It was cold, but he was scarcely aware of the weather as he crept into the open, at once predator and prey. The ragged clothes he wore barely covered his body, but he didn't mind. He drew a breath, sniffing the chilly air and almost smiled. It was odd, he reflected, being dead. It wasn't at all what he'd thought it would be like-not that he was terribly aware of what he'd thought when he'd been alive. That time was very dim for him-something lost in the mists. Being dead was not all that far removed from being alive, though. There was still hunger and pain. For a moment, he wondered if maybe there was more to death and he'd somehow missed it.
Being dead was better than where he'd been, though. That much he knew. He no longer tried to remember that time. The pain was too great. His head hurt and his stomach churned every time he tried to recall, so he stopped trying. But, there was something bothering him, something in the back of his mind. He pushed it aside and began the nightly journey into the darkness to forage for food.
Death, he decided, definitely had its shortcomings.
Justin watched the ragged form creep out of the darkness and take the plate of food he'd left out at the edge of the fence near his cottage. He'd been leaving food out for several days now, ever since he'd caught sight of the pitifully thin figure furtively scavenging through the trash. Tonight, he'd left more, something certain to entice the pathetic individual. Tonight he'd left a warm blanket and clean clothes, too.
"What're you waiting for?" came a voice from behind him.
"Hello, Jared." Both men viewed each other warily, each sensing the other to be something other than what he appeared. "A stray," Justin added as he stepped back into the shadows. "Shhhhh."
Jared was only mildly surprised to see someone slipping out of the darkness, picking up the food.
"There's something familiar about him," Justin whispered. "I don't know what's happened to the poor guy, but he needs help."
"He's a survivor," Jared commented. "You've got to admire that. How long have you been feeding him?"
"Several days. Maybe two weeks. I don't know how long he's been around. I was hoping that a show of kindness would bring him out, but I think he's too far gone to ask. You want to help me bring him in?"
"You got something better to do?"
"Then we catch him, make sure he's okay and harmless, then get him whatever help he needs." At Jared's nod, the men separated and moved out to flank the silent scavenger. Seconds later, it was over.
"It's okay," Justin told the man who struggled vainly against the superior strength of the two other men. "Nobody is going to hurt you."
"You're safe now," Jared added. "We just want to help you."
"Dead," the man whispered. "You can't kill me again."
Justin and Jared glanced at each other, than back at the man who lay sobbing silently.
"Come on, buddy," Jared soothed, recognizing that the man had reached the limit of his endurance. "You're not dead. You've just done a stint in hell. But, Justin and I are here to help you now. Everything is going to be all right." Jared extended his hand to the man who met his gaze in disbelief.
Then, tears streaming down his face, the man reached out and took Jared's hand. Struggling to his feet, he drew upon whatever dignity he could, and said, "Thank you."
"He looks familiar," Justin commented again to Jared as their guest cleaned up in the shower. He'd been filthy, only marginally recognizable as human, but they were sure that with some assistance, he could be made presentable, at least physically.
"Who does he resemble to you?"
Justin paused, wondering what to say, how much he could reveal without jeopardizing innocent lives. "I think I'd rather ask him a few questions, first."
Jared observed Justin as if for the first time. It was odd, this coming alive feeling, and for a few seconds, Jared felt ashamed of himself, realizing just how self-involved he'd become. He might be having nightmares, but the poor bastard in the shower had been living one. And, Justin was a man with a carefully guarded past. Jared knew the signs.
Several minutes later, the man emerged from the bathroom cleaned, and dressed in fresh clothes which fit him a bit too loosely. He cleared his throat, and smiled, something he hadn't done in a long time. The silence that ensued was a bit awkward, but Justin quickly stepped into the breach.
"More eggs? Coffee?"
"Uh, no thank you," the man said, as if even this simple kindness was greatly appreciated and unanticipated.
"I'm Justin Devereaux, and this is Jared Andrews."
"I'm..." A panicked look crossed his face and he stopped. "I'm....I'm.........Tom....Tom Hardy."
Another boring day at the lighthouse, Kevin thought, as he dabbed paint on the canvas. Lucy was at the office, and Kevin was finding that not being a busy shrink was indeed work. "Hold still, Sigmund," he groused at the duck who was waddling around the floor searching for something to eat. Mercifully, at that point, the phone rang.
"Hello," he greeted with enthusiasm. With any luck, it would be a salesperson who he could engage in conversation for a little while.
"Kevin?" came a husky voice that brought Kevin to immediate attention. He knew that voice, knew instantly that something was up.
"None other. Bored?"
"How'd you know?"
"I have my sources. You want to do a little consulting work for me?"
"Can you make it legal?"
"Kevin, you have to ask?"
"When and where?"
"Here, that is San Francisco, and as soon as you can get here."
"Can I bring Lucy?"
There was a pause, and then another low chuckle. "Bring her. Something tells me that we'll get along just fine. But, Kevin, you are sure that she can be discreet?"
"I trust her with my life." His words were fervent and direct.
"Good. It may come to that. Kevin, let everyone think that this is a romantic interlude. After all, you unemployed shrinks can be spontaneous now."
"Anything I should know?"
"No, this is something that you need to approach with no preconceived notions."
"I'll have someone meet you at the airport. Your tickets will be delivered to the lighthouse within the hour."
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