The Man From Milwaukee by Rick R. Reed Genre: Horror, LGBTQ
It’s the summer of 1991 and serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer has been arrested. His monstrous crimes inspire dread around the globe. But not so much for Emory Hughes, a closeted young man in Chicago, who sees in the cannibal killer a kindred spirit, someone who fights against the dark side of his own nature, as Emory does. He reaches out to Dahmer in prison via letters.
The letters become an escape—from Emory’s mother, dying from AIDS, from his uncaring sister, from his dead-end job in downtown Chicago, but most of all, from his own self-hatred.
Dahmer isn’t Emory’s only lifeline as he begins a tentative relationship with Tyler Kay. He falls for him, and just like Dahmer, wonders how he can get Tyler to stay. Emory’s desire for love leads him to confront his own grip on reality. For Tyler, the threat of the mild-mannered Emory seems inconsequential, but not taking the threat seriously is at his own peril.
Can Emory discover the roots of his own madness before it’s too late and he finds himself following in the footsteps of the man from Milwaukee?
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The scene below is when our main character, Emory Hughes becomes aware that Jeffrey Dahmer has been arrested in July of 1991. It’s a snapshot of our main character and reveals his fear of the world and, a little, what will become a sick fascination.
Emory Hughes stared at the picture of Jeffrey Dahmer on the front page of the Chicago Tribune, the man in Milwaukee who had confessed to “drugging and strangling his victims, then dismembering them.” The picture was grainy, showing a young man who looked timid and tired. Not someone you'd expect to be a serial killer.
Emory took in the details as the L swung around a bend: lank pale hair, looking dirty and as if someone had taken a comb to it just before the photograph was snapped, heavy eyelids, the smirk, as if Dahmer had no understanding of what was happening to him, blinded suddenly by notoriety, the stubble, at least three days old, growing on his face. Emory even noticed the way a small curl topped his shirt's white collar. The L twisted, suddenly a ride from Six Flags, and Emory almost dropped the newspaper, clutching for the metal pole to keep from falling. The train's dizzying pace, taking the curves too fast, made Emory's stomach churn.
Or was it the details of the story that were making the nausea in him grow and blossom? Details like how Dahmer had boiled some of his victim's skulls to preserve them…
Milwaukee Medical Examiner Jeffrey Jentzen said authorities had recovered five full skeletons from Dahmer's apartment and partial remains of six others. They’d discovered four severed heads in his kitchen. Emory read that the killer had also admitted to cannibalism.
“Sick, huh?” Emory jumped at a voice behind him. A pudgy man, face florid with sweat and heat, pressed close. The bulge of the man's stomach nudged against the small of Emory's back.
Emory hugged the newspaper to his chest, wishing there was somewhere else he could go. But the L at rush hour was crowded with commuters, moist from the heat, wearing identical expressions of boredom.
“Hard to believe some of the things that guy did.” The man continued, undaunted by Emory's refusal to meet his eyes. “He’s a queer. They all want to give the queers special privileges and act like there’s nothing wrong with them. And then look what happens.” The guy snorted. “Nothing wrong with them…right.”
Emory wished the man would move away. The sour odor of the man's sweat mingled with cheap cologne, something like Old Spice.
Hadn't his father worn Old Spice?
Emory gripped the pole until his knuckles whitened, staring down at the newspaper he had found abandoned on a seat at the Belmont stop. Maybe if he sees I'm reading, he'll shut up. Every time the man spoke, his accent broad and twangy, his voice nasal, Emory felt like someone was raking a metal-toothed comb across the soft pink surface of his brain.
Neighbors had complained off and on for more than a year about a putrid stench from Dahmer's apartment. He told them his refrigerator was broken and meat in it had spoiled. Others reported hearing hand and power saws buzzing in the apartment at odd hours.
“Yeah, this guy Dahmer… You hear what he did to some of these guys?”
Emory turned at last. He was trembling, and the muscles in his jaw clenched and unclenched. He knew his voice was coming out high, and that because of this, the man might think he was queer, but he had to make him stop.
“Listen, sir, I really have no use for your opinions. I ask you now, very sincerely, to let me be so that I might finish reading my newspaper.”
Real Men. True Love.
Rick R. Reed is an award-winning and bestselling author of more than fifty works of published fiction. He is a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Entertainment Weekly has described his work as “heartrending and sensitive.” Lambda Literary has called him: “A writer that doesn’t disappoint…” Find him at www.rickrreedreality.blogspot.com. Rick lives in Palm Springs, CA, with his husband, Bruce, and their fierce Chihuahua/Shiba Inu mix, Kodi.
As a writer, the question I get asked more than any other is, “where do you get your ideas?” If I’m grumpy, I might snap, “From the dollar store—a buck for a dozen,” but usually, I do try to satisfy the questioner’s curiosity in a sincere way.
Why write a book centered around serial killer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer? The first reason that springs to mind if I’m honest is that I’ve always been fascinated by true crime and serial killers in particular. Before you get the wrong idea, I am about as mild-mannered as they come. But the psyches of twisted people have always fascinated me because I think we’re all a combination of good and evil, of angels and demons, of secrets we might not want antyone else to know. Now, for most of us, those things are, of course, not in line with homicidal leanings, but I think we can all agree that life is comprised of both shadows and light, for all of us.
My main character, Emory Hughes, is one of those people. He is the main character of the book and it’s through his unreliable eyes we see the arrest of Dahmer and why he tries to contact him in prison. He’s surprised when Dahmer writes back to him, but believes they share a bond—they’re both self-loathing homosexuals who would change if they could. In Dahmer, Emory Hughes sees a kind of peer or friend. This is how twisted his mind is and how great his hatred toward his own homosexual leanings are.
After the book describes this sick fascination shortly after Dahmer’s arrest in July of 1991, Emory writes to the killer for the first time:
Dear Mr. Dahmer, You don’t know me, although our paths might have crossed one night on one of your visits to Chicago. But I doubt that. I’m sure I’d remember if you and I had ever been in the same room. I wanted to take a moment and write to let you know there’s one person out here who understands what you’re going through. I fight my own demons, day after day, and know that sometimes our best intentions get crushed under the weight of needs we have no way of understanding, let alone escaping, try as we might to be good. I know. I know what a horrible thing it can be to be compelled to do things you know are wrong, evil, but for whatever reason, you’re built to be unable to resist these needs. I have them. To some degree, I suspect we all do. Yours are much worse than the average person, yes, but that doesn’t mean you wanted to feel the things you felt. Things that drove you to do what the papers say you did… Anyway, if you get this letter, I’d love to hear back from you. I know right now the whole country hates you and gazes at your face with horror. But I don’t. I see a young man like myself, confused and full of pain because he can’t help being who he is. We’re both twisted. In different ways, but I do know what you’re going through right now, believe it or not. I see you sitting in a cell, maybe relieved now that your hands have been tied, so to speak. You can be good now. I envy that, just a little bit. I wish I could be good. I’ll keep trying, but it seems like the harder I battle the demons inside, the more they persist. Anyway, if you get this (I don’t know how mail to prisoners works—I’ve never written to anyone in jail before), please take the time to consider me a friend you can talk to. I’ll be anxiously awaiting your response. Very truly yours, Emory Hughes
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