Author’s Note: Man, there is so much of my life in this story that it was hard to read again after the 20 or so years since that difficult time for me. And it’s obviously just the beginning of a much bigger story. But I think it’s a pretty good beginning.
It was the end of another endless day at the office for Keith Brooks. Nothing new had happened, of course, but somehow he found enough inspiration for conversation with Jamie, the co-junior editor who occupied the cubicle next to his in the labyrinthine sixth floor offices of Walker and Sons publishing. It was one of the reasons he liked her so much — she was so easy to talk to. It was a truly admirable trait, he thought, in a woman as young, beautiful, and intelligent as she was. She could have easily recognized the extent of her gifts, and the level of admiration they raised her to in the eyes of everyone, especially the men, around her, but she didn’t. She talked to Keith like she was nothing special — or like he was. It was a welcome relief from his general bad showing with women in general, and he held her and their friendship — for it was a true friendship — in the highest regard. Had she not been engaged to her fiancé, the ex-football star with brains and a future that made Keith’s own seem like an abysmal trifle, Keith thought, there might have even been something more there for them. Of course, on most days he was more realistic than to believe his own hype on that point, but Jamie made it seem like it could be true, like he really could have been the guy for her, if only he’d gotten there first. It was a gift that she had, that she could give a person — any person — an unintentional lift just by granting them such genuine attention that the person invariably felt they were more than they were, and could do more than they ever thought they could before. She was intoxicating in her own way. And it was impossible not to fall a little bit in love with her.
But there was nothing new in any of that, or in anything that their conversation flowed around as they walked across the company parking garage looking for their cars. Yet still the conversation flowed. They joked and laughed and made fun of the boneheads in the executive offices as they searched, until Jamie saw her car, said goodbye, and peeled off down an adjacent row.
Then Keith saw his own car, straight ahead at the west end of the parking garage, parked right up against the waist-high outer wall and backlit by the soon-to-set sun.
He stopped, his blood suddenly cold in his veins, his smile evaporating from his face. His mind reeled for a moment at the impossibility of what he saw, but it was undeniable. In the almost direct blaze of the sun shining through the windows, Keith distinctly saw a bright red handprint planted right in the middle of his back windshield.
The bloop-boop of Jamie’s car alarm and almost immediate thunk of her doors unlocking recalled him from his paralysis.
“Jamie,” he called, “wait up a minute!”
He jogged down the row of cars to catch up with her.
“What’s up?” she asked, the sweet, automatic smile that had brightened so many dark days for him over the past two years spread easily across her lovely face.
He stopped in front of her and stared mutely for a minute, analyzing her face, trying to seer every line into his memory, to remind himself again of every little nuance that made her beautiful, of every innocent, genuine trait that made her special.
“Um,” he stammered, uncertain of how to say what he had to, of what to say to someone he liked so much in the last few moments he had left with her, “I forgot to tell you . . . I’ve got to go out of town . . . a sort of family thing I’ve got to take care of. I thought . . . I’m not sure when I’ll be back, and . . .”
“I hope everything’s okay,” Jamie said, her smile slipping effortlessly into a look of sincerest concern. “Are the kids alright?”
He had to smile at her compassion. She was just so wonderful.
“Yeah, yeah,” Keith said, regaining a bit of his composure in the light of her presence, “the kids are fine, everything’s fine. It’s just something that I’ve got to take care of.
“Long story,” he continued in response to her inquisitive look, “but I wanted you to know, before I head out, that you are a truly wonderful, truly special person. I know I tell you all the time, and you play it off and all, but I want you to know that every complimentary thing I’ve ever said to you, every little flirtation and whatever — I meant every one with the greatest sincerity. You are the sort of woman that men have dreamed of loving and of being loved by for ages.”
Here Jamie began to look uncomfortable.
“Don’t worry,” Keith went on, “I’m not going to propose or profess my undying love or anything. It’s nothing like that, though I could fall in love with you in a heartbeat if only you’d let me, or if only I thought there’d be any point in it at all.”
