In The Victim's Shadow

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Chapter 23

Greasy Charlie knew she had spotted him, which is why he decided to skip watching her for the day, and why he had decided to let her see him enter the apartment building. Better to let her think he had a right to be hanging around the building. He hadn’t expected to see April, and he had to duck behind a bush when she passed him.

He still wasn’t clear why he was watching her, but hey, if it meant free porn, why not?

He took the elevator to the tenth floor and used his key to let himself into the apartment. No one was around, as far as he could see. Then Chad’s old man walked in.

“You again,” he said and shook his head. “I’m tempted to cut off that damned Internet so you’d have to go somewhere else and get your kicks.”

Charlie shrugged. “It’s part of the deal, man.”

“Yeah, well, Chad’s out of control. He should never have made that deal.”

Charlie ignored him and plugged in his laptop. Within minutes, his eyes glazed over, while images of scantily, or not even clad, women gyrated on the screen. Spencer made a scoffing noise and let himself out of the apartment.

He took the elevator to the Penthouse suite and used his security key to get into the apartment.

As usual, he walked around smelling all her things. In the living room, he found remnants of what appeared to be an intimate evening with a man: a bottle of wine with two wine glasses, a bowl of discarded grapes, a man’s shirt, and a bra. Had they finished up in the bedroom? Probably. He plucked one of the grapes and ate it, then another. Then he sat down and finished off the entire bowl.

When he finished, he just sat and looked around. He imagined her sitting on the couch, snuggled under a blanket watching television. The cat would be at her side, or on her lap, and she would whisper tender words to it.

He picked up the remote and turned on the television. The news anchor, or did they call them weather anchors—he laughed at his wit—filled the screen. The idiot was waving her hands around on a large map, indicating various weather activities throughout the area, as if he couldn’t just stick his head out the window and see it was a typical, cloudy day in San Francisco. He wondered if they were planning a vacation and then smiled when he envisioned Chad’s reaction to this.

The cat jumped on his lap, let out a familiar meow, and then lay comfortably, as she purred. They had become close friends since he started spending his mornings in the apartment. He did not know the cat’s name, so he just called her Solace—because that is how she made him feel.

He got up and wandered back to the bedroom, taking the cat with him. She felt so good in his arms that he squeezed her tightly against him. She purred, and a feeling of peace washed over him. He now understood why they said a pet could lower one’s blood pressure. He wondered why he hadn’t ever owned one himself. Maybe, when this was all over, he would get one. He looked down at the cat. Maybe, he’d just take this one.

As usual, the bed and room were neat and tidy. This time, he could smell the dampness from the morning shower and realized it was because he didn’t usually come here on a Sunday. He usually reserved that for the weekday. For some reason, he felt a strong pull today and risked her being off somewhere, enjoying what was probably her only day off. He shook his head. She worked way too many hours.

The entire apartment had a different feel to it, and he guessed it might be because of the man who kept staying over. Heat seared his cheeks at the thought—as if Katherine were his daughter, and he wanted to strangle the man who violated her.

He walked into the bathroom, noting the shower door was still damp with little droplets of water. He smiled, and then did something he had never done before—he took off all his clothes, stepped into the shower, and turned it on. The water was soft and hot, and he reveled in its feel as it cascaded down his body like streams of silk flowing from the faucet. He picked up the shampoo bottle and smelled it. It smelled of lavender. He lathered his entire body with it so he could remember the fragrance after he had finished.

When he was through, he turned off the shower and dried himself. He was not sure which towel she had used, so he smelled them both. Was it his imagination, or did one of them smell like lavender? No matter, he still chose it. He could always pretend. Imagination, after all, was free.

When he finished drying, he pulled on his clothes and rummaged through the bathroom cabinets. Under the sink, he found a nearly empty travel bottle of shampoo. He dumped the remaining contents down the drain and refilled it with the lavender shampoo. Then he stuck the bottle into his pocket.

He wandered into the kitchen and saw that there were remnants of coffee left over. He poured a cup and nuked it in the microwave. The cat purred around his ankles, so he reached down to pet her. Then he filled her food bowl.

He took the rest of his coffee to the dining room table, picked up the Sunday paper, and poured through it, pissed off when all he found were stories of violence, break-ins, and a failing economy. Where were all the stories of good Samaritans, knights in shining armor, defenders of the castle? “What is this world coming to?” he asked the cat. He chuckled. “Even you are going to ignore me? Nobody seems to want to hear what I have to say.”

He stood and washed his cup. Then he placed it back in the cabinet. He patted his pocket. He had his daily treasure. He could leave now.

When he got back to the apartment, Chad was home, and the two idiots were surfing porn together.

“Where have you been?” Chad demanded.

“Out,” Spencer said. He began walking toward his bedroom, anxious to put his treasure in its new home.

Chad stood and walked over to him. He looked him over, wrinkling his forehead and pulling his eyebrows together. “You smell funny.”

“Then don’t smell me,” Spencer countered. He stepped past Chad and stalked off to his bedroom. He waited an entire minute to see if Chad would follow, but he did not. He took his treasure box out and surveyed the contents: a newspaper article, a diamond pendant, a little pink hair ribbon (his most precious treasure), a cross, a silver hair clip, one gold stud earring, a bottle of perfume, lipstick, a black sandal with rhinestones on it. He took out the bottle of shampoo, opened it, smelled it, closed it, and added it to the collection. Then he closed the box and put it back in its hiding place.

