Once again the holiday season is upon us, and once again I have another short story no longer in print.
So here it is for your reading pleasure. This short story was written as part of another collaborative anthology by Chinese Whisperings published on January 1, 2010. This one was the first of their anthologies. The Red Book was a unique experience. I had worked with author authors in collaborative projects but nothing so intense. It was a wonderful learning experience and it really stretched my abilities as a writer.
The objective was to take a minor character from the previous short story and make them the main character in the next. Some parts of this story would make more sense if you had read the stories that preceded it, however it still stands well on its own. It was fun to get into the mind of Robin and explore his demons. I hope you enjoy reading about them too. (Language and violence warning)
“You just don’t get it,” Robin said leaning back in his chair. Lizzie held up her hands in silent protest but it did nothing to calm the anger inside of him.
“I didn’t mean anything by it,” Lizzie said from across their table in the library, “I just don’t understand why you got into a fight with them in the first place.”
“I’ve explained it at least a million times. You say you want to help people but you still don’t understand?” Robin knew he was being an asshole but he couldn’t help it. He had been defending an innocent, homeless man against two drug-thugs. A little black eye was nothing considering he hadn’t killed the bastards.
“Ok, fine. I won’t bring it up again.” Lizzie sighed deeply before continuing, “Is everything ok?” She looked at Robin with those beautiful, questioning eyes, but he just shook his head. He would never be able to tell her everything—not anymore.
“It’s fine. I’m just a little edgy.”
Edgy was a nice way of putting ‘ready to rip the head off of any living thing’. It was the polite way of saying ‘yes, something is wrong but I don’t want to tell you, so shut the fuck up.’
Lizzie looked back down at her books and didn’t say anything else. He wanted to scream at her, start a fight, but he knew it wouldn’t solve anything. She wasn’t the cause of his anger, and they were supposed to be studying. He looked down at the textbook in front of him but he couldn’t concentrate enough to read it. The words on the page blended together to create images, faces—him holding a baseball bat and swinging it at that rapist’s head. Robin smiled inside, letting the images make him feel better. The bastard deserved it after what he had tried to do to his sister.
After a while the images lost their beauty, like they always did. Instead, they morphed into bloodstains and bone fragments. Robin shut the textbook. He didn’t want to see his doubts on display. It was the right thing—it didn’t matter what the law said.
“Yeah, I can’t study either.” Lizzie shut her textbook. “Do you wanna go watch that new slasher flick? I think we can still catch the late show?”
“I don’t want to go see a slasher flick.” Did he say it too quickly? It was the last thing he needed right now.
“Ok.” Lizzie shifted in her seat. “Do you want to go for a walk, it’s nice out.”
“Afraid you’ll find more bodies?” It was intended as a joke but to Robin it felt like a knife stabbing him in the gut.
“Do you think it’s funny?” He felt his voice rise. “Do I need to remind you what it’s like to find some guy who tried to rape my sister, dead behind a dumpster, with his throat cut open?”
“Robin?” Lizzie looked around flushing slightly. People had begun to stare. “It was a bad joke, obviously, but you know I don’t think it’s funny.” Keeping her voice low she continued, “I think you’re taking this whole thing worse than Tania. At least she was able to go identify his body this morning; you couldn’t even step inside the morgue. Maybe you should go home and rest or something?”
“I’m taking it just fine.” He knew he should lower his voice but he couldn’t control it. The police had been in the morgue. He hadn’t been ready to face them. They had told Tania that they wanted to talk to him, tomorrow. They might catch him in a lie, and here she was making a joke about it without even realising. It was excruciating.
“Mr. Davidson,” a voice said behind him. Robin turned around to see one of the librarians looking down his nose at Robin. “I think it’s time that you left. And please don’t come back until you’ve learnt how to behave yourself in a library.”
“Whatever.” He didn’t want to be in the library anyway.
Robin turned in his seat and started packing up his stuff. He glanced across to check if Lizzie was following his lead and felt more than a little relieved to find her stuffing books into her backpack.
A small leaflet fell out of a book as he stuffed it into his bag. He picked it up ready to shove it in too when he noticed the big bold letters: COME MAKE A DIFFERENCE. The pictures showed starving children, homeless men begging for food and a woman crying. I’m trying, he silently whispered to them. It didn’t matter what the leaflet was for, some Mission in Africa, the point was he knew he had to do something. Whether it was the guilt talking or not, Robin knew he had to make a difference. He had to try.
