A Slow Decline Into Madness

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After hiding all of her weapons and doing her best to tidy up, Lanie took a minute to compose herself upstairs, alone. Her house reeked of testosterone. And yet another male was about to arrive in fifteen minutes. She had texted the social worker to say that she was ready for Dre a little early. Although she had considered telling her to bring him by tomorrow. Or next week. Or in another ten years, when he would be an adult and she wouldn’t be in charge of keeping a fragile, stupid child alive. Bring him by when he could take care of his own self.

Bring him by when she’d disposed of the threats, once and for all.

The feeling of clarity that came from an upcoming mission was strangely absent today. Only yesterday, the little bits and pieces inside the snow globe of Lanie’s life had finally settled. She’d been about to make the most painful but necessary decision of her life, and although she wished things could be different, she’d come to a sort of peace about everything. She felt like she’d learned to let go, instead of slaving away when something clearly wasn’t working. She’d given up something that had always been a part of her, to protect someone that had wormed his way into her life. It had been difficult, but at the same time, it had been necessary, and that had taken the choice out of her hands. She could keep fighting an endless uphill battle, or she could bow out and admit defeat.

She’d been ready. Heavy-hearted, but ready.

And now, she realized that maybe she would never be free. Now that her world had turned upside down again, that she might never get the blood off of her hands. There was no way around it, now that Dre was back in her life: Collins, Haines, Boscovic, and Blanchard would have to die. She would need to have them killed.

No, that feeling of clarity was absent today. Today, she felt like she was trapped in a tiny glass dome in a snowstorm. She’d ignored the plights of those men’s families because she’d had no choice but to work with them. She refused to check in on the women and the little girls, because she didn’t feel like there was anything she could do about it.

But now, she had her own child to protect, and she had to do this right.

The air in her lungs started atomizing. Nope. She couldn’t do this. Jake and Ben, despite their misguided intentions, really couldn’t help her here. But she knew what would help her. Never mind her New Year’s resolution. She needed to indulge in a slightly bloody but very necessary calming strategy. This was worse than any pre-flight anxiety could ever be.

“I’m so sorry, ma’am,” she said into the phone as she flew down the stairs. “I forgot something. Very…important for the care of a child. I just need a bit more time. Can you guys go see a movie, or something? I know, I know. I promise I’ll be able to take him soon. I just want to make sure everything is absolutely perfect.” 

As she shoved on her shoes, Ben called out from his place on the couch. “Jake! We’ve got a runner!”

She wasn’t sure where he came from, but suddenly Jake blocked the door. Hands spread placatingly, he looked like he was trying to calm a spooked horse. She tried to identify an escape route, and his weak points, but to be honest, she wasn’t sure he had any. Not unless she fought him for a half-hour straight. And frankly, he scared her. Sometimes in an exciting way. Sometimes in an annoying way, like right now, when she couldn’t believe she let herself be so intimidated by anyone. Let alone men.

But she knew Jake would never force her to do anything. This wasn’t one of his sneak-attack drills.

“Stand down, soldier. I’m not defecting. I just need a bit of air.” When he glanced at Ben for affirmation, she almost decided to go at him anyway, try to get at least one hit in. Maybe bite him again. Just one drop of blood, and she would be satisfied. A tiny drop. “Ben! I’m not running. Call him off.”

“Can you come here for a minute before you go?” Ben asked, craning his neck to see her.

She threw the keys down onto the side table and stomped over to him. “What? You guys can’t hold me hostage in my own house.”

“That’s not what it is. Here. Sit down for five minutes.” He patted the floor next to him, and with a huff, she knelt down. He proudly gave her a piece of paper. “I’ve been working on it for the last two hours.”

“Mom Checklist” was written at the top. She wasn’t quite sure what she felt as she read it. Items on the list included: Hugs, good snacks, pickup and drop off from school, ask questions, listen, explain things, let him be a kid, spend time together, say I love you.

She stared at the paper in her hand. There was a ringing sound in her ears.

Ben looked down, his eyelashes brushing his cheeks. “I thought of all the things I would have wanted. If I’d grown up with a real mom. I thought of the moms I wish I could have stayed with, like Donia. I thought of the good times I remember with my own mom.”

She got back to her feet and went to the front door. “Okay. Thanks Ben. I need to go.”

“How long?” Ben asked.

“I don’t know. Thirty minutes?”

Ben waved off Jake when he moved toward her. “You’ve got twenty-five, and then I’m sending Jake to track you down.”

Jake nodded at Ben affirmatively. “Here, I’ll make sure she’s not planning on flying the coop.”

She was about shut the door behind her, but Jake had slipped out after her without her noticing.

“Jake, I’m not going to – ”

“Who’s your mark, Lanie?” he asked in a barely audible voice, nudging his foot against the gun she had tucked into her sock, under the hem of her loose pants.

She went still. How had he noticed that? “I don’t know what you’re talking about. And you of all people should know you can’t just ask people things like that.”

“I’m sure there’s a good reason,” he added. “But I’m wondering if there’s anything I can do to help. The last thing you need is an investigation. That could screw up the adoption.”

“If I was going to kill someone, no one would ever be able to trace it back to me. I’m a really good shot.” 

“You couldn’t even shoot Ben when he was lying immobile on the couch, a dozen metres away. You’re off your game. You’re trying to do this in the middle of the day.” He looked at her like she was insane.

