This really happened to me. I don't think I ever told anyone about it.
It was early spring, 2002. I was living in Silicon Valley, had been unemployed for 5 or 6 months, my social life was abysmal, and, desperate to improve my mood, took a trip up to Lake Tahoe, 4 hours away, to go snowboarding.
After the snowboarding, I went down to Reno, Nevada, close by. I'd heard you could shoot a machine gun at gunnery ranges in Nevada. I looked one up, went there, and it was true. I fired an Uzi at a paper target with a human form on it. This being 6 months after 9/11, you could get targets with cartoon pictures of Osama Bin Laden on them, but for some reason I didn't.
Normally, when you go shooting pistols at a range, if you're shooting a .22, you can shoot all day and it hardly costs anything. If you're shooting a .45, it adds up, you can go through 30-40 bucks worth of ammo in a half hour. Shooting a fully automatic weapon, it turns out, is really expensive, you can go through $100 worth of ammunition in a few seconds.
It was a long, boring drive home by myself. I was pulling out of a gas station, and saw a hitchhiker on the on-ramp. I could really use the company, so I pulled over. I hadn't taken a very good look at him.
When he stepped in, he was wearing a lot of denim, looking like sort of a country-boy, long haired, heavy-metal type. We introduced ourselves and discussed our destinations. As I pulled onto the freeway, I noticed he smelled, well, pretty bad.
He asked what I do. When he learned I was a computer programmer, he became animated and said he used to work with computers in Washington DC. He mentioned a bunch of acronyms, I think they related to one of the old brands of computers that hardly anyone uses anymore, Honeywell, or someone like that. We really couldn't talk shop.
He had been working for a traveling carnival. He said he was "The King" there, in charge of the whole crew responsible for assembling and disassembling the rides.
He had left his job as the foreman, and was hitchhiking his way back to the Bay Area, where he had a job as a garbage collector lined up. There was obviously a missing piece of information here -- why would someone abandon a job as "The King" to go be a garbage collector? He said "I couldn't take it any more. I had the power of life and death." and would get all silent and spooky.
The crew had been mostly drug addicts, it sounded like hard drugs, and the top management of the carnival had no idea about it. "The King" had taken it upon himself, among his responsibilities, to cover up for people who, for example, were incapacitated because they had taken sub-standard drugs. He said the management were totally clean-cut, non-drug people. If they were to learn about all the drugs, they would replace the whole crew. He felt, as "King", he was protector of the crew, and it was among his responsibilities to keep management in the dark.
We talked some more about other things, talked about me for awhile, we bonded a bit.
He started talking about a problem they had. One of the crew was a pedophile. "The King" had reliable evidence, from 3 sources, that this guy was molesting kids at the carnival. It was clear that if the child molester were reported to the authorities, he would fink out everybody about the drugs and they would all get fired.
He took his job as "King" seriously, and he felt one of his responsibilities was to protect the public, to keep the carnival a safe place for people, including children, to come. He kept stressing that he had reliable information from 3 sources that this guy was a molester.
Eventually it came out that he'd hired organized crime to off the pedophile. The mob had then chopped up the body and disposed of the pieces it in 14 dumpsters. The "King" totally couldn't live with it. Completely freaked out, he left the carnival to hitchhike across the country back to the town he'd grown up in to be a garbage collector.
Maybe he was just telling me a story. Maybe he'd never been "King", maybe this was all made up. But I totally believed the whole thing.
I dropped him off at the place he wanted me to, he told me he could get back home from there on his own. He bade each other a cheerful goodbye and he showed me a tattoo on his chest before he closed the door.
Should I have turned him in? It would have been easy -- I knew exactly where he was going, and his first name.
If his story was true, he was sorry as hell. He was completely torn up about it (and was probably going to spill his guts about it to more people). He wasn't a dumb guy, but it was really stupid to tell me, someone who didn't owe him squat, about it. That shows how much agony his conscience was putting him through.
I don't believe in punishing people who are already sorry. He was never going to do anything like that again. From the looks of it, he was making sure he was never going to be in a position to do anything like that again. I let it go. I wasn't going to take it on myself to pass judgment. I'm sure the child molester's ghost is damning me to hell for that decision, but that's his problem.