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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Ones Who Got Away With It

photo by bizoo_n
Agatha Christie once opined: "Every murderer is somebody's old friend." It's a reality that we mystery writers exploit every time we plot a whodunit. We insert our guilty party into scene after scene with other characters, people who once dated this person, who are related to this person, who have this person bake cakes for their special occasions. People who have no clue they're passing thisclose to a killer until the final reveal.

Every murderer – just like every victim – disrupts our social network, our web of connection. It is our sleuth's job to right this wrong and restore the order. But what about in real life? Do we too walk among killers?

Of course we do.

I recently saw a statistic proclaiming that during my lifetime, I will meet 37 murderers. It's a highly suspicious statistic because of all the unknown variables (like, for example, how many people an average American meets in a lifetime) but one data science analyst gave verifying it a good whack. He used some Fermi calculations, a logarithmic scale distribution, some solid facts (like the average number of murders in the US per capita per year, a third of which go unsolved), and a little speculative guesswork to put the number closer to 10.76 (you can read the specifics of his calculations here).

That means during my lifetime, I will meet approximately ten or eleven murderers. Which got me to thinking who they might be and how we might interact, these killers and I. So, with apologies to Wallace Stevens and his very fine "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," I present the following:

 "Nine Ways of Looking at an Unapprehended Murderer"

The endocrinologist places cool fingers on either side of your neck and presses gently. "Any tenderness there?" he says.

The parking attendant stands beside your meter as it slowly ticks to zero. Her pen and ticket pad are already in hand. She has been standing at your car for five minutes.

The butcher wipes the blood off his hands and washes them well before he hands you the slab of chuck roast. Ground beef is on special today.

You run for the elevator. "Hold, please!" But the man in the expensive suit stares at you and lets the doors close.

The woman in blue jeans sits next to you at the bar. She orders the same thing you're drinking, smiles at you with all her teeth showing.

Your cousin borrows the truck. Again. At least he always brings it back clean.

The salesperson startles you. She'd been standing behind you the whole time, watching you read the placards in front of each microwave. She has said not a single word.

The bagger at the grocery store places your bread on the bottom and your potatoes on top. You unpack everything and instruct him in the correct way to bag groceries, putting the heavy items in first. You demonstrate slowly so that he will understand. The woman in line behind you, the one with only a gallon of milk in hand, stares hard.

You look in the mirror. Today is the day. You're going to confront them. You straighten your shoulders, take a deep breath. Your reflection does the same.

*     *     * 
Tina Whittle writes the Tai Randolph mysteries for Poisoned Pen Press. The sixth book in this Atlanta-based series—Necessary Ends—is scheduled for an April release. Tina is a proud member of Sisters in Crime and serves as both a chapter officer and national board member. Visit her website to follow her on social media, sign up for her newsletter, or read additional scenes and short stories:


Kait said...

Ah, but is it murder if it's only in your heart!

Good post, Tina. Now I'm trying to think if I do know any murderers on a personal level. I think I know two who were never charged with their crimes.

Jim Jackson said...

The problem with averages is they tend to mask the distribution around them. They key point for me are those words we so often hear from neighbors, "He/She/They was/were so quiet/nice/helpful. I never would have guessed."

Counting the days before the release of your next Tai Randolph!

~ Jim

Warren Bull said...

The IRS agent licks his pencil before diving into your return.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

No open pumps at the gas station. Guy in front of me fills up, replaces the pump handle, locks his truck, and goes inside for ten minutes.

KM Rockwood said...

I'm acquainted with a few known (and convicted) murderers, including at least one serial killer. They are a great source of information for my stories. I wonder how many others I don't know are murderers.

In my daughter's graduating high school class, three people were convicted of murders committed while they were still in school. Her statistics class figured out that they had a higher percentage of murderers than any of the "murder capitals" in the US. Once again, one wonders if there were any who weren't caught.

Gloria Alden said...

To my knowledge, I've never met a murderer, at least not locally. Who knows if someone I'm sitting
next to while waiting for my plane or next to on the plane is a murderer or a potential murderer.
I don't go to bars so that's not where I'd meet one. Maybe on my camping vacations with my siblings I've come across one. Who knows, but at least locally unless they were never caught, I've not met any. I tend to be a trusting person for the most part.

Grace Topping said...

Oh, what a terrible thought. But with the number of unsolved cases, it doesn't surprise me. I am not aware of any murderers around me, but I have certainly had a number of people that I've known or are aware of that have been victims of murder. Sad commentary for our time.

Julie Tollefson said...

As far as I know, I haven't met any murderers, but I do know people who have been on the fringes of murder investigations. That's close enough for me!

Shari Randall said...

First of all, KM, wow!
There was a woman in my aerobics class who murdered her husband. Very sad - . I remember when another friend introduced me to her and that moment of realization. The name's familiar - oh, yes - and praying that my feelings didn't show on my face.

She tightened her ponytail and bounced lightly on her toes, waiting for the music to start.

Tina said...

Wow, I should have let y'all write the rest of the verses -- now I'm even more creeped out.

But I have been close to murderers in real life. Sometimes I knew them before they did the deed that earned them that label. Sometimes I met them after. They most impressed me to a person with their ordinariness. And I caught their attention, for the most part, not all all, or not enough for them to stay in my life.

How close we brush to others. How close we brush to our own selves.

Tina said...

PS: And thanks, Jim, for mentioning my girl Tai! I am enjoying EMPTY PROMISES very much -- thanks for the sneak peek!