Alex tries to listen to what his deputy is telling him, but his thoughts are elsewhere.
I know what you did.
He received that text message ten times the previous night, always from an unknown number, the last time at exactly 5:59 AM as if the person that sent it knows he always gets up at 6 AM, timing the messages accordingly in order to disturb his sleep. At some point he muted his phone so that he didn't hear the incoming messages anymore but didn't sleep well, anyway.
For a man in Alex's position, it's rather easy to trace back anonymous phone calls. It is not the first time he received anonymous threats although most people around here know by now that it's better not to mess with him. Text messages from an anonymous number is a different matter though. Nearly impossible to trace back, at least not without an IT specialist. Too many options in these days of illegal applications and internet hacks.
Alex is not sure whether it's worth the effort. The message refers to something he did, provided it is an actual reference and not just a bluff to unsettle him. Things would be different if Norma was the center of the threat; in that case he would already have moved heaven and earth to find out what is going on. As it is, he ignores the situation for now and focuses on his job.
He will figure out what to do later.
She is smoking her third cigarette in as many minutes, inhaling deeply, fiddling around with it constantly. This woman is a nervous wreck, even more so than when they accidentally met in that bar and she told him her story and how much she was longing for revenge.
Revenge. Everybody seems to be at each other's throat these days. In the end, he is one of the people looking for revenge, too. That's the beauty of meeting a drunk, unstable woman who talks too much. Sometimes life finds a way to bring people together, even those who better should not have met.
He would have gone for revenge, anyway, but getting her on board is the icing on the cake. Money never was his focus, but it's always good to have a fallback plan. He might need money to exert his plan or disappear afterwards. Who knows. Combining their hatred feels like turning two ugly manifestations into meticulously composed poetic justice. He has always had a thing for the exceptional.
She hasn't seen him yet, doesn't even look in his direction when he gets out of the car and shuts the door. It's a good thing he is the one pulling the strings. She is much too distracted and irrational. He hopes that he won't regret his decision to collaborate with her.
"Hey," he greets her with his distinctive, deep voice.
The wind blows long, red strands of hair in her face when she turns her head. Before the alcohol and the hatred she must have been an attractive woman. Now he is not even sure she put on new clothes this morning, considering how rumpled they look. Well, there used to be a time in his life when he had short hair and wore suits every day. Interesting how seemingly random events can change everything.
"Hey." She throws the cigarette on the ground, grinding it under her heel, her smile forced as she sniffles.
Maybe she also does drugs. He doesn't care. A few more days, and then, this will be over.
"I know, Dylan. I know," Norma tries to calm her son over the phone. She swallows. It's hard to think of it, let alone talk about it. "Norman is living in his own world. I wish we could do something about it, but I don't know what."
Dylan just came back from visiting his brother. Like Norma he had expected his condition to get better and not worse.
"He told me he is dating some girl," Dylan elaborates. "A girl! How would he be able to do that in there? But he was all Madeleine here, Madeleine there so that I almost believed him. He even told me about her abusive husband, Sam, until I found out he was referring to another patient, a woman who is catatonic, sitting in the corner all day long, and that Sam is a nurse. He made it all up."
Norma lets Dylan talk; he needs to let it all out like she did when she told Alex about it. Dylan called her on her cell so that she can move about freely, going downstairs into the basement. That's what she was about to do when her phone rang. The subject of their conversation unsettles her; she needs to do something to distract herself.
Alex and she began to clear up the basement. They intend to make a fruit cellar out of it although she insisted on keeping some space for Norman. As much as she hates taxidermy, it is what her son loves to do and she wants him to still feel at home when he will come back. If. Norma is aware this day might never take place considering the ongoing murder investigation and his mental condition. But just as Norman is pretending he has a girlfriend, she is pretending he will come home one day, back to her.
"Join us for dinner sometime this week," Norma suggests. Food cures everything in her world.
Dylan agrees and becomes calmer afterwards. They change the subject, talking about meaningless stuff that happened so as not to end the call with the burdensome topic of Norman's deteriorating mental health. In the meantime Norma is searching for the key to an unused chamber in the basement, eventually finding it in a drawer, hidden underneath some tools Norman uses for taxidermy. Norma can't help shuddering when her fingers brush the tools as she grasps the key. She can't remember putting it there. Then again, so much has been going on lately and she didn't need the extra space before.
Norma approaches the door, hoping Norman didn't use the room to store dead animals there. As she puts the key in the lock, a strange feeling floods through her. It takes her a moment to realize it's not a premonition but actual cold. Norma presses one hand against the door, the surface freezing as if the temperature in the chamber was much lower than in the rest of the basement.
Dylan's voice fades out when Norma turns the key.
She has to push against the door to open it with a squeaking sound. Everything is old in this house. This door probably hasn't been opened in months or years even. At least that is what Norma is telling herself as her hand fumbles around, searching for the light switch. The light is bright, blindingly so; she narrows her eyes to a slit. This is a new bulb, not one of the old ones she keeps exchanging one after the other because they only lit the rooms dimly. Once her eyes have adjusted to the brightness, she wishes she wouldn't be able to see everything that clearly.
