It felt like hours passed before Zeke and Tyler moved from the bathroom floor. Tyler was emotionally drained, silent and though the overdose effects were wearing off now he still felt weak. It seemed clear now that Zeke was not a threat to him, unless he was going to great lengths to build up his trust which was unlikely, given the patience he’d so compassionately shown by sitting with him and comforting him through the realization of what had happened. He’d barely spoken but he didn’t need to, he was there and he was giving Tyler the time to feel and express the pain he was in.
“I’m sorry.” Tyler finally speaks, his voice hoarse from screaming and crying.
“You have nothing to be sorry for.” Zeke replies gently, his voice was soothing and calm, polarizing to how Tyler felt.
“I have wasted a whole day of your time and broken things in your house....”
“There is no right way to deal with what you have been through.” Zeke loosens his arms around Tyler but for a few moments Tyler doesn’t pull away, he almost felt like he Zeke’s embrace was the one thing keeping him from falling apart, and felt a tug of panic hit him as he’s let go of.
“What were you going to do if you caught the guy?” Tyler asks, reluctant to leave the one bit of comfort in what felt like a massive and lonely world right now, but aware that he barely knew this man, he stands up and steps away, watching as Zeke gets up from the floor too.
“Well that depends on a lot of different factors and isn’t entirely up to me. Obviously he’s got enough of a record to have him spend life in jail but I know plenty of people feel like letting him live isn’t serving proper justice given his actions.” Zeke answers, the professionalism in his answer and the strong composure as he spoke took Tyler’s interest.
“Are you a police officer?” He asks to which Zeke scoffs. “FBI? Oh my god you’re FBI aren’t you?” Tyler almost sounded excited at the thought. Zeke smiles at him and shrugs. “Come on tell me. Don’t you think I deserve to at least know? It’d make me feel safer.” Tyler suggests.
“Trust me, you are safe. I am trained to keep innocent people safe.” Zeke half answers the question, leaving Tyler trying to think of any other job title Zeke could possibly have. “Why don’t you clean yourself up? A warm shower sound good? I’ll find you some clean clothes.” Zeke offers, gesturing at Tyler’s school uniform, it’d been dirty enough from school, but since then some blood stains had been added.
“Yeah actually that would be great.” Tyler agrees, he’d not taken the time to look at his clothes until now and he felt embarrassed that this guy had let him sleep in his bed while he was such a mess, not to mention he’d helped him up more than once, and just had his arms around him. The fact that Zeke wasn’t repulsed by him seemed odd given that his house was very neat and clean.
“Ok, I’ll be right back with a towel.” Zeke leaves, returning and passing the towel to Tyler. “I’ll leave some clothes on the bed for you, take your time.” Zeke smiles at him kindly then closes the door. Tyler turns to lock the door instinctively for privacy, noticing the lock had been removed. Obviously Tyler wasn’t trusted in here anymore, everything that could be used to hurt himself or hide himself was taken away.
The warm water felt amazing running over his skin, he takes his time and lets the water wash away the tear streaks on his cheeks and the dried blood on his hand. As he stands in the shower he closes his eyes, wishing the water could wash away the horrible memories he had, but that was one thing a simple shower could never fix. After he helps himself to soap and shampoo he sits down, allowing himself a few peaceful moments to cry again, this time it felt different, the words Zeke had said earlier had an impact, there was no right way to deal with this, and now that he felt safe for the first time he could let the pain consume him without having to worry about whether or not he was putting himself in danger. He turns the shower off and gets out, wrapping the soft white towel around himself before opening the door a little and looking for Zeke. The room was empty and the bedroom door closed though again there was no way to lock it. Tyler takes a deep breath then moves back into the bathroom to retrieve something he’d noticed while on the floor with Zeke. Behing the toilet, a shard of glass the size of his fingernail that Zeke had missed in the clean-up. He takes it and inspects the sharpness of the edges then considers what to do next.
Tyler walks over to the bed and looks at the clothes neatly folded and sitting on the side of the bed Tyler had slept on. He dresses himself quickly, Zeke’s clothes were a size or two too big but Tyler didn’t have much choice, he puts the clothes on and feels the instant comfort the fresh clothes provided him, he hugs himself and sits on the bed looking at the shard of glass wondering where he could hide it just in case he needed it.
