- 06 Mar - 12 Mar, 2021
- 20 Feb - 26 Feb, 2021
He strode on, all bright smile and long steps, and he put the microphone to his lips and he crooned a glurgey song he'd written for the benefit. Exclusive first performance, except for how the other maskers and I were really the ones who got exclusive first performances. I'd liked it better before he revised the third verse.
He smiled at Gina when he got to the last chorus. He had better let me talk.
But my chance didn't come before we sat down and started tasting canapés, or after, when we got the salad course. He was too far away at his assigned seat to talk to Gina, but he kept looking that way. I dared hope he was more interested in her friend, but I couldn't be sure, not based on where he was looking. Probably he was going to aim to pick them both up at once.
I didn't have any chances to do anything, not even twitch his hand, let alone speak or make some urgent gesture at Gina. Not during the soup course, not while he cut up and nibbled on chicken over a bed of pickled vegetables and something called freekeh that I'd never seen before in my life, not once dessert and coffee came around. He took cream, no sugar, and made eyes sister ward over his demitasse.
He finally went to the bathroom after his second coffee. Let me talk, let me…
I got out a half–syllable, "Sh–"
And then someone walked in and Myron apparently didn't want to be heard talking to himself, so he shut me up. He did wait, though, parking in the stall silently, letting whoever it was finish their business and clear out. When they weren't immediately replaced, he said, "You were saying?"
"My sister," I blurted. "She's my sister."
"…which one?" he said, sounding appalled.
"I can have the redhead no problem?"
"Never met her but she's sweet, go for it," I said.
"Damn. Why doesn't she know?" he asked. "Should have suspected – if your family knew you would have had to tell them that you didn't die, I would've seen – Briony had to notify a lot of next of kin, you didn't want a minute to reassure anyone."
The door opened, and I didn't reply. Myron let himself out of the stall and washed his hands and went back out. Gazed flirtily only at my sister's redheaded friend. Gina looked offended. I'd have to explain later. How would that go? Dear Gina, Myron was absolutely down, it's nothing against you as a specimen, but unfortunately for the both of you he's down to one body and it's mine, and fortunately for you and I, I had a chance to tell him before he took you home.
Myron smiled at photographers covering the event. He signed a large check. When people were milling around between tables, he sidled up to Gina's friend, got her name (Carol), got her number, got her into his car when the valet pulled it up. Gina hissed at her while we left, but her friend was undeterred.
Myron took Carol home. He grabbed whipped cream, because he was predictable like that and had the metabolism of his twenty–five–year–old self forever.
When we came back into the bedroom, Carol was gone and a man stepped behind us from beside the doorframe to aim a gun at the back of Myron's head.
"C–carol?" Myron said.
"Guess again," said a man's voice.
"She's not here anymore, Lasko," said the voice. "And I think you'd better stop asking questions."
He jammed the gun harder against our head. I could only tell that Myron was leaving me options because of how I flinched; gasping a high ragged inhaled sound that Myron in his perfect breath control couldn't produce even under these conditions. How had he gotten into the house? It was crawling with security, not even Briony had a key, it…
Carol had been a mask.
"Why," said Myron's voice, and I didn't know if it was him or me.
I had enough questions beginning with "why" that it could have slipped out.
"Because you're a mockery of our art," said the murderer. "Half a dozen of you on stage at once? Vacationing in the tropics while you go on television and eat caviar? It's magic and you've turned it into a spectacle. You're not the only one, no, but you're the worst of the lot."
Don't quip, don't quip, and don’t quip…
"The proper use is murder?" Myron said, oblivious to my mental plea.
"You disgust me," said the murderer. "Get up."
I tried to sort out in my head how this must have gone down, while Myron did the work of piloting us out of bed and down the hall with a gun to his back. Why were masks scarce? Almost nobody could make them. If one could make them, one could have plenty for one's own use; you could make them out of papier–mâché if you wanted papier–mâché and blood.
So working backwards: offer to wear a Carol mask free of charge. Tell her you'll wear her to the charity dinner, you'll buy her plate, tell her to flirt with Lasko, she's exactly his type, all you want is to ride along vicariously while she does it, he'll never look twice at you, and she can take it off when she's done with her night of fine dining and music, but if she could please leave you a way to signal if you need to take a breather with the mask off.
(We descended the stairs.)
Might or might not have been an active ingredient that Carol was Gina's friend: tell her to bring someone along Lasko won't sleep with because of course all his maskers updated him on who their relatives are. Could be a coincidence, maybe he would have just also shot Gina if she'd joined in.
(We went out the back door.
The house let out onto a private beach, deserted in the predawn light.)
