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Kill and Cure
About the Author: ROBERT LOPRESTI is a retired librarian, living in the Pacific Northwest. His eighty-plus stories have won Derringer and Black Orchid Novella Awards, and been reprinted in Best American Mystery Stories. He blogs at SleuthSayers and Little Big Crimes.

“I’m sorry,” the doctor said. “There’s no way we can help you.”

Turner sat still, wondering what he was supposed to be feeling. Rage? Disappointment? Despair?

Numb. That’s how he felt. Numb.

He swallowed. “Dr. Madison, from what I hear this experiment—”

“Clinical trial.”

Turner shrugged. “It’s my only hope. Why can’t I get in? I know I don’t have insurance …”

It never seemed necessary. He had expected to die young or spend most of his life in prison, getting any treatment he needed on the government’s dime. “But I’ve got plenty of money.”

Madison shook her head. She was an attractive African-American woman in her forties, with tightly-curled hair cut short. “There would be no cost to participate in the trial, Mr. Kass. You simply don’t qualify.”

“Why? I’m too sick?”

“No, you’re too young.”

Turner blinked. “Excuse me?”

“The protocols for these trials are very precise. They must be in order to get meaningful results. This one is for men between ages forty and fifty. You’re only thirty-eight.”

He felt his pulse pounding in his ears. “You’re saying you won’t help me live longer because I’m dying so young? Seriously?”

Dr. Madison’s lips tightened. “These trials aren’t about individuals. The goal is to determine whether a drug or procedure can assist categories of patients. If we can’t identify the—”

“Yeah, I get it.” He stood up. “Look, there’s an easy fix. Forget you saw me. I’ll make a new appointment and tell you I’m forty.”

“I can’t do that.”

“You mean you won’t. I’m gonna die because of your stupid rule.”

Her left hand was under the desk. Do doctors have panic buttons? He couldn’t afford a run-in with the cops. Not a man like—

An idea popped into his head, one so crazy he could hardly believe it was there.

He sat down and smiled. Crossing his legs, casual as you please, willing her hand away from the desk. “Look, if I can’t change your mind, maybe we can barter.”

She frowned. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“I’ve got a talent, a skill you might have a use for.” Turner felt giddy. Thirteen years in the business, he’d never told anyone this, not a lover, not his brother, not the lawyer who got him off after a little bad luck in Fresno years ago.

Desperate times.

“I’m a hit man.”

The doctor stared at him blankly. Then her eyes widened. “You mean—you kill people?”

Turner nodded. “For pay. Exactly.”

“And you think I might want someone killed? Is that what you’re saying?” She seemed torn between astonishment and fury.

“Look, don’t take it personally. I’m playing the only card left in my hand. Besides, several of my customers have been doctors. They had a crooked partner, a cheating spouse …”

Madison frowned. “My partners are fine, thank you very much. My ex-husband is someone else’s problem. And I bitterly resent that you—”

Her face went blank.

Bingo. He said nothing.

It took almost a minute before the doctor focused on him again. “You really are a hitman?”

“It’s not something people lie about.”

“I mean—” Her hand fluttered. “Do you have any proof?”

“I don’t have a union card and I’m not much of a scrapbooker.” He smiled. “Tell you what. Give me a name and if there isn’t a funeral by the end of the week, you can leave me out of your study.”

The doctor faded back into silence. Turner counted out three minutes this time.

“There is someone I … Someone.”

He nodded.

Madison lifted a framed photo off her desk. She gazed at it for a long moment before holding it out.

Turner saw a young Black man wearing a sports coat, a tie, and a big grin. The resemblance was unmistakable.

“Is this who you want me to—”

“No!” She held out her hand and he gave the picture back. For a moment he thought she was going to wipe it off, as if he had sullied it. “That’s my son Daniel. He was murdered seven months ago.”

This story appears in our AUG 2022 Issue
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