In The Victim's Shadow

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Chapter 33

Spencer was watching an old movie when Chad burst through the door and raced into the bathroom. He heard the bathroom door slam shut and then open again. “Pack up, old man. We’re moving.” Then the door slammed again.

Spencer rose from the floor and turned off the television. He drifted slowly down the hall to the bedroom. Drunk on grief, or just an overall lack of caring, his mind and body were void of any sense of urgency. He did not care if they moved. In fact, he welcomed it. He had felt like a squatter from the first day they moved in.

He heard the shower running as he passed. He considered knocking to see if Chad was okay but decided against it. Whatever it was that had set off Chad this time, Spencer was not sure he wanted to know.

He pulled down his suitcase from the closet shelf and threw in what few clothes he owned. Next, he got down his memory box with the faded newspaper picture. On one of his trips to her apartment, he managed to find a real picture of her. The picture showed a woman with her, but he had cut her out so that only Katherine remained. He added the picture to the box. He looked at it now and somehow knew this sudden move had something to do with her. He closed his eyes and found himself praying for her safety. What would he do if Chad had done something bad to her?

He loved Chad, even though Chad didn’t believe he did, but his attachment to her was different. Chad didn’t understand this and was always harping on him about it. That only put a rift in their relationship. He wanted to move on, but he couldn’t—not until he paid his debt. The problem was; he didn’t know what to do to make it right.

He had so often wondered how his life would have turned out if only he hadn’t walked into the market that day. Of course, Chad probably wouldn’t be here because he probably never would have married Susan. He probably never even would have met her because his luck would have had to break at some point, and he would not have been begging that day. He wouldn’t have known any different.

He wondered how Katherine’s life would have turned out if her mother had lived. Would she still be the same person? Would she be a better person? On the other hand, would the spoils of her riches make her selfish or uncaring in the absence of her tragedy? Had the tragic loss made her a more sympathetic person than she might otherwise have been? Was all this the reason she was such a charitable and dedicated lawyer today?

It was pointless to ponder all these questions because he had walked into the market that night. He had stolen the cup of coffee, and the money, and he had snuffed out the life of the beautiful blonde woman. He had met Susan and created life with her, but the worst of it was, he’d ruined the lives of two children in that one second of the world he could not take back.

When he finished packing, he sat on the bed—waiting. For what he did not know: Chad to come out of the bathroom, police to storm the apartment, Katherine to walk through the door and accuse him?

The bathroom door opened, and Chad padded across the hall and into his bedroom, a towel wrapped around his waist.

Spencer rose and went into the bathroom, to clean all traces of them from it. He took out the toiletry bag he had been storing underneath the sink and began putting items into it: toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, shampoo, cotton swabs, deodorant… He bent down to scoop up Chad’s discarded clothes and froze. His shirt, covered in blood, lay wadded up into a ball and stuffed inside his pants—obviously to hide it from him. It looked as if Chad had tried to wash it out, but had had little success.

Chad flung open the bedroom door and came into the bathroom. He saw Spencer with his clothes in hand and grabbed them from him. Wordlessly, he left the bathroom and opened the front door. When he returned, he did not have the clothes with him.

“What was that all about?”

“It doesn’t concern you,” Chad answered.

“The hell it doesn’t. Where have you been?” Spencer asked.

“It’s none of your business,” Chad retorted.

“Is that Katherine’s blood?” Spencer demanded “If it was—”

“No,” Chad said and walked into his bedroom.

Not willing to let it drop that easily, he followed Chad. He was packing his suitcase, throwing things haphazardly in the bag. Spencer grabbed his arm, whirled him around. “Whose blood is it?”

Chad shook off the arm and resumed packing. “The bastard she’s sleeping with.”

Spencer stepped backward, his hands flying to his head. He paced in circles. “Why, Chad? Why would you hurt him? He hasn’t done anything to you.”

Chad got mere inches from his face. “Because he pissed me off,” he said. He hesitated, then added, “And because she loves him. I want to take from her like she took from me.”

He grabbed his suitcase and brushed past Spencer. “Let’s go.” Spencer did not move but collapsed on the bed. “Now!” Chad bellowed.

Spencer shook his head. “I’m not going anywhere with you.”

