Universe and characters belong to Tracy.
A Good Man
Mordecai Heller didn't think twice when he lowered the gun to the back of Mr. Sembler's skull. There was nothing much to think about after all, other than the distasteful mess his work usually left. The guy was on his knees, hands and feet bound, screaming through the gag.
Ugh, execution style. How passé. But then there was no accounting for taste in his line of work.
He shrugged inwardly and fired.
He and Viktor had dragged the body out of the boot of the car and deposited it into a "rented" industrial furnace (quite figuratively 'deposited' – he and Viktor had a grim joke referring to the furnace as a sort of bank with a high rate of interest. Especially so, these days.)
In the car, Mordecai cleaned his pistol.
"Stop that,' Viktor said.
Mordecai looked at him, continuing to polish.
"You clean it too much. Is clean! Not a spot."
"I intend to keep it that way, thank you, Viktor."
"I wonder what happen if gun is ever really dirty. You have heart attack then," Viktor grumbled.
Mordecai didn't reply. As far as he was concerned the gun was dirtied every time he used it, but he didn't have the words, much less the inclination, to explain this to his partner.
Mordecai's father had been a Vaudevillian performer. He'd spent his childhood watching his father sing while balancing on chairs. At best his father was rewarded with disinterested applause, at worst being knocked off them by some drunken, guffawing jackanapes throwing bottles - his failure quickly eclipsed by a troupe of women showing entirely too much of themselves to said jackanapes. The spectacle turned Mordecai's stomach such that he began to weasel out of helping his father set up the act at the age of eleven. When he thought about it, which wasn't often, he figured he could trace his eventual 'downfall' there. It was only a matter of time until he found a gang to run with, the ranks of which he quickly climbed due to his ability to utterly shut himself off to perform all manners of brutality.
He had, once or twice, wondered from where that ability came. Once, when very, very drunk and unable to shut himself off, alone in his flat, he'd made vague sense of it while facedown in a couch. Watching his father humiliated night after night, shuffling home to the wife and child he could barely support, defeated yet going back each night for more– a bolt of anger struck through Mordecai. That would never be his fate. He would be respected. No one would cross him.
Of course, that meant he had to be willing to do what it took to ensure this. He'd taught himself to shut off the anger and pain and humiliation that ensued when an older boy in the gang taunted him. He also learned to shut out the shame, disgust, and horror when he smashed that boy's face in with a rock.
No boys crossed him, not after that.
The odd thing about the society of bootleggers in St. Louis was the relative closeness of the clans. Such was it was, one was often required to go to the funeral of a rival for propriety's sake. Or, sometimes, as it had been once or twice for Mordecai and would be again, one had to go to the funeral of someone one had recently deposited into a furnace. Mordecai straightened his tie and put on his game face- not, of course, that he ever took it off.
Mordecai hadn't known much about Mr. Sembler. He'd seemed like a decent fellow, decent as they got in the business, anyway. Always had a joke of some sort whenever he and Mordecai had done a deal, which had only been three or four incidents. To his credit Mr. Sembler had managed to summon a bit of a chuckle from Mordecai once, a well-placed crack on a dark occasion, very much Mordecai's sense of humor. He rarely if ever laughed aloud, so it said something of Sembler's comic ability.
But jokes only got a guy so far in the business, especially if that guy was leaking to the cops. That was just bad for everyone. It only leads to a dinner date with someone's triggerman, and on that day it had been with Mordecai. Such was life.
"For heaven's sake, you ape," Mordecai said when Viktor got into the car with his tie in a pathetic failure of a Windsor knot. "Are you ever going to learn to do that correctly?"
"I hate the ties. I never wear the ties!"
Mordecai shook his head, making beckoning gestures with his hands. "Give it here."
"No! Looks fine."
"It looks atrocious. Come here."
Viktor grumbled and leaned towards Mordecai so he could fix his tie. "There," he said, giving the knot a brief pat.
"You're welcome," Mordecai replied.
