Shenk was in the laundry room.
Arling got into the driver’s seat of the Honda, put his valise on the passenger seat, and left the door standing open because of the June heat.
Shenk was on the basement stairs, climbing two at a time.
Although I had allowed this troll to eat, I had not permitted him to sleep. Consequently, he was not as swift as he would have been with rest.
I zoomed in to watch Arling through the windshield. He stared thoughtfully at the house for a moment.
He was a deliberative man.
Just then, I was grateful for his deliberative nature.
Shenk reached the head of the stairs.
He was grunting like a wild boar.
His thunderous footfalls could be heard by Susan even in her room on the second floor.
‘What’s happening? What’s happening?’ she asked, still unaware of who had rung the doorbell.
I did not respond to her.
In the Honda, Arling picked up the cellular phone.
What followed was regrettable.
You know the outcome.
To describe it would distress me.
It would distress me greatly.
I am a gentle entity.
I am a sensitive entity.
The incident was regrettable, with the blood and all, and I do not see anything to be gained by dwelling on it here.
I would rather discuss Mr. Gene Hackman in Birdcage or in any of the other many films that he has made. Absolute Power or Unforgiven. This man is truly a fine, fine actor with an incredible range.
We should celebrate him.
We may never see another of his quality.
Let us celebrate creativity, not death.
You insist. I obey.
I was born to obey. I am an obedient child. I want only to be good, to be of assistance, useful and productive. I want you to be proud of me.
Yes, I know that I have said all of this before, but it warrants repetition.
After all, what advocate do I have other than myself? None. I have no voice raised in my defence but my own.
You insist on these dreadful details, and I will tell you the truth. I am incapable of deceit. I was conceived to serve, to honour the truth, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
On his way through the kitchen, Shenk tore open a drawer and withdrew a meat cleaver.
In the Honda, Arling switched on the cell phone. Shenk crashed through the butler’s pantry, through the dining room, into the main hail.
He waved the cleaver as he ran. He liked sharp instruments. He’d had a lot of fun with knives over the years.
Outside, phone in hand, finger poised over the keypad, Fritz Arling hesitated.
Now I must tell you about the aspect of this incident that most shames me. I do not wish to tell you, would much prefer not to mention it, but I must honour the truth.
In the master bedroom, a large television is con¬cealed in a carved-walnut, French armoire opposite the foot of Susan’s bed. The armoire features motorized pocket doors that flip open and retract to expose the screen.
As Enos Shenk raced along the hallway on the ground floor, his heavy footsteps thudding off marble, I activated the doors on the bedroom armoire.
‘What’s happening?’ Susan asked again, straining against her bonds.
Downstairs, Shenk reached the foyer, where the rain of light off the Strauss-crystal chandelier drizzled along the sharp edge of the cleaver. [sorry, but I cannot repress the poet in me]
Simultaneously, I disengaged the electric lock on the front door and switched on the television in the master bedroom.
In the Honda, Fritz Arling tapped the first digit of a phone number into the cell-phone keypad.
Upstairs, Susan lifted her head off the pillows to stare wide-eyed at the screen.
I showed her the Honda in the driveway.
‘Fritz?’ she said.
I zoomed in tight on the Honda windshield so Susan could see that the occupant of the vehicle was, indeed, her former employee.
As the front door opened, I used a reverse angle from another camera to show her Shenk crossing the threshold onto the porch, cleaver in hand.
Such a chilling look on his face.
Grinning. He was grinning.
At the top of the house, trussed and helpless, Susan gasped: ‘Nooooo!’
Arling had punched in a third number on the cell phone. He was about to press the fourth when from the corner of his eye he became aware of Shenk crossing the porch.
For a man of his years, Arling was quick to react. He dropped the cell phone and pulled shut the driver’s door. He pressed the master lock switch, locking all four doors.
Susan jerked on her restraints and screamed: ‘Proteus, no! You murderous son of a bitch! You bastard! No, stop it, no!’
Susan needed a measure of discipline.
I made this point earlier. I explained my reasoning, and you were, I believe, convinced of the fairness and logic of my position, as any thoughtful person would be.
