GOT 'EM ALL SPINNING
There is a glob on Todd's lap, staining his pale jeans a killer purple and making him pissed. "Shit Terr. This always happens to me. How do I get this stuff off?"
"Ha ha," laughs Terry, looking down at his pants and then back out the subway window. "Just like that commercial: 'Snowy gets out everything. Except what needs to be there.'"
"Shit! Here, take this away," he says, shoving the plastic jelly container at her. "Besides, it's hurting my teeth."
Terry puts the container down on the floor, kicks it under the double-seat with her foot. It falls on its side and purple goo oozes out. She focuses on Todd's face for an instant, to see whether he'll speak again, and then lets her eyes roll back into her head. She studies her internal transit map. "We're almost there, just one... two...four more stops."
"See that trailer?" he points his finger out the window like a rifle. "POW! That's bigger than my apartment was in New York."
Terry's eyes roll back down. She looks out the window. "The one with the blue door?"
"No, the smaller one. It was me and Denise in there day and night, night and day. And we were happy. We were tight, but we got by, you know."
"You know, she died."
"Fuck. My teeth're still hurting. Got any carrot sticks or something?"
"No. What do you think, I packed a...a gourmet meal? Go to the dentist. Don't you got benefits now?"
"Not till I've been at the job for eight months," he says, sucking his teeth. "I guess they're trying to weed us out before they cough up a dime."
Terry half-laughs. "You're doing better than me, Todd."
"Guess it makes sense," he admits. "I guess."
She squints at some spray-painted graffiti on the side of a clean Burgerville. It says Burger joints are parasites. "For as long as I've known you, your teeth've been aching. They've never fallen out though. Mine can't wait to jump out of my mouth."
He deadpans, "Maybe my teeth're glued in."
"Like I said, you're doing better than me. Try working in one of those," she juts her chin toward one of the box factories they pass. "See how you'd feel with no windows."
"Like a mole rat," he says.
"One of those blind little rats that feel their way around tunnels."
"You've got it made at your job. Now all you gotta do is stay away from anything illegal."
"What do you mean?" he asks.
"No smack for Toddy-poo. Don't try to get me saying any more here. Cause I will, you know," says Terry, glancing around the subway train. The car is pretty empty. The closest passenger is four seats away. She raises her voice. "I don't give a shit that other people's listening."
"Okay. Okay." He sits back in the seat and listens to the rattle of the train on the tracks. There's a prolonged, muted screech as they round a corner. Suddenly he jerks upright and digs in his hip pocket. "Hey Terry, speaking of...Hey, psst, look what I got."
"I don't want to know," she says, shaking her head.
"Come on, look..."
"What I don't know won't hurt me, and you'll put that away before..." She glares at him, completely avoiding his outstretched hand. "I told you if you ever..."
He waves a stick of gum in front of her face. "It's sugar-free-ee," he says.
"Very funny. What are you, Mister Big Fucking Joke?"
He's laughing. "Want some gum, Terr? Gum? Gum?"
Terry scrunches up her face at him like he's dog shit she just stepped on. She grabs a graphic newspaper out of her purse, flips abruptly through the pages of captioned photographs, and eventually settles on a story about a twelve year-old synchronized swimmer who was lured to her death by the promise of pro.
"I got to start eating healthier," says Todd. "Hey Terr, you know, like I never used to put sugar in my coffee, now I do. That's not good. I used to get more exercise."
She ignores him, continues to read.
"Terr, I'm talking. Shit. What're you looking at?"
"It's the beer you old pig," she chuckles, puts down the picture paper and reaches over to pat his roundish belly. "You just got to cut back on the brewskis."
"I'm the same weight as when you met me. People in a glass house shouldn't throw stones."
Todd unwraps a stick of gum and squishes it into his mouth. Chews slowly. "Terr, did you hear about Laurie's daughter?"
"Little Jackie? She like, she ran away or... What about her?" she asks. The train pulls into a station.
"Uhn. It's our stop," he says.
"We've got to catch the seven forty-five bus. This train's so slow makes you think the driver smoked a spliff before his shift," she says, chuckling and standing up. She picks up two plastic bags and bends over to poke him. "What time is it?"
He pauses, "Seven forty-one, according to my internal. But I haven't compared my clock to International Standard for a long time."
"Compared your clock?" asks Terry. "They're supposed to do that automatically."
"Yeah, well, mine doesn't."
The train jerks to a stop. Todd jumps up and they rush off the train, onto the platform and then up into the station's lobby. Todd always walks exactly two paces ahead of Terry. His long blond hair flies around, slaps into his face and shoulders. Terry concentrates intently on where she's going. They cross the room and go up a flight of stairs to another waiting train.
"I love the elevated train," says Terry, plunking herself down in a bucket seat. She takes a sweater out of one of the bags, puts it on, and leans back. A headset dangles down next to her head from a socket in the ceiling. She slips it on and reaches up to flip a switch so she can watch the pre-trip commercials for fruit-flavoured lip gloss and beer. When a 3D holo sign of beer fuzz exploding out of the can bursts over her head, she ducks even though she knows better.
