Warning: for a VERY violent scene
10. In The Basement
Cold water spluttered into the cracked porcelain sink. Mike rolled his rumpled sleeves up and cupped his hands beneath the stream, splashing water across his face. It always came as a shock. He rubbed the heels of his hands into his eyes, and repeated the motion a few more times, until he could keep his eyes open without too much pain.
The light was poor in the postage stamp of a bathroom, but then again, the office was never made for living in. He didn’t really need light for this anyway; he already knew that he looked like shit.
There were splatters of blood on his shirt; he had hit his face on something on the way down. There was also blood on the back of his jacket, spray from the shot to the back of the head. Peering closely at his reflection in the mirror, he figured that the shirt would pass. The jacket wouldn’t. He had another, hung on the back of the door. Sleeping in the office had its advantages.
It was later in the day than he had originally thought; almost two o’clock now. Booze usually put him out well past noon anyway. The knock on the head had just added a couple of hours to the ordeal. It could have been worse. If it had been anything but booze, he could have been out for days. Probably would have woken up somewhere else too, with no idea of how he had gotten there. Or what he had done. This wasn’t so bad.
Except for the fact that there might be a homicidal ex-husband out there who now had his ex-wife’s address. That was a thought that helped sober him up. He ran a hand over his jaw, thinking he could use a shave, but the scrape of his hand hurt his head. And his hands still shook. If he cut his throat in the bathroom, he wouldn’t be any help to anyone.
“Help,” he snorted at his reflection, running a hand through his hair, fixing it somewhat. A comb was out of the question. “You can’t even help yourself, you sorry son of a bitch.” He had gone from hunting the woman down to wanting to help her, all in the same week.
The jacket that hung on the back of his door was a little dusty. And it was black, which meant that he was going to bake in it, but it was that, or have the blood on his shirt show. Not that there was much there, but the questions were definitely something he could do without. Getting rousted wouldn’t help the wife any either.
He smacked the dust off of it, draped it over the back of his chair, and sat behind his desk with a notepad, trying to resurrect the notes that he had kept in the coil notebook. It was hard at first, the shreds of information coming out a word at a time, and in the wrong order. One word, one bit of information, would lead to the next in a haphazard fashion. But he got it all. He always did. Eventually.
Tapping the end of his pen on the pad of paper, he tilted back in his chair, thinking about how to best approach the matter. Sure, he could call the woman up; he had her number written down on the pad of paper.
And say what, exactly? ‘Hi, ma’am! I’m the guy your nutcase ex-husband hired to track you down! I’m only calling because I think he might have your address now, after cold cocking me in my office last night.’
Calling her was at the bottom of his list. Her hostility towards him would cloud the issue. It might also make things a hell of a lot worse. If she ran, there would be no telling where she might go; there’d be no way to protect her. So, for now, calling was out.
Reaching backwards, Mike pulled a well-used phone book from a shelf behind his desk, and thumped it down in front of him. The sound made him grit his teeth, feeling nauseous again, and he waited until it passed.
Thumbing quickly through the back pages, he found the Sheriff’s number and pulled the phone on the desk towards him, quickly dialing. He rarely dealt with the law, but it wouldn’t hurt to have the law drive by her house, maybe give them the heads up on the situation. Leaving his name out of it, of course. Dropping his name would open a slew of other questions that he wasn’t ready to answer at the moment. Too damned messy.
Mike grew frustrated, much as Amber had when she had tried to call the Sheriff. When the answering machine picked up, Mike gently hung up the phone. He felt like slamming it, but he knew that his head couldn’t take it if he did. The law wouldn’t be much help, and Mike wondered absently if that was something that Amber had realized. “Probably.” The Sheriff was likely first on the list of places that she would have called.
Standing, Mike threw the jacket on, making sure that it would cover the small spatters of blood if needed. Ripping the written sheets of paper off the pad, he folded them and tucked them into his pocket. Old habits died hard. He had no intention of letting Brightman get the drop on him again.
With the sun sweltering down on him, Mike left his office, crossing the street to use the pay phone in front of a convenience store. With a finger jammed in one ear and the phone pressed to the other, he called a cab. It was already four thirty; he’d forgotten that his car had been left in the parking lot of the seedy bar he was in last night. For a moment, he contemplated having the cabbie just drive out past Amber’s place, but it’s something the cabbie would remember. If anything happened to remember, that is.
Ducking into the cool interior of the convenience store, he bought a rotgut cup of coffee, more aspirin and a pack of smokes, heading back outside to wait. The minutes ticked by, and he felt every one of them. Time slowed to a crawl; close to five o’clock now.
