Killing McGinty Safely
In the driveway he grappled with the grocery bags, getting them out of the trunk of the Saab, trying to pick up all four at once, fool that he was, bending and lifting like this in such cold weather, at his age no less, something would go, pull, snap. But there you were, he was in a hurry to get inside, hated being watched, and old lady Meltzer next door was at her usual post by her kitchen window looking out at him. Nosey old biddy. Standing there half hidden behind those yellow vinyl curtains. As he straightened up a ray of the dying sun glanced off the lenses of her glasses. Did she think he couldn’t see her? It was a horror to be seen shopping at the best of times, people looking at what you bought, seeing what you ate, what kind of soap and facial tissue you used. My god, how did they stand it? The very idea of complete strangers knowing such intimate details was an absolute horror. And yet here he was, in his driveway in broad daylight. Ah, but, he thought, it is we who are watching you.
He pushed the trunk lid closed with his elbow and started toward the side door. Was she charting his trips to the supermarket now? Estimating the contents of his freezer? She’d been curious about him, perhaps even, if truth be told, a little afraid of him ever since her grandson had disappeared. Little Aaron. Right out from under her nose. Without a trace. He’s not far Granny, he thought, stepping carefully around a patch of ice on the black asphalt. Right next door. He turned at the bottom of the steps and used the railing to reposition one bag and get a better grip on it. He didn’t need to look to see her out of the corner of his eye, still at the window watching him. She really was irritating. He had fantasized about what those vinyl curtains would do if touched with a flame. How the brown melt would eat into the sunflower pattern. Mrs. Meltzer smoked. Such a thing could well happen. She wore yellow-patterned dresses that looked like they were made of the same flammable material as her curtains. If touched with a flame, he thought, the old bird and her glasses would melt down just like the curtains.
He took the steps carefully, gingerly as they said, whatever that meant. Carefully meant with care, gingerly obviously meant with ginger. How in the world could non-native speakers be expected to learn a language riven with such insane expressions? He shifted the bags to attack the door. His back wasn’t what it used to be. Too many years of Santa lifting children, ha, ha. The fourth lumbar vertebra. That was where Krafft-Ebing located the ejaculation center. Oh, he’d pay for it in the morning. Five-thirty and the light was already fading. In California the Safeway store had been open all night. One could get up, as he regularly had, at three a.m., and be perfectly alone in frozen foods.
He remembered the days in Palo Alto when he had to take his laundry to a Laundromat, exposing his underclothing that way, having all those promiscuous gray metal vanes and porous, water-sucking surfaces pasting themselves to his intimate garments. What an outrage! How had he survived it? He pulled off a glove with his teeth and worked with rapidly numbing fingers at getting out his keys. He began fitting them into the double locks and deadbolts. Nippy, as they said. Nippy out. What a word. And how odd that only the weather could be nippy. That puppies, even though they had coined the phrase, so to speak, even though they were by far the nippiest creatures in the world, could not be referred to as “nippy.” As in, ‘Harry, the dirty bastard, has a very nippy puppy.’ No. In a student essay he would circle that in red.
The locks and door all gave together prematurely and he jolted into the kitchen in an unprophylactic spill of industrial cleaner and Jiffy scrubbers that fell out of the top of one bag onto the floor. He pushed the door shut behind him with his foot, pivoted and leaned the bags over clumsily onto the counter, keeping his feet on the mat. He straightened up, feeling an ominous twinge in his upper renal area, pulled off his other glove and his hat and threw everything up onto the shelf over the coats. He hung up his parka and kicked off his overshoes. “Nippy out!” he shouted. He clapped his hands together heartily and blew on them, rubbing them the way they did in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” “There’s a wee nip in the air today Molly,” he called out, “would ya na say?!” He had always been good with the accents. Especially the Scotch. Scottish, rather. He waited a second, hamming, pretending there was somebody. “Ahm hoom honey!”
