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Michael Massee

Looking back, I realize this all started when I was a teenager.  In the small town, in New Jersey, where I grew up, there was one barbershop with one chair and one barber, Mr. DeRosa. Now this was way back before hippies and long hair arrived and before they almost put him out of business.  Short hair on men was the required look and I was sent to the barber shop for a trim at least every two weeks.  “Not too short, Mr. DeRosa,” I would reply to his ‘How do you want it cut?’ “and please leave the sideburns.”  Sideburns were very important to me, a lonely skinny kid wanting to fit in, and the group I wanted to fit in with were the Greasers.  These were the tough guys in school who wore low slung Levi’s and white tee shirts with their Lucky Strike cigarette packs tucked in the fold of their short sleeves.  And their hair---slicked back with Bryllcreem into a DA ( duck’s ass) and often greased up into a pompadour in front, was their signature.  But for me it was the sideburns, those masculine emblems of macho maturity, for which I longed.

       While I envied the dagger-shaped line of hair that travelled down the side of the ear and ended at the tip of the lobe, I realized that I could never get my sideburns to reach that far.  This was because my facial hair was still pretty wimpy and because my parents would have grounded me if I started looking like one of ‘those hoodlums!’  So, all I wanted from Mr. DeRosa was to leave me about an inch of sideburn.  That would have to do.  At least I wouldn’t look like a ten year old kid.
       You’d think that not shaving off that skimpy inch would be the easiest thing in the world for Mr. DeRosa to do but this was not so.  Every frigging time I’d ask, he’d nod and then, zip, there went the sideburn.  It was as though we were in a power struggle and, since he held the only weapon, I was doomed to lose every time.  The final result always looked like a modified bowl cut, no sideburns at all.

       It got to the point where I wanted to just let my hair grow.  What if I looked like a Yeti.  Big deal!  But, of course,  the family prevailed and my visits to the barbershop continued.  With each trip to the ‘Demon Barber of Main Street’ my frustration, resentment and anger grew larger.  Conversely, Mr. DeRosa seemed to be growing smaller.  He was a large man, not tall but solidly built, and now he seemed to be shrinking.  His clothes began to hang on his body.  When he would lean in to buzz the hairs on my neck I could feel how bony he had become.
       I’ll never forget the last time I walked over to the barbershop and discovered that it was closed.  There was a sign on the door that read, ‘We are sorry to announce the passing of Anthony DeRosa, beloved son, brother, husband and father. The viewing is at Marinella’s funeral home.  His service will be this Friday at St. Josephs.  The shop will be closed until further notice.’
       It was a strange mixture of relief and remorse that washed over me.  That I would not be getting any more shaved sideburns was wonderful but, at the same time, I was sorry I had thought so unkindly of this poor man who was dying.  Here he had been wasting away and yet, every day, he showed up to work.

       Six years later I’m riding up in the employee’s elevator at Manheim’s department store in New York City.  It’s just my luck that I’m standing next to the head of personnel, Miss Sternberger, and we are the only two persons heading up to the eighth floor administrative offices.
       “What would you say if I said that that goatee has to go?” Miss Sternberger says, smiling a smile that would freeze iron.
       ‘I’ll shave it off when you shave the peach fuzz off your upper lip!’ is what I wanted to say but I didn’t.  Instead I politely agreed with her and the next morning I punched into work with a bare chin.  I had been hired as a stock boy, which means I was the guy working back in the  storeroom who was never seen by the public.  However, I still had to wear a jacket and a tie and, as Miss Sternberger so graciously pointed out, my facial hair was not acceptable.  No tattoos, no jewelry, nothing that would offend the customer.  Ah, the good old days!
       I had already been working at the store for three months and yet this was my first encounter with Miss Sternberger, also known by some of the employees as Miss Turdburger.  It was not my last.  Every once in a while I would be called up to the ‘Burger’s’ office for a lecture on initiative or deportment and it seemed to me that I was the only employee subjected to these self- improvement  seminars.
       At the time I thought of myself as being a rather compassionate individual but the ‘Burger’ woman really rubbed me the wrong way.  I was good at my job, I was never late, I got along with everyone---except for Miss Sternberger.  I was still living at home and every so often I would let it slip how much I disliked the ‘Burger.’
       “There are times, mom, when, I swear I wanted to push her under a truck!”
       “Oh, Danny, that’s a terrible thing to say!”
       “I know, I know.  I’m just speaking metaphorically.  It’s only because she treats me so rotten.  It makes me very angry.”
       “I understand, darling.  But  things will improve.  It’ll get better.”

       But things didn’t get better.  It got to the point that I was even planning to quit my job.  And then, one afternoon when I returned to work, after going out to get some lunch, I found several of my working friends huddled together at the employees entrance.
       “What’s up, guys?” I asked, noticing the long faces and Janice, from Lingerie, wiping her eyes.
       “It’s the ‘Burger.’ She was in an accident.”
       “She’s dead,” mumbled Ricky from Bed Linens.
       I was stunned.  At first I thought it was a joke, a very bad joke.  “You’re kidding!  What happened?”
       “She left to go to lunch and she was crossing Fifth Avenue when a garbage truck hit her.  At least that’s what we heard the police say happened to her.”
       “She wasn’t the most fun person to be with,” said Charlie from Men’s Shoes, “but she didn’t deserve to be run over by a truck.”