He shook his head in frustration at the suddenly clumsy and slightly embarrassing way he was handling this.
“Ugh,” he muttered, dismissing the tangent, “just know … promise me you’ll believe everything I’ve said about you, that you are the most wonderful woman, the most wonderful friend I could have ever asked for, and that I am grateful for all the little things you’ve done for me without you even knowing it, all the smiles and concern and all the being there for me.
“Promise me you know how much you’ve meant to me and how amazing you are and how obscenely lucky Will is to be with you.”
Jamie was confused to judge by her face, and a little scared.
“Keith, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing, really — just promise me that.”
“Okay,” she said with some apprehension at the subtle rise in urgency in his voice, “I promise.”
Keith smiled again. His eyes were wetter than he’d hoped they would be, his chest constricting more than he’d thought it would.
He hugged her tightly, turning his head into her hair, smelling the sweet vanilla that so characterized her. She stiffened for the briefest second at the unexpected display, then relaxed and hugged him back, firmly, supportively, almost as if she knew more than he’d wanted to let on.
When he released her, her eyes were brimming as well. He took her hand in his, raised it to his lips and kissed it.
“Thank you,” he said, as he released her hand and backed away, “for everything.”
She opened her mouth as if to say something, but Keith turned and jogged back down the row of cars, leaving her in stunned silence and disappearing around the corner. She stood that way for a long minute, then heard a car rev to life, back up and, with an instantaneous screech of its tires, zip too quickly down the exit ramp and out of hearing.
With an expression of sincerest concern etched in the furrow of her usually smooth, serene brow, she dried her watery eyes with the sleeve of her business suit jacket and climbed numbly into her car.
Keith approached his car at a jog, his eyes locked on the ominous red handprint. When he drew even with it, he saw that the paint, or whatever it was that the print was made of, still looked wet. It hadn’t been there long. Instinctively, he looked back the way he came, scanning the rows of cars around him, though he knew there would be nothing, no one, to see.
He reached up, untied his tie and yanked it off hard enough to warm the skin of his neck as it zipped out from beneath his button-down collar. It was one of his few really expensive ties, a gift of congratulations from his now ex-wife for landing the job he was leaving behind. It had always been one of his favorites — in some ways she had known him so well. Wadding the tie up, he reached across the rear windshield and tried to wipe the red hand away. It smeared terribly at first stroke, but he quickly managed to reduce the smudge to a thin, transparent smear of indistinguishable character. It was enough, for the moment. He’d have to get the stain off completely before he left, but for the next twelve hours or so, it wouldn’t make any difference — the damage it had wrought by its mere existence was done.
Then he stuck his key in the lock — there was no bloop-boop or thunk in his modest four door sedan — opened the door, hopped in and flew as fast as he safely could down the exit ramp. A few minutes later, he was racing down the interstate toward home, as fast as he could race in the rush hour traffic, anyway, and ticking methodically through all the things he had to do before he really skipped town.
The forty-five minute commute had never seemed longer, he thought, as he opened his front door, though on any other day he would have congratulated himself for getting home in time to catch the six-thirty rerun of The Simpsons. There was another bright red handprint on the door, making the covered-over peephole look like a stigmata wound — as if there was any way he could have missed the one on his windshield. He didn’t bother trying to wipe it off. He had more important matters to attend to.
The first thing he did was fire up his computer and log on to the internet.
“You have mail,” the saccharine sweet voice informed him when his connection had finally been established. He checked, but saw there was nothing new — a monthly newsletter from his service provider, a couple of job search result notifications from Monster.com, and an email from his brother he’d been ignoring for a week.
He thought about emailing the few friends he still kept in contact with from high school and college, but decided against it. He didn’t know how to say what he wanted to without arousing the kind of suspicion and inquiry that could only get someone hurt. He’d gone way overboard with Jamie already — he hadn’t been thinking yet of the potential consequences when he’d talked to her. She would definitely be freaked out when he disappeared, and worse, probably, when they finally found his body. He only hoped she’d be discreet enough to let it go.
