“Let’s talk price.”

McShane loomed over me, seven-and-a-half feet tall if he was an inch. His fetid breath blew out of his face like exhaust from a fouled engine; a face wide and ugly with a pug nose that must have been broken at birth. His eyes, round, flat and black as the bottom of cast-iron skillets, glared at me.

The alley was blind – one way in, one way out. Only one door on any of the buildings, and he planted his gigantic frame between me and it, his massive paws resting on the wall to either side of me. He sniffed once, than stood up straight. His hat disappeared into the dark above the alley.

I wiped away the sweat beading under my nose.

“You get what you pay for,” McShane said. “You paid cheap for the old man, and you got a sloppy job. Led me right to your doorstep. But you’ll pay me good because I don’t work cheap, and the job’ll be tight because I’m a professional.”

I tried to look up into his face, but the top of my head only reached midway his chest. All eight-feet of him and six-feet wide so the only detail I could make out was a chipped button on the shirt straining across his gut. “How… how do I know you’re what you say you are?”

“So it’s proof you’ll be wantin’ then.” He laughed. “My portfolio, that’s the word, ain’t it? Well, I’ve got one for you. Remember banker man out in Windwood last year? Coppers still got nothin’ on that one. That’s ‘cause I’m clean. Took him with his wife sleep right beside him. She got up and about next morning before she realized he was gone. Clean and quick, in and out, broke his neck, less than twenty minutes.” He spat what smelled like tobacco juice at my feet. “Professional ain’t cheap.”

“No, no, I mean, I understand.” I tried to look around him, to get a view out of the alleyway, but he was too broad, probably eight-feet wide. I stepped to the right, up against a garbage can reeking of yesterday’s corned beef and cabbage. “But I… I’ll need more… examples, ‘cause this, this is a special job.”

“What’s so special about it?” He stared down at me, his eye beams beating me on the top of the head from at least ten feet up. He growled. “I bet this izza revenge killing, ain’t it?”

I straightened my back, tried to be taller. “Yeah, I want the bastard dead.”

“What bastard? What did he do?”

“Killed my fiancé,” I said. “Killed her as she slept in the bath. A waitress, and she’d been working hard all day. She just wanted to rest and relax. Killed her before she could even get out of the tub. So, you’ll need to tell me you can do something… similar.”

He rocked his humongous head back and roared. “You came to the right man. There was some killings, a massacre, the newspapers called it. One city block – e’rey man, woman, and child – even cats and dogs – all dead. Killed in a single night.” He stuck out his chest, pushing me tighter to the wall. “All by me, savvy, all by meself.”

“What? Why?”

McShane shrugged. “T’was a bet. Ones like me, we take pride in what we do. Killin’ is art and science. We in the trade is always competing to see who’s best. I took on a wager, proved I’m the greatest of ‘em all. One city block, thirty-eight souls, all in one night without nary a scream. Clean. No weapons and no trace of me left behind. Cops catch me now, I ain’t worried. They’d have nothin’ – no proof, no evidence. Me fellows still rave about it.”

I swallowed hard. “A wager? How much?”

“Twern’t the money, it was the pride, the fame. A dollar’s all the wager was; a dollar to seal the deal.”

“A competition… I see.” I slid farther to the right, shoving the garbage can as I moved into its place. Then I pushed it forward, just beyond the big assassin, giving me a view of the end of the alley. “So, you did all the murders… all by yourself.”

“Yeah. Funny thing, too. I did a girl in a bathtub that night.” He grinned.

“I know.” I removed my white straw fedora and held it up into the light of the bulb hanging from the back of the restaurant that disposed of its corned beef and cabbage in the alley.

“What?” McShane bent to stare into my eyes. Not nearly as tall as I thought; in fact, not much taller than myself. His left eye fluttered and his right eye twitched. “Whatcha mean, you know? What you doing?”

“That was my fiancé in the bathtub, and I’m killing the bastard who murdered her.”

The bullet made no sound as it penetrated his thick skull, but I imagined the sound the hollow point slug made disintegrating inside his head, shredding his little brain to rubble. I imagined the bits of metal singing as they went about their work, taking pride in laying waste to that flesh.

Professional.

The big ape dropped to the ground without another sound.

The man behind the gun also made no sound when he joined me in the alley. McShane’s eyes stared blindly into the night sky as his killer reached across the dead body and took his payment from my hand. “What old man was he talking about?”

“Dunnoh,” I said. “I think he got some bad information somewhere.”

The guy smiled, and then dropped a dollar bill onto McShane’s corpse. I didn’t ask what that was about, but I suspected it had something to do with a wager. He nodded and walked away into the night.

I considered the man at my feet, calculating the number of lives he’d taken, the weight of the misery he’d created. For years, he had ended lives with impunity, destroying families and devastating friends. I didn’t think anyone would be sorry he was gone. I pulled my cell phone from my pocket.

“This is Wilson. I need backup.”