I had the good fortune of knowing a supercentenarian who was also a family member. It is my father’s older brother, Lester Syrus Townsend, who finally departed this life at the incredible age of 111-years, 6 months and 22 days on October 22, 2019. He was born March 31, 1908, and I always called him on his birthday to find that he had survived another year.
Now Lester was not the oldest person alive by any means. That honor goes to a French woman named Jeanne Calment, who lived to be 122½-years-old! His age distinction had qualified Uncle Les to make Wikipedia’s list of the oldest-living people in the world. But now that the list is limited to those who are still alive and to only 50 names, there are at least fifty others who surpass him.
My Facebook friends, among others, have taken quite an interest in my Uncle Lester and wanted to know more about him, as did I. I had often suggested to Lester that he allow someone to chronicle his life story, but he was always reluctant to do so. Now it’s too late to get a first-hand account from him. Can you imagine what all he must have experienced in his life since 1908? Although I don’t know a whole lot about his life, I can at least share a bit of what I do know about my uncle and our family.
I was born into a large family on my father’s side. My father’s grandfather was one of 11 children, most of whom had a bunch of kids, and my dad’s father was one of 10, most of whom had a bunch of kids. My dad, who grew up in Cairo, Illinois, was one of 12, and most of them married and had several children. My father’s mother was one of 23 kids, and I expect that most of them had a big slew apiece. So with all that begetting going on, on both sides of the family, they managed to rack up a whole lot of descendants. Our family historian once estimated that at any time the Townsend-Henson Clan has over 2000 living relatives! I have considered consulting the Guinness Book of World Records people with that information. At least half that number tend to show up for our family reunions every few years.
Most European immigrants have the referral of New York’s Ellis Island archival records at their disposal by which to trace their family history and heritage. They can obtain names and exact dates when certain ancestors landed in this country. Alas, we descendants of the African slave trade don’t have that luxury or privilege. Most of us don’t know where we came from exactly or who our original people were. They were brought here against their will as anonymous non-entities, and became personal property, their families split up at will and sold to locales unknown. However, some research that has been done has narrowed our roots to the Western Africa regions of Cote D’Ivoire, Guinea Bissau and/or Liberia.
My family’s known history goes back only as far as my parents’ great-grandparents. The American patriarch of my father’s family on his mother’s side was Rev. Syrus Bogan Henson [1835-1910], a freed slave who, when he left the Henson Plantation in Wilmington, North Carolina, bought 120 acres of land in Kilmichael, Mississippi, where he became a minister and raised a family of 23 children! Several of Syrus’ offspring became educators. His son Luther, my great-uncle who lived to be 101-years-old (he died in 2001), taught blues musician B.B. King and is purported to have given him his first guitar. King remained a close friend of the family until he died in 2015.
The story goes that my paternal grandfather, William Townsend, left Mississippi for Arkansas then to Cairo, Illinois with his family after a boll weevil epidemic ruined the cotton industry in the 1910s and they had to find work elsewhere. Another story is that Grandpa Will had killed a white man–no doubt in self-defense–and had to flee north. I suppose it was work opportunities at Studebaker that eventually brought most of the family to South Bend, Indiana.
I learned that Will’s grandfather was Isom Townsend (born in 1835), and his father was Jerry Townsend (born in 1810 in North Carolina), but that’s as far back as I go with that branch of the family. I don’t know who their parents were or if any of them were slaves at any time. They probably were. Where did we get the surname Townsend, I‘ve always wondered, and just what is our European connection?
As a kid, and since he did live in South Bend, too, I did get to know my Grandpa Will and got to visit with him on occasion, such as family gatherings and such. I remember him as being a nice, jovial man who loved his family. I never knew my paternal grandmother, Minnie Henson, however, who was Syrus’ youngest offspring, for she died in 1934. Grandpa Will died in 1960.
Besides Lester (ne Luster) and my father, Earl, their other siblings were Aaron, Amy, George, Joseph (first name, Henson), Lenora, Lillian, Lottie, Ora and two other unknown half-brothers whom Will sired after my grandmother died. I never knew Uncle George (he died before I was born) or my alcoholic Aunt Lillian, who died when I was very young. But I knew and spent time with Uncles Joe and Aaron and Aunts Amy and Lenora, who lived in South Bend (and died there) and Aunt Ora, who lived in Kansas City. Aunt Lottie remained in Cairo. Lester, the third-born, had all the characteristics and maladies that did not suggest future longevity. He was sickly from birth and plagued by migraines from an early age. But he managed to survive all his siblings and was the oldest and longest-living relative of our family.
Lester was married to his wife, Rena, for 80 years, until she died in 2015, at the age of 99. They had two daughters, Gwendolyn and Drapel, both still alive, and a son, Oris, who is deceased. Being a few years older than I am, I did not see my cousins too often growing up, except for occasional visits and family gatherings. Gwen is quite the scholar, however. She has a doctorate in philosophy and served as vice-president at Livingstone College in Salisbury, North Carolina and dean at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida. I don’t have any T on Drapel, although I suspect that she is a smartie as well.
All I know about Lester’s work history is that he was a farmer, a social worker and factory worker. He did work at Studebaker for a time, as did my dad, and he never had to fight in any wars. When I was attending Linden Elementary in South Bend, Lester was our school custodian. He still remembered the names of the teachers who were there at the time. That was over 60 years ago! I don’t remember most of them myself! Lester was a kind man of even temperament, soft-spoken, and like his father before him, he loved his family.
I have a few notable relatives from the Henson side of the family, the most famous being explorer Matthew Henson [1866-1955], who actually was the co-discoverer of the North Pole in 1909. It has been proven that Henson actually got there first, but being a member of Peary’s expedition, naturally Peary received all the credit, initially. Matthew was Grandma Minnie’s uncle, therefore my great-great uncle. As a result of Matthew’s time spent in Greenland and eventual cohabitation with a local Inuit woman, there are a slew of Eskimo Henson cousins still residing up there, none of whom I have ever met, of course.
According to his Wikipedia page, which lists him as a relative of Matthew Henson, it appears that Josiah Henson, the original “Uncle Tom,” is my ancestor as well–my great-great uncle, I think. You see, great-granddaddy Syrus must be a descendant of one of Josiah’s [1789-1883] male offspring. Josiah eventually escaped to Canada and became a preacher and lecturer. His published narrative autobiography apparently caught the attention of Harriet Beecher Stowe, and during her research to get background on the book that she was writing, she sought Henson out and interviewed him and other former slaves. He must have impressed her enough to become the inspiration for the title character in her famous novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
I have a couple of talented and successful actor cousins, whom I haven’t met–namely, Taraji P. Henson, the star of “Person of Interest” and “Empire” on TV and lots of movies, comes from the North Carolina branch of the family, and director/writer Robert Townsend, who is rumored to be the son of my first cousin Thomas Townsend (Uncle Joe‘s son). My late cousin, Purvis Henson, played lead saxophone in Buddy Johnson’s Orchestra for many years. The pop gospel singing group, the Staples Singers, are also my cousins. I suspect that former member of the ‘60s vocal group The Fifth Dimension, Ron Townson, who I learned changed the spelling of his name from Townsend, may be my cousin as well. He hails from St. Louis, where many of my relatives make their homes, and he does have that Townsend family resemblance about him. Another actor, Darrin Dewitt Henson, may be a member of the Henson Clan as well, but I have not yet confirmed it. With so many cousins and such who don’t even know each other, we probably are all related somewhere in there.
My first-cousin Lottie Williams, Aunt Ora’s daughter, now deceased, was the mayor of Velda City, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, for several years. For a time it was believed that Oprah Winfrey was my second-cousin. On conducted genealogy research someone had concluded that Oprah’s grandmother Arah Townsend Winfrey and my grandpa Will were brother and sister, but that was not corroborated by any other source and has since been proven not to be true.