Time grated on him, as he thought about his earlier surveillance of Amber. Her work schedule. She would be on her way home now, or she should be, by the time the cabbie showed. He swallowed the rest of his coffee and threw the cup in the trash as the cab pulled up, the address of the bar recited before he had even closed the door.
Brightman. There was that to consider as well, just where the hell Brightman was. He wasn’t at work, hadn’t been for a week now. Mike had checked into that as well, when he had been checking into other aspects of Brightman’s life. A coffee shared with an overly chatty secretary at a kiosk outside of Brightman’s workplace. The official reason had supposedly been a vacation that was due, but Mike knew different. All that rage couldn’t be bottled up forever; it would begin to show, as Brightman’s carefully crafted façade fell apart around him.
It was a façade, of that there was no doubt. He had carefully structured his life as a cultured businessman. Import Export. A high-powered company with ties all across the world. Brightman’s abuse of his wife would have translated into a different sort of aggression when dealing with business clients and partners.
Adding to that tension, he would have made a hell of a lot of money in that line of work, enough to cover up a lot. Brightman hadn’t said how much of it his wife took in the divorce. How much that would have pissed him off. How much that would have left him. Divorce brought out the worst in people. Mike had seen people that could be reasonable about anything fight about nothing, if it meant the other person got it. Or didn’t get it. An extended vacation, polite language for getting fired. Mike didn’t like to think of Brightman with too much time on his hands, consumed with an ever deeper hatred for his wife. He didn’t need to ask to know that Brightman would blame his wife for that too, Mike had seen it too many times.
Mike pulled a handful of fliers off the windshield of his car, casting an evil glare at the splatter of bird shit down half of the glass. A plan had started to form in his head, but he had to satisfy the need. Or his conscience.
He gunned the engine on the back roads, driving faster than the cabbie had done, and still it was close to five thirty when he got to the stretch of road outside Amber’s small house. He slowed down; a handy map from his glove compartment for cover if anyone came out to ask what he was doing there.
It was quiet outside; a few cars outside the diner. Hard to tell where the cars from the diner ended and those from the garage behind it began. Mike couldn’t put his finger on it, but there was tension in the air, like a firefight that had just passed. It would leave the jungle quiet, but there was a scent of ozone in the air.
Dark blue car in the driveway outside of the white house, a white blouse hanging off a hook in the back. Amber’s car. Mike shook a cigarette out of the pack and lit up, the motion fluid and practiced, as he opened up the map even more, looking busy. It didn’t matter; no one was paying attention to him. Mike wasn’t entirely sure that was a good thing.
Jamming the map back into the glove box, he pulled away from the shoulder of the road. He would be back, to check, but for now, Mike had another goose to chase.
It was early still, but Amber was exhausted. Beyond exhausted. Her muscles ached, her nerves screamed. She would have shaken it to pieces if there had been any energy left. There wasn’t. Shoes long gone, she sat gingerly on the edge of her bed, the hem of her skirt catching against the bandage on her leg, to pull off her tattered pantyhose.
The first laugh was a strange, strangled sound that boiled and seared its way out of her, hardly a laugh at all. The tears came with it. “At least I won’t have to wear these anymore.” That had another tortured laugh rip through her, until she was leaned over on her arm, laughing so hard that her sides hurt. The crying hadn’t stopped either.
Amber felt heavy, her body sinking into the bed. She hadn’t eaten yet, and there were things that she had to do, but all she wanted to do was sleep. It all felt like some awful dream, and a part of her wanted to escape, to sleep through it until it was done. Not having the energy to get up and cross the room, she reached down to the foot of the bed for the pair of pajamas that she had left there the night before, quickly stripping off the rest of her business suit and crawling under the covers.
Sleep yanked her under mercilessly, and she was out before her head hit the pillow.
The house was quiet and dark. Amber didn’t know what woke her, but it wasn’t a noise, exactly. More of a feeling. Something off. The baseball bat with its ridiculous red bow wasn’t much comfort, but she pulled it to her underneath the sheet. She lay in bed, her hands tightening on the handle of the bat, her body stiff beneath the covers, listening.
Heart racing, she eased the covers back, swinging her feet off the bed and onto the floor. After every action, she froze, straining for any sound, something that would tell her that she was being ridiculous. She didn’t feel ridiculous though.
