Bernard held the plastic Subway sandwich bag around his wrist like a weight. His wife had left him with a kiss this morning and said to him, “I made you Subway for lunch.” Deborah was always cute like that, making sure he had something for lunch even if she didn’t have time to cook it. But now, Bernard’s guilt weighed heavily on him.
Who was this person? How did he know? Bernard could only wonder. But the file sent to his email this morning had left no doubt. He knew. Bernard had read the email twice and had opened the attachments and stared at them openly minutes on end. The pictures, handwritten notes, evidence that would have branded him a horrible human being to everyone, most importantly Deborah. Even though it’d been years ago, well before he’d even known Deborah, she would leave if she found out. Bernard didn’t know if there was a statute of limitations, but he would be ostracized even if he didn’t go to prison. He was being blackmailed and there was nothing he could do go along with it. Bernard didn’t know if he should be thankful or frightened that the blackmailer hadn’t asked for money. He was already stretched thin with the secret payments he was already making for his mishap on top of everything he paid for that Deborah knew about.
The blackmailer wanted to meet Bernard. He hoped it wouldn’t involve gay stuff, whatever he had to do.
But now, here he was, standing outside his blackmailer’s door. Bernard had passed a man who’d seemed lost as he’d walked down the block. He’d parked two blocks away and hadn’t given the person too much thought. He’d wondered if this was his blackmailer or if this was some person who just so happened to be walking by. Bernard had disguised himself, putting on some of his wife’s makeup and penciling in a mustache, hoping he wouldn’t be recognized even though he had never been in this part of the city. As he raised his hand to knock on the door the man he had passed on the street walked up behind him staying back five feet or so.
“You him?” the man asked Bernard. He didn’t know how to answer the question, considering he was a ‘him’.
“Uh, no. I’m not sure who you—”
“Cut the crap,” the man said. “I got an email this morning to be at this address at this time. Are you him?”
The sudden notion of camaraderie flooded Bernard. It hadn’t crossed his mind that there could be more than one blackmailee. But Bernard wasn’t in the mood yet to confess his darkest secret to a complete stranger.
“Maybe,” he said. “What of it?”
“Then maybe I should kill you now.” The man stared at him with suddenly dark eyes, a complete departure from his almost jovial expression a moment before.
“I’m not the guy,” Bernard said. “I guess he’s inside. I was about to go in.” The other man was much bigger than him, the threat of his imposing size sinking in.
Bernard knocked. The door swung inward a little and he took a subconscious step backward. The other man stepped in front of him, a gun in his hand.
“I’ll handle this,” the man said. “You just stay behind me. Don’t get lost.” The man eased into the front room of the house like a seasoned professional. To Bernard that meant either criminal or cop. He didn’t know which to be more afraid of. But he followed the man as he checked every doorway, peeked through every window until they made it to the back room of the house.
“There’s no basement, no upstairs,” the man said. “This is the only place left.
After you.” He let Bernard in front of him and now Bernard was really afraid. Could he have been the person who led him to this place? It was a really roundabout way to kill someone if that was his plan. If the man was on the up-and-up that meant he didn’t know who was on the other side of the door, either. But he was the one with a gun and how he moved through the house told Bernard this was a man who knew how to use his weapon.
He opened the door. Two men were inside. One sitting, one standing. The two looked back at Bernard like they’d been waiting on him. Considering what he been through to get here, he supposed they had.
“Come in,” the seated man said. “Both of you.”
The big man behind Bernard brushed him aside, aiming the gun at the man in the chair.
“Alright, motherfucker. Give it up. I’ll put a hole in you right now.”
The man continued staring at them as if the big man had said nothing at all. Bernard was sweating, he was completely out of his element. He didn’t know what to do, so he put his hands up to the level of his shoulders, letting everyone in the room know he was not about to try anything.
“Anthony,” the man in the chair began, “please go get us something to drink.”
The big man swiveled the gun over to Anthony aiming dead center at is chest.
“Don’t move, Anthony.”
“My name is Skip,” the man in the chair said. He didn’t look like a Skip. “I can assure you we are both snared in the same web as the two of you. I’m sure none of us wants to be in this room, in this house, under the circumstances. Anthony, tell these gentleman what you did. Anthony straightened. He looked like he was in his early twenties, but his eyes were haunted.
“I killed a man,” Anthony said. “And I let my father go to prison for it.”
