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The Drive

The road closed in. It was cold and wet and it made the three travelers grow quiet, all sinking into their own worlds. From their black 2001 Honda Civic, they could see, between rows of bare trees, houses lit up on neat pasture spreads like jack-o’-lanterns. There was nothing to do along this stretch of Route 15 in rural Virginia but go forward.

“Mike, don’t be in a bad mood,” Katie Inglis, 19, had urged, a few miles back, to her boyfriend, Michael Pfohl, who was driving. “Everything is going to be Þne.” Mike had been warned not to take this particular trip, but there he was anyhow.

Mike, 21, said little, just that he was tired and hungry. He sat limp in his seat, his left hand on the wheel, in one of his beat-down moods. He’d been holding Katie’s hand Þrmly for most of the ride; he had recently mastered the art of shifting gears without letting go. They’d spent much of that cold afternoon, Dec. 8, Christmas-shopping at SpringÞeld Mall.

Mike held on to Katie as they rumbled several more miles on the outskirts of Leesburg, Va. One last stop and then home.

The one last stop was at Mount Gilead, at the insistence of Mike’s backseat friend, Kyle Hulbert, 18. It was just the sort of detour that had lately taken a toll on Mike’s Civic. He had had the car less than a year and it already looked like hell: His rearview mirror was held together with swaths of duct tape, his back bumper had fallen off, and his right front fender had a bad dent that raised the Civic’s hood up an inch or two. But he couldn’t bring himself to say no to Kyle.

Kyle fixated on his own world. Next to him on the back seat was his 27-inch-long steel Shinobi sword. On his lap, he cradled a constant companion that only he could see: a dragon named Tiamet. She curled up catlike, black with red marks outlining the bones along her wings, with eyes the palest of green. In his head, he listened to voices debating whether the whole universe could be Kyle’s dream or Mike’s dream or Katie’s dream.

“Hey, Mike,” Kyle hollered, back in the moment, trying to cheer up his buddy. “Let’s have a metaphysical discussion.” This was their favorite bull-session topic: Does the universe really exist?

Mike let the request go. They passed the only major intersection on the way, Gilbert’s Corner, where Route 15 meets Route 50. Kyle leaned forward and popped a Gravity Kills CD into the stereo; the industrial swirl of bass and distortion flooded the car. Maybe the tunes would wash over Mike’s mood. It was 6 o’clock, raining lightly outside, almost misting. Ten miles to go.

The Civic reached a gas station and turned onto Route 704, another two-laner. Mike pushed the car past stretches of horse pasture, everything opening up. There were big homes, new homes, studding the landscape. And then the road narrowed around the three friends, the trees inching closer to the Civic.

Mike veered onto Loudoun Orchard Road, a smooth stretch.

Mike started to feel lost. Not cool. The whole trip wasn’t cool. All day, Kyle had campaigned for this ride to Mount Gilead, saying he had “some business to take care of.” Mike thought this was just another one his friend’s “little private fantasy things.” It was something to add to his collection of dragons, voices, and sword fights. Only now, Mike felt as if he were part of the fantasy.

“Guys, do me a favor,” Kyle asked them. “Over the next couple of days, check the papers.”

“Oh yeah. Right,” Mike said. Sure thing. One more stop and then home.

The road was just one lane now. The Civic’s wheels ground over rock and muddy divots. There was a lot of mud. Bare oak and poplar branches scraped along the sides of the Civic.

The Civic gasped and ground with each turn, with each steep incline, with each descent, deeper into the woods. Finally, Kyle told Mike to stop the car, and Mike did. Kyle got out. They had reached the end of Mountain Spring Lane. The nearby houses, shrouded by woods, were marked by wooden signs nailed to a tree.

“I have some business to take care of,” Kyle says he told Mike and Katie.

“Where are you going?” Mike asked. He was worried, but he says he had no idea this fantasy of Kyle’s included the stone-and-log house just up the thin path. It was their friend Clara Schwartz’s house. Her father, Robert Schwartz, lived there. Clara had a lot of problems with her father, problems that consumed both her and Kyle. Tonight, her father would be in that house alone.

“The less you know, the better off you are,” Kyle said. He thought of all the things Clara had said during the past month, especially in their many late-night phone calls.

“OK,” Mike said.

Sitting in the Civic, Mike and Katie watched Kyle navigate the slate-colored gravel path toward the house. The headlights bore out his tall, skinny figure, dressed in Mike’s hiking boots, jeans, and Mike’s black leather trench coat. His silver sword went tucked in its scabbard between his belt and waistband.

In 30 minutes, Kyle would have murdered Robert Schwartz, stabbing him more than 30 times in a brutal struggle. In 48 hours, the body would be found. In three days, Kyle would be arrested. Soon after, Mike, Katie, and Clara would also be arrested, charged with first-degree murder for a killing they did not see. Trials for the accused will begin over the next several months.

Freedom, Sunroof Included

On May 11, 2001, Mike rolled off the Koons Honda lot in Manassas, $1,500 down, a kickass CD player cranked to the max, in a shiny black two-door Civic. The car, his first, purchased with the help of his grandmother, brought all the responsibilities of oil changes, tune-ups, and posted speed limits.

The Civic, Mike hoped, would also bring relief from the panic that often overcame him. The past December, while waiting for a ride, Mike had cut both his arms, his chest, and his stomach with an X-Acto knife. They were deep wounds. A month later, his mom found him clutching a bottle of Percocets, and he ended up in a mental hospital for a week. When Mike got out, he found that the panic had a way of finding him alone in his basement bedroom. No matter how many scary metal CDs and industrial CDs and goth CDs he blasted, he felt defenseless and cursed.

All that would change with the Civic, he thought. With a little gas, a little velocity, and a little distance, he could define himself, choose his own adventure. The car would also get him to the two jobs he held down. For his first trip, he gunned that Civic—sunroof included!—to his therapist’s office.

June came, and Mike drove out to a Celtic festival 30 minutes from his house in Haymarket. It was $14 for a one-day pass. This adventure included dressing up in combat boots, black jeans, white shirt, and a leather vest. But he felt weird being in a place with so many people.

As Mike passed through the food shops and pendant shops, though, he bumped into an old friend, Patrick House. He had met Patrick three years before in the lobby of his therapist’s office. They connected instantly over the shared idea that they were both outsiders who liked to bow in greeting.

At the Celtic festival, Patrick had talked to Mike about Clara Schwartz, who was fast becoming his girlfriend. “He mentioned something about not liking Clara’s dad,” Mike remembers.

By July, Mike had started temping at the Wal-Mart in Leesburg. And he bumped into Patrick again there. This time, Clara was with him. Clara ended up driving them around in her Mazda Protege, and at the end of the night, when she dropped him back at the Wal-Mart, Clara asked for gas money. Her father, she said, would be mad if the car was low. Mike said sure.

Patrick told Mike, around that time, that he wanted to kill Clara’s father. Mike said nothing, just listened. This was the same friend who had made far more surreal boasts: “He said he cast a spell that killed 13 people who were trying to kill him,” Mike recalls.

Mike is thin and paper-pale and has weary hazel eyes. The long wavy brown hair descending to the small of his back serves as his most extensive political statement. His usual greeting consists of a shrug, an embarrassing inching up of shoulders, his face cinching inward to give the look of someone who hates to disappoint and is comfortable making apologies.

At age 6, Mike fell in love with killing himself. The thought became addictive. “Like being sedated. Like blacking out, kinda,” he says. “I had a hard time letting go of [those thoughts].”

Mike had always chickened out on death and settled for escapes to the woods, mushroom hunting and wandering off the path. Human interactions felt like a series of high-impact collisions. He entered elementary school and felt panic. He got home-schooled and felt panic. He went to college and felt panic. He dropped out and felt panic. One recent girlfriend remembers that Mike was so frightened at the prospect of conversation that the deepest communication of their relationship consisted of passing notes.