Her heart hammered in her chest, the sound of blood pounding in her ears. Terror made her stomach churn; she wanted to run but had no idea where, or from what. Except that she did know; deep in her gut, she knew.
For most people, it was sitting in a darkened theater, watching as the hero walked into the basement. Where the monsters always were. For Amber, it was jolting awake in the wee hours of the morning at the sound of a key in the lock. The fumbling, anger radiating. Her husband had gone out drinking after work and things had gone well, or gone badly. The outcome for her would be the same.
So she knew what it was, what had woken her. Just didn’t really want to believe that it had followed her here. That was a childish wish, she knew. Swallowing, her tongue flicked out over her bottom lip; all of the moisture pulled out of her body. Knuckles bled white under the pressure, and she took a step forward, the bat held tightly in her hands.
She was at the doorway to her bedroom when she heard it, the tiniest of noises. In any other house, there would have been no sound, but the hardwood floor was old, worn, with a character all its own. The tiniest of creaks. It stopped quickly, abruptly, as if whatever had caused it hoped to lessen the noise by freezing.
The doorway out into the hallway was a black square, and her monsters in the basement analogy came back. Of course it did, because that’s where she was going, in a manner of speaking. Right into the basement where the monsters were.
Wanting to run, having nowhere to run, she stepped out into the hallway. The sound came up from her right side and her lips pulled back from her teeth in a grimace, eyes jammed shut, the cringe automatic, curling in on herself. Protecting the soft spots.
The air left her lungs in a whoosh, a heavy boot slamming hard into her ribs, lifting her off the ground. She wouldn’t have screamed anyway; it would make things worse. In a heartbeat, she was pulled back into her private hell. Staggering against the wall, she tried to catch herself before she fell and got pulled back savagely.
Alan. He had found her. He was here. Even if she wanted to scream, she didn’t think she could; it was as though her lungs, once emptied of air, couldn’t remember how to breathe. Like a fish out of water, she gaped, willing her body to suck in the air she needed.
“Amber Lynn…” Alan’s voice needled into her skull. No one but her mother, and Alan, called her by her first two names. She hated it. Which is why he did it, drawing out the name in a fake southern cornpone drawl, his voice dripping hatred. If she could see him, could see anything in the dark hallway, she could imagine he would look like some evil lizard, or maybe some sort of snake. His voice hissed at her, venomous. Amber had learned not to scream, and Alan had learned to never shout, at least not out loud. Instead, there was this, a raging scream barely muffled by a control that terrified Amber more.
A claw whickered out in the dark, fingers digging deep into the muscle at the back of her arm. He always knew where to hit, where it would hurt the most, and Amber sucked in a painful breath. Terrified, knowing what was coming next, what always came next, and grateful at the same time, that she could breathe.
Short-lived. “I never told you you were allowed to leave….Amber Lynn.” Old patterns. Alan pulled her up with one hand, and lashed out with the other, the fist smashing into the side of her face. He would hold onto her, and hit her again. And again. And again. Only this time would be worse. Old patterns.
Things had changed, a lot of things. True, Amber was still terrified of her husband. Ex-husband. But Alan had made a mistake in coming out to her house in the dark of night to try to teach his wife a lesson or two. He made a mistake in not turning a light on at some part of his journey into the house. He made a mistake in not getting to Amber before she awoke. He made a lifetime of mistakes, but one of the biggest that he had made so far was in not spotting the baseball bat still gripped tightly in Amber’s hands.
It was a weak effort. Like Armstrong’s first step perhaps, not requiring much energy. Looking a little silly when you got right down to it, but monumental in its own way. A ripple. The punch in the face had dropped her to her knees, but Alan hadn’t let her go. Those old habits again. That way, she wouldn’t be able to crawl away and hide somewhere, to protect what she could.
She couldn’t escape. But neither could he. The bat swung out blindly, catching Alan on the outside of his thigh, pushing him back. Just enough. Alan’s grip on her shoulder loosened and Amber broke free.
Scrambling across the floor on her knees, she put distance between her and the doorway to the bedroom. Alan wasn’t happy just beating the hell out of her. Afterwards, he would ‘make it up to her’, whether she wanted him to or not. It had taken her a long time to call it what it was; rape. If he cornered her in her bedroom, that was how it would end; if she was lucky, all he would do was rape her. There was something wrong with his voice, with the strained quality there, and Amber was pretty sure that it wouldn’t stop at rape. He wouldn’t tell her he was sorry. He would kill her.
