The Forever Women
by Jon Wesick
"Just tell me and all this will stop." The man with the hideous face
plugged an extension cord into an outlet and steadied himself against the
wooden table while he caught his breath.
The plastic surgeons had done their best by stretching skin from his thighs
over what remained of his face but he had no nose or eyebrows.
"Anton, please! This isn't like you," the woman with violet eyes said. "I
know the man who set up clinics throughout Africa is still inside."
Naked except for her wedding ring, she sat arms and legs strapped to a
wooden chair. Her hair, at least the hair that hadn't been ripped from her
scalp, was black and shoulder length. Blood from numerous wounds covered
her skin and dripped on the concrete beneath the chair.
"Liar!" The man with the hideous face struck her with his good hand and
knocked a tooth loose. "You were in the same explosion as me. You walked
away unharmed and I ended up like this!" He pointed to his shriveled arm.
"I was lucky. Your body shielded me. Anton, just let me go. We'll forget
all about this and go back to the institute. There's so much good we can
"Enough of your lies. I want the truth." Anton plugged a circular saw into
the extension cord and approached the chair.
The saying that doctors make the worst patients does not apply to
psychiatrists, or at least it did not apply to Dr. Stephen Brexler. Despite
rigorous adherence to his oncologist's instructions, despite weeks of
nauseating chemotherapy and radiation, Dr. Brexler's cancer would not go
"Stephen Brexler," a therapist in floral scrubs called into the waiting
Brexler put down his magazine and followed her into one of the treatment
rooms where he removed his shirt and lay on the couch. He was in his
mid-sixties with a gray beard and thick shock of gray hair. His illness had
robbed him of his physique. His belly had gone to fat and his once muscular
arms were now sticklike.
"How are you doing, today?" Using the pendant hanging from a cable, the
therapist rotated the linac's gantry and centered the laser crosshairs on
the dot tattooed on Brexler's stomach.
"Be better if I was in Maui and had a girl like you on my arm," Brexler
The therapist smiled and stepped out of the room. The linac buzzed for
thirty seconds as it sent x-rays into the tumor in Brexler's abdomen. When
it stopped, the therapist entered, helped Brexler up, and began cleaning
the couch for the next patient.
"See you, tomorrow."
* * *
Call it vanity, but Brexler had kept his illness from his colleagues at
Saint Elizabeth's. His seniority helped. Psychiatrists were known to be
eccentric and anyone with his experience could get away with coming in late
and leaving early. He swiped his key card into the reader. The door buzzed
letting him into the locked ward. He'd worked at Saint Elizabeth's so long
that he hardly noticed the patients in bathrobes and slippers shuffling
like zombies or staring blankly at the TV. Doped into near catatonia by
powerful psych drugs, many lost motor control, their hands trembling as if
they had Parkinson's disease.
"Hope there's something more interesting than the usual eating disorders
today." Brexler picked up a handful of charts at the nursing station.
"Suicide attempt," the head nurse said. "Passed out when taking a power
tool to his head."
"Now that's the kind of novelty that gets me up in the morning. Send him in
once I get settled." Brexler got a coffee and took it to his office.
Once he went over the charts, he phoned the nursing station and asked that
they send the first patient in. The patient was the most hideous man
Brexler had seen in his life. Brexler's first reaction was to gasp but
through decades of training and practice he maintained a facial expression
that was both compassionate and accepting.
"Suicide attempt." Brexler put down the chart and looked at the patient's
face. "You must have been in a lot of pain to try something like that. Care
to tell me what's going on?"
The patient remained silent so Brexler continued.
"Your method was unusual. Most people try pills but it was almost like you
wanted to punish yourself. Why do you feel you deserved so much pain?"
Again, the patient remained silent.
"No matter what you've done, redemption is possible. I'd go as far to say
that redemption is life's sole purpose. It might not appear so, but the
universe is a loving place. In my career, I've seen miraculous examples.
Murderers, wife beaters, and child molesters have turned their lives
around, but they had to accept what they've done. The first step is
admitting your problem. Please tell me. I'm here to help."
While Brexler waited for reply, he searched the patient's face for some
hint of an emotion but the scarring made him impossible to read.
"Immortal life," the patient whispered.
"What was that?" Brexler leaned closer not sure he'd heard correctly.
"I was so sure she had the secret to immortal life. The car bomb in Africa,
the one that left me like this." The patient pointed to his face and ruined
arm. "I remember the shock, smell of burning flesh, my ears ringing. Before
I passed out, I held my wife in my arms. She had no pulse."
"You were in shock," Brexler said. "The mind plays tricks."
Brexler's words had the opposite effect of what he'd intended. The patient
let loose with a high-pitched wail.
"Then I killer her for nothing. I sawed off her limbs and cut out her
violet eyes to find a secret that doesn't exist." The patient hung his
"Anton ... can I call you Anton?" Brexler knew he'd have to notify the
police. "I know you're feeling hopeless now, but we'll do everything we can
to make you better."
After the patient left, Brexler wrote in the man's chart. The best he could
do was keep the patient's paranoid schizophrenia under control with a heavy
dose of Haldol.
Flesh sought flesh. A severed arm fought its way out of a weighted garbage
bag and moved as if drawn to a bit of torso. Feet found legs. Legs found
hips. In the weedy muck at the bottom of a lake, a woman's body knit itself
together as if the stagnant water were amniotic fluid. Supercharged cells
healed scars and repaired damage. The heart started to beat.
"Arrgh!" A gasping woman with violet eyes broke the water's surface.
The singers were just beginning the "Toreador Song" from Carmen when
Stephen Brexler's cell phone buzzed in his pocket. He made his way from his
private box to the lobby before answering.
"This is Dr. Brexler."
"Sorry to disturb you, sir. The police brought in a Jane Doe who was
wandering naked out by Miller's Lake. She's clearly suffered some kind of
trauma. Normally, she could wait until tomorrow but we're trying to collect
a rape kit and she won't let anyone near her."
"I'll be right in."
Brexler returned to his private box and said goodbye to the busty blonde
he'd treated after an uncle had raped her when she was a teenager.
Technically, he wasn't supposed to sleep with former patients, but with his
impending mortality he had little reason to follow the rules.
* * *
When Brexler entered the hospital room, the Jane Doe moved as far away from
him as the bed would allow. Knees to chest, she held the sheet in front of
her as if it were a shield. Strangely for someone who'd suffered an ordeal,
she had no cuts or bruises. From her smooth skin, Brexler guessed she was
in her early twenties. She wore a hospital gown, and twigs and bits of
leaves stuck to her matted hair. Her most startling features were her
violet eyes. Could she be the wife of the man with the hideous face?
Brexler took out his cell phone to get a picture.
"It's all right," Brexler said in his most soothing voice. "I'm here to
help. My name is Dr. Brexler. Can you tell me yours?"
When Brexler approached the chair by the bed, the woman turned away.
"Do you know where you are? Did somebody hurt you?"
The woman remained silent.
"Such pretty hair." Brexler held out a comb. "Do you want to neaten up a
The woman snatched the comb and returned to the far side of the bed where
she ran it through her tangles. While she tended to her hair, Brexler kept
up his patter.
"Can I get you anything? Some makeup? How about some clothes? These
hospital gowns are ghastly. Don't you think? What's your size?"
The woman remained silent.
"I've got an idea."
Brexler left the room and returned with a measuring tape. When he
approached, the woman shied away.
"Don't be silly. I need to get your size if you want new clothes. You do
want new clothes. Don't you?" Brexler ran the tape across the woman's
shoulders. "Now hold out your arm." When the woman complied, Brexler jabbed
a hypodermic needle into her bicep and plunged the sedative into her. "It's
okay." He patted her head. "Just a little something to help you sleep."
He caught her when she collapsed. As he laid her head on the pillow, he
noticed something odd. Needles usually leave a little pinprick or drop of
blood but her arm had none. He left the room and spoke with the OB/GYN on
"She'll be no problem. I gave her a sedative." Brexler turned to go and
stopped. "Oh, I have a hunch. Could you draw a little extra blood so I can
check it out? Thanks."
* * *
Next morning, Brexler phoned the woman's attending physician.
"Jim, this is Steve calling about your Jane Doe. I think we ought to
transfer her to psych. She seemed disturbed and I couldn't live with myself
if she harmed herself. She what? Transferred to a private clinic? When did
this happen? Okay, I guess we did our best."
The mystery nagged at Brexler. He dug around. The "private clinic" that had
taken the Jane Doe did not exist and its address was a vacant lot, so he
called the police and after several transfers got through to the detective
in charge of the case.
"Detective Lamar, this is Dr. Stephen Brexler at Saint Elizabeth's calling
in regards to the Jane Doe you brought in a few nights ago. I was the
consulting psychiatrist and thought my clinical impressions might help you.
It's clear she suffered some kind of trauma." Brexler went on with lots of
medical jargon. "Anyway, that's my medical opinion. Let me know if there's
anything I can do. I'm here to help. Oh, by the way, did you ever find out
who she was?"
"It's a funny thing," Detective Lamar said. "We checked her fingerprints
and they came back belonging to Rose Garibaldi. Only problem is Miss
Garibaldi was arrested in 1932 for moonshining."
"Wow! Glad to know my tax dollars are paying for such an outstanding
"Yeah. Thanks for your offer, Doc. If anything comes up, I'll be in touch."
