Chapter 9 Sugar lies
“Come with me £$%&%, I wanna show you something.” A little boy’s voice tells me. He’s pulling me by the wrist, I can hear his little padding breaths and my tiny feet plodding along unsteadily on the carpeted floor.
A smell of copper, a sploshing sound, vacant eyes staring at nothing.
Then I close my eyes, in my dream, I know I’m dreaming now. I’m floating, flying with the knife in my hand, hovering over Ruez as he lays under the plastic. Not moving like he’s under glass, some extravagant art exhibit, ‘el scumbag on ice’.
I can feel it now, the rush of his blood, the pumping rushing torrent wanting to get out but it doesn’t. Then I feel feet, my feet tapping on a hard concrete floor, a cool breeze from an extractor fan, a tight dark space lit by small hurricane lights on the floor.
A perfect little box frozen in nowhere. Floating through time and space to deliver one or a series of perfect moments, quick cuts. Swishes of a dark brush painting a canvas so esoteric only I can see it, feel it, it’s painted on the back of my skull. I can see it when I roll my eyes in the back of my head and I do.
Ecstasy, rapture. I turn the camera on and walk around the five chosen, the ones I handpicked.
And I want to so badly, the feeling, the whispering, the rushing dark wind taking up flight under my arms, catching them like wings. Making my steps light and clear, like a dancer, floating, striding towards them, straddling a pale horse of pure certainty. Knowing this is exactly where I’m supposed to be.
Such purpose, divine clarity, they must be set free, they must find some salvation.
The knife in my hand, its long and curved, it fluttered like a leaf, coming up and down so naturally, like fall and then in reverse and then it’s fall over again.
The old man in the wheel chair is laughing, laughing at me, he’s watching. His face changes to a hard animal stare and I can feel his eyes judging me, weighing me. I swallow and the thing inside whispers and coughs and laughs, muttering in a language only I understand. I feel an uncoiling and my hand moves on its own, I’m letting go. I can feel the silk of the mask on my face, catching my breath.
She’s watching, smile.
I wake up with a loud embarrassing fit of coughing in my chemistry class. I look dough eyed around the room and see nothing particularly familiar but rows of mocking eyes glaring at me. I wipe the drool from my face and try to pretend nothing happened. Sleeping in school, really Diana, what a cliché’, Diana the dozing drooler. This was not a good look for me. I peered out the window trying to steer my attention from the snickering I had caused.
Luckily my teacher was lost in some old textbook staring at it like it was the Dead Sea scrolls and all she had to decode it was a scientific calculator.
I felt dozy and groggy, all these late nights and busy afternoons, of course I knew it was the dreams that had me going in circles. Dreaming took up so much energy, why even bother? I longed for the nothingness to come back. A pure dark corner of a book to fold myself in and just be dead for an extended stretch of time. Hoping no predator would stumble on my helpless lifeless body hidden in the dark.
I was in the halls bending like a giraffe to drink water from a fountain, feeling all the bones in my neck, I felt stiff and sort of gross. Skin drawn over a papier mache skeleton, a head filled with dry wood shavings. “What do you want from me?” I heard my own words played back to me in my waking stupor.
“I want your help” I remember the old man saying. A wry sincerity there. But also something else, something he was desperately trying to hide. I’d known from the start, seen it from the first time, there was something there. He was like me, but a different breed all together, he was a killer, that was certain, but not the same brand. A cold blooded killer. There was no glee there, no joy, just brutal necessity.
“Why do you need my help?” I said, the words dancing on my teeth out of my mouth.
“Your father was just a lab geek, but he was like you- he was special- he could find ‘others’” He sighed like it upset him to be in this story in particular.
“Killers, he could think like them, it proved very useful to me and the agencies I represent.” He made a tutting sound, sucking his gums.
“NSA, CIA, FBI, pick one. I don’t care which.”
“But I can’t, I just-”
“Bullshit Diana, you’ve probably already met people just like you, they’ve washed your car, did your nails, served you tacos, gone to your school.” He was right of course, his patience was wearing thin, I was playing with him. As soon as I realised he wanted something from me, the ball was in my court and he was getting more and more animated. Well as animated as he could get confined to a wheelchair missing a good portion of his limbs.
“What do you want?”
“It’s not about what I want.” He said “What you want is not to have a spotlight shone on you for the rest of your life, and I can help you with that and all you need to do for me is-“
“What?” The word danced on the tip of my tongue. I knew exactly what he was asking but waiting made it better. The one inside the dark eavesdropper knew, it’s scales crawling with excitement, it shivered with anticipation. The low sibilant hum of its laugh raised all the hair on my arms.
