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Forces - 5. dangerous liaison

- five -

I spent that evening finishing up my article draft and emailing it to Mr Tourvel. When finished I checked my iPhone and saw a text message from a friend informing me of some new development. Opening Facebook I searched Tom's profile, my ex-boyfriend, and saw his picture was him and another boy together, smiling with some dumb koala-eared filter. I felt a rush of pleasure before stifling it down. Rather predictable, it seemed I was left for someone else. This could lead to various other questions: was the other guy always on the side? Was I being held onto up until the point I could be replaced with someone else?

I do have some measure of pride, it seems. Or comprehension of fairness. And this clashes with the pleasure of mistreatment. But if there's one thing that truly bores me about guys and relationships it's being ignored. I looked at my blonde ex beside some dark-haired bearded guy and figured they wouldn't last long anyway. I exited Facebook and started getting ready for bed.

Stanley wanted to show me the fancier parts of Lochdale tomorrow. The edge of town towards Highfair. Museums and art exhibits. After meeting his respectable associates at the college, like Toby and Alisha, I wanted to meet his other friends. The less respectable, scruffy and sallow-skinned kind. Hanging out with drug types might not be safe, but I was fairly sure my journalist status would protect me. Hopeless people would love to have their names in the paper, like underground cave-dwellers wanting to glimpse the sun. Or if I went undercover maybe I could hear murmurings about who might've killed Adam. Not safe, but being alone with the maybe-psychopathic killer Stanley Milton hadn't been safe either. The dangers of good-looking charmers, I suppose.

I went to sleep fine. Drifting off after thoughts on the investigation left me. Woke up leisurely on Friday morning and got ready, got dressed. George and I were exchanging notes and worthwhile information at the end of each day, and every morning we planned and made suggestions on what to do.

"You really think he's starting to trust you? Like he'll open up soon?" he asked while cutting into an eggs benedict while we sat in another trendy café down the street.

He looked tired or perhaps hungover, I was proud and a little surprised at myself for still not having a drop of alcohol since coming here. I chewed bacon, clear-eyed and well-rested. Much more of a morning person than George.

"I can't tell if he trusts me or anyone. I don't know if he's withholding stuff, though he does lie. But I am learning more about him and getting a clearer picture the more time I spend with him."

"That's good."

I cut then popped more bacon in with my fork and chewed thoughtfully. I'd received a text from Claire Milton asking for us to meet up, she wanted updates on my investigating. I told her we'd have to meet later as I was supposed to be with Stanley most of midday.

After breakfast I made my way back, George drove off to see what other information he could get from Officer Caldwell about the murder case. At the appointed time Stanley pulled up to the olde hotel. I got in his nice car, we smiled at each other, he jerked the gear stick and we were off on another adventure.

The forest town became more compact, we crossed an industrial-looking bridge, concrete and connected by wires. Over a wide river the same soft grey as the sky. Seagulls by the big storm pipes. To the other side, beyond iron-grate railings to sandstone-bricked buildings. A Jigsaw-cut path that was a faded salmon-pink. Pigeons flocked the town. And up an incline ahead were the art places, looking like monuments themselves. Dark silver and built like layers shedding or opening petals, a subtle and modern aesthetic.

"I've always wanted to come here with someone beautiful." He said to me as we pulled up in a parking space. I almost told him to stop flattering me, but that would've encouraged him.

"Do you come here often?"

"Not at all. That would make it boring."

We headed down a path and inside, everything was wood-panelled. We paid our entry to a few smartly-dressed women at the counter. Then we started walking the wide rooms, looking at canvases of self-portraits and paint splatterings. Reminded me of the Archibald Prize. There were sculptures and a monstrous fossil made of paper and glue. I saw something that looked like central London made entirely out of toothpicks. There were other patrons about, an elderly couple or a troupe of tourists in each section of the building. I saw a grizzly collection instalment, like something out of Saw mixed with horror movies like Insidious and the Conjuring. The room was dark when we walked in, lights focused on the sculptures only.

Pig-human hybrids, splashed open in the most gruesome ways. Crucified skeletons, heads on both ends of a spinal column. Like something in a fictional Satanic Mass. I waited to see if Stanley would comment on the gore. Whether he'd be excited or put on a show of being scared. We were alone in the dark, taking slow steps as we looked around. I couldn't see his face but he was close beside me, his breathing sounded just as slow and relaxed as it'd been before. We left that exhibit and took the stairs up to the next level.

