UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
F. MICHAEL LAROSA
After the first one it was easy.
A gentle squeeze of the trigger.
A matter of holding the head under water until the body stopped thrashing, or of pushing a knife in despite generally feeble defensive maneuvers.
They always surrendered quickly.
Had the tables been turned and one of his victims been trying to kill him, he would have fought like hell. He would have wrestled and kicked nuts and slammed his fist deep into the face of his attacker, and he would not have relented until the bruised and bloodied son-of-a-bitch was standing face to face with his maker.
These people--the ones Jeremiah Baker chose to kill for one reason or another--had strength and cunning they never used.
And so he decided after the first two or three murders that his victims wanted to die--that if they had been involved in a conversation in which all pretense and bullshit had been eliminated and it was just them laid bare as bones, they would have confessed as much to him.
"Yes, Jeremiah," the woman he'd picked up and strangled in Swansea would have said. "This ol' life has been a bear, and I want to die."
"Thanks, Jerry," the drifter in Beaufort whose throat he'd cut would say. "I'm cold and hungry and not worth a shit anyway."
"Do it, Jeremiah," the boy he'd beaten to death in Columbia would whisper. "I'm a faggot queer who don't deserve one iota of mercy."
Jeremiah was like a rich, benevolent public servant who distributed death to the poor.
The hobo in Tampa.
The loud-mouthed nigger in Athens.
The cock sucker in Miami.
When the count of dead bodies deposited across the South East reached eleven, killing became more or less a hobby--a therapeutic release of creative energy and means of self-expression without which Jeremiah would not have been his usual charming, gregarious self. Whether he was sliding a hat pin purchased at a local Salvation Army store through the ear drum of a sleeping drifter or smashing the skull of a street walker with a brick, he experienced a little of what Zen devotees call Satori--a moment of supreme awareness during which all five senses were completely focused on the bloody project at hand. Jeremiah was the bullet as it smashed through the temple and ripped the skull open or the home-made shiv as it pierced a heart or gutted a corpse so that it would sink to the bottom of a lake or river.
It felt strange to go a week without burying a body in a field or patch of woods. If he went a month without killing, he would become edgy and irritable.
That's how he was one Monday morning as he cruised the reading room of the Richland County Public Library for prey among the homeless.
He had been in jail for thirty days on a vagrancy charge. The big blue and white had cruised him not an hour after he'd buried a barely breathing body in the mud and leaves on the banks of the Congaree River.
It belonged to an alcoholic derelict who called himself Tommy Sands. Tommy had made the mistake of telling Jeremiah he had a ten dollar bill stuffed in his smelly old sock. Jerry hadn't killed him for the money because--and he knew this even as the lying sack of shit was speaking--there wasn't any.
Jeremiah hated liars, and as the bum boasted shamelessly about his nonexistent cache, he could hear what the man was really saying.
He was saying: "I'm a liar, Jeremiah. I ain't got no ten dollars. I ain't even worth ten dollars. I'm just a lying sack of shit, and if I was you, I'd pick up that rock back there and lay my ugly, lying head wide open."
Jerry obliged him, and as Tommy lay there, unable to move or speak, his skull smashed open and his eyes wide with terror, Jeremiah pulled the derelict's shoes and socks off to prove that, just as he had thought, the son of a bitch didn't have a cent to his name.
"You're a fucking liar," Jerry said to Tommy, holding the socks in the dying man's face. "Time you leanrt ain't nobody lies to Jeremiah Baker."
Then he dragged the semi-conscious man to the water's edge and covered him with mud and leaves.
A little while later he was walking the streets of downtown Columbia when a pair of cops who had been harassing him all week stopped him, searched him and hauled him off to jail.
"You sure are a muddy son of a bitch," one of the cops said. "What you been doing?"
"Fishin'," Jeremiah said. "I was trying to catch a cat fish with my bare hands."
The cops laughed at him. He played stupid around cops and they ate it up. If he ever got his nerve up, he was going to kill a cop just to make up for all the trouble they caused him.
