Ba-boom! His heart shook. His body shuddered. He slowly came back to consciousness. Where am I? He rolled over to his back and pain pulsed through his body and then faded to a low throbbing.
Ba-boom! As it faded, his heart felt as if someone drove a dagger into it. His eyes shot open and his breath came out in ragged gasps. The pain faded. As he stared up at the night sky, he watched the rain fall into the canyon made by the two buildings that enclosed the alley.
Ba-boom! As the last boom echoed in his body and faded to silence, there was no pain. All around him, raindrops splattered as they hit the ground. Like a soft murmur of voices, it slowly drowned out all other sound. With a sigh, he closed his eyes and lost himself in the rain.
“We’re lost, aren’t we?” Nina sighed. Even though John knew she did not mean it maliciously, it still grated on his nerves.
“Yes Nina!” he snapped at her as he made the turn down the alley, following the detour sign to avoid road construction ahead. “We’re lost, now could you please give me a minute to figure out where we are!” He regretted his words even before he finished his sentence and looked back to the road, trying to figure out where they were. She shrank back, deeper into the passenger seat, a grim look glossing over her fair features. Her cheeks flushed with anger, bringing color to her pale skin.
The silence hung heavy between them in the car, like a suffocating blanket. The only sounds coming from the rain drops drumming on the roof and the wiper blades squeaking in vain to keep the rain off the windshield.
He stopped at the end of the alley and turned to face her. She had her arms folded across her chest and she was looking straight ahead. He was about to apologize, not just for his outburst, when someone rapped on his window. Startled and a bit angry, he turned, only to hear glass shattering. Nina screamed.
It was still raining when John woke, screaming Nina’s name. Her scream still echoed in his mind. He scrambled to his feet, heaving himself off the rain-slicked ground with a fury that surprised him. John looked around frantically, Nina his only thought, but all he saw was broken glass, trash and blood. When he didn’t see her, he calmed a bit but was still wracked with worry. He looked down at himself. Blood stained the suit he was wearing. His white shirt was slowly turning pink from the blood washing away in the rain. Some part of his mind told him he should be worried but all he could think about was Nina. Where is she?
The car was not there, only the broken glass of the window.
Nina was not there. Only her scarf, lying in a puddle of dirty water. It was old and worn, yet soft and warm and had once belonged to her grandmother.
Where is she? John thought. She would never leave this behind. He picked up the soaked piece of wool and held it in both hands. He remembered Nina’s grandmother giving the scarf to her. Even though she was in her deathbed, she was still alert and wanted to spend her last days enjoying what time she had left. My mother made this scarf for me when I was your age, she told Nina. So much love was represented in the simple piece of cloth.
“Where is she?” John muttered angrily, the scarf clenched in his fists. He threw the scarf around his neck and tied shut his overcoat with the cinch belt to conceal his bloody appearance. With that done, he started walking down the alley into the waiting street.
“Yeah man,” Danny shouted, pounding a bloody fist on the steering wheel. “This is so fuckin’ sweet! We can get some serious green for this baby.” Danny drove fast down the street, turning the new Mercedes easily around a corner where it kicked up a spray of water.
“Maybe. If you don’t get bloody fingerprints over everything you shithead,” Ramero shot back. “Messy, Danny. Really messy stickin’ the guy like that.” Of the two young men, Ramero was the elder but both had been bred on the streets. Danny even spent a year in jail for assault from a botched mugging.
“Well, it was the chink’s fault for fightin’ back.” Danny wiped the blood off his hand on his pant leg. “Serves the muthafucker right.” Danny looked in the rearview mirror. He saw that his left eye was starting to swell, the puffy flesh threatening to seal his eye closed. He swore under his breath, “I hope I killed the sonofabitch.”
They came to a stoplight. Both of the young men looked around nervously, hoping no police would drive by and wonder about the broken window. The only other vehicle on the deserted street was a roadworks crew truck that made a left hand turn in front of them. As the orange truck passed them, a spray of water washed up and into the car. Danny sputtered and cursed the truck, shaking a fist out the window. While Ramero laughed at his partner, a figure stirred in the seat between them. It was Nina.
