Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Family Portrait (7/12)

I never knew my father, my real father. My mom first saw Russ, my stepfather, at a business luncheon in the bygone days when he had a full set of hair and a vintage ’75 Corvette Stingray. She was working as a server at a restaurant hotel. At the time he operated a livestock supply store, and had little success to show for it apart from a car he inherited from his deceased brother. Still, he probably struck my mom as a knight in shining armor, as difficult as that is for me to picture. He had twenty years on my mom, and never understood her or cared to understand her. Alcohol made him an angry son of a bitch and gave license to his inherent depravity. I can forgive my mom for hooking up with this reprobate when I was three; but telling me he was my biological father is the unpardonable sin. If I had a father figure in my life, and I didn’t, it would have been Woodbury, the old man who owned the studio in Batesville.

From bashing in my stepfather’s head I learned a valuable lesson. Control, power, joy—in short, all the things that I value in this life—come by inflicting pain and humiliation on others. Ideally, they would be conscious that I am the cause of their torment and misery. Honestly, nowadays I tire of the fleeting joy that comes with inflicting physical pain, notwithstanding the mental anguish that comes when my prey realizes its life is about to be snuffed out. As in my second kill, a mother cognizant she’ll never see her daughter again or be able to say goodbye is like sweet, dark poetry. What I seek is inducing a moral dilemma in someone who fancies himself a paragon of virtue or is perceived as such by the community. Peterson’s death, as you’ll discover if you keep reading, is merely a means to this objective, and his physical features only made my job easier.

I kill neither out of anger nor passion of any kind; neither for sex nor because my mommy beat me. True, I do generate some anger during the bloody deed, but it’s not rage, as Sheriff K postulated. After all, who does not deserve to be slaughtered? Certainly my stepfather did, and he’s lucky he lived on with a traumatic brain injury resulting in severe memory loss and depression.

I mentioned before that I knew how I would kill Peterson but the timing wasn’t right. You see, I get these visions, and everything must be precise. Vision probably isn’t exactly the right word for it. I’m speaking metaphorically, for I don’t know how to explain it otherwise. I get these frames in my mind, snapshots, which I try to duplicate in reality, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say I reify the images flickering in my brain. Usually the entire picture comes instantaneously, but sometimes I get it in a drawn-out series of “revelations” lasting for days or even weeks. For example, the killing implement had to be a Phillips head screwdriver I had spotted at Wal-Mart, size 2, with an orange and chrome-plated handle.

Under the guise of “Brad Stevens,” I would tell Chad that my company, Shadow Tree Grove and Associates was starting up a coffee shop and would be highly interested in his consulting services. (Shadow is a neighbor’s cat I buried alive in the backyard when I was eleven. My house was located on Tree Grove Lane 17.)

I take great pride in my ruses. Behind the name of Mr. Stevens I had developed an intricate background so rich in details, idiosyncrasies and fabricated anecdotes at the ready that I could easily stay in character and never contradict myself or pause to make sure I was getting my story straight; no one listening to me would think something amiss. I’ve taken on this persona before mutatis mutandis, the name and many of the biographical details, so it’s easy to remember my clever lies.

In the past I’ve used the name Joris van Bowenkamp, believe it or not, and, since I could pass for a Dutchman, spoke with a Dutch accent. I met a man at a train station, a dapper fellow from Pine Bluff, who asked me to translate a letter his daughter received from a pen pal in the Netherlands with a Dutch poem written on the bottom. I looked at my watch with alarm, pretending I had almost forgotten an appointment and apologized for having to rush off.

The initial vision, you see, doesn’t include a how-to kit when it comes to some of the planning operations; the false identities I create are the product of reflection and study after the original insight. I’m not a con man coming up with an alias and just enough to get the job done; no, I develop a detailed biography, or autobiography, thanks in no small part to my voracious reading in history, forensic science and true crime. Living alone these days I read as many books as and watch as many documentaries as I can.

I also see the outcome of these killings, or at least the desired outcome, even if sometimes things go awry. I need only be faithful to the mission as best I can. As an artist the Muses drive me and yet I actively involve myself in the creative act. Just because I get a blueprint in my head doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvisation.

