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The Odd Task
I became serious about my life when I killed my father.
Okay, so really, that’s when I became an adult. After all, what is adulthood other than reaching puberty (part one) and becoming serious and thoughtful about your life (part two)?
Oh, you become a bit taller maybe and wider and heavier and all that, but the only really substantive differences are the ability to procreate and the realization that you’re on your own.
Essentially, I was finished. My father could easily have been the only life I terminated. If only people had chosen to leave me alone. If only people weren’t assholes.
You know, leaving other people alone isn’t that difficult. In fact, it’s more difficult to annoy and bother people than it is to simply leave them alone. Do you understand what I mean? To bother someone else, you have to actually go out of your way. To bother someone else, you have to do something you would not normally do as you focus on moving yourself through the course of your day.
You must come to understand and accept that other people are just as important in their own world as you are in yours. You must understand that you have zero right to lay your hands on them or otherwise control them. You must understand that your easiest course of action as regards others is to respect their autonomy as much as you would like them to respect yours.
When you understand and accept those concepts, you will enjoy a peaceful, relatively stress-free life. You will be a better friend, a better spouse and lover, and a better parent than the majority of your peers. I am not exaggerating.
You should pay particular attention to those concepts where children, yours or others, are concerned. I hope you’ll do so because it’s just the right thing to do. But if doing the right thing isn’t motivation enough for you, then do it because I’m out here.
I don’t like people who harm children.
Way back near the beginning of this account, I wrote that I will easily forgive a personal affront. I never forget, but I forgive quickly and easily as long as the affront is between you and me. I just mark you off my list and go on about my life. That simply means I’ll have no more to do with you. Frankly, life is too short to put up with jerks.
But as I also wrote earlier, if I find that you’ve inflicted emotional or physical harm on a child, I will mark you off everyone’s list. Permanently.
Now please don’t misunderstand. I won’t hurt you if I can help it. But I will kill you.
So there’s no ambiguity, let me provide you with an example.
For almost six years, ever since I removed the blight that was father, I hadn’t committed an act of violence of any kind.
Just before my eighteen birthday I was in town in the department store that anchored the mall on one end to pick up some clothes. I thought I’d buy a couple of new shirts, a pair of trousers, a belt, a sports jacket to complement the trousers and a pair of shoes. I’d started college three months earlier. With the end of the fall semester and a perfect GPA, I’d decided to reward myself.
I parked my car near the back entrance and made my way past their handy man department. You know, where they have all the tools and lawnmower parts and all that. Then I walked through what looked like a gauntlet aisle with refrigerators lining one side of the aisle and kitchen ranges lining the other.
On the other side of those I passed a series of smaller side aisles on the left and right. On those aisles to the left were shelves on which boom boxes, computers, high-end cameras and MP3 players shared space with various types of recorders, cables, and battery chargers. Those side aisles led to two rows of massive shelves on the back wall. On those, several televisions of all sizes were showing the same football game reruns. The whole time, ESPN sportscasters, ever cracking wise, attempted to quip their way into some broadcasters’ hall of fame.
To the right of the main aisle, across from all the electronics, were workout gadgets and accessories, from stationary bicycles to treadmills to free weights, ankle weights and exercise mats.
As I passed around a large interior wall, a small section of pots and pans and small kitchen utensils came into view, and then a larger area filled with a few aisles of sheets, blankets, pillowcases, pillows and comforters. There were even two full beds, one single and one queen, already made up with linens. The beds were not for sale, nor would anyone over three feet tall want to buy them. They were only half-length and obviously had been created only to showcase the other wares of that segment of the store.
Finally I passed into the clothing section and stopped, scanning the area.
“May I help you, sir?”
The voice was from a friendly looking woman. Judging from her dress, which looked as if she’d bought it at the high-end department store at the other end of the same mall, and the sprinkling of salt in her un-dyed dark hair, I judged her to be forty-some years old. She was also trim, with few wrinkles other than the laugh lines at the corners of her mouth and eyes.
I understood she was only being polite, but it struck me wrong that she would call me “sir,” considering I was easily young enough to be her son.
I smiled. “Thanks, Miss, I appreciate it. I think I see what I need over there, though.” I pointed, indicating what looked like the men’s department. “That’s the men’s department?”
