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Authors: Jeff Lindsay

Double dexter (page 6)

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Lily Anne watched her go, and then turned to look at me. I shook my head. “She always talks like that,” I told her. “You get used to it.”

Lily Anne looked a little unsure. “Da da da,” she told me.

I kissed the top of her head. It smelled wonderful, a combination of baby shampoo and whatever intoxicating pheromone it is that babies rub into their scalps. “You’re probably right,” I said, and then Rita was back in the room, putting a fork and a napkin down beside the plate, lifting Lily Anne up out of my arms, and settling down beside me to continue the saga of Astor and the Dentist.

“Anyway,” she said. “I told her it’s just for a year, and a lot of other girls— But she has this … Has she told you about Anthony?”

“Anthony the asshole?” I said.

“Oh,” Rita said. “He’s not really an— I mean, she says that and she shouldn’t. But it’s different for a girl, and Astor is at the age— It’s not too dry, is it?” she said, frowning at my plate.

“It’s perfect,” I said.

“It is dry; I’m sorry. So I thought maybe if you would talk to her,” Rita finished. I truly hoped she meant talk to Astor and not the pork chop.

“What do you want me to say?” I asked her around a mouthful of very tasty but slightly dry pork chop.

“That it’s perfectly all right,” Rita said.

“What, braces?”

“Yes, of course,” she said. “What did you think we were talking about?”

Truthfully, I was often not quite sure what we were talking about, since Rita usually managed to combine at least three simultaneous subjects when she spoke. Perhaps it came from her job; even after several years with her, I only knew that it involved juggling large numbers, converting them to different foreign currencies, and applying the results to the real estate market. It was one of life’s wonderful puzzles that a woman smart enough to do that could be so completely stupid when it came to men, because first she had married a man addicted to drugs who beat her savagely, beat Cody and Astor just as badly, and finally committed enough unpleasant and illegal acts that he had been tucked away in prison. And Rita, free at last fromthe long nightmare of marriage to a drug-addled demon, had danced happily into marriage with an even worse monster: Me.

Of course, Rita would never know what I really was, not if I could help it. I had worked very hard to keep her blissfully ignorant of the true me, Dexter the Dark, the cheerful vivisectionist who lived for the purr of duct tape, the gleam of the knife, and the smell of fear rising up from a truly deserving playmate who had earned his ticket to Dexterland by slaughtering the innocent and somehow slipping through the gaping cracks in the justice system.…

Rita would never know that side of me, and neither would Lily Anne. My moments with new friends like Valentine were private—or they had been, until the terrible accident of the Witness. For a moment I thought about that, and the remaining names on my Honda list. One of those names would be the right one, had to be, and when I knew which one … I could almost taste the excitement of taking and taping him, almost hear the muffled squeals of pain and fear.…

And because my mind had wandered onto my hobby, I committed the dreadful felony of chewing Rita’s pork chop without tasting it. But happily for my taste buds, as I pictured the Witness thrashing against his binds, I bit down on the fork, which jolted me out of my pleasant reverie and back to dinner. I scooped the last mouthful of yellow rice and one caper onto my fork and put it in my mouth as Rita said, “And anyway, it isn’t covered by the insurance, so— But I should have a nice bonus this year, and braces are very— Astor doesn’t smile very much, does she? But maybe if her teeth …” She paused suddenly, waved a hand, and made a face. “Oh, Lily Anne,” she said. “You really do need a diaper change.” Rita got up and took the baby away down the hall to the changing table, trailing an aroma that was definitely not pork chop, and I put down my empty plate and settled back onto the couch with a sigh: Dexter Digesting.

For some strange and very irritating reason, instead of letting the cares of the day slip away into a fog of well-fed contentment, I slid headfirst back into work and thought about Marty Klein and the dreadful mess that was his corpse. I hadn’t really known him well, and even if I had I am not capable of any kind of emotional bonding, not even the rough and manly kind so popular at my job. And dead bodies don’t bother me; even if I had not been occasionally involvedin producing them, looking at them and touching them is part of my job. And although I would rather not have my coworkers know it, a dead cop is no more disturbing to me than a dead lawyer. But a corpse like this one, so completely hammered out of human shape … it was very different, almost supernatural.

