A fictional story. (Politics free.)
Posted here for May 8, 2023.
The road back home
"Look at that body, LaMont. Take your time. Tell me what you see."
LaMont gazed intently at it for nearly two minutes. "Professor," he said, "it looks to me like he's dead."
"Of course he'd dead, LaMont. His severed head is over there in the corner. Take another look. You can't expect to become an inspector's assistant if you can't find important clues and figure out what they mean."
"I'm trying to learn from you, sir," LaMont replied sheepishly. "I'm doing my best."
"Alright, then. Now pay close attention. Note that the head wasn't cut off cleanly. Whoever did this did a sloppy job. What does that tell you?"
"It tells me, professor, that whoever did this is probably quite a sloppy person."
"Well done, LaMont. You're picking up on these clues nicely. Now, is the deceased male or female?"
"Well, the body's not so big, so it might be a female. But, there's no dress on the body, so it might be a male."
"The face, LaMont, the face. Look at the face. All that facial hair."
"Ah! Then, I'd say it's a male."
"Nice job, LaMont. Now, what is he wearing? Anything strange?"
"Well, he's wearing green pants and a white shirt. And a purple tie. And there's a red cap. But it's not on the victim's head, 'cause his head's over there in the corner."
"Yes, go on."
"There seems to be something written on the hat. It's embroidered. Looks like two letters: 'O' and 'G.' My gosh, it's 'Go' spelled backwards. Do you suppose that's a clue, professor?"
"That remains to be seen."
"And, look there, professor! He's got some kind of necklace on."
"LaMont, that's a rope."
"Oh, by Jove, it is!" LaMont replied with excitement. "Do you think that's a clue, too?"
"Perhaps," the professor responded, rolling his eyes. "Can you find any identity?"
"You mean go through his pockets and see if there's a wallet or some papers? Something like that?"
"Yes," said the professor. "Why don't you do that."
LaMont tried to feel inside the pockets, but was clearly uncomfortable doing so. "I don't think there's anything there," he said.
"You're not trying very hard."
"But he'd dead, professor! This is a dead body here. He's dead!"
"Then you should be quite safe with your search, LaMont," the professor advised, shaking his head and letting out a sigh.
"Nope. No papers. No wallet. Nothing at all."
"Very well," the professor replied. "I'll make a note of that. Notice anything unusual on the body? Besides the rope, of course?"
LaMont was on his hands and knees closely examining the victim's clothing. "Found something!" he announced proudly.
"What is it? What is it?"
"Look, professor, curled up right there in his left hand are two hundred-dollar bills. Do we get to keep them?"
"No, LaMont, we don't. But, that's an important clue. However, the money doesn't belong to us! We do not get to keep it."
"Yes, sir. I understand." LaMont continued his search, and in a few moments said. "Guess that's it, sir. I don't think there are any other clues here. At least none I can find."
"Nicely done, LaMont," the professor said approvingly. Let me make a few notes in my notebook and then we can question the suspects, who, by the way, have been waiting in the next room for close to an hour now."
The professor walked about the room, looking here and there, making brief notations in his notebook. All this time LaMont was staring at the victim's head in the corner. It was such a sad scene. LaMont began to think the head was staring back directly at him.
"That should do it," the professor stated. "I'm ready for the first suspect. LaMont, would you please bring him or her in."
"Yes, sir, will do." LaMont replied, grateful his gaze at the head was interrupted. He opened the door and announced to a group of three men and two women seated there: "The questioning will now begin, ladies and gentlemen. Madam, since you're closest to the door, won't you please come in. You can be the first one we speak to."
She did as directed and sat down on a fold-up chair set in the middle of the room."
The professor began, "Madam, my name is Professor Dreadlock Combs. You are here because we have reason to believe you know something about this incident." He stepped back and then pointed a finger at the body on the floor.
The woman let out a high-pitched screech of fright, as she had not noticed the body when she entered the room.
"Alright, then," the professor continued, "please tell me your name and a little about yourself."
"My name is Trudy Wentworth. I don't know anything about this murder. I swear. I don't know anything at all! I didn't do it. I swear to you!"
