The loud buzzing of the half burnt-out gas station sign always gave me an uneasy feeling. Or maybe it was sitting in this cab outside the old county library in an almost abandoned one light town. It wasn’t an easy job, but it was something that needed to be done.
1:00 A.M. seemed to be the busiest time for this place that usually seemed long forgotten in the daylight hours. Watching the squatters duck in and out of buildings and squabble in the streets for food, gave me a deep feeling of sorrow and desperation to help them, but I now knew better. I was an outsider, I wasn’t welcome here. I learned that on my first night of this job. If it was anyone else, they would have chased them out a long time ago, but we had a mutual respect for each other and they knew that once my job was done, I would be gone.
What I didn’t expect on this night, was for the back door of my cab to open. As it opened, a cool chill filled the car, which was odd for a summer night. I immediately put my hand on my gun and turned around to face the back seat. It was a young girl, no older than thirteen. She had piercing blue eyes and strawberry blond hair in two short braids, one on each side of her head.
There was something that seemed so familiar about her. I knew I had seen her somewhere before, but I couldn’t place it. She was an outsider like myself. She was wearing a pale pink sundress, and seemed too clean to belong here.
“What are you doing out so late? It’s too dangerous for a young girl like yourself to be in a place like this.”
“I know who you are” she said. Her voice was smooth and dreamlike.
“Excuse me?” I asked her. I knew she could see the fear in my eyes, and she gave me a small smirk.
“You’re not a cabbie. You’re Detective Nichols from Bravada Sheriff’s office. You’re undercover, and searching for the man that killed yours, and so many other people’s families. You are in the right place, but you stick out too much, you need to fit in more.”
“But how do you know all of this? Who are you?”
I was extremely nervous. My hand was still on my gun, but I couldn’t pull it out, I was frozen with fear, or maybe it was something else. But she knew too much, and I didn’t like it. She was going to blow my cover, and everything I worked for was going to fall apart, and I might just lose my job.
“You ask too many questions. I’m not what you need to worry about right now. Listen, in about 5 minutes, a man is going to come out of that Mexican restaurant across the street, and I want you to follow him. Take these clothes and put them on, and follow him on foot. And whatever you do, do not take your hand off your gun, one mistake and it’s your life” she said almost too fast for me to understand. She pulled out some squatter clothes, and threw them at me.
“But why–” I tried to ask, but she was out of the car before I could finish the question, taking the chill with her.
I was almost suffocated by the heat that had filled the car again. I struggled to put the clothes on as fast as I could, and quickly realized that there weren’t any shoes, just a pair of old ripped socks. I wasn’t sure how much I could count on a child that I knew nothing about, but something inside me told me that I was finally going to get some answers.
No sooner than had I finished getting dressed, the man walked out of the restaurant. He was dressed just like everyone else in this town, dirty ragged clothes that should have seen their last days a long time ago. That’s when I realized that I had seen this man every night. Always coming out of that restaurant at the same time. I had never thought anything of it, I had even tried to give him money my first night on watch. He was the one that told me I didn’t belong there. He knew I was there for him.
Before he started walking he stared at my car for a minute, just like he did every night. I finally knew why he did that. He wanted to make sure I didn’t recognize and follow him. That bastard!
I watched him walk up the road and turn the corner. I knew it was safe to get out of my car and start to follow him. I just hoped I didn’t lose him.
I started behind him, and looked around the corner to see where he was, keeping my hand on my gun like the girl told me too. I still couldn’t remember where I’ve seen her before, but I couldn’t worry about that now. There he was walking up the road, slowly but determined. I was thankful that I had decided not to put my shoes on, I now knew why I wasn’t given any. I couldn’t make a sound.
I followed in the shadows for what seemed like forever.
We finally came to a small, but decent looking house on the outskirts of town. There was nothing else around but trees and mountains. I started to regret leaving my cell phone and radio in my cab, but at the time I felt it was safer, now I didn’t have any way of calling back-up if something happened.
He walked up to the house, turned the knob, and walked in. He didn’t turn on any lights, I got excited and thought I was going to catch him in the act. I was finally going to turn him in, and save someone’s life. I had waited for this moment for almost 30 years and had joined the department 17 years ago to finally get my chance at this moment.
I ran towards the house, still keeping my hand on my gun. I wanted to wait till it was absolutely necessary to use it. Protocol was the last thing on my mind, this was no longer about my job, this was personal.
