/ Language: English / Genre:sf_horror / Series: Serial

Killers

Jack Kilborn


Jack Kilborn

Killers

Lucy

Where am I?

Think.

Think.

Think…

Lucy opened her eyes to a blurry brightness.

Couldn’t feel a thing but the weight of her eyelids.

Her first conscious thought was that she’d been drugged, and if that was the case, this made only the third time she’d lowered her guard enough to let that happen. Normally, she didn’t party with guys she picked up. Sure, she’d sip a beer, pretend to take a toke off a joint-never inhaled-but for her, inebriation itself was worthless. She’d never understood what people saw in getting stoned and drunk. It only dulled the senses, and for her, intensity was everything.

If they’d drugged her, then they’d probably raped her and beat the shit out of her, too.

And she wouldn’t begrudge them if they had.

Good for them.

This wasn’t her first rodeo, and if someone had found a way to slip something into a drink or otherwise incapacitate her before she did the same to them…

Then kudos.

Hats off.

But the hole in her memory was just so gaping she couldn’t quite bring herself to believe she’d let herself get drugged.

No, something else had happened.

Something much, much worse.

Slowly, images were beginning to sharpen all around her.

A black cube up in the corner near the ceiling that she realized was a television set.

Empty chairs.

The railing of a…bed…she was lying in a bed, and those things wrapped in red and brown stained bandages were her legs. In four places, black foam dressing had been taped to her appendages and drainage tubes arched out of them.

An IV stand loomed above her, and several bags filled with clear liquid dangled from its hooks, running their contents down various intravenous lines into her left arm.

A heart monitor behind the stand displayed her rate and rhythm.

Her nose itched, and when she tried to raise her left arm to scratch it, something arrested the movement-her wrist was handcuffed to the railing.

The door to her hospital room stood open, and sitting just outside was a pudgy lawman in a khaki uniform, reading Guns amp; Ammo. His gun-looked like a. 40 mil subcompact Glock from her vantage point-bulged off his right hip next to a can of pepper spray and a sheathed baton.

What the hell happened?

Or perhaps more appropriate… What the hell did I do?

She wasn’t in any discomfort. The only pain of note was a steady, subtle burn in her urethra, which, to be honest, felt just a little bit nice. The kind of thing she could get off on under the right circumstances.

Then again, she’d always had a soft spot for catheters.

She wiggled her bottom, and a burning flush crept up her tailbone.

Lucy glanced down at her right hand.

Thank God.

A morphine pump.

She squeezed the button.

The push was immediate.

Numbness shooting down into her veins, filling her head to toe.

Floating.

Both weightless and sinking at the same time…the mattress and pillows slowly swallowing her.

She felt relaxed and faintly itchy, and three words crossed her mind before she lost consciousness again.

Sweetest. Death. Ever.

The next time she regained consciousness, a doctor was standing bedside, studying a chart.

He was broad-shouldered and handsome in a boxy, unoriginal sort of way she’d never been attracted to.

Lots of right angles.

Bland good looks.

Quarterback handsome.

When he saw that she was awake, he lowered the chart and said, “Kurt Lanz, M.D. How you feeling?”

She had to swallow before she could answer.

“My peehole really hurts.”

“Want me to take a look?”

“Would you mind?”

Dr. Lanz lifted her hospital gown, and though that prevented Lucy from seeing what he was doing, she felt a slight tug around her urethra. He seemed to fiddle with it longer than needed.

The perv.

“Might be a bacterial infection from the catheter,” he said. “I’ll have a nurse replace it.”

“Thank you. Where am I?”

He dropped her gown. “Blessed Crucifixion Hospital in Durango, Colorado. You were airlifted here two nights ago.”

“What happened to me?”

He raised an eyebrow. “You don’t remember?”

She shook her head.

Dr. Lanz glanced over his shoulder at the deputy outside the door.

“I think the Feds want to be the first to actually talk with you about the accident, but I can go over your injuries.”

Feds?

“Frankly, you’re lucky to be alive. You suffered a hairline fracture to the skull. Broken nose. You lost your two upper, front incisors. Sustained severe lacerations and abrasions to your back and legs.”

“How severe?”

“When you were dragged, the pavement essentially peeled away your skin over approximately eighteen percent of your body. You’ve already been through two surgeries that saved your legs, but you’re going to need extensive debridement and skins grafts. Right now, we have you on a regiment of negative pressure wound therapy. We can talk more about this tomorrow. I don’t want to overwhelm you.”

Lucy swallowed. I bet I look so pretty.

“Any broken bones, Doc?”

“Your coccyx took a savage beating.”

“My coccyx?”

“Your tailbone. It was-I don’t know exactly how to put this-ground down as you were dragged across the pavement.”

Lucy smiled. “You’re telling me I lost my ass?”

Lanz flashed a high-beam, soap-opera-star smile.

“About fifteen percent of it. But considering the car dragged you through a guardrail and down the side of a mountain, I can’t quite wrap my head around how you survived. You’re a lucky young woman.”

Lucy squeezed out a single tear that slid down her left cheek. She forced a sniffle. “I don’t feel so lucky right now.”

Lanz reached forward and touched her cuffed hand, running a finger across her thumb.

“You’re going to be okay.”

“How does my face look?”

She registered the arousal in his eyes, his pupils dilating-a small tell, but one she’d learned to read. If a guy was trying to fuck you, that lowered a lot of defenses.

“You’re still stunningly beautiful,” Lanz said. “Just don’t smile until we find you some new teeth.”

Lucy smiled with her lips together, made herself blush.

“Thanks, Doc.”

“Honey, what’s your name? You didn’t have any identification on you.”

“Lucy,” she said.

“Lucy what?”

“Just…Lucy.”

“You’re not wanting to tell me, or you don’t remember, or-”

“I don’t remember.”

“Hmm. Could be some retrograde amnesia. It’ll probably clear up. You didn’t sustain a traumatic brain injury. Is there any family I should call? Just to let them know you’re here?”

She shook her head. “No one who’d care.”

“Oh, I don’t see how that could possibly be true.” He winked at her and wiped the tear off her face. “There’s a man outside waiting to speak with you. You feel up to that?”

“Sure.”

“The media has taken an interest in you being here.”

“Really?”

“Yes, but I want you to know that aside from your physical needs, your privacy in this hospital is our utmost concern. We won’t let anyone from the press bother you.”

“Thanks, Doc.”

“I’ll be back to check on you within the hour. You need anything in the meantime, just buzz Nurse Winslow.”

Lucy watched Lanz turn away and head back through the door into the corridor.

The morphine must have been waning because she noted a subtle sting beginning to encompass her entire body. She activated the pump again and the drug hit her bloodstream just as a black-suited man strolled into her hospital room, closing the door after him.

He dragged a chair over from underneath the television set and unbuttoned his black jacket as he eased down into the chair.

Lucy studied him through the opiate fog.

He was lanky with short, dark hair.

A perfect shave.

Underneath that suit, she would’ve bet he owned a pair of thin, muscular arms. Wiry strength. Scrappy. A fighter when it came down to it. God, she would’ve loved to have encountered him in a hotel bar. She’d have marked him as a lawman right away-he had superficially cold eyes from his training. From the Academy and possibly a few years in state law enforcement. Maybe law school. From toting that big badge around and all the bullshit respect he’d convinced himself he deserved. But there wasn’t real ice underneath. Just a thin, crusty layer that she could’ve shattered in about thirty seconds.

In her entire life, she’d only seen real ice, deep ice, in a handful of people.

“Special Agent Raymond Nash,” he said, flipping open a black, leather wallet and flashing his credentials.

“Hi, Special Agent Nash.”

“Are you cogent enough to speak with me?”

“I think so.”

“Do you know why I’m here?”

Lucy smiled. “I don’t even know why I’m here.”

“Excuse me?”

“I don’t know why I’m here. Like how I got here, I mean.”

“You have no memory of the accident?”

“No sir, Special Agent Nash.”

She thought her voice sounded all right-a husky girlishness, her just-woke-up voice, the kind of voice Agent Nash would probably imagine begging him to stop while he turned her over his knee and spanked the eighty-five percent of her bottom she could still call her own.

He stared at her through those hard, unblinking eyes and said, “You were found at the bottom of a ravine, chained to the back of a car. You’d been dragged for two miles down a rough country road. The car crashed through a guardrail and took you and another man for a three hundred-foot ride down a mountainside.”

In an instant, it all returned to her.

Donaldson -now there was a man with ice eyes. Deep ice eyes.

She recalled the car ride.

His trick seatbelt.

Drugging him.

Hiding from him.

Overcoming him.

Helmeting him.

She’d had him all set to go for a nice little road trip, but he’d handcuffed her leg at the last second and then the parking brake on his cheap-ass Honda had failed.

A smile came at the memory of the pain.

Two of the longest miles of her life.

Her last memory-striking the guardrail at thirty miles per hour.

Nothing after.

“Who was I with, Special Agent Nash?” she asked.

“Just Agent Nash is fine.”

“You aren’t special?”

He didn’t acknowledge her playfulness, only said, “You don’t remember?”

“No, sir. Doctor Lanz told me I suffered a hairline fracture to my skull and that maybe it gave me amnesia or something.”

If this frustrated Nash, he didn’t show it.

“You were with a man named Gregory Donaldson. Do you know him?”

“I don’t know anyone by that name. Was he injured, too?”

“Yes.”

“Badly?”

“I would be in violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act to disclose any information regarding his condition.”

“We wouldn’t want that. Can you at least tell me if he’s, like, alive?”

“He’s alive.”

Lucy realized there was a question she should have asked the moment the agent had come into the room, wondered if Nash had noticed that she hadn’t.

“Why am I handcuffed to the bed?”

“That’s what I wanted to talk with you about. The man you were with, Mr. Donaldson-he’s a killer. The car that you were dragged behind was in his name, and we found evidence of multiple crimes inside.”

“Crimes?”

“Murders.”

“Do you think he was trying to kill me?” She let her voice wander up an octave. “Could that be why I don’t remember? Because I was, like, traumatized and stuff?”

“You didn’t have any identification on you when the paramedics arrived.” Nash fished a notepad out of an inner pocket of his jacket and clicked a pen. “What’s your name?”

“Lucy.”

“Lucy what?”

“I don’t remember.”

Nash just stared at her for a moment.

“Are you being straight with me?”

“Yessir.”

“Because this is a serious situation we got here. See, I’m what they call at the Bureau, a soft touch. But my partner, Penington, isn’t. He’s, to be blunt, kind of a dick. My point is…you want to be dealing with me, Lucy. And I want to help you, but I can’t if you lie to me. Penington deals with the liars.”

Lucy shut her eyes and thought about her father.

When she opened them again, a sheet of tears had formed across the surface of her eyes.

She waited five seconds, and then blinked.

Two trails started down her cheeks.

It only lasted for a second, but she saw a flicker pass across Nash’s face-a millisecond of softening.

Compassion.

So he had a heart. But then again, most people did.

She had him.

“I’ll be back here tomorrow,” Nash said.

I won’t.

He rose, buttoned his jacket.

“You better start remembering some things, Lucy.”

“I’ll try.”

He gave her a curt nod and strode out the door into the hallway, where he muttered something in passing to the deputy. Lucy let her mind drift.

Donaldson.

She smiled, wondering how badly he’d been injured. God, she hoped he wasn’t in a coma. That would be absolutely no fun at all. Vegetables didn’t feel fear. You couldn’t look in their eyes and watch the life leave or the pain come.

Lucy thought about her guitar case, wondering if they’d found it. If she had any luck at all, the thing had been destroyed in the wreckage. Under the velvet lining, there were photographs-she was even in a few of them. Then there was that weathered copy of Andrew Z. Thomas’s novel, The Passenger, signed to her and referencing that Indianapolis mystery convention she’d attended fourteen years ago as a young girl.

Great convention-she’d met Luther Kite and Orson Thomas there, two men who’d forever changed her life.

If a smart lawman saw that book, they’d make the connection.

