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Sins of the Reaper

The Scarred Man

By John CoxPublished 3 months ago 8 min read
Top Story - May 2024
When an unexpected knock came to my door, I stupidly assumed it was El....

Walking as rapidly as my bruised heel will allow, I begin to weep, barely able to suppress the desire to stop and let it all go, the sound of sirens rising to my ears as I round the block past my former apartment, my feet carrying me away from the only chapter in my past that I still clearly remember.

If I had done nothing it would all be over now, decades of genuine anguish stilled, a lifetime of forgotten memories as irrelevant as if they had never been recorded at all.

Could it be love? A vision of El's wise gaze briefly appeared in my thoughts as I left my apartment. By then the moment of decision had already passed, the decisive blow already struck whether I wanted it to or not. It seems ironic that save for my sudden fascination with her, I would never have dropped my guard in the first place.

El's pattern, so predictable before, changed unexpectedly. Several days passed without seeing her as I left for work before midnight or when I returned again at midmorning. I began to wonder if I would ever hear from her again. When an unexpected knock came at my door, I stupidly assumed it was El and opened the door without looking through the peephole first, taken briefly aback when I faced a pair of men conservatively dressed and stiff with self-importance.

“Good morning Mr. Candide,” the first said firmly as he flashed a badge, “I’m Inspector Marlowe with the U. S. Cyber Security Agency and this is my associate Inspector Barnes…. May we come in?”

“Do you have a warrant?”

“Mr. Candide, we’re not here to arrest or harass you, we’d just like to ask you a few questions. May we come in please?”

“Sure,” I said with a shrug as I led them into the kitchen. Gesturing to the chairs at the table I returned to the stove and my interrupted breakfast preparations. “You guys hungry? I can add a few more eggs to the scramble.” Looking at them for a response, I deliberately prolonged my gaze, each bravely holding it save for a nervous wince from Barne’s right eyelid giving his discomfort away.

“Naw we’re good,” Marlowe replied, his eyes glancing furtively at his partner.

But Barnes, his eyes still steadily locked onto mine, did not speak until I returned my attention to the eggs on the griddle. “Did you get those burns in a war?”

“Nope,” I answered without turning, “an explosion in a public market in Bethlehem before you were born.”

“You survived the Bethlehem bombing?” he replied incredulously.


“I didn’t know anyone survived,” he said with a tone of disbelief.

“I did,” I answered with a second shrug.

But Marlowe abruptly interrupted his partner, saying – “If we could get back to the point … we were wondering if you could answer a few questions?”

“Can’t hurt to ask,” I replied as I scraped the eggs onto my plate.

“We were told you are undergoing psychiatric reconsolidation with … uh … dammit – what name is she using this week?” he asked his partner irritably.

“Portinari … Dr. Portinari.”

“Right. Portinari. Can you tell us why?”

“I don’t even know what psychiatric whatever you said is,” I answered as I sat at the table to eat.

“Traumatic memory elimination.”

“Definitely not that,” I answered with a short laugh.

“Why not? That’s what she does … that’s why people hire her.”

“Amongst other unsavory things,” Barnes grunted.

“What does that have to do with me?”

“That’s what we’re trying to find out.”

“Then I guess I can’t help you.”

“What are you seeing her for?” Barnes asked coldly.

“She’s a doctor. Perhaps you are unfamiliar with doctor – patient confidentiality.”

“She’s an unlicensed practitioner; there was no doctor – client confidentiality.”

“So, you’re a lawyer now, too?”

“Mr. Candide,” Marlowe began …

“Inspector Marlowe,” I interrupted, “What we discussed is none of your business. If that’s what you came for you might as well leave now and I can eat my eggs while their still warm.”

“I’ve got a question,” Barnes purred as he leaned against the table with a twisted grin, “Do you know the Reaper?”

I grinned. “The fella in a black cloak with a sickle?”

But I felt my cheeks flush with heat as Marlowe abruptly stood to leave; noisily pushing his chair from the table.

“You really shouldn’t be alive you know,” Barnes said quietly as the tension began to build in my muscles, “death is not cheated forever.”

