Dexter by Design

 

Being a blood spatter analyst who hates the sight of blood has always made Dexter’s work for the Miami PD tough. But it means he’s very neat when it comes to his out-of-hours hobby: murder. Of course, the fact Dexter only kills bad people helps too. Now Dex is facing a disturbing situation. He’s used to blood at work, and blood when he’s out with the dark passenger (the voice that guides him on his deadly outings). But he’s not sure what to make of the man who says blood is art. Using bodies as his canvas, someone is out there expressing themselves in the most lethal and painful of ways. If Dexter’s to escape the scalpel and avoid becoming the latest exhibit, he needs somewhere to run…and he might just have found the perfect place. With his wedding looming, completing his nice-guy disguise, Dexter’s honeymoon might just save his skin.

Now married to the unsuspecting Rita and on honeymoon in Paris, Dexter is contemplating a return to normality after the events described in Dexter in the Dark. While visiting an art gallery, Dexter and Rita are introduced to the concept of body parts being used as art by an avant-garde performance piece called “Jennifer’s Leg” in which the artist amputates her own limb. On returning home, Dexter finds his relationship with his sister, Deborah Morgan, has become strained since she learned of his murderous pastime at the end of the first book. At work, Dexter is called to investigate a gruesome tableau on a local beach, where a pair of bodies have been mutilated and arranged in a display that parodies the state’s tourist trade. When Dexter’s sister Deb is stabbed while investigating, Dexter tortures and kills the man he thinks is responsible, then learns he got the wrong guy. Unfortunately, this puts the real killer on his tracks, and soon, to his immense discomfort, he’s being stalked instead of doing the stalking.

THE BODY HAD BEEN PROPPED IN THE RECESS AROUND THE side door
of the building, the one that served as an emergency exit for the combination
cafeteria and auditorium of the school. One of the servers had stepped outside for
a smoke and seen it, and had to be sedated, which was easy for me to understand
after I took a quick look. And after a second, more careful examination, I very
nearly needed a sedative myself. Roger Deutsch had a lanyard around his neck, with a whistle hanging from
it. As before, the body cavity had been scooped out and then filled with
interesting things —in this case, a Cub Scout uniform, a colorful book that said
Big Bear Cub Scout Handbook on the cover, and some other gear. I could see the
handle of a hand axe sticking up, and a pocket knife with the Cub Scout logo on
it.
As I bent closer to look, I also saw a grainy picture, printed on regular
white paper, with BE PREPARED printed on it in large black letters. The picture
showed a blurry shot, taken from some distance away, of several boys and one
adult going into this same building. And although it was impossible to prove it, I
knew quite well who the adult and one of the children were.

Me and Cody.

