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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: 6 (всего у книги 26 страниц)

chapter eleven

If the reaction at the boyfriend’s house could be considered cool once they realized who I was, then at the café I’m in need of a winter jacket and scarf despite the summer heat. I knew it was only a matter of time. People know Emma’s missing and they know the police are looking into it, and they don’t want to talk to a man who put the missing girl into hospital last year. At least at the boyfriend’s house things thawed out. After only a couple of words to the café owner, the only thing thawing out are half a dozen chicken breasts in the kitchen. The café is a small mom-and-pop affair with swirling patterns of broken glass in flower-petal shapes glued to the oak veneer walls, serving up croissants and sandwiches with meat and egg and salads in them, chicken or mince pies, rich-looking palm-sized cakes and custard treats that all look pretty damn good after four months in the slammer. The coffee looks good too, but I get the feeling if I ordered a cup I’d have to sink some antibiotics to the bottom to balance out whatever the barista would add with his back turned. The café is located in Merivale, a block away from the Main North Road—one of the central roads heading out of the city. Merivale is one of those suburbs that defines its own housing market, where you pay far more for far less, where if you don’t own a four-wheel drive and expensive clothes the neighbors would ask you to leave. Everybody has the collars on their shirts and jackets turned up, many of them walking around as though they were living in a country club. There’s a parking lot behind the café and no sign of Emma’s car. I walked around it when I arrived, passing a Help Wanted sign in the window that I hope isn’t advertising the spot Emma isn’t filling. Not even two days missing and the world is moving on.

The café owner’s name is Zane Reeves. He has a toupee that at the most cost what he’d make off about eight cups of coffee, and he’s one of those guys who always has to lean against something when he talks, propping himself up against the counter and putting his fist on his hip, his stomach extending out. He smiles for the first five seconds until I introduce myself and he realizes I’m not there to buy something. The café smells of warm food and coffee and is full of people hovering a year or two either side of twenty, all of them drinking hot coffee from small cups on an incredibly hot day, the café full with the low murmur of conversation and some kind of classical music folk guitar blend being pumped through the speakers that is already making me drowsy. Reeves’s smile turns into a grimace and he takes me through a door into the kitchen to talk.

“I’ve already spoken to the cops,” he says.

“Then it will still be fresh in your memory.”

“Speak to them. If they want you to know then they can share.”

“Did she mention any weird customers? Anybody watching her, or giving her weird vibes?”

“We all want Emma back, and mate, you have a bad track record when it comes to people you get involved with. Emma is better off without you trying to help.”

“That’s not what her father thinks.”

“People make bad decisions when they’re grieving.”

“Grieving? Why, you think she’s dead?”

“Don’t you? Mate, last thing I want is anything to have happened to her, she’s a great kid, a good worker, but I watch the news as much as anybody. I’m not an idiot.”

“That why you already have a new help wanted sign in the window?”

“Fuck you, man,” he says, pointing a finger at me. “I have a business to run. I can’t just keep her position open. See those people out there? They don’t care who serves them as long as they get served. It sucks, but that’s the way it is. There’s nothing here for you, mate. You’ve already hurt her, and I’m not going to help you hurt her family.”

“Where does she park normally? Out back?”

“We all park out there.”

“Security cameras?”

“Does this look like a bank to you? Now get the hell out of here.”

I try to make eye contact with the other staff, hoping one of them will want to talk to me, but they all look away. I head again into the parking lot. There’s some crime scene tape that’s been left behind from the search earlier, it’s fluttering in the breeze and caught up against the side of the dumpster. Nobody is around, and no cars are parked there. It’s a likely site for Emma’s abduction, at night it would be fairly dark, nobody around, lots of shadows. Emma could have walked to her car and been attacked, her abductor throwing her into the trunk of her own car then speeding away. I walk over to the dumpster and open it up, knowing the police have already searched the area, but I suddenly have a bad feeling Emma Green is inside that dumpster. She isn’t. There are bags of trash and nothing else. The front corner of the dumpster has been edged with red paint from a car. Somebody hit it on their way out.

