He returned to the truck stop and took another shower and ate dinner. He felt more awake and more present afterwards, but still like something was missing. He was just paying his check when one of the station attendants walked past him, reeking of unleaded and cigarette smoke.
“See you tomorrow, Earl,” he called to a guy behind the counter, who grunted in reply.
Alex admitted to himself that he was letting himself be carried away, that he was not acting like himself. But he was a different man now, the kind of man who could respond to a situation as it arose.
He followed the gas station attendant at a distance as he drove his smoke-belching truck through Chehalis, which was, it turned out, where Alex was. It would be a substantial drive back to Seattle eventually, but for now he was happy just to have something to do.
They wound up several miles outside of town, driving past pastures and the occasional mobile home. The man pulled his truck into one of these, a blasted patch of ground, half dead grass and half naked dirt, a pit bull chained in the yard. Alex drove past, went on for a mile, and then turned around. Past the man's house he found a wide shoulder where he could leave his car. He took his bag, which now contained his regular tools, plus the gun and the cleaver from the Wozcynski house.
As he walked up the driveway, a song returned to his memory, from where, he was not sure. “Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose,” he said to himself, rolling the words over in his mouth. For him, in this place, at this time, it felt like the truest words every spoken.
He walked up to dog, which stood at the end of its chain, straining and furious, spraying drool. He lifted his gun and held it a foot from the dog's head, pulling the trigger. The sound, in the open air, was quieter than he would have imagined, and the hole the bullet made above the dog's left eye, but the exit wound, between the dog's ears, erupted, and it seemed that Alex was able to see it in slow motion, the back of the dog's head expanding and then popping, first in white chips of bone, then gray matter, then a fine spray of blood. Alex came without even thinking about it, proceeding towards the front door of the trailer, seeing the dog's head erupt over and over again, in his mind's eye.
The door flew open and there the attendant stood, out of his gas station coveralls now, dressed only in some baggy, shapeless sweat pants.
“What in the—“ the man started, but Alex, feeling 10 feet tall and as powerful as a god, placed his hand in the center of the man's chest and he fell back, arms grabbing at nothing, feet sliding out from underneath him. His head hit the linoleum floor of the entry way with a solid clunk and his eyes rolled up into his head.
The man awoke twenty or so minutes later, tied to his narrow, sagging bed, his thin frame straining futilely.
“Now,” Alex said, standing over the man with the cleaver, enjoying the animal panic in his eyes, “We're going to have a nice talk.”
Alex was able to find a balance between his urgency and his patience, dragging out his time for almost two hours. Then he was tired and hungry again.
He found a stack of Hungry Man frozen dinners in the freezer and helped himself to one, the smell of the enchilada's temporarily overtaking the smell of blood and offal that filled the trailer. He turned on the small television while he ate.
He flicked past the Northwest News Channel and briefly heard the word “bodies” as he went past, then quickly returned to the channel.
The news scroll on the bottom spoke of new leads in the Auburn murder case, but Alex wasn't paying any attention to that. He was transfixed by the woman on the screen. He felt that he might have seen her before, but he felt immediately that he knew her and that he would know her even better.
The woman was labeled, “Deputy Anderson, Chief Investigator”. They had replaced the dead detective quite quickly, Alex thought to himself. She had short, light brown hair that stood up on the top of her head, somewhere between fashionable and unruly. The bright television lights washed out her skin, making her look almost translucent, and her eyes leapt from her face, large and lamp-like. He finally came out of himself enough to hear her words. She was talking about him, of course.
“We are pursuing several leads at this time. Notably, one of the bodies from the site in Auburn has been identified via dental records. This has created a strong line of inquiry for us to follow. The investigation continues and I regret that I cannot take any questions at this time. If you have any information on the Auburn site or the murder of Detective Wozcynski and his family, please contact us at the email address and phone number located on the screen. Thank you.”
Alex scoured the trailer but could not find a computer. He was driven to go online and find more about Deputy Anderson. If she had replaced Wozcynski, she must know what she was getting into. And what body had they identified? All of the homeless veterans he had taken would almost surely never have been reported as missing and going through their dental records would surely be—
“Liz,” he whispered. He had known as soon as they discovered the dump site that she would be the big loss, the one that counted, but even at that time he had just taken it personally, he had not stopped to think that she would be the thread that led back to him. The case in Portland had lain fallow for years, but this was something different. What they had so far combined with what there was from Portland...
But what did that matter now? He wasn't hiding, not any more. He found a dusty old taper under the sink and lit it from a stove burner. He used a piece of duct tape to fasten the taper to the side of the kitchen counter, blew out the pilot light, and turned on the oven.
He stopped in the yard for a moment to admire his handiwork with the dog. It was dark and the stocky corpse was illuminated only by blue light from the street. The dog looked so peaceful now, restful in spite of the gaping hole in the back of its skull.
Alex walked down the side of the street to his car, watching for oncoming traffic. His thoughts returned to the young woman from the television. Anderson was a much more common last name than Wozcynski, sadly, but it was still a place to start.
“Deputy Anderson,” he murmured, as he climbed into his car. “Deputy Anderson.”