Authors: Paul Cleave
Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller
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For my mum, who I love—I’ve always been proud and lucky to have such a great mother
“I first made the newspapers when I was nine years old. I made them in every city across the country, most of them on the first page. I even made them internationally. In them I was black and white, blurred a little, my face turned into my father’s chest, people surrounding us. From then on I was shown on TV, in magazines, in more and more papers, always the same photo. I never wanted any of it, I tried to avoid it, but the option wasn’t mine.
“My dad, well, he made the papers too. He was also on the front pages. There were more photos of him than of me, because he was the one being arrested. I was just along for the ride, trying to fight off the police as they came to take him away. I didn’t know any better. Mum peeled me away from his side as I cried. The police handcuffed him, and I never saw him again until this week. He was my dad, sure, but it was pretty easy to stop loving the guy when it turned out he was never really the man we thought he was. Dad got
himself arrested because he had tastes other people didn’t look too kindly on—not even the people of Christchurch.
“Mum was dead a year later. She took cocktails of poisons and pills to escape the hate and the accusations from the public. That left me with the doctors and psychiatrists to study me. They were curious about me. Everybody was. My dad was a man of blood. He had murdered eleven prostitutes over a period of twenty-five years, and that got some of the good people of Christchurch wondering whether I’d turn out the same way. Dad was so subtle nobody even realized Christchurch had a serial killer. He didn’t advertise the fact, he just did his thing, no fuss, no real mess, sometimes they were found and sometimes they weren’t, and those that weren’t were never reported missing. He was a family man who loved us, who would do everything for us. He never laid a finger on my mother or my sister or me, he worked hard to put food on our table, to provide what he could to make our lives better than his was growing up. The monster inside him never came home, it was left hidden in the darkness with the blood and the flesh of those it killed, but sometimes—at least eleven times that he admitted to—Dad’d go out at night and meet up with that monster. He wasn’t my dad in those moments, he was something else. I never asked what, exactly. In the beginning I couldn’t. In the beginning I wasn’t allowed to see him, then, when I was old enough to make my own decisions, I didn’t want to.
“I was ten years old when the trial began. It was a circus. My mum was still alive, but my sister and I were struggling. Mum was always yelling at us when she was sober, and crying when she was drunk, and whatever of those two states she was in, you always wished it was the other. Soon the pills and the booze took their toll, but not as quick as she wanted, and when they couldn’t finish the job she used a razor blade. I don’t know how long it took for her to bleed out. She might still have been alive when we found her. I held my sister’s hand and we watched her pale body, the yelling and the crying gone now.
“My mum’s family wanted nothing to do with us, but my dad’s parents took us in. The kids at school would tease me, they’d beat me up, they’d steal my bag at least once a week and jam it down a toilet somewhere. The psychiatrist came around every few months
with his tests and questions. My photo came up in the papers every now and then, always the same one, though the distance between those occurrences started to stretch. I was almost a celebrity. I was also the son of a serial killer—and some of those good Christchurch people thought I would follow in his footsteps.
“My sister, Belinda, she took the direction of Dad’s victims. She was out fucking for money when she was fourteen. By sixteen she was an addict; her tastes ran to the liquids that could be scored cheap and injected into her veins. By nineteen she was dead. I was the last of my family—Dad’s monster took them all away.
“Of course little Eddie grew up, I have my own family now. A wife. A child. I told my wife who I was not long after we met. It frightened her in the beginning. Thankfully she got to know me. She saw I had no monsters.
“There are those who think what my dad had was a gene, that he’s passed it on to me. There are people who think that I’m destined to be a man of blood too,” I say, and I look at the blood soaking into the upholstery from the woman slumped in the passenger seat, “that the same blood runs through both of us. They’re wrong,” I say, and I take the car up to sixty kilometers an hour and drive straight into the wall.
seven days earlier
The alarm clock dragging me into the Friday morning before the Christmas break sounds like laser fire from an old sci-fi movie, the kind where the special effects budget runs the production company up about a hundred bucks. I manage to open my eyes about halfway. I feel like I have a hangover even though I haven’t had a drink in ages. I reach out and shut off the alarm and am almost asleep when Jodie pushes me in the back. Hopefully this year Santa will bring me an alarm clock that doesn’t make any noise.
