Exhaustion had overtaken Blow so completely he was muttering without coherence as they left the motel room. He knew Jay Mundaign’s “fuck-you face” was largely to blame, the subtlety of it, its repugnance accessing and tainting his judgment through subliminal portals. It hadn’t seemed to help that Mundaign himself explained the phenomenon.
“It was one of my few friends in high school who hit on why I always seemed to be having such a hard time, always fighting, getting in trouble, teachers treating me with undisguised contempt. She said my ‘fuck-you face’ pissed people off without them knowing why. She was incredibly sensitive. Said it took her a long time before she felt she could trust me. Even my mother hated me. I could see it in her eyes. I heard her say ‘bad seed’ once to somebody, and I knew she was talking about me.”
Blow hadn’t noticed anything unusually repellent about Mundaign at first. When they entered the room Moriarty introduced them formally, and Mundaign was cordial. He’d been sitting in a straight-backed cheaply upholstered chair next to a small desk. A manilla folder lay open on it within his reach. In a voice pitched somewhat deeper than Blow had anticipated Mundaign had hollered “come in” when Moriarty knocked and identified herself as “Anna Lee.” The door was not locked. Mundaign stood when they entered. He was wearing newish jeans and a blue/gray checked flannel shirt that hung loose on a rather fine-boned frame. His pate was bare save for a few tufts of white protruding above the ears, which themselves protruded noticeably from a clean-shaven, rather plain, narrow face. Only a slight squint of wide-set eyes, obscuring their color, gave Blow an intimation of the negative effect he would soon be experiencing.
Mundaign said a therapist he’d seen suggested the effect was a combination of factors starting with a facial bone structure, which, depending on angle and lighting, suggested either a predator or a victim. Seen in rapid succession, the two sometimes appeared to merge into a third archetype, that of demon that peers into your mind from a lethal vantage and scoffs at what it sees. This last illusion, he said, might last only a flicker of a second, yet it’s enough to inject an ambiguous fear deep into one’s subconscious, which, in the extreme, can manifest as panic dressed in rage.
“Aggravation of this inadvertent communication can come from involuntary twitching of facial muscles, especially around the eyes and lips.” That’s how she put it. I asked her to please explain it in English—I could see she was already upset with me, for the very reasons she was telling me—and she stared at me awhile and finally said, in a hard, sarcastic voice, ‘It’s called smirking.’
“It’s the same thing Gladstone accused me of when they first started coming after me.”
“Smirking?” Blow said.
“Smirking. I think that’s why they hate me so much, why they’re incapable of believing I have no idea where the lab they’re so interested in is. They think anybody who smirks all the time knows something they don’t. Drives them crazy.”
“You don’t seem to be smirking to me.”
“Maybe not consciously.”
“There’s something about my face, you can’t put your finger on it, but you want to come over here and slap me. I can see it in you. You’re coiled like a viper.”
“No, not slap you. I do feel a little edgy, though. Like I’m questioning a hostile witness in court. And I see what you mean. I shouldn’t feel that way. You’re not being evasive with me at all. And I’ve seen nothing in your face or body language that irritates me.” Blow and Moriarty were sitting on the bed nearest Mundaign, who seemed comfortable in the chair. Blow turned to Moriarty, whose eyes were fixed on Mundaign, her face expressionless.
“You won’t see it,” Mundaign said, a trace of amusement in his voice, “which makes it the more lethal. A friend told me it’s like having a bad day without really knowing why, but taking it out on me because I’m there. This can happen with anybody, I know, but I’m easier to blame as a scapegoat because of this vague sense I deserve it, that by some invisible, implicit attitude I’m provoking you.”
Blow nodded, more as a way of signaling he was listening than that he understood what was said. Mundaign, perceiving that he’d fallen short with his explanation, continued: “You’re wondering why, now that you know how this primal thing works, it’s still working on you, aren’t you?” Blow’s nodding became more pronounced. “Just like my therapist. She diagnosed me all the while she wanted to slap my face. It’s intrinsic. Like a terrible body odor. Worse than that. Worse than odor. A thousand times worse. I’ve had precious few friends in my life, Mr. Stone, and believe me they truly were precious. It took them a long time to get past my ‘fuck-you face’ and see me the way I am.”
“Do you keep in touch with any of them?”
“No, sir. None of them would know the name I’m using now.”
“And yet your enemies do.”
“Yeah. Ironic, isn’t it.”
Blow stood and stretched, took a deep breath, held it, and let it out quietly. “Mr. Mundaign,” he started. Mundaign interrupted. “Call me Jay, please, or Jasper, if you like, but please leave my last name out of it. I think my...Jamie here let her sense of mischief get involved in picking that name. Blow turned to Moriarty and was surprised to see her glaring at Mundaign, whose face had reddened when Blow returned to him. She broke the awkward pause, though her voice was tense. “I like the sound of it.” Blow concurred. “Sounds very French, Jay. Has a distinguished air to it.”
“A Frenchman with a ‘fuck-you face’,” Mundaign broke in. “One or the other’s bad enough, but together? No wonder they tried to drown me.”
“Oh, yeah. Juice to the nuts, isolation for an entire year—no toilet facilities, either—and drugs. Oh, the drugs. I think all in all the drugs were the worst. I’ve not gotten a full night’s sleep since then. You see how my eyelids droop? Makes me look even more like an asshole? The drugs did that, I’m pretty sure. And what did all that get them? I don’t know, but apparently not what they wanted or they’d be leaving me alone.”
“Well, in effect they are leaving you alone. From what Ms. Moriarty tells me. It’s the others they’re taking it out on.”
Mundaign nodded slowly, staring at the floor. His voice came out just above a whisper. “The killings. You think that doesn’t affect me?”
Blow shook his head. “I’m sorry. Of course it does. It’s just another tactic to get what they want from you.”
“I don’t have what they want, and I think Darryl knows that by now, or Gladstone or whoever is calling the shots here. But they refuse to accept it. I think whoever’s behind this has gone insane. Their hatred for me has pushed them over the edge. They don’t care about anything anymore except what they’re after. They want me alive because they think I’ll eventually talk. I’ve considered suicide, but there’s no guarantee if I took my own life they wouldn’t start in on somebody else they think I might have told. Like you, Jamie, or even you, Mr. Stone.
“You probly shouldn’t even be here now.”