Tuesday, October 22, 2013


One

LIKE most great ideas, it all started in a bar.

This particular bar was Charlie’s. Most of the time there was just the five of us–Randy, Alan, Sandra, Kenny, and myself. The Misfits, as Randy called us, but he had an annoying habit of sticking a title on everything. Despite the fact that he was the closest thing I had to a best friend, I pretty much thought he was full of shit.

We’d gather every Friday night, and after an hour or so of bitching about our bosses and wives and significant others, we'd wax philosophic about our banal world and life in general. There were a few intelligent thoughts bantered about during these drunken soirees, but mostly it was just the alcohol talking. Blowing off steam.

Every now and then, though, someone would actually stumble upon a topic that stirred our blood, and we'd all pounce on it like a pack of ravening wolves. That's how we got to talking about crime, and more particularly, The Perfect Crime. It was a subject that mixed well with discontent and beer.

“There's no such thing.”

It was Randy who tossed that gauntlet into the ring, and the rest of us wasted no time on premeditation.

“Why do you say that? People get away with murder every day.” This from Sandra, a person nearly as ungratified as myself. We often commiserated over the sad state of having a mind in a mindless world.

“Remember what Mickey Rourke said in Body Heat: ‘If you commit a crime, you got fifty ways you can fuck it up. You think of twenty-five of them, you’re a genius, and you ain’t no genius.’”

Randy was always quoting movies; they were his Bible. He even got close with the voices, which at times was entertainment in itself, if you were into that sort of thing. The invention of the VCR must have been a milestone in his childhood development.

“That’s just a movie,” Alan countered, unimpressed with the Mickey Rourke imitation. Alan was our pseudo-intellect. He prided himself on being morally and politically liberal about everything. Never mind that half the time he took the unpopular point of view just to stir up trouble. Sandra had once confided to me she thought Alan was really a closet Republican. At times I was inclined to agree, though I kind of liked having him around. At least he kept things interesting. On this particular evening, he was probably the least inebriated of us all, not knowing whether his wife Karen would show up to drive him home.

Randy shrugged. “Life imitates art.”

“You know there are thousands of unsolved crimes committed every year.”

Randy looked at Sandra. “Yes, but the perpetrators of those crimes eventually get caught, and do you know why?”

“Because they can't stop,” I answered quietly. I reached for my beer, not wanting anyone to see how excited I was. They had hit upon my theory, the motivation that had driven me for the past six months. I was torn between joy and terror.

“Exactly,” Randy continued. “Know why?”

“Because it feels so good!”

That was Kenny. Everyone laughed as he rolled his eyes and hugged himself. Kenny was as perverse a fellow as I had ever known, a truly warped mind in a sinister body. He should have been born a girl and he was determined to make up for the slight Nature had dealt him. I think we kept Kenny around to justify our own homophobic fears.

Randy glared at him. “No, because they're compulsive.”

“Yes, but what if someone committed a crime just once for the hell of it; a random act of violence, say…a murder?” I wondered aloud.

“It never works that way,” Randy countered.

“So what, now you’re a criminal psychologist?” Alan shot back.

Now that they had opened the subject that had been so close to my heart these many months, I was not to be so easily deterred. “Say for instance, you, as an average person, go out and pick a victim completely at random. No motive, no connection to him or her whatsoever. You kill them then leave the body in some obscure place. No one would ever know.”

“You are truly sick!” Kenny pretended to be horrified. “I can admire that in a person.”

“Hell, stuff like that happens every day,” Sandra agreed. “Look at all those babies they find in dumpsters.”

Randy was watching me with a look that bordered on indignation—I had stolen his stage–though I wasn’t really worried about pissing him off. Pissed off was Randy’s natural state. I would have been worried if he wasn’t mad, like maybe he was sick or something.

“Why the hell would you want to kill someone you didn't know?” he demanded.

“That’s not what you said about that guy who cut you off on the way over here,” Alan replied.

Randy ignored him, still focused on me. I smiled at him with what I hoped was the right amount of enigmatic innocence.

“As Nietzsche would say, to prove you could do it.”

There was a momentary silence around the table during which I wondered if I’d overstepped my bounds. Alan was the first to break the spell.

