Crime Diary-Chapter Fifteen

Everything was moving too fast.  My thoughts were a confused jumble.  It was evident that there were undercurrents operating of which I had been completely unaware. For some reason, I believed that my ignorance protected me because using my convoluted logic made it seem like knowing little made me less of a threat.  The plot to murder me and Canfield opened my eyes to how far out in left field I was, but I just couldn’t seem accept the fact that my life meant so little to Plum.  It was such an impersonal way of getting rid of someone.  I grasped at straws.

“I bet this was all Flame’s doing.  We had a fight and she lost.  I bet she set me up out of spite.”

“I don’t know her but if she’s an associate of Plum’s you can bet your sweet ass she set you up with Plum’s blessing.  Knowing what a control freak Plum is, she’d never stand for one of her minions making such a big move without her say so,” asserted Canfield.

“That can’t be right.”

“You know that it is.”

“But I never did anything to Plum.  I only ever did what she told me to do.”

“Right, and since you’ve served your purpose it’s time for you to be put down.  Look kid, if it makes you feel any better, I’m sure it ain’t personal. She can’t just turn you loose out in the world knowing as much as you do.”

“But I don’t know anything Mr. Canfield.”

“Oh, I’d say you know a great deal.  You just never took the time to connect the dots.”

“I don’t know what you think I’ve been let in on, but I’m telling you I don’t have enough dots to yield anything worthwhile.  Maybe if you told me what you know about Plum then I wouldn’t be completely in the dark.”

“Sorry kid, I don’t have time for show and tell.  I’ve gotta get outta here before they realize he’s missing and sick the hounds on me.  Even if I had all the time in the world, I wouldn’t waste it on you.”

My newly freed anger took over and Canfield looked up to find Daryl’s pistol aimed at his head.  His eyes widened and then he smirked.  I cocked the weapon and he looked indecisive for a moment before resuming his customary bluff attitude with me.

“Look kid, I don’t have time to play with you.  Put that damn thing down before someone gets hurt.”

Canfield crossed his arms over his chest like an impatient father. When that failed to yield results he uncrossed his arms and stepped towards me. I pulled the trigger.  The bullet winged the top of his left earlobe and his hand flew up to the side of his head.  His fingers came away bloodied and he gazed at them in shock and then Canfield glared at me.

“What the fu…are you crazy?”

“If you had asked me that a week ago, I would have said no but now…now I’m not so sure.”

“You could have killed me.”

“You’re right I could have killed you.  Want me to keep going?”

Canfield’s lips opened in a snarl and then he looked into my eyes and his bad attitude evaporated. He looked at me as though he were seeing me for the first time.

“What the hell happened to you? How’d you get all those bruises? Did this guy do that?”

“No, he watched while a friend of his did the honors.”

“Gee, I’m sorry to hear that.”

“You can stuff your fake sympathy in a sack Canfield. I don’t need it. What I need from you is information.”

“I don’t know what I can tell you kid. It ain’t like I got the inside track.”

“Well, apparently you know a lot more than I ever did.”

“What do you wanna know?”

“Anything you can tell me about Plum.”

“I don’t think anybody knows much about Plum. Most of the information I have came from rumors.”

“Don’t give me that. The two of you teamed up to suck me into this mess. So you’ve got to know something about her.”

“Well, I know she’s connected up to the Yakuza.”

“What is that? Some sort of gang?”

“I guess you could say that. It’s like the Japanese version of the mafia.”

“Great, you knew she had mafia connections and you let me get involved with her?”

“Let’s get something straight here kid. I ain’t your father. You’re three times seven. It’s your responsibility to check up on who you hang out with.”

“So, all of those real estate transactions I did were with gang members?”

“Pretty much.”

“What did they need all of that property for?”

“You mean other than using it to launder drug money? I’d say they used those properties for everything from meth labs to massage parlors. The more locations you got the more you can shift your operations around to evade the cops.”

“Well, this just keeps getting better and better. Wait a minute, how could those worthless properties be used to launder drug money? They’re worth nowhere near what those men paid for them.”

“That’s where you’re wrong. You gotta think outside the box. Those properties might not be worth much to the average Joe but when you got a real estate appraiser in your back pocket you can pretty much decide how much you want it to be worth. Once the appraiser makes the new value official, you can take out an insurance policy on it and a week or a few months later, when the building mysteriously catches on fire or suffers some other mishap, all you gotta do is sit back and wait for your insurance payout. I’ve known guys that held on to properties like that for years, sorta like a retirement plan. Hell, some of ’em use those properties as a gambling stakes.”

“Well, I have no idea what those people did with those properties. Why am I suddenly such a threat?”

“You’ve seen their faces.”

“That doesn’t matter, they filled out the paperwork and signed their names.”

“You don’t actually believe all of them used their real names do you?”

“There’s no way out of this mess for me is there? If I go to the authorities, I’m looking at hard time. They’d never believe my innocence. Don’t look at me like that Canfield, you know what I mean. I’ll admit that I knew things didn’t seem right but all I’m really guilty of is not doing my homework. It’s a flimsy excuse, but I needed the money. You of all people know that I wasn’t making any money. I was desperate. I thought Plum was my friend but she’s made her feelings for me painfully clear. I ought to shoot you for doing this to me!”

“Whoa, let’s not do anything foolish. You’re just frustrated kid. You and I both know you couldn’t hurt a fly. For damn sure, you ain’t never killed nobody. I killed more times than I care to count. Trust me, that’s not something you want on your conscience. You have to live with something like that for the rest of your life and I don’t think you could handle it.”

“Who says I’ve never killed anyone before?”

Canfield started to laugh but the fierce, unwavering expression on my face made the chuckles die in his throat. I saw the first glimmer of fear flash in his eyes. But as quickly as it appeared, he shook his head and resumed his bluff manner. Canfield refused to accept it. His old, insolent anger flashed. I had barely noticed that he’d been inching towards me during our exchange. All at once, he moved to charge at me. I aimed and shot without hesitation. The bullet punched into his yielding flesh, stopping him in his tracks. His eyes opened wide and he dropped to the floor with a deep exhalation that sounded like a shocked sigh.  I stood my ground and watched him with pitiless eyes.

“You must want me to empty this gun into you one bullet at a time.  Is that it Canfield?”

“You bitch!”

“Now, now let’s not resort to name calling.  After all, you forced me to shoot you.  I may be naive but you’re hard-headed.  I already demonstrated my willingness to shoot you and yet you cling to the misguided belief that I won’t kill you, if you back me into a corner.  Why must you continue to push your luck?  Come one now, I know it hurts but you’re not going to die…yet.  I only shot you in the shoulder.”

“I’m gonna kill you!”

“Seeing as how I’m the one with the drawn weapon, I’d say the odds of that happening are slim and none. But thanks for the reminder.  I’m gonna need you to roll over onto your stomach nice and easy with your arms raised above your head…okay, maybe just the one arm.  Let’s go, one…two…three, good boy.”