“You ok?” Zeke calls from the other side of the door, knocking gently.
“Yeah, I’ll be out in a sec.” Tyler answers, surprised himself at how normal he felt in the least normal circumstance. He quickly stashes away the glass shard in one of his shoes, hoping he’d remember before shoving his foot in it the next time he puts them on. When he opens the door, he was expecting Zeke to be hanging around on the other side, like being guarded, but he wasn’t. Tyler looks up the hallway towards where he could hear the TV going and the occasional clink of cooking utensils, then he looks at the front door, taking a few steps towards it as though drawn by curiosity. He reaches out to touch the handle but is startled by the ringing of a phone and footsteps. Tyler is rushing up the hallway as Zeke passes from the kitchen to the lounge room. Under normal circumstances, he’d not be eavesdropping but Tyler didn’t really feel any need to be particularly polite to this stranger. Saved his life or not, Tyler was in the house of someone he didn’t know and he didn’t feel guilty taking advantage of an opportunity to know more about the who he was risking his life with.
“Hey, yeah sorry I’ve been sleeping all day. I know, I’ll be there for that. It’s ok, really you don’t need to check on me, I’ll see you tomorrow. Love you, bye.” Zeke hangs up the phone. “How was your shower?” Zeke asks only slightly louder than he’d been on the phone, taking a step into the hallway and smiling at Tyler.
“I uh, it was good. I just got out.” Tyler lies, uncomfortably adjusting his clothes and avoiding Zeke’s eyes.
“Uh huh.” Zeke rolls his eyes. “Well just for future reference, I don’t talk about anything important over the phone, you never know who else could be tapping into the call. Oh and I’ve made a few adjustments to the house to help me keep an eye on things that might be going on around me so that and the fact I have studied body language and facial cues to know when people are lying...”
“I’m sorry.” Tyler apologizes.
“No you’re not.” Zeke smiles at him and crosses his arms.
“Yeah well I’d be naiive to just believe your side of things and let my guard down. I’m not sorry.” Tyler crosses his arms too, mirroring Zeke’s confident demeanour, which amuses Zeke.
“Which I don’t blame you for one bit. Now I’ve got dinner for you cooking, should be done in about, any minute.” He says as he glances at his watch. “I’m going to be just down the hall in the office, I’ll leave the door open and you can sit in there with me if you feel the need, honestly whatever you’re most comfortable with, I’ve just got some stuff I need to do since I’ll be missing work for a while by the looks of things.” Zeke states, looking Tyler up and down.
“If I’m that much of an inconvenience then I can leave? You don’t have to babysit me.” Tyler says with confidence.
“It’s not an inconvenience and I’m not by any means ‘babysitting’ you. I want to be able to protect you, that’s all.” Zeke tells him, stepping past Tyler and walking into the kitchen with Tyler right behind him. He opens every cupboard to show Tyler where everything was.
“Protect me from what exactly?” Tyler asks, much less interested in where the plates and cups were, and more focused on what danger he was in.
“What do you think I’d want to protect you from, Tyler?” Zeke shrugs and continues his kitchen tour, showing off the limited supplies in the pantry. Clearly he wasn’t use to having guests here, either that or he wasn’t use to being home for meals himself because the pantry barely had anything in it. Tyler was significantly more concerned about potentially starving at the sight, than he had been when he had suggested refusing food as a method of suicide earlier.
“Yeah but you said he doesn’t have a reason so won’t he be going for random people?” Tyler asks nervously tracing the scars on his hand from that morning, hissing at the pain on some of the deeper cuts, though it didn’t stop him pressing against the pain.
“He knew you were in that house so I don’t know what he’ll do. If his track record is anything to go by, he’s more than likely looking for you, he doesn’t like leaving jobs incomplete.” Zeke tells him, quickly checking the oven and turning it off. “That looks done.” He says and grabs a tea towel, taking out a freezer meal single serve lasagne.
“Well now I’m terrified. Do you think he’ll find me here?” Tyler asks looking around as if thinking he’d be in the room somewhere and again, hugging himself for comfort.
“Sorry, I know you’ve been through a lot but it’s like you were saying before about not wanting to be naiive and let your guard down, it’s better that I don’t sugar coat the situation and have you accidentally put yourself in danger. It is important that you understand the risks. You’ll be fine here.” Zeke states, plating the food and placing it on the table with a fork and a butter knife. “Anyway, I’ll be just down the hall. You wouldn’t believe how much paperwork I have to do. I signed up for the shooting bad guys, not the admin.” Zeke jokes but Tyler wasn’t amused in the slightest.
