Rad had decided Whistler would be his last victim. Whistler had died in Rad’s foyer. The parquet floor had to be torn out and burned, and blood sanded off the underlayment. The wallpaper had to be steamed and scraped from the wall. Every trace of Whistler had to be erased before Rad could bring in workmen to redo his foyer.
When the cops showed up at his office at the university, Rad told them what they would have found out anyway. Robert Whistler had been his student. Yes, he and Whistler had a few beers together. He described an unhappy, confused young man whose disappearance was sad but hardly surprising. “I don’t know what he’s looking for,” Rad said, easing Whistler into present tense. “I don’t think he knows.”
He could have said anything, but clichés worked best on those idiots. He’d known both of them since third grade. Later they would refer to Rad by his childhood nickname, Radish, and snuffle with laughter.
“To your knowledge was he using drugs?” Dave Reynolds asked. Dave used to call Rad mama’s boy and tit-sucker and taunt him for not fighting back.
“He talked about pot,” Rad said. “I never actually saw him smoking it.”
Facing his old schoolmates, their ugliness stark in the office fluorescence, he relished the paradox of his childhood weakness. It protected his strength. In a town like Richfield, where folks never change and you’re only a stranger once, the cops know who the killers aren’t.
Their questions turned to Whistler’s friends. It became apparent they suspected those losers of operating a drug cartel and believed Whistler had met his end in a dispute over methamphetamine. Rad helped them along by implying Whistler had been afraid of their prime suspect. That got them going. Dave pumped his hand and thanked him for his cooperation.
Rad still wondered how Whistler found the article in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He couldn’t have been a subscriber. And unless he was looking, he easily could have missed the generic homicide story or failed to recognize the girl he’d seen only once in a bar on Laclede’s Landing. The blurry black-and-white photo negated her most striking feature, her cinnamon hair. It was a disappointment to Rad, who hadn’t been able to take Polaroids of their encounter. All he had were yellowed newspaper clippings and a lock of that hair.
Whistler hadn’t seemed suspicious before he showed up that night in late January. “Yo,” he said when Rad opened the door.
“Robert. It’s been awhile.”
Whistler shuffled in without waiting for an invitation. He reeked of beer. He stopped in the middle of the living room and thrust the folded newspaper at Rad. “Recognize her?”
Rad thought of her raw whisper, her lips reduced to meat, begging him. Please kill me, please just kill me. She still turned him on. “It’s late, Robert. What’s this about?”
“The girl in St. Louis, she disappeared that night you hooked up with her.”
Rad glanced at the photo. “It’s not the same girl.”
“It’s her,” Whistler said. “Could be you’re the last one to see her. You better talk to the cops.”
Rad scanned the article. Before their St. Louis excursion, he’d dreamed of making Whistler his protégée, but the moment for revealing himself had never come. Now he saw how dangerous the dream had been. “The body was found in Illinois, Robert.”
“She must have gone out again after our—encounter.”
“I went to your room at four in the morning” Whistler said. “Guess what, you weren’t there.”
“I was sleeping, Robert.”
He had no one to blame but himself. Sometimes he savored the loneliness of his life, but when the darkness was more than he could endure, he yearned for another pair of predator’s eyes to confirm its harsh and absolute reality. His friendship with Robert had grown from his own weakness. Now he was paying. The dumb redneck would go to the cops sooner or later.
“I’ve still got her number,” Rad said. “Let’s call and ask her if she’s dead.”
Whistler looked at him with dull suspicion.
“Come up to my office. The number’s in my Rolodex.”
Leading the way upstairs, Rad considered the situation. Whistler was fifteen years younger, two inches taller, and outweighed him by twenty pounds. He might be drunk, but he wasn’t afraid to fight. If he got the chance.
Halfway up the stairs, Rad spun and slammed his forearm into Whistler’s face, then delivered a sharp kick to the knee. Whistler tumbled down the stairs and sprawled in the foyer, motionless. Then he stirred and raised himself onto his elbows.
A jackknife open and ready, Rad straddled him, leaned one knee hard into his spine and yanked a fistful of hair to expose the scrawny throat. Whistler’s ponytail made it easy. Rad wore his hair like a Roman soldier, cropped, so it wouldn’t give the enemy a handle.
