Where They Go

Gerry and Raul are two homeless men in a grind to rise above their circumstances who run into the real life monsters responsible for the disappearances plaguing their community.

Originally published in e-magazine format by Heater.

 

A row of three urinals stood unimpressive before Gerry and he considered his options. There was a shit lounging in the urinal on the very left, a souvenir from a man too impatient to wait for an open stall. It was large, intimidating, and a good indication that its provider was consuming the exact amount of fiber he needed. The urinal to the right of it, the one in the middle, had an “Out of Order” sign taped across it. Lastly, there was a urinal with a sizable puddle of piss in front of it.

Gerry hypothesized how a puddle that large happened.  He didn’t think it was caused by some guy just indiscriminately pissing on the floor, but McDonald’s wasn’t exactly high end eating. Some careless man suffering from a lack of common courtesy could’ve let loose just a bit too far from the porcelain. What happened, he surmised, was that the guy got some on the floor. Maybe he was a drunk, maybe he was just an ambitious kid trying to see how far away he could get from the urinal while still getting his stream to reach. Whatever the catalyst was, when you see a bit of piss on the ground, you take a step back. You don’t want your shoes getting filthy, soaked in urine. You step back. You weren’t the kid trying to see how far you could get your arc to reach; you were just a man trying to keep his shoes piss-free. No matter your justification for such a risky maneuver, you might’ve got some piss on the floor. Maybe the next guy did too. Repeat this procedure a couple more times and soon enough you have a sizable puddle.

Gerry stepped in the puddle. His boots weren’t crocodile skin. They weren’t leather. They were cheap Walmart boots. Chances were that by the end of the day, he would be stepping in more piss. He would be stepping over used needles, used condoms, and used people. The shoes he wore kept his feet protected, but as far as style and hygiene went, they left plenty of room for improvement.

***

     Gerry was homeless. He and his best friend Raul were dining on the dollar menu; it was a near daily occurrence. They knew eating cheap food like beans and rice was probably more nutritious and would stretch the little money they had that much further, but they were without a pantry to store it and a stove to cook it on. Shaking himself dry, Gerry stepped over to the sink to wash up.

He washed his hands thoroughly and scrubbed his face with a palmful of water. Need a shave he thought, running his palm over the three-day growth on his cheeks. Gerry kept his face looking clean, unlike Raul who fully embraced the wild-man lifestyle with a large tangle of beard. It suited him, with his big stature and big personality. It was Gerry’s opinion, however, that you never knew when an opportunity to pull yourself out of the shitty situation you were in would surface and he would be ready if it did. In the meantime, the various odd jobs he worked under the table kept him lean and with a wallet that was far from full but never empty.

Slicking back his black hair with wet hands, Gerry reached into the backpack at his feet. He pulled out the traveling toothbrush he carried everywhere and gave his teeth a quick scrub using just water. He had read a few years ago that friction and water cleaned your teeth almost as good as toothpaste so he had quit buying it. Every little bit he saved kept him and his big friend fed another day and gave him a foothold out of the life he was stuck in.

When he exited the bathroom, a professional looking woman was sitting in his spot opposite Raul. Whatever the woman was talking to Raul about had clearly excited him. His friend was an avid hand talker and the lady was keeping her distance for fear of getting in the way of one of his meaty paws. Raul was presumably telling her his life story. If you even looked at him politely he would tell you his story.

Raul had been an orphan from a young age, bouncing around from family to family, never feeling like he truly belonged. In his mid-teenage years he had fallen in with the wrong crowd and began the steady decline into addiction that was so common to the homeless lifestyle. His vice was cocaine and Gerry thanked God that he hadn’t been around him then. Raul was out of control at the best of times, Gerry could only imagine how he would be hopped up on an 8-ball.

Gerry himself had developed a painkiller habit after a bad step fucked up his knee and ended up losing him his job and wife. They were both clean now, though, and they were doing their best to follow a plan that was sure to reintroduce them to society. Gerry heard Raul telling the woman across from him this plan as he slid in next to him as much as Raul’s size would allow.