Still, it killed him to just disappear on his friends. There were a few that he really wanted to say goodbye to. But he had their numbers. He could call them later and say what he needed to directly, if it still seemed important, though he certainly couldn’t leave any messages — that would leave the same sort of trail as sending an email.
Emailing out, he dropped down his favorites menu and clicked on his bank’s website. He logged in after the homepage came up and clicked the “Transfer Funds” button. A bottom-line summary of his checking and savings account balances popped up just above the questions of how much money he wanted to transfer, and where to. The numbers for both accounts were depressingly small — less than half of what they’d been only a few months before. He’d smashed up his old car a few months earlier and had been forced to buy a new one, which increased his car and insurance payments to beyond what he could handle on his modest junior editor salary. It was a problem that had seemed so big until only an hour or so earlier. Now it didn’t seem important at all.
He let the bank know that he wanted to transfer his entire savings account, save five dollars, into his checking account and authorized it to go ahead with the transfer. He couldn’t think of any other pressing business he needed to take care of online, so he logged off.
Then he got out his checkbook, transferred the balance in his register, factored out the various bills he had floating in the mail, added in what would be deposited when his next paycheck went through, and wrote a check to his ex-wife for the grand total: $1,392.76. His life savings in only six digits — two of those on the short side of the decimal point. What a wonderful legacy he’d be leaving behind.
He put the check in an empty file folder box that he pulled from beneath his desk. Then he pulled out several stuffed file folders and assorted papers, almost at random, from a small file cabinet on the floor and stacked them on top of the check. He added a small payment coupon book from his bills folder and a couple of spiral-bound notebooks. Finally, he took his apartment keys off his tattered, faux-leather key fob and dropped them in the box.
The box filled with everything he could think of that his ex-wife might need, he sat down with a pen and a spiral-bound notebook and tried to think of what he had to tell her and how much he could say without stepping outside the rules. He was surprised at how steady his hand was, considering the situation. He had always been able to proceed with calm, thoughtful action when an unpleasant task presented itself — once he’d gathered the courage to set things in motion. That had always been the hardest part — getting things going, taking that first step. He couldn’t count the opportunities he’d missed for lack of that ability to jump forward with that singular sense of abandon that, from everything he’d seen, seemed to be the only thing that separated him from so many less deserving and less qualified, but more successful, people.
In this case, that first step had been taken for him. He thought fleetingly that, for him at least, a bright red footprint would have been more appropriate. At any rate, he was under way before he’d even known it, so all the rest of this was coming easy to him so far.
But he was wasting time. Turning his attention away from his wandering thoughts and back to the page before him, he began to write. It took him three tries to get the opening words right, but he finally just decided to get straight to the point and be done with it. Niceties had ceased to be any significant part of their relationship anyway. Besides, there was no way to nicely say much of what he had to tell her. It was all business and bad news. Ten minutes or so of stop-and-go writing later, he’d filled the page with everything he thought she’d need. He signed it “Love, Keith” though the word no longer had any real meaning for them — at least with regard to each other. Still, it felt right, somehow. And, he thought, maybe there was still some little bit of truth in it. At the very least, it was a nice way to say goodbye — a good final word.
He dropped the letter on top of the pile in the over-filled file folder box and slipped the cover on as far as it would go. He scribbled an imperative that he hoped would at least give his ex-wife pause before she tossed the box in the garbage, then took out the packing tape he kept in a little three-drawer caddy on his desk and wrapped up the box in intimidating fashion, end-to-end and side-to-side, until the tape ran out. He didn’t want her opening the box before he left her apartment — didn’t want her reading the letter soon enough to detain him with questions and accusations. He could just imagine her throwing it at him and accusing him of trying to manipulate her life again — as if he’d ever tried to do so before. The last thing he needed was a scene in front of the kids.
