Woman Into Wolf

Chapter Eighteen – Dark Secret Love

Persey hated driving Roy’s truck. She could barely see over the steering wheel, barely reach the pedals. It inevitably took longer driving anywhere in this gas-guzzling behemoth. Roy had turned down the gift of a Hummer from his mother because “it wasn’t big enough.” This thing bounced all over the back roads Persey made her fiefdom.

She welcomed the luxury of a tough job to do. It forced her to concentrate; she couldn’t afford to daydream, maybe she wouldn’t even be able to think. On top of everything else, it seemed to be raining. She turned on the wipers, but that didn’t help at all. The rain was inside the car. She was weeping for her friend.

It was all her fault. That was the most horrible part of everything; much more painful than the murder of all those strangers who’d died alone. She had given them their victim. How could Bish have died and she not known? Still it felt unreal. He claimed to be the poet of “the frissons of existence;” where was she when the “frisson” of death came to claim him?

She rocked with sobs. The pain in that direction was too terrible to explore. Bish was drifting away now, into that heaven he’d tried to write about. She let him go.

Behind my castle walls I have been infected, Persey thought. Is there any way to get clean? Trace the source of infection, said the Bird Lady’s voice.

Persey had always known Roy was difficult, temperamental, even dangerous; face it; she had liked that about him. He hated everyone but Jarod. His exclusivity only made her safer. She flattered herself that only she could manage him.

She regarded the ruins of her marriage with cold new eyes. From this new vantage point it had always been about murder; a slow strangulation punctuated by hostage taking. Their crowded bed was stocked with cadavers who bore Roy’s rage so he could massage his wife with the delicacy his mother taught him. The only moment he ever truly united with another human being was when the brothers ran together. The hunter became the butcher, dismantling souls and stealing their life-springs; just enough to get him through another night.

No wonder Persey cleaned obsessively. She had been trying to rid her nostrils of the smell of their decomposing marriage. What had she been thinking to let herself become so weak and weaponless? Roy was supposed to be her weapon, and look at him. She thought love was anchored at the flywheel of his soul but there was nothing there but emptiness. The abyss.

Had Jarod used insider knowledge to tease Roy into doing the dirty work of his super-cheap “quickie divorce”? I was bought and paid for, thought Persey, it all made sense; the disorganized mess of Stormee’s murder was caused by the rage of Roy’s failed imposture. He required anonymity to perpetrate his crimes. Behind the mask of Bruce was a raging, impotent child.

If he’d been smart he’d have tackled Stormee while she slept. She was no mean “piqueur” herself; she always knew just where to sink the knife. Talk about a wife-swap gone wrong. I was present at that murder, thought Persey, I just didn’t know it. If Jarod had congratulated himself that a professional killer would solve his problems he must have been astonished by the mess that Roy created.

But Jarod was a fixer, he could fix anything. He had favors on call in fifteen counties. That was where Ned’s faith in justice ran aground; it relied on objectivity, and what human being ever achieved that? If anything, Jarod’s grip on Roy was tightened.

She felt certain Jarod murdered Bish. After Stormee’s botched slaughter he must have seen the need for professionalism. Jarod knew all about staging a crime scene, and his “emotional signature” – the effortless extraction of DNA — was a side specialty only Persey knew. Bish, on his guard against “crazy” Roy, might have even welcomed Jarod. Might have been willing to play; one more time.

She writhed at the memory of things undone. Could she have warned him? If she’d told Bish the truth about Jarod, would that have armored him?

It seemed unlikely. Bish didn’t believe in hell. He had no idea the abyss could assume human form and walk around. If Roy was the animal bridegroom, what was Jarod’s excuse? It had started as a relationship that asked so little. All Jarod had to do was impersonate Roy’s lost piece of himself. She could only bring Roy down if Jarod allowed it. He himself was indestructible.

Did Roy now feel the way she once had, safe in the arms of the trusted beloved, gambling everything on one invisible soul? She began to see the lineaments of the job that had always been marked out for her. Roy and Jarod, Jarod and Roy, they were a double-headed monster now.

