"Yes, I've thought about it long and hard, young man. It's the right thing to do." She opened the small drawer on the end-table next to the chair in which she sat and pulled out an envelope. "Five Million dollars, cashier's check, as discussed. I'm trusting you to get the job done in a timely manner. I want to be alive to see what my money can buy."
"Right thing to do? I've never heard it put that way before, but, if you're sure." The man folded the envelope and placed it in his inside jacket pocket. He looked hard at the ancient lady, noticing the string of pearls hanging from her frail neck. "You have the money. Everything's in order. Just..."
"Just what? You think I'm crazy, don't you? So do my children, so that's nothing new up my skirt." Her bright, watery eyes flashed at him.
"You told your children what you're wanting me to do!?" Alarm flashed through his heart. This could be a deal breaker. The less anyone knew the better.
"Heavens no, child. They think I'm crazy in general." The woman's laughter tinkled throughout her front room. It seemed to cascade off the crystal chandelier and back onto the beveled glass of the massive bay windows of the sitting room.
I'm beginning to agree with them, the man thought.
"I have to ask you... Why?" He looked at her, wanting to understand. He'd been in this situation many times before. It was his occupation; his life. But why her? Why this old, silver-haired lady who seemed to have everything? She had all the money in the world, obviously she could afford it. And, he'd been lucky so far, but luck isn't guaranteed, and the prospect of getting caught... Well, he didn't want to think about it.
"You didn't ask my name," she said, changing the subject.
"I don't need to. I investigated you before I took on this job," he said. "I know your name is JoAnna, and you're seventy-nine years old..."
"Eighty, next week," JoAnna interrupted, and winked.
He smiled. "I know your husband of fifty-nine years died eleven months ago of a heart attack, just days before your sixtieth wedding anniversary. I know you have five children, seven grandchildren and you've had a fairly easy life, with the exception of a baby who died of SIDs at six months of age, and a grandson who died in the war last year.
"You were the President of the Woman's Humane Society for many years, and you and your husband contributed much to various worthy causes. You championed for the abolition of the death penalty and are outspoken against abortions for any reason. And, you've not missed a day of church, except once, when you were giving birth to your third child... Which is why I'm having a hard time understanding your decision."
"Don't fret it, Joe. Someday you'll understand," she winked again. "So, the price is $1000 per and another fifty million when the job is complete, payable on proof, correct?"
"Yeah, that's the contract, but..."
"Don't call me a butt!" Tinklings of laughter cascaded from JoAnna's glowing face. Her eyes lit up and he couldn't help smiling at her. "My children always used to say that. Oh, how they loved to tease each other. Such a kinder world, then." Her eyes went vacant and a Mona-Lisa smile played on her face, as if thinking about that kinder world. She snapped back to reality with a little, almost audible, pop. "Would you like some more tea?" Her hand went up in the air. A woman in a black uniform appeared at her side, as if by magic.
"Uh, no, thank you. But I'd love a Scotch... on the rocks, if you have it."
JoAnna's smile disappeared. "We usually don't drink in this house. Such a nasty habit..." He felt his face grow hot. Here he was, a thirty-two-year-old trained assassin, ashamed for asking for a drink in the afternoon, especially considering the topic of conversation.
"Oh, I apologize. Tea would be fine. Thank you."
JoAnna's smile reappeared. "Champagne, then. To celebrate. Nancy, bring us our best bottle and two glasses. We're going to celebrate the birthday present Joe is giving me."
"Champagne it is," he said, and forced a smile. I wish she'd stop calling me Joe, he thought. But then, what else should she call him. He didn't/wouldn't give his real name, not to anyone, especially in his line of work.
He waited until Nancy had left the room.
"One thousand dollars a head. Just as requested. But how do you want proof?" he asked.
JoAnna sat up a bit. "Why, video, of course. How else would I be able to keep count? The entire ruckus will probably be too much for y'all to keep tally. Let me. I'll give a bonus of $10,000 for every fifty, just in case I miss a few. And we can record it so we can review it later - just to be sure I don't cheat you inadvertently."
"Video? Are you sure you want to see that?"
"Oh, Joe, nothing bothers me anymore. Besides, it'll be nice to know the job is getting done right. I don't think I could leave this world in such a mess. I need to do my part before I go. Such a shame." JoAnna's eyes watered and a tear coursed down her cheek. She wiped it away. "When I was just a little girl, Grandpappy sat me on his knee and told me I'd not succeed in life unless I left this world a better place than I found it. He died soon after, but his words stayed with me."
"When I saw on the news that over 3000 American soldiers had died in the Mid-East wars, I didn't think my heart could take it... the pain of knowing what those other families are going through. Then later, in the same newscast, they reported over 100,000 innocent people have been murdered on American soil since the war began... Well, I just thought: How incredible, people are outraged our children are dying in war but have no emotion that over three times the amount of senseless murders are taking place in our own country, mostly by gang members and hoodlums... and it's only getting worse."
JoAnna looked at her wrinkled and gnarled hands and quietly shook her head.
"If the local and state governments aren't going to do anything to help our people, I can and I will." She looked up with an intensity he had rarely seen. "Yes! Video! Live-stream video. Kill all them bastards you can find. Anyone you see committing a crime. Anyone with a gang-related Tattoo - I don't care the age or sex. Get rid of them! And, don't fuck with me here - I know I'm an old lady, but I found you and I can find someone else to get rid of you if you betray me in any way."
They sat, eye-locked for what seemed an eternity.
"You have my word, JoAnna."
"Good. They have the technology for live-stream video, right?"
"Good. Get your men over here to set up a room for screens and such, or whatever. Then, we'll move on to the next step - the real reason you're here. Hire enough of you ex-Delta-force type you need to cover the United States; start here on the east coast. Sweep from north to south; beginning with the big cities. You can come back for the smaller towns if need be. We'll call it 'Operation Clean Sweep.' JoAnna's face lit up with a bright smile, as if quite pleased with herself.
Nancy appeared with glasses and champagne.
"To your birthday, JoAnna." He raised his glass in salute.
"To my birthday. And, to Operation Clean Sweep."