The mid-afternoon sun was beating down on Jake and a steady path of sweat ran down his back as he stood in front of the door to his father’s home. His black shirt was becoming soaked and his wet skin crawled for more reasons than the obvious. Not only was he walking into a familiar hell, he also felt neighborhood eyes watching him with something akin to an evil hunger.
Jake had not bothered to tell Brother Anthony where he was taking the ministry’s rental car. Not that the good brother would have minded; on more than one occasion, Brother Anthony had tried to coax Jake into contacting his famous, and very rich, father.
As Jake stood with his hand on the doorknocker, he wondered what Brother Anthony would think of Jake’s mindset at this very moment. He was sure the leader of the ministry would have serious issue with the malevolent thoughts circling Jake’s brain.
The knocker dropped and the echo of the pounding seemed to bounce around inside Jake. Its vibration felt sinister and slimy. It was such a familiar feeling.
He was home.
As the door swung open, Jake quieted his inner trembles and attempted a friendly smile.
His sister jumped in alarm. As she stood quivering slightly in the doorway, she stared at Jake as if he had three heads. He understood why he was getting this reaction from her. After all, he was his father’s son.
He watched with interest as the color seeped back into his sister’s drained face. After a frozen moment, she motioned him inside and looked around to see who might be watching.
If he had expected a hug and kiss and happy cry, he might have been disappointed. It was a good thing he had not expected an arms-wide-opened welcome from his father’s house.
Mary stood looking at him without speaking for a few minutes. Clearing her throat, she simply uttered his name.
“Jackson,” she said. Her dark eyes were unreadable and after the initial surprise of his appearance, her typical Mary-mask slipped over her face.
“I’m in town with the ministry. Never thought I’d be this close to the old bastard after all the miles I put between us.”
“I never thought I’d see you until Morris was dead.”
“Me, either. Didn’t think I’d see you again until Dad was on his way to hell.”
Mary walked into the living room and Jake followed. Life was funny. He had been the chosen son, eclipsing his younger brother and sister, but Mary had reaped the benefits of life with Morris. Or, been raped by it. Up close, his sister did not look well.
Her dark hair was streaked with grey, more grey than he remembered from the pictures he had seen that had been taken during her trial. She seemed thinner, too. Her face was lined with weariness.
He knew better than mistake appearances for weakness, though. None of Morris Sinclair’s offspring could be called weak, especially Mary, the only daughter. Trapped between two twisted brothers and raised in the presence of a twisted father, Mary’s blood ran cold long before she entered her teenage years.
Jake absently rubbed the scar above his left wrist as he watched Mary set a sweating glass of cold water on the table next to him. His body was full of heritage scars and the one he caressed while watching his sister was one of a few she had given him during their adolescence.
Was his sister capable of violence? Oh, most definitely. Jake had intimate knowledge of how far Mary could and would go. With that in mind, he quelled the thirst the afternoon’s heat had imposed upon him and put the cold glass of water beside him out of his mind. It paid to be careful around any Sinclair, especially one who had been convicted of murder.
“What do you want?” Mary asked as she sat down across from him.
“Mary, Mary,” he said in a playful singsong voice that did little to belie the lack of love between the siblings. “All I want is what’s mine. It’s only right. I put up with the old demon longer than you did.”
“You don’t know what I’ve been through, Jackson,” Mary answered with an unblinking, hooded stare. At that moment, her cold snake eyes made her look eerily like Morris. “Or what I’ve had to do.”
It did not bother Jake one bit. He returned her stare with one of his own.
“I’ll be staying here for awhile, Mary, Mary. It will be good to catch up with you.”
Mary made a scoffing sound. “As if you didn’t keep up with me. You think I don’t know how your ‘ministry’ gets its money? You’re all spies and you’re a fool to think it’s a secret, Jackson.”
“You think, sister? Where am I? Where are you? If you want to play tit for tat, I’ll win hands down. I didn’t come crawling back to our father when life slammed me down.”
He watched Mary’s reaction to his words. He had not caught her off guard this time; her hooded eyes did not blink. As he continued to watch his sister, her expression relaxed and he felt his guard rise further than it had been when he had approached his father’s house.
Mary was her most dangerous when she did not look dangerous. Jake learned that early on during their childhood. He rubbed the scar above his wrist again as he remembered the calm look on his sister’s face when she had gone after him with a broken glass. Her aim had been his face and, save for lifting his arm at the last second, she would have slashed him across his eyes and blinded him.
She had been seven years old at the time. Their father had simply watched the interplay and called the nanny to clean the blood from Jake’s arm once it began to coagulate. Mary had not been punished.
