“I’ll pay you fifty million dollars,” Angela Burk said, her sharp gray eyes boring into Mark Pearson’s. “And all you have to do is give me a little nudge so I can die.”
The old lady was serious! Mark couldn’t believe it. He had agreed to have lunch with Mrs. Burk prior to her surgery on Monday, something the anesthesiologist had never done before with a patient, but she had been insistent; though, her asking this of him was the last thing he thought she may want to talk about. Questions about the operation, yes, but never this. It was just a simple operation—a vaginal hysterectomy for fibroid tumors that had enlarged, which was an uncommon occurrence for women of Mrs. Burk’s advanced years, but not unheard of.
I can’t be hearing her right…this is crazy. Or maybe she was senile. She couldn’t be asking him to kill her. “Mrs. Burk, do you know what you’re asking of me?”
“Yes, young man, I know perfectly well what I’m asking: I want you to help me pass on.”
Mark took a big drink of the expensive wine, started to set the glass down, changed his mind, and swallowed another big gulp. He studied her face for a moment, noted the set of her jaw and the astute intelligence in her steady gaze. Though her shoulder-length silver hair hinted at her age—ninety-five—the rest of her spoke of a much younger woman. Makeup expertly applied, a shocking red dress that skimmed her slim body, and red pumps to match, she could have passed for someone in her fifties. Truth be told, he wouldn’t mind having a look under that red dress and maybe even tapping the old broad.
“And you’ll pay me fifty million to…to….”
Mrs. Burk smiled; it made her look even younger. “Oh, what the hell, it’s just money. Let’s make it one-hundred million.”
Mark felt as if he had stepped into The Twilight Zone. He managed a squeaky, “How?”
“You’re the expert, Dr. Pearson. I trust you can figure that out. You graduated med school near the top of your class, after all.” She took a small sip of wine. “And before you bring it up, I know there will be an inquiry of some sort, and perhaps you may lose your license. But I don’t think that will bother you all that much, not with a hundred million dollars at your disposal.”
Mark’s mind spun out of control, imagining what he could do with just a tiny fraction of that money. He could leave Julie and the two disrespectful little shits that she had brought with her when they married two years ago, and he had had the stupid idea to adopt, making him legally responsible for them. He would have gotten out of the marriage less than six months in when he realized how incompatible he and Julie were if it hadn’t been for the looming specter of years and years of child support payments. A woman who knew her way around in the sack could fuck up a man’s entire life, like it had his, if he weren’t careful. Which he hadn’t been. Great between the sheets didn’t make for a great marriage. What Mrs. Burk was offering…he’d have the money for child support, alimony, whatever was needed, and whatever his heart desired. Julie could take half—he didn’t much like the idea, though—and he’d still have enough. More than enough. He could retire in style.
But wouldn’t that raise suspicions? “I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
Mrs. Burk laughed, the sound musical and girlish. “Ah, you’re afraid of going to jail. Don’t you think the worst that could happen is you’d lose your license? I’ve looked into it, Mark—I may call you Mark?” At his nod, she went on. “And I think you may be deemed incompetent and lose your job, but is that so bad? Really?”
The old woman had a point: Mark had come to hate his job. With all his training, one would think his salary would equal that of the surgeons, but no, they made the big bucks. He kept patients alive, unconscious, and pain-free while others cut them open, and was paid less. It wasn’t fair. “I guess not,” he agreed. “But people would question how I came by that much money.” Mark couldn’t believe he was seriously thinking about taking her offer.
“I gave that consideration, dear,” Mrs. Burk said. She picked up her small clutch, which lay next to her plate, pulled out some folded papers, and slid them across the table to Mark. “Take a look.” Mark glanced through the documents as she continued speaking. “As you can see, there’s a passport for an August Martin with your picture on it, driver’s license, social security card. These documents, and as I mentioned earlier, one-hundred million dollars will be at your disposal following my death. And if I were you, I would leave the country as soon as possible after you fulfill your end of the bargain. No need to wait around for an internal or external investigation.”
Mark studied the documents; all looked authentic. And he knew Mrs. Burk had the money she was offering in the deal; everyone in New York had heard of the woman and her vast fortune. But he couldn’t figure out the why of it. She was in excellent health except for the fibroids, and they would have posed no problem if they hadn’t decided to start growing. He looked up from the documents that guaranteed him a new life, met her eyes. “But why do you want to do this? Outside of the fibroids, which can easily be dealt with, your health is fine.”
“And there lies the problem,” she answered. “I’m ancient, Mark. One may alter the outside with cosmetic surgery, but inside, one continues to age. I’ve done all I can to stave off old age—lord knows how many times I’ve been under the knife—but modern medicine can’t make my organs any younger, can’t make me feel young again. I’m simply tired, and tired of living. I want to move on.” She held out her hand. “You can give those back.”
