|Chapter 4: Crime Scene 352
Fleetwood, Fleetwood, Fleetwood! Thought Ken Campbell more than slightly annoyed at the frequency with which the attorney generals handsome face was showing up in his bedroom telewindow. Could any of that annoyance have been attributable to Barbaras mindless admiration of the man? Some of it. But there was more to it than that. He wasnt jealous of Jack Fleetwoods sex appeal. He was afraid of what it signified, and angry about what it had done to his marriage.
He slid low in his warm, effervescent bath water, his not-quite-trim body submerged to the chin. In another five or ten minutes, at the most, his formerly sane and affectionate wife would be possessed by the spirit of Estelle Gidarb and find an excuse to interrupt him. It was no longer a question of whether she would do it or why, but of when she would do it and what excuse she would use. Whatever the excuse, he knew the reasonto keep a certain portion of his anatomy out of mischief.
Estelle Gidarbs book, Doing Without, had listed a pattern of longer-than-necessary stays in the bathroom as a warning sign of sexual self-abuse. Now that her phenomenal best-seller had become a permanent fixture on the night stand next to Barbaras side of their bed, it seemed to Ken that Barbara was giving a Gidarb interpretation to everything he did. Be that as it may, he couldnt blame the famous founder of STOPIT for her books corrosive effect on his marriage. It was not especially well-written, well-researched or well-reasoned. Without Jack Fleetwoods endorsement, Ken knew that his wife would never have given it a passing grade.
She looked upon Fleetwood as a vastly superior form of life, so that conflicts of knowledge and reason between him and her were always resolved in his favor. It was the strangest phenomenon that Ken had ever witnessed, so strange that he could hardly articulate it to himself much less explain it or cope with it.
Before he could carry the thought further, he heard a tap on the door followed immediately by Barbaras voice. "Ken?"
"Yes, sweetheart," he answered wearily.
"Dont you think youve been in there long enough?"
That was a new one.
"No," he said, "It was just beginning to feel good."
The next instant, Bang! The door flew open with Barbara standing wide-eyed on red alert, like the mother of a child who might have been drowning.
"Jesus!" cried Ken, lifting himself out of the water, heaving much of the water up and out of the tub in the process. All the while, Barbaras round eyes were fixed on his mid-section. In the rapid motion of his body and the voluminous spray of water that occasioned her stormy entrance, she could see nothing. Then the look in his eyes that she could not identify drew her attention to his face as he seemed to fly right out of the tub and land firmly on his feet in front of her.
He grabbed her by the sleeve of her housecoat, pulled her inside of the bathroom and slammed the door.
"What the hell was that about?" he asked, with all the restraint he could muster.
She looked confused, as though she had been rudely awakened from a sleep-walk. Kens emotional gears shifted swiftly from anger to fear for Barbaras mental stability. The woman standing before him with the familiar peaches and cream complexion, silky brown hair and clear blue eyes was not his wife. She was an alien soul, a pod-person inhabiting his wifes body.
"Barbara," he said, "are you all right?"
Her expression changed again to one of concern for Kens mental stability. "Of course I am," she said gently. "Youre the one whose been acting funny. Maybe you dont realize how much time youve been spending in here with your clothes offand how much grabbing youve been doing lately."
Ken dropped his arms to his sides and stared at Barbara dumbly.
Her eyes fell to his genitals, then darted toward the towel rack. She brushed past him, snapped up a big beige bath towel and whirled around to had it to him. "Please cover yourself."
"Please, Ken. I know how much you like to show off that big thing between your legs, but Im your wife, remember?"
"What are you trying to say?" asked Ken, taking the towel and holding it semi-defiantly next to his offending parts. He truly did not know what her words were supposed to mean.
"I said what I meant, Ken."
"I cant believe this," he mumbled, wrapping the towel around his waist then leaning to his right to touch the part of the control panel on the wall that drained the water from the tub. He turned back to Barbara, patting his palms to his sides in frustration. "Since when is it so unusual for either of us to take a carbonated water bath, that one of us has to be there to see it?"
Barbara stood akimbo, shaking her head slowly from side to side. "Thats not going to work," she said, in a quiet, reasonable tone. "I know all the excuseand we both know what the problem is."
Ken blushed all over, one of the less desirable consequences of becoming a white man.
Barbara smiled sweetly, opening her arms and pressing her body against his, her smooth cheek to his harry chest, not caring that his skin and hair were wet. "I love you, sweetheart," she cooed.
Ken wanted to push her away. He wanted to call her disrespectful names, to open the door and shove her out with his foot on her considerable rear end. Instead of doing any of the things he felt like doing, he wrapped his arms around her in the best imitation of affection he knew how to give.
"Isnt this nice?" purred Barbara, holding her husband tighter. "This is all I wantcloseness. This is all any real woman wants."
The couple began to sway a tiny bit from side to side with her smiling contentedly and him gnashing his teeth. He had to hold her close to keep her from seeing how angry and frustrated he was. He knew what she was going to say next...and she said it.
"You dont have to worry about having a silly old erection with me."
