I took the first bus out of Dobbs Ferry at five in the morning. I looked like hell and I felt like the devil himself. The search for pleasure was overrated. There was absolutely nothing to be gained from life. Everything was utterly meaningless. I took public transit all the way down to Trent Woods, another small community near Queens. There was an old French man named Gerard Lacroix who had ties to one of the girls in the gang and who had a couple of properties in other states. I was going to give him my ten thousand dollars and ask him to let me live in one of them just for a little while until I figured out what I wanted to do next. My life’s mission had been accomplished. What else was there left to do in a pitiful young life? I had often contemplated suicide but that was not the answer. I felt like there was still something else I needed to do.
The bus dropped me off in the downtown of Trent Woods just as the sun was climbing up into the sky. I hopped off and went roaming around to see if I could, by any chance, find the old man’s house and try to explain to him who I was and why I needed his help. There was no going back to see Robin Crowley or Damian Welker. If Gerard Lacroix was of no help to me, I would just have to improvise and I wasn’t the best at doing that, especially when my only resource was ten thousand dollars and an illegally obtained handgun. Regardless of if Gerard Lacroix could help me or not, I was already on my own, and that was a choice I had made long ago. After walking a few blocks I thought I spotted the old man’s house so I went and pounded on the door. Worst case scenario, it wasn’t his house.
“Drifter?!” Shany was the person I saw on the other side of the door.
“Shannon?” I was just as surprised as she was.
“What are you doing here? You’re the last person I expected to show up for the funeral.”
“The funeral? What funeral? I’m looking for Gerard Lacroix and I know now that this is his house.”
“His funeral. He croaked four days ago. He left everything to me.”
“Son of a bitch! The last person who could’ve helped me just had to freaking die! Is it just me or all of my resources just get wiped right out from under my feet at the same time?!”
“What did you need him for?”
“I need to skip town. I wanted to know if I could kind of rent one of his properties in Utah or something for a little while until I figure out my own life.”
“What did you do this time?”
“You’ll see it on the news in the next couple of days.”
I thanked Shany for her time and the food she gave me before going on my way again. Just as I was walking down the street back to the downtown, I encountered Byron driving an old blue Pontiac.
“Byron!” I shouted in a mixture of shock and excitement.
“Drifter!” he shouted in response, “Get in the car!”
I quickly jumped in and buckled myself into the passenger’s seat as he made a U-turn in the middle of the quiet street and went back from where he came from. Byron looked shocked to see me. All of my people had been shocked to see me so far but I couldn’t really comprehend why. I looked much better with my new haircut and the mostly new clothes I had on. Some of the guys disappeared for weeks at a time but when they came back nobody was shocked. But then again, they weren’t Jeff’s little sister.
“My God,” Byron spoke after taking a deep breath, “we were all sure you were dead!”
“Why? Because I was gone for a while?” I chuckled under my breath, “It wouldn’t be the first time I ran. And for the record, I was on a brazen crime spree. I’m sure you’ve heard about it on TV. I was even caught on camera robbing a corner store!”
“Didn’t you hear what they found down by Bonnie Creek?”
“Nah, I wouldn’t even know where that is.”
“It’s east of Cobalt, another little wine village, but the police found a mass grave with the bodies of at least fifty teenage girls that about match your description.”
“That’s creepy. When did they discover that? I haven’t even heard of that!”
“Two days ago. They also found a few male bodies in another location but apparently the crimes don’t seem to be connected at this point.”
“Two days ago. That’s when I killed Dwayne Jackson. It must’ve been him!”
Byron looked at me in confusion and wonder. What was so shocking about me killing a dude?
“I blackmailed him, telling him that I knew what he had done,” I continued, “and he must’ve thought that I was a corrupt cop or some other person that had found the burial site and was willing to keep quiet. But he was so surprised when he saw me. He totally hadn’t been expecting me.”
“What did you blackmail him with?” I had Byron’s full and undivided attention.
“The murder of some dude named Richard Parker. But it probably wasn’t him after all.”
“What makes you so convinced that it was him?”
