Crossing the Line: Chapter 1

A story about a college boy with a celebrity crush, a serial killer with a stalker, a roommate that doesn’t deserve all this nonsense,  and law enforcement that has no clue what’s going on. Only a rough draft. No longer updated online in aims of publication.

(cw: murder, depression, suicidal ideation)

—–

He knew it was a long shot. It was a fool’s gamble, made on what basis? Nothing. A hunch. Hope. A lot of hope, enough of it to take off from college without a word and catch the first flight to Washington City. Now, four days later, as he peered into the twelfth empty alley in the past half hour, Anthony was forced to admit it: He was running on fumes.

The sky was tinting orange at its edge, the sun a fingerbreadth from the horizon. That gave him more or less fifteen minutes until sunset, and then he would call it quits. A quarter hour until his reasoning fell apart like the card tower it was – a bundle of guesses, dependent on each other to stand. His logic professor would have failed him on the spot.

Alley after alley was nothing but disappointment, the next one home to a stray cat, the one after, empty. The one after that one was visible from the main walkway and to be ignored – there’d be nothing to find in public view. Anthony thought back to his notes, catching an address from a storefront as he passed its dusty glass. He could picture his region of interest in detail, all the way down to the bright red ink that marked its perimeter. He was skirting the limits already.

Anthony Carrel swore, then smiled an apology at the woman who cast him a dirty look as she hurried past. There was even a touch of fear to her pace. He supposed it must be scary being a blonde woman in these days. He raked a hand through his own sweep of brown hair and hurried on.

He was halfway in a sprint when his phone buzzed to life in his pocket. He stopped so suddenly it almost slipped from his hoodie.

Anthony knew who it was. He knew exactly who it was, precisely why they were calling – there was a reason he had ignored his phone the past three days. Maybe because of that, or because he was just on edge, the ringtone seemed a touch more desperate than before.

But he couldn’t have this conversation, not when there was no time. Not when he was so close. He couldn’t risk losing his resolve. So, closing his eyes, he took a deep breath through the nose and steeled himself. He snapped the phone to his ear and spoke first.

“Pete, I’m busy,” Anthony said, a reminder to himself as well. As he started walking, there was only terse silence on the other end, heavy with the weight of loaded questions that wouldn’t be getting answers. “Look, I’ll be sending an email later explaining ev—”

“What the fuck.” The words were said slowly and emphatically. The lack of expression in the voice had said more than anything else. Peter was not a stoic kind of guy. As his roommate for a year and best friend for six, Anthony considered himself somewhat an authority on Peter, and this direct, impassive approach only meant one thing: Peter Dewan was pissed.

The sky began to bleed red at the skyline. Two minutes. Anthony could spare two minutes to assuage Peter, and that was being generous. In as patient a voice as he could manage, he tried again. “Peter—”

“Don’t bullshit me, you don’t get to say a word unless it’s an explanation, and I know you – it never starts with my name.” The forced calm of his tone gave Peter’s words an almost musical quality that might have been patronizing had it been anyone else. From Peter, Anthony just marveled at how well his friend could read him. “You start with my name when you plan to gloss over it and expect me to play along.”

But Anthony had a better read on Peter.

“You’re right.” He really was. Peter usually was, and Anthony would concede that. Even so, he kept walking, and he gave heavy sigh. “I’m not being fair to you. I’m sorry.”

Almost surprisingly, it was that easy. Anthony knew how to defuse and disarm him, and Peter by nature couldn’t stay angry for long. “Damn straight,” he scoffed before heaving a sigh of his own, giving up on the frustrations he’d so painstakingly bottled up. He couldn’t rile himself back up if he tried. “So,” Peter started again, in a tone more familiar to Anthony: exasperation. “You’ve been missing four days now. Where are you?”

It didn’t hurt to be honest now and then. “Washington.” The city, not the state, but specifics took time, and Anthony lacked that. There was a Washington a couple hours’ drive from their university. Most people would have assumed that one. Unfortunately, Peter had a good sense for half-truths. He was wasted in the sciences.

“City and state.”

“Does it matter?”

That was a misstep. There was a loud thud, like the closing of a book or a hand on a desk. “It does when you disappear a week before midterms to god knows fucking where!” Peter exclaimed in an outburst only partially anticipated.

