TELL IT LIKE A MURDER MYSTERY
So the whole thing kicks off with this dude lying dead on the floor of a gas station bathroom.
His name was Jordan Baker and he struggled with obesity. For a while he rode around town on a scooter like he was an old person. It was slow moving, but then so was he, and so it scooted along about as fast as it would have taken him to walk, anyway. For three years he got around on the thing but it was not until the final weeks of his life that he renounced it. “I’m 34,” he told a friend shortly before his death. “I don’t want to be getting around on that scooter like I’m 84.”
The friend, a woman named Heather who waited tables at the local Perkins, smiled at this. They had been friends since grade school, and so when Jordan announced that he was giving up his scooter, Heather could not have been more relieved.1 Maybe, she thought, he wouldn’t die in his forties, wouldn’t fall dead of a heart attack or a blood clot. Maybe he would live as long as the 84-year-olds who those scooters were made for in the first place.
He didn’t make it to 84, of course.
Kylie, the chick who found him, was a grungy looking girl who fell in with the Goth scene her junior year of high school. She had a lip ring and a nose ring and a ring piercing her clitoris. Her hair was dyed black and she still dressed like she was trying to piss off her parents. Kylie was not in high school anymore; she was 22. Kylie worked and Jordan died at the Lucky’s Gas Station on the outskirts of Black Haven, Colorado.2
The police arrived within the hour in the form of Captain Benson and his deputy, who, for the purposes of this story, will be referred to primarily as Deputy Skeptical.3
“I don’t know about this,” Deputy Skeptical said as they walked into Lucky’s Gas Station. “Sounds like he just died of a heart attack.”
Captain Benson shrugged as he opened the door. “It’s a slow day,” he said, a little bell going off as they stepped inside.
From behind the counter, Kylie looked up and asked, “Are you here about the body?” and immediately, Captain Benson was stricken. This girl—this gas station cashier—was beautiful, unlike anything he had ever seen before, any creature of heaven or of Earth. Everything about her—her metallic earrings, her dark bangs, her pissed-off expression—was heavenly. The sight of her took the breath from his lungs and when she spoke he heard only the trumpets of angels. “Yes ma’am,” he said, holding his hat mournfully to his chest. “We’re here about the body.”
Kylie led them to the men’s room. “He’s in there,” she said.
The men’s room door was half-opened and there was a hole bashed in just above the doorknob. “What happened here?” Captain Benson asked, touching a splinter with his index finger. “Some kind of scuffle?”
Kylie explained that she bashed the hole in with a hammer after Jordan Baker had been locked away in the bathroom and unresponsive for over an hour.
Captain Benson nodded as he wrote the description into his 3 x 5 college-ruled notepad. He always had a notepad on him. He bought them in bulk from the internet and in them he claimed to write every detail of every case he ever worked.4 “Good thinking,” he said, fondly.
Deputy Skeptical shrugged. “It was all right,” he conceded. “It was all right thinking.”
They pushed the men’s room door open. Jordan Baker was face down on the floor, pants and underwear wrapped around his ankles and his mutilated ass aimed at the ceiling. Blood was everywhere. Even the toilet was smashed, a soaking copy of Men’s Health discarded on the floor, blood and toilet water seeping through the binding. A trail of slime led to the back wall, where a hole the size of a small animal had been smashed through the brick.
So yeah, Jordan Baker was dead all right.
Captain Benson looked to Kylie. “We’re going to need a statement out of you,” he said.
Kylie did her best to explain what happened and Captain Benson marked every word in his notepad. She said that he came in around 5:00pm and parked in a handicapped spot. At the time of the investigation, the best theory Captain Benson could discern as to the nature of Jordan Baker’s disability was his morbid obesity.5 Jordan had come in and asked for the bathroom key, to which Kylie replied that the bathroom was for paying customers only. At this, Jordan picked up a copy of Men’s Health from the magazine rack and placed it on the counter. Kylie nearly laughed, assuming that he must have been purchasing it in an ironic act of cheeky self-deprecation.6 Jordan paid for the magazine and waddled to the bathroom.
“Didn’t you hear any grunts or anything?” asked Deputy Skeptical.
“I mean, yeah,” said Kylie. “I just figured he was getting himself off. Glory holes are sort of an urban legend around here. Truck drivers come in all the time, waving their dicks around and asking for the glory hole. I tell them there aren’t any, and to get out of here, them and their dicks. But then, sometimes, they’ll buy a couple dollars’ worth of something and ask for the bathroom key. Sometimes they try to dig their own glory holes—I’ve caught guys drilling into the wall I don’t know how many times—but mostly they just masturbate.”
“And what do you do with them?” Benson asked, writing as he spoke. “With the glory holes.”
Kylie shrugged. “We fill them.”
