Cause to Dread – Blake Pierce

For a man named Rosie, there was nothing delicate or pretty about him. Roosevelt “Rosie” Dobbs marched up to the front porch of Apartment 2B with his usual awkward gait—and had anyone been nearby, they might have heard him cursing under his breath, a string of obscenities that followed him like a shadow. With a ham-sized fist, Rosie hammered on the door. With each strike, he saw the face of the man who lived in 2B. A pretentious prick named Alfred Lawnbrook—the type who always thought he was better than anyone even though he lived in a second-rate apartment in one of the worst parts of the city. He’d never paid his rent on time, always at least a week late for the two years he’d been living in the apartment. This time, three weeks had gone by. And Rosie was tired of it. If Lawnbrook didn’t have his rent by the end of the day, Rosie was going to kick him out. It was Saturday, just after nine in the morning. Lawnbrook’s car was parked in its usual spot, so Rosie knew he was home. Still, despite the hammering, Al Lawnbrook did not answer the door. Rosie gave one last violent slam against the door with his fist and then used his voice as well. “Lawnbrook, get your ass out here! And you best have your rent in your hand when you open the door.” Rosie tried to be patient.

He waited a full ten seconds before he called out again. “Lawnbrook!” When there was still no answer, Rosie unhooked the huge ring of keys he carried on a carabiner on his hip. He thumbed expertly through them to the one labeled 2B. Without another warning, Rosie drove the key into the lock, turned the knob, and entered the apartment. “Alfred Lawnbrook! It’s Rosie Dobbs, your landlord. You’re three weeks late and—” But Rosie knew right away that he was not going to get an answer. There was a stillness and quiet about the place that let him know that Lawnbrook wasn’t home. No, that’s not quite it, Rosie thought. It’s something else…something feels of . Sort of stale and…well, wrong.

Rosie took a few steps further into the apartment, stopping when he came to the center of the living room. That’s when he noticed the smell. At first, it reminded him of potatoes that had gone bad. But there was something different about it, something more subtle. “Lawnbrook?” he called out again, but this time there was a wave of fear in his voice. Again, there was no answer…not that Rosie had been expecting one. He walked through the living room and peered into the kitchen, thinking maybe some food had been left out and started to spoil. But the kitchen was fairly clean and, because if its small size, it was evident that there was nothing amiss. Call the cops, some wiser part of Rosie said. You know something is wrong here so call the cops and wash your hands of it.

But curiosity is a hell of a drug and Rosie was not able to turn away. He started down the hallway and some sick intuition cast his eyes directly toward the bedroom door. Several steps down the hallway, the smell evolved into something nastier and he knew right away what he was walking toward. But still, he could not stop now. He had to know…had to see. Al Lawnbrook’s bedroom was in a mild state of disarray. A few items had been knocked from his nightstand: wallet, book, framed picture. The plastic blinds in the window sat slightly askew, the bottom folds bent. And here, the smell was worse. It wasn’t overpowering, but it was certainly not something Rosie wanted to breathe in much longer.

The bed was empty and there was nothing to be seen in the space between the dresser and the wall. With a lump in his throat, Rosie turned to the closet. The door was closed and that was somehow worse than the smell. Still, his morbid curiosity pushed him and Rosie found himself heading to the closet. He reached out and touched the knob and for a moment he thought he could actually feel the terrible smell, sticky and warm. Before he turned the knob, he saw something out of the corner of his eye. He looked down to his feet, thinking his nerves were just wrecked and playing tricks on him. But no…he had seen something. Two spiders came rushing out from under the door. They were both rather large, one the size of a quarter and the other so large it barely fit through the crack.

Rosie jumped back in surprise with a little scream escaping his throat. The spiders scurried under the bed and when he turned to look at them, he saw a few spiders clinging to the bed as well. Most of them were small, but there was one the size of a postage stamp scurrying along the pillow. Adrenaline pushed him on. Rosie grabbed the knob, turned it, and pulled it open. He tried to scream but his lungs seemed paralyzed. Nothing more than a dry noise came from his throat as he slowly backed away from what he saw in the closet. Alfred Lawnbrook was splayed out in the back corner of the closet. His body was pale and motionless. It was also almost entirely covered in spiders.

