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Predators, A Short Story
Jim Bender typed the messages on Facebook to fourteen year old Stephanie Peabody: telling her that he would see her at the entrance to the park in about an hour at eleven, that he just wanted to meet her in person, see if she was as cute as her photo and share some music on his iPod, maybe show her some of his moves on his new skateboard. They'd meet if they could both sneak out past their parents. Jim signed off, watched TV a while, then headed over.
The park was only two blocks from the motel where he was registered under a false name.
Jim did not have an iPod or a skateboard and his parents had been dead considerably longer than Stephanie had been living. He did have Aids, a rap sheet as a sex offender in three states, and an insatiable appetite for young girls. Jim carried a set of handcuffs bought at a pawn shop in his lightweight jacket, a short piece of black lead pipe tucked into the small of his back, and a couple of long pieces of duct tape stuck to the inside of the coat.
Jim sat on one of two wooden benches at the entrance to the park. Traffic out on Marion Street had been all but non existent the twenty minutes or so he'd been waiting. There was one taxi, two old Chevys with loud radios and huge chrome wheels, and no police cars. Stephanie would show up and stand around a bit looking for the kid she thought she was meeting, Bobby Sims. She was going to get Bobby's alter ego instead, Big Jim Bender.
Jim was getting excited just remembering the banter back and forth between them on Facebook the last couple of days when he saw the wino wandering aimlessly down the street. The pitiful old white guy staggered, then stopped and pulled a bottle of something from under his two sweaters and took a swig. He coughed a long and rattling cough, put the bottle back and when he began meandering on down the street he also started a song.
"Ten bottles of beer on the wall......" The man's voice trailed off to an unintelligible mumble and he stopped again about twenty feet from the entrance, turned his back to the street and urinated on a bush. Jim pulled a five dollar bill out of his wallet with the notion of giving it to the guy so he could get rid of him if he started into the park. He wanted no witnesses on this cool April evening, even drunk ones.
"Ten bottles of beer on the wall, ten bottles of beer..." The guy had started over.
"Great," Jim thought. And now, sure enough, he was headed toward the other bench. He staggered along, then burped as he sat. Jim was certain the man had not even seen him.
"Ten bottles of beer on the wall......" The man lay down flat on his back on the bench and the song trailed off into mumbles. Jim noted the bum’s scraggly beard that was brown but peppered with gray, the jeans too large for the man and soiled, the old tennis shoes worn from endless shuffling.
Jim checked his watch, ten until eleven. He had to deal with the bum, get rid of him, send him on down the road. If he didn't go quietly, Jim would use the pipe. He crossed the grass and stood over the other man who lay with his eyes closed and arms folded on top of his chest.
"Hey," Jim said. The wino didn't move. "HEY!" Jim said louder. The wino opened his eyes, raised his head and looked at him.
"Ten bottles of beer on the wall, ten bottles of beer," the bum sang.
"Knock that shit off, Bud." Jim held out the five. "I'll give you this if you'll just take off."
The wino reached for the money with a shaky gloved hand but Jim jerked it back.
"I'm serious, Bud. You have to beat it for the five spot."
"What's going on?," the wino asked and extended his right hand. "Help me up?"
Jim hauled the bum off the bench with just a bit more gusto than required and the old man staggered into him. Up close, the man’s crystal clear blue eyes flashed with anger.
The bum pressed the stun gun into Jim's solar plexus and pulled the trigger.
The first thing Jim noticed when he came around was that his nose itched. He looked up into the night sky and saw the full moon. He thought that he must have fallen asleep and was bitten by a mosquito. Jim tried to rub his nose, couldn't move his hands and then the bum appeared standing over him looking down and nodding.
"Well, you're awake now," the bum said. "That's good. We need to have a little chat. Actually, Jim I'll do the talking while you just shake your head or grunt. Should I call you Jim or Bobby?"
Jim found he could only make squeaking noises because of the duct tape sealing his lips. His eyes bulged, he struggled against the cuffs that held his hands behind his back. He rocked, he wiggled and then finally he became still.
"I think we'll just go with Jim Bob, if that's good with you." The bum squatted down putting both his knees on Jim's chest. "You see Jim Bob, while you thought you were flirting with an innocent young thing on Facebook, having your little fantasies, hatching your little plots.... you were talking to me."
