Lochdale olde hotel, I ignored the various patrons that were starting to fill the place. I ignored the bartender lifting beer nozzles to pour into scooner glasses. Horse-racing was on the big TV. I helped myself to a glass of ice water that was on the counter by the wall, self-service. Then made my way up the wooden stairs. Since I didn't have my car, there was no risk in having a drink or two while I introduced myself to the locals. A reporter was sure to attract interest, and many secrets would be spilled in the merriment of pub nights.
But I didn't need new leads or intel. Family, sister Claire and the police – fancy that, not considering us 'nosey press' – have been liberal with the information they've shared. So I took slow steps up to my room, thinking about a wealthy influential businessman and his handsome, maladjusted son.
Upstairs was just a small, single corridor. There were four doors on the right, two on the left where the stairs came up. A flat wall on one end sporting a fire extinguisher. The other end led to a shared bathroom, a shower in one corner with no glass walls; framed seashell paintings. The bathroom was slightly fancier with dark-grey granite tiles. The doors to the rooms had a coat of shiny forest-green paint, I was number four beside George. The rooms were big enough to not be called cramped and the bed was a double. There was a tiny desk and chair by a mirror where I could do my writing.
I sipped from my icy drink and lay back on my bed, shoes still on. The alarm clock and shaded lamp looked like the cheapest products on K-mart shelves. When I was feeling up to it I wrote down some information into my notepad before I could forget it. Then after that I went downstairs to make a lunchtime contemplation between nachos or battered squid with a side of chips.
It was before evening when I ran into George on the stairs and it was time for us to exchange notes. Unfortunately he looked satisfied, which meant he'd not yet run into the proverbial brick walls that have stifled our investigation. We went into the restaurant part and sat at a two-seater table in the corner of the room, both of us pulling out our notepads. We'd ordered creamy pastas, George picked something abominable with mushrooms and seafood.
I pinched my nose "Do you want to go first?"
"Alright. I've been speaking to members of Adam Creson's family and doing further digging at the public library, getting a feel for good ole Lochdale."
I sipped my juice while George had his beer.
"Was Adam a caring soul?"
"Nope. He was like any regular kid. Maybe even a hooligan himself. Odd instances of disorderly conduct, getting plastered drunk and he was failing two classes. These college kids must get wild, man. I got good quotes from the family and information to work with." he concluded.
I remained holding my glass before lifting my eyes to give him the news "I had a very brief interview with Stanley today. I ran into his sister at a store, she made a call, told me he wanted to speak to me and then she drove me to the police station. I know," I said in answering his surprise "But I don't think this is the story you were hoping for... Stanley is... charming and persuasive. He has three siblings, one younger and two older, who are completely well-adjusted from what I can tell. The sister Claire is willing to work with me, she wants something to be done about her brother."
"Charming and persuasive..." George looked aside in thought before facing me again "Doesn't that sound like a psychopath to you?"
"In movies, yes... but I've never met a psychopath in real life before, have you?"
"Not that I know of..." George shrugged in thought.
"Well I'll keep asking around and pressing the sister for information." I shrugged. "And Stanley wants to do another interview. He wants to see himself in the newspaper."
"That's good, hey you should check out a Mrs Sally Seaborn tomorrow. She's a high school teacher that taught Adam and Stanley. I was going to but reckon I should check out these acquaintances of Adam. He might've had a few enemies, college life seems rife with drama after all."
After that the day was done. I avoided drinking and got an early sleep in my hotel bed.
The next day was mostly planned out in my head upon waking. I enjoyed a warm shower until stepping on the grate and feeling someone else's hair, after that I shut off the water and dried up. Lochdale olde hotel had no food in the morning apart from the vending machines, and if I was feeling lucky, that chocolate claw machine. George and I had waffles at a fifties style diner down the street, glittery-red cushion stools by a counter. The waitress wore a white apron with frills and a cap. Today the sky was softer than baby-blue, like plumbago flowers. George surprised me by losing no motivation despite my dismal recollection of Stanley Milton. Instead he wrote on his notepad and tore the page off for me.
