27 Oct The Mariachi Man
“The Mariachi Man”Written by Bryan Asbury Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 45 minutes
Ellie’s morning consisted of organizing the paperwork of her first client, Edgar Zavala. She was a newly hired caregiver at Lakeside Assisted Living and had just completed her two-week training course.
Edgar’s profile was unremarkable. Hispanic male, sixty-eight years old, widower with no military service. Previous employer: musician.
Ellie made her way down the hall until she got to his room. She adjusted her scrubs, then knocked and stood back.
“Hold on!” a voice called out. She could hear what sounded like a commotion and someone scrambling around. The door soon opened, revealing an older, stocky Hispanic man with a bushy black mustache. The skin on his face was rugged and leather-like, but his hair was full, with no signs of graying. He wore no expression, just a vacant stare.
“Hi, I’m Ellie, I’m your new caregiver.”
The corners of Edgar’s mouth then curled upward, wrinkling his cheeks and forming a hearty smile. “Oh, hey, hita, I’ve been expecting you. I’m Eddie!” She smiled, and they shook hands. “Sorry about the mess, I’ve been trying to clean this place up.”
“Well Mr. Zavala, that’s where I come into play. I can help with that.”
“Mr…” Edgar said with a half-cocked grin. “Just call me Eddie. I don’t want you making me feel any older than I already am.”
Ellie smiled. “It’s like my grandpa used to always say, you’ll get older too, just keep living.”
“Smart man, grandpas usually are,” Edgar chuckled.
Ellie reached into her bag and pulled out a form. “So, I have a checklist here of the services that we provide. Things like cooking, cleaning, stuff like that. If you can just check off the things that you need help with, that lets me know what I need to focus on each time I come over.”
Edgar put on his reading glasses and quickly checked off the boxes, then handed the form back to her.
“Wow, that was fast,” she said as she stood there looking it over. “Ok, well what needs cleaned today?”
Edgar turned around and looked towards the kitchen. Dirty dishes were piled up, cluttering his outdated laminate countertop. “Like I said, I been trying to clean this place up, but sometimes I just get sidetracked.”
Ellie slipped on her rubber gloves and began washing dishes. Pretty soon she heard the strum of a guitar.
“You like mariachi, hita?”
Ironically, Ellie grew up with mariachi music often playing in her home.
“Oh, yeah! Pedro Infante, Vincente Fernandez–”
“Vincente Fernandez!” Edgar said spiritedly. “What do you know about Chente?” He then began strumming one of his songs while singing the lyrics.
Ellie bobbed her head along to the music.
After she finished the dishes, she called out to Edgar who sat in the living room. “You want anything to eat?”
“Maybe a grilled cheese sandwich.”
“You sure that’s all you want?”
“You can cook?”
“What kind of a question is that to ask a Chicana?”
Edgar smiled as taco meat sizzled in the skillet. “I haven’t had cooking like this since my wife Gloria passed away.”
“I’m sorry,” Ellie said. “How did she pass, if you don’t mind me asking?”
Edgar got quiet and sat his taco down.
“You don’t have to answer that, it’s really none of my business.”
“Cancer. She was a good woman. I was away a lot, working the mariachi circuit, and she was alone, raising the kids.”
“Do you keep in touch with them?”
Edgar paused thoughtfully. “Nah – they both got caught up with drugs. We always lived in the ghetto, surrounded by a bunch of devils. Being a mariachi man isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I got paid in cacahuetes.”
“That’s probably the best time I’ve ever had doing dishes for someone. You remind me a lot of my grandpa,” Ellie said after she finished cleaning up.
Edgar grinned. “Well, I promise I’ll make more dishes for you to clean when you come back on Wednesday.”
That evening Ellie carried several bags of groceries through her front door. “Can you help me?” she called out to her boyfriend Nathan. He ran up to her and grabbed a bag that was falling out of her hands. “Thanks,” she said as she kissed him on the lips.
“How was your first day by yourself?” Nathan asked.
“Actually, not too bad. I just have two clients right now. Ms. Hammond is this sweet old lady who collects these cute little teacups. Then there’s Eddie, he seems really cool. He’s a mariachi player, so I was serenaded while I scrubbed his dishes.”
“He was singing to you?”
“Don’t worry,” Ellie said smiling. “He’s like seventy years old. He reminds me a lot of my grandpa Antonio. It’s so sad, he told me he lost his wife to cancer. So many of those people in there are all alone.”
* * * * * *
Wednesday afternoon, Ellie returned to check on Edgar. When he opened the door, his face lit up.
“What’s up, hita? I guess I didn’t scare you off the other day.”
Ellie smiled pleasantly. “What are you up to today?”
Edgar sat down in his recliner and sighed. “Eh, you don’t wanna know. I gave my girlfriend my credit card number so she could buy herself a purse and she ended up taking five hundred dollars outta my account.”
“It was a five-hundred-dollar purse?” Ellie said astounded.
“No. She told me the other day that it was like seventy bucks.”
“Did you confront her about it?”
“I called my bank, and they froze my account.”
“So, you still haven’t spoken to her?”
“She’s overseas, and when I tried calling her it said her number’s no longer in service.”
“Oh my God!” Ellie said as she put on her giant rubber gloves. “How long have you two been dating?”
“About two weeks.”
Ellie raised her eyebrow. “So… are you sure this was a real person and not like one of those scammers?”
Edgar got a confused look on his face. “Yasmin was a real person and she cared about me!”
“Okay–” Ellie said sheepishly as she looked down at the dishes she was washing.
After a few minutes, Edgar picked up his guitar and smiled. He strummed a mariachi riff and began to sing. “I know something better awaits, someone who will give me love–” His guitar rested on his belly as he stared into the kitchen at Ellie. He continued singing until she finally cracked a smile. He then let out a cheerful belly laugh and sat his guitar down. “It’s just money. Money is a lot like women, it comes and goes.”
Ellie looked at him thoughtfully. “Do you ever plan on remarrying?”
Edgar smiled slyly as he looked over at her. “Maybe, if that special mamacita ever comes along.”
After she finished up for the day, Ellie went into the break room and noticed that Sandra was crying. She walked up to her. “Are you okay?”
“I just found out that Mrs. Jenkins passed away last night.”
“I’m sorry,” Ellie said as she hugged her.
“I’ve taken care of her for almost two years now.”
Behind the two women hung a bulletin board that celebrated the lives of residents who had recently passed away. Mrs. Jenkins’s picture was pinned with care in the upper, right-hand corner.
The fragility of life was a sobering reality at Lakeside. For some, they begin to see their mothers and fathers in those they care for, and the loss of a client can prove devastating.
Ellie laid next to Nathan in bed that evening.
“This job seems really rewarding, but also… depressing at times.”
“One of Sandra’s clients passed away yesterday, and she took it pretty hard. I’ve never lost anyone close to me before,” Ellie said glumly.
Nathan softly caressed her arm. “Well, I can’t think of anyone better than you to care for someone in their final days. I’m sure you’d bring them a lot of comfort.”
She smiled and hugged his chest.
* * * * * *
The following week, Ellie was assigned another client, Steve Ruben. She sat in the break room, typing on her laptop. Tim, a nurse who had been there for a few years, walked in and sat across from her.
“So, how’s it going?”
Ellie looked up. “Pretty good actually,” she said grinning. “I just got assigned another client today.”
“Oh, yeah, who’d you get?”
Ellie looked back down at her screen. “Steve Ruben.”
“Hey Janelle, did you hear that? The new girl’s got creepy Steve.”
Janelle looked up, shaking her head, then continued digging through the refrigerator.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Ellie asked.
“His female caregivers never seem to stick around too long.”
“Well, if I remember right, the last two girls both said he made them feel uncomfortable. They usually try to put him with a male, but I don’t think there’s any working here right now.”
Ellie shook her head. “Great.” She then shifted her eyes back to her monitor and continued typing.
She stood outside of Steve’s door, preparing herself for what her training described as a “challenging client.” She let out a sigh, then knocked. After a few seconds she could hear heavy footsteps approaching.
A sloppy-looking, gray-haired man in a stained wife beater opened the door. He looked Ellie up and down, then cheaply grinned. “Well, hey there,” he said, finally looking her in the face.
