J.Z. Pitts’ love of reading and writing began at the age of 12. He read so much in fact, his parents made a one book a day rule for him. Inspired by the stories he read, Pitts began writing stories of his own.
A brief stint working for a high school newspaper continued to hone his writing skills by writing everything from news copy, opinion pieces and book and movie reviews.
Pitts has written numerous short stories, and is currently writing his first novel.
The man with the red-tinted glasses hated the stillness. The sky resembled a dull gray sheet, which cast everything in the same dull sheen. The normally chirping birds were silent, absent from the sky. Knee high weeds which bent under their own weight, stood still as a picture in a frame - even the cicadas and crickets were mute. Everything felt dead.
Ironic. The man took a thoughtful pull at the moist nub of a pretzel stick hanging off his lip. That’s what I’m likely gonna be.
He stood on the front porch of a two-story lake house. Leaning against the wall by the door, he gripped his Beretta 9mm, the metal felt warm in his sweaty palm. The pungent scent of fish and mud clung to the air. It caused him to wrinkle his nose in disgust. He couldn’t work up the courage to enter the house. He turned, and peered down the long winding driveway. He tried to see the black Suburban, but there were too many trees. If anyone was in the house, he hoped they couldn't see the vehicle either.
Of course, if anyone did see the suburban, the tinted windows were dark enough to hide anyone who sat inside.
The man with the red tinted glasses gave a sudden shake of his head. Focus damnit! Quit stalling!
He’d taken it as a good sign that he’d not been gunned down when he walked up to the front porch. It could mean that if Cameron were inside, he was being toyed with. What if Cameron didn’t want to kill him with a quick bullet to the brain? What if he had booby trapped the cabin then left? Or was he still nearby, watching, waiting to spring his trap? That might explain why the usually noisy lake area was so quiet.
Or what if it were all in his head? No, he didn’t think so. Not after the way his boss had acted.
A muscle in his shoulder popped as he moved to grasp the door knob. He sighed, frustrated. He was wound too tight. The door was unlocked. That couldn't be good. Easing the door open, he stepped inside, gun at the ready.
He scanned the large living room, his gun close to his chest, pointed straight ahead. He heard a faint clicking noise, and he looked down to see his hand trembling, shaking the gun. The man grimaced, forced his hand to hold steady.
The treated wood floors creaked under his feet as he padded toward the kitchen. The living room was airy and inviting. Color muted furniture complimented the treated wood interior. Faint sandalwood mixed with fabric softener was a welcome relief from the pungent lake air.
The kitchen was clear. Should he check the pantry? If Cameron was hiding in the kitchen, that would be the only place he could fit. He dismissed the thought with a shake of his head. He doubted Cameron was in there. The Mcauleys usually kept that thing stocked full.
He doubled back, and entered the stairwell that led to the second level. The steps creaked more than the floor had. He winced and paused. Something tickled his brow. Sweat. It trailed down his brow, toward his eye. He blinked, and resumed his climb.
Halfway up the stairs he heard something. He froze, heart leaping to his throat. Something shuffled. Something nearby. He almost dropped the pretzel nub that clung to the edge of his trembling lip. His eyes darted, wide, unblinking around the narrow confines of what he could see of the second story.
His breath came in shallow, quick pants. He began forcing his wind to flow in and out, slow, deep. He would not succumb to panic. The noise came again, almost sending his racing heart through his chest.
Gulping, he realized he had sunk to a crouch, gun held high center axis and was glad his instincts had kicked in. Cameron had always been a stickler for proper maneuvering in situations like this. The man with the red tinted glasses wasn’t as good as his mentor, but it was nice to see a few things had stuck with him.
He eased himself up the rest of the way upstairs. Every creak made his eyes dart. Shadows along the edges of his vision darted and danced around him. Whenever his eyes swung in their direction, they were still again. He was afraid to blink for fear one of those shadows should materialize into solid flesh.
Though he’d been here hundreds of times, he saw the three closed bedroom doors on this level with new eyes. Each one held a threat behind it, a marksman who wouldn’t even have to open the door to shoot him. He'd witnessed Cameron shoot a man through a wall before, without having previously seen his target’s position. Somehow, he'd known what spot and height to aim his gun.
Scowling, he sucked at his teeth, forced the memory away.
Soft reams of light lit up the otherwise dark hallway. Dark specks of dust hovered languidly in the air.
The boss had told him to make sure the house was secure. He would not let his imagination run away with him.
The shuffling came again, and he almost fired through the bedroom door that the noise came from. Alice’s room.
His chest heaved, breaths coming in loud and quick now, but he didn’t care. He shifted his sideways stance as best he could, and crept up to the door, trying to stay off center. Were a gun to start shooting from the other side at least he wouldn’t go down in the initial volley.
Beside the door now, he wiped his sleeve across his brow, blinking hard to keep the sweat out of his eyes. He noticed his pretzel was gone and half wondered if he had eaten it or if it had fallen.
He brushed his fingertips against the doorknob. Biting his lip, he began to turn the knob, striving to be as silent and still as the rest of the house.
The noise came from the room again. He flinched, locking his muscles tight. His upper lip grew cold from sudden beads of sweat. Licking his lips, he puckered at the salty taste. He cocked his head, straining to listen. He now regretted all the times he’d blasted loud music through his earphones. Dull ears in his line of work could cost him his life.
