He sat in the driver's seat of his Cherokee, thin and brown from years
of use and spilled coffee. He stubbed out his cigarette in the
overflowing ashtray, and avalanche of ashes cascading onto the floor.
The woman was 32 years old, single, and worked at a coffee shop some
five blocks from her apartment. She walked to and from work every day,
and her legs were phenomenal. Jorge had pictures of her from every
conceivable angle, in every concievable style of dress, at every time of
day. She was pretty. Not the kind of pretty that you thought of when you
saw those girls in the magazines, but a kind of pretty that came from
strength and confidence.
He had been watching her for four months now, and he had her routine
down pat. She went to work. She came home. On her days off she went to
the movie theater on Broadway and watched old black-and-white movies. He
hadn't liked them at first, but after a while they kind of grew on him,
particularly the ones with Humphrey Bogart. Jorge felt a kind of
affinity for Bogart after seeing Casablanca; there was a kind of
wounded dignity and honor that so few men have these days.
In the four months, he had never seen her on a date. If she went
anywhere, she went alone. At first he thought she might be a lesbian,
but there weren't any women around either.
He watched her through binoculars, an expensive military model that the
old man had sent him. He loved to watch her walk; she had a sense of
balance and gracefulness that was almost hypnotizing. She always stopped
to put some money in the cup of that old bum who seemed to be
permanently camped out on the corner. He always smiled and thanked her,
and she always smiled back, a beautiful, sad smile.
Jorge wondered what her real name was. In his mind, he called her
Maria, after his grandmother. She had been a handsome woman in
her day, and had taught him to be honorable and respectful and a good
man. It seemed to fit.
He put on the headphones and listened to the bugs he had installed in
her apartment. He loved to close his eyes and listen to her, and imagine
her walking through her apartment, checking her mail, getting a coke out
of the fridge. She would sometimes absent-mindedly hum a song that Jorge
recognized from his childhood, something about horses and outlaws and
Her apartment was neat and tidy, sparse. The things that she had were
nice, but a little worn and shabby, probably handed down through a
couple generations. The one thing that seemed new and expensive was a
set of fossils that she had in a bookcase. He was fascinated by the
intricacy and detail that had remained after the millions of years, like
a three-dimensional x-ray of creatures that hadn't been around for a
very long time.
He heard her pull back the shower curtain and turn on the water. She
usually took a bath on Friday nights, reading some book or other that
she picked up at the bookstore next to the coffeeshop where she worked.
Lately she seemed to be into Patricia Cornwell, books about crime
mysteries. Not his taste, but better than trashy romance novels.
Sometimes she would sing. Her voice was like an angel. She would sing
songs that Jorge remembered from church, sung in latin.
Jorge wondered if he was in love. How hard would it be to "accidentally"
run into her at the movie theater, or in the coffee shop, or maybe the
bookstore. Start up a conversation about fossils or crime novels or
Bogart. Maybe have dinner at the little Italian place with the soft
pretzels in the window.
His phone rang, startling him. He looked at it for a moment like it was
some sort of alien artifact, then picked it up off of the seat.
"Is she still there?" The old man.
"It is time."
Jorge's heart dropped through his chest.
He flipped the phone shut and looked up at her window. He could see the
candlelight flickering, and he imagined her in the bath, languid and
relaxed, hair up, reading her novel.
Ah Maria my love, he thought, I am sorry to have to do
He opened the black briefcase and took out a ceremonial dagger, tinged
with centuries of tarnish. Runes on the blade gleamed, written in some
I promise you there will be no pain.
He got out of the car and crossed himself like his grandmother taught
him so long ago, and walked the street to her apartment. A single tear
ran down his cheek.
In his mind, he could still hear her sing.