"How will I know you've actually done it?" Ted Kilburn asked when he realized they had never discussed the practical aspects of the job.
Bob Timmons, the man Kilburn had hired, took a swig from his Budweiser long neck. "I'll bring you a trophy."
"What do you mean?" Kilburn said with a frown.
Timmons smiled. "How about Diana's ring finger with the wedding band still on it?" he finally said.
The color drained from Kilburn's face. He looked like he might throw up.
"T-that's not funny," the lawyer stammered.
"Hey, man. I'm just jerkin' your chain," Timmons said with a chuckle. "I'm gonna make it look like a robbery, so I'll grab your wife's purse, take her wallet. I'll have Diana's driver's license, credit cards. All that bop. I'll give you plenty of proof she's dead."
Kilburn took a deep breath and let it slide out his nostrils slowly, trying to calm down.
"Okay," he said in a shaky voice. "Just no b-body parts. Please!"
It was hard to imagine the man was such a monster, Kilburn thought. With his short brown hair, dark eyes and clean-shaven face, Timmons probably wouldn't stand out in a roomful of corporate bookkeepers. You wouldn't realize the threat he posed unless he took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves, displaying the 37 prison tattoos that seemed to crawl up his arms like scorpions before creeping across his back and chest.
Kilburn wasn't bothered by his hired hand's ink, however. He found it scarier that Timmons had chopped two rival drug dealers into dog meat with a machete while stealing their cash and methamphetamine. Pictures of the mutilated bodies didn't lie: the judge had allowed them as exhibits in the dealer's trial over Ted's objection that they would inflame the jury's passions.
The vicious slayings were bad enough but even worse was the fact that, as the victims had lain bleeding to death, Timmons casually ate one and a half slices of their take-out pizza and drank two bottles of their beer.
The murders were as barbaric as Timmons. During his pre-trial interviews Timmons had recounted all the sordid details. The only thing Kilburn could remember, however, was Timmons's complaint that the pizza crust wasn't crisp enough and the beer was too warm.
"Why did you eat it, then?" Ted asked in amazement.
"I was hungry, damn it," Timmons said, looking at him as if Kilburn might be half witted. "My mother always taught me not to waste food."
The biggest nightmare of all was that Timmons had gone completely unpunished for the sadistic slayings. That was partly Kilburn's fault: the lawyer had used his legal training to win an acquittal for both murders. He needed Timmons back on the streets—so he would be free to eliminate Kilburn's wife, Diana.
Kilburn wanted Diana gone in the worst possible way.
Ted and Diana had met through work. Kilburn was what they call a "catfish," a bottom feeder with no reputation and only a handful of clients. He showed up in Superior Court for morning calendar every day hoping to pick up poor criminal clients the public defender couldn't represent. Ken's fees in those cases were minimal; they barely managed to keep his private law practice running.
Diana on the other hand was a golden girl. She had inherited wealth from her stockbroker father and practiced financial law with one of the biggest firms in the city before joining the county Probation Office as its chief counsel. At Adult Probation she ran a staff of 80, worked directly with judges and prepared background and financial reports on defendants who were accused of major felonies.
Her job gave her good pay, lots of built-in overtime, medical coverage and a host of fringes; Kilburn's gave him nothing but headaches.
Ted and Diana had originally started dating when they met repeatedly in court. They went out together twice and Diana proved a remarkably energetic lover who was passionate and indefatigable. By their third date Ted had proposed; they were married only two months later.
They hadn't lived happily ever after, however. It had taken less than a year for Ted to realize that hot sex and matched wedding bands were all they had in common. To make matters worse, he had hooked up with her hoping to use her money to keep his marginal legal business intact.
Diana refused to go along; she told him to solve his money problems on his own or shut down his office and go to work for a law firm that had some business sense.
"I don't understand why you haven't quit already," she said on more than one occasion.
"It's all I have," he told her.
She would just shake her head. "you haven't got a hell of a lot, then," she would say.
Diana had made it clear: if they split, he'd walk away with what was in his wallet and not a penny more. Unfortunately, Kilburn needed a hell of a lot more than a penny.
