Prompt: It’s late at night and there’s a knock at the door. You answer it to see a stranger dripping with the rain. “You’re a tricky devil to find,” he says.
“Good,” I replied. “Let’s keep it that way, shall we?”
I quickly ushered the man inside and relieved him of his umbrella. He shrugged off his coat and handed it to me without so much as a ‘thank you.’ I offered him tea as a formality, and to my relief, he promptly denied. “Gives me the runs,” he groaned.
“That’s rather un-gentlemanly of you,” I observed. He said nothing, but the edges of his lips tightened almost imperceptibly, forcing a sly grin from me. I gestured towards the living room. “Please, have a seat. You must be exhausted after your trip.”
He furrowed his eyebrows before stepping past me, a slight limp impeding his progress. He gave the room a swift and thorough look over, pausing over nothing yet consuming everything in his gaze, then sat on the sofa. I sat in an armchair opposite of him, sinking into the leather with a sigh.
“So,” I said, “who is it this time?”
The man already had a pipe in his hand, prepacked and dry, eager for a flame. One end glistened under the blaze of a matchstick, while the other vanished into his bushy gray mustache. The hairs twitched and parted for a thick gray smoke. “Morgan,” he grumbled.
I chuckled. “Morgan, huh? What’s he want from me this time?”
The man nodded towards me. “Your head.”
I chuckled. “My head? That’s rather uncharacteristic of him, don’t you think?”
The man’s eyes glowed under the light of the matchstick, but he said nothing.
“Apologies,” I said. “I know why you’re here, and it’s not to hear me harp on about Morgan, though I must say the name leaves quite a sour taste in my mouth.”
“Same here,” sighed the man. “Try as I might, I could not convince him otherwise.”
“I wouldn’t ask it of you,” I replied, pushing myself from my recliner. “Morgan’s a cowardly man, but he’s an arrogant coward.”
“The worst kind,” grumbled the man.
I walked towards the window and brushed the curtains aside. The torrential rain masked any hints of activity on the street below. “What’s your price?” I asked.
“Five million,” he said. I winced.
“You know I can’t afford that,” I said.
“Then perhaps you can afford the alternative.” He stood to leave. “Good day.”
“Wait!” I threw the curtains shut and turned to him. “I can pay you, but I can’t pay it all at once.”
The man tore the pipe from his mouth. “Astor, do you understand the risk I’m taking by speaking with you? If Morgan finds out we’ve been meeting-”
“Morgan won’t find out if no one tells him,” I said, placing my hand on his shoulder, “and since we’re the only ones who know about this, no one is going to tell him.” I offered to relight his pipe and was received with a grunt.
“Morgan may be stupid,” said the man, “but he’ll find out eventually. Every time I meet with you, I’m taking my own life into my hands. Prove to me that you’re worth it.”
I offered him a smile. “My good man, five million pounds is no easy sum to come by, even for a resourceful individual like myself. You will have your sum, and in return I expect-”
“You shall expect nothing until I have the full amount,” he snapped.
“Surely I cannot pay you if Morgan has his way,” I replied.
“If Morgan has his way, we both suffer. What do you will presume will happen, should Morgan find his top man conspiring with his top rival?”
I sighed and looked him over once more. “Alright, you’ll have your five million. I shall have my bankers disburse the money to your account over the next three months.”
“Make the call,” he said sternly. I nodded and invited him into my office, where I contacted the local branch via telephone.
He scoffed as I hung the receiver. “’You know I can’t afford that’,” he mocked. “You’re a snake, you are.”
I grinned. “Why else would Morgan want me dead?”
He shook his head and turned to retrieve his coat. “I shall inform Morgan that you traveled to America. That should afford you enough time to get your affairs in order before he sends more of his men.”
“America? What makes you think Morgan will fall for that?”
For the first time that evening, the man smiled. “I shall inform him that you went aboard the RMS Titanic. If all goes as planned, he will assume you were caught unaware and perished in the aftermath.”
I could not help but laugh. “This is a tricky business we’re in, isn’t it?”
“You need not remind me. I’ve already spent too much time here. I bid you farewell – until next time.”
“If all goes well,” I said with a smile, “there won’t be a next time.” I saw him to the door, bolted it behind him, and started planning my next move.