In the fall of 2002 John Lee Malvo and John A. Muhammad shot 16 people, killing 10, in Maryland, Virginia, Louisiana and Washington DC. Malvo met Mohammed in Jamaica, Malvo’s native country. This is a work of fiction based on their story.
My name is John Lee Malvo, you probably know me better as the Beltway Sniper. I am 25 years old now but then I was 17 and Mohammad was 42. He was my friend. But he acted like my father. That’s what my mother told me when she left me in Jamaica with him, she said, “Treat this man as your father.” And I did.
Before my mother met Mohammad we would slow boil pig parts in the back of the coffee shop my family owned on the main road to pickle and sell. My uncle and his brother owned the shop but let my mother work there. My mother would go away for months at a time, just leave and then I stayed there alone. I lived in the back room of the shop with the cauldron and the sink and the toilet and slept on a mat by the fan. My mother had strung two old sheets with cartoon faces in front of my mat so it felt like my own space. The pig feet would cook overnight in vinegar and water and this is the smell that reminds me of home and of my mother.
Mohammad came into the shop when I was 15 years old. I was reading comics at the back table. My mother had been at the shop for most of that hurricane season. He sat down on the red plastic stool by the front table that was half outside on the street. He sat in the shade and my mother brought him coffee. At first Mohammad only talked to my uncle but then he started talking to my mother and then he started talking to me. Mohammad had one long fingernail and the rest were short. He pointed his long fingernail at me and said, You ought a be working.
Mohammad was an American so he didn’t have our troubles. He began to visit the shop every evening and my mother would prepare dinner and the three of us would eat at the back table, sometimes with my uncle if there were not many people drinking coffee in the shop. Mohammad explained how we could get to America. Each night my mother would give him dinner and then he would give her a little more information, a name of the man who makes the papers, the address of a man who takes boats, the number of the old woman who is in Florida. Mohammad would call me spoiled. He’d say when my mother goes to America first the two of us will have to watch the shop together. My mother said I did not even know how to make coffee and laughed.
The prison guard told me Mohammad was dead only when I asked him one day last November or December. I asked how they killed him and he said with an injection in a room and that some of the family members of the people we killed were there to watch him die. I imagined seeing it from up above. As a red-tailed hawk watching from the edge of a building; no one notices me. Mohammad is probably sitting down when they put in the needle, not standing up, so he wouldn’t fall. I imagine the slight movement in the room after the needle pulls out, his head tipping to the side, his jaw slacking.
I had never heard of Bellingham or Washington until I was there. Bellingham was cold and the colors were green and blue, like Jamaica, but not bright—dull. It wasn’t at all the same really. All of the people were white and fat. By the time Mohammad and I arrived to Bellingham my mother was long gone. We never found her in Florida. We were supposed to meet her in Ft. Myers but she didn’t show up, even though she had been there for months. Mohammad slapped me once and hard when I began to cry standing outside the 7-11. He said she always left me and I should have pride and not be a coward and forgive her like I’ve been doing for my whole life. He was right and it was true. I know Mohammad wasn’t good, but he didn’t leave me. Not once.
The first thing I ever killed was a pig. I was eight years old and my uncle told me to go with my two older cousins to slaughter and butcher the pig. My cousin let me carry the big machete. I held it with two arms over my head because that’s how my other cousin was holding his. We walked down the middle of the road with our machetes and I was happy because my cousins were talking about a girl and not joking on me. I was not good at joking. It’s hard for me to know when one thing ends and the other one begins, when you are supposed to fight. When I’d begin to hit my older cousins they would laugh mockingly, Little cousin, relax, relax.
My old aunt and other family members lived at the farm on the edge of town where the pigs and chickens were, that was where my cousins and uncles came to get the animals and bring the meats back to the shop.
The pigs were big and hairy. Some were sniffing around the dry ground, others were lying down. They had dried patches of dirt on their backs and bellies. The pig that kept rubbing his head against the rail of the fence was the one my cousin pointed at with his machete and nodded at me to go on and do it.
I didn’t want to kill it alone but I knew if I said something they’d hound me and then they would tell my uncle I fucked everything up and did not know how to do anything. I knew to slice it’s neck. The pig had bunches of long hairs coming out over his eyes, he stopped rubbing his head against the rail and paused to consider me, then he went back to it. I walked over slowly as to not startle him. I heard my cousins snickering with each other but I didn’t care because I could imagine how this would go. I would move my arm quickly and slice one deep line through his neck and then the blood would spurt out and he’d fall over heavily. As I walked over I watched it happen in my mind. The pig’s head was making a steady thumping against the rail.
When the blood started spurting, the look in his eyes did not die quickly like I had thought. His eyes twisted around wildly like they were two balls trying to escape out from his head. The eyes would look at me and then away and then in circles and then the sky and then at me and then away, over and over and it felt like a long time but it must have only been less than a minute. I did not imagine the screeching cry that erupted from the pig either and how it did not stop. And then I was flying.
When I landed hard back on the dirt I was on the other side of fence and the pigs were everywhere. The dust had flapped up into the sky like a sheet over a bed. “Jesus, Jesus. Jesus, Lee,” my cousins was hollering as one roped the pig’s neck and heaved the slack body out of the pen. The other pigs pushed over one another shoving their snouts into the blood and dirt.
Mohammad was the one to explain it to me much later. He said swine do not care if their companion is being slaughtered, that they will rush over to drink its blood. My cousins never told me that.
My mother hasn’t come to see me in court or in prison. I know she knows about everything. Me and Mohammad were everywhere. Newspapers, the TV. My old principal from primary school came to my court in America even. He said I was a good boy in school. He said I was obedient. There is no way she missed it. Maybe she is dead and is lying in the ground somewhere. Who knows.
”You want to hang me, poke me, shock me. It’s just going to last for three minutes, five minutes, two minutes. Then you’re dead.”
-John Lee Malvo to investigators, November 2002