“The fact that he came to me and he did everything I told him to. Actions speak louder than words Byron. There was obviously something that guy didn’t want the world to know.”
Byron looked at the road ahead, completely puzzled. Obviously he had heard certain things that I didn’t know about yet. The guys had been agitated for a while long before I had left on my mission and it was apparent that that feeling had only grown stronger during my absence.
“Where’s Eddie and all the other guys?” I asked Byron after a long moment of silence on his part.
“Eddie’s gone,” Byron replied in a soft voice, “and Richard and Nick skipped town. We don’t know where they are.”
“What do you mean? Did you guys all of a sudden disband after I left?”
“Eddie was shot and killed down by the shipping docks south of here and we don’t know where Rich and Nick went. But I reckon that they suffered the same fate.”
“I saw Richard the night after I killed Dwayne. He saved me from falling to my death and then he ran away.”
“The cops must be onto them for some reason. They wouldn’t just ditch us. We have all been feeling kind of on edge lately just to put it mildly. It’s like there is a sense of impending doom looming over our heads.”
Eddie was dead. I hadn’t even gotten the chance to say goodbye. He was one of the last people I loved on earth and he too probably had gotten the burial of a dog just like Jeff. Part of me wanted to cry but my heart had been too hardened to do so. I was so done with crying over things that I couldn’t change.
“Was he with a guy named Ratablavasky?” I asked after another moment of silence.
“Who? I don’t know anyone named that.” Byron’s voice was even softer.
“Eddie, did he have any connections to a thug named Ratablavasky?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Me and a kid named Connor shot some people in the shipping docks near Queens a while ago.”
“It wasn’t you Ana. It hasn’t been that long.”
“How can you be so sure? I’ve left nothing but a path of destruction since I left. There’s no telling what happened in the wake of the havoc I’ve caused!”
“You didn’t kill Eddie! End of story! Where did you see Richard?”
“Any indication of where he was going?”
Byron exhaled loudly, obviously stressed and very tense because of something that he still wasn’t telling me.
“What about old man Crunch?” I asked before Byron could respond to my previous ramblings, “Richard could’ve easily gone to see him.”
“No, he couldn’t,” Byron’s voice hinted an unspoken uneasiness, “because the old man had been in the hospital undergoing cancer treatment.”
“And since when does that old dude have cancer? He was fine when I left!”
“He seemed fine, we all know that. But apparently he had an undiagnosed case of aggressive and terminal cancer. The doctors are trying to buy him some time but I’m giving him another couple of weeks and that’s it.”
“Can I go see him?”
“No way in hell! The authorities have somehow managed to find out about his criminal activities and if you show up there, they’ll be onto you.”
“Why would they be onto me? They know nothing of what I’ve done with the gang. I’ve been off the radar my entire life! That stuff’s got nothing to do with my recent crime spree.”
“It doesn’t matter. Sooner or later there’s gonna be a manhunt bigger than anything you could ever imaging for Dwayne Jackson’s killer.”
“Give it a day or two and the police will start connecting the dots.”
I took a deep breath myself and tilted my head back. I looked at the fluffy white clouds floating around the overcast sky completely without emotion. It was all over, it was really all over. It was nothing more than a matter of time.
“The police,” I spoke gently but seriously, “they are onto you. They are onto all of you, that’s why you are all scrambling to get your act together. That’s why you are all so darn agitated.”
“Yeah,” Byron admitted in shame, “Crunchy had known for a while that the heat was onto him for tax evasion but nobody had been expecting the recent blows we’ve all suffered.”
“A time to be born and a time to die.”
“Since when do you read the Bible?”
“I don’t. But I’ve listened to everything you’ve ever said. There is a time to be silent and a time to speak. What people seem to ignore is the fact that silent and listen are spelled with exactly the same letters.”
“This is your time.”
“You know Byron, I’ve spent most of my life up until now being angry. Harboring that angry and animosity prevented me from seeing clearly and accomplishing anything.”
“And when did this clarity strike you?”
“When I realized that killing Dwayne Jackson had been nothing more than a waste of my time and energy. It didn’t accomplish anything except make me overly paranoid.”
