Hero’s Curse-Chapter 4
Chapter 4: Home Sweet Home
My truck was easy to find. When I climbed in, I took the time to mull things over. Only my friends are allowed to laugh at me. B and I weren’t friends. I took my fury and bottled it, knowing soon enough I’d be able to let it out. B was right, I needed to prioritize. He didn’t have a reason to lie about the trolls. I had monsters to kill. I didn’t have time to think about my sex life.
During our conversation, I had been stuck by the difference between the way B talked and the way he dressed. A person’s appearance almost always reflects his or her personality. The way a woman styles her hair and puts on makeup will often tell you how she decorates her home. The clothes a man wears should indicate if he’s going to use slang. If I hadn’t been able to see B, just hear his voice, I would have pictured a slob, about fifty pounds overweight, who got dates because he was funny, despite, not because of, his looks. He should have been dressed in a food splattered concert T-shirt and jeans.
B looked like a Hollywood version of a prince. He didn’t have a single blemish. Every hair was in its place. He was wearing a spotless suit that looked like it had been cut by a bespoke tailor—the kind used by European royalty. His double Windsor was so perfectly tied it should have been a clip-on (I checked; it wasn’t). Every woman and most of the men in the restaurant were stealing glances at him. They were trying to figure out what kind of celebrity he was. B’s looks only made sense if it was a uniform.
I grew up in an orphanage and served time in juvie and prison. I’ve lived with scum and have been exposed to good, bad, and indifferent guardians. I heard his laughter while I fried. I remembered B’s expression while he bitch slapped me into unconsciousness. He hadn’t acted like a sorrowful caretaker reluctantly disciplining a protégé; he looked like a thug who liked causing pain.
Over dinner B had been friendly and genial. He had been trying to bill himself as a guy who was looking out for my best interests. I’ve had people try to play me for most of my life. He’d been different while kicking my ass; that was his real self. He liked causing pain and humiliation.
The troll wasn’t the first monster, I’ve killed. I know monsters; the most effective are funny and charming. Their preferred prey is the vulnerable. Given the choice I’d bet B wouldn’t have looked like a perfectly coifed aristocrat; he would have chosen to look dangerous—a shaved head, piercings, and tattoos. I heard regret in his voice when he talked about his inability to have sex. If he had the option, he would choose rape over seduction.
B said I had an hour-and-a-half to find a home with a threshold. I decided I believed him. He didn’t have anything to gain by lying about this. I followed his advice and got on KSL.com. There were four homes nearby that fit his requirements. When I called, three of the owners were home and were willing to show me the rooms this evening. All of the homes were close to the University of Utah.
I pulled up to the closest house. Most of the grass in the front lawn was dead. A rusting shovel and a rake lay next to the driveway. It looked like they hadn’t been moved in months. I pulled up behind a perfectly waxed, spotless, red Corvette in the driveway.
There was no way this house had a threshold. B said I no longer had the ability to lie. I needed to find out if this was true. I had to learn the extent of my limitations. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d told the truth about my name, profession, or my plans. I needed to test how I was going to play it when I actually found a room I wanted to rent.
When I rang the doorbell, a kid about eighteen with pimples and a dangly skull earring opened the door. “Hey man, you here for the room?”
“Yeah. I’m Victor Paladin.” ‘Shit’ I had meant to say John Evans.
“Come on in. I’m Brody Minor. The room is in the basement. Follow me.”
Brody led me through the house. The inside of the house was a perfect mirror to the outside. An empty pizza box lay on the couch in the living room. The kitchen sink was piled high with dirty dishes.
“You lived here long?”
“Almost a year, I’m a film major at the U. My parents bought this house. We’re renting out rooms to help pay for the mortgage.” Brody opened the door to the basement room. There was water damage on the drywall under the window and the room smelled like mold. “What do you think?”
“Well, I need to know a few more things before I can make a decision.” I felt a wave of nausea. I felt upchuck rise. I guess what I had said constituted a white lie.
“You ok, man?”
I swallowed the vomit that reached my mouth. “Yeah, I got a stomach condition. Don’t worry, it’s not catching. Would it be a problem if I paid with checks with a different name than mine? I’ve got a legal situation where I need to pay all my bills under the name of John Evans.” I prepared to run to the bathroom, but this time I didn’t get nauseated.
“So, you want the room then?”
