Shut Up and Kill Me

Shut Up and Kill Me

Shut Up and Kill Me 1440 1152 Beth Weeks

CW: suicidal ideation, graphic violence

I am a chickenshit. Slitting my wrists, gun to the head, rope over the ceiling fan—I don’t have the guts. I tried pills and booze, but it turns out a handful of benadryl and six wine coolers can’t kill you, just make you want to watch the iconic 2000 action-adventure hit Shanghai Noon and puke into a bucket.

Still, I have to get it done somehow.

Like all my problems, I solve this one with a high-interest credit card and a lack of moral fortitude. It’s way easier to hire a hitman than it should be. Not so different from ordering a pizza, if that pizza could only be found on the Dark Web and purchased with cryptocurrency. And if nothing else comes of it, I now know it only costs the bitcoin equivalent of $3,275 to strangle a lower-middle class college dropout in her sleep. I don’t know how anyone is still alive, with a reasonable rate like that.

The downside is that I don’t get to schedule the hit. Every night, I go to bed with my window open. Every morning, I wake up.

Then, it happens. I am in bed. I hear my window slide softly open, a body crawl into my room. I peek out the slit of my eye—a big guy wearing all black. Disappointingly cliché.

I roll onto my back to give him better access to my throat. He comes to the side of my bed, hovers over me. I don’t dare open my eyes, but I am unnerved by how long he’s taking. He crawls over me, a heavy weight crushing my thighs. Finally his gloved hands wrap around my throat. My pulse punches into his palm. No fight or flight for me; my body goes limp, relaxes like a good massage. I am a rabbit in the mouth of a beast.

He squeezes my windpipe. Tears leak out the corners of my eyes and slip into my ears. Not much longer now.

He lets go. My eyes shoot open. I say, “Why’d you stop?”

He sits back and lifts his ski mask to the top of his head. He’s younger than I expected. Eyes brown, hair black, knobby nose like it’s been broken a few times. Pretty, I guess, if you’re into that kind of thing. Which I’m not.

“You’re not fighting,” he says. “Why aren’t you fighting?”

“I didn’t pay you to ask me existential questions. I paid you to kill me.”

“Jesus Christ. That’s fucked up. You know that’s fucked up, right?”

I tug his hand and put it back on my neck. “Please get back to work.”

He jerks his hand back. “I get paid to kill bad guys, okay. You’re not a bad guy. You’re just a—” He looks around my bedroom, at my scrapbook supplies and bookshelf of paranormal romance novels. “Girl.”

“I’m twenty-two, thank you.”

“See? You’ve got your whole life.” He plucks a picture from my bedside table. It’s of me and my best friend at our high school graduation. “What about this guy?”

“That’s William.”

“Isn’t William worth living for?”

“William’s dead.”

“Shit.” He sets the frame back down.

“Look,” I say, “it’s very nice of you to be concerned with my mental health. But you’re not a therapist, you’re an assassin. And I’d like to be assassinated.”

“You have to be a prominent socio-political figure to be assassinated. Otherwise it’s just a hit. I’m a hitman, not an assassin.”

“Why does it matter?”

“Assassins get paid more.”

The hitman-not-assassin has ruined the mood. I no longer feel like dying. “Do you want a cup of coffee?”

His face lights up. “Oh yeah? That’d be great.”

***

I set the mug in front of the hitman, who is sitting at my kitchen table. “Cream and sugar?”

“You don’t mind?”

“Of course not.” I bring him a carton of half-and-half and the sugar bowl which is in the shape of a chubby gnome. The lid is his hat. The hitman doctors his coffee obscenely.

I sit across from him, cupping my own mug which is so hot my hands are beginning to burn. I imagine my fingers turning to ash, my hands and wrists, up my arms to my shoulders, all of me crumbling to pieces to be blown away by the oscillating fan.

“So how’d you become a hitman, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“How does anyone become anything? Happenstance and an inability to find something more lucrative.”

I nod sympathetically. “We do what we’re good at.”

He takes a long gulp, pulls a face, shovels more sugar into the cup.