She had to get out of this room.

Deal with Donaldson.

Escape.

Lucy pressed the NURSE CALL button, and fifteen seconds later a rail of a woman breezed into her room.

She checked the IV bags and heart monitor before turning her attention to Lucy.

“I’m Janine Winslow,” she said. “What’s going on, sweetie? You in pain?”

“My catheter hurts.”

“Really?”

Lucy nodded.

“You’re staying on top of your morphine pump?”

“Yes, but it really hurts,” Lucy lied. “It burns.”

Winslow furrowed her brow. “Dr. Lanz gave you your nerve block less than two hours ago. You shouldn’t be feeling anything at all.”

“What’s a nerve block?”

“A combination of lidocaine, corticosteroids, and epinephrine. Without a shot every twelve hours, you’d be in agony.”

“I thought that’s what the morphine pump is for.”

“That’s just to take the edge off. The nerve block is what’s keeping you from screaming hysterically.”

“Can you take it out?” Lucy asked.

“Take what out?”

“The catheter. So I can use the bathroom.”

“You can’t walk to the bathroom with the condition your legs are in.”

“I’m sure I can make it.”

The nurse swept her hair out of her eyes. “Lucy, you haven’t seen your legs yet, have you?”

“No, why?”

Winslow bit her lip.

“Why?” Lucy asked again.

“I have to change your bandages anyway. I’ll show you.”

The nurse turned off the vacuum pump and walked around to the instrument stand at the foot of the bed. Off the tray, she lifted a pair of scissors and began clipping through the bandage that completely covered Lucy’s right leg.

Lucy watched as Winslow cut all the way up to her thigh, and then returned the scissors to the tray.

“You might want to give your morphine a little squeeze,” Winslow said.

Lucy hit the pump.

Winslow started at the bottom, peeling back a patch of black foam, and then unwinding the bandage around Lucy’s leg.

“You tell me if you start to feel sick,” Winslow said.

“I have a strong stomach…are those scabs?” Lucy asked.

“No,” Winslow said. “You have to have skin to make scabs.”

For the most part, her foot was intact, though when she wiggled her toes she could see three of the five metatarsals twitching.

It was above the ankle that the real damage began.

Portions of her tibia were exposed, along with half of her patella.

She’d seen raw muscle on many occasions, but always after dragging someone at eighty miles per hour for five miles, and by that time, the muscle had been reduced to bloody, dripping strings.

Her tibialis anterior and gastrocnemius were largely intact, and she could even move them, finding the interplay between ligament, muscle, and bone simply gorgeous.

“You doing okay there, hon?” Winslow asked.

“I don’t know.”

“I know it looks bad, but they can work wonders with skin grafts.”

Lucy watched Winslow remove the bandage from her left leg.

Even worse.

Less skin coverage, and it looked as though portions of the muscle in her thigh had sustained damage-when she flexed her left quadriceps, the muscle quivered differently than her right. She could barely make it move.

This was bad-and not because she was anything approaching vain-but because her beauty, her body, had always served as her most effective camouflage. In the summertime, standing on the side of the road in a skirt that stopped two inches above her knees was almost guaranteed to lure someone into pulling over.

Even assuming she recovered from this, her legs would never look the same.

They’d be horribly disfigured.

And Donaldson had done this.

He was responsible.

Lucy had never hurt anyone out of anger or rage. Up until this moment, her only drive had been curiosity and lust and something else she’d never been able to name.

That was all going to change.

Tonight.

She wondered what time it was. The blinds in her room had been drawn all day, but she could tell that the light coming through had weakened into the pale, orange glow of evening.

“Do you have a watch?” Lucy asked.

Winslow was swabbing her right leg with an icky-smelling antibiotic ointment, Lucy wondering how intense the pain would be right now if she wasn’t on morphine.

Winslow checked her wrist. “It’s six-fifteen.”

“It really burns,” Lucy said.

“The ointment? It has a topical anesthetic in it.”

“My peehole.”

“You can feel the burn?”

Lucy nodded.

“I’ll talk with Dr. Lanz, see what he says.”

Lucy screwed her face up and let out a moan. “I really need the catheter out…now.”

Her heart rate monitor displayed a pulse rate at nearly 100 bpm, and if she could only get a moment alone, Lucy knew she could drive it higher.

“Okay, settle down, sweetie. I’ll go get the doctor.”

Winslow scurried out of the room, and Lucy shut her eyes and held her breath, summoning all the anxiety she could muster.

By the time Winslow had returned with Lanz, Lucy’s heart was pounding away at 120 bpm and she was sure her face was flushed and beginning to break out with sweat.

“You’re experiencing a lot of discomfort?” Lanz asked, grazing the back of his hand across Lucy’s forehead.

She nodded. “My peehole is on fire.”

“She could have a ureter infection,” Winslow offered.

“Thank you for the diagnosis, Dr. Winslow,” Lanz said. “Oh, hold on. You’re just a nurse, and unqualified to make a diagnosis.”

Lucy watched Winslow’s face go scarlet.

“Lucy, is the pain also up in your bowels or only close to your vagina?”

“It’s everywhere.”

“Okay, the Foley’s coming out.”

Lanz squeezed into a pair of sterile gloves, said, “Surgical scissors.” Lucy could feel him working down there. “Cutting the inflation valve…draining nicely.”

“I have to shit,” Lucy said.

“Winslow, grab a bedpan-”

“No,” Lucy said. “I’m not using a bedpan. It’s fucking humiliating.”

“We’re all professionals here,” Winslow said. “I’ve done it a thousand times.”

“You shit in a bedpan a thousand times? Why?”

Winslow frowned. “I’ve assisted patients. It could be very painful to move you into the bathroom.”

“Nothing’s worse than pissing and shitting into a bedpan in front of strangers.”

“I understand,” Lanz said.

Lucy felt a wickedly uncomfortable twinge, and then Lanz said, “It’s out. Better?”

“Yes. Thank you so much, Dr. Lanz. You’re the best.”

“My pleasure. Deputy!” Lanz called without even looking at him.

Lucy watched the lawman struggle onto his feet and lumber into her room. “What’s up, Doc?”

“Unlock these handcuffs. We need to take her into the bathroom.”

The deputy hesitated. “I got my orders, and she ain’t supposed to-”

“I don’t give a fuck about your orders. This is my patient, and she needs to use the bathroom.”

Lucy watched the deputy’s face.

So young. Early twenties. Smooth-shaven. A big dough-boy.

“I don’t know, Doc.”

“What do you think, she’s a threat? She weighs all of ninety-four pounds and has such severe damage to her lower body I doubt she can even walk. Look at them.” Lanz pointed to Lucy’s legs, and it warmed her heart to see the deputy wince. “Besides, the level of morphine running through her system will pretty much render her as docile and harmless as you are. So…unlock her wrist before I throw you out of my hospital.”

She was a very good girl on her first trip to the bathroom, mainly because she had no other choice than to be.

Winslow pulled out Lucy’s IV lines and helped her to sit up in bed.

The deputy stood guard with his tactical baton extended and ready in his right hand.

A big orderly named Benjamin lifted her out of bed and set her on her feet.

She could hardly stand. The nerve block made it feel like her legs were asleep.

“Just give me a second,” she said, holding her arms out in an attempt to find her balance.

It was there.

Barely.

She stared down at her legs, which Winslow had yet to re-bandage, and took a tentative step.

Near her left ankle, it was like watching the workings of an internal combustion engine-ligaments and muscle stretching, bones moving together, protected by cartilage.

She could have watched herself walk all day.

But she couldn’t have walked all day.

Lucy got three steps and said, “I’m going to fall.”

There was no pain.

Just a beautifully weak imbalance from the morphine, like standing on a ship in heavy seas.

Benjamin grabbed her under the arms, said, “I got you.”

Five steps, and then she stood in the open doorway to the bathroom.

Winslow hit the light switch for her.

“I think I can make it to the seat,” Lucy said. She looked at Lanz. “Doc, can I still sit and shit considering-”

“You rectum is bruised and suffered a major abrasion, but you should be able to have a bowel movement. Just sit down gently. Nurse Winslow will irrigate your rectum when you finish, to make sure no infection sets in.”

“I can’t wait. Thanks, Doc.”

Lucy limped inside by herself, shut the door behind her, and raised her hospital gown. Stumbling two steps to the toilet, she eased down onto the freezing seat.

It felt strange-definitely more tissue on her right cheek than her left. She leaned to one side like a car with a flat tire.

“You okay in there?”

Nurse Winslow’s voice through the door.

“I’m fine.”

Lucy leaned back on the toilet. Several feet away, a plastic curtain had been pushed against the wall. She glanced through into a handicapped-accessible shower. Metal railings lined each wall, and there was even a seat bolted into the wall.

Hmmm.

She saw it all play out in her mind’s eye.

Benjamin carried her back to the bed.

Winslow re-bandaged her legs and set up the negative pressure wound therapy.

When everyone had finally left, Lucy tugged out the morphine line and waited for the pain to come.

Within the hour, it came.

And with a vengeance.

Pure and blinding pain from head to toe.

Even with the nerve block supposedly good for a few more hours, the agony was far and above anything she’d ever experienced or imagined.

She’d always had a theory that pain was only pain if you fought it.

If you couldn’t stand to look it in the eye.

Over the years, she’d tried to explain that to those poor souls she’d dragged down desert highways, as they lay screaming and flayed on the pavement.

Tried to make them understand that it wasn’t pain, but intensity, that they should love it, because they would never in their lives feel more alive.

And so she shut her eyes and ground her teeth and tried to love it, too.

The song was right. Love hurts.

Love hurts like fucking hell.

One thought got Lucy through.

When the tears were streaming down her face.

When the concept of death looked as pretty as it ever had.

Donaldson.

Donaldson tied down. Unable to escape. Unable to defend himself. And her standing right there beside him, smiling down into that fat, double-chinned face. Maybe she had a knife. Maybe something hot. Maybe nothing but her teeth.

The pain kept coming, straining to wreck her fantasy.

But finally, after almost giving in to it, she experienced a moment of brilliant, startling clarity, and Lucy separated herself from the pain.

The pain didn’t belong to her. It belonged to Donaldson. She was Donaldson, and Lucy imagined herself staring down into her own eyes, watching him contort in agony, watching him writhe like a bug on a pin, watching him scream for mercy.

This was Donaldson’s pain, not hers.

And the more pain, the better.

By midnight, Lucy had learned to tolerate the pain.

She’d come to accept it. Not embrace it. Certainly not love it. But at least they could co-exist.

As she stretched her toes toward the instrument tray at the foot of the bed, she forced a smile at the screaming of her torn left quadriceps.

Her right big toe just grazed the tray, but she was never able to fully reach it.

At 2:19 a.m., Lucy plugged her morphine line back in and pressed the NURSE CALL button.

A nurse she hadn’t seen before walked into the room. Middle-aged and slightly overweight, she sidled up to the bed.

“I’m Denise,” she said. “You rang?”

“I need to use the bathroom,” Lucy said.

“I’ll get the bedpan.”

“No, I want to use the real bathroom.”

“I don’t know about that-”

“Dr. Lanz said it was okay. Should I call him and tell him you won’t let me? He was nice enough to give me his number at home, but I’d probably wake him up.”

The nurse went a shade paler than her English complexion.

“No, I’m sure it’s fine then. Just let me get the deputy and an orderly.”

Nurse Denise unplugged Lucy’s IV lines and removed the draining tubes from her legs while that same dough-boy deputy unlocked her left wrist.

Benjamin the orderly scooped Lucy out of bed, the pain so exquisite she had to grin. He lowered her into a wheelchair, which he pushed ten feet to the bathroom door.

“I think I got it,” Lucy said, struggling onto her feet. She fell back into the wheelchair, a bolt of mind-warping pain engulfing her ass. “Or maybe not.”

The orderly grabbed her under her arms and lifted her onto her feet.

Lucy staggered into the bathroom and shut the door.

