The man who had fallen from the sky–“Caleb,” Esther had called him–stood on the sidewalk, staring at Esther with a pure, mindless hatred in his red-veined eyes that Kevin had never seen before. There was a long silence.
Nineteen seconds, twenty, twenty-one, thought Kevin. Thirty-four, thirty-five, thirty-six…
Esther broke first. “I thought I might see you tonight,” she said, and pulled the front door closed behind her. “You made it here pretty early, too, all things considered.”
“Wouldn’t want to keep you waiting,” said Caleb. “Wasn’t easy, of course. Ever tried to fly over the Arctic Ocean with a bullet in your thigh?” Caleb cocked his head on one side with a manic grin, as if he was setting up the punchline of a joke.
Esther didn’t respond.
“Furthest north I’ve ever been,” said Caleb, “and boy is it cold up there. But it was worth it, if only to see the look on your face right now.”
“My face?” said Esther. “You look like a zombie, Caleb, an insane zombie. What’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing is wrong with me,” snapped Caleb. “Not anymore.”
Esther’s eyes narrowed. “So, what do you want?” she demanded. “What’s your plan?”
“My plan?” Caleb mused. “Oh, there have been several. I’ve been working towards this moment for a long time, you know, waiting for the right opportunity…”
“And saving up enough money to pay Walter Carton?”
“Ah, so you learned about Carton, did you?” Caleb took a couple of steps towards Esther, limping heavily and wincing every time he put pressure on his wounded leg. “Yes, his fees were steep, but I actually spent more time doing research on him than I did fundraising. I knew there had to be a secret to the way he worked, and I found it.”
“And then you killed him?” accused Esther.
Caleb stopped. “Why would I kill him?”
“I don’t know. To protect your secret? To prevent him from empowering anyone else? You tell me!”
“I didn’t kill Walter Carton,” said Caleb.
“Well someone did.”
Caleb’s forehead wrinkled as he thought this over. Then he looked sharply at Esther. “Who cares?” he said. “Maybe he’s dead, maybe he isn’t. You’re just trying to distract me. It won’t help you. No one is going to come to your rescue. The cops think they’ve got you nice and protected, but look what happened to them.” He waved at the crumpled van.
Kevin and Andy looked at each other. “Awkward,” mumbled Andy.
“It’ll be a little while before anyone else shows up,” continued Caleb, “even if the neighbours are calling it in right now. That gives me plenty of time to deal with things here.”
“What makes you think that?” said Esther. “You know you can’t hurt me, Caleb.”
“I know I couldn’t,” Caleb retorted. “But now?” He wrapped his hand around a street light and, with a mighty heave, broke it at the base and let it fall towards Kevin and Andy, who leapt out of the way. The pole crashed down onto the sidewalk, narrowly missing Andy’s fallen arm.
“Phew!” whispered Andy. “That could’ve hurt.”
“And once I’m done with you,” said Caleb, “then suddenly poor little Max, sleeping peacefully upstairs, isn’t so safe anymore, is he?”
Esther’s face had gone pale. “Kevin, I think you’d better get out of here.”
“Oh, yes, who are your visitors?” said Caleb, looking towards the two men in the driveway. “Boyfriends, maybe?”
Kevin blushed. “I, uh…”
“Just a guy from the gym!” protested Esther. “And I’ve never even met the other one before. Let them go.”
Caleb hobbled over to the cowering friends. He stooped and picked up Andy’s arm. “Dropped something,” he grinned, and tossed it across the cul-de-sac, where it landed on someone’s lawn.
“Ooow!” moaned Andy, clutching at his empty shoulder socket.
“Get lost!” ordered Caleb. “I’m not here for you.”
Andy took off at a run down the sidewalk to retrieve his arm. Kevin stumbled a little ways after him, then stopped and looked back, feeling utterly helpless.
Caleb was limping up the driveway, as Esther stood resolute.
“This isn’t how I wanted to do it, of course,” said Caleb. “Max was supposed to be first. I wanted to lay him at your feet. I wanted to see you feel helpless and weak, as I felt for so many years. I wanted to break your spirit like you broke mine. But,” he was within arm’s reach of Esther now, “this will do.”
Kevin watched in horror as Caleb leaned back,
cocked his fist,
and let fly
as Esther stood her ground,
turned into the attack,
and took the blow squarely on the jaw
as she was thrown violently backwards,
broke the front door off its hinges,
and disappeared inside the house with a tremendous crash.
No way, thought Kevin. She’s dead. He killed her. Esther is dead. His feet felt rooted to the ground, like in a nightmare, as he watched Caleb step through the open doorway into the house.
Then Andy was at his elbow, arm freshly reattached. “Did you see that?” he said.
Kevin tried to clear his thought process. “Andy, what are we gonna do?”
“Do?” said Andy. “We’re gonna run, or he’ll come after us next!”
“Didn’t you hear him, though?” countered Kevin. “He said he was going to kill Max, too. Max is Esther’s brother. Maybe we can save him.”
“What are you going to do, ‘Baconmancer’?” protested Andy. “Think you can force-feed him until he begs for mercy?”
But Kevin was already sprinting towards the crumpled white police surveillance van and wrenching at the back doors. “Cops have guns,” he shouted. “And the guy said he’s already been shot once, so he isn’t bulletproof.”
The door finally popped open, revealing two men in uniforms pinned to the floor by the van’s crumpled roof. One was unconscious, but the other looked up at Kevin desperately.
“Give me your gun,” demanded Kevin.
The cop looked bewildered.
“There’s no time,” said Kevin.
“Can’t reach it,” said the cop, nodding towards his hip and twisting his shoulders, trying to wriggle his arms free.
Kevin reached into the cop’s holster and pulled out his revolver. “Andy, try to help them,” he said. “And call 9-1-1, in case no one else has yet. I’m going in.”
Andy looked Kevin in the eyes and said, “Kevin, I’m not going to stop you, but I just want you to know… You’re a total idiot.”
Kevin rolled his eyes, flashed half a grin, and ran up the driveway towards the open door.
“Don’t forget to take off the safety!” Andy called after him.