The Space Between

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Chapter 17

JACK

“Healing was harder than killing.”

Sunday - Eight Thirty in the Morning

I could have kissed her forever. I didn’t want to let her leave. Something felt wrong to me. Her mood had changed. She was elusive. I wasn’t going to pretend I didn’t know what was going on. My late night phone call had given her doubts. She didn’t trust me, which meant she was smart, I knew that. If I wanted to keep her, I could not continue lying to her about who I was and what had happened to me. The part I was most troubled about telling her was the plans I had before I met her. I wasn’t sure how she would react or what she would think of me after that.

I sat down at my computer and looked up flights that left from Michael J Smith Airport on Friday. It didn’t take long to find a flight. There were three lay-overs, which was normal. The sheet printed off with my flight info, and I set it on the table.

Sitting at the table for a moment, I pondered whether or not I should tell Madalyn everything. I did not want to hurt her, but the longer I kept the truth from her, the harder it would be to tell her. It was hard to wrap my head around the fact that we had barely known each other a week. However, we had spent every day together, and now that I knew the truth of how our pasts once crossed, it made our connection that much stronger. I really felt anxiety at the thought of losing her. I did not want that.

Aside from the terrible agony of missing the beautiful life I once had with my wife and daughter, I ached for Madalyn. I could see myself starting a new life with her. I had to tell her everything. I went to my room to grab some clothes to change into, so I did not need to run back home. I began rehearsing in my head how I would tell her the truth.

I would tell her that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I saw things that I couldn’t have unseen. I would tell her that I once had a wife, a beautiful wife who agreed to marry me young. We, shortly after marrying, had a daughter, whom we adored. Pouring my heart out, I would let Madalyn know that I never knew true love until I saw my daughter for the first time.

I felt my eyes brimming with tears as I thought this out. I took the picture of Ava, my wife, and Cara, my daughter, out of my dresser drawer. I would show Maddy how my daughter had dark blue eyes and blond hair like her mother. Maddy would know the fear of how tragically they were killed, and how I had been hidden by my closest friends and family after I escaped.

“Maddy,” I would say, “I wasn’t able to attend my wife and daughter’s funeral but next to their headstones lays mine.” I had died, in a sense, when I learned that my daughter was found three days later, still in her child safety seat, at the bottom of the lake. I had died again when I was informed that my wife had been crushed during the impact after our vehicle was forced off the cliff. I had died a third time when I learned that my grandfather had to be dragged off the headstone of his great granddaughter.

I placed the picture in the small bag of clothes that I would take with me. She would hear all of it. Perhaps sooner rather than later though. I heard her coming back up my steps. She was probably wondering why I was still at home. I glanced out of my bay window for her car, but did not see it. What I did notice, however, was the black car had returned. Listening to the footsteps coming up the stairwell, I knew that it was not Madalyn.

Tossing the bag back into my bedroom, I crouched behind the the cabinets in the living room and waited. If they were coming for me, if I had been found, these men had walked into a hurricane. I held my hands in front of me and noticed them shaking. Closing my eyes, I took a few breaths, and focused my thoughts inward, steadying my hands. My blood boiled, and there seemed to be one minute passing between each heartbeat. I felt like an animal, a terrible thought. My very cells boiled with rage. If I died in this moment, my spilled blood would have scorched the earth.

The light knock on my door grated against the nerves that were creating the nightmare I was becoming.

“Pizza’s here.”

You picked the wrong house, pizza boy.

The second knock created an anxiety within me that was lusting for a bloody conclusion. Each knock exercised the demon that was living inside of me. The hatred in my heart that had festered over the past two years, I allowed to take me over. I felt powerful.

I felt invincible.

This person was stepping into the cave of a dragon. My body was centered with my anger, and I almost felt I could have killed anyone with a single thought.

The main door creaked open, and I listened to the sound of each foot step. I could feel exactly where his steps were placed without seeing. I could estimate the size of this individual without seeing. I heard the paper with my flight info get picked up from the table. I was so steady I barely felt myself breathing.

“Hello?” My intruder called out in a medium tone.

He walked past the end of the counter, exposing the tip of his foot. With his next step, I subtly came up under him and caught his right arm, knocking the chair over at the same time. I felt pain in my bones from how tightly I gripped his flesh. My left fist made contact with his throat, and he fell to his knees, bellowing, and dropping his .40 caliber pistol. I quickly slid behind him, placing a fistful of his hair in my left hand. I released my right fist three times into the back of his neck, until his head hung only by skin and tissue. He dropped to the floor of my kitchen before the nerve endings in his brain could signal he was in danger.

I dropped down by his body and rolled him over. His eyes still held a terrified gaze, but also appeared empty. I searched through his pockets, looking for identification. Inside his right jacket pocket was a badge with an identification card in the back slot. I recognized the name. It hung on a covered wall in my shed. Officer Salvatore Rivieri, California State Police. I immediately walked to my computer and did an Internet search of his name to see if there had been any recent happenings where he was concerned.

Research had shown him to be an outstanding officer. I had proof that showed otherwise. He had been nothing special, and went down easy. I walked over to my phone and dialed my grandfather’s number. It rang a few times before he answered.

