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Collecting Cooper
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Текст книги "Collecting Cooper"

Автор книги: Paul Cleave





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Текущая страница: 4 (всего у книги 26 страниц)

chapter seven

My lawyer’s name is Donovan Green. He’s my height and built about the same and I met him late winter last year—the afternoon after I got drunk and ran my car into Emma Green, his daughter. I didn’t know who he was when he bailed me out and offered to represent me. I took his help because there was no real alternative. Thirty minutes after meeting him his help turned out to be the kind that had him dragging me unconscious through the woods. He held a gun to my head and in the end didn’t have the stomach to finish the job. He left me with the promise that if anything ever happened to his daughter he’d be back. I keep my hand on the door and my stomach sinks. If he’s here to kill me, then his daughter must have died from her injuries. Which means I won’t get to see my wife one last time. Which means I have to go along with whatever it is he wants to do. That’s the way things work in my world. Last year I wanted him to pull the trigger. Now I don’t.

“Remember me?” he asks.

He looks about as run-down and tired as he looked last time I saw him, as if the heat has gotten to him the same way it’s gotten to the trees outside my house. His hair is messed up and his clothes are wrinkled and he hasn’t shaved in a few days and he smells like he hasn’t showered either. My mouth goes dry and I struggle to answer him. It must be obvious that I remember him. The kind of time we shared together is impossible to forget. I let my hand fall from the door and I take a step back.

“You might as well come in.”

“I know what you’re thinking,” he says, and he sounds tired. “I remember what I promised you. But I’m not here for that. I’m here for your help.”

For him to want my help it must be bad. Bad enough he’d come to the one man he hates more than any other. I move aside and he comes in. I lead him through the house. He doesn’t comment on any of the furniture or décor. The stereo is on repeat, and the Beatles album has started back up. I take him outside onto the deck where the outdoor furniture has gathered some rust and a whole lot of cobwebs over the last four months. I don’t offer him a drink. The sun beats down on us and I figure he won’t want to stay long, and imagine he’d want to stay even less if I showed him the DVD I watched earlier. We sit on opposite sides of the table, balancing it out and giving the yard good feng shui.

“I want to hire you,” he says.

He’s beginning to sweat and he has to keep squinting to look at me because the sun is in his face but on my back. He’s wearing a T-shirt and shorts and not a suit, so he’s not here in any lawyering capacity, which means I won’t have to take out a second mortgage to talk to him. He looks like he’s slept in that shirt for the last few days.

“I don’t need the work,” I tell him.

“Yes you do.”

“It’s a moot point. I lost my PI license so I can’t help you.”

“That works out okay because I won’t be paying you. You’ll be doing this for free so it won’t be professional. You’re not going to need a license because you’re going to want to do this for free anyway. You owe me.”

“Thanks for sweetening the deal. You want to tell me what’s bad enough for you to have come to me? You do realize I only just got out of jail today.”

“I know. If that had been up to me you’d have been put away for much longer. You could have killed my daughter.”

I don’t answer him. I’ve already apologized and I could apologize a thousand more times and he wouldn’t accept it. I know that because I’ve been in his shoes. I dragged the man who killed my daughter and hurt my wife into the woods and handed him a shovel. There was a lot he tried saying. He tried telling me how sorry he was that he’d been drinking so much, how sorry he was at all the other driving convictions in his past. He apologized for running down my wife and daughter by accident and doing nothing about it. He cried as he dug the hole, he got dirt all over his face and shirt. He was a mess. His face was covered in snot and tears and he kept blubbering that he was sorry, and in the end I didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t see it as an accident. I saw it as murder. A man with that many convictions behind him, that many warnings, a man like that who keeps on drinking and driving, that makes it only a matter of time before he kills. It was no different from a man firing a loaded gun into a crowd of people.

I put a bullet in his head and filled in the grave he had dug.

My lawyer knows I did it. I told him. When he pointed the gun at me wanting to do the same thing, I told him how it was going to feel.

