Velocity Page 30

“Billy, I’m dying here.”

“You aren’t dying.”

“I’m scared about my eyes. I still can’t see.”

“I want to ask you some questions.”

“Questions? Are you crazy?”

“I half feel like it,” Billy admitted.

Zillis coughed. The single cough became a fit of coughing, which became a fearsome choking. He wasn’t faking any of it.

Billy waited.

When Zillis could speak, his voice was hoarse, and it shook: “You’re scaring the shit out of me, Billy.”

“Good. Now I want you to tell me where you keep your gun.”

“Gun? What do I need with a gun?”

“The one you shot him with.”

“Shot him? Shot who? I didn’t shoot anybody. Jesus, Billy.”

“You shot him in the forehead.”

“No. No way. Not me, man.” His eyes swam with tears induced by the Mace, so they could not be read for deception. He blinked and blinked, trying to see. “Man, if this is some half-assed joke—”

“You’re the joker,” Billy said. “Not me. You’re the performer.”

Zillis didn’t react to the word.

Billy went to the nightstand and opened the drawer.

“What’re you doing?” Zillis asked.

“Looking for the gun.”

“There isn’t ‘the a gun.”

“There wasn’t one earlier, when you weren’t here, but there will be now. You’ll keep it close to you.”

“You were here earlier?”

“You wallow in every kind of filth, don’t you, Steve? I wanted to shower in boiling water after I left.”

Billy opened the door on the bottom of the nightstand, rummaged inside.

“What’re you going to do if you don’t find a gun?”

“Maybe I’ll nail your hand to the floor and cut your fingers off one by one.”

Zillis sounded as if he was about to start crying for real. “Oh, man, don’t say crazy shit like that. What did I do to you? I didn’t do anything to you.”

Sliding open the closet door, Billy said, “When you were at my place, Stevie, where did you hide the severed hand?”

A groan escaped Zillis, and he began to shake his head: no, no, no, no. The closet shelf over the hanging clothes lay just above eye level. As Billy felt along the shelf for the gun, he said, “And what else did you hide in my place? What did you cut off the redhead? An ear? A breast?”

“This doesn’t compute,” Zillis said shakily.

“Doesn’t it?”

“You’re Billy Wiles, for God’s sake.”

Returning to the bed, searching for the gun, Billy felt between the mattress and the box springs, which he wouldn’t have had the stomach to do if he hadn’t been wearing the gloves.

“You’re Billy Wiles,” Zillis repeated.

“Which means what—that you didn’t think I’d know how to take care of myself?”

“I didn’t do anything, Billy. I didn’t.”

Going around to the other side of the bed, Billy said, “Well, I know how to take care of myself, all right, even if I don’t exactly ring the bell on the zing meter.”

Recognizing his own words, Zillis said, “I didn’t mean anything by that. You think that was an insult? I didn’t mean it that way.”

Billy searched between mattress and box springs again. Nothing.

“I say things, Billy. You know how I am. I’m always joking. You know me. Hell, Billy, I’m an as**ole. You know I’m an as**ole, all the time talking, half the time not listening to myself.”

Billy returned to the chair and sat again. “Can you see me better, Stevie?”

“Not much, no. I need some Kleenex.”

“Use the bed sheet.”

With his free hand, Zillis pawed loose the thin blanket tucked into the foot of the bed. He freed a corner of the sheet, mopped his face with it, blew his nose.

Billy said, “Do you have an ax?”

“Oh, God.”

“Do you own an ax, Stevie?”


“Be truthful with me, Stevie.”

“Billy, don’t.”

“Do you own an ax?”

“Don’t do this.”

“Do you own an ax, Stevie?”

“Yes,” Zillis admitted, and a sob of dread escaped him.

“You’re either one hell of an actor or you’re really just poor dumb Steve Zillis,” Billy said, and it was the latter possibility that had begun to worry him.

