TWENTY

Ten-thirty p.m. Doyle alone in the squadroom. Typing up his DD5 reports and wishing that life could be simple.

He wants to know how the fuck he ended up playing the stooge to that joker. That guy whose idea of fun is to tell Doyle whom he’s going to kill next, but in such a way that Doyle can never grasp the true meaning. It makes Doyle feel like he’s in a comedy sketch — the unfortunate dimwit everyone laughs at for getting the simplest things so drastically wrong.

He also wants to know how the fuck he now finds himself almost wishing he hadn’t relinquished that role. Perhaps he was always meant to play the innocent fool. Doesn’t the guy you feel sorry for always win out in the end?

The thing of it is, there’s too much he needs to know. It’s like being a child who has been told there is something very interesting in a box, but that he must never look inside it. The temptation to open the box becomes overwhelming. Sooner or later you just know you’re gonna sneak a peek.

There are things going on in the killer’s life. In his mind. His patterns are changing. Doyle needs to know why. He needs to open the box.

He gets a further nudge in that direction when his cellphone squawks at him. Not a phone call, but a text message:

No clues this time. I promise. Take the call. Please.

Well, well, thinks Doyle. The scumbag’s actually pleading with me.

Seconds later he hears the ring tone, almost immediately drowned out by the voice in his head:

Ignore it, you prick. You’ll regret it if you answer it. You’ll be right back in his pocket. Playing his stupid games and losing every time. Stick to your guns and kill the fucking call.

Sound advice. For the sake of his own sanity, he knows he would do well to heed it.

But he’s never been good at doing what he’s told.

He answers the call a second before it goes to voicemail. Opens the box. And already he feels like Pandora, letting out all the evils of the world.

‘You better not be shitting me!’ he yells into the phone. ‘You give me one fucking clue, sneak one piece of bullshit information under the fence like you did last time, and I’m gone. Permanently. You understand that, motherfucker?’

There is a moment’s silence, during which Doyle thinks to himself, This better be who I expected it to be.

‘And a good evening to you too, Detective,’ says the caller. ‘It’s nice to hear your calm, collected voice again. I’ve missed our little chats. So let me give you some reassurance. You don’t need to worry anymore. I’m changing the rules.’

More changes. Not what Doyle wanted to hear.

‘What rules?’

‘The rules of the game. You’re right. I think I was a little unfair on you. The game was always a little one-sided. The outcome was never in doubt, given your limited capabilities. And so I don’t blame you for walking away.’

Doyle refuses to rise to the insult, or to be seduced into feeling any gratitude for this conciliatory approach. Allowing emotions to govern his response is the most dangerous thing he can do right now.

He says, ‘So you admit this is all just a game to you. What’s the problem? You got nobody else to play with? Nobody wants to be your friend anymore?’

‘To be frank, life was starting to become a little dull without you. You’re such a good sport, Cal. I missed you terribly. And I think you missed me too, didn’t you?’

‘That’s right, I was devastated. I was like a goldfish without a bicycle.’

‘You joke about it now, but admit it. You’ve been desperate for me to call, haven’t you?’

‘Is that what that was, going all silent on me? You trying to teach me a lesson of some kind?’

‘I was trying to show you that you need me too, Cal. I need you and you need me. We have a symbiotic relationship going here.’

‘Actually, I think of you more as a parasite. A tapeworm or a flea. The last thing I need is you sucking my blood the way you’ve been doing.’

‘Really? That’s the way you feel?’

‘That’s the way I feel.’

‘Then why did you answer this call?’

Doyle hesitates before he answers, and kicks himself for it. ‘Because of the text message. Because I wanted to know why you’ve suddenly decided to change tactics.’

‘Oh. Only that,’ says the voice, mocking in its disbelief. ‘Not because you realize that you and the rest of the boys in blue don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of stopping these killings without my help?’

‘Don’t underestimate us, asshole. We’re closer than you think.’

‘Of course you are. Well, in that case you won’t be needing my assistance. But just in case you change your mind, here’s how we’re going to do things from now on. Each time another killing is planned, I’m going to give you the option, Cal. I’ll let you decide whether you want to hear my little hints or not. I won’t sneak anything in. I’ll simply ask you for a yes or a no. Yes if you want my help. No if you don’t. It’s that simple. What do you think, Cal? Does that work for you?’

Doyle thinks, He’s doing this because without me he’s nothing. He needs my feedback. That’s what keeps him going. This isn’t a favor to me. He’s trying to save himself. Without me, he’s going to pieces. That’s why he acted so rashly with Helena Colquitt.

‘You know what? I’m gonna have to think about it. Weigh up the pros and cons. Tell you what, give me a call sometime, and I’ll see if I feel like answering.’

The hesitation is on the other end of the line now, and for the first time Doyle feels like he can chalk up a minor victory. He is sure he can almost hear the clenching of fists and the gnashing of teeth as the caller seethes over the possibility that his bluff is being called.

‘Don’t push it, Cal. Lives are at stake here. Innocent people could die because of the decisions you take tonight. Don’t treat this situation lightly. I’m offering you the help you need to save those people. The question is, can you afford to turn it down?’

