Her eyes were filled with tears when they met.
He stood in darkness, hoping he wouldn’t be seen.
But she saw him. Her eyes were so young, so innocent, to see such terrible things.
He wasn’t much older, but he had already seen many terrible things. Done too many terrible things.
She dropped to her knees and cried the kind of crying that only sweet things do when all the sweetness in their world is taken away.
He should have killed her, that was the rule. In fact, she might have wanted death.
He drew the arrow.
Lined up the shot.
Pulled back on the bow.
Yet he only watched.
She saw him again. All the sweetness was gone. All that remained was confusion, sorrow, and rage. Lots of rage.
In that moment, he felt something.
But that kind of rage is inescapable.
Pen opens his eyes to see cheap linoleum through a padded circle where he face rests. Slowly, the feeling begins to return, especially when he feels a tug on his back.
“Ouch.” he murmurs, as the padded circle muffles his words.
“You are awake.” Someone replies. They are standing beside him, leaning over the table where he lays. Their voice has a hint of an accent, Russian, maybe from an eastern-block country. “You are quite resilient.” he adds.
“I’ve had practice.” Pen comments, quietly.
“So I see.” the Russian man says, equally quiet.
Pen can hear the discomfort in the man’s voice. He may be older, and seen much, but as usual, they haven’t seen the likes of Pen Delaney.
They remain quiet as the Russian man does his work. Pen can hear the club’s bass thudding through the floor. He guesses they are in one of the rooms on the second floor, at the back of the bar. The height of the table and padded circle his face rests in suggests a massage parlor. He hopes they have strict policies regarding equipment cleanliness.
“Did I hurt you earlier?” the Russian man asks.
“You were making noises, like you were in pain.”
Pen remembers flashes from his dream. It is usually the same kind of dream. At least this one didn’t get to the end. He’s never known if he has made noises when he slept, but if the dream ends like it usually does, his usual reaction isn’t quiet moans. It is loud, and traumatic, and never goes away.
“There! Finished.” The Russian man says.
Pen swings his legs off the table and gets to his feet.
“Careful! The stitches might tear!”
Pen gets a look at his doctor. He’s a tall, older man, with a solid frame. He steps back from the table, leaning on a cane that, like the man, isn’t fancy or special. But both are solid and built to last. Despite his cane and advancing age, he stands with a purpose and authority. On a hook near the door is a suit jacket that matches his pants, both simple brown. His plain, white shirt, with an outline of a undershirt beneath, has Pen’s blood on it. The sleeves are rolled up and he wears latex gloves on his hands. He’s the kind of man who always wears a suit, each and every day. Normally, he takes care of himself and his image, unless there work to be done. He’s not one for excess or expense. He’s the kind that shaves everyday, and always keeps his thick, grey hair well kept. He’s old-school all the way. But beneath his simplicity is a man who knows too much, and has seen too much. He knows the value of keeping things simple, especially in a world that continues to get more and more complicated.
“Boris Stromberg, I presume.” Pen says as he reaches behind him, feeling for the newest scar. He feels the fresh stitches and wetness.
Boris nods. “And you are Iron Bow, correct?”
Pen returns his attention to Boris. “When I’m working. Otherwise, it’s just Pen.” He offers his hand. “Thanks for the stitch-job.”
Boris smiles, he waves his left hand, as if saying ‘forget about it’, then shakes Pen’s hand with his right. His grip is firm and sincere. “Thank you for your help. Zoey is very dear to me.”
Pen nods. After they shake, he leans on the table.
“You are still weak. You may stay here until you are well enough to travel.” Boris offers.
“That was the plan.” Pen replies, smiling, knowingly. “But I won’t be staying long. I have business elsewhere.”
“With Ms. Pry, correct?”
Pen glances up at Boris, before straightening up.
Boris smiles. “It is my business to know things. I know you, and now I know her.” he nods solemnly, remembering. “She and her friend came to see me only a couple of days ago. At first, I wasn’t sure who she was. But I remembered before she left. I see so many in this line of work. But once I knew, I could not forget.”
“What did she want?”
“Originally, it was a local matter. But the memories of her past returned more quickly than the memories of mine.” He looks at Pen, catching and holding his gaze. “They are tearing her up inside.”
“I know. It’s why I’m here.”
Both men stand silently, reflecting on their past and connection to Andreas Pry.
“Do you know–” Pen starts to ask.
“She left Canyon Beach.” Boris cuts in, adding, “But she didn’t return home either. She’s unaware of…” he trails off, a questioning look on his face.
Pen looks at Boris, curious. He walks around the table and leans on the edge of it, crossing his arms. “Unaware of what?”
Boris doesn’t respond, but Pen’s gaze grows from curious, to serious, to severe.
A small, calm, diplomatic smile touches Boris’ lips. “Any threat you attempt would be futile. Your vehicle was removed the moment you walked through the front door. Your equipment is gone. This is my place. I make the rules. The information I gather protects me and mine. It is yours, for a price.”
