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CHAPTER 9. I WOKE UP COVERED WITH SWEAT, NOT SURE WHERE I was, and absolutely certain that another murder was about to happen
I WOKE UP COVERED WITH SWEAT, NOT SURE WHERE I was, and absolutely certain that another murder was about to happen. Somewhere not so far away he was searching for his next victim, sliding through the city like a shark around the reef. I was so certain I could almost hear the purr of the duct tape. He was out there, feeding his Dark Passenger, and it was talking to mine. And in my sleep I had been riding with him, a phantom remora in his great slow circles.
I sat up in my own little bed and peeled away the twisted sheets. The bedside clock said it was 3:14. Four hours since I'd gone to bed, and I felt like I'd been slogging through the jungle the entire time with a piano on my back. I was sweaty, stiff, and stupid, unable to form any thoughts at all beyond the certainty that it was happening out there without me.
Sleep was gone for the night, no question. I turned on the light. My hands were clammy and trembling. I wiped them on the sheet, but that didn't help. The sheets were just as wet. I stumbled into the bathroom to wash my hands. I held them under the running water. The tap let out a stream that was warm, room temperature, and for a moment I was washing my hands in blood and the water turned red; just for a second, in the half-light of the bathroom, the sink ran bloodred.
I closed my eyes.
The world shifted.
I had meant to get rid of this trick of light and my half-sleeping brain. Close the eyes, open them, the illusion would be over and it would be simple clean water in my sink. Instead, it was like closing my eyes had opened a second set of eyes into another world.
I was back in my dream, floating like a knife blade above the lights of Biscayne Boulevard, flying cold and sharp and homing in on my target and—
I opened my eyes again. The water was just water.
But what was I?
I shook my head violently. Steady, old boy; no Dexter off the deep end, please. I took a long breath and peeked at myself. In the mirror I looked the way I was supposed to look. Carefully composed features. Calm and mocking blue eyes, a perfect imitation of human life. Except that my hair stuck up like Stan Laurel's, there was no sign of whatever it was that had just zipped through my half-sleeping brain and rattled me out of my slumber.
I carefully closed my eyes again.
Plain, simple, darkness. No flying, no blood, no city lights. Just good old Dexter with his eyes closed in front of the mirror.
I opened them again. Hello, dear boy, so good to have you back. But where on earth have you been?
That, of course, was the question. I have spent most of my life untroubled by dreams and, for that matter, hallucinations. No visions of the Apocalypse for me; no troubling Jungian icons burbling up from my subconscious, no mysterious recurring images drifting through the history of my unconsciousness. Nothing ever goes bump in Dexter's night. When I go to sleep, all of me sleeps.
So what had just happened? Why were these pictures appearing to me?
I splashed water on my face and pushed my hair down. That did not, of course, answer the question, but it made me feel a little better. How bad could things be if my hair was neat?
In truth, I did not know. Things could be plenty bad. I might be losing all, or many, of my marbles. What if I had been slipping into insanity a piece at a time for years, and this new killer had simply triggered the final headlong fall into complete craziness? How could I hope to measure the relative sanity of somebody like me?
The images had looked and felt so real. But they couldn't be; I had been right here in my bed. Yet I had almost been able to smell the tang of salt water, exhaust, and cheap perfume floating over Biscayne Boulevard. Completely real—and wasn't that one of the signs of insanity, that the delusions were indistinguishable from reality? I had no answers, and no way to find any. Talking to a shrink was out of the question, of course; I would frighten the poor thing to death, and he might feel honor bound to have me locked away somewhere. Certainly I could not argue with the wisdom of that idea. But if I was losing my hold on sanity as I had built it, it was all my problem, and the first part of the problem was that there was no way to know for sure.
Although, come to think of it, there was one way.
