The sky was starting to turn a light blue outside. The stars were almost completely gone and the sunshine wasn’t too far behind. It was just me, Dwayne, a humongous pool of blood and the silence. He had been alone and there really had been an enormous amount of money in the duffel bag. I had stopped counting after I had reached five thousand. The rest of the night I had sat on the cold metal floor with my legs crossed a few feet from Dwayne’s body. I had been waiting for the police, or at least someone else to arrive, but nobody ever did. I automatically assumed that Dwayne had been guilty of the things I had accused him of, or at least he had some other skeletons in the closet that he didn’t want the coroner to find. All of his secrets were probably never going to be known but that didn’t matter, the corruption had died along with him. It was just a matter of time before people came to realize that something was horribly wrong.
I wanted to drag the body into the pit where Jeff’s body had been but the fat city councillor was too heavy. There was no way I would be able to do that by myself. At dawn I took out my machete and decapitated Dwayne Jackson. I threw his ugly head into the pit and threw the machete after it. The entire night I had felt nothing but blankness. There had been absolutely no emotion. No feeling of satisfaction. No feeling of shame. No feeling of remorse. No feeling of joy. I had finally killed the man who had taken the last person I loved away from me but it in no way made me feel better. Frankly, I was disappointed. It was all over. My life’s mission had been accomplished and I had gained absolutely nothing out of it. I had never felt so damn deflated in my entire life! Part of me just wanted to scream and ask out why but I would not have gotten more of an answer by doing that.
The sky was a fierce red when I grabbed the duffel bag and started walking to the storage containers the boys and I always hung around just praying that somebody would be there. But I was alone on the lot. Just me and a dead mutilated body. And then there was a bag with a huge sum of money that I was never going to be able to enjoy because sooner or later I was going to be arrested for murder, and most importantly, a hundred thousand dollars wasn’t going to bring my brother back. The money had merely been a tactic to blackmail Dwayne Jackson, I had to real interest in it. But Damian did. He still needed a large sum of money to pay back some dude he owed money to and since Connor was on his own, I decided to pay him a visit. I had left him high and dry and that wasn’t my style.
I walked back into the factory and took Dwayne’s car keys from inside his pocket before jumping into his campaign car and driving off the lot with my weapons and the bag of money. I drove without disturbance to Whitehaven where I parked behind Damian’s building and took a deep breath. There was no going back. It was done. I had finally killed a man and I was about to give a criminal a big bag of cash to pay a debt. I took ten thousand dollars out of the duffel bag and kept it for myself just in case I needed it to skip town or kill someone else or whatever the hell else and wrote Damian a note telling him that if he never saw me again I hoped that he’d understand. I knew that he’d understand why I was dropping off some money, but to some degree I had come to care about him and Connor and the two of them were always going to be somewhere in the back of my mind. While I was at it, I decided to go look for Eddie and Byron and maybe the other guys too. I owed them a proper goodbye.
After I dropped the bag in front of Damian’s door, I drove back to Cobalt to find my boys. There was another neighborhood on the other side of town that we often hung out in when being on the factory lot was unappealing. But that little neighborhood in the boondocks was also deserted. Not even a stray cat walked by. Since I was done looking around there, I headed down to straight to Yonkers to a few other places I knew my guys liked hanging around. Nobody was there. Almost like all of my gang members had just evaporated off the face of the earth. In a moment of madness I drove down to Old Sylva and parked the city car where Connor had parked his old time machine the first time I met him. I cleaned up in the water and took public transit back to some more familiar places. I took a snooze on the subway and ate in soup kitchens alongside people who told me that God was with me, completely unaware of what I had just done.
By nightfall, a deep sense of desolation had settled in. I was, for real, completely alone. I felt a deep void inside, like something was ripping me apart. I wanted Jeff to come and comfort me but it was useless to kid myself, I knew more than anything that he would never be coming back. I began feeling sick about what I had done to Dwayne Jackson but I kept on telling myself that if I hadn’t put an end to him, he would have put an end to a multitude of other people. After all, there was a reason why he complied with my blackmail and came down to the factory with a bag of money. There was something he didn’t want the world to find out. Too bad I didn’t know what that was myself. Finally I simply decided to walk in the boondocks of Dobbs Ferry by myself after nightfall in order to collect my thoughts in peace and solitude.
As I walked in a back alley near the old downtown area I spotted a cat in the shadows. I slowed down my pace so I wouldn’t frighten the animal as I approached it. In an adjacent alleyway there was light coming out of an open bedroom window and I clearly saw the cat when it walked into the light and looked up towards the roof of the tall building. It was a Siamese cat, just like Belle. Was it her? Could it really be her?! I squatted down near another building and watched the cat for a few minutes before it noticed me. It seemed to be curious about me and it approached me cautiously. When the cat got close enough I let it sniff my hand before I took it into my arms and held it close to me.
“We are finally together again Belle,” I whispered to the cat as I hugged it tightly.
The cat soon started to purr in my arms but our beautiful moment was disturbed when I heard some footsteps coming towards us from the other side of the alley. My cat got frightened and jumped out of my arms and climbed a semi-demolished wall on the right next to the building behind us. I soon pulled out my loaded handgun and got ready for another brutal encounter.
