A thriller with a moral thread woven throughout, twisted just enough to send the reader spiraling toward an outcome that can't be imagined.
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A slice from chapter ten . . .
On this particular Saturday night, Jaclyn Krebs [Skip's mother] is staying at Floyd’s place. The house on Spruce Lane seems much smaller than it did through adolescent eyes fourteen years ago. Skip expected preponderant demons to expunge his very existence as he rounded the rear corner of the house where he swore he’d never return.
The intermittent clouds overhead whispered across the moon. The night was as still as death.
Stealthily hugging the shadows, he traversed the backyard to what had been his bedroom a lifetime ago. Skip had a massive déjà vu and realized that he, as a small boy, played hide-and-seek in this same yard. Morosely, he also realized that this was the same yard where he witnessed the burning of his father’s dream. He could still hear his mother’s self-righteous laughter as she threw his father’s personal belongings into the fire.
What did she gain by burning Dad’s military uniforms, medals, and ribbons?
What was the point in destroying his collection of John D. MacDonald books?
Did she ever love my father, or am I the result of her materialistic desires?
She forced me to attend her fanatical religious meetings, but did she ever know God?
There was no swimming pool back then, and the maple tree outside his bedroom window was just a sapling.
I wonder if I can still pop the latch.
Skip paused to put on a pair of latex gloves and joggled his bedroom window frame, declaring, “Still works, by golly!” He climbed in and closed the window behind him. Surveying his old haunt, he light-heartedly inquired, “Who’s been sleeping in my bed?”
Skip searched diligently, but there was not the slightest indication that he had ever been in this room. Jaclyn had erased every clue as though she were trying to extricate a malignant disease. Skip imagined a doctor’s bellicose laughter as he diagnosed his patient’s terminal condition: “I’m sorry, lady, your cancer is back and it’s going to eat you alive. You’re history. I recommend that you pick out a gravestone, like soon. Next!”
Illuminating his way with a penlight, room to room, Skip performed a thorough search of the premises. He found several photo albums on the shelf above the hallway closet that contained pictures of his mother, Sabrina, and a slew of strangers. Two of the albums were types of pictures tourists would take while sightseeing, most of which were oddly overlaid with paper flowers of various shapes and colors. Skip peeled the plastic sheathing back on one of the pages, lifted a flower, and revealed the images of his father and himself.
Skip reflected. Obviously, my mother wanted to show off her world travels without giving credit to Dad for making it possible or having to explain what happened to her son. I’ll bet she hasn’t been out of the country since she drove us away.
One of the flower-covered pictures, showing the Eiffel Tower in the background, was especially peculiar—the masking sunflower appeared to have a human arm, which draped around Jaclyn’s shoulder. He remembered having toured Europe with his parents while his dad was stationed at the NATO headquarters in Belgium, but he wasn’t sure whether his recollections were first-hand memories or stories that he had heard his parents recount. Skip considered taking a few of the pictures that contained him and his dad, but refrained.
Moving across the hall, Skip opened a door to what he remembered being Sabrina’s room. He assumed that Sabrina was attending the University of Kentucky because of the oversized, royal blue and white Wildcat pennant tacked on her bedroom wall. Skip’s intense demeanor softened as his flashlight revealed the musical carousel on Sabrina’s dresser. He walked over to the dresser and turned on the switch to the music box. The melodious sounds of Brahm’s Lullaby are as calming now as they were twenty-one years ago when he and his dad bought the carousel for his newborn sister.
Initially mesmerized by the parabolic motion of the colorful horses that revolved beneath the rainbow-colored canopy, Skip’s reverie was shattered by the thought of Sabrina’s complicity in the events that resulted in his father’s death. He sadly turned it off.
Skip walked down the hallway and stepped into his mother’s bedroom. A competition ensued—hate and disgust fought to be the first impulse to leap his brain’s synapses and ring the conclusive bell. Disgust won. Her bedroom reminded him of the hairball that he extracted from a bathtub drain sometime in the past. The hairball was caked with bodily slime—the shoe fits. A third cerebral contestant limped across the finish line—helplessness—the emotion that dominated his teenage years after watching his mother mercilessly destroy his father.
I’m in control this time.
Looking through his mother’s jewelry box, Skip picked up a locket and opened it. Sabrina’s baby picture was still in the right side as he remembered it from long ago, but his baby picture on the left was gone.
Skip’s eyes glazed over with an emotional sheet of ice. You may have forgotten me, but I haven’t forgotten you. Can you imagine having someone like me out there lurking, thinking, and abhorring you as much as I do? I’m here. I’m lurking. And I’m thinking.
