Rain drenched both the wicked and the innocent. Humidity fogged up glasses and windshields. The air weighed heavy with the makings of a potential tornado.
Humans burrowed in their homes, occasionally daring to peek out to check the storm’s progress. The rats driven out of their hiding niches by the pouring rains, scurried in the shadows. Even the fish, swam to the depths of the ocean, hibernating until the worst of the storm passed.
It was a night best spent indoors.
For Caleb Hunter, there was a most desperate crisis that could not wait for a starry night or dry weather.
Clearly having no other option, he started his evening with a glib lie to his wife.
Caleb leaned against the archway of the powder room and watched his wife shave her slender legs. Watching her deft fingers slide the razor over one silky calf, his pulse quickened. This had always been one of his guilty pleasures. Caleb resisted an urge to reach out and let Sara know the ways it inspired him to pleasure her.
Ruefully, he had to come to terms knowing that Sara seldom shaved those legs for him anymore. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t watch and dream, did it? No, it did not.
Caleb figured she must be meeting him tonight, the man who treated her the way her own husband didn’t right now. He wondered if the man realized how unique and special she was, if she inspired him in those deliciously wicked ways that her husband had enjoyed.
He reminded himself that he had to focus on his crisis. At the moment, Caleb was in no position to question Sara’s indulgences. Once he had taken care of the crisis, he wouldn’t give her a reason to share her sexy body with any other man. And he’d make damn sure her lust was reserved for him and no other.
For now, Caleb wasn’t bothered that the man she shaved her legs for might be his law partner. It might later, but now, at this moment, he had an immediate need to use his competition’s interloping one last time. He needed the lover to distract Sara so that he might be free to carry out his own deception.
Caleb chastised himself for wasting precious moments on his carnal desires; it was time to get this show on the road before the road disappeared.
“Since you won’t be home, I’m taking Brandon out for a bite to eat. Afterwards, we’ll drop by Macy’s and pick up that teddy bear he wants,” Caleb said.
“Have you looked outside? It’s a monsoon out there. Why don’t you wait until for nicer weather for your little excursion? You could take him out for lunch on Saturday before his birthday party.”
Sara slipped with the razor blade and nicked the meaty flesh just above her ankle. A trickle of blood rolled down the side of her foot, threatening to stain the commode’s cashmere white seat. She reached for a Kleenex to staunch the blood.
“That’s easy for you to say. I promised him that bear as a reward if he beat the cancer, not for his second birthday. Brandon’s been home a month. It’s time we got it for him.” Caleb slid his eyes over to watch her facial response. Since it didn’t look as if she was buying it, he decided to pull a different string.
“Here’s a thought. I’ll call your sister to babysit Brandon and then you and I will go pick up the bear together.” Caleb looked away to give his wife the opportunity to lie.
He wanted her to lie. If Sara lied, he might be able to keep the number of his own lies to just a few. He waited, sure she was thinking of her lover’s exciting demands.
“What? No, I guess you can take him. Just promise me you’ll keep him dry, will you? I’ve got my meeting.”
Caleb sidled up behind her and rubbed her shoulders as Sara arranged her hair in the mirror. The aroma of her perfume aroused him. He moved closer, unable to stop himself. He hoped the bastard appreciated his wife.
“Have I told you today how much I love you?” Caleb whispered against his wife’s ear lobe.
Sara glanced at her husband’s reflection in the mirror and blushed. Avoiding eye contact, she patted his hand. “Brandon’s illness has been difficult for all of us. We’ll be back to normal as soon as the doctor confirms that the remission’s permanent.”
“Be careful driving tonight. I would be very sad if anything happened to you just when Brandon was winning his battle,” Caleb said, nuzzling Sara’s shoulder, careful not to mess her hair.
“I might be back late so tuck Brandon in for me. Don’t forget that bedtime is at eight sharp. And please don’t feed our son pizza. Get him something healthy.” Sara got busy painting her face.
His wife was a wizard with her eye shadows and mascara. In seconds Sara went from a clean faced lovely to an exotic seductress with lashes thick and velvety. Her mastery of her lipstick wand was just as impressive. Caleb enjoyed watching her select lip liner and gloss, matching the colors with perfection.
Caleb watched, knowing Sara never wore lipstick for him anymore either. He resolved once again that after tonight, he’d show Sara more romance and hope she’d want to put on sexy red lipstick and shave those svelte legs for her husband. The bastard could move on to someone else’s wife.
With a sigh, Caleb left Sara to her preparations.
It was after nine when Caleb carried his son through the Westfield Annapolis Mall parking garage. After their pizza dinner, he had taken Brandon to the movies knowing that the movie didn’t get out until well after Sara’s instructed bedtime. Well, too bad, Sara wasn’t at home waiting for them so what could it hurt if it made the boy happy?
But now as Caleb hoofed it across the garage carrying his son, he admitted to himself he had gone against Sara’s wishes more for himself than for Brandon.
In fact, he had behaved just as selfishly the afternoon Sara brought Brandon home from the hospital. He had reassured Sara that he’d be there but that had been a lie. Caleb had planned all along to go sailing on his friend’s luxury yacht, Eternal Pleasure. The truth was he didn’t want the hassle of the whole paperwork ordeal at the hospital.
