Good – A Short Story

Despite countless efforts from the local police in catching the Newport Deviant, any semblance of progress towards freedom from further mischievous deeds bore little fruit for the fearful public. This didn’t stop Julian from working tirelessly at his desk, relentlessly tapping his fingers on the surface. He kept muttering under his breath a list of possible suspects, while keeping his pencil scribbling on the surface of the notebook page. At the crossing of his last “t”, he knew this would make him famous.

He had first caught wind of the Newport Deviant from taking a stroll down Main Street. He was passing by a local television store when his eyes and ears got wind of the criminal wreaking havoc in the surrounding area. There were reports of countless theft, murder, and sexual assaults at seemingly-random locations all around Newport. The police had little leads on who this person may be or where he may strike next. The only evidence left by this man had been a business card with the letters “ND” inscribed on the front. Hell, there was even a watermark. Patrick Bateman would have had a field day.

It was an indescribable feeling that drew Julian to this case. Perhaps it was the idea of being the one to solve this seemingly unsolvable mystery that drove him to it. Or maybe it was the thought of fame and appreciation that he would be the one to stop this madman from terrorizing the city. Or maybe it was the $100,000 reward being advertised non-stop. He didn’t quite know why he had been driven to the brink of obsession with the Deviant, but he knew that this was lady luck smiling on him once again. He had a feeling that this was his calling in life. He had a feeling that this was going to turn his life around and bring meaning to an otherwise meaningless existence.

 

The walls in Julian’s apartment were painted a shade of beige that would make early computers green with envy. Plastered on one of the walls was a collage of photos, with a yellow sticky note clinging on for dear life at the edge of each one. Julian never bothered spending money on objects when there was a cheaper alternative, and this was no different. Rather than pulling out a Hamilton from his worn wallet for a cork board, he opted to pull out a pocket-full of Washington’s for a massive container of pushpins, completely skipping the board all together. He always had an affinity for break-neck efficiency, anything to cut out the middleman.

This didn’t please the landlord one bit. During one of his monthly inspections, Harrison nearly fainted at the sight of millions of tiny holes littering Room 201’s walls, nearly tearing up at the thought of spending money filling the wounds with fresh plaster and paint. Julian was given the usual thousand-word lecture about treating the building with dignity, but deep down Harrison knew the words just entered one ear and exited out the other. Harrison would just sigh and called it a day, pulling out his phone and calling the usual handyman for work.

He had been tolerating Julian’s presence for nearly two years now and wasn’t too terribly burdened by his demeanor. Julian had always been on time with his rent payments, and always answered requests for inspection and maintenance. He had always left Harrison with an efficient experience, so there was little to complain about. The fixed income from at least one of his tenants always left him with a solemn smile on his face. It was financial security at its peak in Harrison’s eyes.

Julian’s apartment was on the second floor of a massively tall, almost borderline absurd apartment complex. Being the first room on the right after exiting the elevator didn’t sound like anything resembling a peaceful living experience. But Julian didn’t care. He actually loved the sound of mechanical gears grinding away and steel ropes vibrating through the paper-thin walls. It was comforting. It reminded him a lot of his life before the war, a time where he would be milling machine parts at a local CNC shop. The grinding gears and moving steel ropes were like an orchestra playing a personal piece just for him. The crescendo would be when the elevator stopped at its intended destination, bringing with it the laughter and drunken banter of his neighbors.

He enjoyed the daily symphony, even though he knew no one else did.

 

The war had begun fizzling out (at least according to what the “reporters” had said) so there was a steep decline in civilian petrol rations, mainly due to the combined effort between the local and federal government and their “win by any means necessary” doctrine. He had forgotten the name of the doctrine a long time ago, but the patriotic illusion – or disillusion – had never left the warm pit in his stomach. The war had been rationalized as a fight between freedom and tyranny, like many wars before it. The populace was neither blind nor deaf at the causes and implications of such a conflict, but nevertheless when the chips were down and cities were burning, the people banded together, fighting a common enemy.

Julian was drafted into the war at the ripe old age of 18, obviously fulfilled with life and ready to die for his country. And at the age of 24 he had been stripped of his rank and shoved out of the only remaining family he had, into the streets of the rebuilding Newport City. No one knew the reason for his discharge except for him and the War Department, and neither party was obligated to discuss the details. Julian didn’t talk about what had happened in the war that got him kicked out, or what he had experienced at the front lines – not that anybody ever bothered to ask. To the few that became acquainted with him after his discharge, he was simply a tattered man living at the Mission Peak Apartment complex. And in their eyes, that’s all that he would ever be.