The fury of the pounding that had killed Klein was completely psychotic, of course—but the fact that it had been so thorough, and had taken such a very long time, was far beyond normal, comfortable, homicidal insanity, and I found it very disturbing. It had required remarkable strength, endurance, and, most frightening by far, a cool control during the whole wild process so as not to go too far and cause death too soon, before all the bones were broken.

And for some reason, I had the very strong conviction that it was not a simple and relatively harmless single episode in which somebody had slipped over the line and gone postal for a few hours. This seemed like a pattern, a way of being, a state that was permanent. Insane strength and fury, combined with a clinical control—I could not imagine what kind of creature was capable of that, and I didn’t really want to. But once again I had the feeling we would find more squashed cops in the near future.

“Dexter?” Rita called softly from the bedroom. “Aren’t you coming to bed?”

I glanced at the clock by the TV: almost midnight. Just seeing the numbers made me realize how tired I was. “Coming,” I said. I got up from the couch and stretched, feeling a very welcome drowsiness come over me. It was clearly sleepy time, and I would worry about Marty Klein and his awful end tomorrow. Sufficient unto each day is the evil thereof; at least, on the very good days. I put my plate in the sink and went to bed.

From far away in the dim, wool-packed world of sleep I felt an uneasy sensation elbowing its way into my head and, as if in answer to a vague but demanding question, I heard a loud and explosive roaring sound—and I was awake, my nose dripping from a powerful sneeze. “Oh, lord,” Rita said, sitting up beside me. “You caught a cold from all that— I knew you were going to— Here, here’s a tissue.”

“Tanks,” I said, and I sat up in bed and took the tissue from herhand and applied it to my nose. I sneezed again, this time into the tissue, and felt it disintegrate in my hand. “Ohggg,” I said, as the slime dripped onto my fingers and a dull ache rolled into my bones.

“Oh, for heaven’s— Here, take another tissue,” Rita said. “And go wash your hands, because— Look at the time, it’s time to get up anyway.” And before I could do more than raise the new tissue to my face, she was up and out of the bed, leaving me to sit there dripping and wondering why wicked fate had inflicted this misery on poor undeserving me. My head hurt, and I felt like it was stuffed with wet sand, and it was leaking all over my hand—and on top of everything else, I had to get up and go to work, and with the way my head was rolling sluggishly through the fog I wasn’t sure I could even figure out how.

But one of the things Dexter is truly good at is learning and following patterns of behavior. I have lived my life among humans, and they all think and feel and act in ways that are completely alien to me—but my survival depends on presenting a perfect imitation of the way they behave. Happily for me, ninety-nine percent of all human life is spent simply repeating the same old actions, speaking the same tired clichés, moving like a zombie through the same steps of the dance we plodded through yesterday and the day before and the day before. It seems horribly dull and pointless—but it really makes a great deal of sense. After all, if you only have to follow the same path every day, you don’t need to think at all. Considering how good humans are at any mental process more complicated than chewing, isn’t that best for everybody?

So I learned very young to watch people stumbling through their one or two basic rituals, and then perform the same steps myself with flawless mimicry. This morning that talent served me well, because as I staggered out of bed and into the bathroom, there was absolutely nothing in my head except phlegm, and if I had not learned by rote what I was supposed to do each morning I don’t think I could have done it. The dull ache of a major cold had seeped into my bones and pushed all capacity for thinking out of my brain.

But the pattern of what I do in the morning remained: shower, shave, brush teeth, and stumble to the kitchen table, where Rita had a cup of coffee waiting for me. As I sipped it and felt a small spark of life flicker in response, she slid a plate of scrambled eggs in front ofme. It might have been the effect of the coffee, but I remembered what to do with the eggs, and I did it very well, too. And as I finished the eggs, Rita dropped a pair of cold pills in front of me.

“Take these,” she said. “You’ll feel much better when they start to— Oh, look at the time. Cody? Astor? You’re going to be late!” She refilled my coffee cup and hustled off down the hall, where I heard her rousting two very unwilling children out of their beds. A minute later Cody and Astor thumped into their chairs at the table, and Rita pushed plates in front of them. Cody mechanically began to eat right away, but Astor slumped on her elbow and stared at the eggs with disgust.

