Read Previous Chapter – Chapter 9: Evil Eye Goes Global
The Ralston job came up on me fast. I wasn’t kidding when I told Adams the Wolf was a fulltime position. Working executions into my schedule wasn’t easy and I had a feeling it would be difficult to arrange Ralston without arousing suspicion in Kate. Not about the Wolf, of course. But she knew I wasn’t the type to go out at night, unless it was for a short walk around the neighbourhood. Any lengthy absence would require a reasonable explanation.
A plan began to germinate during dinner, while Kate talked about the possibility of a fall election? Spring? Fall? Next winter? What a bunch of political bullshit. But I respected her innocent belief in democracy. Whether she liked it or not, I was slaying predatory monsters for her.
“I know the look you get when you’re excited about something. All pensive and focused. What’s Oliver got you working on now?”
I’d been fucking the dog at work for months, doing just enough to get by.
“Oh, he’s got something big on the go. He says it might require two or three technical writers and take six months to finish. He won’t give us any more details but it sounds good.”
I didn’t like lying to Kate. She deserved better.
“Honestly, Roger, you could have your pick of writing jobs. I think your work might have something to do with your dark moods. It’s beneath your talent. I’m sure you get bored ‘translating’ technical reports. What does Dr. Adams say about the possibility of changing jobs?”
“He doesn’t say anything. We don’t talk about my work.”
“Paul Carter is thinking about getting out of real estate. He tells Laura that his sessions with Dr. Adams have changed his way of thinking. He wants to get into something more meaningful. Apparently, he’s volunteering at the Food Bank two days a week.”
I had nothing in common with that monkey-fucking, snake-oil-selling, piece-of-shit salesman. I wanted to yell that at her so she wouldn’t keep bringing the phony fuck up.
“I’d have thought he’d be more comfortable volunteering at the Liquor Depot. All that travel back and forth to buy booze cuts into your drinking time.”
“Honestly, Roger. You’re so rude. Paul is not a perfect human being but few of us are. Laura loves him and Laura’s a good friend. I wish you wouldn’t be so rude. It doesn’t become you dear.”
I loved the way she called me dear. It cut through everything.
“I’m happy that he’s finally finding peace at the Food Bank, dear. The downtrodden can always use more realtors helping out.”
I could have gone on about him scoping out low-end clients for slum housing but I didn’t want to upset her. Things were different after our time on the Island. I cared about her intensely from that time on. That’s why I couldn’t let fate decide anymore. Why I couldn’t spin the chamber.
If I lost, the whole mess would be left on Kate’s doorstep. I couldn’t have that. Not now. If I’m caught I’ll go out in a blaze of gunfire standing up for what I believe, even if the fatal shot is self-administered. That’s what I thought at the time.
I took the next afternoon off but Oliver wasn’t there, so I didn’t have to make an excuse. Thorsby dutifully pointed out the absence of the temp receptionist as if it were incontrovertible proof of their guilty affair–“I told you Old Horny Man is fucking her.”
Not the kind of person I wanted on my jury.
“Ray came in with a shiner this morning then went home after coffee. Probably stuck his dick in the wrong glory hole. There’s one in the public can on the beach near the Coast Guard station, on the side of the stall about the height of a guy’s mouth if he was sitting on the toilet. What a way to live.”
I let his comment hang out there in disapproving silence. The tech writers often made fun of Ray when he wasn’t around. Gay jokes. He was unmarried and slightly effeminate. I didn’t like it and never took part. Ray was one of the good guys. Not the kind of person to intentionally hurt other people. Not a bullshitter. Not a bottom-liner. Thorsby knew how I felt and softened his commentary.
“He said some guy in his building punched him at his mailbox for no reason. Said the guy has made threatening comments to him before.”
I pictured Ray, polite, soft and well past middle age, having to put up with shit from a Neanderthal. It fueled the rage but I kept it out of my voice.
“He lives in the West End, doesn’t he?”
“Yeah, over on Beach Ave. in that round high rise.”
“Did he say what the guy looked like?”
