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Professional Courtesy

Some say it's a young person's world.

In the Gutter, age always trumps beauty.

Professional Courtesy by J.M. Taylor

The job took me north of Boston, over the Zakim Bridge, towards Revere.
Near the town center, a couple of teens were making out on a bench. Go get her, tiger, I thought. Then it occurred to me that a year from now she’d be pregnant or already a mother, and the boy wouldn’t have a better job than pumping gas to take care of them. I almost stopped and told them both to get the fuck home, clean up, and start doing their schoolwork. “Fucking idiot,” I said to myself. Sentimentality doesn’t work in a job like mine.
I wove my way deeper into the neighborhood. Nothing seemed alive. No kids played in the yards and no shades twitched to see who was disturbing the silence of the neighborhood. Every single yard had one of those Madonna on the half shells, surrounded by rusty fences that depressed me enough to slit my own wrists. Several had FOR SALE signs on their rotten lawns. Who the hell could live like this? Well, not Steve Coady. Not for much longer, at least.
That reminded me that my cousin wanted me to take care of a guy for him. It’s like being a lawyer: everyone you know thinks you’re willing to give free advice. But I’m a professional, and pros don’t work gratis.
At last, I parked in sight of the house.
While I sat in the car finalizing my plan, someone knocked on the passenger fender. I leaned over to roll down the window. A woman shoved her head in. She could have been thirty or fifty. She had been pretty once, but now her skin had the texture of wrinkled paper, and it was so red her brown eyes were like cool embers in the middle of a fire.
Yeah?” I said.
Got a light?” She held out a cigarette, and I pushed the button under the radio. While we waited for it to heat up, she said, “You lookin’ for the meth lab, it’s a few doors down.”
As a matter of fact, I was. I shook my head. “You got me wrong,” I told her.
So I guess you don’t need to know he’s got the back porch booby-trapped. Step on the top stair, a mounted shotgun shoots right through the damn door.”
You got me wrong,” I said. “I got a package for this address.” I pointed to the house across from where I parked. The place was as run down as any, with an ancient Chevy Nova in the driveway.
That slut Lori?” The woman spat.
She dates a friend of mine.”
That don’t narrow it down any. Every night, a different car, sometimes two. I woulda thought you were one of them, except she don’t work days.”
Some neighborhood. “You live here long?” I asked.
Born in that house over there. Then when I got married, we moved into his house there.” Her arm swung from one house to another three doors down. 
The lighter popped and I held it up to her greedy fingers. She touched the end of the cigarette to it. A second later, smoke curled into the car. “You must’ve seen some changes, then,” I said.
The woman sucked deep. “Not really,” she said ruefully. “ ‘Cept that bitch took half my customers away. God damn age discrimination.” She blew me a kiss. “I don’t suppose you…?”

I shook my head.

She wandered away, singing like the rusty hinge on a gate.
I looked at Lori’s house again. Who could get it up in there? Not that it was any of my business. Still, I had to make it look good, now that there was a witness. In the footwell was an old Stephen King book I’d been working through. I ripped up a brown paper bag I found in the back seat and wrapped the book as tightly as I could. The result was big enough that it could have been a box of anything. I got out of the car and crossed the street to Lori’s. I pretended to knock on the door.
I waited another minute, looking around. The old whore had disappeared. Nothing else stirred. After a few more seconds, I shrugged, then tossed the book back to the car. No sense wasting a good read. Instead of getting behind the wheel, I swung around behind the shack of a place that housed the meth lab. Coady was using his own product and the quality had gone down precipitously. My employer thought maybe it was time for new proprietors in a new location.
As the old whore said, the bozo had rigged the back door. I scoped out the trap, avoided the step, and went in. I gave the failed chemist a bullet between the eyes, took down the gun, and walked out.
Back at the car, I studied Lori’s house again. My cousin came to mind. I never worked for free. But that old whore had done me a hell of a good turn, one pro to another, and professionals don’t hold with age discrimination. I went up to the door, and this time I knocked for real. 

A sleepy-eyed skank poked her head out. “Whatcha want?” she yawned.
You Lori?”
She nodded.
Know the meth lab across the street?”
She nodded again, confused. 

I let the butt of my pistol show. “The bastard inside met an unfortunate end. If you’re not out of this neighborhood in five minutes, I’ll make sure you’re framed for it beyond a reasonable doubt.” I looked at my Rolex. “I’m counting.” 

Her eyes flew open wide and she disappeared into the house. A minute later, she reappeared carrying a sloppy bundle. I heard the rumble of the old Chevy starting up. She was gone before I got to my car.
I heard a familiar cackle behind me.

“How’d you know about the shotgun?” I asked the old whore leaning on my car.

She winked. “Bitch didn’t take all my customers.”

J. M. Taylor lives in Boston with his wife and son. As Taylor, and under his real name, he has appeared in Crime Factory, Morpheus Tales, Crime Syndicate, Spelk Fiction, and Thuglit, among others. His novel, Night of the Furies, published by New Pulp Press, was listed by Spinetingler as one of the best crime novels of 2013. You can find him on Twitter at @taylorjm7 and like his Facebook page Night of the Furies.