He changed clothes quickly and threw everything he’d need to get by in the couple of duffel bags that he had stuffed up in the top of his bedroom closet. Ironically, the duffels were there for just this sort of thing — he’d vowed to be more spontaneous after his wife left him two years earlier, to travel more, on a whim, and see what he could see as a newly single man. Financial reality and home-based responsibilities, mostly in the form of his two kids, had always seemed to step in to prevent his actually going anywhere, but he’d held onto the duffel bags just in case. The spontaneity that motivated him now wasn’t exactly the sort he’d had in mind all those long months ago, but it was still nice to be able to get everything he needed packed away quickly and conveniently, without resorting to the kitchen garbage bags that had been his only luggage all the way up through college.
He thought about calling his ex-wife before he left and telling her he was coming over, but decided against it almost immediately. She had forbidden him from going to her apartment several weeks before when he’d had the audacity to lose his patience and curse at her over the phone. He’d thought back afterward and counted all the times he had been angry enough to actually curse at her over the ten years they had known each other. He’d come up with three occasions. It wasn’t his style, to say the least, but she had been so ridiculous in the last four months. She’d begun capitulating to every insanely jealous whim of her new, her first, lesbian lover in a desperate attempt to make the relationship work. So she’d pushed him farther and farther away from her and, by extension, from the kids — who he now no longer saw nearly as often as he liked, or nearly as often as he’d been able to just a few short months ago, before she’d gotten involved with this latest in a long line of nuts to enter her life.
At any rate, she was too far gone to be helped now, until she got her heart broken again and started calling him for support and reassurance and the small semblance of love he might still be able to shower on her in her loneliness and sorrow — just like she had done last time, when she’d taken up with that asshole that she later swore up and down she hadn’t left him for. So if he called first, she would forbid him to come over and, upon realizing he was coming anyway, would probably take the kids out to dinner just so she wouldn’t be there when he arrived.
It was better to let her go about her normal routine and take her by surprise. She’d be pissed, and so would Sally, but he had to see the kids, and to ensure the safe delivery of the bulging file folder box he held under his arm — the box that now contained all he had left to give them.
When he was making good time, it was upwards of a fifty-minute drive across Tampa to get to his ex’s apartment, but he managed to make it in half an hour. The traffic gods seemed to be with him, if nothing else. He knocked on her apartment door just before seven-fifteen. The baby was probably going to sleep, but Alex would still be up for sure.
“Who is it?” he heard Sally call from the other side of the door. He suppressed a grimace. Since they’d gotten together, Sally had taken on the tasks of answering the phone and answering the door and, no doubt, taking out the trash and killing the spiders and plunging the stopped-up toilets. Tracy was definitely the woman of the house. Sally definitely wasn’t.
“It’s Keith,” he answered.
There was a muffled discussion on the other side of the door that almost sounded like the beginning of an argument. He smiled in spite of himself. Too bad about that.
Then the door opened as far as the chain would allow, revealing half of Tracy’s obviously angry face.
“What do you want?” she demanded. “I told you not to come here anymore.”
He bit his tongue to keep the first answer that came to his mind in his mind and proceeded as nicely as he could.
“I really need to see the kids,” he said, “and I have a package for you.”
He held it up for her to see.
“What is it?”
“Just some papers you’re going to need,” he said. “Can I come in, please? I’ll only be a minute.”
“No you won’t,” she retorted, “you’ll see the kids when you get them tomorrow. If you want to talk to Alex tonight, you can call him when you get home. Danielle is already asleep.
“As for the papers,” she said with a tone that made it clear that this was her closing remark, “whatever they are, you can leave them on the doorstep and I’ll get them after you’re gone, or you can give them to me tomorrow when you pick up the kids.”
“I have to see them tonight,” he retorted, “it’s an emergency.”
“Bullshit,” she said, “you’re not seeing them tonight. Take your stupid papers and go home before I call the police.”
She moved to close the door, but he stuck his foot in the crack. It was going pretty much as he’d expected it to. He’d resolved himself to kicking in the door and busting the stupid little chain if he had to, though he’d really hoped it wouldn’t come to that.
“Move your foot!” she yelled. “Now!”
He was about to do just that, in preparation for a full-body lunge against the door and her and the flimsy little chain, when Alex stepped in to save the day.
