"How you holding up?"
The hospital room was sparsely populated with few furnishings. A low chair was left abandoned in the corner, and a squat table sat beside the bed, upon which a cup of water and a framed picture of a cat had been placed. The curtains had been drawn over the window, leaving only artificial light to illuminate the room.
Rawlings sucked water through a straw and turned his mismatched eyes onto David, who stood lingering in the doorway. "I feel like shit, but I'm alive. Which is something..." He flinched in pain as he spoke, straining the stitches ringing his neck.
"I've gotta say... You're one tough son of a bitch," David said, folding his arms over his chest. "I talked to the boy. He says you grabbed her, when she tried to chase him out. And from what I gather, you'd already been stabbed at that point." He broke into a genuine smile. "Without you, she might have caught and killed him."
Rawlings scratched at the side of his head, again wincing as his IV line moved beneath the skin of his left arm. "Yeah, well... No good deed. She stabbed me three times."
"You got your own back, though," David retorted. "I saw what you did to her face."
"Thought she deserved something."
Pulling the chair out of the corner, David sat beside the bed and took a long moment to himself. "You know... I think I'm actually going to miss you."
"Shit, don't say it so loud. People might hear you."
David chuckled to himself and leaned backwards. "I'm actually trying to be nice to you. Don't make me regret it."
Rawlings smirked through his beard and pushed one hand back through his long, matted hair. "Actually... You grew on me as the week went on. Then again so did my verruca."
David burst into a genuine laugh, for the first time in a while. His eyes creased and crows feet spread across his face. Reaching up, he wiped a tear out of his eye. "Like I said... I'm going to miss you."
Rawlings shrugged. "I guess I can say the same. I liked you better than the other Lyefield guys. Though that's not saying an awful lot."
David again sat in silence for a while, listening to the ticking of the wall-mounted clock. Again, Rawlings took a drink from his cup of water.
"You were right about the cats on the track, by the way," David said, breaking the silence. "She did dump them there, to get someone on their own. Helen Raleigh, nineteen years old."
Rawlings took a breath and stared off into the distance. "You'd think that would make me happy..."
"Not at all... I just wanted to say, you're good at your job."
Rawlings turned his odd eyes back to David, meeting his pupils in an unwavering stare. "Yeah. You too."
Braithwaite and Franko stood staring over at the house, as if they could see the evil seeping out of it. The horrors that had occurred in the home had forever stained it, infecting it with the disease of pain. Lesions of the sickness spread out into the air around it and lingered, like the stench of death. Too long would it be until the horror was forgotten. The house would carry the stain until long after their bones turned to dust.
"Your lads did a good job," Braithwaite admitted.
"So did yours," Franko replied. "The media's going to be all over this," he added.
"Well, you can't expect anything else," the Superintendent stated. "A case like this... A serial killer in Lindum. The press is going to have a field day. It's a big talking point."
"If you want to go in front of those vultures, leave me out of if." Franko stuffed his hands into his pockets, his gaze still fixed on Natalie Hunt's house. Strands of police tape still hung between the beams of the garden gate. "I've had my fill. Twenty years on the Murder Squad is too long."
"What about all of those crime shows you were on," the older man said, with a smirk. "You were quite the celebrity back in your day."
"Not all they're cracked up to be," he replied. "I went on the shows to educate people, not because I had illusions of grandeur." He flicked his eyes over Braithwaite. "But if that is what you want, don't let me stop you."
Franko turned to leave when he spotted movement, coming down the slope of the field behind the house. Red-faced and ruddy, the young man wore a navy blue windbreaker and light blue jeans. Looped around his neck, a DSLR camera jumped and bounced with every step that he took.
He raised his voice and called out to the young reporter. "Hey! What the hell do you think you're doing?!"
Expecting the young man to run, he was surprised when the reporter continued past the house and jogged up to him. In his sweaty fist, he clasped a handheld recording device. "Hey, sorry about that!" he laughed. "Jessie Goodwin, Mayfair Star. You wouldn't happen to want to give me a bit of an interview? About what exactly's gone on here?"
Stunned by the brash nature of the man, Franko stepped back in disbelief. "Are you being serious?"
"Deathly," he joked. Crudely.
"Sorry, sir, but you're going to have to leave."
"Hang on a second," Braithwaite interjected, patting Franko on the shoulder as he strode past him. "You're from a local paper, right? Not one of those national ones?"
Jessie nodded, a shrewd smile curling his mouth.
Braithwaite smiled. "How about an exclusive?"
"I'm glad they've finally let you out," Pru said, beaming a smile over at Scott.
Both of his eyes were still black and swollen, and his limbs encased in cast, but he was otherwise on the mend. He sat in a wheelchair, his broken leg stretched out in front of him. As he smiled, he chewed the inside of his cheek.
"I guess they figured I was well enough to send home."
"How are you feeling?" she tilted her head in genuine sympathy, looking for anything in his expression.
"Honestly?" Sadness passed over his face. "Still guilty. If... If it hadn't been for me, Alice and Helen wouldn't have died."
"She was crazy," Pru said, her voice stern and forceful. "There was nothing you could do. As far as we know, she could have killed anyone. Listen to me." She moved as he looked away, so as to keep eye contact. "Listen to me. None of it was your fault."
Scott said nothing.
"Listen to me. None of this is your fault." Leaning towards him, she reached out and took his hand in her own. "Don't think like that, okay. Promise me."
Breaking into a sad smile, Scott nodded as the tears began to brim in his eyes. "Thank you."
"That's okay." Pru returned the smile and cocked her head to the side. "Just promise not to cry next time I come and visit, okay?"
Scott laughed, crying all the while. "Well I can't exactly help it, can I? Jesus, you're heartless."
Her usual attitude coaxing a laugh out of him, Pru joined Scott in chuckling.
The pair sat for a long time talking about nothing, but it meant everything to Scott. She could see it on his face. He had been through so much that he needed a sense of normality; something from his life before the horror to return to.
After two hours of conversation, and very little else, she promised to visit him every day. Scott replied with a laugh that she had better, or he would get the impression that she didn't care. She called him a bumhole and left with a smile on her face, thanking whatever God would listen for returning him safe.
Leaving Scott's house, she prepared to climb into her car when she noticed something out of the ordinary.
Pru saw the man, stood in the shade of a sycamore. He was leaning against the newly built wall that bordered the garden in which the tree had been planted. Tall and strong, his body was corded with tightly wound coils of dense muscle.
He seemed out of place in the suburban neighbourhood; an unfamiliar face that she had never seen before.
Clearly waiting for something the man moved listlessly, turning his attention up and down the street. The way that his eyes flitted about left her slightly uncomfortable and self-conscious. Almost like his vision was able to penetrate the very nature of whatever he looked at. When his gaze landed on her, he lingered for a second, like he was staring into her mind.
Lifting one hand, he waved pleasantly and broke into a grin.
Turing away, he walked several feet down the road and got into his car. As he drove away, Pru watched him leave. Through the white glare on his windows, she caught the man looking out; his eyes fixed on Scott's house.
Disappearing around the corner, down the road, the car's tail end reflected in Pru's eye.
Thinking to himself, as he drove away from the house, The Grinner curled his mouth into a smile.
[A/N: Thus ends Book 1 of my Fractured Minds series. I hope you all enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Stay tuned for Book 2: "Emulsion", coming soon!]