I sped along the narrow shore road, the rhythm of the surf nearly lulling me to sleep. The air was damp, offering my nose a pleasant mélange of brine, creosote and fresh kelp. Gulls squawked as they rode the air currents across a sky the color of well-washed denim.
Actually, to be quite honest, I hated the ocean, much preferring the serenity and seclusion of the mountains. But, unfortunately, Van Dorn always chose his Maine cottage to host his idiot, once-a-year reunions. Never his hunting lodge in the high Sierras.
I slowed and hung a right, nosing my Lexus to a stop at a wrought iron gate that marked the entrance to the Van Dorn estate. A security camera made a slight whirring noise as it zoomed in on my unhappy kisser behind the wheel. I forced a smile and wiggled my fingers. After the gate swung open, I started up the mile-long drive, gravel crackling and snapping beneath my tires. The woods became dense, its thick canopy blocking out any sign of the sun. At one point, the drive ran perilously close to a drop off of perhaps three-hundred feet; the surf no longer a lullaby to my ears, but a great, thunderous roar as its waters slammed ashore, churning to a froth amongst the algae-covered rocks. A mist filmed by windshield and I had to use my wipers to clear it away.
As I rounded the last turn, Van Dorn’s big, rambling, monstrosity of a cottage came into view; cedar shakes riddled with worm holes and weathered to a brownish-gray in color. Cars and vans and trucks crammed the circular drive, forcing me to park a great distance away. Grabbing my briefcase, I headed toward the cottage. Two German shepherds appeared out of nowhere and trotted by my side, low growls idling deep in their chests.
People! God, I hated to be around more than one person at a time. Being a man who cherished his privacy, congeniality and good humor were not included amongst my foremost character traits. Hell! They weren’t part of my character at all. Having to deal with people, en masse, was akin to scouring my nerve ending with a piece of extra-course sandpaper.
The door to the cottage, as big as the gates of Troy, swung open before I was able to knock, a smile stretching across Van Dorn’s sun bronzed face from ear-to-ear. His blue eyes sparkled at the sight of me. “Welcome, Albert, welcome! Come in, come in!”
I struggled with a smile of my own, crossing my fingers behind my back. “Glad, as always, to be here, Peter. Wouldn’t miss this little shindig for anything in the world.”
”That’s my boy!” Looking over my shoulder to check the drive, he shooed away the German shepherds with a wave of his hand. “I do believe that you’re the last to arrive. Come in and enjoy.”
Van Dorn led me into a gigantic living room, which, if I could have freely offered an opinion, I would have called a “nautical nightmare.” Fishing nets, harpoons, old life preservers and seascapes adorned walls which looked as if they had been constructed out of drift wood. Seashells, conchs and models of sailing ships cluttered every available table, shelf and mantle. At the far end of the room, in a tank the size of Rhode Island, swam an armada of tropical fish, darting and weaving amongst sunken ships, treasure chests, sea-growth and divers in full deep water apparatus.
”Well, what do you think, Albert?” Van Dorn whirled in a full circle, flourishing an arm. “I designed this room myself.”
My fingers were still crossed. “Marvelous, Peter, absolutely marvelous! You’re Captain Ahab, Jacques Cousteau and Blackbeard all wrapped into one.”
”What a wonderful compliment. Thank you, Albert.”
Wrapping an arm around my shoulder, Peter led me down a long hallway to a room at the rear of the cottage that he reserved for parties. I cringed at the sight of perhaps a hundred people, standing in groups of threes and fours; munching on hors d’oeuvres, sipping champagne and engaging in small talk. Some I knew well, others only by sight and there were a few that I had never seen before. There was enough food and booze available to satisfy the needs of a third world country. At the head of a dozen rows of folding chairs, stood a raised podium with a microphone, and, beyond that, was hung a banner that read: WELCOME MEMBERS OF S.K.I.N. – TENTH ANNUAL REUNION.
”Help yourself to some munchies, Albert. The caviar —.” Peter touched a thumb and forefinger together and kissed them as he would a woman. “— is simply out of this world. Being my usual generous self, I’ve spared no expense.”
”You know me, Peter; I eat like a chipmunk.”
”Ah yes! I forgot that you’re a regular Mahatma Ghandi. Well, go ahead and socialize. I’ll be calling the meeting to order shortly.”
