I finally found the disc containing all of my digitized work from earlier times. There’s a lot on here, some of which I might eventually finish, but this fragment has a particular lineage that I’d forgotten.

During the heyday of AOL message boards, before they committed suicide by eliminating the boards and thereby giving nobody a reason to visit AOL anymore, among the reading boards was one called Hardboiled. The list of authors posting there on a regular basis is staggering.

Robert Crais, Randy Wayne White, James W. Hall, Robert Randisi, SJ Rozan, Harlan Coben, John Gilstrap, Laura Lippman, Max Allan Collins and literally dozens more. There were more famous authors on the board than there were fans. It was amazing.

For a while, James Hall (or Just Jim, as he insisted on being called), wrote a tongue-in-cheek short story every holiday about hardboiled PI James Holliday. I was inspired by these stories to write one of my own, not a Holliday story but in the same vein, and what I came up with was Lifeenders. This is the only fragment that survives, but I thought you guys might like it anyway.

This little bit dates from April, 1999. And who knows? Maybe one day I’ll finish it.

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The blonde was bleached, like raptor bones frozen in Cretaceous mud. The guy was fleshy, his jowls sagging like warm bread dough. Jewels glittered on most of their twenty fingers. They both smelled nice, like those French milled soaps hotels put in the little baskets in the bathrooms.

“You have read the contract, I assume?” I said. “You know my fees?”

“The terms are acceptable, the money is no problem,” he said with a dismissive wave.

“So who do you want dead?” I asked, leaning back in my old swivel chair and firing up a smoke. The man glanced to either side, as if he could spot my hidden cameras and microphones, and wiped his generous forehead with a handkerchief.

“Exactly how confidential is this conversation?” he asked. I pointed to the twin frames holding my license and my certificate of membership in the North American Life-Enders Association.

“I’m bound by the ethics of my profession and my organization,” I said. “As well as all applicable laws. It’s as confidential as the doctor-patient, lawyer-client privilege. It’s all spelled out in the contract.”

“Well, you see, it’s just that we’ve heard…heard things. People like you who carry out the contract, then inform the victim’s family who hired you. Drumming up business, so to speak.”

Assassins, by and large, are a live-and-let-live sort, slow to anger. Ours is not a business that lends itself well to quick displays of emotion. But what Mr. Delvin, that was his name, what he was insinuating was the deepest insult someone in my profession can suffer.

I narrowed my eyes theatrically. “I don’t usually do pro-bono work,” I said in a low voice. “Don’t tempt me to change my mind, Mr. Delvin.”

He blanched and rose from his chair, mopping at a new round of sweat. “Your pardon, sir. I’m not very good at this sort of thing. I meant no offense.” He began inspecting the books I keep on my shelves to impress clients, nervously distracting himself from his faux pas, and stopped at the same one they all stop at, the one with the famous name on the spine. He looked at me curiously.

“It’s signed by the author,” I said. “In 1925. A first edition. He wasn’t very famous then and the book is mostly gibberish. Nobody bought it.”

“You’re a Nazi?”

“I’m a collector. It’s my retirement fund. Can we return to the business at hand? Who is the victim?”

After another hesitation the blonde settled the issue. “What’s the matter with you, you idiot? Tell him.”

Delvin sat back down reluctantly. “My daughter,” he said. “God help me, I want you to kill my daughter.”

*******

Kids die all the time. Car wrecks, meningitis, freak accidents on the playground. A 9 year old boy playing baseball truck in the chest by a pitch. He keeled over, dead. The ball wasn’t thrown hard enough to break a window, yet it struck him in just the right spot at just the right time, interrupted the electrical impulses from brain to heart, and that was that.

Hiring to have one killed, however, is a different matter altogether. I’ve met a number of children in my life that under the right circumstances I thought should have been killed. It’s probably just as well that I wasn’t working during those times.

Leonard Acretius Delvin was having money problems of the sort that have plauged short, dumpy men with gorgeous wives for centuries: keeping them in diamonds. And fancy cars, expensive vacations, the whole gamut of the Sugar-Daddy scene. Lila, her name, and the first person actually named Lila I’d ever met, was his third wife and not the girl’s mother. She was better looking than most third wives and certainly more expensive than average. The bills had mounted while the cash reserves dwindled. Something had to give, and it did, in the form of Leonard Delvin’s backbone.