by Francis H Powell
He hated hospitals. The stench, that whiff of chemicals, ether, those medicinal smells. The whole atmosphere. The fact that you have
to endlessly wait around for doctors to inform you and that you are simply at their mercy. The smiles of weary nurses, walking down
limitless corridors with sensible shoes, hair tied into a tight perfect buns. There were detestable pictures on the wall, of seedy holidays
destinations, maybe put up with the intention of saying if you get out of this hospital, you can visit such a place, symbolic offerings of
hope, of sunshine.   

His wife was due to give birth to their first child. It was supposed to be a happy event.  He had fallen in love with his wife the
moment he had set eyes on her and since that moment, they had been inseparable.  It was like their two souls had been welded
together.  The rest of the world could be discounted, as long as they were together.  They had had their share of arguments, but it
always came down to the fact that they were unfatigably joined as one.    

The doctor had been youngish, with a squint, an excruciating plodding voice.  He had spoken in hushed uneasy tones, sometimes
stammering the uneasy details.  Jessie had been rushed into hospital and now both she and the baby, due to complications, were in a
grave life-threatening situation.  Each sentence had seemed to be like somebody thrusting a knife into Jarret’s stomach, each loaded
sentence another desperate blow to his hopes.  Behind all the jargon lay the fact that she had little hope.  

What could he do? Should he pray?  Where would that get him?  He had stood by her bedside, just trying to take it all in.  He had just
looked at her face, as he had done so many times, that love for her had just poured out.  He had began to sob, something he had
never done as an adult, in a public place.  Her face seemed so tranquil, but according to the doctor her life was ebbing away. She was
heavily sedated and about to go to the operating theatre, where the baby was to be induced.  Jarret had decided not to be present.
Apart from his avid hatred to hospitals, he could not bear the thought of his wife being sliced open by a surgeon.   

His head was in hell. So much unbearable pain. He left the hospital, and went in search of a shop where he could buy some cigarettes,
anything to try to dampen the pain.

He had walked and walked. He went down a dark shadowy street, there was rubbish strewn everywhere, discarded prams, punctured
footballs, smashed bottles.  He became aware of man, with shiny patent leather shoes walking purposefully towards him, as if he had
something important to say to him. “Jarret Lamb” he said in a sweet scintillating voice.  Jarret froze, with a look of astonishment.

“You have a lot on your mind” the man said calmly, peering into Jarret’s eyes.   

Jarret eyed him suspiciously, not knowing what to say next.  

“It’s your wife, she’s in mortal danger” declared the man.  

“How do you know” demanded Jarret stunned.

“I just know and only I can help you.”  The man had hypnotic eyes and a chillingly mesmeric voice to match.  He had an overbearing
confidence. His clothes echoed this confidence, so pristine, not so much as a speck of dust on them.  He also had this enchanting
aroma, he smelt so good, like an orchard of fruit trees.

“How” faltered Jarret.

“She will get better, the child will live.” Avowed the man, his hand rested gently on Jarret’s shoulder, like a father might a son, during a
tender moment.  

His voice dropped to a cautionary tone, “but only if you agree to my demands.”  

“What are they” asked Jarret confused and helpless.  

“You will agree, shake me by the hand  and in a few days you will receive a letter, with some instructions, in exchange for your wife’s
life, you will carry out these instructions. His voice lowered to a rasping whisper “you have no alternative.”  

“I see” said Jarret. He trembled in the cold. His heart was racing.  What had he to lose? He was in torment. Maybe this man was just
some lunatic, but if so, he was well informed and purposeful.  He shrugged his shoulders and slowly offered the man his hand. The
man’s hand was clammy and Jarret felt a strange sensation as the two men shook hands.   

“So it’s done and agreed.” said the man with a sense of formality.  Without another word, he disappeared, almost as if Jarret had
never encountered him. Jarret felt strange about this situation, as he continued his search for a tobacconist.  He located a shop and
quickly lit a cigarette.  His mind returned to Jessie.  He couldn’t live without her.  Life would be numb and empty.  He walked back in
the direction of the hospital.  All he could do now was to pathetically wait, for whatever news the doctors would provide.

The young doctor approached him. His face did not seem to carry the same weight of gloom it had done before, but it was still etched
with concern.  He was able to offer Jarret morsels of hope.  His wife was still alive, the baby had been saved. There were dangers of
further complications, his wife was not out of the woods, but there was hope.  She was a fighter.  The surgeon had excelled himself.  
The doctor was cautiously optimistic that if his wife made some kind of progress overnight, she might just pull through.  Jarret had
visited her.  He had gently held her hand. She wasn’t conscious of him, but he felt like they were still in touch with one another, their
tight bond was still there.  He kissed her on her cheek.   The baby had looked pathetically small and so vulnerable looking.  It was
dwarfed by the blanket it rested in.  It was sleeping, oblivious to any dramas, that surrounded it.   

