The Kestron Lenses
by Jonathan M. Sweet
When he arrived at the Dispatch office, Leon was waiting on the bench outside the door. Running his fingers through his long hair, the editor cleared his throat. “They found the body. It was right where you said it’d be, in some farmer’s north forty about a half-mile off Old I-110. They got a warrant Saturday and arrested Ed yesterday morning. They searched the car and found traces of hair and blood in the trunk that matched the Delgada girl’s. He confessed.
“Ed’s finished. Not even two weeks’ notice, just eight years from retirement, tenure revoked. Prison time. Even if he gets probation he won’t see the inside of a school ever again, not even sweeping the floors. Heard tell the Delgadas might sue the college for aiding and abetting a known alcoholic, and since their girl died on University grounds, the case could stick. Not to mention that Dolores is leaving him.
“It’s an ugly mess all around. So I need you to tell me who your sources are. Was it a faculty member? Someone at the party who tailed Ed, seeing as he had too much booze but got behind the wheel anyhow, making sure he didn’t do himself a mischief? Or maybe one of the Delgadas neighbors? Something like this happens on a residential street, someone had to see it. Please tell me. Papers don’t like anonymous sources, son. Too easy to fabricate. Some folks don’t think bugger-all about starting up a rumor to slur someone they got a grudge against, so that’s why we like to have names we can check up on and verify what we’re being told. Lawsuits’re always foremost on my mind. And if there was a witness, the police’ll need a collaborating statement from them for their reports.”
Harry inhaled deeply. The full ramifications of his actions were beginning to hit him like a heady wine. “I can’t reveal my sources. I’m sorry. Am I in trouble for that?”
“Very well. I can’t force you to. And no, you aren’t in trouble. Let me warn you, though: if you had been caught feeding us false or slanderous information, whether you did it deliberately or even if your source lied and you didn’t know about it, you’d probably be out on your prat now, no questions asked.”
Harry noticed Shad Hutch standing at the doorway behind them, a sheaf of papers in his hand. His face was blank and dark. If he had overheard something that bothered him, his expression didn’t give it away.
“Mr. Marks, I liked Dr. Wayne a lot.”
“Me too. A lot of folks did.”
“Maybe I did the right thing putting my emotions aside and reporting the facts. But it’s cold comfort.”
“I know, son.”
Leon turned and went back into the office, brushing past Shad. The copy editor looked at Harry, again with face perfectly void of expression, and followed Leon. Harry just sat on the bench, feeling powerless. He absently scratched his chest just over the left breast pocket of his shirt, and his fingertips brushed the glasses case tucked within. It was like touching a lump of snow.
The Pi Delta Delta house — its members were dubbed “Pi Di-Delts“ or “Piddles“ — was one of the rowdier frat houses at Fulkes, and the one with the most stories connected to it. Supposedly every famous rogue since Kennedy beat Nixon had either been a Piddle or a prospective Piddle — Charles Manson, John Wayne Gacy, one of those assholes who set off the bomb in Oklahoma (or, in some tellings, the asshole who set off the bomb at the Olympics down in Atlanta in ’96), Bill Clinton, Saddam Hussein (an odd boast, indeed), and even the Unabomber. Though the Piddles could truthfully claim a couple of state senators and a minor candidate for mayor of Little Rock (he lost), such obscure names somehow failed to carry the shock value of either a killer or a philandering son-of-a-gun, and therefore seldom made the rounds.
The Piddles were holding a bash that Friday night, and Kirk talked Harry into going. “I mean, c’mon, you’re working yourself ragged. You need to get out and have a little fun.” After some prodding, Harry acquiesced.
Part of the reason for going was that he wanted to forget Wayne and that dead girl. He’d seen it played over and over in his nightmares like a bad black-and-white movie: a dark-haired little girl in pink-and-white pajamas crying “Mr. Winkie” repeatedly in a high thin voice, Dr. Wayne’s green Volkswagen coming over the top of the hill
watch out Miercoles youre going to get killed you little idiot
and striking her, sending her flipping over the hood and into the windshield like a wet doll stuffed with rags, then sliding limp into the street. Her getting stuffed in the trunk and clandestine moon-light burial
take the left road not the new section but the old one the one that goes straight till it dead-ends after a couple hundred yards
in a cotton field were so familiar that he could smell the soil when the shovel turned it up, hear the crunch of clods as it scooped up another load, feel the blisters rise on his palm.
The party was going on strong around nine-thirty in the Pi Di-Delt house basement, complete with raucous music, psychedelic colored lights, and dozens of gyrating bodies. In one corner a shrine was built to Josephine “B.J.” Fagala upon a low table with four lit, half-melted candles. In the center was a mounted photo of her, culled presumably from a yearbook and blown up. The mouth had been cut out. Over it in crepe letters taped to the wall were the words: “ALL HAIL THE DEAR DEPARTED LOVE GODDESS! 1980-2001.”
