Pen Pals

by Travis Flatt

a2b by George Stein

Lattimer Clark Reynolds, ​born March 15, 1972, also known as Dr. Good Stuff, is an American serial killer. He was arrested on October 20, 2002, for the fatal poisoning of twelve-year-old Thomas Lincoln in San Antonio, Texas. During trial, he confessed to injecting arsenic, cyanide, antifreeze, and opioids into supermarket merchandise throughout Bexar, County between 1991 and 2002. 

In 2018, Reynolds made national news again after stirring online protest when he was denied sex reassignment surgery (SRS) during his second year on death row at the Allan B. Polunsky Unit. Some protestors have argued that Reynold’s surgery request was denied by Texas lawmakers based on racial prejudice.  

Dear Strangler,

I never know how to start these.

I liken my artistry to the graffiti artist: clandestine. Yours is more like the tattooist: intimate. These similes seem strained: metaphor was never my gift. The point, if you follow, love, is like so many with a flair for the dramatic, the truth is I’ve always been just awfully shy.

They called me Dr. Good Stuff. 

“Dr. Good Stuff.” I liked the taste in my mouth. It tasted like a children’s cereal.

I envisioned the box: purple, with a bear in a white lab coat and a circular head mirror. 

I made up a jingle for Dr. Good Stuff. I sang this song at the top of my lungs in the shower: Dr. Good Stuff don’t go running away / Dr. Good Stuff don’t go ruining our day.

Probably too jazzy for modern taste. It got stuck in my head. 

That shower was the best part of my little house—spacious, clean, tasteful tile—a proper shower for showering. Whoever lived there before had two heads installed, one on either end. I could only live in a house with a yard: no sense chancing my song sticking in other’s heads.

You sang your song moonlit. Your bravado dazzles my mind. Where mine was a song of chemistry and syringes, yours was no song at all but dance, even older music. I try to picture it: interlaced fingers, interlocked eyes, every human scent. 

The rest of my house was a dilapidated piece of shit: all warped with water damage.

Moldy. It stank. I wish I could have lived in the shower.  

I confess—I cheated, love. They called me Dr. Good Stuff because I requested it.

The names the cops​ is it gauche to talk about cops? Is it like talking about exes on the first date? —had dreamt up before were so lacking in poetry or, shall we say, “ce petit chatouillement qui obtient votre anus” of a BTK or Night Stalker. 

They wanted to call me “The East Springs Grocery Poisoner” and “The San Antonio Supermarket Slayer.”  The former was so embarrassing it should be obvious. Ungainly. Too much for the mouth. The latter, while preposterous, at least had an undeniable alliterative ring—alas it is untruthful. I only fully killed anyone during the first half of my career, after all, and was prouder of my numerous achievements in terms of victims sickened per event (VSPE). 

But, the frustration! The temptation to strut naked out the front door and throw oneself upon the hapless wolves. The temptation gnawed and gnawed away at me. I grew careless. How romanceless is desperation? But, after my eleven years—eleven—of menacing an overmatched populous uncredited, skulking in the tedium of anonymity, pathetically doting on newspaper clippings like some high school athlete and his trophies. Now, this is a song you’ve doubtless sung, love. With twenty-one years at large, how dreary must that have been? Just dying to throw open the windows and scream, “I’m right here, boys!”

Twenty-one. Bravo, by the way.

Yet, if I must explain any of this to you, you’re not The One, Mr. Strangler. 

Now, we must arrive at the crux: I’ve learned you could end up on this ‘ol Row with me. Also, I’m told I’m insensitive. 

I have a certain friend allowing me to follow your trial; I even caught a few minutes televised last week. I’d not glimpsed a single television these last few years inside. This was my first high definition. I found it nauseating. But you certainly look dashing—those eyes. I might say, though: posture, love. Keep your chin up, square those shoulders. “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” Do you read? 

I must wrap it up here: I cannot write any smaller. It’s no use; tissue paper is flimsy; it’s tearing.

Yours,

Lattimer Clark “DGS” Reynolds XO

Sue,

Thank you for your letter. I almost threw it away when I opened an envelope full of toilet paper. My mother used to send me letters and postcards before she turned to smoke and vanished. That was when I was young and working the oil rigs. I wanted to write you back because you took the time when no one else would. I have spent a lot of time by myself in my life. I like to live alone like you. 

I would like to call you a different name in my letters because I have never written one to a man. Every time I tried to start this letter, and I wrote your name, I had a hard time going on. Years ago, there was a doctor who I saw after I went to jail. She had me keep a journal. She told me to try writing to my mom like she was still with me. I think this gave me an idea about this letter. I am going to call you Sue. Have you heard that Johnny Cash song?

