Dan stood there. Glazed eyes still wanting to be close to her. Watching, looking all around, knowing. Far away now but there had been a time. The glazed hardened eyes softened for a second as he remembered.
His eyes darted around his perimeter one more time. His immediate thought was why? Why didn't he just let it happen? He'd be closer to her wouldn't he? All that religion crap he was taught when he was younger said so. He could go to heaven couldn't he?
Within the tree line he could see the casket being lowered. For the first time since he was a kid tears slipped out of his eyes. The extreme sadness that he had felt once in his life was turning him sideways one more time.
His eyes went blank and the tears stopped as fast as they started. He would wait until they all left then he would go to her.
He didn't feel the cold or the snow melting inside his shoes. Nothing mattered anymore unless it was the state's evidence he was going to turn. He was sick of the killing. The immoral, horrid way of life he had lived.
Why would they kill a mob boss when his wife and ten year old child were with him? They had done nothing. Especially Jess. An innocent child. Why didn't that fatal bullet hit him. It was supposed to. That's why he was there. If his arm had been an inch to the left it would have hit bone. Instead it went through and hit Jess. He wasn't fast enough.
He hadn't felt the pain until now. The pain in the arm and the multiple bruises in his chest and gut. He lit another cigarette. He laughed. The damn things would kill him one day. Yeah right. What a bunch of crap. Something else had his name written all over it.
Everyone was gone. He walked slowly through the snow. His legs were heavy, like in a dream. Once he saw the casket there would be no denial.
Jess had changed his life. He remembered the very moment. She had begged him for a year to come and watch her practice ballet. Ballet? What kind of crap was that. A wiseguy, bodyguard didn't do ballet. Didn't think about ballet. Didn't watch ballet. Their relationship had been tenuous at best. He needed to guard her, not watch her dance. He needed to stand guard out front of the studio and protect her from the outside world. His world was simple. Guard her with his life or his boss would kill him.
For some reason that day, Jess took his hand. His hand enveloped hers. It was huge around hers, but hers felt strong. She pulled on him to come inside. When her pleading blue eyes caught his that day the tenuous relationship was over.
He remembered smiling and something flipping around in his chest. It was probably the bullet proof vest. He walked beside her. She was almost skipping.
She introduced him to her teacher who seemed scared and hesitant to shake his hand. There was the bulge under his suit coat jacket. His face did have a scar from a knife fight long ago that someone else had lost. His nose didn't set just right on his face and the part in his hair wasn't a natural but one that was made by a bullet. No one could see a soul in his eyes except for Jess. She had seen it from the very beginning. Even if he didn't know it, she did.
She kept holding his hand as if to say "You're safe with me". He didn't understand. He wasn't a dummy but she had something stronger. Her heart was full of love and compassion. She would show him the way just like she showed him the way to the front row seat. She didn't let go of his hand until he was seated. Of course he didn't let go of hers either.
Her tights were a little too tight, Dan thought, but she was dressed like everyone else. With a swish and a swirl and a rubber band her perfect blond hair was in a bun on top of her head. She automatically walked to the dance bar: toes never leaving the floor and began her stretching.
Before she even started any routine, she laid her heel on the bar and placed her face on her knee and smiled at him. It was at that very moment he knew he would protect her for the rest of his life. No longer was she a job. No longer did he have to answer to his boss. He would only answer to himself.
The last few steps to the cold hole in the ground took an inordinate amount of time. He wanted to run. This was the first time in his life that he was scared. If he didn't see it, maybe it wouldn't be. He took the last step. Again the damn tears. This time he couldn't stop them. His knees shook as this giant turned to jello. He wanted control but his control was in a casket.
He'd kill them all, ran rampant through his mind. Then Jess sauntered in and calmed the rage. "Now Dan you know you can't do that". She left as he looked around trying to find her again. All he saw was the hole. He couldn't stop the tears. He tried but even the tears didn't show the real sadness. The loneliness and emptiness of the last few days.
He reached inside his overcoat and pulled out a wrinkled brown paper bag. He opened the top and grabbed what was inside. The old beat up pair of ballet shoes she had given him about a year ago. They were pink of course with long ribbons drifting off the heels.
He looked at them hoping but knowing. He couldn't save them. They reminded him of too much. They caused too much pain. She needed them. He was sure no one put a pair in her casket because no one knew her the way he did. He knew her passion and all of her secrets. He was the only one in the world she trusted with her soul. He knew that because she had told him. They never lied to one another. He had never thought of having children but if he did, he'd want one just like her.