During his last year in office, Lester got to meet Barack Obama. POTUS was in the South Bend area, and 2nd District Congressman Lynn Coleman, a friend of my uncle, thought that Barack would be interested in meeting someone who was 108-years-old (at the time) and a living grandson of a slave. They made it happen. In 2017 during the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration, Lester, who was an advocate for voting, received a “Drum Major” Award (whatever that is) from Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
People have asked me what was the secret of Lester’s amazing longevity? I don’t have a clue. He was not even ailing and seemed to be in remarkable health, in spite of his age. Just like the centenarian Okinawans, maybe taking life slow and easy is the key. Lester maintained a vegetable garden at his home, and for exercise, he rode his bicycle every day. He wasn’t doddering but still had his mind and wits about him. The man just finally wore out, I guess. Was it just good genes, good living, what? I don’t know. All I can say is, Bless his heart! I just hope I can follow his example.
I watched the low-budget film The Zodiac Killer (1971) one night on TV, which is a fictionalized production but based on a real case of a serial killer’s reign of terror during the ‘60s and ‘70s in northern California. Although the killer sent letters to the local newspapers with clues to his actions and whereabouts, he was never apprehended. They had a likely suspect, but they could never prove that he was “The Guy.” There are five other filmed versions of the story: The Zodiac (2005), Zodiac and Curse of the Zodiac, both of 2007, and Awakening the Zodiac (2017). The History Channel ran a series called “The Hunt for the Zodiac Killer” (also 2017), and there is the 2023 documentary called “The Myth of the Zodiac Killer,” which attempts to debunk what is previously regarded as the true facts of the case. The subject killer dubbed himself “The Zodiac,” which had nothing to do with his killings or the victims. So I got the idea for a new take on the Zodiac Killer by using astrology and the actual Zodiac to inspire the murders.
Rather than a standard whodunit, as the reader will know who the killer is, this crime story is rendered as a murder game. It is a mystery nonetheless, as you and the other characters won’t understand everything that is going on until it’s explained to them. I invite you to play along as well. Let’s see if you can discover the hidden clues before they are revealed to you. So as not to insult anyone’s intelligence, I purposely don’t explain everything. If you don’t understand a certain reference, I suggest that you find out what it means on your own. You can expect some surprises, too, I hope.
As this is contrived as a game for myself as well as the people in the story, I have chosen to employ certain rules and limitations. Although the names of the characters are made up, and any similarity to any real persons with those names is purely coincidental, the geographical locations used and all music and media references are real. I think that citing real places might give the story some degree of plausibility. The people who actually live in those towns might think they are safe, because “nothing ever happens here,” but may develop a new sense of dread and foreboding when they realize that they are not all that safe, and this could conceivably happen to them or anybody. Large, major cities are not the only places where heinous crimes occur. Psychopathic nuts can turn up anywhere. And do! Despite the grim subject matter, my goal is to entertain, enlighten and make you laugh. I don’t do anything that is entirely serious. I hope I don’t give anybody any ideas by ostensibly illustrating how to get away with murder.
ALL ABOUT JOHN
John Smith, the serial killer of the story, is 30-years-old and lives with his parents (but has his own private residence) on a sprawling estate in Southampton, Long Island, New York. John is well-off financially, being one of the co-founders of YouTube, and since 2005 he receives a very generous monthly salary from the corporation. John has the means to travel long distances, as he flies his own private jet, leaving no documented record of his comings and goings, and has the means to procure the items needed to carry out his elaborate murders. He also pays cash for everything, so as not to leave a paper trail of credit card or debit transactions.
Since he doesn’t have a real job, John has a lot of time on his hands to do the required research and to plan his murders. His victims are chosen with special criteria. It’s not at all personal. He doesn’t know them or have anything against any of them. It’s all just a self-indulgent game with him. First, he consults atlases and the directories of U.S. (and Canadian) cities and locales that are sun-sign-related in name, then he checks the town’s residents directory to find people’s names that have something to do with the Zodiac, and then picks one who was born under each particular sign. Next, he finds out all he can about his chosen victims to discover anything that he can use against them. Their nationality or ethnicity is mentioned only to denote that John does not discriminate but is an equal opportunity murderer. He is an egoistic megalomaniac who kills with no remorse. He is also charming and attractive, which helps him to gain his victims’ trust.
John is an only child and is what one would call a “mama’s boy.” His mother, Flora Aster Smith, is a world-renowned botanist who specializes in floristics. That’s the branch of botany dealing with the kinds and number of plant species in particular areas and their distribution. John helps his mother with her work, and now has become an expert himself in the field. He has knowledge of and access to many plants and flowers, as Flora maintains gardens, a nursery and a vast greenhouse facility that cultivates and houses said specimens. So as a tribute to Mom, a provided clue is John’s including an appropriate flower/plant or two with each of the bodies he dispatches.
John does have some daddy issues, though, which probably stem from the fact that his father has always seen John as a disappointment, although he is self-sufficient and does not depend on his parents for anything. Earl Smith is a high school football coach, and as John has never had any interest in team sports, he and his father don’t connect on an athletic level and don’t have much else in common. John’s activities involve using his brain instead of his brawn. While refusing to acknowledge his son’s genius, nothing John does is ever quite good enough for his dad. John does love his father and so much wants his respect and acceptance. So, since he doesn’t get approval from his perceivedly-uncaring father, John is attempting to get some degree of admirable appreciation from perfect strangers, even if it means killing innocent people in the process. He is testing his parents as well. How long will it take them to figure out that their son is a ruthless serial killer? In his mind, John thinks maybe that discovery and the fact that he is getting away with it, will finally impress his father. Yes, there is a bit of confused logic going on with this guy.
Since John allows a whole month between kills, it gives him plenty of time to plan. The only clues and tips the police team will get are from the murders themselves. He may leave a clue before his next murder, but as he does not leave specific whos, whens or wheres, they find out only after the fact. Even the victims themselves are all caught unawares, never suspecting that they are a potential target, until it‘s too late.
John is quite intelligent and is into games, puzzles and wordplay. He did attend Hofstra University for a few years on a music education and foreign languages program but didn’t finish. This was before he got rich and considered college to be a huge waste of money. He found that anything he wanted to know, he could learn on his own. So now he tends to be autodidactic and therefore well-read. John is also an avid movie buff and discophile with a vast and eclectic record collection. In keeping with the theme, he will leave an appropriate song or piece of music at each murder scene. You will find him to possess a wry sense of humor, too.
John is single and unattached. In fact, his sexual identity is a mystery. Even he doesn’t know what he is. You will discover, however, that he has picked up some campy lingo from somewhere along the way. John has never been romantically involved with anybody. A physical relationship has never been important to him; he instead prefers to connect with people cerebrally. Maybe that’s part of his problem. The child needs to get laid! Being a double Virgo, it appears that he has taken his sun sign to the literal extreme. John would like to find his intellectual equal, whether they be male or female. His desire is to discover if there is anyone in the country smart enough to figure out his game, sick as it is.
ARIES, THE RAM
A single, Jewish man named A. Reese Ramin, 37, runs a sheep farm in rural Ramsey, New Jersey. He has worked all week tending his small flock of ten sheep. Sheepherding is not as prevalent as it once was, but it still does exist in some places. Reese makes cheese from his sheep’s milk and sells their wool. Although an Easterner, Reese’s favorite sports team is the L.A. Rams. Its being Saturday night, April 1, 2017, and his birthday, Reese decides to go out and celebrate. In fact, this has become a regular ritual with him, to go out trashing on the weekend. He maintains a secure enclosure for his sheep, and as long as they have been properly fed, it is safe for them to be left alone for hours at a time.
