The first night without Allison and Jerry already wasn't sleeping. He spoke to her around ten and told her he was getting in bed, which he had, but now he just lay there with the television on in front of him. Around midnight, the Brand stories began. He couldn't remember what he had been watching, maybe reruns of Friends, but it was broken up by a news alert.
He changed the channel, wanting to stay away from it, but that did little as every channel he went to had basically the same story.
Matthew Brand escaped from The Wall.
Matthew Brand last seen in Texas.
Somehow though, they managed to take those two sentences, the only thing they really knew, and stretch them out into hour-long segments. They weren't simply going to report the news and let it go until more information arrived. No, they were going to whip the public up into a frenzy. He left the television on, unable to find anything worth watching and unable to fall asleep. He thought about grabbing the book off the nightstand, but he finished it last night and didn't want to restart it.
Might as well learn about what Allison was up against. He remembered a good deal of it, more than he thought when she woke him up this morning telling him she had to go. He was already sure that every major station would have some kind of recounting of Matthew Brand's life playing within the next couple of days.
What Allison was up against.
The words echoed through his head like it was a canyon. As if his wife was going into hand-to-hand combat with Brand. She was directing a massive team trying to monitor his whereabouts and all his communications. She wasn't up against anyone. She was leading a large force against one man, and for some reason, that made Jerry just the slightest bit bitter. Maybe it was because by the time Allison called tonight, her daughter was already in bed. Maybe it was because Marley didn't even ask today if she'd be able to talk to her Mom. Maybe it was because he sat here unable to sleep because she had left again.
He closed his eyes, took a big breath, and let it out slowly.
None of that was fair. He knew her career when he asked for her hand. He knew what it entailed. None of this was a surprise to him. Even so, this time felt different. It felt like what was supposed to be a rare thing. The type of manhunt that made careers. These were becoming a regular part of their lives. He didn't mention it to Allison this morning because she knew as well as he, but this was the third in a year. The third time she'd left him and Marley and gone off to another life that he couldn't ever truly understand. Most spouses, they could relate to a day at a job. They could relate to the reason the spouse went to that job. Bills to pay, mouths to feed, and the all-consuming struggle to make ends meet. Not in their case though. This wasn't about meeting ends each month, not for Allison—he understood that part—what he didn't understand was the nearly fanatical dedication for this job. The willingness to sacrifice almost everything if need be for it.
It was dawning on Jerry, after fifteen years of marriage, that he might not understand his wife. That he might not know the person he slept next to each night.
"Stop," he whispered, his voice barely audible over the drone of the television. You know Allison. You're just upset because Marley and you are here and she's not. That's all.
He reached for the remote and turned the television off. Brand would be on until Allison brought him in and there wasn't any need to sit here and watch it tonight. Just lie in the dark until you fall asleep.
Eventually his worrying stopped and he found the sweet darkness of rest.
* * *
Ten years had passed since Jeffrey Dillan wrote a book. Eight years since it was published. He didn't need to write another book, didn't really need to do anything ever again as far as money was concerned, but that didn't mean he didn't want to.
He had tried to write. Three separate times. Three separate murders in which he went to three different towns and interviewed hundreds of people. Jeffrey did the leg work, knew the murders inside and out, knew the murderers as if he were their parents, and nearly wept for the victims. Months on each project, collecting hundreds of pages of notes, all for naught. He sat down to write countless times, on each of the novels, and for a few days the words would come—once they even came for a week. Then they stopped, just dried up. He thought it was something inside him for a while, that he had lost the ability that he honed since the age of twelve. It took him three novels to understand he had nothing to do with it. Matthew Brand commanded his writer's block. After The Devil's Dream what was the point of continuing? What could he have to say, writing about second rate murderers, that hadn't been said before? There were no other Matthew Brands, so there were no more books for Jeffrey.
After the third try, he put away the notes and retired.
