In The Victim's Shadow

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Chapter 20

Chad left the beach whistling and smiling sardonically. He was growing tired of perfect Ms. Katherine’s games. Taking the boy was clever, and so, so easy. They hadn’t even noticed him missing for a good fifteen minutes. He ought to have taken him. That would teach them. He could be a much better father than his father was. Hell, anybody could be a better father than his could.

His stomach growled as he neared an intersection crowded with restaurants. He slowed to inspect. “Let’s see—pizza, burgers, fries...” None of those sounded good to him. He spied a Chinese restaurant on his right. “Humph,” he said. “That’s a possibility.” He pulled the car over to the curb and sat looking at the sign. He shook his head. “What I need is a distraction.”

He pulled away from the curb and headed down Mission. A sudden image of April entered his mind as he passed the Magic Cup. He hung a u-turn and headed back toward the café. Perhaps if he were lucky she’d be there—hopefully without Mr. Intellect.

The place was crowded and, as usual, all the same gang was there as the last time. The same Greasy Charlie sat in the corner with his porn site up and running. His eyes danced with delight as he watched the girl of the hour gesture seductively at him. Chad looked around, wondering if it bothered anyone. Nobody seemed to care. They all were deep in conversation, or studying, and could care less what Greasy Charlie did.

On a whim, he crossed the room and sat down at Charlie’s table, just to see if he would notice. He didn’t. Chad watched him for several moments, saw him shift in his seat, and pushed away the vision of how much he was getting out of this.

After several moments of watching Charlie gyrate in his seat, he reached over and grabbed the laptop from him.

“Hey!” Charlie yelled. “What the hell are you doing?”

“Just checking out a little action for myself, buddy. You don’t mind, do ya?”

Charlie sized him up—definitely older than he was, a lot tougher looking, too. “I guess not,” he said.

Chad watched the screen for a few minutes, and then closed the computer. “Can’t get one of these in person, huh, Charlie?”

“I could,” he said defensively, “I just don’t want to.”

Chad laughed loudly. A few eyes turned toward him, but most of the crowd hadn’t seemed to notice. “Do the owners of this nice, wholesome establishment know what you do over here?”

“Shit,” Charlie said, taking back the computer. “Nice establishment, my ass. This place is nothing but a hook-up joint.”

Chad shook his head. “And yet, you ain’t hooking up, Charlie. How come?”

Charlie frowned and dropped his eyes. “Maybe I don’t want to.”

“I think you do, Charlie.” He watched Charlie, and a sudden thought came to him. He eyed him for several minutes. He stuck his hand out for a greeting. “The name’s Chad.” Reluctantly, warily, Charlie accepted his hand and shook it. Chad gestured toward Charlie’s cup, which looked untouched. “You going to drink that?”

Charlie pushed the cup toward him. “I don’t come here for the coffee. It tastes like shit.” He grinned. “I come for the Wi-Fi.”

“Why here?”

He shrugged. “Can’t surf porn anywhere else. My mom has a block on ours at home. So does the library.”

He took a long swallow of the coffee. Charlie was right about one thing. It tasted like shit. “I know where you can surf porn all you want.”

Charlie brightened. “Where?”

Chad picked up three packets of sugar and two creamers. He tore them open and dumped them into his coffee, giving Charlie time to anticipate his answer. He took another sip. At least it was drinkable now. “My place,” he said. Charlie sat back and gave him a quizzical look. “What’s the catch?”

“I need a favor. That’s all.”

“What kind of favor?”

“Ever done surveillance?”

Charlie chuckled. “Yeah, right.” He pointed at his laptop. “In what spare time? I’ve got school, you know.”

“Right,” Chad said, nodding. “School.” He leaned in. “Here’s the thing. My girl’s cheating on me, and I want someone to keep an eye on her for me. You know, see who she’s with…where she goes…that sort of stuff.”

Charlie eyed him skeptically. “I don’t know. Isn’t that like a peeping Tom or something? I think there’s a law against that.”

“Only if you look through her window and watch her undress.” He leaned forward, resting his arms on the table, glaring into Charlie’s eyes. “And then I’ll kill you, so you won’t even have to worry about breaking the law.” He sat back, grinned.

