Part VII

By Kelly Rourke

She was chopping vegetables for a salad, listening to the sounds emanating from the livingroom behind her. A wild series of screeches and crunches were interspersed with noisy engine sounds. Her men at play. She smiled and swept the chopped vegetables into a bowl. 

Her son was in seventh heaven. His father was proving to be a more-than-adequate playmate, at least where toy cars were concerned. It was something he’d been missing. Laura felt she was a perfectly adequate mother and she was quite in demand for stories and songs and bathtime play. She was even a welcome companion at the park. But when it came to her offspring’s choice of imaginative play, somehow she always fell short. 

Her son’s toy cars never rolled easily along well-maintained roadways. They raced over mountains, climbed the sides of buildings and crashed wildly, often bursting into imaginary flames. His plastic dinosaurs had an alarming tendency to eat his cars and, quite often, each other. Tall towers of blocks were merely explosions in the making. Her son inhabited a messy, violent world that left her completely at sea. Now he’d finally found someone who could join him in it wholeheartedly. 

A miniature fire engine screamed noisily across the floor in pursuit of a flaming police car that refused to pause long enough to let itself be extinguished. And where, she wondered, had this man, who’d had such a deprived and neglected childhood himself, learned to lose himself in a child’s play with such ease? 

But he’d always been good at this. Her own nieces and nephews had delighted in playing with “Uncle Remington.” Why hadn’t the oddity of this struck her years before? 

She sighed and placed dinner rolls in a small wicker basket, her one attempt at setting a gracious table. This wouldn’t be the dinner she’d envisioned serving him during the past few lonely years. For one thing, it was meatloaf. 

Veal Marsala would have been perfect. Even spaghetti or lasagna would have at least been better, but lacking veal, pasta and tomato sauce, it was meatloaf and instant mashed potatoes by default. And, with a rambunctious two-year-old at the table, even one carefully ensconced in a safety seat, the tall taper candles they’d once been fond of would pose a definite fire hazard, and not one her son’s toy fire engine would be able to cope with. 

There was an inexpensive bottle of wine in the ‘fridge, but she couldn’t decide whether to serve it with dinner or afterward. Perhaps it would be best to hold it until after their son’s bedtime. Not the champagne they’d usually ended their nights with, but the best substitute she could come up with. Iced tea would have to do its best to set off the meatloaf. 

“Hey, guys, dinner!” 

“Oh, boy! Dinner!” There was a small thunder of sneakers that was abruptly cut off. 

“Hold on there! Don’t we wash up first?” His father was grinning down at him, a grin he returned willingly. 

“Oh, yeah! C’mon, Daddy. I show you!” And the two of them headed up the short staircase toward the bathroom, leaving Laura to stare after them. It would seem that having a second parent around was going to come in very handy. 


She frowned at her reflection in the small ladies’ room mirror. The mirror was dark and cracked and the light wasn’t the best. As near as she could tell, her makeup was fine, but what if it weren’t? 

The door opened behind her. 

“Hi. Don’t tell me there’s a line?” 

“No,” Grace said. “It’s open. I’m just checking to make sure my face hasn’t faded.” 

The other woman offered a friendly, sympathetic smile. “It hasn’t. You need another coat of lipstick, though.” 

“Thanks,” Grace said, fishing out her lipstick as the other woman vanished into the stall. 

Her voice floated out from behind the small, swinging door. “So how’s your evening going?” 

“Oh, so-so, I guess. Slim pickings tonight.” Grace blotted carefully and frowned at the effect, considering yet another coat. “How’s it going for you?” 

There was a flushing sound and the door swung open again. “Oh, about like it usually does,” the other woman said, joining Grace at the small mirror, “not great, but I keep telling myself it could be worse. I could still be hanging out with Gene. Ick.” 

“I hear you,” Grace said, thinking of Reggie. 

“And I don’t know about slim pickings. You seemed to be doing o.k. earlier.” 

“That guy?” Grace said. “He’s a little on the geeky side, isn’t he?” 

“Yeah, well, honey, they’re all on the geeky side if you ask me,” her companion answered, fluffing her hair. “But haven’t you heard? Geeks are in.” 

