. blog .|
. art . comics . lego . store . links .
. lemming drops studio .|
. content © robert e g black .
faces of david
Outside Pauper, Kansas, Andrew got the details of his prey. Code named David, no photo, no fingerprints on file, no identifying features, nothing concrete to show the guy even existed. But, Phelps wanted him. Dead or alive, preferably alive, "but dead would be good enough," the contact man told Andrew.
They met at a gas station just east of the town of Pauper. This was a new contact man, Andrew realized. He thought of asking what happened to the old one. Though he'd never known his name, he'd seen him often enough that he had always been curious about him, about his life, if he even had a life. If he's smart, he'd have no life outside this one, Andrew would think. That's how to keep sane. This new guy was younger, maybe not even old enough to have thought about having a family of his own yet. Andrew thought of warning him not to bother, that all it did was tear you apart. He could imagine telling this guy get out of this line of work before it's too late, or kiss any chance of normality goodbye now. You're daughter, if you've got one is gonna hate you. You're wife will be afraid of you and sometimes flinch away from your touch. By the way, did the old guy get out? Or, was he finally killed? Or, had he killed himself?
Andrew said none of these things, asked none of these questions. He just waited and listened as the contact man told him about the smallest amount of information Andrew had ever had on a prey before going after it. But, he knew he could still do it. It might take time, it might be a while before he could get back to his leave of absence, back to Penny and to Lauren. God willing, Penny might even be walking before he got back. Really, that wasn't likely, as good as Andrew was, and as slow as Penny's recovery was going. But, it was a nice thought. Not, the idea that Penny might start walking without him there to be a part of it, not that he couldn't be her father at a time when she most needed him, but the very idea that she might really recover enough to walk.
The contact man added something after all the basic information. But, Andrew didn't quite hear it. He was thinking about Penny, how hard she was crying when he'd told her he had to go and he might be gone a while, about Lauren and how angry she'd looked, how angry and scared and beaten. He'd been a little too honest in the past a few times with Lauren about what his work really was. She'd heard some of the gruesome details of what he'd had to do for Phelps. She's nearly left him many times because of what he did. But, he promised to get out of it, promised and promised and promised, and as Phelps' beeper had proven, even on an indefinite leave of absence, Andrew Marx was still wedged under Phelps' finger. "After this one, we run," he's told Lauren. "After this one, we get away." He wasn't so sure he'd have the guts to run from Phelps, but it sounded good to say it.
"Mr Marx, did you hear what I said?"
Andrew focused his attention on the contact man again. He didn't say he hadn't heard it. He wouldn't admit that. He just waited for the guy to repeat that last bit again anyway.
"Deputy Director Phelps wanted you to know he'll make sure Penny and Lauren are fine while you're gone." That was Phelps way of letting Andrew know he still owned him. He knew where his wife and daughter were. He could do anything to them at any time. He could hurt them or hide them, and Andrew could do nothing to stop him. Andrew nodded that he understood. He wondered briefly if this new guy, as young as he looked, knew that he'd just passed on a thinly veiled threat, or if he really thought Phelps was some caring individual.
Oh, what does it even matter, Andrew thought. This guy's already in the door. He's gonna be working with Phelps until the day he dies. Maybe even after that.
That last thought disturbed Andrew. He thought of Abraham Scranton, of the last time he'd seen him. It was eight months after he'd seen him killed on the streets of Miami, and he was looking younger and more fit than he'd looked since Andrew had known him. Whatever had been done to Scranton, Andrew prayed it would never happen to him. He'd finally make a run for it, or he'd make sure his body wasn't available for whatever was inside Abraham's.
The contact man returned to his car then came back again. "One more thing, Mr Marx," he said.
The guy raised his right arm. There was a strange wristband on it now. Andrew didn't like the look of it. He started backing towards his own car. The man moved forward with surprising speed, grabbed Andrew by his arm and held him in place.
"New policy. Each operative gets a watchdog. I get to be yours." A small needle popped out of the wristband and the tip sank into Andrew's arm. Something, whatever it was that was injected into him, burnt as it spread throughout his circulatory system. The needle pulled out of his skin then disappeared back into the contact man's wristband.
"What did you just do to me?"
"Nevermind the details, Mr Marx. Just know that I'll be behind you every step of the way."
