To be honest, I had only met the girl twice before. The last time we were together, she accidentally poisoned me and then tried to murder a guy with a sniper rifle. A date like that tends to leave an impression. Plus, she was pretty and smart, which is a big bonus regardless of how often a person may be involved in lethal criminal activities. Though certainly ill-advised, I found myself head over heels for her. And so, with Valentine’s Day fast approaching, I wanted to do something to impress her.
The Perfect(ly Expensive) Gift
Godiva chocolates are both elegant and delicious – a fitting combination for that special, if possibly psychopathic, lady in your life. Their special Valentine’s Day themed 36-piece box is sure to impress and – holy shit, wait a second, is this thing fifty dollars?! My God, that’s $1.40 per chocolate! There’s no way these can be that good, can they?
I briefly considered just going with some good old fashioned See’s, but then decided against it. Melanie was worth it. After all, Valentine’s Day is not about how much you pay for something, but the fact that you’re willing to pay it. So, a hefty credit charge and some prompt shipping later, I had the lovely, red ribbon-adorned Godiva Gold Ballotin in my possession.
The only thing left to do now was find Melanie. Sure, it was still a couple days until Valentine’s Day, but I just couldn’t contain myself. I wanted to see her again, even if she was a violently unstable potential murderer.
I headed out to the Target store a couple miles from my house where I had first met her. She worked there part time, I’m assuming, when she wasn’t out trying to kill people. I walked the perimeter of the store without catching a glimpse of her. Eventually, I asked a guy in red and khaki if he could help me find her.
“There’s nobody who works here named Melanie.” He said. Then he frowned thoughtfully for a moment. “My Grandma on my dad’s side’s name is Melanie, though. You can give her a call if you want. Certainly take the burden off me for a little while.”
The police were no help either. Since she and I had filed a police report together, I knew that they had her on record. However, I was met with nothing but stony-eyed suspicion, so I moved on.
Lastly, I went back to the TGI Fridays where Melanie and I had met for dinner a month or so ago to see if they could give me any information about her. Problem was that it turns out they were looking for the same thing from me. I decided to scoot out of there when they started going on about “legal action” and “financial and moral compensation.”
Finding That Special Someone
So I wandered around downtown for a while, box of expensive Godiva chocolates in hand and no lead in mind. As cliché as it sounds, I had just been about to resolve myself to defeat when my phone rang. I retrieved it from my pocket. Restricted number. Since only positive things have ever come from answering a restricted caller, I slid my thumb across the screen and put the phone to my ear.
I had gotten to about “Hell-” in my greeting when a serious sounding female voice barked at me from across the line.
“What are you doing, Kevin.” It didn’t exactly sound like a question.
I stopped walking and looked around instinctively. I said, “Melanie? Is this you? How’d you get my number? Wait, I mean ‘hi’! How are you?”
“Cut the crap. What are you doing?”
“I, uh, was looking for you actually. You weren’t at Target or TGI Fridays, so I wound up kind of just listing aimlessly.”
“Well what a coincidence,” she said. “I’ve been looking for you too.”
“Oh really?” I said brightly. “Isn’t that nice!” I looked around. Other than the buildings around me, there wasn’t much to see. “Well I’ve found myself in an alley behind Safeway now. Where are you?”
“I know, Kevin. Maybe don’t worry about where I am.”
I frowned. “Well how is it that you can see me, but I can’t see – oh God.” I froze completely, my only movement the panicked spluttering of my lips: “You’re looking at me through a sniper rifle, aren’t you?”
She answered far too quickly for my liking. “Yes.”
This girl has a thing for sniping, you know.
My fingers drummed on the back of my phone. “Ha ha, you’re not going to shoot me, are you?”
“Oh God, are you?!”
I spun around in probably like five circles, scanning my surroundings. It was then that I realized what a horrible situation I had placed myself into. I was alone, in an alleyway, with buildings all around me. She could be sitting on anyone of them. Or hell, even on one of the banking towers a mile away. I was closed off on the street level, but not from any number of bird’s-eye perches around me.
“Melanie, what the hell is this about? I… I thought we had a special thing going!” I waved the chocolates around. “I mean, it’s almost Valentine’s Day and stuff!”
“This isn’t something I wanted to have to do, Kevin.”
My only real route out of the alley was a couple hundred feet behind me and I was wide open. If I took off running she’d put a bullet in my brain before I’d taken a second step. Only thing I could do now was try to stall for time.
“Okay,” I said. “Come on now Melanie, we can work this out. We can talk about this.”
And that’s when, out of nowhere, I was knocked to the ground by what seemed like the equivalent of two professional linebackers and a freight train. The phone and chocolate box fell from my hands and landed some distance away.
So this is how being shot feels, I thought.
