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Authors: Peter Sargent

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BOOK: Unhaunting The Hours
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I don’t have a confession.
It’s that I don’t remember how we met.”

He nodded. He pushed himself off the
couch with a tremendous groan, and ambled over to a bookshelf
behind his desk. He took a shiny candle stick off it and handed it
to me.

He said, “Does this look familiar? They
got away with the other one.”

I turned it in my hand, and I saw a
line of brown blobs down the sides. I passed a fingertip over them;
they were flat and smooth. They weren’t dried wax. They were blood
stains.

I had a vision of Father Don on the
floor in sanctuary’s center aisle, a wire wrapped around his neck.
Coughing up blood. I stood behind the Father’s attacker, with a
candle stick in one hand. There were two of them. There was one
with the wire garrote and another with the silver collection
platters and the other candle stick. I glanced at the mirrored
floor, and I saw myself, hiding in the doorway near the lectern,
half into the dark. The guy with the loot saw me and ran. The other
guy looked up. I rushed him, and swung. He fell. Dead? I couldn’t
tell. His face was full of blood. I knelt down and helped the
father up.

My mind returned to the present and I
looked up at him.


I’ve had nightmares about
it. In them, I was the one choking a man. I saw someone else’s
reflection and I was terrified that I’d been found out. But that’s
not how it was, was it?”

The Father sat again. A clumsy smile
rolled across his big face.

He said, “I’ve been
patient.”


I can’t trust myself. I
half suspected that I was a monster and that I’d killed
someone.”

The Father snorted. “Don’t kid
yourself. You’re no killer George. I can tell you that
much.”


With Abdera, you start to
think anything’s possible.”


But you’re no killer. And
welcome back.”


I like you, Father, but I’m
not joining another church.”


I never said you
were.”

* * * *

I stood on the chapel steps again. The
streets were busy now with morning traffic. That time of day
reminded me of how detached I was from the usual rhythm of daily
life. I slept a few hours here on one day and different hours on
another. Class times differed on Thursdays versus Fridays, and work
times differed on Mondays versus Wednesdays, and on through varying
intervals that I filled with chores and eating. I was a thread
woven through the waking world, often surprised at where I poked
out of the fabric. I stopped and I stared at the suited
professionals descending the escalator from the train. And there
was an old woman, tubes yoking her face to an air machine, hustling
change for herself and her seven children. Last time it was five.
The tank was a cheap prop; I’d seen her assembling it once at the
beginning of a shift. I’ll never know how such brilliance comes
reduced to pan-handling.

I bounded up the stairs to the train,
passing the tired legions going the other way. I took an outbound
train to the Berm. It was as empty as the first one I’d taken – and
absent the red-haired fellow traveler. I watched the stops go by,
and then I found myself counting down – not to the Berm – but to
the Forest Look stop.


No.” I whispered to myself.
I sat on my hands.

But I couldn’t take it. Forest Look
came and I bolted out the door. I was on a platform that ran along
the top floors of warehouses and tenements. The brick faces sported
ads, some stretching from building to building, each peeling around
the windows that interrupted them. I climbed onto one of the roofs
at a point where they came close to the tracks and I sat in the
trestle beneath a water tower. It was a good vantage point for the
windows of the next tenement over.

Molly’s blinds were drawn, but from
this angle I could see alternating stripes of vinyl and skin. The
sound of a jazz trombone reverbed against the window panes. Molly’s
voice reached just above it. She was preparing her shower,
completely starkers and singing along to the music. Then the phone
rang. She listened, said nothing, and slammed it back into the
cradle. She was still. She hung her head and pushed her palm hard
against her brow. She was trying not to cry. She went into the
bathroom and closed the door.

I know that watching her was wrong. For
a moment I had the pistol out again, pressed against my chin. I was
toying with it, or maybe Major Tuck was. It didn’t matter; the damn
thing wasn’t loaded.


No, Tuck.” I said to
myself. “This isn’t addiction. Think of who might’ve called
her.”

Was creepy okay, if I looked out for
her? Whatever was on that phone line was worse than me. Does what I
did matter here, in a city of 12 million, where you have to expect
that someone might witness even your most intimate moments? Where
in every shop and at every bank machine and at every intersection
there’s a camera broadcasting your every move to god-know-where?
With patience, a clever hacker could piece together even my own
irregular schedule. But all those watchers were anonymous. Who knew
what sat behind those millions of glass eyes?

I wasn’t anonymous.

* * * *

When I got back to the Berm, there was
a cop car parked outside my building. Three cops approached, none
of them Healing. One was plain-clothed and on either side of him
was a uniform.

He said, “I’m detective Wes Balder.
First, let me assure you that you’re not under arrest.”

He held his hand out as if he expected
me to give him something. He waited. He gave me that look that told
me he knew that I knew exactly what he wanted. So I pulled the
pistol from my jacket and gave it to him.

Then he said, “Second, if you come with
me, I’ll tell you why you might be – but you’re not.”

I sat in the front seat of his car, and
he took me to his office.

He closed the blinds, sat me in a
chair, and leaned against his desk.

Balder said, “I’m sure you’ve heard
about this jimmy the press are calling the Berm Butcher. I know. I
hate the name too. Anyways, we got a partial DNA clip the first
time he struck. It was from a bit of burnt skin, so there was some
corruption. But we ran the part we had and got a match. It was you.
Do you follow? We had to be sure, so we stalked you.”


Healing.” I
said.


Healing? No. Healing’s an
impotent little half a scrotum. You know Healing?”


He’s a friend of a friend.
But he’s been bugging me.”


Hmm. I’ll be sure to take
that one up. But the point is, we no longer think you’re the
killer.”


Okay.”


