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Chris Diken

The Killer at the Beach


Without exception, the girls wear simple, tasteful bikinis, and the guys high-cut trunks that display well-defined quadriceps. The guys swim, cutting through the ocean, each confident that they can outpaddle the most vicious undertow, thighs capable of thrashing any rip tide into submission. Some perform shallow dives to casually approximate how long they can stay under, quietly competing with one another, quietly and unconsciously vying for the affection of the girls on shore, each secretly convinced that lung capacity somehow foretells the capacity for something much greater, the girls who during these contests shade their eyes and peer out across open water, wondering now what happened to Robert and Kevin and Stephen, only to see them resurface again and glisten, taking regular normal-length breaths. Hermit crabs are plucked from the sea floor and held gently with concern for the animals’ safety and comfort while the guys swim one-handed, slicing through the feeble current, to the shore where they produce the crabs as gifts to the girls who cavort at the edge of the rolling surf as they discuss television programs which have portrayed their favorite celebrities at their lowest and basest and most totally uncensored. Blankets are spread on the beach, reclined upon by those with positive self-images, all of whom are careful to apply plenty of suntan lotion—not that the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays are something anyone at the beach needs to worry about, because none of the beachgoers have any family history whatsoever with melanoma or cancer in general or any other diseases. No sand is kicked up by wind, for there is no wind.

On each lifeguard stand sit two blond people charged with the security of the beach, naturally blond, not just blond because they are out in the sun for eight or ten hours at a stretch (although certainly this increases the intensity of the blondness), a guy with rippling abdominal muscles and an easygoing demeanor, the kind of guy you might set your sister up with if your sister wasn’t a boozeaholic, and next to him a girl, hairless legs crossed so that she can alternately scan the ocean and glance at the painted toenails of one foot; after a certain interval of time passes she switches legs so as to examine the other set of toenails, both sets merit equal attention, her eyes hidden behind mirrored-lens sunglasses so no one knows where she’s looking, but the lifeguards are really just there because it’s the law, basically just for show, such excellent swimmers are all of the guys, each such a Spitzian replica that it physically pains you to watch them because it makes you seem so sad and uncoordinated and pathetic in comparison, and the girls who frolic next to the white tumbling surf never actually fully enter the water because salt dries out their naturally moist skin.

The killer appears. He sweats profusely, for it is almost exactly noon, the sun the strongest it will be all day, and he is wearing his trenchcoat and felt-lined fedora. He stands at the edge of the boardwalk and surveys the beach, his hands in his pockets, ostensibly manipulating some unidentifiable objects, possibly a pair of Derringer pistols, or some spoons that he sharpened during his last term in the can and subsequently employed with great success during the implementation of his insane yet brilliant escape plan, spoons used to slit the throats of prison guards and other inmates and the warden’s wife who was unfortunately visiting her husband at work on the day of the killer’s insane yet brilliant decampment, spoons that he probably should have disposed of a long time ago due to the irrefutable DNA evidence splattered all over them, it wouldn’t take a minute for a jury to send him to fry in the chair, spoons that the killer continues to use, or at least keep with him at all times, out of nostalgia, a sentimental quality that for him engenders the kind of peace of mind he needs to go on killing in a cold blooded, highly calculated, mercilessly efficient manner, a manner that frustrates detectives to no perceivable end but also fascinates them in a morbid way so that yes of course they want to take him out and/or bring him down but they are also intrigued by the case and don’t mind that it sort of stretches out and takes its time in reaching a resolution. It would be presumptuous for anyone to say exactly what he was fiddling with, the coat’s pockets being triple-lined and not given to hosting silhouettes, the only certain thing is that the killer’s hands are jammed in there good and he’s engineering something, maybe trying to further hone his spoons on whetstones which he has sewn into the pockets’ innards, perhaps loading poison darts into separate blowguns, or maybe in the best case scenario jingling loose change or idly fingering his wallet, it might be a nervous habit, killers have tics too like every regular person is prone to having when they get irritable or worried or ennui’d, but it’s probably not a specifically nervous habit, this killer is cool, even now at the beach, on the outside sure his dark colors absorb sunlight, and he sweats, but underneath it all, at the killer’s core, he is absolutely calm and composed, the hand-in-pocket routine probably just something he mindlessly performs to pass the time in between random savage acts of unprovoked violence, but who knows really, it could also be misdirection, something to throw the Feds off, let’s not speculate though, it’s hard to tell from here.

