Saturday, November 21, 2009

Merry Christmas, Darling

Category: Issue 16

Merry Christmas, Darling  
by Green Fingered Skinner                                                                                                               WC:  8849

Murder is what brings us here.  I am a detective.  My name is Seamus Smith.  My friends call me Smitty.  I work homicide on the graveyard shift.
On the morning of January 1, 2000, at 2:14am, the Manhattan Midtown Homicide Squad received an anonymous phone tip about a murder in the penthouse at Five Sutton Place.  As usual, the information went out citywide over the official police frequency.  When I heard the call, I came running.

Right from the beginning I knew I was out of my element.  Residents of the upper eastside of Manhattan enjoy a particular joie de vive other neighborhoods do not.  Most civil servants; especially crusty homicide detectives like me; are the diametric opposite of the kind of people who call this place home.  We street-smart worker types keep our big feet close to the ground while these spoiled high-rise liberal minded miscreants live in a world where they are never happy, unless their big heads are pretentiously exploring fanciful private stratospheres -places only they can afford to go.

I surveyed the environs and made a preliminary observation:  Because this place was super exclusive, this crime scene was not typical.  While most indoor crime scenes are alike, the crime of murder is on average discriminating, limited in scope, and oftentimes premeditated.  Due to the rarified atmosphere of these exclusive sky high cribs, I did not know exactly what to expect.  In a city with many upscale neighborhoods, I was sure of one thing:  The enclave at Sutton Place is home to a unique combination of movers and shakers, new money notables and old money powerbrokers, anywhere in New York City.  The men and women who live here are bested by none, anywhere.

Conspicuously, the lobby entrance is a fine example of Big Apple opulence.  Decorated with discerning appointments and fine fancy things, the elegant gold and marble concierge vestibule intentionally disunites lowly pedestrians from fifty-five floors of upscale tenants.  An innovative state of the art security system includes the latest in computerized locks, inescapable cameras, and unavoidable electronic sensors equipped with fail safe silent alarms, all skillfully
maintained and managed by a multi-shift cadre of veteran rent-a-cops, offering real world protection to the sheltered haves, all day, everyday, 24/7.  Such a setup is costly, but not always effective.

On the ride up in the private penthouse express elevator, the lines of a famous poem, “…Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage…” raced lyrically through my mind.  I snickered at the thought of this concrete castle and its army of security being a high-rise gilded cage.  Imagine that!  What is more, the lines, “…Minds innocent and quiet take rectitude in the clouds…” made me scoff at the high classed wretchedness I was sure to discover among the ungodly rich.  At the top stop, the elevator doors opened ten feet across from the entrance.

Being the first and only law enforcement officer on any crime scene is always problematic and contentious.  Modern society is so litigious.  These days, investigating a crime scene without backup is simply inviting trouble. That is why we lawmen usually work in pairs as a team, like Holmes and Watson, or
Friday and Gannon –each detective covering the others back, day after day, case after case.  Nevertheless, tonight as the circumstances present, I work alone.

Since the door was already partially open, in view of the urgent call about a murder, I could legally and lawfully enter the premises without a warrant and begin to investigate.  Instinctively, however, I paused at the threshold just long enough to nose around a bit.  Sensing no activity where there should have been some, as a precaution, I withdrew my automatic from its holster.

Ready for anything, I held the gun out in front of me, two-handed combat style. Following proper Departmental procedure, I identified myself by yelling “This Is the Police!” as I abruptly pushed the door open wide with my foot.  There was no response.  Inside, it was pitch-black. 

In stealth like manner and undeterred, my outstretched hand reached for the first light switch available.  Bathed in light, the space was a shambles. Overturned furniture, broken brick-a-brac and displaced whatnots were dramatic evidence of a struggle or a fight.  The path of disarray extended from the foyer to the beyond.

Instinctively, into the silence I yelled “N Y P D!”  Again, there was no response.  I remember now, how back then, my motor ran full out, pushing my heart to beat faster and faster as I took baby step after baby step into a great big room with high ceilings.  On my left, a wall of windows framed a seamless aerial view of the city outside.  The impact of that powerful view distracted me. 

I lowered my gun to a relaxed stance, without lowering my guard.  Awestruck, my eyes focused outside first, at the phantasm of city lights –above, below, and beyond, and then back again just as quickly to the inside, specifically at the museum quality collection of framed paintings hanging on the walls, highlighted by individual brass covered lights.  I felt like a kid on tour at a museum. 

“Are these genuine priceless originals?” I asked myself.  “Hell no, they cannot be…,” I reasoned. 

First impressions can be telling.  We each know what it is like when we find ourselves alone, at some odd place, a place off our beaten track, and immediately how we sense something is dead wrong.  I might be defensive, but I have that feeling about this place.  I must respect it.  So much of what a detective does is intuitive.  The preliminary feedback message was downbeat, based on the unscientific fact that my nose itched –a certain sign my body and my mind were not in complete synchronicity.  Whenever my nose itched, something was surely amiss.  Moreover, my nose itched like crazy. 

Despite this distraction, I continued my investigation.  As a matter of course, I gather clues, categorize facts, and make determinations.  I sort essentials by their importance, discarding the useless and prioritizing the remaining, in order to formulate a fact based working hypothesis into a framework with which to track and direct a homicide investigation.   

Standing in the middle of the room, I felt a strange power surround me.  Demonstrably stronger than bad Feng Shui, pensive misgivings lingered everywhere.  A sinister disharmony echoed noisily and repeatedly in my thoughts.  I felt unwanted, like an intruder, like a common criminal.  An odd perception for a decorated cop, I hurried to turn on all the lights.

