The only thing scarier than being stalked by a deranged clown is trying to defend him...
| Alexa Fischer walked into the small interrogation room, a ten-foot-by-ten-foot cell large enough for a single table and two chairs to have been bolted to the concrete floor. She did her best to ignore the putrid stink of the place--an uneasy mingling of strong disinfectant and human waste. The smell was enough to make her question, yet again, her choice of career path.
“Thank you,” she said to the guard holding the door for her. He was a middle-aged bull with a short crop of greying hair that looked like it had once been brown. “I can take it from here.”
The man nodded, a frown on his deeply-creased face. “I’ll be right outside,” He raised one giant arm to indicate the room’s lone security camera. “And I’ll be watching.”
The young attorney suppressed a sigh. Over the last month-and-a-half, she’d grown accustomed to the overly-protective attitude afforded her by most of the male guards. She knew it was mostly well-intentioned--if sexist, and not a little insulting.
She watched the officer exit. He pulled the blue steel door closed behind him. Alexa waited until she heard the groan and clunk of its ample locking mechanisms sliding into place before turning to face her client.
Before taking on cases for the public defender’s office, Alexa had prepared herself mentally (or so she’d thought) to deal with all sorts of...colorful characters. Thus far, she hadn’t been disappointed. In the short time, she’d been forced to slum it, Alexa had already represented a broadly-tattooed gang-member, a street thug with reputed mob ties, and a biker who’d looked straight out of a Kurt Sutter television drama. All three had (of course) maintained their innocence, which hadn’t surprised her. What had surprised her was just how little fear she’d felt while dealing with these less-than-savory persons. Once she’d gotten past the intimidating packaging, they’d proven to be no more than three clients in need of representation.
What Alexa Fischer saw now scared her. It did so in a primal, visceral way she hadn’t known since her early childhood. Imagined crystals of ice formed in her stomach; goosebumps spread down her back and out across her shoulders.
A clown...that was a clown once…
She felt an uneasy fascination blossom beneath her fear. To what unwholesome depths, she wondered, would a man need descend--and what demons would he need stir while down there--in order to come back looking like...this?
To hell, nowhere but to hell itself...
With an effort, Alexa pulled herself back to the here and now. She was a lawyer, and the man staring down at the room’s single table was her client now, whether he looked like the exhumed corpse of Emmett Kelly or not. He was entitled by the Constitution to a vigorous defense, and providing that defense had fallen to her.
Attempting to display confidence she didn’t feel, Alexa strode across the small space to the only other chair in the room. The sound of her heels clacking on the concrete reverberated in the small space, echoed off of the walls. She placed her leather bag on the ground beside the table sat down opposite the manacled clown. She cleared her throat.
Her new client did not look up.
“My name is Alexa Fischer,” She offered, “I’m an attorney with the public defender’s office.”
No reaction. The young lawyer reached down, pulled a manila folder from her messenger bag. This she placed on the table between them. “You’re being charged with some serious crimes.”
The emaciated nightmare tensed, cocked his downturned head.
Alexa exhaled. “Look, you need a lawyer, and I’ve been assigned to defend you. If you don’t want representation, you have to waive it in writing. In the meantime, if you aren’t going to talk, just listen, okay?”
The broken-looking man looked up. He didn’t meet her gaze, his eyes seemed fixed rather on some point far beyond the walls of the small interrogation room. To Alexa’s relief, the clown nodded, once.
Encouraged (though no less unnerved) she continued. “As your legal counsel, I have to tell you that withholding your identity won’t keep you from being prosecuted as a John Doe. If anything, you’re delaying the inevitable, and only a very little.”
She watched the clown-from-hell narrow his eyes. He was hearing her, at least.
“If I’m going to defend you, I’m going to need you to tell me what happened.” Alexa braced herself. “Did you do these things?”
The clown’s eyes, buried deeply as they were inside swollen bags of grease-painted flesh, found Alexa’s. They blazed with an intelligence she hadn’t expected to find there; the young attorney recognized a great deal of fear in those eyes too. She watched as the wretched creature drew a deep, ragged breath. He exhaled with a shudder, shook his head. To Alexa’s surprise, he motioned for a pen and paper.
