Part I - The Neighbourhood
sweaty summer's day if there ever was one. Skin felt like greasy
leather over the bones under a throbbing sun, as if it melted over
the skeleton to become one with it. A day like any warm afternoon in
summer: kids dive-bombing through sprinklers, splashing in pools;
their parents having barbecues and drinks, some of them wafting cigar
smoke up into the air while they laughed and had themselves all the
fun they could manage on a break from their busy weeks. One of those
carefree summer days. Hallmark sort of stuff.
Richard was cooling off in his front yard. Not that the neighbours approved, but he was a free man. A grown man. He could do whatever he wanted. Problem was Richard wore a Speedo. He looked like an inflatable clown; one of those punching bags for kids with sand in the bottom, except he was deflated. He looked to be melting on his top half. The bottom half may as well have been full of sand. Richard's hindquarters were the evolutionary equivalent of the tyrannosaurus rex's ass mixed with a hockey bag filled with gear. The neighbours found it all a little much. Especially for the front yard. He always looked to be melting; always melting. His tight Speedo, equipped with love handles looking more like airbags than handles hanging over the sides. His chest and stomach looked the way you might imagine a pile of wet shopping bags, all mashed together, droopy and sagging.
Even worse, Richard drank whiskey sours while sucking on Blow Pops, eating Fun Dips. Most times he'd let the sucker, or Fun Dip stick, slip into his drink. Then he spent a few minutes trying to grab it, the drink slopping out onto his chest and gut like a twisted solo wet t-shirt contest. He'd suck it dry once he fished it out.
The neighbourhood parents probably hated his behaviour so much because Richard did all this while laying in a kiddy pool in the front yard. Added to the fact he had no children, not even any nieces, no nephews who would spend the weekend with him here or there. There could have been even a little understanding, though still not a lot, if Richard had family with kids, or even one friend with a single kid. But there were no children, he wasn't related to any, nobody close to him had ever seemed to procreate. Troublesome to say the least.
Yet every sweltering summer afternoon Richard would haul out the kiddy pool, fill it with a couple feet of water then start hammering down the sours until he slipped and slid, falling out onto the grass like some swamp creature not yet adapted to walking on land.
Donald Miller lived next door to Richard. The two had more than a few shakeups over how the latter spent his summer days. Nobody wanted to see his package banging around in the heat or in any weather, Donald reminded him. Especially not the kids. But Richard wanted everyone to see it.
No secret Richard was a chicken hawk. Convicted pedophile sent to jail, or now what they would like people to believe is called rehabilitated. Richard was rehabilitated. Only if the word has come to mean he was given time with others just like him away from people like us. Time to talk. Enough time to hone his skills, to refine his tastes. All the while beaten, raped, tortured for his crime by other criminals. Every beating and every sexual act Richard was forced to commit by fellow inmates made him more hungry for his next chance to dominate; to never again be dominated.
Richard was rehabilitated if this is now what the word meant. Five years of quote unquote rehabilitation. With good behaviour Richard became eligible for parole after only five years. Five years for luring a twelve-year old boy into a hotel room via the internet, getting him drunk, high on poppers, and destroying the innocence inside him forever.
Once paroled Richard found employment at a dry cleaning service working the same shift every day from eight in the morning until evening at five. They allowed him to live in any affordable neighbourhood. Just so long as he wasn't within five hundred metres of any preschools, or grade schools attended by children below age fifteen. He couldn't even walk near a school let alone live near one.
When Richard moved into Donald Miller's neighbourhood, he was required to let everyone know the circumstances of his arrest and incarceration. But it didn't bother Richard one bit because he was not ashamed of his crimes. He would do it all again, soon as he got the chance. No doubt, he'd have himself another young boy. Soon as it was safe.
Still, there Richard sat: cock barely hidden behind a weak threshold of nylon swim trunk; water not even over the tops of his thighs; a blue mouth with his tongue rolling slowly and overly suggestive across a blue raspberry Blow Pop. A disgusting bazaar of sights to any sensible person with normal sexual impulses.
