By W. Jack Savage
thing about a story is that once it becomes folklore, nobody questions it any more. When it started out as just a story ya
may have asked questions, or at least wondered out loud if all of it was true, but after a while, it became folklore, ya know?”
there in his prison jumpsuit and held forth: legs crossed, Lucky Strike half smoked between his yellowing fingers and with
each gesture, lost more ashes on the floor than would wind up in the ashtray. Across from him, Special Agent Rumsey of the
FBI: dressed in a suit and tie, a perpetual scowl for a face and a general ambiance that seemed to Harry as though his ass
might actually be sewn shut.
“Stories are the way people kept their history before there was writing.
But, ah, ya gotta understand; stories were entertainment too, and lessons for life. So maybe a thing happened but it didn’t
happen quite that way. It’s the same today; the one about the guy who called in sick. Everybody’s heard that one.
The guy calls in sick and his boss drives by his house and sees him mowing his lawn…Baboom! The guy gets fired. The
lesson? Call in sick only when you’re sick. Did it really happen? Maybe. Did it happen like that? No, they had it in
for him and were waiting for an excuse to catch him doing something they could fire him for. But who really knows? Ya gotta
understand these things or ya miss the point. Jesus told stories; parables they’re called. ‘There was a guy and
he did this and that, but the other guy did those things too but remembered to do this other thing…so he was okay’.
As we speak, there's religious nuts arguing over whether there really was a 'guy', or not. They miss the whole point. Or sometimes,
the story is not the deal at all. You seen The FBI; that show on TV? I’ll
bet you started thinkin' about bein' a Fed when ya watched that show as a kid. But here’s somethin' ya might not know.
The FBI was the first show with only one sponsor; Ford. Ya go back and watch the
show and it’s a Ford world; everybody drives a Ford. Even the parked cars are Fords; no Chevys anywhere, just Fords.
So, you’re watchin' the story, but the real story is in the background. It was a good show and it was on for quite a
few years. But it stayed on because Ford was sellin' cars. So ya come up here because ya want somethin' from me. Fine. But
what you want is three pages in the middle of the book. It don’t work that way.”
“We’re looking for a William Parkinson,” Special
Agent Rumsey said.
“Like I said, good luck with that,” said Harry.
“We understand he may have used another name in the past;
William Broom or Bill Broom. In exchange for your cooperation in this matter, we agree to be represented on your behalf at
your next parole hearing.”
“What does that mean? You gonna come and watch them say no…again?
They waited almost all my life to get me in here and now they’re never gonna let me out. Besides, there’s nothin'
for me out there anymore. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if they did. You seen The Shawshank Redemption? What am I gonna do, put groceries in bags
for little old ladies? Fuck that. But I’ll tell ya about Billy. If I was you though, I’d make sure I was well
insured before ya go after him.”
“We understand that he may have been involved in the disappearance
of an Alfred Anitou and his son Jeffery five years ago. What can you tell us about that?”
“To know what happened with that, ya gotta know the whole
deal. That’s what I been sayin'. What happened was this. Arnie Pasteur needed this guy to go away, if you get my meaning;
to kill him, ya know? But it was a little complicated, because as a snitch, which the guy was, you could kill 'em and it was
no problem. But as a potential government witness, it became federal. Now the issue, ya know, the reason for killin' the guy,
had nothing to do with the government deal, but Arnie felt he needed to kill 'em anyway. That’s where Broom came in.
Billy Broom did a little juvenile time back in the day and he goes up with Arnie’s nephew. They didn’t know each
other, but being it was their first time inside, they kinda made some kind of pact, ya know? 'You watch my back, I’ll
watch yours', kind of a thing. Well, right away the nephew, I can’t remember his name; Terry, no, Gary, starts having
this problem. Billy makes the problem go away and anyway, over time they get out and the nephew brings Billy around and Arnie
gives 'em a job and he does okay. But what his crew never realized was that Arnie was a negotiator. If the cops were wise to somethin' Arnie was up to, and he found out about it, he’d make a deal,”
Harry said putting out his cigarette in the ashtray. As he moved the butt around he smiled and shook his head.
“Arnie was real piece a work, that guy. He’d say somethin'
like; you let my deal go through and I’ll give ya a robbery and the four guys who are gonna pull it and when and where;
or maybe a warehouse someplace or somethin'. Now it was, ya know, competitors for the most part, but not always. He’d
sell out anybody who worked for him too, just to make a problem go away. His crew never knew. They might have suspected something,
but nobody ever said anything. So anyway, that’s how Billy Broom got put on the spot. Arnie made some deal to kill this
government mope, but the feds wanted the trigger-man; no questions asked, in exchange. So Arnie sets up Billy to be the fall
guy. They off this snitch in the parking lot of some strip mall where he buys cigarettes, and pass off the gun to Billy, whose
job it is to get rid of it. But before he can, the cops grab him and he’s got the gun and as far as they're concerned,
they got their guy. That’s the way it was supposed to go down anyway. But Billy went away in the first place working
with lifters; pickpockets, ya know? One would make the lift and pass it off and then to another and before ya know it, three
or four people handled the wallet. Nobody knows if Billy somehow got wise, or if he just was careful like that or what, but
the cops landed on Billy within thirty seconds of the dropoff, and it’s like the kid swallowed the gun; it’s nowhere
to be found. They search everywhere and trim the shit out of Billy, and still no gun. So while the cops are tryin' to figure
a way to put him in the frame anyway, Billy notices nobody is bailing him out, and there’s no lawyer, and right away
he knows he’s been set up. After a few days they let 'em go, but now Arnie’s on the spot with the cops and the
feds. He tells him he’ll get the gun and they’ll go from there. But Billy never shows up back at Arnie’s
and that night, well, ya know what happened? Arnie goes home, eats his supper, goes out on the porch to read the evening paper,
and when he’s done with that he blows his brains out with, guess what? It’s the gun the cops are lookin' for.
Nobody ever saw Billy after he got released that day and as far I know, nobody ever went lookin' either. The cops had their
gun and their man, and Arnie’s operations got split up among the crew and others, and life went on. Had Billy stuck
around, someone would've killed him because ya can’t kill a boss like that, and everyone knows Arnie’d kill his
own mother before he’d off himself. But here’s the other thing. Arnie wasn’t stupid. He screwed everybody
and so he made sure nobody came back to try to screw him. He owned this four-plex and he and his mother lived upstairs. The
bodyguards lived across the hall and the door was always open. Nobody, and I mean nobody, got past those guys. But Billy did;
he got in, offed Arnie, got out and was never seen again.”
Harry reached for another Lucky and lit it with some book matches.
He took his left leg off his right and put that leg over his left.
“So now, years go by, and over time the whole deal
changes. Guys die, guys go away, guys get moved out and new guys take over; you know how it goes. Now, back in the day Arnie had this cop for a bagman, Al Anitou; Tooey he was called. Guys at the precinct
used to say, like Lawrence Welk, ya know, ‘a one anna two’ like on TV. Pretty soon, it’s Tooey. Actually
he was more of a go-between and because he was, he knew the whole deal about Billy and how it all shoulda gone down. But when
Arnie died, well, he wasn't much of a cop and it wasn't long before he was being encouraged to find something else to do.
So Tooey stayed in the civil service but moved over to the post office. Like I said, quite a few years pass and one weekend
he's out fishing with one of his boys and there's some high roller pontoon deal out on the lake and him and his boy float by and he sees Billy; tossin' back margaritas with the high
rollers. Nobody really cares any more but Tooey starts
thinkin' about how easy his life was before he started humpin' mail for a livin' and before ya know it, starts figurin' there’s
maybe a few bucks to be made rattin' Billy out to anyone who might still care. So, when they get in from the lake, he asks
about the pontoon party and who they were and all that, and nobody knows nuthin'. But now Tooey, who was only up to the lake
for the day, gets a cabin, and decides to hang around for another day and he makes a phone call. 'I think I just saw Billy Broom', he says. The next thing ya know, Tooey and his boy decided to do some
midnight fishing and wind up at the bottom of the lake. I mean, it coulda happened that way, but nobody thought it did.”
“We understand the bodies were never found,” said Special
Agent Rumsey. “They dragged the lake. Is it possible they were killed and the bodies taken somewhere else?”
“Anything is possible. But if you ask me, they didn’t
look deep enough. I’ve seen that dragging bullshit. If they didn’t want them found, you won’t find them.”
“How do you think Parkinson or Broom found out what Anitou
might be up to?” asked Rumsey.
Harry made an 'I don’t know' gesture and said, “He
could have recognized him. How do ya know anybody’s a cop? They think they’re invisible. They stare right at you;
like you can’t see them staring. They got that bulletproof…ambiance, and they don’t lose it after they change
jobs, either. Here’s a hard and fast rule for ya, pal; the worse the cop, the bigger he acts. And your bagman is even
worse. Nobody and I mean nobody, in law enforcement, wants to count on a bagman following him through a door, period. So ya
take a second or third tier guy, who somehow got through the police academy or maybe a mascot type guy; funny but not good
for much else. Ya make 'em a bagman and because he’s on the inside a little, he feels important; useful. But nobody
picked him because he’s the man of the year and most of 'em know it. But since nobody on the outside knows it, they
puff up a little, assume the position of authority a little quicker than some of the others. I figure he goes up to the boat
rental place; now you think about this; how stupid this is, he’s in a rowboat and he’s askin' about guys on a
pontoon deal. Now you tell me; of those two parties, who’s more likely to tip the guy a fifty or a hundred to tell 'em
if anybody comes nosin' around? That’s what I mean; not the brightest or the best. But that deal don’t end there.”
“What do you mean?”
“You kill a cop, even an ex-cop, is not good,” Harry
said. “But like anything else, it happens. But you kill an ex-cop and his
son, that’s really not good; families, you know? So the question comes up; who’d kill Tooey and his boy? The guy’s
a mailman, for Christ’s sake. So bein' a former cop and bagman, ya figure he saw something or somebody he shouldn’t
have. So speculation goes back to when Tooey was on the job, and it wasn’t long before Tooey bein' Arnie’s bagman
comes up, and how that ended. It ended when somebody killed Arnie and for all the years, everybody knows who the last guy
Arnie tried to fuck over was, and he was never seen again. Add to that the last thing that happened to Billy Broom was a beating
at the hands of the very cops lookin' into all this. So they get on to the local police up there at the lake and they don’t
know nuthin' but the way they sound like they don’t know nuthin' tells 'em they know plenty. Now three of these four
cops lookin' into this are still driving squad cars and the fourth is Kenny Jackman. Kenny made detective and worked out of
robbery homicide and he thinks they should all go fishin' up at the lake and rent a pontoon thing and all that. Some of the
others aren’t so sure that’s a good idea, but Kenny says it’ll be okay and that he’ll set it up. That
was the last time anyone saw Kenny. His last wife moved out the year before and he’d been livin' in his house alone,
so no one paid much attention. But when he starts missing work, they go over there and it's no car and no Kenny. Naturally,
Internal Affairs asks around if anyone knows what he might have been up to, and the other three know but decide to let it
all go. It was a good decision too 'cause as far as I know, that’s the last of that deal up there.”