There was no mistaking the familiar curve of Cody’s back. And there was
no mistaking the message, either.
It was a very odd moment, kneeling there on the pavement and looking at
a blurry, indistinct picture of myself and Cody, and wondering if anybody would
see me if I took it. I had never tampered with evidence before, but then again, I
had never been part of it, either. And it was quite clear that this was meant for me.
BE PREPARED, and the photo. It was a warning, a challenge: ” know who you
are and I know how to hurt you And here I come.
BE PREPARED.
I was not prepared. I did not yet know where Weiss might be, and I did not
know what or when his next move would be, but I did know that he had moved
everything several notches ahead of me, and he had raised the stakes considerably
at the same time. This was not a stolen dead body, and it was not anonymous.
Weiss had killed Roger Deutsch, not just modified his body. And he had chosen
this victim carefully, deliberately, in order to get at me.
It was a complex threat, too. Because the picture added another dimension
—it said: I may get you, and I may get Cody, or I may simply expose you for
what we both know you are. On top of that was the sure knowledge that if I was
exposed and slapped in jail, Cody would have no protection at all against
whatever Weiss might do.
I looked hard at the picture, trying to decide if anyone else could tell it was
me, and whether taking it was worth the risk of removing and destroying it. But
before I could make any decision, the feather stroke of an invisible black wing
brushed across my face and raised the hair along my neck.
The Dark Passenger had been very quiet through this whole thing so far,
contenting himself with a disinterested smirk from time to time, and offering no
really cogent observations. But now the message was clear, and it echoed the one
on the photograph: Be prepared. You are not alone. And I knew just as certainly
as I possibly could that somewhere nearby something was looking at me and
harboring wicked thoughts, watching me as the tiger watches its prey.
Slowly, carefully, as if I had simply forgotten something in the car, I stood
up and walked back toward where we had parked. As I walked I casually scanned the parking area; not looking for anything in particular, just Dopey Dexter
ambling along in a perfectly normal way, and under the nonchalant and distracted
smile the black smoke boiled and I looked for something that I knew was looking
at me.
And found it.
Over there, in the nearest row of the parking lot, maybe a hundred feet
away from me, right where it would provide the best view, a small bronze-colored
sedan was parked. And through the windshield, something winked at me; sunlight
off the lens of a camera.
Still so very careful and casual, even though the darkness was roaring
through me with a knife edge blossoming, I took a step toward the car. Across the
distance I saw the bright flash of the camera coming down, and the small pale
face of a man, and the black wings rattled and crashed between us for one very
long second …
Then the car started up, backed out of the parking spot with a small squeal
of rubber, and disappeared out of the lot and away into traffic. Although I sprinted
forward, the most I could see of the license plate was the first half: OGA and
three numbers that might have been anything, although I thought the middle one
was either a 3 or an 8. But with the description of the car, it was enough. I would at least find the
registration of the car. It would not be registered to Weiss, couldn’t be. Nobody is
that stupid, not in this day of nonstop police drama in all the media. But a small
hope flickered. He had left quickly, not wanting me to see him or his car, and just
this once I might have some small bit of luck.
I stood there for nearly a minute, letting the wild wind inside me settle
back down into a neatly coiled and steadily purring thing.
My heart was pumping as it seldom did in the light of day, and I realized
that it was a very good thing that Weiss had been just a little bit shy, and had
taken off so readily. After all, what would I have done otherwise? Pulled him out
of the car and killed him? Or had him arrested and flung into a squad car, so he
could begin to tell everyone who would listen all about Dexter? No, it was just as well that he had escaped. I would find him, and we
would meet on my terms, in the suitable dark of a night that could not come soon
enough for me.
I took a deep breath, plastered my best phony working smile back onto my
face, and walked back to the pile of decorative meat that had been Cody’s scout
master.
Vince Masuoka was squatting by the body when I got there, but instead of
doing something useful, he was simply staring at the stuff shoved into the cavity
and frowning. He looked up as I approached, and said, “What do you think it
means?”
“I’m sure I have no idea,” I said. I just do blood spatter. They pay
detectives to figure out what it means.” Vince cocked his head and looked at me
as if I had told him we were supposed to eat the body. “Did you know that
Detective Coulter is in charge of the investigation?” he said.
“Maybe they pay him for something else” I said, and I felt a small surge of
hope. I had forgotten this detail, but it was worth remembering. With Coulter in
charge, I could confess to the murder, hand him videos of me performing it, and
he would still find a way not to prove it. So it was with something approaching good cheer that I went back to work
