Gladys grimaces at the headline from this morning’s local newspaper. She is fluent in twelve languages and Finnish is, naturally, one of them. “Arrest Made in Connection to Émile Edwards Death in Loire Valley, Foul Play Suspected.” The heir’s face is plastered below it in black and white, a portrait taken in the last year. He looks so innocent and young, and for a second she almost thinks that it is a shame he had to die. But then the dressing room door opens and she forgets all about him.
“Big crowd out there, Ways,” her manager, William Corks, tells her, closes the door behind him. He always has a nervous look about him, but then again, he should. Keeping the murderess moving is what keeps them both rich and out of prison. Tonight his big pink brow is moist and his eyes dart around the small room endlessly.
“And our guest of honor?” she asks, brushing her curly blonde wig.
“Mr. Hannes Kotka is on his way,” he says quietly. He watches her perfect the line of red lipstick around her lips, overdrawing them slightly. “Maybe… maybe we lay low for a while? Just until France blows over.”
She shakes her head. “Hannes will be expecting a show,” she says, and gathers her things, stands up in the mirror. “He shall get nothing less.”
On stage she is, simply, the best there is. The lights dim, the band plays sultry jazz, and the men go wild when the spotlight lands on her. She is a true fantasy tonight, dressed in skintight velvet and black stilettos. Her charisma and moves captivate the mostly male crowd, and the aroma of booze is strong in the air.
But then… another smell. Penetrating her through the fog of smoke and alcohol is the scent of something she knows well. No, not something; someone. Woodsy, clean, fresh… a man who does not belong in this environment. He is better suited for the city, a smart man with ambition and drive. Energy, talent, an undeniable attraction. A stolen kiss from the forbidden colleague, the scent on your sheets in the morning. A boy in a man’s clothes, sexy and sophisticated at once. Notes of pear, mint, lemon and peach mix with spices and soapy cedar, a true manifestation of modern masculinity. Conflicting images of warm and cool, hard and soft. The lights paint the stage in red and she maintains eye contact with the audience while searching for the familiar face. It can’t be, it simply can’t be… but there he is. Inspector James, in civilian clothes, at a booth on the side, reeking of his signature Dior Higher. She thought it had been discontinued? Perhaps her contacts at FragranceNet.com are double agents. Could they have provided him with the juice? And for a discounted price of just $75.74*? Yes, it must be. She makes a mental note to order a bottle.
Regardless, he has found her. She had slipped from his clutches for the last time. He knows what she has done and has come to arrest her. Will he let her finish her performance, at least? Her heart beats fast. Seeing him brings back happy memories as much as it does fear. She turns away and continues moving to the rhythm. Is that Hannes Kotka over there by the bar? The fat man with the entourage? Gross. He watches her ravenously.
The song ends after what feels like an eternity. The crowd is on their feet, cheering and catcalling. She should be happy, but her smile is forced. She bows slightly and hurries behind the curtain. Corks is waiting for her. “There are police cars surrounding the building,” he whispers in alarm. “We’re through, I tell you!”
She slaps him harshly. “Have you completely lost it?” she demands.
“Have you?” he whispers incredulously. “Have you forgotten what I have done for you?”
There is a knock on the door, and they both freeze. “I’ll answer,” Gladys surrenders. She accepts defeat; she will be forced to pay for her crimes. Her money will sit scattered in vaults around the continent for the rest of time. Her parents will be devastated. Her dreams, dashed.
* * *
Inspector James shakes his head in disbelief. “What do you mean, she got away?” he asks the local police. “We were right there!”
The men shrug. “Miss Ways is not in the club, we assure you. We just got word from Moscow that she has canceled next week’s show.”
And so, the trail has gone cold. Now that she is aware of him, she will not be so easy to capture. “Is Mr. Corks speaking?”
“Not yet,” the men chuckle, whatever that means. Her manager sits in the cruiser, head bowed. The smell of her Poison Girl perfume is still in the air.
* * *
Gladys rinses her mouth thoroughly, washing out all remaining traces of poison. Her blood washes down the drain, and she coughs something terrible. Tonight did not go as planned, but she has a cheque for half of Hannes Kotka’s bank account tucked in her bodice. She struts past the body guards at the front of the townhouse, winking to the tall Finnish men. They smirk at each other and wave her a taxi.
As the cabbie begins the long drive to Luxemburg she smiles at her reflection in the window. James had almost gotten her that time, but his scent tipped her off. She can still smell it now. She does not know how their story will end, but one thing is for certain: the chase was on.
*Prices true at time of writing.
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