November 2007

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way.

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

The Project

Chapter 1 By Sysiphus

I hate Dickens. I really hate Dickens.

That was the thought that ran through Xavier’s mind. Again. But at the shop at the Gare du Nord, the English language section was short on titles. And although he wasn’t a superstitious person, it did seem rather fortuitous since he would now be traveling between these two cities.

Better A Tale of Two Cities than some nitwit American backpacker.

He paused a moment after reading the opening paragraph and he had to admit, it was pretty good start to a book.

I still hate Dickens. How can you love anyone who got paid by the word?

He read on as the train left the city behind. The Parisian suburbs weren’t any more attractive than Houston’s, he noticed.

The sun had set. He laid his book down and peered out the window as the light changed. Soon, the window grew too dark to peer through and he reached for the book again. He stretched up to turn on his seat light and noticed a high-heeled foot dangling in the aisle, bouncing and swaying with the train’s motion. Black-stockinged legs disappeared behind the chairs’ curve.

He thought of Melanie. He glanced at his watch and calculated it would be mid-morning in Los Angeles. She’s probably just waking up now.

He felt the now familiar pang of doubt and self-loathing. Would she be waking up alone? And if not, who else was in her bed? He pushed the thoughts aside. He’d be arriving in London in less than two hours now. He needed to stay sharp and focused. If he let doubt creep into his heart now, he was doomed.

From his pocket he pulled out a pill bottle and with practiced movements opened it, tipped out two pills and popped them in his mouth. A wash of relief and calmness steadied his mind and he closed his eyes.

His eyes opened. The train had stopped inside London’s St. Pancras station. He pushed himself up and felt a surge of nervous energy before he consciously squashed it. From the empty seat beside him, empty because he had paid for it, he pulled his black computer bag and stepped into the aisle. He paused to allow the woman whose leg he had admired step into the aisle in front of him. Attractive, he noted, wearing a conservative grey business suit. She studiously ignored him which gave him ample time to appreciate the curve of her hips and legs.

Finally he stepped off the train and into the giant space covering the tracks. The air was crisp with grease and mechanical flavors. He walked along the platform with a press of people.

He felt a surge confidence, he was buoyant and invincible. He knew he would succeed. Nothing was going to stop him.

As he passed the locomotive, up ahead, he spotted a trio of London police officers, each flanked by a dog. Now, he felt a surge of panic, followed by a terrible certainty that he would fail.

Chapter 2 By Vargus Pike

The police were standing there by the station exit. Sentinels, giving everyone the once over as if they were looking for someone in particular.

Calm down, Dogs can smell fear, Act natural and just walk past as if it were nothing.

When the police saw him he could feel their eyes burrow into him. One looked at the others and nodded.

Oh Christ! They’re on to me.

Preoccupied by this he stumbled on a rough part of the station floor and bumped into the woman walking in front of him, the same woman from the train. He began to mumble a quick apology but was cut short as she first turned and then almost shrieked.

Jean-Paul, What are you doing here? I thought you were still in Istanbul. Come, you must tell me all about your adventures. Did you take the train all the way? Does Peter know you are back?

Surprised he wondered, What the Hell! Then realized she had clearly mistaken him for someone else. By this time the police had closed in and were surrounding them both. May I see your passport please, Mr. Donier. The one nearest him said. How did they know? He wondered as he reached for his passport, How did they find out?

Donier! The woman interjected. Who is Mr. Donier? Officer why are you bothering us? This mans name is Jean-Paul Langue and he is the assistant to the minister of foreign affairs who just happens to be my husband. If you don’t believe me here are my credentials. Whereupon she materialized a passport as if from nowhere and thrust it in the officers face. Now please leave us alone. I have not seen Jean-Paul in months and we have a lot of catching up to do. So shoo!

The officer looked at her passport clearly annoyed, but then his eyes widened and as he began to back away he said. Pardon us Mrs. Harris, he perfectly matches the description of someone on our watch list. Our apologies for any inconvenience.

