The story so far:
Carlos stepped out of the sedan. The door and his knee joints both popping with the effort. These are the instruments by which the advancement of age plays its sad, unstoppable song. The door offered a rusty, metallic thud, and his knees a hollow, almost liquid, pop. His leather cowboy boots scrape the pavement as he sets his feet. He was too old for this sort of thing, even feeling a moment of regret for all the decisions that had led him down this path. That regret was also part of getting older he guessed, and he swept it and the ensuing guilt aside like the feeble attempts of a dying man, trying to hold onto one last thing in this world before it was gone forever. Old or not, he had a job to do.
He glanced over the cracked hood of the old car, from behind his tinted aviator glasses. Martin’s apartment was right in front of him. He paid special attention to the curtains shading the windows. Looking for some sign of Martin or Jacob or both, but the curtains did not move. Both of them knew the sound of his sedan, a sort of dying, lurching series of gasps, that became instantly recognizable to any that spent time around it. The should have been at those curtains when he pulled up.
He felt fear jolt through him, like a coiled snake unraveling in his guts. The sun, which a few moments ago was only enough to keep the chill out of the cool wind, now seemed hot and searing. A drop of sweat oozed out one pore and rolled down the side of his face before finally coming to rest in his thick black moustache. Knowing Jacob, he would have been at the window. That man could never sit still. Something about his anxious eyes absent from those curtains just did not sit right with Carlos. He controlled the fear like he controlled the guilt. To a man his age, battling human emotion was an old tired dance. One he reckoned he didn’t have much time to bother with. Even suppressed, that fear jittered and bounced at the edge of his mind.
Carlos carefully looked down one side of the street and then another. The road and sidewalks were empty of any traffic or pedestrians except two boys tossing a football between each other and a woman jogging, her butt jiggling in a way that would have been arousing to Carlos if his mind had been on it.
He crossed the street in a slow stroll, his eye on the curtained window. One hand scratched his chin, an old nervous habit. The other went to his waste, feeling the hard bulge of a .38 cinched between the waste band of his jeans and his advancing gut. That was a comfort.
The door to the apartment building was open, and the lobby was quiet as he stepped in. The old floorboards creaked under his weight. Martin’s apartment was the second door on the right. 102. Somewhere else in the apartment he could hear a television, muted by distance but still recognizable. He advanced down the hall in the same slow stroll he had used to cross the street. He would appear calm, and lethargic to any outside observers, and it gave him time to analyze his surroundings.
The door to 102 appeared in front of him. The metal ‘2' of 102 hung at the slightest angle. He used one hand to jiggle the door knob and kept the other free and ready to pull that .38 if he needed to. Once he felt satisfied that it wasn’t locked, he turned the knob and started in. The thought of knocking never crossed his mind. Somewhere in the trenches of Carlos’ mind, it had already been decided that Jacob and Carlos were not here. Or they were dead.
Before he was fully into the apartment, he smelled the blood. He closed the door with care, and pulled the .38 from his waste band, thumbing back the hammer as he did so. Once again his body moved forward in that slow stroll, while his mind tried to absorb every detail. It wasn’t just the slaughterhouse smell of blood he detected, but something sour and foul, like the way public restrooms smell. That was death, as sure as Carlos knew anything.
The door into Martin’s apartment opened into a small hall with an adjoining closet, which led into a compact living area. The bedroom with the windows overlooking the street was on the opposite side of the living area. That was where Carlos found Martin’s body propped against one wall, his legs sprawled out and his hands still clutching a bloodied handkerchief. His head slumped on his chest, like he was drunk and passed out instead of dead.
The room was clean, except for Martin’s corpse, and a closet with a heap of clothes and books piled on the floor. Something about the mess caught his eye. It did not look like the design of a careless person, who throws their stuff in a closet like this until such a time that they would be able to sort them or wash them. Instead, it looked as though they were propped against and around something as way that might conceal whatever they covered. He mulled this over in his mind, but decided not to investigate right away.
Instead, he eased the hammer on the .38 down and walked to the window. He had to nudge one of Martin’s hands away with a booted foot, so he could peer through the curtains, much in the same way he had expected to see Jacob when he arrived in his old sedan.
The kids still tossed their football across the street. The jogging woman with the jiggling butt was nowhere to be seen. His sedan sat unattended on the street side, a near lifeless hunk of metal, like the automobile counterpart to Martin’s corpse. All of those things were expected. It was the unexpected that sent another jolt of fear through Carlos. This time the snake wasn’t just uncoiling in his guts, but writhing. He tasted stomach acid in his mouth.
A police cruiser was parked behind his sedan. The officer was just now stepping out of his car. His face was expressionless behind the same type of sunglasses that Carlos himself had on. Once the officer had gotten a look at the sedan, and the out of state plates bolted to the back he glanced at the front of the apartment building.
Carlos took a quick step back from the window, the curtains moving back into place as he did so. Though it was hard to say for sure, it had seemed like the police officer had looked right at the window Carlos had been standing at. He knew his instinct on that was right even before he heard the officers boots scrape their way across the pavement toward the apartment building.
He stopped for one moment, and gathered his thoughts. He knew he had to leave, and fast...