Women of a certain type had begun taking precautions. My housekeeper Mimi, for example. She had lopped off
that beautiful brown hair of hers and taken to wearing baseball caps. My tennis partner Charlotte had gone
even further, not only cutting her hair but dying it red as well. There were countless others who’d gone to such
measures. But then there were some, such as me, who refused to go so far as to alter their physical
appearances. I opted instead to simply exercise more caution than usual, like taking care to go places in
groups, especially at night, when women of my type were said to be especially vulnerable.

So far there had been seven victims – known victims, I should say – of the killer dubbed by the media as the
Bayside Reaper. Each of the victims had long, lustrous brown hair, and pale, mousy faces. Each was in her mid-
to late-thirties, was married, and lived in the suburbs. Each was short and had a small frame. The front page of
last week’s Register, below the headline “WHEN WILL IT END?,” showed their pictures, seven headshots aligned
horizontally. Much was made of their similarities. They could have been sisters. And my picture could have fit
right in among theirs.

It was the main topic of conversation everywhere, talk of the Reaper on everyone’s lips or not far from it.
Tasteless jokes abounded, radio DJs playing “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” ad nauseam, grim reaper Halloween
costumes outselling the other ones…all of which induced the kind of laughter whose underlying nervousness
pointed to the fear that gripped the city. We were terrified. Obsessed and terrified.

So it was natural, after our book club study, eating gourmet salads at a café’s outdoor table, that the
conversation Julia and I were having would eventually turn to the topic of the serial killer. Natural and even
inevitable, as we had just spent the last hour at our book club discussing our recent selection, “The Turn of
the Screw,” which had primed our minds for morbid talk.

“You know,” Julia said, pointing at me with her fork before spearing a cherry tomato in her salad, “you really
should think about cutting your hair. Do you realize how much you resemble all those women?”

Julia was blond, younger than I by almost a decade, and strikingly beautiful. The men walking by on the
sidewalk gaped at her and turned their heads to keep looking at her as they moved on. Along with her looks,
she possessed a self-assurance that I had never known, giving her an air of nobility that might have suggested
entitlement had she not been touched by a level of sweetness uncommon in one so attractive. I often
wondered why she spent time with me. We’d become close friends since meeting at the book club, but I didn’t
feel half as clever or self-assured as she. Every time there was a lull in our conversation, I feared she would
simply stand up and walk away, with no explanation. Just leave me here with my mouth hanging open.

“I’m not cutting my hair,” I said. I ran a hand over the top of my head and felt the sun’s warmth on it. “I’m not
going to allow some psycho-freak asshole to determine how I conduct my life.”

“Rose, we’re talking about a haircut,” she said.

“All the same.”

“I think it’d look great, a nice shoulder-length cut.” She squinted her eyes at me, visualizing it. “Yeah, that’d be
nice.”

“You think so?” I said, and tried to picture myself with short hair.

She glanced away then, at a woman walking a Dalmatian. It was here that our conversation languished. I
struggled internally for a topic to get us talking again. Julia looked bored. I witnessed her surreptitiously
checking her watch.

I took a sip of my coffee and felt a stab of panic. Any second now Julia would announce she’d just remembered
she had something to do, and her bullshit excuse would carry her away from me, maybe forever. I had a
thought. An idea. It just came out of nowhere. Before I could stop myself, I widened my eyes out at Julia and
said, “Did I tell you what happened to me last week in the parking garage at work?”         

“Nope. I don’t think so.”

“I didn’t tell you? Are you sure?”

Julia grinned. “No, you didn’t. But you’d better now.”

“This was Friday. I worked late, and by the time I left there was no one around. It was dark outside, going on
maybe about nine o’clock. I got my stuff and headed out to the parking garage.”

“By yourself?” She looked appalled.

“I know, I know.” I shrugged guiltily. “It was stupid. But there was nobody else around. And I figured the odds
were pretty slim I’d run into the Reaper. So I headed out to the parking garage, went to the fourth level where
I always keep my car, and found the place totally deserted, with the exception of my little hatchback.”

“Hold on. Is this story going to freak me out?”

I smiled and switched to telling my story in the present tense, which is a much more immediate and involving
way to tell a story, I’ve always found. “So I’m heading to my car, and my heels are going clack-clack on the
cement floor, sounding unnaturally loud in all that empty quiet, and when I’m about halfway to my car, I stop.”
I straightened in my seat, turned my head to my shoulder, by way of demonstration. “I feel something behind
me, like someone’s breathing ever so gently on the back of my neck.”