My last dog’s name was Sue, and she died in April of cancer. I didn’t have money to get her treated. She was a good companion. One of the best memories I have is walking her through St. Edward’s campus. We found a park with live oak trees, tall grass, and it would open up on the white stone buildings, with their red roofs. We’d spend hours with a tennis ball. If I call you Sue, it is like I am also talking to her. 

I can’t say I really understood all of your letter. For one thing, I don’t speak French, but I think you were only making jokes? The best part was what you said about artists. I think some artists want the whole world to see their art. Some artists feel it makes them live forever. I believe that everyone thinks a lot about what they leave behind. I used to think about that a lot, but now it seems silly.

I told you I used to get letters. Sometimes I’ll write a postcard, but I haven’t written a proper letter since I was in high school. My teacher was Mrs. Carla Clark. I had a big crush on her, which is probably why I remember it. She had us write letters to local firemen and thank them for their service. So, I don’t know how to write very well. I work a lot, and I move around a lot, and I don’t make time to read much. I do get on the internet sometimes. 

Matt

Packson, Charles. ​ ​“Sheriff ‘Optimistic’ Austin’s Barbeque Strangler Will be Convicted Around Holiday.” Austin American-Statesman, 11 November 2019: p. B1. Print.

Sheriff Pete Winters told the American-Statesman that he was “optimistic that Matt Crane would face justice around Thanksgiving.” Crane is on trial for the murder of nineteen women in Travis County attributed to the Austin Barbeque Strangler, so-named for a series of open-air attacks occurring near restaurants.  

 Dear Strangler,

I’m touched you’d have me as your new Sue.

As it was Thanksgiving today, we had a bit extra on the table. I’m afraid it hasn’t quite sat well. I’ve always had a sensitive tummy. Or perhaps someone got to my share. All a bit ironic, considering, wouldn’t you say? No, I’m kidding, I’ve always shat marvelously. I’m known for it. 

Forgive the frankness of that detail. Another foible? As such, however, there’s less paper for this note. 

My love, with the aid of my heroic associate, I’ve managed to catch a bit more of your televised trial. 

I won’t mince words. After learning of the racial tinge to your artistry, I’m concerned about our ability to get along regarding certain subjects. I am myself of one of the racial heritages you’ve professed in both your manifesto—and by virtue of your avowed affiliation with certain organizations—to despise.

Now, I’m not entirely sure I even believe in such a thing as “racial heritage.” At least, in a purely scientific sense. Of course, I don’t mean to suggest that I’m not sensitive to the plight of black people in the history of the U.S. (as trite as that sounds) and whatever small role in that journey I might play. But I do have misgivings about the concept of “race.” It is a cultural construct, thus serving in many ways to create generalizations, alienation, barriers, etc. Food for thought?  Could we discuss it further? I have exciting literature on the subject. 

If I may be so ghastly as to broach the subject of lawyers: mine seems to have flown whatever lies outside the coop. Might I borrow yours? There has been no word on my execution appeal (another topic we could discuss!). 

 Love, I must say, whatever you used for ink in your first letter did not hold up very well.

I recommend melting any available plastic and mixing it with shampoo or simply purchasing this concoction premade. Fellow inmates should be able to assist you. Look to the tattooed! Best luck. Head high. See soon. Seig heil (wink).

Yours,

Lattimer Clark “DGS” “Sue” Reynolds XO

From: Crane, Matt. “Manifesto.” Discovered and seized by FBI, 7 October 2018.

…so a lonely man can use his loneliness as a tool, like a knife or a compass. If a man feels by himself, even when he is surrounded by his brothers, he should make this his advantage. Women will never understand this and will always want to take and never give…it was His folly to allow Eve to spread her poison and allow her and her daughters to lure the Righteous Man away from the Cause and into the temptation between their crooked limbs. If the Righteous Man must walk among Eve’s daughters, and the sons of Abraham and Ham, then the Righteous Man’s very hands must become the Sword of the Lord…

 

Dear Sue,

I have looked at your letters and thought about it. I don’t think that I am what you want me to be. I’m your friend, but I consider you a good friend. I hope this doesn’t make you stop writing. Love is not a word that I use. Once a woman told me I wasn’t hardwired for it. 

