My fifth gin and tonic. Clinks from the ice, blue lights on the wall. Car doors slam. I told them where to look. All week their detectives sniffed around, asked questions, so I made their work simple. One more sip and I’ll be ready.
I met Teddy in Cambridge. We were in the same writing program. One night, after a long drinking bout, I passed out on his couch and woke when he clicked on the desk lamp. I kept my left eye open as he parted the covers of his notebook.
Although Teddy’s face was pockmarked, his hands were smooth with long, slender fingers that gleamed in the half-light. My own hands were rough as Teddy’s cheeks. Years later, when I pored over his manuscripts—all written in blue leather notebooks with a tiny, childlike scrawl—I realized it was not the man who wrote, but the hands.
Teddy became a tutor in Jamaica Plain. I had a nervous breakdown and left town to scrub dishes in the White Mountains. Finally I wandered out to the woods south of Mount Washington. One cold November night I dragged my boots down the ridge and came across an AMT cabin. I waited until the lights went off, then another hour.
Rifling through their bags and provisions, I startled one of the hikers. With a smooth, palm-sized stone I’d wrenched from the river basin, I bashed in both of their heads and stole their food.
Back in Cambridge, I spent two weeks scribbling a novel. The book was praised for its murder scenes and even won a small award. At author panels, fans asked how I’d written such a stark portrait of a murderer. A lot of imagination.
The next killing—a bartender—was easy. Alone in a dark and empty lot, he squealed as the wire snapped across his neck.
Then the second novel: a bestseller that delivered on the promise of the first. When a film studio bought the rights, I rented a garden level unit in Coolidge Corner. Teddy had moved to a rotting suburb, married and divorced, finished a book of poetry. I asked if he would come for a weekend on my boat.
The lake was calm. We drank a few glasses of port and settled in. After reading the manuscript, I asked if I might kiss the fingers that had written such work over the years. “No,” he said. “That’s not all they’ve done.” In the cabin a lantern spread its glow over the desk as he sat craned over his notebook. Pretending to sleep, I watched his hands: even with the passage of time, they were slender, spotless, almost translucent. And what were my hands? Not the hands of a creator, not of a god…
I no longer read books. The ones on the shelves are my own—in English, German, Turkish, Japanese. My awards I tossed overboard the night I strangled Teddy.
I place my my gin and tonic on the table and walk to the shelf. From a drawer I take a revolver, check the hammer, load the cylinder with blanks. As I hear the officers charge up the steps, I thumb across the spines of all my editions until I reach a slender black box. I pull it out and open the top: inside are Teddy’s pale hands, perfectly preserved. After killing him I felt nothing, wrote no novel. I burned his notebooks and kept the hands to remind me of his victory.
With the pistol butt, I smash the glass and remove them. Clutch them to my chest. With my right hand I grip the gun. When the cops blow down the door, it will be a relief to squeeze the trigger.
Max Thrax lives in Boston. His novel God Is A Killer (Close To The Bone) will be published in May 2022.
Chilling piece. Kept me hooked right to the end.