“She’s gone missing,” he says. “Emma.”


“Nobody has heard from her in two days. She was at work Monday night and left to go home and never showed up.”

“You’ve gone to the police?”

“What?” he asks, almost flinching as though my question is the most stupid one he’s ever heard. “Jesus, of course we have. But the police, the police only care once somebody has been missing twenty-four hours, so they’ve only cared since last night, and they haven’t cared much because they’re not out there looking for her, and even when they do start looking there are things I know you can do that they can’t.”

“The police, you have to trust them. They know what they’re doing.”

He starts drumming his fingers across the tabletop then stops and stares at his fingernails as if disappointed by the tune they made. He looks back at me and there is genuine pain in his eyes and I know the feeling and I know I’m going to help this man.

“When girls like Emma go missing,” he says, and the words are slow and considered and must hurt to say because I know where he’s going with this, “there’s only one way they’re ever found.”

I don’t answer him. He looks up toward the sun and I know he’s fighting back tears.

“When was the last time somebody her age went missing and there was a happy ending?” he asks.

I still don’t answer him. I can’t tell him the truth, and I don’t want to lie to him. Girls like Emma who go missing normally show up a few days later floating naked in a river.

“I already know she’s probably dead,” he says, and the words come from him in small stops and starts, like he really has to force them.

He looks back at me. “Statistically, I know the deal,” he adds. “My wife, she knows it too. Right now she’s sedated because she’s borderline hysterical. The police tell me in cases like this, they never really know whether the girl just ran away from home or got herself a new boyfriend and is holed up in a bedroom somewhere. It’s bullshit. They know it’s bullshit when they’re spinning that possibility to me and my wife. If there’s a chance she’s still alive, she won’t be by the time they find her, and if she was alive in the time they were looking and not finding her and I didn’t do everything I could . . . then . . . I don’t know. I think you know, right?” he says. “I think you can figure out how it would feel. So I’m doing everything that I can, and that means coming to you. It means you’re going to do everything you can because you owe me and you owe her. Then . . . and, if she is, you know, dead, then the police will find who hurt her and then what? Send him to jail for fifteen years and parole him in ten?”

“I know it’s wrong, trust me, I really do, but that’s just the way it is,” I say.

“I know. Jesus, don’t you think I know that? But it shouldn’t be that way, and it doesn’t have to be. I remember what you said to me in the woods. I know you killed the man who killed your daughter. What gives you the right to have that justice and stop others from having it?”

“You don’t need to remind me of my own daughter.”

“Do I need to remind you that you almost took mine away?” He slowly shakes his head. “When you ran into her it changed her life. It sent her down a different path. You jumped into her timeline, and instead of her turning A,” he says, tapping his right forefinger with his left to make his point, “she turned B. It brought different people into her life. Doctors and rehab, new friends. She lost three months studying and had to take private tutoring. She almost didn’t graduate high school last year. She almost didn’t qualify for university this year. Her circumstances changed. If you hadn’t hurt her, she’d be in a different place now, with different people in her life. If one of those different people are responsible for taking her . . .”

“I get your point,” I say, holding up my hand. If one of those new people in her life took her, then it’s my fault. It’s like he said—I sent her down path B, and path B might have had a bad man waiting in the shadows.

“Do you? Because if you did you’d be asking me how you can help. I know about you,” he says. “You’re about doing the right thing. Looking for Emma, that’s the right thing. That’s why you’re going to help me.”

I look at him but all I can see is his daughter, slumped against the steering wheel with blood running down the side of her face, broken glass surrounding the car, my own car a wreck with the front of it folded around a lamppost, a billboard with Jesus turning wine into bottled water staring down at me, my clothes and skin reeking of alcohol. My ears were ringing and I could taste blood and the night was so cold there was fog in the air, and God how I wish it was all just a dream. I had become the man who had run over my wife and daughter. That was the worst part. I picked up the half-empty bottle of booze from the floor of the car and tossed it into the night and I’ve not had a drop since. Donovan Green’s eyes are pleading with me, he knows his daughter is dead and yet is still holding out hope that she isn’t.