He dropped the shoes onto the casket. Luckily they stayed on top in the wreath of flowers. He would have hated to crawl down there. He laughed at the silly thought. She would have laughed too. She laughed at all the silly things he did. Especially when he tried to be a ballet dancer.
When he'd lift her in a pose and fly her through the air she would giggle but hold her pose perfectly until he touched her down.
He whirled pulling his gun.
"Dan it's me. Randall." He instantly had his hands in the air and stumbled backwards falling on his ass in the snow. The blank no soul look was staring at him.
"Where the hell did you come from?"
"I was behind the big monument over there."
He pointed to the huge monument put up for Jess' father. It was a gaudy thing. The mob boss had it done a few years previous knowing he'd catch it sometime down the road. He was always prepared except for this.
"Dan slowly put away the gun. "Have you got anything?"
"Yeah. Here's the guy's name, number and address. Since they didn't kill you he figures you're coming."
Dan took the torn piece of paper.
"He figured right."
He started backtracking through the same tracks that lead him to the grave. He was alert again. He had slacked off for a second and look what it got him. He had to keep his wits about him.
"Dan, wait up."
The informant tried getting to his feet twice, slipping both times in the snow. Finally getting upright he ran to catch up.
"Dan, don't go after these guys. They're waiting for you. Turn state's evidence. Stay alive."
The man waited for a reply. He got none.
"Really Dan, that will hurt them more. You worked for them. You've got the goods man. There's no better time than now to use your get out of jail free card."
He waited as the big man kept walking one stride to the informants two. He grabbed Dan's arm and tried to spin him around. Dan seized him by the collar and lifted him straight up into the air.
"Don't do this Dan."
The blank black stare was horrid. The man shook in the breeze. Dan threw him on his ass in the snow and walked away. The man had to get up. His ass was getting wet.
He wanted to go after his friend but he knew there was no changing his mind. He turned to the opposite direction, looked all around, then took off on a dead run. He'd leave town now. This was no place for him at the moment.
"Don't go." Kept running through his head. It was her voice. That soft, kind, magical voice that could make him do almost anything. He'd let her put makeup on him. She made corn rows in his hair. There wasn't a tutu big enough or he would have been in one of those. She did get him a set of tights he wore with pride. He even helped the teacher on more than one occasion. The teacher choreographed different dance routines for the two of them. He was even surprised at his grace, form and lines. He wasn't surprised at Jess'.
"I will go. You're not here dammit. You can't tell me what to do anymore."
He slammed a clip of fifty calibers up the butt of one of the many Desert Eagles that were draped all over him. Seeing that each held seven rounds; fifty six with ten more clips should do the job. He wrapped his overcoat around him and his friends. He had killed two of the shooters that night. He wanted the third and the man that ordered the hit. There would be an army waiting for him. There was a knock at the door. He pulled his favorite friend and walked to the side of it.
"Who is it?"
"State's Attorney, Dan. Let me in."
"Go away. Got nothin to say."
"Let the law handle this. Tell us your story. We'll put you in a new witness protection program. No jail time for you. We'll protect you."
"Yeah like you protected Jess. All you guys are just words. Go away."
"You know Dan I'll have to arrest you if you do anything stupid."
Dan snapped back. "Who the hell is stupid. You're a bunch of idiots believing your laws mean a damn thing to these guys. There's only one law they understand. My law. Now go away and do your job the best you can. I'm done talking."
Dan walked over to his liquor cabinet. He hadn't opened it for years. Probably since the day she held his hand for the first time. Something dropped in the bottom of the tumbler. He wiped the others away. He poured so many fingers he should have just drunk out of the bottle.
He kept hearing the stupid State's Attorney trying to convince him. Men like that would never understand. These men understood only one law. Kill or be killed. Survival of the fittest. That was his dance studio. And he was real good at this routine. They should have killed him when they had the chance.
Night shadows were drifting in and around the sanctuary of the man that killed Jess. Dan was waiting. He kept hearing her voice. It was the purest torture he had ever been through. He had been through a lot in the mid-east. It was time now. He had to shut his thoughts off and do what he had done best at one time.
The giant of a man moved like a panther. The black charcoal on his face and hands made him look like the Grim Reaper. Quietly and quickly, with the butt of his friend, he went about nullifying the outside perimeter. The inside would be doing a check in a minute. Within seconds of the calls he was inside the house and four more men were down.
