Saturday, March 31, 10:58 p.m.

After I left him sitting outside my house in his parked car, Jack got a call on his cell phone. It was Leo. His voice sounded wrong. Like there was something around his throat. A hand, maybe.

“Slaughterhouse,” Leo said.

That was all. The line went dead. It only took Jack a moment to realize what had happened.

“What happened?” I demand. “Spine? What did you do?”

“I’m getting to that,” Spine says, his voice infuriatingly unhurried through my cell phone. “I decided to take the bus today. Jenkins usually does it. But she wanted to head north to scoop up your boy Leo from that motel where you hid him. She always loathed him.”

“Who?”

“Jenkins. The nurse? You of all people should remember her name,” Spine chides. The timbre of his voice makes my skin crawl, like George W. Bush’s or Garrison Keillor’s.

“Anyway,” he continues so slowly he’s nearly drawling. “Guess who I found riding alone in the rear of the bus, all forlorn? Did I mention I was wearing my green priest’s cassock? I got it at a Halloween costume shop last year.”

green priest cassock

Oh God. Poor Lucy. She never stood a chance. In my dark living room, I sink down onto the couch and cradle my cell phone gingerly against my ear. I desperately want to hang up so that I don’t have to hear what he did to her.

“The kiddo was a mess,” Spine says. “She told me everything. The back row of an empty bus makes a great confessional—have you noticed that?”

“I don’t talk to people on the bus,” I say.

“Not any more, you don’t,” Spine says knowingly. “She does, though. She told me everything. That Christopher. What a sexual whack job.”

“Well, he wants to be a priest,” I say.

“And Lucy wants to be a nun,” Spine laughs. “But now she knows she can’t. After she finished blubbering, I took her hand and told her, ‘No, dear child of God, you are destined for greater things. You are destined to become a saint.’”

“She went with you, didn’t she?”

“Like a meek little lamb,” he says. “She wants to be a martyr from way back. She’s so hard core.”

sacrificial lamb false memoir

“Tell me you let her go,” I say. “You just scared her a little, then you let her go.”

Spine laughs.

“What fun would that be? I took her to my lair. You hide out in a cheap motel room, I take over a slaughterhouse. That, my friend, is how I roll.”

“I’m not your friend,” I say. “Where are you right now? You’re not outside my house or in my downstairs bathroom or anything horror movie-esque, are you?”

“I am where I am. Don’t worry about it,” he says.

“But—”

“Do you want to hear this or not?”

I say nothing. Spine takes my silence as consent. How like him.

“I told her I could give her full absolution of her sins back at my special private cathedral. She bought it. She bought it right up until we got inside the slaughterhouse and she saw Leo hanging from one of the meat hooks.”

“You—”

“Oh, he wasn’t dead,” Spine hastens to amend. “Jenkins just trussed him up. She was standing beside him, laying out her scalpels.”

“Wait a minute,” I say. “How did you get in there? Isn’t the slaughterhouse still in operation?”

“No, those industrious Indians closed it down. The casino business is booming.”

“But…aren’t there fences and locks? Video surveillance? Something?”

“This is my story. Let me tell it my way,” Spine says. “You are obsessed with facts, aren’t you? You think that if you can get the details of every tree just right, you’ll understand the forest. You’re fatally short sighted, you know that?”

“What did you do to Lucy? And Leo?”

“The thing is, I am so much more than the sum of my psychoses. You’ll never figure me out. Have you finally accepted that?”

“Spine! Tell me what you did!”

“It’s not what I did…it’s what Jack did.”

I have to hold the cell phone with both hands to keep from dropping it. My fingers are numb and my hands are shaking terribly.

“Did you kidnap him, too?”

Spine sighs slowly.

“You have no imagination,” he says. “I did no such thing. No, good old Jack showed up, a cavalry of one, gun drawn and ready for a fight.”

“Gun? Since when does he have a gun?”

“You tell me,” Spine says. “It was very inconvenient. Jenkins and I had Lucy hog tied. Leo was hanging from the hook, ready for a slow cutting. Worst possible moment to be interrupted. Terrible timing.”

“Did you—”

“If you don’t shut up, you’ll never hear the most important part,” he says. “So there we are, the nurse and me, scalpels at the ready, and Jack kicks in the door. Leo starts screaming, Lucy’s blubbering, and Jack’s pointing that gun all around, shouting, ‘Let her go! Let her go!’ Very action movie. Very climatic. I’ve got a blade pressing right against Lucy’s jugular. I know what I’m supposed to say. You know it, too, don’t you? Shall we say it together? ‘You thought you could save the day this time, Jack? You can’t. I’m going to rape and murder your daughter, just like your wife. Only this time, you can watch. It will destroy you.’”

“Oh my God…” I whisper.

“But…” Spine says. “As Jack was standing there wild-eyed, screaming at me to let his daughter go, I suddenly realized that I’m sick of being your puppet. So I decided to ruin everything for you.”

“What…what did you do?” I say.

Spine pauses luxuriantly.

“I told Jack the truth.”

“The truth?”

“I told him that you made all of this up.”

Even the combined grip of both of my hands on the phone is not enough. It slips out of my fingers and bounces across the carpet. I am stunned. And so very angry I can’t think. Several yards away, my cell phone jabbers with the electronic wryness of Spine’s voice. It’s several minutes before I can force myself to pick it up and bring it back to my ear.

“Hello? Katherine? Hello?” he’s saying in a tone of utter amusement.

“What the hell did you do that for?” I hiss. “Damn you! You’ve ruined everything!”

“Exactly!” he chuckles. “It worked out well.”

“This—you—this is why you got cut down to practically nothing in the final draft! You are so damned unpredictable! You never do what I want you to.”

“Have you considered that perhaps you’re a control freak?” he says merrily.

Who ever heard of a serial killer who is merry? He screwed up the tone of every passage I let him appear in. Now he’s gone and destroyed the entire plot at the eleventh hour.

“What am I supposed to do now?” I demand. “I should have gotten rid of you when I had the chance.”

“But then you would have had no antagonist,” Spine says.

“What about Leo?” I say.

Spine bursts out laughing.

“You’ve got to be kidding!”

“Okay. What about me?”

“You? You’ve got too much sympathy for your protagonist. Stick to the omniscient narrator gig.”

“I’m hardly omniscient,” I mutter. “I didn’t see this stunt of yours coming. How did Jack take it?”

“He’s a writer. His fevered brain grappled with it for a while, but then…I think I’ll let him tell you all about it himself. If he can,” Spine says ominously.

He hangs up on me. I sit in the dark for a long time, listening to the dial tone. Does he mean “if he can,” because it wasn’t my murder or Lucy’s murder, but self-knowledge that was destined to destroy Jack?

I should never have written so many drafts of the chapters Spine dominated in the early days, before I gave up and relegated him to “shadowy figure of menace.” All those rewrites made him self-aware, I think. Isn’t that what déjà vu feels like—a second draft of a scene you played once before, the familiar elements jumping into stark relief for an instant? I have a lot of those moments. I wonder who’s rewriting me?

 

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