“Do you like your job?” I ask.

“I like when I get to kill like, the scum of the earth, you know? Crime bosses. Rapists. Serial killers. Rich people.”

“And what if you have to kill someone who isn’t that bad?”

“I do the job, then I get really high and listen to Simon and Garfunkel. Why do you want to die?”

“It’s more like, I don’t want to live.”

“That sucks.”

“I mean, what are my options? Get an office job with a two-hour commute? Rot in a cubicle? Pop an Ativan a day and hope for the best? The truth is—” I point my mug at him. “The truth is, I don’t want to work. I don’t like it and I’m not good at it. I’ve got six figures of student loans at six percent interest. I have credit card debt out the ass. The minimum payments are as much as my rent. And I don’t have health insurance. I got an infected cyst on my neck that I had to drain myself by watching YouTube tutorials. I bought antibiotics from Canada that came with a free month’s supply of Viagra. My grocery store doesn’t even sell avocados. Avocados.”

“Oof,” the hitman says.

“I bare my soul to you and all you can say is ‘oof’?”

“What do you want me to say? Go to a different store if you want avocados. It’s not a big deal.”

I slam my cup down. Coffee sloshes over my hand. “It is a big deal. I live in a food desert. All there is to eat around here is Easy Mac and McDonald’s.”

“Then move.”

“Fucking where? Where is the rent cheap enough to live on your own?”

“I don’t know, man. There are doors all over the place. You just have to open them.”

For some reason The Communist Manifesto is within arm’s reach. I hold it up to him and point at Karl Marx’s face. “Late-stage capitalism has ruined all our lives. We’re all drowning in debt. We’re chained to our desks. We have no time to live our actual lives. There’s no hope for any of us anymore. None. We have no power, no purpose.”

The hitman squints like I said something meaningful. Then a maniacal grin spreads across his face. “I’ve got two more hits today. Why don’t you come with me?”

“I don’t know the first thing about killing someone.”

“Sure you do. You’ve been trying killing yourself, haven’t you?”

“I don’t know. I don’t want to get in any trouble.”

“Who cares? You want to die anyway.”

I look down at The Communist Manifesto, boop Karl Marx’s nose. “I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“Let’s make a deal. Give me twenty-four hours, just one more day of abject psychic suffering, and if at the end you still want to die, I’ll shoot you in the head, free of charge.”

I sit up straighter. Getting shot in the head was an additional fee. “You’d do that for me? Really?”

He smiles kindly. “Really.”

***

The hitman drives a red Dodge Neon, but the passenger-side door is green for some reason. When I climb in, I have to swipe fast food bags and receipts off the seat. I put my seatbelt on, expecting the hitman to speed and do cool Tokyo Drift-like tricks, but he sits up close to the wheel like a grandma and goes exactly the speed limit. We drive into the city and park at a building a few floors taller than the buildings around it. I am wearing a hoodie and feeling a little out of place as the hitman puts some quarters into the meter. Then he shuffles around in his trunk and pulls out what is clearly some kind of rifle in a bag. He shoulders it and shuts the trunk.

I follow him into the building. The hitman says, “Sup, Roy,” to the security guy and/or receptionist who doesn’t bother looking up when he says, “Hey, man.” And that is all the interaction we have with Roy.

In the elevator, the hitman presses the button for the top floor. I stare nervously at the camera. “Isn’t it obvious you’re carrying, like, a huge gun?”

The hitman glances up at the camera. “Oh, fuck, we’re made.”

My heart jumps. The hitman laughs. “Yeah, no, those aren’t real.”

We reach the top floor, walk down a long hallway, get to the emergency exit that says it is alarmed but clearly is not. The hitman opens the door and gestures for me to go up the stairs. On the roof, the morning sun glints over the horizon.

It’s cold out. I make paws with my sleeves. The hitman settles at the edge of the roof and gets the gun out, which is some kind of sniper rifle. I get excited. We are going to snipe someone.

“Come here,” he says, and I kneel down beside him. “Look through here.”

