Chapter One

Meet Malcolm Karma

Neil Christiansen

9/4/20238 min read

Chapter One

Sometimes it's not about how you feel, it's just about knowing what you have to be and making yourself be that. When I wake up in the morning I don't feel like a killer, but still, I know that when the sun goes down I have to find it in myself to be that guy.

At eight a.m. I grab a shallow ceramic mug full of strong coffee. I carry it out the sliding glass door of my apartment and sit on my tiny second floor patio. I drink my morning java on plastic lawn furniture. I admire the low morning sun over the lifeless retaining pond that was built at the same time as the complex. It's the suburbs.

It's hard to feel more than two dimensional living in the burbs. They're flat and endless with no character or energy. The parking lot of my building, packed with blue and gray sedans and minivans at six, is virtually empty by seven. The residents parade out, single file like it’s some sort of national holiday celebrating mediocrity. At six in the evening they shuffle back in and you'd never know anything had happened.

It's a slow, long, tortured purgatory, like being drawn out on the rack for twelve hours a day. The boredom manifests as a physical pain and it pushes me to be who I have to be. It reminds me that what I do at night, while not noble perhaps, is necessary.

At eight p.m. the cool evening air begins to roll in, and with it come the clouds. I shower and shave. I poor vodka from the freezer over two olives and set the glass on my dresser. Drinking helps, but it's a fine needle to thread. Too much, even a little too much and I'll be foggy and unreliable.

I dress in exactly what you'd expect. Black slacks, white shirt, black tie and jacket. My hair is short and clean cut, parted neatly and free of product. I have a Beretta .45 in a hip holster under my jacket and a small four inch switchblade in my right pants pocket.

By nine o'clock the sun has dipped below the horizon and the moon is a washed out blotch of white light halfway up the sky. The thunder started half an hour ago and now the rain is falling in huge, aggressive drops. I'm soaked by the time I reach my car, and even with the wipers on full blast the windshield is a streaky watercolor of yellow and black.

When the engine of my twenty year old Cadillac starts up the cassette in the deck clicks on and Johnny Cash announces that God's gonna cut me down. I nod my head in silent agreement and brush the wet hair out of my eyes. I look at myself in the rearview mirror, squint and wipe my face with my hands. I grip the steering wheel at ten and two and inspect my worn out knuckles. It's about making yourself believe you are who you need to be. In my case it's about learning to hate myself.

My knife finds its way out of my pocket and I push up on the sleeves of my jacket and shirt. The blade snaps open with a thwack and I slide the tip into my forearms, barely deep enough to draw blood. I make fists, tight desperate fists and the blood from the wounds begins to flow down my arms and between my fingers. I pump the fists open and shut, forcing out more blood until I'm covered wrists to fingertips.

I close the knife and slide it back into my pocket getting blood everywhere, then I pull my sleeves back down. The open flesh on my arms burns and draws my focus. I feel damaged now, broken, as I watch as the crimson begin to soak into the clean white fabric of my shirt cuffs. The rain pounds the steel and glass of my car while the hillbilly on the radio shouts at me about God's wrath. Suddenly I slip into the person I'm looking for. The transformation feels oily and sick, like a fever about to break.

I drop the car into gear and feed gas to the hungry engine. The machine screams, kicks, and bucks. I hold the wheel tight as the iron monster carries me away from my home and towards the fiery lights of the city.


I wish it was harder. It seems to me that killing a man should be difficult. What does it say about us, as people, that we've worked harder and harder to make it easier and easier? It isn't hard, and it only takes a moment.

I park my car in a concrete tower a few blocks from my destination and walk in the drowning rain. When I get to his building I stand on the stoop and stare up at the flat brick face of it. He lives here. He has a sofa and a television; plates and bowls and probably breakfast cereal in a cardboard box. He thinks he's just a guy and tonight is just a night. It shouldn’t be so easy to prove him wrong.

I walk half a block into the alley between his building and the next and find a spot inside the shadows to wait. The rain slows and I watch it peter out to a sad little drizzle in the yellow glow of the street lamps. It isn't long after that.

The steps come slow and casual, splashing lightly across the wet cement with a patience I wish I felt. Then his profile breaks through the edge of my field of vision and for a moment he's perfect. A beautiful dark silhouette on the oil painting of my city and I want nothing more than for him to live. Moments like this are painfully short.

I step forward into the light and before he turns his head my switchblade snaps open like a thunderclap and the blade is between his ribs. He gasps and chokes and my left hand is around his throat. I pull him in and hold him against me like a lover, whispering in his ear that this will be short, that I won't let him hurt too long. I turn us in two steps and throw him against the weathered soft brick of his home. He's head bounces off it like a rubber ball and I see the confusion vanish from his eyes as they roll up into his head. He collapses on the pavement in a crumpled mess of bloody laundry.