He left the armed forces with little money and little opportunity. The severance pay from his six-year tour had been cut due to his discharge, and the economy had been so far up its own ass with helping the war effort that many local businesses had no need for his skills or his idea of dignity. Taking his measly $600 a month severance pay, he took residence at Mission Peak Apartments. It was one of the few buildings left intact in the area from the numerous bombing raids and was also one that didn’t leave him with single-digit income at the end of each month.

He wasn’t that far deep under the poverty line, though. He had saved a little bit of money before being drafted and his family’s inheritance – if you can even call it inheritance – left him with a little bit of breathing room. But he did the math before signing the contract and he knew that the money would only put a roof over his head for two and a half years if he was lucky. Then again, that also included the stipulation that he ate only a slice of bread each day. He knew it wasn’t going to be a glamorous existence and some concessions needed to be made.

Fortunately for him, Room 201’s previous tenant was an avid dumpster-diver and hoarder all-in-one. Although the room smelled as if animals designated this place as a holy city for pilgrimage and a final resting place, there was makeshift furniture fit for a deranged king. He could hardly tell that parts of the desk had been floating around the Pacific Ocean for a couple years before finding itself on the west coast, traded by the homeless and addicts for booze and narcotics. The faux-leather desk chair he had been sitting in for nearly an hour allegedly belonged to an East Asian diplomat. How it found its way in the hands of a glue-huffing insomniac was a mystery rivaling the disappearance of Amelia Earhart.

Instead of spending days panhandling for loose change on the streets of the affluent Newport so that he could buy furniture, lady luck had smiled upon him for once in his life and handed him this disgusting, moldy, and gloomy apartment. He couldn’t help but feel grateful for his fortune. He spent a couple hours knee-deep in filth and a couple gallons of bleach cleaning his apartment, keeping the desk and chair while throwing everything else out. The single-room apartment left little space for leisure. He opted to fill whatever space the floor had left with a foldable futon for sleeping, leaving his desk and chair the only raised surface for eating and meaningful philosophy.

And for the first few months, it was enough.

 

 

Julian had been sitting at his desk for quite a while now, listening to his police scanner that he had stolen. The pencil tapping on the desk would have driven a man insane, or at the very least satisfy his obsessive-compulsion for another hour. During one of his nightly escapades into the neighborhood he came across an unattended police car, still humming away and guzzling whatever petrol was rationed for the local law enforcement division. Being a penny pincher as always, Julian used his technical prowess and pried the police scanner from the dashboard. There was no moral ambiguity in his eyes, though. He left a note saying he had simply “borrowed” it and planned on returning it after the Deviant had been caught. He smiled proudly at his growing karma as he scurried back to his apartment.

Julian used his fingers to tweak the frequency band on the police scanner, trying to find the suitable channel so he could listen in. Amid the buzzing and fuzzy dialogue, he could hear the tenants living above him yelling at each other, mixed with sounds of breaking glass and marital disputes. He had gotten used to the constant nagging and chatter from his four connected walls, although he really wished he didn’t have to hear it when working the scanner. Still fiddling with the knobs a loud knocking at his door made him switch frequencies too quickly, causing a scathing burst of fuzz and interference, lifting him out of his chair.

He grumbled under his breath at the disturbance, filtering his fingers through his hair and trying to make it less unkempt than it already was. He pulled up his battered jeans as he stood up and made his way past the empty bottles of gin and bourbon to the entrance. He took a peek through the looking glass embedded in his door. He was too tall for it and had to bend over to get a good angle, causing his back to creak and pop. In front of his door was Harrison wearing a crooked smile.

“I know you’re in there, Julian. Mind if I come in?” Harrison asked, sounding muffled by the door in front of his face.

Julian unlocked and opened the door, revealing Harrison in all his land-owning glory.

“What do you want?” Julian asked, staring at Harrison with an indifferent expression.

“What’s with the attitude, man? Can’t a guy come over and ask how one of his tenants is doing?”

Julian stared at him with increasing ferocity and repeated his earlier question.

“Actually, I was wondering if you wanted to come with me to the bar down the street. Spend a little together time and get to know each other. Honestly, I feel kind of bad not knowing my tenants, especially one that has stuck around here for, what, two and a half years?”

“Nearly two years.”

“Yeah whatever you say, buddy,” Harrison said jokingly. “How ’bout it?”

Julian looked at him with a stern, yet somewhat confused face. There was no reason for him to refuse Harrison’s offer, but just looking at him made him feel as if he was walking into a trap. Of all days to come and ask to hang out it had to be the day he finally got the scanner to work.