Stunned by what had just happened, knowing good fortune when it smiled, he kept his mouth shut and followed the newly identified Mrs. Peter Harris out of the train station. She wrapped her arm around his as they walked and she began to talk incessantly. Talking about the rudeness of the police, Talking about the politics of the day. Talking about old times spent with her and her husband. He was grateful for this because he feared as soon as she shut up he would have to respond, she would realize her mistake and the jig would be up. He needed to put some distance between himself and the police before that happened.

When they reached the street, a limousine pulled up. Still holding his arm she practically shoved him into the back seat and said to the Driver. Home please! She then turned to him and said in a very stern voice. Now Mr. Donier! Would you please tell me what that was all about!

Chapter 3 By Tom Leventhal

Xavier stared out the car window, watching the traffic glide by as he composed himself. She stared at him, quietly waiting for him to begin speaking. Her hand reached out and softly brushed along the top of his leg.

“Well?” she asked.

He turned and met her eyes directly.
“To tell you the truth, I’m not sure why I would be on anyone’s watch list”, he said. “I suspect it has to do with my father.”

She looked over without speaking, waiting for him to continue.
“My father is Pierre Donier, head of the Donier Group. The company is involved in a lot of industries, most notably oil. Perhaps you have heard of them.”

She shrugged and shook her head no. Xavier looked up as the sound of rain began pounding the roof of the car. The driver turned on the windshield wipers, whose soft whooshing was the only sound heard.

He looked over at her again. She raised her eyebrows in question, encouraging him to continue.

“My father did not want me to make this trip. He asked me to stay in Houston, but I came anyway.”

She continued to look at him while gently running her fingers along the top of his leg.
“I know that I am a big disappointment to him”, he said. “I am his only son and I don’t want to work for the Group.”

“What do you want to do?” she asked.

“I want to write,” he replied, “but to be a great writer, one must experience life, the good and the bad. I can’t do that while isolated in a sterile Houston skyscraper sitting in front of a computer juggling money and numbers all day.”

“You sound bitter,” she said, taking his hand in hers. “Don’t you think that your father just wants what is best for you?”

“What he thinks is best,” he replied.

Xavier turned and looked at the window. The rain poured down the glass, turning the city lights into a wavy blur. She took both of his hands in hers, clutching them securely. She moved them down between her thighs and gripped them tightly with her legs as she pulled her left hand out and slapped him across the face.

The blow knocked his glasses off and bloodied his nose. He tried to free his hands but she held them tightly.

“Naive boy,” she said, looking away and then turning back to face him. “Do you believe it was a coincidence that we were on the same train? In the same car even?”
He stared at her, blood now spotting his shirt and pants.

“Do you think I would rescue a perfect stranger from the police?”

He broke his hand from her grip and reached for the door handle, but it was locked. There was no button to push to open it. He tried pounding on the window. She took his other hand and gripped it into a wristlock causing pain to shoot through his wrist and up his arm to the elbow.

“We know why you are here,” she said calmly. “We have been waiting for you to arrive.”
The limo made a sharp left turn into an alley and stopped in front of an industrial loading door. Xavier’s door opened and rough, callused hands pulled him from the car. She slid over and looked at him through the open door.

“Writer,” she said, “now is not the time to make up stories. Now is the time to tell the truth. Lies will only bring you more pain.”

“Take him inside,” she said. “The Turk is waiting for him.”

Chapter 4 By Autumn Turley

Motivated to move forward by fingers gripping his bicep in a metallic grip, Xavier descended the rickety stairs to the basement below the garage.

Not The Turk. Not here. I came all the way to London to escape this but here it is.

He tried to think but his heart was pounding in his head far too loudly to be able to hear his own thoughts. Instead he focused on his breathing, which sounded how Melanie’s used to sound when she was trying not to cry.

