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Part 1: "Confrontation Before Departure" here.
He had a sip from his coffee and set his eyes wondering around the office room, examining the paraphernalia. A white board was filled with marker lines jotted across from picture to picture, making a detailed map of a crime scene. A cupboard with one of its doors ajar revealed piles of paper entirely occupying the interior. The study desk across him, was a scattered mess of papers, pens and other stationary. The only item that sparked his interest was a revolver packaged neatly beside a stack of files. The label on it had sketchy handwriting that made no sense to him.
He took another gulp from the coffee when the door banged open and an officer, in his mid fifties, entered with a clipboard in his hand.
“How’s she holding up?”
The officer managed a weak grin as he sat on his chair.
“Little better than awhile ago. She’s still under shock. Won’t be getting a statement anytime soon,” the officer replied. “She’s seen quite a lot.”
They both let out a sigh.
“How’s the coffee?” the officer continued.
“It’s black. Can’t complain.”
“Walter. Was it?”
“How’s the south holding up?”
“Geez. They are still all over the reporter case. Mendel’s having a bad rap.” Walter emptied his cup and continued. “Honestly, I don’t feel bad mulling over this incident. Makes me feel distracted from all the attention back there.”
The officer chuckled, and Walter joined.
“So yeah. She’s Grace Crawford. Only daughter. Captain Crawford was supposedly divorced few years ago. Grace’s mother lives in Australia with her new family. We informed her, but no response yet.”
The officer flipped through the pages on the clipboard as he spoke.
“Only her grandmother. She’s… well, apparently not taking it quite well right now.”
“Want me to go talk to her?”
The officer pursed his lips.
“She’s not in the mood, but I think it’s getting warm outside.”
Walter followed his gaze out the window to see the sunlight hitting hard on the glass. His eyes went momentarily blind while looking at the blazing sun.
“I think I’ll hit the road. Chores pending,” Walter said, raising from his chair and grabbing his coat from the hanger.
“See you soon, Walter.”
“You too, officer.”
They both shook hands and Walter left the room.
Despite the burning rays of the sun, the air froze Walter hard as he exited the building. He donned the jacket and pocketed out a cigarette. After lighting it, he took a quick drag from it and exhaled the smoke into the freezing wind.
Momentarily, he noticed an old woman, in her later seventies, sitting with her arms crossed on a bench in a corner of the front yard. He took one more drag from his cigarette and started walking towards her.
As he drew closer, he noticed her blank expression. It’s as if she had nothing left to mull over in this world. Walter had nothing in mind to start.
“How are you feeling?” he murmured.
She turned facing him.
“I just lost my son, and my grandchild is on a hospital bed, for Christ’s sake. How do you expect me to feel?” her tone raised as she spoke. She realized it.
“I... I’m sorry,” she said, letting out a sigh. “Just can’t seem to hold myself.”
“It’s OK, I understand,” Walter added quickly and offered her a smoke.
“No, thanks,” she said.
An awkward moment elapsed.
“Fuck it, I think I could use a drag,” she said, pointing two fingers toward him.
Walter was taken aback, but he understood the situation quite well. He removed his cigarette from his mouth and handed it over to her. She took a drag from it slowly and exhaled a plume of smoke. Then she started coughing.
“What?” she exclaimed.
They both roared in laughter.
“I could drop you off home on my way,” Walter added. She nodded at the request.
She opened her eyes slowly to a blurry white background. When the image came into focus, she noticed the boring off-white walls of a spacious little room. Saline kept flowing into her right hand through an infusion pump. The bed felt soft and tenderly caressed the bends and edges of her body that were hurting before. Her eyes darted across the room, noticing a single painting hanging by the window. The canvas bore a forest meeting a grassland, meticulously painted. The sunlight grazing the grass perfectly faded into the darkness blanketing the forest. It felt so real that for a moment she felt herself in the landscape.
“Which side would you choose?”
She suddenly bobbed her head around and realized her complete oblivion to the person who was sitting next to her.
He wore a handsome jet-black tweed coat, complete with a polished pair of pointed shoes. One leg lay horizontal over the other. A light stubble on his face revealed his sharp facial features. Brown hair, neatly combed and a pair of black framed glasses.
“Oh, er, hey... didn’t notice you were there.” She tried mouthing the words and realized that her voice has gone sour.
He raised his hand slowly. “That’s alright. You don’t have to worry. Just try to relax while I’ll do the talking.” Each word that came out of his mouth kept lightening her heart. It was beating normally. She didn’t feel it pounding faster anymore.
And his smile that was carved out nicely from his face eased her more.
“I’m here to help you, Grace,” he continued. “You and your grandmoth—“
“Oh my god, is she here? Where is she? I need to speak to her.” Grace’s restlessness took the better of her as she tried to get off the bed despite all the medical wires plugged into her.
The man lay a hand on her arm. Grace stopped struggling. She was electrocuted by the tender touch. Her cold body started warming again.
