by Ezra T. Gray
Daniel looked carefully up and down the road before opening the trunk. When he was sure no one was around, he lifted the lid and flipped up the false bottom. The hollow had once held a spare tire, but was now fitted with the tools of Daniel’s trade.
From the assorted items in front of him, Daniel removed a twenty-two caliber semiautomatic pistol. The weapon held fourteen rounds in an extended magazine. It had no front sight, instead the end of the barrel was threaded to fit a silencer and a laser sight was employed to ensure accuracy.
Other items in the hidden compartment included a sawed-off twelve gauge shotgun, a snub nose .357 and a twenty-two rifle with a Leoupold scope. With the rifle Daniel could shoot the gnat off a fly’s butt at three hundred yards—farther—but the twenty-two ammunition was not accurate much past that.
Daniel slipped a box of twenty-two shells into his pocket and slipped the pistol into the shoulder holster he wore under his custom made jacket. He zipped the jacket halfway up and looked around again. Satisfied that he was still unseen, or at least unremarked, he replaced the false bottom and straightened the carpet that hid his goody box. “There,” he said, “just a plain ‘ol trunk.”
He shut the trunk and put his foot up on the bumper. Clipped inside his boot was a double-edged knife. He checked to make sure it was in place then dropped his foot to the ground and shook his pant leg back down. In the pockets of his jacket he had a bag of peanuts, a big bag of beef jerky—teriyaki, his favorite—several tissues and a few wet wipes, just in case. He walked around to the driver’s door and retrieved a large bottle of water from inside.
One last time, he looked around. There was no one, anywhere. Of course, it didn’t really matter because he wasn’t doing anything wrong. He’d never actually done anything wrong, with the exception of the silenced pistol, and the pistol was a necessity; it was prudent to the business at hand.
Across the road a trailer park sat quietly in the gathering darkness, plain, nondescript, not unlike the thousands of others dotting the countryside. Unlike all those others, though, this one held Daniel’s target. Skirting the tall wooden fence that surrounded the property, Daniel walked along, counting as he went. One, two… six… nine… eleven. Eleven roofs. Daniel peered over the fence at the numbers by the door. This was the correct address.
He waited. The minutes ticked by. One hour passed, then two. The sounds of dinner time and the laughter of children gave way to the murmuring sounds of many televisions. Brightly lit back yards dimmed one by one until he could only see a couple of lights from where he crouched. His target had still not arrived, but Daniel knew he would wait as long as he had to.
“Danny Boy has the patience of old Job,” his mother used to say.
They were all gone now, his mother, his father, his baby sis. They had once been living, vibrant people, giving love and receiving love. They had laughed, played, cried. And now they were dead.
And dead for what? The thrill of the kill? Dead because some piece of crap wanted a jolly? They were dead because of the piece of human refuse Daniel was waiting for.
Daniel seldom considered his family now. Revenge was the reason he was here, but the intensity of it, the immediacy of his rage, had been lost in the time it had taken him to get here. The only emotions left to him were the cold blooded calculations of a killer.
After his father’s death, Daniel had taken the insurance money and invested it in himself. He took self-defense courses, shooting lessons, survival courses and surveillance courses. He bought hardware, lots of hardware. Along with the obvious items, he purchased computers, tracking devices and listening equipment, anything that seemed necessary or useful. Tonight he would get the return on his investment.
Sid Stearns. It was just a name and not uncommon. Daniel knew this because he had tracked down most of the Sid Stearns in the United States. But the Sid Stearns who lived in this trailer was the one, the thing that had taken everything and everyone Danny Boy loved. Sid Stearns was the catalyst that turned Danny into Daniel. Never again would he be Dan, Danny or Danny Boy. His innocence gone, Daniel was all about business.
As he waited, Daniel was not bored, as one might think. He was, in fact, excited, stimulated. He was thrilled, but a little sad. Soon his quest would be over. Before it was over, though, justice, true justice would be wrought. Tonight was the night.
As full darkness set in, Daniel saw lightening fork its way across the sky and felt a fine mist hit his face. Thunder boomed. “Great,” he whispered. “It’s going to be great.”
“Great,” Charlie muttered, “another friggin’ storm.”
He flipped the Honda’s wipers on as sudden sheets of cold rain collided with the windshield. Charlie hated storms. He hated them bad. They scared him. The damp stink of them took him back to the nights he’d spent locked in the cellar by his drunk, abusive mother. She would leave him down there for days, sometimes. He would defecate and urinate in the empty fruit jars that lined the walls. Sometimes ‘Mommy Dearest’ would forget he was there and in desperation he would have to drink his own urine. God, how he hated her.
