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By Devin ThorpePublished 2 years ago 21 min read

"Now what?" Amanda asked. The two travellers stretched their legs outside the car from the three hour trip. It hadn't snowed in Charity like it had in Covet, but the town was just as cold. There was a chill in the air that the afternoon sun couldn't eliminate. And the breeze helped little. It ripped through Vinnit's woolen trenchcoat, making it feel twenty degrees colder than it actually was.

"Well, we search for a man we have little to no information about. He could be anywhere within city limits. So where does your mind tell you we should go in a small town like this?" Vinnit asked, clearly having an idea in mind if Amanda failed to produce one.

"Small town like this? If you can find the right lips then you can find out anything you want. I'd say our best bet is a barbershop or a diner," she said, pointing at the two establishments that were easily identifiable in the strip of downtown businesses.

Dr. Vinnit had filled her in on all she needed to know on the three hour car ride, deciding against his better judgement to clue her in on the case. Sometimes two perspectives were better than one, and it wouldn't technically violate confidentiality with a client to tell her—considering that Dr. Vinnit hadn't even met this child yet.

The kid was only Vinnit's client in theory, and Amanda was much more intelligent than her two dead-end jobs suggested. If anything, Vinnit's conversation with her on the ride over had actually given him hope that she would become an integral part of solving this mystery.

"I quite like my hair the way it is, so let's start at the diner and work our way from there," Vinnit answered. He locked the car and followed Amanda towards the local diner. The sun glared in his face, and for a brief moment Amanda passed in front of him and her shadow provided a moment of relief for his eyes. But then her shadow's angle left him, and the glare murdered his sight worse than it had before.

Vinnit shielded his eyes for a moment and turned to look behind him. He was disturbed to see there was no shadow trailing his body. The doctor looked back to Amanda, who wandered mindlessly toward the diner still. Her shadow was heavily-pronounced against the afternoon sun's contrast. Dorian swivelled around, enough to confirm with all certainty that he had no shadow, then marched forward, not wanting to make a public display of his spinning.

Anxiety swelled within him again, knowing something wasn't right. He shoved the anxiety deep down in himself into the darkness where all worries lie. The key was to fit in, and to fit in he would need a clear, undisturbed mind. But still the question lingered in the back of his mind—How long had he been without a shadow in life without noticing?

The bell attached to the diner's front door rang merrily as they entered. The two claimed their seats and looked at the menus half-heartedly. "Get whatever you want," Vinnit said, his stomach too twisted with nervousness to want food.

The waitress came over, notepad in hand. She was a heavyset woman who appeared to be a single cupcake away from obesity. Her cheeks were rosy red and her forehead glistened with sweat from the exertion it demanded to take people's orders. And worse, her breathing was raspy, making it sound like she smoked a pack of cigarettes a day, though it was really just the sound of her lungs being constricted by layers of fat.

"What can I get for y'all?" she asked unoriginally. Dr. Vinnit cussed inwardly. It was as if diners required their servers to say things with a country drawl. Her baritone voice was unsettling, and Dr. Vinnit was particularly driven mad at the sight of the jam stain on her uniformed belly.

"Just black coffee for me please," Vinnit said, silencing his inner judgements. He hated being such a cynic at times, never able to see people in a bright light unless he related to them personally. It had even taken seeing Amanda a few times and getting to know her story before he'd eventually warmed up to her presence.

"Do y'all have french toast? I see pancakes on the menu but I'm really in the mood for french toast," Amanda said, her voice suddenly taking on a surprisingly accurate southern accent. She was inflecting her tone to sound like more of an insider, an act that would subconsciously lower the guard of the waitress and make her more receptive. They were outsiders after all, and they would need to behave like insiders if they were to find Father Rowski.

Why hadn't Vinnit thought of that?

Amanda was already finding her purpose on this trip apparently.

The overweight waitress whose nametag read 'Maryanne' smiled. "Course we got french toast darlin'. How many pieces you want? They come in twos."

"Then I'll take four and just get grumpy over here to finish whatever I can't eat," she said, sliding her hand across the table and romantically gripping Vinnit's hand. It happened so fast it caught Dorian off-guard.