“It’s alright. She’s with us and she knows everything that happened. I will let you speak to her, but I want you to calm down right now,” the man whispered.
“But, I...” Grace insisted softly.
“I understand your concern, Grace. But you need to relax. In fact...” he got up and strode across the room towards a desk drawer and collected a letter from the table and handed it over to Grace.
Her eyes narrowed in curiosity as she slowly opened the letter with her stiff fingers, and then her eyes opened widely as she read the salutation. The handwriting was unmistaken to her.
“It’s my mom!” she exclaimed and faced the man. He nodded in response.
She started reading the letter to herself. The man registered a hint of excitement in her face as she read. Her mouth slowly widened up and her face started regaining its colour.
“We are all keeping well dear, don’t you worry,” she finished the last sentence with a jolt of laugh.
“She has never been so emotional and kind in ages. Isn’t that amazing?” she said as a tear slid down her face. The man smiled.
“I had to go through some trouble to get that letter to you. The cops kept bothering, but I know that you should read it. I was sure it’ll make you feel better,” he said with his soft voice.
She finally brought in a radiant smile.
“Thank you, mister.”
“Oh, just call me Rudolf,” he finally introduced himself, “and you don’t have to thank me. I’m a lawyer. This is my job. I will represent you at legal matters, and I will help you whenever you need it. And now you are needing it more than ever.”
They exchanged a moment of smiles.
“Those are by your grandma. Said she pruned them by herself,” he resumed pointing towards the bouquet of flowers next to her on the table. She faced them. Her eyes twinkled. She felt like she never recalled anything. Her father’s lifeless body. The masked murderer. The gun pointed at her forehead. Everything just slipped out of her mind. For the moment, she was trying to embrace the happy moments. Her mother’s letter. Her grandma’s flowers, and then this man who is going to help her.
“I will leave you to it then, Grace,” Rudolf spoke silently. “Just keep yourself occupied with the things you adore. You’ll get better soon.”
“Yes. Thank you, and please come back soon,” she pleaded.
The man grabbed his coat from the hanger, opened the door, and was about to leave.
“In the middle,” Grace stopped him midway. He turned around.
“In the picture. You asked me which side I would choose. I choose the middle.”
Rudolf shot a glance at the portrait focusing on the spot where the forest met the grassland.
“I always want to reach for the lighter things in life, but I also feel like the dark is still following me.” She brushed her nose with a finger as she said this.
“Keep following the light Grace. Don’t stop,” Rudolf replied with a smile and left Grace to ponder over her thoughts.
The long, polished corridor on the first floor was rather quiet. Occasionally, a nurse came out from a room and patiently walked into another. Rudolf strode fast towards the end of the corridor. He hasn’t had anything for breakfast and the time on his wrist watch indicated a quarter past eleven.
He opened the doors to the cafeteria and helplessly approached the counter.
“Good day sir!” the employee barked.
“Good day. Erm, I’ll have two doughnuts and a coffee.”
“Right away, sir.”
Rudolf took a seat in a corner and rested his chin on the palm of his hand while looking out the window. His legs were crossed as usual. His calm demeanour has changed, replaced by a growing sense of restlessness. He felt that there was something wrong in his calculation.
The phone in his right pocket suddenly started buzzing and he picked it up in haste.
“It’s Dominic, boss,” a coarse voice replied.
“Reaper finished the job.”
Rudolf’s eyes automatically went to the hanging TV above the counter. A news report of another murder was rolling. The headline trailed at the bottom.
A 15-year-old found dead in the bottom of a well. Mutilated at several places.
“I see. Some progress, then.”
“Yeah. What now?”
The employee came with his order and placed it on the table beside him. He smiled in reply and waited for him to go back to the counter.
“I’m hungry. Give me a sec.”
The doughnuts were finished off in few minutes and then he took few gulps from the warm coffee.
“Alright. Get everyone tonight. We need to talk. Same venue.”
“What happened with Mitch?”
Another sip from the coffee and his lips curled.
“He fucked up.”
“He was religious, boss. I didn’t think for a second that he would get things straightened up”
“Maybe you should have told me about it before he fucked it up.”
With that, Rudolf stood up and walked outside the back door and into a short alleyway at the back of the hospital. A massive garbage dump stood nearby.
“Why the fuck would he wear a Shrek mask?” Dominic continued.
“I don’t know. Guess I have to go ask his fucking dead body.”
Rudolf heard Dominic’s soft grunt over the phone.
“Moving on. Keep things settled downtown. I’ll take care of the girl.”
“How’s she doing?”
Rudolf snatched a letter out of his pocket. The letter from Grace’s mother. He held the phone tucked between his cheek and shoulder while grabbing a lighter from the other pocket.
“I’m her daddy, now. After we finish business here, I’ll get rid of her.”
He sparked the lighter into life and watched as the letter started crackling in the fire and slowly burning into soft ash over the garbage dump.