I stood off to the side of my car bent at the waist; hands propped on my knees to keep me from falling face first, and waited out the wave of heaves that followed. My stomach clenched threateningly, in rapid succession, trying to force out food that was no longer there. When I thought I might be safe enough to stand up again, the smell would hitch a ride on the light breeze and start it all over again. It was sickly sweet and I remembered it was the same as in my dream. The smell of blood and carnage.
"Jesus…" Jackson stared down at the mess in my trunk and grabbed at the red cloth, taking a look further under it. Good for him. Personally, I didn't care to know how much worse it got.
"And you're sure this wasn't here earlier? You didn't smell anything strange when you were coming to work?"
"I think I would remember the smell of a deer rotting in my trunk, Jackson," choking back the retching blunted the harsh tone I tried to put in my voice, "Just get rid of it."
"Who the Hell would put a dead deer in your trunk?"
My affirmation that it couldn't have been Frank shattered with Jackson's question. Slashing tires? No. Slashing tires so I discover the gruesome gift in my trunk? Yes, I would have to say that was very Frank which meant he, or one of his lackeys, had been here while I was working. They had been that close.
Out loud I said, "I don't know. Someone with a sick and disturbed sense of humor?"
I could feel his stare on my back. He wasn't buying it, but he wasn't pressing me for the answer either. I turned and glanced over my shoulder to find him shaking his head but he dropped it. I moved to the passenger side and opened the door to dig some mints out of my bag, hoping to mask the residual taste of vomit.
As I dug in the hopelessly large bag, I felt the car rise slightly on its frame and knew that Jackson had to have just lifted the animal out of the car. I decided to stay right there, hunkered inside the Toyota, until he managed to drop the deer off in the surrounding wooded area. I didn't think I could bear seeing the mutilated carcass again. It reminded me too much of the dream I had a while back. Its throat was tore out, its stomach eviscerated, just like mine had been in the nightmare. Maybe I was projecting but I just did not want to look at it again.
After about ten minutes, or so, I heard Jackson's shit-kickers approaching again. I felt bad that the poor thing had to be dumped in the woods but it was its natural habitat and I needed it as far away from me as possible.
"Harley, check this out."
I almost told him Hell no, I did not want to see any more tonight. Instead I bravely peeked my head out of the open passenger door and looked down the length of the car to find Jackson carrying the red cloth the deer had been wrapped in.
"Oh God, Jackson! Why didn't you just leave it on that thing? It's all covered in blood and gore and… Bambi bits."
"Just look at it, girl. Damn."
I groaned, but did as I was told. He held the cloth up at its full length, just at his sternum, and used one hand to lift the top up. What he held was not just some cut of fabric, as I thought, but a cloak. An honest to God red winter cloak complete with hood. It looked like something Little Red Riding Hood would wear. My throat suddenly went dry.
"What the fuck are they doing wrapping it in something like this?" he would ask, his steely eyes staring at me and swimming with as much confusion as I felt.
I stared at the cloak as it hung from his hands, my veins icing over from the fear creeping over me. There was something else about it. Something off about the way the fabric looked in the center of the back. I stood up and turned my body towards it, letting the light from the street hit it at another angle. There was a pattern to it, something that stood out with straighter lines beside the smudges and dampness of the blood. As my eyes followed those unnaturally straight lines of blood I felt my heart nearly stop.
"Get rid of it," I snapped, slamming the passenger side door.
"Well that's a no brainer, but we need to-"
"Get rid of it, Jackson!" I made my way around the front of my car, my keys gripped in my palm, "Throw it in the dumpster, the woods… burn it. I don't care just get rid of it."
I opened my door and turned on the car. I gave only a glance in my rearview mirror back to Jackson and the red cloak in his hands, back to the 'H' written in the deer's blood, and pulled my car out of the lot as fast as I could.
I pulled up to my apartment in record time. I wanted to be as far away from the club, as far away from that cloak and the eviscerated deer carcass, as quickly as possible. Hell, I barely remember getting on and off the highway.
I grabbed my bags, made my way upstairs, and locked every deadbolt and chain I had as I shut my front door. Though I normally don't open my windows I still went around to each one and checked it, making sure it was locked tight and curtains were drawn. I was the picture of paranoia.
