Years ago, while stationed over in the Persian Gulf, I ran into a platoon leader by the name of Ordell Lewis. A quiet man for the most part, black orbs for eyes pivoting around like radar antennae scanning the sky, Lewis offered few words one way or the other. When he spoke, however, it was usually something thoughtful and clear, a treasured commodity in a world where chaos became the common denomination. On one occasion, we observed a private first class by the name of Samuel Ellison as he slapped at his loaded rifle in frustration. Like brute force would somehow knock the weapon into submission. “You know,” Lewis said, “I think the best part about that boy must’ve dribbled down his mamma’s leg.”
Looking at John Winston Fields, the smile of satisfaction on his face like he’s just revealed the wisdom of the ages, I remember Lewis’s words, and I think the best part of Fields clearly didn’t make it all the way up. But that’s assuming there ever was a best part to begin with. After my experiences in the Gulf War and then after, I am convinced that for some people it’s like farming a crop. You can’t grow good plants from bad seed.
Taking a moment, the seismic admission as to why he skinned those girls still reverberating in my mind, I glance at the recorder, already second-guessing how much will make its way to the final report. Not everything has to. It’s not like they need to know all that has been said here. What benefit would it serve? Will they sleep better knowing the final outcome places an ending period on the story of a man claiming to have committed the crimes because of some perverted understanding of love? I doubt it. In fact, after everything is finished and Fields takes his last breath, I believe some of them will still find restless nights, waking up to the imagined sounds of their daughters, screaming and crying out to be held.
Looking at my watch, the constant tick-tick-tick telling me to move it forward, I prepare to ask the one question I know needs an answer. If it can be answered, that is. I once listened to a prosecutor tell a jury pool that in some cases the best he could do was give consolation. The question the victims needed to ask the most often went unanswered.
“People want to know why.”
He frowns. “Why what?”
“Why you selected the women you did.”
A slight smile. “Ah, there it is. Everyone always wants to know why. Even the D.A., if she could have put me on the stand, would have asked the same question directly. The problem is, though, even with all the witnesses—the specialized testimonials from leading experts in their field—the prosecution never asked the right question.”
“And what is the right question?”
“Did I have a choice?”
It’s my turn to frown. “You think you didn’t?”
Fields slowly shakes his head. “No more than you have a choice to stop breathing. Oh sure, you can hold your breath, will yourself to stop, but unless you tie yourself off with a rope or otherwise engage in some form of suicide, holding your breath won’t do. Pretty soon you’ll pass out. And then what? Your brain tells you to breathe again and you do.”
I shake my head. “But that doesn’t answer the question as to why you selected those women.”
He looks at me like I’m one of his thick-headed students who can’t quite grasp the law of gravity.
“But it does,” he says. “Not only does it tell you that I didn’t have much control over why I killed them, and then skinned them, but it also tells you that I didn’t have much choice in who I selected either.”
“So who or what selected them?”
“I told you, Rusty. It’s ágape.” When I look at him with questioning eyes, he smiles and adds, “It was the love of God that drove me to it.”
At first, I find it hard to accept Fields’s comments. Not that he skinned those women; I have already seen the colored photos and the black and whites—graphic snapshots of his handiwork. To some people, the human body is just a machine, just another creature in the kingdom not unlike anything you might find out in the forest flicking its white tail and jumping through the brush. Skinning one animal is just as easy as skinning another. What’s hard for me is deciding whether or not Fields actually believes his words, that those acts were simply ritualistic manifestations of love and devotion to a higher power. One part of me wants to think that he’s spitting on the live wire again, testing to see if it’s still hot. He wants to see what the little lady will buy, just how far can he take her? But then, looking into those eyes, seeing the darkness that digests light like some black hole without so much as a burp in response, I can see he means it. He really, really means it. He’s a believer who has swallowed all religion and then squatted out his own version of morality, only it’s nothing that anyone in their right mind will ever comprehend. He’s Charles Manson or David Koresh times ten. Times ten thousand. He’s every one of those sick bastards who flew the planes on September eleven. He’s what Saddam saw of himself in the wildest of wet dreams. He’s the devil dressed as the messiah, wrapped up like a fajita with all the twisted trimmings inside.
I think about the mothers and fathers—especially the one dying of cancer. That John Winston Fields is on death row isn’t good enough. With the legal system in place, he’ll continue to sit here for years to come.
And now I know it’s time to finish the interview with a final question.
S.B.: I know I mentioned only two or three installments, but this week I have found myself carried away with the characters. The next installment will be the last.