“Shit.” Colin jumped off the couch and started toward the phone. He had to find them.
“Just me,” Andreus said from the counter where he sat in a barstool with a donut in one hand and a glass of orange juice in the other. “Mary left a few minutes ago. She didn’t tell me what happened, but I’m guessing these donuts are significant.”
Colin took a second to let his heart slow down. “They’re just donuts.”
“They’re bear claws, and you had a full gallon of orange juice in the fridge. You have a crush on me, don’t you?”
“Oh, totally,” Colin said. “Or I knew that I’d need to buy a gallon if I wanted to drink any myself.”
Andreus smiled. Normally pale, he’d taken on a disturbing gray color, with a hint of purple around his red eyes. “So they’re not assassination-nuts?”
Colin dumped the old coffee and started a new pot. “You can call them that if you want.”
“You went after him, didn’t you?”
Colin grabbed one of the extra donuts- an old fashioned glazed. “I made sure you were stabilized first.”
“Thanks. I don’t know how I can repay you for saving my life.”
“It was that or let my friend die in my kitchen.”
Andreus smiled at the counter. Normally he’d have said something witty or sarcastic, but he clearly didn’t have the energy this morning.
“I talked to Callie’s parents,” Colin said.
Andreus looked up at him, swaying a little. “How’d it go?”
“Not good at all. About as good as you look right now. You should go back to the couch.” Colin slipped an arm around Andreus and they managed to get him back to the couch. Colin brought his orange juice and bear claw to the coffee table.
“What did they say?”
“They said I was a liar and I was calling their daughter a whore or something. They blamed me for my parents’ deaths.” He couldn’t bring up the part about Mary. He didn’t want to explain it all to Andreus. She hadn’t even told him the full story.
“Did you kill them?”
“What? No. Why would I do that?”
“Is that why you killed the donut man?”
“No, I killed him because he poisoned you, and apparently that’s what he does.”
“You killed him because Mary told you he poisoned me,” Andreus corrected.
“Did he not?”
“Oh, it was him. Would you have done it if you weren’t already angry, though? Or would you have waited for me to wake up and tell you it really was him?”
What kind of question is that? How could Colin know what he would have done if everything was different? Though, thinking about it, he wondered, too. He’d never intentionally killed someone before. Would he have taken Mary at her word if he wasn’t already upset? “I don’t know.”
“Well, you’re lucky it was him, because these donuts are delicious so I’d be really pissed if you got the wrong guy.”
Andreus settled back into the couch. “How do you feel about it?”
“How do I feel? I don’t know. I’m not sorry I did it, and that creeps me out. And it’s so easy to do. Normally people can’t just kill someone and then go home and eat a donut. Can they?”
Andreus shrugged under the blanket. “Maybe you’re a serial killer, waiting for your time to shine.”
“It’s like turning off a light switch. The electric chair isn’t even that easy. There are sponges and masks so your eyes don’t pop out. It’s not just alive one second and dead the next. You’ve killed before, you didn’t seem to think it was easy.”
“Well, you don’t have to put your body parts down their throat. I do.” He took a sad look at his half eaten bear claw. “I can’t even think of a good dick joke for that.”
Colin smiled. “Get some more rest. Stay as long as you like.”
“I’m okay,” Andreus said. “I’ve had to use human weapons, too.”
“What, like guns?”
“Yeah, but I shoot about as good as an action movie extra while I’m doing it.” Andreus sighed. He looked like he wanted to add to it, but didn’t have either the words or the energy.
“So you have to use body parts to drown them?”
“When it’s one on one, I do. Imagine just putting your fist into someone’s lungs and holding it there until they die.”
“It’s not a good time,” Andreus confirmed.
“How many times have you had to do that?”
Andreus yawned. “Maybe fifty. I don’t usually go about it that way. I told you, I negotiate or devastate. The total number is possibly in the thousands. Probably a lot of innocent bystanders, too.”
Colin didn’t respond. It didn’t matter. Andreus’ eyes closed and his breathing became steady.
Colin watched Andreus sleep until he realized he was doing it, then he picked up the phone to call Mary. He set the receiver back down. He could go to the farm, there was always something to do there.
Or he could try to get some sleep, stay close to his friend, figure it all out later. That was still an option.
