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The smell was awful. Actually, no, it reeked. Cynthia Tyrant sat up from her TV couch, suddenly aware that something wasn't right in her home. The only people in it were her and her six-year-old son, Joshua. Rick, her husband, was still out on the road, finishing up his second tour. He was a rock star and unfortunately had to do such things. It was his lot in life, and were it not so, Cynthia would never have met him. She had been a fan, a mere groupie, before she actually got to meet him, but when they met, they both knew they were meant for each other. That was seven and a half years, four records, one European tour and one child ago. Now she was the typical at-home mother, left to watch TV and live off the fat of her husband's success for the rest of her days. Life was not hard or demanding, just boring. Which is why she was so glad to have Josh around. Her son had proven to be the perfect distraction from boredom. But to her that's all he was: a distraction. Often the child would get into trouble in some ingenious way or another. She begrudgingly accepted it because as troublesome as Josh was, he was also just as adorable. When he was five she had taken him to a psychologist to find out why he was such a handful only to find out that he had an IQ of 174. He hadn't even hit puberty and he was above genius, forever to stand apart from his peers- and most of the adults around him. Dr. Jefferson had told her that intelligent children often get into mischief and that Joshua would require a great deal of attention. She took the advice halfheartedly and decided that the best way to appease an active mind would be to give the child engaging toys. She'd bought him Erector sets, chemistry sets, Legos (when he was three), real tools to make things with (he'd done a lot of woodworking with them, too... a birdhouse, a wooden car, a train, all kinds of stuff) anything that would consume his attention and let her move about freely. As the foul scent filled her nostrils, she realized that her son had obviously found something on his own to entertain him.

"Josh?" she called out loud. There was no reply from his room upstairs. "JOSH?" she repeated more loudly.

The child's small voice floated downstairs, sounding farther away than it really was. "Yeah, Mom."

She stood up and walked to the foot of the stairs, somewhat bothered that she had to leave behind Phil Donahue's interesting show on TV. "What're you doing?" she asked impatiently. "It smells horrible! You're not making a stink bomb with your chemistry set again, are you?" The last time he'd done that Rick was none too happy about having to fork over $3,000 to have the house treated by professionals. And it took forever to really lose the scent. But this odor, the one that Cynthia began to feel revulsed by, was different.

"No, Mom," Joshua said through his door. "Everything's fine."

Cynthia's brow furrowed. She wasn't the greatest mother in the world, but she knew enough that when a child said that anything was fine, it most certainly was not. With immediate resolve Cynthia started up the stairs. Seconds later she stood on the outer side of Joshua's bedroom door. "What're you doing?" she repeated.

Joshua's voice was stronger this time, more vital. "I'm playing with Calla."

The family dog. Calla, named after the flower Calla Lily, was a new addition to the family. She was only a few months old and Josh had fallen so in love with the puppy the first time he'd seen her that he'd insisted they buy her for him. He wanted to have a pet and promised to watch over her all by himself. So far he'd kept up his end of the bargain. As annoying as a puppy could be in a small home, Josh showered more attention on her than his own mother had on him. He doted over her like Calla was a real person. Cynthia wrinkled her nose as she realized that the scent was much stronger now. "She didn't make a mess, did she?"

Joshua's voice sounded indignant. "No, Mommy. Calla's beautiful! She'd never make a mess."

Cynthia didn't buy it. She opened the door and began, "Then wh-" she stopped in mid-sentence and her face went as pale as a bed sheet.

Joshua sat on the floor with Calla. More to the point, he sat on his bedroom floor amidst Calla. The puppy had been gruesomely taken apart on the boy's floor as though she had been rent limb from puppy-limb. And the once-cute puppy lab's head was perched on Joshua's knee, her tongue grotesquely hanging out. "Isn't she beautiful, Mommy?" Joshua asked with innocent eyes staring up at his mother. "Isn't she just beautiful?"

Cynthia Carson Tyrant screamed. Her voice went shrill, ocatves higher than any rock star could ever hope to reach, making Joshua jump and therefore making Calla's bodiless head roll straight to Cynthia's feet. Cynthia continued to scream, a gamut of horrifying thoughts racing through her mind, as her eyes locked with Calla's. She screamed and screamed and finally, mercifully to Joshua, who couldn't understand his mother's reaction at all, Cynthia passed out.