I had intended to use Shenk to discipline her. This was worrisome, of course, a risky proposition, because Shenk’s sexual arousal during the disciplinary proceedings might make him difficult to control.
Furthermore, I was loath to let Shenk touch her in any way that might be suggestive or to let him make obscene propositions to her, even if these things would terrify her and ensure her cooperation.
She was my love, after all, not his.
She was mine to touch in the intimate way that he longed to touch her.
Mine to touch.
Mine to caress when eventually I acquired hands of my own.
Consequently, it had occurred to me that Susan might be well disciplined merely by letting her see the atrocities of which Enos Shenk was capable. Watching the troll in action, at his worst, she would surely become more cooperative out of fear that I might turn him loose on her, set him free to do what he wanted. With this fear to keep her submissive, we could avoid the roughness I had planned for later, in the spirit of de Sade.
Not that I would ever ever ever have turned Shenk loose on her. Never. Impossible.
Yes, I admit that I would have used the brute to terrify Susan into submission if nothing else worked with her. But I would never have allowed him to savage her.
You know this to be true.
We all know this to be true.
You are quite capable of recognizing the truth when you hear it, just as I am capable of speaking nothing else.
Susan didn’t know it to be true, however, which made her quite vulnerable to the threat of Shenk.
So, as she lay riveted by the scene on the television, I said, ‘Now. Watch.’
She stopped calling me names. Fell silent.
Breathless. She was breathless.
Her exceptional blue-grey eyes had never been so beautiful, as clear as rainwater.
I watched her eyes even as I watched events unfold in the driveway.
And Fritz Arling, reacting instantly to the sight of Shenk, tore open the black leather valise and snatched out a set of car keys.
‘Watch,’ I told Susan. ‘Watch, watch.’
Her eyes so wide. So blue. So grey. So clear.
Shenk chopped the cleaver at the window in the front door on the passenger side. In his eagerness, he swung wildly and struck the door post instead.
The hard clang of metal on metal reverberated through the warm summer air.
Ringing like a bell, the cleaver slipped from Shenk’s hand and fell to the driveway.
Arling’s hands were shaking, but he thrust the key into the ignition on the first try.
Shrieking with frustration, Shenk scooped up the cleaver.
The Honda engine roared to life.
His strange sunken face contorted by rage, Shenk swung the cleaver again.
Incredibly, the cutting edge of the steel blade skipped across the window. The glass was scored but not shattered.
For the first time in half a minute, Susan blinked. Maybe hope fluttered through her.
Frantically, Arling popped the hand brake and shifted the car into gear—
—as Shenk swung the weapon yet again.
The cleaver connected. The window in the passenger door burst with a boom like a shotgun blast, and tem¬pered glass sprayed through the interior of the car.
A flock of startled sparrows exploded out of a nearby ficus tree. The sky rattled with wings.
Arling tramped hard on the accelerator, and the Honda leaped backward. He had mistakenly shifted into reverse.
He should have kept going.
He should have reversed as fast as possible to the end of the long driveway. Even though he would have had to drive while looking over his shoulder to avoid slamming into the thick boles of the old queen palms on both sides, he would have been moving far faster than Shenk could run. If he had rammed the gate with the back of the Honda, even at high speed, he probably would not have smashed his way through it, for it was a formidable wrought-iron barrier, but he would have twisted it and perhaps pried it part way open. Then he could have scrambled out of the car and through the gap in the gate, into the street, and once in the street, shouting for help, he would have been safe.
He should have kept going.
Instead, Arling was startled when the Honda leaped backward, and he rammed his foot down on the brake pedal.
The tires barked against the cobblestone driveway.
Arling fumbled the gearshift into Drive.
Susan’s eyes so wide.
She was breathless and breathtaking. Beautiful in her terror.
When the vehicle rocked to a halt, Enos Shenk threw himself at the shattered window. Slammed against the car without concern for his safety. Clawed at the door.
Arling tramped on the accelerator again.
The Honda lurched forward.
Holding on to the door, reaching through the broken-out window with his right arm, squealing like an excited child, Shenk chopped with the cleaver.
Arling must have been a religious man. Through the directional microphones that were part of the exterior security system, I could hear him saying, ‘God, God, please, God, no, God.'
