Jack slumped forward in the recliner; the cigarette fell from his half opened mouth leaving ashes everywhere. A radio blaring from the street jolted him awake again and he knocked over his can of beer. Damn punks, with the bass that high it rattled the windows.
“I hope you’re deaf before you’re twenty,” he shouted to no one at all. The car was long gone. “Sarah, get your ass in here and mop up this mess. Junior grab me another beer.” Silence was his only answer. Where the hell were those kids? “Now, dammit! You kids hear me?” When there was still no response he remembered that the brats and their mom were at some stupid school function that his wife Tracey insisted they all attend. Well not him. Sure she pleaded and whined, but that slap up the side of her head shut her up fast enough.
He worked hard and a man’s home was supposed to be his castle. Once he got home from the factory he didn’t want to go to no damn, sissified school thing. Looking around his ‘castle’ Jack momentarily recognized it for the dump it truly was. The carpet was threadbare, wallpaper faded and peeling and there were a couple of books underneath one end of the sofa to replace a broken leg. Why the hell didn’t Tracey take better care of the place?
Smirking, he thought it was about time to have another little talk with her when she got home. He was looking forward to that; it was the only thing left in life that made him feel like a man. And, after the ‘talk’ who knows? He was always excited afterwards. Her pain and discomfort didn’t matter to him in the least; after all it was a wife’s duty to please her husband. He shuffled into the kitchen and grabbed another beer from the fridge. That the back door was open an inch went unnoticed as he went back to the living room.
Settling down in the recliner and lighting another cigarette Jack’s thoughts turned to work. That damn wire and cable factory where he got a job when he dropped out of school kept modernizing the facilities. Pretty soon they would modernize Jack right out of a job. Now if he had been a reasonable man, or even a moderately bright one, he would have taken advantage of the tuition programs the company kept offering to pay for. Jack could never be accused of being reasonable or bright. What the hell did he want to go back to school for? He finished with that nonsense a long time ago. As long as a man was willing to work and work hard, that should be enough.
The problem was Jack really wasn’t working hard anymore. His drinking problem had escalated to the point of interfering with his work performance. Of course he didn’t see it like that at all. He lamented more than once to anyone who would listen that ‘that uppity little college snot, Conrad’ had it in for him. In point of fact, Conrad had been as tolerant as possible where Jack was concerned. He had pointed out several times the benefits of taking upgrading classes to get ahead on the job. Conrad even tried to joke with Jack about it.
“C’mon Jack; why not go to school on company time? They pay for the tuition and you get full pay for doing nothing harder than cracking open some books. It would be like a paid vacation.”
“Don’t need to open no damn books to do this job,” and with that Jack shuffled away.
Conrad shook his head sadly. There was nothing more he could do. Jack was going to get his termination notice with the next paycheck. Didn’t these old timers realize that they had to stay one step ahead of the new breed if they wanted to keep their jobs? Knowledge was everything these days and without it you couldn’t survive, even in a wire and cable factory.
The killer waited a few minutes more to make sure that Jack wouldn’t come back to the kitchen for some paper towels to clean up his mess. Not that he would, for it was obvious that Jack was the kind of creep who would leave his messes for others to clean up, regardless of what they were. Hearing Jack muttering to himself in the other room made the killer less cautious about covering up any sound. Standing in the doorway and looking at this poor excuse for a husband, father and human being, the killer felt justified in what was about to occur.
Swinging the scarred, oak coffee table up into Jack’s chin, the killer drew blood instantly. There was a glazed look in Jacks eyes as he tried to comprehend what had just happened.
“Who are you, whaddya want?” Blood was also coming out of Jacks mouth now. Apparently the blow had loosened a few teeth. Soon that would be the least of Jack’s problems.
“Jackie, you’ve been a very naughty boy. Don’t you know it just isn’t right to beat up women and children?” The killer was warming up to the task ahead.
“Whatcha talkin’ ‘bout? Whad I do ith my bithneth.” Damn, lisping he spat out a couple of teeth. Something in the intruder’s eyes suddenly chilled Jack and he was terrified.
“Wrong Jackie, it’s my business now.” Those were the last words Jack heard. The killer took Jack’s cigarette and ignited the TV guide and newspapers that had been carefully arranged on the overturned coffee table. Neatly pinning Jack in place until he lost consciousness was an easy task for the killer but time consuming. Ropes or any other restraints would leave marks and that couldn’t be risked. It had to look like an accident in order for Tracey to get the insurance money she and the kids needed for a fresh start. There would be enough money to pay the killer’s fee, buy a neatly furnished little condo and ensure that Sarah and Jack Jr. could attend college when the time came. More importantly than all of that, there would be no more beatings for Tracey or the kids.