On most occasions I don’t act upon these visions. As we were driving through the countryside to her aunt’s house, for instance, I started to fantasize about killing my “girlfriend” Melissa, an assistant chemist at the state crime lab in Little Rock. It wasn’t the first time, but the details became so vivid as I intermittently watched her at the wheel and looked out the window at the scenery flying by. I could already see myself taking photos as they’d fish her corpse out of Copper Rock River—I still can. She would be wearing that apricot v-neck top that she dons once in a while.

After strapping her head to a floorboard, say, I would make an incision into her neck slowly, eventually hitting the carotid artery and severing it. I’d be wearing my uncle’s tattered Air Force uniform, something I could just incinerate afterwards or maybe, as in the case with Peterson, I’d wrap myself in cellophane, and easily dispose of any evidence. (My cousin in St. Louis is the night supervisor at a polyethylene factory that manufactures shopping bags for various clothing stores.) In either case I’d prefer to do this work in my studio, not in the woods, even if the “vision” has given me a precise location, about 25 yards or so from my tool shed, next to a dilapidated brick wall.

I’m not delusional, and I happen to agree with Sheriff K’s assessment that those who commit crimes always have a purpose. Fantasies are one thing, reality quite another. Here’s what happened to poor Mr. Peterson.

I called him up on a prepaid mobile phone that law enforcement wouldn’t be able to trace. I told him that I’d like to meet him at my office to discuss some advertising for an innovative start-up coffee company. The address I gave him was a real one, an office building I had scoped out, because Peterson could always Google it. I had been impressed with his clientele and work ethic after having sought out the best advertising agencies in the area. He of course concurred with my conclusion. Oddly enough, he failed to bring up his company’s work, or lack thereof, for a prominent car dealership in the city, the one and only time it tried social media marketing. I’m being sarcastic of course.

I’m giving you the abbreviated version of events here, for I had to make a series of phone calls, and more often than not I would get his secretary, a woman by the name of Rhonda or Wanda, I couldn’t be sure.

Once he was en route I called him and said I was having a bit of car trouble. “You’re not going to believe this, and I’m rather embarrassed, but I can’t start my engine and I’m waiting for Triple A to show up.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he says.

“I’m parked at the outlet mall on Exit 5 off I30. Perhaps we could meet here and discuss business.”

“I don’t know…” At this point he tried to handle business on the phone and possibly even cancel our meeting. Evidently my slight change in the plan threw him off, but after verifying that he was alone, I was insistent. It’s now or never.

“Listen, my business friends are advising me to consider Johansen Communication Associates…” I barely mentioned his chief competitor when Peterson cut me off.

“They’re overrated, trust me. I have a client, a real estate agent in Russellville, who went to them for web and print communications and fora  hefty sum got shoddy service. The state university there also hired them for online advertising but canceled the contract three weeks in.” With these words he coughed into the phone, and I could tell he was smoking up a storm. “Pardon me. You’re at the outlet mall, huh?”

“From your direction it’s on the way.”

“Okay. I’ll phone you in a few minutes. Look for a Chevy Tahoe.”

“Tahoe, okay. Got it.”

Again, it took a bit more convincing than I’m relating here, as Peterson had built up a fair-sized clientele since he had come for the family portrait two years prior—that is to say, three or four people.

I was waiting for him in the middle of the parking lot. I called him up again to direct him to my location and waved him over once he was in sight. No cameras on the parking lot.  That's good.

Given his obtuse mind, and the fact that almost two years had elapsed since the family portrait, Peterson didn’t recognize me, not at first anyway. Apart from the Van Dyke I’ve been sporting lately, I didn’t bother with a disguise. He exited his vehicle and shook my hand.

“Nice to meet you. Chad Peterson.” He reeked of cigarette smoke. “Want me to drive you to a service station? Or perhaps we can discuss business in a restaurant until help arrives?”

“No, I’m fine. Really. If you don’t mind, we could just go over the basics in your vehicle. I’ll be able to watch for my wife. I gave up on AAA and called her to pick me up in about an hour. She’s at a church meeting until 9pm. We’ll deal with my it tomorrow. Damn foreign-made car!”

Once I got into his car the plan involved getting him to drink coffee laced with roofies, or “joy juice,” as the dealer in Little Rock called it. Once the drugs had incapacitated him I could kill him in my portrait studio.