Danna Scanlon, a detective with the Special Crimes Task Force, is in the middle of the case of a lifetime.
For Seth Berman, he is that case…he just doesn’t know it. And not knowing has become a way of life, because Seth is never alone, even when he’s by himself. The scit-scit of spiders behind his eyes is a precursor to Zeus” slipping” in, shoving Seth to the back of his own brain for a little R & R. Zeus, always there when the Zyprexa can’t buffer the outside world and it all becomes too much for Seth, has had to play the role of protector, without whom Seth might have never survived a brutal past. Now, Zeus sees his role as more of a safety valve, though the four other mental mates don’t agree. Seth, unaware of the others, prays Zeus doesn’t blow this job or screw things up with his girlfriend, Valerie.
To Zeus, the girlfriend is just one of many perks. That and prospecting for house guests.
It’s just a hobby, he insists, but when Detective Scanlon gets caught up in the hunt for the worst serial killer in Bloomington’s history, it’s game on.
And she might just be ruthless enough to catch him.
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Barri L. Bumgarner
Serial killers strike fear in all of us. But what if you found out you were the serial killer? Missouri author Barri L. Bumgarner twists an oft-used plot device by putting the reader into the head of a murderer with multiple personalities. Slipping exposes the coldest fears in all of us, then comes back for more.
Slipping introduces us to Danna Scanlon, a detective with the Special Crimes Task Force, who’s in the middle of the case of a lifetime. Seth Berman, he is that case…he just doesn’t know it. And not knowing has become a way of life, because Seth is never alone, even when he’s by himself. The scit-scit of spiders behind his eyes is a precursor to Zeus “slipping” in, shoving Seth to the back of his own brain. And Zeus has a sick hobby, one he claims helps them forget about their brutal past. But when Detective Scanlon gets caught up in the hunt for the worst serial killer in Lake Silverton’s history, it’s game on. And she might just be ruthless enough to catch him.
“I read countless thrillers that get so formulaic. I didn’t want you to love the cop and hate the killer,” says Bumgarner. “I wanted readers to sympathize with Seth, because he can’t help what he’s become. What could be more cruel than to find out someone has screwed up your life and you can’t escape him?”
Seth grimaced, willing the scit-scit behind his eyes to abate. He held the edges of his mahogany desk, teeth gritted and a clawing sensation in his groin. Get out of my bank, you asshole.
But the ruthless father griped that the Barbie Doll teller must have gone to Chicago to cash his check, then snapped at his frail son. "When I tell you to shut up, boy, that's what I mean!" His jaw clenched. The child, barely old enough for grade school, trembled as a patch darkened the crotch of his jeans and liquid pooled at his feet.
"You pissed on yourself! Goddammit!" Asshole Father fumed, started to raise a hand, then must have thought better of it as he looked around. Gail Lindley, an investment officer at the desk nearest the teller windows, assured the boy it was okay as she called for a janitor.
"Don't tell him that," the glowering man sneered.
Seth Berman couldn't tear his eyes away, oblivious of what his client was saying about the portfolio he'd suggested to her. While he stared from his desk set off a few feet from the main lobby, just behind Gail's, he saw Asshole Father raise a threatening hand, then hesitate.
Seth's eyes fixed on that open palm. The repeating scit-scit behind his eyes brought bile into the base of his throat. A flash of long ago nightmares danced too close--on the edge of remembering. That world had separated from the one he chose to live, the only way he could live without a constant supply of hatred fueling his day-to-day.
Then the man unhinged Seth by swinging--hard. Asshole Father's palm smacked with a savage pop, slamming the child into the bank's state-of-the-art marble wall.
A guard stalked toward the man as Seth's mouth fell open. He wasn't shocked that someone would so brazenly abuse a child, but he feared the brutal display would awaken a certain co-habitant in his brain best left sleeping. Another series of scit-scits sent searing pain through his eyeballs, mental needles piercing them from behind.
No, Zeus, not now, not at work...