After hanging up Brexler stared at the phone. Interesting. Very
interesting. He dialed the OB/GYN to get the sample of the Rose Garibaldi's
Jenny Manczarek didn't like her new name. "Jenny" sounded like an ungainly,
old airplane and everybody had trouble spelling the last part but Jenny
Manczarek was the only identity available after she's walked away from that
"fatal" car crash. It wasn't a bad life. In exchange for twenty hours of
work a week, the Sisterhood provided a place to live and paid her tuition.
Her work wasn't hard, mostly clerical tasks. When the new guest came to the
Clio Institute (named after the Muse of history), Jenny had to clean the
second floor because the housekeepers were no longer allowed there.
She collected a breakfast tray from Mrs. Sullivan in the kitchen and
carried it up the stairs where she ran her key card through the reader. The
lock buzzed and Jenny pushed the door open with her hip. On the way to the
guest's room, she plucked a carnation from one of the many bouquets and
placed it on the tray before using her key card to access the guest's room.
"Time for breakfast." Trying to keep the orange juice from spilling while
she closed the door behind her, Jenny looked down at the tray. "I have a
nice Denver omelet, whole wheat toast, and …"
Something heavy hit her from behind. Luckily for her, she'd turned so the
object thudded off her shoulder instead of her skull. Things went blank for
a second and then Jenny found herself rolling in broken glass on the floor.
Her left arm was numb and she tried to remember what the teacher had told
her in her self-defense class. She drew a blank. Someone was screaming and
it wasn't her. Jenny had enough presence of mind to roll her body into a
ball and get her legs between her and her opponent. She kicked out and
landed a lucky hit. Her attacker stumbled back and tripped just as Diane
and two other women rushed into the room. All three piled onto the guest
and held her down until Diane could inject a sedative.
"Are you okay?" Diane asked Jenny once they'd strapped the guest to her
Jenny sat up. A shard of broken glass had pierced her palm and her hand was
slick with blood.
"Come on." Diane wrapped Jenny's hand in a napkin. "Let's get you to a
Medical care was not strictly necessary. Jenny's body could easily repair
her injuries, but Diane Krall knew from personal experience that new
members needed the reassurance that the Sisterhood took care of its own.
She took Jenny to the office of a sympathetic doctor who the Sisterhood
compensated generously for her discretion. By the time they returned to the
Institute with a bottle of painkillers, Jenny had practically healed her
After she got Jenny squared away, Diane returned to her office, set her
purse by the desk, and stood looking out the window. She needed a new way
to deal with Rose. Time and a caring environment just weren't helping. If
the Sisterhood reduced Rose's diet to zero, it would force her body into
suspended animation for long-term storage, but they'd have to do that
elsewhere. Damn her for her stubbornness, anyway! Diane had warned her not
to marry Anton Jacquard. Mortals were fine for affairs but you could never
stick around for more than a few years. The phone rang.
"Who the hell is it now?" Diane picked up. "Hello."
"Diane, it's Salvador. Look, I don't think I can make it tonight. My pulse
rate is over ninety and my throat feels like it's full of broken glass."
Diane sat on her desk and played with the phone cord. After her hectic day
she would have enjoyed a quiet night in, but several members of the July 9
Collective were going to attend the private party, and Salvador was her
entrée. Besides, Rose would be asleep until morning.
"Sal, we already talked about this. You know you always get this way before
anything that will advance your career. It's some kind of self-sabotage
thing you have going on. Maybe if we had a few hundred hours to talk about
it, I could get to the bottom of your issues, but for now you need to get
going. I'll pick you up at eight. Wear something that will get you noticed,
because I surely will."
Dealing with artists could be exasperating, but after living for hundreds
of years, Diane found ordinary people dull. Only creatives drew her
attention, not that she had any special intellectual gifts. The only reason
she could keep up was that she'd had lifetimes to study, and with her
experience she liked to think she helped them along. It was a win-win.
Scientists and artists amused her, and she, in turn, offered them guidance.
Diane selected a silvery, floor-length gown with a zipper that could expose
her right breast. To this she added a single earring that dangled to her
shoulder. A limousine would make the best impression, so she had the
chauffeur take her in the Institute's Bentley. Salvador had certainly
dressed, or undressed, to be noticed. He'd shaved his hair and covered his
skin with blue body paint. A variety of shapes decorated the background,
including a red lightning bolt descending the shaft of his penis.
"Well done!" Diane kissed Salvador on the cheek. "Now try not to get any of
that on my seats." She took a mirror out of her purse to see if any blue
had rubbed off on her lips.
Salvador had been tight-lipped about the event's location. When he finally
gave the address, it turned out to be an E Z Rest motel. Either due to
lowbrow chic or lack of funds, the organizers had rented the entire second
floor. In the elevator, Diane unzipped her gown to show her breast. When
the door opened, a woman in dominatrix garb greeted them.
"Welcome to where all your desires come true. Find a play room and enjoy."
The doors were open and all the motel rooms contained people having sex.
"Salvador, you cheeky bastard!" Diane wagged her finger. "You brought me to
"I thought maybe we could …" Salvador tried to put his arm around
"And ruin your paint job?" Diane pulled away. "Absolutely not!"
He followed her helplessly as she searched the rooms for the artist she'd
come to see. She finally found Bjorn Hammersmith on top of a sallow blonde
woman in room 219. He was an overweight man with a hairy back. What
remained of the hair on his head was bushy and auburn. Diane took the chair
by the desk and waited for Bjorn to finish while Salvador stood outside the
doorway. Even for an exhibitionist like Bjorn, a strange woman watching him
was too much. He turned his head and asked, "What do you want?"
"Salvador," Diane yelled. "Get in here!"
Salvador ducked inside and kept his eyes focused on the carpet.
"This is Salvador. Don't ask me how he does it but he makes holograms of
the 3-D projections of four-dimensional objects. Obviously, there are a lot
of math and computers involved. Since higher dimensions inspire the New
Cubism that you represent, the two of you need to talk. I'll leave you to
it." Diane picked up her purse and left.
A blonde man with a mustache and a weightlifter's physique caught her eye.
A flirtatious look was all it took to convince him to ravish her while she
waited for Salvador to finish his conversation. Diane lost track of time.
After she finally said goodbye to her lover, she found Salvador standing by
the elevator. The paint on his body was as immaculate as when he'd arrived.
"Where have you been?" he snapped.
"Having a marvelous conversation with Dwayne." Diane zipped up her dress
and pushed the button to call the elevator. "Have you been standing here
the whole time?"
The limousine's back seat was too small to contain Salvador's hurt and a
conversation at the same time. Diane found his attitude, like that of most
men, childish. Did he think he could control her body just because he
brought her to an event, or that she was some kind of prize to be won by
his artistic talent? And now, in spite of his hurt feelings, his lightning
bolt was getting bigger.
"Darling, not now. It's been a long night."
"Just a little touch." Salvador tried to place Diane's hand on his penis.
"Sal, we talked about this." Diane pulled her hand away. "Ours is an
"But there's no one else I feel closer to than you."
"If you really learn what a woman wants, then maybe we'll see."
* * *
Jenny was watching a comedy in her room when the two women who'd helped
restrain Rose dropped by.
"We thought we'd check on how you're doing," Nancy Ludwick, the more
athletic of the two, said. "Today's events must have been pretty scary."
"And I baked brownies." Fern Walters held up a plate and the brownies gave
off a delicious aroma. She was a tall earth mother with dark, bushy hair.
Nancy sat on the chair by the desk and Fern perched on the foot of Jenny's
bed. Like most lesbian couples alive in the 1950s, Fern and Nancy avoided
displays of affection in public. No matter how much society changed, that
paranoia was baked into their character.
"What's that woman's story, anyway?" Jenny bit into a brownie and tasted
the bitterness of dark chocolate with the sweetness of dried cherries.
"You mean Rose?" Nancy looked at Fern.
"Rose's kind of a free spirit," Fern said. "It's always gotten her into
"She's reckless!" Nancy said.
"And you're not?" Fern's smile indicated she and Nancy had had this
"If my parachute doesn't open, I'll have a painful recovery but I won't put
the Sisterhood at risk."
"I don't understand," Jenny said. "How did Rose put us at risk?"
Fern and Nancy looked at each other.
"The thing is." Fern took Jenny's hand. "Women like us can't marry men. It
would bring a lot of unwanted attention when they notice we aren't aging
like they are."
"People fear what they don't understand," Nancy said. "If mortals found out
about us, they might lock us up."
"Or worse," Fern said.
Jenny Manczarek took a seat in back of the lecture hall, set up her laptop
on the fold-down writing surface, and waited for her Psych 101 class to
"Hey Jenny," a blonde with a ponytail said. "Marci and I are going to see
Jane's Agenda at Basho's Frog Pond on Friday. Want to come?"
"Yeah, sounds good."
"Okay, let's get started." A professor with a chest-length beard tapped the
microphone. "Today's guest lecturer is Dr. Stephen Brexler who's been the
chief psychiatrist at Saint Elizabeth's for over twenty years. I first met
Dr. Brexler when I did my internship. He was demanding but always
insightful. Today, he's going to talk about some new work with PTSD.
Brexler came to the microphone.
