Once again I sit outside the house of the mother of Edward Fender. The time is eleven-thirty at night. Christmas is ten days away. Up and down the block cheap-colored lights, like so many out-of-season Eas?ter eggs that have been soaked in Day-Glo paint, add false gaiety to a neighborhood that should have been on the late Soviet Union's first-strike priority list. Sitting in Gary and Bill's patrol car, I allow my senses to spread out, in and outside of the Fender home, around the block. My hearing is my greatest ally. Even the movements of worms through the soil a quarter of a mile away come to my sensitive ears. Mrs. Fender is still awake, sitting in her rocking chair and read?ing her magazines, watching a save-your-soul-before-
Armageddon Jesus program. She is definitely alone in the house, and I am pretty sure Eddie is not in the immediate neighborhood.
This puzzles me. With the police security near the warehouse and his confidence in the cleverness of his Yaksha hiding place, I can understand why Eddie left the ice-cream truck unguarded. But I cannot under?stand why he has left his mother wide open for me to take hostage. By now he must have figured out that I found the warehouse through her. Again, I am wary of a trap.
With Yaksha's blood in my system, my strength is back to a hundred percent, maybe even at a hundred and twenty percent, although I know I am still no match for Eddie, who drew upon Yaksha's blood many times over several weeks. Unfortunately, my state of mind is shaky. After Yaksha drew his last breath, I weighted the canvas bag that covered his lower portion with stones and waded out into the water and sank him. I made certain his remains are now safe from harm. He will never be found. Yet he has left me with a riddle I can't solve. Krishna told him his story five thousand years ago. Why was Yaksha so sure Krishna gave it to him to give to me for this particular emergency? For the life of me-and my life is very large-I can't see how I am going to destroy Eddie by dancing for him. For me, the word faith is as abstract as the word God. I trust that everything is going to work out for the best about as much as I trust that Santa Claus is going to bring me a bottle of blood for Christmas.
What can I do? I have no real plan except the obvious. Take Mrs. Fender hostage and force Eddie to come running, and then put a bullet in his brain when I get the chance. On my lap rests Officer Gary's revolver. Or is it Officer Bill's? It doesn't matter. It was in their car and it has six bullets in it. After tucking it in the front of my pants under my shirt, I get out of the car and walk toward the house.
I don't knock. Why bother? She will not open the door for me. Grabbing the knob, I break the lock and am on her before she can reach for the remote control on her TV. Modem Americans are so into their remotes. They treat them as if they were hand phasers or something, capable of leveling any obstacles. Fear and loathing distort her already twisted features. Yet the emotions are a sign that her brain has cleared. I am so happy for her, really. Grabbing her by the throat, I shove her up against the wall and breathe cold vampire air in her ugly face. Before burying Yaksha in the sea, I stripped down to nothing, but I was still wet when I put my clothes back on. The pants Joel bought for me drip on the wood floor as I tighten my grip on the old lady. Her weird gray eyes peer into mine, and as they do her expression changes. The bondage scares her but excites her as well. What a family.
"Where's your son?" I ask.
She coughs. "Who are you?"
"One of the good guys. Your son's one of the bad guys." I throttle her a bit. "Do you know where he is?"
She shakes her head minutely, turning a little blue. "No."
She is telling me the truth. "Have you seen him tonight?"
Another genuine reply. Odd. I allow a grim smile. "What did Eddie do as a kid for fun? Did he stick firecrackers in frogs' mouths and blow their heads off? Did he pour gasoline on cats and light them on fire? Did you buy him the gasoline? Did you buy him the cats? Really, I want to know what kind of mother it takes to make that kind of son."
She momentarily masters her fear and grins. The expression is like a crack in swamp mud, and smells just as foul.
"My Eddie is a good boy. He knows what to do with girls like you."
"Your boy has never met a girl like me before." I throw her back in her chair. "Sit there and keep your mouth shut." Taking the chair across from her, I sit down. "We are going to wait for Eddie."