I paused to take a bite of salad, and Julia made an impatient rolling gesture with her finger.

“I turn around,” I said. “A man is standing there. Not right behind me, far enough away, actually, that I can’t
make out anything specific about him. He’s just a silhouette. A shadowy shape. And yet there’s something
about the way he’s just standing there, unmoving, arms hanging loosely at his sides, that tells me he means to
do me harm.”

Julia shook her head with wonderment. “What’d you do?”

“I quicken my pace toward my car, meanwhile fishing in my purse for the can of mace Henry gave me for
Christmas, which at the time seemed like an incredibly unromantic and alarmist gift but which right now I could
kiss him for. I don’t want to turn around and look at the man, because I don’t want him to think I’m afraid,
though in reality my hands are trembling like leaves. But then, when I get to my car, I turn around to see
where he is. And he’s gone.”

“Where’d he go?”

“Exactly what I want to know. I’m so flustered that I drop my keys to the ground, and when I bend down to
grab them, I see a figure crouching under an SUV parked a couple of slots away. As I’m squatting there, frozen
in terror, he rises to his full height, and he’s huge, a giant.”

“I’d have had a heart attack on the spot.”

A man jogged past on the sidewalk, doing a double-take at the sight of Julia, jogging backward as he passed to
continue soaking her up with his eyes. Julia, likely inured to such stares, seemed not to notice.

“I’m too scared to act for several seconds,” I continued. “He smiles at me and begins walking my way. That’s
when I raise the can of mace. I unload it right in his eyes, and as he’s screaming, I get in the car and haul ass
out of there.”

Julia clapped her hands once. Then an unsettled look crossed her face. “Wait a minute. You said the parking lot
was deserted. That yours was the only car there. So how was this guy hiding behind an SUV?”

“I didn’t mean it was totally deserted,” I said. “And if I said that, I guess I was exaggerating.”

“Oh.” She took this in for a moment with her brow furrowed. Then she grinned and said, “You’re a badass,” and
I felt relief course through my system. She made to take a sip of coffee but stopped, the cup halfway to her
lips. “I assume you called the cops.”

“I called the building’s security, let them handle it.”

“Did they catch the guy?”

“I don’t know.”

“How could you not know? You didn’t try to find out?”

“I guess not.”

Julia shook her head and smiled. “You really are something.”

I beamed with pride. After we went our separate ways, I thought about the story I’d told her. Though it had its
problems – the hackneyed setting of the parking garage as a scene of female terror, the inconsistency in the
number of cars parked in it – I judged the story to be pretty decent. I even gave myself extra credit for having
made it up on the spot.

*     *     *

A few evenings after coffee with Julia, I sat in the living room with my husband Henry, who was lying on the
couch and reading a book of vintage crime stories while shoveling peanuts into his mouth from a bowl that was
balanced on the dome of his belly. I sat on an adjacent chair and flicked through TV channels, finding nothing
interesting and drinking glass after glass of wine in anticipation of the conjugal business I had ahead of me
tonight, my husband and I still trying for a baby. After a while, Henry closed his book and laid it on the coffee
table. He laced his fingers over his chest, and soon snores began issuing from his mouth. As I drank my fourth
glass of wine, I spent some time examining this man I called my husband, taking in his flaccid cheeks, his thin
lips which with their purplish tincture reminded me of raw liver, his graying hair that at times had a resinous
quality to it due to a chronic case of dandruff. My gaze traveled over the rest of his body, settling on his gut.
He’d gained a lot of weight since we’d gotten married, and every bit of it had settled there, in his stomach,
which was round and solid like a gourd. I’m actually going to let this man touch me tonight, I thought. I’m going
to let him sweat on me and grunt in my ear and slide his skinny gray shanks between my legs.

Henry’s snores built in intensity, reaching toward a crescendo until he snorted so violently that he awoke with
a jerk, causing the bowl of peanuts to almost topple. I suppressed the urge to scream at him to put the
goddamn peanuts on the table. He lifted his head a little, blinked his eyes dazedly, then chuckled and said what
he always said when his own snores woke him up – “Think I nodded off there for a second” – and I did what I
always did in response, which was to smile and nod.

“Everything okay with you?” he asked me.

“Yeah. Why?”

“You don’t seem like yourself tonight.”

“I’m fine.” Then, thinking this had come off a bit curt, I asked with a forced softness: “What are you reading?”

“Hm?” He looked at his book, his eyebrows rising. “Oh, nothing. An old detective story.”

“What’s it about?”

“A detective. And a crime he has to solve.”

“Imagine,” I said.

