“Sorry for that, Johnny,” the chief said of his detective. “Barrister’s high and mighty about himself, thinks everyone else is a buffoon, particular about who touches what … but you’ll be fine, Johnny … no worry. You ready?”
“… Ready what?”
“Ready what?” The chief laughed. “To see the victim of course,” he answered. “Remember? You sure you’re going to be all right? You said you wanted to do this. I think you can. You won’t let me down now, will you, son?”
“Good man. This way.”
From fifty feet away, it looked no more than a pale woman with long black hair, lying flat on her back. From twenty five feet away, the puddle of blood about her was more clearly seen. At ten feet Johnny could see the deep crimson blotch on the woman’s blouse, which ran redder away from it and was scattered further about her person with bloody fingerprints, no doubt from the woman’s own panicked and stained hands, which now lay lifeless by her side on the cement platform. Hovering over her, her eyes were still open, fixed on a spot above. Her light to heaven had been the round and poorly lit fixture in the subway ceiling.
Johnny half-expected her to turn towards him … and then … she did. Johnny stumbled back, but couldn’t look away. Her head had rolled and her stare had met his own eyes and trapped him.
There was so much regret in them, what she might have said if she’d had the chance, if there had only been someone there to pass on the message … what she might have done with her life if she had been permitted, leaving this world without someone to comfort her or to say goodbye to, and wondering how long it would be before she’d be missed … and where would her soul be when it was?
“Uh … uh, yes, sir?” Johnny shook his head. What were all those thoughts he didn’t know, but knew?
“You all right?” the chief asked.
Johnny, with his eyes swollen around to his earlobes, looked up at him. The chief seemed unfazed by anything out of the ordinary. He stole another peek at the woman. The corpse remained facing the light fixture above.
“You all right, Johnny?”
“Uh … yes,” Johnny answered, and bit his lip … and then gazed back down at the poor woman and was instantly sucked into that black hole with the woman’s candle still lit and burning at the end of the tunnel. He felt the woman still looking for comfort, recognition that she’d been there … but though found out, however, she laid only as an object separated from the real person. A police photographer snapped pictures of her as if she was a spilled bowl of fruit, a still-life as opposed to someone who’d met a horrendous death. Investigators had stumbled through her purse with their fingers, searching for an I.D., but it meant nothing more than a name and number to be filled out on a report.
“Who knows if she was a mother, or a sister?” the chief said. “… Sad.”
Johnny examined the chief’s face. It was hard to match the words to his hardened expression, perhaps years of this had done that to him, but Johnny, finding it too cold to remain there, returned to the woman’s softer features crying from behind the blood.
The curtains were drawn again over the crime scene. He saw only her. She was a mother, who worked hours at the hospital. She was thankful she could support her family, but was weary, because of the lack of actual time she could spend with them. She’d gone to church, but had gone less. Her teenage daughter had migrated from the usually abandoned apartment to her friends who hung out at the park, and more recently, her nomadic tendencies had continued during the few times her mom was home as well. The addiction of wanting to fit in somewhere had taken hold of her daughter … and this woman felt as responsible for it as if she were the pusher. Her son was younger, but suggested he was able to take care of himself, and with no father in the picture, the father remarried and elsewhere, this woman was willing to believe her son with false optimism, having no other well in which to draw help from, if this family was to be sheltered and fed.
In the distance, filtering through, Johnny heard, “Does anyone know who she is?”
“Johann Whittler,” an equally faint voice answered. “That’s what her social security card said.”
But there were happier times too in those eyes, which Johnny continued to read, ones that would be missed, her son setting out a dish for her to eat when she got home from work, his rambling on of his day, wanting to share everything with her … even that glow on her daughter’s face from having met a boy, and when she’d pried it out of her, how they had curled up on the couch together and giggled about similar romantic traps, and felt more like best friends rather than a mother and daughter.
“Is he gonna stand there all day like that,” Barrister hollered belligerently, “or are we going to be able to remove the body?”
Johnny glanced over his shoulder and saw two men in dark blue jackets and caps standing behind him, waiting with a stretcher.
The chief’s eye scowled at Barrister. “No,” the chief said, “he’s not. Here, Johnny.” The chief offered him a thick piece of white chalk. “Time to get to work.”
Johnny slowly looked at the piece of chalk … and seeming disheartened, frowned. “I … I need more colors,” he said.
“No … no no, white’s all you need,” the chief insisted, and gazed at Barrister impatiently rubbing the stubble on his neck. “Just … just like your pictures, Johnny. You know? Remember?”
“Oh c’mon, this one’s worse than the others,” Barrister said, and rocked on one foot like someone going through withdrawal … but who, if given the chance, would have happily stuck the needle into the chief’s buttocks and found a good fix in that.
But Johnny, unimpeded by Barrister’s brawling edginess, only turned back to the woman … and lowered himself down onto his knees.
“Now what the bloody hell’s he doin’?” Barrister asked.
