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Death ... and More Death
A Colour-Blind Detective Tale

by Bill Capron



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......The world is black and white for me. So you'd think I'd be more sensitive than most to tonal shifts, but it seems there's never any warning before the dark side of life smacks me upside the head. No "Your Brakes Are Out" or "Gun Ahead" signs. No death congestion reports. If there had been, I'd have turned around and headed straight home, missing out on all the death. Then I could have seen it like you did: a diversion on the national news, antiseptic, pretty much painless. Maybe the easy summer should have been warning enough. Maybe I won't take a vacation ever again.

......Come to think of it, I'm really not a vacation kind of guy. I've been almost everywhere I wanted, and it's no big deal, especially in black and white and gray. When I do travel, though, it's to fly-fish. It had been a lousy year for trout west of the Cascades with the low water, so I headed to Idaho for a couple of weeks of chasing, and hopefully catching some grays: rainbow gray, brown gray and cutthroat gray. On the work side, the quiet summer had blended into an even quieter fall, what with a couple hostile divorce actions, and taking testimony from reluctant witnesses for a criminal trial. It was like the bad guys were in remission, which is always good news, especially for victims.

......The bright sun made me a bit woozy, so I stopped in the Tri Cities and spent the night. The next day I put into a little place, Jackson's Cross Creek Inn, in Gannett, a couple miles north of Silver Creek. I got to talking with the owner. He'd been in the States thirty years, but it hadn't done much for his English. His wife had been a cop. I told him I was a private cop. He said I might like one of the rustic cabins set against the back of the property. He showed me one, and I took it for two nights.

......I still had some light, so I made my way to the Kilpatrick Bridge and waded the edge of a wide pool. It was past the high season, and I was the only one there. I used a white-gray caddis and had a few noisy strikes from rainbows, but was a little slow and missed them.

......Then I hooked a nineteen-inch brown that barely rippled the water when it took my hook, about three feet from the bank and thirty feet upstream. I worked it in, let it go, then put my equipment away.

......I heard the scream as I turned behind the motel for my cabin. I ran toward the voice, finding a young girl stooped on her knees in a wide circle of black blood. Her hands were flat in it. She was too terrified to move. I said something calming, then leaned forward, placed one hand on her left shoulder and the other on her right arm to lift her. She fell back against the wall but kept her hands away from her body. I pulled a towel from the cart she was pushing and told her to clean herself.

......While I waited for her breathing to return to normal, the owner came around the corner. "Gerrie, my God, you all right?"

......He was fifty, a stooped five-nine, with faded gray eyes, sun lined face, wispy hair. He had sleep in his eyes. He looked at the floor. I smelled beer on his breath when he turned on me.

......"What you do to my daughter?" His body shook under the off-white and gray Hawaiian shirt. He raised his fists in anger, but it didn't cover the fear in his eyes.

......I held both hands up, palms out. "Hey, you know me." I shook him a little. "I just got here."

......He jumped over the puddle of black, sending a spray of drops at the edge with his heel. He searched the bedroom and the bath. He looked under the beds, then rose up on his knees, his black eyes darting around the walls, like he'd missed something. He jumped back out the door and put his hands on the girl's shoulders. "Gerrie, where's Dessie?"

......The girl was still crying, bobbing her head.

......He got more frantic, shaking her. "Who here with Dessie?"

......I leaned between them. "Your daughter's hysterical."

...... "She not my daughter. She the maid." Like I should have known.

......Nevertheless, I put an arm around her shoulders and turned her to the Adirondack chair at the corner of the deck-porch. She folded into the chair and cried into the towel covering her hands.

......I returned my attention to the man, "Call the cops."

......His face went blank, then, "No, gotta find Desdemona."

......"Who?"

......"My daughter, Desdemona. She staying in this room."

......"She could be dead." Looking at the quantity of blood again, "Somebody's dead."

......"Gotta find my Dessie." He turned to the girl. "Stop crying, Gerrie. Clean this mess up."

......"You can't," I said. "It's evidence."

......He put a defiant look in his eyes, then grabbed a pile of towels and tossed them onto the pool of blood. He used his feet to move the towels.

......I grabbed his arm and pulled toward the door. He shook me off and glared a second. Then, remembering who I was, he changed tack. "Can you help me?"

