Back To Zero

Murder. Pie. Fleetwood Mac.

Local Radio DJ - 7:15PM

      "Good evening listeners, this is radio 880, the fox, you're listening to the night shift with Kurt Sharpe. I'll be staying up with you all night long getting to the bottom of the big questions, to explore your soul and your minds. I've got everything I need in the booth with me, a terrible pot of coffee brewing, and the dim lamp-light bouncing off the one-hundred year-old faux-wood paneling.

      You know, this dark booth, in this dark station, becomes a whole different world on these late nights. It's like nothing else exists but me, and the crackling coffee machine behind me. My only salvation? Well, you of course, my only line to the outside world. So grab your favorite blanket, your mug of tea and let's work things out, shall we?

      Now. The big story afoot in our sleepy one-street town? You all know what I'm talking about, Mrs. Tillman, who was found dead in her townhouse only yesterday. A murder in a town this size is one thing, but still fresh on everyone's mind is Mrs. Tillman's son, who went missing almost exactly a year ago this week.

      Local police have blocked the street off, around Mrs. Tillman's house, and are working the case with the help of some out-of-town detectives who must have decided that murder and a missing person was just too juicy to pass up. If you see the detectives around town, make sure to say hello, and of course, if you have any information about the Tillman's, please call the authorities.

      Before I drop some music in the machine, I want to remind everybody that the voting has started for this year's annual harvest festival record! Over the next 3 weeks, we'll be tallying votes for the official record to be played at our harvest fair, and the town's birthday party! So get your votes in early. As you all well know, fueled mostly by the Tillman family's exhaustive campaigning efforts, Fleetwood Mac's self-titled 1975 record has won for literally the last 5 years in a row. So will this year be the 6th? Or will, to put it bluntly, the lack of Tillmans, crown us a new champion?

      I suppose we'll see."



Local Diner – 7:45PM

      The detectives come through the diner door in a cavalcade of trench coats and wet, black shoes. They're a sight to be behold, and if there had been a crowd of people at the 9 PM hour, they would've certainly drawn the attention. As it was, the diner was almost completely empty, save the only waitress, and a man sitting at the diner's counter.

      The senior detective, Carl Stevens, moves slowly, and with purpose. He carries a large black briefcase in one hand, a small folded umbrella in the other. His partner, Allison Matthews, a young woman of no more than 25, carries herself with the undecided hesitation of a freshly graduated officer.

      The diner's interior is as stubborn today as it was when it was installed 30 years ago. Bold, orange vinyl booths line the back wall. A worn laminate countertop guards the cash register, and behind that, the kitchen. Small round stools fixed to the floor, run along the counter, the vinyl looks cracked and worn from the usual customers ordering a coffee on the way to work, or a burger on their lunch breaks.

      The only other person in the diner, a young man with a black hood drawn over his head, sits quietly sipping coffee at the end of the counter.

      The detectives remove their wet overcoats, sitting in a booth near the back. They immediately unpack a series of small notepads, folders and spread the paperwork on the table between them.

      The napkin holder and the sugar shaker are the exact ones you're picturing. They talk in hushed tones and carefully wipe the wet from their eyes.

      "There's something strange here. I mean I can't put my finger on it, but there's something wrong about how this is all unfolding." The veteran detective scans his notes like he's done a hundred times before. He's looking for a loophole, for a tell, a crack.

      The younger detective instead scans the diner's menu, "Oh dang, they have cheesecake. I'm getting some cheesecake."

      "I mean, the body, the scene, the relationship, there's definitely missing pieces here."

      "Is there a rule about eating cheesecake this late at night? I feel like I'm still in the clear here."

      Detective Stevens ignores her questions, "I definitely think the phone call is the key to it all, do you think the secretary knows more than she's telling us though, or the sheriff? Are you suspicious of either of them at all?"

      "I feel like my stomach is suspicious for some sweet cheesecake... where is that waitress… we're the only ones in here… for crying out loud."

      "Matthews, can you please focus for a minute on the task at hand instead of some goddamn dried-out late-night cheesecake?"

      The younger detective closes the menu, and puts it on the table in front of her, "Ok, look at it like this. The son goes missing, ok. No body was ever found. We don't know if he's six feet under somewhere, or six beer deep on some pleasure cruise down south. But you know what? That's fine. He's a grown-ass man, the local cops looked for him, they worked their contacts, searched the area, and still walked away empty handed. And… wait. You think the cheesecake is going to be dried out? … Maybe I should get the apple pie."

      Carl doesn't answer her, he's staring over her shoulder, and out the window. The stegosaurus moves slowly and defiantly along the front of the diner. It'd been weeks since he'd seen the dinosaur, and now, here? In this place, of all places? He didn't know what it meant, but it couldn't be good.

      The young detective follows Carl's gaze over her shoulder and out the diner window. The rain owns the street outside, and bounces off the pavement, like static from a TV.

      "You ok, Carl?"

      Detective Stevens watches the stegosaurus disappear out of sight down the town's lonely main street, he slowly shifts his gaze back to his young partner.

      "… I'm with you Matthews, you were saying, about the case?"

