"When I Grow Up"

Ever since he can remember, Ted Michael LaBelle wanted to be a serial killer.

His father was a cop.  Or as he would later find out, a Securitas night guard at the local Supermall.  But Mr. LaBelle, Dad, would come home with wild tales for his son from the beat, of murderers captured in the act, of smoking pistols and unsolved mysteries.  Ted Michael LaBelle was enthralled.  Dad was reprieved.  It was a lot more captivating than flooded bathrooms and elderly shoplifters.

That first Halloween, the first one he can recall, Ted Michael LaBelle dressed up as one of his heroes.  He told his mother he was a businessman, a noble costume for a 9-year-old boy, and Mom couldn't see the harm in a dapper suit and slick hair.  She wanted him to go as a flower, an old costume she'd worn as a child and saved for this very occasion, but he wanted to be a businessman.  Who was she to hold him back?  Her boy would grow up to be rich and powerful, better than a security guard or a vacant gambler or a silly flower.  She never questioned the plastic meat cleaver he required to complete the ensemble.  Mothers.

In elementary school, he did his best to stay out of trouble.  But it wasn't easy.  He wouldn't tolerate being called, simply, Ted.  It was Ted Michael LaBelle.  All three names, equally as important.  He would write the name in his notebook, next to complex puzzles and fake news stories about how the FBI finally caught the greatest serial killer of all time.  That's when the teasing started, and the bullying, when they found his notebooks.  But Ted Michael LaBelle welcomed it, taking punches and insults with a smile.  He thought it was all an important step in fulfilling his destiny.  You're doing it, he told himself, you're learning; play the part.

Books guided him further toward his calling.  The true crime section at the school library was surprisingly reckless for an elementary school, filled with tomes of warped humanity, and with pictures, too.  The pictures were the best, black and white, stolen from the past.  Soon, the library became his only friend.  He would escape there until the kind librarian would tell him to leave.  But that wouldn't do.  Not once he reached junior high school.  It would be too suspicious.  A boy with no friends was a boy to look out for, and Ted Michael LaBelle did not want to be looked out for.  Cover was essential.  His alibi had to be siege-proof.  He had to blend, the way his counterparts did so well.

So Ted Michael LaBelle went out in search of friendship.  He had to find children he could trust, children he could manipulate, the weak-willed and such.  But it wasn't easy.  Children were smarter than they looked, he realized, and decided to make up ground in gym class.  No one would see it coming: Small, distant Ted Michael LaBelle, the hero of the gym class football team, winner of friends and praise and the marginal attention necessary to avoid criminal detection.  He read up on the rules of football, never one to waste too much time in front of the television with Dad, and found its rules simple enough.  The application was harder, however. He was small and unathletic, and couldn't catch or throw, but he had a sharp, sudden ferocity to him that caught people off guard and left plenty of classmates breathless and holding their ribs.  It didn't matter that it was flag football.  Ted Michael LaBelle never did become the hero, but they didn't pick him last anymore.  Mission accomplished.

The boy who was picked last became his one and only friend.  Steven Somethingorother.  It was enough to get by, Ted Michael LaBelle convinced himself, and besides, high school would come soon; he would start fresh, slip into circles and make acquaintances without them ever knowing who was in their midst.  Steven would be discarded for another echelon.  He had to keep learning, to study the mannerisms and habits of all sorts of people, to find the right targets.

High school came, and Steven Somethingorother remained his only friend.  Baffling, he thought.  But it was a temporary setback, after a few years, he would get to start fresh at a university, that's where the true predatory work would begin.  High school was merely a chance to observe, and Ted Michael LaBelle studied his classmates the way Jane Goodall studied her chimps.  He took detailed notes, documenting their lives between faint blue lines.

But there was something missing from the formula.  Ted Michael LaBelle knew he could stalk and prey with the best of them, but he lacked a lot of the serial skills necessary to finish the deed.  He'd never killed a thing before, although he knew how his counterparts had, but without regular practice, without honing his talents against the grindstone, he might as well just be a killer's assistant.  That would never do.

That's how Ted Michael LaBelle joined the Boy Scouts.  He was too old, they said, but after some prodding from his father, the best damn beat cop in Precinct Supermall, the local troop let him join, going on camping trips with middle school boys and learning the skills of survival: Gutting fish, sharpening knives, covering tracks, all the important things.  What he lacked in years, Ted Michael LaBelle made up for with tenacity, and soon he'd eclipsed even the best young scouts, working his way through badges the way he'd soon work through a population.  He earned his Eagle Scout in record time.  His parents were so proud, he was headed in the right direction, they'd say, he was going to be a businessman, they'd recall.

