presents...
 

The Parish Hill Slasher Pruner

By Wil Forbis

Other fiction by Wil Forbis

Working quickly, using only the light provided by the luminous half-moon above me, I attached my rope ladder to the pipe rail that ran along the length of the apartment building's rooftop. When it was secure I carefully lowered the ladder mid way down the side of building to the 4th floor. The window I had targeted faced an alley, so there was little chance of me being seen as I descended, scaling the wall like a lizard clad in black.

Once in position I peered in the window. It was a small apartment, furnished sparsely with a woman's sense of design. There was a prim sofa facing a multi-level entertainment area complete with television, DVD player, stereo and a rack of several dozen cds. Off in a corner was a oak desk, above that a large poster print of a male ballet star. In previous nights I'd watched her hunched over the desk, writing by hand in a leather-bound journal. I guess she fancied herself a writer of sorts, maybe even a good one. It didn't really matter much to me.

Using a workman's hand trowel I quietly pried open the window and slipped into the apartment. I knew the cat would wander over when I entered, and he did, making only the faintest murmur of a meow imaginable. I knelt down, stroked him under the chin and he got that look cats get, the one that indicates they can experience a level of satisfaction humans can only dream of.

The bedroom door was just off from the kitchen. It was left ajar, probably so the cat could come in and sleep next to her at night if he so wished. Before entering, I removed the main tool of my trade from my knapsack: a 9 inch long steel kitchen knife. Razor sharp. I also grabbed some duct take and binding cord. Just in case.

I entered the bedroom. The first thing I noticed was the bedside clock, flashing "2:36" across the darkened room. This was early for me. Usually I'd wait until 4:00. That's when people sleep deepest. That's when neighbors are less likely to hear.

She was there, lying on her side, a light sheet covering her petite yet curvaceous body. Nights had been hot lately, there were no need for blankets. I tightened my grip around the knife and cord, my leather gloves making an almost inaudible crumpling sound with the effort. Then I crept up to the bed. I don't know if I made a sound or she was just a light sleeper but she opened her eyes. Immediately, I dropped the cord and put my right hand over her mouth, muffling any screams. She struggled, mightily, but I was a good 90 pounds heavier and had little problem subduing her. I saw the fear in her eyes as I raised the blade in the air. Then I got down to business.

*******

"You want to what?" I asked the twenty or so people filling the small meeting room of the Parish Hill Renters Association. It was two weeks previous and I could hardly believe what I was hearing.

"It's simple, Mr. Doe," said Gerald Rodriguez the old but sprightly Hispanic man who led the organization, calling me by the name I'd agreed to go under. "We want you to terrorize our neighborhood. Sneak into people's apartments. Cut them up. Leave bloody messages on the wall. We want our own Parish Hill serial killer!"

"And, again... why?" I asked, trying to get a handle on the conversation.

"The rents, ese'!" shouted a younger man from the back of the room. "The cost of living here is craaazyyy, man!"

"Damn straight!" agreed a middle aged black woman with two kids sitting next to her. "Used to be reg'lar folks could afford to live here. But with all these yuppie crackers moving in rents keep going up and up! Pretty soon we're all gonna have to move down to Johnson Park. Johnson Park!"

"And you've tried rent control?" I asked, still perplexed at what I was hearing. This was all too surreal.

"Politicians don't give a damn about working people," said a mohawked white kid with a Black Flag t shirt. "Unless you're gonna buy them a yacht, you'll never even get a chance to talk to them. You're our only chance, man. Nothing would bring down the rents like a serial killer stalking the neighborhood. You gotta help us out!"

I sat down and rubbed my chin. It had been only a few days earlier when I'd seen the classified in the Employment section of the local paper. (I'd recently lost my day job as a tech support agent at a large software company and was sizing up my options.) "We admired your work in Polk County," the ad read, "And would like to utilize your services in our area. Generous financial remuneration supplied as well as the good feeling that comes from helping out a neighbor." To most people it would sound meaningless. But for three years in the mid-nineties I had been known as the "Polk Street Strangler" and had killed over twenty homeless prostitutes. My work was shoddy, I came close to getting caught several times, but it was an excellent learning experience. Eventually I'd moved from the area, but my name still inspired terror in the hearts of young girls. (Well, young girls who were homeless prostitutes.) No less than convicted serial stalker Richard Ramirez had once complimented my technique in the press, stating, "He has a light touch, with a sense of refined rage running through his work."