Reese’s favorite leather bar, the Ramrod, where the cruising is usually pretty good, is located in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. He drives there (in his Dodge Ram pickup truck) and parks in the small parking area behind the bar. When John selected Reese to be his first victim, he began to study him and follow him, in order to learn his behavior pattern. John is pretty sure that Reese will show up at his favorite bar on this particular night, and therefore is waiting for him when he arrives. There is nobody else there at the moment. It must be a slow night. In fact, and to John’s fortunate luck, nobody arrives or leaves the bar during this entire encounter, therefore no witnesses.
Reese gets out of his truck and notices John standing against his own vehicle, checking him out. (Ooh, he’s cute! And he looks as if he is on my case.) John speaks first.
“Hey, man, what’s up?”
“Oh, not a whole lot. It is my birthday, though.”
“Well, happy birthday! Come here. I have something for you.”
“You do? What is it?” Reese walks over to where John is standing. They don’t bother to introduce themselves.
“How would you like a fantastic birthday blow job?”
(Well! Okay. Why not? I never turn down a blow job…especially from someone so good-looking. This may turn out to be a good night after all.) (Or not.) John opens the hatch of his station wagon and tells Reese to get in and lie down on his back. Reese complies, as this is not the first time he’s had anonymous, outdoor sex. John is wearing gloves.
“Look, man, I am going to blindfold you. I have a surprise for you as well.”
“Ooh, kinky! Are you a freak?”
John mumbles under his breath, “You have no idea!”
After he blindfolds him, John then proceeds to pull off the other’s pants and briefs and pushes his legs up over his head, baring his behind. From a bag he takes out two ram’s horns that he purchased from a retail store and proceeds to insert one of them into Reese’s anal cavity. When Reese begins to moan with pleasure, John says, “Oh, you like that, do you! Well, try this on for size.” John then takes the other horn and proceeds to ram it down Reese’s throat, causing the poor man to choke and when he can no longer breathe, he suffocates to death. John had straddled his victim and held his arms down with his knees to prevent him from fighting back or defending himself. He next blows on the protruding end of both horns, therefore keeping his word of giving the guy a “blow job.“
After ramming both horns the rest of the way in, until only the rims are showing, John then removes the blindfold and deposits the body, along with the guy’s pants, on the ground next to his truck. Since John doesn’t need the money, he doesn’t rob any of his victims, as he wants the police to be able to identify them. The names are so important, after all. You know those lettered flash cards that are used to teach children or whomever the alphabet? Well, John will be leaving one at each of his crime scenes. This first card has the letter “A” on it. You will learn the significance of these letters in due course. John places some ramie and ramtil plants around the body. On a portable music player, John has chosen Paul McCartney‘s “Ram On” for his music clue. As John drives away, he utters to the corpse, “Mazel tov, you April Fool!”
Patrons from the bar soon discover the body, and the homicide division and coroner are summoned to the scene. They have no suspects. Some admit to having seen the victim before, but nobody really knows him. All the bar patrons questioned have undisputed alibis for the determined time of death. Besides, the killer would not be still on the premises, would he?
“Let’s just chalk it up as another unsolved murder. You know that these rough-trade faggots are always killing each other.”
In order to give the cops a heads-up that there is something to concern them and get them on board, John decides to leave another clue for them, in the form of a cryptic message. I mean, after all, he needs someone to play with him or what’s the point? In the middle of Sheep Meadow in New York’s Central Park later that night, placed there when no one is around, a printed sign, stuck in the ground, will be discovered the next day, which reads, “E PLURIBUS UNUM. THE GAME‘S AFOOT.” John is hoping that it will be realized that nothing he does is coincidental or insignificant and that everything is put where it is for a reason. It’s up to the cops to figure out what it all means. They shouldn’t take anything for granted.
TAURUS, THE BULL
It took some doing, but John manages to round up the bulls that he needs for his next stunt. He visits every ranch and farm (except his victim’s, of course) in Bullhead City, Arizona and its surrounding area to purchase or lease some bulls. Eight should suffice. John does not meet any of the ranchers in person, only by telephone. Surprisingly, none of them seem to care why he wants them. They just take the money and don’t ask any questions. John does assure them, though, that the bulls won’t be harmed. He arranges to have their cash payment delivered to them and then have the bulls placed where he can pick them up himself without the owners’ assistance.
Ella Toro, 46, is a Mexican-American cattle rancher. As a young woman living in Nogales, Arizona, Ella was an occasional professional bullfighter. When she gave up that activity some years ago, she moved to Bullhead City and bought a ranch on which to raise cattle. As it’s her birthday, Tuesday, May 2nd, after feeding her stock, Ella decides to relax for the rest of the day. But always the multi-tasker, while watching a double feature of Bull Durham and Raging Bull on TV this morning, she repairs a chipped, beloved knickknack of hers with Elmer’s Glue and is now out in the yard of her ranch house, with her faithful bulldog, Bullseye, at her side, sipping a bullshot (a cocktail made of vodka and bouillon) while reading The Story of Ferdinand and listening to “The Lonely Bull“ by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass on her mp3 player with her headphones, when she is attacked.
John has rented one of those huge Red Bull company delivery vans, onto which he has loaded the animals. They are packed in there like sardines. So naturally, when John opens the doors of the “bullpen” to let them out, they don’t hesitate to get out of there, which causes an ensuing stampede. John has a bullwhip handy to prod them, but he didn’t need to use it.
Ella doesn’t see or hear the van drive up, and as she is sitting with her back to the onslaught, she doesn’t realize what is happening until it is too late and the beasts are upon her. Even Ella’s own bulls decide to join the festivities. At least Bullseye had the sense to flee, so as not to be trampled herself. As there are no witnesses to the rampage, the hoof prints and horn holes on the body should determine the cause of death.
The bull herd all disperses to wherever. John does not attempt to retrieve them. He has paid for them, so it’s no longer his problem. If the original owners want their property back, they will have to find them themselves. John places the mangled corpse in the shovel blade of a bulldozer there on the premises, with some bullbrier and bulrushes strewn about the body. There are two gold coins included with her “T” letter card. John then gets back into the van and drives away. He returns the truck to where he got it and retrieves his plane at where he left it.
Ella’s body is discovered later that day when one of her neighbor friends drops by for a visit and is alerted by Bullseye’s distressful whimpering. She will hear Jacques Brel’s “The Bulls,” being played through a bullhorn used as a speaker, which John set up before he left. He put the recording on a loop to play over and over again. Ms. Toro’s favorite TV show was “Bull,“ by the way. She just loved that Michael Weatherly. Ella drove a Ford Taurus sedan, and being an avid sports fan, Ella was always partial to the Chicago Bulls, for some reason.
As an added clue before the next murders, and before returning to Long Island, John makes two additional stops–in Twin Bridges, Montana and Twinsburg, Ohio–to leave this appearing-to-be anonymous message on a roadside billboard in each place, which reads, “STUDY THE STARS.” John wants to see if whoever discovers it, first of all, will understand it to be a reference to the constellations and the astrology angle and make a connection to the previous as well as the subsequent murders. These clues should be enough to get them on track. The town’s names also will prove significant. The signs are not really anonymous either, for if anyone should examine them closely enough, they will find in the lower left corner of the billboards and on the previous sign in the Park as well, in small letters, “J.S.”, the killer’s initials! You see, although he wants to be helpful in finding him, he wants them to put in some real effort. This is a lot of work for John, so the police need to work as well.
Samantha Marlowe is a recent divorcee with a 10-year-old daughter named Ariel. A few weeks ago, on a Sunday, her day off from work, Samantha just happened to be in Central Park with Ariel and came upon John’s placed sign. Her being a curious person and somewhat suspicious about almost everything, she took the sign with her, suspecting that it must mean something, or else it would not be there. She could justify its removal as being litter or even graffiti.
