I left Old Mrs. Shadow's house right through the front door, and there walkin' past me was Mr. Ginger.  I stopped and turned my head a bit to catch him walkin' through the door with a bouquet of flowers in his hand, just walkin' on in.  Never seen him bring Mrs. Shadow flowers before.  That's when I thought, maybe this is it for her.  Maybe I gotta find someone and tell 'em what I done, what Mrs. Shadow done, what Mr. Ginger was on his way inside to do.  I came straight from there to here, to talk to you.

Anyway, in he went.  Closed it behind him real quiet like.  That gave me the fuckin' chills, 'cause he usually just leaves the door open like the fuckin' animal he is.  Someone must know this guy, man.  He been comin' to see Mrs. Shadow for years and years, and it ain't like Mrs. Shadow has a whole pile of visitors these days.  Her house is a run-down wreck, no thanks to me.  Nobody that knew the neighborhood ever came knockin' on the door.  Even the kids always stayed away, except to throw rocks at it.  They assumed it must have a witch livin' in it, which is appropriate, you know.  'Cause it did.

Every time Mr. Ginger comes by, it reminds me that I ain't just some guy workin' for just some old lady.  Mr. Ginger ain't some gentleman caller, or whatever the fuck.  He ain't there for the pleasure of her company, which is good for him 'cause there ain't none to be had.  Mrs. Shadow don't talk too much no more.  She don't go to the movies, don't listen to music, and ain't much for dancin'.  She just sits in there and waits to die, which is kinda sad in a way.  She's the last of her kind, that old bat.  Last one on Earth.

#

I gotta explain a thing or two here.  You're probably thinkin', who's this nut talkin' about the last old lady on Earth?  Well I ain't no nut, and she ain't no old lady neither.  Probably easiest if I start with myself.  Only thing I'm an expert on.

I'm older than I look.  A lot older.  Most people look at me and think, hey, that guy is forty or somethin'.  I once had a girlfriend guess how old I was and she said, you look like a trim fifty.  I laughed in her face.  Shouldn'ta done that.  She didn't last too long after that.  Mrs. Shadow don't like it when I got a girlfriend.

Anyway, what year is it now?  I got a hard time rememberin' sometimes, but I was fourteen when Mrs. Shadow and I moved down to Galveston.  She was feelin' the heat back in Jersey and needed to get out.  Some big hurricane down in Texas killed a lot of people, gave the authorities a real hard time sortin' everyone out.  She figured, there's gotta be some patch of land I can just take up and that'll be that.  We can make a new life in Galveston, she told me.  That was 1900, I think.  Maybe 1901.  I gotta be at least eighty or ninety by now.  Never was too good at math.

Man, that was a big storm.  I remember it came all the way up the coast and hit New York, blowin' shit all over the place.  I think it killed some guy or somethin'.  Anyway, we hired a coach and driver to take us all the way down to Texas.  Mrs. Shadow paid for everythin' on the damn coach five times over.  Food, guards, repairs, the fuckin' horses themselves... Mrs. Shadow gave this guy a whole pile of money, just so long as he didn't ask no questions.  He took us the whole Goddamn way down there and never said word one.  Unbelievable.

Back in those days, Mrs. Shadow liked to talk.  Liked to tell stories, about her life, herself, her fancy friends in the old country, wherever that was.  Seems like as soon as she came to America it all turned to shit for her.  She hadn't even been here that long when she first took me in, and we had just settled down in Jersey when she got spooked and jumped ship.  Anyway, I'm gettin' off topic here.  Stop me if I do that, okay?  Jesus.

Like I was sayin', she was some kinda fancy lady back where she come from.  Her mom and pop wanted to marry her off at fourteen for some Goddamn reason.  I remember that soundin' real weird, seein' how I was fourteen myself at the time she told me that.  She liked the parties, though, all the food, seein' people dressed up nice.  Her folks had this huge ballroom in their house, big enough for a hundred people to dance without hittin' each other.  She said she wasn't big on the dancin' herself, but she loved to watch all the dresses swirl around.  They was like flowers, she used to say.  The room was a big bouquet of flowers, all spinnin' around together.  She made it sound real nice. 

