I dont want to kill you, p.12

I Don't Want to Kill You, page 12

 

I Don't Want to Kill You
 


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  ‘Why are you asking me these questions?’

  ‘You said you wanted to help me, so help me. Psycho-analyse me. Offer me sage counsel from the Bible.’ I clenched my fists, trying to stay calm. ‘A serial killer is asking you for help, dammit, so help him!’

  ‘I . . .’ He paused. ‘You’ll have to tell me more.’

  ‘About what?’

  ‘If you’re a killer, why are you here?’

  ‘In your house?’

  ‘In Clayton.’

  I nodded. That’s a good question; this might actually work. ‘I’m looking for someone.’

  He swallowed. ‘Someone specific?’

  ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘but I don’t know who it is. Someone in this town has done something to make me very angry, and I’m here to find him.’

  ‘What did this . . . mystery person do to make you angry?’

  Who does he think I’m talking about? ‘That doesn’t concern you,’ I said carefully. ‘I know he exists, but nothing else.’

  ‘So why are you killing?’ he asked.

  ‘You tell me.’

  ‘You’re . . .’ He paused. ‘You’re sending a message. The people you kill, and the way you kill them, are messages to the man you’re looking for, somehow representative of whatever made you mad enough to come and look for him in the first place.’

  ‘That’s good,’ I said, ‘but remember that I killed eight people in Georgia before coming here, and all by the same method.’

  ‘So if the deaths are messages,’ said the priest, ‘then the killer – you – is sending the same message here that you sent before.’

  Interesting, I thought. And if the current messages are directed to a demon hunter – me – does that mean the older messages were directed at another demon hunter in Georgia? The demons have been around for ages – I can’t possibly be the first human to learn about them.

  ‘Are you saying the missing hands and tongues are threats?’ I asked, continuing my line of thought.

  ‘Are they?’

  ‘It makes sense,’ I said. ‘Kind of a “This is what I’ll do to you when I find you”, sort of thing.’

  ‘Are we still talking about you?’

  ‘Are you more comfortable that way?’

  ‘I’m not really comfortable either way.’

  ‘Then it doesn’t matter,’ I said. ‘Just keep talking. If the mutilated bodies are threats, why change a pattern ten bodies long and start mutilating eyes?’

  ‘What exactly happened to his eyes?’ the pastor asked. ‘That wasn’t on the news.’ He stopped suddenly, his voice quiet. ‘How do you know about the eyes?’

  ‘I’m the Handyman.’

  ‘You’re not the Handyman, but you’re . . . something. What are you not telling me?’

  ‘Do you think I’m dangerous?’

  ‘You’re definitely dangerous.’

  ‘To you?’

  He paused, watching me through narrowed eyes. After a moment he replied, ‘Only if you think I’m the person you’re looking for.’

  ‘It’s the demon who’s looking for someone, not me.’

  ‘And you’re looking for the demon, or whatever it is, and when you find the person you think it’s in, heaven help them. You’re focused, I’ll give you that. You’re like a loaded gun, cocked and aimed, and as soon as your target walks into your sights, you’ll destroy it.’ He sighed. ‘I beg you: be careful of your aim. If you choose the wrong target, you’ll destroy yourself as well.’

  I thought of Marci lying defenceless on her bed, of Brooke chained to Forman’s table. I thought of my own mother, cowering under the tip of my knife, of a hundred mothers throwing their phones at the wall, screaming for me to stop calling, huddling terrified with their children in the dark.

  ‘Then help me,’ I whispered. ‘I can’t do this alone.’

  ‘Then stop.’

  ‘I can’t stop.’ I closed my eyes, growling through clenched teeth, ‘If I stop, she keeps going. She dies or we all die. Why won’t anyone see that?’

  ‘If thy eye offend thee . . .’ he murmured.

  Thy eye. I looked up quickly. ‘What?’

  ‘It’s a scripture,’ he said. ‘ “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee”. Matthew, chapter five, verse twenty-nine.’

  I felt a tingle of anticipation. This is important. ‘Keep going.’

  ‘It’s a metaphor,’ he said. ‘ “For it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell”.’

  I paused to deconstruct it. ‘It’s saying that one part can spoil the whole, so it’s better to get rid of that part than to let the whole thing get corrupted.’

  ‘Exactly,’ he said. ‘Taken out of context, that scripture could be seen as a justification for murder.’

  ‘Is there any more?’ I asked. ‘To the scripture, I mean. Does it say anything else?’

  ‘It does,’ said the priest, looking startled. ‘It does. The very next verse says the same thing about hands.’

  ‘Hot damn.’

  He stood up, eyes wide and unfocused. ‘It’s real.’

  ‘So we were right about the message,’ I said, ‘but we got the nature of the message all wrong. We thought it was an announcement, “Here I am, I’m coming for you”, but it was a lesson. Coleman died because Coleman was a sinner; he looked at something he shouldn’t have looked at, so he lost his eyes. He was destroyed for the greater good.’