I pressed the muzzle of my weapon to the back of Canfield’s head to keep him still while I retrieved the other weapon from his waistband.  I quickly stepped back out of his reach and allowed him to roll back over.  Blood had begun to soak the front of his shirt.  I grabbed a pillowcase and tossed it to him so that he could apply pressure to his wound and soak up some of the blood.  He sat up and leaned his back against the foot of his bed, hissing when the movement jarred his shoulder.  Canfield began to whine, in an attempt to appeal to sympathy which I did not feel.  In that moment, I realized how much I had changed in just a few hours.  As harrowing as the assault had been, it unleashed all of the energy formerly tied up with keeping my traumatic memories at bay.  I felt tormented but I no longer felt weak and helpless.  My anger made me strong and remorseless.

Valley of Shadows-Chapter Fifteen

Nicole opened her front door to find Rachel and Thomas standing on her porch.  Nicole masked her irritation with a frozen smile.  Nicole’s raised eyebrows telegraphed the question, “who the hell is this and why is she on my doorstep?”  Thomas shrugged his shoulders and opened his eyes wide to show he was clueless about the reason for the visit as she was.  He spoke in an exaggerated cheerful tone.

“Honey, you remember Rachel and the fascinating conversation you two had about Reverend Mother the other day.”

Recognition spread across Nicole’s features.  She looked back at Rachel with interest, giving her a quick once-over with a practiced eye.  Hmm, definitely a knock-off purse. The stitching is uneven. The leather on those platform shoes also looks suspect.

Nicole’s eyes traveled upward. Last season’s Michael Kors studded asymmetric hem stretch-knit dress that’s a little too snug in the hips and stomach.  She has expensive taste but for some reason money seems to be a little tight.  Nicole gazed at the roundness of Rachel’s slightly pooched out stomach and speculated…interesting.  She stepped aside, holding the door open wider and gestured for them to enter.

“Yes of course, how silly of me not to recognize you Rachel.  Come on in.  How have you been?”

They walked in and Thomas immediately made himself scarce.  “If you need me, I’ll be in the den watching TV babe.”

Nicole took one look at Rachel’s pinpoint pupils and understood where her money had gone.  Addictions can be expensive hobbies.  She led her away from the living room with its expensive, deep pile carpeting and buttery leather couches to the kitchen. 

She didn’t want her guest getting comfortable. The plan was to get Rachel out of her house as soon as possible.  They sat down at the kitchen table. When Nicole looked at Rachel’s drooping eyelids, her estimation of Rachel dropped precipitously.

Rachel suddenly felt uneasy.  The warmth of Nicole’s effusive greeting had faded so abruptly that it was jarring.  Rachel distractedly cast about for the cause of her discomfiture.  Even the spacious kitchen seemed cold and sterile with its marble slab counters, gleaming chrome appliances and fixtures.  It looked like a model kitchen which no one ever used.

Rachel’s eyes completed their circuit of the kitchen and came to rest on Nicole’s face.  She suddenly realized what was making her so uneasy.  The smile was still there but it had hardened and Nicole’s eyes were watchful.  Rachel felt like a bug on a microscope stage.

“I was just about to pour myself a cup of coffee.  I’ve got some work to do and I’m already a little tired.  Would you like some,” Nicole asked.

“Yes, that would be great.  Thank you.”

Rachel suddenly realized how very tired she was.  She had started feeling drowsy on the ride over.  Now her eyelids felt heavy.  She could feel herself getting foggy. 

Coffee was just what the doctor ordered.  Rachel stifled a yawn as Nicole poured their drinks.  She made mental note to try half of a Oxycontin next time.  Rachel was sipping her coffee when Nicole’s irritation bled through her cheerful demeanor.

“Well, what was so urgent that you felt the need to invite yourself over here in the middle of the night for?  I have things to do.  I can’t sit here with you all night.  While we’re on the subject, the next time you think you need to speak with me, pick up a phone.  I can’t have you barging in here at all hours of the night.  Some of us have jobs.”

Rachel gaped at Nicole, caught completely off guard by the tirade.  The sedative effects of the Oxycontin had slowed her reaction time and tamped down her hair-trigger temper.  She realized belatedly that she had missed an opportunity to put Nicole in check and seize the dominant position in their exchange.  Nicole kept her off balance by suddenly switching gears.

“I’m glad we got that out of the way.  Now what was it that you wanted to ask me?”

Rachel was still mentally chastising herself for her tactical error when Nicole posed the question in condescending tones.  For an alarming moment, Rachel felt herself nodding off and her mind went blank.  She grabbed her coffee mug and gulped at the steamy liquid.  It burned her tongue and the pain helped jolt her awake.  She cleared her throat.

“I wanted to tell you face-to-face that I meant no harm when I said all of those messed up things about my mother.  That was just me venting my frustrations.  I don’t really want my mother to drop dead,” said Rachel.

“Oh, I realize that sweetie.  But you know, I wouldn’t blame you if you really did feel that way. I mean look at some of the mean-spirited things she did to you.  Your whole family sounds pretty awful, if you ask me.”

“I may have exaggerated a bit.  To tell the truth, I was so upset when I talked to you that I barely even knew what I was saying.”

“Are you saying that your mother really wasn’t trying to unearth things from my past?”

Nicole had been about to sip her coffee.  She lowered it back to the table with such deliberate slowness that Rachel got the distinct impression that Nicole was contemplating reaching across the table and throttling her.  Rachel shifted uneasily in her seat as Nicole’s eyes bored into her.  Coming here was a bad idea.  I see that now.  Why didn’t I listen to mama?  How do I get her off of mama’s scent?

“Oh that…I may have blown things a bit out of proportion there too.”

“Was she digging around in my past or not?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Well, that was clear as mud.  What the hell does that mean?”

“It means that she expressed curiosity about your past and that’s all.”

“So you took it upon yourself to trump idle curiosity up into a witch hunt?”

Rachel withered under the heat of Nicole’s glare and the pressure of her relentless cross-examination.  Why is this woman so angry?  I know the thought of being misled is irritating but she’s furious and if I’m not mistaken, a little fearful.  It’s almost as if…oh my God!  What if she really did inject mama with something.  Nicole folded her arms across her chest and waited for a response. Rachel shrugged and looked down at her hands on the table.

“What can I say?  I was mad at mama.  She…she embarrassed me in front of my sister and brothers.  I was just trying to get back at her.”

Rachel waited for what seemed like an eternity for Nicole’s response.  She covered up her nervousness by taking a long drink of coffee.  Her eyes met Nicole’s and she nearly dropped the cup.  An oily smile spread across Nicole’s face but her eyes still looked heated.  She stood abruptly and Rachel embarrassed herself by flinching slightly.  She hoped Nicole hadn’t noticed.  Her host chuckled.

“Well, we’ve all done things like that haven’t we?  My temper has caused me to do some foolish things. It’s all water under the bridge now. Will you excuse me for a moment? I think I hear my cell phone ringing.”

She swept out of the room with her silk robe rippling behind her. Rachel allowed herself a quiet sigh, relieved to get out from under Nicole’s intense stare. Confessing my sins to her was worse than with mama. At least I know mama won’t haul off and stab me with an ice pick or something. Where did she go anyway? I didn’t hear any ringtone. Now that everything is squared away, I’d like to get the hell outta dodge and go home. I’m exhausted. If she doesn’t come back soon, I’ll go find Thomas and tell him I’m ready to go.

