The old man was tired. He walked up the road with a limp and slightly hunched over. It felt like it had been years since he sat at the table with a sandwich in front of him, though it had only been less than five hours.
The old man’s name was Orville Hammonds and before that night he didn’t feel old. He considered himself a youthful sixty-three. But right then, he felt like a used up eighty-one, with aches and pains he didn’t normally feel on a daily basis.
I’ll be feeling this tomorrow, he thought and continued his slow trek up West Lincoln Drive, a road he never considered a drive at all, more like a Street—a dead end street. To his left is where the Taylor’s lived. On the right is where the widow Lawson lived, she of ninety plus years who still got along like she was his age and not almost thirty years his senior.
He looked up the road and he remembered.
Orville arrived home from work that evening a little after six, having made a stop at Jerry’s Deli on West End Street. He got the Jerry Special, complete with ham, turkey, chicken and sliced pepper jack. Jerry tossed on lettuce, tomato and a homemade mustard that was better than anything Orville could get from a store. A bag of chips and a sweet tea came with the special, as well as a cookie—chocolate chip for Orville.
He didn’t bother with changing his clothes or even taking the heavy work boots off. Though he no longer did much construction, he still oversaw half a dozen projects for Mr. McGuinn and still wore steel toed boots and carried a sharp knife in his back pocket. Orville sat at the table, a small pinch alive in the right side of his back, thanks to a seventeen foot drop off a scaffolding six years earlier. The broken back was bad, but the spinal cord wasn’t damaged. Four surgeries and hours of physical therapy later and he went back to work, just not climbing ladders or scaffolds.
Orville set his cell phone by the sandwich, took the top off his tea, and set it aside before taking a long swallow from the cup. The tea was good—not too sweet the way Alice made it when she lived here. He started to unwrap the sandwich when a knock came at the door. He looked at his watch. It was nearing seven and he rarely had company. Still, he stood, went to the door, and opened it just as the person on the other side went to knock again.
He started to say something like, ‘Can I help you?’ but stopped when he saw the gun. He glanced up. The person on his porch had an Iron Main mask on.
“Halloween’s not for another two months, Mister.”
Iron Man held the gun up, pointing it at Orville’s face. “Get inside.”
Orville raised his hands in a surrender gesture and stepped from the door. Iron Man entered the house and closed the door behind him.
“I don’t know what you want, but—”
Iron Man swung the gun. It struck Orville in the left cheek. A flair of pain erupted. The skin split and blood spilled from the wound, Orville’s head jerked to the right and he spun on his heel before losing his balance and falling to the floor. He raised his hand to touch the wound. He could already feel swelling below his eye. Another explosion of pain came, this time near his right ear.
Orville collapsed and his world ran away from him.
He woke with a headache and his left eye swollen nearly shut. He could feel wetness on his cheek and jaw and soaked through the shoulder of his shirt. His head was down, chin on his chest, as if he had bowed to pray. He tried to move his arms, but they were bound behind his back. His right ear had a low ringing in it that hurt as much as his head and cheek did, if not more. Orville blinked his right eye several times trying to blink away the fog and confusion in his head.
“About time you woke up,” someone said.
Orville lifted his head slowly and winced as a fresh pain blossomed in his neck and the back of his skull. He closed his good eye, lowered his head again and waited for the pain to ease off.
“I thought I killed you back there.”
The voice sounded familiar, but he couldn’t quite place it with the ringing in his ear.
How did I get here? he thought and tried to recall the last thing he could. It was still hazy, but he knew it had something to do with Halloween and some superhero.
A hand grabbed Orville’s chin and lifted his face. The man half kneeling in front of him wasn’t wearing a mask.
He was Iron Man, Orville thought. He was Iron Man and now he’s not even Tony Stark.
“Hey, old man. Did I scramble your brains or are you with me here?”