“If you can bring me one, one like you, I can protect you.” His face didn’t move as he said it, but something in the way he said it, told me his words disgusted him. Even uttering them had tainted an already undoubtedly set of dirty hands. “Anyone will do.”
“It’s a test?” I smacked my lips, our voices speaking together in a joyful communion, a righteous unleashing. Someone was taking our training wheels off, ones we didn’t know existed. Us two monsters stumbling into the light of day, all the freedom we could eat. Lions hearing the Christian dinner bell, yum yum.
“It’s a test” He nodded smiling, happy that I was finally getting it.
“But how will you know I won’t just bring you a random person and how can I even ‘bring’ you someone? Look at me”. I said I ate my Wheaties, anything above that was work. Brain work was one thing but lifting weights was a whole different game.
“That’s not my problem” He snorted. “I’m not asking you to hogtie them and drop them outside an FBI field office. I just want proof, you bring me that and I know I can use you.”
“What about the one who’s chasing me?”
“What about him?”
“You still haven’t told me anything”
“The less you know about that the better.” He sighed and readjusted himself, I could swear releasing a dust cloud from under his seat. “Look, you let me worry about him alright.”
I would do just that. I felt crowded for now, maybe the old fart scared him off and he took his little trophies with him but that didn’t explain how spotless it was. Maybe I did it and the bodies were under a pile of Barbie parts in my closet. Wouldn’t that be a nice surprise.
There was a feeling like he’d hold off for now, give me some breathing room, let my mind do the work, do the stalking. Watch and wait for the right time to resurface but maybe it would be different the next time, maybe I’d be ready, or maybe not. Wishful thinking was getting me nowhere.
“Hey you gonna hog that fountain forever, you’re not even drinking!” A nasally voice behind me said. I moved aside as some curly haired frumpy girl shoved past me. An air of unearned superiority
I’d angled myself just right so I could see Wendy’s locker but just angle out so she couldn’t see me. I could duck behind a corner without seeming too out of place and when tubsy ubsy moved I could go back to pretending to drink and not see her.
“Sorry, just day dreaming” I said smiling pleasantly
Gilly Shreiner was something of a bully in this school, her own type of social outcast who took out her frustrations sexual or otherwise out on anyone less fortunate than herself. But unfortunately for her, having no sense of myself or any emotions whatsoever, her words or threats seemed to have no effect on me. Something she’d come to note. In this entire school wall to wall with freaks and geeks I was the only one too freakish even for her to pick on.
“Whatever” Said the large water bison as it dipped its curly head to drink, without taking its suspicious eyes off me for a second a rare and ignoble sight to be seen. I smiled even wider as she stood back up and wiped her mouth “You give me the creeps you know that Harrison?”
“Sorry to hear that – maybe if you got to know me-“
Sadly our blossoming friendship was cut short as she toddled off down the hall saying “Freak” under her breath and shooting me an accusatory glance.
Back to business then.
I knew Wendy’s schedule almost as well as my own, all those years of bumping into each other wouldn’t be for nothing. She wouldn’t catch me by surprise today, I would do all the surprising from now on.
But what pray tell was I doing watching my dear old friend, Wendy Vargas? Poisoner extraordinaire. Ooh too many hints, too many spoilers. Was I really that lazy? Did friendship matter that little to me that I would feed my own best friend to the fbiciansa or whatever he was or failing that my own dark back seat driver? I was under no illusion that my intentions were not that of patriotic civic duty. I could care less about Uncle Sam’s predilection for naughty young school girls or head hunting slashers except as an excuse to exercise my own demons, once around the park at least.
He specifically said I didn’t have to rope her in myself, I just needed proof. The best of intentions were at hand. I would just collect what evidence I could to clarify my own ‘special feel’ and then I’d deliver what I found to the man in the wheel chair. I remember he called himself ‘Brodsky’ or some such name, obviously not his first and probably not his last either. It mattered little, names come and go but friends and knives and poison are forever.
I really didn’t know what I was going to do, all this freedom for me and my dark double and yet I felt lost in it. I was a dog chasing cars, going round and round in circles, not even sure what I’d do with them when they were caught. Too much freedom had left me swooning, unable to cope. So in order to get on a stable path I’d fallen back on a tried and true staple. Horror movies.
Sad I know, breaking the tenants of serial killing. Thou shalt not besmurge death metal and knife collecting and what else? Video games and anime? I guess, but sorry horror movies, I had to throw you under the bus this time, maybe I’d do anime next time. Throw out a curveball and do my little pony.
