I turn my headlights off as soon as I pull onto our street, though I quickly realize it’s pointless. Daniel won’t see me coming, because Daniel is already gone. I can tell the minute my car creeps past our empty driveway. The lights, both inside and out, are off. My house, once again, looks dead.
I lean my head against the steering wheel. I’m too late. He could be anywhere by now—anywhere with Riley. I rack my brain, trying to imagine his final movements. Trying to visualize where he would go.
Then I lift my head. I have an idea.
I remember the camera, that pinprick in the corner of my living room that Bert Rhodes installed. I pull out my phone and tap on the security app, holding my breath as the image on my screen begins to load. It’s my living room—dark, empty. I half expect to see Daniel hiding in the shadows, waiting for me to walk inside. I press the slider at the bottom of the screen, moving it back in time, watching as my house illuminates and Daniel finally appears.
Thirty minutes ago, he was here. He was walking around the house, busying himself with maddeningly normal tasks like wiping down a countertop, stacking the mail two, three times before positioning it in a slightly different spot. As I watch him, I’m left thinking of those words again: serial killer. The taste is funny in my mouth, the same way it was twenty years ago as I watched my father hand-wash the dishes and dry each one with meticulous care, mindful not to chip the edges. Serial killer. Why would he care about something like that? Why would a serial killer care about preserving my grandmother’s china when he didn’t even care about preserving a life?
Daniel walks over to the couch and sits on the edge, rubbing his fingers absentmindedly across his jaw. I’ve watched him so many times before this, observed the little things he does when he thinks nobody else is looking. I’ve watched him make dinner in the kitchen, noticing the way he tops off my glass with the last dribbles of a bottle of wine before swiping
his finger across the lip and licking it clean. I’ve watched him get out of the shower, tousling the strands of damp hair that cascade across his forehead before grabbing his comb and pushing them neatly to one side. And every time I’ve watched him, every time I’ve witnessed one of those little private moments, I’ve always been met with a sense of awe, as if he couldn’t possibly be real.
And now I know why.
He isn’t real. Not really. The Daniel I know, the Daniel I fell in love with, is a caricature of a man, a mask the real one donned to hide his true face. He lured me in, in the same way he lured in those girls; he showed me everything I wanted to see, told me everything I wanted to hear. He made me feel safe, he made me feel loved.
But now I think about all those other moments—the moments when he showed me pieces of his real self. When he let his mask slip for just a minute. I should have seen it before.
After all, it comes back to Aaron’s description of the two different kinds of copycats: those who revere and those who revile. Clearly, Daniel reveres my father. He’s been following him for twenty years, mirroring his crimes since he was seventeen. He visits him in prison, but at a certain point, that wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to kill anymore. It wasn’t enough to take a life and dump it somewhere; he needed to take a life and keep it. He needed to take my life, hijack it the way my father had. He needed to trick me every single day, the way my father had. I watch him now, those hands that pushed his sister’s ring on my finger, marking his territory. Those hands that gripped my throat as he kissed me, squeezing just a little too tight. Teasing me, testing me. I am no different from a piece of jewelry tucked away safely in a darkened closet corner—his trophy, a living, breathing reminder of his accomplishments. I watch him now and feel the anger surge in my chest like a rising tide, getting higher and higher, taking me down, drowning me alive.
I watch as Daniel stands, reaching into his back pocket. He pulls
something out, stares at it for a while. I squint, trying to make it out, but it’s too small. I pinch my cell phone screen with two fingers, zooming in on his hand, and that’s when I recognize it: the thin silver chain puddled in his
palm, spilling over the edge of his wrist. A tiny cluster of diamonds glinting in the light.
I think back to him getting out of bed, creeping across the bedroom, and pushing the closet door shut. I feel the heat building from my chest and into my throat, up my cheeks, radiating through my eyes.
I was right. He did take it.
I think of all the times now that Daniel has made me doubt myself, my sanity, if only for a moment. I’m going to New Orleans, don’t you remember? Second-guessing the things that I had seen; the things I knew in my heart to be true. He continues to stare into his palm until he finally exhales, pushing it back into his pocket. He walks toward the front door, and that’s when I notice a suitcase resting in the hallway, his laptop bag leaned gently against the wall. He picks them both up, turns around. Surveys the room one final time. Then he lifts his finger to the light switch, and like a pair of pursed lips channeling breath into a flame, everything goes black.
I place my phone in my cup holder, trying to decipher what I just watched. It isn’t much—but it’s something. Half an hour ago, Daniel was here. He isn’t too far ahead of me. I just need to figure out where he would go. The possibilities are endless, really. He could go anywhere. He has a suitcase. He could be driving across the country, prepared to hole up in a hotel room somewhere. Maybe even go south into Mexico—the border is less than ten hours away. He could be there by morning.
But then, I think of that necklace, his finger stroking the silver as it rests in his palm. I think of Riley, still missing. Her body not yet discovered. And I realize: He isn’t running, because he isn’t done yet. He still has work to do.
The coroner had determined that the victim’s bodies had been moved after death. That they had died somewhere else before being dropped back in the same place they had vanished. So, if that’s the case, where is Riley? Where could he possibly be keeping her? Where did he keep all of them?
And then it hits me. I know. Somehow, deep down, on a cellular level.
Before I can talk myself out of it, I start my car, flip on my headlights, and drive. I try to distract myself by thinking of anything and anywhere other than where I’m about to be—but as the minutes tick by, I can feel my heartbeat accelerating. With every passing mile, it gets harder and harder to breath. Thirty minutes go by, then forty. I know I’m almost there. I glance at the clock in my car—it’s just before midnight—and when I peel my eyes from the dashboard and back to the road, that’s when I see it, approaching slowly in the distance. That old, familiar sign, rusted on the edges and dirty from years of mud and grime caking to the metal. I feel my palms go slick with sweat, the panic setting in as it inches closer and closer into view. A flickering light illuminating it with a sick glow.
WELCOME TO BREAUX BRIDGE:
CRAWFISH CAPITAL OF THE WORLD
I’m going home.