A short story by Andy Rausch
October 8, 1981
“We know who you are, and we know what you do,” the old man in the yarmulke said.
Richard Kuklinski, who would one day become known as “the Iceman,” stared across the cement picnic table at him.
“Oh yeah?” Kuklinski said. “Who do you think I am?”
“We don’t think, Mr. Kuklinski,” the younger man, also wearing a yarmulke and sitting next to the old man, said, “We know.”
“Okay, then tell me about it,” Kuklinski said. “Tell me what you think you know.”
Kuklinski looked absentmindedly at the children swinging on the swings and running and playing on the playground behind the two men. Then he looked back at the old man.
“You’re a killer, Mr. Kuklinski,” the old man said matter-of-factly.
“What is this? Fairy tale time?” Kuklinski said. “I’m leaving.”
As Kuklinski flattened his palms against the top of the picnic table to push himself up, the younger man said, “We gave you $10,000 to take this meeting and hear what we have to say, so at least give us that.”
Kuklinski remained tensed with his hands pressed against the tabletop, trying to read the faces of the two men across from him.
“There’s more money if you accept our offer,” the old man said.
This got Kuklinski’s attention, and he relaxed some.
“I’m not saying I’ve done the things you think I’ve done,” Kuklinski said, staring at them with a tough, no-bullshit stare, “but go ahead. You tell me what you came here to say. Then I’ll let you know what I think. But first, tell me about the money.”
The white-haired old man grinned. “Money wins out every time, doesn’t it?”
Kuklinski just stared at him.
“We’re willing to pay you $60,000,” the younger man said.
Kuklinski raised an eyebrow. They had his full attention now. “Go on,” he said, rubbing his bearded chin.
“You’re a serial killer, Mr. Kuklinski,” the old man said. “You’ve killed at least thirty people, and we’re fairly certain that’s just the tip of the iceberg. And you do what you do very well.”
Kuklinski narrowed his eyes, and the two men saw fire in them.
“What makes you think any of that is true?” Kuklinski asked.
“It’s not up for debate,” the old man said. “We know.”
“We know, and we don’t care,” the younger man added.
“Then what?” Kuklinski asked.
“We represent a group of very wealthy, very important people, Mr. Kuklinski,” the old man said. “And we know a lot of things. Not just about you, but about other people too.”
Kuklinski grinned a toothy grin. “Like what? What do you know?”
“Not only do we know that you are a serial killer who has also worked as a contract killer for the mafia, but we also know the location of two men who are hiding nearby who believe no one will ever know who and where they are,” the younger man said.
Now grinning himself, the old man said, “But we know.”
Kuklinski raised his eyebrow again as he eyeballed the old man. “Who are these guys, and what do they have to do with me?”
“You generally dispatch your victims in extremely violent ways,” the old man said. “Some of them you shoot, yes, but there have been others who were not so lucky. Others whose lives came to extremely brutal, savage ends.”
Kuklinski held his palms out. “Whoa! Whoa! I’ve never killed anybody ever, not in my whole life.”
Staring into Kuklinski’s eyes, the old man said, “We’re not here to get you into trouble. Again, we don’t care. What you do or have done is of no concern to us, Mr. Kuklinski.”
Kuklinski leaned in towards the old man. “Then what?”
“We wish to contract your services, Mr. Kuklinski,” the younger man said.
Kuklinski gazed at the children playing behind the men again for a long moment. Then he looked back at the men, first the old man and then the younger one.
“Suppose I was the man you say I am,” Kuklinski said. “I’m not saying I am, but just for shits and giggles, tell me about these services you’re looking to contract.”
The old man leveled his gaze at Kuklinski. “As you have likely surmised, Mr. Kuklinski, both my partner and I are Jewish.”
The old man raised the left sleeve of his jacket to give Kuklinski a look at his forearm. When Kuklinski saw the numbers tattooed on the old man’s paper-thin skin, he understood.
“You were in a concentration camp,” Kuklinski said.
The old man looked at him grimly. “Auschwitz.”
“I still don’t understand what that has to do with me,” Kuklinski said. “Lay it all out on the table.”
The old man stared into his eyes. “As you might guess, Mr. Kuklinski, I am no fan of the men who committed these atrocities.”
“Nazis,” Kuklinski said.