Crossing the open room, I discovered the sensuality of hand hooked Persian carpets beneath my feet. It felt so strange –so cloud like and soft, compared to the sticky asphalt streets, cobblestoned crossways, and endless concrete, a cop walks everyday.  The thought crossed my mind to take off my shoes and go barefoot.  I did not.

Something perverse took control of my thoughts.  I could not help but to think what it would be like to be this rich.  Before now, such luxury seemed so impracticable and completely self-indulgent.  Presently, I began to shrink.  I felt small; like a man of little consequence.  Overwhelmed with envy, I declare I am but the offspring of poor parents, a likeness of a lesser destiny. Until this very moment, I never knew how much I suffered the barebones whiteness of my childhood –without going blind. 

Inadvertently, I glanced down at the floor ahead of me.  This is when I saw the body of a woman partially obstructed from view, behind an overturned chair.  Speechless at the sight of a dead woman, I shook my head from side to side in an effort to wish away my shock and disbelief.  It did not work.  Every time I opened my eyes the dead woman was still lying there, motionless.

The deceased was young, between thirty-five and forty years old.  She was blonde, good looking, and dressed to kill or be killed.  Furthermore, she was recently and certainly dead.  When I held her hand in mine, I felt her body still warm to the touch. To my surprise, clutched in the victim’s hand was an empty vial. 

Without a complete toxicology workup and an official determination via a lengthy and costly lab report, a bureaucratic process that can take weeks from beginning to end, the trace contents of the unmarked empty vial remained speculative at best.  Most likely, the vial once contained a gram of cocaine or a clutch of liquid ecstasy, or some such designer drug.  Either way, the vial was not very big. 

Disregarding the vial as incidental, I needed to establish time of death.  Time of death is arguably the most important clue in any murder case.  It is a scientific fact: Dead bodies cool down at a given rate over time, under a wide range of ambient temperatures.  Without a certified Coroner on scene to expert the calculations, the next best thing I could do was to note the room temperature at the time I discovered the body.  The digital thermostat on the wall indicated the current room temperature was a toasty 79.5?.  By my watch, it was 2:40am.

A cursory examination of the body revealed there was no blood visible and no bones appeared broken.  The body was indeed limp, exhibiting no rigidity or rigor mortis.  There was no display of blood settling known as lividity or any subsequent discoloration of the skin or hypostasis at the lowest gravity point, along the victim’s right side and back.  The kill was fresh and clean. 

Apart from the overturned chair, the proximate area of death appeared unremarkable.

From under the chair I recovered a scarf.  This piece of cloth spoke silent volumes.  A closer examination of the body revealed telling black and blue ligature marks around the victim’s neck, hidden behind her blousy collar.  Along with the victim’s until now unnoticed protruding tongue and slightly bulging eyes, the physical evidence confirmed my thinking this pretty woman was strangled.  For certain; the mysterious contents of the vial seem of little consequence at this point. 

Meanwhile, the scarf was genuine Pashmina Cashmere, according to the fancy tag.  The scarf was expensive; the type any truly fashionable female would take pleasure in owning.  Only last month, I dug down deep into my wallet and purchased one just like it for my woman.  Without knowing why it did, the attractive corpse fascinated me.  While the deceased is not the first dead woman I have seen, pretty or not, this woman was a real looker.  She was leggy, thin, attractive, and pretty enough to be a professional model, or a one time beauty pageant queen. 

“What a waste…” I sighed.   

Whoever did this murder had to be above average physically strong, highly motivated, and perhaps mentally ill.  With those qualifiers in mind, I suspected a male did this.  Statistically speaking, most murderers are male. 

Characteristically, males are bigger, taller, stronger, and generally more aggressive then females. Prone to violence over subservient women, some males remain inherently animalistic.  Hidebound alpha dogs, overflowing testosterone, can and do lose control of their common sense, get easily provoked and then go rabid in primordial circumstances.  Such prickly ‘Dog Gone Wild’ behavior frequently claims the lives of women caught in the line of fire, innocent victims of a mislaid impetus of love. 

The cause of such violent behavior in males is straightforward.  As a result to a lifetime of repressed emotions, a mostly male disease, some males suffer a calculus of antipathy.  Chronic irritants can and do make frustrated men strike out and “go postal”, otherwise unpredictably.  Whenever a maniac acts out in public, he or she is making a confession of his or her heretofore-private shortcomings.  On the floor before me now are the evil doings of a not so gentle man who lost control, blew a fuse, and released his long simmering negative emotions in an uncontrollable psychotic rage –resulting in murder.  Unfortunately, in my line of work, this kind of thing happens all the time.

It was not too early to think about a motive for this crime.  It was clear to me, considering the situation and the surroundings; the motive involved greed –on some level.  Similar to a black hole in outer space, greed creates invisible lines of attraction that flow from the weak to the strong.  Moreover, in this life, whenever something is perceived as being of great value, trouble congregates in the shadows.  It is Biblical!  The love of money is the root of all evil. 

“I will find the diseased animal that did this to you,” I promised the pretty corpse as I kissed her forehead.  “Catching murderers is what I do,” I assured the deceased as I gently stroked her flowing hair. 

In the majority of homicides committed in the home, the victim and the killer are likely to have known each other.  The old saw “Familiarity Breeds Contempt” is not just a truism.  It is a warning!  Anyone can commit murder.  All it takes is an innocent unsuspecting victim and a devious perpetrator with means, motive, and opportunity. 

