I was early shift on Sunday, so I caught the call. My partner was AWOL, so I stopped by his apartment on the way to the scene, dragged his booze-reeking carcass out of bed. A lady patrolman was putting crime scene tape across the door when we got there.
“Hold on there, Darling,” said Bill. “We don’t know yet if it’s a crime.” Sunday was Bill’s drinking day, so he didn’t want a murder just now.
“She’s just securing the scene, ” I said. I could see the “darling” pissed her off.
We ducked under the tape and looked around the apartment. Bare walls, empty except for a futon on the floor with a cell phone charger and a desk lamp next to it. I got a whiff of that familiar smell of decomposing body. I went back to the bedroom.
He was slumped in a two-thousand dollar Aeron chair. The floor was littered with food wrappers and crushed Mountain Dew cans. The poor bastard must have weighed 400, but it was hard to tell. Five HD monitors showed some fantasy game still in progress. Brightly colored wizards and elves sparking wands and hitting each other with swords.
“Nobody checked on him,” said the lady patrolman. “Neighbor phoned it in. The smell.”
Bill gestured at the screens. “Looks like all his friends are in there, darling.”
Sunday Photo Fiction
Note: 10-54 is the common police radio code for “possible dead body.” The rest of the cop stuff owes a significant debt to David Simon, Michael Connelly, and Elmore Leonard. All those guys do cops way better than I ever could.
McCormick tilted the paper to catch the cold November light, pencil clenched in his teeth. He glanced around at the ruined cathedral, its single undamaged arch, the opening choked with rubble. He folded the dispatch into an envelope and tied it shut, then picked his way through the debris to where Corporal Collins was waiting astride his motor-bike.
“Here you go,” said McCormick, handing him the envelope. Collins looked absurdly young, but they all did. The Germans probably did too. “Godspeed.”
McCormick surveyed the horizon of blasted mud, the snags of broken trees amid the craters, the roofless stone houses. He walked back to the cathedral and picked up a chip of stone, put it in his pocket.
In the past two weeks, over a hundred thousand British and French soldiers had been killed. These bald numbers would be quickly forgotten by Tribune readers.
But McCormick would not forget.
What Pegman Saw
If you ever go to the famous Chicago Tribune building, you will see more than a hundred bits of stone set into the walls, all from historical landmarks across the globe. Edinburgh Castle, Hamlet’s castle in Elsinore, the Great Wall, and even Injun Joe’s Cave are all represented. The tradition began in 1914 when Tribune correspondent ( later publisher) Robert McCormick pocketed a stone from the ruined Ypres Cathedral in the aftermath of the horrendous battle. When the new Tribune building was constructed some years later, Colonel McCormick charged his correspondents to procure stones from all over the world “by well-mannered means” and bring them back to Chicago.
You can read more about it here.
It is only when she doesn’t seek him that she knows he is truly there. She feels his breath on her collar, yet will not turn to see.
She believes her eyes have the power to make him disappear, perhaps forever, and this she will not do.
His presence does not comfort, does not agitate. She does not feel less alone, yet there is something about his existence that she needs.
She likens him to the invisible air, breathed every second without thought, only felt and truly appreciated when it is gone, since its presence is required for all other presences.
Though he spoke nothing but Spanish, he insisted he was Italian. In all the years he worked for us I never saw him wear anything but twill workman’s coveralls and boots, the soiled black Basque beret as much a part of his head as his nose. Señor Palomino was never addressed by his first name and seldom spoke unless the subject was the garden.
“He knows all there is to know about plants,” said Grandmother. “I just wish he didn’t drink so much.”
“Have you ever actually seen him drinking?” asked Uncle Eddie. “I’m not arguing, Mother. I just was wondering.”
She admitted she hadn’t, but I had. At stated intervals he would pause in his work, lean his rake on the wall, walk to the tool shed, cast a glance around. If the coast was clear, he would step in and take a wine bottle from the high shelf and pour it into a jelly jar kept for the purpose. He would drink it off, wipe his mouth, fetch up a clipper or a trowel and walk out. This way Señor Palomino was never quite drunk, nor ever wholly sober. He worked in twilight.
At his funeral some years later, I learned he had been in the war.
Sunday Photo Fiction
I met Mom and her new husband at the Top of the Mark. We looked out on the city and drank fifteen dollar cocktails while she went over her plan. She had brought maps, guidebooks, old photographs. The husband said nothing, but I could tell from his Rolex that he was the one paying for it.
