Before Dark: The Collected Cedar Hill Stories, Vol. 2 (2005)
A collection by Gary A. Braunbeck
Cover and interior art by
Longer than GRAVEYARD PEOPLE (Volume 1), HOME BEFORE DARK contains
19 tales, including the long-awaited original novella "Kiss
of the Mudman," two classic novellas, excerpts from the Cedar
Hill Visitor's Guide, a page from the local newspaper, and much
more, with a full-color wraparound dustjacket and over two dozen
Matching numbers to GRAVEYARD PEOPLE are offered; please forward
your GRAVEYARD PEOPLE number with your preorder. (Note that copies
of GRAVEYARD PEOPLE are still available.)
Volume 1 was hailed as "absolutely essential reading for anyone
who values dark literature...a treasure trove of some of the most
emotionally engaging fiction in the horror field" (Cemetery
Dance). Without question, HOME BEFORE DARK is a worthy successor
that continues collecting some of the finest tales from master storyteller
Gary Braunbeck. Two volumes down, one to go...
|500 numbered copies, signed by Gary Braunbeck
|15 lettered traycased copies, signed by Gary
Braunbeck and Deena Warner, with an original piece of art from
“It’s difficult to know where to begin with reviewing this book. The temptation is to just turn to the entry for ‘marvelous’ in Roget’s and copy out whatever’s printed there; Braunbeck is that good. There’s a maturity here, a depth of feeling and genuine compassion that elevates it above most other genre fiction and on occasion into that rare stratum occupied by genius. One of the strongest collections of short stories I’ve read in some time by a writer whose work reminds me of Harlan Ellison back in the days when he won awards. Buy this book and treat yourself to some of the best-crafted short fiction you will ever read.”
— Peter Tennant, THE THIRD ALTERNATIVE
"HOME BEFORE DARK is superb... establishes once again this
author as one of the major, current literary voices even beyond
the limits of the horror genre."
Mario Guslandi, EMERALD CITY
"Braunbeck is an extraordinary author of dark literature,
not just dark fiction. His style is crystal-clear, polished but
straightforward, and his attitude towards his own characters is
that of a deep empathy. This is a splendid collection that you shouldn't
miss, and praise to Paul Miller's Earthling Publications not only
for publishing the book but also for producing a very elegant, attractive,
AGONY COLUMN BOOK REVIEWS
"[Braunbeck's] Cedar Hill stories are the best example of
his inimitable skill. I simply can't get over how utterly true these
stories feel; more so than anything I've read in a long time. Very
few of the contrivances that often distract from the experience
of good writing appear here. The stories in HOME BEFORE DARK are
pure, as if they -- to borrow a cliche -- are being told through
Braunbeck, and not simply by him. You owe it to yourself to visit
Cedar Hill. Just be happy you don't live there."
Craig's Book Club
Preview story: "Safe"
Author's note: If there is one story that I would point to as being
the central piece in the Cedar Hill cycle, it would be "Safe."
In one way or another, directly or indirectly, each story in the
cycle has a connection to the events depicted in this novella. This
may be my most-reprinted story (it's been translated into at least
3 languages), and was the first piece in which the overall character
of Cedar Hill--the city itself--made itself known to me. The version
you're about to read is the author's preferred version, as it will
appear in Home Before Dark: The Collected Cedar Hill Stories,
"'A fine setting for a fit of despair,' it occurred to him,
'if only I were standing here by accident instead of design.'"
Franz Kafka, The Castle
Violence never really ends, no more than a symphony ceases to
exist once the orchestra has stopped playing; bloodstains and bullet
holes, fragments of shattered glass, knife wounds that never heal
properly, nightmarish memories that thrash the heart . . . all fasten
themselves like a leech to a person's core and suck their spirit
bit by agonized bit until there's nothing left but a shell that
looks like it once might have been a human being.
My God, what do you suppose happened to that person?
I heard it was something awful. I guess they never got over
ithell, you can just look at 'em and know that.
Drop a pebble in a pool of water and the vibrations ripple outward
in concentric circles. Some physicists claim that the ripples continue
even after they can no longer be seen.
A symphony does not cease.
And violence never really ends.
It took half my life to learn that.
Three days ago a man named Bruce Dyson walked into an ice cream
parlor in the town of Utica, Ohio and opened fire with a semiautomatic
rifle, killing nine people and wounding seven others before pulling
a Smith & Wesson Ladysmith .38 Special from his coat pocket
and shooting himself in the head.
Some will cry, others will rage, many will question, but life
will go on for the rest of us until the next Bruce Dyson walks into
the next ice cream parlor, or bank, or convenience store, or whatever,
and then we'll shake our heads and wring our hands once again and
go tsk-tsk and wonder aloud how something so terrible could
Newscasts were quick to mention Cedar Hill, of course, and to
draw tenuous parallels between what took place there and what happened
in Utica. When one of my students asked me if I was "around"
for the Cedar Hill murders I laughednot raucously,
mind you, but enough to solicit some worried glances from the class.
"Yes," I said. "I was around. Please excuse my
laugh, it's just that no one has ever asked me that before."
At a special teachers' meeting held the previous evening a psychologist
had suggested that we try to get our students to talk about the
killings; four of the dead and three of the wounded had attended
"Do any of you want to discuss what happened in Utica?"
Listen to their silence after I asked this.
"Look, I don't want to make anyone feel uncomfortable but
odds are someone in this room knew at least one of the shooting
victims. Believe me when I tell youand I know from
experienceyou don't want to keep this to yourself.
It's important to talk about what you're thinking and feeling."
Still nothinga nervous shrug, perhaps, a lot of downcast
stares, even a quiet tear from someone in the last row of desks,
but no one spoke.
I rubbed my eyes and looked toward the back wall where the ghosts
of the Cedar Hill dead were assembling.
Go on, they whispered. Remember us to them.
"No one's going to laugh at or judge you. Nine people are
dead and some of them were your friends. You have to feel something."
A girl in one of the middle rows slowly raised her hand. "Could
you . . . could you maybe tell us about Cedar Hill? How did you
deal with it?"
I smiled my thanks to her, as did the ghosts. "In many ways
I still am dealing with it. I went back there a while ago, in fact,
to find some of the survivors and talk with them. I needed to put
certain things to rest andwait a second."
The ghosts of the four dead students joined those from Cedar Hill.
All of them smiled at each other like old friends.
I wished I could have known them.
Tell them everything.
I nodded my head to them and said to the class: "Let's make
a deal. I'll tell you about Cedar Hill only if you agree to talk
about Utica. Maybe getting things out in the open will make it easier
to live with. How's that sound?"
Another student raised their hand and asked, "Why do you
suppose somebody'd do something like that?"
Tell the tale, demanded the ghosts.
Remember us to them . . . .
I've gotten a little ahead of myself.
My name is Geoff Conover. I am thirty-six years old and have been
a high school history teacher for the last seven years. I am married
to a wonderful woman named Yvonne who is five-and-a-half years my
junior and who is about to give birth to our first child, which
will be a boy. Yvonne has a six-year-old girl from her previous
marriage. Her name is Patricia and I love her very much and she
loves me and we both love her mother and are looking forward to
having a brand-new member added to our family.
This story is not about me, though I am in it briefly under a
different name. It's about a family that no longer exists, a house
that no longer stands, and a way of life once called Small Town
America that bled to death long before I explained to my students
how violence never really ends.
I did go back to Cedar Hill in hopes of answering some questions
about the night of the killings. I interviewed witnesses and survivors
over the telephone, at their jobs, in their houses, over lunches,
and in nursing homes; I dug through dusty files buried in moldy
boxes in the basements of various historical society offices; there
were decades-old police reports to be found, then sorted through
and deciphered; I tracked down over two hundred hours' worth of
videotape, and then subjected my family to the foul moods that resulted
from my watching those tapes; dozens of old transcribed statements
had to be located and copied; and on three occasions I had to bribe
a certain seedy individual into letting me glance at a file, listen
to a snippet of audio tape, and allow me forty minutes alone with
several boxes of aged evidence. There were graves I had to visit,
names I needed to learn, individual histories lost among bureaucratic
paper trails that I had to assemble, only to find they yielded nothing
of useand I would be lying if I said that I did not
feel a palpable guilt in deciding that so-and-so's life didn't merit
so much as a footnote.
I do not purport to have sorted everything out as a result of
my research. In some instances the gaps between facts were too wide
and I had to fill them with conjectures and suppositions that, to
the best of my knowledge and abilities, provided a rightness
to the story that the facts did not. Yvonne says that I did it in
an effort to forgive myself for having survived. She may be right.
No one asked me to do it; nonetheless, certain ghosts demanded it
of meand I say this to you as a man who had never thought
of himself as being particularly superstitious.
That afternoon, when my students asked to hear the tale, I once
again hoped that its telling would in some way release us all from
the shame and anger and guilt that threatened to forever diminish
I cleared my throat, smiled at the ghosts in the back of the room,
and said, "In order for you to understand . . .
. . . what took place in the small, Midwestern city of Cedar Hill,
Ohio, you must first understand the place itself, for it shares
some measure of responsibility.
If it is possible to characterize this place by melting down all
of its inhabitants and pouring them into a mold so as to produce
one definitive citizen, then you will see a person who is, more
likely than not, a laborer who never made it past the eleventh grade
but who has managed through hard work and good solid horse sense
to build the foundation of a decent middle-class existence; who
works to keep a roof over his family's head and sets aside a little
extra money each month to fix up the house, maybe repair that old
back-door screen or add a workroom; who has one or two children
who aren't exactly gifted but do well enough in school that their
parents don't go to bed at night worrying that they've sired morons.
Perhaps this person drinks a few beers on the weekendnot
as much as some of their rowdier friends but enough to be social.
