#fridayflash: speed

I started my career as an emergency room doctor, and during my tenure at St. Jude's General, I learned something interesting: it's not whether or not you killed someone, it's how quickly you do it that decides what the police charge you with, if indeed they charge you with anything at all.

Take this example: a group of young men get into a fight, and one stomps on another's head. The victim is taken to an emergency room, some sawbones like me does triage, nothing's broken, just a concussion. Hooray, right? Not really. We could miss slow-moving damage that will worsen and eventually kill. It might take years. It might not even get linked to the original injury.

On the other hand, if the victim gets, say, a brain haemorrhage the same night, the poor youth who did the stomping could be looking at doing time for aggravated assault. Or manslaughter. Or even murder.

It all depends on how quickly the one who got stomped dies, you see.

St. Jude's was within spitting distance of some rough neighbourhoods, and so I had plenty of cases with which to come up with this observation. The police — and the hoods — got to know me by name. There was one year where I was spending almost as much time in suits as witness for the Crown as I was in scrubs trying to stitch patients back together.

Now that I've explained that, it will be easier for you to understand my more recent accomplishments.

I freelance, and like most freelancers in my current line of work I have a moniker, a title which both helps explain to potential clients what they can expect, and which explains to the competition whether I am an actual threat or not. Truth be told, I don't really have any competition. I work in a rather specialised sub-section of the field. Most of the competition go by monikers like The Ice Man and The Cleaner. I am known as The Artist.

There are only two services I offer: straight consulting or work for hire. The latter is more lucrative, but I prefer the former. It's less risky for me, and although the fee is quite a lot less I can get through several consultancies in a single day. With work for hire, on the other hand, I almost always wind up getting slightly underpaid. It's my own fault. I spend more time planning and doing post-project cleanup than I estimate and charge for.

You see, if a client hires me, it's not necessarily that they want someone dead. The Ice Man, The Cleaner, and a whole host of other common-garden-variety assassins will take care of that for them. They'll be a lot cheaper than I am, too, and they'll also assume a lot more of the risk. Killing someone outright, quickly, is a very risky enterprise, even for a seasoned professional.

No, if it's my name being uttered during the handshake contract, it means that the client desires to make someone physically suffer. Usually it's part of the job to ensure they will die of their injuries, eventually, but there are a lot of variables to consider for each project. How much suffering. How long. Whether or not they will retain the capability to communicate. How disfigured they will be. How much medical science can help them.

It may sound formulaic, but every single time it's something fresh. Sometimes the client doesn't wish their main victim to be the contract target — often my job is to focus on a spouse or child so that someone else can watch them helplessly while they endure whatever's been agreed to. Jobs like that take a certain type of delicacy. It helps immensely to know triage and diagnosis procedures, so that the individuals involved can ride the roller coaster of rising hope followed by crushing despair.

It's not all about other people, though. This job has been an immense benefit to my education and self-study. Back when I worked shifts at the hospital, keeping up with the medical journals was a chore that invaded my days off. Now I can often bill for it as research.

Now, by this time I'm sure you're wondering why I'm telling you all this. Confidentiality, after all, is an even more important aspect of my work than it was back when I had to honour my doctor-patient relationships.

Let's just pause the conversation for a moment, shall we? Beautiful architecture here. They don't make public buildings like they used to.

Have you ever had a chance to take a close look at that stairway? Come, let's walk over... ever seen that cherub up there? It's the only mythical creature that sculptor ever carved. He specialised in statues and busts of historical figures. Politicians, business leaders, and so on. No doctors though.

I love the details on the apple the cherub's holding, see it? Lean over... no, a little more...

Can you hear me? Can you tell me your name? Here, I'm going to get out a penlight I brought with me... try and follow the beam of light with your eyes.

Hrm. You can. You're supposed to collapse into a persistent vegetative state. At worst, you should be dead outright. I'll get less money for that, but the risk will be greatly reduced.

Good job I brought my walking stick with me tonight.