There were several thick strands of web on him. One along his right arm was so thick that Rosie could not see his skin. Most of the spiders were small and seemed almost harmless, but, like the ones he’d seen so far, there were large ones mixed in as well. As Rosie stared in horror, a spider the size of a golf ball went parading across Lawnbrook’s forehead. Another smaller one scrambled up over his bottom lip. That’s what broke Rosie out of his frozen state. He nearly tripped over his own feet as he went blazing out of the room, shrieking, swatting at the back of his neck, feeling as if there were millions of spiders crawling all over him. CHAPTER ONE Two months earlier… As Avery Black opened one of the many boxes still scattered around her new home, she wondered why she had waited so long to move away from the city. She did not miss it at all and was actually starting to resent the fact that she had wasted so much time there. She peeked inside the box, hoping to find her iPod.

She had not labeled anything when she had left her Boston apartment. She’d hastily thrown everything into a series of boxes and moved out in the course of a day. That was three weeks ago and she still had yet to finish unpacking. In fact, her sheets were jumbled up somewhere in these boxes but she had elected to sleep on the couch for the last three weeks. The current box did not contain her iPod, but it did hold the few bottles of liquor she had nearly forgotten about. She pulled a tumbler out of the box, filled it with a healthy dose of bourbon, and walked out onto the front porch. She squinted at the bright morning light and took a pull from her bourbon. After enjoying the burn of it, she took another. She then checked her watch and saw that it was barely after ten in the morning. She shrugged and plopped down in the old rocking chair that had been on the porch when she’d brought the place.

She looked out at her new surroundings and was warmly reassured that she could live out the rest of her life here quite comfortably. The house wasn’t quite a cabin but had that sort of rustic feel to it. It was a simple one-story place with a modern interior. In terms of a mailing address, she was close to Walden Pond but just far enough off the beaten track to also be considered “in the middle of nowhere.” Her nearest neighbor was half a mile away and all she could see beyond her front porch and the rear kitchen window were trees. No horns blaring. No busy pedestrians in a hurry while glaring at their phones. No traffic. No constant smell of gasoline and exhaust or the droning of engines. She downed another gulp of her morning bourbon and listened to her surroundings.

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Well, that wasn’t necessarily true. She could hear two birds calling back and forth and the slight creaking of the trees as a chilly late-fall breeze passed through. She’d tried her best to get Rose to come out here with her. Her daughter had been through a lot and God only knew that staying in the city was not going to help her heal. But Rose had refused. Rose had actually vehemently refused. After the smoke of the last case had cleared, Rose had needed somewhere to place the blame for the death of her father. And, as usual, that blame had fallen at Avery’s feet.

As much as it hurt, Avery understood it; she would have behaved the same way if the roles had been reversed. During the move out into the woods, Rose had accused her of running away from her problems. And Avery had no qualms about admitting that. She’d come here to escape the memories of the last case—of the last several months of her life, if she was being totally honest. They had come so close to recovering the relationship they’d once had. But when Rose’s father had died—as well as Ramirez, a man she had started to tolerate as her mother’s love interest—that had all come to a screeching halt. Rose fully blamed Avery for her father’s death, and Avery was slowly starting to blame herself, too. Avery closed her eyes and finished off the tumbler of bourbon. She listened to the quiet sounds of the forest and let the warmth of the bourbon comfort her. She’d let similar warmth comfort her over the course of the last three weeks, getting drunk a handful of times, so much so one time that she blacked out for several hours.

She’d spent that night hunched over a toilet and moaning over Ramirez and the future they had come so close to having. Looking back on that, Avery was embarrassed. It made her want to swear off drinking for good. She’d never been a huge drinker but the last three weeks, liquor and wine had helped float her through. Through to what, though? she wondered as she got up out of the rocking chair and headed back inside. She eyed the bourbon, tempted to go ahead and obliterate herself by noon just to get through another day. But she knew that was cowardice. She had to get through this on her own, with a clear head. So she put the bourbon and the other liquor bottles up in a cabinet in the kitchen. She then went to the next box in her piles, still looking for the iPod.

