“Anything else I can get you, honey?” Annie asked. She was a plump, little waitress, and Howie Stuggs was enjoying her pleasant southern drawl. She was cheeky and conversational. Howie was conversational, too.

“Well I’ll tell you what,” Howie said in his gravelly, deliberate baritone, “that meatloaf and potatoes has done filled me right up, and really I ought to be done.” He smiled and gave a wink. “But I am a creature of habit, and I ain’t never had a dinner without dessert in nearly fifteen years now!”

“Well I cannot allow that Del’s Diner would be the place you broke such a longstanding tradition!” Annie grinned. “Did you need to look at the menu again? We do recommend our Apple Pie to everyone that comes through here.”

“I think I remember it from the menu,” he closed his eye to recall the image. “Was $2.50 for a slice?” he asked in surprise. “Is that right?”

“And worth every penny!”

Howie chuckled. “I’m not surprised at how little, not how much! But then, I just got back from New York. A slice of that Apple Pie would do quite nicely, thank you.”

She made a mark on her notepad and walked away. Howie smiled contentedly to himself as he leaned back in his chair and placed fork and knife on his finished dinner plate. In truth it wasn’t the prices in New York that alarmed him most, it had been the lack of this hospitality. Hospitality, he had learned, was the result of having enough time. If people were always in a rush, then they couldn’t stop to give any of themselves. Here in a small town like Davey’s Fall you could sit down and really get to know a person. They were more real here. They had a sort of aura about them, and when one of them walked into a room the others knew who it was without even having to turn around and see.

Howie’s phone buzzed. He pulled it out of his pocket and squinted at it as his fingers hunted for the right buttons to press. He didn’t care for this new technology. If the world wanted to have it, fine, but he wished his employers didn’t require him to as well. Eventually he worked out how to open the message and read its confirmation. Tonight then.

Annie was coming back and Howie shoved the phone back into his pocket. He smiled as she set down the plate, upon which sat a massive sector of apple pie. A slice of cheddar cheese was draped over half of it, softened by the heat until it molded to the shape of the dessert. Howie took hold of fork and knife again, and let the steam waft up to his nose as he gave a long, deep snuff.

“Seems a pity to break it,” he winked to Annie.

“More the pity not to.”

He plunged the fork through its flaky crust and carved the knife through slices of apple that had turned soft as jelly. He tucked the bite into the corner of his mouth and chewed it in a slow, circling motion.

“Oh my,” he breathed softly. “Oh that is wonderful. That is truly wonderful.”

Annie smiled in approval.

“But how can it be so fresh? You’ve only been gone a minute.”

“Hmm, trade secret,” Annie shrugged knowingly.

“Please, corporate nonsense doesn’t fit a place like this.”

“Well this is a business, you know?”

“No, this is dinner at family,” Howie averred solemnly. “Go on. It’s not as if an old gruff like me, who can’t tell a pot from a pan, is going to put your place out of business!”

Annie glanced over her shoulder, then lowered her voice confidentially. “Well…if you must know…what the cook does is he puts a whole pie in the oven, but sets the heat just as low as he can. It cooks, but it takes it a full three hours. Any time someone orders the pie he cuts out a single slice, transfers it over to his ‘hot’ oven, and finishes it in just a minute or two. Going slow you get all the flavor steeped through, all the texture turned soft, but finishing fast you seal it all up and give it that nice caramelization.”

Howie laughed and clapped his hands in admiration, then set to taking his next bite. Annie brought him the check, and ten minutes later he was on his way out the door, though not without a hefty amount of lingering chit-chat with everyone he passed along the way.

At last he settled down in his old ford, turned the engine over, and sat still while the radio came on. It was an old western ballad, and he hummed along to the familiar tune as he popped open the glove box and pulled out his notebook. Propping it against the steering wheel he transferred all of the information from his phone message to this more comfortable medium. Then he flicked back and forth through the most recent pages of the notebook, the ones detailing his latest job.

“Bay View Motel,” he muttered to himself, then looked out of his car window. In a town as small as this, there was a decent chance you could find whatever your next destination was just by peering around.

Behind him was the highway, less than a tenth of a mile distant. Traffic was so infrequent that the noise didn’t present a nuisance to the shops and businesses that the turn-off led to. Among them was Del’s Diner, a gas station, a small grocery, and a cozy motel that was not Bay View. At the end of the diner’s parking lot was a junction onto another street, down which Howie could see the sign of the local lawyer, an auto repair, and a two-floor building with a sign that was mostly obscured by a scrubby tree. What little bit he could make out, though, looked like a wave crashing on a beach.

