"I have to answer that."
"You don't have to do, anything, Erica. You never answered it when I called, did you?"
"Tommy, I have to answer it. It's probably my father and you know he'll come over if I don't."
Tommy's forearm tenses around Erica's neck and she winces. He winces too, but her bruised, clenched eyes miss that in the dark reflection off the glass frame, covering the painting on the wall in front of them.
All the lights are off and the setting sun is the sole source of light in the house. He was too agitated until now to notice the scratches that she gave him and the fading sun makes the ruby streaks glisten. His left arm and neck look like he went at it for half an hour with a mountain lion.
Still in a chokehold, Tommy drags her across the room and he picks the phone up out of its cradle. He roughly puts it against her face and places his ear in a perfect eavesdrop position.
"Hi, Erica," the deep voice greets her in a cold, flat tone.
"Oh, hi, Daddy."
"Why are you still at home? Mom has been expecting you over here for about an hour now."
Tommy pricks her left side with his knife and shakes his head against her tipping her father off.
"I've...been busy. I had too much work at the office and I had to bring some of it home, so I've lost track of time. Honestly, I have so much work. Tell Mom that I'm sorry and that I'll have to take a raincheck."
"Well, she made your favorite."
"You mean, eggplant Parmigiana?"
"Yes, it's gotten cold. Hold on, Honey. I have to go in the garage and get something out of my truck."
Tommy's sweat drips on Erica, and his breaths are slow and heavy. Over the phone, Tommy and Erica can faintly hear the sound of a car door slamming.
"Well, listen, Erica. Mom's going to put it in the freezer, because we're going out of town for the next few days. We were wondering if you could come over tomorrow and feed the cat."
If wolves could actually smile, the look on Tommy's face would be the closest facsimile possible. Erica starts to cry until Tommy clenches his forearm for her to stop.
"Also, Honey, make sure the timer for the lights work."
"How about that new lamp I bought you, does that work?"
"I...haven't tried it yet."
"Well, why don't you try it right now?"
"Daddy...I told you, I'm kind of busy."
"I'd like to know, because I'll come by right now if it doesn't work. That way I can get it exchanged, first thing in the morning, when the stores open."
Tommy gives her odd look and Erica slowly points at the halogen lamp right by the front window.
"Okay, I'll check it out right now, Daddy."
Tommy's forearm lets go of her neck, but the knife stays firmly at her side. They stop just under the lamp and Erica turns it on...all the way up. Tommy's eyes are the ones to clench this time and his hands go up just a little bit.
In the space of less than a second, there is a bang, a crack of glass and Tommy goes backward. His knife goes flying from his hand and the bright light of the lamp becomes an even brighter light for Tommy, then it all goes black.
The front door flies open. Erica's father scoops her up with his left hand and cradles her. His right hand has a gun that's trained on the corpse of Tommy. The trauma of the situation overwhelms her and she starts to hyperventilate.
"It's okay, Honey, it's okay."
"I didn't-I didn't-"
"It's okay, you don't have to worry about him anymore."
"I didn't...how...did...you know?"
"I know you swore your mom to secrecy, but she told me about this abusive asshole a long time ago. You didn't call her when you said you were going to, so I came by. When I said I was going to my truck, I didn't tell you that it was down the block and I was getting out of it, instead"
"But how did you know?"
"C'mon, Honey, your "favorite?" Even I can barely stand your mother's eggplant Parmigiana."
Bio: "Cormac Brown" is my pen name. I'm an up-and-slumming writer in the city of Saint Francis, and I'm following in the footsteps of Hammett...minus the TB and working for the Pinkerton Agency. A couple of stories that I've stapled and stitched together can be found at http://cormacwrites.blogspot.com/