Sam Thornton is the nicest, most fascinating grim reaper you’ll ever want to meet. He is as human a gent as you’ll find, and has a wit that comes, I suppose, from roaming around for centuries with no end in sight.. Sam made his debut in DEAD HARVEST (my review is here), and will be back in THE WRONG GOODBYE later this September. Author Chris Holm was kind enough to ask Sam to field some questions for me–enjoy!
Do you have a favorite band or song?
My wife, Elizabeth, always had a fondness for Benny Goodman. Whenever I hear him play, I’m brought back to our tenement apartment in Staten Island. I can smell her braciole cooking away on the stovetop; I can see her swaying in time to that big-band sound. So to me, Benny Goodman’s as close to heaven as this damned soul’s ever gonna get.
Your job affords you the opportunity to travel extensively…where’s your favorite place you’ve visited?
It’s funny: in my capacity as a Collector, I’ve seen the inside of royal palaces and five-diamond hotels; I’ve strolled the midnight streets of Paris and the black-sand beaches of Hawaii. But by far the most wonderful place I’ve ever visited was a tiny little thatch-hut village in the Colombian wilds. Place is so small, I don’t think it even has a name, and it sure ain’t much to look at.
I’d been chasing down this real bastard of a mark named Varela. He’s a major player in the international coke trade. Varela caught wind that I was coming for him, and fled into the rainforest. Took me days to catch up to him, and days more to get back out. When I stumbled, half-starved and half-mad, out of the jungle, it was into this village. Crazy as I looked and sounded, those people shoulda run me out on a rail. Shoulda chased me off with torches and pitchforks. But instead, they took me in. Gave me food and clothes and shelter, though they had so little of each themselves. And I’m forever grateful for their hospitality. Its folks like them that keep me thinking there’s still good left in this Godforsaken world.
Were you a member of a church before you were a collector? If so, which one and do you miss it?
In life, I’d like to think I took to heart the whole do-unto-others thing, but wasn’t what you’d call the pious sort. Me and Elizabeth, we went to church — Catholic, if it matters — but it was more out of habit and out of tradition than any deep, philosophical yearning. This was the Thirties and Forties, you understand — long before Vatican II — so mass for us was a somber, impenetrable, Latin-laced affair; most folks who attended had only the faintest of notions what any of it meant. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure that hasn’t much changed over the decades, but at least the words themselves are easier to follow.
Over the years and through your travels, have you had the occasion to interact with any well-known figures?
Collectors never kill and tell.
Oh, who am I kidding? I’ve already blabbed my story for anyone who wants to read it. So let me say this: my very first collection out the gate was a doozy and a half. But that’s a story for another time…
You’re a sensitive guy, but you have a pretty harsh job. What’s the collection you felt worst about?
Truth be told, they’re all pretty lousy. See, when a Collector takes a human soul to deliver it to hell, he or she experiences every moment that brought that person to that point — every triumph, every horror. In the case of freelance kills — those folks so evil, hell won’t wait around for them to die — that means we’ve got a front-row seat to the worst transgressions of humanity, and believe me, that ain’t no picnic. But contract kills — folks who’ve bargained away their souls for fame or money or whatever — aren’t much better. Contract kills are usually decent enough people — they just want a better hand than they’ve been dealt. In their case, the Collector experiences a lifetime of decency, of disappointment — and does so with the realization we’ve condemned that poor sad sap to an eternity of torment. So either way, my job’s a world of suck.
I was one of the latter, by the way. This job serves as my eternal punishment, my end of the bargain.
You’ve seen some of the worst of human nature. Considering this, what’s your best advice for us average Janes and Joes?
If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Devil’s bargains come in all shapes and sizes, and most folks don’t know they’ve made one until they meet the likes of me. So be careful what you wish for, and don’t shake on any deal you wouldn’t bet your life on.
Despite everything you’ve seen and experienced, you seem to maintain a certain sense of wonder. What (still) amazes you?
Every day, I’m reminded what brutal, vicious creatures humans are. But once and a while, one of us will do something so goddamn beautiful, it makes the rest worth weathering. That is never not amazing. And that’s what keeps me holding on to whatever tiny shred of decency I’ve got left.
Sure. A word of warning, though, since I like you and I’m feeling generous. If ever our paths cross again, don’t assume it’s for a followup. Run.