Bad Things

Dear Mom,

There’s something you need to know: I did a bad thing, a really bad thing.

The other night, I was standing over the sink for hours, scrubbing my hands until the skin started to fray and my blood mingled with hers. They look clean, now, but I can’t seem to get rid of the smell: that earthy, coppery smell that clings to everything.

After it happened and I’d cleaned myself up, I went down to the pub on the corner of Lemon Street and Staunton, the nameless one run by a big mute Serb from behind his dark, cherry-wood counter. I thought it’d probably be safe there: the kind of place where causing trouble will get you thrown out, and asking the wrong question will get you disappeared. I sat alone with my back to the wall, downed a couple of straight whiskeys in the hopes of dulling it all away. The shaking fingers made the ice cubes into clinking little bells that rang incessantly while I silently prayed for some relief. I haven’t prayed in a long time.

But she was dead, and no amount of prayers or liquor would bring comfort. I can see her face, twisted by fear and agony even after she stopped breathing. It’ll haunt me forever, that image of her like that, with my jackknife still sticking out of her belly. It may pursue me even after I die and head down to Hell.

We can run from the bad things we do, Mom, but we can’t escape them.

It happened Tuesday night. Ralph and I were smoking under the abandoned bus stop down in Beech Alley. The old metal canopy there make for good shelter from the rain, and the busted street lights keep us hidden from nosy cops. Ralph’s one of the homeless guys I sometimes hang out with. He has eight fingers and the same number of brain cells, but he makes me laugh and doesn’t ask questions. Like most of the guys I hang out with, he’s not a friend, and more of a way to pass time. I don’t have friends.

Anyway, we were out there like every week, shooting the shit, joking around, wasting our dumb lives away. It was getting close to midnight, and we were about to head home, but that’s when we heard the crisp clacking of high-heels on the asphalt.

I almost didn’t catch it, and in retrospect, it’s a shame I did. Her face was half-hidden behind the unfolded collar of her two-thousand-dollar trench coat, but it took only a single glance to recognize her. Like most in the neighborhood, I’d seen and heard about her in papers, on magazine covers, and even on TV.

It was odd for a rich, beautiful socialite like Amy Ruskin to be walking down Beech Alley after midnight. Maybe she was coming from some kind of social gathering or fundraising event. I’ve also heard she sometimes helped out in shelters and soup kitchens. Why else would she be dragging her shiny heels through the city’s dregs? In any case, at that moment, I didn’t dwell on the why or the how; all that concerned me was what would come next.

Because I wasn’t fooled. I knew who Amy Ruskin really was under all the good deeds, the make-up, and the perfect smile.

There wasn’t long to think. She was walking real fast, so I left Ralph behind to smoke himself into a stupor, and followed her down the alley. In the occasional dim flashes of the flickering street lights, I saw tears glisten as they ran down her cheeks. Had she just broken up with her boyfriend? Or had an argument with her father? Why do girls cry so much anyway? These questions briefly entered my mind, but were just as quickly pushed aside by the one thing that mattered: Amy Ruskin was bad, and someone had to make her pay.

She realized I was tailing her, and her pace quickened. I broke into a sprint, and she shrieked as she tried to run away. I can’t believe she thought she could outrun me in those heels. After striking the back of her head to make her stop screaming, I dragged her into a small alcove off the side of the alley. It was almost pitch-black in there, and rats scurried between drenched garbage cans and soggy mounds of cardboard.

Maybe she begged or kept crying. I can’t quite remember. What I do remember is the switch-blade in my hand, the rain soaking through my clothes, and how cold it felt compared to the warm blood that began to coat my fingers as I stabbed her, again and again. In each brief flicker cast by the broken street lamp, I could see her reactions, a slide-show of agonized faces, until they stopped changing.

I’ll stop too. I can’t bear to think of it any longer. That poor girl…

Why did I kill her? Because of her father: Mister Ruskin, also known as the bogeyman.

Ruskin might even be more famous than his daughter, but not for being a rich, social butterfly, and definitely not for being pretty. I’ve seen him up close, and it’s true what they say about that scar, it makes his face look like it split in two and put back together with a glue stick. When Mister Ruskin walks down Main Street, people don’t pull out their phones and selfie sticks, they move to the opposite sidewalk.

Most outsiders probably see him as an ugly, but otherwise upstanding citizen, in no small part thanks to his daughter’s public persona. But outsiders don’t hear what the streets say: that Ruskin made his millions running drugs, guns, and even people. All that pain and suffering infecting the streets? Ruskin’s the one at the center of it all, the unshakable trunk of a tree with a canopy made of gold, and tar-black roots spreading like cancer through the city’s underbelly.

But this isn’t news to you. Is it, Mom?

It’s clear you never thought I was very bright, but I’ve known all about you and Mister Ruskin for years. No one’s dumb enough to trust every rumor on the streets, but listen enough, and one can start to hear the underlying, whispered truths under all that noise. And they’re talking about you, Mom: the Bogeyman’s right hand woman.

