The Patrolman & Other Stories - #1 1937
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It was one of those signs that were very popular at the start of the century, Thomson saw them plenty as a kid growing up in Iowa. It was all the rage back then – jokey, slightly inappropriate signposting with an often-terrible pun. In this case, toilet humor. It wouldn’t sit well now though, the Depression left everybody feeling poised for a fight. Somebody’d up and complain about it. Everyone just loved to be offended, to make out there was a religious invective or something in it - let’s get our voices heard by the mismanagement they thought. You could expect to see relatively explicit signs like it in dive bars, titty bars or such places, where truck drivers tend to stop for a few drinks. Maybe in the likes of Oklahoma, the Dakotas or somewhere further out West – Nowheresvilles all. They were made in the same factory too! To the right collector, they might be worth some money in a few years’ time. Probably not this one though, he thought.
It was in poor condition – the border was red and faded. The top layer of acrylic had expanded with the cold and contracted in the heat, causing it to blister - you could see the brass plating through the cracks. The wording was presented in two different fonts: the first line was in a more handwritten style, the second in a tabloid-esque staccato block. It was printed in black ink. The background was white, a cartoon toilet spewed water all over, nursing a cracked handle with white gloved hands. It gave off a Disney vibe in the days before Disney. Yellow light shone in from the top right corner, hence the implication of religious invective, maybe even anti-papist to someone overtly sensitive. The Lord had blessed a toilet with life and given him gloves - how satanic. Could someone really read into it that much? They’d find a way, he figured. Below the caption read, ‘Sorry. . . TEMPORARILY OUT OF SERVICE,’ It made the Deputy in the Boston Police Department, a protty Scotsman by the name of James Stewart Thomson, feel indifferent.
He snapped out of it. He realised he’d been staring at the thing for quite some time now, I’ll just have to try a toilet someplace else. He stamped his feet and punched his mittens together, blowing steam into the air. Thomson padded back out through the snow to his prowler car and got back inside, the engine was still warm. The gas station attendant waved at him with one of those vacant sorts of smiles, he did say it might be out of order after all. Thomson returned the wave and brought the car ‘round, pulling out onto Main Street. He planned to take the route from Waltham to Watertown. From Watertown he could get onto the Turnpike and head into the City – it was the most direct route – in around thirty minutes.
Twenty-six minutes later, Thomson pulled into the backlot at Boston City Hospital. It was a gothic nineteenth century building that looked like it was still supposed to be in his maternal home of Edinburgh. The buildings flanking it ought to reside in Chelsea, London – tonally it was an architectural mess. It was the first municipal hospital to be built in the whole of the United States and was in dire need of repair. Scaffolding had been erected outside the main building. A plaque covered by snowy tree branches had 1855 on it. He went to the front desk, an orderly escorted him to the freight lift and into a dingy subterranean room with blue lighting. Thomson had come to know the room pretty well in the past two days, he was surprised they weren’t charging him for the electric. He removed his hat; Doctor J. Brent Jones was a skinny man with a lot of tattoos and the physical makeup of somebody who’d served in the War. He let him finish off his cigarette before getting down to it. No greetings were exchanged – they were past that stage now. Jones went over to the slab and removed the white sheet covering the body, it reeked. ‘Got any of that Vicks VapoRub?’
‘Why would I have any of that?’ said Jones.
‘For the smell.’
‘Surely Vicks would widen the nasal passages and make it worse, right?’ said Jones.
‘True.’ Thomson said, he didn’t think of that. ‘What can you tell me about our girl?’
Doctor Jones hung his glasses from his jacket. ‘We have a female Caucasian between sixteen and thirty-years-old. The cadaver was presented with lacerations on both mouth corners, with no visible bruising to the neck. This indicates she was unconscious when the injuries were inflicted. With some kind of razor, I presume. Not your average steak knife if that helps. In terms of the nitty-gritty, there’s a puncture wound here where the spleen was removed, posthumously. The cause of death was caused by the injuries sustained to the skull, she was beaten to death with a baseball bat or something like it. Maybe a club? I assume you’re already familiar with the kinda knife attack your heathen countrymen bestow upon their foes after drinking too much bourbon? I’ve never seen a Glasgow smile done quite like this.’
‘Scotch whisky, not bourbon.’ He said.
Jones lit another cigarette. ‘Have you got a name for our girl yet?’
‘Jess Diane Martin. Date of birth, 29th July, 1915. West Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. The local police made her in ’33 on an underage drinking rap. She got a small fine for her thirst. Other than that, she’s clean.’ said Thomson, flipping his notebook shut. He leant against the other table and smoked. ‘I’ve just come from the boyfriend’s flat. He’s a cheating little fucker, she knew it too. He wouldn’t have the bollocks to do something like this, I’m certain of it. I don’t understand why anyone would do something like this.’
Jones touched Jess’ arm, Thomson recalled that his daughter was of a similar age. ‘The killer’s misunderstood, he’s pretty angry.’
‘No shit. You’re saying she riled him up?’
‘Maybe, it’s more than that though. Maybe she offended him, like really got under his skin. Whatever this was, it was done out of jealousy.’
‘I see your point, Doctor.’ Thomson said.
‘Take the cuts, for example.’ Jones said. ‘The girl’s already had her brains bashed in, right? Whatever you do she ain’t gonna wake up. So, there’s no thrashing, no need to pin her down. She’s not gonna react to you cutting her. What he’s done here is mess her up, he doesn’t want her to be recognised. He doesn’t want her looking beautiful. I bet he knew her or knew somebody who looked just like her.’
