(let’s go said he
not too far said she
what’s too far said he
where you are said she)
(may i feel said he, e.e. cummings)
“I’ve discovered something,” he says and Susan hums a noncommittal noise.
“I think about you a lot.”
She doesn’t know what to do when he says things like that.
She keeps her eyes to the road and she can see him watching out of the corner of her vision.
Patsy Cline wails on the radio.
Susan turns it off with a grimace.
It starts with this:
There is a dead man. It is a Tuesday.
His throat has been slit in one neat line, his wallet still in his back pocket. His eyes are closed, a penny for each eye.
The pool of blood, a cloud around his head, is near black, soaked deep into the carpeting.
“Well, well, well,” Creegan says.
There are birthday cards on his mantle and a picture of a woman, two small children. There aren’t any pictures of him. There is a wedding ring on his fourth finger.
The only furniture in the family room is a large black leather couch.
“The penultimate bachelor pad, huh?” Creegan stares at the photos on the mantle. The dead men’s children smile wide.
“You know this song?” Susan asks; Creegan nods.
The stereo is on. The song skips once and then repeats.
It’s their third victim like this.
Some days she thinks she is as close as she will ever be to understanding him.
There is a pattern to this, cliché for a reason –
One step forward and two steps back.
It’s just, Susan thinks it’s her that’s backpedaling now.
I have my reasons, she would say.
There had been a sailboat on the water, everything golden and she had come close, so close to kissing him that day. But she resisted.
She is grateful for that.
(His collar had been worn and soft beneath her fingers. Her knuckles had brushed against his neck and his eyes had watched her mouth, careful.
He had parted his lips when she had leaned forward.
That was a sign. She’s reading for signs, now).
First there had been the waitress. Disemboweled in the back room of a local Applebee’s and the manager had found the body the next morning.
The second had been a schoolteacher, a man just a shade over twenty-five. His roommate found him in the kitchen just before six o’clock. His face was discolored, ligature marks sharp around his neck.
They both had pennies on their eyes.
They both had that same song playing – over and over and over again.
Their meeting is quiet at the start, subdued.
“We have no idea what we’re looking for,” Creegan says, blunt as ever.
“We have an idea,” Rivers argues. “We can use the basic model, the basic profiling here. I don’t see why it wouldn’t fit.” There is an uncomfortable pause and Rivers stands. He begins to pace. “He’s likely to be a male, single. White. High intelligence, poor academic record. Smart as shit and probably working at the local Wal-Mart or Mickey D’s, just barely hanging on. Maybe a porn freak – that wouldn’t be surprising. Possibility that he already has a record, that his parents, father most likely, has a record. Maybe a history of institutionalization – ”
“Maybe, maybe, maybe,” Creegan interrupts and mocks. “That doesn’t tell us jack.”
“David,” Susan says. He glares at her and she holds up her hands, a sign of surrender. “It’s a start,” she says.
“We have nothing concrete. Absolutely nothing. We just know he’s some sick fuck with a fondness for Patsy Cline, of all things. There is not a goddamned thing the vics share in common, short of stumbling upon this son of a bitch at the wrong place and the wrong time.”
“And the pennies on their eyes,” Rivers says.
“And the pennies on their eyes!” Creegan repeats.
“We know he is organized,” Susan tries. “There isn’t a single clue left behind at any of the scenes. No one remembers seeing any of the vics leave with anyone. We have no DNA to go off of. He is careful. Meticulous. If we’re going to go based on past profiles, we know, based if only on his high degree of control over the crime scene, that he is more than likely to be following the progress of the investigation in the media. He’s proud.”
“Where does that leave us?” Creegan asks her.
“I haven’t a clue.”
The Chameleon murders, is what the press is calling them. No obvious M.O. – strangling, stabbing, gunshot, torture – for anyone to go off of, but the calling card is the same at each scene.
Two pennies and Patsy Cline.
He calls them a day after the third victim.
“I arrive in many forms,” he says into the phone.
Creegan’s hand slips around hers and stills for a brief second before he takes the phone away.
After the park and after the sun and the boats, them, she starts seeing other men – she starts going out on dates, again.
She says hi to strangers. Sometimes.