He still wanted to work, to reignite that passion that had consumed so much of his life. He couldn't though, so instead he drank. It was a slow process, replacing the research and writing with the bottle, but it was a process that he enjoyed. If he wasn't going to be writing, he might as well do something else fun. At eight in the morning, he had a bottle of vodka and a bottle of orange juice sitting on the counter. His head didn't hurt because he took it easy the night before. He'd gone to dinner with his agent, out of friendship rather than any hope of a book. He last spoke to Lecia six months ago and no mention of a book had come up, nor had it last night. She no longer considered the great Jeffrey Dillan a part of her work, he supposed. She would never drop him, of course not, because if for any reason he decided to actually put something out, millions of dollars would rain down on everyone involved. So she never mentioned him writing, but she never mentioned him finding another agent, and Jeffrey was pretty much determined that she would never need mention his drinking, either. No one need mention that.
Looking at the juice not yet poured and the vodka an inch deep in his glass, he thought (not for the first time) that it might be a problem. Not just yet, because obviously he hadn't had a drink last night, so he could stop if he needed—or at least put it to the side. Plus, what did it matter? He had no book in the hopper and he had the money to drink Belvedere for the rest of his life. He could probably even hire a little Mexican to come in here and squeeze fresh oranges for the juice if he wanted. The checks weren't nearly as big as they had been eight years ago, but were still deposited every single quarter.
For a long time, Jeffrey had his work; now he had his drink.
What scared him was that he seemed okay with his life now. He wasn't necessarily disappointed with the way life had turned out, wasn't desperately trying to find something to write about and wasn't hating the headaches when he woke up with them or the nights when he fell asleep on his living room floor staring at the ceiling fan with a beer resting on the carpet next to him. It was, more or less, comforting. It wasn't out of control, not yet, and maybe with some luck he could lounge around all day at his pool and drink his cocktails without developing cirrhosis of the liver or diabetes.
He liked drinking and he was accepting the fact that he would never write again.
Jeffrey poured the orange juice into the glass and didn't bother to stir it. He took a sip, relishing the sweet bitterness. What Lecia didn't know wouldn't hurt her.
He walked into his living room and sat down on the couch.
Oh, Matthew Brand, why did you have to go and get yourself caught?
Jeffrey smiled at the thought. The two of them could have had a long life together if Matthew could have kept his mouth shut a little better. Matthew killing, creating his monstrosity, and Jeffrey following behind writing book after book. A real life Nancy Drew series. Instead the fucking idiot had gone and got himself caught a year after starting and now Jeffrey wasn't going to be writing any more books because how do you follow up someone like Brand? Even O.J. Simpson and all that hoopla looked as pale as an albino next to Brand.
He thought about a follow up to The Devil's Dream, had even outlined the novel. He could focus on the lives of the families whose father's had been murdered, could focus on the science behind Brand's acts and where it was now (Jeffrey was pretty sure the government had taken what he'd done and began working on it the week after Brand was captured), as well as copy-cats that had sprung up after him. Jeffrey even pitched it to Lecia, who of course said yes. Again, the millions would rain down even if he shit on some paper and put it between two pieces of cardboard and shipped it out to bookstores. Without Brand the story just seemed empty. The thing that mattered most was gone; the energy that created the national furor was locked up, never getting out.
"Jesus Christ," he sighed. "Stop thinking about it. Brand's gone, your career is gone, just sip your drink and maybe call over Rita in a little bit."
He turned the television on.
Jeffrey blinked three times in rapid succession, trying to clear whatever was in his eyes causing him to see things. Five years ago was the last time anyone had mentioned that name on television. Two years since anyone had put it in print. So why was Good Morning America showing it? The blinking didn't help and the words Matthew Brand didn't disappear from the screen. Jeffrey left his glass on the coffee table and rubbed his eyes, trying to get rid of what simply couldn't exist in front of him.
When he brought his hands down, the words were still there.
He put the three together.
Matthew Brand Escapes.
