A red question mark with the caption: "Can you put a price on a human life?"


Short story by Iris Carden

“Can you put a price on a human life?” he asked.

“Of course, I can,” she said. “It’s a hundred thousand if it’s going to be an easy job. It goes up in fifty thousand dollar increments for degrees of difficulty.” Her voice was low, quiet, but he could hear every word clearly despite the background noise.

“Degrees of difficulty?”

“Personal security or cameras, prominent or wealthy people whose deaths the police would take an extra interest in investigating, difficult places to access, such as police stations or military bases. That kind of thing.”

“Just for example, what would you charge to kill the Prime Minister?”

“The last Prime Minister, I’d do for a discount, fifty thousand. The current one, I wouldn’t kill.”

“Why not?”

“I think this one might take climate change seriously, and he’s looking at a corruption commission and doing better on aged care. I want to give him a chance, see if he follows through.”

“You care about those things, but you’re a …”

“I may be a contract killer, but I’m not a monster. I have values.”

“What if someone hires you and then won’t or can’t pay after you’ve done the job?”

“That doesn’t happen. People who hire me always pay. No-one wants to find out about my collections policy.”

“Oh… Well, the reason I asked to meet you, was I need a quote to do a job. You see my wife and I are on the verge of getting a divorce. There’s a lot of money at stake, and I don’t particularly feel like sharing. So, yes, she’s fairly prominent, but doesn’t have personal security. There’s cameras at the house, but I can tell you when she’ll be away from home, or I’m sure you can find a way to lure her away. Can you give me a price?”

“I’m sorry, no. I can’t take a job from you.”

“You can’t take a job from me? Why not? Why did you agree to meet me, if you’re not willing to take a job from me?”

“I can’t take a job from you because your wife hired me first. That you came out to meet me in secret in the middle of the night just made things easier for me, because, as you said, there’s cameras at your house. There are no cameras here. You are the job.”

“So what am I worth?”

“To me, a quarter of a million. To her, not much.”

“How? … How are you going to … do it?”

“Did you notice anything about the drink you just finished?”

“The drink I bought myself and already had when you got here? … How could you?” His voice started to slur.

“When I arrived. I walked past you, around the table to sit here.”


His head drooped on his chest.

The pub had dim lighting, was overcrowded, and noisy. No-one had noticed her arrive, and no-one saw her leave.

When he was found at closing time, no-one remembered anything about the man who had been sitting in the dark corner, apparently alone.

By Iris Carden

Iris Carden is an Australian indie author, mother, grandmother, and chronic illness patient. On good days, she writes. Because of the unpredictability of her health, she writes on an indie basis, not trying to meet deadlines. She lives on a disability support pension now, but her ultimate dream is to earn her own living from her writing.

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