“Just that’s he’s big and has a beard.”
“Somebody should straighten the guy out. I like Ray.”
“Yeah, he’s not a bad guy.”
He said it as though Ray was okay even though he was gay. If I hadn’t had more pressing matters at hand, I would have looked into putting Neanderthal man down. Fucking cowardly, lowlife, prick.
I drove home and changed into cargo shorts, a T-shirt and surgical gloves. I slipped a small wrench and some duct tape into one of the pockets and went for a stroll. I had a kill site in mind about four blocks from our house, two blocks down and two blocks over. It was a new house on a corner lot, across from a park, that had been for sale for more than a year. The rumour was an old oil tank buried in the back yard required tens of thousands in clean-up costs.
I walked past the front and stopped to take one of the flyers from the realtor’s plastic box. Wow. They wanted $889,000. I turned at the end of the block and came back through the alley. There was nobody around to see me slip through the back gate. I went directly to the basement window to the right of the back steps and stuck the tape across the glass in three eight-inch strips. I smacked the taped glass with the wrench and it gave way with barely a tinkle. I stuck my hand through the hole, careful not to cut myself, and opened the window. I peeled the tape off the broken glass and put it in my pocket. I’d missed my calling as a house burglar.
I made my way across the darkened basement. The place was empty. It smelled stale. Creepy. Not the kind of atmosphere to build a new life on. I wondered if a homicide would motivate the seller to lower the price. I tried the switch at the bottom of the stairs and the light came on. A good thing.
The main floor had a kitchen, a living room, an office, a half-bath and a large master bedroom and ensuite with a jetted tub and separate shower. Close to a million bucks didn’t buy much 10 minutes from downtown Vancouver. Even on the East Side. The front door opened into a small foyer that hid the living room from the entrance. Another plus. I flicked another light on-and-off to make sure it worked. That’s all I needed to know. I left the back door unlocked and was out of the house and back in the alley in five minutes.
I went back home and got out the electric typewriter. One more small job before I dumped it.
The bottom-liner Brian Ralston was executed in the name of the people of this great country. Those who choose to advance themselves by swindling seniors should consider it a capital offense. It is our hope his death will provide some closure to those he has victimized. At the very least, his predatory compulsion has come to an end.
Mr. Ralston’s fate should be a warning to all bottom-liners in the cesspool that is the financial industry. Despite what the predatory powers would have you believe; righteous citizens have nothing to fear.
Not for everyone. For mad men only.
With your best interests at heart,
The People’s Wolf
Kate was having dinner with Laura Carter the next night and I was hoping to do Ralston then. He wouldn’t be in town for long and I didn’t want to miss my opportunity. I walked to the convenience store at five and made the call from the lowlife landline. The fucking drug dealing deadhead was leaning on the side of the building watching me the whole time, like I was using his private phone. How good would it feel to drive around the city, from phone booth to phone booth, putting the scumbags down? One in the chest. One point blank in the head.
“Can you put me through to Mr. Ralston.”
“Ralston? Let me see. Yes, he checked in about an hour ago. I’ll try his room sir.”
He answered the phone confidently on the second ring, like he was a man in control of his destiny. The dumb fuck.
“Mr. Ralston, my name is Tim Edderly and I’m phoning on behalf of my dad, who has a significant sum of money and is looking for somewhere to invest it.”
“Well, you’ve called the right place Tim. We invest money for people from all over the world. That’s what we do.”
“You were recommended to me by Belinda Strausky.”
Belinda Strausky was the daughter of Arthur Pennington, a now-deceased crony of the hairy ape’s. They pulled a couple of scams while working together at a brokerage firm years back. They both left the firm under a cloud, within weeks of each other. Pennington died of a heart attack shortly afterwards. His daughter Belinda didn’t fall far from the tree. She had been banned from trading on Canadian stock markets and was said to be living in the Cayman Islands.
You can’t beat Google.
“Belinda Strausky. I haven’t thought of her in years. Did you know her father Art?”
