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by Nikki Kincaid
Persini watched the silhouette of a couple dancing in the window. He took a deep drag on his cigarette and remembered what it was like. It’s strange the things we remember: insignificant details that go by unnoticed until one day they come back, biting like gnats on a warm summer evening.
He could not say it was love at first sight. She had come to buy coffee. He was sitting by the window, pretending to read a newspaper. Really he was watching a man in a tweed suit gesticulate wildly in a phone booth. When the tweed suit pushed open the booth door, Persini stood, placed the newspaper on the table, and followed the suit down the street.
At a music store, the tweed suit delivered instructions to a lanky man in a torn jacket while Persini pretended to flip through the classical section. The woman came in a minute later. She looked at him without recognition. She found the record she wanted and left him standing there, his heart beating in a way it hadn’t in years.
The cigarette smoke hovered in the car like a specter, swaying to its own silence. He thought about cracking a window, but the smoke added a sort of justice to his suffocating thoughts. The dancing couple broke apart. He picked a tobacco crumb from his tongue and watched in silence.
He followed the tweed suit for three more days until he got his chance. The bullets tore the tweed to shreds, the blood turned it an ugly rust color.
Before the week was out, he was following a different man. A silk pinstripe this time. He trailed him to a small club pulsing with jazz. The pinstripe disappeared into a back room.
Persini ordered a gin and tonic. The music tapered to a slow melody. The dance floor emptied but for three: a couple and a woman. He had to look twice before he recognized her.
When she came to the bar for a drink, she said, “You again?”
He realized later that her lack of surprise should’ve tipped him off. But at the time he was enchanted by the smell of her, the porcelain grace of her skin, the shape of her body.
The couple in the window began to dance again. His hands shook slightly, gripping the wheel. The silent melody tormented him like the grasping scent of her perfume: as subtle as a flower and as piquant as a Creole summer’s eve.
They met a few times after that. He took her to a movie, to dinner, to the theatre.
That night, they sat under the dull light of an outdoor café. They laughed at a joke he’d made a thousand times before. He ordered gin, she a glass of champagne.
The night wandered on like a violin melody, and when the time came, he kissed her.
The punch of the bullet came first. Then the slow realization of pain.
The last thing he remembered was the shape of her as she disappeared into the shadows.
He crumpled the empty cigarette package and let it fall to the floor. It crinkled as it tried to reshape itself.
He opened the car door. His chest ached where the bullet had struck all those years ago. The night was cool. The locusts sang a shrill aria beneath the rustling leaves. He adjusted his belt and took the .45 from its holster.
The light in the window went out.