“Yeah, but short geeks?” 

“Short geeks have tall credit ratings. You could do worse.” 


“Hey, I’ve got my claws in a short geek, too. And I’m thinking of hauling him home tonight.” She patted her hair down across her forehead and checked her mascara. “Beats the late show, anyway.” 

“You might have a point there,” Grace said. 

“Besides, I need something to celebrate my new job with,” the woman added. “I made the short list and then got the job, so I’ll celebrate with a short geek and maybe I’ll get made.” The woman headed for the door. She was already starting to sashay a bit. “Well, good luck to you.” 

Grace nodded companionably. “Yeah, you too.” The door closed again and Grace decided against another coat of lipstick. She also decided that she was not going to be sitting up tonight watching the late show. This guy might not be Prince Charming, but he beat a good book. At least tonight he did. 

She straightened her shoulders and headed back to the dance floor. And her destiny, whatever it might be. 


“So we’ve got some competition?” he said throwing an arm across the back of the couch. 

“Oh, I wouldn’t call it competition,” she said with a smile, settling back against the couch herself. “I look at it as more free time for us.” 

“Well,” Joe Giambetti added, “I guess I can get behind that theory. As long as I still get to see the little guy from time to time.” 

“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that,” Mildred told him. “I don’t intend to just abandon the three of them. Besides, those two are gonna need lots of adult time to themselves, so I’ll still be babysitting. Just not quite as often. Don’t worry, you haven’t lost your baseball buddy yet.” 

“Long as he doesn’t lose his arm, I’ll be happy,” Joe responded. He’d taken to playing catch with the youngster who spent so much time with his “Auntie Mildred,” using an oversized rubber softball and had discovered what he called a “natural talent” in the child. 

“Right now,” Mildred told him, “I’m more interested in not losing your arm.” She smiled encouragingly and he didn’t disappoint her. Small boys and newly-rediscovered fathers were not even thought about for the remainder of the evening. 



She was putting away the dishes and ruminating happily on the changes that were rapidly taking place in her life. While she had cleared the table and put the leftovers away in the ‘fridge, he had washed the dishes, as he’d done that morning at breakfast. Then, while she dried and put the dishes away, he’d gone off to watch cartoons with his son. They were snuggled together even now on the couch, the larger, dark head hovering protectively over the small, brown-haired one. Bursts of giggles wafted out to her. It was a good sound. It was a good evening all round. 

Dinner had gone well. Somehow, the presence of a third table setting seemed to complete them. Everything just seemed to run smoother. There was another adult to hold a conversation with. There was another person to distract a small child when playing with food seemed more interesting than eating it. There was another face smiling at her, and a warm hand brushing against hers as dishes were passed. 

Life was good. 

She put the last dish away and then paused at the edge of the livingroom, just behind them, out of their line of sight. Daylight had faded and in the soft lamplight, their faces looked eerily similar. He was watching the television, where the news had come on, while his son, disinterested in the news, was looking casually at the wall over the television. 



“How come you’re different?” 

“What do you mean?” 

“You’re…different…” the child seemed to be groping for words. “You don’t look like you.” 

“How don’t I look like me?” his father asked, looking down at him. 

“You got…fur.” The child said, looking earnestly up at his father’s face. 

“You mean this?” his father said, fingering his beard. 


“That’s called a beard. It’s just hair, like you have on your head. It’s something grown men get on their faces. Sometimes it gets shaved off and sometimes we just let it grow.” 

“Oh. Can I see?” His father nodded and the child climbed to his knees and began to gently stroke his face. “Soft!” 

“That’s right. It looks prickly, but it’s just hair.” 

“Can I have one on me?” 

“When you get older, if you want.” 

The child nodded. “O.k. Do you look the same under?” 

“You mean, without the beard, do I look the same as in my picture?” 

“Uh-huh,” the child answered, looking gravely across at the portrait of his father that had stood on top of the television for as long as he could remember. 

“If I shaved off my beard, I’d look pretty much just like that. A little older, I guess.” 

“Can I see?” 

“Not just now. I think I’ll keep my beard awhile longer. But someday I’m sure I’ll shave it off and then you’ll see.” 

