- ten -
I woke up in an empty bed – the first sign of trouble. I stretched and tried to flatten my bed hair, looking around the limited space of the hotel room. Stanley would not be able to convince me to leave my life for him, of that I was certain, so I was wondering how he'd react to our parting today. I got dressed and while yawning opened the door to another cold, grey day. If we didn't pack up and leave by ten o'clock they'd charge us for another night. I walked to the railing and shivered in my shirt. No Stanley in sight.
He'd been careful to not be seen yesterday, was he carried off by another lazy whim? After hopping down concrete steps I walked up to the street, looked left and right. Scratched my head. I was halfway back when a brown Mazda skidded into the lot, hooking around to face me. Stanley was smiling in the driver's seat.
"What the hell?"
"My parents have come through for me again. Hop in."
"They gave you this…?" I walked up hesitantly to the dingy car, there was masking tape around the bumper.
"Yes, hop in. I'll get some supplies and then drop you back off in town. Promise."
I opened the door and eased my way in. Closed it and buckled up. He skidded a little harshly back onto the multi-lane road, gravel flying out the back wheel. Would his parents really arrange transport for Stanley's escape from the country by leaving this car somewhere and trusting him with it? Then I saw the Peppa Pig keychain dangling from the rearview mirror, the butterfly stickers on the dashboard. We passed a speed sign, Stanley was going twenty kilometers over.
"You stole this car!" I saw the wires hanging out under the steering wheel.
"It's fine. We got to get around somehow."
"You just lied to me!"
"It was only so we could go further into the country." He brushed me off.
The engine was roaring. We hit a bump and flew three feet into the air, landed and kept going. Stanley's eyes stayed forward.
"I just thought going inland would be nice scenery. We can hideaway in a little farm house. Get some pigs, sheep. Run our own little operation, I could do handyman jobs and save up for a tractor. We could grow old in the quiet and solitude. It'll be remote. Less chance of them finding us."
"Of finding you! Stanley!" I shrunk back as he started winding us around vehicles. We got blasted by horns and I was being thrown about in my seat. I had my hands to my face as he tore straight through a red light, veering right to dodge a semi-trailer and then straightening up again. "Fucking hell!"
"We need to go fast if we don't want them to catch us. This is the quickest way even if it's not subtle."
We were reaching a hundred on the dash. Whipping past a cop that immediately put its sirens on and began pursuit.
"Yes! That's the police, you have to pull over!"
He looked at me, right at me despite the fact we were a speeding blur. The speedometer climbed higher and higher.
"Why are you yelling?"
"You're going to kill us!"
"Even if we did die, yelling won't change anything. It'd just be a game over." He shrugged, then turned the wheel and we skidded. My body was squeezed against the door, my seatbelt digging into me. I couldn't breathe and then we sped down another road. The police car swerved to chase us.
"Fucking hell, this proves it. You're a bona fide psycho." We hit another dip and flew, I gripped the armrest. That police car would be calling for reinforcements. "Stanley please pull over. You love me right? Please pull over."
"If I pulled over they'd catch us."
"They will catch us eventually anyway!"
"True, but they won't catch us right now."
"This area is suburbs, you could kill someone!"
"Everyone dies anyway."
"You'll go to prison!"
"I doubt it." He answered each of my threats with calm logic.
"Stop the car! You have to!"
"Why do I have to?"
We were being told through a speaker-phone to pull over. My driver remained unbothered. I wanted to grab the wheel but was terrified we'd crash. Stanley spun us around another corner, the car swerved as he sped off, trying to go straight but clipping a chicane, we spun around and got wedged into the side of a tree by the footpath. Leaves fell. The two right wheels hovered up before we crashed flat. The motor was clinking and rumbling.
"Ah well." Stanley spoke like he lost a bet that didn't matter because it was someone else's money. I was frozen in place, eyes wide and forward. He looked at me "It's just some boyish hijinks, Phillip."