Every item in Jaclyn’s bedroom seemed to be meticulously arranged—throughout the entire house, for that matter: knick-knacks precisely spaced, shoes lined up as though a straight-edge had been used to align them, towels perfectly folded and centered on towel racks, pens placed parallel and equidistant on her desk, bottles of cleaning solution lined up like soldiers for inspection. Everything was methodically polished clean and shiny; nothing—not one single thing—was out of place; not even a scintilla of dust blemished the surfaces. Skip understood: An illusion of orderliness to counter-balance her mental disarray. A pretense of sterility to offset the dirty, filthy repugnance occupying her mind. An outward display to give the appearance of ultra-normalcy, to blanket the wickedness within. A flood of nausea overpowered him—the identical revulsion he had experienced as he ripped the snarled hairball from that drain.
Skip’s usually spry reflexes became sluggish. Like an intoxicated man walking on the railroad tracks who just realized that the bright light bearing down upon him is attached to the front end of a speeding locomotive, Skip dashed into the hallway. He leaned against the wall and trembled, breathing deeply and rapidly as though dispelling the toxic air in his lungs, the toxic air that seemed to permeate the atmosphere on the other side of the open doorway. He sighed like a man who narrowly escaped certain death.
His composure nearly restored, Skip approached the basement door where he zeroed in on a glass cat centered on a wooden settee. A brazen impulse slung his arm around, cupping the glittering object like a catapult—it disintegrated against the far wall of the combination living room/dining area, scattering tiny flecks of light to the ends of the room. Skip remembered his mother’s scathing remarks when his dad had suggested putting her hand-blown glass figurines—the ones she had collected while living in Belgium—in the jewelry showcase. Jaclyn castigated Skip’s dad for even mentioning it. Bitch! She put nothing—absolutely nothing—into Dad’s store . . . and then . . .
Descending the stairs into the basement, Skip relived in his mind the words and images of a stilted conversation he overheard when he was seventeen. His boss, Harry Marigoo, was talking to the company computer whiz, Gus Doherty, who had worked himself into the state hospital for Harry’s sake. Dispensing wisdom as though he were the god of sensibility, Harry patronized Gus: “No one on his deathbed ever wished he had spent more time in the office.” While working for peanuts and naively hoping that Harry would reward him with a few well-deserved cashews, Gus had worked double and even triple shifts in an all-out effort to make Harry an even richer man than he already was.
Skip dispensed a little sensibility of his own: No one on his—or her—deathbed ever wished they had taken more advantage of people for their own selfish purposes.
Cluttered. That would be an understatement for the state of affairs in the basement. Crumpled water-soaked boxes, overturned flowerpots, twisted lawn chair frames, busted toys, and the redolence of mildew-blackened curtains conjured the image of an upended trash dumpster. Skip grinned, knowing that his assessment of Jaclyn’s fastidiousness in the house above was faultless. The trash in the basement was analogous to the disarray in Jaclyn’s mind—out of sight, out of her mind.
Opening the door to the back room of the basement, Skip was delightfully surprised to find his dad’s jewelry equipment largely intact, although covered with 14-years worth of dust. He recalled working here with his dad: sculpting the wax models, attaching the wax sprues, encapsulating the wax figurines in plaster, baking the plaster-filled cylinders, pouring the molten gold under vacuum pressure, disintegrating the heated plaster in water, and cutting the resultant gold rings and pendants from the tree. Finally, he and his dad would polish the pieces and set the stones.
Skip was amazed that he could still remember the entire casting process after more than a decade. He smiled warmly as he revisited those fond memories of working with his father.
On the subsequent Saturday night, Skip trailed Floyd Webster to Jaclyn’s house. When the last light winked out, he returned to Floyd’s apartment for a night of exploration. The last pin reached its breaking point in the pin tumbler lock on Floyd’s doorknob when Skip heard a noise down the hall. He quickly turned the tension wrench and ducked inside, softly clicking the door shut behind him.
Skip waited in total blackness.
The doorknob jiggled.
Skip extracted a leather, lead-filled blackjack from his vest pocket, preparing to welcome the unexpected guest with an unexpected thump.
Seconds passed as slowly as if their passing were marked by a funereal cadence. As though time was an elastic substance, seconds seemed to stretch into minutes.
Someone down the hall yelled, “Open it! I know he’s in there.”
Skip tensed, every muscle primed for attack. Adrenaline shot straight up his spine like a geothermal geyser, his blackjack poised like the death-end of a mousetrap.
The unseen intruder wrenched the doorknob back and forth, spouting: “Damn thing’s locked!”
Someone yelled, “Bust the door down!”
Continued . . .