THE COLD ROOM Excerpt
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Gavin Adler jumped when a small chime sounded on his computer. He looked at the clock in surprise; it was already 6:00 p.m. During the winter months, darkness descended and reminded him to close up shop, but the Daylight Savings time change necessitated an alarm clock to let him know when it was time to leave. Otherwise, he’d get lost in his computer and never find his way home.
He rose from his chair, stretched, turned off the computer and reached for his messenger bag. What a day. What a long and glorious day.
He took his garbage with him; his lunch leavings. There was no reason to have leftover banana peels in his trash can overnight. He shut off the lights, locked the door, dropped the plastic Publix bag into the Dumpster, and began the two-block walk to his parking spot. His white Prius was one of the few cars left in the lot.
Gavin listened to his iPod on the way out of downtown. Traffic was testy, as always, so he waited patiently, crawling through West End, then took the exit for I-40 and headed, slowly, toward Memphis. The congestion cleared right past White Bridge, and he sailed the rest of the way. The drive took twenty-two minutes, he clocked it. Not too bad.
He left the highway at McCrory Lane and went to his gym. The YMCA lot was full, as always. He checked in, changed clothes in the locker room, ran for forty-five minutes, worked on the elliptical for twenty, did one hundred inverted crunches and shadow boxed for ten minutes. Then he toweled himself off. He retrieved the messenger bag, left his sneakers in the locker, slipped his feet back into the fluorescent orange rubber Crocs he’d been wearing all day. He left his gym clothes on—they would go straight into the wash.
He went across the street to Publix, bought a single chicken cordon bleu and a package of instant mashed potatoes, a tube of hearty buttermilk biscuits, fresh bananas and cat food. He took his groceries, went to his car, and drove away into the night. He hadn’t seen a soul. His mind was engaged with what waited for him at home.
Dark. Lonely. Empty.
Gavin pulled into the rambler-style house at 8:30. His cat, a Burmese gray named Art, met him at the door, loudly protesting his empty bowl. He spooned wet food into the cat’s dish as a special treat before he did anything else. No reason for Art to be miserable. The cat ate with his tail high in the air, purring and growling softly.
He hit Play on his stereo, and the strains of Dvořák spilled through his living room. He stood for a moment, letting the music wash over him, moving his right arm in concert with the bass. The music filled him, made him complete, and whole. Art came and stood beside him, winding his tail around Gavin’s leg. He smiled at the interruption, bent and scratched the cat behind the ears. Art arched his back in pleasure.
Evening’s ritual complete, Gavin turned on the oven, sprinkled olive oil in a glass dish and put the chicken in to bake. It would take forty-five minutes to cook.
He showered, checked his work e-mail on his iPhone, then ate. He took his time, the chicken was especially good this evening. He sipped an icy Corona Light with a lime stuck in the neck.
He washed up. 10:00 now. He gave himself permission. He’d been a very good boy.
The padlock on the door to the basement was shiny with promise and lubricant. He inserted the key, twisting his wrist to keep it from jangling. He took the lock with him, holding it gingerly so he didn’t get oil on his clothes. Oil was nearly impossible to get out. He made sure Art wasn’t around, he didn’t like the cat to get into the basement. He saw him sitting on the kitchen table, looking mournfully at the empty spot where Gavin’s plate had rested.
Inside the door, the stairs led to blackness. He flipped a switch and light flooded the stairwell. He slipped the end of the lock in the inside latch, then clicked it home. No sense taking chances.
She was asleep. He was quiet, so he wouldn’t wake her. He just wanted to look, anyway.
The Plexiglas cage was the shape of a coffin with a long clear divider down the length—creating two perfectly sized compartments—with small drainage holes in the bottom and air holes along the top. It stood on a reinforced platform he had built himself. The concrete floor had a drain; all he needed to do was sluice water across the opening and presto, clean. He ran the water for a few minutes, clearing out the debris, then looked back to his love.
Her lips were cracking, the hair shedding. She’d been without food and water for a week now, and she was spending more and more time asleep. Her lethargy was anticipated. He looked forward to the moment when her agonies were at an end. He had no real desire to torture her. He just needed her heart to stop. Then, he could have her.
He licked his lips and felt embarrassed by his erection.
He breathed in the scent of her, reveling in the musky sweetness of her dying flesh, then went to the desk in the corner of the basement. No spiders and dust and basement rot for Gavin. The place was clean. Pristine.
The computer, a Mac Air he’d indulged in as a late Christmas present to himself, sprang to life. A few taps of the keyboard, the wireless system engaged and he was online. Before he had a chance to scroll through his bookmarks, his iChat chimed. The user’s screen name was IlMorte69. He and Gavin were very good friends. Gavin responded, his own screen name, hot4cold, popping up in red ten-point Arial.
My dollhouse is nearly complete, Hot. Howz urs?
Hey, Morte. Mine’s on its last legs as well. I’m here checking. Your trip go well?
My friend, I can’t tell you. Such a wonderful time. But it’s good to be home.
One. Luscious. Easy pickings. Like taking a rat from a cellar.
Gavin cringed. Sometimes Morte got to be a little much. But what could you do? It was hard for Gavin to talk to people, the online world was his oyster, his outlet. He had other friends who weren’t quite as crude as Morte. Speaking of which…he glanced at the listing of contacts and saw Necro90 was online as well. He sent him a quick hello, then went back to his chat with Morte.
When do you think you’ll be ready?
Morte came back almost immediately.
Within two days. Did you do it like we discussed? You were more careful with the disposal than with the snatch, weren’t you?
Gavin bristled a tiny bit, then relaxed. Morte was right to chide him, after all, he had made a mistake. He’d quickly learned that following Morte’s every instruction was important. Very, very important.
Yes. It was perfect. I’ll send you a photo.
He uploaded the shots, breath quickening in remembrance. So beautiful. Within moments, Morte responded.
My God. That is perfect. Lovely. You’ve become quite an artist.
Gavin blushed. Receiving compliments gracefully wasn’t one of his strongest attributes. He glanced over his shoulder, knew he needed to wrap this up.
Morte, I’ve gotta run. Long day today.
I’ll bet. You be good. Don’t forget, two days and counting. I’ll expect pictures!
A picture flooded his screen— Morte had sent him a gift. Gavin studied the photo; his ears burned. Oh, Morte was amazingly good with a camera. So much better than he was.
Morte’s doll had no animation, no movement. Her eyes were shut. Gavin turned his chair around so he could stare at his own dollhouse, his own doll, lying in the darkness. Alone. He’d need to find her another friend soon. If only Morte’s girl was a sister. He didn’t have a taste for white meat.
Another chime—this time it was Necro responding. He asked how Gavin was doing, if there’d been any news in the community. Gavin replied with a negative—he’d heard nothing. Of course, his ear wasn’t to the floor like Morte—Morte was the architect of their online world anyway. Gavin had found his friends deep in a sleepy sex message board, and was so thrilled to have them. They made his life bearable.
He chatted for a few minutes with Necro, read a rambling account of a perfect specimen on some white sand Caribbean beach that Necro had sighted, then logged out. He stared at the photo he’d downloaded from Morte. He was overwhelmingly turned on, and no longer able to contain himself. With a last glance at his doll, he went up the stairs, unlocked the door, locked the basement behind him and returned to his life. It was time for another shower, then bed. He had a very busy day ahead of him. A very busy few days. The plan was in motion.
He was proud of himself. He only checked the doll’s breathing three times during the night.
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