He watched the neighbor beating the piebald beagle with a brown leather belt between his blinds while drinking his morning cup of Folger’s coffee laced with French vanilla creamer. The little dog yelped but couldn’t get away, tethered by a short chain. He started making plans that afternoon. He’d set the dog free, incapacitate the neighbor, and then beat the animal abuser to death with the chain that had kept the pitiful little beagle shackled. But when night came he changed his mind, and after he’d set the dog free, he’d just shot the neighbor—less struggle and work than beating him with the chain—while he slept, with his .380 caliber Beretta ’84 which he’d outfitted with a silencer he’d constructed himself after watching some YouTube videos. The old animal-abusing bastard lived alone. Nobody cared enough to push much of an investigation. Unsolved crime. Looked like a professional hit they said. File it away for Unsolved Mysteries.
That one just whetted his appetite. He saw a news story about a twenty-five-year-old redneck named Tommy Taylor. Borderline retarded, long criminal record of petty crimes. He’d set a cat on fire just to watch it burn. He tracked the time until Tommy got out of jail and once he’d confirmed that Tommy was back home, he burned Tommy’s mother’s trailer down with both Tommy and her inside, the blaze fueled by what the arson investigators called the greatest amount of accelerant they’d ever seen in a residential arson case. The cops who’d worked the animal abuse case against Tommy joked that little cat prints led away from the scene of the fire. Nobody gave a shit about those people, and again, the crime was unsolved. There was no public outcry for justice. After all, the son of a bitch had burned a cat alive and his mother had birthed the monster. Serves them right was most people’s verdict. The newspaper ran what looked like an Olan Mills portrait of Tommy seated next to his mother, both of them with feathered blonde hair. They peered through beady eyes between the newsprint, rat-faced vermin under the bold headline.
A month later he saw on television the story of Mary Blanton, a lady out in the county who’d starved several horses to death, their skeletal and ghostly remains found still standing upright and barely breathing but requiring humane euthanasia, too far gone. He hit her with his Remington Bolt Action Model 700 with scope from the woods on her farm as the hag returned home from the doctor. He’d snuck through the woods a few miles down the road in his camouflaged Carhartts. Heartless, horse-starving bitches were in season. Limit one. He didn’t think she deserved the legal system and he couldn’t stand the thought of her being on the earth another day. He’d hit her with a little cleaner shot than he’d intended and, to his thinking, she’d been spared the suffering she deserved. He’d wanted her to linger in pain a little before death, but he got her clean, more evil erased. The authorities suspected it may have been the work of a horse lover, while the same detectives on the Taylor case again joked, wondering if Mr. Ed hadn’t been behind this one. I took her out, Wilbur.
He managed the night shift at Little Caesar’s Pizza. During the day, and late at night, after work, he watched movies and constructed and painted models—muscle cars, airplanes of World War II, Chevrolets of the Fifties. His duplex kept a glue and paint aroma.
He lived alone and liked it that way. Didn’t socialize much outside of work. Not much desire for the entanglements of friendship. He did have a little cat though named Izzy and she was strictly an indoor cat, doted upon and spoiled with treats, but painfully stubborn when it came to staying off his modeling work table. He had to keep a wet rag handy in case she got her little paws in any glue or paint. He kept a chair beside him so she could be against him while he worked. At least every twenty minutes he’d have to remove her from his work table and place her back in the chair.
He’d never imagined he could kill anyone, and even though he’d watched plenty of violent movies, the thought of actually being a party to a violent act had always made him queasy. The horror films he so loved were cartoonish, clearly distinguished from his reality. Still, he’d long kept guns, having grown up shooting at the range and trapshooting with his dad. He began to feel there’d been a purpose in it all, in his knowledge of guns, in his dad’s training. He was put here not to manage a pizza place, but to avenge the death of animals so cruelly tortured and killed. It was a meaningful purpose. Kismet. He would serve. Yes, he would serve. He’d found the killing to be easy as it was justified and warranted in his mind. He’d always valued animals over people.
