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Dexter In the Dark (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)by Jeff Lindsay
What kind of moon is this? Not the bright, gleaming moon of slashing happiness, no indeed. Oh, it pulls and whines and shines in a cheap and guttering imitation of what it should do, but there is no edge to it. This moon has no wind in it to sail carnivores across the happy night sky and into slash–and–slice ecstasy. Instead this moon flickers shyly through a squeaky–clean window, onto a woman who perches all cheerful and perky on the edge of the couch and talks about flowers, canapes, and Paris.
Yes, with moon–faced seriousness, Paris is what she is talking about in that far–spreading syrupy tone. She is talking about Paris. Again.
So what kind of moon can this possibly be, with its near–breathless smile and smirking lace around the edges? It batters feebly at the window, but it can’t quite get in past all the sickly–sweet warbling. And what kind of Dark Avenger could simply sit across the room, as poor Dazed Dexter does now, pretending to listen while mooning blearily on his chair?
Why, this moon must be a honeymoon—unfurling its marital banner across the living–room night, signaling for all to rally round, sound the charge, once more into the church, dear friends—because Dexter of the Deadly Dimples is getting married. Hitched to the wagon of bliss pulled by the lovely Rita, who has turned out to have a lifelong passion to see Paris.
Married, honeymoon in Paris…Do these words really belong in the same sentence as any reference at all to our Phantom Flenser?
Can we really see a suddenly sober and simpering slasher at the altar of an actual church, in Fred Astaire tie and tails, slipping the ring onto a white–wrapped finger while the congregation sniffles and beams? And then Demon Dexter in madras shorts, gawking at the Eiffel Tower and snarfing cafe au lait at the Arc de Triomphe? Holding hands and trundling giddily along the Seine, staring vacantly at every gaudy trinket in the Louvre?
Of course, I suppose I could make a pilgrimage to the Rue Morgue, a sacred site for serial slashers.
But let us be just a tiny bit serious for a moment: Dexter in Paris? For starters, are Americans still allowed to go to France? And for finishers, Dexter in Paris? On a honeymoon? How can someone of Dexter’s midnight persuasions possibly consider anything so ordinary? How can someone who considers sex as interesting as deficit accounting enter into marriage? In short, how by all that is unholy, dark, and deadly can Dexter really mean to do this?
All wonderful questions, and very reasonable. And in truth, somewhat difficult to answer, even to myself. But here I am, enduring the Chinese water torture of Rita’s expectations and wondering how Dexter can possibly go through with this.
Well then. Dexter can go through with this because he must, in part to maintain and even upgrade his necessary disguise, which prevents the world at large from seeing him for what he is, which is at best not something one would really like to have sitting across the table when the lights go out—especially if there is silverware present. And quite naturally, it takes a great deal of careful work to make sure it is not generally known that Dexter is driven by his Dark Passenger, a whispery–silk voice in the shaded backseat that from time to time climbs into the front seat to take the wheel and drive us to the Theme Park of the Unthinkable. It would never do to have the sheep see that Dexter is the wolf among them.
And so work we do, the Passenger and I, work very hard at our disguise. For the past several years we have had Dating Dexter, designed to present a cheerful and above all normal face to the world. This charming production featured Rita as the Girlfriend, and it was in many ways an ideal arrangement, since she was as uninterested in sex as I am, and yet wanted the companionship of an Understanding Gentleman. And Dexter really does understand. Not humans, romance, love, and all that gabble. No. What Dexter understands is the lethally grinning bottom line, how to find the utterly deserving among Miami’s oh–so–many candidates for that final dark election to Dexter’s modest Hall of Fame.
This does not absolutely guarantee that Dexter is a charming companion; the charm took years of practice, and it is the pure artificial product of great laboratory skill. But alas for poor Rita—battered by a terribly unfortunate and violent first marriage—she can’t seem to tell the margarine from the butter.