But he’d repaid her—over and over. He’d lost count of the times he’d killed her. Of course, the first time she had died in the crash, the same crash that left Charlie with a limp, but she had come back. Charlie saw her, over and over, hiding in the eyes of those women. Charlie was wise to her, though, and he’d killed them all. A couple of times she had gender jumped, he guessed she was trying to fool him, and he had found her in a man. He killed them too. He would kill her as often as it took, wherever he found her and whoever she was. Charlie would not stop until she was really, truly dead.
The wipers swooshed back and forth across the windshield, then froze halfway. In seconds it was impossible for Charlie to see through the glass. He panicked and slammed his foot down hard on the brake. The old Honda fishtailed, then spun one hundred and eighty degrees, landing neatly in the ditch. Thankfully, there was no one else on the road.
Charlie was shaking as he opened the door. He was not hurt and the car seemed to be okay, but the wheels were stuck deep in the mud. This storm had come up suddenly, but it had been raining all week. “Dammit,” he muttered as he climbed the embankment to the road, “I’m so stupid! Stupid, stupid, stupid.”
The fact of the matter was that Charlie was stupid, mostly. He was well below average intelligence, except when it came to finding Mother. Then he had the cunning of a fox. When not in that pursuit, though, he was just dumb old Charlie.
He paced up and down the side of the road, cursing and kicking at the puddles that formed in every depression. Soaked to the skin, he soon began to shiver from cold as well as fear. Finally, from way up ahead, he saw light. Headlights! Salvation! As the car came closer, Charlie stuck out his thumb. The car began to slow. “Thank you, God!” Charlie said, looking up at the darkened sky.
The vehicle was a big Lincoln, relatively new. It came to a stop and the tinted power window on the driver’s side slid halfway down. Charlie trotted across the pavement and looked in. The driver was a man and there were no passengers.
“Hey, buddy, you all right?” the driver asked.
“Yeah, yeah. I just ran it off…wipers went out… you know.” Charlie gestured toward the ditch and hoped the man would understand. “I’m wet and cold. I need a ride. I, ah—”
“You haven’t been drinking or anything, have you? Because I don’t want to be involved in helping someone evade the authorities. I believe in the law, yes sir! I don’t cotton to drinking at all, and especially drinking and driving. My folks were killed by a drunk and I had to grow up without ‘em. I hate the bottle! I suppose that’s why I took to preachin’.”
The rain had plastered Charlie’s hair to his head and was running off his shoulders in steady streams. He scrubbed a hand across his face and blinked a couple of times. “No, sir. I’m sober as a judge. I don’t drink a drop! Well, of liquor. I do drink tea and coffee and pop, but no booze for me, no sir! I just slid off the pavement and…” Charlie furrowed his rain-soaked brow trying to think of something to say that would get the man to let him in the car. “You said you’re a preacher? I go every Sunday, down to the Church of Christ. I clean the building on Saturdays, too!” Charlie was telling the truth. He was paid for it, but he did clean the church. He also attended most Sundays, unless he was on a mission to stop Mother.
“Well, you’re one of God’s own, so get in out of the rain.”
The door locks popped. Charlie hurried around and got in on the passenger side. The man behind the wheel was big, probably six-four or six-five and he easily weighed two hundred and seventy-five pounds or more. Charlie stuck out a wet hand. “Name’s Charlie. Charlie Dunn. Thanks for stopping.”
“Not a problem, Charlie Dunn. I’m Reverend Sidney Stearns.”
As Charlie looked up into the man’s eyes, he saw her. This man might call himself Sidney Stearns and be parading as a man of the cloth, but Charlie knew. Down inside there was ‘Mommy Dearest.’” She had jumped again.
The Reverend pulled the big Lincoln back onto the road. “It’s not fit to be out tonight, huh?”
“No, um, it’s bad.”
“What brings you out, Charlie?”
“Well, ah, I was, ah…looking for someone.”
“I was looking for my mother.”
“Is she lost?”
“No, no. I believe I know where she is.”
The Reverend drove on through the night. He wasn’t absolutely sure, but he was mostly sure Charlie was a drunk—or at least a drinking man. Sidney hated drunks. He hated drinkers in general. It was a drunk who killed his mom and dad and left him an orphan. Because of a drunk, he was placed with his foster father who sodomized him repeatedly throughout the ten years Sidney lived with him. His foster father had been a drinker too, a little. He was dead.
Now, Sid did ‘The Lord’s Work.’ He knew he could not convert all the heathens, but he could smite the ungodly, so he searched out the intemperate and destroyed their flesh in order to save their eternal souls. He didn’t worry over it much anymore. It was what he did.
