Thank you for joining me as I share a short story from an anthology I’m compiling for release later this year. I’ll be including a minimum of ten short stories all in some way reflective of the title … “Closure”
The Off Switch
By Suzanne Burke
From the upcoming anthology “Closure”
I doubt that too many humans don’t experience the need we appear to have and crave. You know the one? That urgent inexplicable flash of emotion that drives us to connect with someone, somewhere, someplace and at some time on this our journey through the unpredictability of life.
Jake Caldwell shrugged off the raw-edged sadness. He’d read about that need and smiled each time he witnessed it occur around him everywhere he went. He simply didn’t share that craving. He hungered for isolation now. His memory too overburdened with all his failures to connect. He’d tried all of it. Oh, he understood the logic of his species needing to feel part of something they perceived as greater and more knowing than themselves. They grasped desperately at the magic wand of belonging and clung to it long after the spell had been cast and had faded into oblivion.
Jake didn’t believe in magic.
He believed in only what he could see, touch, hear and smell. The peripheral flashes of humanity’s need had touched his life once. So long ago that is was now merely a whisper in his mind and one he refused to allow volume. He’d flicked his off switch as soon as he discovered he had one. He had been young then. It was a brief space in time when he’d still clung to the vague hope that anything he did would echo through time and instill his memory with someone. Jake now felt he deserved to be remembered for all the other things he’d managed to accomplish.
He watched his target carefully.
The young woman climbed from the taxi in heavy rain. She grabbed a bag from the trunk. gave a brief nod of thanks to the driver, then climbed the stairs to her second-floor apartment two steps at a time.
He was denied a clear visual confirmation that it was indeed her, as she’d crouched low in her concealing hoodie and entered the apartment without facing him long enough for him to access his facial recognition technology. He had so many available techniques now at his finger-tips to be certain that he had the right target. There were many times when he’d bemoaned that fact, as he’d enjoyed every moment of the hunt. Now … now it was just way too damned easy. The challenge had lessened and along with it his pleasure in an achievement hard won.
Today … it was just a job. It paid for his addictions and his recoveries. The cycle hadn’t paused.
Jake pulled his thoughts back to the present and waited. The sky grew darker and the storm shattered the oppressive silence and shifted the air in an attitude of waiting for the latent violence to cut loose.
He loved storms. He admired their fury and unrepentant volatility. This he understood. This he admired.
He took a brief moment to read his scheduled targets parameters again. He liked to be certain. Mistakes in his line of work would see him terminated. He understood and accepted that. It added to the excitement to know he could die at his first mistake.
Sandra Bartholomew was an attractive woman. A woman that others would follow with their eyes registering lust.
Jake happily acknowledged that. She’d be long accustomed to being watched. One more set of eyes wouldn’t flag her a warning.
She was around twenty-seven. Younger than most of his targets. In fact, this was the first in memory to be younger than his own thirty-year life span.
She had a crowning glory of gold curls that tweaked at his memory a little.
But her line of work ensured she was often featured in the press. That was where the memory was located, he was certain of it.
He recalled feeling a vague admiration for her at some stage in the last few years. This woman was unafraid to take a stance against corruption. He admired it as much as he knew it was a pointless journey.
Night fell rapidly and he watched the lights in her apartment illuminate the area beyond.
At 9.00 P.M she exited and locked the door behind her. The leather jacket she wore would conceal for many that she was carrying a weapon. Unless of course, you knew what to look for. He reached into the waistband of his jeans and felt the reassuring comfort of his Beretta. There was no clear line of site available for him to utilize his rifle. He watched her clamber into the black SUV with assured movements. This woman moved sparingly, each step measured and assured. A twinge of something distracted him and he forced his mind back to his current assignment with irritation.
He followed her out and into the flow of traffic, making certain that he remained at least three cars behind her. She swung into the parking lot of a bar down on East Broadway. He scanned the area and noted the numbers of CCTV camera’s recording every moment and movement.
Jake smiled at the challenge. He’d need to take her down elsewhere. For now, he’d watch on from inside the bar.
He spotted her sitting at a corner table. She sat alone yet her demeanor indicated she was waiting for someone to join her. He watched the barmen take her order and return with a bottle of red wine and two glasses.