“Why?” I asked her when she was finished.
“You remember how I came to be in the United States.” she said. “I was visiting my uncle when Japan attacked Hawaii. We spent three years in the internment camp. I wasn’t able to return to my country for almost ten years, and by that time everything had changed. By then I was mostly American, and my surviving Japanese relatives had never heard of me. As I’ve gotten older, it’s become important that I see where my father died. That’s why I’m going. Why I must go.”
What Pegman Saw
Note: during the brutal war in the Pacific, the Japanese almost never surrendered. Their cultural and military training forbid it, so most of them either died fighting or committed suicide to avoid capture. Where Americans back home would get telegrams informing them of their sons’ or husbands’ deaths, the Japanese soldiers and sailors simply disappeared into thin air. No bodies were identified or returned home for burial. To their families back home, these 1.3 million men simply ceased to exist.
The Battle of Peleliu took place in September and October, 1944 and was one of the most brutal and violent campaigns of the war. Survivor Eugene Sledge, a mortarman with the First Marine Division, said that it was “like two scorpions in a bottle. One was annihilated, the other nearly so.”
Mother’s mediocrity was so consistently applied that it almost became a kind of excellence.
She wasn’t especially bad at anything. Nor was she particularly good.
In everything she did, Mother was merely adequate.
The many dinners she cooked for us excited no praise, yet were always eaten without complaint. When she gave gifts, they were accepted but rarely used by the recipient. Sweaters unworn, books unread. Her house was mildly comfortable, its smells neither offensive nor pleasant.
Even her conversation was mediocre. Mother was never interesting nor boring. She would deprive her friends of solitude, yet not provide them any company.
The bar at the Craic is busy most Friday evenings, but when Waitangi Day falls on the weekend it borders on insane, twenty-four hours of partying. We haul cases of the extra glassware out from the cellar and triple the liquor order. I’d been working straight up since seven AM and was desperate to have a piss. Ciaran, the head barman, was standing at the urinal when I went in.
“Just be a second, mate,” he said.
He stepped away, zipping up as he headed for the door.
“Not going to wash your hands?” I asked.
He gave me a look. “Listen, mate. I’m spending my hours picking up strangers’ dirty glassware. God only knows what these people got in their mouths. But this,” he said, pointing to his crotch, “this has been right here since I took a shower this morning. I should wash my hands before touching it!”
What Pegman Saw
Her hands shook as she fumbled out her keys, the pizza box wedged between her arm and the doorframe. Once inside, she set down the box, and locked the deadbolt and chain, checked the windows.
She grabbed the leftover wine she’d brought home from Saturday’s disastrous blind date and drank straight from the bottle.
She opened the box and ate a slice, still warm.
She’d been paying for her pizza when a man came in, stuck a gun into the cashier’s face and shot her, then ran out.
She’d just stupidly stood there, then picked up her pizza and left.
The waiting room was much more grand than it had been five years ago. The mayor seemed to take decorating tips from our show. We’d been waiting forty-five minutes before the secretary reappeared.
“I am so sorry,” she said, her smile thin below eyes that did not smile at all. “His excellency has had an unexpectedly busy morning.”
“We had an appointment,” said Chas. I could see how angry he was by the way he held his voice in perfect control.
“Of course,” she said. “It shouldn’t be much longer.” She disappeared through a door.
“That son of a bitch,” said Chas. “Do you know how much tourism was here before we started filming? Zero. Zilch. Nada. And now he has the gall–”
“Easy, Chas,” said Laticia, laying a soothing hand on his arm. “He’ll issue the permits. He always has.”
I wondered how much more he’d charge this time.
What Pegman Saw
I probably don’t need to tell you that this castle is where a lot of Game of Thrones is filmed. The steps were Cersei does the Walk of Shame are right around the corner. Apparently, the show has been an enormous boon to the Croatian tourist trade.
“What is it supposed to be?” he asked.
I could see the disappointment on his face.
I felt the old fury rising. My selfish son.
I struggled to keep my voice calm.
“It’s a bicycle, John.”
“It looks weird. The wheels don’t turn. And what’s with the seat?”
“It’s a work of art. Your aunt created it. She left it to you in her will.”
“I never even met her.”
“She wanted you to have it. She was famous, you know. Your aunt.”
His eyes took on a different cast.
He picked up the sculpture, studying it for a signature.