Excerpts

I’ve spent the nights in dumpsters and the bedchambers of kings. The dumpsters were better. Telling you my name won’t make any difference. There have been so many over the years. Some even made sense. Others were little more than a cautionary tale. Caveat emptor. Beware the buyer. Shed most of them like a snakeskin. Sins are my sable. Scars are the rags I wear beneath.

Shannon was my friend and I watched her die.  She called herself an Acquisitions Manager. Procurement was her sole duty. She was smaller than me but older. She was patient. Far more than some I’d seen. Many were experts at luring frightened little things getting off of busses from Nowhere headed Elsewhere. She understood the rules of engagement and trained me well.

Duck and dodge this one and you live to see another day. Follow that one home and you’ll never return. Smiles were acceptable. Conversation was optional. A misplaced laugh could be deadlier than a rejection. Be smart and charming and submissive and maybe just maybe a meal was thrown in or drugs to dull everything. There were some among us that honestly believed their boyfriend loved them even after being passed around like blunts.

Shannon forgot her place or maybe she remembered. Exhaustion hung around her like a cloud filled with hard rain. She’d gone for a drive with Julian to talk about the future.  Last thing she told me was that all retirements are bittersweet.

 Didn’t take long to find her. Sat with her until sunrise holding her rapidly cooling hand. We both made promises neither one of us would keep. 

Many will never understand why some of us stay behind, or why we endure. Save as many as you can or die trying. When we do, we win.

Shannon’s gaze focused on something in the distance as the morning sun warmed the pale blue sky with a hint of peach. She kissed the back of my hand leaving behind a red smear.

As I closed the trunk and prepared for my journey home the vanity tag hanging from a lone screw caught my eye.

Alana.

Alana. Seemed as good a name as any. After a while, they all hurt. The names… the memories… the purpose. There’s no moral to my story. All that remains are the shades and shards of a girl that could not be. I imagine clouds gathering in the distance with a hint of rain in the air.  If I’m lucky, perhaps retirement will find me too.

Blood didn’t move like water. Water was mindless yet persistent. Blood was deliberate, louder than an ocean, better than a scream. The panic room was the deal breaker.  Monet Symone-Garrett wanted to attend college in Connecticut. To do so, she had to agree to live off campus in a place of her mother’s choosing with armed guards. The gun in her lap was a birthday present from her father, Cassiel Garrett. The shooting lessons were her graduation present.

Vincent was dead.

The fact that he was motionless on her bedroom floor was minutia compared to the dark patch of blood that spread beneath him in a gruesome cartoon bubble. Vincent looked as if he were craning his neck to see where she’d gone. His dark blue gaze was vacant, but even on the closed circuit television in the panic room, it still looked like he was staring at her, blaming her.

No one knew what her mother Alanna Symone was and that was a grace and a mercy. The life expectancy of anyone that discovered her mother’s peculiar kindness was drastically shortened.

Imagine a demon raising a child.

When Vincent said it, the envy overshadowed the fear. Monet couldn’t hear, but she never needed to. Her mother wasn’t like the others that took their little girls to soccer practice or baked cookies. Saturdays were for tactical training. Summers were for boot camp. Winters were for survival training and Sundays were for reading

Monet watched as the stain continued to spread. Splotches of red marred the duvet hanging from her unmade bed. She remembered how the other mothers straightened their backs and hurriedly fixed their clothes and hair whenever Alana walked into the PTA Meetings. The fathers were no better with their eyes crawling over her mother’s frame until they got closer.

 Mamma scared them. Why didn’t she scare you Vincent? You were brave or stupid. Maybe a little of both. I’m sorry Mamma. Should have listened. Should have paid better attention.

Monet smeared the tears across her face with a pajama sleeve. It didn’t register at first. The cartoon bubble of blood was still there on the carpet, but something was missing. Vincent was missing. He was the only one that knew the code to open the door and how to disable it if the door ever jammed.

Center of mass for everything, Monet.  Remember, Mamma said you can’t afford anything else.

As a slice of yellow light poured though the crack in the Panic room door, a stillness swept over her as she palmed the butt of the 15-round magazine to the Glock 19 in her lap. 

Mamma showed me what to do.  With blood running down her chin, Mamma always knew what to do.

Hush now; you’re dying. The golden hour has come and gone. With the extent of your injuries the recovery would be a slow and painful process. But you’re in luck. Mercy is my stock and trade.

Now now, we both know that licking your lips to lubricate the lie was the first mistake. And please, excuses are little more than truth turned inside out. So many apologies but they all go against the grain.

May I join you? Not in dying silly.  That’s your job, now. The previous one I gave you well… Can I be frank? My name is Kevin Francis Greer but, in discussions like these honesty and nicknames go hand in hand.

You think me a monster and you’re right. Wasn’t always like this. When I was ten, Mama held my foot to a hotplate for some real or imagined slight. Papa watched from his grey recliner in the living room inhaling the acrid smoke from the cigar he lit with a match.

Wooden ones were best as the tobacco burned evenly. Lighters are infinitely more personal. Unlike the red coil feasting on my heel at the time. The hot plate with its lone eye worked as desired if not as designed. The orgasm that leapt from me left quite the mess on the maroon shag carpet. Mama’s disgust became my inspiration. Papa’s pride became my muse.

Music like pain is an acquired taste; unique to each person. Your short shallow breaths remind me of a young Vivaldi or an older Beethoven.  Both were poets for the dead as am I.

The assignment was simple Endicott. Follow Willow Daniels. Make yourself indispensable to her. Protect her at all costs.  The MacGuffin beneath her skin is more valuable than gold or flames. Lost in the folds of her mind is an answer to a question I asked forty years ago.

Nearly killed her when I asked in person. My passion got the better of me, I’ll admit, but pain makes a captive audience of us all.  Nothing seemed to work on the boy with her, though. Peppering him with questions after each slice did nothing but solidify his resolve to remain silent.. Sirens wailing in the distance cut my interview and their date night short.

My ex-wife was neat in her grave, nigh ten years. Such a cunning little beast she was. Hiding our son. Adopting him out was a stroke of genius. Hot plates and cigars were not part of his future. Short money filled my bolt holes and bank accounts to the brim. He would have been a God among insects. So much to tell him. So much to share. A dream deferred to be sure.

You failed so horribly. Thinking is a chore for mammals like you. Romance was not in the job description. It’s why the scent of your aftershave was replaced by the fragrance of charcoal and burning flesh. Of course, I’ll dab away the tear spilling from the corner of your eye. As I stated earlier, mercy is my stock and trade.

Coming in 2021

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