A whining scream whistles through the studio apartment. Anya takes the kettle off the stove and pours the water into two mugs. Seamus is cleaning his gun in the living room. The slide is on the end table; he is wiping down the internal mechanism with care.
Anya sets his tea next to the gun parts and sits across from her husband. She watches him over the rim of her mug. The furrows in his brow are deeper. The bags under his eyes darker and lower. Wrinkles are showing in his cheeks. Shocks of grey pepper his dark curls.
“What is it?” he asks.
“Nothing. I was just admiring you.”
“A fine sight?”
“Always,” she says.
She walks over and scratches his head with the ends of her fingernails. His eyes droop and his hands stop working. The gun sits in his lap atop the cleaning rag.
“Okay,” Anya says, stopping. “I’m going to finish packing. Drink your tea.”
She walks into the bedroom and Seamus follows her instruction. He leaves the gun dismantled on the end table. The television has the news on. A ten-million-dollar bounty is out on the art thieves that burglarized the Louvre.
Anya folds the remaining clothes she is fleeing with and puts them in her travel bag. She investigates the mostly empty closet, a satisfied smile on her face. Nothing left to pack. Her smile fades as her eyes rest on the tarp in the corner of the room. The clock on her nightstand ticks.
She takes the painting, still veiled, and brings it into the living room and props it on the chair beside the table.
“What are you doing?” asks Seamus.
“I’ve finished packing. I don’t see why we shouldn’t go now,” says Anya.
“We agreed it’d be tomorrow. Our transport is arranged for tomorrow. Deviations from the plan¾”
“So, call Walter up. He’s no stranger to changing schedules on the fly.”
Seamus finishes his tea. He gently places both hands on Anya’s shoulders. “Why the sudden worry?”
She points at the television.
“We knew that was coming, love. We’ll be gone tomorrow. Everything will be fine.” He brings her into his embrace.
“You stubborn bastard,” she says into his chest. “Time is against us.”
“Everything will be fine.”
The apartment door cracks behind a heavy thump. One of the hinges comes off. A second kick does the job. Seamus throws Anya to the floor. A man in dark clothing rushes into the room. Seamus instinctively goes for his gun, but it’s still in pieces.
Seconds drag into lifetimes. On the floor, Anya registers the shock on her husband’s face. All the furrows and wrinkles are canyons. His hazel eyes turn dark and cold. The gold fillings in his teeth grind together as the assailant draws his weapon.
They met young. Smooth skin, no scars. Bright gazes that reflected less troubled minds. Bodies moving weightless as they danced across the snowy streets in Trieste. They were afflicted, giddy like children on Christmas morning.
The two shots are thunderous. One bullet rips through Seamus’ neck. The second travels through his forehead as he is going down. Fragments of his skull and wet chunks of brain splatter on the tarp.
A scream dies in Anya’s throat, coming out as a low groan, the type of sound a dying animal makes. The assailant grabs her. She flails, and bites, and claws. She breaks a nail as she rakes the man’s cheek. He yells and slams her on the floor. Breath exits her lungs. A swift punch plunges her into darkness.
The assailant rushes to the tarp. He flings it off, revealing the unmarred painting. Lush woodland scenery. Birds nesting in the treetops. Two glowing youths draped in sunlight, sharing champagne and a picknick in the meadow, surrounded by a sea of lilacs. Their faces airy, free of worry. Preserved on the canvas, their love will never grow old.
The assailant wipes the blood off his cheek. He sits beside the painting, watching Anya’s unconscious body for any sign of motion, waiting for the authorities to arrive so he can collect the bounty.