"Aha," the professor blurted out. "And how, pray tell, would you know it was a murder, Miss Wentworth? I don't believe that information was conveyed to you. How it is you describe what happened to this body here as a murder?"
"Well," Trudy said, her eyes darting up and down, left and right, and her hands trembling slightly, "I just assumed it was a murder. I mean, why else would someone be held for questioning? Really, I don't know anything about this. Nothing! I'm totally innocent!"
"Please tell me about yourself," the professor said calmly.
"I'm a tap-dancer. I live just down the street a bit. When I go for lessons or practice, I walk right past this place almost every day. I've seen him (she pointed awkwardly at the body) a lot. He's noisy and a trouble-maker and I think he probably got what he deserved. But," she quickly added, "I had nothing to do with it. Honest. I would never, ever want him murdered! Never! Please believe me."
"Thank you," the professor said nonchalantly, "that will do for now. Please have a seat in the next room while I question the others."
"I didn't kill him!" Trudy insisted in a loud voice as she got up from her chair. "I would never do that! Not to anybody! Really!"
When Trudy was in the next room and the door was closed, LaMont piped up, "She's guilty, isn't she! She's absolutely guilty as sin. It's on open and shot case."
"I believe you mean 'open and shut case,' LaMont," said the frustrated professor, "and why are you so sure she's guilty?"
"She said she doesn't like the victim and thinks he got what he deserved. That's the motive. And by the way, where were her tap shoes? Did you ever think of that? If she's always going to and from tap class or exercise, how come no shoes? Where are her taps? What about that clue?" With a smile of satisfaction on his face, LaMont looked at the professor, who was making a note in his notebook.
"That's a clue, perhaps. But, perhaps not. Do you suppose Miss Trudy leaves her tap shoes at the studio so she doesn't have to lug them back and forth?"
LaMont's smile quickly faded into a frown. "Didn't think of that," he said. "Darn!"
"May I have the next suspect, please?"
"I'll get one."
LaMont seated a bearded man in the chair. The man was dressed sloppily, his hair wasn't combed, and it was clear he wasn't a frequent user of deodorant. He sat on the edge of the chair and stared straight ahead, his arms crossed defiantly.
"Sir, my name is Professor Dreadlock Combs. Please tell me your name and a little about yourself."
The man looked up at the professor and frowned. "Why should I tell you anything?" he grumbled. "I don't have to speak to you. You aren't even Muslim. My religion tells me you're inferior to me. And besides, I don't have time to waste talking to a non-believer."
"You can talk to me or not. It's your choice, my good man. But until we figure out what happened to this victim here (he pointed to the body on the floor), you will not be free to go. I only have a few questions."
The man looked at the dead body for a brief moment, then he spat on it. "I spit on you, you useless being," he shouted. "You are dead. You will cause me no more trouble." Then he glanced at the professor. "What are your stupid questions?"
First of all, what is your name? Then, did you know the deceased?"
"My name is Mohamed Sinkorswami. Yes, of course I knew him. I mean I never met him, but it seems he was always there when I was called for prayers -- the second call -- each day. He would just stare at me. He never said anything. Those beady little eyes. Spooky. Very unfriendly. Not someone you'd want to have a conversation with. He really got on my nerves. Nasty. He was nasty! Good riddance to him." He paused. "But no, I didn't do him in. I wouldn't do that. Allah wouldn't tolerate that. Allah be praised! Allah, the only god in the universe. Allah, the greatest!"
After Mohamed returned to the adjacent room, LaMont spoke up quickly. "He's guilty! Did you see the way he spat on that poor guy. There's a dead body lying right here on the floor -- dead! -- and Mohamed spat on him. That kind of contempt! That hatred! He's the guy who killed him. Absolutely, no doubt about it. Case closeted!"
"I think you mean 'case closed,' LaMont, but, the case is not closed. We shall see if he's the guilty one," replied the professor, smiling slightly. "Please bring in the next to be questioned."