"Who are you? You're not just a simple information contact."
"Right you are, Mr Marx. You can call me Nessus."
He let go of Andrew's arm. The mark where the needle had gone in had a black and red circle around it. It still burned, but Andrew could handle pain. He'd handled plenty before, and he was sure he'd have to handle much more before he died. This was different, spreading through his blood as it was, but he could deal with it.
Nessus walked back to his car again. Before he got in and drove away, he looked at Andrew again. "Remember Mr Marx, from now on you're my responsibility. You fuck up, and I'll hurt you before Phelps even knows there's a problem."
Andrew watched him drive away, resisting the urge to hold his arm, where the burning was strongest. Then, he got into his own car, pulled out of the gas station and headed on to Pauper.
His first stop was the local diner. David had been working there for three months. He could've let something slip about where he would be headed next. Of course, from what Andrew had seen in the reports, it was likely David was running away from these people and his having confided in one was unlikely. But, perhaps, in three months time, he had gained someone's confidence. Andrew just hoped that was the case.
Andrew had a seat at a table near the door. While he waited for a waitress to come over, he had a look around, checking for alternate exits. You never know when someone could come around hunting the hunter--who was it who had said that? Was it Phelps himself, or someone else? Andrew couldn't remember, but it was one of the rules he lived by, and not only when on the job. He always knew where his exits were. He always watched the scene outside windows for any sign of snipers or any suspicious characters lurking about. Being a professional killer and knowing how to sneak around so as not to be seen, he was prone to paranoia.
Outside one window, he could see an old man standing next to an old, beat up truck, doing not much of anything but just standing there. Out another window, he could see the side of a brick building. The front of the building, he'd noticed as he parked in front of the diner, proclaimed it to be the Snider Inn. That name had struck him as being a little too close to sniper, but to be bothered by that was just silly. At the table next to him, a nice enough looking couple, the man rather large, dressed like a farmer of some sort, the woman wearing a dress far too nice to waste on this rundown diner. At the next table, there was an old woman who kept looking at the clock on the wall and muttering something to herself. The table past her was empty. At the counter sat three men, all dressed in some combination of denim and flannel, and a small boy dressed just the same. Behind the counter was a rather attractive young woman, a waitress. And, a second waitress was on her way to Andrew's table just as he noticed the payphone in the corner.
He thought of Penny, how happy she'd be to hear from him. If this were to be the town where he would find his prey, he wouldn't make any call. There was always someone listening. You weren't to leave any trail. But, this wasn't where he'd find David. This was just the beginning of his search. A phone call from here would do very little harm.
"What can I get you, sir?"
Andrew had to shake away thoughts of his daughter. "Can I see a menu?"
The waitress--Sarah, according to her nametag--gestured at the table. Andrew looked down and saw the menu was on the table; she must have just put it there. "I'll give you a minute," Sarah said. "Would ya like something to drink to start you off?" She waited. "Some coffee perhaps?" He nodded, though coffee didn't appeal to him, and she returned to the counter.
He glanced at the menu then found himself looking at that payphone, thinking about Penny. What would Phelps do, he had to ask himself. He wouldn't hurt her. He couldn't . . . but Andrew knew Phelps could and would. He wished he'd destroyed that beeper and made a run for it months ago. At best, he and Lauren and Penny would be living in some tiny town someplace, using new names, starting new lives. At worst, they'd at least be dead by now, and the whole mess would be over. But, that wasn't the worst possibility, and he knew it.
He saw Abraham Scranton again, that empty look in his eyes. Sure enough, he'd been dead, but Phelps still had him working for him. How--Andrew didn't know. And, really, he didn't care to know. All he cared to know about that was that he could just as easily be stuck working for Phelps forever. Death wouldn't stop anything. And, working for Phelps just didn't hold any of the supposed glory he'd once thought it could have. There was supposed to be power, and sure enough there was, but at what cost? What good was it being one step away from deciding how an entire country, maybe even the whole world, runs, if it made you sick every minute of every day? Phelps was inhuman. He had to be. That much was clear.
But, Phelps being inhuman didn't make anything any better. It only made matters worse. If Andrew did make a run for it, if he did somehow get back to Columbia without Nessus, or whoever else might be watching, noticing, if he did get Lauren and Penny out of the house fast enough . . .
"Oh, who am I kidding," he asked himself.
