The Killer

Dispatch told us that there was a report of a murder. Since we were the closest officers, we went to the address they told us as quickly as we could to catch whatever evil people were responsible. If you had been in the situation, you would have done the same.

The ride to the site of a murder is always long, even if it only takes a few seconds. You never get used to it: the thrill of the hunt, the flow of adrenaline, the mental preparation for a grisly scene and a confrontation.

Most of all, you try to imagine the back story. Every murder is the culmination of some series of events. Maybe it had been planned for a few days by a jilted lover who borrowed a gun and arranged an assignation in a private place to do the deed. Maybe it is a crime of passion whose immediate cause is a revelatory conversation just moments before the act. Maybe it's a cold dish that filled quiet pondering moments for years.

That is only to speak of the proximate causes. But each proximate cause has proximate and remote causes of its own. A murder that takes only a moment has roots not only in instantaneous rage, but in the childhood that led to a temperament susceptible to rage, and the history of the culture that teaches or fails to teach the proper place for violence in human relations. The factory worker who helped assemble a knife or a gun has his place, however innocent, in the event, and his own long life story that led him to assemble the weapon is part of the story of the act. The endless copying and mutation of DNA through dozens of generations may have contributed to the formation of a muscle that pulled a trigger or a neurological propensity to impulsiveness that played its own part. In some way, every event in the history of the universe had led to the ugly murder we were on our way to handle.

To say that an event has many causes is not to exculpate the perpetrators. Whoever had committed our murder was execrable, regardless of any sad childhood, of any disadvantaging DNA, of any confluence of circumstances that led to their act. You can be sure that only evil dudes do things so depraved.

Upon arrival, we rushed in. The door was ajar, and all we could see was a young man, probably still a teenager, kneeling over an older unconscious woman. What had he done to her, I wondered. What sickness had made him take a life? I got to him first, pulling him by the shoulders away from the poor woman. She was clearly unconscious, furled in an unnatural heap in a corner of the room, though I couldn't see any blood anywhere. He was insensible, as if stunned, his eyes glazed and flat like an animal's. Something about the situation was maddening to me. I couldn't resist pushing him on the chest as if to wake him up to the tragedy he had authored.

"What? Why?" He barely flinched when I pushed him, just blinking and apparently trying to get his bearings. "I didn't do anything. Help her!" His denial was nothing new to me - I had seen every version of wounded innocence and his performance was lackluster at best. The situation was maddening: the fact that he had been caught, that he nevertheless denied everything remorselessly, that he had done this to a weaker being, that the universe in its subtle machinations would perform thirteen billion years of miracles just to lead to something as inglorious as this. I pushed him again, harder this time, to be certain that he felt it and would give me something more than the dumb mute response I got last time.

Again he barely flinched, but I had pushed him with enough force this time that his feet, shod only with old socks, came out from under him. He fell backwards clumsily, not even reaching backwards to break his fall, but only weakly protesting: "It was a prank call...." His neck hit the corner of the base of the brick fireplace, with a sickening crack. He twitched a couple of times and then was still. The ride to the scene had been infinite but the action at the scene had the instant nothingness of a dream.

He was dead, killed, and only afterwards did I wonder whether he had been telling the truth that it was all a prank. Solemnly, my partner examined the scene. It all looked plausible. The woman was older, and there was no blood or sign of a struggle. She could have died of natural causes, and the young son or relative may have just discovered her. We saw teenagers peering in from a neighboring house. The prank call reporting a murder could have been a way to get the now-dead teenager in trouble, or it could have been an awful coincidence that the woman died at the same time as a prank call.

I backed slowly away from the room, immediately numb. I leaned against a wall and closed my eyes as if that would make it all go away. My partner dealt with the scene, got the medical diagnoses and causes of death confirmed just as I suspected them, and secured the evidence as I tried to disappear within myself, willing myself to cease forever to exist and to forget all that I ever had been.

At the end of it all, he walked toward me, and I knew what was coming. I opened my eyes and held out my hands, together, ready to be cuffed. This was the culmination of my life and of all the events of the universe so far. I had chosen to become a detective so that I could find the evil in the world and bring it to quick justice. I had spent years mastering the craft of investigation, and learning to sense the evil in the hearts of men. All this work was unnecessary. I did not need to seek far and wide to bring evil to justice - all the time I had it within myself, I had the heart of a murderer and the capability of wanton destruction of the breath of life. But I know that if you had been in the situation, you would have done the same. What is the evil in your heart, and which murder have you gotten away with, which needless crime or evil intent have you brought into the cosmos? I should be in handcuffs, and I am. Should you also be cuffed? What have you done?


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