“They took everything from me,” the old man said. “They raped and murdered my wife. They shot my parents. They took away our children.” There were tears in the old man’s eyes, and he paused to compose himself. “What I am saying is, myself and many others—”
“The aforementioned wealthy individuals,” the younger man said.
“We want very badly for these men to pay for the things they’ve done,” the old man said.
Kuklinski stared at him. “I thought they hung ’em at Nuremberg.”
“Not all of them, Mr. Kuklinski,” the old man said. “Many escaped and went into hiding in different countries, using fake identities. Unlike the thousands of people they massacred, these men are still very much alive and free in the world, living their lives as if these things never happened.”
“We cannot allow that,” the younger man said.
“We will not allow that,” the old man said sharply.
“Let me guess,” Kuklinski said. “You’ve located some of them here in the states.”
“We have located two of them, and they both live close by,” the old man said. “Both men held prominent positions in the Third Reich.”
“And they live here, in Jersey?” Kuklinski asked.
“No, they’re both across the bridge,” the younger man said.
“One of them lives in Queens, the other in Brooklyn,” the old man said.
Kuklinski stared at the children playing for a moment as he considered this. He made a sucking sound with his teeth as he did. Then he looked at the old man. “So, why me?”
The old man grinned. “Who else would you send to murder such monsters? We don’t just want them killed. We want them butchered the way they butchered our families. And that, Mr. Kuklinski, is your specialty.”
Kuklinski nodded. “I’ll do it. But I’ll do it for $100,000. If you can pay me that, I’ll do anything you want me to do to these fuckers, and I’ll do it slow and painful.”
“Exceedingly brutal?” asked the younger man.
Kuklinski flashed his big toothy smile again. “More brutal than your mind can comprehend. I’ll paint the walls with their blood if that’s what you want. I’ll rip them to pieces.”
The old man reached his bony hand across the table for Kuklinski to shake. Kuklinski didn’t like to shake hands, but for $100,000, he could make the exception.
“How you dispatch them is up to you, so long as you make it very brutal,” the old man said. “I cannot stress this enough. Also, we know you sometimes freeze your victims’ bodies for long periods to obscure their times of death. This time, we would like you to leave their bodies behind so they will be discovered quickly.”
“Why?” Kuklinski asked. “That’s dangerous. It increases the chances of getting caught.”
“We don’t want you to get caught,” the younger man said. “But we wish to make examples of these men.”
“Yes,” the old man said. “We want to frighten their comrades who also live in the States. We want them to know that justice—that vengeance—is coming. We want them to live in fear the way our families lived in fear.”
Kuklinski winked at him. “For the amount you’re paying, no problem.”
* * *
Thomas Campbell, the seventy-one-year-old man once known as Colonel Werner Brinkmann, was sitting on his sofa watching the late show. It was a black-and-white picture about Martians fighting giant radioactive spiders. Campbell didn’t care for such tripe and thought it beneath him, but he hadn’t been able to sleep, and there was nothing better on.
There was no light inside Campbell’s Brooklyn home beyond the minimal light provided by the television. On the screen, a green-skinned Martian was firing a laser pistol at a cheap-looking, obviously fake spider. Campbell rolled his eyes at this and considered going back to bed, but knew he would not be able to sleep, so he would have to put up with aliens and spiders a bit longer. The television was positioned in the space between the living room and dining room, so he could see it from his sofa against the living room wall. As he was watching the movie, Campbell startled, his peripheral vision catching a movement in the darkness beyond the television. He squinted into the darkness, trying to make out whatever it was. He told himself it had just been his imagination, but, as it turned out, it had not.
He could see a human figure emerging from the darkness, slowly materializing in the dimmest of light. Campbell sat up upright but didn’t rise to his feet. He put his hand up beside his eye as if it was a shield. There was a man there, just behind the television. A formidable-sized man, but Campbell could not make out his face.
“What do you want?” Campbell asked, startled by the volume of his voice.
“I’m here to make you pay,” the intruder said.
“What do I have that I should pay for?!” Campbell asked.
The man laughed at this, simultaneously angering and frightening Campbell. He wished he had the pistol he kept beneath his pillow with him now. Then he could show this man, this… whatever. But as it was, Campbell did not have the pistol, and he knew he was neither quick enough nor steady enough to run past the man.
“Who are you, and what do you want?” Campbell asked.
His heart was pounding, and he found it difficult to breathe.
“I don’t…” Campbell stammered. “I don’t like this!”