Ah well. He made a deep sigh of it. Sighed with regret, with mourning even, for the life unlived, the absent pitter-patter of little feet, as he picked up the fallen scrubbing articles and put them away under the sink. That done, he pulled the bags along the counter top, feeling his stocking feet slide pleasurably on the polished black and white tiles, and started unpacking his groceries. As he did, his mind came back to the problem of McGinty.
The lack of motive: that was clearly on his side. That would make it possible. That was what he had been dwelling on all day. That was what was going to put the ‘safely’ in killing McGinty. He removed the steaks and grabbed some freezer bags from the cupboard. Motive was where the police always started, and in this case, it was where they would end. He packed up the meat, went to the basement door, slid his feet into a pair of slippers, switched on the light and went down the steps. A sharp vestigial odor of coal still clung to the cement walls from a time in the house’s past when it had a coal cellar. The acrid bituminous smell was one of the little things about the place that had appealed to him when he bought it. Coal, for some reason, and creosote were two of his favorite smells. There seemed to be petroleum somewhere in his background. The remodeling he’d done luckily hadn’t affected the smell.
He crossed to the freezer, pulled out his keys, unlocked it and raised the heavy lid, enjoying the satisfying smack of the rubber sealing lips as they pulled apart. The air sucked into the brightly-lit vacuum with a frosty rush and for a moment he felt the familiar weakness in his knees, as if the very marrow in his bones were being sucked out. Weak in the knees, he thought, smiling to himself. Like the suitors when they saw Penelope. He kept his gaze averted from the body parts to the left, and laid the steaks neatly in the suspended white basket on the right. Then he closed the lid and re-locked it. Not that a motive was absent. It was just that they would never know what it was.
Yes, he was ahead of them there all right. He turned around and pretended to grab a big fat Santa tummy. “Ho, ho, ho!!” he intoned loudly. “Merry Christmas little boy!” He relaxed and spun the key ring round on his finger, feeling rather proud of himself. He looked over at the raised cement block that contained the body of the Selden boy. He remembered the face on the young detective who’d talked to him about that one at the school, and then shown up two days later unannounced at the house, investigating the missing boy. Sometimes you could see it in their eyes, that wondering, that speculation, the suspicion, remembering of course the Meltzer kid two years before. That inkling of the truth just skipping past in their eyes. How frustrating it was for them that he was so bloody smart, so careful, so organized.
In this new instance, however, where an adult like McGinty was involved, a new set of problems presented themselves. Back upstairs he opened the coffee and began cheerily filling the percolator. But wasn’t that what life was all about? A problem? A fresh challenge? A set of parameters? Wasn’t that why Christians went on the Crusades? Why Bethune went to China? Why Hillary climbed Everest? The idea occurred to him of throwing the police a red herring by writing McGinty a series of notes over the next month in the guise of a complaining lover. A teenager. A homosexual. He could write them on a computer in the town library and print them there. That would throw them off. They would be found, unless McGinty destroyed them, which was possible but not likely, and that would set them going. He could sign them using a pet name of some sort. ‘Katkin’ for example. That was an idea. Letters complaining of being ignored, taken for granted, abused, abandoned. Coming from a juvenile. He would have no trouble with the tone. He knew just how they wrote. Yes, the police would go crazy with that.
He put the coffee pot on the small burner and began folding up the grocery bags and knotting the plastic ones. Of course the police would ask questions at the school. But the sexual angle would put a spin on the direction of their enquiries. All the teachers would be questioned, with the sex angle hovering, dangling, the perfect red herring, so to speak, stinking up the case. Would they also question the students? Naturally. Had anyone seen Mr. McGinty lately with a new young friend? One of his male students? Downtown? At the video arcade? No offense, but for all anyone knew, perhaps the gentleman had in fact been that way inclined. He was a bachelor, a man of forty-something, right? It would fit the bill, so to speak. And there you were.
He got out his tray, cup and saucer, cream and sugar. Oh, they would all be closely questioned, no doubt about it. Students and teachers alike. But while the police might be tweaked toward the teenage lover angle they were not idiots. He would be interviewed. What would he say? ‘Well, Ed was a Scot you know, a bit of a loner, kept to himself. I’m not even sure I know where he lives.’
