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The Killing Type

The Killing Type

 

 

The Killing Type

 

Wayne Jones

 

copyright © 2015
Wayne Jones

 

Chapter 1

 

There are dangers on the streets at night in my sleepy, pretty little town of Knosting. About a month before I started my general research, a man was killed at the corner of Princess and Division Streets and his body was dragged not into a nearby alley (and there is one, about 100 metres from where the murder took place) or to any other secluded area, but a full block west along Princess to the corner of another street whose name escapes me just now. The police were puzzled. Why kill someone nearly in the middle of downtown and then drag the body for what the police estimate would have taken three to five minutes?

I followed the case closely in the Gazette (embarrassingly large type on the front page for days). The police offered three theories: the killer wanted to be caught; he thrived on the risk; his actions were those of a deranged mind. Frankly, I never thought those explanations were very imaginative or accurate. They sound like lines from a book by some pop-psych criminologist. Or worse: some populist with an agenda that includes (to take theory three) designating murderers as crazy monsters so far beyond the bounds of civilized society that the justice system needn’t waste its time finessing any treatment. “Kill the bastards,” “lock him up and throw away the key,” and so on.

Supplementing this simplistic view is the shock that people exhibit when, say, the killer is revealed to be the person next door, a family man with a wife and a dog and two lovely children (a boy and a girl, of course), and who—and this is the “kicker,” as I heard today over my latte—had never demonstrated any previous tendency even towards the most minor aggression, let alone murder. One wonders what exactly people expect: perhaps that he had a bad habit of banging the garbage cans around when he was setting them on the curb after midnight, or he was unkind to insects, or didn’t he shoot a gun at one of his children that time when they disagreed about whether it should be sausage or chicken on barbecue night?

I watch the news and hope that I am not being too ungenerous in saying that the genuine-seeming puzzlement and earnestness on the part of the interviewees simply astound me. “You know, it terrifies me that this could happen right next door.” Of course, I blame the reporters more than the hapless near-victims or acquaintances, who are dazed by the event to begin with and are perhaps taken by surprise by such journalistic inanity. If the dumb questions are not asked in the first place, then people who are not used to being on television anyway will not be put in the awkward position of stating the inaccurately obvious, or scrambling to find something to say about an event that is both too hard and too easy to explain.

There was one other curiosity (if I can use such a frivolous word) about this murder, which distracted people somewhat from the police’s lazy speculations. The man—his name is Douglas Quade—had been stabbed once through the heart (“cleanly,” the Gazette unaccountably called it) but the word BEGIN had been meticulously carved into his chest, neatly, like with a computer set to all caps. His shirt had been unbuttoned, the word was carved, and then the shirt was buttoned again. It was unnerving and disturbing for people, and in the frenzy of details—a man killed downtown, dragged a block, the killer possibly a “madman” (the police again), and the fact of a murder in the first place—in the messy panic of all of this, it was the carving into the victim’s chest that people remembered and focused on.

 

I arrived in Knosting a year before this murder occurred, pushed out of a cushy associate professorship at Toronto University. The whole affair started with the head of the Department of English disputing the value of my research, and ended with ad hominem attacks on both sides, a few angry emails that I shouldn’t have sent, and finally an agreement between the department and me that if I would just resign they would not fire me and would supply me with a small sum of money for my transition as well as a favourable letter of reference. Such are the dirty, petty politics of academic departments.

I felt then, and still feel, that the basic thrust of my research was valid, even revolutionary. There are certain silos of convention and conservatism in the study of English language and literature, and I freely admit that I am outside of those. Still, that didn’t give the department head the right to disparage my work and to insist that I consider other avenues—or risk a drubbing when it came time for my consideration for tenure. The core of my research is deceptively simple: the relationship between the typewriter (and computer) keyboard and the literary works that have been created with it. How are novels influenced by the fact that they were created using a keyboard? What are the differences between works produced with a keyboard, and those not (either because of the authors’ choice, or the fact that it hadn’t been invented till about the late 19th century)?

Oh, the bleating sounds that emanated from the English department mere weeks after my arrival there. Pseudo-research, some called it, tantamount to the study of astrology or phrenology. Enlightened readers will recognize the small-minded brayings (to mix my animal metaphors) of colleagues who can think of no other way to protect their own dubious scholarship than by trying to invalidate work which they don’t understand or are threatened by. My research has aspects of literary criticism and social history and psychology and the history of technology all combined into one fascinating topic. There’s nothing of the fusty, hoary, tedious old enquiries and methodologies practiced by cranks from Abilene to Zembla.

