The Man Who Would Kill Bill

By Gary Brooks Waid

Harry’s on Lithium Salts or maybe Prozac – one of those. I suppose that’s why I didn’t see an evil gleam in his eye the day he came up from Tallahassee Detention Center to the main compound and moved into the cubicle next to mine. The medication fooled me. All I noticed was the ordinary, slightly baffled look of a federal inmate in transit – the look we all get from time to time – as he puttered about, becoming accustomed to his new cell.

“Hello, I’m Harry,” he offered.

From the first I was convinced he was a harmless guy. “Hi,” I said. “My name’s Waid.”

We went to lunch together that first day and in the course of things, I told him what I was in jail for. In here as out there, we are what we do and explaining your crime is like discussing your job; it’s a playbill of past achievement. He accepted the information with nods and grunts and a sad, noncommittal smile, but was reluctant to discuss his own case for what I suspected were the usual reasons of privacy and whatnot. I heard mumbled rumblings about credit card fraud and we left it at that. Many guys are careful about what they say because either they’ve been burned or they’ve heard horror stories about prison rats. It’s a huge problem in here - one day you’re talking to your new buddy, the next you’re in the hole for thinking aloud.

That first week I saw Harry occasionally around the yard or in the dorm and he was always affable and polite, never revealing much or showing any desire to speak of things other than his thoughts on the innocuous clutterings of our daily lives, and always storm trooping around the compound like he had somewhere important to go. If he stopped to talk, we would discuss prison things only. (I was an old hand in G-Dorm, and counseled him on the hierarchies and idiosyncrasies of this old house.)

Sometimes, when the mood struck him, Harry would open up a bit. He was a lively talker when he wanted to be. Two years at Butler FCI in North Carolina where many of the famous felons and the nuts are kept – spies and terrorists and so on – made for an engaging repertoire of stories about them and their adventures in crime. He was good at the stories because, as it turns out, Harry was one of those guys. One of the real crackpots. A nut. A psycho. An evil genius. He was, until just recently, one of the wild and crazy guys our government keeps stashed away from the ordinary cons.

But there was no way I could have known that then; no way at all. How was I supposed to know Harry was deranged? All I could see for sure was that he was a middle-aged man who spoke with a certain amount of precision and intelligence and was careful to protect his own space. When I meet someone, I always look at their hands and on Harry’s there was the unmistakable imprint of a white-collar life. Naturally I figured him to be a white-collar crook, and “credit-card scammer” fit the bill nicely.

Time passed, we became friends and Harry learned that I wrote stories. Soon he was borrowing my tattered manuscripts, reading them, entertaining himself with my little tails of jails, occasionally laughing out loud. Once or twice I remember looking at him as he sat reading, and I noticed how sad he was. He seemed lost in a world of sadness and although he tried to be detached, his was not an easy laugh. His barometric pressure never rose. His smile never got above his upper lip. There was always that bottomless pain around the eyes – a haunted look of unreality. I pictured Harry, in those days, as a man who couldn’t quite escape the ringing in his ears. It’s a common phenomenon in here: Shell shock. Several of us carry a “how did I become such a ruined vessel” look.

One day as we walked back from the yard comparing ideas about one of my characters, Harry said, “Gary, I want you to read something.”

“Okay,” I said, and later that day I involved myself with his life. I began to learn the terrible truth about Federal inmate Harry B____, the diabolical schemer bent on destroying America. And the more I learned, the more fascinated I became and the more I wanted to understand the logic involved in the incarceration of this man. I looked through charges and pre-sentence reports and appeals and some other, private things, which I couldn’t absorb, but mostly I just listened as he talked. Here then, is the story of a man’s unholy intention and his ignominious defeat: A lesson for us all in these trying times.

Chapter One


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