They were sitting at a café. She pretended to drink her coffee and he pretended he didn’t notice. The had exchanged just pleasantries earlier, before they sat down and now, the air was becoming heavy between them. No animosity but the fact they hadn’t seen each other in almost a decade must have been a factor. She broke the silence.
“So, what is new with you?”
“You know, nothing new.”
She shifted her weight in the chair.
“Really? I haven’t seen you in 11 years and nothing is new.”
He smiled, timidly.
“I guess I got older and wiser.”
She took a sip of her coffee.
“Hard to argue with that.”
He was staring at her, trying to be discreet but failing miserably.
“I have a son” and then took a sip of coffee so he could stare at his beverage instead of her.
“Congratulations! How old is he?”
He smiled again and showed her the screensaver on his phone. As she grabbed the phone, their fingers touched, and she felt a rush through her heart which almost made her drop the phone.
“He is so cute. He has your eyes.”
He laughed and her heart skipped a beat. He was still charming, and that laughter made him irresistible, much to her dismay. That laughter had a magical feel. She remembered seeing people trust him right after meeting him because of that smile. People would tell him their life stories, out of the blue, almost unconditional trust. His charm had never lost a beat, perhaps it became even more intense with age.
“You were never a good liar! My boy has his mother’s eyes, chin, nose. I argue he has my hair, but no one believes me. I guess he just got my stubbornness.”
She gave him back the phone and made sure their fingers didn’t touch this time.
He rubbed the back of his neck as he always did when he was nervous. “Yes, a bit, not too much.”
“You don’t have to explain yourself to me.”
“I wasn’t. Just answering your question.”
She stared at him as he was looking at his phone and smiling at his screensaver. Perhaps fatherhood had made him warmer and calmer.
“How is his mother?”
“She is fine.”
“I noticed you weren’t wearing a wedding ring, that is why I didn’t say “wife”, you know.”
The smile disappeared in half a second. She saw him grinding his teeth out of frustration.
“I had forgotten about your powers of deduction and how much you love flaunting them.” He took a deep breath and exhaled. “Yes, we have separated for 18 months now, waiting for the divorce to be finalized.”
“I am sorry.”
“Nothing to be sorry about. It isn’t your fault.”
“Is it yours?”
He looked her deep in the eyes and she tried to read his face. She couldn’t decode that armor he had just put on to protect himself as he had always done in the past.
“Yes, it was my fault. Partly.”
“Well, that is a first.”
“What do you mean?”
“You are taking responsibility for your actions. Partly, of course.”
“I told you some things have changed.”
She was curious and decided to go for it. She would deal with the aftermath in due time.
“How much have you changed?”
“Why do you care?”, he said as he tilted his head on the side, exhibiting curiosity at her question. There was no warmth in his voice or his demeanor. She answered confidently, the way someone does when they feel no guilt whatsoever.
“I am just curious. I haven’t seen you in a while and I do see that you have changed, and I was just wondering the extent of this metamorphosis, so to speak.”
“Just know that I have changed.”
“Did I strike a nerve?”
“You are looking for information that is of no use or interest to you. So, this feels like a game I don’t want to play.”
“Don’t get defensive, ok?”
He leaned forward, so he could speak directly to her, without sharing their conversation with the whole café.
“I have barely asked you any questions since you got here. I haven’t asked anything about you, your husband, your job, etc. Yet, here you are, sitting comfortably, asking me penetrative questions and you are acting surprised I am getting defensive? You are damn right I am getting defensive. I am feeling uncomfortable. You are sitting on your seat, feeling all high and mighty, asking questions so you can assess how much I have changed. What is this? An audition? Why do you care if I have changed or not?”
She leaned forward as well, and their faces were half a meter away from each other.
“You asked to see me, remember? Plus, you know how I function. Asking questions is what I do best and often.”
“No, Liz. You just ask questions. Don’t go believing they are amazing questions, full of depth. They are not! Your questions are just damn nosy, that is all!”
She sat back, exasperated and folded her arms.
“Listen, just don’t answer the damn questions if you don’t want to, ok? Stop getting defensive for crying out loud! You claim you have changed yet a few questions bring the old you back. I can still see the angry, short-tempered little boy that you were and probably have always been.”
As she said that last part, she realized she had gone too far and instinctively she put her right hand over her mouth, but it was too late. “Little boy” was the phrase his dad uttered before punishing him when he was little, and he hated that God-forsaken nickname. Pat’s sister had told Liz that story a lifetime ago and now she had used it yet again to hurt him. Shame started creeping into her body and she looked to meet his eyes, so she could apologize but it was too late.
He just sat back and exhaled, letting out all the air in this body. Suddenly, he looked tired. He wasn’t exasperated or angry, he was just powerless, and he couldn’t fight anymore. Finally, he looked her dead in the eyes and her shame increased exponentially and she looked down.
“Why do you do this? Why do you say things like these? Do you enjoy this?”
She opened her mouth to say something, but nothing came out.
“You haven’t forgiven me for the past, have you Liz?”
“I have forgiven you.”
“Well, then I guess forgiving and forgetting aren’t the same thing.”
“No, they are not.”
They sat there, silently. They were both drinking their coffee and looking outside. She broke the silence by sitting up.
“I wanted to love you more. I did love you like a crazy chick, but you wouldn’t let me in. You ran away, like a coward.”
He let out an exasperated sigh. He wasn’t ready for another fight with an ex girlfriend he hadn’t seen in a decade.
“Goddamn it! What do you want from me? I told you. I was young, I wasn’t ready. I felt like you were trying to make me into someone that I am not. And you always wanted me to open my heart and talk to you! What does that mean anyway? I don’t do that. I don’t talk about myself. That isn’t me.”
He sat back, feeling all the weight of the world on his shoulders. He let out an even bigger sigh while closing his eyes. He felt his blood pressure rise but breathed slowly to try and manage the stress. He knew this wasn’t going to end well.
“And you couldn’t say that?”, she answered, visibly irritated. He leaned forward and spoke while grinding his teeth.
“You think it’s that easy to talk to you? Who are you kidding? You think you are always open for discussion?”
She looked taken aback by his statement. She got even angrier.
“Yes, I am always open for discussion, you know that. I told you countless times. If you need me, I am here! You need to talk, I am here. I repeated that day and night!”
“Well, I don’t talk about myself.”
“See? You run out of justifications and you just start repeating “I don’t talk about myself”. You are always so fucking guarded, afraid of showing any type of emotion. How did I ever end up with you?”
He smiled. A sad smile.
“It is amazing how everything is about you. You haven’t changed one bit. But it doesn’t matter now. You broke up with me. So, what does it matter? Why are you talking about the past?”
She put her coffee on the table with her right hand as she was wiping tears from her eyes using her left hand.
“You idiot! You think I broke up with you because I didn’t love you anymore? You think I hate you today? If I did, why would I be here, crying like a silly teenage girl?”
He didn’t know what to say. He kept looking at her as she was wiping her tears away. She looked shaken and vulnerable.
“Well…” he started saying and her voice cut him off like a samurai using a katana in medieval japan.
“Well what? You think I broke up with you and things were just perfect from then on? You think I didn’t suffer? You think I am over you?”
That last statement hit him in the face like a punch. He sat up, forgot his breathing exercises and tried to find what to say.
“Hold on! You are not over me?”, he asked, visibly shaken and hopeful simultaneously.
“What does it matter, right? What does it matter today?”, she said with a sad smile and she looked down. He didn’t know what to say. Was she in love with him, still? Was that possible? What if she was? What would he do with that information? She was married yet, here she was, sharing an innocent coffee with her ex, with whom she had a rocky relationship, filled with anger, resentment, verbal abuse but never physical.
“Angel, listen…”, he said as he touched her arm that was laid on the table.
“DO NOT CALL ME THAT NAME! DON’T YOU DARE!” and a few patrons in the café turned around. She paid them no mind and kept wiping the tears away from her beautiful eyes.
“Ok…Listen, don’t get mad, please. Maybe we can talk about the past, clear some things up…Maybe clarify some misunderstandings.”
A wry chuckle that turned into a wry laugh came out of her mouth.
“Ha-ha! You haven’t changed one bit either! You hear that I might not be over you and you are ready to talk? How fucking selfish are you?”
She was right.
“What do you want me to tell you? We broke up 11 years ago. A lot of things have happened since then. I got married, so did you. And here you are, in front of me, with tears in your eyes saying that you might not be over me. What the fuck does that mean? What am I to make of this?”
“Nothing, it doesn’t matter. You haven’t changed anyway.”
She looked him in the eyes. He felt she was seeing through him and into his soul. Instinctively, he looked outside, he tried to avoid her gaze, as he always did when his feelings attempted to come to the surface.
“I have changed, trust me”, he muttered under his breath, in a melancholic voice. He felt tears coming out, but he did his best to keep them inside. She caught that and couldn’t believe that he might be vulnerable. He was clenching his fists to calm himself, open and close, repeatedly, as he had learned in therapy. The breathing techniques helped even more. His temperament had evolved a lot in the past decade, for the better. He knew he was a better man, but he didn’t feel like advertising his positive change.
“How have you changed? You look like the same arrogant young guy I fell for more than a decade ago.”
He smiled and couldn’t help but laugh.
“Life happened dear. A lot has happened to me. You wouldn’t understand.”
She got up and threw one last dismissive look.
“You are right. I wouldn’t understand. Bye.”
She got up and left him there. Suddenly, he was alone. He paid for the coffees and left. He went to his apartment and locked himself inside. There were three locks on the door. One could argue he was afraid someone might break in and steal but Pat had just the bare minimum in his apartment. The thieves wouldn’t get much if they ever got in.
He locked himself inside on purpose, as if he was trying to imprison this beast in him, the kind that wouldn’t get along with the outside world. It also helped him to manage his anxiety.
His apartment looked like a simplified army barrack. There was a bed, a kitchen table with one chair and his laptop. He had no other furniture. His pending divorce didn’t leave him with much since he had moved from the house he shared with his soon to be ex-wife. Thankfully, he was a minimalist at heart and stuff bothered him more than anything else. He took off his jacket and went to his bedroom. He collapsed on his bed and stared at the ceiling for what appeared to be an eternity. Suddenly, his heart rate started going up and he felt an anxiety attack coming. He ran to the bathroom and threw up in the toilet bowl. Frantically, he got up, opened the medicine cabinet, took some pills and swallowed them nervously. He splashed some water on his face and looked at himself in the mirror.
“If only she knew…”, he said out loud.
Liz walked into Naomi’s apartment in a hurry. Naomi could only get out the way to let her through. Liz threw her bag on the sofa and went directly to the balcony. By the time Naomi closed the door and joined Liz on the balcony, she was halfway through her cigarette.
“Rough night?”, Naomi asked.
Naomi doubted that but she played along.
“You met with him?”
Liz threw the cigarette on the floor and stepped on it. Naomi let out a scream of disapproval.
“What is wrong with you?”, Naomi asked.
Liz lit another cigarette, took a long drag and stared into the night, as if she was alone on that balcony.
“Liz, are you going to say something or am I invisible to you?”, asked again Naomi, while her voice was rising from the irritation of being ignored.
“I saw him”, Liz finally answered.
“How is he? What’s he like now? How does he look after 12 years?”
Questions came out as fast as lightning. Naomi talked fast when she was excited. Liz took another drag and the nicotine seemed to calm her down.
“He is ok. He is still the same. He is still handsome, and he’s lost a lot of weight. He hasn’t lost one hair on his head and that damn charisma is still on him like white on rice. But he is different.”
“How so?”, asked Naomi. Liz couldn’t find the right words to explain what was different about Nick.
“He looks…wise, calm, strong, humble.”
Liz hated when Naomi did that. She wanted Liz to ask her what she thought, and Liz couldn’t help but fall into the trap.
“You still have feelings for him…”
Liz protested vehemently.
“I am a married woman, ok?”
“Well, married woman” said Naomi with a smile “the right answer should have been, “No, I do not have any feelings for him”. It is that simple sweetie.”
Liz tried to protest even harder and she wanted to sound genuine. Naomi had hit a nerve and Liz wanted to play it cool.
“Ok…No, I don’t have feelings for him”
Naomi chuckled like someone who just heard a dirty joke.
“Too late, sweetie.”
“I cannot win with you. If I say something, you always twist it.”
“Ok, let me ask you something. When did you see him?”
Liz looked at her watch.
“About 1 hour ago.”
“And since then, did you text or call your husband?”
“What does that have to do with everything?”
“Just answer my question…Did you?”
“No, I didn’t.”
Naomi nodded slowly while lighting up her own cigarette. She took a long drag.
“Does your husband know that you went for a coffee with your ex? And not just any ex but The Ex.”
“No, he doesn’t.”
“And why is that?”
Liz looked at her friend incredulously.
“What the hell do you mean? He wouldn’t be happy. In fact, he’d be furious. He’d kill me. Literally.”
“Yet, you met with him. Don’t you think it is interesting?”
Liz was getting tired of those questions that were designed to psychoanalyze her. She didn’t want to know how she felt. She wanted to be numb because frankly, only confusion reigned in her tired brain.
“Naomi, I am not here to play games. Do you have a point?”.
The exasperation in her voice was turning into full blown anger. Naomi took another drag on her cigarette and turned to face her friend.
“No one is playing games. I am talking to you as your friend, and I am asking questions that only you can answer.”
Liz threw her cigarette off the balcony yet again.
“Naomi, you need to stop your Freudian analysis. You are just a bartender, ok? Give it a rest!”
Naomi looked hurt but she brushed it off. She was used to Liz’s moods and hurtful words. She was acting up only to deflect. She wasn’t going to take the bait, so she went on.
“You are clearly still in love with him. You broke up with him 11 years ago but you still talk about him. You are married. You have no children with your abusive husband, yet you stay. You are unhappy, miserable and at the first invitation, you go meet with your ex, who, let’s not forget, abused you as well, even if it was psychologically and not physically. One could always deduce that, perhaps you might prefer abuse to happiness. Perhaps, you don’t know how to be happy. Perhaps you saw a chance of rekindling that old flame and have something meaningful with the new and mature Pat.”
Naomi threw her cigarette off the balcony. She did so nonchalantly.
“Not bad for a bartender, right?”, she said, smiling and satisfied with her analysis.
Liz was flabbergasted. She had no comeback and she couldn’t tell if Naomi was right or wrong. She kept her mouth shut. Naomi spoke first.
“Listen Liz…I didn’t mean to hurt you with what I said, ok? I just wanted to get some things out.”
“I wonder what you would have said if you REALLY wanted to hurt me. Jesus Christ, Naomi!”
“I meant what I said. I am not sorry for what I said. I feel a bit bad that you feel bad.”
“That is quite an apology.”
“I didn’t apologize. I have no intention to do so anyway.”
“Pride will be your downfall Naomi.”
“I am not prideful. I am just a lowly bartender remember?”, she responded with a smile.
They both stood there, smoking and not talking. Frankly, there was nothing to say. Out of that silence, a knock disturbed the peace. They turned around and stared at the door. Five more impatient knocks. Liz kept staring at the door and Naomi turned to her friend.
“Please tell me it isn’t who I think it is.”
Terror was the only expression on Liz’s face. She wasn’t even breathing; too afraid her exhaling would alert the person on the other side of the door. Naomi made a move and Liz grabbed her arm and squeezed so hard Naomi thought she might start bleeding internally. Liz could only nod her head sideways, signaling her disapproval to what Naomi was ready to do. Terror hadn’t left Liz’s face and veins on her forehead were throbbing. Naomi put her hand slowly on her friend’s arm and looked her in the eyes to calm her down. Liz finally let go of Naomi’s arm and she finally whispered.
“Please don’t go”
Five more knocks, heavier this time and a voice asked for Naomi. They both knew who it was. Terror wasn’t only Liz’s companion now. Naomi took a deep breath and whispered to Liz, as slowly as she could.
“Go to my room and stay there. Do not come out unless I come get you.”
“What if…”, Liz started saying.