“Sure,” Julian sighed. “Why not?”

“Perfect, I’ll meet you in the lobby in five.”

And just like that, Harrison made his way to the elevator, starting yet another symphony. This time, however, it didn’t sound like a symphony he had ever heard of.

The bar down the street from the apartment complex wasn’t as architecturally consistent as the other buildings in the area were. Sure, it had its fine selection of alcoholic beverages and mixed drinks, but the customer demographic left much to be desired. Loitering outside of the bar was a toss-up between homeless people begging for spare change, druggies look for a fix, and the usual drunken business man who originally only wanted to impress his superiors. Inside was far tamer, but the occasional bar brawl was just one shot away from flaring up again. Julian and Harrison found a booth in the corner of the dim bar, complete with suede seat lining and an almost vomit-free tabletop. The two ordered gin and tonic and did so cleanly and to the point, to which gave the young waitress a sigh of relief that she didn’t have to handle yet another pair of audacious gentlemen.

“Ever been here before?” Harrison asked.

“No. Never liked drinking in public.” Julian stared at his fingers.

“Damn shame, this place is great. Ever since the war there are more and more closures of these kinds of bars since nearly all the staff are in the draft age range,” Harrison took a sip of his water. “Can’t find a place like this for miles.”

The waitress came back with the two gin and tonics, placing the coasters down on the table and setting their drinks in order. The waitress asked them if there was anything else she could do for them, but Harrison waved his hands and she went along her rounds to tend to the more grabby patrons.

“I just want to say,” Harrison picked up his glass of gin, “how glad I am that you stuck with Mission Peaks for so long.” He took a big gulp and set the glass back on the coaster.

“I know it’s a hassle trying to find a place with your economic predicament, so I want to say thanks for your patronage.”

“Uh, thanks for having me, I guess.” Julian said, reaching for his glass.

Harrison started to look a bit red in the face.

“So what’s your story, if you don’t mind me asking,” he said with a slight slur, “I knew that there was something suspicious about you when I saw your application. I took a look in the citizen database and the only thing I managed to get was a document full of redacted nonsense.”

“Only if you’re willing to listen.” Julian replied, having managed to finish his entire glass in one gulp.

“Oblige me.”

The two sat in the booth for what Harrison felt was eternity. Julian talked about the front lines he had participated in, the Pacific Theater and the platoon he was assigned. The discussion felt like something ripped out of a propaganda editorial from the New York Times. It was the generic calls of bravery and honor, duty and respect, and fighting to the keep this country alive. By the end of the night the two had ended up spending a sizable chunk of money and emptied six glasses a piece. Harrison had toppled over onto the table, leaking saliva from his gaping mouth and slept. Julian, not nearly as intoxicated, got up from the table and left Harrison to his own sleeping devices.

As Julian began walking away from the drunken landlord, he could hear him mumbling something under his breath.

“…could you do me a…favor, Jules? There’s a new guy wanting to…m-move…in…”

He ignored Harrison’s ramblings and tossed a dollar into the tip jar and left the bar through the back exit, not looking to be followed by Harrison if he had gotten up. He never really enjoyed Harrison’s company and treated whatever relationship they had half-heartedly. He had simply been content with giving out his dues at the end of every month, shaking hands with Harrison at the start of every inspection, and then never seeing him again – well, at least for a little while. It was nothing more than a simple exchange of pleasantries and currency.

Behind the bar was a typical alleyway, filled with rats and other vermin and rife with disease and despair. If there was an aqueduct for collecting and distributing tears this would be it. The drainage pipes had been left to fend for itself by what was left of the city cleaners, and over the course of a few years the description was just in name only. Julian made his way through the atrocious alley, occasionally hopping over murky puddles of waste water and dissolved narcotics. But as he was about to exit the narrow alley, he heard a muffled scream in the distance – loud enough to be heard, yet quiet enough to blend in with the ambient noise.

He slowly tip-toed towards the source of the commotion, hobbling over pieces of crushed fast-food wrappers and empty beer cans. The background noise of cars speeding on the street parallel did its fair share of covering his movement, but he knew he still had to exercise caution. Turning the corner he found himself between his apartment complex and a rundown brothel once home to the downtrodden, the horny, and sometimes the occasional adulterer. He huddled behind an empty dumpster and peered over the side, towards the sound he had heard. His squint would make it into Asian-American editorials, claiming racial oppression and clamoring for tolerance, yet probably solving neither. In the distance he saw an outline of a person slouching against the wall, barely moving.

