Smoke Them Out
The old man pauses at the window. The girl sits on the pavement opposite. No expression: just a pair of dark glasses and the handwritten sign beside her.
The maitre d’ hovers. It’s lunchtime. The restaurant’s full and he’s juggling diners and tables. He needs to keep the customers flowing, which means no time for indecision.
‘Do you need to see a menu, sir?’
It looks as if the girl is staring back. Not that she could be. The windows are tinted and it’s too dark inside anyway. It’s just what she does. Sits on the pavement with her sign and stares into space.
The maitre d’ blinks. It’s the only sign of his impatience. Some people he can bully along; a gentle cough and a supercilious expression all that’s needed to remind them who’s in control here. This man, though, needs treating with much more care. Partly due to his age but mostly because of the influence he wields.
The old man frowns. ‘Strange message, eh?’
‘Yes, sir.’ The maitre d’ bobs his head in agreement. ‘She’s an odd girl.’
‘Know her, do you?’
‘I wouldn’t say that, sir, but she’s become a bit of a fixture.’
‘Often there is she?’
‘Come rain or shine, sir. Always there, same coat, same sign. I think she’s been sitting there since last autumn.’
‘All through the winter?’
‘Every day, sir. Not really normal behaviour.’
The old man looks thoughtful. ‘And always the same sign?’
‘Hmm.’ The old man nods. ‘Call my driver, will you. Tell him to come back and pick me up.’
The maitre d’ blinks. ‘But… your table?’
‘I’m not hungry any more.’
She’s watched for several days. On Friday morning, the Rolls pulls up beside her while she’s still a couple of streets away from her usual spot. She looks at the car: wary but unsurprised. The grip on her piece of cardboard is light and she’s already half on the balls of her feet, poised to sprint.
When the window rolls down and she sees the patrician features inside, the girl relaxes. A fraction.
‘Good morning.’ The old man nods. ‘I think you’ve been looking for me.’
Her head tilts to one side. ‘Really? How do you work that out?’
He waves a hand at the sign. It’s a different piece of cardboard but the message is the same: My father was killed by ninjas. Need money for karate lessons.
‘This?’ She laughs. ‘It’s just a joke. Get a smile out of people and they’re more likely to give money.’
‘Hmm. Is that really why you sit at that same spot every day?’
‘I’m a creature of habit.’
‘But why there?’
‘Rich people go to the restaurant across the road.’
‘But rich people aren’t generous to beggars. That’s how they get to be rich.’
‘Only takes one rich person to change your life.’
He smiles. He appreciates the verbal sparring but that’s not why he’s here. ‘It’s not because you’re just around the corner from the stock exchange? You’re not looking for anyone in particular?’
‘If they give me money, I don’t care who they are.’
‘Who were the ninjas?’
She shakes her head. ‘I told you it was just a joke.’
‘Fine.’ He sighs. ‘What if I told you that I knew your father?’
The dark glasses hide her eyes but a subtle change in her posture tells him he’s got her attention.
‘Do you want to get in the car. We can talk somewhere comfortable.’
She recoils slightly.
‘It’s also probably safer than out on the pavement. There could be people watching. You probably don’t want to be seen talking to me.’
The girl looks hesitant. ‘Why would anyone be watching me?’
The old man smiles. ‘They probably aren’t. But it’s best to be safe. The ninjas wouldn’t want anyone coming looking for revenge. If you’re looking for them, they might hear about it.’
She shakes her head. ‘But if they don’t even know there was a daughter then they’re not going to be worried.’
She’s already on the run before he can complete the sentence. The old man curses once. He thinks about ordering his driver to set off in pursuit but she’s already ducked into an alley. There’s little chance of catching her now.
Her heart rate is still slowing as she walks out of the alleyway and stroll back up the street towards the Rolls. The cardboard, sunglasses and the old coat are gone. As is the wig. Dressed in a flouncy skirt and designer jacket, she swings a Gucci handbag from one shoulder.
Getting closer to the old man’s car, she pulls out her mobile and pretends to answer a call. She pouts at the phone, twists a piece of hair and gives a twirl: preening herself for the unseen imaginary caller.
As she does so, she takes several photos of the luxury car and its licence plate. The window of the Rolls is still lowered, the old man looking straight at her. She snaps his picture too. He’s too busy looking at her legs; it’s not her face he will remember.
She waltzes on up the street. It’s taken almost six months but she’s finally smoked out one of them. They called themselves the ninjas. A group of sharks who destroy other people’s businesses for the sake of a quick profit. What they do in public is legal but that’s only a fraction of it. The other side of their business is much, much darker. Which is why they live in the shadows.
To them, her father was nothing. She doubted if they even remember taking his business away. Or what they did afterwards. Getting him so into debt he had no choice but to obey; getting victims to help with the dirty work was just how they keep in control.
They probably never predicted that he wouldn’t be able to live with some of the things they had him do. Or cared about the fact he couldn’t handle the loss of everything he’d ever worked towards: business and reputation. Guilt was an emotion they wouldn’t understand.
But she’s determined. One day she’s going to make them face the consequences of their actions. The ninjas had killed her father. Their end will be even messier and equally brutal.
I saw the picture above on The Mirror Obscura and felt it needed a story to go with it. Hope you like it.