D. D. Randall
1: The Package
Steve sat on his rumpled bed, mulling over the reason he was up. He sighed heavily; it seemed that as he got older his mind let him sleep less. Yet, he was too young to be pining away the hours for fear of never waking up again. He was beginning to wonder if there was something wrong with him… besides the obvious.
"Four hours," he moaned softly to the silent cottage. He wanted to roll back under the covers, but knew it would only give him a headache for trying too hard. Shaking his head, he ran one already cold hand over his face and took another deep breath.
Peering about, he took in again the details of the small room. There was a pile of rumpled clothes that had been gathering for the past three days near the miniscule closet. The small dresser opposite the end of the bed was slowly being covered in an avalanche of pocket remnants: credit markers, bits of paper, and business cards, that neither he nor Maribel had taken the time to sort through and either file or throw away. His boots were abandoned in the middle of the floor, threatening to trip any who dared traverse the thin rust colored carpet between door and mattress.
What a sty, he thought morosely, knowing he should take some time to clean it up before Maribel returned home. Not right now, however. He had yet to wake up, and knew he would end up throwing something away that was important, maybe not to him but perhaps to Maribel.
Steve made himself rise from the mattress and dress, feeling the heat of the summer day start to seep in through the insulation and blatantly blowing like a hair dryer through the bedroom window standing several inches open. Maribel had opened it and several others as part of their agreement, she opened them for him to stay warm, and at night he closed them all and risked getting cold, to turn on the air conditioner so she could cool off. Her part of the bargain had been accomplished while she was getting ready for college earlier this morning.
They had a bare two hours to catch up on each other's days before she had to go. Steve frowned, realizing that he already hated their opposite schedules, for stealing time from them being together. He and Maribel were due to get married in a few months, and they hadn't even had time to act like they were dating. He wanted to see her more than he was now, and he wondered suddenly if he should apply for a position on the day shift to get more time with his soon to be wife.
Once he had pulled on his jeans, a pair of thick cotton socks, and his boots, Steve moved through the small house, avoiding furniture with a kinesthesia that was built on having never rearranged the place since living here, opening his front door as he stepped aside, and peering out the screen to take in the day. He sighed in relief as the hot, almost humid air caressed his bare chest and arms.
"She's gonna hate me," he whispered mischievously as he left the door that way. It would take longer for the cooler to compensate later this afternoon.
He decided that he wanted to sit on the porch for a while, but wanted a beer before he did. Steve didn't know why he still insisted on paying the price they wanted for alcohol these days. It still wouldn't give him a buzz. One or twenty, he'd be as sober as if he didn't drink at all.
Steve could only guess it was because it was one of the few strong beverages he could still taste. That reason seemed to be enough to keeping him buying cases of them and slowly watching them dwindle between one payday and the next. He didn't have more than one every other day or so, knowing better than to toss his credits down the toilet on a binge he would never feel.
Retrieving a bottle from the refrigerator, he stepped outside, seating himself at the small table that took up a portion of the redwood deck he had built onto the front of his place. He had taken part of winter and all of the spring to construct it, and he was damned proud of the accomplishment. The addition was attractive compared to the small slab of concrete that had given only enough room for one guest to wipe their feet before stepping into the place.
Another sigh escaped him, as he leaned back and perched one ankle on the opposite knee. His head fell back until it touched the rough exterior of his house, and his eyes slid shut as the sun above cut through the chill of his flesh. He was relishing the heat that most would consider oppressive.
Lifting the bottle in his hand, he took a draught without moving his head free of the building, feeling that thrill again as the liquid proved once more to be stronger than his burned out taste buds.
Steve leaned forward again as he brought the bottle down from his lips, and surveyed his domain. He had yet to get tired of this place, which was something that he found utterly amazing. After all, he had spent the greater part of six years bouncing from one country to another and had never settled long in one spot. That drifter lifestyle, he would think, would make him antsy living in the same location, working in the same mundane job, and the same little house. That feeling had yet to plague him, even when he had half been expecting it.
As he said, he liked it here. The winters sucked, with the way they made him feel he would never get warm ever again in his life, but the area was quiet, the neighbors not nosey, and he had just enough property around his cottage to keep him from feeling claustrophobic. He reassessed the last thought. If he hadn't gone stir crazy there in Kuala Lumpur or Hong Kong, he probably would never have problems with small places. He smiled at his own internal joke.