“Who does?” Benson asked, concerned. “You don’t, do you?”
“Hell no,” said Kylie. “Management hires kids off the street.” She did not catch Captain Benson’s palpable sigh of relief, or for that matter, the interested, inquisitive face made by Deputy Skeptical, who was running low on cash and thinking about moonlighting somewhere.
After they finished the interview, Benson gathered the remaining evidence by scraping up the slime and sealing it into the ziplock baggie that had housed his peanut butter and jelly sandwich. As he did this, Deputy Skeptical took a series of graphic photographs of Jordan Baker’s corpse on his digital camera. They shook their heads one last time at the crime scene and wrapped the men’s room in police tape.
On his way out, Benson turned to get one last look at Kylie. She caught his smile but pretended not to, blushing as she looked back down at the lipstick magazine she had been ironically flipping through. Captain Benson and Deputy Skeptical stepped into the parking lot, where two paramedics unloaded a body bag from an ambulance.
“Well,” said Deputy Skeptical, thinking that Jordan Baker’s death was just a fairly run of the mill—creatively executed—suicide, and not, as his superior was no doubt already imagining, a disturbing and unexplainable mystery that implied something great and fantastic about the world around them.
“Well,” said Captain Benson, thinking only of Kylie.
Two weeks later, on a Friday night, Kylie showed up at a house party thrown by this guy she used to date.7 He had already graduated—so had Kylie, with a degree in history—but his house still looked like it belonged to a college sophomore, with movie posters everywhere, empty PBRs on every inch of counter space and Christmas lights wrapped around columns and windows. He greeted Kylie enthusiastically when she came in and towards the back of the living room, a guy named Perry Pullman who she had never met before but who seemed to know everybody gave her a once over. The house was packed with 20-somethings, only a few of whom Kylie had met previously. Among those she recognized: a bickering couple on their way to a bitter, loveless marriage, a cocky bassist from a local punk-rock band called Vaguely Familiar, and this guy they called Gonna-Die-Greg.8
Gonna-Die-Greg spent most of the night on the fringes, never quite joining a circle of conversation but never quite shutting himself off either.9 Girls kept coming up and offering pity sex but he kept turning them off by pointing out that the intrinsic pain and brevity of existence sort of rendered the whole hook-up thing into something of a moot point. At first, Kylie’s ex—the guy whose place it was—worried that Gonna-Die-Greg might put a damper on everything, but he ended up adding a weird, anxious, end-of-the-world energy to the proceedings. Everybody who entered his line of orbit suddenly become painfully cognizant of their own mortality and how fucked up it was that they could just die one day in some stupid car crash and they all got into this really weird mood where they were making out with strangers and dancing in the living room and having quiet, unspoken epiphanies that they were still in love with old girlfriends.
Drinking out of a plastic cup in the back of the room, that guy Perry Pullman snickered at Gonna-Die-Greg and his increasingly large congregation of existentially bummed out disciples. The whole anxiety about mortality thing wasn’t his style—Perry Pullman lived in the moment. He pushed pixie dust and preached about the power of positive thinking and he kept calling everyone a maniac and a bastard like he was born into the Beat Generation instead of just awkwardly appropriating their style by talking in long, rambling, run-on sentences and going on and on about Naked Lunch and getting drunk before midday and taking serious, mind-altering, fuck-you-up narcotics that kept his mind spinning and fingers twitching 36 hours even after ingestion. Perry Pullman swaggered from one person the next, making faux-shy talk with girls whose boyfriends were in the bathroom puking up blood or in the backyard swaying back and forth pissing diluted gin onto half-dead patches of grass when finally his eyes fell onto Kylie.
He approached her, said, “Hey,” and nodded towards Gonna-Die-Greg, tapping his feet nervously in the kitchen as he explained to some undergrad girl that everything was meaningless. All smooth-like, Perry Pullman asked, “You ever think about death?”
“All the time,” said Kylie. “Some guy dropped dead at work just the other day.”
“Found him in the bathroom, asshole torn to shit like it was put through a meat grinder.” She smiled. “And here’s the strangest thing: there was green slime all over the floor and a hole the size of my fist through the brick wall—the sun shining in like a spotlight.”
Perry Pullman laughed. “Jesus,” he said. “How the hell did that happen?”
“Nobody knows,” said Kylie. She looked around the room, gave a playful grin, leaned forward and said, “It’s a mystery,” in such a weird, oddball tone that Perry Pullman almost fell in love right then and there for reasons he could not have articulated.