......"No. The police--"

......He grabbed my arm. "They get Dessie killed."

......"How?"

......More frantic, "Can you help me?"

......I kept him away from the towels. "Maybe, but leave the blood alone."

......"Okay, okay." He gripped my arm and dragged me towards the office, right past the crying maid. We went behind the counter to a small studio apartment in the back. Jackson's bedroom was anally neat. The impression of his scrawny body was fading from the covers. There was a gleaming white bathroom to the right. An empty beer bottle was turned upside down in the sink, drying out.

......He reached for a picture on a highboy drawer, a high school graduation shot of a pretty girl, with the name "Desdemona" in light gray script angled across the bottom right, above the year. She was four years out of school. He pulled the picture out of its frame and handed it to me. "You find my Dessie. I pay you."

......A case I didn't need, but if I didn't help, who would? "Tell me about it," then remembering the name of the motel, "Mr. Jackson."

......"Dessie, she come home yesterday, say she need a place to stay. I never seen her since high school." A memory crossed his face. "Not since she run away."

......"Why'd she run away?"

......Stubbornness closed his mouth.

......"Why'd she come home?"

......It was safer territory. "Said this man was after her, wanted something she had."

......"What man?"

......He shrugged, "She don't say. She said he never find her here."

......"Looks like she was wrong."

......His eyes showed surprise. "Dessie never wrong."

......"Then what happened here?"

......The old man's mind was working, contorting his face. "I saw that Packard boy, Rex. He argue with Dessie this morning."

......"Who's this Packard?"

......The face closed up again. I reached a hand across the table and shook him. "Who's this Packard?"

......"Bob Packard's son."

......I wasn't enlightened any. It was like forty questions. "Who's Bob Packard?"

......A strange pride marked his face. "I kill Bob Packard. He screwing my wife. He kill her, so I kill him."

......I couldn't help myself, "Judge, jury, executioner?"

......He repeated his lawyer's words, like a lifelong litany, "Did my time. Crime of passion. Didn't know what I was doing." The words didn't mean a thing to him.

......"And your daughter?"

......He shook his head at the remembered pain. "She gone when I got out. Graduated, just left that picture. Wanted to tell her it wasn't my fault. Dint know how."

......"Where can I find this Packard boy?"

......"Back off main road, in a shack with his mother."

......I scribbled the directions, got his promise not to clean the room, and called the cops. We were a long way out, and they said it would take an hour to get there. I said Jackson would be waiting. The old man tried to pay me: two crisp hundred dollar bills. I wasn't sure I wanted to be beholden to him. I told him we'd talk about it later. He said his daughter drove a little red foreign convertible.

......I found my fishing rod back by Dessie's bloody door. Gerrie was still in the chair, crying. I put both in my cabin and told her to wash up and go back to Dessie's room to wait for the cops.

......I zigzagged the mile to the Packard place, a rundown farmhouse. I wouldn't have called it a shack. Just needed a little attention. Night had fallen, but a full moon lit the way. The lights were on in the house. There was a rusted gray Chevy parked in front of the garage, and a blood black LeBaron convertible behind it.

......I rang the bell, and an old woman came to the door. She'd been beautiful once, but time had taken its toll. Like the house, she needed a little attention. Jackson said the boy's name was Rex, his mother Isabella.

......I heard voices arguing in the background. Nodding to the woman, I walked past through the foyer. Rather than protest, she followed me like a shadow. In a large living room, two men faced each other across a low glass coffee table. The young one, presumably Rex, stood six-four, same as me but skinny as a rail, with black hair and strong features. The other man was maybe fifty, five-ten, good shape, short gray beard, wearing professorial clothes: corduroy pants and patches on the elbows of his hounds-tooth coat.

......The older man said, "I don't know where Desdemona ..." He faltered as he felt my presence. Both heads turned.

......I read only confusion. "I want to know where Desdemona is, too."

......Rex sputtered, "Who are you, mister?" He wasn't belligerent. My linebacker look stops belligerence in its tracks.

......"Mr. Jackson asked me to find her. He said she was in trouble." They looked unconvinced. "There's about two pints of blood on the floor of the cabin she was using."