She moved her hands behind her back. I imagined she was playing with the wedding ring on her left hand with the fingers of her right. If I saw it, I would know she wasn’t a Miss but a Mrs. I was delighted she had so readily assumed she’d received a compliment from a man so much younger than she.
Her smile went all the way to her eyes, as I suspected it would. “Yes, that’s it. Will you need assistance? I’d be happy to help.” She leaned forward just a bit, still smiling, and said more quietly, “We don’t work on commission or anything.”
That she had shared the extra information was interesting. If nothing else, it told me I was on track with developing some of my skills. “No, but thanks again.” I focused on her eyes. “Perhaps later.” I allowed my gaze to linger an instant longer than necessary. No reason not to make her feel attractive. Then I nodded politely, averted my gaze, and walked toward the men’s department.
Roughly a half-hour later I’d picked out a couple of pair of trousers and three shirts. I decided to pass on the sports jacket, but I bought a belt and a good pair of shoes. All told I was out just over two hundred dollars.
At the checkout a young teenage woman was ringing up my purchases.
From the other side of the cash register kiosk, somewhere among the circular racks of clothes, a harsh male voice filtered over to me. “Damnit, don’t do that again or I’m gonna beat your ass.”
A child, a girl, responded quietly, timidly, but I couldn’t make out what she said.
The teenager had just finished adding up my ticket. Apparently she hadn’t heard the guy, or she’d learned to tune out customer sounds from anyone except the person she was currently helping. She smiled. “Would you like to apply for our charge card?”
I glanced at her, then leaned slightly right to glance past her. “No, thanks.”
“Okay sir, that’ll be $219.80.” She smiled again. “Weird that it came out even like that. Usually it’d be $219.83 or something like that. You know.”
“Yeah, weird.” I was still looking in the direction of the clothing racks.
“Cash or charge, sir?”
I pulled my attention back to her. “I’m sorry, what?”
“Cash or charge?”
“Oh. Cash.” I pulled my wallet from my back pocket and thumbed through the bills. Eventually I handed her a hundred, a fifty, three twenties and a ten.
The voice came again. “Damnit, I told you once!”
I glanced at the girl and smiled. “Excuse me for just a moment. I forgot something. Be right back.” I stepped to the right around the kiosk and headed for the clothes racks.
The child was talking again. “Daddy, I didn’t mean to. It was a accident.” She sounded like she was about four years old.
“Bullshit! And don’t call me daddy. I don’t know why your mother stuck me with—”
“Excuse me, sir.” I came around a rack full of clearance items behind him.
He turned around, an angry, hateful glare in his eyes. “Yeah?”
The little girl backed away from him and me. She had seen that same glare directed at her, had heard that same tone of voice. Usually when a stranger approaches, a child that age will cling to the adult whom she’s with. But she had avoided him. I hated that she felt so abandoned, so alone.
He was in his late-twenties, maybe thirty, a head taller than I, and stocky, with a thick neck that continued into sloped shoulders. His grey button-down cotton work shirt was hanging outside his jeans.
I kept my voice quiet so as not to embarrass him. “Please, don’t talk to your little girl like that. Children are precious and—”
He poked me in the chest with his finger. Loudly he said, “It’s none’a your goddamn business there, fairy dust!” He laughed.
I flushed. But I held my calm. I took one step backward and focused on his eyes. I kept my voice even and quiet. “Sir, I’m asking you politely not to—”
He poked me in the chest again, pushing this time. Even louder than before, he said, “An’ I’m tellin’ you that you got no goddamn—”
My eyes flashed with heat as I grabbed his finger and bent it straight back, hard, and I kept bending it as I stepped forward. My lips a half-inch from his chin, I hissed as quietly as I could, “You will not talk to me in that tone of voice, you worthless piece of shit.”
He was backing away under the force of my motion. “But you—”
I was moving right along with him, my fist still closed around his index finger. I kept my voice quiet but urgent. “You are a coward and an asshole.”
He was still backing up, and I was still following.
“And you will not talk to your daughter like that.”
He bumped into the wall near the dressing rooms. I stayed in his face.
“And you will not put your hands on her again.”
I squeezed the finger, twisting it. “She’s just a baby, you understand? What the hell is wrong with you?”
“I was just—”
I bent the finger hard. “I don’t give a shit! You will not lay hands on her again! You understand?” The tendons in his finger were on the verge of snapping. I pushed again, stopped just short of that. “Well?”