“That’s wild,” Perry Pullman said, at a loss for anything intelligent to say. “So what the hell happened next?” he asked, and then she spoke at length about the whole ordeal with the police and the paramedics and the pissed-off, improbable way with which her boss treated the whole thing like it was somehow her fault, threatening to dock the bathroom-repair fees from her next paycheck.10 Specifically, she talked in circles about Captain Benson, who she described as being middle-aged, somewhat overweight and balding, but still sort of handsome if you concentrated really hard on his face. “He was kind,” said Kylie, and she went on to say that when he looked at her, it was like he was looking past her skin and face and legs and breasts and at the person really truly inside her, because there was something about the way his eyes widened and his mouth curved into the shape of a smile as he said, “Yes, ma’am, we’re here about the body,” that made her really, truly feel for the first time in her life that there was someone who loved her for the tiny little pocket inside her chest that housed her soul.
Perry Pullman laughed. “Sounds like he’s got a crush on you,” he said.
They continued to converse through two rounds of shots, six song changes and three enthusiastic strangers wandering in with 12 packs of beer and acting like they knew everybody. Their conversation veered wildly back and forth between small talk and big talk, making no real distinction between a debate over the ascending quality of The Hold Steady’s discography and larger than life, faux-philosophical topics such as the practical nature of romantic love. An eventual lull in conversation led Perry Pullman to say: “Did you know that the inventor of the Segway died when he drove his Segway off a cliff?11 Speaking of segues—what do you say we make our way to a bedroom?” He grinned, thinking she’d be so blindsided by the crackerjack nature of his wit that she’d get weak in the knees, wet underneath the panties, and say something like, “Kill me, love me, stuff me in a closet and cut my jugular, do whatever you want to me,” but instead she smacked him, turned 180 degrees and stormed out of the house, slamming the door behind her.12
Disappointed and deep in the throes of sexual frustration, Perry Pullman rubbed the spot on his face where her palm hit his skin. “Prude,” he said, to no one in particular.13
This guy hosting the party looked up at him from a bean-bag chair pressed against the wall. “That girl’s a hurricane,” he said, taking a puff of his joint. He coughed.
“Tropical storm, maybe,” said Perry Pullman. He followed Kylie outside and found her smoking underneath the full-moonlight at the end of the driveway. “What crawled up your ass?”
She was fucked-up and lonely and had reached the point in the night where she couldn’t walk in a straight line to save her life and she grabbed a handful of his shirt and pulled him close and he immediately slipped the tongue when she kissed him.
Their relationship began this way and it would not end until four months later, in October, atop Perry Pullman’s tiny mattress in his tiny bedroom in his tiny apartment when he ejaculated onto Kylie’s chest. As she wiped off cum with a used tissue, she caught him checking his text messages and said, “I’m sad when I’m with you.” They had just returned to his apartment after a brief sojourn to the Black Haven Halloween Festival.14 They did not coordinate a couple’s costume and he barely said a word in the corn maze.
Perry Pullman put down his phone and ran his hand through his hair. He really had tried with Kylie. Six days earlier she had said, “I really think I could see myself with you for a while. Like, a long while,” and he had said, “Cool,” and she had said, “What about you?” and he’d said, “I don’t know, ok?” and she said, “How could you not know?” and he said, “I really don’t, just give me some time.” She gave him a week and had been thinking about it ever since. Really stressing over it. Up all night. Talking it over with the guys. Chain smoking behind the bowling alley.
He handed Kylie the loose t-shirt that she had taken off moments earlier. “Here,” he said. “Put this on.” She pulled the shirt over her naked shoulders and Perry Pullman’s mouth hung open like an idiot as he realized what he was doing. It was one of those moments where he could see two roads all laid out before him—one, a life lived with Kylie and another without her—each running in his mind’s eye like Super-8 style home movies of potential Christmas future.15
Nervously, after a couple false starts, Perry Pullman said: “I don’t think we should do this anymore. I’m sorry.”
In the 180 days between Kylie and Perry Pullman’s first kiss and last sad hand job, Perry Pullman had good moments and bad. In his best, he pulled away from the touch of Kylie’s lips, brushed the hair from her eyes, smiled and said, “You know I’m stupid for you, right?”, and in his worst, he snuck off to the bathroom to pop drowsy, nighttime cold medication when she spent the night because he always had trouble sleeping with his arms wrapped around her. Off-brand cold medication in his stomach, all night long he would have weird, violent, psychosexual fever dreams and occasionally he would wake up and Kylie would be awake also and they would start fucking without saying anything and the next morning he would be unsure if they really had been fucking or if it had just been another weird, violent, psychosexual fever dream.
In his best moments, though, Perry Pullman was present.16
In his best moments, Perry Pullman took stabs at self-improvement.17
In his best moments, Perry Pullman stayed up with Kylie and listened to her late-night theories about Captain Benson and the look he had given her on his way out of Lucky’s Gas Station. She woke him up some nights just to tell him about it. “Hey,” Kylie would say. “Hey, are you up?” and then she would go on and on about Captain Benson, working herself into tears that she could never explain no matter how many times he asked her to. Benson had been on her mind ever since she found the body. “I just keep thinking about it,” she would say, half whispering. “I think he really loved me.”