New wave sociologists claim the western media is directly responsible for the increase in the number of violent crimes within a shrinking global society.  With nearly 500 channels of televised violence from which to choose, watching movies where death and mayhem have no consequence, distorts our perception of what is acceptable behavior.  By acclamation, viewing a steady diet of media born violence stimulates the fringe population to action.  This in turn causes an increase in the overall number of crimes, including the ultimate crime of murder.  We humans are a violent species. 

It is not hard to understand how the numerous wicked walking wounded among us often short circuit, loose control, becoming motivated enough to kill.  In a society filled with rejection, recrimination, and disrespect, the pressure wave caused by deadly violent behavior never ends.  Furthermore, in this case, death by strangulation presupposes access by a family member, a crafty intruder, or a “Frenemy –a half friend / half-enemy so cold and calculating he or she would betray a friendship or cut blood lines to cashier the life of a relative for personal gain.

At this time, with precious little by way of fact, I needed more information before I ventured any thoughts about who was responsible for this murder. 
In the main living area was a wet bar.  On that bar were two drinks, two bottles, and a long thin empty box lined with colorful gift paper.  Undoubtedly this box once held the murder weapon.  One of the two glasses was a Champaign flute with a partial lipstick imprint on its rim.  Nearby, an uncorked bottle of Champaign lay submerged in a watery chiller. 

The other drink was a half-full tumbler of expensive smelling imported Scotch whisky.  The glass still had tiny slivers of melting ice cubes inside it and a thin wet napkin wrapped around it.  Regrettably, the rumbled soggy napkin eliminated any hope of the lab boys and girls recovering incriminating fingerprints from the glass, but not from the bottles.  I took care not to touch or disturb any evidence as I scanned the open space for any immediate threats.  I found none.

I could not help but to think, one can always tell when a host was being more than gracious by serving only the best.  It is not hard to tell when someone puts out their finest for others to enjoy.  For instance, that bottle of vintage Dom Perignon Champaign in the chiller, cost six grand per case of twelve, delivered.  Brand names are about class, style, and taste.  Moreover, someone around here surely had class.  From the look of things, these folks were either swimming in it or they were drowning in it.

It occurred to me, being a heavy drinker for the better part of my adult years –until only recently in fact, when a police department doctor advised me to stop drinking or face an administrative firing as unfit for duty; that I have a lot in common with whoever drank from this tumbler.  It was evident we both favored the refined taste of single-single Scotch whisky.  Rare, pricey and in much demand, one bottle of single malt - single cast Glen Livet 1969 retails for $ 750, plus tax.  That’s about $10 per tongue wetting sip.

As I pulled my nose away from the glass, the intoxicating bouquet triggered something in my memory causing me unconsciously to lick my chops.  For a moment, my thoughts spun blissfully out of control.  “Hello old friend,” I murmured under my breath. The pungent aroma made vivid recollections flash back to me, making my body shiver from the rush of memories.  The smell of the Scotch stirred my thoughts so completely; it gave me cause to think of all the parties I have been to in my life.

My instincts told me any true connoisseur of fine whisky would never have left a drink as tasty and soothing as this on a bar, without damn good reason.  Certainly, the individual who did not finish this exceptional drink did so unexpectedly.  The question remained, “What made him put down his drink?”
On the floor near the bar was an all but empty pack of Camel cigarettes.  Two loose cigarettes lay conspicuously beside it.  While this evidence was accidental, it was indeed vitally important.  No one in his or her right mind would ever do such a thing on purpose.  In view of today’s modern detection techniques, even fresh un-smoked cigarettes are incriminating.  Incongruously, I did not observe an ashtray anywhere.  This detail was so peculiar; I made a mental note of this oddity.

The pack of cigarettes was crinkled and skimpy from use.  This made me think their missing owner was a chain smoker addicted to nicotine.  I know of what I speak.  I smoke that same brand and have all my life.  My cigarette pack always looks like that too, after continual use. 

The fact that this person smoked the same cigarettes as me, and the fact that he and I prefer the same drink, was beginning to give me the creeps.  Piqued by my sensitivities, I took a few careful and deliberate strides in the direction of the adjourning rooms. 

Stepping away from the corpse, I imagined the tension-filled situation that precipitated this crime might have started out this way:  One drinker got mad at the other over something he or she said, did, or perhaps did not do.  Consuming alcohol often precedes acts of violence.  Here, in this penthouse, the ensuing squabble held a downward spiraling trajectory, as paths taken in anger often do. Perhaps, a childish game of retaliatory one-upmanship sprouted.  Spewing much hatred, in a rooster tail of lost love frictions, increasingly mean spirited missives launched out of both mouths at the speed of sound. 

We all know what it is like.  Alcohol laced conversations start out hot and snarky.  Sometimes they turn abruptly into cold, calculating arguments.  Regrettably, words can be explosive, like gasoline on fire.  Nasty words can twist a conversation from sociable to ugly, in seconds.  Malicious words offend and insult.  Worst of all, as the tone and tenor of an argument grows fiercer and louder, vicious verbal attacks cause actions, reactions, and pain.
Front line casualties in a war of words otherwise milquetoast mannered misfits frequently turn into major misanthropes during heated effrontery.  Raging hellhounds, provoked by aggressive wildcats, often loose their anger attacking what they fail to understand, destroying what they love, in the name of love.  It is easy to suppose this homicide started out as an everyday ordinary argument until it spun out of control.  It never fails.  Every time an alcohol laced situation escalates beyond words, shit happens.

Although I did not even have their names yet, I already knew who the main players were and who did what to whom.  I felt certain once I figured out a more detailed crime scenario the process would uncover why this murder happened.  At that time, the name of the murderer would become clear.  Actually that is precisely how most criminal investigations unfold.  We detectives start out armed with a hunch or a feeling in our gut.  Then we spend our time assembling the facts and aligning thoughts, rearranging pieces of the puzzle before us to prove or disprove our professional conclusions. 

