It was late afternoon. Surely, the police had found his latest scene by now. He’d done everything but call in the directions to the place. Powering on the burner phone he had purchased on his last visit to Grand Junction, he dialed the Sheriff’s cell number. He wanted to make sure he dealt with her directly, and that she understood what was at stake. She had to know that he wouldn’t stop until he had his boy back. She picked up the call after the first ring. She was anxious and waiting right by her phone. He smiled. That was good. She was getting to ready to bargain with him.
“Hello, Sheriff. Did you get my message?”
He could hear her take a deep breath on the other end of the line. Her breath shook a little as if she were trying to calm herself. That was good. She was close to losing it.
“I’ve still got your man, Sheriff, and he’s not looking too good.”
Drake, in fact, was asleep on the couch. He was pale and bruised, but he was holding up. He was a pussy, but his will to survive was strong.
“If you hurt him, I swear I’ll…”
“We both know you won’t do shit. You do what I say and you’ll have your man back safe.”
He could have said “safe and sound” but he was pretty sure that Drake was no longer sound. He was having a hard time dealing with what he had done. The man supposed he was having a hard time with his conscience. While Drake had killed that couple, he was weak inside. He didn’t have the strength of character to deal with his choices. He didn’t think that Drake would ever be the same person again. He’d wanted the Sheriff to pay for taking his boy, and now she’d pay every day of her life—when she looked at her man and saw what he was truly capable of.
“I’m going to give you some directions. You’re going to meet me at midnight. You’re going to bring my boy with you but no one else. If I think that you have anyone else with you, I’ll kill your man and come take my boy anyway. This way, we both get what we want.”
He proceeded to give the Sheriff the directions. She was repeating them, so he knew she was relaying them to someone else. That was fine as long as she was alone when the time came. If she wasn’t, he’d break Drake’s neck and go after his boy himself. He’d kill everyone in the town until he had him back. And he’d start with the Sheriff.
When he hung up, Drake was awake and staring at him.
“Why are you doing this?” Drake asked.
“She took my boy. I want him back.”
“Why? Are you stupid or something? He’s mine. I’m not leaving him in this hellhole. He stays with me.”
“So you can turn him into a killer, like you did me?”
Anger lanced through him. He slammed his fist onto the table. Drake jumped at the sudden crack. He charged Drake and hauled him off the couch. Drake flinched away from his raised fist.
“Listen to me, asshole. My boy ain’t a killer. He never will be. I keep him out of my business, and I made sure he’d never do what I do.”
He wanted to kill Drake so badly, his fist began to tremble. He stared into Drake’s pretty-boy blue eyes. He didn’t really need Drake. He could kill him now and leave. He could meet the Sheriff alone and take his boy back. No exchange. He’d kill the Sheriff and save his boy. Drake had begun to tear up. Fuckin’ pussy.
He shoved Drake back onto the couch, but the prick wouldn’t shut up.
“How did you make sure?”
He drew ragged breaths in to calm himself. He couldn’t afford to lose control now. He’d made a deal and he was going to stand by his word. Wiping the sweat off his head, he turned to Drake.
“How did you make sure that Elijah wouldn’t….do what you do.”
He bristled at Drake using his boy’s name.
“I made sure he couldn’t use his hands.”
Drake began to look a little ill. “His hands?”
The man sat down. They had a couple hours until it was time to go. If Drake wanted a chat, they’d have a little chat. Maybe, it would keep him from killing him.
“The men in my family have a sickness. My father had it. I have it. For all I know, my granddad had it, too, but I never met him. I know that Elijah probably has it. My dad started taking me on what he called his trips when I was about Elijah’s age. My dad worked a lot, so I didn’t see him very often. I looked forward to those trips. Just him and me. No women around to interfere. We’d go into the city, and find a whore. Dad would take us to a cheap motel room, the kind that didn’t ask too many questions and rented their rooms by the hour. He’d get the whore nice and relaxed and then he’d finally relax himself. He’d give in and put the woman out of her misery. That’s what he used to say. That he was putting her out of her misery. She wouldn’t have to fuck strange men for money, or worry about where her next fix came from.”
“So he was an altruist?”
The man snorted. “Fuck no, he wasn’t no altruist. He was a black-hearted killer. He couldn’t look what he was in the face, so he had to make up a reason to kill that would help him live with himself.”
Drake looked surprised.
