6. Terry and Madeleine

Madeleine woke up first.

She lifted her arm from his stomach slowly, gently. She untangled her hair from his. She stood up from the couch and stared down at him for a moment. The greyish light of another cloudy, windy noon in the city shone in through the blinds.

Madeleine pulled out her cell phone. Judy. She had to call Judy.

She walked down the hall and into the bedroom, closing the door. She called Judy, pacing the floor in small circles as she waited for her sister to pick up. The phone rang once, twice … six times … ten times …

"Hey, it's Judy," a tired, throaty voice finally said on the other end.

"Judy, we're leaving town. Today."

"What? Why?"

"What do you mean 'why'? You know better than me what kind of mess we're in. Those creeps are after us, Judy. I saw the tape. They're after us now."

"Oh God, so you have the tape now. That's, that's great. That's just great."

"You can explain all this to me when you get over here."

"Okay, okay. Where's 'here'?"

Madeleine sat on top of the smashed television set, staring at the blank hardwood floor of the apartment. Terry sat cross-legged on the couch, leaned back, staring up at the ceiling. The silence between them was thick and viscous like tar. They were waiting. Waiting for a person they both knew in very different ways, a person they had both seen very different sides of.

"How are we gonna get out of this city, anyway?" Terry muttered. "We don't even have a car."

Madeleine slipped her hand out from the front pocket of her sweatshirt and revealed the gun she was clutching in her small, delicate fingers. "We have the means with which to get one," she said, pragmatically.

Terry gave a tired smile. Then his neck lolled back again, and he resumed staring at the lunar, pockmarked surface of the ceiling.

The doorbell rang.

Madeleine burst up from her uncomfortable seat on the remains of the television set. Terry rose from the couch. They exchanged a quick glance, and Madeleine walked up to the front door and looked through the spyhole.

"It's her."

She slid the bolt aside, unlocked the door and opened it a crack. "Are you alone?"

Judy nodded.

Madeleine slipped the chain off, then opened the door, let Judy walk in and slammed the door shut. Judy's eyes flicked back and forth between her sister and the strange man. "Who the hell's he?"

"Terry," Madeleine said. "He's on the run, too. He … he helped me."

"What do you mean?" Judy said, frowning. "And … do I know him? His face looks a bit … familiar."

"There'll be time for explanations later on," Madeleine said, clearly wanting to stay in charge. "Right now we have to steal a car and just go. Go far, far awa-"

The front door behind Madeleine burst open, smacking into her from behind. She fell on the floor, dropping the gun. Judy screamed when she saw the people who had forced their entry from the hallway.

"I see we're all gathered," Daddy Longlegs said with a slight, sardonic smile. "Is it the witching hour?"

With a quick, insect-like movement of his spindly leg, he put down a foot on the gun Madeleine had dropped and slid it back across the floor. One of his thugs picked it up and grinned as he now had two guns to train on Terry, Judy and Madeleine. The other two thugs carried pump shotguns. Terry and Judy stood frozen.

"How … how did you find us?" Judy said in a weak attempt at stalling.

"It was easy. We followed you here, Judy," Daddy Longlegs said. "Thank you."

Madeleine groaned and stood, tentatively, on wobbly legs, touching a finger to the back of her head. "Why do you … Why can't you just leave us … alone," she muttered, leaning back against the wall.

Daddy Longlegs smiled at her, politely, patiently. "Because you are prey. Because you know too much, and you must be dispensed with. But not here."

He turned and nodded to his goons. They each moved to stand behind Terry, Madeleine or Judy. Then, almost simultaneously, they pulled something out from a pocket in their jackets and moved a hand around the heads of their prey, pressing something against the three struggling people's faces.

Terry smelled something harsh and chemical, felt the wet cloth against his mouth and nose, tried to hold his breath …

… but it was too late; he had breathed the fumes in …

…and the last thing he saw was Daddy Longlegs' lopsided grin, then

dark

-ness

His head felt like something was drilling through his temples from the inside. His eyes felt like the lids were made of broken glass. They opened, slowly and painfully. He saw a room. An office. Daddy Longlegs' office.

The TV screens that covered the walls from floor to ceiling were all showing the same footage. They were the only light source in the windowless, lampless confinement. And the footage shown was that of a red hallway. A girl walking toward the camera.

