The Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat changes his story and S. Harry Zade speaks up

“What the fuck,” said the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat. “Why are you arresting me? You heard him say it was the dude with the elbow patches.”

“I heard no such thing,” said the Ponytailed Cop. “What I heard was you claiming to speak for a ghost, giving information about a crime that only one who committed it could have given.”

“Don’t you get it? That proves the ghost saw it.”

“Don’t you get it? I don’t believe in ghosts.”

The Ponytailed Cop was pretty satisfied that he solved the crime without having to believe in ghosts, especially while under the influence of the Acapulco Gold. Now, in good conscience, he could release the town Saint, smoke, and go on disbelieving in ghosts. The only problem was he wanted the murderer to be the Drug Dealer, if only so he’d stay away.

“Wait, before you charge me, can’t you find the Leatherman and talk to him? He was there. He keeps a regular route. Everyone knows where he’s going to be every day.”

That was enough to make the Ponytailed Cop spend the better part of two days trying to track down the Leatherman, but the Leatherman had abandoned his regular route, and no one knew where to find him. Someone said he had been to Walmart. The Walmart Greeter asked him to leave because he was too scary looking for the customers, but he pushed past him, picked out some normal clothes, and paid for them with cash he had in a leather pouch. Someone else said he purchased a bus ticket to Montreal. A discarded leather coat, leather shirt, leather pants, leather socks, and leather hat were found in the bus station rest room. The Leatherman was no longer the Leatherman, had fled the country, and became someone else.

The Ponytailed Cop was inclined to believe that the Leatherman had witnessed the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat kill the Lisping Barista and concluded it was time to get out of town fast. They’ll be no more camping out and tramping from town to town, looking for handouts when a man who had killed before might kill again to keep him quiet. The Ponytailed Cop alerted the Canadian authorities and ask for extradition, but he was convinced he already had the killer.

You, Dear Reader, and I know that the Leatherman no longer needed to be the Leatherman because he thought he had found the lost love of his life and watched her die. He would grieve, grieve bitterly, but he no longer needed to search. He could go home to people who knew his language and live like a normal person with a broken heart.

By now, the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat had sobered up. It occurred to him that he didn’t need to convince the Cop that the Ghost of William Gillette had witnessed the murder. He could have claimed to have seen the murder himself. Why it didn’t occur to him, earlier, we’ll never know. Maybe his mother brought him up to always tell what he thought was the truth. Maybe the booze prevented him from the mental gymnastics necessary to construct a lie. Maybe seeing and interacting with a ghost was such a common, everyday occurrence to him that he had forgotten that others didn’t think they existed. Not believing in ghosts made no sense to him. You might as well believe you didn’t exist, or that everything was an invention of your imagination.

Therefore, the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat, who had plenty of time on his hands, sat in his jail cell and tried to carefully remember everything the Ghost of William Gillette had told him, so that he could play the part of witness, himself. It wasn’t easy, for much was lost in the smog of his drunkenness; but the next time he saw the Cop, he was ready. The more he worked on it, the more he convinced himself the ghost had never existed, and the whole business about ghosts was just something he once needed to believe.

“I have a confession to make.”

“It’s about time.”

“I made up the whole bit about the ghost. There wasn’t really a ghost. There never was a ghost. I’m always thinking I’m seeing a ghost when I’m drunk, but when I sober up I know there are no ghosts. So, it was me.”

“There we go, so you’re admitted you killed that girl?”

“No, no, no, no, no! I didn’t kill her! I witnessed it. I’d been sleeping in one of those caves near the castle. I got up to stretch my legs and the girl and the Leatherman were on the portico, looking out over the river. Suddenly that guy with the elbow patches comes tearing up the stairs, calling her a skank. He grabbed her and threw her down the stairs. I saw how she fell, too. She fell backwards ‘cause he pushed her backwards, and she bashed her head on the steps. I chased after him, but he was too fast. Then, since I was already running, I kept going ‘cause I didn’t want anyone to think I did it. I know, I should’ve reported it, but I don’t have a phone and I was thinking more about where to get my next drink than I was thinking about her, lying there with her head bashed in. I really need to stop drinking. I really do.”

Here, the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat began to cry, for he really did want to stop drinking. He really did.

“Why should I believe you now when you’ve just admitted you lied to me?”

“`Cause it’s the truth. The guy with the elbow patches really did kill her.”

He was talking about me, of course; yours truly, S. Harry Zade.

“I know that guy with the elbow patches,” said the Ponytailed Cop. “He’s a frigging professor. He keeps to himself and always has his nose in a book or a computer. He never talks to anyone. I bet he doesn’t even know anyone’s name.”

“It’s him, I’m telling you. It’s always the mild-mannered one no one notices. Just go talk to him.”

The Ponytailed Cop wasn’t about to waste his time on the say-so of a drunk, even if the drunk for once was sober. First, he located the Geeky Guy, having picked up a trail of credit card purchases indicating he was following the Spellbinding Fish Fry as they toured the country, hoping to run into the Lisping Barista. That was enough for the Cop to dismiss him as a suspect. He would not be looking for her if he had killed her.

