ConCarolinas was a dream come true, but maybe not in the way you think. Yes, I went there as a guest and I was on panels and people watched me with rapt attention (I think), but honestly, the fans were icing for me. The ConFam was cake.
I’m currently in the early stages of writing “Cities in Time” but I thought you, my reader, might want to see what I’ve been up to. Here’s a short chapter in which Kendrick and Warden have to deal with one another.
Perhaps I expected her to flinch. Maybe. Truthfully, I wasn’t certain what I expected. I had the twenty-one-year-old daughter of two of my victims in my car riding along as if we were headed to our first date. This included the somewhat moody silence of two people in an enclosed space who don’t quite know how to relate to one another.
I eyed her carefully without losing sight of the treacherously wet road. She wasn’t unattractive. A trifle young for my taste, but not out of the realm of possibility. Yet her attractiveness or lack thereof had no true effect. I thought of her as the ten-year-old portrayed in the paper with her hair still done up in those hideous barrettes. How earnestly she stared into the camera as if she could will her parents back to life with her gaze. That was how I remembered her and this new apparition of her as an adult did nothing to change that.
“Why don’t you kill children?”
Amanda’s voice betrayed no fear, only curiosity. A gentle questioning as if she didn’t want to offend me. Every moment made me reevaluate her.
“I don’t kill children because they do not interest me in that way. They never have. I cannot say they never will, but as things stand, I am getting on in my years and I have yet to find a child I desired to dismember.”
I was honest. In most cases, I tend to be. Especially in cases where honesty will cost me no consequences. Locked in a moving box with a girl who had, by her actions, sought me out seemed safe enough.
She fell silent again. In those close quarters, I couldn’t help noticing the faintest scent of vanilla. It certainly did not come from anything of mine. My personal scents tended toward the brusque, overt and strong. Vanilla is often subtle, at least when applied to skin.
Outside, the rain slackened. The buildings on the side of the road became distinct once more, even taking on color beyond the uniform gray of a drenched day.
“If you had caught me, would you have killed me?”
There was a question I anticipated. History could not be rewritten, but in her mind, certain things were hardly set in stone. Her life, as it was, hinged on the fact that I didn’t kill her when the chance presented itself. Of course, she once again overestimated how important she was to my life. At ten, she wasn’t much of a threat. A willowy not quite adolescent who had undoubtedly still worshiped her father as the ultimate hero and her mother as the bringer of light could not have brought me down on my worst day. The night I killed the Freemans had been far from my worst night.
Following them home from the theater had been easy enough. I could still see how her mother threw back her head and laughed. Beauty personified. Amanda had her regal features, though her eyes were her father’s. The very same eyes that pinned me down once or twice as we moved through the dark streets of the late night. He knew I was there. He knew I was a threat, yet he did nothing.
If he had approached me, perhaps I would have simply been satisfied in the hunt and left off the kill. Unfortunately, he did not.
“That I cannot say.” The urge to reassure her came and went. What cold comfort would it be to be assured of one’s own survival when those nearest and dearest were bludgeoned and broken by the hands that would spare?
I am a monster. I have never claimed to be anything else.
“You said you wanted to talk,” I said. “But so far all you’ve done is ask questions. What is it you want?”
“To be like you.”
Her agenda laid bare and it had teeth.
I didn’t question joining him under the umbrella even though it put me well within reach of his free hand. What was he going to do, manhandle me to the car I was going to willingly? Seemed funny. If there was anything giving away his feelings, it was his white-knuckled grip on the umbrella handle. Though we said nothing, the continuous sound of the rain provided enough noise to keep us from having to fill an uncomfortable silence.
I hadn’t considered what would happen when it got this far.
I thought I would find him. I thought I would introduce myself. I thought I would even follow him for a day or two after he brushed me off before going on to whatever the rest of my life was.
Then he opened the car door for me. Late model BMW, black. The kind of car you looked at and looked past. Just like Phillip himself, the guy who disappears in a crowd.
Safety rules say you never go anywhere with a stranger without notifying someone of where you’re going and who you’re going with. Except I had no one to tell. Or at least, no one who would do more than note it down on a piece of paper and forget about it for a week. By the time they followed up, I could have been rotting in a ditch three days.