“Step one: Kick the addiction. This is the hardest step of course- Hey Gerry- but once you get over that hurdle the rest is kind of like a to-do list. You just do it, like a chore. Step two: Utilize the various resources the city provides, from libraries to publicly subsidized gyms to better yourself and increase your worth to society. This involves updating your resume and-”

“Who’s this?” Gerry interrupted his friend peering unashamed at the woman. He noticed the stranger had a voice recorder on the table and the light on it blinked red indicating a recording in process. Gerry wasn’t necessarily untrusting, but he had stopped taking chances lately. Many of their friends were disappearing and the media was treating it like a crime-drama. It was entertainment to them, and Gerry didn’t blame them. There was such a disconnect between his world and theirs that he didn’t fault them for not feeling oodles of empathy.

“Hi,” the woman said, stretching out her hand, “My name is Denise Mayweather. I’m a freelance reporter for the metro. I’m just doing a piece on the recent disappearances in the area. Care to comment?” The fact that she was willing to shake with a member of the homeless community put her ahead of all the other journalists that made the dangerous adventure into their world. Gerry shook with her.

“I’m Gerry. What would you like to know?” He glanced around and noticed a couple of cops, a rookie and a veteran, sitting two tables away and clearly eavesdropping. Listening for leads? Gerry wondered, but put the idea out of his head. The police weren’t looking into the situation. They had bigger problems to deal with, and Gerry had the sick suspicion that they weren’t exactly heartbroken over the losses. The relationship between some of the homeless in the city and the police department was rocky to say the least.

“This shit again,” Raul said, “And here I trusted you with my personal story.” He stormed off, looking for leftovers and Denise lightened up a bit, no longer in danger of being accidentally blasted with spittle. She watched him go then looked at a notepad in her hand.

“Do you know any of the missing?”

“Yeah, I knew Jake Pruitt, Tandy Hawthorne, Mike… uh…” He thought about it, but couldn’t recall Mike’s last name. “We just called him the Tool-Man.” Gerry smiled, remembering his old friend. “The guy was a wiz with bikes. You had a busted chain or anything and he would fix it, free of charge. Of course we always treated him to dinner when he helped us out. We got to look out for each other, right?”

Mayweather nodded.

“There were more, but I didn’t know all their names. Just faces that stopped turning up.” Gerry looked over at the cops and noticed them get up to leave without cleaning up their trays. Raul followed his gaze and noticed the unattended leftovers. He scurried over to their table, faster than a man his size had any right to do.

“Do the disappearances worry you? Do you feel like you are in danger yourself?” The reporter continued with her questions.

Gerry thought about it. He had purchased a 5-inch knife with a spring assisted opening mechanism a month after his friends started disappearing. He told himself it was just a utility tool, for cutting rope and opening cans but it made him feel safer at his side. “No, I’m not worried,” he lied, “Just concerned for the people in our community. They have enough to worry about without some maniac doing God knows what to them.”

“You think this is the work of some sort of serial attacker?” Mayweather leaned forward, pushing her recorder closer to Gerry.

“Of course it is. You think it’s been some kind of mass exodus, like the bums of the city are just up and moving cross country or something?”

“I guess not,” she said leaning back as Raul came back with a tray of cold fries and burger ends.

“I’ve been saying for years how wasteful our civil servants are, but sometimes it works out in our favor.” He ripped open a paper packet, salted the fries, and jammed a handful in his mouth. “You been telling her more about the plan, Gerry?”

“We’ve been talking about the disappearances,” the reporter told him.

Raul chewed slower and swallowed before looking somberly at Mayweather. “I knew you weren’t interested in the plan. Your kind only cares about one thing don’t you?” He stormed off, then came back and stuffed the leftover food in a grocery bag he had tied to his backpack. Shooting a condemning look at Denise Mayweather, Raul stalked away and Gerry followed.

***

     “You ever heard the term ‘If it bleeds, it leads?’” Raul asked Gerry as they walked down the sidewalk away from the burger joint. He stepped in front of a car speeding into the drive through and the woman behind the wheel was forced to slam on her brakes, blaring her horn at him. He continued on, not noticing the near miss.

“I don’t think so,” Gerry replied giving the woman a polite wave and sympathetic smile. She shot him a look of disgust and flipped him the bird.

“That’s those fucker’s creed. They don’t give a shit about anything but doom and gloom.”

Gerry had to almost jog to keep up with his friend. Not only was Raul clearly in a huff, but his long legs gave him a stride equaling one and a half of Gerry’s. “Don’t you think we could use the attention? The public should know something fishy is going on.”