Todd guffaws, and spits out his gum. Sticks it under his seat. "Those signs don't really move, they just grab your attention."
"I know, I know, but they're so real. They trick everyone."
"Not me," he boasts. "I never fall for that."
Terry frowns, and rips her attention from the advertisements. Remembers something. "So, you stayed straight all weekend, even though we were visiting Frankie?"
"Terry, you never trust me," he whines. "I can go on and off the stuff."
"No one can just go on and off that stuff."
"You'd have to be a robot or something."
"Nah, just super-human will power."
She picks up her graphic newspaper again, curled open to the page where she stopped reading. She flips through a few pages. "Hey, this newscast says they found Laurie's daughter."
"This afternoon's paper? Do they think her daddy stole her?" Todd drawls, smirking.
"It's not funny," she counters.
"What's your problem? Just tell me. I know you wanna tell me."
"Killed," she whispers.
"I know that. With an old steel knife. Peeled her skin off."
"What?" asks Terry.
"An old steak knife," confirms Todd. "I saw Laurie at the food store on Friday, in case you're wondering how I'd know."
"They don't say that here," she says, pointing at the paper. "They say heat sensor radar. What kind of psycho would use a steel knive? Much easier ways to kill, more efficient. Remember that commercial... Just a sec." Terry's eyes roll up. She starts to check her internal, sifting through memories for the one about the radar.
He shudders, and shakes her out of her internal, "Come on Terr. I don't wanna know. I'm sick of those commercials. Those heat sensors are unnatural."
"I think those gizmos are really creepy. Automating everything, even death."
"The police think it was the same guy who's offed three or four other girls in our neighbourhood," says Terry. "The official report says it was the same guy."
"Well, all of them were done with knives, they say," says Todd.
"Not in the photos I saw," screeches Terry, shaking her head wildly. "The deaths were just heat sensors, straight-up with silencers. I watched all the newscasts. Clean, clean. No mess, no blood."
"It was a knife," he says.
Terry sits there for a while, slack-jawed. Then she says, "Maybe they covered it all up digitally. They're always doing that. Like when President Delancey was seen visiting the bawdy house."
He chuckles, "That old bag was a sex pot. Deserved to get caught."
"And they always covered it up. She would have been tossed out on her rear if they hadn't. You know, I was picked up one time by a guy I think was the Lakeside Strangler. That guy who tied ropes around girls' necks... I think he got 13 women."
Todd blinks, watching her.
"Needed a ride home after a bush party," she continues. "Out with Joan. We made a... a pact not to leave each other no matter what and then she up and left at like around ten, because some guy with a moustache was coming onto her. Just splits, you know, and doesn't look back. So I'm stuck there. I finally get a ride home with this weird guy, only he doesn't take me home like he's supposed to. He drives out to this little beach, pulls over and grabs me…right here…and bam! I was like, oh shit, it's him. I flipped out."
"What do you mean?" says Todd.
"You know, the old seizure trick where you overload your internal?" she asks.
Todd's face is blank.
"Well maybe guys never need to do it. I started to flip around like a fish. Should've seen his face. He was like, 'Lady, you're more fucked up than me. Get out of my car!' Don't know what would've happened if I didn't flip out, though."
Todd says, "This guy who got Jackie, he kills the girls slowly, then peels their skin off with the knife, rips it entirely off their body. Only way to ID the girls is through DNA."
"Oh my god, he likes to get his hands dirty. I'll never get it. What do you men like so much about those old knives anyway?"
"Lotsa people collect 'em," says Todd, picking at his teeth with his index finger. "They're handy tools."
"You like the way it feels to have a knife in your hand. Makes you feel like a real hunter," says Terry, her lips tighten and push up against her teeth.
"Hunting season again soon," he says. "Got to practice my tracking skills."
"I'll never get what drives you," she says.
"You're the only one who drives me," he chuckles, grabbing her thigh. "All night long."
She pulls her headset forward again, and rolls her eyes up. She settles back to watch a feature-length commercial on toothpaste.
Todd sits there, looking straight ahead.
Twelve minutes pass and then Terry removes the headsets. Terry clears her throat and speaks first, "That's the weirdest thing. On the news they say no fingerprints, no DNA of anyone other than the victims, even in the air molecules."
"I thought you were watching that extended commercial for cinamint toothpaste."
"Seen it five too many times. I scanned the newscasts on Jackie. There was no junk in the air. That's the weirdest part. I thought killers always smoke at least one spliff. That's how the cops can find them."
"Maybe he's trying to quit," Todd suggests.
"Smoking smack?" Terry gives him a melting look. "You think killers are like me and you?"
"I'm not saying that," he says, looking away.
