Zombie Romance Pt. 13

~~~MAISIE~~~

We wait until dark the next day to go to Grady’s work and talk to Biff. Grady will be there too, just in case, and we don’t want to risk someone else seeing him, someone who might recognize him.
But the darkness makes me more nervous, fills me with an indefinable dread.
I keep my hand I Grady’s though my palm is sweating.
“It will be okay,” he says, squeezing my hand as I look out the car window. Biff is still there, in the office trailer, like we thought he would be. “You’ll be perfectly safe.” He motions to indicate the few other businesses around. They were still open, it’s still early, but no one seems to be about.
I turn to look at him. “How can you be sure? You were killed right out back.”
He grimaces at the reminder, but squeezes my hand again. “I will keep you safe. I’ll be right outside. All you have to do if you get scared is holler for me. The walls are paper thin, I’ll hear you.”
Reassured by his confidence, I nod. Still, I’m a non-confrontational kind of person, and this makes me nervous in a way that has nothing to do with any real danger. He can’t help with that.
We get out the car and walk up the short, steep stairs to the porch. Grady goes to stand against the wall so that Biff can’t see him when I open the door.
He gives me a nod.
I give the door three sharp raps and then enter, the same way I had any time I’d visited Grady at work in the last few years.
“Hi, Biff. May I come in?” I shut the door behind me and I give him a smile, but it feels weak.
“Maisie,” he says, taken aback. “Come in, come in.” He stands from behind his desk and comes and takes my hand. “How are you?”
“Well, um, I’m okay. How are you?”
We make small talk for a few more seconds before he invites me to sit down. I take the hard seat in front of his desk. Meanwhile he walks around to his deeply cushioned chair and sinks in.
It’s so uncomfortable, that I can’t help but think it’s on purpose. He doesn’t want any of his guys taking a break in here for very long.
“What can I do for you, Maisie?”
“First, I just wanted to thank you in person for—for—” I look up at him and then away, the words stuck in my throat. It’s hard to say thank you for him identifying my husband’s body when he might have been the person who made it necessary in the first place.
But Biff misjudges my silence.
“No need to thank me, dear. I’m glad I could save you from that additional trauma. I know his death was hard on you.”
I nod, thankful for the natural segue into the reason I’m here. “I was hoping we could talk about that, actually. I need to know more about Grady’s death. Can you tell me everything you know?”
“What do you know about Grady’s death?” he asks carefully.
I tell him exactly what the police told me. He gives me a sympathetic smile. “Yes, that’s right. There isn’t really anything else to tell.”
“I saw Travis yesterday,” I say. “I stopped by to talk to him. And he seemed to think there was something more.”
Biff’s eyes turn glacial, and his expression chills my bones. Then he relaxes and sits back in his chair, the picture of innocence. “Travis took Grady’s death hard. They were friends. I wouldn’t read too deeply into it.”
To my suspicious ears, the last sentence sounds more like a warning than a suggestion. And civil, yes… but even Travis had confirmed he and Grady had never been friends.
“Even so,” I continue, girding my loins. For Grady. “Maybe he had something to do with Grady’s death. That day on his lunch break, Grady called me and mentioned that he’d had some kind of conflict that morning with Travis. Do you think…?” I left the end hanging on purpose.
Biff raises his brows. “That Travis had something to do with his death?”
I don’t nod or move or breathe, waiting to hear what Biff would say.
But he shakes his head, and my breath leaks out in disappointment. I honestly expected him to throw Travis under the bus. Maybe we were wrong about Biff. About Travis. About everything. “No. Travis is a good guy, and like I said, they were friends. The only issue the two of them had was that Travis tended to forget his hardhat on the job, and as you know, Grady was always a stickler for the rules, and safety. To a fault.”
“But my husband, the stickler for rules and safety, supposedly returned to the work site after hours, alone, got into an excavator with out a hard hat, recklessly parked it on a slope, and wasn’t paying attention as it fell on him? What about the chemicals from the barrels he was buried with? I suppose those were somehow his fault too?”