A stack of photo albums sat at the top of the box. Because her mind had been on Rose while on the porch, Avery fished them out quickly. There were three in all, one of which was filled with pictures from her college days. She ignored this one completely and flipped open the second one. Rose stared up at her right away. She was twelve, on a sled with her hat covered in snow. Underneath this picture, Rose was still twelve. In this one, she was painting what looked like a field of sunflowers on an easel in her old bedroom. Avery flipped through them all until about halfway through the book, she came to a picture that had been taken only three Christmases ago. Rose and Jack, Rose’s father, were dancing comically in front of a Christmas tree.

They were both smiling to the point of giddiness. Jack’s Santa hat was crooked on his head and the ornaments gleamed in the background. It was like a knife to the heart, piercing and twisting and turning. The need to cry came on like a bomb. She’d not felt the urge a single time since moving here, as she had gotten quite good at stifling such things over the course of her career. But it hit her then, out of nowhere, and before she could fight it off, her mouth opened and an agonized moan came out. She grabbed at her heart as if that imagined knife really was there, and sank to the floor. She tried to get up, but her body seemed to revolt. No, it seemed to say. You’re going to allow yourself this moment and you’re going to cry.

You’re going to weep. You’re going to grieve. And who knows? You might actually be better for it. She clung to the photo album, pressing it against her chest. She cried hard, letting herself be vulnerable for just a moment. She hated that it felt so good to get it out, to let herself break down. She moaned and cried, saying nothing—not calling out to anyone, not questioning God or offering prayer. She simply grieved. And it felt good. It damn near felt like an exorcism of sorts.

She didn’t know how long she sat there on the floor among the boxes. All she knew was that when she got to her feet, she no longer wanted to numb herself with something from a bottle. She needed to get her head clear, needed to get her thoughts in order. She felt a familiar ache in her hands, something even stronger than the need to drink away her emotions. She clenched her fingers into loose fists and thought of paper targets and the long expanses of indoor firing ranges. Her heart then started to lift a bit as she thought about the few items she had in the bedroom that she would eventually arrange and decorate one of these days. There wasn’t much in there, but there was one certain thing that she had nearly forgotten about in the haze of the last few days. Slowly, trying to encourage herself as she walked through the living room full of boxes, Avery entered the bedroom. She stood in the doorway for a moment and studied the gun that was propped up in the corner. The rifle was a Remington 700 that she’d had ever since she’d graduated college.

During her senior year, she’d had big plans of moving somewhere remote in order to hunt deer in the winters. It was something her father had always done and, while she had not been particularly good at it, she had enjoyed it. She’d often been ribbed about it by her girlfriends and she had probably scared a boyfriend or two away in high school because of her affection for the sport. When her father passed away, her mother had begged her to take the gun, thinking her father would have wanted her to have it. It had been passed around, from move to move, usually stowed away in a closet or under a bed. Two days after moving into this house, she’d taken it to a local gun dealership and had them clean it. When she picked it up, she also purchased three boxes of cartridges for it. Figuring she might as well strike while the mood had hit her, she stripped down to her underwear and slid into a pair of thermals. It wasn’t too cold out this morning—a bit above freezing—but she wasn’t used to being out in the woods. She owned nothing in camo, so she settled for a pair of dark green pants and a black sweater.

She was well aware that it wasn’t the safest get-up to go deer hunting in, but it would have to do for now. She slid on a pair of thin gloves (having to dig through yet another box to find them), laced up her most rugged pair of shoes, and headed out. She got into her car and drove two miles away to a stretch of back road that led to an expanse of forest that was owned by the man she had purchased the house from. He had given her permission to hunt on his land, almost as some random footnote or bonus to having purchased the house for ten thousand over the asking price. She found a spot on the side of the road where it was quite obvious that hunters had been turning around or pulling over for years. She parked her car there, the driver’s side just barely off of the road. She then took up the rifle and walked off into the forest. She actually felt silly, parading through the woods. She had not hunted for five years or so—the very weekend she had received the gun from her mother. She did not have the gear—the proper boots, the deer scent to spray on trees, the blaze orange hats or vests.