The traffic cop parked ahead of us, got out and armed himself. Making his way over carefully to issue our arrest. Stanley went to open his door but couldn't, it was bent out of shape. I still hadn't recovered from the shock. An additional two cop cars skidded to a stop from behind us. I'd never been arrested in my life.
They were yelling at us to get out of the car and raise our hands. I was still unresponsive, jolted when the armed cop was outside my window.
"Good morning, officer!" Stanley chirped.
"Get out of the vehicle! Hands above your head, now!"
I finally moved to comply, getting out on shaky legs. Turning to face the boot, I put my hands on my head and they were held behind my back and cuffed. Stanley tried to chat with them all friendly, he was tackled and grappled with, only now sounding confused and indignant as he struggled against them. We were assisted into the back of a police car. Suspects in custody. They drove us to the police station after telling us the crimes we were being arrested for, telling us whatever we say can and will be used against us in a court of law. I kept my mouth shut while Stanley continued to insist this was ridiculous and unnecessary.
We were escorted up the steps and into a room that seemed so much like the interrogation room I'd first met him in. The one-sided mirrors, the long metal table. If only I'd seen the writing on the wall. Why did I let his puppy-dog eyes fool me? It was just another weekend in the life of Stanley Milton: stealing a car, speeding away from cops and crashing it. What's the fuss? I was internally kicking myself again and again and again.
Our cuffs were removed and then Officer Caldwell, the tall man with the frost-blue eyes sauntered in and sat down in front of us. That exasperation they all wore, that Mr and Mrs Milton wore. I knew it, God did I know it. Intense exasperation; I never wanted to see this man again.
"Hello Mark, how's the kids?"
"Very well thanks, Stanley." He answered, none too impressed.
"The twins would be starting Year Four next year, right? That was when we started playing on the recorders in music class."
"We found your stolen car, Stanley. It has your prints all over it. Surveillance cameras show you out drinking with Adam the night he died. There were traces of vomit on his trousers and the saliva matches with your DNA. We got you this time."
Stanley tried assuring the policeman of his innocence but it wasn't going to work this time. When it was my turn I lied, I said Stanley had threatened me, I was scared of his parents, told them about the photo Kelly Mettler had on her phone that she showed me. If a bird is the correct metaphor, I sang. I tried whatever I could to avoid culpability. We'd have to spend a day in the cells either way. Our mobiles and other belongings were confiscated.
I spent that night sleeping on a thin mattress of springs, in a concrete cubicle with a lidless metal toilet. It was chilly there and smelt of a strong ammonia cleaner. I could hear Stanley either trying to chat to me or the guard when he got bored. I ignored him and it didn't make him upset to think I was angry with him. His voice simply nagged at me from a distant cell for a few minutes before he gave up.
Three days later I met with Claire for coffee. She'd left Lochdale to resume her studies in a boarding school and when it was convenient came to see me in Eastland. I was back in my bustling city once more. We could've had an outdoor table but Claire told me she was trying to quit smoking – good for her. We sat by the window, outside pedestrians busied by. Inside was full, people drinking lattes as they read the paper. The fizz of barista machines. Claire was prettier than I'd realized now she wasn't hiding behind sunglasses, she looked like a normal girl. A white flowy top over a jean skirt and designer sandals. I was wearing my favourite green sweater and jeans.
"Things really did get crazy in Lochdale. I mean they were always crazy, but still I'm sorry about what happened. My brother basically kidnapped you by the looks of it." I could tell she was a bit skeptical of that last part, but it didn't matter. I had no criminal record and Stanley was crazy.
"Yes well, I bet this has thrown a spanner in his plans to become a physiotherapist."