Saying it out loud made me feel like an idiot for never questioning it before. That was literally against everything I knew about my husband. How had I not seen it before? How had I not questioned it? “I don’t believe that at all any more.” It also made me more convinced I was right. With or without Grady’s memories.
“Maybe you’re right about the accident. Maybe it wasn’t an accident so much as an—” He waves a hand in the air. “An escape.”
“An escape?” I grit out, incredulous. “You’re implying that my husband killed himself? Are you serious?”
“Now Maisie, I know you’re grieving and you don’t want to believe it, but that kind of thing happens all the time.”
“Not with Grady. And I know that for a damn fact.”
We glare at each other in a moment of silence.
I’m done having my suspicions mansplained away by this man. I’d already come to my own conclusions. Biff wasn’t being truthful. He knew something, or was involved somehow, or knew Travis was involved.
But I couldn’t afford to confront him right now, alone, and without proof.
I allow myself to deflate, to sit back down. To seem defeated, weak. “I know you’re right, Biff. I just want answers, you know?” I allow my eyes to fill with the tears burning behind my lashes. Only I would know that they were from rage and frustration, not sorrow. “To why this happened. And why it happened to my husband.”
“I think you already have the answers,” Biff says with all sympathy, “It’s just a matter of accepting them now.”
I tearfully nod. It’s too easy to slip back into weeping widow mode. “You’re right.” And he is. Grady and I have to accept that Biff and/or Travis, long-time family friends and co-workers, had had something to with his death and disappearance. They’d betrayed us. And for what?
That was our next step, to find out.
“Thank you, Biff. I’m sorry to bother you during business hours.” I stand and walk to the door, throwing a watery smile his way.
“Maisie…”
I turn back to him, hand on the knob, face blank.
“How did you know about the barrels?” He’s not smiling now. His eyes are glittery and dark.
I shake my head, trying to come up with a reasonable answer. “I—I went to visit Travis yesterday, like I said. That’s why I asked you about him. He must have mentioned them.”
Biff taps his desk with all his fingertips at once, and then stands and comes around his desk toward me. “Did he mention anything else?”
“No.”
“In what context did he mention the barrels?”
I didn’t have an answer for this one, and no time to make one up. I swallow tightly. I’m going to just say it, and see what his reaction is. “He said you had something to do with Grady’s death. That you were burying something in barrels, and then Grady wound up dead.”
Biff’s face progresses from pale to bright red to purple as I speak. But then he’s laughing.
“I have never killed anyone. I’m an honest businessman. My hands are clean.”
The strange emphasis on that one word reminds of how Travis had spoken when speaking of Biff.
HE would never kill anyone.
“Travis was so wrecked after Grady’s accident that I knew something was up. He took it way too hard considering he and Grady didn’t really get along. And do you know why that was?”
I shake my head. Hearing Biff echo my thoughts about Travis was disconcerting, made me question our conclusions. “You said they were friends.”
He shrugs, “I’ve just been trying to protect his integrity, his legacy, his family. But I’m done protecting him. I can’t believe he’d try to pin it on me. He was so tore up about it because he was guilty. He’s the one who killed Grady, either by intention or accident.” He shrugs again. “I guess we’ll never really know.”
My stomach drops in dread. “What do you mean?”
“Didn’t you know?” Biff’s look of sympathy gives me little warning. “Travis committed suicide last night. Your visit must have really affected him. I thought that was why you were here.”
“Oh no,” I say, hand covering my mouth. That poor man. Could it be? It kind of made sense, explained his reaction to Grady’s death. But what about Grady’s memories? Then again, he had been hurt and through a traumatic experience. Could he be misremembering?
“Did you know Travis called me before he died? He told me he’d been burying waste in our construction site. That Grady had found out that night and confronted him. They fought. Travis beat him and then ran the excavator over him, to try and make it look like an accident. He confessed it all.”