“How come not now?” 

“Because it takes a long time to grow back and I don’t want to shave it off just yet.” 

“But some day?” 

“Yes, some day.” 

“O.k. Can we play cars again?” 

“Uh-uh, kiddo,” Laura broke in from the doorway. “It’s too late for that, now. In fact, it’s time for your bath.” 

His father smiled down at him and patted his back. “Sounds like fun.” 

“Uh-huh, I got toys there, too. Wanna see?” 

“Oh, I might pop in before you’re done. I’m going to check out the news first, though. You go with your Mom, o.k.?” 

“O.k.” He climbed off his father’s lap and took his mother’s hand with a wide smile, which she returned. The two of them went off up the stairs as he watched. He had the feeling that some private mother-son time was definitely called for at the moment. It had been, after all, quite an eventful day for all of them. 

And a good day. A better day, in fact, than almost any he could remember. With the possible exception of yesterday, of course. 

The news came back on, then, but he scarcely paid attention to it, being totally absorbed with far more pleasant thoughts. 

Which was how he missed the story on the trouble brewing in the Sanitation Department. Not that it would have meant anything to him. Which was a genuine shame, as it turned out. 


His eyes were burning. He’d been staring at the screen for hours and it was starting to tell on him. He rubbed his eyes absently and scrolled a bit further. Behind him there was a scuffling noise and a burst of laughter. 

“Hey, Jimbo! Whatcha doin’? Tryin’ for a promotion? What’sa matter? Detective shield’s not good enough for you? Now what, you wanna be Commissioner?” 

Jarvis sighed. Leon was a good cop. A very good cop. A lousy human being most days, though. 

“No, Leon. I wanna drive a dump truck when I grow up. Now go away like a good boy, ok.?” 

“Yeah, right. Dump truck. That’s a good one, Jimbo.” 

Leon was also the only person who ever called him Jimbo, seemingly oblivious to the fact that it annoyed the hell out of him. But Leon’s voice was receding toward the hallway, which was a blessing anyway. Just a little more scrolling, he felt sure, and he’d have his answer. He’d pushed hard for this overpriced, underutilized international law enforcement computer database and the least it could do was justify his faith in it. 

Just a little more. He was sure of it. 


He wasn’t aware of having nodded off, but his small son landing, knees-first, on his lap woke him abruptly. 

“Daddy! See? Read me this!” 

He blinked blearily and managed to focus on the wildly waving book in front of his face. Something about…a monkey. Of course, a monkey. He caught at the corner of the book and stopped its wayward motion long enough to read the title. 

“Curious George Rides a Bike. You want this one, eh?” 

“Uh-huh! Read me it! ‘Kay?” 

He smiled down into his son’s earnest face and ruffled his hair. “O.k., but only for a little while. ‘Till Mommy says it’s time for bed, o.k.?” 

“Yeah! Read me it.” The child snuggled comfortably down against his chest and impatiently pulled the book open. The age-old familiar story of the inquisitive monkey and his oddly-hatted friend lay before them, and he began to read. 

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Laura perched on the bottom stair. She looked tired. But, more importantly, she looked happy. He aimed a small smile in her direction and she returned it at a much brighter voltage. A small hand slapped the page in his hand. 

“Daddy! Turn it. I wanna see!” 

He obediently turned to the next page and continued reading. As far as he was concerned, life could continue on just like this forever. He’d be perfectly content to read about monkeys delivering newspapers and men in lemony headgear for the rest of his life if only Laura would keep smiling like that. Anything was worth the joy of that smile. Anything at all. 


She was here, as he’d known she would be. As if she’d come here specifically to wait. For him. 

He wasn’t surprised. She must know it had to end. How it had to end. For both of them. So she’d waited for him. Knowing he’d come. 

Of course she’d tried to stall the inevitable. Pitiful small talk. Drinks. Even dancing. Sexy dancing, as if that would placate him for all the years, all the lost, wasted years. And he’d gone along with her charade. One last charade. He’d give her that much. Even buy her drinks to soften that one last blow. 