A minute later, Nicole came gliding back into the room all smiles and floaty silk. She grabbed the coffee pitcher and topped off her drink. Rachel held up her hand in a stop motion when Nicole moved to refill her cup.

“No thank you Nicole. This has been great but I know you’ve got work to do and I’ve taken up enough of your time. I’ll just go tell Thomas…”

“Don’t be silly. Our little chat was just getting interesting. Have one more cup of coffee with me. It’s the least you could do.”

The sudden sharpness in her tone brooked no argument. As if on cue, Rachel felt a sudden pang of guilt for showing up at Nicole’s house uninvited and then telling the woman she had essentially lied to her. It wouldn’t kill Rachel to stay a for a couple more sips of coffee. Then, she could take her leave without appearing to be too rude. She allowed Nicole to refill her cup and then took a big gulp of it. The faster she got done the sooner she could leave.

“Isn’t this nice Rachel? It’s been eons since the two of us had a chat face-to-face. How is your mother doing?”

Rachel took another gulp of coffee before she started telling Nicole about her mother’s infection, hoping that the coffee would perk her up. She was so tired that she was beginning to feel groggy. Rachel lost her train of thought and then felt her eyes open. Did I just nod off just now? Maybe she didn’t notice. I’ve gotta get out of here. I feel like I’m gonna pass out!

Nicole sat watching Rachel nod off. As a former nurse, she knew that if she kept Rachel there long enough the sedative effects of whatever she had ingested would overtake her. She watched with amusement as Rachel lost her battle to stay awake. Nicole waited a moment to ensure that Rachel was out cold. She pulled a small box from the pocket of her robe and opened it on the table, pulled out and applied a tourniquet to Rachel’s arm, selected a small syringe and deftly withdrew blood. She removed the tourniquet and was straightening up when Thomas strode in. He glanced their way as he walked to the refrigerator and paused for a double take of the needle and Rachel slumped forward in the chair.

“What the hell are you doing Nicole? Please don’t tell me she’s dead.”

“Ssh relax, she’s not dead silly. She just nodded off that’s all.”

“She’s out cold. Did you drug her?”

“What is wrong with you? First, you think I killed her and then you assume that I drugged her. You couldn’t tell she was on something when you picked her up earlier?”

“Well, yeah, but Rachel always gets her buzz on. I figured she’d just had a snoot full of something. What’s with the needle?”

“Will you shut up! Here, come into the living room if you insist on discussing this.”

“Why? She can’t hear us.”

“You don’t know that.”

Nicole took her time putting everything back in the box and stowing it in her robe, buying herself time to think of an acceptable explanation. She grabbed his arm and he allowed himself to be led into the dining room. Thomas braced himself. If they had to leave the room then whatever she was going to say couldn’t be good. Where the hell did she get a syringe? Who keeps that sort of thing around the house? She was a nurse at one time but that was years ago.

“I was just taking a blood sample.”

“I saw that, but what I don’t know is why.”

“Why does anybody take a blood sample? I’m worried about her, but I know she’d never agree to go see a doctor.”

“Why are you so concerned about Rachel? If she wants to drink and drug then that’s her problem.”

“I think she’s pregnant.”

The Doorkeepers-Chapter Fourteen

Someone was coming.  Janet tensed up and strained her eyes against the darkness.  Ethan started to speak and she angrily motioned for him to be silent.  Dread bloomed in her as the sound of rustling vegetation became more pronounced.  She grasped the talisman to reassure herself and prepared to mount a psychic defense.  All at once a lone figure emerged from the tall bushes across from them.  Janet braced herself.  Ethan quickly pulled out his revolver and removed the safety.  Janet heard her name whispered and gasped.  She leapt to her feet, overjoyed to see her sister.  The two of them embraced.

“I didn’t think you’d find us so quickly.”

“You can thank Palin for that.  After you went missing, we reviewed the security camera recordings and saw you being attacked and thrown into a white car.  We even got a decent shot of the plates.  They notified Palin and he kept an eye out for the car.  Here, I put all of your stuff in this backpack.  They gave us some supplies too.  Excuse me sis.”

Andrea strode over to where Ethan stood and knocked him onto his back with an uppercut.  Ethan winced and rubbed his jaw.  The sisters gleefully high-fived one another.

“What was that bollocks about?”

“That was a warning.  If you ever hurt my sister again, I’m gonna kick your ass!”

“Ow my head!”

“Did you hit your head,” asked Janet anxiously.

“No, but it hurts like hell.  Not on the outside.  It feels like some bugger is jabbing a finger at my brain.”

Andrea and Janet exchanged alarmed looks.

“Are you seeing or hearing anything that wasn’t there a minute ago?”

“What?  No, it’s just a blinding headache.”

“If you don’t push back then you’re about to be possessed,” announced Janet.

“What are you blathering on about?”

“That pushing sensation inside your head is someone trying to take possession of your mind.  You have to push back and repel the intruder.”

“How the hell am I supposed to do that?”

“It’s hard to explain.  You have to use your imagination.  When you feel the other person’s thoughts invading yours, block them out.”

Ethan closed his eyes.  They watched him struggling to follow Janet’s instructions.  Frustration creased his features and was chased away by a determined expression.  All at once Ethan cried out.  He gripped the sides of his head.  Pain was making him short of breath. He grunted with exertion.

“I can’t stop it,” he wailed.

Janet and Andrea exchanged frightened looks.  Jagathy hadn’t prepared them for this.  Janet reached into Ethan’s front right pocket and removed the stun gun.  She mimed a revolver and the two of them quickly rolled him on his side.  Andrea took his gun and slid it into the back of her waistband.  They lay him flat on his back and stepped away, anxiously watching from a safe distance.  Janet held the stun gun behind her back.  All at once Ethan’s struggle ceased.  The tension in his body slowly eased.  Ethan opened his eyes and the sister’s reflexively stepped back even further in horror at the sudden realization that his blue eyes had become silver.  The reflection of moonlight on his eyes made them glow.  A sudden smile spread across his face that wasn’t Ethan’s smile.  He stood and quickly closed the gap between them.

“Hello ladies, whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?”

Andrea gripped Janet’s arm and moved her sister behind her.  Whoever had just hijacked Ethan’s body was using Ethan’s voice to speak.  This version of his voice was devoid of any British accent.  His expressions and mannerisms were also foreign.  It was chilling to see someone else awkwardly operating Ethan’s body as though he were some oversized marionette.  She didn’t want to kill her friend but Janet’s safety came first.

“What do you want from us,” asked Andrea.

“Must we play these Mickey mouse games?  You know what I want.  I’m asking nicely but do not mistake my kindness for weakness.  I will not ask again.  No need to look so alarmed.  I only want the talisman.  Please be so kind as to hand it over and the two of you will be free to go.”

“We’re not giving you anything,” snapped Andrea.