Despite my revulsion at the death of a woman, I focused my thoughts and continued the investigation.

Under an étagère about twenty feet away, I discovered a shiny diamond necklace.  Ostentatious, overstated, and undoubtedly pricey, this jewelry discounted simple robbery as a motive.  Additionally, on a coffee table in the corner of the room, collateral evidence in the form of a distinctive blue gift box from Tiffany & Co., Jewelers, cemented my thesis that the disgruntled recipient rejected the gift and threw the necklace down in fit of feline disgust.  The immortal lines, “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned / Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned,” raced through my mind –quick as a flash.  The concept seemed apropos. 

Assuming the scarf and the necklace were late Christmas presents from one lover to another, it occurred to me only a love struck idiot would give a woman this many precious gemstones, knowing she felt the way she did about him.  Without doubt, only a fool in love would do such a foolish thing.
Judging by the undisturbed arrangement of the furniture, along with the general neatness of the living room, the living room was not the scene of any physical altercation.  On the other hand, it is probably ground zero, the space and place where the war of words, the precursor of death, began. 

An irritating little voice inside my head told me to inspect the windows, of all things.  I found them shut tight against the freezing weather outside.  It was still early New Year’s Day –the morning after the night before.  In stark contrast to the gloominess inside, outside in the cold and dark it began to snow.  For a pleasurable moment, I was cast adrift, distracted by the wintry view, totally lost and alone, tripping away in a engraved Currie & Ives Christmas fantasy.  Complete with children laughing and sleigh bells jingling, the joyful vision of falling snow made me smile.

Remarkably, this brief time out put me in mind of how, at this time of the year, the cold wind always keeps in between the window and the weathered sill, in these older buildings.  Only here and now, in this palatial penthouse, the long and tall windows that framed the remarkable view appeared new.  I noticed the required high-rise safety bars were not yet installed.  The absence of these security devices seemed out of place.  I filed that discovery away as a factoid –a clue, although I did not know why I did. 

With ever-increasing suspicions I concentrated on the investigation.  Farther down the hallway, past an office slash library filled with a collection of old books, I came upon two life-sized terra cotta Chinese warriors, in full battle dress, standing guard outside a grand double door archway at the entrance to the master bedroom suite.  Inside the bedroom, this boudoir beat anything I ever saw.

In the otherwise sparse décor, a solitary spotlight beamed down from the ceiling onto the oversized round bed, highlighting a blanket made of what felt like Chinchilla skins.  Spontaneously, seductive Chinese music began to play from hidden speakers.  Judging by the orderliness of this room, it was apparent nobody had been on this bed anytime prior to the murder.  With silky smooth pillows tucked in place, the mattress appeared flat and straight.  Although a hundred candles lined the room, not one candle held a flame.  Seeing all there was to see, I did a quick about face and returned to the hallway.

I continued down the hallway, walking past a formal dinning room; ditto a sauna, a laundry room, a mirrored gym and an enormous party sized hot tub, out on the terrace.  They were all empty, idle, or unused.  Next, I came upon a smaller bedroom, near the rear delivery entrance.  This room belonged to the absent housekeeper.  It was as neat as a pin. 

On the dresser was a photograph of a matronly middle-aged Latino woman complete with a traditional red rosebud over her right ear, highlighting her grandmother-like Spanish Bun hairstyling.  The facial expression this woman wore made me uneasy.  Her eyes seemed to be staring directly at me.  The picture appeared so posed and inert, as if to communicate that although the services of this faithful household servant were for hire, her soul was not.

Next to the picture was an empty gift money envelope.  Across the bottom, a handwritten footnote from her employer, Linda, thanked the housekeeper, Maria, for “Another year of good service.”  The supposition that a tidy sum of cash accompanied the card was not far fetched.  Why else would someone personalize a money envelope but to gift as expected, an unreported, tax-free, year-end bonus?  Nearby, a second card from a family member invited “Tia Maria” home for the holidays. 

With the housekeeper and the bonus both gone, I suspect Maria spent the cash on travel plans to visit her family in Deming, New Mexico, according to the return address.  On a pad by the phone a scribbled passenger confirmation memo established her holiday flight departed LaGuardia airport ten days ago.  Armed with a better understanding of the situation, I returned to the hallway, whereupon I next discovered a guest bedroom.  This bedroom was different.  It was a mess. 

In this room the bed covers were haphazardly turned; the wrinkled sheets disheveled from recent use.  The TV was on and tuned to no particular channel. The screen filled with a blitz of static.  In a corner on a shelf, a police scanner blared unceasingly. The squelch was so unnerving; I turned it off for simple peace of mind. 

This room did not smell like coconuts, or citrus, or whatever scented candles.  It reeked of nicotine.  Stale and musky, the fallout of dank fumes lingered everywhere. 

There was no doubt about it!  This room belongs to a male.  Various dirty unmentionables lay scattered everywhere, including underneath the bed.  A layer of dust lined the mirror and bureau.  Apparently, with Maria the housekeeper of on holiday, no one has cleaned this room in weeks.  The adjourning bathroom was gross, unkempt, and unflushed.  I was appalled. 

