Burning Like A Silver Flame
Part 2
By MATTHEW HYLAND

The men of Paremoremo prison near Auckland, New Zealand never tire of offering advice to new inmate Brent Garner. 'Hang yourself, pig!', they counsel him day and night at the top of their voices.

But Garner, who until October 1996 was a Detective Constable in the Fraud Squad, isn't likely to do anything so crazy. Or if he did, it would be the first time. When he confessed to burning down his own house, gouging an upside-down cross into his back with a scalpel tied to a stick, and pouring petrol over his wounds, police psychologists stopped suspecting that the offender might have a Personality Disorder.
Before Garner walked out of his secret hiding place and told his story to his brother officers at Palmerston North police station, they had been looking for a thirty year-old Satan worshipper with a goatee beard and 'an educated English accent'. Experts believed that the man was probably a loner, 'well-read, odd and aloof, with a belief in his own superiority', yet somehow 'still able to function in society'. A daily newspaper noted that 'there was increasing recognition in modern forensic research that people could be evil'.
These theories were based on Garner's description of the man he said had broken into his house, tied him up and tortured him, and on menacing letters he had sent to himself at the police station. On August 29, he warned that

'Palmerston North police WILL bury a murdered colleague. I guarantee! His time has come. His blood will flow. He will die alone. No one will be by his side.
He will know the time.
He has ten weeks.
He should cherish them.
Mr. Policeman, I am coming.
By September 25, Garner had looked up 'black mass' on his Encarta computer software, and the threats assumed Satanic airs.
'Dear Officer Garner.. .you have entertained thoughts every waking hour. Surely this must flatter you. It would I, if by some chance our roles in this wonderfully nefarious cesspool of a world were reversed... You have difficulty understanding and accepting the ways and workings of my Lord and Master. You have the temerity to scoff and make light of the Black Mass.
But let me tell you this Officer Garner, you will without a doubt take me very seriously when I prepare you for my Lord...'
This letter was signed 'Gilles de Rais', after 'Bluebeard', the 14th century Marshall of France who offered the Devil anything except his life or his soul, and whose final repentance reportedly moved the parents of his young peasant sacrifices to tears.
An identikit picture and a psychological profile of the suspect were circulated through newspapers, TV, and for the first time in New Zealand, the Internet. Black haired, goatee bearded males were interrogated and asked for alibis at airports. But if the spirit of GiIles de Rais was stalking the barbecues of Ashurst, it seemed surprisingly at home in suburban white trash culture. It didn't take journalists and censorship advocates long to see the resemblance between Garner's ordeal and Mr. Blonde's fun with his captive in ReservoirDogs. Garner kept both his ears, and as far as anyone knows he didn't bleed to the sounds of Stuck in the Middle with You by Stealers Wheel, but the key elements - cop tied to a chair, blade wounds, petrol were all present. What eventually aroused detectives' suspicions, though, was the 'aloof, literate' Satanist's reliance on oafish police language. He wrote, I have remained free to carry Out his taskings' (Satan's, that is, small 'h' notwithstanding). 'Taskings' has no particular meaning, it's a word invented by police to confer official status, a vague air of necessity, on whatever they decide to do. According to the New Zealand Herald, the word 'colleague' is also special police property, as is 'Advocatus Diaboli', the signature on the note screwed up and stuffed inside the constable's gagged mouth. (This choice of nom-de-crayon implies either that Garner drew on unsuspected reserves of irony and sportsmanship to leave behind a clue to his duplicity, or that New Zealand police think a devil's advocate is someone who advocates the Devil.)
Moi je suis celui qui pour être doit fouetter son innéité
The familiarity of these terms stirred such a strong gut feeling in Senior Sergeant Grant Nicholls that Operation Venus (a name Garner had earned by holding his mouth open for so long that one day a fly flew into it) was soon competing against Operation Mars, dedicating to proving that the 'quiet, pleasant' detective was his own worst enemy. From this point on the police engaged in a tactical fraud of its own, as the Mars team tried to keep its existence secret from its rival.
Operation Mars had no concrete evidence to go on, but in the course of a six-hour interrogation Sergeant Nicholls and his cast iron gut feeling so far sapped Garner's confidence that indefinite police protection no longer seemed preferable to criminal custody. The next day he called the police station and confessed to the crimes of Gilles de Rais.
The details as he described them could never have been imagined by investigating officers. After finishing work at 11:30pm on October 18, he came home, drank a beer, then poured eighteen litres of petrol around his house. He frightened away the family's cat, and went to kill his dog Max with a mallet, but at the last moment he couldn't do it. Then he stripped to his underpants, garrotted his neck with a rope, and cut deep wounds into his neck with a scalpel at the end of a 30cm stick. After pouring petrol over the wounds, he climbed the neighbour's fence and rubbed blood over it, indicating the Devil- worshipper's escape trail. Back inside the house, he set a $14 K-Mart timer to start the fire in forty minutes, and gagged himself with part of an old shirt. At last, as petrol seared his 'groin area', he rolled out his bedroom window and squirmed across thirty-six metres of backyard. While the house burned, Garner's neighbour found him, untied him, and called the police.
police profile
In this way Garner faithfully carried Out all the threats he'd made against himself, except that of death. He proved himself to be, within reason, a man of his word. In Palmerston North District Court, however, this didn't make him any less guilty of two sets of false pretences, four forgeries, and making a false complaint, as well as arson and wasting police time. All this was settled quickly, despite a deep ambivalence in the prosecution case. As the police had no real evidence, Garner could only be convicted if his own testimony was accepted as true. Yet according to this testimony, there was no victim of the crime. In his confession statement, he had insisted that his motives were not only rational but benevolent. He had wanted to 'liquidate his assets, separate from his wife, and effect a change of direction in his life', while continuing his liaison with a police receptionist. But he couldn't bear to see his wife cry like she had the last time he'd left her. Perhaps it would hurt her less to lose him to the Devil's impersonal meddling than to be abandoned for another woman's sake. Better still, she and her two daughters would get a good start' from the insurance payout for their home and all their possessions. (For some reason, however, Sam Garner didn't appreciate her husband's sentiments: on a radio talkshow she invited the adulterous couple to get syphilis and die.)