“Paranoid of what?”
“Everything! Everything had been falling apart, seemingly all at once, and my mind is constantly in a state of unrest now.”
I rambled a little bit to Byron about my bizarre mixture of feelings but he couldn’t help me. Nobody could. What was done had been done and the only person responsible for my actions and what resulted of them was me. My end was near.
“I’m gonna take you to Fred and Ebony’s,” Byron spoke after another eternity of silence, “there they will give you a bag of money and you’re gonna get out of here and whatever happens after that it’s up to you.”
“No,” I muttered in protest, “I am right where I want to be. And I’ve already got ten thousand dollars. I don’t need anything more from you.”
“Did you steal that?”
“Dammit you ask so many questions all of a sudden! No. I blackmailed Dwayne into giving me a hundred thousand.”
“Let me guess, you spent the rest! Come on Ana! I’m trying to give you a chance here! I’m trying to pay you back for saving my life!”
“Oh my God, that was such a long time ago Byron. It’s irrelevant now.”
“Don’t say it doesn’t matter to you because it matters to me! I was doomed but you save me.”
“I condemned you is what I did! I didn’t give you a life! I ripped you away from whatever life you might’ve had!”
“Well that’s just too bad my dear friend because this is my life now, it’s not what it was before.”
“Why did you stay? Isn’t it against what the Bible teaches to live this kind of street life?”
“Maybe it is, but there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. He was willing to give you a chance to leave all of this behind and I was willing to a sacrifice a part of myself and my life in order to do that.”
I shook it off as nonsense.
“God wouldn’t do something like that.” I muttered.
“Jesus gave himself for humanity’s sins,” Byron went on, “who says that I can’t sacrifice my teen years to make sure you got out of here? I believe without a doubt in my mind that God put me in that situation to make a difference!”
“Sorry man, but it’s too late for me.”
“It may be too late to undo the choices you’ve made, but it’s not too late for forgiveness and to be right with God.”
“I’ve done nothing that requires forgiveness. I’ve only done what I needed to do to survive.”
“No, Byron. I feel like I can face the day so just help me get out of this town.”
Byron didn’t have too much of a clue more than I did regarding what we were supposed to about what came to be known as the situation. I knew that he had wanted nothing more than to help me and to make me see the goodness in life. I felt guilty about having let him down the way I had. I had let myself down too. In all the mistakes that a single life could make, murder wasn’t one that would just go away.
“Is your dad still a a preacher?” I asked Byron, “Minister? Priest? Whatever the difference between all of those titles are.”
“Minister,” Byron replied softly as stopped the car on the side of a residential street, “yeah he’s still doing that.”
“So go home.”
“And go back to what? I haven’t seen any of my folks in over five years! In another two years they might as well declare me legally dead.”
“At least you have something to go back to Byron. Just go back and deal with whatever results of it. For the short time that I have left here, I’ll be okay on my own.”
“If I go back home, you’re coming with me. Whatever happens between now and the end of the road, I’m not letting you go.”
“You realize that doing that is as good as committing suicide.”
“I’m supposed to be dead Ana. I’m only alive because of you. The least I can do is hold your hand when it all goes down.”
And so Byron and I went on a suicide mission.
“I still have ten thousand dollars,” I spoke as Byron made the car engine roar back to life, “don’t you want a taste of the good life before our time is up?”
“Whatever you wanna do,” he replied with a smile on his face, “we’ve got nothing to lose now!”
“Why don’t we go down to Rhode Island and have a dip in some of that salt water?”
“It sounds good to me!”
“Summer is almost gone. And I’ll never swim in the ocean again.”
“Then what are we waiting for?!”
Byron flashed me a huge smile and I couldn’t help but duplicate it. Byron turned the car around and we headed the other way. The sky cleared and made way for beautiful sunshine, almost like it was a message from heaven telling us that it was going to be okay. We took our time on our way there, eating out and stopping by shops on the side of the road. Our lives were going to be all over soon, the least we could do was have fun until that day.
“So if you have ten thousand dollars,” Byron spoke as the two of us were waiting to pass through road construction, “and you said that Dwayne gave you a hundred thousand, what happened to the other ninety?”
