When she clicked the French doors shut, she heard the bedroom door click open. A gasp froze in her chest, and she whirled.
The figure stood in the faint spilled light of the hall. It was a shadow, it was faceless. Veronica just stared. The figured closed the door and stepped forward.
"I vill go back aus if you like," it said. It was Marzen, obviously. Closer now, she could see he was naked in the blocks of moonlight, though the room's high shadow hid his face.
"Do you vahnt me to leave?"
Her stare locked forward, "No," she said.
"Zen close your eyes."
Veronica did so with no hesitation. This was the last appendage of any fantasy: reality. She wanted her eyes closed, to keep him faceless. She could sense each of his steps as precisely as if she were seeing him. She didn't even flinch when he took her hand.
He brought her hand to his mouth and sucked the finger she'd been masturbating with.
"Get down now," came the clipped whisper. "Down on zah floor."
Veronica lay back on the carpet, spreading her legs. She pulled her knees back to her chin, showing it all to him without scruple. She felt wicked, lewd. I'm a slut, she thought, stifling a giggle. She parted her thighs as widely as she could, her feet in the air. Her sex felt like a pot of warm oil.
At once Marzen began to lick it. He licked slowly and hard. The sensation, as well as the crude immediacy of the act, jolted her. It felt delicious and wild. Then the tongue bore down over the opening and penetrated her. She wished it could be huge; she was being invaded in a trespass that made her want more, that begged for a deeper and more meticulous inquest. Her bare feet clenched in the air when he began to suck her clitoris.
This promptitude and complete lack of ceremony drove the pleasure deeper. There was no falseness here just guileless lust. It was what she wanted, wasn't it? Marzen the faceless phantom, the night called her selfish fantasy enfleshed.
Oh, no, she thought. She was ready to go off already. Something began to crest, something huge in her that demanded exit. Her breasts ached, her sex and belly and inner thighs felt aflame. Just as her orgasm would break, Marzen stopped.
Her eyes slitted open. Marzen was kneeling between her legs; she could see the shadow of his erection in the moonlight. All she wanted in the world just then was for him to sink it all into her at once. Just get on top of me and fuck me, she was dying to say. Put your cock in me and fuck me right into the floor.
His big blue eyes roved from her sex to her face. "Love iss metamorphosiss," he said.
What was he talking about? She reached forward to take hold of his penis, but he slapped her hands away. When she leaned up, his big open hand landed between her breasts and shoved her back down. It was not a gentle gesture. It was nearly violent.
Yet his voice remained serene. "Love iss transposition," he whispered. "You are not yet ready to transpose."
Veronica's fascination played with her rage.
"Before you can love another person in truth, and be loved by another, you must first learn to love yourself."
She wasn't sure what he meant.
"Do it," he said. "Don't think about it, or vunder. Do it."
"Do what!" she exclaimed.
He pushed her legs further apart and looked at her sex.
Oh, my Lord, she thought. Somehow he had seen her on the balcony. He'd probably been watching from the door. Strangely, though, she felt no embarrassment. Just frustration colliding with her lust.
She brought her fingers to herself and began to masturbate. Marzen remained knelt in attendance between her legs. His erect penis pulsed almost directly above her moving hand. She glided her other hand up and down over her body. This combination of sensations felt even better than Marzen's oral ministrations.
Her sex felt burning now; it was thumping against the careful succor of her fingers. She looked up at Marzen, at his shining muscles, at his erection, thinking that seeing him would give the experience more spark. But it didn't. Transposition, she thought. I am not yet ready to transpose.
She didn't even know what that meant, yet it clearly worked within the structure of this bizarre, self-investigating liturgy. So she closed her eyes and thought about nothing. She fought to banish the image of other men from her mind. Her moisture continued to well. Instead, she thought about herself. She pictured herself touching herself, loving herself, and then she began to come.
She moaned beneath the shadow. Marzen's silence gave evidence to a poignant supervision, and this, for some reason, made it feel better. Frantically her fingers teased repeated orgasms out of her sex, her buttocks flexing. Her fluids seemed to throb out of her sex, a tapped cask of flesh and pleasure. She'd never come this hard and this many times in her life.
