The Specialist

Fourth floor, walk-up, dusty and faded carpet in a hallway lit by bare bulbs, all the way at the end, knocking softly so as not to aggravate his nerves. Waiting patiently, listening to the muted traffic noise outside and for the shuffling sounds that precede the door opening.

He looks older than anyone you've ever met; he is older than he looks, moreover, which is an accomplishment. His face is lined and carved and hollowed as if sand-blasted by desert winds in biblical times and his hair is a ghostly aura of snow-white wisps. He motions you to come in, he nods and grunts but does not smile or introduce himself: he knows you know who he is, and he doesn't need to know your name.

The apartment appears constructed less from brick and drywall than from books and bookcases. It smells of old tobacco, and slow-cooked sausage, and vanilla. He points to a chair and you sit, waiting.

There are no questions: he knows why you're there, what you need. He pulls out this book and that one, thumping them open on the dining room table between plate and tea service. He traces line by line with a bony finger and a muttered whisper.

He looks at you for the first time, his eyes jet-black and yet still somehow shining. His voice is a sudden crack of shock and power that courses through you to die at the tips of your bones.

"There. No more leukemia. Five Hundred Dollars."

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