A quick note: The following work of fiction is a conclusion to part one, the tale of a rubber thumbed recluse named Mr. Friendly. As before, it’s a little more dark than the fare you may be accustomed to from your humble author, so I’d like to caution the more sensitive readers / listeners. Maybe skip this one if you’re squeamish, have problems with violence, or are unable to come to terms with spoilt bananas. Otherwise, please enjoy.
Autumn was relatively certain that her heritage was German or Scottish, but she preferred to shop like an Italian. Crisp air. Grey sky. Chilly. Baking soda. Bananas – finally, a good price. Such tiny effort was necessary to raise the fine strips of sinew below Autumn’s cheeks, those little ones that bared a white smile and melted Jonas’s heart. So little. Grocery shopping was easy – a stress free activity where the little price tags and nutritional labels did all the talking for you – Autumn loved this. She looked forward to the tiny samples, chatting with the old ladies wearing hair-nets and holding out various little somethings on various little toothpicks. Eat. Browse. Two hundred and thirty calories, no, this one has only one-eighty. Autumn’s red hair drew a stark image over the cold white of the freezer isles, as she walked past her breath painted fog over fish sticks. Six dollars, two for the price of one. Better get that one. The young man behind the plastic dome of deli meats stood and watched her, thin plastic glove over one hand. Red hair, really quite red. What a thin girl, tall too. Pastrami was six dollars a pound today. Her dress was pretty. Macaroni salad. Cole slaw.
She ran her finger tips over the oranges, double checked the price on those bananas, then decided it was time to check out. Autumn liked to read the covers on the tabloids – the ones everyone stared at as they waited to buy your groceries. “Madonna divorces.” “Giant man-baby attacks town.” “The Jonas Brothers play the Kid’s Choice awards.”
“Jonas. Always liked that name,” Autumn thought to herself. “I wonder what he’s up to tonight? Probably nothing. Probably sitting and drinking iced tea.” Autumn smiled when reading that name – Jonas – and that smile remained with her for the entirety of the time her groceries were scanned.
“Yes, I have my frequent shoppers discount card. No, I don’t need stamps right now. Thank you.” Autumn draped the two cloth bags of various edibles for various days over her shoulder and left the store to begin her walk home. What a landscape. One of those summer days where it’s around six thirty – the sun has started to make it’s bed, and you can smell rain in the air. The approaching gray of the deep cloud banks drift over the sun’s canvas and paint the sky a deep red, still light but soon to be dark. You can smell the wet in the air, rain is coming, better hurry home. Everyone did the same thing when walking from the grocery store that evening – look up, smile, close your eyes, and inhale the deep scent of oncoming rain. So intoxicating was this natural wonder, that it was all the more easy to miss the two green cloth grocery bags that came to an abrupt rest on the sidewalk, or the black Audi that quickly took their owner to somewhere that surely was not her home.
Worry came easy to Jonas. That pit in his stomach was called to action by the simplest of things. Was I a few minutes late for work? No, never. Does this shirt give me man boobs? What are those things growing out of the potatoes, ugh, they can’t be good anymore. Why was there a black Audi in the parking lot? Where was Autumn today? Autumn – not at work, that was the big question on Jonas’s mind today. A few phone calls from his little basement office to Autumn’s cell phone were of no success. Why couldn’t she just be out sick? Why is that? Jonas asked himself this question over and over again, but the various little feelings that fueled his various little talents wouldn’t loosen the grip on his stomach. Something was wrong. Dave didn’t see her in, something was wrong. Maybe she’s having a… woman… something day. Napkins. Something to do with feminine napkins- no, dammit, no. “I have to get out of here,” Jonas thought to himself. “I have to go looking. Autumn is missing.” This was a firm truth if there ever was one in Jonas’s mind, something had happened to Autumn – be it alien abduction or she’s stuck in a gas station bathroom, something inside him said that there was cause for concern. Routes. What are her routes. Work. Home. Coffee shop. Book store. Grocery store – that’s the one, she shops almost every day there. Macaroni salad. Cole slaw.
Jonas never had much trouble taking time off of work – even at short notice. Benjamin, the silver haired and moderately attractive VP of operations was well liked by the staff, including Jonas, and the request for time off was never met with any friction. “Sure thing Jonas,” Ben said. “Go take some mental health time. Enjoy the day.” With a nod, Jonas put on his Windbreaker jacket, left the building, and began to scan the parking lot for a black Audi. Nothing. Dammit. In his little red Toyota he began driving around the block, then made his way to the grocery store near where Autumn lived. He sat in the parking lot, mid-morning sun making everything too bright for his liking, and slowly scanned and watched.
