Tuesday, July 5, 2016
By Daniel Skye
James Bullock hated parties.
The fake smiles. The forced, desperate laughter that ensued whenever someone told a lackluster joke. The bland conversation that usually ended up on the topic of the weather. The inane gossip; everyone talking behind each other’s backs, contributing to the rumor mill. James craved no participation in such shenanigans.
Even watching a football game at Ninja Bill’s house was an arduous chore. Ninja Bill’s buddies were a gang of drunken troglodytes that couldn’t even take a swig of beer without getting it all over themselves. Every time the Giants scored a touchdown, Bill’s friends were shouting at the top of their lungs, cheering and celebrating as if they had scored the touchdown themselves.
James honestly preferred to watch the games alone. And he rarely attended parties with people his own age. He turned down invitations left and right.
But he never turned down an invitation to one of Gene Connolly’s socially acclaimed Murder Parties. Gene hosted these parties about once a month, and James was always included on the guest list.
James was not an advocate of murder, but he attended these parties to satiate his fascination with the macabre. James was an avid reader, and he found true crime novels to be mesmerizing. No work of fiction could ever truly capture or depict the atrocities committed in real life.
Just the name was enough to scare some people away. Gene had to explicitly state that the purpose of these social gatherings was not to celebrate or glorify murder, but rather to rationally discuss cold cases, ongoing investigations, and the horrific events that have plagued their community over the last few decades.
Everyone who attended Gene’s parties had one thing in common: They were all born and raised on Long Island. And Long Island has seen its share of heinous crimes and unsolved murders. The Gilgo Beach murders are still being investigated to this day, and were often a topic of discussion at Gene’s gatherings.
Another topic of discussion was Ben Loomis out in Montauk. The papers called him The Surgeon, but the cops had a better nickname. The local authorities dubbed him The Optometrist. Loomis used a scalpel to extract the eyes of every victim he claimed. And he did so with such expertise and surgical precision that the cops were convinced they were hunting for an actual surgeon. They ran background checks on every surgeon in New York, questioned the staff of every hospital, every doctor’s office, any employees who would have access to surgical equipment. Loomis terrorized the small fishing village of Montauk for years. He’s now MIA, presumed dead.
And of course there was The Gravedigger out in Westlake. Want to guess why they called him The Gravedigger? His M.O. was burying his victims alive in custom-made coffins that he built to their exact specifications. Charles Gein turned out to be a police officer. And he used his position with the police to stalk his victims while he was on the clock. He’d pick them out well in advance, observe them from a distance, learn their daily schedule, estimate their height and weight, and then he’d choose a burial site once the coffin was constructed. He was identified by a would-be victim who managed to escape his grasp. Gein fled to Florida, where he was later apprehended by the police.
James met some intriguing characters at Gene’s unorthodox events. One evening, he met a man in a suit in a tie who tried to sell James a piece of chewing gum that allegedly belonged to Ted Bundy. But that wasn’t nearly as strange as the woman who insisted she was the reincarnation of the dog that told Son of Sam to kill people.
It was mid-December when Gene threw another party. James was running late, and he was the last to arrive. The guests were in the living room, warming themselves up by the fire or looking for an empty seat. James walked in, greeted Gene and a few familiar faces, and introduced himself to some of the newer faces.
That evening’s discussion revolved around The Silent Film killer. James was unfamiliar with the moniker, as the papers had only printed one article. As far as the police could tell, this killer was specifically targeting people who talked on their cell phones during movies.
This fact terrified James, who was periodically checking his phone for text messages or missed calls, or to see if one of his friends added a new photo to Instagram.
James might’ve loathed parties, but he still had a social life. And his phone was what kept him connected to everybody else. He hadn’t even realized how addicted he’d become to his phone, and social media in general. He couldn’t go for more than an hour without sending a text, browsing Instagram or Facebook, or watching funny cat videos on YouTube.
“The cops aren’t releasing much information to the press,” Gene told his guests. He was older than James by sixteen years. A tall, lean man with a cleft chin and one glass eye. Legend has it that Gene was the only victim to survive The Optometrist. But he had never discussed it with James or the rest of the group. He’d never even addressed his glass eye, and none of them had the audacity to question him about it.
“I think they’re trying to keep this quiet for the time being,” Gene continued. “They’re not even sure if it’s a man or a woman. All we know is that the killer is seemingly targeting people who talk on their phones at the movies. He follows them home, slits their throats, and cuts out their tongues. Even if they survive, they’ll likely never speak again.”
“It’s definitely a man,” one of the guests interjected. He was a short, abnormally thin man who looked like he still bought all his clothes from the children’s department. “No way could a woman do that.”