“Here, drink up, Johnny boy. You’re obviously too lucid.”

That, as you have no doubt guessed, was me. John Bland—could it get any worse than that? And yes, I suppose I was aiming over their collective heads, but then, I prided myself on staying ahead of the pack. While most people were satisfied with the status quo, I knew there was always a better, more productive way of accomplishing things. I also knew that as soon as I started to slide down the path of least resistance and get comfortable with life the way it was, I’d become just like everyone else, stagnating in the same cesspool of mediocrity from which I was fighting so hard to rise.

Right now, however, I felt my most pressing need was a good dose of self-defense. I hoped I wasn't blushing. To cover up, I took a long swallow of beer and shrugged. Nobody ever believed the truth anyway. “It'd make a great story.”

“Why, are you thinking of moonlighting for The National Enquirer?”

“Lighten up, Randy,” Alan quipped. “Maybe you need another drink, too.”

I smiled at Alan, whose face was beginning to take on a Rudolphian glow. Karen better hurry if she was going to salvage any of her evening with the man.

Randy waved off the pitcher and made an unsteady attempt to stand, nearly falling over his chair before threading his way through the tables to the bathroom amid a chorus of jeers. I joined in to cover my own unease, though my palms below the table were sweating.

I suppose I should probably explain the process that had birthed this theory. To put it bluntly, I was bored. I don’t know when or how it had happened, but my life had become a tired cliché. I got up every morning at the same time, took the same drive to work in the same nondescript car, did the same pointless job, answered to the same dull-witted people, came home to the same cookie-cutter house, watched the same boring shows on television…blah, blah, blah. You get the picture.

Even the occasional bump in the road never provided enough of a distraction to alter the course, and sometimes I found myself almost wishing for a disaster, anything to inject a little variety into my otherwise vanilla existence. But like most closet visionaries, I wasn't strong enough or imaginative enough or, well, courageous enough to actually do anything about it. And that's where my Master Plan came in.

It was simple, actually. Nietzsche really did say it; in fact, he wrote entire volumes about it–the will to power—but I'd be willing to bet he stole it from Dostoevsky, that brilliant, unsavory Russian. I’d been introduced to him by a literature professor in my sophomore year of college and had fallen hopelessly in love. Well, not with him, per se; as I have stated, I am terrifyingly heterosexual. But the man spoke to me. He toed the line between sanity and madness like no one before or since.

Raskolnikov was his vehicle, but anyone with half a brain knew it was Dostoevsky himself who wondered, just as I wondered, if a man had the strength to overcome his own mediocrity to prove he was not a nobody. Raskolnikov failed; he allowed his own conscience to destroy him, but that's because he didn't plan his crime with enough care. Besides, didn't he know he'd be racked with guilt? That has to be planned as well.

No, my Master Plan held much more merit, not that I'm taking anything away from the Russian master. Believe me, he has my utmost respect. But you just can’t leave important details to chance and expect to succeed. For one thing, the victim had to be selected at random–there could be nothing to tie him to his killer. And there could be no motive–not one thing should be taken from the victim. One quick strike, the body cut into pieces, stuffed into so many plastic garbage bags to be thrown away in a dozen anonymous dumpsters scattered throughout the city. It was brilliant. Mad, but brilliant, just like my mentor.

Now, you're probably asking yourself why I would waste so much energy on such a pointless mental diversion. Well, that was the beauty of it—it wouldn't be just a diversion. I intended to test it fully. Every detail, every nuance of feeling, of emotion, of sight, touch, and smell would be experienced firsthand. It was the stuff of the six o'clock news.

It was so perfect, and as I have said, so easy. No one believes the truth anymore. After all, who would believe that someone as dull and average as me could pull off the perfect crime? Could murder in cold blood and get away with it? All those clowns at work would hear about it on the news without ever knowing it was me. That I had actually done it and gotten away with it.

The conversation at the table began to drift to more mundane matters, and as my adrenalin level returned to normal, I found myself losing interest in the evening. The others must have felt the same because, after chugging down the remnants of the last pitcher, they started making going-home noises. Karen showed up to claim a now thoroughly-drunken Alan, and after trying unsuccessfully to convince us to accompany him to a local gay bar, Kenny disappeared, followed shortly by the still-pissed-off Randy. I said my own good nights and followed Sandra outside to her car.