Thirty days was a long time to go without killing anybody, and now that he was again a free man, he was anxious to find a whore or drunk or queer he could put out of misery.
He was relieved to spot Myrtle Kelly coming out of the ladies' room, because if anyone in that library deserved to die, it was Myrtle.
She was fat and ugly and snaggle-toothed, and more than likely a pitiful alcoholic whose addiction had wreaked havoc on other people's lives.
A disgusting old bitch that nobody could love. And yet Jeremiah knew that somebody had loved her: a husband, a daughter, a doting son on whose heartfelt devotion Myrtle would spit on in an instant for the sake of a bottle of Ripple.
As her history unfolded in Jeremiah's brain, just looking at her made his stomach do flip-flops.
It was time, Jeremiah thought, for this sloppy bitch to pay the piper.
He watched Myrtle waddle over to the newspaper rack, pick up a Greenville News and plop her fat ass down for a read.
Just watching her made him sick. She was a disgusting old hog. Touching her might be more than he could bear. And yet he knew he had a job to do, and so he moved next to the seat next to hers.
Up close Myrtle was even more disgusting and deserving of death. She had apparently not bathed in quite some time and a foul odor emanated from her clothes. Her hair was a greasy, flea infested mess. Her breath stank. Her teeth were rotting out of her skull. Her eyes were caked with eye boogers and her nose with snot.
As Jerry watched her, he could hear her brain speaking to him through her matted hair.
"Look at me, Jerry," she was saying. "I'm fat. I'm ugly. I stink. I am, and you can ask anyone whose ever known me, not worth a shit. And that's why I want you to do it, Jer. Kill me. Crack my skull open. Slit my throat. Feed me to the worms."
"I got wine," he whispered.
She glanced at him for a second, sizing him up quickly, then nodded her head. Perhaps she thought that he, like some of the other desperados who frequented the reading room during the day, was offering to share his wine in exchange for her sexual favors. The idea made Jerry want to gag, but then it really didn't matter what she thought.
Jerry was only interested in one thing.
The two got up and walked silently out.
"It's down by the river," Jerry told her. "I got it hid."
Neither spoke as they walked toward the river. Myrtle kept her head down, watching her tattered tennis shoes. Occasionally Jerry would look at her and want to do her right there. It should be legal, he thought, to kill somebody like this woman.
Soon they were standing by the river. Myrtle said she had to pee. She walked up the bank a few feet and squatted behind a bush.
Jerry listened to her tinkle in the mud and heard her brain say: "My life sucks. Nobody wants or needs me. I'm ugly and I stink. Sneak up behind me, Jer, and choke the hell out of me with your belt."
Jerry was eager to oblige. He quietly unfastened his belt and slid it out of the loops, then eased up behind his victim like a cat. But just as he was about to drop the belt around Myrtle's baggy old throat he glimpsed the flash of a shiv that went into the soft, pale flesh of his lower belly.
He saw his guts spill before he felt the pain--saw the bright red blood splash across the orange clay of the river bank, a contrast of color he had seen before, and tried gamely to hold his guts inside, though his hands seemed too small to contain the slimy mess. Then, as he lay on his back, watching the tree tops sway and the sky burn blue and white, he felt as though he had been immersed in ice water--felt so cold it hurt.
Myrtle had sliced him from groin to neck, as though he was a fish she was about to filet. And, like a fish, he shivered and twitched and gasped a long time in the mud by the river. Myrtle watched, clicking her tongue, shaking her head and cackling at his misery, and when he was about to cross over she got right in his face, her breath like death itself, and said: "You ain't got no wine, you lyin' sack of shit. Ain't nobody gunna tease ol' Myrtle--ain't nobody gunna say they's got wine when they ain't."F. Michael LaRosa has been published in a number of magazines over the years, including Leg Show, JUGGs, Evergreen Chronicles, Old Red Kimono, Underground Voices (Dec. 2007), Yellow Mamma, and others.
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