Robin felt a slap on the shoulder. “Hey Robin, I thought that was you.”
He tried to smile at Scott in response but couldn’t seem to do it. Scott was dressed in his campus security uniform and activist or not, a security guard was just as bad as a cop. He was also the best person to ask about Detective McNally but there was no way he could bring it up without suspicion.
“Hey Scott,” Lizzie said, “How was Vegas?” Robin was grateful to her for that.
“It was great, but I feel so out of the loop,” Scott replied, “I’ve got a challenge for you. Tell me the juiciest bit of news you’ve got in five seconds or less.”
Robin shook his head and shoved the leaflet and another book into his backpack. Scott was always looking for dirty little secrets and Lizzie loved to gossip.
“Tania identified her would-be rapist today, in the morgue.”
“Wait, what? Tania was almost raped?” Scott looked to Robin for the answer but Lizzie replied.
“It was a few days ago, not far from the library. She was a mess and when Robin went out to look for the guys he found one of them already dead. The other guy the cops found this morning with his head beaten in.”
“Well that is interesting Liz.” Robin tried to avoid the look in Scott’s eyes. Scott would know and then… what? How would Scott use it to his advantage? The hand on Robin’s shoulder tightened.
“I’ve got just the thing that will cheer you up. Jacob and I have another event planned. We can go out, have a good time and make a public statement without anyone ever knowing it was us.”
Robin managed to smile weakly this time. “Maybe when all this stuff settles down.” Scott’s events were never about the public statement, they were always about something else. Robin had made a promise to himself to never do another one.
“Well, I better get going before the Book King kicks me out too,” Scott said. This was Robin’s chance. Lizzie had already brought it up so it wouldn’t be suspicious, right?
Hey Scott,” Robin said as Scott turned to leave, “You ever hear of a Detective McNally?”
“Yeah, he’s the guy who solved that mother-daughter murder on the south side last year. Why?”
“I’ve gotta meet with him at the station tomorrow. Go over how I thought things happened the day Tania was attacked,” Robin started to lick his lips but stopped knowing it would show he was nervous. “He seems kinda rough.”
“Don’t worry about him.” Scott took his hand off Robin’s shoulder. “Rumour has it his wife’s leaving him and taking the kid. If he’s being an ass it’s probably just because he’s pissed off about his own life. I’m sure you’ll do fine.”
“Thanks,” Robin said, smiling for real this time.
Scott left and Robin and Lizzie grabbed their heavy backpacks and headed outside. Robin could see the outline of the dumpsters even from this distance. It was impossible not to think about how the blood from the knife wound had poured down the guy’s neck. The blood had gone everywhere. Lizzie slipped her arms around his waist and he jumped, but she didn’t seem to notice. Robin looked away, taking deep breaths to return him to the present.
“I don’t really like Scott,” Lizzie said now they were further away from the library.
“Doesn’t stop you from gossiping with him. He’s just passionate about what he does.”
“I’m not talking about the activist stuff, like the police care. I mean the other things he does. Like what he did for his cousin. He doesn’t always do the right thing does he?”
Robin didn’t really know how to reply, so he shrugged. What did she mean ‘the right thing’? Scott had got his cousin off some big charges on a technicality. Robin knew it wasn’t legally the right thing to do, but what if Scott had good reason? It wasn’t likely, but why should Lizzie care? Robin felt a headache coming on. Right and wrong seemed so grey lately.
“I hope it’s nice like this for graduation,” Lizzie said, changing the subject. “Can you believe its so close? I haven’t even planned what we’re wearing.” Lizzie grinned at him with that sweet smile of hers. She really was a good girl but… Robin’s heart felt heavy and he stopped, pulling back from her embrace. He had to let her go or he would end up telling her what he did and he didn’t want her involved in this. He wasn’t even sure what she would say if he told her, and that scared him more than talking to the police.
“Lizzie,” he said, “You really shouldn’t have said you love me. We’ve only been seeing each other officially for a couple months. What we have isn’t love.”
“What do you mean? I can tell that you care about me. We do everything together. I mean if you don’t love me back… it’s ok. You will one day, I’m sure.” But she didn’t sound sure.
