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Authors: Jonathan Sturak

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BOOK: A Smudge of Gray
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Chapter 4

 

 

Hot dogs sizzled on the grill. Trevor
turned the processed pork with tongs fit for a king. He wore a casual red
Lacoste shirt and khaki slacks. Laura fixed the picnic table with four place settings.
She positioned hot dog and hamburger buns, pickles, ketchup, and mustard in the
center of the table. Behind them, Katie and Kevin were bouncing on their
favorite toy under the setting sun. This time it was Katie doing the back flips
as she tried to match her brother’s skill.

“So, was the trip productive?” Laura
asked.

“These trips are always productive. I
just had to tie up some loose ends with an old client. We went over some mutual
funds he’s interested in.” Trevor checked the hamburgers cooking on the back of
the grill.

“You had to do that in person?”

“He’s a big client. He likes to look me
in the eye when he gives me his money.”

“Well, it seems you’ve been so busy
the last few weeks,” Laura said.

“I’m always busy,” Trevor responded.

“You’ve been busier than normal.”

“Really?”

“Yes, Trevor. I’ve noticed you’ve
changed.”

“Okay. You’re right. I’ve been busier.
But it’s just because I’m trying to make us money.”

“I wish you’d teach me about the stock
market. You said you would let me help at the office once the kids got older.
Or are you out running around with that secretary of yours?”

Trevor smirked and shook his head. He
put down the tongs, removed his cooking gloves, and walked to his wife. As her
natural scent replaced the smell of burning gas, he leaned in and tickled her
neck with his five o’clock shadow.

“Honey. You know I love you, and would
do anything to protect you and the kids,” he reassured her as he kissed the
soft skin of her neck. “I’m a business consultant. It’s not
that
glamorous. But lately it’s been paying well.”

Trevor took in his hefty backyard. He
admired the wealth he had accumulated, externalized in the half acre of
lushness filled with toys for his kids. He was happy that he was in the
position to provide, a position that he fought hard to obtain. Trevor watched
the two gems in his life jumping in the air without a care in the world. The
sight made him smile. He gripped his wife’s waist a little tighter.

“We have to get those kids doing
something constructive. I should enroll Katie in dance class. Why don’t you see
if Kevin wants to join something after school?” Laura said.

“They’ll be fine…just like their
parents.”

Still in her husband’s hands, Laura
turned her head and took a deep breath. She looked into Trevor’s green eyes and
saw the man who had given her everything, including beautiful twins. Laura
raised her head as Trevor lowered his. They embraced with a kiss. As Laura
tried to let go, she knew there was something different about Trevor, something
hidden inside his smell. Before Laura could finish gathering data, a loud jolt
disrupted their display of affection; it was Trevor’s cell phone sitting next
to the grill.

“It must be a client,” he said.

Trevor broke their hold, grabbed the
cell phone, and then checked the caller ID. Seven letters mocked him—seven
letters synonymous with the word “secret.” Although the phone failed to reveal
its caller, it was as if Trevor knew exactly who it was. He pressed the answer
button and remained mute.

“Your services are needed,” a dark voice
rasped. It was a cold voice, cold like ice from the deepest, darkest part of
the North Pole, cold like a corpse rotting in a grave. Trevor’s eyes darted
toward the warmness around him. He saw his kids engrossed in the trampoline,
and his wife filling tumblers with water. Everything was the same, yet inside
Trevor’s mind, things had changed drastically.

“My services are always available,” Trevor
muttered over the popping hot dogs.

“Fifth and Mason. Eight o’clock,” the
voice said.

Then like that, a click resonated
in Trevor’s ear ending the call. He placed the phone down and resumed the role
of chef, gloving his hands and arming himself with the stainless steel tongs.
Trevor stared at the hot dogs splitting open from the fire blazing underneath
them.

“Let me guess, a business call?” Laura
said.

“Yeah. I have to run out for a bit later
and take care of something for a client.”

“You just got home.”

“It shouldn’t take long.”

“Are the burgers and hot dogs ready?”
Laura asked.

“They look perfect.”

“Kids! Dinner’s ready! You’re going to
catch a cold. You both should be wearing a sweatshirt,” Laura yelled. She
finished working on the table, but she had an eye on her husband.

Trevor turned back to the grill and
removed the meat. As he extracted the last hamburger, he stared at the flames
beneath the steel grate. Trevor watched them dance randomly, yet somehow he could
see a subtle pattern. As the heat bathed his face, Trevor turned the gas valve.
The fire gave one last cry, and then died, bringing coldness over him.