Once again it was silent behind the door.
Now or never.
He threw himself into the door, and burst into the room. The door crashed into the back wall. His finger coiled itself around the trigger of the gun. He swung the weapon from one end of the room to the other, eyes flicking to corners first. Cameron had always reminded him about checking the corners.
A small oscillating fan sat on a nightstand. It blew a gentle breeze across the room, ruffling some loose papers. A faint sweet smell pervaded every corner of the room, causing his mouth to water.
Great, now he had a sudden craving for bubblegum.
His shoulders sagged in relief, but knew he had to leave and check the other bedrooms now. He had made enough noise to wake the dead. If someone was waiting for him, he’d proclaimed exactly where he was.
Luckily, the other rooms were clear as well. He stood motionless at the top of the staircase and ran through his options.
Well, glad Cameron isn’t here. Chances were high I’d die if he had been here. Realization dawned on him that his employer must’ve known this as well, yet sent him ahead anyway. He gnashed his teeth, feeling the heat rise to his cheeks.
“Son of a bitch…” He muttered, keeping his voice low. Clear or not, he still wasn’t comfortable with being loud yet.
He should’ve felt relief, but instead something felt off. His boss had reason to believe Cameron might’ve been here, waiting to kill him. He wasn't in the house, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t on the property.
On the property…
His eyes widened. The man spun around sprinting for the stairs, taking them two at a time. He careened through the front door, and almost sprawled on the porch. Catching himself in time, he burst into a Tom Cruise style full on run to the Suburban.
Please, please, please…
He skidded to a stop, kicking up dust and scattered loose gravel. Diaphragm heaving, he yanked open the back door of the vehicle dreading what he might find. He froze, staring down the barrel of a pistol.
The man with the red tinted glasses- Thomas- exhaled, feeling a weight lift off his shoulders.
The man in the vehicle pulled the gun from Thomas’s face, still berating him. “What’s the meaning of charging the car like this? I thought you’d gone nuts! I nearly blew your fucking head off!”
A little girl, no more than 10 or 11, leaned forward in the seat beside the man, giving him a reproachful look. “Daddy, stop cussing! Mommy said you’re not supposed to talk like that around me!”
The man grimaced, running a hand through his short red hair. “Sorry Alice, baby. Daddy’s having a bad day.”
The girl flicked a strand of equally red hair over her shoulder, sniffing. “Mommy said you’re not supposed to smoke either.”
The man paused in the middle striking a pack of cigarettes against his palm. He stared at the carton as if wondering how it had come into his hand.
“Sorry sweetie,” He murmured, and tucked the box back into his blazer, “Old habits…”
Thomas decided it was time to interject. “Sorry, Logan, I didn’t mean to...the house is clear, but I was worried that maybe…”
“He’d shown up and killed us while you were in the house?” Logan Mcauley waved him off. “Cameron is ruthless, but I don’t think he’d gun me down in front of my daughter. At least I hope not. He might be pissed off enough though.”
Thomas nodded, wearing an expression of sympathy he didn’t feel. He noticed Alice looked confused but stayed silent.
Logan scanned the woods that surrounded his vehicle. He eased his gun back under his blazer.
“Sir, are you sure you want to do this?” Thomas kept his eyes where his boss’s hand was. “I feel the safest course would be to get you out of state as fast-”
“No!” Logan interjected in a harsh tone. “It has to be here.”
Thomas rubbed his chin. “Sir, I don’t understand. Cameron knows about this place. He’ll look here.”
Logan shook his head, looking around again. He eased himself out of the suburban, covering his nose with his hand. “You don’t know him like I do. Here, out of state...doesn’t matter. It’s a matter of when, not if, with him.”
Thomas knew he was pressing the matter, but he was Logan’s driver and bodyguard. He took his job seriously.
“Yeah, he’s good. I know, I worked drills with him from time to time. Whatever the reason he’s after you for, he can’t-”
“You ever been bitten by a pitbull?” Logan interrupted again, turning to help his daughter out of the vehicle.
Thomas almost sighed, catching it in time before he could huff. He had a feeling he knew where this was going.
“Can’t say as I have.”
“Well, have you heard that when a pitbull bites, it can manipulate its jaw to lock? No amount of pounding or beating on the animal can force it to release its hold before it’s ready.”
Thomas nodded, and stifled a yawn. He was starting to come down from his adrenaline high. Cameron was good, but he wasn’t some unbeatable force. He felt more confident about their chances now, knowing they had time to prepare for his arrival.
Logan reached out, and snatched Thomas by his coat sleeve. Thomas barely had time to yelp in surprise before he was just inches from Logan’s face. He pulled him close, brow furrowed, a strong scent of whiskey on his breath. The odor punched into Thomas’s nostrils with every word. “That’s who Cameron Biggs is. He's the fucking pitbull!"
# # #
A man in a dark shirt, dark jeans and blazer stood locked in place in his unfinished basement. Homemade shelves lined the walls, filled to the brim with tools and discarded ‘honey-do’ project leftovers.