There was method to the madness Richard so liberally displayed to his new neighbours. He held back his appetite, concealed it to the world. For quite a time. Longer than most anybody like him would ever normally abstain. But he kept flaunting his preferences to the neighbourhood, letting everyone see. Getting them angry. They would complain and call the police demanding searches every week; searches never even close to producing anything near sufficient as proof in a court of law. This would go on, Richard planned, for so long he'd then file a restraining order against a few neighbours who would no doubt create the most uproar. Don Miller was already the clear frontrunner. A few more would certainly join him soon enough. Then, and only then, Richard would finally have his prize. He would find himself a beautiful, fresh young boy. He would take him. He would keep him. Richard would keep him and take everything he wanted, whenever he wanted. For as long as he wanted.
What Richard never ever accounted for in his plan, his filthy dream was a serious man. Richard could have never anticipated Damien Fowler. Not in a million years.
Damien lived across the street from both Donald and Richard. He lived with his sister, Natasha, and her little daughter Anna. A few years ago Damien committed a crime and was later convicted. He spent time in prison. He felt the wrath of criminals upon him, as Richard did.
Only Damien did not feel it because of the crime he committed. Nobody raped Damien because he'd killed someone weaker than himself. The inmates who raped Damien did it because they wanted sex. Because he looked pretty to them. His mouth was pretty to them. When he talked it was not the voice of some salty, smoke-dried con. His voice sounded weakened, frail. Damien's was the voice of a man who watched his own father rape the sister he now lived with; the same man who later killed his father.
Damien served five years in jail for killing a rapist. For killing his dear old dad.
His sentence of five years by the Canadian legal system paled in comparison to what his fellow inmates imposed as their own.
After Damien got out of jail his sister took him in. She and her five-year old daughter were living in a home paid for out of the money left in her father's will. It wasn't hard for them to get it. After all, Damien's niece was also his sister.
Little Anna Blue, he called her. A little living motive for murder.
The three, mother and daughter and sisters and brother, lived together for a happy seven years until Richard slithered into their neighbourhood.
It was at that time Damien became uneasy. Richard came to their door to tell he and his sister of the status he carried: convicted pedophile. Damien couldn't relax. The only sick fact he could breathe on was that this man, he found out after some internet research, was only interested in young boys; Anna was safe, but other neighbourhood kids were not. These people, these sick fucks, they were snakes. Not even snakes, just low lying creatures. They can change, turn on you at a moment's notice. Without notice. They strike anywhere. They are cunning.
It wasn't long before Damien decided to inquire with the police about possibly getting Richard out of the neighbourhood, which did nought. Even coming from a man who had to kill his own father to stop the eternal rape of his sister.
Then there came a sunny day. The pavement was fiery. Steam raised in rippling waves off the ground. Everyone was out on their lawn; backyards, front yards. Sprinklers and hoses gushed non-stop. The clink of beer bottles and glass tumblers were a symphony across the neighbourhood ringing in a syncopated unison. Damien, Natasha and Anna Blue were in their backyard grilling a mid-afternoon lunch over their big stainless steel barbecue. Anna ran around. She kept calling for hot dogs. Her mother laughed, told her how long, as well as how long it had been since she last asked, which was of course only a short time before. They were all happy.
Damien was on the grill. He drank a glass of red wine; more of a goblet than a glass. He wasn't the fancy type, but really enjoyed wine. It was one of those things that relaxed him. It was a way to wind down. The steaks for him and his sister were simmering quietly. Two ballpark hot dogs for little Anna sizzled while some greasy fat seeped out of them, falling to the charcoal with a steamy hiss. Damien laughed. For a tiny girl, Little Blue sure could eat. It was just as Damien had the thought of his sister and Anna floating on a cloud through his head when he heard Don Miller's voice; he was shouting. Someone else was laughing in response. Don shouted a little louder.
Jesus, Damien thought, Not again. Not today. He put down his glass on the side of the barbecue hard. Some wine rocked in its glass and sloshed over the side.
“Please, Dame,” his sister said sad exasperation.
Damien only looked back to her knowingly, as he walked out around the side of his sister's house.