“Let’s go to the kitchen,” Kirk shouted over the din. “You got some fans who want to talk to you.”
The kitchen was dingy and fitfully lit, but it was quieter than the adjoining room. At right one of the Piddles was manning a blender, mixing non-alcoholic drinks for the brothers and guests. Two other brothers stood by, handing him ingredients. The counter was cluttered with various bottles of all sizes and splattered with what seemed eons of stains garnered from innumerable festivity libations.
In the left-hand corner, by a window, were several fellows Harry recognized: Mike Limpick, from the study group last Tuesday, a couple of other guys that were introduced as John “The Vulture” Vollman and Chuck Doulcette, and another guy who had been at the group with Limpick, a heavyset square-headed guy who lived at the room at the end of the hall. He introduced himself as Stephen Borch.
Kirk and Harry sat down in the last two empty chairs. Kirk stood up again, removed his tin from his back pocket, retook his seat, and rolled a cigarette.
“Them ain’t left-handed Luckies now, is they?” snickered Chuck.
“Yo’ mama,” Kirk answered good-naturedly. “This crap’s a hundred percent legal.”
“I read your news story, Mr. Stafford,” Mike said. “Great bit of reporting.”
“I took Wayne’s writing class last year. Sumbitch failed me. He would wear these thin dress shirts —“ Mike fluttered his fingers under his armpits — “and there’d be these major frigging pit stains halfway down the side of ’em. ’Sfrom all the booze he drank. You could smell it coming out’n his pores. See, the more somebody drinks, the more the poisons and shit build up in the tissues, and it sweats out’n ’em. Steve, tell ’em.”
“’Strue,” Steve Borch confirmed. “I drink like a Templar. My T-shirts look like crap.”
“Smell like it, too. A toast! To the man who took down the old journalism boozehound,” Mike declared, and he, Kirk, Steve, and The Vulture clinked their plastic cups together. Harry held his up, after a moment’s hesitation, and each person touched his with theirs before they drank.
“I hear the dead girl’s parents plan to sue the University for damages,” Chuck said after a moment. He was just slightly less heavy than Steve and wore a short blonde beard. Beads of his drink clung to his mustache.
“How much you think they’ll get?” Mike asked.
“Dunno. Somewhere between three-quarters of a mil and one mil five, I heard. Hey, Vultch, didn’t your sister-in-law go to that college up east where that dude stalked, like, six girls on the Net and killed them last year? How much did those families get?”
“Clark College, yeah.” Vulture said. He was a painfully thin character with a beaklike nose, bad complexion, and long dark hair tied back in a ponytail. “Last I heard, it was upwards of five mil. They ain’t seen a penny yet ’cuz the case is still in court and may well be till 2010. And for the record, Chuckie, he only killed five.”
“Well, excuse the blazes out of me!”
“Dude got shot by the police outside the library when he went after the sixth, see? He thought she was some girl who attacked him with a knife after he took her back to his room and left him for dead couple years back, and he was going to even the score.”
“What’d he kill the other five for?” Kirk asked.
“They all had the same last name, just like the girl what knifed him. The way Eileen told me, he still had her phone number, right? So he looks it up, learns her real name, and compares it with the college directory to figure out how many co-eds by that name are going to Clark. Then he hunts them down and kills ’em — I don’t know all the details, but it took a private dick to find the asshole and stop him. Eileen told me she heard that the guy was a real psycho — ranted and raved and pulled a gun on the cops.”
“So they shot him.” Harry’s skin was ashy and cold.
“Ayup. Like a dog. Hey, Carrie!” The Vulture shouted towards the door. The others turned to see a small, comely, light-skinned black girl’s head appear in the doorway. She pointed to herself, and the Vulture nodded and motioned for her to come in. She came closer and stood less than a foot from Harry. He looked up at her and noticed how pretty she was. From a distance, she could have been taken for white; it was only up close that the slight thickness of her lips and the kinkiness of her blonde curls near her ears gave her away. She wore a pink tanktop and faded cut-offs. On her left bicep was a tattoo of a red heart in a nest of barb wire with her name, CAROLYN, spelled out on a banner unfurled across it.
“Is you boys tellin’ nasty stories again?” Carolyn chided them in a soft, lilting Southern drawl.
“Vultch was just telling us about that motherfucker over at his sister-in-law’s college what killed those six girls,” Chuck said.
“Five,” Vulture corrected.
“Ask me how much I care!”
Kirk introduced Harry to Carolyn. She touched his palm with her fingertips. “Oh, ain’t you the writer for the school paper? I read you all the time! Ooh, your hand is cold.”
Harry hastily pulled his hand back. In his pocket the glasses burned with a frozen heat. “Do... do you want to sit down, Carolyn?”
“Oh, no. I was just about to leave. Ain’t even ’leven, and all this music done gave me a headache.” Her small hands pressed insistently on Harry’s shoulder. “I need some air.”
