by Joan Leotta
Enjoy this never before published mystery short story.
John scanned the crowd. He stopped his survey when he noticed a tall, willowy redhead looking at him. Red was partially encircled by several of the conference’s mostly male attendees. They were obviously entranced by her smile and her form-fitting green wool dress. Her emerald gaze, however, looked beyond her coterie of admirers. He felt her eyes drift over his own sparkling obsidian eyes and olive-skinned cheeks and then settle on his aristocratic thin lips. He touched his finger to those lips and then extended his hand out toward her full, luscious lips. A blatant flirt. A kiss, albeit virtual, across the room to a woman he’d never met.
Before he could respond, their CEO, in a ghost-gray silk Armani suit called the assembled crowd to attention. John turned his head toward the podium to listen.
John worked his way around the room to the redhead. He looked at her name tag. “Hello, Mary.”
She replied with a smile and ran her finger over his name tag before touching his lips with a long manicured finger. “Hello, John.”
Her voice was even better than he could have imagined. Full, throaty, like a well-aged bourbon. He was about to speak when Herman came over. Smiling, he handed each of them an envelope. The spell broken for a moment, John scanned the room again. Habit. Most of the other people in the room filed out when they got their envelopes. In a few minutes, the room would be empty.
John turned back to Mary. She was holding her envelope lightly, as though it did not matter. “Shall we see what we have?” he suggested.
Mary opened her envelope. She began to laugh.
John opened his. He frowned. He turned away from Mary and walked out of the room without speaking. In the hall where the light was stronger, he unfolded the paper again. Perhaps he had read it wrong.
Mary watched as John left. Written on the paper in her envelope was one word, “John.”
John, in the hall, frowned again. The paper in his envelope, said, “Mary.”
He refolded the paper and allowed himself a small smile. No need to turn back to continue his flirtation with the woman of that same name. “After all,” he said to himself as he headed for the elevator, “easy come, easy go.”
As John extended his hand to press the up button, he felt a tiny pinprick on his neck and reached back. Before the doors opened, he slumped to the floor. Out of the corner of his eye in his last moment, he saw Mary’s green wool dress. She had followed him down the hall.
Mary stepped back from John’s slumped form and exited through the hotel’s main doors to catch the airport shuttle. She did not want to be around when the police arrived, though she was sure they would not be able to detect the poison she had used, at least not immediately. The tiny needle would disappear on the floor or on the bottom of a shoe in someone’s hurry to try to revive John. “I wonder what he did to get his name on the list,” she wondered as she hailed the shuttle. She heard the shouting, “Someone’s hurt!” from the lobby as she stepped onto the blue bus for the airport.
The man in the Armani suit was enjoying a Dirty Martini in the lobby bar. He had seen John slump but had waited for someone else to call for help. Through the lobby windows he watched Mary mount the bus steps. He put down his glass and took a small notebook and pen out of his inside suit coat pocket. He wrote, “Assassin International budget issues solved by the attrition of one agent.”
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