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Authors: Jonathan Sturak

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“And your work is your life, right?”

“How’d you guess?”

“Still, it’s good to find something to
do to relax,” Trevor added.

“What do you do?”

“I’m a business consultant. I travel a
lot.”

“Oh, sounds interesting. What market do
you target?” Janice asked.

“Well, mainly the financial industry,
but just as any good businessman, I take on all sorts of clients.”

“Do you have a condo here?” Janice
asked.

“No. Actually, I have a business meeting
here.”

Janice looked at his briefcase resting
on her carpet.

Another pale green abstract caught his
eye. “When did you paint this one?”

“After my cat died. I was a wreck for a
while.”

“Sorry to hear that.”

“How rude of me. I should have offered
you something to drink,” Janice asked as her cheeks flushed.

“No problem. Since you asked, do you
have anything strong?”

“I have some Brandy.”

“If you have ice, I’m sold,” Trevor
returned.

“Coming right up.”

Janice walked into the kitchen as
her heels clinked on the tile. Her guest perused her art gallery. She didn’t
have many visitors in her condo who cared about the art on the wall, but just
as any good host, she had something for any occasion. Janice opened her top
cupboard and rooted around the wine glasses. She rose on her toes and removed
an unopened bottle of Christian Brothers Brandy and two sparkling glasses.

“I see nothing with red, my favorite
color?” Trevor said from the living room.

Janice grabbed some ice and concocted
two drinks. “I know, guess it’s a subconscious thing. Red means love.”

The bubbly woman strolled back into the living
room with the drinks. She had a grin on her face as she prepared for the next
chapter in the book she was writing. The carpet muffled her footsteps, but her
visitor was nowhere to be found. She took a breath, as she smelled his scent lingering;
she knew he was still somewhere. She looked left and saw her abstract painting,
and then glanced right to behold
The Starry Night
. Her brow furrowed as
she looked down at the spot of Trevor’s briefcase, but it was gone.

“Trevor?”

A shadow shifted. She turned, and there
was Trevor holding his silenced pistol in his gloved hand. Janice screamed. Two
blasts hurled her way. She bobbed as both impaled her shoulder. The drink flew
in the air. Blood splattered the couch. Janice bashed into the ground. The pain
pierced her body. She squealed as her right heel split. Janice squirmed on the
floor. She crawled toward the hall as her attacker glared. Tears filled her
eyes as blood poured from her wounds. Janice scampered past the open bathroom,
her mind numb. She clutched the wall leaving a handprint of blood. She tumbled
into her back bedroom and slammed the door shut.

Janice didn’t know what to do, where to
go, how to survive. She was a prisoner in her own home, a place of protection, a
place now filled with terror. Janice stopped as blood poured down her arm and
onto the carpet. Her breathing rocked her beaten body as the worst sound filled
her ears—the sound of silence. Her knees slid across the carpet toward her
attached Jack and Jill bathroom. Janice passed pictures on her nightstand,
pictures of her parents, but they were useless as her father’s might and her
mother’s compassion were nothing more than pigment on paper.

Janice waited, her hands covered
with blood. A knock hit the door. She yelped. She scuttled toward the bathroom.
She entered as the open door to the hallway was in front of her, the hallway from
which she had just made her escape. She stared at the stillness as she tried to
soften her sobs. Blood oozed on the white tile. She tiptoed, and then lunged
through the doorway, darting down the hall. A shadow moved behind her. She
shrieked as she ran through the living room. Up ahead, the door presented
itself, the door to freedom. Steps away, Janice tripped on Trevor’s briefcase.
She toppled to the ground; her right leg bent back cracking the bone. Her cries
echoed off the walls. She did her best to stand, now deadened to the pain. She turned
as Trevor stepped her way. She watched as he raised his pistol. She screamed,
and then a blast impaled her head, sending her frame against the wall. Blood sprayed
everywhere as her vocal cords expelled the last bit of life. Trevor stood over
her and flared his lip.