The next man took his seat and looked around the room. He glanced momentarily at the body, but seemed to have no reaction to it. He sat back in the chair and crossed his legs.
"Sir, my name is Professor Dreadlock Combs. Won't you please tell me your name and also a little about yourself."
"Why sure. Certainly. Whatever I can do to help. I'm a helpful kind of guy, you know. I sell ice cream. I have a bike with a little frozen compartment on the back. I ride around the neighborhoods and sell little ice cream cups to the kids. You know, chocolate, vanilla, strawberry. And my favorite, of course, coffee. The kids don't seem to like it, but that's my favorite. It's really good. The coffee one. You know, they're fairly small cups, really, just about this size." He held up a finger and thumb to show about two inches. "I get to quite a few neighborhoods during a day, and can make, oh, maybe two hundred dollars. If I'm lucky. Not ever day, of course. But, you know, sometimes I can make even more than that. But, of course that's just a day's total. Doesn't mean I actually make that much. There's the cost of the ice cream, you know. All the dry ice in there, napkins, those little wooden spoons, that sort of thing. And of course, wear and tear on my bike. I don't really make anything close to two hundred dollars a day, net! Oh, my goodness. Wish I did! Wouldn't that be nice! But I like biking around town. Good exercise, you know. Keeps the heart pumping. Good for your health . . ."
The professor interrupted. "And your name, please."
"Oh my gosh. Sorry about that. I guess I should have said that first. Beg your pardon. My name's Sweet, Nicen Sweet. Isn't that something! My parents named me 'Nicen Sweet!' Get it? No, really, that's my real name. I've got it written on the side of my bike: 'Nicen Sweet's Sweet Treats.' You know, ice cream treats. Isn't that a coincidence! Maybe I should make the sign a little bigger. But the kids seem to figure it out. I've got a little bell I ring, too. Actually, it's two bells, but when I pull the string, both bells ring together. It makes a real nice ding-a-ling sound. You know, just to let kids know I'm coming. They come running. They always like to see me. I mean, I'm selling ice cream! But sometimes I run out of the flavor they want. Then they're disappointed. I hate it when that happens. I wish I had a bigger compartment for ice cream. Then I wouldn't run out so often. I'd probably make more money, too. You know?"
"Do you get to this neighborhood very often?" the professor interjected.
"This is a very good neighborhood. Lots of nice kids. They buy lots of ice cream. Mostly chocolate. Only rarely strawberry. Never coffee. You know, in some neighborhoods, bad kids will sometimes try to hit me with a ball or something. Sometimes even a football. That can really hurt. Particularly if you're not expecting it. Right on the forehead. Ouch! And it's usually black and blue for a couple of days. You know what I mean? My head. My forehead. Sometimes longer than that. But most of the kids are nice, although a couple times some tried to let the air out of my tires. Can you imagine that? Once I couldn't even ride the bike back home. Had to walk! Was I tuckered out that day! You know, riding a bike most of a day is exercise enough. Then, having to walk a couple miles on top of that! Wow! I was sore for a week . . ."
"Excuse me, Nicen, but did you ever sell ice cream to the diseased here?" the professor inquired, nodding to the body on the floor.
Nicen looked down at the body. "No," he said, "never did. He never seemed interested, really. But you know what? Once when I was selling ice cream to some kids here, he snuck into my cash box when I wasn't looking and took a bunch of my bills. Boy, was I mad! You know, I work hard for my money. Some days if it's raining, I can't even go out. Kids aren't even on the streets. I mean, it's raining! And during cold weather, you can bet the kids aren't going to be buying ice cream. It's a tough business. I work hard. I don't need some good-for-nothing robbing me. And I never got that money back. Not a single bill. Thought of telling the police about it, but a lot of good that would have done. I'd probably have to sit around at the police station for hours. Heaven knows how long? Know what I mean?"
"Please wait in the next room, Nicen, while we finish our questioning," the professor instructed.
When the door was closed, LaMont looked at the professor in disbelief. "He had a motive. What do you think, professor? Do you suppose he's our killer?"
