This was not the way it was supposed to be, not at all the way the world was supposed to operate. True, the world was hard, life was difficult. But there had to be some certainties. One of these was the law. If there were trouble, you went to the police, and you received help, and everything was all right again. In a good, sensible world, organized law was supreme, always triumphant over madness since madness was disorganized. When insanity could strike down the law, could smash your last hope, then the whole world must be insane. Madness then ruled supreme and law was useless, hope was useless.
She reached over the seat and touched the Captain's face, as if by her hand she would prove this was nothing more than a very solid illusion, a bit of her imagination that she was taking far too seriously. But when she touched him, he did not fade away. He remained on the seat, slumped half onto the floor, very cold and very stiff and very dead.
She stepped back and closed the door.
That question was answered for her when someone, behind her, said, So you found him.
Gordon stood only five feet away.
He was holding a long, sharp knife with a serrated edge.
He smiled, a terrible smile, a smile that contained no humor whatsoever, cold and distant.
Your eyes don't decieve you, he said.
It was just too much. First, finding the Captain in the back of her car. Now, to learn that she had been wrong about Dennis-and wrong about Gordon as well. It was not Dennis, despite his frivolity, despite his strange moods, who had stepped from the brink of sanity into the abyss of madness, but it was, instead, Gordon. Hard-working Gordon Matherly. Serious, diligent Gordon Matherly. Gordon Matherly, whose reasonableness and sobriety she had so much admired, who would one day go so far because of his nose-to-the-grindstone attitude. Such a switch-about did not merely indicate bad judgment on her part, but struck a solid blow at the very foundations of her outlook on life. Too much, too much, too much!
Why? she asked.
He was snooping around the house last night, Gordon said. I don't know why he was here. If you didn't get your call through to him, then he had no reason to suspect anything was wrong with the hitchhiker theory. But when I was outside, after you had closed your window to me and I had missed my chance to kill you with a stone, I heard him cough. He had taken up a position near the garage. He had not seen or heard our little scene, but that was only luck. I circled on him and stabbed him. He died very easily. You would be surprised how easily such a big man can die, Elaine. I think he was done for the third or fourth time I cut him. But I kept on for a while, kept stabbing him, just to be certain.
He smiled again, a smile that bared his teeth in an animal grimace, skinned his lips back more in hatred than in humor. His eyes were bright, like beads of polished glass. His nostrils flared unnaturally as his breathing became hurried.
She wished he would not smile.
She said, That isn't what I meant.
Gordon stopped smiling and frowned at the knife in his hand. With the thumb of his left hand, he tested the blade to see if it were sharp. Elaine thought that a scarlet string of blood appeared on his thumb, so thorough was his test.
Why did you do any of it, Gordon?
If she talked, if she kept him occupied, perhaps he could be tricked-or perhaps someone would walk by the front of the garage and see them. She was still shocked and bewildered by the discovery that he was the killer, but some of her hard-headed reasonableness had returned, enough to let her seriously contemplate means of escape from what appeared to be imminent and certain death.
I don't understand what you mean, he said.
Why did you want to kill Celia? You hardly knew her.
She was a woman, he said, as if that were all the answer that was required.
The simplicity of it, the coldness with which he said it, almost made her abandon hope.
She did not press that point but said, But Jacob isn't a woman. And you tried to kill him without reason.
I had reason! he snapped, defensive now. He skinned his lips back, smiled, stopped smiling, smiled again, hardly able to control the flux of emotions which poured through him.
Oh, I have a good one, he said.
Can't you tell me?
He held the knife toward her, pointed directly at her stomach. It was held straight out from his body, as if he were warding her off, as if he had to be frightened of a counterattack. His fingers were so tightly wrapped about the wooden grip that his knuckles were bloodless. He waved it back and forth, much the way a cobra might weave its head in order to mesmerize its victim prior to a strike.
You have no reason to hurt me, Elaine said, remembering how a similar argument had made him stop picking at her lock two nights ago. I haven't done anything to you.
You don't understand, Gordon said.
His voice had grown thin, climbed several tones until it was high- pitched and unmasculine, partly the result of his fear-but also the result of something else, something she could not place. Perhaps it was as if he were trying to imitate someone else's voice. But whose voice?
