It took me some time to connect the name with the man whose voice I heard on the phone. I held my cell phone tighter when I had found the connection.
"Gordon? How are you doing?" I asked. My voice was rough and hoarse.
I had pushed it to the back of my mind. However, subconsciously, I had always known this day was inevitable.
Gordon talked on. His words were fast and chopped. I felt the urge to just end the call and dismiss him. Instead, I listened, albeit with only half an ear. I knew what he was telling me. I had feared this call. I had waited for it, subconsciously. My heart beat faster, hands covered with sweat. The past had caught up with me. I looked at my watch.
"All right," I said. "It’s nine p.m, now. You’ll be here about eleven," I said.
Gordon ended the call. I lowered my arm slowly and placed my cell phone on the table in front of me. I stared into the room absent-mindedly for a while until I realized I was shivering. The room temperature had fallen drastically, or maybe I was just feeling the icy shiver that had crept up my spine.
I looked at my watch; close to eleven. I rose to my feet and looked around my living room. Suddenly it looked unfamiliar and almost unreal. The plate with the pizza was still on the table. I had not taken a bite. I had not been able to.
When Gordon had ended the call I had sat transfixed for a couple of minutes. Finally I had moved to the sofa on the other side of the room. I sat and stared trancelike at nothing, mind blank, limbs numb, and not yet ready to face Gordon and the past. I did not want to open the door to what I had hoped we had left behind thirty years ago. We had banned it from our lives. We had closed the door, but. subconsciously, I had always known it would reopen as there are no lucky escapes from a curse. I had always known that he would eventually come back to resume the game. I had always known he would come back. For me.
My watch said five past eleven. Where was he? Was he just late or was it already too late anyway? I winced at the thought. My hands were trembling. Why was Gordon coming here? Was he fleeing his own place? Was he looking for a place of refuge? I gave a sarcastic and bitter laugh. The killer would follow Gordon. Gordon was leading him here. Ten past eleven. I thought of packing my things and I took a step towards the door, but stopped short. I would give him another ten minutes.
My eyes wandered around in the room. I looked at my bookshelf. It was filled with historical books and academic research papers. Useless stuff, good for nothing. I had been frittering away my time. I had spent decades in a silken slumber and I had lived a pleasant and comfortable life. I gave another hoarse laugh. I had been deceiving myself. I had focused on things that did not matter.
I looked at my watch. Five more minutes, and I would pack and go. I would leave behind my entire life, my work as a lecturer that I had pretended to love. I would leave behind Jeremy who I had met two months ago and who I had called my soulmate only two days ago. I had pretty little choice. The past had caught up with me. He was coming to get me. I had to flee instantly. I stood to go.
The door bell rang, making me wince and hesitate for an instant. Then I went to the door and opened it. We stared at each other, measuring warily. Almost three decades had passed. Neither knew what had become of the other.
Gordon bore no resemblance to the young man I had known. He had aged considerably. He was thinning out on top, eyes wrinkled, and the skin of his face was coarse. Though my age, at forty-four he looked older; worn and, what, harried? Yes, a harried and haunted man returned my stare. I guessed he was thinking the same of me.
"Come in," I said finally. My mouth was dry.
Gordon gave a nod. He stepped into the corridor. I closed the door and, after a moment’s hesitation, I locked it. Gordon took off his olive-colored, somewhat scruffy parka. I hung it in the hall cupboard. Gordon glanced around in the corridor. I surveyed him. He was wearing a blue shirt, jeans and brown boots. He had increased in weight. His eyes stopped at a surrealist painting. I looked at it too, finding it way too colorful.
"Come through," I said, making a gesture with my hand.
Gordon turned and looked at me, but gave nothing away. I returned a brief, artificial smile to cover my discomfort. He just held his look. I straightened and retreated down the corridor and stopped at the living room door for Gordon to follow. I went in and motioned toward the sofa.
"Take a seat," I said. "Are you hungry? Would you like a drink?"
Gordon looked hard at me, then shook his head. I felt like an idiot trying to make small talk on the brink of destruction and death.
"Okay," I said brusquely. "Sit down and tell me why you are here. Don’t tell me again it’s just because of that stupid childhood play."
I was unfair. But I felt the need to mark my ground. But I was just trying to mask my fear and apprehension.
Gordon gave me an ambiguous look, but no response. After glancing around the room again, he walked to the sofa and sat down. I sat opposite as his eyes rested on my pristine white shirt. Finally, he raised his eyes and looked straight into mine.
“Richard and Liz are dead. I don’t know about Vivian. I did not find out about her. He’s after me. And you are next, Andrew," he said.
His voice was sober, free of emotion. He didn’t sound like the weirdo I had hoped he would.
"Impossible," I replied eventually.
"It’s not," Gordon said in a dead serious voice.
I looked at him defiantly, but he still betrayed no emotion. He surveyed the room again, appreciating the expensive, tasteful decor.
"It seems you have gotten somewhere, Andrew," he said, his eyes returning to me.
I ignored his mocking undertone words. He squirmed a little, betraying his discomfort. I leaned forward.
"Okay, Gordon. My life is none of your business. Tell me what you know and why you have come here, so I can decide whether I want to keep my life as it is."
He gave a scornful laugh.
"You can’t run from him any more than I can. He’s after me and he will find me sooner or later," he said.
"So why are you here?" I asked with a sneer. "Why not just leave me to my fate?"
He swallowed hard and his eyelids flickered. Despite what he said, he still hoped to escape. I leaned back and rubbed my eyes.
"What do you know, Gordon?" I asked. "Tell me about Liz. I lost touch with her when my parents and I left Springfield, Kentucky."
He gave a nod and asked for a drink. I got two bottles of mineral water from the kitchen and poured them. He took a sip from his glass, then put it on the coffee table between us.
"Okay," he said. "You remember the night Debbie died? I can’t forget it. Do you remember, Andrew?"
I nodded. Who would have ever forgotten it?
"Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary." Debbie, Liz, and Vivian were chanting enthusiastically.
Gordon, Richard, and I exchanged mocking looks. The girls had promised us an amazing, secret Halloween party at Debbie’s house. But, this was not exactly what we had expected. This was not what we, three pubescent boys, had eagerly looked forward to. Debbie’s parents were on a vacation. We would have the house to ourselves without parent oversight. The two weeks since the invitation had sufficed to build somewhat fantastic expectations. And, indeed, in the beginning, the party had held a lot of promise.
The girls had made snacks and Debbie plundered her father’s mini-bar. Liz and Vivian had brought piles of CDs. We ate, drank, listened to music, and then played spin the bottle. Richard was forced to kiss Vivian, Gordon had to dance with Debbie, and Liz and I had to lie next to each other on the couch. The girls grew bolder as more drinks were consumed. The evening was promising until Richard suggested Bloody Marys.
The girls whispered secretly, then announced another game: Bloody Mary. The girls promised this would be the highlight of the party. Debbie explained: we would stand in front of a mirror, chanting Bloody Mary to conjure up a ghost or a demon spirit. It satisfied the girls’ exciting Halloween theme perfectly. And although it was not what we boys had hoped for, we agreed if, afterwards, we played spin the bottle again.
Close to midnight we went upstairs and assembled in front of a dressing room mirror. The girls held candles and looked intently into the mirror. As the church bells struck midnight, they started the chant: "Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary.”
Us boys stood behind them with grimacing, mocking looks. As we expected, nothing happened, and we were soon bored, but the girls continued for a while. Eventually Liz and Vivian fell silent. Liz blew out her candle and Vivian placed her hand on Debbie’s arm to stop her chanting. Then the creepy thing began.
Debbie turned to Vivian and hissed at her to leave her alone. Her look was dark, fiery, and wild. Vivian winced and took a step back. The rest of us looked at the two of them. Debbie resumed her chanting, getting faster and more frantic. Her voice rose, becoming almost desperate in the dark room. She moved closer to the mirror. Vivian relit her candle.
"Stop it, Debbie," Liz said softly.
Debbie didn’t react. She focused on the mirror, gasping out the words while we stared at her back uneasily. I caught her reflection, ghostly in the dim light. Her grim look framed wide, wild eyes. A cold shiver ran up my spine.
Richard and Gordon had stepped back too and were staring at Debbie. Vivian, still clutching her candle, looked at Liz, who shrugged. Then Debbie stopped chanting and we all relaxed.
"Okay," Liz said. "Let’s go down now."
She opened the door and light spilled in from the corridor. Vivian and I joined her while Richard and Gordon whispered and snickered.
“Bullshit,” Debbie hissed, and hurled her candle into the glass.
The mirror shattered into a craze of splinters and shards were cast to the floor by the force of the impact. We stared in shock.
In an instant the door slammed shut and the room temperature fell dramatically. We heard a whining howl; cruel, brutal, and entirely inhuman. Liz shrieked and Vivian let out a cry of fear. Debbie turned abruptly and Vivian and Liz’ candles guttered out. A dreadful silence enveloped the room.
Then Debbie resumed her chant, but her voice was dark, hollow, and changed now. I winced. It was the voice of a man. The two other girls shrieked hysterically and I flinched as someone ran into me.
Finally, the chanting stopped. Vivian and Liz fell silent and stumbled towards the door. I could hear Richard sobbing behind me as Gordon clung to my arm. "Light switch, light switch," he sputtered repeatedly. I was immobilised. My perception was heightened, yet though I heard every sound around me clearly. It felt totally unreal and dreamlike.
Gordon released my arm and I heard Vivian’s sobs. Then I sensed someone to my left; someone’s breathing; a panting. The creature came closer. I had no idea what it wanted, but something told me it had come for me. This cold-blooded creature wanted my life.
The sound of a distant car broke my trance. I headed for the door but stumbled over Liz on the floor causing her to screech. I ran into Vivian, who had been about to open the door. She gasped when I pushed her aside, scrabbling around the wall next to the door.
"I’ll come back for you all," the voice hissed maliciously.
Finally I found the light switch and the room lit up. I turned and caught Debbie’s odd grin. She grimaced, trembled, then collapsed to the floor.