All well and good. For two years Dexter and Rita cut a brilliant swathe across the Miami social scene, noticed and admired everywhere. But then, through a series of events that might well leave an enlightened observer somewhat skeptical, Dexter and Rita had become accidentally engaged. And the more I pondered on how to extricate myself from this ridiculous fate, the more I realized that it was a logical next step in the evolution of my disguise. A married Dexter—a Dexter with two ready–made children!—is surely a great deal further from seeming to be anything at all like what he really is. A quantum leap forward, onto a new level of human camouflage.
And then there are the two children.
It may seem strange that someone whose only passion is for human vivisection should actually enjoy Rita’s children, but he does. I do. Mind you, I don’t get all weepy–eyed at the thought of a lost tooth, since that would require the ability to feel emotion, and I am quite happily without any such mutation. But on the whole, I find children a great deal more interesting than their elders, and I get particularly irritable with those who cause them harm. In fact, I occasionally search them out. And when I track these predators down, and when I am very sure that they have actually done what they have been doing, I make sure they are quite unable to do it ever again—and with a very happy hand, unspoiled by conscience.
So the fact that Rita had two children from her disastrous first marriage was far from repellent, particularly when it became apparent that they needed Dexter’s special parenting touch to keep their own fledgling Dark Passengers strapped into a safe, snug Dark Car Seat until they could learn how to drive for themselves. For presumably as a result of the emotional and even physical damage inflicted on Cody and Astor by their drug–addled biological father, they too had turned to the Dark Side, just like me. And now they were to be my children, legally as well as spiritually. It was almost enough to make me feel that there was some guiding purpose to life after all.
And so there were several very good reasons for Dexter to go through with this—but Paris? I don’t know where it came from, this idea that Paris is romantic. Aside from the French, has anyone but Lawrence Welk ever thought an accordion was sexy? And wasn’t it by now clear that they don’t like us there? And they insist on speaking French, of all things?
Perhaps Rita had been brainwashed by an old movie, something with a perky–plucky blonde and a romantic dark-haired man, modernist music playing as they pursue each other around the Eiffel Tower and laugh at the quaint hostility of the dirty, Gauloise–smoking man in the beret. Or maybe she had heard a Jacques Brel record once and decided it spoke to her soul. Who can say? But somehow Rita had the notion firmly welded into her steel–trap brain that Paris was the capital of sophisticated romance, and the idea would not come out without major surgery.
So on top of the endless debates about chicken versus fish and wine versus cash bar, a series of monomaniacal rambling monologues about Paris began to emerge. Surely we could afford a whole week, that would give us time to see the Jardin des Tuileries and the Louvre—and maybe something by Moliere at the Comedie–Francaise. I had to applaud the depth of her research. For my part, my interest in Paris had faded away completely long ago when I learned that it was in France.
Luckily for us, I was saved from the necessity of finding a politic way of telling her all this when Cody and Astor made their subtle entrance. They don’t barrel into a room with guns blazing as most children of seven and ten do. As I have said, they were somewhat damaged by their dear old biological dad, and one consequence is that you never see them come and go: they enter the room by osmosis. One moment they are nowhere to be seen and the next they are standing quietly beside you, waiting to be noticed.
“We want to play kick the can,” Astor said. She was the spokesperson for the pair; Cody never put more than four words together in a single day. He was not stupid, very far from it. He simply preferred not to speak most of the time. Now he just looked at me and nodded.
“Oh,” said Rita, pausing in her reflections on the land of Rousseau, Candide, and Jerry Lewis, “well then, why don’t you—”
“We want to play kick the can with Dexter,” Astor added, and Cody nodded very loudly.
Rita frowned. “I guess we should have talked about this before, but don’t you think Cody and Astor—I mean, shouldn’t they start to call you something more, I don’t know—but just Dexter? It seems kind of—”
“How about mon papere?” I asked. “Or Monsieur le Comte?”
“How about, I don’t think so?” muttered Astor.
“I just think—” said Rita.
“Dexter is fine,” I said. “They’re used to it.”
“It doesn’t seem respectful,” she said.
I looked down at Astor. “Show your mother you can say ‘Dexter’ respectfully,” I told her.
She rolled her eyes. “Puh-leeeeeze,” she said.
I smiled at Rita. “See? She’s ten years old. She can’t say anything respectfully.”
“Well, yes, but,” Rita said.