       I continued to work at Manheim’s for the next eight years, eventually moving out of the stock room and onto the floor as a salesman in the Luggage Department.  I then interviewed for a position over at Macy’s and became the youngest manager of the China and Flatware Department in the history of the store.  As a celebration I shared a bottle of champagne with my friend Charlie and started growing back my goatee.

       It was this next episode that sort of opened my eyes.  Once again it revolved around my facial hair, my cursed goatee.  I had moved into a tiny studio apartment in Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan and was living the life of the confirmed bachelor.  I had some lady friends but nothing serious.  I’ll share a secret with you:  Macy’s managers don’t make a lot of money.  At least I didn’t way back then, so my entertaining was limited.
       There was a little bodega on the corner of my street and Ninth Avenue run by a Spanish family headed by a big lump of a man named Luis.  I stopped by there at least twice a week for a Cuban coffee or a sandwich and if Luis was manning the fort I was always greeted the same way.
       “Oh, is mi amigo, senor cunt face!”
       After this endearing greeting he would laugh like a crazed Hyena and then ask the same question he always asked.
       “How can you walk around with that el chimino on your chin?  Aren’t you afraid some hombre will want to stick his pinga inside?” and then his whole blubbery body would shake with obscene laughter.
       I tried to avoid the bodega on the days I knew Luis would be working but often he would be in the back of the store and his daughter Tina would be at the front counter and suddenly I’d hear his insane laugh and see him come barreling out of the storeroom and heading my way. There was no way to escape and I would have to endure a repeat of his obscene monolog.
       After about two months of this humiliation I finally had had enough and made myself walk an extra three blocks to a little Korean market for my coffee and sandwich and I stayed away from Luis.  After a month or so I found that I was still unhappy over my experience in Luis’ bodega. That I had let this go on for so long made me feel ashamed and very angry at myself as well as at Luis. I decided to confront him and demand an apology.  Yes, I had in the past joked back at him in the hope he would get the hint and stop but that was stupidly ineffectual.
       When I entered the little store I was immediately hit with the delicious perfume of strong coffee and I realized how much I missed the place---not Luis necessarily, but certainly his place.  Tina was busy at the checkout counter so I wandered toward the back storage room, nervously searching for my nemesis.  He didn’t seem to be around.  Disappointed, but also sort of relieved, I returned to the counter and Tina.
       “Hi, Tina, is your dad around?”  When she began to cry I knew what she was going to reply before she said it.   I felt the hairs on the back of my neck rise up like miniature antennae and my whole body suddenly seemed to weigh a ton.
       “He died last week.  He was so sick.  He---he was crying all the time.”
       “I’m so sorry.  What was wrong?  What was his sickness?”
       “It was cancer of something to do with his man parts.”
       “You mean his prostate?”
       “I guess that’s what it was.  Something that started with a P.  They told us it was stage four, that he had waited too long.”
       “I’m so sorry,” I repeated and this time I really meant it because, down deep, I knew I was responsible.  In some mysterious way it was my anger that had killed Luis Alvaro Perez.

       “That’s nuts, Danny.  People don’t die because someone hates them or is angry with them.”  That was my friend Charlie’s response when I told him what had happened to Luis.  “The only way I know of killing someone you hate is with a gun or a knife or maybe poison.”
       “But this has happened before to people I’ve known, people I disliked. Take Miss Sternberger, for instance.”
       “That was an accident, you know that.  And she was disliked by a lot of other people besides you.”
       “But there was this incident when I was a kid,” and I preceded to tell him about Mr. DeRosa.  He was not impressed.
       “Coincidences.  For god’s sake, Danny, get over it!  When you’re a little kid you think you’re responsible for all kinds of things, your folks divorcing or your dad drinking or a stranger touching you where he shouldn’t but when you get older you realize it’s not you, it’s just the way things are.’
       “But this is different, Charlie.  I can almost tell if it’s going to happen.  I mean, with Luis I had this reoccurring fantasy of him lying in a coffin and---"
       “Man, you have got some ego.  You actually believe you’ve got the power to kill people by simply willing them dead?  Danny, you are not God.  You are not even some avenging angel.”

       I knew what he was saying was right but I still had this tornedo of doubt twisting around in my gut.  I told him that I was frightened it might happen again.
       “Jesus H. Christ!  What will it take to convince you that you are not Dangerous Dan, the killing man?  There must be something we can do to prove this was all just a coincidence.  Let me think on it and we’ll talk later. Okay?  Enough drama.  Pour me a drink.”

