KILL ME FIRST Excerpt:
As a Praying Man Looks to God
It was years later that Tresler finally got the opportunity to meet and question the man he had been pursuing. Sitting out by a quiet pond, sheltered under the cascading branches of a weeping willow, Tresler was able to study Merec for the first time. He had a steep, cragged face with deeply etched lines. His eyes were a smooth, inscrutable blue. But it was his hands that drew Tresler's attention. They lay in his lap, his long slender fingers curled and quiet. And Tresler wonderedthen asked, "How many people have you killed?"
"How do you mean?" He must have seen Tresler looking at his hands because he said, "Do you mean with these," and he opened them, palm up, in a gesture of supplication. "Or do you mean by my order? Or maybe you don't even mean physically, but mentally, emotionally. We have perfected so many different ways of killing."
Tresler said he'd like to stick to the dictionary definition.
"Yes, that's simplest," Merec agreed. "I consider myself responsible for killing with my own hands," and he said this precisely, "sixtytwo people." He tilted his head. "What is your reaction? A lot? A little? What you expected?"
"Less than expected," Tresler admitted, "for a lifetime's work."
"Ah, but those sixtytwo are not the only ones. They are the ones I am responsible for killing with my hands, but not the only deaths that lie on my conscience, and certainly not the ones that lie most heavily." He rebuked Tresler gently, saying, "The simplest questions are indeed thatthe simplest. But they are not usually the ones that give us the answers we most want to know."
They sat, listening to the buzz of the crickets.
"So tell me about the initiation tests," Tresler said.
Merec laughed suddenly, and he was handsome when he did. "I haven't thought about those in years…. But you must know something of the procedure."
"I know that half the men had two bullets, the other half had a full chamber. I know that the men left alive had to rake the grass with their fingers to get up the bits of meat and splintered bone."
Only Merec's eyes showed emotion, the lids dropping slightly, a contraction of the skin somewhere back near his ears. But he simply said mildly, "It's not a glamorous job." He paused, then added. "You seem to be acquainted with the facts."
"From the Torrenson incident," Tresler said.
"So you know what I'm referring to."
He nodded again.
"Did you know who Torrenson was when he applied?"
"Yes," Merec admitted.
"But you contacted him anyway."
"Why?" Merec echoed. He laughed, rich and light, but it was not a laugh that invited company. "I think I have lost many of my whys and wherefores a long time ago. But let me see if I can answer your question. When I set up these initiations I researched all the participants very carefully. They came for various reasons, and I accepted themalso for various reasons. Many people do not see it, but there is a direct connection between what you desire and what you receive. Most came for violence, and that is what they received.
"I have a story that might clarify things. At one session I had a man who came for the money. It wasn't so much, but to him it must have seemed a compelling sum. And he had an unusually compelling reason. His little girl was dying of leukemia. They didn't have any insurance. His wife and his mother both had given all their money. This man had spent all his on… other things. He was in debt and the bank refused him a loan. I could have," he spread his palms, "maybe should have turned him away. But I thought I could do something for him.
I pair myself with all the special cases. Of course they don't have any bullets left in their chamber, but they don't know that. Sometimes in these special cases they will die no matter what they do, as was the case with your man Torrenson. But in this situation I had decided that if the man pulled attempted to fire his weapon I would let him live. But this man didn't even pull the trigger. I made sure his child got the moneyfar more than we had originally offered, and he died honorably, which is more than most can say."
"Honorably?" Tresler asked.
"He could not kill another man even to save himself. Even to save his daughter. I call that honorable."
"But if he had pulled the trigger he would have passed the test and been accepted into the group?"
"He would have passed that stage," Merec conceded.
"So you don't accept honorable men."
"There's no room for honor in my profession."
"If you wanted to help him and suspected that he wouldn't pass the test then why didn't you simply send him the money?" Tresler pressed.
Merec shrugged. "Nothing comes freeespecially in this country of yours. I think," he paused, "no, I know if I had given him the money, he would not have given it to his little girl. A loan from a bank, yes he would have given that because it wasn't really his, but if I had handed him the money, or placed it in his bank account he would have used it for himself. Immoral, yes? Selfish, yes? But, in the field he couldn't shoot mea strangerfor money, or even to save his life. The beauty of humanity, wouldn't you say?"
Tresler leaned forward ever so slightly as he asked his next question. "Do you admire that quality?"
Merec rested one of his smooth, murderous hands over his heart. "I used to despise it."
"Now, I just don't know."
Tresler couldn't help but be fascinated by Merec's low voice and sad smile. "What was it that changed your mind?"
Merec leaned back in his seat and gazed out over Tresler's head to something far distant, as a praying man looks to God, and he said, "Sarah Shepherd. Sarah Shepherd changed everything."