The sirens, lights, and people talking and walking around me were like a dream. A hazy, unclear and distant memory as I stood there, my hands hanging at my sides and my breaths ragged and quick.
I stared at the silver cover over the small body, gently blowing in the wind. Eli said something to me, but I didn’t hear it. I didn’t want to hear anything.
Another tear rolled down my cheek, getting caught in the stubble on my face. The sun was slowly beginning to dip behind the mountain, and the air grew cooler. My body trembled, but not from the air. I heard Tom’s voice calling to me.
I blinked my eyes away from the shining cover and looked at him.
“Come on. Let’s get you home.” He said.
I moved on autopilot with him, as he dragged me back to his car. He sat me down in the passenger seat and shut the door.
I did this.
Tom climbed into the driver’s side of his car, and pulled out of the clearing, not saying anything. I dropped my head, shut my eyes as another tear escaped.
“Paul, this isn’t your fault,” Tom said quietly.
“I did this. I pushed him. He warned me not to push him, but I did. This is my lesson.” I said through the lump in my throat.
“No. This is his doing. His fault. Don’t put this on you.”
“Just take me home,” I said, turning away from him to stare out the window as another tear fell.
I watched Tom’s car pull off from my house, the light blinding me for a moment in the darkness of the evening. I released the curtain and went to the kitchen, opened the cupboard above my fridge and pulled out a half empty bottle of whiskey.
I twisted the cap off and drank down three long sips.
My phone buzzed in my pocket, and I pulled it out to see an unknown number displayed on the screen. I hit ignore and took another sip.
The phone buzzed again, and again I hit ignore.
I took the bottle to the lounge, and sat down on my sofa, staring at the picture of Addison and I at the picnic. I shut my eyes and the phone buzzed again. This time Gail’s name was on the screen.
I slid it open, “Hey,” I said sadly.
“Oh my God, Paul, are you ok?” She asked.
Lights through my window made me stand up to see Eli dropping my car off. A cab stood waiting on the street.
I went to the door, and opened it for him before he could knock, “Hold on Gail.” I said and dropped the phone from my ear.
“Hey. I thought you might need this back.” Eli said handing me my keys.
I took them, “Thanks.” I said, not meeting his eyes.
“Paul, don’t blame yourself for this. You did everything you could.” I shook my head without raising my eyes to him, “Thanks for the car, Eli. See you tomorrow.”
He nodded sadly and left.
I shut the door behind him, tossed my keys onto the side table and went back to the sofa.
I put the phone to my ear again, “Gail, you there?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’m here.” Her somber voice said.
“Where are you? You still at the office?” I asked, trying anything to get my mind off what I saw today.
“No, I just got to my apartment, about to walk through the door. Captain Raymond sent me home early today.” I heard her keys jingle over the line.
“I was too late. I pushed him, I knew he would do something horrible and I was too late to stop him.” I said, looking at the picture of Addison again.
I heard Gail open her door, “You did everything you could, Paul. This isn’t your fault.” She said, and I heard her door shut, and her keys get thrown on a table.
“Take my mind off it. Tell me something good. Please.” I said, taking a sip of my whiskey.
“Ok… Oh, I never got to thank you for the gift.” She said.
“What gift?” I asked as the liquid burned down my throat.
“The one you left me, in my office. I must say the note was a little weird, but Felix is going to love the toy.” She said.
I sat forward. “Gail, what gift? And what did the note say?”
“It’s one of those feathers on a stick, to play with a cat. And the note only said, “Here kitty kitty, love Paul.”
My heart leaped out of my chest as Gail continued, “Speaking of which, where is that furball? Felix, here boy!” She called over the phone.
“Gail! Get out of there!” I shouted, running towards my front door, grabbing the keys to my car and jumped into the driver’s side.
“What’s going on?” She asked.
“I didn’t give you a cat toy. It's him. It's Toni! Get out!” I shouted as I floored my car down the quiet street.
“Oh my God.” She breathed out and I heard her running towards the door and then an ear-piercing scream and the line went dead.
“Gail! GAIL!” I called looking at the now disconnected call.