He moved to the street and saw where Don stood shouting at Richard. And there Richard was in all his glory. The man had no shame, Damien knew that, but to see it was to damn sure know. There he sat in his repulsive little kiddy pool, barely filled with any water. Just enough to keep his balls cool. On his hairy gut was a glass jiggling around with a strong whiskey sour in it. A blue Blow Pop also bobbed in it now, so Richard's filthy mouth was free to snap and sneer back at Don like some lizard whipping its saucy tongue. He looked like a greasy, wet, human version of Jabba the Hut.
Damien understood where Don was coming from. Much as he hated Richard, Damien knew what he was up to. He understood the child molester; his ways, he knew them. He'd seen it before and lived amongst the games they play. They are apex predators in a sense. They use trickery and fool people into their web, wrap them up to feed whenever they please. Richard was only setting things up so that he could once again do what it is he loves to do. Damien could smell it on him; a thick, rotting stench like the reek of a decaying corpse.
And yet Damien only had so much understanding. There's a limit of it per lifetime.
Damien understood Don, he understood wanting to beat Richard's face off the sidewalk until blood pulped out of his skull. Until the dirty pervert's face was like a mushy, rotten banana with bits of cherry red throughout. Damien knew exactly what it was Don felt towards Richard. He'd been there before, and worse. But Damien also suffered the crucifixion of consequences when he went to prison.
He was next to Don when the short eyes finally got out of his pool, water oozing off his awful body; a filthy beast emerging from water and seaweed.
“I've got half a mind to call the po-lice,” Richard said like an old Hollywood diva. “This is my property. I need to keep cool in the heat, I can do what I want.”
“Are you kidding me?” Don asked. “You'll call the cops and say what – what – you're being harassed? Fucking joke you are.”
“Something like that,” replied Richard with a tongue jammed into the side of his cheek.
Don made a lean-step towards him like he was about to punch Richard in the chest.
“Oh big man,” Richard laughed. “Hit me, oh my you're tough. With a capital ugh!”
Richard's belly shook with his ugh. Damien and Don cringed alike.
“Two of you,” shouted Damien. “Give it a fucking rest now. Some of us were having a nice afternoon.”
Don frowned at him. “Damien, man, come on.”
“I know he's awful,” Damien told him. “But you got to cool it, okay? Head home. I'll be over later.”
Don didn't want to leave, but did anyway. He nodded at Damien and pointed two fingers on his eyes before pointing them back to Richard.
“See you later, Donny,” Richard sang. “Too-da-fucking-loo.”
Damien charged him quickly. He put two hands on Richard's bare chest and fired the slippery bastard onto his back. Richard splashed in the pool's little bit of water. Damien stepped in and hovered over him slightly with a threatening menace in his eyes.
“You need to tone yourself down, Dick.”
“Well just ask nice,” he replied. “No need to get hands on now.”
“Things are going to get more hands on for you,” Damien informed him. “If you don't like that then you need to...?”
“Tone it down,” Richard recited. He kept his head down. Richard felt a grave undercurrent in the man's voice.
Damien walked back over to his sister's backyard. Natasha stood near the property line where a small fence surrounded it. Her eyes and nose were peering over top. Damien came in through the gate immediately catching her gaze. No words between them. She knew what he was thinking and what he felt. Ever since they were young and their father would come into her bedroom, their bedroom, the brother and sister both shared a connection. Even after dear old dad put them in separate rooms, so he could have fun without his son watching, they still held a connection. Feelings ran between them the way power lines transfer electricity; immediate, intense. Damien's sister knew he was on the verge of doing something drastic.
As he walked back from the house across the street, Damien had a look over him. She knew it wasn't quite the look he had the night when he killed their father. It wasn't even the look he had weeks before, not even months. It was a look Damien had on his face about a year before their father died.
Their monstrous patriarch had snuck into Natasha's bedroom. He finished what he came to do. On his way out, he met Damien in the hall. His zipper was still undone, his son could see the blood all over his underwear. His father even had blood streaks across his undershirt, his pants, his fingers. It was everywhere. Natasha had run out into the hall because of the voices. Her father and Damien were yelling at each other. They were wrestling. Damien had the blood all over him. His father was rubbing it on him; on his face. She wrestled Damien off her father. He laughed at them. Said they were in love. When the old man left to go out drinking, she'd seen the look on her brother's face. It was distant. It was a look of imagination. Damien was discovering what he was going to do. What she saw in Damien that night, in the deep of his eyes like a dim-lit fire about to burst with a fiery spark, was their father's death in the making.
