This story is dedicated to Patricia, the one boss who truly did treat her employees as family; I owe her more than I can express, and I deserved none of it. She saved even more cats than people; if ever a soul truly deserved paradise, it was hers.
The following was recorded in New York City during a group session on Friday, August 13, 2021.
Hello everyone, I’m Jamie—
Hi Jamie! [light applause]
[clears throat] Um, well… this is my first time… so, I’m sorry if I sound nervous. It feels a bit strange to just stand up and start telling my story to a room full of strangers…
Take your time; try to remember – everyone in this room has been exactly where you are. You’re among friends, now. No one is here to judge or label – only listen. No one you see here will ever repeat a word.
Yessir, thank you. Um, I suppose a little background would be helpful. To understand why I’m here, now – on Friday the 13th – you need to know it’s my birthday. I was born in ‘82, just after midnight during the worst storm of the year. My extremely superstitious mother didn’t even want kids, but between her Catholic upbringing and Dad’s actual desire for children – abortion wasn’t an option. My family isn’t from New York; we lived in a tiny town I guarantee you’ve never heard of.
Don’t worry, I’m not gonna bore you with a whiny rant about my childhood – I just want to convey that I was fully aware of the stigma surrounding my birthday from a young age. When I grew into an angry, rebellious teen, I decided to own that stigma. If it was unlucky for everyone else – it was good luck for me, and I made sure everyone knew it. If someone doubted me, I’d step on every crack, walk under any ladder, and pick up all the pennies on tails they wanted to drop.
In reality, nothing actually happened, but when people are looking for signs, they tend to find them – even if they have to create them. Of course, the more attention I got, the more I wanted to pull my own stunts. I’d try anything; I’d steal from a teacher’s desk, cheat on tests, or jump from the top of the monkey bars. Kids would watch me all day. If the final tally indicated bad luck – I made it into a big joke; if it was good – I thoroughly enjoyed a big round of pompous “told you so’s”.
[group laughs softly]
Haha, yea… I was a snarky little thing… Each year, I grew a bit bigger and braver, but not necessarily wiser. My stunts grew out of hand when I was old enough to drive. I won’t bother telling you about the countless times I almost went through the windshield, but I must have used a lifetime’s worth of luck on that alone. Instead, I’ll just skip to the scare that had a real impact on me.
There are only two cemeteries in my hometown – one for the rich, one for the poor. The city council didn’t want another graveyard in their fancy streets – if poor people wanted a cheap place to bury their dead, they would have to find space on their side of town. The only problem was, they were already packed in like sardines; rows of shotgun houses lined every street for miles until there was barely a foot between the last one and the forest. Eventually, volunteers cleared the land to make room for a new cemetery, but free, unorganized labor is rarely impressive.
I wish there was time to tell you the full story behind it, but essentially, they did the bare minimum every step of the way; you can’t blame them, they just wanted a place to bury their dead, but the end result was one extremely creepy cemetery. Since the first volunteers began the work near their own homes – they were very conscientious of how close the bodies would be. Wanting as much distance as possible, they cleared just enough space for a single-lane road before starting the real work. Today, that road is called Cemetery Drive; it’s almost a mile long and has no street lamps.
The whole situation made for a popular local legend. Back in the day, kids were dared to walk down Cemetery Drive with only a flashlight, but it was a little different by my teen years. Then, the challenge was to drive 10mph with the windows down and no headlights. So, on Friday, July 13th, 2001 – that’s exactly what I did. When six of us drove two cars out there, it felt like we were a big group, but I left my passenger behind with the others to do the dare alone.
That was before smartphones or livestreams; I could have cheated, but it gave me a rush to do this simple thing that terrified everyone else. The first half of the drive was exhilarating; the temperature was perfect, and the dim moonlight cast just enough glow to keep my car on the road. The trees were giant, looming shadows – swaying in the wind as if waving me on. As a skeptic, I felt safe in the knowledge there were no actual ghosts, and now, I can equate it to a VR experience. It was the thrill of being in a horror movie without the risks. Unfortunately, in my cliche, child-like naivety – I failed to understand how dangerous the real people around us were.
I should have seen the cemetery gates any second, but I stopped at the sound of footsteps. I couldn’t tell what kind, but I automatically assumed it was an animal. While listening, I realized it was walking at an unusually slow pace – even for something that was frightened… But if it’s afraid – why is it coming towards me? That was my thought process as I sat there, squinting into the darkness. Finally, when gravel crunched not three feet away from my driver’s window – I threw the car into reverse and switched on the headlights simultaneously.