One exposed bulb above him dangled on a wire. He blinked in the harsh light, only able to see portions of the room, the rest hidden in deep shadow.
Any other time he would've loved coming down here. To inhale the scent of fresh cut wood. It always took him back to his childhood, and the projects he used to do with his step-father.
He shoved aside a pile of junk on the low workbench in front of him. Splinters stabbed into his hand from the rough un-sanded surface. Loose nuts and bolts pinged on the floor, spinning and rolling in all directions. He hadn’t even noticed. The man squeezed his eyelids shut then open. His hands were sticky, stained red. The color clung to his skin, despite his repeated attempts to scrub it off.
He reached forward, grasping into one of the shadows and pulled out a black tote bag. He slammed it onto the space he’d cleared on the workbench. Something spilled out of the bag, and clapped onto the wood bench. An iPhone.
Odd. He usually kept it zipped up in the side pocket.
He unlocked it to inspect if it had been tampered with. He doubted it, but his instincts told him to check anway. Never leave anything to chance.
He stiffened at what popped up on his screen. A freeze frame of his wife. She was standing in their bedroom, wrapped in a towel, her short brown hair wet from coming out of the shower.
It was a video.
The hand holding his phone shook. He grimaced, willed the tremor to die down.
His thumb hovered over the play button. His breathing was like the gasps of a drowning man. He cringed again, mentally cursing himself and his lack of control.
Have you really become this soft?
The date around the video thumbnail showed it had only been a couple days since she’d recorded the message. How had he left his phone out long enough for her to scroll through its contents? He knew she wouldn’t have found anything. But it still made him uneasy at the thought of the device in her possession if only for a moment. How had he not checked the phone since she’d recorded the video?
“Sloppy,” he said, disappointed with himself.
He wanted...no, needed to play the video. To see her smile, and hear her voice again. Yet he still hesitated. Cold shivers wracked his body despite the sweat soaking him through.
He didn’t know if he could take it.
Steadying himself, he hit play.
“Hey sweetie, I can’t believe you left your phone out long enough for me to grab it. So possessive! Anyway, just wanted to wish you a good day at work and I can’t wait for you to come home. I love you.”
She blew a kiss. Her image froze.
He didn't even notice the tear that escaped his eye. Blinking, he caused more tears to leak out. A crushing weight began to build in his chest.
Her smile. The look she gave him. The sound of her voice.
He saw it all again. The day they’d first met. Her jogging around the cul-de-sac where he lived. Him checking his mailbox. He sensed her behind him, distracted by something on her phone. She stumbled. Instinct kicked in. He whirled around, catching her before she hit the ground, before she could even react.
Mouth hanging open, she gave him a wide-eyed stare as he helped her regain her balance.
“Great reflexes,” She said, half-coughing, half-laughing, trying to recover herself.
He gave a self depreciating shrug. “Are you alright?”
She waved him off, cheeks reddening. “Yeah, I was...looking for a song.”
She brought a hand to her face, and he noticed she was looking trying to hide the fact she was checking him out. She was petite and he was tall, so she had to crane her neck to look at him. He wondered if she was trying to cover her embarrassment with her hand or the hide fact that she was looking him up and down.
Her blue eyes glinted, and she stuck her hand out. She tilted her head while wearing a shy smile. “I’m Eva.”
Cameron smiled in return, and shook her hand. “Cameron.”
She motioned toward his house. “Just move in?”
“Yeah, yeah, work has me move around a lot.”
“Oh? What do you do?”
“Construction manager. Gotta go where the projects take me.”
She glanced at him then back to the two story home. “Lotta house for one person.”
He shrugged, spreading his hands, palms up. “I’m claustrophobic.”
Pursing her lips into a smile, she nodded.“Makes sense. Well, welcome to the neighborhood. Hope you enjoy your stay, however long that will be.”
She started to trot away, putting her earpods back in. He turned to walk back up his driveway when he heard her voice again.
He turned to face her, his expression a question mark.
“In case ya need someone to show ya around. Or whenever ya feel...less claustrophobic.” She motioned to her home a few houses over. She shrugged, laughed and jogged away, running a little faster than she had earlier.
His watch beeped, bringing him back to the now. Tears poured down his face. He couldn’t look away from the image of her on his phone. No matter how much it hurt, he couldn’t shut down the memory. Despair and pain mixed with the joy he had of that memory, a cacophony of emotions pulsating in his chest.
He slammed his fist on the table. A fine layer of dust jumped at the impact. He ignored the pain that shot through his hand.
“I’m sorry.” He clamped his teeth together, voice low. “I know you wouldn’t want me to do this. But it’s all I know.”
He yanked the black bag off the table and marched upstairs, entering the kitchen. The smell of olive oil, basil, and melted cheese reminded him of the uneaten Italian meal he had prepared. Earlier the smell had been enough to make his mouth water. But a new scent tainted the air. Faint, yet corrupting the pleasant smell of the homemade meal. But he was so used to the smell of gunpowder he hardly noticed its presence.
He stood in the middle of the kitchen, knowing he shouldn’t have stopped, knowing he should keep moving. Yet he couldn’t. He had to look. One more time.
He couldn’t even bear to turn around. All he could manage was a sidelong glance to the dining room. An invisible vise seemed to tighten around his head. A dull pounding wracked his ears. He blinked through the fresh well of tears beginning to fill his eyes.
