If you missed part 1, check it out here. If you missed part 2, check it out here. If you think you missed part 3, you’re in luck … THIS is part three. Let’s get started with that one right now …
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Jim Becker left work early that afternoon. A news van showed up at the garage just after the cops, and plastered Jim’s face on television, newspapers, the Internet, everywhere. He was an immediate celebrity; a big-time hero, just like The Devil said.
“If I have to tell the story one more time, I’ll
shoot myself and get this over with early,” he thought. And he still didn’t
know what to make of the man in the white. WAS he real? Or was Jim just losing
“I’ll have to ask Emma when I get home. She’ll probably think this is all funny.” Then he remembered. They were divorced. Emma wouldn’t be there.
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The hardest part was the loneliness.
On the outside, Jim and Emma Becker seemed fine, thank you very much. They went to work, visited with friends, and saw their families on the weekends just like every good, suburban couple is supposed to do. They were full of plastic smiles, fake optimism, and just the right amount of energy in the banal stories they shared with work friends and acquaintances to not arouse suspicions that they were, both of them, hopelessly miserable.
Once they returned home from these excursions, the silence enveloped
them and, with it, the loneliness.
Jim tried to fill his time with random activities he could
obsess over just to keep his mind off his failing marriage. He read every book
he could get his hands on, tried to grow a Fu Manchu once until Emma shaved it
off in his sleep, and watched hundreds of obscure documentaries with
One documentary about homeless children who lived in the sewers
of Ulanbataar, Mongolian to escape the winter cold was the kind of stuff that
could rip your heart out, except the translators kept insisting the street
signs for “Slow Children Playing” should actually say “Dead Children Playing,”
and Jim didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Or even whether the sign had been
He bought an online course on Muay Thai kickboxing, but pulled a groin muscle attempting a head level kick; tried to teach himself Mandarin, but decided he was dyslexic in Chinese; and once pulled out his old high school drum set with the intention of starting a band with some friends at work. That dream went down the drain – literally, it would turn out – when Jim spent three hours attempting to master the tom pattern for the Rush song, YYZ, causing Emma to storm into the room, wild-eyed.
“Oh my God, Jim! Stop it!”
“You’ve been banging on that thing for hours. I can’t take
“I just need to get the transition into the 5/4 time
signature,” Jim said as he tapped the edge of his cymbal ever so slightly. “I
need to work out the Morse code for the letters in the title.”
“What the HELL are you talking about?”
And off they went again. That fight lasted two hours and
resulted in Jim throwing his drum set out of their third floor attic window
after Emma told him of course she
wanted to support his dreams … so long as his dreams weren’t stupid.
The kick drum broke into several pieces, a few of which slid
into the sewer next to their driveway.
“I wonder if the kids in Ulanbataar play music in the
sewers,” Jim said, at which point Emma stormed out of the room and didn’t speak
to him again for over a month. He slept in the empty space in the attic where
his drum set used to be, and locked the door.
Which was alright with Jim. He was finally able to grow that
Fu Manchu, although he ended up shaving it again after a week. Emma was right.
It was ridiculous, but he would never
give her the satisfaction of admitting that out loud. He never gave her the
satisfaction of admitting anything then. Not to her. No sir.
At work, Jim was a “rock star,” a real “up-and-coming high performer,” and many other hyperbolic HR terms executives like to use when they don’t know how to peg someone. When his company merged with a logistics firm from Texas, Jim found himself working in a new sea of near-to-middle-aged men wearing Walmart Khakis blue Oxford button-downs with clip-on ties.
“The new blue collar!” a co-worker told him once as he launched into an un-asked-for dissertation about stock portfolio and how amazing his recent picks were. It made Jim want to puke.
But, then, there was Samantha.
Samantha Upchurch was a project manager by trade and a spitfire by design. She wore bright, loud dresses and suits to match her bright, red hair and big personality. She liked to wear horn-rimmed glasses, even though Jim suspected she didn’t really need them.
“I wanted to be a librarian once,” she told Jim and a few
team members over cards at lunch, “but there was one problem with that plan.”
“What was that?”
“I talk to the books, but the books? They don’t talk back.”
Her outsize personality got on most people’s nerves, but Jim loved listening to and, when he got the chance, talking with her. The thing Jim liked about Samantha was she asked questions. All sorts of questions.
“You play the drums? What’s your favorite band? You like Dean
Koontz novels? Have you read the one about Nazis and time travel? I think Die
Hard is definitely NOT a Christmas movie. What do you think?”
