It was almost impossible to hear the music over the din of conversation and dancing. He sat, sipping his whiskey, absorbing the spectacle of the crowd while remaining apart from it. The atmosphere of people drinking to forget, or drinking to get up the courage to ask someone to spend the night, or just drinking… It never grew tiring. It was life in the raw; he could never get bored with it.
He could not fully enjoy it, however. Someone would come along, and it did not take long before he arrived. The newcomer resembled him: They both appeared to be in their late thirties or early forties, and both dressed in a similar nondescript fashion. Neither man wanted to draw attention.
He gestured for the newcomer to sit across from him. “I’ve been expecting you.”
“Of course you have. You’ve made no secret about your intention.”
“She broke the rules. You know as well as I do what must be done. And I did warn you not to get involved with her. It is safer if we stay apart from such entanglements. Even with each other.”
“I won’t let you kill her.”
“If not me, someone else will. At least I will make it as painless as I can.”
He took another sip of whiskey.
“Damn you. You can’t do this.”
He put his glass down and thrust a finger at the other sitting across from him. “I can. And I will. It has to be done. She puts us all at risk with her behavior. And if you try to stop me, you will suffer the same fate. I will not let her – or you – threaten the lives we have worked so hard for. We all agreed to these rules for our own protection. She threatens to bring unwelcome scrutiny down on all of us. I WILL put an end to her!”
He sat back in his chair, exhausted. Anger was one of the many emotions he had learned to suppress. It drained away too much energy. Letting even a little of it out left him feeling closer to death than he liked.
The other looked chastened for a moment before a steely resolve returned to his eyes. “I will kill you before I let you kill her.”
“You are welcome to try.” His practiced calm had reasserted itself.
“Is that why you are here, to give you enough witnesses that I won’t try anything?”
He replied by taking another sip.
“How do you know I won’t do it anyway? Why should I care about the stupid rules if you are going to use them to kill her?”
“I think you still care about your own existence too much to throw it away on a meaningless gesture. You know killing me won’t change anything.”
The other stood up with enough force to knock his chair backwards. “That might not be true for much longer.”
He just shrugged. The other stormed off. He would have to do it soon, before this situation got any more volatile. But it could wait a bit longer. He sat back and tried to enjoy the energy around him.