THE CRIME BEAT
My articles used to be so removed. Colonel Mustard killed Mr. Body in the Lounge with the Rope. Bam. Article. And now I’ve got to be objective about corporations spilling oil, killing the geese in the pond near my apartment. When you start to care about the geese, the pond, and the people affected, your work suffers. And you suffer. And you can’t think about anything else except how to heal the world. This is why I should have been a cashier, I used to be great when all I had to remember and care about was that the code for bananas was 4411.
I finish my article and put my hair up in its customary ponytail. There’s a permanent crimp in my hair by now, so it doesn’t make sense to leave it down anyway.
I stand up to peer over our four foot cubicle walls, and see Evan chugging some Mountain Dew and researching the latest death of Mr. Body. This one is named Graham Solomon. Apparently he isn’t even Mr. Body, as there isn’t a body.
“Evan? Babe?” He stands up, turned sideways to me, and nods his head ever so slightly to the cell-mate on the other side of him. Leslie. 50-something, and the kind with lipstick on her teeth. Yesterday, she decorated her office with grapes. Today, she’s carving potatoes. I suppress my laughter but Evan’s keyboard is now covered in spit covered molecules of high-caffeinated green soda. Leslie looks up and now he’s got a straight face, except he doesn’t realize his crisp white shirt is now also covered in bits of the Dew. Leslie doesn’t even crack a grin. I’ve never seen her smile, and I’ve worked with her for three years. Me, I can’t help it and laugh out loud, and then have to convince Leslie for twenty minutes it had nothing to do with her.
And it probably didn’t. Evan and I can laugh at anything. Giggling over the girl who ate toothpaste in our freshman year dorm is why we bonded in the first place. The snooty man who looked just like his Afghan dog was the one who triggered our best friendship. The guy I went on a date with who started every single sentence with the word “hopefully” convinced us to be Journalism majors, and the job market after we graduated led us to The Daily.
Bob Splinter walked by and I cleared my throat ever so slightly, and settled back into my cell, ready to research something about sewage and drinking water. Mr. Body was once disposed of in a sewer. I wonder if I can work that into the piece.
The way home, Evan and I walk and talk. Around the building, behind the oak trees, onto the sidewalk, down the street. We pass the rusted unrecognizable metal pieces of our favorite park. There’s one bench that still stands there, in green. It’s shiny and new, made of recycled garbage bags. It looks out of place. Once cheery and full of small smiling faces, the park is now decrepit. Faces only visit in the dark, when the drug sales happen.
Hurricane Yvette tore into it last year, reducing the swings to rubber mats four miles away. The county commission didn’t rebuild, and instead there’s bright orange traffic cones and mounds of dirt where we used to make memories. And according to the sign, soon to be a parking lot. I guess they ignored my letters, and my op-ed piece on how community playgrounds were necessary for our environmental health, how children needed those green spaces to exercise and make friends. How taking away a community playground was more than taking away structures, it was taking away memories and opportunities.
After three failed attempts at organizing a community clean-up, I’ve given up, and my favorite county commissioner has given in. Even she voted for the parking lot this past go-round. I try not to let it get to me, but it doesn’t keep me from saying nasty things to her in the form anonymous Letters to the Editor.
At this park there was a bridge made of wood-slats, and we’d jump over the rotten pieces, our cheeks flushing in the cold wind. We’d bring sidewalk chalk and play hopscotch as if we were twenty years younger, and gosh darnit we’d enjoy it.
Evan and I would go there after work, me still in my pencil skirt. Sometimes Evan would bring running shorts to wear with his button-up shirt, and I always had my flip flops. We must have been an odd sight.
Sometimes we’d come from home, and we’d bring our acoustics and sing to each other on the swings. We’d try to remember all the words to Don McLean’s American Pie, except Evan liked to change the words to crack me up, and I doubt we ever got past the second verse.
Without the park, I’m just another twenty-something with another twenty-something job, with another twenty-something gay best friend who dated twenty-something guys in the past month.
We come to our small apartment building, up two flights of stairs to our home. We squint right before we walk in, in preparation for the awesomeness we’re about to experience.. Our walls are the brightest color yellow, and we’re not allowed to paint. When we moved in, I bought a coffee table and spray-painted it gold. Since then, he bought lamps in the shape of hula dancers, and I bought a pink chandelier with plastic daisies hanging from it. Next came the leopard-print air guitars, which we hung in every corner.
“Our little slice of super-tacky heaven,” I say as I open the door and take off my coat in one motion. Our coat rack is from a flea market, and might very well be real antlers. I think Evan knows, but he won’t tell me.
Evan is thumbing through the mail, it’s his favorite part of the day, like he’s wishing to find a letter from a lost uncle, perhaps with riches to spare. There hasn’t been such letter yet, but an envelope told him he won $100,000 (if he’d only fill out a survey, buy some products, and be picked out of millions). I think that’s the closest we’re going to get. When he does get this random surprise of millions of dollars, I’ve already decided I’m going to get half. I deserve it.