 

 

12 Years later...

 

The music pulsed. People moved to and fro like warped metronomes to the beat as Joshua Tyrant surveyed the onlookers. They were all just meat to him, flesh. Some were boys, others girls, some that couldn't be assigned either gender just by looking at them- but mostly the throng's content was laden with young women between the ages of fifteen and eighteen. Josh knew that his position gave him a certain advantage over the rest of the crew that worked with the band. His father was the name act, Rick Tyrant. And Josh hated his father with such a passion that it was often mistaken for deep love and respect. If people were blind enough to believe that, especially his parents, who was he to shatter their illusions? He was there for his own reasons and to fix Rick Tyrant's broken-down sound equipment wasn't really one of them. It didn't matter that he was getting paid to do just that, he was there to study.

The stage manager approached Josh in a rush. "Josh, the set's about to end! Get your shit together, man!"

Josh snapped his head back, surprised to have been caught off guard. He didn't normally let people sneak up on him, but his daydreaming of what would come later that evening had dulled his senses. He was supposed to have a utility trunk sitting next to him. The trunk, when his father's final set ended, would quickly be filled with various types of electrical cords and then packed up to make room for another trunk to be packed with electronic goodies. Josh didn't have the trunk ready, nor was he prepared for the madness that would ensue in a few minutes. Rather than try to raise his normally quiet voice over the shrill female screams from the audience Josh merely nodded to the stage manager and went to get the wire trunk. A minute later he was back at stage left, trunk close at hand, and watching his father with hate. His father noticed the stare and smiled and waved quickly. Josh forced himself to muster up a weak grin. He had to focus on the job at hand, which was to play errand boy to his loving father. "Loving father," hah. What a rip. Rick Tyrant hadn't been home enough over the last 15 years to even claim the title of "father" much less get away with professing love for his son. Holidays, birthdays, vacations, special moments of intense confusion- they had all been missed by Rick and left to the inexperienced hands of his son. Josh, because of his lack of parental attention, had grown up mostly in school as an outcast, despite his familial ties. Yet one more reason to hate his parents. Josh was a smart boy- a genius actually, with an IQ well over 180 that had been rising since he was six- and he was well aware of what he had missed as a child.

Rick Tyrant shouted some pleasantry to his audience, thanked them all for coming and then waved as he walked with great machismo off the stage, straight to his son. Before Josh could parry the impending embrace, Rick grabbed his son by the shoulders and gave him a strong hug. The smell of Rick's sweat filled Josh's nostrils. "GOD! I love this job!" Rick screamed loudly to everyone nearby. "Another fucking great show, my boy! Have at it!" He let Josh go and stalked off to his dressing room, obviously enjoying an endorphine high.

He calls what he does a job? Josh thought to himself. All he fucking does is jump around on a stage every other night and sing to a goddamn soundtrack! So what if he sweats a little under the lights? Hell, if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I'd have a hard time believing he even goes into a studio. Josh made a bee line for the first thing on his agenda: the mikes. The first thing a roadie does when breaking down a stage set is disconnect the microphones. The last thing the audience needs to hear is what really goes on when the show's over. There was a slight boom as he took the cable from the mike, the speakers protesting to him that he should have turned the mike off first. He looked up to the crowd, satisfied that no one could hear him. "Mindless sheep. You don't know you've been conned out of forty-five bucks, do you?" Some probably did, but they were even more foolish by Josh's standards. They willingly went to the slaughter. Josh mentally shrugged off his contempt for the crowd in front of him and went about his "work". Even though the job was beneath him, Josh couldn't complain about the pay. Three hundred dollars a day was nothing to scoff at, not to mention the chance to see more of the world in the process. So far he'd been to Cambodia, Japan, most of Europe with the exception of the Slavic countries still at civil war, Russia, Hawaii, all of the Caribbeans and more of the U.S. than he knew existed. In the U.S. he'd been to places ranging from the largest, L.A. and New York, to the most obscure, like Christmasville, Arkansas. Right now the Rick Tyrant Tour was about to head off for Nashville, Tennessee from Memphis. It was Rick's idea to tour the southern states for a while longer than usual. Josh hated the notion, thinking of most southerners as hillbilly fuck-ups on the general whole, and had protested joining the trip this year. But Rick had made the argument, and rightly so, that Josh was the best tech he knew of and was therefore indispensable. His father's claim was true, he had to admit, but it didn't make Josh feel any better about the spotlight he'd been put under. If he'd refused to go, he would've had to stay with his mother and Josh hated her even more than he hated his father.

