I was left with an empty heart and a murderer that was following me like a lost puppy.
The man across from me was not charming. He was not handsome, he was not ugly, but he was scary. While I was acquainted almost exclusively with people who had ‘killing' listed in their resume, he was the only guy I knew who had a look of pure malice spread pleasantly over his features twenty-four-seven. And even though we were sitting at the same table, in the same smoke encrusted bar, Jack was not my friend. He was Carter's.
"Does the bottom of that bourbon glass hold the universe's secrets of the afterlife?"
I tipped my head back in answer, letting gravity pull the last drop of alcohol from the dirt smudged tumbler into my mouth. Carter was dead.
"In all our two years, I've never seen you drink like this, Mircia."
I glanced up at the use of my real name. Jack always called me Mercy; same as the rest of the underworld. I suspected behind my back they tossed around Merciless, but not once had I caught them red-handed. Carter was the only one who called me Mircia, and for the first time I realized that he was the only one I liked to call me that.
"What? Don't you get a kick out of watching a woman drown her sorrows in a bottle, Jack? Huh?" He threw back his head in laughter, and I cursed his amusement.
"Jesus, you're such an asshole."
"Death is nothing to be bothered about, Mercy."
"You're right. It wouldn't bother me one bit to jump across this table and slit your throat."
"There's my girl!" That piercing laughter once again met my ears, and I felt like retching. Carter was dead. Now I was left with an empty heart, an empty bed, and more importantly a murdering machine that was following me around like a lost puppy.
Like I said before, Jack was Carter's friend; supposedly from childhood. Carter and I had lived together for a year before Jack came knocking on our door one stuffy summer evening. He trampled into the living room with a wicked grin, blood splattered fatigues, and the phrase "Hey man, can I crash here tonight?"
The word ‘crash' was used lightly, seeing as he still had a room in our-my house. Shit. Carter was dead.
I shook my head to clear the forming tears and glared up at the waitress. She took a step back, refusing to meet my eyes.
"Um, would you like another drink?"
I opened my mouth to say ‘yes,' but Jack beat me with a firm "No."
I turned my alcohol glazed glower on him. "Excuse me? Did you just answer for me?"
"You've had enough. I refuse to take care of a drunk, emotional broad."
"No one's asking you to! Carter's dead! Why don't you just go back to wherever the fuck you came from?!"
Jack waved his arm at the waitress, who was still huddling near the table, unsure of what to do. She skittered away quicker than I thought she was capable of.
Jack then turned back to give me his version of the ‘bad dog' look. "Jesus, Mercy, lower your damn voice."
"I want you to leave," I said. "Just go, like you should have done a long time ago."
"No, I'm not going anywhere."
An exasperated yet unidentifiable sound fell from my lips as I slid out of the booth and grabbed my coat.
"Now where are you off to?" he asked incredulously.
I wasn't one to throw much energy into pride. If he wasn't going to leave, then I was. I glared back over my shoulder as a warning not to follow. I had to get away, grieve, rebuild. And the first stop on that journey was another bar. The one we were occupying was a little too biker for me anyway. There's just something about grizzly beards and studded leather that doesn't help a woman lament.
"Mercy! Wait up!"
I flung open the door, pretending the bell was too loud for me to hear Jack's calls. Surely, he'd get the hint.
Cold air hit me like a punch to the chest and I grimaced as my breath crystallized with each puff. Much to my surprise, Chicago was out and about, enjoying the relatively clear skies despite the chill. I fell into a brisk walk behind a group of rowdy teens. They stumbled along ahead of me, yelling drunkenly as they argued over where to go next. I stayed close enough for them to block the wind, but far enough away so that I could hear the faint wisp of footfalls behind me.
Jack was walking slowly to make it look like I was too fast for him. I knew better. He was a killer. He could have been at my side in less than a second, gun under my chin with the hammer cocked. His extra effort to make me feel safer around him was not doing much good.
I turned down a less populated street, hunkering further into my leather jacket. We weren't far from there, and I kept walking, telling myself to go the other way but increasingly unwilling to turn my feet. Maybe I should have provoked Jack; let him shed my pounds of sorrow with a nice clean bullet. The thought was starting to look better and better as I strutted down the icy pavement, scanning the flashing neon signs for a less gimmicky bar.
A group of smokers crowded around a trashcan glanced strangely at me as we passed by. I sped up, praying to find an out of the way dive that would serve me one hell of a drink. I sighed, trying desperately to ignore the nausea that radiated from my stomach. They always said alcohol could solve any problem. I mean god forbid I should have to resort to pills. I paused. Pills. The pills were in the purse, the purse was... fuck!
I turned angrily on my heel, and there was Jack. My forehead cracked painfully against his jaw and I stumbled, my tingling drunken legs unable keep me upright. My ass crashed right to the ground.
Jack staggered, dropping whatever had been in hands. "Shit! You trying to fucking kill me?!"
I laughed and groaned at the same time, watching spots fade in and out of my fuzzy vision. My head was a throbbing star field of pain. Jack crouched down, taking swift assessment of my head. He gave my cheek a playful pat before attempting to pick up what he had dropped. I snapped my teeth at his retreating hands shortly before squealing in horror as I caught sight of what was strewn over the cold cement.
"HEY! That's my purse!"
Jack was scrambling to recover its contents before the wind got to them.
"Yeah, You left it at the... Mercy! What the hell are you thinking, carrying this around town?"
I snatched the Walther handgun from his hands, checking the safety before stuffing it quickly down my pants. Jack frowned, and I frowned back. He was always so hypocritical; the ultimate chauvinist. I knew for a fact he had at least three guns on him somewhere. And just because I was a woman, he expected me to walk unarmed through the city streets. Yeah, right.
