The Victim

Chapter Two: Friends

Runaway

“There are things… things I’ve done, things I’ve seen…” he says. “Please, I don’t want to dredge them all up. Just know that yesterday I faced him and paid the price in flesh. The other time, when I first came to you, things with him were… bad. Pretty bad.”

I sit in silence, trying to process all he has told me. “Where is this man, matches, now?” I ask. “Who knows,” he replies. “But he knows my face. And he never forgets. It’s only a matter of time before he comes… And you don’t want to be here when he does.”

The truth is I don’t fear this man nor his legend. I just don’t buy it. There are no boogeymen, only psychos. And psychos are not flashy invincible superheroes like in the movies. They are sloppy, crazy and eventually get caught, die or both. I think he suffered a mental breakdown after his sister died. “Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere,” I say. “Look,” he whispers seriously, grabbing my hand. “I’m not asking you. He will find me. Remember the night I’ve just told you about?” I nod, thinking he may have paranoia induced by some disease.

“Well, after he burned that man, I ran away. I ran as fast as I could, as far as I could. Away from him, away from all of it. I wanted to come back to the real world. I hid in a corner, under cardboard. There was no one there, I swear. But in the dead of night, even without light, he found me. I woke up from the smell, it was so strong…”

“He was pouring gasoline all over my cardboard, and when I woke up, he pinned me down by the neck. ‘Now, listen up, sunnyboy. You’re gonna repeat after me,’ he said, and put his lighter close to my face. ‘I’m never gonna run away.’ I begged him for mercy, but he wouldn’t hear it. ‘Say it! Say it sunnyboy!’ he kept screaming. I said the words ‘I’m never gonna run away.’”

“‘I’m never gonna rat on matches,’ he continued. I repeated after him. He smiled, let me go and put out his lighter. ‘Good,’ he whispered. He can find me. I don’t know how, but he always does. He’s made me do things…” He looks genuinely afraid. Now I’m beginning to doubt. Could this matches guy be real?

“Promise you will never lie to me,” I say. He just looks at me. “Promise!” I shout. “Ok, ok, I promise,” he says. “Good,” I say. “Now help me get up, we have to get away.” I pick up all the bloody towels and clothes we used the night before and put them in a bag. We take some stuff from the apartment and leave.

We get in my car and drive, in no particular direction. About an hour or two later we park in a cheap motel. I book a room and help him walk to it. Once inside, I help him into the bed. I close the door and draw the blinds. “Has anyone seen you coming in?” he asks.

“No, only the guy at front desk,” I reply. “Are you sure?” he asks again. I peep through the blinds. There’s no one else as poor or desperate as we are to stay in this hell hole. “Yes. I’m sure.” I’m about to sit on a chair, but I notice it’s… sticky. I go to the toilet to get some paper to clean it with, and it smells like a family of racoons died inside. I can literally feel the wall crawling.

I just use the chair to block the toilet, deciding it’s not fit for human use. The bed is the only thing that seems clean, probably because this is a cheap place where hookers take their clients. I resign myself to the bed. “So what now?” I ask. “Now we need guns,” he whispers. “Guns? Are you out of your mind?” I say, raising my voice.

“What do you want to stop him with? Mean words? No, this is a crazy man we’re dealing with. We have to shoot first and aim well.” Now he’s starting to scare me. At least he thinks it’s real and I see what he wants to do. “Look, I only signed up to help you live, because I owe you. But I won’t commit murder.”

He smiles, pulls himself up and says “Oh really, and what do you suggest we do?” “Let’s go to the police,” I reply. He laughs. “What, why!? Why does everybody think the police is so funny?” I ask. “Let me walk you through what will happen,” he says. “Even if we go to a police station and explain all I know, and they believe me, they will have no way of finding him. He will get wind of it, somehow, and disappear. Some years later, down the road, while we’re having dinner peacefully, he’ll come to our house and kill us.”

“Just like that?” I say, incredulous. He nods. I’m sorry, but I can’t buy this whole super-psycho story. People aren’t like this. It looks like he’s watched too many movies. He suddenly takes my left hand. “Look, this guy’s a pro, ok!?” he says. “He-he peels off his own fingertips to have no prints, because he watched it in some movie or some s-word. He never stays, eats, or goes twice to the same place. Never.”

“How will they link him to any of the crimes?” he goes on. “Crimes? How many are there?” I ask, concerned. “More than you should know. Trust me,” he says. “But there must be witnesses,” I say. “Sure there are,” he says. “People in the drug business, people from marginal hoods, too scared of him and the people he works for to speak. Nobody’s got nothing to gain from testifying.”

“I still think we should go to the police,” I insist. “They’ll find a way to get him… they’ll put you in witness protection.” He takes his hands to his face. “We’re lost, we’re lost, we’re lost,” he starts repeating to himself. “Look,” I say, “go to sleep. Tomorrow we’ll figure something out. I’m gonna get something to eat, do you want anything?” I ask. “You shouldn’t go outside,” he warns me ominously. “Yeah, that way we die from starvation or dysentery from staying on this room for too long.” He has no comeback for that.

I exit my room and walk down the street until I find a cafeteria. I order something for me to eat and a piece of pie to take away. As I eat, I decide to use the cafeteria’s public wifi to research a little on this “matches” guy. I search for recent fires in the city. Most of the stuff is ruled to be accidents. But there are some arson cases.

Of those, some are solved. But then there are a ton that aren’t. There’s an alarmingly high number of small business fires in the last two years. There’s also cases where a meth lab blows up, or a house with an entire family burns down. However, how can anyone find anything here to pin it on the guy he describes? A couple of hours after being in the cafeteria, I’m on my second cup of coffee. It’s already midnight, and almost nobody’s there.

But I feel someone watching me from the street. I’m sitting with my back to the door, so it would be too obvious if I turned around to see who it is. I open a black window on my computer and use it as a mirror. It’s hard to distinguish, but there’s a figure in a coat just standing out there. Could it be true? At least part of it, I mean. Maybe he really is mixed in some shady business and people are after him.

I take out my phone, shaking, and call him. “Pick up, pick up, pick up,” I whisper. Voice mail. “F-word!” I whisper. Nothing, he must be asleep. I decide to just wait him out. Meanwhile I keep investigating. I just hope he doesn’t burn me down. Wait, what am I saying. I’ve yet to see proof this guy has done half the things my dead girlfriend’s brother says he’s done. All I’ve seen so far is rumors.

Then I decide to search in the news for any reference to ‘matches.’ And many sports articles later I find what I was looking for. “… a suspect broke into the house sometime during the night, tied the parents and—” I stop to take my hands to my mouth in horror. “… burnt alive the two girls. He first set fire to the crib where the youngest one was, and forced the parents to watch. Then he strapped the oldest one, aged four, to a chair and burnt her alive. The parents reported that their aggressor kept repeating ‘Matches is upset.’ Police are currently looking for a psychotic arsonist for these violent crimes with the alias ‘matches.’”

So it’s true.