My heart stopped mid-beat; there was a filthy, hairy man right next to me! He was dressed like a bum except for the night-vision goggles, and he lunged for me as I mashed down the gas pedal; the car flew backwards, and I watched in horror as the guy’s fingertips grazed the edge of my lowered window before falling away. When I couldn’t see him anymore, I did the scariest 3-point turn of my life and never looked back.
That night watered all the planted seeds of resentment I’d collected over the years until they bloomed into thriving sprouts of hatred, but I didn’t know how to ask for help. I thought the only way to make it stop was to move away and start fresh. Earning money was my only chance, and I didn’t have four years to waste at some college just for the possibility of a higher earning potential. Besides, I’m not particularly gifted in the intellectual department, haha…
Whew, I’m sorry this is taking so long, but that was basically it—
[kind, patient] No, no – it’s your turn to speak, that’s why we’re here. You listened to Ray and Martha tell their stories; surely yours can’t be any worse, can it? Trust us, this is the first step to healing.
[awkward chuckle] Yessir, of course… Um, [clears throat] right, so, I drove to New York with my graduation money and took any job I could find. I started flipping burgers during the day and bartending at night while sleeping in my car whenever I wasn’t on the clock. Forty days later, I moved in with a guy from the diner when he was looking for a roommate, and life was pretty good for the first time in… well, ever. I didn’t mention my birthday and no one asked; over the years, when it became necessary to show my driver’s license – it was rare for someone to notice the date; on those occasions, I shrugged it off, saying I was born on a Saturday, and no more was made of it.
I had a few relationships over the years, but nothing serious; I’ve always been happier alone, and it let me focus on work and saving money. At 25, I was able to afford my own studio apartment. It wasn’t fancy, but it was a nice, normal building in a safe area. [voice rising] You know how rare that is!
[deep breath] I’m so sorry… Would it be alright if I stopped for a minute? I could really use a bathroom break…
Umm… [clicks tongue] yea… I think we could all do with a little break. Tell ya what – this big, old building can be tricky to navigate for newcomers; let’s see if we can’t get Mr. Sumpter to show you the way. [chairs slide, footsteps echo across the room, and a heavy door creaks open]
[distant] Bill, can you escort our friend to the bathroom, please? Wouldn’t want anyone getting lost! [unintelligible reply] Good, take your time; we’re gonna stretch our legs a bit and freshen up the coffee. [door shuts and footsteps return]
Alright, everyone, take five. [recording stopped]
Feeling better now, Jamie? You seem to have regained a bit of color. Please – feel free to finish your coffee before continuing; we have all night. [booming thunder] Oh goodness, it sounds like the storm is getting worse, too… Well, all the better that we’re settled-in here, I suppose.
Yessir… much better now, thank you. [sips coffee and chair slides]
[clears throat] So, umm, I was really proud of that apartment, ya know? I lived there for five years and was never once late with a payment… In fact, I was paying my rent the day the old manager had his heart attack. One second we were having our usual small-talk – the next, Roger was grabbing his chest. I didn’t know what to do – I called 911, but when they were loading him into the ambulance, it seemed wrong to let him go alone.
He didn’t have any family, so I told them he was my father; when the doctors left me in a waiting room, I went through his phone hoping to find anyone who could tell me what to do. That’s when I came across Patricia Birman’s name. I knew she was the building owner; we had met a few times over the years, and she seemed like a kind lady. No matter what, she would need to know what happened. Our phone call was brief; once I told her Roger was in surgery, she was there within the hour. That’s how she was; she’d drop everything if someone was in trouble.
We waited for three hours, talking about anything and everything to pass the time. As it turns out, she also lived in her car for the first few months after moving to the city. One thing led to another, and I emailed her a copy of my resume right there. She made arrangements to stay in town until Roger recovered, and she wanted to hire me at one of her restaurants… That’s when the doctors came to deliver the bad news. The old man had held on for so long, we just assumed he was going to pull through.
In the end, Mrs. Birman stayed on as manager for six months, but she needed help. What started out as answering a few questions turned into me becoming the assistant manager; I quit my other jobs and poured my soul into learning everything I could from Patricia. There was no reason for her to give me that opportunity, but she said it was more important to find someone trustworthy. She believed if someone was really willing to put in the work – they could learn anything; the trick was finding a person still willing to work nowadays, hah. Gosh, I admired her so much… [deep, shaky breath]
That’s alright, you’re doing great; just take it nice and easy. [thunder] we’re all here for you.