He had started sport betting in an effort to get out of his perpetual money problems. After a few initial wins, he started losing and his bookie was into him for nearly a quarter million in markers plus vig.
"You got a choice," the bookmaker had told him, Tuesday last. "Pay up or learn how to walk without knees."
Timmons was Kilburn's way out.
He'd met Timmons when the dealer hired him for the machete murder case. He was one of Kilburn's few clients who wasn't a pathetic referral from the county's Criminal Conflicts Program. The street had it that Timmons was connected to a Mexican cartel and two different motorcycle gangs. He was one of the biggest speed dealers in Northern California, with a equally lucrative sideline in Mexican cocaine. He paid his legal bills in cash and was supposed to be worth no less than four million dollars.
Timmons could have hired any lawyer in town to represent him in court but he chose Kilburn primarily because he was cheap: $75,000 to handle the trial plus a $25,000 bonus if he got off. Ted didn't know it, but the dealer could take his chances with a catfish; Timmons was holding cards that guaranteed he would walk.
The first time they met at the county jail, Kilburn realized Timmons was a stone killer who would cut his own mother's throat if the price was right. In fact, he was up for the kill even if there was no price at all.
He liked having what his Norteño home boys called manos sangrientas—bloody hands.
As the drug dealer walked toward the interview room, an inmate mopping the corridor drew a makeshift knife and tried to stab him. Kilburn watched through bullet-proof glass as Timmons broke his attacker's arm and rammed his head into the bars on the north side of the hall until there wasn't enough skull intact inside to keep it from passing through them.
It later came out that the man with the smashed head was a friend of the two that Timmons had killed.
It was a freakish display of savage violence unlike anything Kilburn had ever seen and the resulting lockdown meant the lawyer had to reschedule his meeting with his new client. During their second interview, the minute Timmons took a seat in the visitor's room, Kilburn asked what he would charge to do the same thing to Diana.
The problem was the personality clash between the two men: Kilburn preferred things simple and straightforward, with a schedule to follow and no unexpected deviations; Timmons played on his own timetable and by his own rules. The two men could scarcely have been less a worse fit.
Tonight for example the ex-con had been nearly a half hour late for their meeting, and Kilburn had grown increasingly nervous every minute he failed to show.
When he finally arrived, his first words were "Did you bring the money?" No apology for being late. No explanation.
Kilburn was furious but afraid to say so. He had no idea what Timmons might do if he pissed him off. Instead, he fumbled in an inside pocket and handed the ex-con an envelope. "Fifteen thousand now, the rest on completion."
Timmons took his time counting the money. While he did, Kilburn watched him, surprised that the only emotion his wife's impending death brought was the fear that he would be implicated in it. The sexual passion that drove him to marry Diana was gone. He no longer felt even tenderness for her.
"Is the other five where it's safe?" Timmons asked finally as he tucked the bills into his pocket.
Kilburn, whose mind had been drifting, stared at him blankly. "What?" he said.
"The rest of the money," Timmons said. "The part I get after she's dead. Pay attention, asshole."
Kilburn nodded hastily. "It's in the drawer in my desk at home," he said.
Timmons smirked. "Good boy. Where can I find her?"
"At adult probation doing staff schedules until 7:30 p.m. or so," Kilburn said. "She gets home by eight. She walks to her car in the public lot four blocks away. The lot would be a good place to do it—it's usually almost empty after 6."
Timmons was silent as he took in the information.
"What do you think?" Kilburn said after a moment. "When you gonna do it?"
"You really want an answer?" Timmons said. "Seems to me, the less you know, the better."
Kilburn imagined being interviewed by a couple of homicide dicks after Diana's body finally turned up. He could see himself blurting out some detail Timmons had given him. That was just the kind of blunder that earned some of his clients long stays in state prison.
"No," he said weakly. "I guess not."
Timmons finished his beer. "Don't worry, I'll clean up the mess and dispose of the body. All you have to do is give me the final payment afterward."
Kilburn sighed, partly with anxiety, partly with relief. He wondered what other tricks the killer might have up his sleeve.
