I Don't Want to Kill You, page 7
Marci pulled out a notebook, turned to a clean sheet and started writing. When she finished she sat up straight and smiled at me – a fake smile, trying to be playful but leaving her eyes dull and sad.
‘I’ve made my prediction,’ she said, tearing out the page and folding it carefully in fourths. ‘Are you ready?’
‘I haven’t thought much about it.’
‘That’s okay,’ she said, handing me the note. ‘We can work together on this one.’
I took the note and unfolded it.
I looked back at Marci and raised my eyebrows.
‘You think?’ I asked.
‘I do,’ she said. ‘And as for your guess, I have it on very good authority that a girl named Marci Jensen absolutely cannot handle any more school today.’ Her eyes misted up, just the tiniest fraction of a tear, and she blinked it away. ‘Pick her, and who knows? Maybe we’ll get lucky, and we’ll both win.’ She smiled again, more real this time, but still a mask of sadness. ‘It could happen.’
I looked at the classroom – a mess of crying, confused students, and still no teacher. It was already five minutes after class was supposed to start. School wasn’t likely to be much of anything today anyway, after the news about Allison. I looked back at her.
‘Where do you want to go?’
‘Out,’ she said, closing her eyes. ‘Out and away.’
The windows in the classroom were dark and blurry, made of some ancient plastic that had yellowed over the years. The sky beyond looked old and sour, like a jaundiced eye.
We didn’t need demons. It almost didn’t matter how many they killed, because we just rolled over and killed ourselves. Would it ever stop? Would there be anyone left when it did?
And I was the one who’d called them here.
I grabbed my backpack and stood up. ‘Let’s get out of here.’
Marci had a much newer car than I did, though, that’s not saying much, and she drove me to her house to pick something up on our way to Friendly Burger. The front door was open, as before, and the twin four year olds were still there – and still, as nearly as I could tell, wearing the same clothes as before. Marci smiled at them as we walked inside, and ruffled the boy’s hair.
‘Hey dude,’ she said. ‘Mom in the garden?’
‘Is school over already?’ the little girl asked.
‘Yes, it is,’ said Marci, holding out her hands. ‘Isn’t that awesome?’
‘Momma’s in the garden,’ said the boy.
‘Why is school so short?’ asked the girl.
‘Because we already know everything,’ Marci answered, leading us into the kitchen. It was old, like the rest of the house, and the kitchen table was sticky with jam that I assumed had come from the twins’ breakfast.
‘Momma’s in the garden,’ the boy repeated.
‘Thanks, Jaden, I heard you the first time.’
‘Do you really know everything?’ the girl asked. ‘Do you know how many stars there are?’
Marci turned to face the twins, squatting down to meet their eyes. ‘Four billion, five zillion, six hundred and twenty-three. Do you guys want to watch cartoons?’
‘Yes!’ they shouted. Marci herded them back down the hall, and I heard a TV come on. A moment later she returned to the kitchen, smiling, and walked to the sink.
‘I remember being that happy.’ She picked up a wet rag, went over to the table and started scrubbing away the jam.
I turned to look at the fridge. It was covered with calendars, flyers, crayon drawings, magnetic letters and more. One of the magnets was a splash of rubber water, with a rubber fish dangling in front of it on a stiff spring. I turned back to Marci and saw her leaning forwards, her hands braced against the table, watching me. I looked away again, at the window this time, and felt suddenly stupid. Why did I keep looking away? She probably thought I was a jerk. But just as suddenly, an answer popped into my head: it was my rules again, cutting in to stop me from looking at Marci’s chest. It was a force of habit so embedded that I hadn’t even noticed I was doing it. I needed to pay attention to her, not my rules. I forced myself to look back and saw her standing upright, leaning lightly against the counter with her arms folded.
‘You’re different,’ she said. ‘You know that?’
She raised her eyebrows. ‘Don’t be sorry, whatever you do.’ She grabbed a purse off the counter and held it up. ‘You hungry?’
‘Me neither.’ She pulled out a kitchen chair and sat down, then shook her head. ‘Can you believe this?’
‘You mean the Handyman, or the suicides?’
‘Any of it,’ she said. ‘All of it. What’s happening to us?’ She caught me with her gaze, staring intently. ‘Did you know the Clarks left town?’
The Clarks lived next door to Max, in the neighbourhood called The Gardens. Max’s dad had been killed in front of their house just nine months ago, when Mr Crowley had ripped him in half. I’d been there, hiding, and I’d hesitated just a second too long to save him. I pushed the thought away and looked back innocently.