She would just talk and talk about all this stuff while the coach bumped us around, putting mile after mile under its wheels.  I think she did it for me, to keep my mind off things.  I didn't understand what all was goin' on with Mrs. Shadow back then, but I loved her like a mother and knew I had to follow her wherever she went.  I was just startin' to question why she was always wearin' this crazy black veil during the daytime, why the first thing she ever did when she got in a coach was close all the shades.  I was too young to notice that she never aged a day.  I was too innocent to figure out what happened to all those guests who went in her house but never came out.

I got to watch the scenery go by at night, when she'd open the shades just a bit and let me peek out.  The whole world went by, all colored gray.  There was so much of it.  I had only seen my little corner of it before, but there it was, the rest of it.  It shocked me how much world there was.  I was real sad I didn't get to see more of it.  It just rolled by behind the curtains, whether I was watchin' or not.

Anyway, that big ballroom?  It had a huge fireplace in it.  She loved talkin' about that thing.  Bigger than any fireplace she'd ever seen, said it was tall as a house.  Always lit.  She always mentioned that.  It always had a big, warm fire in it, cracklin' away twenty-four-seven.  She used to read books by it, had her first kiss in front of it.  She loved that damn thing.  Still misses it I bet.

That first kiss was a real son of a bitch though.  Handsome stranger type, somehow convinced her parents to let him stay behind after one of their fancy parties.  She told me he never said a word to her, just stared at her, holdin' her chin in his hand while the servants cleaned up around them.  They stood in front of that fireplace for hours, she said, and then he kissed her.  Before she knew it, she was living with him in some crazy huge castle in another country.  She never told me which countries she was even talkin' about, so that's why I ain't tellin' you.  Not sure I'd know where they was anyways, so no big loss.

She never said they got married, but I always thought of this guy as her husband growin' up.  I know better now, though.  Mrs. Shadow calls me her thrall.  That's what she was to this guy, I think, but she never said so.  She lived with him for fifteen years before he turned her.  Whatever thing they had after that ended one day when some local village wised up and came after him.  He died, she got away.  That was a hundred years later, to the fuckin' day.  After that, she started runnin' and didn't stop 'til she got here.  Picked me up along the way.  Lucky me, right?

#

So there I was, some Jersey kid comin' to southeast Texas for the first time in my life, not knowin' what the fuck was goin' on with this pretty lady who wasn't my mom but was the next best thing, havin' just spent weeks trapped in a carriage, and what do I see when I finally get out?  The same fuckin' shit I saw in Jersey.  Galveston was like Atlantic City all over again, except it was blown half to hell and mostly empty of people.  The folks who was there, though, they stayed busy cleanin' up all night long.  The electric lights must've been the first thing they fixed, 'cause they was up and burnin' bright all night long every night for months.  Wasn't nothin' fancy about those lights.  Looked like whatever they could get their hands on, wired together in a fuckin' hurry and wrapped around any piece of wood that was still standin'.

Them folks was probably workin' all day, too, but 'cause of Mrs. Shadow I didn't get to go out in the daytime all that much, at least not back then.  I was just a kid, you know.  I did what she told me, and what she told me was to stay inside and don't make no friends.  I asked her, why can't I make friends?  I had friends back on the shore, before she picked me up, but she said that she was the only friend I'd need anymore.  She made me believe it, too.  I don't mean she talked about it real persuasive like, I mean she fuckin' made me believe it.  Reached into my brain and flipped a switch, and suddenly I didn't need no more friends.  So I stayed inside with Mrs. Shadow.  She read her old books to me, taught me how to read and write, all the usual shit.  I don't remember spendin' a single day in school after I moved down south.

