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PARTNERS IN CRIME



PART SEVEN



The car windows are wide open in the warm weather, which is just as well since I’m smoking way too much. On the floor on the passenger side there are two empty coffee containers and I’m drinking from the third. It’s not my car, so I don’t care about the state of it. I’ve never been to California before and this seems like one hell of a reason to finally make it out here. Under different circumstances, I reckon I would enjoy the weather and the people. The guys especially.

At the moment I’m only interested in one guy. I watch you walk up the road in your typical half stomping, half speed-walking gait. You’re wearing a security guard’s uniform, the sleeves rolled up as a concession to the heat, and there’s a torch and a gun on your belt. It all looks very professional. Your hair’s shorter and from my position, slumped down a little in the car seat, I can see that you’ve acquired quite a suntan over the last three months. It makes you look different from how I remember you, always bundled up in layers of clothing against the Pittsburgh winter.

I feel a little sick when I think what I’m about to do. That’s the reason I’ve been hesitating so far. My cellphone has taken up residence in my hand and my fingers have skimmed more than once over the buttons, ready to call the police. That’s what I came here for, isn’t it? To confront you, to tell you what a motherfucking piece of shit you are and then watch you being taken into custody. I wanted to make sure that you know that it’s me who got you arrested, wanted to see your face when the cops handcuff you. I imagined it all to be very satisfying when I was still in Pittsburgh.

The last three months have been hell. I still haven’t found a new job and I know that if I do, it will be at a vastly reduced salary and outside Pittsburgh. Much as I always wanted to get away from it, moving to somewhere like Scranton wasn’t what I had in mind. But none of the big agencies will sign an executive who caused his client to be defrauded of all his money. Cynthia wants me to open my own agency but at the moment I can’t provide the focus that would require.

It didn’t help that Michael took off in my car for a few weeks, trying to save the littlest hustler from a fate worse than death – having to live with his mother. Debbie was frantic with worry, despite his phone calls every other day, and she decided to mother me instead. At least, I got fed regularly even though it meant putting up with her for an hour or two every day. It suited me that she was so preoccupied, talking mainly about Mikey, sparsely interspersed with consoling words about my situation. I really didn’t want to talk about you. On top of that, Lindsay was at the loft frequently as well and since I had nothing better to do, I spent more time with Gus in the last few weeks than in the previous two years together.

But none of that has had the power to distract me. All I can think about is what happened. I’m angry. With Stockwell for forcing you on me in the first place – well, he lost the election and is getting indicted for his conduct in the Jason Kemp case, which is more than I’d hoped for, so it’s all good. And Debbie is happy that Dumpster Boy finally got the justice she’s been seeking.

More than with Stockwell, I’m angry with you for deceiving me for such a long time. I realize that you were running a long con on all of us. I assume your main target was Stockwell since you cleared him out completely. From Vanguard you only took some of the assets. It seems that you’ve shied away from destroying Vangard completely because once you were in the system, you could have taken money from all of the agency’s clients, but you didn’t.

It’s not even the money that’s bothering me. If I was still working at Vangard, we’d be able to recover with just a few hiccups and since I was fired, I really don’t care what happens to the agency. No, it’s the personal nature of your betrayal that bothers me. All my life I’ve been a pessimist, expecting only the worst of people. It has saved me from a lot of disappointment in my life. But with you it was different. I trusted you on a level so personal, that I don’t even want to think about it.

Over the time we spent together, you moved from being someone I was forced to work and spend time with, to a pleasant convenience and then to being a friend. A friend with benefits even, someone I cared and felt protective about. That’s rare for me. I haven’t made any real new friends since college – Emmett and Ted have always been mostly Michael's friends.

Yet you breathed into my life and by insisting on being familiar, you became just that. I remember how you laughed off my objection when you let yourself into my loft without knocking after just a few days. You just wiggled your eyebrows and said, ‘I didn’t want you to have to answer the door in case you were in the middle of something – or someone.’ You rummaged around in my kitchen in a way that even Michael doesn’t, looking for food and even storing snacks for yourself. You showered me with attention and apparent affection and you never let up. And like an idiot I got used to it, then came to anticipate and enjoy it. I let my guard down. I can’t believe I was that stupid.

