CHAPTER TWENTY TWODear Girl Who is Already DeadThis is what the murderer thought:He thought, “The girl tends to come out in the early evening, except for Wednesdays. On Wednesdays she comes out in the morning when the mist still covers Matthews Beach. Useful.”He thought, “She always runs alone and then stretches out by the water. Useful.”He thought, “She tends to favor her right ankle, which seems to be a little unstable. Endearing, that. She is friendly to the other joggers on the trail, and doesn’t mind falling into step with them temporarily, and will even chat with them. Useful.”He thought, “Something about her eyes. Something about the soft paleness of her throat. She seems to run above the ground, not necessarily across it. I think she was not created for this earth, but from the stars. And to the stars I will release her.”Briefly he thought that this could be a kindness, but then he pushed the thought away. He is not a man who dwells on being kind.Her time is com
CHAPTER TWENTY THREEA Brief Essay on GiftsThere are few people who are not genuinely delighted when it comes to gifts.Whether you are giving them or receiving them, there is something undeniably magic that skitters up one’s spine and makes one shiver in anticipation. A gift! A surprise! Something unexpected and shiny and sparkly where before there was . . . nothing! Suddenly there is something new to squirrel away and whisper to in the dark, quiet parts of the evening.And when one gives a gift, one is transformed from Billy Next Door to A Generous Benefactor, and when the receiver opens their box, they are full of gratitude and awe for the kindness and insight of the giver, who knew exactly what they wanted.Unless, of course, it is a particularly terrible gift that is delivered in an undeniably ill-chosen fashion. And it is a sorrowful thing to say, but that is exactly what happened with the murderer and his carefully chosen gift for Bryony.The gift itself was a charming th
CHAPTER TWENTY FOUREddie on EdgeEddie didn’t sleep that night.This was for many reasons.One, he was extremely nervous about playing at the station in the morning. Had he chosen the right songs? Would Bryony be moved by the one he had written especially for her, the one teased from Jasmine the Guitar on that fine, moon-magic evening? He had never played it for her before, and he could imagine her eyes growing starry and luminous with her joy, and hoped she would be bouncing eagerly from foot to foot, impatient to hug him, impatient to cover the bottom half of his face with kisses, ready to slip her anxious hand into his as she stood stalwart beside him. There would be interviews and maybe even autographs, and they would network and make small talk and schmooze, and do all of those necessary, yet sometimes delightful, things of making and selling music.This was, quite honestly, enough to make him nervous on its own, but something else had Eddie on edge.It was the feeling of d
CHAPTER TWENTY FIVEA Terrible Smile“Daddy?”“Sweetheart. How are you?”“I miss you, Daddy.”“I miss you, too, sweetie. Is everything all right?”“I . . . yes, yes, it is. I just want you here more than usual, I suppose. But everything is fine.”“You would tell me if it wasn’t, wouldn’t you?”“Of course, Daddy. I just . . . wanted to tell you I’m okay. I love you, and I . . . what’s that sound?”“It’s nothing to worry about, honey.”“It’s the desert, isn’t it? I can hear it even here, over the sound of the water. It sounds so angry.”“It wants you, child, but it can’t have you. It’s frustrated, but isn’t that a beautiful thing? Sometimes I listen to it at night, growling its plans, and it makes me smile. I can feel it on my face, and it’s a terrible smile. A smile that I never thought would belong to me, but there it is. It is aching for you, and the frustration that it is exhibiting . . . Well, it’s beautiful. It might be one of the best things I have ever heard. The sound
CHAPTER TWENTY SIXIf Something Were To HappenBryony and Rikki-Tikki hardly missed a practice. The sound of her fists rhythmically hitting against his open palms was both soothing and empowering. Sometimes Syrina would come in and watch, and scream: “Go for his eyes, Bryony! This murderer wants to take you down! Go straight for his eyes!”, but usually it was just Bryony and her very precious Rikki-Tikki.“Rikki-Tikki, you have become a brother to me,” she told him.He grinned. “Nothin’ like fighting to make you feel like family.”It was the evening before Eddie had to play at the station, and they were having an especially lovely practice with fists and feet, and Bryony’s ponytail flying through the air.In the midst of the delightful mayhem Rikki-Tikki said: “Everybody seems to have been touched by fate so far, except maybe for Eddie. I wonder when his turn will come.”He watched carefully as Bryony’s eyes lost their starlight glimmer and the bones of her face seemed to press
CHAPTER TWENTY SEVENAll in the PackagingA fairly decent arrangement, if he had to say so himself. And he did. The pendant was perfectly placed. It was ready.The murderer took a second longer to admire his work, and then ran. He ran, as the Star Girl ran, running so that he was not caught, running away from what he had done, because somewhere inside he knew he was doing A Bad Thing, and people who do Bad Things are the kind of people who are supposed to run away. Perhaps subconsciously he ran away from Eddie, who was now at this very second threatening anybody who would ever harm or even disturb his Bryony, and the murderer had left the gift in a memorable way, yes, but not a nice way, or even a fairly decent way. In fact, he would upset the Star Girl very much.
CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHTThe Gift“I found a body in the water this morning,” Bryony said to Police Detective Ian Bridger.He was young, and he tried to seem hard, but somehow he wasn’t able to pull it off. He was a sweet man underneath, the kind that called his mama and worked on the neighbors’ cars without expecting payment. This was maybe why the girls was able to talk to him so freely when her tongue had frozen up with his partner. His partner had looked right through her, looked at the body as though it was nothing except an annoyance. It wasn’t an annoyance; it was a woman. At least it had been. Once.“Why were you at the lake?” the detective asked her. He spoke softly, afraid that if he raised his voice he would spook this young woman, this poor shuddering girl who had seen such a terrible sight. Her eyes had faded, the irises dimmed from whatever color they had been, to a pale gray. Her pupils seemed to be shaped like stars. Those eyes kept roving to a small cactus sprung up ne
CHAPTER TWENTY NINEA Question that is Never AskedEddie blew everybody away down at the station, just as he hoped. He was a little upset that Bryony wasn’t there like she promised, but he figured she had a good reason. And she did, because when he was nervously strumming the first few words of his new song, she was sobbing into the detective’s shoulder, thinking of the life she would never get to live with Eddie.Too soon. Too soon. It was coming.The body floating in Lake Washington had been a particularly young and pretty girl whose name is not important. It would have been to her family if they had been aware of her death, but they hadn’t been in contact with her for years, ever since she left to run away with a man named Mike. Every girl has dated a Mike in her life, and very few of them have turned out to be a good decision, but it happens. This Mike turned out to be a typical Mike situation, and as soon as the girl told him that she was having a baby, he left her. Now this t