They've got their eye on some property out past the county line.
They hope to buy a new color television set. They usually go to
church on Sundays, not because they want to but because, well, you
never know, do you?
This is the person you would be facing.
This is the person who would smile at you, shake your hand, and
behave in a neighborly fashion.
But never ask them about anything that lies beyond the next paycheck.
Take care not to discuss anything more than work or favorite television
shows or an article from this morning's paper. Complain about the
cost of living, yes; inquire about their family, by all means; ask
if they've got time to grab a quick sandwich, sure; but never delve
too far beneath the surface, for if you do the smile will fade,
that handshake will loosen, and their friendliness will become tinged
Because this is a person who feels inadequate and does not want
you to know it, who for a good long while now has suspected that
his life will never be anything more than mediocre. He feels alone,
abandoned, insufficient, foolish, and inept, and the only thing
that keeps him going sometimes is a thought that makes him both
smile and cringe: that maybe one of his children will decide for
themselves, Hey, Dad's life isn't so bad, this 'burg isn't such
a hole in the ground so, yeah, maybe I'll just stick around here
and see what I can make of things.
And what if they do? How long until they start to walk with a
workman's stoop, until they're buying beer by the case and watching
their skin turn into one big nicotine stain? How long until they
start using the same excuses he's used on himself to justify a mediocre
Bills, you know. Not as young as I used to be. Too damn tired
all the time. Work'll byGod take it out of you.
Ah, well . . . at least there's that property out past the county
line for him to keep his eye on, and there's still that new color
television set he might just up and buy . . . .
This is the person who would look back at you, whose expression
would betray that they'd gotten a little lost in their own thoughts
for a second there.
It happens sometimes.
So they'll blink, apologize for taking up so much of your time,
wish you a good day, and head on home because the family will be
waiting supper. It was nice talking to you.
Meet Cedar Hill, Ohio.
Let us imagine that it is evening here, a little after ten p.m.
on the seventh of July, and that a pair of vivid headlight beams
have just drilled into the darkness on Merchant Street. Seen from
behind the safety of living room windows, the magnesium-bright strands
make one silent, metronome-like sweep, then coalesce into a single
lucent beacon that pulls at the vehicle trailing behind.
Imagine that although the houses along Merchant are dark, no one
inside them is asleep.
The van, its white finish long faded to a dingy gray, glides toward
its destination. It passes under the diffuse glow coning down from
the sole streetlight, and the words "DAVIES' JANITORIAL SERVICE"
painted on its side can be easily read.
The gleam from the dashboard's gauges reveals the driver to be
a tense, sinewy man whose age appears to fall somewhere between
a raggedy-ass forty-five and a gee-you-don't-look-it sixty. In his
deeply lined face is both resignation and dread.
He was running late, and he was not alone.
A phantom, head half-bowed and tilted slightly to the side, its
face obscured by alternating knife-slashes of light and shadow,
sat on the passenger side. Three other phantoms rode in the back,
none of whom could summon enough nerve to look beyond the night
at the end of their nose.
The van came to a stop, the lights were extinguished, the engine
grumbled and complained, and with the click of a turned key Merchant
Street was again swallowed by the baleful graveyard silence that
had recently taken up residence there.
The driver reached down next to his seat and grabbed a large flashlight.
He turned and looked at the phantoms, who saw his eyes and understood
the wordless command.
The driver climbed out as the phantoms threw open the rear double
doors and began unloading the items needed for this job.
Merchant Street began to flicker as neighbors turned on their
lights and lifted small corners of their curtains to peek at what
was going on, even though no one really wanted to look at the Leonard
house, much less live on the same street.
The driver of the van walked up onto the front porch of the Leonard
house. His name was Jackson Davies and he owned the small janitorial
company that had been hired to scour away the aftermath of four
nights earlier when this more-or-less peaceful industrial community
of 42,000 had been dragged kicking, screaming, and (most of all)
bleeding into the national spotlight.
Davies turned on his flashlight, gliding its beam over the shards
of broken glass that littered the front porch. As the shards caught
the beam, each glared at him defiantly: Come on, tough guy, big
macho Vietnam vet with your bucket and Windex, let's see you take
He shifted his position, moving the beam to his right where it
landed squarely on the bay windowwhich, like all the
first-floor windows of the Leonard house, was covered by a large
sheet of particleboard crisscrossed by two strips of yellow tape.
A long, ugly stain covered most of the outside sill, dribbling over
the edge in a few places and down onto the porch in thin, jagged
streaks. Tipping the beam, Davies followed the streaks to another
stain, darker than the mess on the sill and wider by a good fifty
percent. Just outside of this stain was a series of receding smears
that stretched across the length of the porch and disappeared in
front of the railing next to the glider.
Davies shook his head in disgust. Someone had tried to pry loose
the board and get inside the house. Judging by the prints, they'd
left in one hell of a hurry, running across the porch and vaulting
the railscared away, no doubt, by neighbors or a passing
police cruiser. Probably a reporter from one of those goddamn tabloids,
eager to score a hefty bonus by snapping a few graphic photos of
Davies swallowed once, loud and hard, then swung the light over
to the front door. Spiderwebbing the frame from every conceivable
angle were more strips of yellow tape emblazoned with large, bold,
black letters: KEEP OUT BY ORDER OF THE CEDAR HILL POLICE DEPARTMENT.
An intimidating, hand-sized padlock held the door securely closed.
As he looked at the padlock, a snippet of Rilke flashed across
his mind: Who dies now anywhere in the world, without cause dies
in the world, looks at me
and Jackson Davies, dropout English Lit. major, recent
ex-husband, former Vietnam vet, packer of body bags into the cargo
holds of planes at Tan Son Nhut, one-time cleaner-upper of the massacre
at My Lai 4, hamlet of Son My, Quang Ngai Province (after Lt. William
Calley, Jr. and company finished their infamous testosterone tantrum),
a man who thought there was no physical remnant of violent death
he didn't have the stomach to handlethis same Jackson
Davies heard himself muttering, "Goddamn, goddamn, goddamn,"
and felt a lump dislodge from his groin and bounce up into his throat
and was damned if he knew why but suddenly the thought of going
into the Leonard house scared the living shit out of him.
Unseen by Davies, the ghosts of Irv and Miriam Leonard sat on
the glider a few yards away from him. Irv had his arm around his
wife and was good-naturedly scolding her for slipping that bit of
poetry into Davies' head.
I can't help it, Miriam said. And even if I could,
I wouldn't. Jackson read that poem when he was in Vietnam. It was
in a little paperback collection his wife gave to him. He lost that
book somewhere over there, you know. He's been trying to remember
that poem all these years. Besides, he's lonely for his wife and
maybe that poem'll make it seem like part of her's still with him.
Could've just gone to a library, said Irv.
He did but he couldn't remember Rilke's name.
Think he'll remember it now?
I sure do hope so. Look at him, will you? Poor guy,
he's so lonely, God love 'im.
Seems nervous, doesn't he?
Wouldn't you be? asked Miriam.
That was really nice of you, hon, giving that poem
back to him. You always were one for taking care of your friends.
What can I say? Seems my disposition's improved considerably
since I died.
Oh, now, don't go bringing that up. There's not much
we can do about it.
How come that doesn't make me feel any better?
Maybe this'll do the trick: Who laughs now anywhere
in the night, without cause laughs in the night, laughs at me,
Don't tell me, tell the sensitive poetry soldier
I just did.
They watched Davies for a few more seconds: He rubbed his face,
then lit a cigarette and leaned against the porch railing and looked
out into the street.
It's not right, said Irv to his wife. What happened
to us wasn't fair.
Nothing is, dear. But we're through with all of that,
If you say so.
Yeah, but at least I'm a charming worrier.
Shhh. Did you hear that?
The children are playing in the backyard. Let's go
A moment later, the wind came up and the glider swung back, then
forward, once and once only, with a thin-edged screech.
Jackson Davies dropped his cigarette and decided screw this, he
was going to go wait down by the van.
He turned and started off the porch and ran smack into a phantom.
Davies recoiled slightly. The phantom stepped from the scar of shadow
and into the flashlight's beam and became Pete Cooper, one of Davies's
Davies, through clenched teeth, said, "It's not a real good
idea to sneak up on me like that. I have a tendency to hurt people
when that happens."
"Shakin' in my shoes," said Cooper. "You gettin'
the jungle jitters again? Smell that napalm in the air?"
"Yeah, right. Whacked-out 'Nam vet doing the flashback boogie,
that's me. Was there a reason you came up here or did you just miss
my splendid company?"
"I just . . ." Cooper looked over at the van. "Why'd
you bring the Brennert kid along?"
"Because he said yes."
"C'mon, fer chrissakes! He was here, you know? When
Davies sighed and fished a fresh cigarette from his shirt pocket.
"First of all, he wasn't here when it happened, he was here
before it happened. Second, of my forty-eight loyal employees,
not counting you, only three said they were willing to come out
here tonight, and Russ was one of them. Do you find any of this
confusing so far? I could start again and talk slower."
"What're you gonna do if he gets in there and sees . . .
well . . . everything and freezes up or freaks or something?"
"I talked to him about that already. He says he won't lose
it and I believe him. Besides, the plant's going to be laying his
dad off in a couple of weeks and his family could use the money."
"Back up," said Cooper. "You're telling me that
you couldn't find anyone else who wanted to make three hundred bucks
for a couple of hours, work?"
"Not for this house, I couldn't."
"Yeah, well, Brennert's your problem, okay? I'll keep
the other guys in line, but Russ is all yours."
"Fine. Anything else? The suspense is doing wonders for my
"Just that this seems like an odd hour to be starting."
