The pictures slid out of the priority-mail envelope with money and several typewritten sheets. I know you probably think someone who works as a contract killer should be immune to pain, suffering and death. The pictures depicted brutal abuses of dogs and cats—something from which I was unprepared to see.
The letter began with the identifying name and contact info for the victim, and then continued: “Though your info states very specifically that no kids or animals can be involved, I hope that does not include 16-year-olds. By age 16 one should be responsible for one’s actions, and this young man clearly has seen the effects of his actions. You will find included with this letter a collection of photographs of some of his victims—the only ones I heard about.
“For example, the cat that was held down while a firework was inserted into its anus then lit … I thankfully never saw the remains. Please, look for yourself through this horror-show gallery of abuse: the dog in bandages was doused with gasoline and set on fire; the emaciated puppy was tied to a stake in the yard, with food just out of its reach. When he would strain for the food, the puppy would be beaten. The cats have been dropped from trees, shot at with BB guns, covered in Nair…”
The letter continued. I put it down and took a deep breath. Flipping through the pictures, I couldn’t believe this could be true. A 16-year-old was capable of such depravity?
Finishing the letter took me a week. On the eighth night, I burned it with the pictures. Partly because I didn’t feel safe having that kind of evidence around and partly because it made my stomach turn.
The writer was right: I resolved firmly, “No Kids, No Animals” among my victims policy. Yet, here was a dilemma I had not foreseen: A fairly innocent but inconvenient stepchild—or child standing in the way of an inheritance was what I had imagined. I was envisioning kids as innocents, but this painted a very different picture.
Could it be possible? Could I really go through with this?
I meditated on returning the money, but I wasn’t really certain how to go about doing so. Furthermore, given the way I operated, how would anyone know if I didn’t go through with it—or would anyone actually complain and ask for his or her money back? I reasoned the person wouldn’t hire someone like me if he or she wanted to draw attention to a desire for someone’s death, right?
Judith, my dear editor, I know that outside of the soap opera of Tiger Woods, you don’t follow golf and certainly not at the high-school level, but New Hanover High and Cape Fear Academy’s golf teams have a real grudge match. Remember, those two schools are populated by the children of the country-club circuit. They might not be able to change a tire, but they can bogey with the best.
As it turns out, the young man (I was now thinking of him in such terms through an effort to distance myself from the idea he was a child) in question was on the varsity golf team. He and his father golfed together frequently. I could picture them now, wandering their way through the back nine at the Cape Fear Country Club, the sun turning the sky blue-pink behind them as it began the evening’s technicolor showdown. The calm, mutual understanding and quiet they shared when I tagged along to interview them for an article for the paper was such a stark contrast to what had been in the envelope.
When I met my last victim, Sara, the description sent to me became an understatement. With Mac, I began to wonder if I had the right person. How could this clean-cut, well-mannered young man, so attentive to his father, possibly be the sadist described by the pictures and letter?
They invited me for dinner at the club, but it appeared, again, to be just the two of them. “I would really like to meet the rest of the family, for the piece,” I suggested with a smile, sipping a gin and tonic.
What is it about country club bars and gin? They are the last places you can get a decent gin-based drink without it drowning in colored syrups.
After some verbal parrying from the lawyer father about how everything I needed for the article was right here, his vanity won out. He conceded to have me visit the house the following weekend. The rest of the meal returned to a fairly light-hearted exchange about golf, camaraderie and the power of quality time spent with family.
Mac, small but sturdy for his age, obviously idolized his father, who, like many high-powered lawyers, put off a larger-than-life, “high courtroom drama” air wherever he went. I don’t know about you, Judith, but I have always found that level of machismo off-putting and unsettling, which is probably exactly what it is supposed to do.
Like many small men, everything about Mac was big to make up for it; big voice and personality, the best clothes and golf clubs—everything. Having a father who reminded people of an elephant on stampede didn’t hurt either.
Whether I personally liked Mac and his dad or not, how could I possibly rob this man of his son, whom he adored?
The next week was a torment for me. I lost my appetite with the arrival of the pictures. Now, I was breaking out in a mild case of hives, and the smell of food made me nauseous. I was an itchy, unfocused wreck.
I, of course, spent time learning a lot about Mac before arranging the interview. Besides his passion for golf, he was pretty much everything I remembered from the bullies in high school. At least at Hanover they weren’t Nelson off “The Simpsons,” but the exact opposite: overly privileged, honors students, intensely cliquish, mean in the way that adolescents perfect in a group settings.
I interviewed his golf coach, who praised him thoroughly, and waxed poetic about how his team played “with one mind and one soul.” When I watched them at practice, it was clear there was an edge to Mac and the other boys. It was like they followed him more out of fear than anything. You could almost taste the bitter acidic scent of tension in the air.