Kilburn couldn't exactly take full credit for Timmons' acquittal. A week before the trial the pizza, machete and beer somehow vanished from the forensics lab evidence locker. With them went four good fingerprints and a batch of DNA evidence that should have put the third-striker away for life.
The district attorney pressed forward nonetheless, offering a patchwork of circumstantial evidence and hearsay from police investigators. Without the key evidence, however, the jury had no choice but to acquit. The not guilty verdict came back in less than two hours.
Timmons' fee allowed Ted to pay his receptionist two weeks of back salary and catch up on his rent, mobile and internet access bills. Within two days he had spent $75,000 paying off debts. That was when Ted knew Diana had to go—and Timmons was how he planned to get rid of her.
Now that the deed was nearly at hand, it was impossible for him to think of anything else. And everything about it made him queasy. Especially Timmons.
The drug dealer stood to leave. "Where'll you be tonight?" Timmons asked.
"The Bench and Bar," Kilburn said. "I'm meeting Judge Fenway there for drinks. The judge likes his liquor so I'll be with him until at least 9:30 p.m."
"So you'll have a strong alibi. Good thinking."
Kilburn offered Timmons his hand. The ex-con looked at it like something that had bubbled to the surface in a public toilet then walked out of the tavern without saying another word.
Kilburn ignored the slight. With any luck, the next time they met would be the last.
Diana was sitting up in bed and trying to read through a prisoner's probation writ when she heard the door open downstairs. The squeaky board on the landing told her someone had climbed the first floor staircase and the click of the latch let her know he had entered the bedroom.
"Is it done?" she asked.
"Yeah," Timmons said. "I nailed him in the parking lot across from his office when he was on his way to have drinks with a judge."
"What did you do with the body?"
"I put it in his trunk and drove it out to long-term parking at the airport. Took the bus back to the garage to get my own car."
"Did he pay you?" she asked.
"All but five grand. He said that's in his desk."
She sighed. "What an asshole," she said wearily. "Don't ever marry a lawyer, honey. Especially a cheap one whose clients are mostly deadbeats."
"It worked out exactly like you said it would," he told her.
"What'd you use?" she asked.
"This," he said, pulling a switchblade out of his pocket and flipping it open with a flourish. "Quiet, dependable, no ballistics, no powder residue. I don't think he realized I was going to cash his ticket until the last second or so. Something in his eyes told me he only figured out he'd been fucked when I put the blade to his neck."
He mimicked drawing the knife across his throat then closed it and put it on top of the dresser.
Diana smiled, imagining what her husband's expression had been when he realized he was about to die at the hands of the man he'd hired to kill her.
Timmons kicked off his shoes and left his clothes in a heap on the floor. He pushed her down across the foot of the bed and felt her tongue probe his mouth as they kissed. Cupping his right hand around her ass, he used his left to guide his swollen shaft inside her and pumped until she groaned and arched her back in climax.
Afterward they laid together while their perspiration dried.
"I'm glad you told me that he had sounded you out on killing me," she said finally. "It made setting him up a lot easier."
He laughed. "I couldn't have him plotting to croak my best girl. I was leery at first. When he asked me if I'd do a murder for money, I thought maybe he was a ringer trying to nark me out."
Diana smiled at the image. "Cloak and dagger was never Ted's strong suit. He didn't have the cajones for anything like an undercover assignment."
Timmons nodded. "Yeah, that became clear quick enough. Every time he had to sit with me face to face he looked like he was about to load his pants. So then I wondered if maybe he'd figured out I was fucking you and he was trying to see if I'd cop to it by asking me to whack you."
"He didn't have enough balls for that, either," Diana said with a sneer. "And he sure as hell wasn't that smart. You and I had been screwing each other's brains out since the first time I met with you to do your pre-trial bail report. That was six days before you hired him. He was so busy he never even noticed."
"What I don't understand is why he asked me to do it," Timmons said.
It was Diana's turn to laugh. "Same reason as me," she said. "When you plan to eliminate your spouse, you don't hire an Eagle Scout to do the job. You're the only honest-to-god killer Ted ever ran into. He used to joke about it, in fact. 'I spent the last fifteen years defending crooks and finally have a client who killed someone,' he'd say. He was so proud that he managed to get you off."