“They’re all runny,” she said. “I want cereal.”

All part of the morning ritual: Astor never wanted anything Rita gave her to eat. And I found it oddly comforting that I knew what would happen next, as Rita and the kids followed the every-morning script and I waited for the cold pills to kick in and return to me the power of independent thought. Until then, no need to worry; I didn’t have to do anything but follow the pattern.

FIVE

THE PATTERN HELD TRUE WHEN I GOT TO WORK. THE SAMEofficer sat at the desk and nodded at my credentials; the same people crowded into the elevator as I rode to the second floor. And waiting for me in the coffeepot was apparently the same vile bilge that had been there since the dawn of time. All very comforting, and out of gratitude I actually tried to drink the coffee, making the same horrified face as I sipped. Ah, the consolation of dull routine.

But as I turned away from the coffee machine into what should have been empty space, I found an object in my path, so very close to me that I had to lurch to a stop—which naturally caused the venomous brew in my cup to slop all over the front of my shirt.

“Oh, shit,” said the object, and I looked up from the scalding ruin of my shirtfront. Standing before me was Camilla Figg, one of my coworkers in Forensics. She was thirtyish and square, kind of drab and usually quiet, and at the moment she was blushing furiously, as she often seemed to do when I saw her.

“Camilla,” I said. I thought I said it quite pleasantly, considering that my shirt was relatively new and because of her it was probably going to dissolve. But if anything, she turned an even darker red.

“It’s only I’m really sorry,” she said in a staccato mutter, and she looked to both sides as if seeking a way to escape.

“Perfectly all right,” I said, although it wasn’t. “The coffee is probably safer to wear than to drink.”

“I didn’t anyway you know want what,” she said, and she raised a hand, either to grab her words back from the air or to brush the coffee off my shirt, but instead she wobbled the hand in front of me, and then ducked her head. “Very sorry,” she said, and she lurched away down the hall and around the corner.

I blinked after her stupidly; something new had broken the pattern, and I had no idea what it meant or what I should have done. But after pondering for a few pointless seconds, I shrugged it off. I had a cold, so I didn’t have to try to make sense of Camilla’s bizarre behavior. If I had said or done something wrong, I could say it was just the cold pills. I put the coffee down and went to the restroom to try to save a few scraps of fabric from my shirt.

I scrubbed with cold water for several minutes without really removing the stain. The paper towels kept falling apart, leaving dozens of small wet crumbs of paper all over the shirt without affecting the stain. This coffee was amazing stuff; perhaps it was part paint or fabric dye—that would explain the taste. I finally gave up and blotted my shirt dry the best I could. I left the restroom wearing my semi-wet stained shirt and headed for the lab, hoping I might get some sartorial sympathy from Vince Masuoka. He was generally quite passionate and knowledgeable about clothing. But instead of receiving condolences and advice on stain removal, I walked into a room absolutely overflowing with my sister, Deborah, who was following Vince around and apparently hectoring him about something as he tried to work on the contents of a small evidence bag.

Leaning on the wall in one corner was a man I didn’t know, about thirty-five, with dark hair and a medium build. No one offered to introduce him, and he was not pointing a weapon of any kind, so I just walked past him and into the lab.

Debs looked up at me and gave me the kind of warm and loving greeting I have come to expect from her. “Where the fuck have you been?” she said.

“Ballroom dancing lessons,” I said. “We’re doing the tango this week; would you like to see?”

She made a sour face and shook her head. “Get in here and take over from this moron,” she said.

“Great, now I’m a moron,” Vince grumbled, and nodded at me. “You see how smartyouare with Simone Legree halfway up your ass.”

“If it’s only halfway up, I can see why you’re upset,” I said. “Can I assume that there’s been some development in the Marty Klein case?” I asked Debs politely.

“That’s what I’m trying to find out,” Deborah said. “But if ass-wipe can’t get his ass in gear, we’ll never know.”

It occurred to me that Debs and Vince both seemed to be dwelling on “ass” this morning, which is not really the way I prefer to start my day. But we all need to show tolerance in the workplace, so I let it slide. “What have you got?” I said.

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