My teeth chattered and my body shook. I dropped to the floor and Vivian sat next to me. We wrapped our arms around each other and I looked around. Liz was still motionless on the floor, face down. Richard also lay curled up on the floor. Only Gordon stood. He looked around and our eyes met for an instant before he turned away, looked at Debbie, and then moved to the door. Vivian and I watched as he placed his hand on the doorknob. He hesitated for a second, then forcefully opened the door, finally breaking the spell.
Vivian crept up to Liz and whispered in her ear. Liz turned her head slowly and looked back while Vivian helped her to her feet. Without looking back at Debbie, they left and stumbled down the stairs.
I got up and went to Richard. I didn’t know whether Debbie was dead or had just fainted. My rational mind told me to help her, but I was unable to. My urge was to flee. I placed my hand on Richard’s shoulder and he shrank at the touch, so I spoke in a low voice until he finally moved. Then I more or less dragged him from the room. From the doorway I looked at Gordon, still standing there.
"We cannot leave her lying here," he said in a toneless voice.
"Call 911," I said.
The emergency services arrived within about five minutes. We told them that Debbie had gone upstairs in order to put on a Halloween costume. When she had not come back after half an hour, Vivian had gone up and had checked the rooms. She had found Debbie lying on the floor of the dressing room. Gordon had immediately called emergency. We told them we didn’t know how the mirror broke. Vivian said she had found Debbie lying on the floor, the shards of the mirror around her. Gordon had hidden the candles in his backpack. Luckily they had bought our hastily constructed story, and we swore never to reveal the truth to anybody, no matter what Debbie said after she regained consciousness.
But Debbie never regained consciousness. We had witnessed her death from a cerebral apoplexy due to fear and terror.
"Let’s be rational, Gordon," I said. "Debbie died of a cerebral apoplexy. She was possessed by her chanting, the alcohol and all. And she was terrified. It was tragic. But, it happens. It is not uncommon."
Gordon gave a dry laugh and shot me a dark look.
"Come on, Andrew, stop deceiving yourself," he said sharply.
"Gordon," I said, leaning forward and fixing my eyes on him. "Her death was not our fault. We’re not responsible for it. We’re only guilty of having kept the truth to ourselves. That is what is haunting us. Be rational, Gordon. Revealing the truth would have helped nobody, least of all her parents. It would not have made things undone, or brought Debbie back."
We looked at each other.
"We should have stopped her. We should have stopped her chanting. We should have stopped the whole thing," Gordon replied.
"Gordon," I said. "This all took a couple of minutes. She was frantic. Vivian tried to stop her, so did Liz. But she wouldn’t stop. It was creepy, yes. But what could we have done? Drag her away, hit her? What, Gordon, what could we have done?"
"We should have stopped the whole thing," Gordon insisted.
He leaned back on the sofa and shrugged with a resigned wave of his hand.
"You’re right," he said. "It was only a game, after all. I couldn’t understand why she was so desperate, though. I was just bored in the beginning. Then I was scared to death."
We exchanged another look.
"You know fine what caused the cerebral apoplexy, don’t you, Andrew?" His voice was dead serious.
I opened my mouth to protest, but refrained. Instead, I turned and gazed at the wall. Yes, I knew very well. I had always feared this day, and past truths would catch up with me.
"You can’t run from it. You can’t escape," Gordon said with an intent look.
I looked back at him.
"There is no evidence that he’s coming back, Gordon," I said urgently.
"He said he would come back and get us all," Gordon replied.
"Debbie’s last words. Words uttered due to a cerebral apoplexy," I said.
"No," Gordon said impatiently. "Stop deceiving yourself, Andrew. You know very well what happened. She called a demon and the demon seized her brain; took control of it. It possessed her entire being. Debbie was dead the instant the demon emerged. The demon just used her to speak to us. You heard the whining, and the howling. It spoke to us. You heard it. You heard the words. You felt its presence, Andrew. Didn’t you?"
I stared at him for a moment, then gave a nod. It was time to face a truth I could deny no longer.
"Yes, I sensed the demon’s presence," I admitted finally.
"I sensed it, too," Gordon replied. "Malicious. Bloodthirsty. Evil. Murderous."
I leaned back and closed my eyes briefly.
"All right, Gordon," I said.
"The demon came back to get us all," he said.
"Why did he wait so long?" I asked.
He looked at me hard.
"It came back at Debbie’s funeral and has haunted us from then on. You’re not aware because you’ll be the last he will kill," he replied. His voice was sober and strikingly calm.
I gave an involuntary shudder.
"I think there’s a pattern," Gordon said. "Richard died first, Liz next. Richard was the first who gave in to the situation that night. Did you hear him sobbing on the floor?"
I swallowed and nodded.
"Liz gave in next. And she was lying on the ground too, face down. Did you know she died seven years ago?” he asked. “The demon came back at Debbie’s funeral and has haunted us ever since."
The funeral was on a cold day in November. Rain fell all day long. We assembled in St. Peter’s, a Catholic church. The priest was a middle-aged man trying in vain to hide his nervousness. The church was packed with half the town; most there, I suspected, out of curiosity. Debbie’s death had given rise to rumor and gossip. And although our parents had tried to keep it from us, we had heard plenty of it.
I had neither seen nor heard from Richard or Liz. Vivian had called me once, but it was brief, shallow. I had seen Gordon the day before the funeral. He had come to my house in a somewhat deranged state, asking me what to do with the candles he had put in his backpack. I said get rid of them soon. I really didn’t care where or how. He told me later that he had thrown them into a garbage bag along with other stuff.
I looked around in the church. My parents and I were late because our car wouldn’t start. The church was crowded, and although it seemed me inappropriate to sit in the rear, it would have been more so to push through to find a front seat with Vivian and the others. She and her parents sat two rows behind Debbie’s family. I saw the others sat across the aisle.
As Reverend Smith began the crowd fell silent. The mass seemed endless to me. I didn’t really understand Reverend Smith’s message, and only endured it through sheer willpower. At the start of each hymn I tensed up, before, eventually, it was over. They said later it had been a sad, but beautiful, consoling mass, despite the priest’s obvious nerves.
As they carried the coffin from the church I saw Debbie’s mother crying. Her ashen face and her shaking body contrasted with Debbie’s father’s upright posture, his arm around his wife. He looked calm and collected, but his grief showed in grave and shadowed eyes. Debbie’s brother walked as if in a spell, slowly, detached, oblivious. The congregation followed the coffin to the graveyard despite it raining cats and dogs with a bitter wind on top. But the weather was borne solemnly as we walked.
They let the coffin down and Reverend Smith spoke again. Then all was said and done, and the mourners left the graveyard. Debbie’s parents, brother, and a few relatives congregated around her grave.
Within half an hour later, I was home. My father fished his key from his pocket to unlock the front door, but was surprised to find it open. My mother suggested he had not locked it, but he insisted he had. We stepped in and my mother let out a cry. The corridor mirror lay in hundreds of shards on the floor. I stared at them with shock. I felt a punch in the stomach and a cold shiver ran up my spine.
My parents didn’t see my reaction. They hurried to clean up the mess. I went upstairs to my room, shut the door and sat down on my bed, breathing heavily. I was frightened and scared, but I forced myself to calm down. The broken mirror meant nothing. My father had forgotten to lock the door. Perhaps someone had walked in or perhaps an animal had gotten in through a window and, for some reason, broken the mirror. The explanations were plausible, yet my gut told me that they were false. I knew with certainty that the demon had come back to resume the mirror game.
My mother called me, but I did not move until she called me again. I went downstairs. Vivian was on the phone. My mother handed it to me, and resumed sweeping the floor. I sat down in a chair in the rear of the corridor.
"Vivian?" I asked nervously.
She spoke so fast and hysterically I didn’t get what she was saying. Finally she calmed down and started all over again. Her parents had gone back to their car to find the wing mirrors smashed.
I said nothing until her desperation broke the silence.
"Andrew?" she asked nervously.
I recounted our story and a silence fell between us, though I could hear her gasping.
"What about the others?” she asked in a flat tone.
"I don’t know," I replied. "We only got home a couple of minutes ago."
She told me to call Gordon. She said she would call Richard and Liz, and then she would call me back. When she hung up I just stared at the receiver in my hand. Finally, I dialed Gordon and got his mother, who passed me onto him. I gave him the news about all the broken mirrors. His silence made me even more anxious.
"Our wing mirrors were broken, too," he said finally. I let out a deep breath. "Call me back when you know about Richard and Liz." He hung up.
I sat; limbs numb, and terribly cold, unaware of my mother till I heard her voice. She put a gentle hand on my shoulder.
"This has been hard on you, Andrew." Her voice was soft as if talking to a very young child. "Go lie down and rest. I’ll get you one of my sleeping pills."
"I can’t sleep. I have to wait for Vivian to call back," I protested.
"Well, I think rest is more important," my mother replied.
My father joined us, his face wound with concern. He had been a paramedic for a couple of years and he took my pulse. “Hypotension”, he muttered. It was entirely useless to protest against his diagnosis. Weak and exhausted I capitulated, figuring protest would be fruitless.
My mother followed like I was a three-year-old. I took off my jeans and lay down, swallowing the sleeping pill she gave me. When she placed a hand on my forehead I let out a sob and tears filled my eyes. She shushed me softly, and left quietly. I let out another sob. I tried to figure out who had broken the mirrors. But soon enough the sleeping pill prevailed and my mental storm gave way to a drowsiness, which soon yielded to sleep.
Gordon was still watching me.
"We overreacted," I said. "Anybody could have broken the car mirrors. Vivian’s father reported it and it went nowhere. It could have been anyone, Gordon. Some idiot teenager with no respect for anything."
"And what about the mirror in your house?" His eyes pierced.
"Coincidence," I replied. "My father forgot to lock the door. There was no evidence of a forced entry. I shrugged. Just coincidence."
"It had nothing to do with your father not locking the door. He just walked in," Gordon said with a hint of impatience. "How did the mirror break, Andrew? Do you have a rational explanation?"
"Good Lord, Gordon," I replied. "Maybe some animal came in a window. My stupid mother was always leaving one open a bit. My father was forever complaining at her about it."
Gordon leaned back and gave me a mocking look.