“I gave it away,” I replied without emotion, “to Damian Welker.”
“The gun salesman?!”
“Yeah, that’s him. It is to my understanding that you two know each other?”
“I saw him on the news just the other day! There is a warrant for his arrest in like, a lot of cities. How’d you come to know him? And more importantly, why’d you give him money?”
“Uh, well, I guess you could say that he’s my former boss and that one of the jobs I was on was collecting half a million dollars.”
“In that case you might not just be wanted for murder.”
“I highly doubt that the police have much on him. That guy was a chameleon. He was hidden in plain sight in a small town and he didn’t have a worry in the world.”
“Since the discovery of the bodies the police have been cracking down on crime so much more. They’ve got law enforcement from municipalities, the state and even the Federal guys are lurking around just waiting for someone to be careless and slip up.”
“In that case it’s probably better we don’t leave the state.”
“We should still try to get to Rhode Island. If they catch us, then they catch us. But if they don’t, then the world belongs to us.”
I contemplated what Byron was saying for a moment. He was right. It was just a matter of time before we’d get caught. Whether it was in New York or in New Jersey or in Rhode Island or anywhere else, it was nothing more than a matter of time.
“What’s got you doubting?” Byron asked tenderly as he saw that I was obviously distraught.
“I’m not sure I’m ready to say goodbye, Byron,” I muttered as I struggled to keep my voice from cracking, “I still have so much unfinished business.”
“I’m afraid it’s a little too late for business Ana.”
“Turn the car around Byron. We’re going to see your parents. Just do it.”
“You know, I’ll see them when we get caught.”
“Going to Rhode Island on vacation was a dream that I’ve never lived before, but there are things so much more important than that. A time to search and a time to give up. Well it is to my understanding that this is my time to stop searching for something that I will not find because it isn’t out there.”
Byron looked at me with compassion in his eyes and turned the car around despite that we had almost made it to our destination. We had been on the road for some more than three hours before we turned around. I still had so much money to burn but before I went out with a bang, I wanted to make things right with someone that I had wronged.
“Let’s take a drive down to Pigeon Creek,” I told Byron “I’ve gotta make a cash deposit there.”
“There’s a bag under the seat,” Byron spoke as he made a sharp right turn, “I figure that you probably don’t want to see this person face to face.”
“No,” I laughed gently, “it’s probably better I don’t.”
I put five thousand dollars into the brown canvas bag under the seat and wrote a note apologizing for what I had done to him. Robin Crowley didn’t know about Connor so I didn’t mention him. I also knew that five thousand dollars was nothing more than a fraction of what I had cost the hard-working good man, but it was all I could give him. For the time that I had left I wanted to keep the just over four thousand I still had. I still needed to make it for a couple of days.
“Turn left here and it’s that house right over there,” I gave Byron directions to Robin’s place, “just park at the end of the street and I’ll drop the bag on his doorstep.”
It turned out to be much easier than I had originally thought. Robin Crowley was at work so he wasn’t anywhere on the property to surprise me like he had done when I attempted to take a sponge bath in his kitchen. I noticed a newly installed security camera surveying the property but I wasn’t breaking in. I was turning at least part of a wrong into a right and to some degree it actually made me feel better to know that when he got home he would see me dropping him his bag of money on his doorstep. When I got back to the car Byron had a big smile on his face.
“You’re really determined to make things right aren’t you?” Byron spoke almost joyfully.
“I acknowledge that I can’t get away with this,” I spoke softly, “so I might as well try to do some damage control before it’s all over.”
“I am very proud of you Anastasia. I always knew that you were golden.”
“I’m tarnished now, but I am laying down my life. I did what I came out here to do. Now let’s go see your folks.
By the time we reached Bronx it was nighttime. It was too late to do anything other than rent a cheap hotel room and have some fast food. Bronx wasn’t exactly our territory gang-wise so we weren’t going to roam that land at night. I made Byron rent a cheap hotel room and get us some McDonald’s downtown before calling it a day. We were both very tired from all the emotional stress and the tension so we didn’t go out looking for the church owned by Byron’s parents. It would still be there in the morning. It was Saturday night anyway, we were going to have some better luck in the morning if we were looking to talk to someone.