“I’ll need expenses,” I say, and I hate asking for them, but I don’t have any money. “I don’t even have a car. Or a cell phone.”

“You’ll get what you need.”

“And I can’t give you any promises.”

“Yes you can. You can promise me you’ll do what it takes to find the man that has her, and that when you find him . . . when you find him, you’ll come to me before you go to the police. You’re working for me, not them. You come to me, not to them.”

I slowly nod, images of Donovan Green walking through the woods with his daughter’s killer and I’m walking with him, helping him get the revenge he needs. This time I imagine he’ll have the balls to go through with it. “We don’t know anybody took her,” I say. “Not for sure.”

“Somebody has her. I know it. I just know it.”

“Tell me about her,” I say, and as he does I realize there was never any chance of staying away from this world.

chapter eight

Adrian sets the tray on the coffee table and moves to the door. Cooper has been watching him walk down the stairs, and he knows that what is coming is going to be difficult for Cooper to hear. He’s been nervous about it all morning, and only ten minutes ago he was hunched over the bathroom sink, vomiting into it. His stomach is burning and his throat is sore and he wishes there was a way to make this easier, but there isn’t. It’s his job to sell himself, to get his reasons across, and if he can do that then Cooper will agree to stay. He has to. For the last ten minutes Cooper has been banging at the cell door in the same way that Adrian, as a kid, used to do, but in the later years Adrian stopped banging because nothing good ever came from it. Since planning his collection, he’s known there are only two reactions available to Cooper—he would be upset and angry, or he would be desperate and begging. The banging tells Adrian what reaction he’s in for.

Cooper’s face is inches from the glass. Adrian steps to the side slightly to let light from the lamp get past him. Cooper doesn’t look so good, but he does look calm and Adrian is pleased.

“Where am I?” Cooper asks.

“Umm . . .” he starts, and suddenly his tongue is so heavy it won’t move and all the words inside his mind have been wiped away like an eraser over a blackboard, and he can’t remember a single thing. He knew this was going to be an important moment. He’d even rehearsed some big words with which he could impress. He started out with “welcome to my collection,” which has been the plan all along, and now he’s wishing he’d written things down. It’s such a rudimentary mistake, he thinks, then enlarges his smile knowing that Cooper would be proud with the use of the large word, but disappointed with the mistake. “Umm . . .” he repeats, his tongue a little looser now, and the faster he tries to think the foggier his thoughts become.

“Who the hell are you?” Cooper asks.

“The . . . the first rule of a serial killer,” he says, thankful for the words—God, he’s so nervous he wants to be sick again—“is, is to . . . to depersonalize his victims,” he says, looking down at the floor.

“Is that what I am? One of your victims?” Cooper asks.


“It’s why I’m in this cage, right?”

Adrian is confused. “Cage? No, this is a basement,” he says, looking around. Can’t Cooper see that? “You can tell because there are concrete blocks and no bars.”

“It was a metaphor.”

Adrian frowns. “A what?”

“Let me out.”


“What do you want? Did you send me the thumb?”


“The thumb. Are you the one who sold it to me?”

“I . . . I don’t understand. What thumb? The one in the jar that you cut off one of your victims?”

“One of my victims? What the hell are you talking about?” Cooper asks.

“What are you talking about?” Adrian asks.

“Why am I here? Are you going to kill me?”

“I . . .”

“Let me out,” Cooper repeats. “Whatever is going on here, this needs to stop. You have to let me go. Whatever you have planned, it can’t happen. I don’t know what you want. I’m not a rich person. I can’t give you money. Please, please, you have to let me go.”

“I . . .” he starts, then something catches in his throat and he can’t continue.

“What do you intend to do with me?”

“Umm . . .”

“You said welcome to your collection. Is that what all of this is? Is that what I am? A collector’s piece?” Cooper asks, his voice sounding more angry than scared.