Jim didn’t see anything wrong with it. There was nobody else
at work to talk to and, of course, Emma wasn’t saying anything. What was he
supposed to do? Ignore her? Good luck with that. Samantha Upchurch was many
things in life, but she was not one to be ignored.
A few months past the merger and their regular, card-playing
lunch group dwindled to just Jim and Samantha. With all that time to
themselves, their conversations turned deeper. Samantha was married to an electrical
engineer who never seemed to want to help with the kids, and her two daughters,
she admitted, were teenagers now and driving her insane.
“Sometimes I wish I could Eat, Pray, Love my way out of all this,” she said. “Except I’d go to Philly instead of India because it’s really hot in Delhi and I LOVE cheese steaks.”
Jim told her about losing the baby and how they were having “a
bit of trouble reconnecting.” He put his head down and was surprised when
Samantha took his hand. He looked up.
“You’ll make it through,” She said. “You love her.” The
statement had the slightest tilt, as if there was a hint of a question. Jim
held her gaze for a long moment, wondering if, had the question been asked, he could
have answered honestly in the affirmative.
“Yes,” Jim said, pulling his hand away. Samantha pulled hers
back, and they both retreated to their desks in silence.
There was still nothing wrong, Jim tried to convince
himself. It was probably nothing, and anyway if it WAS more than nothing, Jim
would just ignore any such advances in the future. Jim had a rule against
relationships with co-workers.
“And also, I’m married,” Jim thought. “So I’ll just ignore
it. That’s it. Just ignore it.”
The only problem was Samantha Upchurch was many things in
life – a mother, a project manager, a purveyor of strong opinions and, of course,
a married woman – but she was not one to be ignored; especially by those who, like
Jim Becker, are so willing to remain interested.
Jim and Emma Becker got into one of their worst fights the
morning Jim had to leave for a work trip.
Jim had forgotten to take the garbage out the night before
and, as a result, the kitchen was covered in ants and smelled like spoiled
“I’m sorry, honey, but I have to get going,” Jim said.
“You always do this to me,” she screamed at him. “You never
listen! You don’t care!”
Jim tried to take the garbage out on his way to the car, but
Emma grabbed it and they spilled the contents of the bag all over their front
lawn. When Emma ran back in side, Jim followed her. As he came in the door, he
heard a loud crash on the wall next to his head. He looked down. There was a
broken, glass vase at his feet and a shattered rose.
Jim was shocked.
“Emma,” he said. “That was the rose from our wedding.”
“I know,” she said.
After a long moment of silence, she spoke. “I hate you. I’ve
never loved you. I wish I had never met you. I wish I had never asked you to
dance at the Friendly Stop, wish we had never been married, wish we had never
lost … never lost …”
Emma Becker broke down crying in the living room. Jim tried to console her, but she screamed obscenities at him.
Jim Becker slowly backed out of his house, got into his car,
drove to the airport, and met his co-workers at a conference in Seattle.
That night, as Jim and Samantha shared drinks at the hotel bar, Jim told her the truth about his marriage. The loneliness, the silence, everything. When he finished speaking, Samantha reached for his hand, but Jim pulled it back.
“No,” he said. “I think it’s time we call it a night.”
“Walk me to my room?” Samantha asked.
They rode the elevator together in silence. When they got to Samantha’s room, she looked up into Jim’s eyes, smiled at him sadly, and walked in.
As Jim turned to leave, he noticed Samantha had left her door open just a crack; enough so a sliver of light from within flashed across his eyes.
Jim Becker stood still in the hallway outside Samantha’s room, staring at the door, thinking. A moment later, he pushed the door open, and followed her in.
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Jim considered stopping for either a late lunch or early dinner on his way home from work, and turned left onto Peace Haven Rd instead of his normal trek down Winton. The sun shifted behind the trees, casting slivers of light that danced in his eyes, blinding him. He reached for the visor to block out the sun but, before he could, there was a flash of color and a scream.
Jim slammed on his brakes and the car shook
violently before coming to a stop. He leapt out to see a mangled bicycle lying
in the street. Next to it was a small child, no more than five or six years
The kid wasn’t moving.
Jim called 9-1-1, held the kid’s hand while he
waited for the paramedics, and tried in vain to find a pulse. The kid’s blood
seeped into Jim’s work shirt, staining it. Jim broke down in tears.
“Hello Jim,” the man in white spoke from behind.
“Good God!” Jim screamed, frightened.