I am getting scared now. The days are longer, and I can’t fill them up. At first, I did push-ups until I got so sore, I couldn’t move. That’s really saying something. My biceps and pecs haven’t gotten sore like that since I was a kid. I asked a guy to hunt me up a couple of books. I thought that might make you proud. He said I didn’t get to pick the books. You might laugh if you knew the first he brought. He got me a copy of The Hobbit. He said it was his favorite, and it would take my mind off things. I have never read an entire book in one day before. Well, honestly it took me about a day and a half. By the way, The Hobbit made me think of your letters because it had songs and made up words. 

If we ever meet, I will read your books. That will probably take me awhile. They sound pretty complicated. Your last letter made me think of a story. A few years ago, I wrecked my bike driving on a rainy night. I went into a skid and left part of my shoulder and arm like sloppy joe on some gravel. Most of the night, I was on the side of the highway in the rain before someone saw me there. The doctors said that my body temp had dropped down so cold that I nearly froze to death. Ever since then, I still run around with my old friends, and I let them help me out in jail, but when they talk about hate, I feel I’ve outgrown that.

Most of these guys have been hurt as bad as me or worse, but they keep on hating. I started going to church again. Have I written to you about the Bible? Of course, it says holding grudges is wrong. I think about how most of these guys I know are false Christians. Do these books you talk about have much to say about grudges?   

That manifesto the news made such a big deal about is something I started years ago when the doctor told me to write my thoughts. I wanted to get rid of it, but it just kept sticking around, or I’d start writing it over again. Now they are using it against me.

Mostly, I read the Bible here, but I can’t read it when I am scared. When I was outside, I always knew I was doing the right thing. I would get so angry, and then I did what I did. Now I’m in here, and I hear what sounds like the howls of perdition at night. The howling starts like a cough somewhere near my cell, but then there are more of them, and then there are more, like the hissing of snakes. I feel like I should be covered in spit from all this hissing. There are eyes on me, even when I’m alone. I want to say all these things to the jury, but my lawyer says I shouldn’t. 

We all know what’s going to happen when they come out with the verdict Thursday. If I feel sorry for what I did or if I’m just scared, I can’t say, and I can’t think of the name of this sin? I hope that if I meet Him, he does not ask me to tell him why I did what I did, but he just puts me on the Golden Scales.        

Matt

Dearest Strangler, 

Matt, could I lie to you? There were things in your letter that were difficult to digest. But, what is love? Eurodance artist Haddaway would propose the question in 1993, yet never supply the answer.

Love, my love, is making the bed while your spouse defecates with the bathroom door open and rants about their sour day at the office. Love is an intimate and hideous thing. Love lurks in the bushes, merrily pounded by squirrels and ladybugs, while little old ladies stand nearby, dabbing their eyes over gravestones and mourning its loss (now I’ve made myself verklempt).

Love, did you find it? In those moments, which I imagine were white-hot, was it there—what you sought? Were there answers? Was there relief? Did you float away, ecstatic, or remain earthbound as you took what the creator—this hissing voyeur of yours—bestowed upon the Earth? Were you like Him? When they put you on the stand and the cameras flash in a room full of hateful-eyed strangers, they will ask: “Did you?” What will you say? These eyes and howlers know what you are accountable for, while I, to whom you come with your innermost, know next to nothing. 

I must know: Matt Crane, did you place your hands around the necks of those women and extinguish them? Why? What did you feel?

Yours,

Lattimer Clark “DGS” “Sue” Reynolds XO

From: http://www.twitter.com/joerogan

The Barbeque Strangler verdict is in! 

3 tablespoons brown sugar 

2 tablespoons paprika

  • tablespoons chili powder 

200 pounds of Matt Crane. 

Sit it all in an electric chair to fry for 2 minutes, then blacken in hell forever. 

Sue, 

 They’re about to move me. I don’t know if I will be able to write anymore. I don’t know if I’m staying in Texas. I hope you have friends in high places. In more ways than one. 

Matt

Packson, Charles. ​ ​“Execution day set for Lattimer Clark Reynolds.” Austin American Statesman, 20 December 2019: p. B6: Print.

The Allan B. Polunsky Unit has set a date to execute long-standing death row inmate Lattimer Clark Reynolds by lethal injection. Reynolds, known by the moniker “Dr. Good Stuff” was convicted of fatally poisoning a 12-year-old boy in 2002. On January 3, 2020, Lattimer Clark Reynolds will be the first American inmate executed of the new decade. 

Dear Strangler,

I did hope that we would meet. I did hope that I might discover if those blue eyes were as cold and bottomless as I glimpsed on the television.

Think of me sometimes. 