Harry suddenly looked at Special Agent Rumsey and smiled.
“But that’s not why we’re talking today, is it?
You want to know what Billy’s up to these days. I’m afraid I don’t know.
But I heard an interesting story a while ago. Gee, must have been fifteen months ago, there’s a DEA witness and
it’s like Arnie all over again. They got this guy in a motel, except nobody’s in the motel but this guy and a
whole lotta DEA guys; with one of 'em staying with the guy in the room. Somewhere in the night, his replacement comes to the
door and they switch; everything’s fine. Except an hour later, the replacement’s asleep and the pigeon's hanging
from the shower fixture in the bathroom. Now remember, DEA guys awake and everywhere. But then, you know about all that, don’t
“How do you know about this?”
“There’s one or two guys in here on drug-related crimes.
You might take a look.”
“So, for the record, you’re saying this Billy Broom
is William Parkinson and is doing contract hits for organized crime?”
“No, I never said that. You said that. I told you what happened
to Arnie, Tooey and his boy and Kenny Jackman. They went away, is all I said. They could be playing cards somewhere for all
I know, but I’m bettin' that, between hands, they’re playin' a fuckin' harp in the clouds somewhere.”
“You said Anitou made a call from the lake. Do you know who
“Sure I do.”
“Will you tell us?” asked Rumsey.
“Ya know that movie, that Jeremiah Johnson?”
“That was based on a real guy. Actually he came down from
the mountains and became a lawman in Wyoming territory some years later. Only, in the movie, he just killed those Indians
that came after him, one at a time. In real life they said he cut out their liver and ate it. That’s how he got his
nickname, 'liver-eating Johnson'. They used to scare kids who wouldn’t settle down and go to sleep, by saying, 'liver-eating
Johnson will come and get you'.”
Harry smiled and put out his cigarette.
“Nobody really knows what Billy’s up to these days
but he’s kinda becoming a spook story like that. And since he can, like, walk through walls or somethin' without being
seen, ya figure the less ya say the better, about William Parkinson.”
“Anitou called you, didn’t he?”
“That’s all I’m gonna say. You can stay home
for my parole board hearing 'cause I’m better off in here.”
“Well, we were thinking of maybe getting you out of here
a little early,” said Special Agent Rumsey standing up. “And letting it be known that we’re building a case
against your Billy Broom, AKA William Parkinson.”
“I won’t do it.”
“Sure you will,” he said, with a smile. “Or we’ll
let some other information you provided us with be known to the general population of this prison.”
“Either way I’m dead,” said Harry, shaking his
head. “I might as well take my chances here.”
“Yes, well, as of right now, you’re a material witness
in the murder of a protected government informant. In fact, you won’t be going back to your cell at all, so if there’s
anything you need from there, it’ll be waiting for you when you get back.”
Special Agent Rumsey and his team made a show of parading Harry
through the lobby of a fine hotel in Minneapolis and up to the fourth floor, where the FBI occupied two rooms and a suite.
Harry was escorted down one floor and dressed in a maintenance worker’s overalls. He was then taken down the service
elevator with two FBI Special Agents dressed the same way. At the loading dock below street level Harry and the agents got
in the back of a van and drove out of the hotel and into traffic, less than ten minutes after entering.
“Where am I going now?” Harry asked.
The agents didn’t answer.
“They got room service there?”
One smirked and said, “No, but they got a swell vending machine
in the lobby; whatever ya need.”
“How about some drinks? I’ve been away for quite a
while. A coupla highballs might be nice.”
Just then the van slowed and honked twice.
“No,” said the other. “Career criminals don’t
get any highballs, Harry: just coffee and the vending machine.”
“Just out of curiosity, did Rumsey tell ya to be a couple
of pricks to me or does it come natural?”
“Shut up, Harry,” said the first one. “Your usefulness
is now at an end. Tomorrow you’re back in the joint, so don’t push it.”
“Or what? Ya gonna beat the shit out of me? Ya know I’m
a part of something in prison. There’s a million of us in the joint right now. There’ll be two million pretty
soon, in prisons meant to hold a fourth of that. Everybody wants us gone, but nobody wants to pay to keep us off the streets,
so ya know what’s gonna happen? Ten, maybe twenty thousand guys, are gonna break out at once and kill those cheap, conservative
cocksuckers with their own guns. I’d kinda like to be around when that happens. On that day, the years won’t seem
so long. FBI huh…the brightest and the best. Did ya, ah, hear the driver honk twice back there? Did ya hear that?”
“Here we go,” said one.
“Yeah, we heard about your stories, Harry. So just shut up
until we get to the motel.”
“Well, you’re probably right, but I believe in giving
everyone a... a last chance; a last chance to be nice to an old man. Why don’t you get the driver to stop at the liquor
store and get me a jug and some canned beer?”
They shook their heads and smiled. The van turned left and drove
up what felt like a driveway. A moment later it stopped. The door was locked from the outside and as they listened for the
key to open it, Harry smiled and said, “Well, so long, boys. This is where I get off.”
The key opened the back door of the van, and two men with shotguns
“Put your fucking hands up, motherfuckers.”
Harry got up and walked past the two men and was helped down by
one of the shooters.
“Thanks,” he said. He turned back and said, “It’s
out of my hands now, boys. Just remember you had a chance to be nice.”
Harry walked away and the door of a car parked just off the driveway
opened. A man of around thirty got out, took off his sunglasses and smiled. Harry smiled and the two embraced when they got
“It’s great to see ya, Uncle Harry.”
“A sight for sore eyes yourself, Billy. How did it go on
“Real soft. Just like you said. How’d ya do it?”
“I told 'em a story. Nothing like a good story to make the
feds feel like they’re on TV. Can we have a drink before we go?”
“We sure can, Uncle Harry. God, it’s good to see you.
I got your favorite.”
As they crossed the driveway heading for the house, the two shooters
had the two Special Agents on the ground with their hands on their heads.
“How about these two, Harry? They treat you okay?”
Harry sighed and looked at his nephew and said, “It’s
not in their nature, Bill. But I been treated worse. Get their clothes off and drop 'em out in the woods somewhere. Make sure
you get rid of the clothes separately.”
Harry walked over to the two and said, “So long, boys. They
got a swell vending machine out there in the woods; everything ya need.”
|Art by W. Jack Savage © 2013
That Window Upstairs
W. Jack Savage
the outer office, Doctor Nordmeyer shook hands with Charles Van Owen. The doctor was a little shorter
than Charles who stood over six feet but to all the world, the pair looked like the young, thirty-something
professionals they were.
“I hadn’t realized David’s concern, I guess,” said
Charles, “and so I must say while I wasn’t sure this was necessary, speaking with a
mental health professional I mean, his gesture recommending you and then giving up his time
this week so I could come here, was rather touching, I thought. I also want to thank you for seeing
me under these circumstances, in his place, I mean.”
“Not at all, Mr. Van Owen,” the doctor said as he gestured with
his hand for Charles to enter his main office. As he did, Charles took a few steps in, then turned
and waited for the doctor who then passed him and pointed again toward one of two chairs separated
by a small table.
sit down,” he said
doctor moved to his desk and as he did, vaguely thought he felt something on the back of his leg
but picked up the yellow pad on his desk and joined Charles in the opposite chair.
“May I call you Charles?”
please do.”, said Charles, who checked the time on his watch and then clasped his hands together.
“When I talked with David,
he mentioned that this fixation you said that you developed began with thoughts of your son?”
“Yes. This time that I speak
of, I wasn’t going to see my son Bill that Christmas, and so I arranged to come back the first
week of December. I suppose if he wasn’t always so glad to see me, I wouldn’t feel as
bad or at least as bad as I used to. But we liked each other. I made him laugh and he made me laugh
and as I told David, I knew even then that I’d never love anybody or anything that
unconditionally. That’s kind of a blessing and a curse. It is in my business anyway.”
“What is that business exactly?
David said you’d rather not get into that, but can you tell me at least in a general sense
what the job entails?”
“I deal in a sort of, ‘after-crisis-management.’ An arbitrator
gets two parties together, sometimes more than two and anyway, once the situation is resolved I
see that the agreements on what should happen are kept. But it’s the sort of thing that doesn’t
lend itself to sentimentality of any kind, and then add to that the loving and giving nature of
the holidays, this year, for whatever reason I began feeling like, like Scrooge I suppose. Imagine
foreclosing on someone’s home on Christmas for example.”
“I see. So into this mix comes this visit with your son?”
“No. I mean, that happened
years ago, but it kind of colors the season. It has ever since, really.”
“What is your relationship
with your son now?”
don’t have a relationship with him. I haven’t seen him in…many years. I don’t
even know where he is. These things happen. They grow up and you drift apart. While I was an absentee
father, at least for much of the time and he was in school, it was different. Now he’s…
I imagine he’s dealing with his own life.”
“Apart from thoughts of your son and Christmas, was there anything
specific, a trigger so to speak, something that set off these feelings again?”
He paused as if far away for a moment.
Then he said, “Yes, I, well in performing the work I do, I move around a lot. Rather than
living in hotels, I prefer to rent by the month when I can. I’ll take a furnished place and
just…you know, my clothes and cooking things and set up housekeeping for short periods. Anyway,
I don’t know why this should have made me think of Billy. I never, we never
allowed him to have a BB gun or anything like that, but in the window in the place I was renting
and near the bottom was one of those little air gun holes…like from a BB gun or even a small
rock I suppose. The weather too…it rains a lot here, it seems to I guess. It was raining last
week. One morning there was a frost and the hole on the window, well you know the frost seemed to
decorate the window sometimes, the little hole was frosted up like a snowflake. I know this sounds
crazy but you know how kids make these little snowflakes by folding up paper and cutting holes and
then when you open it up, it looks like a snowflake? I didn’t think about it much at the time
but after…well, as I was dealing with resolving the issue with my job I found myself…well,
at first I just felt like I needed some time off but pretty soon I realized that, it was
that place, that window in particular that held me in some way. It’s hard to describe really.
Then, it became like the bars on a cell and I felt captive to the feeling I had that morning, the
morning of the frost.”
from the Christmas holiday, why do you think that happened when it did?” he asked. “Was
it possibly a specific Christmas you were remembering or some other event you shared with him?”
“No. I’ve thought about
that but, no, not really. It was nothing specific at all, really. Well, there was one thing but
I don’t know why that should…enter in to it but there was this…exchange I had
with Bill once. His mother told me he had invented an imaginary friend…like a father figure
while I was gone. It ah…hurt me more that I was gone and he felt the need to do that but I’ve
been told that’s somewhat common. It is, isn’t it?”