I watched as she went into her locker, my face shrouded in cosmic darkness, a mask of glazed anticipation, pasted into a resting nice girl face as I perched over the drinking fountain hiding spot.
She looked about her locker as usual, feeling no alien hand at first. Touching up her lip gloss in the hanging mirror on the inside of her locker door. Then her mascara, then her eyeshadow, jesus, don’t girls usually do this in the bathroom? This is taking too long. Patience Diana.
Then a flash of something, I thought I’d hidden it too well for a second. She saw something, out of place, something slid in between a book, poking out like a mocking tongue in a cow’s skull.
She took the note out written as it was on basic lined note pad paper, could have come from anywhere. She looked the note over, it was cheesy I know, kids’ stuff but god it was fun, my heart was pounding out of my chest, butterflies in my stomach doing back flips. I could feel dark wings surrounding me, making me feel invisible, like I was a chameleon melting into the walls. My inside smile growing longer and toothier.
The note didn’t take too long to construct, just a little glue and some scissor work in a copy of Vanity Fair and it was done. “I KNOW WHAT YOU DID” in all caps, no punctuation. I told you it was cheesy and unoriginal. Oh poor Derivative Dunce Diana, you’ll never make it into the serial killer hall of fame with that rot.
I could almost see the notes written on the bottom of my slasher turn paper from my new teacher – “Plagiarism, see me.”
I know it was dumb, but I had to know. I mean I ‘knew’ but I had to know I knew, if that makes sense. I needed to see her face. I needed to see what she’d do. I had to know she knew. It had to fall into place somehow
She read it once, I could see her eyes following it lazily, reading it like she was reading the back of cereal box. And then her eyes opened again as her mind did some work. The cogs started spinning and she started to fill in her own blanks and she read it again and then a third time.
Then for a brief second I saw it, it was just a flash, something behind her eyes. Something that sent a wave of panic over her whole face. Lighting up with tiny micro-expressions sending shivers and cracks throughout the plaster wall of her makeup.
She knew exactly what the note meant.
Her eyes went hollow and I glimpsed the desperate little thing tunnelling deeper, thinking about who or what she’d have to burn down to save herself. Her mind reeling, how could anyone know, what mistake did I make? How was I going to plug this leak?
Hmm maybe I could just blackmail her, get some of that sweet cuban sandwich money. Nah too noir for my tastes.
His words were still in my head, or as best as I could remember them, there was a part of me skipping to all the good bits, hearing exactly what I wanted to hear.
“I can help you, I can teach you, all you need to do is follow my instruction and we both get what we want” Brodsky told me.
“What do I want?”
Hmm I thought about that as I watched her scrunch the note up with some caged frustration, she’d been so careful, so she’d thought. My dear friend. She put the note in the trash and sashayed out of the hall.
I stepped out of my dark corner and stood there trying to keep all the bees from buzzing in my head, put them all in a line, make them behave. This was good, it was silly but it was what I needed, I was one step closer to confirming my suspicions, my dark unwomanly intuition.
I needed more, a reaction to a note wouldn’t be enough, it was a enough for me, it was more than enough for the dark side car. The thing inside needed no rules, no rhyme or reason only a knife and a dark alley for which to slash in. I really needed a name for that.
Brodsky would need more, much more and I’d have to give it to him if I wanted to keep Dear Destructive Diana out of the light of the governmental microscope. There was something very Kafka-esque about the whole thing. Oh how well read you are Diana the government shrink will tell me as I sit on his plastic coach dressed all in orange.
I look terrible in orange.
I fight the shudder travelling down my spine started by the day dream of a permanent fashion faux pas. I spaced out for a second, I was going to go away into a dark hole for the rest of my life. To be poked and prodded by faceless strangers for the crime of thinking very naughty thoughts.
A smile crept across my face, a chuckle from the backseat telling me, whispering to me, I might as well move past the thoughts.
A gunshot plinked across the dry ragged ridges of the chino hills like a stone across a lake. The smell of hot cordite sending sharp shrill sensations to the darkness and beyond, some sense memory perhaps? Was it possible that I was not the first partner of my dark cohabitant?
Maybe it was like a common cold just passed on ad infinitum. Like some sexually transmitted infection and right now in the dark den it had made for itself it was listening to Vivaldi. Thinking about all the ‘useful idiots’ it ordered to the wall, getting some second hand murder thrill. I wonder if that worked, maybe it was better not to get your hands dirty, but where was the fun in that?
I chose the small James Bond-esque looking pistol this time and I took a haphazard shot at a can of Mr Pibb Paul perched on a rock. Missing completely and taking a pot shot at an innocent mound of dirt with a neat little ‘why me’ pop.