However, a moment passed in which I noticed that I was somehow still alive. Though my spatial position had suddenly taken a wholly ground-level perspective, I was still afforded the ability to look down at my body. Surprisingly, I found that I did not have the telltale gaping hole in my chest indicative of a high caliber rifle round. Instead, however, I was in the meaty clutches of a very angry looking bull of a man.
Which presented its own set of problems.
Unwanted Gentlemen Callers
“Hello Kevin,” said Fork the thug. “So good to see you again!”
Even if I’d had the time to respond, I wouldn’t have been able to. Simply put, Fork was somebody I had hoped to never see again, even though I really only knew three things about him:
- He had shown up on my doorstep one night (with Melanie, I might add) and nearly burnt my house down.
- He called himself Fork because of his self-professed propensity to murder people with various bits of dinner cutlery.
- He very much liked to punch me.
Fork drove his giant fist into my gut so hard that it burst the appendix I’d had removed years ago. I tried to scream or gasp or something, but at first nothing but spittle trickled out of me. Then I spotted my phone where it had fallen to the ground and hoped against hope that it was still connected.
I managed to croak out, “Melanie! Help, maybe?”
Fork recoiled. “Mel…?” his words trailed off into a look of mild panic. Wild eyed, he spun toward his partner. “Chad! Up against the wall, now!”
Fork pulled me to my feet, grabbing the phone off the ground as we went. His arm, thicker than a python, wrapped around my neck and held me in place in front of him. I floundered a little, but his grip was unbreakable. He slammed up against the side of a building, underneath the imperfect protection of a fire escape. Fork’s equally gargantuan partner Chad flattened himself next to us.
Oh Christ, he was using me as his meat shield.
Fork spoke into my phone with a far too cheerful demeanor. “Well, well, Miss Melanie the sharpshooter! To what do I owe the pleasure? Let me guess, it has something to do with our mutual friend Kevin here, doesn’t it?”
Since Fork’s head was so close to mine, I could hear Melanie’s tinny voice coming out of the phone. It did not sound very pleasant.
“Let him go Fork, you inbred gorilla! He’s my mark!”
Fork scoffed “Oh, is that why you two were having a pleasant conversion prior to our interruption? What were you planning to do, Melanie, talk him to death?”
“Women!” said Chad with an obligatory eye roll.
They laughed and high-fived.
Melanie said, “You’re pretty cocky for someone who’s about to get a bullet between the eyes.”
“Easy there, Chris Kyle. You’re not a good enough shot to guarantee you’ll hit me; we both know that. And you wouldn’t actually want to hurt little Kevin here, would you?”
“Wait,” I said. “None of this really makes any sense.”
“So I’ll shoot Chad,” she said. “He’s wide open.”
Fork shrugged. “You shoot Chad, I shoot Kevin. Not exactly an ideal outcome, is it?”
“Will one of you please tell me why everyone wants to kill me!” I shouted.
Melanie said, “Kevin, you remember Warner Dawson, right?”
“Yeah, that’s the guy you shot on our second date! What about him?”
“Our what? Jesus, Kevin, we are not even close to dating! Listen, some time ago Warner Dawson paid us to kill you. Fork, Chad, and I. For reasons of my own, I chose not to. I even tried to assassinate Dawson instead, but you helped me to fuck that up. Recently, he contacted me to inform me that our original contract still stands. I’m assuming that he told the same thing to Assholes One and Two here as well.” She let out a long sigh. “I’m down to my only option here, Kevin. This is the one way I can get my life back. I’m sorry, I really am.”
“But I don’t understand! What did I do to get someone to want to kill me?! I’m just an idiot product reviewer for a website no one reads!”
Fork breathed hot malice into my ear. “Trust me, dipshit. You don’t wind up on the wrong side of Warner Dawson without fucking up big time. But it ain’t my job to imagine what you did. All I know is whoever brings back your severed head gets a full pardon. And also probably paid, finally. So that’s gonna be us, goddamn it!”
“Right,” said Melanie. “Explain to me how this situation plays out in your favor, Fork. The guy you’re using as a human shield is the very person that we all want dead. What sort of leverage does that give you? I might take out Harper any second now, and then where would that leave you and your dipshit buddy? The only reason any of you are still breathing is because I am in control of this situation.”
Fork laughed, his chest thundering into me like an airbag. He adjusted his grip around my neck, but it didn’t make any difference. He could have pinched me between his thumb and forefinger and I still would have been utterly immobilized.
He said, “Then why haven’t you done it, huh? As flattering as it is to think that maybe you just like hearing the sound of my voice, I can’t imagine that’s the reason you haven’t shot us yet.”
His voice sounded like a hippo vomiting gravel, so I quite doubted that was the case.
Fork continued, “You know what I think? I think you aren’t going to kill him after all. Otherwise you’d have done it by now. No, you’ve got a little soft spot for the guy, I can tell.”
