My Friend, the Murderer

My Friend, the Murderer

By Kevin Grant



Because sneaking suspicions sometimes move faster than you think.

By Kevin Grant

“There it is,” said Chris, squinting and pointing through cigarette smoke. Beneath our feet and through the metal grate that covered the basement window well of the synagogue, a patch of faded denim peeked out from layers of dead leaves.

Chris said his brother had stolen the jacket from Sid Vicious at a Sex Pistols concert and ditched it a few months ago while being chased by the police. There it was, he said, stuffed in a crumpled ball behind a locked metal barricade 4 feet below the pavement.

The story stank, of course — the Sex Pistols had played nowhere near us and they had broken up when we were in diapers — but we were only 13 or 14 and wanted to believe it. Other preposterous claims made by Chris had turned out to be true, and his ability to kill us may have also played a role in our suspension of disbelief. So there we stood, slack-jawed, clutching our skateboards like rosary beads, each of us planning to recover the jacket — a priceless artifact in our minds, our own Shroud of Turin — before any of the others did.

He regaled us with stories about all the Blacks he had killed during the Rodney King riots while in uniform.

Chris stood out. We were skateboarders and listened to punk, but he hardly ever owned a skateboard or showed interest in bands. He was interested in lies, and violence. He found the latter funny and would create confrontations where none existed. We tolerated him because none of us wanted to be the focus of his negative energy, and, for reasons unclear, he liked us. We regularly found ourselves skating in some pretty tough environments. Knowing we had an actual maniac on standby could be as reassuring in those times as it could be nerve-wracking at others.

There was one working car in our group. We would pile into it nightly and cruise around cranking cassettes, heckling people and getting high. Chris wasn’t a big guy — he was built like lean jerky — so he usually sat wedged between two of us in the back seat. He would speak too close to you, his voice a monotone rattle sliding out from his endlessly smirking mouth, his beady dead eyes staring from under bushy eyebrows and over a nose like a hatchet.

One night we crashed a teen dance in an affluent community outside the city. We were ransacking Mongols, held together by scabs and duct tape, looking to pick up girls or get in a fight. Afterward, we smoked outside the club, which overlooked a wooded valley. In the distance was a single overhead light by the back door of a farmhouse.

“Hey, gaylords, watch this,” said Chris, producing a broken skateboard kingpin from his pocket. He sidestepped and winged the bolt into the silence. We waited for what seemed like an eternity before the light was extinguished accompanied by the sound of glass shattering and a dog barking. We couldn’t figure out how he pulled it off.

Much to our collective astonishment, Chris ended up joining the military. Surely, we thought, it would end in disaster.

And it did. Slowly.

He returned one day and we all congregated amid a circle of boulders in the cemetery, where we had concealed the mandatory stash of pornography, 35-millimeter film canisters stuffed with weed, and cigarette butts cast like Nazca lines across the scrubby ground. Chris’ post-military stories were as full of shit as his pre-military ones, but they had taken on a sinister tone that was off-putting even coming from him.

He propped his feet up on a boulder and did near-vertical one-handed pushups, cigarette dangling from his lips as he regaled us with stories about all the Blacks he had killed during the Rodney King riots while in uniform. “You won’t hear about that in the papers,” he said, smirking. Then came a story about beating one of his commanding officers almost to death for the way he had spoken to Chris. The pushups continued.

Years went by and I did start reading about Chris in the papers: robbery, assault with a deadly weapon and so on, each crime more senseless than the last. One time he pulled a knife on a guy in broad daylight at a bus station and demanded his pack of cigarettes. When the guy refused, Chris slit his throat, almost killing him.

After a few years, against all reason and common sense, Chris was released from prison for that knifing. I began to hear of new, apocryphal acts of terror from my old friends: Chris was back in prison for throwing the guy who ran his halfway house onto a table and breaking it after he was caught with booze. He almost killed two guys with a brick at a party for being accused of having a boyfriend in prison.

One day I was standing in line at the bank, waiting to cash my check. I heard a familiar voice behind me that hit like a bucket of ice water: “You been staying out of trouble? Not me!”

“I know,” I said, turning. “I read the papers.” Chris smiled.

I left town and moved farther away, and then farther still. Chris remained there, living with his parents and smoldering like coals.

My girlfriend, who had met none of the guys I’d grown up with, called me one day while I was at work.

“Do you know a guy named Chris Banville?” she asked.

“Yeah.” I adjusted the phone. “Who’d he kill?”

He had killed his 17-year-old niece after raping her. He strangled her with a dog leash in the basement den of his parents’ home, then stolen his mother’s car. He was apprehended halfway down the East Coast, covered in blood and insisting on his innocence.

They’ve thrown away the key this time. I’m sure he has a whole list of new stories he rattles off to whomever will listen.

We did eventually retrieve Sid Vicious’ jacket. A couple of us returned with a coat hanger and succeeded at pulling the stiffened, misshapen orb into the daylight. We grabbed the sleeves and pried the jacket open.

Millions of furry black spiders burst forth from the denim.