The room was large and bright, a desk sat in the middle, behind which was a large sliding door leading to a balcony, the door was open letting in a light breeze. Joanne hadn’t expected this. She thought it would be a dark room with a large bed and the smell of death. The room itself smelled clean, there was a faint undertone of illness but just a hint. Where she had expected hardwood floors were carpets, thick, soft and white. The man sitting behind the desk looked frail, old. He was slightly emaciated, his cheeks were sharp and pointed, his eyes sunken into his head and rimmed with darkness. He didn’t stand as she entered, the door closed behind her. She moved into the room slowly, unsure of what to expect. The man smiled, his teeth were straight and white, a strange contrast to his grey, sickly skin. “Please, have a seat.”
Joanne sat down, clutching her bag tightly.
“I was wondering if you’d show up or not.”
Joanne smiled uncomfortably, “I wasn’t sure if I would either to be honest. I’m a little nervous about the whole thing.”
“Understandable but don’t be.” He started coughing, great hacking sounds that came deep from his chest. He brought a handkerchief to his mouth, when he took it away it had splatters of blood. “Are you all right? Do you want me to get someone?” He shook his head and reached for a glass of water and took a sip, “Sorry about that. It comes and goes. One of the downsides of dying I guess.”
Joanne nodded, unsure of what to say.
He took another sip of water, “So, how much do you know?”
“Um. Not much really. I was just told that you could help me.”
“By Officer Smith, right?”
“Yes. He was very kind to me, during it all.”
He nodded, “Yes, so I hear. The police have failed you. Let’s just be crystal clear here, your husband has the right connections to make this all go away.”
“He has money too, so you believe you cannot escape him?”
“I…I tried that once. About five years ago now. I ran. I did everything right, I only used cash, no cards, I gave myself a fake name. It took him four months, but he tracked me down. He had hired people to do it. He came and he brought me home. That night he taught me a lesson. That’s what he calls it. Teaching me a lesson. I learned my lesson that night. I stayed with him, hoping that someday he’d go too far and just kill me.” She shuddered, “I…I’ve never said that out loud before.” Her eyes filled with tears and she struggled at the clasp of her bag, she retrieved a tissue and dabbed at her eyes a little. After a moment she continued “It became too much, I tried going to the police, I thought it would be over then. Either he’d be arrested and convicted or he’d kill me. Something would happen to finally end it all. But it didn’t. He wasn’t arrested and I’m still here.”
He nodded, “Yes, you are. And now you’ve come to me.”
“Officer Smith told me you could help, said you would help me stop it.”
“Did he go into any more detail?”
“He wouldn’t I suppose. First things first, I’m dying. I have been for the last thirty years. At the moment I have about three months left, when I was first diagnosed I had three months left. Yet I am still here. It is nothing to do with medicine, nothing to do with me being a fighter. This disease is insidious, it worms its way into your very being. Doctors are unable to remove the tumours. I have been in remission, complete and total remission twenty nine times. The cancer is gone, no tumours detected, but it always returns after a few months. Slowly at first then getting worse. After the first time I came to a realisation very, very quickly. This wasn’t normal cancer. It’s like a parasite, living inside a host. One of the benefits of having a parasite is that I can pass it on. Once I do I go into remission, completely and utterly.”
Joanne nodded politely.
“You don’t believe me, but that’s ok. You will if you go through with it.”
“Go through with what?”
“Killing your husband of course.”
“What did you think he meant by take care of it? Did you think I, a dying man, would go and intimidate your husband?” He gave a wheezing chuckle, “No, I’m afraid my days of intimidating people with my presence alone have long since passed.”
“maybe this was a mistake.” Joanne stood, “Thank you for your time.”
He nodded once, “if you leave that’s it, no other chances, no do over’s, you have made your decision.”
Joanne nodded and walked towards the door. Her hand rested on the doorknob, her fingers closing and opening. She turned back towards him.
“What exactly are you proposing?”
“Simple. I infect him. He will have a short but painful illness culminating in his death. Doctors will not be able to cure him and he will become too weak to do you any harm. I require no payment unless it works. Once it does I ask that you give me one hundred thousand dollars. Once your husband dies you will become a very, very rich woman and that will be an exceedingly small amount, a drop in the bucket.”
“That’s all. I would also appreciate it if you made a matching donation to a charity of your choice, but that is entirely up to you.”
Joanne had moved closer to him as he spoke, her hands rested on the back of the chair.
“How is it done?”
“Your husband, does he like to drink?”
Joanne shook her head, “He doesn’t drink any alcohol.” She was always thankful for that. The things he said and did when he went into his rages, she couldn’t image how much worse they’d be if he drank.
“What about coffee?”
“Yes. He drinks a cup of coffee every morning, then another at lunch.”
“I will give you a vial of my saliva and all you need to do is put it into his coffee. Nothing else.”
“That’s all. The rest will take care of itself.”
Joanne took a deep breath, “Ok. Let’s do it.”
“You will only have once chance at this. The saliva is useful for twenty four hours, after that it will become inert unless it has been previously ingested.”
“I will get it into his coffee.”
He reached behind the desk and opened a drawer, from it he took a small, glass vial. He started to clear his throat, over and over. The sound of it made Joanne’s stomach clench, she couldn’t watch. She closed her eyes as he hawked up a lump of something and spat it into the vial. When she heard his drawer closing again she looked back. He held a vial of thick, black phlegm. “It’s all here. Just pour it in. It will mix with the coffee easily, it has no taste and no noticeable texture.”
He held out the vial, Joanne took it, her skin crawling as it came into contact with the glass. “It works faster if he drinks it all, but even a sip will be enough.”
Joanne carefully put the vial into her handbag, “Thank you.”
He looked over the file he had been given, Joanne’s husband really was an awful man. He was always very careful over who he offered his services to. Those who the law couldn’t, or wouldn’t, touch. He didn’t bother trying to convince himself that what he was doing was noble, he knew that at its core it was selfish. He wanted to live longer. The cancer would return, but it would be a few months before that happened, a few months of almost perfect health. He spread the pictures out in front of him, the ones that had been taken of Joanne and above that a photo of her husband. It was early morning, soon he would drink his coffee. He liked to look at a photo of them as they did so he knew, truly knew, what he had done. He felt himself shudder and his breathing became easier. He took a slow, deep breath and smiled. She had done it. Others had backed out before and he didn’t think she would, but you could never know. He carefully stood from the chair and stretched, they were both free, even if his freedom was only for a little while.