Davies made a quick, sweeping gesture with his arm that drew Cooper's
attention to the street. "Look around us, Pete. Tell me what
you don't see."
"I'm too tired for your goddamn riddles."
"You never were any fun. What you don't see are any reporters
or any trace of their nauseating three-ring circus that blew into
this miserable burg a few nights back. The county is paying us,
and the county decided that our chances of being accosted by reporters
would be practically nil if we came out late in the evening. So
here we are, and I'm no happier about it than you are. Despite what
people say, I do have a life. Admittedly, it isn't much of one since
my wife decided that we get along better living in separate states,
but it's a life, nonetheless. I just thank God she left me the cats
and the Mitch Miller sing-along records or I'd be a sorry specimen
right about now. To top it all off, I seem to have developed a retroactive
case of the willies, which is why I'm prattling on like this. Please
tell me to be quiet."
"But it's so entertaining."
"Of course. It wouldn't be a traffic accident without innocent
They watched as a police cruiser pulled up behind the van.
"Ah," said Davies. "That would be the keys to the
kingdom of the dead."
"You plan to keep up the joking?"
Davies's face turned into a slab of granite and his voice dropped
to a deadly whisper. "You bet your ass I do, Pete. And I'm
going to keep on making jokes until we're finished with this job
and loading things up to go home. The sicker and more tasteless
I can make them, the better. Don't worry if I make jokes; worry
when I stop."
They went to meet the police officers, unaware that as they came
down from the porch and started across the lawn they walked right
through the ghost of Andy Leonard, who stood looking at the house
where he'd spent his entire, sad, brief, and ultimately tragic life.
On July fourth of that year Irv Leonard and his wife were hosting
a family reunion at their home at 182 Merchant Street. All fifteen
members of their immediate family were present and several neighbors
stopped by, at the Leonard's invitation, to visit, watch some football,
enjoy a hearty lunch from the ample buffet Miriam had been preparing
since early in the week, and to see Irv's newly acquired pearl-handled
antique Colt Army .45 revolvers.
Irv, a retired steel worker and lifelong gun enthusiast, had been
collecting firearms since his early twenties and was purported to
have one of the five most valuable collections in the state.
Neighbors later remarked that the atmosphere in the house was
as pleasant as you could hope for, though a few did notice that
Andyhe youngest of the four Leonard children and the
only one still living at homeseemed a bit "distracted."
Around 8:45 that evening Russell Brennert, a friend of Andy's
from Cedar Hill High School, came by after getting off work from
his part-time job. Witnesses described Andy as being "abrupt"
with Russell, as if he didn't want him to be there. Some speculated
that the two might have had an argument recently that Andy was still
sore about. In any case, Andy excused himself and went upstairs
to "check on something."
Russell started to leave but Miriam insisted he fix himself a
sandwich first. A few minutes later Andyapparently
no longer upsetreappeared and asked if Russell would
mind driving Mary Alice Hubert, Miriam's mother and Andy's grandmother,
back to her house. The 73-year-old Mrs. Hubert, a widow of ten years,
was still recovering from a mild heart attack in December and had
forgotten to bring her medication. The eighteen-year-old Brennert
offered to take Mary Alice's house key and drive over by himself
for the medicine but Andy insisted Mrs. Hubert go along.
"I thought it seemed kind of odd," said Bill Gardner,
a neighbor who was present at the time, "Andy being so bound
and determined to get the two of them out of there before the fireworks
started. Poor Miriam didn't know what to make of it all. I mean,
I was on my way out and didn't think it was any of my business,
but you'd think somebody would've said . . . I don't know
. . . said something about it. Andy started getting outright rude.
If he'd been my kid I'd've snatched him bald-headed, acting that
way. And after his mom'd gone to all that fuss to make everything
Mrs. Hubert prevented things from getting out of hand by saying
it would be best if she went with Russell; after all, she was an
"old broad," set in her ways, and everything in an old
broad's house had to be just so . . . besides, there were
so many medicine containers in her cabinet Russell might just "bust
his brain right open" trying to figure out which was the right
As the two were on their way out, Andy stopped them at the door
to give Mrs. Hubert a hug.
According to her, Andy seemed ". . . really sorry about something.
He's a strong boy, an athlete, and I don't care what anyone says,
he should've got that scholarship. Okay, maybe he wasn't as bright
as some kids, but he was a fine athlete and them college people
should've let that count for something. It was terrible, listening
to him talk about how he was maybe gonna have to go to work at the
factory to earn his college money . . . everybody knows where that
leads. I'm sorry, I got off the track, didn't I? You asked about
him hugging me when we left that night . . . well, he was always
real careful when he hugged me never to squeeze too hardthese
old bones can't take it . . . but when he hugged me then I thought
he was going to break my ribs. I just figured it was on account
he felt bad about the argument. I didn't mean to create such a bother,
I thought I had the medicine with me but I . . . forget things sometimes.
"He kissed me on the cheek and said 'Bye, Grandma. I love
you.' It wasn't so much the words, he always said that same thing
to me every time I left . . . it was the way he said them. I remember
thinking he was going to cry, that's how those words sounded, so
I said, 'Don't worry about it. Your mom knows you didn't mean to
be so surly.' I told him that when I got back we'd watch the rest
of the fireworks and then make some popcorn and maybe see a movie
on the TV. He used to like doing that with me when he was littler.
"He smiled and touched my cheek with two of his fingershe'd
never done that beforeand he looked at Russ like maybe
he wanted to give him a hug, too, but boys that age don't hug each
other, they think it makes them look like queers or something, but
I could see it in Andy's eyes that he wanted to hug Russ.
"Then he said the strangest thing. He looked at Russ and
kind of . . . slapped the side of Russ's shoulderfriendly,
you know, like men'll do with each other when they feel too silly
to hug? Anyway, he, uh, did that shoulder thing, then looked at
Russ and said, 'The end is courage.' I figured it was a line from
some movie they'd seen together. They love their movies, those two,
always quoting lines to each other like some kind of secret codelike
in Citizen Kane with 'Rosebud.' That kind of thing.
"It wasn't until we were almost to my house that Russ asked
me if I knew what the heck Andy meant when he said that.
"I knew right then that something was wrong, terribly wrong.
Oh Lord, when I think of it now . . . the . . . the pain
a soul would have to be in to do something . . . like that . . .
Russell Brennert and Mary Alice Hubert left the Leonard house
at 9:05. As soon as he saw Brennert's car turn the corner at the
end of the street, Andy immediately went back upstairs and did not
come down until the locally sponsored Kiwanis Club fireworks display
began at 9:15.
Several factors contributed to the neighbors' initial failure
to react to what happened. Firstly, there was the thunderous noise
of the fireworks themselves. Since White's Field, the site of the
fireworks display, was less than one mile away, the resounding boom
of the cannons was, as one person described, ". . . damn near
loud enough to rupture your eardrums. Some folks was even stuffing
cotton into their ears."
Secondly, music from a pair of concert hall speakers that Bill
Gardner had set up in his front yard compounded the glass-rattling
noise and vibrations of the cannons. "Every Fourth of July,"
said Gardner, "WLCB (a local low-wattage FM radio station)
plays music to go along with the fireworks. You know, 'America the
Beautiful,' 'Stars and Stripes Forever,' Charlie Daniels's 'In America,'
stuff like that, and every year I tune 'em in and set my speakers
out and let fly. Folks on this street want me to do it, they all
"How the fuck was I supposed to know Andy was gonna flip
Third and lastly, there were innumerable firecrackers being set
off by neighborhood children. This not only added to the general
racket but also accounted for the neighbors ignoring certain visual
clues once Andy moved outside. "You have to understand,"
said one detective, "that everywhere around these people, up
and down the street, kids were setting off all different kinds of
things: firecrackers, sparklers, bottle-rockets, M-80s, for godssake!
Is it any wonder it took them so long to tell the difference between
the flash of a firecracker and the muzzle-flash from a gun?
"Andy Leonard had to've been planning this for a long time.
He knew there'd be noise and explosions and lights and a hundred
other things to distract everyone from what he was doing."
At exactly 9:15 p.m. Andy Leonard walked calmly downstairs carrying
three semiautomatic pistolsa Walther P.38 9mm Perabellum,
a Mauser Luger 7.65mm, and a Coonan .357 Magnumand
a Heckler & Koch HK53 5.56mm assault rifle which he laid across
the top of the dining room table. He had taken the weapons from
his father's massive oak gun cabinet upstairs after forcing open
one of its doors with a crowbar.
Of the thirteen other family members present at that time, fiveincluding
Irv Leonard, 62, and his oldest son, Chet, 25were outside
watching the fireworks. Andy's two older sistersJessica,
29, and Elizabeth, 34 (both of whose husbands were also outside)-were
in the kitchen hurriedly helping their mother put away the buffet
leftovers so they could join the men on the front lawn.
Jessica's three childrenRandy, age 7; Theresa, 4;
and Joseph, 9-1/2 monthswere in the living room. Randy
and his sister were just finishing changing their baby brother's
diaper and were in a hurry to get out and see the fireworks, so
they paid no attention to their uncle. They were strapping Joseph
into his safety seat. The infant thought they were playing with
him and giggled a lot.
Elizabeth's two childrenIan, 12, and Lori, 9were
thought to be already outside but were upstairs in the "toy
room"which contained, among other items, a pool
table and a 27-inch color television for use with Andy's extensive
video game collection.
By the time Andy walked downstairs at 9:15, Ian and Lori were
already dead, their skulls crushed by repeated blows with, first,
a gun butt, then a pool cue, and, at the last, with billiard balls
that were crammed into their mouths after their jaws were wrenched
Laying the HK53 across on top of the dinner table, Andy stuffed
the Mauser and blood-spattered Walther into the waist of his jeans,
then walked into the kitchen, raised the .357, and shot his sister
Jessica through the back of her head. She was standing with her
back to him, in the process of putting some food into the refrigerator.
