The day before, they called him from a number he recognized from work and suggested he come back in. They’d done this for each of the past three days. The voice on his machine said it was time to start working again. He didn’t have anything keeping him from the job anymore.
He’d been appalled as he listened to the message. Then again, lately he’d been appalled by a number of things. Like the fact that he’d been half upside down, his head half in the toilet as he vomited up what felt like his actual stomach rather than just the contents of it.
He’d hardly heard the phone ring. Another wave of nausea had prevented him from even attempting to pick up the line. He was emptying his stomach for the fourth time in less than twenty minutes when the voice came through the air as the old machine recorded it.
After the voice ended, Lee sat back on his heels and shook. Whether it was tremors from the alcohol, the fear, or the callous reminder that he had no one at home now, he didn’t know. But he sat on the cold bathroom tile and vomited repeatedly for another twenty minutes before he even considered taking off his jacket and tie.
However, once he thought to do it, it became a panic. He clawed his way out of the cloying black fabric. Small sounds told him he had ripped his suit in more than one place. He scratched his own skin in his terror and clumsiness, but didn’t quit until he was naked in his own bathroom and the nausea had given way to the feeling that he was imploding.
In an attempt to gain some equilibrium, he leaned over the sink and washed his face with cold water, then leaned over further to drink directly from the faucet. He’d done this a thousand times. But this time he saw a drop of red where the silver spout met the white porcelain of the sink.
The cleaners had missed it. His mind tried to push back the images that suddenly crowded it. He had kept the pictures at bay for several hours with alcohol and a dead stare, but they crowded back in now. The ones that woke him up in a cold sweat at night, of his wife and daughter, gunned down in their own living room. But, as much as their blood had been flung and splattered everywhere, it shouldn’t have gotten in here.
No, this was a drop he must have carried in on his own hands. Or perhaps it had dripped off his tie or from his shirt. When he first found them, he’d gathered his wife and child into his arms and held them until the police came and pried him loose. He had bathed in their blood.
And he had been broken.
He pushed the thoughts down deep. Once he’d showered away the nausea and panic and stood upright again, he felt the urge to get out of the house. The bar called to him, and he answered. He spent every day and night, moving slowly from one establishment to another. Drinking the best whiskey they had while he waited for the autopsy reports. The dual funeral was held up for days while everyone waited for the medical examiner to tell them exactly how many bullets had pierced his wife and young daughter.
But, just the night before, the bartender had asked him if he was rich. Because he’d been drinking the most expensive whiskey in the house like a fish. Lee had almost replied that he wasn’t. But he was.
Samantha and Bethany both had life insurance policies. Bethy’s had been intended to cover a funeral, rather than replace lost income. But his and Sam’s policies had both been designed to pay off the house, put Bethy through college and leave the remaining parent at home to take care of her until she was eighteen. So, yes, suddenly he was rich. But the way he acquired the money was loathsome, and it occurred to him that he was drinking what was left of his wife and daughter. He’d left rather quickly.
He’d vomited, as usual. But unlike every other night, he’d cried. Great heaving sobs that he was certain would convince the neighbors to call the police. Around three a.m. when he finally had the urge to eat something, he found the message. A page of a tax return had been left on the counter in the kitchen.
It would have looked like a random misplacement for a tax attorney, but Lee saw it for what it was: a warning. He’d tried to turn them in once he realized what the people he worked for were doing. They killed Sam and Bethy. And now they wanted him back at work, ‘unhindered’ as the voice on the machine kept saying.
Standing there in his kitchen, something had changed. He accepted his loss. Finally stopped the feeling of imploding that had persisted almost all the time he hadn’t been drinking Bethy’s college fund. He had to get to work.
So tonight, he had gone to a bar near his home and ordered his usual very expensive whiskey. This time, the bartender didn’t eye him, as Lee had been here three times this week doing nearly the same thing. Only this time he wasn’t three sheets to the wind—just drunk enough.
It didn’t matter that he hadn’t heard them come in. A footstep falling right behind him was the only warning before he was jerked from his seat by a fat hand closing on his shoulder. The fat voice told him he needed to sober up. It almost sounded caring, and Lee almost laughed. But he didn’t.
Once in the parking lot, the voice became a lot less soothing. He was informed in no uncertain terms that he was needed at work. He was told this with both voices and fists. This time he agreed. He whimpered a little and said he’d be there.
Lee wove his way home, driving as though he were uncertain, though he was certain they were watching. His brother-in-law, Jason, was waiting at the house as Lee had requested he be, but Lee didn’t answer the usual ‘what happened?’ questions that poured from his brother-in-law’s mouth. Just took Jason’s truck keys and thanked him for his help.
Grabbing the bag he had already packed with jeans, t-shirts, a credit card Jason had reluctantly lent him and all the cash he could find, he climbed into the truck without waving good-bye to the last of the family he was sure he would never see again.
The next night he threw away Jason’s driver’s license and credit card as he exited the gun show. Jason had an inheritance from Sam, too—a good sized one. So the three guns Lee had bought with the credit card would be covered. They clacked against each other and the ammo boxes that more than tripled the heft of the one bag he carried. They weighed heavy in his heart and on his mind, too.
He went to the furthest brank of his bank the following morning, just after they opened, long before he was due at the office. Luckily the office was empty. He took out every penny of the payoffs he’d received, in cash. And walked out the door.
But he didn’t feel remorse or guilt. The voice on the machine was right. He was unencumbered now. There was no need to fear retribution, he’d already suffered it.
The very next thing he did was drive the truck through a guardrail and into the deepest nearby lake. He hit the brakes last minute to make sure skid marks told the right tale. He’d inherited far more than money.