I walked into the dark house. I was expecting to hear the screaming of his next victim, but there was nothing but silence.
“Bravada Sheriff’s office, come out where I can see you!!” I yelled.
“So you finally figured it out, Whitney, or Detective Nichols as they call you these days” he said, as he stepped around the corner and was standing in front of me, so close that I could smell the whiskey and stale tobacco on his breath. “I’m surprised you kept that name, thought you would have changed it to hide, or taken the name of your adoptive parents.”
“I wanted people to know who I was, I always wore my name proud. I have nothing to hide, or to be ashamed of. Not even you”
I tried so hard to hide the fear in my voice, but I knew he heard it.
“You always were brave, even as you watched me kill your mother and sister when you were five years old, it’s why I spared your life ya know. Come in the kitchen, we’ll have a cup of tea and chat, why don’t you pull your gun on me, make sure I don’t pull any funny business.”
I obliged. I knew he was a step ahead of me, or he thought he was. I had planned this out for so long, I knew what I was going to do, but I was going to play his little game first.
I kept my gun on him the whole time. He put the kettle on the stove and sat down at the kitchen table, inviting me to sit across from him.
“I’m surprised you haven’t pulled that trigger yet, Whit”
For the first time in years, I looked him in the face. He had more wrinkles on his face than I could count, and deep dark circles under his eyes. He was almost unrecognizable, a ghost of the handsome man that he once was. If it weren’t for his piercing blue eyes, I never would have thought it was him. Even his eyes looked old now, almost like they held the regret of all the lives he had taken. And for the first time in my life, I pitied him.
“Ya know, Whit, I never told you why I spared you, but now is as good a time as any. Ya see, your mother and your sister, they were weak, but you, you’re just like me. They could never understand the things that I did, I had to get rid of the people who couldn’t stand up for themselves, the ones that let everyone walk all over them. You never did that, even as a young girl. You would throw yourself in front of them, and beg me to hit you instead, saying that they didn’t deserve that, that you were the bad girl and should be punished. I saw so much of myself in you, and that’s why you’re still here, why you’re standing in front of me right now.”
As he said all of this, I remembered why I was here, I was here to end this, the pain that he had caused. The anger was building inside of me, and he knew it. He wanted me to pull the trigger. He knew he had won.
In my head I saw him beating my mother and my sister to the point where they just hanging on to life, then shooting them until his gun was empty.
The kettle started whistling away on the stove, and I snapped back into reality. I jumped up and held the gun to his forehead.
“I WILL NEVER BE LIKE YOU!! I WOULD NEVER KILL OUT OF COLD BLOOD!! I WILL NOT LET THEM DIE IN VAIN!!” I shouted at him.
Before I could pull the trigger, he had me on the ground, my gun lying inches from my fingers. That old man could move. He had his own gun pointed at my chest.
“That’s my girl” he laughed, “But you don’t think I really let you kill your own father, did ya? I got ya right where I want ya. You’re strong, but you let your anger control you. That was your mistake. You should have pulled that trigger when I showed my face.”
I closed my eyes and waited for the pain and the sweet serenity of death, regretting that he was right. It never came. Instead, I felt the same cold chill that I had felt in my cab.
I opened my eyes, and he was still standing there with the gun pointed at my chest, but looking at the door with shock in his eyes. I reached for my gun, but it was no longer next to me. I looked back at him, and saw crimson spread across his chest, and he dropped to the ground dead.
I sat up, and looked around for the shooter. Standing in the door was the thirteen year old girl from the cab, my gun in her hands.
She silently handed me my gun, and ran out of the house. I got up and ran after her, but she was gone.
The next thing I knew, without even remembering how I got there, I was standing in the sheriff’s office, handing him my badge and my gun, resigning.
I felt bad, I was their best detective, but my job was done. It was time to go home.
Early the next morning, after driving hours, I finally got there. The house where it all happened 30 years ago. I kept my promise, and walked into my mother’s house with my head held high. As soon as I walked in, I was faced with a family portrait hanging over the fire place. My eyes went instantly to the thirteen year old girl standing next to my mother, she had piercing blues and and strawberry blonde hair in two short braids, one on each side of hear head. My dead sister.
You’re a taxi driver in a one-light town. You’ve arrived at the county library to pick up your passenger, a girl no older than thirteen. She says, “You see that Mexican restaurant across the street? In about five minutes, a man is going to come out of that restaurant, and I want you to follow him. (writersdigest.com)