“Straighten up, and try to hold it firm but try not to tense up too much and look down the sights.” Paul said in my ear with a stern happy tone, he was really enjoying this, maybe more than sex. I wondered, having some measure of authority over me seemed to give him a rush I could only daydream of.
“Yes sir” I said letting out a little breathy laugh, cocking a half smile at no one in particular.
I took another few shots taking little baby kicks from the small pistol, bobbing up and down like an excited little prairie dog. Small calibre bullets ricocheting off the rock and dancing over the hills off into the sunset.
“Better” He said squinting at the dying sun, a wry smile on his clean shaven handsome face. “Try to measure your breathing, don’t hold your breath, just breath normally and don’t close one eye, you need them both, trust me”.
The sounds of cars and civilisation a good thirty minutes back that-a-way. The chino hills were a dry craggy post-apocalyptic wasteland, the perfect place for some kind of mid-movie montage. Which was exactly what I needed. I wasn’t leaving this little patch of nothingness until I was sure I could pick this thing up and kill whomever darted along my dark path. Leaving bread crumbs thereafter.
Admittedly it wasn’t really my idea, I couldn’t say I cared much for guns. Too –impersonal. I much preferred the idea of a nice clean knife- or a framing hammer. But not this greasy, noisy, messy, fiddly little thing. But it was all I could do to sate Paul.
I couldn’t put my finger on it, human emotions were of course, not my field of expertise, lacking any of my own. He was wounded somehow, itched, irked by something. His posturing and his inability to protect me or my honour at Ruez’s party had left an indelibly mark, an insult that needed answer and this was his answer. A way to ease his mind, smooth over the cracks of his ego.
Sort of a buy a man a fish versus give him a rod and teach him to fish bargain was struck. Except it wasn’t a man and the rod could slip neatly into a designer purse or a set of running bottoms. Maybe I could even get it to stay down the back of a pair of yoga pants; that might be tough to explain to my yogi.
This I guessed cheered him up, so much so I didn’t have the heart to tell him that Ruez already came back and was probably already decorating a castle wall. Or option number two in a decorative fish tank.
The less he knew the better. If that’s really what happened, it had appeared that I may have under-estimated how genuinely crazy I actually was. Auditory and visual hallucinations were of course the least of my worries.
“What are you waiting for, you think the can’s gonna shoot itself?”
I shot him a squinting accusatory look, shy of actually sticking my tongue out at him, it was a very teenage look I shot him. A measured humorous petulance I probably saw on some eighties teen movie and saved for just an occasion.
Breathing normally now, I looked down the sights again and took a single shot and knocked the can off the rock with a delightful tinkling noise. I heard a roar of applause from the dark crowd in my black infield, home run.
“Wow, you’re a natural” He said in a practiced tone.
Clichéd as it was it was nice to hear, obviously why people said it, I’d have to remember that if ever the roles were reversed. “Thanks for letting me take you out here, really eases my mind knowing-“
“I think we need some space” I wasn’t thinking it, it just came out.
“Why- mm I” He stumbled over his words like I’d damaged him somehow and he was punch drunk “Is it someone else?”
“Urgh kind of” Why did I say that? It was true but I could have said anything else, worries about finals, prep for the prom, a fatal case of mono. Anything but the partial truth veiled in an innuendo.
“I erm” He started breathing slow and couldn’t look at me.
“It’s not like that, it’s just, it’s sort of dangerous I guess, I dunno, I just don’t want you to get hurt.” Was that the truth? It was so hard to tell sometimes if I even knew what the truth was, I tended to meld the truth with whatever someone wanted to hear. It was hard to tell my own thoughts from something I was mirroring. Did I care for Paul? Why would I care if my masked got a chip, that was the point of a mask wasn’t it, to take all the slings and arrows. Wearable and replaceable.
“But I want to help” He said with a wounded smile, his eyes looking a little more moist than usual, like a big puppy dog.
“You already did” I said lifting the gun and a pathetic corner mouth smile with it.
“Diana, this is serious I-“ He lifted his hand and rested it on my upper arm for some reason.
Just at that moment an annoying chirping sound came out of my purse, saved by the bell. I had a feeling a torrent of mushiness was on its way and I very much wanted to escape the possibility of YA fiction dialogue. When I’d much rather slip into something a little more my style, maybe with annoying teen camp councillors turning up in pieces. I looked down at the gun again, or maybe a hard boiled action noir. I got my phone out of my purse, my ‘Aunt’ texted me.