—tempered with very real impatience to get it finished and get back to my
computer to track down Weiss. Happily, there was very little blood spatter on site
—Weiss appeared to be the kind of neatnik I admired —and therefore there was
almost nothing for me to do. I finished up shortly and begged a ride back to
headquarters with one of the squad cars. The driver, a large white-haired guy
named Stewart, talked about the Dolphins all the way back, apparently not really
caring if I spoke back.
By the time we got back to headquarters I had learned some wonderful
things about the approaching football season and what we should have done
during the off-season but had somehow, inexplicably, managed to bungle once
again, which would certainly lead to another season of ineptitude and shameful
losses. I thanked him for the ride and the vital information and fled for my
computer.
The database for automobile registration is one of the most basic tools of
police work, both in reality and in fiction, and it was with a slight sense of shame that I went to it now. It really just seemed too easy, straight out of a rather simpleminded
television drama. Of course, if it led to finding Weiss I would somehow
overcome the feeling that this was almost like cheating, but for the time being I
really kind of wished for a clue that would call for something a little more clever.
Still, we work with the tools we are given, and hope that someone asks us later for
constructive criticism.
After only fifteen minutes I had combed the entire Florida state database,
and found three small bronze-colored vehicles with the letters OGA on their
license tag. One of them was registered in Kissimmee, which seemed like a bit of
a commute. Another was a 3 Rambler, and I was reasonably sure that I would
have noticed something that distinctive.
That left number three, a 1995 Honda, registered to a Kenneth A Wimble
on NW 98th Street in Miami Shores. The address was in an area of modest
homes, and it was relatively close to the place in the Design District where
Deborah had been stabbed. It really wouldn’t even be a terribly long walk —so
that, for example, if the police came to your little nest on NE 40th you could
easily hop out the back door and amble a few blocks over until you found an
unattended car.
But then what? If you are Weiss, where do you take this car? It seemed to
me that you would take it far away from wherever you stole it. So probably the
very last place on earth that he would be was the house on N W 98th Street.
Unless there was some connection between Weiss and Wimble. It would be
perfectly natural to borrow a friend’s car: Just some casual butchery, buddy —
back in a couple of hours. Of course, for some bizarre reason, we don’t have a National Registry of
Who Your Friends Are. One would assume that this administration would have
thought of that, and rammed it through Congress. It would certainly make my
work easier now. But no such luck; if they were indeed chums, I would have to
find out the hard way, by a personal visit. It was merely due diligence in any case.
But first I would see if I could uncover anything at all about Kenneth A Wimble.
A quick check of the database showed that he had no criminal record, at
least not under that name. His utilities were paid, although payment on his
propane bill had been late several times. Digging a little deeper, going into the tax
records, I discovered that Wimble was self-employed, and his occupation was
listed as video editor. Coincidence is always possible. Strange and improbable things happen
every day, and we accept them and simply scratch our heads like rubes in the big
city, and say, “Gollee, ain’t that somethin’.” But this seemed to be stretching
coincidence past the breaking point.
I had been following a writer who had left a video trail, and now the trail
had led me to a video professional. And since there comes a time and place when
the seasoned investigator must accept the fact that he has stumbled on something
that is probably not coincidence, I murmured, “Aha” very quietly to myself. I
thought I sounded quite professional saying it, too.
Wimble was in on this in some way, tied up with Weiss in making and
sending the videos, and therefore, presumably in arranging the bodies and finally
in killing Roger Deutsch. So when Deborah had come knocking at the door,
Weiss fled to his other partner, Wimble.
A place to hide, a small bronze-colored car to borrow, and on with the
show.
All right then, Dexter. Mount up and move out. We know where he is, and
now is the time to go get him; before he decides to put my name and picture on
the front page of the Miami Herald. Up and away. Let’s go.
Dexter? Are you there, buddy?
I was there. But I suddenly found, oddly enough, that I really missed
Deborah. This was exactly the kind of thing I should be doing with her —after all,
it was bright daylight out there, and that was not truly Dexter’s Dominion. Dexter
needs darkness to blossom into the real life of the party that he is deep inside.
Sunlight and hunting do not mix. With Deborah’s badge I could have stayed
hidden in plain sight, but without it… I was not actually nervous, of course, but I was a little bit uneasy. However, there was no choice at all. Deborah was lying in a hospital bed,
Weiss and his dear friend Wimble were giggling at me in a house on 98th Street,
and Dexter was dithering about daylight.
And that would not do, not at all.