The boardwalk on which he stands is not a carnival-style promenade replete with food vendors and games of chance and rusty children’s rides poorly assembled by half-competent ex-cons (not to say by any means that all ex-cons are half- or some other percentage or iteration of competent; take, for example, the killer), rather it is a bridge, a pathway that prevents foot traffic from disrupting the natural dunes and the manifold species of protected shore grasses that separate parking lot and beach. The boardwalk is not made of planks of wood in accordance with the kind of typical older boardwalk construction methods used in developing the typical carnival-style promenade, seeing as how genuine wood can’t endure all sorts of weather situations without cracking or warping or splitting apart and splintering off into shards and slivers which become embedded in the bare feet of boardwalkers. This beach’s boardwalk is part of the Keep Our Boardwalks Safe Initiative, as most beaches’ boardwalks are slowly becoming part of through local referendums and such forth. In order to comply with KOBSI the boardwalk on which the killer is standing and sweating and manipulating some very possibly sinister items in his pockets is composed of a synthetic polyfiber material, a kind of plastic that looks like wood and even sort of feels like wood but isn’t prone to fixing miniature wooden daggers into the skin of those who traverse it. The killer’s feet are always fully and imperviously booted, and he laughs maniacally at miniature wooden daggers, metaphorically anyway, his boots even sporting a steel insert in the toe and with it he could easily kick the living hell out of your regular old wooden boardwalk. He doesn’t even know what KOBSI stands for. But if he’d taken the time to read the weatherproof plaque posted at the boardwalk’s entrance, he’d probably have thought it was the sorriest most miserable thing he’d ever read, and consequently would have unloaded a few rounds into the synthetic polyfibers as part of his own personal safety initiative.

The killer as he stands overlooking the beach possibly wonders how the special synthetic polyfibers might act should they come into contact with the blood of his victims, would it bead up instantaneously as demonstrated in the late night infomercial for the world’s leader in water repelling technology? Where, the insomniac killer always thought, and maybe this is the insomnia talking, blood is symbolically replaced by water? Or it’s entirely feasible that as he stands on the boardwalk ostensibly surveying the area where he is possibly about to undertake a spree of brutality free of motive or reason, he imagines the sweat pouring off him as a cooling liquid that pools into a glass from which he can drink and experience an interior deadening whereby he might feel even less compassion for the living things around him, thereby engendering more destruction or, perhaps more alarmingly, the exact same amount of destruction, only conducted in a more brutal fashion. The killer does look unusually well-rested—it’s not impossible for him to have picked up a prescription.

The beachgoers are in general quite ignorant but on this day they seem to be particularly blissed out in their ignorance; say for instance if on this day no killer presented himself—say rather in place of a killer, a singular dorsal fin suddenly emerged, a fin that gradually moved closer to shore and to the oceangoing public in a pattern of speed and menace that anyone could immediately recognize from movies about willfully malevolent fish, for instance if this happened, the beachgoers would most likely, if we’re going to be truthful here, probably plain ignore it or chalk it up to the strange way that light reflects off the ocean, or identify it as the sign of a bottlenose dolphin coming to make friends. But each of these is in any case an unlikely circumstance since they all depend on the beachgoers’ recognizance of the fin in the first place, and with all of the gracefully powerful swimming strokes being hammered out, the subtly flirtatious shorebreak frolicking to distract them, with all the apparently innocent sexual tension wafting languorously around and numbing the beachgoers into a state of warm safe semi-aroused contentment, there’s just no chance that anyone is going to notice a potentially malefic fin coursing towards the beach in a manner that the Survive a Shark Attack! guidebook suggests is an easily-interpretable sign that a predator of the deep is about to impose its own hungry will on whatever unfortunate thing should get in its way. This just isn’t the kind of beach where death occurs—not once has a breath-holding contest ever turned deadly, no one has ever been swept out to sea, in fact no misfortune has ever headlined the beach’s complimentary monthly newsletter—not like at the other beach, the free one, located on the other side of the quaint shore community, which last year saw the loss of four lives not including that family of indeterminate Eastern European descent who clearly underestimated the American current, but one might say that they—in any case, it was a tragedy for the whole village.

The killer scans the beach with the gentlest head movement available, in order to attract the least possible amount of attention to himself. There are no children in view, thankfully. But it could be worse than just icing a kid, even, something that most people don’t even like to mention, but hey we can’t just pretend it doesn’t ever happen, although it would take a whole different kind, someone above and beyond a killer, more like your kidnapper or abductor or molester type personality, which is a number of degrees apart from a straight killer’s personality according to psychological profiling textbooks—even a killer who seemingly follows no set rationale or lacks reason for what he does doesn’t go around giving children what they (our children) are taught to describe as "bad touches" unless he has one of those rare killer plus sick abductor/molester dispositions. There are some children at the beach, but they are way down at the end near the jetty, exploring the tide pools, the boys practicing the transportation of hermit crabs and the girls are running away from them, shrieking and pretending that they are incompatible with all of it. If the killer even notices the children, he probably only sees them as small dark specks against the dark mottled background of the jetty rocks, some kind of human forms, surely, but most likely he doesn’t recognize them specifically as children—and again it really wouldn’t matter unless by some wild chance he was in possession of that horrible rare affinity, but typically a person suffering from such a condition focuses his attention on children and only considers adults as secondary targets, like for instance an adult might be victimized if he or she blocks the path between the killer/molester and a child, similar to a witless, bumbling camper caught between a mother grizzly and her cub. If this killer were doubly afflicted, as it were, by homicidal and pedophilic tendencies, he—again, according to psychological profiling textbooks—probably would have sought the children out directly, and since he hasn’t (unless he is successfully disguising his intentions), one may assume that he is strictly a killer, and nothing more.