Getting through life meant staying out of the way. He had perfected that skill back when he was a kid, when his dad came home drunk and in the mood to pick a fight with his mother. He had learned not to be a burden in a household—shared by his mom, grandmother, aunt, uncle, and cousin—that lived paycheck to paycheck. He had learned the power of being a yes man. His message was always yes or one of its many variations: sure, OK, why not, all right, fine, if you insist, I agree, your deal, whatever.

Mike believed in being a whatever. “You can never discover Who You Are,” Mike wrote recently in a jailhouse manifesto. “It is not a set thing. You aren’t ANYTHING.”

In August, Patrick called and asked if Mike wanted to hang with him and Clara. Mike said sure. They all ended up in Patrick’s living room listening to Clara talk as she flipped through a knife catalogue. It was Mike’s second brush with Clara: Not that thrilling, but he felt glad to be somewhere.

“I plan to get this,” Clara cooed, pointing to a blade in the catalog. “I plan to get this for Patrick.”

Clara liked little beyond knives and Patrick. She seemed to condemn the whole world but herself. She talked constantly of her belief in a warrior religion she called “Gwchyndo.” “There was a High Chaos (Death) and High Fate (Life) as two deities,” Mike wrote recently. “Beneath High Chaos is a hierarchy of demons, starting with the White Archangel of Death.”

Some demons had really messed-up names that Mike couldn’t pronounce, like Lepivhekundunkus and Demonionook. Clara, the priestess of High Chaos, decreed her religion’s rules, such as that women could have three boyfriends and men could have only one girlfriend. As part of this religion, Clara said, she was a member of an underworld clan, the “Sabertooth Clan,” named after a baddie character in X-Men.

Through it all, Mike barely said a word. He told Clara he believed in the essence of God and the beauty of love, and his Conversations With God books. But his pitch came out tepid, just a toe-dip into the chatter.

Mike never joined Clara’s clan, but he remained a faithful listener. A few days after Sept. 11, Clara took responsibility for the Twin Towers’ falling, saying she had a list of chemical explosives that had been used in making the planes crash. “Lord Chaos might have been involved,” she told Mike. Lord Chaos was her own nickname.

Clara never showed panic—her violence was just fantasy. Mike thought that was a luxury: His violence had been household reality. Nothing compared with the way his parents had fought, the way his dad had hit his mom before they separated.

In Clara, Mike was looking for an escape. “I wanted to see something else,” he explains. “And I was with a bunch of people that were seeing it.”

Pretty soon, Patrick introduced Mike to Katie, who was sweet and blond and possessed few inhibitions. She could cheer anyone up. That seemed her life’s goal: to be sweet.

Katie was Clara’s best friend and a Sabertooth member. Eventually, Clara would say, the people of the Underworld would rise up and fight a war against all of Christian society. The war, dubbed “the Spring,” would start when Clara died. Katie would be her successor to the world’s throne. Mike just wanted Katie to be his girlfriend.

Dropping Katie at her parents’ Purcellville home one night, Mike asked her: “When do you want to see me again?” Those words felt natural.

Katie said, “Tomorrow.”

Mike drove back to his mom’s house super excited. He turned way up an extreme metal group, Susperia, as he gunned his Civic down Route 9. “I was like, ‘Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow!’” he says. “I couldn’t believe it.”

As Mike and Katie continued their courtship, they often hung out with Clara, listening to her talk about her world of demons and villains determined to harm her. But the only “demon” Mike knew to really exist was Clara’s father, Robert Schwartz, who she insisted was also out to get her.

All this had an effect on Katie. One September night, Katie told Mike she had dreamed she was in Clara’s house with Clara’s dad. She shoved him and he died.

In mid-September, Mike drove Katie, Clara, and Patrick to the Applebee’s in Leesburg. Clara, Katie, and Patrick were celebrating birthdays. Clara and Katie had just turned 19. They all ordered steaks.

Clara got her steak, cut it open, and found that it was way too raw for her. She sent it back and again it arrived raw. On the third try, she bit down, made a face, and spit out a chunk. She told everyone that she’d tasted something not quite right.

“My steak is poisoned,” Mike remembers Clara saying. Somebody at Applebee’s was trying to kill her.

Clara passed her plate to Patrick. He tried the steak. “He said it tasted funny,” Mike says. “He said it was a drug specifically to target assassins. But he couldn’t think of the [poison’s] name.”

Mike then took a bite. The steak tasted fine to him. But he didn’t say anything.

Katie supported Clara. She was a loyal Sabertooth—so loyal, in fact, that Clara had given her the nickname “Dream Chaser.”

Clara wouldn’t touch any more of her steak. It was bloody in the middle, and after further examination, she said that the would-be assassin must be this demon who drank fire and blood. This was a sign.

“We should go,” Clara said.

They all got up to leave and headed to a nearby T.G.I.Friday’s for dessert. The foursome shared a big hunk of ice cream and cake. Mike didn’t know what to think. “I didn’t want to doubt her,” he explains. “I just figured she’d been through a lot of shit. I don’t know.”

Dementius Harbringer

Mike first met Kyle under the most humbling of circumstances. A few weeks after the Applebee’s incident, Mike went with his mother to the Maryland Renaissance Festival in Crownsville, just outside Annapolis. It was a clear Saturday in late September, perfect for adventuring through the shops and tents in the 25-acre wooded spread. But it seemed as if Mike spent all afternoon worrying about Katie, who was also there. He heard that she’d gone missing—just run off with this guy in a cat mask. That guy turned out to be Kyle.

Kyle had gone to the fair with a few friends. This was his first time to one of these medieval circuses. So he’d primped, dressing in black boots and black leggings, a black leather vest, a black cloak, black velvet gloves, a black tail, and a black latex cat mask. He borrowed the mask from a friend; he already had the other components. He went as his own not-quite-period-correct creation, a panther assassin under the name Dementius Harbringer—”Bringer of Insanity.”

“He’s insane on three levels,” Kyle explains. “He makes his enemies insane. He drives women insane—’nuff said on that part. He drives himself insane by driving women insane.”

Despite his character’s antisocial behavior, Kyle quickly fell in with another assassin. They introduced themselves. His new friend said his name was Patrick House.

The two ran around, and when they got tired, they both sat down on a bench, with their backs to each other.

“You notice how we’re sitting?” Kyle asked.

“Yeah,” Patrick said. “We’re covering 180 degrees of landscape.”

Cool.

Pretty soon, they dashed over to a weapons shop. Patrick introduced Kyle to all his friends, including Katie. Kyle noticed her right off, a petite blonde with sharp cheekbones, a perky nose, and wide blue eyes under big glasses that made her look excited all the time. Not exactly his type, but so what.

“I’m going to take my panties off,” Katie told Kyle and the others. She was wearing a low-cut, wench-type linen dress. “Make a wall!” The guys obliged.

Katie took to Kyle pretty quick. She thought he looked like Joe Perry from Aerosmith, her favorite band. And she really liked his costume. Within a few minutes, Katie grabbed Kyle and ran off.

Once away from the crowds, Katie asked Kyle: “Would you like to check out my regimentality?”

Katie pulled Kyle’s gloved hand up under her dress. It had a stimulating effect, and the two started making out as he fingered her. This was a place, Kyle thought, where he really could drive women wild.

The two then walked around, taking in the sights. Katie took down Kyle’s phone number and insisted that he meet her best friend, Clara.

In their wanderings, Katie and Kyle bumped into Mike. They were standing by a set of picnic tables outside the White Hart Tavern when Mike showed up. By that time, Mike had deployed his mom and a family friend to look for Katie. He was getting sick. When there were bad moments in his life, he got headaches and sometimes vomited.

