I dont want to kill you, p.8

I Don't Want to Kill You, page 8


I Don't Want to Kill You

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  ‘Just forget the gender thing for now,’ I said. ‘Let’s go back to my question: what did the killer do that “it” didn’t have to do?’

  ‘He cut off their hands.’


  ‘And that tells us what – that he hates hands?’ She laughed. ‘You realise this is impossible.’

  It gets even harder when you factor in the knowledge that the killer’s a demon, I thought. I still don’t know what the demon is doing with the hands and tongues she steals.

  ‘I don’t really have any good ideas about the hands,’ I admitted. ‘It could be anything. So we start with something else.’

  ‘Like what?’

  ‘Like, well . . . the wounds are all very clean; the hands and tongue were removed very carefully. What could that tell us?’

  ‘That the killer is very clean,’ she said. ‘That’s what all the plastic drop cloths are for, too, right?’ She grinned wickedly. ‘So maybe it is a woman, after all.’

  ‘Very funny,’ I said, ‘but certainly possible. Strong attention to cleanliness also suggests age: younger killers are sloppier, more impulsive, and old killers tend to be more meticulous.’

  ‘So this is an older killer, possibly a woman,’ said Marci, ‘who plans ahead and is very careful about everything. That fits perfectly, because she attacked the Mayor in City Hall instead of at home, where the security system was so much better.’

  ‘How do you know that?’

  ‘Dad said something about it.’ She whistled. ‘Wow, this profiling stuff actually works.’

  ‘Told you so.’

  ‘Then it also stands to reason,’ she said, ‘that the killer carries around a pretty big bag of stuff.’

  ‘Why?’ Nowhere in my analysis had I ever considered a bag.

  ‘Because she has so much stuff she needs,’ said Marci. ‘A woman is never without her purse, especially not an organised woman like this, so she has to have a big bag full of plastic sheets, and a gun, and a hacksaw, and whatever else she uses. That’s a lot of stuff.’

  ‘That . . .’ I paused. ‘You’re right, that is a lot of stuff. I hadn’t thought of that.’ Because I was so sure the demon used her own claws for the killing, and that was colouring the rest of my theories. It’s entirely possible that she just uses a normal weapon, like Forman did, and that means she’d have to carry it with her – but then, what kind of weapon could have made the wrist wounds?

  ‘You’re good at this,’ I said.

  Marci rolled her eyes. ‘This is the last thing I ever wanted to be good at.’

  ‘But the thing about the hands,’ I said, ‘is that they weren’t removed with a hacksaw – there was none of the tissue damage that you’d expect with a saw.’

  ‘Now it’s my turn to ask how you know something.’

  I stopped short. The lack of tissue damage was something they’d never mentioned on the news. I’d learned it in the mortuary, and my involvement in the mortuary was supposed to be a secret. How much should I tell her?

  Marci was looking right at me, not accusing but simply curious. She was being completely honest and open. I needed to learn how to be the same.

  ‘I help my mom in the mortuary,’ I said. ‘I helped embalm Pastor Olsen.’

  ‘Holy crap.’ She shifted in her chair. ‘Isn’t that completely . . . icky?’

  ‘ “Icky?” ’

  ‘That’s the technical term for “ohmygoshgross”,’ she said. ‘I never knew that about you.’

  ‘Believe me,’ I said, ‘there are a lot of things you never knew about me. But let’s think about the wrist wounds: do you have any idea what could have made them?’

  ‘No saw-marks?’ she asked.


  ‘A knife?’

  ‘It’s a single cut,’ I said. ‘There’s no way you could get that kind of force behind a knife. Maybe a machete.’

  ‘Or an axe,’ she said, tapping her chin. ‘Or a shovel.’

  ‘An axe and a machete are probably too big to conceal,’ I said, ‘let alone a shovel. Even if we think big and give our killer a duffel bag for her stuff, she’s going to have trouble carrying anything big enough to make that kind of cut.’ I kept going back to the claw; it had to be a claw – nothing else fit. But telling Marci about the demons would be another giant step, and I still wasn’t comfortable with it.

  ‘What about a hatchet?’ she asked. I looked up, struck by the idea, and she went on: ‘A hatchet handle’s not as long as an axe, so you can’t get quite as much power behind it, but it might be able to cut through a wrist bone like that.’ I stared at her, and she smiled nervously. ‘I guess? I don’t know how to cut through a wrist bone.’ I kept staring. ‘Look,’ she said, ‘you started this, don’t look at me like that.’

  ‘No,’ I said quickly, ‘no, I’m not looking at you weird at all. I think that’s brilliant.’

  ‘Thank you.’

  ‘I mean, it’s not brilliant—’


  ‘I mean, it’s something I never thought of, and I should have. A hatchet. I can’t believe I didn’t think of a hatchet.’

  ‘I liked this conversation better when I was brilliant.’

  ‘What?’ I asked, smiling. ‘Now you’re some kind of genius detective?’

  ‘Hey,’ she drawled, ‘this stuff’s easy.’ She narrowed her eyes and winked. ‘Stick with me, kid; we’ll catch this psycho.’