"Okay, I'll put that in for you and I'll have your coffee right out sir," the waitress announced, not writing anything down on the notebook. She waddled away and Dorian couldn't help but notice Amanda's hand still groped his intimately. He eyed her, questioning telepathically what was happening.

She mouthed to him through a fake smile, "Wipe that solemn look off your face before you offend someone. Pretend we are a happy couple."

It wasn't until he forced himself to smile that he realized he had been frowining the entire time—the default face he made when he got lost in thoughts. "Very well, honey," he replied in an overly happy tone. "All this time we've been dating and I'd nearly forgotten you have a country accent."

"A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do to earn her $500. I'm glad I came. I'm beginning to doubt you would have found Father Rowski without me. For a psychiatrist, your social skills sure do suck."

"I'm trained to help people face their problems, not talk senselessly with strangers. There's a difference."

"Then maybe let me handle conversing, before you rub someone the wrong way."

"Be my guest, you're already off to a great start," Dorian replied, no sarcasm in his voice.

The waitress came back to the table with an empty mug and a pot of coffee. She poured the black liquid to the rim and cut the stream off just before it had time to overflow. It was the experienced pour of a woman who's been pouring coffee for ten years. "You sure you don't need any cream or sugar to go with this?"

"Him? Cream and sugar? That would be entirely too much excitement for his boring brain to handle," Amanda teased from across the table. She had dimples when she smiled. They were adorable. The waitress giggled, her laugh as raspy as her relaxed breath. "However, we were wondering if you could help direct us. We are looking for the Rowski household?"

The waitress stopped laughing. Her look of amusement was replaced with a look of reluctance. Inward puzzling. Even the name Rowski had set an alarm off in her head. Indicated that something was afoot. Outsiders asking for Rowski? Must've meant trouble. It was in this moment that Vinnit desperately hoped Amanda knew what she was doing. He almost wished he hadn't relinquished control of the operation to her, though he knew he would fare no better than her.

"How do you know the Rowskis?" she asked. Damn your superstitious mind, woman, Vinnit thought to himself.

"We don't," Amanda answered, reducing the margin of the lie she was going to tell.

"Y'all aren't a part of them weirdos are you? The ones that been harassing that poor old man all these years?" the waitress asked. Her concern gave away the fact that she not only knew Rowski but that she also cared about him. Enough to deter the Acolytes from finding him.

"We are investigative journalists, ma'am," Amanda explained, pointing at Dorian across the table. He nodded awkwardly, avoiding eye contact with the waitress. "We are working on a piece involving Mr. Rowski and several other events that we think are connected. We came here hoping to interview him. Nothing more."

"Hmmmm," the waitress contemplated annoyingly. "I can't quite remember where the old man and his son live now that I get to thinkin' about it." She tapped her pen incessantly against her notepad, enjoying the few moments where she felt needed.

"Well, is there anyone you could direct us to that would happen to know where Mr. Rowski lives? It's rather impor—"

Amanda's voice cut off as Vinnit's hand threw a crumpled hundred dollar bill on the tabletop nonchalantly as if it was a George Washington thrown at a crippled stripper.

He thought the waitress's face was flushed red before. The sight of a hundred dollar bill flustered her. She grabbed at it like a child excitedly reaches for a new toy. The obese woman uncrinkled the bill and lifted it in the air, letting the sunlight stream through it, looking for the watermark. It was there, and she quickly stuffed the bill into her sweat-stained bra before anyone could see her holding it. "Old man and his son live together in an apartment above the burger joint down the street. Clyde's Cooking it's called."

"See, was that so hard to remember?" Dr. Vinnit asked, finally looking the woman in her eyes. His stare was hard and cold. He hadn't liked the woman from first glance, but watching her sell herself out made him like her less.

The waitress didn't show the faintest sign of shame. If Vinnit was to produce another bill, even an Ulysses or Jackson, she'd let the floodgates open and say whatever she had to.

"Order up!" A voice called, accompanied by the ring of a bell.