I’m shocked and horrified, and now I don’t know what to believe. It sounds close enough to Grady’s memories to be true. “I—I didn’t know. Why didn’t you tell the police?”
“I have. I’m sure they’ll call you about all this tomorrow.”
Biff comes closer, and leans with one hand against the closed door. He’s at least seventy pounds heavier than me, and all his weight is pressed against it. I won’t be able to open it. “What else did Travis say to you when you met with him?”
“Nothing,” I say, shaking my head, gulping.
He grabs my arm, hard. “Are you sure?”
“I’m sure.”
He slants closer, until I can smell the smoky-sour ghost of a cigarette on his breath.
“He didn’t say where the barrels came from, or what happened to them? If he said anything else, I need to know. It might explain why he did what he did. And why he killed himself.”
“He didn’t say anything more.”
“I’m not sure I believe you.” His hand tightens on my arm until I wince.
I try to pull out of his grip. “And I’m not sure I believe you!” Maybe Biff didn’t kill Grady, maybe Travis did, but I no longer believe he is the kind, generous man he makes himself out to be.
Biff’s expression goes glacial again, his eyes black, and I’m afraid.
Grady’s right outside the door and all I have to do is let him know I need him. I take a breath and call out his name.
The door creaks open behind me, and Grady, growling, says “Let go of my wife. Now.”
Biff releases me instantly, and I pull back, cradling my arm.
“Hello again, Biff.”
Biff backs away from me, looking between Grady and I, face pale. “B-but you…you were dead. How did you—?”
Grady appears next to me, hand out. I take it and he nestles me close to his side, under his arm. Then we both turn to a still and silent Biff. “Miss me, Boss?”

 

~~~GRADY~~~

I’m waiting outside as Maisie enters the lion’s den. As the door closes behind her, a rush of familiar air brushes my face.
It’s the air of the trailer, scented like carpet glue and cigarettes and Biff’s cologne—
My heartbeat speeds up until it feels like it’s going to pop like a water balloon.
Before I realize what’s happening, I’m back behind the building, on all fours in the dirt, blind with blood and pain, but I can still smell his cologne through my broken nose. I hear his words and his voice, artificially sympathetic.
And like a time-lapse movie, I suddenly remember everything that happened before that moment. And after it.
I gasp for breath, slumping against the wall, weakened by the gallop of memories and sensations assailing me.
Biff didn’t kill me himself—his hands didn’t beat my body—but he was just as responsible as those who did. He’d known exactly what was going to happen when he took me to the skull-faced man, I’m sure of it. And he was okay with it.
He’s a dangerous man, a guilty man, and I’d just sent Maisie in there with him alone.
I’ve heard nothing from the present while I was trapped in my memories, but through the door I hear Maisie faintly calling my name.
I tear the trailer door open and fly in, to see her arm in his bruising grip, his expression threatening more violence.
This was not going to go well for him.
Biff doesn’t say anything when I ask him if he’s missed me. He’s still trying to work this out, how I could be here when he was so sure I was dead.
I can’t wait to tell him that there’s no way to work it out in his head. I’ve given up trying, and accepted it.
I’m still dead.
Maisie has a hand to her arm, and the red marks under her fingers are lighting up my spine with rage, making my vision pulse between normal and flat black, but I’m keeping it in check.
Barely.
It was one thing to kill me. But no one puts a hand on my wife.
I turn to her, put my hand on her shoulders. “Maisie, I want you leave. Lock the door behind you.”
She shakes her head and puts a desperate hand on my arm. “Wait, listen. Biff says Travis committed suicide last night. That he was guilty of killing you, and he killed himself because of it. After my visit.” Her eyes are wide and wet and I know she’s feeling responsible. “I don’t know if I believe him, but if he’s right…”
I don’t know how I feel about Travis yet. I’m torn between sympathy and justification. He’d tried to stop it. Minimally, but still. Travis didn’t kill me, he just buried me. And he did it by the order of those who would probably have done the same to him if he refused. He did deserve punishment, but I’m not sure death was it.
