Ten Second Start: A Short Story

a-a_man_thinking

By  YUV  Writer Randy Russell

The marks on her neck mean there was a struggle. That’s what the morgue attendant tells me as I identify the body.

“Can you sign at the dotted line that this is in fact your daughter?” asks the morgue attendant.

I do as I am asked. He cover’s Erica’s lifeless body then gives me a minute. My emotions are in a rut. That’s my child,

my baby, my only immediate family, and we were estranged at that. She was twenty five and full of life, but now some

son of a bitch has taken that from her and me.

I walk out of the office passing some of the workers there. The expressions on their faces is odd to me. No emotion,

no connection at all. This is their paycheck, ringing in dead bodies, while watching the Kings-Lakers game at the check

out desk. Leaving is the best thing to do at this point, I feel nothing but disgust and churning in my stomach.

The only unoccupied stall in the morgue bathroom is where I let my Chinese food come back out for an encore. For

some reason after that, I feel embarassed and filled with complete anger over my loss that I begin to punch the wall

repeatedly. When that starts to wear thin, I kick the stall wall over and over again, screaming in a rage. The people in

the stalls next to this one almost instantly take off out of the bathroom. I begin breathing hard, gripping my fists until my

nails start digging into my skin. I go to the sink to wash my mouth out, putting water on my face as I am doing that. My

reflection in the mirror looks disturbed, because I am.

 

I sit in my brand new BMW in the parking lot of the morgue, thinking of Erica as a child. The little girl I called

shadow, who just had to be with her daddy at all times. She was deathly loyal to me, as I was the same to her. Except

for the past three years and three hours ago when some jogger found her body on a trail near the American River.

 

Today I sold my fourth house of the week. I was at my lawyer Wendell’s house this evening when I got the call.

My phone was on silent, due to me and Wendell’s powder party, soaked with Sam Adams Oktoberfest, Chinese take

out and Randy Couture on UFC. My only child was not a priority at the time. Carpenter‘s is next after the morgue. An

hour later, 12oz bottles of the best craft beer is in front of me. Milo Carpenter doesn’t even ask, my face says it all.

Pain, guilt, anger. I’m an emotionally struck man who misses his daughter. Keep ’em coming.

 

It’s quiet tonight. A few college kids, the occasional war vet or biker. The usual for this low key, hole in the wall

pub. Just the way me and all the others like it. Milo is old but didn’t ask too many questions. At sixty seven, he is sure

up on what is truly hip with the kiddies. And he wouldn’t bother you if you didn’t want to be. That’s cool with me.

 

I see him at the end of the bar. A suit, just like me, continues staring at me. Rival agent I think. The way I’m

feeling, he can bring whatever shit he wants to. I’d kill him and no one would care. Now I’m talking nonsense. I think

more of the Wheat Ale is what I need.

 

The suit gets up and walks over to me. He sits down and takes a card from his breast pocket. The card reads in

fancy Old English letters, “Revenge, Inc”. “What’s this?” I ask the suit. “My name is Conrad Myers. We are aware of

your situation with the murder of your daughter, and we would like to assist you with your revenge. We have her

killer in Warehouse 13 downtown waiting for you,” says Myers.  This is either a joke, I’m way too drunk, or this guy is

for real. “Who the fuck are you, and how do you know what the hell happened to my daughter?” I ask. I stand up

to him to seem intimidating, but Myers sees right through me.

“The words I’ve said, should’ve clearly told you the arrangement, and the deal my company is offering,” Myers slyly

says. “You have no other choice”.

“This is not the time to be making me offers,” I tell him. “How do I know this isn’t some sick game?”

“Mr. Cunningham, we aren’t in the business of playing games, we are in the business of fixing the lives of broken

families, with compensation. You may not be able to get Erica back John, but you can get her killer back. The address

is on the back of the card. Tomorrow morning, be there,” says Myers.