But the time was drawing close. Very close now. And soon it would be time for it to end. Finally. Once and for all. 

He’d been patient and now the time had come. And for that, he was very thankful. 

As she should be. 


If the evening had begun with a computer database, it ended with the good old Los Angeles phone book. His bible. His encyclopedia of choice. His all-purpose genie with all the answers ever needed. 

It was there. He read. He made notes. Then he sat back and reconsidered. Did he really want to go this road? This wasn’t his way. 

A small voice in the back of his head shrilled that it was wrong, all wrong. He couldn’t do this thing. He should stick to the old ways, the tried-and-true methods. And if they didn’t work, he should just accept that fact. But this? This bordered on the monstrous. 

Detective James Jarvis leaned back in his chair and massaged his tired eyes. It had been a long night. It had been a long several months. 

It had to end. Somehow. 

Behind his closed eyelids he saw a large, industrial dumpster, with cracked, peeling green paint, and the lid thrown back to reveal… 

No. Monstrous or not, it had to end. If this was the only way, then so be it. But it had to end. 

He took the scrap of paper his notes were on and stuffed them deep into his hip pocket. Tomorrow. Tomorrow, if he was lucky, would be the beginning of the end. 

In the darkness of that decision, he switched off his desk light and headed home. 


“The end.” He closed the yellow cover of the book and laid it gently aside. 

“Read ‘nother one, Daddy!” 

“Oh, no you don’t. It’s bedtime!” Laura’s voice was firm and her son’s crystal eyes sought out his father’s. 

“Uh-uh. Daddy read me one more, ‘kay?” 

“No sir. You heard your mother. Bedtime.” That little wrinkle between his son’s brows was pure Laura and he chuckled at the sight. 


But his father resolutely pushed him off his lap and set him gently down on the floor. “Yes.” 

Now his son twisted away to appeal again to his mother. “Mommy, one more, ‘kay?” 

“Not a chance, Charlie, it’s time for bed!” And she swooped down on him, lifting him up in a swinging flurry of tickles. He kicked his feet and giggled. 

“O.k., but Daddy come, too! Daddy come!” 

“Oh, I guess we can let Daddy help tuck you in tonight,” his mother announced indulgently, with a soft twinkle at the corners of her mouth. The three of them swept up the stairs and into the small bedroom with its toybox and books and plastic dinosaurs. The still-giggling youngster was brought to a swooping landing on the bed and his parents leaned over him, laughing softly. 

“My bed, Daddy! See?” 

“I see,” his father announced in a grave tone. “It’s a nice one. The best bed ever, in fact.” 

For a moment Laura wondered what beds he had occupied at this young age, if any. 

“You can sleep in my bed with me if you want,” her son assured him earnestly. 

“Really? Oh, I think I’m a bit too big for this bed. It’s just the right size for you and Joji, though.” 

“Yeah, but you could sleep in Mommy’s bed,” his son said casually. “It’s bigger.” 

Laura had to fight to hold in her laughter at the sight of his face. He’s trying to be so cool and calm about this, she thought, but his small son is positively unhinging him. 

“Oh, I don’t know.” He said, trying to sound nonchalant and failing. “It’s a nice bed, too, but then where would Mommy sleep? I’ll probably just go home and sleep in my own bed tonight.” 

“No! No, no, no!” 

They stared at him in astonishment, unprepared for the sudden emotional storm that had risen, out of nowhere it seemed. 

“You stay here! You stay here with us, Daddy! You not go! You stay here! You stay here!” Tears were suddenly pouring down his face, sobs wracking his thin chest. 

“Sweetheart? Harry?” Laura leaned down and hugged him close. “What’s wrong? Tell Mommy.” 

“Daddy stay here! Make him stay, Mommy! Make him stay!” 

“Hey!” his father said gently, “Hey, none of this, now. Look at me. Harry? Look at me, o.k.?” 

It took a few minutes before the child could unscrew his eyelids enough to look up. His lashes were coated with liquid crystal. His eyes seemed to float, huge in his small face, as he stared up at his father in something like despair. 