“No. I don’t know Belinda well. I happened to be sitting next to her at doinner on a cruise ship and we were chatting about investments. She seemed knowledgeable. When I mentioned my dad selling his motel and RV park, she recommended you for investment advice. Said I should use her name as an introduction. Dad’s been procrastinating for years. He doesn’t trust the stock market and the money is sitting in GICs earning a couple of per cent. They come due next month. I saw your ad in the paper and called.”
“We can definitely do better than a couple of per cent. Why don’t you bring your dad to the seminar Thursday and we’ll see what we can work out?”
“I don’t think I can get him down there. I showed your ad to dad and… well… sometimes he’s not quite with it. He thinks the Hyatt is owned by the Stock Market. All part of some big conspiracy. That’s why I’ve called you personally. I’d like you to come over to the house for a private consultation.”
“Oh, I rarely do private consultations. I like to have sit-downs with ordinary folks but, frankly, I don’t have the time. I have a lot to do preparing for the seminar and so on.”
“I’m sure you do, sir. That’s why I’d make it worth your while. I recently got power of attorney over dad’s affairs and I know it would be worth $1,000 to him for an hour of your time. After all, he’s got well over seven figures to invest. He just bought a house on the East Side, less than a 10-minute cab ride from the hotel. The sign’s still out front.”
“I can probably fit an hour in tomorrow night, but why don’t you come to my suite.”
“Dad doesn’t travel well anymore. And I’d really like him to meet you. Even though I have power of attorney I keep him involved in everything. I don’t want any appearance of impropriety.”
“I understand. Dealing with old people can be difficult. Okay, how about 9 o’clock. I’ll come by for an hour, talk to your dad and see what we can work out.”
“Great. He’s at 109 Albert St. A corner house. See you at nine tomorrow night.”
After hanging up I walked straight over to the drug dealer.
“Be careful using that phone. Someone from CSIS came on the line and told me to drop the phone because of a deadly powder in the mouthpiece. Ricin. A grain or two is enough to kill a person. Agents are monitoring the booth from that white van over there. They’re exterminating drug dealers. It’s part of a plan to appease the Wolf.”
I pointed to a van parked across the street. The deadhead druggie didn’t know what to make of me. He looked from the phone booth to the van.
I walked home feeling good. Ralston had taken the bait. It felt weird talking to him knowing he had only a day to live. I didn’t feel sorry for the arrogant prick. Nothing like that. It’s just that he was the first of my kills I talked to without imminent death polluting the ambience. Pointing a gun at someone with lethal intent is a real conversation killer. No pun intended.
Kate was home when I got back. She immediately threw a kink into my plan.
“I can’t stay, Roger. I came to change into slacks and a comfortable sweater. Laura and I decided to have dinner and see our movie tonight, instead of tomorrow. She’s picking me up in a half hour.”
“So you’ll be home tomorrow night then?”
“Yes dear, I’ll be home tomorrow night. Don’t worry, I won’t leave you home alone two nights in a row. I’ll make a nice dinner and we can hang out all night.”
“That’ll be nice. I’m going to start getting into shape with nightly walks. I’ll start tonight.”
She was standing in the kitchen doing the buttons up on a white cashmere sweater, her face slightly flushed from the effort. The fine wool looked good against her skin.
“Maybe I’ll go with you. I could lose a few pounds.”
“Nonsense. You’re beautiful just as you are and you’re looking particularly fetching tonight. Let me help you with those buttons.”
Her fragrance got to me when I moved close. A smell as close to innocence as possible on this foul planet.
“I’ll leave the top two buttons open. Cashmere is warm and I like the way the white complements your skin.”
She cupped my hand in both of hers.
“Oh, Roger, I feel so close to you this last while.”
Laura showed up on time, as always. She honked once and Kate was out the door. Sadness shrouded me as I watched her hurry to the car, laughing and calling out to Laura in fun. Sadness so profound it buckled my knees. I leaned against the TV cabinet for support. Any slip-up and this beautiful person’s world would be shattered. Her light would be dimmed forever. Was anything worth that? I knew Ralston wasn’t.