“Then I will scream, and my neighbors will call the police, or you will.”
Liz ran to the bedroom. Naomi prepared herself, fixed her hair to look as if she was sleeping. She went to the door, put her hand on the door, took a deep breath, and open the door slightly. “Yes?”, she said, pretending she didn’t know who it was.
He smiled. The man was ridiculously charming, and he knew it. The perfect teeth, the caramel skin, the short hair, the infinite energy in his eyes and those broad shoulders could make any woman fall for him. She definitely knew how to choose them. Plus, he was fantastically dressed as usual. Being chic in the banking sector was a prerequisite anyway but his tailor-made suits were breathtaking. Leading the IT department of the HSBC office in Montreal paid handsomely.
“You are not going to let me in?”
“No. It is late.”
He smiled again.
“Are you afraid of something?”
This time, she mustered all the strength in her body, and she smiled.
“I don’t have to let you in. I actually don’t want to.”
“I am not here to hit on you. Dykes aren’t my cup of tea.”
He knew how to push her buttons; he was that good. He knew how much that word hurt her, and he had used it on purpose. She didn’t budge.
“Yeah, as a dyke, you should know you are missing some essential parts that would make you appealing to me. What do you want, Von?”
His smile disappeared faster than lightning. He pushed his chest forward, put his right arm on the door to intimidate her and looked her in the eyes. She felt cold sweat running down her spine. Von would have to push a little and break down the door. He could smash her into pieces and then do whatever to his wife. Who could stop him anyway? Yet, the man wasn’t stupid. He had a reputation to uphold and he cared about his reputation way more than he cared about his marriage. If he had to choose between his wife and his image, that wouldn’t even be a choice.
“Is Liz here?”, he asked softly while trying to look over Naomi’s shoulders.
Naomi didn’t even move an eyelash. Unbeknownst to him, the small talk took the element of surprise away. He should have asked his questions right away. Naomi was ready for him. Maybe he wasn’t that smart after all. Bullies and cowards never are.
“No, she is not.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I am”, she responded with a cute smile.
“Mind if I check?”
“Do I mind you entering my home? Yes, I mind tremendously Von.”
“Sounds to me like you have something to hide.”
“You should get your hearing checked then.”
He had stopped smiling. As scary as he was, Naomi counted on his pride to stop him from doing anything, stupid or illegal, or at least she hoped so. Naomi saw he was attempting to contain his anger by trying desperately to control his breathing.
“Are you sure she isn’t here?”
“You know what? Let’s play a game. I will call her and if she is here, she will come out.”
Without looking away, Naomi yelled out.
“Liz, baby girl, your husband is looking for you. Are you here?”
No answer, as expected. She smiled even more broadly.
“Looks like she isn’t here. Do you want to call her too?”
“Stop fucking with me!”, he muttered.
His voice sounded more menacing than before and he was slightly pushing the door with his arm, probably without knowing it. Evidently, anger was rampaging through his body. He was grinding his teeth and breathing heavily like a bull before charging against an annoying matador. Naomi was afraid she might have gone too far but she stood her ground. She didn’t have a choice anyway. He looked down, visibly irritated. He turned away and without saying goodbye, he walked slowly away, shoulders slumped, visibly defeated.
“Hold on”, Naomi said.
He turned around.
“It is funny that you wouldn’t know where your wife is. You always know where your toys are. So, what happened Von? How are you going to live with yourself now?? You are slipping, little by little.”
She couldn’t help but say that with a wicked smile. She felt confident, because she had visibly won the game. Von looked down again and took a deep breath. He turned around and came back. This time he pushed his face right into the apartment, to be as close to Naomi’s as possible. He looked at her and Naomi almost peed herself.
“You think you are smart you little dyke. Keep fucking with me. It means nothing to me to fucking crush you like a damn bug. I know she is here. You know how I know? I can smell her perfume. I bought her the damn thing and I insisted she wore it. She does it everyday, now, it has become a habit. I doubt you have the same perfume; I even doubt you ever owned a perfume. You’re a dyke bartender after all.”
She tried to swallow but her mouth was dry, and she felt her legs giving up on her. She held tightly on the door and clenched her right fist to regain confidence and stay strong in front of him. She pushed her leg back to strengthen her position because he was losing her grip on the door.
“Slipping, are we?”, he said with a smile.
“Did you me blink or move because of your damn speech? Try intimidating those who are afraid of you because to me you are just a little fucking punk who is afraid of the world seeing who he really is.”
“Don’t worry Naomi. I see through you. You gave yourself away the moment you opened the door. You didn’t have to do that. You could have called the cops, yet you didn’t. I am sure you are not going to call them now.”
He smiled again, triumphantly.
“Your silence just confirms my theory.”
She opened her mouth to retort but Von yelled into her apartment before she could utter a word.
“Liz, my love. You can come out. I know you met with him. I am a forgiving person. Come back to me, and all is forgiven.”
Liz came out slowly. Naomi took her hand off the door and waved slowly at Liz to stop.
“Well…”, finally said Naomi, “thank you so much for this little useless yet highly entertaining visit. Just so we are clear, if you are talking about La Femme by Prada, that is my roommate’s perfume. She put it on before leaving half an hour ago.”
“What do you mean?”
He looked at her suspiciously. He was doubting his own theory for a second which made Naomi continue without missing a beat.
“You cannot possibly think your wife is the only one with that perfume? How would I know its name, dumbass?”
She was so thankful that Liz had showed it to her when he gave it to her. The doubt in his eyes became even bigger.
“So, if Liz stops by or calls me, I will tell her you paid me a visit, a chilling one to be honest. I will congratulate her on having a true Sherlock Holmes as a husband even if you got this one wrong. You might want to review your powers of deduction. It is ok, better luck next time, right Von? Now, I would appreciate it if you left. I got shit to do.”
He smiled more than ever before.
“Ok, little dyke. Do not forget to lock your door, a lot of sickos out here. I am just going to take a walk around your ghetto ass neighborhood. Who knows? I might run into my wife as she comes out of the building.”
He left and halfway to the elevator, he turned around and blew Naomi a kiss before she closed the door.
Naomi quickly closed the door and sat down as her legs couldn’t hold her weight anymore. She started hyperventilating and she was afraid she might pee herself. A single tear came out of her right eye. That is how it always happened when she was scared and upset at the same time. She turned around and saw Liz, standing there, still terrified but weakly smiling.
“He left”, Liz whispered, afraid Von might hear her still.
Naomi started counting backwards from 30 to 0, a little technique she was taught at her support group for people dealing with trauma. She finally calmed down and opened her eyes, only to see a terrified Liz still sitting down a few meters away. Naomi got up and rushed towards Liz, grabbed her by the arm and took her into the room.
“He didn’t leave.”
“What do you mean?” said Liz out loud. She repeated the same question in a lower voice.
“I mean he will be waiting for you outside the building.”
“Why would he do that?”
“Why would he do that? I don’t know. Let me take a stab in the dark…For once, he fucking said so. Secondly, and I am just guessing here because he is controlling, mad, angry beyond reason and….do I seriously need to go on here???”
“Ok, I get it! I am to blame for marrying a sociopath. You want to play the blame game now?”
“Bitch, are you serious? What is going to happen when you get out and go back to him? What do you think will happen?”
“I don’t know!!! Leave me the fuck alone!”
Liz sat on the bed and started sobbing. Naomi just stood there, thinking.
“I got it.”, she said.
“I am going to call a friend of mine. He is a private investigator for big corporations.”
“Are you fucking serious? How the hell does an investigator help us in this situation?”
“I don’t know! He told me he knows cops because he works with them.”
Liz thought about it for a second. “We don’t have a choice, that might work. But how can he help us?”
“Do you have a better idea or are you just going to shoot my ideas down? Either offer something better or I am calling the guy.”
Liz sighed. “Call him”, she said reluctantly.
“He might just help us deal with this psycho.”
Liz gave her a disapproving look at the mention of the word psycho and opened her mouth to protest but got interrupted.
“Really Liz? Still defending this fucking psycho?!? I wonder what he’ll have to do next for you to stop defending him. You know you cannot keep living like this. And you know what the next step is.”
“What do you mean?”
“You either leave him or he will end up killing you. There is no de-escalation in violence. He will send you to the hospital again. He will break your ribs again. He will end up killing you. I will not stand by and do nothing.”
She got her phone out of her pocket. She looked at it, took a deep breath and she dialed the number.
Von crossed the street armed with a fury of an enraged bull. He didn’t even bother looking on either side of the street and a Nissan Sentra almost hit him. The driver screamed something unpleasant in a foreign language but Von kept walking. He sat in his car, took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. He started punching the wheel repeatedly, savagely. He pictured Naomi and Liz, mocking him, having a laugh at his expense and he felt stupid and powerless. He wanted to hurt them. The punching went on for what seemed to be years, it only stopped because he was out of breath. So, he sat there; sweaty, empty, mad, tired, humiliated and angrier than ever. He took his phone and put on some relaxation music. It played the whole song twice and then he decided to call her.
“Hello, I need you.”
“I know you do.”
“Can you talk?”
“Can you fucking talk?”
“Watch your tongue, Von. I told you I don’t like profanity. I will hang up if you curse again.”
He took a deep breath. He needed her.
“My sincere apologies. Can you talk?”
“Good. Because I need you and your counsel. Can you come here?”
A sudden knock on the passenger door window startled him and his fingers let go of the phone. He looked out and there she was, standing, waiting for him to unlock the door for her. He took a few breaths to calm himself again and he unlocked the door. She got in, slowly, graciously. He locked the doors and looked at her.
Andrea was wearing Louboutin shoes, with their famous red bottom. She had beautiful long legs and she wore a blue miniskirt, charcoal gray cashmere sweater, and her hair was tied in a ponytail. The woman was 47 years of age but didn’t look a day over 24. Healthy living and regular exercise had made this woman an ageless being.
“Thank you for being here.”
“How did you get here so fast?”
She smiled and she became even more beautiful.
“I told you I’d be here for you.”
“But how did you know where I was?”
She looked at him, dead in his eyes, and the smile vanished from her pretty face.
“I would do anything for you. I am here to offer counsel. It is all that matters. Before we go any further, let’s pray!”
Von wasn’t religious but he went along with Andrea’s request. Once upon a time, he was baptized like every 6-year-old in his neighborhood, but he hadn’t been in church in eons even if his father and mother were profoundly religious. As he grew older and moved out of the house, church and praying became old remnants of a former life.
Andrea’s counsel and help came with this condition; prayer. The latter was random but frequent. It cost him nothing to close his eyes, nod along and say amen at the end of her prayers.
“Lord, grant us the power to face this obstacle and overcome the rampant wickedness of today’s world. Grant us the strength to emerge victorious. In Jesus Christ’s name. Hallelujah and amen.”
“Amen!”, answered Von.
“So, tell me what happened.”
She sounded genuinely interested and concerned. So, Von went on with his story. Once he was done, anger had filled his body yet again. He kept his cool, as best as he could.
“I am almost certain she is there.”
“Why almost?”, asked Andrea.
“Because…that dyke fucked with my mind”
He took a deep breath.
“Naomi messed with my mind. I am 95% sure she is there.”
“What happened to the other 5%? You said you smelled Liz’s perfume.”
“I did but Naomi said her roommate has the same perfume. It confused me.”
Andrea giggled and shook her head. Anger rose again in him even more and he almost cursed.
“What is so funny?”, said an irate Von, who was trying to hide his fury.
“Well, you believed that deviant?
“What the hell do you mean?”
“Language, Von. I will not tolerate this again.”
Von ground his teeth so hard he felt they might explode in his mouth. He couldn’t curse and he felt crippled.
“Apologies about the language. What did you mean?”
“She lied”, said Andrea with a smile.
“How do you know that?”
“Naomi doesn’t have a roommate. I know this because I checked with her landlord, when you gave me her name last time we spoke. She lives alone. She has a one-bedroom apartment.”
“You called her landlord? Why?”
“I am here to help you. And before you ask, I can also tell you she isn’t in a relationship, except for the occasional date that turns into a Sodom and Gomorrah fest, a disgusting way of life, in opposition with our Lord’s words.”
It was his turn to laugh and Andrea frowned with disapproval.
“Why are you laughing?”
“You are funny, Andrea! You are fucking funny.”
“I told you about the cur…”
Von didn’t give her a chance to finish her sentence.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake, spare me your lecture!”
“What did you say to me?”, she responded with a tone filled with contempt and Von snapped. Quick as lightning, he grabbed her throat with his right hand, and he put his left in the back of her neck. His grip was as tight as a vice and he squeezed slowly and gently. A tear came out of her right eye.
“Who the fuck do you think you are? Are you out of your fucking mind? Who gave you the right to bark orders at me and talk down to me like I am a child? If I wanted to, I would squeeze the life out of your body and dump you in the river. I wouldn’t even lose a second of sleep over it. Mind your fucking tongue when you speak to me, bitch!”
He kept his hands on her for a moment and then let her go. She then attempted to raise her hand to hit him out of desperation and anger, but he caught her hand. Von saw the terror in her eyes and decided to let her go. Fear is always a powerful weapon and the threat of violence can be as impactful as violence. She might have been older, but he was better at psychological warfare and manipulation. He let go of her hand and she slowly put it on her lap, like a nun would before prayer.
They stayed there, not saying a word, both looking outside their respective windows. She turned to him and said she was sorry. He kept staring at the building’s entrance, as if it had answers to the questions rampaging through his brain. Andrea turned and touched his shoulder and apologized again but he didn’t budge. She started caressing his shoulders while insisting she was sorry, and he kept ignoring her. Von was too mad to even look at her.
Andrea moved her other hand slowly on Von’s thigh while the hand that was on Von’s shoulder went down even more slowly, heading for his crotch. Both hands met there and slowly still, she started to undo Von’s zipper. As uncomfortable as he was, he didn’t feel like stopping her. The tension in his body was such that he didn’t know what to do, say or think. It felt weird to feel Andrea’s hands opening his zipper. This woman was no one two months ago. He met her at a party, where he went to pick up his mother. She had walked his mother out and greeted him. Von’s mother had wanted to introduce Andrea to her son, as you would when introducing a colleague to your family. Later, she found him on Instagram and befriended him. By then, his relationship with Liz was almost over as they could barely communicate on anything, and they were spending their time together ignoring each other. He tried controlling her, threatening her. He even hit her a couple of times, but it didn’t yield any results. She became even more detached. At the same time, Andrea was giving him the attention he so desperately wanted by being there for him. She was non-judgemental and Von ended up telling her about his marital woes, she listened and even gave him sound advice. Now, she was in his car, doing the unthinkable.
“Andrea, stop, ok?”
She already had his penis in her hands, caressing it. She kept her gaze on him, locked in with him, almost as if she was trying to hypnotize him. He was weak, because the tension had left his body in a flash, the moment she unzipped his pants. Andrea looked at him and whispered, “I am going to send you to heaven, pretty boy.”
Before he could even answer, she swallowed his hard dick whole. His hands held the wheel so hard that he was afraid it might break in half. Meanwhile, Andrea was sucking his dick with an unmatched energy and dexterity. Every movement was slow, methodical. She caressed his balls, she jerked him off while looking at him dead in his eyes, asserting her dominance. He found himself losing his mind and forgetting why he was there and how he even got there. She kept sucking his dick, but the cadence became faster. Von tried to keep his cool and not cum right away. He tried to hold it in, and she saw it. So, she sucked harder, faster. Seeing her head going up and down, made him lose his mind and he let his head fall back. Right away, without stopping the sucking motions and without looking, she slapped him and forced him to look down and she locked eyes with him again. That gaze, those brown powerful, hypnotic eyes made him cum finally. He let out a burst of joy and relief. She took the whole load of cum in her mouth and sat back.
Von was sitting in the driver’s seat, in disbelief, looking at her as if she was a ghost. He finally saw her power. So far, he had just felt it but now, it was obvious she wasn’t weak or pious. There was more to this woman and it scared him a bit. Nevertheless, he wanted another blowjob…He wanted more. He felt under her spell and it annoyed him.