It’s after her third date with Karl when Creegan finally gets wind of it. She blames Enright, or Rivers, but she’s not sure how either of them would have known. She’s really not even sure how Creegan knows. But he does. He knows that she’s seeing someone, and it’s enough.
She parks the car at the crime scene and pockets the keys.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” she begs off.
“You embarrassed? Are you dating a midget? Are you dating someone incredibly, devastatingly awkward and the very thought of introducing him to your illustrious partner makes you tremble in her boots?” He leers at her with that one; she gives him The Look.
“Is he someone I know? Is that why you don’t want to tell us? Oh, are you dating Bernal?” Creegan bursts into a huge laugh with that one. “Or no. Are you dating a woman? Jesus Christ. Please tell me it’s because you’re dating a woman.”
Susan spins around and flips him off. Creegan waggles his eyebrows.
“None of the above,” she says.
“Okay, okay. The lady likes a little mystery. I can respect that.” He is mercifully quiet for a moment. There are only a handful of sips left in her cup of coffee and Susan tries to savor them. Each successive sip is cooler, staler than the last; the coffee had tasted burnt to begin with and she throws it away.
“You’re bored with him already, that’s it. That’s it,” Creegan pushes, draws his last two words out, all long and slow and knowing.
He takes her silence for assent. He is not incorrect, but she’s not going to tell him that. She’ll make him work for these things.
“…the thing is,” Creegan is saying, “you’ve got to keep it interesting. Dirty text messages, that sort of thing. I’ve been told that men like that.”
“You’ve been told?” she echoes. She’s not really listening. She missed the first part of his monologue about keeping the relationship hot, or whatever, and really only tuned in when she caught the phrase dirty text messages. She regrets throwing away the cup of coffee, empty as it was. She needs something to do with her hands. She settles for her pockets.
“Yeah, sure. Hey – hey, Rivers, back me up here. Men love dirty text messages. Am I right?”
Rivers pulls that funny face, the face that says “I have no idea what you’re talking about but I’m amused all the same” and laughs softly.
With his mouth, he says: “Absolutely. It’s, like, the twenty-first century version of phone sex.”
Susan frowns. She holds up a hand and shakes her head.
“That’s enough of that.”
She wants to wipe that shit-eating grin off Creegan’s face. He snickers behind her as she walks off. She lifts the yellow caution tape and steps over the curb.
The fourth victim was poisoned, or at least that’s what the toxology report will say, later.
There are the pennies.
There is the Patsy Cline.
“She was retired,” Rivers says. “A nurse.”
The dead woman’s cat rubs against Susan’s leg and she tries not to shudder.
She slurps her drink and he sips his.
“Holly and I married young,” is what he said.
Susan fights to keep her face blank and she stares at the Happy Hour specials scrawled in chalk on the board behind his head. The word daiquiri is misspelled. It grates at her already raw nerves.
She knows what that’s like. Young and hopeful and there are things like promises and that gentle stirring of maybe maybe, maybe we can make this work.
She almost likes the fact that his story ended as catastrophically and alone as her own did. But that’s not really true, is it? For Susan it ended with razor blades and her bathtub. For him, it was a stranger’s bullet and years of rehabilitation. His wife is still alive but he doesn’t love her anymore. His girls are still around, but he can’t seem to catch the knack of relearning how to be a father.
What’s that like? she wants to ask. She is curious.
What’s it like to go to sleep one man and awake another?
What’s that like?
She doesn’t ask. Instead she finishes her drink and leans back heavy in her chair. He watches her closely.
“That’s nice,” is what she says.
Creegan’s smile is cutting and almost cruel; he knows empty words when he hears them.
Here is the problem:
She is a grown woman. She can recognize attraction when she sees it, feels it.
She can’t do her job like this. She blames him.
She hopes he blames her, too.
Her eyes are still on the misspelled daiquiri on the chalkboard but she’s two more drinks in, he, three more.
“Do you ever miss him?” Creegan had asked.
“I was a different person then,” she says. “He wouldn’t fit now.”
She had not needed Creegan to specify who him is.
Creegan looks at her like he thinks she’s a liar. His eyes are bright and narrowed.
She thinks she was telling the truth.
That much counts for something.
There is a break, a lucky one at that, and they catch it.
