CHAPTER ONE Edit
IN THE KILLERS pov
It was suspicious, I could tell, despite my syrupy voice and great big smile. Lazar blue eyes study me a moment longer, then sweep the car again. "Just remembered, I gotta be somewhere," it says.
Fuck. I hate when they're suspicious, feels like they can see inside me and when I think they can it makes me look inside of me too. And I'd rather not, thanks. But it gets me angry, you have no idea. I want to cut their throats where they stand, but it's too risky. It's fine, I tell the brat silently, the next one will pay twice for what you did to me, for this snub. How can it snub me anyway? It doesn't know me, I might be fucking Santa Clause for all it knows. I wish for a second I was Santa Claus so I could give everyone but it a present and then see how sorry it was for how it treated me. I make myself laugh sometimes. Not right now, though, I'm sweating this.
I'm really desperate tonight, it's been awhile... many, many months since circumstances were right. I can't go too long, or I go mad. Pacing around the house, yelling at coworkers... the urge drives me so hard I occasionally consider just going into the city to one of 'those' bars and just doing it like everyone else does. But I can't. I just can't. I don't know what stops me, really.
It's just, well, I hate them for one thing. Why I hate them when I'm one of them doesn't make sense to me, you'll say. My father used to call me a sissy and... and worse, I hated it then, and I hate it now. I've tried to fight it a few times. So I can be normal, can stop this restless trawling, searching. It's risky.
It's too late now anyway. I've had the real thing. I know it wouldn't satisfy me to roleplay, sometimes I can be honest with myself and admit it. I feel better when I'm honest with myself. I'm just a person, there's things I need.
I try to grab the ones that don't matter. The runaways, the street kids, noone'll miss them. They sell their bodies anyway, they have no morals, the world doesn't need them. Some of 'em you can buy with pat on the head and some cookies and milk. That's how sick some of them are.
Okay, so maybe I'm not doing the world any big favors, but I'm not really hurting it either, what's one less life on the planet?
There were those few I regret, the normal ones, but I don't dwell on it. I had to take them, the timing was right and... I can't take it back, now can I? I try not to think about it, I just do it. Once in a while though, with one of those I really want to just let it go, not kill it, but that wouldn't be very wise. They aren't as mean as the street kids, they don't even fight much, don't call me names.
Especially that one name. That one small three letter word that has the power to enrage me. The one my father called me when he was too mad to just call me a sissy. The normal ones whine and snivel like spoiled brats before sinking into shock, but I still feel bad for them. I'm not completely heartless. That's why I go for the worthless ones whenever I can.
Then, I get lucky. Very lucky. I have to stay calm, not blow this. I can't attract attention. This one I really like. And he's just a street kid, perfect. I want it, God I want it. I look at it and think I can have fun with it, oh, so much fun for the whole night, if I can make it last that long.
He's alone. Pretty. Dark hair and dark-lashed deep brown eyes. On the slim side, maybe slightly too malnourished. Probably uses its money for drugs instead of food. Dumb worthless whore-kid, I need you, that's the extent of your worth. It's looking at me, seeing me looking back and hoping that means I'm interested. I pull the car to the curb. It's an impressive car and that gets its attention, that's all any of these things care about, money.
It starts to run towards me, catches itself, doesn't want to look too eager, wants to get as much money out of me as it possibly can. I smile at its stupidity, before it can see me . The pattern is always the same. I know I look harmless enough as long as I play the game right and get it to trust me, I'm home free. But these things can be skittish, some of them doing this can't be more than thirteen, fourteen when they start and the real young ones like that get roughed up a lot, so they try to be careful. The ones that start that young get used up by the time they're twenty, have AIDS and every disease you could think of, they really are just a menace to decent working folk, and society in general.
I can't even tell their ages. This one looks like it could be twenty, but maybe as young as fifteen for all I know... they age fast out here. As it gets closer I can see its dull animal eyes. Actually, it looks quite bright but that's just for show. I can tell by the way it's grinning at me that it won't be careful enough and I'm already aroused just thinking of the night ahead after all this time.
It comes to the driver's window and now comes the bargaining. I really don't care. It's not like I'm paying anyway, so I agree to its demands, hell I'll promise it the moon and the idiot would probably believe me.