More than aware that handing this personage anything that might be used as a weapon constituted a bad idea, Alexa nonetheless dug into her bag. She removed a pencil; this she held up to the security camera. Deliberately, she placed it on the table, well out of reach of her horrific charge. Again, she looked with purpose at the security camera. This done, she rolled the writing instrument to her client.
The horror-show seated across from her removed a document from the folder on the table. He flipped it over. With one shaking, manacled hand, he scrawled a few lines on the back. When he was done, he rolled the pencil back to Alexa. He turned the paper so she could read:
It’s too late for me. If I speak to you, it will find out. Case is a loser, Counselor.
Alexa’s mother had wanted her to be a pharmacist. Doris Fischer had never understood her daughter’s passion for the law. Now, seated in her tiny apartment’s one chair, nursing a headache, Alexa wondered if her mother hadn’t been on to something.
She wanted nothing so much as to sleep for five or six hours--or, barring that, soak in a hot tub thirty minutes. But no, there was work to be done before she could afford herself either luxury. She was finding it hard to concentrate, though--not only because of the relentless pounding in her temples but because her mind kept returning to her earlier meeting with the hell-clown.
Now that the initial shock of the man’s appearance had waned some, Alexa realized there were several things about the interview that troubled her. Unlike the other public-defense clients to which she’d been assigned, Creepy the Clown hadn’t maintained his innocence. He hadn’t seemed concerned at all with his current legal predicament, for that matter.
What he had been, Alexa was quite sure, was terrified. Moreso perhaps than she herself had been, which was saying something.
How often, Alexa mused, would a pharmacist have to deal with men who looked like the days-dead corpse of an over-the-hill death-metal musician? Rarely, if ever, she conceded to herself.
Alexa removed her glasses, rubbed at the bridge of her nose. Her headache was getting worse. What on Earth, she couldn’t help but wonder again, would--or could--scare a person who looked like her client?
A man regarded his reflection in a warped, scum-streaked plexiglass mirror. That the glass above the sink in his cell was uneven proved a mercy. It had been a long time since the man had summoned the courage to look at himself. The fact that he was able to attribute at least some modicum of the grotesqueness he found there to the defect in the mirror was somehow salient. Maybe, he mused, it was all that was keeping him from losing his mind completely.
The man sighed. Within him, the faintest embers of what had once been a furnace of indignant rage stirred; he doused their glow in his ice-cold terror. How desperately he wanted to hate the thing that had done this to him, but he dared not. To hate it he’d have to think about it--and to think about it, he’d learned the hard way, was to attract its attention.
It probably knows you’re here already.
Yes, that was true enough. Still, if it knew he was here, where was it? The man knew better than to think for a second that it was through with him. His tormentor would never be done with him, he knew that now.
The man let his gaze fall from his reflection to the grimy steel sink. What was the point of looking in a mirror? It was almost impossible to see the man he’d been beneath the face of the clown. The face that had, like so many other things, been stolen by his tormentor--the one that had been cruelly tattooed to match its image of the perfect predator.
He crossed the small cell, sat on the sparse bunk. This last day-and-a-half, since he’d been arrested, had been the most tranquil he’d known for over a year now. How long did he have, he wondered before his tormentor returned to rob him of even this threadbare peace? Would it be today? Tomorrow?
“Get it while it’s hot, Bozo.”
It didn’t bother him, the ridicule of the guards. The man tattooed as a clown had more prescient things on what was left of his mind. He turned, offered the screw a nod of acknowledgment.
Silently, the clown with the dirty (and in places singed) blue-hair stood. He wasn’t hungry, but he had to eat. Suicide was something his tormentor frowned upon.
The man had learned that the hard way also.
The small cafe in the Judge Alan F. Andrews County Court Complex supplied WiFi service, as did the main building itself, but the connection was slow. Alexa typed her inquiry into the search-engine and waiting for what seemed an inordinate amount of time.
Clowns. Alexa had never understood how anybody could find them anything but off-putting. Long before she’d been old enough to recognize the name John Wayne Gacy, and years before she’d read Stephen King’s IT, Alexa had found the whole notion of the modern harlequin vaguely unsettling. Grown men and women, their identities hidden behind greasepaint and wigs, being granted access to children--even in the company of their parents--had always seemed the height of folly to Alexa.
Now, reading the search results the engine had provided, she felt a deflating sort of validation.
What the hell is wrong with people?