“Yes. Was this imaginary…friend a protector in some way?’
“Yes…in a way, yes.
He called him the ‘fifty foot tall man’ and that sometimes he would come to Bill and
sometimes he would go to the fifty foot tall man’s house, which was a castle, he said.”
He smiled at the memory. “He
said that this…this guy had dragons: six dragons. Then he said, as if I wouldn’t know,
he said…’They bite, you know?’ So I said, ‘Do they bite you?’ He
said no and I asked who they bite? He said…he said ‘Sneaks and other people.’
I mean, how can you forget a story like that? But in that place…with the window, I thought
about it again but that’s not unusual because I often think of that when I think of Bill.”
“Tell me Charles, in your
home when your son was growing up, were you the disciplinarian or did you and your wife share those
duties with your son? When your son would misbehave, I mean?”
ah…I guess I was, yes, but after we separated I suppose she did. I do know she would…
oh, say things like ‘when your dad gets home, we’ll see about that.’ You know.
Our roles were rather traditional I guess. I was the father and she, she was the mother…that
sort of thing. Even after we separated it was that way.”
“When was that?” the Doctor asked. “I mean, how old was
your son when that happened?”
fourteen I think. And then the next year…it was a tough period for Bill I know.”
“You said that perhaps you
needed some time off. Was there anything out of the ordinary in your work this time, something stressful
or more so than usual during this period?”
“No, not really. Why?”
“You said the first thing you thought of was that maybe you needed
some time off of work. Let me ask you this, I assume your resolution to these matters in your
work is flexible. That it isn’t certain when you’ll take care of them and that allows
you to rent furnished rooms instead of hotels. Would I be wrong in thinking that?”
“Yes...I mean no, that’s
about right, in a general sense. But I’m not exactly sure when my services will be needed
again. That’s right.”
let me ask you this. You mentioned cooking things…pans and plates and so forth I would imagine.
That would mean you bought groceries and cooked your own food. Is that right?”
“Most of the time, yes.”
“I wonder about your work
that week. Did it take longer or about the same time as it usually did?”
“About four days, so I would
say that’s fairly normal for what I do.”
“Well then, let’s see. I would guess that you maybe buy enough
groceries to last about that long. So, did you have enough on hand once the job was done to know
that you could stay there for a few more days?”
“Yes. You’re right about that but I usually buy enough for say,
seven days, just in case. So, that was not an issue. After the job, I had enough to stay there for
as you say, you felt captive by the place, the window in particular, did that occur to you at all?”
After a pause, “No, I can’t
say that it did. In fact there was no real consideration of…I didn’t eat much, actually.”
“I have to tell you, Mr. Van
Owen…Charles, that what you have described to me is fairly typical of absentee parents and
even more so for those who have become estranged from their children in some way. We tend to assign
more guilt over…well everything related to being a parent than say, any slight we might
have been shown in our own upbringing. Children as a rule tend to be more forgiving than we as adults
can understand. I’d like you to bear that in mind as we go forward because I feel this is
more your issue than it ever will be his. When you’d look at the small hole in the window,
did you imagine a scenario that involved Bill?”
“I did actually.”
When he paused for so long the doctor
continued, “Tell me, what does a window represent to you? What do you think of when you think
of windows in general?”
where you can look out on the world, I guess.”
“Anything more than that?”
“Functional, I suppose. They allow me to see things as they are or
“That would seem to indicate you saw things through that window. Was
there some event you witnessed through that window while you were staying there?”
looked up and nodded his head and smiled slightly. “No. I mean, I know what
you’re getting at but no, not in this case. I meant functional as a, a part of my work which
is separate from the little hole in the window.”
“If you’ll forgive me for saying so, Charles, while you may be
able to separate your work from your personal life, a window you call functional in your work,
and the same window you have a fixation with based on a BB gun hole near the bottom
seems unlikely. What do you think?”
“So you’re saying my work and use of the window to look out of
that might involve that work, and the window with the hole in it which reminds me of my
relationship with my son Bill, may have some connection? Is that correct?”
what you’ve told me I’d say it’s possible. This disconnect you say you have
between your work and your relationship with your son or even the rest of your
life, may not be as separate as you’re willing to accept. David mentioned one other
thing about your issues, in addition to the window. He said your wife betrayed your trust by breaking
into some locked drawer in your desk and that she told you she did it. Is that right?”
“He said after that, your wife left you and your son, and you had to
raise him through his teenage years yourself. That couldn’t have been easy for either you
or your son. You had to continue working, I would think. That could be very
difficult while raising a teenage son. Do you think that might contribute to these feelings?
Do you think you could look at that as a possibility?”
“Doctor, and I say this for
the benefit of both of us really, going down that road is not going to be worth it. The work I do,
important work, has an element of not what I’d call secrecy but of strict discretion. So taking
it out of context, even as something that I do that might, as you say, contribute to these
feelings about my son have no real bearing on the window. I
was gone a lot when Bill was growing up. I had to provide for my, my family
and for Bill and his mother following our divorce, so I had to keep working. That took me away from
my family even more. After that incident, my wife left and it was very difficult, because Bill took
her leaving very hard and I still had to work. But we came through that period
and as you say, it wasn’t easy. But you misunderstand about the window. I assure
you that it had no connection to the job I was doing when this sort of fixation began. I do understand
your imagining that it might have but I assure you it did not.”
“Fair enough. Let me ask you this. This ‘fixation’ as you
call it. Did it manifest itself in any physical way? Was there any shortness of breath, dizziness,
anything of that sort?”
“Fatigue maybe. A kind of a melancholy and then I’d get tired.
Other than that, nothing I can think of. You know I’d look at it…stare at it for a while
and then I’d go on to other things.”
“How did you sleep during this period?”
“Not any different really,
a few hours here and there. It’s been that way for some years now.”
“Your appetite was the same
paused and said, “No, as I said, I haven’t been very hungry, I must say, not
since I moved into that place really.”
“What about alcohol?”
“No, I never drink when I’m on a job but ah, I did pick up some
brandy at the store. The weather had turned chilly and as a rule, I like to have some brandy around
when that happens.”
“But you didn’t have any?”
“Tell me then,” Doctor Nordmeyer said, glancing at his watch,
“What do you think brought on this fixation as you called it?”
“Is my time almost up? Is
that why you checked your watch?”
still have some time left. What do you think is going on with you, Charles?”
“Do you ever record your sessions,
Doctor?” asked Charles checking his watch. “Have
you ever recorded them in the past?”
“No. But I’d still like to know what you think is going on?”
David Godbout recommended I come and see you, I wondered why at first, why he
would say that and then I realized that I must be drawing attention to myself in some way.
Then I thought it might have something to do with our business, his and mine, after the fact. In
the end, I do feel this could be a help to me in the long run. Being that our time is running out
and you were good enough to see me on such short notice, perhaps you might recommend a colleague
you know in the Minneapolis area? David said you studied there and I live in St. Paul
between jobs so I was just wondering.”
“I see,” he said. “Well sure, I know several actually.
Ahh, you know there is one doctor, he works in Roseville. Robert Olsen. He might be able to see
you and I think if you’re willing to commit to a period of analysis it could be
beneficial to you. I wouldn’t want you to misunderstand. I do think what you’re
going through is to some degree normal for an absentee parent but your willingness to
accept and come in for help indicates to me that you might be able to better understand and deal
with some of these feelings if you did. I could call Robert if you like?”
“No,” he said. “That
won’t be necessary,” he said getting up and stretching. “I should tell you that
David Godbout won’t be coming in for ahh…anymore.”
How might you know that?”
“You see before addressing my business with David, before that, I told
him I was having a few problems. He did speak highly of you and was kind enough to set
this up. Then, in the course of my work, I killed him. I had to come and see you
anyway, being that he confided in you and possibly exchanged…sensitive information. But I
must say you have given me some things to think about. I am sorry about the subterfuge because I
do try to be up front with clients but in this case I have wondered lately about that little hole
in the window and how it gets me thinking about Bill…and his mother.”
“So that’s it,”
he said. ‘Your after-crisis-management’ is cleaning up loose ends? So now you’re
going to kill me?”
doctor. I’ve already killed you. That dampness you felt on your right calf?
That was the cocktail I squirted on the back of your leg just before we sat down. Any moment now, that tightness in your chest will mimic
the effects of a heart attack and I assure you that’s what your demise will be chalked up
to. I’ve gotten so I can dilute enough of the cyanide to predict within a few minutes one
way or another, exactly when it will start to take effect.”
As the doctor loosened his tie and swallowed hard, Mr. Van Owen continued.
“I’m sure it doesn’t help you to know that there’s nothing personal in what
I do. You just had the wrong man for a client. These things happen. But, you see my
wife pried open a locked desk drawer thinking there was money there. Bill never found
out, but the fact that she never came back after I told him she’d left, he always blamed on
me anyway. I’m sure in his heart he knew she was dead. I did the best I could for us, though.
In the end it wasn’t enough. A boy needs his mother and as you can see, I still carry the
whole thing around with me so while I might be getting away with killing David and you, there’s
always a price to pay no matter who you are or what you do.”
The doctor was now sweating profusely and his breathing became labored. “You
killed your son didn’t you? That’s what…what the hole in the window is about.
The world you look out on is flawed and always will be. You killed your son because
the hole in the window obscures your view of the world.”
“Yes,” he said. “It does. But if I killed Bill, it was
only by killing his mother. The truth is, Bill took his own life and that’s his business but
I did the best I could for us. A less honest man might blame his mother. She never wanted for
anything and yet couldn’t resist breaking into my desk. She left me with no
alternative. But I’ve carried that along for years now. Perhaps I’ll follow up
with your Doctor Olsen. I like Roseville during the Holidays. They decorate the Rosedale Mall
don’t get it do you?” the doctor said as he fought for breath. “Your wife never
broke into your desk. Your son did. She told you she did it knowing that
whatever he found in there meant you’d have to kill him and she knew you would. She gave
up her life to save your son. Bill knew it too. In the end you’re right, you killed him by
killing his mother, in his place. But the nobility in your reasoning is hopelessly flawed…as
you are…hopelessly… flawed.”
Charles paused and watched the doctor’s life slip away like a light
bulb going out. ‘Flawed?’ he said to himself. “I should hope so and yet what
a civilized word denoting who I am based on what I do. ‘Flawed’ yes, why not.’
less than fifteen minutes Charles found the microphone and as he had thought, the
tape machine was in the outer office where Doctor Nordmeyer greeted him initially. After wiping
down the arms of the chair he sat in, Charles left the office and headed down the street. As he
did he thought about what Nordmeyer had said. Bill and not his greedy wife broke into the desk?
