A short story for you, from me.




The iHit



Crace looked around the half empty diner, pulled the yellow nylon baseball cap off his head, then ruffled his $100-dollar haircut for the fifth time in the last hour. He sighed, looked at the cap, frowned at the smiling Mickey that was beaming up at him, then tossed it onto the table.

"You want more coffee?"

He looked up at the Filipino waitress and shook his head.

"No."

"The boss say you gotta order food or you gotta go soon, you taking up space for eating customer."

She tapped her pencil tip on the pad, like she was practising her full stops, then put all her weight onto her left leg causing her right hip to pop out.

"I'm waiting for someone, I can't order till they get here."

"You or Mickey gotta eat, or else you gotta go wait somewhere else." She pointed at Micky Mouse on the cap with the pencil, and then looked back at Crace.

"Just coffee." Crace looked away from her and out the window.

"No coffee... food."

"Jesus Christ, the place is half empty, what difference does it make?" Crace held up his hands towards the empty seats around him.

"Boss say you wanna wait, you gotta eat, that the rule,” she swapped hips, and tilted her head the other way.

Crace dropped his hands back to the table top, stared out the window for a second, and then whipped out his wallet from the back pocket of the cheap jeans he was wearing. He pulled out a fifty and tossed it on the table in the vague direction of the waitress.

"You tell the boss I just turned his shit-bird diner into a waiting room."

The waitress picked up the fifty dollars and slipped it under her pad faster than a card sharp on a riverboat. She smiled, flashing her tiny white teeth at him for the first time since he'd been there.

"You want coffee now?"

"Fuck off."

Evening was sauntering past the window and pretty much had the street to itself. The Lower Manhattan winter hadn't quite blown in, and a few of the tooth pick trees still had some leaves holding on for dear life. It was starting to rain and Crace wished he'd been allowed to drive across town instead of having to get the bus.

Whoever had set the rules had obviously never waited at a bus stop.

Screw them, he was going to get a cab home. 

He promised himself a drink of something strong as soon as he made it back to the apartment, unless that bitch was still there. If she was home he'd go to a bar.

Yeah, a bar would be good.

Maybe he could get a girl?

He remembered what he was wearing.

Shit.

He looked down at the "I love New York" tee, and ten dollar jeans he'd been given to wear. Across the seat, up by the window, was the Planet Hollywood jacket.

He looked like a tourist.

He hated tourists.

He stared at Mickey and longed for his usual designer brands and smart suits. He checked the $10 watch he'd been made to buy. Maybe he’d have time to stop at a Hugo Boss to pick up something to wear on his way back across town.

Crace picked up the coffee mug and felt a chill in the palm of his hand.

"Can I get some warm coffee here?" he shouted holding up the mug.

The waitress glanced up from her magazine by the register.

"It brewing Mickey, be there soon."

Crace let the mug bang back onto the table.

Fifty bucks for four cups of shit coffee, he felt like killing this bitch as well.

"Ten more minutes and I'm outta here." 

He whispered it softly to nobody but himself, and then turned back to the window to look at the rain that was now falling fast and hard.

He saw a pigeon. It was stood in the road, wet, resigned, looking like it had missed its bus and was waiting for a taxi. It’s oil coloured feathers dripped with the rain, and it looked like the only thing on earth that was having a worse day than him.

"I know how you feel buddy."

Crace turned back to shout at the waitress again.

He nearly had a heart attack when he saw there was a man sitting across from him in the booth. Crace took a deep breath, then placed both his hands palm up on the table in front of him.

Follow the rules, just like the email had said.

The man tilted his head slightly, then looked down at the Mickey Mouse baseball cap on the table.

"I felt like an asshole wearing it, I had to take it off,” Crace said it quietly, like a little boy caught out by his dad.

The man reached under the table and then produced an iPad from somewhere Crace couldn't see. He wondered if the iPad had been taped to the bottom of the table. There were some marks on the back of its case as the man held it towards himself so that Crace couldn't see the screen.

Crace wondered how the guy had known where he was going to sit. He looked around at the other tables, maybe he hadn’t?

 Maybe all the tables had pads under them?

He looked back at the guy. He guessed he was about forty-something. White, slim, but not too slim. He was just this side of craggy. Crace guessed the guy worked outside, by the way his skin was weathered and carrying a little tan like the bums on the street wore. He was wearing an old black leather suit jacket that was maybe a size too big for him. It looked kind of cool. Crace wondered if it was genuinely old, or maybe one of those jackets that cost thousands to make them look like they cost fifty bucks. 

He decided to ask the guy after they'd ended their meeting.

The guy finished what he was doing with the iPad and then placed it down on the table between them. On the screen Crace could see ten, plain white squares on a black background. The man touched one of the squares and it zoomed in to show that there was writing on it.

Crace leaned forward and read the caption out-loud.

"Put the cap on."

Crace looked up from the screen at the man.

"What? Are you speaking to me through the iPad?"