“I’ve got a few other rooms I want to check out. Let me get back to you.” Even though I planned on calling him back, I barely made it to the bathroom. Everything I’d eaten at the Indian restaurant came up. I think Brody was as happy to see me leave as I was to get out of there.
The next house I drove up to looked like a clone of Brody’s. I drove on. I had 45 minutes left to sundown. If this last house in the Harvard/Yale neighborhood didn’t pan out I needed to look for rooms in the Avenues. B said that the best thresholds were in homes where multiple generations had lived. I needed to stay in older neighborhoods.
According to KSL.com the average rent for single rooms in Salt Lake was around $400 per month. Nicer neighborhoods like Sugar House, close to the University of Utah, went for around $450. The owner of the next house wanted almost double. The increased price could mean something good.
I turned on my phone’s GPS app and followed the voice instructions to the house. My mind bounced like a grasshopper from topic to topic. I needed an independent source of information. Where would I even start? If B was telling the truth and he was my guardian angel, was he always watching me? Or was there ever a time when he wasn’t watching me? How was I going to take out the rest of the trolls? Would I have backup?
I drove on autopilot. I was lost in thought until my GPS announced, “You have arrived at your destination.” Mature trees canopied the street. The sun was lying low in the sky and light dappled the house and yard. When it had been built, at least a half century ago, the house I was looking at would have been called a mansion. It was a two story red brick home with a copper roof and a detached two car garage. The lot had to be close to an acre. It was the largest house on the street. Unlike the previous homes I had looked at, the yard was immaculate.
As I got out, I saw a figure in the shadows working on a flower bed at the far corner of the house. My gut told me that this house had a threshold. I needed to make a good impression. The evening temperature was cool so my long sleeved shirt now made sense. I was wearing the same business casual clothing I had on when I got my ass kicked by B. He was a one stop repair shop; not only had I been healed, my clothes had been cleaned.
My hair style is so common it’s called a ‘regular cut’. I was lucky enough to have been born with the most common hair color and eyes in the US. In appearance, in almost every way, I looked average. I concentrated on looking as normal and harmless as possible.
The gardener strode confidently toward me wearing a tank top and shorts. A light sheen of sweat on her face mixed with dirt on her gardening gloves revealed she hadn’t been just playing at working in the yard. “Hi, I’m Mina Swenson. Are you here about the room?”
Every woman who reveals this much cleavage is testing every man she meets. Stare at the goods, you’re a creep; don’t notice, you’re gay. The only right response is to make eye contact but to make sure she knows you’re struggling.
I planned to meet her eyes with an innocent smile of appreciation. I’m an average looking guy, neither ugly nor good looking, most of the time I don’t get a second look. I like it that way. I like being in control, women rarely move me. Attraction is a funny thing. Most of the time it’s predictable, but sometimes lightening strikes. When I met her eyes, I felt a wave of desire. Beautiful women are a dime a dozen. Women I want are rare. My heart sank. I didn’t need this distraction.
I can usually control my emotions and my face. This wasn’t a usual day. I was barely keeping it together. I realized I was showing my feelings when Mina started to look concerned. Gorgeous blonde, blue eyed women aren’t used to men frowning at them. “Yes I am. I’m Victor. I’m really hoping your room is as great as the outside of the house and yard. It’s been a long day and I’d really like to find a place.”
Mina stopped looking worried and laughed, “Well, I’m a little bit biased but I think the space I’m renting is a steal even at the price. It was originally designed as a live-in servant’s quarters. You’ll have your own bathroom and small kitchen. The only thing that will be shared is the entrance way which is why the place is priced like it’s a separate apartment. Let me put these tools away and I’ll show you the place.” She turned and walked toward the garage. She looked good from this direction too.
The driveway expanded into a circle in front of the garage. Mina pointed to a spot, “You can park here. The neighborhood is pretty strict about parking in the street. My younger sister and brother both drive and they park in the circle too. I’m the only one who gets to park in the garage. It’s too packed with stuff to fit more than one car.”
She led me to the back door of the house which led to the kitchen. Just inside was a small stairway that led up two stories into the attic. As she walked up, she told me when the house had been built by her grandfather. She pointed out all the recent renovations including the high tech modern radiant heaters and high flow air-conditioning vents. Mina clearly loved this house. The rental was a small bedroom with a twin bed, a full bath, and a cubby hole of a kitchen.
“Mina, this is perfect. I’d like to give you a check for the first two months rent now and if you don’t mind, I’d like to move in tonight. I can give you my information including my last few landlords so you can do a credit and background check now.”