There. The gutter across the street. Jonas made his way to the sidewalk opposite the grocery store. Sitting and soaking were two green cloth grocery bags with a white logo, the kind that people who shop Italian liked to bring from their own home. Empty, let’s check the other one. Nothing, just spoilt bananas. Thieves and stray cats apparently don’t need their Vitamin C. Jonas steeled himself, made his way back to his car, and without a single muscle in his face moving beyond the look of determination, he started to drive to Autumn’s house. He’d never actually been there before, but he’d made note to memorize her address and phone number in case something like this ever happened. This was how it was with Jonas. Worry taught him to always be ready for a friend to disappear. “Be ready to lose them,” he often thought. “Life is so very, very fleeting.”
Hunger, a rumbling stomach was the dinner bell. It was only ten minutes to eleven in the morning, but Jonas had missed his pre-lunch snack. He shoved the feeling down and steeled forward, slowly pulling into the parking lot of Autumn’s tiny home. “So much like mine, so tiny,” he thought to himself. Jonas knew the front door would be locked, so he made his way to the rear of the house. One thing his considerable bulk afforded him was strong legs, and leaning back a steady kick one foot below the doorknob shattered the tiny lock, and splinters flew into Autumns kitchen. Jonas stood outside for a minute, and felt a shiver run through his entire body. “Shit,” he thought. “What if she was sick? Now a stranger is breaking into her home. Shit.” He was less concerned at his lack of apparent tact, and more upset with the fact that he hadn’t thought this far in advance. Neighbors first, then yards, then pets, then windows. There is a checklist, an order to things. Jonas closed his eyes and mentally berated himself, then called into the house, another thing he hated to do. “Hello?” he asked. Nothing. Once more, “Hello?” a little louder. Nothing.
Teapots. Jonas had never seen so many teapots in his entire life. All colors, all shapes, all sizes, teapots – and tea, jars and jars of tea. Autumn’s kitchen was small, and Jonas’s shoes squeaked with every careful heel-toe step. Nothing appeared to be abandoned, no food left out, no sweating glasses of untouched tea anywhere. The living room was a ten foot hallway away – look at that, wood floors. Jonas thought of his brown and aging carpet and wondered if wood floors wasn’t what he needed. Pergo maybe. Expensive. No pets though. Autumn. Autumn has no pets. Focus. A wicker chair, an old couch, a coffee table, and a television. Everything in it’s place, everything like everyone else’s house. “Interesting nesting habits, us humans,” Jonas often thought to himself. He pondered people’s habits, how people knew what rooms and where to put things. Habit, or learned? Was this the only place for a television? Jonas had observed the insides of many different houses, apartments, and offices. He looked closely at the arrangements of the room and made mental notes on how different people did things. It all had the same pattern though, this goes here, this goes there. Autumn’s house wasn’t any different, in the scale of arrangement, than the twelfth floor office of a corporate CPA he’d… met… once. His television was the same distance from the leather chair as Autumn’s was from her wicker. “It all works the same though,” Jonas muttered inside of his own mind, “and blood sticks to it all.”
No bags were packed, but her keys and purse were missing. Shoes, lots of shoes. Her favorite pair were missing, the ones she wore most often to work, and the ones that Jonas noted had made the clearest dust-impression on the floor near her coat closet. Answering machine. Who has an answering machine anymore? No new messages. Four saved messages. Jonas decided to listen. Jonas knew from the first message, not three words in, that is was Autumn’s mother. It was Autumn’s voice, add thirty years, and inhale a few decade’s worth of cigarettes. The second was the same, but more terse, her mother angry for not returning her call from the previous evening. Jonas imagined the woman’s features, Autumn, but aged – little wrinkles appearing all over, stark red hair whisking to a slick white. Cosmetics highlight the dozens of little folds that wrinkle her lips, forming words and wrapping her teeth just like Autumn. Her eyes look the same as they did thirty years ago, back when she looked like her daughter, back when she was just borrowing those good looks – waiting until she had a princess to pass them to so her face could relax into a woman aged well. Message three was only three seconds long, silence followed by a phone hanging up. The machine told Jonas that the message was nearly eight weeks old. The fourth message, by the machine’s automated voice, was also nearly eight weeks old, and Jonas tensed every muscle in his body when he recognized the voice on the machine.
