The Devil’s Dilemma


Pop singer Beyonce – Image Source: Getty / Larry Busacca

The radio was playing the oddest song. “What the hell?”

“Don’t curse, Timmy.” 37-year-old Colleen Quinn looked ten years older, particularly when she was scolding her 16-year-old son in the living room of their worn down tenement flat in the middle of New York’s “Hell’s Kitchen.”

Timothy Patrick Quinn thought he’d heard the last of those strange news stories coming out of the radio after it told him about a 14-year-old newsie named Alexander Luszock who was supposed to be murdered by another crazed killer, this one named Carl Panzram. It had happened to him before, almost a year ago. That’s when he started hearing news stories from the future. This last time, he didn’t try fighting Panzram himself, though he had to give his Mom and his foreman at work an excuse why he had to take the bus to D.C. and visit for a day or so. He had to be near the crime scene to make an anonymous call to the cops, and then stay nearby to make sure they stopped Panzram’s attack on Luszock in time. That worked out a lot better than when he did this once before.

Now it was a brand new year, 1929. Next month, he’d turn 17 and life was kind of looking up for him. After he had saved the life of ten-year-old Grace Budd, her father Albert Budd started taking care of the boy and his Mom. Right now, they were enjoying a pleasant Sunday afternoon listening to the new radio Mr. Budd gave them last Christmas, but while Timothy’s Mom was humming along with Fats Waller singing “Ain’t Misbehavin’, Timmy was hearing something else entirely.

Y’all haters corny with that illuminati mess
Paparazzi, catch my fly, and my cocky fresh
I’m so reckless when I rock my Givenchy dress (stylin’)
I’m so possessive so I rock his Roc necklaces

The teenager opened his mouth in astonishment again, but snapped it shut, afraid he’d cuss and make his Ma mad.

I see it, I want it
I stunt, yellow bone it
I dream it, I work hard
I grind ’til I own it
I twirl on them haters
Albino alligators

The lyrics made absolutely no sense to him, and since he was the only one who could hear them, he couldn’t even ask his Mom what she thought of it all. Then static started to drown out the woman singing, and the last he heard was…

You know you that bitch when you cause all this conversation
Always stay gracious, best revenge is your paper

…and something that sounded like “bounce” or “Beyoncé.”

When the irritating hissing coming from the radio’s speaker subsided, he expected to hear what his Mom was listening to, but that didn’t happen. Instead, some sort of newsman was talking.

“Welcome to Bookshelf, the radio program that discusses the latest in literature, and I’m your host Sean Chandler. Today, our guest is Dr. Mark Bourrie, co-author of the book “Peter Woodcock: Canada’s Youngest Serial Killer.” Good morning, Dr. Bourrie.”

“Good morning, Sean. Thank you for having me on your show.”

If Timothy could have moved the dial to another station, he would have. Listening to two men talk about a book was the most boring thing the printer’s devil could think of. As his Mom went into the kitchen for a glass of water, he thought about taking off to do some training at Clancy’s Boxing Gym. Mom tolerated his interest in the sport but forbade him from doing anything more than sparring.

“Yes, that’s right, Sean. Woodcock was only 17 years old when he killed his first victim.”

Tim’s eyes went wide as Dr. Bourrie continued to speak.

“The first victim was seven-year-old Wayne Mallette who died on September 15, 1956.”

“1956?” He got up from the chair and grabbed the newspaper and pencil his Mom had on top of the radio for when she did the crossword puzzle, then after seeing that Ma had gotten occupied with some chore in the kitchen, he sat on the throw rug in front of the speaker and started jotting down what he heard.

“Exhibition Place…Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Holy cow, Canada?”

“What you muttering about,” his Mom called out from the other room.

“Nothing, Ma. Just talking to myself. Listening to the radio.”

As she returned to whatever she was doing, he kept on listening and writing. Peter Woodcock was going to kill two other children in as horrible a way as possible. Why did he have to always listen to this sick trash? Why did God make him responsible for saving these lives?

peter woodcock

File photo of Peter Woodcock – Found at Wikipedia

“Let’s see,” he whispered. “1956. I’ll be…” he jotted down some figures “…44 years old. I’ve got to wait, got to be there when it happens.”

But then he heard a critical piece of information that gave him another idea, one more horrible than anything he’d come across so far. “That lunatic will be born come March 5, 1939. Only ten years from now. I’ll be a lot younger and I could…I could…”


“Sorry, Ma. Just thinking out loud.”

This time, keeping his mouth shut, he thought, “March 5, 1939 in Peterborough, Ontario. Anytime between then and September 1956 I could stop him. But to stop him, to be sure, I’d have to kill him. No. No, I can’t do that. These murderers I keep hearing of have the blood of children on their hands, or they will. I can’t become like them or I’m no better. But how can I wait all that time, hope to show up right before Woodcock does in little Wayne? I’ve got to let almost thirty years past first, and heck, there ain’t no promises in life. I could cash in before that, get hit by a car, anything.

Well, that’s all the time we have on our program for today. Thank you for being a guest on our show, Dr. Bourrie.”

“It was my pleasure, Sean. I appreciate you inviting me.”

“This is Sean Chandler on Bookshelf, Sunday, March 13, 2016.”

The radio speaker blurted out more static and when it settled down, Al Jolson was crooning, “I’m in Seventh Heaven.” As his Mom came back into the room and sat down in her chair, on the rug in front of her, Timothy looked down at the paper on his lap wondering when and how he was going to intervene in the life of a psychopathic murderer who hadn’t even been born yet.

I wrote this for First Line Friday hosted at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie. Today, the idea is to use the sentence The radio was playing the oddest song as the first line of a poem, short story, or other creative work.

We’ve seen Timothy Quinn before in Seven Weeks of the Devil and The Devil’s Day. I immediately thought of him when I read that first line, and then started searching the internet for famous child killers.

I settled on Peter Woodcock who was a horrible human being. I also discovered that there was a book written about him, Peter Woodcock: Canada’s Youngest Serial Killer (Crimes Canada: True Crimes That Shocked The Nation Book 11) written by Mark Bourrie, Peter Vronsky, and RJ Parker which was published in January 2016.

I thought a fictional radio interview would be the best way to present the necessary facts of the case, and left Timothy with a serious problem.

Oh, the strange song that Timothy listened to was written by Asheton Hogan, Beyoncé Knowles, Khalif Brown, and Michael Williams, sung by Beyoncé, and released in 2016. It’s called Formation (YouTube). I figured popular music from 87 years in Timothy’s future would sound sufficiently bizarre.


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