      "Right, so now a year later his mom's dead. Either somebody's got it out for the Tillman's or that's a king-size coincidence. Maybe the mother knew something about her son's disappearance, maybe she was in on it but was getting cold feet and planned on talking to the cops. Maybe the people she was in on it with got nervous and didn't want anybody to find out."

      "Matthews you're all over the place. You're accusing a dead woman of kidnapping her only son."

      The diner's only waitress approaches the booth where the detectives are sitting, she's young, out of school to be sure, but not by much. She's pretty in a way that is always ‘pretty' and never ‘beautiful'. Her hair is drawn back in a messy bun, a black pencil piercing it, holding it in place. In her left hand she's holding a stainless steel coffee pot in such a way that shows that, even at such a young age, she has years of experience.

      "Do y'all want some coffee?"

      Both detectives, flip over their face-down coffee mugs, almost in unison.

      "Yes, please." Detective Matthews says, "Is the cheesecake fresh here tonight?"

      "Sorry Hun, we're fresh out, and the cook won't be in till early tomorrow morning, I've got some left over apple though."

      Detective Matthews couldn't hide the sheer devastation on her face, Stevens took a long deep drink of the black coffee to avoid laughing at his partner's misfortune.

      "No, that's ok, thanks anyway," Matthews finally manages.

      The waitress flips her unused notepad closed and slides it back to the front pocket of her apron. She hesitates before leaving, lingering a while longer at the table.

      "Are… are y'all in town about what happened to poor Mrs. Tillman? I mean, first her son, and now…"

      The waitress looked uncomfortable, awkward almost.

      "I'm sorry, I shouldn't pry, especially about such things."

      "Don't worry ma'am," Agent Stevens replies, "Yes, we're detectives, and we're in town for the Tillman case. They say the first 24 hours are the most important, so I hope you don't mind if we camp out here for the night."

      The waitress pauses, "No, of course not detective, I'll be there if you want me to, no one else that could ever do, got to get some peace in my mind." She turns, leaving the table and returning behind the counter to clean.

      "That was weird… did she just?… was that.." Matthews looks confused, but gets nothing from detective Stevens who's returned to his paper work.

      "Enh, never mind."



Agent Carl Stevens visits the Doc

      "I'm in town, working the Tillman murder case, and I'm having this… reoccurring issue."

      The doctor's office was nice enough to make you feel comfortable. The walls are lined with books and diplomas. Dark leather chairs face each other, separated by a small glass table.

      In psychiatry school they would call this the "buffer". It's there to maintain a healthy distance between doctor and patient. It's to let the patient know that they're engaged in an important conversation, but not necessarily friends. Plus if they flip the fuck out and make a lunge for your throat, it gives the doctor some reaction time.

      "Yes detective. On the phone you said you're suffering from visions, from hallucinations. What kinds of things are you seeing?"

      "I'm not seeing things so much as continually seeing the same thing. Everywhere."

      The doctor's glasses are unflinching, there's an unspoken prompt to continue.

      "I'm … I keep seeing this... dinosaur, following me. I mean, he's not necessarily following me, or even acknowledging me, he's just there in the background you know, always walking past. I don't know if he's eavesdropping or keeping track of me, or what. I'll see him lumbering down the sidewalk, or, like the other day I laid down briefly on my hotel bed, and he just saunters by out in the hallway. "

      "Holy shit, that's bonkers."

      "Did… did you just say I was crazy? I thought you weren't supposed to say that, even if you thought it."

      "Please continue, Detective."

      Carl frowns, but talking to the Doctor, finally talking to anybody really, is proving cathartic.

      "Yeah so he's everywhere, he's huge, like I said, and he's got these plates, you know, like they do. They're the size of goddamn car doors."

      "Does anybody else share in your visions?"

      "Not so far as I can tell, though I never tell anyone about them, except for you just now."

      "Are you finding your work here in town particularly stressful, detective?"

      "Do you think my visions are stress related?"



Local Diner – 9:10 PM

      The night slow-crawls like a train hauling love letters through a foggy mountainside. The detectives, armed with case files, background checks, photographs, motives, and caffeine pour over the work looking for something they hadn't seen before.

      Carl's head is in his hand, his elbow resting firmly on the edge of the table.

      "This case is like a quilt, you know? A patchwork kind of deal, one of those fucking blankets that are always so hideous, but everybody always fawns over because the squares include your first band t-shirt and the last clean piece of your baby blanket.

      There's a patch of the quilt for everything really, cause of death, location, the victim, their last thoughts, their hopes and dreams, there's a patch for the time they pity fucked the nerdy kid under the bleachers, there's a patch for goddamn everything."

      Detective Stevens looks up from the table to his partner, before continuing.

      "I guess my point is, our job is to build this thing, one piece at a time. To find out who these people are, and what path they went down, or were led down, that brought them to us. To this cluttered table in front of us.

      "The son, what kind of person was he? I mean was he running with anybody or involved in any kind of drug scene? Do towns this size even have a drug scene?" Det. Stevens roots through a stack of papers, and manila folders.

      "Of course they do, maybe more so, really. I mean, you can only stare at trees and mountains for so long before you want to start doing it high… From what I've read though, the son went the other way, bit of a momma's boy, you know?"