Grass needs cutting, he thought, looking over the shaggy growth just past the end of the deck. It was lush, green and tall, only because he had invested his time and money in a sprinkler system. That had allowed him to keep it watered without the extra effort of having to remember to turn it on, and then off again, before the place flooded and sank. Lips thinning, he realized that now was as good a time as any to accomplish that chore. There was nothing else he was pressed to do today, aside from straightening the house, and he didn't feel inclined to do that, and he didn't have to work tonight, so grass cutting actually seemed like an appropriate and productive thing to do.
The yard was fairly small, but the job still took him nearly two hours to complete, even with the motor driven mower. He wondered why he hadn't paid the extra cost of a riding mower. He smirked when he reminded himself that he wanted a push mower in order to keep in some sort of shape. Steve pulled the basket off the back end of the mower, gloriously warm from his exertion and the sun above, and he walked down to the dumpster with the last of the clippings.
As he was dumping the pungent trimmings into the can, he noted that the mail truck was actually stopping in front of his house. The sight was enough to give him pause. He hardly ever got mail, with the advent of net-setting, and instant communication, there seemed little need for a mail system. That form of communication was archaic.
Sarcastically he thought, It's a wonder anyone knows how to write the English language anymore. Not typing mind you, most were more than a little proficient in that regard. But actual, no kidding cursive or block writing was something that few people practiced anymore. It was a good thing elementary school still insisted on it, or else.
The only time mail was delivered in something tangible was when packages were being delivered, and he knew that he had nothing pending from anyone he knew, nor did Maribel. Her parents surprised her on occasion with "care packages," as if Steve couldn't keep her fed and clothed here in the States like she deserved. Not that he minded, they sent regional things that were expensive to buy here, and delicacies that most in the States had never even heard of, stuff that he had developed a taste for when he was in Asia for so long. Too bad the enjoyment wasn't nearly what it was before Takahira.
Setting the basket next to the dumpster Steve swatted the accumulated clippings on his pant legs off and moved toward his now blinking box. He reached it before the mail lady retreated. Smiling as she saw him, the woman pulled the small package back out of the box and extended it toward him.
"Sorry, didn't see you there," she said cheerily.
How could you miss a bald man dumping grass? Ran acerbically through his head a moment, but he only smiled at her and replied with, "Thanks," as he took the package from her hands.
The young lady must have been very preoccupied; because she gave no sign she heard the timber of his voice – something he was always self-conscious of. Something he'd never been able to get fixed. Tom didn't have that worked out yet.
She smiled once more at him and retreated toward the vehicle, her blonde ponytail bobbing in behind her.
He watched her go in amusement for a few moments, before he turned his eyes down to the thick manila envelope in his hands. The package was addressed specifically to him, and there was no return address anywhere on it.
"Huh," he grunted, moving over to the abandoned mower basket, absently picking it up, and heading back toward the house. He tossed the basket the general direction of the now idle mower, and continued on toward his deck.
On automatic, he stepped up onto the wood, and grabbing his beer, took another drink, not even realizing he had polished off the last of it. His eyes were unable to leave the mystery mail that he had in his hand. Twisting, he sat once more in the wrought iron chair.
Crossing his legs at the ankles and setting his beer down once again, Steve turned the package over and tore the flap open. Mail was as safe as things get these days, all packages screened for every threat from designer viruses to explosives before being delivered, and Steve had no worry that this was some terrorist threat on his person.
Reaching inside the thick manila envelope, he withdrew a stack of what appeared to be photographs, facing away from him. His head tilted to one side as he flipped the pile over.
His body jerked back upright at the first image in the pile. A tremor moved through his hands at the content of the photograph and Steve had to remind himself to breathe. The image was nearly over-exposed, stark flash separating the mountainside, the crumpled dark blue Chevy, and the two figures slumped next to it from the darkness. Tom was leaned onto the crumpled roof, a dark stain spreading from his chest just to the left of center, his chin resting on the right shoulder. Despite that it looked like the both of them were unconscious; Tom's hand was interlocked with his own. He remembered that too, Tom trying to assure him that they were going to be all right. Gooseflesh worked over Steve's skin as he could remember the view he had of his own truck's roof. Gasping another reluctant breath, Steve flipped to the next picture.