Ignoring the question, the professor called for the next suspect, and after she was seated, he began. "Madam, my name is Professor Dreadlock Combs. What is your name, please, and I'd like you to tell me a little about yourself."
"Name's Wilma Shortbread," she stated. "I'm an active member of PETA. Very active. We like animals. We love animals! I spend most of my time walking around with this sign. See?" She held it up: "Treat animals like family!" it said. "I don't like it when animals are harmed. People can be so mean. Animals are all innocent. They don't deserve to be abused. It's not right! I tell that to people all the time. Sometime they don't listen to me. I wish they would."
"How often do you get to this particular neighborhood?" the professor inquired.
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe once every week or two. I walk all over town. Animals are so precious. They all need to be protected. People need to be reminded. That's what I do. And I'm proud to do it."
"Thank you, Miss Shortbread. Please be seated in the next room. I may need to speak with you again."
"Okay. But I want to get back on the street. My message is so important. People need to be reminded."
When she closed the door behind her, LaMont was shaking his head. "She seems innocent as a saint," he said. "Can't imagine her harming anyone. Or any thing!"
With the next suspect seated, LaMont spoke up before the professor could even open his mouth. "Sir, my name is LaMont Crumbly, I'm an inspector's-assistant-in-training, and I'd like to introduce you to Professor Dreadlock Combs. Would you be kind enough to tell us your name and a little about yourself." He stepped back, and with a grand sweeping gesture nodded to the professor, who nodded back approvingly.
The man was in tears. His handkerchief was soaking wet. "Oh, this is so terrible!" he blurted out. "How could this happen to me? I have no words. My life is ruined. I never imagined this could happen! What am I going to do now? This is the worst day in my life! I can't believe it!"
With an expression of compassion, the professor looked at the man and said softly, "So then, may I conclude from your remarks that this dead monkey here belongs to you?"
"Yes, oh yes!" the man said, hopelessly. "Pascal and I have been together for more than 13 years. He's my only friend in the world. We go out each day with my organ grinder and beg for handouts. He dances around and amuses bystanders. Sometimes he takes off his little red hat and begs for change. He's been so faithful. If the weather's good, sometimes we'll beg all day long, and yesterday, yesterday was particularly good. We made over 200 dollars. I traded in our take for two one-hundred-dollar bills and a little change. Pascal always likes to hold onto the bills on the way home, and I let him do that because he never lost anything. He would hold on for dear life. He was such a good friend." He began to cry uncontrollable into his handkerchief.
"I'm so sorry, sir," the professor said in a very sympathetic and comforting tone, "I know this loss is overwhelming for you. Did you mention your name?"
"Oh, my name's Horatio Hemmingway. But, you can call me 'OG.' That's for 'organ grinder.' That's what everybody calls me. And I sort of like the name. Had it put on Pascal's hat. That cute little red hat he would beg with."
"Yes, of course, OG," said the professor. "But we need to determine who caused the death of Pascal. Do you have any ideas?"
"No, I don't. Nothing," OG replied, after blowing his nose. "I have no idea at all. Who would ever want to harm Pascal? It's unthinkable! He never hurt anyone. He made people happy. He was so sweet."
"Please be seated in the next room while my assistant and I try to sort out the clues in this case and determine how your dear friend was killed. LaMont, please be good enough to help OG to his seat and then it would be nice if you got some soft drinks for everyone. This questioning has taken over an hour. And in the meantime, I'll examine the clues we've come across and try to make some sense with them."
When LaMont returned, he announced everyone had a drink and was seated comfortably. "Couldn't find a bottle opener, though," he reported, "I had to open the bottles myself."
"How did you do that?"
"Well, I used to work in a chicken factory, and I built up the muscles in my hands. People sometimes wince when I shake hands with them."
The professor raised his eyebrows as he asked LaMont, "So, who do you think done it?"
LaMont scratched the top of his head. "This is a tough one, professor. Let's see. Trudy Wentworth, the tap dancer, said it was a murder before she was told it was a murder, and she didn't have her tap shoes with her. Do you think she did it? Why would she think it was a murder if . . ."