“Who’s there?” the familiar voice demanded.
“Stay back!” I shouted in response, “I’m armed!”
“Drifter?” the voice became soft, “Is that really you?”
“Ritchie?” I was completely taken aback.
Soon enough the voice in the shadows emerged into the light and sure enough it was Ricardo. I never thought I’d see him again but there he was right in front of my face. For a moment I thought I was hallucinating but I knew that whatever aspect of delusion there might have been, the moment wasn’t all up in my head when he touched my arm and I felt the cold hard squeeze of his long fingers.
“It’s really you!” Ritchie exclaimed with joy, “For God’s sake we all thought you were dead!”
“I’m not dead yet,” I spoke softly, “but Dwayne Jackson is.”
“He’s dead?! You honest to God killed him?!”
“Go to the factory and you’ll find his decapitated body. I left his car in Old Sylva.”
“Why in the world did you do that?!”
“I only did what I needed to do. Jeff was innocent and I am the only person who loved him enough to serve that bastard Dwayne with what he deserved! I’m not ashamed to be the person that I am today!”
Belle was meowing from the roof of the single storey building, unable to come down and too scared to jump. I shot a mean glance at Ritchie before starting to climb up that old partially-collapsed building to save my cat.
“Don’t climb up there!” Ritchie shouted anxiously, “The roof of the building is burned and you’ll fall through!”
I had almost reached the top when Ritchie started to climb up after me, which scared me cat. Belle was right at the edge of the building waiting for me but when she saw him, she began running towards the other end of the building. Once I reached the top I climbed onto the flat roof of the old brick building and sure enough I started to fall through the roof. Thankfully Ritchie was right behind me still scaling the wall and just in time he grabbed me by the ankle and propelled himself backwards. We hit a bunch of falling bricks on our way down but when it was all over the two of us were safely laying flat on our faces at the bottom of the building. My head was sore and pounding from the fall but I had no broken bones. It might have been a different story if I had fallen right down to the basement of that building.
“It’s just a freaking cat!” Ricardo muttered angrily, almost like Damian did in one of his belligerent moods, “Get over it!”
He obviously hadn’t fallen from as high as I had because he quickly got up from off the gravel as if nothing had ever happened. He then got on top of me and pinned me down to the ground.
“You really shouldn’t have killed the city councillor,” Ricardo’s voice was filled with diverse emotions.
“Why not?” I taunted, “He murdered my brother for no reason! I could not have known what the future would hold. I did Jeff a solid!”
“You don’t understand. Jeff is dead because of me!”
“Is that right? Oh big bad Ritchie feels guilty now!”
“No! Shut up you damn little snot! In a robbery over three years ago I murdered Dwayne Jackson’s niece!”
“And nobody in the gang knows about this?”
“No. I never told them. Everyone, including Dwayne, thought it was Jeff and I just went along with it.”
“That’s why he wanted to kill me. He wanted Jeff to know what it was like to live without the person he loved the most!”
“I’m so sorry Ana! I never wanted your brother to die!”
“You damn jerk! I should shoot you too! You deserve it just as much as Dwayne did!”
“It’s all over now. Just skip town and make a life for yourself somewhere else. I’ll never be anything more than a crook and a street thug. You can still get out of here alive.”
“Nobody gets out of here alive.”
Richard slapped me in the face with an open hand and ran off into the dark alleyways surrounding us and before I even had the chance to get up to pursue him he was already out of my sight. I didn’t know what to think or how to feel so I just sat on a stash of fallen bricks and cried. I never thought I would have been betrayed by one of my own like that. Never in a million years would I have fathomed that. I knew that he had done some horrible things in his life, but I never thought that he would have left my brother to be killed like that. But at least I had gotten the answer to my most burning question. I would at least be able to fill that void inside of my soul. Jeff was innocent. I was innocent. We were innocent. It wasn’t about us. It had never been about us. How Dwayne Jackson came to the conclusion that Jeff had done that, it was too late to get answers, but one question had at least been answered.
After what seemed like an eternity I finally collected myself and started walking again. The blankness inside of me was like a consuming fire, only that it didn’t burn. It swallowed me like an overpowering force of running water, yet I didn’t drown. If I had felt like crap before, it was noting compared to what I felt alone there in that back alley with nothing but a stash of bricks and some ashes. Even the cat never came back. I had never felt more alone in my entire life. If there was such a thing as utter and complete loneliness with nothing but your memories and your sins, that’s exactly what I felt inside. I longed for Eddie or for Byron. Ritchie hadn’t even given me the chance to ask where they were, or if they were even still alive. Life could be gone in the blink of an eye. Life was nothing but a vapor that stayed for a little while before vanishing like it never came.
“A time to kill and a time to heal,” I whispered to myself as I thought of Byron, “a time to weep and a time to laugh.”
Since it was too late to take public transit to another part of New York, I laid down underneath a bench at the bus stop and did my best to doze off because I knew that it would only be a matter of time before there was a statewide manhunt for the person who mercilessly murdered a well-respected city councillor.
“A time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.”