Josh stopped to look around as he dragged the last trunk off stage. He heard from somewhere behind him, "Jesus Christ, lookit Mr. Fix It! The show hasn't been over twenty minutes and he's already packed!"

Someone else said, "I know, man. He's like that every once in a while. Man, if they could clone, like, four more of him, we'd be out of a job."

Josh turned around to face the person who'd made the "clone" remark and said, "You better pray they don't, Mark. They've cloned sheep already, us humans can't be that far behind. And don't forget, I'm smart. They'd start with people like me in a heartbeat because we know what the fuck we're doing. What's your excuse?"

Mark shrugged, "You know why I don't get my wrap-up done as quick as you? It's because I've had pussy. I got what I need and now I'm here so I can pay for more. You? You haven't even seen a snatch, much less gotten any. All that sexual frustration makes you work too hard, kid. Get your wick wet and slow down a little. Plenty o' fine honeys out there. Pick one, tell ‘em who you are, and use that extra time you always get to make yourself a man instead of Einstein's return."

The other roadie standing next to Mark nodded in agreement. "It's good advice, Fix It. Hell, any guy with half a brain would know that. So that begs a serious question...."

"What?" Josh asked sourly, knowing what it would be. He'd matched wits with people more times in his life than he'd like to count. He knew all the insults from memory.

"Are you really as smart as you think?"

As if on cue, Josh gave the guy the finger and said, "Yeah. Seven hundred thousand dollars a year smarter and a wall of college diplomas richer. You figure out the math." With that he lugged his last trunk box past the two roadies and headed for his father's trailer, a privilege none of the other roadies had. Membership has its privileges.

The unnamed roadie said to Mark, "What's that supposed to mean?"

"You mean you haven't heard?" Mark asked, surprised.

"‘Bout what?"

Mark shook his head as he headed for the center stage, "Kid plays the Stock Market like it's a fucking fiddle."

 

The tour bus was empty for the most part. The driver was on his way out after securing any loose items so that they wouldn't fall during the trip to Nashville. As he passed Joshua Tyrant he said, "Your father's still in his dressing room, Fix It. He should be out in about half an hour. Want me to lock up when I leave?"

"Yeah," Josh nodded. He hated the nickname "Mr. Fix It", no matter how apt it was. It had become his nom de plume a few years ago when he started working for his father. Ever since he'd been a young child he'd had a sort of innate knowledge about how machines worked. This talent made it as easy for him to fix a crashed sound board as it was to breathe. Previous techs would've spent hours or even days on something as minute as a short in the mixer, but for Josh it could take less than fifteen minutes and reasonably little mental exertion. And it wasn't only the sound equipment he could repair, either. He'd done major repair work on the tour bus tons of times. The driver could not be made to understand that the vehicle had to be treated with care instead of being driven like it was a battle tank. In a very real sense, Josh had more affinity for the machines he worked on than the people he worked "with". At least the machines didn't try to insult him. Sure, they challenged him from time to time, but not in the complex, malicious ways that people did. When a machine broke the solution was always easier to find than when some jerk-off gave him grief about some stupid thing or other. "I'll wait for Dad here. Thanks."

The driver left and locked the bus door after him, leaving Josh alone in the giant vehicle. The bus was equipped with three TV's, a very impressive sound systen with every component imaginable: a state of the art computer system, small satellite dish on top, four cellular phones and a small waterbed in Rick's personal ante-room. In the "hallway" that led to the back room was a cramped bathroom with functioning shower and eight bunk beds that lined each wall. There was a small "kitchen", too, but that was at the front of the bus with the den. In almost every way, the tour bus was a home with all of a home's rules and limits. Since Rick was married and claimed to be faithfully so, a standing rule was that no groupies were allowed on the bus. It was Rick's sanctuary as well as his son's and the band's and it wasn't to be disrupted by bubbly girls eager to get their knickers off. Rick had stated quite plainly that if anyone wanted to fuck around with one of the "chickies", he'd have to find a motel room and do it in private just like every other sop in the world. Josh often doubted his father's sincerity about many things except this issue. Rick Tyrant may be many things, but he is not and never has been an adulterer. For that Josh had to give at least marginal respect to his father.

