I Don't Want to Kill You, page 9
‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘I guess it’s possible.’ It’s also possible that she can turn invisible, or change her shape, or some other crazy supernatural thing that would help her hide from her prey, I thought. Trying to profile a demon was getting harder and harder.
‘I was just thinking,’ said Marci. ‘This guy showed up at my house one time just incensed about something – another bad dating story, sorry. But this guy was so mad, I didn’t even go out with him. He terrified me. I called off the date right there on the porch.’
‘Which probably only made him madder,’ I said.
‘Obviously,’ said Marci, ‘but he couldn’t freak out on me with my dad’s squad car parked twenty feet away, so he just left. But the point is, if someone came up to these victims looking mad enough to stab them thirty-seven times, they would have run away screaming. But none of them did.’
‘You’re right,’ I said, going back over the news stories in my head. ‘Nobody heard screaming, nobody found any sign of a fight, and there were no defensive wounds on either of the bodies. So whatever the killer looks like, she doesn’t look scary.‘
‘Or angry,’ said Marci.
‘Or,’ I said, ‘she might not even be angry at all. We might be misinterpreting the stab wounds completely.’
‘Can you think of anything else it could be?’
‘Well, what if it’s a message?’ I asked. ‘She leaves these bodies outside where everyone can see them, so she’s obviously trying to say something. Maybe the stab wounds are part of it.’
‘But they were covered up,’ said Marci; she was getting excited again. ‘You said the stab wounds were hidden by the shirt. As a proud graduate of Home Ec I can assure you that thirty-seven cuts in the back of a shirt would completely destroy it – you wouldn’t be hiding anything under there. This woman had to take their shirts off, stab the living crap out of them, and then put their shirts back on.’
‘So if anything,’ I said, ‘she’s trying to hide the stabs, not display them.’
‘All right,’ said Marci. ‘We have a killer who starts out calm and then gets angry. All we have to do is figure out what the victims did to make her angry – probably something pretty simple, since both of them did it.’
With that comment, another piece of the puzzle snapped into place for me, as clear as a bell. I looked up at Marci. ‘The only common factor between the two situations is her. The killer is making herself angry.’ Forman said that demons are defined by what they lack, I thought. She kills because she’s trying to fill a hole, in her mind or her heart, and somehow that hole is filling her with rage.
‘Why would she make herself angry?’
‘It’s not on purpose,’ I said. ‘It’s just the side-effect of something else. She’s calm, and then she kills, and then she flips out.’
‘And then she tries to cover it up with a shirt,’ said Marci, nodding slowly. ‘It fits. But what does it mean?’
‘It means she doesn’t want to kill,’ I said. ‘She probably hates it, but she can’t stop it, and she promises herself she’ll never do it again and then she does it again anyway. And she goes nuts.’
‘This is . . .’ Marci grimaced again. ‘This is really vile.’
‘But really cool,’ I said. ‘This is a piece I’m sure the police don’t have yet.’
‘I’ll tell my dad as soon as the funeral’s out.’
‘No,’ I said, ‘not yet. This is a good piece, but it doesn’t lead to anyone.’ She looked troubled, and I held out my hands to soothe her. ‘Let’s wait until we have more to give him; there’s no sense jumping the gun when we’re this close.’
Marci looked uneasy. ‘How close do you think we are?’
‘Very close,’ I said. ‘Maybe close enough to predict the next victim.’
‘And if we can predict him,’ said Marci, smiling for the first time that night, ‘we can warn him.’
I went to Marci’s house every day that week, trading theories and combing through every piece of evidence we could remember. At first we sat in the kitchen, but Marci got nervous with the little kids so close by, and we took our talk of serial killers and dismembered corpses outside.
‘What about the poles?’ Marci asked. ‘That’s got to mean something, right?’ It was Saturday, and we were still no closer to an answer.
‘It’s a message,’ I said, ‘but that doesn’t tell us much. Most of the time when a serial killer leaves a message like that, it’s just the standard “here I am, you can’t catch me”.’
‘Even if it’s just to get attention,’ said Marci, ‘the fact that the killer needs attention is still a pretty good clue, right?’
‘Absolutely,’ I agreed. I don’t know if Marci was a natural psychologist, or if it was just the fact that she wasn’t sociopathic like me, but she was really getting good at this. Sociopathy is defined as the lack of empathy: sociopaths like me can’t identify with other people, which means we can’t really understand them either. Marci didn’t have that handicap, so she was finding connections I’d never thought of.
‘The poles are like flags,’ she said, thinking out loud, ‘to make sure people see the body. One of the poles in the Mayor was an actual flagpole.’
‘But with the flag ripped off,’ I said. ‘If they were supposed to be flags, why would she strip it down?’
‘It was an American flag, so maybe she hates America. Or maybe she loves America and didn’t want the flag associated with the murder.’
