Ben said, "Where is your vacuum sweeper?"
"What?" Linski was still groggy.
"What do you want that for?"
Ben threatened to backhand him.
"In the cellarway," Linski said.
Ben took the vacuum to the living room and swept up every piece of shattered mirror that caught his attention. Fifteen minutes later, satisfied with the job that he'd done, he put the sweeper away again, just as he had found it.
He secreted the damaged mirror frame in a corner of the garage, behind a stack of other junk.
"What are you doing?" Judge asked.
Ben didn't answer him.
In the living room again, he replaced the television on its stand, plugged it in, switched it on. A situation comedy was playing, one of those in which the father is always an idiot and the mother is little better. The kids are cute monsters.
Afraid that his spells of dizziness were soon going to progress to disorientation, Ben righted the overturned floor lamp and examined the metal shade. It was dented, but there was no way to tell that the dent was new. He unscrewed the damaged lightbulbs; along with the larger scraps of the broken mirror, he threw them into the plastic garbage bag on top of the bloody shirt and paper towels. He used the pages of a magazine to scoop up the smaller pieces, and threw those and the magazine into the garbage bag.
Returning to the kitchen, Ben said, "Where do you keep spare lightbulbs?"
"Go to hell."
Ben noticed that there were no red marks on the skin over Linski's carotid arteries. The pressure had been pinpoint and too briefly applied to produce bruises.
Without Linski's help, Ben required almost five minutes to find the spare lightbulbs in the back of a kitchen cabinet. He screwed two new 60-watt bulbs into the living-room lamp. The lamp lit when he switched it on.
In the kitchen again, he got a bucket of water, soap, ammoniated cleanser, and a carton of milk—his mother's favorite spot remover—from the refrigerator. Back in the living room, with several rags and a sponge, he worked on the few small smears of his blood that marred the carpet. When he was done, the faint stubborn stains that remained were all but invisible in the long dark-brown nap. The room wouldn't have to pass a full forensic investigation, anyway. As long as it appeared that nothing had happened there, the police wouldn't take a closer look.
He put the cleaning materials away. He threw the rags into the garbage bag with the other items.
After that, he stood in the center of the room and slowly searched it for traces of the fight. The only thing that might draw anyone's suspicion was the pale, soot-ringed square where the ornate mirror had hung.
Ben pulled the two picture hangers out of the wall; they left small nail holes behind. He used a handful of paper towels to wipe away most of the dirty ring, successfully feathering the dirt to blend the lighter and darker portions of the wall. It was still obvious that something had hung there, though one might now think that it had been removed several months ago.
After locating the pistol that had flown out of Linski's hand, Ben returned to the kitchen. "I have some questions to ask you."
"Fuck you," Linski said.
Ben put the muzzle of the pistol against the bridge of his captive's nose.
Linski stared. Then: "You wouldn't."
"Remember my war record."
Linski paled but still glared at him.
"The silencer's homemade. Is this something the average physics teacher does for a hobby?"
"It's part of what we learn in the Alliance. Survival skills."
"Real Boy Scouts, huh?"
"It may be funny to you, but someday you'll be glad we taught ourselves good defense. Guns, explosives, lock picking—everything we'll need for the day when the cities burn and we have to fight for our race."
"What does the Aryan Alliance have to do with this, anyway?"
Linski's manner changed. He grew less arrogant and nervously licked his lips.
"I've got to understand what's going on. I have to know if they're going to come after me," Ben said, "this whole crazy group. And if they are—why? What did I step into the middle of when I pulled you out of that car on lovers' lane?"
When Linski didn't reply, Ben put the muzzle of the pistol against his right eye, so he could look directly into the barrel.
Linski sagged in the chair. A sudden despair seized him. "It goes back a way."
"The Aryan Alliance."
"We were in our twenties then."
"Lora, Harry. Me."
"Karnes? His parents?"
"That's how we met. Through the Alliance."