The hollow-point bullet blew out most of her brain and sheared away
half of her face. When she dropped she pulled two refrigerator shelves
and their contents down with her.
Andy then shot Elizabethonce in the stomach, once
in the center of her chestthen turned the gun on his
mother, shooting at point-blank range through her right eye.
After that things happened very quickly. Andy left the kitchen
and collided with his niece, who was running toward the front door.
He caught her by the hair and swung her facefirst into
a fifty-inch high cast-iron statue that sat against a wall in the
foyer. The statue was a detailed reproduction of the famous photograph
of the American flag being raised on Mount Suribachi at Iwo Jima.
Theresa slammed against it with such force that her nose shattered,
sending bone fragments shooting backwards down her throat. Still
gripping her long strawberry-blonde hair in his fist, Andy lifted
her off her feet and impaled her by the throat on the tip of the
flagstaff. The blood patterns on the wall behind the statue indicated
an erratic arterial spray, leading the on-scene medical examiner
to speculate she must have struggled to get free at some point;
this, along with the increase in serotonin and free histamine levels
in the wound, indicated Theresa had lived at least three minutes
after being impaled.
Seven-year-old Randy saw his uncle impale Theresa on the statue,
then grabbed the carrying handle of Joseph's safety seat, picked
up his infant brother, and ran toward the kitchen. Andy shot him
in the back of his right leg. Randy went down, losing his grip on
Joseph's safety seat, which skittered across the blood-sopped tile
floor and came to a stop inches from Jessica's body. Little Joseph,
wide awake, frightened, and helpless in the seat, began to cry.
Randy tried to stand but his leg was useless, so he began moving
toward Joseph by kicking out with his left leg and using his elbows
and hands to pull himself forward.
Nine feet away, Andy stood at the kitchen entrance watching his
nephew's valiant attempt to save the baby.
Then he shot Randy between the shoulders.
And the kid kept moving.
As Andy took aim to fire again, the front door swung open and
Keith Shannon, Elizabeth's husband, stuck his head in and shouted
for everyone to hurry up and come on.
Shannon saw Theresa's body dangling from the statue and screamed
over his shoulder at the other men out on the lawn, then came inside,
calling out the names of his wife and children.
He never stopped to see if Theresa was still alive.
Andy stormed across the kitchen and through the second, smaller
archway that led into the rooms on the front left side of the house.
As a result of taking this shortcut he beat Shannon to the living
room by a few seconds, enabling him to take his brother-in-law by
surprise. Andy emptied the rest of the Magnum's rounds into Shannon's
head and chest. One shot went wild and shattered the large front
Andy tossed the Magnum aside and pulled both the Mauser and Walther
from his jeans, holding one pistol in each hand. He bolted from
the living room, through the dining room, and rounded the corner
into the foyer just as Irv hit the top step of the porch.
Andy kicked open the front door and for the next fifteen seconds,
while the sky ignited and Lee Greenwood sang how God should bless
this country he loved, God bless the USA, the front porch of the
Leonard house became a shooting gallery as each of the four remaining
adult malesat least two of whom were drunkcame
up onto the porch one by one and were summarily executed.
Andy fired both pistols simultaneously, killing his father, his
uncle Martin, his older brother Chet, and Tom Hamilton, Jessica's
A neighbor across the street, Bess Paymer, saw Irv's pulped body
wallop backwards onto the lawn and yelled for her husband, Francis.
Francis took one look out the window and said, "Someone's gone
crazy." Bess was already dialing the police.
Andy went back into the house and grabbed the rifle from the dining
room table, then headed for the kitchen where Randy, still alive,
was attempting to drag Joseph through the back door. When he heard
his uncle come into the kitchen, Randy reached out and grabbed a
carving knife from the scattered contents of the cutlery drawer
which Miriam had wrenched loose when she had fallen, then threw
himself over his infant brother.
"That was one goddamn brave kid," an investigator said
later. "Here he was, in the middle of all these bodies, and
he had two bullets in him so we know he was in a lot of pain, and
the only thing that mattered to him was protecting his baby brother.
An amazing kid. His folks would've been proud. Hell, it makes me
proud. If there's one bright spot in all this shit, it's in knowing
that that kid loved his brother enough to . . . well . . . ah, hell,
I can't talk about it any more."
For some reason Andy did not shoot his nephew a third time. He
came across the kitchen floor and raised the butt of the rifle to
bludgeon Randy's skull, and that's when Randy, in his last moments,
pushed himself forward and jammed the knife in his uncle's calf.
Then he died.
Andy dropped to the floor, screaming through clenched teeth, and
pulled the knife from his leg. He grabbed his nephew's lifeless
body and heaved it over onto its back, then beat its face in with
his fists. After that, he loaded fresh clips into the pistols, grabbed
Joseph, and stumbled out the back door to the garage and drove away
in Irv's brand-new pickup.
At 9:21 p.m. the night duty dispatcher at the Cedar Hill Police
Department received Bess Paymer's call. As was SOP, the dispatcher,
while believing Bess had heard gunfire, asked if she were certain
that someone had been shot. This dispatcher later defended their
actions by saying, ". . . every year we get yahoos all over
this city who decide that the Kiwanis' fireworks display is the
perfect time to go out in their backyard and fire their guns off
into the airwell, the Fourth and New Year's Eve, we
get a lot of that. We had every unit out that night, just like every
holiday, and there were drunks to deal with, bar fights, illegal
fireworks being set offM80s and such, traffic accidents
. . . holiday's tend to be a bit of mess for us around here. Seems
that's when everybody and their brother decides to act like a royal
"The point is, if we get a report of alleged gunfire during
the fireworks, we're required to ask the caller if anyone has been
hurt. If not, then we get to it as soon as we can. It may take a
while but we'll get there. If we had to send a cruiser to check
out every report of gunfire that comes in on the Fourth of July,
we'd never get anything else done. I didn't do anything wrong. It's
not my fault."
It took Bess Paymer and her husband the better part of two minutes
to convince the dispatcher that someone had gone crazy over at the
Leonard house and shot everyone. The dispatcher agreed to send a
cruiser to check it out.
Francis, red-faced with fury at this point, screamed at the dispatcher
that they'd better make it fast because he was grabbing his hunting
rifle and going over there himself, goddammit.
And he did.
The first cruiser was dispatched at 9:24 p.m.
At 9:27 a call came in from the Leonard house; by noon the next
day, that phone call would be heard by most of the nation, courtesy
of all six networks, as well as newscasts from hundreds of local
stations across the country:
"This is Francis Paymer. My wife and I called you a couple
of minutes ago. I'm standing in the . . . the kitchen of the Leonard
house . . . that's 182 Merchant Street . . . and I've got somebody's
brains stuck to the bottom of my shoe.
"There's been a shooting here. A little girl's hanging in
the hallway and there's blood all over the walls and the floors
and I can't tell where one person's body ends and the next one begins
because everybody's dead. I can still smell the gunpowder and smoke.
"Is that good enough for you to do something? C-could you
maybe please if it's not too much trouble send someone out here
NOW? It might be a good idea, because the crazy BASTARD WHO DID
THIS ISN'T HERE
"and I think he might've took a baby with him."
By 9:30 p.m. Merchant Street was clogged with police cruisers.
And Andy Leonard was halfway to Moundbuilder's Park, where the
Second Presbyterian Church was sponsoring Parish Family Night. Over
one hundred people had been gathered at the park since five in the
afternoon, picnicking, tossing Frisbees, playing checkers or flying
kites. A little before nine, the president of the Parish Council
had arrived with a truckload of folding chairs that were set up
in a clearing at the south end of the park.
By the time Francis Paymer made his famous phone call, 107 parish
members were seated in twelve neat little rows watching the fireworks
Between leaving his Merchant Street house and arriving at Moundbuilder's
Park, Andy Leonard shot and killed six more people as he drove past
them. Two were in a car, the other four had been sitting out on
their lawns watching the fireworks. In every case, Andy simply kept
one hand on the steering wheel while shooting with the other through
an open window.
At 9:40 p.m., just as the fireworks kicked into high gear for
the grand finale, Andy drove his father's pickup truck at eighty
miles per hour through the wooden gate at the northeast side of
the park, barreled across the picnic grounds, over the grassy mound
that marked the south border, and went straight down into the middle
of the spectators.
Three people were killed and eight others injured as the truck
plowed into the back row of chairs. Then Andy threw open the door
and leapt from the truck and opened fire with the HK53. The parishioners
scrambled in panic, many of them falling over chairs. Of the dead
and wounded at the park, none was able to get farther than ten yards
away before being shot.
Andy stopped only long enough to yank the pistols from the truck.
The first barrage with the rifle was to disable; the second, with
the pistols, was to finish off anyone who might still be alive.
At 9:45 p.m. Andy Leonard crawled up onto the roof of his father's
pickup truck and watched the grand finale of the fireworks display.
The truck's radio was tuned in to WLCB. The bombastic finish of
"The 1812 Overture" erupted along with the fiery colors
in the dark heaven above.
The music and the fireworks ended.
Whirling visibar lights could be seen approaching the park. The
howl of sirens hung in the air like a protracted musical chord.
Andy Leonard shoved the barrel of the rifle in his mouth and blew
most of his head off. His nearly-decapitated body fell backward
on the roof, then slid slowly onto the hood of the truck, smearing
a long trail of gore down the center of the windshield.
