Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Family Portrait (8/12)

I checked my watch: 7:53 pm. It had been dark for over an hour. Despite the glare of the parking lot lights, I could spot the Big Dipper, but for the life of me I couldn’t locate the Little Dipper. The moon, almost full, had a bluish tint. The pungent scent of prairie grass, borne aloft by a mild breeze, infiltrated my nostrils.

As Peterson drove into the mall entrance and toward me I must have looked like a strange statue amid a dark sea of asphalt. I stood in an area relatively free of vehicles, but not too far from the mall. His headlights jerked me out of my contemplative mode and into the sanguine person I needed to be for the moment.

As I scooted into the passenger seat, I kept babbling on about the weather, the area, and my critique of the coffee industry. My intention was to deflect his thoughts from the awkwardness of meeting in a parking lot at night. He didn’t waste time in talking business.

“So you’re interested in Northgate as a location for your coffee shop?” Peterson was referring to an indoor mall on the far western area of the city, land currently under development. His secretary mentioned on the phone that Northgate was their big account, so I casually brought it up in a phone call conversation knowing it would pique Peterson's interest in me all the more.

“I wouldn’t exactly call it a coffee shop. I envision much more than that. Can I call you Chad?”

“Please do, Brad. Brad Stevens, right?” He looked at my business card and then at me.

“Yes. Chad and Brad.” I chuckled. He smiled in response to the rhyme, but little did he know I was also laughing about something I had thought about an hour earlier. I’m going to knock him off with a date-rape drug, but the only date he’ll have is with my screwdriver. I couldn’t tell you why it makes me smile so much.

I insisted in this jovial spirit that we clinch any future business relationship with a toast. I poured him our flagship blend, Java Jack, from a thermos I had carried in a daypack, but it was nothing more than coffee I had bought from an Exxon food mart down the street from the mall. I had “slipped a mickey” into his cup as he was pulling up, quite a few “mickies” in fact. (If he weren’t a coffee-drinker, I had soda and tea as back-ups.)

Earlier in the day I visited websites of various coffee distributors and retailers to glean useful facts. I have no clue about coffee; you won't get me to drink that stuff. I enjoy the challenge of coming across authoritative on a topic I know nothing about.

“Do try some, won’t you? Java Jack is a bit bold. And don’t worry, it’s decaffeinated. I know it’s late.”

“No, no. That’s fine. I’d drink regular coffee at practically any time of the day. I was a coffee fiend back in the day.”

“Is that right?”

“You bet.”

“Staying up all night to write those college term papers, I can imagine!”

“Something like that.”

When Peterson took a sip he made a face, so brief and slight, that only I, knowing that the cup contained Rohypnol, could catch it. He immediately pretended to enjoy it. “Not bad.” He nodded his head in slow, measured approval.  I had read him like a book.  He doesn't have to believe in a product; he just has to make his money.  Business is business. “A bit acidic, no?”

I drank from a coffee tumbler full of water as if it were hot coffee. “Yes, perhaps even bitter, but that’s just one of our flavors,” I reassured him. “Please try some more, it’ll grow on you—I promise.”

He sampled Java Jack with a few more slurps before reaching greedily into his breast pocket to pull out a packet of Marlboros. “Do you smoke, Brad?”

“No,” I responded, with a sigh in my voice as if to make it clear I wouldn’t appreciate cigarette smoke.

“Just thought I’d offer.” He placed the pack back in his pocket. “Nasty habit,” he added.

“So,” I asked, “do you know much about selling and promoting coffee products?”

“Most fortunately we don’t and I mean that sincerely. What I mean is that we have some core ideas that we believe in, ideas that will give your product an edge over any competitor. You want to think outside the box and get a fresh perspective.”

“Great! You know, my partners and I have been looking for someone to help us with the right look, something that matches our vision of….”

“Say no more! I’ve brought some information with me, though if you stop by the office…”

“You understand that our meeting here, well, what was supposed to be my office, is just a preliminary…”

“Of course. Where do you buy your beans?” Peterson took another swig, bless his heart. “How do you brew your coffee? Do you have a facility?”