“Bay View,” he guessed, and turned on the ignition. Thirty seconds later his suspicion was affirmed and he pulled into the parking lot, his wheels crunching over the unpaved gravel.

No wonder it was the other motel that faced the highway. This one was a low and mean looking place, with large brown stains baked into its peeling siding, and boarded windows on rooms that were in a state of constant disrepair.

Howie took a moment to fully take in his surroundings. He noted the rickety staircase that went from the first floor of the motel to the upper, the way that some of the doors inexplicably opened outwards into the narrow path instead of inwards to their rooms, and the way that the only camera present was pointed at the main office’s front doors. That office, he observed, was being manned by a teenage boy, clearly not the manager of the place.

He reached into the glove box and took out a piece of hard candy, popped it into his mouth and slowly sucked it down. Once he would have lit a cigarette, but ten years ago he knew he had to quit. What mattered was to have something to occupy him long enough to really take a good, hard, second look. Rushing things was never the right way.

So he scanned everything again, this time rehearsing his future steps in his mind. Door 27 was four rooms from the west staircase. A car parked at the bottom of that staircase–front pointed out of the parking lot–would be able to make the highway in less than three minutes. Maybe less than two.

Four rooms from the west staircase meant four opportunities for someone to come bolting out into the walkway and becoming an obstruction. A firm shove with his left arm would be enough to quell the curious, and his right hand would grip a more imperative persuasion for anyone who wanted to play the hero.

The west staircase meant he would be on the opposite end from the office, far from the lone security camera. He had already verified that there was no local sheriff’s office, so no one in an official capacity would be on the scene for at least fifteen minutes. And fifteen minutes was enough to make it down to Hogswell, a town large enough to lay low, but small enough that no one should be out to see him rolling in at two in the morning.

Satisfied, Howie stepped out of his car, went to the trunk, and pulled out his bag of tools. He clipped a nametag to his shirt, put on workman’s gloves, a baseball hat, and thick-rimmed glasses. His razor was in the front of the car, so he’d shave off his mustache when he got to Hogswell.

Now he strode up to the front office, the bell on the door ringing dully as he came to the teenage boy at the front desk.

“Hey, how can I help you?” the boy rehearsed.

“Call for a bathroom leak?” Howie pointed to his nametag.

“What?”

“Call this morning. Came from a Jerry,” he read the name of the manager off a plaque hanging from the wall, “said there was a leak in one of the bathrooms. Asked if I’d be able to make it in the morning and I said I’d try,” he shrugged abashedly, “but I never know when the previous appointment is going to be ten minutes or two hours. Today it was the two hours, for Miss Maislee down the street. I could swear she tried to flush a cat down her pipes!”

“Who?”

“Deidre Maislee?”

“Oh, the lady from the diner?”

“Sure kid, I dunno where she works. Course you never know if a client is a yapper or a go-brooding-in-their-corner-while-you-work sort of person. Deidre is a go-off-to-her-corner. Suits me, I don’t need to know the secret life of a cat-homicide-maniac.”

“What, it can’t have really been a cat!”

“Well the way things run in pipes, half the time you can’t really tell what they originally were. So that means either you’re devoid of imagination and tell yourself its just a clump of hair, or you start anticipating the more colorful side of people. And let me tell you, it doesn’t take that much imagination to start seeing crimes everywhere in people’s pipes. Most people think their plumbing is a private place where no one will find the worst of their secrets,” he raised an eyebrow solemnly.

“Huh, like what?” the boy grinned.

Good. The kid was bored. After five minutes of Howie satiating him with horror stories and the boy finally got around to asking which room it was that needed plumbing.

Howie was led to the room, and then left to do his “work.” He rummaged about in the bathroom for a minute, until he was sure that the kid was truly gone, then he went over to the front door of the motel room, pulled out his screwdriver, and removed the plate around the doorknob. Now came the process of extracting the door-lock mechanism. He would take out the deadbolt, then put everything back the same as it was before.

It was a fortunate thing that the man currently renting this room wasn’t here right now. If he had been Howie would have had to ask him about the leak in the bathroom, and when he denied it Howie would have had to feign frustration at having been given the wrong information. Then he would have left, and things would have been much louder this night.