Mark pulled the papers toward his body, “I thought you said—”
“I may be old, but I’m not senile. What’s to keep you from taking me up on my proposition but not keeping your end of the deal? I would be out time and money, and you, dear boy, would have disappeared. I could possibly stop you from taking the money from the account I’ve set up in the Cayman Islands for August Martin, and I could pay to have you tracked down, and well…we don’t have to go into what would happen then, do we, Doctor?” Her gray eyes narrowed. “The papers, please.”
Mark reluctantly placed the documents onto her open palm. “When would I get those back?” When he spoke the question, he knew then that he would make the deal. He would sell his soul to the devil for a new life, which he supposed he was doing by agreeing to kill the old lady sitting across the table from him. And it wasn’t really murder;euthanasia would be a more apt term. Just carrying out an old woman’s final wishes. He could live with that. And man, oh, man, he could live with all that money. Just the thought of the places he could go, the women he could fuck, the lavish parties he could throw where the booze and coke flowed, was enough to make him feel as high as a kite.
“You’ll get them back, plus instructions on how to access the hundred-million in the Cayman Islands as soon as I am dead. My personal assistant will be waiting at your car in the hospital parking lot after the operation. He’ll give you a key to a safe deposit box and tell you the bank where it’s located. These documents, a one-way ticket out of the country for August Martin, instructions to access payment for your services, and one hundred thousand dollars in pocket money will be inside. I think you can take it from there.”
Mark felt a twinge of unease. This was a big chance he was taking, after all. But the payoff….“There’s just one thing.”
Mrs. Burk tucked the documents back inside her clutch, then met his gaze. “Yes, Mark?”
“What guarantee do I have that you’ll live up to your end of the bargain?”
“I suppose you’ll just have to take my word on it.” She sighed. “But think, what do I have to gain by reneging? I’ll be dead in any case. I want a peaceful, dignified death, and a bullet to the brain or a handful of pills is not dignified. I don’t want to be considered a suicide, can’t bear to think of people gossiping about that poor old woman who had all that money but still wasn’t happy.” She snorted in contempt. “My money has brought me immense happiness, but it can’t turn back the clock. So, Mark, I wish to depart this life on my terms before that choice is no longer available.”
Mark saw the steel in her eyes, the imperious set of her shoulders. He knew pride when he saw it, and in a way, admired her for going out in the way she chose.
The old woman stuck out her hand. “Do we have a deal, Doctor Pearson?”
Mark shook the proffered hand. “Yes, Mrs. Burk, we do.”
Somewhere on the Mediterranean, August Martin stretched his long legs as he lay near the water’s edge on a chaise lounge, soaking up the sun’s warm rays. He admired the toned, tanned muscles of his thighs and calves. The man next to him in a matching chair placed a hand on his thigh, and August curled his fingers around the hand and gave it a squeeze. He asked, “What are you thinking, Rick?”
“Just that you’re a gorgeous man. Everyone envies me when I walk in with you on my arm. You’re always the best-looking man in the room.”
“I think so too,” August said. “I’m well pleased with this body.”
“Oh, Angela…er…Auggie, I am too,” Rick gushed. “I loved you before but love you even more now.”
August Martin laughed. “Because now I give you a hardon?”
“Well, yes, I suppose that’s true. But from the moment you hired me as your assistant, we’ve always had a special connection. We are simpatico, twin flames. I knew it from the start.”
“Oh, bullshit, you just loved my money.”
Rick raised up, pulled off his sunglasses, glared at August, “I take offense at that!”
“Settle down, darling. I’m just giving you a hard time.”
Rick sighed, put on his sunglasses, and reclined. “One would think becoming a man would take the bitchiness out of you.”
“It’s done a lot of things, but I’m afraid the heartless bitch is still inside me. How else do you think I could have done what I did?”
“Well, I suppose it helped to be a heartless bitch when you stole that man’s life. So, I guess in a way, I prefer a heartless bitch to one with a heart.”
August Martin remembered Doctor Pearson’s horror when she, Angela Burk, had pushed him out of his mind, hers taking its place while shoving his consciousness into her dying body. She had felt just the tiniest twinge of guilt, but down through the centuries, she had learned to live with it. After all, now and then, she had to have a new body.
Rick’s fingers began drawing lazy circles on August’s thigh. He felt his body respond. Outside, he was a handsome thirty-something man, but inside he still had the responses of a straight woman. He didn’t know why he’d never taken on a man’s form before. It was proving to be such fun.
©2021 KT Workman