"I don't disagree with you, but you have to admit, this puts me in a delicate position."
The stack of wrinkled twenties was a full hand high and limped to the side like a slinky about to step down from the round wood footstool to the cigarette-stained carpet below.
"I ain't askin' you to kill her, man," Tony expectorated. "Just make sure she leaves town."
Darren picked his coffee mug up from the stool, his stare slowly shifting to it from the pile of money. The cup was cracked, a fault along the side steadily stained deeper brown. The coffee its self was thick and bitter. It tasted like the mold that was only briefly rinsed from the carafe and not noticed in the filter catch. God only knows what fantastic new diseases lurked amongst the soggy paper plates and piles of unwashed pans littering the whole of the studio's kitchenette.
The August sun made the frosted windows glow white hot. The tiny air conditioner could do nothing but stain the wall with condensation. The heat made Darren sweat through his Croft & Barrows into the once green corduroy couch, but it was not the only reason he was sweating.
He put the coffee down. "She's your wife, Tony."
"Not anymore she ain't. Not after what she did to me."
"It's only been two months." Darren looked around the wreck of an apartment. He had to stop himself from counting empty Budweiser cases.
"Feels like a goddamn decade." Tony stoped pacing long enough to add his cigarette butt to the forest of them on the footstool. He squated down opposite Darren, the money between them. "Look, man, I'm giving you everything I got. Plus, you fuckin' owe me this."
"Owe you?" Darren said, feigning ignorance. "Why's that, Tony?"
"You're the one who fucked her, that's why!" Tony yelled, hoarseness clogging his throat. He got up and started pacing again.
Darren sat silently, unable to argue against that point. He couldn't help but remember the smell of Stephanie's strawberry hair mixed with the sweat of brief, uncontrollable office passion and Astroglide. The memory of that whole fantastic night swirled over him, momentarily relieving him from the oppressive heat. The wave of pleasure left guilt in its wake, as it always did, and Darren found himself sweating in this hot seat.
"Look, man," Tony continued, calming himself down with another cigarette. "I don't blame you, I blame her. I've known you a long time. I know you wouldn't'a done it if she hadn't pushed you. I know her, she's a goddamn succubus."
Darren did not correct him. "What do you want me to do? Drive her out into the desert and leave her?"
"That don't sound too bad. But, nah, I just want her gone. Take her to Philly or Detroit or something. Rip her off and leave her on the street."
"You want me to abandon my boss in Detroit? What's that going to prove?" In his incredulity, Darren considered picking up the coffee cup again, but then thought the better of it.
"She'll learn a goddamn lesson. She'll know what it's like to be kicked out of your home and left for fuckin' dead."
"All she's gotta do is walk into a bank and say yell 'Don't you know who I am?' and all that shit she does."
"Haha. Yeah, normally. But since the divorce her green card ain't worth shit, and she ain't got her work visa yet. She ain't gonna get it either, since the company tanked. How long you think your office is gonna hold up without support from Berlin? A week? Two? Why the fuck you think she's been so sweet on you? Once all the accounts are closed, you and she are out of a job, and she ain't got no place to go but back home to the goddamn fatherland. But if she's stuck out in some paved-over shithole, nobody'll give her the fuckin' time'a day."
The plan was the ridiculous ravings of a half-drunk revenge-crazed divorcee, but that pile of money seemed to grow every time Darren looked at it. Since that one glorious, insane night, his life had been total shit. Tony wasn't the only one screwed out of everything in divorce court. Darren imagined his apartment would look like this one in a month or two. He thought about how few accounts were on the books and the Beamer-sized hole in his pocket.
He thought about Stephanie again. He thought about her soft accent gently telling him how sorry she was for stealing the DuPont contract away from him, and how she said she would make it up to him with the Fredricks account and didn't.
He felt her lips on him, staining him with lipstick like a cigarette, and Darren knew he would end up standing upside down, burnt out, and crushed along side Tony and all the other men snuffed out in her ashtray.
Darren scooped up the pile of cash and stood. "Okay, you've got a deal. We close the last account on Tuesday. Thursday we head out for Seattle with a long layover in Detroit."
Tony smiled. "A very long layover."
Darren knew it wouldn't work. He knew she'd find some way back to kick both their asses. But it'll at least be worth a laugh. Darren chuckled. "Sometimes a cigarette will burn you back."