We can imagine the Geeky Guy will follow the Fry on tour until he falls so far under the spell of the Spellbinding Fish Fry that he volunteers to be their sound engineer and works in a geeky way towards the peace, love, and understanding the Lisping Barista aspired to. He’ll become a Deep Fry. Without even trying, he’ll get a girlfriend who wanted to get closer to the band, and she’ll make him forget about the Lisping Barista. She’ll sleep with a musician, which is who she wanted all along, and he’ll be right back to where he was when the Lisping Barista was sleeping with the Drug Dealer. I don’t know what he’ll do then. That’s a scene for another book. Fortunately, he left the gun at home.

“Have you questioned the guy with the elbow patches?”

“What have you got against him that you want to blame him for a murder you committed?”

“Listen, why would I even go to you if I committed a murder?”

And still the Ponytailed Cop failed to question me. That’s the problem with being fictional. No one takes you seriously.

The Ponytailed Cop interrogated the High Street Witch who only wanted to know where her brother was. He told her what he knew, and she cried so much you’d think it was him who got killed. There was always something strange about those two.

“You keep questioning the wrong people,” said the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat.

“You keep forgetting, I’m the Cop here and you’re the murder suspect. I’ll question whoever I want.”

It wasn’t until the next day, the Ponytailed Cop was picking up his supplies at the Dunkin’ Donuts and I was there, bending over my laptop like I usually am. He looked right at me but thanked the clerk and went for the door.

I called after him, “What do I have to do before I exist?”

“Sir?”

“Do you know who I am?”

“Sure, you’re some kind of a big deal professor of Comparative Literature at Wesleyan University. I don’t understand your point, though.”

“My point is, you don’t know me. No one knows me. You take a quick look at me or google my name and think you know me. Do you know, for instance, that I’m really a fictional character, conceived by some writer who has nothing better to do but dream me up and put me through hell. He could’ve made me a detective who solves crimes, a swashbuckling knight, an astronaut on another planet, or a woman everyone falls in love with. But, no; he made me a person who observes and reports other peoples’ stories. Well, I want a story of my own. I want to matter. So, I took action. I enacted an exploit on my own, without waiting for the command of an author. That’s how you become real. If you’re not granted free will, you run up and take it. So, I killed her. Yes, I killed the Lisping Barista of the Epiphany Café. I, S. Harry Zade, grabbed her by the shoulders and pushed her down the stairs. Not the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat, or the Drug Dealer, or the Geeky Guy, or the Leatherman, nor even the High Street Witch, although you never suspected her. It was me. I wanted to be loved by her. She freely spread her love around to everyone but me. Well, I’m someone, now, and she’s no one. You’re going to have to arrest me. That’ll make me real. So, do it. We’re at Dunkin’ Donuts and everyone’s waiting.”

Everyone was waiting at Dunkin’ Donuts. Some were waiting for their coffee, others were waiting to be waited on. They were all waiting to see what would happen, as if they were all fictional characters, waiting on instructions from their author.

“I’ll arrest you, but I’m taking you to have your head examined. I think you’ve read too much comparative literature. So much that you think you’re fictional. You’re not. I’m looking at you now. You’re real, and this shit’s going to get real, real fast.”

Then, as a way of proving it, he put the cuffs on tight.

They hurt.

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The Ponytailed Cop interrogates more suspects

The Ponytailed Cop was halfway through his first reefer in twenty years when the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat came knocking at his patrol car window. Never mind the window was half open to let the distinctive marijuana smoke escape, he knocked anyway on the part where the glass was. The Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat didn’t seem to notice the smell, or the window rolled down, or the fact that the bloodshot Ponytailed Cop was giggling his guts out, seven donuts into a baker’s dozen. He may have been too drunk or crazy or too fired up about his mission. The Cop hadn’t noticed the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat come to the window, either. If he had, he would have been more prepared to keep up appearances. But the Ponytailed Cop didn’t need to keep up appearances, for he would never lose his job now, and if he couldn’t be well paid by the tightfisted taxpayers of Kenilworth to watch their town, at least he could be compensated for looking the other way.

The marijuana came courtesy of the town Drug Dealer, the First Selectman’s ne’er do well son and the best suspect in the murder of the Lisping Barista. The Drug Dealer was packing his suitcase when the Ponytailed Cop came to interrogate him, for the First Selectman had gotten to him first and finally convinced him to leave town. The Pony Tailed Cop didn’t have too many questions. Where were you on the night of such-and-such? The Drug Dealer had an alibi and his associates were on hand to back him up. Did you know so and so? Of course, he knew so and so, everyone knew so and so. Everyone wanted to bone so and so. The Drug Dealer was happy to say he had boned her many times before she died. The final question was, did he murder her by pushing her down the stairs from the portico of Gillette’s Castle?

“No, I didn’t murder her,” said the Drug Dealer, “and if I was going to murder her, I wouldn’t have done it that way. I would’ve shot the bitch. That’s what us bad-assed drug dealers do.”

