When he does speak again, his voice is quite different. Same voice, I suppose, but the tone, the timbre . . . very different. He’s dropped the disguise, the way he drops it every third letter he sends. “You shouldn’t make me angry, Gina.”
I hate hearing my old name in his mouth. I hate the way he almost purrs it.
I don’t respond, because I know not responding throws him off. I just watch him, sitting quietly in my chair, and suddenly he leans forward. The guard stationed on his side of the barrier focuses on him like a laser beam, and his hand hovers near the stun gun he’s carrying. I guess they don’t want to shoot prisoners in front of their family members.
Mel doesn’t seem to notice, or care, that the guard’s behind him. He lowers his voice even more to say, “You know, your Internet fans out there are still looking for you. It’d be a shame if they ever found you. I can’t imagine what they’d do. Can you?”
I let the silence hiss between us like a live wire, and then I slowly lean forward until I’m an inch away from the Plexiglas. Two inches from him. “The first hint I have that they know where I am, I will put an end to you.”
“Tell me how you plan to do that, Gina. Because I have the power here. I’ve always had the power.”
I just stare at him. He has the phone in his right hand, but his left hand is under the level of the tabletop. Blocked by his body from the guard, who is almost directly behind him. The guard is now looking at me, not at Mel.
I realize with a jolt that Melvin is massaging his crotch. It’s making him hard, thinking of how he could arrange my murder. I feel sick, but I do not feel horrified. I’m past that now. I can’t see his eyes, but I know the monster’s looking out.
And I’m revolted. I’m angry.
I keep my voice low as I say, “Take your hands off your dick, Melvin. Next time you piss me off, you won’t have one left. Understand?”
He gives me an untroubled smile. “If I die in here, everything I know goes online. I’ve made arrangements. Just like you have.”
I believe him. It’s the kind of thing Mel would do, one last spit from the grave. He wouldn’t care that it destroys his children—not anymore. He loved them once, I have no doubt of that, but it was a selfish kind of love. He was proud of them because he was proud of himself. He loved them because they loved him, without question or condition.
But in the end, there’s only Mel, and walking meat for Mel to use. I’ve learned that the hard way.
Violence is all he understands, which is why I’ve called in this favor from Absalom. I want Melvin to clearly feel what he risks when he comes after us. Fear of death is the only thing that can possibly persuade him to leave us alone. I don’t know if he can fear pain; I know he experiences it, but fear is a tricky thing with him. One thing is certain, though: he won’t want to die, or be maimed for life. Not unless it’s on his own terms. He takes control to sickeningly perverse levels.
“Here’s the deal,” I tell him. “You leave us alone and forget about coming after us, and I won’t have you fucked with an iron bar and beaten to death in the shower. How’s that?”
His lips are split and swollen, but he smiles, and as he does, the purplish skin stretches and a dark crimson split opens, threading a line of fresh blood down his chin. It drools on his broken fingers and wicks into the clean cotton bandage in a spreading red stain. That’s the monster, all over him. No longer in hiding at all. He doesn’t seem to notice, or care. “Sweetheart,” he says. “I never knew you had it in you, all this violence. It’s honestly sexy.”
“Let me tell you how this is going to go, Gina.” He likes saying my old name. Rolling it around in his mouth. Tasting it. Fine, let him have it. I’m not Gina anymore. “I know you. You’re no more mysterious than a windup toy. You’re going to go running back to your rural little patch and pray that I won’t follow through on my threat. You’ll dither around for a day, maybe two. Then you’ll realize you can’t count on my goodwill, and you’ll grab my children and run away, again. You’re destroying them, you know, with all this running and hiding. You think they won’t break? Brady’s going silently mad, and you don’t even see it. But I see it. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. And you’re going to run away and rip up their lives and doom them to another slide down the spiral—”
I hang up in the middle of his calm, eerily even diatribe, stand up, and stare at him through the dirty plastic. Other people have leaned against this barrier. I can see the sweaty outlines of handprints and the gauzy impression of lipstick.
The saliva hits the glass and rolls down. It makes it look like he’s crying, except for the sickening, constant smile on his face. For a moment I’m overcome with it all—the Lysol-and-sweat stink of this place. The sight of fresh blood dripping from his chin. The slick, awful way his voice still worms inside me and sets off tremors of fear and disgust and self-doubt, because I once trusted this thing.
He’s still talking into the receiver.
I don’t pick up the phone again, but I lean both palms on the counter and lock eyes with the monster. The man I married. The father of my children. The murderer of more than twelve young women, whose bodies undulated under the water as they slowly, slowly rotted away. One of them’s never been identified. She’s not even a memory.
I hate him with so much force that it feels like dying. I hate myself, too.
“I’m going to kill you,” I tell him, enunciating so clearly I know he can make out the words through the soundproofing. “You filthy fucking monster.” I’m well aware that they’re recording me through the camera set up high in its protective bubble overhead. I don’t give a damn. If I end up on the wrong side of this barrier someday, maybe that’s just the price I have to pay to protect my kids. I can live with that just fine.
He laughs. His lips part, his mouth opens, and I can see the raw, dark cavern of his mouth. I remember that he bit his victims with those teeth, chewed off pieces of them. I think that the look in his eyes must have been the same as he gives me now, straining to open up those puffy, bruised lids. It doesn’t look human at all.
“Run,” I see him say, enunciating it so I can lip-read. “Run away.”
I walk instead. Slowly. Calmly.
Because fuck him.
On the way back to the airport, I am shaking so hard from delayed reaction that I have to pull over and buy a sweet, sugary drink to calm my nerves; I drink it parked, then decide to take a detour. I’m wearing a large pair of sunglasses, a blonde wig, and a floppy hat, and it’s close to sunset when I park four blocks away and walk to the empty lot that used to be our family home.
It’s nice, this little park. Thick green grass, neatly maintained; there’s a border of bright flowers and a stark marble square with a fountain bubbling on top of it. I read the inscription, which says nothing about this being a murder scene at all; it only lists the names of Mel’s victims and a date, and at the end, PEACE BE IN THIS PLACE.
There’s a bench invitingly close. There’s another small wrought-iron table and chairs on a concrete patio ten feet farther off, where our living room might have been.
I don’t sit down. I don’t have the right in this place to make myself at ease. I just look, bow my head a moment, and walk off. If anyone’s watching, I don’t want them to recognize me or approach me. I just want to be a lady out for a walk on a nice day.
It feels like I’m being watched, but I think that’s the weight of guilt on my shoulders. Ghosts must surely still linger here, angry and hungry. I can’t blame them for that. I can only blame myself.
I am walking fast by the time I reach my car again, and I pull out a little too quickly, as if something is chasing me. It takes miles for me to feel secure again, and to strip off the suffocating, sweaty weight of the wig and hat. I keep the sunglasses on. The sunset’s too bright without them.
I pull over again and take out my tablet computer. The reception isn’t great, and I have to wait for the feeds to load, but there it is: my house, viewable from the front door, the back, the long view, the inside. I can see Sam Cade out back, hammering boards on the unfinished deck.
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