Mike approached the two. Katie acted as if she weren’t paying attention, playing as if Mike weren’t in her same space.

Kyle intruded on the silence and complimented Mike on his wardrobe: big black boots, black jeans, white muslin shirt, leather vest, and leather braces. Kyle noticed the pentacles patches bolted into the braces and asked Mike if he was Wiccan.

“I don’t follow a particular path,” Mike said.

“If I were to label myself as anything, it would probably be Wiccan,” Kyle returned, and then added his analysis of his new friend, joking: “I think you go whichever way the wind blows.”

Mike was impressed; he knew that was certainly true. But he had to get going. Katie had already drifted off, and he had to return to his mother. He would never confront Katie about her hook-up, figuring “it’s her body.” There was nothing he could do.

Before they parted company, Kyle reached out for Mike’s hand and offered to teach him the “warrior’s handshake.” They clasped each other’s forearms near the elbows and gave their arms a shake.

The Fortress

On Oct. 4, Mike celebrated his 21st birthday. He drove Katie and a friend up to Baltimore to celebrate. They cruised around the grungy city for a couple days, and when he got back, it was late and he was tired. He then went to a friend of his mother’s house, where he was supposed to celebrate with her. He blew out the candles on his cake, grabbed his present—a computer monitor—and said he had to leave. He told his mother he had to go get his new friend Kyle.

It was after midnight when Mike called Kyle. “Do you still want me to pick you up?” Mike asked. Kyle said definitely; Mike said sure.

On the way to Kyle’s place, in Woodbridge, Mike got lost on Route 1 and called Kyle all pissed from a 7-Eleven. Kyle knew that 7-Eleven and told Mike to wait there—he would walk over. Mike stewed in his Civic, feeling drained.

But the minute Kyle got in his car, Mike forgave him. He forgave him the late hour, the long drive, the getting lost, all of it. The car was too small for grudges, and Kyle was good company. His laugh filled the car at top volume. That laugh—hee, hee, haa, haa, haaa!—poked at Mike’s ribs. Sometimes all it takes is for your friend to get in the car.

“How many fucking weapons do you have?” Mike asked.

“These are just a few of my toys,” Kyle replied, showing off a book bag that contained a pair of nunchucks and assorted other weaponry. He had a knife on his belt and his silver sword attached across his back.

They talked like drug buddies; the drug of choice was Kyle’s natural meth. He spewed dreams and stories and plans. All Mike had to do was be his friend. Mike could do that.

They had to get a house, Kyle said. He had it all figured out: He had an acting gig lined up, and with the money—which wasn’t small money but real gobs of money—well, he’d buy a house and he and Mike and Katie could all live in it. It would be awesome. They could get away from everything. Their house would be their fortress against the world.

It would certainly be a step up for Kyle. Since the end of September, he had taken to shoplifting candy and cookie dough for food, and had been sleeping in a tent. He had found a spot in a patch of woods behind a cul-de-sac near the house of a friend in Woodbridge. The tent was green and tan and had a tarp floor.

Mike, too, thought a house would be cool.

As the two drove down Prince William Parkway back toward Haymarket, the night lay before them, peaceful and dark and filled with new ideas. Kyle called Mike “brother.” The two reached Mike’s house about 1:30 a.m. “Oh, hi, Mom,” Kyle called out to Mike’s mom, who had stayed up anxiously.

Within a few minutes, Kyle was investigating the refrigerator and Mike’s basement bedroom. He found some of Mike’s clothes and asked if he could wear them. Mike said sure. Kyle came upstairs for air and asked if he could go out to the Civic, grab the new monitor, and install it—he wanted to go online. Mike said sure.

Mike’s bedroom quickly became Kyle’s bedroom. Kyle told Mike he was an orphan.

In the first week of September, Kyle had turned 18, an age that granted him a hearing and then release from the Commonwealth of Virginia’s custody. He’d moved out of St. Joseph’s Villa in Richmond, a shelter for abused and neglected children, and up Route 1 to a friend’s house in Woodbridge. At that point, he had been abandoned by his parents twice and had tallied, since he was 7 years old, at least nine different mental-hospital stays, amassing thousands of pages in his case file.

“Dude, my file is bigger than most Stephen King novels,” Kyle once bragged. Aside from being a habitual cutter, he had been labeled with the following: Attention Deficit Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Manic Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Bipolar Disorder Type 2, Psychotic Features, Schizophrenic Affective, Delusional With Delusions of Grandeur, Hallucinatory with Audio and Visual.

“I can see dragons,” Kyle said. And he could see studious elves and tinkly fairies. They’d appeared and danced and sat by his bed when he was 6. They’d been with him ever since.

“I wish I could see dragons,” Mike told him.

Mike slept while Kyle stayed up all night logging on to various chat rooms, among them the Graveyard and Vampire Tavern. Kyle fancied himself a vampire. He had even sucked blood from several girlfriends.

A week later, Katie moved into Mike’s basement bedroom after a fight with her parents. She brought along her collectible dolls, stuffed animals, silver jewelry, and fantasy novels. The room would become Mike and Katie’s world, a place where they would dance around naked, stay up till 4 a.m. fucking and talking and listening to Elton John and Aerosmith and Metallica. They would decorate their room with red candles stuck into empty Arizona Iced Tea bottles and adorn their door with construction-paper snowflakes. And all the time, whisper their mantra: “I love you, I love you more, I love you better, I love you always, I love you forever.”

“Katie was a dream come true for me,” Mike wrote in a letter this spring. “I think we met on the 5th of September or so, and we had sex about five days later. Yeah, I know, too much information. Bear with me, tho. After that first time, I think we were up until 4 a.m. talking to each other. Talking. Like we could sit and talk all night and enjoy being with each other. And we had virtually just met! And she was the only girl—the ONLY girl—who has ever said ‘I love you’ first…Out of nowhere…A perfect dream.”

Katie confided to Mike that she had prayed to a demon named Demogorgon for the man of her dreams. And he was it. They called each other Mikey Tiger and KT Bear.

At the end of October, Mike got a letter from his old shrink. The therapist wrote: “I believe you are vulnerable to psychosis that could develop into schizophrenia. There are aspects of your thinking that are not based in reality….It is my belief that the problems that you are having come from within your mind and your thinking.” Mike ignored the letter.

Everything was going to be all right, Mike thought. Soon, Mike and Katie would pick up Kyle and go to diners and the movies. The road back to Haymarket was always dark and empty and filled with discussions about the universe and their future. Inevitably, Kyle or Mike would pop in “The Crossroad” by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony; the gangster dirge was their song: “My nigga, just rest your soul, and I’ll see you at the crossroad.”

“To Inflict Pain Is to Bring Joy”

When Kyle crashed at Mike’s, he would stay up all night in the basement bedroom. He’d go online or watch Mike and Katie sleep; he thought they looked so peaceful. In the early-morning hours of Nov. 9, he went online after Katie and Mike went to bed. Katie had just been instant-messaging with Clara.

Soon, Kyle and Clara were passing IMs back and forth. They had only met once, by chance, at the Renaissance Festival back in September. But as Clara typed away from the quiet of her dorm room at James Madison University, in Harrisonburg, she seemed eager to talk to Kyle. It was 3:03 a.m. when they started. They finished at 7:24 a.m.

Clara had a lot of problems, and she unloaded them all. She talked about her mother’s death from cancer, when Clara was in high school. Nothing had been the same since. Now her life was filled with killing gods, kidnap attempts, and being raped “with hands.”

Clara’s father hadn’t been the same since, either. But now, looking back on her life, she realized that her father had tried to drown her in a pool when she was little, had sexually molested her, had been trying to kill her. She gave dates of his attempts on her life: Feb. 13, 2000, Aug. 18 and 19, 2000, Dec. 19, 2000, Dec. 23, 2000, Dec. 27, 2000, May 22, 2001, and so on.