The funeral was, surprisingly, at the house of Mr. and Mrs. Sembler, more of a small backyard reception than an actual service. Three months had passed and upon finding no body he'd been assumed dead, and no one there was assuming otherwise.
Mordecai and Viktor were careful to keep a low, respectful profile. It was likely no one present knew that he'd been the triggerman, but then again, there was a relatively small pool to choose from. Of course, it wasn't always the usual suspects that had done the deed – everyone had a gun, after all.
It was all black lace and sherry, back pats and tears, the only thing atypical about the funeral was a fortunate break in the rain and a lack of tiresome preaching. It seemed Mr. And Mrs. Sembler were not of religious persuasion, for which Mordecai was thankful. Though he'd long ago stuffed any consideration of Hell into the same dark hole he'd stuffed his emotions, the words of a good preacher could still ignite a tiny, but persistent, spark of flame in him, something he usually had to drown with liquor later that evening.
Some people never drank alone, considered it a bad sign. Mordecai
only drank alone.
A group of old women came out of the house, dabbing at their eyes with handkerchiefs. They gradually parted around a much younger woman, dainty, with tightly waved black hair and golden eyes. Not as glamorous as Atlas's wife, but very pretty with an honest face, she seemed to be seeing to the other's women's grief. An older gentleman took her aside for a word. She listened, smiling sadly and nodding.
"That is the wife. Sue, I think." Viktor said to Mordecai.
Something the older man said made Sue Sembler brighten suddenly, and burst out in a peal of laughter so completely encased in delight it was positively infectious to hear. She quickly held two fingers to her mouth to stifle herself, but nonetheless the sound had had an effect like the sun peeking between clouds, if only for a moment. Well, Mordecai thought, it made sense that if Mr. Sembler had liked to joke, his wife had liked to laugh.
He didn't realize he'd been staring at her until she quite suddenly met his eyes over the older man's shoulder. With a sharp intake of breath Mordecai looked away, but the damage had been done, in the split second way it happens with such brief exchanges, from oh you saw me laughing to but that's not why were you staring...
Mordecai cleared his throat. He felt Viktor's eyes on him. He shook it off, went to the modest buffet table, and poured himself a glass of soda water.
It began to rain again and they were drawn inside the house for toasts, as most of the guests were well towards toasted. They mostly stood, though some sat on the odd chair, and, Mordecai noticed, on boxes – as he looked around it became apparent that save for funeral guests the house was mostly empty.
He'd hung up his coat and offered his seat to a pregnant woman. He stood patiently nursing his soda water, listening to the throng regale each other with tales of Mr. Sembler. Andrew. Twenty seven. Fond of poker and whiskey. Bit of a rascal, from the sound of it, and from the lovely tune of Sue Sembler's laughter at hearing the tales re-told. It was the sort of laughter that made one want to join in, not because the joke had been particularly funny, but for the pure pleasure she took in laughing – it had a recursive effect – the punchline was told, general laughter, Mrs. Sembler's laughter, then redoubled laughter. Mordecai could not help but smile, just a faint bit, but looked at the floor as he did so, because otherwise he would look at her.
The toasts stopped and general milling about began. Mordecai was glad of it because he wanted to leave, but first he had to find Viktor, who'd managed to get out of his sight – hard to believe it could happen, with someone so huge.
Mordecai couldn't find a bare surface to put his empty glass so he found his way to the kitchen. Sue Sembler was there, her back to him, leaning with both palms on the counter as though taking a much-needed rest. When she heard the door she jumped, whirling to face Mordecai. There was a flash of recognition in her eyes.
"Oh – excuse me," Mordecai said. "I didn't mean to – "
"It's quite all right," Sue Sembler said, composing herself. The thin veneer of good cheer fell over her again.
They stared at each other for a moment. Both flushed.
"Is there anywhere I should put this?"
"Oh. Yes." She smiled in a way that didn't touch her eyes, taking the glass and dumping it in the sink atop many others. "Nothing fancy here." She absently wiped her hands on her skirt. "I don't believe we've met…?"
