The coffee’s hot. Too bitter. Could just be that I’ve had too much and my taste buds can’t take it anymore. I’m on my seventh cup, reading snippets of a paper I’ve already read twice.
Henderson hasn’t moved in two hours. He’s tapping frantically on his phone, a pair of Beats headphones around his neck. He’s looking great. Healthy. A tight t-shirt strained over his muscles, the tattooed arms. Henderson’s been working out since I last saw him, but so have I. He’s oblivious to my presence. I doubt he’d recognise me if I walked right up to him. Two years is a long time. I was skinnier then and had a mop of curly, dark hair.
The street lights have come on, throwing orange light across the almost deserted car park. Henderson is staring out of the window. Waiting. The phone, still in his hands, is staying mute. There won’t be any messages. Not anymore. I wonder how long he’ll wait before he gives up. Realises he’s on his own. Thinking nobody gives a fuck.
Cawley’s put the fear into him. Told him he knows. In a way I was hoping Henderson would try and run. He still could, of course, but I don’t think Cawley would let him. Not now. It’s too late for that.
I get up and pay, and leave him to it. Henderson doesn’t even turn, just keeps on staring out the window, watching, waiting. I make my way to Cawley. He’s down the road in his cruiser, half a sandwich in his hand, a bottle of water on the dash. I open the door and get in. He looks at me and gives me his cop stare. Same one my dad used to have. Intense, threatening.
“There’s dried blood under your nails,” he says, crumbs falling from his mouth. “You’ve gotta be more careful, Rob. More thorough.”
“Sorry,” I say.
“Think you can handle this one on your own?”
I hadn’t thought about it. Cawley took charge on the first one. Second time, he let me have a go. Stood back on the third. There’d always been the comfort of him next to me, knowing he was there. Watching over me, keeping me focused.
“I think so,” I say.
“Don’t think. Be sure. We can’t fuck up now.”
I look down at my hands, the dried blood under my nails. I won’t make the same mistake twice.
“I’m sure,” I say.
He takes me to Henderson’s house. We park a few streets away, walk the rest.
“Just stick to the plan,” Cawley says. “Keep your cool. Get it done and get out. Fuck up and you’re on your own.”
Cawley takes Henderson’s key and lets me in through the back door. I look around. It’s not what I’d expected. Expensive furniture. Gadgets. Shelves packed with books and video games. Everything’s spotless. There are no dirty dishes or empty bottles. No signs of drugs. Maybe he’d changed. Maybe we’d both changed.
I make myself comfortable on the couch. Cawley’s hiding somewhere out back. I’m calm. I shouldn’t be, not after all the coffee. I put two fingers on the inside of my wrist. Count. Fifty-four beats per minute.
I look at the scars on my arms. The burn marks. Most of the scars are hidden beneath my shirt. My pulse is getting faster.
Slice him open, Henderson had told the others. Slice the fucker open. They’d broken into the house, and found me. I can still feel the knife cutting into my skin. Can still smell my burning flesh. He’d laughed as I lay crying on the floor, begging for my life.
My heart’s racing. Hundred and twenty-three beats. I hear the front door and get up. Henderson walks in and stops dead in his tracks.
My turn now.