      "Maybe there was some resentment there? Maybe junior wanted bigger things, and was mad about settling in to the small town life for the long run."

      "That makes the disappearance make sense, but not the murder."

      "Maybe the two are unrelated? Maybe the only link in this whole thing, the mother-son relationship, is our red herring in all of this?"

      The unrelenting rain outside beats on the large front windows of the diner, and drops to the lonely street in sheets. The rain makes the diner seem like a room within a room. Through the glass the detectives watch late-night travelers stop at the intersection, their red brake lights skewed through the rain-soaked windows.



Agent Allison Matthews visits the Doc

      "I was nine years old when I smashed the Henderson's glass door with a rock the size of a tangerine."

      Allison pauses, looking at the doctor, not necessarily for a response, so much as acknowledgement. She got none, but continued.

      "It was a hot day. The kind of day you can hear the grass growing, and the crickets flood your ears with their high-pitched whine.

      The neighbors were on vacation I think, and I didn't have any friends. These are all important things to think about when considering reasons to smash a window taller than I was.

      The glass sold itself like a salesman holding a vacuum, and for just a minute I wasn't a nine-year-old girl, but a smoking, middle aged housewife, intrigued but not quite sold, not yet. I invited the smooth glass window into my home and asked it if it wanted a drink or if it needed anything else. I pondered and thought and pushed the idea around in my mind. I decided I would throw the rock and it would be good. It would be great even, the best decision I had ever made.

      The rock was on the back deck for a reason, it had been painted with a little ocean scene, and the word "Welcome". It was smooth, and when I picked it up there was a single gold key underneath.

      The glass sprang to life like anxious rain, pausing only briefly, then coming down all at once. The rock skittered inside, across the white tile kitchen floor.

      The sound that came with it was a monstrous thing, big and undeniable.

      Seconds later, my mother was screaming from the side porch, her mouth moving in slow motion and her eyes as big as saucers. It was all action and no sound though as my ears were still ringing from the pop and crash of the six foot glass pane. There were pieces of it everywhere. All over the Henderson's tile and back porch, all over my shoes, and legs, and arms.

      I remember there was blood, but that I hadn't noticed at first. It seemed a good match for my mother's tears as she scrambled down the side stairs towards me."

      There was a long pregnant pause when Allison stopped talking.

      "Why do you think this event has stayed with you, all these years later? What significance does it hold to you now, as a young adult?"

      "I don't know really. I haven't really felt the desire, or need to do anything like that, before or since, so why then? I remember feeling overcome with the desire to ruin that door, and no amount of logic or consequences could make me change my mind."

      The doctor was silent again.

      "When I think back to the way I felt that day, it terrifies me. When I see these murders, or shitty things people are doing on a daily basis, are they actually bad people, or are they just feeling the way I felt? Are they just throwing that goddamn welcome rock? Do I have the thing in me that a murderer has in them? …Do we all?"



Local Diner – 10:47 PM

      The detectives buzz back and forth with theories and ideas, working together, but almost battling, as if the black and white checkered floor was a chess board, and the detectives grand masters.

      For the first time since the detectives walked in, the bell over the front door rings out a warning, and the door swings wide, revealing local police sheriff Dale Oliver. He's got a black overcoat on, but unzipped, revealing his brown button-up uniform. He eyes the detectives upon entering, but stops at the counter to speak briefly with the waitress.

      "Evenin' darlin'. Y'all have any cheesecake done up?"

      "Sorry, Dale, just got some apple."

      "Apple it is sweety, I'll be over yonder with the two most suspicious looking law-enforcers I've ever seen."

      Dale approaches the booth while removing his over coat, and hangs it on the coat rack in the corner. He grabs a chair from the empty table in the middle of the room and places it backwards at the end of the booth. He sits, arms crossed on the back of the chair.

      "Detectives, glad to have you in town, I hope the locals that are still alive have been good to you."

      Matthews shakes Dale's hand first, "We've certainly gotten some looks around town, but I think everybody knows why we're here. We want to ensure you understand we're not replacing you, sheriff, we're just here to work along side you."

      "Of course detective, I hope you got the files my office sent over?"

      "We did." Matthews shuffles the papers on the table, "As you can see, we've been sifting through what's here looking for something of substance. A connection, between the two cases, or even a reason to believe there is no connection."

      "That's interesting. I really have a hard time believing these cases can't be connected in anyway, I mean, what are the odds?"

      The waitress approaches the table, and places Sheriff's apple pie, and a clean mug on the table, before filling all three coffee mugs.

      "Thanks, darlin', y'all don't mind, do you?"

      Both detectives shake their heads, no.

      "Sure thing sheriff, working on some big stuff, hunh?"

      "Oh, yeah, just trying to make sense of things, you know."

      "It's just such a crazy thing for such a small town isn't it? I mean, all your life you've never seen woman, taken by the wind. Would you stay if she promised you heaven? Will you ever win?"

      The waitress, as if she's said the most normal thing in the world, turns from the table, and walks back to the counter, stopping to refresh the hooded kid's coffee yet again.

      Detective Matthews' mouth is hanging open, her eyes wide. She looks from one man, to the other, begging for a sign of recognition, but getting none. The sheriff digs into his pie, oblivious, and detective Stevens examines a crime scene photograph for probably the hundredth time.