You’d think they’d want to use their last moments of life for something besides getting
in the last word. With their last breath they play out the movie that was their lives,
like somebody gives a shit. Between marriage and watching a person’s last
breath, the nobility of the human race seems a little flawed too. It’s a lot like marriage.
When you’re with them, fine. When you’re gone it’s like you never existed and
when that happens, selling you out is a done deal. The Bill thing was sad but in the end, she fucked
him too. Bill’s bi-polar disorder came from her side of the bed and he did what he could for
them while he was alive. Nothing lasts forever and if you can’t deal with that, you can’t
do a job like this. While the clock is still ticking
though, even a flawed individual can enjoy Christmas and they decorate The
Rosedale Mall beautifully at this time of year.
|Art by Author © 2014
Can Kill Ya II
By W. Jack
I was John’s business manager. I sent guys
out on jobs and arranged transportation sometimes…fences, payouts, that sort of thing.
If anything ever went wrong on a job, other people would look into it and I rarely heard
anything about it after that. So when this guy, this Drake shows up after that jewelry
store heist downtown went wrong, I was very surprised to see him. After all, he was the
only survivor of a run-of-the-mill Jewelry store screw up. Had it been me, I’d of
been long gone.
his briefcase down, his eyes never stopped: moving, scanning. His manner was more careful
than nervous, as if we might have expected him to come by and if he did, be ready to tie
up loose ends. The waitress joined us.
“Ya wanna cup of coffee?” I asked.
He shook his head, then looked up and smiled
at her. She left.
just felt an explanation might be in order,” he said, “given the
news accounts I mean.”
I shook my head… “witnesses always get
it wrong. Oakley gave you no choice, right?”
not the way it happened,” Drake said, meeting
my eyes for the first time.
you tell me?”
was gonna kill Eckers anyway…it was actually about killing him.
He figured the robbery was a perfect time to make a little money and kill his partner in
the process. The wild card was me. I didn’t know either one of them that well and
I decided if Oakley’d kill Eckers, without even telling me, why not kill me too?
So I shot him right after he shot Eckers, but there was no shoot-out like they said. I
figured, why take the chance? Now remember, Oakley and Eckers came in with shotguns. I
was still a bystander as far as everyone in the store knew. They were gonna make it look
like they were taking me hostage and we’d jump in the car I had out back. After
I shot Oakely, I told them all that I’d done time and shouldn’t be carryin’
a gun and just ducked out the back in a hurry.”
“Nothing. You referred me. They’re
both dead so I figured I owed you an explanation. Our business is concluded.”
you’re not looking…to be compensated in any way?”
He shook his head and looked back. “That
was not our deal.”
am curious. Why didn’t you keep on going?” I said, taking
a sip of my coffee.
don’t know. I never killed anybody before, I guess.”
“Really? What ah…so…Impressions?”
Drake considered the question and looked down,
“It felt…empowering somehow….well, in the circumstance. Actually I have
killed men but, only in the war. I meant empowering in the sense that, I’ve worked
with, with idiots before and when they screw up you, you can feel almost like a victim
yourself. Maybe I was reacting to that…situation.”
He looked at me and then away again.
“What I meant was,” I began, “if we
thought you might …stick around, there might be some work coming up.”
“No. I’ll be leaving…soon anyway. It’s
a unique situation. I know you took a chance on me, that’s all…just, the people
I’d worked with. I wouldn’t want any…ill feeling towards them as a result of
of course not,” I said. “It is interesting
though. I mean, we appreciate you coming in like this…and now, your concern for those
who recommended you. But you don’t seem to have, to have…any fear for yourself.
I could only assume you feel protected somehow?”
“You mean like a guy with a high powered
rifle on the roof over there? No, nothing like that.”
“The truth is, others connected the dots
before I did. Why would a guy who worked with the same partner for years suddenly kill
his partner during a job? It could happen, I suppose but not when you factor in hiring
an unknown like me to drive with more experienced drivers available. Oakley killed Eckers
for you and would have killed me too, just like I thought.”
“Why would I want Eckers dead?”
“Who knows? More importantly, who cares?
You’re on the spot here, not me. Well, maybe me too but I brought a little insurance
for that. Once I sorted it all out, I went over your head, so to speak. As far as the insurance
is concerned, we’ll see how good that is in a minute.”
“Let me guess…wearing a wire, are
you? What did they promise? A walk? Doing your time out of state?”
“No,” he said with a smile. “Cops
are just the other side of the same coin. You know that. No, but my…insurance
could be helpful for you too. In a way our fate is tied together. Like I said, we’ll
just have to see.”
“Helpful,” I said. “Interesting. Helpful
in what way do you think?”
“How do you suppose they’ll deal with you knowing
your bullshit got two six figure earners taken out? What? A bullet in the head; that sort
of thing? Or will they beat you with baseball bats and bury you alive? You see this?”
He held up what appeared to be a clicker with
“If they tell me to take a walk, I’ll hand it to you. If they
try to fuck me too and insist that I come along, I’ll take care of it. I wouldn’t
worry, though. We won’t feel a thing and they won’t be able to say you didn’t
go out with a bang. It’s in the briefcase. I was just a driver looking for a job
so I know your hiring me wasn’t personal.”
Just then a Lincoln Town Car pulled up. Two
men behind us inside the restaurant got up and one stood behind both of our chairs. Charlie
Steinberg and Eddy Gafford got out of the Town Car and walked over to the table. Steinberg
smiled. All this guy had said was true.
“What is this?” I asked.
“It’s your birthday Mel,” said
Steinberg. “We’re taken you to your birthday party.”
I nodded slowly.
“What about this one?”
“No… he’s goin’ about his
business. Take a walk, driver.”
I felt the clicker and opened the palm of my
hand. Even as I did I knew it must have been a joke. Drake got up, nodded and walked away
quickly. As I started to get up I saw him duck into another doorway and decided, “What
the hell.” I clicked the button and there was nothing for a second and I looked at
Steinberg smiling. The next thing was one leg of the cast iron, Lion’s Paw chair.
It was going up and up. It was still goin up when I…quit seeing it. Now I don’t
know where the hell I am. Where Lion’s Paw chair legs go, I suppose.
|Art by W. Jack Savage © 2014
The Face on Seehutter’s
W. Jack Savage
I picked up my papers about ten to six and most of the snow had melted
but it was kind of cold and wet. I would usually show up at about five-thirty
but Jim Wells was a prick and picked on everybody. I just got tired of it and
we had a fight. I wasn’t the first but I guess I was the most recent guy to get
his ass kicked by Wells. I just figured a day without hearing about it from that
asshole would be okay. As I opened my bundle of newspapers I found a little grease pencil
the guy used to mark our bundles with. I don’t know why but I put it in my pocket
and after delivering my papers, I walked down the alley between Palace and James. The sun
was up and it wasn’t as cold and as I passed Seehutter’s garage I saw this
image on the old paint. I took out the grease pencil and sort of drew in some lips and
an eye and sort of an ear. Then, for some reason I looked down and picked up this rock.
It was about the size of a baseball and even as I looked at it I wondered why I picked
it up. Just then I looked back up at the face and a snowball exploded right on it. It was
as if I was somebody else for a second there because I spun around and threw the rock
even before I saw who it was. Jim Wells was only ten feet away and it hit him
right between the eyes and he went down right there where he stood. Like I
said, I felt like somebody else because I just went over to him and dragged him
between the garages across the alley. I picked up another bigger rock and I smashed
his head three times. Then I went home. I never walked down that alley for quite a while
after that because the police questioned all of us paperboys. They found out about our
fight and what a prick he was but the more questions they asked the more they found out
just how many guys hated him: at school, in his neighborhood and all along his paper route.
The alley wasn’t on either of our routes but like I said, I figured I could do without
seeing him for a day or so and the alley was a shortcut home for me. The strange part was,
he was in a coma for a while but I never worried about him waking up and saying I did it.
I never felt like I did it at all, ya know? So when he died, it was like, no
big deal. I didn’t really feel anything.
I’m not exactly sure how long it was before I walked down that alley
again but it was a few years, I think. It was just before I went in the service
and long after I quit delivering papers and when I did, that face I had drawn
on Seehutter’s garage was still there. As I looked at it I thought about that
day and how weird the whole thing was. I looked down where I found that rock
and saw this little pocket knife. I reached down to get it and it really wasn’t
old or rusty or anything so I put it in my pocket. I took it home, cleaned it up and carried
it all through Basic Training and AIT and finally to Vietnam. There was no landing strip
on LZ Sharron at Quang Tri so after my year was up this Sergeant Brown said he’d
drive me in a jeep up to Dong Ha and the Marine airstrip up there. That road wasn’t
very bad but we hit a mine anyway. The jeep flipped over on Sarge Brown and killed him
and threw me about forty feet, along the side of the road. I couldn’t hear anything
and my head was pounding but for whatever reason that weird face on Seehutter’s garage
came into my mind and I reached into my pocket for that knife. I couldn’t feel my
left side so I managed to get the blade open with my teeth. I’m not sure what happened
after that but the next thing I knew, somebody kicked me and I figured right away it wasn’t
a medic. I was right and when he turned me over I stuck that blade in his neck
below his ear and just pulled. We rolled into the ditch and he fell on a grenade
I figured he was gonna put under me thinking I was dead. After that, I don’t
know but when I woke up I was in Japan. Not long after that I got a medical
discharge. It wasn’t too bad really, considering. I lost three fingers and even
if I hadn’t I couldn’t catch a ball with my left hand anyway because I can’t
raise the arm any higher than my elbow. The blast took part of my ear too but
not so anybody notices anymore. I went home for a while but I couldn’t take the
cold anymore so I moved back to Long Beach where I spent some time at the VA Hospital.
After that, it was just life: school and a job. The marriage didn’t last a year and
what with not being able to hear out of my left ear either I just went on full disability
and helped out on this tourist fishing barge now and then.
Dad died I came home for the funeral. I don’t know why but twenty years had to have
gone by since I first drew that face on Seehutter’s garage. While I was home I went
down that alley to see. It had never been painted and it was mostly all gone but I could
see it. As I stood there I wondered why I never felt anything about killing Jim Wells that
time. Like I said, it felt like somebody else did it. Then, after all those years I found
that little knife right at my feet where I picked up that rock. The strange thing is, I
was a cook in the army. I never did kill anyone in Vietnam except that guy on that
road to Dong Ha. I got that close to a clean getaway but somehow, I kind of had
that appointment with that guy. It was like, I know it sounds crazy, but that
face knew I was gonna need that rock and that knife someday. My whole world had
changed but the face on Seehutter’s garage was still there. It was to me
|Art by W. Jack Savage © 2014
The Young Man from Coventry
By W. Jack Savage
As he climbed the hill for the fifth time he
realized that not only had he overcome his fear, he was also having fun. It was more like
playing war than being in one. That pain in the right side of his ass didn’t matter
anymore. Besides, as far as he knew, it was just him and the Sarge, now. He wouldn’t
be sitting again anytime soon. When he reached the crest he saw two enemy soldiers wrestling
with Sergeant Harold and he never hesitated. He raised his rifle and fired two bursts but
he killed all three. The Sarge was dying anyway and like he always said, as long as the
other guys die and he didn’t, any tradeoff was worth it. Besides, he was now all
alone on the crest and if the NVA took the high ground, everybody behind him
would all be dead. So this was it; dying for the geography.