“I’m Ellie, I’ve been assigned as your new caregiver.”
“You are a sight for sore eyes. I’m just glad that fruity Asian guy finally ended up quitting.”
Ellie forced a smile as she followed Steve into his living room. Naked and Afraid played on the TV.
She looked down and reached into her bag. “I just have a client questionnaire for you to fill out. It covers what chores I need to do when I’m here.”
“Do they have a sponge bath on there?”
“Actually, they do, but I don’t do personal care.”
“What a shame…”
Ellie got a miffed look on her face.
Steve completed the form and handed it back to her, then crossed his arms.
She looked it over. “Okay, so you need me to vacuum. Where’s your vacuum cleaner?”
He pointed to a closet. “Right in there.” He then went and sat down in front of the TV.
Ellie plugged in the vacuum, then turned it on. It began noisily sucking up debris as she swept it from side to side as if the rug had been neglected for months.
She could see him repeatedly glancing over at her from the corner of her eye. After a few more chores, she tried to quickly wrap up her visit.
When she walked up to Steve, his head was buried in the TV. “Okay, so everything you checked was completed, and if you could just initial here, I’ll be back again on Wednesday,” she said as she handed him her list.
He looked around the room, then pointed. “Over there. I can still see dust on the coffee table. Mind getting that for me? Dust triggers my asthma,” he said with a smirk.
Ellie looked down at her watch, realizing she had less than five minutes to make it to Edgar’s room. She forced a smile. “Sure.”
Steve continued smirking to himself as he initialed her paper.
After she finished, she gathered her forms and rushed down the hallway to Edgars.
“What’s wrong, hita?” Edgar said with a look of concern after he opened his door. He could tell she was upset.
Ellie brushed it off and only smiled. “It’s nothing, just a busy morning.”
“I was watching this Los Lobos concert on YouTube. McNichols Arena, 1988. I was there! Yeah, I jammed with them that night right after their concert at a little bar just up the street.” Ellie sat down on the couch, listening intently. Edgar’s mind seemed to drift back in time, and you could hear the dust in his voice. “That was one of the greatest times of my life.” His eyes took on an emptiness. “My kids would always look for a gift when I would get back from the road.” He paused. His voice then lowered, and his speech slowed. “And Gloria would be waiting for me, and we were happy, I guess – whatever that
means…” Edgar just sat in front of the TV, with the video paused.
“Are you okay?” Ellie asked.
He quickly snapped out of it and smiled. “I’m fine, just telling more boring old man stories,” he said as he chuckled.
“Well Eddie, you can always tell them to me, and I’ll always listen.”
After visiting for a while longer, forty minutes had passed.
“Oh crap,” Ellie said, looking at the clock. “What did you need done, I lost track of time?”
“We’re doing it, hita. Sometimes I don’t always need chores done, I just need someone to keep me company, you know?” He smiled and looked over at his pet fish. “Elvis ain’t much of a talker.”
Ellie just giggled and turned her head to the side. “Well, I certainly won’t object to that. I’ll see you again on Wednesday Eddie,” she said as she reached for her bag.
Eddie winked at her. “Deal.”
Ellie called Nathan on her way to the gym after work.
“So, I was sitting in the break room today and Tim, who’s a nurse that’s been there forever, was like ‘Oh, you got creepy Steve huh? None of his caregivers ever stick around.’”
Nathan got a puzzled look on his face. “Why don’t they stick around?”
“He said that he makes them all feel uncomfortable, and I can already tell that the guy’s a creep! He just kept breathing through his mouth all loud and looking over at me. Then, he watches me wipe down the table and before I leave, wants me to wipe it down again because he said he could still see dust on it.”
“That dick,” Nathan uttered. “He obviously has a track record of harassing females and yet they knowingly put him with another female. That’s crazy. Maybe just talk to your supervisor if he keeps it up.”
Ellie sighed. “I’m really trying not to cause waves, but yeah, if he keeps it up I will.”
Edgar sat at his dining room table, looking at Ellie’s Facebook profile. He scrolled down her page, reading her posts and clicking on the comments. He grinned vicariously, with a part of himself longing to experience those moments with her that were so preciously captured in the photos.
His phone suddenly rang, interrupting him. “Hello,” he said as he answered. “No. No, I already told you, I don’t like taking that stuff, it makes me feel out of it.” The voice on the other end continued talking as Edgar seemed to grow increasingly frustrated. “You need to worry more about yourself and less about me Vivian!” The voice continued pleading with him when he finally hung up. He sat his phone down and huffed.
It was Wednesday, and Ellie knocked at Steve’s door. He answered, appearing to still have on the same stained wife beater that he was wearing when she visited him the last time.
“Bathroom needs cleaned,” he mumbled as he went to sit back down in his recliner.
She grabbed her cleaning supplies and made her way to the bathroom. She flipped on the light switch, then took one look at the toilet and gagged. Feces were splattered all up on the underside of the seat, coating the entire bowl like it had been fired out of a cannon. She slipped on some disposable gloves and with her bottle of Clorox wipes, began wiping everything down.
“You ever watch Naked and Afraid?” Steve hollered from the living room.
“Not really!” Ellie said in an annoyed voice.
“They just took this one broad to the hospital because she got all bit up on her ta tas.”
Ellie just shook her head. “Thanks for sharing that.”
After she finished vacuuming, she stood next to the door, packing up her supplies.
Steve got up from his chair and walked over to her. She could hear every labored breath he drew as he stood across from her, breathing through his mouth.
“If you weren’t on the clock, I’d offer you a drink and ask you if you could stick around for a bit,” he said, smiling suggestively.
Ellie could feel his eyes on her like laser beams. She got a repulsed look on her face and huffed in disbelief.
“First off I have a boyfriend, and secondly, you’re being totally inappropriate, and next time I’ll report you!” she exclaimed, storming out of the room.
When she arrived at Edgars a few minutes later, she still appeared upset.
“What’s wrong, you look all flustered?” Edgar asked.
Ellie let out a heavy sigh and shook her head. “Today has just been… rough.”
“You need me to beat someone up?” Edgar said with a grin.
Ellie didn’t respond.
Edgar’s smile disappeared. “Is something going on?”
Ellie began to feel comfortable confiding in Edgar. “I’m sorry, the guy before you just really pissed me off.”
“He just keeps making these rude, inappropriate comments.”
“Is that why you looked upset the other day when you showed up?”
“What’s this guy’s name?”
“It doesn’t matter, I’ll be fine,” Ellie said as she gathered herself.
Later, as she made Edgar’s lunch in the kitchen, he walked over to where her clipboard sat. He flipped a page back and found Steve’s profile. He quickly skimmed over the information and wrote down the room number that was listed.
After he finished eating, Edgar looked over at Ellie and smiled. “Delicious!” he said as he wiped his mouth with his napkin. His smile then faded and was replaced with a serious look. “Listen, pardon my language, but anyone who would disrespect a good person like you is an asshole, and you can’t listen to assholes okay…”
Ellie thanked Edgar with a warm nod, feeling better after her visit with him.
As she left the facility that day, Edgar watched Ellie from his window as she walked to her car. He had his shirt off, which revealed an imposing, vintage style Chicano tattoo across his chest. It was of a woman wearing a sombrero with pistols tilted upwards on both sides. “Black Magic Woman” played softly in the background as he took a sip of his coffee. Seeing Ellie again that day brought a smile to his face, even if only in passing.
The next day, Edgar walked down to room 217. The name engraved on the plastic door tag read, Steve Ruben. He knocked and waited. Steve slowly opened the door.
“Can I help you?” he said with a frown.
“Are you Steve?”
“Who wants to know?”
Egar smiled widely. “Hi, I’m Eddie. I live just down the hall,” he said as he pointed with his thumb.
“I’ve seen you around. I need to move some stuff from my storage unit into my room, and I was just wondering if you wouldn’t mind giving me a hand? Able-bodied guys like me and you are in short supply in this place.”
Steve began to shake his head, when Edgar interjected. “I can pay you – and it would only take like an hour.”
Steve thought about it for a minute, knowing he could use the money. “Is the stuff heavy?”
“Nah, it’s just a mini fridge and a few light boxes.”
“When you planning on doing this?”
“I’ll probably catch the bus out here at 1:30.”