 

He gets up and exit’s the bar. I’ve suddenly sobered up but now my mind is racing with what I need to do next. I

look at the pristine work on the business card and the address. The only thing I can think of is see what they’re about. I

chug my last beer, put down a tip, exiting Carpenter’s bar.

 

The drive home was hard due to the several craft beers in my system and thinking of Erica on her 5th birthday

when we took her to Disneyland. The look on her face is sealed in my soul for life when she saw Goofy for the first

time. She loved every minute of it. More tears come down my face as I think about that day or just Erica in general.

The world seems very closed in and empty right about now.

 

Home is worse. It’s too quiet here with just me here. I don’t want to be alone tonight. I want Erica to be sitting

here with me having pizza, telling me about her job and her future plans.Well that’s not going to happen anymore.

 

The next morning I call Erica’s mother, where I hear her beyond annoying voicemail about being in Chile for three

weeks. I hang up. She’ll hear the truth when she returns. Maybe then, she can return to reality and face her

responsibilities like a parent and a grown woman.

 

Erica’s mother and I did not last long. Erica was born a year into our marriage. Annette felt having a kid, Hell

being married amongst other things were too much for her plate due to her wanting to see the world and things like

that. She is initially a big kid, with no grown up ambitions. Her father is well off so she did not have to worry about

money or a place to stay after we divorced, so initially, I raised Erica, Annette and her parents had her on weekends

growing up. And as much as I tried to patch things up with her, there was no changing her ways or

her views on life. So I played the parent. I made sure of it because the love you have for your

child is stronger than anything out there. I snap out of my strong mode to realize I am still in

mourning, so I should continue sulking for the duration of the day.

I make a cup of black coffee, burnt toast, and light a cigarette in the house. It

doesn’t matter anymore. Nothing really matters anymore. She’s gone, so I hope the

police will find the killer. That is my view because I start thinking again that Myers is full of shit.

But what if he wasn’t?

 

My eyes turn to the card for Revenge Inc, thinking of what Myers told me.

Thinking that if it’s true, I may be able to kill my pain, and avenge Erica’s death. I chug

the rest of my coffee, take a drag of my cigarette, grab my car keys, leaving my

house on the road to redemption.

 

Before I head to the address, I stop by the ATM. You never know what this is about, and

I might need money so I pull two hundred out. Nothing big, I honestly don’t know why I am

pulling this money out in the first place. After recovering from the brain fart I just had, I make

my way back to the car, getting back on track heading downtown to the address on the card.

 

Warehouse 12 is abandoned. It used to be the old Sacramento Brewing Company

factory before they went under. It is now hidden by trees, old run down fork lifts,

old beer kegs, mountains of pallets and old drums. My car reaches the back. I see two

more cars waiting. A new Lexus, and a two year old Jaguar.

 

I get out of the car and look around. The area stinks of homelessness and other strange

odors that most likely come with the territory. The spot is well hidden, and a drive to get to. But

for what I’m here for, that’s about right. The door to the Lexus opens. An older tall black man in

a nice suit gets out. He looks at me with interest.

 

“You get a business card too?” the black man asks. “Depends. You a cop?” I ask.

“Far from it. I’m a lawyer. Terrence Wilkes,” he says.

“John Cunningham. Real estate agent,” I say.

“I’ve seen you’re signs. You do good work around here,” says Terrence.

 

At this point, I didn’t want to get buddy, buddy. I want to see what Myers has to

show me. Excuse me, us, as I look at Terrence. I need to get this over with, and get Erica’s

funeral arrangements together.

 

Thank you is all I can tell him. The door to the Jaguar opens. An Asian male gets

out. He is small, has glasses and is a complete wreck. He is a bit short, but looks fit. He is wiping

the sweat from his face with a white rag.

 

“The hell are we doing here? The Asian man asks. “This seems like some bullshit.

They bring us out here for what, to fuck us or something?” says the very timid Asian man.