“Nina. Her name is Nina Harper,” John told the 911 operator with exasperation. He found a payphone that worked about a block away from the alley where he awoke. It was in front of a small convenience store that had its windows plastered over with advertising posters. Everything from beer, cup-o-soup, cigarettes and condoms were advertised on faded and worn paper.
John had spent the last five minutes explaining what happened. At least what he recalled. His window shattered, spraying him with broken glass. A hand reached in and opened his door. He remembered hearing the door locks open with a sickening thunk, like the lid of a coffin being slammed shut. He was pulled out of his car but he struggled all the way. He knew how to fight. He had a black belt in goju ryu, a form of Japanese karate that a friend of his taught, but was distracted as Nina stepped out of the car to come to his aid. Unfortunately, a second carjacker was there to stop her. John saw him strike her on the head with the butt end of his knife, and Nina crumpled into his arms. He screamed Nina’s name and in a berserking rage, struck the man who pulled him from the car, his fist smashing into the carjacker’s eye. John tried to break away but was stopped short.
The man he hit was before him once more and his knife sunk into John’s belly, not once but twice. He felt the blade twist in his guts both times.
“Sir?” the operator spoke. “Mr. Tsang, are you still there?”
“Yeah,” John muttered. “Yeah, I’m still here. Just please hurry.” His free hand went to his belly, fingers seeking out his wounds. He suddenly didn’t feel very well.
“Sit tight sir. A patrol unit and paramedics have been dispatched.”
John mumbled his thanks and hung up the phone.
The phone rung in the small dingy office. A single, bare light bulb lit the room adorned with posters and calendars of half-naked women. A short, swarthy man wearing greasy overalls came into the office wiping his hands clean on a dirty rag. He closed the door behind him to block out the sound of the other men in the garage busy with grinders and other power tools. He answered the phone on the sixth ring. He answered a series of questions with “Si,” and hung up the phone. He rubbed his eyes with thick fingers and grumbled, “I’m getting too old for this.”
Chavez was about to nod off when someone pounded on his door. He cursed, but yelled out that the door was open. Hector stuck his head inside.
“Hey boss,” he started. “Danny and Ramero got another one.”
“Bring ‘em in Hector. I’ll be out in a minute.” Chavez leaned back in his chair. He was tired but forced himself out of the chair to meet his most prolific suppliers.
Chavez stepped out into his garage. Besides Hector, there were only two other men working on cars at this late hour. He would have closed up hours ago, if he didn’t need to finish an order for one of his clients. Hector was directing Danny to move the car into an empty bay.
Danny stepped out of the car. “Hola, Chavez!”
Chavez stopped where he was and gave Danny the once over. He did not like seeing the blood. “What the hell Danny?” he said warily.
Danny waved him off. “Man Chavez, the punk had it comin’. Look at what he did to my eye.”
Chavez just shook his head and then suddenly stopped. A scowl creased his features when he saw Ramero pull a red-haired woman from the car. She was still unconscious, her body limp and her head rolling to the side as if she were a broken marionette.
“Who the fuck is that?” Chavez growled. “Never mind! I don’t want to know.” He threw his hands up in anger. Hector and the other two mechanics looked on with worry. Before Danny or Ramero could say anything, he started again: “I don’t fucking believe that you two were stupid enough to bring the driver here.”
“Don’t look at me man,” Danny said defensively. “It was Ramero’s idea.”
“She ain’t the driver. Danny shanked the fucking driver.”
“I don’t give a shit who she is.” Chavez pointed a callused finger at Ramero. “The fact that you brought her here endangers my entire operation!” Chavez stomped around a pile of bright and shiny rims. “And you!” he turned toward Danny. “You killing the driver was idiotic! With all the attention the media gives to crap like that, the cops are going to put so much heat on, you’ll be wishing you were roasting in hell instead!”
“So what do you want us to do?” Danny asked. “Kill the girl?”
