A Good Man.
A short story by: Gillian Frederick
There it was. A thick manila envelope waiting in my mailbox. I slowly opened it and counted out the crisp twenty-dollar bills. It was all there, just as planned. There was also the note with the name of the hit, the place where I could find him, and a passport picture. I cursed out into my empty apartment even though no one was in earshot. I’m not she why because I am a pro and a pro is never supposed to do that, but it just slipped out. I did not have to read the name, I knew the man in the picture. Cardon. John Cardon. Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. A good guy. A great man in fact. The only truly good person I had ever known. When it came to good people, there was most likely no one in the world who could compare.
I had only met John Cardon once. It was during my time in the orphanage in Chandler Arizona. The people there treated everyone like animals. All year long we wallowed in filth. They hardly ever fed us, and when they did it was old bread and a soup that smelt of fungus. When anyone had the courage to stand up to one of the caretakers, they would let us have it with a belt. It would hurt and sting for days. The welts were almost intolerable. The caretakers would hit on both the middle of your back and the sides of your back so that there was no way to be comfortable when you tried to sleep on the thin molded mattresses. Lots of times they would give you the beltings without bothering to open up he buckle.
When Cardon came, he made sure that we got cleaned up- us and that dump they called an orphanage. Before he arrived, the director of the orphanage gave us a briefing: anyone who said anything about the state of place would be in for it later. We had all had our share of his medicine, enough to know that he meant business. When Cardon entered our rooms, we were as quiet as mice. He attempted to talk to us but no one really answered. Each boy got his present one at a time, and we said thank you one at a time and then hurried into bed. I got a dart board, which now seems like a more fitting gift than the football I wanted. When I said my thank you, he reached for my face. I cringed. I thought he was going to hit me. Cardon ran his hand over my thick dark hair, gently, and without a word he lifted my shirt. Back in those days I used to shoot off my mouth a lot. Cardon saw that by the look of my back, he did not even need to ask. At first he said nothing. Then he said Jesus’ name a few times. I’m not sure if he was swearing or praying, but he said the lords name for almost a minute straight.
Finally after what seemed like ages, he let go of my shirt and hugged me. It had been so long since I had been hugged I had forgotten what a warm, loving, caring embrace felt like. While he was hugging me, he swore to me that nobody would ever hit me again. Needless to say, I didn’t believe him. Why should I have? All my life I had just been told lies. I mean, people don’t just act nice to you for no good reason. I thought that had to be some kind of a trick; the second I turned my back he would be slipping off his belt and just letting me have it. The entire time he was hugging me, I just wanted him to go. He went, and that same evening we got a whole new staff as well as a new director. From that time on, nobody ever hit me again, nobody except for that one guy in Jacksonville. I did that job pro bono. Since then though, no one has done so much as lifted a finger.
I never saw John Cardon again. Although I did see his picture a lot in the papers. His glowing, smiling, aging face would be accompanied by an article about the people he helped, all the good things he had done. He was an honest to goodness good human being. I would say there was no finer of a person anywhere. He was pretty much the only man I owed a favour to on the whole face of the ugly planet. And in two hours I am supposed to be meeting him. In two hours I am supposed to be putting a bullet though his head.
I am thirty-one. I have had twenty- nine contracts since I started this business when I was twenty-three. Twenty- six of the twenty- nine I have completed in one go. I never, ever try to understand the people I kill. Never try to understand why. Business is business, and like I said, I’m a pro. I have a good reputation, and when you are in my field of business, reputation is everything. You don’t exactly place an ad in the paper or on Craig’s List or offer special rates to people with the right credit card. The only thing that keeps you in business is that people know that they can count on you to get the job done and to not screw up. That is why I have made it a policy never to back out on a contract. Anyone who checks my records will find nothing but satisfied customers. Satisfied customers and stiffs of course.
I woke up and left the apartment. I went to nearby the location and rented a room facing the street, right opposite the restaurant. I told the owner of the building that all of my belongings would be arriving the next day and paid two months rent in cash up front. I had a half an hour to kill until the time I figured Cardon would get to the restaurant. I assembled the gun and zeroed in the infrared sight. Only twenty-six minutes left. I paced for a while. That was not working for me. I lit a cigarette. I finished it. I lit another. I was trying not to think about anything. I was trying to wipe my mind of all emotions and thoughts. I finished that cigarette and flicked the butt into the corner of the musty, smoky room. Who on earth would want to kill a person like John Cardon? Only an animal or a complete nutter. I know Cardon. He hugged me when I was just a kid, when I knew nothing of this business. But business is business. Once you let your feelings get a hold of you, you are done for. The carpet in the corner began to smolder, it seems as though I hadn’t put out my cigarette well enough. I got up off of the bed and stamped out the butt for good. Only seventeen more minutes. Seventeen minutes and it would be over. I tried thinking about football, about my old friend Dan, about a hooker I passed on the way over here. Right there on forty-second street, in the middle of the day. I tried not to think about anything.
He was right on time. You could set a clock to Cardon’s punctuality. I realized him from behind with his special upbeat walk and his shoulder length graying hair. He took a seat at one of the outside tables, in the best-lit spot, so that he was facing me head on. If he had looked upwards he probably would have seen me in fact. The angle was perfect, medium range; I could take this shot blindfolded. The small red dot showed on the side of his head, just a little to far to the left. I corrected that with a nudge to the right until it was dead center, and just held my breath.
