“I have killed before,” he said.
I looked up from the recorder. Surely I had heard that wrong. A slight, tight-lipped smile was on his face, and as I looked at him his eyebrows raised for a second before settling back down above his wide eyes. The flourescent overhead lighting reflected as highlights in his glistening black pupils.
“They’re hazel,” Stivins said.
“What?” I asked as I broke my stare.
“My eyes. Not green. Not brown. Hazel.”
“Did you just say you’ve killed before?” I asked.
“Yes, I did. What do you think makes my barbecue taste so good?”
I shot from my seat, but the bench hit the back of my legs and bounced me forward. My hands slapped the table as I caught myself. Grimacing in a combination of horror and pain, I would have run away had the bench not trapped me temporarily. I wondered why I had convinced Sheriff Hatcher to let me see this man without security glass between us.
I heard fast footsteps approaching. The guard obviously had heard or seen what happened. “Stivins, don’t move,” he said. Then, to me, “Sir? Are you okay?”
Stivins laughed so loud that his voice echoed back from each cell, surrounding me. “Oh, you reporters are so much fun. Do you really believe I am that disturbed?”
“Sir?” the guard asked me again.
I leaned on my hands, trying to let the pain in my knees and my hands subside before moving. “Yes, I’m fine,” I said. “Just give me a little space.”
How much of what Stivins had told me was a joke? I slowly sat, determined to stay long enough to find out.
“We’re fine. Just a friendly chat among friends,” Stivins told the guard.
The guard looked at me. I nodded and he walked back to stand at the door. Fine? No, we certainly are not fine.
“I came here because you said you wanted to tell your story. Keep doing that to me, and I will leave. There’s bound to be a house fire or a hole-in-one story somewhere.” That was true enough. A large chunk of our paper’s daily deliveries went to a nearby retirement community featuring eight golf courses serving 20,000 residents spread out over 62 square miles. The fire department’s 15-minute response time to outlying neighborhoods provided dramatic blazes, and no amazing golf shot went unreported. We even had a special form for the golfer to complete at our front desk.
That was why I was not leaving. It was my chance to report something substantial and, in Stivins’ case, exclusive. He had agreed to talk only to me. Many reporters like to act like that does not affect them, but in today’s world of news available any time, anywhere, an exclusive is a rarity.
“Now, now, don’t get upset. Your precious police scanner and octogenerian athletes can wait,” Stivins said.
“So, you don’t put people in your barbecue. That’s good. But you said you’ve killed before?”
“Life is funny. Some people believe that nothing comes after it, that it goes away like the glow of a bulb’s filaments. I do not believe that, because I have made people die. And they stay with me. Nobody else, just the people I’ve killed.”
“So, you see dead people?” I asked. I didn’t like where this was going after the barbecue prank.
“No, it isn’t like that. I can just sense them. It is almost as if, after I drain their life from them, I breathe in their last breath and hold their souls inside me. I experience things in ways I never would have otherwise.”
“Are we still off the record here?” I asked.
“Most certainly,” he said.
“Okay,” I said as I grabbed my recorder. “I’ll just turn this off and put it away.” I had read enough of the user’s manual to learn how to delete recordings, and to disable the light that glows when it’s running. I quickly got rid of an interview with a new business owner, then turned off the record light and put the unit in my shirt pocket. I had conducted interviews this way when I needed to use my camera at the same time, but was not sure how well the new recorder’s mic would do.
I needed him to start over.
“How many people have you killed?” I asked.
“Four,” he said.
“All with knives?”
“Of course. As I’ve said before, it’s the most elegant way to kill.”
“Yes, you’re quite the gentleman in that respect,” I said.
“The first was a transient in an abandoned hotel. I was 15 at the time. My brother, visiting from out of town, had driven us to meet some of my friends for a party. These were the same friends who liked to party in cemeteries. There was chain-link fence surrounding it. About to be torn down, you know. We squeezed between the chained gate and the fence and went inside. My brother was a bit hesitant, because he had never met these people. ‘They’re fine,’ I told him. ‘Besides, I brought my knife.’ I always carried my pocket knife back then, before schools had metal detectors. My brother just laughed. I had never so much as gutted a deer, and was not a fighter.