"Thank you, Bill. I must say, I've never seen such an intelligent-looking
class before." Brexler waited for the applause to die down before
continuing. "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a debilitating condition
that affects people who have survived traumas, such as soldiers, or rape
victims. I could quote statistics but it might be more meaningful to
describe the struggles of one of my patients. Let's call him Alex.
"Alex is a veteran of the Iraq war who saw a roadside bomb decimate his
platoon. On his return from combat, he suffered insomnia, and loud noises
sent him scrambling for cover. He had rages and abused his wife. The court
ordered him into therapy, which is how I met him. Antidepressants didn't
work and he resisted cognitive behavioral therapy. Then we tried a new
treatment. MDMA, what you call Ecstasy."
As always, that part got the students' attention. Brexler described how
MDMA affected neurotransmitters, summarized the thinking on how this
supercharged talk therapy, and cautioned that the clinical use differed
from use as a club drug.
"The result is that after just three treatments, Alex is doing fine,"
In actual fact, the patient did not exist. "Alex" was a composite of the
patients Brexler had read about in medical journals. After class, a mob of
fawning undergraduates pestered Brexler with naïve questions. He was
used to it. People clung to the notion that psychiatrists had some kind of
mystical knowledge of the mind that could free them from conflict and
sadness, when in reality, all Brexler did was prescribe pills. He answered
questions graciously, and then a woman with violet eyes approached.
"My aunt sounds a lot like Alex," Jenny said. "Nothing seems to help. Do
you think MDMA would work on her?"
"Tell me more," Brexler replied.
* * *
Rocco Entebbe couldn't believe his luck. By agreeing to perform a simple
kidnapping, he'd been released from the forensic psychiatry unit after
serving less than a year of what could have been a decade's commitment.
Compared to the alternative, staking out a secluded mansion and dealing
with colleagues who didn't appreciate the fine art of ritual murder were
minor annoyances at best.
Rocco drained a cup of cold coffee and opened the Ford Transit's door with
the intention of relieving himself in the bushes when an ambulance drove
past. It was one of those white and orange vans with a square back and
six-pointed Caduceus symbols on the sides.
"Look alive, people," Rocco radioed over the walkie-talkie. "This could be
Rocco pulled the black ski mask over his face and checked that his AK-47
had a round chambered. Rocco preferred American firearms for personal
defense, but nothing beat a Russian gun's intimidation factor. Minutes
later the ambulance exited the tree-lined drive.
"Target is an ambulance heading east on Hemlock," Rocco radioed. "Intercept
at point bravo."
Once the ambulance was a few blocks ahead, Rocco put his van in gear and
followed close enough to keep his target in sight but not so close as to
arouse suspicion. The key to a successful grab was superior force. You want
to hit your target so hard and fast that resistance is unthinkable.
Allowing your victim the faintest possibility of resisting is what gets
"Twenty seconds out." Rocco closed the gap with the ambulance as it rounded
a blind corner.
The ambulance skidded to a stop in front of a dump truck and imposter
signalman blocking the road. Rocco parked close to its bumper to prevent
his target from backing away.
"Now! Now! Now!" Rocco grabbed his AK-47 and jumped out.
A half-dozen masked men with guns drawn surrounded the ambulance.
"Out of the car, motherfuckers!"
A gunman yanked open the door and dragged the driver out of the cab. Within
seconds the scene was secured, with the driver and attendant face down and
zip-tied on the grass. Rocco checked in back of the ambulance. As expected,
the woman's face matched the photo the doc had given him. Even better, her
hands and feet were already tied to the gurney.
"Help me move her."
Two gunmen transferred the woman and gurney to Rocco's van.
"Thank you, gentlemen." Rocco handed out envelopes of cash. "Follow the
getaway plan and perhaps we can do business again."
Once the gunmen cleared his path, Rocco drove off at an easy pace toward
the rendezvous. Fifty thousand dollars was almost in his pocket and he
didn't want to blow it by arousing some traffic cop's suspicion. He peeled
off the ski mask and put on the radio. Fifty thousand bucks! It was not
enough to retire on but it would cover his living expenses for a year or
two. Maybe he could allow himself a little indulgence, a month in Honduras
or El Salvador, where a few extra corpses wouldn't arouse suspicion. It
might be better to invest in his "business." What kind of armament could he
buy to make his service more competitive? Lost in thoughts of a bright
future, Rocco only noticed the woman had snuck behind him when she slit his
throat with a razor blade.
Dr. Stephen Brexler ordered oatmeal and handed the waitress his menu. He
preferred eggs and hash browns to oatmeal, but the new chemo drugs made him
nauseous and he didn't want to associate vomiting with the foods he loved.
Brexler looked around the diner. If the drugs made him queasy at the sight
of Formica tables, booths upholstered with orange plastic, and customers
with stringy hair and tattoos, it would be no great loss. The waitress set
a bowl of oatmeal and a glass of tomato juice in front of him.
"Get you anything else, honey? Some coffee maybe?"
"No thanks." The thought of coffee almost made Brexler retch.
He forced himself to eat one slimy spoonful after another. If the abduction
went as planned, he'd need his strength for a long day at the lab. In was
funny how things worked out. A decade ago, he was furious with
animal-rights protesters. Now he was grateful. If not for them, he wouldn't
have access to a secluded lab with tight security. The cages were big
enough to hold the Jane Doe and no one would hear her screams through the
sound-proof walls. He stared out the window at a woman with a tramp stamp
climbing out of a pickup truck. His cell phone rang.
"Dr. Brexler, this is Detective Jim Lamar at Metro PD. Is this a convenient
time to ask a few questions?"
"Always happy to help our boys in blue," Brexler said.
"Did you treat a Rocco Entebbe?"
"The court ordered him committed to Saint Elizabeth's after the jury found
him not guilty of murder by reason of insanity. I'm the chief
"And you released him?"
"In my expert opinion, medication controlled his impulses well enough that
he could be reintroduced to society. Unfortunately, one can never be one
hundred percent sure in cases like this. Did something happen?" Brexler
tried to keep the worry out of his voice as he crumpled a napkin. That
little weasel Rocco was probably ratting him out right now.
"We found him dead in a stolen van."
Brexler sighed in relief. "Do you have a suspect?"
"Whoever did it got away clean," Lamar said. "Did he tell you anything that
might help us find his killer?"
"Detective, as you know, I'm bound by doctor-patient confidentiality so,
for example, I could never tell you if Mr. Entebbe frequented sadomasochism
"Got you, doc. Thanks."
"I'm here to help." Brexler put away his phone.
He pushed the bowl of oatmeal away in disgust. He wouldn't be going to the
lab, today. With the Jane Doe in the wind, he might never be going. If he
couldn't find her, there was always the possibility of a relative with
* * *
It was a slow night. Crystal's only action was a trucker in a plaid shirt
who dumped her in the woods when he found out what she was packing under
her fishnet stockings. The long walk back to Fourteenth Street raised
blisters on her heels because they just don't make women's shoes big enough
for her feet.
The blisters caused a dilemma. Ordinarily she'd warn people away from
Rachel's corner, but her feet were just too damn sore to hobble over and
talk some sense to the new girl. Why did Crystal have to be the Good
Samaritan all the time? Then the thought of Rachel's old man taking a razor
to the new girl's face got the better of Crystal. Wincing and cursing on
each painful step, she walked over.
"Can't stand here, honey. This is Rachel's corner and she gets mighty
possessive," Crystal took the girl's arm. "Come on and stand with me. Our
customers aren't as swank but we do okay."
They stood there for what seemed like hours. Occasionally, a car would slow
but no one stopped. It didn't help that the new girl refused to talk.
Conversation would have helped pass the time. Crystal was about ready to
pack it in when a high roller pulled up in an Audi.
"Hey baby, you want to party?" Crystal leaned into the open window and
could almost smell the money seeping from the man's pores. He seemed more
like one of Rachel's clients but you never knew. Some guys got off on
"girls" who were a little trashy.
"How are you going to show me a good time?" the man asked.
"You get all this for two hundred dollars." Crystal raised her skirt,
pulled down her panties, and gave a glimpse of her penis. As a tranny,
Crystal found it best to let clients know what they were getting beforehand
to avoid misunderstandings that could lead to a beating.
The client paused as if for some internal debate and then pulled away from
"Wait! Wait!" Crystal pointed to the new girl. "Two for one."
"You heard the customer." Crystal waved to the new girl. "Come on!"
They drove off with the new girl in back and Crystal riding shotgun.
"Haven't seen you around before, baby. New in town?" Crystal asked.
"Don't get out much."
"I hear you. Busy man like yourself has to make the most of his precious
free time. I know a nice motel we can go to."
"I got a place," the client said. "No one will disturb us."
"What's the matter with her?" The client gestured toward the girl in back.
"Can't she talk?"
"Baby, she prefers to use her mouth for other things."
They drove to a secluded house that was all angles, blond wood, and picture
windows looking out on a lake. Lost in thoughts of being the lady of a
house where she could fall asleep to the sound of crickets instead of
blaring stereos and yelling neighbors, Crystal walked through the front
door and circled the living room, taking in the sectional couch and
"Let's get the business out of the way so we can enjoy ourselves," Crystal
"There'll be a little extra for you depending on how adventurous you are."
"We don't do no rough stuff," Crystal put the money away and set her purse
on the couch, "but you better believe we can make you happy." She got on
her knees and unzipped the client's pants.
