A Short Story on the Website of
the Red Dirt Writers Society

Death Benefit
by Bob Hinkle (Feb 2012)


Braking to a stop, Richard Slade sets his emergency brake and climbs out of the car. Examining how severely the road twists at this point he is sure Mrs. Parson drove over the cliff somewhere around here.

Going across the road and looking down the mountainside, sure enough, he sees the smoking wreckage.

Back in his car, Richard circles on down the mountain road, stopping just below the wreckage.

Stepping out of the car again, he pauses a moment listening to the swish and rumble of passing trucks and cars on the state road a quarter mile below, the view blocked by tall, thick timber. Knowing it isn’t likely that a vehicle will turn on the road to the Parson Mansion he feels it is safe to examine the wreckage.

As is usually the case with him, Mrs. Parson’s bloody and broken body turns his stomach. It is especially troublesome seeing her eyes in an open stare, her obviously broken neck, and the shards of windshield glass stuck in her jaw and forehead. The oozing blood from the wounds is an awful sight.

Still having to make sure she’s dead, he slips on a latex glove, reaches in, and feels for a pulse. No pulse. Another mission successfully completed. She is dead. That’s certain. And in just the way she wanted to go.

Going around to the car’s upright bottom and taking a wrench out of his pocket, he reworks the brake system he had compromised during the night. That done…he takes one last look at Mrs. Parson’s body, giving her a gentle pat on the shoulder, “You are at peace now, Mrs. Parson, just like you wanted.”

Returning to his car, he heads to the Airport, his flight leaving in two hours.

At the Airport, Richard pitches the wrench into a trash can and flushes the latex gloves down a restroom toilet. He then turns in the car he rented using one of his bogus names, complete with proper, but also bogus, identification.

Glancing at his watch and seeing it is an hour before his flight time, he takes a seat in the waiting section, relieved to have completed another successful mission. He feels certain, as he usually does after a successful mission, that he has just helped another suffering soul peacefully escape a grueling and painful terminal illness.

Sliding an envelope from inside his jacket, he removes the one page on which Mrs. Lela Parson’s name is written, along with her address—which turned out to be a fabulous mountaintop mansion in Colorado, a beautiful place. Making the usual mark reporting a successful mission, he refolds the page, sticks it in the self-addressed envelope and drops it in a mailing box.

Looking forward to the 100 thousand dollars in cash he will receive in a few days, Richard goes back to the waiting area and takes a seat. He needs the money. Lately the missions have been a bit too far between, and he’s scraping the bottom of the barrel, so to speak.

There is a sense in which he enjoys the recognition he’s receiving from the organization for the job he’s doing. He, however, shutters when he recalls the long period of training by a nameless expert with those empty, cold blue eyes. The memory of it still gives him chills. He hated that period in his life.

But his teacher was very good at his job, teaching Richard everything from creating accidents to working with a number of undetectable death chemicals. He learned his job so well that he is now recognized and praised by superiors he’s never met, whose names he’s never heard.

At the bequest of the dying, all deaths must be unexpected, accidental, or something medically contrived, and it must happen without their knowledge beforehand. The plan seems to be working fairly well. But the missions have been so far apart lately he was about to demand more money per mission when the nameless contact at the bridge told him that the missions were going to be stepped up considerably. On one hand that’s good, but on another it’s getting a bit difficult to come up with new and various ways to help the tortured souls pass over. They don’t all live on a Mrs. Parson-type mountain road. And he certainly doesn’t want to end up like Kevorkian, arrested and dragged into court. They’d fry him for sure.

If it’s true the organization is stepping up the pace, he might be able to stick enough cash under the blanket to retire in a year or two. Even though he feels his job is important, and merciful, the killing has been a troublesome part of the deal from the beginning. And it’s beginning to get to him, despite helping people like his mother.

Sitting and waiting for his flight to arrive, he recalls his mother’s final moments. He will never forget staring down at her and stroking her hair when she was taking her final breath. It broke his heart. The only love he ever knew was gone. And all he could do was cry and, of course, hate his dad; the jerk wouldn’t even say goodbye to her when she called out his name!

Richard wishes there had been a Dr. Kevorkian-type secret organization at the time, dedicated to ending the life of someone dying a slow, painful death. But it wouldn’t have mattered? With his dad drinking up all their money constantly, they couldn’t have paid the fee anyway.

The fee! That people have to pay such a heavy fee has always bothered Richard. Why the fee? Why not do it out of mercy? But without the fee who could afford to plan and carry out such missions. Lately something else has been bothering Richard; some of these people are still driving? Makes no sense; but then again, who is he to question an organization with such a merciful purpose.

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