Right… anyway, after those six months, she started letting me handle the office alone while she traveled – don’t forget, she still had several other businesses to run. I’ve never owed someone so much in my life; aside from a very generous salary – with benefits – she let me move into a single for half its price! I’m sure you’ve all had bosses feed you the same bullshit line I’d heard a thousand times before – “we’re a family here”, am-I-right? That lady – Patricia Birman – you remember her name, because she meant it! [sniffle]
Life was too good; disaster was around the corner – I just didn’t know when or where it would strike. That fear never went away, but the years passed, and I eventually became the manager; I even got upgraded into a two-bedroom! Hell, I even upgraded my car – but I couldn’t let down my guard. Sure, most people wouldn’t think much of my used Nissan and low-income complex, but they were my greatest achievements! If I never accomplished anything else – if I had grown old and died alone in that little apartment – I would have died happy!
For the longest time, I would lie awake at night – wondering when fate would realize I didn’t deserve happiness and bring it all crashing down. Then, three months ago, Patricia decided to renovate one of her other complexes; they were still considered “cheap” by city standards, but they were the most expensive of the cheap places… if that makes sense. They were much nicer than mine – let’s put it that way; the location wasn’t better, but it wasn’t worse either, and that’s good enough. Most people in the city can spend their entire lives waiting for that kind of luck! I really did know better… [sniffle]
Well, the point is that during the renovations, she discovered Margie’s drug stash hidden in the office air vent. When Patricia said she needed an experienced manager, I tried to decline – that’s how sure I was – but then she included more money and a budget for an assistant! She didn’t want to trust a property that large to a new hire; she preferred having me run that one while she trained someone new for my place. She even offered to throw in psych coverage to learn why I’m reluctant to accept good things for myself, hah… [slow exhale]
Who could say no to that? Not someone like me, that’s for sure. I decided just once, I was going to enjoy my good fortune – just once. The first six weeks were boringly standard. Patricia hired Lacy, a single mom, as my assistant; she’s lived at the apartments for over seven years and already knew most of the other tenants. We got along well enough, but sometimes she needed to leave work unexpectedly or bring her son to the office… It made things difficult if we were busy, that’s all. Peter is autistic, so I couldn’t really complain without seeming like a heartless piece of trash, ya know?
Honestly, if that was the price for my abundance of good fortune – great – bring it on. My apartment came with appliances, a digital thermostat, and WiFi; I treated Peter like absolute royalty – I wasn’t giving Karma anything she could even flinch at, but I knew it couldn’t be that easy.
Pete was a laid back kid, and his school was due to start back soon; he did alright around strangers as long as there weren’t more than two or three. Overall, things were better than ever until ten days ago when that elusive other shoe finally dropped. I didn’t even see it coming – it just randomly fell from the sky and flattened my sorry ass. The babysitter canceled for some reason or another, and I didn’t even get to sit down before the kid was at my heels. “Do you wanna see a magic trick?”
It took me by surprise; mornings were usually for his headphones and tablet while the office was actually busy, but he and Lacy were both flashing these proud, wide smiles as they waited for my “yes” – as if I had a choice.
“When’s your birthday?” It was almost a whisper.
I just wanted to get some coffee, so I told him… “8/13/82” and didn’t think twice about it… I couldn’t even remember the last time someone asked.
Apparently, the kid is able to tell what day of the week any date is – even a future one. Well – his little eyes went wide, and sure enough, “that’s the bad day!”
[loud] Ho! I knew it, and I said so! “Yep, it sure is, little man! Can’t get much worse, can it?— Oh, wait, yes it can! I’ll bet you didn’t know it was at midnight or during a terrible storm, did ya? Huh?!”
Whoa, easy there; that’s all in the past, now. Do you need a moment? [thunder] It’s ok if you do.
No-sir, I’m just ready to finish this; then I want to chain smoke a whole carton of cigarettes, haha…
It’s just us old night-crew dogs here, I think we could get away with letting ya have a smoke; We’ll call it a reward for how well you’re doing!
Really? That actually would be a huge help… as long as I wouldn’t be getting anyone into trouble.
No trouble at all; you guys sit tight, and let me see what I can rustle up. [recording stops]
[lights cigarette] Wow, thank you, Father; [exhales smoke] I hadn’t realized how badly I needed this.
I told you, Jamie, that’s what I’m here for; my only job is to help you process what’s happened with as little trauma as possible. Now – when you’re ready, feel free to continue at your own pace.
[hits cigarette] You’re a good man, Father – better than a place like this deserves – but I’m ready now.
Basically, I made a fine ass of myself snapping at the boy like that; I felt even worse when Lacy agreed with how ridiculous the superstition is, and Pete had already lost interest. I was beginning to think the city people wouldn’t care about a silly date the way the country bumpkins do. I was so ashamed of yelling in front of the kid – I found myself sharing the whole story with his clearly annoyed mother.
