An Independent Professional by John Carlson

Sheila did not look like a hired killer. Not that Paul really knew what a hired killer looked like. His old hired killer, “Mr. Smith,” had been totally anonymous, so Paul had never even met Mr. Smith.

Sheila looks more like a suburban mother than anything, Paul thought. She was short. She was a bit pudgy, as if she’d eaten too many cookies she’d baked for the family cookie jar. She wore a faded sweatshirt and jeans. Outside, he could see her SUV, which would look at home in the school parking lot on open house night.

Looks aside, she was worth a try. Particularly since Mr. Smith had rather inconveniently decided now was the time to retire. Roger, Paul’s cousin, used Sheila and thought highly of her. “She delivers excellent value for my assassination dollar,” he’d said.

Paul said, “I have a…situation that has come up. Someone is causing one of my business dealings to go bad.”

 

“And I assume by ‘bad’ you mean ‘really bad.’”

 

Paul nodded. It was so bad, in fact, that if things went much worse, Washington State Penitentiary might become his home for the rest of his life. “I need this man out of my way. Which is why I need your services. I had a hit man, but he retired.” Paul thought: I called him a hit man. But what do I call Sheila? Hit woman? Or is hit man now unisex?

 

“You mean Mr. Smith?”

 

“Yes. You know him?”

 

“We’ve never met. But we know of each other.” She sighed. “I really envy him—retiring to Hawaii, or so I heard. I like Tacoma, but I do get a little tired of the winters sometimes. Even though I suppose the rain does help wash the blood off sidewalks after some jobs. But enough of this. I’d be happy to do this job for you. One point: like Mr. Smith, you aren’t hiring me as a permanent employee. I’m an independent professional.”

 

“I know. And I don’t have the money to hire someone like you full-time.” Although it would be handy—it seemed he’d been contracting a lot of killings the last year.

“Very good. We understand each other. Now, can you give me the information about the person who is causing problems?”

 

“Yes.” Paul got up and walked over to his safe. “As you requested, I have prepared a box that contains full instructions and payment.”

Paul opened the safe and pulled out a box. He placed it on a nearby table and shut the safe door. Suddenly, something caught the corner of his eye. He turned to face Sheila. She was now standing and holding a gun pointed at him.

“Ah…what are you doing with that gun?”

 

“What do you think?”

 

“But…but…but you’re my employee!”

 

“I already told you: I’m an independent professional. You hired me to do a job. I’ll do it. But first, I’m doing another job I was hired for.”

She pulled the trigger.

 

 

“You understand I usually don’t do jobs on credit,” Sheila said, as she sat down in Roger’s living room a week later. “I only took this one on because you are a good client.”

 

“Yes. I know. If I hadn’t been out of town…” Roger sighed. “I should probably have done this a long time ago. He was becoming more erratic with his business. He’s hired more hits in the last year than the last five years, combined. And it was starting to cause my business problems. Anyway, here is your payment. Plus a bonus.” He handed her a box.

 

“Thank you. Well, if you will excuse me, I’ve got another job to do. It’s a busy week.”

They got up and headed to the door.

A thought hit Roger: Paul was thinking of hiring Sheila a few days ago. From what he said, he had a huge problem. Whoever was causing him that problem might cause me problems now.

“Oh, one small thing,” Roger said, trying to sound casual. “I believe Paul hired you—or planned to.”

 

“Yes. He contracted with me the day I completed your job.”

 

“Will you do it?”

 

She paused, staring at him a moment. As if studying him. “That’s the job I’m about to do,” she said. “He paid me. I always do my job. I am a professional.”

 

John Carlson lives near Gig Harbor.