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Collecting Cooper
  • Текст добавлен: 4 октября 2016, 23:15

Текст книги "Collecting Cooper"


Автор книги: Paul Cleave




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Текущая страница: 16 (всего у книги 26 страниц)

chapter thirty-three

“They’re going to come here,” Cooper says.

“What? Who are you talking about?”

“The police. They’re going to come here. You need to let me out. We need to go into hiding,” Cooper says.

“We already are in hiding,” Adrian answers, disappointed at Cooper. He doesn’t want to play more of these games. Why can’t Cooper just like him? It would all go so much easier if he would. To be honest, he’s beginning to find it frustrating. So far he’s had a pretty good day—he dug up Theodore Tate’s cat and bought Cooper a newspaper and had a good breakfast and soon he’s going to sit down outside in the shade and start reading Cooper’s book. Why does Cooper have to ruin it with more lies?

Cooper holds the newspaper up. Watching his face on the other side of the small glass panel is like watching a small TV set. Actually, it’s more like watching the news where it’s one bad story after another.

“The police won’t come here,” Adrian says. “They have no reason to.”

“They have every reason to,” Cooper says, waving the newspaper back and forth. “You’ve given them every reason.”

“You’re lying.”

“No, Adrian, goddamn it, I am not lying. I can’t afford to be caught here covered in blood, and nor can you.”

“But . . .”

“Listen to me. The paper,” he says, waving it again. “You’re on the front page.”

Adrian shakes his head. No, if he were on the front page he would have seen himself.

“Take a look,” he says, and holds the paper over the glass.

Adrian takes a look. The sketch he saw earlier stares back at him, but it doesn’t look like him, not really. Well, maybe a little.

“That’s not all,” Cooper says, pulling it away.

“It’s okay, nobody is going to . . .”

“Shut the hell up,” Cooper says, and he bangs the door with his palm and Adrian jumps. He goes quiet, unsure what to do. “You need to listen,” Cooper says, carrying on. “We don’t have much time.”

“I . . .”

Cooper bangs the door again. “I demand you listen to what I say.”

Adrian is scared now. He used to get spoken to like this all the time and he doesn’t like it now any more than back then, but he does as he’s told.

“It’s simple if you think about it. Just follow the dots,” Cooper says.

“What dots?” Adrian answers, confused as well as scared.

“The dots you’ve made.”

“I don’t make dots,” he says, shaking his head.

“You abducted me. You burned down my house. Somebody saw you, and somebody from Grover Hills will recognize you. And you burned down Nurse Deans’s house.”

“How do you know about that?”

“It’s on page bloody two!” Cooper says, turning the newspaper and pushing it against the glass again. “And let me guess, you burned down her house the same way you burned down mine.”

“It worked so well the first time,” Adrian says, talking at the newspaper now, “so yeah, but I burned them down in a different order and . . .”

“And the police have made the connection,” Cooper says, pulling the paper away and folding it up.

“I don’t see how.”

“They will have,” Cooper says. “You killed Nurse Deans, didn’t you?”

“She called me a freak,” he says, clenching his fists, and damn it, he didn’t want to confess that to Cooper, not yet.

“Is there anything else you’ve done?”

“No,” he says, thinking about Theodore Tate. He killed Tate’s cat, and tonight he was going to go back to the house and knock on the door and shoot Tate with the Taser. He’s starting to think Tate will be an easier item to maintain.

“The police probably already know who you are,” Cooper says.

“No, no, they can’t.”

“They’re going to send somebody out here to look around.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s routine. Because they know I’ve been abducted by an ex-patient and they know that same ex-patient has to have taken me somewhere and they know this place is as good as any.”

“It doesn’t make sense. How will they know I’m an ex-patient?”

“You took my book off Theodore Tate. The police know about it. They’ll connect the dots.”

“Oh,” Adrian says, understanding what the dots are now. “Is that really what will happen?”

“They’re on their way, Adrian. They may only be five minutes away. Or five hours. But they’ll be here. Today. Trust me. And if you don’t trust me all you have to do is wait around and see for yourself. Then they’ll take away your collection.”

“I don’t want them to do that,” Adrian answers.

“And they’ll put us both in jail.”

“I’d rather kill you than lose you.”