Answering a number of greetings with a quick nod, I chose a seat, six row-center, and slid my briefcase under the folding chair. The indefatigable Gillespie twins, Emma and Ethel, turned and blew me kisses from the front row. Eeeeech! Grudgingly, I blew each of them one in return. Giggling, Emma pretended to catch hers with a gnarled, liver spotted hand, tucking it away into the deep, dark recesses of her purse. Damn old crones!
After a few hour-long minutes, Van Dorn stepped up to the podium, flashing everyone one of his toothpaste commercial smiles. He thumped the microphone to make sure that it was working properly. “Ladies and gentlemen! Ladies and gentlemen, will you please take your seats!”
There was a great rush, as though everyone was playing musical chairs, and I soon found myself flanked by two geeks who I had never laid eyes on before.
”Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to welcome you all to the tenth annual reunion of S.K.I.N. Better known to one and all as Serial Killers International. Before I get things underway, I would like to honor those of our members who have gone to the great beyond. Or, in our line of work, maybe I should say the “great below’.”
There was a chorus of laughter.
”Ted Bundy. John Wayne Gacy. Jeffrey Dahmer. Herman Webster Mudgett. Albert DeSalvo. There are too many to recite. Please, if you would; a few moments of silence.”
Everyone bowed their heads. All that could be heard was the distant pounding of the surf.
Hell! I felt like clapping my hands and snapping my fingers. I felt like dancing the Twist, the Locomotion and the Hully Gully. I felt like picking my nose, scratching my crotch and letting loose with the biggest and juiciest fart of a lifetime. Disrespectful? Hell no! Bundy and all the rest had been nothing but a pack of idiots. Amateurs. Imbeciles. The police would never give me a second look, let alone throw me in the clinker or give me the death penalty. I was too damn clever. Way too resourceful.
”Thank you, one and all.” Van Dorn grabbed the mike and began to pace, using body language like a game show host. A strand of his pampered blond hair broke loose and fell across his forehead. “Now, as is my custom, I would like to present a few awards. The first of which will go to the Gillespie sisters, Emma and Ethel. Six days short of turning one hundred-years-old! Let’s hear it for them!”
As the room exploded with applause, the twins arose and tottered to the podium; shoulders hunched, blue-gray hair fastened tightly into buns, skin as fragile and yellowed as ancient parchment. They were dressed in identical floral-print dressed with lace collars. The only discernible difference was that Emma was trembling a bit from Parkinson’s Disease and Ethel walked with the aid of a cane.
I couldn’t believe it! The old biddies were still alive and well! In the year they were born, William McKinley was elected as president, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were riding the west and the Gibson Girls were setting the fashion trends for women! Christ! What I wouldn’t give to run those two old fossils through a wood chipper or rub their withered bodies with honey and stake them out over an anthill. Better yet: draw and quarter them between two Budweiser Clydesdales and watch their ancient bones being scattered across a field of wild flowers. I giggled, the thoughts giving me a warm, euphoric feeling.
”Ladies, before I present you with your award, I would very much like to hear about your very first kill.” Van Dorn rubbed his hands together, his eyes sparkling like two newly-minted dimes. “I know, I know; you tell it at each of our reunions. But it’s such a delicious story, I can never seem to get enough of it. So please, ladies, if you would.”
Another wild applause.
”Well —.” Emma giggled, “— if we must.” She cleared her throat, her brain wandering back to a time long past. “The year, if I recall correctly, was nineteen-eighteen. April, I believe. Yes, that was it, April.”
Ethel made a loud clucking sound as she shook her head. “No, sister. It was most definitely May.”
”May? Are you certain?”
”Well, then, I guess it was May. I must admit; my memory has been failing me as of late.”
Ethel offered a mischievous, little smile. “Not to mention your eyesight and hearing.”
”Hush now, sister, or I’ll tell everyone about your bowels.”
A chorus of laughter erupted. But it was cut short when Ethel planted her hands on her hips and gave the audience a long, withering stare.
”Now let’s see. Where was I?” Emma tapped her lips with a knob knuckled finger. “Oh yes. May of nineteen-eighteen. Our boys were ‘over there’ fighting those nasty Germans and this very nice, young man came to the door of our old family homestead, selling war bonds. The old homestead, by the way, which we are still living in today. Well, anyways, we invited him in for some tea and cookies and had a long and very interesting conversation. I could see that he was quite smitten with us, because, in those days, we were very attractive women. Were we not, sister?”
