1. CHAPTER 1
  2. CHAPTER 1
  3. CHAPTER 1
  4. Chapter 1
  5. CHAPTER 10
  6. CHAPTER 10
  7. Chapter 10
  8. CHAPTER 10
  9. Chapter 11
  10. CHAPTER 11

FRIDAY NIGHT. DATE NIGHT IN MIAMI. AND believe it or not, Date Night for Dexter. Oddly enough, I had found somebody. What, what? Deeply dead Dexter dating debutante doxies? Sex among the Undead? Has my need to imitate life gone all the way to faking orgasms?

Breathe easy. Sex never entered into it. After years of dreadful fumbling and embarrassment trying to look normal, I had finally hooked up with the perfect date.

Rita was almost as badly damaged as I am. Married too young, she had fought to make it work for ten years and two kids. Her charming life mate had a few small problems. First alcohol, then heroin, believe it or not, and finally crack. He beat her, the brute. Broke furniture, screamed, and threw things and made threats. Then raped her. Infected her with some dreadful crack-house diseases. All this on a regular basis, and Rita endured, worked, fought him through rehab twice. Then he went after the kids one night and Rita finally put her foot down.

Her face had healed by now, of course. And broken arms and ribs are routine for Miami physicians. Rita was quite presentable, just what the monster ordered.

The divorce was final, the brute was locked up, and then? Ah, the mysteries of the human mind. Somehow, somewhy, dear Rita had decided to date again. She was quite sure it was the Right Thing to dobut as a result of her frequent battery at the hands of the Man She Loved, she was completely uninterested in sex. Just, maybe, some masculine company for a while.

She had searched for just the right guy: sensitive, gentle, and willing to wait. Quite a long search, of course. She was looking for some imaginary man who cared more about having someone to talk to and see movies with than someone to have sex with, because she was Just Not Ready for That.

Did I say imaginary? Well, yes. Human men are not like that. Most women know this by the time they've had two kids and their first divorce. Poor Rita had married too young and too badly to learn this valuable lesson. And as a by-product of recovering from her awful marriage, instead of realizing that all men are beasts, she had come up with this lovely romantic picture of a perfect gentleman who would wait indefinitely for her to open slowly, like a little flower.

Well. Really. Perhaps such a man existed in Victorian Englandwhen there was a knocking shop on every corner where he could blow off steam between flowery protestations of frictionless love. But not, to my knowledge, in twenty-first-century Miami.

And yetI could imitate all those things perfectly. And I actually wanted to. I had no interest in a sexual relationship. I wanted a disguise; Rita was exactly what I was looking for.

She was, as I say, very presentable. Petite and pert and spunky, a slim athletic figure, short blond hair, and blue eyes. She was a fitness fanatic, spending all her off-hours running and biking and so on. In fact, sweating was one of our favorite activities. We had cycled through the Everglades, done 5K runs, and even pumped iron together.

And best of all were her two children. Astor was eight and Cody was five and they were much too quiet. They would be, of course. Children whose parents frequently attempt to kill each other with the furniture tend to be slightly withdrawn. Any child brought up in a horror zone is. But they can be brought out of it eventuallylook at me. I had endured nameless and unknown horrors as a child, and yet here I was: a useful citizen, a pillar of the community.

Perhaps that was part of my strange liking for Astor and Cody. Because I did like them, and that made no sense to me. I know what I am and I understand many things about myself. But one of the few character traits that genuinely mystifies me is my attitude toward children.

I like them.

They are important to me. They matter.

I don't understand it, really. I genuinely wouldn't care if every human in the universe were suddenly to expire, with the possible exception of myself and maybe Deborah. Other people are less important to me than lawn furniture. I do not, as the shrinks put it so eloquently, have any sense of the reality of others. And I am not burdened with this realization.

But kidskids are different.

I had been dating Rita for nearly a year and a half, and in that time I had slowly and deliberately won over Astor and Cody. I was okay. I wouldn't hurt them. I remembered their birthdays, report-card days, holidays. I could come into their house and would do no harm. I could be trusted.

Ironic, really. But true.

