Roses and Beach Fires II: Revenge.
Welcome to the end of my short story series you never knew was one. From Love at First Dance to Roses and Beach Fires I. to The Confession and finally Roses and Beach Fires II. I’ve enjoyed making them as much as you’ve read them. At the end of every long journey is a memorable welcome speech. So, welcome to the finale. I don’t know what speech you expected.
All that was left was flesh, blood, and a shovel.
And that was all that coursed through my mind as I stuck metal to dirt and heaved — sixty-five years, from a suckling infant to a bearded, old man without a soul. Without emotions, without strings. Only scores to settle.
Thunder rumbled in the clouds, sizzling, threatening to rip apart and let down the heavy shower it had been holding for days. The air turned cool, and a slight breeze massaged my sweat-soaked face staring at a tree, lost in thought.
I remembered lying in my bed two days ago, staring at the ceiling, at a discolored patch on row two, column three. The sky grumbled, and I sat up to look out the single window in my room. I observed the clouds: gloomy and malevolent, and thought, it will rain today.
If it rained two days ago, a series of light downpours at least twice before today would be in order. The soil would be softer, give in more easily. But it did not rain, and I spent the rest of my afternoon flitting from another patch at the far end of the ceiling to the more central one: row two, column three.
I struck at a part of the earth that refused to give with such force, the rest of me weakened, staggered, bent at the knees, and panting. My body gleamed with salty perspiration despite the cool air.
Summoning strength, I put one foot forward, planted myself, and continued digging. Heaving.
Praying for release.
Mrs. Onyekuzi tilted her head forward, scrutinizing the girl on the other side of the desk behind her silver-rimmed glasses. She held her gaze for a few more seconds and spat in a fit of laughter.
The girl patiently waited, unmoving.
Janet calmed herself, a big grin plastered over her face. Leaning over her chair, she emerged with a bottle of water, still smiling. She placed a hand on the cap. “You see, dear — “
Janet Onyekuzi did a double-take, placed a hand on her chest, feigning surprise. She returned to unscrewing her bottle. “Sassy.”
“There are a few more pages to go, so I’ll continue now.”
“Wouldn’t you rather wait for my husband? You said you were here to see Alex Onyekuzi, right?”
“The recipient isn’t as important as you think. You can pass the message on to your husband, and I’ll leave you with a copy when I’m done.”
Janet now held her bottle of water in her right hand, watching the girl with a scar across her throat. There was something off about listening to a suicide note she wasn’t the recipient of, but who was she to argue? Alex would walk in anytime, and better to keep the oddball entertaining her than waiting.
Sarah’s eyes fixed on the papers she held, but her mind and senses prowled the room. Italian finishing on the desk separating woman and girl betrayed class on Janet Onyekuzi’s part. Apart from that and the plush rug her bare feet sunk into after removing her shoes at the door, the room was plain.
Despite the air conditioner’s constant background noise, a slight musty smell hung in the air. The walls were stripped, bare of any decoration, artwork, or fancy lamps. But Mrs. Onyekuzi reeked of class. Wealth. Why this simple?
It was alright. A befitting grave.
Water gargling down Janet’s throat broke the silence and continued for five solid seconds. The girl remained unmoving across the table, an eerie calm about her.
She screwed the bottle cap back and motioned to Jane. “Well… continue.”
My forehead tightened at the word flying through my consciousness. Praying. Who was I praying to? If there were a God, I would point this shovel at him in an attempt to threaten him. Then bring out the .45 in my back pocket and shoot him. Assuming he could die.
Praying for release? If the bullet hadn’t killed this God, would he answer me? I was a wasted degenerate, and every vein in the flesh containing my essence carried venom. Hate. Revolting hate.
Besides, there was one clip left. I wouldn’t waste it on a 50/50 situation. I had to know whoever collected the bullet’s blunt destroying force wouldn’t be waking up.
I put in a refreshed stance over the grave and went at it again with such blunt force, the earth shook, mounds of dirt flying over my shoulder. Dig. Faster. Deeper.
Flashes of my life sparked in my crowded mind, and everything was coming back, bit by bit, like a projector slide in a presentation room, where each photo is followed by a short speech embellishing and over-emphasizing the captured moment. Sometimes I wish the hunger in me was to write love stories like our own — beautiful, simple, heavenly.