“Mooooommmmmyyyy,” he yelled, “who’s at the door?”
“No one, sweetie …” she began.
“It’s me, Daddy,” Keith yelled over her, pressing his face as close up to the crack as he dared with her pushing with all her might on the other side, “I came by to see you for a few minutes!”
“Yay!” Alex yelled, “Mommy, let Daddy in, he came to see me!”
The look that she shot him through the crack was pure poison.
“You asshole,” she hissed at him. “Move your fucking foot so I can undo the chain.”
The door closed and the chain rattled noisily out of its slide lock.
“I want you gone in five minutes,” she spat at him as she opened the door, “and don’t think you’re not going to pay for this.”
Sally sat on the couch behind her, glaring her typical disapproval of his existence. At least one person would be happy about his upcoming departure from life, he thought. He barely managed to suppress the smirk that threatened to break out on his face and that would likely have driven Tracy over the edge with rage.
“Where are you, buddy,” he called out.
“I’m not telling,” came the answer in a sing-song voice, “you have to find me!”
That was no difficult task, since Alex was in the tub. Keith tucked the box under his arm and walked up to the bathroom door in the obligatory pouncing posture, bent over slightly at the waist, his hands held up in front of his face, mimicking the claws of some ravenous predator.
“Boo!” Alex yelled as soon as he saw him.
“Ah!” Keith screamed, in exaggerated fear. Alex burst out laughing. Tracy barked for them to be quiet, the baby was sleeping. They both quieted down quickly.
Keith walked into the bathroom and closed the door behind him, setting the over-taped box down on the sink.
“What’s that?” Alex asked, pointing to the box.
“Nothing —just some papers and stuff for Mommy,” he answered. “How you doing today?”
“Did you have fun in school today?”
“What did you do?”
“Um . . .” Alex paused, seemingly giving a great deal of hard thought to the question. “Nothing.”
So far, the conversation was absolutely typical. He always had fun at school, but never seemed to actually do anything.
“Hey,” Keith said, “I stopped by, ‘cause I have to tell you something very important.”
“Daddy found out just today that he has to go away on a trip,” Keith continued. “It’s for my work, and I don’t know how long I’m gonna be gone, so I wanted to stop by and see you and tell you that I love you more than any other boy in the whole wide world.”
“I know,” Alex said, seemingly ready to change the subject from the boring one that he never seemed to want to hear about. Keith had enjoyed little overt affection from his own parents growing up, and had vowed to himself that his own kids would never have legitimate claim to the same complaint, so the fact that he loved his son was old news to Alex.
“I know you know,” Keith interrupted, “but I want to tell you again. I love you and I’m proud of you, and I know that you are going to be the best, smartest man there ever was when you grow up because you’re already the best, smartest boy I know!”
“Yeah, yeah,” Alex said in exaggerated exasperation, “I know . . .”
“Good. Don’t you ever forget it, okay?”
“I won’t,” Alex replied, “but Daddy, where are you going on your trip?”
“Hmm . . . you know what?” Alex raised his eyebrows in theatrical inquiry. “I don’t even know yet. It’s a surprise!”
“Oooohhh,” Alex cooed.
“So I can’t even wait to go — that’s why I’m leaving tonight, right after I leave here.”
“Oh,” Alex said, his face clouding. “Well, I’m gonna miss you, Daddy.”
Keith forced himself to smile.
“I’m gonna miss you, too, buddy,” he said, struggling to keep a rising quaver out of his voice. “Now give me a hug.”
The boy complied and Keith sneaked a kiss onto the top of his head. Perhaps sensing something strange, Alex didn’t raise his usual protest to being kissed. Instead, he grabbed Keith’s face and planted a kiss of his own on his father’s cheek.
“I love you, kiddo,” Keith said, hugging his son again. “I gotta go say goodbye to Danielle and Mommy now, okay? You be a good boy and get all washed up for Mommy now.”
“Okay, Daddy,” he said, “I love you. Have a good trip.”