"This is the number for that teacher. She's retired now but she might be able to tell us if Adam and Stanley were closer back in the day, if they shared any classes."
George's notepad looked full of stuff he'd written, unlike mine. It motivated me to get to work. I knew he'd left me to focus on the suspect because even though George was good at digging, my people skills were better, and I'd already demonstrated good abilities at reading people. We set off on our separate jobs, I didn't want to call Mrs Seaborn too early so decided I'd fall back on my original plan and talk to some locals.
"Yeah I know the Miltons. Or I know of them. Stanley's folks right?" A middle-aged manager of a department store answered me. He was balding and his grey hair stuck out at the sides. Reminded me of an ex-football coach.
"You know Stanley?"
"Stanley's the only one I do know. His parents and siblings aren't in Lochdale much. But I see Stanley out and about every now and again. Strange kid."
"You wouldn't describe him as a... hooligan?" I watched the man scratch his chin thoughtfully.
"No... he's tried shoplifting from here a few times. I told him not to come back. He always laughed it off when I caught him. Good-naturedly... he's waved to me on the street before."
"What about the car thefts? The joyriding? Damaging property?"
"I'd heard about that..." the man said slowly, still scratching his chin. "He's probably got issues. Strange kid, like I said. I've got to get back to stocking these."
"Thanks for your time."
That encounter was the closest to anyone disliking Stanley that I'd heard. An Asian man at the main petrol station had squinted into a photo of handsome, smiling Stanley and then shook his head vigorously.
"Nononono he not welcome in my shop. Nonono he take things right off the shelf and walk out without paying. Him with his friends, just smiling and they take and walk off. Nonono."
I couldn't talk to that man about the criminal stuff cause he had no idea, plus there was a language barrier.
One woman at a grocer clapped her hands with delight at the mention of Stanley "What a sweet and charming and handsome young man! We always talk whenever I see him, he's very chatty! One time I was loading groceries into my car and he recognised me, he said 'Never fear madam, I will assist you!' then helped me load everything. After that he saluted and ran off!" she giggled.
A man in a bakery, leaning his forearms on the glass pastries counter: "Yeah Stanley, that guy's a hoot. Super friendly. Word does get around about the stuff he's done... When I hear about it I just, sorta do a double-take: 'Stanley? Noo!' He's always been well-behaved and respectful, says 'hi' whenever I see him."
A rainbow-draped woman at a Vinnie's thrift shop: "Stanley is absolutely delightful. I see him with friends all the time. Sometimes I see him hanging around the wrong crowds... like, drug-looking people" she whispered "but no matter who he's with he's always been the perfect gentleman to me! I see him walking around town all the time. Very kind and polite, I wish my grandson were like him." Then she giggled "Oh he must be a bit spacey at times. One time he came here and tried on a coat, forgot he was wearing it and just walked out! I had to catch him down the street and we just laughed!"
"Reckon he must be a kleptomaniac or somethin'" A withered man in a sweet shop commented. Giant rainbow lolly-pops and sugar-coated gummies of all kinds bordered the narrow counter. "He doesn't think twice about it. Just like 'shrug, I'll take that' and usually he gives whatever he takes to his friends anyway. I know that kid has money, he once bought a hundred dollars' worth of stuff here and just gave it all away."
The situation was becoming clear to me after all the repetitive accounts. Sometimes Stanley stole from people. Sometimes he spent huge amounts of money on things and just gave them away to people. Everyone finds him charming and well-mannered... until he steals from them. Then he laughs it off or comes up with a lie and they fall for it. His lack of regard for consequences, his inability to learn from the consequences was worrying.
Mrs Seaborn responded positively to my request. I drove to her house around midday and arrived at a quaint cottage home. There were little shiny pinwheels in the garden, spinning in the breeze. Windchimes and a birdbath by an algae-infested pond. I rang the doorbell and the arched entry opened to reveal a grey-haired woman with bright blue eyes behind spectacles.
"Hello Mrs Seaborn. Thanks for agreeing to this interview."
"You're mighty young for a reporter. Do come in, I've made sweet tea."