Raul noticed the limp Gerry tried to hide and slowed down to his speed, giving him a sarcastic bark of a laugh. “Like they’d do anything about it. You want something done about all this shit, we got to do it ourselves. That’s what the plan’s for.” He moved aside a tree branch and led the way into their shelter.

The shelter was a clearing half the size of a basketball court. There were two shopping carts taken from a local Bed Bath and Beyond, each one containing the belongings of each man. A blue tarp stretched over the urban campsite giving them protection from both rain and sun. Outside the heat beat down relentlessly but within their shelter it was cool and comfortable. Raul threw his bag beside a red camping chair and dropped into it.

“You’re going to break that thing one of these days, you keep sitting down like a pouty child.” Gerry placed his bag next to a blue camping chair and sat down gently, leaning forward to start a fire in the pit between them. Night was falling and even though it was still warm out, Gerry knew his friend would be calmed by the flickering flames. Most nights he just stared at it, a serene smile stretched over his hairy mug like a man who had forgotten he slept with the bugs. Gathering kindling, Gerry pulled his zippo out and touched flame to fuel. The zippo was a worn thing, silver and plain, unadorned by decoration aside from a capital G crudely etched into its face. Nobody would think it was a gift by looking at it.

***

     Rebecca had given it to him on their last Christmas together. They had had a tough year and money was tight. The small amount Gerry was getting from E.I. wasn’t enough to maintain their lifestyle and it was clear Rebecca was starting to resent him for that.

Gerry had a list of gift ideas for her that he had started in October, but most of the items were out of his price range. She wanted a ring she had found in a People’s catalogue, she wanted a new dining set for their kitchen, she wanted the carpet replaced on the main flight of stairs. After much research, Gerry had found a great deal on some surplus carpet and decided he was going to install it himself on Boxing Day. It stood up beside the tree, a 6 foot cylinder wrapped in paper decorated with little smiling snowmen.

Knowing how tight money was, Gerry hadn’t asked for anything. He suggested the two of them go out and visit her family for the day instead of making a big thing of exchanging presents, but she shot down that idea. “It would be embarrassing if we showed up empty handed,” she had explained. He offered to cook something for them, but Rebecca adamantly refused if they couldn’t afford gifts for the whole family.

The one gift Gerry had hinted at was a new zippo. He had been using cheap Bic lighters to light his cigars for the last 5 years and it had always cheapened the experience. He had imagined sitting in the rocking chair on the back porch lighting one of the fat Cubans he had been saving for Christmas morning. The cold would bite at him, but he would be bundled up in his big winter coat, the smoke filling his lungs and turning him into a puffing furnace, indifferent to the swirling flurries.

When Christmas morning came, Gerry saw the joy fade from his wife’s eyes when she saw what was under the tree. “That’s it?” she asked him, jokingly. The base of the tree was empty as it had been for the last month.

“What do you mean?”

“I figured you had just been hiding the rest of the gifts.” She peered around the tree, looking for any boxes she was missing.

“We decided it was going to be a small Christmas this year,” Gerry explained, reminding her of the countless discussions they had on the subject.

“Yeah, but this small?”

He felt the anger flare up in him and fought it down, intent on keeping this one day special. “Babe, you’re forgetting your stocking. Plus, you have a big gift there. Who knows what’s inside?”

She turned on him. “It’s fucking carpet Gerry. I could tell. It’s probably ugly too, I told you I wanted to pick it out and have it done properly!”

“Just open it, Becca. Jesus, you’re ungrateful.” He turned away and felt a small heavy object hit him in the shoulder blade.

“Merry Christmas, you fucking prick.” He heard her storm off down the worn carpeted stairs and out the front door. Turning around, he caught sight of the plain metal Zippo, lying unglamorous on the living room floor, the lid thrown open. He picked it up and turned it over in his hands.

Not only had she not taken the time to get something personal inscribed on it or picked out one with an eye-catching pattern, but the fact that it wasn’t even wrapped made Gerry burst out laughing. He rolled his thumb along the wheel and sparked a flame, watching it spring into life from the cold metal in his hands.