So I’m mostly angry with myself. For trusting you, for not paying closer attention, for letting you get close. And every time I wake up from dreaming about you, about fucking you, about seeing you again, about you having an explanation that makes all of this alright somehow, like it does in dreams, I loathe myself a little more for being weak.

Did you target me because I’m gay? If Vance had been looking after the Stockwell account, would you have sent your little friend to do the dirty work? Did fucking you blinker me to what you were up to? Did you fuck me only because of that? Was everything just a sham? Because if it was, I must say I’m impressed by how sincere you seemed. It was more than just the frequent sex. Everything you did gave the impression that you cared about me. So much so that it made me uncomfortable at times. It was there in every word, every look and every touch.

I feel like such a moron. I thought you were in love with me. I don’t even believe in love, not the everlasting romantic kind, but I know that some people feel it, or think they do. Michael, Lindsay, even random tricks sometimes, show me affection. I thought you were just like them. And I even worried about you. How you’d feel when I left for New York. Hell, I even wondered how I would feel when I left. Well, know we know. You don’t feel anything at all and I… I spent the last few weeks alternating between seething rage and deep disappointment. And what I really hate is that sometimes I just want to talk to you; that, if someone else had done this to me, this would be so much easier to bear if you were still around. Can this get any more fucked-up?

I don’t think the police have given up on finding you but they’re not making much headway. When the super from your apartment building told them that you own a car, they concentrated on that, only to find it abandoned on a derelict industrial site on the outskirts of Pittsburgh two weeks later, stripped down to a mere hull by then. It was just another red herring you left behind. You concealed having a car from everybody, so that the police assumed it had more significance than it did in the end. Your mind works in really intricate ways and I’m wondering if the police even know your real name yet.

Since I didn’t know that you even had a car, I concentrated on bus depots and train stations. With the help of Paul Alvarez, the private detective who helped me during my trouble with Kip Thomas, I eventually worked out your destination. Well, Hunter helped, too. It’s amazing how much more information is forthcoming from the guys who loiter around these places when one of their own talks to them. I’m sure the money I was willing to shell out for information did no harm either.

Still, it took Alvarez a good two months to find you here. He worked on a hunch from me and concentrated on places which offer physiotherapy. Ethan wasn’t difficult to spot, but it still took a while until he finally led Alvarez to you. It seems that you’ve decided to keep contact to a minimum. Smart move, although Daphne still lives with you. I saw her this morning, leaving the house, also sporting a new haircut, a bob with golden highlights. She’s almost unrecognizable with straight hair.

After you enter the house, I wait nearly an hour before I get out of the car and walk up to the front door. There I hesitate. It seems weird to just walk into a strange house without knocking. On the other hand, you might flee if you see me standing here and under the circumstances good manners seem overrated.

The door swings open noiselessly when I turn the knob. There’s the sound of the ocean, which tells me that the backdoor must be open and I grimace a little. I really don’t feel like having to give chase. Maybe I shouldn’t have told Alvarez to go back to Pittsburgh. On television, people always approach houses from the front and back. It makes a lot of sense to me right now.

The house is not too large, conceivably the right price range for a security guard, even though you could buy something far more stylish with the money you have now. Why are you even working? You can’t have spent all of it so quickly. And how did you manage to get work as a security guard? Although that question has the easiest answer. I know better than anyone how convincing you can be.

The hallway has five doors leading off it. I walk on and look into the first room. The kitchen. Warm yellow and orange tones, highlighted with splashes of blue. I can see you with your back to me, preparing coffee from a percolator. Your wet hair and the fact that you’re now only wearing shorts speak of a recent shower.

“What took you so long?” you say and turn around, brandishing two coffee mugs, which you set down on the kitchen island that separates us, and smiling at me. “Would you like some coffee?”

