FICTION: Mrs. Hamilton by Frank Byrns

“So let me just cut the bullshit and get right to the reason I called – how you set for work these days?”

“You know me, Al – I’m always working, but I could always use some more.”

“That’s what I was hoping to hear. You got some time to come on down here later in the week, check something out for me?”

“I’ll check with Viv, make sure she don’t have nothing scheduled with the girls – shouldn’t be a problem. What you got?”

“Might not be anything, really – some lady, asking around, saying she’s looking for a guy like you.”

“You talk to her?”

“Last night. Told her I knew a guy, see what I could do to help her out.”

“Seem committed?”

“Yeah? No? I don’t know – she seemed dead serious when we were talking, but the more I thought about it afterwards… like I said. Hoping you could come down, get a feel for it, see what you think.”

“I gotcha – Friday work OK for you?”

“If it could be sooner, that’d be better, I think – I’m afraid she might go to somebody else with it if I don’t produce.”

“You got a number? Just give it to me now, I’ll make a call, let her know I’m available, keep her from going across the street.”

“Sure. Got a pen?”

***

“Mrs. Hamilton?”

“Yes? Who is this?”

“I hear you’re looking for a little help.”

“Who is this?”

“My friend Alphons – you met him at The Blue Note a couple nights ago? Talked about a job you might have for me.”

“Oh…”

“Mrs. Hamilton?”

“No, I’m still here. Sorry – I wasn’t expecting your call. I don’t think I’m comfortable discussing this on the phone.”

“That’s good. I’m not either. Look, I’m gonna be in town on Friday – can we get together?”

“I don’t know if –”

“Why don’t I just meet you at the Blue Note? Nobody knows me there – I’ll get directions from Al.”

“I, uh…”

“Mrs. Hamilton? You still there?”

“How will I know you?”

“You’ll know me.”

***

“Hey, Al – we’re all set to meet on Friday.”

“Great. So what do you think? She’ll be there?”

“We’ll see.”

“All right – thanks again for coming down. Give the girls a hug for me, will ya?”

***

“Mrs. Hamilton?”

“Oh, uh… I saw you when I came in. Sitting over there by the bar. Thought it might be you, but I wasn’t sure.”

“I’ve been here a while.”

“I thought you said 9:30?”

“I did. You’re early, too.”

“Well, I had to come before I lost my nerve.”

“I understand. It’s one thing to think about it, but actually sitting here with me, talking about it, making plans…”

“That’s something different.”

“Yeah, no, I get it. You’re sure about this?”

“I think so.”

“No, that’s not good enough. I need more than a ‘think so.’ What we’re talking about doing – you gotta be a hundred percent committed. Can’t exactly unring this bell once it’s rung, you know?”

“No, I understand.”

“One hundred percent.”

“I’m in. It’s just, this guy, he –”

“I don’t need to know anything about it.”

“No, it’s just –”

“Stop. I don’t want to know anything about it.”

“OK. It’s just… I thought if you knew a little something about why I’m doing this, you wouldn’t think I was a bad person.”

“Oh, I think we’re a little past those kinds of judgments, wouldn’t you say?”

“I guess…”

“Look, that envelope there – you bring what I asked for?”

“Yeah, it’s all –”

“No, don’t do that. Just leave it there on the table. I’ll take it when I leave, once you’re gone.”

“Sorry.”

“Not a problem. I just like to do things a particular way.”

“The front half’s all there – So, what, you’ll collect the rest on completion?”

“I’ll call when it’s done with instructions on the rest. Will you need proof of completion?”

“Nothing… physical, no. I’ll know.”

“Sure. I just have to ask.”

“So that’s it, then?”

“For now, yeah. Just sit tight by the phone – I’ll be in touch.”

* * *

“It’s the son-in-law.”

“What? Who is?”

“The mark. It’s her daughter’s husband.”

“Where’d you get that? You didn’t give her the usual bit about –”

“I did. She put a note in the envelope with the cash. ‘In case I chickened out and didn’t tell you’, it said.”

“Hunh.”

“Guy’s a real piece of shit, looks like. Been abusing his oldest daughter for years – little sister just turned ten, and grandma doesn’t want to see it happen again.”