Oh dear. There you go. Or went, rather. Just the sort of thing that would catch their attention.
‘You mean, where he lived, past tense.’
‘Of course … where he lived.’
‘You’re an English teacher aren’t you?’
‘Yes I am.’
Eyes down. ‘I just can’t believe he’s in that tense now. I mean, that he went, that he’s gone.’
Good old Ed. That sort of thing.
But still. Where he lives. Where he doesn’t live. Killed at home was he? How would he know that? Unless … The theme music from The Naked City popped into his head. Followed by the voice of Jack Webb: ‘It was three-thirty in the afternoon when we got to the English teacher’s house.’ No, he would have to watch his tongue. The police would speak to them all. Would they repeat his comment to one of the other teachers just to check? Sure they would. ‘By the way, Mr. So-and-so tells us that. McGinty was a bit of a loner, not really a very social person.’
Brows knit. ‘Really? Well, I must say I don’t agree. In fact if it comes right down to it, I’d say it’s Mr. So-and-so himself who is the loner!’
No, that certainly wouldn’t be helpful. But how likely was that? To begin with, it simply wasn’t true. It would be contradicted by the next person they asked. He was sociable to a fault, bowled regularly on the Vice-Principal’s team, was a regular speaker at PTA meetings, even did some occasional church work. No, that would not fly. Whereas it was quite true that McGinty was a man who valued his privacy. He was sure that many really did not know where he lived. No one had ever seen him with young boys? No matter. It just meant he’d been careful. A hardened pedophile.
The coffee began to bubble. He turned down the flame. A hardened pedophile. He felt the phrase tickling him somewhere in the area of the fourth lumbar region. A sedentary and luxurious lifestyle? Krafft-Ebing had predicted irregularity in erections for males with sedentary lifestyles. Was that applicable to middle-school teachers in small towns in western Massachusetts?
Yes, the homosexual angle was good. And how about a phone call, perhaps made earlier in the evening? The telephone company would produce the record of the time and length of the call. He would only have to keep McGinty on the line long enough to make the supposition plausible. Perhaps he could say he was calling from some social organization for a donation. The Knights of the Lowly Cradle? The Firemen’s or Policemen’s Association? Thirty seconds would do it. They would suspect it was the boy who had written the letters. A lovers’ quarrel? Yes. Harsh words? Indeed! A little nippy? Indayd, thar war noo doot aboot it, for the wee lad had thereapoon come over and kayled the smoot! And there you were.
He turned off the burner and let the coffee stand a few moments. The smell sent pinches into his saliva glands. Coffee. He always bought Kenyan. Why did they bother with those silly different prices in the supermarket? Everyone filled the bags with the most expensive then told the cashier it was the cheap stuff. No one checked. Was it possible the store was having them on? Knowing this was happening, had they perhaps switched the coffees ahead of time? So now they were all paying for the low quality stuff and getting it? Outrageous perfidy! And wasn’t that always the bloody way of it?
But he was avoiding the main issue. The main issue was, how was he going to do it? Was he just going to walk over to McGinty’s and kill him? What about the body? The best would be if it disappeared. The best thing would be to sink the damn thing in cement in the mid-Atlantic. But how likely was it that he could do that? Or anything remotely as safe? Impossible. A grown man. Dead bodies had a way of turning up when you tried to bury them in forests or sink them in lakes. All he knew about it didn’t amount to much more than what he had seen in movies and on television. But the common sense of it was there. They had dogs. Sonar. And he might be seen. You couldn’t do anything or go anywhere anymore without being observed, dammit, even on the Web.
And McGinty wouldn’t be lured like a child, tricked into the Saab, then home to the house. No, he’d have to be killed somewhere in the outside world, and then disposed of. That’s where the trouble lay. Even if he got the defunct out, say, to Lake Barnstable, and dumped him right in the middle, if suspicion ever turned for a moment his way and police learned that he had been seen in the area of the lake, had perhaps been hiking out there that day, or so he said, and so on, it would be trouble. No, it was too risky. Didn’t the killers in the Mafia movies just shoot the victim, like Michael Corleone did in The Godfather, then drop the gun and walk away? The gun. There was another unhappy consideration. He didn’t own one.