The kitchen table was set with two place settings. Cold food congealed together on the plates. A broken wine glass stood erect, the rest of it in pieces scattered across the table. A bottle of wine lay sideways on the floor, the red liquid pooling into a large puddle on the hardwood.
He took it all in with a glance, noticing the details, yet unable to focus. Instead his eyes locked on the motionless form on the floor.
Eva was on her back, staring at the ceiling, her glassy eyes unblinking. Blood pooled next to her, seeping from underneath her torso. A small hole tinged with red smeared her nurse's scrub top.
Cameron stared at her, unable to tear his eyes away, still wondering if this was real. His wife, his saint, his angel- dead. The woman that had broken through his defenses. That had somehow resurrected the good man buried deep within him. That now lay lifeless, slain by a monster, a demon. A demon like he had used to be.
He closed his eyes, the tears gone. The wet streaks on his face began to dry, and stiffen. Had he cried all he could for now? He felt nothing but a prickly numbness, like TV static, all over his body.
Cameron pulled his dark aviator's sunglasses from his pocket and slid them on. A siren began to shriek in the distance. It was time to leave.
Cameron sighed, squared his shoulders, and strode out of his kitchen. In his garage his black Dodge Charger sat, waiting. The sirens drew closer.
He drove away from his house, refusing to look back. He would never see that house again.
Funny. She felt convinced that deep down I was good. And I’m going to prove her wrong.
Without her, there was nothing to stop him. No angel to hold the darkness at bay. It had never been purged from him completely. It had merely retreated, buried itself deep within him. Watching. Wating. It reached out to him now, beckoning, like a dark vaporous spirit with snaking, outstretched tendrils.
He smiled. It was not a pleasant expression.
It enveloped him, filled him, folding him close like an old long-lost friend. Once again the darkness consumed him.
# # #
“Sweetie, how about you go upstairs to play for a bit. Daddy will be up in a minute.”
Standing in the middle of the living room of the lake house, Logan embraced his daughter. Something bubbled in his stomach. Pursing his lips, he clamped down on the feeling.
Alice gave him an innocent smile, full of love and trust. She ran upstairs to play with her toys. Or was she going to arrange everything for a high tea? At that moment he wished nothing more than to have her naivete, innocence, pep for life.
“Logan, what the fuck is going on?” Thomas demanded. “I’ve been calling everyone and no one is answering.”
Logan stared at his chauffeur in disbelief as the man pocketed his phone. “No, one?”
Thomas shook his head and Logan could feel his heart sink. “He’s already started.”
Thomas gave him a confused look. “Started? Started what? What's this sudden feud with you and Cameron? I thought you two were, like, childhood friends.”
Logan dropped to the couch, letting his head sink into his hands. His mind raced, trying to think through this recent turn of events. How had everything gone so wrong?
“We are...were-.” He corrected himself, resting his chin in his hands, staring ahead of him. “His dad worked for my dad. We always knew we’d take their respective places in the organization. Everything was perfect.”
A small smile spread across his face at a memory that sprang to mind. He ignored Thomas’s questioning look.
They were no Italian mafia, but they were a well respected and feared family business all on their own. Founded by his grandfather, their family had always been early adopters of technology. They created a presence for themselves on the black web in the early days of the internet. They sold drugs, pimped prostitutes and distributed illegal pornography. Now they had their hands in many cookie jars. But their organization never grew as large or as well known as the mafia.
“Those sicilian bastards got greedy,” His grandpa would always say. “So we learned from their mistakes. We stay under the radar. This isn’t some Hollywood gangster shit. This is real life, with real stakes, real bullets. Kill your ego, save your life.”
His grandfather was of Irish descent and was always there to lend a helping hand if you had Irish blood. All his favors came with conditions though. The poor folk he helped during the Great Depression were only too happy to comply.
He started, jarred out of his memory. He looked at Thomas who stared at him, wiping sweat from his brow. His other hand rested on the butt of his gun, index finger tapping the weapon.
“I ordered a hit on him and his wife.”
The tapping ceased. His bodyguard's jaw dropped, eyes widening so that they looked ready to pop out of his skull from behind his red lenses. Logan could feel the heat rising to his cheeks and almost berated the man. He stood, went into the kitchen and opened one of the cabinets. He looked at the shelf full of liquor bottles and selected one. Pouring himself a glass, his hands shook, causing some of the drink to spill. Logan cursed and stepped back but did nothing to clean his mess, keeping his back to Thomas.
Thomas sounded incredulous. Logan had expected the question of course. Still, it caused him to grip his glass so hard his knuckles turned white. The man might not mean it, but it came close to questioning Logan’s abilities as a leader. Logan had no tolerance for such doubts.
“Because, she changed him.” He took a sip to prevent himself from saying anything else in hasty anger. He grimaced as the bourbon rolled over his tongue and down his throat, barely noticing the alcohol burn.
“I don’t understand.”
Logan closed his eyes, forced the hand squeezing his glass to ease. He couldn't have the glass shatter. That particular bourbon was too expensive to be wasted. He took another sip of the auburn liquid, collecting himself.
