Mister Stagger Lee
4:31 pm. He entered the house unheeded by its occupants. His friends were inside. One was gone and in pieces in the shade. The other was being held. The devil himself could be in the house, and he wouldn’t care. He would bring his friends back to where they would be safe. Into the light with him.
So he entered the house and found what he was looking for.
Jim sat in his chair. Matt was unconscious on the floor. Jim’s eyes were open.
A small pot of water sat boiling away at his feet with no flame to heat it. And Izzy and the dark were gone.
“Stay where you are,” Jim said. “There’s a chair to your left. Sit in it.” His shaky old hand, resting on his knee, pointed a gun at Matt’s head.
“Hi, Jim,” he said. He sat down.
“Jim,” he began.
“You take another step and I shoot. Nod if you understand.”
He nodded and smiled expectantly. “I’ve been meaning to ask you, Jim. I’ve heard that name now a few times – what is it?”
“Yes, Stagger Lee. What does it mean?”
Jim’s gun didn’t move. “I named you after the worst thing in the world,” he said.
He swished it back and forth in his mouth, tasting it and considering it. Stagger Lee smiled with his teeth and his eyes. “I’m the only thing in the world, Jim.”
“Sure, yeah. How did you get out of Nina’s room?” Jim asked.
He laughed. “Where do you think we are? The room’s wherever Matt is. He’s got a really good imagination, doesn’t he? He dreams me right out of it.”
“So I should probably shoot him now, huh? That’d solve my problems pretty well.”
He smiled. Stagger Lee smiled. That could be his name. “I’m sorry about what happened to Gret, Jim, but it wasn’t my fault she was in that house alone.”
“You don’t get to say her fucking name!”
“Ah,” he said evenly. “I apologize. I know it must be hard for you. If it makes you feel better, it wasn’t her fault, either.”
Jim cocked the gun against Matt’s head, and Stagger Lee smiled wider.
“Put that away, Jim. Don’t embarrass yourself.”
“I want my daughter’s body delivered to me intact, and I want a day safe from you. If you don’t agree I kill the boy. Yes or no?”
Jim Parsons had very cold eyes, he noticed.
“You can have Gret – sorry. You can have your daughter. But I want something too, Jim. I’d like very much to see what it was you took from me.”
Jim nodded. “I know,” he said. “How do you plan on getting it?”
Mirth. “Cracking you open and reading it inside you.”
“Sure. That’s fine with me. I’m serious. You come back tomorrow and I won’t lift a finger to stop you. You can break me apart all you want. I want the day to get things in order, though. And after that I just want it to be over. So my daughter’s body and one day for Matt Leigh and your property.
Stagger Lee straightened up and asked a question in timidity. “What if I walked over and took him from you, Jim?” he asked. “The last time we made a deal it didn’t work out for me very well. So what if I just cut the knot and took my friend and saved him from you?”
“Depends on how fast you think you are. Gret’s body and one day for Matt Leigh and the message. Yes or no?”
“You know, you already killed a friend of mine. Do I get his body?”
“I killed two,” Jim said. “Yes or no, Stag?”
He stared. “Jake?” he asked. Hate. Hate. His voice grew very quiet. “What did you do to him?” Hate.
“Oh. I gave him a knife.”
A tear rolled down his cheek. “Why?”
“Yes or no, Stag?”
He glared at him. He glared and glared. No one deserved to die. No one deserved it. He looked the old crippled man up and down. His hand was shaking from the weight of the gun. There was fear there. He knew he saw it. There was fear. He smiled.
“Can you kill a child, Jim?” he asked.
He stared into the old man’s eyes for a long time. “No, you can’t,” he said. “No deal. I think I’ll just –”
Jim pulled the trigger. The bullet impacted the back of Matt’s head, and bone and brain and blood scattered and splattered across the floor.
The music man was on his feet and across the room. His hand was outstretched. Rage flooded him. Jim did not move or even twitch. He stopped inches from his face.
“You’re standing in his blood,” Jim said. He nodded vaguely at Matt’s body and the little pot of water next to it. “Sit back down.”
“He was a little boy!” he shouted. “You coward. You piece of filth, he was a little boy. He didn’t deserve that!”
“Yeah,” Jim said. “So save him. Go sit down. We have a deal to make.”
“I should stop your heart, Jim. I should –”
“Sit the fuck down, Stag. You’re gonna run out of time if you don’t.”
He looked at the boiling water. Since the gunshot it had begun to hiss. “What is that?” he asked.
“That’s how you’re gonna save his life, Stag. Here’s the rules of it: Matt’s still alive as long as the water hasn’t boiled away. You understand what I’m saying? The water is our contract. You agree to my terms and spill it, that’s binding. He wakes back up, you put him back together however it is you do that, you leave my house, you give me my daughter’s body and I’m safe for twenty-four hours. That’s 4:39 am tomorrow. If anything happens to me in those twenty-four hours, you don’t get shit, but after that you can do what you want to me. You can search around in my head as much as you want. These are the terms in water. You violate any part of the agreement, then my will be done. Yes or no?”
“I’ll kill you. I swear that I’ll kill you. He was a little boy, you scum.”
“He is a little boy, unless you keep wasting time talking at me. Yes or no, Stag?”
Jim took his feeble hand and gripped his knee. He dragged his leg across the ground and placed it next to the pot of water. He gave it a very weak kick, and they watched as the water shifted from the movement.
The music man stared at Matt’s limp body, and at the hole in his head. He wanted to cry. “Yes,” he said quietly.
“Good. There’s that, then. We’re bound in water. Pour it on the floor and let it touch him. He’ll wake up and he’s yours. And you give me what I want. Those are the rules. Then you get out of my house.”
The man kicked the pot over. It sizzled as it ran against the boy’s skin. Matt screamed, and opened his eyes. His friend reached for him and held him close. The jagged bits of Matt’s skull dug into his shoulder. His eyes lolled, frenzied.
“Shh,” he said. “It’s okay. I’m here now. I’ve got you. I’ve got you.”
Matt stared at him, wild-eyed, gasping and crying. His friend lifted him and stood up, his eyes on Jim. Very quietly, he whispered comfort to Matt. With his friend sobbing into his shoulder, he walked to the door. He turned back to the murderer and stared his way for a few minutes.
“See you tomorrow, Stag,” Jim said.
“No you won’t,” he said. “I’ll blind you first. You’ll never see me again. But Izzy will.” He didn’t blink when he talked. He had forgotten to.
The two left the house. He and Matt. Back to the room where he could play music. Everything was going to be alright.
That was the third time he and Jim Parsons had had a conversation.