Ten minutes later I was driving past Dinner Key. I drove slowly, since I didn't actually know what I was looking for. This part of the city slept, as much as it ever did. A few people still swirled across the Miami landscape: tourists who'd had too much Cuban coffee and couldn't sleep. People from Iowa looking for a gas station. Foreigners looking for South Beach. And the predators, of course—thugs, robbers, crackheads; vampires, ghouls, and assorted monsters like me. But in this area, at this time, very few of them altogether. This was Miami deserted, as deserted as it got, a place made lonely by the ghost of the daytime crowd. It was a city that had whittled itself down to a mere hunting ground, without the gaudy disguises of sunlight and bright T-shirts.
And so I hunted. The other night eyes tracked me and dismissed me as I passed without slowing. I drove north, over the old drawbridge, through downtown Miami, still not sure what I was looking for and still not seeing it—and yet, for some uncomfortable reason, absolutely sure that I would find it, that I was going in the right direction, that it was waiting for me ahead.
Just beyond the Omni the nightlife picked up. More activity, more things to see. Whooping on the sidewalks, tinny music coming and going through the car windows. The night girls came out, flocks of them on the street corners, giggling with each other, or staring stupidly at the passing cars. And the cars slowed to stare back, gawking at the costumes and what they left uncovered. Two blocks ahead of me a new Corniche stopped and a pack of the girls flew out of the shadows, off the sidewalk, and into the street, surrounding the car immediately. Traffic stumbled to a half stop, horns blattered. Most of the drivers sat for a minute, content to watch, but an impatient truck pulled around the knot of cars and into the oncoming lane.
A refrigerator truck.
This was nothing, I said to myself. Nighttime yogurt delivery; pork link sausages for breakfast, freshness guaranteed. A load of grouper headed north or to the airport. Refrigerated trucks moved through Miami around the clock, even now, even in the night hours— This it was and nothing more.
But I put my foot down on the gas pedal anyway. I moved up, in and out of traffic. I got within three cars of the Corniche and its besieged driver. Traffic stopped. I looked ahead at the truck. It was running straight up Biscayne, moving into a series of traffic lights. I would lose him if I got too far behind. And I suddenly wanted very badly not to lose him.
I waited for a gap in traffic and quickly nosed out into the oncoming lane. I was around the Corniche and then speeding up, closing on the truck. Trying not to move too fast, not to be conspicuous, but slowly closing the space between us. He was three traffic lights ahead, then two.
Then his light turned red and before I could gloat and catch up, mine did, too. I stopped. I realized with some surprise that I was chewing on my lip. I was tense; me, Dexter the Ice Cube. I was feeling human anxiety, desperation, actual emotional distress. I wanted to catch up to this truck and see for myself, oh how I wanted to put my hand on the truck, open the door to the cabin, look inside—
And then what? Arrest him single-handed? Take him by the hand to dear Detective LaGuerta? See what I caught? Can I keep him? It was just as likely that he would keep me. He was in full hunting mode, and I was merely tagging along behind like an unwanted little brother. And why was I tagging along? Did I just want to prove to myself that it was him, the him, that he was out here prowling and I was not crazy? And if I was not crazy—how had I known? What was going on in my brain? Perhaps crazy would be a happier solution after all.
An old man shuffled in front of my car, crossing the street with incredibly slow and painful steps. For a moment I watched him, marveling at what life must be like when you moved that slow, and then I glanced ahead at the refrigerator truck.
His light had turned green. Mine had not.
The truck accelerated quickly, moving north at the upper end of the speed limit, taillights growing smaller as I watched, waiting for my light to change.
Which it refused to do. And so grinding my teeth—steady, Dex!—I ran the light, narrowly missing the old man. He didn't look up or break step.
The speed limit on this stretch of Biscayne Boulevard was thirty-five. In Miami that means if you go under fifty they will run you off the road. I pushed up to sixty-five, moving through the sparse traffic, desperate now to close the distance. The lights of the truck winked out as he went around a curve—or had he turned? I moved up to seventy-five and roared past the turn for the 79th Street Causeway, around the bend by the Publix Market, and into the straightaway, searching frantically for the truck.
And saw it. There—ahead of me—
Moving toward me.
The bastard had doubled back. Did he feel me on his tail? Smell my exhaust drifting up on him? No matter—it was him, the same truck, no question, and as I raced past him he turned out onto the causeway.