I look through the scope. I see crosshairs, plain curtains covering a window. Beside me I feel the heat of the hitman’s body.

“Soon as this dude wakes up, he’s going to open those curtains and we’re going to—” The hitman yawns. “We’re going to shoot him in the head.”

“Are you tired?”

“A little.” The hitman groans as he stands. His knees crack. “I’m going to see if Roy’ll put on a pot of coffee.”

“What am I supposed to do?”

The hitman looks at me like I’m stupid. “I told you the plan. Just — do the plan.”

“How?”

“It’s all set up. Pull the trigger, put the gun away, go downstairs.”

“What if I can’t do it?”

“Then I’ll have to come back tomorrow.”

The hitman stuffs his hands in his pockets and heads back down. I look through the scope at the boring curtains. Hesitantly I put my finger over the trigger. “Pew pew,” I say, followed by some gratuitous machine gun sounds. I get bored quickly. I look at my phone, scroll through some apps, glance at a few marketing emails that I then mark as spam.

The hitman returns as I am waffling between which free sudoku app to install. “So? Any action?”

“I don’t know, I got distracted.”

He hands me a coffee in a styrofoam cup, sits beside me cross-legged. I sip the coffee. A little bit of cream, like I had at home. No one has ever paid such close attention to me.

“Hasn’t opened the curtains yet,” he says. “You’re fine.”

“When he does, do you want me to do it?” I tuck my hair behind my ear. “I just, you know, want to know what it’s like.”

“Just don’t chicken out. Tomorrow’s my day off.”

We sit silently, him watching the window across the street, me watching the sunrise. “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever watched the sunrise before.”

The curtain flutters and the hitman smacks my arm to get my attention. “Hey hey, there he is, get ready.”

I scramble to the scope and peer through it. A meaty hand slides the curtain back. I see a large older man, in only a pair of white briefs. He rubs his eye with his fist. I imagine him as a baby waking up from a nap. I don’t know who this man is, but he was once somebody’s child, someone who probably dreamed great things for him, and hoped he would die of old age, painlessly and surrounded by family.

“Now,” the hitman says.

It’s easy not to think when you’re being told what to do. I squeeze the trigger. The gun is nearly silent. The recoil hurts my shoulder. Within the same second, the bullet shatters the glass and enters the man’s skull. I hear someone scream. I look over and the hitman is giving me a strange and slightly stunned look. I shrug. “I play a lot of first-person shooters.”

The hitman packs the gun away and hauls me up by the arm.

“Come on, hustle,” he says, like a Little League coach.

We take the stairs instead of the elevator. After ten floors, my calves begin to ache. “I’m not sure I can make it all the way down.”

“Don’t really have a choice.”

By floor eight, I hear sirens. My legs are liquid. I never thought it would be this hard to run down thirty flights of stairs. We get to the bottom. I am out of breath and desperately want to rest, but the hitman takes me by the hand and drags me through the lobby.

“Have a good one, Roy,” the hitman says.

“Take it easy, man,” Roy says.

We get to the two-toned Dodge Neon. The hitman throws the rifle in the trunk while I get in the passenger side. He gets in the car and drives off. We get stuck in traffic behind the ambulance.

“How do you feel?” the hitman asks.

I don’t remember the last time anyone asked me that. “I don’t feel anything.”

“You will. You’ll either puke or get really horny.” A Lexus cuts us off. The hitman slams the horn, shoves his head out the window, and starts shouting.

***

The hitman takes me to brunch at a diner, the license-plates-on-the-walls kind and Johnny Cash playing on a jukebox. We sit at the counter. The server and line cook seem to know him. I order the special: two eggs, toast, hash browns. The hitman does not need to order, because apparently he always gets the same thing.

Johnny Cash flips to Willie Nelson flips to Patsy Cline. The server brings our food. We eat in silence. When the server takes away our empty plates, the hitman says, “Alright, next job.”

“It’s the middle of the day.”