“No! Not here and not now.” Chavez calmed down a bit. “Lock her in the storeroom and then get yer asses back out here. You two fuck-ups are going to help me and the boys take apart that car and get it the hell outta here tonight, just incase the cops come sniffing around.” There was no further discussion. Chavez stomped back to his office and slammed the door shut.
Danny muttered an epithet as he stripped off his jacket and flung it on a nearby counter. He helped Ramero carry Nina into the storeroom in the back of the garage. He dropped her feet and then slugged Ramero on the arm on his way out.
Ramero laid her on a pile of old tires. He lingered a bit studying Nina’s features. He drew a finger up her smooth cheek and then slid his hand in her hair, behind her ear. He pulled his hand away, a lock of her deep auburn hair between his fingers. Hair the color of burnished copper.
Her hair was plastered flat against her head. It was the color of burnished copper. The girl’s bangs clung to her forehead. If she were dry, they would obscure her eyes and the bags under them, but now, it only emphasized her worn face by framing it. She walked up to John on unsteady feet, unused to wearing four-inch heels. The red pumps clicked loudly on the wet sidewalk like small cracks of thunder.
John eyed her suspiciously through the rain. The girl didn’t look older than seventeen. She was dressed in a black mini-skirt that barely covered her thighs and a red tank top that was a couple of sizes too small, even for her slight frame. Over this, she wore a clear, transparent rain slicker that hung to her knees. Putting herself on display like that, there were two things she was and the first was cold.
“I don’t want what you are selling,” John said plain and flat. She shrank back, her shivering becoming shaking. With her cheeks flushed with embarrassment, she looked like a little girl who was just caught doing something naughty. She took a step back, reconsidering her options. She turned to leave but stopped herself before she fled back to her corner. Swallowing hard, the young redhead tried to regain her composure and a measure of dignity and then turned back to do what she set out to do.
“Ramero and his boy Danny roughed you up pretty good,” she said in a voice that forced itself not to break.
With a quick step, John grabbed her. He clamped down hard, a hand on each of her arms just under the shoulder. “What do you know!” he just about yelled. She closed her eyes tight and turned her head away with a whimper. John calmed himself and slowly let the girl go. He had to practically force his fingers to open. “Look,” he started, “I’m sorry. It’s just that I am very worried about my fiancé. Please, tell me what you know?”
She slowly opened her eyes with a sigh of relief and surprise. Even though his rage scared her, she felt unusually safe, as his look went from stern to pleading. She swallowed hard and then in a conspiratorial whisper: “Ramero and Danny got your car and your girl. They usually take the cars they steal to a place down by the old industrial center. Chavez’s place, near Fifth and Hellman. They strip cars and sell the parts.”
“What about my fiancé?”
The girl looked worried and gazed down at her feet. She whispered something but John could not hear what she said.
“What’s your name?” John asked.
“Wendy,” she said in a small, little girl voice.
“Wendy, please. What did you say?’
Wendy was shaking. “Ramero has a thing for redheads,” she whispered in that same, small voice. She hugged herself, shivering not from the cold alone. John closed his eyes and swallowed hard, his mouth was so very dry.
“I understand. Thank you Wendy.” John turned back to the payphone and called a cab. When it was on its way, he faced Wendy again. Reaching into his pocket he pulled out a wad of cash secure in a gold money clip. He peeled off two twenty-dollar bills and stuffed those back into his pocket.
“Wendy,” he started, “I want you to me another favor.” The girl nodded. “The police are on their way. I want you to wait for them and tell them what you told me. Can you do this for me?” She hesitated for a moment before again nodding. He handed the girl the money clip, almost five hundred dollars. She refused. “Wendy, please take it. The money is unimportant to me. All that matters to me is my fiancé. Do this for me please.” She relented, tears welling in her eyes. Behind them, a yellow cab pulled up to the curb. “I know that you have probably taken a great risk, so thank you Wendy.” When John hugged the girl, she did not flinch. Indeed she felt somehow safe and comforted and even leaned into him with a sigh. Wendy was surprised, however, at how cold he felt. She looked up at him. He was pale and trembling but yet a determination burned in his eyes.
