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Chapter 1

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by Nicholas Stillman

Terry Prescott cleaned the floors and washrooms of a rundown high school across the street from a closed down hospital. He hated his job like he hated his reflection in the countless screened windows. His frayed janitorial broom seemed too narrow for the halls but too wide for dodging desk legs to gather balled up paper and junk food wrappers. Since his wife and kid took off three years ago (for greener pastures, no doubt) he resorted to barflying every afternoon after work. Today brought no exception, despite the five thousand stuffed in his pocket and the stranger's promise to kill him before his 49th birthday.

Terry, while wrestling with an overflowing garbage bag, noticed the stranger in the empty classroom doorway. Feeling boxed in, he released the black bunny ears of plastic he would normally tie together and stood straight for the first time that day. The stranger raised a hand in a gentle wave. It did nothing to calm Terry, nor did the trim silver hair or clean shaven face. The man wore a hunting vest, steel toe boots, and a scoped hunting rifle strapped to his back for God sakes.

They stood in a freaking urban high school, not deer camp. But the stranger's eyes looked confident and intense. He bore a sense of gravitas, and told Terry with a look that this little meeting took some serious preparation.

"Mr. Prescott," he said, staring deep into the startled janitor.

Taken aback, Terry had nothing to say. You just don't encounter hunters in high schools or any urban cesspools for that matter. Terry fell into the grind years ago, seeing no one after school hours save for the Yearbook Committee on Thursdays. Today's date of Friday loomed over them right there on Mrs. Myers' chalkboard. Al's would have strippers tonight.

"I came by to chat," the stranger said. "The school looks empty, so no one will bother us. And I think you tidied up all the rooms for the day."

Yep. Carrying the last sour garbage bags out to a scuffed dumpster and locking up doors felt nearly rewarding enough to take note. But only a laborer would care of such things. Some part of Terry that didn't matter anymore, a part that withered down long ago, sparked up just like a youth might have raised his hand here earlier today.

"How do you know me?" Terry asked.

"I do my research," the stranger said, taking a step forward. "I know you as a miserable middle aged man, and you do not want to end up a miserable old man. I see a man on his way out the slow and painful way."

Terry figured this guy had watched him enter and leave Al's for a while and without getting seen. But what idiot would roam the public with a rifle in plain view? Did this stranger use disguises? Did some country boy hit Alzheimer's age early and stalk a worthless janitor at random? Maybe the ex wife wanted something and knew some weird camper folks who don't care about getting caught. One other possibility struck Terry with a turn of his already bad stomach: the stranger indeed did his research-enough to know this area's police routines and what times and places witnesses would stay absent.

"You should mind your own business," Terry snapped.

The stranger approached, folded his arms and leaned on a window frame. The sunlight glinted in his eyes as he surveyed the world of cracked concrete two stories below.

"Well, Mr. Prescott," he said, "I make it my business to offer people like you a better way out, a quicker way. I do people in, Mr. Prescott, and I do it quick and painlessly. You wouldn't even know when it happens. It could happen as you do your morning stretches, or as you go off to work, or while you sit alone watching the news, and then suddenly, everything ends. I run a good business. No alcohol withdrawal in some rehab center, no doctors forcing you through all that detox until you die anyway when they decide to stop practicing on you. My way, a single shot through the head when you least expect it, works in your favor. And I never miss."

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