Neither Jake nor his siblings ever got in trouble for violence. His childhood was spent in the gladiator arena and Morris seemed to revel in his children’s hurtful play.
Jake saw Mary’s nose twitching and almost laughed as she shrugged her shoulders. It brought back old memories of the signs of Mary’s defeat as a child. Jake had won this round.
“Fend for yourself, then. There’s food in the kitchen and an extra bed you can use.”
Jake went out to the rental car to grab his bag. While he was outside, he checked in with Brother Anthony to let him know where he was. His spiritual leader did not sound surprised as he spoke to his number one hand.
“Take care, Jake. The influences of unsettlements will be surrounding you. Think of the golden reward and don’t stray from your true path. It’s the only way to your shining finish.”
He listened as Brother Anthony cautioned and warned him against the evilness of the Sinclairs. The good brother believed Jake would be under the influence of his father and might stray. Brother Anthony had nothing to worry about, Jake thought. After all, who knows evil better than evil?
Jake shut the car door and walked toward his father’s house. When he reached the door, he turned around and his smile was fierce as he surveyed the area. So, this was the infamous Rubicon Ranch. It looked just like the pictures he had found on the Internet. It felt like a neighborhood of little feuding countries. If his perception was correct, there would be no friends here. There would only be foes.
Turning around again, he opened the door and almost ran into his sister. She made no pretense about spying on him from the peephole as she stepped backwards out of his way.
“In here,” Mary said as she showed him to the spare room. It was a monk’s quarters, bare and cold. There were no pictures on the wall and no warmth in the air. It reminded him of his boyhood bedroom.
Putting his bag on the bed, Jake turned before Mary could figuratively or literally stick a knife in his back. He was in the thick of the lions’ den and it would not be wise to let his guard down.
His sister stared at him with suspicion. He returned her stare.
Clearing her throat, Mary said, “I don’t know what you think you’ll accomplish. Morris is gone. They don’t know where he is. I don’t really care.”
“That’s not why I’m here. I’m going to take care of you, little sister.”
Mary frowned. “I take care of myself, big brother.”
“Come on, Mary, Mary. It hasn’t been easy living with the old man, has it? I want to help you now.”
Mary simply looked at him. Whatever his sister may think about his unannounced arrival, Jake really did want to take care of his family. In his heart, he needed to help his sister atone for her past sins. It was along the path he walked as he atoned for his own transgressions.
After his sister left his room, Jake took his laptop out and quickly searched for the nearest landfill. There were a few things he needed to get rid of and what better place than a dump near his father’s home.
Searching again, Jake found the nearest stores for a few items he needed. Bottled water was among them. The last time he had taken a drink from Mary, she had been fourteen and it was the absolute last time he took anything from his sister’s hands. The terrible stomach cramps he had after drinking the refreshing tea she made for him were still fresh in his memory these many years later.
Evilness breeds evilness. Parents are only part of a person’s psyche. Jake did not need to be a psychologist like Mary to know that environment played only a part in a child’s development. Genetics played a greater role than others believed.
Jake would know. He had been away from his father’s influence for decades, but there was still a dark, dead part of his heart that no amount of religion could penetrate. He was a little proud of that part, too. Without it, he would not have risen so quickly through the ranks of the ministry.
Coming within a few miles of his father’s home had quickened the violence that was normally suppressed within Jake. The closer he came to the Sinclair homestead, the more he felt the need for payback.
His father had ruined him for life. He had coerced a young Jake into things no child should have to do. Morris was evil through and through, and he was not above using his own children as tools. Jake was Morris’s tool for a long time before he broke away and ran at the age of seventeen.
While most young men look for independence when they leave their parents’ house, Jake had to escape the madness. He had felt the tug of living with Morris like it was a chain of horror upon horror. For years before he left, Jake had plotted and planned to take Morris down before he left his father’s home.
It had not happened the way he had planned. All was not for naught, though. Jake had been able to tip the authorities more than once to Morris’s deviant behavior. The only problem was Morris had enough money to buy off the local, statewide, and, Jake feared, the national authorities.
So, Jake ran when he committed the most horrible sin imaginable. Its color was red and that breaking point was too horrible to remember but Jake remembered it anyway.
He reclined against the pillows as he thought back to the day he left. Instead of going out with a bang and taking his father with him, he had escaped with a whimper.
Not this time. It had taken over thirty years to build up the strength to face his past and rectify his future. His golden path was not quite what Brother Anthony preached. The bright light to guide him was just the edges of the dark cloud of his purpose. The meaning to his life was hanging in the balance and Jake’s golden path was filled with blood.