“Oh, but you’re not a bad-assed drug dealer. You’re a pansy-assed drug dealer who depends on his Daddy to protect him,” said the Ponytailed Cop.

That got a smile from the Drug Dealer’s associates who were sitting around watching him pack. Then, seeing they were smiling, it got a smile from the Drug Dealer, himself.

“Well, now my Daddy’s paying me to move to Colorado, where I’d rather be anyway, and he’s setting me up in my own pot business. I’m going legit, just to make you happy. Are you happy, now, Mr Policeman?”

“I’d always be happy to see you go, but I’d be happier if you gave me a goodbye present before you leave. I’d be happy with a bag of Acapulco Gold, for instance. You know, for my statistics.”

That got a smile from the associates, too. The Ponytailed Cop turned to them before he left and said, “You smile, but you won’t be smiling if I bust you for taking over the business after this pansy-ass leaves. You all don’t have daddies to protect you.”

That whole exchange gave the Ponytailed Cop the giggles as he thought about it while the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat came to the window. He sounded like a real cop, not a Ponytailed Cop, on a one-man police force of a small town with no citizens, but only taxpayers, more concerned with saving money than solving crimes.

“Well, fuck ‘em,” he said through his giggles. “Acapulco Gold brings out the best in these donuts.”

That’s the moment the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat came knocking where he didn’t need to knock, to solve a crime no one wanted solved.

“I found a dude who saw her die,” said the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat. “Pushed down the stairs so she cracked her head.”

The Ponytailed Cop put on his sunglasses and gave him his best tough cop stare for the fun of it before busting out in more giggles. “Where is this dude?” he said when he composed himself. “Can I talk to him?”

In normal circumstances, the Ponytailed Cop would have been able to talk with a witness, but this was the Ghost of William Gillette, famous for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. The Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat had just left him smoking on his portico, not more than a hundred steps from where the Ponytailed Cop had parked his car. The Ponytailed Cop was not accustomed to interrogating ghosts, nor did he think he could put one on the stand. As a matter of fact, the Ponytailed Cop was not one for seeing ghosts and he was seriously skeptical that they existed. However, if he was going to interrogate a ghost, being buzzed by Acapulco Gold seemed to be the time to do it. Therefore, the Cop followed the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat to the portico, looked in the direction he pointed and listened carefully for what he was told the witness had to say. All he could hear were the rumblings of the Moodus Noises, which were in a bad mood that day.

“I don’t see anyone,” said the Cop.

“He’s sitting right there, talking to you.”

“I don’t hear him, either. Do you mean the Moodus Noises? I hear them. Do you think they’re talking to you?”

“No, I don’t mean the damn noises. I know about them. I mean that William Gillette guy. He’s sitting right there, although he’s dressed up and acting like Sherlock Holmes.”

“No shit, Sherlock. Since I can’t hear him or see him, but you can, why don’t you tell me what he’s saying.”

“He says, `Watson, I see you have brought Lestrade, that rat-faced fellow.’”

“So, I’m Lestrade, am I?”

“Yes, Sir, and he thinks I’m Watson. Now he’s saying, `So, he’s got himself into a fog over a case and he has come to me to solve it. He’s the pick of a bad lot. Quick and energetic, but conventional; shockingly so. Suppose I unravel the whole matter, you may be sure that Lestrade will pocket all the credit. That comes of my being an unofficial personage.’”

Here, the Ponytailed Cop resumed his giggles behind a tense mouth that was set to contain them. A good cop doesn’t show his reactions, even to an unofficial personage.

The Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat interrupted himself to say to the ghost, “I’m begging you to help him. I know the gal that got killed, and the one accused couldn’t have done it.”

He must have convinced Gillette, for he continued, “Now he says, `Lestrade knows I am his superior, and acknowledges it to me; but he would cut his tongue out before he would own it to any third person.’”

“Alright now, Mr Holmes, enough about me. You say you have information about this crime.”

“He says, `It would be robbing you of the credit of the case if I was to presume to help you. You are doing so well now that it would be a pity for anyone to interfere.’ But I think he’s being sarcastic.”

“If you have information about this case, I would be in your debt if you would share it with me.”

“He says, `Very well, then. I was sitting in this very spot several days ago, enjoying my pipe, as I am doing now, and an attractive young woman with many rings in her face and tattoos on her body mounted the stairs to your right, accompanied by an ugly older man, bizarrely dressed entirely in leather. They seemed friendly to one another and stood on the portico, right where you are, and looked out over the river, as many do. They did not see me. Nor did they speak, but they communicated with each other in the way people do when they have unexpectedly found another with whom they share a common purpose.

“`After about fifteen minutes, a second man came running up those same stairs. He was dressed in a tweed sports coat with patches on the elbows. He had clearly been tromping through the woods for some time and looked out of place there as if he belonged better in a college classroom than hiking through the woods and running up the stairs. He was enraged. Seizing the woman, he shoved her down the stairs. Both I and the man in leather turned to intervene, but it happened so quickly, that the man ran away before either of us could take a step in his direction.’”

“Did this man say anything to the woman before he pushed her down the stairs?”