He sat in the back of Little Caesar’s at the heavy industrial metal desk in front of the walk-in cooler totaling the day’s receipts and counting the cash from the registers. Intermittently he glanced up at Mandy’s ass as she swept, and then mopped the tiled floor. He could see the outline of her panties through her khaki pants. Her arms were milky white and he imagined the rest of her was too. She had some extra meat on the back of her thighs and he imagined her flesh spreading and springing back into place like pancake batter as he pressed himself against it in his mind. She was his closer for the night, nineteen years old, not going to school, almost getting full-time hours but not quite as that would have meant having to provide medical benefits. He liked having her there around 35 hours each week. He often scheduled her to close, just the two of them left at night’s end. She drove a rattling red Toyota wagon with Jane’s Addiction and Nirvana stickers on the back bumper and one on the hatch window that read My Body, My Right To Choose. Thick, frizzy, raven hair. Dark red lipstick. Nose a little aquiline. Medium build. Ample curves. Phlegmatic. Equanimous. Seemed stoned a lot of the time and may well have been. But, she was not the stoner who shrank from the world, incommunicado. She was a good worker and stayed on task. Management material after some seasoning and a little maturity. He wondered what it would be like to get high with her and have sex. Since soon after she’d started working there six months prior, he’d developed a maddening case of satyriasis.
“Hey, Mandy, what do you do during the day?”
She stopped mopping and looked back at him.
“I don’t know. Watch movies. Listen to music. Do things around my apartment.”
“Well, I know you’re off tomorrow and I’m planning on fixing my vegetarian lasagna if you’d like to come over for lunch. You can bring a favorite movie and your roommate, if you have a roommate. Not asking you on a date or anything, just a lunch invitation. I make a killer lasagna.”
She continued mopping. “Okay, just tell me what time and write down your address for me so I can find your place. I don’t have a roommate though. It’ll just be me. Should I bring anything?”
“No. I’ll have it all covered. Just bring some movies and we can pick one to watch. It’s going to be a shitty day tomorrow. Rain all day they’re saying. We can just eat and chill and watch a movie if you want.”
“Okay, just give me your address before I leave.”
He pulled a sheet of paper from the printer tray on the desk, wrote down his address and watched her move toward the counter working the mop back and forth across the tiles. Back and forth, back and forth, in a sensual undulating rhythm as The Doors’ Love Me Two Times played softly on the small portable, flour-and-tomato-sauce-mottled Panasonic radio on the back corner of the desk.
The sky looked papered and a cotton mist hung over the trees. Cars swished onward through the residential streets. His apartment smelled sweetly of garlic butter, onions and tomatoes. She shook off her Nightmare Before Christmas umbrella before entering, holding a few DVDs in her other hand.
“Here, let me take that umbrella and the movies from you,” he said and leaned the umbrella against the door so it could drip on the rug. He looked at the DVDs.
“Oh, The Omen and The Fog. I love both of these. Yes, and they’re the originals. A traditionalist. Me too. I love old horror films. I hate all these remakes and their disdain for subtlety.”
“Good, I didn’t know what to bring.” She smiled as her eyes scanned his apartment. “Those seemed appropriate today for some reason.”
She looked good out of her uniform, more comely in jeans, long-sleeve plain black t-shirt and black boots.
“I’m just getting ready to take everything from the oven. Have a seat. Should we watch the movie while we’re eating?”
“Sure, you want me to put it in? Actually, forget I asked that. I can never work anyone’s TV set-up with all the different remotes and everything. Always confuses the hell out of me.”
“No, that’s okay. Just have a seat there on the couch and get comfortable and I’ll set everything up.”
He placed the steaming plate of lasagna on the coffee table in front of her and confirmed she didn’t want anything to drink as she’d brought a Diet Pepsi.
He put The Omen in and settled in on the other end of the couch from her. They finished eating around the time the evil governess showed up to protect Damien after the dramatic birthday party suicide of the child’s prior caretaker.
“God that’s the most evil bitch in the history of cinema,” he said. “Those eyes.”
“No doubt,” she said. “See, this is why I’m never having kids. I’d have one like this. The spawn of Satan.”