Me, the only man they could really trust. Rita thought it was part of my long slow courtship of her. Show her that the kids liked me and who knows? But in fact, they mattered to me more than she did. Maybe it was already too late, but I didn't want to see them grow up to be like me.

This Friday night Astor answered the door. She was wearing a large T-shirt that said RUG RATS and hung below her knees. Her red hair was pulled back in two pigtails and she had no expression at all on her small still face.

Hello Dexter, she said in her too-quiet way. For her, two words were a long conversation.

Good evening, beautiful young lady, I said in my best Lord Mountbatten voice. May I observe that you are looking very lovely this evening?

Okay, she said, holding the door open. He's here, she said over her shoulder to the darkness around the couch.

I stepped past her. Cody was standing behind her, just inside, like he was backing her up, just in case. Cody, I said. I handed him a roll of Necco Wafers. He took them without taking his eyes off me and simply let his hand drop to his side without looking at the candy. He wouldn't open them until I was gone, and then he would split them with his sister.

Dexter? Rita called from the next room.

In here, I said. Can't you teach these children to behave?

No, said Cody softly.

A joke. I stared at him. What next? Would he sing someday? Tap dance in the streets? Address the Democratic National Convention?

Rita rustled in, fastening a hoop earring. She was rather provocative, considering. She wore a practically weightless light blue silk dress that fell to mid-thigh, and of course her very best New Balance cross-training shoes. I'd never before met, or even heard of, a woman who actually wore comfortable shoes on dates. The enchanting creature.

Hey, handsome, Rita said. Let me talk to the sitter and we're out of here. She went into the kitchen, where I heard her going over instructions with the teenage neighbor who did her babysitting. Bedtimes. Homework. TV dos and don'ts. Cell phone number. Emergency number. What to do in case of accidental poisoning or decapitation.

Cody and Astor still stared at me.

Are you going to a movie? Astor asked me.

I nodded. If we can find one that doesn't make us throw up.

Yuk, she said. She made a very small sour face and I felt a tiny glow of accomplishment.

Do you throw up at the movies? Cody asked.

Cody, Astor said.

Do you? he insisted.

No, I said. But I usually want to.

Let's go, said Rita, sailing in and bending to give each kid a peck on the cheek. Listen to Alice. Bedtime at nine.

Will you come back? Cody asked.

Cody! Of course I'll be back, Rita said.

I meant Dexter, Cody said.

You'll be asleep, I said. But I'll wave at you, okay?

I won't be asleep, he said grimly.

Then I'll stop in and play cards with you, I said.


Absolutely. High-stakes poker. Winner gets to keep the horses.

Dexter! Rita said, smiling anyway. You'll be asleep, Cody. Now good night, kids. Be good. And she took my arm and lead me out the door. Honestly, she murmured. You've got those two eating out of your hand.

The movie was nothing special. I didn't really want to throw up, but I'd forgotten most of it by the time we stopped at a small place in South Beach for a late-night drink. Rita's idea. In spite of living in Miami for most of her life, she still thought South Beach was glamorous. Perhaps it was all the Rollerblades. Or maybe she thought that anyplace so full of people with bad manners had to be glamorous.

In any case, we waited twenty minutes for a small table and then sat and waited another twenty for service. I didn't mind. I enjoyed watching good-looking idiots looking at each other. A great spectator sport.

We strolled along Ocean Boulevard afterward, making pointless conversationan art at which I excel. It was a lovely night. One corner was chewed off the full moon of a few nights ago, when I had entertained Father Donovan.

And as we drove back to Rita's South Miami house after our standard evening out, we passed an intersection in one of Coconut Grove's less wholesome areas. A winking red light caught my eye and I glanced down the side street. Crime scene: the yellow tape was already up, and several cruisers were nosed into a hurried splay.

It's him again, I thought, and even before I knew what I meant by that I was swinging the car down the street to the crime scene.

Where are we going? Rita asked, quite reasonably.

Ah, I said. I'd like to check here and see if they need me.

Don't you have a beeper?

I gave her my best Friday-night smile. They don't always know they need me, I said.

I might have stopped anyway, to show off Rita. The whole point of wearing a disguise was to be seen wearing her. But in truth, the small irresistible voice yammering in my ear would have made me stop no matter what. It's him again. And I had to see what he was up to. I left Rita in the car and hurried over.