"An animal! … Came in through a gap!? What sort of tiny animal, do you think? A squirrel? And this squirrel, for whatever reason, threw itself at the hall mirror, then ran away leaving no trace? Not one single drop of blood? Don’t be ridiculous, Andrew."
We stared each other out for a while. I knew my explanation had no credibility. Not with what happened to Richard. A derisory smile formed on Gordon’s lips, seeing my own disbelief.
"No. You don’t believe it yourself, do you Andrew," he said.
I turned my eyes to the wall and sighed deeply. No, I didn’t. Not after what happened to Richard a couple of months after Debbie’s death.
They had found him dead. He’d slashed his wrists with a piece of broken mirror.
Richard had been a dreamer; soft and reserved, uninterested in boys’ stuff and games. He was into reading and writing poems. Gordon and I knew him from primary school. That was why he was hanging out with us. Others considered him weak and ridiculed him.
He didn’t deal well with Debbie’s death. At least that’s what I heard. The last I saw him was at the funeral. He never came back to school and he never contacted any of us. His parents blanked our calls. Eventually we discovered he had gone to a private psychological clinic. In the end we gave up trying to get in touch with him.
He broke the mirror and slashed his wrists in his hospital bathroom. The verdict was suicide as a result of the psychological trauma of Debbie’s death. But we knew there was more to it when we heard about the piece of paper that had been found on the floor of his room. In handwriting that was definitely not Richard’s, someone had written: ‘I’ll come back and get you all.’ The Police investigation concluded there was no third-party involvement in Richard’s death, and the case was closed. But we had witnessed Debbie’s death, and we knew better.
Liz was away for a summer job in a wildlife resort when she learned of Richard’s suicide from her parents. She called Vivian who called Gordon and I. I’d just come back from holiday with my parents, and Gordon had returned the previous day from his grandparents’. Vivian was the only one of us who had been around on the day of Richard’s death. But the hospital was fifteen miles from Springfield, in the country. Could she really have sneaked in? Had she found Richard’s room? Was the handwriting hers?
Liz had come home the following weekend, and the four of us had met up. Nobody said a word. Nobody asked Vivian what she’d been doing the day of Richard’s death. We re-swore our oath to remain silent and never reveal the truth. We hoped to bribe the evil to silence, and free ourselves from any guilt and responsibility. But none of us trusted each other after Richard’s death. Suspicions had been raised. And suspicion finally tore us apart.
I looked at Gordon.
"You and I discussed it, but I never said a word to Liz or Vivian," I said.
"Neither did I," Gordon replied.
He leaned back and crossed his arms in front of his chest.
"You can’t really believe Vivian got into the hospital and Richard’s room. It’s just not plausible that a sixteen-year-old girl is cold-blooded enough to commit a murder, leave no trace, then act as if nothing had happened. I can’t see it," he said.
I shook my head. "Neither can I." "I have a bit of perspective now. But I was sixteen when it all happened, and I couldn’t think rationally then. I was way too emotional to say nothing of terrified. "
Gordon nodded. "But if Vivian didn’t write the note, who did, Andrew?" he asked.
I shrugged. "He obviously spoke with his doctors. I assume he spoke with the other patients. Maybe he revealed the truth to someone else. A psycho could have killed him. Or maybe a psycho wrote the note and Richard found it. If he thought the evil had returned, he might have committed suicide. This is the most logical explanation," I said.
I looked at the clock in my room. It was half past midnight. What was Gordon aiming at? What did he want? Why did he not come straight to the point? I took a breath. I understood. We had not yet talked about Liz.
"The most logical explanation, but most likely not the correct one," Gordon said.
"You can’t honestly think Vivian killed him," I replied. I was slowly losing patience.
"No," Gordon said. "You know who murdered Richard. The man in the mirror killed him. Richard was the first who gave in to his fear that night. He was the first who was killed. Liz was his next victim. Like I said, he follows a pattern."
I clenched my hands for a second. Did he really believe in the man in the mirror? Did he really believe in his demon story? Did he really believe in this crap?
"Tell me, Gordon. Liz died seven years ago. Why do you think he waited over twenty years to carry on with the game?" I asked, shifting in my chair impatiently.
"I don’t know," Gordon replied. "Most likely time doesn’t matter to him. Or he was just waiting for an opportunity. Or he enjoyed dragging it out. Maybe he enjoys his fantasies more than actually committing the crime."
I just stared at him until he leaned forward with a piercing look.
"He is a demon, after all. You sensed his presence. You sensed his satanic aura, his sadistic intentions, his evil, didn’t you?" Gordon asked in a low voice.
"You seem to know him well," I replied sarcastically.
I was smiling at him, but inwardly his words chilled me. I sat back a little.
He shot me an angry look and hit his hand on the table. I froze and gaped at him.
"Can’t you take this seriously, Andrew?" he hissed, eyes narrowed, cheeks red with rage.
I lost my grin. He was right. I was being puerile, cracking jokes over my dead friends. In truth I was running. Peering at Gordon I realized our lethal childhood game had never ended. The killer had come back for Vivian, Gordon, and me. He had waited for more than twenty years. But now the countdown ticked away inexorably. Our time was running out.
"Okay," I said in a stifled voice.
"Okay," Gordon echoed mockingly. "Did reality finally catch up with you, Andrew?"
We measured each other.
"Who told you about Liz’ death?" Gordon asked finally.
"Vivian. I hadn’t heard from her until that day. I have not heard from her again," I said.
Gordon leaned forward and fixed his eyes on me.
"Do you know where she lives?" he asked.
I shook my head. "No," I replied. "She said she was calling me from Heathrow Airport. She didn’t even say her name, but I recognized her voice. She said three sentences and hung up: ‘Liz was killed. Her body was surrounded by a shattered mirror. He’s back, Andrew."
Gordon nodded. "Same here. I tried to find her for a couple of months, but Vivian Hunt had disappeared. She must have got a new life," he said.
We were quiet for a while.
I broke the silence. "Why would she tell us about Liz’ death if she was the killer?"
"To warn us? To frighten us again?" Gordon asked back. "I don’t know. To scare us to death?"
"I thought you said a couple of minutes ago the killer was a demon?" I said, leaning back in my chair and folding my arms.
I studied him for a moment, trying to divine what was wrong with him? Did he believe in the demon or did he really suspect Vivian? Had he just not yet made up his mind? What did he want? Did he think I had information on Vivian? Was he tracking her down?
"You wanted to tell me about Liz," I said coldly.
Our bond was shattered after Richard’s death. Unspoken suspicions and the pain and pressure of hiding the truth ultimately destroyed it. We avoided each other, and to keep the evil at bay each of us stuck to what we had sworn. At least that was what I had always believed.
Liz and her parents moved to another town that autumn. Five hundred miles between us was a good enough reason to break contact with her. I knew the name of the town she lived in, the name of her street. I even knew her telephone number. But not once did I contact her, nor did she phone or write. A year or so later I looked up their name in the directory. It was deleted, and I felt no need to pursue her. Ultimately, Liz was in the past.
We moved the following year, too. Gordon and I exchanged letters for a while, but, as time passed, that diminished, then stopped. I had also written to Vivian. And when she had not replied I felt no need pursue Vivian Hunt either.
And then twenty years went by.
"After I finished school I was working in tourism in Mexico," Gordon started. “I came back five years later and Vivian had disappeared. Her cousin told me she had married a guy called Pete Johnson and they’d moved to Ringgold, a small town in Georgia. I investigated, just out of curiosity, but I didn’t find either of them in any directory. I assumed they’d moved again. Anyway, I lost interest; it was a pointless waste of time. She had disappeared just like Liz. It just seemed best to let them go. But I did wonder if I should look you up, Andrew."
"Did you?" I asked.
"I sent a letter to the last address I had for you, but it came back addressee unknown. I tried to find your aunt and uncle - do you remember Abraham Dayton, the math whiz? He helped. He worked out that they had moved too. After that I didn’t know what to do, so I gave up."
Gordon looked at his empty glass on the table. I poured him more water and he took a sip.
"A couple of years had passed. I was older; more mature. Time had wiped it away for the most part, and it was having less impact on me. I pretty much forgot about it. You, the others, the man in the mirror, and that hellish night," he said.
I nodded. My life had moved on too. I had been through university, got on with my career. Now I was a lecturer and a respected historian with a few books on Roman history to my name - my real name. It hadn’t even occurred to me to hide. My subconscious fears seemed to have been tamed.
I looked at Gordon.
"I had forgotten about it all until Vivian called," he went on. "I searched newspapers and the internet for news reports on what happened to Liz. It was in a town called Scranton. I actually went down there, though I didn’t dare speak to anyone, not even her husband. I just buried it all again."
He looked at me intently.
"And what about you, Andrew?” he asked. “Didn’t you ever try to find out about us? Didn’t Vivian’s call make you just a little curious?"
"It only stirred up old fears," I replied.
Gordon nodded slowly.
"Yes," he said. "That was why I went on searching.”
"It’s why I didn’t," I said.
He looked at me for a while.
"You never tried to find out about Liz or Vivian or me?" he asked, obviously incredulous.
"No, I have not," I said shortly. "And I never would have, if you hadn’t called."
I was getting impatient and annoyed again. What did he want? What was he aiming at? I looked at him darkly which made him squirm a bit and fold his arms. I leaned forward and looked directly into his eyes.
"Do you think I’m unfair? Mean?" I asked. "Perhaps I am. To be perfectly honest, Gordon, Debbie’s death was a tragedy for her parents, us, and everybody close to her. I don’t know if there is an afterlife or not; if she’s in some other place, mourning her own death, or if she’s happy there. I don’t know, Gordon. Maybe she was gone at the very moment she suffered the stroke. Perhaps she just ceased to be. Is it sad? Yes. A tragic death? Yes. A curse? No. These things happen a thousand times daily. We witnessed Debbie’s death and it paralyzed us, shocked us to the core. That’s the demon that haunts us, Gordon. Ourselves. The cruelty of death, the brutal extinction of life; it’s all just, unfathomable. That’s what we’re scared of. Innocent, happy teenagers just having a bit of fun. Debbie’s death ended our childhoods. And we weren’t ready for it. No demons, Gordon. Just life. And death."
