Disclaimer: The characters belong to Showtime and Jeff Lindsay. The title belongs to Suzanne Vega. The story belongs to me.
Author's Note: Takes place three months after the events of season two. This can be read as a stand-alone, but it works better as a follow-up to "Water Through a Rusted Pipe," which is linked from my profile.
Something is Cracking
My sister is avoiding me. It isn't obvious to anyone who isn't watching for it; I mean, she isn't refusing to speak to me or walking the other way when she sees me. No, to anyone who might care to look, nothing at all has changed between us. But I can sense a coolness in her demeanor that wasn't there before. And she doesn't bug me anymore about not talking to her.
It's been five days since I told her that I killed Lila, and even though I only let her dip a toe into the volcanic river of my truth, I am beginning to think that even that was too much.
At the time, she seemed fine. I calmed her down, we shared another beer, and we avoided the subject for the rest of the evening, talking instead about Rita and the kids, and how glad Deb was that the bastard who attacked her would finally get put away. I don't know what's changed since then. Maybe she just needs time to process it all. Maybe if I let her have the space she obviously wants, she'll understand it – or at least accept it.
Luckily, giving people space is one of the few things that I have always been good at, even without practice.
Besides, tonight I have other things to occupy my time.
Ever since I had to let John Dillon walk away in handcuffs instead of garbage bags, I have been on edge. It isn't very often that I whet my appetite and then walk away unfulfilled, and I don't like it one bit. But caution must still be observed, so I have taken my time tracking down and investigating my newest playmate. To be precise, I have taken five days.
So tonight, I will take Rita out for a lovely dinner, pick Astor and Cody up from the neighbor's, drop them all off, and bow out early on the pretext of too much work to finish. After that, I will introduce myself to a certain gentleman by the name of Philip Garto. I will introduce him to five young men who might look familiar – I only have photographs, and they're so very sorry that they couldn't be here in person, but there's the minor inconvenience of their mysterious deaths – and then I will introduce him to my beautiful collection of knives, which will be there in person.
The club is called the Pink Flamingo, and its logo is exactly that: a neon cartoon of the bird in question, superimposed on a rainbow-colored background. It's gaudy, it's bold, and its meaning is unmistakable. I have been here once before, and that was enough to observe my prey in his role as predator. But he won't be able to strike again; tonight, this is my hunting ground.
There's a bouncer at the door, but since tonight is a Tuesday and there's only a short line to get in, he waves me through without even a second glance. As usual, I am as unassuming as can be. Black jeans, black shirt, black shoes: the same clothes that at least half the men inside will be wearing. In short, I will only be noticed by the one person that I want to notice me.
The bar isn't terribly crowded, but the floor is, and the air pulsates with a retro beat as some singer declares over and over again that he doesn't feel like dancing. It seems like the majority of the crowd doesn't share his sentiments, though; even the guys on the sidelines are at least bobbing their heads to the rhythm. So I do the same. I head immediately over to the bar, sit down, and order two cranberry sodas.
When the drinks arrive, I set one of them down in front of the empty stool next to mine, and slowly sip the other. I scan every face on the dance floor for the slicked-back hair and hawk nose of Philip Garto, but to anyone who might take a closer look, I am just another guy saving a seat for his date. Few people approach me, and when they do, I tell them with a meaningful smirk that this seat's taken.
A mere fifteen minutes go by before I spot my target. He is leaving the dance floor, led by a young blond man who is gesturing and talking at a rapid pace. Garto merely looks bored, giving the young man nothing but shrugs and short answers. After a few minutes of this, the blond guy gives Garto a suggestive little peck on the lips and inclines his head toward the door to the bathrooms. Garto nods and gives him a Just A Minute gesture, and they part ways.
The blond guy heads toward the bathroom. Garto heads straight for the bar.
I move the second drink toward my own seat.
It takes a minute, but I catch his eye – not with the come-hither look that I see on a lot of the other guys here, but with a wry half-smile that's one eye-roll away from sarcastic. Maybe I am bored, maybe annoyed, maybe above it all. Whatever intention I project, it's a part I play well. It's the same part that Philip Garto plays.
Returning my expression with a matching one of his own, he comes over and sits down next to me. "Damn kids, huh?" he says without preamble, nodding in the direction that the blond guy had gone. "Try to get in your pants and get you to take them home, but then you find out they got classes the next day or their mommies want them home by eleven or something."
In other words, they'll be missed too soon. But I just say, "Tell me about it."
"You too, huh?" he says, and orders a shot of Jameson.