She looked hesitant. “Wow Vic, you like to move fast.”
I gave her my best oh please pity me look and let a barely noticeable catch creep into my voice. “Well, I’ve been camping in my truck and living in hotels for longer than I want and you wouldn’t believe the day I’ve had. For awhile now, I’ve been moving from town to town every few months because of my job. That career seems to be over. I’ve had a lot of changes hit me all at once and I’d like to get things stabilized. It’d really help a lot if I knew I had a place.”
Mina still looked hesitant. I gave her my best little boy lost smile. I knew I had her when she smiled back. “Well, if you give me your info now, I guess it wouldn’t be a problem for you to move in immediately.”
“John Evans is the name on all my documentation but I go by Vic. Here is my Indiana driver’s license and a credit card. I’ve listed my social security number and the contact information of my last three landlords on this sheet. I have the conscience of an angel; I’ll pass any background check you’ve got. So if you don’t mind, I’ll move my stuff while you look me up.” Quickly before she could change her mind, I went down to my truck to get my bags. I had gargled with tap water after I had upchucked at Brody’s place but I hadn’t brushed my teeth. Even though I smelled and looked ‘magically’ clean. I didn’t feel clean. I desperately wanted a shower.
I had pulled my truck into the designated parking spot in the back and was pulling my two pieces of luggage out when a BMW Mini pulled up behind me. A strawberry blond in a cheerleader’s uniform got out. She looked about 16.
“Hi, are you the new renter?”
“Yeah, my name is Vic.”
“I’m Andi, nice to meet you.” As I shook her hand, I could see Andi’s eyes sizing me up with approval. To be fair, it may have been because she wasn’t covered with sweat and dirt but she was better looking than her sister. Like I said, I’m an average looking guy, the last thing I needed was a jail bait nymphomaniac. I didn’t try to hide the glumness on my face and in my voice as I replied, “Nice to meet you too.” I saw shock in Andi’s face as I abruptly turned away and went up to my room.
I grabbed my tooth brush and went into the shower. I let hot water run over me and brushed my teeth. It felt amazing to feel clean again. I let my mind drift. It just figured that the house with a threshold I’d found would come with an over-attractive landlord and an under-aged sister that liked older men. I didn’t look my real age but to a normal 16-year old, someone like me who looked like he was in his mid 20’s should have been too old to check out.
The idea of being celibate unless I got married was disturbing enough; the idea of never having privacy, the possibility of always being watched by God or a guardian angel was disgusting. B had jokingly encouraged me to masturbate as soon as I got privacy. If God and angels truly existed, there was no privacy. The idea of someone like B or Jehovah watching me while I played with myself was disgusting.
I didn’t have any concerns about Mina’s background check. If I had been willing to live in the woods like a hermit, it would have been possible for me to live off the grid. Living off the grid is too much of a pain. It’s close to impossible to have any of the modern conveniences like broadband internet access, a smart phone, bank accounts and credit cards, off the grid. To get all of these things you need a valid social security number.
An illegal immigrant can buy a stolen identity for less than two hundred dollars; these identities usually won’t hold up to a 10 minute internet search. For a thousand dollars you can get the social security number and a birth certificate of a real infant that died when he was a few months old. This scam has been common knowledge for almost 20 years. Death certificate databases have been going online and becoming searchable; law enforcement has been wise to this scheme for a long time. If you use this technique, your fake identity doesn’t have a paper trail. No tax payments, school records, or credit history. If you have access to the right databases, it takes longer than 10 minutes to figure out the identity is false but not that much longer.
People who aren’t meticulous or who trust other criminals are fools. They’re just asking to get caught. It’s a pain in the ass to get false identities on your own but it’s worth it if you don’t like prison.
For my disposable identities, I look in the obits for a guy with brown hair and eyes, about my height, without close family, who recently died in an accident. I know I have the right guy when I go to his home and see a stack of mail. If there’s a preapproved credit card application, I pick the lock on his house to find a document that has his social security number.
I usually visit the dead guy’s home in the middle of the day and make a point of saying hello to the neighbors. If they ask, I tell them I’m a cousin of the deceased. All credit card companies allow you to fill out preapproved applications online; all you need is the social security number. After that it’s just a matter of visiting the house and picking up the mail every couple of days until the credit card comes.
In most states, if you claim you’ve lost your driver’s license you can get a replacement by mail and have it sent to the address on record. Typically, you fill out an application online and pay by credit card. Once I have the driver’s license, I have an identity that is difficult but not impossible to penetrate.