She collapsed onto the toilet and took a moment to let this new blast of agony embrace her, trying to really savor it.

The pain was radiant, but at least she could think, and she could even stand and, she suspected, walk.

Lucy turned her arm over and pulled the IV needle out of the vein.

“Denise!” she called. “I could use a little help!”

The bathroom door opened and the nurse peeked in.

“What’s wrong, Lucy?”

“Come here,” Lucy whispered.

The nurse stepped in.

“Close the door,” Lucy said. “It’s embarrassing. Kind of a girl problem. I don’t want the boys to see.”

The nurse shut the door, stood staring down at Lucy.

“What is it?”

“Look,” Lucy said.

She had tears in her eyes.

Happy tears.

She pointed at her crotch.

The nurse knelt down, and when she leaned in for a closer look, Lucy thrust the heel of her hand up into Denise’s nose.

Denise dropped onto her butt, and Lucy pitched forward and grabbed the woman’s hair. She slid the needle into the nurse’s throat, just far enough to draw a bead of blood.

“Now listen carefully, Denise,” Lucy said. The burst of exhilaration had momentarily dulled her pain. “I will run this needle straight through your neck if you make so much as a whisper. Got it? Nod, bitch!”

The nurse nodded.

“You want to live through this?”

More frantic nodding.

“Okay, here’s what you’re going to do. What floor are we on?”

“Four.”

“Is there a basement in this hospital?”

“Yes.”

“What’s down there?”

“Um…”

Lucy pushed the needle in a tad farther. This was the best she’d felt all day. What she lived for.

“I’m thinking…the lab…radiology…the blood bank.”

“There you go. Tell the orderly I’m bleeding and send him down to the basement for several units of blood.”

“Okay.”

“I swear to God if you fuck this up I’m going to use your neck for a pin cushion.”

“Now?”

“What?”

“You want me to tell Benjamin now?”

“No, let’s wait another twenty minutes. Yes, now!”

The nurse cleared her throat as Lucy edged her toward the door.

“Benjamin?” she said.

“Everything okay, Denise?”

“Lucy’s having some heavy blood loss. I want you to head down to the blood bank and bring up three units of AB.”

“Should I page Dr. Lanz?”

“I’ll take care of that. Go now.”

Lucy heard the orderly padding away.

“You did well, Denise. You did really well.”

Lucy tightened her grip and jammed the needle twenty times into the nurse’s throat, numerous lines of blood branching and intersecting and running over her fingers as the nurse gurgled and fought to throw her off.

Outside the door, Lucy heard the deputy say, “Denise?”

Lucy dragged her back into the shower and her thirty-third puncture hit home because Lucy felt something swelling in the side of the nurse’s neck.

When the bulge reached the size of a golf ball Lucy gave it a prick and it exploded in a burst of bright red arterial spray that splattered across the shower tile.

Lucy felt the woman’s legs give out and she eased her down onto the floor of the shower.

The deputy knocked on the door.

“Denise, what’s going on?”

The physical exertion had brought on a wave of agony, and Lucy wanted to scream it was so fierce. Instead, she tugged Denise out of the shower and draped her across the toilet.

Lucy returned to the shower stall, pulled the curtain and backed up against the tile, her heart rocketing along, a smile spreading across her face.

So good to be alive.

In the space between the curtain and the wall, she saw the doorknob begin to turn.

The door swung open.

The deputy said, “Oh, shit.”

He took a step toward the nurse, who was still twitching.

“Denise?”

Lucy came through the shower curtain like a wildcat and swung the needle at the deputy’s face.

It glanced off the bridge of his nose and slipped through the corner of his eye.

He howled.

Lucy kicked the door shut and unsheathed his baton and brought it down with a smashing blow to the back of his head.

His knees hit the tile and she struck him again, felt a scrumptious crack.

The deputy was moaning, trying to crawl into the corner between the toilet and the wall.

When he reached the impasse, he stared up at Lucy and whimpered, “Don’t hurt me! Please!”

Lucy wiped the tears from her eyes and beat him to death with his own baton.

At 2:29 a.m., Lucy rolled out of her room in the wheelchair.

The corridor was silent.

A little ways down, three nurses occupied the station, catching up on their charts. Apparently, no one had heard the commotion in the bathroom.

She turned left and rolled along, each turn of the wheel a new level of pain, but one thing kept her going.

Donaldson.

He had to be on this floor, in the ICU.

Probably had a guard outside of his room as well.

But now that she was wearing Nurse Denise’s scrubs and had a few goodies up her sleeve, she liked her chances of getting past the guard.

She’d taken the handcuffs (key stored safe and sound up her ass), scalpel, surgical scissors, and pepper spray (safe and sound elsewhere). Even though she never used them, the gun had been tempting. But she didn’t trust herself with it. Accidentally killing Donaldson and ruining their fun prematurely would have been devastating.

Best case scenario, Donaldson had two broken legs and two broken arms, but was conscious.

She’d sweet-talk the deputy, or kill him, and get inside Donaldson’s room.

Barricade the door.

She wouldn’t have much time.

When Benjamin returned with her units of blood, he’d find Denise and the deputy.

The hospital would go on lockdown.

The cavalry would come running.

But that was still ten minutes away at most.

And Lucy could make ten minutes feel like ten years.

Because it wasn’t the quantity of time she had with dear old Donaldson.

It was all about the quality.

Jack Kilborn

Killers

Donaldson

“…multiple fractures of the clavicle, humerus, radius and ulna, a dislocated shoulder, a dislocated elbow, multiple contusions and lacerations, including skin abrasions covering about thirty percent of his body. A concussion. Plus the son of a bitch lost six teeth and an ear.”

The man speaking had a high-pitched voice, with a slight southern lilt.

“How’d it happen?” This voice was Latino, probably Mexican.

“Chained to the back of his own car, which went down the side of a goddamn mountain.”

“Poor guy.”

“Don’t waste any tears on this one. See the deputy outside? Soon as this bastard wakes up, he’s getting arrested. This dude is a serial killer. Name is Gregory Donaldson. Likes to cut up hitchhikers. Did all kinds of crazy, sick shit to them. Hear tell, he murdered more than fifty people.”

Low whistle from the Mexican. “Goddamn. Looks like he got what was coming to him.”

“You said it, brother. There’s a special room in hell for people like this.”

Donaldson peeked his eyes open. The men in his hospital room wore scrubs, the kind with novelty print patterns that were supposed to cheer up patients. One of them was chubby, early thirties, in need of a shave. The other was short, Hispanic, and even from ten feet away Donaldson could smell his armpit stains.

Donaldson figured they were orderlies. Beyond them, through the doorway, he saw the sheriff’s deputy the white guy had mentioned, a portly man in a khaki uniform. He sat in a wooden chair reading a magazine called Handgun Enthusiast. The gun on his belt had a snap over the holster.

Donaldson had been awake for a few hours, faking unconsciousness to avoid being asked questions, biding his time until he figured out a plan.

As situations went, this one was dire. Even in the grip of the morphine haze courtesy of his IV, Donaldson hurt. He hurt bad. His left arm felt like it had been yanked out, chewed up, and sewn back on upside-down. The neck brace was cruel stainless steel, screwed onto his scalp and shoulders, making it impossible to turn his head.

Donaldson peered down at the substantial girth of his body. A thin blanket covered his protruding gut. His arm was a mess, swollen to twice its normal size, purple and scabby with surgical pins and clamps holding his shattered bones in place. The pins poked through the flesh in half a dozen places.

He touched the side of his head, felt a bandage on his cheek and another that went up over his ear. Correction-one that went up over where his ear used to be.

Donaldson tried wiggling his toes, and that ignited his legs. He felt like he was lying on a hot skillet with the flames growing larger. Skin abrasions covering thirty percent of his body. That was the clinical explanation. Fucking agony was a much more appropriate description.

Stronger than the pain was a slithering, palpable fear. Donaldson couldn’t go to prison. He was too old for that and cherished his freedom. He wondered how the authorities knew who he was, what he was. Probably that damn female cop from the truck stop a week ago.

Lieutenant Jacqueline Fucking Daniels. How he’d love to have another go at her.

But she wasn’t the one who incensed him to the point where the pain and the fear became secondary. She wasn’t the true object of his hate. The one who made him twitch with rage and need.

That particular emotion was reserved for the one who put him in this hospital. The one who mangled his body by handcuffing him to the back of his own car. The one who put an end to a murder spree which had lasted almost thirty years, and delivered him right into the hands of the authorities.

Lucy.

Thinking about Lucy filled Donaldson with something more than fear. Something that transcended the pain. He absolutely ached for revenge. The thought of having Lucy all to himself, of doing things to her that made his past indiscretions seem tame by comparison, was so powerful it made him salivate.

He had a fuzzy, final memory of her. The two of them tangled up in each other once the car had mercifully hit a tree. The blood on each so thick it turned the dirt they’d been dragged through into mud. Twisted limbs. Broken bodies. Donaldson peeking open an eye, staring at her, watching her chest rise and fall.

Donaldson clenched his jaw, his few remaining teeth still loose in their sockets.

Please, please, please let her still be alive.

He glanced down at his good hand, saw the push button mechanism for the morphine drip, and gave himself a dose.

It helped with the pain.

It even helped with the fear.

But it didn’t help with the need.

Donaldson closed his eyes. But he wasn’t sleeping. He was plotting.

Plotting on how to get out of there and find Lucy.

The first step was getting rid of the fucking pig by the door.

“I know you aren’t asleep. Your breathing isn’t deep enough.”

Donaldson opened his eyes and stared at the doctor standing next to the bed. The man was tall, wide shouldered, sneer lines on his face. He looked like a fucking Ken doll. The name tag pinned to his lab coat read Lanz.

“Where am I?” Donaldson asked. His throat hurt. Raw from all the screaming he’d done while being dragged behind the car. His missing teeth made words hard to form.

“Blessed Crucifixion Hospital. They found you in a ravine, air-evacced you in. I’m performing your first skin graft later today. Doesn’t seem to be much of a reason for it, seeing how the state is going to execute you.”

“Your bedside manner sucks, Doc.”

Lanz whipped out a penlight, then roughly pried open Donaldson’s right eyelid with a latex-gloved hand. The bright beam was like being speared in the retina with a knife. After a few seconds, Lanz pulled away and scrawled something onto a clipboard.

“Was there a girl brought in with me?” Donaldson asked, keeping his voice neutral.

“I’m not supposed to talk to you about anything other than your injuries.”

“You don’t strike me as the kind of man who takes orders from lowly cops, Doc.”

Lanz seemed to consider it. “Yeah, she was brought in.”

“Alive?”

“If you could call it that.”

“Any chance of me seeing her?”

Lanz offered a sour smile. “Buddy, the only things you’ll be seeing are prison cells and courthouses, right up until they punch your clock.”

Donaldson narrowed his eyes. “I did a doctor, once.”

“Excuse me?”

“I had him strapped down on a table…” Donaldson lowered his voice to just above a whisper. “Then I used his own scalpel to cut off small parts of his body. A bit of skin here and there. A finger. An ear. His lips. His penis, in five separate pieces. I used a clotting powder to stop the bleeding so he didn’t die right away. Then I fed the bits to him. One at a time. If he threw up, I made him swallow the parts again. By the time he finally died, he must have eaten almost a quarter of his own body.”

Lanz didn’t flinch. “I’m going to tell the nursing staff to cut you off morphine. We wouldn’t want a charmer like you accidentally dying during the procedure later.”

Dr. Lanz shoved the clipboard back into its slot at the foot of the bed, and then turned to leave.

“See you later, Doc.”

Donaldson closed his eyes and imagined Lanz tied to a gurney, screaming and begging and choking on his own flesh.

But the image didn’t last. Just as it was getting good, his thoughts were interrupted by an image of Lucy. Small. Young. Innocent-looking. With her guitar case and her pink Crocs, her hip cocked out as she thumbed a ride.

In his head, Lucy smiled at Donaldson. The smile quickly escalated into giggling, and then full blown laughter.

