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Murder On The Mind

Murder On The Mind

Murder On The Mind 7


  * * *

  Friday morning the three of us drove to one of those big franchise hardware stores to choose paint, and buy brushes and drop cloths.

  It felt good to be out among normal people, people who weren’t sick—who hadn’t had their brains bruised. There seemed to be a lot of them out and about. Retired men, women with small children, young adults choosing wallpaper, paint, vacuum cleaners. . . . Didn’t any of these people work?

  While Richard and Brenda debated the merits of natural versus synthetic paintbrush bristles, I strolled down aisles filled with build-it-yourself furniture, nails, screws, garden tools, and everything in between, until I landed in front of the rope and chain display. Synthetic and natural fibers came in various lengths and widths, prepackaged or ready to cut on large spools.

  I crouched by a spool of Manila rope, half-inch width, by twelve hundred feet. The hemp felt splintery between my fingers. So . . . familiar. When I pressed it to my nose, the image of an old, dank, wooden shed or garage filled my mind.

  In my dream the hanging deer had swung in a gentle, easy arc, but the light had come from a different angle. . . .

  I turned the rope over and over in my hand.

  “Can I help you, sir?” asked an acne-scarred young man.

  I dropped the rope and straightened. “No. Just looking, thanks.”

  As he walked away, I turned my attention back to the spool. The rope meant something, but I wasn’t sure what.

  “Oh, there you are!” Brenda said, coming up behind me. “Which one of these color chips do you like?”

  We started painting after lunch, though my broken arm kept me from doing much. After several hours of bad jokes and insults, the room looked better. The paint fumes aggravated my headache, so I ended up sleeping on the living room couch.

  My mind stayed on a circular track. What the hell was happening inside my head? The dreams and hallucinations were too real.

  Then it came to me. A brain tumor. Caused by the severe blow to my skull.

  What else could it be?

  I stole into Richard’s study, flipped through his medical texts until I found the symptoms. Yes, I suffered from drowsiness, lethargy, personality changes, impaired mental faculties.

  I was going to die.

  Awake half the night with worry, I wondered if I should draw up a will . . . then I remembered I had nothing of value to leave to anyone.

  Richard and Brenda slept late. Brenda later told me it was a Saturday morning tradition for them to have a huge breakfast and skip lunch. Richard and I sat at the kitchen table while she made toast, then chopped vegetables and grated cheese for omelets. I waited for a conversational opening, but Richard buried his nose in the newspaper.

  “Uh, Rich. I—I haven’t been sleeping well.”

  He barely looked up from the sports section. “You’re in a new place. Give yourself a few days.” He continued reading an article on the Buffalo Sabres, absently grabbing a slice of toast from his plate.

  “No . . . I mean, not since the mugging.”

  Richard looked up again, swallowing. “I can’t prescribe something to help you sleep. I won’t.”

  “That’s not what I mean. What could make a person not sleep?”

  He shrugged. “Anything weighing on your mind.”

  “Could someone with this kind of brain injury get a . . . a tumor?”

  He folded the newspaper, setting it aside. “First of all, it would take months before you’d even notice symptoms. I looked at your x-rays and, believe me, I called in the best for consultation. It’s my professional opinion that you’re going to be just fine. What you need now is rest, time to recover.”

  I took a deep breath. Richard was a good doctor. But. . . .

  “Then I don’t understand it, because I don’t feel the same any more. I’m . . . different.”

  “Of course you are; you suffered a trauma—” Brenda piped in.

  I shook my head. “No. I don’t mean the mugging. I mean I’m different.”

  Hadn’t Richard said the same thing?

  He pushed the paper aside, eyes narrowing. “How?”

  “I’ve been having these weird dreams.”

  Brenda looked up from her cutting board, but said nothing.

  “The nightmare you mentioned in the hospital?” Richard asked.

  “Yeah, that’s when it started. I keep dreaming about a deer.”

