He Pays Me Plenty ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
It was eleven o’clock Saturday night. I had spent a strenuous day doing next to nothing, laying around my apartment reading Dostoevsky, and was ready to go to sleep, when the telephone rang. I was going to let it ring, but I figured it had to be Mr. Ludwig. Nobody else would call at that hour.
“Got a little job for you,” the voice on the telephone said.
“Mr. Ludwig!” I said. “How happy I am to hear from you!”
“Yes, I am. I was about to go to bed, though.”
“I can always get somebody else if you’re indisposed.”
“Just kidding! I would never pass up the chance to do you a service!”
“A doctor had somebody die in his office. A woman. He wants her removed before morning.”
“What did he do to her?”
“Never mind. The doctor has a problem and is paying us plenty to remove it for him.”
“I’ll wear my Boris Karloff disguise.”
“I don’t care what you wear. Just get the job done.”
He gave me the address and I wrote it down on the inside of a match book.
“There’s a dead-end alley that runs behind the doctor’s building,” he said. “Pull in there. The doctor will be waiting for you.”
“Sounds like a cakewalk.”
“Put the deceased in your car and bring her to me.”
“I won’t exactly be taking her out for a night on the town.”
“And make sure nobody sees you!”
I found the address easily enough. As expected, the doctor was waiting. Dressed all in white, he looked like a ghost.
“You the man Ludwig sent?” he asked.
“Turn off those headlights!”
“No need to be so jittery,” I said.
“Did anybody see you?”
“There’s nobody around this time of night.”
“Nobody but the police,” he said.
He pulled the door back and pointed down. He had the woman in a body bag right inside the door.
“You sure she’s dead?” I asked.
“I strangled her.”
She was so light I thought she must only be a child. I was glad I didn’t have to see her face. I put her in the trunk and turned to bid the doctor farewell.
“You have a wonderful evening, now,” I said.
“You were never here!” he said, slamming the door.
Mr. Ludwig lived twelve miles outside of town in a hundred-year-old house. He probably built it himself, he was so old. He was a doctor but I didn’t know what kind. I didn’t ask questions.
The road to Mr. Ludwig’s house was hilly, curvy, and dark with that special kind of lonely darkness that exists only in the country. I hardly ever met any other cars out there and if I did I figured they were driven by lost souls who couldn’t find their way.
I made sure I didn’t exceed the speed limit—I couldn’t afford to be stopped with a corpse in my trunk—and I got to Mr. Ludwig’s place a little before one o’clock. The big iron gate opened for me as if by magic and I drove through, up to the big house and around to the back.
I stopped the car and got out. I stood there beside the car, looking up at the silent hulk of the house and listening to the crickets. In a couple of minutes Mr. Ludwig came out the door with one of his goons, a muscle boy named Kurt.
“Any problems?” Mr. Ludwig asked.
“No,” I said.
“Nobody saw you turn in here?”
“Only a couple of owls.”
“Well, bring her on inside then.”
I opened the trunk and Kurt lifted the bundle like a sack of feathers and carried it inside. Mr. Ludwig motioned for me to follow him so we could sit down in his study and complete the transaction and, I hoped, call it a night.
“Would you like a drink?” he asked as I sat down on his expensive leather sofa.
“No, thanks,” I said. “It’s late and I just want my money.”
“Stay and have a drink with me,” he said. “I hardly ever have a chance for intelligent conversation.”
“What makes you think you’ll get it from me?”
“I know you. How long have you been working for me now?”
“About a year, I guess.”
“Just have one little drink to be friendly,” he said.
“All right. Just one.”
He poured some scotch, which I hated, into a glass and handed it to me. He was a tall man, slightly stooped in the shoulders, wearing an expensive-looking robe of some soft material like cashmere. It made him look like an enormous brown bear.
“How has the world been treating you?” he asked.
I sighed, in no mood for small talk. “I can’t complain,” I said.
“You like working for me, don’t you?”
“And you like working at night?”
“I guess so.”
“Everything is more interesting at night, don’t you agree?”
I didn’t know what he was talking about. “Yes, sir,” I said.
“There are infinite possibilities lurking in the dark.”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Of course, the kind of work we do has to be done at night.”
“I thought I’d give you a little extra this time for your trouble, since it was a rush job. Say six-fifty instead of the usual five hundred.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I can use the extra dough.”
“Don’t thank me. Thank Dr. Broyles. He’ll be picking up the tab.”
“I don’t want to know his name.”
“You met him when you picked up the girl?”
“Yeah,” I said, “he seemed a little nervous.”
“Did he say she bled to death, or what?”
“He said he strangled her.”
Mr. Ludwig laughed so that his jowls quivered like jelly. “That’s a good one!” he said. “An odd choice of words but then, he’s an odd character.”
“He a friend of yours?” I asked.
“I’ve known him all of thirty years.”