As he scurried
over to the three dead bodies a hand grenade bounced next to him and down the hill behind
him. He pulled the pin on one of his own and just let it fall over the edge. But it
fell too far and the explosion seemed far away so he pulled the pin on his last
one and held it;…one …two…then toss. Not a moment too soon as the blast took
off his helmet which he reached back for and put right back on. They’d be on
him any moment and the thought of playing dead crossed his mind. But he found
himself smiling as he thought of Sarge Harold: wrestling with those two
assholes and him with an ear missing and two holes in his stomach. No. To take this
spot they’ll need to go through me, he thought and smiled again.
He began reloading magazines feverishly. First one then two and three but where
were they? He looked down and there was the glint of something through the trees. An asshole
with a trumpet or something and he took aim shot and the glint went away. Another two grenades
bounced near him and went over the side again but he knew more were coming. He
reached out and grabbed one leg of one of the two guys he killed with Sarge
Harold and pulled him close, just as another grenade landed two feet away. He
picked up the body and used it as a shield. Falling back from the blast another
grenade actually hit his foot and he picked up the dead NVA soldier and fell on the grenade
with him on top. Most of the blast was absorbed but not all and now his thigh seemed on
fire. Crawling now, he realized he was smiling again as he grabbed his M-16 and continued
to the rim. There he held his gun out and over the side where he aimed downward, pulled
the trigger and spent the whole magazine in what seemed like a moment. Pulling it back
he found another magazine, locked it in and released the bolt. Now lying next to the other
dead NVA, he dragged him in front and would use his body for cover. He repeated his
first volley with a second, holding but not aiming his rifle before him.
“Two more magazines and what Sarge Harold had
left,” he thought and enough ammo to load into another. Just then another grenade
landed and bounced off the other enemy body. He reached out, got it and threw it back down
and in a rage rose to one knee, picked up the body of the dead enemy and threw it over
the ledge. As he lay back down he reloaded and this time, looked over the lip of the rim
and fired two bursts. He pulled back and realized all he saw were dead bodies. Yes, well
it wasn’t dead bodies throwing the hand grenades and so with a burst left he set
about reloading magazines and checking the Sarge’s equipment to at least consolidate
all he had left and as he did, a strange thought took hold for the first time.
“I might actually survive this,” he thought. As he did he shook it off just as
quickly but after making ready for whatever came next, nothing did. He was
wounded in the ass and the thigh near his knee and something along his hairline
was dripping wetness down one side of his face. Nothing hurt very much but his
smile was gone and so was the fun. He was just tired and he seemed to hear voices
in English moving along the ridge toward his position. Minutes later two of his guys were
there and he tried to tell them the situation but none of it seemed to make any sense.
There was intermittent gunfire but it seemed to be moving away. Now there seemed to be
way too many people on his ridge top. There was only just enough room for five or six.
He tried to stand up twice but they kept telling him to stay still. “It could be
sheets to sleep on tonight,” he thought if they could just get him out of there.
That didn’t seem likely.
“You killed all of those guys down below?”
asked an officer.
“No. I don’t know; some maybe. I’ve
been all alone for the last…for the last forty minutes or so. Two NVA got up
here and Sarge Harold was taking them hand to hand when I got back. I killed them
and the Sarge…died…too. After that
it was just me but they kept throwing up grenades that bounced over the back side
there. Two others…maybe three landed but I picked up this guy for cover. Well, not
him but one of the two...it worked okay. Did they…did they pull back?”
“Yes. So you’re not sure how many you killed?”
I guess but…no. So…what? It’s over now for a while?”
over for you, soldier. We’re gonna get you out of here.”
the only one? What about the rest of the squad? What about Parks?”
don’t know. You said you…when you got back up here. Where were you?”
last time I was getting ammo but I didn’t have to go very far. I took it from our,
our dead guys. There were six I think. I took all their ammo and two grenades.”
about the other times you left and came back?”
we got to ridge top Sarge said to go back and see if any of the wounded could walk and
you know, get em’ up here. I couldn’t find them…I mean, guys who weren’t
dead. Another time it was to report to Lieutenant
Bates that we took the ridge. But he was dead so I told the guys who were there
and came back. I got wounded after I left there. A grenade I think but I could
still walk. The last time he said to tell the Captain we had the ridge and we
need reinforcements and to bring some water. Sarge was wounded bad by then; two
in the stomach and his head too. But he was still able to fight those guys when I got
back. I killed them…but…I killed them.”
others made it up here.”
He shook his head.
“If there was only two of you, why did
he keep sending you away?”
“I don’t know. I think he thought
with only two of us and no radio it was a lost cause. Without more guys, we couldn’t
do it. He was almost right.”
“Are you okay?”
I’m great. How are you?”
“I mean…I’m here to determine…”
He cleared his throat and continued. “Can you tell me again what happened up
here; when you got back the last time.?”
“I just did. When I got back up the last
time Sarge was taking the two hand to hand.”
killed them, I told you.”
“The two NVA?”
I killed them all; probably the Sarge too. This isn’t the movies. You can’t
make the bullets go everywhere you want and you can’t stop them from killing anyone
you don’t want to kill either. It’s just…killing. So yeah, I probably
killed him too.”
After a pause, the officer said, “Well,
you can’t be sure about that. You just take it easy now and we’ll get you out
of here.” He turned and yelled “Medic!”
an idiot,” he thought, “and spit-shined jungle boots…out here.”
probably killed the Sarge too, Sir.”
worry about that now, soldier,” he said.
if I did?….I probably did kill Sarge, too,” he said “What kind of a medal
do I get for that, sir?”
After nearly three weeks in the field hospital
he was forcing himself to get around without the cane they gave him. They had interviewed
him again in the hospital about what happened but his smart mouth was gone and all he wanted
to do was serve out his time and go home. He knew when they released him and he went back
to base camp, being only a Spec 4 he’d do what everybody else did: K-P during the
day and guard duty at night. They didn’t let you sit around in camp and so with only
six weeks left before going home, he figured getting back out in the field was better than
When he got back to base camp and checked in
the orderly room, they told him all his things had been moved out of his tent. He had been
the only survivor of his squad and only one of fourteen in the platoon. The Executive Officer,
a First lieutenant, read orders promoting him to Sergeant E-5 and then handed him a few
ceremonial patches. They had taken his jungle fatigue shirts and had all the significant
patches, including his new rank, sewn on and he was told to get a haircut and shave in
advance of an awards formation later that afternoon. He was shining his boots
and imagining he’d probably be put in charge of the new 2nd Squad
with nothing but new guys to break in. His only thought was that he hoped they
didn’t throw the new guys into the soup right away like they had with him. An
hour later he and three other guys from another battalion in the brigade lined
up in a brigade ceremony down by the 1st of the 8th Club. He knew
this was going to be a pretty big deal: Silver Star probably and when Secretary of Defense
Robert McNamara got out of a jeep that pulled up with two Generals he was sure of it.
later, of the ceremony itself, he didn’t remember
much. After that it was packing up and being sent home with VIP treatment. He had tried
to be gracious throughout but he was mostly embarrassed. He hadn’t been much of a
drinker; a few beers with the guys, mostly, but with everyone toasting his new celebrity
he soon began to realize that when he was drunk, he at least felt better. When he got home,
Coventry being the small town that it was, it was one thing after another until
each night he was drinking a half a pint of Vodka just to go to sleep. Then,
all of a sudden, there was nothing: no job, nothing to do and with all the
fanfare over with, he left the Congressional Medal of Honor on his nightstand and
told the family he needed to go off by himself for a while. He drove his old Dodge three
states away and threw away all his ID along the way. He hoped maybe they’d just figure
he went off and made a life for himself somewhere far away. He felt sure they’d know he’d never kill himself but that all
of it, everything just was too much. After a while, he quit drinking altogether and the
day he got to Camp Pendleton for his basic training to be a Marine, was the best he’d
felt for a long time.
|Art by W. Jack Savage © 2015
Ellie Is Here 2
W. Jack Savage
I never met her. We spoke in a chat room following the breakup of my third marriage.
Her chat room nickname was Ellieishere2. The “is here too” part caught my eye
somehow. It was like she was announcing that she existed, as if maybe she’d been
dismissed in her real world. My instinct was right.
I said hello one day, and we began a chat room acquaintance which led to a friendship.
We spoke to each other on Messenger and emailed each other now and then. We were both in
need. I was depressed from another failed marriage, and she had problems in her
marriage, too. She was a housewife in Sylacauga, Alabama with kids in their
early teens. She never got too specific about her trouble at home. Her husband
had cheated which led to her getting involved with an old college friend in nearby
Birmingham. She seemed embarrassed chatting
about that as well. So we just sort of propped each other up from time to time. After a
while we communicated by letter. She sent me a birthday card, and I responded with a thank-you
note. I never thought much about our exchanging addresses. Then, after nearly a year of
chatting with her at least three times a week, she disappeared.
I thought about writing, but with her gone I thought maybe her husband might get
the letter. I was worried about her, though and finally went online and checked the Sylacauga
Newspaper, fearing that she might have gotten in an accident or something. I
hadn’t heard from her in ten days, and as I scrolled down the death notices I
remember sighing with relief when I didn’t see her name. I was about to give up
when I saw a little notice in the funeral section.
“In lieu of flowers, Bobby Harris and the Harris family have requested that
donations to the University of Alabama-Birmingham Hospital Depression Center be made in
the name of Ellie Sue Harris.”
That was it. No death notice and no visitation and no other funeral announcement
for the previous ten days in the paper.
I felt awful. Here was a woman who had become my good Internet friend, and she had
died under circumstances somehow not worthy of a death notice. So I got terribly drunk
and vowed to find out what happened. After
a few days, I let it go. The family was suffering enough, I reasoned, and after
sending a hundred bucks in Ellie’s name to the UAB Depression center, I sadly
went about the business of getting on with my own life. It may well have ended
there, but for the night I sat staring at her name on the computer screen. In
fact it was the moment that I was thinking about deleting her from Messenger when
she came online.
“Hello, hello,” I
typed. There was no reply.
“Ellie, are you
there?” I typed again. “Are you alright?”
“Who are you?” was the response I saw, and I knew at once that Ellie
was truly dead and that probably her family was investigating Ellie’s Internet life.
“I’m an Internet
friend of Ellie’s,” I wrote. “My name is Gary, and I live in California.” There
was a long pause.