“Is that going to be paperwork about saving me or paperwork about my dead family that you’ve for to do?” He asks bitterly. Zeke’s smile disappears immediately and he licks his lips, unsure exactly how to respond to that reality check. “Dead people might be so normal to you that you’re desensitized but just like you didn’t ‘sign up for the admin’ I didn’t sign up to have my family killed.”
“You’re right. I’m sorry. That was horrible of me...”
“Just go do whatever.” Tyler stares at the ground. Zeke nods, leaving Tyler alone, he figured apologizing again wouldn’t do him much good right now when the pain was so fresh. Tyler sinks into the chair at the table and looks at the food before him, no urge to eat despite the way his stomach was aching for food. He’d forgotten for a bit, but at the smell and sight of the food he couldn’t deny how hungry he was. Looking at the clock on the wall in the kitchen he licks his lips as he thinks back on what time he’d last eaten, a small lunch with his friends at school more than 30 hours ago. His eyes drift back to the plate and he picks up the fork, his body needed something, just in case something happened. Just before the food touches his lips another thought hits him, why isn’t Zeke eating this too?” Tyler picks up the plate and carries it down the hallway to the office where Zeke was sitting at a computer, a frown on his face as he typed.
“You ok?” He asks, not looking over at Tyler.
“Is this poisoned?” Tyler asks bluntly.
“I know it’s not some homemade masterpiece, but I live off frozen meals. I can make you something else if you want?” Zeke offers.
“So you don’t want it?” Tyler asks.
“No thanks I already ate.” Zeke answers then leans back in his chair and looks at Tyler with a look of sudden understanding. “Oh you don’t mean it tastes like poison, you mean literally did I poison it. I didn’t, I will have some to prove it to you if that puts your mind at ease.”
“Go for it.” Tyler steps forward with the plate, his eyes glancing at the neat piles of paperwork on Zeke’s desk, a page of short hand writing that looked like a code of random letters and numbers was on top of the pile. Zeke follows Tyler’s interested gaze.
“Any idea what you are looking at?” Zeke asks
“No.” Tyler shrugs. “But I’m guessing that’s the point. People aren’t meant to be able to read it, right?”
“It’s a bit of a wild guess but it’s the initials of the day, month, street and the victims in each attack. We don’t believe there is a connection and we can’t guess his next one but we are just trying to find any hint of a pattern or message and I don’t know but I feel like there has to be something that leads him to choosing the victims.” Zeke sighs.
“Good luck with that, it looks like gibberish to me. Are those the dates of each murder?” Tyler asks.
“Yeah, what do you make of it?” Zeke asks, sitting back and watching Tyler.
“The first one was like, 15 years ago! How hasn’t he been caught by now?” Tyler asks furiously, feeling justifiably let down by this new revelation.
“All of them are so far spread apart, and so randomly done that the police aren’t that interested. He’s not a huge threat to them, I mean over 15 years, he’s made a total of 7 attacks, one of them was a previous survivor so it’s only 6 seemingly unrelated attacks over 15 years. He’s almost not seen as a threat because he makes an attack then goes off the radar for years at a time.” Zeke sighs, a tone of complete disappointment in the system. Tyler thought back on how Zeke had joked about the paperwork insensitively before, and compares it to the obvious disdain Zeke had shown in the moments when he’d brought up the police. Obviously he didn’t think much of them, and despite that one slip up, he had been showing much more concern and sympathy towards Tyler and his situation.
“But you’ve kept track?” Tyler asks softly.
“And I won’t stop until he is dead.” Zeke answers, not a single hint of doubt in the delivery of the statement. Tyler eyes him, not sure whether it was reassuring to know this man was very willing to murder someone, but also feeling a surge of empowerment at the thought of revenge. “See, not poisoned.” Zeke says before putting a fork full of food in his mouth, chewing normally.
“That’s what you think.” Tyler gives Zeke a sly smile. Zeke pauses mid chew and his face fills with regret. “I’m joking.” Tyler relieves him of his fear and can’t help but snicker at the dramatic relaxed sigh Zeke lets out. “Wow I am entrusting my safety to someone gullible, that instils confidence.”