I leaned back and glared at him. I was fed up with his weird theory and speculation. He stared back, strange and hard to decipher. He stood abruptly and gave me a nod.
"Time will tell who is right, you or me," he said coldly.
He marched into the corridor. I followed him and handed him his jacket. He put it on without looking at me. I opened the door and he stepped out. Then he looked back.
"It was definitely murder, Andrew. Liz’ throat was cut with a piece from a broken mirror. And the Police still haven’t caught the killer. There was a piece of paper scrunched up in her fist. What do you think it said, Andrew? What do you think it said? I am back to get you. That’s what it said."
He scanned my face for a reaction.
"I warned you," he said.
"All right," I replied.
Just as I was about to close the door he turned to me again.
"One more thing, Andrew," he said.
He pulled a piece of paper from his jeans and handed it to me.
"I found that in my bathroom this morning. Amongst my shattered mirror," he said.
I read the words: I’m back. Who’s next?
Strangely, it made perfect sense.
Jeremy came to see me the following day. I trusted him, though we had only met two months ago. He was my soulmate, my lover, my friend. I told him the whole story. He used his lawyer’s brain to analyze it like he would have picked apart one of his cases. Sober and coldly, unemotional, he collected facts and distilled them.
“I agree with you, Andrew," he said after I had recounted all the facts. "You created the demon yourselves. You witnessed Debbie’s cruel death. You created a third party in order to disconnect from the emotions that her unexpected death caused: feelings of guilt, fear, terror and shame, the feeling of helplessness."
"But what about the voice we heard? What about the door that slammed shut?" I asked.
"You said Vivian was trying to find the door. Maybe she opened it and accidentally slammed it shut again," Jeremy suggested.
"No. The door slammed shut a long time before Vivian tried to open it," I countered.
"Can you say that with certainty?" Jeremy asked. "Your mind might have mixed up bits of memories. Yes, you witnessed the events, but the mind can rearrange them in the wrong chronological order. I see this often, Andrew. Three people will give you three entirely different accounts. When the mind has gaps, it fills them, but not necessarily with objective facts."
I nodded pensively. Perhaps he was right. His explanation sounded plausible to me.
"Okay," I said. "But what about the voice?" I asked. "We all heard it."
"The cerebral apoplexy could have made Debbie’s voice deeper, and derangement may have caused her to say the words. I would have to ask a specialist, but I can see how it could be the result of the stroke."
It was plausible. I had already thought of this explanation myself. I nodded and looked at Jeremy.
"A part of me has always feared we had conjured up a demon. But we made it all up ourselves," I said.
I thought for a few moments. Jeremy simply watched me.
"What do you think? Did Richard commit suicide? What about the piece of paper in his room?" I asked.
"He could have written it himself in an attempt to reconnect the disconnected parts of his personality," Jeremy replied. "The hospital most likely worked on that. But, the disconnected part could have written it subconsciously and when his conscious self found it, it scared him to death. Suicide was his only escape. It happens. That’s why some offenders go to a psychiatric ward rather than jail. They’re mentally ill."
I nodded. This could well explain Richard’s suicide. But what about Liz? Who had killed her?
"You can’t possibly think Liz cut her own throat, can you?" I asked. "She had a piece of paper in her hand. Only Vivian, Gordon, and I understand the meaning of the words."
"Well, unless one of you told someone else. Then a third party could be involved," Jeremy replied.
"Well, I’ve told no-one," I said. "I doubt Gordon has. He would have told me yesterday, I think. I cannot say about Vivian, though."
"Are you sure about Gordon?" Jeremy asked. "He may have kept it from you. And what about Liz? Maybe she told her future killer."
I shook my head.
"Why would a third person, someone not involved in the game, chase Gordon seven years later? It’s not impossible, but it doesn’t make much sense," I said.
"I agree that the killer is probably one of those involved thirty years ago. I suspect whoever it is suffers from the same mental illness Richard did. That person, also unable to reintegrate the disconnected bits, ultimately wants to resolve those unfortunate events by eradicating all those connected with them."
Jeremy leaned back in his chair. I flushed hot and cold under the scrutiny of his gaze. Did he think I was the murderer?
"You can’t possibly think I killed Liz," I said in a strained voice. I looked at him nervously.
He shook his head. "No."
He got up and came and sat beside me, and put his arm around my shoulder with a smile.
"No, I don’t think you’re the culprit," he said. "Think about it. Gordon found the note yesterday morning. Someone broke into his house and put it there either at night or early in the morning. We were out the previous day. You had a lot to drink, so I drove you home at about one in the morning. Yes, given the time frame, you could have made it to Gordon and back, but weren’t actually capable. I can’t believe you could have driven to Gordon’s place and back, let alone broken in, broken a mirror and left a message, unseen and unheard."
He patted my shoulder. "You simply would not have been capable," he said.
I looked at him gravely.
"This leaves only one person," I said. "Vivian."
We got up early the following morning and were having breakfast.
"Think again," Jeremy said.
I stopped buttering my toast and looked at him.
"I have no idea where she is," I said. "She said she was calling from Heathrow. I did not pay attention to the number, but it was a landline, not a cell. It took me by surprise, shook me to the core, actually. But I’m certain it was a British number. I saw the international code. Vivian could be anywhere for all I know. It’s been seven years. Even Gordon couldn’t find her."
"Did she call on the day of Liz’ death?" Jeremy asked.
"I don’t remember," I replied with a shrug.
"I’m just wondering if she could have made it from the US to the UK on the actual day of the murder," Jeremy said.
I put my cup down. "Well, if she wasn’t in the US, then she would definitely be ruled out," I replied.
Jeremy looked into the room, deep in thought.
"If she killed Liz at night or early in the morning and took an immediate London flight, she could have called you the same day," he said.
"Actually, she called me in the evening," I replied.
Jeremy leaned back and gave me a triumphant smile. I gave him a questioning look.
"What?" I asked. "Are you enjoying the hunt?"
"Hunt was her birth name, wasn’t it? Hunting down Vivian Hunt. Unfortunately, she is hiding better," he replied.
His smile broadened, then disappeared, and his eyes narrowed as he stared off into space absent-mindedly. He was like an animal scenting prey. Then something occurred to me.
“Why hunt her down? There’s no need. I just have to sit and wait for her to appear. She cannot be far. She went to Gordon’s house two days ago and left a piece of paper. His place is a two hour drive away. She will probably come here soon, too," I said in a dismal voice.
"You could be right," Jeremy replied slowly. "I don’t think she has decided who to kill next. She left Gordon a warning. She might leave you one, too. Or, she expected Gordon to contact you, which would suffice as a warning."
I tensed and tried to recall the Vivian I had known. She had been strong-willed, courageous, but soft and empathetic too. Could she really have turned into a cold-blooded professional assassin, killing without leaving a trace? I couldn’t see it. But, there again, it had been almost thirty years. Was that enough to so completely change a person? Perhaps, I decided, pushing my plate aside, appetite gone.
"Keep thinking," Jeremy said. "I’d rather find Vivian before she finds you." He got up and said "I’ll call you from the office."
He was gone within a couple of minutes. I stayed at the kitchen table, racking my brain, but clueless where to start. I had never tried to find out about Vivian. Gordon, however, had. My eyes wandered across the room. I had never researched Gordon either. I would never have thought he lived not far from me.
Why had he not contacted me earlier? Why had he not called me right after Liz’ death? I stared at the plate in front of me. What was his profession? I had not asked, and he had not volunteered. Had he come to warn me, or just to find out about Vivian? My gut instinct about Gordon was very bad, and the idea of calling him repulsed me. But I had no choice. I needed to speak to him again.
I found him in the Asheville telephone directory. It was nine a.m.. He had probably left for work already. I typed his number into my cell and got his answering machine. I left a message. He called me back about one o’clock and agreed to another meeting at his place that afternoon. He told me he worked as a heating installer, but would not go back to work - he would call in sick.
I left a message on Jeremy’s machine, then I called my colleague, Sarah, and asked her to take the afternoon lecture I had scheduled. I told her my mother had been taken to hospital and I was waiting for news. She agreed at once and refrained from quizzing me. I left Charlotte in my car a few minutes later.
It was about three p.m. when I got to Gordon’s place. He had been waiting and opened the door before I rang the bell. He led me to the living room of his small, messy, and shabbily furnished house. He asked me to sit down, but did not offer me a drink. We looked at each other.
"So you have changed your mind?" Gordon asked.
I told him I had been thinking and I was convinced Vivian was the killer.
"So, you don’t suspect me?" Gordon asked. "The message I found in my bathroom, I could have written myself."
"Did you?" I asked with an intent look.
"No," he said.
He sounded authentic and I believed him.
"You suspected me, didn’t you?" I asked back.
Gordon gave a brief nod. "Believe me, Andrew. I went over and over it, wondering if Liz had told anyone else. Had this person killed her? But why would a stranger pick up on a story about a childhood game? We cannot rule out the possibility, but, I do not believe it," he said.
I nodded. "I don’t believe it either. And I swear I’m not the murderer. I did not kill Liz."
"Which leaves only one person," Gordon replied. "Vivian. She cannot be far away. She broke in here two days ago. My room is on the other side of the house, so I did not hear her break the bathroom window."
He looked at me.
"But, I don’t get why did she not kill me right away," he said.
"She has not yet made up her mind who to kill next," I replied.
"She’s enjoying the hunt, I guess," Gordon said. "Once she has killed you and me, the game is over. She’s waited seven years since killing Liz, building anticipation for her next act of control. Now she needs to relieve it. A few more days and she will have to satisfy it. She will come in the dark and have me," he said.
I stared at him. Did he really think Vivian had a sexual motive? Or did the idea arouse him? I fell back in my chair. His words had set off an alarm bell. Gordon apparently guessed my thoughts.
"Sorry," he said, blushing slightly. "I was looking for an explanation. Some sick sexual motive would explain it all."
"I can’t say," I said slowly. "There’s another explanation that I think is plausible as well."
I told him about Jeremy’s theory of disconnected personality parts. Gordon shrugged.
