It was difficult for me to sleep that night.
Looking in the bathroom mirror, I could see slightly bruised indentations on both sides of my throat from where Victor choked me. My voice was still a bit hoarse, aching when I bothered to clear my throat. I swear...the growing urge to take that little demons life began to grow in intensity. I impatiently fidgeted in front of that mirror, as visions of cutting him open played over and over in my head like the bothersome lyrics of a catchy song that you can't seem to get out of your head. No matter how hard you try, they sneak back in to your thoughts during every quiet moment you experience throughout your typically mundane afternoon.
Again and again.
Over and over.
I hope that he's smug enough to try to hold back his screams of agony, hoping to deprive me of the satisfaction of knowing how much it hurts. But I'll eventually get him to cry out for me. I'll get him to weep and collapse from the suffering I plan to put him through. And it will be music to my ears.
This isn't art. This is payback. And it's going to be sweeter than any emotional treat I've ever experienced before. Hell...it might even be fun.
I went through the predictable monotony of my morning routine. Same as always. Morning piss. Shower. Teeth. Coffee. Breakfast. I had trained myself to do it on autopilot at this point. No need to think at all. Just go through the motions while my mind did what it could to push out the thoughts of sinking my six inch blade deep into the gullet of that boy. Watching Victor's eyes tear up as blood rushed into the sliced open spaces of his stomach and lower intestine...just before rising up into the back of his throat, and causing him to bleed from his thin lips as he tried to process what was happening to him. I've done this many times before...and it's always a fascinating part of my work...watching the realization of true horror cross their face. There's nothing more arousing than the sudden journey between confusion and acceptance. Knowing that my victims can probably count the breaths they have left on one hand as their body goes limp in my arms.
Yes...I want to see that look in Victor's eyes. I want to be there to witness his undoing, and revel in the moment that he realizes that he was never as invincible as he thought he was.
But the real question...is how to set up such a moment.
It was obvious that he was much stronger than me. Much faster than me. And he seems to be able to read my every thought like an open book, even when I try to shut him out. These things are clear. He knows where I am. He knows where I live, where I go, and how I feel. How can I possibly find a way to fight a creature like that? Exactly what parts of myself is he using against me? And how can I reclaim control over them long enough to cut him in two?
As I finished my coffee and went out for the day, I kept Victor's sudden attack in my thoughts. Replaying the scene in my head on repeat. Everything had happened so fast that it was difficult to recall all of the details...but I attempted to piece together what little I could, putting everything in some sort of sequential order. What was I thinking and when did he know it? Was it right away? Did he know ahead of time? Can he predict what I was about to do, or was he simply following my lead? When did he figure out where I lived? He said that I was the one that told him, but I know that wasn't the truth. We were in the car outside of Ginger's diner...so what was I thinking about at that moment? Was I thinking of home? What tipped him off?
My mind kept peeling back layer after layer of happened that first evening, and tried to match it up with everything that had happened last night. What was the connection? How is he doing this?
I stopped by one of the local 'True Value' home improvement stores just at the edge of town. Nowhere near my neighborhood, of course. I didn't want to take the chance of running into someone I knew there, or even worse, someone who might work for me. I had already gone to another drug store to buy an economy set of duct tape rolls an hour prior to this visit. You have to be cautious about buying a certain combination of materials from the same store, at the same time. It looks suspicious. You can't walk into a single store and ask for rope, a shovel, some lime, and a hacksaw, all in one go without raising a few eyebrows as to what you're planning to do with all that. I didn't get this far by being a chump. Instead, I picked up a few more items, a new TV Guide, and a couple of Mary Jane candy bars, taking them up to the front counter. It was the middle of the day so the store was pretty much empty as far as customers were concerned. The lady behind the counter, nineteen, maybe twenty years old...had a head full of curly red hair, a smattering of freckles on both cheeks, and a hazy smoker's voice that greeted me with a simple, unemotional, "Will this be all for you today, Sir?"
She didn't even make eye contact. in fact, she started scanning my items without even realizing that I hadn't answered her question. It was like she didn't recognize my humanity at all. "Good morning." I said softly. Attempting to at least break her out of her trance.
She peeked up, but only briefly. Minimal acknowledgement. "Morning." She said flatly.
"Certainly is nice to have some sunshine, isn't it?" I asked. "After the blizzard and all."
"Sure thing, hon." She said. "Is that gonna be cash or check?"