“Ha ha.”

He grabbed the book and returned his attention to it.

“Is it any good?” I asked.

Without lifting his eyes from the page, he wobbled a hand in the air and said, “Eh.”

I was suddenly gripped with an intense desire to hurl my wine glass at him. It quickly passed. If he didn’t want
to talk to me, so be it. I’d stop making the effort.

I was drifting toward sleep in my chair when there was a knock on the front door, making my half-mast eyes
slam wide open. Henry heaved a sigh, then put the book and the bowl of peanuts on the coffee table and said,
“I’ll get it.” He scratched his ass through his sweatpants as he padded across the carpet and opened the door.

On the porch stood a man and woman in professional dress. The man was tall and gray-haired, the woman
stout and black and a full head shorter than the man. At the sight of the badges affixed to their belts, I jumped
to my feet, a host of awful thoughts invading my head: my sister Paula must be dead, my parents must be
dead, my car has been broken into. Something along those lines.

“Henry Blank?” the man said, and Henry nodded. “I’m Detective Philips and this is Detective Moran. You mind if
we ask you some questions?”

“What’s this about?” I asked, before Henry could respond.

The man looked at me, chilly in his eyes. “Just some routine questions in an investigation we’re conducting.”

“What investigation?” Henry asked.

The man hesitated. I could tell he didn’t want to answer that question. Finally, he said, “It pertains to the
Bayside Reaper case. I can’t get much more into it than that.”

My scalp broke out in a prickling sensation. A stunned laugh came out of me. “What does Henry have to do
with that?” I swallowed my laughter in a throat gone suddenly dry, and said, “Is he a suspect?”

“No, no,” the man said. “We simply feel he may be able to help us out with something.”

I waited for him to elaborate. He didn’t.

“Why don’t you come in?” Henry asked.

“Actually, we’d rather you came down to the station with us. We’re trying to be as official as possible with
every aspect of the case.”

“I don’t understand this,” I said. “I want to know why you want to talk to my husband.”

Henry turned around and said, “It’s okay, Rose. I’ll go find out what this is about.” But he wasn’t looking at me.
He was looking longingly at his book, as if it was the most important thing in the room and he was loathe to
leaving it. I couldn’t help but feel a tad insulted.

“We’ll try to have him back real soon,” the man said.

I watched as Henry accompanied the man out the front door and felt as bewildered as I’d ever felt in my life. I
noticed there were two cars parked in front of our house and wondered why until I realized that the woman
detective was staying behind, closing the door in the wake of the two men, so that she and I were alone.

“You mind if we sit down?” she asked.

We sat on the couch. The woman produced a mini tape recorder from within her jacket, asked me if I minded if
she used it, then put the machine on the coffee table without waiting for my reply.

“I’m not answering any questions until you tell me what’s going on,” I said.

The woman looked at me for a long time. The silence began to press against all points of my body, like a deep-
sea pressure. When she finally spoke, it was with the gentlest of tones:

“Okay, Mrs. Blank. I’ll tell you. Your husband’s car was seen in the vicinity of one of the Bayside Reaper’s
victims shortly before her body was found.”

“So?” I grinned, then laughed. “That’s what you have on him? That his car happened to be there?”

“Well, no.” She took a deep breath. “He was cruising around the neighborhood, doing circles around this one
particular block and looking out the window at a certain apartment building. One of the neighbors of the victims
took notice of him and thought he looked suspicious, thought he might be there to score drugs, this being a
rough neighborhood where that kind of thing is routine, so she wrote down his license plate number. She didn’t
call the police at the time, but when she found out about her murdered neighbor, she called the tip line.”

“So what? I hardly call that evidence.”

“Me neither,” the woman agreed. “But we ran his license plate to find out who he was. And you know what?
Funny thing. His name was already on a list. See, we get hundreds of calls a week on the tip line, and most of
them are crap. It’d be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming to investigate every lead fully, so we zero in
on the ones that appear the most credible. If a name pops up twice or more from different callers, well,
suddenly that name becomes important to us. Your husband’s name was already in the database. Somebody
had called anonymously and said we ought to check him out for the murders. Is that a coincidence?” She
shrugged and pushed out her lower lip. “Maybe. But we’d be crazy not to look into it.”

“I bet it’s his job,” I said.

“Beg pardon?”

“Henry’s in sales, and he’s very good at it. But the competition is insane, and I wouldn’t put it past one of the
other sales guys to do this to him to try and get him out of the picture.” I forced a laugh. “I mean, come on.
Isn’t it a little convenient that this woman, this neighbor, happened to write down his plate number? How often
does that happen?”