And now, as she saw Damien cross the street and back onto her lawn, it was the old look again. Damien was beginning to think of what was sure to be Richard's death.
The sun had start to set. Everybody on the block was moving their fun inside. The kids were winding down. Adults sluggishly folding lawn chairs, cleaning off patio furniture, and sloshing back the last of their now watered down cocktails. Don Miller was scraping his barbecue rack and drinking a cold beer when Damien came over to his backyard. Night was slowly creeping in, but the heat still fumed off the earth like a grill. Damien took out a handkerchief to wipe his forehead.
“It's too muggy tonight,” he said.
Don frowned at the small talk. “I've had enough of short eyes next door,” he said. “I've had e-fucking-nough.”
“I know,” Damien replied.
“That I don't know,” said Damien. “I'm sick of him too but what are we going to do?” Don frowned. He slurped back a long swallow of beer.
“I'll think of something,” he told Damien.
The two stood around Don's barbecue for more than an hour. They talked about anything in the world they could manage to think of instead of Richard. But they both thought of him. Damien was nervous because of his personal history. He still had unresolved issues with people like Richard. People like his father. Don, on the other hand, was mostly concerned for the well being of his young son, Sammy. He had seen Sammy talk to Richard once. He didn't like it. He told his son not to talk to the man, but kids, they don't always listen. They don't always understand. And what could Don say other than tell his son the man was 'bad'? There was no way he was going to explain to his son there are older men who like to take advantage of young boys, who enjoy doing awful things to them. Don was never going to explain what sort of things those were to innocent, young Sammy. No kid should ever have to hear anything like that.
So Don did what he did. He got in Richard's business whenever the chance came. And Damien, he tried to keep the lid on tight before it all bubbled over and made a messy everywhere.
Damien and Don had become friends through typical neighbourhood things. Damien helped Don build his garage. They bonded. The two men, although quite a few years apart in age had a lot in common. They bled for their loved ones. They provided. Each of them understood what it was to be a protector. Which is why they also bonded over Richard. His presence was a tumour on their lives. It needed to be extracted, they just weren't sure how to go about it. Neither Damien nor Don knew what to do, but they thought enough about what might be the best option. Nights of drinks in the garage the two of them spent discussing their options. None of them were perfect. Don first suggested they plant evidence on him. Damien had heard and seen it all in prison, he knew there would be fallout. Next plan. There was no next idea. Both men couldn't imagine how they would be able to get Richard out of their lives. Once and for all.
Until one night when Don had too many to drink. Damien was lighting up a small joint he had rolled for them, a treat the two indulged in together every couple weekends.
“We oughta do the monster in,” Don announced.
Damien laughed. A puff of smoke whisped off the thin joint into the air.
“I'm serious,” said Don. “He's a fucking monster if there ever was one! He's just going to fuck some other kid. Maybe not in this neighbourhood, maybe not next week. But you can be sure it'll happen.”
“I don't doubt it,” Damien replied.
“Then let's do it,” Don shouted.
Damien gave him the universal signal for 'keep it down'.
“Let's do it, man,” he repeated, only softer.
“You're a joker,” said Damien. “Have another one, buddy.”
“No joke,” Don told him.
Damien gave him a strange eye, continuing to smoke.
“What's the problem?” Don asked. “I mean do you really think anybody is going to shed a single tear over this piece of shit?”
“It's not that. I've been to jail, Don. Never going back – understand?”
“Yeah I get it,” replied Don.
“There's no way we'd get away with it,” Damien said. “You aren't a criminal, I'm not a criminal. We'd only get caught. Even if I agreed with you.”
“That's where you're wrong.”
Once again Damien gave him the strange eye. Intrigued.
“You want to hear it?”
“I haven't left yet,” Damien said. “Have I?”
