Well, this was a competition entry for the Alibi network’s crime writing thing. They gave use the first line and we had to turn it into a story. I wasn’t shortlisted, but I’m proud with this story anyway, so I’m putting it up here. I expect lots of comments decrying Alibi for not shortlisting me, it’s your duty!
In my experience, those who beg for mercy seldom deserve it. That said, I’ve never held mercy in much regard anyway. It’s an act, as illustrated by the fact you will often be begged to “show” it. Mercy isn’t real, it’s just a charade to help us feel better about ourselves; like make-up for the soul.
That was terribly pretentious of me, wasn’t it? I’d apologise, but there are far darker things I should apologise for first, and I’m not about to do that. Scribble that down in your little moleskine notebook if you please, perhaps you’ll find it important when the time comes. I’ve taken a lot of time to carefully craft this letter, to provide your psychologists with plenty of juicy things to chew over, I’d hate for any of it to go overlooked.
Anyway, back to mercy.
While mercy itself is often used as a linguistic key to unlock some of the weaker areas of the mind, such as conscience, the moment someone tries to turn that key can be invaluable in getting a handle on their character. The weaker you are, the quicker you play the mercy card, and the quicker you surrender to the sort of hideous bastard I’m quite sure you think I am.
It is, as I’m sure you know, all about power. It’s not the kill that’s the pay off, it’s the moment you make them beg for mercy, the instant they realise their life is no longer their own. From the moment we recognise our independence as people we are aware that the mind drives our earthly vessel around however we see fit. We walk, we talk, we sing, we dance, we interact however we choose. We are a society of sovereign nations, and the worst thing that will happen to most of us is a mild border skirmish.
Eventually, however, someone like myself will realise that individual sovereignty is only true so long as it is believed to be true. So much of life is belief held as natural law, and once you see the distinction so many more questions become apparent. What is stopping everyone from going out and committing murder? It would be hard to argue that the answer was anything other than morals, or rather the codification of a set of morals into law. I’ll let you think about that for a moment.
I understand that what I’m saying is not really anything new to a learned man. You yourself have probably been to university, obtained a degree, possibly even a masters. Perhaps you attended the University of Bath and read Psychology and followed it up with a masters degree in the same from Southampton. If that were the case, you’d undoubtedly have come to similar conclusions.
It is not the intention of this letter to wax lyrical about human nature, about the darkness that lurks in the heart of man and is only mollified and constrained by the gleaming bastion of a law man’s badge. The purpose of this letter is, above all else, to tell you a story. Maybe the story will be helpful to your investigations, maybe it will give you a valuable insight into the mind of a depraved killer. Ultimately, how helpful it is to you is of little consequence to me. What matters to me is that you read it and understand that the above is the preamble, the background information. I think that will be important.
We begin with a young man reaching the end of his teenage years. For the most part they were uneventful. He spent his youth devoid of any romantic entanglements, his crippling lack of self-esteem and anything approaching physical attractiveness having the lion’s share of the responsibility for this, and had instead thrown himself into the search for academic excellence. Unfortunately, he was just not built for the life of an academic. The knowledge he could absorb, but the scholarly discussion of said knowledge was beyond him. Though he tried, there was little he could do to avoid sliding into the centre of the pack.
Perhaps you have been in a similar position, the realisation that everything anyone had told you in your youth was a lie, although perhaps not. Perhaps you graduated with a first class degree, then with a distinction, and were immediately snapped up by the police force for a “job with prospects”. If that were the case, then I could understand how you would believe the lies told to children about them being “special” and having “potential”. It is, I’m sure you can understand, a hard thing to hold onto when you realise your position is life is within the majority, not above it.
Depression would not be the correct word to describe the condition of the young man’s mind, perhaps malaise would be better, but in any event he was in a sufficiently dark place for the doubts to start creeping in. They say that darkness is the absence of light, and perhaps that is why dark thoughts have an easier time appealing to a mind than lighter ones. The young man descended into debauchery, of a kind, and that was where he truly found himself.
His identity was in a state of collapse. The foundation he had built upon – the kind words of his parents and grandparents, the polite affirmation of his intellect from old teachers – was incompatible with the present, so he started anew. It’s amazing what you can do with the anonymity of the internet and a free email address.
It is remarkably easy to find friends on the internet if you know where to look, and it didn’t take long for the young man to learn this. He built new personae quickly, slotting them into various communities with nary a problem, building names and lives and histories for them as he did so.
Then there came the inevitable day where, at work or the library or a pub, he gave the wrong name, a name created for the internet. Though the social awkwardness of such a moment was minimal it opened a door in his mind, one that caused him to question exactly who he was any more. By this point he had spent considerable time and energy into building a series of characters inside his mind, each with their own unique kingdom to rule. But what if they were allowed to leak out into the real world?
Each and every character he had created was designed to attract of repel a certain kind of person. He realised, in a sense, that they were all him but also that they were all alive and malleable. What was stopping him from changing personalities like one would change their clothes? Nothing. And while many people will have mused over the idea of becoming someone else, of changing the things about themselves that they hate, the sad truth is that a person can never really change. By the time you reach the sort of mental maturity that allows you to notice your own faults you are, almost definitely, locked into who you are, for better or worse.
Our young man, however, was special, at least in this regard. He no longer had a personality of his own, and his ability to craft and wear artificial ones was truly unique. Some would label it insane, perhaps going so far as to use the term “mental illness”, but there was a certain rationalism to his choices that don’t quite fit with how I feel about the term. Perhaps I am wrong and the young man was truly mentally ill, I’m sure you will be able to tell me eventually, but I think not. I wonder if psychopathy is a more correct term? I suppose it doesn’t really matter, the important thing being that this coloured his actions.