Mr. Fix It made his way to his bunk and reached past the curtain. Seconds later, after swishing his arm about, he withdrew his book bag and took out a copy of "Gray's Anatomy". He'd been looking forward to getting back to it all night long. The human body was his new "project" now. He'd mastered electronics, science, chemistry, business, governmental politics and practice, psychology and computers, but the human body had always been a mystery to him. He had a drive to know how things worked, and not just the general principles behind them, but the intricate details. Of all the disciplines he'd explored, Josh was certain that the body was the most intricate of them all. It was a computer of sorts, chemically fraught with complexity, psychologically resilient to all kinds of stimulus, prone to a variety of deadly attacks to its "governing body", the brain, and more ogranized than any electronic device known to man. At its very core the human body was a cornucopia of information and challenges that Joshua Tyrant dearly wanted to master. "Gray's" would guide him through the introduction of the body, but in order to really know what made it tick, he'd have to explore it on his own. But he had that covered.

Groupies, boys and girls alike, were so plentiful that if one came up missng here and there, it would be chalked up to a tragedy by the peope who loved them, but no major loss to the world, right?

Josh thought so.

 

"So... how long have you been a fan of my father's?" He slipped his arm around the back of her neck as he moved in closer to her. She failed to notice that his left hand was slowly sliding under one of the throw pillows.

"Oh, God," Vicki quietly replied. "I guess I fell in love with your dad's music when I first heard 'Your Green Eyes' on the radio." She noticed his right hand playing with her hair, but she took it with a grain of salt. He was, after all, Rick Tyrant's only son. If she couldn't have Rick, then she would at least get a piece of Joshua. So what if he was a little weird?

His hand lightly fingered a curl as the other fingered the hidden treasure under the pillow. "'Your Green Eyes'? That was, what?... five years ago? Yeah... that's an awful long time to follow one man. Too bad I don't get that kind of attention." He looked into her eyes with an almost genuine pain. "All anyone ever wants from me is my dad... or to fix things. No one ever wants me for me. Like, just to talk or something." No one except the police in about ten states.

Vicki knew what Joshua was fishing for. He was pretty much right in his estimation of himself, she thought. He wasn't all that attractive, nor was he outwardly confident of himself around women. He seemed almost like a nerd; no courage, no body, no real talent worth mentioning. But he was rich and because of who his father was, he was instant popularity. And Vicki Cross so badly wanted to be popular. The first step, however, lay in a kiss. She resolved herself to it silently and gave Joshua what he seemingly wanted. "I'm talking to you now," she said softly as she leaned in. "That should count for something."

Vicki hadn't planned for the kiss to last so long, but he just wouldn't release her neck to part. He seemed overzealous, impatient as his arms enveloped her during the kiss, like each digit on his hands had a specific mission as it scaled up and down her back. She grunted in protest and then she felt a sharp pain in the small of her spine. He let go of her and finally they parted lips.

She pulled away far enough to see a grin of such sadistic pleasure creep across his face. The eerie smile made her want to throw up, but her initial reaction was quickly forgotten as her vision began to blur. "What did you do to me?" she asked sluggishly, backing further away.

Joshua continued to smile at her. He produced a large pair of scissors, from seemingly out of nowhere, that were fit for cutting hair. He grasped a handful of her hair tightly. "I'm cutting you off from everything," his voice began to slow down, like a tape player with bad batteries. "From the world, from the boyfriend you intended to cheat on... from me. I'm cutting you away." With a snip, a large clump of hair fell to the floor next to the hotel sofa. Joshua's free hand caressed the once long, flowing head of hair, now butchered beyond repair. Vicki continued to back up clumsily to the sofa's armrest, but her body didn't seem to want to cooperate. "Piece by piece, bit by bit, I'm cutting you away... then I'm going to see what's broken." Vicki's eyelids hammered into each other in a drowsy, drug-induced blink. "And I'm going to fix it."