       About a week later I got a call from Charlie.  He was his usual upbeat self and he sounded excited.
       “So I got this idea last night while I was sitting on the john.  Some of my best ideas come while I’m taking a dump.  Anyway, I’ve been figuring that the only way you’ll believe that you don’t have the power to think someone to death is if you try to do it consciously.”
       “Are you kidding?  I’m not doing that.  I’m not about to take the chance of killing some innocent person!”
       “First of all, I can guarantee you won’t be able to kill anyone.  You don’t have any magical powers, my friend, sorry to disappoint you.  Secondly, you wouldn’t be attempting this on an innocent stranger, far from it.”
       “What do you mean?”
       “What if I told you I have a person in mind deserving of a special place in Hell?  A true monster that should have been blasted off this earth years ago.”
       “I thought Hitler was dead already.”
       “Ha ha, very funny.  I’m serious here, buddy.  This man, this monster, has ruined many lives, including my older brother’s.  And if I’m wrong and you’ve really got this superpower then there’ll be one less son-of-a-bitch around to make so many more people suffer.”
       “You said he ruined your brother’s life.  That’s a serious accusation.  Who is this guy?”
       “He would have hurt me as well but I fought back.  He was the priest at my church when my brother Tommy was an altar boy.  Gennaro Jesselli.  He raped my brother and because my stupid brother trusted him and believed in his bull shit Tommy kept silent.  Then I come along and, of course, old Jesselli tried his funny business with me but I resisted.  In fact I walked out of that church and I haven’t been back since.  So, now I’m more than a lapsed Catholic.  I’m a non-Catholic.”
       “What about your brother?”
       “Well, I confronted him about what happened to me.  You want to talk about angry!  I was so furious! He had let me step into a trap, right into the arms of a monster.  No warning, no brotherly advice.  He started crying and saying he was sorry and what could he do to make it up to me.  I told him he had to tell the authorities what Jesselli had done to him, that that disgusting pig needed to go to jail.  Tommy was so scared and he is so damaged.  He’s never been able to hold down a job or sustain a relationship.  Anyway, to make a long story short a complaint was sent to the diocese and, what a surprise, Jesselli was finally gone.”
       “That must have been a relief.”
       “Yeah, I suppose so.  A little late for Tommy and me but better for the other boys.  However, here’s the kicker; a few years later Tommy writes to me from the mental hospital, where he’s been struggling so hard to get better, and says, guess who’s the visiting chaplain here?  You got it---Jesselli.  Turns out the church just kept moving him from parish to parish.  After he’d decimate one group of boys he’d be sent to another church where he would damage more young lives.”
       “But surely the Church must have stopped him by now.”
       “You’d think so, right?  That’s where you come in, if you’re up for it.  Father Gennaro Jesselli is currently pastor at St. Peregrine’s up in Yonkers.  Still up to his old tricks.  I thought you and I could take a little train ride north and scope him out.”
       “Charlie, you are out of your mind.  You want me to try and kill someone I don’t know, have never met, have never been angry at or have any reason to want dead.  I mean, I understand your anger.  You and your brother---”
       “Listen, as they say on the radio ‘this is only a test’ and I fully expect you to fail it.  In fact, since I know you won’t be able to kill off the bastard maybe I’ll do it myself.”
       “Relax, just kidding.  So meet me at the clock in Grand Central this Saturday around one and we’ll go visit my dear old friend Father Jesselli.  Just like old times.  I’ll get the train tickets. See ya.”
       “Charlie!” I exclaimed but he had hung up.

       St. Peregrine’s was a small gray stone church on Roosevelt Street in Yonkers.  It was hard to believe that this quiet town was actually the fourth largest city in New York State.  After the hustle and bustle of Manhattan I felt we were hundreds of miles away when actually we were just over the city line.
       On the train trip Charlie had explained how we were going to confront Father Jesselli.
       “I don’t think he’ll recognize me, it was a long time ago.  I’ll ask him to listen to my confession and then, when we are both settled comfortably in the confessional, I’ll remind him about his previous sins.  Hopefully, he will deny my accusations and stick around long enough for me to fill him in about you.”
       “What do you mean ‘fill him in?’
       “I’m going to tell him about this strange guy who is going to pay him a visit, a man who is going to lay a curse on him.”
       “A curse?  What kind of curse?  This is so ridiculous!  It’s like something out of an old  Bela Lugosi Movie.”
       “Right.  If I could play the church organ I’d run over to the keyboard and accompany you when you say your lines, give you some creepy background music.”
       “Lines?  What lines?”
       “Here, I wrote them out for you.  Read them and then memorize them.  It’s easy.  There are only two sentences.”

