They made second page news out of the last murder committed by Montford Huntsman. When I read about it from the Daily News, I found it hard to believe. It was as if he was being praised for his killings.
I set the paper aside and pushed piles of documents aside to find red scissors and the notebook. I remembered seeing them last this morning, which meant they had to be here somewhere, under the paperwork.
I searched out his handwritten list from his diary I kept under my nose all the time. It was all that was left of him on the day he disappeared. It consisted of a diary, different lists of names and groceries and even calculations on some hocus-pocus. I had added there the bus tickets and maps covered in so much scribble now that nothing showed from beneath. It didn’t matter much, I could read those tiny leftover dust as if it was printed yesterday.
I would have guessed eight years, not ten, but this only meant police was yet to find his last victim, tall family man named Fransisco Pires, whose only fault was to be in the group Dr. Rouse had tested on decades earlier.
Someone knocked, but I didn’t run to open the door. I paid dearly for that, when the doorbell rang and then Malek ran right in. I clasped the notebook shut and wind around while still hiding it under the corner of the carpet. He saw it, frowned a bit and then exploded like a midday Sun.
“I didn’t want to use that bell, but you didn’t hear me knocking!” he shouted before he appeared on the doorframe.
“I was much better in hiding, you know!” he said between fits. “I could hide anything from my mother!”
I turned back and started putting the folders back in the box. “I never was good at hiding much.”
“No worries, I can teach you.”
“Thanks, I guess…”
“First lesson,” he pointed at my brown carton, “closed boxes!”
I pushed it back on the shelf next to white carton box.
“I’m not really hiding it.” I lied.
“Oh, really?” He picked up the contract I had left out on the table. It had wrinkles on the corners as it didn’t quite fit between the notebook I held it in.
“I’m not used to keeping it open and out. Mom didn’t know about dad and August, well, he didn’t like it so he kept out of it.”
I grabbed the paper from his hand, wrapped it in smaller square and hid it in my back pocket.
“A stupid collection.” I avoided talking about the paper.
“It looks like one of our contracts!” he wouldn’t let it slide.
“I didn’t steal it. Saul gave it to me.”
“Why would he… Saul-Erik – to help you?” His brows flew higher and he snorted before his eyes flared up with amusement and he nodded, showing me out. “Alright.”
I saw Saul-Erik sitting on their stairs. He sat there with his eyes closed, massaging his forehead. I called out to say hi, but he frowned in response.
“What’s wrong with him?” I whispered to Malek, when we got inside the car.
“He’s got a headache.”
I watched him gulp down half of the water bottle he was holding and cringe in distaste.
“Must be real bad.”
“He’s got a lot on his mind.” He said, keeping his lips in place. That was odd. I glanced at Saul-Erik, but he was still massaging his forehead.
“Why you’re talking like that?”
The car backed out and he pushed in few hundred meters before turning to me. “He doesn’t like people to talk about it. He’ll whip my ass for saying it to you, but never ask for the water he’s holding.”
“It’s loaded!” he whispered.
“Loaded?” I didn’t get it.
“Painkillers.” His voice turned normal. “He’s got enough in it to kill a horse!”
Nice! And I thought I was dealing with someone somewhat good.
“No. Just a headache.”
I let him go on about his duties few more minutes while thinking back on how he looked. It didn’t look like just a headache.
“Ah! Here we are!” He parked the car in front of a small beige house with two windows. It looked much more inviting than mine with its small blossoming bushes surrounding the garden.
“Where are we?”
“Dear Hardy has been caught stealing again. I promised Rasmus I’ll give Sylvia lift to work to talk about her son.”
He honked the car alarm few times and small woman looked out, frowning. She appeared moment later dressed in working smock and carrying big handbag. The overall was made by old fashion, but it was brand new, probably not over a month old. Its hemline was wine red and matched with her bag. I would imagine my grandmother do that – have her smock made out of not the best material around, yet make sure the details matched with the purse.
Moment later appeared even younger woman and a small boy. She kissed the boy and cleaned his forehead from pink lipstick and said few words to the blond.
“Hi!” she said immediately when she sat on the back seat. “I knew Hardy had done something again, when Rasmus said you’re picking me up!” She paused, noticing me on the first seat, looking at her through the rear-view mirror. “Hello!”
“Nice day, isn’t it?” she surprised me with fast conducted politeness.
“Yes, very nice!” I responded without thinking and realized it was getting better by the minute.
“Evelyn is the new kid.” Malek said quickly and restarted his car. “She didn’t come to the meeting, so I’m now showing her around.”
I gave him a sly grin. Yes, my fault.
