Where do friendships stop and business begin? What's a life worth? Who keeps custody of the knob to terminate a life? Should there be a send-off party or is there an override where someone decides:
We got the contract Brian! We actually got it!”
Lula was ecstatic, a broad smile accentuating her beautiful, full lips and adding a glow to her already pretty face. She bounced on the balls of her feet as she stood at her desk in her office, facing a large window which showed the last of what must have been a magnificent sunset. She had missed it, as intensely as she had been working, but she didn’t care as she stood there now, watching the last purples and pinks deepen into the twilight, unable to believe the news she’d just received.
“Are you sure?” Brian’s voice came through the phone, disbelief sounding clearly.
“Yes! Yes, I’m sure!” Lula half laughed gaily as she relished the feeling of success, “I just got the e-mail, and they want us to sign tomorrow!”
“Wow, that’s amazing Lula, wow … I’m, I’m speechless,” his voice came again, sounding low and far away.
“Is that it? Aren’t you over the moon?” Lula asked. How could he be so calm?
“No, no … of course I am excited. I’m just, shocked. I wasn’t expecting the decision so soon. Well heck, we won! Uh, we should celebrate tonight? What do you say?”
“Tonight? I thought you said you were engaged? Besides, we should be fresh for tomorrow … Maybe we can celebrate then? After we sign we can go all out and …”
“No, no, no,” Brian hastily cut in, “We really must celebrate, it’s the eve of a huge moment for us. Meet me at the bar just round the corner from the office, we will just have one drink and call it a day, okay?” he finished decisively and hung up without giving her a chance to speak.
Lula frowned at his manner, she never did like his forcefulness, then shrugged and brushed all negativity off her mind. All the sleepless nights they had sunk into this project and finally, all that work had paid off! Why not go celebrate after all? She quickly locked up and headed out.
It was cool, but not at all chilly. She sighed. Everything was perfect. Getting there quickly, she pulled over to parallel park outside the busy bar, but stopped suddenly as the passenger door was suddenly yanked open and a man slid into the car.
“What in the …! Oh! Brian! Gosh, you really freaked me out right there! What are you doing?” Lula was breathless from the shock and a little angry, heart pounding and nerves shot. Really, what was he doing scaring her like that?
“Just drive Lula, we’re holding up traffic. Drive, I’ll fill you in … we should go somewhere else, and anyway, this one is too busy,” to this last part he jerked his lips in the direction of the noisy bar.
His authoritarian manner irked her even more now that he had shaken her so badly, but Lula didn’t want a confrontation in the middle of the street, besides, weren’t they meant to be having a good time? Deciding she wouldn’t let his aggravating manner steal her joy especially over this occasion, she gripped the wheel tighter to hide her shaking hands and drove away.
The streets were vibrant with the movement and sounds of people headed home, brightly lit from late night shops, cafeterias and cars. Younger individuals, maybe students, milled about in groups on the sidewalks, chatting and laughing as they waited for their buses.
SOMETHING IS OFF
The night was cooler now, and fresh air whipping her face plus the normalcy of the whole scene soothed Lula’s frayed nerves, allowing some of her buoyancy from earlier that evening to creep back in. She smiled, remembering the contents of the e-mail, and turned to flash her partner a grin.
“How great …” Lula tapered off, “Brian, what’s wrong?”
He sat facing away from her looking out the window, but from the tension oozing off his profile, Lula could tell something was off.
“Just drive, okay?” his voice was low and this time there was no mistaking the menacing tone. He was used to getting his way, even though she had never been anything but pleasant and easy.
“Is this a joke? What’s going on?!” Lula swerved suddenly as she hit the wheel with her fist, her stirrings of irritation now flaring into anger. What was up with him?
“Shut up and drive!” Brian roared, turning to face her, a small pistol concealed in the crook of his arm, “I’m not sharing that contract with anyone! D’you hear me? No one! I bring you in on the last year of a three-year project and you think it’s now a ‘we’ thing? It’s all about me!” he stopped his crazed rant abruptly and smiled a chilling grin at her, “I’m taking this baby home, alone.”
Lula was half staring at him, half remembering to keep her eyes on the road. What? Is he seriously considering harming me over a contact? Work? When was it ever that serious? They’d been friends since university, and when he’d begged her to help him with a project of his that had stalled, she felt she was doing him a favour. They were not even going to split the profits in half! Greedy, greedy man …
“Soo … my life’s equal to a stupid business deal huh?” she fired back.
“I said shut up and …” Brian growled.
Lula gnashed her teeth, arched her back and decided she’d had enough. If she was going to die, if this idiot wanted to kill her, she’d at least have a say in the matter. Eyes on the road, she stepped on the gas ever so slightly and eased into her seat. There were traffic lights up ahead as the street joined into a roundabout, and they’d already turned red.
“Stop,” Brian barked at her, but Lula kept going and his eyes grew wide as the intersection sped up to meet them, “Stop, stop! Please …”
Lula was deaf and mute to the beckoning death flight and floored the gas pedal, whipping past a stunned looking traffic policeman and flew into the intersection with a grinding of metal and crushing of glass into a million shards, driving right into the middle of the roundabout and coming to a screeching halt in a plume of smoke and dust.
They were surrounded within minutes. Lula, conscious and unhurt as her airbag had deployed perfectly, was rescued and sat huddled nearby as the police officer co-ordinated Brian’s rescue. He wasn’t so lucky, dead; but still stubbornly clutching the pistol.
“Madam … were you kidnapped?” the policeman was back, and a small crowd.
Lula sighed, it was too complicated to get into just now.
“I made a deal … I just didn’t know it was with the devil,” she offered by way of explanation.
This was going to one helluva long night.