Here is the fourth and final installment of The Drape Man. I know this isn’t your typical Martin Delacroix piece. No romance, no explicit sex. It’s a dark tale, but one I felt compelled to write, for reasons I’ll explain later. I hope you enjoyed reading it:
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Moments pass, and when I lift my eyelids I nearly gasp. Bryce, (Thank you, buddy. Thank you, thank you.) stands over us, clutching a board — a two-by-four length of pine, pressure-treated — in both his hands. My eyes meet Bryce’s and he nods and he brings a finger to his lips. I freeze, I become an ice block. Bryce raises the board over his head, he uses both hands and he swings the two-by-four (Swish!) and it strikes the rear of the drape man’s skull with a thunk, very loud. The drape man’s teeth abandon my neck, his chin jerks upward and his gaze meets mine. A vertical crease appears between his eyebrows and his lips part and he looks at me as if to say, “You’re not leaving, are you?”
Bryce delivers a second blow, and this time the drape man’s body goes rigid after the smack. He sucks air, then he goes limp. He collapses upon me like a sweaty sack of concrete and he no longer breathes. When Bryce lets go of the two-by-four it doesn’t fall to the floor. The board sticks to the drape man’s neck, just below the rear of his skull. Bryce stares like he doesn’t understand.
The drape man’s bladder empties, it soaks me in urine. A rank odor invades the room. The drape man’s bowels have opened and drained. He has crapped in his pants.
Bryce helps lift the corpse from me, it takes both of us. Blood dribbles from the drape man’s neck, it forms a crimson tributary, one which courses down the drape man’s shoulder. His blood stains my parents’ comforter, it creates a purple blotch which fans out with ragged edges. Once I’m free to move, I sit upright and I vomit like a fire hydrant. I spray the bedroom carpet. I tag Bryce, even.
I rise and shuffle to the master bathroom, then I vomit again, this time into the toilet. I shuck off my wet, stinking pants and underwear and I stumble into the shower, I twist hot and cold water handles. I press my forehead to the tiles. I stand under the spray and my shoulders shake. Bryce watches from the bathroom doorway, flicking bits of vomit from his board shorts. I scrub myself with a bar of soap and a loofa till my skin turns pink, then I wash my hair with shampoo, three times, knuckles digging into scalp. When Bryce asks if I want him to close the door, if I’d I like privacy, I jerk my face from beneath the shower spray and I point, I shout, “Don’t leave me, don’t move from that spot. Never leave me alone, not anyplace, not anytime.”
Bryce crosses his arms at his chest and he leans against the door jamb. “Okay, Justin, I won’t go anywhere, I promise.”
According to our medical examiner’s report, the drape man’s cause of death was Bryce’s second blow with the two-by-four. A three-penny nail protruded from the board’s face, and when Bryce struck again, he swung at a different angle than before and the nail entered the drape man’s neck, just below the base of his skull. It shattered the lamina of his third cervical vertebrae, puncturing the drape man’s spinal cord, killing him instantly.
Considering the circumstances, our State Attorney refuses to prosecute Bryce.
Details of the incident make the papers but, mercifully, neither my name nor Bryce’s are mentioned. In weeks that follow three other boys — one younger than me, two older — come forward and tell the cops they got assaulted by the drape man as well, they recognized him from his newspaper photograph. Two met the drape man through the Internet. The other, a fourteen-year-old, says his anus bled two weeks after the drape man sodomized him in a wooded area near the boy’s home. The kid never told his parents or anybody else about the incident. He rinsed his underwear, keeping quiet. He feared the drape man might return.
DNA evidence links the drape man to a teenage boy’s murder in an Orlando hotel room, two years before. The boy was castrated, his detached genitals got stuffed inside his mouth. The drape man slit the boy’s throat and the kid bled to death while his parents drank cocktails beside their hotel’s swimming pool.
I ponder this information and I consider myself lucky. The drape man’s love bite — a purple bruise — disappeared a week after he chewed on my neck.
Not bad, really.