Anthony flinched when he heard a quiet groan, and he knew for a fact that his friend was dragging a hand down his face. That was a high honor of the worst sort. It meant that he was Peter’s biggest source of stress for the week. That hadn’t been his intention.

“Don’t think I haven’t noticed,” Peter said, quieter, exhausted. “You’ve been off lately. I’m worried about you.”

Anthony just then realized that he had utterly failed to cut this conversation short. This was bad. He was unprepared. Ever since he’d embarked on his little self-indulgent goose chase, the endless apathy had been fading. He had begun to feel again, dull undercurrents of emotion becoming live wires of it. Back in the dorm room, the guilt had been a ripple in the back of his mind. Now it crashed over him like a wave, and he didn’t know what to do.

The terse silence had stretched too long. Sunlight was also running short. What could he say that would make this better? How could he possibly tell Peter to be at ease about the truth? He couldn’t. It was impossible, so instead, he returned to the point. “Peter,” he said, and he realized that his friend was completely right about his name. “In a few days, you’ll get an email from me with some instructions. Humor me and do what they say.”

“Anthony, if you’re in the mafia, just be honest. Dad’s a lawyer. We can help.”

It was going to be a laugh, he was sure, but it got lost along the way. Anthony was left with a wry twist of the mouth. “Hey, Pete?” he started again, without thinking. He didn’t even look at the next alley as he heard himself say, “Thanks for al—”

Clack.

It was quiet, near imperceptible. No one would have thought twice. It was a stray cat, the wind, a bird, nothing much, but Anthony had been primed for this. He turned on heel to the alleyway. He could see nothing from the main path at all. This was it. A nervous chill started from the nape of his neck and spread like frost on a windowpane.

“I gotta go.”

“What? Anth—”

Hanging up, Anthony muted and tucked the phone away before approaching. This alley went deeper than the others or seemed like it did, thanks to the building beside it being taller than the rest. It blocked the meager horizon light entirely, rendering the heart of the passage dark as night. Anthony squinted in the shadow to make out a silhouette, and he felt his pulse quicken in his throat.

There was the scent of iron in the air. When his eyes adjusted, he saw why. He couldn’t see the corpse’s head, but he could see the blood staining the concrete. Anthony could guess what she had looked like in life anyway – rounded cheeks, pretty, White, age 20-25, anywhere between 5’3” and 5’6” – blonde, like the woman on the street, like the woman blocking his view.

The woman had his back to him and was deathly still. Literally, seeing as Anthony had a point of comparison. She was slack, limbs loose, uncaring that the knees of her jeans were soaking in blood. She seemed deaf to the world, but when he took a step forward, it was like he pulled a trigger. The woman jolted, turning, stumbling back. Words spilled from her lips in a frantic fervor, “I didn’t see anything, I swear! Please, don’t—”

Apparently she’d been in the dark for a while. Her eyes had adjusted, and Anthony saw her take him in, take note of the university sweatshirt. Anthony Brown, just your everyday, nondescript white college teen. “You’re not him,” she breathed, and as if in relief, her shell-shocked expression crumpled. Her stillness was gone, breath visibly catching in her chest.

She looked to the corpse, and then to the puddle of bloodstained hair where her hand rested from her blind scramble backwards. Trembling, she lifted her dripping fingers, and her shoulders heaved in her horror. “She’s… dead,” the woman whispered, as if saying it out loud somehow made it worse.

Anthony’s eyes were adjusting now, and he could see her dark eyes, harrowed and wide. He could see the winded pace of her breath slowly rising to hysteria.

And then she turned to him, appalled, expression a contortion of panic and fear, and he felt it like the pluck of a cello string down his spine. “What are you doing?! She’s dead! Call the—” she cut herself short, and it was a breathtaking moment to watch how the woman’s eyes changed. Her expression smoothed, and as the doe-like terror narrowed to something keener, more intelligent, Anthony felt the first flutters in the pit of his ribs.

“…You shouldn’t smile like that at a scene like this, kid,” the woman said. As she rose to her feet, all the vulnerabilities, so systematically arranged, were just as meticulously removed. When she was done, the killer regarded him standing with shoulders squared and a piercing, appraising look. “Someone might get the wrong idea.”

