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I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead

Chapter 24 – Completing the Maze

“Jazz, Jazz, Jazz,” Corso shook his head. His voice turned silky. “I am your advisor. It is my job – I think I can say my calling – to step in when you’ve gone astray. And what have you done to your hair? I’m not sure I like it. You look quite a different person. It’s as if you’re attempting a disguise. As Mr. Quinn how that works out. You really require professional intervention at this point, but hasn’t that always been the truth about you?” He turned to Chase.

“I see you have been hanging around with quite a bad element, Mr. Quinn the housebreaker. Mr. Quinn the burglar. Mr. Quinn who lives – rather tragically I must confess – on the edges of other people’s lives with other people’s things on other people’s money. When will you learn that you are a free agent, Mr. Quinn and not my shadow-doppelganger? Jazz, it grieves me that you are so impressionable.

“Put down your fists, Mr. Quinn. Did you wish to duke it out? Never let your mouth write checks your body cannot cash. Why don’t you let me explain my proposition before you land yourself in the slammer? I’maware that you can be bought; you’ll see my plan is lucrative. I’ve prepared a spreadsheet for your delectation. If you’ll sit down — and calm down — I’ll show it to you.

“Do I look dangerous here? Trust me that I’ve come in peace. Now as for you, Jazz, I’m aware that cash can’t sway you or you’d actually have some of it. No, you are motivated by – “ he paused delicately, “I think we’ll call it love. Love, love, love, love, love. Who am I to say it can’t exist? Sit down, Mr. Quinn.”

To my astonishment Chase sat down. I hesitated, unsure of what to do. I wanted to believe Chase was playing a deeper game – collecting evidence as he had the first time I’d seen him with Corso – but there was a crushed look on his face that hadn’t even showed around his father. Could anyone be that good an actor?

“This is win, win, children.” To emphasize, Corso leaned forward and Chase flinched as though the other man’s penumbra touched him. Observing his advantage, Corso threw out his arms. “I will lay my life wide open for you, since that’s what you so desire. Tell you all my secrets.” He thumped his chest. “Here’s the first; I am the master key that opens all the doors.” Behind the saturated silk of his voice I heard the scorpion hiss with a sting in its tail.

“You have no right to be here,” I challenged. “Get out!” Took every ounce of my non-existent courage, I have to say.

His face assumed a sorrowful mien. “I was so afraid you would start without me,” he sighed. “What can I say to persuade you that I am the multiplier in this equation?”
“I can take you,” asserted Chase, his voice rough and gravelly as an unpaved road.

“That would be lovely,” soothed Corso. “By all means let us bench- press each other for the delectation of the fair maiden.” He gestured at my poster. “This is so quaint, Jazz. I’m hoping once you’ve memorized it you’ll loan it to me. If only I had known, every time you said “Oh, Bosch” that you meant Bosch with a “c”. We would have gotten on much faster.”
“Go to hell,” I returned. Feebly, alas.

“Jazz, we’re already there,” croaked Chase.
Oh God, I thought. He’s still set on killing him. Throwing him out the window, like Howk’s body in my vision? I’ve got to do something. But what?

“Don’t flatter yourself, Mr. Quinn,” snapped Corso, exactly as if we were still in class. “You are just a beginner. Give me a child at the age of seven…then give me another. I’ve plumbed your depths.” He laughed dismissively. “Frankly, Jazz deserves better than you.”
“We know what you’ve been up to, murdering Miss Howk,” said Chase. “Did she kill your wife for you?”

A smile broke over Corso’s face. “What fun this game has been,” he sighed. “You advance a pawn, I advance a rook. Rook kills pawn. If I’d had any idea what a pleasure it is having stalkers I’d have tried it long ago. So gratifying to see the pair of you so aroused by my spoor.”
““You made all sorts of mistakes,” I said angrily, out of control and aware I shouldn’t be doing this. Should we show him our hand? But the temperature in the room was just too high. I wanted to throw every weapon I could find.

