"Good afternoon," a deep voice intoned from the office doorway. "May I come in?" The man at the desk inside frowned and waved his guest in.
"My secretary didn't introduce you to stand there, of course you can come in."
"I asked 'may I come in, '" the visitor replied, glancing about the well-appointed room. "I of course am capable, but an office, like a home, is a very private place, and I find it best in my line of work to be very mindful of..." He settled his eyes on his host. " ... private matters." At the mention of "line of work," Marcus Stanton cleared his throat, eyes dropping to the desk blotter as he fiddled with a pen.
"Yes, well. I have heard that, though little else about you, Mr. Church." His brow furrowed. "In fact, I have but one recommendation for you, and were it not for the source, I'd not be speaking to you."
Mr. Church smiled, one corner of his mouth lifting slightly. "I assume that is why you called upon me. Have you prepared the consultation fee?" Marcus hesitated only slightly before opening a desk drawer and placing a manila envelope on the desk. He tapped it gently twice, lingering after the second touch.
"The fee is in order. Within this envelope is all the information for review prior to your consultation." The visitor's smile faded, eyes hardening. Marcus continued, years of corporate negotiating allowing him to force back any emotional cues he might give at this point. "I am not one to put the cart before the horse, Mr. Church. Your fee will be provided upon a successful consult. I like that term, by the way." He was now smiling himself, retrieving the upper hand in the conversation. It had not quite gone as he had planned.
Mr. Church did not answer for a few moments, the silence growing across the room. Finally, he pursed his lips and asked a simple question: "How long have you been cheating on your wife, Mr. Stanton?" Marcus's upper hand left before it really got on top.
"I beg your pardon?" Mr. Church pointed at a picture on the executive's desk, and another on a book shelf.
"Your wife, Gloria. All of her pictures are facing away from you."
"And this makes you think I'm cheating on her?"
Mr. Church shrugged. "It's basic psychology. Her eyes peering into your soul, making you feel the guilt every time you fuck the cleaning lady on the desk. How many times did you do it before you had to turn them?" His prospective employer clenched his jaw, face growing redder as he continued. "None of these bookshelves are dusted, at least not in some time," here he swiped across the bookshelf he had wandered to, directly in front of the mentioned portrait. "Your desk, however, is clear, likely to remove hand and ass prints. You really don't seem the kind to clean your own desk, either, so she'd probably have to do that, at least." He cocked his head to the side, letting the information settle. "Of course, the photographic evidence I have is better than Holmesian deduction." He reached into an inner suit jacket pocket, tossing down on the desk his own, though smaller, unsealed manila envelope. The corner of a photograph peeked out, a bit of skin showing on it. "But I'm not trying to blackmail you, Mr. Stanton. We had an agreement. Provide me with the manuscript for Mein Kampf I know is in your collection, and I will kill someone for you." Marcus gurgled a little at the blatant speech. Mr. Church narrowed his eyes and leaned over the desk. "If you do not, I will kill you instead of Joyce Lerner."
Marcus's eyes, already wide, slowly moved from his guest to the unopened envelope he had placed on the blotter. "Yes, I know who is in the envelope, Mr. Stanton." The hit man straightened back up. "It's my job to know these things. Like how you moved the manuscript from your vault to this room. Is it in a safe? I didn't see it on any of the shelves." Marcus's negotiation tactics were long forgotten as he licked his lips, eyes cutting briefly to a humidor in the corner, and back to the suited man before him. He sighed, and stood.
Mr. Church chuckled as he walked through the office foyer. He nodded to the secretary, placed his fedora on his head, and boarded the elevator down. The manuscript was locked safely in his briefcase. He'd grown weary of corporate executives a long time ago, but they were a means to an end: they had the things he wanted, and he had the skills they needed. As the elevator approached the underground parking level, he called his driver. The limo was waiting when he arrived.
Despite his knowledge of the target, he had accepted the dossier on Joyce Lerner, if only to satisfy his curiosity that he'd already gathered all the requisite info. The interior illumination of the limo was bright; the downside to heavy privacy tinting was the lack of natural light. The intercom buzzed as the driver queried on their destination. He paused in thought before answering. "The club, Max."
Twenty minutes later they pulled up to Club K. A line was formed outside - velvet rope and everything. Church hated the thing, but it gave a sense of elitism that drew larger crowds. He stepped into the night, feeling the electric tingle that filled the air anytime lots of people were gathered at one place. He flashed a red plastic card to the bouncers, who waved him in as Max drove the car off.
The club was a carefully controlled dance atmosphere, a mix of techno and hip-hop, with a lounge area that often hosted live entertainment, including lounge singers on occasion. Church removed his sunglasses, swept his eyes across the open floor, finding the bouncers and the two floating managers. He walked to a curtained wall, slid his red card through a reader, and then slipped behind the curtain and through a doorway. There were several of these entrances throughout the club, accessible with various VIP color-coded cards. This one opened to a stairway, up to the office of the club's owner. Church looked through a large window onto the dance floor below. The office was soundproofed, and he enjoyed the opportunity it gave him to view the various facets of humanity on display below.
At one end of the bar was a man gently plying a woman with drinks in the hopes of getting some action that evening. A few down, Church watched a man introduce himself to another woman, using some line witty enough she laughed out loud - a good start for the evening. Out on the dance floor a "couple for the evening" were grinding away, while another were dancing in ways indicating they were enjoying each others company more than the physical arousal.
He watched for a few moments longer before slipping back to his desk and pulling up the Lerner files he'd previously compiled. Single white female, 32, CPA. She'd been one of several people on his list of suspected targets, but her recent addition to the federal witness protection list clinched it. Church needed friends in many places for his work, and he was quite good at his work.
Joyce was a minor player at the accounting firm Stanton's company hired for their audits. In a routine double check of another accountant's work, she had noticed discrepancies in some of the items. Further research led her to the correct numbers, which were far from what Marcus would have the SEC and the stock holders believe. She was immediately fired when she declined to overlook the errors. She hadn't yet been moved to witness protection partially to make Stanton and company think she hadn't reported to the authorities. She wasn't at home though, or at her sister's home. Stanton's files indicated they didn't know where she had disappeared to - which was why they'd called him. He laughed, as any good private investigator could have found her at her sister's brother-in-law's house.
He checked the movement records from the cameras he had watching the house. She'd been spotted at a window today, and hadn't been seen leaving. There was always the possibility the facial recognition algorithm had failed or been tricked, but it was most likely she was still within the home.
He'd be paying her a visit tomorrow evening.
Joyce pulled the curtain back ever so slightly, glancing up and down the street as far as she could see. Had that car been there for long? Did it belong to one of the neighbors? She shook her head. It was definitely one of the neighbors cars. "Joyce!"
She jumped back at the voice. Her sister's husband's brother yanked her away from the window. "You're supposed to be hiding! Not peeking out the window every five minutes." That was a bit of an exaggeration, as she did mostly stay away from the windows. "Am I going to have to lock you in the back room?"
She sheepishly backed further away from the window. But she wanted to know, damnit! She wanted to know if someone was coming, see it from a distance. And it would be coming, else why would they be offering her witness protection? She hadn't been able to turn over any documentation yet, just provide the basics of what she'd found.