Lou sat in the dark of the car, low in the seat so that she could not be seen through the window. She relied on the shadows to conceal her as they always did. Her eyes remained fixed on the front door of 1882 Cherry Lane. It did not open.
She checked her watch again, the face illuminating as she rotated her wrist toward her. It was 9:49.
He was cutting it close. Maybe Jeffrey Fish wouldn’t visit the grocery store tonight. Maybe he would stay home and pretend he was a good boy.
Lou knew better.
The front door swung open, momentarily revealing a brightly lit living room decorated in mauve. A boy zoomed a red airplane in the air above his head. Then a man stepped into Lou’s line of vision and the boy was gone.
Fish stood on the porch in the cascading light. His mouth moved and Lou could hear the low drum of his voice, though his words were indiscernible across the street. The porchlight haloed his soft brown hair, loaning him a deceptively angelic appearance.
When the woman came to the door, wringing her hands in a checkered dishcloth, Lou sat up. She hadn’t seen the wife before and was more than a little curious. The woman was pretty, with a round face and bright eyes. Her full cheeks made her look younger than she was.
Do you know about him? Lou wondered, searching her face. Do you even suspect, maybe only in the back of your mind, that you’re sleeping with a monster?
Lou didn’t think so, as the wife leaned forward and accepted the kiss her husband planted on her cheek.
With a bounce in his step, Jeffrey descended the porch and marched briskly to the waiting black SUV.
The little boy with the red airplane briefly reappeared before his mother closed the door.
Lou slid back down in her seat as the SUV’s taillights flicked on.
She watched the vehicle reverse from the driveaway and head east, driving away from Lou’s hiding place. The engine was disturbingly quiet—electric maybe? At the end of the road, the car paused at the four-way stop. When she saw the right blinker turn on, she smiled.
“Show me your real face,” Lou whispered. Show me what you really are.
Her bones thrummed with excitement. She sat up and wrung the steering wheel with both hands.
Instead of turning on the car and following Fish through the moonlit streets of Mount Vernon, Lou took a breath and let the darkness swell around her. She closed her eyes, feeling it envelop her in its totality. When she couldn’t hold her place any longer, she slipped.
The world dematerialized. A sensation like cold silk slid over her skin, and then she was through. The frosty interior of the car was replaced by the chilled brick wall under her bare hands. Her nails scraped against the concrete grout.
She pushed away from the wall, leaving the parked car half a mile away. It wasn’t her car, after all. She’d only used it as a convenient hiding place while scoping the Fish residence. Boosting a car certainly wouldn’t have worked in her favor anyway. Police involvement only complicated things. She’d leave the cops to King.
Lou had her own way—a better way—of tracking this man.
Lou surveyed her surroundings. She stood in the deep shadows collected beside the grocery store’s western wall.
It protected her from a bitter midwestern wind, but already her skin had begun collecting frost from the air. Her cheeks and mouth grew cold. Water pooled in the corners of her eyes.
The parking lot had only five cars in it. Unsurprising, since the store closed at ten on weeknights. She surveyed the lot and the line of trees encroaching on it.
Her eyes remain focused on the road, searching, waiting, for any sign of Fish.
At 9:54, the black SUV swung into the parking lot, bouncing as it cleared the yellow speed bump, and took the empty space closest to the door. The engine clicked off. The lights died.
Fish jogged across the parking lot, the collar on his jacket slapping lightly against his throat.
I could take him now, Lou thought, her restlessness rising up in her again. I could step out of this alley right now and just grab him.
But her curiosity was too great. She wanted to know if she was right.
Fish made it into the store unharmed. Lou sighed and leaned against the brick. Nothing to do now but wait. Not that Fish had actually come for groceries.
Sure, he would pick up whatever menial item his wife had sent him to retrieve, some last-minute necessity like bread for their son’s lunch tomorrow.
But if Lou was right, Jeffrey Fish wasn’t here to shop. He was here to hunt.
A mother and daughter exited the store four minutes later. The kid blasted music in her headphones so loud that Lou could hear it even from her hiding spot. They drove the red Corolla off the lot, reducing the cars to four. Three guys carrying a case of beer each appeared next. After putting the beer in the trunk, they took possession of the silver Volvo.
Jeffrey Fish returned with a small paper bag tucked into the crook of his arm. He climbed into his SUV, but didn’t drive away.
“What’s wrong? Did you forget something?” Lou whispered mockingly from the dark.
Six minutes later, she appeared.
A young woman, brunette with an angular face and dark eyes, stepped from the store. She held the green apron that all the grocery employees wore in one hand and had a canvas bag slung over a shoulder.
Well-behaved women rarely make history was printed in block white letters across the canvas tote. She stuffed her apron inside it and rummaged for her keys. The lights of a blue Honda flashed.
Jeffrey Fish visibly tensed in the front seat of his SUV.
“You like that?” Lou whispered. She licked her chilled lips.
And what would you think if you knew you were the one being watched right now?
Lou saw only his chest and a slender white hand on the steering wheel. A shadow cut across his jawline, hiding his face. But Lou knew hunger when she saw it.
It was in the way his hand opened and closed on the wheel as if aching to reach out and take what it wanted. The way his chest rose too quickly in short, tight breaths.
She knew hunger.
She had her own.
Behind the wheel, the girl turned on her car, adjusted her rearview mirror, and reversed out of the lot.
For a moment the SUV only sat there as the Honda’s taillights grew smaller and smaller.
