Tammy, a drug counselor at a day treatment program, sits at her desk in the windowless office. She is looking through a file when Allison walks in.
“Hello,” she says.
“Well, you made it to our appointment. I wasn’t sure you would come.”
Allison is wearing tight straight leg jeans and a white tee shirt. Clients in a substance abuse program are not allowed to wear jewelry, heavy makeup or rock and roll tee shirts. Tattoos need to be covered up and visible body piercings removed. Allison’s everyday style is unadorned and minimal. Tall and willowy, with shiny brown hair, she has youthful natural beauty and good bone structure that requires no additional enhancement.
“I left you a message, didn’t I?”
“I know Ali, but after our discussion yesterday, I thought you were upset.”
“I checked my father’s gun cabinet. He keeps the key under a brass bookend in his study. The handgun was clean, and he had a supply of bullets.”
“Would he notice if anything had been moved inside the cabinet?”
“No. But I did ask him a question. I asked him how close I would need to be near someone to kill them in one shot.”
Tammy straightens her back. She feels sudden panic; there could be consequences. Allison sits in the metal chair opposite and chews on a strand of hair. They met six months ago, after Allison’s car accident and sentencing. Her face was bruised and her eyes blackened. She had fallen asleep at the wheel after an overdose of tranquilizers, awakening in the county jail. Allison’s varied and self-serving details of the event led Tammy to believe her to be an accomplished liar.
Tammy is tired. Her course black hair is gray at the roots, her dental bridgework silvery at the gums. Many parts of her are in need of repair.
“I don’t believe you said anything to your father.”
Allison uncrosses her legs and slumps in the chair. “God, this office is a dump!”
Tammy doesn’t answer.
The counseling offices for the program are in the building’s finished basement. There is built-in overhead fluorescent lighting; but the absence of any natural light makes it feel like being submerged within a fish tank.
“Tammy, let me ask you something. How do I know for sure you’ll keep your promise? The deal is if I kill the guy you owe the money to, you’ll recommend that Drug Court release me from the program now, instead of in a year.”
“I gave you my word, Ali. Haven’t I shown you your file? I’ve deleted all your many transgressions; your relapse with Xanax, your lack of cooperation with the teachers during class time and your inappropriate fraternizing with a male client.”
“You mean the blow job? The boredom here is killing me; this place has so many rules it could turn anybody into a raving drug addict!”
“The failed urine test and your little encounter with Carlos were enough to have you thrown out. You could have ended up in a residential facility up state. As I‘ve told you, if you do this favor, I will petition the court and document an exceptional recovery, good behavior and recommend your immediate dismissal from the program. It’s called quid pro quoi, something for something.”
“So why did you do it, Tammy? Why did you borrow so much money; don’t they pay you enough here?”
“I have my reasons.”
Allison looks down at her hands. Tammy notices her long, aristocratic fingers.
“What about your husband or your parents? Couldn’t they loan you the money?”
“My parents are dead. I don’t have people to look out for me like you Ali. My husband has difficulty keeping a job; he drinks.”
“You’re a counselor. Why don’t you get him into a program?”
“It’s not that easy.”
“What did you need the money for, your mortgage, credit card bills, a nicer car?”
Tammy responds, “That’s no concern of yours. My connection to Jack is like a life sentence; the payments never seem to end.”
“Is Jack a gangster, how did you meet him?”
“Years ago we went to school together. We were in love. There were possibilities, those possibilities have long passed.” She is not looking at Allison. “No, he’s not a gangster, just a guy I no longer want to owe money to out of my life forever.”
“Why don’t you just fuck him again; make him forget about the money?”
“Don’t be disgusting, Ali.”
“It’s not disgusting. When I get out of here I’m going to sleep late, enroll in acting classes and fuck lots of guys.”
Tammy opens the bottom drawer of her desk. “Let me show you a picture of Jack. He’s a mechanic at Island Auto Body on Montauk Highway. He works the late shift alone and closes the place. Get there at 9 o’clock. The shop is in a desolate area by the bay. Just do the job and leave.”
Allison studies the picture; her fingers trace her lips over and over again.
“Okay, I’ll do it. He looks like a loser. Don’t worry I’m a great shot; I’ll pretend I’m a character in a movie.”
“How did you get here tonight, did your brother drive you again?”
“No, I broke another rule and took the car out by myself. My parents went to the theatre and will be back after midnight.”
“Leave now, Ali. It’s beginning to get dark. Get the gun. Call me from a pay phone after you complete the job.”
“Are you kidding? There are no pay phones. I have my cell phone, and I have your number.”
Allison retrieves the phone from the front pocket of her jeans. She studies Tammy’s face and thinks the woman is about to cry.
“You’re not crapping out now, Tammy? You know how men are; they like to take what they want and so should we. God, I can’t wait to get out of this place; it seems like an eternity already.”
Allison stands up and leaves. Hair flying behind her, she sprints down the corridor in ballet flats and opens the side door that leads to the parking lot. Tammy hears it close with a dull thud.
Tammy is sitting in the dark when Ali’s text comes through. Job done. Gun in bay. Took the cash. Not coming back tomorrow. Hit Woman.
The message includes a photo. Tammy sees Jack lying on his side in the brightly lit garage; his head bloody, quizzical eyes wide open. His name, Jack, in full view, is embroidered on a patch on the breast pocket. When Tammy and Jack married twenty years ago, life seemed so promising. Jack had owned the business then. Her love for Jack had once been all consuming. She could not recall the exact moment when the nothingness of being overtook her. Tammy waited for something to happen, something, wonderful, uplifting and unknown. She had believed that a force beyond her control would make her feel hopeful again. In most lives there are recriminations, disappointments and concessions, but any chance of additional compromises on her part ended. Tammy had the power to force events to change.
The crime scene photo is stark, yet perverse like a secret fantasy. Tammy knows she must continue to rely on the resources within herself; she is unsure if she will face consequences for having committed this irreversible act. Tammy deletes Ali’s message and Jack’s image, and then clicking off the cell phone; she conjures up past memories; she tries to cry, but feels nothing.
Michele Hromada is a special educator and political blogger. Her work has appeared in Wild Violet, Sanskrit, Diverse Voices Quarterly, Forge, Tower Journal and Gemini Magazine.