They gave him life. Life without parole, tucked away in Kinross Correctional in the Upper Peninsula, and yet Carl Hollis is standing on my porch, asking with tears in his eyes, “You mind if we talk?”
My nerves scream at me to slam the door, run, head out the back, but I see the outline of the gun tucked into the waistband of his jeans under his thin white t-shirt and my brain tells me what would happen if I tried any of it. He’d put a foot into the doorway, run me down, and blast three slugs into my back by the time I reach the kitchen. Sense holds me there.
“Please, Hal?” he says.
I look across and up and down the street. Nobody. Not one damned soul in a place that should be filled with them. If it were any other day, if I were washing the Vette, tending the flowers, mowing the lawn (or if Sherry were here mowing the lawn in her bathing suit), these rubberneckers would be eyeing every move over here. Especially Mrs. Lyon next door, or Mrs. Florence two doors down. But when I actually need these judgmental bitches? No. Not one eye.
“Hal?” He thrusts his chin toward my living room.
Two choices now. Only two. Let him in or die.
I move to the side. Carl moves past me.
I close the door and hear it latch and the sound explodes in my ears.
I turn and see the crown of his head. He’s lost more hair, hasn’t he? Yes, and fifty pounds at least. He’s been inside—what?—two years? If that? Slowly, he faces me. His cheeks, now, are wet, and the whites of his eyes are spiderwebs of red. The lines near his eyes and mouth are cragged and deep. He looks like he’s aged a decade. The Carhartt over the t-shirt hangs off him. The jeans are baggy. If he’s wearing a belt, it has to be on the last notch.
“I know …”
My blood stops.
He takes a breath. “I know you didn’t want to see me … or, uh, expect to see me. But … Do you, uh …” He points at the couch. His fingernails are yellowish, filthy. “You want to sit down?”
My legs are antsy, feeling as if they could shoot off in any direction and carry me out of the house in a flash, but again: sense. I cross the living room. I sit where he points.
Carl lowers himself down onto the center of the loveseat beneath the space on the wall where the picture of my wedding day used to hang. “How’ve you been?” he asks.
I want to ask him if he’s joking. I want to strangle him. I want to grab the hammer out of the drawer in my kitchen and beat him to death with it. I want … “Fine,” I say.
“I didn’t … I didn’t, like, interrupt you or anything, did I?”
Interrupt me what? Living? Breathing? Son of a … “No.”
He looks out the front window. I follow his gaze. Still no one outside, only the glow of the evening sun reflecting off the glass of the windows and doors of their houses, cars, and trucks.
“Get any good cases lately?”
I think a thousand things and none of them make any sense. “A couple.”
“Good. That’s good. Good to hear. Good to …” He raises his hands, palms toward his face, and his head goes into them. He sobs, heavily. Hard. His body shakes. He takes in air in clipped, distorted breaths.
Now! Do it! While he’s distracted! Run! While he’s not looking! Go out the back! You can round the backside of the garage before he notices!
He’ll kill you. He will shoot you dead. He was always faster than you. Always.
You know that’s why he’s here. But now, he’s distracted. His mind is not on it. Not right now. As long as he’s weeping, he isn’t ready to do it. Or try to. Just wait. Bide and wait. You have to. Don’t upset him, don’t make any sudden moves. Let him talk, let him calm down and relax. Wait.
“I’m so sorry, Hal.” He takes a breath. “I’m sorry.” Tears still welling and streaming. “I … I had to come here. Had to c-c-co-come here.”
“I’ve been thinking about us lately, you and me. How it was.”
“We used to strike the fear of God into them, didn’t we?” Something like a smile passes across his face, makes the ends of his lips crooked and upturned for a second then disappears. “Round ’em up, put ’em away. Eight years straight, we did. As soon as we got someone in interrogation, it was over. Went at ’em, hammer, tongs, and mind games. They couldn’t keep anything from us. But they tried. They tried.”