Still, I’ve changed my focus. Or let’s say expanded it. I will hold steadfastly to my keyboard research even though it will be on hiatus, but the conjunction of my arrival and that first murder (yes, unfortunately, there have been more) have made me interested in mysteries and murders and, well, murder mysteries. I am not yet sure of my “angle,” as the candidates for assistant professor at Toronto U. used to so crudely put it, but I am tending toward something as basic as a book about the local murders. I’ve become something of an amateur sleuth and enthusiast of the cases here in Knosting. My book will not be a tossed-off quickie, taking advantage of the resolution of the case to foist a dumb summary on a relieved public eager to gobble up any slapdash compilation of prurient details. Some days I do imagine a sort of dual vindication, when perhaps I contribute to the bringing of the killer to justice, but also when my former academic colleagues realize how very wrong they were about me, about my research, about the way I was treated. How tedious it was at TU when nervous lecturers and foppish tenured professors would insist on prefacing every speech and every article in the faculty newsletter with quotations from obscure texts from the obscure minor literary figures who were the subjects of their research. Or worse: Shakespeare reduced to only the most obvious lines from Hamlet, or Samuel Johnson quoted on everything requiring a learned curmudgeon.

A word about my current professional and financial situation … The attentive reader will have noticed that I left Toronto U. with “a small sum of money.” Let’s be frank: it was two years’ salary. I did not leave a narrow-minded English department in one city for a more enlightened one in another. Instead, I consider myself an independent or freelance researcher now. The “downside,” as they say in the vernacular, is that I have no salary, but the (ahem) upside is that I have a luxury of free time in which to pursue my interests. I’ve also sworn myself to a spartan lifestyle with a strict regimen of eating and an absolute avoidance of consumeristic purchases. I haven’t been to a restaurant, haven’t bought a book, haven’t outfitted myself with anything but the most basic clothing essentials for months and months. I live in a room in a big old heritage house owned by a lady who appreciates the tenancy of a quiet and dependable scholar, and who is willing to charge me less because of it.

I am a little afraid to sit down and work it out in full mathematical detail, but generally I estimate that I can stretch two years’ salary to at least three. I flatter myself that I can also eventually earn a little income here and there doing other freelance work of various kinds, a feature in the newspaper, perhaps a piece on the radio. However, I won’t worry about it. The long-term plan is to last here for a couple of years, publish a book, and then resume my keyboard research at some other university in Canada or the United States.

There is an obvious terror in many eyes that you catch along Princess Street. “The killer is still out there,” you hear and read, and people seem as perplexed by the fact that the police have not caught him yet as they are by this having happened at all in this town in the first place. Personally, I take a more practical and philosophical approach to the situation. On one hand, I believe that there are “lottery odds” that I will be the next chosen victim—1 in 100,000, I mean, really: how likely is it that it is going to be little old me? On the other hand, though I value my life and generally enjoy it, yet I am ready to shuffle off and shuffle away at any time.

I stop in at my favourite pub, and eventually the raver—about politics, about religion, and lately about murder—sets down his pool cue and comes over to my table.

“So, are they gonna catch this bastard or what?”

I look up from what has been a good glass of Caffrey’s up till now, and just shake my head. “I don’t know. What do you think?”

He looks up at the ceiling for a second. I wonder whether he has heard something or whether this is his method for studied consideration. I can see that his lips are slightly pursed, his face taut. When his head comes down, his gaze is direct and forceful.

“Goddamn fuckin police,” he says. “I don’t know whether I hate those cocksuckers more than the killer, for fuck sake. How long does it take to track down this guy? Tell me that.”

He is looking at me as if, possibly, I might have the answer to this ridiculous troglodyte of a rhetorical question, and I just shake my head and purse my own lips and look down at my beer to signal where my real interests lie. He’s still standing there after I sip, and then sip again, and the silence feels like a challenge, or at least a hole that I am responsible for filling in.

“It makes you wonder,” I say only half logically, and unfortunately it only encourages him.

“You’re goddamn right it makes you wonder. Like, maybe a cop is the killer and they’re just all covering up.”

I truly start to wonder whether I might have to drink up, pay my tab, and leave on some pretence. You know, I might say, you just seem too stupid to talk to. I think I may have to leave now and go home to do my hair or paint the second bedroom or blow my own brains out so that I don’t have to listen to—

I calm myself. “Listen,” I lie, “I thought I read that the police had arrested somebody …” I let it trail off, tantalizingly.

“No shit?” And then to the bartender: “Jimmy, do you have a paper here? Today’s paper?”

He walks off and I feel guilty about my silly little ruse, but at the same time pleased that something simple worked so well. I do drink up, leave a five for Jimmy, and then nod towards the raver, who is not even noticing me now, he’s so busy asking Jimmy to turn on the radio, turn on the TV, he has to see the news.