Numerous discarded beer cans and empty liquor bottles littered the rug.  This unsightly noisy trash rattled and clinked underfoot.  Whoever drank these is an alcoholic.  I know of what I speak.  I too am, and always will be, a recovering alcoholic.  Admittedly, I own and operate an addictive personality. 
All of a sudden, my brain pondered a deluge of inputs.  Wave after wave of disturbing thoughts came at me hard and fast.  There were so many in fact, I suffered a temporary sensory overload.  I began to sweat profusely.  Unstoppable hot beads of perspiration percolated across my forehead.  The presence of the scanner on the shelf gave me an anxiety attack.  “With this devise,” I told myself, “a clever criminal could know exactly what the police knew, including when to expect them to arrive.”  The thought that the murderer was here now, in this room, made icy cold chills run up and down my spine.
Bursting with paranoia, I turned around abruptly.  As a precaution, I held my gun at the ready while I ripped opened the closet door.  After a few deep breathes quelled my unfounded uneasiness, I realized there was no one in the room but me.  I sat on the bed for a moment, to collect my scattered thoughts, when from across the room, an antique alabaster ashtray in the likeness of an aggressive long tusked elephant, with upturned trunk, caught my eye.  Alone on a nightstand, bathed in a golden glow of light beneath a green shaded legal style table lamp, I swear that charging elephant trumpeted to get my attention.  What a study in contrasting colors the pale white carving was all stained and covered in shades of ugly nicotine, yellow tars, and grey black ash.  Filled with spent cigarette butts, this ashtray made me consider how this room resembled my room exactly, including this stinky overstuffed ashtray.

The wastebasket in the corner overflowed with discarded letters, bills, and assorted junk. Randomly, I picked up one piece of paper and read it.  By coincidence, it was a store receipt for the sparkling diamond necklace.  There was no name on the receipt but that necklace cost fifty thousand bucks!  “Sweet Jesus…” I murmured under my breath as I carefully and dutifully replaced the receipt back into the basket, exactly where and how I found it.

In the hallway again, I made my way to the kitchen area.  On a countertop was a newspaper.  Dated yesterday, the headline boasted “Record Crowd Expected to Celebrate in Times Square Tonight.”  I remember I read that very same newspaper, earlier this morning.  Unexpectedly, the clock on the wall struck 3am.  The stark razor sharp chimes startled me, causing me to jump out of my skin.  The intense adrenalin shock made me think it would be more than coincidence if the pretty victim got herself murdered at precisely the stroke of twelve, ringing in the New Year, like in an old Vincent Price movie.

All of a sudden my temples began to throb.  I felt a headache coming on.  This pain happened more and more lately, ever since the doctor prescribed alcohol aversion pills to make me stop drinking.  They did not work well; at least not for me.  All they did was make me sick whenever I consumed any alcohol.  Sick, as I am sick right now.

Understandably, I had one drink with dinner.  I realize recovering alcoholics are not supposed to drink, especially in combination with the pills, but since it was New Years Eve and all, I thought one fast nip; a quick drink to keep my throat and tongue from cracking like dry desert dirt was celebratory and certainly permissible.  Everyone knows New Years Eve night is a special holiday for drinkers.

From out of the clear blue, I remembered I once read a brochure about how alcohol changes many more lives then only the life of the addicted drinker.  Alcoholics surround themselves with an entourage of complicit companions, enablers and co-dependents –minions of deceit; I like to call them.  This close
circle of so-called friends, acts as a buffer zone, indulging the alcoholic, masking him or her from their sobriety by virtue of unspoken sympathies.  The passivity of these people directly contributes to the overall pathology of a drunk, making a mania like habitual drinking possible.  These so-called friends never challenge the afflicted to go straight, never intervene on their behalf, never giving or getting the sick friend the help they really need, leaving them to their own device on the path to self-destruction.  It is a fact; we are all social enablers, after some fashion. 

That is what made those two drinks on the bar even more important as clues.  As to who killed the dead woman, my money is on the male who made a habit of drinking expensive imported whisky.  It may be an understatement to say this man is different, more discerning, and bossier.  Undoubtedly, the suspect is a narcissist prone to excesses.  He is probably an obsessive personality who dilly-dallies too much about his likes and dislikes.  For that very reason alone, from within this veil of acquired vanity, he fits the profile as someone who may be in the habit of making irrational impulsive choices –like to commit murder or not. 

The more I thought about it; the more I liked this missing man for the kill.  Although the evidence was slim, it pointed directly back to the bar and directly back at him.  Still, I had little actual proof to substantiate my thinking.  Clues do not mature into usable facts until after a team of Crime Scene Investigators processes the crime scene and release their findings, sometime later.  In a court of law, it is not what you allege that is important; it is what you can prove that counts.

In my observation, serious crime is never a singular act.  It is a series of stupid acts, full of incriminating mistakes.  In the case of murder, the killer immediately falls into an unsocial world of lies and deceit; a world he or she may not be ready to deal with.  In essence, whenever someone commits a serious crime, more often than not, an insidious concern affixes itself to the conscience of the culpable. The more he or she wrestles with their quilt, the more their once fluffy soul turns hard with remorse.  In our Judeo-Christian society, most criminals spend years punishing themselves with guilt.  Go figure!
The harsh reality is the new life of a criminal never turns out exactly as expected once the act becomes the fact.  Living a post crime charade of innocence, life begins to twist out of control as the guilty party struggles to keep their dirty little secret a secret.  Inside their subconscious, a never-ending battle of wits ensues, from which there is no relief.

Telling an occasional lie is one thing, but living a life based on constant lying, leads to a psychosis; a lifestyle of cowering in continual avoidance.  Driven by the unrelenting fear of capture, the criminal is no longer whoever he or she once was prior to committing the crime.  Few criminals consider this shadowy reality until it is too late.  In the confusion, a web of carelessness entangles most criminals. 