“The color red also symbolizes death…especially
blood red.”

 

 

 

Chapter 13

 

 

A pixilated character dressed like a
mobster blasted another in a video game. The character yelled as he unloaded
his fully automatic weapon. Brian sat on the edge of the couch as Jonathan,
covered in pajamas, commanded the character with his controller. Brian relaxed
still in his dress clothes, but plush slippers enveloped his feet. Both Father and
Son let the television engross them.

“Get ’em! Over there!” Brian encouraged.

Jonathan jerked his body trying to dodge
the blasts. He screeched, and then dropped the controller.

“He killed you. Oh no!” Brian said as he
tickled his son.

Anne Marie meandered in drying a dish.
She wore a woman’s swing robe in her favorite color—green. She shook her head
with a coy look on her face.

“What are you two lugs up to?” she
asked.

“Jonathan just got shot by a hitman,”
Brian explained.

“I’ll kill him. I have infinite lives,”
Jonathan added.

“I don’t know if I like that game.
Killing and guns,” Anne Marie said.

“It’s only make-believe. Right Jonathan?”
Brian remarked as Jonathan picked up the controller.

“Yeah.”

More gun blasts belted from the TV’s 10-watt
speaker. Jonathan reassumed his position on the floor as Brian sat on the arm
of the couch. Anne Marie set the dish down on a side table, and walked to her
husband. She caressed his shoulders, breaking up the fluid plaguing his
muscles. Brian’s eyes drifted back as his wife stole his focus.

“It’s nice to have you home for a
change,” she whispered.

Brian nuzzled her head with his hand. He
kneaded her scalp as she breathed deeply. As they basked in each other, the
sound of more explosions sliced through their serenity.

“I think someone should get ready for
bed,” Anne Marie instructed Jonathan.

“Oh, Mom. Can’t I play some more?”

“Your mother’s right. Go get ready for
bed. That’s enough shooting for one night.”

Jonathan hesitated, and then
removed his thumb from the fire button. His character on screen stopped and succumbed
to his attacker. Jonathan moped to the game system, killing it.

“Tell Dad about your basketball game.
You helped score the winning shot.”

“Yeah, I passed it to the new kid,
Kevin. And he made it at the buzzer,” Jonathan explained with enthusiasm.

Brian smiled as he listened to his son’s
story. He felt proud of his boy, proud of his son’s ability to overcome
obstacles and to learn teamwork. Brian grabbed Jonathan and playfully pushed
him around, inducing laughter, just as loving fathers did.

“They seem to be a nice family. I met
his mother, Laura, and she was telling me about her husband,” Anne Marie
explained.

“I’ll try my best to make the next game.
I wanna see my son—the next Michael Jordan!” Brian rubbed Jonathan’s hair,
tousling it.

“And then I don’t have to look like a
single mother. You could chat with some of the fathers.”

“If I come, promise me one thing,” Brian
asked his son with a serious face, stopping the fun.

“What?”

“That you’ll dunk the ball!” he said
with a smile.

“I can’t dunk it! I’m too short!”

“Well you better start growing then,
mister. Go get some sleep. Did you know Michael Jordan slept fifteen hours a
day?”

“No he didn’t!” Jonathan replied as he
burst out laughing.

“He did!” Brian said as he pressed his
lips together and hugged him. “I love you, son.”

“I love you too, Dad.”

Anne Marie watched the two men in her
life embrace, the two men whom she loved more than anything. While her life was
simple to most, her place on the Earth revolved around family, something that
was never simple, yet the image in front of her was.

Jonathan shifted his love to his mother.
He squeezed her just as he did every night.

“Mom will be in to check on you,” Brian
said.

Anne Marie and Brian watched their son
spring down the hallway toward his room. Brian repositioned himself on the
couch. Anne Marie rested her head against his shoulder. They absorbed the
tranquility as the sound of distant traffic far below their feet placated their
minds. The 40-watt bulb from the end table lamp rinsed their souls as the
couple breathed as one. They were in an aura, a moment where clarity met chaos,
a moment they converged in, a moment that they always craved.

