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an offer of violence

His office was cluttered, but Ansin Wrathbone came strongly recommended. There were file cabinets with drawers that didn’t quite close and a desk covered with a chaos of folders and photos and receipts. Ronnie figured that Wrathbone knew exactly where each thing was.

“What can I do for you,” Wrathbone asked.

Ronnie swallowed and took a breath. He didn’t know where to begin. How does one explain how everything seems to be falling apart? It felt like stripping himself bare, and he wasn’t like to do that before anyone, let alone a stranger like Wrathbone.

“Mr. Lincoln tells me you want to find someone,” Wrathbone said. Mr. Lincoln was Andrew Lincoln, one of several attorneys Ronnie worked with every day. Ronnie made deliveries for the library at the firm, and though he didn’t know any of the attorneys particularly well, he was familiar enough with them that somehow it had come up that he wanted to... well what did he want? It wasn’t that he wanted to find someone. He knew where the person was. He just wasn’t entirely sure who the person was.

“How do I explain,” Ronnie began. “I saw a guy at lunch last week, and I... I want to know if he is who I think he is.”

“And, who do you think he is?”

Who did he think he was? Ronnie laughed a brief laugh, but it wasn’t funny. “He used to be a teacher,” Ronnie started. “His name was Mr. Davis. Malcolm Davis.”

“And, who was Malcolm Davis? Was he your teacher?”

Ronnie nodded. Mr. Davis was far more than that, though.

Wrathbone breathed loudly as he nodded. He picked up a mug from his desk and looked into it briefly. He eyed the coffeemaker in the corner. It sat amidst another mess of papers on another file cabinet. “You want some coffee?”

Ronnie didn’t, but he said he did. It seemed polite.

Wrathbone got up and went to the coffeemaker. He pushed some papers aside and dug out a coffee can from nearby. As he started to make some coffee, he looked to Ronnie. “I don’t need to know why you want to know if this guy’s your old teacher. But, if you want to tell me, you can.”

“If I don’t have to get into it, I’d rather not.”

Wrathbone nodded.

***

That night, Ronnie found himself alone again as usual in his sparsely furnished apartment. He’d lived alone since he was old enough to do so. He wished often that this was not the case. The walls went undecorated. There was but one plant, a large fern in the corner by the window. His desk was covered with papers he’d brought home from work. These were categorized and stacked neatly. There were also a few rough drafts of letters he’d never sent to people he wasn’t sure he’d ever see.

Mr. Davis was one of those people.

Ronnie used the restroom. He washed his hands and paused to look at himself in the mirror. Ronnie the man—a face older than it should have been, a man more worn out than he had right to be. It saddened him.

He dried his hands and went to the kitchen. Some nights he would take the time to make intricate meals, far too complex for a man on his own. Tonight, he just wanted food. He wanted drink. The latter most of all. He put a frozen pizza in the microwave and poured himself a shot of vodka.

The liquid fascinated him for a moment, clear until you shook it a little, then blurry like the past, and he was elsewhere, in a locker room, the air ripe with a stink that was one part sweat, one part something else... something he could never identify and now just wanted to forget. He wondered if it was innocence. He downed the shot and poured another. The microwave dinged.

Time slipped wholly back into the present. Ronnie felt a strong urge to cry, but ignored it. He took his pizza and went into the living room, turned on the television and drowned out the past.

***

Two days later, Ronnie waited by Wrathbone’s coffeemaker. Time went too slowly.

“Malcolm Davis has a colorful history,” Wrathbone said. A pause that could only be termed pregnant followed. “He did something to you, didn’t he?”

Ronnie didn’t want to answer. He felt naked, suddenly. Ronnie the boy. Wrathbone knew everything. No one knew everything. No one knew what Ronnie had never told. No one could... but this man did. Ronnie could tell, this man knew. “I thought you said you didn’t need to know?”

Wrathbone said nothing. He stared at Ronnie. He didn’t blink. What was he thinking? Did he see the pain and the shame? Did he see Ronnie the boy there in his office and not Ronnie the man? Was there even such a person as Ronnie the man?

Ronnie cleared his throat. “But, it is him?”

Wrathbone nodded. “It’s him. He’s covered his tracks here and there. He’s been transferred from school after school. Mostly, administrators would rather just get rid of him than make a big thing out of his... extracurriculars.”

Ronnie flinched. That term was far too flippant. What Mr. Davis did to his students, to Ronnie at least—It was far too serious to be so casually diminished. “Don’t call it that,” Ronnie said.

Wrathbone got up from his chair and gestured to the one opposite. “Have a seat, please.”

Ronnie hesitated before sitting down. He had a sense that sitting down meant more than it should. “As I said,” Wrathbone said, “I don’t need to know what you want with Mr. Davis, but considering his history, I have an offer for you.”

Ronnie was sure now that sitting down was the first step in something important, but he was curious. He was also preoccupied with thoughts of Mr. Davis, thoughts he had believed to be far behind him until he’d seen him on the street. There was a hole in Ronnie’s memory, a hole he had let form on purpose. It was only by forgetting, deliberately, certain events, that Ronnie had been able to get on with his adult life... if he could be said to have an adult life. He’d had no normal relationships, no girlfriends, and only a few normal jobs. If he had to think of Mr. Davis’ hands on his waist, Mr. Davis’ breath on the back of his neck, then he would be unable to get through most days. There were no scars, no physical ones. But, seeing Mr. Davis, old wounds were fresh and new. He was Ronnie the boy again, stuck in that moment in the locker room, afraid to go home, afraid to tell anyone what had happened, afraid even to pull up his pants lest he get blood on them.