“Good luck,” she said as he got into the taxi.
As the cab pulled away, the last John saw of Wendy, was the girl shivering in the rain.
Nina awoke shivering. She found herself in a small, drab room, atop a pile of old tires. Water dripped from a leak in the ceiling. A constant steady drip, like the ticking of a clock. She tried to sit up, but when she did, her vision blurred as pain bloomed in her head. She brought a hand up to her forehead and felt the lump there where she was hit.
It took a minute for her head to clear, only to be replaced by a sense of dread. She tried to keep calm but tears still welled in her eyes. She remembered someone dragging John out of the car. As they fought, she got out to help him but another man was there.
Nina recalled him saying, “hello,” in a sly voice before striking her on the head. She fell back dazed and he caught her before she fell and shoved her back into the car. Before everything went black, her head rolled back and she saw the other man stab John. She saw his eyes go wide with surprise. She saw him sink to his knees and fall from her sight. She tried to call out, she tried to scream but her voice failed her. She tried to fight against the hands that held her but in the end, the darkness took her. Now, she was here and John was not.
Oh my god, she lamented, he’s dead.
So many feelings swept through her. Fear, sorrow and strangely enough guilt.
The fight they had was a stupid one. It was one of those fights over something so small, so petty, that it lent itself to escalation. Blown up out of all proportion, they ended up not speaking to one another for two whole days. The silence in the condo they shared became unbearable but both were being stubborn. Neither wanted to be the first to give in.
Tonight, however, they had to make an appearance together. She reminded John, this morning that the both of them had to go to the charity ball she co-chaired for the Make-a-Wish Foundation. “I told you I would go,” was all he said as he left the room.
She had wanted to end the silence between them. She had wanted to apologize, anything to end the stalemate. She had finally realized that the fight and subsequent fallout was all too silly, but the flatness of his voice when he answered her, frustrated Nina to no end. She almost yelled back at him, a sure way to start another fight, but she bit her tongue. She was tired of it all and resolved to make amends later that night.
But now he was dead, and she would never have the chance.
“Not a chance man,” Paul stated plainly. “Face it. Julia is not coming back.”
“I know,” John said glumly. He was sitting in front of his computer, trying to finish a speech he was writing for a rally he was going to. His heart just wasn’t into his work and his mind was far away, thinking of happier times.
“Then why are you torturing yourself John. Good lord, Julia used and cheated on you. Let it go already. It’s been a month.”
“Dammit, I know. It’s just…” John became flustered. “It’s just I still love her. There is a part of me that can’t believe its over. Two years Paul.” He slammed a fist down on the table, and went back to stare at this half written speech. More so, so Paul could not see the tears brimming in his eyes.
“I don’t know why she did it John,” Paul said sympathetically. “Frankly, I don’t think she’s worth it. I think you’ve mopped around too much over,” (he wanted to say, ‘the cheating whore’), “the situation. You’ve got to get out. Let’s go to Gillian’s. Get a couple of beers.”
“Come on,” Paul insisted. “My treat. How often does that happen? Come on,” Paul teased, boxing John on the arm playfully. “Come on… good beer… good food… good company...”
“All right, all right,” John yielded and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. “Just stop beating me.” They both laughed.
Gillian’s was crowded that night. Music blared over the dozen loudspeakers, which surrounded the small dance floors. The beat driving the press of bodies into a frenzy. Paul led John through the crowd waiting to be seated and lead him to a booth in the far corner. A few steps from the booth, John saw Angie, Paul’s girlfriend sitting there. She wasn’t alone. An attractive young lady was sitting with her. She had shining red hair, done in a simple braid and a pale complexion. She was laughing at something Angie just said. Her smile was most becoming. John felt a pang of grief for what he had lost with Julia.
John stopped. “I can’t believe you set me up,” a bit anger tinged his voice.
“It was Angie’s idea,” Paul said defensively throwing his hands up in surrender.