It was delicate work on the door, but Howie was practiced at it. He got the deadbolt out and also the tumbler in the doorknob, so that neither lock could work. He replaced the deadbolt with a custom-made one. It had been sawed short so that it wouldn’t actually extend into the door frame, but it would provide a similar weighty “click” when you tried to lock the door. He also put a pin in the doorknob so that it would stop when you twisted that lock, rather than spin freely. If someone looked closely, they would notice that neither lock was actually catching, but most people never would.

His work done, Howie grabbed his bag and left the room. He didn’t take the gloves off until he was settled back in the car. Now he just had one more errand to run, and then he would make himself scarce until the middle of the night.

Next door to the motel was the auto repair shop, exactly the place that Howie needed. He lazily steered his car into the neighboring parking lot, gave his horn two toots, then settled back until the shop owner came out to greet him.

“Well good afternoon, stranger,” the man smiled as he strode up to Howie’s open window. He was wearing the familiar uniform of blue coveralls stained in oil, and was wiping his hands on a yellow rag.

“Good afternoon,” Howie returned, then extended his hand to show he wasn’t afraid of a little dirt. The workman took hold and each gave a solid shake.

“Trouble with your car?” the mechanic asked.

“Mmm, not sure. It’s been making a noise I’m not used to, though, and figured I ought to check it out before continuing down the highway.”

“Good for you. I’ll pop open the door, you just go ahead and wheel her right in.”

Three minutes later the mechanic was buried up to his elbows in the car’s engine, while Howie rested his folded arms on the open driver’s-side door, watching the man work.

“A sort of, repeating popping noise you said?” the mechanic clarified.

“That’s right. That’s the one I don’t know. There’s also a chugging sort of sound, but I know what that is. Things get caught up in my exhaust all the time, I just don’t have my tools to fix it myself right now. Say what was your name?”

“Oh I’m sorry. I’m Andy.”

“Andy–?”

“Andy…Griffith,” the man smiled slightly.

“Well I’ll be!” Howie chortled. “That a joke?”

“No sir! Course when I was born that name didn’t mean anything at all.”

“No, of course not. I take it you never fancied work as a police man?”

“Fact is, I did! My old man was an officer during the Great Depression, and I always wanted to be one, too. But then he died on the job, and I couldn’t stand to follow that path anymore.”

“He was shot?” Howie’s eyes grow wide.

“No, silliest thing actually. Some delivery truck got a flat and he was helping change the tire. Jack broke and–well–he was underneath.”

“Huh,” Howie thought for a little. “Seems a little strange, though. You couldn’t see yourself becoming a police officer, but you don’t mind working with cars? Even though it was one of them what killed your daddy?”

Andy gave a grim little smile. “When you put it like that I guess it is a little strange. Can’t account for it. Just never blamed the machine I guess. At that point you might as well be swearing off jacks, and tools, and even gravity at that point. Can’t live that way.”

“No I guess not.”

“Well, and now that I think about it, might be I just used the sad story to explain my career change because it tasted better than telling people that I just didn’t like the idea of policing any more. Kinda became disillusioned with the force after I got stopped a time or two for silly things like breaking curfew. Made the profession lose its gloss for me, I guess.”

“Mmm,” Howie nodded. “Yeah, I know exactly what you mean. I have all sort of respect for a real man of honor, someone like who your daddy sounds to have been, what with helping people through some of the hardest times, but I can’t stand some of these young upstarts when the power goes to their head. They don’t even know what they’re out policing for, or what rules matter and which one’s don’t, and forget that taking care of others is supposed to be their first calling.”

“That’s the truth. Now what did your daddy do?”

“Oh he was a bank robber.”

Andy gave a start, “That a joke?”

“No sir! Well I figure your daddy and mine wouldn’t have gotten along too well, now would they?” Howie laughed at the thought. “Course those were simpler times where you didn’t have all these security features and silent alarms and all that. So it was pretty easy for him to walk in with a tommy gun and a handkerchief over his face.”

“Was he famous for it?”

“Nah…tell you the truth he only ever did it once or twice. I just like to introduce him that way because it was just about the only notable thing he ever did do. Otherwise he was a professional drunk.”

“Ah. Well I’ll tell you, robbing a bank even once sounds like a lot to me!”

“Does it? I mean back then it wasn’t much heavier than holding up a really big convenience store, really. Like robbing a Macy’s today.”

“Well I still don’t intend to hold up any Macy’s” Andy laughed. “Now…was that popping noise happening mostly when you were making turns? I’m thinking its about down to the CV joint to be our culprit now.”

“Might be. Can’t really say I paid enough attention to notice.”

