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Bruce Harris
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alotoftears.jpg

A Lot of Tears

 

by Bruce Harris

 

 

     Bates and Krowicki, over 35 years combined service on the force, began vomiting in the abandoned lot behind the old school.

     Nearby were the bodies of three girls, eyeless, the result of hungry birds and rodents. Flies circled their remains. Worms weren’t amused or distracted by the sick cops and went about their business. It wasn’t until reinforcements arrived that Bates and Krowicki saw and processed the signs: four handwritten signs containing the scrawled words, “DIRTY BITCH.”

     The first sign was secured to victim number one’s mouth with a meat cleaver. It hung at an angle. Another had been stapled by what appeared to be thick, large roofers staples to the inside thighs of the second victim. The third and fourth were thumbtacked to the nipples of the youngest body. All were “signed” with a vertical line and an upside-down triangle.

     The two detectives stared at each other, each reading the other’s mind. “Jeez, I have daughters myself,” went unsaid.

     Among the flashing lights and a small but growing curious crowd, a woman wearing a baseball cap with the word “Police” across the crown sketched the enigmatic triangular drawings into a notepad. For the first time, she was having second thoughts about her chosen profession.

    Bates looked over her shoulder and with a circular motion, rubbed his index fingers against his temples. “What does it look like to you?”

     The woman continued sketching. “Reminds me of the cover of a Thomas Pynchon novel, you know, the one with . . .”

     “Who?” interrupted Bates.

     “Skip it. I don’t know, I guess it could be some sort of simplistic martini glass.”

     “Could be. Yup, I can see that.” Bates tilted his still-aching head to the right. “With the olives plucked out!”

      The woman looked back at Bates but couldn’t tell if his brief laughter was nervous laughter. Details of the crime scene weren’t released for a number of reasons, not the least of which was to spare the public from the gruesome images.

*     *     *

     The beast was born some two decades earlier on an early spring day.

 

    A few hours after winning the school’s annual spelling bee, Frank Puritan was given an early dismissal from school and he wasted no time taking advantage of his newly-found freedom. With the championship trophy in one hand, a signed certificate in the other, he raced up Maple Street, down Euclid Avenue, and onto Forest Drive. He burst through the front door at number 18 and ran up five stairs to show off what was to be the first of many scholastic accomplishments.

 

    But Frank stopped short.

 

   “You’re a dirty bitch, aren’t you? Aren’t you? Say it!”

 

    The voice was foreign, but his mother’s repeated screams, “Yes. Yes, I’m a dirty bitch!” sent him robotically backward like a windup toy.

 

*     *     *

    Months following his horrific discovery, Bates, the once-hardened cop, had become depressed, withdrawn, and took to drinking by himself at Pete’s Tavern.

    Oftentimes he became drunk and delirious. One early morning after emptying a couple of bottles from Pete’s stock, Bates woke Krowicki and started screaming about the identity of the girls’ killer. When Krowicki showed no interest, Bates switched gears and began cursing Pete the bartender. “The no-good bastard tossed my ass out,” he cried. Then Bates himself passed out at Krowicki’s door. Krowicki felt badly for his old partner. Doctors said he suffered from severe combat stress reaction.

     Bates lost a lot more than his lunch that fateful afternoon in the lot, eventually taking his own life. Following the suicide, Krowicki spent most of his free time at Pete’s looking for answers, speaking to everyone and anyone about Bates. Maybe his old partner was on to something that early morning when he had rambled on about the murders and the identity of the killer?

     Krowicki questioned Pete. “He must have said something to you about the killings? Anything?”

     Pete was on the wrong side of 50, tall and slender with old Navy tattoos on both forearms. Krowicki stared at their movement as Pete worked glass after glass with a white cloth. “I wish I could help you, but he never said anything about it. Jeez, he was like totally changed after those girls were found.”

     Krowicki winced, reliving the moment. “Think, Pete. How about the time you bounced him out? Anything special about that night?”

     Pete smiled. “Shit. Which night? I booted him several times. You know, now that you mention it, there was one night when he became very agitated and I had to physically throw him out.”