The hotel room was only forty bucks so we got what we paid for but it was one of the nicest places I had stayed in during the past five years. Our room was on the seventh floor, overlooking the city lights shining bright at night. It was nothing but a small room with two single beds side by side with a table with a lamp in the middle. It was by far one of the smallest rooms I’ve ever seen but it was better than the street. Byron slept on the bed against the bathroom wall and I slept on the one right underneath the window. There wasn’t even a cheap little TV in the room, and not even a Bible in the drawer of the end table. I laid down on my back and stared at the little holes in the ceiling for a while until I finally dozed off. Byron had fallen asleep a long time before I did and there is no doubt that he slept a lot better than I did.
In my sleep I was tormented by the things I had done. The police were running after me because Dwayne Jackson had some back to life and told the entire country that I had brutally murdered him. He knew where to find me and he sent the authorities there. I woke up in cold sweats in the middle of the night expecting to wake up in a jail cell or something similar. But the hotel room was still there. Byron was still sleeping soundly in the other bed next to me. Only the city light outside illuminated the bare grey walls of the place. Not a thing had changed. I thought about Richard. Where was he? I knew that he had never meant to hurt me or Jeff and even less have one of us killed but the whole scenario was still incomprehensible in my mind. The more I tried to figure everything out the less I was able to understand. Finally, I just gave up and drifted back to sleep for an hour or two before tormenting images invaded my dreams.
“Anastasia! Ana! Wake up!” Byron’s voice seemed to be coming from another world, “Ana! It’s just a dream! Wake up!”
And I woke up with a loud scream of fright. Byron’s face was only inches from mine in the tiny room and it had caught me off guard considering the things I had seen with my eyes closed.
“Hey! Calm down,” his voice was loving and gentle as it usually was, “it’s just me.”
“Byron,” my breathing was erratic, “they will be coming for me!”
“Just calm down please, Ana, nobody is coming for you. Not here, not yet.”
“I hate the way it is. And to tell you the truth Byron, it’s killing me and it’s killing you too.”
“We’re going to get through this, I promise.”
“This isn’t your battle Byron. Don’t go sticking your nose into places it doesn’t belong.”
Byron smiled softly at me the way only he could get away with.
“It’s a little too late for that, isn’t it?” his voice was completely fearless, “And you know Drifter, sometimes you should take your own advice and stop thinking that you’re all by yourself and on the hook for everything.”
“Well,” I began softly after catching my breath, “for the time that we have left we should go see your parents.”
I took a shower first while Byron went down in the streets below to grab some breakfast at McDonald’s for both of us. I took an exceptionally cold shower to try and get back in touch with myself but it didn’t exactly work. I previously had no idea that one’s conscious could feel so bad. A million and a half things were spinning around my brain but what really dawned on me the most was the fact that I had gotten absolutely no closure. Sure, it had felt good in the moment, but then you close your eyes and the moment is gone. I did my best to make myself believe that I had accomplished that I had set out to do and that I had gotten a sense of satisfaction out of it but in reality, I didn’t. In reality it was eating me up inside and in reality I had no idea how I was supposed to live with myself.
Byron then jumped in the shower while I force-fed myself the breakfast sandwich trying to get a grip on myself to face the outside world. I had no idea how I was going to do that but I told myself that I’d do it for Byron. I at least owed him that much after the countless times he had sacrificed himself for my sake. There was a part of me that felt guilty for not having gotten closer to him when I had the chance because once it became common knowledge that I had murdered a city councillor, the chances of bonding with Byron would be long gone. It was apparent that he felt the same way and that he always had but I had been too blind to see that all along. My anger had once consumed me and in my present crisis my guilt completely suffocated me. I wasn’t seeking forgiveness, I only wanted justice, but I knew too well that there was no justice in crime and certainly not in humanity.
“Are you ready?” Byron asked me cautiously, not knowing how I would react.
“It’s now or never,” I replied mostly to myself.