Be Afraid by Mary Burton
Monday, August 14, 4:3 0 A.M.
Reason and Madness, like Jekyll and Hyde, were two sides of the same coin. One worshipped peace, the other devastation. One told the truth. The other, rule breaker and thief, always lied. Once again, a war raged between the two.
The cell phone on the granite kitchen counter buzzed with an incoming call. A glance at the display revealed Sister was calling again. This was her sixth call in the last two hours. Sister could see past the smiles and the assurances. She sensed when meds had been skipped and Madness regained control.
Ignoring the call, Madness reached for a half-full tumbler of whiskey and held it up, letting moonlight illuminate the honey-brown liquid depths. A quick toss of the glass, and the whiskey slid down a parched throat, soothing tense muscles and pushing aside all thoughts of Sister’s call. It wouldn’t do for Sister to know about tonight’s endeavor. Tomorrow Sister would get a visit. There’d be lots of wide smiles and a box of her favorite chocolates gift-wrapped in a bright blue bow. Blue was her favorite color. They’d play the question-and-answer game for a time. She’d be satisfied and then shift talk to regrets and the what-should-have-beens.
Madness washed the glass in the sink, careful to dry it with a paper towel before replacing it in the cabinet. A few wipes of the cabinet knobs, the faucet, the whiskey bottle, and the surrounding area erased all fingerprints. Some might consider the action overkill but attention to detail was key to a successful performance. Madness had learned well from Reason.
Down the dimly lit hallway carpeted in neutral beige, Madness admired the new coat of antique white paint. Fresh paint was a wonder. One swipe of the roller eradicated dirt, grime, and shadows of framed memories that no longer mattered.
A few more steps toward the master bedroom and the scent of paint gave way to the aroma of diesel fuel. This room—center stage for tonight’s performance—was painted a pale yellow with white trim. A tasteful landscape of the Smokey Mountains hung on the wall by the door, a gilded mirror topped an oak dresser displaying strategically placed crystal perfume bottles, a new hairbrush and a tiny camera displaying a bright red RECORD light.
In the center of the room was a four-poster bed. On the bed lay a woman, the actress in this play. Her near-naked body nested in twisted sheets damp with sweat and flecks of blood. Ropes lashed hands, manicured nails painted a soft pink, to the headboard and feet to the baseboard. A river of mascara-stained tears trailed down pale cheeks and a duct-tape-covered mouth.
Carved in the headboard above her was the word FAITHLESS. Madness thought it a fitting tribute to another woman, Sara, who’d plagued them during their youth.
As Madness approached the bed, green bloodshot eyes alert with panic darted from the man standing in the shadows back to Madness, the night’s true master. Her wide, pleading gaze reflected panic and desperation. Good. She understood who was in charge.
The man in the shadows, Jonas Tuttle, stepped forward, his large, calloused hands wrapped tightly around the grip of a .45-caliber handgun. Tall and broad-shouldered, he stood over six feet. A man’s man, some might say. But fear all but vibrated off every inch of his muscled body. “We’ve been waiting for you. I need you to tell me what to do next.”
The warmth of the whiskey kept anxiety at bay. “Patience, Jonas. Patience.”
Jonas, the bloodthirsty and angry hero tonight, had nurtured a murder fantasy since he was a young boy. Careful observation of Jonas over the last six months told a lot about the man. His likes. Dislikes. Fears. Wants. Needs. Stalking the stalker.
Jonas’s murder obsession had chased him most of his life, his fantasies playing over and over like a worn record. As much as he craved killing, he also feared the cops and prison. And so, he’d bottled up his wants and needs for years. Madness had found this want-to-be killer ripe for guidance in a bar six months ago drowning frustrations away with whiskey.
“I can show you how to kill,” Madness had whispered.
Jonas’s gaze had danced first with hesitation, then interest, and finally excitement.
Madness had taught Jonas how to stalk, to watch and to plan. Madness worked with Jonas for months, priming him for this kill.
Now at the brink of the grand finale, Jonas oozed desperation and need. Nervous energy buzzed around him as if live wires zapped his nerve endings. This was the moment he’d dreamed about a long, long time.
One nod and he would fire.
Instead of giving permission, Madness shifted attention to the woman. Pretty and slim enough, the woman, Diane Smith, until hours ago had been dressed well and had walked with confidence. She, no doubt, had caught the eye of many men. She liked rich, buttery chardonnays paired with a creamy Brie or goat cheese. She liked good conversation and old movies. Reason might have befriended her if not for Madness.
In this macabre scene, Madness, not Reason, was the ultimate authority. Madness chose the staging, the casting, and, of course, the final execution. Moments like this thrilled because it gave Madness the one thing he could never sustain: control.
“Can I do it now?” Jonas’s timid voice had a familiar, annoying ring.
“Savor the moment,” Madness rasped.
Jonas’s hunger was razor sharp and, of course, the woman’s senses had never been so acute. Being this close to death made everyone in the room feel alive.
Diane’s watery gaze was a mixture of terror and confusion. How could this have happened to me? I’m careful. I play by the rules.