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Running. Heart pounding out of his chest. Running. Frantically looking behind his blood-stained shoulder. Running. Panting, his life slowly escaping his grasp. Then the bullet found its mark, just as it always did. The pain didn’t register until he was on the ground, consciousness fleeting from his body. He glanced towards the bullet hole, blood gushing from his jugular. He had been warned not to go through East Harlem so late at night; he was just the messenger for the project. Why should he have to

“Honey, it’s time for dinner!” interrupted a high pitched voice. Jonny Martin Brask, recently unemployed 38-year-old author and substitute teacher, grunted, concluded his paragraph with Die?, stood up and took the steps out of his cramped, stuffy office. He held the railing, huffing up the stairs, a dying man attempting to overcome a steep mountain slope. “Must you over dramatize everything?” asked his wife, Laura, now standing at the top of the stairway, her hands on her hips, her foot impatiently tapping, just like usual. She wore an apron, her hair tied back in a bun, a pair of dirty sweatpants and a Maryland t-shirt, stained with red sauce and oil; and yet she was radiant. Jonny couldn’t help but stop and smile as he rediscovered this beauty, just as he did every time he emerged from his fantasy world of writing.

He finished with this moment of admiration, ran up the stairs, took her in his arms, went into a dip and kissed her with all his strength. His glasses fell off, not making enough noise to distract him from his love. He retreated from the dip, but her arms remained on his shoulders. She laughed, and so he laughed, and they fell in love again; just as they always did. It was a day like any other, filled with love and writing; and a surprise.

She had made his favorite meal tonight; pumpkin ravioli in a creamy red sauce, with her secret ingredient (which was not really a secret anymore; Jonny knew she put a touch of white wine in the sauce, and yet he would never tell). This dish with a side of perfectly crisp garlic bread and an oil and herb dipping sauce brought the meal to perfection. They had known each other since 7th grade, not dated until 11th and were engaged at the graduation ceremony at Maryland College. They loved each other unconditionally, and Laura knew just what he wanted. But he was suspicious. The last time she made him this dinner was the night before he was forced to go to Laura’s parents’ vow renewal. Now he knew there was a surprise; but exactly what he could not place his finger on.

“So you want to talk about something, my dear?” He said, trying to break out the surprise.

“Why would you think that? You authors and your assumptions!” Laura said beginning to laugh. Jonny did not partake. He instead held her hands, enclosing them with his own.

“You made the ravioli, sweetheart. The ravioli means something.” He said calmly. She laughed, sending shivers of adoration down his spine. She began to laugh intensely, until she was crying, holding his hands like her life depended on it. She broke down, like a mother crying for a lost child. She looked up at her husband, tears still rolling down her beautiful face. She rubbed her stomach.

“No!” he exclaimed, standing up from the table, a new excitement overwhelming him. She nodded her head, unable to utter a word through the tears. He wiped them away, still holding her hands like a protective shell. “Don’t be sad, my love. We can handle this together, man and wife; mother and father.” He said, kneeling on the cold, tiled kitchen floor. She looked up, now wiping away her own tears, letting go of his hands. He let them fall to the ground, now supporting his own weight. “You’re not the father,” she uttered under her breath, trying to calm herself down. He looked puzzled. “I said it’s not your son! I cheated! I slept with another man! And now I’m having his child!” she yelled, running out of the house through the glass sliding doors, not even looking back to reassure she would return.

So he did the only thing he knew to do in his times of trouble; he melted down the stairs, his body liquid, drooping and uncontrolled. He came to his laptop, his life, his meaning, and he began to type.

Betrayed. He knew the project managers had betrayed him, gone to another company. From the second the bullet impacted, to the second before he lost consciousness for the last time, he could only feel hatred. He knew the risks he was taking. He knew that his death was possible, even likely. But he did it all for his wife, knowing full well what he had to do. The managers had paid him the big bucks; he had done what he was told to do, followed their instructions. But he had decided to go against what the world wanted. He had a routine, a way he lived his life. But he threw it all away for the opportunity at a new life for he and his wife. His beautiful, beautiful wife.

These were his last thoughts, not even recognizing the pain, but rather recollecting his memories. Selena, his wife, had such a strong phsycological connection with him that she could tell when he died. A part of her died that day, too, still not knowing fully what he had emersed himself into. She sat alone in her enormous dwelling place, within the mansion that Clyde had bought with the money from his secretive operations. He had never told Selena any of the specifics, but she knew he was tangled up in some messy bussiness. She realized the risks he was taking, begging him to stop constantly. He would not listen; she convinced herself that these discrete operations were necessary for her husband. Clyde had the habit of needing to feel needed.

