On Monday mornings, I send out a story via email: ultra-brief tales of 1,000 words or more, usually in genres including horror, science fiction, and the supernatural. Those stories collectively are called Once Upon A Time. I’ve also published several ebooks and compendium volumes of those stories so far.
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Heydecke was already sitting in the interview chair when I got there, perfectly relaxed and perfectly still. I apologised for being late, even though I wasn’t, and he waved it off.
He was dressed in a suit, and it occurred to me that I’d never seen him in casual clothes; not in any of the file photos, and of course not in the court drawings either. This was the first time I’d met him in person, and indeed also the first time I’d ever spoken to him — but I probably knew more about him than his own mother did.
He first caught my attention after he killed two members of a rival crime family in Glasgow. The newspapers, including my own, covered the story breathlessly for days, and Heydecke was arrested and questioned, but ultimately released for lack of direct evidence of involvement. The procurator fiscal saw no likelihood of conviction. There was some public outrage, but of course that died down soon enough, and Heydecke went on with his empire-building.
At the peak of his criminal career, it was said that he ran more than half of the city. His reign was characterised by brutal turf wars punctuating long periods of quiet, and he metaphorically took no prisoners. He did literally take prisoners, though, and he had a habit of torturing them by using a razor to cut perfect little shallow squares into areas of their skin, then just peeling them off with a pair of pliers. Sometimes he’d then add some antifreeze to the wound. Apparently one of his victims had endured for three weeks before dying from systemic shock.
His downfall came after the police managed to tie him to money laundering on the south side, via a series of haulage companies. The maximum sentence was imposed, and everyone knew what it was all really about. That was more than twelve years ago.
It was my editor’s idea to seek an interview after his release, and it was a rare piece of journalistic good fortune. As it turned out, Heydecke had turned over a new leaf while in prison, and decided to get out of organised crime and instead seek a career in capitalising on his own notoriety in a different way. His autobiography was due out by Christmas, and the man was apparently very eager to start putting himself in front of the eyes of the nation. I’d been promised frank and honest responses to anything I wanted to ask, and I’ll freely admit that I was nervous.
The man’s appearance had barely changed at all in the almost two decades since I first became aware of him. He was still as thin as a rake, and he still had the same amount of hair. Heydecke looked eager to speak to me, and I couldn’t help but wonder about the other people who had seen that look before, and what their fate might have been. I sat down, took out my audio recorder, and set it upon the table.
“Thanks for agreeing to speak to me,” I said, and Heydecke nodded casually.
“That’s alright, son,” he said. “I think we’ll both get something out of it.”
I could only smile. I indicated the recording device, and he didn’t object, so I pressed the red button then I took out my notebook.
“Would it be alright if we talked about some of your experiences during your life before imprisonment?” I asked, and he didn’t even blink at the question.
“That’s what we’re here for,” he replied. I could feel the power of his gaze, like I was pinned by those little dark eyes of his. I understood how far tougher men than myself had crumbled under it, and probably screamed for their mothers.
“I thought we could maybe go straight in with quite a lurid anecdote, to draw the reader’s attention, then flesh things out both before and afterwards, if that seems alright with you.”
“In media res, eh,” Heydecke said. “It’s your piece, son. And I don’t bite anymore, so cool your jets.”
The ridiculous phrase would have raised an eyebrow elsewhere, and it wasn’t even quite apposite, but when spoken by this gangster, this torturer, this murderer, it somehow transcended itself and became glamorously cruel. I felt both chastened and provoked, and I realised that while he was certainly a willing participant, Heydecke was also playing with me. Old habits die hard.
“In the advance copy of your book, you mentioned a particular time when you caught an informant inside your organisation; a man who had been passing information to the metropolitan police for over a year at that point.”
I expected Heydecke to grimace or otherwise harden, but instead he seemed to settle back into his chair a little more, as if reminiscing. His facial expression was that of a man recalling the long-ago charming antics of a son or a daughter. I found it especially unsettling.
“That little bugger,” he replied. “Naughty boy. He was upset about being cut out of the Chinese thing.”
“This would be the heroin import operations that were rolled up by the police later that year,” I said, and Heydecke nodded again.
“We had a good thing going,” he said. “Plenty of money, and it ran like clockwork. But the guy you’re talking about wanted more than he was entitled to. I said no, of course, and he was bloody lucky I didn’t chuck him out for asking. So he went to the filth, and told them some stories.”
I’d re-read the entire chain of events just this morning, and I knew that Heydecke of all people didn’t need a recap. His mind was like a steel trap. Come to think of it, almost everything about him was like a steel trap.
“How did you find out he’d been the one to inform on the operation?” I asked, and Heydecke shrugged.
“Had a feeling at the time,” he replied. “You learn to trust your feelings. I asked the boys to put a watch on him. Sure enough, the stupid bastard met up with some known undercover pigs a week later, and that was it. We got him at his house later that night.”
“But not just him,” I said, quietly, and Heydecke shrugged for the second time.
“His wife and daughter are alive and well,” he said. “They had a bad night back then, but that was all. It was important, so he’d listen. Then we went to work.”
“Do you want to talk about how he died?” I asked, unsure which way Heydecke would go. The man leaned forward slightly, but he didn’t seem either troubled or irritated.
“He didn’t die, I killed him,” he replied. “It was a bad end. He suffered a lot, and he begged, and we did him a big favour by not letting his family see the last few hours of it. But it wasn’t personal.”
I’m sure I frowned, but I didn’t want Heydecke to get the wrong idea; I wasn’t there to pass judgement. I just didn’t understand the sentiment. He seemed to already know what I was thinking.
“It was business,” he said, as if that explained everything. “People are fond of words like gangster and mobster, and criminal, and boss. But I wasn’t any of those things. I was a businessman, and my business was crime.”
I knew that I’d have to take some time to think about that one, but I didn’t want to keep this man waiting, so I just nodded as if I grasped the distinction. Heydecke clearly knew that I didn’t, but he also didn’t seem to care.
I put my notebook down for a moment, going off-script because sometimes a journalist has to be a human being first. To his continued credit, I think Heydecke even saw the question coming.
“How many people did you kill?” I asked.
He smiled now, and there was a bizarre sort of grandfatherly quality to it. Then Heydecke tugged at his immaculate and expensive cuffs to straighten them, before looking me in the eye.
“No more than I had to, son,” he replied. “No more than I had to.”
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