He sat unmoving while she cooked and ate her dinner. He sat while she watched a television show, whose laughter seemed forced. He sat when he heard her faulting steps lead her to bed. Then he rose
The hospital stood before him, but Marcus could not bring himself to go inside. He walked, stretching kinked muscles. His speed brought him quickly to the desert the town sat inside.
The cottontail was munching on the little grass it could find. Nose twitching, it turned to where Marcus stood. Large rear legs propelled it forward, putting distance between them.
“I will not eat you.” He watched the hare. “My sister… would be ….”
“Dad,” her voice had been both cajoling and angry and had made their father smile.
“Little one”—he had gently twitched her nose—“what is it you want now?”
“Not much.” She’d pointed to Marcus. “Nothing big like him. I want a rabbit, a cute little bunny for a pet.”
“Even small pets need to be taken care of. You have to feed it. That costs money. Money we don’t have. I’m sorry but that’s just the way it is. Maybe we can get you one next year. Crops are doing better this year. So far there’s been no drought, plenty of sunshine, just the right temperatures. If things stay like this, we’ll have enough to get your brother a dog and a bunny for you. Marcus promised to help out, maybe get a job. He can make some extra money for the dog. You can’t get a job. Too young.”
“I can help out. I have my vegetable garden. I’ll grow its food. Please daddy.”
“It’s hard to say no to you two.”
“Dad,” Marcus walked over, hands tucked deep into his pockets. “If Cathy”—he could not look up, now wanting Cathy to see how hard this was for him—“If you can’t afford to get a dog and a rabbit, you should get Cathy the rabbit. I can wait until I can afford the dog.”
Cathy turned, hugging her brother’s legs, almost making him fall. “No big brother. I’m not letting you do that. You’ve wanted a dog for as long as I remember and I,” she wagged her finger in his face, “have a good memory.”
“Your sister’s right. You’re getting the dog. You’ve earned it. Cathy can wait.” He’d turned to his little girl. “Just one more year. I promise you’ll get that bunny when you turn thirteen.”
“I hope she got a bunny. I cannot hunt what …”—he shook his head but the name would not come—“she loved so much. Tonight I will look for other food.”
The bobcat had no problems eating hare and Marcus saw it stalking its prey. Far faster, Marcus caught the cat, quickly breaking its neck. After the meal, he glanced at the animal, pain in his face. “You did not deserve this.”
Looking up at the inky night sky, he raised his fist. “This must end. I cannot bear this. So much death. I was meant to grow things, bring life, not take it.”
He sank to his knees. “I cannot cry. I don’t remember how, I have fought not to for so long. If I find the spigot, I will not be able to turn it off.”
It was late morning when he woke. He quietly went into the bathroom, hoping the blood would clean, once again glad that black hid so many sins.
He heard Lenore humming while preparing breakfast. The envelope lay untouched by the side of the bed. Inside he found many hundreds. He did not count them.
“Aunt Lee.” A voice called out as the door shut. Marcus heard what the young woman could not. The heavy sigh of someone not welcoming her guest.
“Your brother here too?” Lenore walked over.
“Of course. Just came to make sure you’re okay.”
“You mean you came to make sure your inheritance is okay.” Spoken under her breath, still Marcus heard and he knew the second act was about to begin. Carefully combing his hair, he dressed in his new clothes.
“I do not believe I have met these young people.” Marcus went to Lenore’s side.
“This is my niece and nephew, Shayna and Kyle. This is my fiancé Allen.”
“Fiancé?” Two voices spoke as one. “Who are you?”
Marcus swallowed. Being introduced as her fiancé was unexpected. “I am the man who is to marry your aunt.” He embraced her.
“Allen what?” The young man stood feet apart as if ready for a fight.
“Just Allen. That is all. It is enough for her.”
While the two men stared at each other Shayna looked around the house. Marcus heard her muttering.
“Looks like nothings stolen. What does he want from her?” She passed the spare bedroom. Seeing the undisturbed bedding, she strode quickly over to the master.