“What is it?” He asked leaning in a little too close so I could feel the heat radiating off him.
“My Aunt says the cops want a statement from me, can you take me home?”
“A statement, they want to interrogate you, is it about that guy?” He suddenly got very fidgety.
“Err, earth to Paul, it might be something to do with finding severred heads in lockers”
“Oh right”. He sighed.
A quick silent car ride home, possibly hastened by a nap. I never usually needed much sleep but the rolling hills and the smell of cool crisp night air lulled me into a semi-comatose state. Couple that with a day of restlessness at school and some firearm hijinks on a big hill and I was like a three year old ready to fall out of a bunkbed.
Before I knew it I was in another silent bubble, albeit much smaller and boxier. The stink of Chinese plastic slowly melted and cooling during the day left out in the OC sun. My Aunt’s car fell short of Paul’s dad’s death mobile but it got you where you wanted to be. If a little angry at nature for coming in conflict with the internal combustion engine.
She started the little engine puttering and kept her eyes facing front as she usually did. I put my knees up near the dash trying to get something close to comfortable and sighed looking out the window.
She drove past the school this time and I looked over her through the driver’s side window as it wound past, so cold and dead.
The sun really meant it this time, it was summer but it was really done. Just poking up over the horizon about to descend at any minute and plunge us into blackness once again, cool clear blackness. A picnic blanket of night for the all the bugs to buzz under.
She took a right passed the school on to Culver drive cutting through Mason Park and then winding around it to take a right onto Harvard Avenue. Rancho san Joaquin golf course coming up over her shoulder.
It was then that the scenery got boring enough for me to want to break the silence I loved so much. Once you’ve seen one golf course, you’ve seen them all. Before it had been comfortable silence not that comfort really mattered. An uncomfortable silence is a projection of your own un-comfortability onto someone else. Having no empathy made that almost impossible for me but I felt like I had to ask.
So many questions, ill formed, poorly cut, buzzing around my skull trying to squeeze through the tiny corridor of my lips into the real world. Where to start? I had all of ten minutes to try to assemble my thoughts into some sort of orderly queue and then turn them into understandable English words. And not the ones and zeroes they were currently inhabiting in my computer-like brain.
“Did they say anything?” I said.
“Who?” I heard a drop of something in her voice. I was feeling around. Starting my attempts of groping in the dark.
“The cops” I said, putting on a cool girl voice, like we were gangsters or something, two kids on a field trip to the local clink.
“Oh- no” She said, unknotting her shoulders from her ears. “They just wanted to get your statement, your version of events for their files that’s all, routine stuff.”
“Will I have to go to court?”
“Probably not” She said.
“Oh” I said almost disappointed, my mind winding down, drawing a blank stare at the flat antiseptic green of the darkened golf course behind her head. I turned back to face front and then I thought screw it. “Do you know him?”.
Her mind did a little emergency stop. “H-who, Detective Cartwell? Erm not too well, I mean, I’ve seen him around the station a few times but he keeps to himself” She was fidgety and getting red, her fingers dancing on the steering wheel.
Breathing through my nose, looking at nothing in particular I let that sail a little, let it stew. That got my point across better than my fumbling with words could at that point. She knew exactly what I meant, or at least she knew I knew she was keeping things from me.
“Is it something-“ I said poking the bear a little more. “-Personal, Mary-Anne?
If that is your real name” I added for dramatic effect. But now come to think of it if that wasn’t her real name then maybe my name wasn’t my name either.
She swallowed and was glad to pull the handbrake hard like it was an ejector seat lever as we stopped in the Irvine police department parking lot. She hopped out of the light I had shone on her and into the cool cover of the night and the flood lights of the lot.
The Irvine police department was a simple yet modern brown building that seemed to hug the curvature of the earth. Opposite another park, so many parks in California, so many dog walkers. Something about the earth tones and the glass and the simplicity of the structure made it seem like a mole hill or some kind of modern art bunker.
We parked in a corner of a row of poplar trees which divided the parking lot. The parking lot itself was bookended by bricked openings in the concrete for which nature had sprouted. Although not without some help from city planners of course. It was getting dark but the lot was fairly populated. My aunt lead me through a covered walkway to the main entrance. Jangling her keys as she attempted to get them in her purse which was made of an uncooperative hemp derivative.
There was something…
Something off about it. The building was flat and squat and seemed fairly innocuous but nevertheless there was an innate stirring from the deep dark. I couldn’t really tell if it was a direct; sword of Damocles situation or just a learned cautiousness from those of the blue and righteous inclined. I got the distinct feeling I was being watched.
Maybe I was just tired.