“See a pattern?” she asked Kyle in an instant message.

Kyle saw a pattern.

Clara: I sleep so much, my friends, what little remain, think I have mono or insomnia.

Kyle: Let them think what they want…As long as they do nothing to threaten you, it is OK. For if they do, they will have to answer to me.

Clara: OK.

Kyle: Even if you kill them first.

Clara: I don’t kill unless absolutely necessary.

Kyle: Aye.

Clara: If I must defend myself, I shatter bone…I lacerate throats…I injure.

Kyle: You are a woman after my own heart CJ.

Kyle: To inflict pain is to bring joy.

Clara: How come I can never rid myself of enemies?

Kyle: Hmmm. Good question.

Clara: Bad people.

Kyle: I cannot help you there as I have not figured that one out. My advice would be to avoid them.

Clara: Those whose cause is solely to hurt or kill me are killed. Or in another term I use tayed.

Kyle: Trust me I can see to that.

Clara: Tay means to kill or killed in Moorian native language of Gwchyndo.

Clara: Pat wants to tay him as well…If you do…All I ask is that it not trace to me.

Kyle: Let’s put it this way…I don’t know of anything he ever did to you…I just have my own issues with him.

Clara: OK. He did it every time I swam from four to eight.

Kyle: He is most lucky.

Clara: The recent occurrences have been Think what happens to Snow White.

Kyle: With the apple? Is that what you are talking about?

Clara: Yeah. What did her stepmother do?

Kyle: Try to kill her…lose her in the woods…poison.

Clara: The last word…Recent occurrences with OG [Old Guy]…that key word. OG to me.

Kyle: Please tell me he does not live in VA.

Clara: We do.

Kyle: Hmm.

Clara: Quite close to Mike. 25 minutes at most. More like 15 to 20.

Kyle: Please do not tell me that.

Clara: Leesburg? Visited there?

Kyle: I know where that is.

Clara: My home address: Leesburg, VA 20175.

Kyle: I just wrote that down…If I was to tay him would you be mad at me?

Clara: It’s rural…really hard to find…No…Just don’t do it now.

Kyle: Not now…My mind is a bit too cloudy for that in a moment…Maybe in a month.

Clara: We’ll talk about it down here…Take a long walk and talk…OK.

Kyle: OK. You and me?

Clara: Leave Mike and Kate to talk. Though me and Kate need to have a talk…

Kyle: Very well.

Clara: Unless you don’t want to…I just hate talking about that kind of stuff on here.

Kyle: I would like to talk face to face. OK?

Clara: Yeah…Looking for little black book.

Kyle: Which one? What for?

Clara: Poisonings.

Kyle: Shit…I can help with that.

Clara: OK.

Kyle: Wait till I get there OK?

The Vampire Slayer

That afternoon, Mike drove Kyle and Katie down to Harrisonburg, an hour and a half away, to visit Clara for the weekend. They rode in silence. Mike kept the Civic at a steady rate of speed and let Katie control the stereo. Kyle curled up in the back seat, dozing and drooling on the Civic’s window. Kyle’s sword, which he called his “favorite toy,” lay in the trunk. He hadn’t brought much else.

In between fitful naps, Kyle felt a mix of apprehension and excitement. They were going to see Clara. He wanted to meet this girl. He wanted to save this girl. He wanted to see if this girl was for real.

It was cold and breezy when they arrived. Mike scouted out Clara’s dorm. The building, Rockingham Hall, was an old Howard Johnson’s motel set off from JMU’s campus by an overpass and the rumble of 18-wheelers and tandem trailers making their way between Roanoke and Front Royal along I-81. A cool setup, they all thought. Especially since the dorm consisted strictly of single rooms.

Clara’s first-floor room, 144, felt secluded and secure. It had three slits for windows along the top edge of the front wall facing the parking lot. In the back, a sliding glass door was shrouded behind two-ply curtains. Beyond that was nothing but a grassy field, a pink satellite dish, tree stumps, fat pines, and a chain-link fence that cut between the HoJo’s property, the gas-food-lodging signs, and the highway.

Mike knew this weekend visit was Kyle’s initiation into Clara’s world, her “crazy stuff.” It would be interesting. After they parked and unloaded the Civic, Clara insisted on taking a walk with Kyle, leaving Katie and Mike in her dorm. Mike, tired from driving, crashed.

Clara and Kyle walked up the main drag, past the usual drive-by sights: a Days Inn, Kooter Floyd’s BBQ, two gas stations, and a Subway. The two crossed pockmarked parking lots and the I-81 overpass before finally entering the carefully planned campus of JMU. They held hands.

Kyle had to remind himself not to get too emotional, too out-of-control. He had spent his life sniffing out strange places and strange people. He could be a hyper motherfucker and a lot worse. He knew that side of himself well.

That morning, Kyle had skipped his meds, which he usually slurped down with his morning bowl of Fruity Pebbles. He told himself to keep things steady and simple—just pay attention and keep up with Clara’s word flow. She spoke of constant danger. And that made him frightened and curious. It could be the two of them against the world.

As they walked by a dorm, Kyle heard a voice. “Freak!” a kid shouted down from a window.

“Thank you!” Kyle yelled back.

Kyle looked down and realized that Clara had screamed back a “Thank you,” too. They both cracked up. He was wearing a black cloak and a wide-brimmed hat, and carrying a wooden staff. Clara had on a cloak that covered her all up. He realized that his friend, his new best friend, one of a handful he called “sister,” made him very jittery.

But hanging by her side, Kyle couldn’t help but be impressed. He wished he’d known Clara all his life. His fantasies had always gotten him into trouble, whereas she seemed so comfortable with hers. Her voice and eyes had a focus, a matter-of-factness.

Kyle was so taken with Clara that he didn’t even notice her vulnerabilities: sad, jowly cheeks, stooped shoulders, and a hint of an old speech impediment that made her pronounce her own name as “Cwawa.” He did notice that she was always serious, putting her speech in the plainest script. He liked that about her.

Kyle tried the easy things first. He pointed out the weather (still cold, getting colder). And then he asked about school (pretty big deal, huh?). Clara wasn’t interested in either. She talked about the possibility of a new world war, when their kind, the goths and the freaks, would take over. It would come soon. It would last three years, Clara told him.

He could really like this girl. “If it was to break,” Kyle told her, speaking of this war, “I will be there and not let anybody get to you.”

Talk of war yielded to peacetime threats against Clara—all the people who were out to get her. Among those was her father.

“So what’s up with Dad?” Kyle asked.

Clara said Robert Schwartz beat her and yelled at her and had once poisoned a lemon she was going to eat. Another time, he tried to feed her tainted meat. It tasted so bad, she said, she threw up.

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The two stopped and picked up Mountain Dews and Skittles from a campus vending machine. On their way back down JMU’s main slope, through the gray old architecture and the new red-brick dorms, Clara couldn’t stop talking of the fights with her father.

“I want my dad dead,” Kyle remembers Clara saying. It could have been “I want my dad gone.” He’s not sure. His mind blurred badly at that point—so badly that he thought every passing car would hit him. He could see people behind him, talking. The voices, the ones in his head clamored, too. His most trusted voice, Nicodemis, told him to “use caution.”

Kyle saw Tiamet flying alongside him.

Kyle didn’t know what to say. “Yeah,” he told Clara, fumbling. “That’s like a big thing….I don’t know if I’m able to do something like that.” He still needed proof and a little more time.

“OK,” Clara said, calm and flat. “File it away for later.”

Kyle filed it away for later.