He took their plates to the kitchen and grabbed a joint he’d rolled from inside the cabinet where he kept the coffee mugs. He sat down on the couch and reached it toward her.
“Do you smoke this stuff and would it offend you if I did?”
“No, go ahead. I’ll hit it with you.” She didn’t look surprised by the offering.
They watched the pestilential tale of the persevering Antichrist and passed the joint back and forth until both were stoned beyond the point of doing any more good with it.
“See, the child was not adopted out of charity but to replace their own child once Gregory Peck found out their baby was stillborn,” she said. “The adoption was not out of love but out of Gregory Peck not accepting the will of God and trying to trick his wife into believing this was actually their child. That’s why they got fucked by the devil.”
“So, you’re saying they deserved it.”
“No, I don’t know many who would deserve it, but I think there is some moral point being made there.”
He kept looking at her legs out the corner of his eye, diverting his eyes from the screen intermittently. He regretted he couldn’t smell her perfume as well now that he’d lit cherry incense to cover the marijuana odor, the orange glow of the incense’s tip burning in the corner of the room as smoke wafted from it to the spackled ceiling.
“I don’t understand why the priest gets it like he does when he was just trying to warn Gregory Peck and to basically save the world from evil,” she said. “It’s like the point of the movie is to show that Satan is actually more powerful than God.”
“Well, the priest himself was marked with the sign of the beast,” he said. “He had to die. When he turned his back on his master, Satan, he had to die. He was eaten up with cancer anyway. But now the photographer who helps Mr. Thorn, I agree with you there. It’s like the dark forces of the devil just steamroll everything in this movie. I think that’s why it’s so powerful, because it shows that there may be a darkness from which the world can’t be saved. It’s man’s own fear. The devil will cause man to destroy himself through man’s own fear and concomitant distrust of and hate for his fellow man.”
She stared at the screen, stoned and nodding.
They’d enjoyed themselves so much they decided to make it a weekly running event. Sunday, a quotidian day off for them both, became a day for lunch and films. Horror films of the early eighties constituted their staple genre including Prom Night and Halloween III, the latter being a greatly underestimated film in both of their opinions. In the sharing of the food, film and pot, they became more comfortable with one another, sitting closer on the sofa, touching each other in light and brief ways. His duplex became their friendly planet earth in a foreign and otherwise uninhabitable universe. At least he began to feel that way. Having her at his place, if only once a week, had begun to make him feel more at home in the cosmos.
Then, one night on his drive home after work, a news update on a local AM radio station told how a couple had been arrested for throwing a hound dog off a bridge out in the county. A boy fishing below the bridge was able to help the dog from the deep creek and the dog had survived relatively unscathed. Due to garbage and junk dumping in the area, surveillance cameras had been placed on the bridge and had captured the image of a man taking the dog from a pickup truck and throwing the dog off the bridge while his wife sat smoking a cigarette in the passenger seat. The police were able to capture the license plate numbers and letters from the surveillance video and arrested the couple, John and Cindy Porter.
After the couple had been released from jail awaiting a court date, he discovered their address on the internet. He conducted reconnaissance of the Porters’ rural home during the day and by trailing the accused, discovered that John Porter was continuing to work as a mechanic despite his new notoriety. Must have been one hell of a mechanic for them to keep him on after hearing what he’d done. Off work on a Tuesday night, he packed the Beretta and drove his Ford Focus in the nascent dark out past the Porters’ house. They weren’t home. He continued to drive up and down the road listening to Light Rock 105.1 playing the soft rock favorites of the seventies and eighties while waiting for the Porters to come home. Several cars passed him on the dark, narrow, slithering country highway as he waited, stalking the couple. Then, just as Stephen Bishop was launching into On and On and lamenting the women in Jamaica, headlights came around the curve ahead. It was the Porters’ pickup. As soon as they passed him he quickly turned around in a gravel farm drive, bumping the closed iron gate with the front of his car lightly before throwing the car in reverse and speeding back down the dark road. The Porters were taking groceries from the back of their pickup truck when he nonchalantly pulled into their drive. He walked up to them slowly and addressed them calmly.