At the bottom of the steps Xavier stopped in front of a small, bolted door. “The Turk will see you now,” said the man standing behind him, unbolting the door and shoving him through.

Xavier stumbled through the door and into a room smelling of stale muffins and dusty cats. At the end of the room a video camera hung from the ceiling. Xavier hardly noticed this however, for his attention was focused on what, until now, he had hoped he would never see in person. The Turk sat at the table before him, frozen still. In any other situation the Turk’s garb would have seemed almost comical to Xavier, but in the current context it sent chills down his spine. A meticulously folded white turban sat gracefully on The Turk’s head, framing an oval jewel in the center with a short white feather rising from it. The Turk wore a white t-shirt with a blue and white pinstripe button-up shirt over it. Over that was a bright pink, thick velvet short-sleeved jacket with wide, fluffy white trim that looked like something Santa Clause would wear on summer vacation. In the Turk’s hand rested a long, thin pipe. The Turk sat very still behind the table. On the table was something that Xavier had devoted a life-time of dedication and passion to, but had hoped he would never see in such a circumstance: a chessboard.

The Turk really is real… whispered Xavier.

“Yes, The Turk really is real,” said a tall, thin man emerging out of the shadows. His bald head flashed in the brightly-lit room. His pointed moustache sat mockingly upon his thin, half-smile. His oversized suit hung about him like a dignified Charlie Chaplain.

“Justin Resaul,” said Xavier, the words trudging out of his dry throat the way a weary man walks through a desert.

“Yes. We meet again. Although I have much reason to believe that this time we will part under much different circumstances than last time. Last time we parted you thought I had my head tucked in shame over loosing a little game to you. But you were wrong. I had my head tucked down deep in thought and plotting. You may think you’re a genius because you can beat any man at chess. But what good is a man who cannot beat a machine? Meet my friend, The Turk, the most sophisticated automaton in existence.

Chapter 5 By Tamara Madison

For a moment a surge of hilarity seized him and he felt the urge to pose preposterous questions to the absurd figure before him. What did I have for breakfast this morning? How much do I weigh? When will I finally finish my novel? How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Does Melanie really love me or just the idea of me? At the thought of Melanie, another question occurred to him: When will I die?

The Turk’s blank, claylike face remained immobile across from him, its glass eyes regarding him dully. Don’t allow this to unnerve you, Xavier told himself. It’s only a game. It’s only a game. But he wished it were a game that he had never taken seriously. Then he would never have been a match for Resaul, would never have gotten into that silly game with that bald maniac, would never had won all that dough off the supercilious prick. And now he had rigged up this bizarre gimmick to win his money back.

And what would happen if he lost to the Turk? The money was long gone, all he had to his name at the moment were a thousand euros and two maxed-out credit cards. The rest of it he had poured directly into Melanie: into her memory foam mattress, her ultra-high thread count sheets, her diamond toe rings and bracelets, her closet full of Prada shoes, and of course her perfect, dear little nose. If I lose, he thought, I’ll have to give them Melanie.

And it wasn’t even fair! At least Resaul could have found some Max von Syndow type with a black cloak and a scythe to duel him over a chess board, instead of this otherwise ridiculous-looking carnival character. If I lose, he thought again, I’ll have to give them Melanie.

But what if I win? Resaul did not strike him as a reasonable man. He probably had some kind of James Bond-esque torture chamber rigged up for him, a pool of sharks perhaps, a bed of nails, a rack. Or maybe he’d hired some bloodthirsty haters from al Kaeda to behead him with a scimitar. Or worse. So this is what it all came down to: losing his already lost girl to a fiend, or losing his balls – literally – over a chess game.

As if reading his thoughts, Resaul cracked his knuckles and cleared his throat. “You begin, this time, my man. Let’s see what you can do now.”