“He’s obviously getting closer so he can do his job,” the chief answered. “How long do you think his arms are? Here, Johnny.” The chief presented Johnny with the piece of chalk again … but Johnny failed to acknowledge it … and remained motionless.
Then … Johnny began to weep.
“Oh friggin’ help me, I’ve seen enough,” Barrister said. “He’s freakin’ blubbering like a wee baby.”
“I need more … more colors,” Johnny said, in sniveling protest, and lifted and dropped and overturned the crayons in his bucket, searching for something or some way, till his eyes ogled the broken purple crayon that had made its way to the surface and had been the very same crayon from back in his room, the one he couldn’t remember … and wondered if he should have remembered. “She … needs more colors,” Johnny said, and took the purple crayon and tried it on the cement platform.
“She’s dead, ya buffoon,” Barrister said. “What she needs is the morgue. Oh for crying out loud.” Barrister snatched the piece of chalk from the chief, and awkwardly squatted down at the corpse’s feet so that his jacket became a deflated tent. “You ain’t gonna fire me, chef, because he ain’t doin’ it. You see that, don’t ya?” He pointed the chalk like an extended finger at Johnny.
“Don’t,” Johnny said, quickly grabbing Barrister’s wrist before he could scrape the chalk.
Barrister yanked his arm free as the pit bull surfaced in his enflamed complexion. His eyes rolled in his head, scanning the witnesses gawking at him. Finally Barrister broke the long, awkward, tense void of silence. “Don’t what? What? What you gonna do?!” he said, wiping his sleeve across the tip of his nose. He was looking for a reason, any reason to put an end to this nonsense.
And then, as unsuspected as an August frost, Johnny’s gaze squeezed Barrister like a vice … his words even more so. “Don’t … you hurt her anymore,” Johnny threatened, staring like a wolf’s eyes locked on its prey at night.
Barrister’s chest heaved somewhere under that tent. He was equally up for the challenge, but he was caught in a net, a very sticky web, wanting to punch someone, but not able to, because that very someone he wanted to punch was retarded.
“I ain’t,” Johnny said.
Barrister flinched … sincerely believing that Johnny had read his mind. “You ain’t what?”
“… A buffoon,” Johnny said … and startling Barrister yet once more, proceeded to rip the chalk out of his hand … and without a second glance at the detective, began to feverishly outline the woman. Barrister cocked back his fist.
“Don’t,” the chief warned, with a pleasurable grin that had come to soften his hardened features. “Don’t interfere, Barrister, or I will … fire you.”
Barrister grumbled, but Johnny, totally engaged in his handiwork, only peered up at moments, and that alone was to view the fallen woman’s face … and when he had, returned to the caressing path he drew. His eyes by this time were bloodshot from his tears … but none were the wiser as Johnny shed them in silence now, interrupted only by a smile brought to the forefront by fonder memories that the woman had had … and he somehow could see.
“That’ll do, Johnny,” the chief said, when it appeared to him that Johnny had finished. “Looks …” The chief suddenly stammered, having just noticed the halo, which Johnny had drawn above the woman’s head. “Uh … looks good, looks very good. Now um, let’s let these gentlemen take the body. O-okay, Johnny?”
Johnny … not totally there with the chief … bent over and touched the woman’s shoulder in a silent prayer … and ended, “Rest … rest in peace.” causing the unexpected chief and others nearby, who had heard, to remove their hats … and drop their heads in improvised respect … all except for Barrister, who only cleared his throat and scratched at his neck again, interrupting the quietude. Johnny didn’t appear to notice, and remained meditatively sound … and then … and only when he felt right about it … raised his head. “Okay,” he finally answered, removing his hand from her shoulder, but remained on his knees by his bucket, towards the woman’s head and her chalked halo, where he had finished.
One of the two men in their dark blue jackets, the man closest to Johnny, had returned his cap to his head, and was looking peculiarly at the white ring and then at Johnny, but if he had had a question, he kept it to himself as he performed his duty, raising the body from its spot and into the body bag, and then onto the stretcher. Amid the groveling of the gurney’s wheels on the platform, the man and his partner wheeled the body away.
The chief, who had turned to watch the corpse rolled down the platform, turned halfway back around to discover Barrister, who had been more inclined to keep his eye on Johnny, and found him to be a stunned but attentive audience of what Johnny was presently doing … but what was it? The chief likewise eyed Johnny, and was equally drawn to what the child-like man was involved. For a good twenty minutes, in a growing hush, a developing crowd of spectators, those among the police force, including the chief and Barrister, gravitated to where Johnny was working, filing down crayon after crayon in an extraordinary display of passion. At Johnny’s side was the littered remains of dozens of paper crayon covers which had gotten in the way and been removed. Johnny appeared ignorant of the woman’s blood that had seeped into the knees of his pants … but when Johnny finally finished and stood up … there was not a soul who would notice the blood either.
(To Be Continued)