Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Is There a Time to Kill? by Juliet

I would have no trouble shooting a child-molester, point blank, if he harmed my child.

I know this about myself. At least I think I do – I thank whatever gods that be that I’ve never been tested. But I’m pretty certain, deep down in my primal, mama-tigress bones, that it’s true.

I would think about it…. Plan for it…. Lay in wait…. See it through. My actions would pretty much qualify me for Murder One, any way you look at it.

I might even be moved to torture the fiend, just a little, before dispatching him to the Great Beyond. And in that knowledge, that acceptance that there are some things we just can’t bear without lashing out in violence, I find a certain understanding of the motivation behind the seemingly undoable: Murder of a fellow human being.

I think crime writers are attracted to the field because it’s about people being driven to that unspeakable moment: The moment in time when taking someone out makes sense. The instant our wrath defies our judgment, our primal nature surges from within the civilized veneer.

Personally, I’m not interested in stories about serial killers and assassins, because to me those types have made their peace with causing death long before the story begins. No, I’m fascinated by the person who wouldn’t normally kill, but who makes an exception in the case at hand –because of blind fury, or terror …or revenge.

Recently a man named Aaron Vargas went to the home of a man named Darrell McNeill, an upstanding fellow in the community who had, for years, been a Boy Scout leader and Big Brother.

Vargas shot McNeill in his doorway. Point blank. In front of McNeill’s wife. Vargas then stayed with McNeill for half an hour while he died. He has never denied that he murdered the man.

(to the right: Aaron Vargas not long before falling prey to Darrell McNeill)


Even McNeill’s wife (now widow), eyewitness to the crime, herself has pleaded leniency for Vargas, saying she has “no reason not to believe Aaron.”

It seems McNeill's stepson, his friends, other boy scouts, and scores of vulnerable boys in Fort Bragg had been raped and preyed upon, repeatedly, by Darrell McNeill over the years.

The town has rallied to Vargas’s defense, saying that there is revenge, and then there is justice, and that this shooting was the latter: A way of seeking justice, putting things aright.

Now, I know that giving Aaron Vargas a pass on ridding the world of the monster named Darrell McNeill is tantamount to endorsing vigilante justice, and believe me, I don’t believe in the populace taking justice and retribution into their own hands. And I don’t envy the police and prosecutors in Fort Bragg – no one wants to make those kinds of gut-wrenching decisions.

I’m just saying. Sometimes revenge looks pretty sweet. Like justice, in fact.


And the knowledge that I could go there, just that fast -- just like Aaron Vargas did--does inform my writing...especially the really hard stuff. Like justice, vengeance, and revenge.

7 comments:

Sophie Littlefield said...

I'm with you on this one. And these stories - the ones that twist our hearts, trying to fit justice into a picture so distorted by the horrors of twisted acts, do make compelling fiction because we are caught up in the impossible job of judging what's right. A few of my readers have commented that they could never approve of my own character's vengeful acts, but that they read to the end anyway....I think it's got to be because deep inside of us we all want to see the evil smited, and smited decisively.

Mysti Lou said...

The real tragedy is it takes a community to enable child predators. The wives who ignore signs that their husbands "aren't right" or who side with the husband when the child does speak out, relatives who know something happened but refuse to contact law enforcement, parents trying to "protect" their hurt children from a rough-and-tumble legal system, laws that are outmoded, cops that aren't trained in how to interrogate a child, laws that don't take into account the permanent damage inflicted on a child who loses all sense of self and identity at the hands of a predator, law enforcement data systems that don't work together, a medical community that is woefully behind investigating and understanding predatory behaviors and their removal (though, to be fair, we'll have a whole Brave World of new problems when they do figure it out), oh and messed up health care system that makes mental health resources nearly impossible to access for all but the wealthiest Americans...health care that can relieve the pressure that makes an adult abuse survivor or a delusion college professor pick up a gun in the first place...

So instead of assuaging our collective guilt by giving one of the rare survivors who murders a pass, I wish we could all concentrate long enough to get some changes made. If I knew where to start, I would.

Julie, you are so write that those of us who write crime fiction are fascinated by the places where a human heart and soul fractures...

Juliet Blackwell said...

Well said, Mysti. You're right, of course, that the tragedy is in leaving Aaron Vargas, and so many like him, no choice other than to commit yet another crime which will make his life even more difficult. Where the human heart and soul fractures, indeed.

And Sophie --funny that I wasn't thinking of Stella at all with this post, when it should have been so obvious! You're right that your book allows people to indulge in the fantasy of what one might do, though one mustn't and wouldn't, not really.

One of my favorite revenge stories is Fay Weldon's Lives and Loves of a She-Devil, a glorious foray into the actions of a woman who decides to wreak revenge upon her husband and his lover. (Skip the dreadful Hollywood movie, but the bbc miniseries was good fun, and the novel even better). Ultimately, the vengeance consumes the woman seeking justice...but it's a fun ride while it lasts! I think fiction can give us that vicarious thrill, which allows us to be civilized in real life.

Adrienne Miller said...

Wow, intense stuff, Julie. I like to think that I know the difference between right and wrong, but the brain and the heart play by a different set of rules.

Martha Flynn said...

I do not envy that jury

Gary Corby said...

This is sort of depresssing, but let me add to the depression levels. Sydney, where I live, a few years ago, had a case where a man loaded a gun, went to the home of another man and shot him point blank.

The (dead) victim had been charged with child rape of 2 little girls who were relatives of the killer. On the face of it, the evidence against the victim was unusually strong, but no court case had begun.

THe killer pleaded not guilty by reason his mind was unhinged by his personal certainty that the victim would hurt another child.

The jury found him...not guilty.

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