Michael Zinsky wasn’t my usual type of client.
He wasn’t a spurned lover, looking for revenge. Or a murderer, looking to snuff out the witnesses to his crime. Or a husband, hungry for his wife’s insurance policy.
He was just an ordinary guy, looking out for his sister.
“I wouldn’t normally resort to… such drastic measures. But Harold has become so awful. Treats her like garbage. Doesn’t give a rat’s ass about her, or anything, except for that stupid band he sings in with his work buddies.” He blew his nose loudly. “You understand that – right, Switchblade?”
I winced. “Uh, that’s just my alias, Michael. You shouldn’t… like… actually call me that in casual conversation.”
“Then what should I call you?”
I blinked. Clearly, he had never done anything like this before. “Uh, do you have the cash?”
His eyes darted around the diner. Then, from his pocket, he pulled out a wad of hundred-dollar bills.
“You can’t just – they’ll see it!” I hastily threw him one of the napkins. “Wrap it up in that. And do it discreetly.”
He wasn’t discreet – but, thankfully, the diner was nearly empty at this hour. “It’s twice your usual rate,” he whispered, very loudly. “I wanted to give you a big tip, so you’ll do a good job.”
A tip? You’re not ordering an ice cream cone, Michael. You’re ordering a hit. But I took the cash, smiled, and buried it deep in my pocket.
“And I don’t want you to kill him.”
“Michael, you know I’m a hitman, right?”
“Yes. But Nancy needs his income – she’s been a housewife for the past twenty years. No work experience, no education past high school. There’s no way she could support herself on her own.”
“You could support her, with the cash you just gave me.”
He shook his head. “I’ve tried. She won’t let me. Cares too much.”
I sighed. “Well, okay. Suppose I did take you up on this… job. What do you even want me to do to him, if not kill him?”
“I don’t know! Scare him. Threaten him. Just make him stop being so terrible to her.”
“But it’s risky business. I mean, he’ll know what I look like, and –”
“You’ll go on Sunday morning. He’ll be napping alone in the house – won’t even see you come in.” Michael looked down at the table, and then added: “It’s the only time he’s ever alone in the house. The only time… he lets her leave.”
My belligerence evaporated, and I felt a pang of sympathy. “It’s that bad?”
“Okay. I’m in.”
The house was a tiny little thing, shoved into the gap between a massive brownstone and a dilapidated food mart. It would be a challenge to do it without any witnesses.
Good. I like a challenge.
I snuck through the backyard, creatively using the various bushes and fencing to hide from onlookers. I then stepped into the open window, like Michael told me to.
The knife was heavy in my hands.
I turned left at the kitchen, and crept into the living room. In the center stood a microphone, a music stand, and some sheet music – presumably for Harold and his band. Nancy’s needlepoint supplies were pushed into the corner, taking up as little space as they possibly could.
I walked into the next room.
And there, in the armchair, sat Harold.
I retrieved the chloroform from my pocket. With the grace of a dancer, I lay it against his nose.
And then I set to work.
I visited Nancy myself a few weeks later.
I like to do that sometimes. Pose as a friendly neighbor, see how their lives have changed in the wake of my work. Yes, I know it increases my chances of getting caught. But, as I said, I like a challenge.
When she flung open the door, her eyes were bright, and she wore a smile.
“Hi! I’m Smith Baker,” I said. “Just moved here – a few houses away from you, behind the food mart.”
“Oh, how nice! Please come in.”
She led me into the living room, and I smiled. The music stand and other equipment were thrown haphazardly in the corner; Nancy’s needlepoint was sprawled across the sofa, taking up as much space as it possibly could.
“Smith, this is my husband, Harold.”
He just stared at me. Still, silent, pale.
And then he started shaking wildly, clawing at the raw, red mark across his throat.
“Oh – sorry – I should explain.” She sat down, with a small smile. “He’s not trying to be rude. It’s just that… well, he had an accident, a few weeks ago. And now he can’t speak, I’m afraid.”
She patted his arm, comfortingly, as he clung to her. “Or sing, unfortunately.”
That, mysteriously, cut his vocal cords –
And left the rest of him untouched.
I could see Harold’s hands shaking, his lip trembling. I wonder if he was thinking about the first thing I said to him, when the chloroform wore off.
If you don’t treat Nancy right – I’ll slit your throat again.
And next time, you’ll lose more than just your voice.
I smiled at Harold. “Would you like a cookie?” I asked, holding out the tray. “I baked them myself.”