But a good serial killer doesn't have proud parents, and being a businessman was too time consuming.  He needed a job, something flexible, where he was the boss and could fudge the hours, if the police ever needed to know where he was when.  Ted Michael LaBelle picked up a part-time job at a driving range, whizzing around in the gas-powered range picker, picking up balls, dumping them into buckets, and heading back out again.  It was simple, repetitive, and it allowed him to focus his mind only on what was important.  The money helped, too.  He bought a machete.  For camping trips with his fellow scouts.

And he also bought a girlfriend.  Jenny Somethingorother.  She wasn't popular by any stretch of the imagination, but she wasn't unpopular either, and her connections would be necessary.  Ted Michael LaBelle took her out and paid for little meals, giving her whatever money he could afford to give.  He didn't need the money so much, he already had a signature weapon, after all; he needed the girlfriend.  He needed to work on his charm, on his charisma, to learn the necessary skills to be attractive.  It was a monumental task.  Her father was a lawyer and worked a lot.  You'd think she'd have a lot of money flowing around, but Dad kept it all to himself, as most dads do.  But Ted Michael LaBelle knew he'd eventually need good counsel, when he turned himself in.  The police would never be able to solve his riddles, but that's what he wanted, it would add to the allure.  Mr. Somethingorother would valiantly defend him in court, pleading with judge and jury, telling them what a sweet, caring young man he was, how he'd known him for years and knew he'd never do such horrible things.  A little doubt in the courtroom would make things all the more dramatic.

Ted Michael LaBelle was surprised to get into college.  He didn't pay too much attention in school, getting by on wits and multiple choice tests.  But his entrance essay, a brilliant piece titled "The Behavioral Tendencies of Boy Scouts & Their Masters," must've done the trick.  He was accepted into the school's anthropology program.

It was there he'd make his first killing.

There was a boy who no one seemed to like.  He was constantly surrounded by people, "friends," but no one seemed to actually like him.  They'd exchange looks behind his back, mock him when he wasn't there.  Ted Michael LaBelle watched him from the outside, from his own small circle of new throwaway acquaintances, studying the boy's every move, piecing together a schedule of his comings and goings, when he was alone, etc.  He was loud, and fat, neither of which would make the deed any easier, but Ted Michael LaBelle stacked himself up against the best, and decided that if he couldn't tick this loud/fat box off, he might as well give up his serial dreams.

For six months, Ted Michael LaBelle stalked his victim, visualizing every moment, day after day.  His plan was foolproof, and so he stopped visualizing one day and put his plan into action.  The boy would get wings and beer from a local bar every Thursday, despite being underage, and would stumble home alone, fat and dizzy and slow, where he'd card his way into his dorm and wander into the elevator, up to the fourth floor, room 433, and collapse in a lumpy heap in the middle of the living room, where his roommate would draw things on his face that don't need mentioning.

Ted Michael LaBelle, dressed in plain clothes, looking as plain and ordinary as possible, followed the boy home that Thursday, keeping his distance, pretending to listen to music and holding his backpack by the shoulder straps.  The boy stumbled toward his dorm, the same way he always did, kicking at garbage bins in the alley and causing a noisy scene.  As they approached the dorm, Ted Michael LaBelle sped up, walking briskly until he was practically breathing down the boy's neck.  His shoes were silent though, rubber soles a must. The boy fumbled through his wallet, finding magnetized identification and opening the door with a beep.  Ted Michael LaBelle slipped in with him, a gust of wind, undocumented by the cardkey reader and unnoticed by the sleeping security guard behind the counter.

He waited patiently for the elevator to arrive while the boy steadied himself against a wall.  They never made eye contact, although Ted Michael LaBelle tried.  The elevator dinged and the boy entered first.  Ted Michael LaBelle could feel his heart pounding, singing even, this was his moment, the one he'd been studying for, preparing for, visualizing, since he was a little boy.  He followed the boy into the elevator and took his position in front of the floor buttons and, more importantly, the emergency stop.  The door closed, and the loud/fat boy, breathing heavily, started singing a tune out of key, to himself, oblivious to Ted Michael LaBelle's presence.  Am I so small, so insignificant? he thought.  Am I nothing more than a fly on the wall to you?  He tried to conjure dark, sinister motivations, the way his counterparts would, manufacturing some sort of wrong-doing, some vengeance that needed to be enacted.  With the elevator in motion, Ted Michael LaBelle pulled the emergency stop, and the boy half-woke from his stupor, looking at him with confusion?

The boy garbled something only he could understand, and Ted Michael LaBelle smiled, said something back, he couldn't remember what, he was so excited, and then carried out the remainder of his plan.

The elevator doors opened once, briefly, on the fourth floor, and then once more, on the main floor, where Ted Michael LaBelle walked out alone, leaving a warm pile of bloody, quiet/fat remains on the elevator floor.  The security guard was still asleep, and a short while later, Ted Michael LaBelle was, too.  Nice and cozy, his life in sudden bloom.