Coming to her brother’s side, she placed a hand on each hip. “Where are you sleeping?”
“With me, of course.” Lenore stepped between them.
Marcus looked at Lenore, understanding washing over his face.
“Shayna.” Marcus spoke quietly. “I have not taken anything your aunt has not wanted to give. I am not a thief. You should not trouble your aunt. I’m not going to take your inheritance.”
“I didn’t mean…”
“You did.” He walked over and brother and sister stood closer together. The room grew cold while he read their eyes. “You do not mean her harm. She does not know you really care. Caring does not mean controlling. She has earned the right to live a life she chooses. Right now, she has chosen to share some of her life with me.”
“Where did you meet him, the homeless shelter?” Shayna tapped her foot impatiently on the floor.
Marcus, walking to the kitchen, tried not to listen but found he could not drown out their words.
“He was living on the street.” Lenore sneered. “Don’t interrupt. He’s a good man. I brought him here. I don’t want to hear another thing about it. If I want to take a man into my bed, my life, I can. What did you come for?”
“We just wanted to see if you needed anything.” The voice grew bitter. “I see you have everything you need.”
The door slammed shut, echoing in the quiet of the room. Marcus walked back to Lenore, who stood staring at the closed door, eyes frowning. “Should I go now?”
“No.” Lenore looked away. “Stay as long as you like. I don’t think you’ll have to do any more playacting. I shouldn’t have any more visitors.”
“I think you have more friends and Helen will want them to …I think meet me is not what she will want.”
“I… I’m sorry.” Marcus could see she was not.
“It is because”—he seemed to study the carpet—“I clean up well that you brought me here. I will stay until I meet your friends.”
“You should stay at least six more days. I can withdraw money, actually ten thousand dollars every day to get it down to just what I need to pay my bills. I’ll give it to you. That’s all the easy cash I have.”
“You should not give it to me. I have not”—once again he looked at the rug—“earned it. Your niece and nephew will be upset.”
“It’s mine to spend, to give to anyone I want and I want to give it to you. I’ve given plenty away. Donations to the homeless shelter, sanctuaries for abused men, women and children. Take the money. You don’t have to earn it. Even if you don’t love me, I’ll be glad to know you think I’m a good person.”
“You are a good person.” He smiled and Lenore felt her breath catch. “It is just that I cannot. Too much has happened. In my way, the only way I can, I do love you. I saw what you did, what I am sure you still do for the homeless. You never walk past without seeing them. You see them as people not to be discarded. No one should be discarded. I do not want the money but if you desire it, I will keep it. I will stay, play fiancé and upset your friends.”
She put a hand on his shoulder; the other gently touching his back, feeling the jagged edges of his scars. “It will make me happy. I want to piss off my friends and I very much want you to have the money. I’ll make sure Shayna and Kyle know. Don’t want them to think you stole it.”
Marcus gently pulled away, going back into the bedroom. Her kindness had a price he could pay.
“Putting out the best I see.” Allen Rollins had stepped behind his wife, encircling her with his arms. He’d kissed her neck and she’d begun to giggle.
“Allen stop. If I laugh any harder I’ll drop the dishes.”
“I don’t know why you do this every time they come.”
“You mean take out my mother’s china.”
“I mean everything you do. House is always clean yet you’ve vacuumed it at least three times. I couldn’t find a spec of dust if I went looking, white gloves and all. You’ve spent half the month’s grocery money on this meal. I just don’t understand.”
Marcus, sitting quietly by the hearth, badly wanted to hear her answer. He didn’t understand why his mother had been in a frenzy the last two days. Usually so even tempered, she grew angry with every mess he made, even angrier when Cathy tried to make dinner.
“Don’t you remember how they treated you?”
He shrugged. “It never bothered me.”
“Well it bothered me. Treated you like dirt, acted like I was a fool, loving you. They were supposed to be friends.”
“They were, I mean are. They want the best for you.”
