DUEL 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 (and 8) 9 10


Attacks of the guilts affect different people in different ways. Me, I tend to flipflop, weasel, rationalize, and eventually decide that either I didn't do anything wrong, or write it off as yet another damned learning experience. Michelle was both more burdened by conscience and less. If she wasn't feeling guilty about getting us into trouble in the first place, odds are we wouldn't be crawling in the dark toward what, from the signs on the walls, looked to be an abandoned silver-mining operation. I had tried to talk her into taking the sane option -- after all, they would have to come out sometime -- but she transferred all blame for our situation to the two freaks. I was lucky.

It could have been me.

The walls of the mine building were unpainted wood, splintered to softness, almost furry with age. I reached out to touch it and winced -- I had reawakened the pain in my shoulder scrambling across the trestle. The wood was the same temperature as the air. A faint vibration, the flutter of mothwings across my fingertips.


We worked our way around to a door. Michelle cupped her hands and listened, shook her head. She opened it, and we left the world we knew far behind.

The outside of the building was an abandoned mine. The inside was a lair. Tiny orange lights, like something from a Hallowe'en tree, dotted the walls, giving just enough light to navigate through the rooms and halls. We moved slowly, listening, quietly opening doors, leaving them open behind us. In the third room, we found the first thing.

A four-poster bed. The posts had shackles attached, but that was not the bad part. The mattress was a thick foam-rubber pad, mottled with stains black in the dusky light. I lifted the edge of the pad. Underneath was a sheet of plywood with sixteenpenny nails hammered through, points up. It was painted with white enamel. The points of the nails were a quarter of an inch below the top of the pad. Hanging on the wall was a pair of scarred hard plastic knee protectors.

Michelle leaned close. "These guys," she whispered, "aren't afraid of being caught."

We went deeper into the building. Of the next four rooms, only one was empty. I didn't look too closely at the contents of the other three.

The fifth room was different. Windowless, it was lit with two full-spectrum bulbs. Everything looked blue, bleached, compared to the dimness outside. Two threadbare love seats flanked a large barrister bookcase, glass-fronted. It was filled with paperbacks. Complete sets of Anne Rule and Patricia Cornwell, and their imitators. Studies of serial killers from John Wayne Gacy to the Green River Killer, and cheap exploitive ripoffs. Books on street survival, ways to prevent being a victim.

On a stone coffee table was an ashtray and a battered copy of John Fowles The Collector.

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