Babe came in for her well-earned share of rage. It was beyond Persey how any human being could be as stupidly reckless as Babe had been, priming a hunter to the point of dementia. Alas the past was never past. Babe had poisoned her own well and drank her punishment daily.
She prayed that now that Bish was content. Perhaps in heaven he’d even acquire the healthy, beautiful body he’d always admired. What else was heaven for? She tried imagining him sitting down at his welcoming feast, getting to know his Viking friends.

But he would never sit with Roy or Jarod, not ever. That part of the poem would not come true. God recognized only the innocent and their protectors. Jarod and Roy had pronounced their own sentences when they toasted, “Kill ’em all, let God sort ’em out.”

They never learned what Bish knew, thought Persey. Everything links to everything, so one distortion in the fabric rends us all. And according to Ned, murderers always make at least one big mistake. She prayed, let their mistake be me.

It was after lunch when she finally pulled up to Cinda’s house, but the time for refreshment had passed. Police and town vehicles stretched down the street and around the corner. The crime van with which she was now familiar sidled at the curb. The garage door was covered with plastic sheeting. Inside she could see the reflection of powerful lights. This was Bish’s jumping off place, where he said goodbye to the dimension that clothed his poems. Now he must praise the infinite.
She saw him now on a mortuary slab, right across from Stormee. If they were together perhaps they wouldn’t be so cold or lonely. Would they wink at each other knowingly? Would they smile and hold hands?

A uniformed officer sat on a folding chair beside the front door. It hadn’t occurred to her that they might not let her in. She said, “I’m a friend of Cinda’s,” and he stepped aside. Persey thought, am I the only mourner? The only one who showed up?

The door was decorated as she had last seen it, a dried grass wreath ornamented with gingham ribbons and the posting, “Welcome, Friends!” There had been no time, apparently, for the switch to black crepe and the “As You Are Now So Once I Was” legend. That would have been a lot more appropriate.

An older woman with bulldog jaws answered the knock. Her hair was the same color as the dried grasses but not so artfully arranged. She wore a checked apron, a red sweater appliquéd with tartan Scottie dogs and an expression of disapproval so profound it was set in her face like plaster. She was much scarier than the police officer.

“Is… Cinda here?” Persey quavered.

The woman’s face softened one degree. Persey’s blue-eyed fragility often had that effect on people.

“Let her in, Mom,” called Cinda from the top of the stairs. “She’s Bish’s best friend.”
The bulldog face hardened right back up again. Persey could see this woman trying to cast her for a role in Bish’s disgrace. If she only knew!

“Cinda can’t see anyone right now,” said the woman. “If you leave your phone number, we’ll give you the funeral information as soon as the police release the body.”
“Let me in,” Persey shouted over the guard dog’s shoulder.

Cinda came rushing down the stairs. She wore candy-striped men’s pajamas
– probably Bish’s — and her tear-stained, makeup-free face bore an unsettling resemblance to the bulldog’s. She dodged the guardian and threw herself into Persey’s arms.
“Oh Persey,” she sobbed. “You’re the only one who knows how happy we were! No one believes it now.”

“I know,” Persey soothed. “Everyone envied what you had.”
“For God’s sake, Cinda, you’re as drunk as a skunk! Lay off the sherry!” barked the mother, and then, addressing a seated, silver haired man watching TV news with the sound turned down, “Does she have a bottle in her room?”

“How would I know?” Attention riveted by helicopters and explosions, he brushed away her question as if dodging fire.

“I expect you to go and look. You know I can’t climb stairs.”

“I’ll take care of her,” said Persey. “Let’s go.” Cinda collapsed against Persey, allowing herself to be led. But the low-intensity bickering continued over Persey’s shoulder.
“I only had a couple of drinks because the sleeping pill didn’t work. It’s your fault because you wouldn’t give me another pill.“

“You can’t combine pills and booze,” shouted her mother until the stairs shook, as if they all were deaf. “Then you’ll be dead too, and what about those poor kids? Where will they be then?”
“Let’s get you into a hot bath,” Persey suggested. “That’s what helps me.”