I stare at you, noticing absently how the shorter hair makes you look slightly older, how the suntan blends in nicely with the blond, giving you almost a golden hue and how wide your smile is. But none of that is important now. “You knew I was there?”

“You’ve been staking out my house since yesterday. What kind of a fugitive would I be if I didn’t notice these things?”

“Why the fuck didn’t you run?” It comes out exasperated and a little desperate. I realize that it sounds exactly like I feel, that maybe I would have preferred it if you’d actually done that.

“Because I was hoping you’d find me, so running away kind of defeats the purpose.”

“You want to get arrested?”

You chuckle. “If you were going to call the cops, you would have done it already. And you did kind of promise me that you’d hunt me down.”

“You think this is funny?” I’m incensed. “Is everything a joke to you? Do you know what you did to me?”

Your smile dies instantly. “I made sure that you didn’t come under suspicion. You know that’s the reason I drugged you, right? And I removed all the STDs from your laptop so that they couldn’t prove that you ever did anything against him. And I took money from Vangard because you would never target your own agency. But I assume that, since you’re here, you lost your job anyway?”

“Yes, I lost my job. And my reputation. And any chance of ever getting another job in advertising.”

“Why? You didn’t do anything wrong. You’re the victim. Or one of them anyway.”

I glare at you. That’s the worst about it really, isn’t it? That I’m the victim. I promised myself that I’d never be one again after I left home. Not ever. Neither in my job, nor with people, always in charge, always on top, always calling the shots. And then you came along and now I’m just that, the victim, in every sense of the word.

“Yeah, well. Nobody cares about that. I make a good scapegoat. I thought you were so good at predicting possible outcomes?”

You move slowly around the kitchen island to stand next to me. From up close I can feel the heat coming off you and you smell of sun, sand and the sea. Your newly acquired tan makes you look like you belong here. You’re practically radiating sunshine. Debbie had the right idea the first time she saw you.

“It would be stupid to say I’m sorry because it wouldn’t change anything. And it wouldn’t make you feel any better and it probably wouldn’t even make me feel any better. But you know that I am, right?”

“Do I? Because I don’t know you at all. I didn’t even know your real name or your age or anything else about you.”

You smile. “Justin Taylor, pleased to meet you.” You hold out your hand.

“Fuck off,” I say coldly. “Cute doesn’t work with me. Try one of your other tactics. Maybe dirty talk. You’re good at that. Or why don’t you try and get me to fuck you as a distraction? You’re good at that, too. Whoring yourself to achieve your goals. And then you could drug me and get away.”

You look sorrowful and sigh a little, but I don’t let that affect me. “Just answer me one question. Did you target me deliberately because I’m gay? Because you were hoping that all the fucking would addle my brain too much to pay attention?”

“I…” You sigh again, scratch behind your ear and then take a step closer. I step back and you stop, looking crestfallen. “You were never the target. It was always Stockwell. But I couldn’t get to Stockwell through his campaign team. It had to be through someone who was more on the outside of it. In the beginning, I thought anybody who worked for Stockwell would be fair game. But you wouldn’t believe how often I was on the verge of bailing out because of you.”

Strangely the idea that my fucked-up life is simply collateral damage makes me angrier, not less so. But you aren’t finished.

“I fell for you, Brian. I know you don’t believe in love but I’m in love with you. If you’d given me the slightest indication that we might have a future together, I would have stopped and tried to make a go of it.”

I huff. “So now it’s all my fault for not wanting to play house with you? I think you just made my point about love very eloquently.”

“No, of course it’s not your fault. I just got in too deep. Now all I can think about is you.”

“Right. You’re so madly in love with me that you just had to fuck up my life. Save it, Justin. You and your boyfriend can go to hell. And take your girlfriend with you. Or better still, go to prison where you belong.”

“Ethan’s not my boyfriend. He wasn’t really my boyfriend when you and I were together. I didn’t even like him anymore at that point. I just felt too guilty to finish with him. I never really loved him. I love you, Brian.”

I snort a mirthless laugh and pull out my cellphone. “Tell it to the cops. And we were never together.” But somehow my fingers won’t push the numbers.