A lump formed in his throat. There was no association in his memory for what picture held. Why would he? He was in a coma the entire time.
He almost didn't recognize himself, his appearance a specter that he barely remembered. Dark tan skin glistened in sweat. His dark brown hair was matted and dirty, sticking out at odd angles against the coarse-looking material of the pillowcase. He was in some hospital room, his face battered and bruised, an endotracheal tube inserted into his throat and weighing down the corner of a slack mouth. Despite how awful his past image looked, his appearance seemed decades younger than what his current reflection showed him. Being permanently bald was the worst thing ever. Bad enough he was nearing forty, but to have people ask him if he was going to order from a senior's menu was eminently frustrating.
Steve focused again on the picture, letting that wry internal observation slip away. Shivers ran up from his legs, sympathy pangs from flesh that was no longer there, seeing damage he had never glimpsed before, Turner had never allowed him to see what they had been required to repair. Bloody bandages covered one stump, making them more red than white, the other was unwrapped, and it looked as if someone had been in the process of pulling stitches from the still fresh wound. One end of the sewn flesh gapped open and revealed the cross sectioned end of a femur where they had removed his leg to save his life. Several ragged gashes laced up what was revealed of that thigh and hip and they were sewn with bright blue sutures. The bastard setting up the picture strangely had shown the decency not to expose him completely.
Shaking profoundly, Steve flipped through the rest of the sickening images and paused on occasion at certain points: the replacement of the bones in his lower body, the infrastructure of the new metallic legs that had taken the place of lost flesh and bone, the image of his denuded face with eyeless sockets and a fresh scar on his throat. Automatically his hand went to his larynx, running numbed fingers over smooth scars. Shakily it traced up from there until he was touching his temple, and he forcefully had to remind himself they were the warm brown they had been before Takahira – that Tom had made them passably human again.
The last shot made him drop the pile of pictures, not even seeing as they scattered over the deck and threatened to slide between the slats.
Steve made himself pick the trailing picture up again; it was of him and Maribel together out in town someplace, it couldn't have been more than a week old, because he recognized the surroundings. Attached to the image was a post-it note. He ripped it angrily off the picture.
"We know what you are..." the thing glared at him.
Quickly he gathered the spilled images of his aberrations back up, shoving them messily back in the manila envelope and retreating into the house on rubbery legs, slamming the door behind him as he did. He headed for the kitchen in long, panicked strides, throwing the package on the counter as if his fingers had been burned. Backing across the small space in an attempt to distance himself, Steve tried to think rationally.
Again he looked over the envelope, willing a return address to appear on its surface. Even the postmark was too vague a location for him to even have a clue about who might have sent these photos his way.
"Holy shit," he whispered fearfully. The implications were as varied as they were ominous in his mind. But who? And why?
His mind went into an investigative loop, a habit that still lived in him, even if he hadn't been on the force in over eight years. He dredged up and rejected possible subjects and motives almost as fast as his cold fingers were drumming on the counter.
He was pulled abruptly from the tail chasing by a loud and urgent knock at his front door. Not even hesitating, Steve pulled his gun from under the kitchen counter, checked it and moved back toward the door. His head was stuck on the notion that the envelope and its contents were a not so subtle threat to his person.
As quietly as he could, he moved back to the door, peering out the peephole. Steve relaxed when his visitor turned out to be his younger brother.
Pulling the door open, Steve looked into his brother's ashen face. Clutched to Tom's chest was a manila envelope the same size as the one Steve had dumped on the counter. Tom immediately took note of Steve's gun. With fearful eyes, his little brother said in no uncertain terms, "You got one, too."
A/N: The Brothers Martin Stories already have three books published, In the Beginning, Forgotten Ties, and most recently, Starting Over.
Promises, Promises, hopes to be the fourth edition to the brothers' journey... if I can get it finished. And that is my hope in posting the chapters here on line once again. I need feedback, comments, critiques of how the story is progressing. This is also to light a fire under my butt so I will get the later chapters whipped into shape and written (I really painted myself into a corner, but never figured out how to get out of it...)
It's going to be a fairly slow posting schedule. Once every couple of weeks at most so I can focus on each chapter's clean up and the continuity of the tale...
Please, if you like what you see, give me some feedback! I'll love you forever! :)