The living room held enough books to be its own miniature library. The seats were brown leather. She had two greyhounds that came bounding over when I walked inside. We sat and drank her tea in fine china sets.
"Stanley had the most shocking attendance record of any student I'd ever seen. When he was in school he disobeyed rules all the time."
"Was he a bully?"
"No." the woman stared at the pointed ceiling, gazing into a foggy recollection.
"Did he ever hurt any of the kids? Did he ever hurt animals?"
"I saw him throw a milk bottle at a family of ducks in the playground and then laugh. I sent him to the principal's office."
"Was he sorry?"
"Yes, he told me afterwards that he was very disappointed in himself."
"Okay..." I sighed, tapping my pen against my notepad. "Everybody in town seems to know Stanley. Not many people know Adam Creson."
"A tragedy." The old woman shook her head sadly.
"What was Adam like?"
"I don't want to speak ill of the dead. And I'd rather this not be printed. But for honesty's sake, Adam was a bit of a bully. He used to bother girls, stick gum in places" she shuddered "I always hated when they'd spit."
"Were Adam and Stanley close?"
"I do recall seeing them together, with a few other boys. Causing mischief."
She couldn't recall very much, but told me details of high school tomfoolery. They were college kids in the making. I'd still not discovered any obvious feuds or motives for Adam's murder. As I left that afternoon I wondered if George had done any better.
Stanley seemed to be less cruel than he was impulsive. Though instead of compulsions, they were more like bored whims that lacked any consideration. I'd not yet heard of any vindictiveness. So did Stanley just shrug and commit murder out of a vapid curiosity? Or perhaps Adam had been an obstacle between him and some fleeting, idle desire? Crimes are laughable, nothing's serious, so perhaps he murdered Adam and figured he could talk his way out of it like everything else? But Stanley doesn't spend one-on-one time with anyone, so if he and Adam were alone could the murder have been pre-meditated?
I pictured Stanley sitting at a metal table with his hands cuffed:I know I killed Adam, and that it's an unforgivable thing to do. I will never be able to live down the grief I've caused his family and this community. I'm committed to working on myself, and with the help of my family and the police I know I can get myself on the right track! I'm so grateful for all the help and support of everyone involved. The detectives, the investigators, everyone. With all this help I'll be able to right my wrongs and become an upright and respectable member of the community!
I sat down at a bus stop and decided to call my Dad. I'd promised Mum, and it was late enough in the day for him to be up. Lifting my iPhone I waited through several ring tones before he answered.
"Yes? Stanley is that you?" Gruff voice.
"About time. I've been waiting on your call!"
"How's life? How are you doing with work? Are you still renting? What grades did you get on your tests?" he barked for full reports on every area of my life and I answered dutifully.
"I finished my course two years ago." I added at the end and wondered if he was already drinking. I could picture him standing in a shabby living space, receiver in one hand and a glass of gin in the other. He paused at my correction, breathing into the phone before launching into other firm questions.
The talk was entirely transactional and he asked for details. Snipped at disappointments and told me where to improve, to which I nodded and voiced my agreements. When the call was over I slipped my phone back in my pocket and stared out into space.
My sisters are over ten years older than I am. My Dad was in the military for years, doing service in Afghanistan before an ambush. A landmine blew off his buddy's leg, a civilian building was bombed and he got shrapnel embedded in his left side. I recalled the faded, jagged scars. He was discharged with PTSD. Now my Mum has always been comparatively weak-willed, and the result is my wayward sisters. When Dad came home they were too far gone, but I wasn't. Since he wasn't working I became a project that had my father's full attention. I was raised under the strictest of conditions, complete scrutiny, the highest of expectations, no privacy and soul-crushing subordination. I believe the result is the psychosis I developed.
I don't have a sense of self.
All autonomy was stripped from me in developmental years of my life. My weak-willed Mum wasn't going to get between Dad and me. I didn't start dating until I moved out of home. A year after I did my parents split up, Dad moving away to some apartment place, losing all his military-trained neatness and devolving into heavy drinking. He still wanted updates on every aspect of my life once a month. My damage didn't become fully evident until I started dating.