“You are and always have been the best for me.”
He pulled her closer, pressing his face into her hair.
“That doesn’t explain this, at least not to me.”
“Give me a minute.” She put the last plates on the table, straightening the already perfectly placed silverware. “My mother once told me that the best revenge is living well. We do, but not in a way they understand. So when they come, I show them with things they understand. Yes we have plenty of food; tonight we just have a little more expensive food. My home is beautiful, I have nice things and even better, I have a husband I love and the two best children in the world. I,” she grinned.
Her husband sucked air into his lungs, interrupting. “You are beautiful.”
“I am living well.”
Sitting quietly, Marcus whispered. “The best revenge is living well. Lenore, you are trying to live well, at least in a way they understand. I see.” For the first time since she came to his door proposing he come to her bed, he genuinely smiled.
They came. Marcus found his presence needed at odd times. It was pleasing to him to see how upset they got when he did not tell them his surname. They did not know he didn’t remember it. Then there were the smiles Lenore turned his way when he spoke of his feelings.
The door closed behind a particularly annoying man and Marcus turned to Lenore. “I do not think he will return. Does this disturb you?”
“Not really.” She saw the question he had not asked. “You want to know why these people are my friends when I like them so little. They were friends when we had more in common. They liked my husband. When he got ill, they were good to him, to me. It’s just that my husband’s investments have made me a wealthy woman. It seems old friends expect you to share and new friends try to wheedle it out of you.” She looked into Marcus’ eyes. “My niece and nephew aren’t bad. They mean well. They just act like I’m getting too old to make my own decisions, like giving you money.” Her smile was sad. “At least they don’t seem to be hoping that I die. Sometimes it’s strangers who don’t ask for anything that become your best friends. I care about you.”
He raised an eyebrow.
“I know I came on strong”—she shrugged—“just got the wrong idea. I guess I’m lonelier than I thought. You’ve been good to me. Thanks for going along with my craziness.”
“I care for you also. I am sorry I cannot be more to you.” He looked at the growing night, darkening the edges of the curtains. “I do not believe I will ever be close to another. I will be leaving soon. My presence here is dangerous to you. I feel I have been here too long. He will find me.”
“I’ll get the rest of the money tomorrow. You can leave tomorrow night. Will you”—tears gathered in her eyes— “will you be okay?”
“Maybe someday. Wherever I go, I will always remember this time with you.” He turned without explanation, heading to the door, grateful that she did not ask where he went.
It was the last morning. He could hear Lenore, preparing breakfast, humming as usual. It had been a long night. The hunt had not gone well. There was so much blood but none he would willingly take. The morgue provided, but he was weak. Only the blood of the living gave him the strength he needed to confront Gregor. Tonight he would run.
Lenore was gone when Marcus opened the door. He could not read the note she left him. Marcus turned to the television. He’d watched Lenore and knew what to do. Bored, he turned on the news. He was walking in circles when he heard it. Gregor was here. Two brutal murders and Lenore was still not home. Staring at the curtains, he waited for the light to fade.
The little sunshine burned his skin, but he ran, staying in the shadows. He followed the scent of her blood, his dread growing. Just beyond the bar, in the alley he knew what he would find.
He could see in her eyes that she’d suffered. That Gregor had not come to the house told him she had not spoken of him. He cradled her, brushing the hair off her forehead. Even now, Marcus found he couldn’t cry.
Pain crawled from deep inside, his moans filling the ally, spilling out into the street.
“I should have told you not to step into the dark.” Her blood, what Gregor left behind, had pooled by the side of the alley. Marcus drank.
How long he sat there, holding her in his arms he did not know. He could see the night quickly passing. The bar was dark, the last patrons stumbling down the sidewalk. It was the face that stirred him. The man fumbling with his keys as he went back into the bar told Marcus it was time to go.
Her home seemed so cold. Marcus ran his hands gently over the things that had filled her life.
He shook his head, “I do not have time for this. She will be found.”