"Sure," I say. "I mean, I didn't move all the way down here to be a sugar-daddy to some little thing who's still in the closet, you know?"
Suddenly, he's interested. "You new in town?"
In other words, I will not be missed. I smile and take the bait. "Yup. Just moved down here, what is it, two weeks ago? Two and a half. Whatever. Bad break-up, bad job, bad life in general. I needed a new start. I'm Dave, by the way," I add, holding out my hand.
He shakes it. "Phil," he says, then gestures to my rapidly emptying second drink. "What's your poison?"
"Vodka cranberry," I lie, and then give a little chuckle. "But I'm all set. It's already going to my head a little."
His drink arrives, and he tosses it back like water. "Me too," he says, then gives a fake laugh and studies me for a moment. I just keep smiling.
"Hey, listen," he says after a moment, "you want to go somewhere?"
I raise my eyebrows. "What about Blondie in the bathroom?"
"Oh God," he sighs, rolling his eyes. "Don't even joke about that. Come on."
"My place or yours?" I ask, knowing full well what his answer will be. It's the same answer every time.
"Yours, if it's okay," he says with an apologetic wince. "I got a roommate."
"Ouch," I say, mimicking his wince. "Yeah, my place is fine. Can we take your car, though? Mine got a flat on the way over, and I'm gonna have to get it towed tomorrow."
No need to tell him that I left my car at home, taking the bus instead so I wouldn't be followed.
"Whatever," he says.
As we leave, he tosses a five dollar bill onto the bar for his whiskey. A lousy tipper. Clearly, he must die.
Garto leads me across the empty parking lot to his car, a sleek and expensive-looking thing with conveniently tinted windows, and beeps the doors open. "Let me just throw this in the back seat," I say, gesturing to my black messenger bag. He shrugs and gets in the driver's seat without waiting for me.
I put the bag in the car, then I slide in after it, slipping a length of fishing line out of my pocket. "What are you doing?" he says into the rearview mirror. "I'm not a fucking chauffeur. Come sit up fr—"
But he doesn't get to finish the word, because in a matter of millisecond, I have the line around his neck. It's a tried-and-true method, and one of my favorites. He gurgles and flails, and I tug the garrote a little.
"I think I'm fine back here," I tell him amiably. "Now, drive."
I consider Philip Garto.
He lies motionless on the table, in eleven cleanly cut pieces. Five of those pieces are toes. Two are arms, one severed above the elbow, one just below. One is a toeless foot. Two more comprise the rest of the leg. The last piece is the rest of him, with a head, one leg, and two half-arms still attached.
Saw in hand, I look at the puzzle of his former life, wondering which piece should come off next. Oh, it will all come apart eventually, but the result isn't the point. The point is the ritual, the precise order in which the puzzle must be disassembled. It's different for each person. I can usually figure it out, guided by the same inner need that drives me to my knives in the first place, and there is a sense of fluidity, of peace, when I get it right. Which I usually do.
But right now, there is only frustration. For some reason, I can't figure this one out.
Perhaps it's because I killed him too soon?
When he first woke up, he was already fastened securely to the table with blood dribbling down his cheek. I touched one gloved finger to the slide in my pocket as I watched him take in his surroundings. I'd set up the kill space in a small corner of a larger room, in a building that was once a YMCA. Sheets of plastic separated me and Garto from the rest of the empty space, and all was silent.
Closing his eyes, he said, "Thank you for testing me, Lord. I pray you, give me the strength to overcome this challenge."
I politely asked him who he was talking to.
His eyes opened and focused on me for the first time since the car. "Oh," he said, "it's you. You've been sent to test me."
I considered for a moment. "All right. Let's have a test. First and only question, worth one hundred points. Multiple choice. Which of the following will I cut off first? A finger, a toe, an ear, or a whole hand?"
My gloved hands tingled with anticipation, and I knew that whichever he chose would be right. Perhaps I'd even let him choose the second cut, too.
Sadly, he didn't seem inclined to play along. He stared at me for a moment, then squeezed his eyes shut and started muttering under his breath. I had to lean closer to understand, but I caught one "fruit of thy womb" and realized it was a prayer. I rolled my eyes and sliced off one of his toes.
The first cut felt perfect. A shiver ran up my spine, and I was struck by inspiration. I took all of the other toes from the same foot, in quick succession.
I glanced up at him, and was thoroughly impressed. Usually they were screaming after a cut or two; and though he was shaking and sweating, he was still speaking in coherent sentences. "You can't kill me," he said through clenched teeth. "I'm doing God's work."
