After 30 years of interviewing people, I’ve found that my intuition doesn’t fail me. Maybe I don’t know all the behavioral “tells” that a master profiler in the FBI knows, but I do know when something’s off.
Many years ago, I interviewed a guy for a Home & Garden story. OK. Not a big deal. It’s a house with furniture and a guy walking around showing me his collections. Then he mentioned his convent collection — a nun’s bed, crosses, whips — with a gleam that — in that tried and true cliche of all times — made the hair lift on my neck.
I won’t give you any more details because he could be still out there, but if you wanted to write a grisly story, full of mystery and mayhem, this collector would step onto the page. He’d sit on the convent bed, cross his legs, swing his foot, and probably toss the whip over his back casually like a scarf.
My memory has a super-glued painting of that room with its gleaming white walls and giant, rusty crosses, and the whips dangling from hooks. I turned and said, “Oh, interesting.”
There was another time when a woman who was high got past the receptionist at the newspaper — well, actually, the young part-time receptionist was scared silly and called me. It was noon. No one was in but me. The lady had a complaint about being listed in the county drug arrests brief. She was so twitchy, looking for someone to blame for running her name. I could feel the edge on her.
I pulled the copy from the sheriff’s department to show her. I said, “Ma’am, we just type these in. We don’t investigate anything. Here’s the sheet they sent to us. We have to believe them ’cause it’s the sheriff. And if they lied, then we sure do need to something about it.”
This brought her down off that saw-toothed edge. She asked if she could use the restroom. Then I found her standing watching people work. But she turned, ducked her head, said, “Thank you. I’ll be going now.”
Even today, I am convinced she came through that door, probably armed, ready to do serious damage.
Now, of course, everyone has to be signed in and buzzed through. The safety level went up sky high after the guy with his sword, “The Revelator,” got caught trying to snatch a child at a local school. He used to come by our newsroom once a week and hand out cards telling us to repent. Some days he cast a handful of dust into the lobby.
Not sure we repented. But he’s still safely locked away.
We don’t have to look far to find the stories to write. It’s Halloween! Just sit, let the words flow like the dark, damp basement odor where the bodies are buried!
Categories: J.H. Muses