I forgot what I told him, but I was clearly lying through my teeth. This part of the plan was really adlib, but I didn’t have long to wait. Fortunately he becoming drowsy quicker than I thought he would. To keep him drinking more than yapping, I described my business while rummaging through fake documents in a satchel I brought with me.


“Yes, it’s…I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry?”

“I don’t know why I’m so tired.” He reached for his cigarettes with some determination, not troubling himself with my assent this time.

“That’s okay.” Peterson looked into the cup. “What do you think, Mr. Peterson? Excuse me, I mean Chad. Would you like some more?” He didn’t respond. At the moment I said these words two things seemed to have happened. He recognized me from before and, just like in the movies, he suspected he had been drugged.

“Hey! You’re that photographer! What did you to do?” Unlike the big screen, though, he started to vomit, an adverse effect from the drugs. Believe me, I wasn’t shy on dosage. As he started to twist his torso in my direction, as if to put up a struggle, I took the cup out of his hand (which immediately became limp) and told him everything’s fine.  I placed it back in my bag, as I didn’t want anything with fingerprints left behind.

“You know,” I said with a barely disguised grim, “I still think your eyes look like little gravestones.” With these words I reach over and pulled the key out of the ignition and pushed him over by the shoulder so that he’d slump away from me, careful as I was to keep his vomit off me. By this time I knew he was completely out of it. I admit that I took a risk in revealing myself before he passed out. He could have slammed his hands into the car horn.

Nobody was around, or so I thought. After as I moved him into the back seat and as I was adjusting the driver’s seat, I saw the flashing yellow lights of what appeared to be a police car at the other end of the parking lot and started to panic, but it turned out to be mall security going about its routine patrol. At this point the plan was in auto drive; I didn’t have to think about it.

After tossing his cell phone into a dumpster (plus three packs of cigarettes I found in the backseat), I exited the mall and headed to my studio. A crisp autumn evening along a dark, tree-lined road suits me fine and inevitably leads my thoughts pleasantly astray. I had a good hour’s drive, as the mall was just outside Mueller County. Sure enough, while I tried to focus on the business at hand, my thoughts drifted, and to an odd place too: Florida. I was rifling through the glove box of the vehicle as I drove, wearing gloves of course, and pulled out a brochure for Disney World.

I’ve always wanted to move to Florida, ever since I was a kid and my mom told me about the times she spent on the beach when she wasn’t working the clubs. I had an opportunity to move there about three years ago when I was seeing a woman named Cammie. I met her at Orange Beach when my divorce was not yet finalized and was considering the next phase of my life. She was from Pensacola, a fact you couldn’t mistake: a tattoo of five F/A 18 Hornets in diamond formation on the small of her back—the Blue Angels—said it all. Her dad had served as flight instructor at the Naval Air Station; my brief stint in the Navy was initially a plus for her, though I found myself on more than one occasion explaining to him that I received an honorable discharge for an accident during a training session. I still have the scar on my left temple, and as my hair recedes it becomes more visible.

I wasn’t attracted to Cammie, mind you, but she wanted to move to West Palm Beach to be closer to her mother; I figured the relationship would put me in a different direction, for a while at least. Things didn’t pan out with Cammie, however. She sort of vanished one day. I know what you’re thinking (and I must confess I led you there), but I had nothing to do with it.

My mom, on the other hand, would never go back to Florida; she’s set in her ways at 55, happy in the hellhole of Batesville, even after Russ’s death. It would be difficult to leave my mother behind. Plus something else holds me here and I don’t care to specify just yet what that is.

Peterson groaned loudly from the backseat, shaking me from my reverie. The Sunshine State evaporated from my mind. For the rest of the drive I was focused on the plan.

I pulled up my drive, lugged Peterson into the backroom of my studio, and bound him up with cords. I’ve never drugged a victim before and didn’t know what to expect. I wanted him to feel the pain of my screwdriver entering his head. I had taken the precaution of placing plastic sheeting on the floor and around my clothes. Blood was everywhere.