GEMINI, THE TWINS
The times when John needs his car to execute his murders, he drives instead of flying to the location. He always returns home after each murder, as he has a cat to feed and to check in with his parents. Sometimes they are not even aware that he’s been away. They are still clueless about what is going on with their son. Since he flies his own plane and is always traveling somewhere, they don’t suspect that he’s doing anything out of the ordinary. On these particular occasions, John doesn’t tell his folks where he goes, and they seldom ask.
On a June Friday night John gets a room at the Copshy Motel in Minneapolis and signs his real name on the register. It is often assumed that that name is fake anyway, so in this case he feels that he doesn‘t need to make one up. Moreover, the name is common enough as not to be regarded as anything unusual or special. John is ready to crash, as he is quite exhausted, having driven directly there from Long Island.
The next victims are conjoined, Italian-American, identical twin brothers named Castor and Pollux Dioscuri, age 28. They hail from Syracuse, NY but now work as co-managers of the Minnesota Twins baseball team. The brothers are connected at the breastbone and share vital organs and blood vessels, making successful separation not possible.
Saturday, early afternoon, on their birthday, June 3rd, John makes a call to the Dioscuri Brothers at their office, posing as a maintenance man for Target Field, where the team plays their home games. There seems to be a serious mechanical problem in the team’s locker room that requires their immediate attention, he tells them. There is no game today and few people about, but all attending to other matters. The brothers agree to deal with the problem themselves. John is wearing typical work clothes, befitting a custodian or handyman.
When the twins arrive at the vacant locker room, John offers them some Doublemint chewing gum, which they accept, as it is their brand of choice. While they are casing the so-called “problem,” John overtakes them by surprise and kills them both by hacking through the connective tissue with a double-bladed axe, separating them as the result. The twins did not put up much resistance when John attacked them. It was as if they had been drugged.
John leaves the bloody axe in the locker room so that the cops will surmise where the brothers actually were killed and how. Of course, there are no fingerprints on the axe. John always wears gloves whenever he is required to handle a murder weapon. He also leaves three gum wrappers on the floor next to the axe. After wrapping each body in plastic to prevent their blood from getting on everything, again unseen, he manages to carry (or drag) the men’s bodies to his car, which is parked right outside the building.
Then to add to the depravity, on two of the several bridges that connect the “Twin Cities,” (he picked two that look pretty much identical), one body will be found on the Minneapolis side of one bridge and one on the St. Paul side of the other, hence the Twin Bridges reference. John decides to wait until early Sunday morning, the next day, when the traffic is at its lowest, to dump the bodies on the two bridges. In both instances, he waits for the precise moment, when he thinks it won’t be noticed. It really doesn’t matter to John which brother goes where, although when facing them, Castor was the one on the left and Pollux was on the right. Some twinberry and twinflowers are added for one and the other. Their featured songs are, “I Had Twins” from The Boys from Syracuse and “Twin Soliloquies” from South Pacific. Each brother gets a letter card with an “O” on it. The boys’ favorite TV show was “Twin Peaks.”
The brothers were not missed on Saturday. They were seen in their office earlier that day, and it was just assumed that they had left for the day. Their unexpected, horrible deaths is only learned about on the Sunday evening news.
CANCER, THE CRAB
The next victim, Dr. Louise Crabbe, 50, is an oncologist (cancer specialist), originally from Baltimore, Maryland, but has her practice in Mattawa, Washington, the nearest town to Crab Creek Wildlife Area, where she is on a holiday/birthday picnic on Tuesday, July 4th with a few of her friends. John finds a convenient spot in the area to land and park his plane. He arrives early enough to hunt for the crabs he needs for his plan. He does find them and then proceeds to inject each one with a deadly serum. He discovers where the doctor will be spending the day and waits for her at the picnic grounds. Although this is supposed to be a party, Louise leaves her companions and finds a secluded area of the park where she can be by herself for a while. She will see them all later, she tells them. (She should have stayed with them.)
John seeks out the doc and to get her attention, poses as a strolling peddler, singing the “Crab Man Street Cry” from Porgy and Bess. Having a fondness for soft-shell crabs, Louise offers to buy one from him. She was just about to go down by the creek to look for some crabs herself, but this handsome, young man has now saved her the trouble. After introducing herself and informing him that it’s her birthday (which, of course, he already knew), John tells Louise that he will give her one of his crabs for free. He offers her four from which to choose, and of course, the one that she picks is one that kills her, although any choice would have rendered the same fatal result. While they are waiting for the crab to cook on her campfire, John starts to sing “Happy Birthday” to her and asks her to join in, which she does, tentatively at first.
“Sing out, Louise!”
Immediately after consuming the poisoned crab, Louise develops sarcomatous metastasis (a rapidly-spreading cancer organism) that destroys her vital, internal organs. John waits around in hiding until he is sure that his “gift” has accomplished its desired, fatal effect. An autopsy should provide the cause of death. A crab apple placed on a bed of crabgrass and crab cactus will be found with the body. John chooses John Williams’ “Dr. Crab’s Prize” from Memoirs of a Geisha over “The Legend of Miss Baltimore Crabs” from Hairspray as his song selection. Her letter card is another “T”.
Louise is discovered later when another camper happens by her campsite. Someone reports that they did hear some strange warbling in the distance, but they were too far away to see who was doing the singing. If anyone in the vicinity actually saw John, they didn’t pay him any attention and could offer no description or help when questioned later about it.
LEO, THE LION
It’s too bad that this guy’s name is Leo Lyon. He is just asking to be on John’s hit list! It’s Saturday, August 5th. John seeks out Leo, 39, at the wild animal reserve where he works as a zookeeper in Lyons, Georgia. John’s putting some distance between murder locales also adds to the investigative confusion.
Posing as the talent scout for the traveling circus that is in town for a few days (how convenient), John offers Leo an enticing job. John explains to him that they are in need of a lion tamer for one day. Their current one is “indisposed,” and they need someone to fill in for her. They don’t want to cancel tonight’s performance, as this is one of their most popular acts. Because of his longtime experience working with the big cats, John thought that Leo would do well with the circus felines, he tells him. I think that John’s offer to pay Leo $500 in cash for about 15 minutes of work is probably what convinces him to accept the job. Leo considers this to be an unexpected, welcome birthday present. Even though John pays him in advance, he won’t get to spend any of it!
That night at the Big Top, and alone in the lion’s cage, Leo is all ready to meet his “charges.” The tent is packed with eager spectators. John has given Leo a tied bouquet of dandelions and asked him to place them down somewhere in the cage. Not realizing their real significance, he just takes it as a decorative gesture and complies with the request without question. John has kept the animals from him until now, and neither the owner of the circus nor the ringmaster has been informed of the personnel change.
It turns out that the real lion tamer, Sue Dellaso, has been abducted and held captive by John, unbeknownst to anybody. Earlier John had sneaked up behind the young woman while she was alone and put a rag containing chloroform over her mouth. When she came to, she found herself tied up, gagged and locked in a utility closet on the premises. Somebody at the circus will find her later and let her out, but only after the deadly deed has been done.
With no one officially in charge, John has managed to starve the lions all day, plus the fact that they don’t know Leo, and for added measure, John has smeared raw meat all over Leo’s costume! John then situates himself among the spectators, so that he may witness the result of his nefarious manipulations. When a circus hand opens the door of the cage where the five lions are being kept, they immediately pounce on Leo, chomp on him and maul him to death, to the utter horror of the crowd. The circus personnel are asking each other, “Who in blazes is that?!” and “Where in the hell is Sue?” Nobody has a clue. They were all tending to their own business and chores before showtime, so no one noticed the switch.