Chapter 6 By Sonora Greer-Polkow

Xavier blinked. Why were his palms so sweaty? Resaul cackled something. He couldn’t understand, why couldn’t he place where he was, why couldn’t he focus? The room eddied into a blur of pink satin jackets and ivory pawns; he felt the ground dropping away inch by precarious inch. Where was he? His tongue felt heavy and dry. His ears filled with white noise.

Xavier blinked again. Red brick anchored itself against the grey London sky. He could feel brick against his back, against his sweaty palms. Brick and pain everywhere. No, pain in his head, numbness everywhere else. Oh shit. His tongue felt heavy. How could this happen again?

He’s speaking… bring him some water.

Xavier could feel the wet press of a canine muzzle against his cheek.

Are you okay son? That was a doozey of a spill.

Son? Recognition blinked on and off and then back on again. Of course, London’s finest. Did they know his name? They didn’t know his name. Or were they pretending? Were they waiting? No, they wouldn’t call him son if they knew who he was.

I should be fine. I’m… um… I… I was…

He was stammering. Shit again. Xavier propped himself on his elbows. His ears still buzzed but he was okay. Am I okay? In the center of the train station, police and spectators crowding in, Xavier could see his meager possessions stacked in small piles, someone must have picked them up when he fell. Papers, a small overnight case, toothbrush, a couple of photographs… Melanie, Jesus Christ, what would she think about this? A copy of a book he hated. This, he thought, is everything I own. How depressing. His head felt heavy and bruised. He would have to stand up, have to make this work. Xavier took quick inventory, it didn’t look as though the officers had rummaged through his carry on; maybe there was nothing to worry about. He would gather his possessions and bid them a fond farewell.

Yes, thank you for your kindness. No, I will be okay. I just need to call a cab. Yes, of course I have someone I can ring. No, I don’t think I need an escort. Sorry to be any sort of inconvenience. I will be more careful. Thank you again.

In the cab Xavier rearranged his bag. They hadn’t seen the papers. More importantly, it appeared he had been right, that they hadn’t checked the tote. If the police had been waiting for him why wasn’t he recognized? Xavier shook his head. None of this made sense but it was better than spending his time in prison. London rushed past his window in an inconsistent blur. I don’t have time for this he thought. Those pills were supposed to be safe, Mio had told him the kinks had been “ironed out”. Who was going to take him seriously now? What was he supposed to say to Melanie? He was already here, already so close. If she knew he couldn’t stay focused, couldn’t stay awake… He sighed. That isn’t going to fly. Xavier could feel his heart beat, quick punches to the ribcage. It wouldn’t be so bad without the dreams. Fucking Turk. I hate those dreams. He seemed to hate quite a few things these days. What were those breathing exercises? This was ridiculous. He would make the phone calls when he got to the hotel. Xavier leaned his heavy head against the back of the seat. In the mean time he would watch this second city float by and imagine that perhaps somewhere between the blurred rooftops the spring of hope was beginning to blossom.

Chapter 7 By Shannon McIntyre

The pill was finally starting to take effect. And, in his sleepy state, Xavier’s eyes remained set on the passing scenery. Big Ben, the big clock tower and Buckingham Palace blurred past the passenger side window. Xavier pressed his face closer to the window to get a better look, but his mind wandered to his most recent fainting spell…. What is happening to me?… he thought frantically, albeit subdued.

The Soho Hotel was in the heart of London, and when Xavier arrived, even the drugs could not hinder his growing excitement. After so much deliberation, and planning, he had finally made it to the big city. And for the first time the whole trip, Xavier was able to stop thinking about fainting, stop thinking about the Turk, and most surprisingly, about Melanie. Instead his eyes wandered up to the big skyscrapers and down to the grandiose building that was his hotel. Almost instantly he caught the eye of the concierge.

