Larry stood in the rain in the parking lot of the prison and stared at the sky. Raindrops caused him to blink and Larry wondered how long it had been since he had seen the sun. He looked down, cleared his vision and noticed a plant growing near the fence. How long had it been there? He walked past this spot every day and he never noticed it before. It was nearly a foot tall and looked like an alien tree of some sort for it had a blood red stalk and its limbs were red as well. What kind of plant was it? Larry found it odd that he would choose this moment to notice something, a weed, that had always been there. Larry felt an odd tingling moving across his skin like a tiny sailing ship cris-crossing an ocean. He glanced skyward once more and hurried home.
Susan came home to find the case of wine in the sink, all the bottles uncorked, all the wine drained and gone. She stood looking at the emptiness of the bottles and wondered if Larry had snapped and gone off the deep end.
“Baby?” She called out and she wandered into the living room where Larry was sitting on the floor with his back against the sofa.
“We’ve got to stop drinking so much, Susan.” Larry said as if she had asked. “Things are about to get a lot stranger than we ever imagined. We’re either going to ride this thing to the end and get rich doing it or we’re going down. I think we need to stay sober from this point on.”
“Baby, are you okay?” Susan slid down beside him and took his hand. “What did she do to you?”
“She told me where Robert Jenkins was buried and how he was killed.” Larry said without looking at her. “I wrote it all down. Every word of it.”
“Who the hell is Robert Jenkins?” Susan asked and then remembered. A rising star of a politician who had disappeared without a trace after getting involved with one of Christa Fuller’s boyfriends, who had blown his brains out on the steps of the family’s church. It was the case that got Fuller the undivided attention of the FBI. “Oh god, Larry, you picked a hell of a time to stop drinking.”
“She told me every detail of how we hid the body.” Larry replied. “And then she told me where Marcel hid the money he stole. You aren’t going to believe how easy it is for us to get the money, Sue. It’s ours for the losing. And you were right; Christa doesn’t just want sex. She wants out. She has a plan. If I help her, if we help her, then she’ll leave us and the money in peace. If we don’t help her then she’s going to tell everyone who will listen about what happened.” Larry stopped speaking and put his hands over his face. “We don’t have a choice anymore.”
“The hell we don’t!” Susan snapped. “The hell we’re going to help that bitch get out! What do you think she’s going to do when she’s back in the wild? Take up knitting? Larry she’s killed or had killed a half dozen men, that we know about, and who knows what else she’s done? I say we let her say whatever she wants to say. Who is going to believe her at this point? Marcel’s car has turned up in South Carolina! I have no idea how it got there but you can bet your ass we can prove we had nothing to do with it. Screw the money and screw her too!” Susan stopped talking suddenly. “I didn’t mean that last part, literally.”
“Baby, I love you,” Larry said softly, “and you know I will always do what is right for us, right?”
“Yes,” Susan straddled Larry and hugged him hard.
“You’re pregnant with my son.” Larry told her.
Two minutes, Susan thought, what was two minutes? It was one hundred and twenty seconds. It was the time it took for toast. It was how long that damn red light at the corner of Main Street and Liberty to change when she was running late. Susan had peed on the plastic white stick with two windows on it and then handed it to Larry. “I’ll be in the bedroom, you know I can’t stand this sort of thing.” And then she waited. Two minutes. It had to be over by now. Two minutes had to have gone by. It had been an eternity. It has taken Larry two minutes to reach orgasm on their wedding night, if that, and two minutes now seemed like it would stretch out into the stars and moon and…
“You’re pregnant.” Larry said as he walked into the room.
“Take my clothes off of me and fuck me” Susan said. “Now.”
They lay sleeping together and Susan woke up first. Was Christa telling the truth? Susan put her hand on her belly and wondered why it would feel like when there was a life inside of her own. Whose life? She was just a week late, stress, she thought, and she tried to backtrack when she and Larry had last made love. There had been a party and they were both drunk as hell and she allowed him just to get him to stop trying. She was nearly unconscious at the time but it had still been better than nothing. That’s a hell of thing at conception, son, your father was better than nothing. Susan grinned. Murder had made Larry a better lover as well as a better husband. She wiggled her toes and wondered what sort of family life they would live. Christa had to be dealt with, of course, but they had survived killing Marcel, what was a prison break compared to that? Susan felt herself evolving, becoming someone else, and she welcomed the change. Whatever it took, whatever had to be done, it didn’t matter; she would raise her son with her husband and nothing was going to stand in the way of that goal.
