“Am I coming there, or are you coming here?”
I paused. For two weeks, Sebastian had tried to get me to leave my building without success. This would be a way to get him off my back and to not inconvenience Doctor Adams.
“I’ll come there, Doctor. Would it be possible to come after nightfall?”
“Of course, Mr. Desmond. Will this evening work for you? Say eight o’clock?”
“Are you sure? I can wait until after Christmas. You don’t have to spoil your holiday for me.”
“No, that’s all right. My wife will understand. Besides, it’s only Christmas Eve, not Christmas Day. My children are all grown, and she and I will simply go to bed early tonight anyway.”
“Thank you, Doctor. I really appreciate you making time for me. I’ll see you at eight.”
“See you then, Mr. Desmond.”
I hung up the phone and listened to the silence around me. It was only ten in the morning, but there was no one in the office. I had given Miss Parker the holiday off, and she wouldn’t be back to work until after the first of the year. I had finally convinced Sebastian that I was okay and that he could visit his family without fear that I would do something stupid. He had left for Knoxville two days earlier, but he still called me every night to make sure I was still alive. I had told him to stay through the year’s end as well, and I was actually enjoying the solitude.
I turned my attention to the paperwork on my desk, and I lost myself in my work for another three hours. When there was no more to do, I went to my apartment and immediately entered my studio.
Sebastian had helped me put things to right the day after I had destroyed it, and it was back to its normal state. Since that night, I’d had no problems with inspiration, and I sat down before my current project. It was a life-sized painting of my mother holding me in her lap while sitting on the floor of our cabin. Her eyes were closed, and she cradled me to her chest. I was ten years old, and my arm was splinted, but the expression on my face was one of pure bliss. There was a dark purple bruise on my mother’s cheek, but her face reflected mine. My father was nowhere to be seen.
After seeing the snow painting on The Lake, Sebastian had suggested that I recreate every good memory I could think of. I scoffed at first, thinking that there weren’t too many of those, but as I thought harder, I remembered many times when I felt…not happy, but…content, maybe. Every one of those times was when I was alone with my mother or in the company of Doctor Clark or Sebastian, and the last two weeks had been filled with picture after picture of those three people, but the vast majority were of my mother.
Some of the paintings were of the two of us, but many, many more were of just her. When I was in the picture with her, they were of good moments, but they were also brutally honest. Hence the bruise and the splint. When they were solo portraits of her, however, they were perfect, and they reflected what I knew she would have looked like if she hadn’t been brutalized by my father.
I rarely thought of him, and it was nice because when I did, the all-too-familiar anger threatened to boil over, and I didn’t want to feel like that anymore. I did think of Sarah, though. A lot. I hadn’t heard from her since the day I had hung up on her, and I assumed she was having the time of her life in Europe with her father. At any rate, I sincerely hoped so. I felt horrible about the way I had treated her, and after numerous discussions with Sebastian, I mostly believed that she would be coming back, but I wasn’t sure she would forgive me. She had said that she would be back after January first and that she would let me know when she was home, but I wasn’t holding my breath. I did, however, think about what she had said about being a victim still, and I had decided that she was right. I would not let my father control me any longer.
The painting was only half done when I cleaned up my brushes and then myself. I took extra care in preparing my dress for the evening, for I wanted anyone who saw me to notice my clothing and hopefully not my face. When I was done, I covered myself up as much as I could with my overcoat, hat, scarf, and single glove before heading to my elevator. I was nervous but determined, and I took deep breaths to stay calm as I rode the fifty floors to the bottom.
I glanced around the gallery as I passed through it; there were new creations on every wall and easel and platform, for I was going to have a new show in January. There were no gloomy, disturbing items this time, though. The theme of this show was going to be Rebecca Adeline Taylor, my mother, and everything in the gallery showed my love for her and hers for me. I wanted the world to know this amazing woman and what she meant to me.