I'd called the number listed with the ad. I'd gotten a message machine with instructions to come down to the Parish Hill Renter's Association the coming Tuesday. I was suspicious of course. It could be the cops. But I was curious too. Damn curious.

"Look," I said to the gathered audience. "Your idea is intriguing. But there would be have to be rules. You can't tell me who to kill. Or how I kill them. And you've got to understand that no one is off limits. Anyone in this room could be my victim."

"Of course," replied Mr. Rodriguez. "That's only fair. Everyone here is prepared to make a certain sacrifice for the good of the community. And we can make it worth your while. We'll pay a thousand dollars per head, up to ten people. Then we part ways and never speak of this again."

This was the tricky part. Killing for money? I'd always considered myself something of an artist. Would I be lowering my standards if I started breaking into people's houses, torturing them, murdering them and doing it for cash? Still, I had just lost my job. And I had a skill set just like any other person. A skill set the marketplace found valuable. What harm was there in reaping financial benefits from my years of study?

"Ok." I announced. "You've got yourself a serial killer." Cheers burst throughout the room.

My first victim was a middle-aged teacher who lived in a small house on the outskirts of the Parish Hill borough. I broke into her house, tied her up while she was still conscious, slit her wrists and let the blood of her body drain into a bucket while I watched "Three Days of the Condor" on her cable television. (Redford was born for that role.) After her was an Italian grocer and his wife in an two story apartment right next to an all night drug store. (I was able to kill three birds with one stone, so to speak, by killing the victims and picking up some Dry-Eyes.) After that was an elderly ex-boxer who lived in run down tenement in the worst part of Parish Hill. Clearly in the final stages of liver disease I couldn't help notice that his blood tasted like Old Granddad whiskey when I poured it into a wine glass and drank it in front of him.

By the time I got my fifth victim, ballet girl, the press was already having a field day. "CRAZED SEX MANIAC ON THE LOOSE" the papers screamed, even though there had been nothing sexual about my crimes. "INHUMAN MONSTER STRIKES LOWER CLASS AMERICA" ran the stories on the cable news. The usual talking heads got out there and tried to goad me by saying I was doing this because I had a small penis or was incapable of getting a girlfriend. It didn't get to me in the slightest. I was quite happy with the seven inches God had endowed me and had a casual but accommodating relationship with a court stenographer who lived in my building.

It had been arranged that when I got midway through my body count I would meet with Mr. Rodriguez for the next part of my payment. I called him and we decided to meet at a Hispanic saloon just off the Number 4 bus route. At quarter past twelve I walked in, jacket lapel brought up past my neck, and caught sight of Rodriguez in a corner booth. He was with a sour looking younger Hispanic kid whom I'd seen at the meeting. I strolled up to the booth and sat down.

"It's good to see you again, Mr. Doe. And I've got great news! The average rent in Parish Hill has already dropped a hundred dollars since you began your work. The landlords are struggling to get people to stay. It's a miracle."

"A hundred dollars," I mused. "Look, if that's enough, I can stop..."

"NO!" interrupted Rodriguez. "I know where this is going. We can get them down another hundred. And get a hot tub and pool installed in some of the larger buildings. If we hang in there we might even get a Starbucks!"

"OK," I said. "You got my cash?"

"Si, si," Rodriguez said. He pulled out a yellow envelope and handed it to me.

During the whole conversation the kid had been staring at me in silence.

"You got a problem, punk?" I asked. "I might have to slice you into dog food if you piss me off!"

"Mr. Doe, this is Freddy Santos," announced Rodriguez. "He's a good kid. He just has something he wants to say to you."

This kid continued looking tough and spat out his words. "Why you only killing gringos, man? Chicanos not good enough for you? You some kind of racist?"

His words caught me off balance. I'd never really though about who I targeted, it was just whoever struck my fancy. Was I specifically only going after white people? Should I expand my pool of victims to a more diverse audience? I felt a swelling of shame rise within me. Part of what had so enraged me as a youth to become a homicidal maniac was the fact that people always typecast me as a certain sort. And here I was doing the same. I looked at the kid and smiled.

