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Authors: Jeff Lindsay

Double dexter (page 8)

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I watched Rita for a moment as she swept up the mess. Her cheeks were bright red and she avoided looking at me. I had the very strong impression that something was not right, but no matter how hard I gawked and blinked I got no clue to what it was. I suppose I was hoping that by staring long enough I might get some indication of what had just happened—perhaps subtitles would appear, or a man in a lab coat would hand me a pamphlet explaining things in eight languages, possibly with diagrams. But no such luck; Rita remained hunched over, blushing and sweeping shards of glass through the puddle of wine and into the dustpan, and I still had no idea why she, and everyone else, was acting so strangely today.

So I left the kitchen and went to the bedroom, where Lily Anne was lying in her crib. She was not quite awake, but she was fussing, kicking one leg and frowning, as if she, too, had caught whatever it was that had made everyone else peevish. I leaned over and felt her diaper; it was very full, pushing outward against the fabric of her little sleepy suit. I picked her up and moved her to the changing table, and she woke up almost immediately. It made changing the diaper a bit harder, but it was nice to have the company of somebody who wasn’t snarling at me.

When she was changed I took her into my little study, away from the sulking and the video violence of the Wii in the living room, and I sat at my desk with Lily Anne on my lap. She played with a ballpoint pen, tapping it on the desk with commendable concentration and an excellent sense of rhythm. I pulled a tissue from a box on the desk and blotted at my nose. I told myself that my cold would go away in a day or two, and there was no reason to blow it up into anything more than a minor inconvenience. Besides, everything else was fine, lovely, happy, with metaphorical birds flocking around me and singing twenty-four/seven. My home life was close to perfect, and I was keeping it in a very nice balance with my job. Very soon I would track down the one small cloud on my horizon, and then I would get a free, extra playdate, which would be pure bonus bliss.

I took out my Honda list and laid it on the desk. Three names crossed off. At my present deliberate pace, several more weeks of searching. I wanted to get it all done immediately, cut right to the cutting, and I bent closer to study the list, as if some telltale clue might be hidden between the lines. As I leaned in Lily Anne tipped over and tapped at the paper with her pen. “Na nana!” she said, and of course she was right. I had to be patient, deliberate, careful, and I would find him and flense him and everything would be fine—

I sneezed. Lily Anne flinched, and then picked up the paper, waved it at my face, and threw it jerkily onto the floor. She turned to me and beamed, very proud of herself, and I nodded at her wisdom. It was a very clear statement:No more daydreaming. You and I have work to do.

But before we could begin to restructure the tax code, a beautiful sound floated down the hall to us.

“Dexter? Children?” Rita called. “Dinner is ready!”

I looked at Lily Anne. “Da,” she said, and I agreed. We went to dinner.

The next day was Friday, which was just as well. It had not been a pleasant workweek, and I would be thoroughly glad to put it behind me and have the weekend to sit at home and murder my cold. But first, there were the last few hours of my job to suffer through.

By midday I’d gone through six cold pills and half a roll of papertowels, and I was working through the second half of the roll when Deborah came into the lab. Vince and I had reached the point where there was nothing else we could think of to do with the taco wrapper, and since he refused to draw straws for the privilege of telling Deborah, I’d been forced to make the call to give her the news that we’d come up blank. And three minutes later, here she was, striding into our lab like avenging fury.

“Goddamn it,” she said before she was even all the way in the room, “I need something from you!”

“Maybe a sedative?” Vince suggested, and for once I thought he was right on the money.

Deborah looked at him, and then at me, and I wondered whether I could make it to the bomb shelter in time. But before my sister could inflict any grievous bodily harm, there was a scuffling sound at the door, and we all turned to look; Camilla Figg stood in the doorway. She stared at me, blushed, looked around the room, and said, “Oh. I didn’t even sorry.” She cleared her throat, and then scurried away down the hall before anyone could decide what she’d said or what to do about it.

I looked back at Deborah, expecting her to resume her eruption. But to my surprise she did not reach for her weapon, or even wind up to throw a blistering arm punch. Instead, she took a deep breath and visibly calmed herself down. “Guys,” she said, “I got a really bad feeling about this guy. This psycho that smashed up Marty Klein.”