I put even more effort into my main identity. Ten years ago, I got a job for a couple of months as an orderly at Henry Ford Hospital in downtown Detroit. John Evans was a 16-year old brown haired, brown eyed victim of a drive by shooting who was DOA. His mom was a drug addict prostitute who came by just once to ID the body. It took no effort to get a hold of John’s driver’s license before his mom came. I didn’t touch what she most cared about, the cash in his wallet. Minutes after she left the hospital and before the cops came, I made sure his hospital records were lost and modified the death certificate to make him a John Doe. None of the doctors or nurses on call had paid much attention to John after they realized he was dead. Inner city Detroit is predominantly black but there are still whites living there. The police there are color blind about dead gangbangers; they don’t care much about any of them. John’s death didn’t make it into any database, government or private. Since John was a minor when he got into trouble with the law, his juvenile records were automatically expunged when he became a legal adult.
John had dropped out of high school so I didn’t have to mess with any of his school records. When I was in my thirties, I constantly got carded. It wasn’t a stretch to convince people I was 18. Two years after John died, I took a high school equivalency test under his name and got a GED, a job at McDonalds and started paying taxes. Based on that first job, I got a bank account and a credit card. On John Evans’ 20th birthday, I renewed his driver’s license and also got a Passport. His mother, the only other person who knew for sure John Evans was dead, died of an overdose four years ago. All my identification cards with his name had my photographs. My identity was bulletproof.
The hot water ran out. I had only been in the shower for a few minutes, it should have lasted longer. Mina must have decided to take a shower before running a credit check. I got out before the water got ice cold. I was toweling off when I looked into the mirror for the first time. “Holy shit!” I was fricking beautiful! I spend a lot of time working out but I’m not into body building. Since the last time I had looked in a mirror, I had become completely ripped and defined. My face was still recognizably me but indefinably different. I looked like a professional makeup artists had spent hours on my face instead of just stepping out of the shower. All my old acne scars had disappeared. I didn’t have a single blemish. The scar from a knife wound on my thigh was gone as was the bullet scar next to my left nipple.
Andi wasn’t an under-aged nympho with a fetish for older men. She had been a normal heterosexual teen faced with an amazingly gorgeous guy. “Fuck!” I loved being average looking. It was awesome to have looks that made me hard to describe. I realized now that the people in the restaurant hadn’t just been looking a B. They had also been looking at me. I liked who I was; against my will and without my knowledge, I had been changed. I wanted to scream. I controlled myself. I couldn’t afford to freak out my new landlord.
I stumbled into the bedroom and sat on my bed. I thought of B watching me from up high rolling on the ground giggling. I couldn’t help it. I started laughing. It was a better choice than screaming; I was so pissed. I had never laughed in anger before and somehow it made me feel better. B was right. He was a bigger me. Most guys would give their left nut to look this good. Neither one of us wanted to look like Prince Charming. Jehovah was a small lump of crap stuck to the end of an ass hair.
I realized I was starving. None of the food I had eaten during dinner had stayed in my stomach. I decided to go downstairs and make nice with my new roommates. I was halfway down the stairs when I heard Andi talking on a phone. I guess along with the godlike looks came superhuman hearing. Somehow I knew she wasn’t speaking all that loudly.
“Oh my God, Stacy, he’s so hot!..You have to come by tonight to check him out…No, he doesn’t look that old, probably Mina’s age—low twenties.” She was going to be a problem. I purposefully stomped down the lower half of the stairs to make sure Andi knew I was coming. She had the phone off and was looking innocent when I entered the kitchen.
“Hey Andi, I know it’s late but I’m starving. I’m going to order some pizza. Do you want some?”
She beamed. “Sure!”
“You think your sister will want some?”
“As long as it’s vegetarian, Mina loves pizza. Me personally, I’ll eat anything.”
Andi gave me a coupon from the best local pizza place. I ordered three large pizzas, one plain, one meat lovers, and the last half pepperoni and the other half mushrooms and bell peppers.
Shortly after I got off the phone, a boy a couple years older than Andi walked in the room. He had the same Nordic good looks as his sisters. He was about 6’4” and had the skinny, lanky, half-filled look of someone who had grown several inches in a short period of time. He bristled slightly when he saw me. From the way he reacted I figured he was straight. This sucked. No one was going to forget me. Guys would be intimidated and girls would be attracted. I didn’t even want to begin to think about my effect on homosexuals.
