The Package

It was not for nothing he had decided to stay. He had risked a lot in this high-stakes game, and now was the time when he finally found out if all his efforts had paid off. He sat, as he did most every day, in the middle of a crowded cafe. He did not smoke, but everyone around him did, so his lungs reacted with each puff of smoke that was blown his way as if it were he who was holding the glowing cylinder in his mouth. He had grown accustomed to the smoke, and he even had a smoker's metabolism, keeping him looking thin and fit, even as his hair became increasingly grayer. The keen observer would note these contradictions and put his age at around 40.

The man waited impatiently, drumming the fingers of his left hand on the table while the fingers on his right were curled around a cup of now-cold Earl Grey tea. Sipping it, he picked up a pen and wrote a line in the notebook he habitually carried with him: "Note to self- never trust Sam again."

He hurriedly closed the notebook as the very man he had just written about appeared, dressed in a black trenchcoat, looking decidedly out-of-place in the tourist-clogged cafe. "Hi Sam," the man seated at the table said, as Sam joined him.

"You could not have perhaps chosen a less conspicuous place to meet?" Sam spoke in flawless English, but with a strong French accent.

"Do you have it?" he asked of Sam, a little too loudly.

"Quiet down, my friend. People are beginning to stare. I think my friend has taken a little too much 'flavor' in his tea," he explained to the curious on-lookers.

"Sam, what is this all about? You know I don't drink!" whispered the man urgently.

"It is too crowded here. Allons-y." The man threw a few euros on the table and followed Sam down several small streets. "Here we can talk and no one will be wanting to listen." Sam paused in front of a bar before entering. He greeted the bartender with, "The usual." Sam turned to his companion, whose face was pale and whose hands were shaking. "Something for you?"

The man said nothing, only stared at Sam and looked around the bar as if watching out for an attack.

"He will take a scotch and soda, hold the scotch." The bartender turned away and busied himself with glasses and bottles.

Sam turned back to the man. "Now."

His tongue had finally loosened. "Do you have it?" he asked once again. Sam was about to speak, but fell quiet as the bartender returned with their drinks, which he plunked down on the bar in front of them.

"Pay now," he croaked.

"Put it on my tab. His too," Sam said, pointing to the man standing next to him. "You know that I am good for it." He motioned to the man, and they picked up their glasses and moved to a corner table.

"Do you have it?" The man had begun to sound like the oft-quoted broken record.

Finally, Sam answered, "Yes-" and at this the man breathed a sigh of relief, but Sam wasn't done, "-but not here."

"What? What do you mean, not here? That was part of the agreement, that you'd have it for me now!"

"I do have it now. I only do not have it here. Too noticeable. People would notice if I carried something like that around."

"Then let's go get it!" The man was even more impatient, eager to get what he now knew was his.

"When we have finished with our drinks. Come on, bottoms up," he urged, using an expression he had picked up from his American friend.

Reluctantly, the man obliged, and soon they were done. "Well, where is it, then?"

"At my apartment. With the others. Yours is marked with black. I hope you have your payment; if you do not, she will not give it to you."

"What? We agreed that since I made the arrangements, I wouldn't have to pay!"

"Things change, my friend."

"No! I won't pay! We all agreed. I was the one that risked the most for this!"

Sam shrugged. "We will see." The two men left their empty glasses on the table and headed out the door, down the street, and into a dingy apartment building that matched its neighborhood. Climbing the metal stairs, Sam pulled out a key and unlocked a door on the first floor. Upon entering, the woman whom Sam had spoken of blocked them from entering further. She was a large woman who gave off an aura of importance and power, and upon seeing her, the man gave a small almost inaudible squeak of fear.

"Bonjour," Sam said. The tone in his voice seemed to indicate an uneasy truce between them.

She ignored Sam and greeted the man with, "Here's yours. Black." Taking a step back to allow them into the apartment, she put the thing for which the man had been waiting into his hands.

He gazed down lovingly at the little puppy he held, black ribbon around its neck, the product of much careful breeding that the man had arranged.

"Oh, and one more thing," Sam said, his face breaking into a smile for the first time the man had ever seen, "Happy birthday."

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