Keith forced himself to smile, picked up the box and left the bathroom.
Tracy was standing just outside the door. She’d been listening to their conversation, no doubt trying to hear whatever terrible things he was telling their son about her.
“You’re leaving town?” she demanded.
“You going away with some girlfriend?”
He chuckled morbidly at the notion. He hadn’t had anything even remotely close to a girlfriend since she’d left him. He hadn’t had the heart for a long time. Then, when he’d finally gotten around to being ready for one, he’d found the pool of candidates small, to say the least, and almost universally undesirable.
“God, I wish.”
“Well I know you’re not going away for your job,” she hissed as he walked down the hall to the baby’s room.
He ignored her and quietly opened Danielle’s door.
“Don’t wake her up. I just got her to sleep.”
He walked in and looked at his daughter in the dim light offered by the kitchen fluorescents down the hall. She was so beautiful. For the second time that day he tried to imprint the beauty before him as indelibly as possible on his brain in the brief time he had. Then he leaned carefully over the side of the crib, placed his hand gently on her belly so he could feel her breathing, and whispered softly into her sleeping ear that he loved her more than any other little girl in the world, and would miss her forever. Then he kissed her lightly on the forehead, stood up and took one last long look at her before leaving the room and shutting the door quietly behind him.
He stood with his head against her door for a moment, trying to get a handle on his emotions and collecting himself for the confrontation to come. Then he walked back down the hall.
Tracy and Sally were waiting as if in ambush. Their eyes followed him across the living room and watched, hawk-like, as he set the overstuffed file folder box on the dining room table.
“I do have to go away,” he said as he walked back across the living room to the front door.
“Where?” Tracy demanded, “Why?”
“All I can tell you is in a letter inside the box. Everything you need is in there, I think.”
“Need for what?” Tracy followed up, “What are you talking about?”
“You’ll see,” he replied. “I don’t have time to discuss it. I have to go now.”
“What the hell are you doing?” she demanded.
Tracy was still angry as he turned to leave, and Sally was still glaring, but there was nothing to be done about it.
“Bye,” he said as he opened the door. “Thanks for the good things.”
He closed the door, gulped a huge breath of air, let out a ragged, heart-stricken sigh, then sprinted around the corner and down the hall toward the steps on the other side of her building. He thought he heard the beep-beep-beep of her alarm as her door opened just as he reached the stairs, but he didn’t wait around to find out. There just wasn’t enough time for whatever she, or Sally, had to say.
A minute later he was in his car, zooming way too fast through the twisting parking lot of her apartment complex.
Back in her apartment, Tracy was still fuming at the utter lack of respect for her, her relationship, and her rules that Keith had displayed by coming to her house. He was such an asshole — had been becoming more and more of an asshole for weeks.
She walked over to the bulging file folder box that he’d left on the dining room table. “Important documents — do NOT throw away!” was written in bold letters on the top of the box, underneath the ridiculous amount of clear packing tape he had wrapped the box up in. He couldn’t have just used a couple of little pieces to keep the top on, she thought. No, he had to make it a major project for her to even get into the stupid thing. Asshole. She picked the box up, half-ready to toss it in the trash anyway.
“What is it?” Sally asked from behind her.
“Who knows,” Tracy answered. “The jerk wrapped it up in so much packing tape it’ll take an axe to get it open.”
“Well, I’d be interested to know what he thought was so damn important that he needed to invade our privacy to deliver it,” Sally said. “Did you see the way he just walked right through the house liked he owned the place? He didn’t even take off his shoes! It’s like he enjoys pissing us off.”
“Yeah,” Tracy answered, “typical selfishness. He doesn’t care what anyone thinks, as long he gets his own way.”
“Get some scissors and we’ll open up his little treasure.”
“Yeah, I will,” Tracy said, turning her steps toward the bedroom where she kept the scissors next to her desk. “Hold on. I’ll be right back.”
