tagLoving WivesMad Dog and the Dream Ch. 01

Mad Dog and the Dream Ch. 01

bySirThopas©

The doorbell at the Melor place rang twice. The two punctuating pushes of the button conveyed persistence, but not impatience. Without word, the caller declared both "you will answer," and "I will wait for it to happen."

Ronald Melor got up from his breakfast. Oatmeal and toast would cool rapidly, and not be very good cold, so he would have to be brief with whoever it was.

He glanced briefly at the handcrafted wooden clock on the wall, a gift from his in-laws, as he passed by it. Fifteen minutes after ten. That was early for friends to be popping by, so it likely wasn't that. Neither he nor his wife were expecting a delivery of any kind, and most of the more intrusive people who might ring a stranger's doorbell in search of money or god were usually smart enough to wait until after lunch.

Probably, it was just the lawn guy. Ron never could figure why the kid sent out to seed and spray his lawn always insisted on giving him lengthy reports of every visit. His mini-lectures became rambling, monotone notations on everything he felt needed to be done to keep the lawn looking good, especially on what Ron could do to help maintain it between visits, and were as off-putting as the acne scarring on his face. But they were at least survivable, and he did seem to keep the lawn looking great.

More than once, Ron had done insulting impressions of the kid for his wife's amusement, giving her ridiculous, nasally, serious-voiced suggestions for how to keep the dishes from getting dirty as he loaded the dishwasher, or lecturing on how to properly remove her clothes as he watched her undress. Once, he had ruined the moment and left them both rolling with laughter when he broke into his impression of the kid as he was settling himself between her legs to perform. "You know, ma'am," he'd said, spontaneously affected the ginger's youthful attempt to sound like an expert, "this turf would grow a lot better if it were getting seeded more often. Regular seedings can really make a big difference. It's a very important part of the process, and shouldn't be neglected. See?" he'd taken a token lick, "It even tastes unseeded. You may not care now, but when your neighbors notice the difference, you'll wish you could just roll it up, put it away, and keep them from looking at it. Am I right?" She'd looked down at him in exasperation as he'd said that last part and he'd gone cross-eyed. By the time the giggles ended, neither was feeling particularly sexy anymore.

Reaching the entryway, Ron did a quick check to see that he hadn't left any crumbs on his black shirt. Then he rubbed his hands on his jeans and unlocked and pulled open the door. He was halfway through forcing a polite grin when he saw who was standing there. He froze, hand tightening on the handle. He had never met the tall man who entered his vision, but Ron immediately recognized what the man was and why he was there. As the stranger looked him over, Ron's eyes went wide. He opened his mouth, closed it, and then seemed to sag into weary sadness. His breathing stopped.

Ron felt his mouth move numbly. "No," is all he said.

The man in the doorway smiled. He was lean, garbed in a thin, dressy leather jacket in spite of the heat, and was equally well-tailored underneath. His skin was dark but of indecipherable origin. It had qualities that could be Hispanic or Middle Eastern, but his face had a very handsome Italian design.

"Hello, Ron," he said.

Desperate, Ron swung the door shut with all his strength. The man reacted with a lazy electric speed, catching the door hand out and palm against the grain. He held it open against Ron's efforts without any sign of strain. "Well, that won't do, will it?" he asked.

Unable to shut him out, Ron felt raw terror. He was struck almost immobile. Instead of attacking him, though, the man craned his head upward. He gently stroked the frame of the threshold with two fingers from his free hand.

"It's strange, isn't it?" he asked. "A doorway, I mean. It's functional. Its necessary. And yet, it betrays the protective nature of the house. It takes away that feeling of being able to shut out the world, or shut in whatever we want kept safe. It changes the house. It ruins it. And what's the purpose of a house that offers no protection?" He took a deep breath, slowly lowering his eyes back down to meet Ron's horrified stare. "Still, it serves a purpose. Most things do. Even you, Ron, though I don't think you know it yet." He tilted his head in curiosity. "I can't help but wonder: a door like this...is it an entrance, or an exit?" With a lazy strength he pushed the door open, forcing Ron backwards. Ron's hands were still held up at chest level, palms out, as they had been when they held the door. He pushed them outwards towards the intruder, as if the gesture alone might stop him.

The man ignored him. Absently brushing at his jacket, he walked casually into the house. Once inside he shut the door behind him, and looked bemusedly at it for a moment. Then he turned back to Ron and inclined his head again. "Well," he said, "Look at that."