By this time John has skulked off the premises unnoticed. Leo’s letter card is “S”. The song that they find on the music player, placed there earlier in the day, is Julie Andrews singing, “Don‘t Go in the Lion‘s Cage Tonight.” It’s too late now to heed the warning! Of course, Leo was a member of the local branch of the Lions Club, and his favorite football team was the Detroit Lions.
VIRGO, THE VIRGIN
Miss Donna Athena Parthenopolos is a 16-year-old, chaste, high school student from San Francisco, now a devout Catholic, having converted from Greek Orthodox (she even has a tattoo of Mary on her arm) and plays a virginal. Donna with her mom and dad have flown on Virgin America Airlines to spend Labor Day week with her grandparents in their hometown of Virgin, Utah, before Donna has to resume school in a couple of days back in San Francisco. She would have been a junior. John is overjoyed when he learned where his next victim would be spending her fateful day, as it will suit his purpose perfectly.
On Wednesday, September 6th, while the adults are busy preparing for the family birthday celebration, Donna is in her room enjoying a glass of Newman’s Own Virgin Lemonade. Finding nothing of interest on the TV, she decides to go out for a stroll by herself, not telling her folks where she is going. Once outside, she is soon approached by John, who has been lying in wait for her, as he was pretty sure, or at least hoping, that she would leave the house at some point. He immediately lays on the charm. He compliments her, wishes her a happy, sweet sixteen birthday and her finding him friendly and really cute, he gains her trust.
“I had a birthday myself just yesterday. I’d like to show you something. Come walk with me down to the river, lovely miss.” (The Virgin River) When he gets the young girl there, alone, he proceeds to strangle her with a striped scarf made of virgin wool that’s been soaked with virgin olive oil and leaves the body there on the riverbank for her distraught parents to find later, when they discovered their daughter gone and went looking for her.
The scarf is still around her neck, as it is another clue for the police. Virgin’s-bower and some Virginia creeper are also found with the body. Her letter card has a “U” on it. On the music player they will get Florence Price-Langston Hughes‘ “Song to the Dark Virgin,” which reflects Donna’s darkened complexion as the result of her strangulation.
SIGNS AND SUPPOSITIONS
It is late September. By now somebody should smell a proverbial rat. Come on, these specialized murders can’t all be mere coincidence and unrelated. But are they? At least one savvy, Afro-American, Manhattan homicide detective, by the name of Samantha Marlowe, 38, is starting to make a connection. When news reports start coming into the precinct about some bizarre deaths occurring in various parts of the country the last few months, it has piqued her interest that they may be connected in some way, and she has requested to look into it and head the investigation, even though it may be out of their jurisdiction. A man killed with ram’s horns in April? A woman attacked by bulls in May? A pair of twins hacked to death in June? Say! Does she detect a theme here? Samantha did further checking and learned that this past July a woman developed terminal cancer from eating a poisoned crab.
“And get a load of this, guys.“ Samantha tells her crime team, “In August a man in Lyons, Georgia, by the name of Leo Lyon, I kid you not, was mauled to death and eaten by a pride of lions. I don’t believe that all those deaths could be coincidental. I think we may have another, but real this time, Zodiac serial killer on the loose.” (But could only one person be responsible for such a complex undertaking? Might it be a group effort perhaps, a conspiracy? There is nary a suspect yet. If it is just one person and assuming it is a man, they don’t even have an idea where he lives, as his murders occur all over the country. Hmm.) “Hey, wait a second! Maybe I know more than I think I do. I just had a thought. Let me take a look at that sign again. I didn’t see it before, but now it’s making some sense. What if this sign was put there by the killer to get our attention? See here? ‘E pluribus Unum‘–one, out of many. That could mean that he has already killed one and there will be more to come. He knows Latin, so he is probably a scholar. It’s our nation’s motto, too, so might we assume that he is an American? And ‘The game’s afoot’. That’s what Sherlock Holmes often would say when he took on a new case. That sounds like a challenge to me. He’s playing with us. But who would go through all that trouble planning and carrying out these intricate murders for the sake of a game? How bizarre is that? Wait! What’s this? J.S. Could that be their initials?”
Jerry Olson (a 45-year-old Afro-American man): “Hey, Sammy! Where did you find this sign anyway?”
“In Central Park.“
“But where exactly?“
“Oh. In Sheep Meadow. Ahh! Okay, I get it now. I‘ll bet that he had just killed that guy in Brooklyn and then left this sign to let us know that it was he.”
Colin Spenser (a 42-year-old Americanized Brit): “Should we also assume that he is a New Yorker, then?”
“He could well be. So this case may be our business after all. I wonder if this guy has left us any more clues somewhere that may be relevant? Let‘s examine these murders further. We have some detailed reports here. Who are the murdered victims? What do we know about them? Do they have anything in common with each other? The first guy, if he was the first, is A. Reese Ramin.”
Danny Gates (44-years-old): “Come on! For real?”
“Yep, that’s his name. And he actually was an Aries, and a shepherd, to boot!”
Danny: “Git outta town!”
Colin: “So then, Sheep Meadow was the perfect place to put that sign, alerting us to his murder.”
“That’s right. Did you know that it’s named thus because once upon a time sheep used to graze there? But get this. The ‘A’ in his name stands for Abel, who you will recall is the first Biblical murder victim and who happens to have been a shepherd!”
“Consider, too, that the murder weapons, ram’s horns, which were used for ramming, were obtained from the heads of male sheep, rams, alluding to where he was killed–the Ramrod Bar, frequented exclusively by males, in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn!”
“Plus, his being Jewish, you know, don’t you, that that particular horn, or shofar, as it’s called, is used in Jewish religious services? The killer made sure to use ram’s horn shofars, rather than ones made from kudu, as ‘battering rams.’ There is no way to determine where they were purchased. Anybody want to guess what kind of vehicle he drove?”
Jerry: “Is that important to know?”
“No, not really. But as he was gay, for cruising purposes, I think that a Dodge Ram ‘pickup’ truck would prove useful, don‘t you?“ They all laugh.
Jerry: “Sammy, be nice.”
“I’m just sayin’. The song playing on a portable music player was Paul McCartney’s ‘Ram On.’”
Danny: “Hmm. In that poor man’s case, it should be ‘Ram In.’”
Samantha: “Danny!” They all laugh.
Danny: “Like his name, in fact. Let me see that.” He takes the paper from her. “Here’s one that occurred in Bullhead City, Arizona. She was a cattle rancher named Ella Toro.”
Colin (with an Italian accent): “You mean, like el(a) toro, the bull?”
“Uh-huh. Along with the holes made by their horns, her body was riddled with multiple hoof prints, as if she had been gored and trampled by a stampede.”
Danny: “Of solely bulls, it was determined, when some of them were recovered later. She might have had a better chance in Pamplona. At least there she would have gotten a head start.”
Jerry: “I hear you, man. But speaking of head… As it was with the rams, this Toro woman was killed by the heads of bulls, and it all took place in Bullhead City! What do you think of that?”
Colin: “That is ‘bully,’ mate.”
Danny: “Ha-ha! Yes, she certainly ‘took the bull by the horns,’ didn’t she? It also says here that her mangled body was found placed on the blade of a bulldozer, and a song was playing through a bullhorn speaker. What was it, Sam? I don‘t think I know it.“
“It’s a song by Jacques Brel, appropriately called, ’The Bulls.’ Not much stock was taken about the gold coins they found, but I don’t see it as insignificant. They were put there for a reason, as another theme clue, if nothing else. From their description I believe those coins to be bullions.”