"Absolutely not. She had no motive. She had nothing to gain. She's clearly innocent."
"Well, then," said LaMont, "what about Mohamed Sinkorswami, the Muslim guy? He was angry and bitter and spiteful, and he spat on Pascal. That was disgusting! And he was very sloppy, don't forget that. Do you suppose he did the dirty deed?"
"A bitter, unhappy, and loathsome man, to be sure. Yes, but though he was obnoxious, I don't think he would take out his wrath on a helpless monkey. I suspect Mohamed is innocent. Guilty of being extremely unpleasant, but innocent of killing Pascal."
"Then there's Nicen Sweet, the ice cream guy. Do you suppose he was talking at ninety miles an hour to cover his guilt? You know, some people talk as fast as they can so their nervousness won't be so obvious. He had me very confused. But he had motivation to kill Pascal, because the monkey once stole some of his money."
"He was talkative, absolutely, LaMont, but really a kind and gentle guy at heart, I believe. He's innocent. No doubt in my mind."
"Okay, then, what about Wilma Shortbread with PETA? She seemed to be the most innocent of all five. I doubt she could lug that big sign around for months, maybe years, if she had any intentions of knocking off Pascal. Doesn't seem to make any sense at all."
"I think you're right about that, LaMont. She's innocent as the day is long."
"Well, that narrows the list down considerably. That leaves only Horatio Hemmingway, the guy with the organ grinder, 'OG.' He owned the monkey, and Pascal meant everything to him. That animal was his bread and butter, too. You're not going to tell me he's the guilty one. That's crazy!"
"Sometimes the least-guilty-sounding suspect turns out to be the truly guilty one. But not in this case, LaMont. OG was clearly innocent. He was totally heart broken over Pascal's death. He would never harm that little animal. It was his meal ticket."
"Wait a minute, professor, if it wasn't any of those five, then who was it?"
"Well, LaMont, you just recently joined me to help with this case. You played dumb when we were examining the evidence. You suggested we keep the $200 found in Pascal's hand. You were able to single-handedly open all those soft drink bottles. With the strength of your hands, it seems to me you could have twisted the head off that poor monkey. You said you worked at a chicken factory where they de-head chickens all day long. Looks like the evidence is pointing in your direction. And it looks like the evidence is pretty strong!"
"Professor, you can't mean that. You don't think that I . . . You couldn't possibly believe I took Pascal's life. Professor, you're not accusing me of killing this monkey, are you? Murdering the monkey? That's impossible!"
The professor looked intently at LaMont. He paused, and then a faint smile began to appear. "Of course not," he said, "not in a million years. There's no way you did it."
"But, professor, who did do it?"
"Look, the evidence is clear. OG returned with Pascal after a successful day begging and he let the monkey hold onto the money when he was put here in this room. This is the room Pascal stayed in when he wasn't outside. That 'necklace' -- the rope -- is obviously a leash! OG probably forgot to take it off the animal once they got home. The monkey jumped around like he normally would. Now, look here at the fibers caught on this curtain rod. Those are rope fibers from (he pointed), his leash! Pascal jumped around, his leash got caught on the rod when the animal leaped from the bookcase there, and the leash became a noose. The monkey was up so high, when he fell, the leash ripped the poor guy's head right off of him. The head probably bounced around on the floor a couple of times, then rolled off into the corner. It wasn't murder at all. It was simply a terrible accident. And that's that! Case closed!" He looked at LaMont, then added, "Perhaps I should say, 'Case closeted.'"
"Very funny," said LaMont. He looked at the professor. "Hey, wait a minute!" he said. "Did you know all that from the very beginning? From when we just began this whole investigation?"
"Why yes, LaMont, I did. Absolutely. It all became quite clear when I examined the clues, right after you examined the body. The cause of death -- an accident -- was immediately obvious."
"Then why, why did you put all those poor suspects through those time-consuming and emotional interviews? All that was just useless!"
"Oh my goodness, not useless at all. There's a wise, old saying, young man. It's simply this: 'If you're being paid by the hour for an investigation, it's going to be a long investigation.'"