He ditched the jackknife afterward. For years he’d carried it around to cut rope or trim an occasional branch, never dreaming his life would depend on it someday. The four-inch blade was long enough for slitting throats, but it could have been sharper. Its edge seemed to bounce off Whistler’s resilient flesh. Rad was forced to keep pressing and sawing deeper until the skin gave way to sinew underneath. Then came a mess of blood, the dark smell.
Whistler thrashed convulsively. Clawing and plucking at the knife. Lunging with his heels, pummeling Rad’s thighs, swiping at his groin. Several times the blade was knocked from its track or lost traction and slipped. Rad wrenched Whistler’s head further back and twisted until the tortured neck groaned. The dying body has a thousand voices.
Rad kept sawing at the carotid artery. He wasn’t enjoying himself. It wasn’t like doing a girl—slow, elegant recreation. It was work, like chain-sawing tree stumps or hacking holes in rocky ground. Afterward he needed ibuprofen for the bruises and abrasions. His left wrist, wrenched during the struggle, had to be wrapped in an elastic bandage.
Then the cleanup, all night and the next day without sleep. After emptying Whistler’s pockets he wrapped the body in old shower curtains that he kept in the garage to use as drop cloths. He taped the edges so that no trace of death leaked into his car trunk.
Whistler’s Pontiac was blocking the driveway, so he dealt with it first. He wasn’t worried about anyone seeing the car. The yard was cloaked by trees, and students visiting their friends in the neighborhood often parked where they didn’t belong. Stowing his mountain bike in the Pontiac’s backseat, Rad drove across town to Whistler’s Automotive, the garage where Robert worked for his father and uncle. The peaked hood of a parka shielded his face, but nobody saw him. Nobody was walking around in the freezing night.
The car reeked of beer and marijuana. Empty aluminum cans rattled in the backseat. Rad began to shiver, his jaw twitching and molars drumming. It wasn’t fear. Just cold and aftershock. The rush of killing, usually pleasurable, had gone bad.
He parked behind the garage among the cars waiting to be picked up or serviced. Searching the Pontiac’s interior with his pocket halogen flashlight, he gathered up another section of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and stuffed it inside his parka, then checked the ashtrays for cigarette butts that weren’t Whistler’s brand. He could imagine Robert cruising with his buds, smoking weed and running his mouth. But nothing in the car suggested any confidential parties lately.
He skirted a floodlight to reach the garage’s rear entrance and tried several of Whistler’s keys. In a minute he was inside an office redolent of metal and grease. His flashlight skittered over a desk sloppy with piled-up work orders, coffee cups, and stacked boxes of auto parts. He drew a breath. No lingering odor of beer or recent smoke here. Whistler hadn’t partied in the garage that night, as he sometimes did.
It took more than chance to account for Rad’s luck. Events fell into place like expressions of his will.
Drinking with a friend, Whistler might have talked about Rad and the missing girl. But everything pointed to his being alone—driving somewhere and parking and downing several cans of beer while he brooded. He probably had mentioned the St. Louis trip to some of his buds and maybe his parents. But Rad was safe as long as nothing connected him to the girl with cinnamon hair.
His muscles howled with exhaustion as he cycled home. Blasts of frigid air stung his face. It was three in the morning when he finally pulled his own car out of the driveway. In the next eight hours he stowed Whistler’s body in his farmhouse outside Richfield, returned home and scrubbed the foyer, then showered and drove to campus in time to teach his first class at eleven.
Rad’s farmhouse was half a mile from the nearest paved road, isolated by brush-choked ravines, a wide crescent of meadow, and fields of corn and soybeans where deer came to graze. Friends and strangers pestered Rad for permission to hunt there, but he always said no. The place was his refuge in hunger and rage and black depression. He loved its smell, moldy to the core, already a grave when he buried Whistler in the dirt cellar two days after killing him. He imagined the corpse decomposing, feeding the carnivorous roots of his house.
Nothing much happened in Richfield, so Robert Whistler’s disappearance was news. The local paper ran stories featuring his distraught family and his reputed ties to drug dealing. The cops claimed to be following up clues. Dave and his partner never returned to ask more questions, but Rad knew he’d pushed his luck far enough. After eight sweet captures and Whistler, it was time to stop. He would succumb to fate and become what he was meant to be, an anonymous loser. He would treasure the memories.
He let his hair grow.
Then Lisa had crossed his path. The moment he saw her, Rad had known he would follow her anywhere. Even to Utah.
Buy Now @ Amazon
Genre – Thriller / Horror
Rating – R