"You've given me something to think about. I will try chose victims of different ethnicities from now on."

"All we're asking for is a little consideration, ese," said Freddy. "Parish Hill is half Hispanic. People talking like you ignoring us."

I assured Freddy I would do better. With that, we ordered a couple rounds of beers and talked sports until closing time.

True to my word, my next target was a lovely Hispanic girl who worked as a topless dancer. After I disemboweled her and fed part of her arm to her German Sheppard I had to sit back and smile. It felt good to include other races in my killing spree. I was giving back to the community.

A week later it was two Puerto Rican art dealers. They made a terrible fuss as I bound them to the half scale recreation of the Venus De Milo that stood in their living room and then suffocated them with serrated wire. I was starting to develop my own sense of style, to grow as an artist. I'd never thought I could get paid for doing something I loved. But life is filled with surprises.

After I killed my ninth victim, a middle aged veterinarian who looked Hispanic but turned out to be Armenian, I knew I was getting to the point that I had to be extra careful. Usually, by the seventh or eight killing the cops pull their heads out of their asses and start to get clever. They increase surveillance of your target area and offer up phony targets. Targets that can be hard to resist. So I figured I'd go for someone whom I knew wasn't a cop.

Then I got the call. Rodriguez had pestered me into giving him my answering service, and while I knew it would be a mistake I'd finally given in. Again we arranged to meet at the bar. Again it was night. Again Freddy was there.

"Happy?" I said, looking at the kid. "It's been dark meat all the way."

"You doin' good, man!" Freddy replied excitedly. "This is like groundbreaking stuff."

I turned to Rodriguez. "So what's up?"

"First of all, Mr. Doe, we want to thank you. Rents are down, service is up. You've done the Parish Hill community a wonderful service."

"Happy to help."

"We know you've got one mark left and Freddy and I had an idea on how you could go out with style. Something to really put an exclamation point on the career of the Parish Hill Slasher."

This didn't sound good. I hate it when amateurs start offering advice. "What's that?" I asked.

"These," Rodriguez replied while reaching underneath the booth table. He pulled out a pair of pruning shears.

"Er, what?" I said, looking at the tool.

"We're saying you prune the last victim to death, ese!" explained Freddy. "Like in Exorcist II! It was awesome."

"I don't..." I began.

"No serial killer has ever used pruning shears, Mr. Doe," said Rodriguez. "This would really put Parish Hill on the map."

"You don't understand," I replied. "I have specific tools I'm comfortable with, that I've trained with. I can't carry a pair of giant pruning shears around. They won't fit in my pack. They're bulky. I'm not even sure the best way to kill someone with them. Do you chop off their head? Or do you stab them in the chest. This is the kind of thing I need to think about. Because I'm a professional."

"You'll work all that out, Mr. Doe. We have faith." With that, Rodriguez laid the choppers on the table. I sighed, picked them up and then lay them next to me on the booth. It was only one more killing. How hard could it be?

We had one more round of beer and I said my goodbyes. I walked out of the bar, shears stuffed down the back of my pants and hidden by my jacket. I was getting a little fed up. Rodriguez and Freddy might be decent folk, but I didn't like to be told how to do my job. So I decided to end it. Tonight.

I walked over to the newsstand across the street from the bar. Thirty minutes later, Rodriguez came out and started walking down Chavez Avenue. I followed, always a good fifty feet behind him. After several blocks he turned and walked for another ten minutes. He arrived at a graying apartment complex and entered. I stood outside and watched the windows. Within a couple minutes the lights went on in an apartment on the tenth floor. I could see Rodriguez's silhouette stumble around the apartment, obviously feeling the beer we'd had.

It was just past eleven. I decided to wait. An hour went by. Then another. The street started to quiet down. At three in the morning I made my move. I climbed up the fire escape of the building opposite Rodriguez's. From the roof I made an impressive fifteen-foot leap across the rooftops. Then I climbed down a pipe fixture to the Renters Association's President's window. It was unlocked. It never occurred to Rodriguez that I would come for him.

I slipped in the opening, hopping onto the kitchen counter and sliding onto the floor. I looked in the living room. Rodriguez slept on a pull out couch bed. He was snoring away like a polar bear. I removed my jacket and took the shears in both hands. I crept up to the bed and held the shears in the air, poised to bring them down on my employer's sleeping form. But that didn't feel right. I wanted him to know what was happening to him.

