“Look out!” the stranger yelled. Startled, Mike looked up and suddenly saw the truck barrelling toward him. He jumped back in the nick of time and the truck just caught the corner of his jacket.
The sudden adrenaline rush started to fade, and Mike just stood there, taking stock of the situation, still alert for anything else that might happen. Soon he became aware that he was trembling violently. He staggered to a bench at the nearby bus stop and sat there, still shaking, wild-eyed and apparently terrified.
Anyone watching him from the outside – but no one was, not in this busy a city – would have seen a pretty typical, if maybe a little extended, reaction for someone who’s just experienced this close a call. But the more persistent and eagle-eyed watchers might have noticed a change come over the man after a few minutes. They might have even detected a twinge of fury in the man’s eyes alongside the shock. But they wouldn’t have noticed it for long, as the man then got up, having regained his stability, and walked off.
Years later, Mike is sitting in his car, waiting patiently for his quarry. His mission, started one day long ago after a barely missed close encounter with a truck grille, is almost over. Only one left.
As he waits he reminisces about his life. It’s possible, of course, that his life as he knows it will end soon, but he doesn’t care. This is too important. He has to do this. For them.
It had started with Lily. Lily had been his and Jana’s daughter and second child. One day as the little family had been walking through a local park Lily had gone exploring a little on her own and recklessly entered a high-voltage cabin that stood there. He and Jana had heard a bloodcurdling scream, then seen a thread of smoke, not knowing what their daughter had done. Rushing to the spot, they found the door of the cabin open, the place damp with the recent rain, and their daughter motionless on the floor. When the EMTs arrived they’d had to wait for the electric company to shut this cabin down. By then Lily had died.
A tear falls down Mike’s face as he remembers his daughter. She’d been the life and soul of the family at a time when her older brother had been far quieter. At four, she had developed a particularly close bond with her father, as children of that age tend to do. The police investigation and trial had ruled that though the power company guy who had left the damn thing open had indeed been negligent, Lily had been reckless. To add insult to injury, he himself and Jana were even put under investigation by Child Protection Services for being “irresponsible parents”.
But he’s shown that incompetent, negligent jerk what’s what. It was a long time coming and took a lot of work, but he’s got closure now. He’s not sure if it helped or not. Maybe tonight…
He checks the time, wondering why the man is so late. He’s found just the right spot to hide, lights off, near the street, where the car could for all any passersby know be parked and empty. As he waits he continues his trip down memory lane.
Jana had been next. Walking near a construction site on her way home from work – Mike wasn’t there – the counterweight on the crane somehow detached itself, its fall seemingly timed precisely to aim at her head below. There the investigation pointed to chronic mismanagement of the maintenance of the company’s cranes. The responsible engineer was fired and fined – more for the damage the arm of the crane did when it fell onto the construction site – but that was that.
Mike stifles a smile at the thought of what that doofus must be thinking now, after what happened to him. But the smile isn’t enough. The first tear is joined by a few more. That wasn’t the end of his suffering.
Following Jana’s demise, Mike managed to live fairly well as a single father with his son Dan. His name wasn’t Dan, it was George Daniel, but he’d preferred Dan so everyone had called him that. Things went well until Dan was in high school.
One evening Dan went out with some friends. Mike knew his son, he’d never been involved in anything shady. Probably because of the family’s losses the two had formed a closer bond than average and both become very careful, cautious people. Dan aspired to join an Ivy League university and only hung out with nerds like himself. Nobody in that circle of friends was likely to be up to anything iffy.
So when he’d received a report that his son had been accidentally shot in the crossfire between two gangs while walking along his usual shortcut on the edge of the risky suburb, Mike had had no reason to suspect anything. And indeed the police investigation found nothing damning. But they also didn’t do anything, considering gang violence was just too hard to pin on anyone in particular.
But Mike had ended up alone, his family stripped from him by ridiculous accidents. A little voice had started in his head about a year after Dan’s death, an unwanted, unbidden, unprovable and ridiculous rationalization of the events, a kind of conspiracy theory in his mind, a budding paranoia that someone – he didn’t believe in fate – was after him and his family. He knew it wasn’t likely to be remotely true, and that coincidences happen, but even so, somehow he’d found it comforting, in a way.
So when he’d nearly missed blending into the red paint on the grille of that truck, this idea had just built up in his mind, with little left to stop it taking over. He’d gone into a downward spiral, becoming more obsessive about this for months and months, shutting himself off from his friends. And he had hatched his plan.
It had taken years to put into effect. He’d needed to dive deep, very deep into the police investigations to find the exact culprits. He’d somehow managed to infiltrate one of the gangs and score information about who the shooter had been. He’d befriended people in the construction company and electricity provider and obtained information in strictest confidence.
The electrician had been first. Lured to an empty house by a direct call about a short circuit problem, he had found himself sizzling in the kitchen with all-metal countertops that Mike had deliberately wrongly wired up. That had taken care of him.
The crane maintenance man never suspected the man who was staking out his house and daily routine, and the day a heavy air conditioning unit fell on top of his head from the building in front of which he was walking – and where it had just been released by hand – he suspected nothing. Well, he didn’t have time to, as the paramedics had said he’d died on the spot.
And when the hooligan was lured by a phony sext to meet up in a dark corner of the same street, he never expected to be shot. Nor did he expect to be shot by a gun belonging to the rival gang but held by a vengeful father’s gloved hand. That had been the last of the three.
But there had been four. It took him a long time, but he managed to track down the driver of the truck. This was complicated as he lives out of state. But that also makes the task easier, in a way, as the investigation won’t focus on where Mike lives for a while – as long as he pulls this off, of course.
He stares down the street. The guy’s late. But it can’t be long now.
A few minutes later he sees a silhouette appear beyond the turn. He steals a glance at the passenger seat beside him, where the license plates lie. He knows this won’t delay the investigation all that much, but it might give him time to get out of the country at least, now that he has nobody to hold him back.
Focusing back on the silhouette, he waits until the right time, when he can move out quietly. He took an electric car specifically because it doesn’t make any noise. This is crucial to make sure the guy doesn’t move out of the way. A few seconds longer… Just a few more…
He pushes in the accelerator. He just has time to pick up enough speed before his unsuspecting target becomes his final victim. Hit and run. That’s what it would have been, he’s sure. He continues onward to dispose of the car, get back to his own vehicle and make his way home.