BY HANNAH McKINNON
Copyright is held by the author.
AS I hurried down the dimly lit street I pulled my hood up to stop the evening drizzle from trickling down my neck. I fished a cigarette out of my jacket pocket, lit it and inhaled deeply, then blew the smoke into the frigid, damp air.
Even if I ran all the way I’d be late for my second job of the day. And this time the consequences might be severe. My boss had already given me the equivalent of a yellow card last week. He’d been abundantly clear that he didn’t tolerate tardiness. Not even if it was because some old dear had lost her keys at the coffee shop where I worked during the day, and I refused to lock up until we’d found them. Well, so what if I got fired? I’d manage. I’d make myself manage, just like I always did.
As I half-jogged down the road I noticed a single, lonely figure walking up the hill towards me. A man, a confident one by the look of his nonchalant strides. I watched his long black coat billowing out behind him like a cape, and what appeared to be a mobile phone twinkling next to his ear. My pulse quickened. There was something all too familiar about him. And as we got closer it was his unmistakable voice that made my heart pick up more speed, the deep gravely laugh that caused my blood pressure to rise at least 50 points.
I flicked away my cigarette end and turned to cross the road. But the Traffic Gods had sent multiple cars and buses to obstruct my escape route, and now the man, who’d ended his call, stood beside me, tapping my shoulder with his bony fingers.
“James?” he said when I turned around, and I watched his eyebrows disappear underneath his fringe. “James! Jesus Christ, I knew it was you as soon as I saw you!”
“Chance.” I spat the word as if I had a mouthful of sour milk.
He didn’t appear to notice my disdain and smiled broadly. “How are you, mate? Bloody hell, it’s been what, five years? Six?”
I wanted to say it had been four years 229 days exactly. That’s right, Chance. Four years, 229 days on the nose since he’d taken everything from me, and ruined my life. But instead when I opened my mouth I mumbled, “Yeah. Something like that.”
He ran a hand through his thick hair, the mirror of mine except he probably didn’t get the low-cost special at SuperCuts. As he adjusted his tie I noticed the overbearingly large gold watch on his wrist. Showing off had always been his favourite pastime. “So what are you doing here?” he said, looking me up and down with a half-smirk on his face that made me want to smack him.
“Going to work.” I zipped up my jacket so he wouldn’t see my Tesco’s uniform, then shrugged. “Nightshift.”
“I was thinking of buying a building around the corner,” he said, unsurprisingly dismissing my response. “Figured I’d have a look around the neighbourhood.” He grimaced. “Don’t think it’ll suit though. Apparently ‘up and coming’ is still code for total shithole.
His laugh made me clench and unclench my fists in rapid succession. “I’d better go. I’m late and –”
“Wait, if you work around here, you … live here too?” He wrinkled his nose and he continued, “You do don’t you? Jesus.”
I straightened my back. “It’s not –”
“Anyway, Sherry won’t believe me when I tell her I bumped in to you. She always wondered where you went.”
“Well, I –”
“Why did you just disappear, mate? That night? You just left.”
I studied his face, the one I knew so well, his half-smile, the creases around his eyes. Was he serious? Did he really have no recollection of that night? But as I watched him, noticed his slightly raised eyebrow and the corner of his mouth curling up I realized he knew. Oh, he knew.
Chance laughed again. “Anyway. I should thank you, really, for buggering off like you did. If you’d stuck around there’s a tiny chance Sherry might not have chosen me.”
I knew they’d got married, of course. Obviously I’d been following his every move from afar, but even if I hadn’t, it had been all over the news. Youngest CEO in the history of the town, whizz-kid turned tech mogul, millionaire by the age of 28, marrying who everyone assumed had always been his rosy-cheeked, curly-haired, button-nosed sweetheart.
But none of the articles said that I’d had the idea for TakeAChance.com. Or that Sherry was my girlfriend until the night he’d made a move and stolen her too. He’d always known exactly how to get what he wanted, ever since we were kids. How many times had he got into trouble at school and, later, with the police? And he always, somehow, made me agree to take the fall, created the illusion I was protecting him, doing something good for him – and that he’d do anything for me too.
Should I have stayed that night? Fought for what was mine? Probably. But Chance, as his name implied, had been born with a horseshoe up his backside and he, inevitably, always had the upper hand. When I saw him kissing Sherry outside the bar, hidden away beneath the stone arches, minutes after we’d finalized the business plans for TakeAChance.com, I’d done what I did best. Let him have what he wanted. Given up. Faded into the background. It was only a matter of time before she’d have seen he was the better catch anyway. What was the point in a pathetic attempt at thwarting destiny?
Chance looked at me with that grin that was so familiar, the one I could never escape, no matter how hard I tried.
“Well, I’d better go.” He shrugged. “Or Sherry will give me hell.” He rolled his eyes. “You had a lucky escape there, I tell you. She’s turned into a right frigid whinge-bag. But it’s nothing my assistant can’t help me with.”
As he put his head back and laughed I suddenly noticed how dark it had become. The roads were empty, no cars or buses, and the few people who’d been on the other side of the street had long headed inside.
It was just him and me.
An unmistakable gift.
So I hit him. Hard. With the first blow the heel of my hand connected directly to the bridge of Chance’s nose. His eyes seemed to widen as the realization of what had happened attempted to travel to his brain. Then the blood started gushing out of his nostrils, a red river flowing down his yuppie cashmere coat. I punched him again, harder this time, my fist slamming on the side of his head with a crunch.
As his knees smacked onto the pavement I thought he might reach for me in a final attempt to hold onto life so I took a step back and watched as he slumped down, limp as a rag doll, his head hitting the ground with a dull thud. His mouth formed an almost perfect ‘O’ of surprise and in his eyes I could see nothing but glazed-over darkness.
If I’d know it was this easy to kill a man – not any man, you understand, just Chance – I probably would have done it years ago.
Moving quickly now, I grabbed him under the arms and dragged him into the alley, past the discarded wooden pallets and the sweet and sour odours of Mr. Chang’s overflowing bins.
The cool air whipped around my legs as I swapped all of our clothes and I felt grateful he’d stayed in shape as much as I had. Although, I presumed, he had an expensive gym membership and a no doubt a female, spandex-clad personal trainer, while I made do with the local soccer pitch and rusty climbing frames at the park. Once I’d dressed again I stepped back and surveyed the damage.
His coat would have to go, that was clear, but I’d empty the pockets and dump it a few streets east. I’d take my wallet and get rid that too, well past the radius of the police search. If they even bothered. The suspected mugging-gone-bad of a lowly supermarket worker in this part of town was hardly anything new, or something the cops would waste much effort on.
I picked up Chance’s phone and car keys, then turned and walked out of the alley. My back seemed to straighten with every step, as if the frustrations that had burdened me for the last four years, 229 days were floating away with the lightness of helium-filled balloons.
There wouldn’t be much time to adjust, I thought as I rearranged his – my – tie. But it wasn’t an impossible task. And it wouldn’t be the first time I’d taken his place.
There had been the math exams in grade 10, the ones he would have surely failed. The driving test, which he’d been too chicken to take. The initial meeting with the bank manager to discuss a potential start-up loan for TakeAChance.com, when Chance had got so plastered the night before he couldn’t walk or think straight, and still smelled like a brewery.
I’d often thought it was a curse. But now, I realized as I opened the wallet and perused the platinum credit cards, being an identical twin was going to be fun.