"Cash." She just wanted to get rid of me. She had nothing else to do but share a few human moments with another person...and she couldn't even be bothered. As she scanned the last of my items, she said, "That's gonna be thirty two bucks, even." And she held out her hand, waiting for me to dig into my wallet and hand it over so she could get back to her isolation.
"So...how long have you been working here? I don't believe I've ever seen you at the counter before..."
"Are you putting me on, man? Come on. Thirty two, even. No offense, but I haven't got all day." She said, a touch of an attitude now slipping into her voice.
I felt my fists slowly begin to tighten up below the counter, focusing my growing rage into something physical that I might be able to control. I slowly turned my head to look over the front of the store...then turned the other way to look at the back of the store. I took my time, almost as if to instigate her deliberately. "Funny...I don't see any other customers in here." I said. Calmly. Steadily.
"Look, if you don't got the moolah, I'm gonna have to ask you put this stuff back where you got it."
"You just said...you didn't have all day. I'd like to know what you've got to do that's so important that you can't engage in a little small talk." I said, now feeling the strain in my voice as a tension built up in my shoulders.
"Am I gonna have to call the manager out of the back?"
I put my clenched fists on the counter, tightening them up even more. And this time...I gave her a bit of a smile. "You should be a little bit nicer to your customers. You know that?" I saw her glance down at my hands as they tightened up until my knuckles cracked, and then back up into my eyes. Oh...I see. Now I've got your attention. Don't I? "I was just trying to make conversation. I thought you might be lonely...seeing as there's nobody else in here right now..." Placing emphasis on adding, "...Just you...and me."
I could tell that she was trying to keep up a brave face...but I could tell that it was fake. A true predator can always spot weakness when he sees it, no matter how subtle it may be. She seemed to be getting a little pale as some of the blood drained from her face...and for a quick moment, thoughts of taking advantage of this moment crossed my mind. She was so close to me. I could easily reach over the counter and cut off her air supply before she had the chance to scream. Windpipes 'pop' like bubble wrap when you squeeze hard enough. It would be soooo easy to take her apart right now. But, that wasn't my style. It was tempting, but graceless.
I wasn't going to earn any brownie points from laying her to rest. She wasn't worth the effort.
I reached into my wallet, taking the bills out, and looking her directly in the eye as I slowly counted it out as I laid each bill on the counter top. "Ten...twenty...twenty five...twenty six...twenty seven...twenty eight...twenty nine...thirty...thirty one...and....thirty two." I said with a gentle smirk. "Thirty two even." I picked up the money and placed it in her hand, making as much physical contact as possible, before picking up my paper bag of items and pulling it close to my chest. I stared at her for an extended moment of silence, until her breath got short and her bottom lip began to quiver. "You have yourself a blessed day." And then I turned to walk towards the front door.
But just before leaving, I could hear her mumble the words, "Fucking creep!" But it was so far under her breath that I might have missed it if I hadn't been waiting for it. It was a weak retaliation. A cowardly act that was more for her peace of mind than it was to add any injury to me. Not only did the insult fail miserably...it actually caused me to smile.
She has no idea what true power is. And she has no idea how close she came from having me teach her alllll about it.
I was already on my way back to my apartment by mid afternoon, my trunk full of the materials that I thought I needed for tonight. Including a couple of sixers that I grabbed from the local Food and Liquor spot on the Southwest side. After our little altercation last night, I knew that trying to come directly at Victor, head to head, like I usually would...wasn't going to be an option. Whatever kind of demonic creature he was, it was too strong for me to overpower him. But that doesn't mean that I'm not in control. He was still just a punk kid with a chip on his shoulder. And one thing that I've learned over the last few years of honing my 'craft' is...arrogance is an open, festering, wound. It infects every other part of who you are, and it always creates more blindspots in your methods than it does advantages. That's something that I can use against him.
As I said...it takes a true predator to know these things.
So I came home and began to set up my little living space in such a way where I'd be ready for my dark visitor tonight, but it was still inconspicuous enough for him to not notice too much of a change. Unlike Victor, I didn't take it upon myself to assume he was as dumb as he looked. No, he was certain to be a much more formidable opponent than that, and I have to admit that there was something about that fact that was beginning to excite me. I don't believe that I've ever had the pleasure of matching wits with an enemy of his caliber before. I was intrigued by what he knew and what he could do. I spent all morning thinking about it. Reviewing his every word in my mind, trying to pick out my every mistake, hoping to find the hidden connections that I might have missed before. It was a confusing mosaic of wild colors and broken ideas...but the more I worked to connect the dots, the more I began to understand what I was dealing with here. And I might just find myself enjoying a moment of true bliss as I stand over him...watching his arrogance drain out of him one precious liter at a time.