Coulrophobia. Having minored in psychology as an undergrad, Alexa was no stranger to the clinical term for a fear of clowns. According to one reputable site Alexa consulted, fully twelve percent of adults in the United States suffer this debilitating condition.
More troubling still were the numerous search results representing the opposite end of the continuum--Coulrophilia. Alexa shook her head. Some people could and would, she supposed, sexualize just about anything. She’d followed one link for the sake of being thorough, and that had been about all she’d had the stomach for. That people would admit to so bizarre a kink amazed her, but then she’d never understood why anyone would admit to being turned on by something as ridiculous as feet, either.
Alexa cleared the search bar. She typed: VERDANT HILLS MURDER CLOWN
The first three results were ads sponsored by the search engine she employed. She clicked on the fourth, which linked her to an article in the Verdant Hills Gazette:
DRIFTER-CLOWN HELD IN CONNECTION WITH DISAPPEARANCE OF LOCAL GIRL
Alexa had read the official complaint filed against her client, of course. She’d read the police reports, toxicology reports, and all other relevant recorded testimony. To do any less would have been grossly negligent, perhaps criminally so. Still, Alexa felt less than prepared for what was to come. Having no input from her client, she had only the State’s narrative with which to work. She was desperate for information, for anything that might give her some perspective on how to proceed. She read:
Yesterday: Verdant Hills Police have arrested an
unidentified drifter in connection with the
disappearance of Anne Raynor. The unknown
Man, who police say was made up as a clown,
was found dazed and wandering in the vicinity
of the location where police-dogs discovered
the missing girl’s knapsack.
Alexa scanned the rest of the article for any information she didn’t already have. She found none.
If this is all they have, she thought, then they have nothing at all…
Only that wasn’t true, she knew. While the prosecutor had not one shred of proof with which to convict her client, he had plenty of hearsay with which to persuade a jury. He had a missing girl who played in the middle-school band and volunteered as a candy-striper on Sundays; he had a torn and muddied backpack that had been found the day after the girl had gone missing, and he had a small-town population looking for justice. Oh, and he had her client--a man painted as a clown who’d been apprehended not three-quarters of a mile from where the backpack had been found, drunk to the point of incoherence.
She felt sick. What in the world was she to make of all this? She didn’t have very much experience upon which to draw, but her gut feeling was that her client was a victim and not a monster. Or at least as much the former as the latter, she amended to herself.
Alexa exhaled, closed her laptop. She put the computer in her bag, slung her bag over her shoulder. She was due to be in court in ten minutes, as was the unknown clown. Whether she was still his legal representation or not, she had no way of knowing.
Forty-eight minutes later, the dozen or so inmates in attendance having been arraigned, the presiding judge, one David J. Hoerner, adjourned for the morning. More than a little concerned and confused, Alexa watched the line of cuffed prisoners exit the courtroom single-file, a deputy sheriff bringing up the rear. For one idiotic instant, Alexa wondered if she could have overlooked her client--if perhaps he’d been scrubbed clean of his face paint.
But no, she hadn’t heard any John Doe being arraigned.
She hurried (in as far as it was possible to hurry in a building with elevators designed to keep the public on the first two floors) downstairs and outside. The midday sun reflected off the expanse of concrete, throwing shimmering waves of nearly blinding light in all directions. Alexa squinted reflexively against the assault, vague memories of afternoon matinees materializing and vanishing in her mind’s eye like ghosts.
Fumbling in her bag for her sunglasses, Alexa oriented herself toward the jail. As her watering eyes adjusted to the sudden influx of light, she noted that something was going on outside the bleak, utilitarian building. Two Sheriff’s cars, their light bars rolling, blocked the pick-up/drop-off lane that skirted the front of the building, one on either side. A handful of uniformed officers milled about the entrance of the building; another small group, this one featuring a mix of uniforms and plainclothes, were clustered around a Verdant Hills Police cruiser.
Two vans were on the scene as well. One, parked right behind the police cruiser, was marked CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION. The other, this one idling just outside the perimeter of blue sawhorses Alexa now noted, boasted a satellite dish on top and the NEWS 8 logo on its sides.
Alexa had a very bad feeling about what she was seeing. She continued toward the building, skirting the crime-scene van. As she approached the entrance reserved for lawyers and jurors, one of the uniforms noticed her.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, the building’s on lock-down.” He stepped toward her, one hand held up, palm out.