The rain lashed the windshield and Larry wondered how long it could rain in Georgia before it all washed away. There was a tropical system sneaking its way across the Atlantic Basin and Larry wondered what it would mean to get a real storm when the low places were already filled with water. Larry resisted the urge, and resisted it often, to go down to the bridge and find out if the piling he had seen concrete being poured into was the same one with Marcel in it, or if they had filled them all. What if the river rose and the body floated out of the piling? But they had dumped a lot of dirt on top of Marcel. And those rocks. No, even of the water rose over the piling Marcel was staying put. Who the hell was it on that video in South Carolina? Larry wondered about that too. Larry wondered if Christa could see that, or if she had seen that, and he wondered what it would cost him to ask her.
Larry went into the wing where isolation was and the agent who had been in Deen’s office stopped him in the hallway “You know, DeMurrey,” the agent said, “it’s illegal for us to record anything that goes on down there in that hole.”
“Yes sir,” Larry replied. He didn’t like the man’s tone of voice or the smirk on his face.
“There’s a big difference between legal and illegal, but we don’t have to use what we find in court to find something we’ve been looking for.” And the agent grinned at him.
“You ever sit and wonder how she knew where Carpenter was buried?” Larry asked. “You ever wonder how a seven year old three thousand miles might have ever known that? You ever wonder if getting tangled up with this…” Larry paused as if searching for the right word, “…woman, might be the very worst thing you could ever do.” Larry took a step forward and put his face very close to that of the agent’s. “Because I think we’re both getting involved in way over our pay grades. The only difference is I don’t have a choice and I know what she is.”
Larry took a step back and grinned. “You already know more than she likes. Best of luck with that.”
Larry walked into the former solitary wing and could still feel the despair. The place reeked of hopelessness and was built, designed in fact, to be a metal grave for the human intellect. Here, time stood still for men, locked away alone without any light or any sensory input but what they created. They were fed once a day. There was a metal toilet in each cell that could be flushed twice a day when the water was cut on. There were no sinks, no showers, no bed, nothing but the toilet and the floor. The toilet flushing was the only sense of time the men here would have. The one meal was delivered at random times, sometimes not at all, to heighten the sense of isolation. “You have been forgotten” was the message that was to be understood and most of the men who had be housed here, no matter how hardened or how demented, began to believe it. The walls were unpainted steel with no way to mark them or alter them; no method could be used to mark time or the presence of the inmates there. Each cell had one recessed light which was turned on for twenty minutes a day. None of this was legal, of course, but none of this was ever reported by anyone other than the inmates and no one cared. Order was kept by the threat of this punishment and if an inmate knew something and the prison wanted that information they had but to place the man in the hole and sooner or later than information would come out even if the man didn’t come out sane. The guards took bets on how long it would take for anyone locked in to break and how much time any given prisoner could take. Larry hated himself for placing bets and hated himself for winning and he wondered if the men who had gone over the edge in this place had realized that there were other men who were drinking beer gained on their insanity.
Christa waited for him in her own cell which a reading light had been delivered and a cord ran from the guard room. A simple bed had been also delivered and Christa was reading a book, propped up on a pillow. Larry thought she could have been an actress, a model, some sort of celebrity, for there was an aura of elegance about her, as if she were a princess who would one day be a queen, and knew it. Larry looked down at the cord and wondered if giving her that sort of weapon was a mistake he would pay for.
