by Howard Vogl
I was hanging out in the backroom of the department store where I eked out a living when Donna, the department manager, came over and told me to chop up some old mannequins in the storeroom. Chopping mannequins was a regular part of the job. If we just threw them in the dumpster, the neighborhood kids would fish them out and do God knows what.
I was looking for the sledgehammer when Carl ran in. He was wearing a yellow and black bumblebee striped shirt and holding an axe. “Where’s the bitches?” he yelled, swinging his axe around.
“Hey, Carl, have a little respect. One of these could be your sister.”
“All the better. I can’t stand her.”
Carl was different: short for his weight, with close-cropped hair. He was an amalgamation of rock singer (wore a wig), shoplifter (explaining the department store job), and pervert (’nuf said). Today was Pervert Tuesday.
We got to work. I smashed my first mannequin from head to toe into unrecognizable pieces and started to shovel up the debris. I looked over at Carl, who was standing there, talking to himself.
“What’cha doing?” I asked.
“Setting the stage. What else?”
The Manson family escapade was still fresh in my mind, so I told Carl to take it outside. He promptly grabbed the blonde hair of a one-legged mannequin and, grunting like a caveman, dragged her out to the dumpster.
While laying waste to another mannequin, I heard sirens. If you worked in this neighborhood, the rise and fall of a passing siren was as common as a wave in the ocean but, this time, the wave rose and abruptly stopped.
I put the sledgehammer down and went to the front window. I saw an ambulance and several police cars. A few minutes later, the police were dragging Carl away in handcuffs, followed by another cop with Carl’s axe wrapped in plastic.
Wait until they find out he was only chopping up a mannequin. Then Sue ran in and broke my train of thought.
“They arrested Carl. There was a body in the dumpster. There was blood on the axe. I knew he was crazy!”
“What are you talking about, Sue? He was smashing an old mannequin, that’s all,” I said.
“No. They found a real body, and somebody saw Carl taking an axe to it,” Sue said, and she started to hyperventilate.
Now everyone was running to the front of the store to watch the spectacle. The ambulance attendants unloaded a stretcher and were followed by someone with a plastic bag. Next to the ambulance was a police cruiser. Carl was in the back seat, smiling.
A few minutes later, two stone-faced detectives came in and started talking to Donna. After a couple of minutes, they retreated to her office and closed the door. Feeling like Carl’s accomplice, I readied my story but, when the detectives emerged, they turned and walked out the door. A while later, a shaken Donna came out and told us to go home. Everyone started questioning her.
“The police said someone saw Carl chopping a woman’s body with an axe. That’s all I know,” she said.
“What did they ask you?” I said.
“Nothing much. How long Carl worked here, and his address.”
“That’s it. Now get out of here. I’ve had enough for one day.”
Carl did a lot of crazy things, but murder? Somebody probably saw him chopping the mannequin, put two and two together and came up with five. I grabbed my jacket, walked out the back door, and headed to the parking lot. There was the dumpster surrounded by yellow tape, guarded by a cop. The scene conjured up a lot of questions but no answers.
When I got into work the next morning, everyone was in a huddle buzzing.
Tony looked up and said, “Hey, Harry, did you hear the news? Carl isn’t a murderer after all.”
“No, what’s up.”
Tony was laughing. “The police came by just before you got here. They said the body was in the dumpster since the day before. She was already dead before Carl got to her.”
“You mean he was chopping on a dead body?”
“Yeah, there was blood and skin all over the axe.”
“Did they say if Carl would be charged with anything?”
“No, but it sounds like he’s going to the psychiatric hospital for evaluation.”
“He must’ve freaked out when he saw the body,” I said. “I guess he needs some help.” I walked over to my desk.
I couldn’t believe Carl was really chopping a stiff. He must have started seeing things or something. I spent the rest of the day going through the motions of work, wondering what had happened to Carl.
A week later, we got more news. The body was identified as Felicia Thomas. She had stopped in the store from time to time and hung out in the record section because she had the hots for the guy that worked there. We also found out that Carl was officially fired. Understandable, but I felt sorry for the guy.
