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As silent as death, Mister sat in the darkness of his car, one number pounding over and over in his head in nauseating repetition.
Endlessly, the neural pathways of his brain fired it – a ghost haunting his skull.
He looked up at the numbers on the house. Fifty-three. The address of the family he was about to touch with his holy wrath. Maybe they had children. That would be a real treat. But it was too much to hope for so he pushed it out of his mind. Best not to build up hope.
His vanilla latte had long since gone cold; he’d regretted purchasing it almost immediately. He was jittery enough as it was, caffeine now made as much sense as throwing a bucket of sand on the beach. Still, it had amused him to walk into the local Starbucks and order such a decadent beverage on his way to a killing. He walked past the pseudo-intellectuals typing away on their laptops. He imagined they were all, most likely, distracted from what they were there to do by Facebook or YouTube, watching cute little videos of kittens and puppies who’ve became the most unlikely of friends, or self-important 'vloggers', chatting ceaselessly about some pointless thing. These were amongst the most embarrassing examples of the no-men.
For a brief blissful moment he could picture the aftermath of the rage he’d bring down fully upon these pitiful no-men. Behind chained-shut doors, man, woman and child would lie wonderfully, expiring where he struck them down, their entrails and organs strewn about like ghoulish Christmas tinsel and their rheumy, dead eyes watching, their rigor-mortised mouths agape, as he sat amongst them and gingerly sipped a lactose-free low-fat americano miso. Smacking his lips, he would reach for the creamer and salivate with unsatisfied hunger, as warm, frothy blood poured from the container into his cup.
No. It was not time for such indulgence. Perhaps someday, once his powers were full.
He approached the cute Starbucks girl, a taut little morsel, blonde, deeply tanned, the posture of a dancer. He briefly considered forgetting all about the home at fifty-three Hillside Lane and waiting for her in the parking lot instead... a little rope, a little lube. He could make this one malleable, he knew it. But she wasn't relevant enough to his purposes, so he pushed the thought from his mind.
“Grande vanilla latte, please,” he said, barely able to squeeze the words out without laughing. The sweet little bitch smiled and handed him his change, never suspecting how close she had come to an unveiling of utter horror.
With his coffee in hand, he proceeded to number fifty three as if it were the most normal thing in the world. Just another day at the office. And wasn’t it normal? Didn’t terrible, violent things happen all the time? Isn’t ‘normal’ simply a matter of how frequently a given event occurs, as opposed to involving any sort of moral judgement? The thought was an interesting one but he didn’t have time to ponder it. There was work to do.
He rolled down the window for air and began to slowly unbutton his shirt. He felt like a lover, disrobing for the act. Fucking was like killing in many ways, wasn’t it? It was the act of possession, of exerting control over another, the idea of taking gratification from the forceful contact with another's body. In sex, as in killing, everything else must melt away. All that exists in those moments of fucking and murder is the singular desire – the only desire – for life. More specifically, the possession of life. Killings were the purest of all social interactions. The very pillars of existence. Life and death, the negative and positive, the one and the zero of the great cosmic program – they existed only in their duality.
The French had a very poetic term for an orgasm, la petite mort. The little death.
He glanced up at the bedroom window, the only lit room in the house, and wondered if he’d get a ‘petite mort’ inside. The wife was long and slinky, and he could imagine her contorted into delightful shapes.
Shirtless, he grabbed the perfectly clean and pressed white dress shirt hanging in the back of the car. He slipped it on, appreciating the coolness of the cotton against his warm skin. Calmly and delicately, he buttoned up the shirt, careful to not wrinkle it.
From the glove compartment he removed a white tie. Instinctively he began to tie it in a four-in-hand knot but quickly undid it. It was a special occasion; a full Windsor would be more appropriate.
He wrangled off his jeans, one leg at a time, and grabbed the white slacks folded neatly on the passenger seat next to him. It took a little manoeuvring to get them on but he’d become good at it.
Mister exited the car into summer air, cool and sweet with the scent of someone barbequing nearby. He took a quick peek around the row of trees he’d parked alongside, before strolling to the trunk and taking stock of the props and instruments he’d laid out neatly on a plastic liner.
Looking up again at number fifty-three, he wondered what the wife was wearing and hoped she wasn’t on her period.
Sara Whinner. Such a funny name. How had children used that name to tease her? Sara Whinner dine-her, sixty-nine-her, perhaps? Then he realized she would have had a different last name before she married. Did they have little Whinners up there, sleeping peacefully in bed?
No, no. Best to let it be a surprise.
Gregory Whinner had had a bad day. He’d had little sleep the night before, as a dream of his ex had woken him early and made it impossible to turn his thoughts from her again. He’d run into her at the mall down the street from his house. His mall, a place he’d been a thousand times and where he’d never seen her before. He and his wife Sara were exiting a shoe store when he practically walked right into Amanda.
They had ended things as all intensely passionate lovers do: on bad terms, with both of them at their worst. There was a brief moment of awkwardness as they both considered how to proceed.
She managed to gain composure of herself first. “Greg? Oh wow . . . how are you?”
“I’m great!” Greg exclaimed, trying his best to seem calm and happy. “It’s great to see you. How have you been?”
“Oh, you know. I’ve been good. No complaints. This is my husband, Trevor.”