 

 

 

Chapter 5

 

 

A busted light flickered in an
underground parking garage deep beneath one of the city’s skyscrapers. Humongous
cement pillars lined the crypt and cast shadows across the dank concrete ground.
A modern Jaguar sat in a parking space ready to pounce on a two-door Audi
across from it. The place was quiet except for the steady hum of the ventilation
system. The garage sat this way for nearly an hour as all of the business
professionals had left for the day, except for the two high-end cars waiting for
their overworked owners. But then, the purr of a V8 engine echoed off the cold,
hard walls. It was the resonance of a fellow German-made car—a BMW 7 series. Xeon
headlights illuminated the black beauty’s path as it crept toward its assigned
space. The driver killed the lights, and then the engine. The door opened as
Trevor Malloy stepped out. He wore the same casual outfit from the family
cookout with the addition of a light jacket.

The third floor elevators sat in
tranquility, but then an abrupt ding sliced through the silence. The shining
doors opened as Trevor strolled off. He glanced down the hall and saw a male
custodial worker standing on a ladder installing a new light bulb. Trevor moved
down the other side as the carpet silenced his brown loafers. He passed door
after door until he arrived at “312.” On the door, Times New Roman font formed
the words “Malloy Consulting Service.”

Inside the dark office, Trevor’s
eerie silhouette was distorted through the stained-glass window. He unlocked
the door, pushed it open, and then stood in the doorframe with the light from
the hallway casting around him. He smelled the scent of fresh lilies. Trevor
entered and flipped a switch, which showered the office with light. Da Vinci’s
Mona
Lisa
and Munch’s
The Scream
hung proudly on the walls. His
secretary’s desk protected the door to the back office, which had the words
“Trevor Malloy – President” written across. Trevor reached into his jacket and retrieved
a key that he used to open the door—
his
door.

Trevor turned on the lights. He moved across
the clean carpet toward his desk. He passed a pristine replica of van Gogh’s
The
Starry Night
. Trevor removed his jacket and placed it on the back of his
chair. Pictures of his family surrounded his modern computer. Trevor paused a
moment and took in the stillness. His office was a sanctuary, a room rivaling
one from a corporate CEO on Wall Street. A degree hanging on the wall caught
the businessman’s eye as he ambled toward it without removing it from his
sight.

The degree encased by a deep mahogany
frame read “Master of Business Administration with Minor in Mathematics –
Trevor Malloy – Harvard School of Business.” The handsome man ogled the diploma
and basked in his accomplishment. As his breathing rocked his chest, he reached
toward it to caress the glass as if it were Laura’s naked breast. But then, he
pressed his right thumb firmly against the glass covering his first name. A
blue light scanned his thumbprint like a mini Xerox machine. A click from the
back wall cut through the clean air.

Trevor moved to the location of the
sound, this time with zest to his step. He grabbed his black briefcase on the
side of his desk, and then stepped to the wall. A voyeur would probably squint
her eyes at his action, but Trevor knew exactly what he was doing. He felt for
a small edge extended exactly one half inch from the wall. He pulled. A doorway
revealed itself.

It was a back room hidden from the
world. Trevor turned on the lights as he moved into his burrow. Nikon cameras, telephoto
lenses, audio microphones, and tools sat on the top of a workbench. Large maps
of the city were sprawled across the walls. A futon offered a place to rest.
Trevor opened a closet in the back, caressing one of the black suits ready for
action. On the floor were two identical pairs of shoes—his favorite, the ones
colored charcoal gray sporting a small white accent. Trevor looked at the clock
reading “7:25” in large red digits. He then shifted to the workbench and opened
the top drawer. Inside, a 9mm pistol, silencer, and ammunition glared at him.

Fifteen minutes later in the
parking garage, the constant sound of the ventilation system still droned.
While Trevor worked in his office, the only new life to fill the desolate space
was a rat searching the walls for a meal. But then, the bang from the elevator
doors penetrated the peacefulness. The steady clink of shoes hit off the concrete.
The rhythm was constant like the heart of a lion before its dinner. Although a
blind man may have paused and wrongly assumed it was the sound of a woman’s
heels, when he would have listened for more than a few seconds, he would
realize the resonance was too powerful, too potent. It was the sound produced
by the soles of a man’s posh dress shoes, the reflecting charcoal gray dress
shoes of the owner of Malloy Consulting Service. Trevor neared his BMW, walking
tall in his black suit enveloped by his black trench coat. One of his gloved
hands gripped his proverbial briefcase, weighed down by specialized tools.

