THE SKIN MECHANIC (part 3 of 6)

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Of course she was. She held my hand all through that night.

Mia worshipped me. She thought Max made me invincible or something. When you're placed up on a pedestal like that, it's incredibly difficult to get yourself back down again. If I had told Mia that we were nothing like each other, she wouldn't have listened. If I had explained that I cared nothing for power or status, she wouldn't have believed me. If I had told Mia that I was terrified of Max – that I did what he wanted because death was the only thing I feared more – she would've talked over me. She was the most damaged person I've ever known, and I didn't know how to leave her behind.

Mia was at her quietest in the car, while we travelled around. Her cigarette smoke made me feel sick, though I never complained. The smell was something new, different. The smell of companionship, I suppose. A month went by all too quickly, and it was again time to mark someone's skin for Max.

Mia was excited. In another motel room, she sat on the sill of an open window, smoking a cigarette. I lay on the bed, naked and cold after sex. It was late. Past midnight. Almost time.

"I've been thinking about something you said the other week," Mia began. "See, I met this guy while I was looking for you. Another killer like us. His name's Larry. He's a policeman, believe it or not. They're looking for him up north. The Sat-Nav Killer?"

You know Larry. You let the press name him the Sat-Nav Killer because he stole cars with satellite navigation, and then chose one random address from the address book. He would drive to that address and kill whoever he found. He had no specific territory, and his victims weren't linked. Proved a hard man to catch, right?

Mia said, "Larry told me the police know of more mass murderers and victims than the public will ever hear about. Don't get me wrong, I'm no conspiracy theorist or anything, but what if that's true? The police only admit to finding ten of your victims, but maybe they know the real count, and choose not to reveal it."

Is that true, I wonder? Do you give mass murderers a quota, and once they pass the allotted body count you don't publicise further crimes? Have you found everyone Max has killed?

Mia blew smoke out of the window and grinned. "Wouldn't it be cool to have a big meeting once a year, for people like you, me and Larry? You know, a secret convention for mass murderers. You're so famous you'd be the guest of honour, like the Corinthian in that Sandman story."

I didn't know what she was talking about.

"The Sandman?" she stressed. "The comic?" I shook my head, and she rolled her eyes. "The point is you and Max are legends. I mean – Christ!" she looked awed. "Larry would shit buttons if he knew I was hanging out with the Skin Mechanic and his demon."

Are you thinking 'demon' is a metaphor?

"Why does Max want skin?" Mia continued.

The question made me feel miserable, and I shrugged. "Max is a liar," I told her.

She replied, "Demons always are, aren't they?" and flicked her cigarette out of the window. "I want to meet him," she said. "I want to talk to Max. Tonight. Can I?"

I shrugged again. It wasn't up to me. But Mia took this as an affirmation, and she clapped her hands with delight, saying, "I'm going to take a shower, and then we'll go find him some skin."

You see, Mia thought we were a team, but I hated the pleasure she got from my situation. While she was in the shower, I went out alone.

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