“I really love you,” Perry Pullman would say, running his hand over her cheek, already unsure of whether or not it was really happening.
A few months later, moments after being dumped and just before Halloween, Kylie started shouting at Perry Pullman. She didn’t think he was the love of her life or anything, or that she’d marry him, have kids with him or buy twin funeral plots, but she really did think he loved her. And so she was mad as hell, shouting so loudly that the elderly couple living the adjacent apartment called the police.
A bang on Perry Pullman’s door interrupted Kylie in the middle of a rant about how much of a coward he was for leaving her. Perry Pullman pulled a pair of jeans over his hips and opened the door. “Yeah?” he asked, zipping his pants.
“We got a call about a domestic disturbance,” said Captain Benson, standing triumphant in the dim light of the hallway.18 He scanned the room and caught glimpse of the girl sitting on the futon in the back, wearing only a ratty band shirt and a pair of unwashed underwear.
“Kylie Heselden,” he said. “So good to see you.” He smiled and Deputy Skeptical could not help but to smirk at the coincidental nature of their reunion.
After calming things down, Captain Benson offered Kylie a ride back to her apartment. His voice was so sincere that even Deputy Skeptical could not have shot down the suggestion.
As Captain Benson drove, he kept both hands on the wheel and made gentle small talk about the weather and The Rockies and kept asking polite questions like, “Where do you live?” and “How old are you, exactly?” and “What are your favorite things to eat?” Turning to examine the backseat, Deputy Skeptical realized that Kylie was smiling.
Captain Benson parked in front of Kylie’s apartment. “Walk you to your door?” he asked, and she blushed. She said, “Thank you,” and shoved her hands in the pocket of her hoodie as they walked the long stretch of concrete to her door. “You look terrible,” she said, and she meant it. He looked sleep deprived.
Captain Benson laughed, sort of. “It’s been a long week,” he said. “Are you all right?”
Kylie almost laughed. “Everything is so fucked, all the time,” she said.
Being 20 years older, infinitely wiser and often kind, Benson gave a weak smile and crouched to sit on her doorstep. As Kylie sat to join him, he said, “Everything is fucked until it isn’t,” a statement Kylie interpreted to mean that she would continue to be heartbroken by the wrong guys until she finally found the right one. Benson smiled the way he did when they first met, like he loved her not for her body but for the untouchable, unphysical, intangible nature of her soul, and Kylie, being deep down underneath all the dark clothing and dark makeup and vaginal piercings something of a soft-bellied romantic, kissed Captain Benson on the cheek.
Benson took a moment, smiled nervously, and leaned in to kiss her again. He put one hand on her waist and groped her right breast with the other, slipping the tongue as their lips mashed together. Kylie pressed one hand against his chest, pulled away and said, “Benson,” in this throaty, desperate whisper like she was in the last act of a romantic comedy.19 She rubbed her fingers against his hand and pretended not to notice the band on his ring finger. “You should come inside,” she said.
Captain Benson managed to articulate an “OK,” and nodded enthusiastically. All summer, most of fall, ever since they met he had been imagining what she looked like naked. He’d fantasized about it, dreamt about it, and sketched doodle after doodle of her naked body in the margins of his notepad—tits perky, vagina hairless and her name written invariably just past the margins, a little heart dotting the “i”.
Kylie took Captain Benson’s hand in her own and opened the front door to her apartment. “Come on,” she said, leading him inside. “You can do whatever you want to me.”
A little over four months earlier, back in June, as paramedics loaded Jordan Baker’s corpse into a body bag, Captain Benson and Deputy Skeptical retired to the local Perkins. While waiting for their order, Captain Benson picked up the digital camera and flipped through the pictures that Deputy Skeptical had taken of the bathroom. “What did you think of the girl?” he asked.
“Who—the waitress?” asked Deputy Skeptical.
“No, the one from the gas station,” said Captain Benson. “Kylie.”
“Oh. She seemed all right. A little shaken.” Deputy Skeptical cleared his throat. “So what do you think happened? Suicide, right?”
“That doesn’t make sense,” said Captain Benson. “What about the hole in the wall? What about his asshole?”
Deputy Skeptical shrugged. “Maybe a squirrel did it.”20
“Sure,” said Deputy Skeptical. “What do you think?”
“I don’t know,” said Captain Benson. “I’m not sure yet.” He looked back to the camera and paused when he came to a photo that spanned the entire canvass of the crime scene—Jordan’s dead body, the busted toilet, etc.
“You know, it’s like my mom always used to tell me,” said Deputy Skeptical, deadpan.
“Life is like a box of chocolates.” He took a slow, measured sip from his mug. “Doesn’t last long for fat people.”