Many times after a person commits a serious crime he or she becomes his or her own worst enemy.  My detective training taught me it is wise practice when searching for hidden truths or well kept secrets, that nothing remains overlooked due to laziness or economy.  Such half-assed efforts usually lead directly to faulty assumptions, weak conclusions, and wrongful determinations.  Call it Ockham’s razor as seen through the cracked looking glass of a career homicide detective.  Simply put, people do implausible things.

I could not believe it when last morning at work, my boss, the city’s Chief Homicide Detective, personally suspended me –indefinitely, until I passed a compulsory medical exam.  He knew I had a drinking problem for years.  He followed the rules and regulations to a tee.  For medical reasons, he made me take my vacation earlier in the year then I normally would have taken it.  He may be a fair man and a good cop, but I disliked how he handled things.
“This is for your own good, Smitty,” he advised me at first.  “You are hereby ordered to take a couple of weeks off and go dry out.  You have no choice in this matter and neither do I.  Departmental regulations mandate I must fire you, the next time you come to work drunk,” he informed me.

“I do not need a vacation.  I need a drink,” I told him, laughingly.  It was a mistake.

My misplaced humor made the Chief go ballistic.  “Do you hear what I am saying?  Do you understand the words coming out of my mouth?  Alcoholism is a disease. You are a damned alcoholic!” the big boss scolded me.  “This is your last warning!  Hand over your service weapon and give me your badge.  You are hereby relieved of duty.  I order you to stop whatever you are doing and go visit the departmental doctor this morning.  Do not come back to work until after you see him!  I am going to call him right now and tell him to expect a visit from you, within the hour,” he publicly admonished me, in no uncertain terms.

His pointed words cut deep.  Although my friends and co-workers already knew about my drinking problem, the Chief did not need to raise his voice and let everyone in the offices hear his unrestricted tirade.  I was mad at him at first, but then I calmed down after I bought a pint flask of Richard’s Wild Irish Rose Wine on my way to the doctor’s office and gulped it down, all at once.

Who was he to yell at me?  What right did he have to be indignant?  Drinking is something I like to do.  This is my life anyhow, not his.  His public display was uncalled for and inappropriate.  Ordinarily I was not so sensitive, being a former Marine, a proud veteran and all that, although I was not that archetype righteously driven person anymore. 

That no good bastard called me “A Damned Alcoholic!”  ... Forget him!

“I know I have a drinking problem, but it is under control.  I can handle it…”  I lied to the doctor like a little boy.  We both knew I could not simply stop seeking the pleasures I have come to enjoy.  “Maybe a strict New Year’s resolution to quit drinking might help!” the morose medical man chided.  He mechanically handed me a prescription on my way out.  Mine must be a hopeless case.

At home I took a hand full of the mind-numbing pills.  Deep down inside I wanted to be sober, to be normal again.  Only tonight was New Year’s Eve and my nagging wannabe ex-wife was on my case. Even after a few drinks things were getting too crazy.  Just this evening my wife demanded money.  She claimed she needed it and she expected me to hand it over right then, tonight.  If I did not, she threatened to tell her long time friend Judge Stone of my failure to provide.  Some women are surely witches…

Why did she always do this to me?  She did not need the money.  She never needed money.  Her father left well off when he died, years before we even met.  Her avarice had become the bane of my existence.  My wife only wanted money from me because she knew it would hurt me.  Moreover, how she loved to hurt me!  Raised up a spoiled brat, she could be a nuisance when she got this way. 

Many times in private I asked myself why a man like me married a woman like her.  Then one morning last week, our relationship changed significantly.  She demanded I find another place to live, stating directly, “I have stopped loving you…  Please leave!”

Admittedly, at first, I felt the same way about her.  She was needy, self-absorbed, and mean spirited.  I do not remember the exact moment when our marriage imploded, other than to say my wife and I became increasingly distant during our years of mutual neglect.  While I worked extra hard at work, she worked extra hard at play.  I knew I made a mistake the day I married her.  How the worm has turned.  The one certainty is change.

Now years later, she too realizes she made the same mistake –only she never stops complaining.  She is always resentful of my presence.  She is openly defiant, publicly disloyal, and filled to overflowing with spiteful jabberwocky.  I have become increasingly upset with my lack of trust in her.  Ever since I was a kid I have never been good for anything whenever my ego deflated.  With her arrogant attitude, that horrible woman made me feel distraught and beside myself.  In my defense, I resolved not to let her emasculate me with dismissive self-righteousness.  No sir, not me!

After a day filled with many disappointments, my thinking was befuddled. Along with overpowering dizzy spells, I suffered a mindful of upsetting mental images, weird hallucinations, and painful thoughts. All night long, my body tingled from head to foot while my internals raced out of control.  The way I feel right now, light headed and dizzy, must be a reaction to the pills the doctor prescribed.  I am so thirsty.

“To hell with the dead woman,” I yelled my frustration. “I need a drink…”

I found myself backtracking to the living room, then to the bar.  The smell of the whisky drew me near.  It was like a tidal pull; an irresistible force exerted from the distant moon acting upon me in unseen ways.  My hands began to shake.  My nerves racked beyond control.  My unconscious mind careened recklessly in total abandon as I thoughtlessly drank the drink on the bar.  I knew it was a wrong thing to do, but I did it anyway.  I needed something to get me through the night.  Being a detective can be tiresome in so many ways.  Besides, I rationalized, since I was the only one here at the time, no one but me would know if the glass was empty or not when I first found it.  Certainly, the dead woman was not going to tell anyone, and neither was I.  Immediately I turned the glass up and drank the contents down.  It tasted so good.