I look up when the light changes as someone steps into the kitchen doorway. Ethan looks outraged.

“It’s good to know where I stand,” he snarls at you, then he disappears towards the back of the house and you frown after him.

I wonder for a moment how much you fucked him over. You were practically living at the loft while you still pretended to be his boyfriend. I always told myself that it was none of my business. I really didn’t want to know. So, is Ethan another one of your victims? Did you target him because of who his father is, to make your story more believable? Surely with your talent, you could have made any scenario credible. It wasn’t necessary to do that to him. But that’s not how you work. It wasn’t necessary to pretend to be in love with me either and you still did. Do you do these things just to be on the safe side?

Still, I don’t feel much sympathy for Ethan. There’s just something about him that makes me dislike him intensely. He looks like an arrogant little snob with an inflated sense of entitlement. I wait for you to follow him, but you remain where you are and look at me beseechingly. Where was I? Ah yes, I was going to call the cops. But I’m still hesitating, trying to imagine you in prison. With your looks and your youth, you’ll never survive, no matter how much of a smooth talker you are. It’s a wonder you survived out on the streets.

I turn back to the doorway when Ethan returns and I freeze completely. He’s holding what I can only assume to be your gun. I’ve never seen a real gun before, at least not unholstered, never mind when it’s pointed at me. This one’s huge. I’ve never considered myself a hero – too realistic, too selfish – so I make sure I stay very still.

“What the fuck are you doing?” you say, turning towards the door. “Are you crazy? Put the gun down. You don’t even know how to use that.”

“Everything was alright before he came along,” Ethan says desperately. He’s gesticulating towards me with the gun and I hope like fuck that the safety is on. I can see myself getting hit by a stray bullet just because of this guy’s ineptness. My mouth is dry and I can’t seem to move, neither towards Ethan nor away from him. Fuck, I’ve never been so scared in my life.

You seem to have no such problem. “Put it down.” You take a step towards him as if the gun doesn’t concern you much. “You’re behaving like an idiot. You’re not going to shoot me.”

You may know Ethan a lot better than I do, but I don’t think this is the right approach. I have a pretty good track record of assessing people on the fly – very useful when going off with random tricks – and it’s obvious to me that this guy’s not in his right mind. It’s all there in his wild stare, clenched jaw and white-knuckled fingers. Maybe you can’t see it because of your familiarity or maybe you think you can talk him off the ledge. Maybe you could, but not taking him seriously isn’t the way.

“I’ve no intention of shooting you,” Ethan grits out. The barrel of the gun, which has dropped slightly, comes up again, pointing straight at me and the only reason I manage to move is because you do.

No!” You sound more desperate than Ethan looks and step sideways in front of me. Maybe you really believe that he would never harm you, or maybe your inflated ego makes you think you’re bulletproof, but you actually try to shield me from the gun.

I feel your ‘no’ echoed by one of my own in my head. All I can think of at this very moment is you and that I can’t let any harm come to you. So I grab you by the shoulders to push you sideways, out of the way. At least that’s what I’m trying to do but the gun goes off before I succeed and I suddenly feel as if everything has gone into slow motion.

A gunshot in a small confined space is nothing like it’s on TV. It’s extremely noisy. My ears are ringing loudly enough to drown out all other sounds. Ethan looks strangely surprised as if he wasn’t the one who pulled the trigger or he hadn’t really meant to do it after all. I see shock register on his face before he drops the weapon and runs off towards the back of the house and I half expect to get hit as the gun hits the floor. But it just skitters a few inches and comes to rest there, looking like a harmless piece of metal, now that it’s no longer in someone’s hand. I hate guns, always have.

Nothing’s quite real at the moment because there’s no sound. I can’t hear the gun hitting the floor, so I have to watch it until it comes to a stop to be sure it hasn’t gone off again. Because Ethan soundlessly disappears from view, I keep my eyes on the doorway in case he decides to come back and finish what he’s started. If I don’t look that way, I wouldn’t find out until it’s too late and that’s incredibly worrying under the circumstances. I should go and retrieve the gun, just to be safe.