“Yeah, pretty sure. This’ll just be a minute. Say, did you serve in any war?”

“I was too young for World War 2 by a little, but yeah, in Korea.”

“Same for me on both.”

“Why do you ask?”

“Oh, just what you were saying about robbing a bank being like holding up a convenience store. I guess to men like us who have gone to war a lot of crimes seem a whole lot less horrifying.”

“Mm-hmm. Can be hard to tell yourself killing is different in a war than at home.”

“Well you just come right out and say it, don’t you?! I’ve talked with a lot of vets, but never heard any of us admit to that idea before.”

“But we all know that we’ve thought it,” Howie said in a carefree manner. “I mean at the time, no. At the time we had to keep the two separated very neat and fine, didn’t we?”

“Only way to stay sane,” Andy agreed, but his face was starting to look terse.

“But after a while the mind starts to wonder. Like when you come home and someone got murdered in the papers and everyone around you is so shocked but you’re thinking ‘yeah, what of it?’ Someone always dies, and probably the latest poor sap isn’t as great a loss to the world as some of the other fellas who died beside you. Maybe even you already killed some men what was better.”

“I…I’m not so sure I know what you mean there,” Andy said slowly.

“No? Sure, I guess you can’t stay in thoughts like that. What can come of it? You just gotta shrug it off and say ‘I probably got a little mixed up.’ No shame in that, plenty of boys came back from the war mixed up even worse. So you just stifle down those mixed-up parts because society has to go on or else–well or else what’s the point to it all?”

“Mmm,” Andy nodded vaguely. “Well hey, it was definitely your CV joint. Got it all fixed out now. Give me just a second and I’ll have your exhaust unclogged as well.”

Howie had the good sense to see that this conversation had drifted uncomfortably close to the other man’s more private feelings, and so he didn’t try to make any more conversation for the next ten minutes. They had each seen one another a little more plainly than suited Andy, and probably he’d be in a foul mood that night because of it. Howie was much less fazed by it all, he had walked down the halls of his broken nature, and had found his own to way to make peace with it. But even so, it wasn’t like he would put the pressure on a fellow vet, so he sat and drummed out a rhythm on his knees, and when Andy told him the car was all set he thanked him, paid him, and left from that place.

He started down the road leading away from the highway, intending to follow its rugged path out into the desert. There were some nearby rock formations that he thought might be interesting to take a stroll around, not to mention that he had already shown his face to more than enough people in town today.

But just before he passed the last fringe businesses of town his eyes settled on a vagrant standing on the corner of the post office, holding a sign that said “Ashamed, but hopeful. Please help.” Howie frowned at that, then spun his car into the parking lot. As he exited the vehicle and stepped out the vagrant nodded to him slowly, clearly hoping that he was about to receive a hand-out.

The man was rail-thin, with his elbows protruding so far through the skin that it seemed they might burst out at any moment. His complexion was deeply tanned from spending so long in the hot sun, and his head and chin were covered in a scraggly, gray mess of hair. His sunken face made it appear as though his eyes were unnaturally large, and they peered out, a clear and piercing blue.

“What sort of man begs in a sleepy, little town like this?” Howie demanded with a scowl.

“If I could get a ride to the city I would happily beg there instead.” The vagrant’s voice was cracked and unnaturally high, but the words he chose proved that his mind still functioned properly.

“Now I’ve spent a day here, and these are good folks in this town. If they haven’t taken care of you, then they must have something against you.”

“Even a bad man still needs to eat.”

“No, see, that’s your problem. You call yourself a ‘bad man’ and of course no one’s going to let you eat. People don’t have pity on a ‘bad man.’ Look at you! You’re literally wearing a big sign asking everyone to hate you. ‘Ashamed but hopeful?’ Why I’ve never heard of anything so foolish.” There was a real vehemence in Howie’s voice, as though he found something genuinely offensive about the man’s demeanor, as though he would like nothing more than to grab him and break him right there in broad daylight for being so stupid. “Let me explain it to you plain and simple, everyone is a bad man. You got no monopoly there. But it all comes down to marketing. Every bad man is good once he presents himself like he is!”

The vagrant could feel the dry heat in Howie’s words and his eyes turned moist and intense and some loose spittle flew from his lips as he spoke. “Don’t I know it! But I wasn’t the one that called me bad first. They’ve done branded me now, and people don’t really change their opinion once they’ve made up who you are.”

Howie’s scowl broke into a cold, mean smile. “Well that much is true. You already done ruined yourself here, haven’t you?”