He shook me roughly, giving me a little pat on the chest that threatened to cave in my sternum.
Melanie’s voice crackled through the phone. “I’m sorry that cold-blooded murder doesn’t get me as wet as it does you, Fork. Now here’s the proposition: I deal with Kevin on my own terms. You turn around, walk away right now and you get to keep breathing for at least another day.”
Fork let out a little, “Tsk, tsk,” and shook his head slowly. I could hear the bones in his neck grinding against each other. “And what sort of assurance do we have that you’ll keep your word? You haven’t exactly proven that you’re trustworthy, Melanie. No, here’s my counter-offer: We’re going to take Kevin away now, and once I’ve deemed that we are sufficiently out of your sight, I’m going to reach inside of his stomach, pull out whatever he ate for breakfast this morning, and choke him to death with it.”
I protested by shouting something unintelligible but clearly exclamatory.
Fork contracted his muscles around my neck and I fell silent. He continued, “You’ll do your part by simply letting us walk away, Melanie. Then we tell Warner Dawson that it was a group effort, and all is forgiven. We’re back in the fold. Working together again, just like old times. What do you say to that?”
Nothing. Melanie was completely silent.
The Simple Magic of Chocolate
Fork nodded to Chad and started pushing me forward. “All right, Kevin, go ahead and let your life flash before your eyes. Time to go.”
“Hey wait a second!” I screeched, vainly attempting to dig my heels in. “Let’s not get too crazy here! I feel like now would be a wonderful time for us all to stop fighting and enjoy some delicious Godiva chocolates together. They’re decadently creamy and-”
“Kevin, shut the hell up or else I’m going to be tempted to jeopardize my own safety to kill you right now.”
His huge mass pushed me forward. There was nothing I could do to stop it. Fork and Chad scanned the rooftops around them, but still Melanie had not revealed herself. I looked around, desperate for something that could prove my salvation. Instead, my gaze settled upon the golden box of chocolates laying in a pothole ahead of us. As we moved forward, my foot kicked it. Then I came up with one of the least helpful ideas imaginable. But goddamn, it wasn’t like I had any other options at my disposal.
“Fork,” Melanie said. She trailed off.
I had the box now, the tip of my foot nudged just underneath it. A little closer…
“Listen, Melanie,” Fork said. “I’ll make it as quick as possible for him, okay? Just to ease your conscience. He probably won’t even feel some of it.”
I let my body drop, my weight supported solely by the grip of the behemoth’s bicep around my neck. My windpipe protested immediately, but I ignored it in order to focus on something far stupider. I threw my other leg out and clamped the box of chocolates between my feet. Then, with all the grace of a pathetic gymnast, I flung my legs up and released the box into the air.
The box came apart and the contents of it spilled out around us. Perhaps the only thing that saved me from Fork’s immediate retaliation was that one of the chocolates – probably some kind of praline – struck him right in the eye. In the split second that he flinched, I managed to slip my head out of his sweaty arms and break partially free.
It was there, in that moment of flight and confusion, that my eyes fell upon Chad.
Huge, burly and tough, Chad had found himself rendered infantile by the little pieces of sugary temptation flying past his face. As if gripped by pure instinct, his hands flew out to grab at the candy spinning through the air. His face, though certainly hardened by years of hardship and brutality, lit up with a smile that spoke to whatever small spark of goodness still lay inside him. It truly was a testament to the little moment of delight and wonder that a simple bit of candy can inspire. Chad the hitman’s forgotten innocence surfaced, even if just for a moment, and he was a boy in a sweet shop again, fumbling for a piece of elegant chocolate.
Then a .50 caliber bullet struck him right in the chest and his entire torso exploded.
Love Can Be Messy
The sound of the gunshot, delayed due to what seemed likely a considerable distance, struck me at the exact same moment the first wave of blood did. I staggered backwards, looking like I’d just been slimed on the most fucked up Nickelodeon show ever. I spit Chad’s goopy insides out of my mouth as his body did a sort of pirouette of flailing death. His arms flew away from the rest of him, each limb trailing its own fountain of gore. What was left of him splattered onto the ground, finally still aside from the fluid dynamics that kept his blood running across the pavement.
Fork, only a few feet away, stood baffled by the sheer horror of it all. One minute he was getting poked in the eye by the rogue flight of a piece of candy, and the next watching his partner in crime being reduced to naught but pulp before him. A sound of pure anguish wrenched itself from Fork’s lips, clawing its way out into the world and reverberating off every surface with a kind of unfiltered, raw emotion that didn’t seem like it could be created by a man like him. He flung himself toward Chad’s remains, but stopped when he likely realized that there was absolutely nothing that could be done for him.
