I Don't Want to Kill You, page 10
‘So she was cooking them, to eat,’ said Marci. ‘Just like John said.’
‘Only if she likes her meat really, really well done,’ said her father. ‘These weren’t on a grill or a spit – they were down inside, under the logs.’
Years of pyromania leaped into my mind, and I knew that the area in the centre, under the logs, was the hottest part of a campfire. That’s where the fire pulled in new oxygen, and it burned like a furnace. Anything in there would be incinerated.
But why? What could the demon possibly gain from burning them? Was she destroying evidence? Was someone too close? But if she could absorb them or disintegrate them the way Crowley had, she wouldn’t need to burn them. I couldn’t believe it. It had to be something else – they must be unrelated hands from an unrelated attack.
‘You can’t possibly have ID’d the hands already,’ I said. ‘The fingerprints would be unreadable, and you haven’t had time for a DNA test.’
Officer Jensen smiled grimly and held up his wrist, tapping the knob of bone. ‘This is called the pisiform bone. The blow that took the Mayor’s left wrist – probably done with a hatchet, like you said – bounced off of this bone the first time, and then cut slightly through it on the second stroke. It left a very distinctive cut, and the bones we recovered from the fire match perfectly.’
‘Did the hikers see the killer?’ asked Marci.
‘Not a thing,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘Not even a silhouette, or a flash of colour through the trees. Certainly not a confirmation of gender. I’m afraid your female theory is still just a theory.’
‘What about the car?’ she asked.
‘Our hikers didn’t see anything,’ he said, ‘but we’re still questioning everyone we can find who was out by the lake today. Someone may have seen the killer, so we might be able to get a description.’
No. This was wrong. It didn’t jive with anything I thought I knew about the killer: why would a demon need to burn evidence? Why would the killer save the hands so carefully just to destroy them later? Did the destruction imply more rage, or more control? More planning, or less? It didn’t make sense.
‘What about the tongue?’ I asked. ‘Did they find the tongue?’
He nodded. ‘There was some kind of charred lump in addition to the hands, which was probably meat and might be the tongue, but there’s no way to confirm that yet. The Feds have it; we’ll see what they come up with.’
The tongue too. So it was the same killer. I wracked my brain, searching for an explanation, but nothing came. What was I missing? We needed another victim, and we needed it soon, so we could find the next piece of the puzzle.
‘Are you okay, John?’
I looked up and saw Marci looking at me, her face marred by a frown. She was concerned. How bad did I look?
‘He’s probably just squeamish,’ said her dad, but Marci snorted.
‘John’s the most unsqueamish person in the world,’ she said. ‘I’m the one who gets grossed out; he’s only bothered by . . . by letting the bad guys get away, I guess.’ She looked into my eyes. ‘We’re not going to make it, are we?’
‘Make what?’ asked her father.
‘We wanted to predict the next victim,’ she said, ‘so you could try to warn him, but there’s only a few days left, and your new evidence changes everything. It sets us back.’
Here I was, upset about being wrong, and she thought I was worrying about the victim we wouldn’t be able to save. I was desperate for another killing, and she only thought the best of me.
Just like Brooke had, before she’d learned the truth.
I was a killer. I had known when I first called Nobody that she would kill people here, and I’d been willing to accept it as the only way of tracking her. I followed corpses like bloody footprints, and when I reached the end I made another corpse of my own. I’d killed two men – two demons - but how many more bodies had I left in my wake? How many people had died so that I could pretend to be a saviour?
Was I really a saviour at all? Or just another killer?
‘You gonna be all right?’ asked Officer Jensen.
I looked up, shrugged, and nodded. ‘Yeah, I’ll be fine.’
‘It’s probably just Mom’s bread,’ said Marci, laughing halfheartedly. ‘Six whole grains today.’
‘Six,’ her dad said, and whistled. ‘No wonder you look like that. I can barely handle four – but don’t you dare tell her I said that.’
He stepped up to the porch, passing between us and reaching for the door. He was already pulling it open when Marci stopped him.
Marci shot me another quick glance, but different than before. That had been a guilty look, when she had known she was about to tell our secret. This was more searching, more . . . nervous. She looked back to her father.
‘Did you have a chance to follow up on that teacher I told you about?’
‘Yeah, the one who leers at me all the time.’
So, she’d told someone after all. Good for her.
‘Of course I did, honey. I thought you’d heard.’
He looked at her, then at me, as if surprised we didn’t know something. Officer Jensen’s eyes went grim as he spoke.
‘The Vice Principal checked his classroom after I mentioned your concern,’ he said, ‘and it turns out Mr Coleman’s computer was filled with pornography, most of it depicting underage teens. Girls and boys. He was fired this morning.’