     Krowicki gave him a look that said, “Spill.”  

     “I usually asked him to leave to save him from himself. He was generally a quiet drunk. But that one night, he starts going crazy on this guy seated right over there.” Pete pointed with a martini glass toward the end of the bar. “I remember now. The guy ordered a martini. I asked him how he liked it, and he says kinda loud, ‘I like my martinis like my bitches. Dirty.’ Then, he starts laughing. But all of a sudden, Bates, who is way beyond three sheets to the wind, comes up to the guy and starts screaming, ‘You fucking motherfucker,’ and grabs him by the shirt and I had to throw him out and…”

     Krowicki felt like he had been slapped. “Are you sure, Pete? Are you sure those were his exact words?”

     “Sure, I’m sure. Bates was only a few feet . . .”

     “Not Bates. The other guy! Think. He said exactly, ‘I like my martinis like my bitches. Dirty’?”

     “Yes. I thought he was an asshole. . . .”

     “Can you describe him? Recognize him again?”

     “Sure, sure, that’ll be easy. I mean, I think so. Hell, he paid for the martinis with a credit card. Don’t get too many plastic people on a typical night in this dump. Man, what’s this all about?”

     Two days later, the young puss of a psychopath, Frank Puritan’s high school yearbook portrait, was front-page news.

 

 

manualstrangle.jpg

Dirty Laundry

By Bruce Harris

 

     The first patrol car eased into the parking lot across from Suds and Duds Laundry.  Less than ten minutes later Hinton’s squad car arrived. Pena looked up from his newspaper and rolled down the window. “I hope you know what you’re doing.” The patrolman stared at the word, “JUSTICE” on the polished door of Hinton’s police cruiser.

     “It’ll work. If I’m reading this right, this isn’t the first time she’s pulled this crap on some fool thinking with his lower brain. Who the hell wants to get involved in a rape case? Let me answer that, my idiot married brother, that’s who. He sticks his dick in once, pulls out, refuses to pay her off, and now he’s in deeper than three fingers in a bowling ball. I know he didn’t force himself on…” Hinton stopped short. “Her!” He pointed to a slim blonde wearing short shorts carrying a large bag into the Laundromat.

     Pena tossed the newspaper aside. He whistled. “Nice! Man, I wouldn’t mind…”

     “Jackass!” The two cops stared across the street and waited. After a few minutes, she came out and headed toward her car. Hinton was already out of his vehicle making his way into a world of washers and dryers. Hinton found the washer that had just received the blonde’s coins. He pulled everything out, selecting six pairs of underwear. He threw the rest of the clothes back into the machine and shut the top. The water stream began as the machine again jerked to life.

     “Got ‘em,” he said to Pena. “I’m outta here. I’ll be in touch.”

     “Wait!” Pena looked around, saw no one. “Leave one with me. That red stringy one hanging from your pinky.”

     “You’re fucked up.” Hinton tossed the red underwear to Pena. “Have yourself a party.” As Hinton pulled away, he looked into the rearview mirror and noticed Pena lifting the garment to his nose.

          Pena read the sports section until the blonde returned. She was stuffing her clothes into a dryer when Pena entered Suds and Duds.

     “Shit!” It was the blonde speaking. “Officer, my underwear is missing. Can you believe this? Some pervert must have taken my underwear! They’re all gone!”

      “That’s why I’m here. We’ve had reports of similar thefts, but we’ll get the creep. Follow me. My car is across the street. I need to fill out a report.”

     Perfect timing. As Pena and the girl walked toward his car, his cell phone rang. It was Hinton.

     “I knew it. Mack at the lab just confirmed it. The five pairs of panties contain more fucking swimmers in them than an Olympic swimming pool during qualifying races, and all were shot from different cannons! She’s a low-life blackmailing whore.”

     “Yes, I see,” responded Pena nonchalantly. “I really can’t talk now, honey, I’ve got some paperwork to complete. Be a good girl and do your homework and when daddy comes home tonight he will give you a big hug and a kiss.”

     Once inside the squad car, Pena wrapped his hands around the blonde’s neck. Her heart began beating faster than she could spread her legs after a night on the town. “Okay, listen and listen good,” snorted the cop, “you’re going to drop it, right?”