  ‘But the others weren’t sinners at all,’ said the pastor. ‘Why would anyone kill them?’

  ‘You said it yourself: no one’s all or nothing. They were killed because of things they said, I guess, because their tongues were cut out. And the hands were cut off because of things they’d touched, or things they’d done.’

  Pastor Erikson stared at me, his eyes wary. ‘You really believe this, don’t you? That these people need to die so the rest of us can be saved.’

  I shook my head. ‘No, not me, it’s the Handyman.’

  ‘But you said the same thing.’

  ‘That was an exercise to get you thinking,’ I said. ‘Of course I’m not saying we should kill people.’

  ‘But you said we should kill the Handyman,’ he said, stepping slowly towards me. ‘And you said the same thing before that, when you first got here: that we shouldn’t feel bad about David Coleman’s death. You said we were better off without him, and we should be glad he was killed.’

  I stopped, bewildered. ‘Look – I’m the good guy here,’ I said. ‘I’m trying to stop a killer.’

  ‘By killing,’ he said. ‘Whether you succeed or fail, our community will still have a killer.’

  No! ‘I am not a killer!’ I shouted. ‘I am not a threat to anyone in this community. I am trying to help people!’

  ‘You think the Handyman doesn’t tell himself the same thing?’

  I lunged toward him with a roar. ‘Stop saying that!’

  He held his ground, and I stopped just inches from his face. I forced myself to breathe evenly; I fought back the feral growl I could feel growing in my throat. I held his stare a moment longer, then turned and stalked to the door.

  He called out grimly: ‘What are you going to do?’

  I stopped, my hand on the doorknob. ‘What are you going to do?’

  ‘We made a promise,’ he said. ‘You keep your end and I’ll keep mine.’

  I turned round, trying to read his face. He can’t possibly be ready to let me go. I watched his eyes. He knows I’m a danger to everyone around me. Is he really going to just let me go?

  He didn’t move. Neither did I.

  ‘You said your name was John?’

  I nodded.

  ‘I want to help you, John. I want you to talk to my friend.’

  ‘The therapist.’

  ‘Yes.’

  I glanced at the door, then back at him. ‘If I walk out right now, all you have is my word.’

  ‘Is your word good?


  I paused. ‘No.’

  ‘Then tell me your name.’

  ‘So you can turn me in?’

  ‘So I can contact you and introduce you.’

  The thought of it made me nervous. I have to stay anonymous. My stomach soured, and I balanced lightly on the balls of my feet, ready to run. The pastor didn’t move.

  Can I trust him?

  I stared into his eyes. ‘What if I threaten you?’

  ‘I’m not the demon,’ he said, ‘and you know it. You won’t hurt me.’

  ‘And if I run?’

  ‘Then I do my civic duty and tell the police about the young man who told me he wanted to kill a woman in town.’

  I breathed deeply. Just kill him. Just take him now, while he’s not expecting it – knock him back against the wall, crack his neck against the chair. Hide him in the basement. No one will ever know a thing.

  ‘Give me a week,’ I told him. ‘Just one week.’

  ‘You said I can’t trust you.’

  I met his gaze. ‘You can trust me for a week.’

  He paused a moment, eyes flicking as he thought. Finally he nodded. ‘One week, and you come back here. But if you hurt anyone, I swear to God your torment will not end in this life.’

  I took a breath. ‘One week.’ I opened the door and disappeared into the darkness.

  Chapter 12

  I drove home via a long, convoluted route, looking over my shoulder for anyone following me. Everywhere I looked I saw movement in the corners of my eyes, shapes and shadows that I knew were watching me, hunting me, and then I turned to see them and they disappeared. I told him too much. I felt sick and nervous, and I couldn’t stop shaking.

  Parking several blocks from my house, I walked into a stranger’s backyard and climbed over the fence into the forest beyond. It was a haze of dark on dark, shadows and shapes barely distinguishable from the smothering blackness of night. I waited, watching and listening with every ounce of concentration, but no one followed. I was alone.

  I felt my way through the trees, passing darkened houses on one side and the endless forest on the other, until I reached the parking lot of the mortuary. No one was waiting; there were no police cars, no slavering monsters. It was nearly two in the morning. I went inside, locked the door tightly, and collapsed on my bed.

  The religious theory made sense: all three killings could be the work of a self-styled holy avenger. But why would Nobody, a demon, want to punish sinners? She wasn’t here on her own agenda. I had called her, and she had come to hunt me. Everything she did had to make sense through that lens.

  Did she see me as a sinner, too? I’d killed her friends.

  There were two main possibilities: either this was part of a complex plan to figure out who I was and take her vengeance, or she was merely passing time while she searched for me in other ways. Each demon I’d met thus far was missing something – they had no identity, or no body, or no emotions. They killed because it helped them to fill that hole, even if only for a little while. This demon wasn’t killing people because they were sinners, but because believing they were sinners gave the killing some kind of vital meaning in her mind. It was the only way she knew to try to fix the holes in her soul.