Trevor was a tall, sophisticated-looking man, the kind of guy you would imagine was into the stock market and sailing. Greg took his hand with all the confidence he could muster.
“Pleased to meet you, Trevor. This is my wife, Sara.”
It was uncanny how much Sara and Amanda looked alike. A fact he was sure everyone else had also noticed.
They both greeted Sara warmly, but he felt the air around him go cold when it occurred to him that this might be the guy Amanda had left him for. He could feel Amanda watching him watch Trevor, and he was sure that she knew what he was thinking. He forced himself to stop staring.
He did have to admit, Amanda looked incredible. Greg wondered if she was as wild with Mr. Fancy Pants as she’d been with him. Had she let him tie her up for a night and slap her around and abuse her until she cried then begged for more? He doubted it. They probably kept dental dams and wet wipes in the night stand.
“... teaching Greg?” was all he caught of Susan asking him something.
“Are you still teaching?”
“Yeah. Only part-time though. I mostly do consulting now.”
“Good, good. I remember you always saying that’s what you’d rather be doing.”
He felt as though it was now his turn to ask how she was doing, what she was up to. If she had children, et cetera, et cetera. Tedious questions he didn’t care to ask, which would only reveal facts he didn’t care to know. He was sure that she and Mr. Khaki Silver Fox were living a happy little life, insulated comfortably, with means well beyond his own. They probably had darling little children who were child prodigies in tennis and math, and potty-trained at birth. She didn’t deserve to have a life like that. The only solace he ever took from the cold and calculated evisceration she’d performed on him, was that he was going to “win at life,” as he put it.
It was only seven years ago, but it felt much longer. In those days he’d had dreams of being a hot-shot marketing exec. The path had seemed so clear; it was only a matter of time before he’d be living the dream of a corner office, island retreats and a six-figure income.
That was when he’d still had the ambition of a young man, before he’d become a father and gotten married. Before the second mortgage. Before the two ‘at-fault’ car accidents, which raised his insurance premiums to extortionist heights. Before the realities of life slowly devoured his dreams.
So fuck her. He would have loved her. He did love her. She deserved to get fucked over the way she’d done him. But here she was, happy, still hot, and with a tall, handsome, well-to-do man.
He just couldn’t play along with the charade.
“Anyways. We’re in a bit of a rush. Take care,” he said taking Sara by the hand and leading her away. Not the most graceful exit, but he didn’t care. Fuck her.
Of course that prompted Sara to inundate him with prying question after prying question about who Amanda was and what the nature of their relationship had been. How and why did they break up? Why did he seem so angry? He fielded all her questions like a politician, answering plainly only when it was wise to do so and lying for the same reason. He had to force himself to remain calm it. Amanda was the last thing he wanted to discuss, period – let alone with Sara. He knew, of course, that if he seemed too upset about running into her, it would suggest he still had feelings for her. Otherwise, why would he still be angry after all these years? Why, indeed?
As he sat in bed, pretending to read a trade journal, he wondered if the dreams would return to him that night. Perhaps if he had a go with Sara first they’d be avoided.
He looked over at her from the corner of his eye. She was a beautiful woman, the type of woman who made you proud to be seen with her. With her wild brown curls, pouty lips and voluptuous breasts, she made even her plaid pyjama pants and old Mets t-shirt seem erotic. She made him feel like a lucky man every time he looked at her. It didn’t bother him that she wasn’t sophisticated, or opinionated, or even generally curious about anything that he found interesting. Not that his wife wasn't intelligent. She just didn't feel the need to prove it. He had dated smart ass, insecure women in the past, women who were articulate and persuasive and enjoyed a battle of the wits. Women like Amanda. It had been his experience that women like that tended to be pains in the ass – always struggling for control. Sara was not like that, at all. She was secure enough to allow him to be in the driver’s seat. She let him be a man, and he loved her for it.
She didn’t notice him watching her. She was too engrossed in her book – some trashy novel about love-smitten vampires, or was it werewolves? Her hair was tied back and she had on her reading glasses, which always seemed to turn him on, for some reason.
He could imagine the mock innocent smile she always used whenever he grabbed her around the waist in such a way as to make his intentions clear. A little loving would definitely do him some good. His breath felt a bit sour, though, so he thought it best to brush and take a quick piss before trying to make his move.
“Where are you going?” she asked, as he got out of bed.
“Just to the bathroom, love. Your book have you a little spooked?” He laughed.
She simply smiled at how well he knew her, and buried her face back in the pages.
Greg had not been in the bathroom two minutes when he heard the phone ring. He instinctively looked down at his naked wrist where his watch usually was. He wasn’t sure exactly what time it was, but it was late.
He brushed his teeth and emptied his bladder, since it was difficult for him to maintain an erection if he didn’t. Not one step out of the bathroom, Greg realized there would be no sex. Sara was in hysterics. Streams of tears soiled her pretty face. Greg’s first thought was that someone had died. It must be her mother. He’d known this call would be coming soon.
“Honey, what’s wrong?”
She struggled to get the words out several times, but each time a big wet sob choked her.
“Hey, hey, hey. It’s okay baby,” he said, wrapping one arm around her and wiping the tears from her face. He then took the phone and hit ‘last call’: Unknown.
“It’s okay. Take your time,” he said, then added with as much delicacy as he could, “Is it your Mother?”
“What?! No! It was some fucking guy.”
