Are you ready for this? This is the next installment of the bit of story we have been reading for the past few weeks. I warn you now, there is more to come. But with that said, this one takes us down a darker path. We are about to fall so deep into the rabbit hole that we will no longer be able to see the start of it. You have been warned.
In case you were keeping score, if this were separated into chapters, this section would mark the end of the first chapter or first section. It will be getting a bit crazier from here on out.
Feeling lost? Want to find the story to this point? Follow these links in the story order.
Stan left Abel at the door to his apartment. Abel went inside without a word, flicked the lights on before the door closed behind him. An audible click and scrape of the lock echoed in the deserted hallway. Still Stan stood vigil over the doorway.
He had walked down the hall a short way to keep himself out of the view from the peephole. The way that Abel had ended their conversation settled into Stan’s gut like bad beans. He could feel with churning surety that Abel would try something stupid and he couldn’t let it go free from his conscience.
After a time of no movement, he could hear nothing from inside the apartment and the door remained closed and sealed, he relaxed. His shoulders and chest deflated, the muscles loosened their vigil. The spring he had become uncoiled and in a wave he felt exhausted. A quick glance at his watch and then again at the door, he turned and walked back to the stairs to the main floor and out into the early evening.
He turned left on Rosemount from Washington, toward the shop. Charlotte would worry but he would call her from the shop. He hadn’t been in all day and the receipts would be waiting for him. His assistant Bernie could lock up without him but Stan still liked to go over the days receipts, it had become a ritual. He learned to like preparing overnight soaks on tough stains during this time.
Those few hours after the shop closed gave him some quiet without the drone from the neighborhood, an endless flood of gossip and rumor. Stories that they told each other, never directly to him. In their eyes a poor clothes washer was someone only spoken to by necessity.
“Nice evening for a walk.”
Stan had become so lost in his thoughts, in his own mind, that he didn’t notice the man in the khaki uniform approach him from across the street. He glanced around the area. Streetlights had kicked on though it was still light enough that their light had little effect on the area. Stan and the Comfort Inspector were the only people on the street. “I was on my way to my shop,” Stan said. “Have some work to do.”
“Probably better you head home,” the officer said. “Curfew is approaching. I can’t guarantee your safety after curfew.”
In the fading twilight, the man’s face had been lost to shadows, but as he approached closer to Stan his features became clear. Officer Hammond from the Health and Comfort offices, the man who took away Abel’s wife. The sharp nose and tight set blue eyes burned into his memory, and the missing facial abrasion screamed into Stan’s mind. “Officer Hammond? Found your way out of the office?”
“Mind your place citizen. I mention the curfew as a courtesy. Another officer might be so willing to help you in the future.” He stopped, out of arm’s reach of Stan. His arms rested loosely at his sides, near his Taser. “Your work can wait for tomorrow. Mind that you find your way home now.”
Stan nodded and stepped around him. “As you say, officer. I’ll be on my way home then.”
Hammond’s hand caught him in the crook of his arm as he passed. He pulled Stan close, his face within inches of Stan’s ear. “Stay off the streets. I would hate to see something bad happen to you.”
Stan pulled his arm and stepped away from Hammond, but the man held it tight. The iron grip would not break. Stan twisted and pulled to no avail, and then his hand brushed against the officer’s stun gun. In a last twist he relaxed his arm but turned his hand and the stun gun came free of its holster.
The simple design allowed for just the press of a button to send coursing waves of electrical energy through its victim’s body. Stan felt a brief shock as Hammond jerked and fell to the ground in front of him. He pressed the edge of the weapon against Hammond’s throat and sent even more energy through the man’s body. While the man lay there helpless Stan stomped at his face and neck and then pounded his fists into the man’s belly and chest. The attack blossomed into a flurry of blows that left Stan winded and weak before he finally sat down next to the building.
Stan’s heart raced and his breathing had grown ragged with exertion but the man on the ground before him didn’t move. His chest no longer rose and fell as he brought air into his lungs. It took strength, power buried deep inside Stan’s core to move enough to feel at the man’s throat for a pulse. Nothing. No air issued from his lungs, no heartbeat sending oxygen and blood to the rest of the man’s body. Stan fell back against the wall. “What have I done?”
The realization of the situation sparked in his mind with that question. He couldn’t leave the body here, in view of the world around them. A dead Comfort Officer would send them through the neighborhoods rounding up suspects. Abel would be a lead suspect and then Stan as well. They were on record at the Health and Comfort offices. This, this bastard had spoken to them. This whole thing was the deadman’s fault, of this there was no doubt. He forced himself to his feet and crouched beside the body. With a heave he worked it onto his shoulders.
He had run across the dumpster near the mouth of the alley. Stan lay the body on the edge of the dumpster thankful for a respite from carrying the thing even this far. It took him several minutes to strip the body of its uniform. With that finished he let the thing drop into the dumpster. The clothes he kept, in order to dispose of them in a different collection point.
He had killed a man, taking the man’s life in a fit of rage and fear. He couldn’t be caught, not now, not ever. Before he closed the lid he pulled bags of rotted food and other less savory items further onto the body and obscured it from passersby. He then left the alley with the officer’s clothes in hand.
“Where have you been?” Charlotte stood vigil at the door as Stan stepped through. “I’ve been worried half to death.” Her gaze shot from his face to the blossoming purple marks on his arm and then to the blood splashed across his shirt and skin.
“The day I’ve had,” he said. He closed the door behind him with an audible click and then sat on the couch to remove his shoes. “I don’t know that you should hear any of this. The less you know the better.”
Her brow crinkled as she shook her head. “Don’t be foolish. How will I help if you don’t tell me?”
“Abel’s wife, they didn’t have her. I took him home to make sure he didn’t get himself in further trouble,” He said. Stan didn’t lift his head, focused on his shoes and their complicated knots. His hands shook as they worked at the laces, unable to untie them.
“What did you do?” She sat on the couch next to him and placed her hand on his shoulder.
“He was so close, I thought he might do something crazy,” he said. “Hell, I don’t know where it came from.”
She said nothing as her hands rubbed his neck and shoulders.
Stan couldn’t look at her, couldn’t bring his eyes away from the floor. “So fast, so very fast, I couldn’t stop myself. I wasn’t myself not then, never myself,” he said. “I stood outside all of it watching this man, this stranger do such a horrible thing. It all keeps coming back in crazy images in my mind.”
“Abel is ok?”
“Yes, yes, he’s fine. I left him at his apartment. It was the officer that attacked him. He ran me down on my way to the shop…”
Charlotte sucked air into her lungs as her mouth fell open. There were no words, nothing she could say. She breathed out in a long sigh. “Are you sure no one saw you?”
“Pretty sure,” he said. “We were alone on the street, so close to curfew. The businesses were already closed and locked up. I hid the body in a dumpster, covered it with other trash to hide it.”
“You need to clean up,” she said. “Your clothes, take them off so I can get rid of them. Is that his blood?”
“I… I… think so.”
Charlotte pulled off his shirt and twisted and pulled at his body to look for any damage. Stan’s knuckles had split and bruised from the attack but the only other marks on his body were the bruising where Hammond had grabbed his arm. She stripped the rest of his clothes off him and pushed him toward the bathroom and a shower. Warm water pounded on Stan’s body as the door to the bathroom clicked shut.
He lost track of time as he relived the fight again. In each moment he could see nothing that might have turned out differently. Everything blurred in his mind as he returned again and again to the dead man’s approach. Hammond came from nowhere, nowhere Stan could reason. Confronted him like it had been his plan all along.