Later, the four devoured steak dinners at a campus eatery and then went back to Clara’s room, which followed a typical motel layout: bathroom, bed, night table, dresser, and desk. There was nothing on the white walls except a single moody abstract she had painted; nobody was permitted to touch it. All surfaces were dirty. Even her computer was dirty. On its desktop, she had a picture of her boyfriend, Patrick House.

“He’s an asshole,” Clara said, pointing to Patrick on her computer screen. Patrick had been supposed to come down for the weekend, but he couldn’t. She’d invited Kyle instead.

Clara popped Interview With the Vampire, one of Kyle’s all-time favorites, in the VCR. The four sat on her bed, Kyle cuddling Clara, Mike cuddling Katie. Mike remembers this moment as the happiest and calmest one in their friendship.

By 2 a.m., Mike and Katie had sprawled out on the floor with blankets and a blue sleeping bag. Mike, shirtless, spooned up tight against his girlfriend. Clara shared her bed with Kyle.

An hour or two later, Kyle felt the need to get some air. He threw on his cloak and hat and grabbed his staff. He walked up through a grid of student apartments peeking through a set of woods and a creek.

Kyle sensed that something was wrong, that he was being followed.

What the fuck are they doing here? Kyle thought to himself. They might be here for me or for Clara. He spotted a bunch of shapes, shadows really. They scattered. He followed them and noted that they were all really pale, that they all dressed in leather, and that a few in the half-dozen or so wore upside-down anarchy symbols—the uniform of a rival vampire clan, the Brujah.

Kyle reached the Commons apartments, a ring of cheap three-story condos. He spotted a vulnerable Brujah member, grabbed a piece of wood, and staked him.

“He was cursing like a motherfucker,” Kyle remembers. “He stopped moving. He didn’t say anything when he was staked.” Kyle says that the vampire later burst into flames.

That morning, Kyle and Clara woke up early and left Mike and Katie asleep on the floor. They walked up to the Food Lion for SoBe energy drinks. They talked again of her father and could Kyle protect her? He said yes, of course, he would if the need ever presented itself.

Then Kyle told her of the vampire slaying.

“There were Brujah stalking around your dorm,” Kyle said. He told her he had killed one of the suckers for her protection.

Clara nodded.

“Let me show you something,” Clara said, taking the SoBe drink. She fluttered her hand over the bottle, whispering a spell before handing it back to Kyle. “Try it.”

Kyle took a swig. It felt as refreshing, he thought, as drinking blood. He felt so good, so exhilarated, so focused. Clara promised she’d teach him her trick. Kyle promised again to protect her.

“I remember thinking how ironic it was,” he says. “I was being told to be a guardian again. I was being called to do my duty again. I’ve always been under the care of the state. But I always ended up protecting those I love.”

All Clara could say was “Thank you.”

Meeting Mr. Schwartz

On Thanksgiving weekend, Kyle called Mike and asked for a ride out to Clara’s father’s house in Mount Gilead. Mike said sure.

Kyle hung out with Clara until it got late. He slept in his tent in the woods behind her house; he didn’t want to impose. “I was not tired,” Kyle remembers. “I was up listening to shit move outside. There were animals out. It could have been anything from foxes to deer to whatever.” He heard an owl and that was pretty cool.

He woke up before dawn. It was raining and cold. He went up to the Schwartz house, where the lights were off. He decided to walk around the woods, along the creek bed, dressed in his cloak and vest.

The Schwartz house, known as the Stone House, was built, according to Clara, in 1741. She considered her house creepy, especially the den, where she kept seeing “black handprints.” She said she’d found her mother dead in that room on Jan. 8, 1997. In her bedroom, scratches and drops of blood had appeared on the walls. “Many people report that my house and the surrounding property has a very depressing air to it…very dreary and feelings of hopelessness dominate the estate,” she wrote in a March 2001 e-mail to a friend. “They have also reported that spirits flock to there and are everywhere.”

Kyle finally came back at 11 a.m. and met the source of Clara’s pain, Robert Schwartz. Clara and her father were attending to their horse in their stables, cleaning hooves and brushing its mane.

“My name is Kyle,” Kyle said.

“OK. My name is Robert,” Schwartz said.

“He wasn’t committing to any conversation,” Kyle remembers. “His whole vibrations were really fucked-up.”

Kyle stood and watched Clara groom her horse.

Eventually, the two went to McDonald’s in Clara’s blue Mazda Protege. Kyle loved hanging out with Clara. In the parking lot, Clara realized that they were being followed by a grayish-blue SUV. Kyle agreed that they were being followed. She added that this could be a rogue member of an old underworld alliance. Lucky for Kyle, he had his sword with him.

Clara drove out of the McDonald’s real fast, and they got away from that SUV.

That afternoon, Clara returned Kyle to his old place in Woodbridge. Kyle then asked Mike to pick him up. Mike said sure.

On the way back to Haymarket, Kyle convinced Mike that he was being followed. Mike couldn’t get that fear out of his head. It was starting to get real scary, Mike thought, as well as a little embarrassing.

Mike eventually got away from his tail, and he and Kyle and Katie went back to Clara’s house that evening. Clara walked out of the house pulling a pork chop from her pocket.

“Kyle, taste this,” Clara said.

Kyle, who was in the Civic’s back seat, bit into the fried pork chop. It tasted rancid, just a really bad sense of something wrong. He spit it out right on the driveway.

“My dad cooked it separately from the other ones,” Clara said. This was Robert Schwartz’s latest attempt to poison her.

Kyle got pissed. He calculated a thousand thoughts in his mind in a matter of seconds and settled on beating the hell out of Clara’s father. He had to get out from the Civic’s back seat.

“Mike, get out of the car and let me out,” Kyle bellowed.

“Kyle, you’re not getting out of this car,” Mike said. He knew this could turn bad. Kyle stayed in the Civic.

Mike at that point was unaware of the discussions between Clara and Kyle regarding Robert Schwartz. Clara was doing some serious case-building, calling Kyle three times a day. Serious calls, brooding calls, pleading calls: Take care of my father. Mike knew that his friend had stopped taking his meds. He didn’t know about the hallucinations.

Kyle would get the hallucinations at night. And he would get them during the day. They were like little movies in his eyeballs, playing out nearly the same every time.

“I would walk out of my room and into her room,” Kyle explains. Then Robert Schwartz would appear. “He’d walk in. He’d start yelling at her…tell her that she was worthless, shit like that. He’d hit her. He’d walk out and she’d start crying. That was the hardest part of all of it—just to see her cry.”

Nightshade

Just before Kyle left JMU, Clara had given him a goodbye present of sorts, a list of every horrible moment her father had ever inflicted on her. By each date, there was an acronym—”EA” for emotional abuse, “PA” for physical abuse, and “MA” for mental abuse. He kept the list in his wallet. The list of EAs, PAs, and MAs kept growing with each new phone call.

Clara’s calls started on the Monday after Kyle left her. Kyle found it easy to feel Clara’s vibe, although just to pick up the ringing phone and hear her voice started to make him shudder. She made him depressed, groping for answers. He had moved in with a smart, tough girl named Brandy Smith, whom he’d also met at the Rennaissance Festival. She was only 17, so where he’d moved was into her tightknit family’s Millersville, Md., living-room couch. He’d arrived at the family’s doorstep carrying barely more than a large black duffel bag, and, in a separate plastic bag, toys he had saved. They were all Happy Meal-type wind-up gizmos.

Once Clara mailed him some journal entries relating to her father. The entries are filled with chores not done on time, homework incomplete, and her father’s abuse. The first entry was dated Sept. 3, 1998: “I feel the utmost hatred for him. He’s the one in the world who is the biggest, greedest, hypocritical, most lying shithead. I hope he rots in Hell (if it exists) and I hope he suffered and understands how psychotic his actions on Earth had become…”

By early December, Clara’s calls to Kyle had become more and more frantic. Winter break was coming up, and she would have to go home. She said her father had planned a vacation to the Virgin Islands—he would kill her there for sure. Twice, Kyle says, she flat-out asked him to kill her father. Both times he changed the subject.