Vince opened his mouth, presumably to say something he thought of as witty. Deborah looked at him, and he thought better of it and closed his mouth.

“I think he’s going to do it again, and soon,” Debs said. “The whole force thinks so, too. They think this guy is some kind of spook, like Freddy Krueger or something. Everybody is freaking out, and everybody is looking at me to find the killer. And all I got is just this one small lead—a crappy little taco wrapper.” She shrugged and shook her head. “I know it’s not much, but it’s what there is, and I … Please, guys—Dex—isn’t there something else you can do? Anything?”

There was real need in her face, and it was clear that she was really and truly pleading with us. Vince looked at me with a very uncomfortable expression. He was not good at sincerity, and it obviouslymade him too nervous to speak, which meant it was my problem. “Debs,” I said, “we’d like to catch this guy, too. But we’ve hit the wall. The wrapper is standard, from a restaurant supply place. There’s not enough left of the tacos to say anything except that they were tacos, and even that I couldn’t swear to on the stand. No prints, no trace evidence, nothing. We don’t have any magic tricks,” I said, and as I said “magic tricks” the image of a clown secured to a table with duct tape popped into my mind. But I pushed the happy memory firmly out of my head and tried to concentrate on Deborah. “I’m sorry,” I said, and my sincerity was no more than half-artificial, which was pretty good for me. “But we’ve done everything we can think of.”

Deborah looked at me for a long moment. She took another deep breath, looked at Vince, and then shook her head slowly. “All right,” she said. “Then I guess we just wait for him to hit again, and hope we get lucky next time.” And she turned away and walked out of the lab at about one-quarter the speed she’d come in.

“Wow,” said Vince in a hushed voice when Deborah was gone. “I’ve never seen her like that.” He shook his head. “Very scary,” he said.

“I guess this really bothers her,” I said.

Vince shook his head. “No, it’s her; she’s changed,” he said. “I think motherhood has made her all mushy inside.”

I could have said that she was not nearly as mushy as Detective Klein, but that might have hit the wrong note, and anyway it was true. Deborah had softened since the birth of her son, Nicholas. The child had been a parting gift from Kyle Chutsky, her live-in boyfriend of several years who had vanished in a fit of low self-esteem. Nicholas was a few months younger than Lily Anne, and a nice enough little chap, although next to Lily Anne he did seem to be a bit slow and not nearly as attractive.

But Deborah doted on him, which was natural enough, and she really had seemed to mellow around the edges since his arrival. Still, I would almost rather have seen the old Debs and suffered one of her terrifying arm punches than see her so visibly deflated. But even her new sensitivity couldn’t get cheese from a stone; there truly wasn’t anything we could do that we had not already done. A taco wrapper from the floor of a car is not a lot to go on; that was all we had, and wishing for more wouldn’t make it appear in front of me.

I spent the rest of the day turning the problem over in my head, trying to think of some neat and clever angle to make the wrapper yield more information, but I came up empty. I am good at my job, and I do have a certain amount of professional pride. I would also prefer to see my sister happy and successful. But there was just no way to take things any further than we had done. It was frustrating, and very bad for my sense of personal worth, and it added to my general feeling that life was a mangy dog that was badly in need of a hearty kick.

By five o’clock I was quite happy to slip away from the frustration and tension, and head for a relaxing and recuperative weekend at home. Traffic was worse than usual; after all, this was Friday night. All the usual violence and anger were there, but there was a festive edge to it, as if people had saved all the energy left over from the workweek and were putting it into causing as much mayhem as possible on the way home. On the Dolphin Expressway a tanker truck had rammed into the back end of a van from a retirement village. They had only been going five miles per hour, but the back of the van still crumpled a bit, and it had plowed forward into a fifteen-year-old Toyota with only one regular tire and three doughnuts on it.