‘They haven’t sold their house yet,’ said Marci, ‘but they left. Three days ago. Said they wanted to get out before school started, so their kids could start the new year somewhere safe.’ She closed her eyes. ‘Fifteen people dead in a year, seventeen if you count the suicides.’ She opened her eyes and looked up at me. ‘Is that totally freaky, that I know that? Of all the sick things to keep track of.’
It was actually nineteen dead, because Mr Crowley had killed two drifters nobody knew about, and hidden the bodies so well no one had ever found them. One, I knew, was in the lake, and the other was probably there as well. There might be even more; it had taken me almost two months to trace the killings to Crowley, and who knew what he’d done before I found him.
Marci was staring at the wall now, her elbow planted on the table and her fist in front of her mouth. She was blowing into it, her face slack and her eyes moist.
I pulled out a chair and sat across from her. ‘Knowing how many people have died isn’t freaky at all,’ I said. ‘I know them all too. I could probably name them.’
Marci laughed – short and humourless. ‘Sometimes I wonder what it’s like to grow up where people have other things to talk about. Weather, or football games, or movies. You know?’
‘We have all that stuff,’ I said. ‘It’s just too boring to bother with.’
‘I guess that’s true enough. But we used to live like that, you know, boring or not.’
It was time for me to do something – to say something, to involve myself in this conversation. On our first date I’d barely said a word, and even when I was dating Brooke I hadn’t been especially active. She’d planned everything, she’d done everything, she’d said almost everything. I was just along for the ride back then, and now I was doing it again. I needed to act; I needed to be. I needed to step up and be a real person.
But . . .
What could I possibly say? Her little brother had said she had lots of boys over all the time – what kinds of things did they say? Did they talk about sports? Did they tell her she was pretty? I couldn’t hold her hand or gaze into her eyes or anything like that. If I wanted to act, I needed to stop acting like I thought other people were supposed to act, and start acting like myself. I was the one she’d invited into her kitchen: John Cleaver. But how much did she really know about John Cleaver?
And how interested could she possibly be in the things that interested John Cleaver?
I spread my hands on the table, flat against the wood. I had no one else to talk to: Mom wouldn’t talk about the killings, and Brooke wouldn’t talk at all. I was desperate to talk to somebody, and if I told everything to Marci I’d either gain a confidante or destroy a budding friendship. But what good was a friend I couldn’t talk to? I wanted to be the real me. I decided to test the water
‘Your dad told you about me, right?’
She looked up. ‘What?’
‘No one knows what I did in that house. Most people don’t even know I was there – but your dad does, and he told you, right?’
She nodded. ‘You saved all those people. And you attacked Agent Forman.’
‘And you asked me out anyway?’
‘That’s why I asked you out.’
I paused just a moment before continuing, ‘What else did he tell you?’
‘About anything. About Forman, or the Handyman, or the Clayton Killer. Does he tell you other things?’
‘He . . .’ She paused. ‘I ask him about his job a lot, actually - I think it’s fascinating – but he hasn’t said much about the killers. But he told me about Forman’s house, and what Forman was doing in there – what he did to you, and to those women. He wanted me to know what was happening, so I’d be prepared if anything happened to me.’ ‘So are you?’
She paused again, longer this time.
‘I think so,’ she said. ‘I know some self-defence moves, I carry Mace. I know what parts of town to stay away from, and what parts are safe, but the Mayor was just killed inside of City Hall, so I don’t know if anything’s safe any more.’
‘Forman kidnapped me inside the police station,’ I said. ‘He pulled a gun, he beat up Stephanie, and he abducted us both right there. No witnesses, no chance for help, nothing.’
‘That’s horrible,’ she said. She looked at me, and her eyes softened.
‘It was horrible,’ I agreed, ‘but it wasn’t the end. We hung on for two more days, and we won. And it wasn’t because I had Mace, or because I stayed away from danger zones, it was because I knew what was going on, and I knew how he thought and what he did. I knew what he wanted, and I turned it against him.’
She was watching me, resting her chin in the palm of her hand. ‘You know, you really are different.’
I had her interest now; she was really thinking about what I was saying. ‘Do you remember what you said this morning about Mr Coleman?’ I asked.
‘Jeez, what a dirtbag.’
‘You said you gave up. He did something wrong, you were going to stop him, and then you just gave up.’
‘Well, come on now, it’s not like I can have every guy who looks at me arrested—’
‘I’m not accusing you of anything,’ I said, holding out my hand to calm her down. ‘I tell you right now, if I looked like you I think the attention would drive me insane; I don’t know how you do it.’ She smiled a little at that, and I went on, ‘What I’m saying is that the killers in town are just like that – it’s on a bigger scale, but it’s the same thing. Something bad happens, and you can try to do something about it or you can sit back, and when you do try to do something it usually gets worse before it gets better. That’s what happened to you, and that’s what happened to me with Forman.’