The man tapped the screen again, and another white box zoomed large.

"Yes."

"Why? Nobody can hear us."

Another tap, another zoom.

"The restaurant may be bugged, you may be wired, or we might be being filmed."

Crace looked around the restaurant, and then back at the man.

"I followed all of your instructions to the letter. Nobody knows we are here I promise."

"Put the cap on."

Crace picked up the cap and pulled it on. 

Another tap.

"Hands."

Crace placed his hands back down on the table, palms up, just the way he had been told. 

The man stared at Crace, as if he was waiting for something. Crace was about to speak again when the waitress suddenly leaned in and poured some coffee.

"Fresh coffee, you order now?"

"No, not yet, in a minute I promise,” there was a wobble in his voice that Crace hoped the guy hadn’t noticed.

"Hey, that an iPad? They nice things, my boy back home want one for Christmas. Too expensive for waitress though, not make enough tip."

The man smiled at her, and then placed his hand over the top of the cup she had put down for him. He shook his head and gave her his best craggy eyed grin. She smiled back, glad that this new guy wasn't as much of an asshole as the one who had been here waiting for an hour.

"I be back soon, take order."

Crace looked at his coffee but didn't pick it up.

Rules were rules, and he suddenly had no wish to break them. The email he'd received that had set up the meeting had expressly told him to keep his hands palms up on the table at all times. The same email had told him the locker number where he had found the bag, with the all dumb clothes he was wearing, and that fucking hat.

"I feel dumb in this hat; I look like a redneck."

The man tilted his head again, and Crace suddenly realised he might just have insulted him. He almost lifted a hand of apology, then remembered the rules and instead just did some grovelling.

"I'm sorry, there is anything wrong with being a redneck, it's just it isn't my style, you know?"

The man tapped the screen.

"I needed to be sure it was you."

"You followed me?"

"Yes."

"All the way?"

"Yes."

"You know where I live?"

"Yes."

"Jesus."

They stared at each other across the table for a moment, until Crace puffed out his cheeks and nodded to his coffee.

"Can I take a drink?"

The man nodded and Crace picked up the mug, careful to keep his other hand on the table top. The coffee warmed his throat, and cooled his nerves, so much so that when he put the mug back down he felt a little more in control.

"Have you got the answer to every question I am going to ask programmed into that thing?"

"No."

"Well we've got a problem if I ask one it can't answer haven't we?"

"No."

Crace smiled in spite of himself and took another sip of coffee. He glanced around the diner and noticed there was now only about six or other customers in there, most of them with heads buried in meals or conversations.

The guy had chosen the venue well.

"Okay, let's get down to business here; I gotta get back across town. This is what I want you to do..."

The man held up the palm of his right hand, and then with his left index finger tapped at a square on the screen.

Crace had to lean forward to read it.

"You have asked me to kill your wife; I will do this for fifty thousand dollars. Half at the end of this meeting and half after I have completed the task. The figure is non-negotiable as I explained in our previous correspondence. The manner of the task will be to my choosing. The collection of the outstanding monies will be to my choosing. If you do not pay the outstanding amount I will kill your parents in New Hampshire. If you speak to anyone of this matter I will kill your sister in Georgia. Once I have killed these people I will find you, no matter where you are, and I will kill you” Crace looked up, and the guy stared back. Crace swallowed and then continued reading. “If you behave in the manner I have outlined, and you follow all of my instructions, at the completion of our business, you will never see me again. Is this understood?"

Crace sat back and let his mouth hang open for a moment while his brain figured out how to close it, a moment passed until he found some words.

"How did you know about my folks and my sister?"

The man tapped the screen again summoning another caption.

"Answer yes or no."

"There won't be a problem with the money or the job I promise."

"Answer yes or no."

"Yes."

The man nodded, and then gestured that Crace should drink more coffee.

Back when the emails had started, Crace had wondered if the guy was just some sort of nut job fantasist who was pretending to be a hit man. But then, right at that minute, looking across the table, he knew he was staring at death.

Death stared back, then nodded, as if he was reading Crace's mind, A second passed and then the man tapped another white box and Crace leaned forward to read it.

"If you wish to leave now you may do so. We will never see each other or speak again, and you will be safe to carry on with your life as if this meeting had never taken place. You have ten seconds to get up and leave the table."

"I don't want to leave, I need... no, I want to do this I swear," Crace ducked low, head inches from the table, the light of the iPad illuminating his face from below.

The man didn't reply, and it took Crace a moment to realise Death was tapping his index finger on the table.

He watched it.

Eight.

Nine.

Ten.

The finger pressed another square on the iPad.

"You are contracting me to execute your wife, Karen, who works as a lawyer Maybrick Legal Inc. You want me to do this so that you can inherit Karen's estate. An estate she herself was inherited from her father who died last year. There is also the matter of a six-million-dollar insurance policy that is payable should either of you die. Is this correct?"