There would be his two left. Three steps at a time and the staircase opened to a large open area. The man that killed Jess was supposedly guarding his boss' bedroom door but he was asleep. Dan walked over and with one one punch knocked him out. He zip tied him. He'd come back for him to make the last seconds of his life as painful as he could.
He walked through the bedroom door. The man and his wife were asleep. At the boss' side of the bed he pulled two friends and then put a knee on the chest and one gun to the head of each. It kind of stirred things up.
The man yelled his cowardly pleas until Dan shut him up with the butt of his friend. The woman was beautiful and naked. Dan took an extra look then said. "Put a robe on then sit in that chair.
She did as she was told. Dan threw zip ties at her feet and told her to put them around the chair and her ankles. She did as she was told. Then he did her wrists to the arms.
"Are you going to kill us?"
He didn't answer. He walked out and and got the killer and dragged him into the bedroom. Very unceremoniously and a little on the rough side he threw him at her feet.
She asked again. "Dammit, are you going to kill us?"
Again he didn't answer. He grabbed the mob boss by the hair and politely lifted him out of bed and sat him in the other chair and zipped him up. He shook some hair out of his hand and straightened up. He took his time to look around the room. More than likely he had plenty of time to make the two men miserable enough that they would beg to die. He'd start by breaking fingers.
The light from the two night lights was the only illumination. He liked it. It reminded him of Jess for some reason. The woman opened her mouth to talk. She looked at the black blank stare from hell; she shut up.
He walked over to the bed and sat. He smiled when he saw blood on the boss' pillow. He was going to have fun now. It had been a long time. He didn't realize how much he missed it.
She butted into his revelry. "If I told you where you can find everything you need to give to the cops, will you let me go."
He stared but didn't say anything. There was turmoil going on in his brain.
"Behind the nightstand. Pull the drawer out all the way. There's a button on the right. Put his left thumb print on it and it will open to the safe."
He looked at her and smiled. He got up and pulled his large knife. He grabbed the man's thumb and whacked it off. The man screamed. He let him scream for a moment then gave him a right cross that shut him up.
He had to give it to the woman; she didn't flinch.
He walked over to the nightstand and pulled the drawer and there was the button. He put the bloody thumb on it and it opened. The woman gave the combination to him quickly. He opened it and there in front of him was money and books. Lots of both. He sat back on the bed.
He threw the thumb across the room then something strange began to happen. A soft glow of sparkling water started at the floor. Dan grabbed for one of his guns. It was swirling as if it was a small water spout. It rose from the floor spinning and then slowly a figure formed. Within seconds right before his eyes Jess was there. The water kept swirling but there she was in the mist with that smile that could melt the hardest heart. She was holding her pink, beat up ballet shoes.
He reached for her but all his hand touched was air.
"Jess" His voice cracked.
"Dan, this is enough. You are not like this any longer. You're my Dan, not theirs. My Dan doesn't do this."
"But Jess they killed you."
"My job was done on earth. I changed you."
The water dropped to the floor. He grabbed for her and got nothing. In seconds the water disappeared. He kept staring as his eyes glistened then tears dropped to the floor. Stunned he sat there not knowing what to do. He looked around to see the woman as stunned as he. The woman knew better than to say anything. She thought maybe it needed to sink into that big skull.
His head dropped and caught by his massive hands. There was no way they were going to stop the rivers flowing from his eyes. Why him? Why Jess? Why did he matter! He should have died, not her. She was beautiful. He was horrid. Why would she believe all that crap. He wasn't worth it.
He felt her soft, strong hand on his face. It made him cry harder. The Grim Reaper was much easier to be than what she was asking, especially without her. How could he be without her.
A few minutes passed before he caught his breath. He wiped his face with the sheets. He stood and stared at the woman. That same black blank soulless stare from hell. She shivered. He walked to her with the bloody knife in his hand. All she could think of was that whoever Jess was, she hadn't made any difference. He was going to answer her first question in the affirmative. She closed her eyes. She didn't want to see it coming.
Next thing she felt were the strips being cut. She opened her eyes. His were different now.
"You've got five minutes before the cops show up."
She didn't say a word. She got up quickly and threw on some clothes and sheepishly went to the safe and pulled out a bunch of cash and slipped it into her purse.
He pulled his phone and called the State's Attorney. The man answered.
"Come and get him." Was all Dan said.
He looked around the room one more time. This was the last of it and for the second time in his life he was happy. Jess would find him anywhere and that's where he was going. Anywhere there was a pair of pink, beat up ballet shoes.