      "Ok, guys. That's the second time now, tell me you heard that?"

      "Heard what, Matthews?" Detective Stevens' finger is running over his moustache as a sign of deep thought while examining the photograph.

      "You found NOTHING strange about what the waitress just said? NOTHING at all? Sheriff?"

      The sheriff works the apple pie around in his mouth. He looks up to the ceiling in a ‘let me think' gesture. "Well ma'am, people are pretty shaken up by this whole ordeal. I'm sure if something sounded strange to you it was just her struggling to process it all, know what I mean?"

      "No, no, no, with all due respect sheriff, fuck that. That waitress just quoted Fleetwood Mac in casual conversation for the second time tonight."

      "Fleetwood who?"

      "Fleetwood wh… really?"

      Detective Stevens finally places the photograph back on the table, "Matthews, why on earth would she do that? You're just hearing things, can we focus on the task at hand here?"

      Matthews concedes reluctantly, "Who hasn't heard of Fleetwood mac?"

      "Matthews, the sheriff's here now, didn't you have some questions for him."

      "Fire away detective, I'll be of as much help to ya as I can." Replied the pie-mouthed sherrif.

      "Ok, sheriff so your department took an anonymous call around 3… what, 3:45 yesterday afternoon."

      "Yes ma'am, my secretary took the call. She mostly answers the phone around the station, nice enough woman, makes a hell of a lemon meringue."

      Matthews eyebrows raise and she pretends to write what the sheriff is saying, "… hell of a ... meringue pie, got it, thanks sheriff. ok you say the caller saw somebody leaving the Tillman house in a hurry, and when they went to check on poor Mrs. Tillman, she was tits-up in the kitchen."

      "Yes ma'am."

      "Did they say anything else? You didn't get any kind of trace on the call? Hell in a town this size, you didn't recognize the caller's voice?"

      "No ma'am. The caller was, and still is a bit of a mystery."

      "Is there anything else you can tell us about the call, did the caller say anything else?"

      "No, that's about it from what I can tell. The secretary was awful shook up about the whole thing. God rest her soul, Mrs. Tillman, I mean. That woman had been through enough, what with her son going missing in such a way. The woman couldn't bake worth a good-goddamn, but she never did anybody any harm."

      Stevens interjected Matthews before she could comment on the sheriff's obvious affinity to add pie details to each of his statements. "An eye witness, to whom we have to assume is our suspect. That's got to be our key, right? Every case has a crack, and that's got to be ours. It's so obvious."

      A silence ran over the diner. The waitress busied herself folding napkins behind the counter, the detectives and the sheriff stared almost hopelessly at the papers on the table, and the kid in the black hoody took another sip of black coffee. The wood paneled walls soldiered on through the night, taking midnight in stride, and pushing it behind them like another hurdle on the way to timelessness.



Sherriff Dale visits the Doc

      "Hey Doc."

      "Sheriff. Come in, sit down."

      "I've been having these dreams again, doc."

      "What are you dreaming about sheriff?"

      "Different every night. Dark usually. I don't know what any of it means, or if I should be scared, or maybe it's supposed to be funny, in some strange way."

      "Sheriff, I don't exactly prescribe to the theory of dream symbolism, or deeper meanings beyond what we attach to things, which in turn, is probably just a reflection of ourselves."

      "Ma'am?"

      "Did you have one of these dreams last night sheriff?"

      "Oh yes ma'am, I surely did."

      "Walk me through your dream sheriff, tell me what you remember."

      "Alritey." The sheriff shifts uncomfortably in his chair, then, before he starts talking, raises his hands as if conducting a symphony, or more aptly, painting a picture.

      "I was in this green field. There were trees along the edge of the field, but a long ways off, in the distance, like. The field sloped down in front of me, and long, unkempt grass grew all around, probably waist height. The field looked like it was man made, but long forgotten, like somebody'd tried growing potatoes and had given up.

      There was this aching silence all around, and the sun shone real bright. Above, the sky was so blue, with just a speckling of white cloud. Just enough cloud to let you know you're still alive, still looking at the real sky, and not a photograph of one.

      In the distance, on the edge of the field, I could see a small opening in the trees.

      I don't know what it is, but I'm always opening doors, or walking towards doors, in my dreams. Maybe I'm looking for something, an explanation? A way out?

      Anyway, before I can start walking toward the opening, this old man steps out, and I can see right away he's got an orange vest on over his coat, just like, a small hunting vest thing. Besides that I can see he's got a rifle over his right shoulder. He's not looking at where he's walking really, instead he's looking down, and there beside him is a young boy maybe 7, or 8. The man is too old to be his father, so I supposed he was the boy's grandfather.

      Next thing I know they're kneeling down real quiet like. I remember I liked watching them. It was almost peaceful, and it reminded me of when I would walk with my dad, or grandfather in the woods hunting bird, or deer."

      The sheriff was quiet for a few seconds.