That’s right. I remember all those trips you took around the world, and waking up in the middle of the night to find you walking up the stairs with blood on your shirt, stinking of gunpowder and death. It took me years, but I eventually understood that you were the one doing the running, and Ruskin was just signing the checks, filing the papers, and keeping receipts. I always knew how formidable you are, Mom; it’s no wonder you made both Ruskin and yourself rich.

So it must really have stung when he kicked you to the curb. People whisper that it’s because he wanted to go legit, and didn’t want to string someone like you along. The rumor mill says he did it for money, land, or whatever, but I know that he only did it because of his daughter.

Scary old Mister Ruskin didn’t want his poor choices and misdeeds to spoil the life of his beloved Amy. All he wanted was for her to be happy, to live a long life free from fear, worry, and hardships he himself had endured. He wanted to change. Can you believe he even started going to church? I heard he even carries a tiny Bible around in his jacket pocket, and reads from it every night before going to bed.

I’m sure he regretted betraying you, in a way, but he did what he did for that most sacred of things: family. That’s something you never quite got a handle on, did you Mom?

I remember being a happy kid, but then again most kids don’t know any better. With Dad six feet under, your being around could have helped steer me in a better direction. The rare times you were around, you always told me to be tough, to get smart, and to trust no one. I took your advice: I became a bully who took advantage of the weak, and never made a single friend or meaningful connection. While you were out there trading crime for cash, I roamed the streets looking for trouble, when I should probably have been at school learning how to be better, or at least trying to not be a worthless parasite.

Did you really think that showering me in all that blood money would fix me? Make you a good mother? Or excuse the fact that you were a bad one? Well, contemplate the result of your efforts, Mom: the loser I’ve become, spending my days in the streets with cretins like Ralph, day-drinking and smoking pot, burning through my life savings like there’s no tomorrow.

You might as well have just showered me in straight blood, because that’s where I ended up in the end, standing drenched in Amy Ruskin’s down in Beech Alley. At least, I guess you could say I followed in your footsteps, because I’m a killer too, now. Are you proud?

And that’s why I did it, Mom. I did it so you’d be proud of me. We rarely even talk these days, and when we do, I’m just asking for cash, and you just yell at me for being the nobody you made. I’ve never had any gifts or prospects, and the smoking and drinking could only keep the emptiness away for so long. So when Amy Ruskin walked down that alley, I saw an opportunity for change. That’s something else you taught me: to seize opportunities round the neck, and throttle them until they choke up every last penny.

I know how much you hate Mister Ruskin, how you blame him for betraying you after so many years of fruitful collaboration. That’s the thing about you, Mom, you’re loyal to a fault, so Ruskin cutting all ties must have hurt, but also real angry. I remember all those angry letters you wrote to him, and all those plans you hatched in attempts to get revenge. He was always a step ahead of you though, that Mister Ruskin. He knew you too well, and knew how to protect himself.

And that’s why I did it Mom: so you could finally get your revenge. So, in a way, you’re the one responsible for all this.

When it was done, I could barely breathe, my whole body was shaking. I wiped my hands on my jacket, for all the good that would do, and ran away as fast as I could. I was still high, though, so I left the knife behind. That was a big mistake.

But as I ran home, sticking to the shadows, I was also looking forward to seeing your face light up when I told you the news, feel your arms squeeze me tightly as you showered me in thanks and congratulations. After all these years, you’d finally be proud of me, and maybe you’d let me help the family business. That’s all I ever wanted, deep down.

Oh, the things we’d achieve together!

We could partner up with those arms dealers you play bridge with on Sunday afternoons. There are so many teenage gangs on the streets, every one inching to wipe another out, and unable to access the most efficient tools for the job. Remember the Cherry Street Massacre? Back in the eighties, you and Mister Ruskin orchestrated the most brutal gang war in the city’s history, and supplied guns and ammunition to all sides. It must have been your idea. Who else could come up with such a clever plan?

Well, just imagine the money we could make today from the blood of all those teenagers, and the tears of their crying mothers. You see, Mom, I want to perpetuate your legacy. There’s so much we could do.

And why stop there? I know about every scheme you’ve ever hatched, and have seen the growth potential in every one. For instance: you helped cartels smuggle people into the city for decades. Men, women, children, all corralled like beasts, deprived of their identities, and forced into slave labour. Thousands of them now mill about in the dark recesses between the skyscrapers, doing all the jobs that would turn our fellow citizens’ noses up, and lining your pockets in the process.

We could expand our reach, and start trafficking these poor souls across the entire country! After all, you once ran a drug empire that spanned the continent, and supplied addicts with their preferred poisons in every city, backwater town, and rural village in-between. You even set it up behind Ruskin’s back! That was your masterpiece, and parts of the supply chain are still running to this day.

