Aaron wiped his mouth with some toilet paper, stood, and moved to the bathroom sink of the hotel room to brush his teeth. He caught sight of his hand as he reached for his toothbrush. Faint teeth marks and sores dotted his knuckles and the top of two fingers were reddened. He hadn't been able to keep a meal down in eleven days. He hadn't wanted to. Food left in the stomach needed to be digested. Digested food needed to be released and there was only one way that could happen. And he couldn't handle the pain of it.
His mobile phone beeped in the other room, just audible over the Saturday morning episode of Rage currently playing some Nelly song. He had ignored his phone from the moment of the attack and he wasn't sure why he hadn't turned it off, though a niggling voice told him that he wanted to know he was still alive. The thought of suicide had crossed his mind, but he knew he would have never done it. He didn't like blood or pain, but nor did he want to leave the safety of the hotel room to stock up on alternative methods. He liked to believe that he was still breathing due to simple laziness.
Wouldn't it be lazier to not breathe altogether?
He had been doing that a lot the past week. On the inside, anyway. On the outside, to anyone who happened to come to his hotel room – namely police and an occasional random salesman – he was cold and emotionless. He felt numb, therefore he acted numb. Jonathan was the only person who had an idea of what was happening to him. Aaron himself didn't even understand what he was slowly becoming and although he had a feeling it wasn't pleasant, he did nothing to stop it from happening. At this point, any change was welcome.
It had been fifteen days since the attack and it was still all over the news. His identity wasn't released of course, but the TV cameras had discovered his address and his unit had been splashed all over the TV and papers; just like with previous victims. And just like with the two victims that followed him – another in Yeppoon and one just south, in Emu Park. He was fairly secure in his current hotel room (his second in fifteen days – the last had been found by a news crew), and although his main visitors were police, he was resignedly grateful for the company.
Because of all this, Aaron's boss Joe had been understanding when they last talked and Joe had assured him that his new promotion would always be waiting there.
He was slightly startled out of his thoughts by a knock on the door as he was rinsing the toothpaste out of his mouth. He didn't need to check the clock to know it was ten in morning – though he did anyway. He knew who knocked. He quickly wiped the water from his mouth and eyes, placed a band aid across his knuckles and moved gingerly towards the door. He peered through the peep-hole and unlatched the chains. Jon greeted him with a warm smile and the scent of cinnamon and coffee the moment he opened the door, and Aaron stepped back to let him into the room. Jonathan had visited Aaron daily since they had met and would go into detail about exactly where the police were on the case, what they had found to date and what the next possible move would be. Aaron appreciated being included and having a say (albeit small) in what was to come. And despite the fact that the two men were talking about Aaron's rapist, for some strange reason it made him forget about the actual rape. He supposed it was because the discussions were all so clinical – it was easy to get detached.
At first, Jon had tried subtly to get more information from Aaron. He wanted to know his emotions and inner thoughts and struggles. He wanted to reach into the victim's mind to help, but merely got robotic answers that had been spilled a thousand times from his mouth since they had met. Aaron knew that Jon was trying to help, but it was far too early to discuss such intensely raw feelings. Though he had plenty of experience in this field, Jon knew that each victim was different. Some opened up immediately while others shut down completely. Some, like Aaron, were somewhere in between. Jon had realised this and limited his questioning resolving to continue it at a later date. Aaron knew all of this from Jon himself, who almost always explained his processes and reasons for questions. It was more than Aaron could ask for, having refused to see a therapist at this stage.
Yesterday, Jon had briefly run through the things they would be discussing today and had given Aaron the night to think about the questions he'd like to ask, the responses he would be willing to give, and to advise Jonathon of what he didn't want to talk about. Previously, there had always been something that fell into that last category. He didn't want to talk about sex or strangers or eating or suicide. He didn't want to explain how difficult it was to shave his face and not let the razor slip. He didn't want to tell Jonathan that he was gay and it had always been his fantasy to have his bed partner tie him up (though he figured Jon had already guessed the first, at least). He didn't want to show him the hiding places around his room that housed various foods he couldn't eat, to avoid raising suspicion should his garbage bin be seen. He wasn't the one who emptied it, because that would require him leaving the hotel room. And he wasn't prepared to do that yet.
He didn't fucking want to but last night Aaron realised that he had to. Not for Jonathan or the case or anything like that. But for his own mental stability. He had no one but the detective. No close friends, no geographically close family and certainly no desire to call Bec and tell her what happened over the phone. He knew that she would immediately want to come see him, and questions from his other family members would inevitably result in her telling them. And at the moment, the last thing he wanted to do was to prove his parents right in thinking he was weak.
Instead, the previous night, as he lay curled up in bed, he'd chosen to open up a little more to Jon to ease the pressure building in his mind.
Jonathan set the cinnamon doughnuts and coffee on the table in the lounge and took a seat in his usual spot, as Aaron sat down opposite and warily eyed the morning tea before him. He knew Jon could sense his hesitation as he selected the smallest donut and bit into it slowly.