“Once we were inside, I admired the high lobby ceiling and the beautiful, wide spiral staircase. Everything was covered in thick layers of dust, but I did not see the cobwebs I expected. The old horror films had it wrong. Oddly, there was nothing frightening about it. I could not stop running Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor through my head. Do you listen to Bach?” he asked.
“A little. I’m familiar with that tune.” In fact, my wife and I had used it for background music on our outgoing Halloween answering machine message. Sorry, the occupants cannot come to the phone. They’re tied up at the moment. Muwahahahahahah.
“Good enough. Even with that music in my head, I was not scared. It was all rather campy, really. My brother had gone into the coat closet without me. I heard him talking to someone. I thought maybe my friends were there already. ‘Hey, take it easy,’ he said. I pulled my knife from my pocket and opened the blade. It was a large lock-blade knife given me by a babysitter’s boyfriend. It was the first knife I truly treasured.
“I walked quickly to the coat closet, stepping over boards with nails sticking out. I only remembered to check because my brother had stepped on a nail as a child. Nasty bit of business, but I was fascinated by the way it pierced his foot.
“‘What’s going on?’ I called. I held the knife behind my back. When I reached the small room, my brother stood looking at a man slumped on the floor, his back against the wall. He looked half dead to me. His clothes and skin were filthy. Just a disgusting site. Obviously homeless.
“I said, ‘What’s going on?’ My brother said it was nothing, and that we should just leave. When we turned to go, I heard the man rustling around. Right as we walked out the door into the lobby, he jumped on my brother’s back and bit his shoulder. He could not shake him off. The man was screaming through his teeth like some crazed ventriloquist, ‘This is ny tlace, this is ny tlace.’ It is rather comical when I think back on it.'”
Stivins stopped and stared at a point behind me somewhere. I waved my hand in front of his face. As he looked back at me I raised my eyebrows as if to say, “And?”
“‘Oh yes. Sorry. I raised my arm and brought the knife down into the man’s back. He fell to the floor, and I collapsed onto my knees to stab him in the chest.” Stivins sat there in silence again, this time scanning his eyes over my hair and face.
“That’s the whole story?” I asked. I did not like his staring at me like that.
“I suppose you might expect me to say that I was shocked by what I had done. On the contrary, not at all. My heart was beating fast and I was trying to think what to do next, but before any feelings could set in, I felt the man’s soul enter my body. His blood pooled out around him, soaking into the dust and the bits of debris.
“My brother was pulling at my shirt to get me to leave. Just as we got back through the gate, a policeman pulled up in his cruiser and asked us what we were doing. I told him we had come to meet some friends, but they had not shown up. He said he thought he had seen us earlier that day at the shopping mall. He pointed to my brother and said, ‘Yeah, you’re the one who was driving around looking pissed off.’ We just chuckled and hoped he did not notice our nerves. ‘Well, you don’t need to be hanging around these abandoned buildings. You could run into a transient in there who would cut open your belly.’
“Apparently the policeman had made note of my brother’s license plate. After some demolition experts discovered the body, by then badly decomposed and gnawed by rats, my brother got a visit and was pulled out of one of his classes. He was two years older, so he was still in high school, too. We lived in different towns, however. Did I mention that? Well, we never admitted to even seeing anyone in there, and there was no evidence working against us. Since the dead man had no champion to hound the authorities, nobody pushed the issue. Of course by then I had soaked my knife in bleachy water and scrubbed it with a toothbrush. One can never be too safe, you know.”
“So that was your first time to kill somebody. How long before you killed again?”
“I’m not sure, exactly. You would think a person would remember such things,” Stivins said.
“You’d think,” I said. “Let me ask you this. Do you want to kill me right now?”
“Oh, no, young cub reporter. Why would I do that? I want you to carry this story around in your head until you die naturally.”
You are one sick bastard, I thought, and there’s no way I’m taking this to the grave.
“What can you remember about the others?” I asked.
“I prefer not to talk about all of them. There is another who sticks out in my mind, however.”