Mad, Like a SimileIt was hotter than a dead dog lying on the pavement inside of a microwave--the sun was white-hot and closer to the earth than Eddie Reynolds could remember it ever having been before. It made everything a blur. It was the kind of afternoon that you remember afterward like it was a bad dream, that puts a sickly dry taste in your mouth to the end of your days.Eddie hammered on the door at 35 Sawgrass and, not at all for the first time in her life, wondered if she was in Hell. No, she thought. The company’s not good enough. People stared at her as they passed, as if they hadn’t seen her a hundred times before. She reflected, underneath her burning skin, that she could have at least picked a dress in some color other than black. Black was the color for the business at hand, she guessed. But this sad little town was always in mourning for someone or other.The door swung open, and a kid in cop’s clothes hung there, watching her for that long moment, the way they did. She’d never met this one before; he must be new. “Eddie Reynolds?” he said.“Yeah,” she said.“Like...Edward?”“Edwina,” she said.He looked her over again. “But it...used to be Edward?”“Used to be. But I made a lousy boy. So I changed.” A corner of her mouth tightened. “You want to show me up?”The kid mumbled something and headed deeper inside. Eddie closed the door behind her and walked up the stairs after him, her heels clicking on the wood. Heels were hard. They ought to think of her as a woman just for being able to walk up stairs in heels.The honeymoon suite was mostly one big room, a combination kitchen and living room and master bedroom with a king bed. The fragments of rooms all sprawled together, like the suite was a mirror pointing back toward youth, a last glimpse of life without walls before the lucky couple started building their labyrinth of corridors around each other. Eddie didn’t much care for marriage, which was good, because no man in this godforsaken town was going to marry her. Just stick to cracking murders, she told herself.The newlyweds lay in the middle of the room, splayed across the floor in opposite directions. Their blood was everywhere. Hers had flung a pattern across the screen of the TV; His had soaked a dark stain into the couch. They couldn’t have been standing more than an arm’s length apart when they’d supposedly shot each other. The sun streamed in through the tall windows on the south side and lit them up bright.Harry Mason stood behind the couch like a pool shark bent over the table, waiting for his opponent to take an inferior shot. He eyed her with jaded disapproval and a purse in his lips that made his mustache bristle. He wore the old brown trenchcoat like it was grafted to his skin. He’d rolled up the sleeves for the heat, but he wouldn’t take it off. Bastard. Dick Harris sat at the little dining table, helping himself to the champagne. The kid had moved off to the side and was using Eddie as an excuse not to look at the bodies.“Somebody really did a number on those two,” Eddie said.“They did each other,” said Harry.“You think so?” she said. “That’s one hell of a petite mort, Harry. You think they took it too literally? Didn’t have enough experience to know better?”Dick snorted. “Ain’t what I heard.”Harry pulled out a cigar, the blunt kind he smoked every day, and on the site of every murder he’d ever investigated. The kind that burned a big, red hole in the air like a bullet-wound in a furnace. “All right,” he said, touching it to the flame of his steel lighter. “What do you think?”“You ever going to quit those?” Eddie asked. “Not exactly good for you. You’ve already had one in the last half hour.”“That so?” he said without looking at her.“Sure it is,” she said. “You got ash on the carpet. Right there, next to the bodies. You ever not going to contaminate a crime scene?”“Already did my job,” Harry said. He dropped the lighter back in the pocket of his trenchcoat skin and drew on his cigar. “How about you ‘do yours’?” He curled his fingers in the air, making little quotes like a monkey on a typewriter. Dick smirked; his smirk was overripe as a neglected banana, rich as a Twinkie rolled in melted butter.She shrugged and started working her way around the room. “First, there’s the signs of struggle. The lamp and the books that fell, the partially smashed chair that looks like it was used to hit someone, those marks on the wall where somebody’s shoulder, I’d guess, hit it hard. If this was some kind of pact, there’d be none of that. If they’d fought each other, it would be more contained. They’d’ve been too familiar for a chase around the house; they’d just stand fast and go at it like duelists. More to the point, why would there be a melee if they were that crazy over something and they both brought guns? Then there’s that mark on the outside of her wrist, from abrasion. He could have grabbed her, but I’d say that mark was made from the outside, with a hand pointed forward, by someone situated roughly behind her. Then there’s the scuff on the baseboard, over there. Neither of them was in shoes heavy enough to make that; she’d even taken hers off, because you don’t walk around your honeymoon suite in three-inch stilettos if you can help it.” Harry eased himself up from his lean and cracked his neck. “It’s always the same with you. A simple story becomes a big production. A tale of intrigue and suspense.” He tucked his thumbs into his pockets, determined, it seemed to her, to become more and more casual, to outdo his own casualness, to push the point so far that it circled the earth and struck him from behind. “You just want to be bigger than you are. You want to be the hot shit in town. You want to make people see you differently. You want them to owe you something.”She glared at him.