“W-with all due respect,” Anthony stammered, not even sure what words he was using, “I think I’m giving the right impression.” Fuck, wait, he hadn’t expected this. The giddiness was overwhelming, and he felt bloated with it. For the first time in his life, he understood why people danced for joy. He forced himself to keep still, grounded, though a nervous laugh did bubble out his throat.

She was looking at him strangely now, canting her head to let the short strands of her hair frame her face, sharpen her expression. “What do you mean by that?” she asked, smooth and precise as a good knife in letter paper.

His mouth felt like he’d drunk a cup of sand. “It means…” Swallowing, he willed himself to get it together. It didn’t work. The one person in the world he hoped to impress, and his body was determined to make him a fool. “It means that I’ve been looking for you.”

The killer let that sink in for a moment, before giving what could have been a shrug but could also have been a stretch of the shoulder. She leaned down and swiped her bloodied hands on the calves of her jeans, and it only registered once she turned away that she was shorter than him, by a good few inches, and probably older than him by twice that many years. Not that much of that mattered when he felt like a child with their first celebrity crush.

“I—”

“We’ll get to that in a moment,” she said, and Anthony clicked his mouth shut. He watched tensely, standing ramrod straight as the killer leaned over to an upended cardboard box. From behind it, she pulled out a large handbag, almost as big as the backpack he carried. She was careful to loop it by her clean, bloodless wrists, keeping her fingers arched away. Undoing the clasp in the same manner, she gingerly reached in and pulled out a wet wipe.

Somehow, that was more unexpected than anything else so far.

“First, tell me, kid,” she said, briskly wiping the remaining red smears from her hands. “How’d you know?”

“Know who you are or know where you were?”

She didn’t look at him, rubbing the blood from her fingernails. “Let’s start with ‘who’.”

There was probably a right answer to that. Anthony realized, somewhat devastatingly, that he had absolutely no idea what that answer might be. That was new. Some classmates would have won a few bets if they ever found out. But, in all seriousness, it was too hard to explain.

On all accounts, her act had been impeccable – every shudder a careful construction, every inflection deliberate – a flawless portrayal of the poor, hapless witness to a horrific crime. Anthony doubted he’d be so dumbfounded if it had been anything less than perfect. On top of all that, she was blonde, hair falling just past her chin. All the bodies thus far had been blonde, and the Washington City press had hammered that point so hard that it was practically social mandate that blonde women were victims, to be protected. Anyone else would have been fooled. And yet, for Anthony, it had been easy to tell who she was, like picking out a wolf from a pack of dogs.

Perhaps sensing his struggle, the killer prompted further, “Were you looking for a woman?”

“No! I mean, I wasn’t uh, looking for a man, either.” Smooth. Great. Anthony’s hand wandered to his neck and stayed there. “The police said you’d be a man, mid-thirties to forties,” he finally said.

“And?”

“I, uh, didn’t believe them. On either account.” She didn’t respond to that, silent as if sealing bloodied wipes in a plastic bag was of more interest than he was. Maybe it was. That was a disheartening thought.

The killer sat down on a relatively clean patch of ground and peeled off her shoes – oh, they were porous and elastic – and set about wiping down bloodied feet. Anthony waited for her to ask about his reasoning, why he didn’t believe them, the response he’d rehearsed all morning, but she never did. Instead, after a moment, she rummaged through her bag and pulled out a pair of heavy scissors with a bloodied wipe. Fabric scissors, he realized, when she stretched out to offer them. “Hold these and turn around.”

Anthony responded so readily that it might have been a reflex. “What for?” he asked as he took them.

She didn’t give him a response, but cast him a look that was almost disappointed. It was the dullest of glances she’d given him so far, but it shot through him all the same. What had he missed? What cue had he dropped? He stared down at her, frozen while he thought, stared at her in her spattered blue windbreaker, bloodstained jeans – oh. He turned, grip tightening on the scissors, grimacing at himself. What a time to descend to stupidity.

He looked down, saw the faint light against his shoe and went rigid. He was barely five paces from the entrance. He was visible where he stood.

The press was calling this serial killer the Washington Werewolf – a name that should have belonged in tabloids, not reputable papers – because of how the victims died. Dog bites, the police said. Deep bites to the throat, but that was just from what they looked like. Anthony looked at the scissors again and saw there was blood on the blades. He was holding them barehanded.

