The Fate Worse Than Death

Muzzle Flash, December 9th, 2006

"No offense, but I don’t think you’re anybody’s wife. Let alone his.”

“Why’s that?” said Diana.

The man who sat facing her was sweaty and obese. He was also right.

“There’s a look. You don’t have it.”

“What kind of look?”

“Like you get up in the morning and start kidding yourself about the jerk you live with, and you keep kidding yourself until you go to sleep at night, because that’s the only way you can live with yourself. You don’t look like you kid yourself about much of anything.”

She held her finger up and showed him the ring. It fit pretty well.

“Anybody can wear a ring,” he said.

She had a thousand dollars in her bag. It was five times her hourly rate, but she was starting to think she wouldn’t earn it.

“You want to see pictures?” she said.

The client had Photoshopped some typical couple stuff. Diana had put the prints in her wallet and stepped on it a few times. She thought they had ended up looking plausible--well-worn shots of Diana and husband at the beach, Diana and husband at a black-tie affair.

“Fakes,” he said.

“Okay, Plan B. The client says she’ll cover the debt. I guess she’s the one with the money.”

“He didn’t bet money. He bet his wife. I get to fuck her.”

“Plan C. I’m here. I’m already paid for. A thousand dollars, and I’m worth it.”

“I’m sure you are, but you’re not his wife.”

“He really pissed you off, didn’t he?”

“He knows the rules. If he doesn’t, he needs to learn. One way or the other.”

She got up from her chair.

“I guess they’ll get back to you.”

She turned to leave. She hadn’t taken her coat off. Outside the wind sucked the extra heat out of her in seconds. At least her windshield hadn’t had time to frost over.

Diana started her Maxima and drove the three miles to the client’s house. The client led her to the living room and sat on the couch.

“He didn’t go for it,” said Diana. She didn’t bother to sit. The room was frigid, and she wondered why the windows were wide open.

She held the envelope out. “Eight hundred. I took two for an hour of my time. Your ring is in there, too.”

“You might as well keep it,” said the client. “Everything.“

She sat hunched over, as if protecting something in her folded arms.

“Why? I didn’t earn it.”

The client nodded toward the door to the kitchen. Diana pushed the door open and looked. A man lay on his back on the floor. Diana hadn’t met the husband, but this man resembled the one in the photos she had been carrying.

The only difference was the black-rimmed hole in his forehead.

Diana sniffed the air. Behind the door the wind hadn’t flushed the smell of gunshot away. She turned back to the client.

“I‘m probably a little warped,” said Diana, “but what’s one more dick? Was it really the fate worse than death?”

“Depends,” said the client. “Whose death?”