Ask any shrink or probation officer, “What is the most troubling kind of client?” You will hear the same answer every time: stalkers. Not the run-of-the-mill stalker—the jilted boyfriend type—but the schizo who obeys no authority save the voice inside his head. Lecture him, he will not listen. Warn him, he will not be impressed. Put him in jail and when he gets out he is likely to stalk you.
The e-mails started the week I retired from the San Francisco Probation Department. The threats had a wholesale quality about them, a banality that prevented me from making a personal connection with the sender. Watch yur back. I’ll see u real soon. You r not God. What could I do with remarks like these but put them in my junk file? I did not even recognize my stalker’s name—at least not at first. Who was Nathan Scudder? A hacker, a spammer, a religious nut? And what had inspired him to visit my blog and latch onto my e-mail address? It was only as the threats continued to pop up, that I remembered him.
I had arrested him several months earlier while I was still a probation officer. A runty kid with long grungy hair, he was on probation for a trespass charge. I remembered him as a celebrity stalker, the kind who might shoot a VIP for the sake of notoriety. And so I was somewhat surprised that he had bothered to come after me. Still, I had put him in jail so he had reason to harbor a grudge. Since his rap sheet listed countless arrests for intimidation, grudges probably came easy to him.
I had locked him up for violating his probation. For sending death threats to a well-known movie actress, accusing her of becoming a Hollywood whore. He had not even looked at me when I booked him; instead, he kept cocking his head to one side as though listening to an unseen presence. But now it appeared he was back on the street and I was on his radar.
I filed the requisite police report, arranged for police drive-bys of my home on Nob Hill, and loaded my Glock 40. I also reported the matter to Jerry Ferrari, the probation officer who now had Scudder’s case. Jerry told me a judge had released Nathan from jail and put him back on probation. The Hollywood actress, busy on a movie shoot, had not appeared in court to testify. A warrant was now out on Nathan because he had not checked-in at the probation department after getting out of jail. And the Sheriff’s fugitive recovery team was trying to hunt him down.
How could I have failed to anticipate the actress not coming to court? Most stalking victims, after filing complaints, did not show up to testify. And so their complaints were dismissed, their predators released.
I chastised myself for my thoroughness, my fastidious sense of duty. Once again, I had tried to protect a victim who did not want to take the stand. Once again, a court, top heavy with cases, had set a criminal free. And now the revolving door of justice had made me a victim too.
God’s angel will git u. I’ll see u in hell. U r going to dissapear. The e-mail threats continued to pour in—up to a dozen a day. As a matter of habit, I closed my eyes and recited my peace officer’s mantra: Show up, do your job, let go of the results. But how could I let go of results like these? I wanted to break his fingers. I wanted to shut him down. And since a court had set me up for this, I was glad to have retired my badge.
I went to the records department at the Hall of Justice, filed a request for information, and reviewed the report I had written when I booked him for threatening the actress. Nathan’s profile was similar to that of John Bardo, the nut who had gunned down TV star Rebecca Schaeffer at her doorstep in Los Angeles. Like Bardo, Nathan fixated on female actresses. Like Bardo, he had showed up outside a studio lot carrying a teddy bear. Nathan had even served a year in Orange County for pulling a knife on a studio lot security guard. It is only a matter of time, I had stated in my report. Given the opportunity, I believe Mr. Scudder will consummate one of his threats. Sounding the alarm seemed quixotic to me now—a smug and superfluous risk. For want of a willing witness, Nathan Scudder was back on the street.
I had lectured victims on safety plans when I was a probation officer. Be aware of your surroundings. Change your route to work. Alter your appearance. How empty these words sounded now: a veritable blueprint on how to remain a victim. The fact that stalkers had more rights than victims was becoming an intolerable bore.
A wolfish anger was rising up inside me, the surly whelp of judicial reticence and long term public apathy. And the melancholy mantle of reason was lifting from my soul. It was time to forsake an authority that had blindly forsaken me. It was time to renounce the yoke of due process and become a law unto myself.