Gothic paintings from the renaissance period. Renditions of the Birth of a Venus, a naked woman standing on a seashell with blonde hair flowing in a gold frame. The Creation of Adam, showing God as an old man coming from the sky, reaching down with a finger as a lying naked man reached back.

"Michelangelo." Stanley pointed in recognition before we read the plaque. He was able to list the names of a few other well-known painters upon seeing their famous works.

The art installations were my favourite. One of them was a small room with very little lighting. Christmas lights hung from cords and the podium was surrounded by black water. The walls were mirrors and so the illusion was we were floating in space, surrounded by a galaxy of endless multi-coloured stars. In another room was the typical bright mirror-walls, staring out at infinite reflections of ourselves. So smooth we could fall into them, or be swallowed by a pool of quicksilver. Stanley took my hand and pulled me to face him with a sly smile. In here I could see the back of his head, both side-profiles, every possible angle of him. Impenetrable.

His thumb traced my knuckles while his other hand was on my elbow. I watched his green eyes boring into me before he leaned in. He kissed me, I kissed him back in this strange space.

Unlike that other room, this one was like being suspended in time. Millions of other boxes containing replicas of us from each quantum moment. I felt a fluttering and lost myself a little in the kiss. Stanley was handsome and wayward, I was beginning to bend to his whims. His lips were soft and he pulled away after several seconds without the intrusion of a tongue. Good, he knew how to preserve a moment. We left the space together and he took my hand.

"I'm gonna get a drink from the stand, you want anything?" I needed a moment away.

"I'm fine. We should leave here soon, the museum next door has a World War One exhibit. I think you'll love it."

I nodded to him and left, could better catalogue and process what happened while by myself, taking an iced tea out of a drinks fridge and buying it from a girl surrounded by square walls of glass counters. I smiled somewhat bashfully at my return, Stanley smiled back and we examined the top floor. Aboriginal artworks of dreamtime waterholes and other curious pieces. I read about the rainbow snake and mythology about two children mud-sliding down Ayers Rock. A dotted platypus and a long painted didgeridoo on display.

We left the art gallery for the museum next-door. It reminded me of being at Questicon as a kid. There was a science room with glass orbs that sent purple electricity to your fingertips when you touched it, cyclone generators in big glass prisms. There were air jets that suspended rubber balls that hovered by your head, you could reach in and take them out, then put them back again. Very young children were running about excitedly and occasionally herded by a teacher with a whistle around her neck. The World War One exhibit up the escalators was indeed enjoyable. There were black-white videos playing on screens in the walls. WW2 Nazi uniforms on mannequins. A huge fighter-pilot jet with propellers hung from the ceiling on wire cables. Stanley was taking my hand again at odd moments and I let him. It was nice, walking around and looking at things together like that. It was after midday when we were walking through a Star Wars exhibit with life-size wax figurines of the original trilogy characters. The detailing on the droids was exemplary.

We commented on what we saw and I again found it inconceivable that this man was the one who'd terrorized Lochdale with petty crime sprees. But I was no fool. It was Friday and I wanted to meet his other kind of friends, the ones who also knew Adam.

I turned to him while we were holding hands "Will you take me out with you tonight? So I can meet your other friends, for the paper."

"If you like," he raised our hands so he could kiss the back of mine.

I was used to people coddling me, due to the sweet and affable image I project. It's hard to turn off. I let Stanley lead me around before it was time for us to get lunch and leave. There was an Asian noodle bar in town so we got ramen. I knew how to eat with chopsticks and he did too. Stanley insisted on paying again so I let him, doubtful that I could cover these dates as the business expenses they were supposed to be. In moments of separation I was texting with Claire – our meeting would take place once I was back in town. Instead of replaying my conversations with Stanley all day I considered how they made me feel, and how they made me feel about him. He did seem more gentlemanly, noble, impressive and even warranting of a little pity as he'd listed some disappointments.

When it comes to manipulative people, it's more important to analyse the results of your own feelings than it is to consider whatever it is they've said to change your views.

He drove me away from Highfair, over that bridge, past the suburbs of Lochdale, back into the forest cottages and left me by the olde hotel. Several chimneys across town were smoking. As that blue convertible drove off I stayed by the footpath, sent a text, waited a few minutes for a silver Porsche to pull up. I opened the door and hopped in, Claire's face was hidden by those big sunglasses again and we sped off for another inconspicuous café on the outskirts of town.