"Listen hunny, I was just havin' a brainfart. You got any other questions, you come to me, you hear? Maryanne. Don't you forget it. I got the scoop on most things goin' on around here. Sheesh, I didn't know investigative journalists made enough money to go around throwin' it like that." The woman was ranting now, doing her best to present herself as a useful informant. Anything for another dime. "You should interview me, I talk to the old man's son often. He's in here picking up food all the time. I know things about them from all the talkin' we do. Stuff that would be useful for you. If you got some more of that money I'd spill it all right now."

Jesus Christ, she begs more than a meth addict searching for a quick hit, Vinnit thought to himself.

"How about you fetch my girlfriend's french toast before it gets cold," Vinnit ordered. He looked away from her and took a sip of coffee. End of conversation. Or, it should have been. But when Maryanne came back with the french toast she lingered, standing at the end of the table eagerly.

"Yes?" Vinnit asked, not looking up from his coffee. His blood pressure was rising and a migraine was setting in.

A fly buzzed past Vinnit's face and landed on the window, just below the neon sign that announced to the world that the diner was open.

"Aren't you going to ask me more questions about the Rowskis?" she asked, almost as if she was offended by Vinnit's dismissive attitude.

"No," Vinnit answered. "What we'd like is to eat breakfast in privacy and enjoy each other's company, just the two of us. You've received your tip, now please leave us."

The woman scoffed as if she had a right to act offended. But beggers can't be choosers, so she stormed off from the table without another word, her face flushed red as if she'd just run a marathon, though the red tint wasn't from shame or hurt pride. She was just the kind of person whose neglected health mandated that her face remain red at all times.

"Thank god," Vinnit whispered under his breath, then looked over to Amanda and was taken back. The woman sat across the table with her head down and her hands clasped over the table. She was praying. How long had it been since Dorian Vinnit had seen someone do such a thing before a meal?

He suddenly felt ashamed for his harsh treatment of the waitress and the abrupt dismissal of her presence. Had his rude banter been interrupting Amanda's prayer this whole time? He hadn't even noticed her bow her head in the first place.

The fly upon the window took flight, buzzed as it circled several times in the air above Vinnit's head like a shark circling its prey. It landed on the table this time, no doubt eyeing Amanda's unoccupied french toast. It inched closer, conjuring all its bravery to see how close it could get to the warm meal before being deterred. Dorian swatted at it, a silent guardian protecting his companion's meal from the maggot's touch. After all, the god she prayed to wasn't going to stop the fly.

Vinnit sipped his coffee awkwardly, then watched it ripple as he blew on it to cool it off. It was a long prayer, and it was just as he began to wonder when she would stop that her hands unclasped. He heard her whisper amen, then locked eyes with her. "Don't worry, I blessed your coffee for you," she laughed.

"Thank god, I knew it tasted like something was missing on my first sip," Vinnit said, then took another sip, smacked his lips like a connoisseur, then let out a pleasant exhale. "Much better, many thanks."

"Smart ass," she chuckled, then began cutting into her french toast with a surprising amount of ettiquete. Vinnit noted how her elbows didn't touch the tabletop as she ate. She possessed the eating manners of the wealthy. A telling observation, especially because she was currently the furthest thing from wealthy.

"I'd like to know more about you," she said, smiling as she chewed on a petite-sized chunk of french toast. Her tabeltop manners made him reflect on how he had eaten pizza the previous night in front of her, then caused him to be embarassed. She had probably been judging him the entire time.

Then the buzz of the fly distracted him, flying overhead once more. It regrouped on the window pane, reassessing its situation. Running diagnostics. Determining the best way to ruin this meal and further annoy the psychiatrist with its incessant buzzing.

"There's no reason to discuss the horror show that was my childhood," he said with a faint laugh, followed by another sip of coffee. Its taste was to be desired. Somewhere between gas station coffee and hotel coffee, if he was forced to rank it.

"You have spent your entire career asking questions to other people and listening to their stories. I'd like to do some role reversal, get to know the man I've just blown off work for."

"There's a reason why I've entered a profession where I listen twice as much as I speak. I am quite a hypocrit in that manner. I don't talk through my traumas like I instruct my clients to. In many ways I realize that I am the one who needs therapy, as paradoxical as that sounds," he said, laughing briefly, as if forcing himself to laugh would dilute the pain in the statement.