      "Then the clouds came in. The sky gets almost grey like, and I remember the man, and the boy didn't really notice, or seem to. They're still crouching down, they're looking in my direction, being real quiet like, whispering something to one another. Then the man sets up his rifle, like he's fixing to shoot at something, except, he's aiming it in my direction. The clouds are real thick now, and a wind starts picking up from the south. It's cold. The man is looking through his scope and I'm looking around me, looking to see what he sees, a deer or a coyote. Except, there's only me. Then his rifle sings out."

      The doctor shifts in her chair, "And you wake up?"

      "That's the thing, ain't it doc? That's how normal folk dream. They fall off the building or they hear the gunshot, and they're done. Except, I don't wake up.

      Instead, the field and everything else is gone. I'm standing in the intersection downtown, and it's dark, and raining. Over my head I can see the stoplight just blinking a desperate red, like it does after midnight. Just blinking over and over. The rain makes the only noise, bouncing off the pavement in a fierce, steady pour.

      But when things are that silent, doc, you can actually hear the stoplight. Hear it coming alive, then going out. Clicking with power, then going out. Over and over, like the steady rhythm of a clock. Click. Red. Clunk. Dark. CLICK. Red. Clunk. Dark.

      From the intersection I can see the diner on the corner. The lights are on, though I can't make out anybody inside. The sign over the window says "DINER" in bright orange, like it always does, but the N and the R are flickering in and out in time with the stoplight. Over and over. Click. Red. Clunk. Dark. Click. DINER. Clunk. DIE.

      Then everything goes black.

      Then I wake up.



Local Radio DJ – 11:30 PM

      "Prolific, and rebellious American poet, Charles Bukowski, nearing the end of his career, and in fact, the end of his life, wrote his dystopian epic "Dinosauria, We". In the piece, Bukowski writes:

‘Born like this
Into this
As the chalk faces smile
As Mrs. Death laughs'

      "What did Bukowski know that we don't? Or maybe he was just saying what we all already know. Maybe the Buk was saying that life is a rambling, failed attempt. Maybe, considering the title, it's a rambling second attempt? Are we to suffer the same fate as the dinosaurs that preceded us?

      Later in the piece Bukowski writes these lines:

      ‘We are born into this sorrowful deadliness'

      and

      ‘There will be open and unpunished murder in the streets'

      These lines hit a little close to home here in our quiet town, don't they? The recent Tillman murder has shaken the very foundation of our town. And… if I can be so harsh to suggest such a thing, aren't these kind of crimes better suited for the mean streets of a sprawling, under-governed city? Has the corruption, and evil highlighted in Bukowski's poem finally reached far enough to arrive at the doorstep of a town like ours? Or has it been here all along, looking only to surface when the town's people are at their most comfortable; at their safest?

      The poem finishes with this thought:

      ‘And there will be the most beautiful silence never heard
Born out of that.
The sun still hidden there
Awaiting the next chapter.'

      And so, what then? What is to become of our foggy, rainy farming town? What is, as Bukowski says, the next chapter for us? Is it fear? Do we move on from this murder, from these crimes, not with hope in our hearts, or a smile on our face, but with locked doors, and untrusting, suspicious conversations?



Radio DJ – 12:17 AM

      "Welcome back guys, this is Kurt on 880, the Fox. We're getting deep into this thing we call the night now, aren't we? The midnight hour is upon us and we're still here. Of course, I'd never leave you, dear listeners. This tiny booth on the edge of town isn't much to look at, but it keeps that rain off my head. I hope you all are somewhere nice and dry too.

      I've gotten some scattered reports that our guests from out of town are hunkered down in the diner, burning the coffee beans at both ends to work on bringing justice for the late Mrs. Tillman. I raise my chipped chalice of luke-warm drink to you, dear friends. It may be a long night yet.

      All this rain in town has become almost like a dear friend hasn't it? It's always there, always hanging around. People huddled under umbrellas on the street corners and people catching up in the stores of Main Street aren't having conversations amongst themselves, it's always, them, and the rain, isn't it?

      Next on the fox, we're going to take some callers.

      I know it's late, but maybe you're sitting there in a single-lamp glow with nothing more than an old blanket and the hum of the radio to keep you company. Let's touch base, dearest listeners. Let's tackle the big issues of the night together.

      Well, us dear friends, and the rain."



Diner Scene – 2:38 AM

      Carl excuses himself from the table and struggles to walk, as only an older man who's been sitting at an uncomfortable table for hours can. He steps outside the diner, standing under the small canopy just outside the front door. He's relieved to discover the world outside the 4 wood-paneled walls of the diner still exists. He reaches inside his black trench coat and retrieves a crumpled case of cigarettes, before plucking one in his mouth, and setting fire to the business end of the thing.

      The rain pounds the pavement all around him and manages to nip at the heels of his black dress shoes. His wife bought him those shoes on sale. He tried to remember the last time he had owned shoes that weren't bought on sale. Probably never had. He wasn't a man that wore full-priced shoes, or gave up smoking.

      The street was deserted now, except for the traffic light hanging over the only intersection on the town's main street. The light had given up its ghost hours ago and blinked red, as if saying "You know what, do whatever the fuck you want, I'm getting some shut-eye."

      Slowly but surely, the stegosaurus makes his way down the perpendicular street, not acknowledging Carl, but at the same time, making sure his presence was noticed. His heavy breathing can be heard, even over the downpour.

