Happy in My Skin
A short story. Why? Because I got up early and couldn't get back to sleep.
‘Happy in My Skin.’
‘I’m happy in my skin.’
I didn’t think he was.
I could do something about that.
It would just take a sharp knife, some restraining and a little time.
A pity it wouldn’t be that way.
The lecturer stands back from the lectern. His dandruff visible on his black velvet jacket. A snowstorm that demands an industrial plough. His smile, grey, crooked, two teeth missing – is one of satisfaction. The PowerPoint slide behind him has a happy, yellow face floating above copy with two typos, the record, four slides back, had been nine. He half expects a round of applause. What he gets is the shuffling of bodies escaping. It’s Friday. The lecture was pencilled to finish at four thirty. It’s now ten minutes after five. The weekend has officially started.
I drop my note pad into my bag. Most of those in front of me pack away MacBooks, Surfaces or cheaper laptops. I’m old school. Pen, paper and a spare pen. I stretch, yawn and fart. In parallel, not sequence. A fellow student makes her feelings clear. That makes two of us.
Closing my eyes, I wait for the place to empty. There’s no burning bridge in my life that dictates a need to be anywhere else but here. An ice cold, one bedroom, ground floor flat awaits. It’s warmer here. It’s warmer on a penguin’s foot. The flat, a short-term rental, lies a forty-minute walk away. The rain, bouncing off the lecture hall windows, isn’t great news. Three-year-old canvas Vans, charity shop sports jacket, ASDA jeans. The only thing waterproof is the Co-Op plastic bag my note pad sits in. It will make a good rain hat at a push.
The lecturer begins gathering his stuff. I listen as he collects, bags and messes around. I start dreaming. A week in Spain. Five-star hotel. Spending money in my pocket. Restaurants, sun, booze and maybe a late-night dance or two. The cost? Three grand. Exactly the going rate for offing the lecturer. I’m mentally booking the flights when the lecturer shouts at me.
‘Are you staying all night?’
Time to get to work.
‘No,’ I reply. ‘But do you have five minutes.’
‘I’m running late as it is,’ he states.
Not my fault you boring bastard. You ran over.
‘Just a quick look see on my next paper,’ I say. ‘I’m a little stuck.’
Stuck. A good word. I’d been stuck for a while on how to fulfil the contract. You see in this job it’s not the killing that’s hard. After the first few dozen you kind of get used to that.
The real skill lies in the getting away with it. And the truth is simple. The more complex you make it the more likely you are to get caught. The last vic had been effortless. A cliff. No witnesses. A push. Gravity did the rest. I’d walked away, through some woods. Climbed a tree. Wrapped myself up ‘till night. Waited for the all clear. Then walked out, three-mile hike to my car. Saw no one. Home. Job done.
This guy was tougher. He lived on the campus. He spent all his time, and I mean all of it, in the bar, in his room or in the lecture building. Four weeks and not a sniff of an opportunity. But I’d done my research. I always do my research. So, I’d taken a risk. This was my first lecture. I’d sneaked in at the back. My disguise was light. Darkened skin, shaved head, flat cap, cheap clothes. All pointed to a skint student.
He sighs. ‘I really don’t have time.’
I descend to the lecture floor. Reaching into my bag I pull out a small, clear, plastic bag. Inside is stuffed with off-white powder. The lecturer’s eyes widen.
‘Pure,’ I say. ‘And I mean uncut. Sheer heaven. Very, very good Charlie.’
He looks around. And that means I have him. If he was going to blank me he’d have stumbled over some lame words. ‘What is this? Is that drugs? What do you take me for? Usual crap. He hasn’t. He’s just looking.
‘And there will be more,’ I add.
Now for the closer.
‘And all completely free.’
He does another look see. This is the riskiest part. If someone comes in and sees us then there’s a connection made. Placing me, and him, in the same place.
‘There’s a small price.’ I say. ‘Pass me on this course.’
He wants to speak but doesn’t know where to start.
I make it easy.
‘I walk out of here. Leave the packet on the table. It’s that simple.’
He says nothing.
‘You’re worried I’m wired or this being filmed.’
His eyes contract. Fear.
‘Okay I know my game.’ I continue. ‘I’ll stick the packet in the drawer instead. Keeps your prints off it. You come back when you feel ready and take it. Can’t say fairer.’
I go for the clincher.
‘A packet a month for the rest of the year. Just pass me.’
He nods. A small movement.
I rise up the stairs to the back of the hall. I exit onto a corridor that has no CCTV. I leave through a fire exit onto a lane that has no CCTV. There is no one to be seen. The lane leads to a road with no CCTV. I strip off my cap. Pull out a wig, long and blonde. Turn my jacket inside out. I wait for an hour. I wait for a gap in the traffic, a gap in the pedestrians. I slip onto the pavement and walk.
Three days later I’m sitting in a small café. The menu is in Spanish. The sun on my shoulders is warm.
The lecturer is dead. It had taken a while for the news to reach me. I don’t surf the web. That leaves a trail. I don’t buy newspapers. All the local shops are camera ready. I don’t have a TV. No licence. My medium of choice is the radio. But I don’t listen to it 24/7 and, if they reported the lecturer’s passing, it was when I was reading, sleeping or eating. I found out when walking in the park near my flat. A copy of Railway Model Today had sat atop a bin. My bin. Checking no one was watching I’d lifted the magazine and removed the envelope that I knew would lie under. Three thousand pounds inside. I didn’t count it. I had placed it my Ryanair regulation sized back pack. As I walked, I’d booked a flight, hotel and transfer on a pay-as-you-go phone that would be switched off before I boarded. It would be thrown into the bin when I landed. Sim removed. Memory wiped. Crushed under my foot.
The payment meant the lecturer was dead.
Hypersensitive to peanuts had been the key.
Peanut powder mixed in the cocaine.
He sniffed, got high, too high to reach his EpiPen, obviously, and his heart stopped.
I’m due to return to the UK tomorrow. There’s sadness in those words.
A small boy, wearing a Lionel Messi Barcelona top, zips up to me on a skateboard. He flips an envelope onto my table. I ignore it until I’ve downed another two beers. Then I pocket it and get up. Go to the toilet. Open the envelope. Look at the picture. £5,000 and the lady lives less than five miles away.
So, I’ll be staying in Spain for a little longer.
I’ve some research to do.