“Now, I have my own bed in my own apartment. But that doesn’t mean I’m never coming back. In fact, I bet I see you tomorrow night! Would you like that? Eh? I can come over, just like today and we can play and maybe read some more. Would that be o.k. with you?” 

The small lower lip quivered once and was caught between the tiny white teeth before the little head nodded sadly. 

“Harry, listen to me.” He stared into his son’s eyes, trying to drive the message down as deep into them as possible. “I’m not going away again. I’m going to be here. I’m always going to be here. And if you need me, you call and I’ll come. It doesn’t matter when. I’ll be here for you. And I’ll be here for just as long as you need me to be. But I don’t live here. I live in another place. And someday maybe I’ll show you that place. But for right now, I’m going to promise you that I’ll come see you tomorrow. And maybe the next day and the next. Just as much as you want. O.k.? I’m not going away from you ever again. I promise. And Daddies never, ever break their promises. Can you remember that?” 

His son nodded sadly. “They ever-never break promises,” he whispered. A huge sigh seemed to heave itself out of his small body. 

His father blinked rapidly for a few moments. “That’s right. And I’ll see you tomorrow. You can count on it.” 

“Harry, you need to give Daddy a kiss goodnight,” Laura said softly. “He’s never had a goodnight kiss from you before, you know.” 

Their son lifted his tiny chin and reached up to clasp his father’s neck. “G’night, Daddy. I love you.” For a moment father and son held each other so close they seemed to melt into one another. 

“I love you, too,” his father said in a slightly choked voice and dropped a series of kisses on his small son’s head and cheeks. “I love you more than I would ever have believed.” 

Then he pried his son’s hands away and scooted him down on the bed, drawing the covers up to his chin. “I’m going downstairs and let Mommy say goodnight, o.k.?” 

His son poked one hand up out of the covers. His starfish fingers curled and uncurled in a slow wave. But he didn’t smile. After a moment, his father slipped out the door and they could hear his footsteps going down the stairs to the livingroom. 

“So, what do you think of your Daddy, huh?” 

Her son shrugged under the blankets. 

“I think he really likes you, y’know that? And he plays cars, too.” 

“An’ he reads good,” the child said softly. 

“Yes he does,” she answered with a smile. “You think you’ll like having a Daddy around from now on?” 

Her son looked up at her. “I love you, Mommy. You stay here, ‘kay?” 

She paused in confusion. “Of course I’ll stay here. You mean now? Until you go to sleep?" 

“No. Here. You not go ‘way.” 

“Harry, are you worried that I’ll leave you because your father’s here now? I’m not going to leave you. I’m still your Mommy and Mommies don’t leave their little boys.” 

Her son said something too softly for her to catch. “What, darling?” 

But he snuffled and clutched Joji, turning away from her. 

“Harry, I love you, o.k.? And your Daddy loves you. And we’re both going to stay here with you. Nobody’s going away from you. Do you understand that?” 

“Uh-huh. Nobody goes ‘way.” But his eyes didn’t look as if the message had really sunk in. She sighed, not certain whether to try and explain further or just let it rest for the night. 

Her son settled the matter by saying, softly, “I love you, Mommy. Can I have my g’night kiss?” 

She dropped several kisses on his small, upturned face before tucking him in firmly and turning on his nightlight. He had an uncanny knack, sometimes, for sensing her internal dilemma and answering it for her. Tomorrow it would be. 

But she paused at the door and looked back at his small form, lying curled under the covers. What he had said when she had told him that Mommies didn’t leave their little boys, what she hadn’t quite been able to catch, was something she strongly suspected would keep her up at least half the night. 

Because what her son had said sounded suspiciously like, “Sometimes they do.” 


In the darkness of the car, his eyes and teeth seemed to glitter. It was a weird, slightly disturbing effect, brought on, no doubt, by the parking lot sodium vapor lights, and she thrust her unease to the far back of her mind. This was no place for silly notions. 

“So it’s your place for a nightcap, then,” she purred and his glittering smile froze for an instant before broadening. 

“That’s the plan,” he said softly. 

“I’m in the mood for a nightcap. I hope you have a big…bar.” Was she really saying these things? To him? 

“I’ve got everything we need,” he assured her, his smile fixed against the darkness of his face. 

