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Contract Killer:

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I took a deep breath and pressed my hands into the back of the chair I was leaning on for support.

“Gina, you can’t be here.”

“Why ever not?” she asked. “Oh, dear! I’ve upset you again.”

I stood in mute shock and horror. All my plans to be alone, all my plans for no one to get hurt … no matter what I do, no matter what I try, every year something goes wrong with my wishes for solitude on New Year’s Eve.

Why? Why me? I don’t want any of this to happen, I don’t, I don’t…

“You haven’t spent any of this,” she said picking up the envelopes and fanning out the 50 grand in cash, her picture and dossier. “It looks like it’s untouched. You know there’s a lot of money here, you could get a nicer apartment or decorate this one a little.” She looked around. “Fix it up,” she finished lamely.

I shook my head. “I usually give most of it to charity.”

She gave me a long, strange look. I continued: “And you can have all of that back. I can’t go through this with you.”

I took a deep and audible breath. “I am not going to go through this with you. I am not going to spend New Year‘s Eve with you, and I am not going to let my curse be responsible for your death next year. In fact, please, leave now, and take your money with you.”

She held my gaze, then stated simply, clearly in a businesslike voice: “I am not leaving. I am not taking the money back. What do you mean you give most of it to charity?”

“I don’t need $50,000 a year to live comfortably,” I responded. “I discovered a long time ago I could live very well on a lot less. Once I paid off my debts, I had decided on the 50 grand cash, because I thought it was a high enough number that people would really have to think hard about before calling up my services—before hiring a contract killer. But I don’t need most of it, so I give away pretty close to half of it each year. Mostly to Opera House Theatre Company and NPR; I figure that they bring a lot of joy to many different people. I don’t need it.”

“Ah, it’s your penance or possibly your Indulgences.”

She turned back to the groceries.

“People in business do it all the time, where do you think all those corporate sponsorships of concerts and charitable fund drives come from?” she asked. “Partly marketing—getting their name on the banner. Partly greed—in the form of prestige and free tickets. Partly guilt.”

We looked at each other in silence. She sipped her wine and played nervously with her hair. “You know, indulgences didn’t die out with the Catholic church. Just because we don’t call them that anymore doesn’t mean we don’t have them. I was attracted to Catholicism for a while and just loved that you really only seem to need 51 percent good deeds to get into heaven. Finally, it clicked for me that that’s part of why the Catholic church has survived for so long! 51 percent, wow…” She trailed off.

“Please, leave,” I said again.

“You don’t like me, do you?”

“It has nothing to do with liking or not liking you,” I said. “But I don’t want to do this.”

“Could you stop it if you wanted?”

“If I could, don’t you think I would have years ago? Do you think I like watching every person I have ever loved or cared for die? Because of me?”

Tears streamed down my face. My chest heaved.

“I’m not leaving.”

She walked into the living room and perched on my ratty arm chair. “I want this, I am ready. I’m not taking your money back either. I can spend money however I want, and I want this.”

I sank into the chair, shaking and sobbing. She watched me cry, then went to the kitchen and came back with a towel. “Blow your nose; you’ll feel better.”

When I was little, my mother would wash my face and hands with a cool wet towel when I would cry. I could still feel her hands moving like a waning moon around my face as she wiped away the distress banishing it forever. I missed it; it is not the same when I do it for myself. I don’t love me enough.

Ms. Gwenyfar Rohler is the author of “The Contract Killer,” which runs every other week in encore through 2013. To catch up on previous chapters, read www.encorepub.com

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