 

Chapter 2

 

Quiet. It’s a cloudy and cool Canada Day, feeling more like fall than the 11th day of summer. I’ve avoided the library and all human contact today, confining myself to my cozy room. Admittedly, the place is a mess, but a controlled one. I enforce what I call a silo method of organization in the seeming chaos of this room. There are newspapers piled and generally discarded there by the couch, for example, and personal toiletries covering the entire top of one of the dressers, but nothing in any one category is located in more than one place. There is no can of shaving cream down there among the newspapers, there is no clipping from the Gazette absorbing aftershave lotion or the coagulated excrescence from the plastic-capped top of a tube of toothpaste. I was one of those ill-treated kids who would segregate the foods on his middle-class dinner plate so that—to take an example of a combination of atrocities that I cannot stomach at all now—the mashed potatoes would not touch the green peas and neither would touch the well-cooked, immaculately sliced roast beef, and gravy, oh, horrid gravy, would never be allowed to sully any of them. My father chided me for taking so long to finish a simple meal, my mother felt that I was merely playing with the one outlet for her creative expression, and my sister teased me mercilessly and, hateful wench, would poke her fork into one of the piles when my parents weren’t looking and try to mix them all up.

Where was I? My room. These days there is no one to threaten the controlled chaos, and I have to admit that I have softened a little over the years anyway, in that I do allow a mess at all, and in fact have grown used to being more casual about such relatively unimportant things. I was a terror at Toronto U., continually insisting that the staff lounge be maintained at least at the barest minimal standards of order. What teenagers they were, my former colleagues, cleaning up their room only when the beleaguered adult finally enforced what one would have expected to be done voluntarily. I chose various methods, neither of which ever had an effect that lasted more than a couple of days. I provided them with humorous distractions and incentives, pathetic little didactic cartoons clipped from the magazines strewn all over the place. One featured a man standing in the middle of the square formed by four huge piles of paper. The punch lines all escape me now, but this one was suitably witty without being so esoteric as to defy the comprehension of some of the junior faculty (notably that Austen specialist from Deer Lake). Something about Babel or babble or the Bible, and then a tower of books and—well, you get the idea.

Other times I strategically placed index cards with quotations about order and neatness written across the blue-lined furrows, and the keyword calligraphically, boldly, but clearly on the red-line fence at the top. I was teaching Swift during that time, and so most of the imprecations were drawn from Gulliver’s Travels or the Tale of a Tub or even from some of the more obscure works. Several of them I wrote in boustrophedon style, and I took a nasty delight one day in watching the department head puzzle over the inscrutable reversals.

My least effective method, as I desperately sank to the level of my adolescent cohorts, was to lock the door and post a notice—using official stationery I had filched from the supply room to which the departmental secretary had granted me access when I interrupted her in the middle of a phone conversation—a notice that the staff room would be closed until everyone signed an agreement (conveniently posted right below) to keep the lounge clean and neat. Nobody thought that was very funny, especially after the fourth or fifth time, and I generally returned to find both pieces of paper in shreds and scattered in and around the garbage can (mostly around).

I was called to the department head’s office after that routine started to get a little old.

“Jesus, Andrew, what are you trying to prove?” he asked me.

“The place is a sty. I’m just trying to encourage some basic hygiene.”

“Encourage? They’re livid now, and I’m having a hard time mustering the energy to defend you.”

I never did it again after that, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that within nine months of that final incident, I was gone from TU. That wasn’t the only problem, but it didn’t help.

In my own room, the continual internal debate is whether I should keep perfecting the silos, or just get rid of a few things. Perhaps a lot of things, perhaps even a silo or two. In any case, I realize with some tincture of shame that the whole effort is for domestic control. Some drab psychology textbook I was leafing through recently referred to the desire for control as “stemming”—yes, that word exactly, as if any part of the course of a ragged life could resemble the beauty of a flower—stemming from the lack of control in childhood. A sister who wouldn’t knock before entering a curious boy’s bedroom. A mother who demonstrated no respect for my clothing suggestions. A father—well, the less said the better. I hate to appear as the embodiment of a psychological truism, but a fact is a fact: I crave control. At Toronto University, even though the main impetus for my leaving stemmed from the class of clowns that I found myself surrounded by, some part of it (let’s say 10 percent for the mathematically inclined reader) was because life was so frantic, so hectic, so uncontrolled. I enjoyed having only the two classes (one Tuesday, one Thursday), both finishing conveniently around lunch time, but those were two glorious distinct points from which radiated a blinding array of activity. Misspelled essays to correct. Exams, tests, midterms, and other variations. Committee meetings whose agendas indicated only an hour, but during which the chair invariably droned on and ended up at one or other digression (“now I’m not saying that my wife is a shoplifter!”), and at nearly two hours there was more checking of watches than taking of notes. Students dropping by my office at hours clearly not covered by those posted in Times New Roman 16-point on my door. Evaluations, promotions, letters of reference solicited by this incompetent Nabokovian or that specialist in a 17th-century poet whom I frankly had never heard of.