“So, you’re going home alone?”

She flashed a saccharin smile. “Gee, John, where's Krystal tonight?”

Krystal was my on-again, off-again, mostly neurotic and totally unnecessary girlfriend. I usually tried to stay away from her until I was either too drunk to care or could no longer stand the pleasure of my own company. I truly believe in her feeble brain she thought my hot and cold attitude had something to do with the fact that I might not be ready to marry her, so she didn't push; afraid to push me away. Hard to lose what you don't have.

“Why, you in the mood for a threesome?”

Sandra slugged me. “You’re such a shit, you know that?”

I grinned, knowing she wouldn't be saying that if she knew. But she wouldn't know, and that was in itself worth the abuse.

“So does that mean you won't go home with me?”

I knew I'd get slugged again, even though we both knew I didn't mean it. That I was just saying what any normal guy was supposed to say in these situations. I was right. She even managed to find the same spot on my arm.

“You're drunk.”

“That was original.”

“Fuck you.”

“That's what I'm talking about,” I shouted as she slammed her car door and screeched out of the parking lot.

I knew she was trying not to smile as she pulled away.

Two

AS I have stated, details were essential to the success of my Master Plan, though the acquisition of some required more effort than others. Take the dumpsters, for instance.

It took three hair-pulling encounters with a voice mail labyrinth to get a human being at the Department of Solid Waste who knew what was going on in his own company. Fortunately, I finally found one who didn’t speak English like he’d just floated in on a raft; another of the joys of living in Florida. I explained to this paragon of administrative intelligence with straight-faced sincerity that I was a college student doing a paper on refuse disposal and recycling. I should add here that it is very important to include facial expressions when lying, even on the phone, because it makes you feel more convincing.

At any rate, after listening to five minutes of this Mr. Alberto's babbling about his daughter Maria who was also attending the university and did I know her—Maria Alberto?—because she had something or other to do with the student government (obviously to follow in her father's footsteps), I finally managed to steer him back to the subject at hand. After all, I was doing this on company time.

“I would like to know what happens to the trash after it's picked up, particularly trash from commercial dumpsters.”

“You are a science major, no?”

“Environmental biology.” I’d looked it up—it was a genuine field of study.

He laughed—I don't know why—and began to recite what was obviously the company line. “All the trucks come back and dump their refuse in large bins which then are transferred to the incinerator to be burned as fuel for electricity and other important needs. We pride ourselves on the fact that our incinerator offers no adverse effects to the environment.”

“How long does this take?” Spare me the propaganda; I once paid for a one-year membership to Greenpeace.

“About two days.”

“From the time it's picked up until it's burned?”

“Yes. Two days…or three, depending on what time of day the trucks return. We do not allow the garbage to sit around polluting our ground water.”

I wondered how many years it had taken to erase Mr. Alberto’s social conscience, and if, after all this, his daughter Maria even had one. Ah yes, the future leaders of the world.

“Thank you, Mr. Alberto. You sound like quite an expert. You must have worked there a long time.”

“Nineteen years I have worked for the county,” he assured me with pride.

Poor schmuck, I thought as I hung up the phone. He’d probably go to his grave thinking he’d done a great service to mankind.

But back to the business at hand. Two to three days, which meant my bags would risk exposure for that amount of time; no problem providing I made sure they were closed tight. I decided I'd better use the heavy duty lawn and garden bags, just in case of bloating. I'd read somewhere that the body swelled up with gases after death, and while I didn't know if that applied to body parts as well, I figured it’d be safer to take no chances. I made a note of that, to be entered into the locked file on my home computer where I kept all my research.

I glanced up and caught sight of my boss, Dickhead Baxter, as he was fondly known, approaching just in time to pretend to be engrossed in my latest assigned mind-fuck until I was sure he had passed. I had just resumed some form of continuity in my thinking when Sandra popped her head over the wall of my cubicle.

