Soon I would have to struggle home from work. It was the hardest part, the walk home. My job kept me alone in front of a dozen monitors, watching empty halls at night. It was a lonely job, but it kept me safe, insulated from the abrasive buzzing of humanity.
There were my coworkers, of course. My relief would arrive soon. Funny word, that. ‘Relief’. Those hours alone, they were the purest, most relaxing hours of my day. Then Josh showed up. His mind was full of whatever woman he was wooing at the time. Lust whined constantly, and his pride was like the squeak of a thumb on a clean plate, never ending. He’d made progress with someone if it was this loud.
He’d never actually told me of his conquests. He was actually something of a gentleman in that regard. It should seem odd that someone so consumed with sex and the pursuit of sex should be a gentleman in any way, but I knew human nature too intimately to be surprised. When you understood people well enough, you came to realize that the contradictions within a human are what made them…human.
“Yo, Simeon, I know you said no, but are you sure you don’t want to go to the company cookout? There are gonna be some ladies there. I think Elena said–”
Ignoring him, I closed the door on his voice. I was left in a basement hallway, intermittent fluorescent lights flickering along its length. As I walked, the tap of my shoes kept time with the drip of water somewhere far away. On another plane, the soft roar of human emotion got louder and louder, rising along with the more mundane sounds of traffic. I opened the door onto the street to car horns and shouting that carried almost as much stress as the cacophony of emotion that bore down on me.
There was no way to describe the disharmony that assaulted me. It was like listening to two pieces of music at once, harmonious tones mixing into discordancy. Unlike music, the sound of five minds didn’t blend into background noise – every emotion remained distinct and every new voice only added to the dissonance that assaulted me. I steeled myself, marching through the mental hail, intent on getting home.
There was an odd note. There was no stress in it, no hesitation or fear. It had a clarity I’d never heard before. As it began to rain I came to an intersection where I would normally turn left. After a moment of hesitation, I crossed the street to turn right, following that unusual clarity. It led me to a small coffee shop, and there I did a rare thing; I turned my focus on the minds inside.
The barista wanted to get a divorce but didn’t know how to bring it up with his wife. He was having an affair, thinking it would destroy the relationship. He was wracked with shame over what he was doing. If he were stronger, he could end it quietly, maybe even kindly, instead of burning the relationship down.
The man sitting at the bar sipping his coffee was a cop. No, a detective. He was watching somebody. There was alertness in him. He was watching someone. A killer?
I turned my mind to the woman in line. Here it was, that music. That hard, calm, confident mind. I walked inside and got in line behind her. Somehow just being close clarified the clamoring minds around me. She had lured a man from an alley into someone else’s basement with the promise of favors and killed him. The furnace provided the means to dispose of the body, and of the drugs he had carried.
She was a selfish woman – other people were mostly a means to an end for her. Something in her clung to society, and this part of her argued that she did the community a service, she stopped a dealer that got kids on drugs. Though that may have been a result, it wasn’t her motive. Her compulsion to kill was more primal than things like reasons and motives.
I suddenly realized that I was in the eye of a storm. The minds around me were clarified. The world changed from a blare of discordance to thousands of songs. It was suddenly possible to hear the beauty of each melody, as if I were alone with each person behind stone walls. Staying close to this woman could change my life. She was a killer, but that kind of safe harbor was nothing I’d known in my life. But if I protected her . . . how much of the blood she spilled would be on my hands?
I spent a moment mourning for the decision that I already knew I would make. I could feel a fragment of my soul darkening as I committed myself. “If you want to stay free, do not turn around.”
I knew she had no fear. She wouldn’t give herself away by startling. It was part of the reason she could kill. Fear and distress didn’t fit into her mental jigsaw puzzle. She didn’t know these things. Because she couldn’t feel them, she did not have empathy for the pain and fear of others. “Don’t look, but the man two seats from the far right at the window is a detective. The man at the corner table to your right is his partner. They waited here to pick up your trail. They suspect, rightly, that you intend to clean up your tools today. When you go to destroy the evidence on your knives, they will be there to arrest you.”
There was tension in her stance, but she lived up to my expectations and didn’t flinch or look. She was confused though, and I took a moment to marvel that I was able to be present for that kind of confusion without being overwhelmed by it. “I know. I have my reasons. We’ll discuss them later. For now, I will take care of your evidence. They aren’t sure enough of themselves. If you’re careful, you can throw them off.” I paused as her thoughts raced.
He KNOWS? Knows what? Knows I wanted to know why? But I didn’t say it! I didn’t give a single goddamn signal, so what does he think he knows? Does it matter? He knows about the kill. He knows about the tools. And so do the cops, now. It’s time to disappear. We’ll give him a chance first. Let’s see what he does. He’ll show his colors. I just have to be more prepared for whatever’s coming than he is. He’ll be of use, or he’ll be dead, too.
Her thoughts were like quicksilver, agile and quick and frenetic in her concern. Never had I had been able to close distractions out of my focus so easily. This sixth sense had been a burden all my life, blurry and distracting, but somehow her presence provided the lens that brought everything into focus. For the first time in my life, I saw a future in which I wasn’t hiding from a constant barrage of human thought.
“Nadine, ” I heard her breath draw in, surprised that I knew her name, “I won’t ask you to trust me, but give me a chance to show you my intentions.” I was careful to echo her own thoughts, synchronizing my request with her intentions. I felt that corner of my soul darken again, as I doomed the countless victims that lay in her future. “I won’t betray you.”