A man came to visit the fourth victim the day she died.
“Never seen him before,” the neighbor tells them, excitement evident in the way her eyes widen and her hands gesture.
After that, after a description of the man, it sort of becomes easy. The man, the suspect, has a record.
“It’s like the suspect just fell into our laps our something,” Susan says.
“It’s like he wants to be caught,” Creegan points out.
“It doesn’t feel right,” Susan doesn’t say, and either does Creegan, but their expressions match. His eyes connect with hers, and she shrugs.
Enright sends them to the suspect’s hometown.
Enright sends them to Kansas.
Her hands grip the armrests and she takes a deep breath as they take off.
“Have you ever been in a plane crash?” Creegan asks, no prelude.
“What? No. Why would you ask that?”
“I see. Do you think a question like that brings bad luck? You think I just doomed us to some fiery and miserable death. Is that it?”
“Stop it,” she says but she is almost smiling.
“I’m being serious!” He turns to face her, his face earnest and strangely excited. “You’re afraid to fly – don’t argue. You’re about to rip the armrest off. I see that. I’m just trying to figure out why exactly. And you, you’re not being very helpful here.”
He fixes her with a look of mock admonishment.
“I don’t know,” she finds herself saying. “Do I need to have a reason? Aren’t you ever afraid of things for no real rational reason? Spiders? Heights? Snakes?”
He considers this for a moment.
“No. No, I can’t really say I am.”
His hand brushes over hers – deliberate, she would swear – and he settles back in his seat.
The trip to Kansas is fruitless.
They visit the suspect’s old house.
What neighborhood was once there is now an already rundown shopping center. Creegan plays with a shopping cart in the parking lot and Susan calls the office.
“There is nothing for us here,” she says.
Their motel is even worse than the one he lives in.
There is wood paneling along only one of the walls and a painted picture of a moose above the headboard. The sheets are rough and an off-white, once brighter, she can imagine.
Creegan walks in while Susan is hanging up her phone. He raises an eyebrow.
“Voicemail,” she explains. He flops down on her bed.
“So what’s his name?” Creegan prods. “Loverboy, what’s his name, hmm?”
She sighs and drops her toiletry bag on the counter next to the bathroom sink and walks back out towards the bed.
“What’s that to you, huh? We’ve had this conversation before. Let it go.”
“I just want to make sure you’re not tangoing with another potential murder suspect, that’s all,” he says. Casual and offhand.
Susan’s chest gets tight and her face cold.
“Oh, fuck you,” she says. A warning; she points a finger at him.
There is a tornado warning for the county to the south of them.
The sky colors strange – green and gray and purple, back to green. Old men say there is electricity on the air. Susan points her finger at Creegan and swears.
Creegan stalks lazy – the long, lean build of him, something natural and predatory stretched tight along his limbs, torso, his angry and amused mouth. He takes a step forward and she takes a step back.
“Oh, fuck you,” she says.
“Well, I would hate to encroach on your mysterious suitor’s territory…” he teases. She scowls, defensive.
“I’m just a big joke to you, huh? My life, me, I’m a joke to you. Well you know what, David, I think it’s high time I earned myself some happiness and if Karl is my ticket there, then so be it. You have no right, no right.” And she stops there. This is stupid.
“Karl,” Creegan repeats blankly. “K-arl.” He sounds it out. “Karl.”
“Yes. Karl,” she snaps. “I – I met him at my gym. He’s a lawyer.”
“A lawyer,” Creegan repeats. His mouth is down-turned, a snide slant. “Karl the Lawyer.”
“Why are we fighting about this?” she asks.
“We’re not fighting. We’re having a heated exchange. Of words. There is a difference.”
She sighs and toes her shoes off. Her back is to him, but she can feel him watching. He’s always watching.
“Do you love him?” Creegan asks.
“What? No – what? You just can’t ask someone that.”
“It’s too – it’s personal, Creegan. And, yes, I know you’re my partner. In a strictly professional capacity. But that’s. That’s it. Okay?”
“So we’re not friends,” he says dumbly.
“I didn’t – I don’t know. I don’t know.”
“We used to be better than this.”
It’s the way he says it that irks her. He says it like they were once something or maybe they could be something and Susan has had it up to her ears with games and misdirection.
