Dec 18, 2010
Edward Sanders stood immobile and erect and, in the gentle movement of cool air, his long, black, leather coat billowed lazily about his legs. His right arm was extended and he could feel the familiar weight – so familiar that it seemed nothing more than an extension of his own body – clutched tightly in his palm. Behind wire-framed, dark shades, his eyes showed no expression. His jaw was clenched and, at the sides of his lean face, the muscles flexed in undulations below his pronounced cheek bones.
Behind him and slightly to his right – always the same position – Gretchen van Veerhoeven, was similarly poised. Her coat, however, also of leather and with a more feminine tailoring, revealed the shape of a tall, lean and athletic build beneath – what Edward, on occasion, had referred to as 'six feet of gorgeous'. In fact, she was but, now, with business to tend, she was loath to reveal that Nordic beauty: her long, shimmering, blonde hair was tied back in a loose tail to keep it away from her face and, wearing fashionable Gucci shades hid her large, intelligent, pale blue eyes from the scrutiny of others. Her wide, full lips were compressed into a thin, rose tinted, gash across her face.
Gretchen and Edward, while on assignment in Mexico City three years previously, had become a team – an exceptionally successful team – a fact which had not been missed by their employer who showered them with gifts and accolades for each, handily dispensed, contract. They had, as was commonly said, 'clicked'. After a year of working together and, again on contract in Stockholm, what had been simmering under the surface, voiced only in gentle prods, taunts and saucy jibes between them, boiled to the surface and they became intimate – a couple – and they only required about six months after that to realise that they were in love; finding more of themselves in their unity than apart, like two pieces of a puzzle that not only fit but which should never have been separated at all.
“Gretchen?” Edward turned his head slightly to the right but, his gaze, hidden behind dark-tinted glass, did not falter.
“Edward?” Gretchen responded in her usual fashion – a sort of joke between them. Her voice, low and lilting with her own accent, failed to pronounce the 'w' and it came out more like a 'v' or an 'f'.
“I've been thinking...” He paused.
He recognised that his timing was likely not the best. After all, with a business transaction to conclude, they rarely spoke – let alone, used one another's names. However, neither of them would be referred to as 'regular folk' and, sometimes, different rules applied.
“About what, Edward?”
“Oh? And what have you been thinking?” There was a slight edge of female tension in her voice.
“I was thinking that we need to take a break.”
Gretchen's breath caught. The barrel of the Mauser .45 Automatic held in her balled fist deviated by some minuscule degree from the direction of the man before them – a movement not lost on Edward - but then returned rapidly to pin the target.
“From... us?” she added and resumed breathing.
Edward began to laugh. The sound reverberated like distant, rolling thunder in his chest, echoing from the ribs like canyon walls and then erupted from his mouth to, instead, echo from the distant wall of the vast, empty warehouse. He quickly quelled his exuberance.
“No, love. Not from 'us'. I meant from this – from work.” He tipped the muzzle of his Glock at the confused fellow who looked on.
“I'm thinking – islands and palm trees. Maybe the Seychelles? What do you say?”
Gretchen's studied sobriety collapsed and she smiled openly.
“It sounds beautiful.”
Anders Voorhies could do little but look on. His wrists were bound to his ankles and he was forced to kneel on the hard, damp cement floor which was very painful at 62 years of age. He was gagged with chord and a piece of duct tape sealed his mouth. His nostrils flared with his forced, panicked breathing.
Anders Voorhies had placed himself in the position of paying an exorbitant fine. He was a South African diamond merchant and his unethical business practices had brought, not only himself but, also, their mutual employer under the scrutiny of a number of ethics committees but also cost the company many millions in lost, completely illegal, sales of rough diamonds. Their employers were not pleased. It was fortunate that the soon-to-be heirs of Anders Voorhies had agreed to the conditions of the settlement and he was summarily deposited into the hands of Edward and Gretchen in an anonymous Jo'burg warehouse.
“I was thinking we could call the office once back home in London and get the time off.”
Edward was continuing with his theme but, slowly, his attention was refocusing on the contract to be closed.
“We're owed some time,” affirmed Gretchen. “There shouldn't be a problem.”
“No,” agreed Edward. “We're certainly good for it by now. Gretchen?”
“Edward?” She continued to play.
“Just so you know, there's something that I want to ask you on a beach at sunset - if that would be OK.”
There was silence.
He felt – sensed – Gretchen stiffen behind him and then he relaxed as an amorous wave of emotion exuded from her and washed over him. He smiled, feeling his own emotions rise.
Before them, Anders Voorhies followed the discussion and seven shades of confusion passed over his face. The ridiculous part was that he couldn't help feeling pleasure for this beautiful young couple about to embark on the journey of a life together. The downside, he knew and the expressions crossing his face – as changeable as the weather in February – reflected this knowledge, was that they were about to extract his fine. His eyes glazed at the thought.
“Yes, Edward. That would be fine – you may ask me something on a beach at sunset.”
“Good,” he answered. “We've got a beach and a sunset to find.”
He looked at her briefly, smiling, their eyes locked. Then he became all business.
“Anders Voorhies,” he pronounced in Afrikaans, “you have been convicted by the council of The Company for crimes of which a fine will be extracted from you: that fine is your life. Under the conditions of this agreement, to which your Heirs have already accepted, said Heirs will be protected from further fines upon compliance with said agreement. Do you accept these conditions?”
Anders Voorhies could do little but nod. The pain from his knees now radiated to his hips and back. His family would be protected from his poor decisions. Little else mattered. A single tear drained from the inner corner of his left eye, coursed his cheek and then spread, dissolving along the edge of the strip of duct tape.
“Two,” echoed Gretchen.