The candy apple red from his side mixes with rainwater and my own vital fluid creating a cascade of pale pink liquid that pools at my feet. I think of my blood mixing with his, creating a symphony of DNA on the wet asphalt and feel profound indifference. I bend over and pat him down but find only a crumpled pack of Marlboro's and a lady's Zippo lighter.

I pull my gun and crouch across from the man, watching the vanishing rain dance on his pale face. I light one of his cancer sticks and smoke while I wait for him to come back to me. Towards the end of the butt his eyes flutter and open with a desperate rattled expression.

I level the barrel of my weapon between his eyes.

"Hi Chris," I say.

He's bleeding and not sure where he is. I know it hurts for him to breathe and the pain in his ribs is preventing him from sitting up.

"It's okay Chris, you don't have to sit. Just lie there for now. Try and stay comfortable."

He's frightened, obviously; not sure what to make of me. Not sure if I'm his friend or his monster. He breathes shallowly and winces when he tries to move. Eventually he takes my advice and settles into a position that provides the least amount of agony.

"I know it hurts," I say with soft compassion. "And I'm sorry for that. Chris, I don't want you to feel like you have to do a lot of talking tonight, okay? I know it's difficult so I'll try and keep the conversation centered on yes or no kinds of questions, okay?"

He looks at me pitifully and I wish I could make it all better for him. After a moment he nods and I smile.

"Good job Chris. You got it perfect."

He coughs and his lips turn red. I put the cigarette out on the pavement and lean in a bit.

"We'll start simple," I say. "Do you know who I am Chris?"

His head shakes no.

"Of course not, no reason you should. Do you know why I'm here?"

A pause, then he coughs again and tries to speak.

"Money," he wheezes.

I shake my head.

"Oh Chris, no. No it's not money."

I crouch and get very close to the ground. I turn my head sideways so my ear is almost resting on the pavement and look the man deep in his eyes.

"Do you know Kelly Phillips, Chris?"

His shallow breath stops and the pupils in his eyes go wide.

"Right," I say. "That's what I thought."

I sit up again, a tense anger beginning to churn in my stomach. It moves through my muscles, spreading into my legs and chest; through my shoulders and neck and down my arms to the very tips of my fingers. The man is trying to move, his breath is back but short and fast and his face is painted in earthy shades of panic. He's coughing and I can hear the blood in his lungs. He's trying to talk, he wants to explain. They always want to explain.


I let out a long sigh.

"You what Chris?"

I see tears beginning to pool at the corners of his eyes. His choking bloody breaths take on the telltale characteristics of crying.

"I didn't-"

"Yes you did Chris. You did. Right? You wish you didn't. Right now you wish you didn't, but you did."

He opens his mouth and his teeth and tongue are covered in blood.

"Can I tell you a secret Chris? I wish you hadn't. I really do, and not just for Kelly's sake. I mean, that poor girl, she didn't deserve that. But even if it had had to happen, I wish it hadn't been you. Every time I sit here like this I wish for it to not be the guy."

He looks at me like he's begging. Begging me to walk away. To let this be enough. To let it be over. It isn't though. That anger in my belly keeps getting hotter. Foggy rage keeps filling up my brain and clouding out my judgement.

"Just once," I say. "Just once I want them to get it wrong. To turn out they had the wrong guy. Then I could actually sleep. I could go to Mica and say 'sorry, you made a mistake, I had to let him go'."

He's outright sobbing now, and blood is running down his chin and neck.

"I just want to be done with this," I tell him more forcefully than I meant to. "I just want one excuse to tell them I won't do it anymore. But every time I have one of you pieces of shit like this, spitting blood and asking me to grant you mercy, every time, I mean every single time, you're guilty. How do I let you walk away when you did what she says you did?"

I stand up.

"How do I pretend you didn't hurt that girl? How do I pretend you won't do it again?"

He wheezes.

"I won't. I can't. I can't pretend."

I look at him for a long time, then I lift the gun and click the trigger as simply as taking a picture. There's a flash and the air shatters around us. I feel the detonation of the ammunition crash hard against my hand and the pressure wave moves through my arm and dissipates in my back.

When the ringing in my ears stops I'm sitting in my car. I light another one of his cigarettes and crack the window an inch to let the smoke out. I drive home on auto pilot, not thinking about where I'm going or where I've been. I sleepwalk into my apartment and stand in a hot shower until the water runs cold. I dry my hair in a soft warm towel and put bandages over the holes in my arms.

My gun and knife go in a safe in my closet and I slide into a pair of thin cotton pajama pants. I climb silently into my cool crisp bed and lay my head on a firm memory foam pillow. As my mind grows foggy and distant I feel my wife roll over and wrap herself around me. The world grows quiet and I drift away to sleep.