“Isn’t this nice? Wouldn’t you want a
job where you could be home every night with your family?” Anne Marie murmured
as she combed his hair gently with her fingers.

“You’re right. I could get used to this,”
Brian exhaled.

“Remember that night before Jonathan was
born?”

“How could I forget?” Brian whispered.

“Remember how we had dinner?”

“We shared lobster.”

“You even remember what we ate?” Anne
Marie smiled.

“Of course. I remember that night,
after dinner, getting lost in the casino. And then, you had to powder your nose.
I remember waiting for you. The other guys waiting for their girlfriends and
wives too. But when you walked out, I remember how all the guys looked at you
like some heavenly angel. But it didn’t bother me, because I knew that you had
something that I gave you, something that no other man had ever given you.” Brian
touched his wife’s ring. “I remember you searched for me among the men, and
then when you saw me, you gave me a smile that I still remember today. I
remember how much I wanted to get back to the room, how much I wanted you. And then,
I remember we couldn’t even find the elevator.”

“But we did…”

Anne Marie repositioned his head and
silenced him with her lips. She kissed him softly at first, as the withered
police detective accepted her advance, but then he took charge like a man, like
a husband should. He kissed her deeply as his wife invigorated his taste buds.
Brian held Anne Marie tightly. He felt her heart rate accelerate through the
cotton fabric protecting the couple. Brian moved her to get a better angle as
his right slipper fell off.

“Ouch! Your badge,” she said. Brian
shifted it around in his pocket.

Brian slid between the grasp of her legs
and let her thighs squeeze him. He worked on her neck as his wife exhaled and
whimpered. He took a breath of her natural scent. Although the aroma filled his
lungs and melted his mind, he could only describe it like the taste of water.
Anne Marie clutched the back of his head as Brian probed inside her robe. As
blood engorged his penis, Brian filled his hand with his wife’s breast.

“Mom?” Jonathan’s voice resonated from
the hallway.

Brian and Anne Marie startled at the
voice of their creation. They smiled like two high school sweethearts hearing
the door to the basement open.

“To be continued. Come back to the
bedroom in five minutes. I’ll make it worth your while,” Anne Marie whispered.

Anne Marie had a flicker to her lips, as
she enticed Brian’s mind and his libido with her feistiness. He knew that even
though she was an angel on the streets, she was a devil under the sheets. Anne
Marie trotted to their son as Brian collected himself on the couch. He breathed
intensely as his family flowed over him. He wished he could keep this feeling
forever, to seize it, to lock it in a safe, and to keep the key in a place that
only he knew. But just as Anne Marie’s touch filled his mind, he realized that
many things in his life could rob this seemingly
safe
safe.

Brian stood up and slid his right
foot back into its saddle. He grabbed the clean dish Anne Marie had left behind
and walked into the kitchen to return it. Brian knew he still had four minutes
of waiting time, four minutes of suspense for an offer that he couldn’t refuse.
He stepped toward the table as a new picture in the center caught his eye. It
was a 4 x 6 inch framed photograph of the Boise family, smiling collectively.
It was the most recent photograph, one not from an exotic beach or amusement
park, but rather a picture of the three at an Italian restaurant around the
corner. Brian cleared his pockets and set his cell phone, his badge, and a
receipt for two hamburgers next to the picture. Then, he meandered to the place
of memories, the place that was the lifeline of the family unit—the
refrigerator.

The familiar beach photograph soothed
his eyes as Brian drew a smiley face on the whiteboard. He saw the newest
drawing by his son, the budding artist. Although it was drawn with stick
figures and ovals, a joke to some, it was something that most parents could
appreciate more than some painting by a dead artist. The picture showed two
figures on a basketball court, not drawn to scale. “Jonathan” was scribbled
below the small figure, but the letters scrawled below the other made Brian
frown. They were five letters that didn’t spell some synonym for father; rather
they spelled the synonym for teacher—the word “coach.”