I tried some quiet time early in the evening on the office couch, but the impending execution was stirring up so much turbulence I couldn’t get close to the inner universe. I got up and paced the house. Through the kitchen, around the living room and up the stairs to the bathroom. I stood in the shower for a few minutes looking at the taps then reversed the process. I must have done the circuit 10 times. On the last trip into the shower I turned on the faucet and stood there until my clothes were soaked. I have no idea what these walkabouts were about. All I know is after I stripped off my clothes and threw them in the dryer, I felt renewed. It seems crazy looking back.
Why was I worrying about Kate now? Why not with Cunningham or Greenberg and the others? I wasn’t thinking about her when I spun the chamber. I only wanted to release the pressure building inside. To take the decision out of my hands and leave it to fate. To admit I was thinking solely of myself made me feel small. Unworthy of Kate’s love. Yet there it was.
Still, Ralston was a goner.
I fell asleep early and slept so soundly I didn’t hear Kate come in. She slid in beside me in the night, exuding warmth and comfort. Security. A good human being who believed in me.
We didn’t talk much the next morning. I was barely awake when she left for work. I had important things to do before heading to the office. I thought about calling in sick but there was no need. I wanted everything in my life to seem as normal as possible on the day of an execution.
The kill site was uncomfortably close to home, but it was the only way I could do Ralston without arousing Kate’s suspicion. I thought of some police geographic profiler putting pins on a map. With Ralston, three of the killings were within walking distance from the house. I wondered if he could do a triangulation that pinpointed my street.
I planned to slip out for a walk a few minutes before nine, but I had to put the gun someplace I could get at it. I didn’t want to take the chance of having it in my pocket in case Kate hugged me or it fell out or some other stupid shit happened.
I put on a pair of surgical gloves and went to the office and unscrewed the floorboards. That lowlife in the Seattle bar had been so right. It was a nice gun for what I paid. It seemed so long ago. Another lifetime.
I checked it to make sure everything was working. The trigger clicked crisply. The chamber spun smoothly on its precision-machined axis. It felt solid and familiar in my hand, its curved butt settling into my palm like the ass of a beautiful woman. No wonder Americans love their handguns. I put in a full load but didn’t bother with extra bullets. I didn’t plan on another ‘shootout.’ I put the gun in a small pack sack and stuffed the bag into an empty cement sack. I put the cement sack under the back deck and stacked a couple pieces of plywood on it.
Thorsby was in good form at the office. He rolled out his chair as soon as I arrived and pointed out that Oliver and the temp had both called in sick.
“I’m thinking of calling Old Horny Man at home to see if he’s really sick. Get this temporary receptionist thing nailed down once and for all. The dirty old bugger is having it off with her. I know it.”
“That’s purely supposition, Thorsby. I’ve never seen them say more than a few words to each other.”
“Exactly. They exchange smiles every time he walks past but he never says anything more than a word or two. A classic office affair.”
“Hold on now. Your proof Oliver is having an affair with the receptionist is that they never talk to each other.”
“Think about it.”
“Next you’ll be telling me Oliver’s the Wolf.”
“Please. I’m surprised he has enough gumption for an extramarital hump. The only gun he’s ever handled is the derringer between his legs.”
“You never know. It’s always the person you least suspect. Someone unassuming, like your postman theory.”
“Oh, I’ve given up on that one. The guy’s ex-military. Maybe a rogue cop. They’ll never catch him unless he kills again.”
“A few weeks ago, you were saying he’d be brought to ground in a month.”
“That was before the gangster shootout.”
It continued to amaze me how a couple of lucky shots had elevated the Wolf in the public consciousness. I could just as easily have missed the whole car.
“I’ll bet he strikes again soon.”
I said it with conviction. I couldn’t resist.
“Some guys in my hockey pool have standing bets. Closest one to the date gets the money. I’m not involved, though. Too ghoulish.”
I loved being the only one in the world with the real story. The only person in the vast universe who knew precisely when the Wolf would strike again. It was a rush. I admit it.
Ray walked in before I could reply. His swollen eye closed shut when he attempted a smile. His cheek was red on that side.