A few weeks later, Carl was released from the hospital. In spite of all his craziness, I liked him, so I decided to stop by his place to see how he was doing.
He lived in a rundown section on the east side about a half-mile from the store. The place was beat up. Paint was peeling off the old wood siding, and weeds were growing through the cracks in the driveway. It must have been a nice house at one time. Unfortunately, this wasn’t that time.
Getting closer, I saw print of Grant Wood’s American Gothic taped in the window, curling up from the sun. Nearing the front porch, the smell of cat piss filled the air.
The moldy floorboards groaned when I stepped onto the porch. I gave the front door a few raps. Glass rattled, but no one answered. I tried again, nothing. As I was starting to turn away, the door slowly opened, and I saw Carl’s face.
“Hey, Harry, it’s you.”
“Yeah, I thought I’d stop by to see how you’re doing.”
“Great. Sorry about waiting on the door. You know, it’s been crazy here the last few days. All kinds of people coming by and asking questions. Yesterday, somebody from that TV show Strange Occurrences wanted to know if they could interview me for an episode. I just want all this to be over.”
“Understood. Like I said, I just stopped by to see how you’re doing.”
“Sorry. Come on in. I got beer in the fridge. It’d be great if you’d have one with me.”
If the outside of the place was run-down, the inside was desolate. The interior consisted of one big room with beaded curtains separating the kitchen, bedroom and living room. On the walls and the ceiling were posters from every rock band that existed and a few, I suspect, that didn’t.
Carl saw me looking around and said. “Yeah, I tore out the walls so the band would have room to practice. I guess my deposit’s gone.”
Along the far wall were shelves holding the most elaborate sound system I ever saw. On the turntable he was playing Subhuman by Blue Öyster Cult.
“So, Harry. What do you think of the system?”
“Fantastic. Never saw anything like it.”
“It cost me a bundle. That’s why I got nothing else. The department store job was just until the band really got going. Sit down, I’ll grab us a couple of brews.”
Carl came back with two Sierra Nevadas and handed me one. “Just listening to a little BOC. You know, to get ideas for the next song.”
I was reluctant to bring up anything about the body in the dumpster, but Carl beat me to it.
“Did you hear the chick in the dumpster was that Felicia who used to hang around the record department?”
“Yeah, I heard.” I was afraid to say more.
“I really liked her. We even went out a couple of times. You know, same taste in music and all.”
“Didn’t know that, Carl,” I said, carefully measuring my words. I didn’t want a return visit to the hospital on my watch.
“I wonder what she did to deserve that,” he said.
“Hard to say,” I said taking a swig of my beer.
“I was thinking about who put her body in the dumpster. Brilliance. If I’d wanted to murder someone, there wouldn’t be a better way to do it.”
“Put a body in a dumpster? Somebody would find it right away,” I said, regaining some of my composure.
“No. You don’t get it. Nowadays with all that forensic stuff, it’s impossible to hide a murder. So you advertise it.”
“How’s that, Carl?”
Let’s say I wanted to kill Felicia. I grab the axe from work, whack her good and throw her body in the dumpster. Now there’s all kinds of evidence, blood, body parts, fingerprints, shoe prints. Can’t hide anything, right?”
Hesitantly, I said, “OK.”
“So, the next day at work I drag a mannequin outside and start chopping it up in broad daylight. Then, grab the body from the dumpster and give it a few whacks. Somebody sees me and calls the police. They arrest me, but then the cops find out she’s been dead for a while. In spite of the evidence, they don’t charge me with murder. In fact, they might think I’m crazy. The worst thing that happens is a vacation in the looney bin and some new drugs.”
His words echoed in my mind as BOC played Astronomy in the background. I broke into a cold sweat and choked down the rest of my beer, hoping to find a way out of this madhouse.
Carl looked at me with a gleam in his eye and said, “How about another beer?”
Copyright © 2019 by Howard Vogl