Unfortunately, though, none of the latter kind of problem had been solved overnight. Chef hadn’t expected it to, but it still rankled him that Thomas Halvorsen and Charles Heinegger were still at large. None of their credit cards had been used since the mall shooting, their cell phones had been turned off, and they hadn’t logged into any of the major social networks, either.
Computers are nothing like knives.
His nerd had failed, and not for the first time, leaving footwork to Chef and his PI, Liz. Footwork was tiring, but always satisfying, it brought the feeling of action, even if an entire night was wasted watching an old woman’s house while playing Angry Birds. Chef had once tried listening to an audio book while staking out one of his targets’ closest friends, but the calm British voice had lulled him to sleep. He had been woken by the gunshots from the police who had also been staking out the house, waiting for the criminal – Chef had long since forgotten the crime – to return from a beer run. He hadn’t caught that man, but the world was that much safer, nonetheless.
A bird squawked a war cry as it impacted a crude structure, the pig inside cowered in fear, and still, nobody had moved in the house he watched. Chef yawned and checked his watch.
“You’d make a terrible PI,” Liz said. “It’s only two-thirty, and already you’re ready to call it quits. If this guy does it right, we’ll be here for days and won’t see any trace of him.”
Chef put his phone away and half-turned toward her in his seat. “I get that, but that’ll really get in the way of, you know, my job. I’d really appreciate it if he would just show up like he’s supposed to.”
“Heh, dare to dream,” Liz said. “Until then, we’ve got crappy sandwiches, energy drinks, and each other’s company.”
“At forty-five dollars an hour. I wouldn’t even pay a therapist that much.”
“Maybe you should, and more beside.”
“Because I have to pay you to have a conversation with me?” Chef smiled at her.
“You’re very funny, Chef. Psychologically speaking,” Liz began.
“Oh, Jesus, here we go.” He knew that taking the Lord’s name in vain would eat at her, but she got so cute when people took His name in vain around her. It was one of the few pleasures he took at her expense, and he knew she wouldn’t raise her rates in response. That would be unethical. Chef smiled and prepared himself for whatever speech Liz was going to make.
“Psychologically speaking, what you’re doing isn’t healthy. I get it, I really do. Amberly is lucky to have a man that … goes to such lengths to protect her, but it’s a little crazy.”
“Do you want to know what’s a little crazy?” Chef asked.
Liz sighed, already knowing what Chef was going to say.
“People like Thomas Halvorsen and Charles Heinegger. People that can walk into a public place, armed to the teeth, and knowingly take the lives of other people.”
“Says the man staking out Thomas Halvorsen’s family, intending to murder him as soon as he shows his face.”
Chef gripped the steering wheel. He tried to decide how to explain himself. The car was parked at the edge of a street light’s glow, half of it in darkness, and the other half dimly illuminated. “This is different.”
“Save it, Chef.”
“Not this time, Liz. These two killed fourteen people, all in cold blood. They were unprovoked, they haven’t been living in extreme situations, they’re just kids that wanted something to do on a Thursday night. They walked into a mall, looked innocent people in the eye, and killed them.”
“I’m pretty sure it’s Thursday now.” Liz’s voice was tinged with madness. “You’re the exact same as them. As soon as you find them, you’re going to walk right up to them, armed to the teeth, look them in the eye, and kill them. This is no different at all, and don’t try to tell me that it’s okay because they started it. Tell me, how are you any different than them?”
“I’ve never killed an innocent.”
“They could be innocent again. God forgives everyone their sins. We can all be Saved, Chef, they just need to find The Light.”
A car drove by, pulled into the driveway three houses down from Thomas’ mother’s house.
“God can forgive them all He wants. Until that day, I’m going to hold a grudge. I can’t afford not to. Do me a favor,” Chef’s tone had changed without preamble. “Hand me that picture of Thomas?” He sat up in his seat and leaned over the steering wheel.
The picture matched the skinny white man squeezing between hedges toward the house. Thomas’ jeans sagged low, exposing his underwear beneath his My Chemical Romance tee-shirt. Thomas stole into the back yard, and a minute passed before lights were turned on inside the house.
Chef snorted, “Did you see his shirt? The man should probably be killed for his music choice alone.”
“That’s not funny.”
“Oh, come on,” Chef said, retrieving a claw hammer from the back seat. “It’s a little funny.”
He flashed Liz a smile and left the car.
* * *
Chef woke up as he did every other morning: naked, with Amberly curled against him for warmth. He leaned down and kissed the base of her neck. He squeezed her gently and tried to wake himself up before he moved from under the covers. This was a morning like every other.
He’d never understood how he could feel normal so soon after killing. He’d only hours before had another man’s blood on his hands from a head wound he inflicted with a hammer. And now, he held his wife, told her he loved her, and crawled out of bed as if his actions weren’t an abomination. He had not only disobeyed God’s law, but man’s law, as well, and with his once-plush bathrobe he still padded down the hallway in search of a bowl of Fruity Pebbles. Chef could almost convince himself that he hadn’t murdered Thomas Halvorsen, except that he could still feel the weight of the hammer in his hand and the weight of taking a man’s life on his heart.
Leaving the bowl on the counter, Chef walked across the kitchen toward the stairs. He ascended, skipping the creaky fourth step to avoid waking the girls. At the top of the stairs, Chef paused, pushing his ear to the door on the right. A female singer whined through the door to a slow beat. Chef pulled away from the door as if it burned him, and turned to the left. He gently opened the door. The room was usually overwhelmingly pink, but with the aid of darkness it was almost bearable to look at. Lily slept cuddled with a stuffed unicorn, clad in pink footie pajamas. Chef watched his baby snooze for a while, and all of his guilt evaporated. He stepped in, kissed the top of her head, and got his nose tickled by a stray curl of hair.
“I love you, Lily,” Chef whispered. “I’m always going to be here to protect you.”
After closing her door, chef returned to his Fruity Pebbles. It was going to be a long day, starting with a stop at the farm to butcher some new meat for the restaurant.