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I KNEW WHEN I WALKED IN MY FRONT DOOR AFTER work on Monday that something was wrong. Someone had been in my apartment.
The door was not broken, the windows were not jimmied, and I couldn't see any signs of vandalism, but I knew. Call it sixth sense or whatever you like. Someone had been here. Maybe I was smelling pheromones the intruder had left in my air molecules. Or perhaps my La-Z-Boy recliner's aura had been disturbed. It didn't matter how I knew: I knew. Somebody had been in my apartment while I had been at work.
That might seem like no big deal. This was Miami, after all. People come home every day to find their TVs gone, their jewelry and electronics all taken away; their space violated, their possessions rifled, and their dog pregnant. But this was different. Even as I did a quick search through the apartment, I knew I would find nothing missing.
And I was right. Nothing was missing.
But something had been added.
It took me a few minutes to find it. I suppose some work-induced reflex made me check the obvious things first. When an intruder has paid a visit, in the natural course of events your things are gone: toys, valuables, private relics, the last few chocolate chip cookies. So I checked.
But all my things were unmolested. The computer, the sound system, the TV and VCR—all right where I had left them. Even my small collection of precious glass slides was tucked away on the bookcase, each with its single drop of dried blood in place. Everything was exactly as I had left it.
I checked the private areas next, just to be sure: bedroom, bathroom, medicine cabinet. There were all fine, too, all apparently undisturbed, and yet there was a feeling suspended in the air over every object that it had been examined, touched, and replaced—with such perfect care that even the dust motes were in their proper positions.
I went back into the living room, sank into my chair, and looked around, suddenly unsure. I had been absolutely positive that someone had been here, but why? And who did I imagine was so interested in little old me that they would come in and leave my modest home exactly as it had been? Because nothing was missing, nothing disturbed. The pile of newspapers in the recycle box might be leaning slightly to the left—but was that my imagination? Couldn't it have been a breeze from the air conditioner? Nothing was really different, nothing changed or missing; nothing.
And why would anyone break into my apartment at all? There was nothing special about it—I'd made sure of that. It was part of building my Harry Profile. Blend in. Act normal, even boring. Don't do anything or own anything that might cause comment. So had I done. I had no real valuables other than a stereo and a computer. There were other, far more attractive targets in the immediate neighborhood.
And in any case, why would somebody break in and then take nothing, do nothing, leave no sign? I leaned back and closed my eyes; almost certainly I was imagining the whole thing. This was surely just jangled nerves. A symptom of sleep deprivation and worrying too much about Deborah's critically injured career. Just one more small sign that Poor Old Dexter was drifting off into Deep Water. Making that last painless transition from sociopath to psychopath. It is not necessarily crazy in Miami to assume that you are surrounded by anonymous enemies—but to act like it is socially unacceptable. They would have to put me away at last.
And yet the feeling was so strong. I tried to shake it off: just a whim, a twitch of the nerves, a passing indigestion. I stood up, stretched, took a deep breath, and tried to think pretty thoughts. None came. I shook my head and went into the kitchen for a drink of water and there it was.
There it was.
I stood in front of the refrigerator and looked, I don't know how long, just staring stupidly.
Attached to the refrigerator, hair pinned to the door with one of my small tropical-fruit magnets, was a Barbie doll's head. I did not remember leaving it there. I did not remember ever owning one. It seemed like the kind of thing I would remember.
I reached to touch the little plastic head. It swung gently, thumping against the freezer door with a small thack sound. It turned in a tiny quarter circle until Barbie looked up at me with alert, Collie-dog interest. I looked back.
Without really knowing what I was doing or why, I opened the freezer door. Inside, lying carefully on top of the ice basket, was Barbie's body. The legs and arms had been pulled off, and the body had been pulled apart at the waist. The pieces were stacked neatly, wrapped, and tied with a pink ribbon. And stuck into one tiny Barbie hand was a small accessory, a Barbie vanity mirror.
After a long moment I closed the freezer door. I wanted to lie down and press my cheek against the cool linoleum. Instead I reached out with my little finger and flipped Barbie's head. It went thack thack against the door. I flipped it again. Thack thack. Whee. I had a new hobby.
I left the doll where it was and went back to my chair, sinking deep into the cushions and closing my eyes. I knew I should be feeling upset, angry, afraid, violated, filled with paranoid hostility and righteous rage. I didn't. Instead I felt—what? More than a little light-headed. Anxious, perhaps—or was it exhilaration?
There was of course no possible doubt about who had been in my apartment. Unless I could swallow the idea that some stranger, for unknown reasons, had randomly chosen my apartment as the ideal spot to display his decapitated Barbie doll.