The relief of not having to deal with the death of her mother barely registered over his confusion. No name? Just “some guy”?
“Some guy? What guy?”
“I don’t know. Just some . . . guy!”
“Who was it?”
“Greg I don’t know!” she snapped, wiping the tears from her bloodshot eyes.
“Okay, okay. Well, what did he say? Why are you crying?”
“He said . . . He said he was going to kill me.”
“What?! Kill you?!”
“Actually he said he was going to rape me, then kill me.”
“Did it sound like your brother? I swear to God if this is one of your brother’s stupid pranks—”
“It wasn’t my brother,” she said, with too little conviction for Greg to be sure she had it right. He would kick the shit out of that little weirdo if it did, in fact, turn out to be him. Greg had once hidden a small recorder playing spooky noises in a wall socket of their bedroom, which of course scared the hell out of her. In retrospect, that one was funny, but to upset her this badly was not cool.
“It’s okay. Shhh. Shhh. It’s just a prank call. Nobody is going to kill you. I’m here, baby.”
“He knew my name! He knew your name!”
So it probably was her brother. He knew if he suggested it again, it would only agitate her further so instead he just silently plotted when and how to confront him.
“It was probably just someone we know, playing a stupid joke.”
“Probably?!” she screamed. She had a point. Just the very, very unlikely possibility this was real was scary enough. The name “Mister” entered his mind, but he quickly forced it out. He wasn't about to let her brother Kevin get him all worked up over this.
“Definitely,” he corrected himself. “What reason would anyone have to hurt you?”
The doorbell chimed, and it might as well have been the bells of hell tolling for the reaction it got. The two of them flash froze, holding their breath. He couldn't let her see him scared, it would only throw her into a deeper panic, so he smiled and chuckled genuinely amused at the unexpected knot in his stomach. This was getting ridiculous. He kissed her on the forehead, tasting a slightly salty veneer of sweat.
“Don’t worry. That’s probably your retarded little brother down there, laughing his ass off right now.”
“Greg, call the police.”
“The police?! No, no. It’s fine. Trust me,” he said, trying to convince himself as much as her.
The bell chimed again and as he got up to answer the door she clutched him with such fear that it broke his heart.
“What if it's... him?” she gasped.
Sara couldn't even bring herself to say his name. She just shook her head back and forth as if trying to shake the name from her mind and Greg realized the same thing had occurred to her – Mister.
“Oh, come on now. This is just getting silly. It's not him. I promise. I’ll be right back.” The bell chimed again and Greg gently pulled himself free of Sara’s grip and headed downstairs.
“Do not hit your wife’s brother. Do not hit your wife's brother,” he repeated over and over as he descended down into the darkness of the first floor. He could see through the frosted rectangular widows on either side of the front door, that it was dark on the step. Which meant that the motion sensor hadn’t been activated. Which meant that whoever was ringing the bell had left or was standing very, very still.
He walked quietly across the cold tile floor towards the door. He reached for it and hesitated, feeling scared and embarrassed and amused all at once. He shook his head, angry at Sara for working him up like this. As softly as he could, he tiptoed into the living room and removed the fire poker from where it lay on the mantle.
With the poker concealed by his side he opened the door to reveal . . .
Nothing. Suburban silence. The sprinkler system jutted and sprayed, jutted and sprayed. He looked behind the small row of bushes next to the door for good measure. Nada.
He could feel his anger starting to bubble up again. The urge for sex and thoughts of his ex were both gone now, and all he felt was the need to sleep. He wanted this situation to be over, but he was confused. There was no way it was a coincidence that they’d received that disturbing call and someone had rung their bell only minutes later. This was someone having some fun. He thought about calling out Kevin’s name to let him know they knew it was him, but for some reason he didn’t understand, he decided against it.
Closing and locking the deadbolt, he went to make sure the back door was locked knowing Sara would insist he do so anyway. Somewhere in the safety of his home something foreign and unwelcome moved. Two quick footsteps and a mass was on him. A cold object pressed against his neck and there was a loud clicking sound his mind instinctively tried to place, even as painful convulsions overtook him and brought him down to the floor, rigid and immobile. Just before the darkness swallowed him, he recognized what the sound had been: a stun gun.
Sara sat stiffly in bed, her lungs hungrily sucking at the air while she tried to bring some semblance of calm to her mind. Where was Greg? He had been gone for longer than she’d expected. Her fear began to be undercut by a sour note of annoyance; he knew how scared she was. She was annoyed at herself for feeling this way, and annoyed at Greg for taking so long, and really annoyed at her brother Kevin, if it was him. She threw the book on the floor and cocked her ear to the side, as if angling a satellite dish for better reception.
It was amazing what you could hear when you sat perfectly still. She could hear the barely detectable hum of the light bulb in the lamp next to the bed. She could hear the cool central air gently seeping from the vents. She could even detect, she thought, the sound of her own heart, thumping wildly like a tiny animal hopping around madly in its cage.
She thought about going to hide in the kids’ room. She could tuck the three of them away in the closet, but couldn’t stand the thought of Greg teasing her all night when this all turned out to be some sort of stupid joke as he suspected. Maybe it was even him playing this joke. He’d left the room right as she’d gotten that call. Would he do something like that?