He poured his cheap coffee, put a napkin on the tray with it and carried the service into the living room. He noticed the red light on his answering machine was blinking. He went over and put the tray down carefully on the coffee table, than went back to the machine. He pressed the Play button. The sinewy voice of Irene Ryan from St. Jude’s twined out and slithered around him. Could he please call her about next month’s United Way benefit at the VFW? She was so thrilled the Blithedale School was participating, and looked forward so much, so very much, to his help, his ideas, his experience …
He pressed stop, went back and sat down on the sofa. He added milk and sugar to his coffee and slowly stirred it in. Low on the sugar, brown, and a hint of half-and-half. He took a sip. Not too bad after all. What was it, if not Kenyan? Moravian Morning? Burundi Brown? God only knew. He put down his cup, picked up his new CD and took it out of its wrapper. He got up and went over to the stereo, pushed the power switches and slotted in the disk.
McGinty’s body. What a pain it was already! More of a pain in death than in life. The Borodin String Quartet began sailing out of the speakers with Beethoven, filling the room slowly with icy cupolas and spires of the 7th.’s opening allegro. He went back to the sofa. Could he perhaps lure the bastard off somewhere? To some secluded out-of-the-way place, as they said in the movies, and do it there? He sank back comfortably into the beige leather of the sofa. In fact, didn’t McGinty go camping every summer in the wilderness? Last summer hadn’t he gone up to the White Mountains? Couldn’t he take advantage of that? Why not ambush him in the woods and shoot him there, far from sight, out of earshot, and so on. But how could he be sure no one was going to come along just as he was doing it? Or that someone would not see him going to his car, or coming from it, or anywhere in the area for that matter, anywhere on the planet that day, and he was done, a murderer, kaput.
But wasn’t it the case, come to think of it, that McGinty camped more than he hiked? That he went somewhere up there and camped, in a tent and so on? He seemed to remember hearing something back in September, McGinty telling the Vice-Principal he had camped by a lake somewhere that summer. He imagined a secluded campsite. That would be wonderful, of course, but he knew it was not likely. There were no secluded campsites any more, or at least, not secluded enough. Campgrounds were now like hotels, you were cheek by jowl, and you had to reserve a spot. Not too far away would be another secluded campsite, probably with another schoolteacher from some other town, camping in another tent, sitting there on his own brown log, looking at the same sad lake and maybe even turning to McGinty and saying something despicable like, ‘Howdy.’
My god! The very thought of it made his flesh creep! Howdy. How utterly horrible. And there would be the smile, maybe with a little tobacco juice, showing McGinty some really bad teeth. Teeth whose rot, he suspected, had something to do with fellating too many young boys. And what would McGinty do? Who could say? The man was such an unknown quantity. For all he knew, McGinty might be so disgusted with this dope in the cowboy hat that he would wait until nightfall and then bludgeon him to death in his tent with his cast-iron frying pan. Mash his ugly face to pulp with it. What had children to do with it? He’d seen those red-rimmed eyes and leering faces and bad teeth before. You could almost smell the premature sex on them, the dank sweet smell of semen and small boys on the clothes, none of which ever looked really clean but instead were always a kind of fetid khaki, a stained chesterfield brown, with those loose patterned sport shirts and saggy sad sack pants that were always held up by a cheap too-long-and-narrow belt. Pants that would be dropped so quickly when the time was at hand.
He felt the muscles on the insides of his thighs clench. He was lumbar-ready, so to speak. He picked up his cup and took a swallow of hot coffee. His hand was trembling. He put it down. Why was he trifling in this manner? He knew where McGinty had to be killed. Not in the woods or out by any lake. He had to be killed at home. That’s where the kid would come, not out to the bloody White Mountains. And there was the computer to think about. So camping and all that just wasn’t on. “Not on, ya fucking nit!” he yelled.