      Carl exhales a stream of smoke into the darkness of night. "Yeah, I fucking see ya big guy, don't worry."

      The stego's highest spikes connect with the dangling stop light and sparks rain down on the intersection below.

      Carl blinks hard, and everything returns to the way it was. The visions are getting worse, the stego is getting bigger.

      He's tired. He misses his daughter. He hasn't spoken to her in weeks, and he thinks to himself, that really, it's ok. She has her own things to take care of, and an aging detective father smoking in the rain with a dinosaur wasn't one of them.

      She'd been accepted to her second and third choice colleges, and he'd said something about how life is full of second choices. He wished he hadn't said that. He wish he'd called her first choice and asked them what the fuck was wrong with them, that they didn't want his little girl at their shitty college. His 18 year-old, world-at-her-feet, little girl. She'd have hated him for doing something like that.

      His partner reminded him of her a lot. Funny, and smart, enthusiastic and ready to take on the world. To solve every murder in every one-light town across the country. At the same time, he was glad his daughter had no interest in his work, and God forbid, in following in his footsteps. He didn't want his daughter drinking shitty coffee at midnight in a diner out of some Stephen King novel.

      His cigarette owes him nothing, and he flicks the butt to the street before heading inside.



Local Radio DJ visits the Doc

      "Hey doctor, good to see you, good to take a break, get out of the booth for a while. You know I like talking to you doctor, it's nice to have a face to look at instead of a microphone."

      "Glad to have you Kurt, what's on your mind?"

      "Well doc, the other day I was walking down main street, and I see this family just sitting on a bench together, out in front of old man Johnson's ice cream shop, you know. So I see them, and I'm just struck by the simplicity of the whole scene. Just seeing this family making no apologies about not having anywhere else to be, or anywhere else to go, just using that bench that the town must've installed just for them, to enjoy a cold treat on a hot day. I mean, how great is that? How innocent, how, starkly beautiful."

      "You've been discussing death on your show an awful lot lately, are you struggling with the death of Mrs. Tillman, or is there something else? Your own mortality?"

      "You've been doing your homework, doc, I'll give you that. I don't know if that's playing fair though, getting some extracurricular insight into my mind through the radio waves?"

      "You've sort of got the monopoly on radio stations here in town"

      "Fair enough, fair enough," Kurt concedes, before continuing,

      "Yeah man, I mean, death right? It really sort of makes you appreciate the things you have. It makes you appreciate that ice cream bench, you know? Death is too heavy for one man, or woman to deal with. I think we should all really lean on each other and help each other out, you know? I mean that's what I'm trying to do on the radio, I guess. Give people a place to talk, a beacon of hope in the night."



Local Diner – 3:08 AM

      The waitress is filling coffee cups for the one-hundredth time. "Boy, ya'll weren't kidding were you, y'all really are pulling an all-nighter."

      "Yes ma'am, time is crucial in these things, I'm sure you can appreciate that."

      "Oh sure, I'm glad we've got such dedicated people working on this thing. I think the whole town is glad of that."

      Matthews looks up, almost suddenly from her notepad, "Excuse me, miss? What's your name anyway?"

      "Oh my, I feel like I've known y'all for ages, and I've never told you my name. I'm Olivia. Olivia Patterson. I've worked in this here diner since I was 16 years old." The sentence was sugar-sweet and almost rehearsed, as if she'd said it a hundred times before.

      Matthews, without hesitation, "Olivia, we got here around 8 o'clock this evening, and you were already working. Here it is, well after midnight, and there's no relief in sight, what shifts are you working here at the diner?"

      The waitress pauses, then laughs, almost a nervous laughter, "Yeah, tell me about it," she says. "I've been working doubles all week."

      The sheriff leans back in his chair, curious as to why Matthews is suddenly interested in something as personal as the waitress's shift schedule.

      Stevens looks up from his cell phone over to Matthews. He's ready to tell Matthews to drop it, to ask her to reel it in, when he sees the look in her eyes. In the short amount of time they've spent working together, he's only seen it one other time. He waits, patiently.

      "And what's the shift schedule like here at the diner? You're working double shifts, what does that mean?"

      "Well there's an evening shift, from 4 in the afternoon till midnight, then the graveyard, they call it, from midnight till 8. As the junior, that's my normal shift, you see. Then there's the day shift from 8 AM till 4. Carla, she's been sick this past week so I've been working from 4 in the afternoon till 8AM. A long haul, if there ever was."

      Matthews scribbles a quick note before glancing up at Olivia.

      "Thanks, Sweety."

      "Time makes you bolder, even children get older, and I'm getting older too."

      Olivia turns from the table and heads to the rear of the counter, the smile that had taken residence all night long, is no longer on her face.

      Matthews immediately stands up in the booth. She looks from the man across from her, to the man seated at the end of the table. She's not getting the reaction she's looking for.

      "You MOTHER FUCKERS." She hits the table and sits down in frustration. The waitress and the diner's only other patron, the hooded 20-something sitting at the diner, counter turn briefly in her direction before returning to their own space.

      "REALLY? You're going to sit there and tell me you didn't just catch, for the third time in one night, that waitress drop a super awkward, doesn't-even-really-work-in-normal conversation Fleetwood Mac quote."