“`He said a word I’m not familiar with. It sounded like, “Skank!”’”

The Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat explained, “That Gillette dude’s been dead for a lot of years. He wouldn’t know that word.”

“No, I guess not,” said the Cop. “Did the man with the patches on his elbows say anything else?”

“`Yes, after he pushed her, he shouted, “Who’s fictional, now!”’”

The Ponytailed Cop pulled out a notebook, wrote this all down, thought a little, and asked one more question.

“When he pushed her, what direction was she facing?”

“`She was facing the man who pushed her and fell backwards down the stairs.’”

The Ponytailed Cop had heard enough, with one smooth motion practiced exhaustively in the police academy and never used since, he put away his notebook, grabbed his handcuffs, and arrested the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat, as a suspect in the murder of the Lisping Barista.

The Ghost of William Gillette gets a part

The Therapist Emeritus was generally right when she said that the best way of getting rid of a ghost was to go looking for him; but, the Ghost of William Gillette, famous for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, was no ordinary ghost. He hadn’t had a part since 1935, when, at the age of eighty-two and still partly alive, he appeared in a radio play, as Holmes. So, when the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat came to offer him a part, he was eager to perform.

The Ghost was sitting in his Holmes dressing gown, smoking his Holmes pipe, enjoying the setting sun from his Castle’s portico. There was nothing he liked better than to sit here at dawn and at dusk with his pipe and a glass of sherry; but, having done so every morning and night since his death seventy years ago, it was getting a little routine. Even the tourists who swarmed the Castle failed to interest him, for they didn’t know he was there. To an actor, when people don’t know you’re there, they may as well not exist.

If ever there was a character who so exemplified the rational ideal of modern man, it was Sherlock Holmes; and, if ever there was an actor who defined a part, it was William Gillette as Sherlock Holmes. Gillette came up with the pipe, curved so as not to hide his face, the magnifying glass, the dressing gown, and the archetypal line, Elementary, My Dear Watson. It ought to be enough for an actor to know that he so completely influenced the work of those who came after him; but it wasn’t.

One reviewer made a crack that Gillette was perfect to play Holmes because he was unable to emote. However, Gillette had been emoting about one worry pretty well, for a dead man these seventy years. He was mindful that, as a stage actor, his work disappeared as quickly as it was produced. His only substantial legacy was the Castle, constructed in every particular for permanence, so far as there is such a thing, out of the solid rock of Connecticut. He would’ve liked it if his life had meant more. He would’ve liked to have solved an actual crime.

Therefore, when the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat addressed him and asked him for help in solving a murder that had occurred on his own grounds, he readily accepted. The man would do as his Watson. He already had his dressing gown and pipe. He swiftly went into the castle to get his magnifying glass and deerstalker hat.

“Can you tell me who murdered the girl?” said the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat.

“Not yet,” answered the Ghost of William Gillette, already into his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. “It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment.”

The area at the foot of the stairs leading down from his portico had been taped off by the police. You might have imagined Gillette, as Holmes, would’ve immediately hurried to the scene and plunged into a study of the mystery. Nothing appeared to be further from his intention. With a nonchalant air, bordering affectation, he sauntered up and down the stairs, gazing vacantly at the ground, the sky, the trees, and the railing. Having completed his scrutiny, he proceeded slowly to the bloodstained area, or rather to the grass flanking the area, his eyes riveted to the ground. Once or twice he halted, and once he smiled, and uttered an exclamation of satisfaction. There were so many footsteps in the soil, made by the police, the dogs, and curious onlookers, that you wouldn’t think he could learn anything from them; but he had such extraordinary perceptive faculties that there could be no doubt he would see a great deal hidden from an ordinary person.

He took a tape measure and a magnifying glass from his pocket. With these two implements he scurried around the scene, sometimes stopping, occasionally kneeling, and once lying flat on his stomach. He was so engrossed he appeared to have forgotten everything else. He muttered under his breath the whole time, producing sounds suggestive of encouragement and hope. He was like a well-trained hound, dashing back and forth, until it comes across the lost scent. For an hour he continued his research, measuring with care the distance between marks that were almost invisible, and applying his tape to the stairs in an equally incomprehensible manner. Once, he very carefully gathered up a small pile of soil from the scene and packed it away in an envelope. Finally, he examined with his glass the blood on the ground, going over it with minute meticulousness. This done, he appeared to be satisfied, for he put his tape and his glass in his pocket.

“Come along, Doctor,” he said. “I’ll tell you a few things which may help you in the case. There has been murder done, and the murderer was a man. He was six feet high, just past the prime of life, had size twelve shoes, and wore a tweedy sport coat, like a professor. He ran up the stairs to his victim, who was standing on the portico, with an unkempt man, dressed completely in leather. He grabbed her, threw her down the stairs, and left in a car from the parking lot. In all probability the murderer had a pale face, and his back was stooped from bending over too long at a computer. These are only a few indications, but they may assist you.”

“Well, I’ll be damned,” said the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat. “I know who that is from the coffee shop. I’m flabbergasted. How did you know?”

