She filled out her work report, completed the termination form, and shoved it into the envelope before heading downtown to drop it off and pick up her final check. She was leaving “to spend more time with my kids,” she’d written in the large space they’d provided under reason for leaving. Josh had turned thirteen and Mary was coming up on ten. It’d been nine years juggling schedules, and hours of hard work.

The cell phone burred in her pocket. She took a breath, punched the button, and Murdoch said, “I can’t believe you’re leaving.”

“I’ll miss you, too.”

“What will you do for money?”

“Take up sewing,” she said, but he didn’t laugh.

“I could put you on special assignment.”

“I’ve got to study for the Bar Exam and can’t keep putting it off. Besides, I promised the kids I’d be home more. They’re at that crucial age.”

“I could put you on assignment basis only,” he said, as if he hadn’t heard anything she’d said.

“What’s the pay like?” she asked, with a sigh.

“Three times the rate on assignment. It’s being on call rather than the daily staff work.”

She seemed to be winning whatever game they were playing, but wasn’t sure she wanted to win anything. “The trouble is, I can’t do all that traveling and be a mother at the same time,” she said. “About all I could manage would be the Boston-New York run.”

“Why not include D.C.?” he asked, still in the game.

How do I explain to this guy what it is to be a mother?, she thought, and finally said, “D.C.’s too far.”

That long pause came again. “All right, no D.C. But could you think about covering part of the suburbs?”

She hadn’t expected an offer that good. “It might be tight around the hips, but I could try it on,” she quipped. He still didn’t laugh.

“Fine,” he answered, slipping into a professional tone again. “I’ll just shred this termination form.”

“You’re selling me the dress before I’ve tried it on.”    “This evening’s assignment is not far from the office. He’s carrying one of our manila envelopes,” he said, ignoring her remark. “The instructions are in there and you follow the usual procedure.“

“Simple enough,” she said.

“It really is,” Murdoch said without missing a beat. He waited for her to say something else, and when she didn’t, he asked, “Do you know St. James Church?”

“The one on Madison?”

“71st Street. Tuzov’s there at a concert.”

“Is he expecting me?”

“I was going, but something came up,” he said.

“So you’re paying at the assignment price?”


“Just don’t shred that resignation until I get back to you about it,” she said, hung up, and headed uptown.

She had worked with Tuzov before on a complicated assignment, but they hadn’t gotten any acknowledgment from the company executives. No raise, no promotions, no nothing. She’d gotten annoyed, and Tuzov had laughed and said, “Corporations are created to eat people and shit money. There’s really nothing more to them.” She’d laughed, too, and learned that blaming the corporate world never worked and only forced her to keep the few cards she had even closer to the vest.

She called home when she hit Madison and Mary answered. “MOMMY,” she squealed.

“What’re you two doing?”

“Nothing,” she said in that clever way little girls have of making you wonder what they’re really doing.

“Is Josh there?”

“Uh, eh. You coming home?” she asked.

“Yes,” she said. “I’ll be a little late, so tell Josh to heat up the leftover pizza.”

“Can we have soda, too?” she asked.

“Just one can.”

“There’s only one left.”

“Split it. I’ll be home soon.”

“You want to talk to Josh?”

“I don’t have time. I’ll call back later,” she said, and a cab stopped to take her uptown.

When she got to the Church, she ran the front steps as the chorale was reaching a crescendo. The voices rose and a short balding man moved to help her, but she waved him off and headed for the north side of the Church as if she knew where she was going. The choir seemed to explode as she slid into one of the polished pews, and the voices fell away into a sudden silence in the high open space. She hoped Tuzov had seen her come in because the cantata had ended and people started drifting toward the doors. She knelt for the benediction, and a man carrying a manila envelope slipped into the pew. It was Tuzov.

“Hello,” he said with a smile. “You barely made it.”

“And how are you?” she asked.

“Not a bad afternoon,” he shrugged. “The cantata you missed was magnificent.”

“Have you had a chance to look at the assignment?” she asked, nodding at the manila envelope under his arm.