Timmons grinned. "He made some pretty good arguments in court. Much better than I expected from a shyster whose clients dine at St. Michael's soup kitchen. But I already had the fix in before I paid his retainer. A paralegal just out of junior college could have won that case."
Diana gave him a look that made it clear she expected an explanation.
Timmons' grin grew wider. "Before I even talked to your husband I'd already bribed the head of the police forensics lab to lose the evidence against me just before we went to trial. It didn't hurt that the crime lab supervisor, Sue Clevenger, is as twisted as a licorice whip—or that she's one of my best crank customers."
"I wondered how Ted managed to get you off so easily. I should have known he didn't do it all by himself. He actually was a pretty good lawyer—not Perry Mason good, but good enough to look for holes in the evidence and use them to win cases. His problem was that he was too lazy and gutless to look for better clients. He let the court pick them for him, so they were all losers that even the public defender didn't want to represent."
He tossed Kilburn's envelope full of cash on the bed next to her. "You can put this with the five grand in his desk," he said. "Buy yourself a hat or something. I dig more money than that out of the cushions on my couch every couple of weeks."
"I don't wear hats, lover boy," she said. "I'll stick it and the other $5,000 in that safety deposit box at the bank I set up for you."
He shrugged. ""Knock yourself out. But considering that I already gave you a couple million to hold onto from my meth sales, there may not be enough room there."
A wistful look passed over her face as she tucked the envelope in the drawer in her side table. "Funny—he pinched pennies, fingered the coin return slots in pay phones and fished nickels out of storm grates for weeks to save that money for you. Practically the entire bonus you paid him went into his hit fund. He really wanted to get rid of me badly."
"I got the best part of that deal," he said. "All he was willing to give me was money; You gave me a lifetime pass to the finest piece of tail that ever passed the state bar."
He laughed sardonically. "You know what I find ironic?"
"You pitched me on whacking your loser husband when you interviewed me in the county lock-up," he said. "He did almost exactly the same thing, except it was a week later. You may have drifted apart as a married couple and you may have worked different sides of the street in the legal racket, but the two of you sure as hell thought alike."
She sighed. "We had other things in common—not many but a few. Our problem was, the basic breach between us was so fundamental it made our whole marriage null and void. Some of it was about money but the main thing was, we just couldn't stand to be in the same room together anymore."
Timmons yawned and stretched. "Well, he's gone now," he said. "You're free, without a worry in the world."
"Not quite," Diana said reaching under the pillows behind her back.
His face froze as he saw the snub-nosed Smith and Wesson in her hand. It roared, making a .44-magnum hole precisely in the center of his sternum and throwing him backward against the wall. He slid to a sitting position with one leg pinned beneath him. As his last breath wheezed through his windpipe, he looked more surprised than angry.
Years of working in the county's criminal courts had trained Diana precisely what to do. She used a tissue to pick up the switchblade, folded it between the drug dealer's dead fingers and squeezed until the blade flicked out. Guiding his hand with both of hers, she used the blade's tip to make a harmless little cut on her neck, then positioned the knife in his hand on his belly.
With a last look around the room, she picked up the phone and dialed 9-1-1.
"I need the police," she said, edging her voice with hysteria. "I just shot a man who raped me. I think he's dead."
"Do I know who he is?" Diana said after she had given the dispatcher her name, address and other basic information. "Yes. His name is Robert Timmons and he just stood trial for killing two people in a drug deal. My husband is a lawyer and this man was one of his clients."
Diana gave her address and received the standard warnings to wait for patrol officers, avoid touching the evidence, changing her appearance or cleaning herself before she was examined by a sexual assault investigator.
She hung up when she heard a prowl car, siren still shrieking, turn up her drive.
"Now I really am free," she said with a smile as the doorbell rang downstairs.
Copyright © 2015 William E. Wallace.
A former San Francisco Chronicle reporter, William E. Wallace's most recent book, Dead Heat with the Reaper, was released by All Due Respect books in August. His stories have appeared in Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter, Over my Dead Body, Dead Guns, Spinetingler, and Dark Corners Pulp.