“Did you hear about Angela down in Accounting?” Without waiting for an answer, she dipped around the corner and slid into the spare chair in my cubicle. I set down my pen and prepared for the dumping of the latest corporate dirt.

“Angie Cha-Cha-Boombahs?”

Not much of a face, even fewer brains, but her frontal endowments mercifully erased any consideration of these minor flaws. I’d never spoken more than a few words to her myself, although whenever I passed her in the hall she was quick to flash that blank smile she saved for all her loyal subjects. Funny the things that can give one fame.

“What about her?”

“You’ll never believe who she caught her husband coming out of El Toro with on Saturday night.” Again she didn’t wait for me to guess. “Joe Townsend!”

I knew that El Toro was an upscale gay bar popular with the Young and Restless professional crowd. I also knew that Joe Townsend was one of the new managers installed by the latest regime of suits in the front office; a favor to somebody-or-other's wife or nephew or cousin. I’d sooner explain quantum physics to a three-year old than try to decipher the intricacies of corporate nepotism. I’d seen Townsend around a few times, perpetually on his way out to lunch.

“Did they know each other?”

“I guess they do now. Kenny says he's seen Joe in there at least three other times, though you didn't hear that from me. Joe didn't know Kenny worked here, and Kenny didn't want his business getting around.”

“Why, is Kenny interested in Joe?”

I found myself becoming fascinated with the conversation despite an unwillingness to be pulled into this sordid rumor-mongering. I hate gossip, though it never failed to amaze me how fast the company grapevine could move. It made Twitter look like the Pony Express. Still, I figured I owed it to myself to delve into any matters connected with the perversions of the human psyche as research for my work.

Sandra pooh-poohed my last question. “They all stick together.” They, as I understood it, meaning gays. I found this comment interesting in light of Sandra's vaunted open-mindedness. “Besides, you know he's seeing Carlos.”

“So what is Cha-Cha-Boombahs going to do?”

“I hear she moved out—took the kids and went to her sister's house to stay. She's a wreck. She didn't want anyone to know, but Lily Ramirez lives next door to her, and you know what a big mouth she has. She told everyone in Accounting, and now it's all over the building. I swear, you can't keep a secret in this place.”

I thought about that and reminded myself to be more careful with what I said to people from now on, even if they were drunk.

“So, is she here today?”

I suddenly wanted to see her, to witness what effect such a revelation could have on that blank smile. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more obsessed I became with the notion. I even considered trying to talk to her, say something like, “Sorry to hear about your husband,” just to see what she might do. Would she still offer that mindless smile and thank me, or would she just slap me in the face and burst into tears?

Interesting.

“Yes, believe it or not,” Sandra was saying. “I'd be too embarrassed to come to work after that, especially knowing that everyone knows. It's a shame, too, because her husband is gorgeous.”

“Obviously Joe Townsend thought so.”

Didn't Angie usually eat downstairs in the company cafeteria? I wondered if she would be brave enough to show her face in there today. After all, she had come to work.

“What are you doing for lunch today?”

One thing I liked about Sandra was the ease with which she shifted gears. I preferred to think it was because her mind worked very similarly to my own—perpetual motion. “I don't know—probably just grab a bite in the cafeteria. Why?” She skewered me with a narrow-eyed glance as the lightbulb went on in her head. “You really are a shit.”

* * *

I never got a chance to confront Angie Cha-Cha-Boombahs at lunch; her courage had deserted her about the same time Sandra was illuminating me to her predicament. Of course, that just left everyone more free to talk about her, which we did as if it was our sworn duty. After all, such subjects don't often avail themselves to our insightful scrutiny.

Inevitably, the whole thing turned into a dirty joke; it was the only way most of us guys could respond to it. I noticed Kenny was conspicuously absent from the gathering.

I can assure you my interest was purely clinical. I felt no need to pass judgement on the unsavory implications of the act, only to be present while those around me did so. I’d like to say their reactions were enlightening, when in fact they were, at best, tolerable. Human nature being what it is, I suppose I could really hope for little more.

