The silence of the early morning was stifling. Anne lit another cigarette as she moved restlessly from room to room, trying to escape her guilt. She had checked on the children multiple times; they were still safely asleep in their beds. The doors and windows were all locked, but the feeling of looming disaster persisted.

The paranoid anxiety had settled over her the instant the train had rounded the corner and disappeared from sight, taking her husband with it. The emotion was somewhere between melancholy and foreboding, and she couldn't shake the feeling that she had signed and sealed his death warrant when she had pleaded with him to take the job.

They contacted her at 10 AM on a Tuesday about a month before her husband told her about the job offer. A long, thin woman with a smile like ice knocked on the door.

Anne disliked the other woman immediately. She reeked of cigarettes and there was something predatory in the way she glanced around the living room, thinly veiled contempt on her face. Her words were polite, but her tone was bored and cold. Once the niceties of introduction were out of the way (the woman had introduced herself as Jane Roe, an assumed name if ever there was one), she had set a briefcase on the coffee table between them.

It contained 25,000 dollars. The woman explained that she represented an agency interested in hiring her husband. The woman was worryingly vague about what the job entailed, but Anne had a difficult time focusing on what the woman was saying when there was 25,000 dollars sitting on her fifteen-year-old coffee table.

The woman explained that her agency thought her husband would be hesitant to accept their offer. They wanted Anne to convince him to take the job, by any means necessary. The woman promised Anne another 25,000 dollars if she could convince him to sign on with them.

Her knees went weak at the sight of the money. Her mind raced with the possibilities of that much cash: they could pay off the overdraft fees at the bank and some of her husband's student loans. They could catch up on the mortgage and repay the money her cousin had loaned them when things really started to look bad.

In addition to the money, the briefcase contained a form letter from the president of some demolitions company, outlining the wages and benefits of employment with the company. A copy of the job contract was enclosed, and Anne spent a week pouring over it, searching for anything to validate her unease about the woman, the money, and the job being offered. She wasn't a lawyer, but everything seemed to be in order.

She counted the money, both thrilled and revolted. She didn't like the woman and her alleged 'agency,' and the thought of coercing her husband into accepting the woman's offer repulsed her. Accepting the money felt desperate and needy. It hurt her pride to even consider doing as the woman asked, and yet…it was exactly as promised: 25,000 dollars, American. There was a business card tucked into the lining of the case, and there was a hand-written note on the back, instructing her to call between 9 AM and 5 PM.

The woman's note stung her pride worse than anything before. The presumptuous woman knew she was going to break, dammit. She had half a mind to return the briefcase with a rude note attached, but she didn't know where to send it. And, as much as it shamed her to admit it, they desperately needed the money. She couldn't escape the fact her children were growing up poor.

The entire thing felt wrong. Anne had no clue who the woman really was or why her agency was so interested in her husband, but their intentions, whatever they were, were less than honorable. She didn't really give a damn what the woman's agency was up to, but knowing that her family was involved in their schemes made her queasy.

Asking a woman to manipulate her husband was playing dirty, and she had the feeling that they could get much nastier if she didn't do as they asked. She felt dirty and ashamed and afraid, but they desperately needed the money.

It all came back to the money. If they didn't need it so desperately, if they weren't so close to loosing their home, she'd tell the woman exactly what she thought of her agency and her offer and her arrogant attitude. If she didn't have David and Jilly to worry about, she would refuse the woman's offer without a second thought.

Truth be told, if she didn't have David and Jilly to worry about, she would have left her husband long ago. She cared deeply for him, but there was no getting around the fact that he was unemployed and he drank too much. She had waited faithfully for him when he was in college. She had suffered in silence on the many when he had become so involved in projects that he forgot about her completely. She knew he loved her, but she didn't know if she could say the same anymore.

After another week of deliberation, she swallowed her pride and walked to the payphone behind the public library to call the number on the card. Their phone service had been cut off the week before, and she hated herself for standing in a grimy phone booth, taking orders from a stranger she hated. She could practically see the cold smile on the woman's thin lips as she agreed to convince her husband to accept the job, once the agency offered it to him.

Another two weeks passed before he mentioned the job to her. He didn't want to take the job, but she begged him to reconsider. She brought the offer up whenever possible, and Anne could tell he was put-off by her constant wheedling. He didn't seem to suspect anything, but she knew he would be devastated if he ever found her out.

After another two weeks, he broke down and accepted the offer. Anne was drained by the six weeks she had spent lying to her husband, and she had almost been happy to see him off. But she had regretted her choice as soon as he was gone. She was alone, more alone then she had ever been. She was suddenly terrified someone would come for the children, and she would be helpless to do anything about it. She was ashamed of herself for lying and for accepting bribes. She was heartbroken to think about what would happen if her husband ever discovered her double-dealings. She tried not to think at all as she drove home. She had to stop to buy more cigarettes on the way; she was suddenly smoking more heavily than she ever had before.

The next day, a man in a dark suit delivered a briefcase containing another 25,000 dollars to their house.

The first thing she'd done was drive into the next town and buy a revolver. There was no way of depositing all 50,000 dollars in the bank without raising questions. She was going to have to keep the bulk of the money in the house, and the thought of having nothing to defend herself with made her skin crawl. She sincerely hoped that she would never need it, but knowing it was in her purse was strangely comforting.

For the first time in a month and a half, she felt secure. Her life might have been spiraling out of her control for years, but she had a gun. Knowing it was in her purse made her feel powerful. She stubbed what was left of her cigarette out in an ashtray, and then checked that the children were still asleep. She took the revolver out of her purse and examined it, admiring the way it gleamed under the kitchen lights. She sat quietly, simply enjoying the weight of the gun in her hand.

A short while later, she put the safety back on and slipped it back into her purse. She went to bed and slept, calmer than she had been in a long while.

Wow, is this still updating? I've been busy, but I should be less busy in the coming weeks, so I hope to update this sometime before the rapture. Anyway, if you notice a sudden spike in quality, 'tis due to my lovely betareader/cuddle buddy, Nerveux.