The bell above my head chimed as I stepped into the bakery the next morning. The mouth-watering scents of pastries, fresh bread, and spices wrapped around me, but they didn’t put me at ease. Not when I had a meeting with a certain someone who was waiting for me at a corner table.
He looked relieved to see me. Probably thought I’d be a no-show, given that I was ten minutes late. Naturally, I wasn’t so pleased to see him. At best, Linton was a pest. At worst, he was Smith. Either way, I didn’t want to be around him.
Still, I briefly chatted with Bill Taylor as I selected a muffin from the glass case at the counter. I then made my way to the small seating area near the rear windows.
With a polite smile, Linton stood as I reached his table. “Good morning. I was beginning to think you weren’t coming.”
“Sorry I’m late,” I said, taking the chair opposite him. For a short while, we just stared at each other. The bakery was pretty quiet, since we’d skipped the morning rush. Around us, people murmured, oven timers beeped, and dough tumbled in the mixer.
“I’m glad you came,” he finally said.
The stiff wax paper crackled as I peeled it away from my muffin. “You’re not eating anything?”
“No.” He patted his slightly rounded stomach. “I need to watch my figure.”
Well, I didn’t intend to watch mine—muffins and pastries were good for the soul, in my opinion.
Joining his hands as if in prayer, he leaned forward. “I thank you for coming to meet me. I realize you’re not fond of interviews. I have to say, it deeply surprised me that you agreed to meet with me.” There was a question there, but I ignored it. He gave me a quick smile. “As I’ve already explained, I’m interested in the relationship between you and your stepfather. I don’t merely wish to write about his crimes and background. I want to write about the person he is today. Of course, it’s difficult to do that when he doesn’t wish to be interviewed.”
I bit into my muffin and almost groaned. It practically melted in my mouth, along with the little chunks of rich chocolate.
“Most believe that people aren’t born sociopaths; that a number of factors make them become that way,” Linton went on. “It’s a belief that I share. I’ve always wondered if they could un-become sociopaths. They were once—at least to some extent—well-adjusted people. Something changed them. Can they not change back? If average people can change, maybe they can too. In the beginning, Michael Bale was happy to do interviews and talk of his ‘work.’ He liked the attention. Liked to stir things up among the other inmates. He was thrown in solitary many times.”
That wasn’t anything I didn’t already know. Instead of saying as much, I concentrated on my muffin.
“But then you and your mother came along, and he changed—or his behavior changed. He refused to do interviews or anything that would put his name in the spotlight, and he did it to protect you from that attention. The guards tell me he’s polite and composed. They said he follows the rules and doesn’t cause a fuss. He doesn’t send letters to other female fans and groupies who profess their love to him, which shows loyalty to your mother.”
He paused, and I knew he was waiting for me to comment on that. I didn’t.
“Whether having a ‘family’ has truly changed him or not, I don’t know. The fact remains that—at the very least—he made the decision to be someone different. And I have to ask myself what it is about you and your mother that a murderous sociopath would form such an intense attachment to you.”
That was a question I’d asked myself several times. I’d never come up with an answer. “I’m assuming you have a theory,” I said before taking another bite out of my muffin.
“I’m sure that you see the correlation between your mother and his own. They were both placed in a difficult position. One kept and cared for their child, but the other neglected and then sold theirs to very sick people. Perhaps Clear, by being the very mother he wished he’d had, soothes the angry, unloved child in him. Or perhaps he sees some of himself in her—if my research led me right, they’re both victims of abuse, both unaccepted for who they are, and both damaged in their own way. Perhaps it is something else. Without speaking to your mother and learning about their relationship, it’s very difficult to reach any sort of conclusion.”
Done with my muffin, I used a napkin to wipe the crumbs from my fingers and mouth. “She won’t speak to you, so you’ll need to be content with theorizing.”
“As for your relationship with him, Kensey, that is also difficult to fully understand. Originally, I assumed he felt he could relate to you because you were both rejected by a parent. I assumed he protected you in the same way he wished someone had protected him—that he was righting a wrong, in some sense. Michael is, after all, a seeker of justice.”
“But you no longer think that?”
“The way he speaks of you … it is far too paternal to be something as simple as being able to relate to you. It is more. There’s never been anyone in his life who he needed to protect or care for. Never been anyone who relied on him in any sense of the word. Without connections or bonds, people can feel like they are floating. Like they have no value or reason for being.”
Linton paused, eyes narrowing. “Then there was you. As a child, you were vulnerable and unable to take care of yourself. For the first time, Michael was needed. He was necessary to someone. There was a little person who now relied on him to be there for them in whatever ways he could be. By being his daughter, I believe you give him … purpose, shall we say? You give him a reason for being. As such, it should be a selfish love that he feels for you. But it’s not. Michael cares for you about as much as he’s capable of caring for someone. His ‘role’ in life shifted from being an avenger to a father. And it truly does make me wonder if Michael could now live a normal life. A life that didn’t include compulsions to kill. A life of a family man.”
If he’d said such a thing to my mother, she would have been all over it. Clear believed that Michael regretted his crimes and would never even dream of repeating them. She firmly believed that we could be a real family if he was ever released. Me? I wasn’t so sure of that.
I wanted to tell Linton that I thought he was wrong; that if his theory was true, surely other serial killers who were fathers and husbands would be able to fight their urges. But I said nothing. I wasn’t there to share my thoughts or feelings with him. I was there for one reason only. And that reason had just walked inside the bakery.
I looked up and smiled as Blake appeared at our table. “Hey.”
He pressed a light kiss to my mouth. “Morning, baby.”
“This is Noah Linton.”
“Is it now?” Grabbing a chair from a nearby table, Blake pulled it over and sat down. Laying one hand on my thigh, he said to Linton, “You were lingering outside the parking garage of my club. I’d like to know why.”
Linton straightened, fussing with the lapels of his jacket. “There is nothing illegal about—”
“I said, I’d like to know why.” Blake glared at him, expectant.
Linton cleared his throat. “I wanted to speak with Miss Lyons. I thought that maybe if I approached her in a more relaxed setting, such as your club, she might be more comfortable speaking with me.”