The detective nodded. “Maybe you’re right. And if so, you have nothing to worry about. Soon’s we can rule him
out as a suspect, we’ll move on.”

“So you’re telling me that right now that you do in fact consider him a suspect.”

“Not as yet.” She crossed her legs and leaned forward, lacing her fingers over a knee. “Now it’s my turn to ask
you a couple of things. Okay?”

I shrugged, effecting nonchalance.

“Where was your husband two days ago, on Wednesday night?”

“He was here.”

“Okay, but specifically around eight o’clock. Was he here then?”

I thought about it. “I have an evening class on Wednesdays at the community center. Art Appreciation. I was
there last Wednesday and didn’t get home until about nine-thirty. To my knowledge, Henry was here.”

The woman took this in with a slow nod of her head. “Are there any other nights of the week you’re regularly
out?”

“Tuesday nights is ladies night, when a couple of my friends and I go out for drinks.”

“Yeah? Me and my friends do the same thing once a week. Good way to blow off steam. So you do this every
Tuesday?”

“Uh-huh.”

“What’s the typical time span between when you leave and get home on Tuesdays?”

I had the feeling I should shut up. But the words just kept flying out of my mouth of their own accord, like little
bats. “I leave at about five, get back anywhere from nine to midnight, depending on whether it’s a special
occasion like somebody’s birthday.”

“Any other days of the week you come home late?”

The prickling of my forehead had given way to sweat. I didn’t wipe it off for fear of drawing attention to it. “I’m
training for a marathon in the spring. I run with a group on Thursdays.” I told her the times that this practice
took place. “But that’s it. Other than those days of the week, I’m home right after work, about five-thirty.”

“Okay, so Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.” She regarded me for a moment. I tried to imagine what she
was thinking. Then she slapped her thighs and stood up, telling me she’d leave me alone now and handing me
her card so I could call her if I wanted to talk to her about anything. We’d made it almost to the door before
she stopped and said, “You know, the whole time we were sitting there talking, I was thinking to myself,
‘Damn, this woman looks just like the women who were murdered.’ But now that I think about it, maybe it’s
more significant to put it the other way around. The women who were murdered look just like you.”

“Profound,” I said. “You mind explaining what the hell it means?”

“I think you know, Rose.”

After she’d left, I toyed with the idea of ripping her card into confetti. But something stopped me. On the
computer in the den, I did an Internet search on the Bayside Reaper investigation. Thousands of hits came up.
But I was only interested in one aspect of the killings: the days of the week on which the women had been
killed.

Those days were Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. No other days.

Which proved nothing. There’d only been seven known murders. Had there been a hundred murders and all of
them had occurred on only those three days of the week, well, that would mean something. There’d be some
statistical significance.

I poured another glass of wine and bolted it down in the kitchen, then poured another. The house seemed
preternaturally quiet: no faucets dripping, no air conditioning rattling, no TVs or radios going. But of course, out
here in the land of suburbia, there is always noise, and soon enough I heard something, a thumping bass beat
from the stereo of a car coasting by.

After I finished the glass of wine, I walked around the house looking at framed photos, finding that my mood
had gone maudlin and weepy from the alcohol. Mostly I focused on the pictures of Henry. Sweet, goofy Henry.
In a honeymoon picture taken in the Bahamas, he was making bunny ears with his fingers behind my head. Who
did shit like that anymore? But that was Henry all over. Corny as hell but steady as a redwood. I looked at
dozens of more photos and decided no, Henry was no killer.

Then I came across a photo that chilled me to the core. It was a picture taken during a family Christmas party
several years ago, in the living room of my mother’s house. About a dozen people were in the frame, some
smiling at the camera, others smiling at each other as they passed around presents, everyone dressed in red or
green or both. And there in the background, half hidden behind a Christmas tree, was Henry. He was smiling at
the camera, too, but his smile was of a different order. With his head tilted forward to such a degree that he
was almost peering through his eyebrows and his enormous smile with the lips stretched back in a way that
revealed all of his teeth, he looked like a different man. In this picture, he looked maniacal. He looked like a
predator. And, hard as it is to admit it, he almost looked sexy.

I was not yet drunk, but I was on the brink. One more glass would do the trick. I poured that glass and took it
to the couch, where I sat with glazed, unblinking eyes and marveled over the turn of events I’d just been a
part of. What would happen if it got out that Henry was a suspect in the Bayside Reaper murders? Would
someone like Julia still want to be my friend? The answer, I thought, was yes. She would race over and throw
her arms around me and say, “Oh, honey,” the way she did when she felt sorry for someone, and she’d stroke
my hair as I lay my head on her lap, weeping. And what if – God forbid, but I had to consider it – what if Henry
was charged for the murders, then tried, then convicted? Would I somehow be guilty by association?

