Evil is done without effort, naturally, it is the working of fate; good is always the product of art. Charles Baudelaire 1812-1867

Forget Baudelaire. The most decadent book I ever read was by Anonymous, probably because the woman who wrote it was too embarrassed. I am nearly beyond embarrassment now and maybe some good will come from the telling. A writer never knows. But that this book touched me so, I should say something, even though it came from a yard sale and had half a cover, slashed with a black magic marker, a poor man’s remainder.

It wasn’t until I’d read half the story about a child raised by Satanists, forced by parents to have sex in the basement with strangers, traded to pornographers for money, drugged, etc. and broken down by being put into a barrel full of snakes, that I reacted, running to my friend, who had given me the book, and shouting indignantly: “This can’t have been written by a woman! It’s a piece of crap written by some guy who wanted to make money. What woman could sit in a barrel of snakes for hours and not totally lose her mind. What rot!”

“Just finish it,” said my friend; “And you’ll understand that we are in the last days.” Behind her back, I call her Miss Doom and Gloom. She thrives on conspiracy books, evil Masonic eyes on the dollar bill, and how President Bush was responsible for 9/11. She listens to talk radio for more ammunition to condemn the Zionists, the radical religious right, the Catholics, and all the top echelons of society’s infrastructure. I don’t know what to believe, but I continued reading through to how this woman who wrote the book was forced to have a baby and sacrifice it to Lucifer on some altar in the woods. Then I read the back of the book where the actual phone numbers of Christian Satanist-deprogrammers were and how those blurring faces on the back of milk cartons number in the hundreds of thousands. How many were killed by Wilder, we’ll never know.

I met him on Sunset Beach, while spying on my boyfriend who had spent the night on his 60-foot schooner, about a football-field length away, on the Gulf of Mexico. It was 7 o’clock in the morning and I felt more than a little foolish, half-buried in a sand dune, wearing a light pink jogging suit with a thin cotton top that I usually wore to aerobics. A man about my age, in the mid-thirties, pulled into the parking lot next to me. He produced a pair of binoculars and began to scan the horizon. I thought he might be a salesman, whiling away some time before his first call, as he was dressed in a suit and tie. So much for my ESP which chooses to surface when it will or not at all.

“What are you doing?” he asked, after a while. “My name is Wilder.” He was tanned, with nondescript features, reasonably attractive. Not another soul on the beach. It was fall, a gray, cloudy day.

“I’m trying to see if my boyfriend is with a boy or a girl. There’s not a man I trust,” I added. “He didn’t come home last night.”

“Oh, we’re not all bad,” he answered, chuckling, holding the binoculars out the window. “You want to use these?”

“No, thanks. I’ve got to go home and change for work.” I rose to my feet and bent to brush off the sand. I hadn’t thought of putting on a bra that morning, as I’d dressed in the duskiness. I knew my nipples would stiffen and show, because of the cool breeze at my back, so I folded my arms across my breasts as I approached him, noticing a briefcase on the back seat, his carefully manicured hands.

“What kind of work?”

“Real estate. Why? Do you have a job for me?”

“As a matter of fact, I’m looking for someone now. My assistant and I have been interviewing all week. I’m a clothing manufacturer’s rep for the whole southwest. Have you ever done any modeling?”

This should have set off warning bells. I’ve always been too well-nourished, too big-breasted for that line of work. I sometimes know my limitations, but I was enormously flattered. And stupidly, I then elbow-leaned on the passenger door, right into this stranger’s face so I could see his close shave, the thinning hair on his head.

“I’m too old,” I said. “You’re putting me on.”

“Believe me. These young girls are more trouble than they’re worth. I’ve been doing this for three years and you can’t imagine how many I’ve had to train that up and left. I deal with better women’s stores and nine out of ten of the buyers are men. Young women just don’t know how to handle themselves. A mature woman like you would be a blessing.”

My reservations were weakening. I can’t believe now how easily I was sucked in. He was such a smooth talker; not pushy at all. “What’s the catch?”

“No catch. I have a showing at the Don Cesar every week. Invitation only. I usually use three girls so that while one is changing one is always free to pour the champagne. You would be responsible for maintaining the clothes, having them cleaned and stored between showings. Every three months I get a new line and you can keep the outfits you like.”

The Don Cesar is the pink palace you might see on the Florida tourism commercials, the poshest hotel on St. Petersburg beach. A playground for the rich and famous, it has hosted the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda, and even gangster Al Capone. It was all I could do not to keep from jumping up and down. Me in designer suits, instead of a disgustingly yellow poop-colored Century 21 polyester jacket, rubbing shoulders with millionaires and sheiks, rock stars and celebrities. It didn’t take an imagination to see where a job like that could lead. I was hooked, scribbled my name and phone number on a card from the Hilton where he said he was staying. The call never came.

Six months later, on the evening news, there he was, splayed across the front seat of his car, shot to death by State Troopers in New Hampshire, ten miles from the Canadian border. I will never forget his face. Wilder had been on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List, a serial murderer known as the Beauty Queen Killer because two of his victims had been contestants in Florida’s beauty queen pageants. Found in his possession was a .357 revolver, extra ammunition, rolls of duct tape, handcuffs and a specially designed electrical cord for stunning the women he dragged into his car or picked up at shopping malls. The briefcase held a slew of Polaroid trophy shots of his victims. He left an estate worth millions. His favorite book, also found in the car, was the novel The Collector, by British author John Fowles. Published in 1963, this book portrays a lonely entomologist who kept an art student in his basement to satisfy his sadistic pleasures. It’s a fantasy owned by many men who delight in their descent to evil.

Rachel Cann hopes to find an agent for a memoir CONNECTED (love in the time of the Mafia) and a collection of published short stories INVINCIBLE. She has also written a feature film script ABUSE OF POWER.