Danny: “Of course they are. It was reported by several motorists that they spied a huge Red Bull truck on the highway at about the same time. That must be how the animals were transported.”
Jerry: “Hmm. A single cattle rancher. And it says here that she was also a former bullfighter. I wonder if she was a ‘bulldagger’ (or ‘bulldyke’) as well?”
Danny: ”Ha-ha! That would complete the picture, wouldn’t it?”
Samantha: “Although, with the subsequent murders, we shouldn’t assume that the killer is targeting gays. That first guy just happened to be an unfortunate victim of circumstance.”
Colin: “But which is why those Brooklyn cops didn’t bother to follow up with an investigation. Apparently they don’t care about some dead sodomite.”
“So it would seem. The killer was probably counting on them to have that very attitude. By nobody looking for him, it gave him a better chance to proceed with his next killing.”
Colin: “I’m sure you’re right, Sam.”
“Get this one, fellas. The bodies of those separated, conjoined twins were found in both Minneapolis and St. Paul, collectively known as ’The Twin Cities.’ Check out their names, though. Castor and Pollux Dioscuri!”
Danny: “Why, that’s the names of the Gemini twins of the constellation!”
“Exactly. And they were co-managers of the Minnesota Twins baseball team. Do you know where they were from originally? Syracuse, New York.”
Jerry: “Is that significant of something?”
“The Boys from Syracuse! It’s a Rodgers and Hart musical based on Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors, about two sets of misplaced twins. That’s where the song ‘I Had Twins‘ is from. He had twins, all right. He had them separated and killed! It was determined that they were killed in Target Field’s locker room. That’s where were found some gum wrappers and the purported murder weapon, a double-bladed axe.”
Danny: “That makes sense.”
“I suppose the brothers had their own ‘separate’ thoughts while they were being slaughtered, hence the ‘Twin Soliloquies.’ During a routine examination of their bodies, chewing gum was found in both of their mouths, and there were traces of ketamine in their systems, which is a drug that causes bodily weakness and confusion. That must be how the killer was able to overtake them so easily in order to kill them. It probably was administered via the gum, which must have been laced with the stuff. Anybody care to guess what gum brand it was?”
“I’ll take a stab, Sammy. Let me see. Was it, uh…Doublemint, by any chance?”
“You got, it, Jere! That was good thinking.”
“I’m beginning to understand this killer’s trip. Just like, and I am assuming that there isn’t or he would have used it, I’ll bet he wishes there were a Lyons, Maine and that Leo Lyon lived there. You know what I‘m sayin‘?”
“Ha-ha. You’re probably right. You can’t have everything. You just do with what you got, I guess. I learned that none of those circus people knew who the hell Leo was. Unbeknownst to anybody, the killer apparently had substituted him for their real lion tamer, a Ms. Sue Delasso, whom he had drugged and hidden in a supply closet somewhere. She, then, was no help, and of course, they couldn’t ask Leo how he happened to be there or who hired him. It is all still a mystery to them. They don’t know what to think. So far it appears what the victims have in common is that they all relate to the Zodiac in some way. The towns and places where his murders occur are also significant. Since the killer left a clue after the first murder, might he have left another one after the second, just in case we missed the first one? I’m curious. You know me. This is only a hunch, mind you. Give me a minute.” Samantha goes to her computer and googles “U.S. towns that have ‘twin’ in their names.” What comes up: Twin Bridges, Montana, Twin Falls, Idaho and Twinsburg, Ohio.
“Uh, huh! Maybe the killer has cited one or more of these particular towns in which to leave a clue. Let’s check it out.” Samantha picks up her phone and dials directory assistance to get the number of the Twin Bridges, Montana Sheriff’s department. She dials the number, and a man answers.
“Hello, this is Captain Samantha Marlowe of the NYPD Major Crimes Unit. To whom am I speaking?”
“This is Sheriff Jasper Wright. How may I help you, Captain?”
“Well, Sheriff, this may seem like a strange question to ask you, but have you yourself come across or has anybody reported seeing a mysterious sign of some sort around town that you or they don’t understand?”
“Lord, it’s funny that you would ask that, because there is something here that has caused the townsfolk pause. It was the first week in May when somebody put up a roadside billboard with a message on it. We don’t know who rented it, but they paid six months in advance for it, so it hasn’t been taken it down yet. I don’t know if it’s some kind of ad or what it is.”
“Sheriff Wright, will you tell me what the sign says, please?”
“All it says is, ’Study the stars.’ What does that mean?”
(Just what it says, I would think.) “I have an idea. But first I need to know if there is anything else written on the sign anywhere. Anything at all.”
“Well, I don’t know for sure. I would have to look at it again. Can I call you back?”
“You certainly can. Please do.” She gives him her number. “Look at the lower left-hand corner, if you will, Sheriff. Goodbye for now.” Samantha hangs up and dials directory assistance to get the number of the police department in Twin Falls, Idaho. But when she dials the number, she gets an answering machine message telling her that the station is closed for the day and to leave a message, if desired. As she would need questions answered on the spot, Samantha refrains from saying anything and just hangs up. She next tries to reach somebody in Twinsburg, Ohio. When the police sergeant there, Garth Loomis, answers and she has identified herself, Samantha asks him the same question that she had asked Sheriff Wright. They, too, have a mysterious billboard that cropped up the first week in May. This time Samantha tells the sergeant what is written on the billboard. “By any chance, is the message, ‘Study the stars.‘?”
“Well, I’ll be horn-swoggled! That’s exactly what it says. How in the world could you know that?”
“It was a lucky guess. Sergeant, it’s too much to go into right now. I don’t have all the facts yet myself. The message is merely a clue for a case that I am working on, but I am sure that you don’t have anything to worry about. I appreciate your help and cooperation. Bye, now.”
Jerry: “So, what was that all about, Sammy?”
“Well, I’ll tell you. Listen to this. This guy, whoever he is, took the trouble to put up twin billboards in the towns of Twin Bridges and Twinsburg, suggesting that we study the stars–astrology being the study of stars, you see–and then murders a pair of twins named after a constellation and deposits their corpses, not in either of those places, but on twin bridges in the Twin Cities. How is that for calculated, organized sick? Although I do have to admire his clever wit and attention to detail. The message is subtle but quite direct. It alerts us to the astrology angle to this whole thing, in case somebody missed it.”
“Hey, mates! It wasn’t those unfortunate Dioscuri blokes but some other ones. Do you know why the American conjoined (at the hip) twins moved to England?”
Danny: “No, why, Colin?”
“To give the other one a chance to drive.” They all laugh.
“How considerate. What about the Louise Crabbe report? Somebody heard someone singing out there at Crab Creek but was too far away to see who it was. They did make out the words, however. They heard, ‘She crab, devil crab, I‘m talkin’ about the food I sells…’ Is that from something, Sam?”
“I know that one, Danny Boy! It‘s the ‘Crab Man Street Cry’ from Porgy and Bess.”
“You’re right, Jere.”
“So, she herself was the crab, hence her name, and I‘ll bet you that he sold her the tainted ‘devil’ crab that later killed her, as he alluded to in the song.”
“Yeah, that was ‘Dr. Crab’s Prize,’ although it turned out to be lethal. But I suspect that he gave her the crab for free, as a birthday present, perhaps. I mean, why make her pay for her own murder weapon? I suspect he doesn‘t need the money. By the way, since Dr. Crabbe’s music example was entirely instrumental, our killer had the decency to identify it for us. Otherwise, even I wouldn’t have known what it was. They used one of those devices that distort one’s voice, so we can’t even tell for sure if it is male or female.”
Danny: “Well, we can see that they are no dummy. They really know their stuff and has done their homework.”
Colin: “I think that clinches it, then. This bloke is the real Zodiac Killer, no doubt about that.”
