The Harold Washington Library Center is usually quiet on Wednesday mornings, and this Wednesday morning is no different. I enjoy a leisurely stroll through the aisles, inhaling the aroma of old books and the stench of new ones. The paperbacks smell of plastic, not paper and ink, and I hurry past them.
I reach the mystery section. Peters, Ellis Peters--and here, One Corpse Too Many. To ensure my client has followed directions, I thumb through the book. I see a napkin between pages 52 and 53. The rebel, I despise him. I wish he were my target, that I could kill him.
I remember the last man I killed--Target Twenty-Seven. He was a murderer, one who had fallen through the cracks in the system. For two months I planned his death. I purchased airplane tickets and a hotel room in Mexico. I planned excursions. Then, I created a contest with the trip as the prize and ensured that he won.
While he was in Mexico, on his excursion to the Mayan ruins, I darted him. The dart was the work of a friend of mine, a modification of a zoological tranquilizer. It was slow-release cyanide laced with just enough malaria to fool a drug test. He died four days later--a mosquito-borne illness, according to the doctors. Target Twenty-Seven was my finest work. He was the type who had killed and would have killed again. He was the type who laughed when others winced, whose eyes were filled with evil gleams when a soul was tortured. He deserved death, and I delivered it to him.
But too many of my clients want an innocent man to die. As I check out my book and leave the Harold Washington Library Center, I wonder if the New Yorker wants the blood of a guiltless man or that of a person who deserves death.
I sit in my car and examine the napkin. The details are written in chicken-scratch writing, but they are legible enough to make out. I examine them closely, carefully, ensuring I made no errors. I rewrite everything in my own handwriting, which is still scratchy, but less chickeny, and with a certain flair I inherited from copying my grandmother's recipes:
Valencia Marianne Beltramo
8703 Cherryvale Lane, Brookfield IL
A woman? A fellow Italian? I will find it very difficult to kill this target. On my way home, I wonder what she could have done to deserve a death sentence. Murder? Embezzling? Or perhaps she was the unfortunate object of the New Yorker's affections before she chose someone else over him.
I stop at a red light and gaze at my napkin again. Brookfield. There is a zoo in Brookfield, a good zoo, that my parents would take me and my siblings to when we were young. My first memory of the place is riding in a rented red wagon next to my baby sister, and screaming as a butterfly landed on her face. There was an indoor monkey-house that was so warm and humid that it made me forget the Chicago cold outside. And there were bears, and giraffes, and peacocks that roamed free near the picnic tables. And once, my father bought gelato for the family--except that it was that flash-frozen gelato, the type that came in prepackaged bowls of tiny spheres.
Finally, I reach my home in Addison. It is simply a modest apartment, neither luxuriant nor squalorous, but the rent is reasonable, and it has both heating and air conditioning. I set my laptop on the kitchen table and heat some water for hot chocolate. The October air is already detestably cold.
I use my Internet resources to investigate Valencia. I see her husband's obituary, dated five months ago. They were married four years and had no children. Valencia works at a coffee shop, she has subscriptions to Better Homes & Gardens, she owns a Kia Soul. She is twenty-nine years old and, as I finally stumble across her picture, very lovely to look at.
I investigate her husband. He worked for a computer software firm that is based in New York. He was promoted to manager a mere three months before his death, an apparent suicide by drug overdose.
Here is our connection to the detestable New Yorker.
Here is another target I will not kill.
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.