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Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Day I Realized My Boss Was a Serial Killer

I used to work for a wireless company's network. As part of my job requirements, I had to make sure all the individual buildings underneath each cell phone tower were up to the company's safety and environmental codes, as well as conduct inventory on every piece of equipment at every site. This probably would have been a terrible job in a lot of places in the country, but we were based out of El Paso, with our region extending through western Texas and the southern half of New Mexico - so many of our towers were on top of big, gorgeous desert mountains with absolutely amazing views. However, this meant that, for many of the sites, I had to get a ride with my boss, as my company vehicle was just a small SUV, not capable of going up the very steep, rocky mountain sides like the big trucks could.

I got along with my boss fairly well. We had drastically different life views, but as long as we didn't talk about the big three (well, two, really, as money was never a very interesting topic of discussion, anyway - he had quite a bit of it, and I didn't, and beyond that, it was pretty boring to discuss), we usually passed the hours in the truck, driving across the southwestern desert, rather enjoyably.

My boss, I'll call him Jim for this story's sake, was one of the most unlucky people I've ever met. He had a terrible habit of being in the wrong place at the exact wrong time. When he was younger, he had been a police officer in several different states, so he had a decent amount of medical emergency training and was good at handling crisis situations - which was a good skill to have, considering his terrible luck.

Shortly after I started working for him, Jim was the first person to come across a terrible accident just outside the city limits. If you've ever been to El Paso, you know that the city kind of ends abruptly and the desert takes over - and there are few, if any, street lights or marked street signs once you leave town. He was driving home one night (he lived in suburb of El Paso, but knew shortcuts across desert roads, because our towers were everywhere, and we probably knew the layout of the city and desert roads better than anyone in the town), and he was the first person to arrive at the accident. A drunk driver had hit a car full of local college students and then fled the scene. Jim jumped out to start assessing the situation while they waited for the police and emergency services to arrive. One girl was very badly injured, and he recognized this. He sat down in the dirt and tried to talk calmly to her, reassuring her that she would be okay, and knowing that she wouldn't.

He didn't talk much about the accident after it happened, except to say how much it had disturbed him. Even after the years of being a cop, a gruesome car accident could still get to him.

And that was just the beginning. Over the months that I knew and worked with him, more and more terrible things kept happening around him. His best friend from high school (who lived in another state) was diagnosed with cancer, and had a freak allergic reaction to one of the medications they gave her, and she ended up dying. He accidentally ran over and killed two dogs on the busy street right outside his neighborhood. His truck was stolen from a parking lot, but was fortunately recovered right before the thieves could get it over the border into Mexico. He walked into a gas station just moments after it had been held up, only to find a man having a heart attack. He quickly jumped into action, and managed to keep the man breathing until paramedics arrived. He later went to visit the man as he was recovering in the hospital, only for the man to have a stroke minutes before he got to the room to visit him.

At first, I was skeptical of the truth of all these things. It seemed so crazy that he was so often the first person at the scene of the accident. But, because I spent a decent amount of time driving in the company vehicle with him, I became witness to his terrible luck first hand.

One day, as we were driving to a cell site in a town north of El Paso, we came across a terrible accident in the middle of the highway, just south of the town. As was Jim's luck, we were one of the first cars at the scene. A drunken man in a motorized wheelchair had been trying to cross the highway - and a young 17 year old girl, driving her boyfriend's mother's car, had accidentally hit him, going about 50 miles an hour. Somehow, the man was still alive. Jim jumped out right away and began trying to stabilize the man until the paramedics arrived. I stood back and watched in horror. It was truly a terrible scene, and I'm not sure whether or not the man ended up living or dying (he was taken away in the ambulance alive, though).

Another day, while driving on the interstate through El Paso, an SUV full of drunk young men hit us. They tore off the driver's side mirror, but, fortunately, caused little other damage. We watched the SUV play pin ball through the traffic in front of us, hitting nearly every car it tried to pass. We called the police, and they informed us that they had too many other things going on at the moment and couldn't send a single one of their 30 on-duty patrol cars to stop the drunk driver flying down the city's interstate. Thankfully, they managed not to kill anyone.

But Jim's bad luck streak just wouldn't quit. He had previously been a youth pastor at his church in the suburb of town, but had recently quit for personal reasons. However, he kept in contact with many of his students, as he had developed caring relationships with them. One day, one of the girls from his youth group (who was only 16) was hospitalized after her boyfriend brutally beat and raped her when she refused consensual sex. Later, he informed me that she had died due to the extensive trauma to her brain.

On top of everything else, he was in the middle of a very ugly divorce. His wife made a claim to the police that he had hit her, and she got a restraining order against him. Then she proceeded to torture him with it, repeatedly calling the police to say he'd violated the restraining order, or making anonymous calls at 3am that he was throwing loud parties and giving underage kids alcohol, or that he had weapons in the home (a violation of the restraining order), which gave them the right to repeatedly search his house.

I listened in horror to all these terrible things that happened to and around him. Although some of them were hard to believe (or too terrible to believe), knowing that these sorts of things did have a habit of happening to him, and that he really did just have terrible luck, I took him at his word and oftentimes felt sorry for him.

One morning, he had a court appointment first thing, and would be coming in to work a few hours late. We had a tour of the office scheduled for a group of the company's sales associates who wanted to learn more about the network side of things, and he had promised he'd be in to the office on time, so I wouldn't have to stumble my way awkwardly through the tour. Fifteen minutes before they were scheduled to be there, I started to get a little nervous, so I sent him a text, asking if he was still planning on being there on time.

"Got pulled over. Think I can still make it," he replied.

I sat at my desk, anxiously tapping my foot and hoping the group wouldn't arrive early. I had no idea how to entertain them, and my limited knowledge of how things worked (inventory, mostly) was surely not the exciting network tour they were anticipating.