"Then tell me something simple," she said. She smiled, and it was the kind of smile that was hard to say no to. Damn those dimples. She flashed them as if she knew they were Vinnit's weakness.

The fly lifted into the air and began its circling again, then took an aerial dive. Of all the places it could land, it perched itself confidently on the back of Vinnit's hand. I've got you now sucker. Amanda watched with amusement as Vinnit slowly placed the coffee down on the table with his free hand, then made a swift attempt to smack the fly. But the fly was an elusive creature, and it was long gone before Vinnit's hand slapped its target. He cursed inwardly.

"Well, I was the captain of the chess club in high school," he said, smirking as he took another sip of coffee.

"No shit?" she said, the amazement in her face genuine. "And here I was thinking you were a jock in some past life."

"Unfortunately not. I was quite the unpopular nerd growing up."

"And your parents...?" She left the question open-ended, letting Vinnit's imagination reveal whatever he wanted to.

Here we go, Vinnit thought to himself. She had baited him in with the request for simplicity, and now she was digging deeper. She had her foot in the door, and now it would be hard to cut the progression of the conversation off.

"Dead," he replied, knowing he would have to trudge forward with elaboration. "They died when I was twelve. I don't remember them. Don't remember anything about my childhood before that point. We were in a car accident. A runaway eighteen-wheeler hit us on the highway before it could reach the ramp. My parents were killed, and my brain swelled so much that they had to put me into a medically induced coma. I woke up a month later with total amnesia. My entire childhood gone like a poof of dust."

"Oh my god... I'm so... I don't know what to say," Amanda apologized, the fork falling from her hand with a piece of freshly stabbed french toast on its barbs. It bled maple syrup from the puncture wounds.

Vinnit dismissed the apology away with a wave of his hand. "It was a long time ago, and like I said, I can't remember it. I feel no grief over the event because I can't remember the people they were. Learning of their death was like learning that a stranger on the other side of the world died. I suppose that made the loss easier on my mind in some ways."

"Regardless, I can't imagine having to start over like that. And you've come so far since then. I mean, you're a doctor."

"I owe most of that to my adoptive parents. They were very motivating individuals. My biological parents were Arab immigrants. I'm told their English was poor and they had little money to their name. I was adopted by an infertile wealthy white couple. A lawyer and a medical practitioner. Quite the combination to be raised by. I owe all that I am to them."

Amanda smiled to hear the tide of the story turning. She struck Dorian to be the kind of woman who watched horror movies through her fingers. Or didn't watch them at all if it could be avoided. An adult who still viewed the world through a rose-tinted lens. A rarity to be found in any age of the world.

"I'm sure that created a certain amount of pressure to amount to something in this world," Amanda assumed.

This time the fly landed on Vinnit's shoulder. He knew it was there, even though he couldn't feel it through his trenchcoat. He heard its buzzing as it landed there, the echo of its wings directly beside his ear canal. If he hadn't been able to slap the filthy insect when it was on the back of his hand then he would find no luck slapping it on his shoulder. He merely waved it away and watched as it buzzed back into the air above them.

Dorian swirled his coffee around in the mug, playing with it like a child pushes unwanted peas across a plate. "You could say that. Anything less than a doctorate in some field was heavily frowned upon, if you catch my drift."

"I got pregnant in high school, barely made it to graduation," she sighed, a tinge of regret in her voice.

"Worse things have happened in this world. You have turned into a better parent than some who plan to have children."

"It's been difficult, that's for sure. But I wouldn't trade it for the world. Claire is the best thing that's ever happened to me. The reason I get out of bed in the morning. Do you have anything like that?"

The question was a difficult one, mostly because Vinnit knew the answer right away. There was no reason for him to get out of bed in the morning. It was the reason why he allowed himself to be driven to the brink of madness by the case of this child. But when he was forced to think on the topic, there was really no reason for Dorian Vinnit to exist. Nothing that compelled for his continued life. If he died today he would be replaced tomorrow, just as Jagen was.