Soon she could go no further; the jolts left her sex so sensitive another touch would make her scream. As her fingers came away, she felt the sudden hot spurts land across her stomach and breasts. She knew what he was doing, and it even pleased her; it sated her, being dampened by the fluids of his own orgasm. The last of his ejaculation dripped warmly onto her belly.
She lay panting for a time. Her body turned to rubber. She opened her eyes and saw his penis limpening in the dark.
"Now zat we have loved ourselves, next time we can love each other, ja?"
Next time? "Just give me a minute," she pleaded. "I'll be ready again in a minute."
Her disappointment gaped. Marzen got up and left the room. Before he closed the door, he said very quietly, "Pleasant dreams."
Veronica sighed. She had no energy left to reply, or even move. Then the door clicked shut: finality.
The long lines of his semen began to cool. She ran her hands over them, thinking of body lotion, and covered herself as much as she could. It dried quickly to starchiness more finality. She wasn't wearing his semen as much as she was wearing him, and that idea consoled her. Even though Marzen was gone, she still had him all over her.
She fell asleep on the carpet, curled up as a warm ball. The scent of him mixed with her musk, and the joyous exhaustion, rocked her consciousness away.
She dreamed all night.
She was standing naked in the deepest grotto. A figure ascended a figure composed entirely of flame. The figure was caressing her. Beneath its fiery skin, eloquent shapes moved, the suggestion of flesh. Hands of fire kneaded her body. A mouth of fire kissed her lips. The fiery shaft of the figure's penis entered her sex and ejaculated endless spurts of flame.
She knew that the fire was love.
It didn't burn her. It didn't hurt.
All she felt, as the fire devoured her, was ecstasy.
"It's not metal," Jan Beck said the instant Jack Cordesman walked into her lab, which occupied half the basement of the county's HQ. Myriad junk filled the workup section, shelves of glassware and chemicals, rows of fuming cabinets, comparison microscopes, and squat machines.
Jan Beck looked tiny amid all this, for she was tiny herself. She looked desperately thin in her lab coat. Her hair was flat ashen brown and frizzy, and she wore huge spectacles. In her hand she tapped a fat camel's-hair brush.
"You want a Coke, sir?"
"Sure. And what's not metal?"
She opened a refrigerator and got two sodas. Jack had time to glimpse a clear-plastic evidence bag containing one human foot. Then the fridge door sucked shut. "I worked up the n/a/a-scrape,"
she said, handing him a bottle. "The weapon that opened Shanna Barrington is not composed of metal."
"An airplane knife or something? One of these polycarb jobs?"
Jan Beck shook her frizzled head. "Plastic composites would be easier to ID. It's some kind of stone, I think. Our spec-indexes don't provide reference for stone-cutting objects, so it'll take me a while to ID."
He guessed she was about forty. She'd worked for the state police for years, and had come to the county for more money and because "county gets better homicides," she'd told him once. Jack often wondered exactly what constituted a "better" homicide.
"Stone," he said after her.
"Something brittle. It shredded well against the ribs and sternum. Some of the particulate residue I could actually gander fucking bare-eyed."
Jack loved this woman's sense of terminology.
" but it's also something that takes a mean edge. Flint, maybe, or obsidian. Some of the initial incisions could've passed for scalpelwork."
A stone knife, Jack contemplated. He'd have to inform Faye Rowland as soon as possible. The instruments of the ritual could lead to the ritual itself.
"And your killer's blood is B neg," Jan Beck said.
This was a bombshell. "How the hell...? Her fingernails were clean. And you said this semen didn't type."
"They were, and it didn't. Salined random bloodstains and malachited them. Shanna Barrington's type was A pos. One of the malachite samples gave a different hue, so I factored it. All that shit the killer left on the walls, the triangle and the symbols, was done in the victim's blood. All except one."
"Aorista?" Jack speculated.
"Good guess, sir. That word was written in B neg. What's it mean, by the way?"
