Arly couldn’t stop crying.
“Honey,” Pete said, putting a hand on her shoulder, “he’s not worth this.”
“Not now, Pete!” she snapped.
“I hate to see you hurting, but the man was a cold-blooded killer, Arly.”
“You didn’t know him like I did!”
“Arly, we read it together, this guy’s record. All those names of all the people he killed.”
*You won’ find the name a’ the first man I killed in any public record, chere.*
“Pete, please, leave me alone.”
He sighed. “Okay.” Turned and walked away.
She couldn’t stop crying, and she couldn’t stop staring, either. Kneeling beside him on the rocky ground, looking down at the man who had seemed to her so strong, so—*What, did you think, he was superhuman? Yeah. Yeah, maybe I did.*—indestructible? No. He hadn’t been that. Still, she kept watching as if she expected him to take a breath, open his eyes. But he didn’t.
*He’s really gone. I can’t believe it.*
The psychiatrists had called him a sociopath. Pete, too. But she couldn’t believe that. Not after what he’d told her.
That night, that one night they’d spent together at the Heorot hotel, they hadn’t slept much. Yes, the sex had been intense and they’d taken their time with it, but they’d spent the majority of the night talking. Her, lying there in his arms, listening. And he’d told her things she believed, she knew, he had told precious few others in the world. He’d allowed her a glimpse of the soul behind the calloused facade.
“You wo’n find the name a’ the first man I killed in any public record,” he’d said to her.
The silence afterward had drawn out so long she’d felt the need to speak, to fill the dead air. “You don’t have to tell me.”
“It was my stepfather,” he’d said. Then he’d opened the floodgates, so to speak, and told her everything.
“Man was a fisherman, a shrimper. My Mama married him ’bout a year after my ol’ man ran off on us. I reckon she jus’ could’n handle the idea a’ bein’ alone. Sure would a’ been better for her, if she’d stayed alone.”
“How old were you?” Arly had asked.
“Ten.” He’d paused, taken a breath. His chest swelling had lifted her with it. His chest hair had tickled her cheek.
“He stayed drunk all the time. Slapped Mama ’round pretty much ever’ day. Me an’ my sisters, too.”
“You have sisters? The, uh, the file didn’t mention any living relatives.”
“The Court sealed all the records.”
“How many sisters do you have?”
“Only one’s still alive. My baby sister, Eugenia. Oldest one’s dead. Committed suicide ’bout ten years ago.”
“Oldest one, Delmare, she was a couple a’ years older’n me. She’d started fillin’ out that summer. Red Dog—that’s what ever’body called the son of a bitch—he sure ‘nough noticed it, too. Would’n leave her alone. That’s why I decided ta’ kill ‘im. Hate ta’ admit it, but I was scared of ‘im. He was a big man, looked like a damn bear.”
“You were just a little boy,” Arly had said.
“Yeah. That’s how I figured I’d get away with it. Bein’ a minor an’ all. Do a stint in reform school, maybe, but I figured that would’n be no worse than livin’ at home. But I knew I would’n stand a chance against ‘im in a fight. Figured I’d poison ‘im. I remembered hearin’ somewhere if you put antifreeze in somebody’s booze they would’n be able ta’ taste it.”
“You poisoned him?” Saying the words had made Arly feel cold.
“No. I kept puttin’ it off, afraid it would’n work an’ he’d figure out what I’d done.”
Another prolonged silence had prompted her to ask: “What happened?”
He’d hesitated, then: “Mama confronted him, ’bout how he kept at Delmare all the time. He was drunk, ‘course. She ought ta’ have waited, but I reckon she was all riled up, with Delmare cryin’ an’ all.” More hesitation. “He killed her.”
“Oh my God, Beau! I’m so sorry!”
“Strangled her with those big ol’ hands a’ his.”
“There was this reel a’ fishin’ line. Strong line. I grabbed it up an’ wrapped it ’round both my hands. He was down on top a’ Mama. We di’n know till later that she was already dead by that point.”
His eyes had been dry as he spoke, but Arly had heard the pain in his voice. He’d kept it on ice, pushed it down, but that pain had still had its sharpness, she’d seen. It still cut.
“I wa’n thinkin’ ’bout myself gettin’ hurt, then. I jumped on his back an’ I wrapped the fishin’ line ’round his fat neck, an’ I pulled on it hard as I could. He tried ta’ get me off, but he could’n. Fish line cut inta’ him. Cut inta’ my hands, too. Right ta’ the bone.” In the dark hotel room, he’d lifted his left hand and held it up. “See those little scars?”
She hadn’t seen them, there in the dark, but she’d known they were there.
“Reckon I blacked out. They say, when the police got there, I was still on’ his back, still pullin’ on that line. I’d damn near cut his head off by then, an’ all my fingers with it.”
Even though his eyes had stayed dry and the changes in his voice, his expression had been subtle, Arly had known then and she knew it now that she’d glimpsed the frightened ten-year-old boy still inside that dangerous man.
“Reckon ’bout the lowest thing a man could ever do,” he’d said after another pause, “is ta’ hurt a woman.”
Sitting on the cold rock beside Saint’s body, Arly wiped her face for the hundredth time. The tears kept coming.
*They say you’re a monster.*
She paid no attention to Songbird shuffling over to her.
*I know better.*
She turned to look up at him. “Yeah?”
“I had hesitated to mention it, as there is only a slight chance that it might work, and I would not wish to raise your hopes. Also, for me to undertake the use of my gift for anyone outside our Tribe is forbidden by ancient custom, and it is forbidden by law outright for me to attempt to use the gift for any except the most decent and noble of heart and, well, I was under the impression that Mr. Saint, here, was, at the risk of perhaps being impolite, a somewhat corrupt man. However, seeing your grief, I am moved to great sympathy for you, as I am tempted to wonder, as you are, I esteem, a woman of good heart, is it probable that you would grieve so over a man who had nothing of redeeming quality in his nature? In addition …”
“What the hell are you saying?” Arly demanded.
“Forgive me,” Songbird said. “I mean only to state that there is a chance, albeit a slight chance, that I might be of some assistance to Mr. Saint.”
“What do you mean? He’s dead!”
“Miss Youngblood, I am a Singer, as I have told you. This means, and let me reemphasize the uncertainty here involved, please, that although Mr. Saint is indeed deceased, it may not be necessary that he remain that way.”