To be a parent is to be irreplaceable. As an orphan, Dorian knew this. Being raised by people who were in no way related to him reminded him of it every day of his life. His parents did their best, but there was no familial bond that existed between them. They did everything in their power to build a bond with him growing up, but there would always be that distinct something that was missing.

Psychiatrists come and go like the passing of seasons. Anyone that relies on their career to determine their self-worth will find their days leading to depression. Jesus said that man cannot live by bread alone. Vinnit lived his life as the antithesis to that statement, putting his career before all else as if it would amount to something. He told himself he helped people turn their life around, and in turn made the world a better place.

Only the conceited of the world told themselves they would leave the world a better place through the impact of their career. If one was to truly leave the world a better place, it must permeate through their soul like inseparable weeds from wheat, the two interlocked at the root structure. It must pour forth from their soul no matter what condition of life they face. Unemployed or millionaire, downtrodden or fortuitous. These were the Nelson Mandelas of the world. The Mother Teresas. Those who were genuine humans because it's who they were. Not because they chased success in their career.

Why did Dorian Vinnit get out of bed in the morning? Day after day, a never-ending cycle. Time was merciless, and it oftentimes sneared at Vinnit in the mirror, reminding him of his futility. He took another sip of coffee as a form of procrastination, because there was no easy way to answer this question with the truth.

"I get out of bed because I like to believe the world would be worse off if I didn't," Vinnit lied with a sincere smile on his face. "I have created an unhealthy fixation over my career, because I was raised by two individuals who set that example for me. I have avoided relationships at all costs, afraid they may derail my path. I moved to Covet without any dependencies. Just packed up my things and moved within a day's notice. I'm sure you can fill in the blanks about the life I've lived based on that alone."

"The world needs more people like you though. I mean look at what you're doing," she exclaimed, then elaborated, "Here you are, doing everything in your power to prove the innocence of a child who would be killed otherwise."

"And the further down the trail I travel the closer I come to the realization that maybe I'm in the wrong," Vinnit added, revealing his insecurities on the matter for the first time.

"What do you mean?" Amanda asked, obviously appalled by the statement.

"I mean I've been following the breadcrumbs and the closer I get the more I begin to think something is wrong. Death has followed this child like a shadow, gripping its heels, unable to be separated by the laws of physics. No child should be responsible for the deaths of at least nine people. And there could be more. Jagen's journal is incomplete. It mentions five psychiatrists, and then he died, making him the sixth. The child murdered its parents. That's mentioned. But Cardinal Grisham isn't discussed. How many other people has the child killed that aren't recorded?" Dorian whispered now in a low tone, not wanting to be heard by the obese woman leaning in their direction from behind the kitchen counter.

"But it's a child," Amanda refuted, matching his low tone. Her eyebrows were furrowed in a defensive manner. She could hear the doubt in Vinnit's voice, felt she had to combat it with her optimism.

"If I'm to believe everything presented to me so far, what lies deep in Seoborn hidden away is no child," Vinnit whispered.

The fly launched itself from the window, this time returning with hellbent fury to completely shatter the mood of the afternoon. Vinnit eyed it in the air as its circling got closer and closer to his head. Its wings beat against the air like the blades of a helicopter, an altogether noisy and annoying flight. And the gall of the fly. It floated in the air around Vinnit's head, taunting him. Buzzing cruel mockery. Knowing the human was powerless to put an end to the insect's life. And so it circled. And circled. And Vinnit's eyes watched it. And watched it.

When the man couldn't take it any longer his hands latched out, quick as a whip. It was a compulsory movement, led by nothing more than gut reaction fueled by the fly's temptation. Vinnit's hands clapped. The air went silent. The fly buzzed no more, and Dorian Vinnit watched as the fly's lifeless body descended heroically into his mug of black coffee, tainting its contents with its filth-ridden body.

Amanda watched the progression of the entire event. Her smile returned and her dimples reappeared, and when Vinnit looked up and saw them his anger died as quickly as it rose. When he looked at those dimples everything in the world felt fine.


About the Creator

Devin Thorpe

I am a 22-year-old recent graduate from Mars Hill University. I have a double major in Criminal Justice and Religion & Philosophy. I also played collegiate lacrosse! In my free time you can find me writing fiction and hiking with my dog.

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