Family Murders: A Thriller (10 page)

No one was there. She looked under the bed, in the closet, behind the drapes. She should be feeling something, she understood that much, but numbness reigned. Her heart rate didn't even feel elevated. A systematic search of the house came next. It was logical. She may not be feeling anything, but Angela was sure she needed to find her daughter. There was no one in the master bedroom or the office, no one upstairs at all.

Down on the first floor, she already knew that the kitchen and foyer and hall were all empty. Searching the dining room and living room only took a moment, but there was no one there. Her mouth opened to call out for Ted. She stopped herself.

Could it really be that…no, she stopped that train of thought too. Whatever she felt, whatever she thought, it could all be worked out once Julie was pressed against her chest.

Only at the head of the basement steps did she hesitate. The area down there was unfinished and low, less than five feet high. It wasn't designed for people, just storage. The hesitation didn't last long; she flicked the switch and started down. At the the base of the stairs, access to the rest of the space was around a ninety-degree turn. Angela put her back to the wall, took a deep breath, and peered around the edge.

A very limited number of bare bulbs cast the basement into relief, creating about equal area of light and darkness. Nothing in the light, unknowns in the shadows. She steeled herself again, then she was around the corner and out into the basement proper, lancing out in all directions, charging into corners, checking behind boxes.

There was no one there.

The cars! She sprinted up the stairs and looked out front, but all the cars were there. Now the search was taking its toll on her. She had been physically prepared to see her daughter each and every time she turned a corner. Seeing nothing each time was painful. More than that, it was confusing, because where else could they be?

And then she knew, not because it was the one place she hadn't looked, but because she could feel it in her bones. Slowly, she turned from the front window and headed down that other hallway, towards the dead end, towards the door that lead to the new addition. It should have been locked. She knew it was locked.

It wasn't. She turned the knob and stepped inside.

Hurricane Marco was getting closer, and the wind was picking up. It was whistling across the huge sheet of plastic standing in for the missing wall. The plastic was stretched taught, and under constant pressure from outside it was starting to vibrate and hum like a piano wire. There were no lights, but with a translucent wall the entire space maintained a gray and milky glow.

There was no one here either.

The door smashed shut behind her. Angela jumped straight up and around, and there they were. Ted had his back pressed against the wall with Julie in front of him. Ted was smiling. Julie was crying, but she wasn't making a sound.

Because a hand was clamped across the lower half of her face. Even from across the room, Angela could see the fingers digging in, pushing deep into the baby fat and muscle.

"Jesus, Ted, what are you doing?"

"Gosh, I'm really sorry about this, guys. I was thinking this would never have to happen."

"You're hurting her!"

"Well, it's not like I want to, sweetheart, but sometimes we don't get what we want," Ted said.

"Just let her go, let her come over here to me, and I'm sure we can figure this out, whatever it is."

"Oh, I know we can figure it out. When life gives you lemons and all that."

She took a step forward, and Ted lifted his daughter off the ground by her head. Angela screamed.

"Let's just stop right there, okay?" he said. "I don't want us getting into the kind of scuffle forensic evidence can't explain. It's got to tell a story, you know, and a believable one. From the footprints to the blood spatter to the positioning of the bodies."

"The blood spatter—"

"Oh, fuck off, Angela. Don't pretend you don't know. If you talked to Eric about a pair of pink sunglasses then I'm sure he filled you in on the other details too. But there's no need to scare our beautiful little angel here by discussing specifics."

He reached into his outside pocket and pulled out a knife. Angela recognized it immediately. It was the fillet knife from their kitchen.

"Oh God, Ted, look, whatever happened, we can fix it. Whatever happened in the past, I don't care about it." Angela swallowed hard. "I just want my family back together."

"That's funny. You think this is a family? I guess you would. No one's beating on you, it's got to be heaven, right?"

Angela said nothing.