"When you say it like that it sounds like I am one evil son of a bitch, but let me tell you buddy, she is looking to nail my ass to the wall if the divorce she is threatening me with goes though. I'm in a hole here, I gotta girlfriend who is pushing me to move in with her, my job is up and down, it ain't easy being a broker these days I gotta tell you. There;s no way I can't afford to split from that bitch and get a divorce."

"Answer yes or no."

"Yes. Jesus…it's correct. Yes."

"If you wish to leave now you may do. We will never see each other or speak again and you will be safe to carry on with your life as if this meeting had never taken place. You have ten seconds to get up and leave the table."

This time Crace counted along with the tapping finger.

Eight.

Nine.

Ten.

Crace didn't leave; he just sat with his hands on the table like the email had told him too.

He was doing this thing.

"You are about to contract me to kill your wife Karen. You must place twenty five thousand dollars, as instructed, in a brown paper parcel, in used one hundred dollar bills onto the table. Once I pick up the money the deal is final with no provision for alteration or cancellation. Do you understand? Yes or No?"

Crace licked his lips and then chewed the bottom one.

This was it, at last he was out from under it.

This was the start.

The new life.

He almost smiled.

"Yes."

Crace nodded his head towards the Planet Hollywood jacket. The man gestured it was okay to lift his hands, so Crace turned, dug under the jacket, and then took out the money placed it on the table next to the iPad. 

The man stared back at him for a moment and then tapped the screen again.

"If you wish to leave now you may do. We will never see each other or speak again and you will be safe to carry on with your life as if this meeting had never taken place. You have ten seconds to get up and leave the table."

Crace shook his head at the guy to let him know he was in, committed, certain. It felt like he'd just done a deal on the stock exchange. That crazy feeling he got when he knew he'd made the right decision and struck a home run.

"Keep counting buddy, I ain't going anywhere."

Eight.

Nine.

Ten.

The man nodded, then slid the package of money off the table and dropped it into a bag Crace hadn’t noticed before.

“Jesus, you are like some sort of Penn and Teller dude, you keep bringing out stuff I never noticed.”

The man smiled.

Crace wondered if twenty-five grand bought him the chance to ask about the jacket before the guy got up to leave.

He watched as the man put the iPad to sleep. The man then wiped his right hand across the screen, and then held it up.

Crace looked at it, and then at the guy.

That was when he noticed the 9mm silenced Glock in the man's left hand. It was sliding out from inside that cool leather jacket like a mamba from under a rock.

It suddenly struck Crace that the jacket had been big so as to hide the gun.

Clever.

The pistol sneezed.

Crace never heard it.

His head made more noise than the gun as it landed face first onto the hands that had been there to catch it. Had he been able to take a look, he would have seen that Mickey had been gut shot and was leaking brains through his fingers and then all over the table.

The man stood up, picked up his bag, then headed for the door with the pistol back under his jacket. He smiled at the waitress, as she strained to see where that awkward bastard with the dumb cap had gone over the high back of the booth.

"You come again soon now," she said without looking at him.

The man nodded, left the diner, and then walked two blocks in the rain before he heard the sirens.

He climbed into the rental car, smiled at Karen, and then fired up the iPad.

"Did he want me dead? Did he?"

"Yes."

"That son of a bitch... did you... did you do it?"

"Yes."

"Oh my god, I can't believe it."

Karen sat for a moment with her hand over her mouth, the shock hitting home almost as hard as the bullet that had been meant for her. They sat in silence watching the blue and red flashing lights down the street. They were bouncing off the rain and the tall buildings that were crowding in to take a look at what was going on at their feet.

The windows of the hire car were starting to steam almost as much Karen's eyes. She remembered their deal, and reached for her handbag.

"I'm sorry; I almost forgot. Here, it's your money."

She held up a brown package.

He shook his head and held up the iPad.

"He paid for it."

Karen watched as the man got out of the car and walked to the nearby subway. 

He dropped off the street, just like he’d dropped off the earth, and she never saw him again.

Just like the iPad had said.


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I wrote this story a few years ago when I was scratching around for ideas for a novel. I liked he idea of a lead character who didn't have a voice, and who lived by a binary code that consisted of a set series of answers based around "yes" and "no."

Even though I'm still working on my John Rossett thrillers, I think there is a chance I might one day return to the "yes no man", as I've a feeling he has a few stories to tell. 

If you've any questions about the piece, or if you feel there is anything you'd like to know about the writing of it, just leave me a comment and I promise I'll get back to you. 

 Tony Schumacher is the author of the John Rossett series of thrillers published worldwide by Harper Collins. He has written for the The Guardian newspaper, the Huffington Post and regularly contributes to the BBC, and blogs worldwide.  
    Wall Street Journal: "Schumacher assured and atmospheric writing makes this a memorable novel..."

    Lancashire Evening Post: "The British Lion is an extraordinary and exciting tour-de-force, a pulsating portrayal of a broken nation that is breathtakingly imagined and terrifying in the sheer power of its possibilities."