(Originally published inThe Ramblings of a Condemned Man, NEVER STOP NEVER QUIT, 2018)
He was just a kid.
I wonder if I looked that young when I made my first kill. Must’ve been…how
many years ago? God, I can’t believe it’s been so long. It still feels like
The old coot could barely move, just sitting around all day in his
Barcalounger, waiting for someone to come drag him to bed when it was time
to go to sleep. I just remember being so scared, slinking around the nursing
home, sure I’d get caught. But I finally found his room.
He jumped as soon as he saw me barrel through the door, one ring on the end
of a wire saw hanging over each index finger. I got to him before he could
get up, but he still put up one hell of a fight—until I got that wire around
his neck. That always slows ‘em down. It took me over three minutes to cut
all the way through. I almost had to stop a couple of times; the sight was
making me sick, but I remembered the instructions my teacher gave me: “Make
it gruesome. Send a message.”
All too often, he had to correct me and clean up after my mistakes.
“Not enough blood.”
“You left a fingerprint.”
“Never draw attention to yourself.”
The normal five-kill training cycle wasn’t enough for me. I needed eight to
become certified and cleared to work on my own. With Jimmy, I would’ve
signed him off after his first kill and sent him on his way, if only to get
some distance between us.
The kid scares me.
They assigned him to me five weeks ago, when he was fresh out of Phase 2:
Screening and Aptitude. They figured I was a good fit for him because we
already knew each other from before Phase 1. How the hell they usually pick
‘em is beyond me. It’s not like there’s a “Contract Killer” section in the
classifieds. They sure don’t have their own booth on career day. I was born
into the trade myself; a legacy. Like father, like son.
Not with Jimmy though: he tracked them down. Well, tracked me down, that is. Right after I did the Gatling job in July, this
guy—Jimmy, as I later found out—walked up to me on Morris Street. I didn’t
know him, and he didn’t know me, at least I thought he didn’t. He was
holding a newspaper in his hand, and just as I was getting out of my car, he
stuck the front page right under my nose. “Hey!” he said. “Did you see
I’m sure the grainy black-and-white photograph of a bloodstained sheet
covering Gatling’s body sent the proper message. They probably spent a long
time looking for the rest of her. That was a fun job. I just turned away
from the kid.
Then, right down the street, Jimmy just blurted out, “How much did they pay
you for this?” The kid blew my mind.
I mumbled something like, “Get the hell outta here with that,” and went on
my way. Jimmy didn’t follow. He just stood there and yelled out, “Tell them
I want in!” I kept walking, didn’t even acknowledge he was still yelling at
me. How the hell did he know?
Of course, I had to report the incident. I told them absolutely everything
I knew—which was nothing. No one was around when I went into Gatling’s shop
that night. There was no way this kid, or anyone, could have followed me. No
way at all.
They picked up Jimmy later that week for Phase 1: Identification. That’s
when they dig in deep to find out who you really are and how willing you are
to get your hands dirty. This line of work isn’t for everybody. Actually,
it’s not for anyone decent.
Before putting you in the program, they walk you through some gruesome past
jobs, some of the messiest ones we’ve done, with photos and all, just to see
if you can handle it. If you pass Phase 1, they set you up with a couple of
mock scenarios. That’s Phase 2. Usually, it’s just an animal or some random
homeless guy who won’t be missed. They test and grade you on your strength,
technique, and staying power—your ability to stomach the sight and smell. If
you pass, you move on to live training exercises. If you fail, you
disappear. Jimmy passed with flying colors.
He must have told them how my cover was blown, but they never mentioned it
to me. I knew better than to ask Jimmy. Besides, once he’s up and running,
His first kill was much like my own: a nobody, a random target who was of
no interest to our foundation. It was just a practice kill, to see if you
could execute when the rubber met the road. The objective was to stage it
like a real job, and to make it gruesome, send a message.
