«Our service only costs twenty grand. And you can trust us to deliver.»
«Why would anybody in a sound mind ever use your service?» – Jane felt terrified.
«You know, ma’am. Many people these days end up living with a person they don’t really want to be with – but are too afraid to end a toxic relationship. Especially, if there is a mental abuse which you cannot report to the police, ma’am.»
It was weird to hear reference to the police from someone who has been offering murder service. She never liked American accents – but this one was the worst.
«People change, circumstances change,» – the voice continued. – «One day you realise that you can’t spend the rest of your days with an idiot who doesn’t appreciate you and doesn’t treat you the way you deserve to be treated. You begin to wonder – if this is how you gonna waste the rest of your life? That’s when we come at your service. And you can trust us to deliver.»
She wanted to swear and put the phone down – but strong invisible force held her hand. Another person’s life was gambled as simply as that, just over the phone. It’s not the first time someone’s life was dependent on her actions – she did it on a daily basis. However, that was her job, which involved rules, laws, instructions, and health & safety regulations. Jane’s staff knew they were risking their lives every day – but this was about Jack who didn’t suspect anything. And there were no rules on this one – just twenty grand.
It wasn’t a huge amount of money. It was just pennies to her. She could have spent five times that – and wouldn’t even notice.
«Are you happy in your current relationship? If not, we can turn things around for you – and our price is not that high if you think about potential happiness and joy you can have for the rest of your life. We offer you freedom, and a clean slate. Oh, and if you’re worried about feelings – he won’t even feel anything, it will be instant.»
Jane finally woke up – but she wasn’t in her bed. She wasn’t even sleeping. She was sitting at her desk with the phone still in her hand. Call log showed incoming call from Withheld ID more than two hours ago. There were two missed calls from Jack a few minutes ago – normally, she was home by that time. Probably, these calls have restored her to sanity. She felt the urge to leave the office as soon as possible, so she only grabbed her car keys and rushed to the lift to reach the underground car park.
Jane has been working in this office for seven and a half years, and loved every moment of that time. It was taking her exactly 40 seconds from lift doors opening to car engine starting, and then exactly 40 minutes to her front door at home.
She suddenly stopped frozen just before the lift. Senses started coming back to her head, and she got scared. She suddenly realised that in seven and a half years she never seen another person in the underground car park. What if somebody is waiting there for her?
Fortunately, it was a private car park with more CCTV cameras than parking spaces. She opened an app on her phone to check the footage from the moment she parked this morning. Not only she was worried about American accent with dark sunglasses waiting for her there – she was also concerned that somebody could have installed GPS tracker. However, there wasn’t a single motion detector event triggered since this morning, so it was all clear.
Her white Q7 was always a bright spot amongst shades of grey and piles of silver. It was a gift from Jack. Usually men make stupid choices when it comes to cars, and Jane called it “carspreading” – combination of “car” and “manspreading”. However, Jack really surprised her by knowing exactly what she needed – especially taking into account that he didn’t like driving and didn’t own a car, but he made a brilliant choice for her. From the very first second she was getting into the car, she felt the thought he had put into configuring all the optional extras. It was worth it: she enjoyed every moment she was spending in this car, and most of all – she always felt safe in it.
Roads were empty at that time, so she had some time to herself. She was still terrified – but one sentence the man said over the phone kept repeating in her mind.
«What is the real price of your happiness for the rest of your life?»
That question kept bugging her, and it eclipsed all other feelings, senses, even morals. She was only 35, but she achieved everything an upper-middle class person could wish for: respectable job with a very good income, expensive house in the most sought-after suburb, luxury lifestyle with lots of holidays abroad. She stopped checking the balance of her savings account about five years ago, when it tipped over seven digits.
Most importantly – she knew how to enjoy the life, not in a crazy-teenager way – but in a sensibly-wise way. By the age of 35, she has lived a few lives of an average person, and now she exploited all that experience and wisdom to enjoy the life. She could afford to splash silly money if something was bringing her joy and happiness. She never hesitated to do it – and then enjoyed every moment of it.
However, it wasn’t just luxury that was making her happy. In fact, this was her secret skill – she valued and enjoyed simple things in life that others took for granted, so she was happy even when she didn’t have all that luxury. She never liked talking about early years of her childhood as she grew up in poverty and her family couldn’t afford new clothes – and yet, she had a happy childhood. Jane lived every single moment of this life. She loved life – and life loved her right back. This was very important.
Usually, women who achieve that much are single – but it wasn’t her case. Eight years ago she met Jack, and they have been together ever since. He wasn’t ideal – but he was a good man. He wasn’t making her completely happy – but hey, who would? He was taking a very good care of her – and she appreciated it as much as possible.
Was she “the happiest of them all”? Of course not. Was Jack ideal? Of course not. Jack was far from being her prince charming. In fact, he was far from being prince at all. He didn’t work, he didn’t have any interesting hobbies and didn’t have any friends that could withstand an intelligent conversation. He didn’t have any thirst for travelling and seeing new places – she used to choose, book, and pay for all their holidays. Most of the time he played computer games, and the only hobby he had was spending her money on super expensive gaming equipment.