The obscured man took a couple of steps towards him. He was now in front of the television, slightly to the left so the bright screen, which was suddenly blinding. Even though the man was closer now and Campbell could see his body, his face remained hidden.
“I’m sure people would think, ‘How do you sleep at night, knowing how many men you’ve killed?’” Kuklinski said, chuckling. “But you and I know differently. The deaths don’t bother guys like us, do they, Werner?”
“Who are you?” Campbell asked again, not knowing what else to say. Then it occurred to him to reach for the lamp on his left and switch it on. He did this with his left hand, even though he was right-handed, so he wouldn’t have to take his eyes away from the intruder. When the lamp came on, bright light flooded the room, and Campbell had to blink for a moment and then squint to see the intruder.
He was a tall, sturdy man. He was bald on top, with black hair visible on the sides of his head. He had a black beard with the tiniest bit of gray showing in it. Something was disturbing about the man, not just because he was standing in Campbell’s living room clutching a butcher’s knife. He would have been terrifying anyway. There was a coldness in his eyes and in his demeanor that gave Campbell chills.
Campbell stood, his skinny, weak legs trembling beneath him. “Please, no!” Campbell begged. Disgusted by the weakness in his voice, Campbell tried to compose himself. He stared into the man’s eyes, frightening as they were, and said, “I can get you money. Is that what you want?”
Kuklinski grinned a sick, evil grin. “I don’t want your money.” He started coming towards Campbell now, and Campbell knew there was no way out. His eyes grew large, and when Kuklinski got close—he was right in front of him now!—Campbell tried to step back, his legs hitting the front of the sofa, causing him to fall back onto it.
Campbell put his palm up between them. “No! Please!” Kuklinski swiped the blade through the air—Campbell could hear it swoosh—and pain shot through his hand. Campbell instinctively looked down at his hand. When he did, Kuklinski grabbed his throat with his free hand and gripped hard, cutting off Campbell’s air supply, and Campbell thought he was going to crush his larynx. Kuklinski raised him from the sofa by his throat. As Kuklinski pulled his hand back, Campbell found himself standing, and his eyes grew large. Before he could think or speak again, Kuklinski shoved him hard, and Campbell, trying to maintain his footing, crashed into the wall, his back and left shoulder taking the brunt of it. Campbell tried to stand erect again, but the man was on him before he could move, pressing him against the wall.
Kuklinski raised his hand and clutched Campbell’s throat again, pressing his head hard against the wall. Campbell and Kuklinski were close now, staring into one another’s eyes, and Campbell could smell garlic on the man’s hot breath.
“You aren’t so tough now, are you?” Kuklinski said.
Kuklinski then shoved the blade into Campbell’s scrotum, causing him to scream in agony. Still holding Campbell up against the wall with his other hand, Kuklinski yanked the knife hard to the left, ripping Campbell’s testicles. Campbell cried, screamed, and whimpered. Kuklinski dropped the blade so he could grab Campbell with both hands, and he flung his body down to the carpet like a rag doll. Campbell fell onto his side, his left arm pinned beneath him. Kuklinski stepped into the narrow space between the sofa and Campbell, then kicking Campbell as hard as he could, shattering several ribs as he did, onto his back.
Now that Campbell was lying on the floor, injured, weeping, and looking up at the ceiling, Kuklinski reached down and snatched up the knife from where it was lying beside Campbell’s head. When Kuklinski stood erect again, towering over Campbell, Campbell stared up at him through bleary eyes. His lips were trembling, and he tried to speak, tried to beg Kuklinski not to hurt him anymore, but nothing came out except a whimpering moan. Kuklinski squatted beside Campbell, grinning as he did.
“How are you feeling, Werner?” Kuklinski asked. As Campbell stared at the face of death, even though his thoughts were racing and jumbled, one clear thought rose to the top—the intruder was a Polak.
“You… you are a Polak,” Campbell mumbled. “I can’t be killed by… a… Polack.”
Smiling big, Kuklinski asked, “You don’t think so?”
Campbell felt Kuklinski’s blade push its way into his abdomen, just beneath his pajama top, and there was a sharp, excruciating pain unlike anything Kuklinski had ever felt before. He cried out again, calling for a god who either didn’t exist or didn’t give a shit about him. Kuklinski brought the knife up from Campbell’s abdomen slowly, sawing, tearing his flesh, as well as every organ the blade came in contact with. As this was happening, the buttons of Campbell’s pajama top popped loose one by one. He was screaming continuously now as the smiling Kuklinski was sawing his way through the thrashing Nazi’s stomach all the way up to his chest.
