In my first novella, The Caregiver, we follow Interpol agent Scarlett Lang through what would be the most important mission in her career so far: pose as caregiver for London’s biggest drug-lord, Armand Sayer. This vignette is about the day she met with his sister, Helga Sayer, days before the story on the book starts. Enjoy!
If you haven’t read Vignette #1, what are you waiting for?
I was rushing around my flat, pulling my jeans on while searching for my nurse uniform. It had been ages since I wore it and, quite frankly, I didn’t even think it would fit me anymore. Cisneros told me to bring it to the meeting in case Helga, Armand Sayer’s sister, wanted to see it. He said she was hard to please. I promised I would do my best.
Take the sniper rifle with you. I reminded myself as I slid inside the shoulder holster and secured my Sig Sauer in it.
Some makeup ― not too much, not too little, ― a jacket and a scarf wrapped around my neck… I shoved the uniform into a messenger bag and slung it over my left shoulder.
I hailed a taxi, gave the address to the driver, sat back and tried to relax. I’d been to Cisneros’s place multiple times, but this was something new altogether. The butterflies in my stomach said it was so.
Yeah, yeah, Ferdinand, I better not fuck this one. Blah, blah, blah.
The cabbie dropped me off in front of the gates, giving the rifle case a long hard look while I produced the notes to pay the toll.
“You don’t want to know what’s in it.” I winked at him.
His answer was to drive away as quickly as he could.
I walked up to the gate and smiled into the security camera, waving my hand sheepishly. The gate opened and I made my way through the driveway to find Ferdinand walking towards me, followed by another one of Cisneros’s henchmen, one by the name of Marco.
“Come with us, Miss Lang.” Fer grinned, welcoming me with an extended arm, ready to take my rifle case. “Mr. Cisneros is waiting for you in his study.”
Sure, sure, protocol and shit. I could walk into that house through the backdoor in the middle of the night and no one would give me any trouble. We climbed the stairs in silence and he held the door to the study open for me.
“Scarlett!” Cisneros rose from his comfy leather armchair, a scotch in one hand, a cigar in the other. “Always a pleasure to see you.”
He pulled me into one of his hugs. His, because they were the really awkward kind, the kind some men give to feel you up instead of greeting you. Ferdinand hated them. I just plain ignored it. I’ve known the man since I was a child. He was there for me when I needed him and I had always been grateful for that.
When had I needed a sly git like him? Back when I was eighteen years old and I had gotten on my grandfather’s bad side, with nowhere else to go. He gave me my first job, treated me like a real pro and kept an eye out for anyone who gave me any shit. He was like a father to me, in a dysfunctional kind of way.
“Meet Helga Sayer.” A woman with thin lips and defiant eyes stepped forward.
I tried to smile as I met her outstretched hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“The pleasure is all mine.” Her eyes traveled from my face all the way down to my feet and back. I was tempted to ask her how much I ranked after she tallied me, when Ferdinand interrupted.
Fer took my rifle and led us downstairs, to the backyard. They had set a shooting range for me. This was going to be fun!
They stood inside a bulletproof cabin and not a word was spoken as I laid my weapons on a table and took my time to set my rifle. Helga’s eyes were trained on me and I made a point out of showing her how much of a professional I was.
That’s when I saw someone jumping over the concrete wall to my far right and make a run for it behind some bushes. I didn’t think twice before I pulled the Sig and aimed it at the bush where the figure had apparently halted.
Then there was a shuffling to my right, and a masked man was running towards me, gun in hand. Two bullets whizzed past my ears as I ducked, shooting him right in the heart. The one behind the bush moved again, running towards the left side of the garden. I couldn’t see him but I could easily hear his steps on the grass, the light brushing of his boots as he shifted.
Straining my ear a bit more, I could hear his low panting.
A quick mental calculation, knowledge embedded into my subconscious, alerted me when he raised his gun to aim at me through the green thickness.
One shot. His body fell on the ground with a thud.
I trod cautiously on the grass, approaching my victim with my gun still aiming at him, even though I already knew he was dead.
He was on his back, legs bent under him, a blood-gushing hole right between the eyes.
I lowered my gun when a slow clapping rang from behind me.
“She always delivers.” Cisneros and Helga appeared at my side. “Always.”