It’s really not his fault. He doesn’t know. He still sighed and tugged at his shirt collar.
“Cam is the best damn sweeper I know. He’s swept more people for us than anyone in our history. Hell, he’s one of the reasons no one messes with us.”
Logan paused to take another sip. He watched with satisfaction as a look of understanding crossed the other man’s face.
“And then he met Eva,” Thomas said, nodding in comprehension.
Logan scowled and nodded. He tilted the glass in his hand, swirling what remained of the bourbon. “I warned him. But he wouldn’t listen. Claimed she saved him from darkness or some shit. I don’t know. I just know you don’t walk away from the family.”
Thomas nodded again. Logan eyed him, measuring his reaction. He hoped Thomas took this as a warning. He would not tolerate dissension in the ranks.
“I got the call this morning that the hit had failed. My guy confirmed the wife was down, and he’d tracked Cam to Elijah’s house. Elijah was dead, shot in the back of the head while eating a bowl of cereal. Apparently, there had been a large amount of blood and brain matter in the bowl.” He wasn’t sure why he added that irrelevant detail about the gore. Was it because it reinforced how bad this was? Or was the mental image of blood and brains mixed with Cheerios morbidly ironic? "After that is when my guy lost track of him."
Thomas didn't respond, but a look came over his face that Logan didn't like. Was he afraid that he was on Cam's hit list?
“He’s lashing out. Killing anyone in our organization he can get his hands on. No doubt I’m the main one on that kill list,” he said, an attempt to reassure the man.
Thomas looked uncertain.
Logan took another sip and reached under his blazer, tapping the gun clipped to his belt. He wasn’t sure how Cameron found Elijah so fast. He hoped he had enough time to enact his plans before Cameron showed up there.
Logan looked up from his drink to find Thomas staring at him while he shifted his weight from foot to foot.
Thomas repeated himself. “I said, what would you like me to do?"
“Go and see who you can find that's still alive. We'll need backup.”
Thomas's expression tightened, and he gave Logan an almost imperceptible nod. Logan watched the man take quick long strides across the room and out the door to the Suburban.
Was he sending the man to his death? Did it matter? All that mattered now was to disappear with his daughter.
“Wouldn’t father be proud,” He muttered into his cup. “A whole organization brought to its knees by an angry hitman.”
Of course this was fortuitous in a way. Now his colleagues would blame the collapse of the family on Cameron instead of him. As for his enemies... who cared what they thought? Logan would rather be alive than proud.
He shot back the remaining liquid in the cup, then poured himself another. Pops always hated that about me. He was always disappointed he hadn’t had another son to hand the organization over to. Glad he’s not around to lecture me about this.
He walked further into the kitchen and pulled out his phone. He tapped a saved number that popped up on his screen.
As the phone continued to ring with no answer he felt his neck muscles tighten. His hands began to tremble again. A trickle of sweat ran down his jawline, tickling his skin. He slapped at the offending droplet.
“C’mon, pick up the phone...please…”
He sighed in frustration as it went to voicemail. “Hello, you have reached the desk of Special Agent Calwell, Major Crimes Unit. I am unable to come to the phone right now-”
Logan growled, hung up, and instantly redialed. It began to ring again.
“Daddy, where are you?”
He jumped, biting off a curse mid-word. “In a minute sweetie, daddy has to make a phone call real quick.”
“But you said you would play with me.” Her voice turned sulky.
The recorded voicemail message started playing again. He almost growled another obscenity.
“Just, give me a minute sweetie, please and I promise we’ll play whatever you want.” He strained to keep the stress out of his voice, resigned to leaving a voicemail.
He winced at the drop in her voice, how she had drawn out her one word question.
“Pinky swear!” He wracked his brain, trying to placate her. “And if you’re good we can have your favorite ice cream later and watch a movie!”
She squealed in delight. A small smile crossed his face, despite the current situation. His smile disappeared as fast as it had come though when the voicemail tone beeped.
“Agent Calwell, this is Logan Mcauley.” Logan lowered his voice, cupping the phone closer to his mouth. “ Look, I need you to bring me in now. I got everything you need, but I’m in danger! Please, pick me up, I need to go into witness protection right the fuck now!”
# # #
Thomas lay on the ground beside the suburban, hands clutching at his throat, gasping for air. His lips turned purple, eyes bulging as he looked into the placid face of his killer.
Cameron eyed the man through his sunglasses. He was unsurprised at his lack of emotion over what he’d done. He’d killed enough people that any satisfaction he took was in his mastery of an efficient kill.
He couldn’t even feel that with Thomas though. He stood over the man, watching him struggle to breath. Every muscle in the dying man’s face was taut, as he strained to force air through his crushed larynx. Cameron knew Logan’s bodyguard only had seconds left.
Cameron knelt and took his sunglasses off so Thomas could look into his eyes. The man choked and gurgled. He writhed under Cameron's look. Wide, unfocused eyes stared back into his, unblinking. Cameron couldn’t even summon pity for the man, even though he had nothing personal against him.
He decided to tell him as much. “If there is an afterlife, and we are held accountable for our actions here; I want to make sure you know I’m not to blame for this.”
Cameron gestured to the lakehouse. “It’s his fault. I was done. But your boss wouldn’t let me go.”