The little bitch was laughing at the pain she had caused him.

You think you know pain, little girl?

I’ll show you pain.

“Do you understand these rights that I just explained to you?”

The sheriff was pure hick, soft around the middle, neck flab baked lobster red, prone to using the word ain’t. All he needed to complete the stereotype was a stalk of hayseed hanging out of his mouth.

“Don’t matter,” the lawman continued when Donaldson didn’t answer. “Looks like you’ll have several states fightin’ for custody of you. Likely you’ll be read your rights a few more times.”

Donaldson closed his eyes, wishing Barney Fife would leave him alone. The sheriff didn’t take the hint.

“You know, we don’t get too many high-profile crimes around these parts,” he continued. “Truth is, most we ever have to handle is the ‘casional drunk and disorderly. But we’ve taken some precautions with a worldly feller such as yourself. Up to me, you’d be handcuffed to that bed right now, but Doc Lanz says it ain’t needed on account of your serious injuries. I ain’t so sure. See, you remind me of this dog ole Roscoe Sanderson got over at his junkyard. Some mutt, got some St. Bernard in it, some Rot, some Dobie. Damn near the size of a brown bear. Now, the dog seems tame enough. Don’t bark. Don’t leap at you when you get near. But Roscoe keeps it on a big, thick chain. Some things may look harmless, but they need to be chained up just the same. Cuz once they’re unchained, they ain’t harmless no more.”

Donaldson peeked open his eyes. “Is this how you interrogate suspects ‘ round these parts?” Donaldson purposely drawled the last part of his sentence. “Bore them to death with your chatter?”

The sheriff hitched up his gun belt. “We got a guard on you twenty-four hours a day, Mr. Donaldson. We’ve gone through your room and removed everything that could possibly be used as a weapon. That window over there don’t open, and even if it did, you’re on the fourth floor. You got a problem with my chatter, ain’t a damn thing you can do about it.”

“We need to prep him for surgery, sheriff.”

The sheriff nodded at the nurse who had just entered. “Just make sure you count your scalpels when you’re finished,” he said before he left.

“The procedure went well.” Lanz again, standing over Donaldson with that sanctimonious frown. “It’ll be a few days before we know if the skin grafts take. You need to stay still, or they’ll slough off. I’ve given permission for the authorities to question you.”

Donaldson glanced at the other side of the bed. Two men in suits. Feds.

“I have nothing to say until I talk to a lawyer,” Donaldson said. His words were heavy, his entire body delightfully numb.

“We found the pictures hidden in your car, Mr. Donaldson.” The taller of the two had a voice like a radio jock. “In several of them you even posed with your victims.”

“ Alleged victims,” Donaldson said, cracking a small, private smile.

“We want to close these cases, Mr. Donaldson.” The shorter one. “If you cooperate, we can talk about reducing your sentence. Maybe you can even get life, instead of the death penalty.”

Donaldson closed his eyes. They tried to talk to him for a few more minutes, and when he didn’t reply, they left.

Donaldson didn’t sleep well.

He dreamt of being dragged behind the car, reliving all of the pain and the horror and the fear in slow-motion. His arm breaking, then breaking again, and again, and again, each new snap loud as a gunshot. His legs and ass being stripped of skin as the pavement ate through his pants. Lucy giggling at him, holding a squirt bottle of lemon juice, gleefully spritzing his open wounds. Donaldson’s father watching the scene, standing over him with that constant look of disgust.

“I always knew you were a bad seed, boy.” Dad took off his belt, bounced the heavy, brass buckle off his palm. “Let’s see if I can’t whup the fear of God into you.”

Donaldson woke up, woozy from the pain meds, convinced his father was standing next to the bed. But it couldn’t have been his father, because he was too pale, his hair too long and dark.

“Who’s there?” Donaldson whispered into his dark room.

No one answered.

But Donaldson felt eyes on him. He sat up, wondering if Lucy had somehow gotten to him, feeling a sick spike of fear jab right into his heart.

Donaldson fumbled for the light switch.

Squinted as it came on.

He was alone in the room.

“Serves you right, having nightmares.” The guard outside the door nodded at Donaldson all-knowingly. “Things you done, you should be haunted forever.”

Donaldson flipped off the light. He closed his eyes.

You got it wrong, pig. I’m not haunted.

I’m the one that does the haunting.

But when Donaldson fell asleep, the nightmare started all over.

It was two in the morning. Donaldson was in pain.

He knew there was more pain to come. Much more.

While they didn’t handcuff him to his bed, the authorities had been very careful with him, just like the hick sheriff promised. Donaldson ate with a plastic spoon on paper plates. The metal bedpan was taken away as soon as he finished. Anything in his room that could be considered a weapon-even the TV and the drawers from the dresser-had been removed. That prick Lanz and those goddamn Feds had even taken away his IV. Cruel and unusual punishment, no doubt. If Donaldson went to trial, it would be something for his lawyer to protest.

But Donaldson wasn’t going to trial. He was getting the hell out of there.

He glanced at the cop outside the door, his ass molded to a chair, his back to Donaldson. There was a TV in the nurse’s station that the cop had been watching, but he hadn’t moved in over twenty minutes. Donaldson guessed he was asleep.

The nurse on duty made her rounds every half an hour. She was a painfully thin woman named Winslow, and she wasn’t due back until two-thirty.

Donaldson closed his eyes, focusing on his remaining ear, trying to tune into the sounds around him. The ward was quiet. Best as Donaldson could tell, about half the rooms on this wing were empty.

Slow week at the country hospital.

That would change in just a few minutes.

Donaldson eyed the brace holding his shattered arm together. Winslow had called the contraption an external fixation. Made of heavy gauge surgical steel, it ran from his shoulder to his wrist, four metal rods surrounding the limb. They were attached to four large squares that encircled his arm. In each square were several screws. These screws pierced Donaldson’s skin and held his bones in place as they healed.

He counted nine screws in all. Each had a tiny, flat knob on the end to manually adjust the tension. It sort of looked like the scaffolding employed to hold dinosaur bones together in museums. But shinier.

Shinier, and very heavy.

Okay. Here we go…

Donaldson wadded up a corner of his blanket and shoved it into his mouth, tasting fabric softener. Biting down hard, he tentatively reached for the first screw.

Touching it brought a spark of agony, and he immediately withdrew his hand. Sweat popped out in fat beads on Donaldson’s forehead. He let out a deep breath through his nostrils, blowing snot like a horse.

Do it.

Just do it.

It’s the only way.

Donaldson pinched the screw head again.

Then he twisted.

The pain was akin to having a tooth drilled. Deep nerve pain. Bone pain. A pointed, foreign object, sticking deep in the marrow, prompting a guttural moan that the blanket didn’t entirely muffle.

Donaldson glanced frantically over at the cop, hoping his outburst hadn’t woken him.

The cop didn’t budge.

Blinking away tears, Donaldson twisted the screw again, and this time the burst of pain was so acute, so otherworldly, his whole body began to shake.

Withdrawing his quivering hand, Donaldson immediately realized what had happened.

Damn it, you idiot!

It’s supposed to be righty-tighty, lefty -loosey!

He’d been inadvertently driving the screw in deeper.

Screaming curses in his head, he forced himself to grip the screw once again, turning it the correct direction this time, not stopping until the pointed barb tugged free of his skin. The hole it had been nestled in oozed dark blood, the pinpoint of suffering replaced by a duller, but equally unbearable throb.

Done.

Only eight screws to go.

The next two were hell.

The one after that made him redefine what hell actually was. Tears streaking down his cheeks, biting the blanket so hard his jaw ached and his gums bled, Donaldson fumbled with the screw holding the top bit of his shattered ulna in place. But the screw was lodged in the bone so tightly that Donaldson felt his ulna twist as he turned it. He could even see the bone wiggle underneath the skin, as if a mouse had burrowed into his flesh and was trying to escape.

Donaldson’s hand shook so badly he couldn’t get a firm grip. His face felt cold and clammy, and he recognized he was going into shock-something he’d witnessed many times in his victims.

Fight it. This is your only chance.

Donaldson turned the screw.

The broken bit of ulna turned sideways, almost perpendicular to his forearm.

He shuddered in agony, and then passed out.

Donaldson awoke trembling and confused, his face so drenched with sweat he looked like he’d just stepped out of the shower. He cast a frantic glance at the cop-still sleeping-and then the clock.

2:20.

Only ten minutes until Nurse Winslow made her rounds.

He had to hurry. There were still five screws remaining.

Donaldson hadn’t cried since he was a child. He remembered being ten years old, his father’s belt drawing blood on his ass, his thighs, his back; whipping him for killing a neighbor’s dog, whipping him so hard and for so long that Donaldson missed an entire week of school.

That was the last time he’d ever cried. His father had whipped him many times since, but Donaldson had vowed to himself he’d never show weakness again. He’d internalize the pain. Keep it inside.

It was a vow he’d kept for over forty years. A vow he now broke as sobs shook his body and mucus streamed down over his blubbering lips.

The screw seemed to twitch with his pulse, vibrating just a bit, the bone beneath the skin so obviously out of place it was almost funny.

Donaldson tried not to hesitate. But twisting was unbearable. It would cause him to pass out again.

So he took a deep, stuttering breath, gripped the screw head, and yanked.

The screw popped free, tearing out a thread of flesh, the blood spurting rather than oozing.

Wailing like a baby now, Donaldson attacked the next screw. The pain became the only thing he knew. His entire world. He twisted and pulled and pried at his tortured arm, blinded by tears, thrashing his legs and feeling the skin grafts tear, shaking his head side to side and actually bending the metal brace that held his neck immobile.

It was coming… coming…

Did it!

Donaldson wiped his blurry eyes.

Three screws left.

It was worse than a tooth ache. Worse than being kicked in the balls. Worse than his father’s belt. Worse than being dragged behind the car.

Just two more.

Both arms shook so badly now that Donaldson couldn’t get a grip on the screw head. He had to keep wiping his slippery, blood-soaked fingers on the blanket. When they finally locked on, he got confused and twisted the wrong way once again, tightening the screw, ratcheting up his suffering to the nth degree, causing his eyes to roll up into his head. He used the pain, knowing it couldn’t get any worse, turning it quickly and spitting out the blanket and vomiting bile as the screw mercifully pulled free.

Okay…

Just one more…

The last one…

This was the longest of them all, pinned into his wrist.

Deep.

So deep.

Too deep.

Can’t do it.

Can’t fucking do it.

The very thought of touching that final screw, let alone manipulating it, made Donaldson gag again. He needed morphine. He needed it more than he ever needed anything in his life. He could call the nurse, and she’d give him a shot. It would knock him out. He wouldn’t hurt anymore.

But then they’d reset the screws.

Donaldson knew he couldn’t bear that.

He closed his eyes, lips pursed together as he sobbed, and in his pain-delirium he was visited by an angel.

In Donaldson’s mind, the angel had big, white wings. A glowing halo. A beatific smile.

And pink Crocs.

“Looks like I win, old man,” said the Lucy Angel.

Donaldson’s eyes flipped open.

No. You’re not going to win, little girl.

He attacked the last screw with a hatred so fierce he could handle the agony.

It took twelve complete turns to get the son of a bitch out.

And then Donaldson was done.

His arm no longer looked human. More like a giant, pulsing earthworm, gooey with blood, the skin purple with hematomas. He carefully pulled off the brace, threading his ruined appendage through it, laughing as he hefted its weight. Solid surgical steel, at least five pounds of metal, screws protruding out like spikes on a medieval war mace.

Hysterical, Donaldson’s tears turned into hoarse laughter.

You fuckers made sure there were no weapons in my room.

But you forgot one.

He focused on the cop.

Still asleep.

The clock.

2:27.

Three minutes until Winslow showed.

Donaldson yanked off his head gear, bent and twisted from his thrashing, and set it on the pillow behind him as he heaved his bulk into a sitting position. He swung his legs over the side of the bed, the bandages from his skin graft surgery soaked in blood.