“Where are you a preacher?” Charlie asked.
“Well, here and there. I’m not a pastor, Charlie, I am more like an evangelist. I make the path straight, purge out the wicked, drive out the devil.”
“Oh,” Charlie replied. “I thought you were…MY MOTHER!”
As he screamed the last words, Charlie drove a knife into the preacher’s ribs. The car swerved, nearly out of control, but Sid held it tight. “YOU DEVIL!” he shouted, as he drove a wicked backhand into Charlie’s face. The blow snapped Charlie’s head backwards and he slumped down in the seat.
Sid stomped on the brakes. The car skidded to a stop and he slammed the shifter into park. He tore at his shirt in a frenzy. The Devil had stuck him! Was he going to die? He yanked open the glove box and fumbled out a flashlight, shining it on his wound.
With relief, he saw that the blade had caught on his suit jacket and had not penetrated more than an inch. Indeed, the blade was only three inches long, certainly not enough to kill him. The wound hurt, for sure, but the Lord had been watching out for him. Sid pulled a white handkerchief from his pocket, rolled it up and tucked it against the wound. The bleeding would stop. He thought, briefly, about a doctor, but that might lead to questions he didn’t want to answer.
After resting a moment, Sid checked Charlie for a pulse. “So, you are alive, huh Devil? Well, we will fix that. I will drive you from this vessel. Yes, I will destroy the vessel, but…”
Sid got out of the car and went back to the trunk, where he retrieved rope and duct tape. Ten minutes later he placed a bound and gagged Charlie into the trunk, turned the car around and headed for home.
“There is much work to do tonight,” he muttered happily to himself, “much work!” In his anticipation, he almost forgot about the wound in his side. After a few moments he could hear Charlie stirring in the trunk. “Good,” he whispered, and smiled. He preferred them to struggle.
Sid drove on through the night humming ‘Onward Christian Soldiers.’ He would have company tonight.
What Sid didn’t know, though, was that he already had a guest.
“Dammit to hell!” Daniel spat, and kicked impatiently at the ground with the toe of his shoe. He had not brought rain gear, an amateur mistake, and he was soaked to his skin. He thought to retreat to the car—the heater in the Chevy was great and he longed to be warm. He actually took a couple of steps toward the car before he could stop himself.
“Stupid, stupid, stupid.” He clapped his hand over his mouth. He was losing it, talking out loud to himself. He’d spent so much time learning, preparing. Now, in the moment of truth, he couldn’t make the grade. Maybe he should abort the mission, come back later. He stiffened himself and shook his head slightly. No, tonight had to be the night.
But he was still wet.
He peered through the slats in the fence and an idea occurred to him. A few splinters later he stood on the porch and eyed the lock on the door. His training had included a couple of locksmith courses and in less than thirty seconds he was inside.
Closing the door behind him, Daniel looked around in surprise. A single bulb burning in the kitchen cast enough light for him to see the place was amazingly clean. Daniel had not expected his family’s killer to be neat. In Daniel’s imagination, Sid Stearns was a sub-human creature living in filth and debris. Scattered beer cans, dirty rags and rotting trash were what he’d envisioned, not this quaint, orderly scene before him.
The furniture in the room was not expensive, but it was clean, well matched and arranged to give the room a cozy feel. In the wall directly opposite the door a heavy wooden mantle lined with photographs in decorative frames topped a gas fireplace. In front of the couch was a large oak coffee table. The only item on the table was a large Bible. For a moment Daniel believed he had made a mistake, broken into the wrong house.
“Damn. This is not going as planned.” He crossed the room to the mantle, leaving a wet trail, and squinted at the pictures. His target appeared in at least three of them.
His target: Sidney Robert Stearns. Height: six foot, four inches. Weight: 285 pounds. Eyes: blue. Hair: brown. Distinguishing marks: a scar on the left shoulder, no tattoos. Family history: unknown. Occupation: unknown.
The litany ran through Daniel’s mind as he stared at the pictures. He didn’t care who the other people in the photos were, only the target mattered. He turned from the mantle and looked around the room, searching for the best place to wait. Light flashed through the window blinds and the decision was made for him as a car pulled into the space in front of the trailer.
Daniel panicked. This was not going the way he had planned. He was a novice, a blooming idiot! Bolting through the first door he saw, he found himself sprawled across a queen sized bed. His momentum carried him over the far edge and he tore off the bedspread as he fell to the floor. His flailing arm hit the bedside table, sending the items atop it crashing against the wall.
“Shit,” he whispered into the silence, when everything had settled. Then he heard footsteps on the gravel outside. He was caught.
