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The Paths We Take #26: Pain

Aug 14, 2018







I watched the couple walk past my car as I pretended to look for something in the glove compartment. As they traipsed down the sidewalk, the white fog of their breaths collided against the backdrop of the noir sky. I scanned the alley again, waited until the lovers turned the corner, and then hopped out of the car.

“You’re not here to kill me, are you?” a voice echoed from the shadows.”

A figure appeared from behind a van parked on the other side of the alley. When the figure walked under the streetlamp, I could see the pink straps of the backpack hanging from her shoulders. She was thin and neighbor-girl attractive, with glasses that gave her a sophistication that suited her. She was staring at my waistline. My coat had shifted out of place in the car and was tucked between the grip of my gun and my t-shirt.

“It’s a little dangerous around here these days,” I commented as I adjusted my coat. “You never know who’s going to attack you in a dark alley.”

“I’m from East Boston. This place is about as dangerous as a daycare center,” she laughed; the way she said daycare center was proof that she was from Boston. “I like it here though, minus the creepy stalker guys that roam the alleys.”

I laughed and let myself smile even though it was hard to breathe. The girl waved as she put in her earbuds and strolled off towards campus. The nausea in my stomach returned as I hoofed it in the opposite direction, towards Cedar Street.

The few cars that lined Cedar were devoid of life. I was surprised that they didn’t have anyone watching my apartment, but then again, they might have thought me dead or smart enough not to come back. When I came to Delarose, I circled around the back of the apartment building. I could hear the faint sounds of Mrs. Hunt’s television on the second floor as I snuck up to my door. If the police showed up on her doorstep asking for me, she’d be itching to call them the second she saw me.

I eased the door shut; despite her age, eighties for what I could tell, she could hear a bottle cap hit the floor in a room full of pinball machines. Everything looked to be as I left it — refrigerator full of orange juice, leftover pizza, and a container of take-out pork Lo Mein; light on in the bathroom; the bed made.

Cackling sunk through the ceiling as I slid the secret panel of the grandfather clock open. I snatched the envelope that contained the cash and the photograph and slid the panel back into place. More cackling came from above, followed by heavy coughs and a cat-like clearing of the throat.

A knock at the door froze my lungs. I grabbed for my gun but stopped as the door spilled open. I watched as Marks stepped through the doorway. He fixed his eyes on me as he inched forward and shut the door behind him.

“I thought I saw you come in,” he said as I checked to make sure my coat was covering my gun.

“Was just heading back out. Got some work tonight,” I stammered as Marks looked around the living room, his gaze snapping back to me after every couple of seconds.

“Your boss got you watching some banker cheating on his wife?”

“Yeah, something like that.”

“Tough job . . . watching people all the time. You’d think that most people are predictable. Guy cheats on his wife, but why? Maybe she deserves it. Maybe . . . she’s got a little something of her own on the side,” Marks said as he walked over to the couch and sat down.

“Sometimes . . . Sometimes it’s just nothing. It’s just a mistake.”

“Exactly . . . You get it,” Marks smiled as he looked down at the floor by my feet.

The enveloped had dropped when Sgt. Marks let himself in. The edge of the photograph was hanging out of the opening and a couple of hundred-dollar bills slid onto on the floor. I stooped down and pushed the money over the photograph and then back into the envelope.

I had a clear path to the door; I wanted to run, but I knew Marks would be fast enough to catch me. He stood a good six inches taller and was thinner than I was. I stood up and slid the envelope into my inside coat pocket, hoping that he didn’t see the photograph; Marks was the last person that I wanted to show it to.

“You shouldn’t be carrying that much cash around. Hate for you to get robbed,” Marks laughed. “Let’s grab some coffee. I need to run a few things by you about the case.”

“I’ve got a long night ahead. I need to get back to work.”

Marks stood up and pulled his pistol from the holster. He stepped towards me and whispered, “I could put a bullet in your head right now. No one would ask any questions—”

“Luke,” a voice said, followed by a quick couple of taps on the door.

Detective Townsend walked in. He looked at me and then at Marks with his brows curled up and his words lost. Marks holstered his pistol and took a step away from me after he whispered, “Keep your mouth shut.”

“I need to talk to Luke. This is a Special Investigations matter,” Marks broke in. Red splotches filled his face as he glared at Det. Townsend. “I don’t need the assistance of the pill patrol. Luke’s gonna take a ride with me.”

“The hell he is.”

“You want to talk to Lieutenant Mason about it?”

Detective Townsend glared back at Marks, his breaths were heavy as he took a few steps towards us.

“Shut up down there,” Mrs. Hunt’s voice snorted from the second floor, followed by loud taps that shook the ceiling.

