Through the driving rain he saw the three of them standing at the corner. The mother, holding a baby heavily wrapped in blankets soaked, had a hand up in the air frantically signaling for a cab to stop. Clutching her right leg was another child about five or six years old. Holding onto his mom as if he knew the world was coming to an end.
Soaked through and through. Mother and children.
Setting on the edge of the curb were two large suitcases. As he approached in his CTS Cadillac his black eyes noticed the young mother constantly looking over her shoulder to glance frantically behind her. Looking quickly behind her as if she expected someone . . . some monster . . . to come out of the rain and snatch her and the children and carry them away.
Coming, maybe, to drag them down to Hell.
Traffic, heavy and in no mood to slow down, raced past mother and children and paid no attention to the cold, wet huddle of humanity standing underneath the bright street lamp.
But he stopped. Pulled up to the curb in front of the woman and her children, hit the button to open the truck of the Caddy, rolled out of the car and stepped onto the curb and opened the back door. Rain, falling in sheets, pounded the cement. Cold rain. The cold slicing like a knife straight to the bone. Children and mother were shivering violently.
“Get in,” Smitty whispered in a voice barely loud enough to be understood as he grabbed the two bags and threw them into the trunk.
The young woman—not much more than twenty-two or twenty-three—hesitated for a moment or two, eyes filled with fear and questions as she watched the tall, thin man with the strange black eyes close the trunk lid of the car. But not for long. Cold, hungry . . . terrified . . . she knew she had no choice. None.
If he found her—if he found the children—there would be no mercy. No help from anyone.
Making a decision she reached down and grabbed the arm of her five year old and steered him to the open door. When he jumped in she and the baby followed. No sooner had they slid across the leather seats of the Caddy the tall man with the dark eyes threw the door closed and started to walk around the car toward the driver’s side door.
But—oddly—she saw the man stop just in front of the car and turn. Turn back toward the curb and peer into the rain. Peer at something unseen. Through the rain she saw the man’s face. Handsome, she thought, in a cold way. Sharp edges. A thin nose. Strong jaw. And those eyes. Those eyes . . . .
Whatever it was which attracted the man no longer interested him. Walking swiftly around the front of his car he opened the door and slid in. In one smooth motion he pulled the console gearshift into drive and the car began moving. And that’s when it happened. That’s when her nightmares became real.
From out of the rain a large black form lunged for the rear door of the Caddy. Anger—fury—murderous rage written clearly on the madman’s face as fists pounded on the window of the moving car.
“ Nancy ! Nancy ! Where are you going? Nancy ! I’ll find you! I’ll find you and the kids! There’s no place you can hide from me! None! I’ll find you and then I’ll . . .”
But into the heavy fog of the rain the car slipped. Leaving behind the dark wraith standing in the street like some horrible nightmare waving fists in the air over head and screaming rage out to the night gods.
Smitty drove. Speaking not a word. Yet watching. Watching everything. Watching with dark eyes as the oldest child pulled on her mother’s arm and looked up into her face with eyes filled with tears.
“Mommy . . . mommy. Daddy is so mad. Is he going to hurt you again? Is he going to use his belt on us again?”
“No dear, no. We’re going somewhere where he can’t find us. Some place safe.”
Words said in the darkness of the back seat to soothe the fears of a child. But words which carried little conviction. Little hope. But fear. Layers and layers of fear.
Smitty said nothing. Said nothing but kept on driving.
An hour later mother, children, and the tall form with the odd dark eyes sat in the booth of a small out of the way restaurant. The table was cluttered with dirty dishes. The youngest child in the arms of the mother with a fresh bottle of milk. The mother with that beatific look of a mother in silent communion with child.
All were safe. All had been fed. All were dry and content.
As it should be.
“Who was he?” the soft whisper came to her ears from across the table.
She looked up and into the dark eyes and tried to smile. Weakly.
“My husband, David.”
“You’re leaving him?”
Tears filled her eyes. Tears filled the eyes of the small boy staring up from behind the table and at the tall man with the dark eyes. Tears filled with hopelessness. And fear. Genuine fear.
“We have to,” she said quietly. “He promised the next time he found us he was going to kill us. I know David. He means it. Six years ago he said he murdered his last wife. Cut her throat while she slept in bed. He told me last night he was going to do that to us when he got off work. So we left. Ran from the apartment and tried to find a way to leave town. But he’s . . . he’s . . .”
“A cop,” the dark eyed man said. “He knows how to track you down.”
Amazement filled the woman’s eyes. Surprise on her face.
“How did you know? How did you know David is a cop.”
“I know,” is all Smitty said. “Where were you going to go tonight?”
“My mother’s. It’s the only place I know to go to. Mom will help us. Help us leave him. If I can get to Mom’s . . .”
“He’ll be there waiting for you,” Smitty said. “He’ll be there waiting for all of you. You can’t go to your mothers.”
“But . . . but . . . if he goes there Mom will be there all alone. He’ll hurt her! Maybe . . . maybe even . . .”
“She’ll be all right,” the whisper answered firmly. “Take this, and give me her address. I’ll persuade him perhaps it will be better to let you and the kids go.”
A hand slid across the table and then pulled back. On the table was a credit card. She blinked her eyes at it a couple of times and then looked up into the cold, sharply chiseled face and stared.
“The Sheraton over on Broadway and Clifton . Register as Mary Hayes. I’ll bring your mother over in a couple of hours. Got that?”
Smitty slid out of the booth and walked away.
Two hours later a large, black form of a man slipped out of the shadows of a house, walked across a rain soaked lawn, and stepped up to the front door of a small cottage. The small house had no lights burning within. Like the night it too was cold and dark. But the black figure didn’t notice. In one hand was knife. A large carving knife. White knuckles gripped it as his other hand came up and began pounding on the door.
“ Nancy ! Nancy ! Open up, goddammit! I’m here to finish the job. Here to do what I said I was going to do! Open up this damn door and let’s get it over with!”
From out of the corner of his eye—movement.
Moving with an odd, almost slow, deliberation.
Turning, the fury glared at the figure standing on the sidewalk behind him and blinked rage filled eyes a couple of times at the figure.
“Who the hell are you?”
“Someone unimportant, David. But someone that has a message for you,” came back the barely audible whisper.
“Yeah? What’s that?”
The figure in front of the fury extended his right arm slightly. The sound—Click!—came to his ears. And from a passing car’s headlights the image of a hand holding the polished cold steel of an open switchblade became visible.
B.R. Stateham writes noir. Bad men, bad timing, bad luck – all the ingredients which make up a mean, nasty world. At sixty-one he’s just now getting to grips on what a good story should feel like. But what do you think?