Agatha Christie once opined: “Every murderer is somebody’s old friend.” It’s a reality we mystery writers exploit every time we plot a whodunit. We insert our guilty party into scene after scene with people who once dated this person, who are related to this person, who have this person bake cakes for their special occasions. People who have no clue they’re passing thisclose to a killer until the final reveal.
But what about in real life? Do we too walk among killers?
Of course we do.
I recently saw a statistic proclaiming that during my lifetime, I will meet 37 murderers. It’s a highly suspicious statistic because of all the unknown variables (like, for example, how many people an average American meets in a lifetime) but one data science analyst gave verifying it a good whack. He used some Fermi calculations, a logarithmic scale distribution, some solid facts (like the average number of murders in the US per capita per year, a third of which go unsolved), and a little speculative guesswork to put the number closer to 10.76 (you can read the specifics of his calculations here).
That means that during my lifetime, I will meet approximately ten or eleven murderers. Which got me to thinking who they might be and how we might interact, these killers and I. So with apologies to Wallace Stevens and his very fine “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” I present…
Ten or Eleven Ways of Looking at an Unapprehended Murderer
1. The endocrinologist places cool fingers on either side of your neck and presses gently. “Any tenderness there?” he says.
2. The parking attendant stands beside your meter as it slowly ticks to zero. Her pen and ticket pad are already in hand. She has been standing at your car for five minutes.
3. The butcher wipes the blood off his hands and washes them well before he hands you the slab of chuck roast. Ground beef is on special today.
4. You run for the elevator. “Hold, please!” But the man in the expensive suit stares at you and lets the doors close.
5. The woman in blue jeans sits next to you at the bar. She orders the same thing you’re drinking, smiles at you with all her teeth showing.
6. Your cousin borrows the truck. Again. At least he always brings it back clean.
7. The salesperson startles you. She’d been standing behind you the whole time, watching you read the placards in front of each microwave. She has said not a single word.
8. The bagger at the grocery store places your bread on the bottom and your potatoes on top. You tell him no no no, and then unpack everything and instruct him in the correct way to bag groceries, putting the heavy items in first. You demonstrate slowly so that he will understand. The woman in line behind you, the one with only a gallon of milk in hand, stares hard.
9. You hold the door at the bank for the gray-haired woman with the walker. She smiles in gratitude. She reminds you of your grandmother, right down the the violet scent of her perfume.
10. You look in the mirror. Today is the day. You’re going to confront them. You straighten your shoulders, take a deep breath. Your reflection does the same.
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Tina Whittle is a mystery writer living and working in the Georgia Lowcountry. Her novel Reckoning and Ruin, the fifth in the Tai Randolph series, is available now. Visit www.tinawhittle.com to learn more.