But I’m holding you in my arms because you kind of staggered backwards into me when the shot rang out. At first I think you were just surprised by the noise – it certainly made me jump – but then you feel a little heavy, sagging not with relief but weakness. My hand, which instinctively grabbed on to you when you moved against me, feels warm and wet all of a sudden.

“No, no, no, no, no, don’t do this.” I can hear my own voice now, if nothing else yet, but it’s muffled, contained in my skull, like I’m under water. Your weight on me increases to such an extent that I’m aware I’m holding you up. Gently, I lower you down onto the floor so I can take a look at you. Your eyes are wide and I can see your breathing going staccato. You look like you’re going into shock.

“Justin!” It’s instinctive and useless, because you can hear me no more than I can hear anything. Blood is welling out of your upper arm and pooling on the floor. I look for other sources of bleeding but it seems to be the only one. For a moment, I don’t know what to do, then instinct kicks in and I grab a dishtowel which is hanging over the side of the kitchen island and wrap it tightly around your arm. For some reason it strikes me how your soft blond hairs contrast with your tan. Your eyes are still on me, wide and incredulous.

My phone has fallen to the floor unnoticed at some stage and I grab it to call an ambulance. The dish towel is already starting to soak through a little. But then I realize that I can’t call anyone because I can’t hear anything except the ringing in my ears. I need to go outside and find someone to make the call for me, maybe knock on some neighbor’s door. Your other arm comes up and grabs my wrist as I’m trying to get up.

“No. No hospital… please.” I can lip-read that much, but not what comes after that.

“You’ve been fucking shot, Justin. I’m getting an ambulance.” But your hand on me is like a vise and I don’t like the idea of having to pry it off or the thought of leaving you alone here to find help. You’re frantically talking to me but I can’t hear a thing. You gesture to your own cell phone on the kitchen table.

I’m not doing this. You’ve been shot. You’re bleeding like fuck. You may die. There’s no way I’m not getting an ambulance. I can’t let you die. I don’t want you to die. I can’t lose you. But if I call an ambulance…

I reach over to the table and hand you your cellphone. You need medical attention and fast, but I’m willing to give you a moment to see what you’re planning. I hope you know what you’re doing because I sure as fuck don’t and I’m not sitting here watching you die, no matter what you say. You hold up the phone to show me what you’re doing and I can see that you’re contacting Daphne. What good is your girlfriend going to do in a situation like this?

My ears are ringing a little less now which, I suppose, is a good sign. At least I’m not permanently deaf. I put some pressure on your wound and you flinch and grimace in pain. My eyes keep straying to the door so we don’t get any nasty surprises. Not being able to rely on my hearing is disorienting and in this situation it’s scary as fuck, too.

When Daphne steps into the room, my adrenaline spikes because for a moment I think Ethan has come back and I still haven’t picked up the fucking gun. But the girl is unmistakable really, all bright clothes and a huge grin as she’s talking to someone on her phone. Then her face turns to surprise and shock, first at seeing me, then when she looks at you. The cardboard box she’s holding crashes to the floor. A pizza tumbles out and lands face down.

I can just about make out her, “Oh my God, Justin…” by lip-reading and then she’s by your side in a heartbeat, looking at your injured arm and then prodding you all over for more injuries. She’s talking nonstop and finally looks at me impatiently. I point at my ears and shake my head in a pretty much universal gesture of ‘I can’t hear you’.

“First aid kit,” she says in an exaggerated fashion, waiting for me to nod. “Bathroom.”

I nod again and get up. It’s a relief to have something useful to do. On the way out of the kitchen, I push the gun under one of the cupboards with my foot. It doesn’t look so huge anymore but I suppose it doesn’t have to be to cause damage. I have to guess which room the bathroom is and then have to rummage through the cabinets until I find what I’m looking for under the sink. When I get back, Daphne has lifted the dish towel a little and is inspecting your wound. You look way too ashen under your suntan for my liking.