“Why not?” a young woman with shoulder-length red hair asked. There was a scattering of golden brown freckles across her rosy cheeks. “Anything a man is capable of, a woman is capable of.”
“That’s why there are women playing in the NFL,” one of the guests quipped, and the forced laughter that James dreaded soon followed.
He was tempted to whip out his phone and check his messages, but the revelation of a killer who mutilates people just for talking on their phones made him reconsider.
“Let’s not get off track here,” Gene said. “The killer’s gender is irrelevant at this juncture. What is relevant is the fact that there is an active serial killer on Long Island. This concerns all of us. We need to discuss all the necessary precautions. And I think it’s safe to say none of us should go to the movies alone.”
“Who goes to the movies alone?” one of the guests remarked. James breathed a sigh of relief when nobody laughed.
The conversation had James trying to remember the last movie he’d seen in theaters. He didn’t have to think that far back. It’d been a week. James had gone with Ninja Bill to see Django Unchained on the opening night.
He remembered receiving a call and answering it during the movie, and he remembered people three rows back shouting for him to pipe down and turn off his phone. And this recollection sent a brief chill down his spine.
I really dodged a bullet there, James thought. What if the killer had been in the theater with me? What if he had heard me talking on my phone?
“How many times has the killer struck?” the red haired woman asked.
“Four times in four different locations, as far as I know. Westlake, Greenville, Cherrywood, and Fairview.”
James quietly excused himself and wandered into the hall. The first thing he did was check his phone. No texts. No missed calls. He logged into Facebook, updated his status, and signed out.
On his way to the bathroom, James passed the kitchen. A set of glass sliding doors led out to the patio, where James saw one of the guests smoking a cigar.
James had been trying to quit smoking for weeks. But he still carried a pack everywhere he went. So on his way back from the bathroom, he slipped out for a quick cigarette. The man was still puffing away on his cigar when James walked out.
“Is this the smokers lounge?” James asked, ready to punch himself for making such a lame remark.
“I suppose it is,” the man said. He was much older than James, his voice gruffer, deeper. “Need a light?”
“Nah, I got one,” James said, a cigarette already dangling from his lip.
“So what do you make of all this?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“The Silent Film killer. Pretty scary, huh?”
“Oh, yeah, it’s terrifying. I’ll never understand what makes a normal person snap and decide to start killing.”
“Maybe they were never normal to begin with,” the man suggested. “Maybe all they needed was a push.”
“I’m sorry, who are you again? Are you a friend of Gene’s?”
“Edward Fish,” the man introduced himself. “But my friends call Eddy. And yes, I met Gene at a convention years ago. And you are?”
“James Bullock,” he said. “My friends call me Jim sometimes. And you can too. Just please don’t call me Jimbo. I’ve got a friend who does that. It’s so juvenile.”
“Nice to meet you, James,” Edward nodded. The cigar was now a smoldering nub between his fingers. He put it out, and said, “You know, as an avid moviegoer, I can’t say I’m too surprised about all this. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to beat somebody senseless for talking on their phone during a movie.” James chuckled nervously.
“Are you a movie fan?” Edward asked him.
“I know a few people. They’re weirder than any of the people you’ll meet inside. I dated a woman once who didn’t like comedies. I could never wrap my head around it. Who doesn’t love a good comedy?”
“That is strange,” James concurred. “I can watch a good comedy any day of the week. My father was a big John Hughes fan. I saw all of his movies when I was a kid. Home Alone was an annual tradition in our house. We watched it every Christmas morning.”
“Seen any good movies lately?” Edward inquired.
“The only thing I’ve seen recently was Django Unchained. I went a week ago with my friend, Ninja Bill.” James finished his cigarette and flicked it over the backyard fence.
Edward chortled. “Is Ninja Bill an actual ninja?”
“Nah, he barely knows karate. The last time he tried a jumping snap kick, he kneed himself in the chin.”
“So what’d you think of Django?”
“I have mixed feelings towards it.”
“Perhaps you missed some of the best scenes while you were busy chatting on your cell phone?” James thought the man was just kidding around, until he saw Edward’s sinister gaze, and saw the blade glistening in the moonlight. And in that moment, he saw his entire, short, twenty-six-year life flash before his bulging eyes.
This was no ordinary knife. It was a knife used for cutting linoleum. It had a short wooden handle and an even shorter blade. The blade was stiff and curved at the tip.
His lips parted, and he opened his mouth to scream and alert the other guests, but no screams escaped his mouth. The blade moved so quickly, he barely even felt it. But in the moonlight, he saw something land on the toe of his boot. Something soft and pink. The tip of his tongue.
Edward Fish brought one finger to his lips and whispered, “Shhhh. No talking during the movie.”