It was August in Seattle, when the city enjoyed actual sunshine and temperatures in the eighties. I'd spent the day working, which made for a nice change. I'd just finished a forty-hour temp landscaping job; dirt and dried sweat made my face and arms itch. I hated the feeling, but even worse was that I didn't have anything lined up for next week.
As I walked up the alley to home, I passed a pair of older women standing beside a scraggly vegetable garden. One kept saying she was sweltering, sweltering, but her friend didn't seem sympathetic. Neither was I. I was used to summers in the desert; this weather didn't bother me.
When they noticed me, they fell silent. The unsympathetic one took her friend's hand and led her toward the back door, keeping a wary eye on me. That didn't bother me, either.
I stumped up the stairs to my apartment above my aunt's garage. It was too late to call the temp agency tonight. I'd have to try them early Monday morning. Not that I had much hope. It was hard for an ex-con to find work, especially an ex-con with my name.
I'm Raymond Lilly and I've lost track of the number of people I've killed.
My ancient garage-sale answering machine was blinking. I played the messages. Two were from reporters, one from a journalist-blogger, and one from a writer. They offered me the chance to tell my side of what happened in Washaway last Christmas. Except for the writer's, I recognized all the voices--they'd called many times over the last few weeks, sometimes several times a day.
I absentmindedly rubbed the tattoos on the back of my hands. They looked like artless jail-house squiggles, but in reality they were magic spells, and I'd be behind bars without them. None of the survivors in Washaway could pick me out of a lineup, and none of the fingerprint or DNA evidence I'd left behind pointed to me any more. I was on the twisted path.
I erased the messages. There was no point in calling them back. None of them understood the meaning of the words "fuck off."
The sounds of their voices had triggered a low, buzzing anger that made me feel slightly out of control. I showered, then dropped my work clothes into the bottom of the tub, scrubbed them clean and hung them from the curtain rod. I felt much better after that.
I wiped steam from the bathroom window and looked out. My aunt had not hung a paper angel in her kitchen window. That meant I could order in a sandwich for dinner. I put on my sleeping clothes: a t-shirt and a pair of cut-off sweat pants. I could eat alone, in silence, without someone asking how I was sleeping, how I was eating, and wouldn't things be better if I went to talk to someone?
I wouldn't have to say, Thank you, but I can't a half-dozen times. My aunt was right; I'd probably sleep better if I could talk about the nightmares--and what I'd done to bring them on--but I'd be bedding down in a padded room.
I opened my door to dispel the steam, even though an unlocked door felt like a gun at my back. I went to my bathroom mirror and looked carefully. Damn. I was wasting away.
A voice behind me said: "You look like shit."
I yelped and spun around. In an instant, my heart was pounding at my chest as my hand fumbled across the sink looking for something to use as a weapon.
Caramella was standing in the bathroom doorway, and I was so startled to see her that everything went still for a moment. My adrenaline eased and I could hear...