It was all Rusty could do to keep from placing his palms against Amanda’s back and pushing her out the front door.
Once she’d loaded the refrigerator with sundries she was certain he could not survive without, Amanda had taken up a bottle of all-purpose cleaner and began randomly spritzing counter tops, cupboard doors and the kitchen windowsills. That done, she’d deftly torn a paper towel free from the roll mounted beneath the cupboard and commenced to wiping up the flower-scented chemical spray.
After this interminable period of spritzing and wiping and wiping and discoursing about the volume of her neighbor’s stereo and the questionable managerial skills of the Nazarene Church’s governing board, Amanda finally hoisted her coat from where she’d slung it across the back of the dining room chair and made for the door.
It was twenty of the most invasive minutes of Rusty’s life. He sat at the dining room table, eyes bulging and rotating about, praying his mother did not penetrate any deeper into his new home than the kitchen. She did not. And once satisfied her mark had been successfully left upon his life for that day, she kissed him upon the cheek and promptly sashayed out the door.
Pressing the door closed behind Amanda, Rusty shot home the deadbolt with a powerful twist and whirled about. The bedroom. It was the only place the naked girl could have gone. When he had come to, roused by his mother at the door, Rusty had noted from the corner of his eye that the bedroom door was shut tight. Now…
Padding slowly across the living room floor, his heart a throbbing creature hell-bent on freeing itself through his throat, Rusty reached for the doorknob and gave it a twist.
Opening the door inward he had a direct view of his double-sized bed where it angled against the northern wall. The woman was perched on the footboard with her back to him, her thin toes deftly wrapped about the wooden beam. She was still as naked as the moment he first discovered her in the coat closet. Rusty’s eyes slid down the lean slope of her back and immediately lit on her pleasantly curved rump. He tried to swallow, but that thing that once masqueraded as his heart had devolved into something prickly and hedgehog-like and managed to go and get itself stuck in his esophagus.
With tremendous effort, he choked up two words.
At the sound of Rusty’s voice the naked woman’s head snapped around and she locked her sharp golden eyes on his pale and retreating blue.
“Who?” she said.
“Who?” she said once more.
“I’m really sorry but you’re naked and you’re in my home—“
And with the third utterance it occurred to Rusty that the woman wasn’t asking a question so much as making a statement.
“It’s my mommy,” said the shadow near the dresser.
Back in Black
Sandra Boyette was blue under the cold morgue lights. In a fresh plastic smock and plexiglass visor, Former Coroner Ron pulled the vinyl shroud clear of her body and looked deep into the latticework of lacerations. In life Sandra Boyette had been a tall woman, standing just over six feet. The cuts that drained the life from her were made in uniform strokes, a series of deep diagonal trenches looking as though a grizzly bear had used Ms. Boyette to mark his territory.
To the side, Detective Reasoner, in similar attire to Coroner Ron, looked over the Boyette file for the umpteenth time.
“See anything, Doctor?”
“No great blue flashes, if that’s what you mean…” muttered Former Coroner Ron.
Reasoner looked up from his file. “Sorry?” But Former Coroner Ron let silence intercede while dropping his eyes the to cold form before him.
“From the tapering seam of each wound and from the limited understanding of splatter patterns, this killer was rather stout.”
“The guy had to be a fucking midget,” Reasoner shot back.
“With exceedingly long arms,” said Former Coroner Ron. He reached over and picked up a tiny aluminum ruler and set it into the deep incision along Sandra Boyette’s neck. After days in the cooler, her wounds were clean and all but free of moisture. As Former Coroner Ron was once fond of saying, “We are all nothing but clay.”
“Look at this,” Former Coroner Ron said over his shoulder. He heard the other man’s plastic smock crinkle as he shuffled up beside him. “The entry point of the blade—here. It’s deep and secure. It’s not a graze. It dug deep, clean through the jugular leaving the victim to bleed out in seconds.”
“From the angle and distribution of force demonstrated by the depth of the wound, the killer was standing flat-footed on the floor. But how could he reach? This guy is a record-holding knuckle-dragger.”
“You’re saying we’ve got a killer orangutan?”
Former Coroner Ron couldn’t help but let out a brief snort.
“You ever read Edgar Alan Poe?”
“I’m not much of a reader, Doctor,” Reasoner said looking back at his file.
“No, I don’t suppose you are…” Former Coroner Ron took in a rattled breath and rocked his bulk back on his heels. Slowly, he turned to the slab directly behind him and set his eyes on the pale little form that had once been Connie Boyette: Connie, age 6, 4 feet, ½ inches.
Where the slashes across her mother’s body followed an upward arc, the wounds covering the little girl were nearly horizontal. Former Coroner Ron again dipped the little ruler into a wound. There was no tapering to the running edge of the cut. “No doubt. The killer stood nose to nose with this little girl.”
“Fuck me. We really are talking about a midget.”
“Little Person. But no. This doesn’t make sense unless the weapon is some custom job made of tensile steel— like a Balinese Kris knife. The wound depth and energy distribution? That’s just not panning out.”
“And a total lack of defensive wounds on both mother or daughter. I can understand the little girl standing there frozen in shock but not the mother,” Reasoner muttered.
Former Coroner Ron turned so he was flanked by both of the cold steel slabs and dropped his eyes at his battered shoes. “And DNA?”
“The victim’s. Family members’. No one else,” said Reasoner.
“Not a dram,” muttered Former Coroner Ron. “These people were killed by a four foot tall, saber-bearing plastic orangutan.”
“Your sense of humor is failing me, Doctor.”
“A famous fiction detective once said, “When you eliminate the possible…”
“Don’t, Doctor.” Reasoner snapped. “Remember you’re on a very short leash here.”