“You’re asking too many questions all at once,” Adrian says, getting confused. He lifts his hands up to his face and pushes his palms against his cheeks.

“Am I a collector’s item?”

“No, no, certainly not,” Adrian answers, upset Cooper would think that way. “You’re more than just a piece. You’re . . . you’re everything.”


“You are the collection.”

“So all of this,” Cooper says, and Adrian thinks he’s spreading his arms but he can’t know for sure because all he can see is Cooper’s face, “is some kind of zoo?”

“What? No, this isn’t a zoo,” he says, pulling his hands from his face and pointing them toward the opposite walls. “There would be animals here if it were, like monkeys and penguins and it would smell, and zoos have cages and . . . and you still think this is a cage? This is a collection and you’re the main . . . the main attraction.”

“As what? A criminology professor?”

“Partly that, and partly because of the stories you can tell me. And the fact you’re a serial killer makes you even more valuable.”

Cooper’s face pales. A frown appears, the lines deep enough to look like long scars. “What? What did you just say?”

“A storyteller. You’re here to tell me stories about killers you know. I find them interesting.”

“You said I was a serial killer. Explain yourself.”

He never had to explain himself in the past to his cassette collection, or the collection of comics he had as a kid. This is tough work. “A serial killer is a person who . . .”

“Yes, yes, I know what a serial killer is, you twit, but I’m not a killer.”

Adrian doesn’t know what a twit is, but he does know he doesn’t like being called one. “Don’t you get it?” he asks, thrilled he knows something Cooper does not, because Cooper is one of those people who knows everything. His mother called those people good-for-nothing know-it-alls, but of course Cooper is good for everything. “You study killers, you know killers, and you are a killer. You are an entire collection in one piece.”

Cooper takes a deep breath then slowly exhales. He closes his eyes for a few seconds and rubs the side of his head with his fingers. Adrian thinks the man is either trying to collect his thoughts or fall asleep while standing. He decides on the first of the two options because it’s not late enough in the day to start sleeping. Then he decides the collecting your thoughts trick might work for him too, so he closes his eyes and takes a few deep breaths, and it helps, just a little.

“I’m not a serial killer,” Cooper says.

Adrian opens his eyes back up. “Yes you are. I know you are. That’s why you’re here.”

“No, I’m here because you abducted me, and because you’re delusional.”

“I am no such thing.”

“What’s your name?”


“Your name. Surely you have one.”

“The first rule of a . . .”

“Shut up about the damn rule,” Cooper says, banging the door. “Just tell me your bloody name,” he says.

“But . . .”

“Your name. Tell me your name,” he shouts.

“Adrian,” he answers. He didn’t want to answer, he certainly had the intent to always keep his name to himself, but he hates being shouted at, always has, and his name comes out before he can stop himself.

“Does Adrian have a last name?”

“You have to stop,” he says, getting mad now. “No more, no more questions.” He covers his ears and shuts his eyes, but he can still hear Cooper asking him things. He takes a few steps away from the door. After a minute Cooper goes quiet and Adrian moves his hands away.

“I made you something to eat.”

“I don’t want anything to eat. I want you to let me out of here.”

“You get used to the cell,” Adrian says. He starts scratching at a sudden itch on the side of his head. “And I’m going to try and make it more comfortable for you. See all of this?” he asks, spreading his arms and encompassing the small view. “I brought these things from your house, all your serial killer memorabilia, I brought it here so you could have your own collection nearby because I know how important it is to you, just as you are important to me. It’s still all yours,” he says, “I don’t want it, I want you to still have it. If you think about it, we’re not that unalike really. You collect serial killer memorabilia, and . . .”

“And you collect serial killers. I get the point.”

“I am so lucky to own you,” he says, hardly hearing what Cooper said at all.

“You don’t own me, you crazy son of a bitch,” Cooper says, the defiance in his voice is annoying.