The middle attack had meant to get them all and get Myron to let his guard down if it didn't work, but nobody knew for sure how many maskers Myron had so it had to cover both options. That spree of murders would have finished Myron off if I hadn't answered the phone. Fingerprints matched, but a mask would do that. There was nothing about the process of putting on a mask, as I'd now experienced, that had to be consensual. You could just fill a mask with your own blood and plant somebody's face in it and they might be noticed missing but they'd never be found, until the murderer decided he was tired of being partly in jail and took the mask off. They'd be able to trace the DNA in the mask blood, maybe, but they already had an exact physical copy of him in custody, clearly he wasn't worried about being identified.
(The murderer marched us toward the sea.)
First one, he had to have impersonated someone in security. You couldn't wear a mask of someone without letting them control you if they wanted to, so how did he do that without the security person in question just slipping off the mask? Maybe he'd just done that one conventionally. Snuck in. No, I had to be missing something about that part.
"How'd you get the first one?" I asked.
"I've got the security company owner's son hostage," said the murderer. "Masked. He'll jump off something tall and land as himself if Daddy puts a foot wrong. Very motivating. He happened to get away clean, too, didn't have a chance to crack under questioning. Convenient. I'll let Junior go once I've mopped up this last one of you."
"How do you know this is the last one?" said Myron.
He paused. "Well," he said, "I don't hear sirens."
"Other one's asleep," said Myron.
The murderer frowned at him.
"You've got about four hours to get away, if you don't startle my other body awake by shooting me," Myron said. "I know this is really you, since you were wearing Carol."
"Take your mask off," said the murderer.
"I've got John W. MacDougal under here and I'm not letting him go," Myron lied.
"That was you who took him? Then you won't miss him when he dies."
"Cops will be on you in five minutes once the other one wakes up to call them. They'll find your other bodies, too, that boy, anybody else, now that they'll know you're a maskmaker."
"...Throw me your phone."
Myron threw him his phone.
"Walk." He gestured down the beach.
When we were a good ways from the house the murderer tied us to a disused pier and ran away.
"That was close," I said.
"And he could turn around any second so tell me now if you're an escape artist," said Myron, squirming in the ropes.
"Didn't think so. This is gonna hurt –" He pulled; the post on the pier gave way before his joints did, though it still wrenched the hell out of his arm. We ran, houseward, as fast as we could.
"I need to call my sister," I said.
"Carol. Gina's friends with Carol. And Carol talked to him, met him somewhere, maybe could find him again – he believed you that I was MacDougal so he didn't set you up with someone related to me on purpose."
"Right," he said. "You do that, I'll – you email her, I'll call the cops on speakerphone?"
"Yeah," I said.
It was a long jog but Myron was up to it. We hit the house running; he threw another phone on the table, dialed, gave me the use of his hands to grab a laptop and log in to Thespyan and write Gina. It wasn't comfortable – I kept reaching for muscles he hadn't thought to give me and kept accidentally typing things he was saying to the police, while he sometimes read a word from my email because our eyes had to be trained on the screen – but it more or less worked.
They arrived without sirens to avoid spooking the murderer, and had the fire department on standby in case he tried arson. Myron told them about the security guy's son, and I waited for Gina to answer her email. Myron didn't want to get off the phone with the cops so I couldn't call her.
Gina was usually pretty prompt about answering emails, but every minute felt like an eternity waiting for them to catch the guy who'd just waved a gun in our face. I wanted to pace; Myron held us still. I settled for sending her another email in case a fuller inbox would bring her answer a moment sooner.
When Gina replied twenty whole minutes after I'd first written her she sent me a great deal of swearing and then added that she'd told Carol to call the police department too, so that was my idea handled. Now Myron paced, marching back and forth across the kitchen with his hands behind his back. There was nothing else we could do but wait for the cops to finish whatever they were doing; the speaker was still going but the lady on the other end hadn't said anything for a bit. Reports came in slowly, or they hadn't changed.
"Need another masker," muttered Myron.
"So, you can care less whether I live or die?" I replied.
"Don't take it the wrong way," said Myron. "But, well, yes. I've survived being murdered twice – more than that if you count the concert shootings separately – because I had maskers and now I don't and the bastard's still on the run, himself and as many masks as he's got, and his masks can make more masks, and I just have to hope the police academy's trained people to deal with a madman who said 'no, I'd rather not be a multibillionaire by working for half an hour a week, I'm just incredibly into murder, and by the way, anyone I can hold still for fifteen seconds after cutting myself is another one of me."
"Yeah," I sighed.
"Uh, Mr Lasko? Who are you talking to?" asked the cop on the phone.–Anonymous