“So what am I supposed to do then? Doesn’t matter what I call myself now, I’m already known for what I am.”

“No, you’re still wrong. Cuz brands don’t stick to a man, they stick to a place. The new man in town is…a new man. You want a chance in life? You gotta get out of here, brother. Get to someplace where no one knows you and start calling yourself a ‘good man’ there.”

“If I could get a ride to the city I would happily beg there instead,” the man repeated longingly.

“That would probably be best…but not with me,” Howie turned back around and started walking to his car. “I don’t trust you.”

“I’m a withering, old crumb!” the vagrant called after him “I couldn’t do anything to you!”

“No,” Howie laughed as he extended his foot into the vehicle. “No you couldn’t. Let’s say I just don’t like you then.” And he slammed the door closed and drove away.

Howie turned his car back towards the desert and soon a long-lingering plume of dust was the only evidence of him that remained in town. As the sun slowly lowered through the sky he reached the first set of rock formations, stones the size of hills, scattered about like some giant had dropped his pebble collection when walking by.

The first three of these monuments had sides that were too curved and too smooth to climb, but the fourth had started to break under the combined strain of erosion and its own weight. It had a large fracture right down the middle, and each half had fallen back in a state of half-collapse. Howie was able to pick out a path through the rubble clear to the top, and within ten minutes he sat on its crown, peering out at the lowering sunset. It would be dark when he climbed back down, but he had had the good sense to bring his flashlight with him.

As Howie sat still the rock face slowly began to unveil its life. Everything that had scuttled for safety at his approach, cautiously peeped back out now that he was still.

First it was the ants. Small, black troops marched onto the fringes of his jeans, investigated the new spectacle, then turned to look for more likely sources of food. Soon after the ants came the geckos. Three of them skittered over the rock face, carelessly lapping up the ants as they ambled by.

“How nice it must be to hunt prey that doesn’t even know to run away,” Howie mused to himself as the gecko nearest him slurped up one ant, and then a moment later the ant’s unconcerned neighbor. As Howie looked around his eyes fell on the tufted tail of a napping bobcat sticking out from behind a sage bush. “Though I guess you make up for it by being the prey when she’s awake.”

As the sun burned red, orange, and finally receded against the march of ink-blue sky, new life came out on the scene. Crickets were chirping from unseen corners and a horde of tiny fruit flies buzzed in a cloud just to the left of Howie. He watched their mass chaos, and was reminded of what he had been told about electrons trembling between random states in a molecule. It seemed to him that these flies never really existed in one place, either, but rather shuddered between multiple existences in rapid discontent.

The bobcat was out strolling now, and after a few geckos had been made into a meal the rest of the lizards made themselves scarce. The cat perched on a rock and silently revolved its head, watching for the telltale signs of small critters poking back out to see if the coast was clear. Howie watched, too, and was pleased to find that he was able to spot some of them the geckos extending their necks out even before the cat did.

It was well into the night now, and all was painted faint blue by the moonlight. It was enough that Howie could still perceive the gist of what went on about him. The geckos were entirely absent now, unable to keep active in the cool, night air, so the bobcat had settled on cleaning itself.

There was an owl hooting on one of the neighboring rock formations, and Howie could hear the occasional skittering of mouse paws in the cracks of the rock beneath him. He wondered what sort of animal world was churning beneath him that very moment, totally invisible but very real. It was a very big world they all shared. Surely too big, Howie thought, to notice the loss of an individual life.

Suddenly the bobcat perked up and leaned its head intently towards a nearby sage bush. Howie followed the predator’s stare, but at first couldn’t make out anything unusual about the shrub. But of course, he did not have the eyes and ears of a bobcat, and so it was another half-minute before he finally perceived the slight rustling at the base of the sage where some creature was burrowing.

Slowly, silently, the bobcat lowered from its perch and advanced on the spot, one single paw-step at a time.

Howie licked his lips and watched as the movement behind the sage suddenly stopped. Whatever was roosted back there had detected that something was amiss. The bush was backed by a rock face, so there could be no escape that way. The bobcat knew this, and did not want to dart around one side of the sage, and thus allow for the prey to slip out from the other. The bobcat wanted its meal to panic and bolt into its waiting paws.

Even the buzz of the insects and the scampering of the mice feet had ceased. All the fauna seemed to sense the precarious balance in the air, and waited either in reverent horror to see what would transpire. And wait they must, for whatever was hiding in the bush proved to be quite patient. Five full minutes passed and neither the hunter nor the prey moved an inch. Finally the bobcat fell to pacing back and forth, crossing in front of the bush in one direction, then turning back the other way, and never straying so far to one side or the other as to leave an avenue open for escape.

