This detective short story is about Mr. George Blake. It is a kind, distinguished gentleman, with a very unusual hobby – he kills people.
Top of the morning to you. I hope whoever is reading this is enjoying their day. I, on the other hand, have had better days—you see I haven’t been feeling too well lately. But poor health and all, there comes a time in every man’s life when he must sum up, and that’s what I’m doing.
I suppose I should start by saying I was always a loving husband and father, and that those objects of love were taken away from me much too soon. That, however, is not an aspect of my life I wish to go into at the moment—if you are really interested in finding out my full story, you’ll have to take a trip to the nether world and ask my wife and son. It’s the other facets of my story, my character—which I’d kept hidden from those nearest me, hidden even from my dear Stella—that come to mind as I sit here with little to do but think about the past.
Dear Stella, who loved me because I was dependable and, yes, maybe even because I was boring. Stella needed stability in her life and found it with me. I had to keep certain things hidden from her. I was the family man who would come home from work and take care of the usual mundane tasks, then after dinner settle down with the paper or watch the game on television. As far as my wife and son were concerned, the days went by in a quiet uneventful fashion. And we were happy like that. “George has no interests, no hobbies even …” I once overheard my wife saying quite happily. And a neighbor once: “George’s as empty as a shell.” It didn’t bother me a bit.
The fact of the matter was, I did have a hobby—a very special hobby. One I could only share with a select few. You see, I kill people. Or I should say, I used to kill people. I know what you’re thinking: thrill-killer. Those nasty reprobates Leopold and Loeb come to mind. The bastards should have been sent to military school at an early age. Not enough parental discipline! Or you might be thinking I’m a killer in the vein of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley, a sociopath who kills to get ahead. No, I used to kill in order to help people; it was sort of like charity with me. I would see people having a hard time and I’d use my talents to get rid of, say, a nasty father, a vicious wife, an exploitive uncle. You’re probably thinking I’m some kind of a maniac who is making his vice sound like a philanthropic enterprise …
Truthfully my hobby went both ways—it is, after all, as important to give, as it is to receive. There was always a beneficiary to the crime, and, in that alone, I always took the greatest satisfaction. But the challenge, the planning, the calculation, the anticipation, the peculiar sensation of looking into the eyes of my prospect and sizing them up—that’s where the real thrill was. And, of course, the knowledge that I had rid the world of a particular vermin. The actual killing? There was really no joy in that.
I’ve written only a page, yet I feel I’ve come across poorly. So maybe I should explain a few things about myself. Ask anyone about George Blake and they’ll tell you he’s a gem of a man. He never ran a red light, was quick to lend money to his friends, never looked at another woman while he was married, went to church every Sunday, and was always willing to talk a colleague out of divorcing his wife or having an affair. In short, by most standards I was a model citizen.
But I digress; back to the task at hand. I took on my hobby just short of my 29th birthday. I used to stop off at a bakery on 3rd Avenue every morning on the way to work. The owner was a squinty-eyed Belgian who used his wife and children as indentured servants. A few times, I caught him bellowing at his wife for making a mistake on the register, and once from where I was standing at the counter I saw him slapping her around in the backroom.
I’ll never forget going in there the morning after I was fired from my job. I’d been up all night, hadn’t showered or shaved and walked in completely disheveled. Mrs. Gruen was behind the counter. She took one look at me, and the next thing I knew I was sitting at one of the tables with a cup of coffee in one hand and a Danish in the other, telling her of my troubles. Then her husband came out and spoke roughly to her in Flemish. She quickly got up and returned to her work.
On that wet and dreary Wednesday morning, I had an epiphany. I stared into my coffee and thought: what would happen if this man were to die? His wife and kids would inherit the business. No more bellowing, no more slapping, no more indentured servitude. And then the idea came to me.
It didn’t take long to plan. I monitored his actions, became his shadow. Every night while his wife and kids were at the bakery preparing everything for the morning rush, he would go to the bar down the street, get drunk and stumble home through the alleyways. One night, I parked my car in the alley and waited for him to appear. When he did I ran him over—twice for good measure.
It’s always special the first time you do something.
I had found a hobby that I would pursue for the next 20 years. Life went on more or less as usual. I found a new job, Stella and I had a son, and I continued to kill: bankers, lawyers, accountants, brokers, construction workers, salesmen … Poison, gunshots, tampering with car brakes—I tried to mix it up. I mean, these idiots that use the same technique several times simply lack imagination and adventure. They’re trying to laud their stale way of doing this as a trademark … what bullshit.
Then Stella died, and shortly thereafter my son. It was difficult to take pleasure in anything after that. Even killing lost its luster. I wondered if their untimely deaths were some sort of punishment for me.
Then one day, things changed again. I was soon to retire and had purchased a place upstate, in Coxsackie. I had begun to take an interest in life again, which inevitably meant that I’d take up my hobby again, too.
In my capacity as an intelligence analyst, I had access to criminal investigative files. Over the years, the name Jane Masterson kept coming up in connection with mysterious deaths of men to whom she happened to be married. Jane Masterson, the Black Widow who the idiot flatfoots had never managed to nab for murdering three husbands. Jane Masterson, who was now living in Coxsackie. Yes, it would be Jane Masterson who, as Mathias Gruen initiated me all those years ago, would re-initiate me into my hobby. I’d have to find an interesting way of doing away with her. I’d have to take things slowly.
I’d lived my entire life in the city. And it took awhile to adapt to the slower pace upstate. But I’ve always been adaptable—hell, you couldn’t do what I’d done for 20 years and not be adaptable! It was lonely at first, but eventually I made a few friends, and the house and garden was a continuous source of work. On the days when I wasn’t busy planning the demise of Jane Masterson, I kept busy trying to cut down the overgrown yard.
I was planting hedges the day Stanley Leyton came into my life.
“G’day!” he said with a broad smile.
An Australian in Coxsackie? I’ve always hated Australians—uncouth bastards, all of them.
I smiled back, took off my work gloves, offered my hand and received a bone-crushing handshake. “Stanley Leyton,” he said.
I told him my name.
“From Brisbane originally. Used to raise horses there. But I’ve always wanted to live in America. Came up here 15 years ago to visit a friend and decided that one day I’d make this place my home. How about you?” he asked.
“The usual story.” I said. “Worked for a large corporation in the city for 40 years and I’m now retired up here.” I didn’t want to divulge that I’d worked for the government. I was hoping he would shove off, but he continued.
“We’re always glad to welcome new neighbors. Took some time to get to you though. Peggy and I have been wanting to have you over for dinner one night. You’d be welcome to bring along that charming young lady friend of yours,” he said, with ill-concealed humor.
Not much gets past the residents of a small town. I’d only just begun seeing Sue O’Leary, who was 20 years my junior.
I was about to invent an excuse when Leyton, ever the pushy bastard, said, “We’ve already spoken to Sue and know you haven’t got any plans tomorrow, so tomorrow at 8:00.”