“You fucking…BITCH!” The cold, rational voice cracked, and Amber was thankful for the dark, for the swelling eye that kept her from seeing. If she saw him, whatever meager strength that she had left would flee her, and she would cower, plea and beg. She closed her eyes, and crawled a little farther, the hallway opening up into the living room.
Seconds drew out like ages as she scooted back, hitting the wall and shakily getting to her feet. She still had the bat; she couldn’t let go, her body listened to the primal part of her brain. Alan was coming, boot heels clicking like gunshots against the wooden floor. Closer, closer, her mind whispered to her. It left her conflicted; telling her, taunting her, that Alan was coming to get her, to kill her. That primitive limbic system, letting her know that he was getting closer, to get ready. Ready to fight; a thought that terrified her.
Cold, rational, almost sorrowful. “You never should have done that, Amber Lynn. Now I’m going…uunnnfff…”
The palest starlight filtered through the window in the living room. If it had been the very first night, when Amber had still been so used to the brighter lights of the city, she would never have been able to see him coming. It was a small advantage, but she took it, swinging the bat again in a short, vicious arc into Alan’s arm.
Amber backed up again, in the direction of the front door, intending to make a run for it. Next door, to find Dom and hammer on his door, hoping, praying that he had meant what he said. Other than her initial huff of breath, she hadn’t made a sound, hadn’t cried out for help. Old habits died hard.
Alan came at her again, and in the pale light from the window, she got her first good look at him and blanched, shaking. In the entire span of their marriage, she had never seen him unkempt before, and yet here he was, unshaven, in rumpled clothes. Dirty. Crazy.
He wasn’t upset, or angry. He wasn’t having a bad day at work that she, as a good wife, should understand. It wasn’t pressure, or deadlines, or needing to blow off a little steam. He was crazy.
She knew that she should run, but if she turned her back, he would be on her; he would smash her face into the floor until she lost consciousness. Then the real beating would start; it wouldn’t end until she was dead. Which is what he was calmly explaining to her right now as he closed in on her.
Broken glass tinkled across the floor as a vase exploded, snatched up and thrown across the room. The air filled briefly with the cloying scent of flowers. Teeth gleamed whitely in the darkened room and Amber shuddered, her back pressed against the door, stricken with fear.
Pleased with his destruction, Alan lashed out with the toe of his boot, sending it through the leaded glass door of a built in cabinet. It was a heavier, more substantial sound than the shattering vase had been.
Amber stood up fully, her jaw dropping in shock. She had loved that cabinet; it was a beautiful touch, lovingly made by someone. She could tell that it wasn’t bought in a furniture store; someone had made it, by hand. And Alan had just smashed it.
“No.” It wasn’t exactly a whisper, but it was close; not a plea either, it was something else.
“NO!?” Alan growled back at her, and smashed his boot into the second cabinet door. “There’s going to be nothing left of this place when I’m done. There’s going to be nothing left of YOU!”
It was the first threat, the first promise, that Amber heard. She stepped away from the door, raised the bat, and screamed, all at the same time. Early in the marriage, Amber had learned not to scream, so it had been a while and Alan was caught off guard by it. His fists dropped, not a lot, but just enough.
“This is MY house!” she screamed at him. She just screamed, the rage bubbling up from somewhere inside that she had long forgotten. Amber swung for the fences, stepping into the swing in a wide stride that had her, for the first time in a dozen years, moving towards Alan.
The brunt of the blow slammed into Alan’s chest, coming up to clip him just under the jaw, sending him flying backwards. He slipped on the bits of broken glass from where he had smashed the cabinet and went down. The logical thing to do would be to run. Logic, rationality, was a quiet voice too far away for her to hear. Amber advanced, the bat pulled back again, this time on the other side. “Get. …out… of… MY… HOUSE!” Once let loose, her rage would have its way with her, and she swung the bat again.
Dom pushed away from Heather, spun around and pulled his pants back up, all at the same time, Heather completely forgotten.
“Hey!” There wasn’t time for her to be pissed off about it yet; for the moment she was simply shocked at having been left draped over the back of the car seat like an old coat. By the time that she had pushed back from the car seat and fixed her skirt, Dom had broken into a run, past the fence and into Amber’s yard. Heather walked back out to her car. She should leave, but couldn’t. It was a morbid curiosity perhaps, but the screaming drew her forwards.
Dom rounded the banister at the bottom of the porch and took the three stairs in one stride. His body bounced off the door; he had expected the door to be open, or at least unlocked, but it wasn’t. He couldn’t think straight, hearing Amber scream on the other side of the door.