Steve turned his head to look at the clock. “Okay, I’ll meet you at the bus stop at 1:30 then.”
Edgar reached for his wallet. “Here’s twenty. I’ll give you twenty more after we’re done.”
Steve took the money and nodded.
“Thanks, amigo!” Edgar said with a beaming smile.
Edgar walked down to the lobby before catching the bus and signed out. Then, with a flick of his wrist, he opened his sunglasses, placing them on his face, and exiting through the front doors. A few minutes later, he saw Steve slowly lumbering down the sidewalk towards the bus stop.
“It’s hotter than the Devil’s dick out here,” Steve said, out of breath. He plopped down next to Edgar on the bench.
The city bus soon made its way towards them, kicking up the dust and debris from under its tires. They pushed their way through a crowd of passengers, finding two open seats near the center row.
Edgar looked over at Steve as he studied him. “You been at Lakeside long?”
“Little over a year.”
“Like the place?”
He looked at Edgar contemptuously. “I don’t know of anyone who likes living there. Do you like it?”
Edgar shrugged his shoulders. “I’ve been at worse places and it’s a hell of a lot better than under a bridge.”
Steve smirked. “Mr. Positivity.”
“The caregivers are pretty good,” Edgar said.
Steve got a depraved look on his face. “Got this one right now that’s a real hottie.”
“I told her, once you get a taste of Steve, you won’t never wanna leave.”
Edgar smiled. “Eh, good thing Medicare covers Viagra now. You’re one crazy gringo!” he said as he chuckled.
Steve finally caved and cracked a smile. “So, how are we gonna get this stuff back to your room?”
Edgar paused for a minute. “Uh, my sister’s gonna pick us up in her minivan.”
“Right here,” Edgar said as the bus slowed to a stop a few miles up the road. They both got out and Steve followed Edgar up the sidewalk. Pretty soon the horizon opened up, revealing a large cluster of storage units off in the distance. Edgar pointed. “Over there.”
“Thank God, my fucking corns are killing me! You didn’t mention we’d be walking halfway across town today!”
As they walked up to the front gate, Edgar carefully scanned his surroundings. He punched in the security code using his knuckle. The gate slowly opened, making an unpleasant shrieking noise as if it were crying out for lubrication.
Edgar led Steve down a long stretch of pavement that was lined with faded blue garage doors, each one leading into individual storage units. He finally stopped in front of the one that belonged to him. He took his key out of his pocket, crouched down, and opened the padlock. He grabbed the handle and rolled the garage door up its track. The inside was dusty and cobweb-infested. It was filled with a full-size refrigerator, a few boxes, and an old tool cabinet.
“Oh, hell no!” Steve exclaimed. “You said mini fridge.”
Edgar walked over to the tool cabinet. “Pinche pendejo,” he hissed under his breath. He slid open one of the drawers and grabbed a hammer out of it. He then turned and faced Steve. His eyes seemed to darken to an impenetrable blackness. “The woman who cleans your room also happens to be my wife.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Steve said with a look of confusion.
Edgar slowly pounded the hammer in his hand. “She told me all the disrespectful things you said…”
Steve put his hands up and slowly backed away as a droplet of sweat trickled down his forehead. “I don’t know why you brought me here, or what kind of trip you’re on man, but I’m getting the hell outta here!” He then turned and quickly waddled in the other direction. He cut a sharp left, only to be met with a wall of garage doors. He bent over as he tried to catch his breath, then grabbed his asthma inhaler from his shirt pocket and took a puff off it. The veins in his temples swelled, and his face glowed a crimson red from his hypertension. Sweat now visibly poured from his body. He turned his head to what sounded like footsteps close behind him, then took off scurrying again.
He heard Edgar’s voice echo somewhere off in the distance. “Run cucaracha, the exterminators coming!”
“Help!” Steve shouted at the top of his lungs. He began pounding on the garage doors as he ran, hoping to attract attention.
He continued running up and down the rows of storage units until he turned a corner and finally saw the fence line. As he got closer to it, he saw a little girl riding her tricycle on the sidewalk. He grabbed onto the fence, desperately yanking on the chain links. The little girl screamed and ran off, abandoning her tricycle which now lay tipped over.
“NO, WAIT! TELL YOUR PARENTS! GET HELP! He turned and leaned his back up against the fence as he began to wheeze. He pulled out his inhaler, taking another puff off it, but nothing came out. He shook it in his hand furiously, then tried again, but it was empty. “Shit!” he shouted as he threw it on the ground. He clutched his chest as his lungs fought for air. His back slowly slid down the fence, until he rested in a slumped-over, seated position.
He continued wheezing and clutching his chest, when he saw Edgar from the corner of his eye. He walked up to Steve, who pointed at his inhaler on the ground. Edgar turned and looked at it.
“Looks like it’s out.” He then turned back to Steve and looked down at him. His face contorted into something cruel and almost inhuman. Steve’s eyes widened with fear. Edgar began snickering wickedly and spit in his face. “You should watch who you make friends with puto!” He then turned and walked off.
A little while later, Edgar’s sister Vivian picked him up at the 7-Eleven up the street. She was several years younger than him, but the stress and hardships that she endured throughout her life gave her an aged look beyond her years. On their way back to Lakeside, they drove past a barrage of police and emergency vehicles that were parked outside of the storage units.
“I wonder what in the world happened over there?” Vivian said as she turned her head to look. Edgar kept drinking his soda and looking straight ahead. She sighed restlessly and tightened her grip on the wheel. “You know you’re risking going back to that place if you’re not taking your meds.” Edgar slammed his bottle onto his knee, sending soda splashing out of it.
“No mames, como chingas! Do I really have to hear this every time from you? I’m not gonna be walking around that place like a zombie, okay? I’m not doing that no more!”
Vivian dropped off Edgar in front of Lakeside. As he stomped through the lobby, a staff member called out to him.
“Don’t forget to sign in.”
Edgar stopped and turned around scowling, as if the man had said something insulting to him. “Excuse me?”
“Uh, you just need to sign in. That’s the policy for anyone who enters the building,” he replied sheepishly.
“How ‘bout you don’t worry about me!” Edgar exclaimed. He then huffed and walked over to the sign-in sheet, scribbling his signature on it.
The next morning when Ellie showed up for work Charles, her supervisor, called her into his office. When she stepped inside, she noticed the grave look on his face.
“I know this may be difficult for you, but we just learned earlier this morning that one of your clients passed away unexpectedly yesterday. Steve Ruben. It sounds like he may have suffered an asthma attack.”
At that moment, Ellie felt a rush of emotions, but grief wasn’t one of them. She sat her bag down. “Did it happen here?”
“No. He was at some kind of storage facility.”
He sighed. “I hate having to be the one to break this kind of news. Just take the morning off, and we’ll get you assigned another client soon enough.” He looked at her thoughtfully. “You okay?”
Ellie showed up to Edgar’s room a few minutes early that afternoon.
“Que pasa!” Edgar said with a grin as he opened the door.
“Que pasa,” Ellie replied. She took a deep breath. “So, you’re not gonna believe this…”
“Remember that really rude guy I was telling you about who lived down the hall from you?”
“He died yesterday.”
“No!” Edgar said in an astonished voice.
“Like, I know I should feel bad, but–”
“That guy was a creep though, huh?” Edgar replied.
“Yeah… So anyway, that’s why I’m early.”
“You wouldn’t believe how many people I’ve seen pass away since I been here. I guess I just get to enjoy you a little bit longer today now, that’s all.”
“So, what needs to be done?” Ellie asked.
“Maybe just some laundry. Oh, and I have been craving your tacos lately.”
Ellie began loading Edgar’s washing machine. He picked up his guitar and ran his fingertips down the strings. “You know I can play other music too. You like oldies?”
“I love oldies! They remind me of the car shows my dad used to take us to.”
Edgar’s face lit up. “That’s cool!”
He began strumming “I’m Your Puppet.” He then started in on the opening verse. “Pull the string and I’ll wink at you, I’m your puppet…”
Ellie stopped what she was doing and walked into the living room. She stood captivated, listening with her arms crossed. After Edgar finished, he sat his guitar down.
She smiled and clapped her hands. “Wow Eddie, that’s so good! You’re such a good guitar player.”