Unfortunately, the group beat Jim to the office by about two minutes. I asked them if they could take a seat in the conference room and wait a moment for him to get there. I assured them the tour would be much more enjoyable with him as a tour guide, instead of me.

I rushed back to my desk and was about to text Jim again, to let him know they had arrived, when he burst through the warehouse door, wiping his arm with a towel. But not just any towel. This towel looked like it had blood on it.

He came over to me and said, "Get me a roll of paper towels and bring it out to my car." "But the tour group -" I started. His icy glare told me to drop it and just get the paper towels.

I met him back out as his car, handed him the paper towels, and as I watched him clean up what looked like blood splatters from the door frame of his car, I noticed that his arms didn't have any cuts. Using my extensive powers of deductive reasoning, I realized, this was likely not his blood.

"What happened?!" I asked, but he ignored the question, walked past me, and went into the building to give the tour, as if it were nothing usual at all.

After the tour group left, he sat me down in the conference room to explain. He said he had been pulled over by the cop, right in front of a school zone near the office. While the cop had his truck pulled over on the shoulder, a teenager from the school had darted out in front of his truck, clearly without looking both ways first, and had run into the street, only to be hit by a passing car that hadn't been able to see around the pulled over cop car and big truck. Because of his training, Jim stepped right in with the cop to give emergency attention to the young boy as they waited for the ambulance to arrive. He said the boy wasn't hurt too badly, and the cop was so thankful for the extra set of hands, he let Jim go with just a verbal warning.

A few days later, we were back in Jim's truck, driving across the desert to another cell site. Things were going along pleasantly enough, when he asked me to reach into the back seat and get a binder of papers we needed to do the inventory. I lifted up the binder, and underneath it, there was a big red stain on the seat cushion - right next to a mostly empty bottle of red food coloring.

My mind froze. I literally went cold all over as the truth spread down my body and into my appendages. I could feel the cold, tingly dread of realization as it leaked into every inch of my being. If your heart really can stand still, mine surely did in that moment.

"What are you doing?" Jim's calm, normal-person voice cut through me. I must have still been leaning back into the seat behind me, too frozen in my realization-terror to move.

"You spilled red food coloring on the seat!" I blurted out before I could stop myself.

For a split second, I saw the dark cloud cross Jim's eyes. But he regained his sane-person persona and calmly explained, "oh yeah, I bought some cake supplies to help some of my kids [youth group students] bake a cake the other day. I forgot to make sure the cap was on that one all the way before I threw it back there! There's a green one back there, too, somewhere." As if that made his story believable. I looked back, and, sure enough, there was a green bottle of food coloring, too. Except that it was in a cup holder, and it had never been opened.

"Oh! That's awfully nice of you." I said, too easily. Surely real me, the belligerent me he's known all these months wouldn't have just accepted such a weak story at face-value. He HAD to know I suspected something. I quickly tried to change the subject, just to show him how believable his story was. "So, another hot day in the desert, huh?" I joked.

After I feebly convinced him of my lack of suspicion and he got talking about something or other, I had a moment to think. Convinced he could see through my weak agreeableness, I just knew he was going to drive us further out into the desert (even though we were pretty far into deserted isolation as it was) and murder me. This must be what he does with all his victims. And really, the area couldn't be more perfect for it. With endless miles upon miles of uninhabitable desert, with a truck big enough to off-road through it, the southwestern desert really does provide a perfect, hidden-in-clear-sight graveyard.

But some how, miraculously, he didn't murder me. Not then, and, so far, not yet. When we got back to civilization, and I got back to the comfort and security of my own home, I began to think back on all his stories of bad luck. I didn't get a newspaper in El Paso, but they still have newspaper archives online. I quickly set out on a massive search to find evidence of any of his past claims of disaster. If the high school boy was made up, were the others, as well?

The more I thought about it, the more of an idiot I felt like. Surely, if four local college students had been in a drunk driving accident and one of them died, it would have made local, if not national news. And yet, no word anywhere. If an underage girl was raped and murdered by her of-age boyfriend, that would have obviously made the news. In a town where someone's apartment catching on fire makes the nightly news, logically, I would have heard about a gas station being held up at gun-point, resulting in a man having a heart attack and ultimately dying of a stroke in the hospital, wouldn't I? I didn't get the local paper, but I wasn't living isolated in a cave, either.

I didn't sleep that entire night. I was too terrified to go into work the next day. But maybe he really did believe that I believed his feeble story about cake decorating? He did think I was kind of an idiot, after all. Whenever he started talking about something that I either didn't care about or really disagreed with but didn't have the energy to argue, I simply agreed and said, "oh, that's interesting." (I've found that to be a very useful survival technique in many situations, actually - there are probably a lot of people who think I'm either very naive or very gullible and kind of stupid, simply because I don't have the energy to argue reality most of the time.) Maybe I had somehow managed to win back his trust! Maybe I wasn't going to be murdered and have my body left for the coyotes in the middle of the desert! Nevertheless, I told Husband (who was deployed in Iraq through all of this), that if I suddenly disappeared, Jim had murdered me, and my body was somewhere in the desert. Husband didn't think this was overly funny, but I didn't really think it was entirely a joke, either.

To this day, I'm still a little frightened of Jim. I actually have occasional nightmares about him just showing up at the house. Although once I got over all the lies and just accepted that he was most likely a habitual liar, I still really rather liked him and got along with him pretty well. It also made being sympathetic toward him much easier - I no longer had to exert any actual energy into feeling bad about the terrible situations he wasn't really ever in. But just in case he reads this and realizes I knew all along and just pretended to go along with his lies, if I suddenly disappear, you'll all know who to investigate first.

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