It took a few minutes of cutting with the scissors, but she finally got the box open. On top of the relatively huge pile of papers and file folders that revealed itself was the letter he’d mentioned. She saw at a glance that it began “Dear Trace”. It was a greeting that had once been common in letters, cards, and emails, but that had completely disappeared in the last few months. He’d begun to go out of his way to be rude and “business-like” in their essential correspondence, so it caught her off guard. She picked up the letter and slid the box across the table for Sally to peruse.
“What’s it say?” Sally asked.
“I don’t know,” Tracy replied. “Give me a second to read it. Check out what’s in the box.”
Sally shot her a disapproving look, then turned her attention to the box.
Tracy read the letter with alternating feelings of shock, wonder, and confusion, but her anger was gone by the time she reached the end.
I don’t know how to start this, so I’m just going to start it.
I’ve somehow gotten nominated for something I never thought I would — or could, for that matter. The details are ridiculously complex, and the less you know of them the better. Suffice it to say that I will probably be killed in the next few days — in the next week, max. However it happens, it will probably be made to look like an accident — or maybe a suicide. It won’t be either, but you can’t tell that to anyone. Let it lie as it’s made to look, and everything will be okay. Do this and you and the kids will be safe. Try to pursue it and you’ll put everyone you know in danger.
I’m sorry I can’t be more specific, but that’s all part of the rules. Just trust me this one last time, and you’ll never have to again.
Enclosed here you’ll find my various insurance policies (all with you as the beneficiary, for after they find me), letter journals I’ve been keeping for the kids (I hope you’ll continue these), Danielle’s prepaid college payment coupons (sorry, you’ll have to take this over), a check for all the money I’ll have in the bank as of next Thursday (the day my last paycheck will deposit in my account — don’t cash it before then or it will bounce) and my keys so you can get into my apartment and get whatever you need or whatever I’ve forgotten to put in here (like my stories — I hope you’ll keep them for the kids, at least).
I think this is all you’ll need to get as much out of my impending death as you can for you and the kids. I’m sorry there isn’t more, but things have been tight for me lately.
I know this sounds crazy — I guess it is pretty crazy — but it’s the truth. Try to live your life like you normally would until they notify you of my death. Then cash in as much as you can.
On a different note, I’m sorry things turned out for us like they did. I’ve said it before, I know, but it really is true. For what it’s worth, I really didn’t do any of the bad and stupid things you think I did. I always loved you first, and thought of you first, even when I didn’t manage to show it. But I know I was an idiot in a lot of things. You have been my only true love in this life. For that I thank you.
I wish you all the best, and all the happiness you can have.
Never let the kids forget that I loved them more than life itself, and that my greatest sorrow in leaving was that I would never see them again — that I’d never see them grow up.
Please destroy this letter when you’re done reading it. If you can swing it, it would be safer if Sally didn’t read it.
Good luck, and thank you again for all the good things.
Keith was back on the interstate in another ten minutes, headed north again. There were a lot more places to go from Florida when you headed north than when you headed south. South ran out in about three hundred miles. Going that way would be like swimming into a net, he thought, so north was definitely better. Of course, they’d probably figure he’d figure that way, but there was no time for second-guessing. The first step had been taken. The rest were his to follow through on, for as long as he could.
He looked at his watch. It was seven thirty-seven. He had nine and half hours of free running time left. If he played it right, he could be in any of four different states in that time. It was a beginning, he thought — the best he could do.
He thought back to the precious, too-few minutes he’d taken to say goodbye to Alex and Danielle. They were the last memories they’d have of him, and he of them. His heart truly broke for the first time in those strange, quick hours. Tears rose to his eyes and spilled down his cheeks. He quickly fought them back, wiping his eyes with his sweater sleeve, but they refilled almost immediately.
There was no time for tears, now, he thought, cranking up the latest anger-laced hit by Linkin Park as loud as he could stand it. There probably wouldn’t be time for tears between now and the end — whenever and wherever that was to come. There was no time for anything now but running, and trying to stay alive.
That was the curse of being red-handed. Come five o’clock the next morning, he would be nothing but prey.
Come five o’clock the next morning, the hunt would begin.