Short-short #2: Establishing Shot

The café is small and non-descript, on the first floor of a faux brownstone in the faceless part of Greenwich Village. A railroad space with access to the backyard, also small, where an old greenhouse roof with most of the roof panels missing, offers a quiet refuge from the outside world. The cuisine is South Asian, as is the staff, and the portions are generous.

He meets prospective clients here because it’s both convenient and remote, and the laid-back atmosphere is disarming. Considering his line of work, that last point is important.

Almost every first meeting starts the same, and within 5-10 minutes they go in one of two directions: either they change their minds, or he has a new client and for the next 60 days he’ll become someone new (and untraceable), and on the 60th day, someone will die prematurely.

Always a single target — he’s “a professional, not a terrorist” — and never too high-profile nor petty. In terms of risk:reward, he tended to favor living modestly, opting for the easy bets.

Five minutes of small talk can reveal a lot about a person, especially when someone is manipulating the conversation. Whether the topic was current events, the odds of a Mets World Series Championship repeat, or the future of space exploration (perhaps his most fascinating client), he followed their lead, noting the body language, the eye contact (or lack thereof; another fascinating client), the use and/or avoidance of certain words.

Blank stares and dry palms were red flags, as was the lack of any emotion at all.

To his knowledge, he’d never been tested by a cop, but he was always aware of the possibility and trusted his instincts enough to cut bait at the slightest smell of a setup. He may have turned away a few legitimate jobs over the past three years, but surprisingly enough, there was no shortage of people looking to pay someone to do their dirty work for them.

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