He recognized the face. It was thin, as if the man in front of him had missed a few meals. His nose was too big for his face and pointy at the end. His eyes were as thin as his face and body was. Sparse hairs clung to his upper lip, chin and along his jawline. He looked like a weasel in human skin. His left arm had needle marks in it.
“Do you understand what I’m saying?”
Orville sounded weak, like someone so much older than he was.
“Good,” the man said and released Orville’s face but not without giving it a good shove to the side.
White dots filled Orville’s vision as the throbbing in the back of his head increased. His stomach did a somersault, then quivered. Orville swallowed hard, hoping to keep what little he had in his stomach from coming up. He took a deep breath, licked his dry lips, and forced himself to look up.
“I know you,” he said. It probably wasn’t the smartest thing to say, but it came out anyway.
“Or course you do, old man.”
“You’re Crawford.” Orville shook his head slightly. That was wrong. “Your last name is Crawford. Your dad used to work for the county.”
“He used to. He’s dead now.”
Orville blinked several times. The vision in his right eye had begun to clear and he knew where he was: the dining room in Gary Crawford’s house at the end of the road. The wood dining table sat in front of him, covered in papers and various odds and ends, including a laptop that sat closed, a ledger, a penholder with various pens and a letter opener sitting inside of it. Orville didn’t sit quite behind the table but slightly off to the side. His hands were loosely bound between his back and the chair. He could see the doorway that led to the kitchen and the bright white light coming from it. If what Crawford’s son said was true, then Gary was dead, and Orville probably was as good as dead.
“What?” Crawford asked. “You’re not going to ask how he died?”
Orville gave a short shake of the head. “No.”
“Suit yourself, old man.”
“What do you want?” His voice was getting stronger. His head was clearing with each passing minute.
“What do I want? You want to know what I want, old man?”
“That’s what I asked.”
He could see Crawford fine now. He looked more like a weasel than he could ever recall. He guessed that was because this kid—what was his name?—had always been some kind of trouble. Gary had told him as much over the years. ‘That kid’s got problems. He’s going to be a handful when he’s older.’ And he had been, getting in trouble with the law on many occasions, the least of which was DUI and reckless driving. There had been a drug arrest as well and sitting there in Gary Crawford’s kitchen, his hands bound behind his back, he had a feeling drugs might have played a part in his actions that night.
Orville, moved his wrist, trying to keep his shoulders still but not certain he did a good job of it. The rope was looser than he thought, and he believed he could eventually work one hand free. If he could do that …
Then what? What are you going to do? The kid has a gun.
I don’t see it.
You saw it earlier, when you opened the door like an idiot.
He conceded to that rationale.
“An old man like you,” Crawford began, “I bet you have a nice little savings, don’t you?”
If he were to tell the truth, Orville didn’t really have a nice little savings. When Alice filed for divorce shortly after the accident, she took a lot of his money and assets with him. He got the house, but only because she didn’t want it. Ellen, their daughter had been angry with her mom.
‘You’re abandoning Dad when he needs you most.’
‘This was a long time coming, Ellie,’
‘His back is broken, What is he going to do?’
He heard the argument while laying in the hospital bed, having been there all of eleven days at that point. They thought he had been asleep.
‘I’ll be fine,’ he said.
Both women turned to him. Ellen’s eyes were wet with tears. Alice had a shocked drop-jaw look on her face. Then she clamped her mouth shut and left the room. It was the last time Orville saw her outside of a courtroom.
“I have a little,” he said. “Is that what this is about? Money?”
“Isn’t that what everything’s about?”
“Really, old man?”
“I wish you’d stop calling me old man.”
“That’s what you are, an old, washed up man. You couldn’t even keep your wife. At least my mom died, and my dad didn’t lose her the way you did.”
Orville said nothing to this.
“Didn’t like that, eh, old man?”
Crawford laughed, his head tipping. As suddenly as he began laughing, he stopped, approached Orville with a sneer on his face. “It’s not about money, old man,” he said before swinging a fist at him. The chair tipped back. For the second time that night, Orville was on the floor unconscious.