“Thanks. That was one of the ones I’d use to swoon the senoritas with,” he laughed.
He wiped the salsa from his mouth as he ate the tacos that Ellie made for him. “This is so good. It reminds me of the street vendors in Mexico.”
“Have you been there before?” Ellie asked.
“Both my parents were born there. We would visit there at least once or twice a year to see family. That’s where I picked up playing mariachi.”
Ellie noticed Edgar kept reaching to scratch his back.
“Do you still go back and visit?”
“I still keep in contact with my family, but it’s been years.” Edgar scratched his back madly. “SON OF A BITCH!” he snapped as he threw his napkin down. “THAT FUCKING NURSE STILL HASN’T BROUGHT ME MY SCABIES CREAM! Can you ask him about it, because I’m about ready to sue this place?
Edgar’s outburst was sudden and explosive. Ellie got a startled look on her face.
“Yeah, I can mention it to Tim when I see him,” she said nervously.
Edgar sighed as the angry expression wiped off his face. He rubbed his forehead. “I’m sorry for yelling like that.” He grinned and shook his head. “Listen, don’t get old… but if you could say something for me, I’d really appreciate it.”
Before she left that afternoon, Ellie swung by the nurse’s station. Tim shuffled from side to side as he sorted through the packs of medication. She knocked on the door.
“Hi! Sorry to bother you, I know you’re busy. I have a client, Edgar Zavala, who was itching pretty bad today from his scabies, and he mentioned that he was supposed to be getting some kind of cream or something?”
“Shit!” Tim exclaimed. “I got busy earlier and forgot to run it by his room. I’ll get it to him before I leave today.”
That evening, right as Ellie began to doze off in bed, her phone rang. She clumsily reached for it as Nathan rolled over next to her and wiped the sleep from his eyes. Her screen registered Edgar’s name and number.
“Hello,” she murmured.
“Hi… it’s Eddie. Sorry, I know it’s late, but I just wanted to apologize again for how I blew up in front of you today. I’m sorry you had to see that.”
“It’s alright Eddie, sometimes we all have bad days.”
A Virgin Mary candle softly flickered on Edgar’s dresser, giving the room an incandescent glow. He sat next to it, using its light to examine his Bowie knife as he spoke to Ellie. The feel of its handle in his hand. The sharpness of its unforgiving blade. He had a cold and distant look in his eyes.
“Okay, apology accepted then I guess,” Edgar said.
“Apology accepted,” Ellie replied.
“I’ll see you on Monday then mi reina.”
An unsettling feeling crept over Ellie after she hung up.
“Is everything okay?” Nathan asked.
“What was that all about?”
“Eddie wanted to apologize again for blowing up today. He called me mi reina, he doesn’t usually call me that. I think that means my queen in Spanish.”
Nathan sighed. “He was probably just happy that you were cool about it and maybe got excited. Has he said anything like that before?”
“He usually calls me ‘hita’.”
“I wouldn’t worry too much about it,” Nathan said as he kissed Ellie’s cheek, then turned on his side. Ellie closed her eyes as she tried to go back to sleep.
The next afternoon, Edgar sat in his living room watching TV when Ellie knocked at his door.
“Hey Eddie,” she said with somewhat less enthusiasm than usual.
“Oh hey, come on in, I was just thinking about you,” Edgar said as he waved her inside. Ellie sat her bag on the counter. He looked her deep in the eye. “I missed you.” His speech and body language seemed different. It didn’t feel harmless and endearing like before, but instead, almost lustful. That same uneasy feeling returned inside Ellie. She tried to brush it off though, telling herself that it was all just a misunderstanding on her part.
“Well, I missed you too,” she replied with a jittery smile.
Edgar’s eyes got big. “Hey! Would you mind putting that medicine on my back for me? It’s hard for me to reach.”
She hesitated. “Sure.”
The truth was that, at this point, she didn’t know how to respond, and it seemed to be escalating into a situation that her training could never have prepared her for.
“Okay, hold on,” Edgar said as he rushed down the hallway. Pretty soon “Angel Baby” could be heard playing in the other room. He came back smiling. “I thought you might like a little music.”
He handed the tube of medicated scabies cream to Ellie. He then removed his shirt and sat down in his chair, with his back facing her. A pimple-like rash that was oozing fluid covered his upper back and shoulders. Ellie winced at the sight, but slipped on her gloves and took a deep breath. She squeezed out a glob of cream, then began carefully rubbing it in.
“Ay, Dios Mio!” Edgar cried out from the sting.
Ellie looked repulsed during the whole thing. She was a caregiver but not a nurse, and this type of care was out of the scope of her regular responsibilities. During all this, the music continued playing in the background, only adding to the awkwardness that she already felt.
Edgar suddenly turned and looked at her from the side. “He doesn’t deserve you.”
Ellie stopped what she was doing. “Excuse me?”
“Your boyfriend. I don’t think he deserves you.”
“What? You could get in a lot of trouble for saying things like that to me, and honestly, you’re starting to make me feel really uncomfortable.”
“I know you feel the same way, I can feel it when you look at me.”
Ellie huffed and got up out of her chair. “Okay, I’m done here. That’s inappropriate, and I’m leaving!”
“Wait! Please don’t leave! You’re the one thing I look forward to every day. You give me purpose and the older you get, the harder it becomes to sometimes find that.”
Edgar looked pitiful as he sat with his shoulders hunched over, sulking. Ellie began to sympathize with him.
“Listen, Eddie, I enjoy you as a client, but I think you misunderstood our relationship. You shouldn’t be calling me mi reina or talking about my boyfriend like that. And when I gave you my number, it was for emergencies only, okay.”
Edgar gently nodded. Ellie then packed up her supplies and left.
He walked in front of the mirror and stared at his reflection. “I don’t mind pretending for a while, if that’s what she needs…”
That evening, Ellie stood in front of her bathroom mirror fixing her hair. She and Nathan had planned a romantic dinner at Don Juan’s Mexican Restaurant. Although she managed to force a smile when needed, she seemed lost in thought for most of the night.
“Okay, what’s wrong?” Nathan asked.
Ellie sat her fork down and nervously adjusted her dress. “I had an incident with Eddie today.”
Nathan took a sip of his beer and squinted attentively. “What kind of incident?”
“He said that he missed me and that you didn’t deserve me.”
“What?” Nathan replied, flabbergasted.
“I almost stormed out, but he looked so… pathetic.”
“I don’t care how he looked, he shouldn’t be saying that kind of stuff. Did you report him?”
“No. I mean I was stern with him though. I told him that was inappropriate and not to talk about you or say stuff like that again.”
Nathan shook his head. “I don’t know about this guy Ellie. I was trying to give him the benefit of the doubt, but that’s totally inappropriate.”
“Well, what do you want me to do? Do you think I should say something?”
Nathan sighed. “When you confronted him about it, what’d he do?”
“He just nodded his head. I just feel bad getting him into trouble. He’s old and alone…”
“Well, if he says anything else you should report him, okay.”
Ellie nodded and reached across the table to clutch Nathan’s hand.
On the car ride home, Ellie heard her text message alert. She reached into her purse and grabbed her phone. As she clicked on the screen, her heart dropped. It was an audio recording from Edgar. She turned to Nathan. “You’re not gonna believe this. It’s a message from Eddie.” She hit the play button.
“Hi darling, it’s Eddie. I know you said not to call unless it’s an emergency, so I left you a message instead. I wrote you a song today. I know it probably won’t sound as good on the phone, but here it goes…” A beautiful mariachi riff could then be heard playing. Edgar began to sing the words that he had penned out to express the dark and delusional fantasies that his mind had constructed. Nathan’s mouth hung open. Ellie had a look of dread on her face. After the song ended, he continued. “I hope you liked it. Soon we’ll be together, and everything will be like it was. Sweet dreams.”
Nathan exploded like an inferno. “I’m gonna call that son of a bitch back!” he said, reaching for Ellie’s phone.
“No!” Ellie exclaimed, trying to calm him down. “I’ll just block him and show this to Charles tomorrow. I don’t think that calling and threatening him is gonna make things better.”
Nathan paused. “Okay. But if he keeps this up or tries anything with you when you’re at work–” he said as he raised his eyebrow.