Alexa continued toward the tall, wiry young man as though she hadn’t heard him. “I’m looking for a client of mine,” she offered. “He was supposed to be arraigned this morning but he wasn’t brought over.”
Realization of a sort dawned in the man’s eyes. “Oh, you’re Miss Fischer.” When Alexa nodded, he added, “Detective Wallace is going to want to speak to you.”
“What happened?” Alexa’s bad feeling about the situation grew suddenly worse. “Did he…?”
The officer shook his head. “No, no, he didn’t kill himself. He disappeared.”
Walking up the stairs to her apartment, Alexa tried to decide whether she felt better or worse for having spoken with the detectives. They’d done their best to keep her on the defensive. That had been fine by Alexa--defense was what she did. After the tenor of the first few questions, though, she’d decided to switch tactics. It went something like this:
You communicated in writing with your client during your interview. What did he say?
You know that’s confidential. I can’t, by law, answer that.
He’s not your client anymore, he’s a fugitive.
Please tell me you have a better understanding of the law than that, Detective.
Why would you care about protecting this monster?
You know what’s a better question, Detective? How does the Verdant Hills Sheriff's Department lose a prisoner? Does this happen regularly?
The surprise on the Detective’s face had been comical. This was not a man, she’d realized, who was in the habit of tasting his own medicine. She’d had to bite her tongue to keep from smiling.
She reached her apartment, let herself in. Automatically, she flipped on the lights. Her bag she dropped just inside the door.
With a sigh, she dropped onto the second-hand sofa. Satisfying as it had been to see that jerk-off of a detective’s face as it turned almost purple with anger, Alexa knew she’d made a mistake. Yes, going on the offensive had shown him she was not so easily intimidated, but it also might have made her an enemy. Depending on the stuff Detective Ronald Wallace was made of, he might prove an enemy to be reckoned with, indeed.
She saw it when she reached for the remote control, and her hand froze in mid-air.
Though she’d only ever seen guns as evidence (having been duly bagged and tagged) she knew without a doubt that this one was real. Somehow, she also knew that it would be loaded. Beneath the weapon, a snub-nose revolver with a wooden handle, was an envelope. There was something scrawled on the front of it, and Alexa recognized the manic print.
My God, he’s been in my apartment.
The thought chased the breath from her lungs in a way that seeing the gun on her coffee table had not. She felt her skin contract into gooseflesh; it covered her neck and shoulders, radiated out into her arms and hands. Another thought, then, one that followed inevitably from the first. Was he still in her apartment?
She didn’t think so. In fact, she was almost certain he wasn’t. He’d left the gun and the envelope, why would he do that if he was still here?
If I speak to you, it will find out.
It...had it found out? And what was it, exactly? Alexa had assumed it was simply a dissociation the Clown had constructed in order to preserve what remained of his sanity.
Again, the idea that her client might still be in her apartment nagged at her. She considered getting up and doing a sweep of her small home. Perhaps the gun and envelope had been left as a decoy, something to divert her attention while he did, well...whatever it was that he did. She didn’t want to think about that just now.
Ultimately, her curiosity got the better of her. Being careful not to touch the weapon, she reached for the envelope beneath. This, she slid out from under the deadly paperweight.
When she saw what had been scrawled on the paper, she grew cold:
Alexa is suddenly twelve years old, standing at her locker after gym class. Unlike the opening scene of the movie Carrie, there are no girls strolling about nude, casually giggling and gossiping amidst a backdrop of steam. Much as it may disappoint Brian De Palma and Stephen King to hear it, in Alexa’s experience the first thing a high-school student does after showering with her classmates is get dressed.
Still, it’s hard not to see the bodies of her classmates while in the showers, hard not to compare them to her own. At twelve and thirteen years old, the girls she’s known since kindergarten are all changing, developing in fundamentally the same and yet wildly differing ways. A few haven’t developed at all and are still waiting anxiously; there are a few for whom development thus far has constituted no more than a swelling of the nipples. The overweight girls have had breasts for years now, swells of baby-fat that might be mistaken for man-boobs. On the opposite side of the spectrum, was Lynn Goldman.
