Colin tried to focus on breathing the whole way to the donut shop. The lights in the car flickered for a moment, but nothing more happened. He took it as a sign of gaining better control. He didn’t want to think of it as a sign that he could be excited about this task.
Mary said she couldn’t ask him to do this, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that she would have asked, eventually. What would she be keeping a secret weapon around for, if not to someday pull the trigger?
Henry started toward the building and Colin practically jumped out of his car.
He took a deep breath before he called to Henry. It wasn’t the first, or even the hundredth time Colin pretended to be a normal guy. The last sixteen years felt like preparation for this moment.
“Hey, bud,” Colin called. “You opening?”
“Just about to get the fryers on,” Henry called back. “About fifteen or twenty minutes.”
“Do you mind if I wait inside? It’s freezing this morning and my heater broke a couple days ago. My wife’s pregnant and she says she has to have a bear claw or she’ll never sleep again or something. She’ll be almost as pissed if I freeze to death waiting as if I don’t bring one home.” He laughed and rubbed his arms, as if Henry needed convincing of the cold.
Henry looked at Colin, at the car, and back to Colin, who kept a distance. “Yeah, sure. Let me get everything turned on and I’ll open up the front door. It’ll be cold in there, too, but it warms up quick.”
“Thanks. And, hey, I hope it’s not too much to ask, but do you think you could get some bear claws started, too?”
“Not a problem. Give me a minute to walk through.”
Colin waited by the front door, keeping his face away from the door, in case there was a camera inside. His heart hammered against his chest while he waited for Henry to open the door. It didn’t take more than a minute, and Colin kept his hood up when he went into the cold shop. He almost went for Henry when he stepped back to let Colin through the door, but he hesitated. “Thanks, man.”
Henry flipped the sign to “OPEN” before going back behind the counter. “How many did you want? I started the coffee pot, I’ll get you a cup once it’s brewed.”
“Three, I guess,” Colin said. “And a couple maple bars. And maybe one of those sprinkles ones.”
“A half dozen,” Henry asked. “Want to make it a full dozen? Saves a couple bucks.”
“Yeah, sounds good, thanks.”
Henry vanished into the kitchen while Colin kicked himself. He didn’t come here to order donuts; he came to kill this man. This poor, older man with his glaucoma cataract and his ready smile. Colin saw the camera in the corner, aimed at the cash register. A thick power cord went from the camera down the wall to behind a glass- doored fridge full of milk, juice, and energy drinks. Colin crouched down for a second and touched the cord with the back of his hand. After the camera made a quiet pop and a thin stream of smoke rose from it, Colin realized he could have unplugged it, or turned the power strip off.
He hurried to a chair and pretended not to notice the faint burning smell. “So, are you the owner of the place? You’re here pretty early, aren’t you?”
“I’m not the owner.” Henry emerged with a styrofoam cup of coffee and placed it in front of Colin. “On the house. The owners used to be dancers. That’s them in their younger days all over the walls. I usually spend about the first hour preparing for the morning rush and I’m out of here just after noon. Occasionally we get early birds like you.”
Colin’s fingers brushed Henry’s when he grabbed the cup. Another wasted opportunity. “It’s got a be hard to get in so early. Must be nice to have all afternoon off, though.”
“Yeah, it’s great.”
“Thanks for the coffee.”
“Yeah, you look like you need it.”
Colin smiled and took a sip.
Henry went back into the kitchen. Colin stared blankly at the pictures of the dancers on the walls.
With Andreus alive and recovering, a free coffee in his hands, and his victim making small talk, Colin wasn’t sure he could go through with it anymore. Who was he to end someone else’s life? For every thought that made him feel like he was losing his nerve, Colin had a competing thought that reminded him he was a human with a conscience. Killing wasn’t supposed to be easy.
Colin watched Henry slide a tray of fresh donuts into the display case and return with a second tray and a box.
“Here you are,” Henry rang up the dozen. “Look good?”
“Yeah, they look great. Wife will be happy, I’ll be happy. Thanks for opening up early for me.”
They smiled at each other.
Colin pulled cash from his pocket. He didn’t remember ever putting cash in his pocket, but there it was anyway. His heart flipped in his chest, reminding him that this was his last chance.
Henry reached for the cash and Colin grabbed both sides of the man’s head.
Then, just like with Saphira, Colin flipped the switch and Henry went from living to dead. His body dropped, his head slipped through Colin’s hands, and he fell onto the floor behind the counter.
Colin grabbed the box and ran.
He didn’t encounter another person for almost the entire drive home. His heart froze in his throat when he shut the garage door behind him and realized he hadn’t even thought about cameras in the parking lot. Before he could open the door and go back, Mary reached the car door and waited for him to get out.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
Colin brought the box of donuts into the kitchen.
“So you didn’t do it?” Sam asked.
“Colin?” Mary asked.
Colin opened the box on the counter. There were extra donuts in with the ones he ordered. Of course Henry would be the kind of guy who’d open up early, give away free coffee, and throw in extra donuts. Of course Colin would be the kind of guy to murder that kind of guy without asking enough questions.
“It’s done,” Colin said. “How’s Andreus?”
“He’s the same,” Mary said. “You’re not. How are you?”
Sam put a hand on Mary’s shoulder and she stepped aside.
“He’s resting,” Sam said. “You should do the same.”
Colin shook his head. “I can’t.”
“I can help you with that.” Sam motioned to the red bag.
“Do you want me to stay to watch over him? He should be stable.”
“No, I’ll be fine,” Colin said. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“Neither am I,” Mary said. “Thanks for coming, Sam.”
Sam left a dose of the tranquilizer he’d used on Andreus and hooked a couple donuts on his way out.
“Head up to bed,” Mary said softly. “I’ll keep an eye on him.”
Colin shook his head. Andreus hadn’t moved at all since he’d left. In the time it took for Colin to take a drive, tell a few lies, and kill a man, Andreus didn’t even roll over. “I don’t want to go too far.”
“Then let me make you something to eat, or some coffee.” She sighed. “I hate this feeling that there’s nothing I can do.”
He forced a smile for her and sat on the loveseat. “I have donuts. Come sit with me.”
Mary sat beside him and pulled a blanket over their legs. Tears sparkled in her eyes.
“Are you okay?” Colin asked.
“Yeah. I’m sorry.” She wiped away the tears that tumbled out and shook her head. “God, I was so focused on winning you that I didn’t think about you. I didn’t think that you might want something different for yourself. I feel like I’ve failed you. I’ve sent so many people to kill so many people, but the look on your face before you got out of the car…”
He put an arm around her shoulders. He could be strong for her. He had to. He kissed her forehead. “I offered to do it. I made a choice. And I’m not sorry.”
She curled up against him and wiped her eyes one more time. “I’ve put you in so much danger. I put you in more danger every time I come here. I’ve been so stupid.”
The blankets on Andreus rustled. Colin and Mary leaned toward him. Andreus gave a little cough and shifted, but he didn’t wake up. They settled back into the couch.
“What were you thinking when you got here?” Mary asked.
“I was thinking that if there were cameras in the parking lot, I could be a suspect. And that it’s too bad there’s no more concrete work to do at the farm. Would have made a convenient place to hide a body.”
Mary squeezed him. “Haven’t you seen the Debunker Buddies about that? It’s a really bad way to hide a body.”
Colin smiled. The warm feeling that he was falling asleep washed over him, and he fought against it for as long as he could. Before long, the exhaustion won, and he fell asleep watching Andreus breathe, with Mary tucked under his arm.
He went into a blind panic when he woke up and both were gone.