‘Serial killing isn’t murder,’ I said, the words slipping out before I could stop them. It was a pet peeve of mine, but from the shocked look on Marci’s face I knew she’d misinterpreted it. ‘I mean, it is murder, but it’s not just murder. It’s like saying computer hacking is theft. It is, but it’s got its own set of reasons and methods that make it so different from any other theft that you have to look at it differently.’
‘That seems like a weird distinction,’ said Marci. ‘Killing someone is murder. That’s that.’
‘It is,’ I said again, ‘but it’s a very specific kind of murder that needs to be looked at very differently.’ She was still staring at me strangely, so I tried to change the subject. ‘Look, it doesn’t matter – let’s get back to the flag. You think the killer loves America and doesn’t want it associated with killing.’
Marci watched me silently for a moment longer before speaking. ‘Could be a war protest.’
‘Clayton County is a weird place for a war protest.’
‘I know, I’m just thinking. The poles really do act like flags, though, and I’m trying to think of why she rips the actual flags off. Maybe it’s just the pole. She doesn’t want something up there to distract from the poles themselves.’
‘I don’t think so,’ I said, remembering back to the shot I’d seen on the news. ‘When the Mayor died, she hung plastic sheeting on the poles. It was like she was making her own flags.’
‘Did they look like anything?’
‘Kind of like wings, actually. But it was a flagpole, and she hung her own flag on it.’
‘So she’s replacing America.’
‘Or removing it,’ I said.
‘Maybe not completely,’ I said, ‘but from the crime scene, at least. How about this: the Handyman always puts poles in the victims’ backs, because that’s how she sends her message. This time, because she was in City Hall, the only pole she could find was a flagpole, but she didn’t want the flag to interfere with her message: it’s not about America, it’s about something else, so she had to take the flag off so people wouldn’t get the wrong idea.’
‘That works,’ said Marci, ‘but it means there’s probably more to her message than just “here I am”.’
‘There you are,’ said Marci’s mom, opening the screen door. Marci and I were sitting on the porch, our feet on the steps, and her mom set down a plate of buttered bread on the floor between us. ‘This isn’t fresh out of the oven or anyt
Marci’s mom was large – not fat, just big – and her hands were weathered and callused from constant work in the yard and garden. She was nice enough, but it was obvious Marci had gotten her good looks from somewhere else.
‘Thanks,’ said Marci, smiling widely. She seemed grateful for the interruption, though I wasn’t sure. She picked up a piece of bread. ‘Mom’s bread is great, John, you’ll love it. This is, what, like five wholegrains?’
‘Six,’ said her mom. ‘I added another one.’
I took a piece and held it up to inspect it. It looked like a slab of birdseed.
‘Wow,’ I said. ‘I didn’t know you could get that many wholegrains into one piece of bread.’
‘I don’t want to interrupt,’ said her mom, opening the door and stepping back in. ‘Just bringing a snack. Have fun!’
‘ “Have fun”,’ said Marci, laughing. ‘She thinks we’re out here talking about our favourite bands or something.’
I held out my bread. ‘Do you seriously eat this?’
She laughed some more. ‘Of course we eat it. What else would you do with it?’
‘You could hang it from a tree and feed every bird in the neighbourhood.’
‘It’s good for you,’ she said, in a voice that meant she knew exactly how stupid that sounded, but then she took another big bite. She obviously enjoyed it.
I took a bite; it was rough and chewy. I tried to say something, but it took so long to chew I couldn’t form any words.
‘Mom’s been perfecting this recipe for years,’ said Marci. ‘You should have tried it when she first started – it was pretty heavy-duty.’
I finally managed to swallow, and shook my head in disbelief. ‘Holy crap, that’s like a buttered granola bar.’
‘We eat it all the time,’ said Marci. ‘It’s totally normal to us now. Anything else feels too flimsy. Wonder Bread’s practically tissue-paper compared to this.’
‘Wonder Bread’s like tissue paper compared to anything,’ I said, ‘but if I can reverse the metaphor, this is like titanium compared to Wonder Bread.’
‘That’s actually a simile, not a metaphor. You can tell because it has “like” in it.’
‘And this is actually a construction material, not a food,’ I said. ‘You can tell because it has wood pulp in it.’
‘Poor baby,’ said Marci, making an exaggerated frown. ‘Wood pulp is good for you – it’ll put hair on your chest.’
‘And you’ve been eating this for how long?’ I asked. ‘That’s horrifying.’
Marci laughed again. ‘Shut up!’
I heard a car engine rumbling closer, and looked out to the street just in time to see Marci’s dad pull up to the kerb in his squad car. I set the bread back down on the plate and tried to look innocent. I wasn’t afraid of cops, I actually quite liked them, but I’d never met one at his own house before. The last thing I needed was for Officer Jensen to freak out and tell me to stop corrupting his daughter.
‘Hey, Dad,’ said Marci, swallowing another bite of bread.