I wasn't surprised at all by his reaction, nor inclined to do anything about it. He had always been this way-even the day he moved in. He had shucked those blood-stained clothes off and thrown them into my arms within ten minutes of being in Carter's and my house. I threw them back in his face, telling him less than delicately that I did not do the laundry. Jack had sneered, asking Carter what kind of Amazon he had picked up. But that was why Carter had always liked me. I was an outlaw. A thief.
I shook my head, returning hazily to the present. I looked up at a different Jack-a jaded, quicker to anger Jack. He held out in his hand the last lost object from my purse.
My eyes widened as I saw the pill bottle, and I snatched it quickly from his fingers. He caught my wrist, twisting my arm so he could read the label.
Mifeprex: Terminate pregnancy of 49 days or less, take one tablet by mouth...
"Mercy, you're pregnant?"
My mouth opened and closed, drunken mind unable to come up with an answer. Yes, no, maybe so, hell I didn't know!
"I... Jack, you're hurting me." I jerked out of his snake-like hold, once again trying to shove the pill bottle into my purse.
His voice was soft, almost in awe but shocked at the same time. "Mercy, there's still a little bit of him alive."
My words were still floundering. "Jack..."
"No Mercy, Carter's still alive." He touched my stomach, fingers digging lightly into my skin. "He's alive right here."
I recoiled from his touch, my fist instantly striking his jaw in pure instinct. My eyes widened as Jack yelped. His face quickly lost their faint surprised look, and I knew I was in trouble if I stuck around. I turned on my heel and I ran. Ran to wherever my feet would take me. I knew without wanting to know that I was running to that alley.
The image of Carter's bloody corpse flashed before my eyes. It had been a Wednesday night, our night to be together. I was on the way to meet him at our favorite hole in the wall bar. Coming from a quick job, the recently stolen jewelry weighed my purse down considerably. But I was most satisfied, because there was an extra special piece that I had saved for Carter: a small pocket watch engraved with his initials. Believe it or not, I had actually paid for the thing. You know its something special when a thief buys you something.
That night I was running late and had decided on a shortcut through the backstreets of the city. I turned the first corner and all I could see was blood. The brick walls were a spray of gleaming crimson, the droplets shimmering in the last fringes of sunlight. It wasn't uncommon to find corpses around this area of town, but at that moment I knew. I knew from the way his body was splayed and his blond hair glinted through its cherry mask that it wasn't just some thug caught in the crosshairs of a rival gang member. And It was the night I was going to tell Carter I was pregnant.
"Jack, let go of me!"
"No!" He yelled, getting a firm grip around my upper arm and yanking me to him.
For all of the training I had to keep me from situations such as this, my reflexes just weren't what they should have been. His muscle mass was so much greater - he was an overwhelming coil of strength. I stumbled, unable to stop him from dragging me into the back of the alley. The alley. I swore I could still see blood on the walls.
"I told myself that when Carter was dead we would be together!"
My mouth dropped open, body suddenly still in a half faint. "What?!"
"Mircia, I love you! You're... you're everything a man could ever want."
I stared breathlessly at the man who had slept two rooms down from me for three years, the man who had driven me silently to the countryside to release Carter's ashes, the man who had made me coffee this very morning. Jack had killed Carter. I squeezed my eyes shut to block the image of the red painted alley. It all came rushing back; the sticky sweet smell of blood, the grit of the pavement as I collapsed to the ground, the mind shattering scream that pierced the sunbathed evening.
Jack shook me violently, my head cracking against the brick I had been cornered against. "Together, Mercy! We're supposed to be together!"
That was why he was following me; why he had insisted on staying in the house and helping me through my grief. And all this time... all this time I had never suspected the one murderer that was closest to us both. He had been Carter's friend, they were loyal to one another.
"But he's not completely dead yet is he?"
Jack had snatched the pills from my fingers and now held them in front of me. I had wanted to kill it, I really had I just... couldn't bring myself to take the pills. A baby was suicide in the lifestyle I led. It would get me killed, but I just couldn't do it.
"No." I quivered, shaking my head furiously.
"C'mon Mircia, just take a few, and it will all be over. You, and me, and happily ever after."
I shrieked, bucking wildly, trying anything to get away; to escape the madman. My fingers brushed cold metal; the butt of the gun I had shoved down my pants. I could do this. I could get away.
He popped the top to the bottle open. "I worked too damn hard to make this happen, Mircia. You think I didn't sacrifice anything killing Carter? He was my friend!"
I pulled the Walther free of my waist band, holding it low to my side. My struggling had eased down, and Jack took it as a sign of resignation. His fingers brushed my cheek lightly and I fought my instincts not to turn away. He delicately swept wayward hair away from my face with the back of his hand. I shivered, my gun arm quivering slightly.
"You see, Mircia, It's for the best. You know you can't keep the baby anyway."
"Jack, I can do whatever the fuck I want!"
My left arm shoved Jack back as hard as I could. He stumbled, bewildered at my renewed efforts to escape. The handgun was raised.
Jack launched forward, realizing his mistake in forgetting about the gun. My fingers squeezed the trigger, bullet rocketing out of the barrel and through Jack's skull. He wheezed, falling forward mid-run. The report of the Walther shook the crumbling walls of the alley again, this time the bullet going straight through his spinal cord. Jack's body was convulsing on the ground; the cement steaming as tendrils of hot blood consumed the cold pavement.
I looked down past the gore speckled pavement, because I knew Carter, if anything, was in hell. "I killed him. I killed him, Carter. And damn it, I'm keeping our baby."