"Oh, God," Terry murmured. He closed his eyes again, then opened them, hoping that he could somehow change the channel and see something else. But there it was again, the dark room, the TV screens. And now he could feel the rest of his body. He could feel his wrists, tied with sturdy rope behind his back and the back of a chair. He could feel the rest of his body, slouching, aching, trapped.

And now he could see the other occupants of the room. Judy on his left, Madeleine on his right, both strapped onto chairs in the same way.

He felt a slow, cold, sinking sensation in his stomach. He knew what that sensation meant. He had felt it so many times before. It meant that he was, pretty much, fucked.

"Good morning, guys!" Daddy Longlegs said with mock cheerfulness. Terry could make him out now in the ghostly glow from the TV screens. He was sitting on the edge of his desk, his grin thin and sharp like a blade. "Or good afternoon, or good evening. I'm not quite sure. Goodnight, perhaps. Say goodnight."

Judy let out a dry, hacking cough. "Please," she said, her voice a feeble groan. "Please just let us go. We won't tell anyone anything. We'll just … disappear …"

"Oh, but I can make you disappear too," Daddy Longlegs said with a wide grin. He stepped toward the tied-up woman and explained in a precise, schoolmasterish voice: "I can make you disappear more efficiently than you would be able to on your own. So why not leave it to me?"

"Fuck you," Madeleine sputtered, struggling with the sturdy rope. Her chair barely moved an inch as she tried to lunge forward, her body restrained. "They'll get you someday. Even if you kill us, they'll get you someday. When the cops find out about the Neverland business, they'll put you behind bars and throw away the key."

"Oh, no more clichés, please," Longlegs said, not even glancing in Madeleine's direction as she struggled with her bonds. "No heroics, no grandeur, please. This is not martyrdom. All you have done amounts to nothing. Your attempts to stop my business, to stop the system in this city, amount to nothing. It's almost funny." He walked up to his desk, running his fingers over the row of cages, jars and small vivariums. He gazed lovingly at the rare, illegally imported specimens from South America and Africa. "Don't you know, Madeleine? I own the police. I pull their strings. I tell them to turn a blind eye to the things I don't want them to see, and they obey."

"I thought you just told us to stop spouting clichés," Terry said.

"Shut up," Daddy Longlegs said, calmly, as he turned around. "Just shut up, sit tight, and … enjoy the show." He grinned.

Now Terry saw what Longlegs was holding in his hands, and his eyes widened with the hopeless realization of what was going to happen. All work and no play would make Daddy Longlegs a dull boy, and this was definitely not work. No, Daddy Longlegs was going to have some fun with his three captives. He was going to take his time with them.

Longlegs held out the small glass box for the other three occupants of the dark room to see. They could all see the motionless shape inside, with its sleek black body and eight short legs. It resembled a small tarantula, but Terry got a feeling its bite would be more dangerous and far more painful.

"This here is an Australasian funnel-web spider," Daddy Longlegs began in the calm, objective voice of a teacher. He stepped toward Judy. The woman struggled to push her chair backwards, away from the glass box in Longlegs' hands. Longlegs spoke, calmly, objectively: "This is a male. The males are far more aggressive than the females, with a greater level of venom toxicity."

"Please," Judy whimpered as he approached her. "Please just … If you're going to kill us, please just shoot us or something. It'll be quicker, right? You want it to be quick, right?"

Daddy Longlegs shook his head no, a smile slowly creeping across his face. He continued: "The bite can be very painful due to the size of the fangs and the acidity of the venom. Symptoms include agitation, confusion, hypertension, nausea and shortness of breath."

"You sick fuck!" Madeleine screamed. "Shoot us! Just shoot us! Make it quick! Not like this! Not like this …"

Terry was silent, struggling with the rope. He felt the pain burn, felt the rope scrape his skin off, as he tried in one hard, continuous movement to pull his wrists through.

"The onset of severe envenoming can be very rapid, depending on the victim's physique and the power of the bite. Death results from intracranial pressure or progressive hypotension."

Judy sobbed, struggling, pushing the chair backwards by inches, centimetres.

Daddy Longlegs pulled one wall in the cage up. The funnel-web spider was free to crawl out, onto Judy's shivering body. He lowered the cage toward her –

and

there were voices in the offices outside. Longlegs' thugs, shouting. "Hey, you can't go in there! Hey! This is a private offi-"

Gunshots.

Three rapid gunshots. Then footsteps, running, growing louder.