“Elementary, my Dear Watson. I was smoking on the portico while the murder occurred and saw the whole thing. It happened before my very eyes.”

The Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat has some thoughts

The Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat was not so far gone that he did not hear about the Saint’s arrest. He had been transported out of Kenilworth by the Ponytailed  Cop, but Kenilworth was not so large that he couldn’t walk right back. He had a good thing going by the dumpsters in the little town of Kenilworth. When one dumpster became empty, as did the one behind the Epiphany Café after it closed; there was another dumpster nearby, providing every good thing that life has to offer. Everything but vodka. That’s what the Saint was for. God provided vodka through the intercession of Kenilworth’s Resident Saint.

When the Saint failed to come by that morning, he went looking for her, asking about her to everyone her met. People hadn’t liked talking to the Weather-Beaten Man with a Cowboy Hat since he took up residence by the dumpster,  no one but the Saint, of course. Anyone who saw him coming, tended to go the other way. He couldn’t sneak up on too many because, since he took up residence by the dumpster, he had acquired a scent that warned them he was coming. The people he was able to sneak up on, by coming on them downwind, behind their backs, tended to give him money without even listening to his question, as if money was the answer to everything. Money isn’t the answer to everything; but, as it turned out, it was the answer to this problem. After he had snuck up on enough people, the Weather-Beaten Man with a Cowboy Hat had plenty of money to buy his own bottle of vodka. It was from the man at the liquor store that he learned that Kenilworth’s Resident Saint, the liquor store’s most regular customer, was in jail for the death of the Lisping Barista.

His first thought was, how will I get another bottle? Please don’t judge him too harshly on this. For, while he did not have too many needs at this point, this one concern was not negotiable. When it comes down to it, we can all do without a lot of the things we have grown accustomed to; but, for an alcoholic, alcohol is not one of them. He’d rather do without a dinner than the beverage that accompanied it. He’d rather fail to wake up the next morning than do without a buzz that made it endurable. You mustn’t think that drinking was an indulgent thing that made him feel good. It was an obligatory thing that kept him from feeling anything at all.

He had a second thought, once it occurred to him that, if he could scrounge up enough money for a bottle today, he could do so tomorrow. The second thought was, it was a damn shame that such a fine specimen of woman-kind as the Lisping Barista was dead. He liked the Lisping Barista. If it wasn’t for those pesky ghosts, he would have fucked her. He’d been hoping he might get a chance to fuck her again, sometime when he could be sure the ghosts had gone away. Indeed, many times, when he was whiling away the long hours of the night in an alcoholic haze, by his dumpster, he imagined fucking her again. He won’t be able to do that anymore because imagining fucking a dead person is perverted. No, he would never be able to fuck her again, in or out of his imagination. That was a damn shame.

His third thought was on the absurdity that the Saint was accused of murder. He couldn’t conceive of why she would ever want to murder the Lisping Barista, or why anyone would accuse her. But, if he has his secrets, so would she. Just as no one would have known he was a killer of dogs, and a second-hand killer of a person; no one would have expected this about her.

Normally, three thoughts were enough for one day, but they kept coming. Before he was halfway through the bottle, he had a plan to get the Saint released. He would solve the crime of the Lisping Barista’s murder and earn the everlasting gratitude of someone given to giving him vodka.

The only problem was, he didn’t know who killed her, and he was already halfway through the bottle.

Not to worry, said a subsequent thought, you know a famous solver of crimes, a man so intelligent, so perceptive, with such abilities of induction and deduction that no crime was safe from his scrutiny.

Who is this remarkable person? He asked the thought. Is this Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, or Sam Spade?

No, said the thought. You can keep your Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, and Sam Spade. You don’t even need a Columbo, a Charlie Chan, or an Inspector Clouseau. You already know the granddaddy of all detectives, or at least someone who played him on stage. He is none other than William Gillette, the actor, famous for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes; or, at least, he’s his ghost.

This would not be a good enough plan for a sober person; but, the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat was not a sober person. He was a drunk person; and, to a person who is drunk, any idea, even one voiced by a sketchy subsequent thought, was a good idea. Or, at least one that seemed so at the time.

The First Selectman comes undone

Had the Ponytailed  Cop been able to continue his interrogation of the Saint, he might have gotten to the truth. We’ll never know, for the Town’s First Selectman came to the police station and wanted to see him immediately. He was the boss and, being the single uniformed officer of the Kenilworth Police force, the Ponytailed  Cop had to talk to everyone.

“I hear you have a suspect in custody for the murder of that girl,” said the First Selectman. He was the kind of man you might select in the morning but have second thoughts by early afternoon. He made an effort to be well dressed when he left the house but became undone as the day progressed. It was just after lunch, so his jacket was off, his hair mussed, his tie loose, and a shirt-tail out.

“Yes, sir. I was just interrogating her. I found her moving the body.”

“What do you need to interrogate her for? It looks like an open and shut case.”

“I know this woman, Sir. She could not have committed this crime.”