Chapter 62

“When you’re chopping the mannequins in the backyard,” Billy asked, “do you dream that they’re real women?”

“They’re just mannequins.”

“Do you like to chop watermelons because they’re red inside? Do you like to see the red meat explode, Stevie?”

Zillis seemed astonished. “What? She told you about that? What’d she tell you?”

“Who is ‘she,’ Stevie?”

“The old bitch next door. Celia Reynolds.”

“You’re in no position to call anyone an old bitch,” Billy said. “You’re in no position at all.”

Zillis looked chastened. He nodded in eager agreement. “You’re right. I’m sorry. She’s just lonely. I know. But Billy, she’s a nosy old lady. She just can’t mind her own business. She’s always at her windows, watching from behind the blinds. You can’t go out in the yard, she isn’t watching you.”

“And there’s a lot of things you do that you can’t afford for people to see, aren’t there, Stevie?”

“No. I don’t do anything. I just want some privacy. So a couple times I gave her a show with the ax. Played crazy. Just to spook her off.”

“Spook her off.”

“Just to make her mind her own business. I only did it three times, and the third time I let her know it was a show, let her know I could see her watching.”

“How did you let her know?”

“I’m not proud of this now.”

“I’m sure there’s a lot you’re not proud of, Stevie.”

“I gave her the finger,” Zillis said. “The third time, I chopped a mannequin and a watermelon—which I don’t dream are anything but what they are—and I walked over to the fence, and I gave her the finger big time.”

“You chopped up a chair once.”

“Yeah. I chopped up a chair. So what?”

“The one I’m sitting on is the only chair you have.”

“I used to have two. I only needed one. It was just a chair.”

“You like to see women being hurt,” Billy said.


“Did you just this evening find the porno under the bed? Did some gremlin put it there, Stevie? Should we call Orkin and have them send a gremlin exterminator?”

“Those aren’t real women.”

“They’re not mannequins.”

“I mean, they’re not really being hurt. They’re acting.”

“But you like to watch.”

Zillis said nothing. He hung his head.

In some ways, this was easier than Billy had expected it to be. He had thought that asking deeply unpleasant questions and listening to another human being grovel in despondent self-justification would be so distressing that he would not be able to sustain a productive interrogation. Instead, he had a sense of power from which he drew confidence. And satisfaction. The ease of it surprised him. The ease of it scared him.

“They’re very nasty videos, Stevie. They’re very sick.”

“Yes,” Zillis said softly. “They are. I know.”

“Have you ever made any videos of yourself hurting women that way?”

“No. God, no.”

“You’re whispering, Stevie.”

He raised his chin from his chest, but he wouldn’t look toward Billy. “I’ve never hurt a woman that way.”

“Never? You’ve never hurt a woman that way?”

“No. I swear.”

“How have you hurt them, Stevie?”

“I never have. I couldn’t.”

“You’re such a choirboy, is that it?”

“I like to… watch it.”

“Watch women being hurt?”

“I like to watch, all right? But I’m ashamed.”

“I don’t think you’re ashamed at all.”

“I am. I am ashamed. Not always during, but always after.”

“After what?”

“After… watching. This isn’t… Oh, man. This isn’t what I want to be.”

“Who would want to be what you are, Stevie?”

“I don’t know.”

“Name me one person. One person who would want to be what you are.”

“Maybe nobody,” Zillis said.

“How ashamed are you?” Billy persisted.

“I’ve thrown the videos away. Lots of times. I’ve even destroyed them. But then, you know… after a while, I buy new ones. I need help to stop.”

“Have you ever sought help, Stevie?”

Zillis didn’t respond.

“Have you ever sought help?” Billy pressed.


“If you really want to stop, why haven’t you sought help?”

“I thought I could stop on my own. I thought I could.”

Zillis began to cry. His eyes were still glazed from the Mace, but these were real tears.

“Why have you done those things to the mannequins in the other room, Stevie?”

“You can’t understand.”