By this time I was beginning to wonder where my partner was.  He could be busy elsewhere, I reasoned, or he could be on his way here.  On nights like tonight –party nights, we sometimes get busy very quick.  The holiday season always seems to bring out the crazies.  Lately there seemed to be more crazies out there then ever.  Just then, my normal senses disengaged.  My head began to spin.  I felt my heart racing as my blood pressure skyrocketed.  Without warning I knew I was going to puke.  I ran back to that already messy bathroom as fast and as best as I could.  I had to get sick somewhere –without getting sick all over the place.  That would certainly spoil the crime scene and definitely cost me my job.  I was determined not to let that happen.  As I stooped over the bathroom sink, I caught a glimpse of my face in the mirror.  Every part of it was snarling, red, and disgusting.  The man in the mirror looked like the devil incarnate.  It took a moment for me to recognize myself. 

The toxins in my body were steadily coming out in heaves.  Yet the years of anger in my liquor soaked brain did not diminish by one jigger –not one sip.  I hated my wife for what she was doing to us, to our relationship.  Her actions bothered me to no end.  I told her exactly that earlier this evening.  I begged her to reconsider her decision.  She did not.  She has become an intolerable bitch.  I detest that about her.  She has no compassion for me –none at all!

“All I want from you is the money you owe me…,” she jeered repeatedly. 

Her tone made me sad to think that after all the years we spent together she was only concerned about money.  Did she not care for me anymore?  Did she ever really care?  Were her harsh words more than just empty threats directed my way in order to collect some imaginary past due cash?  Or does she really hate me as much as she swears she does? 

Pausing to look in the mirror again, I saw the color in my face was gone.  My reflection displayed a pale haunting emptiness, a loss of my basic humanity.  All my senses felt warped and drained.  Right before my eyes stood a changed man –a dangerous man.  In this delusional state, I thought about being a bird; a free spirit able to fly away at will.

How did things ever get this way?  When did this all happen?  Back in high school and then again at college, I was the captain of both varsity football teams.  Back then, the world was mine.  Now, twenty years later, I stand here at this sink feeling sick and alone, neurotically and repeatedly splashing cold water on my face in a futile attempt to sober up, shape up, and regain my bearings.  Despite this growing distress, I began to put things in order as best I could.  Because of my alcoholism, my marriage failed, my career was in jeopardy, and my hands shook noticeably all the time.  I have lost too much weight.  I look gaunt and sickly.  I hate what I have become.  I disgust myself.  I am a loser …a loathsome low life; lower even than a worm at the bottom of a bottle of Tequila.  Good God: I crave another drink.

Overwhelmed with self-pity, from deep within my tortured soul, the answer finally came to me as true.  This penthouse and all these expensive things belonged to my rich wife.  She was dead now, because of me.  I murdered her tonight.  As my face reflected in the mirror again I saw the real me; the soulless beast I had become.  All past dignity was gone; all sanity forgotten or unlearned.  My thoughts became confused, unsettled, and unclear.  My eyesight was blurry.  I felt powerless and feeble, like a spineless jellyfish.  My once pleasant reserve; the man I always planned to be, spent itself foolishly, squandered on too many years of too much drinking.  I saw myself as the wicked Dr. Jekyll morphing into the hideous Mr. Hyde. 

“I need a drink…”  I muttered my schizophrenia before I puked again.  The painful stomach convulsions made me feel as if my free-floating brain was going to explode.  In between heaves, I wondered why God, in his infinite wisdom, did not give men the ability to fly…

My knees began to buckle; my legs began to wobble and my fate felt uncertain, when suddenly my overdue partner and a couple of familiar faces in uniforms hurried to my side.  Their guns were drawn and pointed at me.  They quickly surrounded my staggering presence.  No one replied when I sincerely wished everyone, “…Happy New Year…”  Cops can be so rude.

Did they not have any manners or any common social skills or a sense of humor?  Who are these men?  They are not my pals; the people I work with.  These cops are animals –freaking pigs!  I saw their ugly snarling snouts as they stared at me strangely.

“Freeze!  Do not move!” my partner demanded as he took away my gun.  “…Turn around slowly and put your hands behind your back, Smitty,” he instructed me.  His voice was recognizable and familiar.  I have heard him repeat those very same words many times before, only now it felt wonderfully weird to hear them directed at me. 

“Stick ‘em up!” I joked as I made a pretend gun with my bare fingers.  No one laughed. “What is this?” I demanded to know.  Is this crummy cop reaching for his handcuffs?  ... Hell yes, he is!

“You are under arrest for the murder of your wife,” the man in the cheap suit and overcoat told me as he snapped the icy cold bracelets around my wrists.  I considered their tightness as I began to feel sick in the pit of my stomach yet again.  While the obsessed detective read me my Miranda rights, I leaned over the sink, avoiding the mirror so as not to see my guilty face. 

I could not believe it.  After all my years on the job, after all the criminals I have caught and brought to justice; after all the crimes I have investigated and solved, as fate would have it, my best friend arrested me for murder.  “You dirty bastard!” I cried out. “You have some nerve, you son-of-a-bitch…  Take these cuffs off of me!” I yelled.