The drape man’s name was Russell Dean Stillwater, born twenty-nine years before I met him, in Jacksonville, into a family with six kids. His parents were ordained ministers in the Pentecostal church, they raised nice children, people said. Unbeknownst to those outside the immediate Stillwater family, Russell’s parents singled him out for horrific abuses: they whipped him with a belt, they locked him inside a closet for hours at a time, they starved him such that, by age twelve, he weighed only seventy-one pounds. Both parents sexually molested Russell — orally and anally and painfully.
When Russell’s situation came to light and authorities removed him from the Stillwaters’ home, Russell’s siblings got questioned by police. During her interview, one Stillwater girl said of her parents’ behavior, “I guess they had to take their anger out on someone.”
At the time I met him, Russell Stillwater owned an impressive criminal record: sale and possession of cocaine (twice), aggravated assault, lewd and lascivious conduct, stalking, and credit card fraud. He’d spent eighteen months in our state prison in Okeechobee County on the assault charge. He’d married a girl named Louise Buffett of Daytona Beach and fathered a child with her, a little girl named Trixie who is autistic. Russell had not seen her during the four years preceding his death. When the cops came to my home, the night Russell Stillwater died, they found a plastic baggy containing crystal methamphetamine — a sexual stimulant — in his pocket.
The medical examiner detected high levels of methamphetamine in Russell Stillwater’s blood samples. “He was high as a kite when he assaulted his victim,” the examiner said of the drape man, “a horned-up bull.”
Odors stay with you for life, don’t they? Smells haunt.
If you’re a student you might walk past your school’s cafeteria one morning and the kitchen ladies bake fresh rolls and the aroma carries you back to elementary school, when you stood in line with your classmates, waiting to eat, listening to kids’ chirping voices and sounds of silverware clicking against plastic plates. You recall trays getting stacked, still warm from the dishwasher.
The scent takes you back, know what I mean?
The drape man’s body odor is like that for me — unforgettable. He smelled like rancid lunch meat.
You know the drill: you find a filmy package of salami or bologna or whatever at the back of the fridge and you open it and . . . yuck! A sour aroma hits your nostrils. You wince. You clutch the package by your fingertips and you carry it to the trash, all the time holding your breath, trying not to puke.
With the drape man, see, I couldn’t hold my breath.
Now I can’t abide meat – not beef or chicken or anything. My folks and I eat vegetarian or sometimes we dine on sushi.
A while back I entered an Italian market with my mom — she wanted mozzarella cheese — and I looked into the butcher’s display case, at the raw meat, and I smelled cooking sausage and I broke into a sweat, I trembled like a child in a spook house. I fled to the sidewalk.
I’ve developed strange behaviors, “phobias” my shrink calls them.
I cannot sleep alone. Good friend that he is, Bryce arrives each night with his backpack and a change of clothes and he sleeps in my room, in the other bed. His presence allows me to slumber, and if I wake from a bad dream he is there. I hear Bryce snore and I know everything’s okay, I fall asleep because he is with me.
I fucking love Bryce.
I can’t use public toilets. I’ll approach a urinal and I’ll pull my dick out and dread floods my brain. My heart pumps. I am sure the drape man will burst from a toilet stall, that he’ll lunge at me and the whole thing will take place again, the rape. So I can’t go to ball games or dances. I can’t drink fluids on weekdays, not till I get home. I won’t use toilets at school, no way.
Sometimes I dream of the drape man, of Russell Stillwater. I’ll ask him: You said you loved me, you wanted me to love you, but you threatened to slice off my dick. What is wrong with you? And why did you choose me for a victim? Why me?
The drape man never answers.
Nobody, it seems, has an answer.
Copyright Martin Delacroix 2009
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Just a few more remarks about The Drape Man … I wanted to explore two topics when I wrote this story:
(1) How physical and sexual abuse of a child will often beget a sociopathic personality. The child victim will evolve into an adult abuser of others.
(2) How a violent crime, be it rape or assault, impacts the life of the victim, in lasting ways.
I have a close friend who was sexually assaulted as a teenager. Only he and I know about it. More than thirty years later, he still suffers from nightmares and phobias connected to the assault. What an awful thing.
It’s heavy material, I know, and I apologize if some of the graphic violence, language and imagery offended some readers, but I think this was a story that needed to be told.