Andrea turned around and opened the car door. She spit out the cum and closed the door. She pulled a tissue out of her purse and methodically wiped her mouth. She crossed her legs, put her hands on her lap, closed her eyes and then said a silent prayer. Von looked at her with utter disbelief. She was acting as if she was in church! She was praying after blowing a guy she barely knew in a car in the middle of the night. He couldn’t stop staring at her. She raised her eyes as soon as she said “Amen” and she met his gaze.
Suddenly, he felt exposed. What happened was undeniably unexpected. It had been amazing and scary. Her stare hypnotized him and a passing car lights brought him back to reality. He quickly pulled his trousers up and closed his zipper. He couldn’t meet her stare after that, so he turned around and looked at the building’s entrance. Andrea broke the silence.
“What does the geolocation of her phone tell you?”
Von had installed a spyware in Liz’s phone, unbeknownst to her, of course. It allowed him to see her screen in real time and geolocate her. It was an experimental spyware developer by a friend of his. It wasn’t 100% accurate yet. His friend had assured him the geolocation would work if the phone was connected to a Wi-Fi connection. Then, he could effectively see everything.
“I cannot see anything, as of now.” responded Von. “Perhaps her phone is off.”
“That means she turned it off on purpose.”
“How do you know that?”
“People don’t turn their phones off in 2019, Von. Especially not women.”
“You speak for all women?”
“Yes, I do”, she responded with a thin smile while keeping her gaze towards the building.
He couldn’t help but smile. Andrea was usually right, when it came to women. Von turned his head towards the entrance and stared.
“If she is inside, she won’t come out.”
He looked at her. She kept staring at the building.
“I wouldn’t”, she added.
“Ok. What do I do?”
“Now? Nothing. I told you weeks ago to put a leash on that woman of yours. But you didn’t listen.”
Andrea kept talking.
“I told you as soon as you had your first serious fights. I told you to put the fear of God in her. You chose to put the fear of Von in her and it didn’t work out as planned, did it?”
Von shifted his weight as he was sitting. He had a feeling he wouldn’t like what Andrea was saying and she kept talking.
“The New Testament, Ephesians 5:21-25, the scriptures say emphatically and clearly: Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Now, if she won’t submit on her own, you make her submit to your will, Von.”
He chuckled and then he burst out laughing, as if he was at a comedy show. His reaction angered Andrea.
“Why are you laughing?”
“Jesus Fucking Christ, Andrea!”
“Von, stop swearing like that, stop using the Lord’s name in vain.”
“Here is what is utterly fascinating: you are one of the most pious people I know. You never miss church on Sundays, you go to your bible study group, which is filled with women, who are frankly just a bunch of dykes who cannot find a good dick to suck on, except you, after what you have shown me. You even volunteer at hospitals when you have time, you truly act Christian. I know all this from your Instagram, where you post everything you do, every day.”
“So, what is fascinating about all that? Many women do all that and more.”, she replied, not sure she understood what he was saying.
“Well, the fascinating part is that you are telling me I should keep my woman in line, and you are using bible scriptures to make your point. You are the epitome of the modern woman: independent, financially well off, with a great career, you are ambitious, you are very well organized, and you cannot stop posting and talking about feminism. But…here you are, using scriptures written 2000 years ago, the kind of words that would make your fellow feminists throw up. So, you are a modern woman but all you want is to submit to a man, you want to be dominated, you want to be a man’s bitch and given your age, I guess you must be desperate at this point, right?”
He saw her clenching her fists and he knew he hit a nerve. He kept talking.
“Well, one thing is sure: if hypocrisy was a currency, you’d have more money than fucking Bill Gates! At least I know I am fucked up and I don’t hide it because, frankly, I can’t, and I don’t even want to. I am who I am, and it has never been a problem for me. I can charm my way into anything and so can you. Yet, you are a hypocrite and probably more fucked up than I am. Ain’t that something?”
All that truth must have stung her because she raised her hand again to slap him and yet again, he caught her hand before it even got a few inches from her crossed legs.
“What the fuck is wrong with you??? Why do you want to slap me? I am not your kid. Don’t think because you sucked my dick and made me cum, it gives you rights over me! If you raise your hands again above your hips, I will slap the shit out of you. Don’t test me Andrea. Do you understand me?”
Then, out of the blue, he slapped her in the face. The slap was so powerful that she tilted her head back and hit the window. She looked at him with and he did see a bit of fear in her eyes. He was pleased to have put the fear of God in her, or rather the fear of Von, as she was advocating, he should do with his wife. Moreover, it allowed him to regain control of the situation. He felt powerful again, he was the alpha!
Von stared at her and saw the intimidation had worked. She sat back in her seat and didn’t say a word.
“If you piss me off again…You know what will happen. There is no need to say it, right?”
She nodded. She looked like a little helpless girl. The slap had really surprised her, more than she would care to admit. Von was happy and he smiled.
“That is my girl.”
“I am sorry for the disrespect.”
“It is ok Andrea. Now we understand each other.”
She leaned in to kiss him and he couldn’t help but lean back. Kissing her didn’t feel right but after hesitating for a second, he kissed her. They kissed tenderly for half a minute. The lights of a passing car slightly made them stop. He pulled away from Andrea and asked her to sit back. She did as she was bid. She sure knew how to submit.
“So, what do we do?”, asked Von.
“I am not sure.”
“Well, I am sure we cannot stay here indefinitely. That is for sure.”
“Wait! Someone is getting out of that taxi.”
They both watched a man get out and enter the building. Andrea was the one who got a better glimpse.
“I think I know that man”, she said while frowning. She was tried to see who it was, but the man entered the building within seconds. She took out her phone and dialed a number.
“Hi Juan. How are you? Sorry for calling this late. I was wondering if you could send me the file, I had asked you to put together.”
Silence followed for half a minute and Von heard the person on the other line say something.
“Thanks. You can send me the bill as usual. It will be paid first thing tomorrow. Good night.”
Andrea turned around and faced Von.
“I thought I recognized that man so I shall have a confirmation soon.”
“Who is Juan?”
“I will tell you who he is if you promise not to freak out.”
“Why would I freak out?”
“Promise me first.”
Reluctantly, he agreed by nodding.
“Juan is a friend of mine. I have known him for a few years, and he is a professional photographer and an occasional hacker. So, when I met you, I asked Juan to look into your wife’s past. I just wanted to know who she is.”
Von couldn’t believe his ears.
“You went digging into her past?”
She nodded with a confidence which showed he wouldn’t get mad about a small-unethical-breach of privacy.
“Normally, I would freak out, but today, I don’t care much what you did or why you did it. I want that bitch crushed and destroyed. So, what did you find?”
“I am waiting for Juan to send me the file he had compiled on your woman. Ah! I just got it.”
Andrea opened the file and went through the pics. Every pic had a thumbnail with a short sentence, possibly information on the person that was on the picture.
“Well, you are not going to like this.”
“What the fuck do you mean? And if you say the word “language” because I just cursed, I am going punch the air out of your fucking lungs!”
She showed Von the pic. He felt his blood boiling and he started crushing Andrea’s phone with his hands. She put her own hands on her device and calmed him down.
“I am going to kill him and then her, in that order.”
He looked at Andrea, to see what she would say.
“Then, we’ll have to be careful.”
Back in the apartment, Liz was pacing like a caged animal in Naomi’s little one bedroom flat. Naomi had opened the door to her balcony, and she was smoking without stepping out. Seeing Liz walking around in her tiny apartment made her nervous, but she hadn’t been able to calm her.
“Would you stop walking? You are freaking me out!”
“I am sorry I am nervous! I am sorry to think my husband might beat me to death or worse!”
“What could possibly worse than beating you to death?”
“He could hurt you in the process you know!”
Naomi looked at Liz but didn’t say a word. Their friendship ran deep, and they could easily communicate sometimes without saying a word.
“Yes, I care about you even if I don’t say it often, Naomi. I wouldn’t want him to hurt you because of something I did.”
Liz had to jump in and clear any misunderstanding.
“My help wasn’t conditional on anything. I don’t care where we go from here. I got your back because you are my friend and that is what friends do!”
Naomi threw the cigarette out and went over to hug her friend. They hugged for a long time, whispering declarations of love to each other, promising they would stand by each other no matter what happened.
The silence was broken by 6 consecutive knocks on the door. They interrupted their hugging session and terror floated in the air, once again. Without thinking, Liz ran to Naomi’s bedroom and she closed the door behind her, slowly, without making a sound. Naomi took a deep breath and went to the door. She stopped and 4 more knocks broke the silence yet again. She looked through the peephole. She let out a sigh of relief and opened the door.
The young man entered and hugged her.
“You said you were in trouble. So, here I am.”
“Thanks, Eric! You have no idea how much I appreciate your presence.”
Liz had come out of Naomi’s bedroom. She stood there with a look on her face filled with incredulity.
“Liz, what are you doing here?”, said the man.
“What am I doing here? How the hell do you know Naomi?”, asked a profoundly perplexed Liz. She couldn’t understand what was going on. None of them did and they started speaking all at once, creating a chaos that engulfed every rational thought.
Naomi was able to scream a “SHUT UP!” and everyone did.
“Ok. Let’s start with the beginning! Eric, if your real name is Eric, who are you? No lies. Who are you really?”
Naomi asked the question and she saw Liz folding her arms while standing in a position that didn’t leave any room for error.
“Liz is right. My name isn’t Eric. My name is Pat. I am the ex she met with earlier.”
“You’re THE ex?”
“Thank you”, said Liz with a profound sense of satisfaction.
“Liz, shut the fuck up!”, screamed Naomi. Liz was taken aback and she didn’t say a word. Naomi then turned her attention to Pat.
“When we met 6 months ago, at the support group, you said your name was Eric. Why did you lie?”
“You go to a support group?”
The question asked by Liz was directed at Naomi, who turned around to focus on Liz. She went up to her friend and grabbed her by the arm.
“Liz, I love you but if you don’t shut up, I will kill you myself! I have a few things to clarify with this fucking guy. Shut up and listen. I will tell you when to speak!”
Liz did as she was ordered. She sat down and watched.
“So, PAT, why did you lie? And what else did you lie about?”
He looked down. He had lied to Naomi for 6 months and he visibly regretted it.
“I lied about my name, but I didn’t lie about anything else.”
“Why lie about the name?”
“Because I didn’t want people googling me! I wanted to keep a sense of anonymity. But I didn’t lie about what I went through. I am telling you the truth.”
Liz clapped to get their attention and they both turned around.
“Pat, why are you in a support group? I know the reason Liz goes there. What about you?”
“Naomi, whatever is shared during those group sessions, stays there. You know that.”
She nodded and turned to Liz.
“I cannot tell you. Eric…I mean Pat, will tell you if or when he is ready.”
Liz got up and confronted him.
“Why the hell are you going to a support group for people who deal with trauma? What happened to you in the last 12 years?”
“Liz, that is none of your damn business. Stop being nosy.”
Pat turned towards Naomi.
“Why did you call me? What the hell is going on?”
Naomi went on about what happened and when she was done, Pat asked one question to Liz.
“What kind of car does he drive?”
“A gray 2019 Cadillac CT6.”
“Pompous prick! Of course, he would drive something to compensate for his small dick and even smaller personality. Ok, I will be right back. Stay here and lock the door” and he left.
The girls stayed in the apartment, staring at each other and terrified of what might happen. Both men were strong, but the girls didn’t believe Pat went out to confront Von, that wouldn’t make sense.
A knock on the door interrupted their thoughts. Liz went to the bedroom and Liz went to open. She was it was Pat and she opened the door. He came in and locked the door behind him.
“He is outside, in the car, with a woman.”
“What? Who is he with? Do you know the woman?”
“Liz, I just saw your husband for the first time in my life. You think I know whoever he is with?”, he said sarcastically and turned to his support group friend.
“Naomi, did you tell anyone about Von or anyone else that I would be coming here?”
“Good” and he took his phone out. He started dialing.
“Who are you calling?”, asked Liz.
“A friend of mine. Hey dude, what up? I am good. Listen, I need your help. I will send you all the information via Safe and we can chat on there, ok? It is time to have some fun. Ciao!” and he hung up.
He had a smile on his face that Liz had never seen before. Naomi broke the silence.
“Pat, what are you planning? And who was that?”
“That was just a friend of mine.”
“What is Safe by the way?”, asked Liz.
“That is an app we use in the investigative world. Unhackable and quite fun.”
Naomi asked her question again.
“Pat, what are you fucking planning? I don’t like the sound of this!”
He turned to Liz instead of answering Naomi’s question.
“I never liked your husband Liz. I have been keeping tabs on you and him ever since I got separated. I know what he did to you. I know how many times he sent you to the hospital with broken ribs, black eyes and shattered collarbone. You didn’t do anything about it. But tonight, I will make him pay.”
“Pat, what are you fucking planning?”, repeated an increasingly worrying Naomi.
“I am going to make sure he never touches Liz again. Tonight, is the night Von regrets he ever raised his fucking hands on MY Liz!”
Pat’s cell phone rang. He didn’t recognize the number but decided to answer.
“Hello Pat, it’s Von.”
Pat smiled. The least Von could have done was to get his number.
“What do you want, wifebeater?”
“I love the nickname. I think it’s time we had a little face to face chat, don’t you think?”
Pat paused for a moment to think about the ramifications of meeting his new adversary. The man was cunning, so it was beyond wise not to underestimate him.
“I suppose you are right. Let’s meet on the street in about 5 minutes. You can bring your friend.”
Pat heard Von chuckle.
“I guess you saw us.”
“I did. I am coming out”, and he hung up. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
Naomi broke the silence.
“You are not seriously going outside, are you?”, she asked, with a bewildered look on her pretty face.
“I am going, and you are welcome to come.”
“Are you insane?”
Liz had to jump in. All this was happening because of her.
“Liz, he knows we are here. He knows you are here. You can hide or come with me. Nothing will happen to you while I am there. And what can he possibly do in a public place?”
“You don’t know the man like I do, Pat.”
“Well, unless he is a trained assassin or a ninja, I don’t care, I am going outside and confront the son of a bitch.”
He looked at Naomi who was shaking her head in disagreement.
“What are you guys afraid of? I will be there, I’ll protect you.”
“Oh, shut the fuck up Pat!”
He was taken aback by Naomi’s intervention.
“What did I do? Why are you mad at me?”
Naomi scoffed and threw a stare filled with contempt and disdain.
“You are just another guy whose machismo is overflowing from the ears and nose, a fucking type A personality who believes in his own myth. You truly believe your job is to rescue a damsel in distress, to fight her battles, to defend her against the evil men roaming this earth.”
“You’re damn right! My job is t…”
She interrupted him faster than he had interrupted her.
“Shut your damn mouth for a moment! You might learn something!”
Pat crossed his arms. He felt like a scolded child. He stopped talking and he started listening.
“This is one of the things wrong with men. Perhaps you mean well, and you want to help, which is noble. You help and then what?”
Pat almost opened his mouth to say something, but Naomi kept talking. He didn’t want to interrupt her.
“Let’s say you beat Von’s ass. You will feel good about yourself and you will have done a noble deed. You will puff and beat your chest the way gorillas do right after dominating another primate. Von will be down and you’ll be standing over him, triumphantly. Then what? Von is in pieces but Liz is the one married to him. Beating the shit out of him isn’t synonymous with divorce or him disappearing. Liz will still be married to him. Last time I checked; she is the one who has been living under the horrible conditions. She has endured beatings, humiliations, psychological and physical abuse. She is the one who has been sent to the hospital a few times. If you intervene, he will end up punishing her! He won’t punish you. He cannot. So, he will take his anger out on her. What do you think he will do to her once you have humiliated him? Care to venture a guess sir Pat with the shining armor?”
He stood there, thinking. She was right and beating Von wouldn’t really fix anything concrete, aside from his thirst for revenge.