"A process that doesn't end," Jack muttered
"That's a kick from your end." Jan Beck's cynical grin looked vulpine. It was her way of saying, You've got a real winner here, sir. A killer whose buzzword indicated an unending process was the same as saying I will not stop. But Jack was thinking about the blood. The fucker cut himself, he thought. Why?
"We've got a hair problem too," Jan Beck went on. She led Jack to a labtop piled high with red hardcover field texts. Morphological Differentiation of Human Hair, one title read. And another: Microchemical Cortex Analysis. Several large CRP slide frames hung from a glowing lightboard.
Jack saw that they contained long kinky hairs.
"Can I ask you a personal question, sir?"
"Sure," Jack said.
"Have you ever seen fit to measure your pubic hair?"
Jack stared. "Well...no, I haven't, Jan."
"I didn't think so. We in the trade call it â€˜crotch-hair morpholistics.' Can you guess the average length of a dick hair?"
"To tell you the truth, Jan, the average length of dick hairs is not something I've given a whole lot of thought."
"It's four inches. Some get as long as seven before they fall out. Most people probably don't think they get that long."
"I'm astounded by this new knowledge."
She pointed her fingerprint brush to the slide frames. "Those are eleven inches long."
Jack's face pinched up. "Those are pubic hairs?"
"Yes, sir. It's easy to tell auxiliary body hairs from one another. Standard microscopic inspection of the sheath wall and medulla verifies that these are pubes. Only problem is they're about twice as long as average."
Jack's gaze held fast to the kinky hairs in the frame.
"Here's another thing most people don't realize." Jan Beck seemed to gauge his dismay. "Female pubic hair is thicker than male. But your killer's pubes are the thickest I've ever see."
"You're not going to tell me the killer's a woman, are you?"
Jan Beck laughed beneath her breath. A silly question deserved a silly answer. "Not unless you know any women who can blow eighty to a hundred milliliters of sperm. You know any women like that, sir? You know any women with penises bigger than rolling pins?"
Jack nodded his stupidity. "Go on."
"This guy's core diameter is four hundred microns plus. Average is one fifty. It's just really odd, you know?"
"Yeah," Jack said. He wanted a drink. Bad. "Maybe it's a growth-hormone disorder or something."
"Good point. But there's one more thing. The field boys brought in several other hairs located high on the spread outline. They were straight and black. And they weren't ancillaries."
"Head hairs, in other words."
"Correct. Thing is, head hairs and ancillaries from the same person are always microscopically matching through fusiformal comparison and thermal analysis of the scale count."
"You're losing me, Jan. I'm a stupid flatfoot, remember?"
"The pubes and the head hairs did not come from the same person. The black hairs had a different pigment lineament, and they were cut. They lacked root-cell sheaths. And let me ask you this. Do you know what dihydrotestosterone is?"
Jack thumbed his brow. "No, Jan, I don't."
"It's a hormone secretion from the human scalp. This substance is microscopically ever present on the shaft cuticle of any human head hair. But these black hairs didn't have it."
Jack was getting tired of this. "Let me put it this way, Jan. What the fuck are you fucking talking about, for fuck's sake?"
"The killer wore a wig."
Jack sat down on a lab stool, though he dearly wished it were a barstool. He needed a drink. Even more, and quite suddenly, he needed normality. The memory hung before him in color: Shanna Barrington butchered on the blood-drenched bed, her flesh opened up like a book. Jack wanted his world back no, he wanted a different world, a world where people loved, not butchered, each other. Was that too much to ask for? Suddenly he felt so sick he wanted to bend over and vomit right there on Jan Beck's shiny linoleum lab floor. It would all come up, not just his breakfast, but everything, his broken dreams and short-changed love, his spirit and his psyche. His heart.
"Are you okay, sir?"
Then he saw Longford, which was as bad. There'd been so many videotapes...Jack would never stop seeing the faces. It was evil. That was the only explanation. You could blame environment and upbringing and personality disorders only for so long. There came a point when it simply didn't wash. Grown men, with wives and children of their own, hugely successful businesses.