       We stood across the street from St. Peregrine’s and waited until the priest appeared.  He stepped out of a doorway located on the side of the church.  I figured it was the entrance to the basement and it probably was where the various church activities took place.  He was accompanied by two young boys, I guess about nine or ten years old, and he had his hand on the shoulder of one of them.  I could hear Charlie’s pattern of breathing change and see him clench and unclench his fists.
       I watched Father Jesselli talking  to the boys and then, after patting them on the head, he sent them on their way.  To anyone else looking upon the scene it would appear to be a beautiful Kodak moment; a sweet kindly old priest blessing two innocent children and watching them head off for home.  I found it hard to believe that this man, with the saintliest of smiles, was a pedophile  and a sexual abuser of young boys.  But I saw how disturbed Charlie was and I believed what he said about his brother and the other victims.
       Father Jesselli turned and climbed the front steps up to the two large oak doors and, pulling one open, entered and disappeared into the church.
       “Come on,” Charlie hissed as he grabbed my arm and started dragging me across the street.  “I’ll go in first and when you see the two of us head for the confessional you can come all the way in.”
       “I don’t know Charlie, this is so nuts—”
       “Just sit in the pew closest to the entrance and when he comes your way stand up and say your lines.”
       By this time Charlie and I were through the doors and he was on his way toward the priest. I waited as they greeted each other and Father Jesselli, smiling, indicated the curtained booths tucked away between the arches.  They both walked in that direction and I seated myself in the closest pew.
       I’d like to say that I came to my senses and, facing the fact that I had let myself be manipulated, got up and left the church and Charlie and his crazy scheme.  But I didn’t.  I sat there and sweated and repeated my ‘lines’ over and over.  I just wanted to be done with this silly charade and back on the train to Manhattan.
       After what seemed like an hour, I first heard and then saw Charlie running up the aisle like he was in a marathon race.  He was out the door before I could say anything and then---I was on.  It was time for me to perform my part in this morality play.  Father Jesselli suddenly appeared in the aisle and I could see he was irate.  No sweet old man, no saintly smile.  Instead there stood an ugly troll with a twisted sneer on his face and his body shaking with rage.
       I rose slowly from my position in the pew and took a step sideways into the aisle.  I opened my mouth in preparation to speak when, instead of heading my way, Father Jesselli turned and started moving down the aisle toward the sanctuary.  ‘What the hell do I do now?’ I thought and I heard Charlie’s voice in my head, ‘Say your lines, doofus!  Hurry up!  Just say your fucking lines!’
       “Father Jesselli!” My voice echoed off the stone walls.  The priest stopped in his tracks.
       “I have a message for you, from God!”  He turned slowly and faced me.
       “You will die within a week.” I then circled around and exited the church.  As I descended the steps I had a sudden feeling of foreboding. The look on the priest’s face, as I had turned to leave, was a mixture of terror and resignation.  He believed what I said.

       After all these years I look back and kind of wish it had all gone in a different direction.  I mean what would my world have been like if, instead of that phone call from Charlie, my life had continued rambling along on it’s typical middle-class journey; Macy’s China Department, marriage, suburban tract house, two cars, two kids, one dog, one mortgage and an acre of crab grass.  But that call did happen.

       “Hi Danny!  Oh man! My humblest apologies!”
       “Hey, Charlie.  What’s up?  What are you apologizing for?”
       “For ever doubting you!”
       “What are you talking about?”
       “About you, Dangerous Dan, the killing man!  You did it!”
       “Shit, Charlie, are you talking about the priest?”
       “You better believe it.  He’s dead.”  I stopped breathing.  I felt like I was slipping through the floor boards.  I was melting and flowing down into the basement.
       “As the proverbial door nail. Evidently he tripped going down the stairs into the basement of the church, cracked open his skull and bled to death before anyone found him.  My aunt read about it in the Yonkers Tribune.  You did it, man.”

       I did it.  Later that night, lying on my bed in a cold sweat, those three words kept repeating, I did it, I did it, I did it!  By early morning I had determined that I never wanted it to happen again.  It was bad enough that people I knew died because I unconsciously wished that they would.  Almost everyone has done that at least once in their lives, wished someone dead, but of course the intended person never died, except in my case.  But now I had ended the life of a stranger, a person who meant nothing to me, who hadn’t harmed me or insulted me or angered me, a stranger with whom I had spent all of fifteen minutes.  I had simply looked at him, said those stupid lines, thought of him being dead and---

       “You realize that all you have to do,” Charlie informed me, as he sat on the Futon in my little studio apartment, drinking a Heineken, “is will a guy dead and he’s a goner.  Boy, I sure don’t want to get on the wrong side of you.”
       “I didn’t will the priest to die, Charlie.  It didn’t happen that way.  I just sort of saw him dead, you know, visualized him no longer alive.”
       “Well, however you do it it’s amazing.”
       “It’s horrific!  It’s not amazing or wonderful or something I’d proudly put down on a resume.  It’s the murder of another human being.  I’m going to figure out a way to control myself and to never let it happen again.”

       Famous last words.  Of course it happened again.  It’s easy for me to blame it all on Charlie but, truth be told, there was something very seductive about having access to this power, this ability to determine whether an individual lived or died.