"Restaurants and art galleries?" her head flicked to me briefly before returning to the road. "Are you dating my brother?"

"He's helping me with my article on his life."

"Trying to seduce you more like it."

"Seduction is one way to get what you want from someone. I'm appealing to his grandiosity. To think that any news article would run twelve pages on the everyday life of an unemployed college drop-out is ludicrous. And considering his criminal actions it couldn't possibly be a flattering article. Do you think your brother's delusional?"

"I mean, he'd have to be..." she shrugged and steered us around a corner. "If he's trying to woo you it's for ulterior motives. Probably to steer this supposed article you're writing into something... nicer."

"Hmm. Have you ever seen Stanley cry?" I thought to ask.

"I think so..." she fought to recall. "No. Actually, I can't remember a specific time. He's thrown tantrums, he's screamed and yelled when he doesn't get his way, but mostly he's calm and friendly."

"I see..."

Her gloved hands clenched on the wheel and she was deep in thought, trying to recall her childhood with her brother. We parked by a curb. This little café was squashed between two other businesses. There was a small line of customers and a milkshakes menu. We got a table down the narrow path and sat across from each other where we couldn't be seen. Claire rifled through that gold-white handbag for another cigarette before looking at the kitchen workers who were bustling about, steaming the coffee-maker over the counter. Too close to not be seen, she re-clasped her handbag.

"Did you and your siblings go overseas much? Been to Berlin?"

"Oh God." She dipped her head and pinched her nose. Sat that way for several seconds before looking up and facing me "Don't ever mention Berlin around me- I just can't. But yes, we've been on family trips overseas."

"What I wanted to ask... when your brother acts up, is he ever very smart about it?" It was hard to explain what I meant. "Like has he ever planned something out?"

"Yes. In tenth grade our history teacher went to the Caribbean with his family for a few weeks. Stanley started spending more time away from home. Turns out he'd broke into the house with some friends and they commandeered it. Threw parties and slept over, trashed the place. Stanley introduced himself to the neighbours and said he was the teacher's young nephew, house-sitting. They made copies of a spare key they found, basically lived there that month. Police turned up several times because of noise complaints. They set his Italian Natuzzi sofa on fire, hauled it off the balcony and into his pool. They caught the neighbour's spaniel and dyed it blue. Broke windows, broke everything."

"That's insane."

"I have countless stories like that, Phillip." Claire rubbed her forehead, irritated.

Our coffees were ready so I stood to take them off the counter and set them down.

"The reason I'm asking this is... Stanley doesn't care if he gets caught doing the wrong thing. But sometimes... sometimes if he's determined on some goal, he will actually take the steps and plan out ways to do something big and be successful at it."

"Yes, that's right." She said. "He's quick-witted and can lie on the spot. He's convincing. He told those neighbours his story about being the nephew, gave them the mobile number of his friend and said it was his parents so they could call if they were concerned about party noise. When noise complaints were made he made several of his own to the police accusing the house opposite. He started writing fake cheques and sliding them under doors to convince people to be quiet. It all fell apart a week before Mr Sherman was to return with his family. They'd succeeded for as long as they could and wanted to go out with a bang."

I shook my head "So he's been a gentleman to me, going on dates because for now he's determined to be in the paper again. He spent hours organising an assembly on anti-drugs and counselling because he was determined to lead a public-speaking event to an entire college." I watched her quietly nod and took a moment of silence before continuing "Claire... do you know how fucked up it would've been if they'd gone through with the assembly and Stanley actually had been involved in Adam Creson's murder?"

"I know, I know." She was getting stressed and snappy. Itching for a cigarette. We both took a long drink from our cappuccinos. "All I can say is: good luck for tonight. Keep an eye out for shady characters."

After telling her my information and observations we talked about other angles before separating. I pitied Claire, and from the way she described how much of a nightmare her brother was I couldn't help pitying Mr and Mrs Milton too. They really loved their son, according to her. He was incredibly sweet to them when he needed to be, knew how to play on their heartstrings when he needed to get out of an arrest. Knowing your child as sweet and well-behaved then finding them doing such dreadful things without remorse or comprehension, but learned 'acting'... well it was just like if my audio-recorder were sitting in his spot at youth counsellor meetings, emotionlessly recording the right things to say and playing them back at the proper moments to be let free. Like a chimp learning which button to press to get his treat.

I was driven back, headed up the hotel stairs to arrange my notes. I'd brought one dark button-up top with me, so set that out with some jeans for tonight. After finishing my work I was heading downstairs when my phone started ringing again: the boss.