The connection so surprised Ben that he wondered if he were hallucinating the conversation. The pain in his shoulder had spread to his neck and up the back of his skull.
"They fell on hard times. Harry out of work. Lora was ill. But they had ... the boy."
"He was a beautiful child."
Ben knew, didn't want to hear, had no choice but to listen.
"An exquisitely beautiful child," said Linski, clearly seeing the boy in his mind's eye. "Three, almost four years old."
Ben no longer pressed the pistol to Linski's eye. Now that he had started, the killer would need no encouragement to continue. His entire demeanor had changed—and he almost seemed relieved to be forced to this confession. He was unburdening himself for his own sake more than Ben's.
"I had some money, a trust fund. Lora and Harry needed money ... and I needed what they had."
"They sold him to you."
"They set a high price for a night now and then," Linski said.
"His own parents," Ben said, remembering Lora and Harry Karnes and the enigmatic needlepoint quotations on their living-room walls.
"A high price in more ways than one."
"How long did that go on?" Ben asked.
"Less than a year. Then ... remorse, you know."
"You realized it was wrong?"
"Them." Linski's voice, gray with despair, was briefly enlivened by sarcasm: "They had the money they needed, they were out of their financial trouble ... so they were in a better position to find their misplaced scruples. They denied me the boy and told me to stay away forever. He was such a little angel. Forever, they said. It was so difficult. They threatened to tell others in the Alliance that I'd molested Mikey without their knowledge. There are some members who would take me out in the woods and shoot me in the back of the head if they knew what I am. I couldn't risk exposure."
"And all these years ..."
"I watched Mikey from a distance," Linski said. "Watched him as he grew up. He was never again as beautiful as when he'd been so young, so innocent. But I was growing older and hated growing older. Year by year, I became more aware that I'd never have ... never have anyone ... anything as beautiful as Mikey again. He was always there to remind me of the best time of my life, the brief best time of my life."
"How did you manage to get the tutoring job? Why would he come to you of all people?"
"He didn't remember me."
"Yes. That was a terrible realization... knowing that every kindness I'd shown him was forgotten ... every tenderness forgotten. I think he forgot not just me but everything that happened ... being touched, being adored ... when he was four."
Ben didn't know if his worsening nausea was a result of his wound or of Linski's strange characterization of the molestation.
The killer sighed with regret. "What do any of us remember from that far back? Time steals everything from us. Anyway, when he needed a tutor, he came to me because I was on the list the school gave him. Maybe it was a subconscious recollection of my name that made him choose me. I'd like to think he still held some memory of me even if he wasn't aware of it. However, I think it was really just pure chance. Fate."
"So you told him what you'd done to him when he was little?"
"No. No, no. But I tried ... to reawaken his desire."
"It was focused on girls by then."
"He shunned me," Linski said, not with anger, not in a cold mad voice, but with deep sadness. "And then he told his parents, and they threatened me again. My hope was raised, you see ... raised and then shattered forever. It was so unfair to have it raised and then ... nothing. It hurt."
"Lora and Harry ... they must have suspected you killed him."
"Who're they to point a finger?" Linski said.
"They gave me your name."
Ben thought of the way in which they had directed him toward Linski: Harry pretending to recall the tutor's name only with effort, getting it only half right, and Lora correcting him. Too gutless to violate the sixth commandment and seek the vengeance they wanted, they had contrived to see in Ben the hand of God and had deviously pointed him toward this man.
"I should have passed judgment on Harry and Lora too," Linski said but without anger. "For letting the boy become what he became."
"It had nothing to do with what the boy had become. You killed him because you couldn't have him."
In a still, solemn voice, Linski said, "No. That isn't it at all. Don't you see? He was a fornicator. Don't you understand? I couldn't bear to see what Mikey had become over the years. Once so innocent ... and then just as filthy as anyone, as filthy as all of us, a filthy and callow fornicator. Seeing what he became ... in a way that soiled me, soiled the memories of what we'd once had. You can understand that."