Detective Townsend didn’t protest further. We walked past him, Marks just a step behind me. He opened the back door of his car and motioned for me to get in. I watched Det. Townsend as I lowered myself into the back seat. He wasn’t watching me; his eyes were fixed on Marks.

“Fuck!” Marks pounded his fists on the steering wheel as he accelerated away. The screeching of the wheels tore through the silence of the night as we flew through downtown disregarding stop signs and traffic. He made the right off Cedar onto Ivy, where the Fraternities and Sororities settled after the residents realized they could make more money from renting out their homes than from working at the factories.

He didn’t say a word to me. He just drove, white knuckles on the steering wheel that occasionally balled into fists and smashed the dashboard. We turned off Ivy onto Market St towards the river. When we turned off Market, I knew where we were going.

There were no cars in the Hollinger Park lot as Marks whipped the car in and slammed on the brakes. The car came to a jarring stop, shooting gravel into the grass as it slid. He stared out into the glow of the headlights against the trees and the benches.

“It’s time for you to make some decisions Luke . . . You can’t keep making these mistakes.”

I didn’t respond. I watched his eyes in the rearview mirror as he spoke. His usual cool, calmness was gone, replaced by an uneasy, rapid snapping of his thumb and middle finger while his elbow was propped on the backrest of the passenger seat.

“What if they found Nancy’s body in the river in the morning? What happens when they get the results back from the blood they found in her store? How’s that gonna look for you?” Marks asked as he turned around in his seat to face me. “Whatever you have think you have left . . . will be gone.

Marks opened his door and stepped out into the gravel lot. He lit up a cigarette before telling me to get out. It was the first time I’d been in the park at night in a long time. The wind whipped across the water sending icy bursts of air against my face.

“Why didn’t you just let her go?” Marks asked. “You could’ve avoided all this.”

“Why did you want to get rid of her?” I asked. “You two looked like you were close here in the park.”

“You don’t know a damn thing about her,” Marks said as he took a long drag on his cigarette. “Why didn’t you go after your wife, Luke?”

I lunged towards him, but he grabbed my arm and pressed it into my back as I fell forward onto the gravel. He took his knee and pressed down onto my left arm while pain surged through my right wrist and into the entire right side of my body. I suppressed the urge to cry out, but Marks pressed his cigarette into my neck. Everything started to spin as I groaned. I tried to pry my arm from his grasp, but the more I struggled, the more I felt like my wrist was going to snap.

“You need to start making better decisions — you and that prick Townsend. And don’t think that this is it, the second I want to put you away for the rest of your life, I will.”

Marks let go of my arm and I flipped over, but I didn’t see his fist coming down on my chin until it connected. When I opened my eyes, I watched the headlights peel off me and I listened to the purr of the engine until it faded away.

I took in the stars like I used to when she was with me. I hadn’t even thought to try after she left — what was the point? My eyes adjusted to the darkness; the only light was from a lonely street lamp in the corner of the lot. I could make out the lovers’ tree, the initials glowing in the light from the moon. They were hard to make out from where I was sitting in the gravel, but I could still see the “M & D” carved in the center, like all the other lovers’ initials were striving to be them.

I limped up the hill towards the Willow Mills, not sure that I even wanted to call for a ride; I didn’t know where I would go. Detective Townsend was the only person that I could call.

“Luke? What are you doing out here?” a gruff voice asked. I looked over to find Mr. Parrish putting a box into the bed of his truck. He walked towards me and pulled out a flashlight, blinding me as he pointed it in my face. “What happened to you?”

“Thanks for the concern, but I’m fine,” I groaned as the spikes of pain from the burn in my neck almost made me throw up

“Yeah . . . You look like you’re doing wonderful,” Mr. Parrish laughed. “Your dad and I met for coffee this morning. He said you haven’t returned his calls.”

Mr. Parrish turned the flashlight off as I leaned up against the cab of the truck. My father had called me at least twice a day for the last week, but I couldn’t bring myself to talk with him.

“You have to take better care of yourself. You’ll be dead before you’re forty at this rate.”

“I really don’t want to get into this with you right now. Why do you even give a shit? I don’t know you.”

“I don’t know you either, but when a decent human being sees another human being in need, he ought to try and help.”

I nodded my head in appreciation. He opened the passenger door to the truck and waved his arm for me to get in. I pulled myself up and sat down as he shut the door.

As we drove away, he glanced over at me and asked, “Is this whole thing about Katie?”

I looked out the passenger window at the black water of the river. It was the first time someone mentioned her name in over a year. I leaned my head against the cool glass and pulled the memories from deep inside.Katie, I whispered to myself as I pictured her sitting next to me staring up at the stars. And just like we used to, we lost ourselves in the night sky.


© Josiah A. Miller 2018. All Rights Reserved.