Ending in tragedy. I still write but not about young, vulnerable love separated by death, revenged by more death. My bride, the roses, the beach. My agony. I would have an entire graveyard behind me for that woman. There was an entire graveyard for her cause.
Sarah looked up from the paper at Mrs. Onyekuzi, whose hand was clasped on her mouth. She drew it away slowly. “Oh, that’s beautiful.”
Sarah smiled, studying the plush face. “Remember anything?”
Janet frowned. “How do you mean?”
“Never mind, dear. Continue.” She suddenly lurched forward in her seat, twisting and turning to peep at the papers in Sarah’s hands. “Wait. Did he kill himself? No, don’t tell me.”
The smile didn’t leave Sarah’s face. She glanced at the papers and back at Mrs. Onyekuzi. “But… your husband.”
“Oh, you’ll start again, dear. Quickly.”
I trembled when I felt a cold hand on my arm. I turned, squinting at the figure. “Emeka?”
“Emeka is at home. It’s Sarah.”
Relief washed through me, and I put the shovel down, staring into the void I created. “Deep enough?”
Sarah looked over my shoulder, shook her head, and took the shovel. “You’ve done enough. You need to sit down. Look at you.”
I shrugged her hand off and dragged my tired muscles to sit in the dirt beside the grave I had dug. After a failed attempt at holding my torso up, I crashed into the dirt, panting. The gun in my back pocket nudged my flesh, and my eyes swam, a little array of shiny dots performing in a choreographed movement for all of three seconds. I struggled to focus. “Where is he?”
“He’s back there. I bundled him behind a tree.” Sarah looked wistfully into the night, at something my weak eyes wouldn’t allow me to. “You know, another hour and your precious bullet will be a waste. You had him up in the ceiling for a long time.”
I huffed. “As long as you got the correct one. Row two, column three?”
“Yep.” She started walking away. “I’ll go get him. The tag read Al- something O-something. Not sure.”
I squinted at her departing figure, and when I couldn’t see her anymore, I gave up, returning to look at the night sky. “It’s Alex.”
“What?” Her voice was fainter now, but I could discern the words.
“Alex, Sarah. Alex Onyekuzi.”
The room was definitely colder.
The curiosity written on Janet’s face had wiped off, and she knew she’d heard correctly. She tried to hide her surprise. Victor! She should’ve known. That bastard. It was over 40 years now, and he was still on a wild streak of avenging a dead woman. 40 years.
But she couldn’t panic now. If Alex was dead, she was next. She was the mastermind of the empire that had suffered several hits from Victor in the past five decades, and this would be the biggest if it were going as she suspected.
But she couldn’t show it. She had to be cool. Janet ran her hand underneath the desk to feel for the gun placed there in case of emergencies.
Everyday emergencies. Like this one.
It wasn’t there.
Together we dragged the body to the grave I dug, placing it the best way we thought. Then I dealt my bride’s murderer a hard slap, waking him from his drug-induced slumber. He jumped awake and tried to move his limbs. Realizing he was bound arm and foot, he began screaming.
Tried to. The duct tape didn’t allow sound. I wondered how many similar attempts had been smothered during his time in my ceiling.
He struggled in his binds and released what I assumed was a string of curses or pleading. I couldn’t tell anyway. The duct tape didn’t allow sound.
“I’m not here for a long talk. We’ve had this conversation more than a few times over the years, and the final one three days ago. I’m not still sure if it was your smug attitude that ended you in my ceiling — row two, column three — or your poor attention to detail.”
I grinned inwardly, re-enacting the bloody scene that ensued in our most recent reunion.
“Maybe this will be atonement for your sins, Alex. We will never know. Do I call a priest? Will Sarah here pray for you? Aw, she hates you just as much.”
I retrieved the gun and knelt beside the grave. “I will seek atonement for my sins tomorrow. I thought you should know. Between you and me, there are some pretty terrible things, some of which I’m sure even God won’t forgive if I went to confession again.”
I tapped the gun on my knee.
“The heaviest of yours is that fateful night. Do you remember? The gun in your hand went off to kill me, but it killed Amanda instead.” A tear dropped from my eye. “My Amanda.”
The bound man tried to move, muttering something I could barely hear beneath the restraints he was under. Not that I cared to hear any of it.
I tightened my finger on the trigger.
Sarah retrieved Janet’s gun from the folds of her jacket, carefully placing it on the table. She made an act of blowing the dust off it and looked up at the once-strong figure of a woman whose fingers shook.
