Corey caught a glimpse of himself in the rear-view mirror. Sixteen hours a murderer and halfway to Michigan. He hadn’t expected to find himself in such a predicament, but that was how the cards were dealt. He’d spent his entire young life being bullied, and after years of the torment making him thick-skinned, he wasn’t about to be taken out by the likes of Alan Lowe.
He fixed his eyes on the road ahead and thought back over the past forty-eight hours. He should have killed Alan the minute he showed up looking for a victim, but instead, he’d tried to play the nice guy. That hadn’t gotten him too far in a world full of bullies and entitled narcissistic assholes.
That was just how he was; he had always been good. And while some might call it a weakness, he thought of it as a strength. It took great strength not to lash out in the worst ways, not to use violence or surprise to seek revenge when you’d been done wrong. He could have easily picked up a gun and shot up his school like some, but he chose to be a better person. He chose to be strong enough to deal with the hate and smart enough not to let it ruin his life.
Bitterness was a disease, and he’d let that go too. He’d tried to forgive the assholes of the world and learned to pity them. Most had not become as successful as him; most were still living in the same small Ohio towns that, last he heard, were going to shit from meth addicts and pill heads.
When he moved to Phoenix from there, where he had been raised with his parents, he wanted a fresh start to be a different person with a new life where no one knew him. Just like when he’d gone to Camp Victory as a child, hoping to find people who didn’t know him and a chance to start over and hopefully make friends.
Living as an adult in Phoenix, he could work a job he loved, make a ton more money, and hopefully find a good woman to settle down with. But then his past came to town in the form of Alan Lowe. He had been in a tight spot with the Zodiac killer playing games, but Corey wasn’t about to be his pawn.
The sound of the gunshot still played over and over in his ears, and he hoped that no one heard it. He had tried in every way to work with Alan, and it was certainly more than he deserved, considering the man had shown up on his doorstep to murder him.
It would be easy to say that Alan wasn’t to blame for what had happened, but the truth was, everyone picked their paths. Sure, sometimes they weren’t given a choice, and if that weren’t true, Corey wouldn’t have been able to make a different decision than taking Alan’s life.
The more he thought it all out, the better. He didn’t want to let himself get lost to the grief. He didn’t want to think about the message that had come through while Alan had stepped away.
Corey had walked around the kitchen bar and looked at his phone where it was charging. It had made a ping, and with the Zodiac Killer already upset that they’d tricked him, he knew something big was coming. Sure enough, the request ensured his fate was grim. Get it done. I want video evidence this time, it had read. Or your children will suffer.
Corey had known there was no way to get around the inevitable. Alan would come out to check his phone, see the message, and do what he had to. He wasn’t going to let his children be taken as his wife had, and he surely wasn’t going to bat another eye, especially since he’d already made the decision to kill their old friend, Seth Stone.
So, before Alan could see the message and before he could make the decision to kill him first, Corey got his gun and waited for him. He knew trapping him in the hallway would give him nowhere to run. He also knew that being in the central part of his large apartment, he was more likely to keep others from hearing the shot if the silencer didn’t do a good enough job.
He could see every detail in his mind as he stared out at the highway ahead. Alan had fallen in the hallway, bleeding on the hardwoods as Corey had planned, making the clean up much easier than if it had been on the bedroom carpets. He wasn’t sure if he’d be able to find the courage to do it, but knowing he’d never be a victim again, he found the strength. He surprised himself with how calm he remained, even when Alan was pleading, his eyes full of surprise and sheer terror as he tried to back away.
It wasn’t a time to puss out, and he thought all about how Alan had done him and found the strength. Every playground bully, every push, every bruise, he blamed on Alan until there was no blame left to deal out.
He remembered Alan using his family to beg for mercy, and the words he’d told him were cruel but true. You were right, after all, Alan. They’ll be much better off without you.
He had been nothing but a burden to his wife, and even his kids had deserved a better father. Alan had said so himself, and Corey liked to think that he was doing Alan’s wife a favor. That was the only way he could justify it to himself, to get the job done. Better him than me, he’d thought as his finger pulled the trigger.
Even though he’d been calm during, the panic set in shortly after when reality kicked in, and he realized everything had changed from that decision on.
He knelt over the body to make sure he was dead and felt the bile rise to the back of his throat, and then he lost his breakfast all over the floor next to his friend. As if he didn’t already have a big enough mess with the blood and the shit. The smell filled the small space. He’d had to deal with him quickly.
