Chapter 24


Rabbit pounded up twelve flights of stairs with Julian half a flight behind him. He ignored the voices of caution and reason in his mind that were trying to shout him down. They protested that he wasn’t a member of the SPD, that he was neither obligated nor legally permitted to do what he was planning on doing, and that it would be much safer to go home and make a few phone calls and let others handle this.

The part of him that had the energy to jog up twelve flights of stairs rejected all of these claims. He was obligated, it insisted, because if he went home and called the authorities, not only would they bungle it and let this madman get away with what he was doing, but they would lose any remaining chance at saving William. He had to act. Now.

Rabbit let the two parts of his mind duke it out, already aware of which would win--had already won, really--and tried to ignore the fact that instead of an internal monologue, he always ended up with dialogues, as though there were many people inside his head. That was another topic, like the loss of his sense of taste, which he did not feel comfortable lingering on, and so he didn’t. Instead, he focused on making it up the stairs and cursed whatever maintenance crew had failed to fix the broken elevators in time for his arrival.

On the landing of the twelfth floor, he paused to regulate his breathing. Julian caught up with him and grabbed his sleeve as he reached for the door. He looked over his shoulder to see his “partner” holding a handgun out to him.

“You know how to use it, right?”

Rabbit paused, then grunted an affirmative and took the weapon. Julian smiled and watched him tuck it into the waistband of his pants and conceal it under his shirt.

“Just to be safe,” he said and Rabbit nodded. The only other weapon he had on him was the knife in his pocket, and though he was confident in his ability to use it, a gun meant that any would-be attacker wouldn’t get close enough to touch him.

He pulled the stairwell door open and stepped through to find himself in a three-way intersection in the hallway. Julian stepped forward to examine a floor directory that was mounted on the wall nearby; Rabbit ignored him and turned to his left, toward the elevators. They were near the far end of the hallway, and one door interrupted the wall between the stairwell and the elevators. Rabbit measured the distance from the single doorway to the elevators, estimating that there was enough room to squeeze a decently sized one-room apartment into the space. He knew without checking the apartment number that it was their destination.

He didn’t tell Julian right away. He remained still where he was standing. His head felt strange, as though he could feel each individual atom that made up his brain buzzing and vibrating. It was a sensation Rabbit had only felt a couple of times before--in Billie’s office at the brothel and once on the street in No Town--and though he didn’t know what had caused it, he knew that this time it was a warning.

Julian was turning toward him, his mouth open to speak, when Rabbit pushed him up against the wall. He pressed his body against Julian’s and as he did he heard the door between the stairwell and the elevator open.

“What--”

“He’s coming.” Rabbit’s voice was low, his face very close to Julian’s. The other man fell silent, staring at him, his reddish eyes wide with curiosity and expectation.

Rabbit wasn’t looking at him. Out of the corner of his eye, through his hair, he saw a man emerge from the apartment. He paused, and Rabbit felt his eyes on them. It was only for an instant, and then there was a shuffling of feet and the stairwell door opened and closed and he was gone.

Rabbit stepped away from Julian at once and crossed the hallway to the apartment door. Behind him, Julian pushed away from the wall.

“Why--”

“That close together, he wouldn’t have known you aren’t a girl,” Rabbit said by way of explanation. No one ever questioned a young couple sneaking a few kisses when they thought they were alone. The fact that they were still breathing hard from the run up the stairs helped, too.

Julian ignored the slight. “But how did you know he was coming?”

Rabbit paid no attention to the question because he didn’t have an answer for it. He tried the door and found it locked. Bareing his teeth in frustration at a building that had doors that locked automatically but no working elevators, he stepped back, ignoring Julian’s continued questions. He raised one booted foot and kicked the door in.

Julian paused as though impressed. Rabbit gave the door a look of disdain; it was old-fashioned and opened inward rather than sliding sideways into the wall, making it less secure than those found in newer buildings. He drew Julian’s gun from under his shirt and entered the apartment. Julian followed him through a small, L-shaped entryway that shielded the rest of the apartment from view and stopped behind him in the living room.

Rabbit was sure that stepping into this room was what going mad felt like. The walls were spattered in blood and the carpet was worn thin and mottled with stains. The plaster on the walls was interrupted by similar stands and what looked like scratch marks. The room opened into a small dining area and kitchen that looked more like an old fashioned butcher’s shop. A massive cutting board filled one counter, bearing a slab of meat that looked suspiciously like part of a human leg.

Julian, who seemed to be pointedly ignoring the gore around them, stepped into the dining area, past a table that bore the remains of some unsavory meal, and stopped next to a highchair that was missing its front tray. He was staring at the wall with his brow furrowed. Rabbit followed his gaze to find a collage of images of a young brown-eyed man who had blond hair streaked with a violent electric blue. The images ranged from the man walking down the street, unaware of the photographer, to what looked like posed fetish images.

Rabbit looked away, swallowing the bile that his stomach was churning up into his throat.

“Find William.” His voice was a little hoarse, but Julian nodded, his own gun drawn now, and made a cursory check of the kitchen.

Rabbit moved to a short hallway that led to the bathroom and bedroom. He heard a soft, throaty noise from Julian behind him that followed the sound of the refrigerator door opening, and did not care to imagine what his partner had found. He pushed the bathroom door open, gun at the ready in front of him, and was confronted by a woman hanging upside down over the bathtub. He backpedaled, taking in the blood and entrails, the hooks through her ankles that held her up, and realized with equal amounts relief and disgust that she was dead. The corpse seemed to fill the tiny space and he turned away quickly, as though to erase the image from existence.

As he faced the bedroom door, Julian joined him.

“You would not believe what he has in his fridge--”

“I think I would.” Rabbit’s reply was terse. His surroundings were crushing him.

The bedroom door swung open at his touch. There was a large bed pushed up against one wall. The area around the head of the bed was studded with eyehooks and a large metallic box gleamed at him through a crack in the closet door. While Julian went to inspect that, Rabbit rounded the bed and stopped short.

He wasn’t sure, afterward, that the thing he found on the floor beside the bed was even human anymore, in shape or mentality. It was lying naked on its back, muzzled, the stumps where its arms and legs had been twitching as it whimpered and dreamed. He stared and felt as though his own limbs had gone numb and left him--the sudden vacuum that the reality of William’s fate had created made his lungs burn.

With jolting suddenness he lost awareness of anything except a need to do what no one had done for him for this boy, and this strange semi-merciful impulse was what made him raise his gun. Julian, who had turned toward him to speak, yelled something, but his voice was lost in the airless room, and so was the sound of Rabbit emptying the clip into something that he was certain was no longer a little boy.