       Charlie dropped by the China Department one day  and found me at work displaying a set of Spode dinner plates.
       “You got time for lunch, buddy of mine?  I’ve got something I need to run by you.”
       “Sure.  Just let me finish this,” I replied, setting a decorative turkey platter down next to a gravy boat. I grabbed my jacket and we headed out of Macy’s and over to Keen’s Steak House.  After ordering  a couple of sirloins and a pitcher of beer Charlie filled me in on what he’d been up to.
       “I had a visit with an old friend of mine, Anthony Rossi.  We went to High School together.  Really nice guy.  So, he’s got this sister and evidently she’s married to this real piece of work , this guy who knocks her around and beats up their little kids.  He keeps her on a tight leash and won’t even let her see her own family.”
       “Why doesn’t she leave him?”
       “Well, Tony says she terrified of him and afraid he’ll harm her or the kids.”
       “Looks to me like he’s doing plenty of harm already.”
       “Yeah, well, I think she’s really afraid if she tries to leave him he’ll kill all of them.”
       “Is divorce out of the picture?”
       “You’re talking good Catholics, unlike yours truly, so not really an option, but even if it was, it’s kind of like ‘if I can’t have her I’ll see to it that no one else can have her.’
       “Sounds like a really awful situation.”
       “Yeah, so that’s why I offered Tony our services.”
       “Our services?  What services?”  I didn’t like where this was going.
       “You know, your special talent, your gift.”
       “Charlie, I hope you really didn’t do that.  You’re kidding, right?”
       “Danny, my boy, I can’t explain it.  I’m sitting there in Farrell’s Tavern out in Ronkonkoma with Tony and we’re drinking and talking old times and then he hits me with this story about his poor sister and it’s like an epiphany.  I mean, I realize I have the solution to his problem---you!”
       “There is a reason you have been blessed---”
       “Cursed!  It’s a fucking curse.”
       “Danny, listen to me.  You’ve got it all wrong.  When I said you were no avenging angel I made a big mistake.  You are that and more.   You are like one of those superheroes in the movies, you’ve got this power---”
       “Stop it, Charlie!  Just tell me what you told this friend of yours.”
       “Don’t worry.  I didn’t say anything about you.  I just said that I could take care of his problem and it would be done quietly and with nothing to trace back to him.”
       “Oh my god!  You sound like some two-bit gangster!  What did he say to your proposal?”
       “He asked how much.”
       “Oh dear lord in heaven!  This is bad, really bad.  You didn’t answer him, please tell me you didn’t!”
       “Listen, this guy is rolling in dough.  He has a house in the Hamptons and a duplex on the upper East Side.  I think he’s even got one of those chalets in Switzerland or Belgium or one of those countries.  Maybe it’s Monaco, I don’t know---”
       “Okay, okay.  I asked for twenty thousand.”
       “No, pizzas.  Of course dollars!  Ten thousand as a down payment and the rest when the job is done.”
       “I’m going to be sick.  Do you realize what you’ve done?  You are going to be in such trouble---”
       “Danny, calm down.  Listen, listen  to me.  This is important. You have been put on this earth for a reason.  It is your mission to eliminate toxic individuals, it’s as simple as that.  And I’ve been chosen to be your facilitator, your agent, if you will, and, as such, I will take care of all the details.  All you have to do is---do whatever it is that you do.”
       “No fucking way!  I’m not going to become some kind of amateur hit man!  If this Tony of yours is so rich---and, by the way, what does he do to make so much money?”
       “I don’t know---investments, import, export.  Shit, I don’t know.”
       “Well, it sounds to me like he might have other avenues he can follow and, if that’s so, he can hire some professional---”
       “He says he thought about that but that that would be too close to home, too many people would put two and two together.”
       “Charlie, I’m ending this conversation.  You call up Mr. Tony what’s-his-name and tell him the deal is off---now!”
       “Aw, come on Danny.  Give me a break.  I can’t do that.  We shook on it.”
       “I don’t care if you kissed his ass!.  Tell him it’s off!”  And that was when Charlie reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out an envelope and handed it to me.  I opened the flap and took a peek.  Tucked inside were ten crisp new one-thousand dollar bills.

       It was easy, actually.  That’s what makes it so appealing.  There’s no violence, no confrontation, no physical contact.  I look at the person, I imagine them dead and then I walk away.  Anthony Rossi’s brother-in-law ran Esposito’s Refrigerator Installation and Repair shop in Long Island City.  I just walked up to the large window in front of his place of work, spied him repairing what looked like a refrigerator and, after double checking the photo of him Charlie had given me, I rapped on the window.  He looked up and frowned.  Unpleasant fellow.  I smiled, waved my hand, then turned and walked away.  Done, fini, over, and so was Mr. Peter Esposito.
       The freaky accident made the front page of the Daily News. ‘MAN DIES, LOCKED IN FREEZER.’  What the police figured out was that Esposito had entered the walk-in meat storage unit to check on one of the pipes and when he finished and tried to exit, the safety release, which was supposed to prevent a person from getting locked in, jammed.  It was a Saturday and no one was around so he began to run out of oxygen.  They found him, early on Monday morning, curled up in a fetal position and frozen as hard as one on the sides of beef hanging from the ceiling  of the freezer.  Charlie collected the rest of the cash and my career as a hired assassin had begun.