It had started with just a few little slaps here and there when he had been drinking. Now Jack was drinking all the time and those little slaps had escalated into full punches. It no longer stopped with just hurting Tracey either. If the kids didn’t rush to please their father, or if he was just in one of those moods you never knew what would happen. First it was just a smack on the back of the head, then some pinching of the arms or legs. Each time it got worse and Tracey suffered even more as she tried to stop him. When Jack threw Sarah against the wall with enough force to break her collarbone, Tracey knew that she and the kids needed more help than the police or social service agencies could provide. Hope was all but gone and then she noticed an ad in the personal column of the local paper:
“Problem Solvers; big or small we can solve them all. Call 1-800-555-HELP and leave a message.”
Tracey didn’t really think anyone could help, but desperation for the safety of her children had forced her to make the call. She outlined the situation in her recorded message and hung up. Feeling foolish she called back again and said that she had made a mistake and to just forget her call. The next day she received a phone call and a very soothing, confident voice told her that the problem could be solved to everyone’s satisfaction. Everyone’s satisfaction except Jack’s that is. Tracey said she could scrape together one thousand dollars and agreed to pay another nine grand when the insurance money was received.
Strict procedures were explained to Tracey. She was to wire the money to a Zurich account. The wire transfer system had been carefully planned to ensure the anonymity of the problem solver and to make sure there was no paper trail leading back to the client. The banking officials in Zurich instantly rerouted the funds to an offshore account as per long standing instructions, after taking their cut of course.
Tracey had to provide the problem solver with three or four possible dates when Jack would be at home alone. Once the killer checked schedules and travel arrangements another ad would be placed in the personals, “Meet you at the donut shop (day and time specified.)” It was then up to Tracey to make sure that she and the kids were out of the house at that time and that she would have an ironclad alibi just in case the authorities became suspicious or anything went wrong. Once her plans were in place it was her turn to place an ad, “Date and time agreed.” That message let the killer know the hit was to go ahead as scheduled.
Certain that Jack would not regain consciousness and that the fire would soon be out of control, the killer took a final look around the living room and satisfied with the scene went back to the kitchen. Turning the lock on the doorknob to the locked position once again, the door was pulled shut.
The killer really didn’t care if Tracey paid the other nine thousand or not, the world really was better off without Jack. This hit had felt like public service work. Grinning, the killer disappeared into the night. Tonight’s hit had been more time consuming than the killer had liked. The motto had always been, “get in, get it done and get out.” Well sometimes you just needed to take a little longer. Also, the killer had wanted Jack to show some of the fear his wife and children must have felt every time a beating was imminent. As a professional, the killer knew it wasn’t wise to get emotional about clients, but how could you not?
A lone figure stood silently by watching while all this was happening. Not making his presence known, he did nothing to stop the killer or report the fire. With a sad smile on his face, he too disappeared into the night. He shuddered to think how much the killer had seemed to enjoy the evening’s events.
Soon the neighbors would see the flames and call the fire department but it would be too late, Jack would have died of smoke inhalation before the first fire truck arrived on the scene.
‘Just another senseless accident,’ some would say. Others would thank God that Tracey and the kids were at the school when it happened and not upstairs asleep in their beds. A few more would cluck their tongues and say, ‘it had been bound to happen sooner or later the way that man drank and smoked.’ One thing they would all agree upon was that Tracey and the children were better off without Jack.
* * *
Marilyn still loved Daniel but she just didn’t know if she could trust him anymore. He had been a long distance trucker when they met ten years ago. She still remembered that night at the Road King truck stop in Calgary.
* * *
Marilyn hadn’t had time to get to the bank earlier in the day and had just used the ATM to withdraw four hundred dollars. Daniel had been in line behind her and when he tried to make a withdrawal the ATM couldn’t complete his transaction as it had run out of money.
Cursing and glaring at Marilyn, Daniel muttered, “Thanks a lot honey, you just took the last of the cash.”
“What, like this is the only bank machine in town? Give me a break.” Tossing that over her shoulder she went out to her car that had been parked in a spot designated as a loading zone for laundry customers only.
He stuck his head in the open window. “No it isn’t the only machine in town. It just means that I have to drop the trailer, bobtail to another location that has enough space to park my rig and hope that it didn’t just run out of money as well. I’m too tired and hungry for this crap. By the way, you’re parked illegally. You four-wheelers are all the same, you think you own the world and now you’re taking over the truck stops too.” With that he stormed away.