John began to turn. “I’m outta here.”
“John wait.” Paul grabbed him by the shoulder. “We only did it because we care about you. What you’re doing is unhealthy. You need to get out.”
“I don’t think I’m ready for this Paul. Maybe you’re right. Maybe my wounds should’ve scabbed over by now but they still feel like they’re bleeding.”
“Just one beer John. If you want to leave then, feel free.” John remained unconvinced. “If you don’t, Angie’s going to kill me.” Paul had made a face of mock terror. John couldn’t help but to laugh.
“One beer,” John stated holding up a finger.
Paul nodded with a big silly grin plastered on his face and slapped John on the shoulder. “All right! I knew you wouldn’t let a friend down.”
“Night’s not over yet.”
John followed Paul to the booth where the two young ladies looked up at them smiling.
Paul made introductions: “John, this is Nina Harper. Nina, this is John Tsang.” They awkwardly said hello to one another. Paul sat next to Angie, who said hello with a kiss. John uneasily sat down next to Nina.
There was a nervous silence for the first few minutes, as no one knew what to say. The silence seemed to drown out the all other sound in the restaurant. Angie broke the stillness by volunteering herself and Paul to get drinks. Before John or Nina could say a word, they were gone.
John cleared his throat. Nina absentmindedly played with her napkin.
“They ah…” Nina stammered, “didn’t tell you about me, did they?”
“Ah, no,” John began. “I’m sorry they roped you into this.”
“Oh. It’s okay, I wanted to meet you. They told me a lot about you.”
“I hope they didn’t tell you everything. Otherwise, we won’t have much to talk about.” He thought it was a lame joke but she laughed. A genuine laugh. John felt himself smile.
“Well, we could talk about me,” she said with a tilt of her head and a grin.
Paul and Angie finally came back with food and drink and then retreated to the dance floor, leaving John and Nina alone. They ended up talking for hours about everything. She was completing her MBA, volunteered with many charitable organizations, had two cats and a canary. He had a degree in Asian studies, donated but never volunteered, liked cats but had terrible allergies. They liked the same movies but were split on politics. She had two younger brothers; he had an older sister. Her first job was as a lifeguard at a public pool, while he never had to have a summer job. She loved rocky road; he couldn’t get enough of green tea ice cream. She admitted she couldn’t cook; he spent a year at a culinary school on a whim. She wanted to travel more; he described all the place he journeyed to. It was as if the world only consisted of the booth they were sitting in. John found it amazing how fast he opened up to Nina.
“Time to go, you two,” Angie said. Paul was behind her and yawned rather loudly.
“Why?” Answering at the same time left them both in a fit of giggles.
“I think they want to close up.” Angie swept an arm leading their eyes around the empty club. Except for the bartender, two waitresses and the manager, they were the only ones left. John left a hefty tip on the table and the four of them went to leave.
Outside, John pulled Paul aside. “Thanks Paul. I owe you big time.”
Paul’s face was split by a wide grin. “I knew I had a good idea.”
“I thought you said it was Angie’s idea.”
Paul chuckled. “I just said that so you wouldn’t kick my ass.”
“All kidding aside,” John got a bit serious. He saw that Angie and Nina were next to the care. They had their heads together in that conspiratorial way girls whisper to one another. Nina caught his eye and smiled. “Thanks again my friend.”
Paul shrugged like it was nothing. “Hey, what are buddies for?”
“Buddy! Hey buddy, wake up!”
John awoke suddenly and in a panic, thrashing in the back of the taxi, until he realized where he was. It was still raining.
The cabdriver staring at him intently. “We’re here,” he told John. “Fifth and Hellman.”
John nodded his thanks and gave the taxi driver the two twenty-dollar bills he had in his pocket. “Keep the change,” he mumbled as he stepped out of the car. John felt stiff and when he stood up straight, his whole spine cracked and popped. John winced and then looked around to find his bearings. Two buildings down from the corner on Hellman, he could see faded sign that read: Chavez.