“You have to get up,” she says.
It takes a few seconds to focus on her words, and I let them slide with me toward the dark hole of sleep. “I don’t want to,” I hear myself saying.
“You have to. It’s your job to get up and then drag me out of bed.”
“I thought it was your turn to drag me out.” I roll over to face her. The sun is bright behind the curtains, beams of light shining onto
the ceiling. I close my eyes so I don’t have to see them. I squeeze them tight and pretend it’s nighttime all over again. “Five more minutes. I promise.”
“That’s what you said five minutes ago when you turned it off the first time.”
“There was a first time?”
“Come on. It’s Friday. We’ve got the whole weekend ahead of us.”
“It’s Christmas,” I say. “We’ve got two weeks ahead of us.”
“But not yet,” she reminds me, and she pushes me again.
I sit on the edge of the bed and yawn for ten seconds before grabbing her hands and trying to drag her out as well, not wanting to go through this nightmare of waking up alone. She hides under the sheets and starts laughing. Sam comes into the room and starts laughing too.
“Mummy’s a ghost,” she says, and jumps on top of her.
From beneath the sheet comes an “oomph,” then more laughing. I leave them to it and go and take a shower, the hot water bringing me fully around. I’m finished and halfway through shaving when Jodie comes in and climbs into the shower behind me.
“Just four more days of work,” she says, then yawns.
“It’s almost the weekend. Then three more days. Not even that. The last day is always a short one.”
“Sounds like you can add.”
“It’s an occupational bonus.”
The occupational bonus comes about from the fact Jodie is an accountant. Being married to an accountant isn’t the end of the world, but that’s probably because I’m an accountant too. It is, of course, how we met. Accountants are the punch line of a thousand jokes, and our relationship might contribute to those stereotypes—I don’t know.
Jodie turns on the small bathroom radio which is styled as a penguin. She twists its flipper until she finds a station with something decent to listen to, then its other flipper to increase the volume. She sings along to a Paul Simon song about fifty
ways to leave your lover, and the accountant in me wonders how he came to that number, how many he tried out. My dad had his own ways of leaving his lovers—and I’m pretty sure they’re ways that Paul Simon—
Slit her wrists, Chris—
never factored in. Jodie doesn’t know all the words and fills in the blanks with loud humming.
I get dressed and head out to the living room. Toys and schoolbooks are scattered across the floor and the TV is going, gay-looking cartoon characters dancing across the screen. Sam is finishing off her homework while watching the TV, developing the whole multitasking skill at the tender age where homework is done mostly with crayons and markers—all kinds of colorful things that make all kinds of colorful messes. The living room is small, especially with the Christmas tree taking up one whole corner. The entire house is getting too cramped, which is why we’re buying a new one. Today is Sam’s last day of school until the end of January and she’s acting like a kid who just discovered caffeine.
I open up the curtains and sunlight pours into the living room and the kitchen, bouncing off every metal surface and making the sun appear to be about as far away as my next-door neighbor. The poplar trees lining the street have been defeated by the heat, the burned leaves drooping, front lawns turning crispy brown as the sun beats down on it all. The air-conditioning is working overtime, separating the outside world from the inside by a dozen degrees. Sam’s holidays kick in in about seven hours and her excitement levels are high and my stress levels are high and Jodie has high levels of both. I’m pretty sure the house has a poltergeist living in it; it comes through at night and does its best to make sure there are no straight lines anywhere.
I get the kitchen smelling of coffee. Our kitchen is full of modern appliances, most of them were in style back in the fifties and are back in style now, lots of stainless steel and curves everywhere. I pour Sam a bowl of cereal and she works her way through it, and I’m on my second piece of toast when Jodie comes down the hallway into the dining room. Her dark hair hanging around her shoulders is still slightly damp and her skin smells of body wash. She leans in, kisses me on the cheek, and steals the rest of my toast.