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The Delilah Party

Mitchell Owens spent much of his seventeen years a quiet boy, sitting very still in the darkest part of a very dark room. Most people could not figure him out, and as far as Mitchell was concerned, the feeling was mutual.

But his older friend Stefan wasn’t most people. He picked up on Mitchell’s vibe right away, as Mitchell was still squeezing into the back of Stef and Trudy’s Explorer in the parking lot of the Becker’s convenience store where they had met three times now. Stefan looked over his shoulder, looked again with his eyes a little narrower, then turned around so his knees were on the seat and his skinny chest was pressed against the headrest.

“Looks like you ate a bug, Mitch,” he said.

“Didn’t eat a bug,” said Mitchell.

“Just an expression,” said Trudy, eyeing him herself in the rearview mirror. She was haloed in the light of the Becker’s sign so from behind her blonde hair looked like the discharge off a Van de Graaff generator — black as midnight in the middle of her skull, leaping bolts of yellow on the rim. The rearview mirror told a different story: her eyes were in full illumination, a blazing rectangle of light.

Mitchell stammered when he spoke up:

“Th-they took away my laptop.”

“I see you don’t have it with you,” said Stefan. “By they I assume you mean the police.”

“Yuh.”

“Bummer,” said Stefan.

“You’ll get it back,” said Trudy.

“Did they follow you?” asked Stefan.

“No.”

“Why would they follow Mitch?” Trudy put the Explorer into gear, and tapped the gas so that Stefan lurched against the seat. “Fuck, woman!” he said, and Trudy said, “I’ve got a name. Sit forward. It’s more comfortable.”

“Fuck,” said Stefan again, and he winked at Mitchell. “Do up your seatbelt, Mitch. Woman — Trudy’s — in a mood.”

“Fuck you,” said Trudy as they pulled out of the parking lot, and at that, Mitchell felt himself smile. He would get the laptop back. Of course he would.

The Explorer pulled right onto Starling with only a little room to spare before it joined the early evening traffic and subsumed itself to its pattern: drive a bit and stop awhile. Watch the light from red to green, red to flashing green, red to red while the other side got flashing green. Wait and go. Go and wait. Mitchell was feeling better and better. The laptop would be his again. It was part of the pattern.

“So they treat you okay?” said Trudy.

“Why wouldn’t they?” said Stefan.

“Cops are fucking fascists. They get a kid like Mitch here and they’ll just be pricks to him.”

“They got your laptop,” said Stefan. “You have anything on the hard drive?”

Mitchell didn’t know what he meant and said so. Stefan and Trudy shared a glance, and Trudy pulled into the left lane so she could turn onto Bern Street when her turn came.

“We’ve got some friends coming over,” said Stefan conversationally. “From the news group. I think you’ve met some of them. Remember Mrs. Woolfe?”

Mitchell thought about that. He put the name to a tall woman with glasses and a dark tattoo that crept over the edge of her turtleneck sweater like foliage. “Was she the one who was always sad?”

“Lesley?” said Trudy. “She wasn’t sad.”

“She just wasn’t smiling,” said Stefan. “But that doesn’t mean she was sad.”

Mitchell nodded. Those were two expressions that Mitchell was always mixing up. “Not sad. Just concentrating.”

“Right.”

The Explorer swung vertiginously through the intersection about a second after the light switched to amber. Mitchell glanced back sceptically. Sure enough, it was red before they’d cleared it. He was sure someone was going to honk.

“So what did they ask you?”

Stefan was half turned around in his seat, so only one eye looked back at Mitchell. The skin of his forehead was puckered up over his raised eyebrow. He was either being worried or casual.

Mitchell said: “They asked me how well I knew Delilah. They wanted to know if I ever emailed her or knew her in this chat room that I guess she went to.”

“Our chat room?”

Mitchell shook his head. “Another one. Not like the one we have. Hers was for wrestling. They asked if I had any pictures of her on my computer or anything.”