Once all the windows and doors were checked, I made a mad dash to my bedroom and sat on the edge of my bed with a forceful bounce. I ransacked the side table drawer until I found my emergency stash of smokes and pulled one free of the cardboard with shaky hands. I had quit a few months ago but just couldn't bring myself to throw the leftover pack in the trash. Who knew when I might need them? I was praising my foresight as I lit the cigarette.
I let the nicotine calm my nerves down, a cough erupting from lungs that were out of practice. The mixture of the coughing and the nicotine hitting at once brought a nice little buzzed sensation in my brain. After a few moments I was able to quell the coughing and breathe in the smoke easier. Like riding a bicycle.
What was going on? Everything came crashing against me in that moment; Liz's earth-shattering revelation, our falling out, Frank's reappearance into my life. I couldn't tell which one was worse. The image of the deer bleeding out in my car turned my stomach. That was a lie; I knew exactly which was worse.
The question returned to my mind: What was it Frank wanted from me? If this was just about his bike then the idea of him needing a round of psychotherapy had been greatly understated by me. 'Psycho' being the keyword.
I swiveled on my bed, bringing my legs up to lay straight in front of me as I lay my head back against the wall.
And Liz! What was it she wanted from me? Had she really thought I wouldn't freak out about it? I don't know a single person in their right mind that wouldn't have done what I did. This wasn't her telling me she ruined my favorite skirt or brought my car back with a mysterious dent in the fender. Hell, I didn't even flip out when she told me she was gay. Give me a little credit to be fucking human.
Thinking of her reminded me of the feeling I had in my stomach when I saw the blood dripping from the trunk of my car. Of the despair and fear creeping up my spine as I remembered she had not shown up for work tonight. Just the thought of what could have been was enough to drive the tears freely from my eyes.
I fished my phone from my pocket and pressed my thumb to the little icon with her picture to dial her cell.
Katy Perry's "Peacock" played in my ears as her phone rang. Any other time it would have brought a smile to my lips, a giggle from my throat, but I was too distraught to reminisce about our little dance we had done for the club staff after closing.
A hard sigh blew past my lips. The phone had rung long enough that I began to doubt she would pick up. Perhaps she was still mad at me.
"Hello?" a small, irritated voice called from the other end, forcing a billow of smoke out of my mouth before I had even had a chance to breathe it in properly.
"Liz? You're okay?"
"What? Yeah, I'm fine. Why wouldn't I be?"
I felt my heart flood with relief. Thank God. It wasn't as bad as I had thought it would be.
"Just… hard night. Look, Liz, I just wanted to apologize," the words were so simple but the moment I said them aloud I felt a weight lift from my shoulders.
"Don't apologize. You can't take it back and I don't want to hear it."
That was all it took for the moment of relief to shatter.
"Oh, come on. I was a bitch and I am sorry. I freaked out. Do you blame me? That was a pretty big bomb to drop and I wasn't prepared to handle it and I handled it wrong. What do you want from me?"
"Harley, just… don't call me again," the phone went dead.
I pulled the phone from my ear and stared at it in silence. She had just hung up on me. Okay, so I was a stupid bitch in how I handled the situation but…. Never talk to her again? Did my mistake deserve that? Now who was being irrational? And, for the record, I was COMPLETELY rational with my reaction to what she revealed to me, thank you.
Oh, what is this? You're a werewolf, Liz? Well, this is a surprise. Still on for coffee?
That would be irrational.
The phone rings as I move to set it on the bedside table and I feel my heart jump into my throat. Maybe she realized she was being a little harsh. Without looking to the screen, I answered it.
"Did you get my gift, Harls?" his voice was deep, raspy, and full of amusement. My blood went cold.
"Hey babe. I was hoping you'd pick up. Voicemails are so…. Impersonal."
My breath was sucked from my lungs. How did he get this number? What did he want? I could barely think past the lump in my throat.
"You there, Harls?"
I could barely breathe, how was I going to talk?
"How did you get this number?" I managed to squeak out through the tightness in my throat. I was met with his soft laughter. The laugh that says I am being naïve and silly.
"The hows and whys are so boring, really. Especially when there are much more interesting things to talk about. We have a lot to discuss, Harley. Why don't you just tell me somewhere we can meet up so we can handle business?"
"We have nothing to talk about. I told you everything I knew about your bike. Now it's your problem."
I suddenly remembered the guy I had sold it to. The one I sent this crazy asshole straight to.