Twenty minutes later, just as Russell Brennert and Mary Alice
Hubert turned onto Merchant Street to find it blocked by police
cars and ambulances, one of the officers on the scene at Moundbuilder's
Park heard what he thought was the sound of a baby crying. Moments
later, he discovered Joseph Hamilton, still alive and still in his
safety seat, on the passenger-side floor of the pickup. The infant
was clutching a bottle of formula that had been taken from his mother's
I stopped at this point and took a deep breath, surprised to find
that my hands were shaking. I looked to the ghosts and they whispered
I swallowed once, nodded my head, then said to my students, "That
baby was me.
"I have no idea why Andy didn't kill me. I was taken from
the carnage and placed in the care of Cedar Hill Children's Services."
I opened my briefcase and removed a file filled with photocopies
of old newspaper articles and began passing them around the room;
I had brought several pieces of my research along that morning in
case I'd need them to prompt discussion among my students. "The
details of how I came to be adopted by the Conover family of Waynesboro,
Virginia are written in these articles. Suffice to say that I was
perhaps the most famous baby in the country for the next few months."
One student held up a copy of an article and said, "It says
here that the Conovers took you back to Cedar Hill six months after
the killings. Says you were treated like a celebrity."
I looked at the photo accompanying the article and shook my head,
somewhat sadly. "I have no memory of that at all. At home,
in a box I keep in my filing cabinet, are hundreds of cards I received
from people who lived in Cedar Hill at that time. Most of them are
either dead or have moved away now, and when I went back there a
few years ago I could only find a few of them.
"It's odd to think that, somewhere out there, there are dozens,
maybe even hundreds, of people, who prayed for me when I was a baby,
people I never knew and never will know. For a while I was at the
center of their thoughts. I like to believe these people still think
of me from time to time. I like to believe it's those thoughts and
prayers that keep me safe from harm.
"But as I said in the beginning, this story isn't really
about menot yet, at least. Maybe it never will be.
Some mysteries interwoven with one's heritage must be confronted
even if there is no possible chance of finding an answer, and since
I am not arrogant enough to say, 'Listen: I know everything now,'
I have little choice but to offer this as something of a folk tale,
because that's what it is and always has been to me. I suspect it
will be this way until I die. If there is any Great Truth to be
discerned, I'm not the one to proclaim what it might be. From the
moment that nameless police officer found a squalling baby on the
floor of a murderer's truck I ceased to be a part of the story.
But it has never stopped being a part of me."
Details were too sketchy for the eleven p.m. news to offer anything
concrete about the massacre, but by the time the local network affiliates
broadcast their news-at-sunrise programs, the tally was in.
Counting himself, Andy Leonard had murdered 32 people and wounded
36 others, making his spree the largest single mass shooting to
date. (Some argued that since the shootings took place in two different
locations they should be treated as two separate incidents, while
others insisted that since Andy had continuously fired his weapons
up until the moment of his death, including the trail of shootings
between his house and the park, it was all one single incident.
What could not be argued was the body count, which made the rest
of it more than a bit superfluous.)
Those victims were what the specter of my uncle was thinking about
as Jackson Davies and Pete Cooper walked through him.
Andy's ghost hung its head and sighed, then took one half-step
to the right and vanished back into the ages where it would re-live
its murderous rampage in perpetuity, always coming back to the moment
it stood outside the house and watched as two men passed through
it on their way toward a police officer.
Russell Brennert looked at the two other janitors who'd come along
tonight and knew without asking that neither one of them wanted
him to be here. Of course not; he had known the crazy fucker,
he had been Andy Leonard's best friend, his presence
made it all just a bit more real than they wanted it to be. Did
they think that some part of what had driven Andy to kill all of
those people had rubbed off on him, as well?
He finished unloading the last of the wheeled buckets, then filled
each one with towels, scrub sponges, one-quart bottles of industrial
cleaner concentrate, wax remover, and finish-stripping liquid, a
pair of yellow rubber gloves, Fiberglass face masks to protect against
chemical fumes, a roll of paper towels, a spray-bottle of Windex,
an extra mop head and, of course, a mop. There were five buckets
in all, so this took a few minutesduring which neither
of his coworkers offered to help, for which Russell was grateful;
at least he wouldn't have to stand here and try to make conversation
with . . . with . . . .
Christ, he couldn't even remember their names. Not that it was
any big deal, mind you. He'd seen these guys around school often
enough but never in any kind of a social situation. They passed
in the halls during class change, stood in line in the cafeteria,
Russell had home room with one of them
hell with it, he thought. Call them Mutt & Jeff
and leave it at that. Odds were they wanted even less to do with
him than he did with them.
He checked (for the third or fourth time) to make sure each plastic
barrel had plenty of extra trash bags. Then Mutt came over and,
fighting the smirk trying to sneak onto his face, asked, "Hey,
Brennertthat's your name, right?"
"We were just wonderin' if, well, it's true, y'know?"
"If what's true?"
Mutt gave a quick look to Jeff, who turned away and oh-so-subtly
covered his mouth with his hand.
Russell dug his fingernails into his palms to keep from getting
angry; these guys were going to pull something, or say something,
he just knew it.
Mutt sniffed dryly as he turned back to Russell. He'd given up
trying to fight back the smirk on his face.
Russell bit his lower lip. Stay cool, you can do it, you need
the money . . . .
"We'd just been wonderin'," said Mutt, "if it's
true that you and Leonard used to . . . go to the movies together."
Jeff snorted a laugh and tried to cover it up by coughing.
Russell held his breath. "Sometimes, yeah."
"Just the two of you or you guys ever take dates?"
You're doing fine, just fine, he's a mutant, just keep that
in mind . . . .
"Sometimes it was just him and me. Sometimes he'd bring Barb
"Yeah, yeah . . ." Mutt leaned in, lowering his voice
to a mock-conspiratorial whisper. "The thing is, we heard that
the two of you went to the drive-in together a couple of days before
he shot everybody."
Fine and dandy, yessir. "That's right. Barb was going
to come along but she had to babysit her sister at the last minute."
Mutt chewed on his lower lip to bite back a giggle. Russell caught
a peripheral glimpse of Davies and Cooper heading back up to the
porch with one of the cops.
"How come you and your buddy went to the drive-in all by
"We wanted to see the movie." Jesus, Jackson, get down
here, will you?
Russell didn't hear all of the next question because the pulsing
of his blood sounded like a jackhammer in his ears.
". . . thigh?"
Russell blinked, exhaled, and dug his nails in a little deeper.
"I'm sorry, could you run that by me again?"
"I said, last week after gym when we was all in the showers
I noticed you had a sucker-bite on your thigh."
"You sure about that? Seemed to me it looked like a big ol'
"Stare at my thighs a lot, do you?"
Mutt's face went blank. Jeff jumped to his feet and snarled, "Hey,
watch it, motherfucker."
"Watch what?" snapped Russell. "Why don't you feebs
just leave me alone? I've got better things to do than be grilled
by a couple of redneck homophobes."
"Ha! Homo, huh?" said Mutt. "I always figured the
two of you musta been butt-buddies."
"Fagbags," said Jeff, then the two flaming wits high-fived
Russell suddenly realized that one of his hands had reached over
and gripped a mop handle. Don't do it, Russ, don't you dare,
they're not worth it. "Think whatever you want. I don't
care." He turned away from them in time to see a bright blue
van pull up behind the police cruiser. A small satellite dish squatted
like a gargoyle on top of the van and Russell could see through
the windshield that Ms. Tanya Claymore, Channel 9's red-hot newsbabe,
"Oh shit," he whispered.
One of the reasons he'd agreed to help out tonightthe
money asidewas so he wouldn't have to stay at home
and hear the phone ring every ten minutes and answer it to find
some reporter on the other end asking for Mr. Russell Brennert oh
this is him I'm Whatsisname from the In-Your-Face Channel, Central
Ohio's News Authority and I wanted to ask you a few questions about
Andy Leonard blah-blah-blah.
It had been like that for the last three days. He'd hoped that
coming out here tonight would give him a reprieve from everyone's
constant questions but it seemed
put the ego in park, Russ. Yeah, maybe they called
the house and Mom or Dad told them you'd be out here, but it's just
possible they came out in hopes of getting inside the house for
a few minutes' worth of video for tomorrow's news.
He thought about it for another second and decided that his second
notion was the right one. The police hadn't let any reporters see
the inside of the house and had even posted guards to make sure
no one tried to sneak in. News vans had police scanners, didn't
they? Tanya Claymore and her crew had probably heard the cops in
the cruiser radio that they were going over to let the janitors
into the house.
Russell looked down at his hand on the mop handle and smiled but
there was not one ounce of humor in it.
Mutt smacked the back of his shoulder much harder than was needed
just to get his attention. "Hey, yo! Brennert, I'm talking
"Please leave me alone? Please?"
All along the murky-death membrane that was Merchant Street porch
lights snapped on and ghostly forms shuffled out in bathrobes and
housecoats, some with curlers in their hair or shoddy slippers on
Mutt & Jeff both laughed, but not too loudly.
"What's it like to cornhole a psycho, huh?"
"I" Russell swallowed the rest of the sentence
and started toward the house but Mutt grabbed his arm, wrenching
him backward and spinning him around.
One of the tattered spectres grabbed her husband's arm and pointed
from their porch to the three young men by the van: Did it look
like there was some trouble?
The ghosts of Irv and Miriam Leonard, accompanied by their grandchildren
Ian, Theresa, and Lori, stood off to the side of the house and watched
as well. Irv shook his head in disgust and Miriam wiped at her eyes
and thought she felt her heart aching for Russell; such a nice boy,
On the porch of the Leonard house, an impatient Jackson Davies
waited while the officer ripped down the yellow tape and inserted
the key into the lock.
"Jackson?" said Pete Cooper.
Cooper cleared his throat and lowered his voice. "Do you
remember what you said about no reporters being around?"