The six-month hiatus had caused Seth to drop his defenses against Zeus, though he never missed a single dose of Zyprexa. Dr. Hoffmeister insisted the anti-psychotic meds would keep his mental roommate at bay, safely tucked in a corner of his brain as a harmless bystander. Occasional conversations and sporadic spurts of co-habitation haunted Seth. But for the sake of his host's sanity, Zeus stayed away unless situations warranted his appearance.
Asshole Father jerked his son again, grunting, "Just as soon beatcha as look atcha."
Isn't that what my daddy used to say? The rare recollection made Seth gasp, causing Mrs. Hawkins, his late afternoon client, to ask if he was okay.
"Yes," Zeus whispered, the mental voice a booming radio inside Seth's head. Unsure what question Zeus was answering, Seth fumbled across his immaculate desk for a paper clip. He traced his fingers along the metal in a desperate attempt to streamline his brain, a trick Dr. Hoffmeister had taught him some years back.
Mrs. Hawkins said something else, but all Seth could hear was Asshole Father hiss, "I'm gonna knock you into next week." The angry man snatched the money from the disapproving teller. "Now I need a goddamn money order, lady. Think you can handle that before Halloween?" He threw three bills at Jennifer, a six-year veteran once sweet on Seth. Her pasted-on smile faltered.
For an awkward moment, Seth peered from the inside out. He trembled slightly, panicked that Zeus would ruin all he'd built at First Federal Bank & Trust. Too many times he'd had to quit jobs because of his mental roommate's prolonged stays. But that had been during college and just after. For four years, the arrangement and transitions had become smoother.
Seth closed his eyes as he felt Zeus's presence fill his head, like a song so loud it echoed in his ears.
"Ah, Seth, he's flipped the safety off, and I am SO ready. I could take care of that shithead. Go take a breather, smoke a doobie, check out for a minute or ten. Let him trip the trigger, and I'll scoot into the driver's seat for a few."
But it's never a few, Zeus. Seth tried to unthink the possibility of losing days, even weeks in a prolonged slip, and excused himself from Mrs. Hawkins. Ignoring the violent man's outburst toward the intruding guard, Seth blindly made his way to the employee restroom. Much of what he could see as he headed toward a urinal was through a film, a haze of Zeus's skewed perception blocking his view. He struggled with his fly, his left hand suddenly all thumbs. The pre-slip oddity of Zeus being right-handed unnerved Seth, but he switched hands automatically, groaning with frustration.
"Oh, God, Zeus, I need time to get out of here. I can't lose my job." And I'm meeting Valerie for dinner ... I've gotta call her...
"Hehehehe, let me, Seth. I'll call your hot teacher babe for you."
Another employee barreled into the bathroom, making Seth jump.
"Hey, Seth, what's shakin'?"
"Not much," he muttered, his voice eerily Zeus-like. Turning so his happy-hour buddy couldn't get too close a look at him, Seth finished, washed his hands, and made a quick exit. Pausing at his desk, he straightened papers and told Mrs. Hawkins he wasn't feeling well. She mothered him for a few minutes before leaving, sparking Gail Lindley's always eager attention. Unlike his few sparkless dinners with Jennifer, he'd known better than to date Gail. She had high maintenance etched on her thousand-dollar cleavage, though they had become good enough friends over the years.
"I'm going to jet out of here a little early, Gail. Gonna surprise Val with flowers and a movie since Mr. Timmerman's gone. Cover for me, okay?" He flashed a warm smile, pleased he could muster it. Just don't look too close at my eyes--I don't think they're so friendly anymore...
"Sure, Seth. Nobody'll care anyway. You never leave early. I might just ditch a few minutes before five myself. You take care, handsome, and tell that Valerie she's one lucky girl." Gail winked at him, the heavily made-up eyes batting so hard he worried she might lose a lash. "Shame you can't join us for happy hour though."
He grinned and waved, Zeus giving a hubba-hubba at the prospect of getting happy with Gail.