Howie had just started guessing how the bobcat might try to flush the creature out when the silence was broken. The creature in the bush had darted to the right, rustling the entire shrub in the process. Like lightning the bobcat pounced, but even as it entangled its paws in the thicket the animal, a large, brown hare, bounded out from the left. It had feinted! Kicked one side and then leaped to the other, and the bobcat had fallen for it!

Now the hare came streaking over the rock, bounding from ridge to ridge. The bobcat was in pursuit, but at much too much of a disadvantage. The hare was taking a straight line to the rocky chasm. It would escape into the underground tunnels and live another day. It would–

Thwock!

Seemingly out of nowhere Howie’s arm snapped out, and he crushed the bounding hare’s body beneath his heavy, metal flashlight. So immobile had Howie been, and so full of the thrill of escape had the hare been, that the bounding creature had entirely unseen Howie as it streaked right past his seat.

Now it twitched on the ground, its back legs still trying to run and escape, pumping futilely in the air as small whimpers came out of its broken chest. The bobcat did not try to claim its meal. It had been so startled by the sudden strike that it had instantly made itself scarce, as indeed had all other life on the rocky ridge.

Howie glanced at his watch, though he already knew that it must be time now. He picked himself up, flicked on the flashlight, and made his way down the rock and over to his car. As soon as the engine started he switched the headlights off. The streets were completely deserted back in the town of Davey’s Fall, and he let his car move at a silent crawl into its perch beneath the west staircase of Bay View Motel.

It was only midnight, and so he had a bit of wait, but that was as intended. Best to silently sit out the last two hours here, and let the world around him settle back to its regular rhythms. That was why he always he succeeded in his line of work. He didn’t try to force things, he didn’t try to push the world. He let it move around him, let it breathe naturally, and then just waited for the moment to be right.

And so he settled back in his idling car, reclined the seat, and popped a sucker into his mouth. It was blueberry, and for a long while he just closed his eyes and sucked on it hard. He liked feeling the juice slide in two streams down either side of his mouth and into his throat. Howie didn’t turn on the radio, but he did quietly hum an old favorite ballad and tapped his fingers in time to the tune. Every half hour he checked his watch to verify that it had, indeed, been a half hour. But each time he already knew. When one has counted out two hours by half-hour increments enough times, one knows.

And so Howie knew it was 2 AM even before glancing at his wrist to confirm the fact. He reached into the back seat and pulled his bag up next to him. Out came the work gloves carefully fitted over his fingers. Then came the gun, and the bullet magazine from a side pocket. He slid them together, made sure one bullet was loaded in the chamber, then placed the weapon on the dash. Next he pulled out his phone, dimmed its brightness, and opened the image he had of one “Reese McCay.”

Howie was ready.

He pocketed the gun on the right side of his jacket, pocketed the phone on the left. He stepped out of the vehicle, but left the door open and the engine running. Silently, but confidently, he stole up the steps of the staircase and moved four doors down. The doorknob spun freely and the door swung in. He stepped into the dark room, trusting his memory of its layout to guide his steps. Silently he shuffled until he was at the foot of the bed.

Howie pulled out the gun and leveled it towards the head of the bed, then he pulled out the phone and held it sideways, also pointing its back towards the head of the bed. A flick of his thumb and the phone’s flashlight switched on, bathing the room in unnatural, white light.

A man flinched against the pillows and squinted, trying to wake up enough to make sense of what was going on. Howie’s eyes darted from the person before him to the picture he had open on his phone. Tall, thin, black man, with a pencil moustache and a tousle of untidy hair. It was him.

“Hey what’s–” Reese started to say when Howie pulled the trigger and an explosion of violence erupted through the space. Reese gasped and Howie pulled the trigger again to make sure that the job was done.

Now he shoved weapon and phone back into his pockets and strode quickly, but deliberately, out of the room. He made down the pathway past one, two, three of the rooms. The light turned in the fourth, and Howie raised his left arm to shove back anyone who emerged…but no one did.

He clattered down the stairs and into his car, shifting it into Drive before he had even shut the door. He didn’t roar off into the night, but he did move with clear intent, peeling off onto the main street and taking the first right towards the highway. In less than two minutes he was nothing more than two pinpricks of taillight, fading out of Davey’s Fall forever.