Monday, July 19, 2010

Family Portrait (6/12)

Personable when I want to be, maybe I inadvertently gave him some kind of hope for a business opportunity. When I was setting up the camera and lighting I feigned an interest in his musings about family life. He saw I had no ring on my finger and encouraged me to find a “good woman,” presumably someone like his portly spouse. I didn’t bother to tell them I was divorced and happily single. What business is that of his? I don’t like people who talk too much, who feel some kind of need to fill up the void of space and silence with their meaningless drivel. How is this glib speech an improvement over silence? We ought to use those pauses as a breathing space to reflect and take in experience. How else would I have learned so much about Sheriff K!

I could deduce quite readily that Peterson was one of those supercilious fellows, full of bravado and low on self-cognizance. When you have a gift for sizing up a person, knowing his temperament, the way he’ll respond to a comment or situation beforehand, you can either sit back in detachment like an anthropologist observing strange animal behavior or you can opt to manipulate them for your good pleasure, causing them to react in a way you have choreographed. I do both.

People in general feel at ease around me, at least at arm’s length. April and her slutty sister, and some of their friends, not to mention my odious chain-smoking mother-in-law who didn’t like me from day one, ultimately concluded that I am an unfeeling, evil person; the ski trip to Germany served only to confirm their presupposition. Their assessment, beclouded by selfishness and what sociologists call groupthink, couldn’t be further from the truth.

Out of a gracious heart I have allowed April and my in-laws to live, and don’t think I’m being facetious. (Besides, since her parents own a horse ranch, there are other ways to make a point than by human sacrifice.) I’m not stupid, notwithstanding many unsolicited and mean-spirited comments from Russ and my Ex. I learned early on, before my college education, not to kill someone you know; detectives will almost always found out or at least have a better chance of solving the crime. I violated this important piece of information once, and almost twice, and for all my fantasies described below, I most certainly wouldn’t kill a spouse or girlfriend. I could kill them with absolutely no witnesses and without leaving any DNA whatsoever, and the cops would still be at my door within minutes of discovering the body, presuming they would find a body.

I would be exaggerating if I told you nothing fazes me. Peterson was starting to get on my nerves; the mystique of his eyes and neck were momentarily wearing off.

“I’m also getting into the promotion and advertising business.” He nodded with a confident air, thinking he had found in me a sucker when he was in reality starting to dig his own grave. “I could help you sell yourself, your photography business. You do quite well for yourself, I can see, and you can even go further with some professional consultation and planning. That’s where we come in.” Who’s the 'we'? I wondered. And while it’s true that I turn a decent profit in this dying profession, how would he know? He doesn’t. He’s trained himself to tell would-be clients what they want to hear.

His gesticulations and wielding of the catalogue like a sword repulsed me. I served nearly three years in the Navy Reserve and one useful skill I got out of that experience—other than the virtue of attention to detail—was to express myself with well-chosen words and arms to my sides. His wild flapping and chopping of the air like a buffoon reminded me of my Ex in a social setting or on the phone. Small wonder she couldn’t hold a job.

“It’s all about image and showmanship,” he lectured. I easily pictured him a cartoon figure with a literal sparkle escaping his winking eye. “It’s about getting your name out there, and once you do, people respond to someone with confidence. I can help you with that too—confidence. I mean, we can uplift your portfolio, as it were—a little pun there!” He laughed at himself. “You’ll notice on the card the other number. That’s my advertising partnership with Phil Kruschek, a big wig with celebrity connections; we have offices in Russellville, next to the university.”

Not that it matters to me, but if he had such famous clientele, he would have rattled off a few names.

“Our clientele is ever increasing but we’d make you a priority. Listen, if you give me a call, we’ll set yourself up for success, and I assure you, before you know it, you’ll be able to move out of this rustic setting, quaint as it is, and set up your own office space in the city.”

I gazed at his eyes and evidently starting smiling at him, for he asked what I thought was so amusing. “You’re a funny man.” He didn’t know how to take these words and probably thought my response was a playful way of initiating discussion. He was about to say something, but I cut him off. “Tell you what, Chad, if you tell me the color of your eyes, I’ll promise to call you up some time and we can talk business in more detail.” He was taken aback by my response momentarily, I could tell, but he thought he smelled an opportunity and played along.

