“Another Victim…”, by Jasper Zhao
Icy water laps against the concrete shore, unseen in the darkness. This far out, the city lights are just a rainbow of sparkles against the night sky. Here, under the abandoned highway overpass, not even the moonlight reaches. Here, darkness shrouds everything. Everything except the body floating in the river.
“What did I say, Popescue?” I’d say I was angry, but I don’t get angry. I’m way too old for that. Irritation is the closest to what I’m feeling, I’d say.
Back over by the car, I hear Popescue’s feet shuffle before he speaks. “I’m tellin’ ya, Dutch. It ain’t me.”
It ain’t me.
I pan my flashlight over the body as it bobs in the soft current, held in place by some weight tied to the rope around the waist. White cloth clings tightly to the face. Delicate features. A dame. Even in the dim light, through the threads of the fabric I see what most people can’t: the bruising to her left cheek.
My irritation flickers up a notch. “Who was she?”
A cricket chirps in the dead grasses behind me and a copter clop-clops through the air miles off in the distance. It takes him a second to realize I was not being rhetorical.
“What? I said it wasn’t me.” His shoes crunch as he paces over to stand next to me. “ I have no idea who this chick is.”
“Damn it, we’re supposed to be the damn Feds. You know what that means?”
His silence is his reply.
I shake my head. “It means we have to be careful.”
Behind me, the car’s headlights blaze against the concrete support beam for the overpass. The gray surface was long-since confiscated as part of the graffiti bulletin board of the undesirables that frequent this area.
I point at the painted support. “You see those tags?”
His head snaps over and looks where I’m pointing, then back to me. His movements are jerky. He’s nervous. He should be.
“What, that trash from the local delinquents?”
I chuckle, but I feel the muscles tighten in my hand. He has no idea. “Those delinquents are the ones who told me about this young woman. More than a dozen of them have seen her.”
He scoffs. “So? Who’s going to believe a few punks. Besides, I said it wasn’t me. I ain’t had none outside The Plan.”
The Plan. My plan. My plan for staying alive, for keeping him alive.
After my second attempt to domesticate someone else like me, I came up with The Plan, a path, a regimen to stick to in the hopes of getting them under control. Twice before that plan failed. I’d really thought I’d gotten it right this time. Guess not.
Popescue’s words touch on something in the back of my mind. A feeling. Mentally, I smoothe that feeling back down.
He still doesn’t get it. I keep my gaze on the girl in the water. “Alice Sanchez.”
“Marie Karjala. Sue Eze.”
He takes a step back. “You… You knew, Dutch?”
Always underestimating me. “Of course I knew.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
I let out a deep sigh as that feeling creeps back into me. I know if I let it out, I’ll regret it later. It always makes me feel… less. “I don’t know. Maybe I was soft. Maybe I thought you’d come out of it and stick to The Plan.”
“This… This isn’t like that. This wasn’t me. I swear.” Popescue backs up and bumps into the car, making the shocks squeak ever so softly.
When I open my mouth to speak again, there’s venom in my voice. “You swear? Like you swore to Alice that you were a good guy when you picked her up at that college bar? Like you swore to Marie that she was safe when you fended off those muggers?”
His heart is pounding in his chest, it’s rhythmic thump-thump, thump-thump, like prey that knows it’s caught, like a drug to that feeling I’m trying so damn hard to keep under control.
“Dutch, c’mon. I swear.”
“Bring her here.” I growl.
“What? Why? I mean, she’s dead.”
“So we can clean up your mess.”
“I said she’s not mine!” he screams.
I let the light tilt to the ground and straighten my stance. He knows better than this. It takes him a few seconds, but he does it. He peels off his shoes and jacket and slides into the water. He dives down and comes back up with a cement block with a rope tied around it.
It takes him a good five minutes to move the block over to the shore and get it up onto the concrete where I’m standing. He reels the body in with the rope and plops it down between us. Finally, he’s standing there, dripping. His chest is heaving from the effort. “Damn that block is heavy.”
I should have known better. I’ve caught him in too many lies, I should have known better. After all these years, you’d think I’d stop trying to teach them. But these young bloods just never understand what it takes to survive. But as that feeling boils, struggling to be let out, I do understand.
So I let it out.
For most people, as they get older, they grow a little weaker, a little slower. I’m not like that. I’m not slow.
Between the space of two heartbeats, my hand is around his throat. His eyes go wide with horror a split second before I snarl and twist. His neck snaps.
Too bad, kid.
His arms and legs go limp and I toss him into the river. He’ll float downstream a few miles before he’s found. Cops’ll ask questions, then the director will ask more questions. I’ll have to have my story straight… That Popescue had asked me to meet him here, something about a tip from an anonymous informant. But when I got here, he never showed. Must have already been killed. Yeah, that’ll work.
Crouching down next to the dead dame, I pull down the sheet. Her skin is a pale blue and her eyes are closed. And just as I thought, there’s a massive bruise on the side of her face. As I look at her, I can see something’s off though. Her face isn’t quite even. Under the bruise, her cheek is sunken in a little. Whatever hit her, crushed her cheek bone.
I check her neck. Soft and cold, but unmarred. I glance back at Popescue’s corpse. His dead eyes stare at me.
She wasn’t his.