She did not cry that night, not physically. She had been preparing for this day for a long time, knowing that perfection could only last so long. She had a plan; she always did. It was their routine; he was a man of action, she concise in her planning and decision making. They were a perfect fit. But a catastrophe was inevitable; something always went wrong. So she executed her precise plan, commencing with a phone call to her ex-boyfriend, Sarge, of the Marine Corps.
“Sel Bell? Is that you? I knew you’d come back to me!” He used her nickname, trying to endear her, remind her of the old times.
“I’m not coming back to you, Sarge. Clyde is dead. Don’t be excited; he was murdered.” She said; his cheering on the other side of the phone call suggested that he had ignored her scorn.
“So you came to me, realizing your surpressed feelings?” He suggested, again trying to lure her into his trap.
“Yes, actually. My feelings of annoyance. You still owe me one, Sarge. Your birthday, the year we began dating. Remember?” She said, avoiding his trap, at the same time entrapping him in her clutches.
“Yeah, I remember. Let me guess; track down his killer and get rid of him?” He uttered, dissapointed at her request.
“You’re smarter than you look.” She said, then the line went dead, leaving the dial tone ringing in Sarge’s ear.
“Thanks. I think,” he uttered to no one, hanging up the telephone, the newest model of its kind. He turned to the shady figure behind him, then to the body laying in the corner. Sarge gulped, his adam’s apple bouncing in his beefy neck.
“What are we gonna do with Clyde?” he asked his new boss, terrified of this lanky man that held his life in his hands.
“Dump him in the river, quick and easy,” uttered the man with a guttural voice, startling Sarge. “How’d the call go with your old friend?”
“Very well,” he lied. “She wants me to hunt down his murderers,” he told them honestly, gesturing toward the body on the bed in the darkest segment of the room. The project managers laughed a hearty laugh, then their boss, a distinguished man, dressed in black tie clothing, an eyeglass and a bejeweled cane, concluded his laughter, and all sound abruptly ceased. “She must think her husband was betrayed. But he was not. He deserved what he received.”

Jonny broke down, now understanding that he and Clyde had become one. The author convinced himself that he deserved what he had received. His wife had left, all love had fled, she had betrayed him. Maybe he deserved it. Mabe he was so obssessed with his fantasy life that he had failed to pay enough attention to reality. He though that everything was perfect, yet perfection was farther out of his reach than it had ever been before. Their life was the essence of imperfection.
He came to a sudden realization that the only solution was to find the man who had impregnated his wife. What Jonny wanted to do was kill this unknown man. But he knew that was the wrong answer to his problems. Maybe his fantasy life could solve it. Maybe the answer was hidden deep inside his mind. He looked to the laptop. His wife had cheated on him because he was cheating on her; however it was not with another woman he cheated. It was with his story.
Sarge swiveled in his chair to face the boss. He too had abruptly gone quiet, always doing what he was told. He migh not have understood most things, especially others feelings andeven his own actions, but he was just fine with social ques. With a nod of his head, the boss ordered Sarge to take out the corpse of Clyde Halwen. The managers began to laugh as Sarge left the dimly lit garage with the rusty door and ancient tools; he laughed like the dimwit he was, not understanding why they were laughing or the fact they were laughing at him.
It was a short walk to the river, however Sarge took his sweet time. He had waited a long time to confront Clyde. Whether he was alive or not, Clyde still needed to hear what Sarge had to say.
“You stole her from me. She was my flower. My life. And I know I didn’t treat her all that good. But in my heart I really loved her. But I haven’t been brought up with love, ya know? It’s never been easy with a drinking daddy and a crazy old mama. And somehow I found love. In Selena. Beautiful, radiant Selena. But she hath betrayed me for you, Brutus.” He placed an old nickname in his speech. A tear, his first since Selena had left for Clyde, slid down his cheek. Before it hit the ground, he had a sharp pain in his stomach.
“I didn’t mean to steal her. We fell in love. Deal with it.” Clyde had punched the now unconscious Sarge in the stomach, now stretching from his long time under the medicinal coma of the chemical Selena had given him just two days earlier. “It’s been a long two days,” he said aloud, and began walking in the direction he came. He was going to kill the men that had betrayed him. Finally, our hero had a plan.





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