Anthony staggered back deeper into the alley as a stranger passed, luckily distracted by their phone. He almost laughed and had to smother it, throat tight – oh, he couldn’t let anyone know he was there right now, with a dead girl, a blonde woman, and what police would easily accept as a murder weapon in his hand. He’d been had. Not that he would have given the killer away, never, but he had still fallen for her casual precaution. It was laughable.

More laughable still was how she had easily made him out to be a murderer. The suggestion was ridiculous. Him, kill someone? Ha! Laughable when he couldn’t even kill the easiest victim available.

“Scissors.”

Without turning, he passed them back. She took them with her fingers wrapped in her sleeve.

He listened to the dull scrape of cutting cloth, and in that moment, his nagging question won out. “You used a wolf skull, right?” he asked. The cutting stopped.

A moment passed before she resumed. “That what the police are saying now?” The sound of ripping cloth. Anthony had no clue what she was doing.

“The police are saying ‘violent dog’,” he said. His mouth was still dry, his voice still rattled with nerves. “I… think you already know that.” She didn’t deny it.

He was startled by a click, almost turned on impulse. “And what do you say?” the killer asked of him, and there was a click again.

“I say the police assumed large dog when the bite indicates weird wolf,” he said, voice growing steadier with every word. He was already two for two with his conclusions. That was reason for some confidence. He had worked hours, days for this moment, more than for anything else. This was the first test in Anthony’s life that he felt compelled to work towards. For once, he wasn’t sure he’d ace it, but he was damn well going to try.

“There was a picture,” he explained. “A shock site. Your second victim, Joanna Brosh. The teeth marks were too big for a usual dog. I compared the size of the bite to an average woman’s neck and made calculations to scale. The canine spread was wrong for a dog – there’s an atlas for that.” He had spent six hours looking for the obscure book and another two looking through it.  “It was more likely a wolf.”

Anthony then looked back partially, carefully avoiding where the killer stood. Instead, he took a moment to regard the corpse on the ground. Rounded cheeks, pretty, maybe 22, height about 5’4. Blonde. Her windpipe was punctured, a series of deep wounds visible despite the blood. “But a wolf in Washington City? With a taste for blonde women? And with Joanna Brosh, the bite wasn’t like this one. It was more like a nip, targeted. The carotid was torn out. No wolf would do that, they’d snap the neck, and,” he was being stupid now, he could feel it, “as impressive as you are, I doubted you could tame wolves.”

Although, after meeting her face-to-face, it wouldn’t have surprised him too much if she could.

The killer gave a quiet hum, indifferent to his spiel. “You can turn back now.”

He turned.

She was nearly eye to eye with him. Unprepared, he stepped back and saw she was wearing a t-shirt now, her windbreaker – somehow now pink instead of blue – tied loosely at her waist. From one hand, she dangled a mass of bloodied bone by an eye socket, sparking a new elation in Anthony. The skull was modified, equipped with a set of springs and latches at the hinge that reminded him of a bear trap. “Well, give the kid a prize,” she said, so perhaps he had made an impression after all. She rubbed the dried blood off the skull’s teeth before vanishing it into her handbag.

Anthony found himself suddenly confused at how much women’s handbags weighed.

The killer sauntered past him, and as she exited the alley and into the last minute of sunlight, she transformed again. Not a terrified witness, not a murderer at ease, she now seemed in all ways an average citizen. Her t-shirt didn’t have a spot of red on it, was suitable for the misty, warming weather in this city, the cusp of winter and spring. The bloodied jeans were gone – she’d cut the calves off, he realized, and she now wore clean denim shorts, cuffed above the knee. The clicks he had heard were her shoes, the strange flimsy slippers replaced with high heels.

The police weren’t looking for a woman. Even if they were, they wouldn’t have suspected this one. Anthony surprised himself with the strange assurance that he might have. But then she started to walk away, and he learned just how crushing disappointment could be.

It was devastating. This wasn’t a chill down his spine but a wind through his bones, as if he were hollowed out. She couldn’t leave. He’d worked so hard to figure this out, to find her, impress her – he’d finally managed to find a handhold out of his apathetic life. He stood in cold stupor, terrified of the impending indifference as she glanced at him over her shoulder.