Jeffrey took the glass from the table and pulled long and hard from it, downing half its contents in one sip. He set it on his knee, took a few deep breaths, and then put the glass back to his lips and finished it off.
He hadn't heard a word of what was being said on the television. His heart boomed and his lungs trying to catch up with the massive gulps he used to finish what was supposed to last him all morning.
His phone rang, somewhere far off in another universe. It rang and rang, and then the answering machine picked up.
"Answer the phone, Jeffrey. I know you're there and I know you're seeing this."
Lecia. Matthew Brand's name on the television and Lecia on the phone. He was out, free, after Jeffrey had assumed him the same as dead all those years ago.
He stood up from the couch and walked to the phone in the kitchen, Lecia's voice still yelling at him to pick up, to listen to her for just a second.
"Hello?" He said, feeling both dazed and slightly buzzed.
"You're watching this right? Your man is out. Running across the country, apparently. This is your book, right here, Jeffrey. You don't have to wait until he's caught to write it."
Jeffrey turned and looked at the television across his house, different pictures of the murderer being thrown up on the screen. This is your book. He hadn't drunk his life into a state of semi-retardation yet. He hadn't trashed his computer upstairs. He could still write.
"Brand's not finished," Jeffrey said.
"That's even better. I mean that in the kindest way I can, but for your writing, it's a blessing. What do you think? Is this book material?"
He didn't listen to anything she said. He was inside his own mind, remembering, recalling what he had written about Brand, what he learned from him. The man wouldn't stop, not ever. Brand wasn't going to go away. He wouldn't slip into Mexico and live out the rest of his life quietly, maybe teaching a college class somewhere. Brand's life, at least the ten years after his son died, were dedicated to that boy. He hadn't repented. He wasn't remorseful for the people he killed or the families he ruined. He was single minded like a shark, except instead of blood he wanted his son. He had no other purpose for living, no other reason to be outside of the science-fiction cell they kept him in. He was out and...where was he heading? Where would he go first?
"Lecia, I have to get off."
"Wait, wait! What are you going to do?"
"I have to figure out where he's heading."
* * *
Jeffrey pulled into the self-storage unit (Climate Controlled in large orange letters written across the building), parking his car in front of the garage he had rented for the past eight years. Everything he'd ever collected on Matthew Brand was inside it, filed away with a large tarp of plastic covering his notes in order to keep dust from settling. He hadn't been here since he locked it all those years ago, hadn't had any desire to dredge up the glory days. He collected checks and that was the only reminder he needed about his time spent learning of Matthew Brand. Coming in here would simply have reminded him of what he once was and would no longer be.
He stepped from his car, his buzz full on now from the drink he chugged at the house. It made him happy, sure, but that wasn't the only reason he felt like today was the best day he had seen in some time. He felt reborn, like opening this garage was going to allow him a resurrection, the same as Christ when someone rolled away that huge boulder from the garage they kept him in. He could find Matthew Brand; the answers were all filed away inside the storage unit—meticulously filed. If Brand was on the mission his arrest had stopped him from completing, which he was, then where he needed to go would be housed inside here. No one in the world knew the man, knew what he wanted, better than Jeffrey.
He walked to the garage door, put the key in, unlocked the deadbolt, and lifted.
The smell of paper and dust long forgotten flooded out. Air that hadn't moved in years finally having a bit of freedom, yearning to mix with its family outside.
Jeffrey walked in, turning the light on by flicking a switch on the wall. A large, clear tarp covering boxes that went twenty feet deep, plastic things with lids on top of them. A few were stacked on top of each other, but he had tried to keep from doing that too much in case—
Well, in case he needed to look through some of this stuff.
He placed his hand on the plastic tarp stretched across everything and pulled, using both hands to open up the part of his life he'd left so long ago. He pushed the tarp out into the parking lot, not concerned a bit if it blew away.
He walked into the weeds of paper and opened the first box.