       In the beginning Charlie took a twenty percent cut of the fee like any regular agent  but, as this bizarre experiment grew into a million dollar business, we agreed the money should be split down the middle, 50 50.  After all, Charlie did most of the work, the research, the planning, the setting of the price for my services, the collection of the fee, etc.  I just completed the project, often in less than ten minutes.
       I never knew how he found clients, and their targets, nor did I want to.  I imagine a lot of it was by word of mouth.  Murder for hire is not something you advertise on TV or in your local newspaper.  And it was murder, I never deluded myself about that.  It wasn’t always some altruistic act of mercy on my part, ridding the world of bad guys who preyed on  good guys.  Yes, it’s true I requested that the target not be chosen just because he was in somebody’s way or that he ticked someone off.  And I insisted that the target (I never used the word victim) had to be a seriously dangerous threat.  But what did I really know?  I had to depend on Charlie telling me the truth about a client and why a target needed to be eliminated.  However, it would have been very easy for him to add to the list a person unjustly targeted and I would never know it.   If I’m completely honest, I’m pretty sure he probably did that more than once.  With Charlie it was always about the money.
       If I’m going to be truly honest, the money was important to me as well.  I could finally give my mother the things she never had.   I could live in a large, bright comfortable apartment, I could afford a decent car, I was able to buy my clothes at Brooks Brothers and eat at La Bernardin, although I preferred to cook my own meals.  But I wasn’t into being ostentatious.  I didn’t want to stand out in a crowd.  I valued my anonymity.
       Any serous relationship with a woman was not possible.  Marriage was certainly not an option.  I felt I could not involve someone I loved in something so dangerous and immoral.  “Bye, honey.  I’m off to work.  Got to stare murderously at someone so they die.  Love ya!”
       I kept my job at Macy’s for two reasons, it kept the IRS off my back and I actually liked working there.  Charlie called it my Clark Kent disguise; mild mannered department manager by day and avenging superhero by night.  The money I earned ‘moonlighting’ was never put in the bank.  I had a large safe installed in my walk-in closet and that was where the cash was stored.  I made no major investments, didn’t play the stock market, had no off-shore accounts.  To the state and federal government I was a hard working citizen earning a moderate salary, paying my taxes, owning only one credit card and maintaining a modest savings account at my neighborhood bank.
       Charlie established an actual consulting firm to use as a front for his ‘real’ business.  It was manned by a legitimate staff of qualified consultants and was successful on its own.  He was the CEO and, if he had wanted to, he could have quit the gun for hire business and just run this corporation.  But I realized he really got off on being a god because that was exactly what it was. He was the one making the monumental decision of who was going to ‘buy the farm.’  I was merely his instrument of death.  It didn’t make me any the less guilty but he really enjoyed his role in this macabre drama while I simply accepted the fact that this was a way to direct my ‘talent’ away from accidentally killing an innocent person.

       We both lived with the possibility of being found out, of maybe being caught up in a sting operation.  In our case, however, the nasty truth is that authorities don’t really care too much about the victims, it’s the money that bothers them.  All that money, that never gets taxed, makes them very angry.  That’s how they got Al Capone, not for murder, drugs or bootlegging but for tax evasion.   Anyway, as Charlie had pointed out several times, they would never believe or understand what I do and that, so far, all the deaths had been declared natural or accidental.  We just had to keep hoping that we wouldn’t step into a trap and get caught accepting payment for our dubious services.  So far, so good.

       While my rule was to never be told who the client was, I still needed to know something about the target.  It helped me to understand why they were chosen and to accept what I was going to do. Let me give you an example.
       Earlier I mentioned the gangster Al Capone.  Charlie sent me a file on another ‘Goodfella,’ who’s name I can’t  reveal at this time.  Included, with several photographs, was a list of his crimes which covered everything from kidnapping and rape to torture and murder.  This was one bad hombre.  Reading the description of what he did to his victims edged out any feelings of sympathy  I might have had and ramped up my anger.  When I saw him standing in front of the local Brothers of Italy meeting hall, all proud and arrogant, it was easy to give him the ‘stare.’  He glanced up and saw me gazing at him.  “What da fuck you staring at, skinny?”  I just smiled and continued walking on down the sidewalk.  Two days later he suffered a massive heart attack while playing poker in the meeting hall.  He fell out of his chair on to the floor and turned blue as his heart exploded.  Too many cigars, too much alcohol, too much red meat and too many acts of violence.