Then there he was. Impossible but true. His ghostly white mass was filling the door frame; she recognized him instantly. He stood perfectly still at the entrance to her bedroom, heightening the surrealism of the moment. He just stood there, unmoving, like an ivory statute or a ghost stuck in time. He was facing away from her, looking at something else down the hall. She couldn’t scream. She couldn’t even conjure the impulse to want to scream. She was petrified, and it was only her stomach which seemed to have the ability to react, as it tightened and turned now that she’d realized what the intruder was staring at: the children’s room.
Finally her empty lungs found enough air to gasp, and she did so loudly, again and again. Mister slowly turned his head to face her, as though he’d only then realized she was there.
He was dressed all in white: white shoes, white pants and white shirt. A long, white trench coat and hood hung down low over his face, which was also painted white. His tie, his gloves – everything white. Every single inch of him was somehow covered in white.
It really was him, the serial killer – Mister. This couldn’t be real, but it was.
What had he done to Greg and why hadn’t she heard a struggle? Knowing he would do whatever it took to protect his family, she decided right then and there that he must be dead.
Mister remained very still and watched with a certain sense of satisfaction as Sara struggled with the hopelessness of the situation, grappled with the unbelievable. He could tell she recognized him. He was famous now, and all of his victims recognized him. And why shouldn’t they recognize him? He was their nucleus after all.
That, of course, didn’t mean it wasn’t still fun for him. It didn’t reduce the act to masturbation or self-mutilation. There was still the distinction of him and them, even if it was all so much illusion.
He knew that the first step he took towards her would throw her into a frenzy, so he let the moment between them stretch out. The tension was exhilarating. He let it grow and swell until it hung in the air, thick and dense, like a noxious industrial gas.
Finally, he took exactly one theatrical and elaborate step into the room and watched the fear dissolve her like acid dumped on a flower. Dance, puppet.
It was amusing to see her clutching the pillow in front of her like some sort of shield. But it wasn’t a shield, it was simply a sack of feathers. The phone was right there on the bed. Why hadn’t she try to call for help? Why didn’t she grab the lamp and try to fight him off? Was his will too strong for her? This phenomenon was familiar to him now. His was the ability to use terror to petrify the no-men. He was the snake charmer, her fear was the flute, and he played it in sharp, dissonant notes. He knew her type. She would comply. She would cry, and try to block it, out and deny what he was about to do to her, but in the end she would comply.
He took another slow step towards her. She was a beautiful manifestation. He inched closer to her, captivated by her pretty, bloodshot eyes. Her tears were like diamonds, streaming from red pools of amber and onyx.
Sara lost bodily control and began wetting herself. Suddenly Mister felt his longing get the better of him. He watched as the wetness darkened the crotch of her pyjamas and slowly spread outward. It was just so fucking cute. She had gone and wet herself just like a sweet little baby. His baby. His little baby doll for as long as he wanted her. She was so precious. But he shouldn’t be too gentle with her, lest she get spoiled and try and sass him. No, no, no. He would not tolerate any sass.
He wanted to open his mouth and speak. He wanted to introduce himself and explain what he expected from her. But he kept his mouth closed for fear that she would see the red of his tongue or the pink of his gums as he spoke. He would not reveal so much of himself to her. She was not deserving of that. Not yet.
In a flash he was on her, but Sara still found herself unable to move. It was as though her body refused to take any actions which might validate that what was happening was really real.
He grabbed her by the hair and tore her off the bed. He then took a handful of her hair by the roots and curled his fist full upwards, tautening it at the scalp. They were out in the hallway and headed for the stairs before Sara was able to start struggling.
She kicked and thrashed with her long legs, twisting and turning and flopping and shrieking, her hands wildly slapping at him. She was possessed by a single thought: The children will be next.
Mister just laughed at her as though she were a little kitten making hissing sounds. With a sigh of exasperation he grabbed her head with both white gloved hands and bounced it off the high polished glossy hard wood flooring, then calmly stepped over her and jabbed her in the mouth. He took a brief moment to observe the smattering of red blood across his white fist and then leaned over her and appraised her broken and bloody lips.
Sara thought she could see his white, ghoulish face spread into a smile as he turned and pulled her down the stairs so fast the world around her blurred into a smear. And then she was at the bottom, her spine aching, unbearably hot and wet with sweat and blood and urine.
Then, as though he knew the layout of their house as well as she, he pulled her straight to the door leading to the basement and dragged her down by her ankles. This time she didn't struggle and focused only on taking the steps with minimal injury.
The basement was cool and dark, save for the light from the stairway which cut through the door frame in an elongated rectangle. He flipped her over and pushed her face into the soft carpet. Her first thought was that he was going to take her like this, with her face down on the floor of the room where she’d played board games with her children and watched movies with Greg late at night. But the rip she expected to hear on her pyjama pants never came. Neither did he begin to pull them down over her hips. Instead he fastened cold handcuffs around her wrists.
Only once she was secure did she feel his hands touching her buttocks and gripping her around the waist. He rolled her over, his sinister, white painted face sneering down at her like a scornful ghost. He began to slap and squeeze at her with such casual curiosity that it made what he was doing seem all the more morbid. It was less a lustful exploration than a taking of stock – as though he was concerned only with the width and roundness and depth of her proportions than with gaining any sexual pleasure from it.