I get down on my hands and knees, looking for anything that may be out of place, or something dropped in the struggle. All I can see are patches of oil and weeds poking through the cracked pavement, a few old oil stains, and some old pieces of dog crap. The sun is beating down on my back. My back aches a little as I stand back up. If there was anything here, the police have found it already.

I head back to my car thinking I’m in the wrong line of work. There isn’t much I can do until I get the police file, other than talk to more of Emma’s friends, most of whom I figure won’t want to talk to me. Donovan Green may have picked the last person on earth that may be of any use. Like Zane Reeves said, a grieving man makes bad decisions.

The day is moving on and has cooled off a couple of degrees. I still need to talk to the flatmate but that will have to wait until tonight. I head back home, picking up some Chinese takeaway on the way. It’s around six o’clock by the time Schroder shows up. I’ve been on the case six hours and Emma Green is either six hours deader or six hours closer to becoming it. My dining table is covered in empty plastic tubs and smells of good food.

“This is a bad idea,” Schroder says, holding up the Emma Green file. “Got any beer?”

“That a joke?”

“It’s been a long day. You ever seen a body so badly burned it had to be peeled off the floor?” As soon as he’s asked it, he remembers that I have. We both have. And on more than one occasion.

“Wanna talk about it?”

“No.”

“You looked over the file?” I ask, nodding toward it.

“Yes,” he says, “but it’s not my case,” he says. “My case is figuring out who started today’s fire. You looked over the file I gave you?”

“I’ve been busy. Is there anything you can tell me that isn’t in here?”

“Sure there is, but you’re not listening. I keep telling you to let it go, even more so since it’s personal. Come on, Tate, you know if it becomes personal it becomes messy.”

“Thanks for the advice.”

“So, look, I know I asked this morning, but what was it like? Prison?”

“You know when you go on holiday and you’re never sure what the hotel is going to be like, or the restaurants and clubs, or the beach, and it’s always a little different from what you’re expecting? Well, prison isn’t like that. Prison is exactly how you think it’s going to be.”

“Sorry,” he says, but it isn’t his fault and not a very useful apology. He slaps the file down on the kitchen table but keeps his hand on it. “You owe me,” he says. “When this is done, I want your help on the file I gave you this morning. You get this out of your system, and then you give me one hundred percent on helping me figure out who this Melissa woman is. Deal?”

“That depends on whether you’re going to hold out on me, or give me the information I need along the way,” I say. “You came to me for a reason, Carl, you came to me because you’re going to want me to do things that you can’t do.”

“That’s not it.”

“Bullshit. You’re one of the good guys, Carl, and that restricts you. I don’t know how you justified it to yourself, but when you gave me that file this morning that wasn’t just you asking for my insight, that was you asking me to get my hands dirty.”

“You’re reading too much into it,” he says.

“And you’re doing the same thing now.”

He picks the file back up. “You want me to walk out of here to prove how wrong you are?”

“I just don’t want you complaining when I’ve crossed a line you knew all along I was going to cross.” I reach out for the file. “We’re on the same side here, Carl. Let me find this girl and then I promise I’ll help you find Melissa.”

He takes his hand off the file. “I don’t feel good about any of this,” he says.

“This isn’t about feeling good,” I tell him. “It’s about getting Emma back. Her dad thinks she can talk her way out of anything. Seems to think she knows how people work, and if anybody could survive, it would be her.”

“Any father would be saying the same thing.”

I nod. It’s true. “She is a psychology student,” I point out.

“Yeah, for barely two weeks. I doubt she’s learned enough to talk some lunatic who wants to probably rape and kill her into letting her go.”

I keep nodding. That’s also true.

“Just remember, Tate, when you find something, you come to me with it, okay? You’re helping me out now, not Donovan Green. You come to me first. You clear everything with me.”

“Of course,” I tell him.

He doesn’t believe me, but he doesn’t say anything. He stands up and I follow him to the front door.

“Look, Tate, there’s some info in there that’s new. There was a search this afternoon in the parking lot behind Emma’s café.”

“I know. I was there earlier.”

“Yeah, well, I really hope her father is right about her being able to handle herself, because right now it isn’t looking good.”

“Was it ever?”

“Good luck, Tate,” he says. “And this time do me a favor.”

