I mentioned in a recent post that I’m not sentimental about Christmas. No warm and fuzzy “magical moments” from childhood. That’s not to say that there was any unpleasantness associated with the holiday. I’ve always been “neutral” about Christmas because I never had any particularly great or horrible experiences to associate with it.
That changed a few years ago and now I do have a memory that I often recall on Christmas. On Christmas 2002, Susie and I were driving to a home for dinner with friends. After crossing a major intersection, my peripheral vision picked up an SUV pulling up next to Susie’s side. I focused on the road and did not look over, assuming the SUV was passing.
Instead, the SUV gave me a short honk and so I looked over. It was Rick, a friend I had worked with for many years but who had moved to another agency two or three years ago. Susie rolled down the window and we exchanged Christmas greetings and our destinations before going our separate ways.
I met Rick in 1993. He had started with the office less than a month before I did. Even though he was 11 years younger than me, we hit it off almost from the first day because of a shared interest in computers. I was knowledgeable about hardware troubleshooting and DOS (remember that?) but Rick was on a much higher level and also had some programming knowledge.
Of all the office staff, I was closest to Rick and I’m pretty sure it was the same for him. In the office, he was the one I hung out with when taking a break. Outside work, we socialized a few times with the wives but not regularly.
I did notice some sides to Rick that made me a bit uneasy. He liked to drink. Although I never saw him appear to be under the influence during working hours, I did see him take a swig or two from a flask he carried at all times. Co-workers would later tell me they saw him taking a few swigs from that flask in his vehicle at various times during the day, especially lunch.
Rick also had a bad temper. He became very ugly when he lost that temper, although he always controlled it in public. I recall him sometimes coming into my office, closing the door, and launching into a profanity-laced tirade about a local official or consultant who had upset him. The tirade would end with Rick saying he would “get” the offending party when the opportunity arose.
Our jobs as project managers gave us some discretion affecting how project money could be spent. When Rick became my boss and program manager a few years later, his discretion extended to about $30 million annually. He could make life very unpleasant for someone he wanted to “get.”
Rick did not have a college degree. I didn’t think much of it because he was very intelligent and a quick learner. But I think that to some extent this lack of a credential (which most folks we interacted with had) sometimes made him feel insecure and led him to blow an incident out of proportion.
Later, I would realize that it was often an issue of control. If Rick was in a position of authority, he bristled at being openly challenged, especially if he did not have a secure relationship with that person. I could go back and forth with him because we had a good relationship. (Although he knew I had a Master’s degree, I think he also recognized that I valued “street smarts” more than “book smarts” and that I regularly used both.)
Rick’s wife worked in a real estate attorney’s office and mentioned to him one day that their time accounting program was a pain. Rick looked at it, asked what they needed, and built her office an entirely new system using Access. Word got around to other attorneys and soon Rick was being asked by them (and then doctors) to build them a similar time accounting system tweaked for their needs. That became a side business.
This background probably was a factor in his leaving our office for a big promotion to another agency where he became the #2 or #3 IT person. His main job was to oversee a multi-million dollar contract with a national firm to replace 21 separate online licensing systems with a single system.
After Rick left our program, I didn’t see him much. He’d stop by the office sometimes for a short chat or lunch but that was about it. After he left, Rick and his wife had their first child, a daughter.
When I did see Rick, I sometimes thought I detected a bit of unease about becoming a family man. I’ve heard that it’s not unusual for men to have trouble with the change a child brings to the relationship. They feel the wife isn’t paying enough attention to them because of the child. There is stress over time, especially if the wife still works (as Rick’s did) because child care takes up a lot of time. There is less discretionary income. But I didn’t pick up on anything serious.
That Christmas Day in 2002 was the last time I saw Rick. By then, I later read in the newspaper, his wife was in the process of divorcing him. That control issue arose and she had taken out a restraining order. (Through co-workers, I also learned that Rick’s first wife had suffered domestic abuse.)
Just before New Year’s, Rick called his wife and said he needed to retrieve something from their house, which they had moved out of pending its sale as part of the divorce, and only she had the key. Despite the restraining order, she agreed to meet him there.
That was a huge mistake. Rick proceeded to carry out a detailed plan that the police later found as evidence because he had written it down and had it with him so he didn‘t “forget” anything. The last two entries in the plan were: “shoot her four times in the head through a pillow” and then “kill yourself.”
The only reason Rick didn’t carry the plan through to the end was because his wife agreed to meet him on her way to a meeting with her divorce lawyer. When she was an hour late, and she did not answer his call, the lawyer called her sister. Her sister knew she was stopping by the house (but probably not that it was to meet Rick) and went there to check whether she was there.
She saw Rick’s vehicle and figured out there was a problem since the front door was locked. She called the police and then threw a lawn chair through a window. When Rick left the bedroom to check what was happening, his wife escaped outside through a sliding glass door.
After a few hours’ standoff with the police, Rick went into a closet, put a .38 under his chin and shot himself. The police heard the shot and broke into the house. Rick was alive; he had sat down in the closet with his head against a wall and so had brought his head down to the gun instead of leaning his head back and bringing the gun up. The bullet exited his cheek but the wound was not life-threatening.
During her ordeal, his wife suffered physically and psychologically because Rick wanted her to suffer before dying. He put a pistol to her head about a dozen times, told her she was going to die and pulled the trigger but the safety was on. He raped her with that pistol a number of times too and probably told her he was going to pull the trigger as well. I suspect he told her that eventually the safety would not be engaged.
With all the incriminating evidence found at the scene, Rick plead guilty rather stand trial. These are his sentences, which were probably reduced in number as part of the plea:
1st degree premeditated attempted murder: 30 years
Sexual battery with weapon/force (5 counts): 5 life sentences without parole
Aggravated battery with deadly weapon (2 counts): 15 years on each count
Every Christmas since 2002, including this year, I’ve driven through the intersection where I last saw Rick and think about what happened. It’s a Christmas memory I’d rather not have.