"Excuse me, sir?" He hadn't even noticed the waitress was back, but there she was, standing by his table again.
"Nothing," he said. He smiled so she'd think nothing was amiss. He glanced at the menu again. Sitting on the table inches from it--how didn't I notice that, he asked himself--was his coffee. Though it didn't sound good, he picked up the cup and took a sip. It burnt his tongue, but he hardly reacted. "I'd like a burger with the works," he said.
"Anything else with that?"
"That comes with fries, right." The waitress nodded. "Then, that'll be just fine." To get her away from him faster, he added, with a smile, "maybe a slice of pie after." She smiled back then left him there.
He looked at the phone again, and wanted so much to just dial home, tell Lauren to pack up the bare essentials, he'd be home as fast as he could. But, Phelps would hear that. Phelps would know. Andrew closed his eyes and tried to clear his mind. But, instead, he thought of Abraham Scranton again.
It was a few months before Abraham died. He and Andrew happened to be after targets at the same location. So, the afternoon before they would both make their kills, they met for lunch, to reminisce about old times, to update each other about their families. Of course, Abraham hadn't been able to contact his family for years. He'd seen them a lot. He had told Andrew on more than one occasion that he liked to go back home just to see them, maybe to take a picture or two.
"Katie's all grown up," he said that day. "She's as beautiful as her mother was."
Andrew had seen pictures. He knew Abraham wasn't just being a parent, saying she was beautiful simply because she was his little girl. "I bet she gets all the guys," Andrew said.
Abraham smiled at the suggestion then he shook his head. "She left home since I went there last. I had to go to LA to see her. She's living on her own. But, she's got a good job, and she seemed happy enough."
Something about that struck Andrew as a lie, but he wasn't sure why. He just let it go.
Abraham stopped talking and stared at his food for a minute. "How's Penny? How's Lauren?"
"They're fine," Andrew replied. And, they were fine. This was before the accident, before things started crumbling. This was even before Andrew had decided he'd had enough of his work. This was back when life still seemed good to him. "They're both fine."
Usually, they would talk more, but the conversation didn't go much farther on that particular occasion. They finished their meals, and the next time Andrew saw Abraham, he had that blank look in his eyes that confirmed, despite him up and walking around, the reports he'd been killed.
Andrew looked at the three men sitting at the counter. Were they friends, he wondered. They spoke to each other like they knew each other well, but that could just be because Pauper was such a small town. Were they friends? Abraham had been his friend, or the closest thing he'd had to a friend, for a long time. It was so hard to make friends with anyone in this line of work. It was all he could do to keep his life with Lauren and Penny separate from it. He didn't have the energy to have friends. And, if he were to make any real attempt at running away, he wouldn't have the time either.
His hamburger came. It wasn't the best he'd had, but it was good enough. And, the fries were quite remarkable. The place may have been rundown, but the food was good. He was sure this place grabbed more than just locals.
As if on cue, a big rig pulled into the lot out front right then. Andrew watched as a large black man got out and came into the diner. He was greeted by a "hey Tom" from the waitress behind the counter. For a moment, Andrew wished for these people to be that familiar with him. Then, he remembered why he was here. He was here to follow the trail of a soon to be dead man. Any friendliness or familiarity could wait.
Before he left the diner, he made a quick call back home. But, he didn't tell anyone to pack up anything. He didn't even suggest that he might be rushing back home. He was stuck with his current assignment. Escape would have to come later. He just told Lauren and Penny how much he loved them, and he promised Penny he'd buy her something. Then, he said goodbye, promising to be home soon, and hung up.
He asked Sarah as she picked up his money, with generous tip, for directions to Casey Gordon's place. The waitress was not at all suspicious. In fact, after telling him how to get there, she pointed out he needn't bother as Casey was on the night shift and would be there at the diner in about fifteen minutes.
"I have some other business to attend to before I speak with Miss Gordon," he said. And, with that, he left, going next door to arrange a room at the Snider Inn. He was in a hurry to end this job, to get home to his wife and daughter. But there was no real point in rushing things. He would take his time. Take his time and find his prey, and then he would kill him if he had to. And, maybe, just maybe, he would try to get out of Phelps clutches once and for all.
For now, though, he wanted a brief nap before he talked to Casey Gordon or the local police.