That was the irony of life. Some people call it karma. Before her last job, she spent five years in gaming industry, designing super expensive toys to computer games addicts. She knew her potential customer very well. Most of them were men in their 30s to 40s, working in offices in city centre, with a lot of disposable income, and she was exploiting those two factors very well: their addiction and disposable income. Jack fitted that profile very well with one exception: he didn’t have a lot of disposable income. In fact, he didn’t have any. So she was now paying for those addictions she used to create and sell for living. Very good living.
And yet, Jack was a good man. With all his flaws and addictions, he has been taking very good care of her. Yes, she paid for their holidays – but he always looked after her. Massage, cocktails, photo shoots, spa… anything she could only think of – he was already bringing her on a plate, being always one step ahead of her own desires. Jack felt her very well, or he simply felt her – as nobody else before. He was always giving her time when she wanted to be alone – and she knew that he wouldn’t cheat on her if she went on a work trip for a couple of days. No matter if they walked together or he walked alone – he never looked at other women.
Was he henpecked? Maybe, but does it matter what people call it, if both are happy? Or at least seem to be happy. She only had two men before Jack. Well, crazy University years don’t count, do they? Once graduated, she said goodbye to crazy days and crazy boys, – and decided to settle down and start family.
Both her previous men were “real men”. Both of them were “a perfect match for you”, as her mum used to say. Both of them were well-educated, earned a lot, drove flashy cars and behaved as “brutally manly macho”. Both of them cheated on her in her own bed within six months of getting together – and perfect match turned out to be on paper only, just a façade.
Jack was different. Yes, he wasn’t an alpha-male – but he wouldn’t cheat on her. He simply didn’t need sex. Well, maybe, he did – but she needed it much more. This became more obvious five years ago, when she turned 30. She suddenly realised that she can’t live without sex, and not just sex – but good one. However, getting any sort of sex from Jack was a very difficult task. Their sex life was pathetic. «At least, he’s not fucking your brain», – summarised her friend and colleague Suzanne.
Jane was left alone with her fantasies – and that was the only thing that worked. Two of her work colleagues tried sexting her, but when she shared with them one of her fantasies – the most innocent one – they suddenly disappeared.
At the end, she weighted all “pros” and “cons” and decided to sacrifice her sexual life. Simply because she had lots of happy moments that people usually don’t appreciate and don’t even notice – until they lose those moments. She had the ability to value small things in life – and that ability was a very solid foundation to happy life. So, while she wasn’t “the happiest of them all”, she was just happy on a daily basis – and that meant a lot to her.
Things got worse about three years ago, when sex life completely disappeared – exactly as Suzanne predicted. The thing is, Suzanne met her husband three years before Jane met Jack. They had a lot in common, and Jane’s story mirrored Suzanne’s story a lot – just three years later. If Suzanne was a role model, then it was the time for Jane to start satisfying her desires on a side. Three years ago Suzanne started secretly seeing other men, and everybody was happy – or at least seemed to be happy.
This was something Jane didn’t want to do. Not because of rules, morale, church, society, or anything else. She just didn’t want to do it. It was against her principles, or simply – it was against her.
However, things cannot continue as they are. Something must change – but she wasn’t brave enough to even think about it. Suddenly she realised that she is considering the offer. Offer, which not only was illegal – but also was immoral. Of course, she wasn’t going to accept it – but she was terrified to discover that she is considering it. So maybe, American accent was right?
Jane also realised that this wasn’t the first time she had similar thoughts. They had a big quarrel about half a year ago, up to the point she wanted to split up. Of course, it was about sex – or rather lack of. She decided to leave Jack – but wasn’t brave enough to do it. Jack was flying somewhere that evening, and she even had a thought that if plane crashed and he died, it would provide a decision which she was afraid to make.
Out of curiosity, Jane started wondering – would anyone actually notice if Jack suddenly disappeared? He didn’t work, so there were no work colleagues – modern days, these people usually notice first.
Looks like bloody American accent was right. In the sense that their service is good for someone, who isn’t brave enough to end a toxic relationship. Of course, this wasn’t her case – she’ll never do it. At least, that’s what she kept telling herself. At that moment, Jane suddenly recalled two high-profile incidents that happened within the last year. Two celebrities independently reported the disappearance of their spouses to the police.
That fact alone wouldn’t be suspicious – people disappear all the time. However, on those occasions, her intuition kept screaming that something is wrong. She couldn’t express it – but there was something dodgy in the way those two celebrities behaved, their body language… Something didn’t add up – and within a month or two, both those celebrities got new partners.
Jane felt goose bumps. She needed to check something – and check it immediately.
Once she was stopped for use of mobile phone while driving. Not just the phone – but phone, tablet, and laptop: while video conferencing at 90 mph. God knows what she told police officer. She vaguely remembers sighing and imitating remorse, as well as mumbling something along the lines of «…brain that is capable of multitasking – unlike primitive male brain». On that occasion, Jane got away with three different something-awareness courses – one for each offence. «And don’t do it again,» – laughed at her female officer with nice Welsh accent.