He picked a seventy-six-year-old widow with no immediate family (closest
was her niece, a fourth-grade schoolteacher). Jimmy was quiet when he broke
into her home and slipped an ice pick through the base of her skull as she
slept in the rocking chair. That was smart. Making it gruesome doesn’t mean
you have to make it difficult. Man, if I had known that on my first kill,
life would’ve been so much easier. You can always add gruesome—after they’re
dead. Jimmy wasted no time proving he had both the stomach and the
creativity for the job. He actually positioned Aunt Wendy’s body parts on
the floor to spell out the words “U DID THIS,” as a message for whoever
stepped foot into the blood-soaked living room.
His next test was a moving hit. Jimmy waited for me to radio in the target
from his hide site, seven hundred feet from the freeway. “Motorcycle. Red
helmet. Southbound. Go.” I timed my call so he would have about ten seconds
before the mark passed from his field of view.
Jimmy did it in four. I wasn’t sure how to take it when I heard him say,
“Watch the hands.” Well, not until I saw the pigeon careen back, sending
both him and his bike sprawling across the road at sixty-five miles an hour.
Jimmy hit the bastard on his right hand. If the shot didn’t kill him, the
spectacular crash would. Of course, the freight truck jackknifing over the
top of the poor bastard was just icing on the cake. Figuring he had earned a
bit of praise, I radioed, “Good one, kid. Where’d you learn to shoot like
“I’m not a kid,” was his only reply. Asshole. He was probably an arcade
nerd growing up. Shoot-em-up games, that’s my guess.
The third test was multiple targets. I gave Jimmy the names: Mr. and Mrs.
Andrew Vines of Oakdale Retirement Community. The rest was up to him, but he
had to complete the assignment by nine o’clock that night, and it was five
thirty in the afternoon when the clock started. The Vines lived in a secure
high-rise apartment forty-five minutes away.
The kid didn’t even blink an eye; he just walked out the door.
At 8:35 p.m., Jimmy came strolling back in. His pants were ripped at the
knee and up the side. “Mission accomplished?” I asked.
“Mission accomplished,” he snickered.
“How did you get in the building?”
“Easy,” he said. “I tore my jeans, then told some old lady I crashed my
bike and had somehow lost my keys. She bought it and let me in. No questions
asked other than, ‘Are you okay, Sonny?’” I complimented him on the trick,
but Jimmy just dismissed my words.
“And how did you get into the target’s apartment?”
Jimmy smiled and shrugged his shoulders. “I just told them I couldn’t find
the family I was looking for. People always want to help a stranger in need,
I guess. I can look pretty sappy if I have to.”
I shuddered as I asked the next question. “Did you make it gruesome?” The
kid didn’t say a word and just handed me a plastic bag. Inside were three
fingers, an ear, and four little bloodied disks. “What are these?” They
almost looked like seashells.
“Kneecaps!” he boasted with a haunting smile. “It’ll have the cops racking
their brains for weeks trying to figure out the motive for this one.” The
kid really scares me. I mean, who the hell thinks of that shit, especially
someone so new to this kind of work?
To join the organization, you have to prove your willingness to sacrifice
anything. Number four was a test of Jimmy’s dedication. “How long have you
lived in Bakers?” I asked, easing into the task.
“All my life,” Jimmy replied with an air of indifference. “In fact, I live
just a few miles from the house I was born in. There’s not much here, but
what the hell. I figured I’d stay until a better opportunity comes along.
One boring place is as good as another, I guess.”
I followed up with, “Do you have any close relationships?” He looked down,
squirming uncomfortably as he rubbed a pattern on the rug with his
“Not really. I tend to keep to myself. Sure, I’m friendly with the people
I’m around. It seems like every year or so, I drift away and hook up with
new mates. I never really break up with the old ones…they just go away and
spend their time with other guys.” I could see Jimmy’s discomfort. His
social life was a strain; it’s probably what brought him to us in the first
place. Sometimes, a man finds living a barbarian’s life in the shadows is
preferred to blending in to normalcy alongside every other cog.
Then I sharpened my focus. “What’s your longest relationship?” Jimmy’s eyes
lit up like the lifeless wooden doll who had just taken his first breath,
infused with the spirit of a fairy princess.