Explain it to me, then, she said.
Then you're mad. You're a madman.
I am not! He tensed, though he did not menace her with the blade any longer. You must not believe something like that. I know what I am doing and why.
Only a madman cannot explain his reasons.
Gordon seemed to sway, as if her words had been a physical blow, and he lowered the knife, though not very far. Clearly, he was troubled by what she said. Even a madman, surely, must now and again see that he is operating in darkness, viewing the world at a tangent rather than straight on. That had to be true. Otherwise, she might as well give up right now.
Trying not to look at the knife, trying desperately not to think of what it had done to Captain Rand, she steeled herself to continue the argument, to increase his self-doubt.
You have no reasons, she said.
Will you listen if I tell you why?
You know I will, Gordon. Immediately, having opened up this chink in him, she switched to a tone of sympathy, of understanding. She found that this was not unlike talking to a patient who knew he was going to die. It was merely acting, stringing together cautious lies.
I believe you, he said.
He looked around the garage stall, at the darkness overhead, the dust on the windowsill to his right, the ancient oil stains on the concrete floor.
He said, This isn't the place to explain.
She grew wary again, wondering what he was about to propose. She could still see no way around him.
Where do you want to go? she asked.
He thought a moment. We'll go over to Bess and Jerry's place. I'll tell you there. That will be a good place to explain.
For a brief moment, she actually thought that he was going to usher her outside and unwittingly provide her with an opportunity to escape. She wondered whether it would be better to run for the wall between the Bradshaw grounds and the Matherly estate-or whether she should try to regain the house and, with luck, Dennis' studio where she might obtain some help. She opted for the latter and prepared to make the dash for freedom, but had her hopes destroyed when he grasped her arm and dug the point of the knife into her side. He pressed it hard enough to tear her blouse and to draw a bead of blood, though he apparently did not intend to kill her. Not just now.
We'll walk together, he said. Please don't try to get away from me. I really do want to explain this to you first. I don't want to kill you until you understand.
I want to hear about it, she said, fighting down a deep, strong urge to be ill.
Think, think! For God's sake, find a way to escape! But-also for God's sake, for my own sake-be careful!
Let's go, he said.
She let him lead, and she leaned against him in hopes that he would remember how pleased he seemed to have been, earlier, when she relied upon him for his strength.
Outside, the sun seemed oppressively hot, causing her to sweat so that her face was instantly covered with a salty sheen.
The day was perfectly silent, the birds still, the wind down, as if the earth itself was aware that death lurked so close by.
To the steps, he directed her.
The hand that gripped her arm pinched her flesh painfully, and the point of the knife twisted a bit deeper into her skin.
They walked across the front of the garage, passing the three other closed doors.
Let someone see us! Let someone interrupt us! she prayed.
But they turned the corner and started up the stairs without being seen or questioned.
Elaine considered her chances of thrusting sideways and propelling him through the wooden railing that edged the steps. She was young and strong and filled with adrenalin summoned up by her fear. It might very well work. The railing did not appear to be very strong, and Gordon weighed at least a hundred and eighty pounds. If she slammed all her weight against him, when they were near the top of the stairs, and if that unbalanced him, he might fall twenty feet onto the cement walk beneath.
Would that kill him?
She shuddered at her cold-blooded plotting, but told herself there was nothing else she could do. It was self-defense. It was the reasonable thing to conceive.
It was also reasonable to expect that he might hold onto her, that he would drag her with him. And if she were not killed by the fall or badly hurt, he would not be either. And then he would kill her.
The top of the stairs was at hand.
She could not do it.
They stepped onto the landing and came to the door. Gordon knocked on it with the handle of the knife.
Jerry opened the door, wiping his hands on a soiled rag. A streak of grease marred his chin, and he appeared to have been working on some piece of machinery. He said, Well, hello! Then he saw the knife in Gordon's hand. He looked quickly at Elaine, correctly interpreted the expression on her face, and tried to close the door.
Gordon still holding the knife reversed in his hand, slammed the heavy handle against the side of the old man's head.
Jerry staggered, clutched at the door, then crumpled at Gordon's feet, unconscious.
Inside, Gordon said.
She went in.
He followed, pushing Jerry out of the way, and closed the door. He locked it too.