Kyle needed advice. He called up his old friend and landlord in Woodbridge. The friend told him to get all the facts before doing anything. He consulted Brandy’s mother, and she advised that he go to the police. When he brought up these suggestions with Clara, she balked, saying the cops would only enrage her father more.

After Clara’s calls, Kyle would hide out in Brandy’s room, hitting the PlayStation for a few rounds of fighting games. He would crash out on the couch, the one adorned with a cat-print blanket, and listen to Dido’s “Thank You” on repeat. Eventually, Clara started calling in the middle of the night.

When he pictured himself in the outside world, Kyle believed he could do brave things. And he always succeeded—besting anyone at Tekken 3, shielding friends from bullies. In elementary school, he had mastered this view of things when kids started to taunt him over his meds: He taunted back harder. After graduating to institutions, where the outside was ladled out only in tightly supervised field trips and through the portals of fiberglass windows, he’d go AWOL.

As Kyle got older, he did braver things, such as thumping bigger kids. He wrote poetry devoted to two subjects—his being a vampire and his being lonely. He wrote a poem under the name Dragonklawz called “A Foster Child’s Anguished Cry” that wimps would never pen:

Could I help it that my family didn’t want me?

Is it my fault that every time I trust someone,

I get another knife in my exposed back?

Kyle got a job cleaning stables and feeding horses for $50 a week. When he felt lonely, he walked the 45 minutes to Wal-Mart or the nearby movie theater or the Denny’s and tried to make friends. “Hi, I’m Kyle,” he’d say, a big grin taking up his face.

When the Smith family sat down for dinner, Kyle remained on the outside of in-jokes and family banter. But he’d gather up his courage and interrupt every so often: “Hi, I’m Kyle, and I can do that.” Everyone would have to chuckle. He did other brave things such as lay his neediness plain, calling Brandy’s mother just to ask if he could have a soda or a bowl of cereal. And he’d take Clara’s calls.

In between all those calls from Clara, Kyle also asked Mike for his take. And Mike had no answer at all. He didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know if he believed Clara’s claims. Patrick had given up on Clara and told Mike and Katie that she was a bullshitter.

Whether he believed her declarations or not, Mike had become part of Clara’s universe. Through Katie and Kyle, he was connected to her. No matter how he tried to disconnect, he couldn’t help thinking about Clara—this sad-eyed horse lover, this Lord Chaos, this sophomore majoring in computer science (or was it English?), this warrior, this lover of Skinny Puppy MP3s. He thought about her more than he ever wanted to.

Mike tried to find Clara’s religion on the Internet and found nothing. He began to refer to it as her “little demon thing.”

Still, Mike says, when Clara rode with him in the Civic, he sometimes felt that she had special powers. “It seemed like, going down the road in the fast lane, car after car would switch lanes and get out of my way,” he remembers. “Car after car after car. And we’d be going down a street with lights, and all the lights would be green when we came up to them. I don’t know, what the hell was that?

“I still don’t know,” Mike adds.

On Dec. 6, Mike picked up Kyle in the Civic and brought him back to his house. Mike had plans to introduce Kyle to some old friends, extend their inner circle a bit, and go shopping. That night Mike, Katie, and Kyle crashed in his basement bedroom.

On Mike’s dresser was an unopened package from Clara, addressed to Kyle. It contained a check for $60. On the envelope, Clara had written a note in black pen that read: “Whats needed and expected.” She’d signed it “Lord Chaos.”

Two days later—Saturday, Dec. 8—Kyle, Mike, and Katie went Christmas-shopping with some friends. As they checked out the stores, Kyle mentioned that he had to take care of something out in Mount Gilead and asked Mike to drive him. Mike said sure.

“Kyle, this ride you need me to give you, are you going up there to do a job?” Mike asked. He thought a job meant one of Kyle’s “assassinations.” But he says he wasn’t quite sure what that meant.

“I can’t answer that,” Kyle said and then dashed off into the mall, hyper.

A friend of Mike’s, having heard, warned him against giving the ride. Mike told the friend that Kyle “might be bullshitting.” After all, Kyle had once said that he had killed a man and buried him for $5,000.

They went to a CVS inside the mall for snacks. Mike got a soda and Pringles. Kyle got a bag of Combos and a Surge.

At about 5:15 p.m., the three left the mall and headed for Mount Gilead. Kyle thought this was the right time to confront Robert Schwartz. He didn’t know when he’d get another ride to Virginia, and Clara was coming home for winter break soon. He thought of the advice he’d been given. At the very least, he wanted to get Schwartz’s side of things. “I knew there were several things that could happen a lot of different ways,” he says. “There could be a fight. My life could be put in danger. One of us could get killed—the one I was deliberately not thinking about. There was a possibility that he could deny everything and I just walk away.” Kyle says he didn’t tell his plans to Mike and Katie.

From where Kyle had Mike stop the car, deep in the woods of Mount Gilead, Kyle had a 20-minute walk up to the Schwartz house. He carried a knife he dubbed “the Falcon” tucked in his belt. On his left hip, he had his 27-inch Shinobi silver sword. He had purchased the sword at Chesapeake Knife and Tool in the Potomac Mills mall on the day he became free of the state’s custody. It was thin and easily portable. It cost $30.

His old landlord had sharpened the blade, taking two days to get it just right. Kyle had wrapped black electrical tape around the wooden hilt for a better grip. The only problem was that the sword curved to the left. No matter what his landlord friend tried, the bend wouldn’t come out. Kyle didn’t care. He thought it was a thing of beauty and named the blade Nightshade, after his Dungeons & Dragons name, Daemon Nightshade.

Kyle could see the Schwartz house. Two lights shone from inside. Somebody was home.

“I have a bad feeling about this,” Nicodemis muttered in Kyle’s head. Kyle knocked on Schwartz’s door.

Robert Schwartz, 57, was a biophysicist and founder of the Virginia Biotechnology Association. He had garnered national praise for coordinating the first online database of DNA sequencing and received his organization’s lifetime achievement award. He lived in a two-story white and tan stone and log house. He kept a horse, a pygmy goat, a dog, and a cockatoo. By all accounts except Clara’s, he was a very attentive and affectionate father.

Schwartz stopped his cooking. There were two tortillas on the table. He opened the door dressed in green sweat pants and a forest-green T-shirt. This is what Kyle says followed:

“Is Clara there?” Kyle asked.

“No,” Schwartz said.

“Where is she?” Kyle asked.

“She’s at JMU,” Schwartz said.

Kyle asked for her phone number.

Schwartz invited him in and went to get Clara’s number at a computer desk in the dining room area. He picked up the phone.

Kyle asked if he could use the bathroom. He did. “I was wondering how this whole thing was going to play out,” Kyle says. He was calm, though.

As Schwartz wrote down his daughter’s phone number, Kyle asked: “What’s your relationship like with Clara?”

“What business is it of yours?” Schwartz countered. There was an edge to his voice.

“Because I care about her,” Kyle replied. He was still calm.

“Huh.” Incredulous.

“I know what your plans are for her,” Kyle said, jumping right into it. “I’m not going to let you hurt her!”

Schwartz had his back to Kyle. He then flipped around and backhanded Kyle, cutting him along an eyebrow. The two started struggling. Kyle grabbed his sword and started slashing at him.

“He knew what I was talking about,” Kyle says. “And he didn’t care.”

With his sword, Kyle hit Schwartz in the back of the neck. He was surprised he didn’t draw blood.

Schwartz got behind Kyle and put a hand on his neck, another on the blade of the sword. Kyle pulled the blade through Schwartz’s hand. “In the back of my mind, somebody was laughing,” he says. He then plunged the sword into Schwartz’s stomach.

