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Like part of the family, p.1
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       Like Part of the Family, p.1

           Jonathan Maberry
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Like Part of the Family



  Jonathan Maberry

  Smashwords Edition

  Copyright © 2011 by Jonathan Maberry

  Smashwords Edition License Notes

  This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

  “My ex-husband is trying to kill me,” she said.

  She was one of those cookie-cutter East Coast blondes. Pale skin, pale hair, pale eyes. Lots of New Age jewelry. Not a lot of curves and too much perfume. Kind of pretty if you dig the modeling-scene heroin chic look. Or if you troll the anorexia twelve-steps or crack houses looking for easy ass that’s so desperate for affection they’ll boff you blind for a smile. Not my kind. I like a little more meat on the bone, and a bit more sanity in the eyes. This one came to me on a referral from another client.

  “He actually try?”

  “I can tell, Mr. Hunter.”

  Yeah, I thought and tried not to sigh. What I figured.

  “You call the cops?”

  She shrugged.

  “What’s that mean? You call them or not?”

  “I called,” she said. “They said that there wasn’t anything they could do unless he did something first.”

  “Yeah,” I said. “Can’t arrest someone for thinking about something.”

  “He threatened me.”

  “Anyone hear him make the threat?”


  “Then it’s your word.”

  “That’s what the police said.” She crossed her legs. Her legs were on the thin side of being nice. Probably were nice before drugs or stress or a fractured self image wasted her down to Sally Stick-figure.

  Skirt was short, shoes looked expensive. I have three ex-wives and I pay alimony bigger than India’s national debt. I know how expensive women’s shoes are. I was wearing black sneakers from Payless. Glad I had a desk between me and her.

  “Your husband ever hurt you?” I asked. “Or try to?”

  “Ex,” she corrected. “And…yes. That’s why I left him. He hit me a few times. Mostly when he was drunk and out of control.”

  I held up a hand. “Don’t make excuses for him. He hit you. Being drunk doesn’t change the rules. Might even make it worse, especially if he did it once while drunk and then let himself come home drunk again.”

  She digested that. She’d probably heard that rap before but it might have come from a female case worker or a shrink. From the way her eyes shifted to me and away and back again I guessed she’d never heard that from a man before. I guess for her men were the Big Bad. Too many of them are.

  It was ten to five, but it was already dark outside. December snow swirled past the window. It wasn’t accumulating, so the snow still looked pretty. Once it started piling up I hated the shit. My secretary, Mrs. Gilligan, fled at the first flake. Typical Philadelphian -they think the world will come to a screeching halt if there’s half an inch on the ground. She’s probably at Wegmans stocking up on milk, bread and toilet paper. The staples of the apocalypse. Me, I grew up in Minneapolis, and out in the Cities we think twenty inches is getting off light. Doesn’t mean I don’t hate the shit, though. A low annual snowfall is one of the reasons I moved to Philly after I got my PI license. Easier to hunt if you don’t have to slog through snow.

  “When he hit you,” I said, “you report it?”


  “Not to the cops?”


  “Women’s shelter?


  “Anyone? A friend?”

  She shook her head. “I was…embarrassed, Mr. Hunter. A black eye and all. Didn’t want to be seen.”

  Which means there’s no record. Nothing to support her case about ex-hubby wanting to kill her.

  I drummed my fingers on the desk blotter. I get these kinds of cases every once in a while, though I stayed well clear of domestic disputes and spousal abuse cases when I was with Minneapolis PD. I have a temper, and by the time they asked for my shield back I had six reprimands in my jacket for excessive force. At one of my IA hearings the captain said he was disappointed that I showed no remorse for the last ‘incident’. I busted a child molester and somehow while the guy was, um, resisting arrest he managed to get mauled and mangled a bit. The pedophile tried to spin some crazy shit that I sicced a dog on him, but I don’t have a dog. I said that he got mauled by a stray during a foot pursuit. Even at my own hearing I couldn’t keep a smile off my face to save my job. Squeaked by on that one, but next time something like it happened—this time with a guy who whipped his wife half to death with an extension cord because she wasn’t ‘willing enough’ in the bedroom - I was out on my ass. He ran into the same stray dog. Weird how that happens, huh? Long story short, I already didn’t have the warm fuzzies for her husband. We all have our buttons, and when the strong prey on the weak all of mine get pushed.

  “Did you go to the E.R.?”

  “No,” she said. “It was never that bad. More humiliating than anything.”

  I nodded. “What about after the divorce? He lay a hand on you since?”

  She hesitated.

  “Mrs. Skye?” I prompted.

  “He tried. He chased me. Twice.”

  “Chased you? Tell me about it.”

  She licked her lips. She wore a very nice rose-pink lipstick that was the only splash of color. Even her clothes and shoes were white. Pale horse, pale rider.

  “Well,” she said, “that’s where the story gets really…strange.”

  “Strange how?”

  “He –David, my ex-husband—changed after I filed for divorce. He’s like a different person. Before, when I first met him, he was a very fastidious man. Always dressed nicely, always very clean and well-groomed.”