Then his hand was on her crotch, his fingers measuring and gauging. He quickly punched her there and she cried out in pain. He punched her again and again, not as hard as he could, but hard enough to cause sharp ripples of pain to explode around her pelvic bone, shoot up her spine and explode in a strobe light of pain somewhere deep in her brain. He grabbed her by the throat and pulled himself in close to her. He began to lick at her tears and at the blood flowing freely from her nose and mouth, moaning with satisfaction, as though they were the most delicious things he had ever tasted.
Once satisfied he slowly rolled off of her and went to a white duffel bag he had waiting on the sofa behind them. He removed a collar, leash, and hood – all white. He strapped the collar around her slender neck, hooked the leash to the collar and tied it around the leg of the couch. He took one last look at her bloody, tearful face before dropping the hood over her head.
Sara could hear him walking away, climbing the stairs. She tried to roll onto her side so she could leverage herself up on to her knees but there wasn't enough slack on the leash to do so. She kicked and struggled and screamed as loud as she could. She would scream and scream and scream until someone heard her and called the cops or came and to investigate themselves. Before long her throat was sore and hoarse, but it was the only thing she could do. She couldn't just lie there and cry while her children were being hurt.
Finally, she could hear footfalls coming back down the stairs and then the sound of her two children, Jake and Jordan, crying. Mister’s warm mass was back on top of her again.
“Don’t worry, my dear one. You were never real. Neither were they,” he whispered through the cloth of the hood.
This couldn’t be happening, it just couldn’t. Then as of to assure it could and it was, came the cruel ripping of her pants.
Jeremy Foster leaned back in his chair and folded his legs in a composed, gentlemanly fashion, though inwardly he felt about as composed as a rabid hyena . . . on meth. His client, Evelyn Dursten, sat across from him, jabbering nonsense with such rapid and breathless ease, it reminded him of an auctioneer speaking in Pentecostal tongues . . . on meth.
Evelyn had been with him nearly from the beginning, after he’d left the FBI's elite behavioural unit to start up his own private practice in civilian therapy. For five years now, he’d been a “custodian of the skewed,” as a colleague in the bureau had referred to him. Sometimes he missed the company of proper madmen.
“I just . . . I don't know. It's not that I don't love him . . . I mean, if you had a goldfish for twenty years – though that's impossible because they only live, like, what? . . . one year at the most – you would love it. But, okay, I guess that's a bad example because it's obviously not the same thing. It's like if you had the same hairdresser or, or, or, I don't know, like the same server at your favourite restaurant—”
“Evelyn. I understand what point you're trying to make,” Jeremy interrupted. “Time has created a bond between you and your husband despite your perceived incompatibility.”
Very discreetly he looked down at his Graham Swordfish wristwatch. His sessions with Evelyn were always an exercise in patience. Endurance might be a better word than patience. He groaned inwardly, sickened yet mesmerized by the way her lips parted and closed, barely perceptible, like hummingbird wings. Her vocal cords were struggling to keep up with the never-ending prattle spilling from her mouth. It did, however, all ultimately translate in therapist-ese to “Cha-ching!” He was operating a business, after all. That was not to say that he didn't want to help Evelyn. He really did. But he had learned a long time ago that some people just needed to dump their shit on somebody. They weren’t looking for insight, or perspective, they simply needed someone to listen to them vent. So he sat there and let her get it all out.
“. . . – If I was going to go through all the trouble of making a potato salad, you would think he would assume I didn't hate his sister anymore.”
“. . . – I just don't see what the point of exercising so much is. It's not like he's single.”
“. . . – I don't believe we ever landed on the moon. I don't know why he can't just accept that.”
The cacophony of syllables crashed against him like an auditory tsunami, until mercifully the session expired and he very calmly, very happily announced:
“Unfortunately, we are out of time Evelyn. But I think we've unearthed some really important stuff here. Let's ‘dog-ear’ this for now and pick it back up again next week.”
Once she was out of the room he allowed himself a moment to decompress. A knocking at his office door broke the sweet silence.
“Come in,” he said and his secretary, Margret, entered, her face ashen.
“It's the hospital. I think something has happened.”
An inexplicable feeling came over him – a quiet knowing in his heart. It somehow told him that it had finally happened; his twin brother Christopher was dead. It was the strangest feeling, this knowing, without really knowing. Yet he knew it was true: Chris was gone.
“Thank you Margret,” he said, slipping into a kind of adjacent reality. He walked to the desk, each of the nine steps precise and mechanical. He picked up the phone, watching himself do so, noticing his arm and his hand and then his finger jabbing down at the blinking light.
He held the receiver to his chest and waited for Margret to leave.
“This is Dr. Foster.”
“Dr. Foster, this is Dr. Alysulvun at Good Samaritan hospital. I regret you inform you that your brother, Christopher, has passed away. We require your presence to identify and claim the body.”
“Uh, yes. Yes, of course. At the hospital?”
“Yes, sir. The general reception desk will be able to direct you, once you're here.”
“Okay, I'll be right there.”
“So sorry for you loss, Dr. Foster.”
He didn't even have to ask; he knew it was suicide.
Jeremy avoided particulars with Margaret and instructed her to cancel his appointments for the rest of the day. Then, like a zombie, he put one foot in front of the other until somehow he found himself in the parking lot. For the first time since he’d driven it off the lot two weeks prior, the new car smell of his BMW M6 Coupe failed to put a smile on his face. Instead it just made him feel like an asshole. The only thing his brother Christopher had ever driven was a bicycle.