“It’s going to take a while.” The hitman shows me his phone. On it is a site that looks like the Dark Web version of a GoFundMe titled Kill Mr. Barker. I read through it. It appears to be made by a group of women who tried to speak out against their middle school geometry teacher for… What he did does not bear repeating. They took him to court, but apparently he received no punishment except for a two-month paid suspension before being fully reinstated. So these women banded together and raised money, successfully, for a hit on Mr. Barker. The GoFundMe concluded at twelve thousand dollars.

Ominously, the hitman says, “They paid for the full package.”

***

Mr. Barker lives in the suburbs. The hitman backs into the driveway, or what I call “parking like a dad.” He gets out of the car and opens the trunk, and this time he pulls out a plain backpack. I follow him to the front door. He rings the doorbell. A middle-aged guy with bottle-thick glasses opens the door.

“You Mr. Barker?” the hitman asks.

“Yes,” Mr. Barker says, like he’s offended at being asked.

“Your wife home?”

“No.”

“Kids?”

“No.”

“So you’re alone?”

“Yes, what—”

The hitman grabs Mr. Barker’s shirt and hauls him into the house. To me, he says, “Lock the door, close the blinds.”

I do as I’m told, and when I’m done, I turn around to find the hitman opening a door and throwing Mr. Barker through it. Given the thunking and screaming, I assume it is the basement. From below, Mr. Barker groans. The hitman heads downstairs. I watch from the steps as the hitman finds a chair and drags Mr. Barker onto it. Mr. Barker, a little delirious, his head bloody, tries to say something. The hitman shoves a sock into Mr. Barker’s mouth and puts duct tape over it. He then goes about tying Mr. Barker’s wrists and ankles.

I can’t help but find the whole thing pleasant to watch, like an episode of Bob Ross. Mr. Barker wiggles and grunts but the hitman has tied him up well, wrists and ankles bound to the chair by several layers of duct tape. “Come here,” the hitman says to me. I hesitantly descend the steps. “You ever punch someone?”

I shake my head. Mr. Barker shouts against the gag. The hitman shows me how to make a fist, thumb on the outside, curled against the knuckles. He explains the movements: keep your hips loose, put your weight into it, follow through. I nod along. Mr. Barker is crying.

“Has anyone ever punched you, Mr. Barker?” I ask, loudly like he can’t hear me.

He shakes his head and tries to say something.

“Then this will be a first for both of us.” I punch him in the face. I expect it to be life-affirming, like I’ve found my calling in committing egregious acts of violence, but it only feels awkward, like accidentally stepping on someone’s foot. I resist the urge to apologize.

I shake out my hand and say to the hitman, “You didn’t tell me it would hurt me.”

The hitman looks at his hands, which I see now are knobby and kind of gross-looking, like his nose. “I guess you just get used to it after a while.” I feel bad for him, for wherever he’s come from.

“What do we do next?” I ask.

“Well, we torture him”—more screaming from Mr. Barker—“and then we kill him.” He pulls a pair of pliers from his back pocket. “The ladies from the GoFundMe had some specific requests.”

***

The hitman wipes his forehead with the back of his arm. “We better clean this up.”

“We aren’t just going to leave him here?” I ask.

“For his wife and kids to find? That’s mean.”

“What are we going to do?”

“Make it look like he ran away. They’ll be angry instead of sad.” The hitman looks at what remains of Mr. Barker’s body. “Grief can kill you, but a person can live off of rage for a long time.”

We wrap Mr. Barker in a blue tarp. I get his ankles and the hitman gets his shoulders. We make our way upstairs. It’s late afternoon now. We go out the front door. Two houses down, a neighbor is trimming his hedges. He does not look at us. We throw Mr. Barker into the trunk.

By the time we’re done cleaning up all the blood and tissue and little shards of bone, it’s dusk. I take a Gatorade from the fridge, where I see a calendar that tells me today Mrs. Barker has taken the youngest kid to chess club, the oldest to softball, then the youngest to a math tutor, and plans to stop at the grocery on the way home. I wonder how anyone has that kind of energy.

By the looks of it, Mr. Barker didn’t help out much with the household management. He’s not even on the chore wheel.