"That's why I picked you, you know," Ted said, "because you would be so easy to keep happy. And because I thought you would fight for—," he gestured in a vague circle at the house and at all of them with the tip of the knife, "—all this. It takes a kind of will to ignore all of the things that don't fit, all the things that don't fit into your perfect little life. Who else could I count on for something like that?"

Angela stayed rooted to the spot.

"And this little girl right here?" Ted playfully rubbed the top of Julie's head. At the same time, he pressed the point of the knife up under her jawline. "She was just a bonus."

"Why are you doing this?"

"Frankly, I never thought it would last this long. Hell, I never thought it would work this well. Ten years! The things I've accomplished—," he looked down at his daughter. "Right, no specifics. But you were both so perfect. Family man traveling on business, who would ever need to look closer?"

"What happened ten years ago?"

"Ten years ago it was my first time, and I didn't know how good it would feel. After that, I couldn't stop. Jesus," he let out a booming laugh, "I was so fucking scared afterward. I just wanted to show that little girl what was what, and then…I don't mind telling you, after I left that day, I thought I might be done."

He giggled and twisted the knife a little bit.

"I wasn't an idiot. No witnesses, no fingerprints, I was careful about that. But never—never in a million years!—did I think they would finger the brother. It couldn't have been more perfect. Honestly, I think that's what got me hooked. I've been searching for that perfect feeling ever since."

Angela felt like just lying down and going to sleep. "Ever since," she said.

"Yes, Angela, ever since. Again and again, always trying to recreate it just so. I did learn one thing: don't shit where you eat. I got smart after that first time and never did it here again. And I went out and bought myself a nice nuclear family, just to make sure no one would ever suspect."

"And now?"

"Now, sweetheart, it's over."

"So go. Give me my daughter, and just go," she said.

"
Our
daughter, sweetie."

"Give her to me."

"Come on. You're not thinking creatively. This asshole thinks he can come back from ten years ago and fuck me? Let him try. But I'm going to flip it on him."

"You'll never be able to get away with it. The police know that little girl's locket was buried in our yard."

"So what? Crazed killer comes back to his old stomping grounds, no one knows why, but hey, he's crazy, so who can explain it? The details write themselves."

"And Julie? Me?"

"Well, it's tragic, really. On the bright side, I'm sure we'll all make the headlines. Two bodies, mother and daughter, discovered gutted. Husband's body missing, blood trail suggests he was dragged away into the woods. You don't look for someone who's already dead, especially not when there's such an obvious alternative."

"That's your plan? Rub some of your blood on the ground, everyone thinks you're dead?"

"Oh, they'll be sure, I'll make sure there's pints and pints of it, strewn all around. No one can survive blood loss beyond a certain point, so they'll be sure. It won't be mine, of course. I have a feeling," he giggled again, "that someone with my blood type will be showing up soon."

"It will never work."

"Haven't you learned anything from living with me all these years? People will explain away anything they can, any way they can. It'll work just fine. And a dead man can go anywhere and do anything, maybe even start a new family."

"A new family?" Angela felt like she was going to die just listening to him.

"Yes. A new wife. A new daughter even! I was getting tired of this one anyway." He twisted the knife again. Julie let out a muffled scream.

"Stop it! Just stop—"

"Move over towards the hole in the floor there."

"What will it take? I just want you to stop."

Ted made a ts-tsk sound with his mouth, then twisted the thin blade harder. A rivulet of blood ran down Julie's neck, and she whimpered around the edge of the hand still clamped around her mouth.

Angela started walking toward the hole cut through the wooden boards, and Ted started circling, pulling Julie along with him. He walked crab-wise, sideways, placing each foot carefully to avoid the various tools and materials strewn across the floor, always facing his wife, always keeping her daughter in full view.

Angela stopped near the edge of the hole, and Ted stopped too. His back was pressed lightly against the rippling plastic now. He took the knife away from Julie's neck and used it to point.