Julian left the safety of the dumpster and slowly made his way towards the suspicious figure, barely being able to discern it being a friend or foe. As he got closer to the shadowy mass, sounds of sobbing and pain became more and more apparent. After what felt like an eternity of searching, he found himself staring down at an injured woman. She was bleeding profusely from her thighs and right forearm, and with her current pose it almost looked like Julian was a tourist observing Niagara Falls. Whoever did this to her didn’t want her to die quickly. A quick death would be doing her a favor.

Fortunately for her – yet unfortunately for him – Julian had been in this situation before, except with wounded platoon mates rather than someone of the opposite sex. He took off his sweater and made a makeshift tourniquet, believing she had not already bled out. He knew that it would be a waste of time to take her to the local hospital since it was nearly ten miles away and was always filled with the less fortunate clumped together with an overworked staff. The next best thing was to bring her to his apartment, which was coincidentally located mere stepping stones away. He had all the necessary medical equipment for sealing the wound – and it would probably be cheaper as well.

After a messy operation involving sewing needles, countless thread, and one or two staples Julian felt satisfied at his handiwork and let the woman rest on his futon layered with newspaper. He went to his portable stove sitting atop several milk crates, poured the boiled water into one of his few mugs and placed it on his decrepit desk. He plopped down into his chair and began rifling through the wallet he had stripped off of the unconscious woman prior. As he expected, the money had been taken (or maybe there wasn’t any to begin with) and several slots were empty, leaving only indentations of several bank and credit cards to fill the gap. The driver’s license read the usual unique serial number and Julian slid his index finger across the name that read: “Natalie Dempsky”. He sat back in his chair and pinched his chin. “Interesting.”

 

 

Natalie woke up to a painful headache. Her eyes had barely begun adjusting to the new lighting and her ears had begun to soften the ringing. The first thing she saw was the dimpled ceiling in front of her. She roamed her fingers across her forearm and thighs, stopping in a cold sweat at the makeshift bandages and cross-stitched threads. She tried to sit upright and get her bearings, but the pain of her headache combined with her healing wounds forced a small grunt from her dried-out lips. Julian turned around in his chair, removing his finger from the police scanner’s dial.

“Try not to move around. It took me a long time to get those stitches to stay in place.” Julian said.

Natalie rubbed her face with her hands. “Where am I?”

“Mission Peak Apartments. You had a run in with a nasty fella and he or she left you in the alleyway nearby, bleeding to death.”

That would explain the stitches, Natalie thought.

“Who are you?”

“Julian. I’m not going to give you my last name because honestly I don’t want to. Forgive the rudeness. And the lousy stitch work.” Julian had already turned back towards his desk, fiddling with the knobs again.

“No, no it’s fine. This sort of things kind of comes with the job,” Natalie sighed, “I’m just glad I’m not dead.”

“Same here. ’Cause I got a couple questions for you.”

Natalie managed to sit herself up without doing too much harm to her arms and legs. She looked around the room, eyeing the mass of photographs and sticky notes on the wall next to her. She looked to the other side and saw a glass of water.

“It’ll help with the headache.” Julian said.

She grabbed the handle on the side of the cup and brought the delicious water to her lips. Aside from nearly dying from blood loss she felt as if she was dying of dehydration too.

“This is some good shit,” Natalie chuckled, “Even if it’s just water.”

“Everybody’s gotta drink.”

Julian kept his body turned away from Natalie, still incredibly focused on his work.

“Before I call a cab I want you to answer a few questions for me,” Julian said, “one of which is if you remember who attacked you.”

Natalie gave it some thought, though her memory was still a bit hazy.

“Well, I was walking back from my volunteer work and I was approached by some guy in a trench coat. I thought he was some homeless man looking for spare change so I brushed him off. I kept on walking down the street but I felt someone following me,” Natalie said, trembling at this point, “I panicked and made a quick turn into an alleyway trying to lose him,”

“Mistake number one,” Julian said with little emotion in his voice.

Natalie kept on speaking. “I was only a few feet into the alley when I heard something being pulled out. I turned around,”

“Mistake number two.” Natalie could see him gesturing his fingers to show the number.

“I was screaming and flailing all around, trying to call out for help. Next thing I knew, I’m lying in this newspaper-futon.”

Julian finally pulled himself away from his desk and turned toward the trembling Natalie. “It was the Newport Deviant,” Julian said, staring into Natalie’s puffy-red eyes.

“How do you know?” Natalie asked.

“There are three defining characteristics of the Newport Deviant and his methods for killing,” Julian said, now reading off his notes from his tattered notebook. “One, he attacks at night. Two, he attacks in alleys. Three, he doesn’t let them die immediately, and that’s the crucial part. He lets them bleed,” Julian took a deep breath, “slowly.”

Natalie kept her expressionless face aimed at her fingers wrapped around the mug of water.

“I would guess you had just been left there to die for a good two minutes by the time I had gotten there. Any longer and you probably would have ended up like the rest of them.”

“I guess I was just lucky you were around to hear me,” Natalie said, looking down at her cup and watching the ripples form as her tears made contact with the surface.

“I guess so,” Julian said, snapping his notebook closed. “And I got one more question for you.”

“What is it?”

“Do you remember what he looked like?”

Natalie looked up at the ceiling, seemingly lost in thought.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t.” Natalie said, prompting Julian to let a big sigh out of his nostrils. “It was just so dark and you know how the street lamps are completely useless around here. I couldn’t see anything.”

Julian turned back towards his desk, scribbling notes in his notebook once more.

“Well, I guess that ends this discussion then. I’ll call a cab and you can go home.”

Natalie frowned, perturbed at such a callous reply. But she knew that this man saved her life, and somehow she felt guilty if she had let this exchange end on this note.

“Listen,” Natalie began to speak, “I wish I could be more helpful, but I’m sorry. Thank you for saving me. Let me make it up to you.”

“You don’t have to do anything.” Julian said.

“I’d feel bad if I didn’t repay you for what you did. Look, I work for the US relief department and we’re looking for medical personnel with your skills. If you want I can put in a good word for you and get you out of this…this place.”

Julian kept on twisting knobs on the police scanner, scribbling notes, and placed his mobile phone on the desk.

“I appreciate the offer, but that’s not what I’m looking for. I pinged for a cab. It’ll be here in 15 minutes.”

Natalie looked at her blood-stained fingers, somewhat disappointed in Julian’s response. It was going to take the cab a while to arrive, but the time gap felt far longer than fifteen minutes. She knew she had to at the very least make small talk with him so the painful awkwardness could be blunted.

“So Julian, where are you from?”

“The United States.” She felt cheated by that response.

“…can you at least say which state?”

Julian paused for a brief moment. “This one, before it was divided in two.”

Finally, a better answer, she thought.

“What do you do for a living?”

“A cross between vigilantism and being shut-in,” Julian replied. “It doesn’t pay well.”

Natalie could only imagine the grin on his face.

“Say, why are you so obsessed with finding this…Newport Deviant? I’ve only heard small bits from the news at work.”

Julian paused his knob-turning motions and note-scribbling.

“Admiration. Respect. Fame. Fortune. The whole nine-yards.”

Natalie furrowed her brow in confusion.

“That’s it? Not because he’s hurting people? Not because he’s causing and has caused the suffering of so many in this city? That sounds kind of petty.”

Something clicked in Julian’s head.

“You know,” Julian began to turn towards Natalie, “it seems really petty, doesn’t it? I mean, there’s always talk about honor, modesty, duty, and all that garbage. You see it all the time. The news reporters call the police’s efforts as being ‘noble’ and ‘selfless’, but at the end of the day you can’t lie to yourself like that. They are getting paid to do this. They joined the police force to get a living wage, not this shit that I’ve been handed. Why should they get that kind of respect? They don’t know the kind of shit that exists in this world.”

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Natalie said, “it’s just…the authorities are already involved. You said it yourself. Sure they might be doing it for the money, but you can’t say all of them feel that way.”

“That’s a load of shit and you know it,”

“No it isn’t. There isn’t any reason for you to put yourself in danger just for the ‘admiration’ or ‘respect’. You’re not entitled to these kinds of things. No one is. I mean, yeah it looks like you put a lot of effort into solving this case, but doing it for those kinds of reasons doesn’t entitle you to anything. I think it’s a very self-serving-”

“You know what I think?” Julian said, raising his voice and cutting Natalie off, “I think I deserve a little respect for my work. Maybe a side of dignity while I’m at it too. Maybe, I should be recognized for all my time serving in the armed forces, in the Pacific. Instead here I am, wallowing in this no-good, moldy apartment all by myself, with nothing in my name besides this decadent desk and this good-for-nothing chair that I inherited from a no-good, glue-sniffing pest who’s probably out there pan-handling for more glue to sniff.” Julian threw his pen at his desk. “You don’t know what it’s like, Natalie, to have worked hard all your life, following a pre-defined path that was outside of your control the moment you fell out of the womb. You have no idea what it’s like not getting what you think you deserve, what you think the world owes to you. I did what people told me to do. I followed every goddamn order right down to the dot, and you know where that’s landed me? You’re looking at it. You’re sitting in it right now,” Julian said as he gestured his hand around, tears forming at the base of his eyes.

“I’ve done some horrible things, Natalie. I’ve done some things ordinary people wouldn’t be proud of. I’ve burned people – entire families even – alive, right in front of me. I’ve shot kids, man. They were just bawling their little eyes out as I pointed my pistol at their little faces and pulled the trigger. You ever see body parts flying after a small piece of lead hits at god-knows-how-many meters per second? I did all of this. And for what? I make one mistake and it gets me thrown out of the service. They cut my pension. They stripped me of my rank. They took everything that I fought so dearly for away from me. I did my time, Natalie. And this is where it leaves me?”

There was a knock on the door, breaking the inescapable tension between the two parties. Julian got up from his chair and opened the front door, revealing a taxi driver standing in the hallway.

“Here’s a tip,” Julian said to the taxi driver as he shoved a Hamilton in his hands. “Take her to the nearest hospital.”

The taxi driver looked at the wad of cash in his hands. “Whatever you say, boss,” the taxi driver said. He walked up to Natalie and picked her up from the futon, cradling her as if she was a newborn baby.

Natalie was speechless. She had barely said anything after the entire monologue and barely said anything while the taxi driver was carrying her down the staircase. Julian shut the door without saying anything and returned to his chair, opening his notebook and began fiddling with the knobs once again.

Julian turned the knob to a frequency he had been trained to memorize while he was in the armed forces. He twisted the volume knob clockwise after hearing noise that sounded like voices.

“Is this thing on? Test one two,” the voice said as thumping sounds were made, “Good. Now, can you tell me your name?”

Julian couldn’t hear the reply since there was too much ambient noise in the background, but to him it sounded like a woman sobbing.

“What a pretty name you got there,” the voice said with cheerfulness in its tone, “Now, if you just say you’re sorry – and with forgiveness this time, I don’t want to keep on cutting you – I’ll let you go. Is that a deal?”

More distorted noise came from the radio’s speakers.

“What was that? I couldn’t quite catch that. Can you say it for me again? One. More. Time?”

Julian could only make out fragments of the reply, deducing it was something along the lines of: “S-s-sorry-”

“BZZT! WRONG! Ha ha!” the voice yelled, “That doesn’t. Quite. Cut. It.”

The last thing Julian heard were sounds of the transmission being turned off and an eerie silence.

 

 

As part of his daily routine, Julian made a conscious effort to stay in shape. Although his usual diet of bread and water left little nutrients for his body, he still was able to make his daily rounds in the neighborhood. He passed by the television shop which started it all, as well as the local donut shop next door. He never really paid any attention to the donut shop, always repeatedly affirming to himself that he couldn’t afford it anyways. Several weeks passed since he saw Natalie off with the taxi driver. The words he spoke still replayed continuously in his head from time to time, bringing with it not only shame that he had broken his one rule of never revealing personal thoughts to others, but also the shame of remembering the things he had done during his service. He thought to himself that grown men shouldn’t cry, but rarely did his body ever comply.

During one of his late-night routes he felt Deja vu. He heard shouting in the distance – loud enough to be heard by the trained ear, yet quiet enough to blend in to the ambience. He turned his face towards the source of the disturbance, soon finding his way down yet another alleyway. This was all too familiar to him. This time, however, he didn’t have to turn a corner to find yet another victim slouching against a parallel wall. But there was something odd. The ghostly figure was far too large for a single person. As he tip-toed his way closer to the source of the disturbance the scene became clear: he watched this despicable act taking place in real-time. Wanting to keep his presence unknown he hid behind a garbage bin, peering over the right side to get a better view.

The scene was absolutely brutal.

Spats of blood and flesh made indiscriminate marks along the adjacent walls. The shouting had all but died down at this point, leaving only the grinding of steel and bone. He thought it was rather odd that the Deviant was not making any sound during this entire ordeal. As quick as it had started the conflict subsided, leaving only a standing figure towering over a slumped, yet still breathing body. He knew that this was his lucky break. He came up with a plan of following the Deviant, leading him to his hiding place and blowing this entire mystery wide open. In his mind it was fool-proof. There was no indication of the Deviant being aware of Julian’s presence. He knew he could tail him without being at risk.

The shadowy figure faced the direction of the garbage bin Julian had been hiding behind and slowly paced himself towards the exit of the alleyway. Julian quickly pulled his head behind the bin, pulling himself closer with the heavy plastic sides. Julian heard a piece of cloth being pulled out of a jacket pocket. Perhaps he’s wiping off the blood. The Deviant exited the alleyway and turned right. Julian quickly yet quietly rose to his feet, and proceeded to follow the mysterious murderer, constantly hiding behind the broken lighting fixtures on Main Street and halting his breathing at any sign of the Deviant stopping.

He found himself outside of an apartment complex not unlike Mission Peaks. However, the quality of the apartments was lacking and consisted of rotting staircases and putrid rugs. It was apparently possible for an apartment to be in worse condition than Mission Peaks. Luckily for Julian the Deviant’s apartment was on the first floor, so there was no need for dashing up staircases or awkwardly making contact with the suspect in the elevator. The Deviant turned left at the intersection of the hallway and Julian followed suit. He noticed a half-opened door on the right side with a label reading: “Room 110”. Before he made himself known he pulled out his mobile and dialed 911, then left the phone on the rotting floor. He figured that it would be a waste of time to wait for the police to arrive, so at the very least letting them track the phone’s GPS would notify them of something being amiss.

He slowly crept up to Room 110 and looked through the crack. He found himself staring at the opening of a gun barrel.

“Glad you could make it, Julian,” the Deviant said, cracking a wry smile, “Now, come on in. And don’t make a sound.”

Julian did what he was told and walked into the apartment, immediately facing a smell that would drive vultures away.

The door slammed shut behind him as he heard a clicking noise coming from the gun.

“How do you know my name?” Julian asked, not even phased at being held up at gun point.

The Deviant reached over to his left and pulled down a ball-chain, lighting up the room with a lamp and walked out of the shadows.

“Don’t you remember me, Julian? I always thought your memory was one of the best in the platoon,” the Deviant said, revealing a mischievous smile as he walked closer to the lamp.

Of course he remembered. How couldn’t he? When the light began to show everything around him, it became obviously clear.

“Sen? Holy shit is that you?” Julian asked with genuine amazement.

“The one and only, Sen the radioman,” Sen said, waving his arm in a display of grandeur.

“I thought you were still in the forces. What happened to you?”

“What happened to me? What happened to you? Since when did you stalk people in the middle of the night? You were always the one to call me out on the socially unacceptable.”

He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Sen the radio operator became a part of the platoon after Julian had joined. He always felt Sen was a little off in the head. There were times he would be making his morning patrols and hearing suspicious chatter from Sen’s tent, even though he was its single occupant. Sen wasn’t entirely incompetent, but he wasn’t amazing either. He did his job to the best of his ability and somehow the guys in his platoon didn’t get killed from the air and artillery support he had to call in.

He remembered the transmission from the radio frequency he had dialed in the night he sent Natalie off with the taxi driver.

“You…you were the one broadcasting on the platoon’s frequency a few weeks ago,” Julian said, breaking the silence.

“Ha. You were listening in on that?” Sen said, “Thank god, I was almost sure that no one would even bother listening to me. No one listened to me back in the platoon. You know, I’ve always wanted to be some kind of talk show host, you know?”

Julian stood in the middle of Sen’s apartment for nearly ten minutes, watching the gun barrel jerk up and down as it was still pointed in his general direction.

“I thought, ‘Hey, maybe if I were to broadcast what I was doing every other night, then maybe that would be enough of a hint for the police to find and catch me!’ But it never happened. Those guys listened to me as much as the rest of the platoon did back in the War.”

Sen’s eyes glowed a glistening red and orange hue.

“But enough of the chit-chat. We can spend the rest of the afterlife talking. Before I send you straight to Hell, I’m sure you want to know why I’ve been so keen on killing. I mean, that’s why you’re here, right? That’s why you tailed me after I let that poor man bleed to death.” Sen loudly whispered. “You see, I’m good at it.”

Julian’s heart sank as the six words seeped out of Sen’s crooked, deranged smile.

“I do it ’cause I’m good at it. I remember my father telling me after I dropped out of college that I’ll end up finding what I’m good at. And when I do, stick with it. Practice it. Refine it. Make it yours and make everyone else envy your talent,” he said, clicking his tongue at the last syllable. “The war didn’t really do me any favors, though. I got average scores on all the aptitude tests, I was in the middle of the pack when I was in boot camp doing drills – hell, even the platoon commander put me as the backup radio man. But boy, when Lieutenant Ron died from that land mine, I knew it was my time to shine. And you know what Commander Richards said to me? He said, ‘You’re lucky that Ron gave his life so that you can finally be useful.'” Sen roared with laughter. “That guy was just too much. I knew it was true, though. I got my place in the platoon because someone better than me died. That’s all there was to it. I knew it, you knew it, everyone. Knew. It.” Sen said, stopping at the last few words.