“Excuse me, folks, I was wondering if you could give me directions. I’m lost.”
The Porters attempted to shield their eyes as he hadn’t turned off his headlights. Then, before they could even answer him, he pulled the Beretta from his pants and shot them both in the head. He ran back to his running car and drove it through the yard and back out onto the highway and into the night. Stephen Bishop was still singing his sweet song.
Mandy knocked on his door the following afternoon. She stood looking at him with tear tracks staining her cheeks under a deep cerulean sky that suggested there was nothing beyond it but a continuing oceanic blue for infinity.
“Someone killed my aunt and uncle last night. Shot them outside their house after they got back from the store.”
The shock caused his heart to palpitate and his breath to shorten, but there was no compunction and never would be.
“My God. Do they know who did it? Was it robbery? Where did they live?”
“They lived out off 82. No, it wasn’t robbery. Mom says it was like somebody was waiting for them. They’d been to the store and hadn’t even gotten their groceries in. It was like somebody was waiting on them to get home. They shot them both in the head.”
She began to shake in silent sobbing and put her head against his chest.
“Mandy, I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.” He was sorry for her. Not for the cruel devils he’d shot. What were the chances these demons were Mandy’s aunt and uncle? He’d never been able to beat out a handful of other people for a door prize, but when the odds were great against something bad happening, he could always overcome them, the bad thing finding him cowering behind the stacked odds.
“My aunt and uncle had been in the news here recently. I hadn’t said anything about it because it’s embarrassing, but I’m sure you heard about it. Did you hear about the couple who threw the dog off the bridge into Doe Creek off 82?”
“Yeah, I heard about it on the radio.”
“Well, that was my Uncle John and Aunt Cindy. Uncle John had a terrible temper. He’d caught that dog killing their chickens on multiple occasions and he’d just flipped and did what he did. It was cruel and it wasn’t right, but nobody should’ve just shot them for it. I guess that’s what they think. That somebody heard about what they did to that dog and decided to kill them for it.”
She pressed her wet wry face into his chest and sobbed for several minutes as he patted her back and told her to let it all out.
He didn’t see her for a week after that as she’d been excused from work. He had a nice arrangement of flowers delivered to Lewis Funeral Home from Little Caesar’s with the note, “With Deepest Sympathy.”
The news media reported the police were investigating the recent murders as related due to the victims’ shared status as accused animal abusers after a young police department spokesperson went so far as to say in a televised interview on Channel 18, “It looks like we may have a Charles Bronson for the animals on our hands.” The young information officer was going to learn the hard way that hers was not a job that called for creativity. She’d jeopardized the investigation. He knew his vigilantism must end or he’d end up in the pen for murder. The cops would be like mother hens on any future accused animal abusers.
Mandy eventually returned to work but was quiet and withdrawn. He gave her the easy jobs and didn’t make her close. Let her stay in the dish room, with the radio, away from everyone. He invited her over the next Sunday and to his surprise she came and even brought a movie, My Bloody Valentine. She also brought a fifth of one hundred proof Smirnoff vodka and a large sweating jug of cold Sunny Delight. She seemed to be half drunk already. The way she mixed their first drinks, vodka heavy, it seemed she was intent on getting drunker, but she remained reticent. He wasn’t about to bring up the source of her pain, being the secret cause of it.
During their second tumbler of bastardized screwdriver, she moved closer to him on the couch, her eyes glued to the screen as poor Mabel’s scorched corpse fell out of the drier. She reached over and grabbed his leg. He turned up the rest of his drink and sat the plastic cup rattling with ice on the coffee table before putting his arm around her.
“They shouldn’t have had a fucking Valentine’s Day Party,” she said, breaking her mournful silence. “Harry Warden warned them.”
He looked at her. She was looking at his mouth. He kissed her and after a few minutes led her to the bedroom.
“I’m on the pill. It’s okay,” she said.
Just as he was beginning to ejaculate she moved her hands from his back making them into fists which she pushed against his chest saying, “No, you have to stop. Stop!”
His body convulsed in two quick spasms and he pulled out of her and flopped over onto his back.
