I Don't Want to Kill You, page 14
What’s really important here?
Officer Jensen looked at me again, eyes intense. I could tell he was thinking about it.
‘What about the prostitute?’ he asked. ‘Aren’t you worried about her?’
‘The Handyman doesn’t care about her,’ I said. ‘Only the authority figure.’
He paused again. ‘I can’t just walk in there and tell them my daughter and her boyfriend cracked the Handyman case.’
‘Then tell them you did it,’ said Marci, ‘but just tell them.’
No! He almost said no and you ruined it!
He looked back and forth between Marci and me, then sighed. ‘Fine, I’ll tell them, but I won’t guarantee anything. And in return,’ he pointed at us sternly, ‘you two will keep absolutely quiet about this, and you will stop “accidentally overhearing” my radio, and you will keep out of this permanently. Am I clear?’
‘Loud and clear,’ said Marci, nodding. We stepped up onto the kerb, and Officer Jensen got into his car. He gave us one last look before driving away, and Marci waved as he left.
‘Thanks for coming,’ she said, patting me twice on the chest before turning towards the house. I turned with her, silently cursing that we’d managed to convince him, and we walked slowly to the front steps. ‘I’m so glad to be rid of this.’
‘Yeah,’ I said, already trying to think of my next move. I needed to find a way to watch Astrup, to see who contacted him and how they reacted to the police. But how could I get close enough?
‘Marci,’ her mom called from the doorway, ‘phone’s for you.’
‘Who is it?’
‘Oh my gosh,’ Marci muttered, then shouted back, ‘just tell her I’m busy, and I’ll call her later.’
Mrs Jensen faded back into the house, and Marci shook her head. ‘That girl will not leave me alone! “What are you wearing to the dance?” “Who are you going with?” “Can we go in a group?” “What diet should I use so I can fit my dress?” She’s driving me crazy.’
I wasn’t paying much attention, too preoccupied with my plans, but I nodded and tried to look as if I was listening. ‘She’s going to a dance? Cool.’ The victims are all killed without a fight, usually inside their own homes, which means they let the killer in of their own free will. That usually means the killer is someone they know, but with this many victims it has to be something else. Whatever disguise or cover Nobody is using is apparently non-threatening, and somehow familiar to everyone she killed.
‘Yes, there’s a dance,’ said Marci, enunciating each syllable. ‘The Homecoming Dance – you may have heard of it? A little social gathering this Friday?’
‘Oh yeah, the Homecoming thing. There’s the posters at school and stuff.’ I’ve been assuming that Nobody can change her face and body, like Crowley did, but Crowley could only do it by killing someone – by literally stealing their bodies. The Handyman doesn’t steal bodies, and the few parts she does steal she just destroys later on. How is she disguising herself?
‘Rachel’s going with Brad,’ said Marci, ‘and we’re kind of hoping to go in a group, though I don’t have a date yet.’
This pulled me out of my thoughts. ‘You don’t? But you’re, like . . . It seems like someone would have asked you weeks ago.’
Marci was staring at me, her mouth wide open, as if she didn’t know what to say. I realised I’d said something stupid, and tried to cover it up.
‘I mean, you’re amazing,’ I said. ‘Everyone loves you – you have more friends than anyone I think I’ve ever met. How could no one have asked you yet?’
‘As a matter of fact,’ she said, fumbling slightly with her words, ‘five people have asked me. Five. And I’ve said no to all of them.’
‘You don’t want to go?’
‘No, I’d kind of like to go, actually.’
I looked at her, awaiting an explanation. Girls are so weird. She gazed back for a moment, then rolled her eyes and looked up at the twilit sky. ‘Do I have to do everything myself?’
And that’s when it finally hit me: she wanted me to ask her.
‘I . . .’
‘Yes?’ she said, turning back to face me. ‘Something you want to say?’
‘Are you . . .?’
‘Something finally clicking in that remarkably thick head of yours?’
‘Oh, I’ve been waiting.’
‘Do you actually want to . . .’ I trailed off.
‘ “Go...” ’ she prompted.
‘Go . . . to the Homecoming dance . . .’
‘“With . . .” ’
‘Me?’ I finished.
‘I am astonished at the level of meddling it took to make that happen.’
‘I’m confused,’ I said.
‘Obviously. Let me explain: first, yes, I would love to go to Homecoming with you, thank you so much for asking. Second, what in the hell is your problem?’
‘You’re over here for hours every day, you obviously like me, I obviously like you, and frankly we don’t spend enough time apart for you to even have time to ask anyone else to the dance, let alone flirt enough to make asking a possibility. How long would you have waited if I hadn’t forced the issue?’
‘I . . . I’m not really a dance kind of guy.’
‘You mean never?’ she asked. ‘Here I was, waiting all this time, and you weren’t even thinking about it?’