  “What’s he do for a living?”

  “He owns a nightclub. The Crypt, just off South Street.”

  “I know it, but that’s a Goth club right? Is he Goth?”

  “No. Not at all. He bought the club from the former owner, but he remodeled it after The Batcave.”

  “As in Batman?”

  “As in the London club that was kind of the prototype of pretty much the whole Goth club scene. David’s a businessman. There’s a strong Goth crowd downtown, and they hang together, but the clubs in Philly aren’t big enough to turn a big profit, and not near big enough to attract the better bands. So, he bought the two adjoining buildings and expanded out. He made a small-time club into a very successful main stage club, and he keeps the music current. A lot of post-punk stuff, but also the newer styles. Dark cabaret, deathrock, Gothabilly. That sort of thing. Low lights, black-tile bathrooms, bartenders who look like ghouls.”

  “Okay,” I said.

  “But this was all business to David. He didn’t dress Goth. I mean, he wore black suits or black silk shirts to work, but he didn’t dye his hair, didn’t wear eye-liner. Funny thing is, even though he was clearly not buying into the lifestyle the patrons loved him. They called him the Prince. As in Prince of—?”

  “Darkness, yeah, got it. Go on.”

  “David was more fussy getting ready to go out than I ever was. Spent forever in the bathroom shaving, fixing his hair. Always took him longer to pick out his clothes than me or any of my girlfriends.”

  “He gay?”

  “No.” And she shot me a ‘wow, what a stereo-typically homophobic thing to say’ sort of l

  I smiled. “I’m just trying to get a read on him. Fastidious guy having trouble with a relationship with his wife. Drinking problem, flashes of violence. Not a gay thing, but I’ve seen it before in guys who are sexually conflicted and at war with themselves and the world because of it.”

  She studied me for a moment. “You used to be a cop, Mr. Hunter?”

  “Call me Sam,” I said. “And, yeah, I was a cop. Minneapolis PD.”

  “A detective?”


  “Okay.” That seemed to mollify her. I gestured to her to continue. She took a breath. “Well…toward the end of our relationship David stopped being so fastidious. He would go two or three days without shaving. I know that doesn’t sound like the end of the world, but I never saw David without a fresh shave. Never. He carried an electric razor in his briefcase, had another at home and one in the office at the club. Clothes, too. Before, he’d sometimes change clothes twice or even three times a day if it was humid. He always wanted to look fresh. Showered at home morning and night, and had a shower installed in his office.”

  “I get the picture. Mr. Clean. But you say that changed while you were still together?”

  “It started when he fell off the wagon.”


  “When I met him he said that he hadn’t taken a drink for over two years. He was proud of it. He thought that his thirst –he always called it that—was evil, and being on the wagon made him feel like a real person. Then, after we started having problems, he started drinking again. Never in front of me, and he always washed his mouth out before he came home. I never smelled alcohol on him, but he was a different person from then on. And he started yelling at me all the time. He called me horrible names and made threats. He said that I didn’t love him, that I was just trying to use him.”

  “I have to ask,” I said, being as delicate as I could, “but was there someone else?”

  “For me? God, no!”

  “What set him off? From his perspective, I mean. Did he say that there was something that made him angry or paranoid?”

  “Well…I think it was his health.”

  “Tell me.”

  “He started losing weight. He was never fat, not even stocky. David was very muscular. He lifted a lot of weights, drank that protein powder twice a day. He had big arms, a huge chest. I asked him if he was taking steroids. He denied it, but I think he was trying to turn into one of those muscle freaks. Then, about a year and a half ago he started losing weight. When he taped his arms and found that his biceps were only twenty-two inches, he got really angry.”

  “David has twenty-two inch biceps?” Christ. Back in his Mr. Universe days, Arnold the Terminator had twenty-four inch arms, fully pumped. I think mine are somewhere shy of fifteen, and that’s after three sets on the Bowflex.

  “Not anymore,” said Mrs. Skye. “He lost a lot of muscle mass. Really fast, too. I was scared, I told him to go to a doctor. I thought he might have cancer.”

  “Did he go to the doctor?”

  “He said so…but I don’t think he did. He kept losing weight. After six months he didn’t even have much definition. He was kind of ordinary sized.”

  “Was he drinking by this point?”

  “I’m sure of it.”

  “That when he started putting his hands on you?”

  “Yes. And he became paranoid. Kept trying to make it all my fault.”

  “How long did this go on?”

  “Well…after the first time he, um, hurt me, I gave him a second chance. After all, he was my husband. I figured he was just scared because of his health. But then it happened again. The second time he knocked me around pretty good. I couldn’t go out of the house for a few days.”

  “Was that when you left?”

  It took her so long to answer that I knew what her answer would be. I’ve done too many interviews of this kind. If self-esteem is low enough then victimization can become an addiction.

  “I stayed for two more months.”

  “How many times did he hurt you during that time?” I asked.

  “A few.”

  “A few is how many?”