How had he known he was gone?
Jeremy turned the key and the engine purred to life. The drive down Cedar Oak and across Jefferson was carried out exclusively by rote. It wasn't until he reached Wilshire that he made the very sudden decision that he couldn't face his identical brother's dead face in his present state. He knew would have to go home first, to consolidate himself.
Jesus, he would have to tell his son, Charlie. That could wait for the moment, too. Besides, if he called the house and spoke to his ex-wife right then, he felt as though he might cry.
Jeremy's condo was a tasteful pastel and hardwood habitat for one, situated within the very exclusive condominium complex of the Shoreham Villas, in West Hollywood, a vainglorious community where the ‘haves’ seemed compelled to congregate like moths to a light bulb, fluttering around the most dazzling point they could find, never really going anywhere. He felt the buildings were charmless and ironically uninspired, and in a resolved sort of way, suitable.
He entered the perfectly chilled atmosphere of his home, calmly removed his shoes and gently placed his keys on the marble countertop of the kitchen island, just as he would have any other day. He went to the cream-coloured leather sofa to sit but something told him he should stay on his feet. So instead he proceeded to his bedroom’s en-suite bathroom and began to remove his clothes. He delicately removed his tie and hung it back up in his closet and proceeded to unbutton his shirt. There was a hanger he kept on the back of the bathroom door for when he got home, and he utilized it.
Shirtless, he stood in front of the mirror over the ironically double-sink counter and lamented, albeit in a casual sort of way, the fact that he had nobody to share this present grief with. How long had he been an island? How long had he remained the sole citizen of his precise, hyper-felicitous world?
He looked in the mirror at the face, which until this afternoon, had not been solely his. He was tall and broad-chested and handsome and alone. Where a life led with a little more – what? vulnerability? – would have secured him a wife, he had only an ex-wife. No girlfriend either, but there were plenty of those in the ‘ex’ column. Not even a cat.
It was never too difficult for him to find a date. But his needs for companionship, of course were never – could never be – met on an emotional level. As he inspected his lean, gym-sculpted body in the mirror, he realized that it was possible he had broken the heart of every single woman who had ever cared for him.
It was starting to become clear, though, that time would humble him yet. Time would eat away at his self-reliance until, as an old and decrepit man, he would finally be forced to acknowledge that he was not an island, or at least that he shouldn't be one.
He leaned in close and inspected the grey which had started to crop up sporadically on his head, and at the hairline itself which was slowly, grudgingly, retreating from the un-winnable war.
And now his brother was dead. Again he wondered how he’d known. Was it a twin thing? Had he been secretly hoping for it? He splashed water on his face and tried to wash the thought from his mind. No. He would not hope for that. Wouldn’t that make him the sick one?
Staring in the mirror he reached up to the light switch on the wall and flicked it off. He could still make out the contours of the reflection of his brother's face.
He flicked the light back on. Far from the first time, he wondered what cosmic flip of the coin had made him the chosen one. Why had he been born whole and blessed, while his brother had been cursed and lost?
He flicked the light off.
He flicked the light on.
He flicked the light off.
He flicked the light on.
A shower, shave, and a good cry later, and he was back on the road, heading to his ex-wife’s house to break the news to his son.
The constant commotion of the newsroom was strangely comforting to Richard Lansdown. After forty years in broadcasting, he had come to rely on the chaos associated with covering the happenings of a turbulent world.
By his calculations, he had paid his dues twice over. Had climbed the ranks to now sit as the network’s lead anchor. While he had realized all his professional goals, he had long ago begun to feel more like a mascot than a real newsman.
As the lead anchor of the world’s leading news organization, he presided over a vast kingdom of resources and streams of information that flowed into the Los Angeles headquarters from all corners of the earth. But in the end, he was just the puppet monarch, who spoke only the words the shadow government of the network put in his mouth. Richard Lansdown, the broadcasting legend, was nothing more than a spokesman, reading a script written by an army of reporters, journalists, associated contributors, producers and executives. And even then, the words he was only given were only those that didn’t conflict in any way with the many and varied interests of the multinational conglomerate which owned them.
He couldn’t even remember the last time he’d gotten his hands dirty and done some real reporting. His job was to stay abreast of virtually everything. He had to – at all times, as best he could – get up to speed on whatever was happening on planet Earth that was of reasonable import to the masses . . . and many things that weren't. Pop culture was Frankenstein’s monster, assimilating the youth of the world, and marginalizing the old and out of touch via passive annexation, to the point where one was forced to acknowledge the memes of the day, or be considered irrelevant. Why else would someone like him know who Snookie was or have any idea about “Gangnam style”?
Sitting, trying not to get impatient as the hair and make-up artist prepped him for camera, Richard watched the young woman as she obsessively flicked at the wave of his meticulously sculpted, silver head of hair. A single strand in the front was not complying. He chuckled realizing their jobs were not so different.
“Sorry, Mr. Lansdown. Just trying to make it perfect,” she said, misunderstanding his amusement.
“No, no. It’s quite alright,” he assured her. “You know, I wanted to dye my hair when it started greying?”
“Oh?” she asked, too preoccupied with the rebellious hair to sound truly curious.