No rich uncles have died, but there is a letter from Evan’s mom, the only person I know who hasn’t graduated to e-mail, or even typewritten letters. The paper is a thick parchment, and I swear she must have used a fountain pen. Every letter is formed perfectly, just like the stitches in her Chanel suits. She asks in every letter when he and I are going to get married. He writes back in every letter that he’s gay. It’s not that she doesn’t understand, but in her mind, it’s just a temporary condition.
We eat dinner, some leftover lasagna I made a week ago, and I notice another piece of mail on the table.
“Is this yours?”
It’s not addressed to anyone, just our address. I open the envelope.
It used to be that anonymous letters would be pieces of newspapers and magazines clipped out and glued onto paper. Nowadays, everyone’s got the same bright white printer paper and the same black printer ink, and the same exact Times New Roman fonts on their computers, so this is hardly necessary. In fact, the letter inside could have been junk mail, a letter from somebody’s grandma, a pest-control notice from our apartment building. But it wasn’t.
I gasp a little when I read it, and hand the paper to Evan. He glances over it with a puzzled face, and we tack it on our bulletin board, as to remember what it says.
I don’t sleep. Instead, Evan and I clean out our refrigerator. And then our oven. We avoid our prospective bedrooms, and stop at Target on our way to work in the morning to buy fresh clothes.
The next day at work I’m chugging coffee and trying to stay awake. Leslie’s very chirpy, squawking about her precious cooey kittens. I’m woozy and her voice seems amplified somehow, as if she’s coming through speakers. She may as well have been a squirrel speaking French, which I failed, thanks for asking. I can’t concentrate.
During lunch Evan and I walk to the playground, and I convince my editor, Bob, to come with us. It’s a short walk, but it’s sweltering outside, we’re sweating, nay, glowing. We soon walk into the dilapidated playground.
“This is where he said it happened,” I point to the remains of a sandbox, it has an old wooden sign that somehow survived, with the engraved letters “The Best Place on Earth.”
“You have to be more specific with me, WHO said? And WHAT happened? Don’t forget your 5 W’s.” Bob is looking slightly concerned but mostly amused.
“Graham. Graham Solomon said it happened here.” Evan piped up.
“That murder?” I nod. It had come in the mail the day we got the news of his death, so he must have sent it first.
I borrow shovels from the construction men nearby, and we dig. It seems like hours, but in fifteen minutes we’ve got a hole that’s five feet deep, and we’ve only dug up sand and something that looks like an old Tonka truck. Bob checks his watch every few minutes and I feel hurried.
“Well kids, it looks like there’s nothing here, nothing at all.” Bob buttons up his jacket and summoned us to follow him back to the office, and we follow. Back to air-conditioning, back to stories that I have absolutely interest in writing.
I whisk out of my cube into Evan’s and shut his makeshift door. Everyone’s left early, but I want total privacy.
“Let’s go back tonight, see if we can keep digging.” He thinks I’m obsessive, but we do it anyway. His mom was right when she said he was wrapped around my finger.
It’s evening, and we’re strolling, taking our time while it gets dark. We stop for ice cream and run into Leslie, buying a quart and a half of something, and two spoons. She laughs with the guy who hands her the change. Evan makes a whispered joke about dribble, and the second spoon being there to catch her spit, but I don’t catch the joke. My mind is only on the sandbox.
It’s dark and there’s some teenagers smoking where the merry-go-round used to be. I give them my best ‘you shouldn’t do that’ chagrined face and they move five feet away and continue. I can’t heal everyone.
We reach the sandbox, and the dirt’s back in it. The sand is looking untouched, as if we’d never been there. There aren’t construction men around for either of us to flirt with and get shovels from, and we dig with our hands.
Below one layer of sand, I hit something hard.
“Evan, this is it! Feel this!” He had hit something too, and we dig faster.
“By gosh, if you’re right about this I’ll… “ he trails off as he looks what I’ve just pulled out.
This isn’t Idaho, and I’m holding a potato. I’m even more surprised when I see it has a face. There are hundreds of potatoes, and they all have faces. We run back over to Ye Olde Ice Cream Shoppe, but it’s closing, the little old salesclerk is locking up.
“The woman?” I say breathlessly. “The one with the quart of Mocha Delight?”
“Leslie Solomon?” No, I say, her last name is Baker.
“Maiden name’s Solomon, I believe I’ve known her for years,” the old man says. “I believe she was just on her way out of town, said she came into some money. Told me to keep the change!” The old man jingled his pocket, and a few coins slapped together. “Brother was killed a few days ago, I reckon she just needs to get out. Poor woman.”
Rich woman is more like it, I think. The old man finishes locking the door and bids us goodnight, and Evan and I start walking again. Around the oak tree, through the grass, and we come to our apartment steps. We go inside and look at the letter, one more time.
“I hid the money at the best place on earth, but they will hide the body. - G.S.”
We call Bob, and he doesn’t answer.