You mean, you dont have to worry about having a silly old penis, thought Ken with a chill. That was the crux of the matter. And he owed it all to Jack Fleetwood....
The next day at work, Ken slid into the passenger seat of a snub-nosed, blue and white Pursuer squad car beside a square-jawed uniformed policeman a few years his junior. I wonder what Jack Fleetwood is doing right now, he though.
The officers traditional service cap and thick, leather jacket had looked black in the precinct garage until the light that went on in the car when the door opened reviled their true navy blue color. That observation was what had inclined Kens thoughts toward the true nature of things in general verses their appearance in different lights. That observation, in turn, was partly where the musing about Jack Fleetwoods current activities had come from.
The attorney general always looked like a "champion of the people" in the light of his well-choreographed telewindow appearances. But what was he like when a telewindow camera wasnt fixed on him with his knowledge and consent?
"Bernie," said Ken to the driver who was punching their destination into the instrument panel message center, "Have you ever wondered if Jack Fleetwood was anything like he looks in a T-window?"
"No," said the driver, as he pressed the enter key and the cars engine began to hum. "I try not to think about that guy any more than I have to."
"How can you avoid it? Every time you open a news window, there he is."
The garage door opened and the car rolled under it into the moderate flow of morning traffic.
"Him and Estelle Gidarb," said Bernie, making an adjustment on his wristband computer and letting the car drive itself. "You cant even think of one of em without thinking of the other one. Thats why I dont open news windows anymore....Whats the matter, your ol lady been taking lessons on how to be a good wife and mother from STOPIT?"
"You ought to be a detective, Bernie."
"Nothin to it. If my name was Ken, I think Id change it."
The pink glow of Kens face would have told most people to back off. Bernie ignored it. "If I was you and I had a wife who was listening to Estelle Gidarb, I dont think Id be able to get it up."
Kens blush deepened. Only then did the man behind the wheel realize that hed gone too far. Now both men were red-faced.
Ken touched a button on the squad car message center which opened the 5"x 9" telewindow with a 7:56 time display and a bell tone. "Central computer," he said, "key-in crime scene 352, Officer Adamski."
The time display blinked off and was immediately replaced with the close-up view of a white, pointy-chinned officer with his service cap pushed back on his head, revealing shiny black hair with large, looping curls. "Adamski? This is Sgt. Campbell. Turn off that fucking ELF and get a camera on the body."
"We just got here, Sarge," mouthed the ELF with Officer Adamskis voice. "Detective Folgman got here a little before we did. Didnt even have a chance to get out of his car"
"I didnt ask about Folgman," said Ken sharply. Its my case now, and Im telling you to get a camera on the body."
"Damn, Sarge. Tuttle is still covering the angles."
"Why dont you help him?"
"Its a one man job...Whats the matter with you?"
Ken and Bernie cast sidelong glances at each other and smiled sheepishly. "Im sorry," said Ken.
"Thats all right," said the officer, "I figure this must mean something to you for you to ask to take the call."
"Nothing personal," said Ken. "A friend of mine had some ideas about the Brown Belt Strangler and wanted me to checkem out."
Ken hadnt meant to substitute a fictitious, generic friend for his black father-in-law. He wasnt sure why hed done it but he had a disturbingly good idea.
"Stand by," said Adamski, "Crime scene 352 ready to view."
"Good work," said Ken.
Adamskis ELF was replaced in the message center telewindow by an eye-level view of a drab, two-story house with boarded-up windows and empty, overgrown lots on each side. In an editing box within the window was an overhead electronic drawing of the area with an arrowhead on the sidewalk in front of the house. When Ken moved the arrow across the weed-covered lawn with a control spike on the message center, the view of the house changed as though the arrowhead were the eyes of an observer on the scene.
Bernie shook his head. "Abandoned house in a rundown neighborhood with empty lots or other abandoned houses all around. Always the same. And the same kind of women are still falling for it. How does that sick son-of-a-bitch find all of those stupid quails?"
"Maybe they dont open their news windows," said Ken, pushing the control spike of the message center viewer forward until it put him at the front door with its peeling green and white paint. He examined the door briefly, then turned the arrow around to see what the killer might have seen had he stood there. As Ken expected, there was nothing to see on the other side of the street but an empty lot choked with high grass, weeds and sundry debris. He moved by way of the computer like a ghost through the broken side rail on the front porch to the walkway below leading to the back. The side door stood ajar.
Ken entered the house straight though the wooden door and up a short flight of stairs that were almost hidden in the sparse indoor light, to another door on his left. Ken floated though that door to a kitchen stripped of its cabinets and its plumbing. The cracked and stained linoleum floor was littered with trash. Among the things that caught his eye were used paper diapers and broken toys for older boys and girls. The toys didnt look old enough to have been left behind when the house might have been in reasonably good repair. Whether or not the diapers and toys had anything to do with the present case, it saddened him.
"What do we know about the victim?" asked Ken.
"Not much more than we did this morning when that Mexican guy found the body: White female, late 20s early 30s. About five six, five seven, a hundred and thirty pounds. Green eyes, dark blond hair."
Ken and Bernie looked at each other. "Blond hair?" asked Ken.