“Grandpa, we got a real problem.”

“What is it, Achak?” he asked, using my real name.

I looked at the body on my kitchen floor as I replied.

“The black car, it is from California. Salvatore Rivieri thought he could walk into my apartment,” I said.

“Son of a bitch. How did they find you? Where is he now?” he asked frantically.

“He’s lying on my kitchen floor with a broken neck,” I informed him.

“You killed him?” he asked, but more asking himself. “Are you hurt?”

“Not a scratch.”

“What is your plan, Jack?” he asked.

I stroked my chin, thinking through what I was about to relay to my grandfather. “Well, I don’t know how many are here yet, and if they are in one vehicle. The black car is across the street. The maggot lying on my floor had the keys on him. I’m going to put him back in his car, and put it into a lake or something,” I informed.

“Can you get him out without drawing too much attention?” he asked.

“I have a few large Rubbermaid containers in my closet from the move. I’ll stuff him in one of those and take him out. I may need a cart of some kind.” I said, “I can get into the bakery downstairs, it’s closed today. I’m sure they have a cart of some kind.”

“Jack, you call me as soon as you get back,” he instructed.

“I will,” I reassured as I hung up the phone.

I grabbed Salvatore’s keys and walked out of my apartment. I ran over to the black Crown Victoria across the street and jumped in the driver seat. I backed it up to the stairs of my apartment. I unlocked the bakery and found a cart in the kitchen by the sink. I wheeled the cart out, and took it upstairs. I wasn’t too late in stuffing his body into the Rubbermaid box. I’d been afraid his body would stiffen and I wouldn’t be able to fit him.

I put the lid on and stood the box up vertically while I slid the metal plate of the cart beneath it. I pulled the body on the cart backwards, down the stairs. The cart had nice metal bars I used as handles to hoist the Rubbermaid into the trunk. I quickly wheeled the cart back into the bakery and locked back the door. Wanting to be sure no one was watching me, I drove the car back into the parking space I found it in, and dialed my grandfather on my cell phone.

“Grandpa. I have his body in the trunk. I’m waiting to make sure no one is watching me. As far as I know, there is no one else. Do you have any idea how these sons of bitches found me? I admit when you told me the other night that you were afraid they were on to me, I doubted you. I’m sorry.”

My grandfather let out a heavy sigh. “I have no idea, but I’m having the boys look into it as we speak. You haven’t opened a credit card or anything like that?” he asked.

“Jesus, I’m not that stupid. I’ve been doing this for two years now, and I haven’t been careless. See what Tommy can uncover.”

“I just recently started filling him in on all the latest. So now he will have to know all the ins and outs. I’m just trying to figure out what leaked,” he said.

“You need to make sure your phone lines are not being tapped, Grandpa.”

“Again, I am looking into every possibility,” he said.

“Fair enough. We’ll see what happens. I’m going to sit here for a bit more and then finish this. I’ll call you after that,” I replied.

I hung up the phone and looked in the rear-view mirror of the car. I glanced in the side mirrors, and out the windows. I saw no one. The fact that a dead man was in the trunk of this car didn’t faze me. Strangely, I only felt detached, and sad. Ava and Cara became the subject of my sudden discomfort. My heart felt a physical pain when I saw their faces flash into my mind.

I just brought vengeance upon one of the perpetrators, shouldn’t I have felt some relief wash over me? The wave of unbridled rage I had experienced left me exhausted.

Ava was special and delicate. Like a beautiful vessel that I had put up on a pedestal, and displayed as my center-piece. I genuinely loved her. Waking up with the knowledge that your family had been murdered was an affliction. Having to accept that they were never coming back, was an impossibility. I hadn’t revisited these drowning thoughts since all of Madalyn’s loving adulation.

I lost track of how long I sat. I put the car in reverse and backed up slowly as I thought about where I was going to put it. I looked in my rear-view mirror as I put it in drive; a man with a hat on was walking toward me at a fast pace. He jumped off the sidewalk, and moved to the street as he began running toward the car. When I got a good look at him, the way he carried himself, he was a Cop. I put my foot on the gas, and only slowed down for the stop sign. Just before I turned left, I looked in my side mirror. I thought for sure that was Maddy who stumbled onto the sidewalk by the bakery. I waited for a moment, watching her. She was looking down the street at me. And just ahead of the stop sign was her car.

It was her.

I turned left and then right, and then left again. I stopped two blocks up at a stop sign and waited to see if I lost the man. They had for sure found me, and they had been watching me, which meant they had seen Madalyn. What was she doing back at my place? Had she just dropped by to say hello? For all she knew, I was supposed to be at her house, working. Whatever this was, it put a sick feeling in my stomach, and I felt she might be in danger. Who was I kidding, of course she was in danger.

I turned left and sped back toward my apartment. I stopped at the start of Orange Street, away from the bakery, to see if I could spot anything. I waited for what seemed like forever, but saw nothing.