“See, now that is unfortunate.  I had hoped to keep things civil between us.”

Ethan lunged across the space between them and grabbed a hank of Andrea’s hair.  He yanked it downward with such force than she was pulled off-balance and fell forward onto her knees.  The next thing Andrea knew, he had grabbed her sister by the arm and was reaching for the talisman.  Janet jammed the stun gun into his side.  A current of electricity temporarily incapacitated him.  Andrea pulled the pistol from her waistband, came up behind Ethan and cracked him across his head with the butt of the pistol.  He fell limply to the ground.  Janet hugged her sister.

“Are you okay Andrea?  I thought he was going to kill you!”

“For a minute there, I thought so too.  What the hell are we gonna do with Ethan?  Sleeping with him on the loose is out of the question.  We have no way of knowing who will wake up in that body.  If it’s not Ethan, I then may have to shoot him.”

“Let’s look in the backpacks you brought.”

Andrea and Janet frantically rooted through their backpacks, knowing that Ethan would be coming around soon.  Janet held up her scarf and Andrea nodded. The two of them rolled Ethan over to a young tree, sat him up with his back against the tree and tied his hands behind his back on the other side of the tree.  They tested it to make sure he couldn’t twist his hands free.  The two of them lay down in the grass and waited.  Ethan came to slowly.  He groaned and tried to rub his aching head.

“What the…Why am I tied to a tree like a bloody dog?”

“It’s for your safety and ours,” said Andrea.

“How is this for my safety?”

“Because, if you get possessed and attack us again then I am going to shoot you.  We’re both tired.  I know that I for one desperately need to get some sleep, but we can’t close our eyes with some nut job jumping into your skin.  We’ll untie you in the morning.  Just try to get some sleep.”

Ethan laughed bitterly but resigned himself to his fate.  When Andrea got that stubborn look on her face, it was pointless to argue with her.  He watched as Janet and Andrea lay down near one another.  A few quiet moments passed with the trio shifting in their respective positions seeking comfort.  The sound of a gentle breeze gently rustled through the leaves and grass, lulling them into a light slumber that gradually deepened.  Janet began dreaming.  Images flickered and then came into focus.  She suddenly sat up, shook her sister awake hastened to rouse Ethan.  She began untying him and cursed under her breath as a sense of urgency made her fingers clumsy.  Andrea jumped up and knocked her sister’s hands away.

“What are you doing Janet?”

“We have to get out of here now!  Do you remember where you parked the car?  You’ll have to find it by moonlight.”

“I thought we were waiting until morning.”

“Something bad is headed our way.”

“I think you’re still freaked out by what happened with Ethan. How do you know something is coming?  I don’t hear anything.”

“That’s what I said when she heard you creeping up,” muttered Ethan.

“I know something is coming because I saw it in a vision just now.”

“Oh yeah, well I was having a lovely vision myself when you shook me awake.  It’s called a dream.  You were sound asleep and dreaming Janet.  It was just a nightmare.”

“Hang on Andrea, let’s hear the woman out.”

“Since when do you get a vote Ethan?”

“Like it or not, where all in this together,” he said.

“How do you figure,” sneered Andrea.

“Charles has it out for me now too because I went easy on your sister.  The only reason he hasn’t killed me or snatched up my soul is that he desperately wants the talisman and if he can’t take it from us, he can always sit back and wait for me to deliver it.”

“Call me crazy, but I don’t consider shocking Janet, knocking her out with your meaty fist and stuffing her into the trunk of a car going easy on her.”

“He wanted me to kill her.”

She was speechless.  Janet had stormed out of the doorkeeper lab and into his clutches because of a stupid argument with Andrea.  The thought that Janet might have met her death with an argument as their last interaction helped her fully grasp the seriousness of their dangerous mission.  Janet could have been murdered while Andrea sat in the lab and pouted.  She abruptly turned away from them to hide the tears that sprang to her eyes.  Janet finished untying Ethan.

“What did you see in your vision,” he asked.

“A pack of wolves.”

Andrea snorted. “What the hell would wolves be doing in this part of the woods?    It makes no sense.  I’m telling you, it was just a bad dream.”

As if on cue, the howling of wolves suddenly cut short Andrea’s protestations.

Crime Diary-Chapter Fourteen

Daryl and I watched in silence as the mortally wounded man’s frantic flailing of limbs quickly lessened to a palsied twitch followed by stillness as his life’s blood drained out into the filthy carpet.  Ordinarily, I would have been horrified by my actions and the sight of blood spurting from the man’s neck with each beat of his heart.  The blitz of emotions brought on by my assault had left me emotionally drained and numb.  I slowly moved closer, furtively reclaimed the now bloody metal nail file, wiped it off on the carpet and concealed it in my sleeve.  When the man stilled, Daryl looked over at me with a unreadible expression. I braced myself for another attack. We sat staring at one another for a few moments. He suddenly laughed.

“Damn girl, I guess you really didn’t have that phone.”

“I told you I didn’t have it.”

“I don’t really care one way or another. I made a good faith effort to get it back now I’m done with it. They ain’t paying me to search for no phone.”

“What are they paying you to do?”

Daryl didn’t answer me. Instead, he sat back and called out.

“Hey Manny…Manny…Manny!”

“What,” came the shouted reply from somewhere along the hallway.

“Don’t ‘what’ me. Get your ass out here.”

A squat, bull necked man came waddling into the living room pulling a wife beater shirt over his head. His eyes went to me sitting on the floor holding my torn shirt closed and his lips split into a knowing grin. I gripped my shirt tighter to ward off his lascivious gaze. He chuckled and treated himself to another lingering look at my breasts.  Turning towards Daryl, he finally saw his friend sprawled on the floor.

“Oh my damn, what happened to Dom?”

“Ask her,” said Daryl.

“Yo you took out Dom? Yuse a bad bitch!”

“Never mind her, get this place wiped down. I’m gonna be ready to roll out when I get back.”

“What are you going to do about the body,” I blurted without thinking.

“Not a damn thing. We was just squatting here long enough to do a coupla jobs. We’ll be long gone by the time he starts stinking” crowed Manny.

Daryl stood and cuffed him upside his head. “What’d I tell you ’bout running your mouth? Wipe this place down and get everything loaded up. C’mon killer, let’s go,” said Daryl motioning for me to accompany him out of the house.

“I’m not going anywhere with my shirt ripped open,” I snapped.

“Get your ass up and quit wasting my time.”

I remained motionless, defiantly staring up at him from my seat on the floor.  Daryl pulled a gun from the waistband at the small of his back and leveled it in my face.   My gaze never wavered.  Manny’s insolent once-over of my body had reignited my anger.  It was bad enough to suffer the indignity of being assaulted while this man sat back and watched.  I was not about to go outside and allow more strangers to feast their eyes on my nudity.  Daryl’s finger rested on the trigger and I thought how pleasant it might be to escape all my troubles once and for all.  I was tired of being misled and used by people I barely knew.  Just thinking about the assault made me feel frantic.  I could still feel his rough hands all over me.  It took all of my willpower to keep pushing it to the back of my mind so that I could focus on what was happening.  My body was battered and bruised.  I had no idea what Daryl had in mind for me next.  Whatever it was couldn’t be pleasant.  If it wasn’t in the cards for me to survive to the end of the day then I wanted to get it over with quickly.  Daryl pressed the muzzle of the gun to my forehead and still I calmly gazed up at him.  He relented with a shrug.

