A Victim’s Prey (two)
“She” was Brittany, a twenty-two year old senior at Spring Hill College and one-time Southern Belle whose main feature was her simultaneous creation and fallability to temptation. While this had played out to her favor during the majority of her life in the forms of recommendations and promotions, it also led to her demise. During an internship at a prominent Mobile law-firm, she became acquainted with Toby and began to trust the family man of two children. When he learned of the painful separation from her boyfriend of two years and the affairs she had had, Toby turned into her best friend and made way to exploit this situation. As the illicit relationship became more involved and Brittany met Toby’s wife, she decided to abort the internship and avoid all contact with him. The last letter she wrote to Toby included a blue-spotted cardboard tab. She was to bear Toby’s child and her strict convictions placed an abortion out of the question. To Toby it was clear, the bastard child had to die, or his life would be ruined. The letter made the only manner of doing this obvious.
Unbeknownst to Travis, poisoning is never an exact science. Even when the victim is familiar, an unconsidered substance in the carrier can either render the poison useless or give unexpected results, causing the victim to die on the spot and attract attention. Even if the dose was accurate and the poison passed her system, the death would attract attention. The twenty-two year old was in high standing in Mobile society, as well as physically active. While she had a heart condition, an attack simply did not fit into the picture painted by her active lifestyle.
The risk of exposure was too much for Toby to bear; he had to maintain a high standing in his circles. If she were to die at his hands, his life would be ruined; if she would live and bear his illegitimate child, his social career and family would end. The only way to salvage the situation was to ensure her death in an untraceable manner. No one would suspect the worker at the café, even if they did he would be long since gone.
Tuesday afternoon, at the end of Travis’ shift, Toby entered in a suit that was slightly different but as distinguished as the one he wore on Friday. He placed the same order and again invited Travis to follow him. It was hot outside, and save for a few heat-reflections and a single car, the parking lot was deserted. Toby drove a fairly recent white Crown Vic; its appearance corresponded to Toby’s suit in cleanliness and subtle shine. The two entered the car, and Travis was pointed to a black Samsonite briefcase in the backseat. It was neatly centered in the car, illuminated by and reflecting the dome light. Toby gave an affirming look: “Great work. The money, in clean C-notes, is in the bag that caught your eye; I am taking you to mBall right now. mBall will provide you with your new identity, which will be your first step towards a new, clean life. All this is yours under that condition that you do not call the cops, stay away from Mobile, try to stay out of Alabama and never establish contact with mBall or me again. I assume you accept.”
The car made its way from midtown onto Airport Boulevard and turned into Lafayette apartments. It was obvious that Toby was trying to make it difficult to find this place again; since the complex was not big enough to sensibly allow for a fifteen-minute drive to any one apartment. Eventually the car came to rest at an un-numbered apartment, a ground-level shack held private by a weathered but remarkably solid door. The brass number was taped over, but a massive oak tree marked the property. Toby played a drum solo on the kitchen window and the two were hushed in. mBall was a tall bald black man, covered in a wife-beater which loosely hung from his narrow shoulders. He was extremely fidgety, correcting his wire-frame spectacles every few seconds. Overall, mBall appeared to be a neat freak – both sleeves were rolled up exactly three quarters and meticulously starched, even though it was evident he had spent many hours working in them already. Upon checking out the front yard, a gloved mBall hushed Travis to a light blue section of the room and targeted him with a digital camera. The camera case was composed of brushed aluminum and half the size of Travis’ hand, but the lens attached to it seemed ridiculously obese, reflecting his inverted, globulated face. The camera ran on a track across the ceiling that followed the room’s progressively colored wall. Two more pictures were taken, each with different lenses and filters. A printer across the room spit out the pictures, and a detailing mBall attached them to their respective documents.
“Here. Sign the crosses Baxter Smith.” Travis responded by signing while mBall continued: “Baxter was three years older than you at time of death, but your physicals are astonishingly close. The only difference was that his eyes were green, I recommend you get some colored contacts. Be careful. Don’t respond to your old name. Memorize everything. You are Baxter Smith. Travis is non-existent.”
MBall presented the Passport, Birth Certificate, Social Security Card and Driver’s license before cramming them into a clear plastic bag. Toby escorted Travis out of the apartment and guided him back into the car. The ride back to the café was virtually silent, the popsy tunes on the radio only added to the nervous ambience.
“You have a week to get out of Mobile, I don’t care as to where you go as long as it’s away from me and this whole mess. If I see you in Mobile again after this week, you’re fish food. Dig?”
The doors unlocked and the smell of freshly emptied dumpsters replaced that of the leathery interior as Travis exited onto the café’s back parking lot.
The outside of the Café looked different, if only through Baxter’s eyes. He was excited, in a childish way, about the concept of being another person. For the first time in his life, he was relatively rich: he had never dreamt about this type of money, and the mere thought of $40,000 was enough to subdue the fear of his deed’s grave consequences. Other factors played into his confidence: his old life had deteriorated to a point at which it couldn’t be terribly missed, and this was something he could hold on to; a new base of existence. Away from his father, his decrepit heritage and reputation. The drive home passed quickly, and after sitting down to write out his notice of resignation, he realized that this was an antic of the old Travis. Baxter would have more style. Instead, he practiced his signature.