He spent that morning on the porch, in his rocking chair and smoking a cigar. He had his bottle of painkillers on the small patio table next to him and treated himself to a second dose while examining the lighter. It looked like a blank slate to him, a clean break. Clenching the cigar in his teeth, he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out his old Leatherman. He pulled the knife out and scratched a hasty G into the metal.

Later that day, he packed a hiking backpack with a couple changes of clothes and left his house behind. The Zippo ended up outlasting the Leatherman.

***

     “What’s the difference between a Hippo and a Zippo?” he asked Raul as they sat in their campsite, the only light coming from the fire he was feeding.

“What?”

Gerry fell back into his chair and flicked the lid of his Zippo open. “One’s quite heavy; the other’s a little lighter.” He flicked the lid closed and Raul chuckled, his voice deep from within the darkness.

***

     It was full dark when Gerry woke up. There was a rustling coming from the tree line to his right. Raul taking a piss, he thought before hearing the big man’s snores. He rolled over and felt metal around his wrists before sitting upright.

His hands were cuffed behind his back and a man was rooting through Gerry’s cart, shining a beam of light in it as he tossed blankets and clothes out onto the dirt. “What the fuck?” asked Gerry and the man turned to him. He was short and thin, not much older than a boy and wearing a police uniform.

“Good morning, asshole. You’re under arrest,” he said, turning his flashlight on Gerry. It was blinding and he was forced to turn away.

“What did I do?” He saw a grizzled man in his late 40’s struggling with Raul’s arms as his big friend grunted into consciousness. Raul’s arms wouldn’t reach behind his back, so the officer settled for cuffing him in front of his considerate belly.

“Trespassing,” growled the older cop as the rookie switched his attention to the other cart. “Rob, give me a hand with this guy.” The rookie left the carts and grabbed Raul’s arm as the two hauled him to his feet.

“This is bullshit. This is public property, we’ve never had problems before,” complained Gerry.

“Don’t worry about it buddy. This won’t stick. These guys just got to show that they’re making an effort to solve the homeless problem. No real crime to fight, huh fellas?” Raul asked the cops as they pushed him forwards towards the entrance to their campsite.

“Shut the fuck up,” said Rob, “You people think you have it all figured out huh?”

“That’s enough,” the older cop said to his partner as he pulled Gerry to his feet. “March.”

“October,” Gerry retorted and was rewarded for his wit with a heavy shove towards the tree line. As they passed through the foliage, Gerry looked around for the blue and red lights that he expected but saw no police cruiser. Instead, a white unmarked van was parked outside their site. Rob opened the back doors and gestured for the two to climb in.

“Budget cuts?” Raul asked.

“Get in,” ordered the big cop, but Raul didn’t budge.

Gerry felt a twinge of uneasiness. The rookie looked at him and Gerry noticed that he wasn’t wearing a name tag. His hand was on his gun and he drew it slowly as Raul peered inside the van. Following his gaze, Gerry saw a bloodstain on the back of the passenger seat. The unmistakable smell of bleach wafted out of the back and Raul started running down the road, away from the van.

“Get him!” barked the older cop, drawing his gun and the rookie took off after the big man, gaining on him quickly. Gerry turned to run in the opposite direction, but the big cop swung his pistol and cracked him across the back of his head with its butt. He fell to the ground and the cop began kicking him in the gut.

“Help,” Gerry called, “Brutality!”

“Like I give a fuck,” the cop said in between kicks, “You think anybody gives a fuck about you?” He lifted his foot high into the air and stomped heavily onto Gerry’s knee. He felt it break as his leg bent sideways. His bone jutted out, stretching his skin tight over the unnatural angle. He opened his mouth to scream but felt the cold metal of the gun barrel against his temple.

“Give me an excuse, I beg you.” His lips were close to Gerry’s ear, snarling. The pain in his knee grew and he had to blink away tears as he was lifted into the air. Hopping on his good leg, he was pushed towards the van and he climbed in. He filled his lungs deep with the chemical smell and vomited onto the cold metal. He rolled onto his back and listened to the struggle outside.

Five minutes later, Raul was thrown in by the two police officers and before they slammed the back doors Gerry caught a glimpse of his friend, bruised and haggard, blood leaking from his nose and mouth. As they started rolling into the night, Gerry allowed himself to drift into unconsciousness, the pain finally overwhelming him.

