I entered the loft to see O’Malley lying on the sofa with her eyes closed, like she was sleeping. We can’t sleep except during the day, even if we try, so I was kind of worried.
“O’Malley?” I said, taking the guitar off my back and setting it carefully against the wall.
She gave a little grunt.
Relieved that someone hadn’t snuck in while I was gone and staked her or something, I walked over to the sofa and leaned down over her. “Whatcha doin’?”
She shrugged. “Daydreaming.”
I laughed a little. “You mean nightdreaming?”
“Yeah,” she said, smiling. “Nightdreaming.”
Her eyes opened and my barely beating heart gave a tiny jump. Looking into those hazel eyes was like staring down the barrels of two guns loaded with desire.
Damn, that’s corny. If this “band” thing doesn’t pan out, I should really look into writing erotica. Lonely housewives would lick this up.
“How’d it go?” she asked, not answering my question.
“Not bad. Ran across an old classmate and stopped to say hey, paid my stepdad a visit…”
She smirked knowingly. “How’s the old man doing?”
“Not too good. Unfortunately, he got shitfaced drunk, fell and threw out his back, then choked to death on his own vomit.” I pouted like it broke my heart.
“That’s absolutely disgusting, Grin.”
“I know. It was awesome!” I growled, smiling evilly.
She laughed and sat up, and I sat down beside her. “What did your classmate have to say?” she wondered.
“He thought he was going nuts at first, then he was terrified, then… I guess it went pretty well.” She nodded. “What did you do?”
“Saw your pedo on the news,” she told me, motioning toward the TV. “The only people who seemed bothered by it were the cops… Especially Tanner.”
I knew that name. “Tanner?”
“The detective who also investigated your murder. And who happens to be working on the Case of the Drained Corpses.”
“Huh,” I murmured, furrowing my brow. “Weird coincidence…”
“No such thing,” she said. “Trust me. You live in this world long enough, you find that everything happens for a reason.”
I rolled those words over in my head. I’d never really liked it when people said things like that, like at my dad’s funeral when all the old people kept telling me, “The Lord must’ve decided it was time for him to come home,” or, “It’s all part of God’s mysterious plan.”
But lately, that kind of thing was making more and more sense. Not when it came to my dad’s death—I’d never believed there was some special reason for that—but when it came to what I was and how I had gotten that way. I could’ve stayed home that fateful Friday night. I could’ve left along with Nick and Helen. I could’ve gone straight home from Sarah’s. I could’ve stopped and turned around when Kelly started taunting me on the road. I could’ve kicked his ass, if the crash hadn’t kicked mine first. Every choice I made that night, I realized, led to my death.
But it went back further than that, didn’t it? It went all the way back to two weeks before the party, when I had decided to go to St. Cecilia’s, where O’Malley first saw me. If I had just gone somewhere else that night, or if I had only been there at a different time…
I remembered what O’Malley said about all of us “having one.” For a moment, I could feel how everything was connected, the chain of cause and effect, and how if I had only done one or another little thing differently, I wouldn’t be there, sitting next to her, immortal and bloodthirsty, with scars on my face that made me earn my nickname, with one on my throat that showed I shouldn’t exist anymore.
“What’s the matter?” O’Malley asked, shaking me out of my reverie.
I looked back up at her and tried to smile. “Nothing. I was just thinking.”
“Ah…” she acknowledged, but didn’t ask what was on my mind. As always, I suspected she already knew. Then she jumped up and started toward the door. “I gotta go to work. I’ll be back soon.”
I lay back on the couch, watching her put her jacket on. But she paused as she reached for the doorknob and turned back around, giving me a sly smile.
I raised an eyebrow. “What?”
“Why don’t you come along?” she offered. “You might enjoy this one.”
We walked to the scummy strip joint just a few blocks away from Lanigan’s. O’Malley had already shown me the photos we would use to terrorize the guy before we killed him. Or rather, before I killed him. She said she’d gone out and hunted while I was in Findlay, and since I hadn’t fed yet, I should be the one to do it. But I knew that was bullshit. I’d suspected for a while that she was training me to take up her mantle. Little did she know, I’d had a little revelation after my run-in with that pederast, and I was ready to assume a mantle of my own.
“Here we are,” she said as we stopped out front of the club. “He comes here every Saturday night after payday to blow his check.” She turned to face me. “Got the pictures?”
I patted my chest. They were in the inner pocket of my jacket.
“Cool. I’ll bring him out back, then it’s all you.” She winked at me and went inside.
I grinned and went around the back of the building like we’d planned. I was feeling a little theatrical, so I climbed the rusty ladder to the roof and hung around up there, above the back door. It was only a two-story building, so the landing would be a snap.
After a while, the door below me opened, and O’Malley led the target outside. She backed against the wall and pulled him in front of her by the lapels of his brown leather jacket, and he kissed her. I gave him a few minutes to think he’d sealed the deal, then I let out that vicious, demonic, screaming cackle. He jumped and cursed, and in fact, so did O’Malley.
“What the fuck was that?” the man shouted, spinning around and checking the landscape.
“I don’t know…” O’Malley whispered, sounding frightened. “I’m scared. Can we go somewhere else?”
“Shut up, bitch,” he muttered, and cried, “Come out, motherfucker! What’re ya laughin’ at, you fuckin’ clown? C’mon, I know you’re there!”
I jumped down and landed on my feet in front of him, my face suddenly right in front of his, grinning with my fangs, my smile grotesquely extended by my scars. O’Malley screamed bloody murder. The man cursed again and jumped back.