He was at home again, but this time as Baxter. Travis’ father was apparently dead; Baxter was attending a funeral solely with his mother, surrounded by a mourning congregation. Everyone around him kept asking for Travis, and only his mother knew what he felt was a dirty secret. Mball walked up to Travis’ mother and passionately kissed her, then turned to Baxter. “I’m sure you don’t mind.” His eyes did the talking. Baxter’s attention went to the coffin, which was steadily rolling towards a flaming hole in the wall. The coffin was consumed by the flames, and as it disappeared his mother’s frown turned into a smile. Simultaneously, Mball grabbed hold of Baxter and started tickling him. A loud laugh filled the sanctuary, followed by another. What felt like a thousand hands grabbed hold of Baxter and pulled him out of the church, some reaching out and hitting him. As he passed rows of attendants, a look towards the altar revealed his dad’s presence at the pulpit. An invitation on the floor revealed that the funeral was Travis’.
Baxter woke up on top of his signatures, one of which he had managed to transfer onto his sweaty cheek. Rays of sunlight broke through Baxter’s living room blinds and cast hard lines of pre-noon light across the entirety of the room. His spine had adjusted to his sleeping position and corrected itself noisily as he rose. Baxter passed the digital clock, actively ignoring it, and retrieved six crisp one-hundred bills from the briefcase. For a moment he just stood there, feeling the fresh paper bills in his soft palm and fingers. He needed a new outfit; Travis’ pedestrian clothes simply did not allow for this splendid new persona. Baxter stared at the bills for a few seconds, then decidedly shoved them in his left front pocket. He definitely needed a wallet.
The trip to the mall was unlike any he had before, he was used to rationing his money and maybe getting two items, barely covering his necessities. Never before then had he been part of the fluctuating population of mass consumers; this was as critical a transition to him as receiving the new identification papers.
Baxter returned that night with three Hawaii shirts, a surfer-T, two pairs of olive messenger pants and a fine selection of bathing trunks that could pass for shorts if the need arose. Complementing this selection was a pair of progressively shaded wide-view Pilot glasses, a peach beach hat, some cherry-red Adidas old-schools and a chrome Smith & Wesson .45 with a pearl handle. The last item was purchased via his old identity, making it untraceable by the end of the week.
Travis was scheduled to work again on Friday for a twelve to eleven shift – about the worst one can get stuck with. There are the after-school brats who want refills, the prissy afternoon Spring Hill Reading Club and the nightly study-crowd who ‘sneaks in’ through the fire exit and collectively avoids having to buy beverages, all the while making a mess with the food they bring in.
Baxter strolled into the café fifteen minutes late, just as his boss was leaving.
“You ought to be glad you have a job, talk to me tomorrow.”
It was more of a sneer than a comment, but not too far removed from the usual tone of voice when addressing Travis.
“You ought to be glad you have employees.”
“You heard me. I’m quitting, we’ll talk tomorrow.”
He let out the verbal equivalent of a loogie, followed by:
“If you still have a job by then.”
He knew he wouldn’t get fired for it. Travis would no longer exist by the time Brian, his boss, filed the report. It would file correctly, but no Travis would be there to sign the papers. Brian could just suck it, along with the extra paperwork involved in the process – but that wouldn’t be enough. Thoughts of revenge echoed through Baxter’s head as he put on his apron and grabbed Brian’s nametag from the manager’s office. Today would be fun.
The day itself progressed in its usual monotonous manner, featuring the occasional rude customer that had to be told off under Brian’s name, but turned more interesting as the night began. The usual ‘study group’ snuck in, except this time they were obviously drunk with nothing else to do on this Friday night. Judging by their volume and comments, the group was making quite a mess. Even though Baxter wasn’t going to clean up that night, the principle of their behavior shook him to the core.
Five cups of coffee were put on the boiler for extra heat while Baxter made his way to the sugar cups. The sugar cups were standard steel containers with those obnoxious metal-filter lids that either poured or jammed, never delivering the right amount. Four of these containers were placed on the boiler alongside of the coffee cups and remained there until the sugar turned into caramel. At that point Baxter took them off one by one (with a rag for insulation, of course) and spelled out his message on the dining room floor. “I Quit.” As if it wouldn’t be obvious by morning. He progressed to the back room and locked the doors as well as the fire exit, ignoring the kids as best he could. Back at the counter, Baxter left the kids a note telling them the coffee is theirs at will, his treat. By the time they found it, it would have already condensed to an almost solid black mass. Baxter removed the money from the cash register and stuffed the dollar bills into the tip jar. A glance told him that the register contained a little over $400, which he took to replace the paycheck he would miss for the last two weeks. Baxter armed the door and window alarms, locked up and waved to the raucous kids as he left. Drunk as they were, they would most certainly break a window to leave, making themselves suspects to taking the money.
The air was unusually crisp for an October night, and the stars were shining clear and distinct above Baxter’s head. He walked over to the ATM, withdrew his savings and sat down in the car with another two handfuls of cash. Looking into the stars, he visualized the possibilities he had through the new start. He was banned from Mobile. But never mind that. Mobile was sucking away from what he had as an individual, giving him only a slot of existence between the apartment and workplace. He would never fit into Mobile ‘society’ or ‘culture’. Travis had visited New Orleans once and found it far more welcoming. The money would allow for a new start, the identity came with a high school diploma so he could work a marginally decent job, maybe as a manager somewhere. The cold night air no longer felt so alienating. It drove his thoughts skyward, away from the grime and gravel of realism: it was cold in space, where the stars are, and it was cold around him. It was as if the money had turned off the lights of the city and revealed the full celestial beauty, the dotted soup of galaxies, attempting to number possible futures.
He picked up his two suitcases from the apartment and the faded silver boat of a car started on its fateful trip towards the Big Easy. While the air was frosty, the inside of the car soon turned warm and welcoming, with a plywood board covering the floorboard hole. The sky remained clear much of the way, allowing Baxter to gaze up through the windshield, at the stars. He imagined the burning to sound like the breeze running past the plywood – constant, dependable – therewith beautiful.