***

     When he woke, he found himself staring at Raul’s broad back. Blinking the sweat out of his eyes, Gerry looked up to see his hands cuffed to a pipe that ran along the roof of a concrete ceiling. Raul panted in front of him, his arms outstretched towards the pipe. He braced himself and pulled down trying to use his considerable weight to free himself. The pipe bowed but held strong.

“Hey.” Gerry kicked at him with his good leg to get his attention, talking in a low voice. “Where are we?”

Raul gave up on his struggle and turned his head, speaking over his shoulder. “Some fucking basement, I don’t know. We drove for a while. Must be way out in the boonies.”

Gerry looked around. The basement was unfinished made of concrete on all four sides. There was a thin window showing ground outside and an overgrown backyard. The owner of the house had brought in their propane grill and it sat uncovered underneath the window. A locker stood in the corner, gun metal grey and a hose was coiled beside it. It hung on a hook off the wall, fat and with a heavy spray nozzle on the end. Gerry noticed the concrete slanting towards his feet and a drain coated in rust underneath him and Raul.

“Shit man, shit,” he cursed and tested the cuffs. He gave up quickly. If the pipe didn’t come free with Raul putting all his weight on it, there would be little Gerry could do. Despair filled him and he had to laugh a little.

He had lived a life of little regard, drifting about over the last two years like a dust devil, here one second, gone the next. It amounted to little, and yet he wanted to keep it.

“Guess we’ve solved the mystery of the disappearing homeless, huh?”

Raul chuckled. “Guess so. You alright?”

Gerry looked down and saw his right knee swollen to the size of a small melon. It radiated heat and sent waves of pain up his thigh with each beat of his heart. “Knee’s fucked again.”

“Looks like you won’t be winning any ass-kicking contests.”

Gerry swung his good leg up and used it to shove his friend in the backside, earning another chuckle. If they were going down, he didn’t want their last moments to be ones of fear and cowardice. “Any ideas?”

Raul spat onto the ground. “Can’t do much tied up like this. I can try and kick ‘em when they come close, but don’t count on it doing much.”

Looking down at his pockets, Gerry took stock of any potential weapons. The knife he had acquired for protection was in his right pocket, the clip of it peeking out. His left pocket bulged with the comfortable weight of the zippo, and he felt his wallet in his back pocket.

“They haven’t patted me down yet,” said Gerry, “Still got my knife and lighter. Plus they haven’t robbed me, so if we make it out of here Big Macs are on me.”

Raul’s head jerked up. “Fuck,” he cursed, “That’s where I know them from!”

“The cops?”

“Yeah, they’re the same wasteful cock-suckers from the McDonalds! I ate their leftovers!”

Gerry thought back to their last full meal and knew he was right. “Maybe they were going to come back for their food and were upset to find you eating it. This is all your fault!”

Raul laughed again and Gerry smiled. As upbeat as they tried to stay, all hope drained away as they watched two sets of boots pass by the window outside. They steeled themselves as the door behind them swung open and footsteps came down wooden stairs as their captors descended upon them.

 

The two cops stepped around them in civilian clothes. They wore similar outfits: Loose track pants and dark t-shirts despite the chilly air outside. On the shoulder of the younger cop was a duffle bag and he dropped it in front of them. He knelt down and began to root through it as the grizzled cop stood with his arms crossed, examining the two men in front of him.

“Psycho,” Raul cursed at him and spat at his feet. “I hope you rot. I hope they find our bodies and the bodies of our friends and lock you away, you sick fuck.”

“Hey Rob, do you think the exterminator feels like he has to justify to the rats why he has to gas them?”

The rookie shook his head as he took a box of latex gloves from the bag. “Nope.”

“So that’s how you see us?” Gerry caught the big cop’s eye and glared at him. “We’re people man, not vermin! This ain’t right!”

“And your way of living is? You people think you have the right to do whatever the hell you want. You shoot up behind elementary schools, leaving your needles for our kids to step on and play with. You beg and plead for our help and when you find some poor sucker naive enough to show you some pity you take advantage of them. Wherever you are, whatever bridge you sleep under, whatever mall you slink through, whatever public bathroom you fucking shower in you make worse. You’re repulsive, you’re repugnant, you’re scum and yeah, you’re vermin.”