  Another long pause. “Six.”

  “Six,” I said, trying to put no judgment in my tone. “What was the straw?”

  She looked at her hands, at the clock, at the snow falling outside. If there’d been a magazine on my desk she would have picked it up and leafed through it. Anything to keep from meeting my eyes. “He choked me.”

  “I see.”

  “It was in the middle of the night. We were…we were…”

  I almost sighed. “Let me guess. Make-up sex?”

  She nodded, but she didn’t blush. I’ll give her that. “He’d been sweet to me for two weeks straight without getting mad or yelling, or anything. He acted like his old self. Charming.” She finally met my eyes. “David has enormous charisma. He makes everyone like him, and he always seems so genuine.”

  “Uh huh,” I said, wondering how that charm would work on a blackjack across his teeth.

  “We sat up talking until late, then we went to bed. And in the middle of the night…things just started happening. You know how it is.”

  I didn’t, but I said nothing.

  “I was, um…on top. And we were pretty far into things, and then all of a sudden David reaches up and grabs me around the throat. I thought for one crazy moment that he was doing that auto-whatever it’s called.”

  “Autoerotic asphyxiation,” I supplied.

  “Yeah, that. I thought he was doing that. He talked about it once before, but we’d never tried it. He’s really strong and I’m pretty small. But…I guess I thought he was trying to change things, you know? Create a new pattern for us. A fresh start.”

  Naivety can be a terrible thing. Jesus wept.

  “But it wasn’t sex play,” I prompted.

  “No. He started squeezing his hands. Suddenly I couldn’t breathe. It was weird because we were so close to…you know…and David kept staring at me, his eyes wide like he was in some kind of trance. I tried to pull his hands apart, but it just made him squeeze tighter. That’s when he started calling me names again, making wild accusations, accusing me of destroying his life.”

  “How did you get away?”

  Her eyes cut away again. This was obviously very hard for her.

  “I threw myself sideways and when I landed I kicked him in the, um…you know.”

  I smiled.

  “Good for you,” I said, but she shook her head.

  “I grabbed my clothes and ran out. Next day I drove past the house and saw that his car was gone. I had a locksmith come out and change the locks and change the security code on the alarm. I hired a messenger company to take a couple of suitcases of his clothes to the club. Next day I rented a storage unit and had a moving company take all of his stuff there. I used the same messenger service to send him the key.”

  “I’m impressed. That was quick thinking.”

  “I…I’d already looked into that stuff before. Until that last stretch where he was nice I was planning to leave him. I’d already talked to my lawyer, and I filed for divorce by the end of that week.”

  “What did David do?”

  “At first? Nothing except for some hysterical messages on my voicemail. He didn’t try to break in, nothing like that. But after a while I started seeing his car behind mine when I was going to work.”

  “Where do you work?”

  “I’m a nurse supervisor at Sunset Grove, the assisted living facility in Jenkintown. Right now I’m on the four to midnight shift. I’ve spotted David’s car a lot, sometimes every night for weeks on end. I’ve seem him drive by when I’m going into the staff entrance, and his car is there sometimes when I get back home, cruising down the street or parked a block up.”

  “What makes you think he’s planning to do more than just harass you?”

  “He’s said so.”


  “He didn
t say or do anything at first…but over the last couple of weeks it’s gotten worse. About three weeks ago I came out of work and stopped at a 7-11 for some gum, and when I came out he was leaning against my car. I told him to get away, but he pushed himself off the car and came up to me, smiling his charming smile. He told me that he knew who I was and what I was and that he was going to end me. His words. ‘I’m going to end you’. Then he left, still smiling.”

  “Did anyone see this?”

  “At one in the morning? No.”

  Convenience stores have security cameras, I thought. If this thing got messy I could have her lawyer subpoena those tapes. I had her write down the address of the 7-11.

  “That’s how it went for a couple of weeks,” she said. “But last night he really scared me.”

  “What happened?”

  “He was in my bedroom.”


  “That’s it…I don’t know. The alarms didn’t go off and none of the windows were broken. I heard a sound and I woke up and there he was, standing by the side of my bed. He’s really thin now and as pale as those Goth kids at his club. He stood there, smiling. I started to scream and he put a finger to his lips and made a weird shushing sound. It was so strange that I actually did shut up. Don’t ask me why. The whole thing was like a nightmare.”

  “Are you sure it wasn’t?”

  She hesitated, but she said, “I’m positive. He pointed at me and said that he knew everything about me. Then he started praying.”


  “At least I think that’s what he was doing. It was Latin, I think. He was saying a long string of things in Latin and then he left.”

  “How’d he get out?”

  “The same way he got in, I guess…but I don’t know how. I was so scared that I almost peed myself and I just lay there in bed for a long time. I don’t know how long. When I finally worked up the nerve, I ran downstairs and got a knife from the kitchen and went through the whole house.”

  “You didn’t call the cops?”

  “I was going to…but the alarm never went off. I checked the system…it was still set. I began wondering if I was dreaming.”

  “But you don’t think so?”

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