As Brian appreciated his son’s artwork,
a nagging hum filled the confined kitchen. Brian knew what it was almost
instantly—the buzz of his cell phone. He grabbed the device. The screen read
“Foster.” Brian realized his work had infiltrated his home; the signal had cut
through his safe haven. He hesitated and glanced at the picture on the table as
the pulsating device riled his hand. Then, he turned and faced the window
overlooking the murky city. He answered the phone.

Brian didn’t say a word. It was as if
his vocal cords had died, gripped firmly by the happy thoughts still swirling
in his mind. But even though he didn’t speak, his call had connected and linked
him with Lt. Foster, who was standing in the middle of a flurry of activity. Camera
flashes bounced around Janice’s living room. Examiners dusted for fingerprints.
Blood splattered the white walls like an abstract masterpiece painted by an artist
mad at the world. The place reeked of sweat produced by the activity of those
who came alive when a body had died. But there seemed to be a lot of focus not
on the fallen woman, but on the other corner of the room.

“Boise. You there? This is Lieutenant
Foster.”

Brian wavered still trying to clutch the
feeling of his family, but his boss’ words swung open the door to his safe and
stole its contents.

“Hello, sir,” Brian said as he watched
the lights of a plane in the night sky from the window.

“Bad news. Looks like our perp again. We
have some developments I’d like to fill you in on,” Lt. Foster explained.

“Uh, do I need to be there tonight?”
Brian vacillated.

“This isn’t some
punch-a-fuckin’-clock job, Boise. Forensics is on it, but I’d strongly suggest
you get down here,” Lt. Foster explained as he moved into the condo’s kitchen.
He lowered his voice. “The captain is personally here, and it would certainly
add points to your promotion file, if you get my fuckin’ drift.”

Over the lieutenant’s black suit jacket,
two examiners stood on both sides of a menacing man. He had the droopiness of a
tired Al Pacino and the gut of a depressed Marlon Brando. What stood out about
this man was not his face or his weight, but the 48-regular jacket that he wore.
Two-bar insignias polished in silver were pinned to both sides of his
shoulders. They were the symbol of influence, the symbol of authority. The
stainless steel emblems had the power to make a woman stop talking, to make a man
stand up straight, and even to deflate the air in a hot air balloon. The man
standing over the lieutenant’s shoulders caused even him to waver because his
single bar emblem had no power against the captain’s two.

Brian paced his kitchen, but then picked
up his steps and stared at the table. His eyes filled with the framed picture
of his family, a picture made from light reflected off the individuals who made
him who he was. It screamed louder than words and shined brighter than a
spotlight. But there next to it on the table rested something just as dominating;
it was his police badge, crafted out of the finest metal, harvested by the
power of his city. Both stood next to each other like two samurai ready to
battle for control over a world separated by black and white. And Brian was
like a god in this world, a god who could choose which side would win and which
would falter.

“Boise? You there?” Lt. Foster pressed.

The overworked detective, the failing
family man, closed his eyes, and then grabbed the item from the table chosen by
his subconscious. It was hard like metal and weighed a ton in his hand.

“Where’re you at, sir?” Brian responded as
he looked at the badge in his hand.

“That’s my man. We’re at the District
Condos on Fifth Street. Seventh floor,” Lt. Foster said with his head up.

“I’m on my way.”

Brian ended the call. He stood for a
moment in the kitchen and listened to the sound of the muffled city below him.
Somewhere in the aural chaos a steady hum transcended, the hum of the rain. Its
drone whined in the night covering the city with gloom. Brian focused on its
strong rhythm. After what seemed like an hour to Brian, he marched toward his
bedroom to greet the last awaiting piece to his puzzle—his dress shoes.

BOOK: A Smudge of Gray
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