He was up to no good again, the rascal. There was the same stack of neatly wrapped body parts. Angel-no-relation bent over it in almost the same position he'd been in when I left him at the last scene.

Hijo de puta, he said when I approached him.

Not me, I trust, I said.

The rest of us are complaining that we have to work on Friday night, Angel said. You show up with a date. And there is still nothing for you here.

Same guy, same pattern?

Same, he said. He flipped the plastic away with his pen. Bone dry, again, he said. No blood at all.

The words made me feel slightly light-headed. I leaned in for a look. Once again the body parts were amazingly clean and dry. They had a near blue tinge to them and seemed preserved in their small perfect moment of time. Wonderful.

A small difference in the cuts this time, Angel said. In four places. He pointed. Very rough here, almost emotional. Then here, not so much. Here and here, in between. Huh?

Very nice, I said.

And then lookit this, he said. He nudged aside the bloodless chunk on top with a pencil. Underneath another piece gleamed white. The flesh had been flayed off very carefully, lengthwise, to reveal a clean bone.

Why he would do like that? Angel asked softly.

I breathed. He's experimenting, I said. Trying to find the right way. And I stared at the neat, dry section until I became aware that Angel had been looking at me for a very long moment.

Like a kid playing with his food, is how I described it to Rita when I returned to the car.

My God, Rita said. That's horrible.

I think the correct word is heinous, I said.

How can you joke about it, Dexter?

I gave her a reassuring smile. You kind of get used to it in my line of work, I said. We all make jokes to hide our pain.

Well, good lord, I hope they catch this maniac soon.

I thought of the neatly stacked body parts, the variety of the cuts, the wonderful total lack of blood. Not too soon, I said.

What did you say? she asked.

I said, I don't think it will be too soon. The killer is extremely clever, and the detective in charge of the case is more interested in playing politics than in solving murders.

She looked at me to see if I was kidding. Then she sat quietly for a while as we drove south on U.S. 1. She didn't speak until South Miami. I can never get used to seeing . . . I don't know. The underside? The way things really are? The way you see it, she finally said.

She took me by surprise. I had been using the silence to think about the nicely stacked body parts we had just left. My mind had been hungrily circling the clean dry chopped-up limbs like an eagle looking for a chunk of meat to rip out. Rita's observation was so unexpected I couldn't even stutter for a minute. What do you mean? I managed to say at last.

She frowned. II'm not sure. Just We all assume that . . . things . . . really are a certain way. The way they're supposed to be? And then they never are, they're always more . . . I don't know. Darker? More human. Like this. I'm thinking, of course the detective wants to catch the killer, isn't that what detectives do? And it never occurred to me before that there could be anything at all political about murder.

Practically everything, I said. I turned onto her street and slowed down in front of her neat and unremarkable house.

But you, she said. She didn't seem to notice where we were or what I had said. That's where you start. Most people would never really think it through that far.

I'm not all that deep, Rita, I said. I nudged the car into park.

It's like, everything really is two ways, the way we all pretend it is and the way it really is. And you already know that and it's like a game for you.

I had no idea what she was trying to say. In truth, I had given up trying to figure it out and, as she spoke, I'd let my mind wander back to the newest murder; the cleanness of the flesh, the improvisational quality of the cuts, the complete dry spotless immaculate lack of blood

Dexter Rita said. She put a hand on my arm.

I kissed her.

I don't know which one of us was more surprised. It really wasn't something I had thought about doing ahead of time. And it certainly wasn't her perfume. But I mashed my lips against hers and held them there for a long moment.

She pushed away.

No, she said. I No, Dexter.

All right, I said, still shocked at what I had done.

I don't think I want toI'm not ready for Damn it, Dexter, she said. She unclipped her seat belt, opened the car door, and ran into her house.

Oh, dear, I thought. What on earth have I done now?

And I knew I should be wondering about that, and perhaps feeling disappointed that I had just destroyed my disguise after a year and a half of hard maintenance.

But all I could think about was that neat stack of body parts.

No blood.

None at all.

: 2015-09-13; : 4;

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