I shiver even recounting the selected details. My leaving the university was not quite a boon to my life or to my career, but it was not without several advantages which I cherished even as I struggled with righteous anger, rejection, fear. I felt relieved of a burden of unpredictable demands on my time, people assailing me from all directions, always asking me for something. Granted, it was my job to be there for them, but I spent many hours holed up in my ratty little office between assaults, fantasizing about some fresh-faced student stopping me in the middle of an explication of Rasselas and saying, “And what is it that I can do for you, Professor?”

But, my room! … The important practical fact, all aesthetic concerns aside, is that no matter what the state of it, how it looks, I am able to find anything within seconds. Tenants of sparer apartments and owners of well-appointed beige mansions can generally not make such a claim. I am not professionally trained in psychology—though I do consider myself a lifelong student of human behaviour and interaction—but I have wondered about the psychological trait which manifests itself in this particular domestic habit, that is, to put it a little crudely, what this “says about me.” I ascribe it to a latent desire for order, for control as I’ve said, but in the context of an acceptance of the fact that the overall environment is unordered and uncontrollable. For the same reason I prefer public gardens and parks over the static and angular organization of squares and gridded streets. I do want the trees and the grounds to grow with a certain degree of wantonness, but not to be allowed to overtake the scene so much that a sense of order is lost.

Quade, this murder victim, was evidently a loner in the city. The police have identified no family members at all, not just in Knosting but anywhere in the vicinity, and not even any friends have stepped forward to express grief or provide information. The rumours and half-truths as reported in the various media are contradictory: on television he is a mentally ill eccentric with a small fortune in the bank, on the radio he lives in squalour and earns a subsistence income by collecting bottles on recycling nights in various neighbourhoods, and in the beloved Gazette he has never worked, has no home, and is “a complete mystery to the authorities.” I myself have not been able to glean much more than these, or to confirm one or the other, and the greyness and undependability of the supposed facts confirm the necessity of my research project and make me even more determined than I have been to find out—as grand as this might sound—the truth.

 

I set out the next morning on the first foray of my investigation, like a little boy with a butterfly net. I have absolutely no idea what I am doing, what to look for, how to proceed, what I might do if I found anything relevant. At the intersection where the murder took place, I stand and try to compose myself: there is something about the scene which makes me wholly uncomfortable. I hear drumming in my head, A man was killed here, like a piped-in mantra. I try to picture the whole sordid messy business, one human doing away with another, and my lack of success with that particular subtraction reminds me of my poorly developed math skills. Turning slightly, I stare up the street to where the body ended up, and that journey is even more of a strain on my poor head. I have a flash of negativity, a sudden lack of self-confidence that I will never be able to make it through this damn thing if I can’t force myself to stare hard at a few facts.

A car horn goes off, though I am not sure if it is directed at me. Perhaps in my reverie I was tending to wander into the street and rechristen it with another death. I sit on a bench and feel better almost immediately as I am provided with a solidity that I couldn’t seem to achieve on my own wobbly legs. My confidence, volatile ever since my youth, returns and I take out a notebook and begin writing a few things down. No system, none of the careful composition that my academic writings used to require: just rough notes as they come to me. I fill a few pages which in the end don’t seem to amount to anything substantive, but I am happy to have broken through the block.

I try to piece together the logistics, how a body could be killed, dragged, and mutilated, and my first conclusion is that it didn’t quite happen the way it seems. Those rough notes offer up only “possible self-mutilation” and “dragged by someone else,” both of which on reflection suggest logistics even more unbelievable than the obvious. With only the slightest turn of my body I can see the exact spot where the actual murder took place (the police were very forthcoming to the reporters). Something is shiny there and I immediately get up from what has been a comfortable perch and walk over. I bend down and extract from a slight indentation in the pavement a small triangle of metal, not more than a couple of millimetres on each side. It glints like a forbidden jewel when I place it on the tip of my right index finger. I squeeze my thumb on top of it to keep it safely in place as I return to the bench.

On closer examination I can see that one of the sides is slightly longer and more ragged than the other two. I twirl it between my fingers, accidentally drop it on the ground, retrieve and then wrap it in a tissue before putting the whole thing carefully into my trouser pocket. I take my booty back to my apartment and I am panting as I fumble with the key and then spend almost a full minute trying to get it into the lock. I take the tissue out of my pocket, confirm that I haven’t lost the triangle, and then set it delicately down on my kitchen table. First I have to verify what I think I have half-remembered from one of the newspaper reports in the last couple of days. I consult my clipping file (immaculately organized) and read through until I discover: “Police confirmed that they recovered a knife at the scene of the crime, but with its tip missing.” I file the clipping back in its trove and return to the table.

