I flicked the lighter open and watched the flame dance in the wind. But I didn't light a cigarette, much as I wanted to. Corben doesn't like the smell and if Corben doesn't like something, you don't do it. Leastwise, not where he can see.
But it was cold. Damn cold. I was shivering in my leather jacket and it sure would have been nice to light one up to take my mind off the mid-December weather. I looked around the little park and saw no one. No doubt anybody with half a brain was inside somewhere with the heater cranked up and a nice hot cup of coco in hand. Hey, even a guy like me can enjoy some coco now and then, though I do like mine with a shot of bourbon.
Since it didn't look like Corben was going to be showing up anytime soon, I took a cigarette from the half empty pack in my pocket, slipped it between my lips, and was about to lift the lighter to it, when a voice spoke up behind me.
"You know how I feel about those things."
I jumped, dropping both cigarette and lighter into the snow. "Holy shit." I spun around to find Corben standing right behind me. "You scared the crap out of me."
Corben's full lips dipped into a frown. "Language, Mr. Verdoux. Do we need to repeat our discussion on your use of swear words?"
I swallowed. "No, sir. Sorry, sir. Won't happen again." Think what you want about my quick switch in attitude. Unless you've ever sat down and had a 'discussion' with Corben Redret, you ain't got no room to be thinking I'm some kind of sissy boy. Sure, the guy's only about five foot three and weighs maybe a hundred pounds soaking wet, but don't let his looks fool you. This is one dude you don't want to cross.
Corben adjusted the ermine trimmed collar of his sable trench coat. "Now, if we might get down to business."
"Yes, sir." I reached into the satchel slung across my shoulder and pulled out a plain, brown manila envelope. "It's all there, sir."
A crisp nod was his only reply. He took the envelop and slipped it into an inner coat pocket without checking the contents. It's not like I could get away with coming up short even if I was stupid enough to try. Which I wasn't.
I cleared my throat. "So, same next month?"
"The boss has requested you double your quota," he said, straightening his gloves.
Shock made me speak out where normally I wouldn't have. "Double? That's impossible." I was already handling more workload than anybody else and pushing it every month to keep from falling behind.
He raised a brow at my tone. "Impossible? Really? You know, Mr. Verdoux, I was opposed to your appointment into this most important of offices from the very beginning. I told the boss you'd be better off in collections, that you were too coarse for handling contracts. No subtly, no manners, no charisma, all attributes I insisted were of utmost importance in this line of work. But once the boss sets his mind to something there's no turning it. And I must say you have proven me wrong time and again. However, your position remains tenuous. No one is irreplaceable."
I knew a thinly veiled threat when I heard one. He never had like me any, so I guess he would have been more than happy to 'terminate' my services personally. "I understand, sir. Double it is."
"Very good, Mr. Verdoux. Perhaps you have a higher intellect than I had credited you with. Good day." He turned and strode off through the snow.
I watched him go until I was sure he wasn't going to turn around, then bent over to pick up my lighter. When I straightened again he was nowhere in sight. I never had been able to figure out how he did that little trick.
On the way back to where my motorcycle was parked, I lit a cigarette and dragged the sweet taste into my lungs. Double. I still couldn't believe it. I mean sure, I knew the boss was working up to something big, but you can only expect a guy to do so much. Even with all the people in the world willing to sell their souls for the craziest things, getting forty a month wasn't going to be easy.