As he strode towards the hotel door, he kept his eyes locked on the beautiful woman in what he guessed was her early thirties, only to find that it was the same woman that he had seen on the train. He nodded his head in acknowledgement, and just as he was about to pass by—he stopped himself– “Hello,” he started. I am just arriving in London and don’t know anyone yet. If you don’t mind, I’d like to buy you a drink.” The woman shifted her weight, as her smile faded for a brief, thoughtful moment. She paused, staring into his eyes, just as she had in Xavier’s dream. “Sure,” she answered quickly “I’m off at eight. I’ll be out in front at five after.” Xavier smiled widely in reply. “Great. I will see you soon,” He continued to stride into the lobby, though the smile had faded. What is my motive? He thought about Melanie. What’s the harm in meaningless flirtation?

As he arrived to his room, he flopped down on the bed. He lied their motionless for a few minutes, waiting for all of his thoughts and reflections to settle down. When his mind was calm, he rolled over onto his back, and dug into the pocket of his jeans. Unfolding the small piece of paper, he reached for the phone.

“Hi yes, is—is, ugh, is Dr Thatcher in please?” Xavier cleared his throat. Although he’d been seeing a psychologist for months now, he still couldn’t shake the shame of not having control over his mental state. Or at least not as much control as he once assumed.

An older voice answered the phone. He spoke slowly, as is from a distance. “Xavier, yes, hello. You’ve arrived in London now have you?”

“Against doctors order I know, but I had to do it.”

Chapter 8 By Janesays

“Dr. Thatcher, I need to know.” It had been months of pleading in the wood paneled office. On a number of occasions Xavier had even asked if he could somehow prove himself worthy enough for the good Doctor. “Xavier,” Dr. Thatcher began with his smoke ruined voice, “I am so glad you called, you have to come back to Houston immediately.”

Xavier knew at once that it was Melanie. So this is what Dickens meant when he wrote that we all are heading straight to heaven on the same train to Hell. “What has she done now?”

“Xavier, I really think it best if you make your way back home. We can discuss everything when you land. I will have Brenda call the airlines and arrange your flight. Make sure you have a good meal and night’s rest. I have a patient now Xavier, I will phone you later.”

Dial tone. Dr. Thatcher is an arrogant prick. What makes a Doctor think they can order other people around? What makes him think he can keep the truth from me?

Before he tried to call Melanie, Xavier headed for the nearest bottle.

Mio and his kinks in the pills will have to contend with single malt. I did not come all the way to London to turn around now. Melanie would have to take him seriously for once, and she would never do it if he ran home at the first sign of a problem. And I am going to start calling her mother – even though she hates it. Talk about needing to see a shrink. Maybe I will have her call Dr. Thatcher. The good Doc would have a field day with Mother Melanie. Wait until she sees the paneling.

The thought made him giddy. Or was it the pills that suddenly made him so carefree? He was in London, drinking scotch at a hotel bar, waiting to meet a beautiful woman for dinner.

Once I deliver the papers, I will be free. Melanie can wait in Houston while her son takes care of her dirty laundry in London.

Chapter 9 By Swoop

“Mr. Alcott you were supposed to ring me hours ago. It’s my intention to head back to the U.S. tomorrow deal or no deal.” Xavier had finally lost his patience with this entire deal and was becoming annoyed with the people involved.

“ Mr. Xavier I assure you we’re ready to complete this transaction. Let’s meet right there at your hotel. You have the paperwork with you correct? He wants to see the originals to make sure they are not forgeries. You understand.”

“Listen Alcott, you don’t mind me dispensing with the formalities do you? Frankly this is bullshit I’m dealing with you because Melanie said you were a businessman. I’m a businessman also. I’m not going to have the paperwork with me. You want to see it go online and look at it. It was the largest fucking museum heist in U.S. History. St. Patrick’s day 1990 the Vermeer you want was one of them. This is how we are going to do this. You’re going to meet me in the bar across the street from the hotel. I’ll give you an account number. You’re going to transfer half the agreed amount into a bank account. We’ll call that good faith money. I’ll show you a picture of your item next to a current newspaper.”

“That doesn’t prove you have the original Xavier!”