***

At the dump, a big machine crushes the Dodge Neon—and Mr. Barker’s remains within it—into a tiny cube. I have the backpack; the hitman has the rifle. Wistfully he says, “I really liked that car.”

“What do we do now?”

The hitman has his phone out. “Uber’ll be here in five minutes.”

We are covered in Mr. Barker’s blood. “Is that really a good idea?”

“They’ve seen worse.”

Our Uber driver has a white Kia Soul. Her name is Marcella. She does not speak to us or look at us. The hitman gives her five stars.

We are dropped off at a little bungalow in a nice neighborhood. There’s a hummingbird feeder hanging from an oak tree and pansies in the garden.

“Is this your house?” I ask, stupidly, as the hitman gets his mail out of the mailbox.

“Yep.”

I follow him inside. The walls are wood-paneled and the couch is yellow with orange flowers like it came from the sixties. The place smells like patchouli.

“Do you live with anyone?” I ask.

The hitman flips through the mail. “Nope.”

“You decorated this way…voluntarily?”

He looks at me and frowns. He has a streak of blood across his forehead and down his cheek. “Why? What’s wrong with it?”

“It’s just.” I poke a fern hanging from a macrame net. “A little old-fashioned.”

My skin feels weird, that unpleasant stretchy feeling of dried blood. I wonder if the stains will come out of my hoodie.

***

The hitman brings me to his bedroom. He was right—I haven’t puked, and so…

I tell him I’ve only done this twice before: the first time with the boy who took me to homecoming; the second time with William our third week of college when we both felt afraid and alone. Neither were particularly pleasant or memorable, and I wasn’t sure I really wanted it either time.

The hitman is on top of me again, this time between my legs. He kisses me for a long time. He goes down on me for a long time. I come thinking about the mirror shine of Mr. Barker’s blood. The hitman rests on his heels, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. He asks me how rough I want it. I say, Not very.

So he is gentle and slow. He even put on a condom without me having to ask. Consensual sex, what a treat. He doesn’t talk dirty to me, doesn’t tell me what a tight pussy I have or anything like that. “Good?” he asks, like he really wants to know if I’m enjoying it, like he’s been asking all day. I nod. It is good, like breakfast was good and the killing was good.

***

We are in something akin to an afterglow, marred only slightly by the hitman politely advising me to pee so I don’t get a UTI. After a while, I ask, “Do you think those guys deserved it?”

The hitman makes a groaning sound like he doesn’t think pillow talk should include murder. “I don’t know. I don’t really care.”

“Why not?”

“I’m not the judge or jury. I’m just the executioner.”

I think of William. His last text to me read, I’m opting out. Then I found out he’d killed himself. I wasn’t sad for him. I envied him.

“You mind if I shower?” I ask. “And wash my clothes?”

“Go for it.”

The bathroom is all baby blue tile and yellow ducky wallpaper. It’s very clean. I shower and watch all Mr. Barker’s blood go down the drain. I reach inside myself and where I usually find nothing, I find something. It is not a good something. It is terror and sadness and shame and grief. But it is a presence, not an absence.

Wrapped in a fluffy pink towel, I throw my clothes into the washing machine, the stacked kind in the hallway. The hitman is gone. I go into his closet where all black clothes hang in a neat line. I pluck a t-shirt from a hanger, put on a pair of basketball shorts. When I return, the hitman is standing at the stove stirring something garlicky. He has scrubbed the blood from his face and nails.

I sit at his kitchen table just as he sat at mine. A plume of steam rises from the sink as he drains the pasta. He tells me he got the recipe from The New York Times. It’s the fanciest thing he knows how to make, even though it is just spaghetti. “But it’s special spaghetti,” he says. “Doesn’t come from a jar.” He pours me a glass of milk because he says it balances the acid from the tomatoes.

He sets a plate in front of me, takes a seat across from me. He says, “It’s been a day. What’s your decision?”

I barely hear him. I eat like an animal. I chug the milk. I eat seconds, thirds. I lick my plate. I see red. I am not full enough.

 

Header photograph by Courtney Elizabeth Young.

 

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