I turn to glare at Biff. “He’s lying. I wouldn’t be surprised if he killed him himself.” Over his protests, I put my lips to Maisie’s ear and whisper, “I remembered.”
Pulling back, I meet her gaze and nod. I keep my voice and expression mild. “I need you to do this for me, okay sweetheart? I need you to go out and lock the door.” I rub my hands up and down her arms, but I’m already getting a little disassociated. I hope she can’t tell. “It’s the only way we’re going to get him to confess.”
She looks to Biff, and nods. She knows I’m right. I herd her to the door with one eye on Biff. “Don’t open the door for any reason, no matter what you hear, until I tell you too, okay?”
“Okay.” But then she looks at me, and I know she can see me, see what’s happening. She grabs my chin and gives me a hard kiss. “Be careful.” Her stare is loaded and direct. And then the door is closing behind her in a subtle cloud of her perfume.
When I hear the click of the lock engaging, my shoulders relax, and I bend my neck first one way, and then the other, cracking it.
With a slow turn, I meet Biff’s eyes. There’s a lot going on there. Confusion, anger, determination, and a little bit of panic that makes me smile.
This is going to be so much fun. “You look a little surprised to see me. Why is that?” I take one slow step in his direction, then another.
He doesn’t budge. “I am. I thought you were dead. ”
“Why is that, Biff?” I want to know if he’ll admit it with me right in front of him.
“I saw your body. I—I called the police. I went to your funeral.”
Looks like he won’t.
“Hmm,” I reply as I take another step, hand on my chin. “That can’t be it. Could it because you had me beat to death and buried under a ton of dirt?” I drop the pretense and stare at him. “I remember everything.”
And finally, with one more purposeful step in his direction, he takes a little one back. I’m getting to him.
He gives a nervous laugh, and gestures at me. “I’m up to my eyeballs in debt, and I got a family to feed, same as you. I couldn’t let you tell. I’m sorry how things went, but you’re okay now. You obviously didn’t die. So we can work this out, right?”
“Sure, we can. But on my terms. Because you touched Maisie, and because you’re wrong about one important thing.” He opens his mouth to ask what, but I don’t give him the chance. “I did die.”
He laughs, but it’s short-lived.
I advanced toward him slowly, and for every step forward, he takes one back. I glare at him, and welcome the blackness in. “You’re going to call the police and confess to everything,” I continue, voice low. “To burying the waste in this site, and any other site you’ve ever done it at. And your going to confess to hurting me so Maisie can get the insurance money to live on.”
“And if I don’t?” he asks, eyes glittering, chest puffed out, so certain he has some kind of upper hand.
I glance down at my fingers, as if I’m checking my manicure, when in reality my vision is going flat and dark around the edges. “If you don’t…” I wait until I know my eyes are red, and then I look back to him. “I’m going to eat you.” It comes out as a growl, and he’s taking lots of steps away from me now, but I follow him at an easy pace. “Are you going to confess?”
“It’ll ruin my life, my business—”
“If you don’t, or you if try to run, I’ll hunt you the rest of your life until I catch you. I’m undead, I can’t die, thanks to you. At least, not again. And thanks to those chemicals you buried me in, from the lab? I regenerate. Nothing can kill me.” Save beheading, but I wasn’t going to tell him that. I hold my arms out, smiling with lots of teeth, because my curse has become our salvation. He gets it now. He looks like he’s going to bolt, and I want him to. I want to chase him, like a fox chases a rabbit. “It could take years, but I’ll find you.” I pursue him around the room. “I know your smell, Biff. I can track you. You’ll never be able to trust the darkness. Because some night, I’ll be out there, waiting. And you’ll fall asleep behind a locked door, thinking your safe. You won’t wake up until I take the first bite.”
My eyes are focused on his sweaty temples where the veins are bulging and pulsing. As I stare at them, it’s like I can taste platelets in the air with each beat of his heart. It’s beating fast, thumping against his chest and my eardrums. He’s scared, and it makes him smell delicious.
Will he scream when I catch him?