No. I had been visited by my favorite artist. How he had found me was not important. It would have been easy enough to jot down my license number on the causeway that night. He'd had plenty of time to watch me from his hiding place behind the filling station. And then anyone with computer literacy could find my address. And having found it, it would be easy enough to slip in, take a careful look around, and leave a message.
And here was the message: the head hung separately, the body parts stacked on my ice tray, and that damned mirror again. Combined with the total lack of interest in everything else in the apartment, it all added up to only one thing.
What was he saying?
He could have left anything or nothing. He could have jammed a bloody butcher knife through a cow's heart and into my linoleum. I was grateful he hadn't—what a mess—but why Barbie? Aside from the obvious fact that the doll reflected the body of his last kill, why tell me about it? And was this more sinister than some other, gooier message—or less? Was it, “I'm watching and I'll get you”?
Or was he saying, “Hi! Wanna play?”
And I did. Of course I did.
But what about the mirror? To include it this time gave it meaning far beyond the truck and the chase on the causeway. Now it had to mean much more. All I could come up with was, “Look at yourself.” And what sense did that make? Why should I look at myself? I am not vain enough to enjoy that—at least, I am not vain about my physical appearance. And why would I even want to look at myself, when what I really wanted was to see the killer? So there had to be some other meaning to the mirror that I was not getting.
But even here I could not be sure. It was possible that there was no real meaning at all. I did not want to believe that of so elegant an artist, but it was possible. And the message could very well be a private, deranged, and sinister one. There was absolutely no way to know. And so, there was also no way to know what I should do about it. If indeed I should do anything.
I made the human choice. Funny when you think about it; me, making a human choice. Harry would have been proud. Humanly, I decided to do nothing. Wait and see. I would not report what had happened. After all, what was there to report? Nothing was missing. There was nothing at all to say officially except: “Ah, Captain Matthews, I thought you should know that someone apparently broke into my apartment and left a Barbie doll in my freezer.”
That had a very good ring to it. I was sure that would go over well with the department. Perhaps Sergeant Doakes would investigate personally and finally be allowed to indulge some hidden talents for unfettered interrogation. And perhaps they would simply fling me on the Mentally Unable to Perform list, along with poor Deb, since officially the case was closing and even when open had nothing to do with Barbie dolls.
No, there was really nothing to tell, not in any way that I could explain. So at the risk of another savage elbowing, I would not even tell Deborah. For reasons I could not begin to explain, even to myself, this was personal. And by keeping it personal, there was a greater chance that I could get closer to my visitor. In order to bring him to justice, of course. Naturally.
With the decision made I felt much lighter. Almost giddy, in fact. I had no idea what might come of it, but I was ready to go with whatever came. The feeling stayed with me through the night, and even through the next day at work, as I prepared a lab report, comforted Deb, and stole a doughnut from Vince Masuoka. It stayed with me during my drive home through the happily homicidal evening traffic. I was in a state of Zen readiness, prepared for any surprise.
Or so I thought.
I had just returned to my apartment, leaned back in my chair, and relaxed, when the phone rang. I let it ring. I wanted to breathe for a few minutes, and I could think of nothing that couldn't wait. Besides, I had paid almost $50 for an answering machine. Let it earn its keep.
Two rings. I closed my eyes. Breathed in. Relax, old boy. Three rings. Breathe out. The answering machine clicked and my wonderfully urbane message began to play.
“Hello, I'm not in right now, but I'll get back to you right away if you'll please leave a message, after the beep. Thank you.”
What fabulous vocal tone. What acid wit! A truly great message altogether. It sounded nearly human. I was very proud. I breathed in again, listening to the melodic BEEEEP! that followed.
“Hi, it's me.”
A female voice. Not Deborah. I felt one eyelid twitch in irritation. Why do so many people start their messages with “It's me”? Of course it is you. We all know that. But who the hell ARE you? In my case the choices were rather limited. I knew it wasn't Deborah. It didn't sound like LaGuerta, although anything was possible. So that left—
“Um, I'm sorry, I—” A long breath sighing out. “Listen, Dexter, I'm sorry. I thought you would call me and then when you didn't I just—” Another long breath out. “Anyway. I need to talk. Because I realized . . . I mean—oh hell. Could you, um, call me? If—you know.”
I didn't know. Not at all. I wasn't even sure who it was. Could that really be Rita?
Another long sigh. “I'm sorry if—” And a very long pause. Two full breaths. In deeply, out. In deeply, then blown out abruptly. “Please call me, Dexter. Just—” A long pause. Another sigh. Then she hung up.
Many times in my life I have felt like I was missing something, some essential piece of the puzzle that everybody else carried around with them without thinking about it. I don't usually mind, since most of those times it turns out to be an astonishingly stupid piece of humania like understanding the infield fly rule or not going all the way on the first date.
