It was one of those things you say in the heat of the moment that, if you're lucky, you get chance to regret. She looked at me with what I'd normally call bedroom eyes, sultry and dark with black lining and thick lashes. Realistically she was the type of woman you took home for one night and spent the rest of your life dreaming about; not the type you took home to present to your mother. Not that this had anything to do with me, mind you. I wasn't going to be taking her home for the night and I was most certainly never going to introduce her to my mother, god rest her soul.
She gracefully rose from the chair when I entered the office, unfurling long limbs in all her dark glory. Her hair tumbled down to her shoulders, dark chocolate coloured tresses framing her face perfectly. She curled those full lips in an ironic smile and the expression fit her. She extended her hand to me and I shook it -- her grip was surprisingly firm.
As I sat down I could feel my shirt sticking to the back of my neck. The chair was comfortable and provided her with a slightly elevated position in relation to me, no doubt to ensure that she held a position of superiority during our discussion. She was definitely not to be underestimated under the circumstances.
"Don't forget to breath Mr Waltham," her voice was smooth and a tad deeper than I expected, yet it was almost intoxicating. "I don't want you passing out on me in my office." She was right -- I'd been holding my breath, partly out of anticipation but mostly due to nerves.
"Thanks...I..." I struggled for the words. She smiled at me and gestured towards the clear jug of water on her desk.
"Would you like a drink Mr Waltham?" she asked. I nodded; taking advantage of the opportunity it presented me. "Then just take a deep breath -- I can appreciate that this is an uncomfortable situation for you and I don't want you to feel any more nervous than necessary." Her smile was disarmingly comforting in a strange manner.
"I..." I was starting to feel like a fool. I closed my eyes and tried again. "I...I want you to do away with my business partner." I opened my eyes. She was looking at me with a gleam in her eyes, like a cat when it toys with the mouse.
"Do away? Who on earth uses that phrase?" She mocked. "Say it again Mr Waltham," her tone was firm. "Only this time with your eyes open." I looked into them, those steely-grey orbs that were locked with mine. They seemed to draw the words out of me, coaxing them from my lips.
"I want you to kill my business partner, Trent Edwards." I said, trying to match her tone and demeanour with my own. She tilted her head slightly and the edge of her lips curled upward.
"I'm impressed," she answered. "Normally it takes someone four to five attempts to get to that stage." She looked down at a notepad on her desk. "Okay, what's he been doing? Embezzling funds? Selling corporate secrets? Planning to kick you off the board?"
"No," I growled. "He's screwing my wife." She looked up at me and nodded. I looked down at the floor for a moment, recalling the moment I saw my wife in our bed with him -- the slightly younger, slightly fitter business partner. Didn't she vow to forsake all others, to be with me in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer? She liked the richer part -- the company had been floated on the stock exchange and she'd enjoyed the perks that had come with that, yet she'd also taken advantage of the time I'd spent building up the company from scratch. They both had -- Trent always dealt with the PR side of things better than I did and in turn I managed the product development. While he was away attending business lunches with prospective investors I was building the system from the ground up.
"Interesting." She didn't seem surprised. "Would you like me to take care of your wife too? A double costs extra, and as you already know, I'm not cheap." I could feel the anger boiling up inside me.
"No, I love my wife," I shot back, not fearing the consequences of this reaction to her question. "However, she loves him now. You have no idea how much that realisation hurts -- it feels like someone has reached into my chest and crushed my heart with their bare hands. I couldn't live without her, so I figure it's going to tear her apart knowing she can't be with him." It slipped out, my anger and my hatred at the situation; her betrayal and my own stupidity for allowing myself to feel like this, for allowing someone else to have this control over me. I looked at her -- her face was alive as she carefully placed the pen down on the pad.
"How deliciously evil," the words dripped from her mouth -- her voice was having a disturbing effect on me. I shuffled in my seat, hoping she hadn't noticed. She held my gaze for a few precious seconds before she was all-business again. "So, how would you like it done?"
"I...I don't know," I stuttered again. "I thought something that looked like natural causes." She shook her head.
"Natural is difficult," she answered as she leaned back in her chair. "That usually involves some exotic poison and in this day and age with the advances in forensic science you can never be too sure." She twirled the pen between her fingers. "Suicide?"
"No, no one would buy that." I answered -- my mind swirling at the ease of my response. "He's too...vibrant."