“Lizzie, of course I care about you. I want to see you do something great with your life. Find something that you really want to do and make a career out of it. But you don’t seem to have the drive to do anything unless someone else is going to do it with you. I can’t do everything with you. We have different interests.”
“No we don’t,” she protested, “I like helping the homeless people, and working in that soup kitchen with you was fun.”
“You’re going to tell me that those are things you would have done whether I was doing them or not?” Lizzie didn’t answer, instead she looked down and clasped her arms around her chest.
“You’re breaking up with me, aren’t you?” Lizzie asked the ground.
“No, not really.” How could he explain to her all the conflicts inside his head? He couldn’t and that was the point of this conversation. “I just want you to think about trying to do something on your own. Something that you like to do.”
“Ok,” Lizzie replied still not looking up.
“You’re a smart girl. I think you know what you want to do with your life, you just need to focus on it,” Robin put his hand on her shoulder, “Come on Lizzie. What’s the one thing you always told me when we were discussing moral principles?”
“Doing the right thing is always hard and always worth it,” Lizzie replied monotone. She had no idea how much those words had helped him fall to sleep the past few nights. She finally looked up at him with sad eyes. “You really don’t love me do you?”
He wanted to tell her, tell her everything right then, but he couldn’t. He couldn’t even come up with something to try to make her feel better. She’d be better off without him, surely she knew that.
“Why don’t we meet up after my meeting with the Detective tomorrow morning? Lunch?”
Lizzie nodded and didn’t say much else while he walked her home. He had almost convinced himself by the time he went to bed it was better that way.
“Mr. Davidson, I still don’t understand why you went outside after your sister ran into the library to get you. Why wouldn’t you want to stay and comfort her?” Detective McNally asked.
“Well since I’ve explained it three times already, I think you already know why,” Robin replied. Robin rubbed the goose bumps on his forearms under the table so McNally wouldn’t see. It wasn’t just because the interrogation room was cold.
“Why don’t you tell me again,” McNally said, sitting down on the top of the steel table.
“Like I said before, when Tania ran in she was upset. When she told us what happened I got angry. She was safe with Lizzie, so I thought I would go out to find the guy.”
“In true big brother fashion. And what was your plan again? If you found him?”
“To kick the crap out of him.” He’d already admitted to it.
“You see, that’s funny. Because we found the guy with his head bashed in, probably with a blunt object. Tell me, what did you use to do it?”
Robin licked his lips. “I didn’t kill the guy. I never found him.”
“Yes that’s right,” McNally said, “The only problem is that there is no proof that you searched the area like you said you did. In fact, you are the only one with the motive and the opportunity to have killed Clint Baker.”
“If you exclude the possibility that there were other people out there who may have had a grudge against him. Maybe a drug deal went bad.” Robin was starting to feel more confident. “You know you people thought I killed the first one, that Brandon guy, just because I found him. But I’m not in jail, am I?”
“You’re a cocky son of a bitch, you know that? The only reason you aren’t in jail for the first murder is because the coroner believes Brandon knew who attacked him. We identified traces of his blood on a knife found beside Clint.”
“There. See,” Robin said, “This Clint guy kills his partner and then gets killed in retaliation.”
“That’s a theory, I guess. Except the coroner places Clint’s time of death at about an hour after Brandon’s. So someone would have to have known Brandon was dead pretty quickly after it happened in order to hunt him down. Knowledge you had to have since you supposedly found Brandon’s body. But I’m a fan of a different theory, one that takes into account the fact that both men who attacked your sister are now dead.” Detective McNally leaned in close. “How did you really get that black eye?”
“I told you. There was an incident at the homeless shelter I work at. It’s all documented and on file if you want to look it up.”
“Actually I did.” McNally grabbed a file from the other side of the table. He opened it up and pushed it towards Robin. Robin didn’t look at it. He knew what it said. “It says that you are very dedicated to the shelter and to the wellbeing of the residents. But you have a hell of a temper. So much so, when you witnessed a homeless man being bullied and harassed by two men you called ‘drug-thugs’, you stepped in like a hero. Only real heroes don’t break a man’s arm in two places or fracture another one’s skull.”
McNally pulled the file away and closed it up again. “You’re lucky they aren’t pressing charges for assault.”
Robin didn’t have to respond. They both knew if the thugs took legal action they’d have to admit to what they were doing in front of the shelter that night. Trafficking charges weren’t something they were going to risk.