Ronnie sat down. Wrathbone also sat back down.

Wrathbone pulled a briefcase from somewhere behind his desk, pushed aside a few file folders and set the briefcase down, handle facing Ronnie. “Open it,” Wrathbone said.

Ronnie could barely breathe. He was still in that locker room, hurting, crying. He pushed that down as best he could and reached for the briefcase. His hands shook. He unlatched the briefcase and it popped open. Inside, held in place by foam, was a gun—a revolver—and six bullets.

“Untraceable.” That’s all Wrathbone said.

Ronnie felt old anger rise up and he wanted to grab the gun, find Mr. Davis and put it to his head. Would he demand an explanation first? Would he simply pull the trigger? Would he be sure Mr. Davis recognized him before it went down?

But, no. He couldn’t shoot anyone. Criminals shot people. Lesser men...

Stronger men. There was power in that gun. Ronnie could feel it. Nothing magical, nothing strange. But, there was destruction here.

And, it didn’t make sense... untraceable? “How?”

Wrathbone grinned, but only briefly, like the devil forgetting his poker face for just a second. But, Wrathbone was no devil. For there to be a devil, there would have to be a God. God didn’t let little boys get raped in locker rooms.

Ronnie’s breath caught in his throat. He didn’t usually think in such specific terms, didn’t usually put himself back in that locker room. But, now he was there, and he wished he had a gun, or at least had the courage to scream for someone, anyone to come help.

He’d just cried. There were no words.

Wrathbone was talking. Ronnie tried to focus. “...in on all my trade secrets,” Wrathbone was saying. “But, when the police run these shells, after the fact, there will be no case.” He smiled, and it seemed genuine. “Don’t go shooting up some public place in front of witnesses, though, or police action will be out of my hands.”

***

Ronnie stared at his reflection again that night, and the next, and the next. The case with the gun and the bullets was under his bed, tucked behind an old suitcase and a box of old memories collecting dust. The lines by his eyes told him it was a long time indeed between the present and those memories he had boxed away. But, he knew better. Years seemed long, but sometimes... sometimes it seemed like only yesterday he’d been caught in the locker room.

Staring down his reflection, Ronnie felt like it wasn’t even that long, like he’d just run home from school, worried that everyone he passed on the street knew what had happened, worried that everyone could see the blood, that everyone could smell the shame. He wanted to shower, wanted to wash away memory and experience and life and start anew. That never worked.

He left his reflection and went to the bed. He knelt and pulled out the case. He opened it and held the gun, felt its weight in his hands. Gravity and memory pulled the barrel down, and he fought to keep it up, imagined Mr. Davis before him.

Where would he shoot him?

The head, so it would be quick and easy.

The chest, so there would be time for confrontation before he died.

Or, the stomach so he would die slowly, painfully. Perhaps his cries would fill the hole he’d left inside Ronnie all those years before... or was it yesterday?

***

Two days later, Ronnie still didn’t know where he wanted to put the bullet, though Mr. Davis stood before him for real now. He had gone to the man’s apartment, knocked, then shoved him inside when he had come to the door. Mr. Davis didn’t recognize him at first, but the horror in his eyes at the sight of the gun shifted quickly to recognition as to who was before him... Was it indeed recognition? Did Mr. Davis just know it was one of his victims come back for revenge and the specifics didn’t matter? Did they all look the same, cute little boys who would never be as cute again after coldness was put into their eyes and a hole was dug out of their centers?

Mr. Davis pled for his life. He apologized. He begged. The weight of the world pulled down Ronnie’s hand, but anger, rage, and hate held it up. He didn’t want to hear Mr. Davis cry. He didn’t want to listen to him beg and plead.

He would shoot him in the head and be done with it.

Suddenly, there was a disparity between the normal flow of time and what Ronnie felt, what he saw. There was a spray of dark red, with scattered bits of grey and a few bright red specks, standing out like stars on a summer night. He found himself focusing on the brighter red, fascinated... Was this all life was, when it came down to it? Just specks of blood, the chaos of physics spraying them onto the wall?

He looked to the splatter, like a Rorschach test for murderers. What did it mean that he saw a small boy crying? Did that make him more or less guilty? Was this violence justified because he wanted to hold that crimson child until he didn’t cry anymore?

Then, time was time again, and Ronnie felt the weight of the gun in his hand, lighter now than before, but also heavier.

Mr. Davis’ body lay on the floor, his head not quite a head anymore. Ronnie thought he should feel something. Well, he felt something. Not better though. The emptiness was still inside. Mr. Davis’ blood hadn’t filled it.

***

His reflection was still the same. His home was still the same lonely place it always was. But, now it smelled of gun smoke and blood though no one had been killed there.

He took the gun to the docks. He meant to throw it into the ocean. As he went to get the gun out of his bag, he noticed a man nearby. On first impression, he thought it was a homeless man. Then, he thought maybe it was Ansin Wrathbone come to retrieve his gun. Then, he thought it was God, watching him, disapproving... or maybe it was all three.

What could a homeless man do?

Ronnie took out the gun, pulled his arm back then launched it as far as he could throw it, and with a splash it was gone.

He returned home, returned to his reflection. And, everything seemed the same. The sun set as he stared at himself in the mirror. Everything grew darker, first in sliding stripes of shadow, then altogether. He didn’t turn on the light. He had an inkling it wouldn’t make a difference. He would still be there in the mirror either way.