“Oh, yes. It was very controversial. The network felt very strongly that the grey added a certain . . . oh I don’t know . . . ‘credibility’ to my look. They even suggested that a man my age dyeing his hair might seem somewhat . . . undignified!”
“I don’t even remember what my real hair colour is,” she said dismissively, finally defeating the stray hair.
A production assistant giraffed his neck into the dressing room.
“Five minutes to camera.”
The young lady removed the paper bib from around Richard's neck and began to pack up her stuff. He tried to get a glimpse at the roots of her hair. It was a very good dye job, he decided. He wondered if she had bleached it white, first. He had heard that was how it was done, but he wasn’t entirely sure.
“Thank you,” he said, smoothing out his tie and pulling himself to his feet.
The ‘newsroom’ set was as bright and sterile as an operating room. There had always been something clinical about it that made it feel impersonal to Richard. The days of jittery nerves right before going live were long gone. Even as the teleprompter flashed to life and the cameras switched on, Richard’s thoughts were elsewhere: had Debra cooked diner? . . . who was on Conan tonight? . . . would he get home in time to watch it? Maybe she’d made her shaved pork. It’s probably just when you dye your hair completely blond that you have to use peroxide, he thought. A shaved pork sandwich, while watching Conan, would be a nice way to end the day… That’s right, it was Ryan Reynolds on tonight. He really enjoyed his sarcastic humour. Was that Canadian humour? Was there such a brand?
“Five, four, three,” the line producer counted down then switched to a 'hand count' for the remaining three numbers and the camera's ‘go hot'.
“Good evening, and welcome to News Hour. I’m Richard Lansdown.”
Richard pivoted smoothly over to camera two and took his serious baritone voice down two notches to ‘sombre’.
“He has struck again. The serial killer known as “Mister,” who has confounded police and terrorized the state of California since he first became active over five years ago, has claimed new victims, adding three more lives to the growing death toll and has abducted another. Late last night the Los Angeles Police Department received an anonymous phone call believed to be from the killer himself, alerting them to the murder scene in Pico County, Santa Monica. The police were directed to the home of Gregory and Sarah Whinner and their two children.”
“At the scene were the bodies of Sarah Whinner and those of her two children, ages five and six. They had been murdered and their bodies mutilated. The specific nature of their injuries is too graphic to relay in detail here. A special press conference was held this morning to address the public’s unabated concerns regarding the murders perpetrated by the individual whom some are calling 'the Jack the Ripper of the twenty-first century.' During the news conference, Chief Randel, of the Los Angeles Police Department, referred to these most recent incident as ‘a horrific and inhuman act of unspeakable violence.' He later went on to cite the Mister killings as a prime example of why the death penalty is still implemented in the state of California and even suggested that other states which have overturned the death penalty should perhaps reconsider that decision. Chief Randel seemed visibly shaken over his department’s inability to apprehend the serial killer.”
The teleprompter flashed to coverage of the news conference, indicating to Richard that he was off camera. He reached below the desk and grabbed his water. Maybe it wasn’t Ryan Reynolds after all, he thought. It could be Ryan Gosling. But he was Canadian too, wasn’t he? Which was the funny one?
The line producer counted back down to hot camera.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the friends and family affected by this horrible crime. Special hotlines have been set up by the Los Angeles Police Department and the FBI who are urging you to contact them if you have any information regarding the crimes or the whereabouts of the husband and father of the victims, Gregory Whinner. As per his usual methods authorities are expecting Mister to upload a video of the killings to peer-to-peer sites. The police and the FBI would like to remind you that the downloading and possession of such videos is a criminal offence and subject to prosecution.”
Richard turned back to camera two. “More disturbing news from Wall Street today. Could America be headed for yet another national credit score downgrade?”
Christopher’s apartment was exactly as Jeremy had expected it to be – not only messy, but dirty. The floor looked as though it had never been touched with a mop or a broom. The sink was crammed full of dishes which, by the look of the detritus of food crusted on them like barnacles, had been there for a very, very long time. Next to the sink was a stack of empty TV dinner trays. Jeremy was sure that once all the dishes were dirty, instead of washing them Chris had just started eating straight from the packages. He knew if he looked he would find a box of disposable plastic forks – and he had to open only two kitchen drawers before he found them. The whole place stunk of body odour and cigarettes.
In the living room next to the old rear projection television was the ever-present, ever-growing, stack of video games. Christopher had virtually every video game console ever made. His library of games was astonishing. Hundreds of discs and old school cartridges teetered in towers, like proud little monuments to anti-socialism.
The spot where Chris had sat on the couch to play, was obviously sagged in. Next to the couch was a two-litre Coke bottle full of urine. Jeremy knew Chris would do this during his all-night vid binges, days when he would play these fucking video games for eighteen hours or more, stopping only when he couldn’t fight the sleep off any longer. He would eat in front of the screen, sleep in front of it, and apparently piss in front of it.
There was a time when he had tried to get his brother to break this understandable but counterproductive habit but as Chris’s condition worsened over the years Jeremy came to understand his need for escape. It was an opiate for his soul. He’d even started buying games for Chris. It had seemed like distraction was the best strategy, in lieu of a cure.