“It’s very simple and we have a lot of time. It’s just on the other side of the park.”

“I have a phone call to make, so I’ll meet you at the sailboat pond. We can go over it there,” she said.

“I’ll wait for you at the statue,” he said.

She nodded, edged through the empty pew to the center aisle, and dialed her phone. “What’s the matter, Josh?” she asked, and waited for his answer.

“You told me not to use the stove.”

“Heat up the pizza in the toaster oven. Remember? Turn the top knob to 400 and flip the switch to on. Two minutes ought to do it. Use a piece of aluminum foil and be careful not to burn yourself taking it out.” Tuzov was ahead of her and had caught the light on 72nd.

“There’s only one soda and three pieces of pizza,” Josh said in a complaining whine, and she heard the fridge close. “I know…cut one of the slices in half and give my sister the biggest piece,” he said.

“You’re learning, Josh. Do the same thing with the soda.” She crossed Madison and waited for a reply but there wasn’t any. “And don’t forget to turn the toaster oven off when you’re through,” she said, and hung up.

There was unexpected warm weather, and people were carrying their coats as they left the park. She cut across the pathway to the Alice in Wonderland statue where Tuzov was waiting, and they headed for the other side of the pond. There were no model sailboats out and the water was low and muddied with wet leaves. The boathouse, that served food and drinks, was closed for the season and a cool breeze brushed through the park’s emptiness.

“Talking to the kids?” Tuzov asked.

“Yes,” she laughed. “Josh is fixing dinner.”

“Was he ever able to deal with his father’s death?”

“I’m not sure he ever will,” she said.

“It’s tough on the kids,” he sighed,

“I have to get back soon,” she mumbled.

“Of course,” he said. “The assignment’s clear enough. A man in a camel coat and a black fedora gets out of a cab in front of the Dakota and hands you a package.”

“We’ve certainly done more complicated stuff.”

“Murdoch just wants a smooth six o’clock hand-off for a new client that just happens to be at a main intersection where lots of people are going and coming.”

“Yes,” she agreed, glancing at her watch. “We’ll be early and can set up before he arrives. Did Murdoch tell you to take the drop?”

“Apparently the man’s expecting a woman,” he said.

“And no code’s involved.“

“Short notice…so we won’t need any.”

They walked along the path that went over the hill and she thought about how Murdoch didn’t care much about kids, bar exams, warmed-up pizza, or splitting a soda.   Tuzov stopped to watch a couple drifting aimlessly in a rowboat. It was twilight and the still lake water reflected the top three floors of the Dakota over the budding trees.

“We ought to go over what we’re going to do,” he said, and they started walking again.

“We’ll find a spot on the north side of the street where you can get a picture of the drop,” she said. “I’ll be in front of the building when he arrives. He’ll be expecting me, and you’ll be right there for any problem.”

He nodded, and said, “Let’s make a date for dinner.“

“I’d love to…we could catch up on things.”

“Yes,” he said, staring out at the couple in the rowboat, and they started up the path. Her purse brushed against his leg, and when he glanced down, she drew the knife and spun at the same time, pulling him in close to her as it hit. He grunted and she eased him toward the bench and sat him down. There was a look of surprise on his face and she reached over and closed his eyes, removed the knife, and wiped it across his suit. His body started to bleed as she laid him across the bench in a sleeping position, and then saw the gun in his hand with the corporate-issued silencer. She took it out of his hand, put it in her purse, and walked toward the Dakota.

The woman in the rowboat waved to her as she came into view, but she pretended not to notice. She took out her cell phone and hit the speed dial. Josh answered, and she said, “Did you heat up the pizza?”

“Yeah, it was good. Even better than last night.”

“I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

“Did you really quit, Mom?”

“Yes, I really did,” she answered, and he cheered.  “I’ll pick up soda and some chocolate ice cream.”

“That’s Mary’s favorite,” he said.

“See you soon,” she answered, and looked for an empty cab in the evening traffic.