”Yes indeed. And not only attractive, but —.” Ethel cupped her hands well out in front of her chest. “— very well-endowed as well.”
Whistles and catcalls went up from the audience.
”Yes, yes, quite. Well, anyway, his name was Ted or Tom or something like that.”
”Tim, sister. It was Tim.”
”Yes, Tim. That was it. Well, he had tried to enlist in the Army, but due to the fact that he had one leg a tad shorter than the other, they rejected him for military service. So the next best thing, he thought, was to sell bonds to support the war effort. Not only was he smitten with us, I must admit, I was very much smitten with him. Despite the deformity with his leg, he was very nice. And handsome. And mannerly. And, obviously, very intelligent. What more could a girl of eighteen want? And he absolutely cherished my oatmeal cookies, didn’t he, sister?”
”Ate a dozen of them if I recall.”
”After talking for perhaps an hour, Tim informed us that he had to be heading on his way. So I hustled into the other room to fetch the proper amount of money for the bonds we purchased. I didn’t want to see him go. We only just meet, but I couldn’t stand the thought of never seeing him again. In that instant, I knew exactly what I had to do. It was a foolish idea, but I was determined to carry it out, despite the consequences. As I handed out the money and he reached for it, I snatched up my knitting needle form the table and drove it into his right eye, angling it up toward the brain. With little more than a gasp and a long, rumbling fart, he was dead. We buried him, along with a dozen of my cookies, out back, right next to the flower garden, so I was able to visit with him each and every day. I still keep his grave free of weeds and plant roses there every chance that I get.” Emma sighed and followed it with a giggle. “We’ve buried quite a few nice, young men by that garden, haven’t we, sister?
”Oodles and oodles of them. That’s why our tomatoes get bigger and juicier by the year. Some as big as melons.”
Van Dorn smiled, raising an expectant brow. “Speaking of tomatoes.”
Ethel assured him with a wink. “We haven’t forgotten you, Peter. As usual, we bought you a whole bag.”
“Thank you, dear ladies! They make the most excellent spaghetti sauce. Everyone, I don’t know about you, but that story touches my heart every time that I hear it.”
A hearty applause and a resounding “bravo” from the fat dork seated to my right.
Van Dorn held up his hands to quell the roars of approval. “Now, dear ladies, your award for being the oldest members of S.K.I.N.. You will receive the foremost place of honor in the new Serial Killers Hall of Fame!” As an excited murmur spread throughout the room, Van Dorn flashed one of his biggest smiles ever. “Yes! You heard me right! The Hall of Fame, the secret location of which will only be known to those in this room, will be open for your viewing pleasure in a few short days. Diaries. Weapons of choice. Articles belonging to scores of victims. A clown outfit worn by none other than John Wayne Gacy. A lampshade, made of human skin, from the Ed Gein collection. And much, much more!” Van Dorn paused for affect, a fist flying into the air. “And let me not forget the piece de resistance: the very knitting needle that sweet Emma drove into the eye of Tim, the oh-so-nice war bond salesman!”
The room went wild, everyone, except for yours truly, leaping to their feet for a standing ovation.
”Through your generous contributions, the Hall of Fame may, one day, rival the Smithsonian Institute!”
I thought of hanging the Gillespie twins over a roaring fire. Or placing the gnarled, old gnomes on a rack and stretching their brittle bones until they snapped, crackled and popped like a bowl of Kelloggs Rice Krispies. Perhaps donning a black cloak and top hat, along with a fake handlebar moustache, and tying them to a railroad track. The wonderful thoughts nearly placed me on the brink of an ejaculation.
The twins returned to their chairs, basking in the adulation of their peers. Ethel blew kisses, her dentures as big and gawky as mule’s teeth.
”Next, I would like to honor the person, amongst us, who has logged the most miles during his long and bloody career. Ludwig! Ludwig Klemper! Come on up here!”
Klemper stood at the end of my row; a large, bull-of-a-man with a ramrod straight posture and a speckled dome completely void of hair. A shiny, purple scar snaked down his right cheek; an ugly souvenir of his old Munich fencing days. Klemper had been a member of Himmler’s Gestapo, and, once he had gotten the taste for blood, there was no stopping him. His post war victims ranged far and wide; from his native Berlin to the Andes to Malibu Beach to the back street hovels of Bangkok. I had to admit; for being in his mid-seventies, the geezer looked pretty damn fit.