It had been two days since he’d learned of his brother’s death, and he hadn’t been able to sleep more than a couple minutes at a time since. Wearily he let himself crash down into the crater in the couch that had been created by his brother’s weight. He could almost feel the springs poking beneath him, the fabric and cushion having been squeezed down so far. Why hadn’t Chris started sitting on the perfectly plump and seemingly unused cushion beside it?
He thought about going through Chris’s drawers and personal items, but he knew there would be no point. There would be no clues, no evidence, no reasons why his brother killed himself, other than the fact that there was basically no reason for him not to; nothing ever changed. No matter how much concern, or help, or anger, or love was spent, nothing ever changed. Even his apartment stayed, frustratingly, agonizingly, the same. Then he realized that he was wrong. Things had changed – they had gotten worse. Much worse. As bad as they could get, he supposed. Once the will to live is gone, what more could be lost?
He felt the urge to cry start to slowly tickle the back of his throat, and the pressure of the coming tears, behind his nose and eyes. But he was afraid that if he started, he wouldn’t be able to stop. He had to be strong. If he just got through the funeral and the wake, he would be okay. After all, he’d always known this day would come. Chris’s schizophrenia had grown steadily since he’d been a child. He suspected even Chris knew it would get the better of him. Sooner or later.
He decided he could use some coffee. Or gin. Or both. And a shave, he realized, rubbing the stubble on his face. He still had to go and buy a suit for Chris to be buried in.
He got up and walked to the bathroom. He stood outside the door, which was mercifully closed, placed his hand on it and wondered if it had been messy. He was almost impressed that Chris had had the balls to go through with it. Having grown up knowing their father had committed suicide was something Jeremy had thought about often, as Chris must also have. It had always been a mystery to him, how one could willingly take that leap. Wasn’t something, anything, better then nothing? Didn’t hope for a better tomorrow exist, as long as there was a tomorrow? Or was it hope of what awaited us in the afterlife that encouraged them to go? Then again, if there was a benevolent God, or being, or whatever, waiting to welcome us into paradise, why was the world He insisted we live in, first, so . . . fucked up?
No matter what his poor, sick brother believed, suicide took a type of wilfulness he hadn’t thought Chris capable of. If he had just shown as much determination and conviction for anything else in his life . . .
He couldn’t let himself think about it. He had to just get through the funeral and the wake and the next week or two, and eventually he would be fine . . . he would be fine. Everything will be okay.
The apartment was so quiet he could hear water running in the pipes from somewhere in the building. He placed his hand against the cold surface of the bathroom door. Had they cleaned up the mess? Probably not. Of course he would have to do it himself. Metaphorically speaking that seemed about right.
He gripped the door knob, but couldn’t turn it. He just couldn’t. He needed coffee.
A half hour later, he was in the parking lot of Mcdonald’s drinking a large black coffee, thankful that they had replaced that old swill they used to serve. It was actually good now.
He had the windows rolled down but cranked the AC anyway, because it relaxed him.
Some black kids in an Impala on the other side of the parking lot were blaring a Kanye West song. It was a good song. He thought maybe it was about a person not being able to find love because he was obsessed with his career. That sounded familiar. It had been somewhat of a big deal when he went ahead and cancelled the remainder of his appointments for the week. Even Margret seemed surprised. Is that what it’s come to? His own brother dies, and people expect him to . . . what? Just keep on living and working like nothing happened?
He looked down at his watch and contemplated calling it day. He had to pick up Charlie at 6 a.m. in order to get to the funeral home before everyone else, but wanted to wait for the song to end first.
The black kids in the car were all in their teens or early twenties. They seemed like good kids. Homies of all colours, it appeared, seemed more friendly and happy these days. The unprovoked cold stares and aggressiveness of the nineties and early millennium seemed to be tapering off. Rap, he thought, also seemed to be on a positive upswing. He was sure the two were connected.
And the wheel turns. He felt his stomach knot up again. That was something his brother had said to him once, in one of his rare moments of baffling maturity.
It was in ‘05 or ‘06. He’d been visiting Christopher, as he often did back then.
“Have you heard from Aileen?” Chris had asked, casually, from where he was sipping his tea at the dining room table.
Aileen was a woman Jeremy had dated for a few months after his divorce. One day she had just severed contact without explanation.
“Strange that you ask, actually.”
“Oh, yeah? Why?”
“I heard from her just last week. She called me out of the blue. Said she was sorry. That she made a mistake and never should have left me.”
“Did she say why she just disappeared?” Chris asked.
“Not really, no.”
“So what did you say?”
“I told her it was too late and that if she’d just explained herself to me, perhaps we could’ve picked things back up again but she hadn't even shown me that respect, so I had no time for her.”
Chris put down his tea, and smiled slyly at him from across the table.
“And the wheel turns,” he’d said.
The words struck Jeremy. So succinct. So true. Indeed, the wheel turns. After that, whenever Jeremy was able to discern karma making its long gradual rotations through all things, he would say these wise, wise words to himself: And the wheel turns.
It was always disturbing when he could glimpse past the mask of madness that obscured his brother’s true face. How alike would they have been if not for the mental illness? Throughout his whole life he’d wondered if one day he too might fall ill.
He felt something cold on his cheek and realized he had begun to cry. Wiping the tears away with the back of his hand, he realized he couldn’t hear the music in the parking lot anymore. The car full of kids was gone, his coffee cold.
He started the car and pulled out of the parking lot, unaware that the wheel really had, in fact, begun to turn.
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