Thomson blew some smoke out, ‘I think he’s gonna do it again.’
Jones said, ‘Yeah?’
Thomson choked on his cigarette and stubbed it out. ‘Not right away, he’s going to be in shock for a while. He won’t understand what sent him over the edge the first time ‘round. He’s gonna have to try and learn to live with himself for a while, isolate himself. If he can’t hack what he’s done, he’ll blow his brains out. If he’s rich, we’ll get to read about it in The Globe. Somehow, I don’t think he’ll do that. He’s far too involved in himself, that’s why he dumped her in plain sight. He wants to show off what he can do. It wasn’t planned, our guy’s far too violent and sadistic to think logically, but he definitely has a vehicle. One big enough to hide a body. That makes him FBI territory – he can go state to state in a car. But there won’t be anything like this for some time now, he’s resting up. When he realises that nothing’s ever going to feel quite so good again, I promise you he’ll kill another girl.’
‘I hope you’re wrong, Deputy.’ Jones said.
‘Let me play devil’s advocate. Let’s assume I’m buying into this synopsis of yours, where does our guy go next?’
Thomson gestured, no idea. He thought about it for a few seconds, then said. ‘But he’s got his type now. The next one’s going to be a brunette as well.’
Doctor Jones just looked at him.
‘Right,’ he said. ‘I’m gonna get my guys to work the long-distance truck driver angle, a Teamsters driver or something of the like. Somebody who travels from place to place for work, maybe no fixed place of residence at all. Motels, that sort of thing. I need you to run toxicology on her, find out if she’d been drinking or if he’d drugged her with something. That could narrow it down. Maybe we can get a lead that way. How long do you think that’ll take?’
Doctor Jones sighed, ‘I’ll stay here all night if I have to. Be back first thing in the morning and I’ll give you everything I can.’ He looked over her. ‘One of the brightest kids in the University works here part-time, I’ll get him authorized absence from whatever classes he’s taking today. Hopefully, we can piece it out together.’
‘I look forward to it,’ Deputy Thomson said. They didn’t bother saying ‘bye, Thomson started for the door. ‘By the way, you don’t have a bathroom here, do you?’
‘Down the hall,’
‘Thanks,’ he said.
Deputy Thomson started down the corridor at a jog, he shouldn’t have drunk so much coffee. He’d had two before he left the house that morning. Katherine had made them in his favorite mug, the biggest one in the house. He turned left and pushed on the door. A handwritten notice read, ‘Toilet’s flooded - Plumber called.’
Thomson left the car in the parking lot and started across the street on-foot. He checked both shoulders before crossing, nearly slipped on some ice. He recomposed himself. Jones said something about a diner, he scoured the storefronts for one. They were all retail: tailors, jewellers, cobblers and the like. They wouldn’t have a bathroom, maybe a shared one out back but that would be a long shot. The owners didn’t like customers using them, it made it easy to rob the joint. Deputy Thomson thought of trying one and flashing his badge, when he saw ‘THORTON’S RESTAURANT – BEST PANCAKES IN BOSTON.’ That was the ticket! He ran through, the place was packed wall to wall with the lunch crowd. The door dinged. ‘You got a bathroom?’ he shouted. The colored guy flipping a grilled cheese gave him the ‘I-Don’t-Know-Pal’ look. He ran out back anyway.
There it was, the Gent’s. He pushed himself inside. Ran to the closest cubicle and slammed the door shut. He didn’t have time to lock it. When he got his fly down, he was already spraying the bowl. It wasn’t relief, it was painful. He closed his eyes and tried to enjoy it, tensing his stomach muscles to push the rest of the coffee out of him. Awful stuff. He heard someone scrabbling about in the next one down. He looked down, a brown puddle spread out across the floor and under his shoe. ‘Hey!’ Thomson cried. They kept doing it. ‘Hey!’ The piss wasn’t even hitting the seat, they were just aiming it on the floor – he zipped his fly up, yanked the chain and banged on the door.
A kid came out, he was wearing a cap to hide the dark around his eyes. He was on the skinny side and terribly nervous. He couldn’t have been much older than seventeen. ‘What were you doing, son?’
‘Nothing, mister.’ He said.
‘Why were you just pissing on the floor then?’
The kid looked at his uniform, said ‘fuck’ to himself and then, ‘Geez, I’m sorry mister – Officer. I just really needed to go, didn’t mean to get ya. I promise I won’t do it again.’
Thomson looked at him, the kid was shaking. He turned on his heel and padded out, glancing the cubicle on the way. No. He turned back, ‘Would you want someone pissing all over your new shoes, huh? Do you think that’s normal beha - -’ The kid was in his face, grimacing? What? He looked down – a knife handle was sticking out of him. His eyes met the kid’s. He pulled it out of him and jammed it back in his chest. Thomson coughed blood over his uniform and collapsed on the floor. The kid reached into his back pocket and pulled out a hand cannon. Thomson heard or thought he heard him say, ‘Sorry’ before rushing back into the restaurant. He faded in and out of consciousness with his eyes open, he was losing a lot of blood. He clasped a hand over his chest and put as much pressure as he could muster on it. The hand cannon let rip outside – there was a roar – the lunch crowd were charging out. He heard the doorbell ding two dozen times. Glass smashed. A man screamed. The kid yelled, ‘Don’t pull anything stupid, mister.’ Thomson heard the kid saying ‘Sorry’ over and over again until his eyes finally gave way and closed.