The two continued to struggle. “At one point, we were back off each other,” Kyle says. “He’s between me and the door. And I had the sword in both hands. I was like, ‘Look, move away from the door. I’ll be gone and you’ll never see me again.’”

Kyle says Schwartz just smiled and came after him again. As they wrestled, each connected solid blows. Kyle elbowed Schwartz in the nose and blood spurted. Kyle tasted Schwartz’s blood in his mouth.

Kyle says he then blacked out. “When I came to, he’s dead and I’m pulling the sword out from his back,” he says. The first thing he heard was Nicodemis and the other voices in his head trying to calm him down. Schwartz lay facedown on the hardwood kitchen floor next to the stove. Blood stained the refrigerator. A 7-Eleven coffee cup lay atop an adjacent trash can. According to the autopsy report, Schwartz was stabbed and slashed 32 times—on the left arm, left hand, groin, back, torso, neck, and chest.

Two gashes on the back of Schwartz’s neck carved out a pronounced X.

Kyle rinsed Nightshade off in the sink. Nicodemis told him: “We need to make haste.” Kyle left Schwartz on the floor, a large pool of blood gathering near a pink-and-blue rug.

“Tiamet was outside waiting for me,” Kyle says. “First thing she did was ask me what was wrong. She didn’t know what happened. I didn’t tell her what had happened at first. It was only three hours later when I realized I had killed somebody.”

Back in the Civic, Mike kept asking: “What the hell is he doing?” Katie, he says, was muttering the same thing. They were already in a bit of trouble: Mike had gotten his car stuck in the mud. No matter how much he tried to get moving, the wheels kept spinning. They agreed to wait for Kyle.

Kyle came back and they told him the Civic was stuck. They asked him to go up to the Schwartz house and get help.

“He told us very seriously that nobody was home twice, and I did the math,” Katie would write in her statement to the police, adding that she noted the blood on his trench coat. “I knew he had done something to Mr. Schwartz and he tossed his sword in the car.”

It took forever for Mike to understand what had happened. Kyle had to practically spell it out.

They took turns trying to push the car out of the mud. Mike prayed that Robert Schwartz’s soul would land safely in heaven. He asked for a sign that Schwartz would be OK.

After nearly two hours, Kyle went to a nearby house, gave his name, had some sage tea, and called for a tow truck. In what seemed like no time, they could see the truck’s lights coming up through the dark woods. Mike was scared, and Katie was, too. The tow-truck driver pulled Mike’s Civic out of the mud and then followed him to a Leesburg bank to get paid. Mike didn’t have any money on him.

Katie rode with the tow-truck operator. Along the way, according to Katie’s statement to the police, he joked that she and Mike were really up in Mount Gilead to make out.

After they finally settled things, the three headed back to a friend’s house. Mike asked Kyle again: “Did you really kill him?”

At the friend’s house, they hung out, listening to tunes and watching The Wizard of Oz.

Eventually, the three drove back to Mike’s house with Kyle asleep in the back seat. Katie and Mike both talked about Clara. They wondered what she would think of all this. Mike went into his mother’s room and turned on the DSL, waking her up, well past 2 a.m. He told her that he loved her and gave her a kiss on the forehead. He then went downstairs to his basement bedroom.

Kyle went online for the rest of the night. He found an old chat-room friend from Canada. He told her he had killed someone. She asked him if he was all right. Kyle said he was numb. “That scared me,” recalls Kyle. “I never in my life been void of feeling. I didn’t have feeling whatsoever.” He says Nicodemis and the other voices kept telling him he would be OK.

Mike lay down with Katie in their single bed. The blood congealed and hardened in the drain under the shower stall, where they had further cleaned off the sword. The sword fit snug between towels in a closet. The bloodstains seeped further into Mike’s black trench coat, hanging in his bedroom closet. Kyle’s face stared at the computer monitor. Mike wondered if Kyle hadn’t made the whole thing up.

Mike wanted a sign, something to make him believe that this was real or justified. How could he divine the truth from someone so wedded to make-believe? “This was supposed to be just a ride, not a fucking murder,” Mike wrote this spring from jail.

On Sunday evening, Dec. 9, Kyle called Clara from Mike’s bedroom.

“Look, Clara, um, I need to tell you,” Kyle began. “It’s best that you hear it from me. Last night I killed your father.”

Clara said, “OK.”

“I’m sorry,” Kyle replied.

“Don’t worry about it,” Clara said.

“Do you hate me now?” Kyle asked.

“No.”

They then discussed plans for a post-Christmas party for all four of them. Katie had made a Christmas list for the group: “Mike—New Emporer Album; Clara—Dragon Cup $24.95, Dragon stuff, Bud K Mag Blades; Kyle—New Dragons Claw, weapons of any sort.”

Mike requested the phone and escaped to the bathroom for privacy. He told Clara that as he was lying in bed the previous night, a vision had appeared to him. “An orange dragon with dark, stark blue eyes popped into my mind’s eye,” he said. “It told me, ‘If Clara had gone on that trip to the Virgin Islands, she would not have come back.’”

Mike thought—yes—he really believed now.

All Apologies

A neighbor found Robert Schwartz’s body slumped on the kitchen floor, a pool of blood by his head. It was just after 1:30 in the afternoon on Monday, Dec. 10. The neighbor had gone to check on the biophysicist after hearing that he had failed to show up for work.

By late Tuesday afternoon, the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office had interviewed the tow-truck driver who had rescued Mike. The cops had a search warrant for Mike’s house in Haymarket and headed there. They already had several cruisers monitoring the area and keeping an eye on Mike’s Civic. Loudoun County Investigator John Russ Jr. was en route, maybe 10 minutes from Mike’s family’s house, when he heard over his police-issue radio that the subject “had gone mobile.”

The Civic was on the move.

The previous night, Clara had called and told Katie to be careful—the police had notified her about her father’s murder and they had all their names. Clara didn’t tell Katie that she was the one who had told the police. Clara sounded as if she had been crying.

Mike and Katie didn’t notice the cruisers in their neighborhood. It was about 4 p.m., gray and cloudy outside, when they drove off to the Airport Collision Center in Manassas. Mike wanted to get an estimate on the Civic’s busted bumper, fender, and rearview mirror.

Mike noticed police cruisers starting to circle the body shop’s lot. One officer stood by his Civic. Finally, several undercover officers dashed up to the glass-door entrance, guns drawn on Mike and Katie and the auto shop’s employees.

The plainclothes cops shouted the usual directives. One frightened worker dialed 911, thinking the shop was being robbed. At least a half-dozen more cruisers showed up.

The first cops on the scene picked out Mike and Katie and promptly separated them. They ordered Mike out of the shop at gunpoint and then ordered him to lie on his stomach. They patted him down and cuffed him. Katie burst into tears and started screaming: “We didn’t do anything!” and “What’s wrong? What’s this all about?”

Eventually, Russ showed up with more detectives. He approached Mike and released his handcuffs. He told him that he was free to go, but he would like him to answer a few questions and would he come to the Prince William Police Department headquarters, the nearest that had jurisdiction. Mike said sure. He didn’t know that his Civic was being impounded.

Katie cooperated, too. They went in separate cars to the police station. On the way, a detective asked Mike if he had anything sharp. “No, but I wish I did,” Mike said.

When they arrived, detectives placed Katie in an office. Mike sat in an incredibly small interview room. Commonwealth’s Attorney Bob Anderson showed up to watch the proceedings from closed-circuit television. “I felt like it was all over,” Mike says of the time he waited to be questioned. “Everything. I felt helpless. I felt trapped.”