Saddled with rich parents and an intellect that promises an ivy-league future, Lynn is further burdened with the body of a nineteen-year-old lingerie model. The only thing she lacks, as far as Alexa can tell, is happiness. Nobody, she reasons, can be that snarky and judgmental while also being happy.
When she showers, Alexa always chooses a place as far from Miss Universe as possible--partly because the closer she is to Lynn’s naked body the worse she feels about her own, but mostly to avoid becoming the object of the other’s periodic outbursts of body-shaming. Chubby, hairy little Angel Myers is often reduced to tears, which only encourages Lynn and her entourage of thin, model-bodied friends.
Alexa is relieved, as usual, to be done with another gym class humiliation-free. Having stepped into her underwear before doffing her towel, she reaches for her bra. She undoes the towel, lets it slide to her feet...and freezes.
There, not six feet from her and walking in her direction is Lynn and her gorgeous sidekick Rachel. They stop; Alexa realizes she’s gaping at them.
“What are you staring at?” Lynn holds Alexa’s stare for a moment, then lets her eyes fall to Alexa’s breasts. She laughs, an exaggerated guffaw clearly meant to attract the attention of anyone not already hip to this new development. “What...” the taller, prettier girl gestures towards the other's chest, “...have we got here?”
Feeling the blood rush to her face, bringing with it an uncomfortable flush, Alexa slides her arms into her bra. Lynn steps forward, “Oh, no,” she says, and pulls the bra back down around Alexa’s elbows. “I’ve got to see this.”
Another guffaw. “Rachel, you worked at Victoria’s Secret. Would you say this poor thing is an A-cup/B-cup, or a B-cup/C-cup?” Again, she laughs, this time more genuinely which makes it hurt more. She turns back to Alexa and, when she is able, says. “Oh, you poor, poor dear. Don’t worry, they’re doing amazing things with silicone these days.”
Rachel snorts. “As though her family could afford it.”
The two laugh. “Don’t worry,” Lynn says, finally, “We’ll have a car-wash, raise money.”
This generates laughter not only from Rachel, but a few girls in earshot also. Alexa’s face burns.
“Or better yet, a telethon! Call in now, and help poor Lop-side Lexy!”
The sound of her cell-phone ringing stirred Alexa from her unpleasant reverie. Not taking her eyes from the envelope, she located the device in her pocket and looked at the caller ID. It was an unknown number, a fact that didn’t surprise her at all. Against her better judgment, she pressed receive.
“Hello?” She said.
No one answered, but Alexa could tell the line was live. Someone was on the other end, listening.
Her eyes drifted, seemingly of their own accord, back the envelope on the coffee table. Her heart hammered against her chest. “Is it you?”
There may or may not have been breathing on the otherwise silent end of the call. It may have been no more than Alexa’s over-stimulated and terrified imagination. Either way, she continued. “How could you know that? What you wrote on the envelope?” She was whispering, though she didn’t know why.
Silence; maybe breathing.
A thought occurred to Alexa then, one that made her stomach lurch as though in sudden free-fall. “Do you know me?” Another thought then, no better than the first: “Do I know you?” By way of response, Alexa was almost certain she heard a single breath, inhale...exhale.
There was a slight click and then the line was closed. Alexa placed her phone on the coffee table. She took the envelope, opened it. There was a single piece of notepaper inside. On it, a message scrawled in the same hand as the envelope. In the same hand as the message her client had written for her during their initial interview:
Case is a loser, Counselor. Walk away.
With something approaching a clinical detachment born of terror, Alexa Fischer read.
Had someone walked in on Alexa as she’d read her client’s note, they’d likely have asked if she required medical attention. The blood had drained from her face, leaving her usually pale countenance the stark white of loose-leaf paper. Her eyes, wide with fear, could easily have been mistaken for those of someone in a condition of shock.
Alexa wasn’t in shock, she was terrified. The note her client had left her consisted of one word:
She forced herself to look in the direction of her small apartments only other room.
Get out of here, right now. Grab the gun and go.
Tempted as she was to follow her instinct, there were a few problems with the plan. First of all, where would she go? Well, anywhere, she decided. Anyplace she could feel safe enough to stop and call the police. Okay, but what then? Surely her unwanted visitor would be gone by the time the uniforms arrived. For how long would he stay gone, though? A man who was able to escape holding was a cunning, determined one. He wouldn’t be stopped by the one patrol car that may or may not be assigned to idle outside her apartment.
