Thanks to Nancy FF, the evilest nice editor there ever was.
"And that young lady completely lost all her sense of curiosity. . . ."
I was at the computer when Alex sloshed into the apartment at midnight. It was raining outside, pouring like the dickens, and he came in dripping and shivering. Alex never knew to take a raincoat. Orange light reflected in from a streetlamp, the only light in the room besides my computer screen. It was as dark as Hades, and just as warm. He dribbled in, slammed the door behind him, and jammed the deadbolt home, but he didn't say anything. Neither did I.
He'd been gone for six hours when he said he'd be gone for one. I'd entertained the thought that maybe he'd been run down by a passing taxi. Just . . . thump, bump, oops! No more Alex Krycek, rebel without a cause. I sat at the computer, shivering with excitement over the thought. Only an accident could take Alex out of this world; he has the luck of the devil. But something completely random, like an airplane wing or a bad piece of pork . . . that would, oh, that would be wonderful.
His silence was a little odd, because his ritual when he came home was to say, "Here I am." Not, I'm home, or I'm back, or hey, did you miss me? But, "Here I am," like he expected to be sent on a quest, or used as target practice or something. But this time, shuddering from the rain, he said nothing. After a minute, I looked up from the screen where I was playing Minesweeper. I have nothing better to do.
And he was still standing there, pale, white against his shock of dark hair. His mouth hung slightly open and he breathed hard, as if he'd been running a long way. I didn't say anything, just stared at his opaque eyes and his open mouth. We sat like that for a minute or two. I don't know how long. Then a drop of water fell smack in his eyes and made him blink. Immediately, he focused on me, which he hadn't been doing before.
"I'm going to bed," he said shortly, and headed past me. In the doorway he paused and looked me over again. His voice was very soft. His hair dripped onto the linoleum. Dingy light shone onto his pale skin and he looked like a ghost from the underworld. He bit his lip, started to say something, then stopped.
Softly, he said, "You'll be fine, Jeffrey. Just don't open the door for her."
And he went into the bedroom and shut the door. Apparently, I was acting lead in Alex's surreal play. Me, the straight man, not saying anything, and him, the joker, saying half and leaving half out. Don't open the door? What kind of thing was that to say?
I couldn't help but look over at the front door, the one he didn't want me to open. My eyes slid slowly past the bedroom door, with its life-sized black-and-white poster of a screaming, saluting Neo-Nazi. I'd tried to take the poster down, but Alex was fascinated with that large, muscular arm. Past the dingy bathroom, past the tiny kitchen and the corner, past the little color TV and the piles of newspapers that he had, and then I stopped, jerking upright.
Someone was knocking at the front door. Very quietly, like a child who doesn't really want to wake up its mother. I sat very still. I felt like whoever was on the other side of that door could see me. What could have made Alex look so pale? Why couldn't I open the door? My hands gripped the arms of the computer chair; my leg muscles tensed. I didn't want to stand, but my legs were preparing for it, willy-nilly.
The knocking continued at the same tempo. By now, the hairs on my neck were standing up. I got to my feet very slowly. My gun lay in the bedroom, with Alex, and I wasn't going in there for anything. Plus he'd said I would be fine, unless I opened the door.
Don't worry, husband, said Bluebeard's wife as she took the keys. I'll do as you say.
Why did Bluebeard leave the keys with his wife?
I edged toward the door. Alex's door had a fisheye peephole with a little flip mechanism, so I flipped it open and looked out into the hallway. Then I saw what he'd meant by "she." Diana Fowley stood outside the door, knocking on it with something pale and oblong that she held. Something pale and plastic, with five fingers at the end. Something that dangled with straps and buckles on the other. Something that tirelessly tapped, sending skeletal shivers through the flimsy boards of the door.
I whirled and stood with my back against the door, probably a bit pale myself. She had Krycek's arm. I hadn't even noticed, when he came in, that he was missing his arm. How could I have not noticed? He didn't wear it at home, but he always wore it outside. And no one, outside of a pro wrestler, could get that arm from Alex, and I wasn't so sure about the pro wrestler. Alex was greased lightning when he wanted to be.
The knocking suddenly stopped, creeping me out even more. I turned back to the peephole and got another nasty shock. She was staring at me through the tiny glass peephole, and she was speaking. The apartment was as silent as a crypt, so I could hear her pretty clearly through the door. She knew I was watching -- well, she didn't know it was me. She thought I was dead. Of course, Alex could be the only one watching her.
