It was foolish for Ron to be out on that night.
Arthur reminded him of this, as they walked north up the dark and quiet Vail Street. Hell, it was foolish for both of them.
The late April weather was mild.
It was 1:48 a.m.
"Relax, Arthur," said Ron. "I'm sure we're in no danger."
Arthur glanced nervously over his shoulder, the second time he had done this. "We should have taken a cab."
"Hey," replied Ron, "I didn't expect the game to go into double overtime. Any taxi fare I might have had, ended up going toward beer."
"Yeah," said Arthur. "Me too."
They passed under yellowish street lamps, their stretched shadows gliding along beside them. Arthur eyed a thick patch of bushes to his right, between two houses, then looked suspiciously across the street at a parked van.
"I don't like this," he muttered.
They had met at Duffy's Sports Bar, downtown, and ended up shooting the shit while watching the hockey playoffs on the big screen. Though strangers, they had talked all night and only ended up walking home together when Arthur had caught up to Ron about a block from the bar. He felt that since they were both headed the same way, it might be safer to do it as a pair.
"You really are worried," chuckled Ron, lighting a cigarette.
"Can you blame me?" said Arthur.
While hockey had dominated their conversation throughout most of the evening, another topic had also surfaced more than once. It was the talk of Bainesville, Ron and Arthur's otherwise nondescript community of 31,000. It was horrific.
"You're on Warden Crescent, Ron?"
Arthur shuddered. "Looks like I'll be going it alone then, at least for the last five or six blocks. Christ, my kingdom for a cab."
Ron rolled his eyes, shaking his head. "Then that's when he'll probably get you. The Creeper, I mean." He snickered, taking a hard drag from his smoke.
"Forgive me for not laughing," said Arthur, as they turned right onto Hopper Street.
The 'Creeper', as the local newspaper had already dubbed him, had struck for the first time the previous weekend, then again the following Tuesday. Two seemingly unprovoked and viciously gruesome knife slayings, the first homicides in Bainesville in over a decade.
"Maybe you do think I'm paranoid," said Arthur. "But, if you'll notice, we seem to be the only souls out tonight. Everybody else seems to be under lock and key."
The sudden screeching of a neighborhood cat fight shot a dagger of terror through Arthur's heart. He jumped slightly, then palmed his thumping chest. Ron remained unfazed, and mildly amused, as they hung a left onto Daniel Park Way, heading north again.
"I'm sure you heard about the first murder, Ron?"
"How could I not?" he replied.
Arthur went on to recount it anyway. It had been a Sunday morning when four boys had been hanging around the railroad tracks, the ones that dissected Bainesville almost perfectly in its middle. They had been whipping rocks at a passing freight train when a nosey neighbor had phoned the police. When the cops arrived, the boys were still there. Only now, they had discovered something far more fascinating than throwing stones. They had found the butchered corpse of Mickey Ryan, a twenty-two year old drifter who had passed through town at the wrong moment.
"The paper said he was stabbed eleven times," said Arthur.
"I know," said Ron. "It was bad."
The two men arrived at Campbell Avenue and turned right. They continued eastward, looking ahead at a long stretch of city street, a thin April mist hovering above it. In the distance, several blocks up, they could see a car approaching, then watched its tiny headlights turn southbound. It seemed good, somehow, that they were not the only ones out.
The pair moved on, passing the deserted playground of St. Mary's Elementary School. Its black stillness was ominous. Without a doubt, each of its daily occupants - students, teachers and janitors - were currently safe and tucked away somewhere, behind locked doors and windows.
"It must be after two," said Arthur, snapping their longest shared silence yet.
"Just two," said Ron, glancing at his watch. He stopped then, and looked around.
"What are you doing?" asked Arthur.
"Too much beer," said Ron, slipping into a driveway and behind a large boat on a trailer. As he unzipped to relieve himself, he listened to Arthur's continuing obsession with the recent killings.
"Then there was Tuesday night, that dentist. Dr. Thomas Hilton was his name, I believe." As Ron urinated, he was careful not to rouse the occupants of the house, a mere twenty feet to his rear. He pissed quietly.