I pause in the act of taking another step. It bothers me, in a distant way, that I’m thinking about Biff like prey. But I’m hungry, and he’s bad, and he hurt my wife and that’s all I can care about at the moment.
I lurch forward again.
Still, the two sides of my brain war with each other, the rational side and the hungry side, stopping and starting my steps in an unsteady rhythm.
But it’s gone too far to stop, now. I welcomed the darkness in. I needed it. And he deserves it.
He goes to pound on the door, begging Maisie to let him out, but I snatch him back and spin him around, and then lift him up and pin him against the wall.
I tighten my hand around his neck, my vision tunneling down to just his face. “Are you going to confess?”
“Please,” he whines. “If I snitch on the lab, they’ll kill me.”
I shake him, then lay my forearm over his throat. “It would be nothing less than you deserve,” I sneer into his face, a little spittle coming out with my words. “Confess!” I bare my teeth.
“Yes, I’ll confess,” he chokes out. “I’ll tell them everything.”
“I’m going to make sure you do,” I growl, and I lean in toward his face, the blackness enclosing us both.

 

~~~MAISIE~~~

When my husband told me to leave the room and not open the door for any reason, I knew Grady was going to do something to make sure Biff confessed. I thought I could handle it.
Even when Biff rattled the doorknob, begging for me to let him out, I ignored it.
But then the screaming started. This was a new scream. He wasn’t asking me to open the door. It was an animalistic noise of fear and pain, something I’d never heard before, and even with my hands over my ears and my eyes clenched shut, I can’t handle it.
Something is wrong.
Tears running down my cheeks, I drop my hands. I just want to drop to my knees and cover my head until it’s over, but I can’t let Grady kill Biff. No matter what he’s done, I just can’t. And I have no idea how far Grady will go. Too far, by the sound of it.
Hands shaking, I scrape the key into the lock and turn the knob.
I cover my mouth in horror when the door swings open. Grady has Biff pressed against the wall. Grady’s face is hidden from me by Biff’s, but the look on his face, in his eyes… the blood and sweat soaking the front of his shirt tells me what’s happening.
My husband is eating his boss.
“Help me!” he begs.
“Grady, stop!” I yell. Nothing happens.
I run to them and try to jerk Grady away, but he pushes me off with one strong hand. I grab his shirt and his hair, my heart in my throat, and yell into his ear as loud as I can. “Stop it! Get away from him!”
He turns and suddenly he’s overwhelmed me, growling and gnashing his teeth at me as I barely hold him back with my forearm under his chin.
I’m terrified as I hold him back and look into the void behind his eyes. This isn’t my husband, this is a rabid monster out for my blood.
Biff scurries back beside me, and that catches Grady’s attention. Biff freezes as Grady pins him with his crimson stare. It gives me a second to breathe, to think.
They say you shouldn’t wake up sleepwalking people, because they could be dangerous. It was like Grady was in a similar state. He had that same empty look in his eyes as the few times I’d seen my dad sleepwalking. My mom had cautioned me never to try to wake him. Instead, she’d lead him back to bed with a calm voice and demeanor.
I needed to lead my husband back to me, too. Only I’d disturbed a hungry zombie.
“Grady, I’m your wife.” I use my firm but calm ‘we need to talk’ voice. “Stop trying to hurt me.”
He pauses in trying to overpower me. His face was still blank, but he must have heard me on some level. I keep going, trying to keep the desperation out of my voice.
“Baby, it’s me. Calm down. Come back to me.” He stares back at me with sightless eyes, blood around his mouth. “Baby, please,” I beg. I’m terrified, disgusted, but I know my husband is in there, and I have to try to reach him. Tears burn my eyes. “I need you to come back to me.”
I stare down the monster, not sure he can even hear me. But he finally lets go of me and takes a step back.
But Biff, idiot that he is, has gotten up off the floor and is bolting for the door.
Grady looks over at him, and in a flash, he’s behind Biff, has him in a choke-hold, and is trying to pull his mangled neck closer to his mouth.