"Yes, that could explain it too," he said.
We were silent for a while, each pondering what do next.
"Why not report it all to the police?" I asked finally.
Gordon made a dismissive gesture with his hand.
"I considered that, but decided against it. They would have declared me insane if I had told them about broken mirrors, bits of paper, and a lethal childhood game," he said.
"We could explain it…" I started.
"Forget it," he interrupted. "Liz was killed seven years ago and more than three hundred miles away from here. They wouldn’t connect a cold case with a broken mirror in my bathroom, Andrew."
He leaned back and took a deep breath, his face turning red. He was agitated and wriggling in his chair. I watched him warily.
"You tried to find Vivian. What did you find, Gordon? You must have found something," I said, changing the topic.
He made a helpless gesture with his hand.
"She vanished without a trace. I tried to find the Pete Johnson she married. I searched the internet, telephone directories. Nothing. Johnson is one of the most common surnames in the US. There’s hundreds of Peter Johnsons. I tried to find her parents. I tried her cousin Samantha who I had spoken to twenty years ago. She told me about the marriage. Abraham Dayton, the math whiz, still lives in Springfield. He discovered Vivian’s parents and aunt and uncle left the town twenty years ago. An old woman remembered that Samantha had married a Mexican, but she didn’t remember the man’s name. So, then I asked Abe to investigate on Pete Johnson."
I leaned forward. "What did he find out?" I asked urgently.
"Nothing that helped me find Vivian," he replied. "Johnson’s father had left his wife and son when Pete was a child. Abe only discovered what I already knew. Pete Johnson had married Vivian Hunt, and they moved south. Pete’s mother followed them a year later. An old neighbor remembered they moved to Ringgold, Georgia. But Pete Johnson was not listed in the town directories. I did find a Peter Johnson, though, so I put a call in to him. He was a thirty-year-old city employee, but he actually called back two weeks later. He had looked through some old documents out of curiosity and found that Pete and Vivian, and Pete’s mother, Victoria, had left Ringgold in 1989 - the same year I came back from Mexico."
Gordon leaned back and waved his hand in resignation. "Too many years have gone by, Andrew," he said.
"Vivian has found all of us," I replied.
"Finding you and me wasn’t too difficult," Gordon said. "My parents and a couple of relatives still live in Springfield. You just need to contact one of them. As for you, well, a Dutch surname makes you a one minute google. What I don’t understand is how Vivian found out about Liz. Liz also married and changed her surname. Perhaps the girls never entirely lost contact. I don’t know. Like I said, I did not dare to contact Liz’ husband. And that’s the one thing that I will not do in order to find Vivian."
I nodded in agreement. Vivian had vanished, but had she really disappeared without a trace? Something I couldn’t get was nagging at the back of my mind.
"Pete Johnson," I said slowly.
I repeated the name over, tapping my foot impatiently. Then it hit me like a bolt from the blue.
"Pete Johnson," I exclaimed. "Wasn’t he the guy supposed to have a crush on Nathaniel Williams? It was the hot gossip at that time. Do you remember, Gordon?"
"Good Lord, yes," Gordon said, leaning forward. "It had entirely slipped my mind."
He rose from his chair, his eyes sparkling with excitement.
"I’m going to call Abe. If we’re lucky, he’ll be able to track down Nathaniel. Hopefully Nathaniel still lives in Springfield," he said.
Gordon took his cell phone and typed a number. While Gordon spoke rapidly to whoever answered, I was mulling on Pete Johnson and Nathaniel Williams. My mental image of them was perfectly clear, because Nathaniel had been my secret crush. How I had admired and adored him. How I had hated the guy who had been after him.
Gordon spoke to me and I looked up. I hadn’t heard him, so Gordon repeated; Nathaniel still lived in Springfield. Abe would call back in a couple of minutes with his number. Had we finally got a trace on Vivian? Had we scented our prey?
Fifteen minutes later Gordon placed the piece of paper with Pete Johnson’s Atlanta number on the table. He had got it from Nathaniel. Pete and Vivian had divorced seven years ago. Unfortunately, Nathaniel did not know Vivian’s whereabouts. But with Pete Johnson’s telephone number we were closer to our goal.
“I wonder why Pete married Vivian," I mused. "The marriage must have been a farce."
"In order to keep up appearances probably. Not our business, after all," Gordon said with a shrug.
He nodded at the cell phone in my hand. I was hesitating, but I typed Pete Johnson’s number. Though I had not expected it, Johnson answered. I introduced myself and told him I was tracing former schoolmates because I was organizing a reunion. Pete was cautious and seemed to distrust me. But I prattled on, talking about former schoolmates and teachers until he relaxed a bit. He told me Vivian had remarried, and her name was Hamilton now. However, he wouldn’t give me her email address or phone number.
"Her husband is a member of the British Diplomatic Service in Singapore. I can’t really pass on her number," he said.
I hung up and gazed into space distractedly. Like me, Gordon was baffled.
"Either she was in the US two days ago or a third party is involved in the game," he said.
We stared at each other in confusion. Who had left the note in Gordon’s bathroom? Who had broken into his house? Who was chasing us? Who had resumed the lethal game?
I left, with an agreement we would talk the following day. Night had fallen and as I drove the streets of Asheville I found it similar to Springfield at night. I forced myself to calm down. I was over-sensitized. All small towns looked the same at night.
I was waiting for Jeremy for a late dinner at my place. I regarded my living room clock. Time was ticking. The countdown had started.
I was thinking again. Who was chasing us? Was a third party involved, or had Vivian really come to the US to leave Gordon a warning? Was she still in here? Would she accomplish her mission before she travelled back to Singapore? Or would she come back some other day or even some other year?
Half past nine. Jeremy would soon be here.
Had Pete and Vivian’s divorce seven years ago shaken her so badly that her disconnected personality had seized control? Had she killed Liz, then moved to Singapore with Hamilton? Did that explain why she hadn’t murdered me or Gordon? Had she just not had an opportunity yet? Had she come back recently, though? A vacation, or a family visit? Had she finally found an opportunity to pursue her murderous plan?
When Jeremy arrived I told him what I had discovered.
"Singapore," he said in a baffled voice.
"I can only imagine she came to the US a couple of days ago. I’m wondering if she is still around or if she has already returned to Singapore," I said.
Jeremy looked at me thoughtfully.
"If she had not planned her stay in the States she’d lack time and be unprepared. That would explain why she only left a message. I’m pretty certain she has already left the country," he said.
He picked up his wine glass and took a sip, giving me an odd look.
"Andrew, are you certain Gordon did not write that message? Your old friend might be a good liar," he said.
I looked at Jeremy in bewilderment.
"We’ve been through this, Jeremy," I replied. "Neither Gordon nor I murdered Liz or wrote the message in his bathroom."
Jeremy was lost in contemplation of the glass in his hand for a few moments. Finally, his eyes turned back to me. I shifted in my chair.
"It is possible Vivian came here from Singapore. But do you really believe it?" he asked. "Doesn’t it all seem a bit far-fetched? Who’d come all the way from Singapore just to leave a message? You’d plan it more carefully? Look at the facts: Liz’ murderer left no trace, so they were professional. Professional killers don’t break into houses just to leave warnings."
He leaned forward and held my gaze.
"This is way too dangerous. Gordon told you and he could have told others, too – or the police. A professional killer wouldn’t take that risk," he said.
Jeremy was right, yet something didn’t fit.
"She altered her plan?" I suggested as an explanation.
"Unlikely," Jeremy said. He leaned closer. "I wonder … Could the murderer be planning to kill Vivian next, but couldn’t find her. Do you see what I mean?"
I stared at him. It was brilliant. I nodded slowly. "You are right," I said.
I thought of Gordon, his weird theories, and somewhat odd behavior. He was eager to find out about Vivian. Could he be trying to track Vivian down in order to kill her? I shuddered.
"Gordon pointed out the pattern,” I said. “Richard was first to give in to his fear, then Liz. Richard was first to die, then Liz."
Jeremy thought about it, but shook his head. "He is creating the pattern," he said. "There wouldn’t be a pattern without the crimes. Who did Gordon say gave in next?"
I thought about it. "I don’t know what he remembers of that night. I remember Vivian screaming and him clinging to my arm. I was frozen to the spot, petrified, like in a trance," I said.
Jeremy did not respond right away. I gave him a questioning look.
"I’m just thinking," he said slowly. "According to the – I hesitate to use the word pattern -, according to Gordon’s mindset, he must choose between Vivian and himself."
"Why?" I asked.
"Think about it," Jeremy said.
I pondered a moment, then shook my head.
"No, Gordon has to choose between me and him," I said. "We were the ones still standing when the light came on again. The others were on the floor. Gordon was last to leave the room after he collected the candles. He might think he was the last survivor. Vivian is next, then he has to kill me so he can win the game, according to the game pattern his mind has created."
"Or is creating," Jeremy said slowly. He looked at me, deep in thought. "It does make sense. I doubt he would kill Vivian, commit suicide, and leave you out, Andrew. Wouldn’t he consider the game unfinished? Mind you, who can tell what a twisted mind might think?"
We were silent for a while.
"Well, he’s got his work cut out," I said finally. "Vivian is in Singapore with a husband in the British embassy. He has some serious difficulties," I said.
"I’m sure he’s already working on that," Jeremy replied. "Do you think he would alter his plan, maybe change the pattern?"
I shrugged. "I can’t read his mind,” I said.
"He contacted you to find out about Vivian. I think he has altered his plan, already," Jeremy said. "By contacting his final victim he’s taking an enormous risk. He’s either desperate or horribly cold-blooded."
Jeremy leaned forward again with a serious face. "You have to leave," he said urgently. "He might even come back tonight. Stay at my place. He doesn’t know about us. He won’t find you there. Just to be sure. I beg you, Andrew. You can’t stay here tonight."
I took a deep breath, feeling a little numb. He was right. I’d be safer. Gordon disturbed me. My instincts had already been stung after talking to him. And yet, if he had come to the door this evening, doubtlessly I’d have opened it.
We got up and Jeremy patted my shoulder. "Don’t you think we ought to warn Vivian?" I asked.
