“Why did you do it John?”
“Why did I do what? Why did I try to change the nation? Is that why you are here?”
“You know why I am here. And yes, that includes wanting to know why you tried to change the nation. I want to know why you took that upon yourself, John. But that’s not all I want to know. I want to know why you did everything that you did. I want the whole story. I want to know what it is that makes John Heaton.”
I didn’t know what to think when he walked into the room. I had heard everything the news had to offer about John, their speculations on why he did what he did, but I needed it from him. How else would I be able to tell his story any different than everyone else?
“I am glad you agreed to this John, you aren’t an easy person to get an interview with, you know.”
“Not these days, no. I don’t have a chance to get out much.” A smile flashed across his face. “Did they tell you why I agreed to meet with you?”
“No, I wasn’t aware there was a reason. I thought…well I thought I was a special case, but I never considered why.”
“Oh you are a special case, more than you must think. I agreed to this because I have read your work before. I have seen what you do to people when you write. When you write, it shows something that no one else seems to capture. Your stories makes you feel like you intimately know the person that you wrote about. I want that for myself. I want to world to understand why I did it, I want them to understand why I did all of it. Will you tell them for me?”
“That is precisely why I am here John, to tell your story. Now enough with the small talk; tell me the details.”
I know, after what he did, I should be wary of everything he says. I know that I should look deeper than face value at every word that leaves his mouth. But for some reason I don’t, I have only been speaking with him a few minutes and he made me relaxed. This isn’t the person I expected to meet today.
“Well, I suppose I should start from the beginning then? It was only a few years ago, five I think, when we started. Back then it was only me, Helen and Lance. Lance and I had been best friends as long as either of us could remember; all through grade school and into college. The years before college aren’t important, just know that I would have done anything Lance had asked and he would have done the same for me.”
“Tell me about it. For the sake of my story, tell me about it.”
“There isn’t much to tell, we were inseparable. Neither of us really had any friends other than one another. It wasn’t that we were outcasts; we just didn’t need anyone else. Lance had my back and I had his. It’s a good thing too; I started a few fights in my day that I had no chance of winning on my own. But I knew if I turned around, Lance would be right behind me. That was before I saw how wrong it was. I wouldn’t start those fights today.
“Then it came time for college. Luckily for both Lance and I, we were at the same level intellectually. Neither of us were smart enough to get into Harvard or Georgetown or any of those Ivy League schools where they brainwash you into thinking you are better than the rest. Instead we settled on a small liberal arts school in New York that we both got into. Elmira College was where we went. If we could have gone back and done it all over again, we would still have gone to Elmira. The teaching was good enough that we received first-rate educations and the campus was small enough that we could make ourselves heard if need be.”
“I heard you first met Helen at school. Did you two share the same dorm?”
“Nah, she lived in Anderson. But since there are only six dormitories on campus, it wasn’t hard to meet her. Not that I was trying. It was actually Lance who met her first and introduced us. They shared a Political Science class together first semester freshman year. They got to talking and Lance thought it would be a good idea to set Helen and me up on a date. Now I’m going to be honest with you, because I think it will help you, but Helen and I didn’t hit it off right away. She thought I was arrogant. I thought she was a stuck up bitch. But Lance liked us both so we were forced to hang out.
“After a while, we got to know each other, being forced to hang out and all. And then it just happened, things changed. We fell for each other. And it worked, but you know that already, don’t you? Sure you do, the whole nation knows how it worked. That’s the kind of thing that people learn when you become the center of the media’s attention. You know, I have read some of the letters that people write to me. Most of the letters are from crazy people telling me that they hope I would die; half of those letters come with a promise that the writer will deliver the death themselves. Almost all of the rest are from people giving me their support. Isn’t that a good one? Their support. I would guess that after last month, I don’t need their support. I have secured my place here forever.
“Anyway, I was reading through them one day and I came across one that had broken down the media’s coverage of me. In a twenty-four hour span, they talked about only Helen and me for thirteen hours and twenty-three minutes. Can you believe that? Over half a day telling the world about how I met the most beautiful girl in the world.”
“Did you get a chance to see any of the coverage yourself? Was it accurate? I mean I heard some pretty absurd stuff about your relationship. Things like, the two of you going to one another’s lectures just so you wouldn’t have to be apart ever. Are those things they said true John? Could you not stand to be away from Helen even for a moment?”
“I heard that one too; I only caught a few small bits of my coverage. There was so much of it and I lived through all of it, what would have been the point for me to try and watch any of it, because most of it was speculation and the rest was almost always skewed facts of the story. But no, that one isn’t true, but it isn’t all false. There was a semester where we each had a class that the other wanted to be in, but couldn’t justify the extra course work. So we just sat in on each other’s lectures to get what we could out of it. There were times when I would skip the lecture Helen had for studying and clubs and other things. But no, we didn’t need to be together all the time, though I doubt we would have objected.”
He finished that with a wink. What was John trying to tell me, if anything?
It made me wonder if my preconceived notions about John were wrong. How could a guy like this actually do the things that they say he did? He seems just like the average guy who loves his friends deeply. But there must be something more.