  I needed to know what the victims’ guilt meant to her, which meant I needed to know exactly what she thought they were guilty of. Mr Coleman was guilty of looking at underage porn, so he was killed and his eyes – the offending organs – were removed. It was relatively clear and simple. But what had the other two victims done?

  Neither Pastor Olsen nor Mayor Robinson had lost any extra body parts – just the hands and tongue. It seemed to serve as a baseline. It might be that the hands and tongue were taken from every sinner, regardless of their specific crime, and an extra part was taken from those who were especially evil.

  The tongue was easy enough to guess at: it represented what people said. But what had the pastor said to invoke the Handyman’s wrath? What had the Mayor said? None of the three victims had very much in common when it came to speaking: one spoke about religion, another about politics, and the last taught math in school. The Mayor and the teacher maybe overlapped on the subject of economics, but the pastor certainly didn’t-not unless he’d preached a sermon on supply and demand or something.

  Preaching. Preaching and teaching . . .

  Maybe the common overlap had nothing to do with what they said, but to whom they said it. All three of them were in positions of authority. All three had made a living talking to others. They made plans for others; they guided others’ lives. The Mayor was not an actual teacher, like the pastor and Mr Coleman, but he held a huge influence over the entire town. When you boiled it down, all three men were leaders.

  That made Father Erikson an obvious target – him and every other pastor and schoolteacher in town – but so far they’d been safe. The demon wasn’t killing indiscriminately; the mere fact that she posed the bodies so carefully meant that she was trying to teach us something. She had a message, and she wanted it to be heard and understood. We’d missed her point on the first few killings, so now she was taking more care; that’s why she’d ‘signed’ the Mayor’s corpse with bloody plastic wings, marking herself as an Angel of Death, and it was why she’d made the lesson even more obvious by taking Coleman’s eyes. That meant the next victim would be similar to Mr Coleman: a community leader with a sordid past, so no one would miss the point. All I had to do was find the most likely candidate and then lie in wait, ready to catch Nobody on her way to the kill. It was perfect.

  But it wasn’t.

  Father Erikson had cut me right to the core, obliterating all the careful lies I’d built up to protect myself from the truth: that I too was a killer, no different from any other. But I couldn’t just stop: there was simply no way, no physical way, that I could turn myself around and walk away from this. If I didn’t stop Nobody, she’d keep killing – and that would make me responsible; and I refused to be responsible for any innocent deaths.

  If I could figure out who the next target was, and stop Nobody before she got there, I’d be saving lives – if everything went perfect. Of course, nothing ever went perfect. But if I could think of a way to involve the police, they could move in first and protect the target. I wouldn’t have to kill.

  But I want to kill.

  No. One thing at a time. I identify the target, I tell the police, and then I can find out if I’m right or not without putting anyone at risk. Then the next time, I can do it myself. I can be ready. I can kill the demon.

  If the demon kept to her pattern, the next death would be in two weeks: late at night on Wednesday the twenty-second, or early the next morning on Thursday the twenty-third. It seemed like a lot of time to find one sinner, but it wasn’t.

  There were an awful lot of sinners in Clayton County.

  The next afternoon I parked in front of the Jensens’ house and turned off the engine, too nervous to go inside. Marci’s dad was the only policeman I knew personally, so if I was going to present my plan to the police it had to be through him. We’d talked before – he knew that I knew what I was talking about, and he trusted my opinion. But if Marci hated me as much as I thought she did – or even if she simply didn’t like me any more – my chances of talking to him were slim to none.

  Not to mention the possibility, still lurking in the back of my mind, that he was the demon. Just because I’d figured out why the demon was killing didn’t mean I knew who the demon was – and if Nobody could steal bodies and identities like Crowley had, she could be anybody. Still, even if Officer Jensen was a demon, he hadn’t killed me yet, and now that I knew to be suspicious I could keep my eyes open and try to stay one step ahead. The only way to figure out his plan, if he had one, was to observe him as much as I could. I took a deep breath and got out of the car.

  It was a cooler day than usual, and I shivered as I walked up the steps and knocked on their door. It was open, as usual, warm air spilling out through the screen. I hea
rd the common noises of Marci’s family – a loud TV, children shouting, footsteps pounding up and down the stairs and running through the halls. I waited only a moment before Marci appeared and stood behind the screen. Her face was blank.

  ‘Hey,’ she said.

  ‘Hey.’ Despite all the time I’d spent preparing for this visit - planning my pitch to Officer Jensen, and my escape strategy if he turned out to be a demon after all – I had no idea what to say to Marci. I stood still, feeling robotic again, watching her face for some sign that I could grab on to and know what to do. She was looking off to the side, avoiding my face.

 
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