Thursday, March 31, 2011

Chapter XIII: Checking In

"Wake up!" said a shadow from the doorway. "Huh? What time is it?" Bill blocked his sleep-encrusted eyes from the incoming light. Benny grunted and slid his large legs off the side of the bed. He sat a moment with his head in his hands, muttered something indecipherable -- perhaps a curse, perhaps a prayer -- and pulled his pants on from where they sat on the floor. He pulled his gun out from beneath his pillow and placed it in the holster already wrapped over his shoulder. He belched. "What's up, G?" The shadow clicked the light switch and Gloria appeared in the shadow's place. She was dressed in a conservative grey sport suit. Instead of her usual heels, she wore a pair of white New Balance running shoes with pink accents. "Been drinking again, huh Benny? I hope you sober up quick." Benny nodded and smiled. "Already sober, boss." She rolled her eyes and smiled. She turned to face Bill. "Get dressed, quick. We have a call. There's been another one." Benny's smile faded. "Shit." Gloria stopped smiling as well. Bill shook his head. He felt tears welling up in the corner of his eyes and wanted to cry. He bit his bottom lip and cursed through his clenched mouth. He looked over at the phone and thought about calling his own children. He had a sudden and almost uncontrollable urge to call them just to make sure they were okay. He knew it was ridiculous, an impulsive and irresponsible urge verging on obsessive compulsive, but the urge was strong all the same. "Just a minute. Can I have a moment to myself to get dressed by any chance?" Gloria tilted her head and placed her hand in her jacket to show off the handle of her pistol. "If I see anything I haven't seen before I'll shoot it, okay?" Bill remembered that joke and smiled. Then he noticed Benny glaring at him. "Seriously, just a minute to myself. I kind of want to make a call." "Now?" Gloria asked. Benny walked over towards Gloria and took her by the arm. "C'mon. Let's just let the guy have a second, okay? You know how much what we’re about to have him do will take out of him." Gloria sighed and allowed herself to be taken out of the room. She looked over her shoulder and said, "Just hurry up, okay?" Bill nodded. As soon as the door was shut he reached for the phone. He dialed the well-known and familiar numbers. It had been the same set of numbers he had once pushed every day from his office phone on his lunch breaks. It was the number he had dialed day after day after day to check on his wife, to check on his kids, to ask them if they needed anything on the way home. "Hello." It was her voice on the line. Bill’s heart throbbed against the roof of his mouth. His pulse coursed through his head. "It's me." "Bill?" She sounded relieved, not angry. Bill smiled. "Yeah. It's me." There was a pause. Then: "You motherfucking son of a bitch! Where the hell are you? I got a call from some FBI agents; they told me you were arrested, that you were with them. Under their protection, they said. Bill, what's going on? Where've you been?" "I had to go out for a bit. It's kind of hard to explain." There was a laugh, but she did not sound amused. "I'd love to hear your explanation." "I'd love to give it to you, and I will, when I have more time. Just one thing, are the kids okay?" "The kids? You mean the ones who ask when Daddy's coming home every day? The ones who asked where you went all day every day? The ones who have just now gotten to the point where they don't ask all day long, only at night, usually right before bed? The ones that have started sleeping in our bed because they're scared and worried about what happened to you? The kids you fucking deserted, you fucking selfish asshole? Those kids? Well, they're fucking wrecks. We're all fucking wrecks here. How did you think we'd be?" Bill winced at her words. Tears fell down his cheeks. He sucked in a sob and hoped she didn't hear. "Are they safe is what I mean? Are they physically okay?" There was a longer pause this time. When Shelby spoke again, it was softer. "What do you mean? Yeah. Yeah, they're okay. They're in our bed. I just left the room so they wouldn't hear me talking. They're fine. Why? What kind of crap are you in Bill? Is this like some sort of Mafia crap? Were you mixed up with something illegal? Do I need to worry?" "No. Nothing illegal. Just kind of hard to believe, that's all. Listen, I got to go. There's some FBI agents waiting outside the room for me, and I have a job to do. I'll explain everything later, okay. And, hey, Shelby?" "Yeah." He sucked in a breath of air. "I'm sorry. I love you." "Whatever." Click.The phone went dead. In a few seconds there was a dial tone. Bill's fingers hovered over the phone. He thought about dialing the number again. Instead, he lowered the phone down onto the receiver, stood up, and got dressed. He went to the bathroom and splashed his pale face with handfuls of cold water to hide the tears and focus his mind. He had a job to do, and it was important he be able to focus. He pushed the sound of Shelby's hurt voice out of his mind, and listened for the cries of hurting children.

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