I tell it I have a place not far away and I see the flash of its eyes. I want to say, look kid, I could kill you just as easy where you stand or in a parked car, stop with the look. Of course, I can't say that. I take what I said earlier back, I do pay, just not with money. I have to grovel and hold back until it feels safe.
It's hard not to roll my eyes. Like reading from a manual I go through the routine, including a showing of my wallet to prove I can pay. I always have it filled, its eyes take it in hungrily. It sizes me up. I tell it not to worry, I'm a business man, and I have a nice house, it can trust me. It gets in the car and I feel my body shaking. I wonder sometimes if this isn't the best part, right here, the anticipation.
The drive to my place is uneventful, it's out of its element which makes it shy and I have to do all the talking. Like I said, I do pay. It's impressed by the house and relaxes a little at how normal everything seems. When I get it inside I give it time to look around. I tell it to get comfortable and asks if it wants a drink or a sandwich. Like most of the others, except for the... few, it accepts, takes a beer and sits on the sofa while I go to the kitchen to make us something to eat.
I'm only gone five minutes, but I find it has almost fallen asleep by the time I get back. All curled up and warm, looking so small and innocent I think maybe it is only fifteen or so. Not that I care. Probably been sleeping in the park and my sofa is just too comfortable to resist. What a life. I'm doing it a favor.
It wolfs down the sandwich and I give it a stern lecture on the evils of drugs. It doesn't listen, none of them do. They don't want a friend or a big brother, they just want all the money they can snake out of me to feed to the drug dealers. I'm tired of talking, it's finished eating. It's time.
I have to say, I'm always afraid of this part. There's a small chance of it getting free. I plan ahead and I have everything I need, but it did happen once. One of them got loose and ran out the front door. It came back with the police less than an hour later. I know all the cops in town, after all I'm the owner of the town's only donut shop, not one of those stupid trendy coffee shops, how could I not?
I explained to them I just wanted to help the kid, you know, get him off the street and I caught the little thug trying to steal my CDs. I bodily threw him out and I guess he wants revenge, that's the thanks I get.
The cops looked at the raggedy street kid, then at me and my nice house and steady job and they went away. I smile when I think of it. It can't happen a second time. That would make them suspicious. So, I'm nervous right now. I'm mad at it for making me nervous, I want to hit it and hit it and hit it... I must stay calm. I realize I should be in better shape for this, should work out, stay away from the donuts. I think this every single time, but I've never been the physical type. Even as a kid I was soft and plump... and lonely.
It's fairly relaxed and I can see by its eyes it thinks I'm a chump, thinks that I'm the stupid one. I check both of my pockets, I'm ready to show it who the stupid one is.
First, I distract it with money. I pull it out and offer something extra, just because I'm so nice and want to help it. It eyes the wallet and I know exactly what's churning in that head. Wondering, hoping that it will get the chance to rob me. Maybe, if it gets me sleepy enough...
It watches as I take my belt off, start to unfasten my pants and for a second I notice it stiffen. I have all I can do to stay calm now, seeing its reaction, it doesn't want to do this, doesn't like me... despite how decent I've been. I'm at least ten years older and like I said, on the heavy side and scarred some, as if I asked to have acne, but that's how it judges me, just like the kids always did at school... and still would, I suppose. Now I don't care.
I go to it, and it recovers and smiles at me, as I caress a hand down its cheek and smile back, my hand travels down its shirt and then starts to slowly bring the shirt up. It complies with my wishes and sits up enough to slide the clothes off and just as the shirt is over its head I'm on it, my hand wrests the plastic bag from my pocket and I grab the cloth out, hold it hard to its face. The scuffle is brief but furious, its arms are caught in the shirt and I'm well over a hundred pounds heavier holding it down. Chloroform works quickly, the body goes limp, the eyes roll back and I turn it and fasten the handcuffs from my other pocket behind it. I lock a dog chain to its neck.
It's lighter than most, I easily carry it to the special room. There the rest of the clothes come off it and the other end of the chain gets locked to a ring I have bolted to the wall. Now, finally, I can really smile. Now finally... I'm myself.
I sit beside this thing I own, waiting for it to wake up and I give it the name it will have for the rest of its life. Twenty-six. Number twenty-six, precisely.
Just like the first twenty-five, Twenty-six wakes up slowly and it tests the confines of its bonds. I have the chain on its neck very tight and it's uncomfortable, just as its arms must be by now and yet for some reason, they rarely fight yet.