“I don’t threaten people, mate. A ‘threat’ implies a lack on conviction. Do I look like a man who lacks conviction?” he leans to his right, dropping his hand to a lip just under the table. He straightens up and holds the small, stainless-steel hook used to stitch him up in front, between him and Boris. He looks at it as he turns it in his fingers. “The vehicle was a loaner. I left the keys in it. I wanted it to be stolen. My equipment is safe and sound, but I can work without them.” he looks from the hook, to Boris. “The information I want, won’t protect you.”
Boris stares daggers at Pen.
Pen looks back with cold, purposeful eyes.
Boris begins to smile. “And here I thought you were a hero, protector of Australia.”
“This ain’t Oz, mate.”
Boris chuckles, nodding. He holds up his hands. “Fair enough, I surrender.”
Pen lowers his hand holding the hook. “Then talk. Unaware of what?”
“Not a what. Who.” Boris replies, lowering his hands. “He is known as Jericho Mars. But his real name–”
“I know who he is.” Pen interrupts. “He’s found her?”
“Not exactly. But he’s closing in, using various, underworld connections.”
Pen nods, digesting the information. Finally, he looks up and hands over the hook.
Boris takes the hook and drops it into his pocket. He turns, removing the latex gloves, and dropping them into a waste can near the door. He reaches up, takes his jacket off the hook and drapes it over his right hand, that leans on his cane. “You may stay the night. But I expect you to be gone before nightfall. Follow me, I’ll show you better accommodations.”
Pen nods and follows Boris out the door.
Minutes later, Pen stands in a room that might have been an office once. The windows look out over Canyon Beach as the darkness fades to pre-dawn twilight. Besides the boxes and stacked chairs is a bed that he may never lay in. His back throbs enough to make sleep unlikely. He’s had worse. But it isn’t the pain that drives sleep away. It’s the past. Her past.
He’s so caught up in his thoughts that he doesn’t hear the door open. But he hears the crash of the plastic tray and shattering of glass.
He whips his head around to see Zoey standing in the doorway, the light from the hallway splashing across his back. The stitch from earlier is prominent, but it is just one of hundreds of scars, of all sizes and shapes, carved into his back. When he turns to face her, his chest reveals even more. His torso is a road-map of agony and torture. And these are only the physical ones.
“I’m, I… sorry. I…” Zoey stammers, her eyes unable to look away from the twisted mass of scar tissue that covers Pen like a mad spider web.
Pen slowly approaches. When close enough, he reaches out and closes the door, pushing the tray and shards of glass back out into the hallways.
He goes into a make-shift bathroom and turns on the light. The dirty mirror doesn’t hide his reflection. He has become accustomed to the appearance of his scars. They are easier to deal with than the memories. But he forgets what others must think and feel when they see them.
He takes a small, pen-like container out of his pocket. He opens one end and shakes out a small, red pill. He pops the pill into his mouth and swallows it dry. The friends that gave him his equipment also gave him these, to make things easier, bearable. For years, he suffered with either the pain or the addiction to Morphine and Oxy-Contin. These red pills are neither. They aren’t addictive and they allow him to do what he does, what he’ll always be doing. Atone.
“Pen?” Zoey’s voice comes from within the room, tentatively.
He glances over his shoulder, puzzled at Zoey’s return. He turns off the light and steps out into the room.
Zoey crouches in the doorway, picking up the piece of glass. She looks up, about to say something, but when she sees Pen, she closes her mouth. Her instincts makes her look back to the floor, to continue cleaning. “I’m sorry about before. I should have knocked.”
“It’s alright. Be careful of the glass.”
Zoey quietly laughs. “I pick up tons of broken glass. Occupational hazard.” She puts the last of the broken glass on the plastic tray, beside a plate with a sandwich. She grabs the tray and stands, smiling at Pen. “The sandwich is still good! And I can bring up another glass of something. Or maybe a bottle of water?”
Pen walks over and takes the plate off the tray. “The sandwich will be fine.” He reaches for the door and goes to close it.
She blocks the door with her hand. “Why did you do that?” Zoey asks, as if angry and confused. Her words are halting, tinged with her Irish heritage. She talks as if she were forcing herself to speak. “Why risk your life for no one? What, were you expecting a thank-you shag? Because–”
“No.” Pen says, stopping her. “Just wanted to help.”
She laughs nervously, hiding her eyes as she wipes tears from them. She steps forward and hugs him, tight. “Thank you.” she says, her words muffled against his chest. As quickly as she lunged forward to hug him, she steps back.
Pen smiles, and nods.
“I’m sorry,” she adds, hesitantly, “for what happened.” she gestures to his body, the scars.
Pen reaches for the door. “I’m not. I deserved them.” He slowly closes the door.
Pry: The Ghosts of Promises Past: Iron Bow Copyrighted © 2013 Mark James MacKinnon. Any use of these characters, without permission, is strictly prohibited. Any similarities to individuals, living or dead, is purely coincidental.