God he was cute. She beeped the car horn but he didn’t turn around. With mounting excitement Marilyn pulled alongside of him. “Get in. I’ll drive you to another ATM and treat you to the best dinner you ever had. You definitely don’t want to eat here, trust me.” Flashing her best smile at him she saw him hesitate. “Come on. You’re safe, it’s not like I’m some kind of maniacal killer or something.” The look on his face was comical. You could actually see him weighing the situation and their relative sizes. She estimated him to be at least six feet, five or six inches tall and weighing a good two hundred fifty pounds. Marilyn was all of five feet eight inches if she craned her neck. Weighing in at one hundred forty pounds on a bad day, her normal weight was one hundred thirty-six.
“Okay, you look safe enough. Besides, I’m hungry.”
Turning in her seat, Marilyn was about to ask her passenger to put his seatbelt on but the words never left her lips. Their eyes met and his questioning look was wordlessly answered. The kiss left them both breathless and hungry for more. They had barely made it through her front door when garments were being torn off and sent flying everywhere. Several hours later one hunger sated, their thoughts turned once again to food. Marilyn scrambled some eggs with chopped onion while Daniel made the coffee and toast. Spending the rest of the weekend making love, the ATM was all but forgotten. Before work on Monday morning she drove him to an ATM and back to the truck stop. As he was pulling out of the parking lot Daniel promised he would her call every night.
One day tumbled into the next and now Marilyn was feeling like an idiot. He didn’t call. He never intended to call. Would he call? It was an agonizingly long week, Daniel hadn’t phoned. Why didn’t he phone? A disheartened Marilyn arrived home from work to see him sitting on her front stairs. Her heart soared.
“I can’t believe it, you’re here. I thought I’d never see you again when you didn’t call.
“Baby I’m so sorry. I can imagine what you thought, but I lost your number and it’s unlisted.”
He swept her up into his arms and kissed her in a way that left no doubt in her mind; this man was hers. They were married a week later. Daniel wore a western style navy suit with a crisp white cowboy shirt. Both of them agreed a tie wasn’t necessary and the top two snaps of his shirt were open. In his navy cowboy boots he towered over everyone at six feet, eight inches tall. His longish, dark brown hair, beard and moustache were neatly trimmed. He was very handsome and his baby blue eyes and boyish smile captivated all her girlfriends.
Marilyn wore a beige cocktail dress with a matching coat; the color enhanced the sheen of her auburn hair and gave her tan an even healthier glow. Her four-inch, strappy heels bought her height up to almost six feet. Daniel’s trucker buddies loved her. Everyone agreed; they looked great together, the perfect couple. Well almost everyone agreed. Marilyn’s boss Richard, who had given the bride away, was not impressed with Daniel’s boyish charm. Then again he probably would have disapproved of any man Marilyn chose to marry. He had loved her for two years, a fact that he kept to himself for two reasons; besides being her boss, he felt that the fifteen year age gap between them was too great to bridge.
The first couple of years of married life were wonderful. Then things started going wrong. Marilyn wanted children and Daniel didn’t. Well it wasn’t that he didn’t want kids; he just didn’t want them now while he was on the road all the time. He felt that it was unfair to leave all of the parental responsibilities to Marilyn. They were still young he reasoned. He would get off the road soon and then they would start a family.
True to his word Daniel finally gave up life on the road and took a job running a warehouse and providing load brokerage services for other drivers. Marilyn went off of the Pill and they kept trying to have a baby.
“Daniel, I think we need to see a doctor and find out if there’s a reason why I’m not conceiving.”
“Honey, come on. Rome wasn’t built in a day. We have to practice, lots.” Daniel was doing his best to affect a lecherous grin.
“Damn it all Daniel, don’t you ever take anything seriously? Don’t you realize how important this is to me?” Shaking with anger and crying with frustration Marilyn slid to the floor in a heap.
Sliding down beside her, Daniel took her in his arms. Rocking her gently he agreed to see the doctor with her.
The visit to the doctor’s office was without incident. Everything was fine; the tests revealed no reason why they couldn’t have children. The doctor smilingly told them it was just a matter of letting nature take its course. Kids today were just too damn impatient to start families, Dr. Fletcher thought to himself. He wished he had a dollar for every time he had given the ‘be patient’ speech.