"I want you to get down into the—"

He was cut off by a great tearing sound punctuated by pops and pings as the clear wall ripped free of its staples. A gap appeared, and in the gap an arm. Ted's face registered only surprise as it reached down from above and latched onto the hand holding the knife. Ted sputtered, and the arm started twisting. It twisted fast and hard, and Ted dropped the knife. He let go of Julie, pushed her really, and she stumbled toward the hole.

Somehow, like she had seen Rocky do an hour ago, Angela acted on instinct and
moved
, really moved, around the gap and down onto her knees. She put out her arm, grabbed Julie, and stopped her from falling. For one beautiful second it was just the two of them, mother and daughter, looking at each other. She would have sworn Julie smiled. Then the world came roaring back up to full speed just as she had to duck.

Ted had stumbled away from the disembodied arm, and now the rest of a person had started to follow. Eric's head came through, and then his body. He forced his torso through the ever-expanding gap in the plastic wall like a baby being born. For one sweet second, Ted's face drained like a tub with the plug pulled. Then it filled with blood again, turning a red so deep it was almost purple. He grunted and started forward, only pausing to get a grip on Julie's other arm and yank her across the gap and in front of him again. This time she was between him and Eric, and Angela saw her chance. She charged, and felt a kind of elation at the release of energy it took. No more thinking, no more worrying, just forward motion, action. Ted didn't even turn to look at her.

He didn't have to, just stiff-armed her in the chest and she bounced back. Strangely, it felt like being hit with a ball of tissue paper that had been soaked in warm water. She scrabbled to unstick the wet mass from her chest, but wasn't able to. It was more rod-like than anything, and it seemed to be attached. She pulled her hand away, and it came back slick with blood.

Realization dawned slowly. There was something sticking out of the side of her chest. An image flashed across her brain: if her torso had been a clock, a fillet knife would now be indicating approximately two-thirty. 'Morning or afternoon?' she wondered briefly, then sat down heavily on a bag of cement. She put her elbows on her knees and supported her head with her hands, which seemed to expend all her reserves. All she could do now was watch.

"Let her go." Eric's voice exploded into the confined space.

"It's nice to see you again, Eric."

"I've thought about you every day. I've thought about you more than my own sister. You're not ready for me, so just let her go."

"That's funny, I can't recall thinking of you much. So we got caught up in one little fight—I barely remember what all this fuss is about."

Eric started forward. From the small of his back Ted produced a small silver pistol.

"Turns out I did come ready after all. I want you to walk over near Angela now." The silver gun was pointed right at his chest. "You know, I wanted this to be another knife thing, because that's more your style, but it looks like you'll be changing your M.O. What the hell, it's been ten years, right? And I suppose you've really matured as a person."

Ted started circling again, closing in, forcing him over towards the cement bags. Eric took a few steps closer, and Ted raised the gun towards him, ts-tsked again, then pressed it into Julie's temple.

"Julie, listen to me." Eric had bent down and was looking her right in the eye. "I'm going to start coming at this piece of—at your Dad, and then he's going to have to stop pointing that thing at you."

Ted's eyes narrowed. "Stop talking to her."

"He's going to have to stop pointing it at you and point it at me instead. When that happens I want you to run and hide. Do you understand? Nod if you understand."

Julie pushed against the hand and managed a small up and down.

"I call your bluff," Ted said, "you're not going anywhere."

"Ready?" Eric said, and started walking.

"Stop. Stop," Ted said. Julie tensed her body. "God damn it, stop!"

When Eric was four feet away, Ted shrugged his shoulders and raised the gun.

"Now! Run, Gabby! Run aw—"

Ted smiled, squeezed the trigger, and shot Eric in the chest. But Julie did exactly what she was told. She squirmed away, sprinted across room, and disappeared through the door into the house proper. Angela was resigned to dying, but if she had to go, she prayed this would be the last thing she would see, the last thing she would know: that her daughter had a chance again, however small.

Eric stayed standing, took one step forward, took another bullet to the chest. This one sent him slumping backwards onto the ground, until his head was propped on the cement bag next to Angela. Ted aimed carefully at his face and pulled the trigger. She wanted to close her eyes but couldn't.

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