifteen months he’d subconsciously developed a habit of avoiding this one area of his dingy apartment at sunset. Because he remembered what life was once like – simple and content – with her on this balcony every evening; his oversized Paul McCartney shirt draped over her soft skin, her bare legs stretched out on the railing, honey-gold hair illuminated by the soft pink and violet skies while her slender fingers casually held the cigarette they shared, her eyes twinkling in wonder as they both took in the Chicago skyline.
Harry stepped outside; the phone still clutched in his hand. A warm summer breeze brushed his skin, flicking a few dark brown locks into his eyes. By this time, they would have already been half way through a bottle of red; sipping on it in un-matching mugs as they amused themselves with the thought of running away and abandoning this dangerous life they had somehow become twisted in. This used to be his favourite time of the day; when everything else didn’t matter and all he could feel was her eyes on him and the warm sensation her utter look gave him all over his tired body.
Yet now, Harry felt cold. The balcony seemed dull despite the pink glow that encompassed it as the sun began its descent. He felt like a foreigner in this part of his home, almost as if the magic he’d once felt in this space was only a figment of his imagination.
She was the best and most heart wrenching thing that had ever happened to him.
He turned his back to the skyline and pulled the phone up.
‘Tell Marcus to send a plane,’ he said.
‘I’m gonna need information on every person she’s come in contact with in the last six months. Every friend, family member, every boyfriend,’ Harry winced, ‘security guard, professor, barista, hair stylist, fucking everyone. OK?’
‘I’m sending it through now.’
‘I don’t have any gear. Threw it all out after Morocco.’
‘The least of your worries buddy,’ Hank reassured, ‘Hamish has developed some brand-new shit. He’ll take you through it on the plane.’
Harry hung up to the sound of a familiar car engine on the street below. The matte black Hummer he’d so often had meetings with Marcus in was parked outside the tired apartment building.
And to think I was done for good this time, he thought as he walked inside and began packing. Nine years of doing this work had taught him well; within eight minutes he was trotting down the two flights of stairs and through the old, cramped lobby.
Raphael was waiting for him with the passenger door opened. In almost a decade of working together, the pair had only ever shared a few head nods. After greeting Raphael like so, Harry paused briefly before climbing in. The familiar scent of leather and tobacco, the red lining that Marcus had custom made, that one dark spot on the backseat which even the cleaners couldn’t get out after one fateful night in Manhattan. All of this and he was willingly about to jump back in.
Without any other thought but the vision of her eyes glittering in the pink glow of dusks together, Harry stepped into the Hummer. The door shut behind him, an automatic lock sound blurting through the distant hum of the engine.
This is my absolute last fucking job, he thought as Raphael pulled the car onto the road and floored it to the highway.