I Put a Spell on You

02/26/24

Nguyen clocks the Matisse on the wall—ignores it.

Kessler broke it down when he laid out the score. “It’s a fake.” Then that trademark Kessler grin. “Real one’s on loan to the Guggenheim. You think he’d leave ninety million with his cokehead son?”

The safe’s been left on day lock. Four turns until the door clicks open.

Nguyen can break these older boxes in his sleep—but sometimes the Gods made it easy.

Halfway done cleaning out the safe, he hears keys jangling. A wedge of light from the hallway appears on the wall, widening then fanning out across the room as the door creaks open and two bodies stumble in.

Nguyen ducks and rolls behind a leather sofa, his heart beating thickly. The door slams shut and the office is dark again—the music downstairs stripped to a low-slung rumble.

They collapse onto the sofa, a man and a woman. He recognizes the Sullivan kid by ear. A booming fat guy voice you could rest a tray of shots on.

Woman? She’s barely out of high school giggling like that.

Sullivan gets rough—pins her to the sofa, his knees and elbows squeaking against the leather. She looks to get out from under him. He cups a hand over her mouth, muffling her cries, telling her shut the fuck up.

Nguyen sees her arm jolt out, fingers splayed, looking for something to grab.

She finds a table lamp.

It comes crashing down on the back of his head with the heavy crunch of solid wood.

Two more swings—soundtracked by a primal howl of rage.

The last one does real damage, smashing cartilage like a hammer through old fruit.

Sullivan hits the floor with a deadweight thump.

Her nervous breathing cuts through metallic silence.

Downstairs—the band keeps playing.I Put A Spell On You.

She sniffs, wipes tears from her face. Pacing the office in measured steps now, trying to make sense of what’s happened. Moonlight filtered through French windows slice the room into a chiaroscuro jigsaw.

She sees the black tool pouch on the mahogany desk.

Her eyes trail over to the open Diebold safe.

Nguyen is quick—up and across the office before she can react.

For the second time that night she has a hand around her mouth.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” Nguyen says. It comes out wrong. Like he’s apologizing.

He frogmarches her to the corner of the room by the safe. “Stay right here and don’t turn around. All I want is what I came for. If I take my hand away and you start to scream …”

She nods slowly. I understand.

Nguyen lets go and she gulps down air, the adrenaline shifting down into a lower gear. Half sobbing still but mostly just trying to catch her breath. He reaches into the safe for the last velvet drawstring bag filled with uncut diamonds.

“You were watching the whole time?” she says in an unhurried tone which surprises him a little. Shook up but adapting to the situation. It’s better than the one she was in just moments before. “You asshole. Why didn’t you stop him?”

Nguyen moves toward Sullivan’s body. He leans down and checks for a pulse.

“You did a pretty good job of that on your own.”

She steals a quick over-the-shoulder glance. “Is he dead?”

“He needs a hospital, or he’s gonna bleed out real soon.”

“Fucking bastard deserves it.”

“What’re you doing with a creep like Sullivan anyway?”

“Jesus Christ, I’m being held hostage by Dr. Phil.”

“You’re not a hostage.”

“Does that mean I’m free to leave then?” she says, and when Nguyen doesn’t respond she makes a short dismissive noise. “Yeah. That’s what I thought.”

He tells her, “Don’t run. You won’t make it. I can see you thinking about the door.”

She grins then—almost bursts into laughter. “You want to know what I’m really thinking about, hotshot? I’m thinking about why Kessler has two of us on this job. I guess we’ll have to ask him that. I’m also thinking what a 50/50 split on those diamonds looks like, and how we’re gonna get rid of the goddamn body.”

~ fin ~

truong_mellor

Thomas Trang is a French/Vietnamese writer currently living in the UK after stints in Australia, New York, and Singapore. His stories have previously appeared in FutureQuake, Full House Literary and the Revolutions 2 anthology. He is currently working on a SF trilogy which mixes cyberpunk with the gritty realpolitik of The Wire and Cold War spy fiction.