“I’m sorry,” I
began again, “but when Ellie hadn’t come on for ten days, I looked for word
about her in your local newspaper there. Can you tell me if it’s true? Is Ellie
cannot answer because they appear to be offline” was the usual heading in
response to my last question. Whoever it was had gone offline.
I kept Messenger open all night and stayed up until after midnight, hoping they
would come back online. Finally, I sent an email saying I respected their wishes for privacy
at a difficult time but that Ellie and I were good Internet friends, and she helped
me cope after my divorce. I also said that while Ellie seemed to have had some
problems around the time we had met—problems she never shared—she had seemed
fine and even upbeat right up until the time she disappeared. I asked if
someone could please respond and tell me at least what happened. But no one
The next two days I sent
emails again, but the result was the same. I kept Ellie’s name in my Messenger in
hopes someone would come on again. Three
days later I got a letter.
My name is Carolyn Harris, and I am Ellie Sue’s daughter. I found your address
on a thank-you note in her box of personal items. I’m hoping you’re the Gary
who was on Mom’s Messenger. She talked about you sometimes. I guess you know Mom
died. It’s been very hard for us since then, and I cry a lot. They say Mom was depressed
and that she killed herself with a gun, but I don’t believe it. Mom got
depressed sometimes, but lately, she had been a lot happier. They say that one
day I’ll understand how depression works. All I know is that while Mom was
going to school at UAB, she’d come home depressed sometimes. After she dropped
out she was a lot better. Anyway, Mom is gone now, and I’m glad you were her
friend. I’m sending you her journal because everyone around here is trying to
pretend she never lived, and I don’t want them to find it and throw it away, too.
I took it and hid it in my bed when they were going through her things. I couldn’t
find the key. I loved my mom very much, and I want a friend to have something to remember
her by. I didn’t have enough for first-class postage, but they said third class would
just take longer. They deleted everything of hers out of the computer. I’m sorry
I didn’t talk to you that night on Messenger. But I thought I might get into trouble.
How terribly sad I felt when I read the letter. It didn’t get any better the
third or fourth time, either. One thing did seem odd, though. Ellie had said she was thinking
of taking some classes at UAB the previous fall. I remember encouraging her, but
later she said it hadn’t worked out and that she never enrolled. Her daughter
seemed to suggest that her dropping out had been a recent development. Now, in
the spring, I wondered why she hadn’t told me she was going to school, unless
she wasn’t attending but just getting away for a day now and then. And what the
daughter had written about Ellie’s recent mood was the same thing I had
noticed. She had seemed happier than ever.
before the journal arrived had gotten long for me again, and when it came, I tore it open
like a kid with a present. After twenty minutes of trying to pick the lock with
a paper clip, I gave up and cut the strap holding it together. As I paged
through the early entries, I noticed that Ellie didn’t write every day. Once or
twice a week, she’d reflect on one thing or another. It went back two years,
and she began the entries shortly after she found a love letter in her husband’s
pocket from his secretary. She seemed so conflicted about what had happened. She
admitted that the honeymoon had long been over, but when she confronted her husband
Bobby with the note, he became violently defensive. He accused her of spying on him and
left that night and never returned home. She drove out to the apartment complex where his
secretary lived and saw his truck there in the morning.
But she was scared of losing her home and decided in her own interest and that of
her children that she’d try to get through it.
There were other entries. She wrote of finding me on the Internet. I cried when
I read how much I had meant to her and what a “rock” I had become in her life.
It was nearly two in the morning when I put it down and undressed for bed. I took the journal
to bed with me and marked the place that I had stopped reading. I felt I needed
to page ahead before sleep and found her last entry. This is what it said:
I have finally taken the bull by the horns, and by tomorrow my ordeal and the ordeal
of other women like myself will be over. I am meeting with U.S Attorney John Barnes and
will give him a deposition and the other evidence that will prevent this from
happening to any other woman in the future. Maybe I should feel scared, but
what I’m really feeling is exhilaration that I haven’t felt in years. I know
I’ve made mistakes; however, doing this is not only the right thing to do, I
feel it’s the only thing to do. And that makes me feel great!
I went to sleep that night knowing the Ellie Sue Harris I knew did not take her
own life. Someone took it for her.
The next day I read the rest of the journal. Ellie and many other women in and around
the Birmingham, Alabama area had been the victims of a fairly elaborate ruse. It
began with choosing attractive women who were housewives and mothers, seducing
them and taping the event without their knowledge. But then two men posing as
government agents would approach the victims. They would show them the tapes
and say that they’d been investigating their lovers who, over time, would have
threatened to reveal the tapes to their husbands to make them perform sexual favors with
others for money. They’d tell the victims that they were lucky they caught this in
time, or they would have had no choice but to name them in their investigations.
Then the other shoe would drop. As a condition for keeping their names out of all
this unpleasantness, the victims would have to perform certain duties over a
probationary period until their investigation was completed. If they refused,
their names and the tapes would come out in the indictment. If they consented,
they simply had to…well…fuck whoever they told them to for a period of months,
usually six. And while this seems ridiculous, both on the surface and at the
heart of it, what real choice did the victims have? They’d lose their homes and
their children in the subsequent divorce, and while they might have explained their way
out of it if only their husbands found out, a televised scandal with indictments must have
seemed overwhelming. Besides, they had already cheated on their husbands. Why not simply
do it with many lovers for the period and be done with it. And even if they figured out
what was going on, the penalties for not agreeing were just as severe.
For the perpetrators, the advantages of using housewives under duress were many.
To begin with, they weren’t prostitutes. They were clean, well mannered, and
attractive; they had no choice but to simply make lemonade out of lemons. For
her part, Ellie had not only been afraid of losing her home when she found out
her husband was cheating; she admitted as much to the old college chum she
favored with a roll in the hay after running into him at a mall one day. However, Ellie
figured it out pretty quick, and the guys posing as government agents went as far as to
suggest she begin by thanking them personally and sexually at their initial meeting which
As I read on I became saddened on many
levels, not the least of which was how her souring marriage mirrored at least two of my
own in some ways. But my sadness quickly and frequently gave way to the kind of rage I
hadn’t known in many years. Even so, the diabolical nature of this scam and, in particular,
the kind of language and legalese with which these people presented themselves made me
feel whoever was running this thing wasn’t stupid. Ellie’s death was proof
enough of their ruthlessness. But the most disquieting factor was the fact
that, whoever did this, knew she was going to see a real U.S. Attorney. They
faked her suicide before she got there. The likelihood that real government
officials had knowledge of these events was at least possible. The final problem was
that no one, and I mean no one—whether victim or perpetrator—would want these
matters to come to light. That presented
a solution that happened to fall right in my wheelhouse.
As my plane landed in Atlanta, my notes seemed adequate to the occasion. I knew,
of course, there’d be plenty of improvisation but that presented no problem. I rented
a car and headed to Sylacauga. I found a florist and by mid-afternoon placed my
flowers on the grave of my friend. As I
did, I felt someone looking at me. I turned around and saw a young girl of
thirteen or so. I knew immediately who she was. She joined me at the grave.
“Did you know my mom?” she asked.
“Yes” I said. “We were friends on the Internet.”
“I knew it was you,” she exclaimed. “I had a feeling it was.”
“You have good instincts, Caroline,” I said looking back at Ellie’s
grave. We stood there silently for a minute or two. I could feel her stealing looks at
me every few seconds.
Mom didn’t kill herself, did she?”
“No Caroline, she didn’t. You were right about that, too. But everyone
will assume she did and your knowing the truth won’t change what they think. Do you
think you can be satisfied with that?”
She was quiet for a moment. “I guess so,” she said. “Do you know
who killed her?”
“No,” I said. “We’ll
I said goodbye to
my friend’s daughter and drove to Birmingham. I checked into the Birmingham
Marriott where Ellie had met all of her men; I tipped the bellman $40.00 and
asked if he could tell me where a gentleman might meet a suitable and clean lady for
“I think that could
be worked out, sir,” he said. “Will you be dining at our fine restaurant this
“Unless you can
recommend someplace better, I will be.”
“No, sir,” he said
politely. “I think our restaurant is excellent. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.
May I ask if you have any specific preference in a lady sir: blonde, brunette,
“Apart from her
being attractive and amiable,” I began, “none at all.
Let me add that she has to be clean—no one
who walks the street if you know what I mean.”
can assure you, sir, the fellow I’ll refer you to would never use such women,”
“I see…but I was
hoping to deal just with you, young man. The need for discretion is of great importance
to me as I’m sure you can understand.”
certainly understand, sir; the man I’m talking about is a frequent visitor to the
lounge in our fine restaurant. Believe me, he is very discreet.”
“How will I know this man?” I asked.
“He’ll find you sir,” he said. “Enjoy a cocktail before
dinner. Will there be anything else, sir?”
I smiled and shook my head. After he left, I showered quickly and dressed for dinner.
It was going pretty much as I supposed.
In the lounge I noticed the restaurant was indeed popular and three quarters full
by seven-thirty. I sat down and ordered a scotch on the rocks. Before the drink arrived, I saw them.
She was about thirty with a homespun sort of look about her. I imagined she made
wonderful Sunday dinners. She looked as though she probably did volunteer work wherever
she lived. He was short and stocky and had the look of a top ten salesman. They
saw me, but ambled toward the middle of the bar just the same. He exchanged
some words with the bartender and then came over. He introduced himself and the
lady, asking if I might like to join them at a table.
Mr. Fox,” he began, “What brings you to Birmingham?”
“Business, of course,” I answered. “I’ll be looking
at some properties around town for possible development. I was told someone would meet
me here in the lounge tonight. Is that you, Mr. Brown?”
“Yes it is.”
“Then, if you
don’t mind,” I said, “I’d prefer we discuss that business.”
At this, Kathy, after being introduced, excused herself to the ladies room. After
sitting back down, he began again.
“How long will you need Kathy tonight?” he asked.
“Probably no later than ten thirty, I’m thinking, and I’d prefer
if she could join me for dinner here as well.”
“I’m sure she’d like that,” he said. “I can arrange
the charges to be spread out over your hotel bill if you like. I understand you’ll
be with us for three days.”
“Yes,” I said,
“but there’s no need for the subterfuge. I’m an independent contractor, Mr.
Brown. No need to fool anyone about expenses.
You do take credit cards?”
“Yes,” he said. “I think $300.00 should cover everything.”
“That’s fine, provided she’s clean.” I said.
“I can assure you that she is.”
After concluding our business in the lounge, Kathy and I went in for dinner. I noticed
a white band on her finger where her wedding band had been. We had a nice dinner and talked
about the area a little. She was candid about being married and spoke of a
daughter in junior high school.
Afterwards we went up to my room where I made a phone call. After hanging
up, I told Kathy that something had come up and that I wouldn’t be needing her after
all. As she was leaving, I stopped her.