Don told Damien all about his plan. He had thought of it for months and months. When Don went to bed at night, he couldn't just lay down and sleep next to his wife. He couldn't just dream happily, or even fall into the creep of some nightmare. All he thought of was how to kill Richard. And how to get away with it. Because Don replayed the moment he saw Sammy talking to Richard over and over in his head. It was awful. Each time the replay was more intense. In his head, it scratched back to the memory like an old VHS tape, full of mess and static. Soon enough it was all he could see or hear in his mind. But it was what Don conjured in his thoughts after the memory of Sammy talking to Richard that really upset the equilibrium of his being.
When Richard had moved into the neighbourhood and explained to all his new neighbours what put him in jail, Don decided to do some digging. He found out about Richard. All about his crimes. They were rotten. His motive was nothing but the ill bred need to inflict pain and suffering on those younger, weaker, less confident than himself. Don had read page after page of documents leaked onto the internet about what Richard had done to young boys. So after the VHS tape scraped back and forth to the memory of Sammy talking with the new pervert neighbour, it rattled on to new ideas Don came up with; memories not yet imprinted on the tape in his mind, new and terrifying images soon to be recorded. Terrible things he should never even imagine. He saw Richard taking Sammy to his bedroom just like the other boys. Don saw the luring, the intimidation. All the sick ploys and the games. In his head, Don watched as Richard stole Sammy from him. Richard emptied the boy's soul, and filled him back up with the devil. With absolute evil. Terror.
Most nights Don woke up in a heavy sweat. He was fixated on Richard. The monster stalking his nightmares. He was stuck on getting rid of him. Eventually the plan he relayed in the garage to Damien had formed in his thoughts; weaved in and out of itself until a rich mosaic lay in front of him. It spelled out exactly what to do. It told Don the perfect way to get rid of Richard. They would kill him. But not just by death.
Don planned to make the pedophile snake disappear. Forever.
“Holy fuck, man.”
“I know,” Don said. “It's a lot to take in.”
“It's insanity,” Damien replied. “Absolutely intense. Ridiculous.”
“But why, why is it though?”
“Because, Don,” shouted Damien. “We're talking about taking a life. A human life. No matter what he's done. Still human. You're talking about killing a fucking human!”
“He rapes,” said Don. “He isn't a human being. He rapes. Bad enough he does that, but he does it to young boys. Boys who are so young they haven't even made it with a girl yet, haven't even jerked off themselves for chrissakes!”
“I get it. I really do. I just don't think we're the ones who get to judge this. And I don't think either of us are prepared to do this sort of thing.”
“You killed your father,” Don told him, as if it were news to Damien.
“I've come to terms with it, I served time in jail for what I did. Paid in full for the crime of murder. A whole lot of bullshit, too, them calling what I did murder. But if you think we're going to kill Richard, bury him somewhere, and then be able to go on living like you did before, you are a stupid man. Not a day goes by I don't think about the last few seconds of my dad's life.”
Don looked at him blankly.
“You know we're friends, you know I'm a straight up man,” Damien continued. “I wouldn't pretend. So I'm telling you, this is crazy. I won't have any part of this shit. And don't bring up my personal history again like you're gonna use it to get me into this. Not fair.”
“I'm sorry, buddy,” Don said trying to toe a hole in the ground.
“Don't be. It was the booze and the dope talking. I mean, I hate Richard. You know I do. Killing him just isn't the answer. If he ever came after Sammy, you know, I'd probably change my mind. But we aren't vigilantes, Don. We aren't the law. Much as we got us a heavy moral compass, in the right directions, we don't get to be judge, jury, and certainly not executioner here. Not here, not ever.”
Don gets up from the table walking away.
“Speak man,” said Damien. “Speak.”
“I knew a boy when I was young who's daddy fucked around with him. He wasn't a friend. One of those kids you know around the neighbourhood, at school type of deal. Real nice kid. Always out playing Spotlight or something with us. But strange, man. Was he ever strange. Freaked right out when he lost. We'd catch him punching his chest, calling himself names. Called himself a queer, a sissy. Strange shit. When we all got a bit older, around high school, this young guy... he just went nuts. Turned into an awful different sorta fella. Then one day, another guy I went to school with found the kid bleeding out in our locker room shower. Cut his own throat. Never left a note. Never said a word to a damn soul. Gutted his poor mother. His father acted like he'd never been alive a day. At least that's what I heard mom and dad say after it happened.