"N-nothing's broken," Vicki managed to reply.

Joshua nodded lightly. "We'll see. And if nothing's broken, Vicki, then I promise I won't fix it." He kissed her tenderly on her forehead. "Now you go to sleep," he said lovingly, "and let me fix you all up."

She had no choice. She blinked once more, nodded heavily, and then she was cut away from the rest of the world, Rick Tyrant, Jerry Brine (her boyfriend) and Joshua Tyrant.

Another clump of hair landed softly on the shag carpet and Joshua's smile faded into intense concentration. He'd made sure that the motel manager didn't see him, had asked Vicki politely to sign for the room in her name, had carefully prepared everything while she was in the bathroom to groom for what she thought would be a night of lack-luster passion. He'd done everything right. No one knew he was here. No one knew what they were doing. He could leave when he was finished without anyone ever noticing his presence. He had even made sure not to touch much of anything so that fingerprints wouldn't be found. Josh pulled a pair of latex gloves from his jeans pocket and quickly snapped them over his wrists. With the gloves on, he was free to touch whatever pleased him now. He went over to his backpack (he'd told Vicki that it contained an extra pair of clothes and some "goodies for later in the evening") and withdrew his "tool kit". Carefully he untied the rolled-up, black bundle and unscrolled it out onto the floor. Josh stood up and regarded Vicki's sleeping form. He was glad that she hadn't fought him before she passed out. He hadn't done this too often, this was his seventh time, really, and the fact that all of his "patients" had been "willing" wasn't lost on him. He silently prayed that none of his subjects would ever try to shout or flee, making his task harder than it needed to be. Vicki breathed deeply, dreamlessly. He continued to stare at her scantily-clad body, feeling that he was closer to being ready for what lay ahead. Joshua took a deep breath. Now he was ready. He was ready to see what made Vicki Cross tick and tick and tick and tick and tick and......

 

 

"You all right?"

Mosely's head jerked reflexively as he forced himself back into reality. "Yeah," he answered. "Just thinking."

The detective grunted. "Hmph. Happens a lot at a scene like this, eh? You walk in, take a look and get lost trying to figure out what the sick motherfucker's doing." The detective had been told to give Agent Mosely as much "room" as possible. He didn't like the Feds on general principle, but Patrick Mosely seemed inobtrusive enough. Hell, he was even polite, which was nice for a change. Detective Joseph Estes, a blatantly latino man, had only worked with the FBI three times in his police career- and each time the Feds had shed a whole new light on the term "asshole." But Mosely was different. He wasn't the typical I'll-take-charge-from-here type. No, Mosely was smart, aware and most of all, gut-driven. Instead of making half-baked assumptions on what the books had to say about "text-book" murders, Mosely had been adamant about asking for fresh ideas and opinions. Estes found it an actual pleasure to work with the federal agent.

Mosely shook his head soberly. "I already know what this guy's up to, Joe. What I can't figure out is where he's headed next."

Estes glanced at the FBI agent with surprise. "Oh? What is he up to?"

"Pure anatomy," Agent Mosely stated flatly. "He's mixing art and science into one medium. Anatomy for anatomy's sake."

"Why?" Estes asked, genuinely interested now. "To prove that it can be done? He's a little late on that ticket."

Agent Mosely looked around the room, which was beginning to empty of police officers. The room was clearing out of people, but the smell seemed intent on staying. There was no forgetting that this was a crime scene with the pungent odor around to remind everyone. "No. He's doing it for himself, kinda. It's his... gift, I guess."

"Hell of a gift."

Mosely ignored the comment and went on. "You see how the body's laid out? This is the seventh time he's killed and each time the scene gets cleaner and cleaner. It's like he's learning as he goes, and at an incredible rate, too. Look at the head. Two months ago, at the first scene, the head had been merely detached. But this time, he's gone to the trouble of taking out the eyes and removing the ears, taking it apart piece by piece. The hands, too. Look at ‘em. At first they were simply cut off and frayed. Now the cuts are precise and the palms laid open. He's learning about anatomy with a twist."

Estes felt a little sick to hear such a detached analysis of the body and the M.O., but so far he couldn't argue with the agent. "What twist is that?"