“Well just like you, I don’t know you and I don’t want to let my guard down. For all I know you’re a closet psychopath. I mean you have proven to be unpredictable so far.” Zeke admits. Tyler catches himself smiling and quickly turns to leave the room, not sure how he was able to feel so relaxed around Zeke when there was so much he didn’t know about him. Part of him feared the trust that he was building with Zeke, still sure he would be stupid to trust anyone right now, especially someone that was trying so hard to gain it like this. Tyler wasn’t the only one that was unpredictable, neither of them knew truly what the other was capable of yet.
Zeke comes up the hallway about an hour later, seeing Tyler sitting on the couch shivering.
“What’s up?” Zeke asks. His eyes follow along to what Tyler’s were locked on, the T.V. showing the news. The report was on his family’s death showing pictures of his mum and dad’s wedding and then reporting that they were ‘brutally murdered’ with multiple stab wounds each. Zeke sits down beside Tyler on the couch and places a hand on his shoulder to let him know that he wasn’t alone while the report plays out.
“Their son Tyler, was also found, police believe he’d tried to fight the intruder but was overpowered. He was found lying on the kitchen table with a broken neck.” The reporter states. Zeke looks away then bites his lip as he hears the reporter start to describe Tyler’s sister’s condition. “Found with multiple stab wounds and arms bound, it is believed she witnessed her parent’s deaths before trying to run away, the result of her struggle against the man was a broken neck, like her brother.” The reporter finishes, changing shamelessly to another topic, this was the biggest tragedy in Tyler’s life but for everyone else it was just an average day at work, Tyler was crying silently, he turns his head slowly and looks at Zeke.
“What happened to her?” Tyler whimpers, wiping the tears from his eyes, he almost didn’t feel like he had any left to cry at this point. “Did he really make her watch them die?”
“Our educated guess is that she found them injured and ran from the room to get help, there was blooded handprints on the wall in the hallway, not her blood but the size would suggest it was your sister’s hand. He grabbed her by her dress and ripped it, but there’s no sign to suggest any sexual assault took place. She had a few superficial lacerations on her back and arms, indicative of the knife being in his hands and scratching her when she struggled in his grip. Judging by the injury to her face, it appears he just let her fall into the bath after her neck was broken, I think he tied her up after the fact to make it look worse for anyone who saw her.” Zeke replies, trying to walk the fine line of being honest because Tyler deserved it, but not wanting to add details that would cause him more pain.
“Was she really unrecognizable?” Tyler sniffles.
“I couldn’t let you see her Tyler. Her injuries weren’t a pleasant sight and you already suffered enough seeing your parents.” Zeke moves closer to Tyler, feeling powerless to take away the pain Tyler was clearly in, but unsure how to help.
“You know how they said I was dead, wouldn’t the police have seen that there were only 3 bodies there?”
“There were 4 bodies Tyler.” Zeke replies, his voice solemn and dark as he looked down.
“How? Who else was in my house?”
“I told you we didn’t catch the guy. My colleague was very brave, he was stupid to be so brave but he fought him off long enough for me to get you out of the house. He saved our lives.” Zeke tells him. “Unfortunately he couldn’t save himself and I didn’t get back to him in time. The phone call earlier was to let me know his funeral will be tomorrow.”
“Your friend, what was his name?” Tyler asks, trying to hold back another wave of tears, feeling as though he’d caused all this trouble and also feeling bad that Zeke had been having to put up with his emotional outbursts, while he had his own grief to go through. “You must hate me for being there.”
“Alexander. We weren’t exactly close but he was a great guy, good at his job, he knew he wouldn’t be able to fight him alone but he tried to anyway. Sometimes you have to know when to run away I don’t blame you for anything that happened. It’s not your fault he died.” Zeke replies, wanting to give some comfort and reassurance to the already extremely fragile survivor. Tyler couldn’t help but notice the sense of emotional detachment Zeke was showing to the situation, like he’d compartmentalized the death of someone he knew, to prioritize Tyler coping with his loss instead.
“I blame myself for it.” Tyler admits and covers his face with his hands, he couldn’t deal with this, not a single part of it, it was like every few hours he was ending up back where he started, the grief cycle resetting and it’d barely been a day. In this moment, his only thought is to run away, from Zeke and from himself.