“Listen, you bitch,” the message began, a man who’s clearly been drinking. “You think I’m going to let you take everything I’ve got? My whole – give you my, what, my whole life? Why don’t you pick up that little ass of yours, pick – pick up that little ass and bring it over – sundress and all? Autumn? Autty Autty Autty Autumn?”
The voice, now much more angry, “Pick up the phone you whore! Tell her what happened – I dare you, you… Pick up the phone!” The message ended.
Jonas deleted the message, and after closing the back door to the house the best that he could, he headed to his car. In the previous forty seconds he had been made certain of three things. One, he had just enough time to get a burger before his next stop. Two, he’d have time to clean up the door mess at Autumn’s on another day. Three, he was going to have to work very, very late tonight.
As she fell forward, Autumn saw carpet, and presumed this would be a welcome surface to allow her body to collapse onto. Not really, but when your hands are taped behind your back and you’ve just been shoved off of your feet, you hope for the best possible of landing spaces and carpet is at least a friendly texture. “At least that bag is off of my head,” she thought. “It smelled like feet. Or blue cheese. Probably the same thing really.” The fall knocked the wind out of her, and as she turned over to gasp for air, she took note of her surroundings. What a dingy apartment. I could use a cup of tea. One skill these people of ill repute always seem to have is the ability to find the grungiest, nastiest places to bring people they’ve kidnapped. I bet my bananas have gone bad by now. That last thought, the bananas one, was brought to a halt by the toe of a dress shoe brought full-kick into her stomach.
She felt something snap, and immediately knew is was one of her lower ribs. The kick was followed by another, and Autumn tasted blood. Looking up she saw the body doing the kicking was a skinny thirty-something man with brown hair. Brown hair that didn’t belong here. “No,” she thought. “That hair belongs in the 1980’s. That’s Rocky Balboa hair.” The man was wearing tanned slacks and a black button-up shirt, sleeves rolled mid-forearm. He motioned to the two men standing outside of the apartment door, two men wearing black Brooks Brothers suits, and they closed the door. Just Autumn and the 1980’s hair now.
The man squatted to sit on his ankles, sniffed, itched his nose, and began to pat the sweat from his brow with a blue handkerchief. “You know who I am my dear, I’m sure of that,” he said.
“Rocky Balboa?” Autumn asked, spitting blood on his shoes.
He slapped her face into the carpet, then started to wipe the expectorant from his footwear. “What’s funny is how funny that is. Really. To look at you, you’d think you sit at home and write poetry about coffee or some shit. No, you’ve got something. I just might take it too.”
The man continued. “I’ll save you the big evil speech, because really, I’m not evil – just a working man like anyone else. Do you know who I work for Autumn?”
“Micky?” she asked. Another slap. The soft skin under her right eye began to fill and slowly turn purple.
“Close,” the man said with a chuckle. “He is Irish, but really that’s not ladylike. Today, I’m working for some really rich dick-head, and he really doesn’t like you. I could give a shit, really.” The man produces from his back pocket a large butcher knife. “I don’t like guns much, and this, well this cuts through my steak like nothing. Pop – right through the bones n’ all. Brought her from home. See?” He taps Autumn on the forehead with the flat of the blade.
“Thing is,” the man continued, “He’s a tight ass, doesn’t like to pay a full fee. So, we’ve sent him a little envelope with a little note that asks for a little bonus. Big bonus, sorry. Once we get a little ringy dingy, I’m going to carve a bit of a slice into that soft neck meat of yours.” The man stood, gingerly slid the knife back into his pocket, and took a deep breath.
“Got a guy who’ll clean it all up too. Fat bastard, just called him, personal favor. Missy, you’re about to take a vacation.”
Autumn’s eyes widened, then closed. She thought of home, her tea, and her family. She liked work, the accounting department was an easy job for her, and she liked her wicker chair. She licked her lips, and spat another wad of blood onto the carpet in front of her. The man with the knife frowned at Autumn, not the dainty flower he’d hoped for – dammit, he liked it when they were scared. Rolling up to sit with her legs crossed, a feat not easy with tied hands, she looked down, then up to look the man with the knife directly in his eyes, strands of red hair matted to her lips.
“You’d better get carving,” she said, slowly raising the fine strips of sinew in her cheeks, “Because Jonas isn’t coming to clean up. He’s going to erase you.”