I told her about my superstitious upbringing, the kids at school, and what ultimately happened on Cemetery Drive. She seemed unsurprised about the children’s reactions but repulsed by the adult’s behavior. Friday the 13th is something she’d always thought of as a game; I don’t think she was capable of understanding how serious some folks take it. [hits cigarette] That’s why she didn’t see anything wrong with telling her friends about my little breakdown… Still, there’s a reason hotels and planes don’t use the number; it’s not because they’re afraid of bad luck – it’s because they don’t want to hear the customers’ incessant bitching!
By the next morning, everyone in the complex knew, and Lacy had a front-row view of the carnage. To be fair, she tried to intervene at first; each time someone came in to gawk – she sent them away in a less-than-gentle manner. Sure, it wasn’t every single person, but it was at least seventy percent that would quicken their pace or suddenly become very busy with their phones – anything to protect themselves in case I had the audacity to attempt conversation. If someone did speak to me – it was a child, and a horde of their friends were always nearby – pointing and giggling; [hits cigarette] talking to the jinx apparently meant seven years of bad luck which made for a wildly popular dare.
If I had less to lose, I would have given those kids a real reason to be afraid, but my options were rather limited; I had to settle for completely ignoring them which only made the little shits braver. They started throwing rocks and covering my car in toilet paper! I even got a ticket because they covered my tag, and I left without noticing! I came home furious; this was Monday evening, and the whole, miserable week was ahead; I was dreading my birthday to the point I decided to call Patricia and tell her everything. When the groceries were put away, I sat on the couch – finger hovering above the call button when I heard a noise coming from my bedroom. [hits cigarette]
I had started keeping a golf club handy and crept down the hall with it. Pausing at the entrance, I heard my closet door click softly shut; my first instinct was to pretend I hadn’t heard and text 911, but then I began to analyze the situation. [hits cigarette] I believed the intruder was one of the kids who vandalized my car and wanted to deal with them personally. With the assistance of a shotgun app, I stepped into the room – trying to sound intimidating when I made the pumping noise and yelled, “if you come out with your hands up, I won’t shoot through that door!”
I crept closer, golf club raised and ready; I didn’t intend to hit the kid, but I wanted to swing it over his head – just to give him a proper scare. Then Darren walked out, hands raised and shaking with a piss trail running down his pants! That dirtbag was almost twenty and still in high school because it took him three tries to pass each grade! Don’t misunderstand, I’m not mocking him for being stupid; that’s not what made him a dirtbag – his personality did that. Darren was the epitome of bully cliches; he treated everyone like shit – even his parents. I can’t tell you how many times he was brought home by police, or I saw him torturing some other kid around the complex. His behavior grew worse every year; it was only a matter of time before he really hurt someone. [hits cigarette]
When he saw I didn’t really have a shotgun, his pale, frightened face turned to one of rage and embarrassment; he glared at me with a scowl of pure hatred – I know the look well since I’m usually the one giving it. [put out cigarette] I was so angry; my chest went tight, and it was suddenly hard to breathe. I wanted to scream, but he opened his mouth and pushed me past my limit.
“I shoulda known; if a jinx like you had a gun you’d have blown your own head off by now!” The urine soaked intruder screamed indignantly.
I just… couldn’t take it anymore… I screamed something to the effect of, “what the fuck are you doing in here?!” I don’t understand how he had the balls to do anything short of begging me not to call the police…
Instead of answering my question, he tried to walk past me! He was going to leave and just get away with it! Then, I knew what would happen if I called; he would already be at home, and his parents would simply say he’d been there all night. It wouldn’t matter what the cops believed or how much they hated Darren; without physical evidence – he won.
All the rage I’d been holding back exploded… [deep breath] It felt like I was watching everything in a movie; suddenly, the club was swinging through the air, and it connected with the back of Darren’s head. Bright, red blood decorated the wall, ceiling, and my face. I was surprised by how wide the spray actually was; it didn’t seem like so much could come from one impact. On TV, the kid would have been dead already, but he started groaning almost immediately; the bastard didn’t even get to his feet before he started threatening me again! He was cursing me like a dog – saying I’d be in jail when he finished telling everyone how I drugged and kidnapped him! Next thing I knew, the club was swinging again.