I had it all set, but this old man wandered by, carrying what seemed like all of his earthly possessions in just a couple of bags- a typical homeless. This city was full of them nowadays. Right outside the restaurant, one of the handles snapped. The old mans bag lunged towards the ground and all of his junk started spilling out. I saw Cardon’s body stiffen for a moment, with a tick in the corner of his face., and almost right away he got up to help. He kneeled down on the sidewalk, helping the old man gather up old newspapers and cans and putting them back into the bag. The gun stayed fixed on him the entire time. His face was mine now. The red spot was floating in the center of his forehead like an Indian bindi. That face was mine and when he smiled at the old man, it glowed. Just like the paintings of the saints on church walls.
I stopped looking through the view finder and took a look at my finger. It was frozen, just hovering over the trigger. Straight out as if it was pointing. It was not going to move. No point in pretending now. It just was not going to. I thumbed the safety and listened as the bullet slid backwards into the chamber.
I headed down the stairs of the dilapidated building and started to walk over to the restaurant with my gun safely disassembled in its case. It was not as much as a gun as much as it was just five harmless pieces of cold, black metal. I sat down at Cardon’s table, facing him, and ordered a coffee. He instantly recognized me. The last time he saw me I was an eleven-year-old-kid, a half a year away, but he had no trouble remembering. He even remembered my name. I reached into my pocket and put down the large manila envelope with the money on the table and told him simply that someone had hired me to kill him. I attempted to play it cool, to pretend like I had never even considered going through with it. Cardon smiled and said that he knew, he was the one who had sent the money in the envelope, he wanted to die.
I must admit, this caught me off guard. I stammered, asked why, did he have some sort of fatal disease? “A disease?” he laughed. “Guess you could say that.” There was that little tick in the corner of his mouth, the same one as when the old man dropped his bag, and he started to talk: “Ever since I was a child I have had this disease. The symptoms were crystal clear, but nobody ever tried to treat it. I would give my toys to the other kids, I never lied, I never stole. I was never even the slightest bit tempted to hit people back in school yard fights. I made sure that I turned the other cheek. My compulsive good nature just got worse over the years, but nobody ever did anything about it. If say, I had been compulsively bad, someone would have taken me to a shrink or something right away. They would have attempted to stop it, curb it, I don’t know. But when you are good? It fits people in our society to getting what they need in return for a compliment or some sign of delight. And it just keeps getting worse, I mean I have reached the point in my life where I can’t eat without stopping after ever single bite to find someone, anyone, who is hungrier than I am to finish my meal. And nights? Nights are the worse, I can’t fall asleep. How can anyone even consider falling asleep when your living in Atlanta in a furnished house and you are just a hundred feet away from people sleeping on benches?”
The tick was back in his mouth again and his whole body started to shake. “ I can’t keep living like this. No food, no sleep, no real love. Who on earth would have time for love when there is so much misery around? I am living in a personal hell. Try to see it from my point of view, I mean I never asked for it to be this way. Its like in the film The Exorcist. Except that instead of being possessed with the devil, an angel possesses my body. If I were a devil, someone would have finished me off a long time ago, but this?” Cardon let out a sad sigh and closed his eyes. “Listen,” he continued. “All this money, take it. Leave here and find some sort of position on a balcony or rooftop and finish me off. I can’t do it on my own you know, angels can’t commit mortal sin. This gets harder every day, even sending the money to you and having this conversation,” he padded his forehead with a napkin, “it is hard. Truly hard on me. I don’t think that I could bring my self to go through this process again, just go find a place and do it. I am begging you.”
I just looked at him, his face seemed tormented. It reminded me of Jesus on the cross, exactly like Jesus. I didn’t say a word. I had no idea what to say, I am usually quick on my feet and had an answer for anyone, for the federal agent who questioned me last year, for the hooker on the street earlier, for my ex. But with John Cardon? He knew me as a child. He knew when I was scared at the orphanage, flinching at any sudden movement in fear of getting hit. And he was a good man, the good man, I would have never been able to kill him. Not point in trying, I knew my finger would never bend that way.
“Sorry, Mr. Cardon,” I whispered after sitting in silence for what seemed like a year. “ I just….”
“You just can’t kill me,” he smiled. “That’s alright. You are not the first you know. Three other guys have returned this same envelope previous to yourself. I guess it is just part of the curse. It’s just with you in the orphanage and everything…” He shrugged his shoulders. “And me getting weaker everyday. Somehow I would have hoped that you could be the one to return the favour.”
“I am really sorry Mr. Cardon,” I whispered, wiping the tears slowly trickling from my eyes. “I wish I could, I really do.”
“Don’t feel bad,” he replied. “I understand. No harm done, leave it,” he chuckled when he saw me reach for the tab. “ It is on me. It has to be on me you do know, it’s my disease.”
I thanked him and walked away. When I was close to the door he taped me on my shoulder, I had forgotten my gun.
I went back to get it, feeling like a rookie the entire walk home.
A week later I was in Georgia. I shot some senator. It was a real tricky one too, from a block away, only half a view, tons of people moving around. He was dead before he hit the floor.
So that's that. I'll post some very poorly written articles soon.
So that's that. I'll post some very poorly written articles soon.