You can go home, Jeffrey, Lou thought. Take a shower. Brush your teeth. Make your son’s lunch. Fuck your wife.
But when that slender white hand finally turned the key in the ignition, he didn’t head in the direction of home.
Instead, he turned right onto the main drag, following the blue Honda’s trail.
She took a deep breath and pressed her back to the brick wall. The cold seeped through her leather jacket. She enjoyed it, feeling that rough grit brush against the back of her knuckles before letting the darkness overtake her again.
Groundlessness. Weightless freefall. And then the world was made real. Earth formed beneath her feet. The grocery was gone but the night had not changed.
Her hand grasped onto the bark of a thick tree trunk. She lost her footing on the enormous root sloping down into the soil, but regained it, digging her boots into the dirt. Old trees were good cover. The shadows beneath enormous branches were complete.
Lou regarded the house across the street. It was a farmhouse in a cul-de-sac with two big picture windows punched in front. This configuration gave Lou the impression of a worried face. The light was on, illuminating a covered porch and the swing hanging to the left of a turquoise door. The paint looked fresh even if the rest of the house sagged.
After ten minutes Lou checked her internal compass. But there was no pull, no inner wisdom saying she’d gotten it wrong, that she was needed somewhere else. Not that she couldn’t imagine all manner of ambush. Maybe Fish decided to rear end the girl. He’d pretend to be a concerned and apologetic citizen, before dragging her off the shoulder into the woods.
Headlights appeared at the end of the road, and Lou’s patience was rewarded. The blue Honda swinging into the paved driveway didn’t have any dents. The young brunette climbing from the driver’s side seat looked unharmed, if tired from her day.
She was already inside the house when the SUV rolled up and parked across from the house on the opposite side of the street.
Lou’s side—mere feet from her hiding place beneath the tree.
I’m right about him. I know what he is. That means he’s fair game.
She could slip into the dark of his car, wrap her hands around his throat and pull him—well, anywhere. She’d take him to her dumping ground, to the lake half frozen with winter, a place of endless night. She would put a bullet between his eyes and watch the light click off.
Or maybe she would play with him first. Maybe she would let him fight her, just so she could enjoy breaking him.
When it was over, and Jeffrey Fish could no longer prey on the women of this world, she would drag his body into the water and—no, Louie.
It was King’s words in her head. The bothersome private detective had somehow become one of four voices that now polluted her mind. And it rose, principled and insistent, even now.
We are playing a different game this time, he had said. This game has rules.
Lou sighed, her breath fogging white in her face.
They were playing a different game all right. Lou wanted to know how much time they had left on the clock.
How long could Fish go before he had to kill? Once Lou herself had taken nearly two months off of killing and it had nearly killed her.
She hadn’t been able to sleep. She’d eaten only when necessary.
She’d used her body like a punching bag, offering herself up to any half-cocked asshole stupid enough to take a swing.
Was Fish’s hunger the same?
Did it make his skin itch the way Lou’s sometimes did? Did it feel like cold fingers sliding into his skull, obliterating all thought, replacing all rationality with a single, desperate need? Did it prevent him from sleeping, or sitting still? Did it make him reach for a gun, just to hold it as he paced the floor—or was that only her?
His charade of normalcy worked well enough. Hadn’t that been her first thought when she’d seen him in the Huntington Park playground two days ago?
His son had been swinging on the monkey bars while Fish had pretended to read a novel. He’d turned the pages after the appropriate pauses. He’d kept his head tilted down as if carefully regarding each page.
He presented himself as the picture of suburban acceptability in his pressed dress shirt and khakis. He had clean fingernails and a washed, shaven face. The mothers watching their children had regarded him with mild interest. No suspicion had creased their faces. One had asked him about the book.
How well you disguise yourself, Mr. Fish, Lou had thought, knowing Fish couldn’t have seen the words on the page.
And what was he thinking now? As he sat in his dark car, watching the house, what was he thinking? Feeling? Deciding?
Inside the house, an upstairs bedroom light clicked on, illuminating a white closet door and the foot of a bed. The girl was in pajamas now, her hair pulled up off her face. It was red and shining, freshly scrubbed. She wore glasses. She bent to plug in her phone, connecting the charger to the small device.
The light clicked off.
The driver’s side door of the SUV opened, and Lou dropped into a crouch.
Two shining leather shoes stepped out onto the street. The heels ground into the pavement. She slipped around the side of the tree to get a better view.
Jeffrey was halfway across the street, standing in the moonlight. His shirt shone, wrapping him in a spectral glow. His chest was visibly heaving as he stared up at the dark window. His fists were clenched at his sides. The shirt fluttered in a light breeze.
No, Lou realized, he was trembling.
Go in, Lou begged silently. Go in and try something. Come on.
Her palms itched. She licked her lips, shifting her weight from one foot to the other.
It was as if she was watching her hunger grow in proportion to his.
With a grimace, Fish grabbed a fistful of his hair and pulled as if yanking his whole body back to the car.
He grunted and changed course. He threw himself behind the wheel. The door slammed loudly.
The SUV hooked a U-turn in the dark street. The tires squealed.
Lou watched the SUV go, the red taillights like hungry eyes in retreat.
The bedroom light clicked on again, showing the young woman framed in the backlit window. She was also watching the taillights fade into the distance.
This is a different game, King had said.
A game that, Lou hoped, didn’t get this woman killed.