Cold room, quiet, hum of the central air. Feet up on the recliner. Cold iced tea. The day would not wash from him soon. Dusk, dim, dark. Evening gave way to night, Jonas still sitting in his chair with his eyes closed, next to a glass of ice cubes. The phone rings, finally. Jonas answers the phone.
“Hello?” Jonas began.
“Tubby. It’s me,” the gravely voice said. “We’ve got one. 215 Telivue, Apartment 2. Just one tonight. Needs done quick.”
Jonas hung up the phone.
Jonas felt a sense of calm duty while driving in his van. Not power really, but more a thought process that told him he had control of things – that the immediate future was something he could, and has, planned for. The dark blue sweatshirt and sweatpants felt good on his skin, and with the dark blue ball-cap, he was someone born anew. The route wasn’t too different than the previous night, a lot of work this week on Telivue. Arriving at the complex, Jonas peered over his steering wheel at the apartment building. Jonas thought that one skill these people of ill repute always seem to have, is the ability to find the grungiest, nastiest places to bring people they’ve killed. Jonas sat in the van, and took a moment to observe his surroundings. Inside the apartment – the man with the knife had put uh-and-oh together, and had armed himself. He stood in the empty living room of apartment number two, and kept a close eye on the van that just pulled in across the street. The apartment was on the ground floor, so the two men in the black Brooks Brothers suits had taken position points, guns brandished, at the front entry of the building. Clearly every man here was expecting something, but they weren’t sure what. That Autumn had uttered the name of the man who had been called to wash her existence down the bathtub drain had struck a chord with the man with the knife.
Silence. Just looking up at the clear night made one chilly. The odd this and that from street could be heard, a stray cat pawing at a newspaper, the mild breeze tossing a soda can across the street. Nothing, no noise. The man with the knife double checked the safety on the snub-nose handgun he’d “borrowed” from one of the men in the black Brooks Brothers suits, yup, safety is off, gun ready to murder. He noticed his own heart beat making a tiny squish-squish sound under his chest, the rising and falling from his lungs bringing it in and out of tune with his thoughts.
A knock at the door – it cuts through everything.
Cautiously, the man with the knife walks up to the apartment door, peers through the peep hole, and see’s a heavy set man wearing a dark ball-cap holding a clipboard. Yes, it’s Jonas. Good. Immediately, the man with the knife steps back and fires three commanding shots into the door to the apartment. The quite dull ringing of the gunfire and mild breeze of the night all make their presence known once again, as the man with the knife hears nothing, not sure what he was to expect. He returns to the door. He squints his left eye, focuses his right, and looks through the tiny peep hole. His eye comes to clear focus on three bullet holes in the wall opposite the door in the hallway, and just as he strains to look down to the floor through the peep hole, a single bullet from Jonas’s Beretta shatters the tiny viewing glass, and passes through the man with the knife’s eye, and cleanly through his brain.
Jonas opens the door and immediately heads for the bathroom. Inside, he sees a tall and thin girl, pretty sun dress, stark red hair. She’s lying motionless in the bathtub, roughly an inch of red water with her fingers submerged, and a thin cake of blood matting that stark red hair to her lips. Jonas’s face is without emotion. He checks her pulse. Nothing. Her neck, opened for too many minutes now.
Check again Jonas.
“I can’t. Autumn is dead.”
Check again Jonas. You aren’t even there yet. You’re standing in the hallway.
“I’m standing in the hallway.”
Jonas blinks twice, and realizes he’s been standing in the apartment building hallway motionless for… head back, eyes closed… sixteen seconds.
Jonas opens the door and immediately heads for the bathroom. Inside, he sees a tall and thin girl, pretty sun dress, stark red hair. She’s lying motionless in the bathtub, roughly an inch of red water with her fingers submerged, and a thin cake of blood matting that stark red hair to her lips. Jonas’s face is without emotion. Jonas check’s her pulse, and realizes that Autumn, bruised and mistreated, is alive. He knows this not from his intimate knowledge with the human body, but because while checking Autumn’s pulse, she reached from the bathtub with her other hand, limply grabbed Jonas’s ear, and muttered, “You drive too slow.” Jonas picks her up with both arms, and lumbers her out to the van. He uses the front entrance, steps over two new pieces of work he has on the schedule that evening, and places Autumn in the passenger seat. He reaches over, buckles her in, and makes his way back home, speaking not a word to his bloodied and bruised companion. “Sorry I didn’t call last night,” she muttered while looking out the window. “I was busy almost dying in a crack house or something.” Jonas runs the red light.
