A hunched figure hobbled down a busy pavement along a side street almost devoid of traffic, his mannerisms and entire being in stark contrast to the trendy cafés and boutique shops that lined the tree-shaded street.
From glass front shops with sleek mannequins styled in slinky dresses and crisp suits, with racks behind them of neatly arranged, obsessively colour-coded outfits attractively displayed under golden yellow mood lighting, the perfect accompaniment to soothing jazz music that played softly out of invisible speakers; to jewellers whose wares glinted and gleamed in glass displays, glowing in brightly lit cream white interiors where everyone spoke in reverent hushed tones, mostly in awe of the opulence but also so they could avoid anyone hearing the outrageous sums that were quoted, followed by curt nods and credit cards that were produced and swiped in quick succession.
The out-of-place figure shuffled along unnoticed by the fashionable crowd, weighed down by a myriad of scruffy coats and scarves, his shoes, much too small for his feet, each with a hole where his big toes adorned with dirty nails stuck out prominently. Head bowed, he made his way to a café where a small crowd, spread across tiny intimate tables set out on the pavement, were drinking coffee, nibbling on sophisticated pastries they couldn’t pronounce and smoking cigarettes, their pinky fingers held elegantly in the air.
“Excuse me,” the hunched figure’s face was practically invisible as he addressed a woman sitting at a table by herself, two cups of frothy coffee in front of her, scrolling on her phone with stylish disinterest.
Sierra looked up, her eyes narrowing as she saw who was speaking to her, her hands tightening over her phone. Leaning back, she frowned and hoped he’d read her body language and leave her alone, but the man, Gilbert, wasn’t deterred.
“Could you spare some change?” he leaned forward, his hooded face dark and unrecognizable apart from wide eyes that stared unnervingly into hers.
Sierra broke out in a sweat, highly unusual for her, sweating was not her thing unless one counted the sauna. The beads of sweat joined to form miniscule rivulets that trickled down her back and under her arms, staining her pristine white billowy blouse. Out of the periphery of her eye, she saw a waiter moving forward in response to her obvious discomfort, but she was already digging through her shiny bag for money.
“Sir,” a tall waiter with a wiry muscular frame came to stand between them, shielding Sierra, “You need to leave,” he made to move the frail-looking man by the arm but Gilbert took a surprisingly forceful step forward instead, and Sierra jumped to her feet as the waiter stumbled back a step.
“Babe, are you okay?”
Sierra turned to see Riley, her boyfriend, back from the bathroom, flexing his thick arms as he confusedly surveyed the scene. Sierra was flustered, anxiety rooting her to the spot as Riley and the waiter moved to remove Gilbert. As they begun to tussle, her mind snapped to action as she realised she needed to de-escalate the situation; the poor wretch just wanted some change.
“Riley, it’s okay!” Sierra grabbed his arm and drew him back, where he stood with his arm protectively around her shoulders.
Ignoring the waiter’s frustrated look, Sierra pressed a wad of notes she didn’t bother counting into Gilbert’s hand. As she did, he opened his thick layer of coats slightly and there was a bright flash that lasted only a millisecond, so quick that anyone who noticed would’ve thought it a trick of the morning light filtering through the trees, reflecting on a button or zip. Then he turned suddenly on his heels, far too energetically, before slipping back into character and shuffling away with his gaze fixed firmly on the ground.
“You need to stop splashing your money all over,” Riley chided Sierra as they sat back down to their coffee’s, “By now you’d have enough to leave…”
But a sharp look from the beautiful woman across from him cut him off. Sierra wasn’t in the mood, and after rolling her thickly lashed eyes at him, she soothed herself with a sip of her drink, looking back down at her phone to avoid the curious stares from people around her.
“Hello?” Gilbert, now at the far end of the street where he was leaning against a pole, spoke into an expensive phone, “I have…uh, the picture,” he stopped at the ragged breathing of the man on the other end of the line.
A private investigator, Gilbert hated this part of his job most of all.
“So it’s true?” the voice on the line was anguished, but even through the phone Gilbert could feel the man’s rage.
“Uh,” Gilbert was suddenly unsure of his assignment, “Have a look at the photo…It seems innocent enough…Maybe they’re just friends?” his arguments died off as the man, Sierra’s husband, laughed harshly.
“I hired you to follow her, see who she meets…she’s not with her sister, is she?” the voice was cutting, mocking, mean, “Send me the picture, I’ve already sent your payment,” then just before the line went dead, Gilbert heard Sierra’s husband say calmly to someone else, “Finish her, make it look like an accident.”
Read part 2 here