......Rex looked from the older man to me and back. I saw the decision on his face. He didn't know me from Adam's off ox, which said something important about the other guy. "Her car's in a ditch a mile down the road. She's not in it."

......The older man said, "Leave me out of this," and made for the door.

......Rex grabbed his arm. "No way. You don't help, maybe the cops find out you were screwing one of your students." The way he finished the sentence, I knew he meant Dessie. Then he added, "Maybe some nasty questions about doing the whole family."

......That threw me. I said to Rex, "You've seen the car?"

......"No. Schindler," he indicated the man, "he saw the car."

......I turned to the gray teacher, "And?"

......It came out reluctantly. "There's a dead man in the passenger seat."

......"No sign of the girl?"

......A quick "No." His eyes darted over my shoulder to the woman behind me.

......The woman backed out of the room.

......Things were getting hairy. "Show me."

......Preceding me in his car, Schindler dawdled, like he didn't want to get there. I could see Rex arguing with him. In the moonlight Dessie's Porsche looked like a shadow against the dying gray blackberry bushes. The dead man's head was flattened against the window. I turned it for a better look. I knew him. Not in any personal sense. I knew who he was from the news: a gangster putting the squeeze on an Indian Casino near Spokane.

......Rex turned a hard stare on Schindler. "Where is she?"

......Another car squealed to a stop beside us. A reedy voice called out, "Aaron, is that you, Aaron?"
Even in the dark I saw Schindler's face harden. "I'm over here, Helen. You just wait."

......She wasn't taking orders. "No, I've been driving all over hell's half acre looking for you." With a hatchet-face and white-grayed hair, she looked more severe than my first grade teacher. Her eyes were black, black eyebrows seemed to swoop away from her face, and a black line of roots made the hair look like a wig. Her body was thin and shriveled, like the Wicked Witch of the West.

......She gasped at the body. Her knees buckled, but no one caught her. I helped her up.
She moved unsteadily to grasp her husband's arm, taking ownership. "You come home right now, Aaron. You can't be mixed up in a mess like this. What'll the school board say?"

......I turned to her. "A mess like what, Mrs. Schindler?"

......"Why, the dead man. And Desdemona Jackson." She turned pleading eyes to her husband. "Please, Aaron, we've got to get out of here."

......The man turned to me. "I've got to take her home. I'll give her a sedative and be right back?"
I nodded, glad to have them out of the picture, and gave my attention to the boy. "What's going on here?"

......He shook his head, more in disbelief than anything else. "It's happening again."

......Must be a strange town with no one ever answering a question. "What's happening again?"

......"Death," his eyes looked empty, the voice sounded hollow, "and more death."

......I turned him away from the body and pushed him into a sitting position on the car's tiny trunk. I calmed my voice, "Tell me about it."

......His eyes came back into focus. "About what?"

......"The death."

......The beams flashed across us as a third car skidded to stop. This was like some kind of serendipitous traffic jam. Jackson ran to the car, saw the dead man, then yelled, "Where's my daughter?" He raised a pistol and pointed it at the boy. Hysteria tinged his voice, "I want my daughter."

......I shoved Rex, and Jackson's bullet found empty air. I was on him before he could fire again. Wrestling him to the ground, I took his gun away.

......"They's killing my family," he cried. "Them Packards is killing my family."

............I looked at the gun in my hand. "Looks like you got that backwards, Mr. Jackson."

......He pleaded, "They's killing my family."

......"Somebody is." I left him bent over the dewy grass and returned my attention to Rex. "Let's go to my car. I need to talk to you." I took his arm and pushed him. He started to resist, but I had twenty years and forty pounds on him.

......I repeated my question, "Tell me about the death."

......"There's too much of it."

......"That's not telling me anything."

......The silence grew between us until he had to fill the void, "Dessie, she called me yesterday, to come to the motel."

......"Her father said you were arguing."

......"No . . . Yes. She wanted me to protect her from this man who was chasing her."

......"Why you?"

......He looked right through me.

......I shook him. Again, "Why you?"

......"She knows I still love her. She said she worked for this gambler, that she stole some papers of his, his 'second set of books' she called them." It hurt him to say the rest, "I told her no." It was matter-of-fact, like a death sentence.

......"And?"