With a fierce determination, he marched down the street, feet splashing in the puddles of water. John hoped and prayed that Wendy did not lie to him. John hoped and prayed that Nina was well.
“Well, well, well,” Ramero said with a whisper. He entered the small storeroom and closed the door behind him. The lock snapping into place sounded all too loud. “I’m glad to see that you’re finally awake.” He looked down at a small card in his hand. “Nina. Pretty.” He tossed her driver’s license into a darkened corner of the room with a flick of his wrist.
Nina braced herself, slowly standing in the corner of the room where she was sitting. She had found an old tire iron and kept it hidden behind the back of her leg. This wasn’t the bastard who killed John, but the look in his eyes told her that he was just as dangerous. She forced herself not to shake and swallowed hard. “What do you want?”
“What do I want?” He stepped closer, a swagger in his step. “I just wanted to tell you that I like your hair.” He gave her a leering smirk that made her blood run cold. “I’m not going to hurt you,” he said softy, licking his lips. He was close enough now to able to reach out and touch her but he stopped short and just stared at her. A minute passed. Nina couldn’t stand it and in a fit of desperation, tried to hit him with the tire iron.
John hit the door with his shoulder. It splintered under his assault and he stumbled a handful of steps into the garage. Six cars in various stages of dissection occupied the bays. The five men, who were hard at work taking apart John’s car, looked up in surprise. “Where’s Nina!” he roared.
Danny ripped off the welding mask he wore and swore. “Holy shit!”
Hector crossed himself. John’s overcoat had come open. The ragged holes in his bloody shirt were visible. He was pale and quivering with rage, standing there with clenched fists and murder in his eyes.
“Dammit!” Chavez swore. “Danny you fucking idiot, you better take care of your goddamn mess.” He looked at Hector and the other two mechanics. “Well? What are you waiting for? Get him!”
Danny pulled his knife, one mechanic a crowbar and the other a small sledgehammer. Hector, even though Chavez told him to attack hung back, eyes wide with fear. They advanced on him a bit wary of the bloodstained man.
“I thought I killed you, man,” Danny sneered. “Looks like I get to kill you twice.”
John said nothing. He just stood there stock still, his eyes darting between each of the men who approached him. The man with the crowbar rushed him, John stood still until the last possible second. His hand flashed out and jabbed the man in the throat. He crumpled to the ground, gasping for air, hands clawing at his crushed trachea. John ducked under a wild swing from the man with sledgehammer. A quick, kneeling reverse punch to his gut sent the sledgehammer clanging to the ground and the mechanic following it, choking. John stood, though not as quickly as he thought he should have. His knees creaked and almost felt as though they were going to buckle. Yet he stood as Danny charged him. John grabbed Danny by the wrist with his left hand, the knife only inches away from his throat. “Not this time,” he hissed and violently twisted Danny’s wrist until he heard bone and sinew snap. Danny screamed and fell to his knees but John did not let go. He cocked back his right fist, Danny totally at his mercy but before he could strike, a shot rang out. John’s body jerked as a bullet tore into his shoulder. Chavez fired his .38 once more, a bloody splotch blossoming on his chest like an obscene rose. John let go of Danny and staggered toward gunman. Chavez was cursing in Spanish. He cocked the revolver with his thumb and leveled the gun at John’s head.
There was a loud crunch and Chavez fell to the ground. Standing over him, clothing in tatters, tears rolling down her cheeks and blood trickling from the corner of her mouth, Nina stood with the bloody tire iron in both hands.
“Nina!” John called out. He felt as if a great weight was lifted from him. Though relieved, a sense of urgency still pervaded him.
Nina looked up, her eyes wide with surprise. “John.” His name barely fell from her lips. “Oh my god.” She rushed to his side, just as he collapsed.
Nina cradled John’s head in her lap. One hand stroked his forehead, the other over the bloody wound in his shoulder. Tears welled up in her eyes. “Johnny. Hang in there my love.” They could hear sirens in the distance, coming closer. “Help is almost here.”