Chad set down the suitcase and crossed the room in two long strides. He grabbed his father by the arm, dragging him to the door. “Unless you want the cops on both our asses, you’ll get moving fast.”

Spencer, knowing he had no choice, moved toward his bedroom, picked up his suitcase, and followed his son out the door. “Where are we going?”

“I found a safe place.”

The safe place turned out to be an old trailer at the sand and gravel pit where Chad worked. When they walked into the trailer, they could see nothing. Chad fumbled around for a light, finally finding one and flipping on the switch.

Chad fumed in anger when he saw the sorry state of the trailer, but Spencer only smiled at the irony of the situation. “I guess this is what we get for being squatters for all those months.” He laughed.

“I fail to see any humor here,” Chad said.

“Well, if you would just learn to control your temper we wouldn’t be in this predicament.”

“If you hadn’t killed that woman we wouldn’t be in this predicament.”

Chad stomped off, leaving Spencer drowning in his guilt. There were days when Spencer couldn’t bear the shame of what he had done. He lost track of the number of times he stood in front of the police station, contemplating walking in and surrendering. Each time he stood there, though, he thought of Chad, wondering what would happen to him if his father went to prison. Once he even stopped a police officer to ask him directions, silently begging him to see through his facade. He looked at Chad now and wondered if perhaps that would have been for the best after all.

Chad unrolled a bedroll, huffing and stomping in anger as he did so. He stopped and looked at Spencer, then pointed toward another roll. “It certainly isn’t going to unroll itself,” he spat, tipping his head back and forward in a mocking gesture.

Spencer sighed, picked up his roll, which consisted of a sleeping bag and a pillow, and shook it out. “Where’d these come from?”

“A friend.”

Chad fidgeted for a few moments, settling on his side.

Spencer’s eyes roamed the trailer. It appeared to be an old discarded office. A desk stood in the corner with an old typewriter on top of it—not even one of those ultra-modern IBM Selectrics that were all the rage back before word processors made them endangered species. This one was a manual, break-your-fingers-trying-to-hit-the-keys kind. Two chairs sat on the visitor side of the desk, and a roll-around secretarial occupied the business side. There was a water cooler with a ‘Hey Culligan Man’ sticker on it, but no water in the empty bottle. Cobwebs filled every corner. The floor was empty, except one box in the corner. Spencer walked over, peered inside, and jumped back when a rat scurried out of hiding.

He said nothing to Chad, who had closed his eyes, but picked up his bedroll from the floor. He walked over to the desk, removed the typewriter, placed the chairs at the end of the desk for his feet to rest on, and placed his bedroll on the desk. Then he climbed inside.

“What are you doing?” Chad asked.

“Getting away from the rats.”

“They aren’t going to hurt you.”

“I’d just as soon they find their own bed, instead of mine.”

“Are you going to turn off the light?”

“No.”

“No?” Chad said, incredulous.

“I want to see who, or shall I say what, I’m sleeping with.”

Chad issued a grunt of irritation, got up, and turned off the light.

Spencer did not protest.

When it grew quiet, and they lay in the dark, Spencer said, “It’s not too late, Son. We can hit the road in the morning.”

“And do what?”

“I don’t know…maybe travel a little. I always wanted to see Colorado. Or how about Montana—we could pick up some work as ranch hands or something.”

Chad burst out laughing. “How much do you know about horses? `Cause I sure as hell don’t know a damned thing.”

“I guess I never told you I grew up on a farm.”

Chad was surprised. It had occurred to him before that he knew little about his father’s past. Spencer had never talked much about it, and Chad never cared enough to ask. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“This has gone much further than it should have. All you said you wanted was a little cash.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not done yet. I want everything she has. I want her to know what it’s like to do without.”

“Have you stopped to consider how much I’ve already taken from her?”

Chad was quiet for a moment, and Spencer wondered if perhaps he might be thinking it over. “That’s between you and her,” he finally said, and they grew silent.

When Chad was nearly asleep, Spencer whispered, “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry for being such a lousy father. I wish I could take it all back, rewind time. I wish I had spent more time with you, paid more attention to you.”

Chad listened to his father issue the lame apology, he even gave it some thought before he said, “You were there plenty, it’s just that you weren’t truly there.”

In the morning, Chad awoke to find Spencer gone.

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