“Sue Ellen Kapict,” he cooed. “I’ve had a crush on her forever. We met way
back in the first grade and have been friends ever since.” Jimmy closed his
eyes and appeared to drift off, maybe reminiscing about moments in the past
or dreaming of wonderment yet to come. “I always tried to push for more,” he
sighed. “She hasn’t given in yet; says she’s worried about losing the family
she has now—losing what we have as ‘friends’ over some short-lived fling.
I’ve always told myself, ‘Someday, you’re going to show Sue Ellen you’re the
one for her. You’re the one for her…and she’s the one for you!’” I could
feel Jimmy straining to share just a bit of his long-ago-buried bliss with
Sometimes I really hate my job. I act on someone else’s arbitrary
decisions—someone I don’t know and will probably never meet. The contracts
are filtered down to me for execution, sometimes relayed through a contact I
trust, or maybe in a note secured for my eyes only. I have no knowledge of
the circumstances leading to my orders, nor do I know what the aftermath
will be—except that the decision will end a life and ruin countless
I used to wonder why my boss never dealt with me in person. Meeting
face-to-face would help me get a better feel for the impact of my work, and
it would give them the opportunity to relish in the masterpieces I create
Now I know why. They don’t want any part of what Jimmy and I do.
“She’s your target.”
I can’t begin to imagine the mountain of emotions and questions pouring
through Jimmy’s mind. Maybe I didn’t want to know because I didn’t want to
think about how I would react if I were in his shoes.
“Can’t we pick someone else?”
“What if I can’t do this?”
But, Jimmy showed none of those reactions, no emotion at all. His only tell
was the change in his eyes. With a renewed lifeless stare, he asked one
I gave him until noon the next day. He tracked down Sue Ellen Kapict early.
Apparently, she loved quiet time in her garden and spent every Saturday
morning, from eight to eleven o’clock, caring for her plants and
For our after-action review, I chose to go without details. All I needed to
know was asked and answered in one question. “Was it gruesome?” Jimmy’s eyes
lit up once more as his smile spread from ear to ear.
“Oh, yeah,” he cooed, “and I definitely sent a message.”
Sue Ellen’s death hit that quaint town hard, more so than the other recent
murders. Of course, there was talk of a connection between the killings.
Residents were afraid to walk the streets alone. Police had no leads. They
couldn’t even come up with a motive. Finally, the town rose up. It was if
they all screamed in unison, “Enough!” To help fade the stain of yet another
gruesome murder in Bakers, Todd Kapict organized Bakers Township Community
Day, with a parade, a genuine county fair, and capped off by a sweetheart
dance in the evening. The event was scheduled for the nineteenth, a mere
three weeks after Sue Ellen was murdered. Three weeks was pretty quick
considering everything Todd had to accomplish: bury his love, start a new
life alone, and plan this event.
Twenty-one days was hardly enough time.
For Jimmy, twenty-one days was an eternity. He marveled at his
accomplishments during the previous seven, eyes sparkling with the
recollection of every blade strike…every inch of skin peeled from the bitch
who had rejected him so many times. Now, as he prepared to celebrate his
retribution, he worked side by side with Todd to ensure everything was just
right. Todd was indebted to Jimmy for rounding up Sue Ellen’s old friends
and encouraging them to participate in the day’s festivities.
“You were always good to her, Jimmy,” Todd softly sobbed. “Thank
Jimmy smiled. “I just want to continue to be a big part of this.”
The night before the festivities, I sat down with Jimmy and asked him, “Are
you ready for this?”
“Ready for what?” Jimmy squared his jaw, taking a deep breath of the stale
country air. “Community Day? I fucking love it. I’m going to enjoy watching
these people fake happiness through their bloodshot eyes, welled up with
tears.” He struck a mock pose of monumental sorrow hiding under a
whisper-thin veil of cheer. I figured that was going to be his look for
Everything was set up perfectly for the plan, if I do say so myself. The
time had come to rattle Jimmy’s cage. Payback for being such an asshole, for
being so good at this job. “Tomorrow’s the date.”