This was interesting. "God's work?" I inquired. "And what might that be?"
He looked hard at me. "If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, they shall surely be put to death," he said. I can only assume it was a quote.
"So you seduce men," I said slowly, gesturing to the photographs I'd placed around his table. "And then you sleep with them, and kill them in the name of God. How very holy of you."
"Sleep with them!" he fumed. "I never fucking touch them. They're abominations, a disgrace and a scourge and and and..."
I never got to find out what else they supposedly were, since he died in mid-sentence. Probably because of my butcher knife, which was lodged firmly in his chest.
It was a thrilling moment, watching someone die in the throes of anger and hatred rather than fear; but once it had passed, I was left with the sense that something was slightly off.
And now here I am, standing in front of a half-dismembered corpse, completely at a loss. Should I have let him feel a major limb coming off before he died? Should I have tried to make him see that what he was doing wasn't very holy at all? Should I have killed him exactly when I did, just in a different way?
Focus. I need to focus.
Well, if it's too late to achieve perfection tonight, then at the very least I can finish the job. I can get the details right, even if I've missed the big picture.
I lift the saw and let it choose where it wants to fall. It lands right across his navel. I adjust it until the angle is just right, and then I put pressure on it and begin to cut.
The blade goes back and forth, cutting deeper and deeper in time to the rhythm I give it, and I begin to lose myself again in the glorious imperfection of it all. After a few minutes, I strike bone. I lean all of my weight into the saw, preparing to sever the spine, and—
"Holy fucking goddamn motherfucking fuck!"
My heart leaps into my throat; the saw screeches inelegantly against Garto's spine and then clatters to the floor as I lose my grip. I look around frantically for the intruder, and after a couple of confused seconds, I finally focus on the source of the voice.
A corner of one of the plastic sheets has been torn from the ceiling, leaving a long, triangular opening into the world beyond my cocoon. Poking through the triangle is a gun. And behind the gun, a face.
My sister's face.
"Fuck," she says, her voice shaking wildly as she keeps her gun trained on me. "Oh, fuck. Dex. Fuck."
In a split second, all my adrenaline fades away. Every ounce of my blood pools in my feet. I feel myself sway, and I grab the table for support. I watch her. She looks at the things that surround me. I look at them too. Sheets of plastic coating the floor and the walls and the table. My knives, some bloodied and some not, arranged just so. A saw lying haphazardly on the floor. Eleven (almost twelve) pieces of a body. And hanging over everything, the overpowering stench of fresh blood.
Debra visibly fights the urge to be sick, and some mad part of me is proud that despite this, she is able to keep the gun steady.
I am steady too. Frozen in place. Turned inside out. Naked. The end. Alas, poor Dexter. I knew him, or I thought I did.
After a moment, I allow myself to breathe. "Where's your backup?" I ask evenly. I need to know exactly what I'm up against.
"Do I need backup?" she asks me in a hollow voice. "Do I need someone to protect me from you?"
"No," I say automatically, but for a fleeting moment I wonder if I mean it.
Rule number one. Don't get caught.
"I came here alone," she says. "I didn't know... this was... but I didn't think..."
The fragments of her thoughts start to coalesce into a story. "You followed me," I say.
Next logical step: "You've been following me since Thursday night."
She nods again.
I am tempted to ask why, but in this blinding moment of clarity, I find that I already know. She didn't need time to deal with the truth about Lila's death. No, she needed me to let down my guard so she could find the truth behind the truth. And now she knows.
I should feel angry. I know I should. But I don't.
I am nervous, even panicked, woozy with the drunken sensation of being completely exposed... but not angry.
"Deb," I say quietly, "put the gun down." I move imploringly toward her, certain that I can make her understand.
"Don't you fucking dare come closer," she spits, and her knuckles turn white as she grips the gun even harder.
Please. Just stay away.
"Okay," I say. My voice is calm, soothing. "This is all in your hands, Deb. What happens now?"
"Now?" she echoes faintly. She shakes her head quickly back and forth. "I don't know, I don't fucking know, I don't... Dexter..."
She pauses to pass a hand over her forehead, then looks me squarely in the eye. It's a good imitation of Harry, at least until she speaks again. "Please," she says, her frightened tone clashing horribly with the gun she still holds. "Please, just tell me you didn't do this."
Here I stand, drenched in Philip Garto's blood, with a saw at my feet, and this is what she asks me? I mean, to be fair, I know that she isn't serious. She's grasping at invisible straws. My sister may be many things, but she isn't blind.