Eventually, however, the large man in the dark hat and dark jacket, turned onto the dock that housed my boat. He appeared to be looking toward the section I knew my boat was. I couldn’t see my boat, but when he stopped and appeared be speaking to someone, I knew Maddy was there.

I stepped on the gas and didn’t even stop to look for cross traffic. As I was scrambling to get out of the car, I saw Maddy climbing from the boat. Everything in that moment changed when I saw the struggle between them. I ran as fast as I could. My anger blazed when I saw her get struck and fall back into my boat.

Just as it had been in my apartment, only a few minutes earlier, so it would be the same. I was going to kill this man. The conclusion I had come to had been reaffirmed as I closed the distance and saw him pull a gun from his jacket.

He had no time to react to me throwing my hand into his left elbow right after I wrapped my left arm around his wrist. The moment he screamed in pain is when the gunshot registered in my mind. I quickly silenced the annoyance of his wailing when I dismantled the bone and cartilage that held his head to his shoulders. He dropped to the dock and flopped over. I quickly pulled him into the boat out of sight, and went to Madalyn.

She screamed my name and grabbed me. I looked back at the body of the man I had just killed. He had wounds on his body, but not from me. I saw the knife handle sticking from his gut.

“Jack, I thought I would never see you again,” she cried.

“Don’t think that way. Besides, it looks like you handled yourself okay. I need to move fast now. Hopefully no one saw what just happened,” I said.

I let go of her and reached in the compartment behind the passenger seat. I pulled out a blanket, and threw it over the body after I pulled Maddy’s double-edged knife from his abdomen. I wiped the blade on the blanket and handed it back to her.

After placing the blade back into her boot, she grabbed her phone off the floor of the boat, and brought it to her ear.

“Hello? Yes, we’re okay. Jack’s here,” she began speaking to someone in a daze. I took the phone out of her hand.

“Hello?”

“Jack, it’s your grandfather.”

“Grandpa? How are you…?”

“Never mind that. What happened? Is your girl okay?”

“She’s fine,” I replied, observing Madalyn’s state of calm. I could tell she was in a bit of shock. “There was another one, Grandpa.”

“What happened to him?” he asked.

“Two down, Grandpa,” I sighed. “Listen, I have a mess to clean up. Let me call you back when I get it done.”

I hung up the phone and latched on to Maddy’s hand, leading her from the boat. We walked at a fast pace down the dock and back up to my apartment.

I looked for my boat keys in the kitchen, but could not find them.

“Jack, what are you going to do?” she asked, watching me with her hand on her forehead.

“I’m going to take them out on my boat,” I said.

“Here are you keys, I had them,” she said, holding her hand out to me.

I didn’t understand why she had my boat keys, but I didn’t question it, I didn’t have time.

“Listen I don’t expect you to help me, just please don’t leave. Let me explain everything. I know you’re frightened, and probably don’t know what to think of me, but there is a history here that needs an explanation.”

“Jack, I just had a gun fired at me, and the last thing that went through my mind was you,” she replied, with much frailty in her voice.

#

I left the second body covered while I wheeled the large Rubbermaid container to my boat. Maddy rode with me in silence as we headed far out to sea. I had taken two of my ninety pound dumbbells from my weight set.

I took us straight south and didn’t stop until Beaufort could barely be seen. It was not a day to take the boat out. The wind chilled me to my bones.

Maddy sat in silence as I rolled the bodies over the edge of the boat. With the ninety pound dumbbells attached, they disappeared into the blackness of the water in seconds. The noose I tied around their necks that attached to the weights, would not come untied on its own. I knew the sharks and other marine life would get to the bodies eventually.

We headed back toward Beaufort, and Madalyn said nothing, even as we stepped out of the boat. I noticed her car parked a few blocks down, so I walked us in that direction.

“Let’s not go back to my place just yet,” I told her.

She said nothing and her silence was scaring me.

“Maddy, do you have the keys?” I asked.

She didn’t answer, only stared out at the ocean, past the marina. I touched her shoulder, and she jumped at me as she screamed my name. She held onto me as if her life depended on it. It was almost like she was having a delayed reaction to the trauma she had experienced.

I held on to her as she cried. She kept trying to speak, but no words came out. I kept speaking softly to her, trying to calm her down. It started to work after a few minutes.

“I thought I was never going to see you again,” she finally said. “He tried to shoot me, Jack,” she cried.

“Maddy, I need your keys,” I firmly said. I wanted to get us back to my apartment.

She pulled her keys from her bag, and I got us moving. We circled around my apartment for a while, looking for anyone else who might be present or any attention we may have attracted. I saw nothing suspicious.

I threw the badges and wallets of the two officers in one of my kitchen drawers. I walked away from Maddy as she set her bag down. It was hard to know where to start, and what to say. I walked into my bedroom and stood with my hands in my pockets. She soon walked in behind me.

“Jack,” she whispered, on the verge of tears again.

I turned to look at her, and she was holding her sunglasses down at her side.

“I feel… anguished, Jack, that it would have taken less than a centimeter to keep me from ever seeing you again,” she said, raising the sunglasses from her side. My heart strings severed themselves, seeing the bullet hole in the upper right corner of her sunglasses.

#

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