Through all your hard-wrought journey, so many people wanted so many things for you.

I, in my inept and clumsy way, only wanted to make you smile. 

There will be no appeal. I’m gone Friday. My requests to have you present at my execution were denied, which considering the events of the past week, seems merely a twist of the knife. The associate I’ve mentioned has promised, if fate were to land you here, he’d see to it that you find yourself lodging in this cozy little space of mine. I suggest you try falling asleep singing. Sometimes there’s music after, down in the deep. Seems (a cliché, ahoy), we were two doomed ships passing in the night.

Love forever and into the great, and hopefully good-humored, beyond,

Lattimer Clark “DGS” “Sue” Reynolds

From: “Just Us – The Three Texas Gunslingers Podcast,” ep. 4, Season 6, 22 December 2019

MIKE: They put down Lattimer Reynolds.

SFX: Clint Eastwood: “If you run—I’ll shoot ya.” Pistol shot.​        

JOHN: Ha. Ol’ Dr. Good Stuff. I thought they did that years ago. 

TED: Is that the guy who put poison in milk? Didn’t he kill a bunch of kids? 

MIKE: It was just one.

JOHN: And, he made a ton of people sick. 

MIKE: He’d been appealing that for years. 

SFX: Clint Eastwood: “You want to play the game, you better know the rules, love.” Pistol shot.​      JOHN: He was trying to get out of jail to turn into a woman.

TED: Sounds about right. 

MIKE: That was a huge thing on Twitter. Then they said it was because he was black.

JOHN: Because he was black, they wouldn’t do it.

TED: Hey libs, maybe it was because he was a murderer.

SFX: Clint Eastwood’s: “With all due respect, you’re beginning to bore the hell out of me.” Pistol shot.

MIKE And, they’ve come out with the Barbeque Strangler verdict. 

SFX: Clint Eastwood’s voice: “If you run—I’ll shoot ya.” Pistol shot.​     

JOHN: Look forward to his sorry ass appealing for years. 

TED: He looks like he strangled his mom with the umbilical cord. 

SFX: Clint Eastwood’s voice: “If you run—I’ll shoot ya.” Pistol shot.  

Sue,

I haven’t heard from you in days, and I don’t know if these new guards are just using these letters as toilet paper. I don’t know what’s going on outside. No one talks to me except to say go here or there. I don’t know when they’re going to restrict my privileges. I feel bad for some of the things I said or didn’t say. You made me feel better, thank you. 

Sue, if I told you why I hurt those women, you would find out how human I am.

Last night, I looked at your letters again. I heard somewhere that you wanted to be a woman. I don’t understand it, but I am sorry that could not happen for you. All these months when I’ve written with you, I haven’t hardly gotten sick or angry. If I could go back, I would read some of your letters to the jury because you saw me as someone worth taking seriously. My trial was a big joke to everyone except for you.

I didn’t even take it that seriously. My lawyer isn’t good, and he doesn’t care. I am alone. I know I am going to die. 

I had a dream last night. There’s a river and it stinks. I am cold and I am sticky and trying to swim, but I’m drowning. There are women on the bank, and I reach out my hands for help, but all I get a hold of is their fingernails. I just keep drowning in spit. There’s a hiss in my ears like so many snakes. 

I just crashed my bike, and I’m lying on the side of the highway, bleeding all over the dirt and the gravel from my arm and shoulder. The rain has soaked through my clothes. I’ve gone somewhere that is warm as the womb and colorless like how the blind must see. I keep asking God to let me wake up. 

 She is waiting for me in our park. She is running our path between the oaks. Every rustle of tall grass, she looks for me. She is going to keep looking. She is hoping I will step out of the brush with our chewed up, orange and yellow tennis ball. Any moment I will step out and we will have all the time in the world together.

But I am still drowning. There’s so much on top of me. I can’t get there, and I cannot make her understand. 

Sue, if only you understood.


Travis Flatt lives with his wife Amanda in Tennessee’s Upper Cumberland, where he teaches Language Arts and acts in regional theatre. He is currently working on his first collection of short stories. He got the Criterion Channel for Christmas and is loving it, likes theatre, obviously, and Dark Souls, fluffy small dogs, pizza, etc…you know what he likes. This is his first publication.

George L Stein is a film and digital photographer from the midwest, currently living and working in New York and New Jersey. He is fond of interesting juxtapositions and strong contrasts and delves into street photography, urban decay, fashion and collage work. He has previously been published in Nunum, The Fredricksburg Literary and Art Review, Midwestern Gothic and a few others.