Cooper goes quiet for a few seconds. “Let’s make sure it doesn’t come to that. First thing we need to do is figure out where we can go.”

“Go?”

“We can’t stay here, Adrian.”

“But this is my home.”

“Not anymore.”

He’s confused. “But . . .”

“Listen, Adrian, if we stay here we’re both going to jail. We only need to find somewhere else for a few days. The police will come here and they’ll find nothing, and then they’ll move on and have no reason to come back. We can give it two days, three at the most, then come back here. It can still be your home.”

He thinks he understands, and he’s certainly keen to make Cooper think he understands everything. He’s completely divided. Part of him believes Cooper is right and the police may well be on their way, and just as equally he thinks Cooper may be trying to deceive him. It’s a huge risk. His instinct is to hide and see if the police come, but if they do they’ll take Cooper away and he meant what he said earlier, he’d rather kill Cooper than lose him.

“Where will we go?” he asks.

“I know a place,” Cooper says. “A couple of them actually. East-lake Home and . . .”

“Sunnyview Shelter,” Adrian finishes. “That’s where you took Emma Green.”

“How . . .”

“I’m not as stupid as you think,” Adrian says, enjoying this feeling of . . . of what? He doesn’t know the name for it because he’s never felt it before. A word like super, but longer. And with a t in it somewhere.

“You were there? Is that how you knew about me?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Adrian answers, not wanting to tell Cooper how he had been following him for days before collecting him. “If I agree to take you there, how do I know you won’t try to escape?”

“You can do what you want to me,” Cooper says. “You can tie me up if you must, but please, Adrian, we must leave now. I cannot afford to be caught here.”

“Because you killed that girl.”

“Yes.”

“For two days,” Adrian says.

“Two days.”

“And then we come back.”

“And then we come back,” Cooper says. “I’ll pack up some stuff and hide everything away,” Adrian says. “Nobody will ever know we were here.”

chapter thirty-four

Grover Hills is a twenty-minute drive out of the city to the west, taking me well past the airport and the prison and beyond, into the Canterbury Plains, made up of farms with barbed-wire or electric fences keeping livestock and wheat at bay. It gets even hotter out there the further I get from the city, the extra kilometers west bringing me closer to the sun.

I take a turn off the highway and begin following a series of neglected roads. The institution is hard to find because once you start heading down these roads there aren’t as many street signs as in the city. Either the council didn’t care about this part of the world or the locals took them down in the hope strangers would get lost out here long enough to enter the gene pool. Roads go from tarmac to stone and back to tarmac, changing from intersection to intersection where you have to slow down every few minutes to give way to a farmer moving sheep or cows from one paddock to another, the farmer high up on his tractor, sheep dogs barking and running around with their tongues hanging out, desperate for water and attention. A few days ago, coming back from the prison, we passed these kinds of sights, and the appeal at becoming a farmer and working the land hasn’t grown in that time.

I get lost and pull off the side of the road into short grass with deep tire ruts from tractor tires, the car bumping up and down. I keep the windows rolled up and the air-conditioning cranked up on maximum. I study the map for five minutes. Map reading has never been my strong suit. I trace over the lines with my finger wishing my wife was here because she’d ask one of the farmers for directions. Whenever we went anywhere new, I’d drive and she’d read the map and Emily would sleep in the backseat and it was a dynamic we were all happy with. I take an educated guess at where I might be on the map but am probably better off just flipping a coin. I carry on driving. It takes me another fifteen minutes driving over unpaved roads to find the place. I figure if you weren’t crazy when the courts or doctors committed you to Grover Hills, you certainly would be after the drive.

The start of the driveway has a couple of big oak trees acting as sentries, then dozens of silver birches lining the way, their branches thin and twisted and silent in the still air. I park out front and step out and dirt and dust settles behind me and covers the car. It follows me as I walk up to the building. Grover Hills is run-down and nature is trying to reclaim it. Most of the grounds are knee deep in wilted grass and overgrown shrubs that look like giant weeds. The building started out white last century and may have been painted once or twice since then, but certainly not since the moon landing. It’s a giant building that wouldn’t look out of place on a plantation, lots of clapboard and small windows and plenty of rooms. Some of the boards are twisting and others are rotting but all in all the building looks to be in pretty good condition. Abandoned, no doubt about it, but certainly habitable. One whole side of the building is covered in ivy, streamers of it climbing up the walls and entwined in the clay roof tiles. The amazing thing is that nothing has been vandalized. People in this country have a habit of finding places no matter how hidden in the middle of nowhere they are. They find them and smash the windows and knock holes in walls and spray paint giant penises all over them.