He nodded rapidly.
I shoved his finger and fist back against his chest, then stepped back.
In an instant, a stupid look crossed his face and he almost made a bad decision.
A smile tugging at the corner of my mouth, I curled the fingers of my right hand, beckoning him. Still whispering, I said, “Come on, asshole, jump. I’ll kill you right here.”
He didn’t move. He just glared at me. But he was locked on my gaze.
Good for him. Maybe he believed me.
I took one step forward, raised my right fist and stiffly extended my index finger to point at him. Still whispering, I said, “I know where you live. Lay hands on that baby again and I will kill you.”
He looked down at me and for an instant I thought we were good. Then his eyes softened. “Yeah right.”
That almost got me. Keeping my gaze locked on him, I shook my head lightly, more to deny myself the pleasure of doing the bastard right there than for anything else. “Just touch her again and see what happens. Just touch her again.”
The whole confrontation had taken about ten seconds. I turned my back on him and walked calmly back toward the cash registers. I grabbed a combo pack of a shirt and tie as I passed a display and dropped it on the counter in front of the girl. Then I looked at her and smiled. “I’m sorry. I forgot this.”
She looked at me, then at her cash register, then at me again. She seemed perplexed. “I’ll have to ring it up separately.”
“Oh, well, don’t bother. I’ll pick it up next time I’m in.”
She smiled broadly as she hefted the plastic bag and passed it over the counter to me. “Thanks! Enjoy your new clothes!”
I nodded and smiled, then turned away.
The man and the little girl were just going out through a side door.
I walked back through the store to the same door where I’d come in, then left the building and got in my car. I tossed the bag into the passenger seat, started the car and drove toward the corner of the building, buckling my seatbelt as I drove.
At the corner I slowed my car and scanned the parking lot. There.
I’ll be goddamn.
The man roughly jerked the little girl from the ground by one arm, then caught her under his arm as he unlocked the door of his pickup with his other hand.
I stopped my car. They were maybe thirty yards away.
He pulled open the driver’s side door of his pickup and literally slung that little girl past the steering wheel toward the passenger seat.
That’s it. You don’t listen worth a damn, do you?
It was Wednesday afternoon. I didn’t have to be anywhere until class on Tuesday morning at ten.
I followed him home.
* * *
The next morning he left around 7. He backed his pickup out of the driveway, drove three blocks down the street and turned right.
A pretty but very tired-looking woman in large sunglasses came out of the house with the little girl at quarter to eight. They held hands as they walked across the lawn toward the neighbor’s house. At the edge of the lawn, she picked up the little girl and stepped over a low hedge, then put her down and took her hand again.
They crossed the neighbor’s driveway and approached the front door.
She knocked and waited. When someone answered the door, they talked for a moment. I couldn’t hear what she was saying, but she removed her sunglasses as if frustrated, as if she hadn’t wanted to.
The other person opened the screen door and stepped out. It was a woman. She touched Mama’s face tenderly, then said something and shook her head.
Mama slipped the sunglasses back on, then shrugged and held up her hands. Then she knelt and hugged the little girl, talked with her for a moment, then stood. Her hand on the little girl’s back, she guided her through the doorway.
As the other woman closed the screen door behind the little girl, Mama went back across the hedge and the lawn to her own driveway. She slipped into the other car, backed out of the driveway and left.
I left too for awhile.
An hour later I drove up and parked across the street from the little girl’s house. I approached the house and knocked on the door, knowing nobody would answer. Then I approached the neighbor’s house on the opposite side from where Mama had dropped off her daughter. I asked a few question to which I received negative responses, as I expected.
Then I walked around the sidewalk to the other neighbor’s house, where I’d seen Mama drop off the girl. I knocked on the door.
A woman opened the door and looked at me through the screen. “Yes?” She resembled the little girl’s mother.
I smiled, remaining a respectful distance away from the screen. “Hi. I’m in town for only a day and I wanted to visit a childhood friend. I think he lives next door, but I might have bad information. I knocked and there was no one home.”
She nodded and sighed as if tired, no smile. “What’s your friend’s name?”
For some reason I hadn’t expected that. “James. James Polk.” I grinned. “Well, Jim. Middle name’s William. We called him Willy.”
She shook her head. “I don’t know anybody by that name. My sis and her live-in live there now.” She had said “live-in” as if he was something she wished would go away.