Stepping out into the Christmas Eve darkness, I started down the sidewalk. Doctor Adams’ office was about two miles away, off Park Avenue and 106th, but I wanted to walk. I flipped up the collar of my coat and started walking. I took my time, knowing that I had over an hour to get to my destination, and I decided to take the paths through Central Park. I strolled through the barren trees as my feet crunched over the snow. I wasn’t paying much attention to my surroundings, which is why I was taken completely by surprise when a large shape stepped out of the trees in front of me about fifteen yards away. I halted and squinted as the man slowly walked toward me. My left hand fisted as I watched him lumber closer. A sour taste filled my mouth as recognition hit me like a bus.
By the time Albert Taylor stopped, I was breathing hard with suppressed fury. He was about ten feet from me, and I could see that the years had not been kind to him. He looked to be about twenty years older than he was, and as I stared at him, he started coughing. The hacking continued as he pulled a dirty handkerchief from his pocket and held it to his mouth. When he recovered, he sneered at me, but, to my surprise, there was no fear in me, only a barely controlled rage that filled me from head to toe.
“So, boy, looks like you’ve done well for yourself.” His voice was raspy, and he coughed again.
“What are you doing here?” If he had been anyone else, I’m sure he would have fled at the anger in my voice, but he only took a step closer.
“I had to see for myself the great Mr. Erik Desmond Taylor.” He emphasized his last name, and I scowled. The disdain he held for me had clearly not diminished in the least, for his words were laced with hatred. “I’ve been waiting for this day for five years, boy.”
“What day is that?”
One more step. “The day I make you pay for taking her from me. I just had to wait for you to be alone and out of that monstrosity you call home.”
My eyes narrowed as I quickly closed the distance between us until I was leaning over him. “Taking her from you? I think you’ve got that backward. You took her from me! She didn’t kill herself because she couldn’t live without me! She killed herself because she couldn’t live with you!” My left hand flew out and grabbed him by his grubby coat. The fact that I was tall enough to drag him to his toes wasn’t lost on me as I did just that. “I have waited for this day, too,” I hissed. “The day I kill you.”
“Ha!” His lack of fear only made me angrier. “You don’t have the guts! You were always a spineless weakling, and I can’t imagine that’s changed any.”
“I was a child, you son of a bitch! You terrorized my mother and me because you could and because you enjoyed it!” I let go of his coat, and stepped back. “You were able to beat us when I was smaller than you. Let’s see if you can fight a man.”
“A crippled one like you?” He gestured at my cast. “Not a problem. When I said make you pay, I meant money, but I think this will be even better. And, after I kill you, as your only living relative, I’ll get your money anyway.”
I scoffed at that, for he obviously had no idea how wills worked, but I didn’t have time to dwell on it, for he suddenly whipped off his belt and folded it in half as he had done many times throughout my childhood. He snapped it in the air once and then swung it toward my head. I raised my left hand to block it and grabbed it. It stung, but I held on tight and pulled him toward me just as I punched with my cast. It struck him on the temple with a sickening crack, and his eyes glazed for a moment as he let go of the belt and dropped to the ground. I kicked him in the ribs, reveling in the grunt that escaped him. I kicked him again, but as I raised my foot a third time, I heard a click and then a loud bang.
Fire raced through my right shoulder, and I knew he had shot me. I looked down at him, and he was lying on the snow with a black pistol pointed at me. He pulled the trigger again, but it didn’t fire. I took the opportunity to knock it out of his hands and kick him in the head. This caused him to roll onto his back, and I leaned down to grasp his coat once again and pull him to his feet, holding him so that we were face to face.
“I knew you were a coward,” I snarled. “Beating up a woman and child and now pulling a gun during a fist fight? How pathetic!”
He said nothing, and his head was wobbling on his neck like a newborn baby’s. I tried to raise my cast to hit him again, but my arm wouldn’t move more than a couple of inches upward. I looked down at it and saw nothing unusual, but I could feel the blood trickling down my chest and back underneath my black clothing. I heard sirens far away and, afraid the cops were coming, I grabbed the fallen gun, dragged my father into the trees until we were out of sight of any paths, and threw him to the ground along with the gun. I knelt over him and put my forearm across his throat.