Those early days we lived in a hotel room on the north shore.  This fuckin' place looked like the biggest building in the world to me when I first caught sight of it, but that's gotta be a trick of memory.  It was lit real weird 'cause of the electric lights, and all the buildings around it got smashed by the storm, so it just kinda stood there all by itself, big and white and looming.  No, I don't remember the name.  I don't know if it's still a hotel or it's not there or what, so don't ask.  I do remember that we moved into a room in the middle of the night, which didn't strike me as weird at the time, but sure does now.  The carriage driver and guards dropped all Mrs. Shadow's stuff on the sidewalk next to the hotel and drove off, then we just sorta walked into a room on the first floor.  Some guy and his family was gettin' out of that room at the same time.  While we was movin' some of the essentials into the room, they was quietly packin' their shit and gettin' outta there.  Now that did seem weird, even to a dumb kid who'd never been in a hotel before.  I chalked it up to luck back then.  Now I know better.  Mrs. Shadow musta got in their heads and told 'em to leave.

Our room had a nice big window, but I couldn't see much out it 'cause Mrs. Shadow's shit stayed right there in a pile the whole time we was livin' there.  Right out on the sidewalk, with people walkin' right by it every hour of every day.  Most of 'em never seemed to notice it was there.  Maybe they thought it was just another pile of trash that got blown around by the storm.  Maybe Mrs. Shadow did somethin' to it to make people miss it.  I doubt she was doin' some psychic shit to every single fuckin' person who walked by our hotel room, especially durin' the day when she was sleepin', but maybe she did.  But there it sat for months, untouched.

We finally wound up movin' down to the old 4th Ward, about two blocks from the seawall.  That's the same place we live right now, but fuck, you know that don't ya?  I told you to stop me if I start sayin' nonsense but hey, whatever, maybe you just want to hear me talk so's I'll say somethin' stupid and get myself in trouble, right?  Well, kid, you won't have to wait too long for that.  Just keep listenin'.

That old house is where I grew up.  Sure, fourteen meant a lot more back then than it does now.  Kids at fourteen today are still fuckin' shithead kids with too much time and not enough smarts, but I had to know how to take care of myself at fourteen back then.  Still, though, I grew up there.  Spent most of my life there, learnin' how to do shit not just for me but for somebody else.

Mrs. Shadow always relied on me to take care of certain things for her.  Had me on a real specific schedule, wakin' up a few hours before her to go out and pick shit up for the house or for me to eat.  I'd get back and she'd be in her favorite chair, readin' somethin' or singin' some old song to herself.  She'd smile at me and ask how was my errand, though she usually said outing, then we'd talk for a bit.  Every time we talked I felt a little bit closer to her, like I owed her just a bit more than I did before.  I think she was doin' some of that mental shit I talked about before, but it didn't bother me none.  Still don't.  Every feeling I felt was my own, never someone else's jammed in where it didn't belong.  I loved that woman then, still love her now.

She's dead, of course.  I can't feel her in my head anymore.  She was always in there before, but I never noticed it 'cause it never went away.  I never in a thousand years woulda come in here and spouted all this shit at you before, but now that she ain't in my head no more... I dunno, I guess I just felt like I owed it to somebody to get all this out on the table.  Maybe I owe it to myself, or to Mrs. Shadow, or to you jackasses so's you know who's been stirrin' up all this shit over the years.  I bet you could close a dozen open murder, kidnapping, and missing persons cases after what I tell you.  Like I said, you just keep on listenin'.

#

Anyways, after I'd get back from my errands and had a nice long chat with Mrs. Shadow, we'd get our things together and head out for a walk.  Almost every night we did this.  She'd make me go change clothes into somethin' nice, then she'd grab one of her big crazy-lookin' hats and we'd stroll on out into the world.  The electric lights hadn't made their way down to us back then when we first started doin' this, but we had gas lamps on the corners, and they was nice.  I miss all those gas lamps, man.  There was somethin' warm about 'em, like little fireplaces scattered all around town.  I wonder if that was why Mrs. Shadow liked 'em so much.  We'd stop under 'em and watch people walk by, but mostly they was goin' home or tryin' not to be seen, so there wasn't that many to look at.

The ones we did see, we talked about.  Mrs. Shadow told me all these little details she could pick out about these folks, based on how they was walkin' or how they treated the people they was with.  She taught me how to pick out folks who probably lived nearby, or was just passin' through, or got lost 'cause they was too drunk or stupid to find their way home.  Sometimes we followed people, and Mrs. Shadow would tell me more stuff about 'em while we walked.  At first I thought she was doin' more psychic shit, but it turns out she was just real good at people watchin'.  Sometimes she'd follow someone for a real long time, gettin' quieter and quieter, then tell me to head on home without her.  I don't think any of those folks ever got home after she did that.