”Come on up here, Ludwig! Schnell, schnell!”
Klemper made his way to the podium with perfectly measured steps, clicking his heels together once he got there. Old habits were hard to break. For a moment, I thought the old Kraut would shoot out an arm and yell “Sieg Heil!”
”Ludwig, it gives me great pleasure to present you with this Golden Mile trophy. No one is more deserving. As of today, you have logged one million, two-hundred thousand, three-hundred and eighty-six miles!” Peter chuckled. “I certainly hope you take advantage of those frequent flier perks.”
”This trophy is sterling silver by-the-way. And as you can see, it’s in the shape of a globe.”
Klemper snatched the trophy with another click of his heels, offered a curt “Danke” and marched back to his chair.
”As you can see; Ludwig is a man of much action and few words.” Van Dorn leaned closer to the mike, his voice booming across the room. “The next recipient is a master of the slice and dice. He has racked-up more kills than, quite possibly, all of us put together. At last count; three hundred and forty-seven!”
”Forty-eight,” squeaked a voice from the rear of the room.
”Oh? Then I stand corrected, sir.”
”The little voice came to me at a rest stop on the interstate, as I was on my way here. When the little voice speaks, I have no choice but to do his bidding.”
Peter gave a sigh. “Ah yes. Where would we be without our little voices? Please, everyone, let’s give a warm welcome to serial killer extraordinaire, Seymour Blatt!”
Blatt approached the podium in his odd, little, penguin-like walk, shoulders hunched and hands buried deep in his pockets. He was the nerd of nerds with coke bottle glasses, an unmanageable cowlick and a pasty complexion that would have done justice to a corpse. He wore a white shirt with bow tie and suspenders, a half dozen pens lining his pocket. The jerk looked as if he needed a good dose of mother’s milk to get through each day.
”Seymour, you hold us all in awe.”
Blushing, Blatt looked down to where his right shoe was making nervous little circles on the floor. “Gosh, Peter. It’s nothing, really.”
”Nothing? I beg to differ.”
”I just do what the little voice tells me to do.”
”And well you should. Now, Seymour, I would like to present you with a gift certificate, in the amount of two thousand dollars, to Big Bubba’s Gun and Knife Emporium. Spend it wisely, sir, and in good health.”
As Seymour penguined his way back to his seat, the applause was so great that the window panes trembled.
”And, now, I have a brand new award to present to a certain person in this room.” Peter held aloft a large silver trophy with a gigantic nose pointing toward the ceiling. “The Arrogance award!” He furrowed a brow and brought a finger to his mouth as though he was in deep thought. “Would anyone like to venture a guess as to who that person might be?”
Nearly every head turned in my direction as though operated my one muscle.
”There’s no fooling you folks! Yes indeed! The trophy will go to none other than Albert Zell! Otherwise known, to one and all, as the Alphabet Killer! Come on up here, Albert! C’mon, c’mon, get on up here!”
I remained seated, gnashing my teeth.
”Albert, let’s not be a party pooper. I paid a king’s ransom for this baby.”
I stood and marched to the podium, my hands clenching and unclenching at my sides. God! I wanted to take a length of piano wire and lob off the bastard’s head!
”You look a might miffed, Albert.”
”Why so? After each and every one of your kills, you send off letters, hither and thither, to damn near every newspaper and law enforcement agency in the country. I’d call that arrogance with a capital A, wouldn’t you, Albert?”
”Far from ‘nearly every’, Peter. Perhaps four or five at the very most.”
‘Well, I might have exaggerated a bit, but it’s still clearly arrogance. I remember each of your victims to date, Albert. First, there was Lars Anderson, that big Swede up in Minnesota. Then came Bertolli, Colbert, Delaney, Edwards, Frapp, Garceau, Hernandez and on and on, right up to R. Miss Pamela Richardson, that dear, sweet coed on the campus of Southern Cal.”
”I’m impressed, Peter.”
”Even though you keep changing your modus operandi, I always know it’s you. Call it clairvoyance. Call it intuition. Call it anything you like. I just know. Now, I would like to ask you a question, if you don’t think me too impertinent.”