       Over the years all of my targets were men, with one exception.  When Charlie told me that my next target was a woman I was a little shook up.  I guess I naively thought women weren’t capable of being truly evil.  Sure there were women who killed but it was usually because they were provoked into doing so by abusive husbands or they were stuck in circumstances that were intolerable and murder seemed the only way out.  Shows you how sexist I was.
       Brenda Felton was the widow of Bruce Felton the famous realtor who reportedly owned half of Manhattan.  If you looked at the New York City skyline from either New Jersey or Brooklyn and Queens and saw sky scrapers with their towers topped in gold leaf you were looking at property owned by Felton.  When her husband died (under mysterious circumstances) she took over the business and ran it like a military installation.  She became known by the staff as General Felton, a nick name she enthusiastically adopted and it was grudgingly admitted that she was a better realtor than her recently deceased husband.  She ran a series of glamorous commercials, starring herself of course, inviting the public to enjoy living the high life by leasing an apartment, an office or a retail space in one of her fabulous buildings.
       What the public, watching these sexy videos of posh condos and sleek corporate headquarters, didn’t know was that she was also a member of that group of self-serving toads known as Slum Lords.  When you are travelling through the Bronx on a commuter train and you see block after block of brick tenements, it probably never crosses your mind that someone owns those.  General Felton owned hundreds of them and she made a tidy profit off the income they provided.  However, because she couldn’t charge the kind of rent she got off of her gilded towers in Manhattan (although the tenement rents were high enough) she had to make cuts in the services.
       She benefited from the New York City heating law that said she only had to provide heat from October 1st  to May 31st.    God forbid there was a cold snap in September. She was under no obligation to have the heat turned on.  And while the temperature in every apartment was to be at least 68 degrees during the day and 62 degrees at night this was not always the story.   The furnace would break down, ‘We’ll get that taken care of right away!’  The oil delivery was delayed, ‘We’ll get that taken care of right away!’  No hot water, “We’ll get that taken care of right away!’  Don’t hold your breath.
       It is also a city law that every building has to be clean and vermin free.  This means that there should be a manager living in each tenement who is hired to maintain the building.  Felton cut back on that expense by employing one supervisor for every five buildings.  In exchange for free rent and a small salary the poor super was on call 24/7 and he or she spent hundreds of hours running back and forth between tenements unplugging toilets, sweeping halls, replacing fuses, setting rat traps and spraying for cockroaches.  Of course, it was impossible to keep this up for any length of time so none of Felton’s holdings were ever really clean and vermin free.
       Repairs and upkeep, such as window replacement, painting and restoration of woodwork all cost money too so, unless the building was a potential site for a possible lawsuit, Felton never wasted any cash on what she considered non-essential beautification.  Therefore, her tenants lived in ugly, dirty, cold and damp apartments while they struggled to pay the rent.  If and when they complained to city officials, the authorities would hand General Felton a fine which she promptly paid and the problem would never be addressed.  It was far cheaper to pay the fine than replace the boiler or install better electrical wiring.
       There were many other ways to avoid paying for what Felton considered unnecessary upgrades and she wasn’t alone in this.  While many landlords took pride in their properties, a large majority neglected theirs and, like the General, provided little for the rent they collected.  Felton, conversely, was very generous with city officials and, as the old saying goes, ‘money talks.’

       After reading through most of her file and admittedly being disgusted with the way she treated her less wealthy residents, I still found I didn’t believe she deserved to be terminated; maybe exposed and punished but not executed.  And then I lifted the last page and found  the reason why someone wanted her dead.
       Getting someone evicted from a rental is a long and difficult process.  There are many laws in place to protect the inhabitants of an apartment.  Some landlords don’t want to wait around forever, while spending a lot of money working on extricating a tenant,  and so they reach into their bag of dirty tricks and start turning off the electricity or the water, dumping garbage in the hall, sending goons around to beat on their door in the middle of the night, leaving anonymous threatening letters, scrawling pornographic graffiti on the walls and so on.
       Felton took it a step further.  Often a mysterious fire would destroy the floor of  one of her tenements.  The cause would be determined to be a careless tossing of a cigarette or the spontaneous igniting of a pile of oil soaked rags.  This unhappy accident would put a tenant out on the street and, after a shoddy restoration of the apartment, the General would lease it again with a sizable increase in rent.
       Unfortunately, there was one time when one of these accidental fires spread to the other floors and the entire building was destroyed.  Felton wasn’t too upset because she could collect on the insurance policy and it was one less building she had to deal with.  But there was one little problem.  Usually, these ‘accidental’ fires happened during a weekday afternoon when most of the residents were either at work or at school.  But on this one occasion it just happened that a grandmother was living on the top floor where she  was babysitting her two granddaughters.  The fire moved too fast and the smoke was too thick for the three of them to escape and so they perished.

       There were several newspaper articles in the file about the tragic fire and it’s aftermath.  Felton Realty was sued for major fire violations and several other breaches of safety  and General Felton herself was eventually arrested and charged with arson and manslaughter.  The trial made fascinating reading, with witnesses testifying that Felton had hired them to harass inhabitants and the General denying any wrong doing.  ‘I’m a good landlord and fond of my renters. This tragic accident has saddened me deeply.  Mrs. Garcia was a fine woman and I’m so sorry about what happened to her and her grandkids.  But it was not my fault.’  Three weeks later, after a lot of money spent on the best lawyers and no solid evidence presented to prove her guilt, the jury agreed that, indeed, it was not her fault.
       The Garcia family eventually slammed Felton with a civil suit but, it ended the same as the criminal trial.  However, General Felton, being the generous compassionate human being that she believed herself to be, handed the family a personal check for five thousand dollars.  Mr. Juan Garcia, the deceased’s son, tore up the check and threw it in her face.
       I made an appointment to meet General Felton at her office.  When I arrived I was kept waiting for an hour in this opulent white and silver lobby and then I was ushered into the General’s  inner sanctum.  A tall, thin beauty, dressed in a Christopher Kane suit, rose from her glass and stainless steel desk, stepped around it and came toward me extending her right hand.  I did not take it.
       “Ms. Felton.  You’re going to die soon.”  I turned away from her and exited.  I heard her call out my name ( I had used an alias) and then a ‘What the hell!’  But by that time I was entering the stainless steel elevator and beginning my decent.
       Two weeks later I was in my apartment making my lunch when I glanced over at the TV and saw a banner scroll across the screen: ‘Famous Realtor Brenda Felton killed in freak accident.’  I turned up the sound and listened as the Ken Doll of a commentator ominously revealed the gory details.
       “Brenda Felton, prominent and influential realtor, was killed early this morning while on an inspection tour of a new office tower under construction.  It’s reported that her jacket got caught on the corner edge of a descending service elevator and that she was dragged down several stories before the wire cage could be stopped.  What her injuries were have not been revealed as of yet.”