‘You are without a doubt the weirdest guy I have ever met.’
I took a breath. ‘But that’s just the thing,’ I said. ‘I am the weirdest guy you’ve ever met. I’m like the opposite of you. You have lots of friends, I have no friends; you’re beautiful, I’m weird-looking; you’re popular and interesting and fun, and I work in a mortuary. I’m obsessed with death and I study serial killers for fun. Guys like me don’t go to dances, and when we do, we don’t go with girls like you.’ I didn’t think I had to actually explain how messed-up I was - couldn’t people just tell by looking at me?
Marci looked astonished. ‘Is that seriously how you think of yourself? Is that seriously how you think of me?’
‘As above you. As . . . too good for you. Listen, John, how should I put this?’ She licked her lips. ‘Girls aren’t stupid, okay? We know when guys like us, and we usually know why: yes, we know we’re attractive, and yes, we notice when guys check us out. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had in just the last month where I have to look at a guy’s forehead the whole time because he’s staring at my boobs. And yes, I admit that sometimes I use them on purpose to get attention. I’ve done it with you. But you’re the first straight boy since sixth grade that it hasn’t worked on. The first one who doesn’t just stare.’ She shrugged, and looked out at the street. ‘You’re the first boy in years who’s more interested in talking to me than checking out my rack.’
‘But I’m just . . .’ How could I explain this? ‘I’m just following my rules. I’m trying to treat you like a person. With respect.’ The alternative is to treat you like the bodies in the mortuary, like a doll to play with, and I don’t dare allow myself to think like that.
‘ “With respect”,’ she repeated. ‘One of the best things about you, John, is that you have no idea how rare that is.’
I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing. We sat for a moment while the sky turned bright orange with sunset above us. After a moment I spoke up, hesitantly.
‘So . . . does this mean we’re dating?’
Marci laughed out loud. ‘Holy crap, you are such a geek!’
‘Well, how am I supposed to know these things if you don’t tell me?’
‘Even my dad called you my boyfriend, just now when he drove away. Everyone thinks we’re dating; I have no idea how you missed it.’
‘Well,’ I said. ‘Boyfriend, huh?’
She pulled up her knees and rested her head on them, loo
‘And that would make you my girlfriend.’
I paused a moment. ‘Then I should give you a mushy nickname, like “Sweetums” or “Cupcake”.’
‘I don’t think we have to go that far.’
‘How about “Sugar Booger”?’
‘Call me that again,’ she said, laughing, ‘and I’ll find another date for Homecoming so fast your head will spin. Five guys I turned down – remember that. Five.’
‘Five,’ I repeated. Why did you choose the only one who’s dreamed about killing you?
I let Marci make our Homecoming plans, and busied myself with plans for trapping Nobody. I drove to William Astrup’s house and scoped it out. He hadn’t been released by the police yet, and the news hadn’t broken, so his house was empty and I could wander through his yard at will.
There was a large hedge by the front door, and the back door that faced the forest was surrounded by plenty of good hiding-places. Which one would be best? Assuming that Nobody wasn’t completely invisible – which, given her name, she might well be – she was liable to show up under some kind of harmless pretence. Delivering a pizza? A package? ‘Hi, my car broke down and my phone won’t work – can I use yours?’ Whatever it was, it would almost certainly happen at the front door. That’s where I needed to watch.
I checked out the front hedge: I could hide behind it for hours if I had to, completely obscured. If I had a gun, I could just sit there and shoot the first person to show up with a big duffel bag – assuming that a gun would even work on Nobody. They hadn’t worked on Crowley, but Crowley had been much more physical, more brutal; Nobody was a finesse killer who used tools and took her time. She might not be able to shapeshift or regenerate at all; obviously Forman couldn’t.
A gun might actually work, especially if it had a silencer. I could shoot her before she even rang the bell, and be gone just as quickly, and the evidence would melt away to almost nothing: an ashy smear on the front porch. I could do this, as long as the police didn’t get in the way. Had Officer Jensen really believed us? Had he really taken us seriously?
The whole point was moot if the Handyman didn’t hear about Astrup’s arrest and didn’t choose him as her next victim.
That same night I used the pay phone to call in an anonymous tip to the newspaper. It was on the news Monday night, and by Tuesday everyone in town had heard about it; the bait was set. All I needed was the gun. I thought about stealing one from Marci’s house, because I knew Officer Jensen had some, but I discarded the idea immediately. I’m not dumb enough to steal a gun from a cop. Max, on the other hand, was another story. His dad had a huge gun collection, and now that he was dead nobody ever used them. They’d never even know it was missing.