With his head cocked to the side, like that RCA dog staring at the
phonograph, he asked, “Date for what?”
“Kill number five. In a public place. The dance.” The kid was cold. He had
no reaction, no flinch of surprise or look of concern.
Again, he had just one question. “Who’s the target?”
My instructions were simple. I told him, “Your pick, Jimmy. The only
requirement is it’s gotta be at the sweetheart dance. Everything else is up
to you. Just brief me on the details when the job is done.” The corner of
Jimmy’s mouth turned up into a smirk as his eyes closed softly. Slowly
rocking his head, he seemed to be in full agreement with the plan he was
unfolding. I could tell the kid already had his pigeon in mind.
The need to justify my existence, to at least pretend I was teaching my
pupil something, forced me to keep talking. “You’ll need a woman, you know.
Can’t really go to a sweetheart dance on your own now, can you?”
“I already got one.” Of course he did. “Might as well go with the obvious
choice,” he affirmed.
“She doesn’t know anything about your training, right?” I just couldn’t
“She’s dumb as a box of rocks. That’s probably why her first husband left
her a few years back.”
Jimmy and I parted, set to meet a week after the kill. If all went
according to plan, Bakers Township would be a hornet’s nest of activity. It
was not exactly a good place or time to be a stranger walking around town,
especially one with so many accomplishments under his belt. No matter how
perfectly you covered your tracks, after so many jobs, inevitably a pattern
would begin to emerge—they’d find that one piece and everything would fall
into place. I needed to be long gone before someone had a chance to find
mine. I left town immediately. Jimmy would disappear at some point after the
I figured if Jimmy met me today, his plan had worked out. He disappeared,
just another victim of the Bakers Township’s killer, never to be seen
again—as he started a storied career with the foundation. If it hadn’t gone
well, I’d move on. There’s always another trainee waiting in the
But, all went well.
From my booth in Diorgio’s Coffee Shop, I had a clear view of the parking
lot as well as the street feeding customers in. It was the perfect place to
meet. Diorgio’s has the best bagels and lox in this part of the country.
Plus, it’s a little over two hundred miles away from Bakers Township, well
outside of the search area they had set up.
If it weren’t for that dopey walk of his, I wouldn’t have even recognized
Jimmy when he turned the corner and shot a straight line for the door. He
was empty-handed and dressed for a casual Saturday afternoon in town. A
curly mop top, dark with just a hint of tangerine, covered up his blond buzz
cut. The winter had been unseasonably cold, yet Jimmy’s bronzed tan gave the
impression that he lived in or had just returned from the islands. I just
looked the same as before.
Jimmy asked the waitress for a cup of coffee—black, no sugar—as he slid
into the booth across from me. “So, what’s it now?” I asked. “James? Jim?” I
offered alternatives in a playful tone. “Peter? Antonio?” His only response
was that lopsided smirk. Our waitress served him his coffee; he wrapped his
hands around the mug.
“Fuck, it’s cold out,” was his opener. “I think I’ll stick with
Gently tapping my near-empty cup, I whispered an announcement to the coffee
shop’s patrons, “Well, here’s to the coronation of Jimmy the Kid!” Jimmy
blushed, sheepishly lowering his eyes to the table. That humble gesture was
one of the rare times I saw anything other than the devil himself in the
kid. Satan returned, however, the instant I started his debrief.
“Walk me through it.”
Jimmy looked straight through me. With no inflection in his voice, no
emotion, he detailed Community Day. “I chose Todd Kapict because he was
definitely the highest-profile target at the time. I figured no better way
to send the message than by striking at the heart of our fair community.
Besides, he had nothing left. I honestly felt sorry for the poor bastard,
probably did him a favor.”
“You’re a saint,” I joked. You’re the devil made flesh, I thought. But Jimmy was in a trance. My sarcasm was lost on him. He
needed to tell his story, to relive his glory.