* * *
Marilyn picked up another home pregnancy kit from Wal-Mart on the way home from work. She had already used one yesterday and was certain she was pregnant although the results said otherwise. Fingers crossed she tried the test again. Yes!
Preparing a very special dinner for Daniel, she planned to surprise him with the news tonight. It was all she could do to keep from calling him at work and shouting the news. She had never called him at work before and had promised to only do so in an emergency. Marilyn knew how important it was for the phone lines to be free at work; a busy signal could mean that a good paying load was going to be given to someone else. Since Daniel got a percentage of every load he booked, the more loads he booked made a big difference to his paycheck. What the hell, I’ll phone and ask him to come home early.
“Hi, thanks for calling D & M Truck Services. We are either on the other line or out of the office right now, please leave a message after the beep.”
Damn, he was on the phone. “Daniel, please call me back right away. I need to talk to you as soon as possible. Don’t panic, nothing’s wrong. I love you, bye.”
Getting the dinner preparations underway, Marilyn waited for Daniel to call back. One hour passed and then another. Wow things must be really busy at the office today, just my luck, she thought.
Listening to the recording for a third time Marilyn left one last message, “Honey I have some great news, call me.”
Dinner was beyond salvation and Marilyn was starting to worry. Daniel hadn’t phoned and he was four hours late. Should she call the police? This had never happened before. How long should she wait before she panicked? Still debating a course of action she heard his key in the door. She had been so preoccupied with her thoughts she never heard his truck pull into the driveway.
“Hi baby, sorry I’m late. It was horrendously busy at work today. The phones went nonstop.” He brushed his lips lightly over the top of her head, and headed down the hall to the bathroom. “By the way, I have something to tell you.”
“I have something to tell you too Daniel. That’s why I kept calling you at work today.”
“You did? Sorry honey, I just couldn’t keep up with all the messages today.” He wasn’t meeting her gaze and this troubled her. He was lying, but why? Messages were the lifeblood of his business, since when did he not pick up the phone messages? He was smiling at her now, “What’s your news honey?”
“That’s okay you had a rough day, you first.”
“I’m going back out on the road. I leave in the morning.”
Marilyn was stunned, this was something she had never anticipated and the timing could not have been worse. “Daniel, why?” It was all she could think to ask.
“Honey, we just can’t make it without me being on the road. It’s a good thing we don’t have any kids. We can’t afford them, even if you kept your job. Now, what do you have to tell me?”
Flabbergasted at the way he dropped this bombshell on her without any prior discussion or warning she held back her big news. “Oh I just wanted to tell you that Richard is giving me a raise on my next paycheck. Maybe with my raise you won’t have to go on the road again.”
“Fifteen percent and quarterly profit sharing.”
“It’s still not enough honey, sorry.”
That night in bed Marilyn’s thoughts were all over the place. Daniel normally handled all the bill payments and their investments. Doing the math in her head she felt something was terribly wrong. Before they were married she had managed to pay the mortgage on the house and all related household expenses, ate very well, drove a late model car, had enough for clothes, an annual vacation and still managed to save a little. With the exception of extra groceries and Daniel’s pickup truck there were really no additional expenses. Why couldn’t they manage? Where was Daniel’s money going?
Still holding back the news of her pregnancy, she drove him to the truck stop in the morning. Going straight to the bank from there she had a few words with the manager, a long time friend.
“Yes Marilyn, I agree with your calculations. You should be able to manage quite nicely with what you both earn. Perhaps there’s another reason Daniel wants to be on the road. I’ll keep my eye on things here as best I can. Let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you.”
“I don’t want to make him suspicious. Don’t stop him, but let me know if any weird checks go through or he makes unusual withdrawals.” With that she shook Norm’s hand and left his office.
When she arrived at work Richard sensed there was something troubling her. Worried about his young friend he called her into his office.
“Marilyn, what’s going on? You look like you haven’t slept in a month of Sundays. Give.”
Sipping the ice tea he gave her, she told him what had transpired in the last twenty-four hours.
“So he has no idea you’re pregnant?”
“Nope, I was going to tell him last night, but now I’m scared to. Something is going on, I’m sure he was lying about being busy at work yesterday. I think he wasn’t there at all.”
“Relax; put your feet up, you’ve earned it. Let me make some calls.” He wished things had been different between him and Marilyn, but she was fifteen years his junior and clearly wanted children. He also knew it was not a good policy to mix business with pleasure. Satisfied with being the best friend he could be and promising himself to always look out for her, he went off to make those phone calls.