Alan was short and stocky, and while Corey couldn’t very well wrap him in a rug and carry him out the front door, he wasn’t going to hack him to pieces either. Luckily, he had bought several life-sized statues of superheroes over the past several years of living there and actually had brought one of them to his house inside a crate which he’d converted into a coffee table. He needed to make it look like he had simply sold one of them. No one had thought anything of him leaving with a big crate. He’d done that sort of thing several times and was always bringing things in and out of his apartment. He laid out his plans while he cleaned up the mess and wrapped Alan in plastic and then fixed him in the storm trooper’s crate. Then he’d gone to bury him in the desert where no one would find him.
It was a good plan. It had worked so far.
But what would happen if the cops came asking about him? That was why he’d had to take off. He didn’t want to be around when they did.
He glanced at the time, and while it was early to him, at his home office which was based in Atlanta, it was much later. He was finally able to call in. He picked up his phone and dialed and waited for Simon, who was probably an even bigger nerd than he was, to answer the phone with his usual over-enthusiastic tone.
“It’s a great day in Atlanta. This is Simon. How can I help you?”
Corey was quite sure it wasn’t a great fucking day where he was in Oklahoma, but he did his best to fake it for Simon’s sake. He feigned laughter. “Things are fabulous here, man. I just wanted to let you guys know I’m on my way out of town to visit a friend and I’ll be taking a few days.”
“No problem, man. I’ll pass the word along, and I hope everything’s good.” His voice showed a little concern. It wasn’t often that he took time away. At least, not on the spur of the moment. Not that he needed to give notice.
“Yeah, man. It’s great. Just need a little time away.” He made sure to keep his tone upbeat, and Simon was none the wiser.
It wasn’t as if he needed the job anyway with all the money he had. He worked for the game developers simply to have something to do and to stay connected, but he could do the job from anywhere in the world.
His only hope now was that Justin Finch, his old buddy from Camp V, would take him in for a few days. And unlike Alan, he wasn’t going there with intentions to kill. The game stopped now, and he couldn’t think of a better place to be than bum-fuck Michigan where Justin lived in the woods near the Fawn River community outside of Sturgis. He had heard all about it years ago when Justin inherited his grandfather’s small sporting goods store. Since, he’d turned it into two much larger businesses.
Justin was a different breed than Corey, but they’d always gotten along at camp since they both enjoyed fishing. Being in the circle, he always sat next to him at meetings, and whenever they’d pair off to do activities within the camp, Justin was willing to be his partner. It might not seem like much to most, but for a kid who was always chosen last at school and bullied relentlessly, even by the coaches in the gym, it was everything.
He’d never forget the first day at camp when he’d met Justin. The boy had been a big son of a bitch, even when they were younger, and at times, his size made him look a bit older than the others. He was strong and silent and had a sharp mind, though most of his energy was spent on conspiracies and government corruption. Even when he was a kid, he’d had strong opinions on the matters, but Corey knew that it was probably from living with his grandparents. Both of his parents had died when he was younger, and Corey had always felt like maybe that was why he was quieter than the rest of the boys he knew at camp.
That same day, the two met Bay Collins and a few others at lunch. The wild, white-headed kid had been interesting to him, and the way he talked with such confidence and wit made Corey want to be just like him. He seemed untouchable. After that day, Corey was a part of their group and welcome wherever they went.
He wondered if he should call ahead and if Justin had gotten together with anyone since the last time that they talked around a month ago. He had been talking to a woman on the internet, and while it meant a whole lot to him, Corey thought Justin was being catfished. The woman seemed too good to be true, but she shared all of his likes and dislikes and didn’t seem disagreeable in any way.
He also thought that Justin had sent the woman money, which made things even worse. Corey was afraid the lady was going to take his friend for all he was worth, which was a nice amount considering he owned two Finch’s Guns and Goods. Corey knew how easy it would be for someone to find him and track him down, to use him for a good time and rob him blind. The only catfishing that Justin understood was the kind you did in the water, not online.
He decided to take a chance and keep his arrival a surprise. With any luck, he’d be welcome, and even if he couldn’t stay with him, maybe he had a place for him to go. He could certainly afford a hotel room if needed but preferred not to leave a paper trail unless absolutely necessary.