Andrew Vachss uses storytelling to teach, to protect, and to make the world a better place. Today,we celebrate the publication of his new novel, The Weight, with part two of his original story “As the Crow Flies,” continued from yesterday.
I knew who he was. Just like I knew Alfred Hitchcock hadn’t been his first one.
I didn’t need his name, because I had his path. His kind, they always move in straight lines. You may not know where they’re going, but you always know where they’ve been.
The local paper keeps the crime reports on a separate page. Not big crimes, like an armed robbery or a murder. Around here, something like that’s so rare it would make headlines. The “Crime Beat” page is just a printout of the entire police blotter. Drunk driving takes up most of it, with some domestic violence sprinkled in. Lately, a lot of meth busts, too. But you also see things like shoplifting, disorderly conduct, urinating in public . . . any petty little thing you could get arrested for.
The library has a complete archive, going all the way back for years and years. I read three years’ worth. Found seven little notices that qualified: five “animal cruelties”–no details; it wasn’t that kind of newspaper–and two fires they called “arson, unsolved.”
After I marked the locations on my close-terrain map, I could see they were all within a two-and-a-half-mile area. You wouldn’t need a car to cover that much ground, no matter where you started from.
I began leaving the door of my den open all the time, even when I wasn’t around.
Under the bookshelves, there’s a cabinet. It has a lock built into it, but I sometimes forget to use it. You can tell that by looking–the key is still in the lock, sticking out.
There’s magazines in there now. All kinds, from Soldier of Fortune to Playboy to the stuff I bought on that last visit to the city.
It took a couple of weeks for one of those new ones to go missing. Whoever took it would never notice that I had removed the staples and replaced them with a pair of wire-thin transmitters.
Those transmitters were real short-range, but I was sure I wouldn’t need much. I knew he was close.
Dolly was asleep when I slipped out that night. Rascal was awake, but he kept his mouth shut. He gave me a look, so I’d know he wasn’t sleeping on the job.
When I picked up the signal, I didn’t try to track it to the exact house–I wasn’t dressed for that kind of risk. All I really needed was the general area, anyway. The library had a city directory, and every school yearbook, too.
The high school was closed for the summer. There was no security guard. The alarm system was probably older than me.
The guidance counselor’s office wasn’t even locked.
I could tell it was a woman’s office without even turning on my fiber-optic pin-light. Whoever she was, she kept her file cabinets locked. Cost me an extra fifteen seconds.
Jerrald had a thick file. He’d been evaluated a number of times. I kept seeing stuff like “attachment disorder.” I skipped over the flabby labels and went right to the stone foundation they built those on–the boy had been torturing animals since he was in the second grade.
The counselors wrote that Jerrald was “acting out.” Or “crying for help.” Some mentioned “conduct disorder.”
To read what they wrote, you’d think they knew what they were talking about. Every one of his “behaviors” always had some explanation.
But I knew what Jerrald was doing.
The counselors had done all kinds of things for Jerrald. Individual therapy. Group therapy. Medication.
The most recent report said he had been making real progress. Jerrald was keeping a blog. I knew what that was from those kids Dolly always had around–a kind of diary they keep on their computers.
I read some of Jerrald’s stuff the counselor had printed out. Torture-rape-murder. The counselor said that the blog was a good outlet for Jerrald, a “safe place for him to vent.”
Jerrald’s English teacher said his writing showed real promise.
I knew what promises he was going to keep.
I left the school the same way I’d left Alfred Hitchcock’s body in the woods.
You never work angry–that could get you killed. The best way to keep anger out of your blood is to always do it by the numbers. First, secure the perimeter. By August, I knew Jerrald’s parents were going on vacation. To Hawaii. They were taking his little sister with them, but not Jerrald. He was eighteen, more than old enough to leave on his own for a couple of weeks.
I don’t know whose idea that was. Or, I guess, whose idea they thought it was.
The newspapers said Jerrald must have been building some kind of bomb in his room. A pretty serious one, too–it blew out the whole back of his house, where his bedroom was.
They brought in the FBI. Anytime a high school kid gets caught with heavy explosives, they figure it for a terrorist plot. If that doesn’t pan out, they look for a Columbine connection.
It was the FBI that told the local TV people the bomb was probably a crude, homemade device. “Very simplistic,” their expert said. “You can get instructions how to build one on the Internet.”
They printed parts of Jerrald’s blog in the papers, and the Columbine connection was all over it. He was obviously a very disturbed young man, most probably the target of school bullying.
The town had a big funeral for him. A lot of kids were crying. Dolly went too; some of the kids really wanted her there.
I didn’t go. I was out in the deep woods giving Alfred Hitchcock a proper burial. The way he would have wanted it.
copyright © 2010 Andrew Vachss
All Rights Reserved
Andrew Vachss has been a federal investigator in sexually transmitted diseases, a social-services caseworker, and a labor organizer, and has directed a maximum-security prison for “aggressive-violent” youth. Now a lawyer in private practice, he represents children and youths exclusively. He is the author of two dozen novels, including The Weight, his latest. To read an excerpt from this crime-fiction novel about Sugar, an old-school professional thief, visit http://vachss.com/weight. The Weight goes on sale November 9.