When I finally came to my senses… [loud sob] it… it was too late. He was gone, and the whole room was wrecked; I think he tried to get away at one point. I have flashes of him trying to pull himself up with my dresser, and I swung high – breaking the mirror instead… but eventually… I didn’t miss… All that was left was a pile of disfigured meat and bone on a wet, red floor… and my vomit…
Twenty scenarios played through my head as I thought of how to explain myself. There was no way to involve the police without going to prison; trying to get away with it was my only choice. That no one heard the screaming was a miracle unto itself; I took it as a sign and started the clean up. First, I filled two trash bags and took them to my usual dumpster; I didn’t want to be seen making multiple trips back-to-back, and when I took three more several hours later, it was in the opposite direction.
If the kid ran his mouth about what he planned to do, I didn’t know how long it would be before someone came looking, but I couldn’t panic. Every two hours, I flushed small slices of organ and blood down the toilet. There was just so much; you wouldn’t think there could be any blood left in the body, but I was washing it down drains most of the night! I packed the bones in a tote for a weekend camping trip; anything left by then would go to the wildlife. If everyone could have simply left me alone, the last traces of Darren would have been gone when I came back from holiday!
[whimpers] the world is a far better place without him, anyway! I’m not some psycho serial killer; I’m not some wild animal who got a taste for blood! I just want my life back! [hyperventilating]
Hey there, take it easy; remember – slow, easy breaths. This is why you’re here; if you don’t tell us what happened, we won’t know how to help. [thunder] Believe me, Jamie, all we want to do is help. You’ve done so well and come so far, please don’t quit on us now!
[snotty sniffle] Yessir; I just… I don’t understand what happened next. I didn’t have time for work, but my birthday was coming up, and I had all these vacation days saved… I knew everything would be ok if I could only make it through the weekend. I might have guilt-tripped Lacy a bit to make her more agreeable, but it was an emergency!
Everything was going according to plan on Wednesday and Thursday, but today— shit, of course it would be my birthday, wouldn’t it? I was making another dumpster run before the public restroom rounds when Patricia called. She wanted me to stop by for a special birthday lunch, hah! I couldn’t say no, either. She knew damn well I didn’t have any other plans, so – I cleaned myself up and went there instead.
I poured my entire being into holding myself together for the visit; I didn’t want to disappoint her after all she’d done for me! [choking sobs] When I got there, she had my favorite cake waiting, and I almost broke, but I didn’t; I held it together for her!
It happened when she was standing over the cake, knife in hand; she got a funny look on her face… It was like one side stopped working and suddenly, she was falling forward. I didn’t even have time to get out of my chair! [whimper] The blade… it went into her… there was so much blood… again! [sobbing]
I didn’t know what to do; who would believe me? Me! I pulled the knife out… I wanted to save her, but I saw it in her eyes, she was gone, man – gone! I don’t remember what happened next, I really don’t. Suddenly, police were there, and they said someone called them because of all the screaming, but that’s a lie; Patricia never screamed, and I said so! Then, they tried changing their story to say I was the one screaming! Can you believe that?
I tried to tell them what happened, but they wouldn’t listen; they wouldn’t even let me speak! Next thing I know, they’re throwing me in here, and I just wanted to go home!
Yes, Jamie; I can certainly understand your frustration. Also, I’m terribly sorry, but it seems like we’re out of time. [doors open] You remember Mr. Sumpter, yes? He’ll escort you from here. We all wish you the very best! [fast footsteps approaching]
Wait, what? Hold on, it’s Bill, right? Please, don’t put your hand on me, I can… Wait! [chair falls, scuffle] Wait, what’s going on? I’m not finished! [voice becomes distant] Father? Father Paul?! [door slams]
Alright, great work everyone; I’ll see you back here on Monday morning!
[group chatters quietly as they leave]
SPECIAL AGENT PAUL CLARK:
This is Special Agent Paul Clark, and that concludes Experimental Interrogation Technique 0-3-7 on subject Jamie Reynolds.
Test Results: Success
Detailed Summary: Though the Subject was hesitant to participate at first – witnessing two undercover officers confess to similar crimes without repercussions seemed to put the Subject at ease. The vital component is believability; the Subject must be introduced to the controlled environment as early as possible after detainment. Furthermore, the addition of thunder ambience did seem to have a positive effect on the Subject’s willingness to remain.
While the Subject did not confess to the murder of Patricia Birman, the Subject did confess to the murder of a young man who was thought to be a runaway. When the autopsy revealed Mrs. Birman died of natural causes, a murderer might have been released back into society had it not been for this special technique. Records indicate the deceased was ill for a long time, but had apparently not shared the news with those close to her. Though, after reviewing her messages, we believe this to be the reason the Subject was invited to her home this morning.
It’s a shame how many killers will walk free when this method is eventually ruled unconstitutional to utilize on citizens… Regardless, it will still see plenty of use, but further studies are required before false confessions can be guaranteed.