Almost twenty minutes later, the same
rhythmic clinking bounced from the chilly sidewalk near the cross streets of
Fifth and Mason. The shoes were the same color gray because the same handsome
businessman wore them. This time, however, they reflected not the artificial
lights from the underground parking garage, but the stark light that had traveled
nearly 300 million meters per second from the moon.

Trevor moved through the brisk night air
as creatures lurked in the darkness; however, they were not the focus of his
green eyes. His sight was set on a phone booth at the approaching street corner.
It was a traditional payphone, the type that was becoming extinct, but this
particular phone had regular use, use that kept it alive. Trevor peeked at his
Rolex watch. Its hands crept toward eight o’clock. He timed his preparation at
the office, and his drive to his appointment, flawlessly. He opened the
payphone’s door. Then he set down his briefcase and placed his right hand on the
receiver of the phone. As Trevor glanced at his watch, the second hand swept
past the triangle representing the number 12. Immediately, the phone rang.
Trevor thrust the communication device toward his ear completing the perfectly
orchestrated maneuver.

“Beneath the moon lies darkness,” the
all-too-familiar voice muttered.

“A perfect place for an artist to work,”
Trevor responded, equally as enigmatic.

The businessman looked down at his shoes
and narrowed his eyes, devoting his complete focus to the man on the other end.

“The contract is for Max Cleaver. Three
Twenty Four Broad Street. Apartment Nine B. The usual amount upon completion.”

“My fee has gone up twenty percent since
the last contract.”

“Aww, a negotiator,” the mysterious man
muttered with a chuckle. “Well, that can be arranged.”

Trevor rested the phone back into
its cradle and took a deep breath—a breath that he had taken before. He grabbed
his briefcase and slid from the payphone, looking around at the busy street. Cars
zipped; humans marched. While Trevor blended with the business professionals
coasting down the street, he was gravely different from any other living being
filling the downtown. He was a man on a mission, a mission into the darkness.

 

 

 

Chapter 6

 

 

A 40-watt bulb illuminated the living
room of the Boise apartment home. The space was tight, just enough room for an outdated
26” television, a bookshelf filled with romance novels, and a green couch. Dark
brown carpet stretched across the room, freshly shampooed when Brian had signed
the lease renewal two months ago. Even though the walls were thin, letting in
the neighbors’ arguments, Latin music from the nightclub across the street, and
the clatter of outside garbage disposal, at this hour, all was still.

But just as silence laughed, keys
entered the deadbolt and the sound of a metal click entered the living room.
The door squeaked open as the man of the house, the breadwinner, and the striving
family man, tiptoed inside. He carried an abused briefcase with papers
protruding from its seams. Brian locked the door as quietly as he could, and
then looked around the deserted space. A video game controller strewn on the
carpet caught his attention. He wrapped it neatly and placed it under the TV.
Brian set his briefcase down on the couch and crept into the kitchen.

He turned on the lights. The table was
clear, the counter spotless, and the sink dish-less. It was always this way
when he had entered late. Brian moved toward the refrigerator. This was the
place where the life memories of the family were displayed, magnetized and
stuck on the appliance that provided them with the fuel of life. It was also a
message center. A marker and whiteboard offered half-duplex communication.
Brian looked at his favorite picture near the handle of the freezer. It showed
him and his family sitting on the beach under the Florida sun. He sat on the
sand shirtless in blue swimming trunks as Jonathan kneeled in front of him
showcasing a sandcastle. The picture was from two summers ago, their last
vacation as a family. It was a five-day trip to the white sand on Clearwater
Beach overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. Anne Marie wore a green one-piece nestled
against Brian’s side. He loved the way she looked in the picture, the open
mouth smile induced by his own instruction to say “Stinky Cheese.” A breeze had
fluffed her hair, which was captured perfectly on film as a fellow beachgoer
snapped the picture. Brian could see the fingers of his right hand wrapped
around his wife’s waist. Even though he stared at his own image in front of
him, he couldn’t recall the feeling the picture showed, the feeling of his own
wife, now clouded by dead bodies, confidential informants, and paperwork.

As he caressed the picture with his
finger, he shifted his eyes to the whiteboard that was plastered on the center
of the freezer—“Couldn’t wait up for you, went to bed…” Brian used his fingers
to erase the words, and then left the kitchen, destined to regain the sensation
of holding the one he loved.