“What do you propose I do then?”
“Let’s talk to him.”
“Are you sure?”, asked Naomi.
Liz nodded with a sudden courage and certainty. She was trying to convince herself more than anything herself. The constant head movements were made to reassure herself.
“Yes”, she said, “it’s time I stopped being a victim. I need to do something, because this won’t end. I need to act, not react. I am sure he won’t be expecting that”.
A sad smile came across Pat’s face.
“No, he won’t”.
They left the apartment, took the elevator and went down to the lobby. Liz and Naomi were holding hands, the way kids do. Pat was walking in front of them, like a bodyguard, as if to protect them. He hoped this face to face would yield some results, any kind of positive results, but he didn’t have high hopes because he knew sadistic men were highly unpredictable.
Von was leaning against his car and by his side was the woman Pat had seen before. He asked the girls and they confirmed they didn’t know her. To the right of the building’s entrance, a small park with 4 benches was dimly lit through the streetlamps. Naomi told Pat to go to one of the benches and he did as he was bid. Seeing they weren’t coming to them, Von and his companion crossed the street, walking slowly and confidently. Pat’s hands were moist with sweat, as the anticipation had raised his blood pressure. Liz was blue with fear, but Naomi seemed quite calm. What could possibly happen in a public place, albeit deserted? All this affair was truly a gamble and the outcome could go a million ways, yet it was time to confront the man. Von and Andrea stopped a few meters away from the trio. Von took his time and looked at Pat, trying to size him up, scare him, throw him off his game. He barely acknowledged Naomi but smiled wickedly when he saw his wife.
“Pat. We finally meet. Hello dear wife who-has-been-hiding-from-me-all-night.”
As soon as he spoke, Pat’s fear went away. This man wasn’t a threat to him but to Liz. However, she seemed quite calm and composed. Perhaps she was the only person who could get a rise out of her husband.
“And what a displeasure it is, Von”, answered Pat.
“Oh, don’t be discourteous brother”, he said with a smile.
“I am not your brother”, responded Pat.
“It is a term of endearment between men.”
“I would love to know what defines a man in your opinion. It must be something”
In an instant, Von’s smile disappeared. Pat knew he touched a nerve.
“So, who is this clearly-too-old-to-be-a-millennial bitch? Your aunt? Please don’t tell me it’s your mom because she is too cute and confident to have given birth to a scared little boy like you!”
The tone in that sentence made Pat chuckle. Naomi’s sarcasm was always on point.
Von opened his mouth to say something but Andrea put her hand on his shoulder, and he took a step back.
“You must be the depraved fornicator, right?”
The smile on Naomi’s face disappeared just as quickly as Von’s. Within a second, Von was laughing and trying to hold an even bigger laugh that emanated from his stomach, which he was holding. Naomi had no come back.
“I will take that as a yes. I was told you always have a smart comeback. I guess when one reminds you of your depravity, the retorts vanish. Ain’t that something?”
“Who are you?”, asked Liz who had stayed silent since they exited the building. Liz could tell this woman was close to her husband, both physically and mentally. Body language can never lie. People can lie using words but the body acts truly.
“She is a friend”, responded Von in an embarrassed tone. Andrea caught it and turned her head to look at the man she had blown in a car barely half an hour ago. She looked at him in complete disbelief. Liz caught Andrea’s disappointment and instinctively knew something was going on between them.
“We have been married for 3 years, I have known you for 4 and a half and yet, this is the first time I see this so-called “friend”. Are you going to stick to your story Von?”
Andrea waited for Von’s answer as eagerly as his own wife and she crossed her arms. Von had no choice but to look at Andrea and he told her to calm down.
“Interesting to see MY husband trying to calm down a lady I have never seen and do not know. Interesting you two would have that kind of chemistry.”
“What do you mean?”, said a defensive Von.
“Please!”, responded loudly an exasperated Naomi who had miraculously found her voice again, “Ray Charles can see as clear as day you two are either lovers or in some weird relationship that my depraved self couldn’t grasp, am I right Vonette?”
Pat looked at Liz at the mention of that last word.
“We still don’t know the bitch’s name! What do you want me to say?”
She shrugged as she said that last sentence and Pat chuckled. Seeing his new lover humiliated by his own silence and Naomi’s sarcasm, Von took a step forward, instinctively. Before his foot touched the ground, Pat had taken a step forward, placing himself physically between Von and the two best friends. Both men were of the same height, but Pat had about 30 pounds on Von.
“I guess beating up women is your forte, right? The coward that you are could never pick a fight with a man.”
Von didn’t say anything. He simply stared at Pat. Von took a step back and put his hands in the front pockets of his expensive spring coat.
“It’s easy to judge others while everyone thinks you are just a good guy, a hero coming to the rescue of ladies. But we both know there is more to you.”
Pat didn’t understand.
“What do you mean?”, asked Liz.
“Your ex has a past, an interesting one at that.”
“Is this about me going to therapy? Only an idiot like you, who frankly needs more therapy than the rest of the country combined, would mock me for going to therapy.”
Von chuckled and Andrea spoke.
“How is your ex wife, Pat?”
“Do you mind telling us who the fuck you are?”
Pat was starting to get irritated by the way this conversation was going.
“I am Andrea. My name doesn’t really matter though. Could you share with your friends why you are not with your ex wife anymore?”
“How is this relevant? They broke up”, said Liz.
Von nodded in satisfaction.
“Of course, that’s what he told you. Did he give you any specifics? Was any violence involved by any chance? You wouldn’t have done something crazy, right Pat?”
Liz and Naomi both looked at Pat. He looked down, clearly shaken and ashamed. He was clenching his fists and using breathing exercises to calm down. He attempted to take a step forward, to grab Von by the throat but Liz placed her hand on his chest, effectively calming him down instantly.
“What is he talking about, Pat?”
“Yes, Pat. What am I talking about? Please tell them, I would hate to do so. After all, it is your story.”
Pat sat on the bench nearby and put his head in his palms. He took 2 deep breaths and got up. He was ready to talk about it.
“Four years ago, my wife and I hit rock bottom. We couldn’t communicate anymore, and we spent our time ignoring and despising each other. I couldn’t tell you whose fault it was. We fell out of love, as it happens in relationships sometimes. We had agreed to separate, and I moved out. One night, I went to pick up our son and her new boyfriend was there. Him and I got into an argument, a silly argument and a fight ensued.”
Liz looked at Naomi, to get confirmation if that was the truth.
“You never talked about this in group therapy. You just spoke about your separation.”
“He is full of surprises our dear Pat.”
“Von, could you please shut the fuck up?”, yelled Liz and Von was taken aback. He had never seen this passionate and most importantly, she had never raised her voice at him.
“Interesting. Pat loses his balls and they get transferred to my own wife.”
Liz ignored her husband and looked at Pat. She wanted to know more, yet, she was afraid to ask what really happened.
“So?”, she ended up asking.
“Here comes the juicy part!”, mocked Von.
Liz looked at Von again who laughed and raised both his hands as a sign of apology. He then looked at Pat and waited patiently for the rest of the story. Pat took another deep breath and spoke slowly
“The fight ended up with me breaking both his arms, one leg and I also fractured his skull. I don’t remember beating him that badly. I just remember my son yelling, asking me to stop. When I stopped, I saw the man lying down, unconscious and I got scared shitless. The police and the ambulance came. The man spent a few days in a coma, and I ended up going to jail for 3 months. I was lucky because the guy admitted he attacked me first. After my serving my sentence, I went to mandatory therapy, one on one with a psychiatrist to work on my anger issues, and I also go to group therapy, to try and cope with the end of my marriage.”
Pat looked up. Liz and Naomi were flabbergasted. Who could have thought the defender of women, as he claimed to be, was himself a raging monster with little control over his anger?
“Oh my God!”
Liz couldn’t believe it and Naomi was speechless. Once again, Von broke the silence, with a grin on his face.
“I remember you telling me about his anger issues and how he had yelled at you in the past, when you two were still a couple.”
Liz turned around and looked at Von.
“Well, I guess he graduated and went to full blown crazy ass guy. For all we know, he could have beaten you 10 years ago or maybe he even beat his own wife.”
Quicker than lightning, Pat jumped across the four meters separating him and Von and he grabbed him by his throat. Andrea made a move towards Von, to protect him but Pat pushed her away, gently, while keeping his grip on Von’s throat.
“Yeah, I beat a man half to death. What do you think I can do to you, you motherfucker? I can crush you in an instant and Liz’s troubles would be over.”
Von couldn’t breathe but he managed to mumble as slowly as possible.
“Liz, look at your brave defender.”
Pat turned around and saw the horrified expression on his ex’s face. Von took advantage of that and got a taser out of his pocket and discharged a solid amount of electricity in Pat’s abdomen. He fell on his knees at first and then he lied down completely, shaking for a few seconds. Von sat on one of the benches and caught his breath. Naomi tended to Pat, and Andrea attempted to put her hand on Von’s shoulders, only for him to push her away.
“Don’t touch me!”
He felt humiliated Pat made him look like a sissy. He kept cursing and Andrea took two steps back to give him space to vent. Pat got up and sat on the bench. He felt dizzy and could barely open his eyes. Liz knelt in front of him and hugged him. He smelled her perfume and he hugged back as he was transported to the past, when things were simpler, at a time when they were both in their early 20’s and innocence was the reigning feeling.
“You bitch! He grabs my throat, almost choking me in the process and you run into his arms. I will make you pay.”
Liz let go of her ex and faced her husband.
“You are seriously going to sit here with a holier-than-thou attitude, pretending you are better than Pat? Do I even need to talk about all the crazy shit you have done to me? And for what reason, other than you are a sociopath?”
“If you had obeyed and respected your husband, you wouldn’t be in this current predicament.”
“Jesus Fucking Christ, auntie! Are you listening to yourself? Or are you about to quote the bible in a minute?”, said Naomi.
“Why are you calling her auntie?”, asked Liz.
“Well, two reasons: she reminds me of someone, and she is like 120 years old. I am sure she is about to quote the bible; I guarantee it.”
“Well, as a matter of fact, the verse in…”
“Is this fucking bitch for real?”, said Naomi while looking incredulously at Pat and Liz. “Do you even understand sarcasm, or it wasn’t invented back when those ancient guys wrote the bible? You want Liz to obey a husband who beats her and mistreats in any way possible? Your God is cool with that?”
“I don’t expect your depraved soul to get it.”
Naomi smiled this time.
“I admit you got me the first time. I come from a strict catholic background and I had an aunt who would judge everybody and never look inward. I guess her soul was too ugly that she couldn’t face herself. So, auntie, tell me, a woman is supposed to obey her husband even if he mistreats her?”
“If she had obeyed and respected him from the beginning, he wouldn’t have been violent with her. It is her fault. This is a good man, who wants nothing but peace and harmony in his marriage.”
“So, he beats her up, sends her to the ER a couple of times and it is her fault. I sincerely cannot wait for your fanatic/religious minded breed to die and disappear from the face of the earth. I swear to God, you are more of a danger to society than some crazy people with guns!”
Andrea ignored Naomi and turned to Liz.
“Liz, you don’t know me, but I am a friend of Von’s. He has trouble expressing his feelings, but he wants you back and he is ready to mend fences with you and forgive your transgressions, disrespect and lack of obedience. Go back to him and all will be well.”
Liz wanted to say something, but Naomi stopped her. “Let auntie finish.”
“Go back to your husband. The vows you took when you got married mean a great deal. They mean a lot to you, and to the Lord. I cannot stress this enough; this is a good man. Yes, he has sinned, he has hurt you, but divorcing isn’t going to help either of you. Divorce is the worst choice. I say it again; this is a good man, a faithful man.”
Pat coughed and spit. Everyone turned around and looked at him. Naomi put her hand on his back to comfort him and he thanked her. Apparently, the effects of the taser were still rocking his system and he was still breathing hard and sweating.
“I am glad you said faithful. Let’s forget about the goodness of his heart for a moment and disregard his violent behaviour now, shall we?”, said Pat who then turned to Von.
“How faithful are you, wifebeater?”
Von didn’t miss a beat and he answered in a flash.
“I have never been unfaithful to my wife.”
Pat smiled and then chuckled.
“Well, I have a video that proves otherwise. Plus, it’s a quite recent video. It happened less than an hour ago, in your car.”
All life disappeared from Von’s face and he turned to Andrea. She was even more lost than he was. Incredulity was the only expression on her beautiful face. She tried to speak but all she could utter was a series of quiet “no, no” over and over and over again. Pat started laughing while Liz and Naomi were lost. Despite all that, Von decided to call Pat’s bluff, deep inside hoping his wife’s ex was truly bluffing.
“You can sit there all dizzy and make shit up. I don’t care. I don’t know what lie you have concocted in that fucking brain of yours and I am not buying it, neither will anyone.”
“Well”, said Pat while holding his phone, “I got proof so, would you like to try again?”
Liz stepped in front of Pat and he had to raise his head to meet her stare.
“What are you talking about? What’s in your phone?”
Pat just handed her the phone.
“See for yourself.”
Liz frantically took the phone and Naomi stood next to her. As the video played, without any sound, Liz’s look went from complete horror to total anger, while Naomi’s look went from horror to amusement. Liz handed the phone to her friend and walked away from everyone to calm down and gather her thoughts. Staying true to herself, Naomi watched the video again and, in the end, she said loudly with a smile “AUNTIE!!! Look at you going to town on our dear Von! I must admit, even if I am a lesbian, I got turned on. Those are some serious skills you got there. I guess the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice. I feel like high fiving you, but you might just entice me, do things to me as well, and I may even consent!”
Naomi was crying, away from the group. Von looked sad and he might even had been sad. No one can be evil all the time. Perhaps there was some good in him, after all.
“You motherfucker! I swear, you will pay for this!”
Pat shrugged, blowing off Von’s threat.
“Don’t blame me for your own mess Von. Don’t play the victim here. You are just a piece of shit, that’s all and I am sure deep down you know it. Look at Liz. This part seemed to have hurt her almost as much as your punches and psychological torture. So, don’t come here pretending you are a victim, ok?”
“I must hand it to you, Pat. That was well played. But where did you get the video?”, asked Naomi. She was too excited, and it brought a smile on Pat’s face.
“Earlier, in your apartment, I called my friend Marvin. He is a bit of a computer wizard. He just hacked into the city’s CCTV; into that camera you see up there which is supposed to record traffic. He was able to get the footage since those cameras are always on and the angle was perfect. There is no limit to what a person can do once they can hack into anything.”
Andrea looked utterly lost. She couldn’t look anyone in the eye. She turned to Von.
“This video must never get out.”
She then turned to Pat.
“I will pay you to never post it on social media. Please! It was a mistake, a one-time thing. Please don’t show this to anyone.”
“I had no intention of showing it to anyone else but your friend’s wife. Now that it is done, I will delete it. No need to pay me or shame you in any way. As far as I am concerned, you are somehow innocent in all this. You have my word it will not get out.”
Von was irate. He had forgotten about Liz, Andrea and especially Naomi. He got up and walked towards Pat, who got up and pushed Naomi behind him. Seeing Von move, Liz came running back. Before he could use his taser, Liz screamed.
“ENOUGH! THIS STOPS HERE! BOTH OF YOU, FUCKING STOP!”
She screamed so loudly that a tenant of the first floor went to his balcony and yelled. “What’s going on down there?”
“Everything is ok, we’re just talking.”
“If I hear you again, I will call the police!” and he went back inside.
They all stood there, looking at each other, breathing hard and not knowing what to do. Von stepped back and sat down on the bench. Finally, Liz spoke.
“I cannot begin to say how lost, hurt and angry I feel right now. You are sitting here, playing this mind games, while the person that’s being bounced back and forth, is me! I have become a prize or a ball everyone keeps throwing left and right. It stops now. I am no one’s property and I want to be left alone. Either of you comes near me, I will call the police, I swear. You are like two little boys fighting for a toy! It stops now! Please stop this madness before anybody else gets hurt. Leave me alone, ok? Let’s go Naomi!”
