The part of my brain trained by the Marshal Service to assess situations quickly and accurately knew Rose was dead, but I ran to her side and checked for a pulse anyway. I hoped I was wrong, hoped that Zach had spared Rose by staging the scene. He hadn’t. Rose was cold. I gently pushed back the dark hair that had fallen over her face, securing it behind her ear. Rose didn’t wear much makeup when she was on the job, but her partially closed lids were dusted with a metallic purple. The eye shadow I gave her for her birthday. She must have put it on while I was waiting outside. With that thought, my gut wrenched so hard I almost threw up.
While I was waiting outside. If I had come in with her, we could have overpowered Zach. Rose would still be alive. I ran my fingers over her perfect jawline and walked out of the room. I pulled my phone out of my pocket to call the local PD, but froze before my finger hit the send button. Zach was standing in the parking lot staring directly at me.
He had changed in appearance significantly since his killing spree a year ago. His build had been athletic; now he was absolutely hulking. His dirty blonde hair had been shaggy and unkempt, like a typical college kid; now it was cropped close and stylishly gelled. His ice blue eyes and thousand yard stare had not changed, though. If I had any doubt that the man in the lot was Zach, it was dispelled by the knife in his hand, the long, crooked blade stained with Rose’s blood. He brought the knife up slowly until his arm was held straight out in front of him, then quickly beckoned me to him with a flick of his wrist. As I sprinted towards the stairs, Zach entered a first floor room and left the door slightly ajar for me.
I pulled my gun as I got within arm’s reach of the door in case Zach lunged out at me. I nudged the door open a bit with the toe of my boot. Zach stood with his back against the wall, shielded by a middle-aged woman with duct tape over her mouth. Zach’s left arm held the woman across the shoulders, his right held the knife to her throat. A queen sized bed separated us. He stared at me for a moment before he spoke, eyes flitting between my face and my weapon.
“Come in, Marshal Bryson, and shut the door behind you. I don’t want any curious vacationers interrupting us.”
I did as he asked.
“Where is Chloe?”
Marshal Training teaches us to remain placid and compliant in a hostage situation. I probably should have relied on my training, but I wanted blood. I pulled the hammer back on my gun. The bullet would come out the same whether the hammer was back or not, but I wanted Zach to know I meant business.
“You don’t want to do that,” he said.
“I’m a pretty good shot. I won’t even graze that woman.”
“I have others. They’re bleeding out as we speak. One of them…” Zach closed his eyes for a few seconds, “…might not last long enough for us to have this whole conversation. I’ll give you the address so you can call for paramedics, but you have to put your gun down first. If you don’t, I will kill this woman. Then, I will kill you. And no one will find the other people until they begin to rot.”
It seems terrible to say it now, but I considered putting a few bullets into Zach’s shoulder and beating him to death without getting the location of his other victims. If my trigger was more sensitive, I would have. Instead, I let off the trigger, dropped my gun into its holster, and tried not to think about how I had just turned control of the situation over to a madman. The address Zach gave me wasn’t in Mesquite, Nevada, the city we were in, but in Primm, a city on the east side of the Nevada/California border. Zach had been leaving a trail of gore behind us. If the man in Primm was almost gone, I wondered, how many along our route in California were already dead?
“Is killing your sister worth all this trouble you’ve gone through?” I asked. “Why not just let her go?”
Zach shook his head and looked at me like I had asked where babies come from.
“First of all, she’s adopted. Some loose bitch my parents were friends with got knocked up while her husband was out of the country and, while she was perfectly fine with adultery, I guess she thought abortion was a sin. My parents raised Chloe like their own. I’m not trying to find her to kill her, Bryson. I did all of this so we could be together.”
That sounded like a fat load of shit to me and I told him so. I could buy a deranged love affair if only the family was murdered, but Zach killed seven people before he even got to Newport Beach.
“You killed that gas station clerk so you could fuck your little sister?” I was hoping I could get him riled up to the point that he made a mistake and I could get the drop on him. I was pretty sure I could get the locations of his other victims out of him if I inflicted enough pain, which I planned to do anyway.
Zach smiled. The jagged scar on the left side of his face was hidden by a laugh line and his face became less foreboding. It was a pleasant smile, like a game show host. I knew that smile was ticket into the homes of the victims he had stashed along the interstate.
“Alright, fine, you got me. Not every killing was an absolutely integral part of being with Chloe, but they helped. Let me ask you a question: How do you think I found you?”
I had been wondering that since the doctor was killed. “A threat coming from a confirmed murderer can persuade people pretty well.”
“No. It’s simpler than that. I saw you through Chloe’s eyes. I can’t explain it, but if I make skin contact with a person, I can see through their eyes if I concentrate on them. I can’t see through Chloe anymore, for some reason. Maybe it’s a distance thing. But Chloe showed me your faces and your badges when you were driving her, so I knew you were Marshals. All I had to was find someone who worked in the San Diego field office and wait until they came in contact with one of you in a social setting. Like, perhaps, a birthday dinner at Donovan’s in the Gaslamp Quarter.”
I remembered Chloe’s screams that Zach could see through her eyes and how she had mutilated herself in Utah, but I assumed it was simple hysteria; some irrational response to her emotional trauma. Maybe not. I thought back to Marshal Chavez’s birthday celebration. A new bearded waiter had taken over for our waitress about halfway through our meal. He had said she wasn’t feeling well and he would be finishing out our stay.
“Did you kill that waitress?” I asked, though I already knew the answer.
“Oh, yes. I left her in the convention center parking garage. The police thought it was a rape gone wrong.” Zach laughed, then added, “I think it was a rape gone right.