He forced down his panic and shuffled cautiously toward the bedroom door, trying not to kick any of the items that now littered the floor. He eased the twenty-two from its holster and flipped the safety off. He placed his finger on the hair-trigger as he neared the door frame. A thud next to him surprised him and he looked over to see feathers floating down in the gloom. He’d fired the gun accidentally.
At this point Daniel considered leaping through the bedroom window. He just wanted to be gone. He should have waited outside, thought things out a little better. Footsteps thumped on the porch and the front door opened. He set his jaw. It was now or never.
Daniel burst through the bedroom door into the front room. He saw a man, a target, come through the door. Daniel pulled the trigger, over and over. He hit the man, saw him jerk with each round, but something was dreadfully wrong. The target appeared to be wrapped in plastic, bound with duct tape and rope. The dull thud of the .22 slugs striking flesh and bone echoed in his ears. Patches of blood bloomed, almost magically, behind the macabre Saran wrap.
This was wrong. This was not his target. More than anything in the world Daniel wanted to stop, but his finger continued to work the trigger. How many rounds had he fired? He’d forgotten to count. He was nothing but a rank amateur—worse, a petrified punk, a kid with a gun.
Finally Daniel regained control of his finger. The plastic wrap man lurched forward a step or two and fell to the floor. He had at least a dozen holes in him and, to Daniel’s credit, they were all dead center mass. The problem lay in the fact that he had just pumped twelve rounds into Charles Dunn.
Daniel stared at the man on the floor. Where was Sid Stearns? Desperately, he tried to remember how many shots he had fired. The pistol held fourteen. One in the bedroom, then one, two, three… Events had taken on a surreal quality for Daniel and he was unable to focus. Sid Stearns stepped around the door frame and reached for him. Daniel tried to raise the gun to fire but it was no use. As he jerked his hand up, he fired the last bullet harmlessly into the floor. The slide jammed open, the weapon was empty.
Daniel clawed for his boot knife, but it was way too late. He could see, but not stop, the giant fist coming at his face. The blow was bone shattering, but amazingly painless. Everything just went black.
Daniel awoke bound and gagged. He was not in Stearns trailer house. This was another place, perhaps a warehouse or a barn. He could smell used oil and grease, and something musty, like rotting straw. Why wasn’t he dead? Surely he must be in for some heinous type of torture.
His head throbbed. He longed to feel his injury, to poke gingerly at the bruised flesh, as is instinctual in all of us, but his weak struggles left him riding waves of nausea. He closed his eyes and concentrated on taking shallow, even breaths. After a moment his stomach settled and he could think clearly again. What had happened? He remembered the shooting. He had killed someone, but not Stearns. Who, then? And where was Stearns?
Daniel didn’t have long to wonder. Not half an hour after he regained consciousness, he heard an engine approach and the light crunch of wheels rolling across hard packed dirt. A car door slammed and terror washed over Daniel, just as it had in the trailer house. He broke out in a sweat. Seconds ticked by like hours. A lock rattled. Daniel’s eyes rolled toward the sound just as the door slid open. Silhouetted in the door was a huge black figure, but that was all Daniel could see through the blinding morning sunlight. The door slid closed, but Daniel’s vision was impaired by the large black blot burned on his retina. As the image faded Daniel could see Stearns. Stearns was carrying a jug and a plastic bag, and he was walking toward Daniel.
Because of the sudden blinding light, Daniel was unable to make out color clearly, but his imagination supplied the red color needed to make the jug a gas can. No imagination was needed to believe Stearns was capable of burning him alive. Daniel’s heart pounded as Stearns walked over and peered down at him.
“Well, you are awake! Glad to see you’re okay. I was afraid I’d given you too much sedative. But you’re a strong young lad, aren’t you?” Stearns bent forward and ripped the tape off Daniel’s mouth, then turned away and placed the jug and the bag on a nearby table.
Daniel’s face burned, but he tried not to show his pain and fear. “Now what happens?”
Stearns looked over and said, “that’s up to you.”
“Up to me?”
From the bag, Stearns removed several food items and some paper cups. He poured liquid from the jug into one of the cups and Daniel realized it was orange juice, not gasoline. What did Stearns have up his sleeve?
“Look, kid, if I wanted you dead, you’d be dead.” After the blunders he had made, Daniel knew that was the plain truth. “I will untie one of your hands so you can eat. You’ve been out for almost two days. You’re dehydrated.”
“I had to clean up.” Stearns shook his head and sat down in a creaky wooden chair. “I’m pulling out. I’ve had two close calls now, and well…I guess I got a little sloppy, a little proud. I used to be so careful, but now, well, I just need some time.”