Mr Coleman was found dead four days later, on Wednesday morning, his hands severed and his tongue removed. It was unexpected. Nothing in the previous crimes, or in any of our profiling, had led me to think that the next victim would be someone like Mr Coleman. The first two victims were older men, late fifties to early sixties, with families and jobs and good reputations in the community. Coleman was in his thirties, single, and the community pariah. Everyone hated him.
I expect widely-hated people to be murdered now and then, but serial killers choose their victims through entirely different methods. What was it about this guy that put him into the Handyman’s sights?
‘Are you going to Marci’s house again?’
It was Wednesday night, and Mom and I were eating dinner. I kept my eyes on my food and answered blandly.
‘Doing anything fun?’
‘Just hanging around.’
‘You know,’ said Mom, poking at her food with her fork, ‘you could hang around here sometimes. I wouldn’t mind.’
‘Yeah,’ I said. I had no intention of ever bringing Marci here, but it was easier to just agree and then not do it.
‘I’m serious,’ said Mom. ‘You don’t have to just go to her house all the time. We have some board games, and movies, and I could make popcorn or something—’
‘No thanks,’ I said, still looking down. ‘Her house is fine.’ I took another bite of food; as soon as I finished I could leave.
‘Oh, I know,’ said Mom. ‘I’m sure her house is great, and I’ve met her mother – she’s a lovely woman. And obviously her father is very nice.’
I shrugged noncommittally. ‘Yeah.’
We sat in silence for a minute, and I started to think I was free. Then I glanced up at Mom, and she still wasn’t eating. That wasn’t good – it meant she was thinking, and that meant she was going to talk again.
After another long pause she whispered softly, ‘I’m sorry there’s no father here.’
Oh, please no . . .
‘Mom,’ I said, ‘can we please not start this?’
‘I wish you had a good father, John, I wish it every day, and I try to be the best mother I can—’
‘My father is fine,’ I said, ‘especially because he’s not here.’
‘Do you know how painful it is to hear you say that?’
‘Why? Come on, Mom, you hate him more than I do.’
‘Wait, are you saying I’m going to Marci’s house because I’m looking for a male role model?’
‘Officer Jensen is a good man, and you don’t have one at home.’
‘And Marci is practically a model, and we don’t have any of those at home either. Maybe as long as you’re out shopping for new dads you can pick up some hot teenage girls in the next aisle over. We can place them around like lamps, liven the place up a little.’
‘That is not what I’m suggesting at all.’
‘I have a friend, Mom,’ I said. ‘That’s it. You are always begging me to go out and make new friends, but then as soon as I do you start psycho-analysing me.’
‘I am not—’
‘And then you wonder why I don’t bring Marci over here,’ I continued. ‘Halfway through the popcorn and the dusty kid games from the laundry closet you’d tell her I’m only dating her because I don’t have a dad. That would be fabulous.’
Mom stopped, eyes wide. ‘You’re dating her?’
‘Like, officially dating?’
‘No, I’m not dating her. We’re just . . . friends.’
‘Well, how am I supposed to know these things when you refuse to talk to me?’
‘We’re talking right now, aren’t we?’
‘I’m certainly trying to talk,’ she said. ‘You’re just yelling.’
‘I am not yelling.’
‘Tell me about Marci.’
‘I actually don’t even knock,’ I said, sitting back and folding my arms. ‘I sit outside and peep through the windows while cutting myself with a razor.’
‘And there you go again,’ she said, shaking her head. ‘As soon as I ask you to open up about your life you start spinning some ridiculous lie you know I won’t believe. I’d expect someone with as much therapy experience as you to have a little more subtlety with his deflection tactics.’
‘Ouch, Mom, bring up the therapy. Go ahead and mention how much it cost you, too, if that’s where this is going.’
‘This is not about money, it’s about your life.’
‘No, it’s about you getting into my life. It’s about your money and your expectations and your meddling and your everything else. It is always about you.’
She slapped me, hard, right across the face. I stared at her in shock.
‘Don’t you ever say that again.’
My face stung, hot and red. She’d never struck me before. Dad had, of course, but he’d struck everybody. That’s why they got divorced. But Mom was different – hard as iron inside, but never physical. Never violent. I stared at her, expressionless, and she stared back with her eyes wide and her mouth pinched tight. She was determined; resolute. She was as surprised as I was.
My cheek throbbed in pain, but I didn’t raise my hand to touch it. I simply stared back. We sat that way for an eternity before she spoke again, softly.