I shudder a bit now as I open up the tissue to expose this shard of metal which less than a week ago was used to mutilate a body. Revulsion strikes me first and I shake the tip from my hand like it is one of those spiders that I have been telling the landlady about to no avail. Fascination follows and I gingerly retrieve it from under the table and hold it in the palm of my hand. It has done a rough business and has wound up in my possession through an obvious police oversight, but I do feel that it deserves the kind of reverence due to all artifacts.

I sit down again and puzzle over how this tip might have gotten broken off. The possibilities remind me of my relative forensic ignorance (must remedy that with some intensive research at the library), as I am not even sure whether it is possible, say, to break off the tip of a knife on the bone of a human body. Is the sternum hard enough to do that? The only other possibility seems to be that perhaps in the thrashing the killer inadvertently dragged the knife point along the pavement and broke the tip off that way. I make a mental note—no, determined to be a better investigator, I actually write it down: “check pavement at crime scene for knife scrape.”

It does occur to me that I have evidence here and that the civic-minded thing to do would be to contact the police and give it up. Perhaps, civic-mindedness aside, that is also a legal requirement. I consider for a moment doing this, mostly because I don’t want to end up in prison nor to attract any attention that would steal my research and writing time. My other reasoning, admittedly specious on the surface, is that a piece of so-called evidence such as this will do nothing to move forward the search for the killer or help in his prosecution when he is eventually caught. The police already have the knife: what use is the tip?

I pack up my treasure and put it in the eyeglass case that I keep in the sock drawer of my dresser. I have odd feelings that I can’t quite identify or put a name to.

 

Chapter 3

 

W is for Winton, as Ms Grafton might put it if she ever gets that far in the alphabet and starts substituting proper names for the generic crime-related words she has favoured up till now.

A week ago a man named Steven Winton was discovered dead in the front seat of his red 1995 Acura Integra (“the one with the 160-horsepower VTEC engine,” as a newscast put it, appealing to which segment of the potential viewership I have no idea). He had been shot twice, or, rather, a gun had been shot into his car twice: one broke the driver’s side window, just missed the headrest, and lodged in the cushion of the back seat; the other entered the top of the left side of his head right at the border of his hairline and his forehead, proceeded down through his brain, and came out through his ear—and the puzzle is that the police can’t find that second bullet. At least, that’s the rumour I heard from the raver: the investigation is, as they say (and said), “ongoing.”

The police are starting to do the obvious math, and it’s not adding up right in a small town like this. Here’s what the chief of police said at the news conference yesterday: “We don’t get many murders here and so we’re going on the theory for now that these two were committed by the same person.” He looked nervous there on the dais, fidgety, perhaps not used to quite so many reporters, maybe thirty little tape recorders crowded around the base of his microphone like enthusiasts at a rally. I watched the whole thing only on television, and I could see the worry in his eyes, not just from the fact of a second murder, but from the details that he was not explaining to the masses. That is: it’s unlikely that the two victims were killed by the same person, because a serial killer—even one who kills “just” a couple of people—tends not only to use more or less the same method of killing, but also to use more tactile methods such as stabbing, and not cold and distant ones such as shooting. “Serial killers … avoid firearms whenever possible because they are such an impersonal way to kill,” as one of the premier authorities on serial killing and mass murder puts it (Elliott Leyton in Hunting Humans).

Perhaps I am just contriving the look on the police chief’s face in my own head. Maybe he is always like that, a nervous sort, shy in crowds, more comfortable in smaller groups or in the office, doing the legwork of investigation rather than acting as a spokesperson. Maybe, as some of the ingrates used to say about me at TU, maybe I am making too much of a little thing. Still, among the skills that one learns as a scholar that are applicable even remotely to what is affectionately known as the “real world” is a keen penchant for close observation. In the literary texts which I have edited, for example, I have prided myself not only on my indefatigable research in both primary and secondary sources and my resultant comprehensive knowledge of the particular period under study, but also my attention to the details of proofreading. At Oxford University Press, some of the production editors styled me “Comma Man” for my unstinting abilities, proof after proof, and the series editor (the TU department head, in better days) touted me embarrassingly in my evaluation, recommending me without hesitation for promotion from assistant to associate professor.

How things change! I have to confess that I miss the true academic life. It feels crude some days roiling in the dregs of details about murder and the fear and upheaval it has caused in this small town. Scholarly research is a cleaner and much more humane pursuit, and the discoveries contribute to the fund of civilized knowledge. When you are writing a book about murder, discovery is a dreadful and dreary process: details about obscenities inflicted upon bodies, a widow shaking her head when the reporter asks her “How does it feel?” Sometimes the quest to dig out the facts and to marshal them into some comprehensible whole is just too tiring and depressing, even for a committed researcher such as myself. I flail around (figuratively), try to distract myself with serendipitously found games on the internet, or search out specific keywords on anything other than murder.