Daniel looked at Stearns with genuine amazement. This was the man who had killed his family?
Stearns realized Daniel was staring at him. “What?”
“Why didn’t you kill me? Are you going to torture me? Rape me? What?”
Stearns sprayed the orange juice he had just sipped all over his lap. “Good Lord, boy! Rape you? What the hell do you think I am? I am a man of God! I purge evil from this world!”
“You killed my mother, my father and my little baby sister, you son of a bitch!”
“Oh, is that what this is about?” Stearns relaxed back in his chair. “You say I killed your mother, father and sister? When?”
“Three years ago. Paducah, Kentucky.”
Stearns thought for a long moment. “Oh, yes, I remember now.”
“How in the hell do you forget something like that?”
“Well, uh, I am a busy man and I’ve had a lot of encounters with…evil.”
“Evil? My little sister was ten years old!”
“And for that, I am truly sorry. She…It was an accident. I didn’t mean to kill her. She stepped into the path of the bullet. She…She died in my arms.”
Stearns voice cracked at the end and he dropped his face into his hands. Daniel lay silent for a full minute then asked in a flat voice, “what about my mother and father?”
Stearns looked up, surprised. “They were drunks! I saw them at that restaurant many times. They were always drinking. They got what they deserved.” Stearns leaned toward Daniel with an intense look. “A drunk killed my parents. I was raised by a filthy child molester.” After a moment his shoulders drooped and the heat went out of his gaze. “I am sorry about the child, though. Didn’t you ever make a mistake?”
Daniel thought about the man he had killed. “Ah…”
Stearns poured Daniel a glass of juice and helped him rise to a sitting position. “Drink this. You’ve been out ‘nigh on to thirty-six hours.” Daniel finished the glass, but waved it away when Stearns offered more. Stearns chuckled at him. “Boy, you have a lot to learn. And you have taught me a thing or two; I looked over your car! You have some fancy gadgets and I bet you have a lot of technical knowledge, but in this game hands-on is what you need.” With that, Stearns turned and walked to the door.
“What now?” Daniel asked.
“You’re on your own. Look, you killed an innocent man—at least you think he’s innocent, and so will the cops. You stalked me and broke into my home. What are you going to do? Call the cops? By the time you get loose, I will be long gone. Stearns pulled a knife from his pocket and dropped it to the ground at his feet. “We’re done—for now, anyway. Your car is parked outside and the keys are in the ignition. When you get loose, eat something. There are cold cuts and sweets there on the table. Goodbye.”
Stearns turned and walked out the door. Daniel, wisely, looked away until the door closed.
Once he heard the car drive away, Daniel worked his way over to the knife. The ropes were not hard to cut and he thought, for just a moment, to give chase. Stearns was right, though, Daniel was guilty of murder. He, like Stearns, had killed an innocent while trying to take out a target. Besides, he was too weak to try.
Breakfast beckoned him from the table, so he poured a glass of juice, picked up a doughnut and sat down on a bale of straw. After a few doughnuts, he lay back and fell asleep.
It was dark when he woke, but he felt stronger. He sat up and stretched, splaying his fingers out as far as they would go. When he did, something hit the floor in front of him. It was Stearns’ knife. He gazed at it for a moment, in the deepening gloom, and wondered what it would tell him if it could talk. Hefting it by the blade, he raised his arm, as though to throw it away, then, on a whim, tucked it in his pocket instead.
True to his word, Stearns had left Daniel’s keys in the ignition. Daniel got in and drove away. He never looked back.
Three months had passed since The Incident, as Daniel thought of it. Three long months. He thought often of Stearns, and of the unknown man—Mr. Nobody, the first man he had killed. Stearns, above all others, was responsible for molding Daniel into the cold killing machine he had become.
Daniel had twelve kills now, all up close and personal. As he watched his target move about her house, he fingered the knife—Stearns knife. Tonight, once again, it would do its job. Another target, another kill. Someday, perhaps, he would find Stearns. Or not.
It was enough for Daniel that he had made the switch. With each sanction the frightened and insecure Daniel ebbed away. His pain eased, Daniel was now the hunter, not the victim. He would repay society for what it had done to Stearns and, ultimately, to himself. After all, what comes around, goes around…and around…
© 2007 Ezra T. Gray
Bio: Ezra T. Gray currently resides on a small homestead in the mountains of Montana. He was educated at Southern Illinois University in Administration of Justice and has worked in both security and law enforcement as well as served in the military. He keeps himself busy writing and restoring old military vehicles (Tanks? Yer welcome). His most recent appearance in Aphelion was New and Improved (October 2005).
E-mail: Ezra T. Gray
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