Ellie knew what that meant. Nathan grew up fighting and was a former Junior Golden Gloves boxing champion. There was a time when he enjoyed hurting people, but that time had since passed. She knew though that he was more than capable of defending her if it came down to it.
The next day, Ellie knocked on the window of Charles’s office. He waved her inside.
“What’s up?” he said cheerfully.
She looked unsure of herself as she trembled inside.
“I’ve been having an issue with one of my clients – Edgar Zavala.”
Charles got an uncomfortable look on his face. “What kind of issue?”
“Well, it started with him calling me names like my queen and saying things like my boyfriend didn’t deserve me. So, I corrected him and explained that saying things like that was inappropriate. I thought that he understood, but then I got this message from him last night.” Ellie played the recording that Edgar had left for her. After it finished, Charles sat back in his chair and crossed his arms.
“Well, sounds like quite the musician.” He sighed. “As a caregiver, you’re probably gonna hear things from some of your clients from time to time that don’t always seem rational. Some can even come across as brash or vulgar. Many of the residents here are dealing with dementia or other forms of cognitive decline. I’m not trying to downplay what you’re telling me, I’m just trying to remind you of where you’re at.” Charles leaned forward onto his desk. “You do realize that it’s against policy to give your information out to clients, right?”
“I realize I messed up by doing that but,” Ellie frowned, “this wasn’t like an angry or emotional outburst, it’s more like an infatuation that he has with me.”
Charles leaned back up. “We’ll talk with Edgar. Are you wanting me to remove him from your workload?”
Ellie nodded. “Yeah.”
“Alright,” Charles replied sounding somewhat vexed.
Ellie called Nathan after she left. “That was so fucked up.”
“What was?” Nathan replied.
“The way Charles basically talked to me like I was a child.”
“Yeah, he acted like I was just overreacting.”
“What an asshole! Even after you played the message that he left?”
“He just tried to turn it around on me. He said that it was against the rules to give out your information, which I acknowledged, but it still doesn’t give someone the right to act all creepy like that.” Ellie sighed. “But the good news is, he dropped Eddie as my client so at least I don’t have to see him anymore.”
Nathan sighed a breath of relief. “Good.”
That evening, Nathan looked over Edgar’s Facebook page as he tried to get a better understanding of who they were dealing with. His picture was an old photo of himself in his mariachi outfit. Most of his friends were women from overseas, and he only had a handful of posts, with many being YouTube videos of music performances by bands from Latin America.
“Oh shit,” Nathan suddenly blurted out. “Ellie!” he exclaimed.
“In here,” she replied as she painted her toenails in their bedroom.
Nathan came sprinting into the room. “Check this out,” he said as he handed her his phone. Ellie looked at Edgar’s About info. Under his relationship status, it read:
Married to Ellie Gutierrez since May 17, 2023
The date was May 26th.
Ellie’s brow crinkled with dismay. “Are you serious?”
Nathan hung his head in frustration, then looked back up. “Listen, just watch yourself around this guy. And if he says something to you, tell someone, okay.” Nathan hugged Ellie as she buried her head into his chest. “If he even thinks of trying anything, I’ll fucking bury him!”
Edgar sat in his living room watching Family Feud, when he heard a loud knock at the door. He jumped up and grabbed a bouquet of roses off the kitchen counter that he had gotten for Ellie. However, it wasn’t Ellie who showed up, but instead, a young man with brown, wavy hair and glasses.
“Are you…” the young man paused as he looked down at his clipboard, “Edgar?”
Edgar scowled. “Yeah, who are you?”
“I’m Jason, I’ll be starting as your new caregiver.”
Edgar looked out into the hallway, as if he expected Ellie to still show up. “Where’s Ellie?”
“I actually don’t even know who that is. Today’s only like my second day working here.”
Edgar sat the roses down and picked up his phone to call the front desk. “Hi this is Edgar Zavala in room 201. They sent the wrong caregiver today; I’m supposed to be assigned to Ellie.”
“Hold on a minute,” Silvia, who was the receptionist replied as she typed at her computer. There was a long pause. “Hmmm, Charles must not have contacted you. Looks like you’ve been reassigned to Jason.”
Edgar began shaking his head. “No, no one told me anything. There must be some kind of mix-up or something!”
“No, it’s showing right here. Egar Zavala, Jason Hanson. Wednesday, March 27th at 1:30.”
“So, is there a chance she’ll be back on Friday?”
“No – like I said, you’ve been assigned to Jason now Mr. Zavala. He’s your new caregiver.”
Edgar hung up the phone, staring blankly into space.
Jason sat his clipboard on the counter. “So, I have a checklist of chores that I’m supposed to do.”
Edgar stayed quiet as he checked off what needed to be done. When he was finished, Jason looked it over.
“Okay, I’ll get started with doing some dishes then, if that’s alright?”
Edgar nodded, then went back to watching TV. The sound of the pots and pans clanging around in the sink echoed torturously in his head. He tried calling Ellie again, but like all the times before, it went straight to her voicemail.
Jason rambled on incessantly. “I know how it is when you get attached to someone. Sometimes you just gotta let go through. Helping people like you who can’t care for themselves really gets me through tough times.” Jason scrubbed one of the pans furiously. “You know you really should lower the temperature on your stove when you’re cooking, otherwise it causes burnt-on grease–”
Edgar walked into the kitchen and interrupted. “How about you just make me a sandwich.”
Jason sat the pan down. “Sure, what do you want? I can make a mean Reuben. I can also do a club or a patty melt.”
“Grilled cheese is fine.”
Jason toasted some bread, threw on a few slices of cheddar, then heated it up in the microwave. “You got any tomato soup because that goes real well with grilled cheese?”
Edgar just stood there smoldering like a wildfire. “I don’t want any pinche soup, I just want a grilled cheese!”
Jason got quiet as Edgar’s eyes dug into him like daggers. The microwave beeped unnervingly when it finished cooking.
“Here’s your sandwich,” Jason said as he took it out of the microwave and sat it on the table.
Edgar sat down, then held the sandwich to his mouth and took a bite. His brow furrowed and he spit it back out. “Chingao! This tastes like rubber!”
Jason nervously opened the refrigerator and began digging around. “I can make you something else. It looks like there’s some ground beef, something else that looks kinda like chili beans…”
Edgar got up from where he was sitting and walked over to the stove as Jason continued looking through the refrigerator. He grabbed the cast iron comal that was sitting on a burner. He then snuck up on Jason from behind, striking him over the head with it and sending him crashing into the refrigerator shelves as food tumbled out. Edgar threw the comal in the sink and walked back over to him. He grabbed the back of his hair and dragged his body onto the floor. Jason lay sprawled out on his belly with the back of his head split open. Blood soon began to drench his hair, changing its color from a light brown to a deep, soggy auburn.
Suddenly there was a knock at the door. Edgar jerked his head up to look. It was the old man that lived in the room next to him. He stood out in the hallway in his robe.
“Hey, you okay in there?”
Edgar quickly thought up an excuse. “I’m fine… just moving some furniture!”
The old man crankily through his arm in the air. “Alright! Just try to keep it down, I’m trying to watch Judge Judy,” he mumbled as he turned and walked away.
Jason started groaning as he slowly began to regain consciousness. Edgar walked into the other room, then returned a few moments later holding a guitar string in his hand. He crouched down, planting his knee into the small of Jason’s back, then wrapped the string around his throat. He gritted his teeth, pulling on it with such force that his hands began to shake. Jason’s head lifted off the ground as the string dug fiercely into his throat, eventually tearing the skin and causing blood to ooze out. Edgar finally released the tension when he was sure he was dead.
“Nos vemos en el infierno,” he growled as he stood back up.
Several hours later, Silvia got a call from one of Jason’s other clients. After she hung up, she turned to Charles. “Did Jason leave early today?”
“Not to my knowledge,” Charles responded. He pulled up the time-clock. “It shows him still clocked in.”
Silvia had a baffled look on her face. “That’s strange. I just got a call from one of his clients saying that he was supposed to have been at his room forty minutes ago, and he never showed up.”
“Well, I know he was here earlier. Who was his first client?”