“Blue, definitely blue. My wife sometimes calls me Old Blue Eyes.” He guffawed. “I always thought they were periwinkle myself…”

“No. They’re grey, grey like…a tombstone.” I became more curt and impatient with him after the unnecessary lie about his wife calling him Old Blue Eyes. Does he think I’m an idiot?

“You think so? Yikes, that’s rather grim. Hmm. Well, Mr. McMasters, Matt, I hope I’m close enough!” His laughter turned more nervous as he put out his hand. “Do keep in touch.”

“I will. Rest assured.” Our “conversation” didn’t end up the way he had anticipated. “For the record,” I added as he walked out the door, “I have no intention of moving to the city. I like the woods. It brings me solace and peace of mind. You can understand that, surely?”

“I surely can,” I think I heard him say.

Really, ever since he handed me his business card, I had tuned out his verbiage and was thinking about how I could get him alone. I knew what I wanted to do before he left, but of course the time wasn’t right.

I’m betting you’re a serial killer sleuth or true crime aficionado with a penchant for snappy, pop psychology on what makes me tick. You probably have a need to situate me into some kind of category like Deputy Beaumont. You will not succeed, provided you’re honest with yourself. I wouldn’t say I defy categories as much as categories are worthless. I am conscious of being unique, different from most people, and whether my idiosyncrasies are good or bad, you can decide. I’ll help you along by providing some biographical details, not because you will find me exceedingly interesting, but because you’ll want to know my background. There’s nothing here to trumpet from the rooftops. The accident of birth placed me in a middleclass suburban environment sufficient for a decent education and a less-than-stable social foundation. Mediocrity, I lament, characterize my time in school and the military.

When I turned 17 I became an apprentice at Woodbury Family Studio in Batesville and continued to work there when I attended UM to study philosophy and criminal justice. One day the owner, Woodbury, died at his desk; I was the one who found him. I know what you’re thinking, but I didn’t kill him. The old man took pills for everything—a heart condition, diabetes, and arthritis. He was a disaster waiting to happen and I learned as much as I could about photography expecting him to keel over at any time. Ironically, it looks like I killed him, and yet they’ll never suspect me for the so-called murderers I did commit. I’m not sure why, but though he was kind to me, I wanted to kill him. Attribute this impulse to my Teutonic ancestors perhaps.

After graduating from the university I got my IAI Crime Scene certification. What with my professional photography and training in forensics, the Pulaski County Sheriff department, convinced by my argument that one should master photography before taking on the complications of crime scene photography, hired me on the spot. Now I do a lot of work throughout Mueller County; before I came along Deputy Beaumont used a Polaroid camera and had no training whatsoever. I rarely do murders; mostly small time thefts and insurance claims. Who knew someday I’d open up my own portrait studio, McMasters Family Studio.

Up to this point in my “story” I’ve killed two people, and two victims hardly qualify me as a serial killer; the FBI requires three in their definition of the term.  I’ll take the label if you insist, eager that you are to pigeonhole me, but you should know that I didn’t light fires, wet my bed, or torture animals as a child. I did examine the hearts of cats, squirrels, raccoons, and even dogs when I was an adolescent, but I carefully, painstakingly made sure they died with as little pain as possible—in the beginning. I cut their heads off quickly with Russ’s army knife or sometimes an axe in his shed. Even as a young teen I was interested in what makes life work. Eventually I learned it’s not about the biology, but the spirit, and there’s no dissecting that.

I admit that I lied—well, told a half-truth—about the pleasant melancholy that death and nature evoke in me. That’s true, but it’s also a sheer thrill and it transports me, if you will, to a higher level of consciousness. I don’t believe in God, not a traditional deity in any case, and most certainly not Sheriff K’s Lutheran God; nonetheless, killing is a spiritual experience for me. Since my divorce I stopped going to church, but I still read the Bible on occasion and have encouraged people to seek the Lord.

I don’t rape my victims, either during or after the killing. I’m not a sexual sadist. From the time I was seven, my stepfather tried to rape me and threatened to cut off my penis if I ever told my mom. I didn’t, and I didn’t end up a male prostitute or a sniveling kid in a lawsuit later in life. One day, when I was twelve, after watching a crime show on TV, I took a hammer and, to use the colloquial, fucked him over really good. It was an act of liberation and he never revealed what happened. Since he worked in an aluminum plant people, my mom included, thought it was the result of an industrial accident. He died years later when I was a senior at UM and though I didn’t attend the funeral. Instead, I drove home from Oxford at the semester break for the sole purpose of urinating on his grave.