“Which you don’t.”

“Pardon?”

“You don’t have any pictures of her on your computer,” said Trudy. “Right?”

“Oh. Right. I don’t.”

“And you didn’t bookmark the chatroom.”

“I use the computer at the library for that.”

“Then you have nothing to worry about.”

“Why would I be worried?”

“No reason,” said Trudy, and Stefan said, “You might have something to worry about if you did something. I mean — ”

“No reason,” said Trudy again.

“Okay.”

Mitchell leaned back in the Explorer’s seat so that Trudy’s eyes were gone from the rear view mirror and all he could see was the dark roof of the Explorer. He unzipped his jacket because the heat of the car was getting to him. The Explorer turned right at Sparroway Circle, and then turned right again at the entrance to Number Five Sparroway Circle’s parking garage. Mitchell did a little cha-cha thing on his left thigh with the first two fingers of his right hand as the Explorer made its way through Level One of the garage, which included most of the guest parking, then his fingers made their way to the lock switch as they prowled across the slightly better-lit Level Two. He locked and unlocked the door three times then made himself stop when they pulled into Space 152. Trudy and Stefan pretended not to notice — just locked up the car for good using a button on Trudy’s keychain, took him to the elevator which they opened using a card on Stefan’s keychain, and got on board. The door closed on them and the elevator started going up.

“School was bad today,” said Mitchell.

Stefan pushed his hands into the pockets of his dark leather coat. Trudy bent her head forward like she was looking at her feet, then suddenly turned her eyes to the side so they were looking at Mitchell.

“What are we,” she said, “your parents?”

“No.” Mitchell’s parents were another story. “You’re my friends.”

When the elevator got to the very top of the building it opened up on a wide hallway. There were only two apartments on this floor — one at either end of the hallway. Stefan and Trudy’s apartment was on the right. The other one belonged to a guy named Giorgio Piccininni, but it was basically vacant because Giorgio was in Italy doing real estate or something. There were voices coming from Stefan and Trudy’s place and Mitchell thought he heard the sound of their Media Centre. He recognized the voice on the home theatre from the news channel and he thought he recognized the voices talking but it was hard to tell.

“I’ll wait out here,” he said.

Trudy took his arm. “Come on, scaredy-cat,” she said. “We went to a lot of trouble to make sure this place was safe for you.” Then she pushed the door open the rest of the way and gave him a little push. “Inside.”

Mitchell stumbled through the double doors. The main room was high, with a big sleek chandelier hanging down from a ceiling that was two entire floors up. At one end was a kitchen that opened up on a dining room. At the other end was a sitting area, which faced a television set that was almost as big as the Explorer. Five people were sitting around it, watching the 24-hour news channel. Mitchell couldn’t remember who all the people were, although he had met them all before — three times in person, and many, many times online in the chat room. Three of them were men and two were women. He didn’t think either of the women was Mrs. Lesley Woolfe. The news anchor on television was Gloria Stahl. She was talking about Delilah Franken and her high school sports record.

“Just make yourselves at home,” said Trudy.

One of the men turned to the door and waved. He was completely bald and his eyes were jiggly.

“Hey, Mitch,” he said. “Hey, guys. Everything going okay out there?”

Stefan smiled. “You know as much as we do.” He walked over and sat down on the arm of the sofa. “More, maybe. What’s she going on about?”

The woman nearest Stefan rested her hand on his knee and smiled up at him. “The Police Chief’s had another press conference,” she said. “He just did the usual: asked that anyone with information about poor Delilah’s disappearance should call CrimeStoppers. Didn’t have anything new to say.”

“Well of course he didn’t,” said Trudy. She put her hand on Mitchell’s shoulder. Her thumb touched the back of his neck and he took a sharp breath.

“Can I go on the computer?” asked Mitchell.

The woman by Stefan shook her head, but she smiled or seemed to. “Mitchell Owens,” she said, “you are a prize.”