She double-clicked her mouse. “Looks like it was Edgar Zavala.” She then paused thoughtfully. “You know now that I think of it, I remember Zavala calling me earlier because he was upset that his caregiver was changed.”
“What room’s he in?”
“I’ll run down there and see if he’s still in there for some reason.”
Charles knocked on Edgar’s door. There was no answer, so he knocked again, this time pressing his ear up to it. There was no sound that he could hear. As he was about to turn and leave, he suddenly heard the deadbolt release. The door slowly cracked open, and Edgar answered.
“Can I help you sir?” he said politely.
“Hello, Mr. Zavala?”
“I’m Charles, I’m the director here.” He paused. “Did Jason ever make it over today?”
“Yeah, he was here earlier.” Edgar smiled. “Great kid by the way.”
“When did he leave?”
Edgar stroked his mustache. “Maybe about an hour ago.”
“Did he by chance say where he was going?”
“No, not that I recall… Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, we’re just trying to locate him.” Charles peered over Edgar’s shoulder into his room.
Edgar turned to the side. “Did you want to come in?”
Charles sighed and put his hand on his hip. “No, he probably just went to lunch or something and didn’t say anything. I’ll keep checking around.”
“Okay.” Edgar smiled darkly as he slowly pushed the door closed.
“Can you pull up the cameras for me?” Charles asked Silvia. “Zavala told me that Jason left his room about an hour ago.”
The two studied camera footage for the next few minutes. The video recording showed Jason entering Edgar’s room at 1:27 PM, but it never showed him leaving.
Charles got a perplexed look on his face. “Fuck,” he whispered under his breath. He shook his head. “That doesn’t make any sense. I guess I’ll head back over there.”
He made his way back to Edgar’s room and knocked on his door. The gentle banging broke the uneasy stillness that seemed to fill the hallway. There was no response, so he knocked once more and called out his name.
“Mr. Zavala, it’s Charles. I just need to talk to you again.” He waited a few more seconds, then pulled a giant key set from his pants pocket. He inserted the master key and with a turn of his wrist, the deadbolt slid back into its chamber, and the door opened. He could hear the TV, but there was no sign of anyone inside.
“Hello,” he called out as he cautiously entered. “Mr. Zavala… Jason…”
He walked slowly as he scanned the room. A framed photograph that sat atop an end table caught his eye. He bent over to examine it. His eyes suddenly opened wide, and he snatched it in his hand to get a closer look. In the photo, Edgar stood with his arm around a woman. A crude cut-out of Ellie’s face was plastered onto her body.
Charles grimaced as a sick feeling came over him. He sat it back down and continued into the kitchen. Edgar had cleaned everything up. The grilled cheese sandwich with the bite taken out of it still sat on the counter.
As he continued into the bedroom, there were several more photos that were carefully placed on the dresser. One was of Edgar and the mariachi band that he had played with, posing together as a group. The next one was a white, 1960’s Chevrolet El Camino. The last one was of presumably the same woman that Charles had seen in the photo in the other room. She stood next to Edgar, dressed in a wedding gown and holding a bouquet of flowers. Edgar was dressed in a black charro suit. Another cut-out of Ellie’s face was superimposed onto her body.
A chill ran down Charles’s spine. “What the fuck–” he muttered to himself.
He bent down and checked under the bed, then turned the light on in the bathroom, but there was still no sign of Jason. He finally came upon a small storage closet. He tried the handle, but the door seemed wedged shut. He grunted, then jerked on it, finally forcing it open.
Jason’s battered corpse fell out onto the floor. Charles’s expression morphed into one of sheer terror. He shrieked and stumbled backwards, then darted out of the room.
He sprinted through the hallway and into the lobby. He tried to open the office door, but he was so riddled with adrenaline that his fingers fumbled the keys, and he dropped them on the ground.
Silvia jumped up from her seat and opened the door. “What’s wrong?”
“He’s dead, call the police!” Charles exclaimed as he began to hyperventilate.
“Just do it!”
Many of the clients who stood in the lobby began to whisper amongst themselves as they watched the chaos. Silvia picked up the phone and dialed 911.
A short time later, numerous police and medical personnel began entering the building. Charles had managed to gather himself enough to relay a basic account of what had happened.
“Okay, what’s going on?” Sergeant Harris barked.
“I discovered the dead body of one of our caregivers,” Charles said still trembling.
Harris then turned and hollered. “Let’s get this place locked down. No one in, no one out!” He turned to Silvia, as Charles was too incapacitated. “Can you have your employees begin getting everyone back to their rooms?” Silvia nodded, then bolted into action.
As police began sweeping the area, they couldn’t help but notice some of the clients, many of whom were shut-ins and had long since been forgotten by the outside world.
An old man in a wheelchair sat in the corner, mindlessly mumbling to himself. Another woman appeared frozen in an odd, crippled position from lack of movement. She followed them with her eyes as they scrambled around.
“Police, we’re coming in!” Harris announced as he drew his gun from his holster. He entered Edgar’s room, followed closely behind by several other officers. They began methodically searching the area.
“Over here,” an officer called out as he caught a glimpse of Jason’s tennis shoe from around the corner.
“GET SOME PARAMEDICS IN HERE!” Harris cried out.
An EMT quickly rushed in, crouching down next to Jason as he checked for a pulse. He then shook his head despairingly, as Jason had long since expired.
That evening, Ellie was exercising on her elliptical when her phone rang. She answered, putting it on speaker.
“Oh my God, I’m so glad you’re okay!” her friend Marissa exclaimed.
“Why wouldn’t I be okay?” Ellie replied with a confused grin.
“It just said on the news that Lakeside was on lockdown because a staff there got killed.”
Ellie almost fell off the elliptical. She stepped off it and grabbed her phone, taking it off speaker.
“Check KRDO News, it’s on right now!”
Ellie turned on the news and saw a reporter who was standing in the parking lot of Lakeside.
“Again, Lakeside Assisted Living was placed on lockdown after the body of one of their caregivers was found dead inside one of the rooms. No further details are being released by police at this time, but News 13 will continue to follow this story as it develops. Daniel Trujillo, News 13,” the reporter said somberly.
Ellie took the phone away from her ear and placed her hand over her mouth in shock. Edgar, she thought to herself, even before she knew what had happened. She slowly raised the phone back to her ear and gasped. “I gotta call you back, I can’t talk right now Marissa, I’m sorry.”
She watched the rest of the news broadcast as she stared anxiously at the TV screen. After it ended, she picked up her phone and called the facility.
Silvia answered. “Lakeside,” she said hollowly.
“It’s Ellie. It was him wasn’t it… Edgar?”
Silvia let out a guarded sigh. “Listen, honey, I can’t say anything right now over the phone, but I’m sure you’ll find out soon enough. I’m just glad you’re okay.”
A tear rolled down Ellie’s cheek. The tone of Silvia’s voice was enough to confirm what she had feared.
“Can you at least tell me if they got him?” she whispered with a choking heaviness.
Silvia paused. “I’m sorry–”
Nathan rushed home from work after Ellie called him. He burst through the door, locking the deadbolt behind him. Ellie was sitting on the couch. He sat down next to her, wrapping his arms around her.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“I still haven’t heard for sure if it was Eddie who did it, but I got a really bad feeling babe.”
Nathan wiped the tears from her face. “Just wait till tomorrow. When you go back to work, I’m sure you’ll find out more.”
“I don’t know if I want to go back… I don’t know if I can.”
Ellie was preparing breakfast the next morning when her phone rang.
“Hello, is this Ellie Gutierrez?” a gravelly voice asked.
“This is her.”
“This is Detective Clemmons with the Pueblo PD. Would you be available this afternoon to come down to the station for questioning?”
“Well, I have to work at eleven.”
“Don’t worry about that right now, we’ve been in contact with your employer.” He sighed. “In case you haven’t already heard, there was a homicide that occurred yesterday at your workplace. We also have a suspect who’s still at large.”
“I heard about it on the news yesterday. I can be there around eleven thirty if that’s okay?”
“That works perfectly. Just come in through the main entrance off Grand Avenue and ask for Detective Clemmons.”
Before Ellie arrived at the station, Clemmons drove to Edgar’s sister’s mobile home. He knocked on the door and was soon greeted by an aggressive eighty-five-pound German Shepard that jumped onto the screen door and began barking wildly.
