The neighborhood hadn’t changed, except for being buoyant and lively, many of the homes were empty shells of their former glory. Roman stopped his car in front of one of the lots, few signs of a house’s existence there. He put the car in park on the curb and got out. He stuck his hands into his pockets and stared. So much history on this very spot. He’d been gone long enough and he was back to claim what was his.
Mrs. Murphy still lived down the block. She sat in her rocker on the porch as the black SUV parked out front. The windows were too tinted to see who the driver was, but she didn’t have to guess. Roman got out and rounded the car and made his way to the porch. Mrs. Murphy stood and smiled a great big smile at her visitor. “Lord have mercy, Roman Kane! You get over here and hug me boy!” she said, reaching out to him. Roman laughed as he skipped up to the porch and embraced the woman. “What’s up, Mom?” he said, almost picking the woman up off the floor. She pulled away from him and looked him up and down. “Pretty Boy Roman, look at you. Still a little lady-killer,” she said. “Pretty Boy” was the term of endearment Roman adopted from his childhood friends. As he got older, his good looks and Filipino roots got him the attention of every girl within a 20 block radius. It was also why his sentence in prison was extended twice-pretty yes, Bitch, no.
“How long’s it been? 10 years?” Mrs. Murphy asked. “9,” Roman corrected.
“9 years. They told me you left town, to take care of your family.” So she didn’t tell her mother the truth. “Yeah, my grandparents. My grandmother just passed,” Roman fibbed, knowing he had no family. “I‘m sorry to hear that. So you decided to come on back to the neighborhood,” she said, patting his arm. “Yes ma’am. I had to come see my favorite lady.”
“Second favorite,” Mrs. Murphy jested. Roman laughed at her joke. “Where is that daughter of yours?”
She looked the same, except 9 years older, more confident, more aware of the beauty she beheld. No more Converse and short shorts, replaced with a gray power suit and black boots. The silky black hair was now an auburn pixie cut, framing her oval face and slanted eyes. Alice sat at the patio table with two other men, their conversation inaudible from across the street. Roman parked his SUV and sat, watching her. She was still beautiful, even more beautiful than he remembered. He looked down at the singed photo. He could still remember when he snapped it: another beautiful summer day before everything had changed. How silly of him to think someone as beautiful as she would wait for him. He could see the diamond ring for his perch; College Boy did well. He looked up at the matured version of his former lover, who was now excusing herself from the table. Roman sat up a little, watching her walk outside of the patio area and away from her colleagues to take a phone call. Roman wondered if it was the husband, College Boy, the man who had stolen her. He felt the scowl form on his mouth at the thought of Alice loving another man. “No way in hell,” he thought. His phone vibrated in his hand and he snapped it open almost instantly. Only one person had the burner phone’s number. “What?” he snapped.
“Boss, we’re waiting,” the man said on the other line. “I’m on my way.”
Roman had forgotten about the meeting so he was the last to arrive. The train yard was almost abandoned, a perfect spot for their business. Lurch, nicknamed for his sheer girth, stood next to two other men, opposite of the pair of white men standing next to a Town Car . As Roman exited his own truck, one of the men moved back to open the backseat door. Another man, older and shorter, got out, adjusting his jacket. “Erik, good to see you,” Roman said, walking toward him, his hand extended. The man batted it away and pulled Roman into an embrace. “Brother, it is good to see you on this side of the fence,” he said before pulling him away. “Good to be here.”
“The business has gone to shit since you left. I hate dealing with these little punks on my own: short-changing, using up their own products.”
“Hey, don’t forget, I used to be one of those little punks,” Roman said, chuckling. “Yeah, well, it was a different time. People got no respect these days,” Erik said, snapping his fingers at the man on his left. He turned and went to the trunk of the car and retrieved two duffel bags. He marched back and handed them to Lurch, who immediately sat them on the hood of the truck and began counting the money inside. “It’s all there. Plus interest,” Erik said, smiling.
“What about the care package?” Roman asked, folding his hands.”