“Larry, please,” Christa began, “don’t think such terrible thoughts. We have so little time left together I would rather you be optimistic.” She put the book down and turned off the light. The cell was totally black and Larry momentarily lost his balance in such darkness. “Please come over here and be with me,” she said. “I never realized there was such a creature as the fire ant until I discovered a nest of them in Texas. What they lack in size they make up, in a good fashion, with numbers and ferocity. People have been killed by these tiny insects and Southerners grow up hating them and fearing them yet no one has ever offered a solution to their infestation. One day I was out walking and I happened upon a rather small nest of them, a tiny mound of dirt that would have fit into a large man’s hands, and I kicked the very top of it over, just to see what they would do. I saw hundreds of eggs, none of them larger than a grain of rice, and the fire ants scurried about, looking for whoever had attacked their home and they also began taking their eggs back deeper into the mound. I wonder how they decide who takes the eggs back inside and who looks for the trespassers? I got down on my hands and knees, risking getting stung, to watch the process. It seemed that there were those who carried eggs and those who defended, but there didn’t seem to be any ambiguity. How do they know? How can they tell who is supposed to be doing what? Yet even with their incredibly primitive minds, if you could even call it that, they’ve craved out a niche in a foreign land and the natives flee before them. They kill and they reproduce mindlessly,” Christa paused and Larry could sense she was toying with him a little in the darkness, “no offense.”
“When I asked Lexi to kill for me I already knew he would.” Christa said. “I knew he would protest, that he would deny me, that he would stop speaking to me and threaten me, but I knew that the moment he started calling me again he was going to kill for me, and just the act of putting his hands on me again was a precept to putting his hands on her, the way I wanted his hands on me and the way that I wanted his hands on her, he knew that one meant the other.”
Larry stared into the total darkness of the cell and fell as if he were falling. He felt the wind whipping around him and felt as if all the sanity that has left all of the men who had stared into this same darkness was calling for his to join them. He felt Christa’s hands on him and he felt detached from the passion that rose within him. He felt as if she were small, so very small, so tiny, yet at the same time the smaller she seemed the more powerful she became. Larry fought against the allure of her touch but his muscles relaxed in his shoulders and just like someone watching a movie who had decided not to get absorbed in the storyline, Larry discovered that Christa was the consummate director. Everything she did was perfectly timed and Larry hoped, once that hoped was being drained out of him one drop of sweat at a time, that one day Susan could learn to put her hands on him the way that Christa did.
“You refused to kill for me, Larry,” Christa said in the darkness, “but Lexi did not refuse. Lexington was one of the greatest sculptors of the last century and I could have made him immortal. But he strayed. I knew he would stray if I didn’t keep watch but I decided to allow his toy decide her own fate. She was his model and she saw me as someone she could push aside. She was a body, sinew and muscle and bone and perfect, but she confused that with power. He had her sit in a chair, told her to be perfectly still, and she awaited with perfect discipline. Her chin was up, her breath stilled, and then she saw me walk in and she ignored me. I stood in front of her and she took no notice of me until I smiled at her and then there it was, that moment of realization. You were so close to it, Larry, but the mallet slammed into the back of her head just as the first moment of her body began. Lexington pounded her body to pulp and screamed in rage. But then he threw himself out of the window of his studio and fell twenty stories to his death.
Some people, Larry, no matter how they dress it up or how they explain it away, or how they disguise it, are still just insects waiting for some instinct to tell them what to do and when to do it and there is actually less reason in their lives than there would be found in a fire ant.” Larry felt her stand up and suddenly the reading lamp was a white hot sun. “I want you to go now.”
Larry drove home and wished for five minutes the rain would simply stop. Susan was there when he arrived and she looked as tired as he felt. They hugged, held one another without speaking, and suddenly, Larry felt as if his time with Christa was worse than the murder he had committed. His wife was pregnant, with his child, and he was selling their future off to a murderer as he enjoyed her flesh. He felt sick, violently sick, but held Susan closer, as if he could use her as a shield against what he had done and what he was going to do.
“Go take a shower.” Susan told him. “I’ve called for pizza.”
“Yeah, I’ll be right out.” But Larry soaked in the hot water that came out of the shower head until the water began to cool.
Larry found Susan curled up on the sofa eating pizza and drinking a diet soft drink. This was a sure sign that she wanted comfort food but wasn’t binging on it, even if she was. Larry knew to approach her cautiously. “How was work?” he asked.
“Bad.” Susan replied. “Hormones.”
“Is there anything I can say or do that won’t make it worse?” he asked with a smile.
“No” but Susan had to smile back at him.