The rental car is the only thing out here making a sound. No breeze, no birds, just the car engine pinging as it cools down. It’s eerie. It’s like I’ve gone way off the map and into a different world, crossing over some Star Trek alternate reality barrier along the way. In prison there was always sound. The humming of the fluorescent lights. A toilet somewhere being flushed. Snoring, coughing, yelling, laughing, footsteps and fighting, air-conditioning. It became white noise, one sound canceling out another. But out here there’s nothing. I take a few steps forward, expecting my feet to make no sound, but they do, they pad against the ground and make exactly the amount of sound I’d expect them to make anywhere else, and the magical spell of being transported to another land is broken.

I start by walking the perimeter, the gun firmly in my hand. Out front the ground is mostly stone and dusty dirt and some areas of sand; nothing but weeds poking through it every few meters or so, there’s a path that’s broken up by nature and time, triangle corners of cement broken and pushing upward like merging tectonic plates. There is absolutely nothing to suggest it rained last night. Off the path and I start treading carefully, not wanting to step into a rabbit hole and disappear or break my ankle. The grass gets thicker and scratches my legs. I do a circuit of the house. Behind it there’s even more vegetation than out front. There’s plenty of mold all over the walls. The dirt is softer. I make it back around to the front without seeing anything of interest. No people, no cars, no graves, just two lines of compacted stones and dirt in the driveway where cars have come and gone, no way of knowing when the last one was here. There’s a block of trees about a hundred meters away that is the start of a series of woods.

I keep the gun pointed down as I walk. Grover Hills feels empty. I have the feeling you get when you knock on somebody’s door and you know nobody is going to answer. But I still keep the gun out. The front entrance is a pair of wide double doors. I step up onto the wooden porch and try them. The left one swings open noisily, the hinges like that of an opening coffin that’s been unearthed. The sun is so high that the angle stops it from gaining entry through the doors because of the veranda. It’s dark inside. Not nighttime dark, but the kind of dark you’d get stepping into a boarded-up church. The air inside is dry and a little cooler the further inside I go, but not much. It doesn’t feel like anybody is here, but the building doesn’t quite feel abandoned either. It feels like something, not somebody, is here.

It doesn’t look like the kind of building you’d expect an institution to be. It doesn’t have long white corridors with doors locking them off every fifteen meters. Instead it looks like a giant farmhouse, lots of wood everywhere, a very New Zealand version of what we must have thought mental institutions looked like back then. The windows have wire grills over them. There are lots of rooms, and I can see that each one of them has a lock on it. There’s a staircase leading up to a second floor. I haven’t had much luck with staircases lately so I start with the ground floor. I follow the path of the hallway, opening doors and looking into bedrooms on my way to a large communal area where maybe there was a TV set and a Ping-Pong table. There are still couches here, all of them in poor condition, some of them facing the windows overlooking the fields. There’s a door that leads to the kitchen. There is no sign of life, but there is the feeling of being watched. It’s creepy. I can’t shake the feeling that all the dark thoughts from the patients who were locked up out here have formed some malevolent entity that’s haunting the soul of this building, and if that entity came forth my gun would do me no good. In the kitchen there’s a large fridge that looks a hundred years old. I open it up and it’s empty except for layers of mold and no light comes on. I flick one of the kitchen light switches and nothing happens. No power. There’s a long stainless-steel bench with two sinks in it, there are clearings in the dust, circles and lines where objects have been placed and then moved very recently.

I open the rest of the cupboards and drawers and find them empty except for a dead mouse. I head back to the staircase. It’s not soaking in petrol so I take it. On the top floor I find pretty much the same as the ground floor, same layout, same kind of communal area, but no kitchen. There are lots of spiderwebs caught in every available corner and nobody tied up anywhere. Mouse shit against the edges of the walls. Sunlight angles through the windows and lights up the dust raised by my footsteps. Most of the rooms still have some furniture left in them, single beds with old foam mattresses, some chests of drawers scarred by scratches and stains. The bathrooms are full of hard enamel edges with external pipes lining the walls. One of the bedrooms is cleaner than the others, no dust on the drawers. Walking around the place it’s impossible to sense anything good ever happened here. Impossible to know how much help those who needed it really got once they came here.