“Well, it’s a good thing I didn’t shoot Ben, don’t you think?” She raised an eyebrow, and he looked back at her steadily. It really was a good thing, because then she’d be dead right now, too. “He took me off guard. If I were going to go shoot someone, which I’m not, I’d be ready and take my time. And if I were to do it in the middle of the day, it would be because I was basically in catatonic shock yesterday and didn’t have the energy. Excuse me for having an emotion.”

He touched her arm. “Please, let me help. The last thing I want is for something to go wrong. You’ve had a very difficult few weeks. And I can tell by that mother bear expression on your face that whoever you’re after has something to do with Dre. Maybe the person who caused the car crash?”

They stared at each other impassively. Had someone caused the car crash? No. She had to stop seeing shadows and conspiracies in every corner.

“I know how to make it look like an accident.”

“So do I, Jake.”

“Let me help. That boy is important to me, too.”

She turned on the most plaintive look she could muster. Soon, she’d fill him on her plans, but right now she had to find a way to get the pounding out of her head. “I need to kill something, Jake. If I don’t, this stress is going to do me in.”

She actually felt jittery with the adrenaline of firing her weapon this morning. As glad as she was that she had missed, she craved a second chance with someone who really deserved it. If she didn’t hunt, she wasn’t sure what she’d do.She wanted to see the fear in his eyes as he realized he shouldn’t have crossed her. That regret. The begging, Oh, how she loved to hear them beg, the way she used to beg, and to turn it on them this time, and deny them the way she had been denied. Just like Fork Boy at the airport all those months ago. She longed for the warmth of blood as it drained the disgusting life from a worthless body –

Jake shook her, peering at her in concern. Interrupting her bloodlust. “You’re a mother now, Lanie. This isn’t appropriate.”

She blinked, trying to clear the images. She wasn’t like her grandfather, she reminded herself. But that didn’t mean that Jake got to judge her. “Oh, well, isn’t that just progressive of you. Would you say that if I was a man?”

“It’s a man’s job to protect his family. Ben is family, and he cares about you, and you care about the boy, therefore, I’ll protect all of you as much as I can. Just give me a name.”

Lanie considered his math. An extra layer of distance might really come in handy. But she usually only used trusted hitmen. No one had ever solicited her for a job before. Could she trust Jake? He could be just the person to send after them to keep her hands clean and give her plausible deniability. Although she needed to get rid of those men for practical reasons, she knew that she could appeal to Jake’s moral code to get him to help her. Once he saw what was happening to the little girls, he wouldn’t be able to stand by, she was sure.

But she wasn’t completely sure that she could trust him. Although she could use his prowess, she wasn’t sure that she could send him out alone.

“Price?” At least that would give her something to think about.

“Family discount. How about you take me to dinner?” His roguish grin was as strangely sardonic as it was dark. But she suddenly realized that he was right. If, by some small chance, someone did see her around Henry’s house the day he was shot in a “home robbery gone wrong,” it would screw up everything in Shanghai, even if she was no longer the one in charge of Towers. And everything she’d just fought for.

But…maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if Dre had to go back. They would find someone much more suitable than her.

No. Millions of children were counting on her to make sure Henry Collins and the rest of the sharks couldn’t hurt anyone else.

“Fine. I’ll think about it.”

He put a hand to his chest. “On my honour. Satisfaction guaranteed, or it’s free. Now, about this stress you’ve been feeling.”

“Stress that you caused when you broke into my house.”

He waved that off. “Surely, there’s got to be something healthier than shooting someone? You apparently don’t like meditating. What are some other strategies that you have?”

With a slow smile, she stepped forward and skimmed her hands up his chest, then around his back. Even though it was much less potent, a round with Jake might take less time than tracking someone down at the mall. “Oh, all sorts.” But the problem was that she wouldn’t be able to kill Jake afterward.

Firmly, he took her hands away and held them in front of him. “No, really. Other than distraction? Or bloodshed.”

She shrugged. Her repertoire was pretty sparse. But she had to do something. If Jake wasn’t willing to sleep with her or let her go find someone deserving of her attention, what other options did she have?

He pressed her even more. “Where did you go the last time you were stressed about the child? Surely you had someone who helped you. Ben and I are doing our best, but there must be others.”

She glanced down the street in the general direction of the church. It was Thursday, wasn’t it? She thought back to the sign she’d seen when she’d returned the guitar she’d stolen. Even further back were those few weeks when she’d felt slightly less alone. Almost as if she could potentially succeed at creating a life for her new baby.

“I do know some people who might be able to help me with the kid situation…” she mused.

He quirked an eyebrow, and glanced pointedly down at the bulge in her ankle.

She huffed. “Jake. Think moms in yoga pants with smoothie shakers. I’m not going to sell him to the human traffickers, I promise. I do want to give this kid a good life, now that I’m stuck with him.” Tears sprang to her eyes, and she bowed her head, pressing a hand to her nose. “I never thought I’d see him again,” she whispered.

He pulled her into a hug, his heard muscles squeezing her tightly. “It’s okay. Everything’s going to be fine. And you’re a great mom. Just give me the gun before you go. I’d hate for you to get any inspirations between now and then.”

Thanks for Stopping by!

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