It happened so fast, Crystal wasn't sure what went wrong. Most clients grew
as sleepy as a breast-fed baby after they came but this guy's orgasm only
fueled his rage. Instead of a head on her shoulder, Crystal found a pair of
hands around her neck. She struggled for breath but her vision narrowed and
then went black.
When Crystal came to, the new girl was squatting over the client's dead
body. Blood soaked the carpet and the new girl's clothes. It took Crystal
several minutes to recover from the shock. Then she realized they had to
get out of there. Even though it was self-defense, prosecutors loved to pin
murders on prostitutes, especially the cross-dressing kind. But the new
girl was covered in blood.
"Just wait here, honey," Crystal said, "and don't touch anything."
Careful to avoid stepping in the pooling blood, Crystal searched the dead
man's home for a change of clothing. Wrapping a towel around her hand to
avoid leaving fingerprints, she opened drawers and closets finding a track
suit, garbage bags, and some spare cash. While the new girl changed,
Crystal fished the car keys out of the dead man's pocket. They bagged the
knife, towel, and bloody clothes; wiped surfaces to remove fingerprints;
locked the door on the way out; and drove the Audi back to town. Crystal
parked in an alley a few blocks from her studio apartment.
"You got a place to stay?" Crystal asked.
The new girl shook her head.
"Well, come on, then. Saving my life entitles you to a few month's rent at
Crystal wiped the car's interior for fingerprints and looked at the keys in
the ignition. Her plan had been to leave them but, on second thought,
having a car could be useful. She pocketed the keys and tossed the bag of
bloody clothing in a random dumpster. The new girl followed her onto a side
street, up a dingy stairwell, and waited while Crystal unlocked the door.
"Come on in. It ain't much, but it's home."
"Thank you," the new girl said in a voice barely louder than a whisper.
"You can talk?"
In response, the new girl reached for Crystal's penis, maneuvered her to
the unmade bed, and made tender love to her.
* * *
Dwayne Telluride's need for intimacy got lost in the shuffle somewhere
between the constant, twelve-hour workdays and corporate moving him to a
new city. He tried online dating but the women he met weren't worth the
effort. All they did was parrot the vapid drivel they heard on gossip shows
and cable news without a critical thought getting between their ears and
mouths. It didn't help that he was un-athletic and five feet seven inches
tall. The jocks turned salesmen got all the women while he spent nearly a
decade without getting laid. If he hadn't taken desperate action, he could
have waited another ten years, which was why he was cruising 14th Street in his Toyota Prius on a Saturday evening. For a few
hundred bucks, he could get a blow job in the front seat or maybe some
missionary in a seedy motel. It would be enough to numb the pain of
loneliness and desperation for a few weeks.
The whores were out in force. Dwayne maneuvered his car into the traffic
jam of johns whose purpose was the same as his. He didn't mind the wait. He
enjoyed the anticipation. Short skirts, side boob, and torn nylons - he
liked his girls a little trashy. An Asian woman in an evening gown knocked
on his window.
"Hey baby, you looking to party?"
"Not tonight, honey. I'll try you next time." Dwayne continued window
His heart nearly stopped when the woman with violet eyes opened her robe
and treated him to a view of the thatch between her legs. Dwayne gave a
nod, pressed the remote lock control, and she was inside.
"Hi, I'm Dwayne."
The woman spoke with her hands by reaching for Dwayne's zipper.
"Don't talk much, huh?" Dwayne turned at the next intersection. "Let's go
someplace more private."
He drove to the old Bell Refrigerator plant and parked in back of an
abandoned warehouse. Dwayne would have preferred a little small talk but
the woman had him unzipped and out of his pants before he could say a word.
He knew he should reach for the condoms in his glove compartment but the
woman's mouth and hands felt so good that he merely leaned back and hoped
he'd be lucky.
Rose snuck her hunting knife out of her purse and plunged it into his
* * *
The scene outside Solstice City's police headquarters was a circus.
Antennas sprouted like agave stalks from news vans parked in front.
Screaming and waving placards with words like "faggot" and "whore," members
of the Evangelical Assembled Temples blocked the entrance. Escorted by two
uniformed officers, Detective Jim Lamar made his way through the chaos and
into the conference room, where the chief of police was briefing reporters
on the hunt for the serial killer.
"Ladies and gentlemen, may I present the head of our task force, Detective
James Lamar." The police chief shook Lamar's hand. "Jim, thanks for taking
time out from the investigation. I'll turn it over to you."
"Thank you, chief." Lamar turned to the reporters. "As you know, several
men have been murdered in the municipal area. We believe they were clients
of a male prostitute. A witness saw one victim talking to this man who we
consider a person of interest." Lamar spoke to the officer running the
slide show. "Do we have the artist's rendering, Dave?" The computer
projected a drawing of a man wearing teardrop sunglasses and a hoodie. "If
you have any information about this man's identity please call the Solstice
City police. In conclusion, I'd like to say that prostitution isn't a
victimless crime. The only way to stay safe is to keep away. Thank you."
"Detective! Detective!" reporters called as Lamar walked away.
* * *
Despite his role as the lead investigator, Detective Lamar missed the
streets, so, disguised by a baseball cap and driving an old Camaro, he went
undercover on a Saturday night. Like a window-shopping debutante, he
cruised 14th Street looking at prostitutes. Despite the murders,
business was brisk. A bottle blond in torn nylons leaned into the SUV in
front of him and got in after a brief negotiation. Lamar pulled to the curb
in front of a six-foot transvestite in a fake fur jacket.
"Hey baby, I'm Crystal. You want to party?"
"Depends," Lamar said. "Can a big, strong girl like you be gentle?"
"Baby, I can be as rough or as gentle as you need." Crystal got in and
touched Lamar's knee as the Camaro pulled away from the curb. "Baby, you
got strong legs, a real man's legs."
"Is there somewhere more private we can go?" Lamar asked.
"Yeah, I know a place. Turn right at the next stop."
Following Crystal's directions, Lamar drove to a warehouse and parked
behind a loading bay. "Isn't this romantic?"
"Fifty for oral. A hundred without a condom."
"Got your money right here." Lamar reached into his pocket and took out his
"Oh, shit!" Crystal took off her wig and started to cry. "I can't go back
"Nobody's going to jail." Lamar put his badge away. "You're going to help
me catch the Slasher."
* * *
Detective Jim Lamar was used to being the hunter, not the hunted. As such
he failed to notice the beige Hyundai that had tailed him from 14th Street. The looks of the driver belied his true nature as if
he were a cartoon chipmunk who carried a hidden machete. Melvin Newton
stood five feet six inches tall, had male pattern baldness, and wore
plastic framed glasses. He was fond of popsicles and often wore a
sweatshirt that said, "Ask me about my grandkids."
Like all of Brexler's minions, Melvin came to the good doctor's attention
through the court system. The judge had ordered a psychiatric evaluation
after his arrest for online harassment. Brexler had expected a typical
grudge against mother figures but what he found was much worse. From the
age of eight, Melvin had tortured and murdered animals for his own
amusement. He was a full-blown sociopath and as such was very useful.
* * *
Crystal managed to hold together until after Lamar dropped her on the
street corner. As soon as the detective drove away, she sagged against a
light pole. Too agitated to work the streets, she needed some chemical
therapy and started toward home. Crystal had her faults but she was loyal.
Maybe the new girl was the Slasher but she'd saved Crystal's life. Crystal
flapped her blouse to help evaporate her sweat. She had to tell the cops
something but what? The TV news said the Slasher was some guy. Yeah, she
would tell the cops something like that.
Crystal kicked off her high heels, trudged up the stairs, and unlocked her
front door. Wearing only panties and a T-shirt, the new girl lay on the
bed. This further confused Crystal about her sexual identity but at least
it made her forget the oxy in the medicine cabinet.
* * *
Melvin stayed put when the cop drove away with the tranny. There was no
need to follow and risk giving himself away. He knew where he could find
her again. Over the next several days, he followed policemen and visited 14th Street at night, parking blocks away and eating lukewarm
General Tso's Chicken under fluorescent lights at Ha's Chinese.
It took a week until he spotted Crystal leaving and followed her to her
little apartment on Beacon Avenue. Before the curtains closed, he spotted
Brexler's girl in the window. She looked more well-groomed than in the
police photo but it was definitely her.
Melvin turned a corner and walked past three kids trying to break into a
newspaper box with baseball bats and tire irons. One looked up at him,
judged him no threat, and turned back to breaking open the change box.
Melvin continued walking toward his car. He'd tell the doc about the girl
but not yet. It took little imagination to realize she was mixed up with
the Slasher killings. This gave him a unique opportunity to indulge in his
hobby while letting her take the blame. He stopped at a Baskin Robbins and
ordered a double scoop of mint-chocolate-chip on a cone. Yes, he'd string
Brexler along while collecting per diem and having some fun on the side.
* * *
The EZ Rate Motel on Winslow Road did a good business with prostitutes and
their clients. Melvin watched them enter and exit from his parked car
across the street. Sometimes the whores left first; sometimes the johns.
Although he wouldn't mind cutting up some women, that would be inconsistent
with the Slasher's M.O. He had to settle for the men.
Melvin bided his time. A little after 10:00 PM, a red-head in thigh-high
boots led an Asian man up the stairs to room 213. Melvin had never killed
Asian before but he heard you got the urge to do it again an hour later. He
chuckled at his little joke and kept the binoculars trained on room 213.