When he stood up Donaldson almost collapsed onto the floor. It felt like his entire body was made of pudding. His ravaged left arm hung at his side, useless, and the bloody brace clutched in his right hand looked comically inadequate.

I’m going to pass out before I even get to the cop.

Donaldson closed his eyes, feeling the blood drain from his head, knowing he was about to lose consciousness.

Once again, an image of Lucy saved him. That little whore’s face smiling after she’d handcuffed Donaldson to the car bumper.

Rage displaced the wooziness, and he took three quick, lumbering strides over to the door, reaching the cop before he could turn around, raising up the brace and savagely bringing it down onto the lawman’s skull.

There was a crack like a board splintering. The cop flopped over, off his chair, raising up his forearm to protect himself.

Donaldson adjusted his aim, swinging the brace sideways, a protruding screw connecting with the cop’s temple, where it became embedded.

Embedded, and also stuck, which Donaldson discovered when he tried to pull it back.

The cop’s hands flailed, pulling at the brace, his legs flopping around and kicking the tile floor. Donaldson shifted his bulk, dragging the man inside his room, and then with a single, violent twist, he yanked the brace free, along with a quarter-sized piece of skull.

From that point on, it was like hammering a nail, bringing down the surgical steel again and again and again and again until the cop finally stopped moving.

Sweating, shaking, and-quite incongruously- giggling, Donaldson tossed the brace back onto his bed, and used his good arm to drag the pig into the bathroom. He was exhausted, pain crawling over his entire body like red ants. But he was also exhilarated. Killing was the best drug in the world.

And like an addict, Donaldson craved more.

The plan had been to dress in the cop’s uniform. But there was no time, no possible way Donaldson could ever fit his mangled arm into a shirt sleeve. So instead Donaldson took the man’s gun-a 9mm Beretta-and flipped off the safety.

Moving quickly, he slipped into the hallway just as the clock hit 2:29, padded one door over, and ducked into the adjacent room.

There was a man asleep in bed, lightly snoring. A big guy, lumberjack type. The chart on his bed read R. Bolton. Donaldson considered his next move, judged the large man to be a potential threat if he awoke, and then moved another room down.

This bed was occupied by a sleeping old woman. Easy pickings. Even better, she was hooked up to a heart monitor.

Donaldson approached the bed and raised the gun.

Wait. No fun in that.

Better to wake her first.

“Hey. Lady.”

She peeked open her rheumy eyes, the pupils growing wide at the sight of him.

“Do you have a family?” Donaldson asked.

She nodded, eyes flitting back and forth between him and the gun. The heart machine went BEEEEEP…BEEEEEP…BEEEEEP…

“People who love you?”

“What do you want?” Her voice was like dry, autumn leaves crackling underfoot.

Donaldson pressed the barrel of the weapon to her head. “Answer me.”

“Yes, people love me.”

“Who will miss you most?”

“I… please don’t hurt me.”

Donaldson’s eyes flitted to the balloon bouquet on the dresser next to the bed. “Who sent the balloons?”

“My… my grandson.”

BEEP…BEEP…BEEP…BEEP…

“What’s his name?”

“Petey.”

“Will Petey miss you when you die?”

She nodded, her wrinkled, chicken neck bouncing.

“Will he cry at your funeral?”

Another nod.

“Say it out loud.”

“Yes.”

BEEP-BEEP-BEEP-BEEP-BEEP…

“Say it. Yes, Petey will miss me.”

Her tears came freely now. “Yes, Petey will miss me.”

“Good,” Donaldson said.

He brought the butt of the gun down twice.

The first blow almost split her head open.

The second blow did.

The third and fourth gave him a lovely erection. Looking at the brain matter splattered across her pillow, he wanted to climb on and-

No time. Gotta get out of there.

Donaldson hurried out of the room, the steady BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP of the lady’s heart monitor indicating she was flat-lining. He ducked into an empty room, watching Nurse Winslow hurry past, listening to her call a code over the hospital intercom.

Donaldson figured he’d bought himself five minutes, at most.

Enough time to find Lucy.

Jack Kilborn

Killers

Together at Last

Lucy rounded the corner. Her eyes narrowed when she saw a portly figure limping up the hallway toward her.

Donaldson.

The bandages around his legs, and the front of his hospital gown, were all soaked through with blood. Another bandage, this one bloodless, covered almost the entire right side of his head.

But the real horrorshow was his left arm, the one she had handcuffed to the back of his car.

It had swollen to twice its normal size, bending in places it shouldn’t have, hanging from his shoulder like a gigantic blood sausage.

“Hello, little girl.” Donaldson smiled, his fat lips flapping over crimson holes where teeth used to be. “I’ve been looking for you.”

Lucy sat in a wheelchair, both legs extended and bandaged. Instead of a hospital gown, she wore blood-covered scrubs several sizes too large.

She smiled-top front teeth missing.

“Hi, Big D,” she said. “You aren’t looking so hot.”

“I can say the same for you. Nice wheels.”

Lucy stopped rolling. They were ten feet apart in the corridor.

“Look at that left arm,” she said. “You been working out?”

“My right one still works just fine.”

Donaldson limped forward, extending his good arm.

It ended in a gun.

“Why don’t you lift up those hands, let Uncle Donaldson give you a quick pat down.”

Lucy shook her head. “Nice piece, Gramps, but I don’t think I’m going to let you touch me right now.”

“And exactly how are you going to stop me?” He leered, giving his lips a quick lick. I think I’ll start by giving those pretty little legs a frisk. You got any feeling left in those?”

Donaldson continued to trudge forward.

Lucy backed up a few feet.

“Listen,” she said. “I don’t know what you’ve been up to, but any minute now this place is going to be crawling with Feds and sheriffs’ deputies. There was an… incident,” she framed the words with air quotes, “in my bathroom. So the question is…do we want to do this here and now, or do we want to help each other get the fuck out of dodge?”

The hospital intercom kicked on, some faceless drone calling codes. Code orange, code blue, code green, code silver…

Donaldson halted his approach, frowning. The bandage on his right calf had come loose, revealing another bloody, peeling bandage underneath.

“Shit. Can’t go back this way,” Donaldson tilted his head over his shoulder. “Had an incident myself back there.”

“That’s probably your code they just called out. Mine will be two blues. How about we try this way?” Lucy motioned down the corridor. “I thought I saw an elevator sign.”

“Stairs too good for you?”

“You’re a riot. Give me a push?”

“Turn around first.” Donaldson waved the 9mm. “For some reason, I got trust issues with you.”

Lucy awkwardly swung her wheelchair in a one-eighty and offered her back to Donaldson.

“Be gentle,” she said.

Donaldson loped forward. When he reached Lucy’s wheelchair, he stopped. “Tough to push one-handed.”

“Life’s a bitch and then you die. I’m so sorry my legs got broken when you handcuffed me to your cheap-ass car with no parking brake.”

Donaldson pressed the barrel to her head. “Then use your goddamn hands.”

“Easy. I’m just kidding. So sensitive.”

Her right arm came up rattlesnake-quick and the handcuff locked around Donaldson’s right wrist. The other cuff was already attached to her left.

“Hope you don’t mind,” she said. “I just want us to be together.”

Donaldson’s finger tightened on the trigger, and then abruptly relaxed. He blew out a stiff breath. “Just like old times, huh?”

Behind them, the hallway filled with chatter and commotion.

“I’ll push your right side,” he said. “Use your left hand on your left wheel. Move your ass, or I’ll cut my losses, shoot you, and drag your corpse outta here.”

“Jeez, somebody missed his Metamucil.”

Lucy began pushing. Each rotation of the wheel brought a groan.

“Sounds painful,” Donaldson said. “What other terrible injuries have you suffered, little girl?”

She didn’t respond. Their progress was slow, awkward.

“Hurry,” Lucy said. “I hear people coming.”

Donaldson glanced back. A group had formed at the far end of the corridor-a nurse, a few orderlies.

“So what exactly did you have to endure?” Lucy asked.

“Let’s just say I got screwed. There’s the elevator. Less talking, more moving.”

Steering proved difficult. One of Lucy’s outstretched feet banged into a hallway drinking fountain.

She cried out, “Fuck! Do you drive like that?”

“So you do have some feeling left,” Donaldson said, backing her chair up. The gun was pressed against her shoulder, but in order to push, he had to hold it sideways. “I was hoping you weren’t paralyzed.”

“I want you to know that I prayed you weren’t a vegetable. That would have broken my heart. There’s the elevator. Push me to the panel.”

Donaldson leaned to the right, maneuvering the wheelchair alongside the lift.

Behind them, someone shouted, “He’s over there!”

Lucy pressed the DOWN button.

“Come on,” she said. “Come on!”

Five seconds later, the doors spread apart and Donaldson manhandled her inside.

She pressed the “L.”

Footsteps pattered down the corridor, getting louder with each passing second.

“Hurry…hurry hurry,” she said.

The doors began to close just as a security guard came running into view, yelling at them to stop.

He didn’t make it in time, and the lift began its descent.

Donaldson exhaled hard, puffing out his cheeks. “So what’s the plan? I push you all the way to Missoula?”

They lowered past the third floor.

Then the second.

Lucy said, “How about we get to safety, and then we can see how this all plays out? You fucked me up pretty bad, you know.”

“Little girl, you don’t know the meaning of those words.” He winked. “Yet.”

The doors spread apart.

“Okay, I got a plan,” Donaldson said, “But you gotta uncuff me.”

“Why?”

“I’m going to depend upon the kindness of strangers and get us a vehicle.”

“You won’t hurt me, big bad D?”

“Not yet. Not until we get ourselves out of here.”

“Okay, I’ll uncuff you. But you have to get the key. I can’t reach it.”

Donaldson shook his head. “Always a fucking game with you.” He gave the chair a shove, bumping Lucy’s foot into the elevator door. She yelped, grabbing the attention of a nurse at the reception desk. Bringing up his gun hand-still handcuffed to Lucy’s-Donaldson placed the barrel against her head.

“You see this gun, Nurse Ratched?”

The nurse nodded, her mouth agape.

“Unless you want me to splatter this young girl’s brains all over your ER, you better give me those keys, pronto.”

The nurse stayed perfectly still.

“Now!” Donaldson barked.

She reached under her desk, rifling through her purse, dumping it out, eventually holding up a key ring.

“Toss them on her lap,” Donaldson said.

The keys arced through the air and landed on Lucy’s thighs with a jingle. Lucy scrunched up her face.

“Where you parked?” Donaldson asked.

“It’s…the black Honda. I parked in the employee’s lot on the side of the building.”

“Another fucking Honda?” Lucy scowled. “You have got to be kidding me.”

“Get over here and show us. Move your ass.”

The nurse hustled over from behind the desk. “It’s this way. Please don’t do anything you’ll regret.”

“He doesn’t feel regret,” Lucy said.

The nurse led them through the automatic doors out into the warm night, the chair’s wheels clicking along the pavement.

In the distance, a gaggle of news vans topped with satellite dishes had taken over the far corner of the general parking lot.

“Which way?” Lucy asked. Her breath was labored. Behind her, Donaldson grunted like a draft horse.

“We’re almost there,” the nurse said.

She guided them toward a satellite lot with numbered parking spaces, semi-illuminated by a handful of street lamps. The nurse stopped abruptly, causing Lucy to bump into her, prompting another howl.

“I’m sorry, I…um, forgot that it isn’t handicapped accessible.”

Lucy and Donaldson peered down the concrete stairs.

Twelve in all.

“Which car is it?” Donaldson asked.

The nurse pointed to the black sedan parked next to a streetlight.

“Thanks, kindly. You can do me one more favor, if you don’t mind.”

The nurse’s face crinkled in fear. “What?”

“You can be our diversion.”

Donaldson raised the gun and shot the nurse in the leg. She collapsed, moaning and clutching the newly-formed hole.

“Let’s bright side this,” Lucy said. “At least you’re already at the hospital.”

Donaldson leaned down and whispered in Lucy’s ear. “You like roller coasters, little girl?”