“No … The other one, but I’m happy to congratulate
you on your second. Way to go. You’re
really on your way!”
Jim was shocked. The bike. His car. The kid. The man in white? It was too much to take in.
“This,” Jim said, looking at the kid’s lifeless
body. “THIS is my second?”
“Uh huh, and you made quick work of him, too. I’m impressed. Most people hesitate. But not you. You just plowed right on through.” The man in white made a hand motion like a mack truck driving through a series of barricades. He included the kind of truck mouth noises like a small child.
“You said these people were evil,” Jim said,
practically screaming now. “The BAD kind of evil. People who deserved to be
removed from society.”
“Oh, they are. Trust me, Jim. They are, indeed.”
“THIS IS JUST A KID!”
“WAS a kid, Jim. You took care of that.”
Jim fought the urge to charge at the man in white, grab him by the neck with both hands, and bash his head against the pavement. He didn’t want to kill people, but this man didn’t qualify. Was it even possible to kill him? If Jim was just imagining all this, the paramedics would arrive to find Jim Becker in the throes of a psychotic break, attempting to strangle a tree or maybe thin air, and take him to the nearest padded room.
That idea struck Jim as just fine. Fine, indeed.
If, however, the man in white truly was The Devil
and not just a figment of his imagination, Jim doubted he’d get two steps in
before The Devil took him down. It was worth a shot, though. That kind of
killing seemed justified at the moment; like Justice, as the man in which said
The man in white waited patiently for Jim to make
up his mind. That soulless smile never left his face.
“I can’t do this. You didn’t say anything about killing kids.”
“I didn’t say you wouldn’t kill kids, did I?”
Jim was about to blow up again.
“What you have to understand about me and The Big
Guy Upstairs, Jim, is we’re Gods! We have an eternal perspective. We see events
and their consequences played out in the fullness of time.”
“What does that even mean?”
“It means when you look at this kid, all you see
is a kid. I look at him and I see what this kid will become. He has the
potential to be a mass murderer, a military leader who will slaughter millions,
or worse … a politician. You didn’t kill a kid, Jim. You saved millions of
“He just looks like a kid to me,” Jim said.
“Looks can be deceiving,” The Devil said. “Just
ask my third wife.”
“This just doesn’t seem right,” Jim said,
“That’s exactly what SHE said when she caught me with those college girls!”
The devil stepped closer. “It’s all complicated, I know. But you did a good thing. Trust me. This kind of thing is a science and I’m very precise. I know what I’m doing.”
“You said he has the potential to become evil. You
didn’t say he WAS evil.”
“Hey. With Free Will, even Science ain’t an exact Science. You know what I mean? The good thing – well, the good thing for me, at least – is most people are not accustomed to exercising their will. They leave the decisions up to other people. Sometimes, they leave it up to me!”
“If I have free will, doesn’t he? Doesn’t he get the chance to choose good or bad, right or wrong?”
“Good question, Jim. But why worry about it now? You’ve got one more to go and, trust me, this next one’s a doozy. I’ve got something special for you, Jim, and – OH!. You’re gonna love it!”
Jim looked at the kid. Five years old. Probably just learned to ride that bike, probably wanted to show his parents he could ride in the street like the big kid he wanted to become and now, because of Jim, would never be. Was this really a mass murdering psychopath? Or was just a kid on a bike?
“I don’t think I can do this anymore,” Jim said
The Devil sighed. “It’s up to you, of course. Like I said. Free will is free will.” The devil stepped closer, put his hand on Jim’s shoulder.
“But you should know. This next person is on my list. This next person will die whether you do the job or someone else. There are a lot of other people who would help me if I asked.” The Devil smiled wide. “A lot.”
“I told you. I’m a scientist. I’ve been doing this
a long time. Longer than you know.”
“I like you, Jim. You’re a good man. You make me laugh. And, after all you went through with Emma, you could use a break.”
Just hearing her name made Jim want to break down
“I’m rooting for you,” the main white said. “I
WANT you to make it to the end. And I’m serious. You’re really gonna like this
“Who is it?”
“Here.” The Devil reached into his pocket, pulled out a yellow Post-It note and handed it to Jim. It read: “Blue Fern Bar. Fifth and Sycamore. Downtown. 11:30. Look for the person in Red.”
Jim flipped the card over. It read: “Hugs N
“What if I say no?” Jim started to ask, but The Devil was gone again.
“I hate it when he does that.”
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Check out the exciting conclusion in Part 4: Heart’s Desire.