“Now it’s time for you to die,” I whispered and pressed down.
I watched my father’s eyes, and I saw the instant he knew I was going to kill him, for those eyes filled with terror. He clawed at my arm, but I wasn’t about to let him go. Every beating, every whipping, every insult flew through my brain as I concentrated on his eyes. I pressed harder, and his struggles got weaker and weaker until his eyes closed and he moved no more. I kept up the pressure for a while longer just to be sure, and then I exhaled sharply and sat back on my heels. I stared at the body that used to be my father, and surprisingly, I felt a rush of euphoria flow through me. I stood up and looked around me. I made sure there was nothing to incriminate me lying around, and, seeing nothing, I backtracked along the footprints that led to the path. Once there, I started toward Doctor Adams’ office. I wracked my brain for some way to explain the gunshot wound once I got there, but in the end, I decided to just tell him the truth and suffer whatever consequences came my way.
Weakened by the loss of blood, it took much longer than I had anticipated to reach the doctor’s office, and he was waiting outside when I finally made it there, completely exhausted.
“Mr. Desmond, are you okay?”
“No, sir,” I said, stumbling toward him. “I’ve been shot.”
“What?” He rushed toward me, and I collapsed into his arms. “Come inside, quickly.”
I let him lead me through the door, and he had me sit on a bed in a back room.
“Who shot you? Where?”
“My father,” I breathed harshly as he removed my overcoat. “He got me in the shoulder.”
“Your father? I thought he was still in Tennessee.”
“So did I.”
As he undressed my upper half, I told him the entire story, even the fact that I had killed someone. When I was bare, a muscle in his jaw twitched when he saw my shoulder.
“Are you going to call the police, Doctor Adams?” His eyebrows furrowed as he examined the wound that was still trickling blood. “I won’t blame you if you do.”
He said nothing. Grabbing some bandages, he held them to the front and back of my shoulder. I gasped when he put pressure on the wounds but made no other sound.
“The bullet when straight through,” he said. “Can you raise your arm?”
I tried, and it moved a bit before the pain became too much, and I dropped it back down.
“Well, at least you can move it,” he mumbled. “Here, hold this one on. Tightly.” He gestured at the bandage on the front of my shoulder, and I raised my left hand to do as he said. He used his free hand to grab a rolled bandage and began wrapping it around my chest and over my shoulder.
“The police? Are you going to call them?”
He sighed as he tied off the bandage. “Let me ask you a question, Mr. Desmond.”
“What do you think would have happened if you hadn’t killed your father?”
“Tonight? Nothing. He was too hurt. Eventually? He would have come for me again, and I don’t think he would have risked close contact again. He would have ambushed me or shot me from a distance. He probably would have killed me tonight if the gun hadn’t misfired the second time.”
The doctor nodded. “That’s what I thought.” He stepped in front of me and looked me in the eye. “I will not call them. If you decide to, that’s up to you. I consider this a justified killing and an act of self-preservation.” He gently cleaned the blood off me and then gave me a small smile. “Now, let’s get this cast off, shall we?”
Twenty minutes later, I was redressed in my blood-soaked clothing, and Doctor Adams insisted on driving me back to my apartment. I was very grateful for the offer, for I was not at all sure I could walk the two miles back. He pulled up outside the entrance, and I turned to him, holding out my left hand since my right arm was immobilized…again. He took my hand and shook it.
“Thank you, sir, for everything.”
“You are welcome, sir. I wish you the best.”
“And you as well.” I got out of the car and then bent down before closing the door. “Merry Christmas, Doctor Adams.”
“Merry Christmas.”I watched as he drove away, and then I entered the building through the gallery door. Locking it behind me, I walked up the stairs to the elevator.