She needed to deal with this now. If she didn’t, she expected she would never be rid of the man in clown-face. He would remain her personal nightmare.
With one ]shaking hand Alexa placed the single sheet of notepaper on the arm of the sofa. With a deep breath she steadied herself as best she could. She picked up the gun.
The weapon felt cold and alien in her grip. She’d never wielded a pistol before, nor any sort of firearm for that matter. It was heavier than she’d have expected, it’s grip more substantial. She hefted it experimentally, noted the gold-tipped ends of the bullets in the revolving mechanism. The gun was indeed loaded, as she’d suspected.
Again, she hesitated. She’d picked up the gun, confirmed it was loaded...now what? Just walk into the bedroom and shoot a sick man in cold blood? The idea made her stomach turn in upon itself. For a passing moment, she thought she might be sick.
Stop for a minute and think about this…
Alexa placed the gun back on the coffee table, its business end pointed safely toward the bedroom, its handle ready to be seized in an instant. A glance at the bedroom door confirmed that it was still closed, the doorknob motionless. She closed her eyes, only for a second, and breathed.
She considered once more her initial plan of action, namely to run for safety and then call for help. Again, she rejected the idea as a temporary fix, and one likely to exacerbate rather than alleviate her problem. No, running away wouldn’t solve anything.
On the other hand, was she to believe that this man--a man who’d been charged with some heinous crimes--had given her a gun so she could kill him? Alexa had heard of “suicide-by-cop” but never “suicide by attorney.” So what was his game?
Alexa looked at the gun on the table. Would it fire, if the need arose? Was it loaded with real bullets or blanks? Had he given her the gun hoping to instill in her a false sense of security?
Why is he doing this to me?
Beneath the tremble-inducing terror, Alexa felt a swelling of anger. What had she ever done, other than try to help people? What had she ever done to the man currently in her bedroom, for that matter, but try and help him? And he was in her bedroom? Not only her apartment but her bedroom…
She stood, looked at her bedroom door. She crouched and took up the revolver. It didn’t feel quite as heavy now. Slowly, with no single step being a certainty until she found she’d actually taken it, Alexa made her way across the living room. She reached out and took the knob, turned.
A slight push and the bedroom door swung open. Alexa raised the gun.
He was seated at the end of her bed. She stepped forward and he stood.
Alexa felt her finger tighten on the trigger. He was even more horrific looking than she remembered, perhaps than it was possible to remember. In the light of her bedroom, her client looked somehow more menacing than he had in the dank, sparse interview room. Why, she wondered, hadn't he removed that makeup? The burns he could do nothing about, of course, but the makeup...it was as though he was begging to be rearrested.
For a time, it may have been seconds but it felt to Alexa like minutes, the pair stood facing one another, the world’s most mismatched bookends. Everything in the man’s appearance and his actions up until now screamed menace--everything but his eyes. Again, Alexa was struck with the intelligence and the sadness she saw in them.
He doesn’t want to be doing this. He’s looking for a way out.
So it was suicide-by-attorney, she realized.
The painted nightmare said, “This is your only chance. It knows about you now…”
‘Why does it care about me?” Alexa hadn’t known she was going to speak until she heard her the sound of her own voice.
The clown winced, as though in pain. He looked over his shoulder. “Shhh! You can’t talk...we can’t even think about it.” The imposing-looking clown turned back to his court-appointed public defender. He exhaled, seemed to deflate. “That’s what attracts it.”
Alexa almost lowered the gun; the lawyer in her thought better of it. “I’m not about to kill you in cold blood. There has to be another way we can work this out…”
“No!” The clown seemed taken aback by the severity of his response. “No,” he repeated, more quietly this time. He lifted his tattered shirt, removed a large knife from the waste of his pants. “I don’t want to...but I will kill you, rather than let it have you.”
A moment ago, Alexa had been about to lower the gun. She realized now that there would be no such happy ending to her current predicament. “Easy,” she said, as much to herself as to the clown.
“We’re out of time. I’m offering you a mercy, please take it.” The shattered man took a deep breath. Alexa noted a tear running down his cheek.