When Ellen was thirteen, she began showing signs of the woman she would become. Some of the young boys in her class noticed. One of the older boys did as well. This boy was seventeen and had taking a shine to Ellen. Alice thought it was cute, said, ‘It’s just puppy love.’
‘Puppy love is what kids get. That boy is no kid.’
‘He’s almost an adult.’
It was one of those arguments where there was no winner and no loser, but it was one of many wedges that would drive Alice and Orville apart, even if they stayed married longer than they should have.
Still, Orville had an uneasy feeling about the boy, about the way he looked at her. He knew that look and he knew it wasn’t puppy love. It was only a matter of time before something would happen. This much he was positive of. And he had been right.
Ellen woke one night to someone peeking into her window. She was too afraid to yell. Instead, she crawled out of bed and slowly left the room as if she needed to pee. She had closed the door and ran up the hall to their bedroom. She didn’t turn the lights on, and she didn’t scream. She only said, ‘Dad, there’s someone outside my window.’
Orville got out of bed, put on a pair of pants and said, ‘Go get in bed. Act like you don’t know he’s there. I’ll take care of it.’
He put on his boots and grabbed a small baseball bat he got at a minor league baseball game in Columbia. It wasn’t much longer than a foot, but it was solid and when he caught the boy outside her window, it only took one swing to the back for him to go down.
That boy was Brady Crawford.
Orville was only unconscious for a few minutes before he woke. He was on the floor where he had fallen, the chair to his side and his hands still behind his back. He remembered the boy’s name now. Brady Crawford. He also knew why he was there. No, it wasn’t about money, though he supposed in some way it was. If not, Brady wouldn’t have brought it up before knocking him out again. This was also about revenge for being caught outside Ellen’s window nearly twenty years earlier.
Some people have long memories.
Orville looked around the dining room and saw no one, at least not from where he was. He rolled onto his back, winced when he got onto his other hip. No one was there. Orville tried to sit up but that did no good. Instead, he rolled back onto his other side off his bad hip and leg and started working his wrists from side to side, hoping the rope would loosen even more than it was.
The rope burned against his skin as he pulled at it until finally one wrist tore free. He pushed up to a sitting position. His shoulders hurt. His wrists bled. His left elbow was swollen where he had fallen from the chair.
Get up. Get out of here.
Orville got onto his knees. He reached for the table with one hand and began to pull himself up. He was halfway to standing when his back seized up on him. Orville let out a cry of pain and dropped back to his hands and knees. Without being able to stand, he didn’t think there was any way he would make it out of there. Not in the pain he was in.
I have to try.
He tried to remember the layout of the house. It had been a long time since he had been there and that had been when Gary’s wife, Janet, died.
I’m in the dining room. The kitchen is straight ahead. There is a doorway off to the right, no, the left. The living room is there. To the right is a hallway? I can’t remember but that doesn’t matter—the front door is across from the doorway to the kitchen. I need to get there.
If he were able to stand and walk, he could be there in half a minute at most. But there would be no walking. Not right now.
Orville turned toward the kitchen door and began to crawl. It was slow going. Every time he moved his right leg, his back and hip screamed with a fresh, sharp pain that almost took his breath away.
Thirty seconds had come and gone several times over when he reached the entrance to the kitchen. The overhead light washed the room in a yellow hue. The refrigerator stood directly to his right and the stove was across from it. He didn’t look around to see what else was in there, or if someone were hiding. He crawled across the gray tiled floor until he reached the doorway leading to the living room.
The light was off, but he could make out the couch along the far wall, the television to his left, the hallway to his right and the recliner near the front door. His heart sped up. Someone sat in the recliner, his head tilted toward him. He didn’t think it was Brady—the person in the chair was too big.
He remained in the doorway for a minute, maybe longer, waiting for the person in the recliner to move, to say something, to get up and attack him but none of that happened.