Claire gave a bitter snort of a laugh and shook her head "…That skiing accident, when our brother Kurt tore a ligament in his leg, Stanley was the only one with him at the time. Stanley had to run off and get help. As soon as he made it to the resort he got distracted and started watching sports, Kurt was waiting for two hours. Stanley couldn't understand why we were mad at him afterwards. But he was there with us when the physiotherapist was helping Kurt. A couple months later when he was asked what he wanted to be it was a physiotherapist."
"It's a good cover story." I remarked, taking a sip of my coffee. "It implies he's dedicated and has a responsible future goal. Just something else he can use to get whatever he may want and avoid consequences."
"It never felt like that, but when you say it like that, that's exactly what he was doing. With everything."
"Claire… can you tell me what happened in Berlin now?" I leaned forward.
She rolled her eyes and sagged into her seat, sighed in surrender "Okay, but you're not going to believe it…" she took a breath in preparation. "We had a pen pal that we played online games with. She was going to Berlin on the first stop of her Europe trip, but she forgot her asthma puffer. No biggie at an airport really, they could find her a puffer if they needed to."
"Well Stanley got the idea stuck in his head to rescue her. It consumed him. He ran away and then we discovered that in the space of one day he'd packed luggage, got to the airport, got a passport, got emergency clearance without getting any vaccinations, contacted state departments to get their help, and was on a flight to Germany. In one day. He wrote bad cheques and lied and cajoled to get whatever extra services he could. The embassy contacted my parents and they cut off his money. It didn't matter. Stanley contacted the press, spoke with important officials about his mission to save his friend. A story was pedaled in the newspaper and everyone ran with it: boy travels across the world to save his friend. It was completely ludicrous that he could be so resourceful and convincing."
"And that to me is the scariest thing. Normal people have to jump through loopholes, technicality after fee after blockade. Stanley finds ways to bypass all that, he proved that he could go anywhere in the world if he wanted to and no one could stop him. Lies here, manipulations there, bribes here, emergency government clearances… even without our family's money he lived the high life travelling between several five star hotels, using his newfound fame as a booster. Using his charm on wealthy or influential people. Of course he forgot all about our friend who knew nothing about it. The whole thing made me sick to my stomach." She shuddered "I don't like talking about Berlin."
"That is… remarkable."
"And that's why you shouldn't feel bad if he fooled you." Her green eyes were surprisingly soft. "I said the same thing to Penelope, Shariar, everyone he gets involved with. If Stanley can convince government personnel, airport security and the media he could probably manipulate anyone."
"Yes," I sat up straighter. "Your brother must have psychopathic personality disorder. There's no other way to explain it. He isn't surly, but he's not a complete person if that makes sense. He has no bad history so it's purely genetic. Nature instead of nurture. He started ditching school when he was twelve because that's the first time it occurred to him that he could just walk around and do whatever he wanted instead. Classes were getting more demanding and stricter behavior was expected, he didn't like it so just wandered off instead."
"What an awful situation for my family… my parents aren't bad you know." She tried to assure me. "They knew Stanley was sick with something, and he always seemed so baby-face innocent, nothing about life was able to harden him. They just wanted to protect their son."
I gave a consenting nod, eyes on the froth bubbles of my drink.
It was the day after that conversation that Adam's killer was revealed.
Howard Cornell had left with Stanley Milton and Adam Creson that fateful Friday night. Stanley instigated the stealing of the car, as always, and he was joined by the two men. Stanley didn't spend one-on-one time alone with Adam and this had been true.
Howard Cornell had an ADVO issued against him with criminal charges by his girlfriend Kelly Mettler. It was domestic violence, threats and control. In an attempt at petty meanness, Kelly went home with Adam after the pubs one night and sent a series of lascivious photos and snapchats of their sexual liaison. Howard had struck me as a man of perpetual rage. A constant simmering hate that he hid until the three men got out of their stolen car and walked the private farmland. He attacked Adam, who was very drunk and high. Crouched atop him like some predator bird, hands around his neck and thumbs deep into the windpipe. I could see the spittle dribbling from gritted teeth into the matted hair of his scraggly, ugly beard.
