“The police won’t help me, Mr. Hobbs,” Carole Levinson said. “You are my last hope.”
My friend Skyler Hobbs studied the reactions of the three men grouped behind Carole’s chair like courtiers. Her father, a stocky man gripping a shotgun, scowled and gritted his teeth. Brother Dougie, a pre-teen version of his father, wore an insolent smirk. Boyfriend Kevin, a gangly guy with a wispy mustache, kept his adoring eyes on Carole.
Carol herself hooked a fake red fingernail in the corner of mouth and looked forlorn. The effect was quite fetching, but entirely lost on Hobbs.
I said, “Have any of you gents seen this scar-faced guy, or does he only appear to Carole?”
Boyfriend Kevin bristled. “Are you implying she’s making this up?”
“I am quite sure,” Hobbs said, “that my friend the doctor meant no such thing.”
Brother Dougie snorted. “This dude’s a doctor?”
“Jason Wilder,” I said, “Computer Doctor,” and handed everyone present a business card. “Twenty percent off your first repair job.”
“Wait! Hobbs and Wilder?” Dougie began to cackle. “I read about these bozos in Discount Noir. The guy with the pointy nose thinks he’s the second coming of Sherlock Holmes.”
Hobbs pretended not to hear this, but the tips of his ears turned red. He said, “Miss Levinson, you say this scar-faced fellow normally peers into your living room window. Has he also appeared at others?”
“I saw him once from the dining room,” Carole said, “and once from the kitchen.”
“Just so,” Hobbs said. “If you gentlemen will be seated, I have a few questions. Then I ask that you return to you own homes while the doctor and I attempt to catch the culprit in the act.”
Two hours later Hobbs and I crouched in the bushes next to Carole’s apartment building.
We’d learned several things of dubious value. Carole’s father, for instance, had been opposed to her taking this apartment, and continually nagged her to return home. One reason she refused was that brother Dougie loved to torment her with practical jokes. The only hint of a suspect came from boyfriend Kevin, who said a registered sex offender lived nearby.
“So,” I whispered, “you really think it’ll be this easy? We just wait for Peeping Scarface to show up and grab him?”
Hobbs turned to face me, and the moonlight outlined a smile I knew all too well—a smile that said, You’re a fine fellow, Watson, but thick as a brick.
“Wilder,” I said, as if he’d spoken aloud. I would have said more, but The Outer Limits theme burst from my cell phone, meaning I had an unknown caller.
A voice asked for Hobbs. I handed him the phone.
After a moment he said, “I understand, Detective. We shall be there directly.”
“What?” I said.
Hobbs stepped out of the shadows. “The police need my assistance on another case,” he said, not bothering to whisper. “I fear Miss Levinson’s prowler will have to wait.”
I balked. “You go. I’ll stay on watch.”
“No,” Hobbs said firmly. “I cannot do without my Watson.”
“Wilder,” I said with a sigh. But I went.
Five minutes later, I was more at sea than ever. We’d sped off in my PT Cruiser, covering only two blocks before Hobbs directed me to turn and circle back to Carole’s building.
“What about the cops?”
“A necessary subterfuge,” he said, but would say no more.
Parking nearby, we were soon back on station, now at the opposite end of the yard.
Almost at once, a dark form detached itself from the shadows and glided to Carole’s living room window. After a moment it moved on to the dining room, and finally the kitchen.
The light from the kitchen window illuminated the side of the prowler’s face, and even at twenty feet I recoiled at the livid, angry scars.
“Now,” Hobbs whispered, and spurted silently toward our quarry. I scrambled after.
Warned by some sound, the man spun away. But Hobbs’ headlong dive caught him by the knees, and I dipped my shoulder, smashing into him like a linebacker. The guy flopped over backwards, squealing like a stuck pig.
Almost instantly, Carole was there. “You got him! Who is he?”
While I sat on the guy’s chest, pinning him, Hobbs rose and dusted himself off.
“Can you not guess?”
I studied the scarred face. The eyes rolled wildly about, but the rest of the features were still.
“It's a Halloween mask,” I said. “But who’s wearing it?”
“The only one of our suspects tall enough to peer into the kitchen window,” Hobbs said. He bent and ripped the mask free.
“Oh, my god!” Carole dropped to her knees next to the prowler. “Why?”
“You’re not safe here alone,” boyfriend Kevin said with a sob. “I wanted you to move in with me.”
Carole’s face softened. She stroked his cheek. “You did that for me? You love me that much?”
Hobbs wrinkled his nose. I didn’t blame him. I rolled off Kevin’s chest.
“I’m truly touched,” Carole told Kevin, “but you are one sick son of a bitch!” And her claws came out, raking him first across one cheek, then back across the other, while his pitiful howls pierced the night.
When we visited the hospital, Kevin’s face was swathed in bandages. Except for the scars, which he would bear for the rest of his days, he was expected to make a full recovery. Both he and Carole had decided not to press charges.
Still, the guy was down in the dumps.
“Look on the bright side,” I said. “Next time you want to scare somebody, you won’t need a mask.”
Kevin almost smiled. “I really don’t mind the scars. They’re nothing compared to a broken heart.”
Hobbs was aghast. “Despite this experience, you still profess love for that woman?”
“We do not choose who to love, Mr. Hobbs. Love chooses us, and we are mere slaves to its power.”
Hobbs' lips tightened. His skin paled. He turned and strode briskly from the room. I ran to catch up.
“Doctor,” he said, “do have your trusty revolver handy?”
“You know damn well,” I said, “that I do not own a gun.”
“Then you had best acquire one. If I ever fall prey to this disease called love, I demand that you shoot me at once!”
© 2011 by Evan Lewis
"Skyler Hobbs and the Fate Worse than Scars" is my answer to Patti Abbott's Scarry Night Flash Fiction Challenge, in which we were to write a story containing the line I really don't mind the scars.
For links to the other stories, proceed to pattinase!