The damage was so complete that I don't have any vulnerability. Abuse feels warm and reminds me of home. It has lost all power over me and instead feels exhilarating and oddly fulfilling. I can tell when someone insults me but I never feel insulted. I never get mad. Whenever I'm in relationships with boys who are considerate I find it perversely anxiety-inducing. I get the heebie-jeebies and want to run. When I'm with selfish and egotistical boys, it's like I'm a sock that has been put on, and I sigh in relief. When I'm left I feel disappointment but never pain, I move on to the next fellow who'll have me.
I don't feel emotional pain, but sometimes I ache. Sitting somewhere, like in my car after a swim at the lake and watching dog-walkers go by. I feel less real than all other people. They all have something I don't, something that makes them real. In these moods I feel a pang of comparative loss in my middle when I see people, even the fattest or most undesirable-looking people. They all count in some mysterious way that I don't. My life feels like a TV show but the main character is missing.
Mostly I'm empty, in the true voidy sense of the word. I have neither ego nor insecurities. I feel uncomfortable when I'm praised, so I talk myself down and remain trivial, though I am talented. People like me because I'm always affable, agreeable and pleasing.
I'm not a person, I'm a force.
I'm the sum of my desires and my ability to obtain them. There is no desire in me to harm others or to get ahead, and it occurs to me that if there was I'd be an extremely dangerous individual.
Sometimes when young children are abused they develop a fragile sense of self and learn to hide this with grandiose delusions. This is called Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Sometimes when a child is entirely abused, entirely focused on with no leeway, and entirely dominated they develop Inverted Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Like me. A rigid sense of having less worth than everyone else, though I'm unaffected by this feeling.
The bus came. I paid my fare to the cap-wearing driver. Sat down on a walkway-facing seat near a knitting woman wearing an itchy-looking coat. As we jostled in place I gripped a metal pole. I was going to head back and organize all the information I'd gathered into something coherent. Mr Tourvel would want to read something soon, tell us if we had anything good or not.
I was making my way off the bus when my phone started ringing. Unknown number.
"Hi Phillip, it's Stanley." I could hear the smile in his voice. "I got this contact number from my sister, I hope you don't mind. I did promise you an interview!"
"Oh hey Stanley. Yes, that'd be wonderful."
"Well you'll be happy to know I'm a free man as of today, so I'm all yours. Should we get dinner?"
"Alright." I was again dazed by the way he made it sound like he deserved a pat on the back for getting out of trouble again.
"The pizzeria is a real classy joint, you'll love it. Mr Volpitto's a good friend of mine and he'll treat us excellently. I feel that as a visitor to our humble town it should be my duty to show you all the spots! I'll be your personal guide for the remainder of your stay!"
"That's very kind of you and I look forward to it. My schedule is flexible so I'm free when you are."
"Great. Where are you staying? The Lochdale olde hotel?"
"I'll pick you up at seven. It's a date."
He was as charming as ever. With Stanley's track record of behaviour having a drink with him would be a bad idea. I also have a problem pacing myself with alcohol, and taking things too far, which is why I've endeavoured to touch none of the stuff while here. This is a work assignment, after all. I had to remind myself that Stanley was a suspect in a murder investigation and that I was supposed to be interviewing him. I've always had a weakness for bad boys. Stanley and his heedless ways, the quirkiness of his actions and the manipulative charms were starting to pull me in.
I wondered if he was like me. I wondered if Stanley felt like a force. Psychopaths lack integrity and remorse. Stanley puts on good shows of integrity and remorse but his actions say otherwise. I have empathy because I care about the people I know and like, but I have to admit that I don't care about people I don't know and that don't relate to my life at all. Whenever I'm driving and I stop at a crossing, I don't care about the wellbeing of those strangers. Even the children. I'm careful and I stop because I don't want to damage my car, or cause a scene, or deal with the drama and exchanging of contact details. I stop at crossings because I don't want to be late. Isn't it that way for everyone? That's what I'd thought.
I walked into the pub and made my way upstairs. I'd organize these notes I've taken and write up my article, then I'd get ready for my date with Stanley.