My background research on Mr. Winton—an orgy of activity entailing interviewing tight-lipped cops at one end and poring over positively horrific forensic science texts at the other—left me feeling dazed and pummelled. Occasionally, during the darkest moments, I wonder whether I have the stamina for this, the stomach. I remembered how much pleasure I had at Toronto U. in what now seem like outrageously innocent pursuits, ferretting out some facts about the watermarks and composition of the first edition of Samuel Johnson’s Rambler, or studying parody in the works of Swift. There were frustrations with that research, too, but they were mostly small things, such as (during one particularly memorable morning when it was raining) the absolute refusal of the curator of rare books and manuscripts to let me view some hard-to-find editions because of the mere technicality of my expired library card.

I have to resort to a child’s simple language in order to describe a few of the basic, ghastly facts about Winton’s death. First: the hole that a bullet makes when it comes out of the human body is much bigger than the one that it makes when it enters. Have you ever seen that high-speed photo of a bullet shot through an apple, the one taken by Harold E. Edgerton at MIT in 1964? The effect in a human head is even more pronounced than that: a tiny hole more or less the size of the bullet on entry, and a large “exit wound” on the other side. The reports in the media always tend to underemphasize, if not studiously avoid, this kind of information, a practice I have never quite understood. Expose people to the filthy practicalities of violence and soon the culture would not be inured and complacent, but would raise its voice and enforce justice on the perpetrators.

The letters in the Gazette tend towards anger and sadness instead of fear. The focus of most is on the widow and nine-year-old son that Winton’s murder left behind: “My heart goes out to Cecilia Winton and her little boy Jack. I just can’t comprehend what monster would do something like this. How can there possibly be a reason for this? And why haven’t the police been able to track this person down?” There was also: “Society is really starting to break down when there are killings at all, one human taking another’s life, but when that is done with apparent randomness, when there is no ‘reason,’ if one can say something that heinous, then we must truly be in the end days.” And then the topper, from Ryan, also nine: “Jack was my best friend and now I don’t get to play with him any more. My Mom and Dad, who I love very much, tell me that there are bad people in the world, people who hurt other people, but I don’t know why anyone would want to hurt Jack’s Dad because he was a really nice man and took us for walks along the lake and then bought us ice cream.”

 

The next day, a bright Saturday when I awaken at 10:45, but eventually deteriorating to cloud and coolness and rain by the time I have finished chores and latte—the next day I seek a kind of solace among simple people doing simple things. A man is dead, a second murder victim, but there are still fake-tanned older mothers selecting extra-old cheddar at the outdoor market. I wonder if they are as shocked as I am, as assaulted, and hope to right themselves by at least pretending to be living in a normal town on a normal day. I am not having much success: no matter how much I walk, no matter how charming a little corner I find on whatever historic bench with just the right amount of shade and dappled sunshine, I am not able to shake a pervasive nervousness, a tension which gripped me when I read the first headlines and got worse as I absorbed more and more details. A sense of longing develops, builds, subsides, rises again with added strength, a longing for simpler times as an obscure academic in a big anonymous city. I feel too exposed here among the merchant selling emu products, the farmer still in her dirty jeans and knee-high rubber boots, the father walking slowly to his illegally parked minivan with just enough berries and other goodies to suffice for dessert after the evening’s barbecue. I fear that the killer with that same gun could be headed my way, headed for this entire group. I have a frisson of realization that he may be primed now to move from one-at-a-time serial killing to mass murder, giving up the soliloquy for the crowded bloody stage. I tremble next to the display of LPs already shot through and now reduced to a dollar each.

There has been a rough choreography of extreme emotion over the past few days, on the radio and television, in the newspaper, on the street. The snippets that I’ve witnessed are mostly anger and fear, which, as any psychological quack with the slightest of B.A.’s will tell you, are both the same thing. Just as the macho man with the illiberal views and the tendency toward personal vigilantism is a weak little simp on the inside, many of those who are ranting angrily are really doing so out of fear. I do not criticize this fear, of course, but have to admit that the anger can be wearing. Sincere emotion tends to come from the deep, quiet centre of a person, and is manifested with a dignity and integrity which the media “personalities” do not even approach.

As I pass by a table of overdone turquoise jewelry, I hear my name called. I flinch that it might be the raver, but it turns out to be an attractive, husky-voiced young woman whom I can’t quite place.

“Yes, hello.”

“My name’s Rachel. From the public library, you know, the main branch. I’ve helped you with some of your research.”