"How'd you sleep last night, Aaron?" Jonathan watched the other man over the rim of his coffee cup.
"Okay. No nightmares yet." The lack of nightmares confused Aaron greatly. He would have thought he'd be inundated with haunting dreams but oddly, he hadn't had a single one since his attack. "Sleep is a bit long in coming, but nothing out of the ordinary." Aaron paused to think a moment. "I think last night was the first night I didn't consciously listen out for noises. I mean, I jumped a few times when I heard different things, but I didn't lay there listening for them, y'know?"
Jonathan nodded. "Definitely an improvement. Which reminds me, I've got the doctor coming out Tuesday to give you another check-up, is that okay?"
"Oh. Uh… yeah. That's okay."
Jonathan assured him it was purely for health reasons, but Aaron suspected it was more to ensure he was still sound of mind. He'd already been cleared of HIV, Hepatitis and other STI's from the initial hospital tests so physically (and miraculously), he was doing well. It was the mental aspect that he himself wasn't sure of, and figured Jonathan felt the same. The doctors never said anything specific, but with the questions posed and responses tested he knew they'd be trying to get insight to his mental stability.
No one knows better than the mind itself.
Aaron frowned as he began picking at his fingernails; another habit he'd developed over the last fortnight.
"So. Any updates on the case?"
Jonathan lowered his coffee and reached for his bag containing numerous files.
"We've had more calls that are being investigated as we speak. But, as you know, we get dozens of calls each day about this bastard. Most of them are leading to nowhere, but we still hold out hope." He opened the top file and flicked through it. "Let's see. DNA tests are still underway. They take a while, and so far all we have is a mixed sample from your bed sheet which is proving difficult. We're still unsure as to why he wore a condom with all of his other victims, and not you-"
Aaron scoffed bitterly, mumbling more to himself than to Jon. "I was his fucking peak, remember?"
"- though I'm sure it will all become clear with time. One breakthrough is that we believe we finally have a description of the car he drives. A witness came forward this morning claiming to have been awoken in the early hours, by this car. She lives in the house next door to the last victim and was too scared to come forward earlier." Jonathan tossed a piece of paper towards Aaron. "That's the description. Seems pretty credible so we're putting out an APB with what we have so far. It's not much but at least it's something."
Aaron skimmed over the page before him. "You weren't kidding when you said you didn't have much. 'Dark colour, sedan, large, possibly Holden Commodore, squeaky brakes'. No Rego number, no driver description, no noticeable tyre tread." Aaron tossed the paper back across the table to Jonathan. "You've got fuck all, oh Detective One. And you all know it. Don't sugarcoat shit with me; you know I prefer you to tell me straight up."
Jonathan had the decency to look sheepish as he tidied all his papers. "Sorry, mate. I just don't want it to seem like we're slacking off. We're really trying to figure this damn case out."
"I think I've got it sorted. Some guy is a few sandwiches short of a picnic basket and likes to blow his load when and where he sees fit, though he seems to have a problem with doing it in the privacy of his own home." As easily as the words left his lips, they constricted Aaron's chest, making his hands shake.
Jonathan shook his head and watched Aaron carefully reposition himself on the couch. "Believe it or not, you couldn't be further from the truth. From a psychological point of view, anyway."
Aaron raised his eyebrows in skepticism but indicated for Jonathan to continue.
"Generally, rapists are not mentally ill or emotionally disturbed. Tests all over the world have concluded that most rapists are completely sound of mind. Also, rape is not entirely motivated by sex. Moreso, and I'm sure you've heard this as well, it's the desire to dominate and control. You and the other victims were tied up. You were all gagged. You were all laid face down. He wanted to control you all, but he has a conscience. He -"
"He has a conscience? Are you kidding me?" Aaron couldn't believe he was hearing this from a cop. "The asshole raped me. He fucked me brutally, repeatedly, and you tell me he has a fucking conscience?"
The outpouring of anger from Aaron's mouth didn't shock the detective but it clearly unsettled himself. Jonathan waited calmly until Aaron's breathing had slowed and attempted to finish his sentence.
"Aaron, please. Let me finish. He has a conscience because he couldn't look at you. He disabled the use of your arms and legs to not only ensure you couldn't run, but to ensure you didn't turn around. He couldn't watch you in pain. It's easiest for him to rape without seeing the emotion from his victim. It's easy for him to change muffled screams of pain into muffled groans of pleasure. The eyes are the first place to show emotion, and it's not so easy for people to ignore what they see. Therefore, this guy refuses to look at you. Or any of his other victims. In our opinion, this all comes down to the fact that he's never raped prior to this … spree, and is still a little unsure."
"You asked me to tell it like it is." Jonathan reached for a doughnut as he continued. "As far as we're all concerned, right now, his conscience is the best chance we have of catching him. Sooner or later, he's going to slip up big time. I've told you before that crims are only caught if they slip up. This guy has yet to slip."
Aaron mulled this over for a moment before internally deciding that, once again, Jonathan was right.