I was probably nineteen or twenty the first time she asked me to bring someone back to the house for her.  By then I had spent years goin' with her while she followed people, gettin' farther and farther from the house all the time.  I figured out that the best place to spot folks was up on the Strand, near the north shore.  There was a bunch of shops and restaurants up there, all open late, pullin' every type of person who might be outside lookin' for a good time after the sun went down.  On one side of the Strand was the happy young up-and-comers, walkin' hand in hand while they chatted and loved on each other.  Photographers would ambush 'em and take their picture, then offer to sell it to 'em for a buck or two.  Lots of money back then, but the young gents was always keen to show their ladies just how eager they was to spend money on 'em.  They'd shell out, then go get some ice cream or coffee, maybe take in a show.  It was nice to watch these types.  They looked so happy.

The other side of the Strand was like the same thing, but inverted.  People walked with each other, but they didn't do too much smilin', and they sure as shit wasn't gettin' their pictures taken.  That was the side of town where the whores and Johns went to do business, or where the sailors went to get drunk and kick each other's teeth in.  This was where I went when Mrs. Shadow sent me out lookin' for someone to bring home.  Half of these folks was more than happy to see a young fella like myself walkin' up in nice clothes; the whores thought for sure I was their meal ticket, and some of the older men there wasn't lookin' for a lady's company if you know what I mean.  I'd have to work a little harder than Mrs. Shadow to get 'em all the way back to the 4th Ward, but eventually I got good at draggin' 'em across the island to meet her, whether they was willing or not.

I think I probably saw Mr. Ginger for the first time during these walks by myself.  I got these vague memories of seein' the same guy all over town, like he was followin' me, but I never thought nothin' of it.  I spent enough time on the streets to recognize almost everybody, so I chalked it up to that.  I was probably wrong, though.  Maybe he looked different before he started hasslin' me and Mrs. Shadow, or maybe he just did a real good job makin' himself scarce, but he was there.

#

You wanna know who Mr. Ginger is?  I can't tell you too much 'cause I don't know too much.  We calls him that 'cause he got this bright red hair, and a lot of it.  Big bushy hair, big bushy sideburns, sometimes a beard and mustache.  He's been after Mrs. Shadow for a real long time, like at least since the fifties.  Like I said, I think I seen him before that, like way back when, but he didn't do nothin' to set himself apart.  I think he musta disappeared for a real long time back then.  A lot of men left the island for the Great War back in '17, then a lot more for the second one in '41.  Maybe he was one of those.

The first time he came around to the house, he was pretendin' to sell vacuum cleaners.  I'd always answer the door and tell him no, she ain't home and she ain't buyin' no vacuum cleaner, so buzz off.  He was always real insistent though, always wanted to come inside, always pokin' his head around the door frame to get a peek.

That guy always scared the fuckin' hell outta me.  I got the shivers right now just thinkin' about him.  Now, don't get me wrong, I ain't no pussy.  I'm pretty strong, stronger than most guys, and I been in my share of fights.  Killed a few guys, even.  More'n a few.  But this guy, he made me real nervous.  He looked like he coulda walked over me without noticin', but he never came in, not as long as I was there.  I don't know what stopped him.  Maybe he really was sellin' vacuums back then, I dunno.

I could always tell he was comin' 'cause the neighborhood dogs would lose their fuckin' minds.  They didn't much care for Mrs. Shadow neither, and whenever she'd run across one it'd get real defensive and start to snarl and bite the air.  Always confused the shit out of their owners, but dogs know stuff.  More than we give 'em credit for, anyway.  They was different with Mr. Ginger, though.  They would howl and yelp and carry on like you wouldn't believe.  You probably heard it and just thought, those fuckin' dogs again.  But they was reactin' to somethin' when they saw him.  In my experience, dogs don't just do that.  There's somethin' around that makes 'em nervous, so they howl.  Like I said.  They know stuff.