But she also knew that it was a Wednesday morning and that the woods would be virtually empty of other hunters. She felt a bit like the shy kid who only played basketball by herself and then skipped away when the more talented kids came into the gym. She walked for twenty minutes and came to a rise in the land. She walked quietly, with the same practiced caution she had used as a homicide detective. The gun in her hands felt good, although a bit foreign. She was used to much smaller weapons, her Glock in particular, so the rifle felt quite powerful. As she came to the top of the slight rise in the land, she spied a fallen oak several yards away. She used it as a meager means of hiding herself, sitting on the ground and then scooting down a bit with her back against the fallen tree. In a reclining position, she rested the rifle next to her and looked up into the tree tops. She lay there peacefully, feeling even more enclosed by the world than she had while on the porch an hour or so ago.

She grinned when she imagined Rose out here with her. Rose hated just about anything to do with being outdoors and would probably flip her lid if she knew her mother was currently sitting in the forest with a rifle, looking to potentially kill a deer. Thinking of Rose, Avery was able to clear her mind a bit, to focus on everything around her. And when she was able to do that, her career instincts kicked in. She heard the rustling of leaves on the ground as well as in the trees as the last few stubborn leaves clung on against the coming winter. She heard a skittering somewhere to her right and above her, likely a squirrel coming out to check the wind. Once she was acclimated to her surroundings, she closed her eyes and allowed herself to really let go. She heard all of those things but she also saw her own thoughts start to slide into place. Jack and his girlfriend, both dead. Ramirez, dead and gone.

She thought of Howard Randall, falling into the bay and probably also dead. And at the end of it all, she saw Rose…how she had been constantly ensnared in danger because of her mother’s line of work. Rose had never deserved it, had never asked for it. She had done her best to be a supportive daughter through it all and she had finally reached her breaking point. Honestly, Avery was impressed that she had lasted as long as she had. Especially after the last case, where her life had literally been in danger. And it hadn’t been the first time. The snap of a twig from behind her broke Avery from her thoughts. Her eyes snapped open and she was once again staring up into the mostly stripped branches overhead. She slowly reached for the Remington as yet another soft shuffling noise sounded out somewhere behind her.

She brought the rifle to her and slowly readied it. She moved with expert stealth as she raised herself to her elbows. She breathed in and out slowly, making sure not to so much as blow a nearby leaf askew. Her eyes scanned the area below the little rise she was hiding on. She spotted the deer to the west, about seventy yards away. It was a buck, an eight-pointer from what she could tell. It was nothing sizeable, but it was something, at least. She spotted another one further ahead of it but it was partially covered by two trees. She brought herself up a bit more, steadying the rifle on the side of the fallen oak. She flexed her finger as it found the trigger and firmed up her grip on the stock.

She took aim and found it a bit more difficult than she had anticipated. When she lined the crosshairs up and had a shot, she took it. The rifle’s crack as the shot was fired filled the forest. The recoil was noticeable but very slight. The moment she fired, she knew she’d be off to the right; her elbow had slipped in its positioning on the tree as she had pulled the trigger. But she did not get to see the buck make its escape. When the sound of the gunshot filled her ears and the woods, something in her mind seemed to tremble and then freeze. For a paralyzing moment, she could not move. And in that moment, she was not in the forest, having failed to take down a deer. Instead, she was standing in Jack’s living room.

There was blood everywhere. Both he and his girlfriend had been killed. She had not been able to stop it and, as such, she felt like she had killed them. Rose was right. It was her fault. She could have stopped it if she’d been faster—if she’d been better. The blood glistened red and Jack’s eyes looked at her, dead and seeming to plead. Please, they said. Please, take it back. Make it right.