I love this part. Oh, I love the sex, too. But this part of our relationship is special. This is where it thinks I'm just kinky and it's in complete denial of its true situation. But I don't laugh at it, I don't want to be rude. Not yet.
It looks at me, and when I smile, it smiles back, wanly, forced, unsure how to react to this turn of events. It no longer sees me as someone to get all the money out of it can. It doesn't see me as overweight or unattractive. I am the giver of freedom, I am key to the future and no matter how it tries to deny it, it knows this somewhere in what passes for its mind. The little whore knows it belongs to me.
I now have its complete attention. This one is scared. More scared than some of them, it seems almost as frightened as... those ones, those wrong ones I took. I wonder why. Is there word on the street about disappearances? In this one's life, what few hours are left of it, it isn't important. Maybe later, out of curiosity, I'll ask.
I want it to think I'm crazy, or at least... unpredictable. That's why I smile but don't say one word. I want it to think it has a chance. I want to see its mind working, trying to figure me out. Its hand goes up to the chain, slowly, not pulling- just feeling. It clears its throat.
"I... don't do this stuff," it says very softly.
"What stuff?" My voice is so innocent, so controlled. I'm enjoying this.
"You know. Bondage. Role-playing. Whatever. I know some do. Look, mister, I just needed a way to survive, that's why I'm doing this. I'm not really into it."
"Ohhhh. Silly me. What was I thinking?" I'm such a tease, sometimes.
The calm scene, so rational, just two people talking. Even though one of us is naked and chained to the wall.
I laugh. I can't help it, but I can feel the anger building, too. It thinks saying please means something to me? How many times have I said please. As a kid asking to join in a game with other kids. As a young man asking for a real date. Please, but my answer was always no. Bastards. And this one is no different.
I turned on it suddenly and slapped it across the face, I know that will start it fighting, but I'm on top of it quickly and I pin it on its back, pull it lower so the chain tightens considerably on its neck and then I use my weight to keep it there and stay away from the only weapon it really has, its feet. They are still free. I kiss it violently as it struggles. It manages to use its legs as leverage, pushing itself up from the bed and forward and this slackens the chain.
I moved it sideways with a violent jerk, so its legs are off the bed and then tug it even harder, forcing its head back again. As it chokes and struggles I bite and kiss its neck, move lower and then get one nipple between my teeth. Despite the lack of air, the kid howls quite loudly as I bite and I gnaw on it for awhile, until it quiets down in defeat. Not that I mind the noise, not that anyone can hear it. But it does need to know who the boss is.
I move back up to kiss its mouth and it tosses its head, striving to get away. Bliss. I'm so hard it hurts already. I want to wait, but I can't. I never can, I gotta have it before I can do anything else.
I flip it over, pull it back again just enough to choke it and then I'm on it and in it. I don't bother with anything to ease the way, these whores don't deserve it, I've used saliva on occasion when I've had to, but usually with some work I can do it without any. These sickening things are far from anally virginal, hell, I'm probably not even the first one tonight, so I batter my way inside and it's impossible to keep the chain taut during this. The little whore, able to breathe easier, just puts its head down. It's used to lying face down and being fucked, maybe not this rough, but it's something it understands and it doesn't fight me now.
Once buried deep in the young whore's ass, I pull out and start slamming him so hard his head is hitting into the wall. I know the chain is loose, but I don't care right now. Its face is turned to the side, I watch as its teeth grit together, but after just a short few minutes they loosen and I know the pain is letting up. He barely makes a sound and I put an arm down across him and lay over him, getting comfortable, and now I take my time. I stop when I have to for a moment to prolong this, because what I've found is the longer I do this, the more angry they get. I like them angry, it's so satisfying later when they start really begging.
I'm screwing the little thing with slow, deep thrusts intended to madden it, all the while grunting and groaning right in its ear as annoyingly loud as possible. I take the time to appreciate this one. He's really exceptionally beautiful, perfect if he had a few more pounds to cover his ribs. But his face... so like an angel in his fright, exquisite, and all mine.
All mine forever...
When I can't stop myself from release any more, I pump into him, caught in an orgasm that rocks me from head to toe and jerks my body with spasms, there really is no feeling like it. And this is just the beginning, but he probably believes it's the end. As I think about all we still have to do, I relax and lay down on his back.
"All mine and so beautiful," I tell him softly and he shudders.