Captain Benson couldn’t help but snicker. “Jesus,” he said, setting the camera back on the table. “Jordan Baker.”
At that moment, their waitress, Heather, returned to their table with Captain Benson’s pancakes and Deputy Skeptical’s French toast. She smiled upon hearing her friend’s name. “How do you know Jordan?” she asked, placing their food in front of them.
Both men froze. Captain Benson removed his cap. “Ma’am,” he said.
Heather’s eyes fell to the table, where an image of Jordan Baker’s bloodied, half-naked body was still displayed on the screen of the digital camera. She made a horrible whimpering noise, bent over and was sick. She cried very hard and they tipped very well.
In July, Captain Benson and Deputy Skeptical sat across from each other in their usual booth at Perkins, neither saying much about their personal lives or inner-most thoughts. Deputy Skeptical almost never made small talk, would speak up so rarely that his voice would sometimes surprise even Captain Benson. Deputy Skeptical was very professional in that regard but also sometimes unintentionally hurtful. Finally Captain Benson offered up the words, “I can’t stop thinking about it,” as he pushed the final bite of a pancake back and forth across his plate with the blades of his fork.
“The investigation or Kylie?” Deputy Skeptical asked.
The investigation into Jordan Baker’s death had stalled. They had no leads, no motive, no suspect, no anything. Captain Benson brought Kylie up in conversation whenever possible though, going so far as to call her into the station for an additional round of unnecessary questioning. The interrogation offered very little in the way of answers. All Captain Benson got out of the exchange was some stolen moments with his beloved and a few parenthetical asides about how things had been at Lucky’s Gas Station in the wake of Jordan Baker’s death.21
“What are you thinking?” asked Deputy Skeptical.
“I think that there has to be more to this case than meets the eye,” said Captain Benson. “I think that there has to be an angle that we haven’t tried yet, or some detail we’re overlooking. I don’t think Jordan Baker killed himself. I think this case is bigger than both of us.” He hooked the last piece of pancake with his fork and brought it to his mouth. “And I think I should call Kylie,” he said, chewing.
One booth over, Heather poured coffee into a patron’s mug, arm shaking as she listened.
In August, the investigation into the death of Jordan Baker was officially closed by the Black Haven Police Department. The campaign to close the case was spearheaded by Deputy Skeptical, who claimed to have run the slime through a lab examination. “It’s just mucus,” he told everybody, “nothing to see here,” and the Chief of Police closed the case.22
“You can’t be serious,” Captain Benson said, stopping the Chief of Police in the hallway. “Something happened to Jordan Baker in that bathroom. We can’t just let this one go. There could be something really big happening here.”
The Chief of Police shrugged. “Either way,” he said, turning his attention to an email, drafting a response. “You read the deputy’s report.”
Captain Benson cursed. As he paced back to his cubicle, muttering profanity, he passed by Deputy Skeptical, drinking from a Dixie cup and standing near the water cooler. Captain Benson stopped and asked, “Just what the hell is wrong with you, anyways?”23
When they got breakfast at Perkins the next morning, neither said anything about the closing of the investigation. They had new, small-scale cases to deal with—some punk had stuck up a liquor store and escaped on bike, a woman had maxed out her unpaid parking tickets and they had received an anonymous, likely false tip that a pint-sized prostitution ring was being run out of the local pinball joint.
“I guess we better start pulling over bikers,” said Deputy Skeptical, quietly.
“Yeah,” said Captain Benson.
“We should probably check the security footage.”
Both men sat, eating in silence. Suddenly Captain Benson slammed his fork and put both hands onto the table. “It’s bullshit that we never talk,” he said. “That girl, Kylie—I’m in love with her.”
Deputy Skeptical gave a weak, pitying smile. “No such thing,” he said. “You’re crazy—what about Josephine? What about the kids?” When Captain Benson didn’t reply, Deputy Skeptical just shook his head. “She probably doesn’t even know your name,” he said.
One morning in September, Heather approached Captain Benson at his usual booth.
“Can I sit?” she asked. Deputy Skeptical had just excused himself to use the bathroom.
Captain Benson nodded. “The investigation is closed.” he said. “It was a suicide.”
Heather hadn’t been sleeping much. The best part of her day was in the morning before she remembered that Jordan was dead and the worst part was when she fucked guys behind the pinball place and let out an involuntary, broken moan upon imagining his face onto that of her patron. She refused to believe that Jordan had killed himself. It just wasn’t like him. He had been trying. He had been eating well. He was being better to his mother. He was taking a stab at actually writing the mystery novel he’d always talked about writing instead of just consuming cheap paperbacks on the daily. And so Heather had to believe instead that Jordan had been murdered, or that something otherwise fantastic or strange or worthy of him had taken him out of this life. That he hadn’t killed himself or shit himself to death.24
“You don’t really think it was suicide, do you?” she asked.
