PART I The Offer: I almost want to say you don't have a choice. Effortless is the task to impress upon the mind of an innocent, impressionable individual the need for a greater security. In a world where evil has become a citizen in the hearts and minds of certain individuals; and consequently, danger hangs like chandeliers on every dark street corner, it is not strange to seek refuge in people we think can provide it. Suffice it to say, that nature herself has divided man into three very distinct classifications: the good, the bad, and the lost. The good hope to fist the world with the hand of righteousness; the bad are inclined to nihilistically dominate the populace, and the lost are left to choose which path they will take. It all would be a seamless flow, if were not punctuated by lies, drugs, money and voracious sexual appetites. Lifes a bitch and then you die, Judith whispered as she walked away from the graveyard, still wiping away the few tears that managed to slide down her cheeks. Thin, red lines had etched in the whites of her eyes. Then you get killed, she corrected herself, this time a little louder than a whisper. The skies were gray and dismal. The night was silent, the air was cold, and the wind stood as still as dead fish. The inextricability of the trees threw an eerie circular shadow around the gravesite. She closed the door to her small, black Honda and took in a deep breath. A small, framed picture of her sister, Gwyneth, rested on the dashboard. Gwyneths long, dark blonde hair framed her pale face, perfectly and her high cheek bones and nicely arched eyebrows were a compliment to her pale blue eyes. She was very, very pretty, Judith thought as she caressed the picture with her thumb. But Gwyneth was dead now and nothing would bring her back, she forcibly placed the picture facedown on the empty passengers seat. She drove off...while another car followed. The ride back home was, as usual, long and intense. Once she pulled off the highway and onto the street, she noticed the sidewalks were peppered with patriotic colored posters, in support of Robert Heckerman for mayor. His slogans were: One Vote Can Change the Whole City and You Can Make a Difference. I couldnt make much of a difference when that bastard killed my sister! sarcasm and despair salted her words as they floated in the air like balloons. Give me a damn break. This city will never get any better; not with you in office Heckerman, not with Jesus Christ in office. What if someone killed your sister or mother or whoever would my vote make a difference then? Give-me-a-damn-break! She didnt care to make sense of anything she said. Yet, to a certain extent, she was right. The crime rate was on the rise, especially in New York City, her city. The death of her sister had brought this reality closer to home. From time to time, Judith felt both helpless and utterly espoused to the evil of the world. She died a little inside. It seemed that every nefarious fiend and mysterious creature, which haunted her only in nightmares, had crept their way into her real life; and now, they troubled her both sleeping and waking. She had become a powdery shell that dissolved with the trickle of every tear. Judith found a parking space at the end of block and her apartment building was situated in the middle. When she emerged from the Honda, the cold air hit her like a block, her breath danced and swirled in midair and evaporated. This only reinforced her suitable hatred for winter. She walked to her building, climbed the stairs, and was in the buildings hallway before she knew it. Her apartment was at the far end of the hall, out of habit; she opened her door, stepped inside and stood (with the door closed) against the door in the dark of her apartment. Judith drew in a deep breath, as if when she had crossed the threshold of her apartment she entered into a parallel universe a safer universe. She flicked on the light and screamed, loudly, with terror and bewilderment. The blood rushed to her extremities as her right hand reached for the door knob. She had never wanted to stay one place but leave so badly. Hello, Judith. The male voice was firm and confident. He sat back, legs crossed, in her bronze-colored loveseat. His all black attire was just as mysterious as his sudden appearance. How are you? he continued. Who are you and how the hell do you know me? she attempted bravado but the crack in her voice testified of her fear. Well, Im Roth, for now away; and, lets just say Im your protector. You better start producing some real answers. Im all out of Prozac and Im up to kicking somebodys ass. In no way was this cheap talk, after the murder of Gwyneth, she had taken up karate classes and had become quite adept in that discipline. He, Roth, pushed back his black suit jacket to reveal a brown and black .22 Rimfire, resting on his lap. Youre scared, I know you are, he continued but not of me. I believe you can kick my ass. The only problem is kicking the ass of every single criminal you encounter. Youre scared because you dont want what happened to you sister to happen to you or to your family. Getting rapped and killed, I say, is one of the worst fates to befall a woman. Yet, I can help. I can ensure that it wont happen again to you and yours. I can give your family your mother, your other sister, her little girl, even your friends guaranteed protection. I just need you to cooperate. What do you mean by cooperate And if I dont? You gonna shoot me with that gun? Another attempt at bravado another crack in the voice. Then I cant promise the safety of your family. You know criminals, such as the kind your family encountered, always like to complete, the job. I almost want to say you dont have a choice. Ive been having you followed Judith, thats how I know so much about you. Thats why Ive chosen you. My offers on the table what do you think? Roth was tall and well built. His dark, black hair was freshly gelled back; his jaw was muscular and well-defined and his skin was dark and rich as olive oil. She admitted, reluctantly, his sensuality. Judith stared at him, trying to study him, trying to demystify his persona; with one eyebrow raised she said hoarsely, Im listening. Im glad we see eye to eye. Roth said, Very glad indeed.