It took us just over half an hour to exhaust the subject, and we would have been done with it entirely had new people not kept dropping by the table to stir the pot. Mark Daniels was the most prosaic of these. Personally, I had no use for the man; one of those holier-than-thou types who thinks he knows everything. Add to that politics that ran to right-wing extremism—I wouldn't be surprised to find a white hood in the back of his closet–and you had the makings of a first-class asshole. But as he and Alan were a volatile combination, I found a certain entertainment value in the match-up.

“What do you think, Mark?” I ventured. “If they were actually in love—not Joe Townsend and Angie's husband, but gays in general—do you think they should be allowed to marry?”

Sandra kicked me under the table. It was like setting the cocks loose in the ring. Mark didn't disappoint me.

“People like that are sick. They belong in an institution, or worse.”

“Give me a break,” Alan shot back. “They’re human beings, just like you and me. Of course, maybe not like you.”

“I'm more of a human being than you are if you support that kind of deviant behavior. The Bible says—”

“Don't start preaching to us, Mark. And, in case you've forgotten, there were whores and homosexuals and murderers and thieves in the Bible, too.”

“Yes, as examples of how not to behave. The moral fiber of this country is being destroyed by sex.”

“A little frustration talking there?” Sandra needled. “The wife out of town again?”

“There–you see? That's exactly what I'm talking about. Everything is a dirty joke with you people. Not one of you has a shred of moral fiber.”

“I suppose we should all emulate you as our moral compass,” Randy pressed.

I loved to watch them in action. They would pick away mercilessly at a quarry until they had him on the ropes, then gang up for the kill. Those who survived were welcomed back; the rest stayed away until the memory had faded. Obviously, Mark had forgotten his last encounter; his self-respect was in imminent jeopardy. I couldn’t resist prolonging the ordeal.

“So what would you offer as an alternative? Say you’re president for the day, how would you restore the moral fiber of society?”

Alan snickered at me from across the table. “You're an evil son of a bitch,” he muttered under his breath. If he only knew.

“Well, since you asked.” As if we actually cared, but he forged ahead anyway. “I'd ban all this sex and violence on our televisions and at the movies. Then I would outlaw homosexuality and—”

Here it comes—I could feel it. Sandra's trigger. Everyone has one–that pet peeve that sets their teeth on edge. Those of us who knew Sandra knew better than to even broach the subject, and now Mark was stumbling into it headlong. It couldn't have been planned any better.

“—abortion.”

Yes! Target acquired. I could have sworn I saw the hair on the back of her neck rise. Mark had sealed his fate.

“You fucking pig!” she snarled, slamming her fist on the table. “What right have you to say anything about abortion? You're not a woman! You make me sick! You call yourselves humanists, and yet you bomb abortion clinics and kill innocent people to save a fetus that doesn't even have a soul yet!”

Oh, this was even better than I had hoped. Now she had brought religion into it too, and as everyone knew, Mark was a diehard Southern Baptist.

“How do you know the fetus has no soul?”

“How do you know it does?” she shot back.

They both had raised their voices so everyone in the cafeteria had stopped their own conversations to listen to ours. I glanced at Alan and Randy; their eyes had glazed over like two kids on Christmas morning.

“You're just like them–a heathen.”

“Heathen? I'll have you know I'm a better Catholic than you'll ever be a Baptist, you hypocritical son of a bitch! Don't you dare accuse me of being a heathen!”

“Well, you’re certainly no Catholic if you believe in that!”

She shoved her finger in Mark’s chest, nearly pushing him back over his chair. “Don’t you preach morals to me, you little worm!”

Somewhere in the hallway the factory bell had rung to signal the end of the lunch hour, but no one in the cafeteria seemed to have heard it. The two adversaries stood across from each other at the table, teeth barred, ready to pounce on the other's jugular. The tension was ecstatic; I could barely breathe. We were all salivating for the inevitable final blow.

Mark glanced around the table; everyone was watching him, and I could see in his eyes the moment he realized he was in over his head. His only hope was to save face and live to fight another day, preferably with a more merciful, or at least, sympathetic crowd.

"Well, I have a meeting to go to.” And like that he was gone. Impactus interruptous. Randy sighed, crestfallen.

“Chickenshit.”

“Well, time to get back to work,” Alan announced. We had forgotten all about little Angie Cha-Cha-Boombahs.


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