“What does that even mean?”
He stares at her. She is barefoot and the carpet is well-worn underneath her feet. Susan stands there, one hand on her hip and she hopes her eyes are as challenging as she feels right now.
“What does that even mean?” she asks.
Creegan grabs her by the shoulders and doesn’t so much as steer her but pushes her. Her shoulder blades meet the wall first and he pushes her back and back and back against the faded green and blue striped wallpaper.
“What – ” and the words die trapped in her throat.
He kisses her. He kisses her and she wonders how long this has been cooking between them. He uses his teeth, savage with his mouth and she presses the heels of her palms against the wallpaper.
She refuses to touch him, but opens her mouth under his.
He slicks his tongue against hers immediately, loud and open-mouthed, too urgent and it is wet and sloppy. She pants an irregular rhythm against his lips and her hands press flat against the wall behind her.
His body fits firmer against hers and he is hard against her stomach. He makes a falling, groaning noise, their bodies flush. His fingers press hot under her shirt along the pale curve of her hip and she gasps.
She gasps and pushes him away from her.
Her hands are damp. She trembles.
Creegan takes a step back. His eyes are heavy-lidded and dark and he holds his hands out – they frame her shoulders but he does not touch her.
“I'm sorry, Susan,” he says. His voice skips a breath on her name. She only shrugs.
“No. I really am sorry. That was out of line?”
She can’t look at him.
“Yes, yeah it’s fine,” she mumbles and slumps against the wall when he leaves.
In the morning they eat at the airport. He hides behind the front page of yesterday’s USA Today.
She takes a deep breath.
“David, we should talk about this. We can’t do our jobs if we don’t talk about it.”
He purses his lips together and nods his head back and forth. “Alright. Alright then, let’s talk about it.” Creegan drops the newspaper to his lap and leans in to her. He gestures towards her. “What do you want to say?”
Susan crosses her arms over her chest. “Come on now.”
“No, no, no. You wanted to talk about this, so let’s talk about it. I, personally, am glad that you had been drinking gin beforehand. I hate the taste of tequila. Yuck.” His smile is wide and smug and he has too many white, sharp teeth.
“Forget it. This was a mistake.”
Creegan watches her as she watches out the window for their plane to roll across the runway.
If she was looking, if she saw his face, she might have said he looked rather disappointed.
But she didn’t.
Their first kiss is in Kansas – it makes her a little sad, later that night, that the first time they ever kissed was here, Kansas, and not back home, the Golden Gate Bridge for a backdrop.
She has thought about kissing him before.
In her mind, it never went like this.
There is a fifth victim when they return.
Multiple stab wounds on upper torso.
“Goddamnit,” Susan says.
Creegan does not say anything – at least to her.
He saved her life once, twice and she imagines that at one point he would do it again. That it’s how they would be – dodging bullets, taking them for each other. Everything down to the eleventh hour and he would stroll in, she would.
It’s not healthy, she knows. Relying on someone to save yourself.
Creegan’s desk phone rings.
“This is Creegan,” he answers.
His face falls a little and he grips the edge of the desk, tight.
“It’s him. He – he says he got another,” Creegan says.
Susan’s shoulders slump.
The sixth is a homeless man. There is a simple gunshot to the forehead and a splatter of blood and brains along an already defaced brick wall. There is a boom box there waiting for them. Creegan is already there, running shoes and a sweatshirt.
It’s not even five in the morning yet.
“Top of the morning,” Creegan says, cheerful enough, as he squats down next to the body. Creegan stares at the pennies on the eyes and Susan hits the stop button; the music cuts out at the start of the chorus. He sort of smiles at her after she does that. The quiet that descends is strange, only police cars and traffic down the way for accompaniment.
She watches him.
She doesn’t ask him anymore about dying.
It’s not that she isn’t still curious. That part has yet to fade. She just doesn’t bother to ask him anymore. There were never straight answers, and she has come around to the conclusion that maybe straight answers don’t exist for a question like that, and try as she might, she’s never going to get what it is she thinks she wants.
So she doesn’t ask. Not anymore.
There are the moments though. Moments where Creegan will stare out of windows, stare into the setting sun, that sort of thing. His chin will be lax, not set tight like it normally is when he is thinking hard.