  “A deer?”

  I forced myself to continue. “It’s a bow kill, and it’s hanging in a garage to bleed. But there’re all these weird emotions tied to it: triumph, horror. Every time I dream about it, the emotions get stronger. One time it’ll be a perverse sense of satisfaction, then it’ll be absolute terror.”

  Richard frowned. “I’m not a psychiatrist, but it could just be a reaction to being mugged. You were a victim, like the deer. You could’ve died.”

  “But that’s not the worst of it. It’s not just a dream any more. I’ve been having—” God. No going back once I said the word: “Hallucinations. When I’m wide awake.”

  Richard’s stare went right through me.

  “I might see it, feel it, smell it,” I continued. “I live it. This thing—this deer—is hanging. In a garage. It’s slit from stem to stern. And its eyes—”

  I closed my own, remembering that nauseating, oppressive dread. “They’re open and they’re glassy and they’re just so . . . dead. And whoever killed the buck feels tremendous triumph.”

  Richard’s eyes were wide. Definitely no turning back now.

  “I hear these words, over and over: ‘You prick, you goddamn prick,’ and. . . .” I let the words trail off.

  “My God,” Brenda muttered, dropping her paring knife into the sink.

  Richard squirmed. Maybe the thought of a brain tumor wasn’t so farfetched after all. “I don’t have any pull at UB Med Center, but I have a few friends here in town I can call. If it’ll make you feel better, we could—”

  “No!” Brenda cried, diving for the newspaper. She thumbed through the thick pile, searching. “Didn’t you see the headline? Weren’t you listening to the news?” she said, her eyes wild. She spread the front page of The Buffalo News out across the kitchen table before us. The banner screamed: Businessman Found Dead in Bizarre Ritual Killing.

  “What about it?” Richard asked.

  “I heard it on the radio earlier. This guy was found in his own garage—eviscerated, hanging like a deer to bleed!”

  Anxiety churned my gut.

  “They’ve got no clues—nothing to go on,” she said.

  “What’s that got to do with—?”

  “Don’t you think it’s the least bit unusual that Jeffy has a dream—?”

  “Don’t start with that psychic stuff again,” Richard warned her. “He just said it was a deer.”

  I wasn’t listening.

  Psychic?

  Pure, blind panic hit me.

  I wanted to puke.

  The image was back.

  I rested my head in my good hand, covering my eyes.

  A man, a hemp rope cutting into his throat, swayed as though in a gentle breeze, his neck twisted at an odd angle. Heavyset, about fifty-five or sixty, and naked. Rolls of fat hung like melted wax around his middle.

  The rustle of paper stopped. “Jeffy?” Brenda pointed to a coarse-screened, head-and-shoulders photo of a man dressed in a business suit.

  “That’s him!”

  “Who?” Richard asked.

  “The man I saw hanging.”

  “You said it was a deer.”

  “No, I just saw him!”

  “You had a vision, just now?” Brenda asked, excited.

  I nodded. A vision. Much more acceptable than the product of a tumor, a nightmare, or an hallucination.

  Brenda settled the paper on the table between us and started reading aloud. “Local businessman Matthew J. Sumner was found hanged Friday in his garage. The grisly scene. . . .”

  My fears about tumors insta
ntly vanished. The murder took place somewhere else. In a field. I knew it had. I’d seen it. The deer must have represented this guy. My mind had given me a vision of something I could understand.

  How the hell did it do that?

  Why the hell did it do that?

  And why had it started more than a week before the murder took place—when I was in a city more than four hundred miles away?

  I skimmed through the story, desperate to find out the facts. But the police were giving out few details.

  According to the M.E., the Bison Bank vice president had been slain sometime late Thursday afternoon or early evening. Sumner was found hanging from a rafter in his own garage; his Cadillac Seville was missing. He’d been killed somewhere else, as evidenced by the marks on the body and lack of blood at the scene. His wife found him late Friday afternoon. She’d been visiting friends in Palm Beach the previous week. Funeral services were to be announced later.