In 1984, Spencer Simon had been down on his luck and desperate for a meal. He had been on unemployment for a while, but that ran out long before any job prospects materialized. He had tried begging, but not too many people were keen on that. He tried the homeless shelters but found them filled long before he made it into the line.

One day, he wandered into a corner market, hoping to find some work—even if it was only for a day. The clerk, however, turned him down. Dejected, he turned away from the counter and started to walk away. That is when he saw the coffee, freshly brewed, hot, and bold. He poured himself a cup, thinking the clerk would take pity on him and let him have the cup for what was in his pocket. He only had fifty cents and a gun some trashcan roommate had asked him to hold for him.

The man in front of him paid for his groceries with two twenties. However, while the clerk was giving him change, something strange came over Spencer. When it was his turn to pay, he reached into his pocket, to take out the fifty cents. What came out instead was the gun. He had not pointed it at the clerk, had not even said anything to the clerk, but the clerk reached into the till and pulled out a wad of cash. “Take it, dude. Just take it and get out,” the clerk shouted.

“I’m sorry,” Spencer yelled back. He took the money and backed out the door. When he turned around, prepared to run, the gun went off. For one horrible minute—that seemed like an eternity—he locked eyes with the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Then her mouth dropped open in shock. They both looked down at her stomach, from which blood poured, and then back into each other’s eyes.

A child started screaming as the woman dropped to the ground. He flew past the child, catching her hair ribbon on the button of his sleeve and ripping it free from her hair.

He wandered the streets for days, dazed—not eating, not sleeping, and certainly not thinking.

When he finally recovered from the shock, he waited for the cops, to come and throw him in jail. He almost wanted it. They never did come. He scoured every abandoned newspaper he could find, trying to get some news about the shooting. He half expected to see his name splashed across the headlines, but the years rolled by with hardly a word.

He even went as far as to walk into a police station and stand in the middle, willing someone to notice him. I’m here, I’m here, he would shout in his head. Don’t you know I’m the one? I’m the one who robbed that poor woman of her life, and made her child motherless! Nobody even gave him a second glance.

A year after the tragic shooting, he met Susan outside a diner. Why she spoke to him, he would never know. Filth covered his body. He was thin, undernourished, and he reeked from lack of a bath.

“Spare some change, Miss?” he asked.

She turned to him, heart pounding from the sudden surprise. She looked him over and apparently had taken pity on him because she said, “Let me buy you something to eat.”

Their relationship grew from there. She tried to help him recover some of his lost dignity and had done a fair job of it. Keeping adequate employment had been the one area where he failed. He bounced from job to job, unable to hold to the rigid schedule his employers put upon him.

He often woke in the night, tortured by his dreams of an orphaned child with one pink hair ribbon. In these dreams, he cared for the child, seeing to her every need, tending to every scrape and scratch she endured, bathing every fever her body produced but always in the end she would cry for her mother—the one thing he could not give her.

Susan became pregnant. At first, she seemed somewhat happy about it. He had tried to go through the motions of being a caring father-to-be, but his depression overwhelmed him so much he could hardly concentrate, often not even able to rise from bed.

Susan began to resent the pregnancy and utter curses toward the baby she carried inside. “I’m not taking care of this brat alone,” she would often scream at Spencer, but it did no good. Her threats could not make him stand up and take charge. Nevertheless, babies will come when babies come, and whether his parents had been ready or not, Chad made his debut. Susan tried hard to bond with the baby, but she lacked the necessary maternal instincts. Spencer went through the motions and somewhat managed to help out whenever his depression allowed. By the time Chad turned three, Susan was fed up with both the men in her life. She packed up her things and hit the road.

The first time Social Services took Chad away from Spencer, he had almost left him there. Parenting was hard—single parenting even harder—especially for a down-on-his-luck father. However, Spencer could not do it. He could not leave his son in the care of strangers, so he had found a job, done all the things the social worker told him he had to do, and with her help, managed to bring up Chad to the age of adolescence before more trouble brewed.

By the time Chad’s fifteenth birthday came around, he had been arrested three times for drug possession, twice for vagrant curfew, and once for underage gambling.

Spencer’s only reprieve were the times he would sit on the living room sofa with a beer in one hand and the newspaper photo of the little girl in the other.

Chad grew to resent the child he had never met. By the time Chad hit twenty-one, he had begun to concoct his plan.

***

Spencer’s door flew open, and Chad swept through. “What the hell are you doing sitting here in the dark?” He looked his father up and down. “You’re pining over the stupid photo again, aren’t you?”

Spencer sighed. “I’m not doing anything, and I’m getting tired of you busting through my door without knocking. I am a human being, and I deserve my privacy.”

“You ain’t nothing but a useless old man who’s wasted his entire life looking at some crumbly old newspaper photo.”

Spencer flew off the bed and stood before his son, challenging him. Chad sneered. “Getting brave, old man?” He chortled. Then he turned around and left, slamming the door behind him.

Spencer heard him laughing all the way down the hall. He had all he could do to keep from crying.

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