"Yeah, so wha" Then he saw the Channel
9 News van. "Ah, fuck me with a fiddlestick! They plant a homing
device on that poor kid or something?" He watched Tanya Claymore
slide open the side door and lower one of her too-perfect legs toward
the ground like some Hollywood starlet exiting a limo at a movie
"Dammit, I told you bringing Brennert along would
be a mistake."
"Thank you, Mr. Hindsight. Let me worry about it?"
Cooper gestured toward the news van and said, "Aren't you
gonna do something?"
"I don't know if I can." Davies directed this remark
to the police officer unlocking the door. The officer looked over
his shoulder and shrugged, then said, "If she interferes with
your crew performing the job you pay them for, you've got every
right to tell her to go away."
"Just make sure you get her phone number first," said
Davies turned his back to them and stared at Tanya Claymore. If
she even so much as looked at Russell, he'd drop on her like a curse
Down by the trash barrels and buckets, Mutt was standing less
than an inch from Russell's face and saying, "All right, bad-ass,
let's get to it. People're sayin' that you maybe knew what Andy
was gonna do and didn't say anything."
"I didn't," whispered Russell. "I didn't know."
Some part of him realized that Tanya's cameraman had turned on
his light and was taping them but he was backed too far into a corner
to care right now.
"Yeah," said Mutt contemptuously. "I'll just bet
"I didn't know, all right? He never said . . . a thing
"According to the news, he was in an awful hurry to get you
out before he went gonzo."
For a moment Russell found himself back in the car with Mary Alice,
turning the corner and being almost blinded by visibar lights, then
that cop came over and pounded on the window and said, "This
area's restricted for the moment, kid, so you're gonna have to"
and Mary Alice shouted, "Is that the Leonard house? Did something
happen to my family?" and then the cop shone his flashlight
in and asked, "You a relative, ma'am?" and Mary Alice
was already in tears and Russell felt something boiling up from
his stomach because he saw one of the bodies being covered by a
sheet and then Mary Alice screamed and fell against him and a sick
cloud of pain descended on their skulls
"I had no idea, okay?" The words fell to the
ground in a heap. Russell thought he could almost see them groan
before the darkness put them out of their misery. "Do I have
to keep on saying that or should I just write it in braille and
shove it up"
"you knew, you had to know!" The
mean-spirited mockery of earlier was gone from Mutt's voice, replaced
by anger with some genuine hurt wrapped around it. "He was
your best friend!"
You need the money, Russell.
"Two of 'em was always together," said Jeff, just loud
enough for the microphone to get every word. "Everybody figured
that Brennert here was gay and was in love with Andy."
Three hundred dollars, Russell. Grocery money for a month or
so. Mom and Dad will appreciate it.
It seemed that both of his hands were gripping the mop handle,
and somehow that mop was no longer in the bucket.
He heard a chirpy voice go into its popular sing-song mode: "This
is Tanya Claymore. I'm standing outside the house of Irving and
Miriam Leonard at 182 Merchant Street where"
"You wanna do something about it?" said Mutt, pushing
Russell's shoulder. "Think you're man enough to mess with me?"
Russell was only vaguely aware of Davies coming down from the
porch and shouting something at the news crew; he was only vaguely
aware of the second police officer climbing from the cruiser and
making a beeline to Ms. Newsbabe; and he was only vaguely aware
of Mutt saying, "How come you came along to help with the clean-up
tonight? Idea of seeing all that blood and brains get you hard,
does it? You a sick fuck just like Andy?"; but the one thing
of which he was fully, almost gleefully aware, was that the mop
had become a javelin in his hands and he was going to go for the
gold and hurl the thing right into Mutt's great big ugly target
of a mouth
Three hundred dollars should just about cover the emergency
then a hand clamped down so hard on Mutt's shoulder
Russell thought he heard bones crack.
Jackson Davies's smiling face swooped in and hovered between them.
"If you're finished with this nerve-tingling display of machismo,
we have a house to clean, remember?" Still clutching Mutt's
shoulder in a Vulcan death-grip, Davies hauled the boy around and
pushed him toward one of the barrels. "Why can't you use your
powers for good?"
"Hey, we were just"
"I know what you were just, thank you very much. I'd
appreciate it" he gestured toward Jeff "if
you and the Boy Wonder here would get off your asses and start carrying
supplies inside." Russell reached for a couple of buckets but
Davies stopped him. "Not you, Ygor. You stay here with me for
a second." Mutt & Jeff stood staring as Ms. Newsbabe came
jiggling up to Russell in all of her journalistic glory.
Davies glowered at the two boys and said, "Yes, her bazooba-wobblies
are very big and no, you can't touch them. Now get moving before
I become unpleasant."
They became a blur of legs and mop buckets. Russell said, "Mr.
Davies, I'm sorry but"
"Hold that thought."
Tanya and her cameraman were almost on top of them; a microphone
came toward their faces like a projectile.
"Russell?" said Tanya. "Russell, hi. I'm Tanya
"A friend of mine once stepped on a Claymore," said
Davies. "Made his sphincter switch places with his eardrums.
I was scraping his spleen off my face for a week. Please don't bother
any member of my crew, Ms. Claymore."
The reporter's startling green eyes widened. She made a small,
quick gesture with her free hand, and her cameraman swung around
to get Davies into the frame.
"We'd like to talk to both of you, Mr. Davies"
"Go away." Davies looked at Russell and the two of them
grabbed the remaining buckets and barrels and started toward the
Tanya Claymore sneered at Davies's back, then turned around and
waved to the driver of the news van. He looked over and she mimed
talking into a telephone receiver. The driver nodded his head and
picked up the cellular phone. Tanya gave her mike to the cameraman
and took off after Davies.
"Mr. Davies, please, could youdammit, I'm in
heels! Would you wait a second?"
"She wants me." whispered Davies to Russell. Despite
everything, Russell gave a little smile. He liked Jackson Davies
a lot and was glad this man was his boss.
Tanya stumbled up the incline of the lawn and held out one of
her hands for Davies to take hold of and help her.
"Are those fingernails real or press-ons?" asked Davies,
not making a move.
Russell put down his supplies and gave her the help she needed.
As soon as she reached level ground she offered a sincere smile
and squeezed his hand in thanks.
Davies said, "What's it going to take to make you leave us
Her eyes hardened but the smile remained. "All I want is
to talk to the both of you about what you're going to do."
"It's a little obvious, isn't it?"
"Central Ohio would like to know."
"Oh," said Davies. "I see. You're in constant touch
with Central Ohio? Champion of the common folk in your fake nails
and designer dress and tinted contacts?"
"Does all that just come to you or do you write it down ahead
of time and memorize it?"
"You're not being very nice."
"Neither are you."
They both fell silent and stood staring at one another.
Finally, Davies sighed and said, "Could we at least get our
stuff inside and get started first? I could come out in a half-hour
and talk to you then."
"What about Russell?"
Russell half-raised his hand. "Russell is right here.
Please don't talk about me in third person."
"Sorry," said Tanya with a grin. "You haven't talked
to any reporters, Russell. I don't know if you remember, but you've
hung up on me twice."
"I know. I was gonna send you a card to apologize. We always
watch you at my house. My mom thinks you look like a nice girl and
my dad's always had a thing for redheads."
Tanya leaned a little closer to him and said, "What about
you? Why do you like watching me?"
Russell was glad that it was so dark out because he could feel
himself blushing. "I, uh . . .Ilook, Ms. Claymore,
I don't know what I could say to you about what happened that you
don't already know."
The radio in the police cruiser squawked loudly and the officer
down by the vans leaned through the window to grab the mike.
"All right," said Tanya, looking from Davies to Russell,
then back to Davies again. "I won't lie to either of you. The
news director would really, really prefer that I come back tonight
with some tape either of Russell or the inside of the house. I almost
had to beg him to let me do this tonight. Don't take this the wrong
wayespecially you, Russellbut I'm sick
to death of being a talking head. Don't ever repeat that to anyone.
"Oh, allow me," said Davies. "If you don't come
back tonight with a really boffo piece, you'll be stuck reading
Teleprompters and covering new mall openings for the rest of your
Tanya said nothing.
Russell looked over at his boss. "Uh, look, Mr. Davies, if
this is gonna be a problem I can"
"She's lying, Russ. Her news director is all hot to trot
for some shots of the inside of the house and he'll do anything
for the exclusive pictures, won't he? Up to and including having
his most popular female anchor lay a sob story on us that sounds
like it came out of some overbaked 1940s melodrama. Nice try, though.
Goddammitit wouldn't surprise me if you and your crew
were the ones who tried to break in."
Tanya looked startled. "What? Someone tried to break into
"Wrong reading, sister. Don't call us, we'll call you."
The hardness in Tanya's eyes now bled down into the rest of her
face. "Fine, Mr. Davies. Have it your way."
The officer in the cruiser walked up to his partner on the porch
and the two of them whispered for a moment, then came down toward
Davies and Tanya.
"Mr. Davies," said the officer who'd unlocked the door,
"we just received orders that Ms. Claymore and her cameraman
are to be allowed to photograph the inside of the house."
Behind her back, Tanya gave a thumbs-up to the driver of the news
"What'd you do," asked Davies, "have your boss
call in a few favors or did you just promise to fuck the mayor?"
"Mr. Davies," said one of the officers. The warning
in his voice was quite clear. "Ms. Claymore can photograph
only the foyer and one other room. You'll all go in at the same
time. I will personally escort Ms. Claymore and her cameraman into,
through, and out of the house. She can only be inside for ten minutes,
no more." He turned toward Tanya. "I'm sorry, Ms. Claymore,
those're our orders. If you're inside longer than ten minutes, we're
to consider it to be trespassing and are to act accordingly."