Brown will be down there won’t he?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. “I’m sure he’ll credit you. I wouldn’t
worry about that.”
I said. “I mean, he may send you to another...client.”
She looked down.“Maybe.”
“I don’t want to put you out that way. Why don’t you stay here
for a while and watch television? I would like the company while I work and that way you
can go home afterward.”
She smiled sadly
and said, “Thank you.”
problem; I enjoy your company. Why don’t you order us some tea?”
I sat at the table with my laptop and made some notes regarding the initial meeting.
After our tea arrived, I outlined a series of questions I wanted to ask her. It had
to do with a hunch I had about the initial motel where Ellie Sue and her old
college chum had gone.
“Tell me, Kathy,”
I said. “You know the area and I don’t. Do you know much about the northeast
part of town? There is a restaurant and motel complex near where I’m looking
for development properties. I believe the motel is called the Outer Limits.”
Her face told me my instinct was correct. “Yes, it’s not a very nice
part of town. Not dangerous or anything, but kind of run down.”
“Good,” I said. “And how near the juncture of these two freeways
would you say it is?”
She came over and looked at the map.
“I’d say less than a mile for either one.”
I took off my glasses and looked at her. “I’m not sure if Mr. Brown
will question you about this evening, Kathy, but I’d appreciate it if you didn’t
mention the areas I’m looking at.”
“No, I’d never do that.”
I got around to asking her about the second area nearly an hour later, and as I
suspected, she was familiar with it, also. They
used the Outer Limits Motel for the taping.
Then they’d send the ladies downtown to an old Federal Building, only
partially filled with new private renters. There, someone posing as a judge
would inform them in official tones of how they were going to “get themselves
out of this mess.”
thirty, I’d got to the point in the questioning that would most closely
resemble normal curiosity, and Kathy had warmed to me in ways I felt she could answer
my questions in a candid manner. She told me the men she dealt with amounted to only four
altogether and there was also one woman. Two men posing as U. S. Attorneys, this fake judge
and his secretary, and Mr. Brown seemed to be all there were. But she’d never seen
more then two of them together at once. As to any other women she knew of in the same circumstance,
she had only met one. It was clear, however, that they didn’t let any of the women
interact with each other in an unsupervised manner. This made perfect sense, of course,
but also made my job a little harder.
“Tell me something, Kathy,” I said, “These officials you speak
of—is there anyway you can contact them?”
“Only through Adam, that is Mr. Brown, and Judge Henry downtown.”
“I see. Did you ever see the judge again?”
“Not yet; next month my probationary period is over. I have to see him then.
Please don’t tell Adam that I told you anything about this.”
I shook my head and got up.
“Kathy, believe me that knowledge of any of this could put me in danger, too,
I’m sure. I would never betray your confidence. In fact, I have an idea that might
interest you. This would be for my protection as well, but I was wondering about something.
Is there any way I could hire you for the next three days and end your obligation
earlier? You said next month you would be done with this, and I assume at one
day a week that would bring you closer.”
“I could ask,” she said, “but I don’t think I could explain
it to my family. One day a week is all I’ve been able to handle.”
“Yes, of course, but if your Mr. Brown was amenable to ending your obligation
early, would you at least consider it?”
She agreed and, after meeting with Brown the next morning, he was encouraging as
well. He offered her for $800.00 a day which I got down to $700.00 after telling him
there’d be future visits to Birmingham. He “assured me” she would be amenable.
“I like only one girl at a time,” I told him. “I’d want
someone else in the future.”
“That works out
perfectly,” he said, leading me to believe they might actually let these women
off after their obligation was done. We stood up and shook hands.
“You provide a fine service, Mr. Brown. I’ll be sure to recommend this...hotel
He agreed to meet me
with Kathy for dinner that evening. I left with my briefcase around ten and headed downtown.
After spending the morning getting the cook’s tour of the old Federal building
from a representative from the investment company holding the lease, I stopped for
lunch. I had noticed a door with Judge Henry’s name still on it. He explained
the new renters only used the office now and then and hadn’t bothered to change
the name. But, as we were leaving, I noticed some movement behind the frosted
glass. After lunch I went back and talked to a couple of tenants. I tried the
door at Judge Henry’s office, but it was locked. After knocking,
a middle-aged woman with glasses answered.
“Hi,” I said. “Some people I’m working with are interested
in the building. I always make it a point to talk with some of the renters. Would you have
a moment for me?”
trying to put me off with talk of only using the office to receive mail and some storage,
she finally let me in. The outer office seemed normal enough for a Judge. At
first glance, nothing would give the impression it was not Judge Henry’s
“Oh, I must have
misunderstood,” I said. “Doesn’t the judge keep an office here?”
Just then a heavyset man with red hair walked in. He exchanged looks with the secretary
who was beginning to look uneasy.
Twenty minutes later I left the office, turning the lights out and locking the door
on my way out.
the bag in the trunk of my car and headed for the Outer Limits Motel.
it’s me, Terry at the motel,” he said in almost a whisper. “I think you’d
better get over here right away. Some developer is looking at buying the place, and the
owner is taking him on a tour of the rooms. I told him yours was under repair,
but I think they’ll want to see it anyway. I can stall them for a while, but
the owner has a master key.”
hanging up I said, “That was very good, Terry.
Are they coming together or will there be only one?”
“They always come together, but I don’t know for sure.”
“Fine,” I said. “Here’s the first five hundred. You’ll
get the rest after I’ve met with them.”
heard the key turn in the door, I listened for footsteps. They were both there. Ten
minutes later I came out, locked the door, and went back down to the office.
“Here’s the rest
of your money, Terry,” I said handing him $1000.00. “I’d
wait at least two days if I were you. I can’t
tell you how much I appreciate your help, and I’m sure I don’t need to remind
you that, in any case, I won’t forget this...or you.”
Terry shook his head as he fingered the money. “No…no problem,”
he said nervously. “Not a problem.”
Nearing seven o’clock, I saw Brown and Kathy walk in the front door. He looked confident as ever, and I felt sure
none of the day’s events had come to his attention. I cut them off on the way
to the lounge and asked if I could speak with him privately. I gave Kathy the
key to my room, saying I’d prefer we eat there later. On the way to the parking
lot, I told him my travels took me to an interesting property north of town and
wondered if he had a few minutes to take a look at it with me. He agreed and I
headed to a largely vacant industrial area I had seen. We got out and I began by
talking about the property.
“You see, my people
are looking for undervalued areas not unlike this one,” I said, “with good
access to the main artery highways.”
and looked around. As he did, I shot him in the knee. He screamed and rolled around
are dead,” I said and shot him again in the ankle. “You’re
gonna be dead in minute, too. But I thought you’d
like to know why you’re all dying. Remember Ellie Sue Harris? She was a friend of
mine. I’m afraid all I can offer you is a shorter death then you deserve, but one
last thing remains. And if you don’t tell me...right now, I’ll kill you all
night, and believe me, it won’t be fun.”
I squatted down near him as he writhed in pain.
“Who told you Ellie was coming to Birmingham to give a deposition?”
some more and shook his head. I shot him in the elbow, and he screamed again.
“Last chance, pal,
because I’m not asking after this. Who told you Ellie was coming to town to give
“Oh, God,” he choked. “I…it was my brother. He works in the U.S. attorney’s
“He didn’t know anything about it,” he screamed. “He just
told me things.”
things, as it turns out. Last chance for a name and an end to this, Brown. His name?”
“Tom,” he said.
I shot him in his other elbow.
“Complete name, please.”
“Tom Scarborough….Oh, God please... Oh, God.”
I stood up and put two in his stomach and walked away. On the way back to the hotel
I disposed of the tapes I’d taken from the old federal building.
Back in my room, I sent Kathy home to her family saying I was quite sure she’d
never need to do this sort of thing again. She kissed me in a way that told me she was
grateful and with a passion that indicated she might indeed do this sort of thing again.
That couldn’t be helped, of course.
The next morning I watched Tom Scarborough kiss his wife goodbye at the front door
and secure his small son in the child safety seat of his Bronco before driving off. I
decided to let it go.
was checking out of the Marriott, I saw the bellman who had referred my prey. I tipped
him another $40.00 and thanked him for his help.
“It was a pleasure, sir,” he said with a smile. “I hope everything
I nodded and said, “You’ve
been a help to me young man, and I’d like to tell you something that might help you.
In a day or so the police will want to interview you. If you have any reason why you wouldn’t
want that, it might be better if you weren’t here or at the address you gave the
He understood and nodded
Forty-five minutes later,
I stood before Ellie’s grave once again.
After a few minutes I saw Caroline walking down the path toward me. She carried
schoolbooks in her arms. We were silent for a few minutes. She stole looks at me from time
to time and seemed to be forming a question. But she never quite got it worked out.
“I don’t think your mother would like it that you come here every day,”
We stood there for a
while longer, and I felt her take my hand. “Thank you, Gary.”
“You’re welcome, Carolyn,” I answered.
She started to walk off and then stopped and turned ten feet away.
“Did you kill them?” she asked.
I turned and looked at her evenly. “Yes,” I said.
She walked back to me and handed me an envelope. It was my thank you note to Ellie
with my return address on it.
you,” she said. “Goodbye.” I smiled and waved as she walked off.
I drove back to Atlanta to catch my flight. The fact is I don’t
have many friends. Ellie Sue Harris was my friend and avenging her murder was an act of
personal satisfaction. I’ve been in this business for nearly thirty years. I had
never killed for pleasure before, only business. Caroline’s heartfelt gratitude put
this whole episode back on the business side of the ledger to some degree. I
smiled to think of it.
|Art by W. Jack Savage
By W. Jack Savage
It’s the kind of
thing you remember but you’d rather not. It was not all that sinister, but
something you’d rather not dredge up and certainly nothing you’d want others to
know. Having come forward with my theory, I simply had no choice but to
associate myself with the idea of yellow food. Two people were dead. They were
two people I knew, and believe me, that crossed my mind the day I called the police, as
I suppose it’s
not so terribly strange. For example, I remember a girl who threw up in third grade. Christine
Kittles was her name. Sad as these things are, I never knew her to be associated with any
other event. She was simply 'the girl who threw up in third grade', and while, in more
contemplative moments, I have wondered what she might have become without that moniker, to be synonymous with vomit did nothing to make
her more popular at school. As for myself, I forgave her almost at once, but others did
not. They just couldn’t get it out of their minds, somehow. But for me it was something
else. For me it was yellow food.