I wonder, how many lives do you think you destroyed? Sorry, you probably don’t think about it all that much. But remember Ralph? He and his buddies all buy from your dealers, scrapping together what little savings they have for another hit, another step down into the void. A percentage of all the profits still end up in your bank account, don’t they, Mom? Ruskin knows all about it, but he’s powerless to stop it.

Speaking of your old partner. Hell, maybe we’d even pay Mister Ruskin a visit. We could take away his wife this time, and then perhaps burn down his entire mansion. That’d cause him even more pain than we already have. Wouldn’t that be so much fun? And once he’d sunken into the deepest, darkest despair, we’d wipe him off the face of the Earth too. Then it’d just be you and me, Mom, and we’d rule over this city like a Queen and her son, the Crown Prince. Wouldn’t that be nice?

It’s never going to happen though.

Remember that whiskey I mentioned? The one I drank in the pub after it all happened. It actually helped dull my senses a whole lot more than I’d expected, probably because it was laced with morphine. Maybe one of the other shadowy individuals in the pub slipped the sedative into my drink, or maybe the Serb had some connection to Ruskin. Maybe the bogeymen helped the Serb and his family escape their war-torn homeland, and find refuge in this country. It’s possible, but pretty hard to say. You see, I don’t remember much of what went on after that.

Now, you’re probably sitting in your big fancy penthouse, worried sick, casting your gaze out over the city like a net, praying to catch something, any kind of clue, even just a glimmer of hope. Sorry, Mom, but just like you, I can only guess what might have happened to me next.

But wouldn’t it just be so terrible if Mr. Ruskin had actually found me? If he drugged me and took me away for killing his little girl? He’d be so furious, blind with rage, he’d probably lock me up in a cellar somewhere, chain me to a wall, and beat me for days while I cried out and called for you, screaming at the top of my lungs. But you’d never answer.

I’d tell him whatever he wanted to hear. About me, about you, and about that night. But mostly, I’d tell him that I was sorry, and that I wished I could bring his daughter back. Nothing could bring her back, though.

And at nights, back in his mansion, he would weep and weep for hours over his lost little girl. He’d smash his expensive furniture and throw million-dollar vases against the walls. All the while, his wife would wail in the background, shrieking about killing herself to escape the anguish of losing her only child. Can you imagine that? Losing your only child?

I can’t even begin to fathom how Mister Ruskin must feel. It must be eating him up from the inside, tearing down everything good he thought he’d built. Something changed in him when his daughter was born. Every day from then on was a new chance to repent, and try to give back to a world from which he’d taken so much.

He donated to museums and churches, gave millions to orphanages, war veterans, and charities around the world He even distanced himself from old associates like you, and made it clear that he wouldn’t be running anything illegal any more. It’s around that time he started going to church, and diving into the Bible every night. He simply had to be better, for Amy’s sake.

From then on, all his free time was spent with his family, watching his daughter grow from a scrappy little tomboy into a a beautiful, elegant woman, and a smarter person than he’d ever be. With a few pushes, here and there, she became a shining star, someone who people looked up to. For the first time in his life, Mister Ruskin felt like he’d done something good, and that feeling was overwhelming: it gave his life meaning.

And then, I took her from him. We took her from him.

One night, Ruskin would come back down into the cellar. Maybe he’d be drunk on about six whiskeys, with blind rage seeping from every pore on his body. I’d still be there, chained to the wall, and he’d come close and spit in my face. There would be tears in his eyes as he cursed me, then he’d kick me a few times like he usually did.

And then he’d pull out his gun and unload it right into my body, without even giving me time to beg for my life one last time. He’d keep pressing the trigger long after the clip was empty, and stay there for another hour to watch the blood drain from my lifeless body, and sink down into a rusty drain in the cellar floor. Later, he’d ask his guys to get rid of me, chop me up or whatever it is they do, and dump me somewhere no one would ever find me.

I’d be dead. Wouldn’t that just be awful, Mom, to lose your only child in such a brutal, horrific fashion?

I’m sure it would be. Even though it’s probably what I deserved, and–let’s face it–what you deserve too. An eye for an eye, that’s what it says in the Bible.

It’d be so painful for you, if that came to pass. You’d blame yourself, question all the decisions that brought you here, and the thought of me lying dead in pieces somewhere would drive you mad, keep you from sleeping, and haunt you until the day you died.

We can run from the bad things we do, Mom, but we can’t escape them.

Oh, that would make Mister Ruskin real happy, the knowledge of your torment. In fact, he might even add insult to injury, and take the time to write you a letter so you’d still have hope I was alive.

At first, you’d feel a rush of relief thinking I was the one writing it. But then, he’d pull the rug from under your old, decrepit feet, and expose the terrible truth: that I was gone, and that it was your fault.

That would be a pretty bad thing for him to do, wouldn’t it, Mom?

© Alex Sadeghi – 2020