Trudy’s hand slid off Mitchell’s shoulder and she took him by the hand. “Come on,” she said. “I’ll boot it up for you.”

“I know how,” said Mitchell. But he let her lead him to the sunroom anyway. He stood there for a moment, looking down over the flickering lights — the patterns of brake lights and headlights and signs and window lamps. Mitchell looked back when the computer chimed up to its logon screen.

“You are a prize,” said Trudy, typing the password which was BLENDER. “Shelly was right about that.”

“Ah,” said Mitchell. “Shelly.” That was her name.

Trudy’s eyes flashed again. “Do you like her?”

“What do you mean?”

“Could she — ” Trudy gestured in the air with her hands and looked at the ceiling. “You know.”

Mitchell blinked. “What do you mean?”

Now Trudy’s eyes widened and she looked down at him with a tight little slit of a mouth. When she spoke, she whispered like she was shouting.

You know what I mean!

Mitchell looked over at the computer screen. The wallpaper was new — a scan of Delilah Franken, the one from the police website. Her hair was darker than it should be. She was wearing her graduation gown and she didn’t look comfortable in it. He moused over to the START menu and fired up Photoshop.

Trudy seemed to calm down. She put her hand on Mitchell’s shoulder and leaned close to his ear. “What are you up to there, Mitchy?”

“Make her happy.”

“Oh.” Trudy chuckled. “Well go to it, sport.”

Mitchell found the JPEG and opened it up. It was a big file and when he zoomed into 100 per cent all he could see was her mouth, a bit of her chin and the bottom of her nose. That was good. It looked like there was a blemish on her chin, maybe some acne because she was so stressed out about graduating, so he cloned some skin from her cheek onto it, then he opened up the Liquify filter and went to work on her mouth. Delilah was one of those girls who smiled like she was sad, with the mouth turned down at the edges. Mitchell fixed that, edging the pixels at the corners up and up and up. Once he was satisfied Delilah was happy enough, he applied the changes and went to work on her hair, which in the picture was a dingy brown. He magnetic-lassoed it with a one-pixel feather then went into Image>Adjustments>Curves, and he lightened it up and improved the contrast so it looked like she had blonde streaks which is how she wore it these days. He liked the idea, but not so much the effect: the feather made the background glow too much around her hair, like a halo. But he didn’t know how to fix it either. So Mitchell left it the way it was and saved it under another file name. He closed it, then he went into File>Open recent and opened it again. He did it again, four times.

“Wow. She sure is happy.”

Mitchell took a sharp breath.

“Really happy.”

He took his hand away from the mouse.

“Fucking overjoyed.” Laughter followed. Mitchell turned around.

The whole party, all seven of them, were there. Shelly was dangling a mostly empty wine glass beside her as she pressed against a skinny grey-haired man, who was leaning against the doorframe beside Stefan, who was bent forward over the back of an office chair, his hands on the armrests straddling the bare arms of another woman with short dark hair and light-coloured jeans who was sitting there legs crossed, one bare foot with manicured toenails brushing the shoulder of the bald man, who sat on the floor almost cross-legged. Behind them, a blond-haired fellow wearing a black T-shirt stood on his toes to look at the computer screen. Trudy was crouched down beside Mitchell, her hands on the desktop and her chin resting on her knuckles. She looked up at Mitchell.

“Happy now?” she said. Stefan laughed, Shelly giggled, and that set everyone else off.

Mitchell looked back at the picture. Delilah smiled back out at him, and he thought he could see why they were laughing. She was smiling wide: too wide, as wide as the Joker did in Batman. As he looked at it now, he saw the problem with that. It was unnatural. Delilah had never smiled that way. Not even in grade school. If she did, why she’d rip her cheeks right off her cheekbones and then there’d be nothing but blood and tears. Mitchell guessed it was pretty funny, seeing Delilah Franken smiling like that.