The man stood up pulled a syringe from a pocket in his top sweater and returned to his position on his prisoner. He jabbed the needle into the man's shoulder but didn't push down on the plunger.
"Heroin, Jim Bob," the bum said. "Have you ever used it?"
Jim shook his head and struggled against the cuffs.
"Me either, but I've heard it's quite a ride. So far no one has survived this dosage, but I guess you never know. You might be the first. We'll see, but first I'll tell you a bit of my story."
The bum moved and sat cross legged on the ground next to Jim. He took a Camel from a nearly empty pack in his shirt pocket, lit it with a chrome Zippo, puffed and blew out a perfect smoke ring. Jim struggled, shifting his weight, rocking back and forth trying to get to his feet.
"Stop that or you can start your trip right now, are you ready to go, Jim?" He waited, puffed and watched as Jim settled back down.
"I didn't think so, let's see where to start..... First, I guess you figured out that there is no Stephanie Peabody. I made her up like you made up Bobby Sims, got the photo off the Internet. I played you like a violin, Jim Bob but you made the mistake that brought us here. If you hadn't asked for this meeting, Stephanie would have disappeared and I would have moved on. But your kind is never satisfied, never."
The bum puffed on the cigarette, drew smoke in deep, and continued.
"So I followed the trail, the one you left on the web. I got your real name, your criminal history,"
The bum started to cough again, turned red in the face and Jim thought he was going to pass out. Finally, the coughing stopped and the bum wiped his eyes and cleared his throat.
"I don't know which is worse, emphysema or lung cancer. Where we're we?"
He puffed one more time on the Camel, rubbed it out on the ground and put the butt in his shirt pocket.
"Why am I doing this, what's my motive? Glad you asked, Jim Bob. I was in Iraq when my little Bethany disappeared. I missed the funeral by one day, twenty-four hours. When the time came to go back, I just didn't see the point. Many people don't believe in evil, Jim Bob. I do, I've seen it and I've fought it in places you can't even pronounce. I guess I'm freelance now, you could say I've embraced evil to fight evil."
The bum moved to a kneeling position. "Doesn't make much sense does it?"
The bum reached over to put his hand on the syringe. "Ready to rock and roll, Jim Bob?"
Jim shook his head violently but kept his body still, afraid of accidentally causing the bum to pump the deadly heroin into his bloodstream.
The night air was cool but Jim broke out in a sweat, a breeze stirred and chilled him. He didn't realize he was holding his breath until the bum pulled the tape off his mouth and the air rushed out.
"Shh, now Jim Bob," the bum said. "I'm going to give you the same chance I've given the others, the chance your kind didn't give Bethany. You answer one question correctly, one simple question and I won't push the plunger. You ready, Jim Bob? Just a one word answer to the question, that's all I will tolerate."
"Let me go, you crazy old...." Jim started but the bum pushed lightly on the syringe and Jim felt the jolt, a lightning bolt that slammed into him, plunging him into the abyss.
Eventually, Jim opened his eyes, found his mouth again taped shut and the bum still perched now with his knees on his chest once again.
"Up and down means yes, side to side means no. Got it?"
Jim shook his head up and down eagerly.
"Good. Here's the question: If I were to turn you loose, can you guarantee me that you would never touch another child? Take your time, now. Think about your answer and then move your head."
Jim didn't move for what seemed like minutes. He felt sweat or tears or probably both run down his face. The two men locked eyes, neither willing or able to look away.
Then slowly Jim nodded his head up and down with the answer he felt sure the bum wanted, the one which might give him some chance to survive.
"Now that wasn't so hard was it?" the bum smiled. "Looks like you won the lottery, Jim Bob. You're never going to hurt another child, and that's a good thing."
Jim sighed with relief as the bum reached to remove the syringe. He was shocked when the bum pushed the plunger home. Terror exploded in his eyes and then suddenly, it was over.
"The only thing in this world worse than a murdering pedophile is a lying, murdering pedophile." The bum rose on creaky knees, coughed and marched back toward the entrance to the park. He fell back into his wino shuffle as he reached the street.
"Nine bottles of beer on the wall, nine bottles of beer......."
- Predators, Caught In A Trap
The unnamed "bum" from Predators, A Short Story returns to continue his quest for vengeance in the second part of this series.
- The Predators, Carolina Requiem
Third and final episode in The Predators series of short stories finds our "bum" captured by the very animals he's been hunting. Parts 1 and 2 are linked at the bottom.