"Listen," Ron said quietly, "I know why you're here, and-"

With impossible speed, the man closed the gap between them and drove his fist into Ron's stomach. The impact was concussive, dropping the smaller man to the floor and leaving him gasping for breath.

"Don't ever!" he snarled. Irritation wrinkled on his face. "Don't ever say that. How could you possibly know such a thing? Why I'm here. Jesus." His face relaxed, and he scratched at his chin. "It's an interesting claim to make, though. I'll admit that. It's just not something you can support. Nobody knows the answer to that one. Probably, it can't be known." His face relaxed, and he brushed at his jacket again. "But enough philosophy. Let me tell you why I'm here."

Ron looked up at him. He felt as though he might vomit. "Please," he said. "Don't do this. I have a new life here."

"It would certainly seem so." The tall man looked around the room. "This is a nice house. You have a nice wife to go with it." His gaze fell back on Ron, "Her name's Maddy. She's at the DMV getting her license renewed right now. She planned on going yesterday, but yesterday was a Monday and the DMV is always so damn busy on a Monday. Why is that, I wonder?" He seemed to consider the question for a second before continuing. "So, she decided to wait and go today, and went grocery shopping instead. She didn't buy much, just the basics, but it took a long while. She told you she was gone for so long because she had tried waiting in line at the DMV for a while before giving up. That's a lie. She never waited in line at all. She was at the grocery store almost the whole time. She ran into somebody there." He raised his eyebrows. "It was a man. Someone she's met before, actually. Someone she was glad to see. They talked for almost an hour. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes were hungry. I saw it." He licked his lips. "For some reason, known only by her I suppose, she neglected to tell you about it. Interesting, how easily we keep secrets from the people we love." His eyebrows dropped, his eyes narrowing. "Tell me, Ronald, what does Maddy not know about you? Hm? Does she know who you are? Does she know what you've done?"

Ron climbed to his feet, not responding.

The intruder stopped looking around the room, fixing his eyes on Ron. "Does she know, Ron, what happens to the people who trust you? Have you ever told her that?"

Ron opened his mouth, but didn't speak. He shook his head.

"Hm," the tall man said. "I didn't think so. It begs a question, though. If she doesn't even know you, if she looks at you and sees a man who isn't real, then who did she marry? I imagine some would argue that she's not really married at all. Or was that your plan?" He raised an eyebrow. "Maybe you hoped that, by marrying her to a shade, you could make the shade real. I don't think it works that way." He rubbed his chin, his eyes straying from Ron's face to continue their examination of the room. "I don't think documentation makes a person real. But, then, there's always the DMV, so who knows."

"What do you want from me?"

"From you? I don't want anything from you." The tall man walked over to the coffee table and picked up a picture of Ron with his wife. "This is a nice picture, of both of you. I think it's the tan. It adds a soft color to you both. You look healthier with it, you know?" He shook his head. "Seems like a sick habit. We are active participants in the purposeful warping of our perceptions of this world. But, there it is." He held the picture up for Ron, like it was a novelty. "Do you remember what kind of camera you used?" Ron shook his head. "Too bad," Andro went back to looking at the pitcure. "A camera is a remarkable device. Mysterious. I took one apart once, real careful. Did it real carefully, real smart. Like surgery. Like it was alive." He shrugged. "It didn't help me. I still don't understand how they work. I only know that there are many pieces, and they're all essential. I couldn't put them all back right, and it never worked after that. Like surgery. Like it was alive." He reached out, putting the picture back down where he'd found it. "Has your wife ever been raped?"

Ron felt a chill. "I..." he stammered, "I...she isn't....this isn't about her. I'm the one you want. I should have stayed. I shouldn't have left him there, alone. I know that. It's me."

The tall man frowned. "You are a difficult man to have a conversation with," he said, but his voice sounded strangely admiring. He looked at the clock. "Write your wife a note. Let her know that you're going into work. You'll be back by one."

Ron swallowed hard. "Will I really?"

The tall man shrugged again.

"She'll...she'll call me at work. She'll be mad that I didn't let her know, and she'll call. She'll know I'm not there."

"I imagine that she will. Write the note."