Another victim popped into
the lab this morning. This time, our mutual friend was careless. He
left behind a finger print and skin cells with full DNA. The DNA
from the skin matched you 100 percent. But not the prints. And you,
George, do not have an identical twin.”

We didn’t speak for a
minute.

Then I said, “This means exactly
what?”

Of course I knew; I’d been studying
this stuff all semester. It was my future job to know.

I said. “You think I have a clone. A
serial killing clone, of course.”

Balder rolled his eyes at the ceiling.
“I wouldn’t jump to conclusions. Clones are rare - and serial
killers? I’ve never seen a real one in my career. But yes. Maybe.”
He held up his hands. “Sorry to bring it up this way. I see it
wasn’t for the best, but you understand that this sort of thing’s
outside of my emotional jurisdiction, as my wife calls
it.”

I blurted, “Do you know much about
Abdera?”


Ah shit. You’re one of
those. So that’s how you know Healing.”


I used to be one of those.
I’m clean. But maybe you’ve got some idea about the kinds of
problems that makes for me. The whole experience inoculated me from
the bizarre. So there’s not much that can shock me.”


It should. I’ve scanned
videos from around the estimated event times, and turned up no one
that matches your cute mug. I surveyed your environs and also found
no one – besides you. It’s possible the butcher commutes to work,
but that doesn’t fit the profile. I’ve also got some reasons to
believe he’s altered his appearance. Point is, he knows he’s a
clone and he doesn’t like it. The shrinks tell me he’s got this
overwhelming need to be unique.”


Or he’d rather I take the
fall for him. Most clones that make it out of whatever slave market
they were sold into survive as criminals. They can’t get real jobs,
they’re invisible, and their donors can take the fall. Most donors
don’t know they have clones. Like you said: it’s rare. People don’t
think of it.”


So what – you’re some kind
of expert?”


I study genetic law at
State U. It comes up.”


Okay.” said
Balder.

Then he was quiet. He nodded his head
and smiled. I felt embarrassed that I’d volunteering the info so
freely. Balder was thinking that it was going to be easy to use me
for whatever he wanted to use me for. I’d spent so long in
isolation that it was too easy for me to ramble on.

I said, “You don’t want to take my
prints, do you? So I can show you I haven’t changed
them?”


I’ve lifted your prints at
least a dozen times. You know how it is; you leave them on
everything. That’s good – you’ve got nothing to hide.”


Glad we’re on the same
page.”


On that topic, I’d advise
you to leave that girl alone. It’s creepy. And it doesn’t make you
look good, you know, when you’re trying to distinguish yourself
from a killer. Do you follow?”

I looked at my shoes, feeling like a
total halfwit. But then I gave it second thought. I couldn’t tell
if was Major Tuck this time or just my own frustration with this
mess, but I stared him down and said,


You’re a cop, Balder. Tell
me you haven’t done it yourself. It’s your job to spy on people –
isn’t that most of what police work is these days? Have you ever
taken a peek that wasn’t exactly obligatory?”


Sack it, George. Here’s the
thing. We need your help to find him. I’m sure he knows who you
are, so you’ll hook him for us.”

I paused. Then I said, “This morning I
was on the train and the only other passenger was a guy who watched
me until I left. But he didn’t look like me.”

Balder nodded. He flipped a blurred
photo at me. It was the guy.

I said, “So you’ve got him. What am
here I for?”


You’re not afraid of this
dude? Knowing what you know?”

I didn’t respond. Balder took the photo
back, but as it went away I noticed something odd about it. One
side of the man’s face drooped. The man on the train hadn’t been
that way, so this photo was either more recent or older. My brains
searched for theories, and it came up with this: the deformity
indicated a botched surgery. Balder had made him a suspect because
he knew “our mutual friend” might’ve attempted to alter his face.
And this alteration was clearly a back alley job.

I stood and said, “Go find him
now.”


It’s not simple. As you
say, these chaps are invisible. We canvassed homeless shelters and
employers known to harbor illegals. Nothing. Here’s my hope. The
docs say the suspect changed himself about two weeks ago, to cover
up an older injury or surgery.”

Right. Clone farms implant time-release
hormone capsules inside their products. Clones grow up fast. Even
if my twin’s two-dollar face job was just a couple years old, his
aging face would make it disintegrate and require
repairs.

Balder said, “My profiler doesn’t think
the jimmy wants to frame you, because he’s so ballsed up that the
idea wouldn’t occur to him. Likely is, he just wants to butcher
you. Case studies show that’s what mentally unstable clones do.
Damn hormones - I don’t know. Do you follow? So I want him to find
you. Trust me. It’s in your best interest. But he doesn’t waste
time, so let’s move.”


You really think he wants
to kill me?”


What difference does it
make? If all he wants is to borrow your boxers, I’ve still got him.
But look, he’s gone to all the trouble to cut himself, because he’s
got such and such a dementia. What do you think he wants from
you?”


Dementia.” I said. “You
think it’s genetic?”

That made Balder stop short. He put his
hand over his mouth, the way some people do when they’re thinking
of a way to say something unfriendly.

He said, “It’s usually got a lot do
with childhood trauma. Sexual abuse, that kind of thing. I’d
shudder to think of who raised him. But do I look like your shrink,
George? I’m sorry I can’t help you. I really am. But you’re not
very homicidal at the moment – not any more barking mad than the
rest of us, at least – so let’s drop it. Time’s wasting, and you
can do all the soul searching you want in 48 hours. Now – listen. I
had a plan, but now I’ve got a new one – given this.”

He grabbed the side of my face. He
pushed the hair aside, revealing the silver neural connector socket
above my ear.

BOOK: Unhaunting The Hours
9.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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