He let his breath out.

“I’m done on the computer,” he said. “Can I have something to eat?”

Trudy’s knees made a cracking noise as she got up. “Sure thing. Let’s go to the kitchen.”

The others spread to make a pathway for Trudy and Mitchell out of the sunroom. Looking over his shoulder, he saw that they all gathered around the computer, to get a closer look at the picture he made. Mitchell felt an unfamiliar sense of pride. They were looking at his picture — his work. Even if he hadn’t gotten the hair right, that was something.

Trudy opened the refrigerator and pulled out a tray covered in Saran wrap. She stood quickly, balancing the tray on the fingertips of one hand while she cocked her hip and planted the other hand there. “Canapes?” she said.

“Canap'es,” said Mitchell. Trudy had pronounced it like Can Apes.

“You got it,” said Trudy. She set the tray down on the countertop and peeled back the plastic. Mitchell took a little roll of prosciutto and melon and bit into it. It was salty and sweet, watery and oily. A nice-enough mix that he took two others.

“So how was school?” Trudy leaned against the stove and crossed one ankle over the other. “You said it was a bad day.”

Mitchell took a breath. He didn’t think they wanted to hear about anything like that because they weren’t his parents. But maybe that was just when Stefan was in the room. Mitchell chewed and swallowed another canap'e.

“It was a bad day. They made us go to an assembly. This … this guy from the school board talked to us for about an hour. Some girls were crying. Even though she’d already graduated. They were crying. Can you believe that? Right there in the assembly with everybody looking.”

“What did he talk to you about?”

“After that was History of Europe. I hate History of Europe and it sucked. And phys-ed. I don’t see why I have to take that when what I want to do is — ”

Trudy cut in: “You don’t want to talk about that assembly, do you?”

Mitchell put the third canap'e in his mouth and sucked on it, pulling the cool sweet melon out from the prosciutto sheaf. More laughter came from the sunroom. Trudy pushed herself off from the stove and came closer to Mitchell. She leaned over and whispered into his ear: “So what do you think of Shelly? Think she’s pretty?”

“I think you’re pretty.”

Trudy seemed to freeze for an instant. Then she pulled back a bit, turned to her side and leaned on the island beside Mitchell. “She’s pretty, all right,” said Trudy. “Stef sure thinks so.”

Mitchell took another couple of canap'es but he didn’t eat them yet.

“She’s a year or two older,” said Trudy. “Than me. And Stef. That should make a difference.”

Mitchell thought about that. “O-older girls can be pretty,” he said and Trudy smirked. She put her hand on Mitchell’s shoulder, and sidled her hip closer to his. “Yeah,” she said, as her hand slid from the shoulder nearest her to the one farthest. “You would think that.”

Mitchell swallowed. Trudy leaned her head to one side so it rested on Mitchell’s shoulder. He felt stray hairs tickling his face, like little electric sparks. Trudy’s hip was touching his own. “Oh, Mitch,” she said. “You are so fucked up.”

“And that’s what she likes about you,” said Stefan.

Trudy lifted her head to look around, but she didn’t move her hand or shift away. “Mitch and I were just talking about you.”

Stefan came around the island. He was holding a glass of red wine and smiling maybe. “Me?” He set the wine glass on the counter beside Mitchell, and looked hard into Trudy’s eyes. “I’m flattered.”

“You’re an asshole,” she said.

Why, I oughta,” he said, making a limp fist that opened like a flower when he let it drop to his side. Then he laughed. “How you doing, Mitch?”

“Good.”

“Really? Good.” He reached over and took Trudy’s hand off Mitchell’s shoulder. “You should save your energy, man.” Trudy raised her eyebrows at Stefan. “She on her way?” she said and Stefan nodded. “Just coming off the highway,” he said. “Like, two minutes ago.”