“I don’t think so,” said Corso. “That doesn’t sound like something I would do. On the other hand, one likes to leave a signature behind. You know Jazz, there’s always more than one suspect. Can you think of anyone who wants to show off for you and thus secure your trust? Is there no one you can think of?” He spoke loudly, as iffor a hidden recording device. “Poor Miss Howk disappeared wearing your scarf, after all. They told me at the Health Center that you seemed angry at her for some reason. Did you take her for a rival?”

What a master of smoke and mirrors! As if Chase and I didn’t recognize truth when we tripped over it! “You are ridiculous,” I challenged, flinging out the biggest insult I could think of. “What will the dean say about the way you exploit your students? Don’t tell me there isn’t plenty of evidence.”
“I’m going to tell you something very shocking,” Corso admitted lazily, rising to his feet and peering out my eighth-floor window. He turned his back upon the world to perch upon my ledge. “The internet is full of porn. It’s hard to tell one slave from another. So really, only the slaves can testify they were present at their own comeuppances! Does that sound likely to you? The compensations of continuing just as we are, are enormous. I do wish you’d let me show you.
Isn’t there anything you desire? Mr. Quinn has a nice shiny car. What do women want? Let me see…hmm…women want men!” He laughed out loud. “I think we’ll guarantee you that! This poor slave, if you require him. Don’t you see yet, you won’t catch flies with threats, adorable little Jazz? Time to try your famous honey instead.” He sighed luxuriously. “Infamous honey, perhaps I should say. Enjoyed by all.”

I knew the urge to physically attack was just what Corso wanted, so instead of advancing, I retreated, wondering how I could prevent Chase from wrestling with his demon. I walked to the door and turned on the lights. Because right then I saw it all. I had something Corso never had, or if he had, he’d willingly surrendered it. The connection Chase and I had forged to the infinite answered all our questions. With my room’s fluorescent lights lit, the room became a stage. I knew that Bex and his rifle were out there somewhere.

“You are such a bastard,” spat Chase, staggering to his feet. His face was so drained of blood his freckles stood out like plague spots. Separate, we couldn’t fight him. How could we come together?

“Oh, come, come,” said Corso, throwing his arms out to embrace the universe, “I gave you what you wanted. I brought her to you, didn’t I? I brought all of them. Turn about is fair play. I’ve upheld my part of the bargain. Now it’s your turn to share.”

I shouted at Chase, “Transitional objects!” and threw him to the floor in a flying tackle. Chase’s eyes met mine in a suddenly full comprehension. I saw the Corso-induced glaze disappearing from his brain as I mouthed, “Window.”

Was that crack the window breaking? Crack-crack-crack. Firecrackers. Or bullets. Eight shots, or four shots and four echoes? Who can say? We were face down on the floor in that hug that was our gateway to the universe. We felt, rather than saw, Corso stagger, looked up to see his face express astonishment at his own mortality. He was not immortal, lilies blossomed redly on his naked chest.

His power sucked out of the room along with his body. Chase leaped to his feet and when I rose to stop him from following the cascade of shattered glass I saw on the library roof what I expected to see; the glittering motorcycle jacket, the gleaming long gun.

I pulled Chase down and held him as hard as I could.
“What a monster,” said Chase. “Hold me.”

I held him. “You’re mine,” I told him. “And I’m yours. You have to stay with me.”
I felt the tension in his body ebb as we both awakened from our long sleep. We had never been able to fight him separately but together we were invincible.

The sound of sirens gave us courage to lean out and look out upon the new world. The snow had started falling, and snowflakes gathered on Corso’s naked chest where he lay shattered below us in the parking lot. He was human after all. The flickering lights came closer; a symphony of color and music playing in our honor. A few distant walkers huddled around the dead man, taking cell phone pictures and shouting.

“It’s great to dream,” said Chase, “And it’s wonderful to be awake.”

I kissed him hard and he kissed back. “Come on,” said Chase. “It’s time to free the others.” The skin crinkled around his blue eyes as the spirit – my spirit — danced within him.

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