As he taxied across town, he thought about his profession. It was usually the same old story, with different players: someone was tired of a husband or wife, but didn't want to change his or her standard of living with a costly divorce. Money-- it always boiled down to money. Of course, not all of his clients were spouses. He occasionally performed services for businessmen or politicians who had a score to settle. But most of his business was of the domestic variety, and although he couldn't say why, Coker preferred it that way.
Terri Murr turned out to be young, too, even younger than Adam Pearce. Coker slid into the seat across from her and ordered a double cappuccino. Without speaking, he took a napkin and wrote a figure on it.
Terri stared at the napkin, then began to tear it into shreds. "You ask for a lot of money, Mr. Coker," she said finally.
"I perform a valuable service, Mrs. Murr. Believe me, I'm worth every penny." He watched her, knowing that she had to think it through and decide for herself. She pursed her full red lips as she contemplated the shredded napkin. Dark, almost black hair framed a heart-shaped face. Freckles fanned across her pert nose, and her cheek was creased in such a way that Coker suspected he'd see a dimple if she smiled.
When she finally looked at him, her carefully made-up brown eyes were hard, ruining her fresh good looks. "When I married George a year ago, I really didn't expect..." Her voice lowered to a whisper. "I really didn't expect him to last this long. But he's been on a health-kick and his doctor says he might live for years." She clenched her small fists. "I'll--I'll be old by then! I want to get on with my life now. We have a pre-nuptial agreement that says I'll get nothing if we divorce, but it doesn't cover-- well, you know."
Coker nodded sympathetically but remained silent. Terri's fingers jumped from the shredded napkin to her cup, then back again. Finally, she sighed. "All right. I suppose we have a deal."
Coker spent the next few days observing Lila Pearce. He knew that many in his profession preferred never to get near the subject until it was time, lest someone see them and remember. But knowing an individual's habits and personality helped him decide which method to use. Lila was an attractive, no-nonsense woman who favored drab business suits and sensible shoes. When she wasn't rushing into her office, or power-lunching with other harried executives, she was on her cellular phone in her elegant black sedan. Even though Lila wasn't his type of woman, Coker appreciated her efficient, business-like manner. He couldn't help but wonder how a go-getter like Lila had gotten hooked up with the likes of Adam Pearce.
Twice during the week he watched her, she met a man--a man a good deal older than Adam Pearce--in an intimate hotel restaurant. Both times, when she emerged several hours later, she drove through the countryside at top speed, no doubt trying to soothe her guilt. Coker realized it was a good thing Adam had come to him when he did. Lila Pearce would eventually figure out that she didn't want to be married to him anymore, and would cut him off without a penny.
When he wasn't watching Lila, Coker focused on George Murr. Two days after his meeting with Terri, Coker parked down the block from the Murr's home and settled back to watch for the old man. Terri had said that Murr's schedule was set in stone-every afternoon at 4:00, he went for a jog as part of his new health program.
While he waited, Coker admired the houses on the block. They were older mansions, set far back from the street, and Coker could easily believe that every homeowner employed the same gardener. Behind the tall, neatly trimmed shrubs, he saw uniformly wide expanses of thick grass and neat flower beds. As he watched, a lanky, white-haired man stepped through one of the gates and began a series of stretches. The man, who was 70 if he was a day, and who Coker recognized from the picture Terri had given him, took off down the sidewalk in an energetic jog, bony arms and legs pumping. Coker followed for a few moments, to get a feel for Murr's route. He patted his own flabby stomach and shook his head. It must be wonderful to be in such great shape, especially at such an advanced age.
Back at his apartment, waiting for his dinner to be delivered, Coker paced his living room and thought about Adam Pearce and Terri Murr. Both so young and selfish. People used to wait until their mid-life crisis to decide on the dire services he provided, but these two--! It just didn't seem fair to remove George Murr and Lila Pearce and leave those two young vultures alive.
As Coker nursed his before-dinner cocktail, an idea began to take shape. He turned it over in his mind, thinking of all the possible outcomes. It might fail, of course, but if it worked, it would be spectacular! But first, he had unfortunate business to take care of.