Jarret had gone home to his empty house.  And how painfully empty it had felt.  He had watched some mindless television and had
fallen asleep at about three o’clock in the morning, still in his clothes. His dreams had been restless, almost disturbing.   He had woken
up to the sound of the refuse collectors, shouting to one another.  He had downed a cup of instant coffee and made his way groggily
to the hospital.  His wife had passed a difficult night but the doctor had told him, she was now stable. He could even visit her and
speak to her, but she must have lots of rest. What unadulterated joy he felt.  He had almost danced into her small cubicle. She had
offered him a faint smile.  She had struggled when she spoke; she was still very weak and had lost a lot of blood.  They had exchanged
a few words, he had expressed his relief that she had pulled through.  He had sobbed again, but these were tears of gratitude, his
beloved wife had been saved.   

She and the baby, now named Agnes, had spent some time in hospital, before they were allowed out.  Normality was now within the
realms of possibilities.  His home was no longer empty, barren, but alive again.  Agnes invigorated their home, added to their bliss.  He
went back to work and came home at night, expectantly with longing of a husband and father.  

It had arrived on Monday morning. It rested on the doormat. Alone.  The address had been inscribed with delicate handwriting, like
somebody might an important invitation to a lavish event.  The letter was set out in blindingly clear language, like it had been drafted
by an astute meticulous lawyer careful to every minute last detail. It was like a timetable had been set and had to be punctiliously
observed.  Keys and a pistol with a silencer were to be collected from a safe deposit box, address provided, along with a ticket.  The
name of Walter Pandini was provided and when he would be in his apartment alone were also given.  He was to be eliminated. Jarret
knew of this man, he was a local politician, who had made a bit of a name for himself. He’d had a dubious background, but he’d
“seen the light” as he put it.  He was married to ex model, an oriental woman, who was a bit of a socialite, who featured regularly in
the local paper, as a charity do-gooder.  Pandini was a fitness fanatic, despite a cardiac problem.  

He craved publicity and shunned any references to his past life.   

Jarret felt nothing towards this man, certainly no hatred, none of the ingredients needed to want to kill somebody.

And what if chose to ignore this letter, there was a curt warning “should you chose not to follow your instructions, your wife and new
child will experience medical difficulties, the consequences of which will prove fatal.  The letter was not signed, there was no address.

He felt trapped into a duty he had to perform or face up to the unthinkable repercussions.  He stuffed the envelope into his top
pocket.  He had taken a taxi to collect the package. It seemed weighty, he put it into his hold all.   While his wife was resting, he
opened the package. It included a silencer, he attached it with ease.  It felt cold, he held it uncomfortably in his hand, it felt unnatural,
alien to him.  He had everything he required, the pistol, a set of keys, and all the details of Pandini.  The following night he would
have to lie to his wife, make his way to Pandini’s apartment.  It would be over in a few moments, a couple of shots, his debt paid, the
slate wiped clean, a wife and baby waiting for him, when all was done.  

Pandini lived on the other side of town, in an exclusive tower block. Jarret  drifted in unnoticed and took the lift to the seventeenth
floor.  He fumbled with the keys.  He couldn’t believe what he was doing. Pandini was animated and on the telephone exchanging
heated words.  He stopped dead as his eyes caught sight of an intruder.   

“Who the hell are you” he growled.  

Jarred said nothing.

He reached into his hold all and pulled out the pistol. Pandini was paralyzed with fear.  He was fighting for his words, struggling for
his composure.  His eyes looked like somebody pleading, begging.
“Take what you want” he stammered.  He was a toady, servile, none of his usual swagger.

Still Jarret said nothing, he himself was uncontrollably trembling.  He aimed the pistol closer to Pandini’s head.  Thunder rumbled in
the distance.  

He didn’t want him to speak, he didn’t want him to be at all human.  

The man was facing his death like a coward might. But there were two cowards in the room. Jarret held grave doubts he was capable
of carrying out the deed, he could wound him perhaps at best, but kill him, he could barely hold the pistol, it seemed like it had
doubled in weight, his arm was twitching pendulously, he was incapable of firing straight. . There would be blood, murder is never so
clinical, it’s a messy ugly business.  Sweat was running down his face.   

Pandini was blabbing like a baby. He suddenly started  wheezing, fighting for breath.  He crumpled to the floor, he looked pathetic.
He was holding his chest, experiencing extreme pain, a sudden attack, brought upon by the intruder with a gun.   His pallor was
ghostly white, his breath shallow, until it became non-existent.   He had died without a shot being fired, from extreme fear. Jarred felt
jubilant. Surely he had completed his mission, without having the guilt attached, if he had fired the pistol.

Jarret left Pandini’s lifeless body sprawled on the carpet.  He left elated. He tossed the pistol into the river and any other details
connected to the entire business.  It was like a huge burden had been lifted off his shoulders.  He took a bus back to home.  As he
turned the corner to his apartment, he saw blue flashing lights, those of an ambulance. He had an unpleasant nagging feeling.
Something was wrong.  A woman was being taken out on a stretcher. Her face was covered by a sheet. His neighbor Mrs. O'Mara,
was  wailing.  

“What a tragedy” she lamented, between sobs.  “And with a new baby as well” she added “poor Mr. Lamb”.