Home. Van parked. Carry Autumn inside. All the lights are off at the home of Jonas Friendly tonight. He rests and gently positions Autumn in his favorite chair. “Hmm, cold fake leather, feels good,” she says. He wets a washcloth with warm water in his kitchen, and hurries back and places it on her chest. Iced tea at her side, Autumn looks to Jonas. “Hurts to breath. They kicked me in my guts Jonas.”
“You’ve broken a rib,” Jonas whispers. “Take the pill next to your tea. I’ll be back in a few hours, and we’ll go to the hospital.”
Autumn smiles. Jonas leans over and kisses her on the forehead. “Ah come on, no first… no first base?” Autumn mutters. Jonas chuckles, and leaves the house to go cut up a few dead bodies.
JCN Engineering was known to throw the worlds most boring holiday parties. Jonas lamented the mandatory attendance, and opted to sit in the corner to have mild and awkward conversation with Autumn, or anyone who would venture to his part of the room. The bar was usually open and on the company dime, and this was reason enough for most of the staff to loosen up. At five, people hang up their coats. At six, people have the chicken, or they have the beef. At seven, everyone looks at their watch. At ten, someone has thrown up in public. Jonas was never any good at holding his liquor, so he opted for several glasses of sugared fruit punch and as many mini ham sandwiches from the hors d’oeuvre tray that it took to fill up. “What a silly word,” Jonas thought to himself. “I wonder if that means ‘tiny food’ in French or something. No, that would be silly. Just silly.”
The executive team took turns mingling with common-folk, and often they’d use this as an opportunity to pretend to memorize names, and cull the herd for a mistress. Benjamin, the silver haired and moderately attractive VP of operations was well liked by the staff, including Jonas. At this particular holiday party, six months ago, his tolerance for J&B Scotch was well tested. Jonas left early, the earliest he could for this party – opting to remain in place to cause enough of a memory for those attending, but not so long as to miss his television shows. Autumn. Redhead. New girl in the accounting department. She was used to an unwelcome amount of attention from a man, but with the holiday lights and music blaring, it was all too easy to miss a little powder in a briefly unattended drink, and a VP sloppily leaving for the copy room with the new redhead from the accounting department was par for the course. Didn’t see anything. I need my job. You know Ben. Ben, the ladies man. Ben does these things.
Six months later Ben had made his second mistake, and as he stood in his office late into the night, sipping whisky and staring out the window, his own thoughts clouded his vision. He couldn’t see into tomorrow. He couldn’t see how he would make the extra payment. He couldn’t see how this would end. He couldn’t see the white van pulling up in the parking lot. Only when the ding of the elevator doors caught his attention did Benjamin step from his office. The doors opened, and Jonas wheeled in his cart.
“Jonas?”, Ben asked, “Is that you? All the lights are – what are you doing?”
Jonas wheeled his cart closer and closer to Ben, backing him into his considerable office, the privilege of title. Jonas turned and locked the door. Benjamin the silver haired VP at JCN Engineering who was generally well liked by the staff had never looked so confused. “Jonas, Jonas what are you doing here? What are you wear- were you out for a run? That cart – where’s the cleaning lady?” Jonas said not a word. He took a knee and opened one of the doors on the side of his cart, then reached in and pulled out a stack of plastic buckets. Benjamin plopped back into his soft chair, exhausted, confused, and partially drunk, but the dawning of who Jonas was and why he was here was becoming rapidly apparent. Jonas squinted his eyes, measured the floor of the large office with his fingers, then started pulling black garbage bags from his cart and laying them on the floor. Tools. Three saws, two large-toothed and one fine. Two little bottles of water, two medium bottles of hydroxide, and one large bucket of hydrofluoric acid. One box of powdered lye. Dish soap. Detergent. The tackle box of tiny tinctures and various compounds. Steel wool. Grill brush. Wet-dry vacuum. Everything in it’s place, only what’s needed for now.
“They didn’t send you, did they?” asked Benjamin as his eyes welled up with tears, “This is you. This is my rotten shit luck.” Jonas said not a word. The emotions of fear, rage, and acceptance all washed over Ben’s face in a matter of seconds. He sighed deeply, then stood. “Well,” he commanded, “let’s do it then. On with it you bastard.”
“Finish your whisky Ben,” said Jonas. “I’ll be with you in a moment.”