I didn't like Charlie from the day I met him.
Arrogant. Condescending. Cold. He was all of that and more, and he never seemed to let down. He was a relentless taskmaster and a tireless bombast.
And yet, somehow, I could never really just leave him behind. Maybe it was his occasional lapses into crocodile tears or his inability to really function in a world that tried so very hard to shut him out - he could pull that pill-popping angry young man stuff with me, but his teachers, his bosses, his peers would just stop returning his calls and giving him the time of day. So that left me, and I never had the heart to say no.
One day Charles and I were standing outside of the local convenience store, loitering as usual. (I wasn't too good at keeping down a job myself.) Suddenly, Charles said to me, "You know how easy it would be to rob this place?"
I looked at him funnily for a minute, waiting for him to crack a smile. When he didn't, I firmly replied, "About as easy as it would be for the cops to catch us."
"They'd never catch us. We could be in and out, five minutes. Gone."
I couldn't really believe what I was hearing. Then Charles pulled out a gun. The glint of steel in the sun made me gasp, and now Charles smiled, a wicked grin. This was trouble, and I let him know.
"Quit whining. You always were such a baby."
Five minutes later, we had a drawerful of cash in our hand. And I gotta admit, it was pretty exhilarating, the look of fear in the clerk's eyes as Charles stuffed the gun in her face and demanded the money.
We caught the last train out of town. We were on the lam.
We hit three more places over the next few days. On the second job, the lady behind the counter had screamed and Charles had fired the gun in the air, giving everyone a start. I told him after that no more firing - it was risky and it left evidence. But Charles didn't listen to anyone, especially me.
On the fourth job, Charles walked in the store as usual and demanded the money. The old man behind the counter gave Charles a slow look, and began to reach under the counter - maybe to hit an alarm, maybe to grab a gun .. who knows. The shot rang out, and the man slumped to the floor, blood flowing from his face like a river. I freaked out, but Charles simply reached over, hit the cash register, and stuck his hand, pulling out the stack of twenties.
Now we were murderers. That night Charlie re-enacted the whole scene with a mindless laugh, waving the gun around and firing an empty shot out into the woods where we were staying. He was slipping away; this wasn't about the money anymore. Now he had a taste for blood, and he didn't seem to be shying away. I began to worry about him - and about myself.
Sure enough, Charlie got down to business at our next stop. He walked in, took one look at the meek foreign man behind the counter, and pumped two slugs into his chest. He reached over to the cash register, same as last time, only it wouldn't open. The man must've seen us coming and pulled the key from the side. Charlie picked up the register and threw it down on the ground. He kicked at it wildly, but unsurprisingly it didn't budge. Then a young lady, maybe 20, 25, walked in the store. Charlie looked up, and as their eyes met, she saw in him a terrible image, and she turned to run away. He caught her in the back with two shots, and she stumbled to the ground, her blue shirt slowly staining red.
I just watched, too flabbergasted to react. We ran and ran, deep into the woods on the south side of the town, but the police were relentless. We could hear their sirens on the highways nearby. Charlie didn't seem to care. We just kept walking, trudging deeper and deeper into the woods.
Finally we sat down at a small enclave, lit by the moon. Charlie took a deep breath and then began to laugh, a deep belly laugh full of dark intent. He began to rant.
"I think I'm sick and tired of running. I think I just need to end this all. Nobody but you has ever cared about me, Stu. Not those lazy teachers, not those worthless doctors at the clinic. Not even Mom and Dad. Those motherfuckers! Maybe we can head back home now. Head back home and take care of good old Mom and Dad." He petted the gun as he spoke.
He was just talking, and maybe it was nonsense, but he had gone too far. He was over the edge. His Mom and Dad had done just about everything to help him along, but of course it was never enough - with Charlie nothing was enough - and they hadn't so much given up on him as set him free, like he had always wanted. He had killed so many innocents already, and for what? A thousand dollars? And now he wanted to kill his parents. It was the last straw.
He never even saw it coming when I reached for the gun and put it up to his temple.
We were never really friends.
ALTOONA, PA - The Gas Station Killer that caused headlines throughout southwest Pennsylvania was found dead today in an apparent suicide. Stuart Delaney, 26, died of a single gunshot wound to the head, police reported. Delaney has been the target of a statewide manhunt since his parents, Luther and Doris Delaney, alerted police that their son, who suffered from schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder, had gone missing following a robbery in their hometown of Unionville. The gun that killed Delaney was a .38-caliber, which matches the bullets used in the killings of three people at two gas stations along Highway 220. "The investigation will be ongoing, but it is becoming clear that Delaney committed these heinous acts, and then turned the gun on himself," a police spokeswoman said.