“Ah, what the hell. I don’t have time for this shit. We’re behind schedule as it is. Hey Manny, bring me a shirt.”

“Which one?”

“It don’t matter.  Just bring a shirt for her.”

Manny retrieved a t-shirt and tossed it to me.  I gratefully pulled on the shirt and instantly felt a little better.  I grabbed my purse and followed Daryl out to his car. Surprisingly, he led me to a nondescript white economy car.  I got in, took one look at the cracked steering column and understood that the car was stolen.  I held out until we pulled out into the flow if traffic before I felt compelled to ask. The suspense was eating away at me.

“Where are you taking me?”

“To work the job.”

“And what exactly is the job?”

“You’ll be assisting me.”

“Assisting you how?”

“You’ll find out when we get there.  Stop asking me so many damn questions.”

We rode the rest of the way in silence, leaving the depressed section of the city and moving into the county.  He parked in an alley and led me through an overgrown backyard up to the back door of a modest house in the middle of the street.  A couple of light raps brought a scantily clad woman to the door.  She opened it and stood back while pulling on a pair of lime green platform heels. Judging from her garish appearance, I supposed the woman was a prostitute.  She held a finger to her lips, pointed above our heads and mimed sleeping.  Daryl quietly led the way upstairs.  The bedroom door at the head of the stairs was standing open.  I could see someone lying in the bed.  Daryl pushed me into the room ahead of him.  He kicked the end of the bed until the sleeper stirred and turned over.  I almost fell over when I realized that it was Mr. Canfield.  Our eyes met.

“You?  What the hell are you doing in my house?  I tell you never to call me again so you sneak into my house?”

“Believe me, I’m not here by choice.  I didn’t even know it was your house.”

Daryl suddenly spoke up, “Hey old man, you need to be worried about me not her.  I’m the one with the gun.”

Canfield looked over at him and seemed to see the gun for the first time.  His surly attitude evaporated.  I took a step back out of the line of fire and waited to see what would develop.  Canfield looked confusedly from Daryl to me and back again.

“What is this about?”

“You know what the hell this is about snitch!”

The gunshot sounded deafening in the cramped bedroom.  It happened so fast that it took a moment for my startled eyes to process the burn hole in Canfield’s blanket and Daryl writhing on the floor with a gaping hole in his chest.  Canfield leapt out of bed with his gun still trained on Daryl.  He stood over him and kicked away Daryl’s weapon before putting the safety on his own weapon and stowing it in his waistband.  He bent down and grabbed Daryl’s arms.

“Make yourself useful kid.  Grab his legs.”

“Why did you shoot him?”

“Why the hell do you think I shot him?  He was gonna shoot me.”

“How do you know that?”

“For one thing, I really did throw a few people under the bus.  I had to, those feds meant business and I have no intentions of spending the rest of my days in prison.  I knew that sooner or later, someone was coming for me.  I’ve been sleeping with my gun.  When I opened my eyes and saw you standing there, it threw me.  But you came in handy.  I got you talking to distract him long enough aim my weapon.  I figured I would only get one shot.”

“What do you mean?”

“We don’t have time for this.  Help me get him up on the bed.”

“Answer my question.”

“Isn’t it obvious?  He was gonna shoot me and then pull out a second gun and shoot you, making it look like the two of us had it out.  Check his ankles.”

I lifted his pants legs and found a pistol in an ankle holster on his right leg.

“He was gonna shoot me?  Why would he do that?”

“Evidently, you’ve outlived your usefulness.  Now come on kid, chop chop.”

We hauled Daryl onto the bed.  Canfield took off Daryl’s cap and put it on his own head.  He retrieved a can of lighter fluid from his nightstand and squirted the entire can over Daryl’s body.

“What are you doing,” I asked.

“Buying myself some time.  The longer it takes them to figure out that he’s not me the further away I can get.”

“But I don’t think he’s dead yet.”

“He will be in a minute.”

The Doorkeepers-Chapter Thirteen

Janet stomped out onto the compound parking lot.  She was so angry that she needed air and ran through the first door she saw.  Janet was pacing and didn’t sense a presence behind her.  A current of electricity surged through her body, locking up all of her muscles.  She could feel a stun gun digging into her back.  Strong arms pulled her down to the ground and she looked up into Ethan’s smirking face.  Before her mind could fully grasp what was happening, he was reaching for the amulet around her neck.

Unable to use her limbs to ward off the attack, Janet activated the amethyst with all of the energy driving her anger and felt it heat up.  Ethan grabbed the talisman and immediately released it with a startled cry of pain, involuntarily moving his other hand and freeing her from contact with the stun gun.  Janet rolled away from him and scrambled to her feet as Ethan came charging towards her with the stun gun extended.  He reached out and grabbed the back of her shirt to halt her progress.  Janet turned and frantically blocked him from using the stun gun a second time.  Janet was about to shout for help when Ethan knocked her unconscious with a right hook.

She awoke an indeterminate time later in darkness, curled in the fetal position.  The cramped space prevented her from fully extending her legs.  Janet tried to sit up and bumped her head.  She lay back down and it slowly dawned on her that she was locked in a trunk.  Pounding on the inside of the lid yielded no results.  What if Ethan threw me in here and walked away?  No one else knows I’m in here.  I don’t want to die in a trunk!  The trunk began to feel like a coffin.  Janet panicked and beat on the lid, screaming until her throat began to ache.  She paused and then continued, heedless of the pain, until she was exhausted.  The lid suddenly flew open.

“Will you shut the bloody hell up?  It’s your fault you’re in here isn’t it?  You should have just let me have the talisman.”

“Let me out of this trunk!”

“What for?  So the two of us can duke it out?  Not bloody likely!”

“But I’m claustrophobic!”

“Sounds like a personal problem to me.”

“C’mon Ethan, I promise not to try to get away.”

“Better yet, why don’t you hand over the talisman so we can part company?”

“You know I can’t do that.”

“Can’t or won’t?  You have got to be the most stubborn slag I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet.”

“Aw, stop it prince charming.  You’re making me blush.  At least let me go pee, unless you want the smell wafting into the car.”

“Fine, but if you try anything I will break your jaw.”

Ethan hauled her roughly out of the trunk and she saw that they were on the outskirts of town, in a heavily wooded area.  He led her off the shoulder of the road down through the trees.  They waded through thigh high vegetation.  A moment later he stopped, folded his arms across his chest and glared at her expectantly.  Janet parked her hand on her hip and motioned for him to turn around.

“Do I look like I was born yesterday?  I’m not turning around.  So drop your knickers and do your business.”