“Already being delivered. Enough for the quarter, like we discussed.” Roman looked over his shoulder at Lurch, who nodded to him: a good sign. “What, you don’t trust me now, Roman?” Erik said.
“I’ve been in prison 9 years. Trust is a luxury I no longer can afford.” Erik shook his head and laughed at the anecdote, gesturing for his men to leave. “I’m still your guy, Roman, always will be,” he said, turning back and re-entering the car.The town car quickly backed up and sped off, leaving Roman and his men in its wake. When he was sure they were gone, Roman turned and walked to the truck. He opened one of the bags, filled with money, and pulled out two stacks-$5,000 each- and handed them to the hired muscle. “Keep those phones on. We’ll be calling,” Roman said to them in dismissal. After they were gone, Roman joined Lurch at his side.
“You don’t trust the old man?” Lurch asked.
“As far as I can throw him.”
“But he tripled your money.”
“He’s desperate. He needs his ducks in a row before he gets ‘retired’.”
“So what do you wanna do?” Roman clapped his friend on the shoulder. “I need you to be my eyes and ears on the ground for a few days. I got something I need to take care of.”
“You got it, boss.”
The receptionist was gone and their security was a joke. It only took seconds for Roman to pop the locks to the doors of WJT and slip to the elevator. The ride was silent, no elevator music after business hours. When he reached his designated floor, he peeked out, checking for security or anyone else who would finger him as an outsider. He made his way down the hall, emotional about the success Alice had made for herself. He was slightly envious but proud of her. She had an opportunity to better herself and she made it, even though it was at his expense. The moaning came out of her office. Roman approached the door and peeked through the crack. Alice sat on her desk, mostly naked, her feet propped up on her chair as someone on their knees gave her the time of their lives. Although this was probably the man who had replaced him, he found himself a little excited. It reminded him of all the nights he had her, the countless evenings she spent quivering in his hands. Except this was not her husband. The woman stood, completely naked from the waist up, and kissed Alice deeply. She wrapped her arms around Alice’s wait and pulled her down on top of her in the chair, Alice’s giggles filling the room.
An hour passed and Roman couldn’t stop his knee from bouncing. He was back in the parking lot, back in his truck, trying to process what he had just seen. Not only had Alice had moved on, but she was tossing it on the side…to a woman? Roman lowered his head onto the steering wheel trying to calm himself but his rage was blinding. Rationally, he knew a woman as beautiful as Alice would not, could not wait 9 years for him. He accepted that years prior, when the visits stopped and the letters became shorter and more distant. She was bound to fall in love again. He looked down at the scar stretching from his left hand and up his arm; he had sacrificed everything for her. She was supposed to wait.
The door of the office creaked open and Roman sat up straight. The woman was exiting, fully dressed and all smiles. Alice had her trapped in her love web as well, next to the corpses of her ex-lovers. Before he could stop himself, he was getting out of the car and walking. He smoothed his hands over his hair and recomposed himself. The woman was at the car of her silver Mercedes when he yelled out to her. “Excuse me! Miss!” he said, in his most nonthreatening voice. Jackie turned and looked around the parking lot, unsure as to who this man was or what he wanted. He put his hands up, trying to pacify her. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you. Do you work here?”
“Yes. My office hours are from 9 a.m. to 4p.m. You can contact me between then,” Jackie said, throwing her belongings into the car.“I’m sorry. I think you know a friend of mine. Alice Jordan?” he baited, still moving closer to the woman. “Alice? How do you know Alice?” He knew he had her full attention now. She moved around the back of her car, closer to him. “Like I said, she’s a friend,” Roman said, smiling slyly. “Look, dude, you need to leave before I call the cops,” Jackie said, growing more and more suspicious of him. She turned to get back into her car. “You know she doesn’t love you,” he said, suddenly. Jackie turned back to him, a wild look of confusion and anger on her face. “What?! What the hell did you just say to me?” she said, slamming the car door back before marching toward him. Roman said, chuckling. Anger took over her and she charged the few steps between them, desperate to teach this asshole a lesson.
The last sound she ever heard was the ‘pop’ of her neck breaking.