Authors: Mica Stone
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2016 Mica Stone
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Thomas & Mercer, Seattle
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Cover design by Cyanotype Book Architects
To my hero,
Frisco, Texas, Police Detective Leah Apple, recipient of the Star of Texas Award for Peace Officers Seriously Injured in the Line of Duty.
I love you, sis.
Monday, 10:00 a.m.
Linoleum worked better as an artist’s palette than carpet or hardwood or tile. That discovery came after three trial runs. Practice had made perfect for his first human killing, and nobody near the old place really missed the yapping dogs.
He couldn’t imagine anyone missing the neighborhood, either, if they were as lucky as the dogs to get out. Shit-hole of a place to grow up in. Shit-hole of a place to raise kids.
First time he’d tried painting, strands of the bedroom’s braided throw rug had gotten caught in his bristles, creating dirty strokes instead of clean, straight lines.
The test message he’d painted with the Millers’ Chihuahua, Princess, had been a clumpy disaster, full of dirt and dust and the hair he’d picked up when he’d pressed his brush into what little blood she’d given. She was his one and only Chihuahua.
Another lesson he was slow to learn.
Crevices between the bathroom’s dirt-crusted tiles had swallowed the fluid before he’d finished his work the second time, and the Bensens’ pug, George Orwell, dried up too fast. The hallway’s hardwood was just as thirsty, and the Harts’ rat terrier, Rambo, had been too small for more than a few words when he had so much to say.
Stupid of him not to remember the size thing.
The neighbors had gone on high alert the day he’d figured out the flooring issue. A waste of their time since he was done with their pets. Unfortunately, few houses still used rolled linoleum. He should’ve thought of that before starting, but as smart as he knew he was, he’d never been the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree.
He knew that, too.
He’d been told so his whole life, and he’d heard all the jokes: not playing with a full deck, one sandwich short of a picnic, dumber than a box of rocks. It would’ve been nice to have friends in his corner, but he was okay with who he was, and if it made people feel better about themselves to tease him, well, he had them all on his prayer list.
Teasing was one thing.
Dishonor was another. Disrespect. Disobedience. Discourtesy. Disregard.
Knowing this was the Lord’s work made it easier to do what he had to. And if along the way he took a wrong step, or sinned, forgiveness was his for the asking.
Honor thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee. Exodus 20:12.
He wasn’t sure he could paint it all. Gina Gardner’s house had Italian marble in the entryway. In the end, he’d used a tarp to catch her blood, not knowing what type of flooring he’d find. All he was going to need were six words of the verse. Her days weren’t going to be long upon any land. Neither were the days of the others.
The brush he’d chosen would make it easy. It hadn’t been cheap, and he’d had to settle, but gray squirrel just wasn’t in his price range. This one was flat, made of ox hair dyed to look like red sable, and was close to being two inches square.
It was also designed specifically for lettering.
He dipped the brush’s tip in the pool of her blood next to her waist, where he wouldn’t risk contamination by her tears or saliva, and stepped over her body to the foyer wall he’d cleared of her family photos.
He was surprised she’d had children, three of them, even. They’d be better off this way, left to their father, though who knew what sort of fool had bred with her. She’d never shown anything resembling compassion.
He dipped his brush again, noticing the gray roots at her temple. Her hair had grazed her waist when he’d known her and was always hanging in her face. Hippie hair crowned with rings of flowers. It had smelled of flowers, too. So had her skin. Roses and magnolias and lilies. Scents strong enough to make him sneeze.
Wide-legged jeans and airy peasant blouses and the Eagles on the eight-track, singing, “One of These Nights.” Patchouli had wafted on the air through her bedroom, and she’d hung posters of mustached rock stars baring their hairy chests from their throats to their navels. They’d promised with their eyes to show her the way to heaven.
Honor thy father.
He dipped his brush once more, thinking
a strange word and too much like
. Hers were toned, her legs long, spread where she’d fallen. Tight knee-length shorts—once pink, now spotted red—clung to her skin, which was spotted, too. Paint dripped from his brush, and he stood, taking in the edge of her socks in her pink-leather shoes.
Her sports bra was also pink, as were her nipples beneath. He’d looked out of curiosity, not lust. Nothing about her stirred him anymore. He wondered how much she’d changed since she’d stripped in front of him—a joint, its tip glowing, caught between her lips—and asked him if he knew where heaven was.
She hadn’t even honored herself.
He supposed he should’ve given her time to confess her sins before drawing the blade across her throat, but she’d made too many lives hell on earth for that sort of dispensation.
Besides, he wasn’t a priest.
She was never good for anything but slutting. And she ruined everything for everyone.
That was the part he had to remember. There was too much at stake to let things go wrong. He had to be careful. He had to do it right.
Honor thy father and thy mother.
There. The first sacrifice. Done. He’d played the part of executioner, all on his own. And in the process, turned out to be a damn fine artist.
Even if he was the only one who’d ever know.