Mosely looked Detective Estes in the eyes. "Don't you get it? The way the body's been left symmetrically? The head detached, but placed a few inches away from the shoulders; the arms, too, yet there's one at each side of the body; the legs; the torso's cracked open with the viscera placed where it should be in the body, but instead it's on the floor. He's taking the body apart and seeing where all the pieces fit together. Each time there's less blood, fewer jagged incisions and it's all kept in order... like he was reading from a book or something."

Estes had never made those observations about the scenes. He just figured the perp was a neat freak. "But why?"

Mosely pulled out a cigarette and put it in his mouth. "To find out what's broken and fix it."

Estes was almost angry now that Mosely would offer such a mundane idea. "But he's the one who broke ‘em in the first fuckin' place!"

Agent Mosely lit the cigarette and started to walk outside, to get away from the stench of decaying flesh. The body had been left unnoticed for three days and had been given plenty of time to partially decompose. "Joe, haven't you ever taken a radio or a TV or car apart to see how it works? Even if it's not broken? Just to know what makes it work?"

Of course Estes had. There were tons of times in his childhood where he'd been beaten pretty badly by his father for taking the tools without permission for just that reason. He guessed that every kid did that at one point. Curiosity is the bane of every parent- his own 6 year-old boy had done that to his CD player two weeks ago. "Yeah. I guess I did."

"Well," Mosely said. "That's what this guy's doin'.Only his pet projects are somebody's kids."

Estes cursed. "Twisted."

"And a half," the agent agreed with a nod, dropped his half-smoked cigarette on the ground and ground it into a tobacco-brown-and-burning-ember patch on the parking lot's granite surface. "I can't fucking smoke those things with that scent still in my head."

 

Joshua glanced around the room quickly. It was a normal hotel room, just like any other of the thousands he'd been in throughout his life. The typical 36-inch TV, tacky couch, a long wooden dresser that stood only an inch off the ground- the usual suspects found in a $28-a-night room. The window was behind them with its venetian blinds drawn. The slatted curtain allowed only a hint of the city lights in and no prying eyes- just the way Josh wanted it. The last thing he needed was an audience. The groupie he'd chosen tonight seemed a little air-headed, an obviously easy target, so to speak. She'd noticed the wrist band he'd made from the hair of his other.... "guests" and immediately found it fascinating. She'd asked what the story behind it was, and he'd told her that it was a gift from his friends. That each of them had cut a lock of hair off for him as a going away present- to remind him of who his real friends are while he's on the road. She thought that was sweet and asked him if he'd made any new friends in his travels. After looking her up and down for a moment, he'd said, "I have now." The smile he said it with came easily to him and she'd melted like butter after that. Two hours later, they found themselves in this hotel room, his black bag in the corner behind the door. He hadn't planned on a lesson tonight, but he had never been one to turn away any opportunity to learn. While hanging out with Tara, tonight's groupie, Josh had quickly discovered that she was fidgety. She couldn't sit still to save her life or anyone else's for that matter. That's why he hadn't prepared her for repair yet- he was enoying the buoyancy of her being. Soon, however, he knew that he would grow bored with her and that he'd want to get to his education. There was a knock at the hotel room door.

Josh spun his head around, not expecting anyone to bother them. "What the hell-? Who's there?" He shouted at the door.

The muffled reply came quickly, "Room service, sir!"

Josh looked at Tara questioningly. She simply said, "Now when have I had the chance to order room service? We've been talking all night. They probably just got the wrong room or something."

Josh grunted. She was right. He stood up stiffly. Josh didn't want anyone to know who or where he was, but the tone of Tara's voice implied that she expected him to turn the hotel attendant away. "Stay there," he said to Tara. Josh opened the door a crack, just enough to poke his nose out, and said, "We didn't order any. Thank you. Good night."

"But-?" The servant started to say.

Josh sighed, deeply annoyed. "I said we didn't order anything. What room are you looking for?"

"Two-thirty-six."

"This is three-twenty-six. You got the wrong floor."

The servant stepped back to look at the door and his face fell into a sheepish grin. "Oops. Sorry to disturb your evening, sir. Have a good night."