‘When you were younger I used to have nightmares every night about my little boy, all alone and small and away from his mommy. I used to check on you three times a night, sometimes four, seeing you huddled up in your blanket, a spark of heat in a cold, empty room. Some nights you came into our bed, and then one day you stopped, and you just called for me from your own room, and then one day you stopped that too, and you . . . didn’t do anything. You didn’t need me any more, and you didn’t talk to me any more, and then one day I realised I wasn’t Mommy any more.’ Her eyes moved, almost imperceptibly; she was no longer focusing on my face but on some phantom point beyond it. ‘I used to be “April”; I used to be “dear”. Now I don’t know what I am.’
I stood up calmly, carried my dishes to the counter, and dumped the uneaten food in the garbage. I stood there for a moment, staring at the wall.
‘I’m sorry I slapped you,’ she whispered.
I reached out to the counter, to the knife-block by the sink, and pulled out a long kitchen knife. Mom gasped behind me. It was the same knife I’d threatened her with nearly a year ago. I turned, walked to the table and set it gently in front of her.
‘Remember this the next time you doubt me,’ I said. ‘Of the two of us, I’m the one who held back when an argument turned violent.’
I walked out of the door and drove away.
‘Hi, John,’ said Marci’s mom, opening their front door. ‘Are you okay?’
‘I’m fine,’ I said. ‘Why?’
‘Your teacher died,’ she said, pulling me inside. ‘I’m sure you’re just sick over it.’
‘He was a pedophile,’ I said. ‘He was leering at your daughter; I say he got what he deserved.’
‘He deserved to be fired, and worse.’ Her voice was hard. ‘But he didn’t deserve to die.’
Didn’t he? Pornography leads to violence – that’s exactly how Ted Bundy got started – and a pedophile in a position of control over minors, like Mr Coleman, was a crime just waiting to happen. He’d worked at the school for years, so there were bound to be students and former students coming out now with tales of illicit offers, molestation, perhaps even rape. If he hadn’t done it yet, he would have. What was so bad about stopping it for good?
Logical or not, it wasn’t an argument I wanted to get into at that moment. I needed to analyse the new evidence, and for that I needed Marci.
‘You’re right,’ I lied, ‘nobody deserves that. Is Marci here?’
‘She’s upstairs in her room,’ said Mrs Jensen, ‘and I’m so glad you’re here. Perhaps you can cheer her up.’
Cheer her up? I thought, following Mrs Jensen up the stairs. Even if her mom’s upset over the death, why would Marci be? She hated Mr Coleman.
We stopped outside a door, and Mrs Jensen knocked softly.
‘I want to be alone for a while,’ said Marci, her voice soft and cracked. She’d been crying.
So she was upset. People with empathy are so weird.
‘John’s here,’ Mrs Jensen said. ‘Do you want to talk to him?’
There was a pause, then a shuffle of stuff being moved around behind the door.
‘Sure,’ said Marci at last. She opened the door, rubbing her eye with the palm of her hand. Her clothes were rumpled, and her eyes were red and raw. She saw me and laughed awkwardly. ‘I’m sorry, I look hideous.’
‘You look fine,’ I said.
‘Come on in,’ she said, standing to the side and gesturing into her room. ‘Sorry it’s a mess.’
‘Keep the door open,’ said Mrs Jensen sternly, then turned to go back downstairs.
I walked into Marci’s bedroom, which was indeed a mess, and sat on the desk chair. Marci sat on her hastily-made bed, cross-legged, and combed her fingers through her hair.
‘Seriously,’ I said, ‘you look fine.’
‘Good, then screw this.’ She stopped fiddling with her hair and fell backward, lying down on the bed with her legs still crossed. ‘This is the worst thing ever.’
‘Yeah,’ I said, looking around the room. It was covered with posters and photos and knick-knacks, some of them new but some of them obviously several years old. The room wasn’t so much decorated as attacked. ‘Your mom said the same thing,’ I continued, ‘but I didn’t expect you to take it this hard.’
She laughed hollowly. ‘You didn’t expect me to take it this hard? I’m the one who got him killed!’
‘This never would have happened without me. I’m the one who reported him, I’m the one who got him into the public view, I’m the one who made him a target. I may just as well have pulled the trigger myself.’
‘That’s ridiculous,’ I said.
She started crying again. ‘You don’t know what
Oh, I knew what it felt like – I just didn’t know what it felt like to feel bad about it.
‘Listen,’ I said, ‘if you were responsible, you’d have done the world a favour. But you’re not responsible because this is not a punishment killing, so exposing him didn’t lead straight to his death. There’s nothing about the Handyman that suggests she’s punishing people; the first two victims were completely innocent of anything.’
DAN WELLS SERIES:
Other author's books:
- PartialsI Don't Want to Kill YouIsolationThe Devil's Only FriendOnes and ZeroesNext of KinOver Your Dead BodyFragments
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