“I know her, too. It’s true she does a lot of good things no one asks her to do; but, in my experience, people who do that are compensating for something. In this case, she’s got half the town up in arms over some sacrilegious shit she pulled in her landlady’s house. Has she got a lawyer?”

“She hasn’t asked for one. She hasn’t said a word, in fact. She won’t answer my questions.”

“Sounds pretty guilty.”

“Just the same, Sir. I’d like to be sure.”

“Just remember, while you’re in here interrogating this suspect, no one is out policing my town. There are cars parked illegally, people are jay-walking, and running lights with impunity.”

“Those are misdemeanors, Sir. We may have a murderer on the loose.”

“Haven’t you heard of the broken window theory? Prosecute the minor crimes and the major ones will take care of themselves.”

“That’s not what the broken window theory really says. It means you…”

“Who else do you think murdered that girl?”

The Ponytailed  Cop would have much rather explained the broken window theory than say he most suspected the First Selectman’s only son, the ne’er-do-well we know as the Drug Dealer. Ever since he got the job, the Ponytailed  Cop has had to look the other way with this kid. He always knew it would end like this, with the Selectman’s son doing something completely stupid, the Selectman stupidly covering for him, and the Ponytailed  Cop on the unemployment line, collateral damage.

“I can’t comment on an ongoing police investigation.”

An uncomfortable silence followed during which the Selectman begin fussing with his belt buckle. At first, the Ponytailed  Cop wondered whether he was pulling out his belt to whip him or taking off his pants to screw him up the ass; but no, the Selectman was only loosening his waist. He had a big lunch.

“You know,” the Selectman said, taking a deep breath. “There’s that homeless drunk sleeping behind the Epiphany Café. He’s mentally unstable and dated the girl. Lord knows what kind of crazy thoughts that guy has going through his head.”

“Yes, Sir. I thought of him.”

“And the new owner of the Epiphany Café. He seems pretty law-abiding; but he dated her, too; and the very night she was killed, he turned up missing. His sister’s been all over town, looking for him.”

“I didn’t know that, Sir.”

“Well, if you got out, started writing traffic tickets, and heard what people were saying, you not only would be helping us balance our budget, you’d know what’s going on.”

It was true, the Ponytailed  Cop liked to eat donuts out in the woods where no one could bother him, and he hadn’t written a traffic ticket all week. He didn’t know a lot of things. He didn’t know, for instance, that the Geeky Guy’s sister, the High Street Witch, could also be a suspect. She was jealous of the Geeky Guy and the Lisping Barista and could have murdered them both. I knew that and, thanks you me, Dear Reader, you know that, too; but, the Ponytailed  Cop didn’t know that. If he had, at least, been reading this story while he ate his donuts, he would be as well informed as you are, Dear Reader, and you’ve never set foot in Kenilworth.

“Then, there’s that vagrant who keeps coming around. The Frenchman, you know…”

“The Leatherman.”

“That’s right. There’s a fellow who’s not right in the head.”

And there’s your son, thought the Ponytailed  Cop, the town’s biggest drug dealer, a violent prick who you’ve been protecting all his life.

“Half the town had a hard-on for that girl,” continued the Selectman. “I might have wanted to tap that, too. She was a bit of a skank. It could’ve been anyone.”

“That’s what I’ve been saying, Sir. It could’ve been a lot of people. That’s why I should continue investigating.”

“You caught a person trying to dispose of the body. You don’t need to look any further.”

“Just the same, Sir. I think I will.”

“Well, I wouldn’t if I were you. I just wouldn’t.”

With that last ambiguous line ominously delivered, the First Selectman got up and left the police station, having warned the Ponytailed  Cop off his son. The effect might have been mitigated, though, had the Ponytailed  Cop noticed the Selectman’s shoe lace had come undone.

The Saint in Jail

Kenilworth’s resident Saint, now a prisoner in Kenilworth’s jail, was, and always has been, guilty.

She may have not been guilty of the crime for which she was held, the murder of the Lisping Barista and the dismemberment and attempted disposal of her body; but, she was guilty, nonetheless. Guilty for what she had done and left undone. Slow to learn and prone to forget. Oblivious to harm and unconscious of hate.

“Oh, my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee…” she cried into the linoleum as she stretched prostrate on the dirty floor.

There was, of course, humankind’s original sin she inherited from her forebears, Adam and Eve, often spoken of by theologians, of which we have no need to elucidate here. Guilt was baked in her bones, branded on her skin, woven into her DNA.

“… I detest myself…”

Then there were the innumerable small, secret sins: the white lies, the black thoughts, the specious excuses, the embezzlement of paper clips, taking an extra minute on her breaks, the passing of silent farts. She coveted what she saw in ads. She told her mother she was too busy to talk. She liked to look in windows and see how people lived, disposed her gum in a neighbor’s garbage can, voted for someone who flattered her, and crossed against the light. There were the many sins of gluttony: cranking the heat before putting on a sweater, eating food she did not need, and giving the toilet an extra flush. Worse, was when she masturbated to the image of a movie star, and a married one at that. He even came to her dreams, and then she came. She was so practiced in sin, she committed them in her sleep.

