Special Agent Eric Paulson stood in the doorway, with a goofy smile on his thin lips. He flicked away his still burning cigarette. Snowflakes melted on his grey stubby chin.
„Fuck. What do you want?” I asked. Bitterness seeped from the back of my throat. I wanted to spit it out, but words fell out instead. „Seven! Years!” No calls, no visits, no cards. He didn’t even call, when my daughter, Amy, died. I’d be damned if he doesn’t want to drag me back to the hell I’ve been through.
He was fast with flashing a smile. There it was, the I’m-better-than-you-look in his blue-green eyes. The look I died to smack out of his face, with a brick, or bottle, or a chair, or my fists. His dark hair was shorter, his build porkier than I remembered. He was doing well. The red parka he was wearing was too tight on his belly and arms.
His smile froze to an annoyed grin. He must have his reasons for coming all the way out here. „Is that all you got for me, Vince?” He pulled an offended grimace, and pushed me aside, to enter the hallway. “Unbelievable!” That was Eric Paulson all over. He stomped his feet on the doormat. With one hand he opened his ski parka and I slammed the door shut.
I needed a drink. I went to the kitchen to grab a bottle. Talisker Storm. I prayed, he came to visit out of pure friendliness, as a friend, as family. But I knew his hesitation in the hallway meant he had a case I should help him with. He stared at his boots, left hand absentmindedly stroking his jacket, where his breast pocket was. I knew that look of guilt… Long ago, Eric and me, we were a team. He was the agent, and I was the psychic profiler. We were match and gasoline.
„Prepared for the blizzard, buddy?” He attempted small talk. Futile, but I nodded. He inched my way, eyeballing the photos of Maria, Amy and me on the walls; reminders of my misery. My kitchen disgusted him, I noticed. Today it seemed peculiarly smaller and dirtier than usual, even to me. „It was clean last month.” I manned the whisky bottle and shook it at him. „Want some?” I asked by courtesy.
„You tell me, Vince,” he shrugged. „Don’t you see, what I’ll do?”
„It’s not working that way, Eric.” I turned and went to the twilit living room, switched the lights on. He followed me in silence. „You know that.” The bookshelves made the room look like a cave.
Outside, the snow came down in thick curtains. I couldn’t see his car. Up here, November hit us hard, with temperatures below 15 °F all week. The winter was gentle and silent around my house, the woods insulated me from the world. But I felt it roar in the valley, and down in Points.
I plunked down into the leather couch and tugged the patchwork quilt over my legs. Maria, my ex wife, made it during the two long years of our marriage, for Amy. She was adept with the needle and yarn, but she couldn’t take it, after the accident, after…
She left me the quilt, so she could forget. It covered my bad knee, which was cold and swollen. It hurt badly and I couldn’t hide it. Eric furrowed his brows. Was that concern?
„The Eric Paulson I know, wouldn’t dither,” I growled at him. Jaw muscles clenched together, my fist was a white ball of bone, sinew and muscle. The Eric Paulson I knew, was responsible for my stiff leg.
He breathed and rubbed his chin. „You know why I’m here, don’t you?” I gazed out of the window. “I need your help.” I shook my head and twisted the cap of the bottle off. “We got ourselves a phantom, a smart and cruel predator.” Eric continued unimpressed. “Maybe you can give us a new angle. We’re desperate! You’re our straw.” I stared into the bottle before my lips touched the liquor. No need for a glass, or ice. There was this hollow icy feeling leeching my stomach.
„We’ve found his sevenths victim yesterday. He is different. I haven’t seen anything like that in my whole life,” Eric told me. His presence woke something up in me. It stirred. “He isn’t satisfied with just killing them. No. He tortures them for days, breaks their bones, peels their skin off, while they are still alive.” Eric walked up and down in the room. “Vince! He’s a monstrosity, an abomination!” The first gulp burnt its way down into the midnight of my soul.
The smell of smoke and bunt hair hit me.