But that was a nonsense question. Henry had done nothing wrong. I knew my husband didn’t have it in him to
be a killer.

I took a sip of wine and shook my head. This would all blow over. My gaze fell on the book of crime stories
Henry had been reading, and I picked it up. I was curious to see if it contained any stories about serial killers,
not that that would mean anything. The book naturally fell open to a spot about halfway through its pages,
where something had been shoved into the binding. It was a stack of pictures. Polaroids, to be exact, four of
them in all. They were pictures of me.

I brought the pictures to the other side of the couch, holding them near the lamp so that I could see them
better. They were – holy shit – they were sex pictures. Looking at them, I flashed back to a time just after
Henry and I had gotten married when he’d shyly proposed that we engage in certain activities to spice things
up. In the bedroom, he meant. Like what? I asked. Like tie you up, he told me. And he mentioned a few other
S&M things he wanted to try. Till then our sex had always been awkward and tepid, shot through with rare and
fleeting moments of ecstasy but mostly mired in embarrassment and disappointment. I silently blamed this on
Henry and the difficulty he had keeping his noodle straight for extended periods of time, part of me always
wondering whether he was a homosexual. After his talk about wanting to tie me up, however, I knew his sexual
orientation wasn’t the problem. The problem was that he couldn’t get off on regular sex. He needed danger and
dominance to become aroused. I told him it was enough that I let him stick his grubby little member in me, and
that if he wanted to do those disgusting things in bed he’d mentioned, he’d better kill me first. I remember the
way his face flushed, how his hands fidgeted, how his gaze dropped to the carpet. He’d looked pathetic, and I’
d laughed at him. Cruel on my part, yes, but in my defense, I’d been pretty drunk at the time. And Henry
seemed to have gotten the message, for he never brought up the subject again.

And yet, here I was in these pictures, doing all those things I’d said I’d never do, and more. I flipped through
the pages of the book and found more pictures here and there. They grew progressively sicker as I progressed
through the book. The last ones had a lot of blood in them. The sight of the things I was doing in these
pictures, and the fear and pain in my eyes, made me gasp. Except, of course, it wasn’t me I was looking at.

I slid the pictures back in the pages of the book, then finished my glass of wine in three gulps. I felt detached
from myself, almost an impartial observer, curious to see how I would react to this discovery. Was I scared?
Was I sad? Confused? No, my inner observer noted, I was none of these things. I was calm. The question now
was what to do with this evidence. If I loved my husband unconditionally, I would burn the photos. But I didn’t.
I didn’t love him. So what? Most people didn’t love their spouses. Should I call the police? Or that detective
lady who’d given me her card?

I picked up the phone in the kitchen, meaning to call the detective, but instead I found myself calling Julia.

“Hello?”

“Julia, oh, thank God,” I said.

A pause. “Who’s this?”

“It’s Rose. Listen, can you talk?”

“Um…”

“It’s my husband. It’s Henry.”

Her tone changed immediately. “What’s the matter, honey? Is he okay?”

I swallowed hard, surprised to find that I was choked up, though that probably had more to do with the alcohol
than any genuine emotion.

“He’s…I don’t know how to say this,” I said.

“Tell me. Hey. Rose. You can trust me.”

I could tell by her voice that she was hooked. I smiled. Then I forced myself to stop smiling, because I’d once
read it was possible to hear a smile in someone’s voice over the phone.

“You’re not going to believe this,” I said.

“For God’s sake, Rose. What is it?”

“Can you come over here? I need to show you something.”

“Of course. Where do you live?”

I gave her the address and hung up. Then waited. People love a good story, there’s no doubt about that, and
by extension they love the person telling it. But if you really want to ensnare somebody for the long run, if you
want to set your hooks deep in her flesh, you have to bring her into the story. Literally. You have to make her
a participant, so that the two of you share the experience and emerge from it having forged a bond that can
never be broken. That was why I didn’t call the police right away. I wanted Julia to have to talk me into it.
Then we’d made the call together.

I dropped the photographs in a pile by the couch. I wanted it to look like I’d found the pictures and immediately
dropped them in terror. I spent a moment arranging them so they looked more scattered, then sat in a wing
chair and looked out the window, waiting for my friend Julia to pull into the driveway.
The Blanks
by Jack Thrift