“No,” said Captain Benson. “I really don’t.” He bit his lip and then promised—off the record—that he would find out what really happened to Jordan Baker. As he finished his sentence, Deputy Skeptical returned, locked eyes with Benson and neither had to say anything.
Captain Benson and Deputy Skeptical crossed paths just before Halloween at the Black Haven Halloween Festival, both on duty but neither in attendance on police business. Deputy Skeptical had picked up a security shift and Captain Benson was there to meet Heather. They had arranged to meet earlier that day; he was going to tell her what happened to Jordan.
“Um,” said Deputy Skeptical, stopping as he passed Captain Benson, perched on a park bench, tapping his fingers nervously and ignoring the half-drunk residents of Black Haven stumbling past him dressed as movie monsters.
Captain Benson stood. “All right, Deputy,” he said. “Cards on the table.” His eyes were bloodshot. His hair was disheveled. He hadn’t been sleeping much. “I’m here to meet Heather—the waitress. I’ve been doing some under-the-table investigative work into what happened to Jordan. I found something; I really need you to listen. I’m going to need your help with this.”
Just as Captain Benson began to explain, some girl dressed as a clown started vomiting into the bushes behind him. The grim obligation of part-time security weighing heavy on his heart, Deputy Skeptical knelt down to help her, holding the girl’s hair back and telling her it was OK, all while trying his hardest to listen in on Captain Benson’s rambling, rapid-fire explanation of his off-duty, off-the-record, off-kilter investigation into the death of Jordan Baker.25
Deputy Skeptical pointed the woman in the direction of the bathroom and called in the custodial team on his walkie-talkie. He turned to Captain Benson, incredulous. “So what the hell are you saying?”
Captain Benson took a moment to compose himself and said, with just a hint of self-awareness, “Deputy, I believe it was monsters.”
Tired, beaten-up, tossed around, forced into submission by the wide breadth of the universe and covered in the stains of wretched excess from a woman who might have alcohol poisoning, Deputy Skeptical just sneered. “No such thing as monsters,” he said.
Later that night—after a lengthy debate with Captain Benson, an emotionally taxing meeting with Heather, a call from dispatch regarding a domestic disturbance on the far side of town, a coincidental reunion with Kylie, and a somewhat uncomfortable car ride—Deputy Skeptical will watch from the squad car as Captain Benson kisses Kylie on the porch of her apartment, the whole scene playing out like a silent movie.
He will smile, say, “Well, my God,” move over to the driver’s seat and turn the key. As Kylie takes Captain Benson’s hand and leads him through her front door, Deputy Skeptical will buckle his seatbelt and drive off, overwhelmed suddenly with tremendous hope, not only for his friend but also for everything.
He will think, nervously at first, that if Captain Benson could get Kylie to love him then maybe he can believe in things again. Maybe God is real. Maybe love is real. Maybe something extraordinary really did happen to an obese man in a gas station bathroom. Maybe everyone would start calling him Deputy Believer.
He will dial the Chief of Police. “It’s Andrew,” he will say to the answering machine. “I’m reopening the Jordan Baker case. Call me.” He will toss the phone behind him and accelerate past a stop sign, past Perkins, past Lucky’s Gas Station, past the run-down dive bar where he drinks alone most nights. He will howl. Laugh. Smack the roof in fits of adrenaline. Look wild-eyed out the window like everything is new and sweet and otherworldly—unbridled love bursting from the soul of every nameless pedestrian and untapped, innumerable mysteries lurking underneath each familiar storefront.
He loved her and she liked him. She liked him quite a bit actually, but not enough to consider him as a sexual partner. This isn’t to say that she was not sexually active. She fucked guys behind the pinball place four nights a week, sometimes loudly and sometimes violently.
- Black Haven was founded in 1880 by a miner named Gunther Black who struck it rich during the Gold Rush. He intended for Black Haven to be the pride of Colorado. He thought there’d be gold underneath every household; he thought they’d all be plutocrats.
During Deputy Skeptical’s second week at the Black Haven P.D., the station went on a team building retreat to the barren roads of Wyoming to drink beer and look up at the sky and make UFOs out of airplanes. While everyone else was pointing and laughing, Deputy Skeptical said something to the effect of, “No such thing as aliens,” which eventually led into, “No such thing as selflessness,” and, following that train of thought to its logical conclusion, “No such thing as love”. His co-workers began calling him Deputy Skeptical and made hurtful comparison to Dana Scully from the 1993 FOX television program, The X-Files. Deputy Skeptical resented the comparisons. It was Fox Mulder that he most identified with, most felt a kinship to. Deputy Skeptical loved Mulder, cried for him, wanted to believe.