The master bathroom was more dwarfish than masterly but cute and retro with its pink and black diamond–paned tile and ”his and her” sinks. At least the tub was a Jacuzzi. It was here that husband and wife had sat and talked on the phone to Persey after the party eons ago. Cinda turned the water on obediently and Persey threw in bath salts. A grapefruit plantation sprang up suddenly between them.

“Jesus, I’m so glad you’re here,” said Cinda. “I’m the one that found him and I don’t think I’ll ever sleep again. Somebody has to protect me from that woman. Another hour with her and I would have slit my wrists. Or hers.”

Fragrant steam fogged the tiny room. Persey helped Cinda out of her pajamas and looked for somewhere to hang them. A man’s bathrobe hung on the hook in back of the door. It must be Bish’s. In fact he was everywhere: shaving products and leather-encased toiletries littered the faux marble counter. Persey folded the pajamas carefully, laid them on the counter, and sat down on the pink fur of the closed toilet seat. Cinda stepped into the water and turned up the jets.

“Oh…that feels good…” her voice faded as she slipped down and closed her eyes.
“I’m so glad you’re here, Persey,” She murmured dreamily. “You know, you’re the one person I never wanted to see me naked? Look at the way they botched my Caesarean. Botched it twice. I’m practically marsupial. The second time I said to Bish, make them clean it up this time and then they fucked it up again. They always blame you, you know. “Incompetent cervix!” Blaming the victim is what they’re best at. I guess I’m supposed to accept that I was born with a body designed for ruin. Incompetent! Those bastards! But we couldn’t pick and choose; we’re stuck with whoever the health plan gives us.

Poor Bish couldn’t stand up against them. He was just helpless in any kind of real emergency. He said to me, what was I supposed to do, take the scalpel out of the doctor’s hand? He offered to carry the next baby, to make medical history, but I told him, this it for us, buddy.”

She laughed and laughed above the rising water. “Bish never minded my scar, I’ll say that about him. He understood what it’s like to be imperfect. Stormee probably said something about his body. I wonder what it was? Usually he could just toss it off. He never got violent with me, even when I could have used a little violence.” She sighed, blowing away encroaching foam. “I couldn’t even make him angry. Do you know how difficult it is to fight with a person who won’t get angry? He was always so maddeningly reasonable. The best I could ever do was make him cry.”
“Cinda,” said Persey, “Bish didn’t do this. I’m sure of it.”

Cinda opened one eye. “Poor Persey. You think he was murdered? Or are
you trying to say he couldn’t have killed Stormee? I found the confession. You didn’t know him as well as you thought you did. Bish admired you, so he hid himself from you. Believe me, Bish had problems.”

“We all have problems,” said Persey. “Where was the confession?”
“Bish’s problems were worse. He was born in the wrong body. He may even have been the wrong sex. “

Hardly a reason to be sentenced to death. Persey repeated herself. “Where did you find the confession?”

“It was on his laptop,” said Cinda, beginning to cry. “He’d been writing a poem about heaven. I guess he was wondering what it’s like there, but Mom says that’s the last place he’ll end up.”
“On a laptop! Cinda! Anyone could have written that!” Cinda opened both eyes. “But I know his poetry!”

“I mean the confession.”

“Maybe. But why would they? I came home early…because I got a call that the kids had never been picked up. And his job said he never showed, either. His car was here but he wasn’t. That was weird right there. He was always so good about picking up the kids. At work they called him The Seahorse. I knew something must have happened to him. Then I found him in the garage.” She hissed the words, “His head was blown off. The whole top of it was gone.”

A chill of death rippled through the hothouse room.
Persey said, “You know Bish was totally against guns. He couldn’t shoot. He never had a gun in his life.”

“Anyone can shoot themselves in the head. You just put it up against the side and pull the trigger. No missing with a .45. Apparently he stole it from Jarod’s house. He said as much in the suicide note.”