So it was that his gaze hardened irrevocably and he turned, his hand emerging from his coat and producing a pistol of his own. It was no sniper rifle, but on the likes of me it would be more than sufficient to fulfill its lethal purpose. As the barrel of the gun centered perfectly in my vision, inches from my eyeball, I briefly thought about God. It was the first time in years, though at the moment I could hardly afford more than a cursory, “Oh yeah, you probably exist, don’t you?” before another gunshot rang out.
Somehow, it seemed like Fork had been screaming even before Melanie shot off his hand. Who knows, maybe he had. It’s hard to recall separated from the heat of the moment.
Speaking of separated, the sinewy mash of Fork’s hand landed upon the ground, the shattered, mostly unrecognizable pieces of his gun on top of it. He shouted vague obscenities at the space from his left elbow down where there used to be more of him. His entire body shook wildly and his good hand clenched over and over again, which I thought was a little showy of it, given what had just happened to its brethren.
There was a little ding of metal that did not really register in either of our minds until it was followed by the sound of yet another rifle shot. This one missed, but it got Fork’s attention. With speed I would not have expected from a man his size, nor one losing the amount of blood he currently was, Fork took off down the alleyway. Melanie fired two more shots, but both of them thudded murderlessly into the pavement. Fork was gone.
“Holy mother of Hell,” I said. I managed to tear my gaze away from Chad’s mangled corpse and plucked my phone up. I put it to my ear. “Thank you,” I found myself saying despite the fact that I was drenched in blood. “For saving me.”
Melanie said, “Yeah. Wouldn’t want them to kill you, huh?”
Something about the way she emphasized the word “them” sent a slight chill through my body. I looked around. Nothing. Not even a hint of her.
I let out a nervous laugh. “You know, I still have no idea where you are.”
“That’s for the best, I think.”
“Okay,” I said. “Hey, uh, I’m going to leave now, okay? I’m sort of covered in dead guy juice and I don’t exactly know how to explain this to the authorities.”
I took a step. Two. Then she spoke.
“Kevin,” she said. “I’m going to need you to stop moving.”
The breath caught in my throat. I stood very, very still. “You’ve still got the gun on me, don’t you?”
There was a long pause. “Yes.”
Holy hell. She was still thinking about assassinating me.
Love May or May Not Conquer All
I fought to keep my voice calm. “So. What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know, Kevin. I really don’t.”
What followed was one of the most tense silences I have ever experienced. I just stood there stupidly, unable to form any words that possibly could have saved myself. Every impulse in my brain shouted at me to cry, grovel, and beg to be spared, but somehow I knew that wouldn’t work. Melanie certainly offered no comfort either.
She hadn’t shot me yet, though, which I took to be a good sign.
Eventually, I put my hands out. “I’m just going to bend down, okay? Pick these chocolates up off the ground.”
No response. I took that as an affirmation.
Slowly, methodically, I gathered up each and every piece of chocolate. Wiped the little bits of dirt and blood and street grime off onto my pants. Placed them back into their grimy box in a twisted imitation of the splendid arrangement they had come in. I fetched the lid out of the puddle it had fallen into and placed it over the box. The pretty faux-rose ribbon, once bushy and proud atop its rectangular throne, now sagged in the face of real hardship.
I put on what I hoped was a sheepish yet endearing grin and held the box out in a random direction. Maybe I was pointing it toward Melanie. Maybe not. I shook it a little to hear the pieces rattle around inside, because that is what I had always done with every other box of chocolate I’d held.
I said, “I bought these for you, you know. That’s why I was trying to find you. Though you’re probably not going to let me hand them to you now, huh?”
That elicited a dry chuckle. “Probably not. Tell you what, why don’t you try one of them. Tell me how it is. That’ll be a good enough present for me.”
I pulled the lid off the box and nestled its base underneath it. I sat down cross legged on the pavement, the box of chocolates balanced on my lap. I noted, with a strange sort of detachment, that my head had not yet been turned into a long-range Gallagher routine. Somehow I managed to steady my hands enough to grab a piece out of the box. I popped it into my mouth.
“This one’s shaped like a heart,” I said. “White chocolate. Got a nice center. Tastes a bit nougaty. I think you’d like it, Melanie.”
I didn’t get an answer. The wind swirled through the alley, the scent of trash and carnage stirred fresh by it. The blood splattered across my skin was beginning to crust over. In the distance came sirens. They would be here shortly, though perhaps not soon enough for me.
I bit into another chocolate. Then another after that. I babbled on and on about every detail – their shape, texture, and taste. Melanie said nothing the entire time. Not a peep.
I thought about posing all sorts of questions. I could have asked why there was a bounty on my head in the first place. I could have asked why hadn’t she already killed me the other times we’d met. I could have asked for the specifics of the internal dilemma that she seemed to be wrestling with now. But I didn’t put voice to any of these. Instead, I just kept describing chocolates to her and hoped it would be enough.
Godiva Chocolates Valentine’s Day Gold Ballotin: I ate the entire box.