Dylan is still talking to her, his voice different. "Norma? Everything okay?"
Only now the realization is sinking in that the gasp came out of her throat and that she has stopped responding to him.
No. Nothing is okay. She stares and stares and still doesn't understand what she is seeing, the freezing cold in the room seeping in her clothes and body.
"I have to call you back." Norma hangs up and dials Alex's number with shaking hands.
"Why do we have to wait an entire day before we can send him the next message?" the woman whines. "I just want the money. I loved him once. I don't want him to suffer."
That sounded different when she told him her story at the bar, and considering her intention to ruin the sheriff financially and his marriage on top of it, it is also hypocritical. Revenge and its reasons behind it, however, have their own logic. When she told him how she had fallen in love with Alex Romero and how he had dumped her after a while, clearly when she had revealed her true face, he learned way too many details for his taste. Then again, Alex Romero is married to Norma Bates and Norma Bates is Caleb Calhoun's sister. They've come full circle.
She didn't even pay attention who was standing next to her at the bar when she started to ramble on about her sad life. Only later she introduced herself to him when he announced that he had information about Norma Bates' family that could seriously damage her relationship with the sheriff. Rebecca. A beautiful name. She doesn't need him to blackmail her ex-lover. It was the prospect of not only ruining him financially but also destroying his marriage that made her collaborate with him even though he didn't tell her what it is that will for sure ruin Norma Bates' and Alex Romero's marriage one way or the other. You're a huge guy, Chick, she giggled when they downed another drink together to settle their agreement.
So he might or might not have woken up in her bed the next morning with a terrible hangover. That part doesn't matter in light of the big picture. The only thing that matters is that they are going to get their revenge. Both of them.
What Alex Romero believed to be a reasonable decision back then, namely breaking up with an unstable woman, has proven to be catastrophic in the long run. And what Caleb Calhoun hopes no one outside the Bates family will ever know, namely that Dylan Massett is his and Norma's son, will tear not only what little is left of his and his son's reputation apart but also drive a wedge between Norma Bates and her husband as soon as the sheriff will hear about his wife's history of incest.
He wouldn't give a shit about any of this if Caleb hadn't driven his wife and daughter away from him. Caleb will pay for this, but first he will destroy the remnants of his family. It was almost too easy to put the pieces together since Caleb and Dylan kept introducing themselves as uncle and nephew to some people and father and son to others. A stupid mistake.
Only now Chick realizes Rebecca is still talking. "I'm doing nothing wrong. I lost my job because of him."
Rumor has it that she lost her job because she appeared at work drunk. Well, everything depends on perspective and if she started drinking because Alex Romero had left her, it might be rational from her standpoint to blame him.
"I'm in arrears with two month's rent. I need the money. Otherwise I will be thrown out of my apartment." She lights another cigarette, darting a glance at him. "I know you're judging me." Rebecca lowers her voice, "But he killed a man. I know that. Bob Paris used to check his assets every day." Another glance. "Especially the ones in a locker no one knows about but me because I created them for him when I was still working at the bank. He was obsessed with it until he stopped all of a sudden. Everyone knows Bob was messing around with Norma Bates. So Alex must have killed him and must have his getaway money as well as the keys to the locker." He is aware of all that. She already told him. The sheriff killed Bob Paris. Alex Romero is the worst person on earth. Yet she still loves him. Yadda yadda yadda.
Rebecca sniffles again. By now Chick is certain she is not only using alcohol to numb herself. Hence the urgency to get more money. It's not only about having to pay her rent.
"Are you sure your plan will break up their marriage?" she asks for the umpteenth time.
He nods. That's why she has to wait with her next message to the sheriff. There is a timeline, a composure, so to speak, to let the music swell gradually to a crescendo. It started with Alex Romero and Norma Bates will be next.
"Tonight," Chick promises Rebecca.
Happiness is so fragile, the abyss lingering underneath every step you take. The past has a tendency to catch up with us when we expect it the least.
The phone in Norma's hand buzzes for the third or forth time, but she ignores it, is unable to move, to do anything but stare at the scenario right in front of her.
"Norma?" Alex runs down the stairs when he finds the door to the basement open. She sounded shocked when she called him, her words incoherent. Part of him fears that she fell down the stairs again; visions of her, injured and bleeding, tortured him on his way home. Therefore his first reaction is relief when he sees her standing there, seemingly unharmed until he realizes she is frozen, trapped in a moment that won't let her out of its claws. "Norma?" He is calmer, now that he is with her, his voice soothing. Alex touches her carefully, doesn't want to startle her.
"What is this?" she acknowledges his presence with a whisper as if she had been waiting for him to join her before she allowed herself to pose this question out loud.
