Ralph Sûreté Part 1
The refrain in Elvis Costello’s This is Hell comes to mind as I drive down the deserted road that passed for Main Street in this damn town. I’ve been banished here for two days.
This is Hell, this is Hell
I’m sorry to tell you
It never gets better or worse
But you get used to it, after a spell
For heaven is hell in reverse
Except for the getting used to it bit, it’s a pretty damn good portrayal. Figures I would get stuck with this stupid case. I swear Captain Jones has it in for me. If I don’t catch the psycho murderer running loose I may die from over exposure to this damn town. There is no Starbucks here. There is a store that sells only porcelain figurines and no Starbucks. I’m gonna die here. I miss the city. I want coffee. I think I’m going into withdrawal. I had a dream about coffee last night. It was wonderful, but then I woke up. God, I sound like a whining five-year-old. Like I said: Withdrawal.
I pull up in front of the tiny police station and park my sedan next to a rusty police cruiser. I enter the building, and Deputy Ben Johnson looks up.
“Hey, Detective Sir-etty.”
“It’s pronounced Syr-taeh.” How many times have I told you this? “Where’s Officer ________?”
“______ is with his daughter, Ophelia.”
“Right. Ben, if you could hand me the file on the homicides, I would like to review it again.” And the sooner I solve this case, the sooner I can get the hell out of here.
Ben nods and hands me the case file. “The murderer sure is a deranged madman.”
I try to ignore that the man is ogling at my suit, I’m sure he’s never seen one before, and get to reading.
This is Hell, this is Hell
Damn it, now I have that song stuck in my head.
I’ve been over this file so often over the last two days I could probably recite it word for word. This case bothers me. And for reasons besides its location. See, I’ve had some experience with deranged madmen, and it had been bothering me how these murders happened. In one case I had, the murderer was killing bald, Caucasian men in their forties, turned out he had a boss who fired him that fit that description. Another case I had, the murderer was killing prostitutes and he put red lipstick on each of the corpse’s lips. My point is there is always some connecting factor. The victims in this case all appear to have been killed in overdramatic ways, but none of the ways are really connecting. I page through the file again. Suddenly it occurs to me that something’s missing.
“Where’s the autopsy?”
“Isn’t it in there? Hang on,” he riffles through some paper on the cluttered desk. “Here ya go.”
I look through the autopsy. I love that moment when it suddenly makes sense.
See, all the victims appear to have been murdered in a horrific, over-dramatic manner. The last one, a Pastor John Hart, was apparently beaten unconscious, and then died from either the smoke fumes or the flames when the perpetrator set his house on fire. The keywords here are ‘appear’ and ‘apparently.’ The murderer is trying to give the appearance of insanity, and not doing such a terrific job. The only real connecting factor is that all the victims happen to live nearby. I’m guessing the murderer wants to cover up one murder with other murders. But who is the target victim? Has the murder killed him yet? Or does he still need to?
“The murderer isn’t a psychopath.”
“How do you figure that?” Ben asks, rubbing his eyes, sleepily.
“Have you seen the autopsy report?”
“Naw, ______ and I figured we’d skip it. Anyone can see how they died,” Ben stretched and yawned.
Of course they didn’t read the autopsy. “You should have read the autopsy.”
“So some expert in a lab can tell me that Eli was hung?” Ben says sarcastically.
Hey, I can be sarcastic to, Ben. “No, so some expert in a lab can tell you that Eli didn’t die because he was hung. So some expert can tell you he was shot twice in the chest with a .45 automatic. So some expert can tell you that all the victims were killed with a gun.”
Ben knocks over an empty mayo jar that was serving as a pencil holder. “They were shot?! But… what?”
“The killer was giving you a show, Ben. He wanted to give the appearance of a psychopath.” Ben looks at me mutely.
“Would you mind looking up who, in this town, owns a .45 automatic?”
Ben snaps out of it. Great. Soon as we find and arrest the murderer I can get the hell out of here. My dream of Starbucks is soon to come true.