Didn't want her to see me like that. Things being as they are, you need someone to see you as a good person, someone who misses you when you're gone and actually wants you to come back. You need someone to touch you softly, to kiss you for no reason other than they want to. She kissed both of my eyelids before we faded to sleep at night. I needed her, always, to keep me human.  Mary looked at me like I could do no wrong.

She would never look at me like that again.

The man had a pistol, a .38 with a Russian-made silencer screwed into the barrel. He had this in his hand when he kicked in the door to our apartment. The sound she made when he pointed that pistol at her, I'll never be able to forget it, nor the feeling in my chest of glass shattering. He wasn't a pro, and I can only thank God for that. Were he one, that gun would have made a hacking sound, like a sick cat, two quick coughs, and she would have dropped to the kitchen floor, like an empty sack.

My hands up, he asked where it was and that was all he had to say for me to know he wasn't one of Rollin's men, but one of Singleton's. Singleton used amateurs, and Rollins used pros and had given me sovereignty, but Singleton required what I was in possession of. This guy was fresh out of juvie, hair buzzed to the crusty scalp, eyes darting around with every beat of his heart. I told him it was in a shoebox in the bedroom closet, and he told us to walk slowly there, through the kitchen and the living room, to the bedroom, where he told Mary to sit on the bed. Her hands were shaking, and she squeezed them until they had gone white. The closet door was open, and he shoved me down and told me to get it out. The silencer was ice against the back of my neck.  If I survived that shot, I'd spend the rest of my life in a chair. The box was in the far-left corner and he barked, again, to get it. I stretched and closed my hand around it, then turned, stood and gave it to him.

He opened the box with his gun hand and looked like a confused puppy.

My left hand gripped the gun and pointed it anywhere but towards Mary, and the kid, he was too dumb to drop the box, giving me an easy shot at his throat with my right, and I could feel something break in there, under his skin.  The gun was easily ripped from his hand and I wasn't thinking, there was only muscle memory when I put the pistol to his forehead, the tension on the trigger very light, and the gun coughed once and he fell back onto the bed, beside Mary, her face, clothes, hair covered with the remains of his pink mist, and she was looking at me like I was him, and I went into survival mode, telling her to pack a suitcase, and she was like a robot, moving in slow, calculated inches, and I picked up the shoe box and tossed out the worn Nikes, removing plastic-wrapped bricks of powder from a satchel hanging in the closet and putting them in the box, leaving in the satchel most of the cash.

She was slow and I hated to, but I took her by her elbow and led her to the car. We drove to her mother's, across town, her not speaking and me ticking away every mile with an apology, but she kept looking out the window. Her hands were shaking, and she clinched them white. The car was empty of the music of her voice.

When I pulled in front of her mother's, I handed her the satchel of money as an apology for three years. Tell the cops the truth when they ask, I told her, and then I added, Goodbye.

She leaned across the seat, her lips gently caressing the skin of my eyelids, brushing away my tears, and then she was gone, the car, my world empty of her, and as I drove, I took the dead man's gun from my coat pocket and placed it on the seat, where she had been.

I didn't have to act anymore, to pretend I wasn't empty.
Chris Deal