“Looking for this?”
“What do you want?”
It was Sarah’s turn to burst into laughter. “Who said I want anything?” she giggled. “Look at you, already negotiating after a simple story. He told me you’d be experienced.”
Three raps at the door.
The temperature dropped. At least for Janet.
“That must be him.” Sarah picked the gun and waved it at Mrs. Onyekuzi. “You just sit tight.”
She observed from her seat the firm swagger in the girl’s walk and wondered what she missed. The scar? The unusual cool?
She watched her open the door slightly, and a long shadow fell on the carpet. The edges were jagged, the stature recognizable. It was him, no doubt.
She watched a wide grin spread on Sarah’s face as they exchanged a few words in low tones, the undertones of his deep voice carrying well into the room. The door opened wider, and the tall figure of a man pulled Sarah into a tight hug. He kissed her on the forehead.
Like father and daughter.
The tall man turned to face her, his face coming into the light finally. The low beard he spotted was grey, fitting oddly with a round bald head. A muscular figure masked his actual age, and the scars on his left hand told stories of war and bloodshed by themselves.
He had an amused look on his face.
He turned back to the girl, raising her hand to his lips. “Goodbye, Sarah.”
The girl gripped his arm and stared into his eyes in unspoken defiance. “Do… do you have to?” Victor sighed and dropped to his knees. “Yes, baby. I do.”
Janet thought she saw her eyes water a bit, but Sarah ran out of the room, slamming the door behind her.
“So, what is this? Did you send a mercenary to kill me? A fucking story?”
Victor faced her completely now, staring at her with empty eyes. He sighed and glanced around the room, looking for a suitable seat.
“You bastard. You killed my husband, didn’t you?”
He was moving now, to the far corner, and ever so slowly. “You mean Alex?” Mocking, condescending even.
Janet Onyekuzi laughed. “I see what this is, you dog. Poetic justice. After all these years.”
Victor was dusting off a seat and settling into it. He made himself comfortable and stared at her again. “Easy on the cussing, Janet. And yes, maybe. Poetic justice.”
Then his mouth curved up in a smile. “I did a good job, didn’t I? How was the progression?”
Janet sat down and crossed her legs. “What do you — “
“No. Shut up.”, Victor cut in. You’re done talking.”
“Over the years, you’ve tried and tried again. You’ve killed other people. People related to me by blood. People I would do anything for. This isn’t for them. This is for Amanda. Everything. Everything has been for her. I’ve nailed a lot of coffins, and you’ll be the last.”
“And well,” he bent his head, using a hand to brush through it. “Believe it or not, Janet. I assumed you’d make the connection by now. Sarah spent an awful lot of time reading that to you. I was stuck standing outside for some time. I find it disrespectful that you ask.”
Janet squinted at him, raising her hands in confusion. “What?”
He raised his head, and she could see the laughter spreading across his face. “You dumb fuck. Of course, I killed Alex. Unnecessary questions.”
Relaxing and crossing his legs, “You know, over the years, I’ve asked myself where it would all end. You know, the fighting, the killing, the running. Running from Alex, running from you, the non-descript shadow behind him. Finding Sarah, saving her. The beginning was the end. The day Amanda died.”
Janet observed his eyes glistened. She looked around the room and wondered if she had enough time to get to any concealed guns while he was distracted.
“All things work together for good, darling.”, she said, trying to edge him on.
“True that.” Victor smiled again. “But this is the end. My life is sort of flashing, you know? Everything is moving. So fast.”
“The end?” Janet trembled, standing up. “Victor, wait, I’m sure we can work something out. Anything. Anything.”
Victor just looked at her.
“I have a daughter, you bastard.”
“The closest thing I had to a daughter ran out the door. Relax darling. I’ll see you on whatever part of the other side we make it to.”
Outside the building, Sarah stared up at the window of Janet Onyekuzi’s office. She looked down at her hand and shivered. Her eyes blurred as she looked back at the window and then everything was unclear, distorted.
She pressed the button of the device in her hand — long and hard — and turned to walk away.
The eruption was loud, violent. The ground beneath her shook heavily. Different sections of the building exploded, screams filling her ears from every corner of the street. As commotion increased around the scene, sirens louder by the second: police, ambulance, and fire trucks, people gathered to shake their heads in wonder; no one took notice of the girl walking away with her hands in her pocket, shivering, and tears in her eyes.