"Mordecai. Mordecai Heller," he said, extending his hand. She took it. Her hand was warm and soft, her grip firm despite her grief.
"I'm Sue. Andrew's wife," she said.
"I know. I'm sorry for your loss."
"Ah. Oh. Thank you," she said, then shook her head. "Oh, hell."
"Nothing, it's just I've heard that over and over, 'I'm sorry for your loss'. I'm beginning to wonder if there's a correct reply at all."
"That's a fine one."
She looked at him for a moment, her expression unreadable. "Have you ever lost someone close to you?" she asked suddenly.
Mordecai was taken aback, and it must have shown, because Sue quickly said, "No, I'm sorry, that's a terribly personal question. You don't have-"
"My father. Nine years ago," he replied. Sol Heller had died after taking to his bed one day and quite simply never getting out again.
"Oh," she said. "I'm sorry for your loss."
"You're right. It's not half bad."
"What else is there to say?"
She nodded. "Not much, I suppose. So, how did you know Andrew?"
I knew him hogtied, I knew the back of his head, I knew his brains spattered on concrete, he thought. I knew he made me laugh once.
He looked away from her. "Not well, I'm sorry to say. I met him on business, once or twice."
"Oh. Buisness. So you're in the business."
"I'm in business, yes."
She looked down, her beautiful long lashes pointing to the floor. "Of course you are." She looked up at him. "There's no ring on your finger, so you don't have any poor, stupid wife waiting to be your widow, do you?"
"I'm afraid I don't know what you mean."
She shook her head then took a sudden step toward him, and it was all Mordecai could do to keep from stepping back out of instinct. She put her soft hand against his cheek, the warmth and gentleness of the gesture startling him.
"Be careful," she whispered. "Keep yourself safe, Mr. Heller."
"I do," he whispered back.
And she smiled, a real smile this time, and Mordecai felt a sudden rush of embarrassment. She was smiling because he'd just as well as admitted what he'd only seconds earlier denied, and he was stunned that she'd managed to disarm him so quickly. On the other hand he felt a genuine rush of pleasure that he'd managed to make her smile at all.
"Thank you," she said.
"Not a problem, I assure you."
Someone was calling Sue from the other room.
Her hand moved from his cheek to his shoulder, where she squeezed for a moment, then let go. She smiled and moved past him out the kitchen door.
"Excuse me," said a gruff voice. Viktor came into the kitchen, sliding past Sue. "There you are." He looked from Mordecai to the exiting Mrs. Sembler and back again and raised an eyebrow.
"Are you ready to go?" Mordecai asked.
It was night by the time they got back to the Little Daisy, the rain beating against the windshield in fat, sloppy droplets. Mordecai's arms were crossed and he stared out the window, letting his mind fall silent.
"Does not trouble you?" Viktor said, after a long silence.
"I feel odd. To go to these things, sometimes."
"Does not bother you? Even a little? You blow her man's brains out, throw him in furnace, she dressed in black, crying, and you just stand in kitchen and talk like nothing?"
Mordecai looked at Viktor, incredulous. "Don't be silly. It's my job."
Viktor didn't reply.
"Death is part of the risk one assumes when getting into this line of work. Mr. Sembler made a bad career choice that led to my having to perform one of my many job responsibilities, nothing more." He straightened the cuff of his shirt. "Ask me, he was irresponsible with that woman. I've never understood why a man in this business would take on a wife when she's got a better than average chance of being made a widow."
Viktor snorted. "Yes, so the man who killed him can come to funeral, make eyes at his wife."
Mordecai was silent a split second longer than he had to be. "Oh, do be quiet," he said.
They pulled up in front of the Little Daisy. The rain was beating down relentlessly. Mordecai reached into the backseat for his coat and felt nothing. He patted around, then turned and looked.
"Damn it," he said softly.
"I've forgotten my coat." He looked at his watch. It was nine thirty. "It's too late to go back now. I'll go retrieve it tomorrow."
"No you won't. It's gone tomorrow."
"She is moving in morning."