"Just that it's rough quitting," she sneers. "You sure you didn't have any this weekend, with Frankie?"
He ignores her.
She clucks her tongue, looks away, "Killers got other things on their mind than quitting."
"Being famous. Choosing their next murder weapon. Deciding how to kill another girl."
"It's hot in here," he says.
She nods and tugs her sweater over her head, puts it down on the seat next to her. "Nobody said anything on the news about changing images of the murder scene. That's so illegal."
"Heads going to roll," he agrees.
"I've got to check this out again," Terry says. She sits back and her eyeballs roll up. After ten minutes, she rolls them down again and looks at Todd quizzically. "Nothing on the official news. Where'd you get the info?"
"Saw it somewhere."
"You sure it was on the news? I don't think so. Couldn't find a thing about the cover-up of the century. I searched and searched."
"Laurie's mom told me. That's how I know."
"You'd think they'd be screaming about it, especially on the tabloid stations. They said they have no prints whatsoever on him. Not one greasy fingerprint in the entire apartment. No hairs. Not even a lousy DNA molecule sifted from the air particles. They pulled out all the stops, you know, even brought in a particle vacuum and sifted the air."
"The police lay down a bundle and still no answers. He's got them all spinning, wondering how this speedball hit 'em. No DNA anywhere. They think maybe the killer's a machine."
"We're all part machine. We've got these things in our head," he says, tapping the lump on the side of his forehead.
"This is different," she says, shaking her head. "They think maybe he's a robot."
"A luddite robot," he scowls.
"Well yeah," she says. "Who else would use an old knife? Apparently, he doesn't need any equipment to get past security either. He picks locks the old-fashioned way, with a bobby pin or something."
"Forget it, Terr. How far to our stop?"
"You know just as well as me. Trying to change the subject?"
"No." Todd stares straight ahead while he scans his transit map. He reports, "Three stops."
"How come your eyes don't roll up when you scan?" asks Terry, staring at him.
"Never did," he shrugs. "Since I was a kid."
"Fucking weird," she says. "Looks stupid when you space out, staring into nothing."
"Wish I was normal," he says, shrugging. He picks up her graphic paper and thumbs through the pages. Stops on the story about the murder. Stares at the pictures, whistles and grins. "That's some job he did on her."
"Psycho," she says. "They think he's a robot because he doesn't have fingerprints."
"No DNA, I said. No hairs that fell out during the struggle, nothing."
He doesn't respond.
"Want some chips?" she asks suddenly, reaching into one of the grocery bags next to her feet. "Won't hurt your teeth."
"It's our stop."
"Not for nine minutes. The bag's almost empty and I don't want to carry it."
Todd shrugs, takes a greasy handful and stuffs them into his mouth. He chews methodically. Grabs more chips every two minutes. Terry reaches back and pulls the headset down again. Todd barely notices when her eyes roll back into her head. Two stops later, she pulls the headset off. He is staring straight ahead, out the window, but his eyes don't move at all, so he's not watching the scenery.
"Our stop," she says loudly. He doesn't respond, so she puts her hand on his shoulder and shakes him until his eyes see her again. He jumps up, startled. She gingerly picks up the bag of chips by a corner and chucks it under the chair.
Todd grabs his duffel bag and walks over to the doors while the train is still moving. He grips a nearby handlebar to steady himself while the train pulls into the stop. Terry scrambles to pick up all the bags. The doors open and Todd exits onto the platform.
Terry manages to grab everything, and rushes out the door, flustered. He's standing there, waiting calmly. As soon as she gets down the train's stairs, onto the platform, she turns around, and runs back in. "Aah," she calls back to him, as the bags bang against the wall of the train corridor. "Wait here. Forgot my sweater..."
"Forget it, Terr, the train's going to leave..."
Terry scoots back in to find her sweater. It's sitting on the chair where she left it, but Todd can't see that from outside. She drops her bags, ducks down to look under the seat, sees the greasy bag of chips he was holding a few minutes earlier.
The doorbells chime. She jerks upright. They slam shut. She waves out the window to a confused Todd, mouths exaggeratedly as the train rolls out of the station, "Wait here! I'll come back on the next train."
He nods helplessly, drops his duffel bag and watches the train pull out of view.
Terry stares back down at the railing Todd held just a few seconds earlier. She bends down to look at the handrail for prints. It's too dark to see anything, but she's willing to bet there's no indication that Todd ever touched it. She takes a deep breath and sits down. Her eyeballs roll up into her head, and she searches though the pathways of her internal for the network alarm function. Cops!
Toronto resident Emily Pohl-Weary recently completed the biography Better To Have Loved: The Life of Judith Merril about her grandmother, the Zsa Zsa Gabor of science fiction. She is currently working on a novel about a slacker girl named Sugar, who is haunted by her dead ex's ghost. Emily is co-editor of Kiss Machine (www.kissmachine.org) and Broken Pencil (www.brokenpencil.com).