The casket was closed, of course. She’d refused any suggestion of surgery. To make him look at all presentable, the work would cost too much. And she hinted that it would be too upsetting to see him again. She preferred her memories.
So she chose a casket, and one of proper wood. She’d insisted on that. No cardboard, and no cremation.
The wood was varnished, but her fingers rose over knots, and she worried about splinters. Ridiculous, she knew, but weren’t all phobias?
She remembered seeing his first tattoo, and so desperately wanting one herself. She’d made it to the front door of the parlour before the thought of the needles overpowered her.
There were other ways, of course. But acid etching was too expensive. She had to watch the bottom line, especially when the tests came back positive.
But it had never been a life. Not really.
She couldn’t be sure it was his. So she never told him. Just made some excuse about coming down with a bug.
She removed her hand, the sleeves of her dress hanging loosely, the only part of this outfit that didn’t cling to her body. When was the last time she’d worn anything like this, with every curve showing and her legs exposed? And there were red marks where the straps on her shoes dug in. She longed for her usual leggings and boots, but she had to play this part. The mourner, the dutiful…
The dutiful what? Friend sounded inconsequential, but nothing else fitted. Lover? Maybe, for a few brief months. And that was more lust than love, on both their parts. Colleague? Too formal.
For a couple of months, they pretended to be siblings. It still amazed her how that convinced others to trust them. Those scams had been so much fun.
The tear on her cheek surprised her. It tasted too salty. Strange how the fake tears, the ones she could summon on cue, were watery, yet this genuine one was like an ocean all to itself. Sharp and bitter. It tasted of pain.
She was used to pain, of course. Her constant companion, the hunger never far away. But with the proceeds from their various jobs, the solution was always at hand. She had one of the vials tucked into the elastic round her waist right now, digging into her flesh, giving her an illicit thrill every time she moved.
Where else was she supposed to put it? This stupid dress had no pockets. She’d be better off in a sack. At least that wouldn’t be so tight across her chest and stomach. At least she’d be able to move freely. Better than being trussed up like…like that woman from the Heights job. The one she’d wanted to silence.
But he had been adamant—they were artists, not killers. He’d knocked her out, and tied her up using her own belts. And he wore gloves, of course, leaving no trace of their presence. Only an unconscious woman and an empty safe.
That had been a good haul. And he’d let her keep the ear-rings. She wore them now, a reminder of better times.
But nothing beat their very last haul.
When he told her of that stash, she said it couldn’t be done. She said he was a fool to even consider it. But he insisted. And his plan was perfect.
She just didn’t realise how perfect.
In hindsight, she knew he was growing jaded. His planning was meticulous, leaving nothing to chance. And the execution became routine. Before, there had been uncertainty, and danger. Every job was a rush of adrenaline, and he was wild, so full of life. But now he went through the motions like a ghost. Like he wasn’t really there.
She told herself it was cold efficiency, just another part of his brilliance.
Strange, how she believed her own lies.
But he said this would be the big one, the ultimate haul. If—when—they pulled this off, they’d be legends.
Of course they pulled it off, and it was perfect. Even down to the part where he went out in a blaze of glory.
She shouldn’t be crying. She should be happy for him. He got exactly what he wanted.
He was a legend. He was the shadows that had achieved the impossible. He left no clues, only red herrings. Even now, gang leaders were running in circles, setting up hits on the wrong people, searching for something they’d never find.
He’d taken that secret to his grave.
He’d explained all this, in the letter. An actual letter, on paper, folded small and hidden in the pages of the diary he should not have known about. The words she wrote were a comfort to herself, phrases that would be meaningless to anyone else.
She’d read his final message, memorised it, and eaten the paper. Just as his words instructed.
Three weeks. That was how long the chemicals would take to rot his body. He’d injected himself when he went to the bathroom, leaving the final preparations to her. They left their rooms, and she had no idea he was already dying.
Three weeks. Then it would be safe to open the casket. Of course, she’d have to dig it up, but that wouldn’t be a problem. His final resting place would be a quiet corner, far from inquisitive eyes. He’d planned everything.
When she unzipped the body bag, he’d let her in on his last secret. He’d give her the location of the stash. More than enough for her to start a new life. She could be whatever she desired, do whatever she wanted.
He was gone, but still he looked out for her.
And she wondered if it was possible to love a ghost.
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