"You've got to be kidding…." Mordecai began, but then he remembered the empty house, the guests sitting on boxes. "Son of a bitch."
Viktor shrugged. "How much you like coat? You like coat you go now. Or you buy new coat."
Mordecai sighed. It was his favorite coat, and Viktor knew it. Frustrated, Mordecai held out his hand, and Viktor gave him the keys. Mordecai climbed into the driver's seat and put the keys in the ignition.
Viktor punched him lightly in the arm.
"What?" Mordecai snapped.
"Get only the coat," Viktor chuckled, and winked.
"For Christ's sake, " Mordecai said, slamming the door shut.
Mordecai was frustrated with himself. Forgotten his coat? In this weather? Where in the world had his mind been? He could be having a nice warm mug of coffee in the Little Daisy right now, not driving for an hour in this sludge, back to that house, having to disturb Mrs. Sembler in the middle of the god damn night like a god damn fool.
The rain was so heavy he could barely see, and being much smaller than Viktor, he'd had to adjust the seat quite a bit before his feet even touched the pedals. Sometimes he forgot why Viktor always drove, now he remembered. Evasive maneuvering was probably completely past him in this jalopy.
Finally he pulled up in front of the house. Thankfully some lights were still on. He got out of the car and sprinted for the door, still managing to get a decent soaking. Lord, how undignified, ringing this woman's bell like a drowned rat. He sighed and pushed the bell. He'd go in, get his coat, and leave, simple as that.
A moment passed. He saw a light turn on through the mottled glass of the door, heard footsteps. Mrs. Sembler opened the door. She wore a simple black housedress with a dressing gown pulled tightly around her, and on her lovely face was such an expression of pure, unadulterated exhaustion and grief that Mordecai was struck speechless.
"Mr. Heller!" she said softly. "Oh, you're soaked. Please come in."
He did, unable to take his eyes off her. As rich and honest as her laughter had been, was as deep and evident as her pain now. It made him deeply uncomfortable, yet he couldn't look away.
She stared at him a moment. "What brings you here?"
He snapped to attention. "I'm sorry to disturb you, only I've left my coat."
An odd expression came over her face. Her eyes widened and her cheeks flushed. She held her hand to her mouth. She looked…embarrassed, somehow, though Mordecai couldn't imagine why – if anyone was embarrassed it was he.
"I just came to get it," Mordecai said. "I won't be but a moment. It's just in the living room, I won't trouble you…." He began to walk past her.
"No! Wait," she said, taking him by the arm. "My great aunts are sleeping in there," she whispered, holding a finger to her lips. "And your coat…your coat isn't there anyway." She looked at the floor, again with that odd shame. "Come with me."
She took him gently by the hand and led him upstairs, Mordecai realized with a bit of alarm, to the bedroom. She closed the door behind them.
The room was haphazard, suitcases and boxes lying about. Lit by a single bedside lamp, it had the low musky sent of old clothes, powder, and perfume. The curtains were pulled shut, and he had the feeling they had been for a long time. He could hear the rain beating against the windows.
She looked at him for a moment, looked away. "This is…well, it's embarrassing. And silly. But your coat is…." She pointed to the other side of the bed, where his coat hung on hooks on the closet door, next to a man's hat.
Mordecai was puzzled for a moment, until a gradual realization came over him.
"It hasn't been the same since - I would always hang his coat there when he came home, and – and there's been no coat – he was wearing his when – when he – when he disappeared," she said quickly, as though she were finally letting the air out of an overly full balloon. "I saw it hanging in the living room, and I just…I wanted it near me. I apologize."
"Not at all."
She sank down into one of two overstuffed armchairs by the unused fireplace. "It's been three months since a coat hung there," she said. "It's been nice having it, really. Like an old friend." She glanced up at him shyly. "You must think it terribly silly of me."
"I don't," he said. "Keep it if it's of comfort to you. Just be sure to mail it back."
Her face brightened and she chuckled a bit, as though he'd made a joke. Mordecai had been dead serious.
