Like a bolt of lightning, Vic sprinted back into the house, nearly knocking the screen door off its hinges.
He blazed a path through the living room, hopped over a clothes basket in the hallway and bulldozed open the back porch door. The heavy footfalls of the police officer hadn’t left his ears and he could hear them chasing after him.
“OH MY GOD, VICENTE! WHAT DID YOU DO?” Cat screamed from somewhere in the front of the house or the front yard.
“Stop!” Reccard called out to him, he already sounded winded.
Vic kept his pace and scrambled up and over the backyard gate. When his feet hit the gravel of the alley way, he shot to the west. His best chance was to get closer to the campus, get among a crowd. He needed time. Time to know what had just happened and time to think of his next move.
Above all, Vic didn’t want to go back to a cell or have to leave Cat again. Until today, he put faith in the idea that things were going to work out for them. Cat would get back into her schooling, finding herself and making a career. He would be careful, avoid trouble and maybe even do something to better himself.
But was that all dusted? He wondered to himself as he pelted headlong to the end of the alley.
There was a struggling strip mall a few blocks west that was his first goal. The parking lot would be busy enough at this late hour of the afternoon. He would make for the Spry’s Grocery Store. Plenty of shoppers getting tonight’s dinner.
Sirens blared at the other end of the alley behind him. A police cruiser barreled down the from the other end of the alley trying to play catchup.
Not breaking stride, he cut right at the end and pumped his legs faster. He had to get to that parking lot first. He heard several dogs beginning to bark at the commotion and the siren.
What the hell was in his car? His thoughts whirled around the image of blood dripping in a steady stream from holes in his trunk. I didn’t see anything in the house and no one came after me. How can this be happening?
Three blocks ahead he saw the sign for the grocery store and the various tiny, oddity mall stores. As he knew it would be, cars were streaming in and out of the lot. He weaved around them and then made a straight line for the entrance.
Sweat poured down his neck and between his shoulders. His black curly hair was matted at the sides around his ears. Vic crossed the entry and stopped catching his breath. He knew he had out ran the first officer, but he only had seconds before they arrived in the lot.
He tried to not attract any more attention but walked in a brisk pace toward the back. Below the neon sign for the Produce, an arrow pointed toward the restrooms. A man in his late fifties guided a cart with stacks of open boxes through a set of double plastic doors.
“Excuse me, didn’t see you. Need a window in one of those swinging doors,” he complained.
Vic nodded only and swung around him. In the back, lighting was very poor. One of the fluorescents flickered and buzzed like an angry bee. A cloying, rotted citrus smell bowled into him and nearly made him gag up his late lunch. More stacks of fruit boxes take up the majority of the room and line two of the cement walls. A desk and a corkboard covered in Postit notes saddled the other wall. An open doorway led to an even darker, back stock room and docking port. He could see a glowing-red exit sign above a metal set of double-doors.
Without thinking, he pushed the door open and triggered a piercing alarm.
Damn! Damn damn damn, he cursed to himself. He knew better. This would be obvious; he’d just blew his advantage.
“HEY KID!” The produce clerk returned to the room and called after him.
He dashed to the left, avoided the sloping dock ramp and went parallel to the back of the strip mall shops. Around the corner at the back end, he shot up and over a low, cinder block wall. He landed on a tree-clustered, dirt bank. Ahead of him he spotted several two-story town houses.
You ever in a race, change it up – find new clothes fast! It will give you another chance to confuse’em.
Another pearl of jail time wisdom from his former cell mate, Rory James Cole.
He froze in his tracks as an idea popped into his head. Rory’s younger brother, Durojaiye “DJ” Cole might be willing to help him out. The two had been in the same grade in Brinton Middle School, but Vic had hung out more with Rory back then. And the police wouldn’t have him as one of Vic’s known associates.
Looking through a window of the nearest town house, it appeared empty. He removed his shirt and wrapped his fist in it. Praying to himself that the owners didn’t have an alarm, he broke the back door’s window pane.
Once inside he was quick with a decision and raced upstairs. There were three bedrooms. He chose the master bedroom.
The walk-in closet had exactly what he wanted: a pullover ASU sweatshirt, grey sweatpants and a baseball cap.
They won’t be looking for another college student, they will be looking for a hispanic kid in a teeshirt and jeans. He grinned to himself.
When he begun to untie his sneakers, he discovered that they were stained red with gore.
He rummaged through the dirty clothes thrown on the floor and lucked upon some oversized sneakers. He also discovered hidden among the dirty clothes a matching ASU backpack.
He stuffed a few more extra sets of clothes in the backpack.
Next to the bed was a black oak dresser with a lamp, several worn out paperbacks and framed photos. He picked up a photo of a young couple on a white sand beach. Seeing the smiling faces of the occupants gave him a twinge of guilt and he started to go for his wallet.
