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“They take up arms against their ruler; but in this they deceive themselves, for experience will prove that they will have actually worsened their lot.”
—Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince
Marzan silently approached the van which was nestled into the brambles at the river’s edge. He wanted to run towards it but he had to be careful. He closed in. Something inside stirred. He reached down to his pistol. Twenty paces from the doors. The back windows were covered with tinfoil. James checked the mirrors to see if anyone was watching him. The interior was cast in shadow. Ten paces. He listened, treading carefully as he drew nearer. He made no sound. Closing in. Closer. His right hand touched the stock of his pistol. A sense of dread ran through him. He had to know what was inside, but he already knew what was in there. He couldn’t explain it, but he knew. God or guardian angels, extrasensory perception, fragments of evidence assembled in his mind, or perhaps it was just destiny. It was something drawing him to the doors. Now one pace away. He listened, making no sound. He pressed his ear to the tinfoil-covered window. He heard what he had feared. Sobbing. The boy. He was inside. Marzan was simultaneously elated and horrified. At least he had found him, but found him in what state? He drew the pistol with one hand, with the other he reached to the door handle and gripped it. He pushed his thumb into the button. Quiet. Careful. Preserving the element of surprise. His breathing shallow but controlled. His heartbeat slowing. The boy sobbed. A grown man grunted. He pushed the button and the door clicked. It was unlocked. He was committed, now. Whoever was in there had to have heard the sound. Delay would be disastrous. He flung the door open with his pistol drawn.
“Don’t move!” James shouted.
He heard the boy and saw a man on top of him, frozen. He scanned the rest of the van. No one else was inside.
“Get off of him,” James ordered. “Now keep your hands where I can see them.” James climbed into the back of the van and closed the door behind them. It was dark.
“Look man,” said the rapist with his back turned and hands raised, pants still down. “Don’t shoot. I fucked up, okay? I’ll turn myself in. We can go right into town.”
“You pull your clothes up, boy,” Marzan said. “Then come over here by me.”
The boy crawled out from under the rapist and over the filth and clutter that littered the van and got behind James who still pointed the gun. The rapist reached down to pull up his pants.
“Don’t move! Leave them down.”
“You better start hearing better or I’ll top you right here.”
The rapist complied.
Marzan lunged forward and grabbed him by his shirt collar and shoved him into the driver’s seat. He climbed into the passenger seat and held the gun at the rapist’s ear. “Start it up.”
“What did I just say about your hearing? Start it up. The engine. We’re gonna take a little drive.”
“To the sheriff?”
“You’ll know when we get there.”
“Look, I’ll turn myself in. I’ll confess everything.”
“Shut up. Where’s your wallet?”
“It’s in my pants pocket. Look, I’ve got some cash, too. I’ll give you all of it.”
“Yes, I’ll be taking all your cash and anything else of value you keep in this filthy piece of shit. But first I want your wallet. Now reach down nice and slow with your left hand and take it out of your pants and set it on the console.”
The rapist complied. Marzan took it and removed his ID. He read last name out loud. “Naegle.”
“Look, man,” the rapist continued with hands raised. “The sheriff is right down the road. I won’t resist. You can march me right in. Just let me pull up my pants, first.”
“Shut the fuck up. Who’s the sheriff? Your daddy? Your uncle or something?”
James pistol whipped him in the temple, opening a deep, dark, inch-long gash that didn’t begin to ooze blood until seconds later. “Start it up!” James ordered. “You keep both hands on the wheel or I’ll cut your fucking balls off and choke you with them.”
The rapist started the van.
“We’re headed southeast. Let’s go.”
The van backed out of the brambles and made its way onto the highway, moving away from Granby. The wound on the rapist’s temple began draining blood and soon the side of his face was covered in a sheet of red that ran down and soaked his shirt. They drove for two hours, into the mountains and up and over a winding pass that crested above the tree line. The boy sat silently, curled up tightly into himself in a patch cleared of filth in the back of the van. The driver began to weep when they went over the top the mountain.
“Are you going to kill me?” he asked, turning to Marzan briefly in an attempt to read his face.
“I haven’t decided yet,” Marzan answered. “Just drive.”
“Are you taking me to the police?”
“I’m sorry, man. I’m so sorry. I’m sick. I didn’t want to do it but I can’t…I can’t stop it.”
They followed the road down below the tree line, down into the forest, down into the shadows, down, down, down.
“Turn here,” Marzan ordered.