"Let me guess, young, rich and handsome? Pretty girls dotted around the place, all at his beck and call, even if they are with someone else?" the air of disdain was clear in her voice.
"Something like that." I answered. She gave me a wicked grin.
"I might be doing the world a favour then," she said. "No one likes someone who has it all and still isn't satisfied." I realised that I could get to like this woman -- from a safe distance of course. She looked at the notepad. "Is there anything else you'd like to tell me?"
"Well...if...if possible it needs to be done before the end of the month." I said. "We have a new product coming out on the 30th..."
"...And his death will affect your share price?" She presumed. I shook my head.
"No -- his death will produce a minor fluctuation in the share price, nothing more than four to six percent for a couple of days," I said. "There's a clause in the company constitution that if one or the other of us dies, the others sole holdings in the company pass to them." I took another drink of water. "The bastard might have taken my wife, but I want his part of the company." She nodded once more.
"I understand that your company is doing a series of press junkets across Europe in the run up to your software launch," I struggled to contain my surprise. She had done her homework. "Might I suggest that Mr Edwards is the victim of a random and ultimately fatal robbery in his hotel room one night?"
"That...that's brilliant." I answered. "And...and none of this can be traced back to me?"
"Mr Waltham, I'm a professional," She said as she stood up. "If this gets traced back to you then I'm at risk of exposing myself." I stood up a moment later. She extended her hand to me again. "Once we go down this route, there's no turning back, you understand that? No refunds, no cancelling the contract. Are you sure you want me to do this?"
"Yes, yes," I answered emphatically. "I want you to do this."
"That's all I needed to hear." She said.
"I've paid the first half of the money as directed," I said as she walked me to the plain and unassuming door of her office. "When do you...?"
"I will be in touch once the work is completed." She replied. "Then we will make further arrangements Mr Waltham."
"Thank you." It felt strange to use those words in connection with the conversation we had just completed. "Thanks for your time, Ms...?"
"Cassandra," she answered. "You can call me Cassandra." She patted me on the back as I left the office. "Don't worry Mr Waltham, the deed is as good as done."
It's easy to turn a blind eye to things when you're sleepwalking through your life. All I had to do was maintain the façade for another few weeks and it would be over. The news came through at about 5 am on the 25th. The phone rang and I answered it. Speaking through bleary eyes to the manager of the promotional tour the details became clear. While in the Serbian leg of the tour, Trent had surprised a burglar in his hotel room, no doubt after the expensive laptop/clothes/watch that he carried with him on these sorts of trips.
The girl who was with him could only confirm that she'd seen someone shoot him and then escape via the window. Naturally everyone in the company was upset and rallied around me as the definitive figurehead of the organisation. The software was launched in a blaze of publicity as a result of Trent's death -- the memorial service was particularly touching.
Liz took his death badly -- her behaviour became increasingly erratic. Mood swings, increased alcohol consumption and prolonged periods of isolation within the house. I tried as best as I could to help her through this, however it was only prolonging the inevitable.
The benefit was a high profile affair. The donations the company made were always good for the community, and since the death of Trent Edwards our public profile had soared. After the public speaking had finished the group moved to the more informal aspect of the night -- drink and dancing. I watched as people began to pair up as the alcohol flowed and inhibitions waned.
"What a surprise to see you here Mr Waltham." The voice stunned me for a moment, then I turned my head to see her standing there in a full length, dark green evening dress,
"Cassandra," I said as I stood up and politely shook her hand. "What a surprise."
"A pleasant one I do hope," her demeanour seemed warmer than before. "I see your company has flourished somewhat since our last meeting."
"You might say that," I answered, eyeing her suspiciously. "Would...you care to dance?"
I didn't care who saw us, within a few weeks the divorce would be finalised and it wouldn't matter. A myriad of questions flew around my mind as I held her close to me.
"I understand that your divorce isn't going well." Cassandra whispered into my ear. I pulled back slightly -- there was that same wicked grin on her face that I had seen once before.
"Is there anything you don't know?"
"I find it pays to stay abreast of current events." She answered as she rested her head on my shoulder. The song was slow and our movements matched it. "I also believe you owe me some money."
"I was wondering when you'd get around to mentioning that." I answered. "How and when?"
"After your divorce is finalised," she said. "Although, it would be a shame if your soon-to-be-ex wife had an accident, all alone in that large house, drinking heavily..." I looked at Cassandra. Those stormy grey eyes looked into mine. "I'm sure you can afford me."