“I’m walking as slow as I can, kid.”

Anthony blinked. Breathed. His shoulders released tension he hadn’t realized was there, and he jogged to catch up. When he fell in step with her, she lengthened her stride.

“I’m not done with you just yet,” she told him as they passed a gaggle of teenagers. There was an exhilarating moment when she and Anthony walked right past a patrol car. No sirens. No handcuffs. Nothing. He was just a college student roaming the city, and as far as anyone was concerned, she was anything from an older sister to an aunt to a friendly neighbor.

It was surreal. He was walking barely a pace behind a figure he’d built up into a myth. The sky was a violet swath, and in these winding walkways, away from the roads and free of cars, the streetlights were yellow and warm. The afternoon lull of the city melted away, making way for the nightlife. Anthony felt foreign and strange. As for the killer, no one gave her a second glance, and for all anyone knew, he could have been walking her home to keep her safe from the Washington Werewolf.

That was a funny thought – a lot of things were funny tonight, and it was unfamiliar. He may have been used to it in his childhood, but in the past three years, the sensation had faded. Despite his regrets toward Peter, he was glad he came. He was finally nearing the end of this horrid, dragging story.

“Your windbreaker was blue,” Anthony remarked as they waited for a crossing light. Apparently the killer drew the line at jaywalking.

“Reversible. A traveler’s best friend,” she said, dismissive. Indeed, looking closer, he noticed that the inside of a sleeve was a powder-blue, stained red. The crossing light changed and the killer stepped from the curb. “That your real school?” she asked.

Anthony plucked at his hoodie, examined the bold logo he was so used to. He wasn’t even into school sports – hell, he didn’t have much ‘school pride’ at all – but he had won it free in a raffle. “If it was?” he asked, leaving his answer vague.

“It is.” She was sure of herself. Anthony was struck by the hint of smugness in her voice, her expression. In the back of his mind, he noticed that, in the light, there was something a little off about her face. “If you planned to trick me, you would’ve just bought a college tee from around here.” Tricking her hadn’t occurred to him at all. If all went as planned, it wasn’t like what college he went to would matter to him or anyone. “That’s a good school. Must have worked real hard for it. Planning to do honors?”

His professors would all say yes – but no, what the fuck. Anthony’s dismay was unexpected and overwhelming, crawling along his skin. He didn’t come here to talk about school. He didn’t meet her, the Washington Werewolf and so much more, to talk about school. His sudden rise of frustration lodged in his throat and he reached out and grabbed her arm.

“I want you to kill me,” he confessed.

The killer stopped.

Her expression hardened, eyes dark as she fixed a pointed look to his hand. Anthony recoiled, yanking back as if burned. He’d messed up – this wasn’t how he’d imagined this would go. Eager to amend the situation, he continued, struggling to keep his voice calm now that he’d laid his intentions bare. “I don’t care what method. You can use the skull, or you can… dissect me, strangle me, whatever it is you want. I—”

Walk,” she ordered, and shoved him in front of her. She kept her hand on his shoulder, forcing him onwards. The sound of her heels was distinct on the concrete. “It seems like you’ve forgotten, kid,” she said with a new edge to her voice, “but we’re in public. You’d do well to shake the sparkles from your eyes and take a look around.”

Heart hammering in his chest, Anthony noted a street sign as they passed. Madison Street. Sirens flashed up ahead, and he spotted a police car near an animal control van, an officer talking to the driver. Police were scattered everywhere, it seemed, knocking on shop doors and flashing badges. Interviews. Seeking witnesses. Further up was what looked like a full squadron, ducking back and forth under the police tape. Reporters swarmed the perimeter.

“The fourth one,” Anthony realized. The full implications of his reckless confession caught up to him, and he cringed.

“The fourth one,” the killer agreed, each word precisely aimed to nail in his mistake. He got the point.

Embarrassed, Anthony tipped her hand from his shoulder. “I didn’t realize Madison was so close,” he said. “It seemed farther from the side streets on the map.”