Thomas’s writhing grew weaker. A pale sickly purple tint spread across his features. His choking gurgles grew faint. Cameron leaned closer, putting his mouth by the dying man’s ear.
“I’m sorry you got caught up in all this. Be sure to greet Logan whenever he shows up. I’ll be sending him over shortly.”
He leaned back, and patted the man on the cheek. Thomas’s eyes glazed, and he went silent, still.
Cameron rose to his feet and strolled to the lakehouse’s front entrance. He didn't even bother to hide his presence. There was no way Logan was going to escape what he was about to unleash on him.
Holding his gun at the ready, he opened the door to the front porch and slipped inside without a sound. The living room was empty. The sound of footsteps coming from the kitchen reached his ears. He moved forward, hearing Logan muttering something under his breath.
The arrogance of the man! Coming here, thinking he’s safe from me.
He’d never had any doubt who had placed the hit on him and his wife. Logan had made his displeasure of their union well known, not even bothering to show up to the wedding. He’d even called while he and his new bride were honeymooning.
“How could you do this to me?”
Cameron had to pull the phone away from his ear when he’d played the angry voicemail Logan left him.
“You were the best!” Logan slurred his words, drunk, angry. “We were brothers in arms! You think you can just walk away? You think that’s how this works? You’ll be sorry you motherfucking backstabber!”
At the time Cameron had taken it as another angry rant. A rant from a man who at all times felt everyone and everything was threatening his position of power. It was well known Logan was insecure and suspicious of everyone. Didn’t matter how loyal or how long they’d been with the family. He’d even had Cameron execute a couple of men whom he had suspected of conspiring against him. Those were the only kills that Cameron could remember bothering him. But he always did what he'd been told to do. It had made things so much simpler before Eva.
But everything had become so much better after her. For the most part. However brief a time that had been.
A little girl’s voice rang out. Cameron’s shoulders jerked, and he almost swore out loud. Logan had brought his daughter with him? Why wasn’t she with his ex?
He stood frozen in place as Logan placated his daughter with promises of ice cream and a movie.
Something small roiled within his chest. He wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. Stress? Heartburn? Grief? Rage?
Or was it guilt?
Logan’s sudden desperate curses jarred him from his thoughts. He had to steel himself again, to remember what Logan had done to him. He again saw the blood. Her face blank, staring at the ceiling. The sound of the bullets shattering small holes in the windows. The muffled thump of the one that had taken her from him. Her desperate gasps for air, eyes wide, looking around in confusion. She had tried to say something. And then her long shuddering sigh, the torment and distress easing from her face. And what replaced it- he knew no way to describe the lack of being. His wife’s body lay before him, but it was as if he’d never seen her before. Like looking at a dim reflection that receded from sight. A shiver wracked his body at the memory, fresh tears stinging his eyes.
Logan had done this. And he must pay.
Surges of burning hot energy raced through him. He scrubbed at his eyes and grit his teeth, frustrated at his momentary weakness. He listened to the tail end of Logan’s plea for help to the FBI agent. Terror seeped through Logan’s voice. Cameron noted this with grim satisfaction.
It’s too late. Your reckoning is here.
# # #
Logan shot back another gulp bourbon. The hand holding his phone was rigid and he fought the impulse to hurl the device across the room. He’d broken his phones and laptops before when in a rage. He remembered to restrain himself from doing so now that he was on the run. There were no backups.
Which made him pause and consider. Cameron couldn’t track him through his phone could he? The guy was good, but weren’t the police or the government the only ones who could do that? Should he smash his phone?
But then how would Agent Calwell get in touch? Keeping his phone on him was worth the risk.
The bourbon was starting to work. His muscles loosened, mind easing. Logan brought the glass to his lips again only to discover it empty. He went back to the counter where the bottle sat.
One more before I go play with her.
He reached for the bottle.
It disappeared in a blur. His eyes darted up and the bottle filled his vision. Pain exploded across his head. He heard a crack, accompanied by shattering glass. Logan stumbled back as he grabbed at his face. Alcohol streamed into his eyes, burning like acid.
Logan blinked through the pain, forced himself to focus on the hazy figure reaching for him. Even half-blind he knew it was Cameron.
He threw up his arms, just barely able to block a few quick blows to his face. But he was unable to stop his attacker’s knee from being rammed into his stomach. He deflated like a balloon, jaw hanging open, gasping. Hands strong as clamps grasped his shirt and next thing he knew he was hurled across the room. He slammed into the ground, air exploding from his mouth and nose.
Gasping in lungfuls of air, he pushed himself up. He sidestepped a heavy booted kick to the face, shoving Cameron’s leg away from him. But the hitman used the momentum for a roundhouse kick. The man's foot caught Logan square in the back, sending him face first into the wall.
Fucking Chuck Norris.
He almost crumpled to the ground again, but pushed himself off the wall. He stumbled into the living room, away from his attacker. But Cameron followed close behind, his face contorted in a snarl, his eyes blazing.
Logan reached for his gun, but felt nothing. He patted his belt, still backing up, cursing his luck. Either Cameron had already snatched it from him or it had flown out of his pants at the start of the fight.
Cameron flashed him a savage grin. A chill colder than ice raced down Logan's spine at the look.