He lunged, then, his blade slicing a downward arc through the air in front of Alexa’s face. She felt the distinct sting of oxygen on an open wound and realized she’d been cut. A heartbeat later and she felt blood running down her cheek, her chin. Panic exploded inside of her, overwhelming her senses. Without conscious thought, she staggered back a few steps. She was still holding the gun level, though it seemed to have gained weight.
Time slowed to a crawl. Again, her one-time client attacked. This time, he stabbed rather than slashed.
Alexa pulled the trigger. It may have been nothing more than her muscles contracting in reaction to the sickening and shocking sensation of having been stabbed; it may have been a better-late-than-never act of self-preservation. Likely it had been some combination of the two.
The second shot--the one she put in the clown as he struggled to breathe, was an act of mercy. That’s what Alexa told herself, at any rate.
The man with the tattooed face tried not to think about the lawyer. Fortunately, pain can be a powerful distraction.
He’d done his best to spare the young woman a fate similar to his own; he didn’t want to bring her to his tormentor’s attention now. While he himself had been robbed of the freedom and relief death might have afforded, perhaps the plan had not been a complete failure.
Perhaps, even while under the watchful eye of his tormentor, he’d managed to do something good. It could never, he understood, make up for the things he’d been forced (coerced?) into doing, but still...it felt good.
It had been a long time since the man had anything to feel good about.
Alexa opened her eyes to see the last person in the world she’d have expected to. “Detective Wallace?”
“How are you, Miss Fischer? I tried to stop in yesterday but I was held up in court.”
Sitting up in her hospital bed, Alexa didn’t bother to tell him that she’d spent most of the previous day unconscious. She arranged the covers for modesty’s sake. “I know what that’s like. I’m feeling okay, thank you...I mean, all things considered.”
“I was sick when I heard about what happened. I want you to know if there’s anything I or the department can do for you, you let me know.”
Frowning, Alexa said, “So I assume you’re here to ask me some questions?”
The tall, broad-shouldered man shook his head. “We have your statement,” his eyes narrowed slightly, “Unless of course, there’s anything you wanted to amend or add…?”
Sensing no sarcasm in the man’s tone, Alexa simply shook her head.
“I only wanted to stop by and make sure you were doing okay. This isn’t my case, though I’ll be available to assist Detective Peters.”
She nodded. “Thank you, Detective.”
“Call me Ron. And call me if I can be of any help, okay?”
“Where is he?” Alexa heard herself say, “Is he here? In the hospital morgue?”
A frown crossed the detective’s face. “You don’t remember?” He seemed to brace himself, “Miss Fischer, your attacker is alive.”
Alexa felt as though a bowling ball had been dropped on her stomach. It was hard to breathe, suddenly. “He’s alive?”
Detective Wallace was shaking his head. “We’ve got him. He’s in a maximum-security prison hospital. Believe me,” he said, “He’s in no condition to do anyone any harm.”
Alexa couldn’t blame the Detective for his idiotic statement; it wasn’t his fault, after all--he didn’t know half the real story.
There are things you can tell the police, Alexa knew, and things you are better off keeping to yourself. For example, if a psychopath you represent leaves you a gun and directions to shoot him it, and if you follow those directions, you might be better off fudging that detail.
Also, Alexa reasoned, nobody needed to know what the clown had said to her. For one thing, his paranoid narrative was likely no more than the delusions of a broken mind. That’s what she’d believed, at first. If what he’d told her was true, a terrifying notion that seemed more plausible by the day, then there was nothing the police could do about it anyway.
The sound of an ice-cream truck brought Alexa from her reverie. Frowning, she looked around the courtroom. She was disheartened, but not at all surprised to see that no one else seemed to hear the tinkling melody.
It had been happening more and more often, these past few days. And it seemed, as insane as it may sound, to happen when she thought of her erstwhile client. It became particularly loud when her train of thought led her to her client’s tormentor.
We can’t even think about it…
The sound wasn’t real, she knew, which was to say it didn’t exist in the physical world. The small, windowless courtroom in which she now sat was on the fourth floor--the odds of hearing anything from the parking lot were slim to nil.
With an effort, Alexa cleared her mind. She ran through the techniques Doctor Fanning had suggested, which had proven useful, at least in the short-term. At first, it had seemed a sort of failure, having to admit she needed help. Once she had, though, she wished she’d reached out sooner.
Coulrophobia is an illness, after all.