When I get off him, he moves up to huddle to the wall.
"You did it... you got what you wanted. Now, let me go," he says, trying to hold his anger, but his voice shakes and I open the chest dresser against the other wall. I start pulling things out, humming tunelessly. I don't look at him, but I wonder what he thinks, I leave everything out in plain sight. The dildo. That had to widen his eyes, and I smile just picturing it. It's a huge thing, eighteen unhumanly thick inches of solid plastic, that dildo. Hard to believe it was meant for this, really. The things you can mail order are amazing.
He probably has no idea what the tool set is for. But he'll be so lovely if we end up playing with that.
I head back with rope in my hands and he's shaking his head vehemently."No...oh, no...," he objects.
I smile at him, his eyes are wide as saucers and he draws his knees up, ready to kick, I suppose. I stop.
"It's just rope you idiot. You wouldn't kick me would you, kid? That wouldn't be nice. Lay back down, put your legs out."
He doesn't say anything and doesn't obey me. I shrug, go back and grab the knife. It's an impressive thing, meant for display, wickedly sharp, curved and eight inches of deadly, shining blade.
"Lay down," I order him calmly.
He thinks about it.
"Okay, okay..." he relents, sagging as if with fatigue and he puts his legs out so I can tie his ankles together. Now that he's more secured I crawl over him and sit down on his belly. Just sit there and look at him and finally he gets his nerve up.
"What do you want from me? I'll do it, mister. I'll do whatever you say, you don't even have to pay me."
"Don't mind if I smoke, do you?" I ask lazily and he blinks but then shakes his head. I'm smiling again, but it doesn't appease him anymore. Between the chain, the rope and my weight, he is utterly helpless and I'm sure very uncomfortable. He is showing the first signs of real panic not under his control, his breaths are short, he jerks a bit.
I lean over and take a cigar and lighter from the nightstand drawer, light it and plop down on him rather hard, getting cozy... and ready. His eyes are on that cigar and he's hoping that I'm not thinking what he is, but of course, I am. I puff hard enough to get a good head going and then I bring it close to his skin on his side and he flinches, even though I didn't touch him with it.
"I was just wondering," I say pensively. "What it would feel like if it touched you. I read somewhere the head of a cigar is about a thousand degrees... you will tell me, won't you?"
Before he can respond, I bring the cigar down on the tender skin along his thin side and hold it there. For a moment, he's in shock. Then he wheezingly draws in air and screeches and I'm having the ride of my life as his body bucks and twists and struggles, but he can't move, he can't get away or move the cigar that's still burning him. I take it from the charred, blackened spot of skin, puff it and touch it to him again, lower, nearer his belly.
"No more, please, please!" he screams.
"Yeah," I tell him, nodding my understanding. "That's about what I figured it felt like. So I guess only one of us is having fun."
He's crying now, sobbing like a baby actually and each new touch of fire wrenches another shrill wail out of him, but his struggles are much weaker by the time I stop. I mash the cigar out, lie down on him and kiss him again, this time tenderly, like a lover. His mouth is quivering under mine, but he tries to kiss me back, tries to appease me. Like I said, this is absolute bliss.
"Tell me you love me," I murmur. "Tell me you want me to make love to you..."
"Please..." he pants.
I sit up again and slap him. He asked for what's coming, all I wanted was a few simple words, but if he doesn't want to give me that, I can give him something else.
"All right, suit yourself," I say with a smile. I love this part, too. Oh, is he ever going to wish he'd said what I wanted him to. I will rub this mistake in his beautiful face.
I hop off the bed, jaunty in my walk back to the dresser. I grab the knife again, more rope and the dildo. He's shaking his head when I come back, I grab his ankle to hold him and then turn him over again onto his belly. I tie one ankle to the foot of the bed, and then with the knife I cut the first rope so I can tie his other ankle to the other side. He does try to pull away some, but doesn't kick. He's already submitting, or accepting, his part in our little play. I figure he just wants it over with so he can go home. Denial of the terrible truth is keeping him calm. He thinks he can survive me. Stupid, dumb kid.
I've already stretched him a bit, but not like that dildo does when I ram it an inch into him. The pain must be incredible, if his garbled shriek is any indication. It takes a great deal of strength to start pushing that giant dildo further in, twisting and turning it, working it slowly inside his body. His screams are getting hoarse. I get it half way in while he cries like a banshee and thrashes with what little freedom he has and he begs me, over and over to stop.