Eric came up close to me, observing my face intently. I must’ve spaced out. „Was the last victim burnt?” I asked, hoping he’d say no, but his eyes lit up instead. Poor man… That merited another gulp. „I hate you.”
Eric sat down on the coffee table in front of me. It creaked its complains. He plucked the bottle from my hand and held a plastic bag in front of my face. In the bag was something lathy, dark and stained. I swallowed, that was a knife of some kind, unusually thin.
„For the love of God… Eric, I don’t need more nightmares.” He wanted me touch it. “Why are you forcing me?” I didn’t need to be a psychic, to know where that thing had been before. Instantly, my phantasy went wild, flooding my consciousness with pictures of bloody pierced hearts, deflated lungs and slit throats.
„You play hermit in the woods? That’s okay,” his calm voice floated in the room. „You won’t talk to me, cause you’re teed off? That’s also okay.” He ruffled his dark hair. „I respect that, and I’m truly sorry for what happened. For what I did, but can’t take back…” He took a sip from the bottle, and pulled a grimace. „Alright. Be mad at me. That’s fine.” Eric looked at me like a beaten dog. “You expect the world to leave you alone?” His lips tightened. His left hand made a flat horizontal swiping gesture, as if covering something. „I’ll have none of that bullshit!” I stared at the star and heart patterns on the quilt. „Vincent, I really need your help! I’m not giving up on you. We all need your help. With your special abilities… It’s your duty to help.” I felt his despair seeping into me through the pores of my skin. “He sent us a picture of his next victim. A little girl, not older than five.”His voice picked up volume and urgency. “Help me solve this!”
We locked eyes. That face! I heard myself gasping. His hurt expression… His eyes wide and watered up, lips trembling, corners of his mouth pointing to his heart… He had that same look… The same look, when I had pulled him out of that car wreck. He was 17 and I was 19.
I couldn’t imagine how hard it’d punch me. I forgot that I still had these feelings in me. Why did I notice just now? Eric was exhausted. Something festered in him, something stinging, black and tar like. Something hungry…
And easy as that, I was his partner again. Ready to hug and comfort Eric, ready to watch his back…
I took the plastic bag, and my he smiled weakly. Between my fingers the knife slithered into my palms, snuggled into my left hand and wanted to be clutched tightly. A lefty. My hands felt wet and warm, the blade seemed to pulsate, like a beating heart. I sent out my thoughts like tentacles.
„It’s not a gift…” The smell of blood was overwhelming. „It’s a condition, ruining my life.” I told myself, and forced my stomach back down. „I think, I got something. Take notes, Eric, I’ll forget everything in about half an hour, or so.” My body plummeted, my mind trickled down my navel, like sand in an hourglass. “He’s a lefty and went to college. Had good to mediocre grades but dropped out. He prefers to work with his hands. He’s in his forties. I get the feeling of clay on my hands… Maybe pottery, maybe gardening. Overly adjusted. Most likely married, but his little wifey is clueless, so is everyone else in his social vicinity.” I swallowed, my body grew heavier, my vision blurred. „He needs glasses.”
Heavy knocks echoed through the house, made me jump. The door trembled under the beating. Eric nodded towards the hallway. „Go on. Open the door. It’s an officer with more information you need.”
The hard labor of standing up started and the quilt slit down to the carpet. Eric took a big gulp of my good wisky, while I hobbled to the door. He was right. It was a man in uniform at the entrance. His police car sat obediently in my driveway, lights flashing. Where was Eric parking?
„Good afternoon, sir. I’m Officer Peterson, Hampshire County Police. Are you Mister Samson? Mister Vincent Samson?”
„Yes.” I answered. Suddenly, I didn’t like how things summed up. The icy feeling dropped deeper.
„I’m sorry that I have to tell you.” He breathed. “Your ex partner, special agent Eric Paulson, was killed, yesterday, in the line of duty.”
„I’m sorry for your loss… He was on his way here, to beg for your expertise as profiler.” Officer Peterson harrumphed. “There is something else… His little daughter was kidnapped.”