That’s when he understood that he was about to die.
But Logan squared himself up, leapt forward, swinging his legs and fists for all he was worth. He might not be as good as his former friend, but he would not go like a damned sheep to slaughter.
Cameron dodged and blocked the blows with ease. He shifted and threw his own counterstrikes. Logan only had time to glimpse Cameron’s gun still in its holster and wondered why the man hadn’t shot him. Then it dawned on him what Cameron was doing. Punishing him. Blowing his brains out would’ve been too easy.
Cameron’s fist slammed into Logan’s chin. Logan’s head snapped back. Bright lights exploded into tiny dots spotting across his vision. He stumbled back, trying to defend himself. But Cameron landed his blows more than Logan could ward them off. Blood and sweat blended on his face. Pain erupted all over his body, yet blow after blow kept coming, powerful, relentless. Logan surprised himself at how well he kept to his feet, however unsteady.
But he knew he couldn’t take much more. He heard a crack and fresh pain seared through his side. A cracked rib? Everything was starting to blur together. He threw a wild punch that Cameron caught with ease. Something jerked his arm and he heard another snap. He managed a choked groan as he began to sink to the floor.
Cameron caught him by his shirt collar. The hitman hauled him up, holding him in place. Logan’s knees buckled under him, but Cameron held him steady. Logan blinked, head lolling, trying to focus through the pain.
Holding him with one hand, Cameron cocked back his other and let fly. Logan’s head snapped to the side, pain exploding across his face, a stream of blood and saliva trailing his lips.
Over and over again the blows came. Too dazed and weak to stop them, Logan could no longer feel individual blows slam into his face. They all melded together into a symphony of pain and dizziness. He felt like his head might explode.
Something slammed into his back and he realized Cameron had let him go. Logan lay on the floor gasping. He looked up into the face of his attacker through swollen eyelids.
Cameron stood over him. Blood specked his shirt and face. The hitman raised his hand and inspected his swollen blood stained knuckles. He was breathing hard, but otherwise seemed unfazed. In fact he looked to be considering whether he should kick his victim where he lay. Logan hoped like hell that he wouldn’t.
Both men swung their heads towards the stairs at the scream. Alice stood in the middle of the staircase, eyes wide, lip trembling. Tears soaked her face. She started to run down.
He choked, trying to scream at her to stay where she was. Bubbling gurgles leaked from his mouth. He spat out a fine mist of blood. She froze midstep, too scared and confused to move.
He motioned for her to stay where she was. “Baby, stay there!”
The words came out as a hoarse gasp. She didn’t come down any further, her fingers fidgeting with her shirt.
“Her being here changes nothing,” Cameron said, voice like a growl. “It changes nothing!”
Logan shook his head, dabbing weakly at the blood on his lip. “Great job Cam. I’m sure your wife would be proud.”
“Don’t you dare talk about her!”
Cameron’s shout made Alice jump in fright, who instinctively brought her hands under her chin. Logan bit back another jab. It was in his best interest to calm the man down, not enrage him further.
“Look.” He reached out in a calming gesture. It took more effort than he expected. “Nothing can change what happened. Now if we could sit, maybe talk, and Alice could go-”
“Don’t put this on me!” Cameron said, still shouting. “You knew we weren’t a threat. I was done. But you wouldn't let it go.”
“You know how this works. You can’t just walk away. Hell, you’ve killed people for doing the same exact shit you did.”
Cameron lunged forward, dropped to his knee, his face inches from Logan’s. Alice muffled a shriek.
“This was different. Don’t pretend it wasn’t.”
Logan snorted. “You thought our boyhood friendship would absolve you from your choice? That I could somehow ignore my responsibilities to the family? If I made an exception for you, what then? Others might follow suit. I would be seen as weak. It would start a war with the rival families. I couldn’t have that.”
Cameron shook his head, standing to loom over him. “The fact you acted for fear of showing weakness proves how weak you are.”
Logan tried to think of a comeback. It already took too much effort to talk through the pain and dizziness he was feeling. He searched Cameron’s face, straining to see if he had a chance of obtaining mercy from his old friend. Bright red spots mottled the hitman’s face. His free hand was clenched so tight his knuckles cracked. Logan’s hope of extracting himself from this ebbed from him, like the blood leaking from his injuries.
“Can’t we...can we do this somewhere else? I don’t want Alice to see.”
Cameron shifted, gazed up at the little girl’s scared face. Logan saw Cameron flinch as Alice looked back at him. Her eyes wide, suppressing sobs, tears streaking her cheeks. Maybe there was hope after all?
“I would spare her this pain.” Cameron’s voice trembled as he spoke. “But I am not responsible for what’s happening right now.”
“You’re the only one I see holding a gun.”
Logan knew he was pushing it. But he was desperate. He saw Cameron set his jaw, nostrils flaring. Logan had overstepped.
“I’m going to kill you,” Cameron said, ignoring Alice’s tremulous sob. “And I’m going to destroy your family, as you did mine. Your legacy will be nothing more than a failed snitch gunned down before the FBI could arrive.”