Campbell was lying there, screaming and screaming—he couldn’t stop—and Kuklinski pushed his hand down into Campbell’s open abdomen, wrapping his fingers around a strand of his intestines. Campbell was still screaming, although his scream was dying out.
“Look at me, Werner,” Kuklinski commanded. When Campbell didn’t open his eyes, Kuklinski screamed the command. “Open your eyes, and you look at me, goddammit!” This did the trick and, despite the overwhelming pain Campbell was experiencing, he opened his tear-filled eyes. His screaming had transformed into a pained, pathetic wail now, and he saw Kuklinski gleefully pull his intestines out and hold a strand of them up before his eyes.
“It turns out you can be killed by a Polak after all,” Kuklinski said, chuckling. He dropped the intestines now. Having murdered many people in a variety of ways, Kuklinski knew Campbell would be dead soon. The Nazi was weeping and moaning, his eyes clenched as tightly shut as he could manage, tears snaking their way down his cheeks.
“Hey Werner,” Kuklinski said.
Campbell was oblivious to this.
“Werner, old buddy, you need to open your eyes and look at me one more time.”
Campbell didn’t seem to hear him, and Kuklinski concluded he had probably gone into shock. Nevertheless, the hopeful Kuklinski—hopeful that Campbell was not beyond the point of awareness—grabbed both sides of the man’s head and plunged his thumbs deep into his eyeballs, feeling them pop beneath his nails like squished grapes. Whatever his mental state was, whether he was aware of what was happening or not, Campbell began to moan, making a sound like a dying pig, and his body began to thrash harder, and his arms flailed wildly. Still squatting over Campbell, Kuklinski wiped the blood from his thumbs on Campbell’s open pajama top. Then he picked up the knife and raised it high over his head, plunging it down hard into Campbell’s forehead with a loud crunch, and then, almost instantly, Campbell stopped moaning and thrashing. His body fell limp as if a switch had been flipped, shutting him off.
Kuklinski checked his watch. It was now three-ten. He’d have to finish up quickly if he was going to pay a visit to the second Nazi before sunrise. He would like to have waited and spaced the murders out, but it had to happen tonight because once the second Nazi learned of the first’s murder, he would flee and find a new rock to hide beneath. So it had to be tonight. But that was fine because Richard Kuklinski was a man who loved his work.
* * *
Kuklinski rolled up to the park where he’d met with the two men previously. It was seven a.m. There were no children here, and the air was considerably cooler now. There was only one other vehicle in the park’s small parking area, a Buick with the two men inside, waiting.
Kuklinski opened the car door and stepped out. Having seen him pull up, the two men had already gotten out and were making their way toward the Cadillac. Looking at them over the top of his car, Kuklinski said, “I took care of them. Did you bring the money?”
The younger man raised a briefcase over his head so Kuklinski could see it.
The younger man was ready to give him the money, but the old man was cautious. Coming around the back end of the Cadillac now, he asked, “How do we know you killed them?”
The younger man expected Kuklinski to take offense at this, so he was caught off guard when the killer smiled his big toothy smile at them. Kuklinski then leaned down into the still-open door of the Cadillac and grabbed the large duffel bag sitting in the passenger’s seat. He pulled the bag out and turned toward them, tossing it onto the pavement.
The old man looked down at the bag. “What is this?”
“Take a look,” the old man said to the younger man. From the expression on the younger man’s face, it was clear that he didn’t want to look in the bag. Still carrying the briefcase, he knelt and unzipped the bag. When he did, he remained motionless for a long moment, staring at the bag’s contents.
Unable to see what his young partner was seeing, the old man asked, “So, what do you see?”
Immediately, as if responding to the question, the younger man turned and spewed vomit onto the pavement. A moment later, embarrassed, he wiped his mouth with his sleeve and stood.
Kuklinski grinned proudly.
“It’s that bad?” the old man asked, a hint of glee creeping into his voice.
“Heads,” said the younger man. “Heads without eyes.”
The old man nodded. “Give him the money.”
The younger man held out the briefcase for Kuklinski. Without saying a word, Kuklinski took the briefcase, smiled at them one last time, climbed into his Cadillac, and drove away.