“Oh, yes, I recognize you now,” I lie. “Please forgive me: I guess it must be seeing you out of context.” I smile at her to indicate something friendly. I do remember now that she was in fact quite helpful, steering me away from false leads, and introducing me to sources of information that I hadn’t been aware of.

“It’s scary,” she says.

“Scary?”

“The murders.”

“Oh, yes, right. Yes. Though I guess the police …” I let the sentence trail off, suddenly realizing that I am not quite sure what I wanted to say about that. Are the police on the verge of arresting someone? Are they incompetent?

“I don’t think they’ve caught anyone, right?” she asks, saving me.

“No, that’s what I hear on the news anyway.”

She smiles awkwardly, as if the tidbit of information, only this side of polite conversation, is somehow disturbing. A car goes by and it startles her. She squeals in a very appealing fashion.

“I’m sorry,” she says. “A little nervous, I guess. This thing has got me spooked.”

“It’s understandable,” I say. “People have been killed.”

“What do you think it’s all about? I mean, who’s doing this?” She laughs nervously.

“Well, if I knew that, my book would be very short and I would go to the police right away.” She laughs again, this time more relaxed.

“I guess maybe I just lack imagination or something,” she says. “I mean, I work in a library, and I read a lot of books, mysteries even, but I can’t even begin to imagine who the killer is, what kind of man—what kind of person, I guess—what kind of person would do something like this.”

I finally have a chance to examine her more closely as she looks around, as if for her next halting sentence, as if for the murderer, and the thing that strikes me is that she is a jumble of contrasts. An elegant black jacket, but shabby shoes; a bad haircut, but makeup applied with subtlety and meticulousness.

“Listen,” I say, sounding more imperious than I intend. “Are you going to be in on Saturday, at the library?”

She nods.

“Perhaps after my research we could go get a coffee or something and discuss the case. Not that I know anything in particular, but I think that it might be interesting to exchange thoughts.”

“That would be wonderful.”

I look at my watch, crudely, I am afraid, and for no particular reason, and she takes the unintended cue.

“You’re busy, but it’s been nice talking to you and I’ll see you on Saturday. I’m there from nine to four.”

She walks away resolutely at first, determined, but after about ten metres she turns to see whether I am still there, still watching her. Her eyes go down to the ground then and she turns back around very quickly and makes her way down the street. I sense an odd—what to call it?—victory, as if I have won this particular battle.

 

Chapter 4

 

I take a break from this necessary but awful research, and walk along that same lake where Ryan and Jack used to walk in more civilized times. It’s early evening and the water is an unnatural shade of steel grey, calm and ominous. Novice jogger with flabby legs and bad technique. A couple whispering to each other on a rock. A family gathered around a woman in a wheelchair, some respite from whatever she is being cared for at the hospital across the street. There’s enough wind blowing to keep those gaggles of flies from gathering, but not enough to make me cold as I stride with some purpose. Not that I really do have anything to do or anywhere to go, but I always feel awkward when I am seen to be strolling alone, when I am obviously not accompanied by anyone (no friends, no girlfriend, no family visiting me) and so appear to be doing this for exercise or for lack of other useful activity to be devoting myself to (“Honey, let’s go to the lake, it’ll kill some time!”).

Years of work as a student (bachelor, master, and finally doctor), and then even more years teaching, and really a lifetime of critical and attentive reading of everything I’ve set my eyes to since about grade 9—all that time and experience combined with an innate inclination for facts over feelings—all that has made me particularly sensitive and averse to sentimentality of any kind. So as I walk through the darkening night, I have to fight back feelings of self-pity and anger, waves of self-righteous rage at the shoddy treatment I received at TU. I feel like a child, no better than poor little Jack, while I debate with a Maker about whose existence I have long been agnostic, on the topic of my current lot. Why am I not basking in tenure and intensifying my knowledge of my literary specialties instead of writing a sad little book on a sad little topic? I received a long, rambling email from Jeremy (a former fellow student) recently—quite unexpectedly, as I hadn’t heard from him in about ten years—in which he professed to have converted to both Christianity and veganism, and counselled me that I should embrace whatever happenstance falls from God’s firmament into my arms, and not treat digressions as anything other than unplanned gifts.

I have no patience for claptrap about an ordered universe created by Anyone, but on my better days I have to concede the practical, humanist truth of Jeremy’s reminder. No situation is absolutely better than all others, and so there are in fact many advantages to my current situation. No more petty academic politics. No more questions from earnest first-year students about what the “message” is of this or that core literary work of Western civilization. No more ever-thinner slices of subject matter for articles in peer-reviewed journals, searching for that take on Alexander Pope that hasn’t been written about a thousand times, that tidbit of fact that would revolutionize the way his oeuvre is seen forever after. The murder research avoids all that—as Jeremy put it one night after a drunken, boisterous walk around the commons—all that “bullshit.” Le mot juste.

