A light smile tickling her supple lips, Saoirse Whelan sidled towards the broad man sitting at the bar. From a side view, she could see the ominous swelling of his great stomach and spiky chaos of his beard as he drooled over three empty beer glasses on the bar in front of him.
Almost unconsciously, Saoirse began to drool in synchronisation with him. It was a while since she had tasted a good Guinness. The pay was good while she worked with the Benders, but she couldn’t afford to go out drinking more than once a month. Well, not on a real binge. Sometimes there was booze back at the hideout, but nothing really good. Nothing that spiced her up properly.
She sighed inwardly. She mustn’t drink. She must be calm, cool and calculating. Alcohol clouded the mind, distorted the reactions, blurred the details. And that was what must not happen. Not to her. She must see every detail, because the details were the most important part. If not for the details, she would lose her job. Besides, she had a mission, and beer played no role in it. She must be passive; she must be strong – and she knew she was up to it.
Trying to block the image of a blue-and-white checked tablecloth from her mind, which had welled up in her memory as she tasted the old tang of homemade beer, Saoirse shuffled closer to the man at the bar. She would need every wit pristinely sharpened to play her way through the mind of this great buffoon.
“Daniel,” she said smoothly as she slid an arm beneath his armpit and across his broad back. “Long time no see an' all.”
Daniel, having just ordered his fourth pint, turned his heavy head to look at her, and his face lit up in a twisted form of recognition. “Mandy, what a surprise!”
Saoirse narrowed a peeled-looking peridot eye at him, and searched his countenance for signs of hallucination. He stared back at her, dry lips parted with a stale-smelling waft of alcohol – her fingers were overtaken by a restless fit of careful curiosity, and went exploring down his jacket.
“So, where have you been, Daniel?” she said, her voice a soundless river, rippling in the haze. “Not that I need know. I know exactly where you’ve been.”
He drew his brows together, but not in anxiety. “You always do, my gipsy-girl.”
“I’m no gipsy,” said Saoirse, straining to keep her voice smooth and calming, and not sharp and crisp. How could he know that she had been born in County Cork to a dark gypsy woman in a yellow caravan?
“Relax – it’s a pet name, isn’t it?” he said, leaning closer.
Her lips puckered in a quick smile, and she turned her neck to granite. If it was floppy, she would surely be leaning backwards as he did forwards. Act the part, Saoirse. And she did, with as much ease and grace as if she were really Mandy Norman, this club-man’s most popular partner.
Her long fingers were slowly reaching their destination. A man with a beard and a beer belly. A jacket. A pocket. A key.
There! she thought, as her hand closed around the cool form. Drawing her hand from the depths of the pocket, she let it drop to his hip. He returned the favour. Then, using her other hand, Saoirse slipped a small folded object from the back pocket of her own tight black jeans. It was a work of mere moments to smuggle it down his trousers. Then she disentangled herself from the ugly embrace.
“I gotta go, Daniel,” she whispered. “I’ve got an appointment.”
His lips drooped, but he caught sight of the full beer glass sitting disinterestedly on the bar, and nodded quietly. “Surely you can cancel it, for the sake of an old friend?”
She shook her head with as charming a smile as she could fashion, and stepped backwards, letting the rowdy mob close around her tall slim figure. Then she made a face. What a horrible man! And so drunk he had actually fallen for it, and mistaken her! What a horrible man!
Despite her evident experience in the art of a temptress, and mature age of thirty-two years to her credit, Saoirse had never actually slept in a man’s bed. She had had a backstreet abortion, true – but that had been different. The fact was that seduction was the most popular, and indeed thr most effective, technique employed by female assassins in the dark alleyways of sin in the outskirts of London City.
The second most popular method was that of drawing blood, but even if the red sticky essence of life didn’t remind Saoirse of a blue-and-white checked tablecloth, she still wouldn’t have used it. The small sharp knife commonly wielded for the job gave her shivers and impressions of bad omens. It seemed to reflect her emotions, thereby doubling them, rather than slicing them in two. And that wasn’t good. An assassin must not own the power to empathise. An assassin cannot feel emotions – if she does begin to feel guilt, or regret, or love…she loses her job – or does something she sincerely regrets.