"What are you going to do to him?"
I pull out my revolver. "Kill him."
She hardly blinks. In fact, on the whole she is remarkably accepting of my extraordinary strength. Her boy must have enlightened her on the new kids in town. Her fear continues to remain strong, but there is a cockiness to her as well. She nods as if to herself, her arthritic neck creaking like a termite-infested board.
"My boy is smarter than you. I think you'll be the one killed."
Turning off the TV with the remote, I cross my legs.
"If he's so smart, then why didn't he run away from home the day he learned to walk?"
She doesn't like that. "You're going to be sorry you said that."
I am already bored with her. "We shall see."
An hour later the phone rings. Since I hope to scare Eddie into rushing to the house, there is no point in having the mother answer and pretending that I am not here. Eddie will not fall for so simple a ruse anyway. I pick up the phone.
"Hello?" I say.
It is Joel and he is in serious trouble. In an instant I realize that after I left him, he went to this house, where he was abducted by Eddie. Eddie was here while I was rescuing Yaksha, probably outside hid?ing, probably confident I would return here the first chance I got. But when I didn't show, he took the man who rescued me from the flames, no doubt thinking he could use him as leverage with me. In a moment I understand that the chances of Joel living through the night are less than one in a hundred.
"He is nearby," I say.
Joel is scared but still in control. "Yes."
"He has made his point as far as you are concerned. Put him on the line."
"I am expendable," Joel says. "You understand that?"
"We're both expendable," I reply.
Eddie comes on the line a moment later. His voice is liquid grease. He sounds confident, as well he should.
"Hello, Sita. How's my mother?"
"She's fine, busy boasting about her son."
"Have you hurt her?"
"Thinking about it. Have you hurt Joel?"
"Just broke his arms is all. Is he another boyfriend of yours? That last one of yours didn't last so long."
I strain to sound casual. "You win some, you lose some. When you're as old as I am, one is as good as another."
Eddie giggles. "I don't know about that. Right now I don't think you could do any better than me."
I want to antagonize him, make him act foolishly. "Are you making a pass at me, Eddie? Is that what this is all about? You want to rule the world so you can be sure to have a date for Friday night? You know, I talked to your old employer and heard what your idea of a good time is. I swear, with your social graces, I wouldn't be surprised if you're still a virgin."
He does not like that. It is good, I think, to find sensitive nerves before we again meet in battle. For all of Eddie's intelligence, he seems to have a funda?mental immaturity when it comes to dealing with people, and I don't mean that he is simply psychotic. Many psychotics I have known have had excellent interpersonal skills-when they weren't murdering people. Eddie is a sorrier case. He was the nerd in the high school library at lunch picking at his zits and fantasizing about rape every time a cheerleader walked by. His tone turns mean and nasty.
"Let's cut to the chase," he says. "I want you to meet me at Santa Monica Pier in thirty minutes. If you are not there by then, I will begin to kill your friend. I will do so slowly just in case a flat tire has delayed your arrival. It's possible you still might be able to recognize him if you're less than twenty minutes late. My mother, of course, is to be left in her home unharmed." He pauses for effect "Do you understand these instructions?"
I snort. "Oh, gimme a break. I don't jump when you say jump. You have nothing with which to threaten me. Such a thing does not exist on this planet. You want to talk to me, you get here within thirty minutes. If not, I will hang your mother's head on the front door in place of a Christmas wreath. The red color will be in keeping with the holiday spirit." I pause. "Do you understand my instructions, you foul-mouthed pervert?"
He is angry. "You're bluffing!"
"Eddie, you should know me better than that by now."
With that I hang up the phone. He will come, I am sure of it. But I have to wonder if I want him to bring Joel, if another standoff with an important life hang?ing in the balance will not cause me to falter again. Almost, I pray that he kills Joel before I am forced to kill him.
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