“Get outta here!” I commanded O’Malley. She turned and ran.
“Hey! Wait for me, you fuckin’—” he shouted after her, turning to follow, but I grabbed his shoulders and yanked him backward and down. He crashed on his back, smacking his head on the concrete. “Who the fuck…” he groaned, trying to keep his eyes straight to get a look at me.
“What’s up?” I greeted, and reached into my jacket. It must’ve looked like I was getting a weapon because he freaked out, trying to get up and run, but the blow to the head made him dizzy. He fell back down and settled for crawling away. I laughed again and walked after him, saying, “No, man. It’s not like that. Look.” I came around in front of him and grabbed him by the hair to lift his head. “I just wanna show you something.”
From my jacket I produced the photos and pulled out the first one. It was a picture of the target’s girlfriend, our client’s sister. She was pretty, except for the bruised and swollen eye she had in the photo. I showed it to him.
“You know this girl?” I asked.
Realization passed across his face, but he hid it with anger.
He didn’t answer, so I slapped him hard and shoved the picture closer to his face. “You know her, don’t you?”
“No!” he spat.
“You sure?” I asked, taking a look at the picture myself. “She looks sorta like your girlfriend Tina, doesn’t she?”
“I don’t know no Tina, you piece of shit!”
“Then allow me to jog your memory,” I offered, and tossed the rest of the photos in front of him, one by one. A picture of the back of her head, cut open from where he’d hit her with a beer bottle. Another of her mouth, dripping with blood after he’d punched her and split her lip on her teeth. Hand prints around her neck. Bruises on her back and ribs. Cigarette burns on her arms and chest. Broken fingers and a broken wrist.
As the proof of his sins landed before his eyes, he began to laugh, and finally looked up and me and said, “What are you, a cop or somethin’?”
In a swift movement, I gripped him by the neck and hoisted him up until his feet were off the ground. He kicked and choked, grabbing and pulling at my wrists. “By the time I’m done with you,” I growled, “you’re gonna wish I was a cop.”
When he was near passing out, I threw him back down on the ground, delivering a few hard kicks to his ribs and back. He collapsed on his stomach, arms outstretched, begging me to stop.
“Stop? What, don’t you get this game?” I asked.
To illustrate, I glanced at the photo of the girl’s mangled hand, then walked around to his right arm. I crushed his wrist beneath my heavy boot, followed by his index and middle fingers. Crunch of bone and tendon, cries of pain. My sharp teeth were bared in a sadistic grin.
“Figured it out yet?” I asked him over his screams. He just curled up in the fetal position, crying and cursing, cradling his hand. I crouched over him and said, “Don’t go anywhere. We’re not done yet.”
I went to the dumpster. It didn’t take much rummaging to find what I was looking for. I went back to his side yanked him up into a sitting position, and brought the glass bottle I’d found crashing and shattering against the back of his head. Blood ran down his neck and soaked the back of his shirt. Luckily, he didn’t pass out. I stood in front of him and lifted his chin, then swung and punched him in the eye. He started to fall backward,
but I held him up by his hair and punched him again, square in the mouth. His chin was bathed in red.
“That just about covers it,” I said, letting him crumple to the ground in a panting, crying, bleeding heap so I could light a smoke. I looked around at the scattered pictures, then realized, “Oh, yeah. One more thing.” I put my foot on his back and lifted his arm, took a drag, and put the cigarette out on his skin. He shrieked and tried to twist away, but my grip was tight. I pressed the glowing end of the cigarette to his arm a couple times, in different places, until the smoke stopped rising. “There,” I finished, and let his arm fall, along with the remains of the cigarette.
“Please…” he whispered.
“Beg all you want, asshole,” I muttered. “I can’t imagine how many times she did the same, and you didn’t listen.”
I rolled him onto his back with my foot and grabbed him by the front of his shirt, forcing him up to his feet. He whimpered in pain.
“Please…” he said again. “I can change…I can… make things… right…”
I threw back my head and laughed. “You… You really expect me to believe that? What did you think I was going to do, kick your ass and leave you to think about what you’ve done?” I laughed again and jerked him toward me, bringing his face inches from mine. He cringed back from my mutilated visage. “I’m here to kill you, you piece of shit,” I told him with all seriousness. “And there’s no way in hell you’re talking your way out of it.”
He got pissed. He screamed curses at me, punching, kicking, scratching. I just held him there and let him, grinning and letting my fangs grow, my eyes blacken. When he noticed the transformation, his eyes went wide and his swollen bottom lip trembled. “What… the… f—”
I crushed his throat in my jaws and blood poured into my mouth. He tried to scream, but he couldn’t breathe. His body shook as his lungs strained for air. In his terror, his heart pounded blood through his veins and down my throat in heavy gushes. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to keep up, swallowing hard and fast. He died of suffocation before I drained him completely. When I pulled back, the bite marks healed, and I dragged the body over to sit up against the wall.
As I gathered the heartbreaking photos and stuffed them back into my jacket, I regretted that no one would know why he died. It sort of looked like he’d been in a fight that went too far. But that was the last thing I wanted, for him to look like a victim. I considered leaving the photos of his battered girlfriend, so whoever found him could make the connection, but I couldn’t do that. They might trace the pictures back to her, or to her sister who took them. So, what could I do? I had to leave some kind of sign, something to show that he deserved what had happened to him.
I looked around me, as if the answer was there, behind that strip club. In a way, it was. My eyes skimmed over my reflection in the window of the back door, then darted back and settled on it.
I gazed at the scars on my face, and smirked.
Then I took out my switchblade and approached the corpse.