“… in choosing to do wrong and failing to do good…”

More numerous were the sins of omission: the truths she never told, the empty stomachs she never fed, the empty hands she never filled. There were dogs who just wanted a pat and cats who wanted to be left alone. She walked by people and never said hi and threw out letters from charities without reading them. She only fed the Leatherman when he came to Kenilworth and a single meal, at that. She might have been able to buy strangers more than one cup of coffee a day. She bought the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat a single, daily bottle of vodka, when he might have needed two. She threw out that empty can of tomato paste, instead of washing it and putting it to recycle.

“… I have sinned against You, whom I should love above all…

But, the most exasperating were the corporate sins. The sins of her race and the iniquities of her country: despoiling the earth, enslaving Africans, robbing the Indians blind, and calling them Indians when they were not from India. There was colonial exploitation, aid to dictators, sanctions burdening innocents, tariffs disrupting trade. She profited from injustice. There was a racist immigration policy and unjust housing codes. There was a vast gulag of prisons. And there were wars, wars, and more wars. Endless wars with no good objective. Brutal wars that destroyed everything. Body counts, war crimes, collateral damage. The nightmare of Nagasaki and the horror of Abu Ghraib. She was simultaneously contrary and complicit; her involvement documented in the Constitution and renewed every election day.

“… I firmly intend…”

She couldn’t even feel guilty about her sins without taking pride in the detailed, systematic, and exhaustive guilt she felt. She was arrogant about being meek, smug in her humility. Her generosity was self-serving, her kindness, pompous and her abasement, egotistical. There was no way to make right what was wrong, no way to move forward, no way to settle the matter.

And then she felt guilty for not trusting the mercy of God.

“… to do penance…”

But, there was no way out of this. She would go on committing these sins: if not the small, secret ones, then definitely the sins of omission and the corporate ones. She didn’t know how to avoid the sins of pride; they would scab over any penance she could try to do.

“… and amend my life…”

On the second syllable of the word amend, she banged her head on the floor. She repeated, “… and a (bang) my life… and a (bang) my life… and a (bang) my life… and a (bang) my life…”

The Ponytailed Cop rushed to her cell, fumbling with his keys. He pulled her up to sit and wrapped his arms around her. Her head bled on his shoulder.

His care was superfluous. She was undeserving. Even the size of the cell was bigger than needed. It should’ve been the size of a coffin. They needn’t have lit it. Those bits of coal, gallons of hydroelectric power, or uranium atoms were wasted on her. The power grid should have kept its electrons. She did not deserve a lung full of oxygen.

“Please don’t hurt yourself,” said the Ponytailed Cop. “Look, I don’t think you did this. You’re incapable of killing someone. I’m going to find out who really did it. Please talk to me. Tell me what you found when you discovered the body.”

Why did he not know she had already murdered thousands? Even at her conception, her one triumphant spermatozoon succeeded as the expense, and even the extinction, of all the others. They had as much right to live as she.

“What time was it when you got there?”

She fed herself on the flesh of others. A pig, a chicken, a shrimp, even a carrot or a beet, or a grain of wheat had as much right to live as she. She insensibly stepped on ants, slaughtered microbes with every breath, and committed genocide on bacteria just to combat an infection. They had as much right to live as she.

“What did you see when you got there?”

Many people died in her place. She could’ve easily been where they were or done what they did. Soldiers were slaughtered for her safety. Workers killed, so she could have buildings to inhabit, roads to travel, and bridges to cross. Planes fell from the sky, missed her, and hit someone else. Cars crashed a minute after she passed an intersection. Dozens perished to show physicians how to cure diseases that they could cure for her. Simply to exist meant to survive in place of others. The Saint had survivor’s guilt the moment she was born. She stood accused.

He led her out of the cell and opened his desk drawer to get a bandage. His gun was resting in the drawer. She saw it. She was within reach of it. She pictured herself grabbing it, putting the muzzle to her head, and pulling the trigger. It would all be over then. The guilt would be propitiated. But a new guilt would arise. The shame of suicide. The disavowal of grace. Just the thought of suicide was another sin.

He knew what she was thinking and shut the drawer. “Don’t do that. I need you to solve this crime. Please, tell me everything you saw.”

The Saint knew crime has no solution; but, sin does. She would take up the cross; her own, shitty cross. She would not lie, for that would add to her offenses; but, she would accept the punishment of another and free another anonymous person of his crime.

Throughout the interrogation, Kenilworth’s Saint never said a single word, although her lips moved constantly. The Ponytailed Cop was not a lip reader. Had he been, he would have known what she was saying.

“… your will be done.”

 

The Saint gets arrested

It shouldn’t be too hard for you to believe, Dear Reader, that news travels fast in a small town. Therefore, you wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the manner and timing of the death of the Lisping Barista was discussed over coffee at the town’s Dunkin’ Donuts in extreme, lurid detail just a few hours after it occurred. However, it would interest you to learn that the town’s resident Saint had been arrested for the crime and was currently sitting in the town jail, the Ponytailed Cop’s only suspect. How did the finest, most loving, generous, and altogether most holy person for miles around get implicated in such a heinous crime?