  I looked up. Richard’s grim gaze remained fixed on me.

  “This explains everything!”

  “Calm down,” he said.

  “But I’ve got to do something about this.”

  “What?” He exploded from his chair to pace the floor. “What do you think you could possibly do?”

  “I . . . don’t know. But don’t you see, it means I’m not crazy. I’m not—”

  It didn’t mean I wasn’t crazy. I sounded crazy even to myself. Smoothing the newsprint, I stared at the photo of the dead man. He looked familiar.

  Richard took his seat, his right hand methodically massaging his clenched left fist. “Jeff,” he began, his tone reasonable—his physician’s voice. “A head injury like yours can cause all kinds of problems. Make you believe all kinds of things.”

  “You mean I can’t trust what I think? What I know?”

  “It’s something you should consider.”

  I continued to stare at the news story, read it over and over again, my conviction growing deeper with each new reading.

  The tension in that kitchen was nearly unbearable. Finally Richard headed for the door.

  “Where are you going?” Brenda asked.

  “For a walk, before I say something we’ll all regret.”

  Brenda watched him go, looked after him for a long moment. Then she took out the plastic wrap and started putting away the chopped vegetables.

  “You believe me, don’t you, Brenda?”

  She nodded solemnly.

  “What the hell is wrong with him? Does he think I want to know this stuff?”

  She didn’t answer.

  “He’s my brother—not my keeper.”

  “I think he’s trying to be your friend.” She sat down across the table from me, reached for my hand. “He’s worried about you. He’ll tell me I’m encouraging you in a fantasy.”

  “It’s not a fantasy.”

  I looked down at the damnably familiar, yet unfamiliar, face of the murder victim. I considered asking her to help me, but what could she do? And I couldn’t put her in a position where she’d have to choose sides.

  And what if Richard was right? Was my willingness to accept the possibility of possessing psychic abilities proof that my thinking was skewed?

  At that moment, I didn’t know what to believe.

  When Richard returned an hour later, his cheeks pink from the cold, Brenda and I sat at the kitchen table, listening to the radio’s hourly newscast.

  “Any new developments?” he asked.

  I shook my head, wanting nothing more than to escape his scrutiny, yet defiant enough to stay. Ignoring us, he poured himself a cup of coffee, then disappeared into another part of the house.

  The day dragged.

  As Buffalo had no all-news TV station, I didn’t miss a single radio news broadcast, obsessed with finding out more details on the murder, yet little was forthcoming.

  Richard kept circling back to the kitchen, watching me. Did he think he’d made a mistake bringing me home to Buffalo instead of committing me to a mental institution?

  It was almost four when, despite the strain between us, Richard suggested we take a walk and I accepted. I needed to think, plan. Walking would also help me rebuild my strength, something I’d need if I was going to be involved in this thing—this investigation. As far as I was concerned, it was a done deal. Now, how to do it.

  We started out at a leisurely pace, heading south. The trees were stark silhouettes against the white, late afternoon sky. Despite its proximity to Main Street, the neighborhood was quiet. Hard to believe the student ghetto around the University’s South Campus was only a mile away.

  Eventually Richard broke the silence.

  “How’re you feeling?”

  Not the question I’d expected. “So far, so good.”

  “You’ve only been out of the hospital three days. You need time to heal.”

  I met his hard, blue eyes. “I’m okay, Rich.”

  He paused, his gaze piercing me. “No, you’re not. You’ve had a serious injury. Don’t push yourself too hard.”

  The set of his mouth gave away the depth of his concern. He exhaled a puff of breath. “Come on. Let’s go home.”

  We didn’t talk about the murder any more that day.

  I hit the rack early but stared at the ceiling for hours. The visions had stopped, replaced by unanswerable questions that circled my head, keeping me from sleep. The biggest one was: why?

  Why was this happening to me?