“With Gina as my puppet, we were the perfect combination. Blending in like
we did, no one thought we were there for any reason other than to celebrate
Community Day. We also stuck out just enough, with Gina’s knockout body and
her sad story. She acted like she was crazy about me. Everyone will remember
our genuine love for each other. One of us actually believing that ruse made
it look so much better.”
Jimmy described how he worked the room, solidifying his fictional account
and clouding the timeline so his momentary absence during the dance went
unnoticed. Later, when the police interviewed witnesses, Christine
remembered that she talked to Jimmy and he had told her about how sad Mike
was. Mike had talked about Jimmy consoling Christine right after he had been
joking with Bobby. Bobby remembered…
Witness statements, especially concerning violent crimes, tend to have a
lot of holes. He was just a kid. It took me years to develop a knack for
pre-staging a crime scene like that. Jimmy was already putting me to
He told me how Todd was in a world of his own, attending to every little
detail and ensuring the guests were having a great time. Did they like the
food? Did they need more to drink? What song did they want to hear
“I followed Todd,” Jimmy continued, “out the back of the building. He was
hauling another one of those big trash bags. You know, the one where you
stick four or five garbage-can-sized bags into one? Anyway, we got to
talking about Sue Ellen. I opened up about the love I’d felt for her all
these years. I talked about my desire to be with her, to give everything to
her and take all that she had. The poor sap, he didn’t even get offended by
my talk of carnal desire for his girl. He just felt my pain.”
Jimmy’s eyes lit up again.
“Todd leaned in to console me. That’s when I struck!” he said, wrapping his
left arm around an imaginary neck while he thrust his right fist up through
an imaginary middle. “I used my trusty pick again, right to the back of his
skull. Instant. No mess. I still wanted gruesome, although I had to be
careful not to get anything on me. Going back to the dance with Todd’s blood
all over my suit would not be a smart move now, would it?”
“No,” I confirmed, “it would not.”
“So, anyway, I’m guessing you saw the pictures.”
“I did, Jimmy. Great job. They’re disgusting,” I said, full of
praise. You’re disgusting, I thought, detesting him.
“Thanks,” he beamed, deaf to my inner words, though I’m sure he would savor
my disgust so much more than any praise I could offer.
“So, you made it back to Gina, no problem?”
“Well…I did get caught going back in.”
“What?” Jimmy’s confession caught me off guard for sure. “What the hell
“I was back in the building, walking down the hallway, when that old
jackass, Mr. Stynes, ran into me.”
Before I could ask him more questions, he started to laugh
“He’s the facilities manager…the janitor! He was just picking up the few
remnants Todd overlooked when he was cleaning. Anyway, Stynes wanted to know
what I was doing away from the party.”
“‘I was just going to the bathroom, Mr. Stynes,’ I told him. I was fully
prepared to use my ice pick again.”
“Did you have to?” I tried to recall reading anything about a second
“No,” Jimmy snorted in between a full-blown case of the giggles. “He just
said, ‘Well, you just get back in the auditorium. I know your mother, and
she would not be happy to find you roaming the hallways. Now, get!’” Jimmy
could barely finish a sentence, let alone string two of them together. He
was finding comedic undertones everywhere. “I was laughing so hard when I
went back in, Mom kept asking me, ‘What’s so funny? What’s so funny?’ I just
told her I was dead tired and wanted to go home. I was almost in control of
myself by the time we left the building.” He paused, raising one finger
before finishing his thought. “Then, I looked at the banner Todd had me
paint.” The kid could barely gasp enough air. “You remember the one, right?”
The nonsensical images had taken complete control of Jimmy.
“Yeah, I remember the banner.”
BAKERS TOWNSHIP MIDDLE SCHOOL
Parent-Student Sweetheart Dance
Open your heart to your kids and they will open theirs for you
Jimmy damn near fell out of the booth as he pounded his hand flat on the
table again and again. “Get it?”
I got it, Jimmy.
He leaned in close to let me in on the punch line, figuring grown-ups just
don’t get the real funny stuff. “Get it? He opened his heart to Sue
I got it, Jimmy.
“Just like she did!”
He was just a kid.
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