I nodded and looked around. Fortunately it was a nice neighborhood, with well-manicured lawns and a small park at the end of the block. It made the small talk easier and appropriate. “Looks like a great place to raise children.”
She said, “It could be, but not in that house. I don’t know how Margie puts up with that creep.” She flushed slightly. “I’m sorry. I talk too much. Anyway, I hope you find your friend.”
“Oh, it’s not a problem, I promise. I hope things get better for you and your sister.”
I could pretty much guarantee things would get better.
I spent the afternoon making a few arrangements. I was tired by the time the sun went down, but not so much that I didn’t sleep really well that night. A hot shower does wonders for a tight back and shoulders.
The following morning the sky was absent behind a grey overcast, and a light mist was falling. I was waiting, parked a few blocks down on the side street he’d turned onto the day before. At a few minutes after 7 he drove past my car, the rear tires of his pickup flinging muddy droplets of water onto the driver’s side window and windshield of my car.
I followed him at an inconspicuous distance until he turned onto the truck bypass that runs east and west around the south side of town. Old-growth woods on the south side of the road abounded with maple and oak trees. There was some scrub brush, but it wasn’t dense. After a quarter-mile or so I sped up and pulled out to pass him.
A couple of days earlier he’d called me “fairy dust.” I wasn’t sure where he conjured that, but I could use it. When I pulled even with him, I looked over at him and winked, then slowly licked my lips.
I passed him and pulled away rapidly.
He sped up, as I expected. Assholes never learn.
After a couple of miles at a turnout paved with gravel, I pulled off and parked, then opened my car door and got out. Without so much as glancing back, I closed my door, walked around the front of my car and into the woods. I was wearing smooth-soled deck shoes, jeans and a t-shirt under a black, lightweight canvas jacket and a black ball cap with a white NY sewn on the front.
The mist was still falling and the air was cool, but not cold. The bark of the trees was wet and a bit darker on one side. Carpeted by old fallen leaves and other detritus, the floor of the forest was damp, but not soft enough to leave tracks. The wild holly and other underbrush left damp streaks on the sleeves of my jacket.
I heard the sound of gravel crunching angrily beneath the tires of the creep’s pickup as he pulled off the road. When he got out he slammed the door so hard I was surprised it didn’t break the glass out of the window.
I continued walking, speeding up just a bit. I had no doubt he could see me. If he thought I was trying to get away, so much the better. Now and then as I moved through the woods a heavy drop of water fell from the canopy above onto my cap or shoulders.
A few minutes later he managed to find and step on what must have been the only dry stick in the woods, or at least dry enough to snap. That let me know he was about twenty yards behind me. At that point I was about 70 yards into the woods, which had become increasingly more dense the farther I got from the road.
A small hill lay just ahead. The trees and brush were thicker and closer together on the side of the hill, but a narrow game trail wound among them. Several yards before the bottom of the hill I picked up an easy pace and jogged up the game trail. I reached the top in only a couple of minutes.
As I topped out on the hill it leveled off, and the woods gave way to a small clearing, maybe thirty yards in diameter. It was covered with knee-high grasses. A few small bushes dotted it here and there. I slowed to a walk and continued to just past the midpoint of the clearing. Then I stopped, turned around and waited for him, my arms crossed over my chest.
When he came puffing over the lip of the hill, he saw me and stopped. He put his hands on his hips, his chest heaving, and glared at me. Then he raised one hand as if signaling me to wait, then bent slightly at the waist and shook his head, breathing deeply. He seemed to remember his hand was in the air and suddenly returned it to his hip.
When he finally caught his breath, he straightened and looked up, then extended his right arm and index finger, pointing at me. “You’re that asshole from the mall, right?”
I grinned and nodded. “That would be me.”
“Yeah, well you know I’m gonna kick your ass, don’t you, fairy dust?” He actually punched his left palm with his right fist. Drama queen.
Unbelievable. I smiled and shook my head slowly. The smile wasn’t put-on. It was authentic. I was enjoying this. “Y’know, your girlfriend’s sister told me you’re a creep. Now I see why.”
“That right? Well that bitch ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
“Oh, no, you’re not going to give her anymore trouble. Not after today.”
“That right, fairy dust?” He grinned and spat in my direction.
I stopped smiling, and I think I actually snorted a bit. “You are legitimately just plain stupid, aren’t you? Here you are in mortal danger, approaching the last few minutes of your worthless life, and you’re still talking shit.”