“Hey guys, you taking bets on when the Wolf will get caught?”
“No, we’re just speculating about when he’ll strike again. How’s the eye Ray? Looks like a pretty good shiner.”
“Oh, it’s okay. Doesn’t really hurt.”
He said it as if he was ashamed of getting beat up by a scumbag. It pissed me off to see the poor guy off his game. Ray was normally upbeat, cracking bad jokes. I felt sad for him as he walked to his cubicle. If a serial killer feels empathy, does it mean he’s not a psychopath? I doubted I could work the question into a Maxwell Smart session.
I stayed at work until five. No need to hurry home. Everything was ready. Ralston had four hours and change to breathe. On the drive home I concentrated on my own breath. Getting into the moment. It didn’t take long before the moment turned to how many breaths Ralston had left. I got deep into the mental calculations of timing a breath and multiplying it by seconds, minutes and hours.
Kate prepared one of my favourite meals. Pork chops and candied yam. We talked pleasantly throughout dinner about nothing noteworthy. By the time we’d finished clearing up the dishes it was almost eight o’clock. I felt completely calm. Resigned to fate.
“Is there anything special you’d like to watch tonight?”
“Actually, I thought I might go for a walk. It’s a nice night and I’d like to stretch my legs.”
“Want some company?”
“I’d love company on my walks but not tonight, dear. I’ve been thinking about what you said about my job, about it causing the depression, and I’ve got some things to work through. I find walking helps me think clearly.”
She tried to hide the disappointment of rejection.
“It can’t hurt to think about it, Roger. I read somewhere that being under-employed is one of the major causes of depression. I’m glad to see you’re at least thinking about making a change.”
I left the house about 15 minutes before nine. I put my surgical gloves on outside and retrieved the gun from its hiding place. I was at the Albert St. house in a couple of minutes. I went in through the still-unlocked back door and turned the kitchen light on. Nobody had been there since the break-in. I drew all the blinds, except for the front window, which I left open just enough to allow light to be seen from the street. I put the porch light on and went back to the front window to watch and wait.
I’d only been watching for a minute or two when the cab pulled up. It felt too soon. Two people got out. Ralston and the ash blonde I’d seen him dining with at the Eagle’s Realm. He paid the cab and they started up the sidewalk to the house.
I thought about leaving. Walking out the back door and letting Ralston and the woman live. But I couldn’t do it. It wouldn’t be right, letting a high-value predator loose on the little people. People would have to learn to keep better company. I put the gun in the right pocket of my track pants, with the grip sticking out. I tucked the grip under my T-shirt and went to answer the door.
“Thanks so much for coming by Mr. Ralston.”
“You must be Tim. This is my wife Amy. We were having dinner nearby. She’s very knowledgeable about financial matters. I hope you don’t mind if she sits in.”
She smiled at me pleasantly but didn’t speak. She had a nice way about her.
“Hello Amy. Come on in, please. Excuse the bare space. Dad wants to carpet the living room floor before he moves his furniture in. We can talk in the kitchen.”
I closed the door, stood back, and motioned for them to enter. Ralston went first and as soon as his wife passed me, I put the gun to the back of her head and fired.
The noise sounded like a cannon shot in the empty house. Ralston jumped about three feet. She dropped straight down without a sound. Blood oozed from her head onto the hardwood floor. Ralston froze with fear when he landed.
“Oh my God, you’ve murdered Amy.
He looked down at his wife but didn’t make a move to assist her. He stood stock-still. White-faced.
“Tell me Brian, did you really think you could cheat all those people without any blow-back? That you could prey on the weak without consequences. Haven’t you taken any notice of the Wolf’s message?”
“Please don’t kill me. I can give you money. Lots of money. Please, Tim, let me live.”
I aimed the gun with both hands, TV cop-style.
“No, no. I’ll give you anything. Please don’t kill me. Please… please.”
The front of his pants was all wet. The hairy ape pissed himself.
“You forfeited your right to live a long time ago, you lowlife cocksucker.”