Yes, selfishness had always been his nemesis.
But nothing reminded him more of his selfishness and that damned pact than the Beemer. Even now, the closer Caleb got to the cherry red BMW temptress, the heavier his thoughts of the pact became. While he’d never regret the part involving his son’s recovery, he yearned to take back the piece that satisfied his own greedy demands.
Of course, he didn’t consider himself to be greedy when he snatched up the Beemer and other man toys. He had convinced himself they were status symbols that gave him the sexiness and power status that was required in his profession. But by doing so, he had screwed himself.
Now, the new car smell gave him a hard-on, reminding him that he was a weak man who lied to everyone. That damn Beemer had become his scarlet letter and those demands of his haunted him every day.
But enough of that, he was wasting time again when he should be actively seeking resolution. If he didn’t get ahead of this, they’d sure as hell come looking for him.
Caleb opened the back door of the BMW and put Brandon into his car seat. His son allowed him to fasten the straps without a word. He sighed as he gazed at Brandon, wishing he could climb in next to him and just spend the night playing whatever game made him laugh. Brandon was such a good son. Caleb knew he didn’t deserve him.
“Are you ready for your surprise?” Caleb kissed his son’s head.
Brandon’s cherub face shined with excitement. He bounced in his seat, squealing and clapping his hands.
“Cover your eyes and no peeking.” As Caleb waited until Brandon had both hands over his eyes, he soaked in the vision of Brandon’s pudgy cheeks and silky blond hair. When it came to saving his son, that part of the pact was worth every demand they made of him and more. No, he had no regrets there.
Caleb tiptoed to the rear of the car and retrieved the bear from the trunk. Then he positioned himself in front of the open passenger door and held the bear out as if it were dancing in his hands.
“Hey Brandon, look what I found.”
“Teddy!” Brandon grabbed the bear and clutched it to his heart.
The grin on his son’s face tore at his heart strings. It was hard to believe this was the same son who had screamed during every prodding of his insides and whimpered every time the nurse had to test his blood.
“Daddy has to call somebody, sweetie. See the phone booth?” Caleb pointed to a nearby phone booth but Brandon was busy smoothing every inch of the bear, and kissing the bear’s nose like his mother kissed his when she tucked him in at night. Caleb watched a second more before he closed the door and left Brandon alone with his bear.
It was time to place the call. Caleb walked over to the phone booth, put in his quarters and punched in those dreaded digits. The phone rang and rang on the other end. Caleb was a second from hanging up when the call was answered.
It hadn’t been an easy call. Begging had never come easy for him. Not at home. Not in court. Not ever. But Caleb mustered up his courage and charged in with his most persuasive promises. Even though he got the impression he might be wasting his time, he secured a meeting. He hoped the meeting might give him a chance to at least be done with this part of his hell even though his intuition told him it wasn’t going to get easier, not for a long time.
Once he expressed appreciation for the appointment, he hung up the phone and headed back to his car. He had hoped Brandon might still be awake and want to play for a few minutes but was disappointed to find his son had fallen fast asleep. So he climbed in the driver’s seat, adjusted the mirrors and made the long drive to downtown Annapolis.
That’s when the rain deluge began in earnest.
As Caleb drove through the bar and pub district of historic Annapolis, he noticed that the streets were void of cars. It appeared that even the heartiest of pub crawlers had the good sense to find shelter from the pouring rain and ear splitting thunder bolts. He wished he had been able to afford some of that good sense.
The sky lit up with a series of lightning strikes as he steered the Beemer down a side street overlooking the marina. When he reached the agreed upon meeting spot, he slipped the car into park and left it idling. For a few minutes, he listened as the awnings of the nearby store fronts shuddered against strain of the howling, fierce winds. He hoped the meeting didn’t take too long. Sara was right. He shouldn’t have taken Brandon out in this monsoon.
As he glanced around, Caleb lamented to himself that he and his son were alone. When he had set out for the meeting, he believed that the usual bar hoppers and tourists would be meandering through the streets in spite of the weather. Security in numbers, he had thought. Now there was none. He fretted that his decision to ask for the meeting was ill-fated. For a few moments he allowed himself to muse over leaving but perceived that the potential repercussions would be harsh if not disastrous.
Caleb glanced at his gold Rolex. He’d be there any minute. Uneasiness poked at his mind. Influential people touted him as one of the most thrilling, game changing defense attorneys on the East Coast but this was a different role for him. More was at stake for him since it was his life he was defending.
Caleb agonized over whether he might be able to make a convincing case for redemption. He ran down his list of options looking for the most convincing ways to express contriteness in terms of body language. Then he considered the importance of his chosen words. It was important that he present himself as expressive and sincere; and not be caught in the act of faking it. But even if Caleb was able to orchestrate the perfect performance, realistically was there even the possibility of a second chance? He wasn’t sure.
He practiced his rational in his head. Yes, he had not fulfilled his contract, but he was amenable to any path to rectify that failure. Of course he was more than willing to make whatever offering was required to show his commitment. He was apologetic that his failures had put him in his position, requiring they meet under such horrendous conditions. And he appreciated any opportunity to prove he was going to change. Yes, that sounded convincing. He’d be sincere and contrite.