“Turn here.” Marzan whipped him again with the pistol.
They turned off onto a dirt road and drove it for three miles. They turned again, south, onto a ragged trail. The van heaved and rattled and squeaked through the woods. “This is good enough. Turn it back around right there.”
The rapist veered off and got the van turned around, facing back towards where they had come from.
“You’re not going to kill me, are you?”
The rapist opened the door and got out, pants still around his ankles. Marzan grabbed the shovel stowed in the van and followed him out through the driver’s door, kicking him in the back as he climbed out. He left the door open but took the keys out and put them in his pocket. The boy stayed in the back.
The rapist started crying.
“Are you scared?” Marzan asked.
“Yes,” the rapist sobbed.
“Are you afraid to die?”
“Please don’t kill me. You can take the van. I’ve got money too. We can go to an ATM. I’ll give you…”
“I’m going to take the van, regardless. Here…” Marzan threw the shovel down at the ground next to him. “Dig.”
The rapist, face and shirt coated in dried, blackened blood, looked down at the shovel.
“I said dig.” Marzan ordered.
The rapist took hold of the shovel and scooped out a bit of dirt and tossed it aside.
“Start fucking digging or I’ll start shooting,” Marzan said.
“Am I digging my grave?”
“You want to find out now or later?” Marzan said, pointing the pistol at his face.
The rapist dug. Shovelful after shovelful. He piled the dirt next to the hole and when he had made a hole about two feet deep and five feet long Marzan told him to stop.
“Do you want to pray?” Marzan asked.
“No. No. Don’t kill me.”
“You have one minute to pray. Then I’m going to shoot you, and I am going to watch you die. Then I’m going to cover you up with dirt and we’re going to leave.”
“No. Please. Please,” he begged.
“You have fifty-five seconds.”
The rapist was pale and thin, not much more than a boy, himself, perhaps eighteen years old. He cried like a child while the breeze blew in.
“I don’t hear you praying,” Marzan said.
“Please,” he screamed. “I’m so sorry. Please don’t kill me. I’m sick. I need…I need to be locked up. It’s…I’m…”
The rapist fell onto his knees in his hole and wept and begged, hands interlocked in prayer, naked from waist to ankles.
The rapist curled into a ball in the hole and covered his head.
“Time’s up,”Marzan said.
The rapist sobbed.
Marzan’s tone darkened. He was calm. He stepped closer. “Get back on your knees.”
The rapist wept and convulsed.
“I said get up on your knees.”
The rapist got up. Marzan looked him directly in the eye. The truth was he had no idea what he was going to do until this moment. Whatever he ended up doing, he had put a real good scare into the young man. He weighed the options. He could tie him up and take him to a station and let the authorities deal with him. He could leave him in the woods to fend for himself. But what would he do when he got back to Granby? Would he become a changed man? Marzan didn’t figure the rapist for a killer. He didn’t have the look of one, whatever that look is. But he didn’t know for sure, and he couldn’t know for sure where his deviancy might lead him, again. Perhaps he had killed and buried his victims in the woods. But that was impossible to know. At any rate, Marzan figured, you can’t punish people for what they might become, only for what they’ve done. Does a rapist who doesn’t murder deserve death? If so, then they would probably kill their victims. How about a child rapist? It was difficult for Marzan to answer definitively.
Then the breeze stopped….
And Jimmy Marzan stopped thinking about what was right and wrong and thought instead of the boy, and what he had been through, already.
“How old are you?” Marzan asked.
The rapist looked up, the side of his face covered in dried blood. His eyes looked hopeful for mercy. “I’m nineteen, sir.”
“That’s old enough to know better.”
Marzan pulled the trigger.
The rapist doubled over into the hole, wheezing and groaning. Marzan sat down on the edge with his feet in the hole and watched him. He sat watching over the rapist for an hour wondering if the gentle breeze and the songs of birds and the silent wispy clouds overhead would bring on regret for taking a man’s life. The rapist’s breaths became irregular. The silent trees had born witness to the murder but they did not judge. The songbirds scattered with the arrival of ravens. When the irregular breaths had ceased altogether, Marzan grabbed the shovel and covered the body with dirt. When he had moved the last of it he turned back to the truck. The boy was sitting at the window, watching without expression. Marzan did not know if he had seen it all. He put his revolver back into his waistband, climbed into the truck and turned the key. He looked at the boy who sat in the passenger seat, thinking to himself that he had a flat, distant look in his eyes. The look people have when they’ve seen too much.