So this guy kept comin' and comin', made Mrs. Shadow real nervous.  Back then she would still go out sometimes, right after sundown when the shops was still open for a few hours.  She still liked to pick out her own house guests then, usually a nice young couple out for a laugh on the good side of the Strand.  She'd just walk over and talk to 'em, and they'd come back home with us.  Sometimes she'd talk to a couple and let 'em go.  Most of the time, actually.  But the ones who came over to the house... you probably get it.

Anyway, Mr. Ginger come walkin' over one time when she's talkin' to this young Negro couple, steps right between her and them.  They looked at each other and ran, but Mr. Ginger just stood there, starin' down Mrs. Shadow.  They musta stood there for ten minutes, just starin'.  Then he smiled and walked off.  Somethin' in that smile made me real nervous, and Mrs. Shadow told me not to let him get near the house again.  I tried, but he kept comin' anyway.  Didn't even pretend to be sellin' nothin' after a while.

This one time, I tried to throw the bastard off our porch.  Didn't much care how afraid I was of him, I just got right up on him and grabbed his jacket and shoved as hard as I could.  Motherfucker growled at me, and before I knew it I was thirty feet away, face down in the street, tastin' my own blood.  I looked up at the door and nearly lost my mind when I saw him strollin' through it.

You know what saved Mrs. Shadow?  It was the damnedest thing, but a cop come rollin' up right at that second.  He stopped 'cause I'm just lyin' there bleedin' in the street, screamin' bloody murder about an intruder breakin' into the place.  He ran in there shoutin' at Mr. Ginger to come out peaceful like, which he done.  He walked away like nothin' happened, even smiled at me on his way out the door, the bastard.  Cop asked me if I wanted to file a report, I said nah, no point.  Cop thought that was weird, but I didn't want to bring no heat down on the house.  There was plenty to find in there, I can tell ya.

Mrs. Shadow stopped goin' out after that.  Never left her house again.

#

I wasn't in school or nothin' when Mrs. Shadow found me.  I don't got no mom or pop, least not ones I can remember.  My earliest memory is me runnin' away from some big scary house near the water, just runnin' away cryin'.  I guess that was an orphanage or somethin', and I bet it ain't so big or scary now, if it's still even there.  Anyway, I was livin' on the street for somethin' like seven years when Mrs. Shadow caught me tryin' to steal somethin' from her.  Don't even remember what it was, but I do remember what she done.  Just turned and stared at me, and I went all cold inside, like I was dyin' or passin' out.  So I spat at her.

Spittin' at some fancy lady probably saved my life.  Ain't that hilarious?  She looked real surprised for a second, then told me to come have supper with her in her house.  I said sure, I'll go, but I was confused.  She told me later that I was strong and smart, and that she needed me.  I'd never heard nothin' like that before.  So I stayed.

Why am I sayin' all this?  Well you gotta understand somethin' about me before I tell you the next part.  Even before Mrs. Shadow showed me how to get people, I knew how to get stuff.  All kinds of stuff, especially the illegal kind.  I mean, that's a stupid thing to say, right?  People don't need no help gettin' the legal kind.  Anyways, that day with the cop, when Mrs. Shadow stopped leavin' her house, I got real busy.  I had to keep her stocked with all kinds of shit she couldn't get for herself no more, including the occasional house guest.  I ain't proud of it, and I'm one hundred percent certain you'll arrest me after this, but I don't care no more.

So Mrs. Shadow, knowin' I knows how to get all kinds of weird shit, she starts askin' me to pick up all kinds of chemicals for her.  Weird stuff I ain't never heard of at the time, though now, of course, I got that list memorized and I could tell you six different places to get it all within a day's drive of here.  And before you ask, I ain't tellin' you what they is or where they at.  I ain't here to bust nobody, especially not somebody who been helpin' me and Mrs. Shadow for twenty-odd years.  So if you're lookin' to get some free collars off me and my story, you can go fuck yourself.