The bedrooms on the north side of the building are hot, enough sun coming through the narrow windows to heat every room, but on the south side the rooms are cold even though it’s heading up to one hundred and ten degrees outside. There are other rooms, two of them with doors that have latches on the outside of them. I open them up, the walls and ceiling and floor inside are padded.

I head downstairs. I take the hallway in the opposite direction from before. More bedrooms. More bathrooms. I open up a door that leads into a basement. The stairs are poorly lit, and I reach out and swipe at the light switch on the side of the brick wall more out of habit than hope, and nothing happens. The stairs seem to lead down into a pit, the only light to hit them coming from behind me, my body casting a shadow. I start down them, expecting my feet to disappear in darkness, but instead my eyes slowly adjust to the gloom.

I follow the stairs to the concrete floor. There’s another room ahead of me, this one sealed off by an iron door. A cell of some kind. The door has a small window and I look through it but can’t see much beyond. I tap my knuckle against the door and it echoes through the room. There’s a latch on this side of it that is unlocked. I swing open the door where there is even less light. There’s a dark shape against the wall that turns out to be a bed, and there’s a bad smell in here, maybe stale body fluids. I step away from the door to let more light into the room. The bed has an old mattress and a pillow that looks like it could contain about a thousand different kinds of germs. There’s nothing else in there. I step back into the main room. There’s an empty bookcase on this side of the cell, an old couch, an old coffee table. I try to imagine people being brought down here, locked in this room and kept in the darkness. Did these rooms predate the padded rooms upstairs? Or was this basement used for the worst of the patients? And why the couch, did people sit down here and relax while others were locked up? How long were people kept down here, and how many people knew about it? Is this standard practice? I can’t imagine that it is. A room like this may have been necessary. Jesse Cartman, the man who bit off pieces of his sister’s flesh, probably spent time down here. It may have been the only way to keep the others safe. As bad as this cell is, if the padded rooms upstairs were full, then there wasn’t anywhere else for those people in those moments. Only if that were the case, why not pad this cell too?

The person who killed Pamela Deans—how much time did he spend down here?

More than ever I feel like somebody is watching me.

On the way back up the stairs I notice the dark stains. They look like oil stains, dark patches on the stairs. I reach down and push my finger against it, whatever the stain is it’s dry, but my fingertip comes away with a red powdery film across it. Could be blood. Could be tomato juice. There’s lots of it.

I head outside and am thankful for the heat of the sun. I lean back against the car and stare at the building. No sign of Cooper. No sign of Emma Green. No sign of whoever killed my cat. Just furniture and benches with spaces in the dust and what could be blood on the basement steps, which could be a day old or five years old.

I pass Schroder on the way back into town while still on one of the narrow nowhere streets. He’s parked on the side of the road with another detective, they’re standing outside with a map sprawled out over the hood, two patrol cars behind him. That means he’s going to Grover Hills with the idea he’s going to find Cooper Riley. He looks up as I drive toward him. He sees it’s me and shakes his head slowly. I give him a small salute. He rolls his eyes and grins for about two seconds before the frown slips back into place. He looks down at the map and I drive past, ribbons of dirt coming off the tires and flooding the air, a wall of it between him and my rearview mirror as I find my way back to the highway.

I drive back past the same paddocks. The same guys in the same tractors are plowing the same fields and moving the same bunches of animals back and forth. I pass the prison and don’t feel any sense of longing. There’s a dead cow just off the side of the road covered in flies about a hundred meters past the big Christchurch sign. I drive down Memorial Avenue where the houses are big and cold-looking and the trees out front are even bigger, this part of town screaming family money, women weighed down with jewelry sitting on front porches ordering the gardeners about. Traffic is thick and the air-conditioning in the rental keeps me sane. When I get into town I find a parking space opposite the museum where approximately forty Asian tourists are standing next to a bus taking photographs of each other, all smiles and waves, unaware the police might end up going through their photos later in the week to figure out what happened to one of the group who went missing. I load up the parking meter and three bucks gets me an hour’s worth of parking, putting the council’s greed on a par with that of the criminals. I walk the thirty meters to the entrance of the Botanical Gardens, the front of it lined with a green iron-bar fence bolted into rock and mortar and streaked in bird shit. I buy a newspaper on the way, tear off the front page, and toss the rest in a recycling bin.