Larry took a piece of pizza out of the box and Susan glared at him. They ate without speaking and Larry dared not reach for the remote. The television’s grey-white screen was as dead as the sky and Larry longed for color.
“How many people has she killed?” Susan asked suddenly.
“More than she’s told, more than we’ll ever know, maybe, I counted at least six, if you count the guys that commit suicide after having dealt with her.” Larry disliked the subject matter but knew better than try to divert Susan in this mood.
“How did she know where Carpenter was? She was seven. She was half a country away.” Susan picked a pepperoni off the pizza and held it out to Larry like a peace offering.
“Christa told me that during the time she was being raped by her step father on a regular basis she could tell when he was going to attack her and sometimes she could tell how. After she killed him she started paying more attention to her dreams and how she felt about things. She went out to California and when a guy tried to pimp her she rolled him up in the sheets of the bed and used a rope to tie him up, like a mummy. She took him out into the desert and camped out with him, sitting in the car with the ac running and watching him die. It’s an odd thing, Susan, how small and tiny she is, and yet she can move the bodies of men with ease. She uses ropes and rugs and all sorts of things I would never thing of using.”
“That’s because you’re a big man, Larry” Susan laughed. “We ladies have to use our heads.”
“But she said by the second night the guy was dying, babbling, and suddenly she could feel his life beginning to leave his body. She said she began to see a lot of things, like a movie that was all around her and she saw Carpenter being killed and she saw where his body was.”
“You think that murdering other people gave her this ability?” Susan asked quietly. “I never thought of it.” Larry said honestly. “But if I had to guess I would say that when she killed someone she was really focused on what was happening around her. It’s got to bring a sense of awareness. She’s different, Sue, she was a very young fourteen when she started killing, and she never has known much of anything else. But I also think it’s kind of a death spiral. Like a toilet flushing.”
“Well, that’s poetic,” Susan had to laugh, “but what does it mean?”
“I think Christa see things more clearly when she’s recently killed but killing causes her to be hunted. Be hunted causes her to have to hide, which creates a darkness in her vision. The more she kills the more she see but the more she is hunted for it. Eventually, she was caught while hiding not caught while killing, and now that she’s in a box she can’t control it at all.”
“But she saw what happened here.”
“I think she can feed off of what other people experience.” Larry said slowly. “I’m not sure about any of this. We can be pretty certain she’s lying when she saying anything at all.” They ate without speaking and Larry counted the number of pieces of pepperoni on the pizza before picking up another slice. Susan was prone to accusing him of getting the most populated pieces and he had to admit this was true, sometimes. There were four pieces left and he took the one with the second fewest bits of pepperoni. Susan smiled at him.
“You know, Susan, she’s never mentioned your name.” Larry said while chewing. “I don’t know if she knows your name. She told me she thought I was going to kill you. Her vision is imperfect or clouded sometimes.”
“Could we talk about something else?” Susan asked. “I don’t want to go to bed tonight with her on my mind or on yours.”
Susan slipped out of the bed, nearly fell again and silently cursed her inability to remember the new bed height. Falling was out of the question now, as well as drinking, and she had begun to train herself not to stress out as much as she usually did. She wanted to bathe her unborn son in waves of soothing emotions as much as she could, even if she knew she couldn’t do it all of the time, she still wanted to try. She went to the refrigerator where the remains of the pizza waited to kickstart her heartburn to a new level but Susan didn’t care. She felt ravenous even though she knew she was still only a few weeks pregnant, two months at the very most, but the idea of the condition had begun to consume her. She slipped out into the darkness of the yard and stood in the driveway and wanted to see stars but the rain was still falling. Again, she put her hand on her belly, and searched for signs of life. There had been some weight gain but Susan wanted to feel a kick or a push or anything. She hungered for that sign like she did odd cravings for food. The rain soaked her hair, made her nightgown cling to her skin, but she didn’t care. There was some primal about standing in the rain while pregnant. It was a primitive and terrifying experience to hold a life within her own and know how fragile that life was. Susan felt like a lioness and she felt incredibly isolated. There was a swirl of emotions and Susan drank them down, gulped them all in, savoring each new experience with each new wave of hormone driven thought. This was part of it. This was the beginning of motherhood. Susan planted her feet in the mud of the yard and braced herself against the wind and the rain and within her came a feeling that there was to be a battle, a battle from that moment on, that the world would try to make itself less hospitable for her child and Susan would not allow herself to lose that fight. Nothing would stand in her and nothing would dare. She would not drink wine or take her sleeping pills anymore. She would begin to eat better but the rest of the pizza was going to be devoured. That bitch in that box could be in league with the devil for all Susan cared but not even the greatest of all evils would harm her son. The wind picked up and the rain pounded Susan as she slipped off her nightclothes and stood naked against the weather. She clenched her fists and raised them into the air and from her mouth, her throat, and her soul, a sound came like no other she had ever made before. The forces of good and evil, darkness and light, those awake and asleep, those without the ability to hear and those that could, knew there was one alive who would fight to the death for her offspring.