“That’s a risk you’ll have to take if you want it. If not I’m out. I have another interested buyer.”

“Don’ try that bullshit with me. You’re in way over your head. Maybe you should call Melanie and find out how this is to be handled.”

“I have no need to call Melanie. I’m running this. She suggested you because she knew you brokered these types of transactions. No way am I in over my head.”

“Listen kid, hate to be the one to break it to you. Dr. Thatcher and Melanie will both be very disappointed in you if you don’t do as I say. Lord knows you have a problem with your inability to please. You have daddy issues right? Isn’t that why you spend so much time on Thatcher’s couch?”

“What? How do you know Thatcher?”

“Like I said kid you’re in over your head. Who recommended you see Thatcher? Melanie. Who recommended you seek out those experimental pills? Thatcher. Who recommended me to you? Melanie. See kid it’s not your party. You’re the pawn here. So call fucking Melanie and do what she tells you because it’s not going down like you think!”

Alcott. Hello! Hello! Shit! What the hell’s going on? How does he know so much? Xavier dials numbers frantically. Pick up the phone Melanie. Pick up the phone. Shit!

Final Chapter By Tom Leventhal

Xavier put down the phone and rubbed his eyes. He walked over to the window and looked out, watching the traffic inch along the street. Streetlamps in front of the hotel cast shadows across the pavement as pedestrians walked in and out of the light like actors on stage.

Calm down, he thought. Calm down and figure this out. Melanie had been a big question mark ever since she married his father just over a year ago. Though she seemed to accept him as his father’s only child, he never felt fully comfortable around her. Now she dragged him into this.

It was now 6:30 pm. Xavier could either get ready to meet the woman from the train or he could call Alcott and meet with him. He wanted to be done with the whole thing and he realized that he could not do both tonight. He knew that he could not bring her with him to the meeting. There could not be any outsiders.

The phone rang and Xavier picked it up.

“This is Alcott. I will make it easy on you, Xavier.”
“How easy?” Xavier asked. “You don’t seem to be an easy person to deal with.”
Alcott laughed. “We don’t know each other, Xavier. I’m a very pleasant person under normal circumstances, son. Perhaps when this is all said and done, we could meet for dinner at my club. Right now, let’s take care of this little matter without a lot of drama, agreed?”
“How soon?” Xavier replied, thinking that he might be able to make his date after all.
“Now,” Alcott replied. “There is a young woman in the lobby of your hotel right now. She has a laptop with her to arrange the transfer of funds. Say the word and I will send her up right now.”
“O.K.,” said Xavier.

Alcott dialed the phone and spoke only two words when it was answered.

“Do it,” he said, and then flipped the phone closed.
“Get rid of this,” he said as he handed the cell phone to the man waiting with him. The phone had been stolen just a short time earlier.
“Do you need me for anything else?” the man asked.
“No,” replied Alcott. “Our part is done.”

Xavier walked into the bathroom and splashed water onto his face and dragged a comb through his hair. The face looking back at him was haggard, with dark circles under his eyes. It’s almost over, he thought. Fuck Thatcher, I’m not going back to Houston right away. I need some time to unwind.

The knock at the door was soft, almost inaudible. Xavier opened it and smiled at the cute young woman who was standing there. Her red hair and freckled face reminded Xavier of someone from his past. He couldn’t quite make the connection, but enjoyed the warm feeling nevertheless.

“Come in,” he said. “There is a table where you can set up.”
She placed her case on the table and opened it. Leaning down, she plugged in the computer and turned it on.

“You know, I didn’t think to ask if they have internet access here,” he said.
“Don’t worry,” she replied “The hotel provides free wireless. I checked.”

She looked up at him and smiled. They sat quietly, as the computer booted up. She logged on, pulled up a browser window and typed in the URL of an offshore bank in the Cayman Islands. A log on screen appeared.