The killer steps off of the boardwalk and onto the beachfront proper, where the footing is less sure. He stumbles at first as he sinks into the sand but soon he is crossing the beach, his trenchcoat’s belt flapping gently behind him, fedora tilted back so that we can get a good look at the guy’s face, at the emotionless visage which hardens itself even further just prior to an act of violence. Upon closer inspection the killer’s face now seems a little soft at the edges, somewhat porky actually in the neck and jowl regions, but in the center right around his nose the face is rigid and constricted, pulled tight and devoid of expression and countenance, and as he approaches the lounge chair rental station he wipes the sweat from his brow and reaches into the interior pocket of his coat and produces a few dollar bills. Soon he is staking out a location for his chair, certainly an inconspicuous area is preferable but one which affords good visibility and a clear shot, if it should come to that. He covers the length of the beach several times in pursuit of the appropriate location, and feels more self-conscious with every pass, like more and more people notice him, an anomaly at their beach, the sweat is stinging his eyes and suddenly the chair feels almost too heavy to carry, but just as he prepares to give it up and pack it in out of embarrassment, he notices a lone piece of driftwood near the dune preservation fence. He unfolds the chair, and sits.

He sits, then, prodded by what may be the blades and semiautomatic weapons concealed beneath his coat, he shifts in his chair, stretches his legs out, pulls them back in—it’s probably hard to get comfortable with that kind of arsenal strapped to your person. Some beachgoers wonder whether he’s going to expose himself on account of the trenchcoat. They wonder if he paid to get on the beach or if he snuck on, maybe slipped through a gap in the dune preservation fencing, or made himself a gap with wire cutters. It’s not clear to them if the killer is wearing the mandatory beach badge and his hands are engaged under his coat, observers thinking, God, if he’s playing with himself, I’m going straight to the surf cabana and calling the beach police.

He’s not playing with himself, although the prospect of laying waste to an entire beach does arouse him slightly, but not exactly in a sexual way. His psychological state is calm but prone to stimulation by the smallest input, and as he watches a family pass, an exhausted mom still trying to hold it together and her husband who categorically denies the obvious fact that his children are deeply morose because of something huge and scary that neither of them can quite articulate except through mumbled one word responses and shrugged shoulders and secret hopes each harbor about one day having the courage to forge a murder-suicide pact, he feels a quick pang in his chest for each of them, a strange sensation of pressure to which he attaches no meaning whatsoever. It might just be the buckle of his shoulder holster poking him in the pectoral, the definition of the pectoral produced by countless bench-press reps in the center of the prison yard, he wasn’t the strongest guy in the pen as far as brute force was concerned, but far from the weakest, and definitely the strongest at the beach as far as potential raw force generated by the body, he could crush an esophagus while whistling (You’re A) Grand Old Flag, so solid is his own wind. The killer reaches down next to his rented beach chair and picks up a shell and runs his finger along its ridges. Not a major thing to slice a femoral artery with a shell. Just a swipe in the right place and no tourniquet could cut off that supply. He releases the shell and crushes it with the heel of his boot. Application of crab claw to jugular, stray picket from dune preservation fence conducted with stabbing motion, enticement of sharks via chum from severed appendage, liver trauma by way of pointy driftwood causing self-poisoning and long slow sad death on sandbar at low tide with tiny waves lapping over chest and sun not far from horizon, sky lit pink the last moments a mixture of shivering and overheating while body shuts down.

Halfheartedly, the killer tries to read a magazine, but the heat makes him drowsy. His neck muscles begin to have a difficult time holding his head up. He lays the magazine down next to the chair and resettles himself, resting his head back on the nylon webbing. He regards the beachgoers individually, and when possible, as a group. It wouldn’t take much. A plan of action would barely be required to just stand up and reach into the depths of the coat. They certainly wouldn’t be suspecting.

The beach is quiet. It’s still a fine day, but the sun is going down. The beachgoers have all departed in order to patronize their community’s excellent seafood restaurants. The wind has picked up and it fans the trenchcoat of the killer, who is asleep in his rented beach chair. His jaw slack, his fedora crooked, the killer dreams of his childhood, which was, by all accounts, a very pleasant time in his life.

Chris Diken is from New Jersey

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