He must be asleep.
Orville eased out of the kitchen and into the living room. He crawled slowly toward the door, his eyes on the person in the recliner, his heart trip hammering in his chest and sweat beading across his forehead. He held his breath for as long as possible, then let it out in what he hoped was a silent stream. He was halfway across the room by the time his eyes adjusted to the light and he was able to make out Gary Crawford in the recliner. He wasn’t asleep and he wasn’t looking at Orville. One eye was open, but the other one was missing. What looked like blood caked the right side of his face. Gary Crawford was dead, just like Brady said he was.
Orville crawled again, a little faster than before, even with the incessant pain running along the right side of his body. He reached the door and grabbed the knob. It turned easily enough but the door didn’t open. He pulled on it again with no luck. He looked up. There was a bolt lock near the top of the door.
Orville put his left hand on the wall and his right on the doorknob, He pulled himself up enough to get his right leg under him, then he pushed up. He grimaced. The pain increased and his stomach began to hurt. Orville hugged the door and wall in front of him, both hands up, his face against the cool wood of the door. Then he reached up, slid the bolt to the right. It let out a loud click that made him flinch. He grabbed the knob and turned it.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
He heard Brady before he felt the pain in his lower back. He let out a yell and clutched the small of his back before his legs buckled and dropped him to the floor again. He rolled onto his side, his eyes clenched shut, his lips peeled back, showing his yellowing teeth.
“I bet that hurt, didn’t it, old man?”
Orville opened his good eye to see Brady towering over him. In his hand was a familiar object. It was the same bat Orville had struck Brady with all those years ago as he stood outside Ellen’s window, groping himself and no doubt fantasizing about the things he wanted to do to her.
Brady smacked his open hand with the barrel of the bat. It made a meaty THWACK sound each time he did so.
“Oh, look what I found at your house.” Brady held up the bat, waving it near his head before bringing it back down on his open palm again. “Bet you didn’t expect that, did you, old man?”
Orville said nothing. He had a feeling that would not be the only time Brady would strike him with the bat and the next time it may not be in the back. He stared at Brady as he slipped his right hand behind his back and into the back pocket of his jeans.
“I see you found Dad.”
“What did you do to him?” He didn’t think it mattered. He could see what had happened, but maybe getting Brady to talk could buy him time.
“Are you blind? I killed him. Shot him in the eye with his own gun. You know, kind of like I hit you in your back with your bat. Talk about turn about is fair play.”
Orville gripped the knife in his right hand and slowly pulled it free from his pocket. He turned it over in his palm until it was in his hand correctly and his thumb was on the blade assist button that would spring the knife open, not unlike a switchblade.
Brady tapped his hand again, then without warning, brought the bat across the side of Orville’s left leg. It struck just above the knee in the fatty part of the thigh. Orville screamed again and grabbed for his leg. He saw Brady’s arm go back again and moved his hand just before the bat struck his leg again, this time a little further up.
Orville tried to move but could only manage to squirm a few inches. Again, he saw Brady’s arm go back. He swung again for the thigh, striking it in the same place as the last time. Orville tried not to scream but still did, even as he grabbed the bat’s barrel and yanked.
Brady tipped off balance with a sentence that was clipped off when he landed on the floor beside Orville. “What the …”
Orville brought the knife from behind his back and drove it into Brady’s side. It sank between two ribs.
This time, Brady screamed. It was loud and painful sounding, like a dog that had its tail snipped off. Brady rolled to the side. He dropped the bat and grabbed at the wound.
“You … you stabbed me.”
Orville said nothing. His leg and back and hip hurt, and the pain was almost blinding.
“You stabbed me.”
Orville sat up the best he could and scooted away from him, pushing with his right leg as the useless left one dragged along. His back struck the door. From there he could see Brady was also sitting up. One hand held his ribs. Blood seeped between the fingers.
“I’m going to kill you, old man, and it’s going to hurt.”
