He’s that guy on the news, in the artist’s sketches, the one staring blankly into the near distance while before him the judge in her powdered wig makes a vain attempt at the imposition of order, at quieting the cacophonic courtroom; the bloke, could you see him in the flesh, whose clean-shaven lip, where once dwelt a well-cultivated, greying moustache, would betray not a hint of emotion as the photographs are exhumed, Exhibit A, dug up from the depths of the evidence stacked against him, the shots of the thirteen (presumably once) virginal boys that were until recently buried in his back yard.
He’s the guy the neighbours, the fucking suburban clichés, said was such a nice man, a little quiet, and his wife hardly spoke, until the cancer, and then she fell to silence completely, but didn’t she bake lovely biscuits, and charitable too, and their kids are normal, well-off, and all the rest, and on it goes, as everyone sits around and tries to make sense of it in their unimaginative little suburban universe, in their inability to understand one another, in their inability to understand themselves.
But not you. No. You look at his face, staring, his lips occasionally forming the ghost of a cheerful, tuneless whistle, and you know exactly what it sounds like. You used to work with the guy. You can still hear that mindless fucking warble, mixed with the endless whir of the photocopier, the open-jawed chomping on his afternoon milk-arrowroot biscuits, the mouth-breathing as he meticulously checks every item on a list his checked every day for thirty three years. The sound of a photocopier still makes you weep.
And none of this surprises you in the fucking slightest. You used to (half) joke, and shake your head as he wondered out loud when his kids were coming back from Europe, or China, or wherever the fuck they’d run to this time. You used to tell people you were sure he had boys in his backyard, thirteen even, virgins… until the time of their disappearance.
It all started with the paper, with the decreasingly passive aggression, with the fucking photocopier. If you think back on it, you’re perhaps surprised it was boys. It could just have easily been trees. He might have, if his love of printing, re-printing, copying, and wasting unfathomable reams of paper was anything to go by, had a fucking pulp mill in his backyard; a swath of tree stumps and a few miserable, curious, currawongs, wondering where the fuck their perches went, but sticking around in case the crows came back, and they’d get a chance to bully them. The crows, meanwhile, having taken up residence down the back fence, wondered when Mr Moustache, the Supervisor – by virtue of his length of service, and nothing to do with his fucking intellect – was going to dig up all those bloody stumps and get around to burying the little boys that were in the shed – it wasn’t the trees after all – and maybe the crows’d get a chance for a feed. Nothing like a bare, diminutive bum-cheek to peck at after all.
You wonder if he was as careful in his selection of the boys as he was with everything else, as he was with that fucking microwave oven he bought, printing out the spec-sheets for thirty-two of the bloody things, from thirteen different retailers. Something about that fucking thirteen. You wonder if he was a religious man. He never said so, but there was that whistle, as unmelodic as a hymn, and his habit of just doing what he was told, and his seeming inability to fucking think for himself.
You asked him once why, for every single transaction that went through the office, the same checklist got printed, filed, and then printed again – you know, thinking that perhaps you might print just the one, stick it to the wall, and use it at least twice before another hillside in Tasmania got pulped. He said “because that’s the way it’s always been done.”
You imagine a hungry, dirty, beaten and recently buggered little boy, looking up at him in the darkness beneath the floor boards of the back shed, and asking why he was doing this. And he responds “because this is the way it’s always been done.”