"Mr Tourvel." I traipsed my way down with the receiver to my ear.

"Hey cub reporter, I got your email. How's Lochdale treating you?"

"It's lovely. Everything's a lot slower here in a country town. Different to Eastland."

"That's good. I've looked over what you've written and it's decent. Still a far cry from being published but it's a start. You guys are working hard, both of you. I need a quote from the family."

"Um." I hesitated at the bottom of the stairs. "I've got a lot of information from the sister, but she wants it off-record."

"Well you got to get something on record. Have you tried speaking to his parents?"

"If Mr or Mrs Milton find out what we're doing they could try to get between Stanley and me. I don't want to lose his confidence before I could potentially find something."

"Do you think he did it?" I didn't answer and there was a pause before his gruff voice came out the speaker again "Well?"

"I don't know." I replied, unintentionally mirroring Claire's response when I'd asked her.

"What do you mean? Is he suspicious or not?"

"He's plenty suspicious. But this isn't like investigating a normal suspect. He's not careful in the same way, he doesn't have tells, no suspicious motives or lies, he can't be read like a normal person can."

"Not you too! I told George the same thing, this isn't some conspiracy mastermind film. George told me he was covering Adam's family and friends. You're dealing with town hooligan Stanley so if nothing will be proved I at least need quotes from his family."

"Alright. I'll try to get in touch with his parents tomorrow."

"I don't want you two gone for too long if we can help it. We got our own stories in Eastland and there's still that financial reporting to be done."

"Yes, Sir."

Promises and assents were made. I hung up and spotted George sitting by the bar, going over his notes with a scooner of beer. I made my way over and sat on the stool beside him. A bellyful man was washing glasses in hot suds and hanging them upside-down on a wrack to drip-dry.

"Hey, got anything good?"

"Hey, and yep. What about you?"

I sighed "I've heard plenty more of Stanley's delinquent adolescent feats... what've you got?"

"I got a meeting with Officer Caldwell at the police station. Still can't believe the police are being this cooperative, but just goes to show how serious it is aye?" He took another swig of beer. "Did you know that Stanley has been hospitalised in psychiatric wards many, many times? Apparently more times than he's been arrested?"

I pinched my nose and forehead furrowed, feeling an incredulous exasperation that I was sure must be felt by anyone whose life was personally related to Stanley's.

"Please explain..."

"It's the reason he gets out of trouble so much. Whenever he gets caught for breaking the law, crashing a stolen car or lying in a bush intoxicated and naked, they arrest him. Everyone already thinks he's crazy because otherwise why would he do these stupid things? Well Stanley capitalises on that, after he gets arrested he says that he has anxiety, gets seizures or hears voices. Basically whatever he can to get out of trouble on an insanity plea, so he happily goes to the psyche ward instead."

In my head I imagined smiling Stanley, sitting calmly among the other patients as they rocked, dribbled or ranted unintelligibly at people who weren't there.

George continued "He's on his best behaviour in the wards, charming to staff, confident and utterly at ease. He helps them with their jobs and the other patients. With no signs of illness he pretends his condition is intermittent or that he's gotten better. He starts insisting on being released, claiming he doesn't belong in that place, and he obviously doesn't. But he always escapes from low-surveillance facilities. Stanley once wrote poetry to the chief of staff to ask for parole, to prove he was of sound mind. You can imagine how convincing he is. One time he wrote a detailed, heartfelt letter to a politician, claiming that he was being framed by rival companies who wanted to sully the reputation of his father and the business. That he'd been locked in a high-security psychiatric ward despite being evidently of perfectly sound mind and morals. There was a huge stir over that, he was so convincing."

"And they released him?"

"They always do. He has sources and contacts, he is extremely inventive when it comes to avoiding prison and getting his freedom. The cycle goes: reckless crime then arrest then psyche ward and then he's found 'back to normal' and completely sane so is free again."

Stanley wasn't of sound mind. But he was still smart enough to manipulate absolutely everyone, capitalise on his illness, and get free every time.

-  。-

Copyright © 2020 Invnarcel; All Rights Reserved.

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Stanley remains an enigma. Is he a lost boy or clever villain? In either case he's capable of planning and intricate manipulation. He's like a puzzle box when opened only reveals another puzzle box.

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I'm still in the dark and confused about Stanley's behavior. 

Something does not add up regarding his soft endearing side and his psychotic mischievous side!

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