“Oh, I hope you don’t get the wrong impression of us now! Hardy isn’t a thief, honestly, he’s just…” she quickly looked away, trying to find a word, but seemed lost herself. That never was a good sign, when even mother didn’t know what to say.
“Young!” Malek helped her. “And needs to learn the rules!”
The last one wasn’t meant for me, but I let it slide.
“How old is he?” I asked instead.
“I can’t always find a baby sitter, when I go to work and sometimes I need to leave him home alone.”
This sounded eerily familiar.
“When he understands he can outsmart his nannies – that’s when the little devil comes out!” Maleks whispered while she went on with her cry for help.
“Is he sick?” Both my travel companions fell silent. I looked up. Cold air brushed through between us. That was not the right thing to say. “He’s not in school, I mean!”
“He’s not sick, he’s only homeschooled.”
“Oh, ok.” I tried to say as little as possible for now.
“I promise I try to find him a nanny, who doesn’t let him go wondering on his own!” she pleaded.
I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. My best friend had hard time finding nannies for her children too. After my zealous actions caused Helen her job. She had been my best friend and then on the worst moment possible I had to go to our boss and tell her it was unfair to fire her over boss’s cousin. Of course that news didn’t go down well and she nearly did me in for it.
“He could help me with gardening,” I blurted out, “if you don’t mind!”
What was I thinking? I planned to keep low profile and now I wanted to keep a problem child at my place?
It seemed, Malek was thinking the same, because he was slammed the breaks while his wide eyes fixated on me.
“If you don’t mind…” she whispered from the back seat.
I think Malek was holding his breath, because I couldn’t hear him breath out, when the silence fell in.
“Not at all- I have Sundays and Mondays off.”
“That’s wonderful! I have work from eight to seven. I can find someone else for other days, but it would really help! Thank you!”
Her wrinkled eyes smiled at me through the mirror and I found myself smiling back. It would be good, if it helped. Because I had no idea what I was doing!
“In that case, Sylvia Tabor – Evelyn Helder. Want to exchange phone numbers now?” exploded Malek next to us and burst laughing.
We left her off on the edge of East-Montfort and Malek really began the tour. He took me six different places and introduced me random people he had business with. Then he drove us through the streets and showed me the empty houses. There were hoards of them. He said each and one of them will be filled one day. I could not see people living in such conditions. But I wasn’t as desperate as they were. There were thousands of them.
He brought me back in somber mood. I didn’t get much smarter for my mission, though I’d hoped to get some info, but that wasn’t what ruined my mood.
The way they lived! I knew they were treated badly, but I never imagined they would be forced into slums like this to survive! It made my stomach turn. My father was one, who hunted them! I graved for their forgiveness, for I felt I was partly responsible for their faith. Yet same as them, I couldn’t talk about that, and that made me feel closer to them than I had ever felt with my own family. With the sort of family I had, who could blame me? Great uncle, who betrayed everything Mykola had worked for and for what? Better retirement that ended only few days before receiving the money? Then my mother and her inability not to rule over somebody else’s life. And then my father.
Stepan Kornilov. My father. Now, he was a different sort of man, who managed to top off every crook in the family. I hadn’t seen him in decades, but his part in my life never ceased to exist. As a shadow from the past he kept lingering in my thoughts, sinking deeper each time the new body was found, and he had them in numbers. Huntsman of Montfort. Not something to be proud of. He left us before mom understood who he was and by the time we did, he had disappeared.
I wanted to growl over and hide for few hours. Get away from this city, but I felt too embarrassed to ask Malek to take me somewhere. It was his people he was showing me and it seemed so wrong to ask such a thing. To get away from them.
“You are awfully quiet?” Malek asked suddenly. Silence had reigned for a long, heavy moment between us and he was growing restless.
“Could you make a stop for me?” I asked, looking at the passing houses.
“Sure. Where to?”
“If it’s far, I’ll go myself,” I offered quickly, I didn’t want to burden him with it, but I had to know.
“Your dad’s place?” he asked.
I nodded. “Larrimore Park Road.” He was chewing on his lower lip, but nodded then and turned right on the next cross road. “Thank you.”
“I just…” I wasn’t ready, but I wanted to see him. “I just wish to see if…”
“You haven’t seen him for long time?” he guessed. The music in the radio disappeared in buzz and he turned the sound down.
“He left, when I was just a kid. I thought I’d seek him out, when I’m old enough to understand. Or forgive.”
I doubted it could be forgiven.