A wave of pain raced through Logan’s body. The arm that supported him gave way and he collapsed on his back. Nausea gripped his gut, making him feel as if he was about to throw up. He wanted to curl up, to grimace and groan at the pain and sickness he felt. But he lay still. He would not let Cameron glimpse weakness if he could help it.
What is he talking about? How does he know about the FBI?
Cameron took in Logan’s sudden paleness and smirked. “I’m going to give the FBI everything you promised them.”
All of a sudden his phone was in his hand. He held it up so that Logan could hear. Logan heard his own voice on the device and the words he was saying made his blood turn to ice.
“I have the files, and the photos. I even have names and dates, Agent Calwell.” He heard his voice say. “But I want your promises in writing about witness protection.”
Cameron stopped the recording. Logan momentarily forgot about his pain and nausea. He was too stunned to form a coherent thought.
“How...you son of a-”
Cameron lowered his gun, aiming it at Logan’s chest, holding the weapon with both hands. Logan heard his daughter whimper. Her scared little voice wounded him more than Cameron’s bullets ever could.
Cameron must’ve seen something soften in Logan’s face. His face relaxed some as well and he shook his head. “I’d suspected for a while that I might run afoul of you someday. Ever since you took over from your father, you’ve changed. I figured blackmail would be the worst to expect from you. I had even prepared for it. But somehow, I never thought you’d stoop to trying to kill me and my wife.”
Logan fought the pain that threatened to overwhelm him, pushing himself up on one arm again. “You think doing all this will change anything? You have no idea what you’re starting!”
Cameron stiffened. “It doesn’t matter anymore.”
Logan saw the flash from Cameron’s gun but never heard it go off. A sensation ran through his chest fast as lightning, cold as ice. Then came an eruption of pain, the feeling of his chest shredding. Darkness consumed him.
# # #
Alice screamed in horror as Cameron’s gun erupted. The explosion of noise filled the enclosed space, blasting her eardrums. She covered her ears, and crouched on the stairs, closing her eyes.
She couldn’t think. Why had she counted to three? She couldn’t breathe. It took her a moment to realize how deathly quiet it had become. Except for the ringing in her ears.
Cameron had fired three times.
She wasn’t sure why that number stood out to her. Or how she even knew that information. Everything had happened so quick, the gunfire so loud.
She coughed, an acrid scent filling her nostrils, stinging her eyes.
Cameron was gone. Her daddy lay on the floor, not moving.
There was so much blood.
She rushed down the stairs, almost tripped in her mad scramble to reach her daddy. He was looking up at the ceiling, a bloody hole in his forehead. Two more were in his chest.
Gripping him by the shoulders her throat tightened, and another sob escaped her lips. Why wasn’t he moving?
She shook him as hard as she could. He shifted, limp under the force of her shaking, but otherwise didn’t stir. The bloodstains on his shirt continued to spread. The hole in his head leaked a steady stream of red, half covering his face.
Her heart thudded like a fist repeatedly punching her chest. She choked, and fought to catch her breath. Why couldn’t she breathe? Why was her daddy not hugging her, telling her it was going to be ok?
“No daddy! Don’t!”
She didn’t even know what she was saying. Didn’t know why she was still trying. Of course she’d seen movies before where people had died. But that couldn’t happen to her daddy. It was only the movies.
And the movies were never like this.
She sobbed, hysterical, her eyes darting around the room. She looked for anything, anyone to help her. Someone to tell her it would be ok. But she was alone.
She lay her head onto his chest, heedless of the blood. She gripped his shirt, pleading with him to wake up.
Daddy loved her. He’d taken care of her. He couldn’t die. He couldn’t get shot. What was she supposed to do now?
She buried her face in his torso and screamed.
After a while she raised her head. How much time had passed? Her sobs had morphed into shallow gasps. Tears mixed with thick mucus drenched her face. She sat up and wiped her face, which smeared his blood across it. She didn’t even notice.
Her eyes fell on something that glinted dark on the floor.
He must’ve dropped it, she thought, confused as to how that could’ve happened.
She hadn’t seen Cameron very much of late. She had vague memories of him playing with her when she had been younger. And he’d always been around, had even helped daddy with work.
Alice glared at the weapon and felt fresh tears well up in her eyes. How could he have done this to daddy? Why had he done this? She thought they were friends. But friends don’t shoot each other.
But if they weren’t friends, did that mean Cameron had only been pretending? She remembered seeing movies where bad guys sometimes pretended to be good. They did this to betray their “pretend” friends.
She gasped as a sudden realization flooded her mind. Cameron had been pretending! He was a bad guy!
All of a sudden a new feeling gripped her. She felt her face flush as a surge of rage rushed through her being. She leaned across her daddy and grabbed the fallen weapon.
It surprised her at how heavy it was, fumbled with it awkwardly in her hands. The gun was solid black, yet still shone in the light. Alice rested her finger on the trigger and wondered if the weapon had more bullets. She’d seen some people that worked with daddy carry guns, but had never held one herself.
She knew she would have to get used to the weight. Knew she would have to get used to the noise. Knew she would have to learn how to use it if she was going to kill Cameron.
She held it in front of her like he had. He would pay for what he’d done to her daddy. For what he’d done to her. Bad guys always pay in the end.
Alice squinted, looking down the barrel.
Bad guys always pay.
She pulled the trigger.