Thursday, May 22, 2008

There's one thing that no amount of late night Law and Order or Boston Legal will teach you about a trial: they're damned boring. After all, you can only listen to people go on about how you're a dangerous psychopath for so long before it gets old. I had been sitting at the defense table in department four of the Santa Barbara Superior Court for over an hour now, and was currently struggling to stay awake through the opening statements.

The DA had gone first, laying out all the reasons that the jury should find me guilty beyond a reasonable doubt (“the evidence will show that Kenneth Short did willfully, and with malice aforethought, take the life of seven innocent people”). My over-priced defense attorney had just finished making what I thought was a pretty weak case to the contrary, which basically summed up to “someone else did it, but we don't know who or why.” It took every ounce of my willpower to suppress a sudden urge to jump up and earnestly inform the jurors that I really wasn't a bad guy. Bake them a cake, maybe belt out some Andrew Lloyd Webber or Gilbert and Sullivan ("A British tar is a soaaaaaa-ring soul, as free as a mountaaaaaaaain biii-ird"). In short, show them that I was an all-around friendly fellow who just wasn't the serial killer type. Somehow I got the feeling that the judge wouldn't have approved of such a display, though, so I choked it down and went back to admiring the ceiling tiles and thinking about how I had gotten into this mess in the first place.

Ever since high school, my goal in life had been to be a famous writer. I spent all of my free time either reading, writing, or coming up with ideas for new stories. I had started my first and only book in my junior year of college, and taken a year off after graduating to finish it. It had everything I thought a good book needed. A compelling main character (in this case, a deranged, yet oddly sympathetic killer who ritualistically mutilated his victims' corpses), comic relief (in the form of a ludicrously inept detective), and just the right amount of social commentary. And of course, a snazzy book jacket. Long story short, it sold about as well as a rock swims and I went back to school, eventually getting a job teaching Literature classes at Santa Barbara City College. I all but forgot about my book until one day, six years later, my best friend and publisher Nate Goodwin called me up with some highly disturbing news.

“Kenny, my man. You been watching the news lately?” Nate's voice sounded a bit shaky, but I figured he was just high. It was the weekend, after all.

“Nah, I check out the primary results every once in a while, but I don't really care which movie star is in rehab this week. Why, what's up?”

“A few homeless guys have turned up dead the past couple weeks. The police suspect that they were all killed by the same person.”

As cliché as it sounds, a chill actually ran down my spine at that. “A serial killer in Santa Barbara? I bet the Mesa folks are raising Hell.” Santa Barbara did attract somewhat unusual people, even for Southern California, but in one way they were much like every suburban community in America: they hated it when their little bubble of sanity and safety was disturbed. A serial killer did a number on that bubble.

“Actually, that's not what I called to tell you. At least, not all of it. There have been three victims so far and all of them have had weird designs carved into their palms.”

If my spine had been a bit chilly before, it was now downright frosty. I didn't bother to ask what kind of symbols, because I knew perfectly well what the answer would be. Greek letters carved into each palm, inverted so that the top of the letter lay toward the fingers. Now I knew why Nate had called me. I walked over to his desk, opened the top drawer, and pulled out a seemingly brand-new hardcover novel with a still-snazzy book jacket. The bottom of the jacket read “Omega Calling”. The top read “Kenneth Short”.

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