Reversing direction abruptly, she walked right up to the snake.
His eyes got very wide.
Three handclaps, not that different from the sound of his feet on the steps. Three small black holes appeared on his forehead, like stigmata.
He gaped at her, turned white, fell.
She fired five more shots into him as he lay there. Three in the chest, two in the groin. Per the client’s request.
Placing the gun back in the bag, she rushed toward Zoe. But the baby was already up, in Doug’s arms. And quiet. Doug always had that effect upon Zoe. The books said that was common, fathers often did.
“Hey,” he said, kissing Zoe, then Karen. “You let him hit you. I was almost going to move in.”
It’s fine,” said Karen, touching her cheek. The skin felt hot and welts were starting to rise. “Nothing some makeup won’t handle.”
Still,” said Doug. “You know how I love your skin.”
“I’m okay, honey.”
He kissed her again, nuzzled Zoe. “That was a little intense, no? And poor little kiddie–I really don’t think we should take her along on business.”
He picked up the denim bag. Karen felt light–not just because her hands were empty. That special sense of lightness that marked the end of a project.
“You’re right,” said Karen as the three of them began walking out of the park. “She is getting older, we don’t want to traumatize her. But I don’t think this’ll freak her out too bad. The stuff kids see on TV nowadays, right? If she ever asks we’ll say it was TV.”
“Guess so,” said Doug. “You’re the mom, but I never liked it.”
A bit of sun came down through the thick trees, highlighting his black curls. And Zoe’s. One beautiful tiny head tucked into a beautiful big one.
“It worked,” said Karen.
Doug laughed. “That it did. Everything go smoothly?”
“As silk.” Karen kissed them both again. “Little Peach was great. The only reason she was crying is she was having so much fun throwing food in the restaurant and didn’t want to leave. And the eh-eh worked perfectly. She threw the rattle, gave me a perfect chance to get close to the jerk.”
Doug nodded and looked over his shoulder at the body lying across the pathway.
“The Viper,” he said, laughing softly. “Not exactly big game.”
“More like a worm,” said Karen.
Doug laughed again, then turned serious. “You’re sure he didn’t hit you hard? I love your skin.”
“I’m fine, baby. Not to worry.”
“I always worry, babe. That’s why I’m alive.”
“Me too. You know that.”
“Sometimes I wonder.”
“Hey,” said Doug. “It’s just that I love your skin, right?” A moment passed. “Love you.”
“Love you too.”
A few steps later, he said, “When I saw him hit you, babe– the second time–I could actually hear it from the bushes. Your head swiveled hard and I thought uh-oh. I was ready to come out and finish it myself. Came this close. But I knew it would tick you off. Still, it was a little… anxiety-provoking.”
“You did the right thing.”
He shrugged. Karen felt so much love for him she wanted to shout it to the world.
“Thanks, babe,” she said, touching his earlobe. “For being there and for not doing anything.”
He nodded again. Then he said it:
“The things we do for love.”
His beautiful face relaxed.
A rock. Thank God he’d let her go all the way by herself. First project since the baby and she’d needed to get back into the swing.
Zoe was sleeping now, fat cheeks pillowing out on Doug’s broad shoulder, eyes closed, the black lashes long and curving.
They grew up so fast.
Soon, before you knew it, the little pudding would be in preschool and Karen would have more time on her hands
Maybe one day they’d have another baby.
But not right away. She had her career to consider.