He put his cup on the tray, got up and went over to the VCR. He switched on the power and put in one of his “911” tapes. He turned the sound down so it wouldn’t interfere with the Beethoven. Part of his collection. Obviously they would have to be put out of the way again. There was no sense taking any chances. He could be arrested for their possession alone, never mind McGinty. Not to mention what their discovery would open up in the minds of the police with regard to the unsolved disappearances of certain young boys x and y and z, so to speak, in the general area, over the last years. The tapes had cost him a large sum of money. And yet should he not consider disposing of them permanently at this stage? He thought of the fine collection of child snuff pornography locked in the armoire upstairs. There had to be a price to pay for McGinty, after all. He should not hesitate to pay it. It would be worth it when it was over and they were all sitting around in the lunch-room at school commiserating over the loss of their mathematics teacher. Dear Ed, someone would say. He was such a quiet unassuming man. And so on. Sighs and more sighs. And he would sigh with them, eyes downcast, ah, the inexplicable things that happened! They would all finger their Styrofoam cups, waiting for the bell. And when it rang, here they would come, streaming down the hall, that herd of overheated, panting young bodies, flush with hormones. What a treat! He was forty-five, after all. It was too late to have children of his own.
The video was one of his favorites, the curly-headed urchin going from room to room in the hotel carrying a small red backpack and calling for his parents. “Mom? Dad?” He knocked on the doors, got no answer and went on to the next one. Room 909. No answer. Room 910. Nothing. The strings, especially the viola now, was wonderful, winding up the end of the opening allegro. He went back and sat down.
But what about fibers? A fiber today spoke volumes. All it would take would be one matching fiber from his own clothes found in McGinty’s house. A whole glove, like O. J.’s, would hardly be necessary to fry him. Or the other way around. One fiber from the defunct or his surroundings, found on his own rug, or in the ashes of his furnace, and he would be cooked. He recalled the scene in Native Son where Bigger Thomas put the body of the white girl, what was her name? Mary? in the family furnace. Egad. What a mess. And then he had pushed his pregnant girlfriend down that air shaft. Ghastly. Wright had a sick mind. In any case, he had gas, not coal.
And what about the gun problem? It was awkward. He had no idea how to get one. Even in New Hampshire surely they did background checks, at least kept some kind of record. He decided he was not going shopping for a gun. Why not just strangle the noot as he had done with the children? That was possible. And quiet too. He had strangled the Tate boy with his bare hands, the Selden boy with one of his ties. The sartorial touch. That was something the Duc de Blangis had overlooked at Silling in Sade’s tale. The tie made him remember. Brought it back. That stupid tie with the playing cards motif he’d bought at the airport in Cincinatti. Even at the moment he had been doing it, with the small body literally snapping and arching under his weight, he had found himself looking at the tie gripped tightly in his fists with distaste, wondering what in the world had possessed him to buy such a tie, and again going over, as he had so many times, in different circumstances, how he really had nothing he could wear it with. He had thought about the oddity of this bizarre circumstance many times since. Freud would likely say he had something he didn’t want to face, so he had cathected to the tie. What nonsense! In a way the tie was the whole point. It was the signature, the trade mark, the sartorial correlative, so to speak, of the crime, that would make it forever memorable.
He picked up the remote and raised the volume of the music slightly as the quartet now moved to the quiet melancholy third section. On the screen the man in the black leather mask was tying the boys wrists. The kid’s features were distorted. He had clearly been given drugs.
Of course he had more ties. There were three or four he simply never wore any more. But like that was he not back in the dangerous world of making contact with the victim? In the world of forensics and skin under the fingernails and one of the perpetrator’s eyelashes found on the victim’s sleeve and so forth? Moreover, just how was he going to get into the position necessary to carry out the act? What was McGinty going to do when he opened the door and saw him standing there fondling a dubious-looking tie? He would put on the outside light too, before he opened the door. There was that to consider as well. He couldn’t just jump him, he would need some excuse to get inside. Dropping off a book? Why not? That was the least of his problems. Indeed this suddenly seemed to be the line of least resistance. He just had to be sure not to leave any hairs or fingernails behind. But then, how was he going to know if McGinty was alone? He couldn’t stake the house out, so to speak. That was not an option.