Charlie just stared. His gut instinct told him to walk away, but the way Chad looked at him made him think he didn’t have a choice. “I don’t know if I have time to do that,” he said. “I’ve got school and all. My mom will be pissed if my grades slip. She’s pretty strict about that.”

“Really, Charlie? Your mom? How old are you?”

He sat up straight, puffed out his chest. “I’m twenty.”

Chad nodded at him. “There, you see—twenty. Old enough to vote, smoke cigarettes…” he spread his arms wide. “Hell, almost old enough to buy a drink.” He sat back again, pulled his wallet out of his back pocket, and fumbled in it. He shoved a picture at him.

Charlie’s eyes widened. “Is that your girl?”

Chad shook his head. “No, but that could be your girl, Charlie.” He took out his phone, searched through his contacts, and held it out to Charlie. “Cynthia Blackstone. Her number could be in your phone, too.” When Charlie still hesitated, Chad slapped the table, making Charlie jump. “Come on, Charlie—free porn, hot girls. What else do I need to entice you?” He gave him a hard, intimidating glare.

Charlie snatched the phone from him and frantically wrote down the number. “Will you call her first? So I don’t look like a dork or anything.”

“You got it,” he said, smiling triumphantly.

He scribbled some notes on one of Charlie’s notepads. “Here’s my address and phone. My dad lives with me. He’s there most of the time, but I’ll get you a key all the same.” He scribbled some more information. “Here’s her work address. She lives in the same building as I do, but you can’t get up to her place. She’s in the Penthouse.” He made a mocking face and pulled out a Polaroid photo he had taken of Katherine. “Here’s a picture of her.”

Charlie stared at the photo, speechless. His eyes glazed over, and his lower jaw slackened. Slowly, he lifted his head to look at Chad. “She’s beautiful,” he said.

Chad smiled and shook his head. “Yeah, if she could only stay faithful.”

Charlie shook his head, clearing his thoughts. “That’s low, man. When do you want me to start?”

“Tomorrow.”

“I’ve got school.”

Chad sighed. “When you’re not in school.”

“For real about the apartment thing? Free internet whenever I want?”

“Whenever,” Chad said. “No filters or blocks, either.”

Chad stood to leave. “Have you seen April tonight?” he asked.

“Yeah. She was here with the dick-wad preppy she’s been seeing. They had a huge blowout, and she left.”

Chad smiled. “A fight, huh?” He turned to leave. Charlie opened his laptop again and began to log back on. Chad turned around. “One more thing.” Charlie looked up. “Take a shower. Cynthia’s a classy lady.”

Charlie lifted his arm and smelled himself. He shrugged, looked back down at the computer, and waved off Chad.

Chad doubted he would even take his eyes away from the computer long enough to call Cynthia.

He nearly broke every speed law getting back to the apartment. He was feeling ready to share the wealth and couldn’t wait to see April.

He stopped at the corner market and picked up a bottle of wine and a bunch of flowers. Girls liked that sort of thing. He pushed the elevator button and waited. “Aw the hell with it,” he said and turned and fled up the stairs, taking them two at a time. Arriving on the tenth floor, out of breath, he stopped long enough to stop panting. Then he sauntered to apartment 1075 and rang the bell.

He was about to give up, thinking no one was home when the door flew open, and an angry April spewed words at him. “I said to take a hike you—” She broke off when she saw it was Chad, and not Mr. Intellect. She blushed and tilted her head to one side. “Sorry.”

He thrust the flowers at her. “I heard you had a rough night. I thought you could use some cheering up.”

She brightened. “How sweet.” She took the flowers, turned and walked into the apartment, throwing back over her shoulder, “Come on in.”

He closed the door and followed her in. The apartment was much like his own, furnished in run-of-the-mill, standard-issue, everybody-in-the-building-gets-the-same-stuff way. Well, everyone in the lower-class club, at least. “I see we have the same decorator,” he said.

She shrugged. “I guess. Candice, she lives down the hall a little, has the same stuff, too. I’ve never thought about it.” She eyed her surroundings and shrugged again. “At least it’s nice stuff.” She obviously hadn’t seen how the upper class in the penthouse were living. He guaranteed she wouldn’t feel the same if she saw the lavish furnishings, as he had.