“She should’ve gone to the police with it.”

“She did. Nobody backed her story – not even her daughter. Wouldn’t let her see the girls for a year after that.”

“Jesus – How long was this note?”

“Long enough.”

“Tragic story. Doesn’t change anything, though.”

“I know.”

“It’s fucked, yeah. But this is the job.”

“Makes me want to do it, though, for her? Put a bullet right in his brainpan.”

“But you know you can’t.”

“I know…”

“Randall?”

“I know.”

* * *

“I was surprised you wanted to meet again so soon – thought it wouldn’t be until… you know. After,” she said.

“Well, some things have come up. I read your note, against my better judgment. And now, I, uh… I just want to be sure that you’re sure.”

“I’m sure.”

“Just want you to be sure of the enormity of what you’re having me do.”

“I’m sure. I feel bad about that part of it.”

“Which part is that?”

“Asking you to do something like this … something this vile.”

“It’s fine. The path I’ve chosen.”

“Like I’m taking advantage of your lack of… having you do something I am unable to do myself. Or unwilling.”

“… My grandpa? He came to live with us when I was a kid, right at the end. It wasn’t long, just a couple months or so. He’d tell me these stories, when my mom was out of the room? Stuff from the old country, all bullshit superstitious nonsense.”

“I’m not sure I –”

“So he told me about these guys, they would go around from house to house. After somebody died, unexpectedly, before they had a chance for a priest to swing by for a final confession. So these guys would come, and this was a real job that they got paid for, these guys would come and sit with the body for a couple days, a week, I can’t exactly remember. These bodies that were still full of these sins that needed forgiveness, and these guys would absorb that sin for them. Just kinda soak it up. The body would be ready for heaven, free and clear, and the guy would just move on to the next body and eat his sins for him.”

“What does –”

“Bullshit nonsense, like I said. His mind was pretty far gone there at the end.”

“Well, that sounds like a terrible job for someone.”

“It is.”

“What? No, I didn’t mean –”

“I’ll do this for you, Mrs. Hamilton, this horrible thing you don’t want to do. I’ll eat this so you won’t have to, and then I’ll move on to the next one. But before I do, I’m going to need you to tell me what you want me to do.”

“But I thought we already had an underst –”

“I’m gonna need you to say it out loud – it’s one thing to think it, another thing to talk around it, a whole ‘nother thing to say it.”

“But what does –”

“If you can’t even say it out loud, I don’t know that I can have very much confidence in you holding up your end of the deal three weeks from now, a month, two years. When it’s done, it’s done. No guilty confessions from you after the fact about what you did – You’ll be the one living with what I’ve done. Not me.”

“…I know that.”

“Do you?”

“Yes.”

“Then I need to hear you say it. Right now.”

“OK… Mr. Randall, I would very much like for you to take your pistol and kill my sorry piece of shit son-in-law. Pardon my French.”

“No offense taken. You guys get all that?”

“Wait… who are you talking to?”

“Mrs. Hamilton, I’m going to lay my wallet on the table … there we go. Go ahead and open it up.”

“What are you –”

“Go ahead – pick it up, take a peek inside.”

“I don’t see why … Oh.”

“Mrs. Hamilton, that badge you have there in your hand identifies me as a federal officer.”

“ATF… What are you –”

“Lower your voice. I’d like to do this as calmly as possible, if you’ll let me.”

“Do what as calmly as possible?”

“I know a lot of the people in here are your friends, and I’d like to save you the spectacle of dragging you out of here in handcuffs.”

“I – I – I –”

“Shhhh, shhhh, shhh. If you’d like, we can stand up, walk out of here together. There are a couple of detectives outside, waiting to take you in.”

“I don’t… I don’t understand…”

“Mrs. Hamilton – are you hearing what I’m telling you?”

“But – I… you read the note? What about my girls?”

“Mrs. Hamilton, let’s take a walk outside.”

“My babies…”

“Mrs. Hamilton?”

#

Frank Byrns lives and writes in Maryland. His short crime fiction has been published in a variety of markets, including All Due Respect, Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter, Plan B Magazine, and Everyday Fiction. Visit him online at www.frankbyrns.com

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