I’m not a man who dwells in the past.
In fact, I tend to hide from it.
20 years ago, my mother was murdered. We were walking to the park, in New York’s Upper West Side. It was late winter, but the sun was shining and it was warm. It seemed like there were people everywhere enjoying the warmth of the day. I was looking forward to riding the swings. But we never made it. I saw the guy who killed her. He was black, like me. He was short and thick. He was muscled and he had dead eyes.
It happened quickly. No gun. I was just holding her hand, walking. He came up behind us, gloves on his hands. He grabbed and twisted her neck. My eyes met his, and then it was done. He kept going.
Despite people being everywhere, nobody saw anything. It was too fast and too quiet.
It was a headline case, but the police never found anything. It seemed too clean for anything but a contract hit. But nobody could understand why my mom had been targeted. They looked at my dad – they’d fought often and he wasn’t exactly likable – but nothing connected him.
It was a clean kill.
After that, life was never the same. Everywhere I went, people pitied me. So I changed my name. Not legally, I was only a kid. At first, I just decided to start using another name.
Then, six months after my mom was killed, my dad abandoned me. I was 8 and he just disappeared.
I never saw him again.
The state took me. I moved from foster home to foster home. But despite – or perhaps because of – all the troubles, I grew strong. Independent and strong.
When I turned 18, I legally changed my name. I wasn’t looking back.
I went to college on a scholarship. I got married. I started a successful software business.
And then, three months ago, I saw my mother’s killer.
The years had changed me a lot more than they’d changed him. I wasn’t recognized. I couldn’t help it, but I followed him. I learned where he worked. And then I went home.
For three days, I thought about what to do. And then, I arranged to bump into him again. I invited him to dinner. I had to be totally sure I had the right guy.
He seemed to be a nice guy. He ran his own business, cleaning windows on 20 office towers in midtown. He was organized, smart and aggressive.
A lot like me.
We kept getting together, hanging out, going for drinks or games at the Garden. After a few months, at a sports bar, I finally told him my secret.
I wanted my wife dead.
He laughed at first. But I lied and convinced him I was serious. I wanted to see if he’d do it.
I expected him to offer his services, but he didn’t. Instead, his voice lowered. And he asked me to follow him. We went to his office. He made two coffees and sat me down on a cheap swivel chair. He sat on the edge of his metal desk. The whole office had a cheap and industrial feel, despite the fact that I knew he had and made real money. He must have been seeking to portray an low-end services attitude.
I was still waiting for his answer.
“Jim,” he said, finally, “I can help.”
“Okay,” I said, thinking about how to kill him.
“But there are a few conditions.”
“Okay,” I answered, a touch of agreement and impatience in my voice.
“First, this is going to be strange, but you need to trust me.”
“Second, if you tell anybody you shouldn’t about this, you’ll die.”
He moved off the desk, and sat heavily in his own chair – a slightly more expensive swivel model.
“Jim,” he said, “There’s a website. A blank page with one white box and a submit button. You go there, you enter what you need, and then it happens.”
“And then what?” I asked.
“And then, down the road, you are asked to do something. Your instructions will actually come with a full plan, something that will guarantee you never get caught. You do your part, and you are done.”
“How does it work?” I asked, genuinely curious.
“I’m not sure,” said my mother’s killer, “But I think it’s something like those kidney transplants. You know, some doctor somewhere connects a daisy chain of 15 patients who can help each other. This is the same sort of thing, but with crime. It’s got to take some major sort of brain.”
“Have you done it?” I asked.
“Years ago,” he said, “I wanted to get this business started. It was a mob industry – and I had to break into it. I had superior technology – robots that could autonomously wash windows, all day and all night. There was a lot of money to be made. The guy who controlled the business had a clean reputation. He had to. His clients needed plausible deniability. I needed him exposed.
“I met somebody. He told me what I told you – except in those days it took a piece of paper and a PO Box.
“The guy was gunned down in what seemed to be a clear mob hit. No arrests were made.
“Years later, I got a letter and I did my part. Again, no arrests.”
“You did it just the once?” I asked.
“Just one hit,” he said, “But my robots look into a lot of offices and I have had a fair number of requests for inside information. So I’ve been able to call one some more help.”
“Any regrets,” I asked.
He paused, thought about it, and then said, “No, none at all.”
I went home that night. As I lay in bed, I thought about what I’d learned. Three people had killed my mother. My new ‘friend.’ The Kidney Killer. And my dad. Whatever they or others in their circle had started, they hadn’t stopped.
I got up from bed and went to my home office. I opened the devil’s website. I thought about what I could enter. My father’s name. The name of my mother’s killer.
I thought about trying to track the message.
I got up, poured myself a whiskey, and thought about killing the Devil himself.
And then I closed my laptop and went back to sleep.
I’m not a man who dwells in the past.