  ‘Wow,’ I said, cocking my head to the side. ‘Was that a cowboy or a film noir mobster?’

  She threw the wet rag in my face. ‘That was a brilliant criminal investigator. Who is also hungry.’

  ‘I know how she feels,’ I said. ‘Does she want to go get something?’

  ‘Yeah,’ said Marci, smiling. ‘I think she does.’

  Chapter 8

  The next night was the Mayor’s funeral, starting with a viewing at 5 p.m., and the place was packed. Mom and Margaret and Lauren had spent the entire day finishing the embalming, coordinating with the cemetery and running all over town between flower shops, city organisers, and even printers for the programmes. When I came home from school at three o’clock they threw me into it as well, to vacuum the chapel and roll out the good entry rugs and make sure that everything was perfect. The police were there too, securing the area tighter than I’d ever seen. We’d had plenty of murdered nobodies in our chapel, but this was our first murdered government official. Officer Jensen waved at me, and I waved back. I wondered if he knew that Marci and I had skipped the entire first day of school.

  At four thirty, with the chapel prepared and the corpse ready for display, Mom and Margaret and I went upstairs to change. I had a white, collared shirt I used for funerals, with a thin black tie and a black suit-coat to wear over them. I kept the tie knotted on a hanger in my closet, because I could never remember how to do it; I pulled it on now and tightened the loop.

  There were still a few minutes left before I needed to be downstairs, and I walked to the window. On the other side of the road, maybe 100 feet away, was the Crowleys’ house. There was the white Buick where I’d found Dr Neblin dead; there was the old shed where I’d dragged his body. There was the mark in the road where Mr Crowley’s claws had torn up the asphalt. I’d stopped him, but it had taken too long. Too many people had died. Now we had another demon, killing more people, and I still didn’t know anything about it.

  A cloud passed overhead, darkening the air just enough that I could see my reflection in the window, faint and ghostly. I straightened my tie and went downstairs.

  A viewing is an odd thing: families like to see their dearly departed one last time, so we morticians spend hours with make-up, putty and string trying to make a sack of dead meat look as much like a person as possible. Corpses, especially when they’ve been dead a week like this one, simply don’t look like they used to – not because their flesh is rotting off or anything, but for smaller, subtler reasons. The muscles are slack, without even blood pressure to form them, so the fac
e is shaped differently: it is more gaunt, with none of the expression it had in life. The jaw hangs open, so we pin it shut with hooks and wire. The eyes shrivel, so we fill the cavity with cotton to give the eyelids their proper curve. With no blood to give it colour the skin grows pale, so we mix the formaldehyde with dyes, and paint the face with foundation and blush. We work from photos, doing our best to approximate not just any dead guy but your dead guy; not just any father but your father, your mother, your sister, your aunt. Then we dress it up in your dead father’s suit, like a giant stuffed animal, and lay it in a coffin for you to wander past, awkward and uneasy.

  People grow uncomfortable at viewings because, for most, it is their only contact with death. They don’t know how to deal with it. They stand there, silent, maybe piping up with a comment about how peaceful he looks, or how much he looks like himself. It’s never true – he never looks like himself. Whatever ‘himself’ used to mean, it’s gone now, and the thing left behind in the suit and the coffin could just as easily be anything: it could be a stranger; it could be a tree. Eventually, it will be. The friends and family stare blankly, wondering why this lifeless thing holds no comfort, and then they wander away and talk about how long it’s been, and how are the kids, and don’t you love my new shoes?

  My job was to stand in the doorway with funeral programmes, handing them out and occasionally answering a question about the restrooms. I was an informative table: deferential, glad to be of use. Eventually I left the programmes on a chair and retreated to the office, watching the sombre crowd through the crack of the open door. Someone still managed to find me and ask about the restroom. I gave him directions and closed the door completely.

  At six o’clock the viewing ended, and I stepped out to help usher everyone into the chapel for the funeral itself. Usually I pushed the coffin as well, from its home in the antechamber to its place of honour in front of the podium, but tonight the police were performing that function. Sheriff Meier and Officer Jensen, their dress uniforms cleaned and pressed, led a long procession of family with the dead Mayor at the head. I watched from the back. Marci was on the other side, sitting alone. She watched the procession through dark eyes.

  Mom stood next to me. ‘Where have you been?’ she whispered.

  ‘Upstairs,’ I lied.

  ‘I looked upstairs.’


  ‘I need your help, John,’ she said. ‘This is a job, you know. This is how we pay our bills. We need to do it right.’

  ‘Does everyone have a programme?’ I asked.

  ‘That’s not the point—’

  ‘Everyone has a programme,’ ‘I said, ‘so I did my job fine.’

  Mom glared at me, but the family was almost seated, and she needed to start the ceremony. She left me and walked to the front, and I knew she was putting on her polite, practised mortician face: understanding and professional; serious yet calm. I turned to leave again, but another soft whisper pulled me back.

  ‘You got somewhere we can hide from this?’

  I turned and saw Marci, standing quietly behind me. She was wearing a slim dress, and heels that made her nearly as tall as I was.