“FUCK!” I shouted, slamming my hand on the wheel. I shifted gears and dialed Eli.
“I’m heading to Gail’s apartment, he’s going after her,” I shouted as soon as the call connected.
“On my way,” Eli said and hung up.
I raced towards town, and to the block of flats on 16th avenue. I screeched to a stop outside the white apartment building. A police car was already there, and an ambulance was pulling up.
I ran over to the patrol car and spotted Gail standing by the door to her apartment building with an officer.
The weight of a thousand semi-trucks lifted off me as I called out to her.
She started crying when she saw me and ran into my arms. I held onto her, tightly as she sobbed in my shirt.
“Are you ok?” I asked, pulling her face up to look at me.
A small cut on her forehead and the tears on her face, but she was alive.
"I’m ok. He killed my cat, Paul. He cut him open and nailed him above my door.” She said and fresh tears filled her eyes.
I pulled her into me again, and let her sob, thankful it was only the cat that got gutted here.
“Come on. You can stay at mine. Tom still has officers posted outside, and I’m not letting you be alone until this guy is dead.” I said.
She nodded against my chest, and I held her as we walked back to my car. I opened the passenger side door for her and helped her get in.
Tom pulled up next to the ambulance and came running over to me.
“Is she ok?” He asked, pointing to Gail in the car.
I held up my hand to stop him, “She’s alive. He nailed her cat to the wall, but she just has a bump on the head. I’m taking her back to mine. It’s safer there. She can’t stay alone, not while he’s out there.” I said.
Tom threw his hands onto his bald head and let out a long sigh.
“This is getting out of hand, Paul.”
“I know,” I said, dropping my gaze to my feet.
“Have the paramedics checked her?”
“Yeah, she’s in shock, but she’ll be fine.”
Tom nodded, “Ok, get out of here.” He said as Eli pulled up.
He climbed out and before he could close the door I said to him, “Heading back to mine. Follow us there.” He climbed back in his car, a furious look on his face and we made our way to my house.
Gail sat on the sofa, Addison’s blanket over her and Eli paced the living room. I went to the kitchen to make some coffee but figured we all needed a beer instead. I pulled three out the fridge and took them into the living room. I handed one to Eli, and twisted the cap off Gail’s, placing it into her trembling hand.
“I’m sending my wife and son to Mexico,” Eli said after a long sip. “He knows everything about everyone, and I can’t have them in danger. They are staying with her brothers in Mexico City until this is over.”
“Good. Smart thinking.” I said to him.
“I played with that stupid toy all day,” Gail said quietly, “I thought it was from you, and I had it on my desk all day, smiling every time I looked at it.” Her tear-filled eyes looked up at me.
I sat down next to her, “I am so sorry Gail. I dragged you guys into this, and it’s my fault he’s coming after you.” I said, dropping my head.
Eli started to speak, “Paul, don’t-” But the phone ringing interrupted him. I looked at the unknown number on the screen and then up at Eli. I slid it open and hit the speaker.
“Where is she, Paul?” Toni’s annoyed voice asked.
“Who?” I said, looking up at Eli.
“She should have been back by now. Where is she?”
“Don’t know who you talkin’ about.”
“WHERE IS SHE!” he shouted over the phone.
I leaned in to speak quieter to him, “Did you really think I would bring her back here?”
“You’re upsetting me again, Paul. Where is my Lilly?”
I could hear he was getting annoyed.
This, he wasn’t expecting. No one was.
“Long gone. Even I don’t know where she is. And that means you will never find her.”
“AHHHH!” I heard him throwing things around on the other end of the line. Glass smashing and his angry cries echoed in my house.
“You will never see her again. She is safe, and she won’t come back here until your dead.”
“You’ve made a big mistake Paul. Big mistake!” He said and hung up. A ting of panic filled me at the sound of his annoyed anger.
What will he do now?
Eli frowned at me, “Lilly isn’t coming back here?” He asked.
I stood up, sliding the phone back into my pocket, “No. She’s gone. I don’t know where to, or who she’s with, or if she’s even in the country anymore. The advantage of having cops as parents, is they don’t need to be told what to do in a situation like this.”