“Yeah, I know people,” Harry said. He waved a hand toward the stretch of carpet where the two corpses lay, once tastefully vanilla, now amaretto swirl. “Just like I know about these two. Some old story. Both of them fooling around behind the curtains. Both of them find out. Neither of them can handle it. Sluts and hypocrites. So they get the guns.”“For their wedding night?”“It’s poetic,” said Harry. “You a lady enough to appreciate poetry, Eddie?” He breathed out smoke. “You really think someone else did this? Sure, we could bring in a whole cast of characters. There’s his best friend, who always wanted the girl for himself. Her father, who thought his daughter picked too low and too dirty. But those kind of people don’t set up elaborate murders, Eddie. Those people come in with bats swinging like it’s the Majors, and think about how stupid they were afterward.”“You’re wrong,” she said. “You’re always wrong. Every single week.” No exaggeration, that. The murders in this town happened like clockwork. Friday, maybe Saturday. There was something far too strange about that. It nagged at her, all of the sudden, the strangeness of it rising around her in slow circles, like an undercover mosquito hitman about to make its final play. “God damn, Harry. Aren’t you ever going to learn?”She went to the window. The sun poured over her, blistering hot. She wanted to take off her skin. Hang her body up to dry. On the street below, people passed by. A girl on a bike, maybe sixteen. An old man and woman, arm in arm, together so long they might as well be each other. A kid with an ice cream cone; he ran with it, and it was extended ahead of him like a taunt. A pinpoint of cold, but not for long. It was dripping down his arm. Bastard.It wasn’t a big town. She recognized six in ten of them. And almost all of them could recognize her. She was noticeable.“Jesus, Harry,” she said. “How many murders do we get in this town?”He stood still in response to that. Thirty seconds passed before he said anything. “I’ll tell you what,” he said. “Why don’t you start counting and get back to me?”“This town isn’t big enough for a murder a week,” she said. “Dorton, Mills, Chesterfield...they don’t get but one a year, maybe. When was the last time Bridgewell had a murder?”“Bridgewell’s a smaller town,” Harry said.“Not by that much,” Eddie said. “I bet New York City doesn’t fill body bags like we do. Is it something in the water, you think?”She stepped away from the window, back toward the dead couple. Harry moved in behind her to fill the space she’d left. He leaned into the sill. His shadow went all the way across the room.Eddie knelt by the groom, who was closer. There had to be something to tell her what had happened. There always was. Every week. And that would solve this murder, but there would be another in a week...She didn’t see the clues yet. The two or three tiny, critical clues that would come together to tell her the whole story. There were the bodies. And there was the ash from Harry Mason’s damned cigar, ground into the floor. Week after week, his discarded ash at the scene of every crime.That was strange too...maybe. Was it?She stopped. There was a discoloration in the ash. She studied the pattern of the blood across the carpet.Yes. It was. It was soaked in, mostly, but some of it was crusted.Over the top of the ash.She stood up, her fingers resting just inside of the mouth of her purse. Harry watched her from the window, impassive as a python with a full belly. Off to her left, Dick smirked over the top of the glass of champagne. The kid noticed a change in the room and looked around uneasily.How many times had she missed it? Had there been others? That same ash, week after week. She should have seen it.No. Why should she have seen it?It didn’t make sense. She hated them, but it didn’t make any sense.“You did it,” she said. “You killed all of those people.”“Now that,” he puffed through a thin, casual smile, “is just silly.”Every week. And he’d even put the clues there, so she would pick up the trail and apprehend some hapless person, week after week. How many people had she had arrested? Some of them had even confessed to the killings. After Harry had gotten through with them, mostly.She took a step forward, and her hand reached deeper into her purse. “You set the murders up. Was it every single one of them? Did any of them happen without you?”“Sure,” Harry said. The cigar stuck from between his teeth, burned down to almost nothing, like the last inch of a bomb fuse. “Why don’t you just--”“Shut up, Harry,” Eddie said. She whipped the gun out of her purse. It went out in front of her almost like it was moving on its own, and she wavered there with it fixed on his heart. That, if nothing else, was a point that she could drive home. “Shut. Up.”Something crashed to her left. The table was thrown up and on its side. The champagne glass smashed against the floor. Dick lumbered at the edge of her vision, fumbling for his gun. To her right, the kid didn’t seem to know where to put his hands.“Jesus,” said Dick.“Jesus,” said the kid. “Oh Jesus.”Harry did not change at all. He leaned on the window sill, and smoke streamed from his mouth. “You should probably put that down.”Ironically, it was the kid who managed to find his gun first. “Drop that,” he said feebly. “Put your weapon...down...” He finally managed to raise his own pistol in her general direction.She rotated and shot him between the eyes. His head snapped back, blood fountaining straight upward from the wound as though he were zealously winning the most misguided spitting contest that had ever been held. He collapsed.Eddie turned back to Harry Mason, who still hadn’t moved. Dick had his gun trained on her. “You crazy bitch!”