THE long-promised cold finally came that December night, but Willem did not feel it. His excitement warmed him despite the frigid air that whitened his breath. He waited two hours after the lights went out before he jimmied the lock and slid inside. He moved deliberately so as not to disturb the 4am silence. At the bottom of the stairs, he drew his gun, locked the silencer to the muzzle, and smiled.
Time to kill Wyk.
The thought almost made him laugh. Ideas didn’t die, and Wyk was an idea. Willem refused to use the man’s given name. He knew it as well as he knew his own, but he still thought of the man as Wyk. Willem felt good knowing that even if he couldn’t kill the idea, he could kill this man.
Willem positioned his foot on the first step at the edge closest to the wall and shifted his weight to it by slow degrees. Only when his whole weight had been transferred did he draw the second foot up. He imagined himself as a giant, noiseless slug, one that left no trail. He lifted his foot to the next step and started again. Part of him wanted to charge up, pistol booming, but he didn’t.
Wyk was an animal. The name, Wyk, came from a movie Willem had seen years ago. In the movie, Wyk was a sicko who hung out with his junkie son. Together they kidnapped and tortured a teenage girl. The girl was innocent and beautiful; her captors were cretins aroused by her suffering. Wyk’s only power was in his ability to threaten and injure. “Piss your pants,” he ordered the girl, “or I’ll cut you.” He and his son cackled as urine darkened the girl’s jeans. Truly powerless, Wyk found his sadistic games intoxicating. He brutalized and killed because it helped him forget his impotence.
Willem found the world teemed with Wyks. For year’s he’d ignored them. Or tried to. The first time had been a chance, almost—a happy accident. He’d stumbled out of a bar just in time to see a mugger knife someone. He’d conked the bastard with a bottle and gashed his throat with a shard. Willem remembered the satisfaction, relief, more than he did the blood.
A long twenty minutes passed before Willem reached the top of the stairs.The closed bedroom door was about eight feet ahead. On the other side slept Wyk—probably drunk, certainly defenseless.
As Willem had foreseen, Wyk had gone out tonight to indulge in his demented pastime. The timing and locations of Wyk’s attacks formed a pattern. Willem had decoded it with a little study and observation. The police failed to see it, but Willem understood it instinctively, like he could crawl inside his little pig brain. He had trailed Wyk to the bar, watched him drink, watched him shadow the young woman into the night. He’d seen Wyk drag her to the decaying factory east of campus; he’d hid in the shadows and endured her muffled cries. When it was over, he’d followed Wyk home. He’d watched the house light up, then go dark again as perverse celebration collapsed into exhaustion.
Willem turned the bedroom doorknob. He gripped the pistol as the door swung inward. In the half-light filtering through the window, he saw the empty bed. His miscalculation had barely registered when he heard the movement behind him. Willem pivoted. Wyk was charging—naked, mullet flying like a banner, a butcher knife lancing before him. Willem sidestepped the blade and caught the man by the arm. He smashed the limb into the doorframe, and the knife rattled to the floor. A bone snapped as Willem jerked the arm back. Letting it go, Willem pinned Wyk against the wall, his left forearm crushed Wyk’s Adam’s apple while his right knee ground his testicles.
Slowly, Willem brought the gun up. He grinned and jammed the tip of the silencer under Wky’s chin. The madman’s face lifted, their eyes locked, and Willem froze. He blinked when Wyk’s face, the whole of it, wobbled into focus. As the realization washed over him, Willem wondered why he had not noticed during the weeks of following the man’s movements. Perhaps he’d never gotten close enough to see. Perhaps he just hadn’t wanted to. Those pale green eyes, that narrow nose, that full mouth. True, the beard was fuller and the haircut abominable, but it was unmistakable. Willem’s own face stared back at him.
He must have eased off the man’s throat, because suddenly Wyk shoved him back against the opposite wall. Startled, Willem braced himself for a blow that never came.
Instead, Wyk began to laugh.
Willem stumbled past the man and ran down the stairs. He did not stop until he got to his Lexus, halfway down the block. Only when fumbling for his keys did he realize that he was carrying his gun in his fist, where anyone could see it. He dropped it in the passenger seat and started the engine. He had to grip the wheel tightly to keep his hands from shaking. As he sped past the house, he saw Wyk outlined in the upstairs window. He could still, he thought, hear his laughter.