      Both men have no reaction.

      "Fucking… LANDSLIDE. Fucking… this is for you daddy, Saw my reflection, in the snoooow covered hills. LANDSLIDE… NO? NOTHING?"

      "Matthews, are you ok? I don't know what kind of Fleetwood crack you've been smoking, but you need to get off it."

      Matthews isn't having it. She's in full rage mode.

      "Goddamn it you guys, you're blind. I mean come on, that album came out before I was born. You guys were young dudes, buying stupid cars and bird-dogging stupid chicks. You don't know landslide?"

      Matthews leaves the booth and paces over to one of the tables in the middle of the room between the booths and the counter. She exhales loudly, more from fatigue than anything else.

      The waitress scans the room and quietly exits into the rear kitchen.

      Stevens is back to his notes, "It's getting late, this stuff is starting to all melt together, and you babbling on about some outdated record isn't helping anything."

      In the corner of the diner, the hooded figure who'd been hunched over by the bar all night, looks up from his coffee on the counter, and quickly scans the room. Without hesitation, he stands up, makes his way to the table where Matthews is standing, and drops a note on the table behind her, before exiting the diner in a straight-line hurry.

      Matthews is the only one that notices this transaction. She cups the piece of folded paper in her hand, and excuses herself to the bathroom.

      She doesn't know what the note says, or why it's meant for her, but there had to have been a reason the kid wanted it to be a secret. She turns the lights on in the bathroom, and locks the door behind her.

      The note is written on a flyer from the local radio station. The same station that had been playing over the diner's speaker system all night long.

      The flyer reads: "Get your votes in early! This year's anniversary record is, as always, decided by you!"

      Across the flyer, written in hurried, but deliberate handwriting are these words:

      The waitress.



Hooded Figure visits the Doc

      "Do you know how hard it is to hide in a town this size?"

      "Little Tommy Tillman, I'm sure it is. Especially with what's going on." The doctor looks nervous to be talking to the kid.

      "Listen doc, I don't mean to involve you in this, I just figured, at the very least I could hide out here for a while."

      "Of course."

      "Everybody born in this town, wants out of it, it's not a secret, but how many actually leave? I wanted out so bad doc. I've been looking for a way out of here since I was old enough to read about places OTHER than here. Toronto? Halifax? Montreal? Big city living!

      But of course, I can't leave, I mean, you've been in this town long enough, I'm sure you knew my father. He was a trucker, away a lot, died when I was 14 in a highway accident. It ruined my mother, and I've been taking care of her ever since. Except, to make things harder, she kind of goes crazy. Not like, padded-room crazy but a kind of, functioning-crazy, you know like functioning-alcoholics.

      Anyway, one of the things she raves on about was my dad's favorite record."

      "Fleetwood Mac, 1975."

      "Of course, right? Every year the radio station would have its contest and every year we voted for it. Except my mom, she just goes crazy campaigning for people's votes on this record like we were electing a new president. It's ludicrous, and of course, people feel bad for her, for her loss, and boy do they vote.

      Anyway, while I spent my late teens daydreaming, and listening to this same fucking record, non-stop, some people in town got together and they had these secret meetings. They were scared doc. My mother's instability scared them. If anybody said anything against her, that maybe we should vote for another record this year, maybe it was time to let go. Well… mom was scary, violent even."

      The doctor shifts in her chair, "I'm aware of your mother's instability. People didn't know how to take her, what to do with her. Sherriff Dale included."

      The kid, Tommy Tillman, leans forward; he lets out a sigh, and nervously taps on the table between them.

      "Yeah, well, these people, they get together in this little group, meeting in basements and woodsheds like some kind of twisted bible-study or something, and they come up with a plan. If they can get me to leave, maybe my mother will go with me, maybe they can oust two Tillman's in one shot.

      Anyway, one of them comes to me, says they have a deal for me, they say, ‘we know you're 18 years-old, we know you want out of this town anyway, bla bla bla. They even had this pot saved up, 5 grand! Can you believe that?

      Thing is doc, as crazy as these people are, they're… they're not wrong. I want out of here, and they're handing it to me. I see the money, and the chance, and I think about the big cities I've read about, and finally see a way out... but..."

      "But?

      "But, I can't convince my mother to come with me. I know that's what they all want, and I try. I go to her and I talk about a fresh start and she's having none of it. She's stuck in the past, with my dad, and with that goddamn record. So finally I give up and I run. I take the cash and, although it slayed me, I left my mom behind, hoping that, in a town this size, she couldn't possibly get into trouble."

      "Ok, fine, so why come back then?"

      "I feared for my mother's safety. The year I left she didn't have me to help with her record voting campaign, and I was scared she'd go zany. Scared of what she would do, or what the people who felt so strongly about getting rid of her would do.

      "You were scared they'd go after your mother?"

      "They'd gotten rid of me, but that wasn't what they wanted at all, it hadn't achieved the results they were after.

      "So who's they? Who was in this group?"

      "That I don't know. The only person I ever met with left town shortly after I did. But I do know who killed my mother, and I'm going to make sure those detectives figure it out."