“We got the business card just like you. My son overdosed on some bad heroin and then I get

the call he’s dead,” says Terrence.

 

“So Myers did pay you a visit too?” I ask. Terrence nods. “He came to the hospital

when I was checking on my daughter,” says the Asian man. “What happened to her…?”

asks Terrence. “She was raped and found by her roommate in their dorm. And my name

is Richard. Richard Chu,” says the Asian man.

 

It is all starting to make sense. Each of us was visited by Myers right after something terrible happened to one

of our kids. Myers is giving us a chance to seek revenge. But for what price? Erica’s body on the morgue attendant’s

table pops in my head again. My perspective is clear once more, and my motive and action to complete that motive

can be a reality.

 

“Your son overdosed, your daughter was raped, and my daughter was murdered.

And this man, or group is giving us the opportunity to seek our revenge. With compensation,” I say with complete

enthusiasm.

 

“With no strings though right?” Terrence asks. “He’s right. But, if you saw my little girl beaten, bloody, and filled

with tubes galore like I did. You’d want revenge too,” says Richard.

“I bet that’s like seeing your daughter on a table with a morgue tag on her toe,” I say. “Or your son overdosing a day

before entering law school. You’re lucky your child is still alive,” says Terrence.

 

“What the hell is this, tit for tat? It don’t matter. We’re here now. So now what?” asks Richard.

Richard must be a bitch to deal with in the work place, wherever he works. He is loud and doesn’t know when to shut

his fucking mouth. Terrence I could see myself having a beer with at a bar. He seems very laid back for a lawyer. I still

don’t know this guys at all though. So I still keep my guard up.

 

A white van pulls up in front of us. The driver has sunglasses on and looks almost

emotionless. Myers is in the passenger’s seat with the complete opposite look on his face.

 

“Richard, Terrence and John. You’ve made the right decision,” says Myers. “Myers, just

tell us what’s is going on,” I tell him. He stares at us for a second until he lets out a laugh. He

pulls out three envelopes and hands them to us.

 

Inside each of them are large wads of money. They are fresh, un-marked, and eye

opening at that. Though I can see the doubt in Terrence and Richard, and feel it in myself, the

money, Myers and the unthinkable incidents that have scarred our families…I was in. Myers sees

that we all are in, so his men open the door to the van. “Get in,” says Myers.

 

“I ain’t going in there. No way,” says Terrence. “The black man is right. I don’t like this

van business,” says Richard. Myers just stares at us. He almost looks annoyed beyond belief, but

he is so good at staying cool, that his eager smile returns ear to ear, as he looks to the three of us

putting sunglasses on. “It’s usually best to follow the words of the person that has just given you

a substantial amount of money, and who also has trained men with me, who could kill you as fast

as you can breathe,” Myers tells us. Terence, Richard and I look to each other and immediately

agree and begin getting in the van.

 

In the van, the men blindfold us. The way we are taken must be a secret. You see this

kind of stuff in movies right when the bad guys are about to off someone. But I don’t think that’s

the case.

 

The van stops, the door slides open and the blindfolds come off. The three tough men

pull us out and we are now in the middle of a forest. “They’re gonna kill us. I know it,” says

Richard. “Let’s start walking gentleman,” says Myers. Without hesitation, the three of us begin

walking through the forest, surrounded by complete strangers.

 

After about twelve minutes, I can tell we are going somewhere totally hidden from

society. Civilization consists of us eight men, out in the middle of nowhere. Anything could

happen out here.

 

Time must be flying, due to the sun being way up at the top of the sky, sending its rays

through the trees down on us. Richard mopes in front with two of Myers’ men and Myers

himself. Terrence and I are behind them, with two other guards at the rear. Terrence and I have

taken this time to talk to one another, feeling we are the only sane people of the bunch.