Liz walked away and before Naomi followed her, she turned around and said “Go home Pat. Go sleep it off, we’ll talk” and she left.
Von, Andre and Pat looked at the young women enter the building and disappearing inside. Pat turned around and faced Von.
“She is right, go home Von.”
He was even angrier than before. He didn’t know what to do. Andrea seemed to have come to her senses. Perhaps she realized what she had gotten herself into. Perhaps she just wanted to get out of this situation as fast as possible and hopefully unscathed as well.
“Von, go home, please. Nothing good will come of this.”
He got up and whispered in Andrea’s ear “Call your guy. Call Juan and find any information you can on this fucking guy. I will pay whatever fee. Do it now.”
“Von, you are angry, I don’t think this is a g..”
He slapped so hard she fell on her knees. Pat took a step forward, with the intention of choking the life out of him, once and for all. Von took out his taser again and Pat stopped dead in his tracks. While Andrea was on the floor, a cop car came, with the sirens on. Most likely, the guy from the first floor had called the cops. Andrea got on her feet quickly and wiped the few drops of blood from her mouth. Von threw his taser in a big bush nearby, effectively getting it out of sight.
“What’s going on here?”, asked the policewoman that got out of the cop car first, while her hand rested on her gun. Both Pat and Von, had their hands visible. Two guys with a caramelized complexion standing in a park, in the middle of the night, with a white woman, it always raised questions. It wasn’t the states, but the Montreal Police had almost the same reflexes as any police force in the US.
“Nothing, we are just talking”, responded Von.
“I asked the lady, not you. I will tell you when to speak”, answered the second police officer, a man in his mid-twenties who didn’t seem to like being questioned or challenged.
“We are talking amongst friends. Is there a problem officer? Aside from your way of talking to my friend here. I always believed people in Canada could speak anytime, whether spoken to first, or not”, said Andrea, with a firm tone.
“We received a call from a tenant saying there was noise and probably some fighting.”
“Well, as you can see, everything is ok. No one is fighting and we are sitting here talking. Unless that’s illegal, you can be on your way. I am sure there are other people in need of your assistance.”
“Ma’am, can I talk to you over here please?”, said the policewoman.
“No need to take me aside, hoping I would tell you I fear for my life, because I don’t. I am talking with my friends and no one is threatening me.”
The male police officer ignored her completely and went to talk to Pat and Von.
“Do you have any ID on you?”
“Me neither”, said Von, “and unless this is Nazi Germany, neither of us have to carry identification on them. We told you we were talking amongst friends and it is barely 9pm, which means we have every right to be sitting in this park.”
The cops looked at each other and decided there was nothing to be done. As they left, the policewoman turned around and told them “We’ll pass by again, just for fun, but something tells me you’ll all be gone by then. Have a good evening.”
The cops left and Andrea got her phone out. She called Juan and she moved away so Pat wouldn’t hear what she was saying. Von and Pat sized each other up one last time. Von spoke first.
“You think this is it? I swear I will fucking ruin you! You chose the wrong guy to fuck with and the wrong night to not stay in your apartment on Clement street.”
Pat raised his eyebrows and Von smiled.
“Yes, Pat. You live near Viau Metro, in the east of our fine city. Beautiful neighborhood now, it used to be a little trash some 20 years ago. I already know that about you and I only saw you barely an hour ago. Imagine what I can do with a few days while going through your life.”
Andrea came back and she said Juan is already working. Von smiled and clapped his hands together, his heart filled with satisfaction.
“I will leave you now. Have a good night Patty boy!” and he left with Andrea. He got into his car and he left. Andrea looked at Pat for a few moments before getting into her car. Her stare was filled with pity and she was visibly sorry. She must have been regretting getting herself in this chaotic situation. She knew what Von was capable of, especially now that he was humiliated and angry. She got into her car and drove away. Finally, Pat got into his car and went home.
Back in the apartment, Liz was smoking on the balcony along with Naomi. They didn’t know what to do. They just stood there, silently, contemplating the beautiful evening. Liz got a message on her phone. She didn’t open it.
“Mind if I open it?”, asked Naomi. Liz didn’t say anything, so she opened the message. She let out a cry of surprise and let go of the phone.
“Naomi, what the hell? You’ll break my phone!”, said Liz, as she turned around to pick it up. Before doing so, she looked at Naomi’s face and she looked like she had seen a ghost.
“What is it?”
She wouldn’t answer and she pointed at the phone. Liz picked it up and saw it was a message from Von. She didn’t want to open the file, but she had to know what sucked the life out of Naomi’s face. She opened the file and almost let go of the phone herself.
“Oh my God!”
“Do you think it’s true?”, asked Naomi.
Liz kept staring at the phone.
“Is your husband a liar, on top of being violent and a cheater?”
Liz put her hand over her mouth while reading the text.
“No. This must be true.”
Liz kept reading the message.
“If this is true, then even Jesus cannot do anything!”
Von was driving away from Naomi’s place and he felt his nerves calming down already. He had to create a strategy to get back at the humiliation he suffered at Pat’s hands, in front of his wife, no less. He was lost in his thoughts, but he was able to drive to his house. He rushed to the sauna, like he always did when he’d have a rough day, especially at work. Financial markets can be stressful. He ended up spending 30 minutes in the sauna, allowing the steam to open his pores and release the bad energy that was concentrated in his body. He then took a shower for another half hour. When he came out, he glanced at his phone and saw 3 missed calls from his father. He didn’t want to call back, but he knew he wouldn’t hear the end of it if he didn’t.
“Hello, son. I must speak to you in person. I am at home and I will be waiting for you”.
“Father, it is already past 11pm and I am home. I am exhausted from work and I was th…”
“Be here in 45 minutes”, interrupted his father and hung up.
He looked at the time on his phone and complained openly to no one. He got dressed and drove to Brossard, where his parents lived. At 9:30pm, there wouldn’t be any traffic and he would calm down further while listening to country music for the whole drive. He drove on the new Samuel De Champlain bridge, admiring it and thinking of the architectural talent that it took to build this gigantic wonder. He then took exit 8, turned right on Taschereau boulevard, then turned left on Rome boulevard and drove straight to the domains. He pulled up to his parents’ house driveway which was as large and wide as half a basketball field. There was his father’s Audi R8 and Lincoln Aviator. On the right side of the driveway, his mother’s Land Rover. He also noticed a dated Ford Fusion on the street, close to the driveway.
Von parked his car and got out. He went to the door but before he could knock, it opened as if it had a motion detector on it. He stepped in and looked on his right to see the man who opened the door. This stranger was wearing a black suit, white shirt, no tie and brown shoes that looked like dress shows but weren’t. He had a goatee, dark hair, was average height and well built. The man greeted Von and told him his father was in the living room. Von walked to the living room while looking behind his shoulder, not understanding this man’s presence in his father’s house at this time of night.
Von’s father, Daniel, was watching the Canadiens hockey game. Any frustration he had about the team not making the playoffs had evaporated mid-season so, he wasn’t very enthusiastic about the game. As soon as he saw Von, he got up and gave him a hug. He kissed his only boy on the cheek, welcomed him and asked him to sit down.
Before anyone could say anything, Daniel introduced the man.
“Son, this is Liam. He is a friend of mine.”
“Why is he here?”, asked Von, clearly not approving of this man’s presence. There was something about him that made Von nervous.
“Don’t be rude to our guest. He is a friend of mine, that is all you need to know, for now.”
Von didn’t ask any more questions and waited for his father to explain why he wanted to see him, at this hour, which was quite unusual.
“I understand you had an encounter with the police tonight”, said Daniel. He put his drink on the table and looked right at his son.
Von’s jaw dropped to the floor and his opened his eyes so wide, he thought they might fall out of their sockets. He coughed nervously and cleared his throat because he knew he had to tread carefully.
“How the hell do you know that?”
His father smiled and sat back, filled with self admiration. Von knew his father liked to surprise people, and he truly got a kick out of it, every time.
“I know people, son. People know me and I make sure I stay informed. And they make sure I stay informed as well.”
“The cops didn’t even get my name. I didn’t give them my ID”.
His father smiled, again.
“They saw you leave, and your plates did the rest. So, tell me what happened.”
So, it would seem those two heavily discourteous cops waited for him to leave, got his license plate, called someone and that someone shared the information with his dad. Von tried to get more information about the person that contacted his dad but he wouldn’t budge.
Von felt a cold sweat run down his back and he turned around to look at Liam. He was standing there, not moving, not speaking and his posture hadn’t changed. Most people when they stand for a long time, they might lean against a wall or switch their weight from one leg to another but not this Liam guy. Statues made more movements than him! Moreover, there was something odd about his face; it was emotionless.
“I assume you know what happened, father.”
“I would like to hear it from you. Tell me in your own words.”
Von had always hated when his father used that phrase, ever since he was a kid. The man had been a judge at the superior court of Quebec for over 20 years. Asking questions, reading people and situations, delivering sentences and punishment, those were the fuel that got his engine working and going. He hated insubordination, rebellion, resistance and people stepping out of line. Von was in for a long night.
“I had a disagreement with a guy, that was it. No big deal.”
The tone had changed. The former judge was in full “judge mode” and he wouldn’t let this go.
“I was walking with a friend of mine and I got into an argument with this guy that accosted us. I believe he was intoxicated, and someone heard us arguing and called the police.”
Daniel got up and stood in front of his son.
“Stand up”, he commanded while clicking his fingers. Von did as he was told and stood up. Father and son locked eyes and engaged in a staring contest, the way kids do. While Von was a few centimeters taller than his father, he always felt intimidated by him. Being a judge gives people a certain confidence and moreover, he knew the profession attracted those who liked power. The staring brought him back to the childhood he had tried so immensely hard to forget. Daniel had never been a patient man and he hated defiance above everything else. The stare match ended within 3 seconds. Von was the first one to look down, giving away the fact he was lying. His father had him and Von knew it. Daniel smiled and kissed his son on the cheek.
“Come with me son.”
Von followed his father into the basement and Liam walked behind them.
“Why is Liam coming with us?”
No one answered and they went down the stairs leading to the basement. The latter was as large as the house. There was a pool table, a big 70-inch tv, a marvelous wooden bar with expensive drinks, 3 L-shaped couches, 2 bathrooms, one large furnished bedroom and a small library, filled with books from African authors, mostly from the 20th century. Daniel always told Von to never forget his heritage. Von had written countless reports of books written by Wole Soyinka, Cheikh Anta Diop, Naguib Mahfouz, Amadou Hampaté Ba, Tahar Ben Jelloun and so many more. Von stopped and remembered how his father used to punish him and occasionally chastise him whenever he got something wrong. He had tried his best to forget all the insults, the humiliation, the berating and slaps, but it came back rushing down. That was the main reason he rarely came back home and when he did, he’d avoid the basement as if it was a gaping pit, ready to swallow him.
Von’s father walked towards the library and stopped. He pushed a few mystery books aside and Von’s mouth dropped yet again when he saw a small touchscreen asking for a code. His father typed a few numbers and the small cupboard opened like a door. Von looked inside and saw more stairs going further down. He turned around and looked at his father, who was smiling.
“I am glad I haven’t lost the ability to surprise you”, said an overwhelmingly content Daniel.
“What is this?”
“I built this second basement when we built the house. You just didn’t know about it.”
“Father, what do you need a second basement for?”
He regretted asking that question because he frankly didn’t want to know the answer to that question, even if he knew he wanted to know. What could he be hiding?
“This is the second time I use it. Let’s go.”
“I am not going down there.”
Daniel turned around and looked at his son, who was visibly shaken and didn’t want to go down those stairs. The stairs weren’t narrow, the space was well light, the whole setting didn’t look sinister yet, it made Von profoundly uneasy. Then, there was this Liam guy who stood there, not saying or doing anything, and who frankly looked unbothered with a former judge having a second basement. What the hell was going on?
“Follow me, you’ll be fine.”
“I wasn’t asking you.”
“The answer is still no.”
Daniel nodded and Liam put his right hand on Von’s neck and used his left hand to grab his left wrist, leaving Von’s right arm free. He reached into his left inside jacket pocket and grabbed the taser he used on Pat earlier. Von turned around and discharged a solid amount of electricity in Liam’s chest, who started convulsing and within 2 seconds, he simply collapsed. Daniel wasn’t expecting his son to have the upper hand on Liam, and he had his back against the door. Von’s leaped towards his father who was powerless and suddenly afraid of what his son might do. Von put his elbow against his father’s throat and gently pushed, effectively chocking him, but not so much he couldn’t speak.
“What the fuck is going on here? Speak!”
“Let go of me, son!”
Von pressed a bit more on his father’s throat, making him squeal like a little mouse.
“I will take the air out of your lungs, old man! I swear to God, I will.”
“Von, LET GO OF ME, RIGHT NOW, I AM YOUR FATHER!!”
Von put the taser against his father’s neck and stepped back.
“Do you know how much it hurts to have an electric current going through your neck? Do you? I am sure a pompous man like yourself hasn’t even been slapped in the past 30 years, let alone tasered.”
Daniel kept breathing hard as Von pressed the taser more intensely on his father’s neck, ready to let the volts run through his body.
“I will ask you one last time, old man…What is going on here?”
Daniel’s arrogance and bravado started to unravel and suddenly, he felt powerless. Perhaps the sight of his son threatening him was too much for him. Perhaps the fact he suddenly wasn’t the honorable judge he once was, perhaps just being a scared old man, all of that had gotten to him.
“Von, baby, please put that taser away.”
He turned and saw his mother standing there, kindly asking him to spare the man she had been married to for almost 35 years now, the same man who had made her life difficult so many times. Carine was forgiving to a fault and she had tried to instill the same quality in her only son.
Reluctantly, he took the taser of his father’s neck and Daniel let out a big sign of relief. He reached inside his jacket pocket, grabbed some pills and swallowed two of them while Von looked on with utter curiosity.
“Your father has a heart condition; he was diagnosed about 3 months ago. It’s such a pity you had to find out this way.”
Liam started groaning, as he was coming back to his senses. Von stood over him, looked at him with disgust and tasered him one more time. Liam screamed, convulsed and passed out again.
“Mom, what’s going on here? What is this second basement?”
A sad smile came over her pretty face. Her pale complexion and the few freckles she had on her face made her beautiful.
“Daniel, why don’t we all go downstairs? It will be ok.”
“Mom, I don’t feel ok with this.”
“Baby, I know you don’t trust your father”, she said while looking at her husband who was still trying to recover from his heart issue, “but I know you trust me.”
“Of course, I trust you mom, you know that!”
“Then trust me one more time, even if it’s the last.”
The last part of the sentence didn’t make any sense to Von. Reluctantly, he decided to take a leap of faith and he nodded. Before he left, he looked at Liam, who was snoring oddly enough.
“What about him?”, asked Von, pointing to Liam.
“He’ll be fine”, said Daniel.
Von didn’t like surprises so he went over and knelt next to Liam. He looked inside his jacket and found cuffs. He dragged Liam by the legs and cuffed his hands around the toilet bowl. He turned around and saw his mother go down the stairs, followed by her husband and he went along. They went down 6 stairs, came across a wall, they turned left, went down another 6 flight of stairs and they came across a small room. It was a square room, 5 meters by 5, with a wooden floor, a couch, a table and with powerful lamps in every corner of the room, which gave the room great lighting and a cozy atmosphere.
In the middle of the room, on the wooden floor, lied someone, covered in a thin dark gray blanket. The individual, a man by his build, had his back turned to the stairs.
“Mom, who is this?”, asked Von. As he didn’t get an answer, he turned to his father who had recovered from his heart issue and he went up to him. Daniel, afraid his son might taser him or choke him, took a few steps back, tripped and found himself sitting on the stairs.
“Old man, I will not ask you again”.