“Yeah, I’m just stodgy old Billy Wiles, got no zing, but give me a try anyway.”

“That doesn’t mean anything, what I did to them.”

“For something that doesn’t mean anything, you sure put a lot of time and energy into it.”

“I won’t talk about this. Not this.” He wasn’t refusing as much as pleading.

“I won’t.”

“Does it make you blush? Stevie? Does it offend your tender sensibilities?”

Zillis cried continuously now. Not wrenching sobs. The steady, scalding tears of humiliation, of abashment.

He said, “Doing it isn’t the same as talking about it.”

“You mean what you do to the mannequins,” Billy clarified.

“You can… you can blow my brains out, but I won’t talk about it. I can’t.”

“When you mutilate the mannequins, are you excited, Stevie? Are you huge with excitement?”

Zillis shook his head, hung his head.

“Doing it to them and talking about it are so different?” Billy asked.

“Billy. Billy, please. I don’t want to hear myself, hear myself talking about it.”

“Because when you’re doing it, then it’s just something you do. But if you talk about it, then it’s something you are.”

Zillis’s expression confirmed that Billy had gotten to the quick of it. Not much could be gained by harping on the mannequins. They were what they were. Rubbing Steve Zillis’s face in his perversion could be counterproductive.

Billy had not yet gotten what he needed, what he had come here to prove. He was simultaneously tired and wired, in need of sleep but strung out on caffeine. At times, his pierced hand ached; the Vicodin had begun to wear off. Because of exhaustion staved off with chemicals, he might not be conducting the interrogation cleverly enough.

If Zillis was the freak, he was a genius of emotional fakery. But then that’s what sociopaths were: voracious spiders with an uncanny talent for projecting a convincing image of a complex human being that obscured the insectile reality of icy calculation and ravenous intent. Billy said, “When you do what you do to the mannequins, when you watch those sick videos, do you ever think of Judith Kesselman?”

In the course of this encounter, Zillis had been surprised more than once, but this question shocked him. Bloodshot from the residual effect of the Mace, his eyes widened. His face paled and went loose, as if he had taken a blow.

Chapter 63

Zillis shackled to the bed. Billy free on the chair but with a growing sense of being trammeled by his prisoner’s evasiveness.

“Stevie? I asked you a question.”

“What is this?” Zillis said with apparent earnestness and even the merest trace of righteous affront.

“What is what?”

“Why did you come here? Billy, I don’t understand what you’re doing here.”

“Do you think of Judith Kesselman?” Billy persisted.

“How do you know about her?”

“How do you think I know?”

“You answer questions with questions, but I’m supposed to have real answers to everything.”

“Poor Stevie. What about Judi Kesselman?”

“Something happened to her.”

“What happened to her, Stevie?”

“It was in college. Five, five and a half years ago.”

“Do you know what happened to her, Stevie?”

“Nobody knows.”

“Somebody does,” Billy said.

“She disappeared.”

“Like in a magic show?”

“She was just gone.”

“She was such a lovely girl, wasn’t she?”

“Everybody liked her,” Zillis said.

“Such a lovely girl, so innocent. The innocent are the most delicious, aren’t they, Stevie?”

Frowning, Zillis said, “Delicious?”

“The innocent—they’re the most succulent, the most satisfying. I know what happened to her,” Billy said, meaning to imply that he knew Zillis had kidnapped and killed her.

Such a full-body shudder passed through Steve Zillis that the handcuffs rattled protractedly against the metal bed frame.

Pleased with that reaction, Billy said, “I know, Stevie.”

“What? What do you know?”


“What happened to her?”

“Yes. Everything.”

Zillis had been sitting with his back against the bed, his legs splayed on the floor in front of him. Now he suddenly drew his knees up to his chest. “Oh, God.” A groan of abject misery escaped him.

“Precisely everything,” Billy said.

Zillis’s mouth softened and his voice grew tremulous. “Don’t hurt me.”

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