And then he took a photo and sent it back to her in retaliation: how is he now bitch?
Stanley was either not present at the moment the murder was taking place, or he simply watched on with a blinking curiosity. Either way he was convinced to grab Adam's legs and the two men together awkwardly carried him to that ditch. Howard was then the one who tried to hide the car.
He'd been suspicious of me from the start. Worried about the cops. When he found out I was investigating him he tried ringing Stanley's number seventeen times to make sure the truth wouldn't slip out. In the end however, Howard was caught because he got drunk and bragged about the murder. His prints were found on Adam's neck.
Now as I thought some more about the psychopathic Stanley I realized it made sense. If he'd never experienced much emotional pain himself and couldn't grasp it, how could he want to do it to other people? To Stanley other people don't even exist, they're just figments to interact with. I bet that when he threw a milk bottle at ducks in school it wasn't about hurting them, he just wanted to watch these moving things fall over. No, Stanley had never been sadistic. And if murder really is the same as sitting on a chair and going for a run, what's the point in doing it if it'll lead to much worse consequences? He'd derive no pleasure from causing hurt, it'd only lead to major inconvenience.
Mr Tourvel called George and me to his office. I followed my friend through the busy cubicles and into our boss's broad office with the shitty window-view. That long table with photos of his nieces. That happily-wedded gold ring shining as he twined his fingers. A wide smile on his tanned face.
"You both did good. We got insider knowledge and intel, got out an issue before everyone else. Front page material, who could've known? If it'd just been that Howard guy it wouldn't have been much of a story, but the Mr Milton's son was a cohort? And all the news about how much Stanley terrorized the town of Lochdale for so many years. His family used their influence and money to keep it quiet while they tried to rehabilitate their son. Nothing worked, they even forged an alibi to keep him from going to prison. Great stuff!"
"Sad for them, but yes." I stated. George was beaming with pride from where he stood beside me.
"The world's a sad place," Mr Tourvel waved a hand "This is investigative journalism and you two were working on a crime piece. The Maudlin Post had a sales boost of over three-hundred percent last weekend!"
"Well I'm glad the information I dug up turned out to be useful to the piece. It wasn't really our article but, the senior editors were all over it."
"You both are still fairly new, this was a serious article for us so we wanted experienced writers. Your quotes from all those townspeople you interviewed were especially useful, Phillip. That really gave it a human touch."
"Might be best you trust my instinct more often when it comes to these matters, Sir." George tapped his nose with a cheeky grin.
"Now, now. You got one lucky break. Don't get cocky." His gruff old-school reporter voice was back.
We left when he dismissed us, back to the realm of indoor journalism work. I'd just about finished that three inch stack of financial reporting.
I'd not heard from Stanley Milton since his arrest. No phone call or anything. Apparently when he realized he couldn't get out of doing time he threw a tantrum, kicking and screaming on the floor like a toddler. When that bored him he regained a quieter demeanor.
A shame. Just like when he'd put in effort to head a college assembly about Adam, he wasn't all that disappointed when it came to naught. Likewise with me Stanley had been behaving and trying to seduce me so he could get an article written about him. Well he got his wish. I didn't hold it against the lunatic. I wasn't all that disappointed to lose him…
Like Stanley, my personal 'human experience' may only be a fragment of what other people feel. I don't think I'll ever feel quite real or experience something like love. I'll always feel like I'm on the outside. But it's not like there aren't things in life I can derive pleasure from. There's a sort of freedom in being exempt from grief and guilt. A rational clear-headedness that is in many ways a gift. Possibly even something more raw and honest, just a living force.
AN: In preparation for writing another novella of this type I read 'The Mask of Sanity' by Dr Hervey Cleckley and 'Les Liaisons Dangereuses' by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. Please review, it's the only pay-off I get for writing these. Even a small amount on each chapter would be worth so much. Thank you.