The phone in Ray’s pocket lights up, and he pulls it out.
Target approaching – 2 minutes.
He crouches deeper into the potted plant on the balcony he’s commandeered for this purpose. One of those weird c-shaped balconies you only find on big chain hotels, usually facing the pool. This one’s in a corner, so it’s a little misshapen and thus a perfect hiding place.
Below him, people in swimsuits lounge on folding chairs, borrowed towels, and in the human stew of the spa. A group of people in elaborate costumes pose on the decorative bridge while others take pictures. Some kind of sci-fi convention going on, apparently. Damn geeks.
His target isn’t with the swimmers or the costumed lunatics, so he turns his scope away from them to scan the other areas.
A young man, sitting on a rattan chair in the shade. He’s talking on his phone. He puts it away and his head drops into his hands.
Ray scans the rest of the pool area. The geeks show no signs of departing, in fact, more are joining them. And the young man is getting up to leave, tears smearing his face.
Normally Ray doesn’t think too hard about who his target is, but nothing about this scenario is adding up. A daylight kill in a public space? No easy escape route? Hell, this gun doesn’t even have the right kind of rounds for a discreet kill.
The whole thing reeks, frankly, and for a moment Ray considers just bagging the mission and skipping town.
But then the young man looks up at his hiding place. Straight into Ray’s eyes.
He takes his finger off the trigger, and lowers the gun.
They meet in the lobby.
“Why?” the young man asks.
“I don’t know,” Ray admits. “I just do what I’m told.”
“Yeah, I know that feeling.” The young man laughs, but it’s a wrung-out sound, like he doesn’t quite mean it. “My life kinda fell apart this last week.”
“Tell me about it.”
The young man looks Ray up and down. Sees the bug-out bag and the black sunglasses. “Take off your shades.”
“You’re here to kill me, and you wanna talk feelings. Least you can do is show me your face.”
They come off.
Ray stares at his target. A lean, almost feminine man, the kind of man that Ray would’ve beaten up in high school. The kind of man who could eat everything and never put on a pound.
The thought of eating makes Ray’s stomach twist.
“Listen,” he says. “I was up that balcony for a long time, and I’m fucking starving.”
The young man picks up a scrap of ribbon from the sidewalk, presumably abandoned by one of the other guests. One side is cut in little zig-zags, like those big scissors everyone’s grandmother seemed to have back in the day.
“These fucking things are all over the place,” he says, tossing it aside.
“Yeah. Everyone here is wearing big strings of them, I dunno. I guess it’s a game geeks play, or something. Anyway.”
“I’m really not too hungry right now,” the young man says. “I mean…” his eyes drift back to Ray’s bag, “I wasn’t really thinking about my last meal, you know?”
Ray sighs. “You don’t have to eat. Just talk.”
“What, you want me to ease your conscience before you blow my brains out? Help you live with your decision?”
“Then what do you want?”
Ray turns, jerks his thumb towards the sliding glass doors of the lobby. “I want to go in there. I want to order the biggest, stupidest dessert they have, and I want to know what’s so bad in your life that you’re still standing here with me instead of running away with a load in your pants.”
The young man nods. “All right.”
2 hours later
Andrew is sitting on the front patio of the hotel, watching the rented cars go by. Waiting.
He still doesn’t know if he’s marked, if Ray had friends, if this whole cake-and-catharsis thing was just some psychological ploy to get him to stay right here on this exact spot, waiting for the yelp of a silencer, for the bullet. But the only sounds are coming from the nerds and the taxis.
Someone next to him leans over the railing and tosses handfuls of small fluttering things to the people below before running away, laughing.
One of them lands at Andrew’s feet, and he picks it up. It’s another one of those ribbon things. It’s sticky on one side, and on the other it reads “Cake or Death?”
Andrew starts to laugh.
This was a Terrible Minds challenge, inspired by the title “They Sat Outside Eating Cake” and the LAX Marriott.