Secretary to a Serial Killer
Carefully, I arrange the strips of bloody
flesh to form letters on the hardwood floor of the victim's home. It has to
be done just so, set up in a neat semi-circle that spells out a single word: Parasol.
Next come the fingers, severed at the
second knuckle. I place all ten of them in
the bronze bowl behind the word "Parasol" and squirt lighter fluid on them.
Then, I light a match and toss it into
the bowl. Flames dance, lighting up the rest
of tonight's work for review.
of hair from other victims encircle the bowl, alternating in color. Beyond that, bones from a rib cage—some bleached, some painted
black—are laid out in two parallel rows. Next,
splotches of soft-boiled egg and little piles of cooked spaghetti that look completely
random—but aren't. Nothing
here is random.
Not even the way
the dead man's 87 stab wounds are situated on his body.
Everything has to be just so.
Suddenly, a camera flash goes off behind me. I shiver, because I know he's
back there—my captor, my boss.
"Very nice, Lydia. I knew
I made the right choice when I hired you."
My name isn't Lydia, and he didn't hire me, but none of that matters. "Merci, Monsieur Le Grande." It also doesn't matter that I don't know more than a few words of French. He insists I speak it the best I can.
His footfalls are heavy as he steps up
beside me, blood-soaked butcher's apron and all, snapping more photos with his phone. "You've done me proud, my dear. I am truly blessed to have you on staff."
My heart pounds so hard it hurts because
he could kill me at any second. Also because
of what he might see in those photos when he takes a close look.
"You're just what every great artist needs," says Le
Grande. "An assistant. A fellow sick mind by his side."
There's a case of the psychopath calling the
kettle black. The disorder I've got
doesn't compare to his bloodlust.
Though it's true, I wouldn't be here right now if not for my extreme obsessive-compulsive
The whole way home through the West Virginia moonlight, I can't stop thinking
about tonight's photo shoot. The pictures he took—the proof of my betrayal—are
right there on his phone, waiting for him to see.
All because I took a chance and broke
the rules, planting the subtlest of clues within his own twisted cypher in the hope that
someone out there will see what I did and understand. Someone who can help
me get free.
"We'll take a
little downtime tomorrow, yes?" Keeping one
hand on the wheel of the van, he pats my knee with the other. "We'll make breakfast, take care of the
mail, and catch up on social media. Sound
"Oui, Monsieur Le Grande." By "taking care of the mail," he
means sending the crime scene photos to the cops via some distant, random mailbox...and
by "social media," he means picking his next victim online.
"We're allowed to have a little downtime
now and then, right?" Le Grande chuckles. "A day off never killed anyone, did it?"
"Non, Monsieur Le Grande." It's been a long time since I last had a day
off. My life hasn't stopped being a nightmare
in the last three months.
since Le Grande showed up at my home office in Wheeling and asked about hiring my company,
OCD Diva, Inc., for some so-called consulting work…then came back later that night,
broke in, and hauled me away. From that
moment on, my new life began…my new life of being the prisoner of a serial killer.
And being his crime scene decorator,
too. Who better than an OCD expert to make
sure his intricate masterpieces are perfectly presented for the police, without a detail
out of place?
And what better
motivation than the promise of death to keep that expert cooperating?
When we get home—to his house in the woods
outside Parkersburg—he puts me to work cleaning his implements. As always,
I'm repulsed...and also forced by my OCD to scrub them like crazy.
The three bloody knives, I wash with
bleach-based cleanser in the laundry sink in the basement. I wear yellow rubber
gloves up to my elbows and scrub every surface until my hands hurt.
The bone saw takes longer.
So do some of the torture implements, like the
pliers and razor wire. But I get it done;
I always do.
out the photos from tonight, Lydia." Le Grande
swoops downstairs with a handful of color prints.
"There's just one...problem."
Every drop of blood in my body turns to ice.
"Here." He swings over
beside me and holds up the prints. "I'll bet you thought I wouldn't catch
He sees it. His eye for detail is too fanatically
sharp. He zeroed right in on the clues I
so carefully concealed.
"Look." He pulls out a scalpel and jabs the tip at
the top print in the stack. "It's right there
in plain sight."
Can he see me
trembling? Can he smell the terror
in my heart as death draws near?
My voice sounds faint when I finally find it. "I was just...just trying to..."
"I know exactly what you
were trying to do!" He shakes the scalpel
at my face.
Tears streaming down my cheeks,
I brace myself for the end.
Then, he plunges the scalpel at the photo, sticking its point in
the image of the bronze bowl with the charred remains of the fingers smoldering within.
"You were trying to make me look
bad," snaps Le Grande. "How dare
you turn the bowl so the number of pentagrams engraved on the rim is not equal
on either side of the Eye of Horus as it is centered over the word 'Parasol' on the
I draw in a deep breath, fighting
to steady myself. After all this, all my
fear, he was looking at something else the whole time.
"You have failed me." He sneers.
"I apologize." I bow my head.
"It will never happen again, Monsieur."
He stares at me for a long moment, and I worry he may yet see through me. But then he sighs, and his expression softens.
"You are only human,
yes?" He presses the prints into my sweaty
hands. "And we do have PhotoChop
on the laptop, hm? Editing is possible."
"Yes...I mean oui."
"Then I suggest you get busy.
We simply must have these in the mail
to the gendarmerie first thing tomorrow."
I straighten the prints as he winks and strolls away, slicing at the air with
the scalpel. My relief is almost more than
I can bear.
Today, I live. I survive.
tomorrow is another day. Tomorrow is another letter
of the alphabet painstakingly mapped in minute variations of soft-boiled egg
splotches corresponding with Morse code.
One letter, one victim at a time, purchased at terrible
cost. Even then, will anyone see it? Will anyone understand the full message when it's
done? Will they come for me? All I can do is pray for someone with as much OCD as I have to be on
the receiving end.
And, God help me, for Le Grande to keep the victims coming until I am done.