“It’s okay. They’re okay," I said. “But Paris—”
“Let’s go outside,” said Cody, and I looked at him with surprise. Four entire syllables—for him it was practically an oration.
“All right,” said Rita. “If you really think—”
“I almost never think,” I said. “It gets in the way of the mental process.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Astor said.
“It doesn’t have to make sense. It’s true,” I said.
Cody shook his head. “Kick the can,” he said. And rather than break in on his talking jag, I simply followed him out into the yard.
Of course, even with Rita’s glorious plans unfolding, life was not all jubilation and strawberries. There was real work to do, too. And because Dexter is nothing if not conscientious, I had been doing it. I had spent the past two weeks dabbing on the last few brushstrokes of a brand–new canvas. The young gentleman who served as my inspiration had inherited a great deal of money, and he had apparently been using it for the kind of dreadful homicidal escapades that made me wish I was rich, too. Alexander Macauley was his name, though he called himself “Zander,” which seemed somewhat preppy to me, but perhaps that was the point. He was a dyed–in–the–wool trust–fund hippie, after all, someone who had never done any real work, devoting himself entirely to lighthearted amusement of the kind that would have made my hollow heart go pitter–pat, if only Zander had shown slightly better taste in choosing his victims.
The Macauley family’s money came from vast hordes of cattle, endless citrus groves, and dumping phosphates into Lake Okeechobee. Zander came frequently to the poor areas of town to pour out his largesse across the city’s homeless. And the favored few he really wished to encourage he reportedly brought back to the family ranch and gave employment, as I learned from a teary–eyed and admiring newspaper article.
Of course Dexter always applauds the charitable spirit. But in general, I am so very much in favor of it because it is nearly always a warning sign that something nefarious, wicked, and playful is going on behind the Mother Teresa mask. Not that I would ever doubt that somewhere in the depths of the human heart there really and truly does live a spirit of kind and caring charity, mingled with the love of fellow man. Of course it does. I mean, I'm sure it must be in there somewhere. I’ve just never seen it. And since I lack both humanity and real heart, I am forced to rely on experience, which tells me that charity begins at home, and almost always ends there, too.
So when I see a young, wealthy, handsome, and otherwise normal-appearing young man lavishing his resources on the vile downtrodden of the earth, I find it difficult to accept the altruism at face value, no matter how beautifully presented. After all, I am fairly good at presenting a charming and innocent picture of myself, and we know how accurate that is, don’t we?
Happily for my consistent worldview, Zander was no different—just a lot richer. And his inherited money had made him a little bit sloppy. Because in the meticulous tax records I uncovered, the family ranch appeared to be unoccupied and idle, which clearly meant that wherever he was taking his dear dirty friends, it was not to a healthy and happy life of country labor.
Even better for my purposes, wherever they went with their new friend Zander, they were going barefoot. Because in a special room at his lovely Coral Gables home, guarded by some very cunning and expensive locks that took me almost five full minutes to pick, Zander had saved some souvenirs. It’s a foolish risk for a monster to take; I know this full well, since I do it myself. But if someday a hardworking investigator comes across my little box of memories, he will find no more than some glass slides, each with a single drop of blood preserved upon it, and no way ever to prove that any of them is anything sinister at all.
Zander was not quite so clever. He had saved a shoe from each of his victims, and counted on too much money and a locked door to keep his secrets safe.
Well really. No wonder monsters get such a bad reputation. It was just too naive for words—and shoes? Seriously, shoes, by all that’s unholy? I try to be tolerant and understanding of the foibles of others, but this was a bit much. What could possibly be the attraction in a sweaty, slime–encrusted, twenty–year–old sneaker? And then to leave them right out in the open like that, too. It was almost insulting.
Of course, Zander probably thought that if he was ever caught he could count on buying the best legal care in the world, who would surely get him off with only community service—a little ironic, since that was how it had all started. But one thing he had not counted on was being caught by Dexter instead of the police. And his trial would take place in the Traffic Court of the Dark Passenger, in which there are no lawyers—although I certainly hope to catch one someday soon—and the verdict is always absolutely final.
Copyright © 2007 by Jeff Lindsay
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