Quickly gathering the money she’d given him, he took her satchel, tying it around his waist.
He did not make it out the door.
The detective standing just outside the door had drawn his weapon. Two uniformed officers stood behind him.
“Please step back into the apartment.”
There was a wolfish grin on the man’s face, and Marcus felt his hackles rise.
“I’m Lieutenant Buford and that”—he pointed to the dark brown stains on Marcus’ shirt—“is blood.”
There was no reply.
“Guess you didn’t expect to see us so soon.” His lips curled. “Didn’t even clean up. What did you think? Were you just gonna walk out of town, blood all over your shirt. Pretty stupid, really.”
Remaining silent, Marcus assessed the situation. He could leave, they could not stop him but there would be more blood and he had seen enough.
“Okay.” The grin slowly slipped from the detective’s face. “You don’t want to talk, that’s fine. You are Allen, Mrs. Smyth’s supposed fiancé. I’d like to know your full name.”
Marcus stared past him.
The detective’s hand curled into a fist. “I’m pretty sure you already know that Lenore was the third victim of what seems to be random killings. We had”—he pushed his index finger into Marcus’ chest—“no suspects until now. I think you’d better come with us.”
“I think not. I did not kill her.”
“If you didn’t kill her then why don’t you come with us? Make it easy. Though”—the wolfish grin reappeared—”how you’re gonna explain the blood on your shirt would certainly make an interesting story.”
The officers standing by the door chuckled.
“What are you afraid of?”
“I am not afraid.”
“Look scared to me.”
Marcus felt the monster rising in his chest. “Look closer.”
The two officers drew their weapons, and Marcus backed up a step, forcing his anger away.
“While trying to reach Ms. Smyth’s niece and nephew, we spoke to a Ms. Helen Simpson. She told us about the supposed fiancé. She doesn’t think much of you. Was pretty sure you were taking advantage of Ms. Smyth’s kind heart.” He turned to the officer standing behind him. “You alright?”
“He doesn’t look scared to me.” Looking into Marcus’ eyes, the gun had begun to shake.
“Get yourself under control for Gods sake. I don’t want to get shot.” His face was angry. “Back me up. Both of you stay by the door in case he tries to make a run for it.” He waited. His voice grew quiet. “I’m pretty sure she gave you money. Ten thousand will buy you enough time to make a clean getaway. Won’t have to get shot that way. Whatever you think of yourself, we will stop you. There are another ten officers downstairs. Building’s surrounded. You give me the money. I take you out in cuffs. Unlocked cuffs. You run. My shot misses. After that I don’t care where you go. Don’t accept the offer, we take you in; I’ll make sure there’s enough evidence to put you away for a very long time.”
“Do you not care to know if I am guilty?”
“I don’t. You have a decision to make. Think carefully, prisoners just love good looking men like yourself.”
“You cannot take me where I do not want to go.” Marcus looked at the other officers. It was obvious they had not heard the offer. “I do not want to hurt them.”
“You won’t hurt me.” The lead detective grinned seeing his back up looking nervously around.
Marcus returned the grin, and the smile slid from the detective’s face. “You, I would not mind hurting, perhaps some other time. I do not want, have never wanted the money. It is in the bedroom.”
“I don’t think so. You were ready to leave. I believe the money is with you.”
Marcus reached inside the satchel, grabbing a handful of hundreds. “Whatever is there is yours.”
It disappeared. “I’m glad you decided to cooperate. Put out your wrists.”
A look of pain crossed Marcus’ face as he was cuffed. The feeling was too familiar and he fought to keep his hands steady.
“Big bad dangerous guy.” There was laughter in the tone. “Let’s go. You first.”
Marcus walked slowly, surrounded by the police. He watched the sky grow lighter.
The cuffs were secure. The money was not enough, not when there was more. Arriving at the car, Marcus twisted his hands the chains breaking. A quick move and the detective lay bleeding on the ground. Guns were turned his way, but he was already gone.