“Help me,” she mouths at me and gestures for you to get up. I nod again and half lift you off the floor into a standing position, where you hang heavily on me as we follow Daphne to the bedroom. You close your eyes when I lower you onto the mattress.

The first aid kit is the most extensive I’ve ever seen. That’s shouldn’t be any great surprise. It’s designed for people who have to avoid hospitals. Daphne starts drawing up an injection, which she then administers intravenously. She looks very professional, which is a relief when I look at the bottle and see that it’s morphine. That’s not something anybody should mess with when they don’t know what they’re doing. You open your eyes when she injects you but then you simply smile before you pass out. It gives me confidence that you trust her completely. In fact, I kind of wish she’d give me a shot as well. Passing out seems like a good option right now.

I watch her pour some fluid into the wound, which froths up a little and she prods about for a bit before sewing up the front of your arm. I feel decidedly sick now, but you don’t react at all. She gets me to hold your arm so she can get to the back of it. There’s a slightly larger wound there, which she packs with a little gauze before bandaging everything tightly.

Then she looks at me. “What. Happened?” she mouths. Or maybe she says it normally, I can’t tell, only guess.

“Ethan happened.” I suppress the urge to shout.

Ethan shot Justin?”

I shrug and start to feel a bit shaky retrospectively. This is the most fucked up situation I’ve ever been in and that includes being interrogated by the cops.

She points to my ears and raises her eyebrows.

“It was loud.” And if that little fucker caused any permanent hearing damage, I will hunt him down and hurt him.

She nods understandingly and smiles. Then she gestures leaving the house. Apparently she has to go somewhere or get something, but I can’t work out what she’s saying so I just nod. The ringing in my ears seems to be decreasing a little or maybe I got used to it, but it still prevents me from hearing anything other than muffled sounds. I follow her out of the room and after she leaves with a short wave of her hand, I go and lock all the doors and windows. I don’t want any nasty surprises that I can’t hear coming.

Your house is as Spartan as your apartment in Pittsburgh was. No, not Spartan, temporary, complete with the packed duffle bag in the corner of your room. I move to the window and take out a cigarette, but when I flick on my Zippo, my hands are shaking so much I can barely light up.

I watch down the road for signs of danger. I can’t imagine Ethan coming back to do more damage and anyway, he was using your gun, which he left behind, so hopefully he’s now unarmed. But still, I can’t help feeling apprehensive. This situation is so far removed from my ordinary life, it’s hard to get my head around things. Geez, I want a drink. Or some really good drugs. Or preferably plenty of both.

I wonder why none of the neighbors have called the police. The bungalow is detached but not very far removed from the neighboring properties. But it’s daytime, so many people may be at work. And the fact that this is a good neighborhood might also work in our favor. How many people here would be able to identify a single gunshot as what it is? I doubt that I would be able to at home. I would put it down as a car backfiring or other unthreatening explanations. And I simply wouldn’t think twice about it.

So we’re probably safe but I can’t stop watching the road nevertheless. Part of me wants to call the cops. It’s that part of me that hates you more than I ever hated anyone before. You wormed your way into my life and then you took it and destroyed it. You shattered everything I ever believed in, starting with my self-image. And yet when I saw Ethan with the gun, all I wanted was protect you. There aren’t many people I feel that way about. Like I said, I’m no hero. Heroes are suckers who end up dead and if I’m taking a bullet for someone else, then I have to be very sure that they’re worth it to me. I can count the people in my life who are on that list on one hand. But somehow, whether I like it or not, you appear to be one of them.

I look over my shoulder at you on the bed and can’t seem to look away again. You could have died. Your left arm isn’t that far from your heart, mere inches really, and Ethan is a terrible shot. Or maybe that’s what saved you. Maybe I’m the lucky one. He was aiming for me really, wasn’t he? I think back to our first morning together when you assured me that your boyfriend wouldn’t come gunning for me. You got that spectacularly wrong, didn’t you?

There’s no doubt that you were trying to protect me. Why? If Ethan had shot me, you could have got away again. Instead you stepped in front of me just as I was going to step in front of you. Why the fuck would you do that? And why the fuck would I?