“Yeah, I know how you feel.” His eyes were stern and serious. I gazed at him and his frown deepened. “Sometimes you can’t forgive. No matter how good it sounds. You just have to pour them into glass and turn them into monuments in your head so they become nothing but memories.”
I put my hand on his resting on the gear shift and gave it a strong squeezing.
“I want to forgive myself.” I said, “I just want to end that chapter and move on.”
“By visiting him?”
“By –“ I clamped my mouth shut before finishing the sentence before quietly pulling the hand away. It scared me how easy I felt in his company. I had to watch my tongue more – I nearly told him. “I don’t know.”
“No worries.” his smile was back. “What’s the address?”
“That would be it then.” he pulled the car over by the line of elm trees. Across the road stood four wooden houses with four- six apartments each. I recognized the small woman’s statue behind the trees and thought it couldn’t be far from my house, maybe half an hour if even that.
“Do you want me to come with you?”
“No, thanks, I better do that alone. I won’t be long.”
“I’ll wait here.”
The park still smelled of fresh mowing, providing the good part of the scent luring around the green wooden house. Half of the paint had already started to fall off whilst the other half had been callously painted over with mustard yellow. The door gave me resistance, when I tried to push it open. Someone had closed the broken window there with tar paper and repaired the cat hole in the bottom with a piece of cardboard. I was taken back by the overwhelming scent of cat pee mixed with moldiness of it all. I pulled back my hand, winching hard, when it brushed the corridor wall accidentally. The walls were covered with something slimy and the tears shining off that slime gave me impression of a house, who is weeping for what it has lost.
I pressed upwards. It hadn’t given me apartment numbers, but the only window I saw from outside to have curtains was on the second floor on the left.
I should have checked how I looked before I ran off like that, I came aware of, when I was suddenly pulling fingers through my hair to give them a less windy look. I just wanted to talk to him, I persuaded myself, nothing more. Despite who he was, I was still his daughter and I wanted to look nice in his presence. Make him proud.
God! Make him proud? He was a serial killer, whose only pleasure was his latest victim was screaming while he stitched him through like evening roast!
I stopped the fussing, allowing only one more check that my pendant was straight before taking a deep breath and knocking on the door. I held my breath, fearing I might not hear something important otherwise, but there was no sound from the other side.
My hand moved by itself to press down the handle and the door fell open with ease.
I should have brought my gun with me, but then again, I didn’t want to kill him just yet.
I clumped down the fear and went inside the inviting darkness. The corridor was small, but I could see the light emanating from the left in the end. There were lot of doors for a small apartment – two on my left with another threshold in the far end, one on my right and another door free threshold in the far end right. Right across the front door was another, closed one. Too many.
The apartment was indeed small, but clean. The tiny bedroom that was right across the entrance, all painted in sick ore made me feel awful, but the living room on the right was filled with sunlight.
I sat on the sofa in the living room and took in how normal it all seemed. He even had few paintings of tranquil forest on the wall. I left the living room and went back in the bedroom, quickly searching through the books he had on the shelves. It was empty. As if nothing he did ever touched his home. Completely clean.
I thought of waiting for him, but remembered then that Malek was still downstairs, waiting. I left, pushing every door in there open. So he would know – someone was here. Even if that meant I would not get a second chance to sneak around in here. I wanted him to feel the uneasiness he showered us in.
I almost run out of that house. The further I got from the front door, the better I felt. I quickly sat on the front seat and asked him to drive.
“He wasn’t home.”
“Close call,” he mocked, but didn’t ask more.
“I’m not asking you to keep any secrets, but… could you not mention this to Rasmus?” I asked, when he turned on our street.
“You know, he has this interesting way of…”
“At least not yet.”
When Malek stopped the car on the front of their house I saw Rasmus stooping on my porch. The chamois seats of Malek’s Toyota were very uncomfortable.
“Don’t get this the wrong way, but…” I couldn’t bare his look in my eyes. “I didn’t take you to the tour to impress you. It’s not easy at first. It wasn’t easy for me nor is it easy for them. Don’t worry!” His gray eyes smiled warmly. “I’ll give you two days and then I have next shift!”
“I do go to work, you know. Well, planning to, anyway.” Given, I could find one soon.
“So do I!” he patted on my shoulder. “Don’t worry, Grasshopper, I can find the time for you. I’ll let you know, when.”
His cheeriness made me weary, but I nodded. If he handed me the opportunity to sneak around publicly on the plate, who was I to refuse him?
“Now go, I need to get in to cremate someone.”
I jumped out of the car and watched him drive away.