Clemmons jumped back. “Jesus!”
Vivian stared at him as her dog continued barking.
“Hello ma’am, I’m Detective Clemmons with the Pueblo PD. Are you Vivian Zavala?”
“Can I just get a quick moment of your time?”
Vivian yanked on the dog’s collar, subduing him long enough to slam the door.
Clemmons got a frustrated look on his face. “It’s about your brother – it’ll only take a minute!” he exclaimed as he stood on her steps.
Pretty soon the door opened again and to his relief, the dog was penned up.
“I ain’t got all day,” Vivian said as she opened the screen door. “Hurry up, otherwise you’ll let all the flies in.”
“Thank you,” Clemmons said as he hustled inside. He sat down next to her at the dining room table.
“Ms. Zavala, I don’t know if you’re aware of this or not, but yesterday there was a homicide that occurred in the room where your brother lived and now, he’s missing.” Vivian frowned numbly and shook her head. “I’m not here to point the finger of blame on him, we just want to locate him and ask him a few questions. I was hoping that maybe you could tell me a little more about Edgar and where he might be?”
Vivian slowly turned her head toward the detective. The sunlight shined through the window on her haggard face. “Well, it doesn’t surprise me and he ain’t here if that’s what you’re wondering. When he was first released from the psychiatric hospital he wanted to stay here, and I flat-out refused. Then the state put him up in that nursing home. I knew that was a mistake from the start.”
“Edgar was committed to a psychiatric hospital?”
Vivian nodded stiffly. “He was in the Colorado Mental Health Institute for twenty-eight years. It was the only time I ever had peace of mind.”
“Why was he in there?”
She sighed. “He killed Gloria, his wife. The court found him not guilty by reason of insanity. As heinous as it was, I didn’t think he’d ever see the light of day again, but I guess the psychiatrists thought differently. They put him in this program, a community release-type program. He was supposed to check in monthly with his caseworker. He was also put on medication, but he told me that he quit taking it a few months ago. I tried to call the hospital several times to tell them, but they told me that if nothing was noted by the nurse, they couldn’t do anything about it.”
“How long ago was he discharged?”
“It was right around the beginning of the year, so… about five months ago.”
“Do you think him not taking his medication could have led to a violent outburst?”
Vivian chuckled ominously. “I would still like to have a frank conversation with the doctor who signed off on his release. I’ve seen how Eddie gets without his meds. The delusions, the obsessions. My brother can be whoever you want him to be, or whoever it benefits him to be. He can be charming, he can be funny and then he can be someone that you pray you never meet in this life. I think that’s why it took them forty years to finally catch him.”
“Well, that’s pretty alarming,” Clemmons responded. “Do you have any idea where he may have fled to?”
“That’s your job detective. I said to myself I’d give him one more chance, but now he burnt all his bridges here. But if you do catch him, let me know – because I’d love to be there for his execution.”
Clemmons finished scribbling in his notepad and pulled his business card from his shirt pocket. “Listen, if he shows up here, call the police. And if you can think of anything else, my number’s on the card. Thank you for your time today, ma’am.”
Ellie sat in the police station waiting room in a daze.
“Ms. Gutierrez,” Clemmons said as he walked up to her. She jumped. “I didn’t mean to startle you. I’m Detective Clemmons,” he said as he extended his hand. “Thanks for coming in.”
Ellie shook his hand and followed him into a small room, just large enough to accommodate the desk and chairs that filled it.
“You thirsty?” he asked, holding a pitcher of water in his hand.
“No,” Ellie replied.
Clemmons sat the pitcher down. “So, I called you down here today to maybe help us with a case. Yesterday the body of one of your co-workers was found dead inside Edgar Zavala’s room. I understand that he was a former client of yours?”
Ellie nodded and put her head in her hands as she began to weep.
“You can take a minute if you need to,” Clemmons said, setting a box of tissues next to her.
She grabbed a tissue and wiped the tears from her eyes. “When I heard what had happened yesterday on the news, I knew it was him,” she whimpered.
“So, what made you drop Edgar as your client?”
“It just got awkward. It started with him calling me names like my queen, and he would say things like my boyfriend didn’t deserve me. Then he recorded this weird ass song…”
“Did you still have it?”
“Yeah,” Ellie replied as she reached for her phone. She hit the play button and set her phone on the desk.
After it finished, Clemmons shook his head. “Did you show that to your supervisor?”
“Yeah, and I also blocked his number.”
“When we were searching Edgar’s room, we discovered several altered photos. They contained cut-outs of your face that were pasted onto another woman’s body. Possibly his late wife.”
Ellie shuddered. “What?”
Clemmons gestured with his hand. “I’m not trying to scare you, but you might wanna be a little extra cautious until we can locate Edgar and bring him into custody.”
“Well, am I gonna like get some kind of protection?”
“I was told that the sheriff’s department has increased the number of patrols down your street. We’ll be exhausting all our resources to catch this guy, but I could use your help.”
Ellie looked up at Clemmons. “How?”
“You said you blocked him, right? His telephone number and social media?”
“If you were to unblock him, there’s a chance he may try to contact you again. He may even want to meet up with you. If so, we can take any information that he gives you and launch a sting operation.”
Ellie got a dubious look on her face. “So, what you’re saying is you want to use me as bait?”
“It’s totally up to you, but your assistance could be a huge asset to us.”
Ellie crossed her arms as she pondered the detective’s proposition. “I need to talk to my boyfriend first, because this involves him, too.”
“Absolutely.” Clemmons reached into his shirt pocket. “Here’s my card. Not to rush you, but in cases like this, timing is critical, so if you could call me as soon as possible, I’d appreciate it.”
Ellie nodded, stony-eyed.
“He wants you to meet up with this guy?” Nathan exclaimed. “Ellie, he just murdered someone!”
“I know, I know! That’s all I’ve been thinking about since yesterday. I couldn’t even sleep last night because I was worried about him breaking in here and…” she began to blubber, “fucking raping or killing me!”
“I’m not gonna let that happen! And if he does break in here, I swear on my grandma’s grave his old ass is leaving in a body bag!”
“But you can’t always be here! Ellie paused. “What if it’s some other young girl he goes after next?”
“So, what are you thinking?” Nathan asked.
A boldness seemed to come over Ellie. “I can either do nothing and live in fear, or I can try and help get him.”
Nathan froze in silence and although he was apprehensive, it seemed that Ellie had already made up her mind.
A little while later she called Detective Clemmons to inform him that she would agree to unblock Edgar’s number. He then proceeded to give her detailed instructions on what to say if Edgar happened to call or text her. He also assured her that she had little to worry about, as her safety was their main priority. It would be a carefully coordinated operation under the direct supervision of undercover agents. Surveillance cameras would be placed around the property in case Edgar showed up unannounced.
Several days had passed with no breaks in the case. Edgar’s whereabouts remained unknown, and Nathan and Ellie remained on edge. She now almost instinctively jumped every time the phone rang, or her text message alert chimed. Usually, it was either family or friends checking in on her.
The third evening, she got a text from Marissa.
“Hey friend, what are you up to?” Marrissa wrote.
“Nothing much, just trying to decide what to fix for dinner.”
“You wanna come hang out for a bit, I’m about to order pizza?”
“Nah, just not feeling it tonight, but thanks.”
“Come on, you can’t stay trapped in that place forever.”
Ellie thought about it for a minute. She looked over at Nathan who was playing video games.
“Marissa’s ordering pizza tonight and she invited me over. I told her I didn’t think I was up for it yet.”
Nathan paused his game. “It might help you to get your mind off things.” He shrugged his shoulders. “It’s better than sitting around here and dwelling on shit.”
“I think I just feel depressed.”
“Don’t let that piece of shit win. We just gotta try to go on with our lives.”
Ellie sighed and smiled with resolve. “You’re probably right.”
“Be over in a bit, save me a slice,” she texted Marissa.
“LOL, make it snappy,” she replied.
Darkness moved in, discreetly yet undeterred. Nathan walked Ellie out to her car as a precaution.
The moon shined with a deathly paleness in the night sky as she drove to Marissa’s house. She turned on the radio. Mariachi music began blaring from the speakers, but she quickly changed the station as she didn’t want any reminders of Edgar. She put on some hip-hop and gently patted her hand on the steering wheel.