It was time to show her who I really was. ‘Do you know why I was in the police station that night?’
‘I was helping Forman track the killer, though it turned out to be him all along. He was . . . I know this sounds weird, because I’m only sixteen, but he was running the case past me, bouncing ideas around to see if I had any insights.’
She raised her eyebrows again. ‘You’re kidding.’
‘I was there when the Clayton Killer attacked my neighbours,’ I said. ‘I mean, everyone knows I was there, but I was really there, right in the middle of it, and not just because I lived across the street and heard a noise. I’d been studying the Clayton Killer for months, trying to figure out who he was, and who he was attacking, and why, and once I figured all of that out I thought I could figure out how to stop him. I did figure out how to stop him. I saved Kay Crowley, and I almost saved Dr Neblin.’
‘And Mr Crowley, too,’ she said.
She didn’t know Mr Crowley was the killer – nobody did. I nodded, and went on; it wouldn’t hurt to bend the truth a little bit.
‘I almost saved him too,’ I agreed. ‘And Forman knew that – he knew everything I’d done to track the Clayton Killer – so when the second killer started dumping bodies all over town, Forman asked for my help tracking him, too. And then it turned out that he was the killer, and he was really just trying to find out how much of a threat I was. Once he realised that I was almost there – that I’d almost traced the whole thing back to him – he locked me up so I couldn’t stop him.’ It wasn’t the full truth, but it was all I dared to trust her with at the time. The demons would stay secret.
‘You’re kidding,’ she said again, laughing, then stopped and frowned. ‘You’re serious?’
‘I had no idea.’ She sat back in her chair, staring at the table, then looked up at me. ‘What are you, some kind of genius detective?’
‘That’s just the thing,’ I said. ‘Anyone can do this, but nobody ever does. They leave it all to the police or the FBI, but if you pay attention and follow the case, you can find all the clues.’ I couldn’t tell her that I planned to go after the killer myself, so I took the safe route. ‘We can tell the police everything we find, and help them stop this killer.’
That was it – I’d said it all. I’d told her who I was: John the Dragonslayer. I’d either piqued her interest or driven her off completely. I watched her, waiting to see what she said.
She watched me back, her eyes moving over me, searching.
‘You really are serious,’ she said.
I didn’t even nod, I just stared back, waiting. After a long moment she shrugged.
‘So what do we do?’
‘Are you sure you want to do this?’
She nodded. ‘My dad’s a cop, John. You’re going to have to try pretty hard to freak me out.’
‘That’s a challenge I’ll accept,’ I said, and she smiled warily. ‘So let’s get right into it. The central question of criminal profiling is this: what did the killer do that she didn’t have to do?’
‘I think the Handyman might be a woman,’ I said.
‘Just a hunch.’
She smirked. ‘I’m beginning to think this isn’t nearly as scientific as you led me to believe.’
‘There’s very little science in criminal profiling,’ I admitted. ‘It’s all educated guesses and shots in the dark.’
‘Does it ever work?’
‘It works all the time,’ I said. ‘How about . . . okay, here’s an example: the Trailside Killer, from San Francisco. He killed a bunch of people, both women and men, in the middle of the woods, and he kept at it for a year before they finally caught him. The forensic evidence showed that the attacks were all fast, like really fast, which usually means that the killer doesn’t want to be seen, but this was in the middle of nowhere – there was no one else around for miles. The profiler on the case decided that the only reason to go that fast when there was no danger of getting caught was that the killer was ashamed of something, and he didn’t want the victims to notice it.’
‘So the profiler predicted that the killer had a big ugly scar or something,’ said Marci, ‘and the police started looking for people with scars. Does that really help?’
I smiled. ‘It’s even better than that. You see, even though there were no witnesses in the woods, there were plenty at the trailheads and the parking lots, and nobody they interviewed had ever mentioned somebody with a physical deformity. So the profiler guessed that the killer had a deformity nobody could see, but that still made him feel awkward and outcast. He told the police to look for a guy with a stutter.’
‘He got all that just from the speed of the attacks?’
‘Well, there was obviously more to it than that – I’m just paraphrasing – but your reaction is pretty typical. Even the police laughed at the profiler. And then they caught the guy, and he had a really debilitating stutter.’
Marci shook her head, her
‘Freaky and crazy and incredibly accurate,’ I said. ‘If you know what you’re doing.’
‘So the Trailside Killer did something he didn’t have to do,’ said Marci, nodding, ‘and figuring out the reason for that told them something valuable about him.’
‘Exactly,’ I said. She’d picked this up a lot quicker than Max had.
‘All right,’ said Marci, ‘I think I get it. But how does the Handyman thing make you think she’s a woman?’
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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