What surprised me was how long it took for someone to discover the body. I realized that Dr. Halleck would determine roughly the time of Peterson’s death. The extra hours wouldn’t necessarily change the nature of the investigation.

“Look at me!” I demanded. I wanted him to be conscious of his imminent death at my hands, but he never awoke from his drowsy state. I was sorely disappointed, for the original plan entailed his consciousness. Fortunately, the pain and agony he felt was no less acute; his groans immediately turned to shrieks.

I’m not exactly Jack the Ripper. I don’t have a steady surgeon’s hand, then again neither did Jack the Ripper, despite the traditional view of him. I should also add that I have no “signature” or MO, a fact that would make it difficult for law enforcement to link my “crimes,” should they become aware of them all. I kill each person in a different way not because I want to confuse the police, but because of the aforementioned “visions” that I get.

Naturally, as a photographer, I want to document their corpses and the manner in which I killed them. After I took photos of Peterson, I drove him to the alley next to T.K. Tavern, the “crime scene.” I had parked my car earlier about two miles away on the other side of a wooded area. I hustled back to my car and drive home. Tired from the festivities, I went on autopilot down the highway, that is, until a goddamn armadillo crossed my path and almost forced me into a ditch. Like I’ve said before, I never know how the “vision” is going to unfold during execution.

He had a hard face to match his dense head. I hurt my wrist as I stabbed him repeatedly. In recounting his death, I’ll try to be honest about my feelings. Killing these primates is an intimate act that brings me peace of mind, if only for a few moments; but it’s worth it and I feel absolutely no remorse. Why should I? I have a clear conscience; God and Darwin are my witnesses. Peterson will no longer look upon the world, I made sure of that. I don’t believe in a conventional hell, but if I did he could rot there for all I care.

One of the few things I am sure of in life is the rightness of my kills. True, I must conduct my activities in secret, but such measures do not make them any less moral. Any philosopher or social scientist worth his weight in gold will tell you that morality is a social construct. You probably disagree with my viewpoint, but if so, you’ll need to rethink your value system, not me.

Why am I killing, you might ask? Years ago I read a book about serial killers based on interviews that the author conducted in prisons throughout the States. Some of them said they enjoyed the power they exerted over the victim or, similarly, the exhilaration of the kill, the sense of being fully alive as they took another’s life. Sexual satisfaction often figures prominently. But most of them, if I remember, couldn’t explain origin of their strange desires and violent actions. They don’t know why they torture and kill.

I once heard a preacher describe meaning and purpose in terms of ultimate and penultimate causes. The context of his sermon was God and salvation, but he gave me terms to articulate my reasons for killing. I know why I kill, but each instance is different. Peterson’s eyes and neck led me down this path. Only God knows the ultimate cause. I’m a homo sapiens, simply thus. I think we’re all hardwired to commit violent acts; some just happen to be more honest and decisive about it.

And yet the question Why? persists. I imagine a curious soul asking why the sky is blue? We could educate ourselves and answer this question with scientific explanations. We could take the time to familiarize ourselves with these reasons and understand them completely. Even so, we still might ask the question: Yes, yes, I realize the scientific causes of a blue sky, but why blue? So my explanation as to why I kill is a penultimate explanation. I’ll perhaps never know the ultimate reason.

Perhaps you’re wondering why I have taken such painstaking effort in recording my thoughts and actions, above all my interaction with Sheriff K. Do I think my life merits such attention? No. I’m insignificant. But if something should happen to me, an accident of some kind, you will know the truth. You’ll learn that people aren’t what they appear to be.

You know something about me, but you still don’t know the full story. Why? In part because I’ve revealed to you only what I want to reveal. More importantly, I have a couple of secrets yet to divulge and, depending on the sheriff department’s investigation of the Peterson murder, I might keep them buried in my heart. Again, Peterson is a means to an end; his eyes and neck told me that he was the one. He would be the “sacrifice,” if you will. Now I’ll just sit back and wait for Sheriff K to figure out the “crime.”