Anyways. Damn – I don't know, man. I just don't know how we all go on living when there's awful things happening to people all the time. All around us. I don't know how much longer I can stand it.”
Damien was speechless. Don opened up his heart, poured it right out in front of him. He tore every last piece of meat off it, served it up. The two men were both silent a long time. Damien finally finished off the joint he was smoking. It'd burned right to his fingertips. He felt it time to say something.
“The night I killed my father was one of the prettiest nights I remember. Ever. The stars and all that. I remember thinking it that every night until I got out of jail. You could see the constellations like big fuckin' neon signs, like ones you see in Vegas. Except they were up there, hanging on the air. I caught him out in the wood shed, see, so I remember the stars. From the little walk down there. I walked out from the house, already had the axe in my hand because the chopping block we'd lodge it in after the splits were done sat up near the porch. I looked up in the sky. Saw some constellation. Don't know which one, never was good at that sorta shit. But it was a constellation for sure. And man, was it beaming. Hot and bright.”
The whole time he talked Damien rolled another joint. Once finished he lit it, passed it to Don, and kept on with his story, letting out little clouds of smoke here, there.
“The stars that made up the constellation, they were burnt right into the back of my eyelids. When I walked in the shed and saw dad, the stars were still glowing on my eyeballs and it looked like they were on his face. First time maybe in my whole damn life I ever thought he looked happy. And he was looking right at me with his shining face. Only took me a second though to remember why I'd gone out there to start. Brought the axe up over my shoulder and split his face right in two. And that was it.”
“Yes now,” Don exclaimed with a hanging mouth. “You never took any more smacks at the bastard?”
“No sir,” Damien said. “I wanted to. Fuck, did I ever want to. But I knew it'd only be worse for me if I hauled out the axe from his skull and brains and gave him a few more. And I don't like blood. Made me sick just to do what I did. Nearly puked my guts up by the time the cops showed up.”
“Sweet jesus in the garden.”
“Yeah I know,” replied Damien. “It was vicious. I got what I wanted, but still.. I paid a price.”
“You never told me a lot about jail.”
“Not much to tell,” Damien said calmly.
The two men went silent for a little bit. A few sips of beer. Don toked on the joint some more and then passed it to Damien who talked between puffs.
“My dad? He even had girlfriends. Used to fuck 'em upstairs, loud, so we could hear it. He'd leave his door open on purpose. Told me he was trying to train me, so I didn't end up a faggot who spent all his time with his sister. I knew he could get it up for girls who weren't my sister, who weren't six or seven years below legal age. And still, even after he'd bring home new women, women his own age, he still came down to wherever Tasha was sleeping. Almost every night.”
Another silence fell between the two men. Not an uncomfortable one; a deep silence. Silence in which Damien seemed to drown, and where Don waded, waiting for what came next.
“I'm thinking maybe I was wrong when I told you your idea earlier was ridiculous,” said Damien. “Maybe it's not so ridiculous. Maybe... I don't know. Could be for the best.”
“Changed your mind?”
“I did,” Damien replied like a bullet. “I'm telling you that maybe, just maybe, I might... need this.”
Don finished off a beer and dead stared right into Damien's eyes, looking for a thread of doubt or to see if maybe his friend was just drunk and glassy eyed with too much to say and nowhere else to say it. He found neither.
“I know it sounds crazy. Especially seeing I all but told you to fuck off when you mentioned your plan. That boy cutting his own throat... I've just been thinking how that could be me. I could've opened up my wrists after I got out of jail. Hell, could've done that in my prison cell. Point is, I don't want anybody else to suffer if I have a say in it, and I don't ever want some young kid to take his own life because of a snake like Richard.”
Don picked up two beers from a case by their feet and twisted off their tops. He passed one to Damien. “So, you're in?”
“I am,” Damien said after a deep gulp on his beer, “and I've got some ideas.”