His pulse quickened and he realized how much he wanted the woman to leave
first. Fifteen minutes later, he got his wish. Melvin dashed across the
street, bounded up the stairs, and knocked.
"Police! Open up!" He held a fake badge to the peep hole.
By the timid bow the Asian man gave as he opened the door, Melvin could
tell he was a foreigner. Melvin couldn't believe his luck. The Asian wore
only boxer shorts and his submissiveness in the face of authority would
make him an easy victim.
"You're under arrest for solicitation." Melvin turned him around and
handcuffed his hands behind his back.
* * *
Rick Stirling produced his TV show on the cheap. The set was nothing but
chairs, a few potted plants, and a desk he bought at Goodwill. His guests
eagerly paid their own expenses for the chance to spread their homegrown
conspiracy theories with the Dark Side's millions of viewers.
Between the ad revenues and low expenses, the show had made Stirling a
wealthy man. He started as always with a follow up on a previous guest.
"As I mentioned last week, the Rhode Island board is trying to revoke Dr.
Melvin Roadblock's medical license because he has the guts to tell the
truth about vaccination and autism. The board received so many e-mails from
our viewers that its website went off line, which just goes to show you
that you have to be more than politically active. You have to be
radioactive." This slogan made no sense even to Stirling but his viewers
ate it up. He adjusted some papers on his desk before introducing his first
"Merle Ives comes to us all the way from Solstice City." Stirling turned to
the bald man with a gray beard. "Merle, I understand you have some
information about the serial killer out there."
"That's right, Rick. I been living in Solstice City for thirty years,
almost as long as I been a member of the NRA. You see, owning a gun is the
right of every American. It's guaranteed in the Constitution …"
"Of course, Merle," Stirling interrupted, "but maybe you could tell our
viewers about the events on Saturday night."
"Well, I was coming out of the 7-Eleven when I heard some crying from over
in the alley. Turns out it was a lady. I said, 'Miss, are you all right?"
That's when she come at me with a knife."
"What did you do?"
"I did what every red-blooded American would have done. I shot her in the
chest with my Colt 1911. That didn't stop her so I put a round right
between her eyes."
"I high-tailed it out of there and called the police. When they got there,
that woman was gone. The cops arrested me for unlawful discharge of a
firearm. Even confiscated my gun. Hell, I had that pistol since Vietnam."
"Merle, I'm sorry I have to ask this. There are allegations that the
killer's victims bought sex from prostitutes. Is that what you were doing,
"No sir. I have nothing to do with that. I been happily married to my wife
Maureen for thirty-six years, but back to that night. Weird thing is the
hollow points I shoot pack enough punch to stop a charging rhino, yet that
woman must've walked away like they were gnats. Something fishy is going on
if you ask me."
"Strange happenings in Solstice City," Stirling said. "Is it a cover up or
just police incompetence? You be the judge. When we come back, we'll have
Dereck Dexter with new information on Area 51."
* * *
After Stirling's broadcast, feminists waving placards saying "Jail the
Johns," "Prostitution is Slavery," and "It's About Time" joined the
Evangelical protesters in front of police headquarters. A reporter stopped
Detective Lamar in front of the crowd.
"Detective! People are calling the killer the Female Avenger. What do you
think of the possibility that the killer is a woman?" The reporter shoved a
microphone in Lamar's face.
"The investigation is ongoing and we will look at all the evidence, but let
me state this. A police investigation is based on facts, not the fantasies
of a bunch of conspiracy theorists and whackos. Now, if you'll excuse me, I
have a killer to stop."
* * *
Diane Krall monitored the media circus from her office at the Clio
Institute. Her first priority was discrediting any witnesses of Rose's
immortality. Merle Ives' social media accounts were easy to break into.
Once she had access, she set about liking every conspiracy page she could
from Merle's Facebook account as well as posting paranoid tweets in his
name at 3:00 AM.
* * *
"Welcome back to the Rick Stirling Show. Last week's interview with Merle
Ives exposed a police cover up of the Solstice City Slasher case. We've
located another witness to the event. Please welcome Martin O'Connell."
The audience applauded as a man with a chest-length white beard, held in
place by a clip under his chin, took his seat.
"Now Martin, you were present when Merle was attacked?"
"Indeed, I was, Rick. It happened just like he said."
"Take us through the events of that night."
"Well, I had myself a wee bit of whiskey and stopped by that alley to drain
the pickle, if you know what I mean. That's when I saw her. I could tell by
her eyes she was one of the mole women who live in a vast city at the
center of the earth. Periodically, they come to the surface to mate with
humans but you've got to give them something shiny. Tin foil or a piece of
broken glass will do. When I was a younger man, I took advantage of the
mole women's charms. Let me tell you."
This story made even Stirling skeptical. He fidgeted with his papers while
occasionally shooting angry looks at his producer.
"Anyway," Martin continued. "I tried to warn Mr. Ives, but I was too late.
The damn fool shot the mole woman in the head but fortunately for her, mole
women's brains are located in their backsides. After Merle ran away like a
scared girl, the mole woman scampered down the storm drain. Wouldn't worry
about her, though. They got great medicine. Hell, one of their underground
mushrooms even cured my lung cancer."
"That's quite a story," Stirling said. "Mole women? Underground cities? You
be the judge. After the break, we'll replay a report by Dereck Dexter."
* * *
"Last round, boys."
"Give me another Anchor." Joe Taylor watched the bartender's behind as she
bent to retrieve the bottle.
If he were more cautious, he would have passed up that last drink but it
was only beer. Besides he could drive the deserted stretch of road between
the Hideaway and his shit-box apartment with his eyes closed. It would be
different if he still lived at the house but his ex-wife got that. At least
the bitch didn't get his Dodge Charger.
After downing the beer and settling his tab, Taylor walked out to the
neon-lit parking lot where his Charger lurked like a mountain lion about to
pounce. He ran a hand over the graceful curve of its hood. It sure was a
beautiful machine. He was a little buzzed but didn't want to wait around
for an hour and taking a cab was a waste of money.
He got behind the wheel and turned the key. The big engine rumbled like
artillery taking out Taliban. Taylor cleared the parking lot and set out on
the deserted stretch of County Road 22. It was a lovely night. The moon
peeked through a gap in the cloud cover and trees twice a man's height grew
near both shoulders making the road seem enclosed and sheltered. Taylor
rolled down the window. Steering with one hand, he reached for a pack of
cigarettes while he took a corner. A ghostly woman in some kind of
nightgown appeared in his headlights. Taylor slammed on the brakes but was
too late. The Charger hit the woman with a sickening crunch.
Taylor smacked his head on the steering wheel, came to moments later, and
got out from behind the wheel. The front end of his car was mangled and
steam hissed from his radiator.
"Jesus! Jesus!" Taylor approached the woman lying in the road, touched her
neck, and felt no pulse. "No! No!" he screamed at the moon. "What the fuck
am I supposed to do now?"
If they convicted him of drunk driving, he'd lose his license and his job.
Taylor thought fast. The coming rain would wash away the evidence and his
cousin ran a garage that would fix his car, no questions asked. All he had
to do was hide the body.
"I'm never going to drink again." Taylor grabbed the woman's wrists and
began dragging her into the bushes.
Her violet eyes popped open.
"Fuck!" Taylor dropped her arms and backed away.
So much for his plan. Joe Taylor was careless but he was not an evil man.
When confronted with an injured woman, he did the right thing.
"Come on, honey. Let's get you to the hospital." Taylor moved close with
the intention of carrying her to his car.
The woman with violet eyes disemboweled him with a hunting knife.
* * *
"All right! Listen up!" Detective Lamar yelled at the gathered
investigators. "This is Dr. Stephen Brexler, who's chief psychiatrist at
Saint E's. I've asked him to offer his insights about the Solstice City
Whatever their race or gender, each of the dozen detectives gave Brexler a
skeptical cop stare. Brexler took in the tired eyes, pistols on hips, and
garbage can overflowing with coffee cups as he walked to the podium. Tacks
held grisly photos of victims to a cork board and the names of witnesses
scrawled across giant sheets taped to the walls.
"Thank you, Detective Lamar." Brexler turned to the others and began laying
out the smokescreen that would let him catch the Jane Doe before the police
did. "Criminal investigative analysis, or profiling, has proved helpful in
solving high-profile cases. James Brussels' analysis helped catch the Mad
Bomber, Henry Schlossberg advised police on the Son of Sam case, and the
FBI has a Behavioral Science Unit in Quantico, Virginia. As to my
qualifications, I've consulted as a forensic psychiatrist on several trials
and taken the month-long training at BSU. Only you can solve the case, but
I might provide some insight.
"When I look at the crime-scene photos, I can tell that we're dealing with
a disorganized killer. The murders are unplanned and there is no attempt to
hide the bodies. Since most victims are the customers of prostitutes, I'd
say the killer is confused about his sexuality. Most likely, he grew up in
a strict, religious household. He may have worked as a male prostitute or
had a relationship with a female prostitute. Clearly, he's acting on some
kind of grudge. Possible his prostitute girlfriend or daughter got hurt in
the trade, or perhaps the killings are payback for contracting a venereal
"Could the killer be a woman?" a detective asked.