The door to the darkened room burst open behind Terry. Sharp, yellow light flooded in, stabbing at the four occupants' eyes. Daddy Longlegs drew back, the box still in his hands, the spider still inside. He stared with narrowed, blinded eyes at the doorway. "Who … who is that?"

And for the first time since Terry, Madeleine and Judy had encountered the man, he truly sounded afraid.

A voice behind Terry, deep and hoarse. "A hero. A fucking hero."

"Seth?" Judy said, her voice a frail croak, her tear-streaked face pristine in the sudden light. She started to smile, a slight, widening, hopeful smile.

"Who's Seth?" Terry said. The doorway and the light were behind him. He could only see the figure's silhouette shadow on the floor in front of him. Whoever it was, he was holding a gun. And the gun was trained steadily on Daddy Longlegs. "What the hell's going on?"

The man in the doorway stepped into the room and walked up to Judy first. Terry saw the contours of a lean, black man in his thirties who he had never met before.

Judy smiled at Seth, her saviour, her deus ex machina. He reached down and placed something in her hands. "Here." A plastic handle … a blade, already flicked out. Judy's smile widened. She started moving the switchblade in small, sawing motions across the rope between her wrists.

Seth stepped back into the doorway where he had a perfect overview of the room. Everything was under control now. They were all going to survive. Judy smiled, working the blade across the rope faster and faster.

"You were the one she was working for," Daddy Longlegs said, sounding more confident, more furious now. "You're that pathetic ex-cop. You're the one who was using Judy to try and fuck me over and expose the Neverland productions to the FBI."

Judy burst up from her chair, throwing the loose shreds of rope down on the floor. She walked up to Terry and bent down behind him, cutting the rope for him.

Daddy Longlegs smiled, as if this were all too ludicrous for him to feel the slightest hint of fear. "So is this what you're going to resort to? You're just going to kill me yourself? Is that your plan B?"

"Yeah," Seth said with a grin. "It's a good plan. I'm starting to like it much better than plan A."

And Seth's finger tightened on the trigger.

But

before -the shot that would have killed Daddy Longlegs

was

-fired

too many things happened, too fast. Terry could only register it all in a blur, a terrible blur, a few seconds that lingered and stretched out and felt like minutes.

Daddy Longlegs threw the box at Seth and vaulted over his desk, ducking behind it. Seth dodged the box, and it landed somewhere on the floor in the brightly lit room behind him, shattering. The spider scurried back into the warm darkness of Daddy Longlegs' office, and Terry and Judy screamed in shock as it darted past them. The blade cut through the final thread of the rope. Terry burst up from the chair, Judy standing behind him. Daddy Longlegs pulled a drawer out from his crouched-down position behind the desk and produced something from the drawer. There was the sound of a shotgun being pumped. Terry and Judy jumped to the side and ducked in a corner, leaving Seth exposed in the doorway, in the light. Madeleine screamed, still tied to the chair as the spider crawled rapidly across the floor, free and aggressive.

Daddy Longlegs burst up from behind the desk and fired his shotgun.

Seth fired his semiautomatic.

Daddy Longlegs' left shoulder jerked back in a small spray of chunks of flesh. Part of the pectoral girdle was left exposed, pearly white.

Seth was hit square in the chest. It wasn't like in the movies. He didn't go flying backwards. There was no big, red spray of blood. He just slumped down to his knees, blood trickling, brownish, from the small, black hole in his solar plexus. His lips quivered, trying to form words. His eyes moved back and forth as if he were reading something. Then he fell backwards and lay there, legs bent awkwardly, torso convulsing.

Judy was closest to the body. She had no time to waste. She lunged forward on all fours and pried the gun from Seth's twitching fingers, then spun around and fired with blind fury in Daddy Longlegs' direction. There was another booming shot from the shotgun. One side of Judy's head exploded, the cranium completely obliterated. It was like a missing frame in a spool of film; one moment her head was simply there, the next moment the right side of her scalp, down to her cheekbone, was gone. She collapsed, dead instantly, beside Seth on the floor. Cerebrospinal fluid pooled out.

There was a second of silence in the room.

Madeleine screamed. Terry jumped out from the corner, reaching for the gun that both Judy and Seth had failed to fire properly at their killer. Terry knew in that splitsecond as he reached out for the gun that it was hopeless. It was one last desperate attempt, one last vain attempt. Daddy Longlegs would blow his brains out in a splitsecond; he had the shotgun; he had it trained on Terry's head right now; he had his finger on the trigger right now, squeezing the trigger right now –

but then there was –

a roar

a roar of pain and shock from the dark figure of the shooter behind the desk. Terry grabbed the gun and turned around, not knowing why he was still moving, not knowing why he was still alive. He aimed the gun at Daddy Longlegs and fired, again and again and again, until there was no more ammo, until there was only a click, click, click, his finger squeezing the trigger again and again, click, click, click …

It

It was

over

It was

over.