Only now Alex realizes that Norma is standing on the threshold of a room he has never been in before. He steps closer, moving past her into the chamber. What he sees is bizarre to say the least. An abundance of flowers and candles everywhere with some stuffed animals in between, all of it surrounding a big armchair that looks like a thrown and seems to be the center of the room. There are pieces of clothing lying on it. A dress, a fur stole and a tiara. At first glance he believes these are Norma's clothes, but they are not. She would never wear something like this. Most of all, though, it's cold. Freezing cold. Someone went to great lengths to ensure that whatever is put in here won't rot. Not the flowers and not whatever is supposed to wear these clothes.
Alex turns around to look at Norma. She still hasn't moved, her face ghostly pale, her lips almost blue due to the low temperature, her hair dull in the artificial light. She mumbles something he doesn't understand.
"He said he was sorry he had to leave me underground before he brought me back," she repeats, her gaze fixated on the chair with the clothes.
Alex remembers that she told him something like that after she had come back from visiting Norman. Something that sounded like the irrational gibberish of a madman then but appears in an entirely different light now. He studies her appearance. Norma is as pale as a corpse. He looks back at the chair with the clothes. Clothes for a woman. It can't be. He feels sick all of a sudden. The only person who had regular access to this room aside from them was Norman. He couldn't possibly have planned to kill his own mother and then put her corpse in here like a trophy or could he? It is as if they stepped into a parallel world. A world full of would have beens if… if not…
Norma tumbles, Alex rushing to her side to uphold her.
"Let's get out of here." He will clear the chamber later; first he has to take care of his wife.
Alex gently leads Norma upstairs in the kitchen so that she can sit down. When he gives her a glass of water, he hears a buzzing sound and notices that she still is holding her phone in her hand. As he takes it to put it away, his eyes make out familiar words on the illuminated display.
I know what you did.
For a split second he wonders why she has his phone. Then it suddenly feels as cold in the kitchen as in that horrible chamber in the basement, his worst fear coming true. The threats are not only meant for him. Someone is threatening Norma, too. He takes a closer look. Like him, she received several messages, but unlike his, hers are different, escalating as if whoever sent them is following his or her sophisticated agenda.
You were awfully close to your brother when you were younger. Too close.
How would you like it if the word was spread around?
Kind of humiliating for your husband, don't you think? Having a wife with an inbred son.
Whoever is sending Norma these messages, assumes he doesn't know. Well, surprise, he does.
One evening Norma told him everything about this part of her past. He had always suspected some kind of abuse in her childhood to be the reason for her often inconsistent, volatile behavior. To be honest, though, he hadn't expected her to tell him, maybe not ever. So when she started her confession with the admission that she felt obligated to do so because of her love for him, it was like a gift he hadn't presumed to receive even if she told him in typical Norma fashion. You think you love me? Wait until you will have heard this. You won't be able to pack your bags fast enough then. She truly expected him to leave her, something that made her gift even more precious. But she had no idea. As if he was able to not be with her anymore, especially now that he knows what it's like. Alex held her, and only then, Norma allowed herself to let go, crying in his arms.
So this? Threatening her with the one thing that almost broke her? Alex is barely able to suppress his rage. He sits down next to Norma, his movements slow as he is trying to pull himself together.
Norma is still in shock. Albeit they don't talk about their findings in the basement, they both know what it means. Norman's mental problems are far worse than they thought and he most likely won't ever come back home.
Alex watches Norma take a sip of water as his thoughts drift off to another time and place.
Coward. Loser. He remembers the spiteful voice of his mother when she found out that his father was corrupt, the only occasion he ever heard her raise her voice and talk to him like that.
Alex was a teenager back then. His father only smirked, bumping with his fist against Alex's shoulder in passing as if they were pals even though they barely talked to each other on a good day, completely ignoring his wife on his way out, probably to his favorite bar.
The reason for Alex's mother's outburst of fury were some smearings on her car. It was common knowledge in town that her husband was corrupt. Unfortunately she had been the last to find out that way. The moment his father was gone, Alex's mother slumped down. Then she turned around wordlessly and fetched a bucket full of water and a sponge to rub away the smearings, shooing him away when he wanted to help her so that he only could watch her from a distance.
Of all the unpleasant moments of his childhood, this is one that has stuck with him in agonizing detail. His father ignoring his mother, his mother rejecting his help, leaving him as a helpless bystander who could do nothing to prevent his family from falling apart – his father serving a prison sentence, his mother taking her own life.
Norma's hand that is holding the glass of water is shaking. Alex gets up so that he can stand next to his wife. He puts an arm around her shoulders, pressing her face against his chest
"It's all gonna be good," he mumbles, brushing her hair with his lips, feeling her body tremble first but beginning to calm down after a while.
Her son planning to kill Norma and steal her body afterwards to do despicable things with it. Someone threatening both of them. Alex will make sure that the past doesn't repeat itself. He won't let the family he has now be destroyed like the family he was born into. An inner calm sets in. He used violence before, killed before. Alex won't let anyone take away their happiness. Neither Norman nor whoever is behind the threats.
Whatever it takes.