Avery dropped the rifle. The clatter of it on the ground broke her out of her fugue and once again, she found herself openly weeping. The tears came, hot and flowing. They felt like little trails of fire down her otherwise chilled face. “It’s my fault,” she said to the forest. “It was my fault. All of it.” Not just Jack and his girlfriend…no. Ramirez, too. And everyone else she had been unable to save.

She should have been better, always better. She saw the picture of Jack and Rose in front of the Christmas tree in her mind’s eye. She curled up into a ball by the fallen oak and started to shake. No, she thought. Not now, not here. Get your shit together, Avery. She fought the surge of emotions off and swallowed it down. It wasn’t too hard. She had, after all, gotten quite good at it over the last decade or so. She slowly got to her feet, picking the rifle up from the ground.

She cast only the slightest of glances back toward where the two deer had been. There was no regret in missing the shot at all. She simply didn’t care. She turned back the way she had come, carrying the rifle over her shoulder and a decade’s worth of guilt and failure in her heart. * On her way back to the house, Avery supposed it was a good thing she hadn’t killed the deer. She had no idea how she would have gotten it out of the forest. Drag it back to her car? Bungee cord it to the top of her car and slowly drive back home? She knew enough about hunting to know that it was illegal to leave a kill just sitting to rot in the woods. Any other time, she might have found the image of a deer affixed to the top of her car hilarious. But she currently found it nothing more than another oversight. Just something else she had not properly thought through.

Just as she was about turn onto her road, the chirping of her cell phone broke her out of her funk. She grabbed it from the console and saw a number she did not recognize, but an area code that she had seen for most of her life. The call was coming from Boston. She answered it skeptically, her career teaching her that calls from unknown numbers could often lead to trouble. “Hello?” “Hi, is this Ms. Black? Ms. Avery Black?” a male voice asked. “This is she. Who is this?” “My name is Gary King. I’m the landlord for the place your daughter is staying.

She has you listed as a next of kin on her paperwork and—” “Is Rose okay?” Avery asked. “As far as I know, yes. But I’m calling because of a few different things. First of all, she’s behind on her rent. It’s two weeks late and it’s the second time in three months. I try to go by there and talk to her about it but she never answers the door. And she won’t return my calls.” “Certainly you don’t need me to work on that,” Avery said. “Rose is a grown woman and she can handle getting scolded by a landlord.” “Well, it’s not just that.

I’ve gotten calls from her neighbor complaining about the sounds of loud crying at night. This same neighbor claims to be fairly good friends with Rose. She says Rose has not seemed herself lately. Says she keeps talking about how everything sucks and how meaningless life is. She said she’s worried about Rose.” “And who is this friend?” Avery asked. It was hard to fight off, but she could feel herself quickly slipping into detective mode. “Sorry, but I can’t say. Legalities and all.” Avery was pretty sure Mr.

King was right, so she didn’t press the matter. “I understand. Thank you for you call, Mr. King. I’ll check up on her right away. And I’ll see to it that you get your rent.” “That’s fine and I thank you…but I’m honestly more worried about what might be going on with Rose. She’s a good girl.” “Yeah, she is,” Avery said and ended the call. By that point, she was less than half a mile away from her new home.

She pulled up Rose’s number and placed the call as she pushed her foot down harder on the gas. She was pretty sure how the next couple of minutes would play out, but still felt a stinging hope each time the phone rang in her ear. As she expected, it went straight to voicemail. Rose had only answered one of her calls since her father had been murdered and that had been when she had been especially drunk. Avery opted not to leave a message, knowing that Rose would not check it, much less return the call. She parked in her driveway, leaving the engine running, and ran inside long enough to dress in something a little more presentable. She was back in the car three minutes later, pointing it back toward Boston. She was sure Rose would be pissed that her mom was coming into town to check up on her, but Avery didn’t see where she had any choice, given the call from Gary King. When the road smoothed out and became less curvy, Avery increased her speed. She wasn’t sure where her future rested in terms of her old job but she did know one thing she’d miss about working in law enforcement: the ability to break the speed limit any time she damn well pleased.

Rose was in trouble. She felt it.

.

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