For Senior Sergeant Nicholls, the truth about Brent Garner was a 'nightmare of all nightmares'. Newspapers ran the banal life story of the 'devious, evil man' behind the 'monstrous hoax'. Few people seemed relieved that a murderous cop-stalker had turned out to be a self-immolating sham. He might have been set up as a clown for resorting to such grotesque and hopeless tricks to try and get out of a perfectly ordinary difficulty. But he was unanimously reviled to a degree that flattered his criminal prowess. The hallucination of an educated, English-accented Satanist had been a strangely reassuring vision of Evil, a rare shred of evidence that the enemy is outside, and airports have his computer-generated likeness. How could Garner be forgiven for holding the country in thrall to this promise, then abruptly cancelling it, proving once again that good intentions and careful planning suffice to engender any sort of misery?
Yet even as belief in Evil decays so far as to depend on evidence, it reappears on the Next Evolutionary Level¹, fully assimilated into the system of Law and Order. Specialists in police science (Polizeiwissenschaft) use Hegel to prove that a sense of right and wrong is present even in people who haven't discovered it in themselves: it's not a quality that belongs to individuals, but a relation to society that constitutes each of us whether well like it or not². Impulses threatening to dismember this phantom of consensus are inhuman by definition, demons dressed as Personality Disorders, to be exorcised by therapy.

Brent Garner (Venus pan-demia), a failure's failure, is remade by these conditions as a historic figure, the prototype of a being which survives by bifurcation. The Detective Constable and family man (whose girlfriend 'looked a lot like his wife') could live by the laws which sustained him only by releasing a Satanic double, an incorporeal fall guy able to absorb unlimited shame. He follows Glues de Rais into the high priesthood of Bad Faith³. The Marshall of France offered the Devil anything except his life or his soul for the right to display self-destructive generosity without risk of ruin. Officer Venus raises the stakes, sacrificing all his property and his flesh to be freed from an ugly identity, to escape the 'intimate' experience which had seeped like petrol into his pores.

¹ http.heavensgate.com
² This argument from Charles Taylor's Hegel (Cambridge University Press,1975) is borrowed by 'communitarian' theorists such as Michael Sandel and Amitai Etzioni, who are cited interminably by 'zero tolerance' politicians in Britain and the U.S.A.
³ This cardinal sin of Existentialism is recognized elsewhere as the virtue of resistance to the present'.

He  was  modern
man in extremis, an exemplar
of alienation,constantly sub-
verting his targets with sat-
ire.
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