She gazed around with vague disinterest etched into her carefully concealed countenance. This was a player worthy of his undivided attention. He felt a thrill that had been absent for a very long while.
He ordered a double shot of Jack Daniels and swirled it in the ice that accompanied it three times before drinking. Funny how old habits linger without us being aware of them.
She poured another glass and drank it down hurriedly with an occasional glance around to check out how many hungry eyes were watching.
Jake jolted backward as their eyes made contact. “What the fuck?” He caught himself mutter as he looked hurriedly away.
The woman’s looked heralded recognition and Jake needed to move, and move fast.
He stood, swirled his drink three more times before finishing the contents and walked out of the bar without glancing once in her direction.
He hurried across to his car, climbed in and headed out of the area as fast as the night traffic would allow.
He drove for what seemed endless miles before he’d centered himself enough to park off the road in a secluded area many miles from the bustle of the city.
“That’s fucking impossible. It can’t be her. She’s dead, you moron. You saw her die.” He exploded aloud into the darkness as a long forgotten and hated memory surfaced despite his efforts to deny it.
Melinda was long dead.
He could see her lying in a pool of blood alongside the woman who had birthed both of them.
He couldn’t unsee her pretty ten-year-old face etched in shock and covered in blood as she lay broken and bleeding in the nightmare that their father’s insanity had unleashed.
The man they’d been afraid of since birth had shot them both. His mother and younger sister lay dead on the floor, and his father was still standing over the bodies muttering the vile last words. Words they thankfully would never hear. He’d placed his gun on the mantle and sat in the blood and brain matter to watch them bleed out.
“You’re mine” he’d screamed. “You can’t belong to anyone else. Not now.”
Jake recalled the look on the man’s face as he had entered the room unseen and reached without thought of consequence and took that gun from the mantelpiece.
“Father” he’d said as he’d opened fire. He didn’t wait for the first responders to arrive. At the tender age of thirteen, he’d known only to run. He’d stopped running eventually and took his need for revenge out on anything that he contracted to take care of.
How could it possibly be his sister? He’d seen her die, hadn’t he?
Jake climbed from the car and sucked in a deep lungful of air. She’d recognized him too. He knew it. He removed his concealed Beretta and lay it on the passenger seat.
His need for answers at last supplanted his need to stay safe and unconnected.
Jake drove back to her apartment, a little surprised to see her car already in the parking lot. He sat in all his uncertainty for a long time before his need to know had him climb from the car.
He felt the hood and it was cold. She’d clearly been back a while. The apartment was dark.
“Jakey! Put your hands on the bonnet and stay absolutely still. Don’t make me shoot you, big brother.”
“Sweet Jesus, Melinda. How? I saw you die. I saw you both die.”
“No, Jakey. Momma died. The paramedics got me to the hospital fast enough to revive me.”
“Oh, no. Oh, no … I didn’t know. I would have stayed. Please believe that.”
He heard her deep sigh and felt her uncertainty. “Why didn’t you check?”
“I don’t really know. I can only remember the blood and him kneeling there muttering his vile farewells. All I could do was make him as dead as I thought you both were. So, I shot him.”
“You shot him?”
“Uh-huh. Yes, I did.”
“Then why was the weapon found in his hand?”
“Oh, Meli, I put it there. I wanted him to only ever be thought of as a coward. Too afraid to accept the consequences of what he’d done. I couldn’t grant him the option of being considered insane and misunderstood.”
He heard her breathe out a shuddering sigh of understanding.”Jakey, oh my, Jakey. Don’t you see? You carry it too … that gene that separates you from the rest of humanity.”
Jake nodded and his face revealed his final understanding. He reached for a gun that was no longer there and the deputy district attorney from New York fired her weapon.
Jake died where he stood.
It would take years for his sister to come to grips with the fact that he’d welcomed that bullet. His weapon had been disgarded in the vehicle. He’d been unarmed and deliberatly so.
That final acceptance was the only comfort she had as she’d moved through the ranks of law enforcement.
The price of closure came at great cost.
She paid the price and moved forward.
Jake Caldwell’s grave was isolated and the only visitor came late at night.
She placed no flowers there. But knowing that his poor damaged soul was finally at rest gave her a measure of comfort.
She spent her years searching for the others that had no such connection. She saught always to find them help if help wasn’t already too late in arriving.