Captain Benson was on his 216th particular notepad. Back home, he had devoted an entire cabinet shelf to them, all arranged in chronological order starting from the day he and his family first moved to the town. He called it, “The Archive of Black Haven.”
“Or maybe he was just an asshole,” Deputy Skeptical theorized.
The purchase had been made sincerely. Towards the end of his life, Jordan Baker was making an active effort to turn things around. During those final mornings, he woke up before dawn and ran through the suburban sprawl that couched his mother’s home. As he ran, he waved at his neighbors, he smiled at the milkman and he ignored the mocking cat calls shouted to him from the backseats of passing school buses. He ran for his health, for his mother, and—tired, exhausted, sweat soaking through his XXL t-shirt and filled to the absolute brim with a quiet, hopeful optimism—he ran for Heather.
They didn’t date very long, or at not least long enough for it to be some serious thing that they never got over. After three weeks of coffee dates and nervous shy talk, she invited him up to her bedroom. They stripped clothing and pressed their weird lips together and Kylie said, “Come on, stick it in,” and he said, “Shh, let me just come on your tits,” and without another word from Kylie he arched his back and beat off onto her breasts, an inaugural sexual act so powerful and degrading that Kylie broke things off with him later that night as he ran his fingers lightly up and down her naked backside.
Everybody called him Gonna-Die-Greg because in May his girlfriend, Jenny McCreary, hung herself in the basement of her childhood home while a repeat of The Twilight Zone played on the television set in front of her and ever since then, all Gonna-Die-Greg ever talked about was death. He would be hanging out with friends and then out of nowhere just tilt his head back and say, “I can’t believe we’re gonna be dead one day.”
It was only June, and so guys kept coming up to him and saying, “Shit man, I’m so sorry about Jenny,” to which Gonna-Die-Greg would reply, “Shit man, I’m so sorry about all of us.”
“Oh yeah,” said Perry Pullman when Kylie gave a description of Deputy Skeptical. “I know him.” A while back, Deputy Skeptical had arrested Perry Pullman after finding him loitering late at night within close proximity to a home invasion. He had not been involved with the crime, but despite his repeated claims of “I didn’t do it, you gotta believe me,” Deputy Skeptical took him in and threatened to press charges until he was finally exonerated by an anonymous tip. “That guy’s an asshole,” he told Kylie.
Technically, the man Perry Pullman referenced here, one Jimi Heselden, was not the inventor of the Segway but rather the owner of Segway Inc., producer of the Segway personal transportation system.
Perry Pullman had first heard this statement—“Kill me, love me, stuff me in a closet and cut my jugular, do whatever you want to me,”—In a anecdote his buddy Henry told him about Jenny McCreary, Gonna-Die-Greg’s recently deceased girlfriend.
Perry Pullman was way off base—Jimi Heselden, owner of Segway Inc., had been her uncle.
The ominous-sounding nature of the name, “Black Haven” had become a kind of inside joke for the residents of the town. This was especially true during the weeks surrounding Halloween, when they went all out on haunted houses and pumpkin patches and half-off horror pictures at the theater on Friday nights.
Among the images that played out in Perry Pullman’s head as he imagined a life with her: moving out of his shitty apartment, moving in with Kylie, getting clean, going straight, quitting his job at the hookah lounge, getting a job in hospitality, maybe, or retail, purchasing a loosely fitting button-down from the thrift store for his first day of work, fucking on something other than a twin sized mattress in celebration of his first day of work, impregnating Kylie, smiling nervously as he puts his hand over her pregnant stomach, saying, “Hot damn, hot damn, I can feel it kicking,” holding his newborn child, wet with placenta and fragile with potential, exchanging vows at City Hall, coming home every night worn out and strung out and exhausted for weeks and months and years on end until finally he can barely recognize the mature complexion of his face in the bathroom mirror, getting pissed at Kylie over nothing, getting pissed at Kylie over everything, shouting back and forth until both of their voices are hoarse, sharing the same bed each night anyway, holding Kylie as she sleeps, arms wrapped around her soft tummy, throwing the ball around with his child, indulging his classist father-in-law, getting into fights with teachers on back-to-school nights, going all out on birthdays, going all out on Christmas, loving his life, loving his child, and being achingly, desperately, hopelessly in love with Kylie for each of his remaining moments.
An example: once, in July, while walking hand in hand from the downtown movie theater, Kylie and Perry Pullman heard disturbing, otherworldly moans coming from behind the pinball place. Being very much at his best and very much on the cusp of falling in love, he said, jokingly, “Probably just ghosts,” and Kylie smiled and tightened her grip. It was the little things.