Biff screams, but that only serves to make Grady tighten his arms and try harder to drag him to the ground and get another bite.
“Grady, you have to stop.” I’m not yelling this time. I walk to the other side of Biff so Grady can see me. “Don’t kill him. If you do, you won’t get justice, and I know how important that is to you.” I slowly rest my hand on his tense shoulder. “If you kill him, he can’t make his confession and this will all have been for nothing.”
Biff falls to the floor and crawls behind me, leaving me between him and the rabid zombie again.
He’s such an ass.
Meanwhile, Grady is standing silent and blank. I need him to come back to me. Voice wavering and hands shaking, I slowly step closer to him. “Baby, it’s Maisie. Can you hear me?” He doesn’t move, but at least he’s not slobbering at Biff’s neck any more. I slip under his arm and put mine around him, in the same midnight pose as my mother and father, gently leading him toward the doorway that Biff is half-crawling through.
“Biff!” I call. He stops for a second and flashes a look at me, hand to his neck. “Take out your phone and make that call to the police right now, or I’ll sic him on you and let him finish.”
I’m reasonably certain he will confess now. Surely, getting nibbled on by a zombie will make him re-evaluate his priorities.
Surely.
If he says no, I’m not sure what I’m going to do. I wouldn’t really let Grady finish him, but I need him to think I will, so I glare at him as I pretend to step away from Grady.
He fumbles the phone out of his pocket, and now I see the damage. His ear is gone, and there’s a bit of flesh missing on his neck beneath it. There’s teeth marks, and everything is still oozing blood.
Yum. My stomach turns.
He stares at the two of us and dials, breathing hard. When I hear the operator on the other end of the phone, there’s a moment of fear where I think Biff is going to tell them we attacked him, instead of what he’s supposed to say.
But face pale and waxy, eyes vigilant on Grady and pleading to me, he starts. “I need to confess to a crime. A—a few crimes.”
He tells them about the toxic waste at the condo site. And at previous sites that I know nothing about.
Then there’s a long period of silence on his end.
“Annnnnnnnnd,” I prompt, tilting my head at a still catatonic Grady.
Biff takes a deep breath. “And I killed someone. But I had help.”
Then I have to listen to Biff tell the police that he killed my husband with the help of the muscle from a local laboratory and Travis’ excavator skills.
Travis too? God. My previous sympathy for him evaporates.
Hot tears falling down my cheeks, I look over at Grady. This is all because of greedy, evil men. He’s not himself because of them, it’s not his fault. I can forgive him. For what I saw, for what he did. For what he almost did.
But I can’t worry about that right now. I need to get Grady home before someone sees, or he decides he’s ready for dessert.
Dessert wife.
I laugh at my own stupid joke, because I’m barely keeping it together as we make slow progress to the door.
Grady stops and turns his head toward me. “Maisie?” His voice is slurred, but his soul is there in his eyes again, instead of the emptiness of before.
With a relieved sob, I put my hand to his cheek. “Yes, it’s me.” I’ve touched blood somewhere, and my fingers leave a red print when I pull my hand away.
“Maisie…” He grabs my hand and holds it to his chest. “I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay,” I say, patting his chest, his blood-soaked shirt. But it’s not. Nothing is okay. “Let me take you home.”
I lead him to the car, and by the time we get there, he’s shaking. I grab a blanket from the back and wrap it around him, and then get in and drive, trying to keep my mind blank.
Nothing is okay, but it’s going to be. Biff made the call to the police. He confessed. He would tell them about the laboratory and the toxic waste and the goons, and they would be brought to justice too.
And Grady didn’t give into the darkness. He didn’t kill Biff, and he didn’t hurt me. It was close enough there for a minute that I still feel shaky and nauseous, but everyone is okay. Everything is going to be okay.
Grady stares silently ahead, unmoving, for the whole trip. Until the very end.
I’m pulling into the driveway when Grady breaks his silence and says, “Maisie, I have to die. Again.”