     Panic stricken, she could barely get the words out. “What are you talking about? Drop what? Are you crazy?”

     Blondie tried to loosen the hands around her neck, but she was no match for the 4th Precinct’s arm wrestling champion. “I don’t know…”

     “The bullshit rape charge against Mr. Hinton. It was consensual. You know it. I know it. Drop the god-dammed charges. Got it?”

     She hesitated. “Okay. Okay. I’ll drop it.” The words came out in a whisper.

     Pena released his grip. “That’s a good girl.”

     She collected herself and thought about Pena’s wedding ring and his police pension. She looked the cop up and down, fixating on his crotch. “We could have had a good time together.” She licked her lips. “It’s Valentine’s Day, ya know?”

     Pena stared at her tanned legs. It was his turn to think with the wrong head.







monumentaldeath.jpg
Art by Bryan Cicalese 2016

Monumental Death

 

Bruce Harris

 

He pinched himself. Twice. Clyde “Cornstalk” Hyde looked out the train’s window. It was an effort to suppress laughter. He was that happy. No one could blame him. The six-foot, four-inch right-handed pitcher for the great New York Yankees, along with his famous teammates, sped northward to Boston and a 3-game series in Fenway Park with the Boston Red Sox. Hyde had come a long way from the Kansas farm in which he had been so poorly raised. His abusive and alcoholic father left home before Clyde started grade school. His mother’s reaction was to run around with everyone in the small town. Clyde had beaten the odds by virtue of a right hand that could throw a baseball 100 miles per hour. He spent years on minor league teams, rode in rickety buses throughout the Midwest and South before coming to the attention of a Yankees scout. Fast forward to the present. Teammates played cards, told stories, or took naps. Hyde couldn’t understand that. He hadn’t slept in what seemed like days. Adrenaline, like water through an open fire hydrant, gushed through his big frame. His mind took him back three days prior. From his vantage point in the bullpen, Clyde had watched the Yankees sweep the Washington Senators three games to open the 1949 baseball season in the cathedral known as Yankee Stadium. Scenery flew past the window. Hyde got chills as he thought about the opening game ceremonies and the monument erected to the Sultan of Swat, the great Babe. This was the beginning of his major league career.

“Kid. Got some bad news,” said the Yankees’ grizzled skipper as he made himself comfortable in the seat next to Hyde. “Doc says you ain’t quite ready to pitch.”

Hyde was numb, but recovered. “What? Whaddya mean? I feel great.”

“I know, I know, but it is just for a few more days. Promise. You’ll be ready to pitch April 26, second game against the Athletics back in New York.” The manager waited for a response, got none, so he pressed on. “Gotta send you back to New York on the next train. Got to fill the roster spot with someone else. Those damn Red Sox are tough. Can’t go in there short-handed” Hyde began to respond but was cut off. “Three games is all. You’ll be back in uniform after three games.”

***

It was as if Clyde Hyde had given up a game-winning home run in his major league debut. He felt sick. He kept telling himself it was only a temporary setback. He’d survived a lot worse. He questioned himself as to why he told the trainer that he had felt a twinge in his elbow after throwing a sharp curve ball during the final game of spring training. Exhausted from two long train rides, Hyde wasn’t ready to return home and face his wife. He headed into Muldoon’s on Eighth Avenue and drank. By the time he staggered home, the Yankees were taking the field in Boston. Hyde flung open the door and shouted, “Look who’s home, Ruth. Surprise!” He saw his wife, naked in bed with another man.

“Clyde! No! What are you doing…Stop that! Stop that! Do you hear me? Get your hands off of him! Stop it!”

In a drunken stupor, the big ballplayer had grabbed his wife’s lover and shoved him against the bedroom wall. Like a shortstop going into the hole for a ground ball, the man made a snap grab for his clothes and scurried out. Hyde turned his attention toward his wife. The manager’s news, the long train rides, lack of sleep, and the alcohol combined to cloud Hyde’s judgment. When he was finished, his wife was dead.