Josh, still sure that he hadn't shown his face, just his nose, said, "I intend to. Thank you. Bye." And he quickly shut the door. As Josh Tyrant turned around to address Tara, he found to his surprise that she wasn't on the couch anymore. "Tara?"

Her voice came from behind. Somehow, she'd snuck around him while he was talking to the hotel servant and had quietly opened his black bag. She held one of his scalpels in her hand. "What's this for?"

Josh stared stupidly at the instrument for exactly three seconds. At first he was stunned that she'd been so quiet. Then, as he realized that if he didn't do something fast, she might get nervous and make some noise, he began to get angry. She had violated his privacy. She'd gone into his bag without permission and was probably closer to discovering what he was really there for than anyone else had ever come. Action, and swift action at that, had to be taken. And action he did take.

He punched her. Hard. Her first impulse was to scream, but the outburst was cut short when he drove his knee into her throat. The choking sound she made as she gasped for air was as much a shock to Josh as the unexpected attack was to Tara. Her eyes looked up at him, wild and confused. "You shouldn't have gone into my stuff, Tara," he growled with real hatred. "I told you what was in there, but you couldn't let it rest, could you? You couldn't take my word for it. Well, bitch, you were right to think I was lying, but boy were you wrong to catch me at it." Again he pounded his fist into her face and blood spurted from her nose as it broke crisply. Josh had never actually punched someone so brutally, but, then, he'd never been so close to this kind of trouble before, had he? No. However distasteful it seemed to him to indulge in violence, sometimes people have to go against their natures to get what they want.

With a cat's swiftness, Tara's leg shot up and her foot landed a blow to Josh's skull, sending him reeling off of her. Immediately she sat bolt upright and began to gasp, too winded and shocked to think of scrambling away from her attacker. Her throat wouldn't yet let her scream, so all she could do was stare at him with mad fear and grasp her neck protectively. All she managed to croak was, "You....?"

Josh lunged at the young girl with as much force as he could muster. The move came so quickly that all Tara had time to do was flinch before she was under him again, this time her knees pinned down by Josh's own. Their movements seemed like some sort of perverted sex act as they struggled for leverage against each other until finally Josh won out, his forearm pushing against her larynx and preventing her from breathing. With his free hand Josh reached for his bag and quickly produced a syringe. He held the needle up in front of Tara's huge, round eyes. "You know what this is, Tara?" Her answer was a futile buck of her hips in an effort to escape. "Uh-uh, honey. You're not goin' anywhere. Now, this? This is a special blend of stuff. Morphine, heroin and liquid LSD. Nice cocktail if you ask me. Personally, I wouldn't touch the stuff, but boy oh boy does it work." Josh popped the cap of the syringe off with his thumb and thrust the small needle into Tara's neck. "And it's all for you." He felt his heated breath from the struggle echo back at him as he stifled the urge to laugh in Tara's face. She jerked slightly as the needle pierced her skin, her eyes rolling about like a crazed horse and bloodshot from the lack of oxygen. Without care or finesse, Josh pushed on the plunger of the hypodermic needle until he was satisfied that the mixture of harsh drugs was sufficiently in the girl's blood stream. Almost instantly, Tara's body relaxed and Josh removed his arm from her neck. As he sat back and watched his "date" die in front of him, he smiled cordially. "It's all over, my dear. Time to sleep and have pleasant dreams.... and to never wake up in this bad, bad world again. Sweet dreams, Tara."

She simply stared back at him, her life and mind quickly drifting away from her, until the gleam that's normally seen in a person's eyes, the glint of life, disappeared.

Josh felt something wet drip down his right temple, where Tara had kicked him. He glanced at her shoes and noticed that they were sharply tipped. He put his hand to the wound and looked at it for a second. For the first time since he had been in high school, involved in school-yard fights as a young man, he saw his own blood. He was angry that Tara had looked into his bag, but the knowledge that she'd drawn blood from him infuriated Josh to no end. Insanely, for no reason that he could ever guess, he punched the dead girl one more time in the face. Her head simply rolled to the side, lifeless and limp. "Fuck!" Josh growled. He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to find his mental center of calm again, and after a few minutes, his face relaxed and he exhaled a long gust of wind. "Whew. Okay. Enough of that. Time to get to work," he said to himself. "Right."

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