“Why did you do it, Smitty?” the annoying cop asked, nose to nose.  “I always knew you were a drunkard.  Yet I never took you for a psycho who would do something seriously stupid –like murder.  Damn you straight to Hell,” my ex-partner cursed as he paced the floor unsettled.  “Your wife was too rich and too beautiful …you brainless drunken fool!  Look at what you have done…”

I heard what he said, although I did not respond.  My ears sizzled like a searing steak on a red-hot grill.  The horrible gasps and choking sounds Linda made in her struggle to live haunt me.  In my mind, the moment of her death replays repeatedly, especially whenever I close my eyes.  Tighter, stronger, and tighter still, I pulled that piece of cloth around her neck in a fit of rage as I dragged her body around and around, in a dance of death.  Despite her frantic outcries and desperate violent actions, I held on firmly for what seemed like an eternity.  She fought hard to the end, until finally she passed out and succumbed to the force of my justice. 

“Why did you do it, Smitty?” the prying detective asked a second time.

In his voice I perceived a spritz of compassion.  It caught me unprepared.  With these calm words I felt renewed by a sense of propriety and dignity.  Instantly, my empty spirit filled with self-respect.  In a moment of clarity, I regained control of my lost tongue, long enough to answer him.

“It’s no mystery to me…”  I replied, unequivocally.

I did not tell him our love was over years ago.  And now, after spending my entire life savings on a woman who hated me in an ill-fated effort to win her back with expensive jewelry and a fancy new scarf, I could not stand it when she screamed “Go Away! You disgust me, you drunken bum!”  And to add insult to injury, on my way out the door, she deliberately added the words, “Wimpy!  Wimpy!  Wimpy!” in a parting shot aimed at my manhood.  That is when I snapped and grabbed her, and choked the hate she held for me right out of her lifeless body, with the scarf intended as a gift.  It felt very soft to the touch… 

“That nagging bitch got what she had coming!” I confessed my anger. 

A pitiless evil voice inside my head repeated, “She deserved it!  She deserved it!  She deserved it!” until a sly and uneasy smile parked itself on my flushed face.  All of a sudden, my cheek muscles twitched harmoniously in a strange symphony of spasms, like a captive bird fluttering its wings in a frantic struggle to be free.  My wraithlike body began to quiver wildly as my guilt-ridden conscious overflowed to the tipping point with pathetic uncertainty and overbearing regret.

Without warning, an overpowering evil washed over me, causing my body to stagger unexpectedly.  Before me I saw the image of a translucent ghost, with expanding wings and big red eyes, floating weightlessly, beckoning me silently from the otherworld.  The apparition was so compelling and life like; I reached out to touch it, but could not. Unsuccessful, I starred transfixed until the mesmerizing vision faded from view.  All at once I became convinced I had wings and I could fly. 

Just then, as the sanctimonious fat cop turned away in disgust and disbelief, I lowered my head and ran into him ferociously like an open field football, knocking him over onto his butt, into the nearby tub.  With my hands cuffed behind my back, I then made my way into the living room where I quickly ran past the other dumbfounded flatfoots.  Finally, with one last rush, reminiscent of a game winning touchdown, like the glory days I once lived, I lowered my head further still and bolted forward, smashing and crashing my tightly hunched body through the window yelling “Free -like a bird” as I plunged unstoppable to a bloody death, on the pristine snow covered sidewalk far below.

On my way to Hell I met Linda, holding court like usual, standing at the center of a crowd of long forgotten acquaintances, complaining obnoxiously for all to hear.  Enraged at me for killing her, she raised her voice the moment she caught sight of me.  She then boldly bragged to those around her: “I personally poisoned that fool’s drink with a deadly cocktail of psycho-active hallucinogenic drugs laced with extra methamphetamine, mixed with pure LSD, in a daring but failed effort to kill him first…”  She felt the need to explain to all who would listen, by way of a public confession.  Linda spoke without hesitation, aware that in Hell there are no secrets.

“I rather hoped you would drop dead silently and unnoticed among the festive crowds in Times Square,” she added smugly.  “I was right!  I knew you would never leave a single drop of whiskey in your glass!” she condescended.  “My plan of murder depended on that one key fact, above all others,” she laughed aloud her personal Invictus, like a bitchy Betty Davis or an impious Lauren Bacall.

Undisturbed at yet another declaration of betrayal, with newfound hellish vision, I took pleasure in the irony of it all.  By her actions and with her words, my trusted enabler; the woman I loved, married, and later murdered, unknowingly made certain we would be together forever in death as we never were in life, consumed by the same Hellfire –until the end of time. 

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Old Comments

  • Sometimes fashion will change how a person thinks and how they approach a situation. In your case, the fashion of the scarf had you admiring a woman who had no affect on your life previously. Whether it’s scarves, dresses, accessories, or anything to do with fashion, people really find themselves speechless when they come across great fashion statements.

    Posted by Karen  on  03/17  at  10:26 AM
  • Man, will people not go to great lengths to hide spam to sell their stuff. Great piece Skinner.

    Posted by deminizer  on  03/23  at  12:27 PM
  • Dear Don, et al,

    Thank you for reading my comment on your comment to the comment posted to my post.

    I agree.  It is unscrupulous to sneak in an advertisemnt disquised as a comment below a post. We at Green Fingered Skinner.com pledge to never do such a terrible thing to our fans and the reading public.

    Posted by Green Fingered Skinner  on  03/23  at  07:46 PM
  • Cool. We at 99burning.com pledge to do the same, so long as you buy a CD, a book, leave a nice comment, send the link on to 50 friends like it’s a chain letter from the ‘50’s that will give you Communism if you don’t send it like we tell you to, and then do a rain dance backwards gurgling Cyndi Lauper’s red hair dye, just for our own amusement.

    Seriously, good piece. I think the fashionista above might sell more cloth type products if she simply READ and then INTERACTED with writers in a real way, not like she’s a knock off. Sheesh…

    Posted by deminizer  on  03/23  at  07:51 PM
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