“Why don’t you tell me why?” McNally asked.
“Why did you hurt those ‘thugs’ so badly? What was in it for you?”
Robin just smiled and said, “Doing the right thing is always hard and always worth it.”
“And did you do the right thing the night your sister ran into our friend Clint?”
Robin licked his lips again and looked McNally in the eye. “No. I never got the chance. Like I said—he was gone”
“I will find the murder weapon,” McNally said. Robin’s mind flashed back to the bonfire party over the weekend. The flames were so hot they would burn through anything.
“I hope you do,” Robin said, “because it’ll prove it wasn’t me.”
There was a knock on the one-way window and McNally left. Robin used the break to take a deep breath and wipe his palms he hadn’t noticed were sweating. If he wasn’t careful he’d say something stupid.
McNally seemed to be taking his time; Robin was able to count to 400 while he waited. When McNally finally returned he held the door open for Robin.
“You’re free to go.”
“A change of heart so fast?” Robin said standing up.
McNally tried to put on a smile but it looked like a grimace “Yes, well we now have a witness who corroborates your alibi.” Robin tried to appear calm as Detective McNally walked him down the hallway to the waiting area. He didn’t know who would have…
Robin saw Scott standing in the waiting area in his street clothes, his attention on some sort of notice board. Scott turned and winked so only Robin could see.
McNally grabbed Robin’s arm just as he was about to enter the waiting room.
“I wouldn’t leave town any time soon, if you know what I mean,” he said. Robin pulled his arm out of McNally’s grip and smiled at him.
“I’ll be here until graduation. After that I give no guarantees.” Robin walked towards the exit hoping he hadn’t pushed the man too far. All McNally needed was to find something Robin had forgotten and he would be locked up for a very long time.
“Hey bud,” Scott said coming up behind him. Scott held the door open for him and they both went outside. The sun was out and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, but Robin felt a chill go through him.
“It’s a good thing we ran into each other yesterday or my cousin would never have come forward.”
“Your cousin?” Robin asked. They walked out of the parking lot onto the main road.
“Yeah, you remember my cousin Ben? The guy who lives in that rundown old apartment building by the pool, with the view over the quadrangle to the library,” Scott said. Sure I remember, Robin thought. The guy you got off on the possession charges. That Right and Wrong headache seemed to be coming back.
“Anyway, Ben was out on his balcony having drinks the night Tania was attacked. He didn’t see the attack, but he did see a girl run into the library and then a few minutes later a guy, he swears looksjust like you, run out of the library. He watched him search from the library all the way to the pool and then back again. I knew it was probably you, given what you said about Tania. I gave him a lift here so he could make a statement.”
“Really?” Robin said. He was searching Scott’s face. There was no way Ben saw him.
Robin hadn’t needed to search around looking for the guy who attacked his sister. He hadn’t given up and headed back looking for her bike like he told the police.
The truth was that Robin had watched that Clint guy drag Brandon’s already dead body behind the dumpster. He stayed in the shadows, following Clint, hunting down his skinny murderous prey. The cocky bastard had cleaned up next to the body and strutted across campus like he owned the place, owned the world. The discarded baseball bat had pleaded for Robin to pick it up, and it hit the mark; over and over and over again until the bastard was dead.
“Robin,” Scott said, flagging down a cab, “I know we’ve talked about it before but you and I are a lot alike. Sometimes injustice can’t be tolerated. Sometimes you have to do something before the person creating the injustice spreads it to others.”
Robin just kept breathing and watched the cab pull up beside them. Scott knew, and he was saying Robin had done the right thing. But Scott wasn’t the kind of person Robin wanted agreeing with him. An immense pressure was building in Robin’s chest and it threatened to suffocate him with guilt.
“Everything’s going to be just fine now that I’ve set them in the right direction,” Scott continued and gave him a friendly punch on the arm. “I’ll give you a call sometime, you know?”
Robin nodded and got into the cab. He knew what kind of favour Scott would call on him for and Robin knew he wouldn’t do it. Robin would have to leave.
“Hey guy, where to?” the cabby asked. Suddenly the most important decision he had to make was whether or not he would say goodbye to Lizzie. The sadness made his voice crack; he knew what the decision had to be.
“The airport, please.”