“What is it?” she is always tempted to ask. “What do you see?”
She doesn’t ask.
At half past six they stop for breakfast.
“I’m so tired,” she says. The diner does not answer.
Creegan sighs: “I know.”
She’s sure he does.
“I’ve gone, and done it again,” the voice says on her phone.
Patsy Cline begins to play.
(The seventh victim is just a kid, and Susan, she’s supposed to know what to do with things like that, and a statement like that is sad enough on its own – but the problem, the problem is she doesn’t. She looks at the kid and she looks at the little limbs and the pale, empty face and it’s too much for her, it’s too much, she’s supposed to be better than this, we used to be better than this, Creegan had said, but there’s still the dead boy, there’s still all those dead, dead, dead people and they haven’t a clue –
She doesn’t have a clue).
“Branca – ”
They get drunk and she sucks him off.
To her, it feels a bit like something to prove. That she can catch him off guard, that she can leave him speechless. That she can give him what he wants.
They drink too much, the word daiquiri is still misspelled, and he drives anyway. He drives to his motel room and without any words exchanged between them, she follows him upstairs.
She doesn’t kiss him. Susan doesn’t kiss him, but she studies him and he studies her in turn. His eyes alternate between her own and her lips; his breath catches or maybe it’s hers. She presses a palm flat against his chest, and then lower.
Her fingers on his belt, the button, zip of his jeans make sense. It makes sense to her to get on her knees and she drags his pants down easily enough.
He’s already half-hard, half-hard and muttering something that sounds like wait. She doesn’t, and he feels good in her hand – thick and hot to the touch and it doesn’t take more than a couple strokes of her hand to get him to full hardness.
He doesn’t say anything like, “we shouldn’t,” like, “this is wrong,” and if she was paying attention this would have stood out. Instead he tells her to wait, and she doesn’t, and when she licks around the head of his cock he tastes salty and it makes sense.
She can feel his hand shake just behind the nape of her neck. She can feel his fingers catch at loose strands of hair.
“No no no no you don’t have to – you don’t – fuck fuck yes – ” is what he says. She is older, out of practice, but she remembers. She opens her mouth wide and hollows out her cheeks. The tip of his cock hits the back of her throat and she swallows hard, tears leaking out of the corner of her eyes. Her throat convulses around him and it’s then that his hand closes in a fist, catching her hair, at the back of her head. His hips buck and his moan is long and low. Her jaw aches and she grabs his ass.
This is the dumbest thing she has ever done.
When he comes, she swallows fast.
He shouts her name three times:
“Fuck fuck – Susan – ”
“Jesus Christ, Susan.”
After, she feels balanced. She rests her hands on his bare thighs and the muscle beneath the skin shakes. He won’t stop staring at her mouth, and that’s how this started, right?
She licks her lips without thinking and his thighs tense under her hands.
She leaves after that.
She wants to blame the case for this because she thinks that might make things easier. They are frustrated. There are no clues.
They are alone. There’s that one too. There is always that to contend with.
“It’s always Patsy Cline,” Creegan said, once.
They don’t talk about the motel, about her on her knees.
They don’t talk about it, but his hand rests lower on her back sometimes and he’ll invade her space like it’s rightfully his.
But he has always been like that.
She should have expected this.
There is a late night in the office. They still don’t have a clue.
He fingers her in the bathroom – all steel and silver and cold beneath the touch.
She knows how he felt then, just a little. She wants to tell him to stop, say, no we can’t not here not like this, but she doesn’t. She arches her hips into his touch and lets the back of her head slam against the stall wall. The sound is a dull thud and the impact makes her bite her tongue. Creegan – David – breathes heavy and damp along her exposed neck, her ear, her cheek. His lips are pink and wet.
This is different, she thinks. He twists two fingers deep and she doesn’t think. Her fingers claw and catch on the drawstring of his hooded sweatshirt. His chest is firm beneath her sharp fingers; she digs in and he flicks his wrist.
She’s sober he’s sober – she’s used to the slow thrum of a stiff drink in her system, his. She’s used to the drink in order for there to be intimacy, and that’s sad, that’s so sad.