"You're kind," she said, in a slightly revelatory way, as though she'd just realized this about him and was pleased at the discovery.
"I'm not, Mrs, Sembler."
"Sue," she said. "And I believe you are. Can I make you some tea?" She looked almost pleading, as though it had been years since she'd had proper company. Mordecai didn't have the heart to refuse.
She got to her feet, delighted. There was a still-steaming teapot on a bedside table in the corner with a few used cups. "Let me just wash these out. Sit anywhere, Mr. Heller."
"Mordecai, by all means."
She smiled. "Mordecai." She went down a short hall to the adjoining master bath to wash the cups, and all at once Mordecai was struck by how incredibly, deeply wrong this situation should have felt. He'd caused the her husband's funeral this afternoon, for crying out loud, and now he was sitting in her bedroom, waiting for her to bring him a cup of tea? What in the world was he thinking? He had no business being here! He felt a sudden, near overwhelming desire to bolt.
He looked at his coat hanging by the bed, and heard Sue softly humming while she washed the cups, and was glued to his seat. She came out of the hall and went to the teapot, happily pouring two steaming cups, and he realized this woman had him cornered more successfully than any pistol-wielding thug ever had, purely in that she was so beautiful, and so very delighted to have him there. He marveled at the strength of that force. He could have no more left than cut off his own fingers.
If she knew what you'd done, he thought, she'd scratch out your eyes and spit in the sockets.
"Do you take sugar?" she asked.
"No, thank you."
She turned and walked towards him with the steaming cups, her face flushed and sweet, someone's perfectly enchanting wife, and Mordecai thought in that instant how Mr. Sembler - Andrew- came home to this every night, he hung his coat there by the bed and let this woman dote on him and make his dinner, and then had the gall, the nerve, , to go and make a living at something more than likely to get him killed. What a farce.
She handed him his tea, glowing. "There you go," she said happily.
She sat in the adjoining chair, took off her slippers, and curled her feet under her, looking at him over the steaming rim of her teacup. Mordecai was startled she'd taken off her slippers – Lord, this woman was startling him more with small movements than the explosions from a twelve man gunfight – but more than that, it became quite apparent to him that he hadn't the slightest idea what to say to her. His expression must have been a bit deer-in-the-headlights, because Sue said "Make yourself comfortable, Mordecai. Goodness. You're stiff as a board." She laughed gently and sipped her tea.
He tried, awkwardly, to lean back in the armchair. "I apologize," he said. "This is…odd."
He blinked, at a loss to explain. "It's odd…for me."
"You don't have anyone who's kind to you?"
Mordecai gave it an honest moment's thought. Atlas was a considerate employer. Was Viktor kind? Amiable, to be sure, but kind? What could she possibly mean by that descriptor, anyway?
But then he looked around, remembered where he was and who he was with, and the context became clear.
"Ah…no. Not currently." Not ever. He'd made the odd single night mistake (and, in one case, the odd single night absolute right choice that he fondly recalled for years afterward) but insofar as distinct, long-term "kindness" went, never. Nothing on the level he was certain Sue Sembler provided, anyway.
All for Andrew Sembler to throw away, of course.
"It's for the better," he said.
She raised her eyebrows.
"The business we spoke of before would preclude such…luxuries."
"Luxuries?" She seemed taken aback.
He looked at her. How could he explain that everything about her, from her thick hair to her silk dressing gown, to the way she curled so softly in that chair in this scented room, her low sweet voice and beautiful laugh - to a man fresh out of the rain with a cold holstered pistol at his side, it all sang of a luxury far, far too costly for his emotional account?
"Everyone needs kindness," she said softly, with an edge of pity.
"Seems to me to be an unbearable thing to lose."
"Life isn't about what you lose."
"Then why is my coat hanging by your bed?"
She had been raising her cup to her lips. She stopped and stared at him, hard, and her eyes began to well.
That had obviously been the wrong thing to say.