“Yeah? What’s that?”

“Try not to kill anybody.”

chapter twelve

Adrian found happiness hard to find when he was a kid. He found it with his music and his comics, and he also had a collection of toy cars that he loved more than anything. They were all small-scale metal cars with moving parts, and each time he got one he’d dream that when he was older he’d be able to afford the real thing. No matter what happened to him at school, those cars would be waiting for him at home, so would his tapes and comics, and nobody could ever take that away from him. He would space his cars along a shelf he had in his bedroom, he would measure them so they were the same distance apart, and every week he would dust them. His music collection he would line up by color, so the spines of the tapes merged into each other. His comics he would never bend the covers, never. That made him happy.

The other thing that made him happy was Katie. When he was thirteen years old he fell in love with the new girl in school with the green eyes and long red hair tied into a ponytail and frazzled on the ends. She was a little taller than him and a little heavier, but not by much, and it would have taken a day to count the freckles on her cheeks and each one of those freckles he wanted to collect. Her family had moved up from Dunedin, a city down south that made Christchurch look large. When he first saw her his stomach felt tight and his chest warm and his mouth went dry. She had a nervous smile that he took with him wherever he went and he dreamed of holding her hand and walking her home. She was put into his class and sat on the opposite side of the room, but forward a little from him, where he could steal glances at her all day long. He didn’t know what he’d do if she ever looked back and caught him, but she never looked back. As it was with every new student who came to the school, there was one of two ways things would go—the other kids would be interested and befriend them, or they would tease them. In Katie’s case, they teased her. Occasionally, on lunch and recess breaks, they would push her and try to make her cry, and sometimes she did.

Adrian loved the idea of standing up for her as much as he loved her, but he was a coward and he knew it. The girls were stronger than him. The boys could crush him. One of the horrors of school was public speaking. He hated giving speeches. He had to stand up in front of the class in his secondhand uniform, the shorts too baggy on him, his arms and legs stick thin, and no matter how many times he rehearsed he could never remember the words. No matter how much water he drank his mouth would always be dry. Every time he could hear the others sniggering, could feel his face turn red, and every time all he wanted to do was run from the classroom and just keep running. A few months into the new school year and the sun was lower as the mornings grew cooler and the leaves from the ground were being trudged into the classroom. They were giving speeches on people who inspired them. He had chosen Neil Armstrong because, since the age of ten, Adrian wanted nothing more than to be able to run as far away as the moon. Truthfully, and he didn’t mention this in his speech, he fantasized about captaining his own starship and exploring the galaxy. He wanted to be the first man to step foot on Mars. He gave his speech talking about the Gemini and Apollo missions and about Armstrong’s test pilot days, and he stuttered through much of it, the nerves getting the better of him to the point where his hands were shaking so hard he dropped his cue cards, getting them out of order, which was a problem because he hadn’t numbered them, so in his speech Neil Armstrong grew up and flew to the moon before joining NASA. At the end nobody clapped and the teacher, Mrs. Byron, with her horn-rimmed glasses that magnified her eyes to twice their size, told him to take his seat, before telling Katie it was her turn to go next.

The girl Adrian loved stood up in front of the class and spoke about Beethoven. Adrian didn’t know much about Beethoven except that Beethoven had cut his ear off, though Katie didn’t mention it in her speech and he wasn’t sure why, but she did say the composer had gone deaf, and cutting your ear off would certainly make that happen. Halfway through the speech some of the kids started laughing. Mrs. Byron told them off. Mrs. Byron was the kind of teacher who was always telling people off, the kind of woman who looked like she may have been born at the age of forty. Katie slowed down and carried on, then the laughing began again, and then she started to cry. She ran out of the room. Adrian wanted to go after her. He thought it would be an amazing gesture and she would have to love him back. The coward living inside of him wouldn’t let him. He hated that coward. He wanted to kill it, but didn’t have the courage. Not then—but he decided in that moment he would at least try to fake it.

When lunch came he went up to the boy who had started the laughing.

“I want you to leave Katie alone,” Adrian said.

“You what? Fuck you, you’re kidding, right?”

“I mean it.”