He knows what he’s doing and she wants to hate him for that. He draws small sounds from her, all finishing with a choked edge as she tries to silence herself, keep it all in.
His fingers move harsh and fast between her legs, like there’s an answer here, maybe, like he’s trying to break her in half, perhaps. But that doesn’t fit him, that’s not him; his thumb skids up and she almost says his name.
She comes hard, knees shaking and mind blank.
She slides against the steel of the wall and the back of her shirt is damp with sweat. Creegan keeps one hand pressed against her – her thighs feel wet – and he all but laughs into her ear. Her nylons are crumpled at her feet – outside their stall, the bathroom door opens with a click.
She shivers, Creegan’s fingers wander the inside of her thigh.
The eighth victim, and the press wants to eat them alive.
She doesn’t blame them.
Sex is just a natural progression.
There is his motel room again and the cheap sheets, but the bed smells of him.
His mouth tastes like the whiskey he drank at the bar and his weight on top of her is what she has been missing this entire time.
He slides into her sharply and his name gets lost somewhere in the space between her mouth and his.
“I’m afraid of you slipping away,” is unsaid by him, but it’s there – the pressure from his fingers against her skin, the near desperate way his mouth latches to the cut of muscle between shoulder and neck as he starts to thrust.
She’s afraid of that too. She lives with the fear of it, twofold. Perhaps she will crack, egg to the lip of a frying pan, and that will be that. She will be gone.
It could work for him too and she knows it. She still sees pink bathwater and an empty face, the neat typewritten words in his report –attempts, the word itself disguising all of that awful potential. The potential for him to slip away, and it scares her it scares her too much.
(She lets him set the pace, a wide hand covering her hip, pulling her up to cradle against him. His hips are bony and she can feel the bite of bone against bone when he grinds against her. Everything is quiet – there is his breathing, the sound wet along her face, the slap of skin against skin and her own light gasp and moan.
She comes before he does – her body shaking in his arms, and she thinks, she’s not sure, she thinks he says I got you, the words sure but trembling; she clings to him).
I go out walking after midnight.
Out in the moonlight.
Just like we used to do.
I’m always walking after midnight.
Searching for you.
He left the curtains open and the streetlamps ghost their way into the room.
“How does that expression go?” he asks. “Dipping the pen in company ink?”
She groans. She lifts an arm to swat at him and he raises his own in defense. Her bare forearm pushes against his half-heartedly.
“Oh my god. Shut up.”
He laughs. He starts to laugh and then it’s like he can’t stop.
He curls his body around hers, the sheets tangled at their knees, and he laughs and he laughs and he laughs. His body vibrates and shakes against her, bare skin still new and almost familiar, and Susan drags a hand through his hair.
The next day and there isn’t another body. The relief feels strange.
Susan sits at her desk and Creegan – David – has his feet on his. He eats Cheerios with his fingers and she watches over the lid of her cup of coffee.
And then she speaks.
“We gonna talk about this at some point?”
He drops a handful of cereal on his desk.
“We…had sex. You and me. We had the sex. And it was good. What more is there to discuss? A critique, maybe? Suggestions for possible future improvement?” He leers when he says it, and that’s not surprising. What is surprising is the callous edge to everything he just said.
Susan had not expected that.
But then she realizes that she was wrong, she was so, so wrong. Because he is looking at her. He is looking at her, like the day with the gold and the sailboats and his collar, her fingers, and something inside her drops a little, twists.
“Don’t say it,” Susan whispers.
He does anyway.
“I love you,” David says. He says it so simply, so plainly – it’s like they’re in her car that very first day, driving, and you’re very beautiful, that’s what he had said then and now, now it’s I love you. He says it from across the room, the door wide open – “I love you.”
“That scares you, doesn’t it. That scares you, Susan, but it shouldn’t. It really shouldn’t.”
“What if I don’t love you back? Doesn’t that possibility scare you?”
“It doesn’t scare me at all,” he says.
Weeks back, back, back at the beginning, Creegan told her this:
“I’ve discovered something. I think about you a lot.”
Susan had not said anything to that and she drove and he watched her.
What she should have said was the truth:
“I think about you too.
“All the time.”
“I know,” he would have said.
Then again, she’s sure he always does.