“What did Lance think about you and Helen? Did he ever show any signs of jealousy towards either of you? It seems to me that he might have regretted setting up his friends like he did because he would have lost face time with both of you. Especially you John, you said you were inseparable.”
“Sure, sure he did. If I had a buck for every time he tried to coax me out of hanging out with Helen so I could go off and do things with him, I would have enough money to buy my way out of this life and never look back. Eventually I had to sit him down so I could convince him to knock it off. After that, he was fine.”
“How did you do that?”
“I told him how in love I was with Helen.”
There it was. This whole thing seems to boil down to the love of that woman. I’ve seen the pictures, from all parts of her life, and she was as beautiful as they say she was. If only I could interview her too, but it seems that my chance for that has passed.
“John, why don’t you tell me why you tried to change the world. That’s how you put it right? Changing the world?”
“Yeah, that’s what I said and that’s what we were doing. The look on your face says you don’t think we changed the world. Think about it, we haven’t fixed it yet but we put it in the right direction. When we started our campaign, there was incompetence all over politics, nothing but old men who stuck to an old way of doing things. The vast majority of them only did enough to ensure that they were re-elected. They would throw pork into bills just to tell their constituents that they did something for them. What does that do for our nation? I’ll tell you what; all it does is allocate money for various projects throughout the country. It doesn’t try to solve problems.
“Our nation doesn’t need money to build memorials for local heroes, it needs to progress. It needs to build a future for the next ten generations. Politicians are only focused on the here and now instead of looking at things in the long term. These days politicians think only money for projects will get them noticed, but they don’t know that doing something for the future is what will get them remembered.
“Helen, Lance and I wanted this fixed. We spent many nights during our four years of undergrad talking about changing the system. We knew that there wasn’t a way for us to start at the top and change Capitol Hill. We were just a few dumb kids without the means to do much. But then we got to thinking. What if we started away from the top of the system? Somewhere in the middle so we could collapse the top. We could change things at a place where people from all points of view could see it.
“Helen was the one who knew that we couldn’t force people to change. That was the key. They had to want and welcome the change. It had to be a trend. The politicians in power would want to change to please their constituents.
“That’s when it all made sense.”
“I heard, John, that you started with your own college? Why did you start there? Why not with city politics? Or state? Why at school?”
“As I said before, Elmira’s campus was a place where you could be heard because of the condensed student body. The school system was something the three of us felt a need to change, too. It’s just like the government, still thinking that old ways of doing things still work. Our society has changed and the education system fell behind.
“So we spent the fourth year of school striving for a change. We worked late nights going door to door in the dorms, making sure that people heard what we had to say. We told them what we wanted to do, not just in the short term, but the long term too. They had to know our ultimate goal; otherwise when we succeeded with changing the school system, they would have stopped there and not tried to change the country.”
He is making this too simple. There had to be something more to this than just going door to door and convincing people. John is a forward thinking guy; he is a diamond in the rough. Not everyone at the school must have wanted to change the system.
“John, I am a little skeptical about your story. Seriously, three people went around and just talked people into joining their cause? It doesn’t sound like something that would work. How did you get it to work?”
“At first, I’ll admit, it didn’t work. We started with the people we knew. Most of them agreed with our idea only to humor us. I think they just wanted us to stop bugging them about it. So Helen, Lance and I had to sit down and rework our strategy. We realized that we needed to convince key people of the idea. People with influence. We went to the student council; we went to the paper and the radio stations. These were the people to help us. Once they had the idea in their heads, once that fire was burning, they took it and ran. These were people that the student body looked to for leadership. I will be honest; Helen, Lance and I were not well known. But these people, boy did they get the word out.
“That’s when we started taking down names and contacts. We started getting people to join the cause. The student council members didn’t want to take a role much more than supporting us because they didn’t want it to ruin a future career if something went wrong. The paper and the radio relayed what we told them. Everyone was directed to us. We built our network.
“From there it was simple. Tell them what we were doing, what we wanted to do. We would send emails, write columns for the paper and go on the radio to talk about our plans. Every now and then we would hold a rally in the quad.
“The hardest part was asking for money. I, personally, hated the idea that we would need money to accomplish what we wanted. I hated having to rely on other people to get the money. Lance knew that if we required people to pay to be a part of this, it wouldn’t work. We had to inspire people for the donations. We listened to Lance, and the money came in. It came slowly for a long while, but still came.
“We started turning our contacts into members. We sent them forms to sign, pledging to the idea. We weren’t sure how well that would work, having people commit to an idea that could be considered radical. But they did. A few didn’t return the forms, but the rest seemed to be onboard enough that they wished to have their name associated with our cause. Maybe that was the major draw. Maybe they thought that we were really going to succeed and they wanted to be a part of that.
“Lance had an idea before we sent out the form. He wanted to have a small section in which every member would sign, pledging themselves to not only the cause but to us too. Helen and I fought the idea at first, but when it was amended to be optional and include that we would continue to be open and honest and never ask them to do anything illegal, we agreed to throw it in. We also put a statement in that people would have more authority in the cause if they signed. Looking back, each of us would agree that was the wrong thing to put in there.