The boy, his name was Redmond but everybody called him Red, was holding a rugby ball that he was about to start throwing with his friends. Redmond was one of those fat kids with fat cheeks who later on in life would call himself big-boned. “You mean it?” Red said, then pushed a fat finger into Adrian’s chest. “Little Aids,” he said, because that’s what they called Adrian, “doesn’t want us teasing his girlfriend.”

“She’s not my girlfriend.”

Red pushed him again, only this time one of Red’s friends had knelt down behind Adrian, so when he moved backward he tipped over, the ground knocking most of the fight out of him, the rest being knocked out a moment later when Red jumped on top of him, punching him hard twice in the stomach, and then rubbing his face in the dirt. There was nobody to help him. Other students started to come over to watch. Including Katie. A couple of the bigger girls brought her over. Adrian looked up at her. He tried to smile at her but couldn’t. He was in too much pain, and he was using all of his effort just to keep his bowels in check.

“He’s not your friend is he?” asked one of the girls, a big girl, one of those rapidly growing girls with big jaws and mean eyes and curly hair. It was common at school that if you grew faster than the majority you became a real bastard.

Katie didn’t say anything.

“Because if he’s your boyfriend, then you’re about to be on the ground next to him,” the girl added. “That’s your future.” They were deep words for a thirteen-year-old girl.

Everybody fell quiet as Katie thought about her future. “He’s . . . he’s not my boyfriend,” Katie said.

“Then who is he?”

“I don’t know. Just some . . . some loser in my class,” Katie said—there were tears in her eyes but they didn’t fall.

“A what?” the girl asked.

“A loser. A loser,” Katie said.

Adrian can still remember it, word for word. He doesn’t have problems with those memories, only with the ones he’s developed over the following years. That day he fell out of love as easily as he fell into it, or at least that’s what he thought at the time. His life at school got worse. The girls began to tease him as much as the boys. Katie became popular. To her credit she never teased him directly. Sometimes he’d come home with a bloody nose and grazed elbows and knees and his mother would call the school and complain, and the following day the bullying would be worse. Bullying was like that, the more you complained the bigger the problem became, the teachers never able to do anything about it. His classmates took any chance he had of becoming a confident student and squashed it. It was months after Katie called him a loser that he learned the only way to find happiness was to take it from somebody else.

He also knew how.

In the morning, while his mother was making him breakfast, he would go into the bathroom and urinate into a plastic bottle that would hold half a liter. He would screw the top on really tight. The bottle would be warm when he put it in his school bag but cold by the time he got to school. He would take one of his many moments of isolation between the taunts and the beatings, and he would go into the locker rooms and unscrew the plastic bottle and pour the contents into the bags of anybody who hurt him. There was a time, about a week into it, that he had to pour it over his own bag so the others wouldn’t think it was him, but he diluted it with so much water that it wasn’t really that bad and he took the things out of his bag he didn’t want damaged. If he couldn’t pour it into their bags, he’d pour it into their desks, over their uniforms while they were in gym class when he could manage it. He lasted a full month before he lost the courage to continue regularly. By then there were too many people watching out for the Urinator as he was called, with a promise from the principal that the Urinator would be expelled. It didn’t matter, because by then school was nearly over for the Christmas holidays. He carried on when they went back seven weeks later, not as often, only once or twice a term. He never soaked Katie’s bag, but he soaked some of the other girls’ bags. The occasions lessened. Once a month became once every three months. Then only a couple of times a year.

It all ended three years later when he was sixteen. He doesn’t know the boy’s name who walked in on him during the act, he was pouring his urine through the grill holes of another boy’s locker, a boy who had walked past him the day before in the corridor and slapped him in the face for no reason. In that moment of being caught his future flashed ahead of him, it would start with his mother finding out, he would be expelled, he would carry the Urinator name with him wherever he went. He was old enough to know his astronaut fantasy wasn’t going to pan out, young enough to have no idea what he wanted to do in life, and old enough to know that whatever dreams he would have were now over. The boy stared at Adrian, said nothing, and then walked away.