“I’ll be right back,” she said, disappearing into what Chad knew to be the kitchen. She returned with the flowers, now in a vase filled with water. She placed them in the middle of the dining room table, which shared space with the living room—cleverly separated by a half wall.

He handed her the wine. She frowned. “I’ll pour you some if you want,” she said. “But I have to go to school in the morning. I never drink on a school night. It messes with my head the next day, and I’ve got a killer math final.”

He set down the bottle. “It’s okay. We’ll save it for another day.”

There was a moment of awkward silence between them. Then Chad said, “Charlie said you and Mr. Intellect had a fight.”

She sighed. “He’s a jerk.”

She wandered over to the sofa and flopped down on it. Then she drew up her knees and sat cross-legged on it. He chuckled at the thought that his father wouldn’t even sit on their couch for fear he might soil it.

“What’s so funny?” she asked, cocking her head sideways and giving him a quizzical glance.

He shook his head and sat down next to her. “What was it about?”

“What was what about?”

“The fight. What did you two argue about?” He was making small talk, he knew, but he couldn’t think of anything better to say.

She shrugged. “Oh, that. I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Okay,” he said, relieved. He didn’t want to talk, either. He had better motives for his visit tonight. He moved in closer. When she didn’t back up, he moved again, until he was only inches from her. “So, there’s room for us maybe?”

She smirked. “Maybe. I don’t know you that well.”

He wrapped an arm around her. “No better time like the present.”

She pushed him away. “I told you I have school tomorrow.”

“So, that’s tomorrow.” He pulled her toward him again.

“Come on, Chad.” She pushed at him gently again, this time sliding off the sofa and coming to sit on the opposite end of the couch.

He watched her pick up the TV remote, just as Katherine had that night. She flipped through the channels, not necessarily looking for anything in particular, just trying to occupy her hands. He could see they were trembling. He moved beside her, nuzzled her ear and pushed at the remote, removing it from her lap. “We don’t need this,” he said. April tensed, but he did not relent. He didn’t care what she wanted. He was tired of being rejected, cast off as if he were nothing. Who did these women think they were? His hands wandered over her breast, played with the elastic on the top that covered them, drawing it away from her body so he could see inside. She was stacked, one of the largest-breasted women he’d ever seen, and his body responded with enthusiasm. She slapped his hand away and looked at him, narrowing her eyes. “Really, Chad?”

He ignored the rebuff, pulled at the elastic again, bringing his mouth toward her half-exposed breast. She covered her breast with her hand. “No, Chad.” She tried to slide away, but the position of her body did not gain her much space. “What? You think you can come in here and just go at it with me? What kind of girl do you take me for?”

She tried to stand, but he pushed her back. He covered her mouth with his and kissed her deeply. She bit his lip.

“Ouch!” he shouted, touching his lip and bringing his finger away to find blood. “You little bitch. What the—”

“I said no,” she said, cutting off his sentence. Her eyes burned with rage. She was a fighter. Chad liked that.

April, sensing danger, tried to rise, but he pulled at her again. This time, his hand found its way under her top. He pushed up her bra, cupped her breast, and squeezed her nipple as hard as he could.

She cried out in pain, kicked at him and managed to slide out from under him. He was on her, pulling her back down where he instantly pinned her down.

“Don’t do this, Chad,” she warned, trying to wriggle free.

He pulled at her jeans, unbuttoning them and pulling at the zipper. His hand found its way inside, and he rammed a finger inside, hurting her. His mouth came down roughly on hers again. She could feel the stubble of a day’s beard grinding into her soft lips. “Please don’t,” she cried.

“Whore,” he spat. “You’re just like her, thinking you’re better than me, thinking you can swing your pretty little ass in my face and then shut me out when I try to collect.” He pulled on her jeans with one hand, while pinning her hands above her head with the other. When he had them down to her knees, he opened his jeans and pulled them down to his hips. Then he lay on top of her, poking at her with his erect penis, trying to force her legs apart with his knee.

April knew it was now or never. Mustering all her anger and strength, she bucked hard enough to throw him to the floor. She stood, panting with effort. “Get the hell out of here before I call the cops.”