When fighting monsters, Nietzsche warned, be careful you do not become one. But who but a fallen angel can fathom the criminal mind. If you choose to conquer what lurks in the void, you had best be a monster yourself.
I decided to cyberstalk him and put him in fear for his life. The courts would not hold me accountable—I knew that from long experience. Who would bear witness against me? That crazy sociopath? For once, I was grateful for the selectivity of the law.
Prudence, my girlfriend, looked at me curiously when I told her about my plan. Her gaze was cold and critical, an all too familiar reminder that our relationship was waning. But when a woman is close to leaving you, she loses the privilege of judgment. “Who do you think ya are?” she snapped. “Michael Corleone? You take things waaay too personally and you’re turning into a fruitcake.”
“Why shouldn’t I take this personally? He’s threatened to see me in hell.”
She folded her arms tightly across her chest. “Well, you don’t have to be such an asshole about it.”
“Should I allow him to knock me off first?” I asked. “Should I wait until he comes to my doorstep?”
“What you might do is stop your ranting, Tom Hemmings. He’s just some sad little creep.”
“A creep who knows how to find me,” I muttered. “You can thank the goddamn Internet for that.”
“Really, Tom.” She sighed like a furnace. “You’re such an avenger, you know.”
She was looking at me so dismissively that I felt like a stranger to myself. But it was a stranger I chose to welcome. A stranger who was long overdue. The kind of stranger who rides a pale horse and shoots up all the bad guys.
I waited until Prudence was out of the house before firing up my computer. Nathan’s e-mails were still queuing up in my mailbox, but this time I did not read them. I was ready—damn ready—to write my own script.
I went to gmail.com and created a dummy account. And I looked no further than the Godfather movies to find my pseudonym. My handle, email@example.com, did seem a little transparent. But how much was needed to fuck with the mind of a paranoid schizophrenic?
Flushed with rebellion, I bent over my keyboard and typed a caustic message. But my first foray into monsterdom was pitifully clichéd. Little man, I wrote in emboldened font, you are being noticed, you know.
I hit the “send” button then bowed my head as though waiting for lightning to strike. But the prose police did not bust me for writing such stilted tripe. It was like throwing a stone into a pond and watching the ripples spread.
His answer came back almost instantly, which was kind of a surprise. In my shame, I had actually endowed him with a literary eye. But the message that found my inbox had the style of a comic book reader.
Who the fuk r u, man? his misspelled memo read.
I imagined him alone in some roach hotel, his iPad in his lap. Was he glancing out the window? Was he fearing a knock at the door? Was my campy imagination enough to impregnate his scrambled brain? Since his mind seemed rather patented, I kept my response short and succinct.
Some call me the Avenger, I wrote. Others, the Sicilian.
I pressed “send” and held my breath. I chuckled when he replied.
Big fuking deal, man. Git yurself out of my face.
How inebriating it felt to be in control. How empowering to make him squirm. I waited ten minutes to let tension build then authored another gem.
Take care, little man. I do not like your tone. No one addresses the Sicilian without showing proper respect.
I felt like a ghost had possessed me as I slowly re-read the message. Who was this Sicilian? I wondered. A hammy ghoul who made his home in the swamplands of my mind? Or Yeats’ rough beast whose preordained hour had come around at last? For all his intemperate blather, the Sicilian had captured my soul.
I tapped the “send” button. Nathan answered at once.
What r u going do about it, man? And what r u, some kind of fag?
A sinister laugh interrupted my plotting. A sunless shivery chortle that I did not recognize as mine. But since my better angels had let me down, how much could sanity matter? I composed another reply.
You are going to be punished for that, little man. I am trying to decide just how. Hmmm. Let me see. Shall I skin you alive or shall I just slice off your prick?
I sent him the message and waited. He did not reply right away. Had I come on too strong? Had I scared him off? Had I failed to set the hook? It was not until nearly an hour had passed that he sent me another response.
U better not, Sicilian. I can make guys like u disapear.
I relaxed. He was hooked. I grinned like Count Dracula then wrote another bon mot.
How boastful you are, little man. How fun you will be to impale. It is always the braggarts who scream the loudest when I hang them onto hooks.