To save us both from the indignity of obvious lies, I ignore the question.
"Deb, listen," I say gently. "You have three choices. You can leave right now, and we'll talk later if you want to. Or you can arrest me and bring me down to the station. Or you can shoot me right here and be done with it. It's your call."
Multiple choice, worth one hundred points. I honestly don't know which one she'll choose, but whatever it is, it will be the right choice. Somehow, this knowledge calms me.
She closes her eyes. The gun falters and lowers, just a little. I breathe.
After a moment, she looks at me again. "Finish," she tells me.
My heart quickens, and I feel dizzy again. I am certain that I've misheard her. "What?" I ask stupidly.
"I want you to finish... this," she says. The hollow sound has crept back into her voice, and her eyes glisten. "I want you to make it so that this never happened. Then I want you to sit down, look me in the eyes, and tell me what the fuck is going on."
"You want me to—?"
"You heard me. This never happened. Do it." The look on her face is so furious, so determined, that I almost want to hug her. Don't worry, it's just a dream. When you wake up this will all be gone and I'll be good old Dexter again, your quirky and reliable and not at all homicidal big brother.
But it occurs to me that in my current blood-soaked state, a hug might do her more harm than good.
"All right," I say slowly. I look around, mentally picking up the pieces of my half-finished puzzle. Obviously there's no hope of perfection now, even in the details. All that matters now is getting the pieces small enough to fit in the bags.
The garbage bags.
Full of human body parts.
Has she recognized the similarities already? When will she figure it out?
My head is spinning. I can't focus. I need to get the other leg off. And the head. Do I use a saw? A knife? Where do I cut? Does it matter? Does any of it matter now that there's messy disgusting blood everywhere and she's staring at me with the gun pointed and I can't think?
I can't believe I didn't know she was following me.
I look at her: at those hard, narrowed eyes, and at the gun. My face feels hot. I can't finish if she's watching. I just can't.
"Deb?" I venture. "Will you. Um. I don't want you to look."
"You're fucking joking," she snorts. I shake my head. "No. No way. I'm not leaving this room until you do."
"You don't have to leave the room. Just close up the plastic. Just... just don't watch."
"No!" she shouts. "I asked you to tell me, Dexter. Remember last week? I asked you to tell me what was going on, and you were like whatever, fuck that, can't be bothered. You just fed me some piece of shit story about Lila and expected me to buy it, no questions asked, like I always do. No more. If you don't have the balls to tell me what you are, then I want you to fucking show me."
I stare at her.
I've often thought about what might happen if Deb found out about me. And I've imagined it many ways – but this? I never imagined this.
And I think I know why.
Harry was the only person in my life who ever fully knew, understood, and accepted me. Or so I thought, until very recently. His lessons brought me to the edge of the moment (secure bindings, no chance of escape) and picked up again when it was over (everything gone, no evidence), but once he saw what happened in between, he couldn't handle it. Maybe that's why, somewhere in the back of my mind, I never thought anyone could handle it. But now, the in-between is exactly what my sister wants to see.
This is no longer some distorted mirror image of Harry standing before me. This is Debra – but a new Debra. A Debra who is just starting to realize that she's been fed lies her entire life, and now wants nothing less than the stark, absolute, bottom-line truth. And as much as I hate it, I have to respect her for it.
Not that respect will make this any easier.
She raises the gun again, aiming right at my chest. "Do it now. Do it, or I will call for backup."
My face burns.
"Fine," I whisper.
I move to the other side of the table; even though I'm pretty sure she isn't going to shoot me, I don't like turning my back on a loaded gun. I bend down and pick up the saw again. Finish the job. Just finish the job. I lean down over Garto, searching in vain for a hint of the need that drove me before. It isn't there, and I somehow doubt that it will show its face again tonight. So all I can do is avoid my sister's gaze as I position the saw between the bloody halves of the torso and, with a quick succession of cuts that have never before seemed so loud, sever the spine.
I make the next cut on the mid-thigh, the fastest way to create two manageable pieces of the large and unwieldy one. It's hasty, haphazard, and completely wrong. I can hear my sister retching in the background, and my well-trained predator's mind thinks of rule number one, thinks that this is the perfect moment to knock the gun from her hands, thinks how easy it would be to end this humiliation for good.
I chance a look back at her. Despite the retching noises, she hasn't actually thrown up. But she is crying silently, tears streaming from her wide eyes, and I am struck by how young she suddenly seems. The gun, still steady in her hands, is the only thing that keeps her from looking like a frightened teenager. Maybe, I think fleetingly, that's why she's still holding it.