It’s dark by the time I reach the end of the path, which takes me aback tonight as it often does: the only choices are even deeper darkness in three directions, or retreat. I stand there and look out over the expanse of the water, lights flickering here and there but generally nothing, and nobody. There’s a near total silence for about half a minute as the traffic relents and the water decides to be calm. I find it hard to imagine that a killer could be hunting in this city, that such a pinpoint of perfection could be sullied by the downing of fellow humans.

A car horn sounds and for a moment I forget where I am. Here, now, but headed home. I turn around and head back, and as usual the retracing of my steps is slightly depressing. The reason is that it is much darker out now, nearly pitch except for the occasional light, and the path is devoid of other people. It always feels to me as if I am revisiting a once-beautiful vista that has now been despoiled. There was light and sounds when I was here on this very stretch an hour ago, in front of this bench, alongside these rocks, but now there is nothing. I feel like it’s the end of the party, the scene of the crime, the cursèd fate of all things beautiful. (I’m overreacting, yes: I spent a fair portion of the afternoon reading Romantic poetry.)

The “topper” (an egregious word I heard while eavesdropping on Wellington Street on Saturday) is the arrival back in my room, after wending through City Park and some nice streets just east of the student part of town. Absolute silence and solitude, my landlady long since sunk into the last of the deep sleeps which old age forces on her several times a day now. I have rituals that I generally follow at night, but I just don’t have the heart for them now, at, what, 11:42 pm. I work on the book throughout the day, of course, but I’ve gotten religious about spending an hour on it before I go to bed, too: it is the logical penultimate activity, but I struggle with it tonight.

Reading is the last thing I do. Nothing research related, at least not directly, and none of that atrocious page-turner stuff that gets trumpeted in the newspapers. I turn down the sheets, adjust the ceiling fan to its second-highest speed, effective but relatively quiet, and settle in for what usually amounts to about an hour of reading. Half reclined on two big pillows, the red-shaded lamp providing just enough light, the fan whooshing comfortably, I choose from the pile on the second shelf of my wicker night stand a book that is part history of printing with movable type, part biography of Gutenberg (the title, perversely, is My Mainz Man).

 

Chapter 5

 

I go to the King’s University library for some serendipitous fun, scouring the shelves for nothing in particular at first, but then zeroing in on the HV6251 to HV7220.5 sections of the classed books on the shelves. Crimes, book after book on the topic, as if Knosting had been preparing itself all these years for the assaults it has been undergoing, librarians with foresight developing the collection, fortifying the city against attack.

The place is quiet. I select a single title, slide it out from between the confines of its shelfmates, and confirm that I am all alone before I promptly sit down on the floor and start skimming through. It’s perversely refreshing to be reading about crimes committed in other cities and in other times, far, far away and long ago, as they say in the fairy tales. I like being distracted from the immediate threat.

A throat clears while I am reading something about Gacy or Gein, and I look up to see a woman standing there.

“Sorry,” I say. “Didn’t mean to block your way.” I begin to struggle to my feet.

“Please don’t move,” she says, and then pauses and adds: “Fascinating, isn’t it?”

“What?”

“These books here. These murders, men at their worst. And some women, too, all doing all that horrible stuff.”

It’s disorienting, down here on the floor, the book closing itself up and falling down between my knees, while this beautiful creature talks on, her voice lilting up and down but mysteriously steady, too. I look up, stare for a solid five seconds, and she just smiles back goofily, surveys the shelves and seems to take a book out at random, and then plops down cross-legged on the floor with me.

***

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The Killing Type

Andrew arrives in the town of Knosting after he has been fired from his job at a big-city university, and a series of murders start happening soon after. He decides to apply his research skills to investigating these in order to find the killer and to write a book about the case. Though still recovering from what he perceives as his poor treatment by the administration at the university, he continues with his investigation. The murders persist, with the killer defying the serial pattern by dispatching his victims in various methods, instead of sticking to a single one. Andrew is unnerved when he receives an email from him, saying that his book will be unsuccessful and the killer will get away. During his research in the library, Andrew meets Tony, a quirky waitress with an interest in murder. The emails and murders still persist, and at first Andrew does not consider Tony to be a suspect. The citizens of the town are very upset as the murders add up and the police are not able to find even a suspect. The newspaper headlines scream for the killer to stop and for the police to do a better job. Andrew still regrets his failure to get published and tenured while at the university, but he stays focused on his investigation.

  • Author: Wayne Jones
  • Published: 2015-12-24 17:35:07
  • Words: 53953
The Killing Type The Killing Type