‘Don’t try to put this on me. Those people are dead because of one person — you. I’ve just come back from looking at one of your victims. She was young and she was pretty. She had her whole life ahead of her. What did she ever do to you? What put her on your list of people who don’t deserve to live? What gives you the right to make those decisions?’

A sigh. ‘You just don’t understand, do you, Cal? This whole thing. It’s not about hurting. It’s about helping. We all have to help each other. That’s what’ll make the world a better place. Until you appreciate what’s really going on here, you’re not going to make any headway on this case. Look beyond the surface, Cal.’

‘You’re seriously fucked up, you know that? You enjoy killing, and you enjoy me failing to solve your clues. That’s it. Nothing deep. It’s just about you getting your kicks in about the most perverted way possible.’

‘Well, you can stop the killing, Cal. I’m not saying you’re right about me, because you’re not, but whatever my motives are, you can stop the killing. I’m willing to give you the information you need. Only you can decide whether you want it.’

‘Like I said, I’ll think about it.’

‘All right. But not for too long, Cal. I’ll be calling you again soon, and I’ll make my offer only once. Turn it down and you’re on your own. If you hadn’t been so stubborn, maybe you could even have prevented tonight’s events. I was going to play you two tunes for this one. You want to know what they were?’

‘Not especially.’

‘Listen.’

Doyle thinks about hanging up, but his curiosity gets the better of him. He wants to know if he really would have had a chance of cracking this one.

The first piece of music is light-hearted and catchy, but sounds really dated. Doyle thinks he’s heard it before, but isn’t sure where. Maybe in a rerun of a very old TV show. It fades out, to be replaced by an orchestral piece, grander and more sweeping, but still sounding like it’s from an old movie.

‘You know what they are?’ The caller sounds excited now. Even after he’s killed, he’s still finding a way to extract some entertainment value from it.

‘Not a clue.’

‘Jesus, Cal. You’ve just come from seeing the victim, and you still can’t put two and two together? Am I wasting my time here?’

‘Like you said, I’m a man of limited capabilities.’

‘All right, look. The first one, it’s from a show called Bewitched. You know the one? About the good-looking witch who works magic by twitching her nose?’

‘I’ve heard of it. A little before my time, though.’

‘Okay. So the witch, Samantha, has a baby. And the baby’s name is. .’

‘I haven’t the faintest.’

‘For Christ’s sake, Cal. Work with me here. All right, try the other tune. A TV soap from the sixties. A family saga. Always started with a voiceover saying, “In color, the continuing story of. .” ’

‘The sixties? Just how old do you think I am?’

‘I know exactly how old you are, Cal, but that’s not the point. There are certain things ingrained in TV history. Besides, I’m not telling you about something that hasn’t happened yet. All you have to do is put what I’ve just told you together with the crime scene you just visited, and you get. .’

Doyle doesn’t answer. He doesn’t get this at all. He’s starting to think he’ll never be able to stop the killings, even with a shit-load of clues.

‘Lord, give me strength,’ says the voice. ‘It’s Peyton fucking Place, Cal. And the baby’s name was Tabitha. You get it now? You see how those two things go together? Tabitha and Peyton. Tabitha Peyton. Clear now?’

No words come to Doyle. His brain is too busy dealing with what it’s just heard. Turning the words over and over while it examines them for something it may have missed. What did he say? Did he say Tabitha Peyton? That can’t be right.

Or was it just another clue? Another example of his deviousness? He gives out the pointers to Tabitha so that I think she’s the intended victim, when in fact she’s just another link in the chain to Helena. Yeah, that must be it. He would do such a thing, just like he did with Vasey.

‘Cal? You there, buddy?’

‘Uhm, yeah. It’s late. My brain’s slowing down. I think I get it. You’re saying that if I’d heard those two tunes, then maybe I could have kept Tabitha Peyton alive.’

He tenses as he awaits the answer. The words that say something along the lines of, What the fuck are you talking about? Not her, you dumbass. The roomie. Helena.

‘Exactly. Honest to God, Cal, I’m beginning to wonder if you’re cut out for this. Maybe I made a bad choice here.’

Exactly.

He said, Exactly.

Jesus fucking Christ.

Doyle feels his hand begin to shake. He tries to keep a tremor from creeping into his voice too.

‘Don’t underestimate me. I’m still gonna put your ass in jail. Meantime, I’ll think about your offer.’

‘You do that. But like I said, don’t put it on hold too long. I’ll be calling you again for an answer soon.’

The line goes dead. Doyle drops the phone on his desk and exhales heavily. He tries to absorb what’s just hit him.

He’s made a mistake.

The man who seems to plan his murders to perfection has finally made a mistake.

He wasn’t being rash when he killed Helena Colquitt. He wasn’t being blas? about the possible return of Tabitha while he carried out a calculated murder. He didn’t even know that two people were staying in the apartment. As far as he was concerned, there was nobody else likely to come through that door while he was there.

And because of all that, the wrong person died.

Doyle leaps to his feet, almost knocking over his chair. He grabs his leather jacket and dashes out of the squadroom.

Sooner or later, the killer is going to realize his mistake. Even if it’s only through hearing the victim’s name on the news, he’s going to learn that he screwed up in a big way. And when that happens, he may just want to put it right.

Doyle prays that he can get to Tabitha before the killer does.

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