"Very unlikely," said Brexler, who knew better. "It's possible, but male
serial killers outnumber females by something like a hundred to one. In any
case, these are my initial observations. Unfortunately, there's only one
way to sharpen the profile. As the killer commits more murders, his pattern
becomes clearer. So, if you find my analysis helpful, please keep me in the
loop. Thank you."
* * *
Brexler went straight from the police station to an appointment with his
oncologist. As a professional courtesy, Dr. Alvin White met him in his
office instead of a sterile exam room.
"Stephen," Dr. White took a seat behind his mahogany desk and looked at
Brexler's chart. "I got the results of your latest scan and I'm afraid it's
not good news. The chemo and radiation haven't worked."
"Let me see." Brexler took the chart.
"I could tell you that there are experimental treatments, but we both know
they'd only cause needless pain." Dr. White ran his hands through his curly
hair. "My advice is to make the most of the months you have left." He wrote
on a prescription pad. "This will help with the pain. I'm also referring
you to Dr. Grey. He's the best palliative medicine specialist in the city."
Brexler took the prescription. For once he was at a loss for words.
"Stephen, I'm sorry."
* * *
Brexler stayed on the ward at Saint Elizabeth's long after his shift ended.
Around midnight he walked the neon-lit hall to the drug locker and used his
key to enter. The administration limited access to the room and did a
strict inventory of all narcotics, but that wouldn't matter after Brexler
injected enough morphine to stop his heart. Brexler still had a little time
left, but it was reassuring to know he had an easy way to end it.
He turned off the light and went back to his office. By now the ward was
deserted except for sleeping patients and the night staff. He couldn't bear
to return to his empty house. Like it or not, this hospital was where he
belonged. With nothing to do at this hour, he began to clean out his old
e-mails and found the report on the Jane Doe's blood test in his spam
directory. No drugs in her blood, and she was AB negative just like him.
On a whim, he went to the refrigerator that held samples and found the vial
of her blood in back. He had nothing to lose and no time to waste. Brexler
took it and a hypodermic needle back to his office where he stuck the
needle though the vial's rubber cap and withdrew the plunger to transfer
the contents. He rolled up his sleeve and tied an elastic band around his
upper arm until the veins in his forearm stood to attention. Gently he
inserted the needle into one and plunged the syringe's contents into his
* * *
Next morning, Brexler woke up in his chair, his face against his desk. He
sat up and rubbed the drool out of the corner of his mouth and felt the
indent the writing pad had made on his cheek. He was hungry. He started
toward the hospital cafeteria, but gluey oatmeal was not what he wanted.
Now that his stomach was back online he wanted buttery toast, hash browns,
a Denver omelet, and sausages, the juicy kind dripping with artery-clogging
fat. And steak! Yeah! When was the last time he'd had steak for breakfast?
Pancakes drenched with real maple syrup or maybe topped with strawberries
and whipped cream! Cancer had starved him for years. Now his body needed
Brexler returned to his office after a mountainous meal. The gray fog of
pain and nausea had lifted. Brexler drew a vial of his own blood, labeled
it with a patient's name, and called the lab.
"Jerry, it's Steve. I have a hunch about a difficult case. Could you
expedite a blood test for me? Thanks. I owe you."
Brexler dropped off the sample, went home, and showered. When he returned
to that afternoon, the results were in.
"Steve," Jerry said over the phone. "I ran your sample. The AFP level is
His hopes confirmed, Brexler broke into a smile.
"Thanks, Jerry. I guess my diagnosis was wrong."
Brexler leaned back in his chair and stared at the ceiling panels. Illness
had been part of his life for so long that he didn't quite know what to do,
now that he was cured. He was free. He'd always wanted to learn to surf,
and what better place to do so than at Australia's Bondi Beach? He had the
resources for an extended vacation, but he wouldn't do it. Even though
Brexler was a corrupt doctor, he was first and foremost a doctor. It he had
a chance to cure disease, he would do it. Cancer was humanity's scourge and
Brexler would be the lying, cheating bastard to defeat it.
A large map of Solstice City dominated Diane's office. After she inserted
tacks, where Rose's victims had been found, she sat trying to intuit a
pattern. No doubt the police were doing the same thing, but Diane had
centuries more experience than they did.
The pattern didn't make sense. At first, suspecting a tie in with
prostitution, she'd had Nancy keep 14th Street under discreet
surveillance, but she never spotted Rose. Now the murders had spread all
over the city. How was Rose getting around? Mute and nearly catatonic from
her trauma, she couldn't negotiate a taxi, and taking a bus was probably
beyond her, too. Transport by the victims' cars might explain some of the
geographic spread, but not all. Did she have a helper? God Almighty, that
would be a disaster of epic proportion.
Diane realized she'd overlooked one crucial question in her rush to contain
Rose's murder spree. How did the attempted kidnappers know about Rose's
presence? She leaned back in her chair and laced her fingers behind her
head. There were four possibilities. Someone bugged the Clio Institute,
hacked their computers, intercepted their communications, or someone on the
inside betrayed them. Dealing with the technical issues would be simple
compared to searching for a possible mole, but Diane had ample experience
in the latter. Most disturbing of all was the possibility that someone knew
enough about the Sisterhood to target them.
Diane leaned forward and removed a satellite phone from her hemp purse.
Since her privacy might be compromised, she took a walk in the garden to
the hum of fat bees servicing the lavender and made an encrypted phone call
to New York.
"Naomi, it's Diane. I need you in Solstice City to sweep the Clio Institute
for communication intercepts."
"There's a flight out of JFK at 8:30." Naomi raised her voice at the end of
her sentences, making each statement sound like a question. "I can be there
"Great." Diane had lectured Naomi about up-talk but it did no good.
"There's one more thing. Can you obtain police records of the Solstice City
murders for me, and also any medical records from Saint Elizabeth's on June
25? Thanks." Diane hung up confident that she'd have the files the next
day. Naomi was the best computer hacker in North America, if not the world.
* * *
Despite being centuries old, Naomi Feather dressed like a school girl, in
pigtails, bobby socks, and a pleated skirt. She arrived the next day with a
snap of bubblegum and a huge smile.
"These are for you." She removed a stack of documents from her Hello Kitty
backpack and gave them to Diane.
"Thanks." Diane began thumbing through the pages. "Need anything?"
"Nope." Naomi began scanning rooms with a device attached to an antenna.
Diane got a cup of coffee and returned to her office. It was going to be
long day. Rather than diving right into the police reports, she began with
the hospital records. There was nothing out of the ordinary about Rose,
just an attending physician's report, rape kit, and mention of a
psychiatrist. She paged through the police reports while jotting notes on a
legal pad. It was slow going. After working through the crime scene photos
and autopsies, she got another cup of coffee.
Even after centuries, peoples' capacity for violence still saddened her. At
best, she met it with resignation. At worst with tears. Reluctant to get
back to the stack of police reports, she sat on a rickety bench under a
tree heavy with loquats in the garden. A delicate breeze carried the scent
of pine and burnt dust. Diane closed her eyes to a field of red that was
the sun shining through her lids. She was tired of all this. Maybe she
could take a few decades off after it was all over and relax in some villa
on the Mediterranean, just sunshine and shopping for fresh vegetables in
the markets. A shadow stopped in front of her. Diane opened her eyes. It
"You'd better see this."
Diane followed Naomi to a room full of rack-mounted computers and white
noise. Naomi typed a few commands at a keyboard and pointed at some
"It's a keyboard logger," she said. "Whoever planted it can read everything
"Can you find out who did it?"
"In time, maybe," Naomi said. "What should I do now?"
"Can you remove it from all but a few computers?" Diane asked. "It might be
useful to be able to send false messages."
* * *
Diane returned to the stack of police reports and worked her way through
witness statements. After fifty pages, she began to feel drowsy.
Unfortunately, immortality did not convey immunity to acid reflux, so more
coffee was out of the question. She stared at the victims' faces but the
only thing she found in common was their gender. Whatever happened to
Rose's husband, Alexi, or Anton? She'd have to check. The doctor who signed
Rocco Entebbe out of the forensic psychiatry ward, a Dr. Stephen Brexler,
sounded familiar. Who was it that saw Rose?
Diane searched the papers until she found the hospital records. The
psychiatrist was the same man. That was too much of a coincidence. She
leaned back and laced her fingers behind her head. She would have to learn
more about this Dr. Brexler.
* * *
Brexler paced between his desk and office door. He hadn't heard from Melvin
in days. He sat and began clicking his pen. There had to be a way to speed
things up. Of course! He picked up the phone and dialed the nursing
"Ruth, could you set up an appointment with Anton Richter this afternoon?
Great! I've been going over his chart and think he's made significant
* * *
The woman with the eating disorder droned on and on about "media" images
and how the pretty girls got all the hot guys in high school. Like so many
others these days, she had a pierced nostril and tattoos on her chest and
arms. Brexler managed a discreet glimpse at his watch. Ten minutes to go.
He sat through three before he could stand it no longer.
"I'm afraid we're out of time." Brexler scribbled a note and closed the
folder. "Keep up with your group therapy, stick to your diet, and I'll see
you next week." He escorted her to the door and smiled when he saw the man
with the hideous face in the waiting room. "Anton, good to see you. Please
Brexler held the door while the man with the hideous face shuffled into his
office. The keloid scars had healed somewhat. No longer red and inflamed,
the man's face merely looked like melted wax. Brexler waited until the man
with the hideous face took a seat before sitting down.