The Gardens is the one place in the city you can guarantee the plants are getting watered as it’s a pretty big drawing card for the tourists. The gardens cover thirty hectares of land, the Avon River winding through it like a fat black snake. Say what you will about Christchurch, but this is easily one of the most beautiful places in the country. Every direction is blanketed in color with flowers in full bloom, some pathways lined with tulips, others with evergreen bushes, trees and flowers and shrubs and ducks all living in peace, nature getting along.

There are plenty of people enjoying the day, most of them sitting in the shade. There are couples lying in the grass, men lying on their backs in the soft lawn, straddled by women, lots of bumping and grinding going on beneath the flowing skirts. Kids in kayaks are paddling up the Avon, splashing water at their friends and having a good time. I make my way to the small tourist center. A severely overweight woman behind the counter who isn’t aware that wearing a tight tank-top is a crime against humanity tells me where I can find Jesse Cartman. I follow her instructions to a giant glass house in the middle of the gardens, home to about two thousand ferns with an offshoot room that houses dozens of cacti. The air surrounding the ferns is thick and warm and moist and a few breaths inside make me sleepy. There’s a concrete rectangular walkway within the enclosure surrounding the plants, with a second level of the same thing above.

Jesse towers over me by about twenty centimeters but looks thin enough to slip under a door. He looks the same in some ways since I last saw him, but vitally different in many others. When he was seventeen he was diagnosed with depression, at nineteen he was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, at twenty his parents made an urgent call to the police for help. We got to the family house to find his father pinning Jesse against the floor, and his mother cradling his dead sister. He’s thirty-five now, and in the years between he’s been medicated and something must have worked, because now he’s clean-shaven with his hair neatly combed and, as far as I’m aware, hasn’t tried to eat anybody since his release. His clothes are tidy with his sleeves rolled up revealing darkly tanned forearms. He turns off the hose and turns toward me when he senses somebody staring.

“I know you from somewhere,” he says, “you’re either a doctor or a cop.”

“I’m not a doctor,” I tell him.

“You were there when I was arrested,” he says, and I’m impressed with his memory. “Officer somebody, right?” he says, smiling, and for a creepy moment I think he’s about to offer his hand, the same hand that dug into his sister to pull out the soft meat. He doesn’t.

“It’s detective now,” I tell him, figuring if I’m going to lie, I may as well give myself a promotion at the same time. “How you doing, Jesse?” I ask.

“Good. Things are good now,” he says, and they seem to be. The darkness that was in his eyes when we arrested him is gone, replaced by a light that the magic pills are giving him. “You know, the meds keep me in shape. Problem is the better they make me feel, the worse I feel about what I did to my sister, and that makes me want to stop taking them.”

Before I can say anything, he holds up his hand, full of calluses with dirt packed into the wrinkles in his palms. “Don’t worry, I know how that sounds, and I owe it to her to keep taking them. I owe it to my whole family to feel bad about what I done. Back then things were so different. There were so many voices and I could never sleep because they always kept me awake, so many I could never focus on them. Now the only voice I hear is my own. So why are you here? My therapist ask you to check up on me? I only missed the appointment because it was my sister’s birthday and I had to, you know, spend the day out at her grave.”

“I’m here to talk to you about Grover Hills.”

“Why?” he asks, for the first time sounding defensive.

“You recognize this guy?” I ask, holding up the sketch from the newspaper.

He nods. “That’s my dad,” he says. “He died a few years ago. Why do you have his picture?”

“It’s not your dad,” I tell him. “It’s a sketch of a man I’m looking for.”

“No, it’s definitely my dad. I recognize him.”

I fold the sketch back into my pocket. “Jesse, I want you to tell me what happened at Grover Hills.”

“I was sick when I was sent there. The doctors made me better.”

“What about the basement?”

