"It couldn't have happened to a better person," his mother's voice rang and rang in his head, repeating this phrase like a penny winding down a mall coin-funnel. To stop the trace of that vortex, he needed only to extend his hand, but he lacked the will. Instead, he watched the coffee cup circle, chasing itself in the microwave, nearly full with water, as it began to vibrate and emit tiny angel's wings of steam.
Two minutes timed down and the water was hot. Two minutes were lost and he still had no answer, no plan, no clear way out. He often thought of himself as the master of the bad scenario, brain-powering his way down endless blind alleys, seeing from the outside in, creating order from disaster. This time, though, he could conjure no plan of rescue. He was frozen in place as his options turned into mirages.
His problem should be simple to solve, really, if he chose good over evil and did the right thing. But this was a situation of his own making and, in the end, was too complicated with far too many grey areas to find its solution in a set of steps to follow out and away. His thighs felt weak and again he realized that reality was the absolute antidote to best wishes and good faith.
He opened the microwave door quietly, though the interlock clunked and clicked, giving him away. He meant to leave his wife in her peaceful sleep, upstairs in the pastel quiet. She was an impossibly light sleeper, easily woken at three or five AM by his tires on the circular gravel drive or by the smell of the bread before it erupted from the toaster, just so. Though he felt duty-bound, he had no solution for her, either. She would surely hear it from the police when they found his body well after his disappearance, or when they found whatever pieces were left. Whatever the Bouras brothers didn't finish, the alligators would certainly indulge.
"Ruben Calderon Identified As Glades Doe," the headline would read. Between the heat and the hungry swamp, he would need only be dead for a few days to be rendered identifiable only through his dental records. If they found his head, that is. Ruben was sure that his hands would be cut off to thwart easy identification, hopefully after he'd been shot, stabbed or garroted into the next world. And for reasons that weren't clear, the brothers had a penchant for depriving male victims of their "archidi." They didn't seem to need the penis - that might be construed as unmanly, but the balls had to go.
He poured the instantly boiled water over instant oatmeal in a bowl glazed with an image of a sunflower such that the yellow petals bordered the Strawberry Cream variety of dried oats. As he dripped the water in and stirred with a matching sunflower spoon, the dessicated strawberries gave up some of their colour and a rivulet of vermilion wound across the surface of the food like Moses' Nile plaque.
Ruben tried tasting the oatmeal. It was very hot. He thought of the story of the three bears and a smile momentarily broke the shell of his face. It would be the last time he would have the occasion or opportunity to smile.
Taking the bowl with him, he made his way to the living room. He put a napkin on the coffee table next to his work laptop and put the bowl in the center of it, where the oatmeal could cool so that it was 'just right.'
He decided to review his options as he had earlier set out in a spreadsheet with desperate care. He could not run away. He could not face the Bouras brothers and lie to them, since they already knew what he knew he wasn't supposed to know. He couldn't play the loyalty card, since he wasn't family, though he was "Uncle Ruben" to little Jimmy. Big Jimmy would kill him anyway. If he ran away . . . where could he run where he wouldn't be found? Nowhere, that's where. The brothers did business everywhere and with everyone as did their father and his father before him The FBI would take him in, would relocate him and his wife, they promised, and Ruben knew the brothers or one of their ilk would find him and then he and his wife would both be dead. He couldn't do that to her. She was far too stupid and he loved her far too much because of it, in the way a boy loves an addled Retriever and he pities it besides. She was still safe, since she had no idea that he was really a criminal in league with other, far worse, criminals rather than a career numbers guy. At least, going to the feds meant he had time to think, to plan. It might be a game changer. He sat staring at the spreadsheet, running down the options, weighing out the potentials. He made a decision and sighed.
He picked up the bowl and spoon, now very hungry for the filling warmth of the oatmeal. He needed very much to not feel empty. As the spoon rose to his mouth, there was a soft, almost apologetic, knock at the door. Ruben knew at that moment that it was too late. He knew that the time to plan and calculate was over, that they would now take it from here. He eyed the sliding glass doors that led out to the patio and the pool, considered for a tiny slice of the time he had left and knew that he would never make it. That's why they always came to the front door - so the target would realize that his car, the street and the world was out there and that there was simply no way of getting to any of it.
Ruben put the spoon into the bowl and put both back down on the coffee table. He stood, tucked his white shirt back into his slacks and went to greet the knocker.