Another example: after getting blackout drunk at a party one night, he and Kylie really got into it and Perry Pullman—drunk, not himself, the devil inside him—screamed at her, just loud and shitty and forceful enough to scare them both. After an emotional, painful, hung-over next morning, Perry Pullman set aside not only booze but also marijuana, ecstasy and salvia, explaining to confused friends at house parties that he wasn’t drinking because, “I want to see what I look like sober,” a vague but just charismatic enough explanation to satisfy even his most persistent enablers.
Both Captain Benson and Deputy Skeptical had been in attendance at the Black Haven Halloween Festival when they got the call about the domestic disturbance, although neither was technically there on official police business.
She did not know his first name.
Captain Benson was reminded then, of an old trick that his middle school English teacher had taught him to remember prepositions. “Prepositions,” Mr. Ackerman had said, “are things that a squirrel does to a tree.” The squirrel goes up the tree. The squirrel goes down the tree. The squirrel goes into Jordan Baker’s asshole.
According to Kylie, the gas station had shut down for two days, they still hadn’t fixed the men’s room, and a week earlier, a fidgety guy wearing a bow-tie came in to buy a box of cosmic brownies, asked her for her name and said, “You, Kylie Heseldon, have the most important job in the universe.” Before she could ask him what the hell he was talking about, two men dressed in black who identified themselves as federal agents walked through the automatic door and arrested him on charges of child pornography. As they dragged him out of the gas station, he started screaming, “Keep the holes closed! Jesus Christ, Kylie, you gotta fill the holes!” Kylie told Captain Benson that she didn’t have any idea what he was talking about. “We haven’t had any glory holes in weeks,” she said.
Deputy Skeptical never actually submitted the slime for examination. Rather, the Chief of Police had offered him an incentive to sweep it under the rug. “We don’t need any unnecessary attention. You’re still pretty new here, but if you scratch my back, I scratch yours, you dig?” the Chief of Police had said. And so of course Deputy Skeptical flushed it. The next morning he found an envelope stuffed with cash in his mailbox. He had to do it. He needed the money. He had even started moonlighting as a security guard.
Captain Benson didn’t wait for a reply, but if he had, he might have received the following as a detailed explanation of just what the hell was wrong with Deputy Skeptical: when he was five years old his older sister punched him for believing in magic; when he was six his father revealed—drunkenly—that there was no such thing as Santa Claus; when he was eleven his mother told him that he would never be an astronaut; when he was fourteen Sally Simpson asked him out to the homecoming dance as a practical joke; when he was seventeen his favorite English teacher was dismissed for having sexual intercourse with an underage girl; when he was twenty-two his father died of lung cancer after several months of exhaustive chemotherapy; when he was twenty-eight the Lost finale disappointed him; when he was twenty-nine his wife had a miscarriage; when he was thirty she left him, saying only: “I just don’t love you anymore,”; when he was thirty-one he moved into a Motel 6 because he couldn’t afford a place of his own; when he was thirty-two he moved to a new town and his co-workers gave him the nickname “Deputy Skeptical”, even though he had been trying particularly hard to be social and forthcoming and—holy shit—optimistic with a new group of people.
She arrived at this epiphany following a conversation with her acquaintance, this guy that everybody called Gonna-Die-Greg, but who she insisted on calling Gregory. They had met a few months earlier at a support group. “We’re going to keep each other going,” Heather kept telling him, but he never wanted to talk about anything but the inevitability of death. Finally, towards the end of August, he interrupted her as she listed off three things for which she was thankful, a daily ritual she hoped might improve her often-negative mindset. “Your friend, Jordan,” Gonna-Die-Greg had said. “I know that it’s different, sometimes, but it’s weird—that’s not how Jenny acted at all towards the end. ”
Benson’s investigation looked like this: immediately following his last conversation with Heather, he started calling shops surrounding Lucky’s Gas Station and asking if anything unusual had happened lately. Most of the shop owners had nothing to report, but the manager of the video rental store had a strange story about something breaking through the plumbing in the basement, knocking over the anime rack and smashing through a window. Intrigued, Benson began making house calls and ringing the doorbell of every home within a three mile radius. He eventually came across the small, dilapidated home of Iraq War veteran Samuel McKenna. When asked if he’d come across anything strange lately, McKenna replied, “Oh yeah, I got a doozy in the basement.” He led Benson downstairs where he had a small creature the size of a rodent locked in a dog crate. Wings like a bat and all covered in slime. “Jesus Christ,” Benson said, taking a step back as it jumped at the bars and growled like a garbage disposal. “Where the hell did you find that thing?” McKenna just laughed and said, “I got a hole in the backyard that you should probably see.” He leaned forward. “There’s something underneath Black Haven.”
Chris Vanjonack is a language arts teacher living in Fort Collins, Colorado, where he enjoys co-hosting a monthly poetry slam and feeding his cat. His fiction has appeared previously in New Haven Review, The Rumpus and After the Pause.