He sat on the loveseat with his blanket and closed his eyes.
He woke up to Mary’s phone call.
“Hey, Colin. How are you feeling?”
“I’m good, just woke up. How are you?” He rubbed his eyes and looked at the couch. Andreus was gone, the dishes were clean, and a note sat next to the closed donut box. Colin tried to reach it. “Mary? Are you still there?”
“Yeah, sorry.” She took another long pause.
Colin pulled away from the phone long enough to grab the note, which said Andreus was feeling much better and heading to CERT.
“There’s no easy way to say this, Colin,” Mary finally said. “We can’t be seen together again.”
His heart dropped. “What do you mean?”
“I mean after what happened last night, it’s too much of a risk. I can’t keep putting you in danger’s way. I don’t know what I was thinking this whole time.”
“So you’re dumping me?” The note fluttered from Colin’s hand onto the ground and he vaguely noticed that the towels and mismatched container lids were gone, along with the empty boxes of plastic bags, and all trace of water.
“We can’t be caught together,” she said. “They still don’t know who you are. Other than Barry, they’re hardly even aware that there was a new guy in town at all. We’ve done okay so far, but they’re becoming more aggressive. So far, the other groups are still fighting themselves. They’ve never seen us as enough of a threat to go after us this hard. Zep, Andreus, and there have been three others in the last few weeks. Most have survived, so we think they still hardly notice us. I don’t want you killed for this. You mean too much.”
“To the war effort, you mean.” Colin strangled the phone cord and flicked it with his thumb. He forced his chest to expand and contract steadily, but the display on the microwave flickered and flashed a blinking 12:00 instead of the correct time.
“I mean to me,” she said quietly.
“Should you even be telling me this on the phone? If they’re so powerful, why wouldn’t they be bugging the lines?” He forced his clenched jaws open and tried to breathe. He’d saved a life and ended another without feeling like he’d lose control. But Mary dumping him was somehow too much to manage. How weak was he? How could he have let her in? He should have known better. He stared at the note on the ground. Would she make Andreus stop visiting him, too?
“We know they aren’t because we’ve been in control of this area for a while. We do regular sweeps and checks. With all the attacks, we’ve been stepping up security.”
“You think they couldn’t hack in?”
“Jesus, Colin, do you want to argue about hacking with me or is there something else you actually want to say?”
“What do you want to hear, Mary? I think you’re being stupid. No one makes it out alive.”
“You want to die tomorrow, just because you’re going to die sometime?”
“I haven’t lived, Mary. I haven’t had a life since high school. Now I have one and you’re telling me I have to go back to the way things were. I would rather die tomorrow than go back to that.”
“I would rather you don’t die tomorrow.”
“Fine, keep me on whatever fucked up life support you think you’ve got me on so I can be your secret weapon. Tell me when you need someone to pull the trigger.”
She took a loud breath. “Being on the run must have emotionally stunted you. You’re acting like a child. You were alive for all those years. You can’t put your decision not to live on me. It’s not my fault you were running from your own shadow. But if you want to think of yourself as someone to pull a trigger, I always need one. And I always have one. Grow the fuck up, Colin.”
The power went out in the house.
“Fuck you,” he growled.
Silence answered him. Colin dropped the hot plastic receiver before looking through the glass on the front door to see if the houses around were dark. Daylight disguised it if they were.
Mary’s smile lit up the screen of Colin’s cell phone while a jaunty ringtone played. He answered it. “Fuck you,” he repeated.
“The job pays, if you want it,” she said coolly.
“Don’t insult me,” he said, trying and failing to match her detached tone. “I’ll do it for the good of the race.”
“It’s a water who used to work with us.”
“He went rogue and you want me to ‘burn’ him?”
“I prefer the term ‘neutralize’. And it’s a her.”
“So what did she do?”
“I’m not in the habit of telling mercenaries why they’re pulling the trigger. I just pay them to get it done.”
“Great, what’s the pay?” Colin knelt on the floor next to the table and chairs.
“Enough to keep your lights on for a few years, while you still need help with that.”
“If you’re desperate enough to need me for the job, it’s going to cost you more than that,” he said.
“When you’re good at the job, you’ll get paid more than that. I’ll send someone to go over the details. Call me back when you’re done being a bitch.” She hung up.