The man lowered his gun after a long pause.
“How do I know you’re not lying?”
“Anthony, show these men your file.” Anthony very slowly turned away from them, making sure his hands were visible. The big man raised his gun halfway, prepared to fire if necessary, but he let Anthony turn to pick up a manila folder behind him.
The boy handed it over and Bernard took it. He opened it and quickly began reading. From what Bernard was able to scan, the file was definitive proof that the boy had murdered a Clifton Poindexter, whoever that was. The file was as meticulous as the one Bernard had received in his email.
There was no doubt in his mind that whoever had made this had also made his as well.
“I think this is real,” Bernard said to the man with the gun.
“How do I know you’re real?” the man said to Bernard. “How do I know you’re not all in on this together?”
Skip looked directly at the man with a gun.
“You know, don’t you? You’ve known ever since you walked into this house. Really, what is that gun for?”
Bernard look between the two man, wondering at the communication going on between them that was on spoken the big man let the gun down slowly insect.
“I can’t… I can’t let anybody find out.”
“And no one will,” Skip said. “So long as you do everything you are told to do, no one will. A few minutes passed with no one really doing anything.
Finally, Bernard asked, “So what are we supposed to be doing now?”
The man in the chair turned to Anthony again.
The boy scooped up a big stack of manila folders from the floor and set them in the man’s lap. Anthony left the room and Skip began to sift through them, pulling out two. He handed one to Bernard and one to the man with the gun.
“I don’t know what the end purpose of all this is,” the man said. “All I know is this is what we are supposed to be doing.”
Bernard speed read through his file, his eyes widening with each paragraph. It made no sense. Who was this woman and why was she so important? The file didn’t say anything about killing her, just finding her. But it suggested hurting certain people if necessary to get what they needed. He looked over the man with a gun and saw similar expression on his face.
“What the hell?” Bernard asked.
The man shrugged. “But if this is what we have to do to get out of this I’m all in.
Bernard looked at the man in the chair. “So what’s your part in all this?”
“Mine is already done,” the man said. “I’ve had a bit longer to consider my role in this and I’m glad I’m finally done. Anthony?”
The boy slipped between Bernard and the man with the gun, a syringe in his hand. Skip rolled up his sleeve and Anthony swabbed his arm before tying one of those rubber things around it. He thumped the bend of Skip’s arm before slipping the needle into a vein and injecting the contents.
Skip watched until Anthony pulled it out. Bernard turned to the other man who had an equally confused expression. Skip’s head slumped onto his chest and Anthony felt for a pulse. He shook his head before straightening.
“We have to get started immediately,” Anthony said. “I have to call 9-1-1.”
“Whoa-whoa-whoa,” the man with the gun said. “What for? He’s just sleeping off whatever you gave him, right?”
Anthony turned slowly and looked at him.
“Are you—you’re kidding me—he’s dead? The man took a big step out of the room, eyeing the needle in Anthony’s hand. “What—you euthanized him like a stray cat?”
“His turn in the plan was finished,” Anthony said. “It was what had to happen.”
The man aimed his gun at Anthony again.
“If you think you’re gonna use me up and throw me away like some pop can, you’re mistaken.” The big man thumbed the hammer back.
“If we don’t obey the plan to the letter, it will be disastrous for us all. The blackmail was just to get us all here, but the consequence for disobedience is far worse.”
“Like a needle in the arm?” Bernard asked.
Bernard didn’t want to know and didn’t ask. Anthony had a look in his eyes that said something dire if Bernard and the other man weren’t on board with what he’d read in his file. For some reason, the boy seemed far more dangerous than the man with the gun.
“All right,” Bernard said. “I’m in.” He looked at the man with the gun. “You?”
His long pause was as nerve-racking as anything else. Finally, he nodded. “Yeah. I guess I have to.”
Anthony’s face changed from grim sociopath, to a bright-faced twenty-something.
“Great!” he said. “You guys know my name. Introductions?” He sounded downright cheery considering he’d just murdered a man with cold precision—even though that man had wanted to die.
“I’m Guthrie,” Bernard said. It was his wife’s maiden name. He looked at the man with the gun.
“Rocco.” Bernard said nothing as the other man stuffed the gun back in his jacket, but ‘Rocco’ didn’t sound like a real name. He smiled and held out a hand for Bernard to shake, then Anthony. “Let’s get started.”