An endless parade of officers stood in the hallway and checked on Konan and Lilly. Jackson watched the scene without empathy. His owner had sent him on a mission, and he would not stop until he completed it.
Seated next to him, an old woman squirmed in her seat restlessly. She turned to him with a warm smile and said hello.
“Hello,” Jackson said back, as he leaned back in his seat.
“Why are you here today, dearie? Are you waiting for someone?”
“Some friends of mine were involved in a car accident outside of town.”
“Oh, dear me. Vehicles are so dangerous. Why, I’m surprised they haven’t wanted to outlaw them?”
“Mmm,” Jackson muttered. It was clear to him the old woman wanted to talk, so he feigned politeness. “What brought you to the hospital, grandmother?”
If Jackson’s words or mannerisms seemed odd to the old woman, she never let on. Instead, she wrung her hands and seemed genuinely happy to have someone to talk to.
“My husband is here. He’s dying,” she said matter-of-factly.
“My condolences, grandmother.”
“Oh, he’s not dead yet, dearie.”
Jackson forced a grin at the old woman and leaned back against his seat. He closed his eyes, hoping the old woman would take a hint. She didn’t.
“But he will die if he doesn’t get cured of his affliction,” she whispered to Jackson.
Titus cracked an eye and stared at the old woman who seemed to grow cold with the mention of her husband’s ‘affliction.’
“I caught him looking at porn,” she muttered, her eyes darting around the waiting area, checking to see if anyone overheard their conversation. No one had picked up on her secret. “He was so excited; he tripped and fell down the stairs.”
“Well, I’ll be hung. Isn’t that something else?”
“I’ll say, and at our age too. These things happen though when you get our age.”
Jackson Titus wasn’t sure what to say to the old woman, so he said nothing. Instead, he watched the nurse’s desk and the hallway. Officers drifted in and out, but they as time grew late they dispersed.
He bid the old woman goodbye and wished her well. She had been a bright spot in Jackson’s day, and now he had work to do. After saying goodbye, he walked to Lilly’s room, opened the door and shut it.
It was time for a one-on-one conversation with Thermopolis Konan’s partner.
Lilly sat up in the bed as Titus pulled the door shut. She watched as the killer turned and put his hands up in mock surrender.
“I have come in peace, detective.”
“Peace,” Lilly snarled at him. “You don’t know the meaning of the word. I knew scum like you would resurface. We aren’t fortunate enough that you’d die.”
“Trust me, I wish I had.”
“What do you want, Titus?”
“To talk,” Jackson Titus said, as he dragged a chair next to her bed. “And to tell you a story.”
“You killed your family, Bradley Freeman, and two members of the Trinity. Why should I listen to anything you have to say?”
“Because you and Konan can save the last remaining member of the Trinity. You know about Freeman.”
“So, you want to negotiate? What are you talking about ‘saving’ the last member?”
“He isn’t dead. There’s time still to rescue him, but first you must hear the story.”
“Fine. Get on with it Titus, and then get out of our town.”
“After Bradley Freeman died, and you pinched Bronowski, I high-tailed it out of here. The people I paid to help me sold me into slavery.”
“Serves you right,” Lilly snapped. Titus ignored her and continued with his story.
“My owner,” Titus spit the words out vehemently, “has a list of enemies he wants disposed of. I have worked names of his list, and now I am down to the last few names.”
“Why? What does he want with dead enemies?”
“He wants to go legit, but how many people do you know what to go into business with a former slaver? The answer is no one.”
Lilly shrugged and waited. Titus leaned back in the chair and sighed. Lilly watched him, and he watched her back. Someone had cut long, ragged scars down both sides of his face. His blond beard didn’t cover the damage done to his face. He lifted his shirt and pointed at a massive brand on his chest, the initials MK was carved in the flesh by a knife.
“So, you found a home after all.”
“It’s not a home detective. It’s a prison, and I am a tool. A tool that is rapidly losing value, and when I am done with the list, I am expendable.”
“I see,” Lilly said. “This is about self-preservation. Right? You want us to help you.”
“Detective Thompson, I won’t survive this. As you are aware, I’m in no position to ask for mercy, and it is unnatural for me to beg for it. So, when I die I want to be buried where you found my parents today.”
“You mean, where you killed them like dogs, right?”
“I didn’t kill my parents.”
“I didn’t. I swear.”
“Then who did, Titus?”
“My owner sanctioned the hit.”
“Because I am not done yet. He killed them because I did not make his deadline.”
Lilly waited for more to follow, but Jackson Titus said nothing. He looked at the clock, and then his watch, and still he said nothing. As much as Lilly hated herself for it, she felt a small smidgen of pity for the slave.
“You see these scars and brand, detective? He gave them to me. His men held me down, and he carved my face up while I screamed. When I asked him why he laughed and said, ‘so you will always know that you are nothing.’ He won’t hesitate to kill me, or you. He’s a man without conscious.”
“Why not go to, Konan? He has experience with people like that.”
“He unloaded a full magazine at me, detective.”
“You ran us off the road, idiot!”
“I wanted to talk to both of you, but things have escalated.”
Jackson Titus scoffed and nodded. Lilly found herself grinning despite herself.
“Here’s what I propose, Detective Thompson. Upon your release from the hospital, you and Konan go back out to my family’s home. Down the road, less than a mile past from our home is a barn. It’s on the left-hand side of the road. Go to the end of the barn and open the last stall on the right. Behind a stack of rotten hay is a trap door.
Underneath it is the remaining Trinity member. He’s got enough supplies to last a couple of days.”
“And Konan and I are supposed to forget about you?”
“No. I have something else to do. If it gets sideways, well, either way, you won’t see me again.”
Lilly shook her head in disgust. She felt nauseas at working with Jackson Titus, a known racist and murderer, but if he told her the truth, she could save someone’s life. The thought of owing Titus a favor made her even sicker.
“One last thing, detective.”
“Be careful with Winston Smith, the head of the council. He’s a snake, and he won’t hesitate to kill either of you. He was my contact here.”
Without another word, Titus turned the knob and walked out. By the time Lilly got out of bed and made it to her door, Titus had vanished. She climbed back in bed and leaned against her pillow. If there was any truth to what he said, someone was making moves to assume power in Fredericksburg.
Someone with the initials of MK.