Mordecai was on the verge of panic. Oh, why did he have to be so painfully awkward? "I'm – I'm sorry. That was not – I didn't mean – I-"
"No no," she said, gently placing her hand on his forearm. She caught her breath. "It's fine. Bless you, Mordecai, you're the first person in months who hasn't spat platitudes and bullshit at me. Thank you." She laughed off the tears as she wiped them away, looking at the coat. "You do have a point. Checkmate."
Something about this put him at ease. He understood having a point. He understood 'checkmate". He relaxed in the armchair. "Well, that's…that's what I do."
She looked at him, bemused, and laughed, a real laugh this time, a Sue Sembler original, and he felt a flush of pride. "That's what you do, hm?"
"That seems to be what I'm doing currently."
"And a damn fine job of it, sir." She raised her cup to clink against his. "Cheers."
"Cheers to that."
She sighed, letting her head fall back. "So. Mordecai. Tell me something."
"Tell me about your work."
"Andrew did. You don't have to pretend with me. I know what you do. I know about the – " she lowered her voice to a faux whisper, "bootlegger's life." She grinned and leaned towards him conspiratorially. "Every once in a while he'd even tell me a story about it. Don't you have any stories?"
Stories I have, he thought. I once saw a sawed-off shotgun at close range pop a man's head like a grape. When I was first getting started I hacked a fellow up, shoved his parts in a trunk and buried it under thirteen feet of concrete but the smell came up through it anyway, so I had to dig the bastard up and haul him into the river. I shot your good for nothing husband in the back of his skull even though a real man should take it in the front. He was screaming like a child right up till the end. You'll be better off without him.
He shook his head. "Not stories for a lady, I don't."
She held his gaze a moment longer, then he sensed something break in her. Her air of buddy-buddy conspiring vanished, her shoulders falling. "Oh, who am I trying to kid, I hated every minute of it. I hated knowing what he did. I was terrified every time he walked out that door. For good reason."
"Indeed," Mordecai replied.
"You're kind in sparing me that. It's better off I don't know, isn't it, because then I'll worry after you. And I do expect I will. Worry after you, that is."
"I will," she said, taking his hand in hers and squeezing. "What would I be without a man to worry over?"
Mordecai shrugged. "Free."
She stared at him, stunned, her golden eyes wide, as though she'd never entertained such a thought in her life. Her expression softened. "You…you're wonderful, do you know that?"
Mordecai felt himself flush. He looked into his cup, now empty. "No, I'm most certainly- '
"Plain wonderful. The bespectacled angel who left his coat at my house." She grinned and rose from the chair, taking his cup. "Let me get you another."
He watched her as she set the cups down, put in new teabags, and refilled them. Her motions were smooth and elegant, like a geisha-girl from Japan. Not that he'd ever seen one, but this was certainly how he imagined one would be, sweet and pale, dark hair pulled back from the nape of her neck, steam rising about her shoulders.
Mordecai felt dizzy. He averted his gaze.
"I'd…I'd had thoughts along those lines. Don't think I'd admit it to anyone but you, though, and only because you said it first. Lord knows I loved him, but he held me in such a state of worry, all the time." She handed him his cup.
"You're moving. Where are you off to?'
"Memphis," she said wryly. "With my great aunts, for now, anyway. Oh, they'll be all a-fuss over me." She gave a resigned laugh.
"I imagine. Perhaps it's time you put someone else in a state of worry. Get into some trouble yourself," Mordecai said, taking a sip of his tea.
She was silent a moment, then set her cup down with a sharp little clink.
He felt a soft hand at his cheek, then lifting his chin, and her lips against his in the lightest, sweetest kiss he never could have imagined receiving from anyone. He was utterly stricken. She rested her forehead against his, sitting daintily down by his knee, almost on his lap but not quite.
"When I said trouble, this wasn't quite what I meant," he said softly.
"Hmm." She slipped her arms around his neck and pulled herself close to him. She was warm and nearly weightless. She nuzzled his chin, the corner of his mouth, soft and hovering, but she was clearly not going to kiss him unless he initiated it, this time.
