Friday, March 22, 2013

Number Five

Number Five

He’s haunted me for more than twenty years now. Strange though…when I looked him up online recently, I didn’t recognize the picture. I guess in my head I made his face evolve—or devolve maybe—into something that made sense—or something like sense, anyway. How do you really make sense of any of it? How do you make sense of someone with a hunger like that, a drive to punish women?

He had the devil in him.

You doubt me. Admit it. You think the devil isn’t real. People do horrible things because their brains are wired wrong. Something snaps. Synapses misfire. I know that as well as you. I’ve studied psychology. I’ve read about brain physiology. But science can’t account for all the dangers that lurk in the shadows. There are other factors at play, things mere humans could hardly hope to understand.

Maybe he’d been a victim, too, a victim of the devil that overtook him during a dark, hellish childhood. But he would have to have been human once to be a victim. I don’t know if he ever was human, because I didn’t see him as anything but the devil. He was a devil who wore a human face…a face that, over time, devolved in my own misfiring brain into the most horrific human face I’d ever seen, a face that epitomized the devil in human form: Charles Manson. Yes, that’s who he became to me over the course of years. I realized it when I saw his photo online, when I saw how unfamiliar he looked to me now. My memories had changed him, remade him into something that made sense, in a sick sort of way. My own, personal serial killer took on the semblance of the most sensationalized serial killer of my lifetime.

But, unlike Charles Manson, this particular serial killer was never well-known. If you were around back then, you might remember. Or you might not. His spree was limited to four victims, his timeline to months rather than years. If you weren’t around back then, you wouldn’t have a clue. I could tell you his first and last name, and ask if you knew who I meant; you’d probably think I was referring to someone normal, someone human. If I said his name in three parts—first, middle and last—you might start to become suspicious. After all, everyone knows the media loves killers with three names…those other than Charles Manson, anyway. But even with that clue, I doubt you’d remember.

They caught him too quickly to spark a real media frenzy. Back then, anyway. In this instant-news era of today, the national and international media might have given his story a bigger impact. But twenty years ago…no. His spree has been forgotten. His victims…forgotten. The media neither remembers, nor cares.

But I remember. And I care. Because I stood right in front of him, looked right into his eyes, pressed paper money into his hand and let him drop coins back into mine. And I tell you now: I never saw even the slightest bit of human in him. I only saw that devil in his eyes, an evil so real, a threat so menacing it sent me running back to my car, locking the door the very instant I sat down and panting in terror while I fumbled to put the keys in the ignition.

There’d probably been no need for me to run. Yes, he was a predator. And yes, that predator had caught me in his sights. But he couldn’t attack me, not with a line of customers waiting to be serviced, a line of men, a line of potential witnesses who could have stopped him far more easily that he could have stopped me under those conditions.

No, he couldn’t have gone after me. But somehow I know…I know with a profound sense of certainty that he would have, if I’d been alone in that station. He would have turned that moment of eye contact into a crime of opportunity. The predator would have pounced, if he could have, if there’d been no one to stop him…no one other than me, a rail-thin, young…ish…blonde, epitome of the weaker sex. Yes, he saw my weakness. Just like he saw the weakness in the four, young girls who’d lacked the good fortune of a line of men to protect them.

He killed them. All four of them. The youngest had been fourteen, the oldest, eighteen. And I know I could have…would have?...should have?...been number five.

Number five.

I was well over the age of eighteen at the time, but I don’t think that mattered. He’d spent a long winter without releasing the devil before I landed in his sights. And then maybe he figured the devil was too hungry to settle for girls. Two weeks after our…encounter…another woman, a  woman of my own age group and unprotected by a line of men, ended up in the trunk of his car.

Had her misfortune been the result of something he’d seen in me? I’ll never know. All I do know is that opportunity had given him another chance at number five, a real chance. Fortunately, the police took that chance away from him. In a story truly worthy of a media frenzy yet buried in the annals of time, the woman was saved and the devil was imprisoned.

And I…what? I have no link to the story. Not really. I encountered a serial killer. I looked into his eyes. I touched his hands.

And I’ve been haunted ever since. Because I know what the rabbit sees in the eyes of the wolf, or the antelope in the eyes of the lion.

And what four young girls saw, before they saw nothing at all.

*   *   *

Remember them:

    Kami Marie Villaneuva, 18
    Cynthia Jones, 16
    Michelle Urbin, 16
    Melissa Urbin, 14

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