“What? You think just because I kill, I don’t know fancy words, like altruist? When my dad was working, I had a lot of time to myself. I liked to read. I would steal books from the library, and take them home with me. I’ve probably read more than you. Ever read The Gift of Fear? That book taught me how to get people to trust me, and how to alleviate their natural-born fears. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. Stephen King. Thomas Harris. I learned a lot from reading.
“Killing isn’t about helping people. It’s about control—absolute control. When I walk down the street, I choose who will survive and who won’t. Didn’t you feel it? Back at that cabin. I gave you the power and you took it. You held that couple’s lives in your hands. You held my life in your hands. You held your life in your hands. Do you remember what that felt like?”
Drake shook his head, clasping his hands between his knees. He began to rock like that.
“It didn’t feel like that at the time. I didn’t feel like I had any choice.”
“We always have a choice. Your mind just tricked you. Our will to survive is so strong our minds will make us think we don’t have a choice, when we actually do. You could have turned the knife on me. You could have turned it on yourself. You made a choice”
He could see Drake begin to tremble. That was what was wrong with society. People couldn’t live with their choices. For a moment, he had admired Drake. He had acted out of self-preservation. He had done what he needed to do to survive. What made him a pussy was his fuckin’ conscience. Drake had to believe he was a good person, but sometimes to survive you needed to be bad.
Drake cleared his throat.
“What does that have to do with Elijah?”
There was that name again. If Drake knew the boy’s name, it meant that he had trusted him enough to talk. When he got him back, he’d have to remind him of the value of silence.
“My boy is just like me, and my father before me.”
Drake was shaking his head.
“He is, but I decided when he was born, that I’d never let that side of him come out. I kept him away from the family business, as you might call it. He never goes with me on a kill, and when he was old enough to realize what I was doing, I made sure he could never kill.”
“How did you do that?”
“I broke his hands.”
Drake looked at him, stunned.
“You probably think I’m a monster, but I’m like any other man who is trying to protect his boy. I did it for his own good. He’ll never be able to wrap his hands around another person’s throat. He’ll never be able to hold a knife or a gun. I read a book once about a little girl in China. She had a feet bound to make her more attractive to a Chinese husband. For some reason, that idea stayed with me. I realized I could do the same sort of thing to my son, but with his hands. He’ll never use those hands to kill.”
“He’ll never use them for anything.”
“That’s the price he has to pay.”
They sat in silence for a while. He was feeling better, calmer. He didn’t have the urge to twist Drake’s head off his neck anymore. He wondered where his boywas now. Probably, with the Sheriff. Was she getting him ready? He hoped the boy didn’t get used to the comforts of having a home. That was not the life that was meant for him. The boy was tough like he was. He knew how to survive. If he had to talk to get by with the Sheriff and her fancy man, then that was what he had to do.
“C’mon. We have to get ready.”
He gestured to the kitchen. Drake got off the couch and went into the kitchen ahead of him. Drake might be broken, but the man knew he couldn’t trust him. He had Drake pack up what food there was in the house into his pack. There were quite a few canned goods. He had Drake put the cans into his pack. He added some spoons and a can opener to the cans, and zipped up the pack. It was heavy, but he was used to carrying a heavy load.
“You got any cash on you?”
Drake looked surprised and slapped his back pocket. The man smirked. He hadn’t bothered with Drake’s wallet. He wasn’t a thief, except when he had to be, but his cash was gone, even what he took from the lady at the flower shop. Drake pulled out a couple of hundreds and some twenties, and handed them over.
“Thanks. I’ll consider this a gift.”
“Let’s get moving. You don’t want to keep your lady waiting.”
They left the cabin and headed out to the battered Jeep. He was going to park it in the woods, and hope he and the boy could to it in time. He knew that the Sheriff wasn’t going to come alone, but he was prepared for that. The place he’d found for the exchange was dark. Anyone she brought with her would need flashlights to get to the spot. He’d be able to see the headlights of the cars coming down the track leading to the small clearing he had chosen. It wasn’t perfect. There was high ground around the clearing, but he hoped that the dark would obscure him. He’d keep Drake close until the last minute. As soon as he had the boy, he’d take off running to the Jeep and get as far as he could, before they had to abandon it.
He opened the passenger side for Drake.
“You’re not going to do anything stupid, are you?” he asked Drake as he climbed into the Jeep. Drake shook his head.
“Good. We’re almost done. Don’t try to play the hero now. You don’t have it in you.”
He slammed the door, and headed around to the driver’s side. Looking at Drake’s miserable face, he said, “Cheer up. You’re going to be back with your lady before you know it.”