He was at a loss. He had to do something. She smelled incredible. The recoil of a pistol. Sue's delicate, overwhelming body pressed against his. Andrew Sembler's brain mass sprayed on a warehouse floor. Her hair was like silk, like her silk dressing gown that would be so easy to slip off to her tiny waist, he knew if took his hands off the arms of the chair and put them on her waist it would be over, it would be a foregone conclusion, the warm curve there would drive him mad and he would be lost to this. But Andrew Sembler's bound hands, his screams, the sudden silence as his body slumped lifeless to the floor, this was his woman, and Mordecai – could he, would he, was he the type of man who could kill another man and then fuck that man's wife?
Her soft breath against his neck, her thigh pressed against his, good Lord, he just may be.
She opened her huge, golden eyes right up into his, and never a sweeter, more pleading face had he seen, and it was just at that moment, as the last of his resolve died, that she pulled away from him. She sat up and looked at him with an expression he couldn't place.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. She gave a deep sigh, looked at the floor, than looked back up at him. "I'm sorry, Mordecai."
To which Mordecai are you referring, he thought. The Mordecai that murdered your husband, the Mordecai who walked in your front door this evening, or the Mordecai in your bedroom now scientifically classified as a liquid?
She stood. "I'll get your coat."
Some semblance of consciousness bubbled up from his mind. It occurred to him that it was more than likely appropriate that he say something about now, even though he wanted nothing more than to flow out of that armchair into a puddle on the floor.
"Don't…be," he croaked. He shotgunned the rest of his tea and cleared his throat. "Don't be sorry. You're a beautiful woman."
She slowly took his coat down from its place next to the bed. She turned, clutching it to her chest, and looked at him with that same odd expression he couldn't place.
She smiled her heartbreaking smile. "You're a good man."
Her unreadable expression suddenly made sense.
It was admiration.
She saw him swiftly and quietly out the front door and down the walk to the car.
"Well," she said sheepishly.
"Take care of yourself in Memphis," he said.
She took his hand and squeezed. "You take care too."
He gave a nod and moved away, but she suddenly gasped and grabbed his arm. He turned. Her eyes were filled with terror.
"Don't you - " she began, and stuttered."Don't you go and get yourself killed, Mordecai Heller."
"Sue," he said firmly, peeling her hand off his arm and holding it securely between both of his. "You listen to me. I told you to take care of yourself. Not anyone else. Don't waste space on me, do you understand?"
She nodded shakily.
"You're going to go to Memphis, you're going to start over, and you're going to put this behind you, do I make myself clear?"
"Y-yes." She took a breath, composed herself.
"Good." He took her hand and raised it to his lips. "Goodbye, lovely Sue."
"Goodbye, Mordecai," she said, her voice barely a whisper.
He gave her hand one last squeeze and let it go. It fluttered to her chest as he got in the car, then lifted again to wave as he drove away. It took every ounce of steel, killer's resolve he had not to look in the rearview mirror. It felt like an eon passed until he turned the corner and could finally stop and sink, sink down, sink until his forehead was against the steering wheel, staring wide-eyed into the void under the ignition.
Lord, he thought, what have I done to that poor woman.
His breathing quickened, and he felt on the verge of another void, his soul barreling towards a horror of unbridled panic.
His eyes narrowed. He lifted his head from the steering wheel. He straightened his tie. He adjusted his pince-nez so he could focus on the dark road ahead of him.
He shut off. He went cold.
No, he thought.
Mordecai turned the key in the ignition. He put his foot down on the pedal and pressed it to the floor, careering down the dusty road.
Whatever had been done to that woman, Andrew Sembler had done his damn self.
Wives and children, every heart around this business broke eventually. He must have known. It had been his risk to take. Mordecai would have put another bullet in the bastard's skull given half a chance.
Better to have given her her life back sooner rather than later, given her freedom back now, before her life and youth were gone.
And that was it.
That was the end of it.
He drove into the coming dawn, his knuckles white on the wheel, searing into his mind the image of Sue, happy, in Memphis, Sue, happy, in Memphis.