"Hey, you didn't want me inside you... I gave you a chance, now didn't I?" I say in my most reasonable voice.
I hit the end of the dildo with the palm of my hand as I say it, driving it in another inch or so and he convulses, then I push it most of the way in as fast as I can manage it. His cries are high pitched and pathetic, I can see sweat now sheens his pale skin. Dark hair is sticking to his lovely face, and half-covering his eyes. His teeth are chattering together like he's cold, and he turns his head to bite the mattress and stop them, still panting.
I leave the dildo buried and jump up on to the bed and sit down on his back. I unfasten the handcuffs, it's safe, his arms are too numb to be of much use to him. I take hold of them and push them up between his shoulders, wrenching them higher, little by little, higher. His arm sockets make little creaky moves as I shove. His head raises, shakily, his mouth open in silent scream as I force his hands up to touch his neck. Then, I let go, and his head falls, limp, his eyes open and unfocused, as he begins to breathe again.
"Oh god, please..." he whimpers breathlessly.
I pick up the rope, the thick rope I had brought to the bed and wind it about his throat. I lean over him, and say, "You know you're going to die soon, don't you? I brought you here to kill you."
With that, I tighten the rope and throttle him. Sitting back, I pull and twist as hard as I can. His face goes red, and then blue and his teeth are showing, bloodied and clenched. His hands move, trying to claw at something, anything, but then they fall twitching to the bed. I let the rope go after another half minute or so.
He's unconscious. But breathing. Turning in my seat that is the small of his back, I take hold of the dildo, pull it viciously half way out, and then slam it home again. Yes, it wakes him, he howls in agony, gasping, panting, crying.
The rope tightens around his throat again, as I choke him senseless a second time. I tie his wrists back together, pull the bloody, filthy dildo out and slide my erection in its place just as he wakes. I fuck him like there's no tomorrow, while he whines in pain. I breathe in his ear, and chew on his neck sharply and smother his mouth with mine. It doesn't get any better! And he barely struggles, and despite how loose he is, I get off pretty fast, just feeling him suffer and spasm is enough.
I turn him over, sit back down and look at his eyes. They're weary, and dilated, and they barely move to watch as I lean over and pick up the cigar again.
His voice is weak, resigned. "Please...kill me, please, just kill me now and get it over with..."
It is his last act of any sort of bravery. I want to. But I'm horny again and I need him alive for a short while longer.
"Not quite yet, my lovely, soon..." I promise soothingly, smiling.
He knows now that I really will kill him, his doubts are gone, his hope has vanished and he is so much agony he doesn't care anymore. It's funny, but the pattern is always the same, well, almost always. There were those few... who didn't have much for a mind left at this point and didn't say anything anymore. But these whores, they can take a lot, they have been through more. They last longer.
"Fucking pervert..." he groans to me, in a voice like a little girl as the glowing cigar hovers over one of his nipples. I just laugh as I actually extinguish the thing on him, drawing forth more weak cries, more hopeless writhing.
"What does that make you?" I ask. "You sell yourself to perverts. Can't get much lower than that."
He's panting like a freight train. "Please. I don't want to die," he whispers.
"You don't? Are you sure? You asked me to kill you," I say as if puzzled. "I mean, really kid, what do you have to live for anyway?"
"I'm only eighteen," he says, his voice is ragged, desperate and I gently stroke at his hair. He's crying softly, brokenly.
"Shhh... maybe you won't die... just do as I say..."
"I will," he whispers pathetically. "I'll do anything you say, sir... please don't hurt me anymore."
"Now, now..." I chide.
I get up on my knees, move over his chest and drop all my weight down on him, the air grunts out of him. I bounce on his chest, and then sit still to let him struggle to breathe. He can't talk now, he's gasping, his eyes are wild when I put my hand over his mouth and nose. He fights this, but he's totally helpless and it's feeble, he's exhausted and I hold on easily, until he's close to passing out again.
I move back off him and between his legs. I know even if he did try to kick me, there would be no strength to it, so I untie his ankles, and push his legs forward. Without any warning, while he's still wheezing for breath, I push that dildo back into the shuddering body most of the way, it's still somewhat slick, and using all my strength, I plunge it back into him all in one stroke, right to the hilt. The sound he lets out is tortured, almost inhuman and badly broken.
