199. A Fine Mess

“A fine mess. That’s what this is. A damn fine mess,” Rob said, pacing back and forth the room, twitching and fidgeting.

“Would you shut up,” Jesper snapped from behind the couch, “And help me figure out how to break open this briefcase?”

“We never should have agreed to this,” Rob muttered as he walked around the couch, careful not to touch the dead body on it. The dark stain had spread from the dead man’s shirt to his jacket. The smell of blood and cologne made Rob green.

Jesper sat on the floor, his face a mixture of exhaustion, frustration, and determination. He frowned at the brown briefcase – at the scratches and tears where he had tried cutting it, at the dents where he tries hitting it.

Who would’ve known that briefcases were such resilient things?

“We should get out of here,” Rob said.

“What, and advertise to the world?” Jesper hissed. “We solve this. Here and now.”

“We should at least stash the body, you know, somewhere less obvious,” Rob said, and unconsciously cast a glance at the dead man on the couch. The lids were only half shut, showing the whites of his eyes. Or they should have been white – they were really more yellow and bloodshot.

“Yeah,” Jesper said. “You go ahead and make yourself useful. Try and see if he has the combination written somewhere.”

Rob cringed at the thought of touching the dead body. But it had to be done. He relieved Adam (presumably his name, according to a stack of identical business cards) of his wallet, watch, and receipts, and then dragged Adam to the toilet at the back by his armpits.

“Okay, there’s one,” Rob said to Jesper, holding up a faded receipt from Neiman Marcus. “7-5-8,” he read the words written in expensive-looking ink. He never thought before that ink could look expensive.

There was a dull and oddly unsatisfying click from where Jesper was, and they exchanged glances. Rob nodded at him: go on.

Jesper pulled the lid of the briefcase open.

Stacks of paper: some folded, some in stacks held by paper clips, some yellow and official-looking. Then there was a pink envelope at the corner.

“Christ, would you believe how smooth this thing feels?” Jesper said, running his finger across the black leather interior of the briefcase. He took a dark royal blue fountain pen from its pocket. “This stupid pen probably cost more than my whole salary,” he said. “Damn.”

Rob reached for the envelope and pulled it open. There was a card inside, thick and textured with words printed on it in beautiful copperplate script: a reservation at the Bijoux restaurant for Adam and Claudia Carman.

Rob showed Jesper the card. Jesper saw it, the furrows on his forehead deepening as he frowned, and then they looked at each other for a while.

“So he was planning to surprise her,” Rob broke the silence. “For Valentine’s Day.”

“Bad idea,” Jesper shook his head. “A damn shame. That’s what it is.”

“Oh. And guess who Agnes is,” Rob said, holding up a dark brow business card. “Check it. Agnes Stone, restaurant manager.”

“So he wasn’t having an affair.”

“Maybe. Most likely not.”

Jesper sighed. “Let’s not tell her about this. We’ll tell her to give us the cash, and we’ll pass her this address. Put the body all nice and poised on the couch, leave the cards on the table. She’ll figure it out.”

“Sounds good to me,” Rob shrugged.

“A damn fine mess,” Jesper said as he got up, shaking his head. “Marriage.”

Rob went to the toilet and pulled Adam Carman out, again by his armpits. “What do you think she’ll do?”

“Whatever it is, I don’t want to be around to find out,” Rob said, lighting a cigarette. “See me outside when you’re done. We’re taking a long vacation.”

“Sounds good to me,” Rob said, and began preparing Adam for his last meeting with his wife.

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