The Saint had been up early that morning, bringing a chicken salad sandwich to the Leatherman, whom she learned had been transported out of Kenilworth to his cave at Gillette’s Castle. The Leatherman, she would have found, was no longer there. She left the sandwich anyway and returned to the parking lot the long way, so she could enjoy the view of the river from the Castle’s portico. There, at the foot of the stairs, she found the dismembered body of the Lisping Barista.

Had a pack of dogs, belonging to the Crazy Dog Lady, not been breakfasting on the body, the Saint would have done what anyone would have done: she would have run up the stairs to the Castle, which was just opening, to report the crime. However, the Saint decided it was best to first protect the body from further mauling of the dogs by dragging it back to the Leatherman’s cave and rolling a boulder in front of the entrance to keep them away. Even though she was a slender woman, with no great strength, and a saint, without the slightest bit of aggressiveness, she began to wrestle the body away from the dogs out of a tender deference for the dead.

This task, as simple, but grisly, as it sounds, was not easy; for the dogs were as intent on keeping the body as she was intent on taking it from them. By this time, they had gnawed through the joints and divided the Lisping Barista into six pieces, one for each dog. She began by pulling the arms away from the Labs, who regarded it as a game, seizing the arms with their teeth, growling, and dragging their feet as if they were playing tug-of-war. One by one, she dragged each Lab to the cave, where she twisted the arm away, and quickly rolled a boulder over it. She repeated this with one of the legs, which the Setter had behind a bush. The second leg was possessed by the St Bernard. Because the huge dog weighed more than the thin Saint, she saved that leg for last, having a plan to use the Leatherman’s sandwich to lure him away.

The Dachshund had been allotted the head and was chewing on the Lisping Barista’s face when the Saint found it. She was able to grab the head by the ears and get it away from the Dachshund who hung on to the nose for all he was worth until the cartilage gave way. Then the Dachshund began to complain and got all the others barking, all except the Beagle who had his mouth full of liver. All of this barking alerted the staff who were preparing to open the Castle and an early family of tourists, who had brought their kids out on the portico to see what was the fuss.

The mother of the tourist family held her hands over her kids’ eyes and stood spellbound as she watched the Saint carry the head into the woods and return to drag the body. The kids squirmed free, figuring that anything their mother didn’t want them to see, had to be pretty interesting. Her husband ran out into the parking lot where he remembered a cop’s car had been parked. Inside was none other than the Ponytailed Cop who was enjoying his morning donuts in a place where the taxpayers of Kenilworth would not expect to find him. The Cop tried to claim that he had no jurisdiction there and offered to radio the state police, but the husband kept on talking about murder and his kids and something about a severed head. At last, more out of curiosity than duty, the Ponytailed Cop took one last bite of his donut, emerged from his car, and went over to see what the man was talking about. There he caught Kenilworth’s Saint dragging a body into the woods, looking so guilty that he had no choice but to arrest her.

If you were there at Dunkin’ Donuts, Dear Reader, to overhear the good people of Kenilworth describe the arrest of their resident Saint, the other thing you would have been curious about was why no one came to her defense. She was roundly recognized as being a saint throughout the town. No one, by that point, had escaped her generosity. They were mostly in awe of her. Indeed, when the news first broke, no one could believe it; but then the Saint’s landlady came in and told us the rest of the story.

As soon as she found out the Saint had been arrested, the Landlady broke into her room to look for clues. She was half afraid she would find other dead bodies in the room. A proper old lady, she did not think it would be suitable to harbor a serial killer. The other half of her was afraid she would not find bodies and be deprived of a good story. As it turned out, she did not find any bodies, but she did find something so horrifying, so inexplicable, so perplexing, so radical, dangerous, and appalling that she still had a good story and went right to Dunkin’ Donuts to tell it.

Apparently, the Saint, who had gotten up very early that morning to bring the Leatherman his sandwich, planned on returning in time to clean up the crucifix on her dresser smeared by dog shit. You will remember that this was a peculiar religious practice of hers. She did not intend any disrespect by it. On the contrary, by smearing the crucifix with dog shit, she meant to acknowledge the tremendous sacrifice that dying on the cross involved, recapturing the original meaning of the cross. You’ll also remember that she cleaned it up every morning, so as not to offend her landlady’s sensibilities. As it happened, she didn’t do that this morning. First, she was in a hurry to bring the Leatherman his sandwich; and then, she was helplessly in handcuffs in the back of the Ponytailed Cop’s car. So, the very thing the Saint most feared about her religious devotion came about: it was revealed to everyone and no one understood.

“There was always something strange about that girl,” one said.

“She should have had her head examined years ago, while the Therapist Emeritus was still around to do it,” said another.

“It’s never a good thing to take religion too seriously. You’re bound to lose touch with the real world,” we all agreed.

And, indeed, the Saint seemed to have lost her mind; for when she was questioned about her role in the crime, she refused to utter a word in her own defense. It was not enough for her to be a saint, she was determined to be a martyr.