Lucy set her jaw. “The bigger the better.”

“Then let’s do this.”

Donaldson shoved the wheelchair forward. For a brief moment, the front wheels hung out over empty space, and time seemed to stop. Then gravity took control, and the chair tilted forward.

Donaldson wedged his gun between Lucy’s back and the chair, and held on tight.

The first two steps were accompanied by Lucy’s screams, each one shrill and childlike.

Momentum kicked in, jerking Donaldson forward.

Bump.

Scream.

Bump.

Scream.

Bump. Bump.

Scream. Scream.

By the time they reached the bottom, Lucy’s voice was hoarse.

“It hurts!” she cried.

Sweating, heaving, Donaldson leaned his bulk onto the wheelchair. He bent down, panting hot against Lucy’s cheek.

“You got pain meds on you, bitch?”

“We can talk about it in the car. Let’s move, D! You have any idea how many cops will be swarming this place any minute?”

“The lady doth protest too fucking much. I think you’re faking it. Do you have any idea the fucking agony I’m in, while you’re playing games? My arm is broken in fifteen places. If you want me to drive out of here, I need the pain to stop. Now if you’ve got meds, give them up.”

Lucy batted her eyelashes. “Pain is a beautiful thing, Donaldson. It’s intensity. It makes you feel alive. So SUCK IT UP, YOU FUCKING CRYBABY! I don’t have any meds. I haven’t hit my morphine in seven hours. How do you think I got out of my room? Now wheel me to the fucking car!”

Donaldson jerked his handcuffed wrist back and shoved it between the seat and Lucy’s back. Then he pulled out the gun and took careful aim at her left foot.

“Tell me how beautiful this is, little girl.”

He fired.

Three of her toes disappeared with a BANG! and a small cloud of blood.

“Fuck!!!! Goddamn! You fucking fuck!”

Lucy bellowed at the top of voice, the echo bouncing back off the hospital and rushing out into the forest.

What was left of her foot shook like an aspen leaf.

Squeezing her eyes shut, Lucy took a deep, trembling breath.

“Pain is good,” she said in a steady, level voice. “Pain is good. I still don’t have any meds, D. You want to shoot off my other foot?”

“Had to make sure,” Donaldson said. “No offense.”

He tucked the gun behind the curve of her back and pushed her toward the Honda. “How the hell are we supposed to get inside?” he asked.

“Lift me.”

“Fuck you. Undo the goddamn cuffs.”

In the distance-sirens. Drawing closer.

“I don’t have the keys handy.”

“What?”

“We have to stay chained together. It’s the only way.”

Donaldson swore. “Open the damn door. You climb in first.”

“I can’t walk, you bastard! My legs are broken!”

Donaldson swore again. The sirens were loud now, a train of flashing blue and red lights tearing down the driveway to Blessed Crucifixion Hospital. “Unlock it, then tug it open,” he said. “I’ll lift you inside.”

Lucy fumbled with the keys, shoved the biggest one into the lock, and turned it. She pulled open the door and the interior lights cut on.

“Stick the keys in the ignition, then I’ll shove you over into the passenger side.”

“I need help”

Donaldson jammed the gun behind her back. Then, using his good hand, he hooked her under her armpit and heaved.

Lucy grabbed the steering wheel, hoisting herself up into the driver seat, landing on her chest. She twisted around, jamming the key into the ignition.

Donaldson wrapped his fingers around her thigh, then lifted and shoved.

Once her weight was off the wheelchair, it began to roll away-taking the gun with it.

“Goddamn it.”

Donaldson reached around, trying for the gun.

Lucy grabbed his bad arm.

“Give peace a chance,” she said, and jammed a needle into his swollen flesh alongside the many other holes.

Donaldson howled, his mouth opening so wide his gums began to bleed again.

“Sorry, no drugs in this one,” Lucy said, and then she pulled it out and stabbed him again.

His agony filled the car.

“This was my morphine IV. That’s for the ride down the stairs.”

She stabbed him once more. “And that’s for my foot. Now get us the fuck out of here.”

Donaldson plopped his bulky ass into the driver seat, the chassis bouncing on its shocks. He reached over, batting away the needle Lucy brandished, and locked his big hand around her slender throat.

As he squeezed, a squad car pulled into the lot, tires squealing, siren blaring.

“We…can have…our fun…later…” Lucy croaked, her eyes bugging out.

His entire body shaking, Donaldson released her.

Slammed the door.

Turned the key in the ignition.

Backed slowly out of the parking space.

He drove carefully past the squad car, obeying the rules of the road until they reached the end of the quarter-mile drive that T-boned the highway.

When the light flashed a protected green arrow, Donaldson hung a wide left through the intersection and accelerated into the night.

Soon they were doing sixty down the dark, country road.

Donaldson saw the flashing lights in the distance, approaching fast.

“Stay cool,” he said.

A line of squad cars blazed past-red and blues in full war paint.

“Nice driving,” Lucy said, clearing her throat.

Donaldson mumbled a thanks.

They drove in silence for several minutes, until Donaldson said, “Shit.”

“What is it?”

“Goddamn nurse left the tank on empty. The reserve light is on.”

He flicked the gauge with a thumbnail. It bounced and dropped even lower.

“I’m sure there’s a gas station around here.”

“Even if there is, how we gonna work that little miracle? Pull forty bucks out of my ass? Goddamn it, I should’ve taken the bitch’s purse. Pain is fucking with my ability to think ahead.”

More road. More silence, broken only by Lucy’s and Donaldson’s occasional groans.

“How’s the foot?” Donaldson asked. No sarcasm in his question.

“You worried I’ll bleed to death?”

“Yes.”

“Awww, you’re sweet. After all I’ve gone through, this little thing won’t kill me.”

Donaldson barked a laugh.

Another brief silence ensued.

“So what’s the count, D?”

“Count?”

“What’s your number?”

“Oh.” He smiled. “That’s kind of a personal question.”

“Get over yourself.”

Donaldson glanced at her, and then back at the double yellow lines glowing under the headlights.

“Hundred and thirty.”

“Bull. Shit.”

“I been doing this a long time, little girl. Long enough to know we gotta ditch this car, pronto.”

“Every cop in the county is at the hospital right now. We got a few minutes.”

“The staties will be looking for us.”

“We’re on a goddamn deserted highway in the middle of nowhere, Donaldson. You see any staties?”

“You’re a little bit reckless, aren’t you?”

The night raced by at 55 mph.

Sagebrush, pinion, hills, darkness.

Winding road and blinking stars.

“Let me ask you something, D. Serious.”

“What?”

“You ever meet another one of us?”

Donaldson nodded, his double chin jiggling. “Yeah.”

“I met two once,” she said. “But that was years ago. You’re the first I’ve come across in a long time. Or at least, got to really talk to. There was this one guy I crossed paths with a couple years back. He picked me up outside of Death Valley. I suspected he was one of us, but I was jonesing pretty bad so I cut the conversation short. All the bullshit aside, I’m glad I met you. I mean that. It’s a lonely road out here.”

“You think getting all friendly with me is gonna stop me from killing you?”

Lucy turned her head, looking out the window at the dark trees rushing past. “No, but…lying in bed these last few days, I started thinking. It’s rare in this life to meet another person like yourself.” She glanced back at Donaldson. “You know what I’m saying?”

“Want me to go wake up the preacher, reserve the wedding chapel?”

For thirty seconds, the car was dead quiet.

No sound but the pavement humming under the tires.

Then Lucy released a quiet sob.

Donaldson glanced over, saw Lucy’s shoulders slumped and shaking.

“I’ve never met anyone like you in my entire life, Donaldson. I wanted to kill you. Shit. Most of me still does. You fucked up my legs so bad, no one’s ever going to want to pick me up again. But don’t you ever wish you had someone?”

“Someone? You mean like a wife?”

“No. I mean like…”

“Like? Spit it out already.”

“Someone to hunt with.”

“You’re fucking with me.”

Donaldson glanced over at Lucy. He took his hand off the wheel, touched her cheek.

“Holy shit. You’re really crying.”

Lucy shrugged off his hand. “Ever since I woke up in the hospital bed, these five words have been rattling around in my head, and I can’t make them go away.”

“If this is some kind of trick, I’m going to pull this car over, drag your crippled ass into the woods, grab the biggest stick I can find…”

Donaldson checked the review mirror, noticed a set of headlights half a mile back.

“Don’t you want to know what those five words are?”

“What?”

“The five words I’ve been thinking about.”

Donaldson sighed. “Fine. Sure.”

“Kill together or die alone.”

The road stretched on, black and empty.

The gas gauge dipped below the E.

“When I was a kid, my mom left,” Donaldson said. “Dad wasn’t so good at raising me. Tried to buy me pets to keep me out of trouble. But I’ve had these particular…ah… tastes…since I was young. None of my pets lasted too long. But there was one pet I didn’t kill on my own. When I was seven, my father bought me a pair of hermit crabs.”

“What were their names?” Lucy asked, sniffling.

“Names? Fuck if I remember. Doesn’t matter. Point I want to make is, one day, I wake up to look at the crabs, and one is pulling off the other one’s legs. And eating them. Fucking eating them. Turns out hermit crabs are cannibals. Put two of them in the same tank, they’ll kill and devour each other.”

The headlights in the rearview mirror were closing in.

“So you’re telling me we’re destined to kill each other, D?”

“A hermit crab is a hermit crab. Can’t be nothing else.”

Road and silence.

Silence and road.

Donaldson came to a dark intersection, a stop sign in the middle of nowhere.

He took a left turn, got a ways up the road, and then watched the car behind them do the same.

“There’s someone following us,” Lucy said.

“Maybe. Or…could just be someone driving home late.”

Donaldson checked the gauge again-the red needle sunk far below the E.

“I want to show you something, D.”

“What?”

It happened so fast, the blade catching a shimmer of the tailing headlights, and then it was pressed against Donaldson’s throat.

“You feel that?” Lucy asked.

“I do. Nice and sharp.”

“With the flick of a wrist, I could run this blade across your throat, feel your blood pour over my hand. Maybe you’d wreck the car. Maybe you wouldn’t. I don’t care. We’d both die. But I would win. Do you understand that? I would end you. Do you agree with that?”

“Last time we were in this situation, I slammed on the brakes and bounced you off my dashboard. I could do that again. You aren’t wearing a seatbelt.”

“Neither are you.”

“What if I asked you to buckle me in?”

“How about instead you roll down my window?”

“Your window?”

“Did I stutter?”

“Only one good hand. Gotta stop steering to reach the button.”

Lucy eased her left hand over and grasped the wheel.

“I got it,” she said. “This is what they call a leap of faith.”

“Car behind us is getting closer.”

Lucy lowered her voice. “Donaldson, do you believe there are defining moments in our lives? When a choice can be the beginning of something, or the end?”

“I guess.”

“Roll my fucking window down.”

Donaldson brought his hand across his lap and pressed the button, lowering the passenger side window. The night air rushed in at them, clawing under Donaldson’s facial bandage and making it flap.

“Now what?” he asked.

Lucy leaned up and kissed his bandage, then pulled back and threw the scalpel out the window.

It made the briefest spark where it struck the pavement.

Donaldson hit the button again, and the window ascended back to the top of the door.

Lucy held the wheel steady.

“You know what?” he said. “I remember the names of those crabs.”

“What?” she asked.

“George and Ringo. Ringo ate George, the little bastard.”

“I never liked singing drummers.”

“It all worked out in the end. I poured gas on him, set him on fire.”

The engine stuttered, cylinders misfiring, and then caught again.

“You think that car behind us is a cop, D?”

“No. He’d have punched on his lights already. Called for backup. Like I said, could just be some fella on his way home.”

“You really believe that?”

“No,” Donaldson said.

“So what do you want to do?”

The car chugged once more, and then died.

Without the noise of the engine, they could hear the sound of the tires rolling over tiny rocks, the wind rushing against the windshield.

“Got any weapons on you?” Donaldson asked.