I fired and hit him in the chest. He fell back against the wall and skidded along it, using his shoulders as a brace, smearing blood. The bullet must have gone right through. The exit wound would be messy. He was spitting blood. Choking out what sounded like words, like he had some last wisdom to depart.
It was a sordid scene, a dead woman on the floor, blood all over, its metallic death smell permeating everything, and this human cockroach clinging to his life like it was worth something. I moved a few steps forward and shot him in the face, just below his left eye. He fell to the floor gurgling. Bits of hair and flesh stuck on the wall. So much blood. I dropped the letter in a clean spot on the hardwood and turned the lights off. I left by the back door.
I took the alleys home, at a moderate pace. Daylight had turned to dusk in the few minutes I was inside. Nobody was about. I stopped at the top of the hill, a block from home, to compose myself. Blow-back from the Amy’s head splattered my hand and the right sleeve of my jacket. The gun had blood on it, too, and I had transferred some of it to my clothes. Messy business.
I put the gun under the back porch before going in the house. Kate was in the kitchen, sipping tea in her rocker, watching one of her shows.
“Did you have a nice walk, dear? You weren’t gone long.”
“I kept a brisk pace and worked up a bit of a sweat. I’ll have a quick shower and join you for some tea.”
I was halfway up the stairs when I said it. I desperately wanted out of the track suit. To get away from the blood. It was all I could do to stop myself from running down the hallway to the bathroom.
Inside the bathroom, with the door safely locked, I noticed bits of hair and skull on my bare wrist. I shook my arm so violently a piece of bloody material stuck on the mirror. I grabbed a piece of toilet paper to wipe it off and noticed flecks of blood on my cheek. I turned the shower on and stepped in, clothes and all. The blood creeped me out.
After a few seconds, I stepped out and stripped. I held the jacket sleeves under the shower and wrung the jacket and pants. The blood flecks on my cheek were gone but I didn’t like the face I saw in the mirror. The man staring back had a shocked look. The kind you saw on survivors interviewed in New York immediately after 9/11. It made me feel weak. Small. Not strong like a top predator. Not like the People’s Wolf.
I thought about the pleasant smile on Amy Ralston’s face seconds before her death. She paid a heavy price for keeping bad company. At least she went out happy. I caught myself in the mirror smiling at the thought and my spirit began to return. It took me a few minutes to clean up the bathroom, to sop up all the water on the floor. I bundled my clothes up in a towel and put on pajama pants and a t-shirt before going back downstairs.
“I’m just going to throw this stuff in the washer, dear. Any tea left?”
“I put on another pot while you were upstairs.”
Kate turned the TV off and I sat down at the kitchen table and sipped herbal lemon tea.
“You look a little strange. I hope you didn’t overdo it. You’re at the age when men have heart attacks.”
“We all have to die sometime. What is so bad about keeling over while out walking. Dying right there on the spot. I can think of worse ways to go.”
“Don’t be so macabre.”
“Death tends to arrive at inconvenient times. I don’t think we have much say about it but I’m not ready yet.”
“I certainly hope not. We have so much ahead of us Roger. So much to live for. I see us walking down a sunny beach in our golden years. Hand in hand.”
She reached across the table and put her hand over mine. I pulled away. I didn’t want her touching my skin where the blood had been. To make up, I stood up and came around behind her and massaged her shoulders and neck.
“I love you Roger Rabbit.”
I bent over to catch her smell. The smell of innocence.
There was nothing in the news over the weekend. I knew it could take time for the bodies to be found. I thought about the disappointed suckers when Ralston was a no-show at the seminar. They could not know I had intervened on their behalf. To keep them from becoming prey.
The truth is the execution of the Ralstons had unsettled me. Had left me with a bad feeling. I couldn’t get away from that awful blood smell. The sordidness in that dimly lit empty room. Some realtor was in for a hell of a shock when he opened that front door. The owner would have to drop his price.
A small article in the business section of the following Wednesday’s paper caught my eye.
Financial advisor skips town
Potential investors were left holding their seminar bags when controversial Victoria investment advisor Brian Ralston failed to show for his own talk at the Hyatt Hotel.