And if he was successful, he hoped to be forgiven or at the most, chastised for his failures. He could deal with any punishment given if it bought him more time with his son and wife.
Consumed with creating the perfect performance, Caleb failed to notice the dark figure that materialized from a recessed alleyway a block away. Nor did he see that the figure crept closer, masked by the shadows. And he wasn’t even aware of the figure when it snuck right up to the rear of his Beemer.
A lightning bolt knifed through the swollen sky, illuminating the street for a brief instant. Consumed with practicing his speech, Caleb didn’t see that the figure was a man or that he was now staring into the back seat window of the BMW.
Inside the car, Caleb took a break from rehearsing his speech to reach over into the back seat and double check that Brandon’s car seat straps were secure. The boy was sound asleep. He hoped he’d stay that way until they returned home. For a moment, he held the back of his hand against his son’s forehead to check his temperature. Satisfied, that all was still well, he picked the new teddy bear off the car floor and tucked the bear under Brandon’s arm.
A noise outside the car caught Caleb’s attention. Unable to see through the fogged up windows, he pressed the automatic window button on his door until his window slid down inside the door. Cupping his hand over his eyes, he squinted, but the rain prevented him from seeing much beyond a foot or so. Once he accepted that he’d never be able to see through the downpour, he put his finger back on the button, intending to close the window.
In that instant, the mystery man’s head filled his window.
Caleb yelped and drew back.
With a thick finger to his lips, the mystery man shushed him.
Wide-eyed, Caleb couldn’t take his eyes off the man. His head was enormous. His eyelids were thick and hooded. Pock marks smudged his cheeks. A series of names went through his mind, he refused each one. Who is he?
And then a smirk twisted the man’s lips. Oh no. As Caleb realized just who had come to meet him, grim recognition darkened the irises of his eyes. Why did it have to be him? Against hope, he attempted to feign surprise and not let on just how terrified he had become.
“I... I... I wasn’t expecting you. I thought Ivanovitch would come.” Caleb jutted his chin out as if he was confident but his voice betrayed him, it cracked.
“Nobody expects me.” Rain trailed the crevices of the mystery man’s face as if they were rivers dark with doom.
“I wanted to discuss our options—”
Without a word, the man reached inside the car and yanked Caleb’s left arm out the window. With his free hand, he whipped out a steel pruner with razor sharp blades. In a surreal second, Caleb noticed the rain drops dancing on the blades. It was interesting, he thought.
Then with a surgeon’s skill, in one decisive movement, the man snapped off Caleb’s left thumb and slipped it into his coat pocket. He shoved Caleb’s bleeding hand back at him.
“What are you doing? I wanted to make things right. Oh—how will I explain that to my wife?” Caleb blubbered. He stared at the hole in his hand as the blood spurted.
“Let me solve that problem for you.” With a symphonic elegance, the man swiped a scarlet glob across Caleb’s cheek.
“You don’t understand. My boy, he nearly died last month. He can’t lose his father now.”
“Don’t whine to me about your son. You shouldn’t have brought the kid here. The only reason you brought him was because you thought Mr. Ivanovitch would have to have sympathy for you. You never bring him anywhere. I know you chose to go sailing over his needs. Yes, I know everything.”
Caleb trembled. How much did they know? Were they watching him? Could he have underestimated them so greatly?
But there was no time for questions. His limbs became dead pieces of flesh, his joints locked into place. Then, just under the surface of the flesh near the fatty part of his cheek, he felt a squirming sensation. And then something else near his lower lip bit him – from inside his face.
He threw the paralysis off to swipe at his cheek with his bare hands but it was useless. He felt himself being eaten from the inside out. His eyes widened with fear and darted from one thing to another in the car, looking for a solution, something that might end the unbearable pain and stop the inevitable.
The center console, it had to contain something. He ripped it open, throwing sunglasses, maps and change to the passenger seat’s floor. At the bottom, he grabbed an unopened package of Pampers baby wipes. He wrenched the cellophane open, ripping it apart with his teeth.
Caleb glanced up at his reflection in the rear view mirror. He saw that his face was distorting. Massive lumps of squirming things jabbed against his skin, as if to rip his flesh from his bones. Yellow globs of something dripped from his nose. He swatted at the globs, flinging them at the Beemer’s stereo.
He scrubbed at his face with the baby wipes, tearing off chunks of skin. The moving lumps migrated to the torn openings in his flesh. A thin, squirming thing popped out of the corner of his eye and slithered across his cheek.
Caleb struggled to mute his screams. In a final effort to protect his son, he glanced a final time at his sleeping child, and then threw his car door open. With horror, he watched himself ooze out onto the street pavement. He jammed his fist into his mouth to muffle his screams.
He attempted to reach up to close the door, but the bones of Caleb’s arm separated and came crashing to the pavement before his eyes. Sinew hung from his shoulder with bubbles of fat.
In the back seat of the Beemer, Brandon stirred. With his fists, he rubbed his eyes and yawned.
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