They were closer to the crime scene now. The killer seemed unperturbed, and the police didn’t do more than urge them to pass. Really, the criminal returned to the scene of the crime, and no one gave her a second glance. “Did you catch her name on the news?” she asked, as if they weren’t talking about the girl who had been found with her throat torn open in that police-partitioned alley across the street.

“No, I… the name wasn’t important to me,” Anthony replied, wondering now if it should have been. “The name wouldn’t have helped me to… find you.”

The killer clicked her tongue. “Forgot to ask her and it’s been killing me. They don’t release bodies’ names in the initial report here. Left.”

Anthony followed her around the corner to see the bus stop.

Confused, he stared as she settled onto the bench, stretching her legs out in front of her. Did she have a destination? Was he meant to follow? Anthony checked the bus schedule, pulled out his phone and – wow. It had only been twenty minutes since he first found her in that alley. It felt like it had been a day and a half. (He purposely ignored the five missed calls and a text message that said “please pick up”)

Anthony was grateful when she cut his thoughts short. “Alright, kid. I’ll bite.”

His gaze flickered to her handbag.

She made a noise that could have been a laugh. “I mean, let’s hear it,” she amended. “Caught me in the act, congrats. Did what the cops can’t.”  She leaned back against the bus stop glass, deigned to look him in the eyes. “How?”

Finally. This was it, the part he had recited and rehearsed to himself in anticipation for this moment. He stood up straighter, re-shouldered his backpack. To Anthony, it was a miracle that the card tower was still standing, but now that he knew it could support itself, he found himself somewhat proud.

“I tracked your previous kills,” he told her and wondered, for a moment, if he should take out his notes. They were all in his bag, weight heavy on his shoulders. He decided against it. “It takes at least three bodies to suspect a comfort zone, but not with you. Your second and third kills happened within three blocks of each other – probably because they took too long to find the second body. If they didn’t find the third one either, you probably would have killed there again.”

Now that they were actually holding eye contact, Anthony felt strange. He could track the motion of her eyes, feel the scrutiny on his face. He had done forensics, given speeches. Even though he was more prepared than for any debate, this was somehow harder.

“The police couldn’t guess at a comfort zone until this morning, when they found your fourth kill here on Madison. Uh, I can Google her name if you—”

“Go on.”

Right, then. “So with the fourth body,” he continued, “they had three dumpsites, and they could make, say, a ten mile radius around each and triangulate it to see your anchor. I tried that and got a residential district. Police have your comfort zone, but they can narrow it down further – they thought the killer was a middle-aged man with a large, violent dog. Following that line of thought, they would have asked how that went unnoticed – there were never any witnesses, and after the first murder, people would’ve steered clear of any dogs. I assumed that the police assumed the killer was using a vehicle to hide the dog, supplemented by how you only killed in alleys by main roads on purpose. At least, I think it’s on purpose because if this crossed my mind, you probably thought of it ages before.”

“Not sure where you’re getting this faith in me, kid.”

That wasn’t a denial.

“So police have upped security in the comfort zone, started patrolling that residential district. They’re fairly confident that the Washington Werewolf works with animals and has a van. They focus on the roads. To play it safe, and also to throw them for a loop, I assumed you would go out of your supposed ‘comfort zone’ – just barely, but it was enough because you kept to places only accessible by foot, which they weren’t looking out for.”

Those were the almost-facts, the ones that had some basis on the information available. Now he was getting to the dodgy part, and Anthony’s reluctance was hard to ignore. He was hyperaware of his expression, trying to channel some of that casual neutrality he used in school presentations. He had the feeling his uncertainty was written across his face.

“After all that, it was a complete gamble, but… I thought that if everything else I was thinking was right – I had this feeling that you would go out of your way to mess with them. Mess with their timeframe.”

“Kill in daylight instead of night.”

Anthony felt his lips twitch into a hopeful smile. Goddamn it. There went any hope for casual neutrality. However, he was too far along to let that stop him.

The killer pulled a leg onto the bench, draping an arm over her knee. “Well then, explain to me, kid. How come you could figure it out when the cops can’t?” she asked. He got the sense she already knew the answer, but he couldn’t care less – this was his last chance to impress her, the only trump card in his deck.

“The police’s assumptions were skewed because they believed you were a local when you aren’t.”

“Aren’t I?”

“Well, you can’t be.”