"You didn't hurt the guy at the shop, did you?" I held my breath as I waited for his answer. God, if I brought pain to another innocent person…
"Jeez, Harls. You really do think I am a monster, don't you?" Normally, these words would be spoken with an offended tone to it. Not from Frank. He actually had an amused lilt to his voice, "He'll think twice when he buys his bikes from now on. We'll just leave it at that."
I felt something burning against my fingers, red-hot and painful, "FUCK!" I screamed as my hand jerked up. My cigarette had burned all the way down to the filter, my lap littered with flakes of ash. I snubbed the smoldering filter into an empty pop can and pushed it into the opening. "Fuck.." I murmured again, this time thinking about the guy at the shop as I cradled my burnt knuckles with my other hand.
"Damn, girl, that's a lot of emotion for some stranger. You sure there isn't more to it?"
It was a loaded question. Something I could recognize all too well with him. Instead of answering, I threw a question of my own at him.
"What the Hell do you want, Frank? Obviously you got what you wanted; you got your precious bike back. Why can't you just take it and leave me the fuck alone?"
"You wound me. This isn't just about the Beast, Harls. This is about reclaiming my property. All of my property," he said matter-of-factly. The humor was gone from his voice now. No more games. I could only hope.
"I'm not yours anymore, Frank. I never really was."
"Oh, but you are so wrong about that. You were mine. You are mine. See, I picked you. Out of all the women in this world, you are the one that I chose to ride behind me. We belong together, Harley. It's destiny. You are meant to rule beside me."
"It's a fucking M.C., Frank, not a royal family in England or whatever. You can find a hundred women that would be more than willing to be your old lady. Let one of them 'rule' with you. I'm not a part of it anymore," I tried to hold my head high, keep my shoulders straight, as I rejected him. Even if he couldn't see it, I was hoping it would translate through the phone.
"Baby, you have no clue what it is. Not even in your wildest dreams," he was almost cooing the words. "But you will. Soon enough, you'll see what I'm offering."
"Please, Frank. Just let me live my life in peace. I haven't done a damn thing to you. I haven't told anyone what happened. Please…"
"You think I'm afraid of you calling the cops? That shit is small potatoes. They're only men, Harls. Call 'em. Let them come after me. That's not what's important. What's important is you coming to your senses. You will, you know. Soon enough you'll be ready to come back to me. All I gotta do is wait. And baby? I got all the time in the world."
The blood in my veins turned to shards of ice. He wasn't going to stop until I was back at his side or dead. That seemed to be the only other option he would accept. Well that wasn't going to happen. Not without a fight.
"Then I guess you better invest in some crosswords cause it's going to be a nice long wait," I didn't give him a chance to respond. I thumbed over the End button on my phone and tossed it to the bed before twisting around and sliding my hand between the headboard and wall. I fumbled around blindly for a moment before feeling the cold metal and slid it from its holster.
I pulled my 9mm from the back of the headboard and sat back against it, cradling the gun in my hand. When I was with Frank I had used a gun once or twice. Well, I held a gun. I'd only shot once and it was at a can of beer with Frank's arms around me helping me aim. A shudder ran over my body as I remembered the heat of his arms against mine, his strong grip around my hands as we held the gun steady.
No. This wasn't the same. I had taken it upon myself to learn how to shoot a gun and went to the gun club downtown to practice religiously. I didn't want to risk being at his mercy unprotected. My hand stroked the side of the chamber tentatively as I forced the memories of him away from me. This gun, and all the training behind it, was all me. I had done it, not Frank. Remembering that helped me push the memories from my mind enough that they didn't distract me.
I reached into my nightstand and pulled out the small key that went to the trigger lock and unlocked it, tossing it and the key into the drawer. I opened the action and made a visual check of the chamber before reaching into my drawer once more.
I pushed all the collective crap towards the front of the drawer and shuffled around until I found my magazine and loaded it into the butt of the Beretta with a loud click. The sound of it clicking into place echoed in my empty room, made the hair on my arms stand on end. I pulled the slide back to feed one into the chamber and let out a tentative breath.
Yes, I was taught better than to keep a loaded gun when I wasn't actively using it. My trainer at the gun club would be lecturing me into oblivion if he had seen me but I had no idea what Frank had up his sleeve. For all I knew, he could have been watching me at that very moment. I would rather be ready than fumbling around for my ammo. Clicking the safety on I moved and slid the gun back into its holster behind my headboard, leaving the strap undone in case I had to pull it quick. No chances.