The airport was quiet, a sharp, still night, with the city lights blinking against the black sky, and the planes were taxying, and Holden couldn’t stop thinking about Ed Kemper’s eyes. They were dead eyes, staying with Holden after the visits, he was a corpse— no light reflecting in them, even under the prison cafeteria fluorescents. His entire being was something visceral and sterile at the same time: controlled voice, no inflection, but behind him there was this fantastic passion.
Fantastic passion, was how he put it, put something or other, but Holden loved the sound of the words. Fantastic passion. It never left his mind.
A plane took off somewhere. He was cold.
“That Kemper guy,” Tench said suddenly, “quiet for such a sicko. Subdued.”
“Yeah,” Holden said.
Tench went on, “there are some real freaks in the world. The quiet makes him worse. It’s scary.”
Holden wasn’t listening — too cold, goosebumps in his jacket, on his legs. Needed a blanket, needed Debbie around him, her thin arms wrapping him. Wasn’t enough. Couldn’t cover him. Kemper was huge, fat arms and thick torso, arms like sausages inside their casings. Kemper’s thick fingers, tracing across his throat, closing gently around the front of his neck. He shivered. Cold.
“You okay?” Tench, inflecting upward at the end. A question asked the way it’s meant to be asked. Kemper ended each sentence the same unnatural way. Forced his words down until they were all on the same level, wrenched them into submission.
“You should take a nap.” Tench looked for a clock. “It’s late.”
“No, I — I’m just thinking,” Holden said. “About Kemper. He was so introspective. The way he laid his life all out for us, the why he did what he did. It was so… interesting.”
Tench snorted quietly. The flick of his lighter. The puff of his cigarette.
“You mean all the armchair psychology, right?”
“If you want to call it that. You think it’s an act?” Holden asked. He furrowed his brow. “You think he just… killed to kill, without reason?”
“No, no, not an act per se, just —” Tench gestured vaguely, the smoke from his cigarette billowing out when his hand moved. “It doesn’t sit right with me. It’s a tactic. He’s fostering this connection with you when there’s really just no connection to foster — I think he gets off on convincing you to relate to him. I worry about you. Can I say that?”
“There’s no reason to worry,” Holden said.
“I just — I dunno. You’re so interested. You’re — craving him. You’ve got this itch for him.” Tench shrugged. “I think you have to be careful, getting so up close and personal with a guy like that. He wants sympathy. You’re ordering pizza with him, next thing you’ll be calling him Ed, building up this rapport, getting all buddy-buddy. But the thing is with these men is that you can’t relate to them, there’s nothing to relate to. You can’t find it. He’s an empty person with empty feelings.”
It could be possible, to know those men, really on some kind of intimate level. Holden wanted to disagree out loud but he didn’t have the energy to argue tonight. Not now.
“Well, I don’t relate to him. You don’t have to worry about that. He’s a murderer. Of course I wouldn’t connect with a murderer,” he said instead.
“No, yeah,” Tench said. “Of course.” He paused, then — “God, he gets to me. Made me feel sort of gross. If I’d never seen him and you told me there was some creep out there that stuck his dick in his mother’s severed neck-hole, I’d imagine someone just like that.”
Holden didn’t reply. Tench paused.
“You seem tired,” he said. “You should take a nap.”
“I’m fine,” Holden replied. He closed his eyes but the lights bloomed underneath the lids, a deep red, and all he saw was Kemper’s dead eyes, like frog’s eggs — no light in them, nothing in them, limp, globs of gelatin coagulating under his glasses. The eyes scrutinizing him, the hands touching him, and the skin had been freezing, like death —
Something in Holden’s stomach seized up. He realized he was beginning to sport an erection. He couldn’t be embarrassed, too tired to not comply with his own needs. There was a good bit of time before the flight.
“I’m going to go to the bathroom,” he announced. “I’m gonna splash cold water on my face.”
Tench grunted. Holden left.
The bathroom he chose was in a quiet corner of the place, quiet and empty and filthy. The smell was gut-wrenching, the floors were covered in grime. He felt illicit and he wasn’t used to feeling it, feeling so dirty in such a dirty place with such dirty intentions. He picked a stall, locked the door. There was graffiti — call 555-7898 for a good time, IMPEACH NIXON, too many obscene drawings to count.
He was hard, now painfully. He’d come here for a reason. Holden reached down and unbuttoned his pants, took himself out. Spit. His saliva was warm, jaw tight. He worked himself quickly, frantically, Debbie on his mind, Debbie blowing him, Debbie riding his cock, Debbie —
And then Kemper’s eyes, Kemper’s merciless hands, Kemper’s voice in his ear, deep and unintelligible and not entirely unwelcome, getting inside of him, knowing him. Intimately. Holden jolted. For a moment.
And he continued.
Holden’s hand moved faster around himself. He was starving for it, aching for it — he’d never considered this, never considered men, especially men like Edmund Kemper. He didn’t want to fuck Kemper, exactly, he didn’t think, but he was turned on all the same and it felt good to give up. To give in, with fantastic passion.
His fingers closed around the front of his neck, around the hard line of his Adam’s apple — they were too thin, too bony, but his throat rippled against his hand when he gulped and it made his cock jump. The flesh of the neck was resistant, Kemper had said. It fought back against you, pushed against you when you tried to penetrate it. Holden was panting, breathing shallow breaths.
In his head he was at the table again, at the prison, the recording device nowhere to be seen. He was in the man’s arms, thick fingers were at his lips, at his neck, fat hands were at his groin, frog’s eyes were watching his every twitch, every shudder. In the bathroom stall he thrust himself harshly into his fist, felt hollow inside him, felt like his chest was made of glass and it could collapse at any moment.
Ed was talking to him now, calling him a fucking coward in a tone more objective than accusatory and somehow it hurt even more that way; Holden, you’re spineless, you’re stopping yourself —
Debbie, Debbie, Debbie, coming back to him, coming back dead. Head split from the body, a slit in her long thin neck — his hand became the wound, blood spurted down this thighs. He thought of her vocal cords jammed around his cock.
He felt warm and drained. He wiped himself off on a few squares of rough toilet paper and left the bathroom.