Sheriff Wright calls back ten minutes later. “Well, Captain Marlowe, I did go look at that sign like you asked, and there really is something written on there, right where you said it would be, too. In very small print, the letters J and S.” Of course, Samantha already knew that before he told her. “So, you think that means something, eh?” Samantha tells him what she had told the other officer, that it’s just a clue to a case and that it does not concern him in any way. Samantha thanks him for his trouble and cooperation. After she hangs up the phone, Samantha tells her colleagues that she is now convinced that the sign that she found in the Park and those billboards were rendered by the same person, someone with the initials, J.S.
“We don’t need to call Twin Falls again. I think we found out what we wanted to know. We apparently got the right towns. Although one could say that the twins did take a fall when they were dropped onto the bridges.”
“Hah! That’s deep. Only you would think of that, Sammy.”
“I’m just sayin’. The game is indeed afoot, guys.”
LIBRA, THE BALANCE (or SCALES)
So now that he has accomplished the first half of his murder game successfully, John thought that he would do something different, complicate things a little more. Libra’s being the only inanimate sign, poses a challenge in itself. Roman Pound, 33, a single, Japanese-American (he was adopted) accountant, balances books for The Balance Point Corporation in Kansas City, Missouri (a real company). As John would like to execute (pardon the pun) this stunt at the more preferable Balance Point in Newfoundland, Canada, he will need to get Roman there somehow.
John gets Roman’s boss, Frank Abrams, to send him on a special assignment for his company, as Roman is his top accountant. Of course, he doesn’t know that he is sending his most valued employee to his death. All communication is done through written correspondence via their laptops. John and Frank never meet face-to-face or even speak on the telephone. This time he does use a fake name. John offers to cover all of Roman’s expenses–he even will get weekend overtime pay–and will fly him to Canada himself in his private jet. How can they refuse such generosity?
In addition and in advance, John has paid some construction men in Newfoundland to build a balance beam high in the air over a secluded deep, dry gorge (that he found during his scouting of the area), according to his specifications. As long as they are being well-paid, nobody asks any questions. It seems that people with money can get folks to do just about anything. John himself provided and put the scale in place at an earlier time.
The bogus assignment has something to do with establishing some kind of association with the namesake area and obtain statistical data that Abrams can use to procure a development contract or some such nonsense. Abrams thinks that he will greatly benefit from the deal, which is why he so willingly goes along with it. John is posing as a liaison for Abrams. His having to take care of local concerns, John agrees to stand in for him and convinces them both that he needs Roman to handle any business transactions that may occur.
John arranges to meet Roman alone at his home in Kansas City for their trip to Canada. As Roman tends to be a man of few words, there isn’t much talking during the flight. Roman chooses to relax–reading and dozing most of the way. Besides, whatever does transpire between them, Roman won’t be able to tell about it, will he? When they arrive at the death site on Saturday, October 7th, they find that a large scale has been placed (balanced) on a balance beam. It never occurs to Roman to ask how that beam got to be there, who put it there, or even why they are there, for that matter. Isn’t he at least a little bit curious?
The stunt that John is planning for Roman will involve a libratory endurance test that will require his willing participation. Maybe Roman’s knowledge of yoga and skill at martial arts will help him somewhat. But first John has to trick the man somehow into getting up there on that beam and scale. He learned that Roman is somewhat of a thrill seeker, daredevil and gambler, so he will use those to his advantage.
“Hey, Roman! It’s your birthday today, isn’t it?.”
“Yeah, but how do you know that?”
“Oh, I make it a point to learn all I can about the people I work with. So, happy birthday, my good man.”
“Say, let’s have a little fun, shall we, and make use of the situation here. I have an idea. Since you are a Libra, let’s celebrate by doing a sun-sign-related stunt. I’d like to see if you can balance yourself on that balance beam and scale there. I’ll even make it worth your while. How about this? I will bet you that you can’t balance yourself up there for, let’s say, just seven minutes. If you can’t do it, that’s all right. You won’t owe me anything. (Because you’ll be dead!) But if you succeed, I will pay you $700 in cash. That’s in addition to what I’m paying you for the assignment. I am good for it. Now that‘s an offer you can‘t refuse.”
“I think I can do that. It’s worth the try, anyway. I certainly can use the extra money.”
“That’s the spirit! Here, put on these headphones. This is for your listening pleasure while you’re up there. Do you like Burt Bacharach?”
“I do, actually.”
“Good! He is a favorite of mine, too.”
Roman takes the headphones and player and proceeds to climb the precipice to the balance beam and situates himself on the scale. Amazingly, Roman accomplishes the feat. He even seemed to enjoy the two songs provided for him, which are Burt Bacharach singing his and Hal David’s “The Balance of Nature” and John Bucchino’s “Until the Balance Tips,” which, prophetically, is still playing when just as he is about to climb down off of the scale, after seven minutes, it does tip a little, he loses his footing, and he falls to his death. (Lummox!) This delights John, as it was his intention all along for the man to fail (and fall). Too bad. Something ventured, nothing gained. This time John was glad to keep the money that he had offered Roman, as he has spent enough on this endeavor already.
The terrain below is anything but smooth and unencumbered. The guy’s body is “dashed to bits on the jagged rocks below.” There is no flower this time, but instead a blank ledger, or notebook, is placed with the body. You see, the Latin word for book is liber, which originally meant the inner bark of a tree, thus justifying the botanical connection, however subtle. It might be assumed that it’s Roman’s notebook, who brought it along to take, well, notes. The scale found with the body should be a more obvious clue. Roman’s letter card is a “P”.
Having not heard a word from him in a couple of days, Frank Abrams tries to reach Roman several times by phone, but never gets an answer. Of course, John can’t be found either. The guy that Frank was in touch with now doesn’t even exist. He subsequently contacts the local authorities in Newfoundland to report Roman missing. They have no idea where to look, as it is a big area out there.
Roman’s body is eventually found after several days of searching. Nobody knows for sure what really happened out there, but it’s suspected that some foul play was definitely involved. It even took considerable effort to track down the beam builders for some insight, but they were of no help. They never met their anonymous employer in person but only received written instructions and were paid in cash by a messenger service.
When Abrams receives word of his friend’s demise, he is devastated and wracked with abject guilt, understandably. Frank will never forgive himself for his blind trust and relinquishing that young man over to some unsubstantiated, mysterious stranger.
SCORPIO, THE SCORPION
An Afro-American woman named Dr. Nge Antares (she has a Ph.D.), 41, is an ethologist (that’s the study of animal behavior) with a fondness for scorpions, in particular. Dr. Antares’ second job is activities coordinator for guests staying at the local bed and breakfast inn in Monroe, Washington (a suburb of Seattle). She arranges hiking tours of nearby Scorpion Mountain (her favorite venue), located in the Central Cascades, where she meets her eventual demise on November 8th, a Wednesday.
Around noon on the day in question, the tour group travels the 34 miles from Monroe to the Central Cascades camping area by chartered bus. Nge does not mind working on her birthday, as it will be a fun outing as well, she hopes. They are to stay overnight. John flies out to Washington from New York and lands his plane in a secluded area within walking distance of Scorpion Mountain. He has already found out the tour schedule and knows when the group will be arriving and where they will be bivouacking. In the meantime, John goes scorpion hunting. He finds them to be all over the place, which is probably how the area got its name. For his purposes, he needs only eight, which he has no trouble obtaining. He has a large, zippered bag with a mesh panel to put them all in. He manages to remain out of sight (in his plane) until it’s safe to emerge.