"Rodriguez!" I stating in a commanding voice. "Your deliverance is at hand!"

He didn't stir. Just kept snoring away.

"Rodriguez!" I said again, this time a bit louder. "It's time to reap what you have sewn!"

Again, nothing.

I put the shears down on a chair next to me. "Hey stupid!" I said, shaking Rodriguez. "Wake..."

I never guessed he'd been faking. With surprising speed and dexterity his leg lashed out, catching me in the groin. I fell over backwards, the wind knocked out me, banging my head on a table on the way down. My eyes teared up but I saw Rodriguez reach under his pillow and produce a 38 revolver. He'd been waiting, Goddammit! The old man had been waiting! And I lay on the floor with all the strength of a kitten to do something about it.

"I knew you'd come for me, Mr. Doe. I saw it in your eyes that very first meeting. But I'm not stupid, Mr. Doe. I'm a fighter. I was a revolutionary in Central America in the 80's my gringo friend. I've killed more men that you could dream of."

This was it. I could see from the gleam in his eye that I was done for. "Do it!" I hoarsely whispered. "Get it over with!"

Rodriguez raised the pistol in the air, lining up his sight for a clear shot through my skull. My body took on a horrible tremble. A warm pool of urine formed around my legs. I felt the fear rise up in me. This was it. I was going to die. This was the feeling I had inspired in all of my victims. It was sort of ironic that I would experience the same thing.

I saw Rodriguez start to squeeze the trigger. Then I heard it. "Glllluuurghhh!" There was a breaking sound, like drywall being punched through, then a ripping noise. I saw the two blades, the two pruning blades, tear through the front of Rodriguez's chest. He staggered, gun arm falling to his side. He had the strength to fire two shots into the floor before toppling over.

"Freddy," I said, staring at the figure before me. "How did...?"

"I followed you, ese," replied the youth. "I knew you would go after Rodriguez, man. I wanted to be there."

"But, why... why did you save me?"

"Don't you get it, ese? I want to do what you do. I want you to teach me how to be a serial killer!"

Off in the distance I heard the sirens. "Look, we've got to get out of here! We can talk about this later."

"We go out the window, ese?" Freddy asked. "And down the pipe?"

"Umm, no, I was thinking about taking the stairs. We've got at least a minute 'til the cops get here."

"Great," said Freddy, pausing to remove the pruning shears from Rodriguez's body. "I'm learning already."

Out the door we went and down the hall. I found the stairwell and raced down it. Freddy was fast behind me. He shouted, "This is gonna be awesome Mr. Doe. You gonna make me Freddy Santos, Hispanic serial killer! I'm gonna be like a rock star, ese! I'm gonna be famous."

"Keep your voice down, kid," I admonished. We reached ground level and came out in the main hall. The sirens seemed gone. That could be good. Or bad. We ran up to the main door, a giant oak piece with a silver doorknob.

"Freddy," I said. "The cops won't be looking for you. You go out first and shout if the coast is clear."

"No problem, Mr. D," Freddy replied. Shears in hand, he burst through the door. As I feared I would, I heard the flurry of gunfire as the surrounding police let loose their lead. The short career of Freddy Santos, serial killer came to a quick end.

Ducking back in the hallway I found the entrance to the laundry room. It was locked but with a quick shove I managed to break it open. In the dark, I found a folding table and crawled underneath it. I could wait it out here I figured. The cops had their man. Freddy Santos had been the Parish Hill Slasher-slash-Pruner. They'd give Rodriguez's apartment the once over and be gone by morning.

As I lay there, I had time to think. I never should have taken this gig. I wasn't a hitman, the sort that kills for profit. I was a craftsman, an artist! I killed because I enjoyed it. The minute you threw money into the mix things were bound to get screwed. I swore never to murder for commerce again.

As I waited my eyes scanned the laundry room. There were a few stray socks, a laundry basket, an ironing board and a spare metal iron. It was rusted over by time but still had the refined sheen of 1980's industrial design. I couldn't take my eyes off it. And then it dawned on me.

No one's ever killed people using an iron before.

 

 




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