I look at you and want nothing more than to lie down next to you and hold you to reassure myself that you’re alright. It’s so pathetic I’m thoroughly disgusted with myself. But still I watch over you and I watch the road and I know that somehow I won’t call the police. For the past few weeks my anger and hatred have kept me going. All I wanted was to find you and get my revenge. And now here I am and all I feel is worry and emptiness, no anger, no hate, no nothing. I’m so incredibly tired. I just want to sleep. I haven’t had much of that for a while.

When Daphne returns to the house, she gives you another injection from a vial she’s brought with her in a small paper bag.

“Antibiotics,” she says. “Gunshot wounds get infected really easily.”

I nod in understanding before I realize that I can actually hear her. It’s still somewhat muffled but it’s something.

“Are you a doctor?”

“A nurse. Why did Ethan shoot Justin?”

“He was aiming for me. Justin just got in the way.”

“Yeah, he has a tendency to do that.”

“He makes a habit of playing human shield?”

She chuckles. “He just likes to look out for people. Hero complex or something. Are you going to call the cops on us?”

I shrug. “I thought I would. But what would be the point? It wouldn’t get me my job back. At this stage, it would only make Stockwell happy and I’ve no reason to want him happy.”

“I’m sorry you got caught up in all of this. Our lives are pretty crazy. Although this…” she gestures towards you, “is pretty extreme even for us.”

“Really? You don’t do this every day?” I’m trying to be sarcastic but it comes out more teasing than sardonic.

She bumps my shoulder a little with hers and smiles brightly. “Nah, we’re strictly white collar.”

I follow her to the back of the house, where she throws open the doors again that lead onto the beach just past the porch.

“I saw your mother.”

“You did?” She bites on her thumbnail in a gesture that’s very similar to yours when you’re nervous or upset. “How did you find her? Come to think of it, how did you find us?”

So I tell her about your father and her mother and Alvarez. And about what happened with Ethan while I’m at it. It passes the time. She didn’t know that her father was dead but she doesn’t seem too concerned about that.

“Your mother wanted me to tell you that she’s sorry. She would very much like to see you.” I don’t usually interfere in people’s lives but I promised Mrs. Chanders that if I ever see Daphne again, I’d give her the message. “Why did you run away?”

“My father,” she says with a sigh and that seems to be all that’s going to be said. And really, what more is there?

We talk about her mother for a while. I can’t tell her much because I’ve only met Mrs. Chanders once, but Daphne soaks up every little detail. She looks so wistful that it’s hard to believe she’s been living on her own for five years. I keep forgetting how damned young you both are.

“I’ve never been this far away from home,” she says finally. “You’d think one place is the same as the next if you have no real home, would you? But I miss Pittsburgh.”

“What made you come here?”

“It’s close to the border. And we have a friend here who got us this house and a job before we even got here.”

“Why’s Justin working as a security guard? Surely you have enough money.”

“It’s looks better if one of us is working. Stops the neighbors from wondering how we can afford this. That’s what we’ve always done. Only, it used to be me who had the proper job. Plus Justin’s just doing a favor for this friend of ours.”

“So you guys are going to knock over a bank next?”

To my surprise she doesn’t giggle this time. “We don’t do that, Brian. We don’t usually know the people we’re stealing from. I think they just want access to the computers.”

That’s a relief. At least, no one gets hurt that way. Well, not physically anyway.

“How is he, really?” I make a nodding gesture towards the bedroom where you’re sleeping off your morphine high.

“I think it’s okay. The bullet went through and if it doesn’t get infected, he’ll be fine. He’ll probably have a bit of a scar. Nothing more.”

“And then what?”

She shrugs. “We were planning to go to Europe. We were just hanging around for a bit.”

“For what? The cops to show up? Things to blow over?”

She looks at me for a long time, as if she thinks the answer is obvious. Well, it isn’t to me. I have no clue what goes on in her head, or yours. Then she smiles a soft smile. “I think he was waiting for you.”




PART EIGHT HERE: most likely Friday. Sorry.




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kachelofen

July 2014

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