"The purpose of psychiatric hospitalization is to give the patient a
respite from the storms of emotional drama in daily life, and to allow
space for intensive therapy." Brexler opened the patient's chart. "It's not
meant as a permanent escape from life. In fact, staying too long would be
counterproductive. You've made excellent progress and I think it's time for
you to go home."
The man with the hideous face stared at his hands.
"Of course, I'll schedule you twice a week for outpatient therapy. I'll
have Ruth fill out the paperwork. Any questions?"
Once the man with the hideous face left, Brexler dialed a number he'd
committed to memory on a burner cell phone. Melvin picked up on the fourth
"Melvin, it's your doctor. Mr. Anton Richter will be returning to his home
at 16 Meadowlark Lane this Thursday. I'm sure his wife will want to be
there. You remember her, the woman with the violet eyes. Anyway, I thought
you might like to be there, too as part of the welcoming party." After
hanging up, Brexler removed the SIM card and broke it in half.
* * *
Diane finished listening to the recording of Brexler's phone call and Naomi
closed the media player on her laptop.
"I set up fake cell-phone towers near Brexler's home and office," Naomi
said. "I catch everything that goes out, but there hasn't been anything
"Do you know who this Melvin is?" Diane asked.
"Not yet, but I'll track him down."
"Good." Diane laced her hands behind her head and leaned back in her chair.
"If Brexler's arranging a party for Rose's husband, we should crash it."
* * *
Rick Stirling turned his head to look into the camera after the commercial
"In a series of events that mirror the movie Gaslight, a shadowy
organization is plotting to steal the fortune of local humanitarian, Anton
Richter. For more on this story, please welcome Trent Little."
The audience applauded the gangly man with tortoise-shell glasses who
walked on stage.
"Welcome, Trent. Please fill us in on this sad story."
"Solstice City residents will no doubt remember Anton Richter as the tech
billionaire who funded the Helping Hand scholarships for low-income college
students." A portrait of pre-injury Anton showed up on the monitor as Trent
spoke. "In the last few years, he's spent considerable funds on community
projects in Africa such as clean water, renewable energy, and loans to
local businesses. It seems some people don't like these activities. Earlier
this year, he nearly died in a bombing and just last month he was committed
to a psych ward."
"Do we know who's after him?" Stirling asked.
"Who would benefit by judging him incompetent, appointing a conservator,
and stealing Richter's money? The usual suspects: Council of Foreign
Relations, Trilateral Commission, Bavarian Illuminati, World Bank …"
"How has it turned out?"
"Here I can report some good news. Anton Richter beat them. He got out of
the hospital and is back at his home on Meadowlark Lane."
"Well, we wish him all the best," Stirling said. "Thanks Trent."
* * *
The man with the hideous face's mansion was large as a motel. It sat behind
a stone fence on a tree-shaded, three-acre estate well back from the road.
Watching the grainy, black-and-white video from infrared cameras planted on
the grounds, Fern wondered what anyone would do with a home that had twenty
bedrooms. Heating would cost a fortune, and how would you ever clean the
place? Nevertheless, she dreamed of owning a property like that someday.
"Anything?" Nancy asked.
The two monitored Anton Richter's property from the back of a Verizon van
parked blocks away. The next shift wasn't due to relieve them for hours.
"Who's that?" Nancy pointed at the hooded figure on the monitor.
"Could it be the elusive Melvin?" Fern zoomed in but the camera's
resolution wasn't good enough to make out the man's features.
The intruder looked both ways and then boosted himself over the fence. Fran
started for the door.
"Wait." Nancy grabbed her arm. "Rose hasn't showed up yet. Don't tip our
* * *
Melvin dropped into the yard from atop the fence and squatted in the
shadows. He removed a suppressed pistol from his knapsack, donned
night-vision goggles, and scanned the area. Once satisfied, he tiptoed to
the house and flattened himself against an exterior wall. He anticipated
checking numerous doors and windows for vulnerabilities and came prepared
to deal with burglar alarms, but that turned out to be unnecessary. The
first window he came to was open. Instead of electronic devices and
alligator clips, he only needed a box cutter to slice the screen so he
could climb inside.
The master bedroom was a mess. The rumpled sheets stank of sweat. Tailored
suits and a Rolex watch lay on the carpet with discarded tissues. A spider
web arced from monitor to keyboard on a neglected laptop.
Melvin entered the hallway and passed bedrooms, jacuzzi, and a dining room.
He heard the fake enthusiasm from an infomercial, and followed the sound to
a den where the man with the hideous face sat drinking from a half-empty
bottle of eighteen-year-old Macallan Scotch.
Melvin always relished others' fear but when he pointed his pistol at the
man with the hideous face, his victim merely said, "I've been expecting
you. You'll find all you need in the workshop."
The man with the hideous face stood and led Melvin to a room with table
saws, drill presses, and a variety of power tools. Peg boards with
spray-painted outlines of wrenches and saws indicated that the owner once
had pride in the place. The air smelled faintly of bleach as if someone had
tried to coverup a monstrous crime. Melvin searched tool cabinets until he
found plastic tie wraps.
"Hands." He motioned to the man with the hideous face, tied his wrists
together, secured his victim to the table saw, and gagged him with duct
The night was not working out as well as Melvin had hoped. True, he could
pin the man with the hideous face's murder on the Slasher but the man's
lack of fear or even concern robbed Melvin of any thrill.
"Maybe I should start with your eyes." Melvin plugged a hand-held drill
into an extension cord and pressed the trigger to make it whir.
Nothing. It was almost as if the man with the hideous face wanted to die.
Melvin sighed. This was going to be a chore but at least he was getting
paid. He might as well get on with it. He'd start with the hands, because
they had the most pain receptors. He heard the front door open, picked up
his pistol, and was ready when Rose entered.
"Do what I say and you won't get hurt." Melvin motioned with the pistol.
"Turn around and put your hands on the wall."
No one can explain the human heart. Rose looked at Melvin, the drill, and
the man she had every right to want to see dead. Then she attacked.
Melvin fired two rounds into Rose's chest. The hollow points should have
stopped her but he adjusted his aim and the headshot did.
"Now, where were we? Ah, yes." Melvin set down the pistol and picked up the
drill. "Your end won't be nearly as quick as hers."
No mortal survives a bullet to the intraocular cavity, but Rose did. After
a minute, her heart resumed beating, and the neurons in her brain knitted
themselves back together. Melvin heard a scream and turned in time for the
charging Rose to drive a chisel into his throat.
* * *
Nancy and Rose arrived just as Rose was cutting the man with the hideous
"It's okay, Rose." Fern held out her hands to show she was unarmed. "You
need to come with us."
Rose's eyes darted wildly. There was no escape. Nancy and Fern blocked the
door. Then Rose spotted Melvin's pistol. She snatched it from atop the tool
cabinet, emptied the magazine into her Sisters' chests, and ran from the
room. Minutes later, the two women sat up.
"Deal with him. I'll follow Rose." Nancy ran off.
"Anton, it is Anton, right?" Fern cut the remaining tie wraps, freeing the
man with the hideous face from the table saw. "You've done some terrible
things to Rose, unforgivable things but there is a way to make amends."
* * *
It wasn't as if Molly Starshine's parents didn't love her. They gave her
whatever she wanted and even built a playhouse in the yard of their
fourteen-thousand-square-foot home. It was just that mom and dad were very
busy with their very important jobs, and that after coming home from the
far-away, private school, Molly had nobody to play with. Sure, there was
Mrs. Washington, the housekeeper, but she smelled like sauerkraut farts and
always complained about her sore feet.
Bored with TV and Mrs. Washington, Molly spent more and more time in her
playhouse. Craftsmen, all the way in Denmark, made it look like the real
thing, with lace curtains, pink siding, and real shingles. Since it was
half-scale, the couch and chair fit Molly as if she were all grown up with
a very important job of her own. She sure wanted someone to play with,
As if a fairy godmother granted her wish, Molly found a lady picking guavas
by the hedge that separated their house from Old Man Rogers' house. Mr.
Rogers came from "old money." Molly didn't like Mr. Rogers. For that
matter, she didn't like guavas either. They had a yucky, vinegar smell,
kind of like Mrs. Washington. You'd have to be desperate, like a princess
on the run from an evil sorcerer, to eat those yucky things. That was it!
The lady had to be a runaway princess with her uncombed hair, stained gown
that was all wrinkled, and violet eyes. Molly's teacher always said you had
to share with the less fortunate, so Molly tugged the lady's sleeve.
"You want some cookies? My mom gets the kind without any of that fruitose
syrup. Wait inside and I'll be right back." Molly ushered the lady into her
playhouse and ran for the kitchen.
Mrs. Washington had already put out dinner by the time Molly got inside.
"Can I eat in the playhouse?" Without waiting for an answer, Molly filled a
plate with cauliflower, free-range chicken nuggets, and macaroni. She only
took one set of cutlery because she was still full from the muffin she ate
after school. She hurried back to the playhouse and found another lady
there but something was wrong. The other lady held a gun.
"No!" Molly positioned herself between the two women just as the
tranquilizer dart left Nancy's pistol.
The amount of sedative needed to stop an adult can be fatal to a child with
a third the adult's body weight. When she saw the little girl go down,
Nancy dropped to her knees and began CPR.