This time she was more cautious. No, she wasn’t going to stop – but when Jack realised she’s not going to change, he hacked into on-board computer and connected her phone screen to head-up display. Just need to turn screen sharing on.
Finding the newspaper article was easy. Skim-read to the end. Here it is. One of them also reported theft of 20 thousand in cash, being stolen at the same time. Police put the blame on the spouse who disappeared. This can’t be a coincidence. Her intuition was right all this time. Goose bumps suddenly turned into scary cold needles.
She parked by the front door but kept sitting in the car for good half an hour. She felt so safe inside. She wished Jack opened the door and escorted her inside – but he never did that. This was another thing she was missing. Jane grew up in a family, where everybody was rushing to the front door, when any family member was coming back home. Even now, many years later, when she or her brother visited parents’ home for few days, they followed the same rule. It was one of the first things that was coming to her mind, this was one of the first things she imagined while thinking about “family”. Unfortunately, Jack never did it.
Instead, he cooked dinner. Since the moment he lost his last job (or rather an attempt of it), he started doing all the housework. Jane never asked for it – he just started doing everything. Absolutely everything. The house was always sparkling clean… what else? Jane even forgotten what scary term “housework” means – but she knew Jack did all of it. Of course, he hired a cleaner, a gardener, and whatever else – but even managing them wasn’t an easy task, and she was grateful that he completely took those responsibilities off her shoulders.
Cooking was his only hobby, and that is why Jane always had healthy meals – sometimes even too healthy. This time it was baked salmon with roasted potatoes – one of her favourite dishes.
She suddenly started feeling guilty. Of course, she wasn’t going to accept the illegal offer – but she has had doubts. Back in her childhood she was told that thinking of stealing is bigger sin than actual stealing.
She was silent the entire evening, and went to bed immediately after dinner, pretending to have headache. In reality, her head wanted to explode of guilt. Even if Jack was a complete bastard (but he wasn’t!) – she shouldn’t be having those thoughts. Only a bottle of wine, which she smuggled into her bedroom, allowed her to fall asleep – and this was her weekly dose of alcohol.
The next morning Withheld ID called again. She didn’t even want to pick up, but the phone kept ringing. She wished this never happened – but she couldn’t undo the events. She picked up the phone but couldn’t say anything. However, Withheld ID started talking first.
«We know you have a lot to think about. Take your time, there is no rush. We will call again on Friday. We don’t judge and we don’t do counselling – we only provide a service to you. Service you can trust. So don’t jump to conclusions too early – we know you’re a business woman and you always think carefully before making decisions. It usually doesn’t take long to realise all the benefits of a single life you can have in a matter of days. So even if you think you don’t need us right now – you may reconsider your position in view of everything I explained yesterday. I understand you might be slightly confused right now – so we will call again on Friday.»
«Leave me alone», – she wanted to say, but the other side terminated the call.
She spent the next few days thinking what she would do if she was single. Purely hypothetically, of course. What she would do differently. Would she enjoy it? And the answer was always “No”. The idea of coming back to an empty house finalised and killed all her doubts. Trying to date someone, after 8 years with Jack? What a stupid idea! How she could even thought about it. She will never swap Jack’s weaknesses for someone else’s strengths. By Thursday, things came back to normal, and she was enjoying the life again. She almost forgot about that surreal offer, but when her phone rang on her way to the underground car park on Friday evening, she knew it was them.
«I am not interested,» – she said calmly. – «Leave me alone.»
«Are you sure you don’t want more time to think about our offer?»
«Yes I am sure. Goodbye.»
This time she put the phone down first – she knew how to say “No”.
On the way back home she popped in into a supermarket to get a box of the most expensive wine. It was a nice addition to the celebration dinner – Jack always prepared something special on Fridays, and today’s dinner was very special. She barely remembered it though as she opened the first bottle of wine straight away.
Maybe it was wine, maybe it was the release of tremendous stress she experienced this week – but that evening continued in a very romantic way with unusually passionate ending. They finished second bottle of wine and started second lap. Just before falling asleep they were counting stars. She was happy and content.
God knows how long she slept for but when she woke up, Jack was already cooking lunch. What could be better on a late Saturday morning than fresh coconut yoghurt from a local farm? She opened the front door to pick up the morning delivery and saw two Americans with dark sunglasses on. Exactly how she imagined them after the phone call on Monday.
«What are you doing here??» – She stepped outside while shutting the door behind so that Jack wouldn’t see those bloody Americans. She was angry and started losing temper. – «I told you I’m not interested in your service! Go away or I’m calling police!»
«We are not here for you, ma’am.» – He smiled with pure American smile. – «I’m sorry ma’am, but this is our rule: if one party rejects, we always offer our service to the other party. You made your final choice last night – and that has allowed us to contact the other party.»
She suddenly felt black bin bag over her head and her elbows were firmly tied together with some unbelievable force. Strong arms were lifting her off the ground but she already didn’t feel it as sudden darkness completely disoriented her. She only heard front door opening, and she heard her partner Jack stepping outside.
«I’ve got cash for you as we agreed,» – he said, – «or would you prefer bitcoins?»
A woman’s loyalty is tested when her man has nothing while a man’s loyalty is tested when he has everything.