"I doubt he’s on a flight to Singapore tonight," Jeremy replied. "She’s safe. I will investigate them both tomorrow. Come on. Get your things packed."
We’d left within half an hour. I looked at my cell in Jeremy’s car. He gave me a look. "Don’t answer his calls," he said.
Jeremy left after breakfast, promising to call from the office later. I went to shower. When I looked in the mirror I was pale and drawn. I found that the man in the mirror looked like a phantom or ghost. I opened the door quickly and went back to the kitchen. I made fresh coffee, and sat at the table. Still something was bothering me. Had I missed something in all my reflections? But what?
My phone rang and startled me. My watch showed that four hours had passed since Jeremy left. The phone stopped ringing and I checked the number. It had been Jeremy calling from the office. I called back immediately, but he had left. His secretary said he was having lunch with a client. I tried his cell, but it was switched off.
I moved to the couch, needing to think it all through again. I was sure I had missed something. An hour later Jeremy called from the office, distant, almost formal.
"Does the name Scranton ring a bell?" he asked.
"Liz lived in Scranton," I replied.
"Who told you about Scranton?" Jeremy asked, somewhat slyly. I was taken aback. What was he aiming at?
"Gordon told me Liz had lived in Scranton, but I’d heard of Scranton before," I replied slowly.
"You did not connect anything with Scranton until Gordon told you of Liz’ murder? Are you certain about that, Andrew?" Jeremy asked.
"Yes, I’m certain about it," I said shortly. His interrogation annoyed me.
Jeremy did not respond for a second.
"It might have slipped your mind," he said.
"No, it definitely did not," I replied in an angry voice.
"Okay. Don’t leave the house. I’m coming home. I have something," Jeremy said in a business-like voice, and hung up. I stared at my cell, totally puzzled. What had Jeremy discovered? My heart was thundering. The countdown had started. The Game was on. I knew with certainty that we had reached the point of no return.
He arrived a short while later, and took me to his study. He sat in his chair behind his desk with a strained smile. His eyes were cold and piercing as he assayed me, openly. He was in lawyer-interrogating-client mode, and I was intimidated to know what he wanted.
From his briefcase he took several sheets of paper and placed them on his desk. They were newspaper articles and he handed me three copies. I looked them over, slowly, barely even seeing the words. They were articles on Liz’ murder and they had my mind in a questioning frenzy.
I looked at him and he handed me another. This time there was a photo included, showing a woman of about forty years of age, with short dark hair. It was obviously Liz, but I no longer recognized her. She’d changed dramatically. I returned to Jeremy’s fixed stare.
"I planned to start the investigation on Vivian and Gordon, but I didn’t know where to start. So I had my assistant start with the documented facts – articles etc.. He turned up a bunch of stuff which I went through. There’s something I need you to explain," he said.
He passed me another article. My hand was trembling as I took it and looked it over. My heart began to beat rapidly at his very planned approach.
"There’s an announcement at the bottom. Can you explain it to me, please, Andrew?" he asked.
My eyes dropped to the announcement which left me shocked and shattered. Though Jeremy was talking I heard no more than a buzz. I raised my petrified face to Jeremy’s. This was surreal and totally absurd. The distant noise of a car helped keep me in touch with reality. I lowered my eyes and read the announcement again: Andrew van Delft: The Roman Philosophy of Free Will; Guest Lecture, University of Scranton, February 3, 6pm. It was 2005, the day of the murder.
I met Jeremy’s piercing stare. My eyelids flickered in confusion. How could this have slipped my mind? Jeremy took his cell phone from the table. Was he going to call the Police?
Jeremy waited for about thirty seconds, then sharply repeated the question. He downright snapped at me. I had no response. I just kept staring at him.
"I’m going to make a call," he said curtly and left the room.
My mind was chaos and I couldn’t think straight. My cell phone started to ring. I automatically checked the number. It was Gordon, so I ignored it until it stopped. A minute later a text message arrived: Called Johnson again. Vivian definitely in Singapore. Third party involved! Call me. Gordon.
Third party involved. I gazed at the message, then looked at the clock in Andrew’s study. I watched the second hand move forward while my mind went back in time. I skipped thirty years and visualized the unfortunate day of Debbie’s death.
The temperature in the room fell drastically from one moment to the other. We heard a whining and howling, cruel, brutal, and entirely inhuman. Liz shrieked in terror and Vivian let out a cry of fear. I saw Debbie turning around abruptly. Vivian and Liz’ candles flickered and then they went out. Dreadful silence hung in the room. I sensed him.
Debbie started chanting again, her voice dark and hollow. I grimaced. It was definitely not Debbie’s voice. It was the voice of a man.
Vivian and Liz were shrieking hysterically. Someone ran into me. I recoiled at the touch.
Then the chanting stopped. Vivian and Liz fell silent. I heard them stumbling towards the door, and Richard sobbing behind me. Gordon clung to my arm. "Light switch, light switch," he gasped repeatedly. I was transfixed, but hyper-perceptive. I registered every tiny sound around me, but it all seemed totally unreal and dreamlike.
Gordon released my arm, then I sensed someone to my left. Breathing. I heard breathing; panting; a hungry creature closing; thirsty for blood. I was terrified of what it wanted. My life? Or what?
The distant noise of a car broke my trance. I bolted for the door and stumbled over someone on the floor. Liz yelped at the touch, then I careened into Vivian who had been about to open the door. She gave a loud gasp as I knocked her aside and fumbled on the wall next to the door.
"I’ll come back for you all," the voice hissed maliciously.
Finally I found the switch. The darkness was dispelled abruptly. I turned and caught a glimpse of Debbie who gazed back with a strange grin. Then her face contorted, she trembled, and collapsed to the floor. I could only stare in horror.
I looked at the clock in Andrew’s study. I had been remembering for only a minute or so. But the nagging was back, more insistent, now. I returned to the game once more.
"I’ll come back for you all," the voice hissed maliciously.
Finally, I found the switch. The darkness was dispelled abruptly. I turned and caught a glimpse of Debbie who gazed back with a strange grin. Then her face contorted, she trembled, and collapsed to the floor. I could only stare in horror.
I was so broken my teeth chattered as the rest of me trembled. I dropped to the floor and Vivian got down beside me. We hugged each other for comfort. Glancing around the room I could see Liz still on the floor, face down, frozen. Richard was also on the floor, defensively foetal. Only Gordon stood, and when our eyes met, he turned away, looked at Debbie, then made for the door. Vivian and I watched as he took hold of the doorknob, hesitated briefly, then forcefully yanked it open. The spell was finally broken.
I closed my eyes for an instant. When I opened them, I found myself back in Jeremy’s study. I stared at the clock. The second hand moved forward. And then I realised. Debbie hadn’t hissed the words. My mental video showed her clearly, replaying that grin face before she collapsed. She had not been able to move her lips. The strange grin was frozen on her face. Someone else had hissed the words. I had heard someone’s breathing. I had heard a panting. I had heard every sound and noise around me clearly. I had sensed someone to my left. Someone else had been in the room. Someone else had hissed the threat. Gordon was right. There had been someone else involved.
I stiffened in my chair as adrenaline flushed through me. I was in imminent danger. I heard Jeremy in the corridor. He’d been several minutes making his call, now. Did he want to hand me over to the authorities?
With a sudden, instinctive impulse, I sprang towards the window. Opening it, I clambered out, then ran across the lawn and down the drive. Luckily, Jeremy hadn’t closed the gate. I sprinted down the street to catch a bus at the next stop. I jumped aboard and pulled my wallet from my jeans as I sat down. As the bus went round a corner I found my cell phone and made a call.
Gordon picked me up at the final stop. I had been waiting for an hour and a half, skulking between containers, scared to death, and afraid Jeremy or the police would find me.
"I packed a few things and got money from the bank," Gordon said, as he drove west towards no particular destination. "We can’t go back to my place."
"He might be able to track down your car," I said.
"That’s a risk we have to take," he replied with a nod.
We didn’t talk for a while. Gordon finally broke the silence.
"I called Johnson again. I couldn’t just sit and wait for a killer to come for me. I said you had asked me to call him again. I told him how amazing the reunion would be. He finally cracked and gave me Vivian’s number. They’re still in touch. She inherited a piece of land in the US and Pete manages the lease. I don’t know why they divorced, but I suppose it’s none of my business. Anyway, I called Vivian. I guess it was early morning Singapore time. Some haughty chick answered and said Mrs. and Mr. Hamilton left on an official visit to some city in Malaysia three days ago. I didn’t get the name of the town."
He glanced across at me. "Three days ago. In Malaysia,” he repeated. “Vivian wasn’t in the US."
"That rules her out," I said, soberly.
"Yes," he said. "That’s why I called you."
I told him about the newspaper articles and the announcement.
"Jeremy suspects me of killing Liz," I said. We looked at each other briefly. "You may well have picked up your murderer, Gordon," I said, cynically.
"Stop cracking jokes, Andrew," Gordon hissed.
"Just my way of coping with it," I said defiantly.
Gordon shot me a dark look. "Stop it," he snapped.
"Sorry, Gordon," I replied.
I took a deep breath and looked ahead. Night was falling. "How about we stop and check in into a motel,” I said. "And then, I think we need to go through it some more. I’m almost certain someone else was in the room. Debbie didn’t say the words. Someone else did. We need to find out who was in that room, apart from us."
Gordon nodded and drove on for a couple of minutes, then he changed lanes and slowed down. He left the road, drove up a motel drive and parked the car out front. We sat a few minutes, Gordon gripping the wheel tightly. He looked at me nervously.
"I went over it again and again, Andrew. I wanted to believe in the demon. I really did, but it’s bullshit, I know. I always knew," he said.
"It’s time we got to the truth," I replied.
He nodded, and we climbed out of the car. Gordon opened the trunk and took out his bag. We went into the motel and checked in, and a few minutes later, we closed the door of our room. Gordon hesitated, but then locked it.