When she pulled into Marissa’s driveway, her car was parked outside, and the porch light was on. Ellie parked and went and knocked on the door. No one answered, so she tried the handle. The door was open, so she let herself in. The living room was dark, but she could see light shining from the kitchen.
“You know you really shouldn’t leave your door unlocked, there’s a bunch of creeps around here,” Ellie called out.
Suddenly Edgar stepped out of the shadows from behind her. Before she had a chance to scream, he placed his hand over her mouth and held his Bowie knife up to her throat.
“Don’t worry, I’ll protect you…” he whispered in her ear.
She could feel the blade as it pressed against her skin. She dropped her purse and cried out as she tried to escape his grip.
Edgar had learned through viewing Ellie’s Facebook that Marissa was her best friend. He did a Google search and was able to find her home address. After fleeing from the assisted living facility, he cased her residence until he gained entry into her home through a small window that he pried open.
While hiding out in her basement, he was able to listen to the women’s conversations. He learned of the sting operation, and he knew that the only way to get to Ellie was through someone close to her –someone like Marissa.
“Don’t tense up… don’t fight it!” Edgar pushed Ellie through the living room and then the kitchen. She began to see blood trails and smeared handprints in thick blood on the walls and countertops, suggesting that a violent struggle had taken place. “Downstairs!” he commanded. He escorted her down the stairs, step by step with the knife still resting firmly against her trachea.
Halfway down the flight of stairs, she got her first glimpse of the carnage that awaited her. And when they reached the bottom, she witnessed the depths of Edgar’s derangement. Marissa’s corpse was propped up in a chair. Her throat was cut so deep that her head remained attached to her body by only a few strands of connective tissue. On a table next to her were two wedding rings sitting in their boxes. The same rings that Edgar and his deceased wife had once worn when they were married.
Ellie’s legs buckled and she fell to her knees as she began to sob. Edgar got her back up and continued walking her to an empty seat across from Marissa. He ordered her to sit down, then reached for some duct tape that he had in his back pocket. He taped her mouth shut, then bound her hands behind her back and her legs to the chair.
With Ellie now restrained, Edgar placed his knife back in its sheath that was attached to his belt. He smiled giddily. “I have to run upstairs mi amore, but I’ll be back. This’ll give you and Marissa a chance to catch up on some girl talk.” He cocked his head to the side and gazed at her. “You look so beautiful.”
Edgar then sprinted back upstairs. He grabbed a large cabinet and began strenuously dragging it towards the front door to barricade it shut.
While he was upstairs, Ellie began wiggling her arms and legs as she tried desperately to free herself. She looked around the room and noticed the steel beams that provided support for the house’s foundation. They were square in shape and had jagged edges. She began jerking her body, using the momentum to inch the chair towards one of the beams that stood about five feet away from her. With her chair backed up against the beam, she used its edge to saw through the tape.
After Edgar finished moving the cabinet, he ran back downstairs. The smile quickly wiped off his face when he discovered that Ellie was no longer sitting in her chair. He was looking around when she suddenly jumped out from hiding behind the staircase and smashed his guitar across his face. The blow to the head sent him stumbling sideways. Ellie then bolted up the stairs.
When he regained his senses, he pulled his knife from its sheath. “Must have cold feet,” he uttered to himself as he took off after her.
Ellie grimaced when she saw the cabinet that was blocking the front door. She continued running through the house, looking for an escape route. She turned another corner and discovered a loveseat that Edgar had placed in front of the door that led into the garage.
“Fuck!” she shouted hysterically. She continued upstairs as Edgar followed from a distance.
Marissa lived alone, and Ellie remembered that her father bought her a handgun for protection that she kept hidden in her closet. And Marissa’s father, being a bit overprotective, wanted to make sure that his daughter was more than adequately armed. It was a Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum. A handgun suited more for hunting big game than merely defending yourself against a home intruder.
She burst into the bedroom and locked the door. A few seconds later Edgar stopped in front of it and tried the handle but saw that it was locked. Ellie dug through Marissa’s closet as she frantically searched for the gun.
Edgar banged on the door. A trickle of blood ran from his earlobe from the guitar blow that he took to the face. “ELLIE, DON’T BE LIKE THIS!”
“Just leave me alone!” she pleaded.
“ELLIE!” he yelled as he hit the door again.
She finally came across a hard plastic case that was buried under some clothes. She undid the clips and removed the gun from its interior compartment. As she checked its cylinder, she saw that it was fully loaded and breathed a momentary sigh of relief.
On the other side of the door, Edgar grinned with amusement and began tossing his knife from one hand to another while letting out a low, demented chuckle. He then grabbed the weapon with both hands. His eyes widened, and he grunted savagely as he began stabbing the blade through the door’s panels.
Ellie stood in the corner, aiming the gun in his direction.
After numerous puncture holes, Edgar was finally able to punch through the door and let himself in. He saw Ellie wielding the revolver and stopped just past the doorway’s threshold. He stood there breathing heavily with his eyes transfixed on her. “You gonna shoot me… you want me dead?”
Ellie cocked the gun’s hammer. “STAY BACK OR I SWEAR TO GOD I’LL DO IT!”
Edgar then scowled menacingly. “I been dead for years!” he hissed as he took a step forward.
With her adrenaline surging, she unleashed a hail of gunfire, emptying all six rounds into his body. The concussion from each bullet blew portions of his shirt open and left behind mangled, gaping exit wounds. The impact sent him stumbling backwards into the hallway and finally toppling over the banister.
Ellie dropped the gun as smoke rose from the barrel. She then crept out into the hallway and peered over the railing at the floor below. Edgar lay sprawled out in a pool of blood. His left leg was bent in an unnatural position behind his body as if it had been broken by the fall. Blood ran from the corners of his mouth, yet his eyes remained open as if staring into the unknown.
She gasped and turned her head, then bravely began her descent down the stairs. When she got to the bottom of the steps, she cringed as she was forced to walk through the blood that had saturated the ground where Edgar lay. Her purse sat in the living room where she had dropped it. She used all her strength and was able to move the cabinet far enough away from the door to slide past it. She dialed 911, then waited outside, cold and alone in the darkness.
* * * * * *
Three months later
Although her life was spared, the guilt and turmoil that Ellie felt following the events of that night was crippling. The feelings of fear and loss of self-control often caused her to avoid going out in public. But with the advice of her therapist and the support of Nathan, she gradually began venturing out into the world again.
The day of her birthday, Nathan took her out to eat at Don Juan’s Restaurant. He held her hand as he gazed deeply into her eyes.
“I’m proud of you and the strength that you’ve shown over these last few months.”
Ellie sighed. “It hasn’t been easy. I just hope this next year’s better than the last.”
Suddenly an announcement came over the restaurant’s PA system. “Attention everyone! We have a special young lady who’s celebrating her birthday with us today. If you could all please put your hands together for Ellie!”
She smiled and looked over at Nathan. “Did you do this?”
He looked back at her and grinned.
Pretty soon singing could be heard. A violin then followed, along with a horn and guitar in unison. A group of mariachi players then filed into the center of the restaurant.
Ellie let out a shriek and her face twisted with dread. She covered her eyes and turned away.
Nathan quickly got up from his seat and rushed over to sit next to her. “BABY – BABY WHAT’S WRONG?” He began waving his hands in the air. “Stop the music!” He then rose to his feet. “Stop the music! he pleaded. The men abruptly quit singing and the smiles faded from the room.
Ellie took her hands away from her face and looked back at the mariachi players. She initially believed in her mind that she had seen Edgar’s face. In reality, though, it was just a man who bore a strong resemblance to him.
“I thought it was him…” she uttered tearfully.
“You’re safe, just breathe,” Nathan said calmly. “Remember the techniques you learned.”
It seemed a reminder of Edgar could be found everywhere. He was the man in line with his head turned or the person sitting several rows up in church or even that stranger rushing by in the distance at a busy airport. His memory was forever archived in Ellie’s mind, and she prayed that one day she wouldn’t see his face when she dreamed.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableCraig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
🔔 More stories from author: Bryan AsburyPublisher's Notes: N/A Author's Notes: N/A
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