Though he had started to see the absurdity of everything most people take for granted, the underlying core of morals was too firmly embedded to ignore. No one personality could act immorally, but the utter genius of his system meant that adopting a certain personality would change the standards for what exactly was immoral.
Allow me to illustrate this with what I would label the most startling example available. A few months or so into his new lifestyle as a paper doll, he created a new personality. This one differed from his previous creations in that it was of a fifteen year old girl. What he did with this personality is, I think, called “grooming” in the modern parlance, but again it fails to capture exactly what was occurring. I have met a selection of paedophiles and, on some level, they all know that what they are doing in wrong, whether that is shown in their remorse or their willingness to keep their taste on the hush hush. When our young man was wearing this specific personality, however, what he chose to do was not, in his eyes, wrong at all. Fifteen year old girls the world over have gone out looking for love on the internet, why should he be any different?
I can guess your mind finds the notion repulsive, and perhaps even hypocritical. You can, and in all likelihood will, claim that he himself knew or else why would he don that personality, and you may even be right. While I could argue against you, I concede that it would be a difficult prospect.
I met the young man not too long after his new personality started to pay dividends. Technically, I had met him at a much earlier time, but with each new personality comes a new meeting, and I had not met the one he was wearing at that time. He was going by the name of Geoff, a mild, if slightly sardonic, barman from Lewisham. Our conversation was dull and not particularly enlightening, but I got much more out of him that evening with the application of the right amount of pressure. I’ll allow you to fill in the details yourself at this point.
Most of the above I knew before our prolonged conversation took place, though our chat certainly helped to clarify it. I was still young myself and rather inexperienced, so I listened intently as he spoke. There was little of worth, although his notions regarding the veil of belief struck a chord with me, I must confess, though his reaction to them did not.
What our young man had done was the most long-winded and tiring way of freeing oneself from the veil. In that moment I saw that the most efficient and beneficial way to do so was to simply unlearn the idea of morals. Our young man had bypassed them with a serious of masks, but that was treating the symptoms and not the cause.
I thanked him when he begged for mercy. It was an odd thing to do, I grant you, but I felt as though he had helped to answer some questions that had been swimming around in my own head for a long time. I dare say that given enough time I would have worked it out on my own, but there’s nothing wrong with taking a short cut when one presents itself. I’m sure you yourself wouldn’t begrudge me that. Still, that is not to say I showed him any mercy. My opinions on that matter, as laid out above, had been decided long before I met our young man.
From what I understand, he was the first of mine that you found, and I salute you for that. I hope you have had better luck in tracking down his family than I did, though I understand it must have been difficult. Even knowing all I did, I still never knew his real name. I knew his given name, and most if not all of his costumes, but never his real name. I wonder if you do.
I also wonder if your mind interrupted your reaction to that last paragraph at any point, particularly around my somewhat sloppy reveal of the state of our young man. Surely you had already worked out that I had done away with him, but I am intrigued as to what point your mind attempted to persuade you that his death was no great loss, that the murder of a man who treats children as his sexual prey is actually a good thing. Whether you agree with that thought or not, I am certain that it was there, tickling the space behind your eyes. On some level, you wonder if it was necessary, if fighting fire with fire is justified in this case.
Before you decide on that, however, there is one thing I must make abundantly clear: his sins were of no consequence to my decision.
I did not pick him because of his sexual preferences, nor his mental state, lifestyle, upbringing or anything of the sort. This was not a case of vigilante justice. The rules you adhere to are a deception, passed from parent to child for generations. The sooner you come to realise that, the easier you will find it to understand me.
From my understanding, there is a high risk in this letter for me, as there is with any correspondence with the police. I’ve taken many precautions in delivering this letter to you, though I understand that hand-delivering it to your home may have been somewhat foolhardy, but I feel it was worth the risk.
I don’t like to deal in threats, they just seem so pointless. There will likely be someone who will read this letter after you who will contend that the threat of violence is worse that violence itself, and they will invariably be the one with the least experience of actual violence. That I know your address could certainly be construed as a threat, but I would prefer you look upon it as a sign of respect. Likewise with your academic history. Similarly, I would like you to convey those feelings to your wife, Denise, if you can catch her between shifts at St. John’s Hospital. No need to bother Jenny with this, what with her Year 9 options on the horizon.
That I know all this about you and yours is merely a healthy respect for your skills as a detective. Needless to say, I’ve read your case history and found it to be very impressive. I want to assure you that you yourself are safe from me. It wouldn’t do to add you to my resume, especially as you are not my type in any case.
I do hope you noticed my deliberate omission there.
Perhaps I should end this letter here. I believe I’ve conveyed my message quite clearly. If not, I suppose that will only reflect poorly upon myself. Perhaps I am in the cells as you read this letter, hoisted by my own hubris in thinking I could deliver a letter to the officer in charge of my case and escape unscathed. As I write this, I have no idea of whether I will soundlessly post it through the door or brazenly summon you with a ring of the doorbell, isn’t that interesting?
The thrill is not in the chase, nor the capture, but in being chased. If this letter turns out, one way or another, to be my downfall then so be it. But, if that is not the case, it should serve to add a little fuel to the fire. Perhaps I will send another letter further down the line, although obviously not by hand, and fan the flames a little higher. It is always more exhilarating to flee for your life.
I wish you luck. Godspeed.