Seven minutes later, Ron was sitting in the back seat of a black sedan as the tall man drove across town. He closed his eyes and tried to control his breathing, reminding himself that right now his only goal was to stay alive. He looked at the tall man and wondered if he could overpower him. He had no advantage physically, and the man seemed more than a little unhinged. Ron wondered for a moment who he was, where he'd come from. He tried to remember if anybody he'd run into in his old life reminded him...

The tall man looked back over his shoulder at him. "Andro."

"What?"

"My name's Andro. You asked."

"I didn't. I didn't say a thing."

"Really? That's strange." he shrugged. "You probably should have."

"Where are you from?" Ron asked.

"That's the question, isn't it? Yeah. That's exactly it." The man laughed, then looked over his shoulder at his passenger. "Do you think you could shoot me?"

Ron swallowed. "What?"

Andro reached down and tossed his gun back to Ron. It landed heavily on the seat next to him. It was a Smith and Wesson nine millimeter, silver and heavy. Ron picked it up nervously, watching the tall man carefully. Somehow, holding the gun didn't make him feel any more in control of the situation.

"So?" The tall man asked. "The gun is loaded. I know you know where I'm taking you, who's waiting for us there. Can you do it?"

"You're out of your mind."

"That's a stupid saying. Your mind is in you."

Ron stared at the back of the man's head, holding the silver coolness in his hands. Could he do it? Surely the tall man wouldn't really let him. The gun must not be loaded, or maybe it didn't work at all. Probably, when Ron pulled the trigger and nothing happened, he would use it as an excuse to beat him. Or worse.

But he was right about one thing: Ron knew where he was taking him. And he desperately wanted to avoid that.

He told himself he could do it, that he had to do it. But taking a human life is such a monumental thing to do. Some people can, some even find it easy...Ron was certain the tall man would have no trouble with committing murder...but to actually take that step? Ron had only faced that terrible choice one other time in his life, and he'd run away from it then. He wondered, was he stronger now?

Was that what someone was, when they could willingly end a person's life? Strong?

And anyway, what if he did it? Here, on the busy street. What then? Would the car crash kill him anyway? Would he end up in jail? Or would it just mean another unhinged thug sent to reel him in? A lifetime of fear, of knowing that it would all happen again. It didn't seem like the path to survival, and survival was truly what he hunted for now.

Still, did his immediate future look any brighter with the tall man alive than it would with him dead? Would the tall man's death discourage others from coming after him?

Could the new Ron Melor live if the old one came back to clean up his mess?

The tall man turned into a side street, and then into a run-down looking garage attached to an equally-rough looking two-story office building. Stopping the car, he lazily reached back and removed the gun from Ron's hand. His expression was one of disappointment.

"Well," he said, "that's one more thing we know about you."

Ron didn't respond. He simply followed as Andro climbed out and walked to the door leading into the office building. "This," the tall man said, tapping the door frame as he passed through it, "is definitely an entrance."

Inside, he led Ron up a short staircase and towards a large room that had clearly been a conference room. There was no furniture anywhere, although the faded and dust-coated carpet revealed shadowed evidence of an oval table and a dozen or so chairs. A loud rattling in the ceiling announced the jagged efforts of the air conditioner. Almost a third of the lights were nonfunctioning, giving the room a dim and hazy feel.

"Well, hello, Ron," Piero Medina smiled as the two men entered the board room. "It's been a long time. What do you think of my new place?" He waved his hands around, meaty fingers spread wide. The yellow teeth he exposed in his grin, unpleasant in the finest light, looked even darker and unhealthy in the flickering dimness.

Ron didn't respond, just watched his old employer carefully, his jaw set and eyes defiant.

"Come now," Piero's smile remained, although new lines appeared around his eyes and his hands fell to his sides, "there'll be none of that. It's been so long. We have catching up to do."

Ron maintained his silence, and ignored the bead of sweat that slid down his cheek. Posturing was the only defense left to him, and he knew that he was in with a crowd that awarded defiance almost as strongly as silence.

Piero turned his heavy-lidded gaze on the tall man. "Was he as rude to you as he is being to me, Andro?" he asked, although his eyes betrayed approval.

Andro shook his head, playing his part. "I rather enjoyed our time together. Somewhere in there, I think he understands."

"Well, that's good." He shifted his feet, redistributing his heavy weight. "You know, Ron, by rights I should have killed you years ago."