“I’m going to go to the bathroom,” said Mitchell. Trudy and Stefan stopped and looked him up and down, then Stefan laughed. “I can see that,” said Trudy, smirking. “Go on,” said Stefan. “Use the one upstairs. It’s quieter.”

Mitchell left them in the kitchen. He passed the dining room table where there were more canap'es laid out and he took a cracker with some brie cheese on it. In the living room, the Media Centre was off the news. Now the screen was filled with a security camera picture from the basement garage, looking at the elevator they’d come up in. The bald man and the woman with paint on her toenails were sitting on the couch. Her feet were in his lap, and he was giving one of them a massage while she twisted the other this way and that at the ankle, like she was stretching it. They watched Mitchell pass by and climb up the spiral staircase to the second level, and didn’t take their eyes off him until he went into the main bath.

Mitchell closed the door behind him as the lights flickered on. He lifted the toilet seat and unzipped his fly. He stood there for awhile like that, then zipped up and washed his hands. He caught himself in the mirror, leaning forward, his hands held together under the thin stream of warm water. His eyes were open wide, his mouth small and slack and round, like he was always saying “oh.” His dark hair was too long and fell over his forehead, which was still pimply. There were the beginnings of a beard growing on the chin, but you could still see the big pimple underneath the left side of his lower lip. Mitchell looked at his face and thought: what would I see if I saw me on the street? At school? He thought about that, and thought again: a sad boy. He made a smile, and looked, and thought: a happy boy. He brushed the hair aside from his forehead, and stood up straight, and kept smiling and he thought about that, but finally thought:

Who knows?

Mitchell found a hand towel and dried off, then went out. He heard the sound of another door closing downstairs. He stepped to the railing and looked down, as the rectangle of hall light narrowed and vanished on the first-floor tiling. The couple on the couch sat up, and from the kitchen, Stefan said: “Lesley!” and Trudy said: “How’d it go?”

“Fucking nightmare.”

Mitch looked down and saw the top of Lesley Woolfe’s head and her shoulders, as she made her way to the couch. She twisted her head on her neck so that Mitch could see her throat, wisps of dark hair mingling with body art that was emerging from the collar of a simple white blouse. With one arm, she flung an overcoat onto the chaise lounge by the downstairs powder room. “Fuck,” she said again, drawing the syllable out this time, “me.”

She sounded sad, but what did Mitchell know?

“Nothing went wrong, did it?” said Trudy.

“Traffic,” said Lesley, “was the shits. Wouldn’t move faster than a slow walk south of Tenth Line. I was afraid it would wear off and she’d wake up at a red light.”

“But it didn’t,” said Trudy. “She didn’t.”

“Would I be here if it did?”

Stefan came out of the kitchen with a tall glass of wine. Lesley took it and sipped at it. “The cameras?” she said.

“All taken care of,” said Stefan.

“And — ?”

“Upstairs,” said Stefan. “Right above you.”

Lesley started like something bit her, and looked around and then up. Her eyes were wide, then narrow. They weren’t smiling. “Hello,” she said after a few seconds. She held up her wine glass and tinkled it back and forth. “Want a sip?”

“He doesn’t drink,” said Trudy.

“I didn’t ask you,” said Lesley, not taking her eyes off Mitch. “Well, Mitch? How about it?”

Mitchell moved to the spiral staircase and climbed down. He stood face-to-face with Lesley Woolfe. She stood five inches taller than he did and she still did not smile. But she offered him the wine glass, and he took it by the stem. He swirled the red liquid, looked at it, sniffed it like he’d seen rich men do on television. It smelled a bit rotten, but Mitchell sipped at it anyway. It tasted sharper than it smelled, but it wasn’t so bad. He took another sip, bigger this time.

“Now,” she said, her eyes widening and her nostrils flaring, “we both die.” She paused for a heartbeat. “Poison,” she said. “Very painful.”