Bluebeard's wife lived in a castle of the dead. I stayed in the apartment of the half-alive.
Krycek, she was in the process of saying. Her low, melodious voice floated to me. I'd shared an office with this woman, or whatever she was. She'd never paid much attention to me unless it was necessary. Of course, I hadn't known then that she was in thick with my father. That she was . . . well, I don't want to go there. But after I died, I learned a lot of stuff about her from Alex. One of those funny little things, he said, was that I'd worked with Diana Fowley during her affair with my father. Alex had laughed uproariously when he'd told me about one of their encounters on my desk. He'd had to stop when I turned green and bolted for the bathroom. Imagining the man having sex with my mother was bad enough.
She was still talking, and I could barely credit what she was saying.
Krycek, come back to the house. I like playing with you. It's more fun to sow the seeds of destruction when there's two of you. We were having such fun. I'm sorry I asked you to take off the arm. It was mean and I'm sorry. Come back and no one will bother us. I swear. Come back and get your arm, Krycek. Come back and get it. Come and get it. As I watched, not knowing what else to do, she put Krycek's arm up to her face and slipped the first finger into her mouth. She stood there, watching the glass fisheye, biting on that plastic finger.
What had he been doing? For the first time in my life, I got a glimpse into Alex Krycek's life that made me feel really sorry for him. Diana's eyes were utterly mad, like something that had chosen to be crazy because life was too boring. Her pupils were huge and black and her hair staticked all around her face. She had streaks of blood on her face, warpaint of the clone age, and her hands shook. She stared right into my eyes and I wondered, who was playing with whom here? Seemed like Alex had met his match in evil for once. I was tempted to open the door and get out of the way just to see what would happen. Just open the door and let her in. I couldn't stop watching her talk, smiling around his plastic fingers.
The deadbolt snicked open. I had time to muzzily wonder if she had telepathic powers when I ripped my eyes from hers to see my own hand reaching for the door lock. I tried to stop, I did. I wasn't sure what the hell I was doing. But, luckily or un - , Krycek's hand closed on my arm. His warm, heavy hand forced me around to look at him.
"Spender," he sighed, "Why did Bluebeard give his wife the damn keys to the little room anyway?"
I tried to say, I have no idea. I didn't know what he was talking about.
He pushed me out of the way and I stood stupidly in the corner as he aimed my gun at the door and shot two precise holes through it at chest-level. Then he tossed the gun at me and said, "Nothing personal. In case she's hit, I can pin it on you." I didn't bother to remind him that I was dead.
But she wasn't hit. At least, Krycek looked through the peephole and sighed, running his hand through his hair, and then opened the door and retrieved his arm, which was hanging on the doorknob. Diana Fowley had disappeared, leaving not even a bloodstain or footprint behind. Krycek shut the door and slid the deadbolt back into place.
"Sorry to stick you with the bloody key, Jeffrey," he said. "I don't know what I'm doing sometimes."
"I don't know what you're doing either," I said. I felt like someone had smacked me in the head with a cannonball. I felt a weird sense of deja vu. Had this happened before? Had I simply done her bidding without thinking, just because I looked into her eyes? And then a scarier thought presented itself to me.
Did my father do what she wanted, too? Maybe, like Bluebeard had eight wives, she had eight lovers. And she killed them, one by one. Was my father number eight? Was Alex?
"I'm going to bed," said Alex.
"Aren't you worried that she'll get in the house?" I asked. My hands were shaking.
"Vampires like her have to be invited," he said with a smirk. I don't think he meant it literally. He moved toward the bedroom, picking up my gun from the floor and wishing me a cordial goodnight.
I won two hundred and seven games of Minesweeper that night. But I didn't sleep.
Bluebeard's wife, on her knees, had begged: Please, please don't kill me. I'll never tell anyone what I saw! I'll never say a word! But still, Bluebeard almost swiped off her head. She only escaped because she had two strong brothers. The other seven wives didn't have anyone. And neither do I.
Well, I was having a bad day, hence the weird story. But you gotta wonder what they were doing together, don't ya? I'll never tell.
Note: A www text for Bluebeard can be found at this gopher site. You can find anything on the Web! I swear!
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