“Shit. No. Sorry, I may need this money. You aren’t on the run from the police.”
He spoke the words, but it was Rory, always the survivor, that was inside his head. Don’t be no damn fool!
He left by the front door and walked with faked confidence. He carried the sneakers and stuffed his shaking hands in his jeans pockets.
Several blocks over he made a beeline for the entrance to the Tempe Town Lake Park. More sirens were working their way through the neighborhoods and closing in. He lowered the brim of the baseball cap another inch down.
The sun had finally dipped below the horizon and the park lights were stubborn to show themselves. He crossed over 1st Street, cutting through another pair of town house complexes.
In the shadows of the shoreside, he threw his jeans and sneakers into the flowing water of the man-made lake.
A police helicopter flew west of him, headed to the neighborhoods by the grocery store no doubt. Instinct still told him to take the extra steps and remain out of the light of the streetlamps.
Now that he had accomplished goal number one, he rested at a metal picnic table. It was one of his unique strengths: calm under pressure. His mind was quick to compartmentalize most situations, or obstacles. Time after time, it walked him through situations in juvie or jail.
I can’t stay here long, he determined as his mind worked through his options. Light Rail! Yeah, that’s good. It will take me over to DJ’s neighborhood and I can still keep within the crowds.
“Yeah? That does sound just like Rory.”
The two were in the living room on beaten down leather couches. A haze of Mint-Madness vape smoke floated through the room. DJ pulled again on his brass vaporizer.
Unlike his brother who was a beanpole and looked like he missed too many meals, DJ was near 5’7, stocky and with short, tight dreads. He also had a never-ceasing smirk on his lips.
“Your brother with just a few words could get a prison riot started in a convent!” Vic lamented and laughed.
“I know, right?”
“But he never failed me or left me out there to hang. I owe him a lot. When is his trial date?”
DJ got up and crossed to a cluttered kitchen counter. The court summons was buried in mail and loose papers.
“Uh… here.” He snatched it up and read it to himself. “Next May. May 9th.”
Rory was facing his fifth appearance in court for a Breaking and Entering charge. This conviction would garner him the designation “career criminal”.
The two went quiet and DJ plopped back down on the couch with a bowl of cheese puffs.
“You sure it’s cool for me to stay on your couch tonight?”
“I will be out before 5. They’ll never know I was here and you won’t get any heat for this.” Vic was grateful on the chance the kid was taking on his behalf.
“Would you mind handing me that bottle,” DJ pointed at a Coors that stood on the corner of a glass coffee table. “So… you didn’t even know this girl?”
Vic shook his head and rubbed at his nose with the back of his hand. “I went in the back door — there was a note telling me the front door was broken. And when no one answered I tried to find her.”
“Dude… you went inside?”
“I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. Too much sun baking my head today I guess.”
“What is your plan for tomorrow?”
Vic took a long drink from his own Coors bottle. “I don’t know, at least not yet. I freaked out. Panicked with that cop right there looking at that puddle.”
DJ ate the last puff and stood up. Yawning, he said, “I am going to check the news on the computer and see what they are reporting. I can tell you in the morning before you leave. Get some rest. I am sure that this will work out. You didn’t do anything.”
He stated this as a matter of fact, but his eyes asked the question.
Vic replied in a hushed tone, “Nothing.” Then he raised his empty bottle with his own inquiring eyes.
“You will want to take it easy on those. Clear head is going to save you in the morning. Here, give me that backpack. I will throw those clothes in the washer. You never know what might be on them… College students are walking STDs these days, you know?”
Five minutes later, DJ called out from the back of the apartment, “Oh, hey! Are you hungry? I got some free pizza in the fridge.”
He chuckled, “They delivered this pizza here when you were in the shower, but I didn’t order it. The driver said his shift was over anyway and he was going to report the owners as a ‘no show’. So he lets me just take it.”
“Glad my luck is rubbing off on you.” They laughed, but it felt forced and awkward. He was beyond exhaustion and the day’s events were starting to hit home.
“JESUS DUDE!” DJ cursed.
There was sheer terror in his voice.
“WHAT’S WRONG?” Vic shouted back.
When there was no answer, he worked up his courage and went to find his friend.
DJ stood next to the washing machine, the backpack spilled open on top of it. A pair of pale white hands, butcher-cut at the wrists, were nesting inside.
“I… No, this…” The beer lurched up in his stomach and he vomited suddenly into the corner of the room.
From over his shoulder, Vic heard, “I am at 1984 W Dunlap. I need a police officer NOW!” DJ spoke into his cell phone.
He then put a hand over the phone. Through clenched teeth, “Do the right thing, bro. Turn yourself in.”
Vic could not even look at him. His eyes remained locked on the bloody stumps. The finger tips were painted in bright pinks, yellows and polka-dots of blood.