Finally, after an hour, Investigator Gregory Locke entered the room. His strategy was the same as Russ’: Locke said Mike was free to go, but he just wanted to ask Mike a few questions. Mike replied that if he had any money, “I might request an attorney, but I don’t. So ask away.” Mike told him all he knew. Locke didn’t read him his Miranda rights, because the officers considered Mike not in custody.

Detectives asked both Mike and Katie to write “apologies” for what had happened. They accepted the task without hesitation. Katie wrote hers out like a short story; it took up 10 single-spaced, handwritten pages. “I am sorry that all of this happened,” she wrote, “and I hope that Mike and I can go on living our lives, along with Clara and her family….I know that telling on Kyle, as bad, as that may sound, was the right thing to do. I just hope that Kyle can be brought in unharmed and proven guilty and does his time…even though he is my friend.”

Mike wrote, “From what the investigating officer/interrogator tells me, I have a lot of apologies to write. I have been asked to write them. I suppose I should begin by apologizing to the investigating officers. I put you guys through a lot of trouble. I’ve given Kyle a lot of rides to places. I probably should have turned him down this time. You’ve lost a lot of sleep because I couldn’t say no to a friend.”

Mike then apologized to Clara’s family: “I made a big oopsy here…I got your dad killed.” He had words of regret for Katie and then for Kyle. “I am sorry for giving you the wrong ride, to the wrong place and letting you do this,” Mike penned. He moved on to devote sorrys to Robert Schwartz: “I am sorry for the painful, violent nature of your death. Please tell me, by some sign, that you are well. And please don’t blame Kyle. He did what he thought was right. Perhaps he was right. Perhaps you can tell me that. Or that he was wrong. I’d like to know one or the other, though.”

He ended with recounting how the Civic had gotten stuck in the mud. “That was the omen,” he wrote. “The sign that my life is over. I must come to terms with that now. I don’t know how. But Life finds a way.”

They were then driven back to Mike’s house. It was past 10 p.m. when they arrived. The police had been going through the house since 5:45. They were seizing everything sharp and everything black. They found the sword. They took Mike’s computer, too.

They got excited when they seized Mike’s uncle’s “fertility altar,” which contained large effigies of sex organs. Police would later tell the press that the altar constituted evidence pointing to a cult murder.

The police spent a long time inspecting a bone wrapped in cellophane. Could have been part of a sacrifice. There was a note attached to it that read: “To Jeepers, From Santa.” Jeepers was Katie’s dog.

Mike came in and started to tear up. His mother asked him what had happened. She had no idea.

“Kyle killed Clara’s father,” Mike said.

When the cops walked out with Mike’s computer, and inside it her fantasy novel, Katie lost it. “I didn’t even know him!” she shrieked, referring to the deceased. “I didn’t even know the man!”

Past 2 a.m., the police finally took off, leaving the house in disarray. Mike and Katie repaired to their bedroom. By the time they went to sleep, police had already arrested Kyle over at Brandy’s house.

The next day, Mike started calling lawyers at his mother’s insistence and promptly found a Manassas attorney willing to see him and Katie right away. They all set out in his mother’s Passat. Mike and Katie sat together in the back seat.

They were five minutes away from the lawyer’s office when the first cop started following them. “They’re going to pull us over,” Mike said. “They’re going to pull us over.” He looked out the window and started to cry. “Isn’t it beautiful out?” he asked. “I probably won’t see this again for a long time.”

Now there were two cop cars. And Mike cried a bit harder. “Stop it, Michael,” Katie said. “It’s not that bad.”

“It’s gonna be OK,” his mother said. “We’re going to get you to a lawyer.”

They turned onto Grant Avenue, just a few blocks from the lawyer’s office. They pulled up to the intersection of Grant and Lee Avenues. Just as they revved through the intersection, cruisers suddenly converged from every direction. Mike’s mom passed the lawyer’s office. The cops turned on their lights and pulled beside the Passat.

Mike’s mother started to turn around. The lawyer’s office was 50 yards away. A cruiser pulled onto the curb and blocked the Passat. “Oh my God,” Mike mumbled.

The cops converged and arrested Mike and Katie. They, like Kyle, were charged with first-degree murder. Clara would be picked up and arrested later, at JMU on Feb. 1.

In the cruiser on his way to the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, Mike complained about the silence. And then promptly started talking about The Lord of the Rings. He wanted to see that movie.

Dumped

“I love you!” Katie shouted. But Mike didn’t hear it. He didn’t hear anything.

Mike sat in Holding Cell 1 in the Loudoun County Jail in Leesburg. Katie was in what inmates call an “Ice Box,” a holding cell with a solid door and a window looking out. If the jail has nowhere else to put you, you get put in the ice box. It was the second week in December, and they both were new inmates.

Carlos, an inmate in a nearby cell, hollered to Mike: “Hey, you hear your girl over there? She says she loves you.”

“I love you!” Mike screamed back in Katie’s direction.

Mike thinks he heard Katie yell back the same message. He’s not sure.

“I’ll see you at the crossroads!” Mike returned anyway.

Katie didn’t respond. She might have said something, but Mike doesn’t remember anymore. It was their last conversation.

In jail, Mike has heard a lot of rumors. Like the one about Patrick getting indicted. About Katie becoming a Bible-thumper and joining Alcoholics Anonymous. None of these things are true. But the stories bother him, especially the stuff that concerns Katie.

In the spring, he received a letter from Katie, who wrote that she had decided to break up with him, complaining that he was too hard to deal with. In a matter of weeks, she sent another letter—this time holding out hope for a possible reunion, though she swore she would not live with him right away.

On June 6, Katie agreed to testify against Mike, Kyle, and Clara. In exchange for her cooperation, prosecutors dropped the first-degree murder charge against her and allowed for her release on a $100,000 property bond.

Through it all, Mike has been meditating, trying to find a more peaceful state of mind. But he misses all the stupid things—Starbucks, the Springfield Mall, and Chinese food. He misses his old friends, and he misses Kyle.

“Frankly, I’m going to miss hanging out with him,” Mike says. “He seemed like he could be a use to society, he can do something….We’re not going to be able to go out there and experience anything.”

Kyle thinks of Mike often. And he thinks of Clara. “She was just…” He can’t explain it. “I don’t know. It was just something that happened. You know?”

After Clara was brought into Leesburg for questioning, she said she’d known in her “heart of hearts” that Kyle was going to kill her father. “It all seems like a dream since Sept. 11. It all seems like a dream,” she said, according to police reports.

Lately, Kyle has begun to entertain doubts about Clara. After his arrest, he learned that Clara had once told Brandy that she stood to gain $400,000 in inheritance upon her father’s death. Clara had never mentioned money to Kyle.

At Clara’s preliminary hearing in mid-March, Kyle took the stand and refused to testify, asserting his Fifth Amendment privilege. He looked at Clara and gave her a nod. She looked right past him.

Sitting in the county jail, Kyle has nightmares, replays of murdering her father. He sees Robert Schwartz’s face in his dreams, and the face is grinning. Two weeks ago, Kyle cut his arms with the metal end of a pencil. The cuts were dull.

Kyle talks a lot about his plans for the future. He wants to be a masseur, a professional wrestler, an author, a poet, a practicing vampire, a good person, a computer whiz. He’d also like to rule the world.

Despite everything, Kyle still wants to be Clara’s protector, and live by his code of honor: “1. Honor goes before all, then loyalty. 2. Violate honor not at anytime. 3. Honor and protect Love at all costs 4. Violence is necessary only in defense of self or love, and then only what is necessary for preservation of such….”

In a letter dated April 17, Kyle wrote of his old talks with Clara: “We would end our conversation by saying, ‘be safe, go in power’ and I always told her that she knew how to contact me (speaking about my [psychic] abilities). I always promised I’d protect her. Even now, if I could, I’d still protect her…Maybe I’m nice but somehow I find it impossible to hate her for this.”