I settled into the black leather seat.
If Phillip noticed my hesitation, he didn’t comment. I needed a plan. Sammy O, the reporter who helped me track him down, told me not to pursue it.
Let it go. Your parents are dead and he’s dangerous. Nothing good will come out of this.
Maybe that was true. Maybe not.
Sitting in the seat waiting on Phillip to get in, I stared out into the sheeting rain and forced myself to consider what would happen now. Phillip would get into the car. He would drive me somewhere, maybe his home on Colorado, maybe somewhere else. No matter where we ended up, I was going to be at a disadvantage, even with the pistol I had tucked away under my left arm. He had height, reach, and weight on his side. I had, maybe, the element of surprise.
Phillip tucked the umbrella behind the seat and then studied me as he put the keys in the ignition.
“How old are you now?” he asked.
“You don’t know–“
“No, I don’t.”
The car started with a simple yet satisfying thrum and he backed out of the parking space.
“Why don’t you?”
“You overestimate your importance in my life, Amanda. I suppose that’s what I ought to call you.”
The rain had turned into a distant sound like being on the wrong side of an airport listening for planes. I chose not to concentrate on it, but instead strained to hear something in his voice that sounded like humanity.
“The press painted you as the one who got away. Painted you as heroic. Made you important,” he continued. “However, I wasn’t even aware of you until I took a stroll through your home and found the door with your name on it decorated in stars and ribbons. Your mother’s doing, I don’t doubt. By then, you had already disappeared into the night and I went about my business as usual.”
His delivery chilled. I wondered what it would feel like to be so unattached.
The radio suddenly sputtered static and he jabbed the power button. What had he been listening to in here?
“21. My birthday was in April.”
“Ah.” His only comment.
“Why?” The cramp in my stomach told me I didn’t really want the answer.
“I don’t kill children.”
All around us, the rain washed away evidence of our passing.
Amanda. Silhouetted against the florescent lights of the Robin’s Egg, I pegged her for a lost sixteen-year-old looking for money to get home after having made one of those mistakes you don’t run home and tell to Momma. Then she introduced herself.
Lawson. I hadn’t killed anyone by the last name Lawson. I visualized the pages in my book and nothing popped out. Still, looking at her face, she seemed familiar. A clipping floated in my vision. Freeman. Amanda Freeman. Courageous Ten Year Old Escapes Slayer. Of course, she was much younger in the picture, but it was her watching me intently as she waited for my response. It hadn’t been three seconds.
“And how does that help you?” I asked.
Her face was not one I had come to associate with those grieving the dearly departed. Survivors of my victims burst into tears in my presence and cursed liberally the system denying them justice. Amanda instead was sizing me up. Not quite in a predator versus predator way, but far closer to that than predator versus prey.
Around us, the rain continued its droning and drowning of the parking lot. My car, two rows from the door and facing it, awaited me. I had no plans, though some always formed when I was aimless. Sometimes they were to see a movie. Sometimes they were to see someone’s insides. I rarely knew which ahead of time.
She didn’t answer my question. Her eyes darted out to the parking lot as a car, headlights blaring yellow, rolled by to park at the end of the row closest to the diner. I studied the curve of her brown neck and fall of her black hair. Amanda, the one who got away. Or at least, that’s what the papers said. I hadn’t even known she was there until she was gone. Yet they made it seem as if she had confronted me and escaped but only by a hair. Now here she was again, older, perhaps wiser, but certainly with an agenda.
Was it closure?
Those who begged for closure also begged for an explanation. Why did I kill their relative, their friend, their love, their child? As if I knew and could speak it in words for them to understand. I do know, of course, but I also know nothing I say will give them the panacea they seek. Why do I kill? For pleasure. Who do I choose? Whoever catches my fancy. The only rhyme or reason is the artist’s eye within me and it does not negotiate or deviate. Once it chooses, it will have satisfaction.
“We need to leave.”
A minute had passed since the last time Amanda spoke. She looked at me again, her eyes brown-green and certain.
“We?” I asked and popped open my umbrella to shelter us from the unrelenting rain. There was nothing I could do about our shoes.
“Yes. We need to talk.”
Four words which often struck fear in the heart of man. I smiled.