Von was holding his taser and he was about to use it.A loud groan interrupted his thought process and he turned around, knowing it had come out of the person lying on the floor. He wanted to make his father talk. He wanted the judge to explain everything! He wanted to know about the man, about Liam and about and the secret basement. It was in the house he grew up in and he had no idea it existed. He stared at his father one last time and he took a deep breath. Von went towards the man, hoping he could help him. He uncovered the person slowly and saw the man had a swollen face, a cut on his lip and a left black eye. Obviously, he had been roughed up quite a bit. But after looking at him intently, he could only say one thing.
“Von…”, responded faintly Pat. It was a whisper, a murmur, “please…help me…”
“Jesus Christ! Hold on Pat”, said Von as he pulled him to his feet and grabbed his right arm and put it over his shoulder. Pat groaned once again. Von put him on the couch, turned around, got the blanket and put it over Pat.
“Dad are you insane? What happened here? How did Pat get here?”, yelled Von.
“Liam brought him here”, responded Daniel.
“Like I said, Liam brought him here.”
“Let me take a wild guess here; he didn’t come willingly, did he? Who the fuck is this Liam? Don’t insult me like before by saying he is a friend of yours.”
Daniel was too weak to argue or hide things from his son. He seemed like someone who couldn’t wait to confess. Is it because he had been caught or because it weighed heavily on his conscience, if he ever had one?
“Liam is a detective with the Montreal Police. He was waiting for Pat a few streets from his house. He stopped him and arrested him on a bogus accusation.”
“How did he bring him here? I doubt he came willingly.”
“As soon as he was in the back of Liam’s car, he sprayed a powerful anesthetic in his face and when he woke him, he was already here, in this very basement. Liam gave him a sneak peek of what happens when someone crosses our family.”
Von couldn’t believe it. His father, the man who couldn’t stop talking about the virtues of justice, righteousness, the same guy who had fled his home country at 16 to escape injustice, arbitrary arrests, killings, rapes and disappearances, the man who dedicated his whole life to the Canadian justice system, the man who put away mobsters, thieves, rapists, violent criminals, drug dealers, the same man had kidnapped another man, detained him, beat him up and for what? As far as Von was concerned, Pat had never harmed him or his family. At that very moment, Pat let out another groan.
Von didn’t know what to say. An hour ago, he hated Pat with all his heart, mind and soul. Yes, he wanted to destroy him. He wanted to hurt him, and he was thinking of ways to accomplish that. He hated the bastard. But this…Suddenly, it felt like too much. There is a fine line between wanting to hurt someone and seeing them hurt.
“This is not right. This is so fucked up!”
That was all Von could say while grinding his teeth and massaging his temples to calm himself down.
“I thought he was your enemy. He took your wife away from you”.
“First of all, he didn’t. And let’s say he did…So, what? This is ok to you? Wake the fuck up old man! You are a former judge! You used to put people in jail for crimes like these, because let’s keep one thing in mind; this is a goddamn crime. This is kidnapping, assault. I didn’t go to law school, but I know this much. What the hell happened to your moral compass?”
“Says the person who sent his own to the hospital twice.”
Von didn’t have a comeback to that. He leaned against the wall and looked at Pat who was trying to turn around, but he groaned each time, indicating he might have ribs broken or even worse, internal bleeding. Suddenly, he was furious with everyone; Liz, Naomi, Pat, his father, himself. It felt like an out of body experience and he replayed his whole life in his mind, focusing especially on how he mistreated his wife. Did she deserve it? Did Pat deserve to suffer like this? Did he deserve to suffer at his father’s hands as a kid? What was the difference between what happened to Liz and Pat? Both were hurting. Pain was the only thing left. Von had inflicted pain on his wife. His father had inflicted pain on his own wife and son. His father’s family had suffered tremendously back in the home country. Was pain everywhere? Was life only about pain? That was the vicious circle of pain.
“This is beyond fucked up! FFFUUUUUUCCCCKKKKKK!”, yelled Von, not being able to control his temper.
“What would you have us do?”, asked Carine, Von’s mother.
He turned to face his mother and it felt like the coup de grace. So, all along, his mother was in on this insane stunt. He couldn’t believe it. He walked towards her, but she didn’t flinch or step backwards like his father. The woman had been through a lot in her life and she knew her own son wouldn’t harm her.
“Mom, please tell me he forced you to do this”, pleaded Von.
“It was my idea.”
“Jesus! What the hell, Mom?!”
“The moment you told me you were having trouble with her, I asked Liam to follow her. I wanted to see what she would do because I never trusted that woman. I know you love her, you married her, but I never even liked her. Liam told us she met with her ex today, so I decided to take action”.
“Mon, this is not action. This is madness. This is a bunch of crimes put together. This will not make Liz love me or our family more. This crazy stunt will not fix anything. This is wrong, mom”.
His mother didn’t seem to care. She carried on with her rationalization, explaining her idea further.
“Liz was humiliating you, by being with another man.”
“Who told you she was with another man? You mean she slept with another man?”
Von’s mother nodded.
She pointed at Pat.
“Jesus Christ, mom. Today was the first time they met. And unless they had sex in the coffee shop in downtown Montréal, nothing happened.”
“What do you mean?”, she said with a face that was filled with incredulity.
“Let me guess; Liam sold you this information.”
Daniel jumped in and answered.
“Yes, we pay him”.
“Are you guys fucking amateurs or what? When you pay someone, they keep feeding you information to keep that cash flow alive and constant. Liam probably told you all this knowing how you’d act. Perhaps he is also a psychopathic brute who likes to beat on other people.”
At that moment, Von’s mother put her hands on her mouth, displaying her surprise and shame.
“Mom, stop playing the concerned citizen. Whether she slept with other men or not, this is wrong, completely wrong.”
She came towards him and Von took a step back. She kept coming and he stopped. She took his hands and held them.
“Baby…”, she said, sweetly, as she always did when she spoke to him.
“We just wanted to protect you”, said Daniel, “please don’t blame your mother for this.”
“How were you trying to protect me? By beating up this poor bastard, as if he hadn’t been through enough in his life already?”
Carine suddenly got frustrated and her sweet side vanished in a flash.
“Von, how come you are defending this man? This man tried to ruin your marriage.”
“As much as I hate him or believe I hated him, he doesn’t deserve whatever you guys are doing to him! He doesn’t. He is not a criminal; he didn’t hurt anyone. This poor guy didn’t do anything, for crying out loud.”
“Liam showed us his criminal record. He isn’t a boy scout”, interjected Daniel.
“The man beat up his ex-wife’s boyfriend, after the man baited him. Anyone would have done the same. Did he go too far? Yes, he did. But this…I don’t care what you guys think, this is so fucking wrong.”
“I will never let my son be humiliated or allow his marital woes to become public knowledge”, retorted Carine, without any shred of regret in her voice or posture.
“FINALLY!!”, yelled Von, feeling victorious, “This isn’t about me! This is about you, dad and his fucking impeccable reputation. The powerful judge Daniel Kazeka! The man with the stellar legal record, the man with the perfect family. The man with his gorgeous wife. This is also about Carine Kazeka, formerly known as Carine Lemay. It is also about her impressive resume in helping the community through charitable works. This is about the family’s image. This is about people applauding you and congratulating on your nice son who also happens to be a rising star in the banking sector, the son who is married to a beautiful woman. But the son cannot control his wife, right? Suddenly, this doesn’t look good on the judge and his wife, right?”
“You will be humiliating us, son. Can’t you see that?”, responded Carine.
Von couldn’t believe it. He knew his parents’ image was of paramount importance to them, but this was unbelievable.
“All these years, you were grooming me to be as perfect as you. You wanted others to applaud what a fine job you had done raising me. This is about image. Jesus!”
“You are damn right, it is about image! Do you know how hard your father has worked to be admired, respected and even feared at times? Do you know how hard it is to see a little bitch humiliate your son? She is not worthy of you, baby! She never was and never will be. But you are married and she needs to be kept in line.”
“Quite the feminist you are, mom. All those public speeches about feminism and empowering women but my wife needs to be kept in line. I guess if I cannot control my wife, it means judge Kazeka and Carine the charitable person, have both failed as parents and role models. I get it.”
“Your father and I have worked for decades for our stellar reputation. You are now actively tarnishing it.”
“So, my marriage failing is about you?? Instead of asking me what’s going on, how to help, you two crazy people just went the illegal and frankly insane route! And how does this help your reputation? What if Pat talks? What if he goes to the police?”
“He didn’t see me or your mother. Whatever happened, Liam did alone.”
Von looked at his parents with a mix of disdain and surprise. He got Pat’s phone out of his pocket and he showed the screen to his parents.
“His phone is on. Do you know what that means? Let me enlighten you old people who can barely turn the stove on. It means, he can go to the police, and they can trace the triangulation of his phone and find out where he was, at any specific time. Liam, being the brute that he is, most likely forgot to take the phone away and just beat the guy up.”
Daniel and Carine looked at each other. They were puzzled, and a tad concerned.
“I can make the investigation go away. I still know people in the police department who can help me.”
“I don’t doubt that old man! But, before you do another illegal thing here, did you know Pat is friends with a hacker, who was able to get a compromising video of me about something that happened today?”
“What? What kind of video?”, asked Carine.
“Mom, don’t worry about it and worry about how we are going to get Pat out of here, alive and well and especially convince him not to press charges.”
Pat’s phone vibrated, signaling he received a message. It was from Liz, asking him if he was ok.
Instinctively, he reached for his own phone and he had 3 missed calls from Liz. As he was about to call her back, his mother stopped him.
“Don’t call her back.”
She grabbed her phone and showed him the message she had sent.
Carine looked at her phone again and seemed to realize the breadth of her stupidity.
“So, let me get this straight. You sent my wife, a picture of her ex’s bloodied fucking face?”
“Basically, you just handed her proof that someone beat up Pat and that you know about it… And instead of using another phone, you sent it through yours.”
“No, I used one of those phones you can throw away. Liam gave me one.”
“This fucking idiot finally got something right.”
Von turned Pat’s phone off, hoping no one would call him. He wanted to take Pat to the hospital and try to negotiate with him a way out of this mess.
“So, it’s time to end this fucking thing, ok?”
“Son…”, his father started saying.
“Old man, I swear, if you speak again, I will punch you so hard that you won’t have a heart problem anymore! It’s over! I am taking the man to the hospital. This isn’t a discussion. This is information time!”
He grabbed his mother’s phone and threw it against the wall. The phone exploded in pieces and that scared both Daniel and Carine. They had never seen their son like that, and they were not quite sure what might happen now. Von went to Pat and spoke to him, gently.
“Pat, I am sorry for all this. I am going to take you to the hospital now, ok? Here, take my hand and lean on me.”
“You are not going anywhere. Von, put the gentleman back down, please.”
Liam was standing at the end of the first flight of stairs, with his hands on his hips. A shiny handgun was tucked into his belt, plainly for everyone to see. Von put Pat on the couch gently, covered him with the blanket and told him to hang in there.
“How the hell did you…”
“When you cuff someone”, interrupted Liam, “always take the keys to the cuffs away, boy.”
Von crossed his arms and looked at everyone in the room.
“So, what is the next move here, Liam? Or you dad? Mom, anything?”
“If he goes to the hospital, he identifies me, and I get in trouble”, said Liam, “and I will not get in trouble.”
“Well, kidnapping him, bringing him here and beating the crap out of him, that’s more than enough to put you in trouble, Liam.”
“In that case, to mitigate my troubles, I will need half a million dollars.”
Carine scoffed and Daniel chuckled. Liam went down the stairs, took his handgun and smacked the former judge in the face, sending him down like a shot airplane. Von made a move but Liam used his gun to pat his leg, reminding him who was in charge.
“Please move an inch, you spoiled boy. It would make my night.”
Von didn’t move and Carine run towards her husband who was unconscious on the floor but breathing. She looked at Liam with disdain.
“Carine, no need to look at me that way. I just need the money and I will be on my way. I am tired of getting paid peanuts by you rich folks. Von, talk to your mother about that and come back to me. In the meantime, give me your phones.”
Liam took the phones and left. They all heard the door close. His father was unconscious, his mother was worried more than ever, Pat was hurting and probably bleeding internally, and Liam had his phone where he could get Liz’s info, address and potentially harm her or extort them even more.
“Mom, do you have that kind of money here?”
“Yes. Thankfully, it’s in this basement.”
“Well, this night is about the longest night of our lives.”
Liam locked the door and he went up to the living room. He immediately headed for the bar, got a glass, filled it halfway with Glenlivet and downed it in one shot. The single malt burned his throat and he felt alive. His eyes started watering and he wiped them clean. His mind started wandering. He hadn’t planned what happened. He started walking in circles, like a caged tiger, not knowing what to think or do. He went up to the master bedroom and looked everywhere for a safe but couldn’t find anything. He moved to the office, then the other 4 rooms and he couldn’t find anything.
He went back to the living room and poured himself another drink. This time, he drank it slowly and it calmed his nerves. He knew the judge kept money in the house. He had paid him numerous times before and in one occasion, he went upstairs and came back with the money. He could have gotten the money from the bank earlier but withdrawing fifty thousand dollars wasn’t easy these days. Perhaps he had given the bank a few days notice and they had gathered the money for him. Yet, something inside Liam’s heart was telling him the judge had money stashed somewhere in the house.
Liam reached in his jacket pocket and got his phone. He took a deep breath and called.
An uncomfortable silence followed.
“How are you feeling today?”
“I just got home. My brother drove me from the hospital.”
Liam knew that Bob, his husband of 10 years and companion of the last 15 years, could barely stand unassisted, let alone drive.
“Chemo knocked you out again?”, asked Liam, with a hint of concern in his voice.
“It is nothing I cannot handle”, responded Bob with a smile on his voice.
Bob had pancreatic cancer, one of the most aggressive forms of cancer. He had been doing chemotherapy for the past 8 weeks and whatever little improvement he had enjoyed, was overwhelmingly overshadowed by the toll chemotherapy took on his body. Bob had always been a big strapping guy who worked out daily. He was a vegetarian and he didn’t drink nor did he smoke. Despite all this healthy living, cancer got to him. Such is life, unfair and unforgiving at times. Liam knew his husband didn’t deserve the pain and sorrow he was going through but what good would it do to think about that? He had cancer and he was slowly dying.
“Remember that experimental trial we read about?”
“The one in Baltimore, at Johns Hopkins Hospital?”, asked Bob.
“Yes, that one.”
“If I remember correctly that was tremendously expensive.”
“Why are you talking about it then? You know we cannot afford it, even if we remortgaged our house.”
Liam took a deep breath.
“I think I have found a way to pay for it.”
“You have found 300,000$? You won the lottery baby?”, said Bob as he was chuckling.
Liam couldn’t help it and he felt tears come down his face. He could never understand how Bob found the energy to joke, to smile and to be somewhat happy while going through this excruciating chemotherapy treatment. He felt useless and powerless. He knew he hurt Pat because the former judge ordered him to, but he shouldn’t have beaten him so badly. As he was hearing Bob’s voice, he realized that he had taken all his frustration and anger out on the poor young man, who frankly hadn’t done anything to hurt him or the judge’s son. He wiped his tears away and regained his focus.
“Yes, I found a way. Call them right now and find a way to get into that program.”
“Liam, what is going on?”
“I told you I got the money. Please call the hospital. I know you have a relationship with the dean of medicine there and I am sure he will try to get you into the trial as soon as possible.”
Bob was an assistant professor of microbiology at the Université de Montreal and he had done two semesters at NYU where he had met the current dean of medicine at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. They all had spoken about getting Bob in the trial, but the money was always the issue, as it usually is in life for those who aren’t millionaires. As nice as he was, the dean couldn’t get around the financial red tape. However, he had mentioned, should the money be available, Liam would surely get into the experimental program that had yielded some positive results, namely extending the patients’ life span by a few years.
“Liam, I just checked our common accounts and I only see 15,000$. So, where is this money coming from?”
Liam didn’t know what to do. Tell the truth or lie? He knew he couldn’t lie to his dying husband, so he told him everything. Bob didn’t say anything, and he waited for Liam to finish the tale of his quite eventful night.