"Don't just stand there! Help me!" she told Rose. "One, two, three, four,
five." Nancy pumped the girl's chest. "Breathe."
Rose pinched Molly's nose and blew into her mouth.
"One, two, three, four, five, breathe."
They struggled for minutes but it was no good. The little girl's heart
stopped. Nancy ran a hand through her sweaty hair. How on earth would the
Sisterhood cover this up? The little girl gasped, not a death rattle, but a
real breath. Nancy felt her pulse. Miracle of miracles, the girl was an
immortal, too. Nancy weighed their options and decided leaving the girl
with a fanciful tale her family would never believe was best. She took
Rose's hand and led her away.
* * *
Reporters gathered at police headquarters. Rumors of a break in the Slasher
case had been circulating for hours and their editors wanted something
solid. The news conference was supposed to start at 3:00 PM and it was
already a half-hour late. Finally, the police commissioner came to the
"I'm pleased to announce the Solstice City Slasher's reign of terror is
over. Let me turn it over to the task force lead, Detective Jim Lamar, for
"Good afternoon." Lamar adjusted the microphone. "Last night, Melvin Alan
Newton attacked a citizen in his home with the intent of murdering him.
That citizen fatally wounded Newton while defending himself. Police
searched Newton's home and found trophies taken from several of the
Slasher's victims as well as evidence tying Newton to murders in three
other states. I'll take questions."
"Who is the hero who stopped this monster?" an AP reporter asked.
"The citizen wishes to remain anonymous."
"Since an armed citizen stopped this murderer, has the police commissioner
changed his stance on gun control?"
* * *
Dr. Stephen Brexler reached for the remote and switched off the news
conference. So that fool Melvin went and got himself killed. No great loss,
but without him Brexler doubted he could get to Rose. No matter. He still
had another play.
The Mother of Civilizations looked up from the journal article and looked
at the New York skyline while pondering how to fund production of the new
antibiotic. The phone rang.
"I thought I said I didn't want to be disturbed." She picked up the phone.
"Hello. Diane, it's been a long time. What's on your mind?" The news was
not good. One of the Sisterhood had gone on a killing spree, and Diane
Krall could no longer contain the situation. "All right. I'll catch a plane
and be there tomorrow."
The Mother of Civilizations was already thousands of years old when the
Egyptians built the pyramids. Before the invention of agriculture, before
the invention of sexism, she was the Neolithic priestess who inspired the
construction of the temple complex at Gobekli Tepe, the prehistoric site
that proved archaeologists and businessmen wrong. Economic surplus did not
free artisans to create. Artisans inspired society to produce that surplus.
Like Stonehenge after it, Gobekli Tepe consists of stone columns arranged
in circles. Around 9000 BCE, the Mother of Civilizations instructed her
followers to make their myths concrete. Tribes came from throughout what is
now southeastern Turkey to erect T-shaped columns and carve bulls, headless
men, and fantastical creatures with stone tools.
Thousands of years later, the Mother of Civilizations lived in
Çatalhöyük, the city connected by roofs where images of
bulls decorated homes' interiors, and the graves of headless ancestors lay
under the floors. With her slight build, girlish voice, and auburn hair,
the Mother of Civilizations could be easily overlooked. That's the way she
liked it. Whispering and inspiring from the background, she spread culture
to the Near East, Egypt, and Greece.
Throughout her life, she'd used many names. She currently called herself
Janet Sinclair, head of the Kiplinger Institute, a private entity that used
its considerable wealth to counter threats to civilization. Epidemics,
nuclear war, climate change, and catastrophic meteor strikes - the
institute fought them all.
* * *
The Mother of Civilizations arrived at the Clio Institute, not in a
limousine with a retinue of bodyguards, but driving the gray minivan she'd
rented at the airport.
"I'm here to see Diane," She strode past Nancy at the reception desk.
"Ma'am!" Nancy ran after her. "You can't go in there."
With her mixed martial arts training and superior strength, Nancy thought
she'd have little struggle restraining the petite woman with auburn hair,
but the moment she grabbed the visitor's shoulder, Nance found herself in a
disabling wristlock, being marched up the stairs into Diane's office.
"Ah, Janet." Diane looked up from the papers on her desk when the Mother of
Civilizations shoved Nancy into her office. "I see you've met Nancy."
Fern rushed to the entryway carrying a Glock pistol.
"That will be all, ladies," Diane said. "Janet and I have a lot to
* * *
Jenny Manczarek slipped into the lecture hall a few minutes late and took
the first available seat. Her psych professor had already begun his
"I'm pleased to welcome Dr. Stephen Brexler back. Those of you who were
here for his PTSD talk know that he's an inciteful lecturer who brings
decades of first-hand experience to his talks. Today, he'll discuss
"Thank you, Bill." Brexler clipped the microphone to his lapel. "Depression
is a debilitating illness that affects tens of millions of Americans. And
it is an illness, not just a bad mood. The sufferer cannot buck up and snap
out of it. If you examine the biology, you find the sufferer's immune
system is responding much as it would to a major infection."
Jenny slipped a notebook out of her backpack and tried to capture what the
doctor was saying. A lot of details got by her but she was fascinated.
"There is a genetic component," Brexler continued, "but it's not that
simple. The onset of depression is also tied to major life events, setbacks
as it were, such as job loss, divorce, death of a loved one. The research
on this is quite fascinating. Those with a genetic predisposition can
recover from life trauma, but often develop depression after two or three
such events. Those without the genetic predisposition can weather more
Jenny sat rapt throughout the hour and was eager to hear more.
"Thanks again, Stephen," the professor said once Brexler finished.
"Anytime, Bill." Brexler took off the lapel mic. "Oh, last time, one of
your students mentioned something about an aunt with PTSD. A new study is
starting at Saint E's and it looks promising. If that student is here, I
can give more details."
* * *
At a nearby coffeeshop, Brexler brought two cups to the table and slid one
"We've had promising results combining a new drug with talk therapy,"
"How does it work?" Jenny shook a packet of sugar so all the grains settled
at the bottom, tore it open, and added it to her coffee. Still not
satisfied after taking a sip, she repeated the process.
"As you may know, memories become more vulnerable when you bring them up.
The new drug resembles a neurotransmitter associated with forgetting. It's
related to THC, actually …"
As Brexler went on, Jenny found him hard to follow. She tried focusing on
his words but couldn't. She closed her eyes, her head slumped forward, and
she jerked herself awake. She need to sleep. If only she could sleep.
* * *
Now that he had a specimen in his secure lab, Brexler pondered where to
begin. While Jenny slept off the drug, he tried to come up with a plan,
scribbling notes in a spidery hand on the pages of his lab book. Comparing
the girl's DNA to the Jane Doe's was a start, but how could he study her
body's healing process? Perhaps he could amputate a little toe or induce a
tumor. He'd have to think about it. No rush. He had time. Brexler heard the
door and a tiny woman with auburn hair intruded.
"Dr. Stephen Brexler," the Mother of Civilizations said. "You've caused us
a lot of annoyance."
"How did you find me?" Brexler kept his eyes leveled at the intruder as he
reached for the pistol in his drawer, a pistol he'd bought as a defense
against animal-rights terrorists.
"Transponder in Jenny's backpack. Even if that failed, we would have found
you. We've had you under surveillance for weeks."
"Before you kill me, let me ask how long it's been. How long have you
watched the rest of us suffering and dying of heart attacks, cancer, and
disease while refusing to help us find a cure? My methods may be crude, but
compared to you, I'm Gandhi." Brexler raised the pistol and fired two
The .45 caliber bullets might as well have been bee stings. The Mother of
Civilizations kept approaching. In a panic, Brexler kept firing while
watching in fascination and horror as the damage done to the Mother of
Civilizations healed before his eyes. She swept the pistol from Brexler's
grip, backhanded him, and subdued him with an arm bar.
"I've thought about what you said." The Mother of Civilizations shifted her
weight, putting pressure on Brexler's elbow so that he stiffened in agony.
"I'll offer you a deal. You may continue your research at our laboratory,
provided you turn the results over to us, and we will determine what, if
anything, to publish. Of course, you will never leave."
"And the alternative?" Brexler asked.
"Let's just say that either way, Dr. Stephen Brexler disappears from public
* * *
Jenny Manczarek looked at the clock in her bedroom at the Clio Institute.
Three minutes left. Even though she'd had unprotected sex with Chad, there
was probably nothing to worry about. After all, members of the Sisterhood
couldn't get pregnant. Just to be sure, she decided to check, after her
periods stopped. Time's up. She returned to the bathroom and looked at the
pregnancy test. The tiny window on the plastic stick displayed a blue plus.
Bio: I have written novels, the story collections Arugula and The Alchemist's Grandson Changes His Name, and the poetry collection Words of Power, Dances of Freedom. I am an editor of the San Diego Poetry Annual. I've published almost a hundred short
stories in journals such as The Berkeley Fiction Review, Space and Time, Zahir, and Tales of the Talisman. The editors of Knot Literary Magazine
nominated one for a Pushcart Prize. I've also published over three hundred
poems in journals such as the Atlanta Review, Pearl, and Slipstream. One poem received the Editor's Choice award in the 2016
Spirit First contest and another won second place in the 2007 African
American Writers and Artists contest. I have a Ph.D. in physics and am a
longtime student of Buddhism and the martial arts.
E-mail: Jon Wesick
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