"Well," she said, straightening her jacket and brushing
a thick strand of hair from her eye, "it's nice to see that
the First Amendment's alive and well and being slowly choked to
death in Cedar Hill."
"You should attend one of our cross burnings sometime,"
"You're a jerk."
"How would you know? You never attend the meetings."
"That's enough, boys and girls," said Officer Lock &
Key. "Could we move this along, please?"
"One thing," said Tanya. "Would it be all right
if we got some shots of the outside of the house first?"
"You'd better make it fast," said Davies. "I feel
a record-time cleaning streak coming on."
"Or I could get them later."
Russell had already walked away from the group and was setting
his supplies onto the porch. The front door was open and the overhead
light in the foyer had been turned on and he caught sight of a giant
red-black spider clinging to the right-side wall
he turned quickly away and took a breath, pressing
one of his hands against his stomach.
Mutt & Jeff laughed at him as they walked into the house.
Pete Cooper shook his head and dismissed Russell with a wave of
The ghosts of the Leonard family surrounded Russell on the porch,
Irv placing a reassuring hand on the boy's shoulder while Miriam
stroked his hair and the children looked on in silence.
Tanya Claymore's cameraman caught Russell's expression on tape.
It wasn't until Jackson Davies came up and took hold of his hand
that Russell snapped out of his fugue and, without saying a word,
got to the job.
And all along Merchant Street, shadowy forms in their housecoats
and slippers watched from the safety of front porches.
Even more famous than Francis Paynter's phone call is Tanya Claymore's
videotape of that night. It ran four-and-a-half minutes and was
the featured story on Channel 9's six o'clock news broadcast the
following evening. Viewer response was so overwhelming that the
tape was broadcast again at seven and eleven p.m., then at six a.m.
and noon the next day, then again, re-edited to two minutes, forty-five
seconds, at seven and eleven p.m. The story won Tanya a local Emmy
Award and caught the attention of a network executive who flew her
to Los Angeles later that month for an audition. She was offered
a network job and accepted it.
She credited all of her success to the "Clean-up" tape.
It is an extraordinary piece of work, and I showed it to my students
that day. I eventually received an official reprimand from the school
board for doing itseveral of the students had nightmares
about it, compounding those about the Utica killingsbut
I thought they needed to see and hear other people, strangers, express
what they themselves were feeling.
The ghosts wanted to see it again, as well.
As did Iand why not? In a way it is not so much about
the aftermath of a tragedy as it is a chronicle of my birth, a point
of reference on the map of my life: This is where I really began.
The tape opens with a shot of the Leonard house, bathed in shadow.
Dim figures can be seen moving around its front porch. Sounds of
footsteps. A muffled voice. A door being opened. A light coming
on. Then another. And another.
Silhouettes appear in an upstairs window. Unmoving.
The camera pulls back slightly. Seen from the street the lights
from the house form a pattern of sorts as they slip out from the
cracks in the particleboard over the downstairs windows.
It takes a moment, but suddenly the house looks like it's smiling.
And it is not a pleasant smile.
All of this takes perhaps five seconds. Then Tanya Claymore's
voice chimes softly in as she introduces herself and says, "I'm
standing outside the house of Irving and Miriam Leonard at 182 Merchant
Street where, as you know, four nights ago their son Andy began
a rampage that would leave over thirty people dead and over thirty
At that very moment, someone inside the house kicks against the
sheet of particleboard over the front bay window and wrenches it
loose while a figure on the porch uses the claw end of a hammer
to pull it free. The board comes away and a massive beam of light
explodes outward, momentarily filling the screen.
The camera smoothly shifts its angle to deflect the light. As
it does so, Tanya Claymore resolves into focus like a ghost on the
right side of the screen. Whether it was purposefully done this
way or not, the effect is an eerie one.
She says, "Just a few moments ago, accompanied by two members
of the Cedar Hill Police Department, a team of janitors entered
the Leonard house to begin what will most certainly be one of the
grimmest and most painful clean-ups in recent memory."
She begins walking up toward the front porch and the camera follows
her. "Experts tell us that violence never really ends, no more
than a symphony ceases to exist once the orchestra has stopped playing."
As she gets closer to the front door the camera moves left while
she moves to the right and says, "And like the musical resonances
that linger in the mind after a symphony, the ugliness of violence
By now she has stepped out of camera range and the dark, massive
bloodstain on the foyer wall can be clearly seen.
At the opposite end of the foyer, a mop head drenched in foamy
soap suds can be seen slapping against the floor.
It makes a wet, sickening sound. The camera slowly zooms in on
the mop and focuses on the blood which is mixed in with the suds.
The picture cuts to a well-framed shot of Tanya's head and shoulders.
It's clear she's in a different room but which room it might be
is hard to tell. When she speaks her voice sounds slightly hollow
and her words echo.
"This is the only time that a news camera will be allowed
to photograph the interior of the Leonard house. You're about to
see the kitchen where Miriam Leonard and her two daughters, Jessica
Hamilton and Elizabeth Shannon, spent the last few seconds of their
lives, and where seven-year-old Randy Hamilton, with two bullets
in his small body, fought to save the life of his infant brother,
"The janitors have not been in here yet, so you will be seeing
the kitchen just as it was when investigators finished with it."
For a moment it looks as if she might say something else, then
she lowers her gaze and steps to the left as the camera moves slightly
to the right and the kitchen is revealed.
The sight is numbing.
The kitchen is a slaughterhouse. The contrast between the blood
and the off-white walls lunges out at the viewer like a snarling
beast escaping from its cage.
The camera pans down to the floor and follows a single splash
pattern that quickly grows denser and wider. Smeary heeland
footprints can be seen. The camera moves upward: part of a handprint
in the center of a lower counter door. The camera moves farther
up: the mark of four bloody fingers on the edge of the sink. The
camera moves over the top of the sink in a smooth, sweeping motion
and stares at a thick, crusty black whirlpool twisting down into
the garbage disposal drain.
The camera suddenly jerks up and whips around, blurring everything
for a moment, a dizzying effect, then comes to an abrupt halt. Tanya
is standing in the doorway of the kitchen with her right arm thrust
forward. In her hand is a plastic pistol.
"This is a rough approximation of the last thing Elizabeth
Shannon saw before her youngest brother shot her to death."
She remains still for a moment. The viewer cannot help but put
themselves in Elizabeth's place.
Tanya slowly lowers the pistol and says, "The question for
which there seems to be no answer is, naturally, 'Why did he do
"We put that question to several of the Leonards' neighbors
this evening. Here's what some of them had to say about seventeen-year-old
Andy, a young man who now holds the hideous distinction of having
murdered more people in a single sweep than any killer in this nation's
Jump-cut to a quick, complicated series of shots:
Shot #1: An overweight man with obviously dyed hair saying, "I
hear they found a tumor in his brain."
Insert shot: Merchant Street as it looked right after the shootings,
clogged with police cruisers and ambulances and barricades to keep
the ever-growing crowd back.
Shot #2: A middle-aged woman with curlers in her hair: "I'll
bet you anything it was his father's fault, him bein' a gun-lover
and all. I heard he beat on Andy a lot."
Insert shot: Lights from a visibar rhythmically moving over a
sheet-covered body on the front lawn.
Shot #3: An elderly gentleman in a worn and faded smoking jacket:
"I read there were all these filthy porno magazines and videotapes
stashed under his mattress, movies of women having relations with
animals and pictures of babies in these leather sex get-ups . .
Insert shot: Two Emergency Medical Technicians carrying a small
black body bag down the front porch steps.
Shot #4: A thirtyish woman in an aerobic body leotard: "I
felt that he was always a little too nice, you know? He never got
. . . angry about anything."
Insert shot: A black & white photograph of Andy taken from
a high school yearbook. He's smiling and his hair is neatly combed.
He's wearing a tie. The voice of the woman in Shot #4 can still
be heard over this photo, saying, "He was always so calm. He
never laughed much, but there was this . . . smile on his
face all the time . . ."
Shot #5: A little girl of six, most of her hidden behind a parent's
leg: ". . . I heard the house was haunted and that ghosts told
him to do it . . ."
Insert shot: A recent color photograph of Andy and Russell Brennert
at a Halloween party, both of them in costume; Russell is Frankenstein's
monster, and Andy, his face painted to resemble a smiling skeleton,
wears the black, hooded cloak of the Grim Reaper. He's holding a
plastic scythe whose tip is resting on top of Russell's head. The
camera moves in on Russell's face until it fills the screen, then
abruptly CUTS TO:
A shot of Russell in the foyer of the Leonard house. He's on his
knees in front of the massive bloodstain on the wall. He's wearing
rubber gloves and is pulling a large sponge from a bucket of soapy
water. A caption at the bottom of the screen reads: "RUSSELL
BRENNERT, FRIEND OF THE LEONARD FAMILY."
He squeezes the excess water from the sponge and lifts it toward
the stain, then freezes just before the sponge touches the wall.
He is trembling but trying very hard not to.
Tanya's shadow can be seen in the lower right-hand corner of the
frame. She asks, "How do you feel right now?"
Russell doesn't answer her, only continues to stare at the stain.
Tanya says, "Russell?"
He blinks, shudders slightly, then turns his head and says, "W-what?
"What were you thinking just then?"
He stares in her direction, then gives a quick glance to the camera.
"Does he have to point that damn thing at me like that?"
"You have to talk to a reporter eventually. You might as
well do it now."
He bites his lower lip for a second, then exhales and looks back
at the stain.
"What're you thinking about, Russell?"
"I remember when Jessie first brought Theresa home from the
hospital. Everyone came over here to see the new baby. You should've
seen Andy's face."
Brennert's voice begins to quaver. The camera slowly moves in
closer to his face. He is oblivious to it.
"He was so . . . proud of her. You'd have thought
she was his daughter."