His hand gently touched her shoulder, waking her. Poor kid, she still looks beat. “Honey, it isn’t good. Daniel’s been hanging out in the casinos every afternoon. He’s been gambling away what little money he makes and some of yours as well. I suggest that you tell him you’re going to handle all the banking now that he’s back on the road. He can’t refuse; it’s common sense. Also, with him driving again it should cut down on his gambling. Perhaps it’s for the best.”
“Thanks Richard. What would I ever do without you?” She kissed his cheek and went back to her office.
Under his breath he muttered, ‘I hope you never have to find out.‘
Two days later Marilyn had a miscarriage. Daniel had never even known she was pregnant. After that things were never the same between them. On some level she blamed him because of all the stress he had put her under financially and emotionally.
* * *
Richard called Marilyn into his office; he was going out of town and gave her the rest of the week off with full pay. He had given her something else as well, an envelope full of cash. It was her first quarterly profit sharing bonus.
“Put this in a retirement savings plan, or blow it on yourself. Just don’t let Daniel get his hands on it.”
Marilyn quickly counted fifty one hundred dollar bills! It boggled her mind. She thought it had been a slow quarter. What would she receive when things were busier? “Richard, are you sure? The raise you gave me was more than generous. I don’t deserve this.”
“Hey kiddo, you keep things running smoothly for me when I’m away and make sure I still have a business to come back to. I need that peace of mind. I should probably be paying you more.” Chuckling he walked away.
* * *
Life pretty much remained unchanged year after year. Marilyn continued to work for Richard and was generously compensated for her loyalty and hard work. Daniel stayed on the road and was gone from home several days at a time. When he was home he was generally too tired to spend any quality time with her. Lately he seemed withdrawn and troubled. Was he having an affair? She knew the problem couldn’t be money, she was handling it all now and they were doing quite well. With an eye on early retirement, Marilyn was motivated to invest wisely and keep expenses to a minimum. At their ages of 33 and 35 they no longer discussed the possibility of having children. Although lonely with Daniel gone all the time Marilyn realized it was just as well they remained childless.
It was on the twelfth anniversary of her employment with Richard when he called her into his office for one of their many little chats.
“Marilyn, I’m retiring.”
“When? How soon do I have to find a new job?” Why do the men in her life keep blindsiding her like this?
“I’m done now, today; this is it. I’ve made enough to retire on and retire quite well. Don’t worry about a new job. I’m turning the company over to you. It’s your reward for hanging in with me for twelve long years. Happy Anniversary!”
“Richard, I don’t know anything about running this business. I wouldn’t even know where to start.”
“Let’s not kid ourselves here, you have been running the business for the last twelve years. We’ll go over everything from the top to the bottom. Then, if you think it’s too much for you, you can sell the building, vehicles and everything else. That’ll keep you going for a long time while you look for a dream job.”
“I don’t want a dream job, I want this one.” Her face reddened when she realized what she had just said and how ungrateful it sounded. “I mean this is my dream job, I don’t want another one.”
He couldn’t help but laugh now. He explained the business to her in more detail than she could reasonably absorb. Her head was spinning. As large a role as she had played in the day to day operations of the business, Marilyn never realized the magnitude of all Richard did. When Marilyn expressed doubt as to her capabilities, Richard promised he would stay on in a consulting capacity for a period of three months. After that time if she felt that it was too much for her he would help her liquidate the assets and find something else. He needn’t have worried. Marilyn was a natural and handled business like she had been doing it forever.
Not content to stay at home alone any longer and being her own boss now, Marilyn started taking road trips with Daniel. She wanted to see first hand just what was going on, on the road. The load they hauled this trip was lumber going to Indiana. Stopping at the Flying J in Gary to fuel up, Marilyn went inside to get their shower tickets. It was their tenth wedding anniversary and Daniel hadn’t even remembered. He had the good grace to look embarrassed when she gave him a card and a new briefcase. More than once Marilyn asked him to stay off the road and work in town. His excuse that the road was in his blood did nothing to warm hers.
* * *
The killer checked the personals column of the local paper. The ad was there, “Date and time agreed”. Having ascertained that the funds had been received and rerouted; an earlier ad had been placed by the killer, “Meet you at the donut shop Wednesday, 8 pm.”
Some quick calculations confirmed that a very comfortable retirement was just a year away. The killer wondered how many other assassins planned their retirement so thoroughly.
Date and Time Agreed
Copyright 2001 Alex Knight
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events, business establishments or locales is entirely coincidental.
( Cont. Next Month)