But at other times I feel like I am missing out on a great reservoir of warm wisdom, the lore of some sense I don't possess that humans feel so deeply they don't need to talk about it and can't even put it into words.
This was one of those times.
I knew I was supposed to understand that Rita was actually saying something very specific, that her pauses and stutters added up to a great and marvelous thing that a human male would intuitively grasp. But I had not a single clue as to what it might be, nor how to figure it out. Should I count the breaths? Time the pauses and convert the numbers to Bible verses to arrive at the secret code? What was she trying to tell me? And why, for that matter, was she trying to tell me anything at all?
As I understood things, when I had kissed Rita on that strange and stupid impulse, I had crossed a line we had both agreed to keep uncrossed. With that thing done there was no undoing it, no going back. In its own way the kiss had been an act of murder. At any rate, it was comforting to think so. I had killed our careful relationship by driving my tongue through its heart and pushing it off a cliff. Boom, a dead thing. I hadn't even thought about Rita since. She was gone, shoved out of my life by an incomprehensible whim.
And now she was calling me and recording her breathing for my amusement.
Why? Did she want to chastise me? Call me names, rub my nose in my folly, force me to understand the immensity of my offense?
The whole thing began to irritate me beyond measure. I paced around my apartment. Why should I have to think about Rita at all? I had more important concerns at the moment. Rita was merely my beard, a silly kid's costume I wore on weekends to hide the fact that I was the kind of person who did the things that this other interesting fellow was now doing and I wasn't.
Was this jealousy? Of course I wasn't doing those things. I had just recently finished for the time being. I certainly wouldn't do it again anytime soon. Too risky. I hadn't prepared anything.
I walked back into the kitchen and flicked the Barbie head. Thack. Thack thack. I seemed to be feeling something here. Playfulness? Deep and abiding concern? Professional jealousy? I couldn't say, and Barbie wasn't talking.
It was just too much. The obviously fake confession, the violation of my inner sanctum, and now Rita? A man can take only so much. Even a phony man like me. I began to feel unsettled, dizzy, confused, hyperactive and lethargic at the same time. I walked to the window and looked out. It was dark now and far away over the water a light rose up in the sky and at the sight of it a small and evil voice rose up to meet it from somewhere deep inside.
A whisper in my ear. Not even a sound; just the slight sense of someone speaking your name, almost heard, somewhere nearby. Very near, perhaps getting closer. No words at all, just a dry rustle of not-voice, a tone off-tone, a thought on a breath. My face felt hot and I could suddenly hear myself breathing. The voice came again, a soft sound dropped on the outer edge of my ear. I turned, even though I knew no one was there and it was not my ear but my dear friend inside, kicked into consciousness by who knows what and the moon.
Such a fat happy chatterbox moon. Oh how much it had to say. And as much as I tried to tell it that the time was wrong, that this was much too soon, there were other things to do now, important things—the moon had words for all of it and more. And so even though I stood there for a quarter of an hour and argued, there was never really any question.
I grew desperate, fighting it with all the tricks I had, and when that failed I did something that shocked me to my very core. I called Rita.
“Oh, Dexter,” she said. “I just—I was afraid. Thank you for calling. I just—”
“I know,” I said, although of course I did not know.
“Could we—I don't know what you— Can I see you later and just—I would really like to talk to you.”
“Of course,” I told her, and as we agreed to meet later at her place, I wondered what she might possibly have in mind. Violence? Tears of recrimination? Full-throated name-calling? I was on foreign turf here—I could be walking into anything.
And after I hung up, the whole thing distracted me wonderfully for almost half an hour before the soft interior voice came sliding back into my brain with its quiet insistence that tonight really ought to be special.
I felt myself pulled back to the window and there it was again, the huge happy face in the sky, the chuckling moon. I pulled the curtain and turned away, circled my apartment from room to room, touching things, telling myself I was checking once more for whatever might be missing, knowing nothing was missing, and knowing why, too. And each time around the apartment I circled closer and closer to the small desk in the living room where I kept my computer, knowing what I wanted to do and not wanting to do it, until finally, after three-quarters of an hour, the pull was too strong. I was too dizzy to stand and thought I would just slump into the chair since it was close at hand, and since I was there anyway I turned on the computer, and once it was on . . .
But it's not done, I thought, I'm not ready.
And of course, that didn't matter. Whether I was ready or not made no difference at all. It was ready.
Äàòà äîáàâëåíèÿ: 2015-09-13; ïðîñìîòðîâ: 8; Íàðóøåíèå àâòîðñêèõ ïðàâ