“Liam, baby, this whole thing doesn’t sound right at all.”
“Bob, honey, I would do anything I have to do to save my husband. You are the love of my life, my best friend and the one person who has been with me for more years than I can count. Saving your life is the only thing that matters now. I would do anything for that.”
Liam heard Bob taking a deep breath.
“Ok…let’s say I survive this cancer and you end up in jail for all those crimes you just committed. What kind of life would that be for me, for you, for us?”
“YOU WILL BE ALIVE! THAT’S THE ONLY THING THAT COUNTS!”
“Bob, please don’t argue! Let me at least try to save your life, even if it is the last thing I do.”
There was no answer after that. Only silence followed.
“Liam, I cannot ask you to do that.”
“Bob, I already committed the crimes. So, I might as well use all this to get you healthy, or as healthy as possible. Please let me do that for you, I beg you.”
Liam’s voice was trembling, he found himself getting overly emotional and it surprised him. He had always loved his husband and wanted to see him healthy. Yet, he had broken a few laws in a matter of hours and he had to not get caught.
“Bob, honey, please say something”, said Liam after a long silence.
“Please, Bob. I beg you. Please say something.”
“Thank you honey!”
“But Liam…I have one condition. You must promise me you will cover your tracks as best as you can. Being healthy and living without you, isn’t much of an improvement, ok?”
“I promise. I gotta go. I love you!”
“I love you too! Bye!”
Liam put the phone in his inner jacket pocket and proceeded to turn off all the phones he had taken from his “prisoners” who were in the second basement of the house. He looked at his gun and hoped he wouldn’t have to use it at all. As a precaution, he decided to take the clip out of the handgun. He also took the bullet that was in the chamber. Officially, his handgun was empty and could only be used as a hammer, nothing more, nothing less.
Liam had one mission: get the money and get out of the house as soon as possible. He didn’t know where the money was but Von’s parents would surely know. He put the gun away by sliding it in his belt. The presence of the gun would discourage anyone from being belligerent even if it was empty. Liam left the living room and went towards the basements. He opened the door to the second and last basement. He found the former Judge Kazeka sitting down, seemingly lost, with a big bruise on his forehead. His wife, Carine was sitting next to her husband. The couple were on the left side of the small basement. Any bravado and authority they possessed were gone. On the right, Pat was still lying on the couch, obviously in worse shape than before. Finally, Von was standing next to Pat, he must have been tending to him right before Liam opened the door.
“So, judge, do you have what I asked for?”
The judge nodded and looked at his son. Von got a bag from under the couch and threw at Liam’s feet.
“Everything is there.”
“Where did the money come from?”, asked Liam, his voice filled with genuine curiosity.
Carine is the one that spoke before the others could. She slowly got up and Liam shifted his attention to her.
“Liam, you have worked with my husband for years now. Please take the money and go. This whole ordeal has been awful for all the parties involved.”
Liam smiled and put his hand on the handgun.
“Von, do me a favor and stop moving. I see you slowly moving your feet and coming towards me. You are too far to reach me; your mother is between us and I have a gun. Mrs. Kazeka, please tell your son to stop moving.”
Liam said all that while keeping his eyes on Carine. He hadn’t moved his head one centimeter, but he saw Von moving. Liam wasn’t to be trifled with. Before Carine could say anything to her son, Von took two steps back and slightly raised his hands to show he understood the order.
“Carine, would you be kind enough to count the money for me? I just want to make sure everything is as promised. Thank you. In the meantime, Von, please take your father and go to the back of the room and sit down alongside your father.”
Von did as he was bid. Carine opened the bag and started counting. Liam sat on the stairs while keeping his handgun in his right hand. He wanted the people to believe he was willing to use his gun, he wanted the illusion of fear to be part of the room.
Finally, Carine was done counting and the half a million was there. Liam asked Carine to put the money back in the bag and close it. Once she was done, he turned to the men.
“Gentlemen, your mother will accompany me outside. Nothing will happen to her, I promise you.”
“Liam, please leave my wife alone. Take me instead”, said the judge, pleading.
“Liam, I will go with you. Please leave my mother alone.”
“Gentlemen, sit THE FUCK DOWN!”
The scream had the desired effect. They both sat down, and Carine put her hands up, fearing Liam would strike her. Even Pat, as hurt as he was, curled up into a fetal position instinctively.
“Carine is coming with me, as far as the driveway. I will get into my car and I will leave. She will stay here and will come for you. I am counting on your silence. After all, we all did something quite illegal here. So, if anyone says anything, it will be like the cold war: mutually assured destruction. Let us all keep our mouths shut. I will call you in an hour Von, and I hope you will be at a hospital with Pat, so they can look after him. And Pat, I am sorry for hitting you so badly. I really am. Carine, you will take your husband to a different hospital, to avoid scrutiny, ok?”
Carine nodded. She was terrified and that was a good thing. She wouldn’t play the hero thought Liam and he was probably right. Liam put the bag over his shoulder and asked for Carine to walk in front of him. He went up the stairs while keeping an eye on the men who were left wondering if the woman, they cherished so much was going to come back safe and sound. Liam saw the fear in their eyes.
“Carine will be back in a few minutes, do not worry. And she will be safe and sound. You have my word, judge.”
As Liam was closing the door to the basement, Carine fell on her knees and started sobbing. She was shaking uncontrollably. Liam couldn’t help himself so, he put the bag down, and put his hands on Carine’s shoulders. He helped her get up and gave her a hug. As soon as she felt that human contact, she broke and cried for what seemed to be an hour. He consoled her by saying nothing and hugging her, to reassure her.
After all, he knew the family for more than 10 years. They had come to his wedding and helped him get work when he wasn’t on duty as a police officer. All those great moments came rushing back and he felt sorry for what he was doing but his husband needed him. He gently pushed Carine away from his shoulder.
“You will be fine Carine. I am about to leave, and all this will soon feel like a nightmare, ok?”
She nodded and she felt a bit reassured.
They went up the stairs of the first basement, went through the spacious kitchen and walked towards the door. Liam put his hand on the door handle and opened it. He turned around to say goodbye to Carine. He saw her eyes open as widely as possible and her skin go completely pale, out of fear and she was looking over Liam’s shoulder. Keeping his calm, Liam turned around slowly and saw a woman standing there, with her right arm raised high and her hand closed in a fist. She was obviously about to knock but Liam must have opened the door half a second before she could knock. Liam recognized Liz, Von’s wife.
“What’s with the bag, bro?”, said nonchalantly the woman behind Liz. Liam looked over Liz’s shoulder and recognized Naomi. The former judge had asked him to do some research on Liz and whoever she would hang out with. He easily recognized the hippie Naomi.
Instinctively, Liam tightened his grip on the bag, as if someone were about to take it from him. Before he could answer, Liz barged into the house and walked past Carine.
“Where is Pat?”
“Who?”, asked innocently Carine. She had gotten her composure back.
“Carine, don’t play dumb with me. I know he is here, and I know Von is here too!”
A few hours earlier, when Naomi and Liz watched the video of Andrea blowing Von, Naomi was smart enough to go and look at the number that sent the video. She memorized and put in her phone as soon as she entered her building. She thought she might use it one day but when Liz received the picture, the one that showed how bruised and beaten up Pat was, she called Pat’s friend, the hacker. Within a few minutes, he was able to locate Pat’s phone and Von’s, at the same address, meaning Von’s parents’ house. They drove there, ready to confront Von and whoever else was involved.
“So, what’s in the bag, bro?”, asked again Naomi, while ignoring Liz and her mother in law. Liam was smart and quick enough to slide his gun behind his back.
“Why do you ask?”, asked Liam.
“Just curious”, replied Naomi.
And just like that, Liam walked out the door, without looking back or saying anything else. He got into his car and left.
“Interesting dude. He’s a cop, right?”
Both Carine and Liz turned around and stared at Naomi.
“Why do you say that?”, said Carine, with a worried tone.
“I don’t know. The way he walks, his calm, his whole demeanor and Von’s dad is a former judge. I am thinking he knows cops. I don’t know…Plus, you became pale when I said he was a cop and you asked the question using a tone filled with fear. But I would say, the most important clue was the police badge in his inner jacket pocket that became slightly visible as he was holding the bag over his shoulder. I mean, he could have left that in the car.”
Liz couldn’t help but smile. Naomi looked and acted aloof sometimes but her observational and deduction skills were off the charts. It might have had something to do with her physical abuse as a kid. When someone is three times your size and hits you frequently, you develop skills that allow you to read situation and people.
“I am simply thinking out loud, anyway. So, Mrs. Former judge, Von’s mon, whom I haven’t had the pleasure to meet…Great to meet you by the way. I am Naomi. Under any other circumstances, you would have loved me. I am not so sure now, but it’s ok. Are Von and Pat here, by any chance?”
“No, Von is not here and I don’t know who this Pat person is.”
“Come on, lady. My question was rhetorical. Of course, they are here. I mean Von’s car is outside”, replied an exasperated and slightly amused Naomi.
Carine didn’t know what to say. She started stuttering and she couldn’t find anything to say.
“Why are you lying Mrs. Kazeka?”, continued Naomi, “We know for sure Pat and Von are here, so why the lies? Is it because the guy who just left might have roughed up my girl’s ex?”
Before Carine could say anything, Liz and Naomi saw Von emerging from the kitchen. He was carrying Pat in his arms like a baby. Von’s father, who could barely walk, was holding on Von’s arm, and trying desperately not to fall. Carine turned around and immediately ran towards her family. Liz and Naomi stood there, petrified, not knowing what to make of the situation.
“They’re BFFs now?”, said calmly Naomi.
Liz turned around and looked Naomi straight in the eye.
“You need to stop making jokes, Naomi. Seriously!” and then Liz walked away. Naomi stood there by herself, perplexed.
“I’m just sayin…It’s weird”, she said to herself.
Carine got hold of her husband and took him on the sofa where he was able to lie down. Von put Pat on the other sofa and Pat groaned out of pain. As he was catching his breath, Liz pushed him out of the way and kneeled to look at Pat. She saw all the bruises and understood the extent of the beating her ex had received.
“I am calling an ambulance.”
Von’s voice was firm and loud. Liz turned around and saw rage in his eyes.
“I am going to take him to the hospital myself, in my car. We are going to Charles-Le Moyne hospital right now. Feel free to follow us. Pat is my responsibility”. He then turned around and stared at his mother.
“You will take your husband to the CHUM Hôpital Saint-Luc, far from here. Go now before any internal injuries cause irreparable damage and hope that no one makes any connection or ever finds out about this”
“Son…”, started saying the former judge.
“What do you want, old man?”
The former judge looked down, ashamed to see the divide between himself and his son. Perhaps, he had thought his own flesh and blood would have jumped aboard his plan and humiliate even further the man the former judge deemed responsible for his son’s unhappiness and misfortune. Things had not gone according to plan.
“You cannot take him to the hospital, any hospital.”
“What is this? The mafia? You are the Don now, dad? I suggest you shut up, get in mom’s car and hopefully, you will be fine. And let’s hope Pat recovers from this hell you put him through. I hope you will keep this quiet, right Pat?”
Liz’s ex weakly nodded and coughed.
“I am coming with you”, said Liz.
“No, you are not.”
“Yes, I am.”
“Listen Liz, I don’t have time for this, ok? I will take care of Pat, I promise. Your presence, with the stress that comes along, would only distract both of us.”
“How can I ever trust you that you won’t finish him off or that you will take a detour, so his condition gets worse? I don’t trust you, Von! I never will again.”
“I trust him”, said Pat.
“Damn, they are BFFs!”, said Naomi after whistling her surprise.
Liz turned around, gave Naomi the death stare and then looked at Pat. He was in bad shape. His face was swollen, he had dried blood around his nostrils and mouth, and he was holding his ribs, which were mostly likely broken. She opened her mouth to speak but Pat spoke first.
“Von took care of me and defended me. I don’t know what’s going on in that little twisted head of his, but I trust him.”
Von had his hands resting on his hips, looking lost, embarrassed, and anxious.
“Are you sure about this?”, asked Liz.
“Yes, he is. Now, let’s go!”, responded Von. Before leaving, he went to talk to his parents.
“I am ashamed of you. What you did today is inexcusable. I certainly hope you are ashamed of yourselves. Mom, take your husband to the hospital. Call me when you get there.”
Von went back to Pat who was now sitting on the couch. He tried to help him up and Liz jumped in to assist Pat get up. With Liz and Von holding Pat from each side, they started walking through the door, while Naomi was leading the way, without making any snarky remarks.
All four of them got so startled that they stopped walking right away and Von saw Naomi put her right hand on her right ear, in an attempt to protect from the decibels’ attack. Thankfully, they were near the kitchen and Von grabbed a highchair so Pat could sit. He then turned around and faced his father who was a few meters away but standing up. Von could also see his veins popping on his forehead next to the cut on his head. Carine tried to help her husband, but he let out a grunt and she moved aside. Von walked towards his father.
“What is it, old man?”
“I am your father, you will treat me with respect, whether you like it or not.”
“You lost my respect when you kidnapped a man, held him here and beat the shit out of him. You didn’t even have the guts to do it yourself, you hired a goon to do it for you, you fucking coward.”
As Von was talking, his father was walking towards him and by the time he called him a coward, he was close enough to take a shot at him, like when he was a kid and couldn’t get his spelling right in his homework. The former judge threw his open hand against his son’s face, but he was too slow, too weak, too old and his son was everything but. Von grabbed his father’s wrist and twisted slowly until the old man grunted and he let him go.
“Yeah…You still believe you are this powerful person. You know what you are? A fossil. You believe you still yield power, that people shake at the mention of your name. They don’t. You are old, weak and you are not worthy of any respect. You wear and cling to this goddamned title of judgeship like a second skin. It defines you so much that you are nothing without it. That fucking title gave you power and now I realize you might have abused the power that was given to you and so, more than once.”
The former judge smiled from ear to ear.
“You are goddamn right I have power. I still yield power. Your little entitled brain cannot comprehend it. You think I am a fossil? Well, you know nothing about me or my affairs. Liam was just one of the many cops on my payroll. I have influence and power, things that money cannot buy. It takes decades of hard work, intimidation and connections to have influence and power. You clearly have no idea of the power I yield, boy. Your new friend Pat is safe for tonight, but I will put another one of my guys on him soon and he won’t last a week. You think you saved him today? Maybe you did. But it will not last. That’s a promise”.
Von looked desperately at his mother and he only saw satisfaction on her face. She seemed to enjoy his father’s monologue. Von had the feeling she agreed with everything his father had just said. The thought of that possibility made him uneasy and he felt his stomach tighten up.
“Who the fuck are you people? What is going on? Where have my parents gone? You were never angels, but you were never psychopaths either. What is wrong with you?”
His mother stepped in and spoke.
“What is wrong with us? How dare you, son! The question is, what is wrong with you?”, yelled Carine. It was the first time Von had heard his mother raise her voice. She was always calm and collected. She was never antagonistic with anybody and she was great at conflict resolution, according to the people in the charity world who had nothing but praise for her.
“You brought this tramp in our lives and you let her run free and sleep around without thinking of your reputation, of OUR reputation! Look at us now! Are you happy? Do you feel good about yourself? What you do, reflects on us, baby. Now this goddamn tramp has ruined our lives and yours especially. Tell me…What were we supposed to do? Do you know how long it took us to build our reputation and our influence? You think this house and your cushy lifestyle, your trips, your good schools were paid for with smiles and hugs? No, son! Your father did what he had to do, to ensure we all had a great life. And now, you want us to relinquish our power because we couldn’t keep our son in line? And because our son couldn’t keep this slut in line? I never thought of you as weak and pathetic but evidently you are.”
Von couldn’t believe his ears. He just stood there, breathless, too lost to do anything. His sweet mother had uttered words he never thought he would hear from her. Von took a step back and then turned around and walked away while having his hands on his head and not believing what he had witnessed.
