Editor’s Note: Amazing Stories does not want to be responsible for another riot on the docks (as had been known to happen during the Dickensian era); due to the overwhelming response to Raising Dave (not to mention Mr. Strange’s prodigious production), we will be offering two (2) chapters of Raising Dave weekly – Tuesdays and Fridays.
He led me into the house and with a gesture indicated I should sit at the kitchen table. I made myself at home while he brewed a pot of tea.
A television on the worktop caught my attention. It was tuned-in to a news channel. There was an item about a young man who’d been killed in my block of flats. An image of a woman appeared on the screen.
That woman was me.
“They keep showing that picture. The police must be desperate to speak to her,” he said.
“What?” I asked, feeling suddenly unwell.
“That woman they want to question about the death. The police must be desperate to talk to her.”
I thanked God for my Goth makeup. That must’ve been why he hadn’t recognised me as the wanted woman.
He poured two mugs of tea and impaled me with a grey-eyed stare.
“What’re you called?”
I almost blurted out my real name without thinking. Then I tried desperately to conjure up an alias. An uncomfortable silence ensued. When I couldn’t bear it any longer, I said the first words that came into my head.
“That’s an unusual name. I’m Victor Smith. You can call me Vic Tell me about yourself, Kali.”
My stomach churned. What lies should I tell?
“I lost my job,” I began. Then I thought that might make me seem feckless, so I added: “The company I worked for went bust. After that I couldn’t afford to pay the rent so I ended up on the streets.”
He nodded, sympathetically.
“What line of work were you in?”
Some instinct told me he wasn’t just making conversation, and that the way I answered could be important. I glanced around the kitchen for inspiration and noticed a layer of grime on the skirting.
“Cleaning,” I said. “I cleaned houses and I was pretty good at it.”
“What kind of people did you clean for?”
“The kind who were too ill to clean for themselves. I used to cook for them sometimes.”
“It might be fortuitous you were in that line of work. I’m looking for a live-in housekeeper. You need a place to stay. Maybe we could help each other out. How about it?”
For an instant I couldn’t believe my luck. Then I remembered the old saying that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Vic couldn’t just be offering me a job to give me a break. After all, he hardly knew me. There had to be more to it than that. Still, I had no choice. What else was I going to do? Go on the run and take my chances?
“What’s the job pay?” I asked, as if that mattered.
“The money won’t be too good, I’m afraid. But we’ll give you a roof over your head, your food, and a small wage.”
I wondered what he meant by “we”. Anyway, that sounded all right.
“Can you pay me cash?”
I knew the police would be monitoring my bank accounts and track me down if I used them.
“Yes, and I could throw in something else as well. There’s a bicycle and a car I don’t use. You can borrow them whenever you want.”
It looked like I’d landed on my feet, provided Vic wasn’t a rapist or serial killer. As I couldn’t rule that out; I’d have to be on my guard the whole time.
“You’re on,” I said, extending my hand.
“Before you accept, I must warn you about something. As we’ve got older we’ve become nocturnal. So I’m afraid you’ll have to see to our needs at night, and get what sleep you can during the day. Will that be all right?”
We shook on it.
“Welcome aboard,” he said. “I hope you enjoy your time here.”
“Thank you, Vic. I won’t let you down. When do I start?”
“Right away – you can tidy up the tea things, and then I’ll introduce you to Mrs Smith.”
My mind went into overdrive. At some point I’d want to leave, but I wouldn’t be able to do that without having enough money to fund a life on the run. There was no way Vic’s small wage would enable me to save much. I’d be stuck living with him forever if I couldn’t find a way to lay my hands on a substantial amount of cash.
When I’d cleaned up he led me to a bedroom lit by a pendant light. It cast a baleful glow over Mrs Smith, who was propped up in her bed, staring blankly at a television.
“Hello, Mrs. Smith,” I said. She didn’t respond.
“You can call her Dorothy,” Victor said.
Again she didn’t respond. Her eyes might have flickered a little, but that’s about all.
Victor took my arm.
“You can see more of Dorothy tomorrow,” he said, leading me from the room.
“She can’t do anything anymore. It’s breaking my heart.”
“How do you cope?”
“Not very well, that’s why I need your help. Caring for Dorothy is hard work physically and emotionally. She’s got dementia. It’s taken everything away from her: speech, thoughts, personality. They’re all gone. Do you believe in euthanasia?”
“It’s not something I’ve ever thought about.”
“I suppose at your age you wouldn’t. But you get older and your faculties start leaving you, and you think about ending it while you can still make a choice. Dorothy did. She told me enough times before she lost her mind that she wanted to die. I promised I’d do something about it when the time came. But I can’t help her the way she wants me to, because I love her, and I’m weak. I don’t have the strength, you see, to kill her. Sometimes I think it’s selfish of me. I’m keeping Dorothy alive for my own benefit, not hers.”
“That’s quite a burden.”
He fixed me with his gimlet stare.
“I wish I knew someone who was capable of doing what I don’t have the guts to do,” he said. “I’d pay them good money to do it.”
He left that statement hanging in the air.
And I must admit it got me to thinking.
If only for a fraction of a second, it got me to thinking.
Raising Dave is © Copyright 2017 by Jack Strange. Permission to publish this story has been granted by the author.
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Also coming soon from Mr. Strange – NOIRVELLAS: MANCHESTER VICE from Coffin Hop Press
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