“Ben, this is our new renter, Vic. Vic, this is my brother Ben.”
When I offered my hand to shake, Ben grabbed it like he was going to twist it off. He clearly wanted to show me he was the man in the family and could protect his sisters. I’m strong for my size but brute strength isn’t my forte. I choked high on his hand with a firm grasp to stop my hand from being crushed but I had no expectation or intention of hurting him. I realized what I was doing when I saw pain flash across his face. Ok, I now had spidey-strength. All I needed was the ability to shoot webbing from my wrists and I’d be ready for great responsibility.
I let go. Ben pulled back and started shaking his hand surreptitiously behind his back. Further embarrassment for all involved was saved when the front doorbell rang. The pizza was here. I paid the delivery man. I was glad I had ordered three large pizzas as I was starving and Ben and Andi ate like growing teenagers.
I could feel myself mellowing as I ate piece after piece of saturated fat filled goodness. I looked over at Ben and Andi and saw the same calorie induced high. I was satiated. I hadn’t realized how much of my fury had been from low blood sugar. I was still pissed but it was under control.
I got Ben and Andi to start talking about themselves. Ben was a little standoffish but Andi made up for him. They lost both of their parents to a car accident less than a year ago. The kids had trust funds set up by their grandparents that paid for their education. Andi was going to be a junior at Judge, a private Catholic high school. She was currently in the middle of summer cheerleading training. Ben was a going to be a freshman at the University of Utah and Mina, a senior. Their parents had a life insurance policy that helped to pay for most of their bills but at the end of every month they were scraping the bottom of the barrel. Even though the house was paid for, there were taxes, maintenance, and utilities. A couple weeks back they decided to try to rent a room in the house. It was either that or sell the house and none of them wanted to sell.
They were surprised to hear my fake identity was 26-years old. They thought I was younger. It was tricky talking about my supposed age. I had to speak in the 3rd person whenever I described details about John Evans. After a bit, Ben and I were good. We did the male dominance thing and I paid for pizza. Sure, I was shorter but I had more years and ready cash. He was close enough to childhood and had a sheltered enough upbringing where he still had some respect for older adults.
Soon I had Ben and Andi alternately laughing and groaning at old jokes I had stolen from Groucho Marx. They had no idea who he was. By the time Mina came into the kitchen, I was telling my last joke, “Outside a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside a dog, it’s too dark to read.”
I hadn’t been fair to Mina when I compared her previously to Andi. She cleaned up well. She had put on a little bit of makeup on her lips and eyelashes but otherwise showed off her natural assets. Instead of the tank top she wore a tight t-shirt that hid nothing. By the way she was outlined it looked like she was all natural. Initially, I had to fight so hard to keep my eyes on her face I almost started getting a headache.
The more I looked into her eyes the easier it was to keep my gaze there. I could come home everyday to this face. ‘What the HELL was I thinking?’ I didn’t have time for this shit. I jerked my gaze down to the table in front of me and then to Ben and Andi. Ben looked amused. Andi looked annoyed.
I took a deep breath and looked back up at Mina. “Glad you could make it to our party. I’m sorry, but I’m afraid the pizza is cold. Would you like some?”
She smiled, “No thanks, I already ate. I’m sorry it took so long to come down but I had to do that credit and background check on you, Vic. I’m glad to say you passed.”
I had written a check for two months rent before I came down. I pulled it out of my pocket and handed it over. “Here’s a check for $1500. I made it out to you. I hope that’s ok?”
“Sure, that’s fine.” She gave me back my driver’s license and credit card.
I noticed how tired I was. I told myself I wasn’t running away from Mina as I made my excuses and headed back upstairs. A couple hours later I was lying on my bed, thoughts spinning like an ADHD gerbil on an exercise wheel, when I heard quiet footsteps coming up the stairs and a knock on my door.
“Who is it?”
“It’s me, Andi. Can we talk?”
Crap! Like I needed this. I thought about my options. I needed to squash this fast, but if I was too brutal, it might make my stay here uncomfortable. I had enough of taking shit calmly. Salt Lake City was large enough to have other homes with thresholds. I put on some shorts and threw my door open. I didn’t try to hide how irritated I was at the situation.
“Andi, I’m not attracted to you. Nothing is going to happen. Go to bed.” I shut the door on her shocked face. I felt better. I fell asleep immediately.