"He got it the same way," said Arthur. "After midnight - a knife in the chest. I guess he stumbled into the King West Donut Shop, spurting blood, then dropped dead. Can you imagine?"
Ron finished, then zipped up. He rejoined Arthur on the sidewalk.
"You say he was a dentist?"
"Well then, I guess that got somebody out of a root canal."
"You're all heart, Ron."
The two men continued along Campbell, and could now hear a distant siren from somewhere in the north end of town. Whether police, fire or ambulance was difficult to tell.
"Maybe our boy has already bagged one tonight," joked Ron. "You see, Arthur. Nothing to worry about."
"Don't be so sure."
Arthur slowed his pace while gazing back down the portion of Campbell Avenue they had just covered. Ron noticed this and looked as well. He did a double take.
A man was following them, about two blocks behind. Appearing as little more than a silhouette, he was still very clearly a tall individual, wearing a strange and long coat. Age unknown.
"Okay," said Ron, facing forward again. "There's somebody else on the street. It's not exactly a ghost town, Arthur."
"This doesn't bother you? Not even a little?"
"What can I say? Do you want me to yell for a cop?"
Arthur looked back again at the stranger. Already, it seemed, he had gained ground.
"Maybe we should turn somewhere. Just to lose him."
Ron rolled his eyes again and dug for another cigarette. "Christ, Arthur. If we turn anywhere now, it'll add fifteen minutes to our walk. I'm sticking to Campbell."
They crossed the intersection at Campbell and Barlow, continuing in their straight path up a gradual incline. A train whistle now echoed from the northwest, the far away rumble of the tracks a reminder of the bloody Mickey Ryan. Arthur insisted on keeping tabs on the stranger, aware of his gradually growing nearness.
"Looks like he has a beard," he said, staring forward again.
"Then you've solved the case," said Ron. "We're being followed by Charles Manson."
Arthur now rolled his eyes. He wondered how this guy could be so flippant.
"Let's talk about hockey instead," said Ron. "How about those Blackhawks?"
They crossed over Thurman Street, as Campbell Avenue now began a long inclination northeast. The stranger was one block back.
"Jesus, man," Arthur muttered. "This is starting to freak me out a little."
Ron stopped. Arthur's onward motion also ceased, jolted to a halt.
"Jesus, Ron! Now what?"
"Tying my shoe," said Ron, bending over to do just that. An aghast Arthur tapped his foot, impatiently, the stranger drawing nearer.
"Can you fight, Arthur? I mean, after all, there are two of us."
"No," came the nervous reply.
"Then run!!" Ron bolted like a sprinter out of the blocks, his tossed cigarette leaving a shower of orange sparks across the pavement.
Arthur stood dumbfounded. He then joined the escape, his inferior athletic skills notwithstanding.
Ron laughed, as a window-busting schoolboy might, now putting some serious distance between himself and the stranger. Arthur lagged behind, but persisted. He almost stumbled while looking back again, the tall man now considerably shorter to the eye.
They raced across Maple Street, then Wiltse Drive, then Moore Place, finally arriving at Paris Drive. Ron slowed to a jog then, allowing his acquaintance to catch up. Both men, with hands on hips, panted, as they entered the pathway that wound through Castle Park, a sure indication that they were close to home. Ron, despite being somewhat winded, instinctively went for his cigarettes. They stopped near a bench, just to the right of some aging playground equipment. A single, flickering parklight illuminated them.
"Well," said Ron, cupping his Zippo lighter under his chin. "Are you happy, Arthur?"
"Yes, Ron. I am."
Ron snapped his Zippo, as a small flame instantly leapt out, suddenly reflected on something shiny.
"I don't like witnesses," said Arthur.
A glint of clean steel was now visible as Arthur plunged his large hunting knife into Ron's belly. Blood soaked Ron's beige sweater, his eyes bulging with horror at the realization he was being murdered. Another violent thrust dropped him to his knees, as Arthur once again swirled and slid the red blade.
Ron Edgewood died within seconds, collapsing face first onto the damp grass of Castle Park.
Arthur Stinson, the Creeper, walked away.
Yes, it had been foolish for Ron to be out on that night.