“I ain’t in the last few minutes of nothin’, fairy dust.”
That brought my smile back. I shrugged. “I told you exactly what was going to happen if you put your hands on that little girl again, didn’t I?”
He sneered. “Yeah? So?”
“So you jerked her from the ground in the parking lot and threw her into that piece of shit pickup you drive.”
He paled for a moment. “You don’t know what you’re talkin’ about.”
“I saw you, asshole. And I did warn you.” I paused. “Y’know, that’s the most frustrating part of all this. I told you exactly what was going to happen. I mean, I told you the gods’ own truth. But you’re just stupid. Your kind just doesn’t listen.”
He laughed, and even his laugh sounded cruel. “The truth about what, faggot?”
“Faggot, eh?” Then it dawned on me what this guy’s problem was. I couldn’t help but think he could’ve gotten counseling. He didn’t have to be an ass. His life didn’t have to come to this. He didn’t have to end up here with me, alone in the woods on a grey, misty day.
Then again, what might have been doesn’t really matter in such situations. It is what it is.
I smiled again. “Oh man. Is that it? Are you a closet homosexual? Is that why you act so goddamn mean? I knew you were a coward, picking on little kids, but I didn’t realize until just now you’re gay.”
His neck and face went red and he pointed at me again as if punching me with his finger. He yelled, “You shut up! You shut the hell up!”
I grinned more broadly, unable to help it. I’m respectful of all decent human beings regardless of sexuality or anything else. But this was different. This was a chess match in combat. I might as well take him the rest of the way. “Wow. That’s it, isn’t it? You’re a puffer, aren’t you? And a big, brave fighter of blind kittens on top of it. What a worthless asshole you are.”
He flushed again, hard, dark red. I thought his head might explode. I was amazed he wasn’t bull rushing me. Still, he chose to hold his ground. He yelled, “I’ll show you what an asshole is!”
Too easy. I let that one go. But I couldn’t stop grinning.
This must be what elation feels like. “You wanted to know what truth I told you, isn’t that right?”
I think I’ve never been so calm. “Well, let’s see. I told you you’re a coward. And then I told you you’re an asshole. And now we can add homosexual to that. Oh, I almost forgot—I also told you if you laid hands on that girl again I was going to kill you. Remember?”
Rage building in his face, he screamed, “Who the fuck do you think you are? You can’t threaten me! And you can’t whip me!”
He took a step toward me.
I held up one hand. “Wait.”
He stopped. Dumbass.
“I want to remember you just as you are right this moment, sweety.”
He growled and started toward me again, running, his shoulders bulging.
I laughed at him, shook my head at how easy it had been and how good it all felt.
Then I pulled my Sig Sauer from the waistband in the small of my back and brought it to bear.
His eyes grew wide and he dug in his heels, trying to stop. He yelled, “Wait!”
He almost got his hands up before my 9mm bucked and the first round hit him just inside the right eyebrow.
He stopped and wavered, took one step back and to the left, his body trying to escape the impact that had already happened, and the second round hit him just above the right eyebrow.
Probably top-heavy. I doubt he’d ever had that much weight between his ears.
I walked over to him, pulled his wallet from his jeans, removed the cash and dropped the billfold on his back. I had to drag him only a few feet to drop him into the grave. It wasn’t regulation, but then neither was he. I figured four feet deep would preclude anyone finding him before the lye could do its work.
Odd he hadn’t noticed it. Too focused on being an asshole I guess.
I walked to the other side of the grave and picked up a twenty-pound bag of lye from the tall grass. I tore open the top and sifted it into the grave, covering his body pretty thoroughly, then dropped the sack in.
Then I grabbed the top edge of the green plastic tarpaulin, move to the opposite side of the grave and pulled. It took some doing, but soon all the dirt I’d placed on the tarp the day before was back in the grave where it belonged.
I scattered some deadfall and branches over the top and left it at that. Then I folded the tarp.
Back at his pickup, I dropped the tarp in the bed. Then I got into my car, started it and drove away.
Nothing is quite as satisfying as a job well done.
My formative years were definitely behind me.
Over the past few days I’d learned I have a knack for planning, and the decisiveness to carry through on a plan. I realized who I was, and I realized I could refine who I was with almost no effort.
Life was good.