I crawled past in a long, slow line of cars, most of them filled with people cheering as the tanker’s driver yelled at the four men in the Toyota and a flock of terrified old people from the van huddled together on the shoulder. Traffic ground to a dead stop, then slowly started up again. I saw two more fender-benders before I got off onto Dixie Highway. But somehow, through a combination of skill, lifelong practice, and blind luck, I made it home without serious injury.

I parked my car behind a two-year-old SUV that was already in front of the house; my brother, Brian, was here for his every-week Friday-night dinner with the family. It was a custom we had gotten used to over the last year, after he had turned up and apparently wanted nothing more than to be with me, his only living relative. He had already bonded with Cody and Astor, since they knew him for what he was—a cold and empty killer, like me—and they wanted to be just like him. And Rita, showing the same solid good judgment about men that had led her to marry two different monsters, ate up Brian’s horribly fake flattery and thought he was wonderful, too. Andas for me? Well, I still had trouble believing that Brian did not have some secret motive for hanging around, but he was my brother, after all, and family is family. We don’t get to pick our kin. The best we can hope for is to survive them, especially in my family.

Inside the house, Lily Anne was in her playpen next to the couch, where Brian was sitting with Rita, deep in very serious conversation. They looked up at me as I entered, and for some reason I thought Rita looked a little guilty when she saw me. It was impossible to read Brian, of course. He certainly couldn’t feel guilt, and he merely gave me his large and very fake smile of greeting, like always. “Greetings, brother,” he said.

“Dexter,” Rita said, and she jumped up and came over to greet me with a quick hug and a peck on the cheek. “Brian and I were just talking,” she said, probably to reassure me that they had not been performing amateur brain surgery on the neighbors.

“Wonderful,” I said, and before I could say more I sneezed.

Rita jumped back and managed to avoid most of the spray from my nose. “Oh,” she said. “Here, I’ll get some tissues.” And she vanished down the hall toward the bathroom.

I blotted my nose with my sleeve and sat in the easy chair. I looked at my brother, and he looked back at me. Brian had recently landed a job with a large Canadian real estate conglomerate that was buying up homes in South Florida. My brother was charged with approaching people whose houses were in foreclosure and encouraging them to leave right away. In theory, this was done by offering them “key money,” usually around fifteen hundred dollars, to walk away and let the corporation take over and resell the property. I say “in theory” because Brian seemed very prosperous and happy lately, and I was almost certain that he was pocketing the key money and using less conventional means of emptying the houses. After all, if someone is running out on a mortgage, they generally want to disappear for a while—and why shouldn’t Brian help them do a more thorough job of it?

I had no proof, of course—and it was none of my business how my brother conducted his social life, as long as he showed up at the house with clean hands and good table manners, which he always did. Still, I hoped he had abandoned his flamboyant recreational style and was being careful.

“How’s business?” I asked him politely.

“Never better,” he said. “They may say the market is recovering, but I haven’t seen it yet. It really is a good time to be me in Miami.”

I smiled politely, mostly to show him what a reallygoodfake looked like, and Rita hustled back in with a box of tissues.

“Here,” she said, thrusting the box at me. “Why don’t you just keep the box with you, and— Oh, damn it, there’s the timer,” she said, and she vanished again, into the kitchen this time.

Brian and I watched her go with very similar expressions of bemused wonder. “A really lovely lady,” Brian said to me. “You are very lucky, Dexter.”

“Don’t let her hear you say that,” I said. “She might think you sound envious, and she does have single friends, you know.”

Brian looked startled. “Oh,” he said. “Silly me, I hadn’t thought of that. Would she really try to, ah … I think the expression is, ‘fix me up’?”

“In a heartbeat,” I assured him. “She thinks marriage is man’s natural state.”

“And is it?” he asked me.

“There is much to be said for domestic bliss,” I said. “And I am quite sure Rita would love to see you try it.”

“Oh, dear,” he said, and he looked at me thoughtfully, running his eyes over my entire frame. “Still,” he said, “it seems to agree with you.”

“I suppose it must seem like it,” I said.

“Do you mean itdoesn’tagree with you?” Brian asked, arching his eyebrows up high on his forehead.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess it really does. It’s just that lately—”

“Lights seem dimmer, tastes are all duller?” he asked me.

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