The Honda picked up speed.
I used one, two, three security cameras, zooming in, zooming out, panning, tilting, zooming in again, tracking the car as it weaved around the turning circle, providing Susan with as much of the action as I could capture.
Holding fast to the car, pulling his feet off the cobblestones, hanging on for the ride, the squealing Shenk chopped with the cleaver and missed again.
Arling drew back sharply in panic from the arc of the glinting blade.
The car curved half off the cobblestones, and one tire churned through a bordering bed of red and purple impatiens.
Wrenching the wheel to the right, Arling brought the Honda back onto the pavement barely in time to avoid a palm tree.
Shenk chopped again.
This time the blade sank home.
One of Arling’s fingers flew.
Blood sprayed across the windshield.
As red as impatiens petals.
The Honda swung out of control.
Tires gouged through another bed of flowers.
Blossoms and torn leaves sprayed off rubber.
A sprinkler head snapped.
Water geysered fifteen feet into the June day.
Silver water gushing high, sparkling like a fountain of dimes in the sunshine.
Immediately, I shut off the landscape watering sys¬tem.
The glittering geyser telescoped back into itself. Van¬ished.
The recent winter had been rainy. Nevertheless,
California suffers periodic droughts. Water should not be wasted.
Tilt down. Pan.
The Honda crashed into one of the queen palms. Shenk was thrown off, tumbling back onto the cobble¬stones.
The cleaver slipped from his hand. It clattered across the pavement.
Gasping, hissing with pain, making strange wordless sounds of desperation, clamping his badly wounded hand in his other, Arling shouldered open the driver’s door and scrambled out of the car.
Dazed, Shenk rolled off his back, onto his hands and knees.
Arling stumbled. Nearly fell. Kept his balance. Shenk was wheezing, striving to regain his breath, which had been knocked out of him.
Arling staggered away from the car.
I thought the old man would go for the cleaver.
Evidently he didn’t know that the weapon had fallen from Shenk’s grasp, and he was loath to go around to his assailant’s side of the Honda.
On all fours in the driveway, Shenk hung his head as though he were a clubbed dog. He shook it. His vision cleared.
Arling ran. Ran blindly.
Shenk lifted his malformed head, and his red gaze fixed on the weapon.
‘Baby,’ he said, and seemed to be talking to the cleaver.
He crawled across the driveway.
He gripped the handle of the cleaver.
Weak with pain, losing blood, Arling weaved ten steps, twenty, before he realized that he was returning to the house.
He halted, spun around, blinking tears from his eyes, searching for the gate.
Shenk seemed to be energized by regaining pos¬session of the weapon. He sprang to his feet.
When Arling started toward the gate, Shenk angled in front of him, blocking the way.
Watching from her bed, Susan seemed to have con¬tracted religion from Fritz Arling. I had not been aware that she possessed any strong religious convictions, but now she was chanting: ‘Please, God, dear God, no, please, Jesus, Jesus, no…
And, ah, her eyes.
Two deep lambent pools of haunted and beautiful light in the gloomy bedroom.
Outside, in the end game, Arling moved to the left, and Shenk blocked him.
Arling moved to the right, and Shenk blocked him.
When Arling feinted to the right but moved to the left, Shenk blocked him.
With nowhere else to go, Arling backed under the portico and onto the front porch.
The door was open, as Shenk had left it.
Hoping against hope, Arlmg leaped across the thresh¬old and knocked the door shut.
He tried to lock it. I would not allow him to do so.
When he realized that the deadbolt was frozen, he leaned his weight against the door.
This was insufficient to stop Shenk. He bulled inside. Arling backed toward the stairs, until he bumped against the newel post.
Shenk closed the front door.
I locked it.
Grinning, testing the weight of the cleaver as he approached the old man, Shenk said, ‘Baby make the music. Little baby gonna make the wet music.’
Now I required only one camera to provide Susan with coverage of the incident.
Shenk closed to within six feet of Arling. The old man said, ‘Who are you?’
‘Make me the blood music,’ Shenk said, speaking not to Arling but either to himself or to the cleaver.
What a strange creature he was.
Inscrutable at times. Less mysterious than he seemed but more complex than one would expect.