By the time he hit the back door, fifty-five minutes prior to his usual quitting time, everything about Seth was evolving into Zeusdom. A swagger so different from the usually casual gait, a shit-eating grin no one at First Federal would recognize, and eyes gleaming with a wicked intensity.
He practically ran to his Audi, the radio in his brain refusing to shut off, too deep into the slip to reverse the process.
"I won't be bad this time, Seth, you'll see. I got your back."
Seth shuddered, twisting the Audi's keys on his finger, fumbling to punch the unlock button.
I know, Zeus, but it hurts. And you won't take care of my dog. You don't like Lexi, and ... and ... Valerie...
"Ease up. Don't pop a vessel. I can manage both bitches just fine." Zeus cackled, but quickly added, "I promise I'll get your mutt to Valerie and take care of things."
"But you won't," Seth groaned, as he leaned back in the driver's seat and closed his eyes. Even with them shut, he could see the other cars in the lot through Zeus's, the sun dancing in waves off the hoods.
"It's a good time for a vacation," Zeus offered, his excessive excitement adding to Seth's panic, the worry about what he would return to. And when that would be.
The time during a slip was dead space for Seth. Fragments of it remained afterward, but flimsy, like retrieving a dream a few hours after waking. Gripping the steering wheel until his knuckles ached, he felt the tug, being pushed out of himself and into the back room of his brain. The slips always hurt--being yanked out of the driver's seat and shoved aside in his own head.
"Yes, that's it. Turn the key. I promise I'll be good, Seth, you'll see. Oh, God, yes, I'll be so goddamned good. That runt remind you of someone, Sethie? I protected you then, remember? I always had your back."
"Shut up, Zeus, please. I can't think." Seth shook the emerging images of his past away, grateful for the mental barrier that separated then from now. Their childhood lay beyond it, and Seth never peeked if he could help it.
He peeled out of the parking lot and raced through downtown to the exit ramp onto Highway 71.
I just want it to stop ... or hurry. The in-between was agony.
He opened the sunroof and windows, cranked the classical music, and let the wind whip through his perfectly groomed hair. Maybe a gust could rip Zeus from his brain and allow him to be free.
Except Seth knew he could never really be separated. It haunted him every time he held Valerie as they drifted to sleep, fearful that he wouldn't wake up--that Zeus would instead.
It had taken years of therapy to understand, but Dr. Hoffmeister assured him the Zyprexa would keep him focused, intact. Years of appointments hadn't taught him much, just that no matter how good he felt, he owed it to the meds.
Just as soon beatcha as look atcha.
"Ahhhhhhhhhh!" Seth howled, bashing his palms against the steering wheel.
"It's okay, Seth, that's why you have me. That whiny kid needs to employ some extras." Zeus cackled, a bristling sound that shoved Seth back a little further, the slip almost complete. He felt the transition deep inside his bones, as if Zeus changed every fiber of his body. His eyeballs felt as if spiders clawed at them.
Don't hurt Valerie...
"Ah, Valerie, Schmalerie. Remember last April, Seth? God, I really outdid myself last time. And Valerie was just fine after you got back."
Seth's stomach rolled, and he slammed on the gas, the reality jolting him. If he drove fast enough, incited enough adrenaline, maybe he could test the Audi's ability to fly--San Paolo Pier was less than a mile away.
"Ah-ah-ah, no you don't, Sethie Poo. You can run, but I'm always right behind you." The spiders scattered, the slip into darkness nearing the finish line.
"I can't see, Zeus--" But he didn't need to. The film slipped away, exposing repressed memories and leaving Seth with the brutality of his childhood. When his eyes became Zeus's, he knew what was best for him. He scurried to the far corner of their brain, to the small room waiting for him, then clamped his hands over his ears and slammed the door. Safely inside, he crouched behind a desk and rocked back and forth until the rhythm consumed him. Seth would hear nothing, see nothing, feel nothing. Not if he could help it.
When Zeus was in charge, it was best not to watch. Because seeing meant remembering.