Mitchell dropped the wine glass. It hit the side of a table then clinked on the tile floor, and somehow it didn’t break. Mitchell stepped back, staring at the wine spill spreading along the skinny grout lines, holding onto his chest, drawing a breath.

Lesley finally smiled. Smiling, she threw her head back, so the dark geometries etched on her throat were in full view, and laughed, then twisted her head to the side and she smiled even more, and looked back at Mitchell, and said:

“Mmmm, look at him. So scared of dying.”

“Why wouldn’t he be?” said Trudy. She looked at Mitchell. “She was kidding.”

Mitchell had worked that out. About the same time that he worked out that he hated Lesley Woolfe. He bent down and picked up the wine glass, and looked around. The faces looking back at him might as well have been smooth skin, no eyes or mouths or noses, staring in blank, blind disapproval. Like mannequins.

One of the mannequins came over with a roll of paper towels and bent to his feet, spreading them over the spill so the wine stain blossomed in fractal majesty over the bumps and divots. The mannequin turned its head and presented its blank face to Mitchell. Then it swiped up the paper towel and crumpled in its hand, and replaced it with a fresh one.

“What’s going on with him?” said a mannequin from the living room.

“I think,” said the voice of Stefan, “that he’s having an episode. Good fucking going, Les.”

Another voice: “Is this, like — dangerous?”

“Of course it’s dangerous,” said Lesley fucking Woolfe’s voice. “That’s why we chose him. Delectable Delilah. For Dangerous Mitchell. That’s the point.”

Someone giggled. Someone else said, “Shut the fuck up,” and someone else said, in a whisper, “Will you fucking look at him?” and then the mannequins fell quiet.

Mitchell took a breath and closed his eyes. This had happened before: often enough that he’d been to doctors for it. They had tried drugs and other therapies but mostly drugs, until Mitchell started gaining weight and breaking out and doctors started worrying about his penis maybe not developing properly. His mom finally went to a woman who taught transcendental meditation out of her basement, and Mitchell had learned a mantra, and at bad times he found that helped. So he started to say his mantra, which was a secret, and he said it again and again with his eyes closed until he thought he could open his eyes.

Stefan looked back at him from a dining room chair that he’d pulled over. The rest of the mannequins — the people — were gone. But Stefan was there, arms folded over his skinny chest, hard to say whether he was smiling or not.

“Where did everybody go?” asked Mitchell.

“Lesley took them across the hall.”

“Mr. Piccininni’s apartment.” Mitchell didn’t know Stefan had a key. “What for?”

“A little show and tell,” said Stefan, “before the show. You doing okay now?”

“What are they looking at?” said Mitchell.

Stefan motioned over his shoulder to the Media Centre. Mitchell looked. It was a view from another security camera. But this one wasn’t in the lobby — it looked to be mounted on the ceiling of a bedroom filled with nice dark furniture and with the painting of a waterfall on one wall. There was a big double bed on the far side of the room, covered in a thick comforter. Something was moving under it, just a little bit. Mitchell stepped closer to get a look, but the picture was fuzzy and then someone stepped in front of it and he couldn’t see the bed. Then other people stepped around the bed: Shelly, the bald guy … Lesley Woolfe, her arms crossed and chin pressed down against her collarbone so it wrinkled and puckered … Trudy.

Trudy stepped around between Lesley Woolfe and what looked like a dresser, then leaned over the bed. She looked at Lesley and said something, and Lesley shrugged, and Trudy reached over to the comforter, and lifted the edge of it, and with her other hand covered her mouth and her eyes went wide. But she smiled so whatever she saw must have been okay.

“You’re welcome,” said Stefan.

“Pardon?”

Stefan leaned over to him. “Look at that grin. You know what’s coming, don’t you, pal?”

Mitchell looked at Stefan, who was grinning broadly. “It was supposed to be a surprise. That’s what Lesley wanted to do. Just bring you in there, and voila! Leave you to your devices. But I know you, Mitch. You don’t like surprises. They make you squirrelly.”