So I start bringin' all this stuff back to the house, stashin' it all over the property so nobody can see me bringin' it all in at once.  I set up this chemistry lab in the attic that your boys are probably turnin' over right now.  Learned how to use it real good.  Made all kinds of funky stuff up there, some of it you guys probably familiar with.  You been lookin' for somebody mixin' up local batches of LSD, right?  Well, you got him.

So while I was practicin' with my chemistry set, Mr. Ginger kept on comin' by.  I had to board up the windows and keep all the doors blocked off for years.  I got out and in by a different door or window every day, then blocked it off.  Mr. Ginger tested every fuckin' one of 'em.  Real persistent bastard, he is.  Once, he even found the right window.  I was watchin' him from across the street, shakin' boards and knockin' on doors.  He put his hand right on the window I was about to climb through, but just shook it and walked on.  Guess he was lazy that day.  Good thing, too.  Mrs. Shadow woulda been sleepin' then.

I worked harder, tryin' to make the thing Mrs. Shadow wanted me to make.  She never told me what it was, by the way, just put the idea into my head somehow.  She does that a lot.  I don't even notice it anymore, but now that she ain't doin' it no more, I notice.  Oh, man.  No, I won't go on.  Gimme a second, you fuckin' vulture.  Oh, man.  Poor Mrs. Shadow.

Anyways, one day about fifteen years back, I done it.  I knew it right away.  I got this feelin' I had done somethin' good, like after you finish a puzzle or somethin'.  It was a real specific feelin', but I knew I was done tryin' shit out, at least for what Mrs. Shadow wanted me to make.  She was still talkin' then, just not very much.  Still looked like she was in her twenties, fresh as a breeze.  She acted like an old lady, though, sittin' in a rocking chair with a quilt over her legs, readin' an old book.  But she was pale, beautiful... dangerous lookin' if you catch my drift.  You probably seen her today.  She don't look like that no more.

So she calls me downstairs, 'cause she knows I done it.  Calls me down, shows me this fancy silver tea tray with a big syringe on it, one of those old glass ones with the giant metal fittings.  Big fucker, like, too big.  She used it on the house guests sometimes.  She used to... well, never mind.  She gets bored with her food, just like anyone.

She tells me to fill this big fuckin' syringe with this weird goop I been makin' for her.  It turned out lookin' silver, but in the right light it shined like gold.  Ran like liquid mercury; slick, bloated, leavin' nothin' behind.  Weird stuff.  I jammed some of it into the syringe and walked it back downstairs, gettin' more and more nervous as I went.  I knew she was gonna ask me to stick her with it, and I had no fuckin' clue what it was gonna do to her.  I mean, Mrs. Shadow is a tough old bat, or she was I guess, shit...  Anyways, I wasn't sure what it was gonna do.

Sure enough, she asks me to stick her, so I do.  I had to press the plunger with my other hand to get the stuff movin' into her.  Her veins don't exactly work like yours or mine do.  Anything you want to put in there, you gotta work for.  Took some doin', but in it went.  All of it.

Right away I could tell somethin' was wrong.  I got all fuzzy in the head, like I'd been drinkin' all night and hadn't been to bed.  She looked rough.  Sat down in her chair real hard, holdin' her head and speakin' in some old language I never bothered to learn.  I think if she coulda, she woulda thrown up right then and there.  But she just toughed it out, sittin' in her chair with her head in her hands.  As soon as she was strong enough to talk, she told me to pull all the boards off the windows and doors.  I was fuckin' flabbergasted, but I did it.

Mr. Ginger showed up right in the middle of it.  Walked right through the door and into the room where Mrs. Shadow was sittin'.  It was the damnedest thing, though.  Before I could even think about goin' in there to haul his ass out, he just walked out the front door.  Ran out almost.  Couldn't fuckin' wait to get out of there.  Damnedest thing.

#

So Mr. Ginger kept comin' and goin' that same way for weeks.  He'd just stroll on in, get spooked, and tear ass outta there.  Got to the point where he almost looked afraid when he was walkin' up to the house.  I gotta tell ya, I enjoyed the fuckin' hell outta that.  I used to tell him, right this way, come on in, with a great big shit-eatin' grin on my face, knowin' he'd just come runnin' back out without hurtin' no one.  A few times I even laughed in his face.  Dumb fuck.