 

“You married?” I ask Terrence. “Yeah. She is a professor at Sierra College. African

American studies. She’s a good woman, good mother,” says Terrence. “I wish Annette could’ve

been more like that,” I say. “Your daughter’s mother?” asks Terence. “Yeah. We met our senior

year in high school and we just hit it off. We ended up going to San Francisco State together and

all she did was party,” I say. “I know the types. I usually represent them,” says Terrence. I laugh

at that comment, so does he. It’s the first time I’ve laughed since I heard the news about Erica.

“How old was you son?” I ask. “Twenty four. He had just turned twenty four a month ago,” he

says. “Yours?” “Twenty five. She made it a quarter century, and my forty year old ass is almost

half dead,” I tell him. “Shit, me too,” says Terrence. Terrence was okay. Out of everyone here, I

trust him.

 

“You two butt buddies done sucking each other off?” says Richard. “Fuck you Jackie

Chan,” says Terrence. “Like I haven’t heard that one before watermelon eater,” says Richard.

This is where Terrence proceeds to walk towards Richard until two of Myers’ men get in between

them. Myers walks over to us with a look that looks not so pleasing. “Racisms and bigotry are

not allowed on my time. And what I said before about what my men can do, still goes and John

here can be the only one to reap the greatness of what we have in store. Make a choice,” says

Myers. Terrence and Richard glare at each other but continue down the forest with the rest of us.

 

Thirty minutes later, the three of us have broken a sweat. Myers and his men are fine.

This has got to be either Placerville or Auburn because I can hear the river nearby. The only

thick forest in this area I know about. We reach an open area in the forest where Myers stops

everyone. Something a few yards away catches my attention and Myers knows this.

 

He walks over to three long coffin looking crates. He motions for the three of us to

walk over. Myers men walk over to open the crates and pull three men out. My heart races. I

can feel it beating in my throat. My breath is slow and sweat comes over my entire body like

a paper towel slowly soaking on a wet counter.

 

Myers unmasks the first man. “This is Anton Ruggio, Mr. Wilkes. The drug dealer who

sold the heroin that ended your son’s life,” says Myers. He pulls the hoods off the other two men.

An older white man with a full beard and a younger Hispanic male. I knew one of them is my

Erica’s killer.

 

“This old, pitiful man is Wayne Garvey. A convicted sex offender, preferring his prey

book smart, Oriental and under the age of 18. He beat your daughter Richard for not being 15,

and that’s while he raped her, then left her for dead. That’s not a man my friends. Well he

is…but he doesn’t meet my qualifications,” says Myers with his motivational speaker voice on.

 

Richard and Terrence are dying inside. Grown men don’t look like that every day. They

have to be pushed, the pushed that only comes when you have to follow honor, or being a man

and Myers is giving us the opportunity of a lifetime. You take what you get, and I am for sure

taking it.

 

I was next. I couldn’t wait to hear about the man that erased my daughter’s future. The

man who took away her hopes and dreams. Her life as a wife and a mother. A career that

would’ve taken her around the world. I yearn for this son of a bitch. I could approach him,

possibly strangle him with my own hands, until I hear his last breath.

 

“This is Manuel Martinez. A paranoid schizophrenic with a hatred for women. He saw

Erica, John. He saw her and made his move. Beat her and killed her and took her for her money.

And we lured them in. We found them for you!” says Myers.

“Why help us? What did we do to deserve this?” asks Terrence. “Terrence, Terrence. All three of you

were chosen” says Myers.

 

The three of us are speechless. This is supreme confliction. I’ve never felt such anger,

fear and confusion all at once. I can’t even imagine how Terrence and Richard are feeling. But

what does he mean by chosen?

 

Three of Myers men walk up carrying small briefcases to Terrence, Richard and I. They

open them and reveal three 9mm pistols. Right there, I could tell what this is.

 

“When I say so, I’ll give them a ten second start, and then you can end their lives and

receive more compensation,” says Myers.

“What about the cops? Terrence asks.

“We wouldn’t have your children’s attackers hand cuffed and at your disposal if that was a problem Mr.