"Are you sure about that?" asked Bernie.
"Yeah. Dark blond hair. No wig. No mistake."
Ken zoomed through the cracked plaster wall into the bedroom where the frozen body of a woman wearing only a pair of red party shoes lay prone with a belt around her neck on a clean, white sheet-covered mattress in the middle of the floor. Her face was turned to one side and her long hair was swept over the sheet away from her belt-cinched neck. Her hair was the color of wet straw. The color of the belt was brown. A red, cloth garment lay neatly folded at the foot of the mattress. By almost all appearances, this was the work of the Brown Belt Strangler.
The operative word was, almost. Ken moistened his lips. Maybe his father-in-laws buddy was on to something. He switched off the audio link to the crime scene and checked the base of the T-window for the Estimated Time of Arrival display: 6 minutes.
"Do you think this is our guy?" he asked in a tone which said that he himself did not.
Bernie frowned. "Could be," he said. "The setting, the weapon, the general description of the victim. Everything but the hair color fits. And who but the killer would know about the party shoes? That hasnt been released to the media."
"Maybe it should have been," said Ken. "Whether or not this was a copycat killing that girl could be alive right now if shed known better than to wear those damn shoes."
"Well, she may have been wearing the right kinda shoes to fit the profile but she sure was wearing the wrong hair color."
"We dont know that, Bernie. Maybe she looked like a brunette when the killer first saw her. Maybe she was one. Maybe she was wearing a dark wig. Or maybe the color of the victims hair wasnt as important as we though it was. Remember how the first six victims all had red shoes and the next two had yellow ones. The important thing is, they were party shoes. Its possible that the hair color doesnt matter any more than the color of the shoes."
"I guess," shrugged Bernie with a far-away look beginning to creep into his slate gray eyes. "You know, a time scan should be automatic in cases like this whether or not the community can afford it. I mean, who says what constitutes a community in the first place?"
"Block clubs," said Ken. "You pay enough block-club dues to make sure nobody can get away with murder on your block."
"Yeah, but why should money have anything to do with who gets police protection and who doesnt?"
"Because time scans are expensive and your neighbors dont want to spend their hard-earned money to take care of somebody elses responsibility."
"Responsibility? Shit, Sarge, you sound like a goddamn American. Folks on the South End dont have money to spend on flashbacks. They barely have enough to spend on food because the fucking Americans stole it fromem."
Ken snorted. "Used to be a time when all of us could call ourselves Americans."
"The bastards have even stolen that for themselves," said Bernie. "And the thing that pisses me off the most is the fact that nobody noticed!"
"People notice that they live in safe, clean neighborhoods," replied Ken. "They make good money, pay low taxes. They notice the good schools their children go to and the good local services they get for the taxes and block club dues they do pay."
The blue and white Pursuer turned itself down a low-income, residential side street where the mixed level of property upkeep announced the absence of a strong block-club.
Bernie gestured to the window, "See that abandoned building over there?"
The two story brick structure in the field of tall weeds and garbage with its padlocked doors and boarded-up windows took up the entire block. "Thats what they used to call a school. I went there with a bunch of other kids when I was a kidall kindsa kids; white, black, brown, yellowand real teachers, not the program technicians they have now who like to call themselves teachers."
The quick shift of his superior officers eyes told Bernie nothing since he knew nothing about Detective Campbells wife.
"Now," he continued, "when you talk about sending children to school you mean sending them to their room with a VRV and sitting them down in front of a telewindow with teacher ELFs for five or ten or however many hours a day it takes them to learn the lessons. These aint any ol teachers. Theyre the best in the world. They talk to the student one-on-one and have a bag of tricks as deep as the sea to get the point across. Course it cost more every month than the average parent around here makes in a year and there aint enough money in the community to keep the old school buildings like that one open. But who gives a shit about that?"
Ken didnt answer, thinking of the strain Sams education was putting on his financial resources, then imagining Barbaras response to the fact that ELFs were getting all the credit for the work being done in the background by people like her. The way Ken understood her job, Bernies opinion of teacher ELFs was like crediting the words and manner of a puppet to the puppet rather than the puppeteer. But how was anyone who didnt know a flesh and blood school teacher as well as Ken did to know where the ELectronic Facsimiles work left off and the real teachers work began? Ken wasnt sure himself.
Bernies eyes made a slow sweep of the area. "This aint no DZ yet," he said, "cause too many white people still live here. But thats gonna change cause there aint no place left forem to goespecially the ones with the wrong color eyes."
The two police officers rode in silence, each wondering how or whether to raise the subject of race reassignments or squad car monitoring, both of which arose in their minds as natural outgrowths of their conversation.
When Bernie looked as if he were about to speak, Ken made sure that he didnt say anything Ken was unprepared to hear. "Did you bring your test kit?" he asked, only because he could think of nothing else to change the direction of the conversation.
Bernie reached inside his jacket and pulled out a plastic box as tall and wide and half as thick as a deck of playing cards. "Did you forget yours?" he asked diplomatically.
"Nah," said the former Negro, "Just making conversation."
Contact the author: Jasper Garrison