I looked over at the clock and cleared my throat. I was tired and had a headache. “Well, Mr. Ludwig,” I said. “If you don’t mind, sir, I’d like to get my money and go home now.”
Kurt came into the room and Mr. Ludwig and I both turned and looked at him.
“What is it now?” Mr. Ludwig asked.
“I think you need to see this,” Kurt said.
“What is it?”
“It’s the girl in the bag.”
Mr. Ludwig left with Kurt and in a couple of minutes he came back into the room. His jovial manner had vanished. The corners of his mouth turned down as if his face was made of dough.
“Anything the matter?” I asked.
“She’s not dead,” Mr. Ludwig said.
“I said she isn’t dead.”
“What are you going to do now?” I asked.
“You’ll have to kill her.”
“What? I’ll have to kill her?”
“Do you want her identifying you to the police?”
“She hasn’t seen me.”
He took a gun out of his desk and pushed it toward me.
“I’m not going to kill her,” I said. “Get Kurt to do it. I think he’d enjoy killing a woman.”
“Kurt’s no killer.”
“Neither am I.”
“I thought you were courageous.”
“Up to a point, but nobody said anything about killing a dame.”
“You were hired to bring a dead body to me,” he said. “You brought me a live one. It’s not quite the same thing, is it? Your job isn’t finished until you give me what I’m paying you for.”
“Why should I do it? You’re a doctor. Can’t you just chloroform her or something?”
He smiled as if we were talking about pulling a kite out of a tree. “All you have to do is take the gun, point it at her head and pull the trigger. It’s all so simple.”
“I’ve never killed anybody before!” I said, and I hoped the logic of that statement would carry me through.
“Once you’ve done it, you’ll see how easy it is.”
“How about if I take her back to town and drop her off at the nearest hospital? An anonymous drop-off. No questions asked and none answered. She hasn’t seen you or Kurt. She hasn’t seen me. She hasn’t seen any of us. She doesn’t know where she is. She was in my trunk inside a bag all the way out here.”
“When they see the state she’s in, they’ll call the police and the first thing she’ll do is put the finger on Dr. Broyles. I must do what I can to protect my old friend.”
“Maybe I can talk to her and make her promise not to say a word to anybody.”
“My goodness, you are naïve, aren’t you?” he laughed.
“Killing is not in my line,” I said. “I’ll bet you have half a dozen others on your payroll who specialize in that sort of thing.”
“None of them are here, though. You are.”
He stood up, walked around the desk and placed the gun in my hand.
“I don’t want to shoot her,” I said. “Maybe I’ll hold a pillow over face until she stops breathing.”
He took a three-foot length of rope out of his desk and tossed it to me. “Use whatever method you prefer. Just do it.”
“And what will you do with her after I kill her?” I asked.
“You don’t have to worry about that. I know how to make dead bodies disappear.”
“You’re a doer, not a thinker. Just do it and don’t think so much about it.”
“Yeah, I’m a doer,” I said.
He held the door for me to go into the room where the girl was who was supposed to be dead but wasn’t and closed the door behind me. There was just enough light in the room for me to see the light switch. I couldn’t kill anybody that I couldn’t see, so I turned on the light.
The empty body bag was on the table but the girl was gone.
I opened the door again and said to Mr. Ludwig, sitting at his desk, “What’s the gag? There’s nobody here.”
Mr. Ludwig came rushing into the room and when he saw the girl wasn’t there he yelled for Kurt, who immediately appeared from another part of the house.
“She’s gone, you idiot!” Mr. Ludwig said. “Why didn’t you watch her?”
“She was here just a minute ago!” Kurt said.
The two of them seemed to forget about me while they looked behind the curtains, in the closet, in the bathroom—anyplace a person might hide.
“Maybe she went upstairs,” I said, pointing up the dark staircase with the gun.
“Go check and see if she’s upstairs!” Mr. Ludwig said to Kurt.
Mr. Ludwig was red in the face. I thought he might pop a blood vessel right before my eyes.
While Mr. Ludwig and Kurt were searching frantically for the girl, upstairs and down, I thought of the simple expedient of checking the back door.
The door was partly open and a rug in front of the door was disheveled, so I figured the girl had run out into the night. There was no place for her to run to out there, but at least she could get away.
I sat down on the sofa and took a deep breath, listening to the sounds of Mr. Ludwig and Kurt scrambling around upstairs. When Mr. Ludwig came down again, I smiled.
“She flew the coop!” I said.
“She ran out the back door.”
“Don’t just sit there, you idiot! Go find her!”
“It’s not my job to find her,” I said, “and I’d be careful who you’re calling an idiot, if I were you.”
He went straight to the phone and called “some people” to come out from town and comb the woods and the grounds surrounding the house to try to find her.
When he hung up the phone, he rubbed his forehead as if he had a headache. “They’ll be here as quick as they can,” he said, “but in the meantime, I want you and Kurt to go outside and see if you can find her.”