The woman’s eyes inspected the dead man on the ground, then turned to me. I held her stare and she seemed content to find my breathing was as steady as hers.
“Come with me. We shall rehearse your interview.”
Rehearse? What the fuck?
I wrinkled my nose at Cisneros but he wasn’t looking at me.
His eyes were on Helga’s backside as she made her way back into the house. “You’re in,” he turned to me, “just go with it,” patting my shoulder before following her steps.
I walked over to the table, where Ferdinand was waiting for me.
“What the fuck was that?”
“I’ll take that for you.” He took the gun from my hand. “You better go before she changes her mind.”
“Cisneros was the one who told me to bring my rifle.”
“You were brilliant.” He was unloading my gun without looking at it, his sight on me.
“Don’t do that.”
“The smile on your face.”
He wiggled his eyebrows at me.
“Oh, grow up!” I did an about face and stepped into the house to face whatever crazy thing was in store for me.
In my first novella, The Caregiver, we follow Interpol agent Scarlett Lang through what would be the most important mission in her career so far: pose as caregiver for London’s biggest drug-lord, Armand Sayer. This vignette is about the day she was assigned the mission, days before the story on the book starts. Enjoy!
It was morning. A cold, gray London morning to be precise. I was crossing Lambeth Bridge to meet Ferdinand at the Albert Embankment. I remember how I had studied every possible map before coming here, anxious to start working in the field again…
Then I was sent to an office, filling forms and filing papers.
Fuck yeah, the Interpol agent life!
I pushed my gloved hands further into the pockets of my leather jacket, feeling the gun concealed inside, praying it wouldn’t turn into an ice cube. Thing is, I grew up in Miami, spent summers in the Caribbean or Southern Spain. Nothing as cold as this. Nothing.
I got off the bridge and turned right on Albert Embankment, down the steps, and soon enough Ferdinand’s smile came to sight. Always bright, always inviting. I often found myself dodging it as if it were throwing daggers at me.
“Scarlett.” He kissed my cheek and offered his arm to me.
“Fer.” I nodded. “I’m freezing.”
“Oh come on! You’ve been living here for how long?”
“The two most boring years of my fucking life.”
He sighed. “Let’s walk.”
So we did. I walked on his left, thinking that maybe, if things got funny, I could just push him into the water and make a run for it.
“Did anyone follow you here?” He was eyeing me out of the corner of his eye.
“You said you needed to talk to me. I don’t have all day. I have papers to file.”
“Moretti asked me to call you.”
“Moretti? He sees me every day at the office. Barking orders and making me brew his coffee.”
“Have you been in contact with Cisneros lately?”
I waited until a man jogged past us to answer that, taking my time.
They often tell you not to stay friends with your ex-boyfriends. But Ferdinand was my colleague and his ranking was higher than mine so, yeah, I was stuck with this one.
“Every time they use a sniper to kill some drug dealer I pray it wasn’t you. Then I dig up the details and see your name all over it.”
He didn’t mean that literally, of course. I knew how to do my job. In and out, quick, nothing that could be traced back to me. Then I was back to kicking the copy machine and dragging my boots on the rug, just so I could give someone a nice jolt.
“You gonna turn me in?”
“You know I won’t.”
“Are you hungry?”
“Let’s go grab a bite.” There it was again, the smile under those gleaming brown eyes. Ugh.
He liked the pub on the corner of Tinworth Street, so we went there and, to my dismay, sat at one of the tables outside.
“Tell me when my nose falls off because I won’t be able to.”
“I don’t want anyone eavesdropping on us.”
A waiter gave us the menus and I asked for a cup of coffee. Really hot coffee.
“It’ll ruin your appetite.” Ferdinand said, matter-of-factly.
“Better for me, maybe I’ll lose some weight. I should, really, I can’t carry a gun between my thighs since they rub together. There are some agents that have this huge thigh gap. One could stick an Uzi between their legs.”
He chuckled. He knew it was true. Fer never bullshitted me. I was no femme fatale, no eye candy. That’s how I liked it, though. I was a Plain Jane. I’d blend in without any difficulty.
And I wasn’t asked to fuck anyone either.
The waiter brought me a steaming cup of coffee. I took off my gloves and held it as if it was a baby chick, feeling the relief of warmth in my hands, at last. I inhaled its aroma and forgot where I was while Ferdinand ordered food for both.
“I was talking to Romulus,” he brought me back as soon as the waiter was out of sight, “we’re giving you another chance.”
“That’s very kind of you.”
“I’m being serious, Scarlett. We’ve decided to give you the Sayer mission.”
Oh. My. Fucking. God.
I had to set the cup back on the table gently. “You’re not kidding?”
“I’m not kidding. He was attacked, a single gunman surprised him as he was leaving a restaurant with his wife. Two shots to his left leg, another one to his right arm. He’s house-bound, recovering, and his sister is looking for a caregiver. It’s not just because you actually went to nursing school. She’s looking for someone that can act as a bodyguard in case anything unusual happens.”
“Aaaaand?” Something in the way he drawled on the last sentence made me think there was more to it.
“She wants someone that wouldn’t cause too much of a stir, if you know what I mean.”
Ha ha! Being the Plain Jane does pay.
“When do I start?”
“You’ll meet with his sister, Helga, tomorrow at Cisneros’s place. He’s recommending you. They’re friends.”
I picked up the coffee cup again even though I didn’t think I needed it anymore. I was going to the field again, and with no one else but Armand Sayer, London’s number-one drug lord.
“Oh,” I breathed, trying to suppress the giddy smile from my face.
“Now, Scarlett, I must warn you–”
“Here we go.” I rolled my eyes. Fer was always lecturing me. “That I better not fuck it up this time?”
“I haven’t fucked anything up. The Gibraltar mission was a fail because Cisneros couldn’t stand his ground. That deal went sour the moment we stepped out of that plane.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Neither do I.” I sipped the hot liquid, wishing now it was whiskey or something set aflame.
“What about the wife?”
“Rumor is she left. He’s alone.” He was looking at me from under his eyebrows.
“Who do you take me for?”
“You keep yourself safe, you hear me?”
His bare hand reached out for mine over the table. I set mine in his and let him squeeze it.
“I will.” I grinned, letting some of my excitement out.
Then the waiter brought our food and I tried to indulge on the flood of emotions going through my system. It had been too long since my last mission and, truth be told, there was no other place I felt more like myself than out there with my gun or my rifle aiming at a nice head, and then watching it blow up.
We wrestled for the bill and I let him win, or he’d never let it go.
“I’ll send you the details later.” He waited for me to put on my gloves, “please, be careful.”
“I always am.” His sly smile told how little he believed that. Really, who did he take me for? “Love turns people so bloody soft.”
He hugged me tight. I wrapped my arms around him, not too tight, and held still until he released me.
“Don’t fuck it.” He pointed a finger at me and gave me a peck on the lips before turning to cross the street.
How could I fuck what could be the most important mission in my entire career?, I thought as I threaded my way in opposite direction, towards Spring Gardens.
“Do you know what you’re here for?” The woman with the English accent and stern eyes was peering at me, trying hard not to squint but failing.
“I am here to care for Mr. Sayer,” my accent was half-English, half-American, which made her wince every time I spoke.
I was standing in front of her with my hands behind my back to hide the nervous trembling that threatened to take over my whole body. My nurse uniform was wrinkle-free and my hair was neatly tied in a ponytail, thanks in part to a condescending taxi driver, at whom I barked – after he winked at me – “Addison Road. And you’ll be sorry if my uniform doesn’t make it unruffled!”
“You are young.” She stirred in her seat. “Why would you want to live inside this house, caring for an old man like Mr. Sayer, twenty-four hours a day?”
She would have said ‘young and pretty’ if that was the case. No, this isn’t about self-esteem issues. She just wanted it to be that way. She wasn’t going for ‘pretty’. She wanted someone that would be serious about her work whilst causing the least disturbance in the family. Simply put, she didn’t want Mr. Sayer falling for his caregiver.
“Caring for others is my calling, and I’ll be glad to do it twenty-four hours a day for the rest of my life.” That line would’ve made me puke in a normal situation, but this was rehearsed, of course. I thought it was a waste of time, but she didn’t give a shit about what I thought. It was her little play for the man in the adjacent room.
“Very well,” the woman eyed my resume, holding it with both hands close to her eyes, “it would be nice to have someone full of life in this house for a change.”
She cleared her throat, “Armand will have the last word.”
The trembling in my hands moved to my legs when she stood up and nodded for me to follow her into Mr. Sayer’s room.
There is a typical odor in the rooms of the sick, as if death came to visit them from time to time and left its stench in its wake. However, Mr. Sayer’s room was so full of flowers that it wouldn’t smell like death even if The Reaper himself were among us.
It was dark inside, there was only light enough to see one’s way around the bed. Mr. Sayer was sitting on the bed, and the moment he tried to reach one of the curtains to open it, the woman interfered.
“No, Armand, I’ll do it for you,” she opened it only enough for us to be able to see each other’s faces, “you shouldn’t move.”
“For fuck’s sake, woman! I can move, I’m not paralyzed.”
“But you shouldn’t, Armand. And don’t talk like that, there is someone here to meet you.”
He raised himself with his hands and turned to me. I can’t deny how scared I was to have him look at me from head to toe, as if measuring me up before opening his mouth to speak.
“And you are…?” he drawled.
“Her name is Scarlett, she’ll be your new caregiver.”
“Oh,” he cocked an eyebrow towards me with a sarcastic smile, “welcome.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Now, now, Armand, you must rest. I have to go fetch your meds and run some errands. Will you start today, Scarlett?”
“Yes, I’m ready to start today.”
“Good. Let me show you to your room. Follow me.”
We went into the next room, but even as she showed me around and explained things to me, I didn’t see anything. My mind was running so fast I couldn’t concentrate. My attention snapped back abruptly when she asked me if I was all right.
“Excited to be here, that is all.”
She closed the door to what would be my private bathroom.
“You can stay here while I’m out. Today is George’s free day – he’s the butler – so if you need anything, go ahead and help yourself.”
Butler? I think he’d be insulted if he heard her call him ‘the butler.’
“You can call me Helga,” the stern façade had melted away and was giving way to a friendlier one, one that smiled before shutting the door behind her.
Alone at last, I gave a quick look around the room before going back to Mr. Sayer’s.
When I stepped into his room I noticed he had rolled to one side and pulled the blanket up to his ears.
“Is she gone?” he asked from his hiding place.
“Yes, sir, she’s gone.”
He pushed the blanket off, kicked it to the feet of the bed, and sat on the edge.
“But, Mr. Sayer, you shouldn’t be up…” I went to him but he stopped me, holding out his hand.
“What did she tell you?”
“What were the instructions she gave you?”
“That you needed twenty-four-hour care because of your condition.”
“And what is this condition of mine?”
“You were shot thrice during a violent assault.”
“I was shot twice in my left leg and once in my right arm, yes. However,” he paused before proceeding, “that was over a month ago. I’m fine, I don’t need to rest so much, I should be out there having a stroll, for god’s sake! And these curtains…”
Before he was finished I was on my toes opening all the curtains and letting the room flood with light. He breathed in deeply, as if to smell the aroma of pure sunlight for the first time.
“What was your name again?”
“Scarlett, sir. And I must tell you I’m more forgiving than your wife.”
“She’s not my wife, she’s my sister.”
“Oh,” I breathed, letting some fake amusement slip through my parted lips. I already knew all about him, long before I applied for this job.
“I need to make some phone calls, if you’ll excuse me.” He got on his feet, stretched his back, and started for the door with a very noticeable limp. “Also,” he stopped at the threshold, “can you do something about the flowers? I’m neither sick nor dead.”
“I’ll do something about them.”
“You can burn them for all I care…” he turned away, then back to me, “just don’t get rid of all of them at the same time. Helga will notice and you’ve seen how she is.”
“Yes, sir, I’ll be disposing of them one at a time.”
He turned to exit but paused again. “Burning them isn’t practical either. The neighbors will notice…”
“It’s OK, Mr. Sayer. I’ll take care of everything.”
He nodded, grinned, and left the room.
I was left on my own in a room filled with so much sunlight and flowers it looked more like a garden than a bedroom. As I picked out some of the smaller arrangements to be thrown out, I started pondering about Mr. Sayer – hair completely gray, in his late sixties, tall, handsome – and I wondered if there were business cards in his office that read: