CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

HEIGHTS NEVER BOTHERED WOHL.   EVEN TWENTY-SEVEN FLIGHTS ABOVE HELL’S KITCHEN ON A WINDOW LEDGE LESS THAN A FOOT WIDE, HE KNEW HE HAD TO MOVE QUICKLY BEFORE HE WAS DISCOVERED.

He jimmied the lock on the window-pane by using his hand in a way no human ever had before or since, and an instant later…

… he stepped into the apartment that was not his own

He waited in the shadows.

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

THE TWO DETECTIVES WALKED OFF THE SIDEWALK, SCALED A FENCE AND LOOKED FOR ANY SIGNS THAT THE VICTIM HAD WALKED THERE.   THEY WERE CAREFUL NOT TO CROSS THE BEAMS OF THEIR FLASHLIGHTS.   THOSE DAYS, GAIL HAD INTIMATED, WERE LONG BEHIND THEM.

“Do you really want a new partner,” Asked Lincoln, finally breaking the silence.

“Didn’t say I wanted one,” Explained Gail. She was not eager to have the conversation but she had known is was inevitable since the moment she had called things off between them. “Said I’m going to need one if you can’t put our big mistake in the past.”

“Can we compromise?” He asked in utmost sincerity as he directed his flashlight at his own face. There was something almost irresistible about her partner in that moment. He looked… adorable. He looked like he did the night of the firefight on the lower Eastside: Afterward, in the locker room, when they were both finally realizing how close they came to never seeing each other alive again. That first night they kissed.

“How so?” She asked, turning her attention to the farthest point of light of her beam. Farther away from him — away from that night — away from them.

“Can we come up with another phrase besides ‘Our big mistake’?” He asked sincerely.

“Oh my god.” Was her reply.

“Fine.” Lincoln conceded for the moment.   “Mistake it is.”

But he noticed she wasn’t talking to him. His were eyes focused on the end point of her flashlight beam.

Together they were staring at the billowing white gown that was draped on the low branches of a thicket of trees.

The gown moved with the wind, making it appear to be dancing in the dark like a lone ghost looking for its flesh and bone dance partner.

“No tearing.   No blood,” Gail observed as they got closer.   “No obvious sign on struggle.”

Lincoln was confused as he asked “What, Gail?   You’re saying she just took off her clothes and wandered naked through the park?”

Gail decided not to answer.   Because she noticed something on the ground about fifteen yards in front of the white gown. She bent down on one knee and produced a pair of tweezers and a plastic evidence bag.

She gingerly plucked the lime green plastic bracelet off the ground.   She noticed it was pulled and worn at the center.   Gail come to a conclusion about the significance of the item she had found.

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

THE VAN CONTINUED QUIETLY THROUGH THE NIGHT.  MOST PEOPLE ON THE STREETS AVERTED THEIR EYES THE WAY ANYONE DOES WHEN A CORONER’S VAN OR AN AMBULANCE OR A HEARSE DROVE BY ANY TIME NIGHT OR DAY AND CHALLENGED PEOPLE TO CONTEMPLATE THEIR OWN MORTALITY.

People looked down at their feet.   Or they looked into the nearby shadows or pretended to read a street sign or a “lost dog” poster stapled to a tree.   Or at the gyro vendor or the guy in the newsstand or anywhere but the passing van.

No one thought to look up. Or they would have noticed the shadowed figure loping across the rooftops keeping pace with the coroner’s van below.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

LINCOLN DOUBLE-PARKED HIS CAR DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF GAIL’S SMALL TOWNHOUSE. IT IDLED A LONG MOMENT WITHOUT EITHER PARTNER WILLING BREAK THE SILENCE.

“I wish there was more we could do for her,” Said Gail in reference to the unidentified woman in the park.

“The unis are checking out all the clubs in the area,” Lincoln said.   “Trying to get a bouncer to identify the plastic bracelet we found.   Maybe we get lucky at a club or rave and there’s someone who can identify her.

“Either way, we won’t know until morning.”

Gail realized he was right.   She looked at him as he took a deep breath and let out a slow inhale.

“King of scary, huh?”   Lincoln began quietly. “To think Hayes is in bed — dreaming — just trying to be a kid. All these apartments — all these kids. They don’t even suspect the horror that is out here.

“But I guess that’s why we’re here… so they don’t have to.”

They sat in silence and she was touched:   He gets it. For all his quips, his nonchalance in the face of the horrors we see every night, maybe particularly tonight…. He gets it.

 Which is when he leaned over to give her a kiss goodnight.

“Good night, Asshole,” she said as she got out of the car and closed the door between them.   She wasn’t sure if he had meant any of what he had said.

But she decided in that moment she didn’t want to know.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

GAIL ENTERED HER HOUSE TRYING TO BE AS QUIET AS POSSIBLE.  SHE DIDN’T WANT TO WAKE UP HER SON OR HER HUSBAND.   WHEN THE SMELL OF FRESH SOUP REACHED HER SHE RECALLED FOR MAYBE THE THOUSANDTH TIME THAT DAY WHY SHE LOVED HER HUSBAND.

She stepped into the living room and could see Max at the kitchen island preparing her dinner, despite the hour.   She just smiled and shook her head.

“Figured you had no time to eat.”  He smiled guiltily.  As if it was the most natural thing in the world for him to be up at four in the morning making her soup.

“You are my super hero.”   She said as she kicked off her shoes.

He poured her a bowl from the pot and then poured one himself.   He asked in the husband of a cop kind of way where you weren’t allowed to know the details but did any way, “You guys draw the murder in the park?”

“It wasn’t a murder,” she commented.   “Not yet any way.   Right now it is a mauling.”

He turned to put the pot back on the stove and turn it off.   But when he turned around again a moment later…

… she was gone.

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

THEY KNEW THERE WOULD BE SIDE EFFECTS.   BUT WHAT CHOICE DID SHE HAVE?

Max arrived in the bath room just in time to pull her hair back as Gail threw up in the toilet.

Actually it was more like a series of dry heaves. She had very little to eat that day.   For the past few days, since the treatments had started.

Gail looked up at her husband.  Her eyes filled with tears.   Not because she felt sorry for herself.   But because he was right there beside her through it all.   He was the best thing that ever happened to her and she had almost thrown it all away by convincing herself a rogue like John Lincoln could actually love her half as much as Max had.

She didn’t let the tears out, however, and soon her eyes were clear again.

She managed a smile. “Total super hero.” She whispered.

Gail leaned into Max’s arms here on the bathroom floor. She reached her foot up the handle and flushed the toilet.

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

THE “LAB” MORE CLOSELY RESEMBLED THE BACK ROOM OF A BUTCHER’S SHOP. PIECES AND PARTS AND BLOOD AND BONE.   WHILE IT MIGHT LOOK LIKE RANDOM VIOLENT CHAOS TO THE UNINITIATED (WHICH MAS MOST EVERYONE ELSE ON PLANET EARTH), TO ANTON IT WAS NOTHING SHORT OF BEAUTIFUL.

He lived to be down here.   Doing the grunt work.  Creating.

The woman from his bedroom entered the lab unbidden. She was carrying a tray of food. Here name was Gisele and in this light it was clear she was unique.

There was her unnatural beauty, of course.  Early 20s, she was possessed of Eastern European features that made it difficult for any man or woman to look away. Her eyes were blacker and wider than most.   Her short cropped hair made it look more like a light fur clinging close to her head and neck.

When she walked, it seemed she strode on a pair of prosthetic legs. As if she had been a soldier wounded at war.   But when she stepped into the light of the lab…

It was clear she had the legs of a deer.

This didn’t bother her.   Not any more.

Gisele placed the tray down beside Anton. When she spoke it was with a light accent.

“Will there be anything else, Sir?” She asked with as much sincerity as she could muster.

Anton didn’t look up.   He didn’t answer.

Gisele walked out of the room without another word.

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

YES, HE HAD LEFT HIS WIFE TWO MONTHS BEFORE. TECHNICALLY. HE’D SAID HIS GOOD-BYE, PACKED HIS BAG, AND PLANNED ON MOVING INTO THE APARTMENT GAIL HAD ACQUIRED FOR THEM.   BUT THEN GAIL BACKED OUT AND LINCOLN HAD NOWHERE TO GO BUT BACK TO HIS EX-WIFE.

SPECIFICALLY, THE COUCH IN WHAT HAD BEEN THEIR APARTMENT.

He entered the small open loft, leaving all the lights off so as not to wake her.

Exhausted, he dropped to the couch, still in his clothes and shoes.

As his eyes adjusted in the dark he could make out her naked form.   Her back was to him.   He wondered for not the first time how he could ever have thought for a minute there was a better world that didn’t revolve around her perfect ass.

Stella, their boxer, lifted her head from what had been his side of the bed to look at him.

He mouthed the dog’s name.   He tried to call her over quietly. But she had no interest in Lincoln and put her head back down to rest beside his ex-wife.

Clearly, Stella had taken sides.   He couldn’t blame her.

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

LIKE MOST OF THE DOCTOR’S WORK, ANTHONY WAS NOT ELATED BY THE AUGMENTATION PROCESS. BUT EVEN BEFORE HE CHANGED ANTHONY WAS NOT ONE FOR REBELLION. SO IT WAS THAT EVERY DAY AFTER WAS PRETTY MUCH LIKE EVERY DAY BEFORE… TWICE AROUND THE PARK AND THEN OFF TO WORK.

His sneakers were tied and he was doing his morning stretches at the kitchen counter while waiting for his smoothie to blend.

Anthony was suddenly aware of Wohl standing right beside him.

“P-please.” Anthony began fruitlessly.   “Please, I’m not with them.   I don’t know anything.”

“Good.” Said Wohl with what passed for his smile. “Then you won’t be missed.”

Wohl’s hand lashed out so quickly that Anthony’s neck was snapped cleanly in two.

As Anthony lay dead on the floor, Wohl decided his work needed something more.  He adjusted the small rug at Anthony’s feet so it would appear as if the younger man slipped, hit his head on the kitchen counter, and died.  How sad.

Wohl let himself out.

CHAPTER THIRTY

THE DOOR SLAMMED WITH ENOUGH FORCE THAT EVERY WINDOW IN THE APARTMENT SHOOK.   WHICH HAD THE DESIRED EFFECT OF STARTLING THE HELL OUT OF LINCOLN WHO BOLTED UPRIGHT ON THE COUCH.  OUT OF INSTINCT HE REACHED FOR THE GUN HE HAD PLACED ON THE END TABLE BESIDE HIM.   BUT IT WAS GONE.

Through bleary eyes he noticed the gun twenty-feet away on the kitchen table.   She had quietly placed it there so he wouldn’t grab it in the instant he woke up after she slammed the door.

She knew him that well.

Lincoln made his way to the bedroom window in hopes of catching a glimpse of her on the street below.  He did. She was walking away.  She didn’t turn around to see if he was watching.

Lincoln turned to the boxer on the bed. “C’mere, Stella. Here girl.”

Stella stretched and then buried herself back into the still-warm blankets.

“Traitor.”

Lincoln made his way into the kitchen. He opened the fridge, pulled out a carton of orange juice, and since his ex had already left he didn’t bother to pour a glass and instead drank directly from the open spout.

But as he raised the carton to his lips the juice poured out every which way.  What the hell?

He reached into the carton and discovered a sheet of paper had been jammed inside. On purpose, clearly.   He pulled the paper out and opened it up and saw that she had drawn a crude image of a female hand extending a middle finger.

He couldn’t help but smile.

He straightened the paper out as best he could and then secured it to the front of the fridge door with a magnet that looked like a tiny ceramic slice of pizza.

Then he noticed another picture on the fridge:  He and Nina and Stella squeezing together on the couch for a selfie.   Stella was still a puppy. And John and Stella Lincoln were still in love.

Lincoln let out a low whistle and got Stella’s attention.   He indicated the photo.

“See?   Daddy wasn’t always a loser.”