Brady started to stand but stopped. He looked around until he found what he was looking for. He smiled and picked up the bat.
Orville scooted to his right and put one hand on the recliner. By the time he had the other one on the recliner—on Gary Crawford’s cold, dead arm—Brady was to his feet.
Brady shook his head as he smiled at Orville. He held the bat in both hands and raised it over his head.
Orville lifted his left arm, his hand out in front of him. He swung his right hand forward as the bat struck three fingers. Orville howled as two of the fingers broke. Brady screamed as the knife struck him in the crotch. Brady dropped to his knees then fell onto his side. The bat clattered against the floor. Both of Brady’s hands went to his crotch and he rolled from side to side, his legs pulled to his chest.
Orville still held the knife in his hand. Blood dripped from its blade, but it was the bat he wanted. He wiped the blood from the blade and closed it with his one good hand and slipped it into his back pocket. Carefully, he bent down, his lips pulled back from his teeth as bolts of pain coursed through his back, hip, thigh and knee. He crawled the few feet to where Brady rolled around holding his privates as blood spilled between his fingers.
On the night Brady peeked through Ellen’s window, probably not for the first time but certainly the last, Orville wanted to kill him. He had warned Alice about the boy, but she thought he was overreacting. He didn’t kill him. No, he only struck him the one time in the lower back. It was enough to send Brady to the ground, screaming and crying.
What Orville did after that was call the police. He didn’t know if it would matter, but he hoped it would deter Brady from ever peeping into a female’s window again. More than that, he hoped it broke him of possibly becoming a sexual predator.
Gary Crawford came down a few days later to apologize.
‘He’s going to spend a few weeks at The Mannassah Hall Institute for Boys.’
‘I hate that it came to this.’
‘Me, too, and I really am sorry.’
It was the last conversation Gary and Orville would have until Janet died. He hoped the boy would turn the corner and do better, if not for himself, then for his parents.
He was wrong.
On the evening Brady Crawford killed his dad with his own gun and kidnapped Orville with plans to do something similar, Orville Hammond brought the foot long souvenir bat down on Brady’s head and arms, until both arms were broken and Brady was both still and silent. He tossed the bat aside and dropped to the floor. He lay there for several minutes, his eyes closed. He felt himself fading toward sleep.
Orville struggled to stand, but he managed by using the armrest of the recliner and the wall for leverage. He looked back at Brady and shook his head. Then he opened the front door and slowly shambled outside. He stood on the porch looking up at the night sky. There wasn’t a cloud to be seen. Stars hung like ornaments on the black backdrop. The moon wasn’t quite full, and it looked like a giant spotlight in the sky. He didn’t think he would see another night and maybe he won’t after this one, but the moon and stars were beautiful. It was as if he saw them for the first time.
It took him several minutes to get down the steps, then several more to make it to the end of the sidewalk and into the road.
Orville turned to his right. His house was twelve houses away. He took a deep breath, released it and started for home. He limped along, slightly hunched over trying to alleviate the pain in his back any way possible but failing miserably. He reached his house sometime after midnight, but he would swear more than five hours had passed since he sat to eat a sandwich from Jerry’s Deli.
It was a struggle to get up the steps but not get inside. The door had been unlocked and the lights left on. The living room had been ransacked and he bet if he searched the house, the other rooms would have been just as turned upside down.
Orville went into the small room that served as both den and dining room. His tea, sandwich and cellphone sat where he left them. The top to the cup lay beside the cellphone. Orville sat at the table, picked up his phone and dialed 9-1-1. He gave the dispatcher—a woman who sounded like she gargled with razor blades on more than one occasion—the information on two dead bodies as well as his address. He figured the cops would want to talk to him about what happened, and he was okay with that. He might even get in trouble for what he had done to Brady. He guessed he wasn’t so okay with that one.
As he sat at the table, he carefully unwrapped the sandwich, the broken fingers making it difficult. He heard sirens off in the distance as he took the first bite.