Before Janet could reply, the flash police light bars drew their attention back to the road.  Ethan immediately dropped to the ground and pulled her down with him.  They lay on their stomachs peering through leaves and stalks, watching a police officer inspecting their transportation.  As soon as the officer’s back was turned Ethan was up on his feet, pulling her along with him.  Janet dug her heels into the ground and resisted, trying to yank her arm free.  She opened her mouth to scream and felt the barrel of a pistol digging into her ribs.  Janet reluctantly stopped resisting and allowed herself to be pulled along.  Her breath was coming in jagged gasps when he finally came to a stop.  He bent forward with his hands on his knees, breathing heavily.  Janet tried reasoning with him.

“If you let me go now, I’ll forget about you grabbing me.  Just walk away.  Surely there’s some other way for you to make money.”

“You think this is about dosh?  A very powerful man wants me to get that talisman and I mean to do just that.”

“The doorkeepers will never let you keep it long enough to make that delivery.”

“You let me worry about the bleeding doorkeepers.  Give me the damn talisman Janet.”

“If you want it then you’re going to have to take it from me.”

“I tried that already.  Why do you care so much about some necklace anyway?  Why don’t you just walk away?”

“Andrea needs to use the talisman.  You remember her right?  The woman who has saved your sorry ass more times than I care to count.  You already tried drugging her and doing who knows what while I was knocked out in that house.  Why do you keep hurting her?  I thought you cared about her.”

“I do care about her.  Look, I don’t have a choice in the matter.  It’s not something that you could ever understand.”

“I know all about the devil’s mark.”

“Well, then you know that I have to deliver that talisman.”

“I’m not taking it off.”

“Then I guess, you’re coming along for the ride.  I’ll just let Charles sort it out when I turn you over to him.”

Ethan pulled out his cell phone and called his master.  Judging from the way he winced, Janet guessed that Charles wasn’t happy about his predicament.  He listened for a few moments longer and then disconnected the call.  They walked until gloom began gathering.  Ethan selected a thicket of trees and they hunkered down for the night.  Janet was grateful for his proximity at nightfall when the darkness closed in around them.  The loss of visibility seemed to heighten her sensitivity to sound.  Every rustling of leaves and scuttling of small creatures in the undergrowth around them sounded loud and vaguely threatening to her.  Janet had always been uneasy in the darkness.  It didn’t help that she was sitting next to a man that she hardly knew who only days before had his very soul wrenched from his body by some hellish entity.  Maybe he came back different or maybe his body was actually possessed by some other being.  Janet’s curiosity overcame her resentment towards him.

“Ethan, what was it like when the shadow people took your soul?”

“If it’s all the same to you, that is not an experience I care to remember or discuss.”

“I was scared to death when I saw those…those things bent over you…”

“I said I don’t want to talk about it, now shut up and go to sleep!”

“I’m sorry, did you say go to sleep?  You must be out of your mind if you think I could possibly sleep out here.  Talk about a sitting duck!”

“There’s nothing out here but a few animals that are more afraid of you than you are of them now shut your yap.  I’m trying to get some sleep.”

“What’s that sticking out of the back of your pants?  Is that a book?  I didn’t figure you for a reader.”

“It’s not any old book.  That just happens to be the key to my freedom.”

“That important huh?  Well, then it’s a good thing you’ve got it jammed into the back of your pants for safekeeping.”

“If I hadn’t done that, the cops would have it right now.  I’m not letting this book out of my sight.”

“Where’d you get it?”

“From the guy in antiquities shop.”

“Dorian?  I thought for sure that guy was dead.  I’ve never seen flesh spontaneously….what was that?”

“What was what?”

“I heard something moving over there.”

“I didn’t hear anything.”

“Well I did.  Ssh listen…there it is again.  Something is definitely coming this way.”

Valley of Shadows-Chapter Fourteen

Rachel went back to her mother’s house fairly trembling with outrage.  If her own family didn’t want her around then she would leave the house, but she would get even with them all.  Rachel wouldn’t rest until they were all brought as low as she had fallen. 

She decided that she hated each and every one of them as she stomped around her room hurling things into her suitcase.  Gradually, her righteous indignation began to subside.  I know that I was wrong for telling Nicole about mama trying to dig up dirt for blackmail, but mama was wrong for trying to do something that underhanded. 

Of course, no one will ever acknowledge it because mama is never wrong.  It’s easier to jump down my throat with both feet.  Rachel sank down on the bed with her head in her hands.  I have no where else to go.  My friends would probably let me stay with them but I just can’t do that.  I can’t show up on someone’s doorstep with my hand out. 

Rachel hated having to depend on other people.  There was a time when people would have fallen over themselves in their eagerness to do whatever she asked.  Now, no one even wanted her around.  She thought about her friends and a tear slid down her hot cheek. 

Rachel had no illusions about her friendships.  People liked her for the things she did for them.  Rachel was attractive and fun to be around.  None of her friends really knew anything meaningful about her.  She supposed that it was partially her fault for keeping everyone at arm’s length. 

Closeness required too much emotional involvement.  She didn’t enjoy the experience of feelings.  They were often unpleasant and unpredictable. The last thing she wanted to do was discuss them with other people.  Once others knew your true feelings, they could exploit your vulnerabilities.  She was not comfortable with giving anyone that much power.

Rachel tried to think things through and was seized by a panicked feeling of desperation as she ran over her limited options, each worse than the next.  Despair descended upon her and Rachel could no longer hold back the tears.  I have to fix this.  If I set things right then my family has to forgive me.  But how do I do that?  I don’t have much time. 

I will not allow Joshua and Richard to toss me out into the street!  Rachel took a big shuddering breath, gulping back the sobs racking her body.  She couldn’t seem to stop crying.  All of the misery that she had used drugs and alcohol to dam up came flooding out and she hyperventilated.  What if she couldn’t fix this?  She had failed miserably at fixing her marriage.

Rachel went to the closet and pulled out her stash of alcohol.  Just one little drink to help her calm down was all she needed. Rachel was about to unscrew the cap when she thought,  isn’t this what started the whole mess with Nicole?  Alcohol was too unpredictable.  One or two drinks helped her relax. 

The problem was that Rachel rarely ever stopped at one or two drinks. More often than not, her alcohol induced mellow mood curdled. Then her thoughts would turn against her, and become relentless reminders of her failings and shortcomings. 

She would awake the next afternoon or evening hung over with a hazy memory and a pervasive sense of dread.  Images of the previous day would slowly come to her in a disjoined jumble of reckless acts or someone would angrily confront her over some supposed comments that she only dimly recalled having made.

Reluctantly, Rachel put the bottle away.  If Nicole was as dangerous as her family seemed to think she was then, Rachel needed to have a clear head when she dealt with her.  She still couldn’t understand what they were getting so worked up about. 

The idea that Nicole could be a murderer was absurd.  Joshua probably put that ridiculous idea into mama’s head.  He always did have a vivid imagination.  Mama probably only listened because she wanted that loan so badly and Thomas wasn’t able to come up with the goods on Nicole.  

Mama should have known better than to send an overgrown boy to do a man’s job.  There’s a reason why Thomas was never invited to hang out and party with her circle of friends.  He was cute but always so pathetically eager to please, so grateful for any attention, so…thirsty.  He always talked too much, laughed too loudly, tried way too hard. 