Participants, who had prepaid $200 dollars for ‘seminar materials’, waited in the hotel’s Rainforest Room for an hour Thursday night but Ralston didn’t show.
Hotel officials say Ralston and his wife left two overnight bags behind but did not check out or pay their bill.
Ralston was in the news several years ago when investors lost millions in what some called a well-planned rip-off. Ralston is still facing civil suits in the matter, but no criminal charges were laid.
Police are looking into this latest incident.
The bodies were found on Friday. An enterprising cop looking into Ralston’s sleep and dash, had tracked down the cab driver who took them to the house. He smelled them from the front porch and called in the homicide detectives. I couldn’t resist walking past on Saturday. They had the whole place sealed off with yellow tape and there were cops all over. I went over to the ball diamond in the park, sat on the grass and watched the kids play. Just another guy taking some weekend sun.
Seeing all the activity lifted my spirits. The morning paper called it a double murder but there was no mention of the Wolf. The story concentrated on the financial angle. The reporter noted that Ralston had received death threats over the years from disgruntled clients.
Ralston and Amy had only been married for four months, which would have made them newlyweds when I first saw them at the Eagle’s Realm. If they had honey-mooned anywhere else, they’d both be alive. I believe in fate.
Osterwich broke the Wolf angle in Monday’s paper. The police confirmed a letter had been left at the crime scene but were not releasing its contents. The last three paragraphs in the story hit me like a blow to the guts.
Ralston’s new bride, Amy Collier, was a lay preacher at Christ the Redeemer Church in Sooke, which Ralston began attending after his financial empire imploded. She was a widow with two teenage children and was not involved in his financial affairs.
I sat at the kitchen table for a long time, thinking about her nice smile and easy manner, trying to convince myself the responsibility was Ralston’s, not mine. Why did the lowlife cocksucker have to bring her along? It wasn’t the religion part that bothered me. I would have killed a priest as soon as anyone else. Religious bloodsuckers were high on my list.
I’d always known bystanders could become collateral damage. I planned to take anyone out who stood between me and escape, saving the last bullet for myself if necessary. War is harsh. Donald Wayne’s kid didn’t bother me. He was a predator-in-waiting, at the wrong place at the wrong time. But this woman was different. All she did was fall for the wrong Born Again. It didn’t sit right.
I brooded over Amy Collier’s death all week. At the office, I imagined putting a bullet in Thorsby more than once. He kept repeating the same theme.
“I can’t figure this guy out. Christ, he had people on his side after the Findley shootout. Even though he blinded an innocent kid and killed a working stiff from the club, he had people talking about change. But this is all fucked up. Taking out a woman preacher? I mean how low can you get.”
“What makes you so goddamn sure there was a shootout with Findley.”
I all but shouted it across the aisle. Thorsby had never seen me angry and for a minute he seemed cowed.
“I just know what I read in the papers,” he said, turning back to his screen. I took him about a minute to come back with his rejoinder. “You seem pretty adamant yourself. Do you have firsthand knowledge that the rest of us don’t? Maybe you’re the Wolf. You said he’s probably innocuous and what could be more innocuous than another sap in an overpriced sports jacket. But then, you don’t write as well as the Wolf.”
I instantly regretted the whole exchange. I don’t know why I let this overweight knob with a dumpy girlfriend get under my skin. It didn’t make sense. But nothing had made sense for a long time.
“At least I don’t sit around reading tractor manuals for inspiration. And that guy in the famous hoodie and mask picture looked a little on the dumpy side. I’ve noticed that same maniacal glint in your eye looking up from a Whopper, with mustard on your chin. Now that’s scary.”
We went on that way every day. It sounds harsh written down, but the exchanges were mostly friendly. I liked that about Thorsby. If you stayed away from Molly and his allowance, you could say anything to the guy. He took it as an intellectual challenge. By Thursday he was getting on my nerves so bad I started fantasizing about taking him out. I imagined rolling up behind his chair and putting one in the back of his bad haircut.