“Why’s that?” This question was different. Now that he had ordered his thoughts and was paying attention, he noticed the slight narrowing of the killer’s eyes, the insouciant pitch a touch too high. She didn’t know, he realized, and that was an exhilarating thought.

“Because if you were local, you couldn’t be the other ones.”

Whatever the killer was expecting, it hadn’t been that. Her face skimmed through a full range of expressions before settling on a lift of the brows. “What other ones?” she asked, cocking her head. It was a juvenile gesture, displaced from her age, and it changed her yet again. Anthony realized with renewed nervousness that this genuine stare was her true interest. Basically nothing before had mattered. He had to swallow that pill fast so he didn’t choke before he spoke next.

“Th-the Arlington Strangler,” he stammered out and swore in his mind. He’d stuttered more this thirty minute talk than he had his entire life. “The Medic. Covington Casanova.” As he listed the nicknames one by one, the killer didn’t blink. Her face was, in fact, unreadable. He only hoped that it was one that meant he knew too much to let live. “The Tooth Fairy. KTB. The Freeway Runaway—”

He was cut off by a series of snaps, and he stared wide-eyed as the killer gave him one-handed applause. “I’d clap, but I’m comfortable as I am,” she said, still resting arm and chin on one knee. “You got all the serials from the last year. Color me impressed.”

Impressed. She had actually been impressed, said it with her own words. Anthony couldn’t remember a time he’d felt more accomplished. The breathless grin felt unfamiliar on his face.

“That’s why you said you ‘don’t care what method,’ huh. And you’re saying that knowing what I’ve done before.” Anthony didn’t nod, but his level gaze was enough of a response. The killer leaned forward. “I can tie your hands and throttle you with your own belt? Play surgeon with nothing but an outdated anatomy book?”

Anthony didn’t move.

“You’d let me knock the teeth from your skull and empty a coin purse in your bloody wishing well of a mouth? Stab you in your bed, dying in a room of roses and scented candles?

“Not my room,” he said, wincing at the thought. “I don’t want to trouble my roommate.”

The killer gave a long hum, as if mulling this over. Anthony allowed himself a moment of relief, but it was too soon. “I’m not looking for an easy kill,” the killer declared, swinging herself up to her feet. Her heels made satisfying clacks on the concrete. “That’s not the point of this. You seem to know me well enough to know that.”

He did. That was the worst part.

Anthony wasn’t upset. No, he didn’t feel much of anything, the numbness like a rush of white noise through his veins. Static muddled his heartbeat, and he went very, very cold. “But—” he grit his teeth. Nothing he said would change her mind. He knew this. He’d only spoken to her for half an hour, but he already knew this. “I can’t manage it on my own,” he forced out, appealing to her pity in vain. Her pity wouldn’t change anything.

“Sorry. You have my answer.”

“And now that I’ve met you, I don’t want to do it on my own,” he continued, ignoring her response. He had to be vague. There was a passerby now, a businessman too self-important and self-absorbed to read the fucking mood.

He wasn’t a passerby, actually. The man settled against the outside glass of the bus sign, and Anthony felt himself straighten, draw in. Compose himself. He hated it. He despised himself for it.

“Please, consider my request. I won’t bring you any trouble,” he said, like he was talking to one of his professors instead of the killer of dozens, the killer that people barely realized existed, a legend only he was aware of. He saw her quirk a brow, her eyes flicker to the businessman. Anthony must have sounded pretty damn different before if she was surprised by his usual tone. “Coming here and meeting you was a pipe dream – please, the chance of me being right on all accounts was slim to none, but I was, and you’re here. That has to count for something.”

“Almost all accounts,” she said, switching her bag over to the other shoulder. The businessman tucked in earphones for a phone call. His voice was brassy and domineering as he ripped some poor subordinate a new one. Anthony clung to the killer’s quiet voice, ironically, like a lifeline. “One thing: Even if police were going with the dog theory, smarter cops would have assumed I’m a military man. No wildly aggressive dog would kill with a clean bite to the throat.”

It was just salt in a wound. Anthony might have been impressed, earlier, when he still thought he was at the end of his monotonous, drawn-out narrative.  Now it was just another shot of disappointment pooling in his chest.