While Gordon went to the bathroom, I sat down and checked my cell phone. Jeremy had called several times and had left four text messages, all saying more or less the same thing: Sorry, Andrew. I was overreacting. Please call me. Jeremy. I glanced at the closed bathroom door. Gordon would not approve, but I was feeling guilty. Perhaps I had overreacted, too. I typed back: I’m fine. Need some alone time. I’ll call you tomorrow. Andrew. I had just sent the message when the bathroom door opened and Gordon returned. I put my cell phone on the bedside table.
Gordon took two cans of Coke out of his bag. He handed me one, sat on his bed, opened his, and took a sip.
"Okay, where do we start?" he asked. "We played spin the bottle."
"About midnight we went upstairs to the dressing room. The girls took candles," I said.
Gordon looked at me with shocked remembering.
"I picked up those candles and took them away. Do you remember?" he asked.
"You told me to get rid of them," he continued. "And I told you I had thrown them in the garbage. But that was a lie."
That cold shiver ran up my spine, again.
"I kept them in my bedroom closet," he said, sheepishly
I tensed again and leaned back in my chair, looking at him warily. He gave me an ambiguous look, then he smiled. I sat, unanimated, unable to speak, or even think straight. He had locked the door. Where was the key card?
He looked away, as if distracted. His smile broadened, and he laughed, hoarsely. When he returned to me, I leaned back further. I flinched when he raised his hand abruptly. But it was just a dismissive gesture.
"Anyway," he said. "Where did we get to?"
"The dressing room," I replied in a tight voice.
He looked away. I shifted uncomfortably in my chair. Then he looked back again. "Do you think he was already in the room when we went in?" he asked.
I shook my head slowly. "I don’t know. I don’t think so. The light was on then. Wouldn’t we have seen him? Was there somewhere he could have hidden?" I asked.
Gordon’s attention drifted briefly again.
"There was a room divider at the far end of the room. I didn’t pay much attention to it. But I noticed the oriental ornaments," I said.
We exchanged a look. Gordon nodded slowly. I stiffened at my next thought.
"What?" Gordon asked nervously.
I looked at him. "The door slammed shut. Do you remember?" I asked.
"That’s when it got creepy," he said.
"Debbie finally stopped chanting, Liz opened the door and the room was lit from the corridor," I said.
Gordon closed his eyes for a second. "I wasn’t paying attention. I was talking with Richard. Do you think he came in and slammed the door shut?" he asked.
My heart rate shot up. "That’s it," I exclaimed. "He was lurking in the corridor, listening to the chanting. He came in after Liz opened the door. Our attention was on Debbie. He came in and slammed the door shut."
We stared at each other for a few seconds. "And then he seized control of the game," Gordon said.
"He wanted to frighten us," I replied.
"It was just a game he was playing," Gordon said.
"Turned out to be lethal," I said.
Gordon nodded. He peered at me.
"Who came into the room, Andrew?" he asked, his voice low and stifled.
I considered, though it made my skin crawl. "Debbie’s parents were on a vacation," I started.
Gordon leaned forward abruptly.
"For heaven’s sake, Andrew. We did not give it a thought. Where was Debbie’s brother?" he asked.
Another shiver ran through me. Indeed, we hadn’t given it a thought. I leaned forward, too.
"Didn’t she say that he was staying at a friend’s?" I asked under my breath.
Gordon focused, then nodded slowly.
"He must have come back. He heard the girls chanting and lurked in the corridor, listening. Then he came into the room and started to make fun of us," he said.
"He must have gone behind the room divider when I was at the door looking for the light switch," I carried on.
"He could get there in the dark because he knew the room well," Gordon said.
"You were last in the room. Think back, Gordon. Did you notice anything else?" I asked.
Gordon shook his head. "Debbie was on the floor. I was scared she was dead. I just grabbed the candles, and got out," he said. "We didn’t go upstairs again. The emergency team arrived a few minutes later, but he had enough time to hide somewhere else in the house."
"Or leave altogether," I said.
Gordon nodded. We leaned back in our chairs. A minute or two passed by.
"What happened to him, anyway?" Gordon asked.
I shrugged. "I can’t even remember his name," I replied.
Gordon focused elsewhere for a moment.
"I can’t remember for sure. Wasn’t his name Larry or Terry?" he mused. "No," he exclaimed, turning back abruptly. "Jerry! Definitely. His name was Jerry."
It was like a punch in the gut. My whole world crumbled. Jerry? … Jeremy?
"What?" Gordon asked. His voice seemed far off.
Jeremy’s wolfish grin, when we talked about Vivian, pushed into my mind. He was enjoying the chase, the hunt. Had he picked me, his final victim, to find out about Vivian? According to the pattern she should die next? He knew about Gordon. He knew all about me. And now he knew where to find Vivian.
I continued to stare at Gordon, watching his lips, but hearing the disjointed voice. Suddenly the two married and I understood.
"What?" he asked.
"Jeremy," I said. My voice was wrung, hollow and empty.
"Sorry?" Gordon asked. But then he grasped it.
"Good Lord," he said in a whisper. "Do you think so?"
My thoughts were chaos. My blood had run cold.
Gordon stared at me. "What’s his surname?" he asked.
"Montgomery," I said. "Jeremy Montgomery."
"Their surname was Baker," Gordon said.
We looked at each other. My flustered mind trying to align it all. Had Jeremy changed his surname? When? How? Gordon searched my face, before rising to his feet and keying a number into his cell phone.
"I’m calling Abe," he said. "Perhaps he can find out about Jerry."
He paced the room while he talked with Abraham Dayton. Meanwhile I pondered whether the math whiz could track down Jerry Baker alias Montgomery.
When the call ended he said, "He’ll call me back.”
I checked my watch. 9pm meant we would have to wait till the following day.
Gordon took two more Cokes from his bag and handed me one. I just held it without opening it.
"Could he have changed his surname?" I asked.
"That’s what I asked Abe to find out," Gordon replied.
He took a sip from his can, then stared through it.
“But, what’s with that announcement?” I asked
"Enjoying the chase?" Gordon returned.
We regarded each other. "I just don’t get how I forgot I was in Scranton the day of the murder," I mused.
Gordon turned his can in his hand intently for a while, then turned his eyes back to me. "It did not slip your mind. You never were in Scranton. The copy was a fake. He could have faked the announcement, the copy, the text, the photo. All you need is a word processor, a printer, and a copy machine," he said.
I looked at Gordon while his words sank in. I nodded slowly.
"I actually do not remember that I was giving a lecture in Scranton. I don’t remember a bit. Not a single bit. But why confront me with a faked copy. I do not get it," I said.
"Why kill someone with a piece of a shattered mirror? I do not get that either," he said.
We fell silent, sitting, waiting for Abe’s call, or just the time to pass by. It was about midnight when we finally gave up the wait and decided to rest. We agreed to drive on in the morning.
I woke with a start. A cell phone was ringing. Gordon cursed while he looked for the light switch.
"Abe?" he spluttered.
I sat up and looked at my watch. 3am. What was so important Abe was calling in the dead of night? Sitting on the edge of my bed, I watched Gordon.
"Thank you, Abe," Gordon said.
He turned to me. "Jerry was the son of Mrs. Baker’s first marriage," Gordon said. "Abe said…"
He was interrupted by a loud knock at the door. We exchanged a look.
"Andrew?" the voice asked aloud.
"Jeremy," I whispered in shock.
"Quiet," Gordon hissed.
He crossed the room and opened the door to the bathroom. I watched him go in confusion.
"Andrew? Please. Open the door," Jeremy said urgently.
Gordon appeared in the bathroom door with a hair dryer in his hand and beckoned me over. I went over. He pointed at the entrance door, opposite the bathroom.
"Ask him what he wants," he said in a low voice.
"What do you want, Jeremy?" I asked from the bathroom door.
"Andrew, thank God, I have found you," Jeremy said.
I glanced at Gordon. Gordon did not move. I looked back at the entrance door.
"How did you find me, Jeremy?" I asked. My voice was pressed.
"I tracked your cell phone," Jeremy replied.
I couldn’t believe my ears. I gaped at the door in shock.
"Sorry," Jeremy said. "But you didn’t call back. I had to do something. I have news, Andrew. Please, open the door."
Gordon stepped forward. He pointed at the chain of the door.
"Open it," he whispered.
I was in a trance-like calm. Against my better judgment, I slid the chain off and slowly opened the door. Jeremy and I looked at each other. The man was a complete stranger to me. Why had I fallen in love with him? Why had I believed that he loved me, too? Jeremy gave me a contrite look. He smiled at me faintly.
"I’m sorry, Andrew. I overreacted. You can see how I might have reacted when I discovered the announcement that you were to be in Scranton that day. I apologize. I’m sorry," he said.
I just looked at him, not believing a single word. Jeremy stepped forward. I took a step back.
"Andrew, I need to talk. I’ve been investigating Gordon Armstrong, too," Jeremy said.
I sensed Gordon’s breathing to my left. I took another step back. Jeremy stepped forward again.
"Thank you, Andrew," he said with a smile. "Did you know Gordon had undergone psychological treatment?"
Jeremy reached out and put his hand on my arm. I glanced aside. Gordon stood next to me and raised the hair dryer. It hit Jeremy’s head hard. Jeremy crumpled to the ground, unconscious. Gordon dragged him inside and I slammed the door shut. We carried Jeremy to the bedroom and laid him on a bed. Gordon bound his wrists and ankles with a laundry line he found in the bathroom. Then he sat in a chair and emptied his can of coke.
I sat too, and fixed Gordon with a stare.
"You underwent psychological treatment?" I asked.
"After Vivian called, and the research on Liz’s death, I just couldn’t cope. I was in a hospital for two months," he said.
He pointed at Jeremy who was still unconscious.
"We cannot leave him here," he said. "But, we can’t call emergency either."
"What do you suggest?" I asked calmly.
"We should have never gone upstairs," Gordon replied.
"We can’t change that now," I said.
Jeremy moaned and brought us back to reality.
"Andrew?" Jeremy slurred in total confusion.
His eyes widened when he caught sight of Gordon. And when Gordon got to his feet, Jeremy looked between us in shock and disbelief, struggling to escape.
"Andrew!" he cried.
"Shut up!" Gordon hissed. "Shut up, Jerry Baker!"
Jeremy looked at him briefly. Then he turned to me.