The rest of that afternoon was the worst. He couldn’t concentrate in any of the classes. He thought the teachers were giving him a funny look. He kept waiting for somebody to bring a message for the teacher, asking for Adrian to be sent to the principal’s office. The school bell rang and it was time to go and still nothing. When he got home, every time the phone rang he knew it was going to be the school talking to his mother, that expulsion was next, but the call didn’t come.

If the first day was bad, the second was by far much worse. He didn’t eat breakfast that morning. He felt sick all day. On recess breaks and during lunch he would sit in the bathroom with his stomach holding what felt like a bucket of water.

It was the third day the boy came for him. He didn’t come alone. They took him at the end of the school day and dragged him into a park. Together they held Adrian down and tied him up. They didn’t kick or punch him, not in the beginning, and when he was securely bound they stood around him in a circle and they all pissed on him, eight of them in total. It splashed over his skin and ran down his body. It pooled beneath his back and buttocks and soaked into his clothes. They strapped a stick in his mouth so he couldn’t form a seal with his lips. They aimed for his face, it streamed into his eyes and burned them, it rained onto his tongue and felt like acid at the back of his throat. He gagged and coughed and spluttered and it stuck in his throat and he felt like he was drowning. It felt like it lasted forever. When they were done they laughed at him and one of the boys kicked him in the head. The kicking caught on the same way fads tend to sometimes, because then another boy did it, and another. Soon they were all kicking him, and when he finally blacked out, their laughter followed him into the darkness. He dreamed of Katie. He dreamed of better times.

When he came to, the ropes were gone. He couldn’t stand. The world was off balance. A passerby found him. An ambulance was called. He was in hospital for six weeks. His brain had swelled and holes had to be drilled into his skull to relieve the pressure. He was put into an induced coma for two weeks. Six of his ribs had been broken. So had his right arm. When he came out of it, he didn’t name the boys who had done it to him. He told the police he couldn’t remember who they were. Only he could remember.

His balance came back after a month. It took him a couple of days to start walking straight. Things he’d learned at school no longer made sense. The simplest things were no longer that simple. He didn’t like listening to his music anymore. He hated it. The comics didn’t make him laugh anymore, and he hated the stories because they were about people who had unique abilities he could never have. Instead he started to make his own comics. He wasn’t a good artist, but he was good enough, and he’d draw those kids who had hurt him, and he’d draw himself standing over those boys, and he’d draw different types of weapons and different ways to use them. Sometimes, when he wasn’t drawing, he’d sit in his room snapping the doors and wheels off his model cars. He heard his mother telling his aunty that he had changed, that something inside his head had been broken. He didn’t know what. His mother knew, and she’d explain it to him, but it just didn’t make sense. He was the same person, he felt the same—and yet he knew he had changed. Sometimes he’d forget things. Things before the beating were locked inside his memory for good, but some new things struggled to stick. He was always losing things, he couldn’t remember people’s names. But he didn’t forget the names of each of the boys who had done this to him. The police were still asking questions, only not as many now. They had moved on to other things. People forgot about what happened to Adrian.

He got his strength back. His balance came back. His mind started to heal. He would never be a hundred percent, but at least he could remember new things if he tried hard enough. However he saw things differently now. The kicks to his head, the swelling to his brain, it changed his perspective on life.

School was over for him. Even if he could have gone back, he wouldn’t have wanted to. What was he going to do, study to become an astronaut? The worst part was he couldn’t pour urine into the lockers of the boys who hurt him.

The best thing was it gave him more time to think about what he was going to do to them. Ever since then, he’s struggled to make friends. Now it’s looking like it might be the same with Cooper. Before the beating he wasn’t popular, but there were a couple of equally unpopular kids who would at least speak to him on occasion. If his mother were here, then at least there’d be somebody to comfort him, to calm him, to care that he’s upset. At least that’s the fantasy. His mother would do no such thing. She used to, a long time ago, until he started waiting outside his school and following those kids home who had hurt him. That’s when things got bad. It wasn’t long after this that his first mother sent him out here to the Grove and stopped being his mother.

It’s not fair, but things never are. Collecting Cooper is supposed to be the most exciting thing he has ever done, and these thoughts, along with Cooper’s actions, are bringing him down. There has to be a way to make Cooper like him. Cooper likes other people, which means it’s possible. He should go downstairs and ask Cooper who else has ever shown him such a respect as to want to own him for a collection! Who else thinks so much of Cooper’s work? Nobody!