Wilkes,” says Myers.

 

Richard grabs his gun, storming towards Garvey until one of Myers’ men stops him.

“Move you son of a bitch. He’s fucking dead!” screams Richard. Myers walks over to us,

grabbing Richard’s gun. “When you’re given the opportunity like the one I am offering to you,

you toughen up and control yourself for a small time. Then you can feel froggy when I say leap.

Is that understood?” says Myers. Richard doesn’t say a word. He too believes every word Myers

is telling us. Terrence is still trying to process everything.

 

“This is guaranteed not to fall back on us?” asks Terrence.

“You have my word,” says Myers with that soothing yet seductively calm voice. He gives Richard his gun back. “Don’t

try that again Richard. Are we understood?” asks Myers. Richard nods his head.

 

Terrence grabs his gun, looking to Anton gripping the pistol as hard as he can. I

proceed reluctantly to grab my gun too. I’ve never picked up a gun before in my life until today.

But I know how to use it and it will be of good use.

 

Myers’ men cut the ropes from the three prisoners ankles, then stands them up with their

backs to us. I hope this isn’t how it is going to go down. I want to look him in the eyes when I kill

him.

 

“When I say go prisoners, you have ten seconds to try and get away. We’ll see how that

works out,” says Myers. He takes out a gold pocket watch, gazing into it for a moment. He

closes the watch, hiding it back into his pocket. Myers looks to them. “Go,” says Myers.

 

Anton, Garvey and Manuel take off into the woods. Terrence and Richard shoes are

burning rubber they’re so anxious. I’m restrained. I’m piecing together how it’s going to go down

for me in my head, but I am also ready to shed her attacker’s blood. Switch the roles to make him

the victim this time.

 

“Ten seconds are up. Proceed gentleman,” says Myers. We take off like hounds of hell

into the woods after our prey. Richard catches up to Garvey, throwing him on the ground. After

that, all we hear is his gun going off several times. Garvey is no more.

 

Terrence and I are together until he sees Anton. We part ways at that moment. That is

okay though, I wanted to be alone for mine. So I head through the woods. Every sense of mine

is enhanced with great desire to avenge Erica’s death. Everything I feel, everything I am going to

do is justified. I keep saying that in my head.

 

From out of nowhere, Manuel runs at me screaming. I move out of the way as he

stumbles to the ground. He turns to attack me again, but my gun is pointed at him. I’ve made it

ready. It is positioned to kill. Just like me.

“She was just in the wrong place homes. And it was Hector that killed her. I just watched her. I didn’t

really want to do it man please! I’m sorry it wasn’t me,” Manuel pleads.

 

It was too late for apologies. Anybody will say anything so they can live just a little

longer. Erica doesn’t have that option anymore. It’s done.

 

“Did you say sorry to Erica? I ask.

“Man, please! It wasn’t me. It wasn’t me!” screams Manuel. “It was me that did this,” I say. I pull the

trigger. The bullet goes into his head. He falls to the ground, no longer here. A relief but chill flows

through me. I’m better. Erica can be at peace. I walk off, leaving him like he left Erica.

 

Tears are coming down my eyes as I head through the forest. I killed that man. I killed

someone. Me, John Cunningham, top of my class, number one salesman at my job. I am a

murderer. But he murdered her, and like I kept telling myself, it was justified.

 

I make it back to the others. Terrence and Richard have obviously been waiting for me.

Myers has a very happy look on his face. “Good job John. You’ve done it. You three: a real

estate agent, lawyer and doctor are the best at what you do. We take care of the ones who will be

needed,” says Myers. Myers’ men walk over with envelopes. “Inside is a check for one million

dollars for each of you. A hello and good job,” says Myers. I look at the symbol on the envelope.

That familiar symbol I thought only existed on the History Channel. A freemason’s symbol.

Myers smiles at us. “Welcome to the club,” says Myers.

 

 

 

The End.

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