“I said stop.”
“And I did. I stopped. I don’t understand. What’s wrong?”
“I just have to go.”
She jumped out of his bed and quickly dressed. He got up and put on his boxers and t-shirt.
“Mandy, wait. Don’t leave. I want to talk to you.”
She slammed the door. She didn’t stop to grab her vodka or movie. He looked over at the television as the young miners cavorted with their dates in the midst of their fateful Valentine’s Day party before he made it to the window in time to see her Toyota trundling away.
He tried to call her but his calls went straight to her voicemail. He took a nap and upon awakening worked on a model of the USS Cygnus, the spaceship commanded by the crazed Dr. Hans Reinhardt in the 1979 Disney science fiction film The Black Hole, to keep his mind off Mandy and his other concerns—that the police may be closing in on him for his vigilantism. He became bored, huffed the model glue and became so dizzy he almost fell out of his chair. He staggered to the couch and his cat leapt away and scampered to the bedroom where the sheet and comforter remained in disarray, stained from the afternoon.
After some time he came back to earth and grabbed the remote control to start My Bloody Valentine over again. He became transfixed by the blue flicker of images of the small mining town shining from the television and eventually drifted into sleep after pulling an afghan over him.
He woke with the sounds of knocking on his door. He sat up and put his feet to the floor and willed himself over to the window where he pulled his blinds apart and saw two city police cruisers by the curb. Somehow they’d tracked him. Panic flooded him and smothered his ability to think clearly. There was a flash of thoughts of grabbing the Beretta. Would he shoot his way out? Should he just shoot himself? He was frozen standing behind the blinds which he’d released after seeing the police cruisers. A knock again. This time harder. It snapped him out of it. He’d just answer it and wouldn’t tell them anything. He’d simply act surprised. He quickly stepped to the door and opened it.
“Can I help you officers?”
The taller officer standing in front of a shorter, darker officer spoke. He looked like the professional wrestler known as The Big Boss Man.
“Are you Mark Tipton?”
“Mr. Tipton you’re under arrest. I’m going to read you your Miranda rights now so I want you to listen closely, okay?”
The other officer began placing cuffs on him.
“Okay, but may I ask what this is about, what I’m being arrested for?”
“I think you may have a good idea Mr. Tipton. Rape.”
“Rape? I’m being accused of rape? By whom?”
“We’ll talk about that down at the station, okay Mr. Tipton? I’m going to read you your rights now and I want you to listen, okay?”
He nodded. He couldn’t believe the reason for his arrest. He co-operated as they placed the cuffs on him and the shorter officer retrieved some loafers for him to slip on his feet. As they led him to the taller officer’s car he squinted from the sun, now high in the again seemingly endless azure sky. Yet, he understood the farther one traveled into that blue, the darker it became until there was full night. The cold black heart. The outside, necessary for the inside. The Latin chanting from The Omen score played in his head.
Ave Satani! Ave Satani!
As he sat in the back of the cruiser waiting to be escorted to the station, he pondered that despite all the evil he perceived in the world, it was the mind of a confused, grief-stricken, emotionally troubled young girl that affected his fate. He had conjured her and all her problems which were now his in a multiplied and twisted form. He understood he was going to pay for his darkness. He was going to burn for it.
Caged for the first time in his life he felt the great shadow envelope him as he sat cuffed behind the screen separating him from the cop. He remained obdurate but felt a sudden compulsion to be freed from all the decisions and responsibility of everyday life and to be liberated from the specter of the inhalants he couldn’t resist huffing into his bloodstream.
“Officer, there’s another name you all know me by.”
“Oh yeah, and what is that Mr. Tipton?”
The officer looked at him in his rearview mirror.
“Charles Bronson. Charles Bronson for the animals.”
The ominous score from The Omen no longer played in his head, replaced by the beauty of Franz Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony (No. 8 in B Minor). A smile crossed his face as it occurred to him he wouldn’t have to work at Little Caesar’s again. But then it was erased by another thought. Who would take care of his little cat? He never had anyone to help him with things like that. The little things you need help with to stay sane.
Charlie Bennett asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work