Lucy stared at him, hesitating.

“What?” he asked. “After your whole ‘kill together, die alone’ speech, you still don’t want to tell me?”

“All I’ve got left is a pair of scissors. I had the chance to take a Glock, but I didn’t.”

“Don’t fuck with me, Lucy. This isn’t the time.”

The car continued to coast.

Donaldson glanced at the speedometer.

Fifty miles per hour.

Forty-five.

Forty.

The car behind them closed the gap.

“I’m not fucking with you, D. I didn’t take the gun, because I didn’t want to accidentally kill you and spare you all the pain I had in store. I’m sorry. Frisk me now if you don’t believe me.”

Donaldson grunted something noncommittal.

The headlights were riding their back bumper now.

“There!” Lucy said. “There’s a dirt driveway.”

She pointed out her window, and Donaldson squinted to see through the darkness.

“Is that a barn?” she asked.

“Can’t tell. But it’s better than being out in the open.”

Donaldson nudged the Honda onto the shoulder and made a quick right. The tires sank into dirt, then caught, carrying them fifty yards down the road toward the building, gradually slowing until all momentum ceased.

The car that had been following them crept past and then stopped twenty yards ahead. It was a black sedan. Its taillights burned for a minute more, and then went dark.

“What would someone who isn’t in law enforcement want with us?” Lucy asked.

“Why don’t you hop out and ask?”

“What are they waiting for?”

“I don’t know.”

Whoever was in the black sedan stayed put.

“You have any weapons, D?”

“I figured the gun would be enough.”

“So what do we do? Can you sneak up on him, maybe?”

Donaldson shook his head, flipping on the interior light. “Check out my legs.”

Lucy looked down. The bandages had sloughed off in bloody strips.

Wait. Those weren’t bandages.

That was his skin.

“Grafts. Prick named Lanz told me to limit my movement, or they wouldn’t take hold. Guess he wasn’t kidding.”

“Cool. Is this, ‘I’ll show you mine if you show me yours?’ I’ll play.”

Lucy pulled a pair of surgical scissors out of her scrubs and snipped a tiny cut into the bandage of her right leg. She pulled back a piece of black foam while Donaldson took a quick glance at the car in the distance. It hadn’t moved.

“I have to warn you,” Lucy said. “I haven’t had the skin grafts yet.”

Her shinbone shone through a hole below her knee.

Donaldson seemed mesmerized by the wound.

“I had to go off my morphine to escape. They gave me a nerve block shot in my spine, but it’s wearing off. The pain is…spectacular.”

Donaldson couldn’t take his eyes off her leg. Lucy folded the bandage back, grimacing as she pressed the adhesive into another filthy bandage in an attempt to make it stick.

“You’re full of shit.”

“Huh?”

“You can’t feel a damn thing. You’re paralyzed, aren’t you?”

“We aren’t safe in here, D. We need to do something. Now.”

“Do what, little girl? I can barely walk and I only got one good arm. And I bet you can’t walk at all. We’re outta gas in the middle of bumblefuck.”

“So we just wait?”

“This guy wants something. Eventually, he’ll show us what it is.”

They waited.

No one moved.

“You said you killed a hundred and thirty people?” Lucy asked.

“Yeah.”

“I killed twenty-nine. One for every year I’ve lived.”

“I admire a woman with pluck.”

“We’ve both been on the news. People knew we were at that hospital.”

Donaldson’s face scrunched up. “What are you saying?”

“Maybe one of our victims has family. Family who are pissed off.”

Through the windshield, they watched the driver side door of that car swing open.

A dark figure stepped out.

“Guess we’ll find out soon enough,” Donaldson said.

The driver was tall and thin. He stood for a moment next to his car, a waxing gibbous moon behind him, the Honda’s headlights washing out his features.

Then he began to walk toward them, his black boots kicking up little spirals of dust in his wake.

“Want to hand me those scissors?” Donaldson asked.

The man’s face shone pale in the moonlight. And razor thin. The night air blew wisps of his long black hair, causing it to wrap around his face and stick to his thin, colorless lips.

Lucy dug the pair of scissors out of the waistband of her scrubs and handed them over to Donaldson.

“He looks familiar,” she said.

“You sure you killed twenty-nine? Maybe it was twenty-eight, and the last one is just pissed off.”

She let out a trembling breath. “No way. This can’t be him.”

The man was ten feet from the front bumper, and neither Donaldson nor Lucy could take their eyes off of him.

“Now would be a good time to fill me in,” Donaldson said.

“When I was fifteen, I ran away from home to a mystery book convention in Indianapolis to see my favorite author, Andrew Z. Thomas. While I was there, I killed for the first time. It was messy. I didn’t know what I was doing. I would’ve gotten myself caught, but these two guys…the ones I was telling you about earlier? They found me out. They came into the hotel room and-”

The man stopped at Donaldson’s window and rapped hard against the glass.

“Just tell me…is he a friend or foe?” Donaldson whispered.

“I’m not sure.”

Keeping the scissors palmed, Donaldson pressed the button on his door.

The window lowered halfway.

“Can I help you, buddy?” Donaldson said.

The man ducked down to look inside.

When his face appeared, Lucy said, “Holy shit, you’re-”

“Luther. Luther Kite. That you, little Lucy? Last time I saw you, you didn’t even have a driver’s license. Now look at you, on the TV, getting yourself into all sorts of trouble.”

Lucy’s face scrunched up. “Luther?”

Luther stuck the barrel of a gun into the car. When he pulled the trigger, it sounded like a hard blast of air.

Both Lucy and Donaldson stared down at the dart sticking out of Lucy’s chest.

She took a deep, sucking breath, like the wind had been knocked out of her.

Lucy rasped, “Why are you…” but never finished her sentence. She fell back into the passenger-side door, eyes closed, mouth yawning open.

Donaldson reached for the gun, but Luther jerked it back outside.

“Look… Luther is it?… there’s no love lost between me and this one. If you want some private time with the lady, she’s all yours.”

“Seems like you two are a package deal.” He jutted his chin toward their wrists. “What’s that all about?”

“Crazy bitch handcuffed us together.”

“Well, are you joined for life or do you have the key?”

“She’s got the key.”

Luther leveled the dart gun on Donaldson’s head. “Maybe you should find it.”

Donaldson leaned over and clumsily groped Lucy’s scrubs, checking various pockets. He came up empty.

“It’s not here,” he said. “She wouldn’t tell me where-”

Luther reached into the car with his other hand and grabbed Donaldson’s good ear. His only ear.

“Get out of the car.”

“I want to obey you. Really. But my arm and my legs are fucked up, and I’m chained to this psycho here. Did you know she’s a serial killer?”

“She do this to you?”

“Yeah. Hell, you can do whatever you want to her. I’ll even take pictures if you want.”

“You were on the news.”

“Really?”

“They said you were a monster. Maybe the most prolific killer since Green River.”

“They got it wrong. She’s the monster. I’m just a victim.”

“That so?”

“Look, buddy. I don’t know who you are, or what you want. But-”

“Shut the fuck up!” Luther twisted the ear. “Answer when spoken to. You a killer or not?”

“No! I’m fucking innocent!”

“Well, I’m relieved to hear that, Mr…?”

“Donaldson. Gregory Donaldson.”

“Do you want to know why I’m after Lucy here?”

“No,” Donaldson grunted. “It’s none of my business.”

“Do you want to know how we met?”

“I want to do whatever you want me to do.”

“That’s good, Mr. Donaldson. Because I want you to… get. Out. Of. The. Car.”

At the word car, Luther tugged, yanking Donaldson’s head into the window so hard the glass fractured.

But the ear stayed attached.

It took three more yanks to rip it off.

Donaldson screamed, and dropped the scissors.

“Can you hear me now?” Luther spoke into the severed ear. He took two steps back from the car. “Can you hear me now?” He raised it up over his head. “How about now?”

Tossing the ear across the road, Luther opened the car door and seized Donaldson’s swollen wrist. He gave it a sudden twist, and there was a sound like bubble wrap popping as all of Donaldson’s broken parts ground against one another.

Donaldson tumbled onto the ground, his knees sinking into the soft earth, the sounds coming from his throat scarcely human.

His good arm still stretched back into the Honda, cuffed to Lucy who’d been dragged across the central console.

“What if I were to tell you, Mr. Donaldson, that I wasn’t here for Lucy at all?”

Donaldson whimpered something incoherent.

“What if I were to tell you that I travelled a very long way just to have a chat with you?”

Luther gave the arm another terrible yank.

Donaldson screamed, the loudest scream yet, and passed out.

Donaldson returned to consciousness with Luther right in his face.

“Were you having a nice dream?”

Donaldson roared, staring at the skin bubbling under the flame on his ruined arm.

Luther snapped the Zippo shut.

“Welcome back,” he said. “Now get the fuck up.”

He strained to drag Donaldson onto his feet.

“My God, you’re fat,” he said.

Donaldson whimpered, struggling to catch his breath. Luther got him onto his knees, which prompted more screaming.

“Loud, too,” Luther said. He reached over Donaldson and grasped Lucy’s outstretched arm. “Help me get her out, Fat Man, or I’m going to play with your arm some more.”

Sobbing, Donaldson managed to pull Lucy free of the Honda.

Luther jammed the airgun into his belt, heaved her over his shoulder, and ordered Donaldson to follow.

The trio trudged up the dirt road. Earth sucked at Donaldson’s bare feet.

“You’re seriously still crying?” Luther asked. “Pathetic.”

Cows groaned in the adjacent field.

Snowfields glowed on the slopes of a mountain range twenty miles away.

The barn loomed fifty yards ahead.

“What do you want?” Donaldson asked, his voice cracking.

“Keep walking, Fat Man.”

The barn stood silhouetted against the night sky, a massive structure with a steeply-pitched roof. Across a winter-killed field, at least a half-mile away, there was a farmhouse. Dark. No lights. No cars out front. It looked abandoned.

Luther said, “The cop. Jack Daniels. You’ve met her.”

“What?” Donaldson’s voice continued to quaver. “Sorry, but you gotta speak up.”

“Jack Daniels. You know her? I saw her talking about you on the news.”

“Met her at a truck stop, few weeks ago.”

“Tell me. Tell me everything.”

So he did. Donaldson told Luther about meeting Taylor, their plans for Jack, and how the bitch had gotten the upper hand. The story took them up until they got into the barn through a giant, sliding door that creaked with rust as Luther dragged it open. Inside, it was pitch black and smelled like moldering hay. Luther led them to one of the support posts for the loft.

“What was she like?” he said, bending down and dropping Lucy.

“What?”

Luther glanced back at Donaldson, saw the blood draining out of the hole where his ear used to be. He turned around and stuck his finger in the hole, holding Donaldson’s head while he screamed. Blood rushed out, and then the flow eased.

“That better?” Luther asked. “I’m kind of tired of repeating myself.”

Donaldson fell to his knees, and then rolled onto the ground. Luther raised up a boot over Donaldson’s bad arm, and the fat man began to blabber.

“She’s a cop,” Donaldson moaned. “Busted a bunch of serial killers. In person, she’s cute. But strong. And smart. I really wished I’d had a chance to dip my wick. Been thinking about going back and looking her up, after I heal.”

Donaldson squinted at Luther, who had found a rusty kerosene lamp with a little gas left hanging from the rafters. He used his Zippo to fire it up and hung it on a rusty nail. A soft, orange glow filled the barn.

“You think you’re going to get that chance now?”

“That depends on you. I’m at your mercy.”

“Yes, you are. You know how this little game usually turns out, don’t you?”

“I know. Can’t say I really care all that much at this point, either.”

“You’re not afraid of death?”

“Brother, I AM death.”

Luther seemed to consider it. Then he walked over and kicked Donaldson in the arm.

“And I am PAIN,” Luther said. “I’m a lot worse than death.”

Donaldson grabbed his swollen appendage and whimpered through the pain until he found his voice again. “Why so interested in that cop? Got a thing for women in uniform? Or… wait a sec… you’re going to make a run at her, aren’t you?”