“Squirrelly.”

Stefan wiggled his fingers by his ears. “You know. Buggy. Nutzoid.”

“Oh.”

“I’d have told you sooner,” he said. “But I figured it was better to wait until at least the police had talked to you. You know, just in case. You know the saying: ‘what you don’t know — ’”

“‘ — can’t hurt you.’”

Stefan pointed at Mitchell with his index finger, twisting at the wrist, and he winked. “Just lookin’ out for you, bro.”

Mitchell pointed back at Stefan. “Back at you,” he said, and Stefan laughed.

Stefan reached over the back of the sofa and picked up a remote, and turned the Media Centre off.

“Just try to act surprised,” he said.

“Okay.” Mitchell stepped around the sofa and sat down beside Stefan, who inched away but kept smiling.

“You’re doing better now,” he said, “without the big group.”

“Yeah.”

“That’s part of it with you, isn’t it? Big groups.” Stefan shook his head. “Man, high school must just be hell for you.”

“Yeah.” Mitchell looked into the empty wine glass, which he was still holding onto. “Just hell.”

“That where you first met her?”

“Her?”

“Her. Delilah.”

“Oh. No. Not high school.”

“Grade school?”

“Yeah. Grade Three. She was pretty and strong. She stuck up for me when these guys tried to beat me up.”

Stefan let out a long, low whistle. “Grade Three. That’s pretty serious.”

Mitchell shrugged, starting to feel impatient. He’d told Stefan about all this stuff weeks ago, in the chat room. “Where’d you meet?” he asked.

“Me?”

“You. You and Trudy. You meet in Grade Three?”

Stefan grinned and slunk down on the sofa. “Oh no. Not Grade Three. Not my Trudy. We met through the news group. Started posting on the same topics, you know? Started IMing each other, built up, you know, a rapport. We actually saw each other face-to-face the first time Lesley called a meeting. After fucking AOL shut us down.”

Mitchell held the wine glass up to his eye. The distortion at the base of the glass made the very narrow stem seem huge, a concentric storm of glassy circles. The middle, though, was perfectly clear. He could see the fabric of his jeans through it, made tiny by the four-inch lens the stem made. “She’s beautiful,” he said.

Stefan nodded. “Trudy’s a hottie,” he said, staring at the blank Media Centre screen. “She’s also real compatible, you get what I mean. Not every woman knows what to do with a guy like me … But she can be a fucking cunt sometimes. Not like your Delilah.”

“My Delilah.” Mitchell turned the wine glass onto its side. He examined the stem, looked through it. Everything was squashed down and stretched out: it made the living room unrecognizable.

“My Dee-Lie-La,” said Stefan. “She’s sweet. So fuckin’ pure. Can’t fault your taste. Man, she was a sweetie. I can’t tell you how it was to hold her, to put my arms over her shoulder … the feel of that sweet butt, the way she went limp when I put the cloth over her face … Knowing, man, knowing she was for you.”

“For me.”

“I was sorry to let Lesley take her, but that was the deal, and she wasn’t for me. But you. In a few minutes — man, you’ll be able to live your every dream.”

Mitchell held the glass in two hands, brought the stem closer to his eyes, so he could see the whole world. It looked like nothing he’d ever even dreamed. “She’s not a cunt,” he said softly.

“What?” Stefan leaned forward. “What are you doing? You are so fucked up, Mitch. It’s what we like about you. I can’t tell you how long it took us to find a fucked-up kid like you.”

Mitchell bent the stem. Except that it didn’t bend because it was glass; it snapped, right at the base. He turned to Stefan, who was right beside him, and lifted what was left of the glass and jammed the stem into the inner tear duct of his right eye, past there against something that was probably bone. Stefan shouted “Fuck!” and grabbed at him, but Stefan was a fair bit weaker than Mitchell Owens.