***

He was the first player to arrive at Yankee Stadium April 25. He carried a large duffel bag along with a shovel he’d found in the grounds crew’s supply room and headed out toward centerfield. He was alone in the cavernous stadium. The dirt around The Babe’s monument was still fresh and soft. He dug furiously, dropped the bag with his wife’s remains into the hole, and covered it up.

Two hours prior to game time, Clyde sat in the locker room putting on the Yankee pinstripes. He turned to the player next to him. “Jake, do you think Ruth is really buried at his centerfield monument?”

The veteran chuckled and stood up. “Hey fellas,” he shouted, “The Cornstalk thinks Ruth is buried in the outfield!”



eleventhframe.jpg
Art by Tim Ramstad 2017

Eleventh Frame

 

Bruce Harris

 

One man, Dennis Johnson, knew secrets. The two fingers, the affair, and the cup of sugar in the gas tank, but he didn’t know the body’s whereabouts.

The other, Malcolm Hutchins, knew secrets. The two fingers, the affair, the body’s whereabouts, but he didn’t know about the cup of sugar in the gas tank.

Dennis and Malcolm were friends and competitors. They shared a locker at Roll-A-Way Lanes just outside the city limits. Along with ninety-eight other participants, they competed in Roll-A-Way Lanes’ annual bowling tournament. The contest boasted the largest cash prize money on the east coast. And, just as certain that every September the tournament sponsor kicked off festivities proclaiming, “Gentlemen, roll your balls,” Malcolm Hutchins and Dennis Johnson finished one, two, respectively. Malcolm had edged out Dennis the past eleven years, always by margins of fewer than three pins; the outcome usually decided in the tenth and final frame. The result of this year’s competition, their last, was no different. Nor was the famous Malcolm Hutchins “thumbs up” gesture to the crowd following victory.

What should have been a celebration of another tournament win with drinks, and toasts, turned instead into a violent confrontation between Malcolm Hutchins and his wife, Fran. He didn’t miss out on the liquor, however.

“I saw the way you looked at him, Fran. Don’t deny it!”

“You’re crazy, you know that? And drunk!”

“Am I? Maybe, but I hired a man, a private detective. You know that?” Hutchins detected the slightest pullback of Fran’s head. “Who do you think you’re kidding? My guy saw you and Dennis go into the Starlight Motel on at least a half dozen occasions. How could you?”

Fran glared back and gave Malcolm the middle finger. “How? Because Dennis treats me with respect and spends time with me and listens to what I have to say and…”

“Shut up! And put your finger down. How dare you give me the finger!”

2

With that, Fran shoved her hand closer, and with an added oomph, shot her husband the finger again. It was all the alcohol-fueled Malcolm could endure. He grabbed the giant trophy, its plaque read, “1969 Roll-A-Way Lanes Tournament Champion.” Had this been the board game Clue, the solution, “Mr. Hutchins, in the bedroom, with the trophy,” was a winner. That wasn’t all. The booze took over. Enraged at her having given him the middle finger, Malcolm went into the kitchen, grabbed a steak knife and cut off Fran’s finger. He stared at the wedding ring purchased years ago and felt shame. Betrayal. He cut off her ring finger as well. Malcolm Hutchins carried the body into his car. After disposing it, he headed to Roll-A-Way Lanes. It was late, nearly closing time. Malcolm ignored the few remaining patrons. He opened the locker he shared with Dennis Johnson, removed the two severed fingers from his pocket and placed them into the two corresponding holes drilled into Johnson’s bowling ball.

***

Dennis Johnson also hired a man, a different kind of man, not a private detective, to tail Malcolm Hutchins’ shiny 1969 model Pontiac GTO, the new car Hutchins had purchased with his tournament winnings. The hired man was a professional. He kept his nondescript black Chevy at a safe distance and watched as the GTO slowed, stuttered, and eventually steered toward the side of the road. Sugar and gasoline don’t mix. The man touched the knife strapped to his belt and nodded to no one. He didn’t have to wait long before seeing Malcolm Hutchins on the side of the road hitchhiking, thumb out.


Bruce Harris is the author of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson: ABout Type.

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