“I know you think you’re the best at what you do. Obviously, the fact that I’m here, healthy and comfortable, refutes that. There is no one like me in the world. I need a challenge.”

“I can help you.”

“I don’t need your help. Clearly.”

“You could use someone to watch your back. This one isn’t easy. Trust me. She’s a tough nut to crack. We could… hunt her together.”

Luther knelt down and looked Donaldson in the eyes.

“Two more questions and then we can move on to other things. I want your opinion. Is Jack Daniels lucky? Or is she really better than you are?”

“Bitch got lucky.”

“How about me? Did I get lucky, too?”

“Every dog has his day,” Donaldson said, then spat in Luther’s face.

Luther wiped the trail of saliva away with one finger and touched his tongue to it.

“How about Lucy? Looks like she did quite a number on you. Did she get lucky? Or maybe it isn’t luck. Maybe you’re just a used-up, fat piece of shit, and that’s why Lieutenant Daniels beat you. Why Lucy beat you. And why I’m about to beat you. To death.”

Luther kicked Donaldson in the chest, and then began to stomp on the man, using his boot heel.

At first, Donaldson tried to cover up, protect himself.

Eventually he stopped trying.

“That’s just a taste,” Luther said, delivering one final kick and wiping the blood off his boot and onto Donaldson’s heaving chest. “I’ll be back when I move the cars. Stick around, make yourself at home.”

Luther strolled out of the barn and disappeared.

Donaldson struggled to sit up.

“Lucy!” he whispered.

He rolled over and took her tiny face in his hands. Shook her head.

“Wake up!”

He smacked her face three times, and she stirred, her eyes fluttering opening.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

“He’s gone.”

“Who?”

“Luther, you dumb bitch. He shot you with a tranq dart. Something short-acting.”

Lucy sat up, moaning. “The nerve block has almost worn off. My legs are on fucking fire.”

“Take a number and join the club.”

“Where are we? It stinks in here.”

“A barn. Your friend, Luther, is not a nice man. I can’t walk and carry you. You can’t walk at all. Where are the keys to these handcuffs?”

Lucy rubbed her eyes. “What?”

“The keys, you stupid-”

“Oh.” She grinned. “It’s like…kind of embarrassing.”

“Look, if we can get these cuffs off, I can surprise him when he comes back. Then we can take his car. But I can’t do that if we’re fucking chained together.”

“Why should I help you? That man… Luther… is my friend.”

“That man ain’t anybody’s friend.”

“People would say the same about you, D.”

Donaldson let out a slow breath. He met Lucy’s eyes.

“Believe it or not, I’ve been thinking about what you said, while your friend was kicking the fuck out of me. About killing together or dying alone. I’m starting to like that idea.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“ Really really?”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake-”

“Okay. If you want out of the cuffs, the key is up my ass. But you have to get it.”

“You’re kidding.”

“I’m serious.”

“Why in the hell would you stick the key up your ass?”

“I knew you’d frisk me. I didn’t have any other place to put it.”

“Well, why do I have to get it?”

“You’ve killed a hundred and thirty people, and you’re getting squeamish at sticking your finger up a girl’s ass? Some people pay to do it.”

Donaldson just glared at her.

“Tick, tock,” Lucy said. “My friend will be back any minute.”

“Roll over.”

Lucy shifted onto her side. Donaldson stuck his hand down the back of her scrubs.

“Donaldson?”

“What?”

“Be gentle.”

“How do I know you don’t have a fucking rat trap up there? I don’t want to lose a finger.”

“The rat trap is in front, in case you tried to rape me.”

Donaldson grunted, running his hand over bandages, slipping it underneath and inside.

“How far up is it?”

“I don’t know. An inch or two? I lost fifteen percent of my ass in the car wreck. You’ll probably know you’ve found it when your fingers touch a key.”

“Goddamn it.”

“Wouldn’t it be funny if there was no key, D?”

“Asshole. And I mean that in every sense of the word. Wait…okay…I think I got it.”

He retrieved his hand, pinching a not-so-shiny handcuff key. “Explain to me why I had to do this, and not you?”

“I don’t want to get shit all over my hand.”

Swearing, Donaldson moved to unlock the cuffs just as Luther returned.

“Look who’s awake,” Luther said.

Donaldson hid the key under a pile of moldy hay.

Luther walked over and squatted down in front of Lucy and Donaldson. He smiled at Lucy.

Horrifying.

“Is it really you?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“I never thought I’d see you again.”

Luther reached out, touched the side of her face. “You’ve grown into a beautiful woman.”

“Thank you.”

Luther glanced at Donaldson, and then came to his feet. He lifted the kerosene lantern off the nail and carried it with him across the barn. The firelight splashed across a wall covered in ancient farm tools. Scythes of every size. Bill hooks. Sheep shears. Hay rakes. Axes. Hatchets. Sledgehammers. Drill spuds. Tail-docking shears. Yokes. Spades. Long-handled slashers. Hooks. Pruners. Pitchforks.

“I have my toolbox in the car,” Luther said, selecting the bill hook, “but I always like to make use of what’s around. You guys ever do that?”

“Can you pick a different one?” Lucy asked. “That one looks rusty. I wouldn’t want Donaldson to get tetanus.”

Luther chuckled.

“What exactly, darling, do you think is about to happen here? We tag team Fat Man and then I rush you back to the hospital?”

“Yeah, that sounds great.”

Luther returned the bill hook to the shelf and pulled down the pair of sheep shears. He started toward them, opening and closing the blades to dislodge the clumps of accumulated rust.

“I’m going to start with you, Lucy. Show me those pretty little feet.”

Lucy reached her hand down into her pants.

“What?” Luther grinned. “This getting you hot? Wow, you are a little firecracker.”

He sat down on the floor in front of her and set the kerosene lamp next to him.

Grunting, Lucy extended her foot. The one Donaldson had shot three toes off of.

“Not quite as pretty as I was imagining.”

“You won’t do it,” she said. “We have a connection.”

“Think so?” He opened the shears. “Stick your big toe between the blades and find out.”

Lucy groaned, her hand still down her pants.

She set her big toe on the bottom blade.

Luther looked up, said, “Watch-”

His face dropped, and then a smile stretched his lips.

The blast of pepper spray hit him dead between the eyes, Lucy leaning forward, squirting it into his mouth and nose, and when the spray ended, Donaldson kicked Luther in the chest.

Luther fell back and dropped the shears, his hands clutching his face.

“You fucking bitch!” He pawed at his eyes.

Donaldson laughed. “Tell me, Luther, did she get lucky just now?”

Luther clambered onto his feet, one hand outstretched, his face buried in the side of his jacket.

“I can’t fucking see!” he screamed. “It burns!”

Luther stumbled like a drunk toward the opening of the barn.

Donaldson stuck his hand into the old hay, becoming frantic because he couldn’t find the key. After ten seconds of desperate groping, his fingers locked onto it.

“Grab the pitchfork,” Lucy said as he undid the cuffs. “Wait behind the door for him to come back.”

Donaldson heaved himself up to his feet and took a staggering step toward the wall of rusted farm implements. He grabbed the pitchfork, and then paused.

“Hurry!” Lucy said. “Hide before he comes back!”

“I’ve been maced before. Hurts like hell. Even if he washes off, he’s not coming back for at least ten minutes.”

“You going to sneak up on him, get him by his car?”

Donaldson shook his head slowly.

Lucy let out a short pant of air. After a moment, she nodded. “Hermit crabs can’t change who they are.”

“No,” Donaldson said. “They can’t.”

He raised the pitchfork and staggered toward her.

Lucy stood up.

“You goddamn lying little bitch,” Donaldson said, thrusting the fork at her.

Lucy jumped back, wincing as her legs took the weight. Then she ran awkwardly toward the tools.

Donaldson got to her just as Lucy was pulling a scythe from the wall. She tugged it off the nail and swung it hard and fast. Donaldson ducked and the sickle blade slammed into the wall, its tip embedding a quarter inch into the wood. Lucy yanked it out as Donaldson came at her with the pitchfork, sidestepping as the prongs missed her by inches.

She raised the scythe and swiped again, catching Donaldson in the bad arm. When the tip went in, she twisted the handle, dropping the fat man to his knees with a whimper.

Lucy pulled the scythe out and cocked it back.

“We could’ve been amazing together,” she said.

“Yeah.” Donaldson grimaced. “But killing you is going to be even more amazing.”

She swung the scythe at his neck but Donaldson raised his weapon and caught the blade between the prongs. Rising, he jabbed the pitchfork toward the ceiling and sent Lucy’s scythe flying across the room, where it clattered against a dormant tractor.

Donaldson backed her up, cornering Lucy against the wall of tools.

“Okay, D. You got me.” Lucy raised her hands. “Is this really what you want?”

Donaldson put his weight into the thrust, stabbing her through the fronts of both thighs.

Lucy fell to the floor, screaming for Luther, and she continued to scream as Donaldson plunged the sharp, filthy tines into her legs, over and over and over.

By the time he’d worked his way up to her pelvis, she was just screaming incoherently.

By the time he started on her arms, all the fight had gone out of her.

Panting, Donaldson set the pitchfork on the ground and leaned on the handle. He used his good arm to mop some sweat from his brow.

“You still alive there, little girl? Or have I reached one hundred and thirty-one?”

Lucy moaned softly.

A pool of blood spreading out beneath her.

Footsteps at the opening of the barn’s sliding door drew Donaldson’s attention. Luther stood in the threshold. He was holding something that the shadows kept hidden.

“That mace hurts like a bitch, don’t it?” Donaldson said. “I straightened Lucy out for you, but if you want to come give her a few pokes, by all means, help yourself.”

Luther walked into the barn, and as he reached the lantern’s field of illumination, he stopped.

Donaldson saw what he held. He said, “Oh shit.”

“Drop the pitchfork,” Luther said. His face was swollen, his eyes red as strawberries. The gun in his hand was a semi-auto.

“You mean drop this, or you shoot me? Don’t be an asshole, Luther. I’d rather have you shoot me than-”

The first shot blew out Donaldson’s right knee, toppling him over.

Luther strolled over while Donaldson howled.

“Still rather have me shoot you, Fat Man?”

He aimed and fired. Donaldson’s left knee exploded.

A feeble, breathy sound caught Luther’s attention. He turned and saw a smile on Lucy’s face.

She was laughing.

“Knees are supposed to hurt the most,” Luther said. “Tell me if that’s true.”

Two more shots, and Lucy’s laughter became sobbing.

Luther went to the wall and chose a tool to play with.

After twenty minutes of exhausting his imagination with that one, he went on to get another.

On Luther’s third tool, Donaldson went into cardiac arrest.

Happily, Luther kept a portable defibrillator in his car, and it only took three shocks to get the fat man’s ticker back on track.

Then he started in again.

Dawn approached.

Soon there wasn’t much Luther could do, even trying really hard, to illicit more screams from the duo.

Donaldson tried to say something but it came out too soft for Lucy to understand.

They lay side-by-side on the floor of the barn. There were bits of them everywhere.

Lucy could barely speak.

“What…D?”

“Is…he…gone?”

“I think so.”

The barn was quiet. Somewhere, across the field, a rooster was arguing with the sun.

“Why aren’t we dead yet?” Lucy asked.

“Because your friend is very…very…” Donaldson coughed up a chunk of something. “Good.”

“I can’t feel anything anymore,” Lucy said.

“Me neither.”

“I believe I can fix that.” Luther had returned.

He held a red plastic container.

“I’ve read that in most witch burnings, the victim died quickly from smoke inhalation,” Luther said. “Or from breathing in the fire itself. So I’m going to try my best to keep the flames on just the lower parts of your bodies.”

Luther poured gas on them. Donaldson turned his head, caught Lucy’s eyes.

“You know what, little girl? I never should have picked your ass up.”

“Hitchhiking can be dangerous, D,” Lucy said.

They reached for each other and held hands as they burned.