A moment later, Mitchell wiped his hands on his jeans and pulled the TV remote out from underneath Stefan’s twitching thigh. He turned on the Media Centre.

The bedroom was different now. The comforter had been pulled aside, and it was all twisted to the right of the bed. The bald man was sprawled across the under sheet. He was clutching his face and there looked to be blood coming out. He was rolling slowly back and forth. The bedside lamp had been knocked over — or maybe thrown — and beside it, Shelly was slumped, her neck at a funny angle. The blond fellow was on the other side of the bed, in the corner, his shoulders hunched and his head down. He was trembling. Mitchell looked at the remote, and pressed a couple of buttons, and he was looking at the parking garage elevator door, which was opening. Mrs. Lesley Woolfe was in there. Her eyes were wide and she looked like she was concentrating. When the door finished opening, she stuck her head out, looking to the left and the right, and then hurried off camera. He clicked again and again, but nowhere could he find any sign of Trudy.

Mitchell looked up. Somebody was pounding on the door to the apartment: pounding and pounding and pounding. Pushing Stefan’s head aside, so he was lying on the sofa rather than sort of sitting up, Mitchell went to the door and looked through the peephole. “Oh,” he said. “You.”

He opened the door, and Delilah Franken pushed through. “Oh thank God! Oh thank God!” she said and fell into the apartment, and Mitchell put his arms over her shoulders. She smelled awful, like she’d peed herself, and her streaky-blonde hair was matted, and he could see that there was blood on her shirt. “Call the police!” she said. “Call the police!”

Mitchell helped her into the apartment. He steered her away from the sofa, but sat her down in the dining room and stepped away. She looked at him with wide eyes and a frown, like she was mad but not exactly.

“Y-you,” she said. “Mitchell … Mitchell Owens? Your mom and my mom were friends. You remember me — right?”

Mitchell nodded. “Delilah Franken,” he said.

She leaned forward, wiped a greasy strand of hair from her eyes, and with shaking voice spoke slowly. “Mitchell, I don’t know what you’re doing in a place like this, but I am so glad that you’re here.”

Mitchell didn’t know about that: she didn’t look particularly happy. She looked like she was …

Concentrating.

“Now you have to listen carefully,” said Delilah. “The people in the next apartment kidnapped me. They’re some fucking internet sex cult. I think they planned the fucking thing, for a long time … I don’t know, but that’s what I think. But whatever — they grabbed me from behind and knocked me out, and took me to a farmhouse somewhere north of here, and they kept me there for three days. Then they injected me with something and brought me here. I got away — I hit a lady with a lamp, and scratched this guy’s eyes, and a bunch of them just yelled and took off. One of the women locked herself in the bathroom and she didn’t seem to be coming out. But I’m afraid she might come …” She looked up suddenly. “Shit. Is the door locked?”

Mitchell went over to the door. “I got to call the police,” said Delilah, and Mitchell shouted, “Okay,” as he looked through the peephole again. The hallway was empty, but the door on the opposite side stood ajar. “Where’s the phone?” said Delilah.

Mitchell didn’t answer. He watched for a moment longer, then opened the door and stepped to the other side.

“Oh. Never mind. I see one by the sofa,” she said.

Mitchell shut the door behind him and crossed the hall between the two apartments. He ignored the shout of surprise that came from behind him. It was not a shout that interested him. It was, in spite of what Stefan and Mrs. Lesley Woolfe and the rest of them thought about him and his infatuation, a shout that had interested him less and less over the past few weeks.

He stepped into the vestibule of Giorgio Piccininni’s apartment. There was a mirror hanging there. He smiled into it and he smiled back out of it. Mitchell Owens thought he could tell exactly what was inside him, just by looking.

So Mitchell looked away from there and into the dark room in front of him. He started toward the darkest part, and as he went he whispered:

“Trudy.”


Swamp Witch and the Tea-Drinking Man | Monstrous Affections | Fly in Your Eye