I finally relaxed in my living room, turning on the lamp next to me as the sun set and the world gave itself over to darkness. Something else that I noticed about Victor. He never comes out in the day time. He claims to know what I've been up to during the daylight hours, but he's never anywhere to be seen. Another clue to file away in the back of my mind for later.
I made myself a TV dinner. Salisbury steak with gravy, mashed potatoes and green peas. A small compartment for chicken noodle soup, and a pocket of apple cobbler for dessert. Sometimes, the entrees could seem a little mismatched, but I still think these things were one of the best inventions that mankind ever made. Saved me the hassle of having to cook all of these things separately and then be left with a sink full of dishes to clean up afterward. I'll take these over an unnecessary mess any day of the week. That's why I keep them stocked up in the freezer.
I believe that it was almost time for the evening news when I finally heard that predictable knock at my front door. That Victor...heh...he certainly is a man of his word. I'll give him that.
I got up on my feet, trying to slow down my beating heart as I waited for the evening's festivities to get under way. I did what I could to clear my mind, and to remember what I had been thinking about all day long. The ins and outs of what I had planned. The tools at my disposal. And the mental profile that I had of the boy on the other side of that door. Yes, I think I'm ready. Even if he isn't.
I took the chain off of the door, and opened it up just in time to see Victor brushing his long brown hair over his shoulder, slightly glassy eyed with a wide grin on his face. "Look at you. Thatta boy!" He said, cheerfully. "You're learning. I like that, man. We're finally getting in step now."
He stepped into my apartment without invitation, and I closed the door behind him, putting the chain back on over the top lock as he plopped down on my couch and put his feet up on my coffee table. I sat across from him and finished off the last few bites of my meal, seeing his eyes open wide for a moment. "Hey! Is that one of those newfangled TV dinners, man? What is that like?"
I wrinkled my brow. "They're hardly anything new." I said. "They've been around for about twenty years now. And they're fine."
"Twenty years? Already?" He said. "Oh man...time flies, brother. That's wild, man."
Every now and then, Victor will say or do something that makes it seem like he's got some sort of issue with time placement. I took notice of that. I'll be sure to remember that for later.
"I'd offer you some, but, as you can see...it's just about gone." I said.
"No worries, Pops. Not interested. But it smells divine." He leaned his head back on my couch and closed his eyes for a moment. He was a little bit 'off' tonight. More so than usual.
"Are you high, Victor?" I asked him.
"As a fucking kite man! I'm going on a crazy journey right now. It feels good." Victor likes to get high then. Duly noted. I'll save that for later too. "I was really hoping to burn one with you, man, but you never keep any product in the house. Major disappointment, man."
I stood up from my chair, "I don't smoke pot." I said, walking towards the fridge. "It's illegal."
This caused Victor to laugh out loud. "So is carving up pretty ladies with a six inch blade and dumping them in a hole under your construction sites, Jack! Or did you blank out on that part?" He said. "Nothing wrong with blowing a little grass, man. It stimulates the mind."
"It gets you into trouble, is what it does." I said, bringing over two beers to the table. One for me, and one for him. The combination of pot and alcohol was sure to relax him even more. Maybe even slow his reflexes a bit. "And if I have to go down...it won't be because I got caught with something as stupid as a marijuana cigarette."
Victor raised his head again and smiled. "Ahhh, I see. Don't want to stir up the fuzz, right? Reading you loud and clear, man. See? That's what I love about you, Jack. You're always thinking."
"Indeed, I am." I said, sitting back down to keep an eye on him. "Always."
He leaned forward. "So, I take it that we've got some dark work ahead of us tonight, right? You and me? No more bashing each other's heads in over nonsense?"
I gave him the same gentle smile that I gave the girl behind the counter at the True Value store. "A little later. I thought that maybe we could just...sit here and talk for a while. I like to get to know who I'm dealing with before I dash out without thinking. You know what I mean?"
Victor looked me in the eye, wide grin, as if he was trying to figure me out as well. A predator in his own right, he answered, "Fair enough. This is a dangerous game we're playing, after all. Ain't it?"
"A very dangerous game. Yes, indeed."
And, little does he know...the 'game' is just getting started.