He reaches out with the hand not holding the sponge and presses
it against the stain. "She was so tiny. But she couldn't stop
giggling. I remember that she grabbed one of my fingers and started
. . . chewing on it, you know, like babies will do? And Andy and
I looked at each other and smiled and yelled, 'Uncle Attack!' and
he s-started . . . he started kissing her chubby little face and
I bent down and put my mouth against her tummy and started blowing
real hard, you know, making belly-farts, and it tickled her so much
because she started giggling and laughing and squealing and k-kicking
her legs . . ."
The cords in his neck are straining. Tears well in his eyes and
he grits his teeth in an effort to hold them back.
"The rest of the family was enjoying the hell out of it and
Theresa kept squealing . . . that delicate little-baby laugh. Jesus
Christ . . . he loved her. Her loved her so much and
I thought she was the most precious thing . . . she always called
me 'UncleRuss'like it was all one word."
The tears are streaming down his cheeks now but he doesn't seem
aware of it.
"I held her against my chest. I helped give her baths in
the sink. I changed her diapersand I was a helluva
lot better at it than Andy ever was . . . and now I gotta . . .
I gotta scrub this off the wall."
He pulls back his hand, then touches the stain with only his index
finger, tracing indiscernible patterns in the dried blood.
"This was her. This is all that's . . . that's left of the
little girl she was, the baby she was . . . the woman she might
have grown up to be. He loved her." is voice cracks and he
begins sobbing. "He loved all of them. And he never said anything
to me. I didn't know, I swear to Christ I didn't know. This
was her. Ioh Goddammit!"
He drops down onto his ass and folds his arms across his knees
and lowers his head and weeps.
A few moments later Jackson Davies comes in and sees him and kneels
down and takes Russell in his arms and rocks gently back and forth,
whispering, "It's all right now, it's okay, it's over, you're
safe, hear me? Safe. Just . . . give it to me, kid . . . you're
safe . . . that's it . . . give it to me . . . ." Davies looks
up into the camera and the expression on his face needs no explaining:
Turn that fucking thing off.
Tanya, outside the house again, standing next to the porch steps.
On the porch, two janitors are removing the broken bay window. A
few jagged shards of glass fall out and shatter on the porch. Another
man begins sweeping up the shards and dumping them into a plastic
Tanya says, "Experts tell us that violence never really ends,
that the healing process may never be completed, that some of the
survivors will carry their pain for the rest of their lives."
A MONTAGE begins at this point, with Tanya's closing comments
heard in VOICE-OVER:
The image, in slow motion, of police officers and EMTs moving
sheet-covered and black-bagged bodies.
"People around here will say that the important thing is
to remove as many physical traces of the violence as possible. Mop
up the blood, gather the broken glass fragments into a bag and toss
it in the trash, cover the scrapes, cuts, and stitches with bandages,
then put your best face forward because it will make the unseen
hurt easier to deal with."
The image of the sheet-covered bodies cross-fades into film of
a memorial service held at Randy Hamilton's grade school. A small
choir of children are gathered in front of a picture of Randy and
begin to sing. Underneath Tanya's voice can now be heard a few dozen
tiny voices softly singing "Let There Be Peace on Earth."
"But what of that 'unseen hurt'? A bruise will fade, a cut
will get better, a scar can be taken off with surgery. Cedar Hill
must now concern itself with finding a way to heal the scars that
aren't so obvious."
The image of the childrens' choir dissolves into film of Mary
Alice Hubert standing in the middle of the chaos outside the Leonard
house on the night of the shootings. She is bathed in swirling lights
and holds both of her hands pressed against her mouth. Her eyes
seem unnaturally wide and are shimmering with tears. Police and
EMTs scurry around her but none stops to offer help. As the choir
sings, "To take each moment and live each moment in peace e-tern-al-ly,"
she drops slowly to her knees and lowers her head as if in prayer.
Tanya's voice-over continues: "Maybe tears will help. Maybe
grieving in the open will somehow lessen the grip that the pain
has on this community. Though we may never know what drove Andy
Leonard to commit his horrible crime, the resonances of his slaughter
Mary Alice dissolves into the image of Russell Brennert kneeling
before the stain on the foyer wall. He is touching the dried blood
with the index finger of his left hand.
The childrens' choir is building to the end of the song as Tanya
says, "Perhaps Cedar Hill can find some brief comfort in these
lines from a poem by German lyric poet Rainer Maria Rilke: 'Who
weeps now anywhere in the world, without cause weeps in the world,
weeps over me.'"
The screen fills with the image of Jackson Davies embracing Russell
as sobs wrack his body. Davies glares up at the camera, then closes
his eyes and lowers his face. kissing the top of Russell's head.
This images freezes as the children finish singing their hymn.
Tanya's voice once more; soft and low, no sing-song mode this
time, no inflection whatsoever: "For tonight, who weeps anywhere
in the world, weeps for Cedar Hill and its wounds that may never
"Tanya Claymore, Channel 9 News."
After the tape had finished playing and the lights in the classroom
were turned back on, a student near the back of the roomso
near, in fact,.that Irv Leonard's ghost could have touched the boy's
head, if he'd chosen toraised his hand and asked, "What
happened to those people?"
"Tanya Claymore became a famous network news anchor, had
several public affairs with various coworkers, contracted AIDS,
became a drug addict, and drove her car off a bridge one night.
Jackson Davies remarried his ex-wife and they live in Florida now.
He'll turn seventy-one this year. Mary Alice Hubert died of a massive
coronary six months after the killings. Most of Cedar Hill turned
out for her funeral. Russell Brennert stayed in Cedar Hill and eventually
bought into Jackson Davies's janitorial service. When Davies retired,
Russell bought him out and now owns and operates the company. He'll
turn fifty-two this year, and he looks seventy. He never married.
He drinks too much and has the worst smoker's hack I've heard. He
lives in a small four-room apartment with only one windowand
that looks out on a parking lot. He told me he doesn't sleep well
most of the time, but he has pills he can take for that. It still
doesn't stop the dreams, though. He doesn't have many friends. It
seems most people still believe he must have known what Andy was
going to do. They've never forgiven him for that." I looked
at the ghosts and smiled.
"He was so happy when I told him who I was. He hugged me
like I was his long-lost son. He even wept."
The room was silent for a moment, then a girl near the front,
without raising her hand, said, "I knew Ted Gibsonhe
was the first person that Dyson shot. He . . . he always wanted
me to go to Utica with him to try their ice cream. I was supposed
to go with him that day. I couldn't . . . and I don't even remember
why. Isn't that terrible?" Her lower lip quivered and a tear
slipped down her cheek. "Ted got killed and all I could think
of when I heard was I wonder what kind of ice cream he was eating."
That ended my story, and began theirs.
One by one, some more hesitant than others, some angrier, some
more confused, my students began talking about their dead or wounded
friends, and how they missed them, and how frightened they were
that something so terrible could happen to someone they knew, maybe
even themselves, had the circumstances been different.
The ghosts of Cedar Hill listened, and cried for my students'
pain, and understood.
Before they left that day, someone asked me why I thought Andy
had done it. I stopped myself from giving the real answerwhat
I perceive to be the real answerand told them, "I
think losing out on the scholarship did something to him. I think
he looked at his future and saw himself being stuck in a factory
job for the rest of his life and he became angryat
himself, at his family, at the town where he lived. If he had no
future, then why should anyone else?"
"Then why didn't he kill his grandmother and Russell, too?
Why didn't he kill you?"
Listen to my silence after he asked this.
Finally, I said, "I wish I knew."
I should have gone with my first answer.
I think it runs much deeper than mere anger. I think when loneliness
and fear drive a person too deep inside themselves, faith shrivels
into hopelessness; I think when tenderness diminishes and bitterness
intensifies, rancor becomes a very sacred thing; and I think when
the need for some form of meaningful human contact becomes an affliction,
a soul can be tainted with madness and allow violence to rage forth
as the only means of genuine relief: a final, grotesque expression
of alienation that evokes feeling something in the most immediate
and brutal form.
The ghosts of my birth seem to agree with that.
You read the account of the Utica killings in the paper and then
move quickly on to news about a train wreck in Iran or a flood in
Brazil or riots in India or the NASDAQ figures for the week, and
unless you are from the town of Utica or in some way knew one of
the victims or the man who killed them, you forget all about it
because you can't understand how a person, a normal enough
person, a person like you and me, could do such a horrible thing.
But he did, and others like him will, and all you can hope for is
not to be one of the victims. You pray you will be safe. It is easier
by far to understand the complicated financial maneuverings of Wall
Street kingpins than an isolated burst of homicidal rage in a small
They are out there, these souls, and always will be; another Andy
Leonard could be bagging your groceries; the next Bruce Dyson might
be that fellow who checks your gas meter every month; you just don't
knowand there's the rub.
You won't know until it's too late.
I wish you well, and I wish you peace. My penance, if indeed that's
what it is, must nearly be paid by now. The ghosts don't come around
as much as they used to. The last time I saw them was the night
my son was born; they came to the hospital to look at him, and to
tell me that I was right, that those prayers spoken by strangers
for the baby I once was are still protecting me, and will keep myself
and my family safe from harm.
I'll pray, as well. I'll pray that the next Andy Leonard or Bruce
Dyson doesn't get that last little push that topples him over the
line; I'll pray that these souls go on bagging groceries or checking
gas meters or delivering pizzas and never raise a hand to kill,
that the police in some other small town will be quick to stop them
from getting to you if they ever do cross the line; I'll pray that
no one ever picks up a paper and reads your name among the list
Because that kind of violence never really ends.
I hold my son. I kiss my wife and daughter.
The story is over.
Except for those who survived.
Safe from harm, I pray.
Safe . . . .