I squealed into a mall parking lot and slowed, turning the car and accelerating back out onto Biscayne Boulevard, southbound now. Less than a block and I turned onto the causeway, too. Far, far in front, nearly to the first bridge, I saw the small red lights, winking, mocking me. My foot crashed down on the gas pedal and I charged ahead.
He was on the up-slope of the bridge now, picking up speed, keeping the distance steady between us. Which meant he must know, must realize somebody was following. I pushed my car a little harder; I got closer, little by little, a few lengths closer.
And then he was gone, over the hump at the top of the bridge and down the far side, heading much too fast into North Bay Village. It was a heavily patrolled area. If he went too fast he would be seen and pulled over. And then—
I was up the bridge and onto the hump now and below me—
I slowed, looking in all directions from the vantage point at the top of the bridge. A car moved toward me—not the truck, just a Mercury Marquis with one smashed fender. I started down the far side of the bridge.
At the bottom of the bridge North Bay Village split off the causeway into two residential areas. Behind a gas station on the left a row of condos and apartments made a slow circle. To the right were houses; small but expensive. Nothing moved on either side. There were no lights showing, no sign of anything, neither traffic nor life.
Slowly I moved through the village. Empty. He was gone. On an island with only one through street, he had lost me. But how?
I circled back, pulled off onto the shoulder of the road and closed my eyes. I don't know why; perhaps I hoped I might see something again. But I didn't. Just darkness, and little bright lights dancing on the inside of my eyelids. I was tired. I felt stupid. Yes, me; ditzy Dexter, trying to be Boy Wonder, using my great psychic powers to track down the evil genius. Pursuing him in my supercharged crime-fighting vehicle. And in all likelihood he was simply a stoked-up delivery boy playing macho head games with the only other driver on the road that night. A Miami thing that happened every day to every driver in our fair city. Chase me, you can't catch me. Then the uplifted finger, the waved gun, ho-hum and back to work.
Just a refrigerated truck, nothing more, now speeding away across Miami Beach with the heavy metal station ripping from the radio speaker. And not my killer, not some mysterious bond pulling me out of bed and across the city in the dead of night. Because that was just too silly for words, and far too silly for level-headed empty-hearted Dexter.
I let my head drop onto the steering wheel. How wonderful to have such an authentic human experience. Now I knew what it was like to feel like a total idiot. I could hear the bell on the drawbridge in the near distance, clanging its warning that the bridge was about to go up. Ding ding ding. The alarm bell on my expired intellect. I yawned. Time to go home, go back to bed.
Behind me an engine started. I glanced back.
From behind the gas station at the foot of the bridge he came out fast in a tight circle. He passed me fishtailing and still accelerating and through the blur of motion in the driver's window a shape spun at me, wild and hard. I ducked. Something thumped into the side of my car, leaving behind it the sound of an expensive dent. I waited for a moment, just to be safe. Then I raised my head and looked. The truck was speeding away, crashing the wooden barrier at the drawbridge and powering through, leaping across the bridge as it started to raise up, and making it easily to the other side as the bridge keeper leaned out and yelled. Then the truck was gone, down the far side of the bridge and back into Miami, far away on the other side of the widening gap as the bridge went up. Gone, hopelessly gone, gone as if he had never been. And I would never know if it had been my killer or just another normal Miami jerk.
I got out of my car to look at the dent. It was a big one. I looked around to see what he had thrown.
It had rolled ten or fifteen feet away and wobbled out into the middle of the street. Even from this distance there was no mistaking it, but just to make sure I was absolutely without any doubt, the headlights from an oncoming car lit it up. The car swerved and smashed into a hedge and over the sound of its now-constant horn I could hear the driver screaming. I walked over to the thing to be sure.
Yes indeed. That's what it was.
A woman's head.
I bent to look. It was a very clean cut, very nice work. There was almost no blood around the lip of the wound.
“Thank God,” I said, and I realized I was smiling—and why not?
Wasn't it nice? I wasn't crazy after all.
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