But none of this was any good for Mrs. Shadow neither.  No matter how much fun I had watchin' Mr. Ginger run out the house with that sick, frustrated look on his face, poor Mrs. Shadow looked like she was right at death's door the entire time.  I'd come strollin' back into the house, happy as you please, only to find her rockin' back and forth with her head in her hands.  I could feel her pain, man, like it was my pain.  Always got worse when I got close to her, or if I could see her.  It radiated out from her like some kinda horrible fuckin' sound only I could hear.  Makes me sick to my stomach just thinkin' about it.  Can you imagine what that musta felt like for her?  Course you can't, why the fuck did I ask you?  You don't know shit, man, and you can keep that fuckin' face you're makin' to yourself.

Anyways, Mr. Ginger kept comin' back, but after a while he started showin' up at the front door with his hat in his hand.  Sometimes he even rang the fuckin' doorbell and asked to see her, like an old friend comin' to visit.  I could tell he was feelin' sick just standin' there and was lookin' for any excuse not to come inside.  I told him to fuck off a bunch of times, the first times he asked, just to see what would happen.  He stared me down like he wanted to rip my throat out with his teeth, then just turned and walked away.  Every time.  But he came back anyway.

I started lettin' him in, just 'cause I knew he couldn't do nothin' to Mrs. Shadow anymore.  Whatever was hurtin' her so bad was just as bad for Mr. Ginger, maybe even worse somehow.  That feelin' I got musta been way worse for him.  The first time I let him in, he strolled into Mrs. Shadow's sitting room and lost his lunch all over the floor.  I ain't never felt an emotion like that before, like I wanted to laugh out loud and cry and be sick all at the same time.  Fucker just turned around and left after that.  I had to clean up his mess while Mrs. Shadow watched, coughing into her little lace hanky, sayin' nothin'.

And he kept comin' back, over and over again.  I ain't stupid, I know he was there to kill her.  He'd been tryin' to kill her for years, and he wasn't about to stop tryin', even if it made him sick to try.  Kinda noble in a fucked up way, ain't it?  That's why I let him in.  I knew he couldn't get close enough to Mrs. Shadow to hurt her, and I kinda admired the bastard.  I set up a chair for him one time, right at the edge of where he could stand to get without gettin' sick and runnin' out.  He sat there all right, and after a while he started talkin' to Mrs. Shadow.  His voice was low and quiet, like a growl.  Mrs. Shadow didn't always talk back, but when she did, she almost sounded happy.  Maybe it was a distraction from her pain.  Maybe she was sick of talkin' to nobody but me for so long.  Whatever it was, they both seemed to get somethin' out of it.  Almost like they was friends, though I ain't never heard of someone gettin' friendly with their assassin.  Except in movies I guess.  That happens in movies, don't it?

Anyway, that's how it went for years and years.  Mr. Ginger's last visit was today.  You saw what he done.

#

A couple weeks ago when I went to give Mrs. Shadow her shot of that silvery shit, she made it real clear she didn't want it.  The shots did their job, keepin' Mr. Ginger away, but they'd also been turnin' her old, draining away whatever had kept her young all those years, makin' time catch up to her.  It had happened fast by anyone's standards but hers... I mean, she went from lookin' like a beautiful young woman in her twenties to a crumpled old bat in her eighties in, like, fifteen years.  But it was all so gradual to me, 'cause I saw her every day.  The only comparison I could make was to Mr. Ginger, who still ain't aged at all since I first saw him.  I guess I ain't aged either, but I don't spend a lot of time gazing into mirrors admiring myself.  You look like you might though, pretty boy.  How long does it take to get your hair lookin' like that?  Don't answer, I don't fuckin' care.

Anyway, she refused the shot for the first time since I started givin' em.  Maybe she knew they was killin' her and she didn't want to die that way.  Maybe she was just tired of feelin' like fuckin' shit all the time.  Maybe it was somethin' else that I'm too stupid to understand.  But she quit, cold turkey.