But he did not stand, continuing to gaze coldly into my eyes as he slowly leaned back, a shiver of fear raising the hairs on the nape of my neck.

Marlowe had stood – not to leave – but to distract my attention. As his chair scraped noisily backwards Barnes had likely cocked the gun that he had leaned forward to pull from his ankle holster a moment earlier and was undoubtedly pointing at me under the table. The moment was both terrifying and a breathlessly energizing, some subliminal part of me preparing to act even as my psyche began to ready my consciousness for oblivion, Marlowe standing in motionless discomfort as Barnes steadily and meaningfully held my gaze.

My eyes looked into Barne’s as the time surrounding me began to slow, my adrenaline surging again like it had on a distant battlefield long ago, my left foot stealthily rising from the floor beneath the table as if a separate entity from my rigid torso. My eyes did not leave his in the seconds that followed, the excitement doubling the size of his pupils even as my own undoubtedly expanded as well.

It was Marlowe who finally broke the awkward tension: “I noticed the Dojo when we came in; are you a Sensei?”

“A master requires students,” I answered without taking my eyes from Barnes. “I have none.”

“What’s your discipline?”

“A military combative hybrid. I learned it in another life … before this,” I said as I gently gestured at my scarred face with my fork.

“Are you skilled?”

“Very,” I grunted, my foot almost high enough to reach the hidden gun with my boot.

“I’ve got another question,” Barnes said with a nasty grin – “Can you dodge bullets, Sensei?” He squeezed the trigger just as the heel of my boot pressed against the barrel, the gun exploding as the bullet met the thick rubber sole and melded with the steel shank hidden within it, its force slamming my chair backwards into the cabinet behind me as my foot shrieked in mind elevating pain.

The moments that followed were striking in their distilled clarity, Barnes clung catatonically to his fingerless hand as Marlowe blinked in confusion, his right hand pausing in midair as if torn between bending to help his partner or pulling his gun to finish what the other had waited too long to do.

But even as I observed each of their stunned reactions with the time slowing awareness that only an enormous surge of adrenaline can create, I had already pushed myself abruptly upward with a thrust of the hip flexors in my sound leg, my hands grasping and thrusting the breakfast table with a single swift motion into Marlowe stomach just as his hand pulled his Glock free from its holster, his breath expelling violently as the pistol clattered free to the ground and the momentum generated to lift me from my chair carried me above the table’s top.

But when my injured left foot struck its surface to bear in that brief moment the full force of my weight it started to buckle in pain, my momentum carrying me across the table even as I began to topple sideways, my right foot landing hard on his right wrist a moment before my body crashed to the floor, his bones cracking audibly under my boot as I rolled clumsily onto the pistol and staggered painfully to my feet with it cocked and pointed at Marlowe.

“How did you do that?” he growled through gritted teeth, his left-hand clinging in pain to his shattered right wrist as my finger began to slowly loosen on the trigger. He turned his eyes toward the chair where it lay on the floor and then gazed in horror back at me as if he could not comprehend why I was not still on it with a bullet in my belly and two more between the eyes.

“Did she tell you we were coming?” he finally whispered hoarsely.

“She knew?”

“Probably,” he answered with a groan as I lowered the pistol.

Barnes kept opening and closing his left hand defensively around his missing fingers, the first signs of shock appearing in his pale and startled expression, his breathing rapid and shallow, his lips already beginning to turn blue.

“Please help us,” Marlowe moaned wretchedly, “at least dial nine one one.”

My secret and savage self was utterly absent in that moment – as if he had never existed at all. This time I had only done what I needed to live another day.

“Help us.”

Turning away I dropped the magazine from the pistol and ejected the chambered cartridge, stripping the gun rapidly, dropping it piece by piece in the trash before pocketing the firing pin. When I turned back Barnes had vomited in his lap, his hand still mechanically opening and closing around his missing fingers.

Grabbing my phone, I speed dialed nine one one, giving the operator my address and a ten second synopsis of the injuries before telling her to wait on the line and laying the phone on the table. Limping to the closet I grabbed a stool and returned to Barnes, gently lowering him bodily from the chair to the floor and lifting his feet off the ground and propping them up. Taking a dish towel from the cabinet I double wrapped his bloody stump as tightly as I could and tied it in a knot around his wrist.