“Smart cops would have started looking around to see if someone acquired a military attack dog, or otherwise knew how to make one, and pinpoint those individuals. In that case, the comfort zone wouldn’t have mattered.”

He clenched his fists and couldn’t look at her. His gaze dropped to the windbreaker at her waist to the folded cuffs of her makeshift shorts to her spotless high heeled shoes.

“Guess you’re lucky there weren’t any smart cops around.”

The killer didn’t take a step, so Anthony didn’t expect the finger to his forehead, tipping his head back level.

“Take my advice, kid,” she said, and she knocked him on the forehead as she passed. “Stay on the other side of the police line.”

And that was the end of that.

—–

Only it wasn’t. Like hell he’d leave it at that.

 

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5 thoughts on “Crossing the Line: Chapter 1

  1. I like this. I like this a lot.

    The killer is solid. Her diologue matches her *ahem* occupation (cold, calculated), and her character is refreshingly graceful, and although I knew from the start that she was the killer, the mystery-crime theme was still there. Her one liner at the end was my favorite. 😀

    Your conversation between Anthony and Peter in the beginning is spot on, but I had some turn-off’s during the intervals of their conversation. Take this with a grain of salt, but the transitions from diologue to narrative were a little choppy. I’ll try to explain this.

    “Don’t bullshit me….”

    To

    “The forced calm of his tone gave Peter’s words an almost musical quality that might have been patronizing had it been anyone else. From Peter, Anthony was stuck marveling at how good a read his friend had on him”

    As a first time reader, the abrupt change from the swearing to Oscar Wilde-like narrative took me back. We hear Peter swear, then talk with disconnected phrases out of frustration, then Anthony describes his words with his own… A little too gracefully. “Musical” “Patronizing”.

    This general fluctuation of tone happens a few more times in this chapter with Anthony, up until his meeting the killer (where everything is steadily grim).

    Anthony, the protagonist, is clearly depressed in this story. So I admit I intially expected him to act apathetic and informal in both speech and narrative. His narrative here shifts more to a bitter, cynical characteristic.

    Everything else is great! I’m looking forward to reading the final draft of chapter 2!

    Like

    1. Oh, I wasn’t expecting feedback! Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. I’m happy to hear that my killer (almost used her name out of personal habit, woops) struck you as “refreshing” – that’s an angle I’m hoping for with this whole story.

      I’m glad to have feedback on Anthony and Peter’s conversation in particular, since their relationship is an important one for me to get right. I’ll reread the section when I have fresher eyes with your comments in mind. There was a specific feeling I was going for in the stylistic choice there, but if it wasn’t clear, I will have to revisit it later. “Oscar Wilde-like,” though, aha. If I could write something as lyrically efficient as “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, I could ask for nothing more.

      It’s reassuring to hear that Anthony’s depression shows through without explicit naming of his condition in this chapter. He may suffer from apathy, but this story depends a bit too much on his unhealthy passion project for him to ever have been apathetic by nature. Hopefully he defied your expectations in an intriguing way, though!

      Modern media, as I perceive it, has a tendency to portray clinical depression as only characterized by emotional outbursts or complete apathy, which is horribly misleading. Those stereotypes can be dangerous and lead people to miss the more subtle and more realistic symptoms around them. Despite my unconventional plot, I’m hoping to explore a very real condition in Anthony, who is ‘successful’ and should be happy according to most societal standards. I hope to make it clear in future chapters, but there are people overlooking his symptoms because of their preconceptions on who is ‘qualified’ to be depressed. I hope to highlight the dangers and damages of that.

      Thank you again for taking the time to comment. Do put the rough version of Chapter 2 out of mind though, if you’ve read it – it is likely to be subject to major changes.

      Like

      1. No problemo, inkscribe! It looks like I’m the one who needs editing here. Your explanation on Anthony’s mental health and how other characters (will) perceive it made me rethink my view on Anthony. Never thought about depression that way. I think it’s necessary to say that I like him so far (despite my harsh criticism, sorry, Ant). And with a few more chapters, I’m sure I might be able to emphasize with him, like all good characters should.

        And no worries, I read chapter 2 already, but I’m also looking forward to the changes. 😀

        P.S: On a more personal note, can I ask why you replied to me at 4:32 at the crack of dawn? XD

        Like

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