He tries to tell himself Cooper just needs time to adjust, and remembers what it was like for himself when he was first brought out here, what it was like being in a foreign world, only for him it was worse, for him he was locked out here with dozens of other patients, some of them crazy, some of them mean, some of them crazy-mean, all of them set free three years ago when Grover Hills was shut down. He reminds himself he knew Cooper’s anger was always going to be a possibility.

Tomorrow his gift will go a long way to fixing any problems between them. For now, he should rest for the remainder of the day, and then sleep on it. Like his mother—not his real mother who abandoned him, but his second mother who looked after him and the others who were different—used to say, “A problem with rest becomes a solution most best.” He’s not so sure if his mother was right on that one.

He paces his bedroom, counting the footsteps, finding comfort in the familiar. He used to pace this room a lot as he grew from teenager to man. Sometimes he’d have the room to himself, other times he’d have to share it and there would be less room for his footsteps. The higher the number, the calmer he becomes. He prefers even numbers over the odd, and makes sure he always finishes his steps on a multiple of ten, having to either shorten or lengthen his stride to make it happen. He pushes everything from his mind until he reaches a thousand. A thousand is a good number, twice as good as five hundred, half as good as two thousand. A good, solid number, a multiple of ten and also a hundred, which itself is a multiple of ten. He sits down. He thinks about second impressions. He thinks about what he can do to make Cooper happy, and decides that giving the serial killer some books to read might help. It’s a great idea.

As quickly as the excitement comes, it disappears, replaced by a feeling of utter uselessness, a feeling he has been intimate with his entire adult life. Giving Cooper reading material is an idea to be proud of, but what he isn’t proud of is the fact it took so long for the idea to come. He should have known all along a man like Cooper needs to keep his mind active, stimulated, otherwise he’ll become stagnant. Collector’s items aren’t meant to be boring.

“Cooper will be so happy,” he says, knowing once he shares the idea the two of them will start to bond. For the last three years he’s been collecting books about serial killers. He loves reading them. They fascinate him. He picks up a handful of books from his bedroom and carries them to the basement. Cooper watches him coming down the stairs, his face in the small window, motionless. He looks gray, hollow, like a ghost who’s moved on to somewhere else.

“I brought you something to read,” Adrian says, holding up the books.

“Thank you. I appreciate that,” Cooper says and Adrian is pleased at his politeness. “Are you going to leave the lamp for me?”

“It’s the only one I have,” Adrian says, “and I’ll need it for when it gets dark.”

“Then how am I going to read?”

Adrian straightens up the coffee table and sits the books on them, embarrassed because he doesn’t have an answer. Parts of the sandwich have stuck to the surfaces it hit, and the bread has gone hard. He’ll clean it up tomorrow.

“Are you mad at me?” Adrian asks, not looking up. “Don’t you feel special?”

“I feel trapped,” Cooper answers. “You seem like an intelligent guy, you must be to have accomplished all this by yourself. You must have plenty of friends you can talk to, why do you need to keep me here?”

“I don’t have any friends,” Adrian answers, fiddling with the books so all the spines are perfectly aligned. “I used to, but they all left.”

“Come now, that can’t be true,” Cooper says. “A guy like you, you must have lots of friends.”

“Are you mocking me?” he asks, looking up.

“I don’t mock.”

“You should feel special,” Adrian says. “I mean, you’re one of most special people in this city at the moment. You’re a serial killer, and if that isn’t special, I don’t know what is.”

“Why do you think I’m a serial killer? What have I done to make you think that?”

“For one, you have a thumb in a jar. Serial killers collect things like that from their victims.”

Cooper smiles. “You think I cut the thumb off somebody I killed?”

Adrian likes seeing the smile, and he smiles too. “Didn’t you?”

Cooper nods, the smile still there. “Okay,” he says. “No more lies. You got me. Of course I cut it off one of my victims.”

“Why did you ask me before if I had sold it to you?”

“I’m not sure. I woke up feeling groggy and confused. Did you shoot me with a Taser?”


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