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Russ Bickerstaff
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Art by Lee Kuruganti 2014

Terminal Guy


By Russ Bickerstaff


The alarm clock wakes me up. I’m waking up in the same bed. Every day for the last week it’s been the same bed. I get up and shower. Then I get dressed. I check my messages and I find out that the client is ready. Excellent.

I decide to look over things one last time. Make sure that everything has been arranged according to contract. With any luck my client had all of his affairs in order, but it really isn't any of my business if he didn't. Everything in the checklist is fine, so my end of the agreement is ready to be cleared. Everything is fine. I look over everything one last time. Leave the keys on the table. And I walk out. The door locks behind me and I have one job completely finished now. Off to the next one.

Between the end of one job and the beginning of another I'm kind of homeless. Some government offices consider me homeless permanently. I have no fixed address. It’s not shady or anything. If the authorities need to get a hold of me, they know how. I am fully licensed and registered. The business I work in is regulated to a degree that one finds in no other line of work. Most people get into the business thinking that they'll have some fun with it. There is a sense of satisfaction to the work, but those people who are just in it for the thrill of the kill wash out pretty quickly. You have to be up on gigabytes and gigabytes of regulatory information. You have to be able to recite it from memory like a prayer. Most people aren't willing to put up with that.


I always tested well so it was easy for me. And I like killing people. So I guess I found my dream job. Right out of high school. Took a few technical courses and here I am. Helping people walk out. Helping people end. At their request, of course.

I pick up the late client’s newspaper on the way out. Briefly I consider checking with the paper’s subscription department to make sure this is the last issue coming to this address. Sometimes they're nice about it. Sometimes they don't have all the services cut off until the last possible day. The property manager will close out the condo and only then will all the services be cut off. Clients like that have a degree of class. Things sometimes get messed up, though. I once found myself living in a high-end condo without any heat or electricity for an extended weekend in the middle of winter. Never again. I make sure that much is made perfectly clear in the contract. At least let me live in comfort after we’ve done business.

I want to avoid the paper, but I can't help it. It's professional curiosity. I go into the obituaries of the paper on the ride out to the other side of town. I’m feeling particularly morbid this time so I also check the business section. Usually it's not until a couple of months to a year before these people start getting investigated. And maybe that was why this particular guy wanted his exit. He had done something wrong. He knew going in that it was going to be a situation where he might end up having to call someone in my line of work. And since I come highly recommended through various prestigious accounts online, I'm the one that only higher-end clients call. Rich executives need a way out, too. And they’re so used to other people doing everything for them that they even hire someone to take them out when things go bad. Doing it themselves isn’t good enough. Don’t know why. None of my business. Something goes wrong and you can’t go on. You knew the risks and you want out, only you can’t do it yourself because you’re too much of a lazy fat ass and you’re used to having everything done for you. So you hire someone like me to help you walk offstage.

I make it all the way to the other end of town before I get the confirmation message. Ready to go. I check myself more time. Well-dressed. Very professional looking. I like to think that I have the type of expression that's very terminal. I don't want to look into the face of my client and have them wondering anything on their way out. Kind of unnerving if it looks like some kind of an expression on my face might suggest that they’re reconsidering or even wondering about me in any way. I want them to look into my face and see the end. That's why I don't wear a mask. That's why I don't cover my face. There's always a sense of mystery with a mask. People wonder. I can see it on their faces. I don't like to leave anyone with that sense of wonder. I want them to look at me every bit as blankly as I’m looking at them. A simple transaction. It’s just business. I’m not a therapist or a crisis councilor. I’m just there to take out the trash.

Not that the clients would ever would be able to complain about it afterwards. And honestly that's part of why love this job. I wouldn't be honest if I said it wasn't nice not having any disappointed customers. There's no one to complain if I don't do my job well. I would know, of course. I would know if I didn't do my job well. And I don't like to leave any questions in the mind of a client. I want to be able to be the one to clear it all out. All the concern. All the worry. I've got it under control. You don't have to worry about it anymore. You don’t have to worry about anything anymore. I’ve got it covered. In exchange, I get a large sum of money and the use of your place until my next client is ready.

I make it to the condo and there he is. Nice looking guy. He has his laptop open and he's answering emails. There's something strange about that. Don't get me wrong, I'm familiar with the work. Most people want to act like this is just their next appointment. They've got to get their haircut. They got to go to that charity golf outing. Go for a meeting with that client from Pittsburgh. And then got to meet the guy who they’ve hired to kill them. Most people don't like dealing with their own mortality so they tend to react like it's just the next thing on their schedule.

There’s something strange about this guy, though. He seems more casual about it than most people. I shrug it off and finish the act. The boys from the morgue pick him up and I’m on to the rest of the business for day one. In the process of doing a preliminary look over the guy’s apartment I notice something strange. The guy had a business regulation gun. No ammunition. He had a book of regulations for people in my business. He was familiar with my line of work from the inside.

Regulations state that the job is completely anonymous, so I have no way of looking up whether or not he was in the process of getting a license. I have no way of knowing whether this guy was about to apply for a license or whether he already had a license. So judging from the contents of his apartment he was either looking at getting into the business that I was in or he had gotten so sick of it that he decided to call someone else in the business to do him away.

I don’t know why it bothers me. Before he made his exit he was on his way in or he was on his way out. I don't want to think about this but I will. I will wonder whether this particular client was looking into having a job like mine or didn't want to work it anymore. And I will wonder this for the full week that I'm in his condo. I will wonder this while waiting for my next job. And I’ll wonder if I’m actually going to take that next job.

Russ Bickerstaff is a professional theatre critic and aspiring author living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with his wife and two daughters.

In Association with Fossil Publications