”Do you have any idea, as of yet, who your S victim will be?”
”I’m working on that now. That’s all I’m at liberty to say.”
”Fine. I respect that. I really do.” Van Dorn held out the silver trophy with the great nose sticking snootily in the air. “Here you are, sir, the Arrogance Award. A great piece for your mantle, if you have one.”
I glared at the nose for a few moments, my cheeks burning hot.
”Oh, go ahead, Albert. Go ahead. Be a sport. Take it with a little humility.”
Cursing under my breath, I snatched the trophy, wondering how many times I would have to bash him in the head with it until he was dead.
Van Dorn laid a consoling hand on my shoulder. “It was more in jest than anything, Albert. Speaking for all of us; we hold you in the very highest of regards.”
As I returned to my seat, there was only a small spattering of applause. The truth was; I wasn’t very well liked amongst my ilk and that was absolutely fine by me. There wasn’t a single one of them any where even close to my ability.
”Everyone! It’s time to partake in the wonderful feast that I’ve set out for you. Lobster. Soft shell crab. Roast beef, prime rib and breast of chicken. And all the fixings to go with them. Eat up! Enjoy, enjoy! There’s plenty of booze too. Drink until you’re seeing triple! If anyone doesn’t think that he or she is capable to drive in the end, feel free to spend the night. I have twelve guest rooms in this little bungalow.”
There was a general stampede in the direction of the food tables, everyone jabbering excitedly and jostling each other out of the way. Serial killers weren’t big on manners, excepting for, perhaps, Ted Bundy.
Peter waved me over to where he was standing. “Hey, Albert!”
The hand came down for a shake. “Still friends?”
I accepted the hand grudgingly. “Yeah, still friends.”
”Did my announcement about the Serial Killer Hall of Fame take you by surprise?”
”There’ll be some top notch personal affects on display. Ted Bundy. Son of Sam, the Night Stalker, the Hillside Stranglers, even one of the notes from the Zodiac. You’ll be invited to the grand opening.”
”Sounds great. Uh — I have to run to my car for a moment.”
”Ah! Perhaps a little souvenir from one of your victims you’d like to show off.”
”You are clairvoyant.”
”We all have to collect our little mementos, don’t we? Locks of hair, bloodstained articles of clothing, newspaper clippings, body organs.” Van Dorn snickered. “A finger or two. I have a whole room of souvenirs, downstairs. Remind me to give you a little tour before you leave.”
“Well go on. But hurry back before those gluttons finish all the food.”
I headed for the door, ignoring the Gillespie twin’s efforts to engage me in conversation. One of Van Dorn’s German shepherds bird-dogged to my car, a thick tendril of drool, as thick as maple syrup, dangling from his lower jaw. If I made a false move, I feared he would rip me apart.
Darkness had arrived, stars twinkling in a cloudless sky.
Sliding behind the wheel, I picked up the five envelopes resting on the passenger’s seat. The first three went to the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune. The fourth was going to the Attorney General of the United States, and, the fifth, to the FBI’s Behavioral Science section at Quantico. Everything was in order!
I pulled my little gizmo out of the glove compartment. Making sure that the little red light was still blinking, I took a long breath and held it, my finger flipping a switch. In the rear view mirror, I watched as Van Dorn’s cottage disappeared in a maelstrom of flaming debris and smoke! Shards of glass tinkled across my Lexus as pieces of wood shot past like smoldering Frisbees. A splinter of wood stuck into the shepherd’s butt like a dart and he went yelping off into the woods, his tail tucked between his legs.
Oh yes, Peter; I am most certainly arrogant! In fact, I’m the most arrogant sonofabitch to have ever walked the earth! Oh, by the way; I did know who my S victim would be. Oooppps! I should say victims. For S stood for all the members of S.K.I.N.! I am the best there ever was! The killer of serial killers!
I made a U-turn, laughing to myself, as the breeze gathered plumes of smoke and carried them down the coast. Stopping where the drive skirted the cliff, I picked up my nose trophy and threw it over the precipice. No hard feelings, Peter. Still friends. I could only visualize it picking up speed just before plunging to its destruction amongst the water-worn rocks. Then, whistling a merry tune, I stomped on the accelerator, heading for some much anticipated R and R in the mountains.
Copyright © 2003 by Gerald Sheagren