When I read about Colleen in particular, dying
in the restaurant the way she did, it occurred to me to ask what she was
eating. Actually, it was the restaurant and the fact that it was morning,
because, well, a lot of morning dishes contain yellow food. But while I did ask,
the fact that Colleen had an omelet in front of her certainly would not have stood out
in a crowded restaurant at breakfast. Someone behind her in another booth whom nobody could
remember seeing, had taken what must have been a small sword with a blade of at least eighteen
inches, and stuck it through the back of the booth, killing Colleen almost instantly. When
she slumped in her seat, two of her co-workers actually laughed, thinking she was mugging
in some way. The booth was not high, but no one saw anything.
when Scott was killed, the first news account I saw didn’t
say a thing about his eating. He was just killed, not unlike Colleen; stabbed in the back. But this time, sitting on a park bench across
the street from where he was having the oil in his car changed. I mean, people die, of
course. But for two people you know to be
killed within a month was odd enough for me to call the police.
After going down and making a list of all the people I knew who were associated
with both people, I was the only one who knew both of them. I was about to leave when the
detective said 'if someone else you know dies eating dinner, we’ll be in
touch'. I didn’t put it together until I was out in the hall, waiting for the
elevator. Then it hit me and I went back.
you mean,” I began, “as in 'breakfast, lunch and dinner'?”
“Yes,” he said. “I’m sorry, bad joke, I guess.”
I mean, Scott was eating lunch?”
“Yes,” he said,
and shuffled some papers until he picked up one. “A sandwich.”
just stood there for a moment.
“It didn’t say anything about that on the news,” I said. “Can
I ask what kind of sandwich?”
He looked at the notes.
“A cheese sandwich,”
he said. “There’s an Italian deli down the street. He got it there. Why?”
“I’m.... I’m not sure,” I said. “Isn’t it odd
though, that they’d both be killed while... while eating?”
“I suppose,” he said. “Does it seem odd to you?”
“Yes,” I said, “it does.”
On the way home, the
yellow food idea seemed too far-fetched to have any connection. I hadn’t shared that
curiosity with the police, but by going to them and identifying myself as a person with
a connection to both victims, I realized I’d made myself, at the very least, a person
of interest. I had no real alibi. During both murders I was at home, but since I live alone,
I had no way to prove it. But they hadn’t asked me where I was during Scott’s
murder; only Colleen’s.
I had an aversion
to yellow food when I was a child. I had a very sensitive nose and the smell
of, say, eggs frying or especially, boiled eggs in some form, was very bad to
me. Then, there was cheese. Cheese is harmless enough, as are eggs to me now, but back
then, the smell of cheese was just as bad. This had the effect of grouping together nearly
any yellow-colored food as something to avoid. I’m afraid it followed that as I didn’t
like it and avoided yellow food, I did the same to people who liked yellow food; avoided
them, I mean. I didn’t like them anymore and being too embarrassed to say why, I’m
sure it seemed terribly unfair to them that one day we were friends, and the next day I
was acting like a jerk. I got over all these things by my late teens but as I learned things
about various social disorders; being uncomfortable eating in front of others
for example, I began to realize that I probably had a social disorder, and when
it was happening, it was like I had no choice. It was a real thing to me.
So when Andrea Bigelow from work was killed, I began to feel quite sure that whoever
killed her had a terrible aversion, as I had had as a child, to yellow food.
“Why are you telling
me this, Mr. Harrison?” the detective asked.
I said. “Poor Andrea was brutally stabbed by someone who took the time to open what
was left of her egg salad sandwich, and smear it onto her face. I’m not saying
killing her was somehow normal, but doing that afterwards, to me smacks of
“Such as?” he
“Listen,” I began,
“I know it sounds a little crazy. But today, people are treated for things like
this. Back when I was a kid, for example. I grew up in Minneapolis. I did well
in school in the fall and in the spring. But in the dead of winter, those long,
cold, and mostly dark and overcast skies, got me down real bad. Today they call
it Seasonal Dysfunction Disorder and they treat it with light. There are
special 'daylight lamps' for these people. My
point is, it’d be worth looking into some of these support groups and outpatient
studies going on that deal with social disorders and just see if they’ve come across
someone with an aversion – even a psychosis, connected to yellow food.”
“Did you and Ms. Bigelow get along, would you say?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said. “For the most part we did. She could be a bitch
but on those days you just tried to avoid her. She’d even say, 'just leave me alone
for a while' sometimes. We worked at M. J. Dunn together for over a year. I don’t
think we ever, you know, other than the Christmas party, ever socialized. But
this – this is just terrible.”
“There is one other fellow we’ve found with a connection to all three
victims,” he said, “besides yourself, I mean.”
“There is?” I said. “Who? I mean, can you tell me who?”
“An author,” he said. “A William Elgin.”
I rolled my eyes.
“Is something wrong?”
“Yes,” I said,
getting up. “I’m William Elgin. That’s the name under which I wrote my book. I
was excited. I gave copies to everyone; cost me a small fortune. It’s
said, and looked genuinely surprised. “That’s not what the author’s biography
“The author's biography,”
I began, “not unlike the author himself, is full of shit. Or at least was, when he
was in his 'Renaissance man' period.”
I sat back down.
“And before you
even ask, I have gone over in my mind everyone I can remember from M. J.
Dunn, and no one was capable of this. It would have to be someone outside;
one of our vendors perhaps, but no one within that company. And there’s something
to the victims?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“But more than that even. What are the odds that the one person with a
connection to all three victims has a theory about the killer, based on his
childhood experience with a similar affliction?”
long odds, Mr. Harrison,” he said. “Very long indeed. How do you account for
“I don’t know,” I said.
“But there’s only one person, say, outside of yourself, and you’re off
the hook because I just told you about it, who knows what I just told you about me as
a child and yellow food.”
* * * *
“Yes, I know Burt
Harrison,” said Doctor Blum. “He was a patient some years ago. He became very
angry with me for some reason. He finally stopped coming.”
“Do you remember any of the circumstances of that falling out?” he asked.
“As a matter of fact I do,” he said. “Burt was basically a fairly
well-adjusted neurotic. Bit his fingernails down to the quick…not an alcoholic, in
my judgment, but would overdo it now and then. He occasionally felt bad about, well, everything
really, and we’d talk. Finally one day, he came in and said I wasn’t doing
him any good and he was better before he started coming to see me. I didn’t say
anything, but I actually agreed with him. I never heard from him again.”
“We were wondering
about the possibility of a social disorder,” he asked.
“Actually,” he said, “calling Burt a well-adjusted neurotic, albeit
somewhat facetiously, is more information than I’m willing to share about a former
patient. But I can say that I saw no signs of anything like that.”
“You said that he became very angry with you. Might I assume that digging
up the past into the here and now tripped off some of that hostility?”
There was a pause.
“You could fairly assume that, I think,” he said. “Actually there
was one event during his early schooldays that was somewhat pivotal to his hostility. But
while it came up quite often and now that I think of it, he would find ways to bring it
up, it became such a flashpoint for his anger, that I suggested at one point he see another
therapist. This he took as me somehow evading my responsibility. That’s not
tables like that. On balance though, I never got the feeling
Burt was dangerous in any way; to himself or to others.”
“I see,” he said. “One other question, Doctor, may I ask if the
event had any connection to…yellow food, in some way?”
“After a fashion,” he said. “Vomit actually, and yes, he described
it as yellow.”
“It would be a
big help,” he said, “if you could remember the name of the person or even the
school where this happened?”
He smiled and said,
“The girl who
threw up in third grade. That was the title he gave her; Christine something.
Christine Kittles I think”.
* * *
a few weeks, I had begun to settle back into a sense of normalcy. I had assumed the
police hadn’t found any connection between my old therapist and the killings,
and while the whole thing was terrible and bizarre, I mean, life goes on. I
took a few days off after I told the detective what I thought and took the
opportunity to get my life in order; store a few things and whatnot. While I was
down at my storage locker on a Saturday, putting the last of the stuff away, the detective
walked up just as I was locking up.
“Hi,” I said.
“What are you doing down here?”
“I’m here to see you, Mr. Harrison,” he said.
“How did you…have you been following me?” I asked.
“Just now I did, yes,” he said. “You were driving off just as
I was pulling up at your townhouse. I wonder if we could talk about another aspect of your
theory that’s come to light? Do you remember a fellow student by the name of Christine
course,” I said.
I unlocked the padlock and began to raise the door.
“In fact,” I said, “It’s funny you should bring her up.
I just packed away my High School yearbook and stuff. I’ve got her picture here somewhere.
Why do you ask?”
“Your doctor said you
had some issues with Christine, Mr. Harrison,” he said. “I did a little research
and found she had died some years ago.”
I kept looking through my pictures.
“She’d been killed, actually,” he said. “And strangely enough,
she’d been stabbed.”
I pulled out the long picture of our eighth grade graduating class.
“Here she is,” I said, and stepped toward him to show him.
He paused for a moment, and took
a step toward me to take a look. When he did, I kept my eyes on her picture in my left
hand, and stabbed him through the heart with the bayonet in my right.
“Look at her,” I
said. “You’d never know how disgusting she was from this picture, would you?”
As he fell to his knees, I continued
to show him the picture.
fucking abomination really,” I said. “Eating and regurgitating yellow food;
disgusting to everyone.”
the bayonet out and let him fall forward into the locker. Twenty minutes later, I
had moved enough boxes to make room for the detective’s car and I backed it in.
I put him in the trunk, and as I was locking up again, Harry, the facility manager,
drove up and got out.
morning,” he said.
Harry,” I said. “I’m sorry about this. I sure appreciate your coming
down. I closed my checking account so I hope a money order will do?”
“Not a problem,” he said. “I’m sure sorry to hear about
your mother, though.”
“Thank you,” I said. “They said a year at the most but…well,
as you can see, I made it out for two years, just in case. At any rate I’ll let you
know before then when I'll get back.”
“Don’t worry about a thing, Mr. Elgin,” he said. “We’ll
be here for you.”
The thing about this is, while I’m nearly powerless to
do anything about it; if they’d just taken me seriously to begin with, they could
have put an end to it. God knows, I’ve given them every opportunity. Short of walking
up and saying, 'I did it and I’d do it again and I’ll keep doing it', I don’t
know what they want from me. I mean, I’m doing all the work here. I do it, I identify
myself and offer a theory and tell them my connection to it, and in this case, I even gave
them a blueprint to a previous event. And what does he do? He drives over, alone, and
lets himself be suckered into a long-term storage facility where it’ll be at
least two years before anyone finds him. I’m sorry but I’m not about to 'cry
for help' any louder than I have been.
Jack was retired from broadcasting and teaching and
everything was fine. Now, his wife Kathy is retired also and hanging around the
house every day, too. It's okay, but "fine" no longer applies. He actually was looking
for a part-time job until Kathy suggested he get one and now he's standing his ground.
He is the
author of seven books including Imagination: The Art of W. Jack Savage (wjacksavage.com)
and has been staring at the same unfinished novel for two years. As a result, another non-fiction,
autobiographical deal is nearly ready to go as well as what will be his third
short story collection. . . . Please stand by.