Four Steps Under 4

Brandon asked the limo driver to stop at his bank. He took the hold off his accounts and withdrew $5,000 in cash. Brandon had prepaid his utilities and the taxes on his house, and had hired a man to supervise the upkeep of the house and grounds and the maintenance of his pickup truck while he was incarcerated.

The next stop was Whataburger. He bought a double-meat burger, fries, and large Dr. Pepper at the drive-thru and devoured it before they reached his house. It was the best meal he’d eaten in two years.

As the limo rolled up the long driveway to the house, Brandon wished it held warm memories for him. But he’d only lived there a few months and hadn’t had time to build any significant memories of it, good or bad. The only place that would truly feel like home right now…was his prison cell.

He planned to ignore that weird feeling until it went away.

The house was nice, but nothing special. Ten years old. Two stories, four bedrooms. He’d made a small fortune selling his video game and could have bought a mansion. But this was what he wanted: something comfortable with a big yard.

And that was the thing he liked best about his property—the land. Five acres. He could crank up his sound system without worrying about the neighbors complaining. On the other hand, the house was more vulnerable to thieves. Installing a security system was on his to-do list.

He paid the driver in cash for the limo and the clothing and included a generous tip. “Would you mind disposing of my old clothes and shoes?”

“No problem. Thank you very much, sir. And good luck.”

“Thanks.” Brandon walked to the front porch as the limo pulled away. He found the key under the front mat where it had been left for him that morning.

Brandon did a quick inspection of the house. It was clean, fresh, and roach-free. The thermostat was set at seventy-two degrees. The house and yard were in perfect condition. He’d go out to the garage and check on his pickup later.

He went into his office and started up his Mac. It seemed like forever since Brandon had been on a computer—which, for a programmer, was like going without sex. He hadn’t experienced the pleasure of either in over two years.

Brandon remembered that fateful day when he was sitting in that very chair and made the decision to go to Kevin Monkfort’s office and confront him about the brutal murder of Brandon’s parents when he was a kid. That confrontation quickly escalated into aggravated assault, landing Brandon in prison.

He used his home phone to make a couple of calls in order to reactivate his smart phone and his broadband.

As his computer installed dozens of updates, he leaned back and had pleasant thoughts of Dani Dimingo. He hadn’t seen her in person since eighth grade, when they pulled her out of school and placed her in a psychiatric facility for killing her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. He’d had a huge crush on her back then, even thinking he might be in love with her. But what does a thirteen-year-old boy know about love?

After the white coats took her away, he’d moved on—or tried to. There were plenty of other girls to fall in love with. But somehow, he’d never found one. Sure, there were friendships, flings, and semi-romantic relationships, but nothing that felt like it could be the real thing. Maybe there wasn’t a real thing. Maybe he’d been chasing a fantasy all these years. Perhaps the kind of love he’d been seeking all his life only existed in songs and movies.

Two years ago, before he’d made the stupid mistake of attacking Kevin Monkfort, he’d looked up Dani online and found that she was a self-published writer and graphic artist. She wrote graphic novels, and they were excellent. He’d bought and read all of her books.

While he was in prison developing his plan of revenge, he’d realized that he would need help—at least one other person would be required to execute his plan. And he wanted Dani to be that person. But was she truly the best fit for the job, or was he just looking for an excuse to get close to her?

His computer finished installing its updates, and he opened a browser and went to her website. He studied her photo. Long brown hair. Hispanic. Sweet smile. And she still lived in Houston. Brandon wondered how much her life had changed over the past two years while his was frozen in time. He followed a link to and perused the sample pages of her latest graphic novel. Better than ever. But judging by the sales rankings, her books weren’t selling as well as they used to.

He went to the contact page on her website and sent Dani a message saying he would like to talk with her about a job offer. He felt sure she wouldn’t remember him from junior high since he’d never even worked up the nerve to approach her back then, so he didn’t refer to their school days together.

Brandon downloaded Dani’s newest book and began reading it on his computer, but he found his mind wandering—thinking more about the author than the story.

Twenty minutes had passed, and he still hadn’t heard back from her. He became discouraged, then immediately realized how silly he was being. This was not junior high. Dani wasn’t ignoring him. She just hadn’t seen his email yet.

Brandon went upstairs to his bedroom suite, taking his smart phone with him so he could check his email. He plugged it in to charge and set it on the nightstand. Then he took a long, hot shower, crawled into his king-size bed, and turned off the lights. It was one-thirty in the afternoon, but with the heavy drapes closed, it might as well have been midnight. He didn’t bother to set an alarm, figuring he’d wake up in a couple of hours.

He smiled as he dozed off, thinking about Dani.

Next Chapter —>