Persey’s pulse raced. “Where’s the laptop now?”
“The police have it. The police have everything.”
Of course they did. Their chain-of-custody dancing frenziedly to Jarod’s tune.

“He didn’t mention you,” continued Cinda, “if that’s what you want to know. He didn’t even mention me. Just said he was sorry. “Goodbye cruel world”. It won’t appear in his Collected Works, I’ll tell you that.” She barked with laughter.

Is the truth still the truth, wondered Persey, if no one believes it? This was harder than she had expected. It hadn’t occurred to her that Cinda would

actually think her husband could be guilty. They had chosen their victim well; he had no defenders. Apparently Persey herself did not count. The depth and viciousness of this crime – of all of them really – took her breath away. Look how much could be destroyed with a single bullet; not just a victim’s future but his past as well; the very memories of survivors were affected.

Now the world dismisses them as prostitutes, suicides, revenge artists longing for destruction. They must have been, because they’re dead. How we despise the weakness of the dead! In the wrong place at the wrong time, frozen in the headlights of cruelty, they had lost their seat in life’s game of musical chairs.

Cinda sat up and blinked. Water rocketed over the side at Persey’s feet. “How am I going to get by, Persey? I’ve got insurance but what if Jarod sues? What if Jarod sues me for wrongful death? He could get everything.”

But Jarod, the devious mofo, was history.

“If I can promise you he won’t,” said Persey, “would you give me something?”
Cinda’s eyes focused at last. Her face contorted with hope.
“Jarod will do anything for you, Persey. Of course. Whatever you want.” “Let me be Bish’s literary executor?”

Cinda snorted as if she’d asked for trash.
“Sure. You can have it all.”

“And answer one question for me, please. Seems idiotic but you’ll have to trust me that it’s important. Your children…they are Bish’s aren’t they? Did you have trouble getting pregnant?”
Cinda’s head dipped below the water, then bobbed back up again, her hair streaming into her eyes. “Oh Persey, of course they are his. No, I never had any trouble getting pregnant – I’m too fertile if anything. We had to get rid of one while we were in college. Everybody blamed me for that too.

Not that Bish put much mileage on me. He was always sort of otherworldly, if you know what I mean. Lately we’ve been in kind of in a dead spot. I knew he was looking for something else. But then again, who isn’t?” She rose up in the water and fell against the towel bar.
“Let me help,” said Persey, grabbing her and enfolding her in a towel. “Think you could sleep now?”

“I do feel more relaxed,” murmured Cinda, slurring her words. “You were right. I feel almost clean. You always have such good ideas.”

Persey powdered her body with lavender and rose, then helped her back into her candy-striped pajamas. Cinda, much taller, leaned against her like a drunk. They staggered toward the bedroom.
“You going to be all right?” Persey asked. Cinda chose to interpret the question financially.

“As long as I get to keep the insurance,” she said. “Lots of insurance. There had to be some luck somewhere. Bish’s luck was being married to an insurance agent.”
“You’ll keep it all,” Persey soothed, plumping up the pillows and pulling the covers up to Cinda’s shoulders.

“Thank you, Persey.” Cinda sighed, sinking under the down comforter. “Thank you, thank you. Maybe I’ll change my name and go to Paris. I don’t want the children to ever know what their father did.” She rolled over on her stomach, her voice partially projecting through a pillow. “Goodbye, Persey. Have a nice life. I know you will. Lucky Persey with that sexy, rich, adoring husband. Goodnight. Goodnight.”

She thinks I won’t come back, thought Persey sadly as she ran down the stairs. Was I Bish’s only friend?

The bulldog guarded the stairs; jealous of the regions she could never see.
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” Persey told her formally. “I think Cinda will sleep now. Where can I leave my phone number?”

The bulldog extended a pad and pen. She set her jaw so hard her wattles quivered. She was the kind who has to have the last word.

“Well, you know what they say,” she said. “You can’t break God’s laws. You can only break yourself against them.”

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