These two bookends originally appeared in my October Stories 2006 event. I’ve decided to take them out and brush off the cobwebs because as a friend surmised at that time, there’s more to them than what you see here — much more.
The improbably tall man stood in front of the glass wall, his ivory complexion catching the moonlight in the shadows of the lightless office. He was as motionless as marble, staring out into the night, seemingly lost in thought.
With a nearly imperceptible sigh he turned from the window and stepped back into the shadows of the office, pausing to observe the scene: blue-tinged light spilling across a well-appointed office, bookcases and credenza along the walls, massive desk facing the door, a large leather chair overturned in a struggle. Stepping carefully over the ruined areas of the carpet, he moved to the chair and bent from the waist to right it. Untidiness disturbed him, unless it served his purpose, and he had no need of it now. With age comes conservatism, or so he’d heard, and in his case it was certainly true. In his youth he’d been more flexible, his work more improvised and spontaneous, almost — but never quite — free-form. Somewhere he’d become complacent, though; he’d been following the same patterns for his entire adult career, and his improvisational youth was long past.
He crouched behind the desk and picked up the chair’s former occupant, arranging him in the seat as best he could. Surveying his efforts, he frowned. The fat and dark-suited figure slumped in the burgundy leather chair had his eyes closed. He knew, of course, that the man had died of a heart attack before he had even begun his work, but he almost failed to note that the eyes were closed. That was not acceptable, not at all.
He gently slid up the eyelids, his long fingers deftly arranging cooling muscle and skin into an aspect of stark terror. Perhaps the years of soft living had provided the man with a shortcut out of his life, but there was no reason for it to be so obvious to anyone else. The tale, pale man had standards to uphold.
When he was satisfied with the tableau the police would find, he wiped his bone-handled razor carefully on his handkerchief and slipped it into his pants pocket, then deliberately placed the cloth under the chair. As an afterthought he opened the humidor on the desk and removed several cigars. He sniffed them as if a connoisseur — though he had never before held a cigar — and knew instinctively that they were Cuban-made. Nodding to himself he slipped them in the vest pocket of his jacket. It seemed important, somehow.
He looked through the few dry papers on the blotter, but nothing felt significant, so he inspected the desk. A swift and strong pull opened the single locked drawer; he reached in, withdrew some folders, and rolled and pocketed them.
As he prepared to leave the office he allowed himself another moment in front of the window. Far below he could see the expensive cars and expensive people responsible for this neighborhood’s reputation; in the glass he saw his own pale skin and heavy black coat, and thought of his own reputation, earned long ago.
He turned from the window, then caught himself and turned back. Studying his reflection, he concentrated for a moment, then rewrote his somber woolen clothing into a cream-colored linen suit. As he did so, his alabaster skin darkened to olive, and his thin white hair turned thick and black.
He smiled at his handiwork, taking a cigar from his pocket and trimming it expertly. As he locked the door behind him, he thought, So this is Miami. Perhaps I will stay a while.
Carefully wiping clean the tools of his trade, the improbably tall man in the cream linen suit considered his sojourn in Miami. It had been hard work, much more difficult than he had anticipated. These people proved to be so indifferent to the fates of those around them that it took extraordinary measures to generate any significant amount of fear at all.
He glanced through the kitchen window to the pool, silver and black and indigo, and at the neighbor’s home beyond it. Most people attributed his work to a variety of sources; somehow, this year one detective had seen the signature he had left behind at each workplace. She had been fearless, and for that he credited her. She seemed to grasp something of his nature, what he was — his methods, his purpose — and yet she still continued her pursuit. When he eventually trapped her, and sliced her tendons to prevent her escape, she had spat at him, and then muttered a small curse.
You won’t get what you want from me, she snarled. I will not fear you.
A slight smile flickered as he reflected on her crushed expression as he quietly explained his complete indifference to her fear. His interest was the terror her end would distill in her associates, in those who looked up to her. Her death was simply raw material.
She remained defiant for quite a while, for longer than most in his long, long career. Of course, once his work was complete he had arranged her features into a more appropriate expression of horror.
He drew a thick cigar from a silver case as he walked though the still, suburban house to the front door. He did not stop to review his art as he passed, but he did pause a moment at one bedroom doorway. As he looked inside, the moon-cast shadow of a Disney mobile slowly crossed his no-longer-pale face. Extraordinary measures, indeed, he thought, but hardly the first time.
Even though this season had been less productive than he wished, he enjoyed his visit to Miami. He had become rather fond of the rich cigars, for one, and even though he did not swim, he did enjoy the ocean. Its primal nature suited him — it reminded him of when he was new.
However, now he must return to the cooler climates of the north, far from the sea. After a glance at the mirror beside the front door he changed his linen suit for black wool, an indistinctly old-fashioned cut. His deeply tanned skin paled, and his eyes lightened from brown to grey. But as his hand touched the doorknob he hesitated, and looked in the mirror again. Why not? he thought. I’ve just spent a month in Miami.
As he stooped to enter the waiting limousine, he looked at the reflection of his freshly sun-bleached hair in the tinted glass, and smiled broadly. His driver shuddered.