The full moon shined through the vertical
blinds of the apartment’s master bedroom. A full-size bed filled the room,
leaving only enough space for a small dresser and a chair. Anne Marie slept in
the bed with the filtered moonlight touching her face. The door opened as Brian
lurked toward the closet at the end of the room trying to keep his actions from
waking his wife. But as he made it past the bed, Anne Marie moved her legs, and
then turned toward the new visitor with her eyes wide open.

“Go back to sleep, honey. Sorry, I
didn’t mean to wake you,” Brian whispered.

“No, it’s okay. What time is it?” Anne
Marie mumbled as she sat up.

Brian moved to his wife and kissed her
lightly. On the nightstand next to them, a clock blared “11:57.”

“It’s late. I’m sorry I wasn’t home
sooner. I was trying to close out some paperwork. I don’t know what happened to
the time.”

“How was your case?” Anne Marie asked as
Brian shifted to the side of the room and undressed.

“It’s just paperwork now. The captain
says I can take some time off. Maybe a week or so. We should all do something.”
Brian unbuttoned his shirt.

“Oh, really? I can’t believe that,” Anne
Marie replied as she watched him sit on the side of the bed to unlace his
shoes.

“I know I haven’t been around much
lately. But I’m close to Chief Detective.”

“Are you sure that you’re not just
trying to block
it
out? It’ll be ten years soon.”

Brian froze. “Ten years… Wow… Ten years…
I know that the anniversary is coming. My subconscious knows every minute of my
life.”

“Why don’t you quit that job? You have a
degree in math. There are so many nine-to-five jobs you can get with that.”

“You know about my—”

“—dad and grandfather. I’ve heard it a
million times, Brian,” Anne Marie finished.

“I know. But it’s in my blood. I’m good
at this job,” he replied as he kicked off his shoes.

“Well I miss you. Jonathan misses you. I
hate to see him grow up without a father,” she lamented as she stared at the
plaid comforter.

Brian didn’t respond right away. He
glanced at an old picture on the wall, a picture he saw every time he dressed
and undressed. It showed a Brian that was barely five-years-old sitting on the
lap of his father, who was dressed in a sleek police uniform. Brian craved to
see his father again, today, every day. He would even give back his badge.

“How was his game today?” Brian asked, now
in his briefs and T-shirt.

“They won again. The coach kept him in
the whole fourth quarter.”

“That’s great. I’m so proud of him. I’ll
do my best to go to his next one.” Brian sat down and put his arm around his
wife’s waist rejuvenating his brain. “So what do you want to do on my time off?
Take a trip?”

“How about we just stay here, the
three of us, and just sleep in and order take-out all week?” Anne Marie moved
closer to her husband.

“Anything for you. I love you.” Brian
kissed her warmly.

“I miss you,” she whispered into his
ear.

Anne Marie gave him a hug as his smell
of sweat stung her nostrils. Normally, she didn’t care how he smelled, but
something about the odor was different. It seemed more intense, more bitter,
more unlike the scent from the man she had married.

“You need a shower.”

“I need more than a shower. I’m going to
check on Jonathan first,” Brian said as he helped her back under the covers.

The overworked detective watched the
comforter conform to his wife’s body. He smiled, and then exited the room.
Brian sneaked down the hallway, careful not to agitate the venerable
floorboards. The closed door to his son’s room was in front of him. As he moved
closer, he saw several drawings on the door. One in particular arrested him. It
depicted a tall man labeled “Dad” with two smaller individuals labeled “Mom”
and “Me.” The group stood at a beach as the artist took great care to draw a
sandcastle and a seagull with his colored pencils. Brian beamed from his son’s
accomplishment, but he noticed one thing about the picture that made him feel
uneasy. Both “Mom” and “Me” were holding hands, as the figure labeled “Dad” was
isolated.

Brian grabbed the drawing and pushed
open the door with his pointer finger. Jonathan’s playful room greeted his sore
eyes. Small figures of basketball players lined the top of the desk as a basket
for a foam ball was suspended from the closet door. Brian glided inside and
watched his son sleep under basketball sheets. Warmness flowed over the
family’s breadwinner as he sat on the bed and watched his son’s slow, deep
breaths. Brian glanced at the picture in his hand, a picture showing a memory
that his son had cherished so much so that it prompted him to externalize it.
But it also showed something from Jonathan’s subconscious, something subtle yet
undeniably present. Brian removed the hair from his son’s forehead and leaned
in, kissing him softly. What happened during his day was now hindsight and all
that Brian cared about was that he was home with his family, even if they were
off in some distant land dreaming about a different life.

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