......His face seemed to crumble. "She went to Schindler. It was my fault."

......"What are you talking about?"

......The past and present were merging for the young man, "Schindler. He was the one having sex with Dessie's mother, not my father," a long pause, then, "At the same time he was having sex with Dessie."
The obvious question fell from my lips: "Why didn't you tell the cops?"

......"My mother wouldn't let me." He saw the disbelief on my face and answered it, "Helen Schindler is my aunt."

......I was incredulous, "Schindler is your uncle?"

......"Don't call him that!"

......I tried to imagine the kid's mixed feelings of grief and guilt. I couldn't do it.

......I was sounding like a broken record, "Where's Dessie?"

......He shook his big head. "I don't know. Schindler said he didn't see her, but I think ..."

......I finished it for him. "He lied."

......I started the engine, and Rex gave me directions to Schindler's house.

......I pulled up behind the LeBaron. I told Rex to wait, but he wasn't made that way. I guess it was time he confronted his demons.

......We could hear the Schindlers on the back deck, but their words were incoherent. I went up the steps, Rex right behind me.

......They were eyeball to eyeball. Pain, shame, hate marked their faces, the stance of their bodies. When they saw us, it was like someone said 'cut', and the scene was over. A forced calm returned to their faces. It wasn't a pretty sight.

......She spoke first, ignoring me. "Rex, what are you doing here?"

......I answered for him. "We're here for Dessie Jackson."

......A doughy look smoothed her face, softened her features, "What do you mean?"

......It was one of them. I took a shot in the dark, "You killed her."

......She looked shocked, but didn't deny it.

......When you're shooting from the hip, you might as well empty the gun, "Just like you killed her mother."

......A spasm contorted her face. She pointed a finger at her husband. "No, he killed them."

......The man hissed through clenched teeth, "Helen, shut up!"

......Disgust pulled her features together. "How can I ever shut up again, Aaron?"

......I stayed on her. "Why did you kill them?"

......She shrugged her emaciated shoulders. "Hey," she pointed her finger at her husband again. Then she laughed, "He was poking them, I just filled the holes."

......"But why Dessie?" Rex blurted. "Why now? That was so long ago."

......Her laugh almost got the better of her. "They were in the garage when I got home. They didn't see me. He had that man's blood on his hands, and he was sticking it in her. All over again. Those Jackson women, they're like animals in heat. I'm just killing animals."

......Schindler collapsed onto the bench built into the deck. I told Rex to call the motel and have someone redirect the cops. Helen Schindler had entered some kind of catatonic state. She wasn't with us any longer.

......The cops showed up. We found Dessie's body in the backyard, under a tarp next to the woodpile. They gave me a lot of grief, but nothing I couldn't handle. Except for Jackson's shooting at the boy, I told them everything I knew, which wasn't all that much. I think they were glad to get it all tied up. Still, they kept me until eleven the next morning. Schindler was being held for killing the hoodlum, and his wife was in a padded cell.

......I drove back to my cabin and packed my things. Jackson nodded when I stepped up to the counter to check out. He offered me money again, much more than before. His eyes wouldn't meet mine. I told him to keep it. He had no wife, no daughter, not even have a crime of passion to fall back on any longer.

......I barely knew any of them, and what I knew was probably the smallest tip of the iceberg. I felt sorry for Jackson. I felt sorry for Rex and his mother. I felt sorry for Dessie and her mother. I felt sorry for Schindler and his sick wife. No happy endings.

......I headed back to Portland. Fishing didn't seem so important just then. I was feeling more than a little noir. Maybe I needed a little more color to my world.

Copyright (c) 2002 by Bill Capron.



Bill Capron's thirty years of management included a ten year stint in industrial espionage, and the sale of his firm to a major, now deceased, public company. He retired at fifty, at the top of his field, moving from the cutthroat world of business ... to the sedate world of publishing. Yeah, right! So, he was wrong.

He claims "I write all the time. I've written six manuscripts, and published twelve short stories in Grit, Blue MurderJudas, Nefarious, Mysterical-e, Orchard Press MysteriesThe Murder Hole, and HandHeldCrime. You can see these and other works on my website at www.thecolorblinddetective.com.

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."And I'll tell you right out that I'm a man who likes talking to a man that likes to talk."

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