Lily turned sixty-five, and her coworkers threw her a retirement party that included the usual cake, a not-really-funny card signed by everyone, and a few cheap gifts. She was both happy and sad about it. Her husband had died two years ago, in July of his sixty-sixth year, and she had no one to spend her remaining years with. They’d planned to move to Naples, Florida, but the thought of doing it alone was not appealing.
A month later, she received something unexpected in the mail that informed her she’d won a free, all-expense-paid weekend at a local resort. There were photos of a pool, a lake, a sandy beach, older couples dancing to live music, and beautiful hotel rooms. Why she’d received this gift wasn’t explained, but when she called to find out more, a woman with a pleasant voice assured her it was legit, and a room had been reserved in her name.
“All I have to do is show up? No strings attached?”
“That’s right. Aren’t you the lucky one! Only very special people receive this offer.”
Lily could almost hear the big smile in the woman’s voice. “I won’t have to sit through a four-hour presentation while someone tries to sell me a time-share?”
She laughed, and it sounded like chimes. “I promise no one will try to sell you anything. Please arrive by 3:00 p.m. on Friday the fourteenth. We are looking forward to your visit.” She hung up.
Lily put down her phone and remembered she’d wanted to ask how she received this prize, but instead of calling back to ask, she decided it was better not look a gift horse in the mouth and went to pack.
When she arrived, she went to the resort office, told them who she was, and a nice young man named John gave her and her bag a lift via golf cart to an orange building with huge windows overlooking Mille Lacs Lake. It was a beautiful summer day, and the water was as blue as the sky.
“You’ll be staying on the top floor,” he said and led her to an elevator. “This is a great weekend to be visiting. A wine tasting is scheduled tomorrow evening, and all guests are invited.” The doors opened, and he gestured. “After you.”
There were four rooms on the top floor, and she figured she’d get one overlooking the busy road, but her view was of the lake as far as she could see. “This is very nice.” The furnishings were almost lush—certainly not “standard” old and abused hotel crap. The paintings looked like art, not thrift-store throwaways, and there was a Jacuzzi tub in the large bathroom. “I can’t wait to try that out,” she said, smiling.
“If you have any questions, call the desk. Checkout time is eleven Sunday morning.” He backed toward the door.
There was a basket of fruit and a bottle of champagne on the table near the windows. “Is that for me?”
“A gift. Enjoy it with our compliments.” He let himself out, closing the door noiselessly behind him.
“I could get used to living like this,” she said aloud, watching the windsurfers and kiteboarders on the water.
She opened the champagne, got a glass, sat at the windows, and drank. Why the hell not? She was retired now.
She slept through dinner, and when she would have awakened around ten, an odorless gas entering the room through special vents sent her back to sleep. Half an hour later, after it had dispersed, Barry let himself into Lily’s room. Steve, his trainee, followed him.
She had made it to the bed at some point; she was sprawled across it with one shoe on and one off. Barry dropped the blinds at the windows and turned on the bathroom light, which was just bright enough to let him see what he was doing.
“She’s out like a light,” he said quietly. “If the drugged champagne doesn’t do it, the gas does.” He reached into his shirt pocket. “A shot of potassium chloride finishes her off.”
“That’s it? Then it’s over?”
“We call the removal team, who place the body in the owner’s vehicle, and then it’s over. Another senior disposed of efficiently and cleanly. More natural resources and money for everyone else.”
“Why doesn’t anyone get suspicious, all these people dying between the ages of sixty-five and seventy?”
“Faked statistics and news reports about fictitious, happy, eighty- and ninety-year-olds blowing out birthday candles and celebrating life. The government is expert at pulling the wool over people’s eyes.” Barry checked her pulse. “She’s gone. When she’s found, her death will be attributed to a heart attack. Call the team, then go down and let them in the side door.”
Steve made the call, but paused before leaving. “What happens when we retire?”
“We are rewarded for our illustrious service and given our choice of various places to live out our golden years. Some do, you know.” He chuckled and pulled the blanket over the woman’s body.
Barry retired two years later. He had personally dispatched almost three thousand seniors during his career.
One evening his boss dropped by with a handful of pamphlets and a bottle of champagne. “Time to choose your retirement spot,” Devin said. “I know you’ve been looking forward to this.”
“Yup. This is a short-term rental. I closed on the house last week, and I’m ready to go.” Barry fetched two glasses and a bowl of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups—he knew they were Devin’s favorite—and they sat at the dining room table.
Devin popped the cork and poured, then raised his glass. “To a job well done.”
They clinked and drank, and Devin spread out the brochures for Barry’s perusal. He urged Barry to have another glass. “After all, it’s not every day you start a new life. I’d choose Tahiti. What’s not to like about palm trees and beautiful women?” He ripped open a Reese’s and popped both pieces in his mouth.
Barry sipped champagne and studied his choices while Devin ate a couple more peanut butter cups. They’d become friends over the years, and it was easy to chat the time away.
Just after nine, Devin, in obvious distress, hurriedly excused himself to the bathroom. He didn’t come back.
Barry pulled on a pair of nitrile gloves from his pocket and wiped down anything he might have touched with a cotton rag, then dumped the bucket under his chair in the kitchen sink. He’d been pouring his drugged champagne into it all evening. The bottle went into the bucket, along with the remaining peanut butter cups, rag, and brochures, which was going with him. The rental had been taken in Devin’s name two weeks ago. He left the keys on a table by the door.
Arsenic was a nasty poison but dependable and untraceable. If Devin wasn’t dead already from all the Reese’s he’d eaten, he soon would be. He’d have used the potassium chloride that was no doubt in Devin’s pocket if he could have thought of a clever way to get it. The irony would have been delicious.
Barry left by the back door and walked a mile to where he’d parked a rental car in a hospital parking lot. He’d learned a lot of tricks working for the government. They’d never find him.
After tossing the bucket in a random dumpster on his way to the airport, and leaving the car in the long-term lot, he boarded a plane.
The flight attendant greeted him and welcomed him aboard. “Enjoy your trip, sir.”
“Oh, I will. I retired today, and I’m starting a brand-new life.”
Genre: Spec SF