"Can I ask you a personal question?" Aaron continued when Jonathan nodded. "It's kind of cliché and I don't mean for it to sound rude or anything, but how do you talk about these sorts of people so easily? I mean, this guy for example. He's a serial rapist. He's violent, he's into torture and he obviously comes prepared." Aaron indicated to his upper arm where a faint bruise remained from the hard needle jab he'd received that night. "How do you do it, Jonathan?"
How does one act as though the entire world is one happy bubble?
Jonathan's smile was wry as he pondered the question. "You know, that kinda reminds of something my nephew said to me once. He'd had an assembly at high school where Mrs Wood – you remember that 15-year-old kid, Anna Wood, who died from an ecstasy overdose years ago and they released a book about it? Well, her mum was the speaker. And anyway, my nephew said that some kid had asked this dead girl's mum why she wasn't crying as she told the story. Apparently he went on to say, 'if I had died, and it was my mother up there, she'd be bawling her eyes out'."
Aaron was slightly confused as to where this was heading.
"My point is, just because I'm not showing emotion right now doesn't mean it doesn't affect me. Does that make sense? You know how you hear on cop shows and stuff about how this type of job hardens your heart? Well, it's true to a certain extent. You have to push yourself to get to a certain point that prevents you from breaking down when you see a slaughtered toddler. Or from vomiting when you see a decaying body. Or from killing a guilty criminal yourself. Of course, when you get home and you're alone with your thoughts, it all changes."
As Jonathan trailed off, Aaron considered what he had said. He hoped that, with time, his own heart would harden and the constant anguish would go away. In the meantime though, he planned to stick with his resolve to tell Jonathan what had been going on recently. Only he didn't know where to begin. Thankfully, Jon began for him, gesturing to the doughnut that Aaron really wasn't eating.
"If you're not going to eat that, you might want to throw it to the birds or something. You've got drool all over it. I thought you liked doughnuts."
Blushing, Aaron placed the soggy treat on the coffee table and wanted nothing more than to vomit the bite he had taken, back up.
"I weighed myself yesterday. For the first time since I've been here. I've lost nineteen kilos." Aaron's eyes didn't stray from the greenish stain on the beige carpet.
There was a brief pause, before anger split the silence. "You've lost nineteen fucking kilograms? In two weeks? Jesus Christ, Aaron. I could see that you're getting skinnier but… nineteen kilos?" Jonathan's mouth set in a thin line. "Stand up please. Lift your shirt."
"What? Jon, I'm sorry but you –"
Jonathan threw his hand up to stop Aaron from speaking. "Please, Aaron. Just stand and lift your shirt. I'll stay where I am so you don't feel too uncomfortable."
Aaron knew from the tone of Jon's voice, that this was important. He did as he was asked and felt physically ill when he heard the detective's sharp intake of breath and a soft 'how is that possible?' come from his mouth as his declining figure was exposed. Still, his eyes remained on the green stain. He knew how he looked. He knew that his stomach was almost sunken. He knew that each of his ribs was painfully visible. He knew that his waxy skin was mottled with red from harsh scrubbings in the shower. He knew that his hips stuck out in the ugliest of ways, and that his back showed all the signs two-fold. Aaron stayed silent.
"Okay. You can sit back down now. I'm sure you're aware of how you look. Eating disorders are common in this situation, so I'll be bringing in a specialised nutritionist as well to help you with your foods. I realise that you're suffering, Aaron. But you're killing yourself. Suicide, whether intentional or not, is inconceivable. It's fucking stupid;moronic; cowardly; pathetic. Need I continue? It won't fix anything, mate. And if you think I'm being too harsh on you, talk to the families of people that have sliced and diced their wrists, swallowed chemicals or pills, or hanged themselves from the bedposts."
It's inconceivably pathetic. Pathetically inconceivable.
Sighing, Aaron drew his legs up to his chest on the couch. "I'm not starving myself, Jon. I eat when I can. I just - I can't digest the food. It … hurts. A lot. And just so you know, as much as I wish I could kill myself every fucking day, I won't. But I'm so sick of all this goddamn pain. And not just physical pain, either. You know, I used to believe in Karma and that motto 'Everything Happens for a Reason'. I fucking lived by that saying, as cliché as it was. I lived by that because of all the stupid little signs I got."
Aaron's eyes changed slightly as he spoke of a time before the rape.
"Like, I'm running late, right, and I just miss the 'walk' signal at some traffic lights. And a moment later a car goes screaming through a red light and would have undoubtedly hit me, had I been on time. Or, uh … oh! A month or so ago I was at the news agency waiting to buy a scratch-it when this old bitch cuts in front of me and refuses to move when I ask her. She buys the exact same scratch-it I was going to, scratches it as she waits for her eighty-thousand lotto numbers to be checked and wins nothing. I go ahead and buy my scratch-it and win a hundred bucks." A shaky hand wove through over-washed hair and his eyes went back to their recent dullness. "But this, you know? Why did this happen? What reason is there that I have to suffer and cry and hide like a motherfucking child?"
Jonathan had no answers, and Aaron didn't expect them. He decided against alerting the detective to his other issues for the time being. His mental stability would need to wait.