An annoying reluctance gripped me as I let the message fly. Had Prudence been right? Was he someone to pity? I took stock of my situation as I studied his retort.
Do you think u r bigger than Moses, man? Do you think u r bigger than god?
Fuck it, I decided; I was going to play on. I was now a noble assassin, like Brutus in Julius Caesar. I was riding a full foreboding tide to be taken at the flood. I composed a message so dark and delinquent it startled even me.
I am the godfather. I am the punisher. I am the boogeyman under your bed.
This was getting too easy; I wanted more challenge. I felt like the gods had cheated me when I read his feeble reply.
The FBI is going to git u, man. The CIA is going to git u.
But the game still demanded a morbid commitment; I had no other choice but to strike.
The CIA does not make a move without asking the Sicilian.
The contest continued throughout the day, a battle of mismatched wills. As his taunts grew increasingly desperate, my attacks grew more skillfully barbed. It was like the struggle between the old man and the marlin, and I was the one with the gaff.
What have I don to u, man? he wrote finally.
I gloated like Marley’s ghost. How refreshing to know that, as low as I’d sunk, I could still take the moral high ground. I composed my retort with such lofty scorn that I felt like an Old Testament prophet.
You’re a pox on God’s green earth, I wrote. A boil on the butt of humanity. A piece of maggoty flotsam that needs to be flushed down a sewer.
I struck the “send” button, releasing the message as though it were a falcon.
I’ll kik in your teeth, he responded.
I’ll cut off your balls, I sent back. But not until I skewer you onto my cock and roast you like a pig. That is the fate of any and all who anger the Sicilian.
Long minutes passed. I hoped he would rally; I hoped he would fight off the ropes. Our battle had grown so compelling that I could not bear the thought of its ending. But when his next message came, the shadow of closure spread over my fevered mind.
Yul have to kill me first, Sicilian. I don’t bend over fer fags.
How utterly lame. How totally gauche. What a pitiful foil he’d become. He did not deserve my rapier wit, but heroically I pressed on.
Death will not put you out of my reach, you miserable little shit. When you writhe in that sea of eternal flame, my minions will piss in your mouth. Not even in Hades does a pissant escape the wrath of the Sicilian.
His answer was so regressive that I knew the game was over. Only a child—a terrified child—could make such a callow remark.
I’m telling my father on u. He’s going come kik yer ass.
Time now to finish him off, I sighed. Time to reduce him to pulp. Time to release every goblin and ghost that lay hid in his haunted brain.
Your father? I wrote. Little man, little man. Your father is one of my henchmen. I have ordered him to cut out your heart like Abraham of old.
He had to be crapping his pants right now; he had to be frantic with fear. An untimely pity touched me as I read his next remark.
U and whuz army, Sicilian? he wrote. If u keep on laying this shit on me u r going to be in hot water.
I wanted to show him some mercy. I wanted to blunt my sting. But I also wanted him to run raving through the streets and bump into a cop. I composed another reply and let fly.
You are babbling, little man. For that, I will rip out your tongue. No one mixes metaphors when addressing the Sicilian.
Fuk u, he replied.
That does it, I wrote. I am coming to get you right now.
I pressed “send” as though ringing a doorbell. There was nothing to do now but wait.
A half hour later, my cell phone chirped. It was Jerry Ferrari; he sounded excited. Nathan Scudder had turned himself in.
I attended Nathan’s arraignment the following day and I pumped my fist in triumph. He was wearing a jail-issued jumpsuit and he looked like a frightened troll.
I would not have to testify anytime soon regarding his threats on my life. The judge took one look at his disheveled state and turned him over to the Department of Mental Health. Nathan would spend sixty days in Napa State Hospital then return to court to be evaluated for a hearing.
His gaze met mine as the bailiff marched him back to the holding tank. He nodded. “Mr. Hemmings. How goes it, man?” He looked like he needed to pee.
I feigned compassion. “Two months in a loony bin. Sorry about that, kid.”
His eyes scanned the courtroom. “It sucks,” he said. “But at least the Sicilian won’t get me.”
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