Startin' then, I felt less and less sick when I was in the room with her, and I could tell she was feelin' better too.  It was kinda nice to get her back after all that time.  We started talkin' again, and I even took her out for a walk one night.  There was nobody out to recognize her, but nobody woulda anyway.  The town changed right under our noses.  Half the houses on our block was new or rebuilt since the last time she saw 'em, and there was a corner grocery store and a gas station on the end of the block.  I'd been buyin' shit from that place without givin' it a second thought for at least a decade, but she looked up at me and asked, where'd the old fire station go?  I had no fuckin' clue.  I'd forgotten there even was a fire station down that way.  I told her so and she got real sad.  I could feel her sadness inside me, like she had come back to life just in time to watch the world start dyin' or somethin'.  It was a real complex feelin' that I still don't quite understand.

Mr. Ginger noticed the difference too.  He started movin' his chair closer and closer to Mrs. Shadow, and she kept sendin' me away to do some bullshit errand whenever he came by.  I think she knew what was gonna happen.  Today, it did.

Like I told you, I saw him comin' in with a fistful of flowers right as I was goin' out, and I came right here.  I didn't see nothin' and I didn't want to.  I bet he was gone by the time you got to the house, right?  He was fuckin' gone.  Did your guys find him?  Is anyone even lookin'?  You know what, don't tell me.  I'm sure you assholes think you already got your man, and I'm him.  I don't want to hear your fuckin' excuses.  I'm guilty of a whole mess of horrible shit, but I didn't kill my old lady.  That redheaded son of a bitch did.  Lock me up for being a murderer and a pusher, but you better fuckin' find Mr. Ginger.

I knew your daddy, did you know that?  He was a cop, too.  You look just like him, though he was taller.  Your mom is pretty short.  Was always funny to watch the two of them together, him towerin' over her like a bodyguard.  She was nice to look at back then, before you was born.  She really started to pack on the pounds when she knew you was comin', man.  She turned into a real little butterball.  Wipe that fuckin' look off your face, I'm about to tell you somethin' important.

You see, when your mom stopped lookin' like she just stepped off the page of a fashion magazine, your dad took up with a younger woman.  Her name was Malorie, and she was drop dead gorgeous.  Tall, brunette, long legs that she loved showin' off.  Basically the opposite of your mom, especially with thirty extra pounds on her.  Did you know about Malorie?  I bet not.  I bet your dad made a bunch of excuses about workin' late, which makes sense 'cause he's police, right?  Well, he mighta been workin' late sometimes, but the rest of the time he was givin' it to this gorgeous young broad.  Man, she was somethin'.  They kept that shit up for a couple years.

Why do I know this?  Well, before I stopped seein' so much of your mom, I was scoutin' your dad and her.  Meanin' I was ready to knock 'em out and bring 'em back to Mrs. Shadow, like I told you I done.  I coulda killed your daddy before you was even a twinkle in his eye, but when your mom stopped showin' up and this new gal started, I figured somethin' was up.  I switched from scoutin' your mom and dad to just scoutin' Malorie.  I bet she didn't show up for one of their dates one night and he figured she'd just moved on.  I bet you saw a lot more of your daddy after that.  You're welcome.

See, that's what we been doin' this whole time, me and Mrs. Shadow.  We killed a whole bunch of people in this town, but it was the ones nobody would notice.  The way she had me scout folks, and the way she chose 'em, it was all about fittin' in.  She only took the ones who didn't, for whatever reason.  I mean, young couples run away together all the time, right?.  Mistresses get bored and move on.  Daddies leave their families.  Some of 'em really did, here.  The rest wound up feedin' Mrs. Shadow.

Mrs. Shadow and I, we been holdin' back a wave in this town.  I didn't even realize we was doin' it, not until Mrs. Shadow asked about that fire station.  She was your last link to a past that just died forever.  Lookin' back, we was prunin' this town, takin' the parts of it that didn't fit and pluckin' em out like weeds.  You gonna start noticin' it now that I said it.  Things are gonna change, and I'll be watchin' from whatever prison you decide to throw me in.  I don't know how long I'll live now that Mrs. Shadow is gone, but I'll spend every second of it laughin' at you, 'cause you don't know what you lost today.

That's all I got to say to you.

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