So stand, breathe, stretch. Once more into the breach, dear Dexter. Get up
and be gone. And I did, and I headed out the door to my car, but I could not shake
the strange feeling of unease.
The feeling lasted all the way over to NW 98th Street, even through the
soothing homicidal rhythm of the traffic. Something was wrong somewhere and
Dexter was headed into it somehow.
But since there was nothing more definite than that, I kept going, and
wondering what was really chewing at the bottom corner of my brain. Was it
really just fear of daylight? Or was my subconscious telling me that I had missed
something important, something that was getting ready to rear up and bite me? I
went over it all in my head, again and again, and it all added up the same way.
The only thing that really stuck out was the thought that it was all very simple,
perfectly connected, coherent and logical and right, and I had no choice but to act
as quickly as I could, and why should that be bothersome? When did Dexter ever
have any choice anyway? When does anyone really have a choice of any kind,
beyond occasionally being able to say —on those very few good days we get —I
choose ice cream instead of pie?
Nevertheless, I still felt invisible fingers tickling at my neck when I parked
the car across the street and halfway down the block from Wimble’s house. For
several long minutes I did nothing more than sit in the car and look up the street at
the house. The bronze-colored car was parked in the street right in front of the house.
There was no sign of life, and no large heap of body parts dragged to the curb to
await pick-up. Nothing at all but a quiet house in an ordinary Miami
neighborhood, baking in the midday sun.
The longer I sat there in the car with the motor off, the more I realized that
I was baking, too, and if I stayed in the car a few more minutes I would be
watching a crisp dark crust form on my skin.
Whatever faint tremors of doubt I felt, I had to do something while there
was still breathable air in the car.
I got out and stood blinking in the heat and light for several seconds, and
then moved off down the street, away from Wimble’s house. Moving slowly and
casually, I walked around the block one time, looking at the house from the rear.
There was not much to see; a row of hedges growing up through a chain-link fence blocked any view of the house from the next block over. I continued around
the block, crossed the street, and walked on back to my car.
I stood there again, blinking in the brightness, feeling the sweat roll down
my spine, across my forehead, into my eyes. I knew that I could not stand there a
great deal longer without drawing attention.
I had to do something —either approach the house, or get back into my
car, drive home, and wait to see myself on the evening news.
But with that nasty, annoying little voice still squeaking in my brain that
something was just not right, I stood there a little longer, until some small and
brittle thing inside snapped, and I finally thought, Fine. Let it come, whatever it
might be. Anything is better than standing here counting the droplets of sweat as
they fall.
I remembered something helpful for a change, and opened the trunk of my
car. I had thrown a clipboard in there; it had been very useful for several past
investigations into the lifestyles of the wicked and infamous, and there was a clipon
tie as well. It has been my experience that you can go anywhere, day or night,
and no one will question you if you wear a clip-on tie and carry a clipboard.
Luckily today I was wearing a shirt that actually buttoned at the neck, and I hung
the tie on my collar, picked up the clipboard and a ballpoint pen, and walked up
the street to Wimple’s house. Just another semi important official or other, here to
check on something. I glanced up the street; it was lined with trees, and several of the houses
had fruit trees in the yard. Fine: today I was Inspector Dexter from the State
Board of Tree Inspection. This would allow me to move close to the house with a
semi-logical activity to cloak me.
And then what? Could I really get inside and take Weiss by surprise, in
broad daylight? The hot glare of the sun made it seem vastly unlikely somehow.
There was no comforting darkness, no shadows to hold me and hide my approach.
I was as completely visible and obvious as could be and if Weiss glanced out the
window and recognized me, the game was up before it properly began.
But what choice did I have? It was him or me, and if I did nothing at all,
he would most likely do a great deal of something, starting with exposing me and
moving down the list to hurting Cody or Astor, or who knows what. He was quite
clearly deranged, even more than I was, and I had no way to know how far he would go, or what he would do when he got there. Without question, I had to head
him off and stop him now, before he did any more damage.
As I straightened up to do so, a most unwelcome thought shoved its way
in: was this the way Deborah thought of me? Did she see me as a sort of wild
obscenity, slashing its way across the landscape with random ferocity? Was that
why she had been so unhappy with me? Because she had formed an image of me
as a ravening monster?
It was such a painful notion that for a moment I could do nothing but blink
away the drops of sweat rolling down my forehead. It was unfair, totally
unjustified; of course, I was a monster —but not that kind. I was neat, focused,
polite, and very careful not to cause the tourists any inconvenience with random
body parts scattered about.
How could she fail to see that? How could I make her see the well ordered
beauty of the way Harry had set me up?
The first answer was, I could not —not if Weiss stayed alive and at liberty
Because once my face was on the news, my life was over and Deborah would
have no more choice than I would; no more choice than I had right now. Sunlight
or not, I had to do this, and I had to do it quickly and well.
I took a deep breath and moved up the street to the house next to
Wimble’s, looking intently at the trees along the drive and scribbling on the
clipboard. I moved slowly up the driveway. No one leapt out at me with a
machete in their teeth, so I walked back down the driveway, paused in front of the
house, and then went on to Wimble’s. There were suspicious trees to examine there, too, and I looked up at them,
made notes, and moved a bit further up the driveway.
There was no sight nor sound of life from the house. Even though I did not
know what I hoped to see, I moved closer, looking for it, and not just in the trees.
I looked carefully at the house, noting that all the windows seemed to have shades
drawn down. Nothing could see in or out. I got far enough up the driveway to
notice that there was a back door, located at the top of two concrete steps. I
moved toward it very casually, listening for any small rustling or whispering or
shouts of, “Look out! He’s here!” Still nothing. I pretended to notice a tree in the
backyard, close to a propane tank and only about twenty feet from the door, and I
went over to it. Still nothing. I scribbled. There was a window in the top half of the door,
with no shade pulled down. I walked over to it, mounted the two steps, and
peeked inside. I was looking into a darkened hallway, lined with a washing
machine and dryer, and a few brooms and mops held in clamps on the wall. I put
a hand on the door knob and turned very slowly and quietly. It was unlocked. I
took a deep breath … and very nearly fell out of my skin as a horrible, shattering
scream came from inside. It was the sound of anguish and horror and such a clear
call for help that even Disinterested Dexter moved reflexively forward, and I had
one foot actually inside the house when a tiny little question mark scuttled across
the floor of my brain and I thought, I’ve heard that scream before. As my second
foot moved forward, further into the house, I thought, Really? Where? The
answer came quite quickly, which was comforting: it was the same scream that
was on the “New Miami” videos that Weiss had made.
Which meant that it was a recorded scream.
Which meant it was intended to lure me inside.
Which meant that Weiss was ready and waiting for me.
It is not terribly flattering to my own special self, but the truth is that I
actually paused for a split second to admire the speed and clarity of my mental
process. And then, happily for me, I obeyed the shrill interior voice that was
screaming, “Run, Dexter, run!” and bolted out of the house and down the
driveway, just in time to see the bronze-colored car screech away down the street. And then a huge hand rose up behind me and slammed me to the ground, a
hot wind blew past, and Wimble’s house was gone in a cloud of flame and
showering rubble.

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