Silence



He paid her well.

Very, very well. Some of it went through discreet but official channels. Most of it went straight from his pocket to hers, every time he showed up. She knew full well what he was paying for.

The first time the boy walked into the back room of her office, he was small and skinny and had a frightened look in his eyes. She checked as best she could for internal bleeding--none, she thought--and concussion--just fine there. She patched up the small cuts and tended to the bruises and whispered reassuring words into his ear, and she gave him a bright red lollipop. He smiled at her once, small and shyly, as the men took him away.

With her next payment she received instructions that the young master was to have no sweets.

When the boy next arrived, he was still small and skinny, and she avoided looking at his eyes. She did what she was paid to do. He walked stiffly and trembled at her touch. This time there was a gash near his neck that looked vaguely like teeth marks. She disinfected it and wrapped it in bandages. She knew better than to ask. She sent him off with a feeble 'Goodbye, young master.' He shrank away from her, and from the men. He did not smile as they shoved him out the door.

She saw him many times over the years.

The boy was still skinny, but no longer could he be called small. His eyes frightened her. The back room was silent as she dabbed at a black eye and treated the deep scratches on his chest. He stiffened at her touch and glared at her with those disturbing eyes as though daring her to try something. She did not say goodbye. He ignored the men who followed him out the door and into the waiting limo.

Then he died. She expected she would receive no more money. She expected the boy would rather pretend she did not exist.

A month later, she received her next payment. A month after that, his visits began again.

He was still skinny, but he was most certainly not a boy, and he now rose to several inches above the top of her head. His eyes were as cold as the grave, and she did not like to look into them. She wrapped up the lacerations on his arms and said nothing.

He glanced up at her and murmured, "Thank you."

She stared. She did not know what to say.

"Thank you for all you've done for me over the years." His voice was a monotone. It sounded vaguely mechanical. She realized suddenly that she had never heard it before. "You're a loyal employee. I will see that you're properly compensated someday."

"There... there's no need for that, sir, but you're welcome." She bowed properly as he got up from the medical table. He walked out alone.

She saw him many times over the years.

Then, one morning, her phone rang. They exchanged petty pleasantries for the benefit of anyone listening. She frowned. He had never called her before.

"...What do you think would be fair compensation?"

"Excuse me, sir?" she asked, confused.

"I promised you some time ago that I would reward you for your loyalty. Now I am attempting to--make a clean break, if you will--prepare for the future--and I am trying to get all outstanding affairs in order. So, do you have any opinions on how you would like to be compensated?"

Her mouth went dry, and she found herself suddenly speechless.

"Well?"

"Ah... sir," she said suddenly, attempting her most companionable and her most official doctoral voice at the same time, "I've been thinking... perhaps you should talk to someone. I can give you the number of a psychiatrist friend of mine here in town; she's very discreet--"

"Not discreet enough, doctor." He laughed. It was short and bitter. She had never heard him laugh before. "Believe me, my board of directors can smell blood in the water. It'd be career suicide."

She winced.

The line was silent for a while. She could hear the soft hiss of his breathing on the other end.

"Have you ever met my little brother, doctor?" he murmured all of a sudden.

"Um... no, I don't believe so."

"Oh, good grief, of course you haven't." His voice was self-disparaging. She could almost picture him rolling his eyes, except that that was something he never did. "Of course, I never would've taken him to you," he said lightly.

"Yes, I suppose not," she said with a single, feeble laugh.

His voice glowed with a quiet pride as he said softly, "Wonderful boy. He's growing up so strong... Don't know what I'd do without him."

Silence again.

"Don't tell him about any of this."

Her own voice was hushed as well. "Of course not, sir."

She imagined him nodding in a satisfied way.

"Well, doctor," and he was suddenly businesslike again, "I'll be in touch with you about that compensation. Good day."

Three days later, the phone rang again. It was the hospital.

She seriously considered going to the funeral. She decided in the end, however, that it would have been too conspicuous. She did what she was paid to do.

A week later an unmarked envelope filled with money showed up on her desk. The scribbled note inside read, "For your trouble." The ink was blotched in places. She stared at it for a long time.

Snatching up the envelope suddenly, she threw it against the nearest wall as hard as she could. The money scattered all over the floor, a few stray pieces drifting slowly downward through the air as she laid her head on her desk and sobbed.