“You’re just doing a public service, aren’t you?” Raul was leaning forward, putting pressure on his cuffs. “Helping out your community. What a fucking hero you are.” The pipe bent more under his weight and Gerry glimpsed a dusting of concrete fall from the ceiling behind the big cop’s back.

Rob the rookie mixed water into a bowl filled with a yellowish brown powder off by the duffle bag.

The older cop smiled and stepped forward, grabbing the big man by his hairy cheeks. “We’re doing you a favor too, buddy, sending you off with a bang. What kind of life are you living? Subject to the elements in the company of other drug addicts and prostitutes? I bet you shoot anything into yourself just to get a small break from the putrid reality you live in.”

“You don’t know me.” Raul glared at him, their faces separated by less than a foot. The cop grabbed his beard and leaned closer, making Raul wince.

“You’re all the same.” He let go and took a step back as the rookie pulled a pair of latex gloves on. He opened the locker and found it empty. “Where are the ponchos?”

Rob looked inside the duffle bag, rooting around inside the canvas. “Shit, I left them upstairs after we washed them. Sorry.”

“Can I trust you to take care of these by yourself then? I want to get out of here before dawn.”

Rob looked uncertain. “By myself?”

“Yeah, I’ll be back soon. I’m just going to grab the ponchos.” He clapped a hand on the young man’s back. “I trust you. You got this.”

Rob nodded at his mentor and the older cop ascended up the wooden steps. “Enjoy your cheese. It’ll go easier if you don’t struggle.” The door swung open and closed on rusty hinges.

***

     Gerry watched the feet of the veteran cop as he walked off towards the house. With each step, he felt the panic stronger and stronger, gnawing away at his calm. There was nothing they could do, incapacitated as they were. His knee throbbed and he lifted it up, taking the weight after it.

As he did, he noticed the pipe pull away from the ceiling. More dust rained down, but the rookie was busy filling a hypodermic needle to notice. “I didn’t think they made homeless people in your size,” he said over his shoulder to Raul. “We’ll give you double what we give the other guys. A big last meal for a big man.”

The cuffs dug into Gerry’s wrists as he lifted his other leg off the ground. He had all his weight on the pipe and it groaned in protest. Extending his leg, he prodded Raul with the tip of his boot and the big man looked over at him. Gerry raised his eyebrows and Raul nodded back, noticing his friend floating with his knees drawn up.

Raul crouched down a foot as the rookie turned to face him, a needle full of the yellow liquid that held many of their friends captive in a steady decline of addiction. The big man jumped up in the air and cannonballed towards the concrete floor. Rob’s eyes opened wide and the weight of the two men tore the pipe from the roof. As it fell down, smashing the rookie on the shoulder, Gerry fell to the floor and felt his knee crack and grind. He howled in pain as Raul rushed forward, sliding his cuffs off the end of the pipe. He threw all his mass onto the rookie and knocked him to the floor.

“Bruce!” The rookie shouted for his partner but Gerry heard no steps rushing above them. The needle rolled away and Raul grabbed it, deliberately stuck the cop in the forearm, and pressed the plunger.

Every drop of the dope went into the wide-eyed rookie. Raul had gotten it right into a vein and the cop began to feel the effects almost instantly. His pupils dilated as Raul held him down and his breathing slowed. He gasped and arched his back but he could not move the weight. “Bruce,” he wheezed. His breath left him and didn’t come back.

“Fuck.” Gerry was lying on his back, holding his broken knee up and squinting at the two men. “Nicely done.”

“Beginners luck,” replied Raul and he helped Gerry to his feet and off the pipe. As Gerry hobbled over to the rookie, Raul shuffled to the window. “Hurry up with the keys.” Gerry obliged, tugging them from the cops pocket. Raul’s cuffs fell to the ground with a clatter and he took the key and unlocked Gerry’s. He rubbed his wrists.

“What do we do?” Gerry asked.

“Got your knife?”

“Yeah, but he’ll have a gun. There’s no way I’ll be able to get to him before he guns me down.”

Raul looked through the window again. He stepped away from it, turning around to examine his surroundings and ended up tripping over the gas tank sitting beside the old barbecue. He examined it. “What’s the difference between a hippo and a zippo?” Gerry smiled.