“I touched your hand when I refilled your water. Same with poor, beautiful Rose. It was a thrill, though, a wanted fugitive being that close to a table full of armed lawmen. I grew in a beard and put in some brown contact lenses, but even then I wasn’t sure I would go unnoticed. It was one of my better moments, if I do say so myself.”
I had grown tired of his gloating, but I didn’t want to tell him where Chloe was. I needed to keep him talking until I could come up with a plan, he dropped his guard, or someone found Rose up in our room.
“I still think you’re full of shit. What did your roommates have to do with Chloe? I think you’re just a maniac trying to justify your own actions to yourself.” I tried to sound as condescending as possible, still trying to get some sort of reaction out of Zach. The woman he was holding had gone from frantic to completely resigned. She was still conscious, but her eyes were unfocused and glassy. She probably didn’t know she was still in the motel room.
Nothing I said seemed to impact Zach, he continued smiling and opened his mouth. “I’ve been able to see through others since I was a kid. The first time… was odd. I was concentrating on my mother because she wasn’t home. Then, all of a sudden, I was walking down the frozen aisle of the grocery store. I freaked out and it went away. I told my parents what I could do, but they just thought I was ‘imaginative’ and ‘playful’. It’s not like I’m inhabiting someone’s body, it’s more like using goggles to watch TV. Still, it was fun for a while; getting to see the view from a driver’s seat when I was ten, shaking hands with a guy on his way to a strip club and getting a free show, having easy access to account numbers and passwords. I still use that trick.
“By the time I got to college, I was questioning my beliefs. Cliché, I know, except I had a way to find out what was real. I’m sure you’ve heard of near-death experiences where a person glimpses the afterlife or a relative who has died. I had the ability to see if that actually happened, or it was just a trick of the oxygen deprived brain. I volunteered at nursing homes and suicide hotlines, but I wasn’t getting contact with enough people who were actually dying, especially a prolonged death. When I killed Will, I wanted him to bleed to death so I could observe the entire process through his eyes. It took a long time – longer than I thought – but finally his vision began to dim and everything went black. And stayed black. There was nothing. The blood splattered bathtub one minute, complete inky nothingness the next. I killed Aston quickly and didn’t see anything that way, either. I stayed up thinking all night long about what that meant for me. For us. Humanity. If there isn’t a God, or a Devil, or an afterlife then what the fuck is there!? What are we supposed to do!?
“And then I knew: Chloe. I’ve loved her for years. Don’t get me wrong… I’m a murderer, not a pedophile! I wasn’t sexually attracted to her until recently, but I have loved her. And she feels the same way. I’ve watched through her eyes when she looks at me, the way she looks at me. I see the nasty fantasies she writes in her diary. But our parents wouldn’t approve. They would think it’s incest even though it’s not. And, without rules that stretch beyond this life, I was free to get rid of them any way I saw fit. I tested and retested along the entire trip to Newport Beach. Each person I killed, I watched their life fade. Blackness. Chloe is all I need to achieve true happiness.
“So. Where is Chloe?”
I couldn’t react. I was screaming at myself not to go for my gun and I knew that any movement would break my concentration and Zach would end up with an entire clip in his chest, the woman between us just collateral damage. I took a few deep breaths and crossed my arms, keeping my hand as far away from my holster as possible. I had been staring at the slowly rotating fan for a good two minutes before I realized Zach had been calling my name.
“Bryson! Hey! Are you having trouble focusing? Will this help?” Zach plunged his crooked knife deep into the right side of the woman’s chest. She came back from her daydream with a sharp intake of breath followed by a loud scream.
“Tell me where Chloe is and you can save the others. This one is as good as dead now. That’s on you, Bryson. You took too long.”
“Fuck you. Kill me. Find her yourself, asswipe. You can’t see what she sees anymore because she’s blind. She stabbed herself in the eyes to keep you away from her.” If Chloe was the only thing he was after, refusing him might finally get the reaction I wanted.
Zach’s game show host smile faded from his face, reverting back to his usual lifeless stare. The woman in his grasp had stopped screaming as dark blood ran out of her mouth. Her lung had collapsed. She would be dead in less than a minute. I took a deep breath.
We stared each other down until the woman’s foot had ceased twitching. Zach released his grip on her body and it fell away from his knife. He lunged at me. I pulled my gun and fired three times at his stomach. His knife hit me below the rib on my left side as he collapsed. I pried myself out from under Zach and pushed myself up against the door. Zach was struggling to move on the floor, bleeding and grunting. The sight of him dulled the pain as I pulled the knife out and tossed it away.
“How many do you have?” I yelled.
Zach said nothing. I landed a few blows directly on his wounds.
Again, nothing. Just a blank stare. I pummeled him again, then went to work on his face. Finally, he yelled for me to stop. He gave up three addresses. Two in Las Vegas and one in Moapa. I called the San Diego field office and relayed the information to them. I waited for the necessary calls to be put through before the most painful part of the call.
“Marshal Rose Ettingley is down at the Desert Palms Motel in Mesquite, Nevada, room 205. Two other fatalities; a Jane Doe and Zach Farmer, both in 122.” The look on Zach’s face when I reported him as a fatality almost made me feel good enough to leave him alive. I didn’t. By the time the police arrived, Zach’s face was completely unrecognizable and I had broken my left wrist and a few fingers. I was discharged from the Marshal Service and I’m still awaiting my court date for charges of aggravated manslaughter.
While I was hitting Zach, I had a brief flash of my own fist coming towards me. It happened two more times before I began wondering if I had actually gone insane. Then, I realized that I was seeing the world through Zach’s eyes. I continued beating him, watching the carnage from his point of view, until everything went black. The darkest black I had ever seen, just like Zach said.