“And you know what ended up happening after you got kicked out? Someone better than me came in and took my place. They told me I could just go home. Discarded like a used rag,” Sen laughed with a hearty smile, wiping the dust from his eyes. “I remember the first person I killed. Beautiful woman, she was. Plump breasts, child-bearing hips, the whole shebang. Problem was she wouldn’t let me take her home, threw water at me, cursed me out in front of everybody at the bar,” Sen said, still holding that golden smile. “God she was gorgeous – I wish you could have met her,” Sen whispered, “you know, before I let her die. I remember the place too: corner of 2nd and Phillis. That place had the best restaurants. Too bad I couldn’t afford it.”

“You don’t have to do this, Sen,” Julian said.

Sen’s laughter bounced off the decrepit walls, piercing Julian’s eardrums.

“Have you even been paying attention, Julian? I need to practice, man. Practice makes perfect. I’m on a, what, seven-person killing streak? I can’t – I won’t – let that kind of practice waste away.”

“We can talk this through,

                “I’m through with that shit, man. I’m through with all the shrinks poking and prodding at my insecurities. If what I do makes me happy, why stop? If what I do brings meaning to my life, why do I need to have someone take it away and leave me like the used rag I was?”

“Put the gun down, Sen,” Julian whispered, gesturing his hand downwards. His arm moved in one continuous motion, but the adrenaline and fear in his hands made ripples in the stagnant air. Tears of sweat continually formed at the base of his forehead ever since Sen had started pointing the barrel.

“Man, I thought you of all people would understand. I mean, you tried your very best being the best goddamn soldier in the entire platoon. I remember that time you lit that hut on fire, even though everyone else didn’t want to. The screams, man. The screams left something on your face. I should have taken a picture.” Sen was inching closer and closer to Julian as he went through his words. “But in the end, all it takes is one tiny, itsy-bitsy mistake and poof. All that hard work comes tumbling down. How does that make you feel, Julian? How does that make you feel?”

Julian stared at Sen’s twisted face with pure resentment, trying desperately to ignite Sen’s face on fire with his thoughts.

“Well, look at the time,” Sen checked his watch, “I guess I gotta go catch my next appointment.” The pistol became steady, aiming directly at Julian’s chest. “When I see you in Hell, I’ll be sure to let them at least acknowledge your previous deeds on a placard while they build a monument in honor of mine.”

                At the last syllable Julian made a quick dash towards Sen, aiming to disarm him. But at the first sight of movement Sen pulled the trigger. The resulting bang shook the air, reverberating through the lamps and grimy windows. Julian somehow lost all his momentum and slumped onto his knees. He turned his head toward his chest and saw a gaping hole in the center. His shirt became increasingly redder with every second as he tried to put pressure on the wound with his shaking hands. The adrenaline rush made the blood gush out faster as a pool began to form under his jeans. He lost all strength in his arms and fell on his chest. Julian took his last breath and closed his eyes.

 

 

The Newport Deviant had escaped through the window after firing the shot and escaped capture. Although the conversation piece had taken nearly twenty minutes to complete, the police were far slower to complete the prior 911 call, much less to the calls from the frightened tenants at the sound of a gunshot. The police had arrived nearly ten minutes after Julian had been shot dead. The usual commotion and yellow tape surrounded the neighborhood. The usual cry of outrage at the city’s lack of progress towards catching the criminal made headline news yet again, and the news organization’s owners giggled with glee at the thought of greater profit. Press releases were sent from the city’s police department, yet again condemning the terrorizing act and encouraging anyone to step up in bringing this monster to justice.

 

Harrison stood outside of Room 201 with the master key in one hand and a bundled-up newspaper in the other. He had read the news report during his early-morning coffee run, dropping his mug on his lap at internalizing the identity of the deceased (though he would always try to deny such mishaps). After stuffing several ice packs down his trousers he took the elevator up to the second floor, clearly distraught at the news. As he stood outside of the now-vacant Room 201, he pulled out his phone from his pocket. He scrolled down his contact list and stopped at the usual handyman he had always called for maintenance work. He pressed the dial button and pulled the phone up to his ear.

“Hey. Yeah this is Harrison. Yeah. Listen, can you come over later today? I have a room you need to tidy up. Room 201. Yeah. Yeah. Bring whatever you think you need to clean it up. Yeah. Alright see you then. Bye.”

Harrison pressed the dial button once again and shoved his phone back into his pocket. He muttered under his breath, “Damn. Now I gotta find someone else to rent this apartment out.”