       I’ve been doing this now for many years.  Charlie said our life stories  would make a good  book or a movie.  It certainly hasn’t been boring.  I’ve been to many cities in the states, even Hawaii.  I’ve been to South America, Central America and Canada.  I’ve handled cases in the UK: a plastic surgeon with sloppy hygiene, France: a gymnastics coach with a yen for nubile young girls, Italy: an up and coming young don, Kenya: a farmer big on torture.  The list is endless.
       Yesterday, Charlie met with me and handed me a file the size of an old fashioned telephone book.
       “This is a biggie, Danny. The largest fee I’ve ever been offered. I’m talking six fucking zeros!  We’re going to have to go slowly and plan very carefully.  You spend a couple of days reading this, think about it and we’ll talk next week.”
       I put the file on my desk to be looked at later.   Instead, I perused the mail I had just picked up downstairs in the lobby.  Bills, flyers and three invitations to upcoming charity events.

       Over time I found I had amassed a very large nest egg.  I never was a big spender, no yacht, no second home, no second car, no private jet, etc.  I therefor decided to start giving donations to various charities.  Perhaps it was a semiconscious attempt to atone for my many sins but all I know is it felt good to start emptying my safe of some of those ill-gotten gains.
       I stayed away from political contributions and stuck to those charities that seemed to serve those who really needed help.  As the years went by my reputation as a major donor, who didn’t use a credit card or a check but an envelope of cash for my contribution, became known by most of the heads of these philanthropies.  I received invitations weekly to dinners, auctions, masked balls, museum tours, concerts---you name it and I was invited to it as an honored guest.  However, I rarely attended any of these events and, instead, would just send, by messenger, several thousand dollars in a sealed envelope.

       When Charlie and I finally got together I had read the dossier of our next target.  It was impressive to say the least.  It covered almost his entire history from teen to middle-age and it was eye opening.  This individual had committed so many illegalities, ruined so many lives, physically abused so many persons and hid it all behind a façade of respectability.  He was a true sociopath, a borderline psychopath and a monster of the first degree.
       “So, I’ve been trying to figure out,” Charlie explained, “how to get you close enough for you to be able zap him.  This is a tough one.”
       “Charlie, I have a surprise for you.  This is the one time when I have the plan.’
       “Oh, yeah?  Moving in on my territory, are you?” he jokingly replied.
       “You bet.  You’re not the only mastermind in this corporation.”
       “So, what have you got, genius?
       “I’ve written it all down,” I said handing him a couple of printed pages, “Check it out.”
       He sat back and began reading what I wrote.  By the time he got to the second page he was smiling.  “Danny, this is great!  Very clever.  I think it’ll work.  How much time do we have to prepare?”
       “The event is in two weeks.  Plenty of time.”
       “Right.  This is going to be amazing.”
       Easy for him to feel amazed.  For me I was just going to feel depressed because once more I was going to violate the number one rule that ‘thou shall not kill.’

       This fund raising dinner was taking place at the Plaza Hotel.  It was one of those two thousand dollars a plate meals of prime rib with a large helping of boring speeches.  I arrived wearing my Tom Ford tuxedo and joined the crowd buzzing around the bar, numbing themselves for the evening ahead.  I asked for a tonic and lime, as I never want to be fuzzy when I’m working.  I had only had one or two sips when Barbara Dunleavy, co-chair of this event spotted me and came rushing over.
       “Oh, darling Daniel!  I’m so glad you could make it!” she gushed, all a flutter in a turquoise silk chiffon gown, “And thank you, thank you, thank you for your very generous pledge!”
       (Money you’ll never see if everything works out, I thought to myself.)
       “I know how shy you are,” she continued, “ about all the good things you do.”
       (If you only knew.)
       Barbara started to lead me into the ball room, where the tables were set up for the evening’s festivities, when a hubbub around the entrance indicated the guest of honor had arrived.
       “Oh, he’s here!  Let’s see if we can get over there,” she said, pushing her way through the crowd like the prow of an ocean liner and dragging me behind her.
       As we got closer I saw this tall blond gentleman shaking hands and posing for selfies with middle aged men and women who were acting like teenagers at a rock concert.  His smile was very wide and very white and his tan only made it appear whiter.  The crowd around him was at least six rows deep but Barbara wedged her way through to the first row and whispered something to one of the men standing next to the guest of honor.  He in turn whispered into the tall man’s ear and the guest of honor spun around to face Barbara.  His smile widened, if that was possible, and he indicated he wanted her to join him.
       “Get over here,” he shouted, “Bring that gorgeous body of yours over here, now!” And, with the giggle of a sixteen year old, she stepped over to him with me still in tow.
       “My god, woman, you are getting more beautiful every time I see you!”
       “Oh, hush, you silly man.  Now, I want to introduce you to one of your fans---”
       (When Hell freezes over.)
       “And he’s the donor who has made the highest pledge, so far.”  She pulled me to her side and I found myself facing the man of the evening.
       “It’s my pleasure to introduce you to the man who is going to help you get reelected, Mr. Daniel Amateau.”
       I stared at the President of the United States and smiled.

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