“And can I have anything I want?” 

“We’ll see,” he answered. “When we get there, we’ll see if we can both get what we want.” 

In the silence that followed this, he started the car's engine and pulled smoothly out of the parking lot and onto the night streets, where all that glittered was not gold. 


She came down the stairs and found him waiting for her in the livingroom. 

“I think he’s asleep,” she said. “Are you o.k.?” 

“I’m fine, Laura. Really.” He took her hand in his and rubbed it gently. “You look tired, though.” 

“I am a bit,” she admitted. “And that…whatever it was…came out of nowhere. I have no idea…” 

“Let it go,” he advised. “I don’t think we’re going to puzzle it out tonight. Not without more information, anyway.” 

“You’re probably right,” she said, looking up at him. In the lamplight, his eyes were the color of night, with small flecks of reflected light shining like stars in their depths. “I have a bottle of wine in the ‘fridge that I’ve been saving for a special occasion. It’s no particular vintage or anything, but I thought…” 

He smiled at her and squeezed her hand gently. “Where’s the corkscrew?” 

“I’ll get it,” she said happily. No matter what he’d told his son, she was determined that he wouldn’t spend this night alone in his apartment. Not if she could help it. And she had a fair idea that, maybe…just maybe…she could. 


She ran one hand lazily along the back of the couch. Not a great fabric, but it was clean. And from the look of it, the couch had probably come with the apartment. 

She could hear him in the bathroom, the water running, running…funny how his eyes had still seemed to glitter, even after they’d arrived. Not that it mattered. 

She sipped her drink, feeling a slow, pleasant warmth spreading along her limbs. She'd have to remember to have him set the alarm so she wouldn’t be late to work tomorrow. He worked at home, he’d told her, so he probably didn’t need to get up as early as she did. 

And if he didn’t hurry up in the bathroom, she though vaguely, she’d just fall asleep right here on this nice, comfortable couch. Funny how tired she was. And it wasn’t even that late. 

She heard the bathroom door open. Through half-closed eyelids, she saw him coming back to her. She laid her head back against the couch. He wasn’t wearing his shirt. Or his pants. Or much of anything but a smile. 

He came close and smoothed her hair back from her face. 

“How are you feeling now?” His voice was soft. She thought the concern in it was sweet and tried to tell him that she was feeling fine, just fine. 

But although her lips moved, she didn’t seem to be making any noise. Puzzled, she tried again. 

Now he was smiling again. That same, glittering smile. 

“Good. That’s just fine. I’ve got everything ready. We’ll just go into the bathroom now. It’s easier while you're still awake and can walk. So walk with me now, o.k.?” He slipped one arm under her shoulder and lifted. 

His small stature was deceiving. He lifted her with ease. The fact that she came off the couch like a pile of loosely jointed sticks might have made it easier, but he showed no strain as he half-carried, half-walked her across the livingroom and into the bathroom. Her head sagged and she only had a clear view of the green carpet beneath her feet. When the carpet ended and the linoleum began, she finally managed to lift her head to look. 

It was a small bathroom. The water he’d run wasn’t in the sink, though. It was in the tub. The tub was full of water. There was a huge stack of towels sitting on the floor under the sink. And against the wall next to the tub… 

She tried to scream, but all that came out was a high-pitched whine. He sat her down gently on the closed toilet seat and began removing her dress. She stared at the thing on the floor, the thing that didn’t belong, and continued to try to scream. 

Finally he turned his head to look at what she was staring at. 

“That?” he said gently. “Oh, my dear. Don’t worry about that. I won’t use that. Not while you can still feel it.” 

Her dress was on the floor and his hands were gently stroking her hair, her face, her neck. 

And there they stopped. And clutched. And squeezed. And squeezed. And squeezed. 

She couldn’t move. She couldn’t speak. And, most importantly, she couldn’t breath. Even her thoughts were dissolving into a confused muddle. But before her vision disintegrated into small flecks of amber-colored light, and then to a final black, she managed to focus her desperate gaze on the thing that lay waiting on the floor at her feet. 

A gas-powered chainsaw. 

To Part VIII 

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