It was over.

He stopped pulling the trigger, still kneeling in the doorway, out of breath. Something had happened, something strange and fortunate. And now it was over.

Terry stood on shaky legs, feeling light-headed, feeling as though he was in a trance. He should be dead. He should have died just now. He should be down there on the floor next to Judy and Seth.

Slowly, gingerly, he walked across the room. Madeleine was sobbing, still tied to the chair, her head bowed. Terry walked up to the desk which Daddy Longlegs was no longer standing up behind. He walked around the desk and looked down with wide, unblinking eyes at the body on the floor.

Daddy Longlegs had been shot once, in the side of the abdomen. He lay on his back, eyes wide with confusion and pain. Only one of Terry's shots had hit its target. This was wrong. This was all wrong. Daddy Longlegs should still be standing, perhaps weakened, but still able to pump lead into Terry and Madeleine.

And then Terry saw the spider. It was at Daddy Longlegs' ankle where it had bitten him. That was why the man had suddenly screamed in pain. That was why he hadn't fired at Terry. The spider's bite had killed Daddy Longlegs. And it had saved Terry's life.

Daddy Longlegs groaned and shook, blood trickling from the superficial wound in the side of his abdomen. Terry stood motionless, gun still trained on the defenceless man. His face emotionless, he watched the effects of the powerful bite kick in. He watched Daddy Longlegs' facial muscles twitch, his limbs convulse, his eyes roll and dart back and forth. The man was already dead. Now there was only the slow suffering left.

And Terry watched. He watched as Daddy Longlegs gasped for air, sweat gleaming on his light brown skin, a trickle of urine running down his pant legs. He listened as Daddy Longlegs groaned and whimpered and muttered incoherently, then inarticulately. He watched as Daddy Longlegs started to choke on his own thick globs of vomit as they slid back down into his throat. He watched as Daddy Longlegs' eyes focused on Terry's own cold gaze for one long, horrible moment. He watched the final, strong convulsions, then the stiffness, the pain ending, the eyes glazing over. He watched Daddy Longlegs die.

It took 15 minutes, maybe 30. He didn't keep track of time. He was hypnotized by the sight.

The spider still rested there, on the grey, decaying skin of Longlegs' ankle, as though proud of its victory.

Madeleine still sat tied to the chair, crying silently. Terry walked up to her and cut the rope with the switchblade. There was no need for words now. They walked up to the doorway, stopped, stared down at the two corpses. Madeleine covered her face with one hand and leaned into Terry's shoulder. Terry crouched down in front of the bodies. He reached out, hesitantly, then closed Seth's eyes and the one eye that was left on Judy's face. The eyelids felt cold, thin, sticky. They felt like briefmarks. It was a strange thing to think, but it was all Terry could think right now. The eyelids felt like briefmarks.

He stood. He stepped over the corpses. Madeleine hesitated, still sobbing. Then she followed him. They had to leave the building before the cops or more of Daddy Longlegs' thugs showed up.

They walked out of the room, through the offices. More corpses lay sprawled on the floor here, but there was no reason to care about these. They were the goons that Seth had killed on his way in here. The air was stale and heavy with smoke from both cigarettes and gunshots.

Terry and Madeleine stepped out to the small, pokey foyer of the office. The elevator was out of order. They walked down the stairwell, down twelve storeys to the first floor. They did not speak. They did not look at each other. They stepped through the double doors to the street. Rain poured from darkening skies. It trickled down their pale faces, down Madeleine's sallow cheeks, blending with the tears and the blood.

There was a lone car parked in front of the building, a grey BMW. Madeleine recognized it. The door to the driver's seat was ajar, swinging slightly back and forth in the strong gusts of wind. Seth hadn't slammed it properly in his rush to get up to Daddy Longlegs' office and save the three captives. Terry slipped into the driver's seat without hesitation. The key was in the ignition. He opened the door to the passenger seat from the inside. Madeleine walked around the car and sat down beside him. She slammed the door, somewhat harder than necessary.

They sat there, motionless, for a few seconds. The rain drummed against the windshield.

Terry started the car.