Still, he might prove useful now.  I have no car and no idea where Nicole lives.  Thomas can take me to her.  Should I call her first?  No, I don’t want to give her time to anticipate what I’m gonna ask and come up with convincing lies. 

Rachel dug her cell phone out of her purse and summoned Thomas.  She was about to drop the phone back into her purse when she spied the bottle of Oxycodone she had pilfered from her mother’s medicine cabinet.  The idea occurred that maybe one pill would smooth away the rough edges of her dark mood. 

She needed to be strong when she confronted Nicole.  Now that her emotional floodgates were open, Rachel felt shaky.  Besides, she was still a little sore from falling over that chair at the hospital.  It was tempting.  Rachel hesitated; she had never taken oxy before.  Someone told her once that if she ground up one of the tablets and snorted the oxy then it would make her feel good.  Right now, she would give anything to feel good.

Stop it!  You need a clear head.  That stuff might knock you on your ass and Thomas will be here any minute now.  Just change your clothes.  Put on something nice, comb your hair and touch up your makeup.  You always feel better when you look good. 

Rachel changed her clothes three times, unable to decide which outfit would project the right image.  She heard that Nicole had moved up in the world, beyond her blue-collar circle of friends.  Rachel wrung her hands.  I can’t do this tonight.  All I want to do is crawl back into bed and pull the covers over my head. 

It’s too much.  It’s all too much.  I have no idea what to say to this woman.  I can count the number of conversations we’ve had on one hand.  There has to be some other way to rectify the situation.  I’ll just tell Thomas not to come.  Maybe Gina can help me figure out what to do.

Rachel went to grab her phone and accidentally grabbed the bottle of pills instead.  That decided her.  She shook out a tablet, carried it over to her glass-topped vanity table and used the bottom of a perfume bottle to crush it.  She rolled up a scrap of paper and snorted the powder. 

Rachel sat back and waited, gazing anxiously at her reflection.  She was quickly rewarded with a pleasant, relaxing of the tension in her body.  She smiled, suddenly unable to recall what she had been so worried about.  Everything was under control.  Rachel picked up a foundation brush and began touching up her make up.

Downstairs, Joshua responded to the doorbell and found Thomas on the front porch.  Their eyes met and Joshua looked away.  His embarrassment made him feel flustered.  He had picked up the phone a half a dozen times intending to call Thomas and apologize but chickened out.  In the end, he decided to do what he had always done after an argument with Thomas; wait for his friend to calm down and come back by the house. 

Thomas could never stay mad for very long.  Joshua figured that his plan worked, at least he thought it had.  Something was different this time.  Thomas wasn’t smiling.  He didn’t walk into the house and tell a joke or funny story like he usually did.  Thomas remained on the porch, wordlessly staring at him.  Joshua nervously filled the yawning silence between them.

“Oh hey Thomas.  I’m glad you came by.  I was gonna call you and apologize.”

“For accusing me of nearly getting your mother killed by my murdering girlfriend?  No big deal.”

“I guess I deserve that.  I have no excuse, except that I was upset about mom’s condition.”

“And I wasn’t?  She has been just like a mother to me since we were kids.  The thought that you would honestly believe that I would…You know what?  Never mind, it’s water under the bridge.  At least now I know what you really think of me and Nicole. ”

“C’mon man, I didn’t mean any of it.”

“As much as your ma has been a mother to me, you’ve been a brother to me.  Don’t you think I know when you’re lying and when you’re speaking your mind?  You meant every word of it.  Be man enough to own what you say.”

“But Richard I…”

“Hey, it is what it is.  You’re entitled to your opinion.  End of discussion.  I’m here to pick up Rachel.”

“You’re what?”

“I’m here to pick up Rachel.”

“What do you want with her?”

“That’s between me and her.  Can you just go and see if she’s ready?”

Joshua let Thomas in and walked up to his sister’s room, imagining one unpleasant scenario after another.  What the hell was she up to now? He steeled himself for yet another confrontation and rapped on her door.

“Come in,” she called.

“Uh, Thomas is downstairs waiting for you.”

“Oh good, I’ll be ready in a second.”

“I suppose he’s here to take your suitcases somewhere.”

“Nope.  I’m not moving out.  In fact, I think I’m gonna stay for an extended visit.”

“Look, I told you…”

“And I’m telling you to kiss my ass.  Unless you want me to go downstairs and tell Thomas that his buddy wants to be more than friends.”

“Even you wouldn’t do something that lowdown.”

Rachel paused in the act of applying her lipstick and gave her brother a pitying look.  He felt stupid and that made him even angrier.

“I don’t want you here Rachel.  Why would you want to stay where you’re not wanted?”

“When have I ever cared about what you wanted?  You and I both know you’re just a hater.”

“A hater?”

“Yes, you’ve always been jealous of my close relationship with mama.  You made up a bunch of lies about Nicole and convinced mama that they were true.  What happened?  Did she start being nice to Nicole?  Are you scared Nicole is gonna steal your man?  Well, I intend to get to the bottom of things.”

“What the hell are you babbling about?  Are you drunk?  You stay away from that woman or else…”

“Or else what?”

Rachel leveled a challenging look at him and smirked when he faltered.  She put the finishing touches on her face, got up and snatched her purse on the way out of the room.  Joshua grabbed Rachel’s arm to arrest her exit but she wrenched it free.

“What are you gonna do,” he asked.

“That brother dear, is for me to know and for you to find out.”

Crime Diary-Chapter Thirteen

I spent the remaining hours before sunrise, tossing and turning in my bed feeling as though the stolen cell phone, cash, driver’s license and chit were burning holes in my purse.  The next morning, I was up and dressed at the crack of dawn.  I went to the dining room and bolted down my breakfast as soon as it was ready.  It took a supreme act of willpower not to run down the long curving driveway and flag down the first car I saw.  I hoped that no one noticed my bulging purse, stuffed with all of the things I couldn’t bear to leave behind.  There was someone sitting in a dark blue car up the street.  Looking at it made me realize that it had been there every day.  I just assumed the driver was waiting to pick up someone in a neighboring house.  The thought that it was actually someone watching me was a little unsettling.  What else had I been overlooking?  I didn’t realize that I was holding my breath until the bus came and I exhaled my relief.  I climbed aboard on shaky legs and dropped into the first empty seat, resisting the urge to crane my neck looking for the navy blue car.

The trip took so long that the slow sway of the bus and drone of tires on the road gradually relaxed me.  My eyelids got so heavy that I couldn’t seem to keep them open.  I wedged my purse between my side and the bus.  A little shuteye couldn’t hurt.  I slumbered deeply and didn’t stir until a group of noisy teens got on the bus.  I yawned and looked out of the window, amazed at what a difference half an hour could make in my surroundings.  The mcmansions with their long, graceful curving driveways and ornate wrought iron fences had been replaced with modest ranch-style tract housing which gradually gave way to brick duplexes and apartment buildings interspersed with large brick homes all made decrepit by neglect and the passage of time.  I tried to imagine what the area must have looked like in its heyday before all of the graffiti and wanton destruction of its impoverished inhabitants took their toll.  I shook my head over the patchy, toy strewn lawns and broken glass glittering from trash strewn sidewalks.