I pull it back even further and ram it inside him a second time.
Damn, he passes out again. His body stiffens, then goes completely limp. Damn it! I does happen sometimes, but it always makes me mad. I remove the dildo, but there's no response.
I leave him to go get a drink, wet a washcloth and go back. He's moaning, delirious. I sit beside him and raise his head to my lap, wiping his face with the cold cloth and it brings his senses back. He looks up at me, his beautiful eyes are dilated black with pain and fear, he's virtually speechless and probably half out of his mind.
"Feel better?" I ask with mock tenderness.
His lips move, 'yes' he mouths, but there's no sound.
I reach around him and untie his hands. He tries to move his arms, but they're badly sprained, and he has barely the energy left to draw in air.
The tool kit. I leave him to get it and he watches almost without interest as I return and climb up and sit down on his stomach again, placing the tools on his chest. I take his hand, and pick up a vise.
"Please..." his whisper is so weak I can barely hear it, and tears glisten in his eyes and roll sorrowfully down his pale cheeks. I just smile sweetly and go to work on his fingers...
I'm somewhat surprised that he still has the energy to scream that loud.
It's a good half hour later when I throw the tools on the floor and lie down on him. There's blood on his mouth, his lips are bitten. I kiss this thing I own for the last time. His lips are soft, inviting, his breath so warm despite his trembling. His body is otherwise still beneath me, so small it's engulfed by mine and the only movement is his labored breathing, but he's awake as I take him one more time. I pull him back so the chain is tight. After the damage done by the plastic dildo and two rapes, I know it has to hurt terribly, but he's stunned now and he has no more tears to shed. He's shaking, shivering violently, his eyes are shocky and they close tight when I thrust inside him. He whimpers and gags as I keep telling him it's almost over.
I can feel I'm at the brink and so, with bittersweet passion, I place the side of my arm upon his throat and lean, cutting his air off completely. His eyes open and look into mine, so scared and sad, but hopeless, too. He knows and knows there's nothing he can do to stop me.
This is the moment I truly, completely own him. His small body jerks in time with my thrusts, as he strangles, and in his dark eyes I can see he loves me and he hates me. I am all that's left of his world and he has resigned to that, I am his one true master, his god.
I come inside him reverently, groaning my pleasure at this last act that his ruined body will bear and now I can lean harder as I continue to stroke as deep as I can, my erection never completely goes away at the end. There is no struggle, his lips move in silent prayer or maybe he's cursing me, it doesn't matter. His eyes close as I ride him to an incredible third orgasm. Finally, he goes still just as I stop thrusting and I kiss his cheek and thank him for being so beautiful and sharing it with me.
I might have fallen asleep on top of him, I have with others before, but the phone rings. I kiss him again, and I leave him there. Later, I'll dump the body, weighed with two cinder blocks, in the river. In the early morning hours when no one is on the road. Just like the other twenty-five.
As I head for the phone, I start thinking about Number Twenty-seven with a smile. He's out there somewhere, maybe laughing or partying with friends, unaware of how few months he has left to laugh or love or not feel pain. I'm euphoric, calm and relaxed. It'll last for a while, the memory of it, and I won't feel the craving, I'll be normal now.
I'll call Mom and Dad tomorrow, maybe take them out to dinner, that's how good a son I am when I'm happy. I'm a decent, fair boss, too. Make all my employees feel special, always telling them how great a job they're doing. I'm not a bad guy, really, you may know me, I might make you smile, even laugh sometime when you stop for coffee. I flirt with all the woman, not just the pretty ones, and make quite a few feel good about themselves. I help out the community, buy girl scout cookies and never refuse a favor to my neighbors. If a stray cat comes around, I'm the type to put a bowl of milk out. I'm even polite to Jehovah Witnesses, and know a couple by name.
Okay, so I have this one flaw. I admit it, but I don't beat myself up over it. I try to stay positive, think of the good things in life, I take the time to enjoy people and I love animals and children. I'm not really much different than anyone else, am I?
I don't even check the caller ID before I pick up, I'm just in too good a mood. I'll talk to anyone. "Hello there," I say enthusiastically, and then I warmly smile as I hear the voice and answer, "Mom! I was just thinking about you!..."
What I have no way of knowing, is that just a room away, Twenty-six is waking up.