I was on the point of refusing when he handed me a flashlight and another to Kurt and hustled us out of the house.
“You’d better not let her get away again!” he said threateningly as he slammed the door.
Kurt and I stood there in the dark at the back of the house, listening to the crickets. He was smoking a cigarette and didn’t seem in any hurry.
“He’s crazy, you know,” he said.
“I suspected it,” I said. “Why do you work for him?”
“He pays me plenty.”
“It’s a dark night,” I said, looking at the sky. “You can’t see anything.”
“You look on that side of the house and I’ll look on this side,” he said.
There were twelve acres surrounding the house. The carefully tended lawn ended where the woods began. I figured the girl, if she had any sense at all, would hide herself in the woods until morning and then try to find somebody to help her.
I spent an hour or more going over the lawn with the flashlight. I saw a possum and a couple raccoons but that’s all. I was about to go back inside and tell Mr. Ludwig it was hopeless, when I heard a snap over to my left beyond the boundary of the lawn.
I shone my light where the sound came from. All I saw were trees and brush, but then a person materialized out of the dark.
“Don’t shoot me!” a female voice said.
“Who’s there?” I said.
She stood up then out of the brush, her hands in the air. She wasn’t more than twenty years old. “Please don’t shoot me!” she said.
“I don’t have a gun!” I said.
“What is this place?” she asked.
“It’s the home of a mad scientist, twelve miles from town on a very lonely road.”
“How did I get here?”
“Do you remember a doctor?”
“Oh, yeah. Him.”
“He wanted you removed.”
“No more questions. If you value your life, you’d better get away from this place as quick as you can. There are people coming out to look for you and they mean business.”
“Can you help me?”
“No. I’m supposed to find you and take you to him.”
“Take me to who?”
“Never mind that now.”
“I’m scared and I feel weak.”
“Is it any wonder after what you’ve been through? You were in a body bag. The doctor thought he strangled you.”
“Oh, yeah.” She touched her throat and began crying.
“Behind the house is a black car,” I said. “That’s my car. After Kurt and I go back inside, go around to the side of the car away from the house and get on the floor in the back seat. Close the door as quietly as you can. There’s an old army blanket on the floor in the back that you can use to cover up with. I’ll be going back to town as soon as I can get away from here and I’ll drop you off and then I’m finished with this whole thing.”
“Never mind. If you want to go on living, just do as I say. And if they find you in my car, I had nothing to do with it.”
I circled around the front and met up with Kurt on the other side of the house.
“Any luck?” I asked.
“No. I didn’t see anything,” he said.
“The boss is not going to like it,” he said.
“Maybe his people will find her.”
When we went back inside, Mr. Ludwig had settled himself down with a bottle of whiskey. He smiled when he saw us.
“Did you find her?” he asked.
“No,” Kurt said. “She’s nowhere around the house.”
“Did you look everywhere?”
“She probably went out to the road and flagged down a car,” I said. “Somebody to give her a ride to town.”
“She’d better keep her mouth shut,” Mr. Ludwig said, “or she won’t live long.”
“I’m sure she knows that,” I said.
“With people like that, you can never be sure of anything.”
“People like what?” I asked.
“She’s a heroin addict. So is the doctor. He was giving her what she needed. Something went wrong, I imagine, and then he had to strangle her.”
“Maybe she refused to pay him,” Kurt said helpfully. “Drug dealers get awfully touchy about that.”
“Shut up, Kurt!” Mr. Ludwig said. “Go to bed.”
After Kurt was gone and I was left alone with Mr. Ludwig, I asked him again for the money he owed me.
He looked at me sadly and shook his head. “I don’t pay for sloppy work,” he said.
I couldn’t keep from laughing. “It wasn’t my fault she wasn’t dead,” I said. “The doctor told me he strangled her. If there’s any blame to be allocated, I think it belongs to him.”
“Good night,” he said. “You’ll be hearing from me.”
“It’s almost four o’clock. It’s good morning now instead of good night.”
When I went out to get into my car to go home, Mr. Ludwig’s people were out in full force to look for the girl. I was sure some of them weren’t happy at being yanked out of bed in the middle of the night, but I knew they’d be well-paid for their efforts.
The girl didn’t make a sound all the way back to town. I dropped her off at the hospital but wouldn’t let her get out of the car until I gave her some advice.
“You don’t know anything,” I said. “You don’t know how you got here. You don’t know where you’ve been. You’ve been with some bad people, that’s all. If you’re thinking of getting revenge on that doctor, he’ll kill you. If he doesn’t, somebody else will.”
She nodded her head to show me she understood and then she got out of the car and began walking toward the door of the emergency room.
When I got home, I had a hot shower and fell into bed. Before I went to sleep, though, I took the phone off the hook. I figured I deserved that, at least.
Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp