"Would you say that I am mad?"

~The Cheshire Cat

Chapter one.

His night stand was often cluttered with things like broken time pieces and wrinkled cigar bands. She had told him time and time again not to smoke in the house, more or less their bedroom, and he didn't- sometimes he wondered if he just left them there to send her into a rage.

He slept a lot.

The time came and went, for the seasonal camping trip that he took, with his friend William Bell, and, like so many times before, Walter put it off, for one reason or another- Elizabeth needed help with the house or the yard, or with Peter (the child had the worst problem, with starting fires), or he needed to work some extra hours for a refrigerator payment. In any case, it seemed that, when he was at last allowed to leave, with William, their span of a week in the hills had been whittled down to no more than a single day.

So Walter and William threw on some boots and sunscreen and set out for what was certain to be a short-lived trip.

"Bish," William asked, after so long a stint of silence and pushing past pine branches, "Let's stop, for a few moments."

Walter paused, and looked back at him, "Alright."

They had brought little more with them than lunch and a bottle or two of water, but neither of them seemed terribly hungry or thirsty, so they took a seat on a nearby rock to watch the valley below.

"Bish?" William asked again, and Walter raised his brows in attention, "How are things? At home, I mean?"

Walter shrugged, "As well as can be expected, I suppose."

"I notice you don't talk much, anymore."

"What do you mean?"

William plucked at a stalk of grass that he could reach, twisting and examining it in his fingertips, "You just don't. At the lab, or anywhere else. I don't get to see you much."

"I'm usually rather busy, Belly. I'm sorry."

"Things were different, before Liz, that's for sure."

Walter laughed, "Yes, I suppose they were. But things are good, Belly- you should see how much Peter's growing. I blink and he's grown a foot, I swear."

William smiled, "I'm glad. He's a brilliant boy."

Walter only nodded, and took a sip from his canteen. Then, he sighed, "How are things with you, then? What have you been up to?"

"Chasing funding, as always. I don't stay in one place long- I've got to go back to Germany next week, even," William poked at Walter's ear with the grass, and Walter casually batted it away, "Things are pretty average."

Walter nodded. William twisted the grass into a loop and poked his finger through it.

They were both perfectly aware of their own misery.

Walter stilled in staring at William unseeingly, his half-shut eyes widening, "'You hear that?"

William glanced up, "What?"

"Shh." Walter climbed to his feet, looking up the hillside above them, and the glimpse of a salmon-colored shirt disappeared among the steep, jagged rocks, "Up there," Walter whispered, "I hear someone."

William stood, a few inches taller than Walter, squinting up in the direction he had indicated, "Well, we are on private property. I'm sure we wandered out of the state park a while ago. They must be from that private campground on the other side of the mountain."

"The place were they found that overdosed teenager?" and William nodded. Walter squinted up again, frowning, "Come on, Belly. Let's go."

"Let's go up there."

"Hmm?"

"Let's go see what they're up to. We're both good climbers, I bet they wouldn't hear us. The sound echoes down this valley, not up."

Walter considered for a few moments, and then glanced at the place of the sun in the sky. It would probably be dark, by the time they got back to the car… "Yeah, alright. Come on." Walter slung his canteen to the back of his hip, and started up the rocks.

Walter had always enjoyed climbing- not with the traditional ropes and safety equipment, but climbing by his own power, with his hands. There was something about clawing his way up a surface, low to the rock like a silent predator, that reminded him of younger days, when he would attempt to hunt fat, slow ground squirrels with nothing but his pocket knife, 'like an Apache'. Sometimes he would manage to capture them, but he was always scolded and told to let them loose.

William was sneaky, for such a lanky-looking fellow, and Walter felt that he appeared more like a spider than much else, as he teetered his way behind them. With silent lunging and scurrying, they hurried their way up the rock cliff, and Walter silently motioned for William to follow as they circled around behind their target. They ducked behind a rock, at last allowing their heavy breath to escape, waiting for a few moments for their hearts to slow. Walter wiped his lips on his forearm and crept out from cover, peeking down.

It was a blond woman in a pink tee-shirt and white chinos, wearing a pair of dark sunglasses and a fake tan. Walter could not make out her words, only that she was talking to someone, and suddenly another stranger appeared in view- a fat, bald man in khaki shorts and a dark shirt. By their loud comments and crass laughter and exaggerated motions, Walter surmised that they were intoxicated.

William was watching them over Walter's shoulder, frowning, "Looks like the campground type, all right."

Walter nodded, "I think we may be about to witness something rather unsightly, Belly."

William laughed quietly, "Fornication? I don't want to stick around for this."

"Me, neither."

They turned away from the two and headed off their own way.

They had made it all the way back to the state park before Walter's thoughts had fully formed themselves, "We could have killed them, Belly."

William nodded, "Yeah. But it's not the hardest thing in the world, to sneak up on a couple of drunken lovers getting lucky."

"I've heard that the cases that are the hardest for police to solve are spontaneous murders. Ones without reason or rhyme. There's nothing they can connect it to."

William nodded thoughtfully, "I'd heard that, too," he was silent, for a moment, and looked at Walter, "we should go back."

Walter laughed, "I didn't say that these people got away with it, Belly. They were all caught, you know."

"Of course they would be. But they're not us, Walt- I think we could do it. How would you do it?"

Walter considered, "Well… I guess there are a few ways that it could be done. I mean, it would depend entirely on what end you wanted to achieve."

"But to achieve an end would not make it a spontaneous murder."

Walter shook his head, "That's not what I meant. I meant that you would have to think, from the very beginning, about how you would want it to end."

"Define," William said, looking uncertain.

"Well, we could always make it look like an accident. It's the simplest, but apparently the one they bungle the most, it would seem. But it would be as simple as pushing them over a cliff, or pushing an unsteady rock on them. They're drunk, it happens."

"I don't think we should do it like that."

The fact that William kept referring to Walter's thoughts as actions seemed to further excite his theories, and Walter agreed with a nod, "Yes, I wouldn't like it, either."

"If I kill someone, I want something from it, I think. I don't think that the knowledge alone would sustain me. It seems rather pointless, otherwise."

"The common folly. Trophies, everyone knows about those."

"But what if they just disappeared? That happens, too."

Walter frowned at his friend, seeking clarification, "Define."

"Consider killing them and removing the bodies from the scene," William explained.

Walter thought like a moment, "But what to do, with the bodies? It all seems rather inconvenient, to me. But I suppose we could make it look like a bear attack, something of that kind?"

William nodded, "Perhaps. But it starts to get a little pear-shaped, then. Deniability starts to become uneasy, if they catch on to something. But if we don't leave evidence-"

Walter shook his head, "No such thing. There will always be evidence- one just has to find a way of making what little evidence there is seem too random."

"How would we do that?"

"I don't know." Walter laughed, "I guess that's why the gents get caught, being spontaneous. It's just too much to think about."

"I still think we could do it," William said. They walked on in silence, until they reached the car at the vacant ranger station, "Who would have thought we'd turn out to be crazy, Walt?"

Walter smiled, as he began to unlock the hatchback of the Vista Cruiser, pulling his canteen over his shoulder and tossing it into the back seat, "I wouldn't say that we're crazy. I would say that we're strange."

William fixed him with a stare somewhere between seriousness and eagerness, "We should go back and kill them, Walter."

They stared at each other for a few moments, hearts pounding. Walter was the first to lower his eyes, a bit too quickly not to look guilty, "We can't- not now, in any case. The thing about murder is that it is a thing of convenience- it's too inconvenient, now. It has to be perfect from the start. Our tracks are all over the place, and they're probably long gone, by now."

William nodded, "I suppose you're right."

They sang tunelessly to a cassette of Steve Miller Band on the way back to Walter's house, as if the entire discussion had not taken place, and stopped for a beer or two, before dropping William off at his hotel. William only departed with a smile and a cheerful, "See you, Bish," but Walter knew that both of their thoughts lay on different things.

Elizabeth was not pleased that he was late, more or less of the faint sent of alcohol on his breath and clothes. She only continued with the book keeping, something she often did, when she was displeased. Walter retired before her, and he had only slept a few hours before he awoke to the feel of her warm hand across his heart and her soft breath on his shoulder. He climbed out of bed and quietly left the bedroom, making his way into his study and shutting the door. He scooped the telephone off the desk and settled on the window seat, watching the streetlamp outside before he lifted the receiver, and dialed William's hotel and extension.

"Hello?"

"We should have gone back and killed them, William."

xXx