Local Diner – 3:28 AM

      Matthews returns to the table from the bathroom, and reaches for her jacket.

      "I, I need to get some fresh air, I'm going to step out for a minute. Stevens, do you want another smoke?"

      The two detectives step out into the night; the rain beats on the awning overhead in a deafening horse-trot.

      "Stevens, something's going on here. Something's going on right here in this diner. The waitress, the sheriff, that kid that's been sitting in the corner, they're not here by accident, they've got an invested interest in what we're doing here tonight. Something more than just shitty coffee."

      The elder detective lights a cigarette, but says nothing.

      "The kid dropped this, before leaving."

      Matthews shows Stevens the note, and stares at his face expectantly. The cigarette barely lights up the tired, wrinkled eyes of a man who's seen it all. He exhales, while furrowing his eyebrows.

      "Ok, I'm on board. Put it together."

      "Ok, Stevie Nicks in there has been pouring coffee left-handed all night long. In the report the secretary took, the anonymous caller said the suspect left the house in a hurry, carrying an object in her left hand."

      Stevens said only: "More."

      "This flyer, it's an advertisement for the anniversary harvest festival. They have a contest every year to vote on a record to play at the festival. Earlier over the speakers in the diner, the DJ, THIS DJ said something about how Fleetwood Mac has won for like the last 5 years or something. Said how the Tillman's voted the same record in year after year."

      Stevens waves his hand, as if to say, so what?

      "It's the same record this goddamn waitress has been soloing all night tonight. That's 2 connections. The caller said they saw the person leaving the Tillman house at 3:45, that's 15 minutes before the waitress had to show up for her shift at the diner.

      She fits the description and the time frame, Carl. And I don't know if you could even call this record fiasco a motive, but we need to at least talk to her."

      "Sure Matthews, but I have one more question."

      "What's that?"

      Stevens hesitates, before turning and looking through the window. "Where'd she go?"

      The diner lights reflect off detective Matthews' young face. She scans the diner, seeing only the sheriff, slouched in his chair, hat over his face, sleeping.

      Behind them, in the deafening rain, the intersection glows red for the stop light, before it blinks off once more.



The Waitress visits the Doc

      The waitress, still in her diner uniform, sits silently, staring at the doctor. The rain had not been good to her. Her hair hung in wet strings around her face, and her make-up streaked her cheeks. There's a pregnant pause, almost stare-down between the two women.

      "I did what I had to do. I thought we all wanted the same thing?"

      The doctor is standing behind her desk, unconsciously maintaining a distance between them.

      "Jesus, Olivia, don't pretend like I'm in on this. Not this far. You shouldn't even be here right now. Look, sending the Tillmans off to a big city with a pocket full of cash… that was… that was fucking strange, but at least it had a silver lining. At least the kid would get what he wanted, and we'd be free of the mother. He's smarter than we thought though, and he left on his own.

      But not what? Murder? You've gone way too far… Those detectives, they're both bat-shit crazy, but they're in town looking for who did this, and in a town this size, they're bound to find out. "

      "That I can agree with. They were asking questions about my schedule, about the diner."

      The doctor stares at the rain-soaked waitress, "You need to leave, I can't been seen with you, at this hour, not now. There was a witness Olivia. Somebody saw you leaving the house."

      The waitress pauses at this.

      The doctor continues. "You're wrong about what you said earlier. There is still a Tillman in town."

      Through the rain soaked window of the doctor's office red and blue lights reach in, running their way along the walls, and ceiling. The two woman stare at each other, locked in a hopeless hesitation.



Local Radio DJ – 4:12 AM

      "Go ahead caller, you're on 880 the FOX."

      "Yeah, I've been listening all night, I haven't been able to sleep since at all."

      "Well we're with you now friend, share what's on your mind."

      "I dunno, you know? It just seems like collective humanity is turning into this giant, out of control, church fire and we're all just kind of standing around waiting for the fire department to show up."

      The DJ laughs, "Ok, and so what about when they do? What happens when the bucket brigade finally puts out the flames? Do you think humanity will be saved then?"

      "Yeah, but that's the whole bitch of it, isn't it? We're all standing around waiting, and checking our watches, meanwhile nobody's even called for help."

      "So what are you getting at here? I mean, are we all really that hopeless?"

      "We celebrate our wins, and our advancements with such passion. We throw parades and declare May 5th to be national whatever-the-fuck-day. Why though? What are we really winning? If our giant, enlightened, collective group, of oh-so-progressive individuals came together in the past 100 years and decided, yeah, women should be allowed to vote, and people can marry whoever they want to marry, and maybe, just maybe, murdering innocent people is wrong, are we actually getting ahead? Are we making any traction?"

      "Are you saying legalizing gay marriage, and a declining murder rate aren't things we should celebrate?"

      "What I'm saying is, aren't we're really just breaking down our own walls. And, ok, that's fine and dandy, maybe even parade worthy, but if the cosmos is a big motherfucking scoreboard, humanity isn't racking up any extra points here are we? We're not mounting achievements into the double-digits; we're still fixing our own goddamn mistakes. We're still just getting back to zero… and it seems we're taking the long way."




©2016 Jordan Stewart - Broken Chair Essays