He rattled the door forcefully one last time, before he stepped back and kicked the door in, taking it partially off the hinges. There was no time to look for another way in.
The bat swung again, catching Alan in the ribs as he tried to get up, putting his hand into the glass that lay all over the floor. He went down again, and Amber advanced on him, the bat pulled back over her shoulder.
Dom’s jaw dropped and he froze, shocked. If Amber flying out of her car to give him hell had surprised him, this shocked him to the core. Screaming, furious, she swung the bat again, all the time screaming for Alan to get out of her house. That it was her house and he didn’t belong here, before her words became screams again.
Alan got to his feet, starting to dodge Amber’s swings now. Dom was pretty sure that Alan hadn’t expected this from Amber either but he would wise up quickly, and then Amber was in trouble. A hell of a lot of trouble, if the dirty, crazy, bloodied man in the living room was anything to go by. Dom had seen crazy before, in prison.
Shaking his head, Dom shot forward as Alan took a step towards Amber. Alan hadn’t even seen Dom, or heard him kick the door in, so intent was he on getting to Amber, killing Amber. Dom grabbed Alan by the arm, yanking him hard, off balance, nearly off his feet. Swinging him backwards across the living room. It also put him between Amber and Alan. Dom tensed up even more; Amber was violent and unpredictable, and Dom wasn’t sure that she wouldn’t go through him to get to Alan.
Alan took a swing at him, but Dom shook him by the arm, jerking Alan’s body violently, keeping him off balance, and then pulled him through the front door. Amber, the bat still in her hands, stepped out onto the porch behind the two men.
Alan continued to scream at Amber from around Dom, but now Dom was included in the insults. “Is this who you’re fucking n….”
Dom shook Alan like a rag doll once more, Alan’s boots doing a frantic dance on the wooden boards as he scrambled for purchase, his free arm lashing out ineffectually, trying to get a shot in. Alan wasn’t weak by any means, but he was no match for a man Dom’s size, and so he got pulled off the porch completely, Dom pulling him around as though he weighed nothing at all.
Alan’s heels bit into the gravel as he tried to stop the momentum and, realizing that he couldn’t, he opted for screamed threats. “I’ll fucking kill you for this, Amber Lynn! You fucking whore….”
Dom snapped Alan’s arm around. They were like a pair of aggressive dancers, Dom spinning Alan out to the furthest extent of his reach, before he pulled him back forcefully. It wasn’t followed by a dip, or a lingering kiss, but by a fist the size of a canned ham smashing into Alan’s face, driving him to the ground.
Dom wasn’t done yet, and pulled Alan up forcefully, stepping further out into the yard, where Alan had parked his car crookedly across the driveway. When they were closer to the car, Dom flicked Alan out again, this time releasing him. Alan stumbled, turning his back on Dom as he sought to keep his feet.
Dom would have kicked him anyway, no matter which way Alan fell; his boot driving up hard into Alan’s ass and sending him flying, where he slammed into the side of his car. Dom held one arm behind him, to keep Amber from advancing; she had followed them out from the house, although she no longer screamed. With the other, he pointed at Alan, holding his attention completely. “Get this into your head, fucker! Come back here and you’re dead! We clear?”
Alan scrambled to his feet, holding his jaw. Stepping to the side, he tried to glare at Amber again, but Dom moved to the side, blocking her from view. Dom took a step towards Alan, and Alan backed up, towards the driver’s side door of his car but didn’t make a move to get in, yet. Dom dropped his voice to a dangerous level that didn’t travel far; it wasn’t meant to, it was between Alan and Dom alone. “Get the fuck out of here. Don’t ever come back.” With that, Dom stepped backwards, keeping Alan in his sights but pressing Amber back across the yard.
Heather had crossed the yard, drawn by the screaming, drawn by the fight. Men had fought over her before and while this wasn’t over her, the sight of two men fighting drew her nonetheless. Not that Alan was doing much fighting. Struggling, but not fighting. Heather had never seen Dom fight before, but she knew that Dom would never fight for her. He had completely forgotten that she was even there.
Now Alan stood against his car, still holding his jaw, and Dom turned towards Amber, who still hadn’t dropped the baseball bat. Heather’s eyes slitted as Dom gently cupped Amber’s face before he led her back to her house. Heather had never seen that side of Dom before either, that affection. He certainly never showed her that side; jealousy tore through her.
When they were alone in the driveway, she looked directly at Alan, leaning against the side of the car and they shared a look.
Copyright © sept 17, 2007 xxxevilgrinxxx