I don't cut the head off. As much as I want to, and as essential to the puzzle as it seemed mere minutes before, it just isn't necessary anymore. So I clean my tools, quickly and expertly, and I begin to pack. Larger pieces first, then the smaller ones, then the supplies, stuffed neatly into their flimsy plastic caskets.
The inevitable "Oh my god" comes softly from behind as I am tying up the second bag.
I don't turn around. "Oh my god what?" I ask her, even though I already know what the answer is.
She doesn't answer right away. But I can feel her watching me until finally, I have to look at her. She tries to say it: "The... it's you? But you... but Doakes... I didn't... I never..."
"I know," I say calmly.
Her eyes narrow, and she gives me a penetrating once-over. "Your pockets," she says.
"What about them?" I ask cautiously. My fingers are suddenly cold, and I squeeze them into fists.
"Slide," she manages to choke out. "He always – you always – there was always a slide. Is there still?"
I think about telling her no, because she doesn't, she couldn't, understand about the slides. But the gun, in its pointed silence, asks the question even more loudly than my sister does.
"Deb, come on," I say gently, easing her away from the subject, "you can put the gun down. I'm not going to do anything to you."
The gun stays where it is. "Answer the goddamn question," she orders.
I divest one hand of its glove, and it sneaks into my pocket and closes around the cool glass. "Yes," I tell her. She lifts her eyebrows, and I pull it out and show it to her, hoping hoping hoping that she won't take it away from me.
"Oh my god," she says again, faintly.
I can't watch her process this. I put the slide back in my pocket, replace the glove, and continue packing.
After a while, Debra runs out of tears. I pretend not to notice, and keep my focus on packing the body, packing the plastic on the floor and on the walls and on my shoes, and getting rid of anything with blood on it. (But she knows it was there.) My shirt goes in a separate bag to bleach later, when I get home. (If she lets me get home.)
With a clean pair of gloves on, I wrap the bags tightly and secure them with far more tape than they really need. (She cringes at the sound of the tape.) I know the floor is spotless, but I check it with luminol just in case. (Does it cross her mind that I stole it from work?) I pull on my first shirt, the black one that I wore to the club. And I turn back to my sister.
"See?" I say with cautious pride. "It never happened."
"What do you do now?" she asks me rigidly, gesturing toward the pile of trash bags. "With those?"
I raise an eyebrow at her, and even chance a smile. Has it really taken her so little time to forget the basic facts of the case?
After a moment she shakes her head, realizing. "The boat?" she says. "Still? What, are you asking to get caught?"
Something in my chest seems to open up. I let out a few breaths before allowing myself to speak. "You don't want me to get caught?" I say, not even minding that I suddenly sound five years old.
She gapes, and her arms seem to turn suddenly into jelly, falling limply to her sides. She seems to have forgotten the gun. "You complete idiot," she breathes, on the verge of tears again. "Of course I don't. You're my fucking brother, asshole."
"Oh," I say weakly. It's a poor substitute for everything I should say, and want to say, but it's all I can manage.
Her mouth twitches, like she's going to smile or shout or relax. But she does none of these. After a moment, she says, "I'm not helping you carry the... those. If that's what you're waiting for."
I nod. Finish the job. Make it so that it never happened.
I take a bag in each hand and head for the door. Alert and wary, she follows.
"What did he do?"
The voice is so small that it takes me a moment to register that it's Deb. She hasn't spoken since we left the kill site, but it hardly mattered; her presence alone was so very loud. Never before had I loaded the remains of a body onto my boat with someone watching. Never before had someone looked over my shoulder while I dumped my cargo over the side. But tonight Debra experienced every moment of it, silent as a ghost the entire time.
Now, apparently, she's ready.
"What did who do?" I ask from my spot on the deck, where I am sitting cross-legged, keeping a respectful distance from my sister and her fists. She won't look at me anymore now that the deed is done, preferring instead to study her own sneakered feet.
"That guy," she says, raising her eyes a little to look into the black water, where Garto's remains have disappeared. "I was the one who figured out that he – you – whatever, that the Bay Harbor Butcher only kills killers. What did he do?"
"Do you really have to keep calling me that?" I say.
She starts to smile, then catches herself. "You're avoiding the question. I want you to tell me the truth."
"All right, fine. His name was Philip Garto. He went to that club, the Pink Flamingo, seduced men, and killed them. Said he did it in the name of some god, too."
Clearly stricken, she finally meets my eyes. "Those poor guys," she whispers. "What a perverted fuckwad."
I shrug my assent, giving her a There You Have It gesture. Harry probably would have called Garto's crimes "terrible," favoring dramatic understatement over vehement language, but Deb has summarized the situation quite well in her own way.
A few more minutes roll by, and she doesn't speak. I gaze out over the ocean, empty of all human life at three in the morning, and I try to pretend that I'm alone and relaxing after a satisfying night. It doesn't work.
I ask Deb if she wants me to take her home.
"Dexter, haven't you been listening to me?" she says.
"You haven't been talking," I point out reasonably.
She makes a frustrated sound and clutches at her hair. "Jesus Christ," she mutters. "I told you. I want answers. I want the truth."
"You just saw the truth," I say. "I kill bad guys. I chop up their bodies. I throw them in the ocean. What else do you want from me?"
She gives me a withering look. "Goddammit, you know what I want. I want real answers, you know, the kind you never seem to want to give me. The other night, you said that you killed Lila, you don't feel bad about it, and Dad thought you were a sociopath, but you're not. So? What the fuck? Dad, what, knew you liked killing people? Seems pretty fucking sociopathic to me."
There's that word again. "I don't know," I say irritably. "A real sociopath isn't supposed to be able to feel anything at all."
"But you do."
"I didn't, for a really long time." I pause, shifting my weight uncomfortably and not really looking at her. "But now... I think I do. Sometimes. I don't know."
"So you're a serial killer with an identity crisis," she says flatly. "That's real comforting, Dex. I feel a lot better."
A little laugh escapes me, and I'm pleased when a small smile creeps across her face too. "I didn't know you wanted me to comfort you," I smirk. "I thought you wanted truth."
"Careful what you wish for," she says soberly, and sighs in frustration. "I mean, I knew something funny was going on after we talked last week, but I thought maybe, I don't know... something else. Not this. I never, ever would have thought this. I mean, hell, I had an easier time believing you were secretly gay, when I saw you going into that club. I even thought that maybe that old building was some kind of secret meeting place, or something. But you didn't come out for hours, and..."
"Yeah, not gay," I say lightly. "Sorry to disappoint."
She lets out a halfhearted "Heh," and looks at her feet again, gathering her thoughts. "So what did you mean about Dad knowing?" she asks. "He seriously knew you killed people?"
"He taught me how."
For a minute it seems like she's going to choke. She searches my face for some sign of jest, but of course there is none. "What," she sputters, "now you're gonna tell me Dad killed people too?"
"No, no," I say quickly. "Harry would never. I mean. I'm not sure how to explain." I take a deep breath, and I look away, but I continue. "There was this... this thing, already inside me. Whatever it is that makes people need to kill. Harry saw it. He said it wouldn't ever go away. So he showed me how to, um, to use it for good."
Use it for good.
I first heard those words come out of Harry's mouth such a long time ago, and I've since repeated them countless times in my head. But somehow, when I say them out loud, they sound trite. Insubstantial. Even childish. A small excuse for something so huge that my poor sister can't even wrap her mind around it.
But at least she's trying, which is a lot more than I have any right to expect. In fact, I am fairly amazed at just how calm she is. Her voice is even, her body is still, and she hasn't shown any signs of wanting to throw me overboard. Yet.
Maybe she has gone numb.
"So you were like, hey Dad, I want to kill people," she says. "And Dad was like, sure, okay, but here's a list of the people you're allowed to kill."
My life, in a nutshell. My sister definitely has a way with words. "Something like that," I say wryly.
"Right." Her hands start to shake, and she rubs them together like she's trying to start a fire. "Okay. But I mean – why? Why would you want – why would anyone want to kill in the first place? Taking people's lives? That's—"
I see something snap into place behind her eyes, and she looks sharply down at me. "Did something happen to you? Before Mom and Dad adopted you?"
"Yes," I tell her. She looks expectantly at me, waiting for the rest. The truth, the truth, she wants the truth. Almost unconsciously, I draw my knees up against my chest, creating a shield of sorts. And I decide: not just the truth. The whole truth. It's time.
"I was there when my mother was killed," I say, and I dimly register the expression of horror on her face. "My mother and three guys. They were all cut into pieces with a chainsaw. I was... we were... we were too young, maybe, so they left us alone. We sat in a pool of blood for days before Harry found us."
"Us?" she echoes.
Here it is. I look her right in the eyes. "Harry took me home. He left my brother behind."
For a moment there is nothing but the faint sound of water against the hull. Then she speaks. "You have a brother."
"Had," I correct her softly. "I spent thirty-three years not knowing he existed. But he knew about me. He tracked me down. He's dead now." A breath. "I killed him."
Even through the thick darkness, I can see fear begin to creep over her features. She reaches for her gun again, and I suddenly realize the possible implications of what I've told her. I killed a brother. Why not a sister, too?
"No, Deb," I say quickly. "Listen to me. I had to kill him. He tried to kill you."
She freezes in momentary confusion, before the realization hits her like a tidal wave. "Rudy."
"Brian," I say. Biney. I don't tell her that part.
Her hands start to shake again, but she doesn't try to stop them this time, and it spreads through her until her teeth start to chatter. It's cold, I realize. Well, of course it's cold. We're out on the water, and it's three in the morning. "I keep an extra sweatshirt on board," I tell her. "Do you want it?"
She narrows her eyes. Doesn't reply. Shivers. To catch pneumonia, or to wear something that her brother and his blood-stained hands have touched? A noble question, perhaps, but a stupid one. I stand up and go to retrieve the sweatshirt, one of the few souvenirs I have from my days at the University of Miami.
"There isn't blood on it or anything," I say pointedly, holding it out to her.
She puts it on, and keeps on thinking. Sorting out words in her head, probably, just like I do.
"You didn't know until it was too late," she says shakily, not even daring to turn it into a question in case she's wrong. "About him being your brother. Or you would have told me."
I crouch down beside her, sitting on my heels. I think briefly about putting a comforting hand on her knee, and then decide against it. "I didn't know until he already had you."
She nods, blinking rapidly. She sniffles. Hides her eyes. "He had me strapped to that table," she whispers. "He knew. About you. He fucking knew. It was the same way you had that man. All the tape, and. And. Dex." She chokes on a sob, then lets words and tears spill out all at once: "He wanted you to kill me, didn't he."
I rock a little on my heels and wish I had something to occupy my hands with. Crying has always made me uneasy. "Yes," I say anxiously. "No. I mean, it wasn't really about that." I close my eyes, trying to block out her soft, wet sobs so I can explain. "It was more about, I think, symbolism? The old family and the new family, and which one I'd choose. Something like that."
When I look at her, her mouth is actually hanging open. "Symbolism," she says faintly. "You are so fucking kidding me. Fucking symbolism. My life" – here she slams the heel of her hand against her chest, her voice growing steadily louder with each word – "my life isn't a goddamn symbol. He wanted you to kill me!" she cries, and collapses into herself again, shaking and shaking.
I cringe as her words fade into the night, and instinct makes me peer cautiously into the darkness around us. The water is still empty; we're still alone.
"Yes," I say again. This time I do put my hand on her knee, and I remind her, "But I didn't."
"You didn't even – didn't even think about it?" she says in a small, uneven voice, and looks at me and waits for me to say no and of course not and how could she even ask that.
And I want to, but I pause because I remember that one little moment (maybe more than one, maybe many) when Brian was talking mercilessly at me about Harry and Deb and the code and how it was all fake, fake, fake, and I thought maybe it would be better to go out in a blaze of glory with everyone knowing exactly what I am, instead of living until I'm a very old man, keeping my dark secrets forever like Harry wanted, dying just another fake. And wouldn't it be a deliciously defiant way to begin, displaying a dismembered Debra for all the world to see?
But even though the thought was real for a passing instant, it was never truth. It was whimsical wondering, just like the everyday moments when I'm walking down the street and it suddenly occurs to me that I could slice up anyone I pass. I think those things all the time. It doesn't mean I'm actually going to do them.
I doubt that my sister would understand that, though. As it is, with each passing millisecond that I don't reply, her eyes grow a little bit wider. She pulls back from me a little bit more. She grows a little bit more afraid that the answer might be yes.
So I give her the fervent answer that she craves, hoping that sincerity will make up for time. I take one of her shivering hands, press it firmly between both of mine, and look directly into her eyes, just as Harry taught me so long ago. "Deb, you're my sister," I say, putting a clear emphasis on each word. "You're a good person. You don't deserve that, and I couldn't ever, ever do it."
That is the real and honest truth, I realize with a small measure of pride. I even think about adding a brotherly "I love you," but that might be a bit much, coming from a sociopath. Even a part-time sociopath.
She gives me a jerky nod, holding my gaze a few moments longer before she squeezes her eyes shut again. "Rudy," she says to herself. "Fucking Rudy."
"I know," I say, gripping her hand tighter.
"I just can't believe Dad—"
"—never told us about him," I finish smoothly. "Yeah. Me neither."
Utterly nonplussed, she stares at me. "No," she says slowly, as if I'm a particularly stupid child. "I mean about him teaching you that shit. I can't believe he'd fucking do that."
My ankles are starting to go numb, so I lower myself all the way to the deck and sit cross-legged again, hands folded in my lap. "Listen," I say. "Remember how Harry always said you can't change people? You can only help them become better versions of themselves?"
She nods; she heard that exact phrase just as many times as I did. She adds, "And he was always so angry when one of his perps got away..."
"Two birds with one stone," I shrug. "Those were the people I was allowed to kill."
Deb rubs her palms together again. "It makes sense," she says uneasily. "Still. It's Dad. I just can't believe it."
Well, he also committed suicide when he saw the better self he'd helped me become. Does that make it easier to believe? But I don't need to tell her that. Maybe someday, but not now. Not when I'm still trying to wrap my own mind around it.
So all I say is "Yeah."
Deb takes a very deep breath and then lets it out slowly. She looks out over the water, at nothing in particular that I can see. She has stopped shaking. "Let's go back," she says. "It's fucking freezing."
Ever the obedient sibling, I start the motor and turn us around. My boat, now apparently a confessional as well as a hearse, slides gracefully through the dark water; and I, its deadly captain, sit behind the wheel feeling raw and revealed... and oddly refreshed. They do say that confession is good for the soul. So if I feel good, does it mean I have a soul?
Unlikely. But you never know.
After a minute or two, Deb quietly rises from her seat and comes over to me. I scoot over to make room for her and, to my surprise, she sits down.
"You okay?" I say, with every ounce of affection I can muster.
She gives me a sidelong look and a disbelieving "Very funny." All right. That was a stupid question.
"You've really never killed anyone who wasn't a killer?" she asks.
"What about Lila?" she presses. "I mean, you and the kids got away."
"There were people before us who didn't get away," I reply.
For a moment I consider telling her about Doakes, but that's a can of worms that I don't want to open. Not until she's ready. She's still coming to terms with what I am, and that will take time. She'll rethink everything she knows about me, and about the so-called Bay Harbor Butcher, and she'll try to fit them together into a coherent whole. In doing so, she'll eventually realize that I tried to frame someone else for my crimes. I'll tell her about Lila's part in it, and my part, and she'll curse at me and hit me and maybe even turn me in. But probably not. If she doesn't turn me in after what she saw tonight, the odds are probably in my favor.
It's still about odds, though. Will she or won't she. A new bullet to dodge for as long as she lets me walk free.
Deb sniffles next to me, and the city lights grow closer.
"Are you going to keep doing it?" she asks me softly.
The question catches me off guard, and I look over at her. Isn't it obvious? You can't change people. That's the gospel according to Harry.
"Deb," I say carefully, "I told you, take me down to the station if that's what you want to do."
"That's the only way I'll get you to stop?"
"Or shoot me," I say with a timid smile.
She shakes her head. Smiles back, weakly. "Fucking asshole."
I shrug and turn back to the wheel. "I've been called worse," I say.
The marina looms closer and closer. Deb is quiet as I nose my boat into its space, moor it to the dock, and make sure everything is turned off and secured. "Shall we?" I say gallantly, and offer my hand to her.
Deb, being Deb, doesn't take it. She climbs nimbly off the boat and waits for me to follow. But as I start to head for the car (and I'll abandon it near the club, maybe, and we'll take the bus home), her eyes linger on something. She moves back toward the boat, and she stares.
"What?" I ask.
She turns toward me, eyes wide. "The Slice of Life," she says in disbelief, staring at the name she's seen a thousand times before, and registering its meaning for the first time. "Are you fucking serious?"
"Just my little joke," I say sheepishly.
"Hell of a joke," she says, and shakes her head. "You are a sick, sadistic bastard."
"Nice of you to notice," I smile.
She rolls her eyes, gives the boat one last disapproving look, and heads for Garto's car. I follow. But as I'm about to unlock it, she catches my eye. "This isn't okay, Dex," she says seriously. "We're not okay. You know that, right?"
"Will we be?"
Her lips press together in a thin line, and she studies my face for a moment. "I need time," she says.
I nod. I can give her that. She shivers against the cold, so I beep the car doors open and we get in. Her tears long gone, she sits stoically beside me: the first living, breathing person I've ever had beside me during one of my nighttime escapades.
I smile to myself, and we drive away into the dark morning.