On screen, the man in black was now sodomizing the small chained body. The strings took up the final jittery allegro. He could not focus on the video. He got up and walked with his coffee to the back window. Vague irrelevant thoughts, like floaters in the eye, drifted past in his mind. It was dark out. Mrs. Meltzer would have finished her sad little dinner. His plants needed watering. It was a long winter. Out in the back yard a line of brightness from the streetlight in the lane lay like a dagger across the crusted snow, slicing off a portion of the privet hedge separating him from his neighbors on the other side.
He turned and prowled along the edge of the room, past his desk and computer. His screensaver was on and small gaily-colored fish were floating across the dark square. If the police came to his house would they check his own computer? They might. Surprise, surprise. Child pornography sites and chat rooms. The sites where he connected to his video people, the boy-girl sites, the links. He would have to trash the hard disk and re-install. That before anything else. Erase it, change the service provider, set up a trail of good clicks, a typical school teacher trail of good clicks, browsing the museum pages, the education and course sites, the book-buying sites.
Back at the coffee table he picked up the remote and flicked open the video sound. Beethoven was joined by animal sounds issuing from the violator’s throat. The final strings swept up the guttural cries of the man, the boy expiring as the man worked on the finish, screaming his obscenities. The Russian theme of the quartet oscillated, came and went, weakening.
No, the tie angle was out. It would mean a struggle with too much contact. And he knew how hard it was to strangle even small people. The boy in “911” was past struggling. He was experiencing muscle spasms in death. His legs snapped sharp, hardly touching the floor. Yes, they made a fuss. And God only knew, someone passing might just catch a glimpse of that through a window and that would be it. A knife seemed to be indicated. That meant blood, perhaps some on his clothes. But then his clothes were going to be disposed of. And he certainly had the knife for it, the Shiraz dagger, to be exact, that he’d brought back from Iran when he was a student.
The television screen had gone blue. The final shades and echoes of Opus 59 had receded into silence. Downstairs he heard the freezer motor whirr to life. McGinty went to the library every Friday and came home alone around ten, so that would be the time to pay his call. If he himself walked into the neighborhood and arrived at the house about ten-thirty all would be well. He would wear his old dark-frame glasses and the parka with the hood just in case he passed anyone in the street. But no one would be out at that hour. When he got to the door, before McGinty opened it, he would take off the glasses and push the hood back so he would look normal. When the door opened, as soon as McGinty saw him, if he knew, he would know what the call was about. If he knew. Even then, he would hardly know what was coming. He could just say he needed to say something to him, a private word, anything to gain time and get inside. And there you were.
The video had finished rewinding. The blue LED light on the amp came on. He didn’t move. He’d be sorry to lose the tapes. Ah, the sweets of youth! Could anyone really know what it was who hadn’t tasted them? No. He knew there were others who had, many others, probably, who had tasted them. And no one could know who they were, obviously. Which made the idea even sweeter. It was such a private privilege, so much his own bliss. And surely the others, whoever they were, besides McGinty, felt exactly the same way.
The screen on his computer lit up. He had company. He felt the hair prickle on the back of his neck. Not to forget the real purpose of the mission. McGinty’s computer. He would trash the files and hard drive. That would corroborate the homosexual killer angle. The killer trashes the computer because it has his address on it. Because it has the site where they had met, where he had first been picked up. Because his temporary internet folder was a virtual brokerage house of child pick-ups, pornography and pedophiles that had links to him as a trader. It was just plain bad luck that McGinty had stumbled on it. Poor man. It was quite possible, of course, that he still didn’t know that he knew. But if he didn’t, he would know soon enough wouldn’t he? It was only, as they said, a matter of time. He ambled over to the computer, good English teacher that he was, relishing his pronouns and tenses.