“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?”
“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.