"Andrew, what is going on?" he asked urgently.
Gordon stepped forward, but I raised my hand. Gordon stopped and looked at me.
"Jeremy, tell me the truth. Are you Debbie’s brother? Is your name actually Jerry Baker?" I asked.
Jeremy stared back at me. "God, no, Andrew," he spluttered. "Now, for heaven’s sake, please, untie me, Andrew."
"Don’t do it," Gordon hissed at me when I got up. When I ignored him and stepped forward he pushed me aside. "Idiot," he hissed, and punched me on the chest.
I punched him back and we began struggling. Gordon shoved me across the room, shouting and swearing loudly. I whacked him on the nose which caused him to grunt. Jeremy shouted at us to stop, but Gordon and I ignored him, continuing to beat each other, and missing that Jeremy had managed to free himself.
He joined in and knocked Gordon down and they yelled at each other. I grabbed Jeremy and dragged him away, so Gordon jumped up and attacked again.
Then, in a surreal twist, Gordon’s cell phone started ringing. We stopped dead, turned, and stared at the cell phone, in fear. The phone insisted, and eventually Gordon picked it up off the bedside table and looked at the number. He hesitated for a moment, but then he answered the call.
"Vivian?" His voice was total confusion.
Jeremy and I just stood and stared at him.
"Yes," Gordon said, sitting on the edge of the bed, watching us warily.
We sat on the other bed and watched him with equal suspicion.
"Yes," Gordon said again. "Yes, I called Pete Johnson." Then he began telling our story and talked for a couple of minutes.
"I came here with Andrew. We talked it over. We’re certain someone else was in the room: Jerry, Debbie’s older brother," he said.
Vivian talked and Gordon nodded several times, then he looked at Jeremy. "Just a moment," he said to Vivian as he looked at me.
"Jerry is short for Gerald. His name is Gerald Baker. He was the son of Mrs. Baker’s first marriage. Her first husband died early. Mr. Baker adopted the boy. His name is definitely Gerald Baker," he said.
Gordon scrutinized Jeremy for a moment before he continued talking to Vivian. I looked at Jeremy, but he kept watching Gordon.
"Okay, Vivian," Gordon said finally. "I’ll call you again at noon my time, okay."
He ended the call and lowered the cell phone. He looked at me and Jeremy with an ashen face.
"After we had all left Springfield, Vivian was all alone," Gordon started. "She tried to make friends with Gerald Baker. Out of sympathy, she said. They were hanging out a bit. Everything was fine till Jerry started stalking her. She turned to Pete Johnson who also got bullied a lot. That’s how they got together. One night Jerry climbed through a window and entered her room, which gave her the creeps, obviously. Pete Johnson reported it to the police. He also discovered Gerald Baker and Richard had been in the same hospital at the same time. Gerald’s parents told everybody he was staying with his grandparents. I remember he wasn’t around, and no one saw him after the funeral."
Gordon and I exchanged a look of dread. "Good Lord," I said in a low voice.
Gordon turned his eyes to Jeremy.
"Sorry about what happened," he said to Jeremy, who just returned a brief nod.
Gordon went on. "So, Pete Johnson was being bullied badly and was looking for an escape. He proposed to Vivian and she accepted. She was scared to death because she suspected Jerry had killed Richard. She wanted to get away from him and they married secretly with only immediate family knowing of the marriage.
“That’s how Vivian changed her surname and they moved from Springfield to Ringgold, Georgia. Pete’s mother followed them a short while later. They all moved a couple of times in the next three years until Vivian was certain she was untraceable. She and Pete got along, although their marriage was no love match."
“Then she heard about Liz’ death, accidentally, in a newspaper report. She knew the killer had returned. She knew he had come back to resume that lethal game, and that it would only end when we were all dead."
“Anyway, she met Gregory Hamilton who was about to leave for Singapore. The man had a huge crush on her, so Vivian spoke to Pete and he agreed. They divorced and Vivian married Hamilton, hoping Singapore would be far enough away not to be found."
When Gordon finished he looked at me for a moment, then recounted. "He’ll follow us to the end of the earth is what she said. Just like he said thirty years ago: I’ll come back and get you all."
I watched as his shoulders slumped. My own limbs were numb, and my heart felt as heavy as a stone.
"We need to stop him," Jeremy said. "I’ll make sure he doesn’t get away with it." His voice was determined. He got to his feet and looked between us.
"He’s enjoying the chase. That’s why he only left warnings," he said to Gordon. "Neither of you can go home. Gordon, leave your car here. He might be able to track it down. I’ll take you to my house. Stay with me, at least for a couple of days," he said.
Gordon and I exchanged a resigned look. We stood and packed our things. We checked out fifteen minutes later and followed Jeremy to his car.
"Wait a minute," Gordon said. "I need to get my phone charger from my car." He hurried back to his car. I turned to Jeremy.
"Did you really think I’d murdered Liz?" I asked. "I don’t know what it is about Scranton. I don’t remember ever being there."
Jeremy smiled. "I found out about that too. You were supposed to give a lecture in Scranton, but you had to cancel last-minute due to illness," he said.
I was puzzled. I did not remember. It had totally slipped my mind.
Jeremy looked impatiently for Gordon as did I. Then I jumped at the sound of a gun and Jeremy fell to the ground. Gordon walked up to me with a gun in his hand. I stared at him in shock.
"I kept the gun in the car trunk. Come on, Andrew," he said, seizing my arm.
He dragged me to his car. I was petrified. I couldn’t run or cry for help. Instead, I surrendered to fate, almost with relief. The game had finally ended. For me at least. Gordon opened the trunk of the car and I shuddered when I saw three candles. Gordon gave a hoarse laugh.
"I picked them up and kept them in my bedroom. It was past time to take them out. I’ve kept them for so many years. You know, they are for Vivian, you, and me," he said almost tenderly.
Gordon reached out and picked up a candle. He was distracted for a second and I saw my chance. I turned and ran back to Jeremy. He was lying on the ground, his chest heaving. I crouched beside him.
"Jeremy," I said urgently, but he did not respond. I heard footsteps and looked up to see Gordon approach. He shouted something, but it was drowned out by a siren. Someone had called the police. He stood petrified for a few seconds, but then fled.
The Police got him and his house and life was searched thoroughly. They found the diaries he had kept since the day of Debbie’s death. His notes were weird and incoherent streams of consciousness and perverted sexual fantasies. He never confessed the crimes, but maintained a demon had killed Richard and Liz, and broke into his house and left him a warning note. The prosecuting attorney and four psychiatrists reconstructed the killings.
Debbie’s death had disturbed Gordon badly. He felt guilty and responsible for her death. Partly because he was the one who fooled us around, slamming the door, yelling aloud, and shouting the words. The rest of us hadn’t noticed because we had been terror-stricken.
However, he couldn’t bear the secret. He repressed the bad experience from his conscious mind, along with all the emotions, even changing his memories. Part of his personality disconnected, and his conscious mind refused to reconnect with it. Simply, he refused to confront his experience, even as early as in the dressing room.
Gordon was fooling around because he was so terrified by the events and had scared us to death at the same time. Thus he felt guilty and responsible, and convinced himself he had killed Debbie with some yelling and hocus-pocus. His emotional suppression was so total he was not oblivious to it when he talked with us. Nevertheless, it was the disconnected subconscious part directing him. Gordon felt omnipotent and he aimed at gaining more power, according to the psychiatrists’ explanations. Megalomania, they said.
Reinvestigation of Richard’s death concluded no third party had been involved. Gerald Baker had been in the same hospital, but he had been transferred to another hospital the day before Richard’s death. Richard had committed suicide.
Psychiatrists concluded the circumstances of Richard’s death had fuelled Gordon’s omnipotence delusion. He subconsciously decided to carry on the mirror game. Part of which was, in his eyes, the killing of the other players. Gordon had out and in-patient treatment several times in the twenty-three years after Richard’s death for neurosis and behavioral disorder. However, he’d been able to hide his true problem, and his subconscious mind continued plotting the lethal mission.
Circumstances finally coalesced when Gordon accidentally learned of Liz’ location from a newspaper article about Liz having won an art award. A cutting was in the pages of a diary. They assumed Gordon had repressed this fact, too. His weird reflections on Debbie’s death had a sexual undertone. And, although his writings and weird statements made him the primary suspect, they had no real evidence against him, and he didn’t confess. Gerald Baker had been on a well documented business trip to Los Angeles on the day of Liz’ death.
Four psychiatrists were asked to give a medical opinion. All thought it possible Gordon had committed the crime. Three concluded Gordon would have committed suicide in the end. The other found it was possible Gordon would have started a new game with new players who his subconscious mind would have picked for the game. Ultimately he was not prosecuted or imprisoned as he was deemed mentally unfit and was committed to a psychiatric ward.
It took me some time to cope with it all. I looked in the bathroom mirror one morning and it hit me like a bolt from the blue. I had gotten something wrong. I saw it clearly suddenly.
I recalled that I had broken the mirror in the corridor of our house. My parents and I left the house in order to go to Debbie’s funeral. We had just left the house when I found that I had forgotten my glasses. My father handed me the key to the house. I entered it, took my glasses from a table, and then, following a sudden impulse, I hit my fist against the mirror in the corridor. The mirror broke. I left the house and locked the door. The door was still locked when we returned. My father unlocked the door. I recalled it clearly now. I don’t know if my parents suspected me of having broken the mirror. They never said a word at least.
I shook my head in the bathroom mirror. A critical fact had totally slipped my mind.
Luckily, Jeremy recovered, and we started all over again. We get along very well. He is my soulmate, after all. I don’t tell him, however, that I sometimes feel the urge to resume our unfinished game. But I don’t want to upset him, so I quickly push the disturbing thoughts aside.
Vivian invited us both to Singapore next summer. I look forward to seeing Vivian again. Yes, the thought sends a shiver of anticipation up my spine. It’s the thrill of the game. I’m enjoying the chase. No more delays, however. We have ultimately reached the point of no return.
© 2012 Dolores Esteban
Thanks to NotNoNever for editing the story.
First published at GA Gay Authors - Gay Quality Fiction