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A detective seemingly without empathy solves a murder seemingly without reason. View table of contents...


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Submitted:May 25, 2012    Reads: 40    Comments: 2    Likes: 2   

Roman Nielens woke that morning to the sight of Lena's naked body, his usual sight on waking and, he supposed, one of his favorites. She was turned away from him. He put his hand on the tiniest part of her tiny waist, right above the curve of her hips, and she made a soft noise without waking up. He knew without looking that her face was soft and relaxed now as well, much more gentle than it ever was when she was awake. Lena was not a gentle person, by nature. He had some idea of the physical punishment of diet and obsessive exercise she put her body through to make it look like this. It was a large part of what she was paid for. And he liked her skinny, fit. He might offer some boyfriend-ish comment once in a while about how he'd love her no matter what she looked like, but of course they both knew that was bullshit. It made her laugh when he said it, sometimes.

He dressed quickly in the dark and headed out of the apartment without eating--there would be food at the show. He would normally drive, but the studio was right near the subway stop and parking was always a frustrating nightmare. Roman consciously avoided things that would make him angry, especially when Diane wouldn't be around. Besides, he liked the train: people-watching was one of the normal, socially-accepted things that made him happy. It was the vague, pointless happiness that was all he could ever muster, but it was something.

In the tasteful lobby of his building, he stopped by the wall of mailboxes and retrieved the mail he hadn't gotten last night, because Lena had been drunk, and after nearly leaving her on the lobby sofa he had realized that he'd need to help her upstairs in order to have sex with her that night. Such logical conclusions usually didn't take him so long, but he'd had more than one drink himself. It was mostly bills and ads, addressed to a Mr. Earle Demeterova. But, irritatingly, one of the letters was to him, Mr. Nielens at Seasons restaurant. No return address, . He ripped it open as he stepped out into the pre-dawn blue light.

The subway was mostly empty. Metro employees in day-glo vests opened the gates and chatted, while a few early workers swiped their cards and ran for their train into mid-town. Roman registered then as moving objects, ignoring a "Good morning sir" from the turnstyle overseer. He didn't run; he never ran for trains. He'd take the next. He sat on a bench next to an older Hispanic lady who scooted an inch down. Why did people do that? he wondered briefly. Move over an inch when a stranger sits next to them. Is it a courtesy thing, the surrender of this insignificant piece of ground? Or was she trying to get away from him? He turned his focus back to the letter that should have been delivered to his restaurant, or at least his PO Box.

It was fan mail. Typical. Just as typical as hate mail. Roman read: Dear Mr. Nielens, I wanted to tell you how much I greatly enjoy following your career and how you triumph in spite of (because of?) what you are. I am the same as you. My co-workers at the Fortune 500 company I work for often comment that I seem callous or unfeeling--and that was as far as he got before he crumpled the letter into a ball that he dropped on the station floor, to the subdued distaste of the woman. You aren't like me, he was thinking. Not if you greatly enjoy things. Not if you would bother writing such an idiotic letter.

Because every time someone told Roman how they were like him, he had realized after the dozenth-or-so time, they were actually asking a hidden question: am I really like you? And the answer had always, so far, been no. He knew that there were others like him around, but had no real desire to meet them, and probably wouldn't given his social circles. Through some freak occurance of fate, he now found himself surrounded by an inordinate amount of nice, normal people. Even Lena wasn't a bad person, despite her weaknesses.

He arrived early to the set of the morning talk show, Fresh Start DC, and recognized several of the TV personalities reading or chatting with techs. He located Diane immediately, and she pointed him to a make-up chair. That was all right with him: it was a thing done on TV. He'd done make-up before. He'd done all this before. It was easy. He paid attention to his heartbeat for a moment, as he sometimes did--not even slightly elevated.

Diane was talking. "...and after the headlines, you go up over there--see those chairs? and one of the anchors joins you to do the interview. We can go over there now and wait if we want, they said."

Roman held up a hand. "I thought we reheared the interview before it went live. It said on the website--" he tried not to move his mouth too much, for the make-up girl. Didn't want to look smudged.

"Well..." Diane started in that annoying tone she sometimes got, but a passing man had heard the question. "Not for the first interview, not most days. Hi, Roman, I'm Max Harris, I'll be doing the interview." The anchorperson held out a hand and Roman shook it. He'd have preferred a woman, but it wasn't a big deal. He knew the voice from the radio show Harris also did. Despite being on a morning talk show, the man was reasonably intelligent. He was taller, darker and rougher-looking than your typical news-man--even a little stubble on his chin. The network must have needed some edge. He continued, "When we have a chef, we always interview them first, then interview two, then sports, then you come back to cook us something. The other segments get some rehersal time, but you and me are live and improved. That okay?"

Diane was laying a calming hand on Roman's arm, but she needn't have bothered. Anger was the one emotion he was wholly familiar with. He knew right away of he was becoming enraged, and now was not one of those times. His mouth flicked up in a quick smile that the makeup girl applied some lipgloss to. "Sounds fun."

He stood and crossed to the cushy blue armchairs where the interview would take place. Diane leaned on the other one, watching him. It was what she was paid for. He was tuned out for the headline news, dispassionately watching the camera and light operators rush around to keep things under control. "After daily broadcasts for five years, you'd think they'd have the fucking thing down," he muttered.

Diane shushed him.

He drummed his fingers against the chair arm, thinking again about the fan letter and how it had been in his mailbox. He was close to biting a nail when Diane said, "Hey. You're getting agitated. Stop it."

"Just bored."

She rolled her eyes. "You've been waiting like ten minutes. Now smile." Her own face lit up in a fake-y demonstration. "Be charming."

As much as he hated taking unsolicited instruction, he leaned forward, crossed his leg casually and put on his most winning smile, which made her smile become genuine in return. Even without a mirror, he knew what he looked like. Well-cut but not-too-neat chestnut hair, pale blue eyes, tanned skin, and a toothpaste commercial smile that went right up to his eyes. He looked genuine, light-hearted, earnest and fun--more like a news anchor than Harris, in fact. He looked like a million bucks, and people liked him in spite of themselves. And that was what kept him from being driven out of town, run through with pitchforks and fed to the wolves.

Harris approached during what must have been the commercial break and sat while Roman was fitted with a microphone. He would mentally hit the refresh button on that clear-eyed smile every few seconds, make sure it didn't start looking fixed or forced. "So," his interviewer said, "what will you be cooking for us today?"

This was what they called a warm-up, he knew, to make their guests calm and relaxed. It was completely wasted on him. "Why, Max? Is this interview actually going to be about my cooking?"

Max Harris chuckled, and that intelligent gleam shone in his eyes. "Unfortunately, Mr. Nielens, you and I both know that that's not what America wants to hear about."

"It's a local fucking talk show," Roman said under his breath, but fortunately at that moment the lights and music were going up. He was on TV. "Good morning, DC!" Harris began. "As promised, I'm here today with Roman Earl Nielens, owner of Top Greens restaurant in New York and the new Seasons right here in our own backyard; author of three award-winning cookbooks; star of the Food Network special Serial Chef; and the man who's going to make us some delicious breakfast today. Good morning sir, pleasure to have you."

"Pleasure to be here," Roman replied, because it was what was supposed to be said.

"Roman, tell me: what is it like to be a psychopath?"


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