Story by Dale Phillips / Illustration by L. A. Spooner
We were less than an hour from closing time at the bar, when the guy came in, hesitating a bit. Most newcomers who find this place are nervous. They don’t wander in here by accident, they come because they’ve heard bad stories about what we do, and they want something. Something they can’t get by legal means.
The guy was sallow, drawn, but dressed well. He looked around, his gaze going from me to the three other people in the room. I saw no joy, no expectation or excitement in that face. He was definitely here on business.
He sat at the bar, and I put down a square of napkin before him. “Evening,” I said. “What’ll it be?”
“Scotch, please. Neat.”
Okay then. Expensive taste, confirming the clothes. Used to money. I poured out a measure of a nice twelve-year-old from some obscure glen in Scotland, and put it before him. I usually let them work into it, taking their time to state their case. Because for most of them, they’re not used to this type of business.
He sipped his drink for a minute or two. I stayed in the area, appearing unconcerned. He cleared his throat.
I put down the glass. “Can I help you, sir?”
He looked around. They always do, before saying what they came to say. “I’ve heard you can provide certain services for people, for a price.”
“All depends on what you want, sir.”
He leaned closer and looked me straight in the face. “I want you to kill me.”
I stared back at him for a long moment. He was serious.
“Give me your license,” I said.
He registered surprise. “Why?”
I continued to look at him. He shrugged and got his wallet out, reached in, and handed over his driver’s license.
I walked out from behind the bar and went into the office. The closed-circuit cameras let me see the bar in case anyone needed something.
On the computer, I went to the website of a security service our organization used. They could get information on anyone. In ten minutes I had all the dirt on this guy. How he made and lost his two million. The lawsuits, the shady deals, a couple of which sent other people to jail, but not him.
I saw how his only son died from a drug overdose at twenty-three. Shortly thereafter, his wife had gone into therapy, divorced him a few months later, and then committed suicide. The medical history came up, with the recent diagnosis of cancer, inoperable and inexorable. Guy only had a few months left, if that.
He was legit, I was sure of it. His life and everything he’d ever worked for was shattered, and he’d be dead soon. I thought I understood a little of why he came here, and couldn’t say as I blamed him much. I sat and thought for a few minutes, toying with the skull lighter on my desk, pressing the eye socket to make the flame pop from the top of the skull.
I made a plan. Never agree to do anything unless you have a plan, and are thinking a couple of moves ahead, like in chess. One of the rules that keep me alive.
I went back out and got behind the bar.
“You probably want to know why,” he said.
“I already do.”
He was taken aback, but soon recovered. “Ah, the Internet. Sure, that’s part of the story. And maybe I just want to enjoy a little bit of life again. Eating a breakfast, knowing it could be my last. Something to matter in my day.”
I nodded. Yes, my plan might work. “Okay, I’ll do it. You’ve brought money?”
He nodded, and touched his jacket, where there would be a fat envelope of bills.
“You can keep it. Instead, I want you to do something for me.”
His eyebrows went up. He wasn’t used to people turning down large sums of money.
“We’re closing in about an hour. Hang around. I want you to see something.”
The others patrons left, and I closed up. I took him to my car and drove us across town, to a park where junkies hung out. There were at least half a dozen still there who hadn’t scored yet, or who were too wasted to find a crash space. I felt the silent question.
“Look at them,” I said. “Teens, most of them. They’re on the road to damnation, like you. Yours might be quicker, but theirs ends up the same, and with a lot of pain. Even more than yours. I know you’ve done some bad things. Here’s a chance for a good thing.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Save one of them. Just one, doesn’t matter who, doesn’t matter how.”
He was quiet for a bit. “Why?”
“Because if you save a person from Hell, you get one big sin washed off your slate. One for the road.”
“You believe in Hell?”
“I live it. It’s seeing every person you ever hurt, even when you close your eyes. At night, it’s hearing the screams.”
I could hear him swallow. “This will help stop some of that?”
“Might, if you do it right.”
He looked at the shambling human wreckage. “Why are you showing me this?”
“It’s one thing balanced in the record.”
“How many more have you got to go?”
“About four lifetimes’ worth,” I said. I wasn’t exaggerating.
He gestured with his arm. “Why don’t you do it?”
“The people I work for make this happen. I’m too high profile. They find out I’m cutting into a profit center, I’d be face-down in the river next morning, after a long, nasty night of pain.”
“So why do you work for them?”
I turned to look at him. “Because I’d be dead if I didn’t.”
He sighed. “How would I do it? Not really my area of expertise.”
“You’ll figure it out. You’re pretty resourceful.”
He was quiet, and I knew he was thinking it over. He finally spoke. “I do this, and you’ll do what I asked? The doctor told me I’d be in a world of pain soon. I don’t want that.”
“Call when you’re ready, day or night. Here’s my number.”
Months later, Sal dropped in to the bar. “Got a job for you.” He slid over a folder, and an envelope of money.
“This guy’s been a pain in our ass. He’s going around cleaning up junkies, getting them to kick the stuff. Costing us money, and getting people to think they’ve got something else. Take him out, but accidental-like. We don’t want anyone getting ideas.”
I looked at the picture in the folder. It was the guy who’d hired me to kill him. Funny.
I did some research, and found out he was in the hospital. When I went to see him, I took a hypodermic with a special mix, and my little electronic device that fuzzed up security cameras. At the hospital, I flicked the switch, and walked in where I would leave no record.
It was death’s waiting room, and had the flowers like it was a funeral. I counted at least six big spreads. I read a card on one, and it was with gratitude from someone who’d poured their heart out.
Sal could have saved himself some money if he’d waited a week, because this guy wasn’t going anywhere except the mortuary. He was all shrunken and wasted, sprouting tubes and hooked up to machines. Only his eyes were alive as he looked up at me. “You.” He chuckled, a thin, stretched sound. “I’d almost forgotten.”
“You never made the call.”
“Guess I didn’t. I found a reason to live.”
“Yeah, well that’s all over.”
He stared at me. I shrugged. “You’ve been effective. A little too much. You made a difference, and they want that to end.”
He laughed, and it ended in a choking cough. I handed him a cup of water from the table by the bed.
“Unbelievable, he whispered. “Just had visits, the best night of my life. Now I want to live, despite this pain. Jesus, you can’t imagine. Like your body is eating itself from the inside. But man, the people. The look in their eyes when they finally get off the road to Hell. It takes time, you know.”
“Time’s up,” I said. “You did well.”
“You knew what you were doing, you bastard.”
“And now I’m telling you that you can rest. It’s over, no more pain.”
His eyes were wet. “Thank you.”
I shrugged again. Tears weren’t my thing. I’d seen a lot of them, too many. Now I had a job to do. I took out the hypodermic and removed the safety cap. “You ready?”
He nodded. “Guess I don’t have much choice. One for the road?”
I smiled and found the spot to shove the needle in.
Next week will feature an editorial piece titled “The Year in Review”. Yeah, we know…hard to believe it’s been a year since we started walking Crimson Streets. It’s been one heck of a journey and we can’t wait to see where this next year will take us! Help us wax the nostalgia by reading about the ups and downs we’ve encountered along the way and get a glimpse at what the future holds for us.