He sat on the floor, panting—his chest heaving. His eyes glowed with rage, his jaw twitched as he bit back his anger.

“I mean it,” April repeated. She ran to the phone and picked it up, nearly tripping over the jeans that hung to her knees. Chad was on her in two seconds. She screamed, and he clamped a hand over her mouth. She bit his finger.

“Ow!” he screamed. “Goddamned whore.”

She started to dial, had gotten to the first one when he wrenched the phone from her grasp. “I’m going.” He put the phone back in its cradle, pulled up and zipped his pants. He slammed the door when he left. The walls shook as if something exploded within them.

April heard the door across the hall open and then quickly slam shut. She shuddered and ran to dead bolt her door. Tomorrow she intended to file a report with security.

She saw the flowers and wine sitting on the table. Seething with rage, she picked up both of them and strode to the garbage can. She pressed the foot that opened the lid and threw them both inside, letting the lid thud back in place. She slid down the wall, her back to it, and cried for an hour. She had come so close to being raped tonight. She had ignored all the signs of danger that her mother and so many other people in her life had warned her about. She never thought it would happen to her. Didn’t everyone say that, though? Yes. Tomorrow she would file a report. No, wait. Better. Tomorrow she would go to the police station and file a charge against him. That was what she needed to do. That’s what he deserved. Tonight, though, she needed a shower. She needed to wash away the smell and taste of him. That wouldn’t take away the vision of him trying to ram that vile organ of his inside her, though. She felt bile rise in her throat, and without even trying to get up, she vomited into the trashcan, right along with the flowers and wine.

***

Inside apartment 1073, Chad stormed through the apartment looking for his father. “Dad!” he shouted. “Dad!” he repeated.

Spencer cringed in his bedroom. He heard his son calling to him, heard him thundering through the apartment, opening and closing doors at random as if he didn’t know where to find him. He wondered what had set him off this time.

In the early years of Chad’s childhood, it had been easier. His mother had been around then, and although Spencer hadn’t loved her, they had gotten on well enough. Spencer, however, overflowing with guilt, couldn’t seem to get past what he had done. He had tried. Lord only knew how much he had tried. Nothing could assuage the guilt that tore him apart each time he looked at the picture of the little girl, and nothing could stop him from looking at it. Once, when Chad was young, he had caught him looking at the picture and asked about her. Spencer had tried to shrug it off, but his mind kept wandering to the picture.

“Dad!” Chad shouted again.

Spencer shoved the picture back in the box and rammed it under his bed. He picked up the magazine sitting on his bed and pretended to read it. When the door burst open, he jumped, even though he knew it was coming.

“Why the hell didn’t you answer me?”

Spencer looked up and shrugged. “I saw no need to return your yells. I knew you’d find me soon enough.”

Chad looked at him with disgust. “What are you doing?”

Spencer shrugged again. “Looking at a magazine.”

Chad walked over and plucked it out of his hands. “Do something useful with your life, old man.”

Spencer sighed. “Like what?”

Chad didn’t answer him. “Our plan isn’t working.”

Spencer grinned. “Our plan?”

Chad ignored the jab. “The bitch is colder than I anticipated.”

“Because she hasn’t fallen head-over-heels for your smooth charm?”

Chad raised his hand to backhand his father but let it drop. “It’s time to move to plan B.”

“What’s plan B?”

Chad stared at him. “Never mind—you’ll find out soon enough.”

“What am I supposed to do?”

Chad threw the magazine at him. “Act useless, as usual.”

Spencer grabbed the magazine just in time before it slipped to the floor. He sank back down on the bed.

As Chad reached the door, he turned back, grinning. “The bitch is going to pay, Dad. She’s going to make up for all the years she stole from me.”

A cold chill ran through Spencer. “What does that mean, son? What are you going to do?”

“Nothing she hasn’t already done to me. She’s going to see what I see, feel what I feel, know what it’s like to lose everything you never even had.” He walked out the door, slamming it shut.

Spencer closed his eyes against the guilt that surrounded him like a heavy cloak, transcending him into darkness. His son was out of control, and there was no way to stop him.

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