“Susan what the hell are you doing?” Larry shouted at her in the rain as he came outside.
Susan launched herself at him, wrapped her body around his, pulled him down onto the earth and bit his neck hard, and grabbed at his body as if it were a life raft in an ocean. There, in the rain and the wet earth, the two mated again, furiously, frantically, with more passion than either had known existed.
“My vision, Larry,” Christa told him at their next meeting, “rarely extends into the future, but when it does, it does so with exceptional clarity. That’s what started my path, the first time I picked up a knife and put it against the skin on the throat of a man, I had already foreseen it. I knew what it would feel like and what it would taste like and I knew how frantically he would try to stop the flow and I knew he would look at me at the moment he realized it was too late, and he knew he was going to die, and very soon, and I knew that look in his eyes would be unlike any look any man ever gives a woman. I knew I would kill again, and I knew that what I could give a man would be enough to tempt him into killing for me. That’s what drove my heart to beat and made my blood rush through my veins, Larry, is watching a man kill another man for me. You felt that. You handed her a gun and you were on the cusp of watching her become so indebted to you that she would never dare a free thought again in life, except that one of killing you. You were so very close, Larry, but you stepped back where I stepped forward. I wonder which one of us will die with the deepest regrets?”
“Are you sure you’re going to survive this?” Larry asked.
“Marginally.” Christa replied with a smile. “I will survive the initial breach. After that there is peril in every second for us both. If they find my body dressed in civilian clothing they will know it was you who helped me. You could go to prison.”
“But not as long as I could for murder.” Larry said.
“True,” Christa got up and began getting dressed, “but the time draws near. The dam at that park will collapse in a few minutes. This should be the last time we speak. Did you mail the letter as I asked you to?”
“I did,” Larry replied, “and you could tell if I was lying.”
“I will not tell you where I will go only that it will be very far away from you and your children and your wife.” Christa tied her shoes and sat back down. “Go now. Thank you, Larry.”
“I hope you drown,” Larry said “death is the only place you’ll ever find peace.”
“In less than half an hour you will know.”
Larry pushed the swing slowly, gently, and he knew if he pushed too hard Susan would glare at him. Little Timmy liked the speed of a fast push and would babble for more, as long as his mom wasn’t watching.
Susan watched from the kitchen window and she smiled at the way Larry liked to get away with little things with the baby. Baby? Tim was nearly two and growing like a weed. He would be a big man, like his daddy. Susan would never tell Larry about the DNA test she had ran, just to make sure, because to Larry it didn’t matter. Larry didn’t see himself in his son but only his mother’s beauty. Susan marveled at the idea that man could really love her that much. Was it time for another? Christa had said “children” and Susan now believed the woman’s sight. Half that damn prison had collapsed on top of her but no body had ever been found.
Christa had been right about the money too, Susan thought, but it was not time yet to dig it all up. It would keep, it would stay hidden, until the kids were old enough to move, and who knew, maybe they would never dig it up. Life was good, hard, but good, now. They had bought the house where Marcel had hidden his car because that was where Marcel had hidden the money. Christa was right about how easy it had been to lay claim to it. The back yard was belonged to them and therefore the money. Susan look out of the window and wondered where that woman was. Susan hoped that at some point in time, Christa had been washed down the river, past the place where Marcel lay sleeping forever, and Susan hoped that was where she had drowned.