He turns the hose back on and starts watering some of the plants. Water splashes off the ferns back toward him. It soaks into the plants and the soil and a string of water runs back down from the tip of the hose onto his hand and down his arm. Cartman tries whistling but he can’t do it, can only blow air hard through pursed lips. I fold the newspaper page into my pocket, then I pick up a section of the hose and bend it in half to kill the flow. He turns toward me and looks defeated, his eyes cast downward.

“The basement, Jesse.”

“What . . . what basement?” he asks. “I don’t remember the basement.”

“It had a cell in it.”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” he says, refusing to look up.

“Is that where you got locked away when you couldn’t be controlled?”

“That’s . . . that’s not what the basement was for.”

“What then?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“You remember talking to Cooper Riley?”

He nods. “He wanted me to tell him about my sister and why I hurt her. He wanted to know what it was like for me growing up. He had lots of questions about my parents, the kind of questions that told me he thought part of my problem was them. I didn’t like him much.”

“You ever tell him about the basement?”

“Of course not. Nobody was allowed to mention it. Nobody would have believed me anyway, and if I had told him I would have been sent down there.”

I keep pressing him. “What went on in that room? You were forced to sleep in there, right?”

“Sometimes, but only a couple of times for me.” He wipes at some tears hanging on the edges of his eyes then sniffs loudly.

“Were you beaten down there?”

“In a sense.”

“What else happened?”

“What do you think?” he asks. “Some of us deserved it, I guess, for what we did. What happened down there, they were the kind of things we’d done to other people.”

“Please, Jesse, it’s important you tell me everything.”

“I’ve been reading the news and I know what you want. You’re looking for Cooper Riley and he never knew anything about the Scream Room,” he says, “and . . .” He stops talking, realizing what he’s said. “Shit,” he says. “Please, please don’t tell anybody I told you.”

“The Scream Room?”

“I have to get back to work,” he says.

“Jesse, this is important. If you’ve been reading the newspapers, then you’ll know I’m looking for a missing girl.”

“I know,” he says. “That’s what we called it. That room. We called it the Scream Room.”

“You were sent down there and tortured?”

“Sometimes we were sent down there just as punishment. The room was to keep us in line. But other times the Twins would take us down there.”

“The Twins?”

“They were a pair of orderlies. They were identical in the way they liked to make people hurt,” he says. “A place like that, there were lots of people, you know? And the room wasn’t always a Scream Room, it’s like you said, it was used mostly to control people. The Twins used to charge people. They’d find relatives of those the patients had hurt and they’d offer them the chance for revenge. They’d make money on our pain. Other times they’d just take us down there for . . . for what I think passed as fun. At least for them.”

“How often did this happen?” I ask.

“You don’t believe me.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You don’t need to. I can see it in you.”

He’s right. I don’t believe him—but I do think he believes himself. Going out and finding family members and charging them for the thrill of revenge just doesn’t work in any kind of reality. Too many people would have to be pretty bloody fantastic at keeping such a big secret. None of this is getting me closer to finding Emma Green.

“Convince me,” I tell him. “How often did this happen?”

He shrugs. “All the time. People were always dying down there. A patient would be taken down there for an hour and come out dead on a stretcher.”

“And nobody knew?”

“Of course people knew, but nobody cared. It’s not hard to believe,” he says, but he’s wrong—it is hard to believe. “If it was your sister I’d killed and you had the chance to make me hurt for a hundred bucks or whatever it is they charged, wouldn’t you jump at it?”

I don’t know. It would depend on whether the person had faked their illness to get away with murder, or if they really were sick. That’s how I look at it now. Under the circumstances, who knows? Others would call the police or the health-care system. A story like that couldn’t get shut down no matter how hard everybody worked to contain it. It would spill out into the media, and a story like this would have been pure gold. It would have made all the papers across the country and been picked up internationally. It would have been big headlines.

“Define all the time,” I tell him.

He shrugs again and water drips off the hose. “Every few months or so.”

I do the math. Every few months. Six people a year. Ten years would be sixty people. No way sixty people are going to pay their money and head downstairs and beat the hell out of somebody with a baseball bat or hammer. I don’t see it.

What I can believe is it happening once or twice. There could be some truth in what he’s saying. If it did, it must have felt good for the person getting revenge. I wonder how good it felt when their hour was up. How many went home and threw up, how many wanted to come back for more. “And you told nobody.”


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