“Don’t be mean,” Adrian says, then remembers that of the two of them, it really is his job to be the calm one. After all, he has had days to think about this, and Cooper has only had a few minutes. This is going to be quite an adjustment for Cooper. He can’t just expect the man to wake up and accept it. “You should eat,” he says, hoping the change in topic and the food he made will hasten the bonding they have to do.

“Listen, Adrian, Adrian, I can’t stay here. This isn’t going to work. You’re going to see that soon, and then you’re going to let me go, but by then it’ll be too late and the police will lock you away and . . .”

“You need to keep your strength up.”

“Jesus,” Cooper yells, and bangs something against the window that looks like a shoe. “Doesn’t anything get through to you?”

“Stop with the questions,” Adrian yells, and before he can stop himself, he kicks out at the coffee table, sending the sandwich he’d made all over the wall and floor. The lantern hits the floor, flickers for a few seconds but doesn’t go out, just rolls across the ground sending shadows moving over the walls.

“Great, just great,” he screams, “now look at what you’ve done? That’s it—that’s it—no more lunch for you today. Now you go hungry,” he says, and he kicks at the coffee table one more time, picks up the lantern, and heads upstairs. He wanted nothing more than to make a good impression, a lasting first impression, and he’s failed, all because of Cooper.

“You can’t keep me here,” Cooper shouts out from the basement.

Adrian stops at the door and looks back down at the cell. Cooper is staring up at him through the window. “We’ll make it work,” he says. “Soon we’ll be friends. I forgive you for making me make a mess.”

“You’re delusional.”

“I’m. Not. Delusional,” he says, biting down on each word. Why do people always think he’s crazy? He’s had to deal with that his whole life and he’s sick of it. He looks down at his feet, at his polished shoes. He cleaned his shoes as part of his attempt to make a good impression, and now he isn’t even sure why he bothered. Did he not clean them enough? Is that the problem? The right one is scuffed up from kicking the coffee table. The fifteen dollars he paid last week for his shirt and tie from the thrift store is looking like a waste of money. He flicks the hair out of his eyes. He can feel the tears starting to come. This has gone nothing like he expected.

He slams the basement door on Cooper’s shouts, angry, embarrassed, wondering if it wouldn’t just be easier to set fire to his collection the same way he set fire to his mother.

He races down the hallway and up the stairs to the first landing, his hip hitting the wall and the radio bouncing off his belt onto the floor. He wouldn’t really set fire to Cooper, that’s just his frustration talking and trying to convince him to do something stupid. He bends down to pick up the radio and is relieved it hasn’t broken. He rewinds the tape a little and can hear Cooper’s voice, then rewinds it the rest of the way so he can record over it. He doesn’t want to hear any of the conversation.

If he wanted to, he could give Cooper the gift he got for him to smooth things over, but he wanted that to be a surprise for tomorrow. He quietly opens one of the bedroom doors in case Cooper’s gift is sleeping, and she is. There are other, perhaps more appropriate rooms for her, but he liked the idea of keeping her more comfortable, of giving her a bed. Her hands are bound to the rails of the bed in the same place he tied them two nights ago. Her skin is flushed and the skin around her lips is dry and has chipped and there’s a plastic drinking straw hanging from her mouth. There’s a pitcher of water on the floor next to her that he helps her drink from, but unfortunately there’s no bathroom in here and he didn’t want to risk untying her all the time for her to urinate, so the room smells from where she’s soiled herself, and the smell reminds him of his days at school, which makes him smile, but then reminds him of the day he got beaten into a coma and the smile disappears. The girl is no more than twenty, he thinks; he isn’t sure of her name and the time for asking was before he glued her lips together around the straw, but he had to do the gluing before she could say mean things to him. She looked the type that could be pretty nasty if she wanted to be. Right now she just looks unhealthy, and he doesn’t think Cooper will be happy with his gift covered in sweat and urine, and he’s going to have to do something about it. Probably he’ll just hose her down and leave her naked. Cooper will like her that way.

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