He’ll come knocking on my door at midnight and scare me half dead, I was sure of it. He didn’t look like a guy, who needed a reason to scare someone. His type did it for free and then handed you printed photo they took of you just in case. Fredrick would do just that. He was the only guy, who could rant for entire day on something Mykola didn’t agree us on until boss had to admit we were right. He was on my side. I could always count on that.
They acted very similar, but their looks were nothing alike. Instead of Fredrick’s cleaned up red, he sported cropped dainty hairdo that reached for the heaven right in the direction the pillow turned it to in the morning. He looked so sloppy with his ivory shining against the washed jeans and crumbled black shirt, I would have mistaken him for a typical hooligan. The only things that didn’t seem to have geography maps of their own were the monster ring in his right arm and his black maika. But despite his looks, people seemed to trust him. I trusted him. To some point.
Earning the trust of someone like Rasmus was a whole new level to me. When he looked aside and talked to somebody else, he was nice and charming, but when he looked at me, his stare turned into piercing judgment. There was no hiding with him.
I slowly started towards my house. I wasn’t crazy. Only, now I had to explain that somehow to him without revealing too much.
Me trying to smooth over Rasmus. God, if Saul-Erik saw that, he’d be laughing his head off.
“Hi!” I called out and he waved me with his hammer. “So…” I began slowly, sitting on the bench behind him, desperately searching something to talk about. Find out more about their situation. “You glow in the dark?”
He hammered the chisel deeper in the wood and knocked off a piece.
“We were adults with histories of specific subject impairment and age matched comparison subjects.” he said bluntly.
He was good! I was out of whit what to ask next. Best way to shut anybody up was to respond with what they wanted to know. All the pre-prepared questions won’t work then.
“And how many of these subject were there with specific histories?” I asked.
“You don’t watch news much, ay?”
“It ain’t news from lately.” He coached second piece off and it went flying over his left shoulder.
“How did you get involved with them, anyway?” I changed the subject.
“I’m one of them.”
“You’re not as secretive as I thought.”
“Ooh, I am. Here, hold this for me.” He gave me his hammer and I sat there for a while in silence, watching as he rocked the lock inside the hole.
We all knew what was in news – dangerous test subjects attacked unsuspecting family members after their drugs wore off. It’s why the Social Movement started their crusade, killing off as many as they could find to provide security.
I woke from my daydream, when Rasmus sat next to me.
“You are very secretive, too.”
“I am?” I asked automatically.
“Yes, just the two boxes in your living room shelves there!”
Thank God I was sitting, I would have fallen over. Then I remembered they had the spare key and it ruined the mood.
“Do you prefer one key to each or I get to hold on all the new keys?” I asked bitterly.
“If you don’t mind.”
“You’d break in otherwise.”
How nice of them to admit it, I thought murkily.
“But Saul said you probably have a gun hidden somewhere.”
I could always count on Saul-Erik to create a lovely image of me. Then again, I did have it only few feet away, neatly tucked away.
“So what’s in those boxes?”
“Honesty all the way or nothing at all…” echoed in my head. “Memories.” I said out loud. “Mine and somebody else’s.”
“If you are putting your life in line for Mykola Bedrišek, you should reconsider!” he warned me suddenly, chilling me to the spine.
I wondered how much they knew about me in relation with Mykola and his company?
“Did you go through them?” I asked quietly.
At least that much.
“They’re not his. I’m keeping them for a friend, who matters.” I ventilated the fabric to get some air under the jacket. “They don’t belong to me. I’d appreciate if her secrets remain hers.” I was dead serious, when I said it.
“And if I go through them?”
“Then I burn the secret and you in the same box.”
I meant it. The chemical formula hidden in those files had done a lot of damage already. Too many of my friends had died because of it. I would end it there if I had to.
“Fair enough.” He said. “But you won’t burn them unless you have to.” He pointed out the weak spot in my plan.
“Unless I have to.” I agreed. “It’s her life work. I promised her.”
“If she’s dead, she would never know if you break your promise?” he kept poking.
I fell flat inside. How did he know? No, he must have guessed. Yes, that’s what it is.
“I’ll burn you with the box.” I remained resolute and reached out the hand and looked up. He was grinning. “The keys, please.”
He gave me all four keys and I hopped them on my hand few times. I got up and edged three of the keys out of the chain and placed it back on his hand.
“You, Malek and Saul.” I counted. “Remember,” I warned him, “no snooping in the boxes.”
His grin widened and I felt the need to disappear before he laughs straight to my face. I didn’t mind him laughing. I meant every word of it. It would be hard, I admitted, but if necessary, I knew I could pull it off.
I wished him good day and went inside, straight upstairs and in my bedroom.