***

His leg ached ferociously and Gerry briefly wished he hadn’t kicked his painkiller habit. A couple heavy duty Percocets would provide some much needed relief from the broken glass in his knee, but the pain had a focusing effect. It honed his awareness and made him more present than he had been in years. He was staring out the window as Raul maintained his position by the door, his hand on the metal valve of the propane tank.

“See him?” he asked.

“I’ll let you know.” Gerry ran his thumb along the crude G etched into the face of his lighter and flicked the lid up. Lightly, he teased the flint wheel, feeling the ridges press into his thumb. When he saw the heavy boot come down in front of the window, he flicked the wheel and backed away as the flame bloomed up out of the steel. “Now!”

Raul opened the valve and goose-stepped down the stairs, leaving the tank beside the door as it leaked it’s fumes into the room. They got behind the locker and Gerry held the lighter between two fingers. When the door opened he tossed it underhand towards the tank. It bounced on the wood to rest just underneath the nozzle with a hollow thunk. He had just enough time to see Bruce glance down at the lighter before the tank exploded with a furious roar of flame.

Gerry and Raul turned away behind the lockers as the room ignited. The rush of heat reminded Gerry of the campfire they had left behind and he wondered if it provided the same comfort to Raul as it did back at their campsite. Looking at his friend, he noticed a jubilant grin appear on his face despite the shrapnel that peppered the room around them. Clearly, he had deemed the plan successful.

“Let’s go!” Raul said and he helped Gerry limp up the stairs, now charred and threatening collapse, and out of the room. Coming out of the door, they didn’t see the grizzled cop at first. A quick look around found him thrown ten feet away to the left of the door. His face was badly burnt and a yellow poncho stuck to his skin in places, emitting the smell of scorched plastic. In his hand was another poncho, presumably for Rob the rookie.

“Dead?” Raul shouted, his hearing reduced from the concussive blast. Gerry shrugged pulling the knife from his pocket. He flicked it open and hobbled closer to the cop. Peering at him, Gerry noticed his chest rising and falling, slow and with an occasional hitch. He held the handle of the long knife he had recently purchased for protection with the blade sticking out of the bottom of his fist. Leaning closer, he lifted his arm but halted. He looked back at Raul and noticed his friend breathing heavy and looking worried. The big man shook his head and Gerry lowered his arm before putting the knife back in his pocket.

“Come give me a hand,” Gerry said, “Let’s get away from this place.” Raul hurried over and threw his friend’s arm over his shoulder. The two men shambled off towards the trees, intent on disappearing in the foliage. They had gotten a good twenty yards in when a shot splintered a tree mere feet away.

***

Raul cursed and pulled Gerry deeper into the woods. Gerry looked back and saw the old cop on one knee, taking aim at him. They ducked behind a big tree as another shot rang off in their direction. He looked back again and saw the cop rise and begin to lope after them.

“He’s coming!” Gerry called to Raul and the big man hurried onwards.

“Blowing the fucker up didn’t slow him down?”

“Guess not!” They ran through copses of trees as the shots rang off intermittently behind them. Each successive bullet got closer and closer to them and Gerry knew they couldn’t go on like this for long. They were unfamiliar with the terrain and Raul was being slowed down by his injured friend. Gerry heard the cops ragged breaths increase in volume as he gained on the men.

“He’s getting closer,” Gerry explained, “You’re going to have to leave me.”

“No fucking way!” Raul increased his speed but was forced to stop suddenly when they came to a cliff. The earth dropped away into a deep, rocky ravine. They could climb down it if they had enough time but the cop was almost upon them, so they ran along the edge. Gerry felt their time running out as their options slipped away.

“Stop!” The cop’s voice rang out along the emptiness and the command in it stopped the men in their tracks. They would be within range now. They turned to him and recoiled at the burned man. His face was slick with blood and clear liquid oozed from blisters on his forehead and cheeks. “What did you do to Rob?”

Raul slipped Gerry’s arm off of his shoulder and turned to the cop who held him at gunpoint. “Same thing he was going to do to us! Self-defense!”

The cop looked at him in disbelief. “You…You killed him?” Gerry saw tears come to his eyes as the gun wavered slightly. “He just had a baby…”

“What about the families of all our friends, huh?” There was no room for fear, Gerry was now furious. “Tandy Hawthorne was a mother, that didn’t stop you fucking psychopaths from making her disappear! What about her daughter?”

