I'm not "one of them." That's been said about me more than once. I need no explanation of it. If you need one then, yes, you are one of them. Some people know. Some people don't want to know. Neither sees any use for the other (though only one can be right). Bennie X said those exact words to me years ago. As I've committed the greatest of all sins, what anyone else has to confess to me does not induce shrieks of shock. Oftentimes I have to feign shock since that's what the listener expects - and because they usually are wholly unsuspecting of my far, far greater criminality.
Bennie picked up on this right away. As an unconvicted murderer he'd been forced to face things about himself most people do not. He very quickly separates people into different categories of trust. He needs to tell the world what he cannot tell. There remains much unspoken between us. Bennie doesn't tell me he separates people into groups, I simply observe it. Nor has he asked me of my crime, he simply knows one when he sees one. I've heard military people tell me they can spot another person whose been in the military. Same thing with criminals.
Oh, if only you knew how much I see with every passing word or silence! (I try to turn this off for most social occasions - what few I have anyway.)
Bennie told me he was "the worst kind of killer", one who had "pain in the brain." He wasn't a killer by disposition. He'd betrayed his better instincts through a force of "iron will" that damaged him horribly. The minute he said "iron will" a picture on an iron cross flashed before my eyes. He'd divorced from reason becoming a detached mental entity. That was the only way he could pull off the killing.
Bennie has spent years trying to re-attach but to no avail. He's read books on self-forgiveness, tried prescription medication, psychiatrists, organics, you name it. Bottom line is he never got his self-trust back. That's a feeling I don't need explained to me. And that's what Bennie needs the most: someone who needs no explanations. I'm a part of nothing just as he is. It's a rotten fucking club to belong to.
He invited me to share a bottle of saké. I didn't want to hang out with Bennie for the same reason no one else wants to hang out with him but I said yes. No one wants to hang out with my loser ass, either. This has been made painfully clear to me. But forcing myself to do something against my will - just as Bennie had done to himself in his killings - gave me a pain in the brain too. Loneliness or criminality, not much of a choice that night. Many are the people I miss.
Bennie's got this pretty cool townhouse in north Dallas - or it would be cool if Bennie didn't live there. He tiled it up with these large dark slags in shades of brown throughout the place even into his bedroom and the tile in the shower. I call it the "Godfather 2" house with its foreboding and somewhat sinister aura. To make matters worse, we sat in this dank little man cave area while the TV blasts and the lights are on in the main living room "as a diversion." Yeah, it's like that.
I have to sip the Sho Chiku Bai saké at first as I'm not a hard drinker. After a bit you get loosened up and the taste - and Bennie - become more palatable. Still, I felt dirty and shitty regardless. But what the hell. How am I ever not going to feel that way? I'll tolerate the brain pain long as I can later flee the repression to breathe again. No matter how I rationalized it, though, I felt stupid. I wasn't spending my time as I pleased - but I hadn't planned to do that anyway.
"You know what makes a criminal a criminal, Harry?"
"A thousand different things, I suppose."
"No, No. I'm not talking about some kid stealing a guitar for his band or a father stealing food or a hooker making a living. I mean real criminals. The politicians, the corporate raiders, the assassins with badges, the phony marriages - people bent for life. People that hide."
"Well, I know the answer's not honesty."
"Hahaha! That's what I like about you. You always answer the right way. You never come right out and say anything. I like that."
The saké was kicking in. "Yup, that's why I get invited to all the best parties."
"Aw, forget that. I'm like that guy who said he wouldn't want to be a part of any party that'd accept him. Money, I got. Parties, never."
Bennie became preoccupied in his drink as I sprouted hope he was not going to make his grand criminal revelation, after all. See, I knew what he was really doing - which is what everybody does: use philosophy as a vehicle for self-confession. He can't bring himself to say, "Guess what made me a criminal." No he has to disguise it within a group. I had no fucking interest in hearing his tawdry personal details. It's like hearing about someone's sex interests. Who cares? That's only you.
"Oh, yeah. I know what I was gonna say. Bet you thought you were getting off the hook!"
It's worse when he tries to be charming. God, I'm an absolute idiot to be caught in this situation playing Father Confessor.
"I'm just here for the saké, Bennie."
"Right you are again! Ol' Bennie's not worth the time. I'm going to die a criminal, I am. Yeppers, that's how I'm going to do and there's not nothing I can do about it."
I mused suggesting he could learn better grammar as a possible resolution but thought better of it. "Dyin' ain't all that fun."
"No, it's not. But I'm not the only one dying a criminal. It's like that movie where the guy puts on glasses and can see aliens corrupting us. But them without glasses can't see, can't understand what's going on. So how to do you say to them without glasses?"
I knew what he meant. Those who know, don't do. Those who do, don't know. In the course of self-examination he found criminals around the world, many delivering fiery speeches applauded by mindless masses. But how could someone like Bennie ever call them out when a criminal himself? It would be like a Republican debate. Politically, it would be impossible. He continued.
"So you get to a point where you look back and ask why? I got money but I'm still doing time. A life sentence. I guess it really doesn't matter why. Just matters what you did. Damn, life is hard. Really, really hard."