"I got the money back," Ron snapped, "or most of it, before I left. You know I-"

Piero was in his face in an instant, eyes blazing. "Money!" he roared. His heavy cheeks wiggled the word out, and grew red. "Money? You think it was the money I cared about?" He sighed wearily, lowering his voice. "Things go wrong, Ron. They go wrong." On that last sentence, his head swayed softly from side to side with each syllable, giving the statement a strange emphasis. "No. It wasn't the money. It was Lee. It was Lee I cared about."

Ron swallowed hard. "I know. I tried to talk to him. To get him to come with us." He let his regret show on his face. "I didn't want him to go alone. That was never what I wanted."

"But he wouldn't come with you," Piero noted, in the same tone of voice he might use when indulging a small child. "He was too loyal."

"I...yes." Ron looked at each of the other men. "But you know it wouldn't have helped. If we had gone with, Tony and I, we would have been killed, too. We didn't stand a chance. It wouldn't just have been Lee dead. It would have been me and Tony, as well. All three of us, dead for nothing."

"We'll get to Tony in a minute," Piero wagged his finger. "Right now I'm talking about Ron. I want to tell you about him. It's been so long since you've met him, maybe you've forgotten. He was a good guy. He wasn't cold or hard the way some of the men get, but neither was he so soft that he can't be trusted. He had value, and not just to me." He looked up at the flickering lights, as if deep in thought. " It was a calming thing, I think, to know that Ron Melor had your back. It gave the men confidence they might otherwise have lacked." He withdrew a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed at his brow. "I know Lee thought so. Maybe not at the end, but right up until he watched you walk away, he did. I still have people telling the tale. Do you realize how upsetting that is to me? How does it help the men to go about relaying the story of the man who left his brother on the field? Who left a friend to die? Who was so fucking stupid, that he walked away from it all thinking his greatest sin involved the loss of money? No. You don't realize. People need to know that this thing has been addressed. People need closure."

Ron swallowed. "I came here because I knew you never went further west than Chicago. I came here so that people wouldn't have to know that I-"

"People know. They know, Ron."

His shoulders fell. "I'm sorry."

Piero smiled sadly, putting a heavy hand on one of those shoulders. "I know you are, Ron. That's why I'm going to give you a chance to make amends."

"Amends?"

Piero's smile turned hard. "I know why you had to leave, Ron. Why you thought you had to run. You got weak. We all do, once in a while. But it's not escape that we really need, when we get weak. And it's not punishment either. It's redemption." He leaned in close, his breath warm and tinged with halitosis. "I intend to give you that redemption, if you'll have it."

Ron felt a bead of cool liquid drop down his back, and realized how much he was sweating. "And if I can't do that?"

Piero's eyes flickered over to Andro and back again. Then, he stepped back and nodded.

"Come with me," Andro said simply, and turned to leave.

"Wait!" Ron panicked. "Wait, I..."

Piero laughed, belly shaking with amusement. "You're not going to die, Ron. If you don't struggle, he won't even hurt you. He's only going to answer your question."

Reluctantly, hopelessly, Ron followed Andro down into the building's basement. As they approached a room on the opposite end of the structure from the board room, Ron began to hear muffled voices. When they reached the door, Andro held a finger up to his lips before opening.

When he saw inside that room, Ron knew that his life was over.

Tied to a chair, gagged and facing away from the door, was Tony Sadovsky. His shaved head was coated with stubble, and the exposed skin of his arms was covered welts and pressure marks from where ropes had gripped him. Ron figured he'd been here a week, or more. Tony was a limp rag, sagging into his chair, too weak in either physical strength or spirit to offer any kind of struggle. Ron looked him over. The injuries he saw weren't severe. The man didn't appear to be dehydrated or starved.

But it wasn't Tony that told Ron that his life was over. It was the other person in the room . On the far side, half-buried in shadow so that your eyes had to adjust, tied to a chair facing Tony was a nude woman.

Or what was left of one.

Her head hung loosely to the side. Large chunks of her bloody scalp showed through the tangled, thin remains of her hair. Her face was mangled, retaining only some of the defining elements of its humanity. The area around her right eye socket was swollen grotesquely, the unseeing eyeball bulging out of the socket and clouded with blood. The left one appeared uninjured but stared vacantly, giving no indication of consciousness. Her nose had been removed, the cut jagged and messy. The darkness of the gaping hole it left had an unsettling purity, as though no light could ever hope to enter it. Drool ran down her chin, and she made little gurgling noises as she breathed.

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bySirThopas© 26 comments/ 41969 views/ 10 favorites

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