“The nearest hospital is about fifteen minutes away,” I told him. You're going to need to encourage your partner – he’s already in shock – try to keep him alert until the paramedics arrive. If you need anything else tell the nine one one operator.” Painfully standing, I grabbed the phone and placed it next to Marlowe on the floor before turning to leave.

“Wait,” Marlowe commanded weakly…there’s a document inside my jacket on the left, it’s not much, but at least you’ll learn who Portinari really is.”

Bending to retrieve the document I smiled in thanks, but his face was clouded with warning.

“There is no place dark enough for you to hide,” he whispered with a shake of his head. “The whole world will be looking for you now that it knows who you are.”

“Who am I?”

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About the Creator

John Cox

Family man, grandfather, retired soldier and story teller with an edge.

Reader insights


Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  2. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

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Comments (28)

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  • Mark Gagnon3 days ago

    Just got to this and I'm glad I did. I'm ready for more, John. Congrats on your Top Story!

  • Congratulations on the top story, well deserved! I would really like to read more of this one!

  • such a great storyteller you are. congratulations on getting a top story for this

  • Marc Johnson 6 days ago

    Great tekst

  • Back to say congratulations on your Top Story! 🎉💖🎊🎉💖🎊

  • Congrats on TS! Great beginning! Looking forward to reading more 😄

  • first: congratulations on TS. this was utterly fantastic!! loved every word, second, emotion. GREAT.

  • Anna 7 days ago

    Oh wow! Didn't expected a top story this late, but I was missing it on this one anyway. Congratulations🥳🥳🤗

  • Kendall Defoe 7 days ago

    Ending with a question after all of that? Impressive, sir... And will we get more?

  • For those of you who are new to this story, I turned it into a 13 chapter series. If you are interested in reading more, the next chapter is in the link below:

  • Great action and suspense John. Congrats on the TS

  • L.C. Schäfer7 days ago

    At bloody last!

  • Gerard DiLeo7 days ago

    “Action-packed, PeeWee!” (A PeeWee Herman reference.) Great interlude— I assume it’s an interlude. The writing mechanics were superb, with me hiding under the table with his feet! Top Story well-deserved.

  • Paul Stewart7 days ago

    Wow...they took their sweet time with this one. I was about to dive into this series and catch up on the other as garden work we've been doing is coming to a bit of a close soon! Congrats, sir, on the Top Story and on your fine wriitng getting the recognition it deserves!

  • Christy Munson7 days ago

    Back to congratulate you on a long overdue Vocal acknowledgement in the shape of a Top Story! 🥳 🏅 🤩 👏🏻 ♥️

  • Ameer Bibi7 days ago

    Superb writing. I loved reading such an exciting and suspenseful story. It was like reading a thrilling action movie! There were so many questions and things going on even after finishing it. Maybe you will write more.

  • Paul Stewartabout a month ago

    Why oh why did I wait so long to read this. This is gripping, intriguing, exciting and I can't wait to work my way through the rest. so many questions, but I think I shall find answers to those as things go on. Well done. The action sequences, as DK said below, were incredible. I could visualise them in my head like some classic 90's noir or action film. The way you seamlessly moved the plot and built the characters was just expertly handled, sir. Well done and sorry it's taken me a while to get round to this! :)

  • D.K. Shepard2 months ago

    Wow! This is incredible, John! Your narration of action sequences is so visually clear and your character building is very compelling! Looking forward to reading more and catching up soon!

  • L.C. Schäfer3 months ago

    Who is he, curse you 😱😱😱😱😱 Hooked from first to last line 😁

  • Rachel Deeming3 months ago

    Cliffhanger! You need to tell us about who these people are! Great stuff, John.

  • What an intriguing story with extreme contrasts! The action sequences were really well-written, and the tension kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time.

  • Anna 3 months ago

    Amazing story! Well done!

  • Oooo, so who is Portinari and who is MC? So intriguing!

  • Andrea Corwin 3 months ago

    Great story telling as always! Who, indeed?

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