Deserted Suburbia, Part 2
I read the subtext:
Lee Ellroy, on trial for the murder of at least two elderly citizens, was today sentenced to perish in the gas chamber. The decision was widely expected, as Ellroy himself confessed his guilt shortly after the body of the second victim was found, but the decision to turn himself in won him no sympathy in court– the jury reached its verdict after just seventeen minutes of deliberation.
The trial has been covered extensively by the local media due to its proximity and also due to the fact that at least four other bodies had been found in similar circumstances. It is widely believed by the public that Ellroy was responsible for these murders and perhaps more— a speculation fueled by Ellroy’s clearly disturbed mental state, on display for the duration of the trial. However, there was insufficient evidence to add these additional charges without jeopardizing the entire case, and prosecutors felt comfortable seeking the death penalty with just the two bodies they has basis for.
Both victims were found in their homes, where they lived alone, bearing clear signs of strangulation. Based on the markings left on each victim’s neck, the murder weapon seemed to have been a woven-leather belt, which was never recovered by authorities. The prosecution did not delve deep into an exploration of motive, as the killer freely admitted his deeds but offered no explanation as to why he committed such heinous acts. Ellroy will be transferred upstate to a maximum-security facility until the date of his execution.
As I read the words the wheels inside my head began to spin, inevitably returning to the logical processes I held in such high regard. I wondered what had caused Lee Ellroy to becomes such a twisted animal. Was it some childhood trauma that forever altered his way of thinking, a trigger event that he would never recover from? I constructed his devolution from there: long nights alone, ruminating into the hours of the early morning, allowing his thoughts to travel to dark places, and all the while keeping in the back of his mind an idea, a plan to act on these twisted instincts when the time was right. The killer was forty-seven years old. How many years had he prepared for the crimes? How many sleepless nights did he spend analyzing the best methods of murder, and what finally gave him the courage to take action?
I shuddered. “Courage” didn’t seem appropriate. As I searched my head for synonyms the old man broke his silence.
“Some name, eh? Lee Ellroy?” I nodded. “Sounds like a pervert to me.”
“My father’s name was Lee,” I said without looking up.
“And here you are, evidence that the man knew his way underneath a skirt.” He chortled, or breathed—It was hard to tell the difference.
“A damn shame, nonetheless,” I said, folding the paper and placing it down on the table. “God rest those poor souls.”
“Aye,” he said. “And now another to that list.”
“Aye. Lee Ellroy.”
I spat the coffee I had been sipping delicately as he spoke.
“Now wait a minute,” I said. “You can’t tell me you feel sorry for the bastard. He deserves what’s coming to him.”
“So they say,” he replied. “The jury, at least.”
“And you would have ruled otherwise?”
“This man murdered two helpless civilians,” I said incredulously. “And some say there are more out there!”
The old man looked amused, and a crooked smile split his aging cheeks.
“A man’s only got one life to give,” he said. “One body, or twelve, makes no difference now how many he killed.”
“Yes, but your opinion of the matter might change. A desperate man might kill in the heat of a moment, but this was not a single act of violence. This was a cold and calculating serial killer. He plotted his crimes in advance, specifically targeted helpless victims, and executed them with his bare hands. Surely you cannot sympathize with this maniac.”
He simply shrugged.
“Of course, you would have locked him away, thinking his isolation would give him time to reflect and repent. Eventually he would be up for parole, and soon he would be back on the streets, looking for new victims. They were about your age, you know. Do you live alone?”
“Then you of all people should support the decision. You’re not immortal, old man. I could kill you just as easy.” Immediately I regretted saying it, but he did not seem offended. He just chuckled and shook his head.
“No, Laddie,” he said. “That’s incorrect.”
“All of it.”
He paused to spastically chomp his teeth. I wondered if he was even aware he did it.
“You see, we have a fundamental disagreement on this issue. You seem to think the killer was some sicko who lived alone and plotted these murders for years in advance, a single-minded serial freak bent on one day acting on his darkest desires. That simply isn’t the case. That isn’t the nature of this type of violence.”
I sat back in my chair and let the old man continue.
“What we have in this case is a victim of circumstance. He may have these sick and twisted fantasies, but we all do, to some extent. Maybe not as sick, but ones we certainly don’t go around advertising. We are afraid of their expression, and that fear is exactly what caused him to do those things.”
“He killed those people because he was afraid to kill people?”
He shook his head.
“He killed those people because the weight of those fears, brought to the surface, is unendurable. We all exist in some state of happiness solely because of our ability to suppress and hide these abnormal urges. But sometimes, due to circumstances beyond our control, these repressed fears are brought into consciousness, and the alchemy of that situation can lead a man to do terrible things, to realize these fears in a strong way, and depending on the nature of these urges, in an extremely violent way. A victim of circumstance, helpless as anyone would be if his deepest, darkest secrets became exposed for the world to see. In that moment he snapped, and once he did there was no turning back.”
Now I shook my head.
“Think about it, Sonny,” he continued. “What is your deepest secret? What do you hide from your closest friends? What makes you tremble in the deepest part of your being?”
He paused and let me squirm as I desperately tried to avoid answering in my own head.
“And you see, my simple questions alone are enough to make you uncomfortable. They bring about a tinge of contempt, or of fury, for me and for the situation you are in right now. And I don’t even know what you may be hiding!”
My grip tightened on my fragile coffee mug, and a thick smirk spread across his liver-spotted face.
“The suggestion itself is enough to incite these insecurities in even the most innocent observers. Paranoia. Fear. Violence.”
“You seem to know an awful lot about the killer,” I said through a grimace. “Tell me, what makes you so certain?”
Then an enormous clap of thunder shook the very foundation of the house. The lights flickered and remained off for a period of ten or fifteen seconds. No one spoke during the intermission. Then they clicked on and restored the dimly lit kitchen.
The old man was gone.