I woke up Wednesday morning ready to visit Max and steal a gun, and turned on the morning news while I ate breakfast. The story hit me like a kick to the stomach. The killer had struck early. William Astrup was fine. Instead, Sheriff Meier was dead, his hands and tongue removed, his body pinned to the grass with two long poles rising up like wings.
‘Hold still,’ said Mom, fussing with my bow-tie. ‘This would be a lot easier if you didn’t fight me the whole time.’
‘Imagine how easy it would be if you just left me alone,’ I said, pulling away for the fifth time. ‘It looks fine.’
‘It’s crooked,’ she said. ‘For goodness’ sake, let me fix it for just twenty seconds so I can take a picture, and then you can mess it up as much as you want.’
I stalked down the hall to the fridge, where Mom had stashed the corsage she bought me. ‘I don’t want a picture.’
‘But you have to get a picture!’ she said, following me through the house. ‘This is my baby’s first dance!’ I glared at her. ‘I mean my handsome young man’s first dance! Of course I need a picture.’
‘So you can never look at it and accidentally delete the memory card?’
‘That only happened once,’ she said sternly. ‘And no, it’s so I can show everyone.’
‘ “Everyone”? Who’s “everyone”? All the friends we don’t have, or all the family that aren’t here? Lauren left work an hour ago without even coming upstairs, and Margaret didn’t come in at all, so I can’t imagine they care about seeing a picture of it. And if Dad wanted to see my first dance he gave up his shot a few years ago.’ There was a knock on the door, which gave me the perfect opportunity to look away from my mother’s stunned face. ‘That’s probably my ride.’
I opened the door and saw Brad Nielsen, Rachel’s date, standing out on the landing. ‘Oh, good,’ he said, ‘I wasn’t sure if I had the right door. I was half-afraid I’d open this up and find a bunch of dead bodies or something.’
‘The mortuary’s downstairs,’ I said. ‘And nobody’s dead right now.’
‘Well, that’s good to know,’ he said, and waved politely at my mom. ‘Hello, Mrs Cleaver, how are you?’
How could anyone not know if someone in town is recently dead or not? I thought. It’s the only interesting thing that ever happens around here.
‘Hello, Bradley,’ said Mom. She’d regained her composure after my outburst, and now raised her camera. ‘Stand close.’
‘No, Mom,’ I said. ‘No pictures.’
‘But your friend’s here now,’ she said, waving us together. ‘Smile!’
‘I don’t need a picture with—’ the flash snapped ‘—another guy. That’s great, Mom, thank you. Send that one to Dad and tell him we’re going steady.’
‘Sweet!’ said Brad. ‘Don’t worry, man, they take photos at the dance; we’ll get some of those. How is your dad, anyway?’
‘He’s awesome,’ I said. ‘He’s currently my favourite parent.’ I pushed Brad back onto the landing and shut the door behind me, then led him down the stairs to the side door and out into the night air. It was the last week of September, and already the evenings were darker and cooler. We got into Brad’s car – he had the best car out of the four of us – and drove off to pick up the girls.
‘It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?’ said Brad. I looked over at him.
‘A long time since what?’
‘Since we did anything,’ he said. ‘We used to hang out all the time in elementary school; what happened to all that?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘What was that game we used to play, on that thing in the playground? The big wooden thing?’
‘I don’t remember.’
‘No, it was a game you made up, with that ramp thing made out of tyres, and we had to call the pockets, like in pool, and then try to jump into the right one.’ He laughed, and the memory came back – fuzzy and immaterial, like a memory of someone else’s life. Kids at recess, laughing and shouting and jumping and falling, playing all day without a care in the world.
‘That barely seems like us any more,’ I said, watching the cars and houses and people roll by outside. It’s a different world, now, and darker. It’s full of demons – real live demons that want to kill us all. It’s hard to imagine that anyone could ever be that carefree again.
‘I know what you mean,’ said Brad. ‘It’s like, we used to pretend to do things, but now we’re actually doing them – we have jobs, we play sports, we go to school. I mean, of course we did those things before, but now they mean something; now it’s not just football in the street, it’s football on the big field with lights and announcers and the whole town watching.’
I stared blankly out the window – different houses than I’d seen a minute ago, and different cars, and different people, but still somehow the same. Blocks and blocks and miles and miles, all the same. Lights and announcers. Is that really as far as your ambitions reach?
‘And the girls!’ said Brad, slapping the steering wheel. ‘You think we’ve changed, holy cow. I remember when Rachel had pigtails and skinned knees and screamed at the PE teacher every time we played soccer. And Marci was like a total hippie
Everyone grows up. I thought about Marci’s little sister, Kendra, fours years old with frizzy hair, growing up to be a young woman; filling out, becoming beautiful. Somebody’s girlfriend; somebody’s obsession; somebody’s victim. All grown-up and sexy and dead.
DAN WELLS SERIES:
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