“I need to call Mr. Alcott,” she said, “to get the password. Would you excuse me for a moment?”

Xavier got up and walked over the window and looked down. He could hear her quietly speak while typing in the information.

“OK,” she said. “I need your information now.”

Xavier returned with the notebook Melanie had given him. It contained all the contact information, bank routing numbers and the location where the package could be found.

“Xavier, do you have the bank routing number?” she asked.

He read off the nine digit number slowly while she typed it in. She read it back to him and he confirmed that is was correct.

“Five hundred thousand dollars, correct?” she asked.

Xavier’s heart raced and he nodded yes. He watched her click on the transfer funds button and saw the confirmation screen appear.

“Do you want to log on to your bank and confirm the transfer?”
“No,” he replied. “It won’t show up this quickly. Melanie can check and confirm it. When she does, I’ll contact Mr. Alcott and arrange delivery of the package.”
“You’re rich now”, she said, turning from the computer and looking at him.
“I was rich before this,” he said. “I am the sole heir to my father’s estate; at least I was until he remarried a year ago.”
“Well, you’re richer now,” she said, smiling.

She closed down the computer and leaned over again to unplug it. Xavier quickly ran his eyes over her, admiring her soft curvy form.

“Hey, let’s celebrate,” she said.
“What do you have in mind,” he asked, hoping she was thinking the same thing he was.
“Let’s get high,” she answered, pulling out a small hash pipe and chunk of hashish wrapped in tinfoil.
“Have you smoked hash before?” she asked. “I love to make love while stoned on this stuff.”
“Well, I’ve smoked pot before,” he replied. “It couldn’t be that much different.”
“Great,” she said and broke off a chunk of the hashish into the pipe’s bowl.
“Here”, she said. “You first.”
Xavier took the pipe and put it to his lips.
“Take a big hit,” she said as she held the lighter over the bowl.

Xavier inhaled the acrid smoke deep into his lungs and burst out coughing.

“Hey silly,” she said, laughing, “don’t waste it. This stuff isn’t cheap and I’m not as rich as you are.”

Xavier took another hit and inhaled it deeply, holding it in for as long as he could. He could already feel the effects of the hash.

“Your turn,” he said.
“No honey,” she replied. “It’s your party and I want you feeling really good.”
Xavier took another lungful of smoke, held it in and slowly released it through his nose. His head was heavy and he felt as though he couldn’t move. Too much, he thought as his head pulsed and throbbed.

“Here baby, let’s lie down on the bed,” she said as she grabbed him by the arm and led him over to the bed and helped him stretch out.

Oh my God, he thought, and closed his eyes. He didn’t see her reach into her purse and pull out a small bag and a pair of latex gloves. Quietly, she pulled on the gloves and opened the bag, taking out a small packet wrapped in tinfoil, a bent spoon and a hypodermic needle and syringe. It was a cheap plastic disposable set of works like those found everyday on Skid Row. Working quickly, she went to the bathroom and put a small drop of water into the spoon, then mixed in the contents of the tinfoil. She looked over at Xavier while she held the flame of a lighter under the spoon.

“Where are you?” groaned Xavier.
“Right here, baby,” she said, stroking his leg.” I’m going to make you feel so good”.

Quickly, she tied off his left arm with a piece of rubber tubing. She then tapped his vein a couple of times and slid in the needle, pulling up on the plunger to make sure that it was in. As soon as she saw blood in the syringe, she pushed down slowly, injecting the entire load of heroin into his arm.

“Enjoy, baby,” she whispered as the hotshot raced towards Xavier’s heart. “It will be over soon.”

She sat with him until she knew the job was finished. She felt for a pulse that was not there anymore. Alcott had instructed her to leave the works in his arm, the spoon, tinfoil and the lighter on the nightstand. She took the lighter and pressed his fingers on it to leave fingerprints. Looking around, she picked up Xavier’s notebook and put it into her purse. She wiped down the few places she had touched and then walked out the door.