Connie, age 6, 4 feet, ½ inches.
“Then I humbly request we go for walkies.”
“I need to go back to the crime scene.”
A Strange, Enchanted Boy
“My name is Rusty,” Rusty said. “This is my house. You snuck in to my house.”
“Who?” Said the naked woman once more.
She looked up at him, her golden eyes never leaving his. Rusty saw a hint of confusion there, but no fear. It was Rusty who felt his knees rattle and his tummy twist. The woman unwrapped her fingers from the rail, unfolding from her crouch just enough for Rusty to see where her bright pink nipples dented into her upper thighs. She carefully lifted her arm and with splayed fingers reached toward Rusty.
The woman’s arm extended out and slowly stopped. Rusty looked down. Her nails were long and sharp, but translucent and strangely clean. Rusty rocked back on his feet keeping a pillow of air between he and the woman’s talons. Rusty licked his lips and struggled to swallow against the leather-dryness of his throat. His eyes snapped back to hers. She cocked her head.
“Rusty,” he whispered.
The woman glanced down at the back of her hand as if it were suddenly painted in pastels. She ran her eyes up and down the spread of her fingers and then up the length of her arm like it was some great new gift.
With the woman so preoccupied with her arms and fingers–and now suddenly her toes, Rusty relaxed. If she were going to claw out his eyes, she would have done it already…unless of course she was one of those hair-trigger crazy people—sanguine and mellow one moment, a raging torrent the next. In watching her so captivated by her every digit it occurred to Rusty the best thing to do was move slowly just like you would around a frightened animal.
Slowly, he bent his knees and lowered himself into a crouch. The woman looked back at him in mild curiosity and reached out to him once more. His eyes locked on hers and this time he inched forward allowing her open hand to rest on his forehead.
The naked woman’s hand was warm and dry and fit onto his forehead like it was meant to be there. A feeling of warmth began to spread from Rusty’s crown to his belly and he felt the tightness in his shoulders, rigid since Amanda’s arrival, slowly and gently release.
His eyes closed. Next he knew the woman’s hand drifted to his left cheek while the other began to explore the right side of his face. Her fingertips gently fluttered over his eyelids, the low bridge of his nose, eventually winding into the hair at the nape of his neck. Next he knew she was cradling his head in her hands. As the weight of his skull lolled back into the struts of her fingers he heard the steady, solemn beat of his own heart…
Beat. Beat. Beat. Beat.
…and the world behind his eyelids filled with warm crimson mist.
Beat. Beat. Beat. Beat.
And then another brighter pulse entered his awareness…
Beat. Beat. Beat. Beat.
Her heartbeat, he could hear her heartbeat.
Beat. Beat. Beat. Beat. Beat. Beat. Beat.
Rusty’s head lolled back as far as his vertebrae would allow, his mouth going slack, his eyes drifting closed…
He swallowed and his throat was dry, dry as the breeze rolling up and over his forehead. He blinked and discovered he was no longer in the little bungalow furnished in Late Middle American Grandma but standing in a valley, its floor a carpet of crimson red sands presided over by a sky of black velvet and powdered diamonds.
A sudden vertigo rose through Rusty’s guts and he felt his breath shorten and his vision blur. Rusty tried to swallow and without warning the hedgehog thing lingering in his belly leapt back into his throat and he thought sure he would choke. He blinked hard the way he’d taught himself to escape nightmares as a child. “Blink, dammit, Blink!”
His eyes flew open and he found himself staring straight into a lush and silky nest of jet-black pubic hair and without pause said, “We really need to find you some clothes.”
Scene of the Crime
“I’m afraid crime scene visits are by invitation only, Dr. Goltry.” The voice was deep and held a touch of mirth.
At the sound of the new voice, Former Coroner Ron’s head snapped up so quickly he nearly gave himself whiplash. Neither he nor Detective Reasoner heard the morgue’s large bay doors sweep open, but there stood two broad-shouldered gentlemen just within the threshold. The room’s chilly fluorescent light seemed to flow up and around these men leaving them to their own private gloom.
“Doctor Goltry, I’d like you to meet our guests from Quantico, FBI Special Agents Castro and Paulus.”
The two men shuffled forward in their matching London Fog raincoats. Were not Former Coroner Ron the wiser, he would have sworn they were brothers. Both had nearly identical coloring, hair so deeply red as to be mahogany, beards neatly trimmed but with a touch of Mediterranean ripple where the whiskers dropped below the chin-line.
“Detective Reasoner, far be it for my partner and I to step on the toes of your local jurisdiction,” said Castro walking into the light.
“But we’d appreciate being informed when a new consultant is brought onto the case,” said Paulus fast on the heels of his partner.
“Especially one with Dr. Goltry’s very colorful background,” Castro said with a certain note of finality.
“How do you know about Goltry, I only asked him to look over the evidence a few hours ago…” Reasoner gawped.
“We’ve been on this case longer than we care to say,” said Castro.
“It’s embarrassing just how deeply we are familiar with each and every detail,” countered Paulus.
Former Coroner Ron was very much at a loss for words and that gut-deep intuition he’d so come to trust? It was ringing bells and chimes.
“Detective Reasoner meant no offense,” Former Coroner Ron said to the two barrel-chested gentlemen.
“And none has been taken,” said Castro.
“But procedures need to be followed,” said Paulus.
“Sure. Whatever.” Reasoner muttered and ducking his nose back into his case file braced himself for a chewing out, or at least a long and needling barrage of Bureau policies and procedures. When Castro next spoke, Reasoner nearly bit through his tongue.
“But by all means let’s give Dr. Goltry a second chance to view the crime scene,” said one FBI man.
“A fresh perspective never hurt,” said the other.