“Are you in on it too, Dick?” she asked. “You must be. You’ve been around too long. It must be all of you. One man couldn’t have done all those murders on his own. Poor kid.”“I’m probably gonna like this,” Dick said.Eddie ran forward. She was only two yards from Harry when she started, only one when she heard the shot, and she was almost on him when she felt the bullet somewhere in her back, between ribs. The pain tore at her, blinding bright like the sun, but she smashed into Harry with all her weight, all the strength of a body too big and cumbersome for the woman inside it, and she carried him backward through the window. Glass shattered and flew all around them like a storm of confetti, like it was a wedding, and the two of them pitched through the space where nothing was, between the two halves of a wall, and they went down and down.Harry’s face was inches from her own. He grinned.* * *Eddie was pretty sure that she was dead. There were sounds in her ears, and lights in her eyes, and none of it made sense.She felt like she was floating. She was on her back, and somewhere above her was the sky, but it was far away, and its blue-white was so brilliant that she wanted to turn away, but she had no head to turn. It seemed to be pulling away from her, and she felt rather than heard a sucking sound as it went. Harry Mason was gone. Maybe, Eddie thought, through some bizarre twist of the rules, he had gone to Heaven, and she had finally made it to Hell.Her eyes opened. She was in a room, huge and black-walled and mostly empty. Three spotlights shone on her from the upper corners like cloned suns, bright and close.She stood up, shaking, and looked around. The floor was concave, and trails of tiny lights led from the walls down into the center, at her feet. Some sort of steel balcony ran along the outer edge, twenty feet up from where she stood. A man stood on the balcony. No, maybe it was not a man. A woman?Eddie realized she couldn’t tell. The figure’s face was blank, androgynous, almost inhuman in its perfection. It wore a white suit that looked like skin, and its body was eerily, frighteningly featureless. It was like a door that could not open.“You should stop resisting, Eddie Reynolds,” it told her. Or rather, it used another name, but it came to her as a blur that her mind rewrote.She raised the fingers of one hand to her forehead. Her body felt subtly different. She realized, suddenly, that it was the body of someone who had been born a woman.She looked up at the figure in white. “You,” she said. The word had come almost unbidden, and as it left her lips, it sounded like the most meaningless thing she had ever said. But somehow, she did know this sexless thing.Other thoughts came to her in flashes. This creature had come for her. And then there had been some kind of spectacle, others watching her, like the gladiators in an ancient Roman pit. It was a punishment for something.“You will have to go in again,” said the thing in white. “To a new setting. You always resist. But we will always put you back.”She had killed someone. A mistake, though not an accident. She remembered the pain that had driven her, but could not yet remember what had hurt so much. The thing in white had come. It always came for killers. And it had put her inside of the show, for everyone to watch. A new murder every week. A brilliant detective who always reached the solution. She had always been quick, had always noticed things. They had tailored this for her. Everyone watched her drift in Hell. It entertained them.“Please,” she said. She had intended to say something better, but it had not come. “Please don’t put me back in there.”“Each time, you twist the reality you are given to suit the reality you want to remember,” it said. “You fight. When you stop fighting, it will be easier for you.”Something about justice and redemption. They had put her there for a reason, but she could not remember it. Already, she was forgetting the world she had lived in until minutes ago, and true memories were slow in coming to take the place of the false ones. She had no self. That was the worst thing they could do to her, to take away who she was and replace her with someone else. They wanted something out of it. Something was expected of her.She knew she had little time, and her mind raced to put details together. She could do this. Her mind was quick. She noticed things. They wanted her to solve crimes, over and over again. They had put someone in the world with her to set up murders. They could have done it another way. They had made her a man, or tried. In her past life, she had killed someone. She remembered a window, and the way someone had stood against it, and her sorrow.Think, she willed herself. Think, Eddie.“Look,” she said. “I swear to God, if you just give me half a chance...”It reached out and touched something on the balcony railing. The lights on the floor glowed brighter, and began to pulse.“This is what you have earned,” it said.There had to be a way. She had to keep a piece of herself, so that she could find the clues and put them together, and find a way.The room went white, and she felt herself pulled away. Out of the whiteness, a grassy lawn began to form, and trees. She was someone else. Young, and female. Her knowledge was streaming from her head and rushing away like birds flying from a falling tree, and other things were being forced in. Deep down inside of her, something screamed.What a strange feeling, she thought, and she wondered where it had come from. She shouldered her backpack and headed down the driveway, away from her father’s towering home. The mansion rose up behind her, but it trailed away as she walked, like an unwanted gift tossed from the window of a fast car, disappearing in the rear-view mirror. She had so much to prove.The day was bright, and hot as Hell.