Kirk, Vulture, Chuck, and Steve guffawed. “Oh, you nasty boys,” Carolyn said over her shoulder. Harry stood up stiffly and let Carolyn lead him by the hand out the kitchen door into the thick of the loud, smoky, hooting crowd.
“So... what’s your last name?” Harry said genially.
“Monroe. Carolyn Monroe.” She smiled. “No, I ain’t the girl what slept with Jack Kennedy.”
“You may be one of the few women in America who can say that.”
Carolyn whooped laughter. Harry’s mouth twitched in a smile, but it felt forced. His head was also starting to get that dull ache again.
“Oh, that’s jes’ nasty.” Carolyn was saying. Harry focused his attention on the shrine to B.J. Carolyn was looking at it and clucking her tongue disapprovingly, head shaking, hand on hip. “Jes’ nasty,” she reiterated. “Don’t you think so?”
“I... guess. I hardly knew her. I only
met her once. The night
i bashed her brains out
she died, in fact. It happened in the bathroom just down the hall from my room. I
smashed her head against the toilet and i’m going to kill you too tonight Carolyn Monroe
guess it is kind of... kind of nasty.”
“Disrespectful is what it is,” Carolyn pouted. “Maybe she weren’t ’zactly a saint in life, but that don’t give these monkeys no right to do her like this when she dead.” With that, Carolyn blew out the candles in the shrine with a childish, gleeful air. Several brothers voiced protests. She smiled at them defiantly, took Harry’s hand, and led him into the darkness outside.
Harry took Carolyn walking out to the Pavilion, a picnic area located in the woods. It was picturesque and quiet, surrounded by tall trees, and crickets could be heard chirping in the warm, summer-like air.
Carolyn was transfixed by the moonlight on the lake surface, her back to Harry. He wore a light poplin jacket, and in the pocket was a rubber-headed hammer he had just bought in town. He fingered the smooth wooden handle.
“I like the night,” Carolyn said. “So nice, ’specially this time of year.” She turned and looked at Harry. “Is you sick? You’re looking whiter than milk. And your eyes look like someone spit in the sand.”
“I... I haven’t slept well lately.”
“Oh, poor boy,” cooed Carolyn. “I’ll fix you.” She pressed her mouth to his, soft and wet and plentiful. Harry shifted the hammer to his back pocket so she wouldn't inadvertently run her hand over the hard bulge. I can’t do this, he thought.
You have to, something said inside him. Do you want a career in journalism? The only way to succeed in life is to be ruthless and to step on as many people as you need to.
“Harry? Baby?” Carolyn’s eyes were concerned. “Your eyes — they all dark, like you some place else. You go’n get — honey, what the devil is that?”
Her hand had found its way to his back pocket and was touching the hammer head. Harry’s hands — sheathed in socks — shot out and grabbed her throat, cutting her protests off in a curt gurgle. They seized the hammer and drove it down on Carolyn’s head, turning those blonde curls auburn with her blood as her skull cracked. They lapped at the sanguine flow greedily as dogs and rubbed against the lenses of Harry’s glasses.
a man and a woman in their living room in a small house or trailer having a bitter argument and there is a baby in the background its thin cries punctuate each scream the woman is so angry that the truth comes out she has been sleeping with a teaching assistant in the english department a graduate student named morris or morrison they’ve been having an affair for a couple years now and she isn’t even sure if their daughter is her husband’s he walks out of the house very calm and returns two minutes later with the gun he keeps taped under the front seat of his pickup truck he shoots her first and himself second the baby is left crying for hours surrounded by its parents bodies and the stink of blood and gunpowder
Harry was only half-aware of what he’d done. He looked down at Carolyn, splayed in front of him, one leg tucked underneath her and the other off to the left at a right angle, her right hand over her heart like an overdramatic actress in a movie feigning surprise. Her scalp was split, and her open eyes were wide in shock.
Harry lay Carolyn’s body on one of the Pavilion picnic tables, stuffed her cutoff pockets with rocks, and was about to head to the lake when he spotted a UPD cruiser in the distance. He froze in terror. Then he leaned over the dead girl and kissed her, hoping to look like any young couple in a moment of carnal abandon. He winced, not liking the doughy, slack feel of her lips. The driver of the car, either not suspicious or his vision of the “lovers” obscured by the trees, continued until he vanished around the curve.
Harry disposed of the weighted body by hurling it into the lake and of the bloody socks and hammer by tossing them in further down the bank. He checked his watch. It was ten till midnight.
At one he arrived back at the party after a quick detour to his dorm room to change his shirt and bury the old, bloody one in an ashcan a block away. He explained that Carolyn had said good night to him near the Convocation Center and headed towards the woods. He stayed at the party until nearly three, firmly establishing his alibi by stating his story several times.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2004 by Jonathan M. Sweet