Maybe bringing my purse on assignment wasn’t such a good idea.  I thought about hiding it somewhere but dismissed the idea, not wanting whoever was tailing me to get suspicious after watching me walk into a building with it and come back out without it.  Acting on instinct, I got off at the next stop and ducked into a hole-in-the-wall diner next to an abandoned building.  I made a beeline for the bathroom and silently rejoiced that there was a big window in it.  My happiness was short-lived because the window was stuck.  I damn near dislocated my shoulder, but I got it open, slithered out into the alley and ran across the way to the wall of the abandoned building.  Thankfully, the alley was empty. I pulled on various loose bricks until one came away in my hand.  Into the gap I shoved Plum’s cell phone, the folded chit, Flame’s driver’s license and wad of cash I had liberated from Plum’s boot.  I slid the brick back into place and used one of my keys to scratch a small mark into the brick so that I could find it later.  Then it was back through the window into the bathroom.  I walked out, sat down at a table and ordered a cup of coffee, sitting by the window so my watchers could see me.

I fished the scrap of paper with the location of my next assignment scribbled on it out of my purse and realized that it wasn’t far from where I sat.  Such a rundown area.  What kind of legitimate work could there be in an area where more people were home sitting on their crumbling porches then leaving for work?  I slipped the rings off of my fingers and put them in my blue jean pocket.  No need to encourage any unwanted attention.  I left a tip and decided to walk the rest of the way to my work site.  It turned out to be a ramshackle house surrounded by a sagging, waist-high chain link fence.  My hand was on the gate latch when a pit bull came streaking towards me, jumped up and thrust its broad head at me with its razor-sharp teeth bared.  I jumped back reflexively.  The chain attached to its collar was the only thing keeping the creature from leaping over the fence and ripping into me.

I was giving serious consideration to skipping the assignment and walking away when a middle-aged man appeared in the open doorway of the house.  He whistled at the dog.  The pit bull’s attack ceased as abruptly as it had erupted.  It trotted back to its hiding place underneath the porch and lay down.  My startled eyes went from the dog to the man framed by the doorway.  I watched him light a cigarette and inhale deeply, squinting at me through the haze of rising smoke.

“Who the fuck are you,” he asked.

“I…I’m Patricia. Plum sent me.”

“Plum?  Whose Plum?”

“Well, Flame actually gave me this address.”

“Oh, you’re friends with Flame.  Why the hell didn’t you say so?  Come on in.”

I unlatched the rickety gate and winced at the grating squeal it made as it scraped open along the concrete.  I had to lift it back into place with both hands in order to get it latched.  The man made no move to help.  He stood wordlessly staring at me with such frank appraisal that I immediately felt self-conscious.  My limbs felt awkward and my legs became uncoordinated.  I reached the doorway.  Rather than step back into the house to allow me to enter, he turned slightly sideways, still standing in the middle of the doorway.  I had to squeeze past him.  The reek of cheap alcohol assaulted my nostrils.  I could feel his leering eyes lingering in inappropriate places and my skin began to crawl.  Disquiet prodded at me.  I didn’t feel safe.  My instincts were telling me to leave, just turn around and knock the man down if I had to in order to get out, but I couldn’t do it.  Even then, my better judgment was overruled.  Plum was expecting me to carry out my assignment.  Hiromi had told me to finish the assignment.  My upbringing had ingrained meek obedience so deeply that it didn’t even occur to me that I had a choice in the matter.

Drawn curtains made the interior of the shotgun house dim.  Explicit rap music blared from somewhere down the hall.  I halted in the middle of the living room, looking around hesitantly.  The man leered at for a few uncomfortable moments longer before walking past me and banging on the first door in the narrow hallway.  He opened it and stuck his head in the room.  I couldn’t make out what he was saying. The man returned and bared his teeth at me in what I assumed was meant to be a disarming smile but actually looked disturbing.  I sat down in response to an arm extended towards the couch.  A moment later, a much younger man came strolling into the living room and sat in an armchair across from me.  Where the first man’s gaze had been suggestive this man’s eyes were completely devoid of expression.  I felt myself begin to squirm under the intensity of his stare and forced myself to sit still.  I couldn’t hear his cell phone ring over the blare of the music but he suddenly pulled it from his pocket and answered it.  It was a relief when his eyes left my face.  He said hello and then listened.  The call lasted only a minute or two.

The next thing I knew, the alcohol soaked man stepped over and wrenched the purse off of my shoulder.  He ignored my protests ears and sifted through the contents.  When he began to root through my wallet, I tried to take it back.  He smacked me so hard that my face burned.  I blinked back the tears that sprang to my eyes.  Again, that small voice in the back of my mind shouted at me. I should have just left my purse and everything behind and walked out of the door.  Fear kept me rooted to the couch.

“I don’t see no purple cellphone in here,” he said.

“Where is it,” asked the stone-faced man.

“I don’t have it.”

“Well, that’s obvious.  Where did you put it?”

“I didn’t put it anywhere.  I never had it.”

“You know what?  You’re not a good liar.  We’ve got things to do today.  Where is it?”

“Probably in one of the clubs we were at last night.”

“Let me have a go at her Daryl.  I bet I could make her talk.”

He came and sat so close to me on the couch that I could smell his musty scent underneath the miasma of alcohol.  His hand cupped my left breast and my arm reflexively moved his hand away.  He grabbed my breast roughly, squeezing it in his paw.  I cried out in pain, beseeching Daryl with my eyes.  He merely leaned back in his chair with a small smile on his face.  My attention was arrested by a hand around my throat.  The next thing I knew, I was on the dirty carpet crushed under the weight of my attacker.  Struggling only made him tighten his grip.  My vision dimmed as he ripped open my blouse.  One look in those ravenous eyes and I knew that telling them where the phone was wouldn’t make him stop.  He had intended to do this the moment he laid eyes on me.  Panic bloomed into terror.  His rough, relentlessly invading hands dislodged a sense memory from the well of my subconscious.  It came floating to the surface of my mind; another time years ago when I was overpowered by another man over and over again.  My anguished cries had gone unheeded then too.

All of that pain was down in the bottom of the well, weighted down by my need to forget.  It had taken all of my anger to keep it submerged.  The unstoppable sensation of his calloused hands scraping my flesh brought the sunken memories back in a flood of pain and anger.  At that point, my mind was such a confused jumble of unbidden memories and feelings that I don’t even remember grabbing the sharp nail file that had fallen out of my upturned purse.  I don’t recall plunging it into his neck all the way up to the pink plastic handle.  The warm spray of blood on my face brought me to my senses.  He fell back screaming and grabbing at the nail file. I didn’t even spare him a glance as I sat up and tried to button up my torn shirt.  Daryl leaned forward with his elbows on his knees, taking perverse pleasure in watching his friend pull the nail file out of his neck and then  try ineffectually to stem the flow of blood from his wounded neck.