‘Hey, babe,’ said Officer Jensen, stepping out and closing the car door behind him. ‘And the venerable John Cleaver - it’s an honour.’
‘Hi,’ I said. I gave a small wave, uncertain what else to do.
‘What brings you here?’ he asked, stopping a few feet away with his hands on his hips. He seemed cheerful enough. Would he stay cheerful if he knew we were talking about the Handyman?
‘We’re talking about the Handyman,’ said Marci.
‘Cool,’ he said.
Well, I guess that answers that question.
‘We’re doing our own investigation,’ said Marci. She sighed, long and fake. ‘Just a little criminal profiling; you know, nothing big.’
Her dad laughed. ‘Well, John’s the one to do it with. A little too much personal experience with psychos – huh, kid?’
I’m sure he didn’t mean anything rude by it – he didn’t know I was a psycho too.
He folded his arms. ‘So, what do you have so far?’
Marci glanced at me quickly, then turned back to her dad. ‘How much do you work with the profilers assigned to the case?’
‘Not at all,’ he said. ‘I’m only marginally involved with the Handyman case.’
‘Well,’ she said, ‘we’ve got some stuff you might want to pass along.’ She glanced at me again. Why did she keep doing that? ‘For example, we know that killing makes her angry.’
So that’s why she keeps looking at me: she told him the thing I wanted to keep secret. I kept my face impassive. Did she tell because she didn’t trust me, or just because she didn’t understand my reasons for secrecy? It’s not like I could tell her my plan: that we could find the killer on our own, and then I could go after her myself. Having the police and the FBI running around following the same leads would make my plan a lot more difficult.
‘ “Her”?’ asked Officer Jensen. ‘You think the killer is female?’
Oh come on, she was giving away everything.
‘That’s another thing,’ said Marci, nodding. ‘We’re pretty sure she is.’
‘A woman who gets angry when she kills, but does it anyway,’ he said. ‘Interesting.’ He smiled, just barely in the corners of his mouth, and spoke again. ‘So what have you deduced about the hands?’
That smile meant something – it meant he knew something. They had evidence about the hands they hadn’t shared yet, or more likely new evidence that had just come in; if it was a secret, he wouldn’t have mentioned it. But would he share the whole thing? I had to frame my answer carefully.
But what could I possibly say, when the only real answer was, ‘The killer’s a demon who uses the stolen hands and tongue for an as-yet unknown supernatural purpose’?
I spoke slowly, cautiously. ‘The killer removes the hands and tongue very carefully, almost surgically. This is probably after the bout of rage that comes from the initial kill, because she’s obviously very calm when she does it. She takes off the hands with a hatchet, a single blow for each one, and the tongue with some kind of scalpel, I think.’
‘And what does he – or she, if you prefer – do with them?’
‘Most serial killers keep souvenirs of their kills,’ I said, trying to spin a plausible lie, ‘because they like to remember them. They can pull out a piece of jewelry or a driver’s licence even months later and relive the crime. Body parts don’t last that long, especially soft tissue like the tongue, so it’s more likely, statistically speaking, that the Handyman is eating them.’
‘Gross,’ said Marci.
I was positive that wasn’t the case here: if the demon was just looking for food, she wouldn’t need to be nearly this careful about it. There had to be some other purpose. But if I gave Officer Jensen a false answer, I gave him an opportunity to prove me wrong, and the natural human response to that opportunity would be to take it: to show what he knew. I had to hope it worked.
‘It’s the only explanation that has any real precedent,’ I said. ‘Jeffrey Dahmer, Ed Gein, Albert Fish; the ones who take body parts are usually cannibals. Usually. There are some we don’t know much about, like Charles Albright. No one ever found out what he did with the body parts he stole.’
‘What did he steal?’ asked Marci.
‘I knew I shouldn’t have asked.’
Officer Jensen wasn’t smiling any more, but he wasn’t frowning either. His face was flat, his mouth turned down; he wasn’t mad, he was . . . professional. I’d slipped him into lecture mode. He was going to take the bait.
‘So you think he eats the hands and tongue?’ he asked.
‘It seems likely,’ I said. I watched him carefully.
‘And what if I told you that he didn’t?’
Perfect! It was exactly like I’d hoped – they’d found some new evidence. Having a friend with ties to the police was awesome.
‘What have you found?’ I ask
He lowered his voice. ‘We got a call this morning: two hikers out by the lake came across a firepit, with the fire still burning; they got there just in time to hear someone running through the trees towards the road. A few seconds after that, a car started and drove away. They didn’t think anything of it until they smelled meat in the firepit, and poked it with a stick.’ He looked down at the sidewalk. ‘It was the Mayor’s hand.’
No, I thought, that doesn’t make any sense. She had to be saving the hands for some kind of special purpose. What purpose did it serve to save them, and then turn around and destroy them?
DAN WELLS SERIES:
Other author's books:
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