"At least you're not a killer on minimum wage," I brightly surmised.
"Sarcastic son-of-a-bitch, aren't ya?...I guess you're right...I guess no one's got it easy."
"You can trust me on that one!"
"But then I found out why. I wasn't a criminal because I killed. I killed because I was a criminal. I was hiding and lying. I was desperate. I didn't want to be known!"
A criminal act
Suddenly, the whole world was in our room, ears pinned to the walls. We sat in thick silence under the spotlight. The sake made the lights vibrate like a Van Gogh painting.
"That's why I did the embezzling. I could have played it straight and ended up well into seven figures when I retired. But I couldn't play that game. I had to let them know I was smarter than them. I had to show them I wasn't being honest when talking with them. I wanted them to accept me. But how could they? I'd never had a friend before. I wasn't stealing money. I was asking for friendship."
I couldn't help but feel every word was being recorded to be used against us later - like on Judgment Day. Bennie was right, though. Everything we do is driven by love - or a lack thereof. I had to admire him for getting that far down the road. None of that was going to get him out of jail, however. Only getting a friend would do that.
"Then someone found out, didn't they?" That had always been my suspicion.
"Yes, she did. The one I liked most. The one I most wanted to be my friend. Why did it have to be her? At first I thought I was the luckiest man in the world my most favorite person working in my department. For someone like that to be my first friend, that was as unthinkable as winning the lottery. You want to believe, but you don't dare. I thought not believing made me honest with myself. She had a life. Everyone liked her. So naturally it had to be her the one with the brains to find me out. Fuck."
"So she poked around and caught your hidden malfeasance?"
"Uh, not exactly. Not exactly that. She was on the road..."
"You killed her before she even found out!"
"Looks that way." Bennie stared down into his drink pierced in pain. I decided not to push further. He pushed himself. "It was same time as the Iraq invasion. I was doing my own preemptive killing. I remember thinking everyone's doing it. Nobody seems to have a problem with it. I knew the invasion was an act of evil but what could I say when I was doing the same thing?"
"What if you'd just let nature take its course?"
"I call that letting nature take its curse. I tried to beat the curse but only made it worse. Just like that stupid invasion. I watch on TV the hell going on over there and I feel like I'm watching my whole life play out before my eyes. I feel responsible for the ruined lives of the refugees. How can I bring the dead back to the living?"
"You ever think that maybe when she found out she might have let you off the hook?"
"I did when it was too late. I kept imaging the moment. She'd have this look of disappointment. The light would go on and she'd wash her hands of me. Not much I could do to argue with that. It hit me later maybe I didn't give her enough credit. Nothing scares me more than that thought. I just couldn't stand the idea of her hating me."
The saké spoke next. "Bet she really hates you now!"
Daggers flew out his eyes for a moment and I thought maybe I'd gone too far. Always comes a point where I go too far. Then Bennie's face softened.
"Shit. You're right..."
Next there's this pregnant pause big enough to birth an elephant. Do I leave now? As usual, the most inappropriate thoughts run through my head. I imagine myself ducking and hiding and weaving behind the furniture making a tactical retreat out the door like a paramilitary unit. I'd put some blackout on my face, exiting the enemy compound in my own SEAL team operation. I almost laughed at the absurdity but how would I explain my outburst? Yes, time was near to start breathing again!
"You know, this saké's finally starting to go down easy!"
Bennie ignored me. "Funny part is they found out anyway. Can ya believe that? But they didn't do anything. Couldn't. This VP would have lost his job if he didn't cover for me. The greatest con in America today is corporate executives. They aren't the best and brightest. They just feed off the people who really are. And, man, they'll do anything to keep that dance going. Cutthroat backstabbing like any pirate ship ever sailed. They've got this whole war on reality they're waging. One day it'll catch up to them. Can't fucking wait."
"So you get what I'm saying, don't ya?"
Oh, Jesus! Didn't know there was going to be a pop quiz! I had to pull out of the haze or die - least that's what I thought at the time. Why the hell did I think it was life and death? Anyway, it was a pain in the ass but I managed a crystallization.
"Yeah. You're saying you're not a criminal because you killed. You're saying you killed because you were a criminal. That's how you let her know you were hiding stuff."
I felt like a kid standing up in class hoping to get the teacher's approval. Just torture. What's wrong with me sometimes??
"I knew you'd get it, Harry. You get it right down the line."
That triggered another inappropriate thought: So does that mean you have to kill me!? That's what I wanted to say, but you never feel free around Bennie. He didn't do what he wanted: neither could you.
"I've had all the drink I can handle, Bennie. You know I'm a lightweight. I gotta crash. Some of us have terrifyingly boring and humiliating jobs to go to."
"It's alright, man. I'm suddenly tired too."
"OK, thanks for the saké!" I was desperate to get out. People who don't forgive themselves are the most dangerous.
"Sure thing. Hey, we'll have to get together downtown sometime." So you can put a thirty eight caliber bullet through my head as a preventive measure of someone who got too close? "We can sit and watch the girls go by."