“I don’t plan on going anywhere Nina,” John choked out. “I’m right where I want to be.” He smiled up at her, trying to comfort her. “Don’t worry about me. I’m fine. Look,” he pulled her scarf from around his neck and pressed it into her hands. “I found your scarf.”
“Oh, Johnny, you’re so cold.” Not knowing what else to do, she tried to wrap his wet coat tighter around him. “Help!” she screamed. “Oh, please hurry!” she begged. Outside the garage she could hear tires screeching to a stop.
“Shh, Nina,” John whispered. “Look at me dear. I have to tell you something.”
“You can tell me everything you want when you’re better,” she sobbed.
“Nina please listen,” there was a final bit of steel left in his voice. “I’m sorry, I never meant to hurt you.”
“John, I don’t care about that anymore.” Tears slid down her cheeks. Like drops of rain, they fell. “Just stay still until help gets here.”
“Listen to me Nina!” His voice then dropped to a whisper but she could hear it clear as a bell, even though the police came bursting through the door. “I just had to tell you that I’m am so sorry… and remember always that I love you.”
Then he was gone.
“NO! John!” she screamed. “Over here!” she shouted. “Please hurry!”
A police officer knelt down behind Nina while another checked on John in her lap. He yelled for the paramedics and began CPR but it was too late.
Wendy felt uncomfortable sitting in the back of the police car. The police insisted she come along. She was now entwined in this mess whether she wanted to be involved or not. She had made her decision and this was a byproduct of it.
The red lights of the many patrol cars flashed, reflecting long red streaks along the wet streets, making them look as though they were being splashed in blood. Cops in rain gear milled as they questioned the handcuffed mechanics. Paramedics took the injured and the coroner took the dead. She wiped away a tear when she saw John’s body wheeled out and put into the back of the coroner’s ambulance. She got her revenge but felt so guilty because he had died. He was the best man she had ever met. The money he gave her sat heavily in her purse; a constant reminder.
She watched a female officer and a paramedic escort a bloodstained woman from the building. She brought a hand to her hair that matched the woman’s so closely and thought how lucky she was to have had John’s love. Wendy watched as the female officer try to comfort the woman but she was inconsolable.
Another wave of guilt swept through her. She wanted to run; she wanted to scream; she wanted to cry; she wanted to comfort the woman; she wanted to apologize. She wanted to steel herself from these feelings. She wished now she never approached the man and got involved. She wished so many things but most them could never be changed no matter how much she wanted them to.
Outside the police car she was in, the coroner came up to speak with the police sergeant in charge of the scene. Both men were older and had graying hair. Wendy rolled down the window so she could hear what they were saying over the splattering rain.
“Frank,” the coroner started. “Real mess you got here.” They shook hands.
“You can say that again Sam.” Frank retrieved a soft pack from a pocket and offered Sam a cigarette.
“No thanks, trying to quit. I was just wondering Frank, what took you guys so long in getting here?” While he asked, Frank lit up and pulled a long drag.
Frank looked confused and blew out a cloud of smoke. “What are you talking about? This went down about thirty minutes ago.”
Now it was Sam’s turn to be confused. He scratched his head. “Let me get this right. The boyfriend saved the girl, right?”
Frank nodded. “Yeah. He just couldn’t wait for us to show up. He found out where she was and came straight on over. One of the punks was trying to rape the girlfriend when he busted in and stopped it. We showed up about five minutes after he did.” He shook his head. “Lucky for her but not for him.”
“I hope you can back that up, because I find that hard to believe Frank.” The coroner scribbled a note on his clipboard.
Frank looked incredulous. “I can back it up.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “We got the 911 call on file and the girl I got in the black and white back there talked to him just before he got here. Now mind telling me what the hell you find so hard to believe?”
“Well Frank,” the coroner said scratching behind his ear. “Because according to all evidence, the boyfriend has been dead for at least three hours, probably four.”
Inside the patrol car, Wendy began shaking in stunned silence.
In the skies above, the last drops of rain began their long journey to the earth.