He turned around and saw Naomi. Their eyes met and he saw pity in her eyes. She was actually feeling sorry for him.
“Let’s go. I grew up with parents like these. I know the damage they inflict on their children and people around them. Let’s just go. Please.”
She placed her hand on his and pulled him aside. Von looked at Pat and Liz. They both were looking down, confirming their discomfort at what had transpired. Von put his arm around Pat’s shoulder and picked him up.
At that exact moment, the front door opened violently, with a loud bang. At least a dozen Montreal police officers entered the premises while their leader was holding a warrant and the rest of the officers were telling everybody to stay still and obey their directives. Instinctively, Von put Pat back on the highchair in the kitchen and looked on his right. He saw his father being handcuffed without any consideration for his age or his injuries. He tried to go and help but three officers tried to subdue him. He was able to punch one and shove another but before he could get anywhere near his father, he felt an intense pain on the back of his head and his face met the hardwood floor.
When Von regained his senses, he was at a hospital, but he couldn’t tell which one. Surprisingly, he was handcuffed to his bed. Then he remembered he had punched one police officer and shoved another. He looked around but he couldn’t see his father, nor his mother or anyone else that was with him at the house. He called out for a nurse and a young male nurse by the name of Benoit, came in. Since he didn’t know anything, he called out and a police officer in civilian clothes came in.
“Mr Kazeka, I am detective Carl Grenier. I was told by the doctors you have a mild concussion. How are you feeling?”
“Where are my parents?”
“We’ll get to that. I will uncuff you if that’s ok with you.”
Von nodded and a second later, his left hand was free.
“Your father is receiving medical care, and he will be ok. I can take you to see him if you’d like.”
“I would appreciate that. What’s going to happen to him?”
“First, let’s talk about you because you punched one of my guys during your father’s arrest. I want to be clear; the only reason we are not charging is your father’s reputation and career which are about to take a big hit in light of the circumstances. The officer you hit is well and isn’t pressing charges. He just saw a son trying to help his father. Let’s say you are lucky.”
Von could only nod but his heart was beating like a drum. He didn’t want to show how happy he was to be free of any prosecution.
“Your wife asked to see you the moment you’d be up. Would you like me to send her in?”
Officer Grenier walked out and before he opened the door, he turned around.
“Mr. Kazeka, your father is about to go through hell. So, are you.”
Officer Grenier and a minute later, Liz came in. She pulled a chair and sat next to the bed. By then, Von was sitting up on the bed and felt lightheaded. Sitting up made his blood flow a bit faster and he felt alive again, despite the throbbing headache.
“Hey”, said Liz.
“Hey. How is Pat?”
“He is in bad shape, Von. One of the broken ribs punctured his lung and he was bleeding internally. He is in surgery right now.”
Suddenly, she started sobbing uncontrollably. Von sat there, not knowing what to do. After a moment’s hesitation, he got off the bed and gave his wife a hug. It felt strange to touch her again, after the crazy night they had. She kept crying while he held her and kissed her forehead. She wiped the tears away from her eyes and looked up at him. She kissed him and hugged him tighter than ever.
“They found a tumor in Pat’s pancreas. They think Pat knew about the cancer because he had an oncologist’s card in his jacket pocket.”
The news almost made Von fall. He simply stood up and looked at his wife with utter disbelief. She saw it and a sad smile came to her face.
“Why are you smiling Liz? You serious?”
“Well, it is a sad smile. Pat has become this person you care about in a weird way, when a few hours ago, you wanted to destroy him.”
Von looked down, not knowing what to say.
“Life is strange that way. In one night, I bonded with my wife’s ex and I found out my parents are criminals and they are ashamed of me. I wish I had gone to the gym after work instead of worrying if my wife is cheating on me.”
They both laughed and looked at each other with a deep appreciation they hadn’t felt in a while towards each other.
“Is he going to be ok?”
“I don’t know. He is in bad shape and the existing cancer isn’t helping.”
“Let me know if I can help. I must go see my father.”
“I understand. I will be here, waiting for Pat to come out of surgery.”
“Ok. I’ll check up on you later.”
Von gave Liz a kiss on the forehead and she left. He got dressed and asked nurse Benoit where his father was. He got the room number and went up one floor. He saw a police officer in uniform posted in front of his father’s room. He walked towards the room, but a hand grabbed his elbow from behind. Von turned around and saw Arnie, his father’s long-time friend who also acted as his lawyer. Seeing him made Von feel at ease and he hugged him. Arnie hugged him back with warmth as he always did, since he was a kid.
“You ok, my boy?”
“I am ok, Arnie. What the hell is happening here?”
“Let’s sit over here”, he said while he pointed at two chairs bolted against the wall. They sat down and Arnie took a deep breath.
“Your father is being charged with many crimes here, dating back 5 years at least. I spoke to the prosecutor and she might get me a deal, but your father might have to go to jail for a few years. Your mother will not be charged, she is safe.”
The idea of seeing his father behind bars made Von’s stomach turn. He saw a trash can and run towards it. He hurled in it and couldn’t get up. He felt Arnie’s reassuring touch on his back. He hurled again and wiped his mouth clean. Arnie helped him up and took him back to the chair. Arnie then went to the vending machine and got him a bottle of apple juice, which was his favourite as a kid. He handed it to Von and a big smile came on his tired face.
“Always looking after me, huh?”
“Always, my boy!”
Arnie walked Von through everything. His father had been using off duty police officers to settle scores with his rivals and enemies for years now and he was under surveillance for the past 4 months. Officer Liam was caught reselling drugs he had confiscated, and he offered incriminating evidence against Von’s father, in exchange for a reduced sentence. Liam knew the judge wanted to hurt the man responsible for breaking his son’s marriage and a surveillance team had been a few hundred meters from the house.
“Wait!”, said Von, “what about the money Liam took from my parents?”
Arnie turned around and looked at Von, with utter surprise.
“Liam took 500k from my parents, at gunpoint. Please tell me he got arrested after leaving the house.”
“No, he wasn’t! Fuck! Let me call the prosecutor! You should go see your father, Von.”
Arnie got up and started going through his phone.
“Arnie, what do I say to him?”
Arnie had the phone already against his ear and he looked back at Von.
“I don’t know, my boy. Just go see your parents”, and Arnie walked away to talk to the prosecutor.
The police officer opened the door for him. Von’s father was lying on the bed and his mother was holding his left hand, while his right hand was handcuffed to the bed.
Both parents looked relieved and happy to see their son. Weirdly enough, Von felt a bolt of happiness going through his body, heart and mind. He pulled up a chair and sat next to his father.
“Hi mom. Hello dad.”
Von’s hand met his father’s and they all sat there in silence. They looked at each other and smiled, sad smiles to be sure.
“What now?”, asked Von, waiting impatiently for an answer.
For the first time ever, he saw tears in his father’s eyes and his mom started crying into the bedsheets. Emotions were running high. Von opted for silence.
“I don’t know, son. I messed up. I really and truly messed up.”
“Yes, dad, you did!”
“I am sorry too, baby.”
Von looked at his mother, who had tears rolling down her pretty face. He stared at her and felt tears coming down his own cheeks. He wiped them away and took a deep breath.
“As selfish as it sounds, and in light of all the illegal shit you and dad have pulled, your words tonight hurt the most, mom. You called me weak and pathetic. You said I brought shame on our family name. You insulted my wife. Yet, you never stopped to acknowledge all the bad things you did tonight.”
Carine started sobbing, perhaps realizing the weight of her words and how they affected her son. She looked up, seeking his eyes, his forgiveness, his love.
“Mom, I am not going to lie to you. I cannot look at you right now. I don’t even know how or when I am going to let this go, to forgive you. I don’t even know if I can. You have always been the one person who never hurt me. Even when dad was being harsh on me, as a kid, you always defended me and offered me shelter in your arms. Tonight, I became a stranger to you, a weak, pathetic man.”
Carine got up and came over to his side. Von pushed the chair back, stood and put his right hand in front of him, as to stop his mom.
“No, mom. I need time. I need space. From both of you. Arnie told me what’s going on. I am simply going to leave, ok? Do not call me or text me for at least a few days. I need to isolate myself. I gotta go. Bye.”
And he left. He didn’t look back. He got out of the room and went outside. He sat on a bench near the ambulances’ entrance. He cried like a little boy that he had become in the past few minutes. All his life, he had worked to be a good son to his parents. He had listened to almost everything they ever told him. He followed their rules and in one night, his world got turned upside down.
He felt a hand on his shoulder, and he jumped up. It was Arnie’s.
“Sorry I startled you Von.”
Von took a deep breath and felt relieved.
“It’s ok, Arnie. So, did they catch Liam?”
“The prosecutor talked to the police captain and they sent 2 cars at his house, but he wasn’t there, nor was his husband.”
“I see. Well, I guess, someone got some money in this whole goddamn fiasco.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
Arnie looked down at his shoes, and he was visibly shaken.
“What’s going on, Arnie?”
He sat down next to Von.
“Listen, Von. Your father is a powerful and important person, with many connections and he is a former judge. There are a lot of pieces moving around right now. The mayor of Montreal is involved, the minister of justice is involved, and many other influential and powerful people are involved. My phone has been ringing non-stop for 2 hours now. I don’t know where this is going but I promise I will keep you posted. I simply wanted to ask you to be as strong as you can. And forgiving, if you can.”
Von looked up, hoping the tears that were on his eyes, would fall back into his eyeballs.
“You know what he did to that poor guy, right?”
“Yes, I know. It was wrong, I know, my boy. And I am sorry for the whole thing.”
“I know you are Arnie. I can’t promise anything. Hurtful things were done and hurtful words were said. I don’t know where we are headed but I can’t promise anything. I will do my best to hold it together and hold this goddamn family together, even they disowned me earlier tonight.”
Both Arnie and Von looked on their left and they saw Liz and Naomi standing there. Von looked at Arnie, and he got up. He went up to Liz and gave her a hug. Arnie had always been kind and polite to Liz and she loved him for it. He had embraced from the moment he met her. He also hugged Naomi, who hugged him back, despite her disinterest in touchy feely sentiments and gestures.
After Arnie left, the girls sat next to Von.
“How is Pat?”, he asked.
“He is out of surgery and he is in the recovery room. We cannot see him for now.”
“I get it.”
“How is your father?”, reluctantly asked Liz.
“He is fine. His troubles are just starting anyway.”
“I bet!”, said Naomi.
Liz gave her a disapproving look and she looked away. Von felt uncomfortable sitting there, with his wife next to him, so he got up.
“Listen, Liz. I can’t stay here. I need to think and to get away from this hospital. I will stop by tomorrow to see Pat. I am going home to pick up some clothes and I will go to a hotel. You can go home anytime; I will not be returning anytime soon. I need to think, and I need to be alone.”
“Von, listen, I know that…”
“Liz, please. Don’t argue with me. I beg you. We’ll talk tomorrow, ok?”
She nodded and he turned around. He started walking.
It was Naomi’s voice.
“Go ahead”, said Von, with a defeated look and demeanor, “hit me with your sarcasm, Naomi. It might make me smile or even make me feel better.”
“I just wanted to tell you that you did something great today, with Pat. I mean that.”
“Well, thanks Naomi. First and last time I get a compliment from you, I am sure.”
“It doesn’t erase all the bad and fucked up shit you have done to your wife.”
“No, it doesn’t, and it shouldn’t.”
“Glad we understand each other.”
“Have a good night Naomi. And thanks, I guess for the compliment”, and he left.
Liz didn’t see Von for another three weeks. It was a bright summer morning in Montreal, with the sun shining and a warm temperature. She saw him but didn’t speak to him. Too many people around and Von was busy with the ceremony. She caught up to him before he got into his car.
He smiled when he saw her.
They hugged awkwardly but as soon as she felt his body and his perfume, she hugged me even tighter and he did the same. They stayed there, like two people who hadn’t seen each other in decades, hugging and enjoying each other’s warmth. Liz couldn’t help it. She cried in his arms and he kept his arms around her, telling her it was ok to cry and to let the pain out.
“You two are back together?”
Naomi’s voice made them look around and they let each other go.
“Well, I wouldn’t say that”, responded Von with a smirk on his face.
“I sure hope not! You guys are like gasoline and fire. Putting you together is like an explosion waiting to happen”, said Naomi with a smile.
All three laughed and then silence followed.
“Can I talk to you?”, asked Von.
“I was talking to Liz, smartass”
“I meant sure; you have my blessing.”
“Well, since, we’ve got it…”
Liz and Von walked away shaking their heads at Naomi who couldn’t shut up or make jokes. They sat on a bench under a tree and they both looked at the sky.
“I loved what you did today, Von.”
“I wanted to.”
Silence again. They were having a weird conversation and they didn’t know what to do.
“I am sorry he is gone, Liz. He was a good man.”
“I can’t believe he is dead, Von.”
Pat’s pancreatic cancer had spread to his liver and lungs. When they did the surgery to repair his punctured lung, they found a big tumor in his lung that had developed and a subsequent MRI showed the cancer had spread to his liver. But it was already too far advanced in his pancreas.
“I thought it was weird and great you were one of the pallbearers carrying the casket.”
“He asked me the day before he died at the hospital. I couldn’t refuse him.”
“How did you guys become so close in 3 weeks?”, she asked with an astonished look on her face.
“I cannot explain it, Liz. As I sat by his side and we talked, we connected and now I feel like a lost a friend, a brother.”
“Life is weird like that, right?”
“Yes, it fucking is!”
“Were you there when he died?”
“No. I left the night before and I got the call the next morning.”
Silence again. Pat’s death was hard to talk about for both of them.
“I cannot believe he is gone”, said Liz once again.
“Listen Liz…I wanted to apology…”
“Not now, Von.”
“Yes, now Liz. If not now, when? Please.”
She took a deep breath and she nodded, giving him the go signal to speak.
“I am so sorry I mistreated you. I am so sorry I hit you. I am so sorry I hurt you, physically and psychologically. I am so sorry I put you through an ordeal no human being should ever go through. I am sorry I didn’t love you like you deserved. I am so sorry I messed up your life. I am so sorry I was never the man you expected me to be.”
He stopped and took a deep breath. Liz saw how hurt he seemed to be and she couldn’t believe it.
“You are a completely different person today. How did this happen?”
“I don’t know. That night seemed to have changed me so profoundly that I can barely wrap around my head everything that happened. I still don’t understand half the things that are going on. Nevertheless, the apology is sincere and I hope you find the strength one day to truly forgive me.”
“I need time, Von.”
“I know you do. Take all the time you need. I am leaving Canada for a moment.”
“What? Where are you going?”
“My mother is from France. I will start there. I don’t know her family so I thought I would give it a shot and maybe do a little bit of tourism. I don’t know how long I am going to stay but I need a change of scenery to get my mind right.”
“Is your lady friend coming with you?”
Von shook his head.
“No, she isn’t. What happened with her was a mistake. I haven’t spoken to her since that night. She tried to reach out but I wasn’t in the mood to talk to anybody.”
“You don’t have to explain yourself to me, you know.”
“You asked about her and I answered.”
“What about your parents?”
“You have seen what is going on in the papers. They have enough to deal with. My father might go to jail, but I cannot be here right now. I am leaving tomorrow. As selfish as it sounds, they are on their own. For now. Maybe in a few weeks or months, when I am ready, I will come back to help. But for now…I gotta get away from this place.”
He got up and extended his hand to her. She took it and got up. He hugged one last time, tightly. She realized how much she had missed him but she didn’t say anything.
“Thanks for everything, Liz. I will always love you for who you are. I mean that. I hope you find the peace we are all looking for”, and he walked to his car.
Liz watched him drive away. She stood there, not knowing what to do. In one damned night, her marriage had ended, her ex-boyfriend was gone forever, along with a part of her soul. It was too much to process, even almost a month later. She didn’t know what the future held but for the first time, she wasn’t afraid.
“What now?”, asked Naomi.
“Now, we carry on, Naomi. As we always had.”