  ‘I hate funerals,’ she said. ‘I only came to be with Dad, but he’s sitting in the front with Meier.’

  ‘Come on,’ I breathed, and led her into the hall and back to the office. If Mom hadn’t found me there before, it was probably still the best place. ‘In here,’ I said. I held the door for her, followed her in and offered her the nice chair behind the desk. I then closed the door behind us and sat across from her.

  ‘So,’ she said, looking around. ‘This is where you work.’

  ‘Yep. I don’t do a lot here in the office, I’m mostly in the back. Clean a lot of restrooms, vacuum a lot of floors. Embalm a lot of Mayors.’

  ‘Ug,’ she said. ‘It’s one thing to see them on the news, but getting right up and touching them is so not for me.’

  ‘We have a week,’ I said.

  ‘You have the bodies for a week?’

  ‘No, I’m saying we have one week before the next death. The other attacks were two weeks apart, one on Sunday, the next on a Monday, so number three will be one week from tonight if the pattern holds. We have one week to figure it out.’

  Marci grimaced. ‘What, you and I? We don’t know anything. Not anything important.’

  ‘What about the bag and the hatchet? We figured those out.’

  ‘The police already knew about them,’ said Marci. ‘I asked my dad. I might be able to get more out of him, if I know what to ask.’

  ‘Ha,’ I laughed, smiling thinly. ‘The daughter of a cop and the son of a mortician: teen crime-fighters. We’re like a bad TV show.’

  ‘I know.’ She stretched her arms, pushing her chest forward, and I looked away instinctively. My gaze fell on the filing cabinet, and I stood up quickly.

  ‘Hang on,’ I said, walking to the files and opening the top drawer. ‘I think the son of the mortician may have another trick up his sleeve.’

  ‘What do you mean?’

  ‘I didn’t get to help embalm the Mayor,’ I said, flipping through the files, ‘but his paperwork’s in here somewhere. If we still have the body, we still have the state files on it.’

  ‘What’s on the papers?’

  ‘A complete listing of all wounds,’ I said, closing the drawer and moving to the next one down. ‘Man, I have no idea how Lauren’s files are set up.’ I found the Mayor’s name on a folder and pulled it out. ‘Here we go. You might want to look away.’

  ‘Why would I—holy sheez.’

  I flopped open the folder on the desk, exposing a sheaf of autopsy photos clipped to the stack of papers. Marci looked away, gagging and muttering, while I flipped through the files.

  ‘There were wounds on the first body that the police didn’t tell the media about,’ I said. ‘Wounds on the back – dozens of them, hidden by the victim’s shirt so nobody could see them.’

  ‘I cannot believe that you work here,’ she said, staring at the wall. She was gripping a chair for support.

  ‘You get used to it,’ I said, then tapped my finger on a pink sheet of carbon paper. ‘Here it is. Bullet wound in the head . . . both hands severed . . . tongue removed . . . two pole wounds in the back . . . thirty-seven stab wounds in the back. Wow.’ I sucked in a slow breath. ‘Thirty-seven.’

  ‘I’m going to be sick.’

  ‘It’s okay,’ I said, closing up the folder. ‘I’m putting it away.’

  ‘That’s not going to help.’

  ‘Sure it is,’ I said, sliding the folder back into the drawer and rolling it closed. ‘There – photos are gone, everything’s gone. You can turn around.’

  Marci turned reluctantly. ‘You know, I could have gone my whole life without seeing those photos.’

  ‘If we don’t figure this out in time, there’ll be plenty more where those came from.’

  ‘Don’t remind me.’ She leaned back, looking at the ceiling. ‘Thirty-seven times. Who stabs a guy thirty-seven times?’

  ‘That’s exactly the question,’ I said. ‘She didn’t have to do it, which means it’s important. So: who would stab a guy thirty-seven times?’

  ‘Someone really . . .’ Marci closed her eyes ‘. . . angry. So angry she couldn’t stop stabbing, even when the victim was dead.’

  ‘The victim was dead when she started,’ I said. ‘He was shot in the back of the head.’

  ‘So she’s really, really angry,’ said Marci. ‘Angry enough to stab a dead body. I’ve been that angry a couple of times.’


  She opened her eyes and glowered at me. ‘No, not really, but sometimes you just wanna . . . vent your frustration, you know? You just want to pound something.’

  ‘I’ll be sure not to make you angry, then.’

  ‘We have a punching bag in the basement,’ she said. ‘Many a bad date has been erased from my memory thanks to that thing, I assure you.’

So we have a killer who’s venting his anger,’ I said. ‘But that would suggest an angry attack – something violent and impulsive. This woman attacks very calmly, with everything carefully planned in advance. She gets in, she shoots, she lays down plastic, and only then does she start stabbing. Plus, the hands and tongue are removed very precisely. That doesn’t suggest anger at all.’

  Marci looked back up at the ceiling, sitting silently. She didn’t look like she was getting into it – she hadn’t come here for this, and she probably had plenty of subjects she’d rather talk about. I was trying to think of something I could say to bring back the same excitement she’d shown the day before, when suddenly she spoke again. ‘Do you think her victims see her before she attacks?’

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