“It’s not the same!” The cop screamed, pointing the pistol at him now. “You’re all lost causes. You’re all criminals!”

Raul took a step closer to the cop and he once more trained the gun on him. “It’s over. You’re done, Bruce. You’ve done enough.”

“Don’t you say my name!” He stepped closer to Raul, the gun now just a couple feet from the big man’s chest. “You have no right!”

“We had a plan. We were going to get better. We were going to make something of the lives we had wasted up till now.” Raul sounded hopeful but Gerry saw the madness in the cop’s eyes. “Let us go.”

“Step away from the edge. I don’t want to have to drag your corpses back up.” He stepped closer to Raul and Gerry saw his finger on the trigger, his knuckles turning white from the pressure.

“Raul,” Gerry said, his breath coming short and tight in his chest.

“Remember the plan buddy,” Raul bent his knees slightly and lunged forward. The gun went off in the cop’s hands and blew craters out Raul’s back, but the big man was carried forward by his own momentum. Five shots had gone into Raul before he hit the cop, but he embraced him and the two tumbled off into the ravine together. Gerry rushed forwards, but collapsed after putting his full weight on his broken knee.

He yelled after Raul, but the only response was his own cries echoing back across the empty space. After the eruption from the gun barrel the world was quiet and Gerry sobbed into the dirt. His friend was gone.

***

Dawn began to illuminate the forest, sending skeletal shadows stretching out towards Gerry as his cries tapered off. Crawling to the edge of the ravine, he saw Raul’s large mass sprawled over the cop. The cop’s head had struck a rock the size of a bowling ball and Gerry saw a scarlet pool of blood spreading out and soaking into the ground. Neither man moved or showed any sign of life.

Gerry stayed at the top of the ravine as the sun came up, resting his knee. After twenty minutes, he limped away into the forest. He didn’t know where it went, but leading a nomadic lifestyle had removed any fear of becoming lost.

***

The disappearances stopped after that. No story came out of the incident as the police covered up the loss of their two officers. They claimed that the two men had died in the line of duty and no further questions were asked. Some vague details surfaced about a shootout in the forest, some drug deal they stumbled upon and Gerry rolled his eyes when he heard about it.

A month later, he ran into Denise Mayweather. The reporter was out with her husband but still hailed Gerry when she saw him. He stopped outside his campsite and waited for her to cross the street, leaving her husband behind on the other side, looking after her with curiosity.

“Hey! How’s it going?” She asked as she stepped onto the curb and walked towards Gerry with her hand out. Gerry shook.

“I’m okay,” he replied.

“Where’s your buddy?” Mayweather asked.

Gerry shuffled on his feet and looked away. “Moved cities. He thought there would be more opportunities out east.”

“Good, good,” the reporter said, “The disappearances stopped, huh?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Any idea why?”

Gerry looked across the street at Mr. Mayweather. “No clue. You should go back to your husband, I’m sure he’s getting nervous over there.”

Denise Mayweather scrutinized him. “I can handle myself and he knows that. I’m always breaking off for some reason.” She looked at Gerry, taking him in. “I hope you’re doing well. I’m sure it’s not too easy out here, especially now that you’re on your own.”

He looked away from the reporter, squinting down the road. “I’ll be okay.”

“I hope so.” Mayweather stood for a second, examining the man in front of her. She took out a card and handed it to Gerry. “In case you want to talk. About whatever, doesn’t matter.”

Gerry looked down at the card before putting it in his pocket. “Thanks Mrs. Mayweather.” They smiled at each other and the reporter turned to walk away. “Wait,” Gerry called before she got too far and he limped after her. “Raul told me about a saying you reporters have.”

Mayweather smiled. “We’ve got plenty.”

“He said ‘If it bleeds, it leads.’ Anything to that?”

She chuckled. “Yeah, as a rule of thumb. The public likes to hear about conflict.”

“Then I’ve got a bloody story for you.”

“Does it have anything to do with that leg of yours?” Mayweather gestured to Gerry’s bum knee.

“Yeah.”

Denise Mayweather’s smile faded away. “Give me a call, Gerry. We’ll meet up.” She jogged off. Her husband smiled at Gerry as Mayweather reached him and they walked off, hand in hand. Gerry looked around and saw the street empty. He sighed and stepped through the bush before slumping down in the big red chair his friend had left behind.

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