"It soiled me," Linski repeated, his voice gradually growing softer. He seemed lost and far away. "Soiled me."
"And what you did with him ... that wasn't sin, wasn't filthy?"
War was waged to make peace. Abuse was love. Welcome to the funhouse, where strange mirrors reflect the faces of Hell.
Ben said, "Would you have killed the girl with him?"
"Yes. If I'd had time. But you interrupted. And then ... I just didn't care about her so much any more."
"She was a witness. If she'd seen anything ..."
"All your anger turned toward me."
"You being a hero," Judge said cryptically.
"You being the war hero ... what did that make me?"
"I don't know. What did it make you?"
"The villain, the monster," he said, and tears welled in his eyes. "Until you showed up, I was clean. I was judgment. Just passing judgment. But you're the big hero ... and every hero has to have a monster to slay. So they made me the monster."
Ben said nothing.
"I was only trying to preserve the memory of Mikey the way he was so long ago. The pure innocence that he was. Preserve it. Is that so bad?"
Finally, Linski sobbed.
Ben could not bear the weeping.
The killer huddled pathetically in the chair, trying to lift his taped hands so that he could bury his face in them.
The trial. The press. Unending publicity. Back into the attic room to escape. And Linski, huddled and pathetic, would never spend time in a prison. A mental hospital, yes, but not prison. Innocent by reason of insanity.
He put one hand on Linski's head, smoothed his hair.
Linski leaned into the comforting touch.
"Everybody's damaged," Chase said.
Linski looked up at him through tears.
"Some are just damaged too much. Far too much."
"I'm sorry," Linski said.
"Open wide for me."
Linski knew what was coming. He opened his mouth.
Ben put the muzzle between Linski's teeth and pulled the trigger. He dropped the gun and turned away from the dead man, walked into the hall, and opened the bathroom door. He put up the lid of the toilet bowl, dropped to his knees, and vomited. He remained on his knees for a long time before he could control the spasms that racked him. He flushed the toilet three times. He put the lid down and sat on it, blotting the cold sweat on his face with his gloved hands.
Having won the Congressional Medal of Honor, the most sacred and jealously guarded award his country bestowed, he had wanted nothing more than to return to the attic room in Mrs. Fielding's house and resume his penitence.
Then he met Glenda, and things changed. There was no question about living as a hermit any more, sealed off from experience. All that he wanted now was quietude, a chance for their love to develop, a life. Fauvel, the police, the press, and Richard Linski had not allowed him even that.
Chase rose and went to the sink. He rinsed his mouth out until the bad taste was gone.
He no longer had to be a hero.
He left the bathroom.
In the front room, he unwound the tape from Richard Linski's wrists and ankles. He let the body slide out of the chair and sprawl onto the floor.
When he considered the pistol, he realized that there would be three slugs missing from the clip. In the den he found a gun cabinet and drawers of ammunition. He reloaded the clip, leaving out only one round. In the kitchen, he put the gun on the floor, near the dead man's right hand.
In the living room, he searched for the two slugs that Judge had expended earlier. He found the one that had passed through his shoulder; it was embedded in the baseboard, and he dug it out without leaving a particularly noticeable mark. The other was on the floor behind the portable bar, where it had fallen after striking the bronze frame of the shattered bar mirror.
It was a quarter of twelve when he reached the Mustang and put the garbage bag and the cotton gloves into the trunk.
He drove past Linski's bungalow. The lights were on. They would burn all night.
* * *
Ben knocked twice, and Glenda let him into the motel room.
They held each other for a while.
"You're hurt." When she realized the nature of the wound, she said, "I'd better get you back to my place. You'll stay with me. I'll have to nurse you through this. We can't risk infection. Doctors have to report gunshot wounds to the police."
She drove the Mustang.
He slumped in the passenger seat. A great weariness overcame him—not merely a result of the experiences of the past couple of hours but a weariness of years.
Heroes need monsters to slay, and they can always find them—within if not without.