“Within the span of eight months, we gathered enough of the student body and enough funds to convince Elmira to change its practices. You could say that was our first big victory. ”
He makes this all sound so easy. But what is he really doing? He’s talking to people, face to face with all honesty and openness. He knew what he was doing. He was living the life that he wanted the rest of the country to live. He still is living it. He doesn’t seem to want to hide anything from me.
“What did you do from there? I’ve gathered that your movement spread like wildfire, almost completely out of your control. How did you do that?”
“It was simple, we just asked people to tell their friends in other schools what we were doing. We had them direct everything back to Helen, Lance and me. And they did. It turns out that we weren’t the only ones who were fed up with the system. Other people wanted change too, but they needed to know how to do it. So we told them. And they organized and worked for it. The small schools moved towards it faster than the bigger ones. I am not sure even now if any of the larger schools have started to change. But their roots are deeper and harder to surface.”
I had to know. I didn’t come to the interview for all of this. Sure, it helps make sense of things, but I want him to tell me why he is sitting across from me with his hands cuffed to the table in an orange jumpsuit with ‘Heaton’ printed over his shoulders. I have the back story, I just need to know why he did it.
“John, why did you do it? Why did you kill them?”
“An abrupt change, I like your style. I didn’t kill anybody. Look over the court records and you’ll see it’s true.”
“You ordered your people to kill them. You did everything but pull the trigger. I want to know why you did it.”
“There was no gun involved, no one fired any weapons.”
“You know what I mean, John. You had a group of people bash in their skulls with baseball bats. I want to know why.”
“Read over all of the statements from the court trials. Everyone who testified swore to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”
“I read over them and I watched them. I saw the looks on their faces when each of them gave their statements. I didn’t buy any of it. None of it sounded rehearsed, some of the facts didn’t line up. It seemed too legitimate to be the real story. When you were on the stand there was a look in your eyes. Much different than the one I have seen for the entirety of this interview. You were doing something foreign to you, you were lying John. All day I have sat here listening to you tell me everything about being honest and open with people, telling me everything that you thought would help my story. Lying isn’t something you do naturally. Some people do nothing but lie, you are one of those who do nothing but tell the truth. Now tell me why you had your people murder Helen and Lance.”
“You mean you don’t believe that Lance and Helen were taking too much control? That they wanted more than change, they wanted power? You should believe it you know. It’s the truth.”
“Stop bull-shitting me John. None of you wanted power. You wanted to change the way things were done, not take control.”
“You are wrong in thinking we didn’t want power. Lance wanted the pledge added into the member form because he wanted dedicated followers. But no, he wasn’t after it yet. You want the truth then?
“Seven months ago, before it all happened; the three of us had been sharing the leadership of the movement equally. We would be asked to go and speak at other campuses to inspire and give the message from the source. We would take turns going. The last one, I went to. It was an overnight deal because it was farther than a day’s drive. I showed up, gave the usual speech and gave the updates on what we were trying to do in the near future. After that I opened the floor for questions. Everyone had the right to know anything they wanted and it was agreed between Helen, Lance and I that we would tell them.
“The next morning I drove home. When I got back, as usual, I told Lance and Helen how it went and what people wanted to know and had concerns with. We considered the ideas brought up and then went about our daily business.
“Once that was done with, I went in to the office headquarters to take care of a few things. There were a few people in the office working. The ones who worked there were the ones who signed the pledge. They were the people who really felt the nation needed a change.
“I was sitting at my desk, taking care of some paper work when one of them, Thomas, knocked on my door. He said he had something important to tell me. My initial thought was that he was leaving the cause to start his own movement with some slightly more refined and slightly more radical ideas. He came and closed the door. He said to me, ‘John, a few of us came into the office last night to pick up some things. It was late but the lights were still on. We went to investigate. And…and Erica walked into the break room by herself and saw Helen and Lance…she saw Helen and Lance in the act. She doesn’t think that they saw her, they were too focused. She told us and we agreed to tell you before anyone finds out.’
“That’s when I did it, I snapped. I told Thomas to bring the group who went to the office the night before to me. I told that group what they were to do. They were so dedicated, they wanted to please me. Before they left, I told them that no one was to know the real reason why they did this. I made up the phony story for them to remember about about power. Then they left.”
“How did they connect it with you John?”
“Isn’t it obvious? My best friend and my girlfriend brutally murdered by my not so subtle followers, I was the first they questioned on the subject. The ones who bashed in their heads didn’t try and hide what they were doing. The group of them got out of a van with baseball bats and entered the apartment where Lance and Helen were. They left it not long after with bloody baseball bats. Someone had to have seen them leaving. Unfortunately for me, they were seen and picked up quickly and some of the people in the group were not good at keeping things secret. They let it slip quite early in the questioning that I had ordered it to be done, but luckily they didn’t tell them the real reason.
“I was taken in and put on trial quickly. It seems that the old system that we were trying to change feared me. Strings were pulled for a quick trial. I didn’t try and hide what I did. I plead guilty. I was guilty; I had the two people who meant most to me murdered. I deserve this life.”