After accomplishing their guided tour of the area, having dinner and a fun evening of socializing and lively and entertaining conversation, Nge and everyone else eventually retire to their designated tents to sleep or whatever. John is in hiding nearby, watching to see to where his targeted victim retreats. He waits until all is quiet and everyone is settled in before making his move. Ms. Antares is relaxing in her tent alone, watching an episode of “Scorpion” on her iPad, when John creeps in unannounced. Before she can even react to his sudden intrusion, he sticks a rag in her mouth, so that her cries and screams will be dampened. John then dumps his bag containing his collection of deadly scorpions onto Nge’s head and body and watches in fascinated glee as the creatures sting her to death. (“Them!“) The paralysis caused by the scorpions’ toxic venom renders the woman unable to move or escape the attack. This time for his music clues John chooses Paul McCartney’s “I Got Stung” and leaves a compact disc of Deadly Sting by the Scorpions, along with some stinging nettles and eglantine, a species of prickly rose. Nge gets an “H” letter card.
John returns to his plane where he parked it and flies back to Long Island. The tour guide’s body is discovered the next morning when someone goes to her tent to alert her that it is time to go back to the B&B in Monroe. Needless to say, they are shocked and horrified by what they find. From the nest of scorpions still present, it is deduced what happened to Nge. They know that the woman had a thing for scorpions, but she wouldn’t have done that to herself, would she? Could somebody in the present group be responsible? But it turns out that everyone is accounted for the whole time there. Then who did it, and why? Nobody has the vaguest notion.
SAGITTARIUS, THE ARCHER
Cupid’s Retreat, located in Tell City, Indiana, is an archery club, health spa, school and recreational facility for archery enthusiasts. Members can practice their archery skills alone or in competition events with others. Beginners can take classes to learn the sport. The complex also offers a dating service for singles looking for partners with common interests. Fletcher S. Bowman, 36, an American Indian of the Shawnee tribe and who manages the club, has finished teaching for the day, is closing up the place and is about to leave to go home to regroup, so he can celebrate his Saturday birthday, December 9th, with friends. He is there alone, as everyone has left.
Just as with the earlier bulls, John has managed to rent a horse from a local riding stable without meeting the owner in person. Singing the famous strain from the William Tell Overture, John comes riding up on horseback to where Fletcher is standing, just outside the front door of the main entrance. This time John will leave at the crime scene a selfie video of him committing the slaughter. Although it is cold out, for the sake of the film, he is without a coat but in costume instead, disguised as Robin Hood, carrying a quiver full of arrows and wearing a mask. He happens to have dabbled in archery as a youth.
After felling Fletcher with the first arrow, through his heart, John continues to riddle the poor guy’s body with eight more arrows. He rides away muttering, “Number 9…number 9…number 9…number 9…” Arrowroot and arrowwood along with an “I” letter card will be found at the scene. Fletcher’s favorite TV shows were “Archer” and “Arrow.” John’s featured song, appropriately, is “Arrow Through the Heart” by the Bee Gees.
When Fletcher does not show up for his party that evening, his concerned friends set about to look for him. When he doesn’t answer his phone after several attempts, they go to Cupid’s Retreat to see what is up. Again, what they find shocks and horrifies them all. And again, no one has a clue as to who is responsible. A seriously disgruntled club member, perhaps? But who? And why? All his associates and clients seem to have liked him. And what’s with what looks like horse poop all over the place? Was there a horse here? Where is Quackser Fortune when you need him? None of them got to look at the placed video of the slaughter, as they all knew not to touch anything before the police arrived to the scene.
CAPRICORN, THE GOAT
Female victim, Billie Capra, 24, from Capreol, Ontario and who works as a nanny, looks after two young children of a working Canadian couple. She was on call everyday throughout the recent holidays, and she finally gets some time off during the second week after the New Year. Even though it is the height of winter, Billie has always wanted to visit Niagara Falls, which is on the opposite side of the province where she lives. She plans on spending a couple of days there, to partake of all the regular tourist attractions. Early on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018, which happens to be her birthday, Billie drives down there alone and subsequently checks for overnight accommodations on the U.S. side of the Falls. She did not make prior reservations, because she wasn’t sure where she wanted to stay, until she got there.
John somehow gets wind of her plans and is waiting for her when she arrives. He finds Billie in the tourist area shopping for souvenirs, and posing as a freelance photographer, John approaches her and talks her into going with him over to Goat Island to take some candid shots of her in the natural settings. He tells her how beautiful she is–he rates her a “10,”…
(Hey, you’re pretty fly yourself!)
…and since it is her birthday, he won’t even charge her for the photos. This trusting young woman apparently has not learned that nothing is free, and that there must be a catch. As an added plus, John tells her that there even will be some goats on the island, having learned that goats are her favorite animals. (Chacun à son goût.) “Oh, what fun! Let’s do it!” she agrees.
When they arrive there, Billie is delighted to see, just as John had assured her, a trip of goats frolicking freely. Billie proceeds to pet some of them while John takes a couple of pictures of her posing with them. Soon John’s kind demeanor turns sinister. He forcibly attacks the young woman, tears her clothes off, ties her to a tree and orders the ten “horny” billy goats there with them to attack her and butt her to death. They then take their turn raping her, as they are all male and in heat.
John has chartered the island for the day, so no tourists are allowed in the area, therefore no witnesses to the attack. The park officials seemed not to care why he wanted the island. As usual, they just took his money, no questions asked. The arrangements were done by written correspondence, so nobody ever met John in person. He has apparently trained the goats to kill and rut on his command. John has placed goatsbeard and goat’s-rue flowers with the body. For her song, he’s going with “Billy Goat Hill” by The Kingston Trio, and her letter card contains an “N”.
By the time the body is discovered, John will be long gone. The goats are still there, however. Will they solely be held responsible for her death? But why is she there anyway, unless she is the person who chartered the island? It seems more likely, though, that someone must have lured her here in order to kill her. Then the question remains. Who, and why?
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Since it is not convenient to travel to all the different places where the murders have taken place, our crime team has to rely on the media and submitted police reports to get information on the cases. Samantha has contacted every murder locale to inquire about everything connected with the murders, the victims themselves, where and when exactly they were found, every aspect of the crime scene, no detail, no matter how minor, should be ignored or overlooked. It appears that nobody else is displaying the diligence to investigate all these murders. Since there are no follow-up murders in the same place and no suspects to pursue, why even bother? Even though Samantha has shared what she knows with the other police teams, they don’t seem interested enough to pursue the search. Each case is closed, as far as they are concerned. One would think that at least the FBI would have shown some interest, but the Bureau has no jurisdiction in local cases, unless it involves a kidnapping. So Samantha and her team have taken it upon themselves to be the ones to find this guy and bring him to justice.
Now that they know what to look for, a lot of it is making more sense. Reports are still coming in every month suggesting another Zodiac-themed murder, all of which are occurring in Zodiacal order, by the way. In September, a 16-year-old virgin was strangled on the banks of the Virgin River in Virgin, Utah with a virgin wool scarf soaked in virgin olive oil, no less! Samantha learned some other interesting things about her.
“Her name is Donna Athena Parthenopolos from San Francisco. Although it’s from 50 years ago, the lyrics of the song ‘Donna’ from Hair, sounds as if they were written for and about our girl here. Do any of you know the song? No? ’Lookin’ for my Donna (Madonna)…there was a sixteen-year-old virgin…San Francisco psychedelic urchin…Have you seen my sixteen-year-old tattooed woman? Heard a story, she got busted for her beauty.’ The girl did have a tattoo of Mary (another purported virgin) on her arm.”
Danny: “Well, Hair was a little before our time. And yours, too, wasn’t it, Sam?” He chuckles.
“Well, sure it was, but my parents were ‘60s free-spirit hippies, and they loved that show! I heard the Broadway Cast album often while growing up. But, I beg your pardon, Danny. Many musicals are before my time. What does that have to do with the price of eggs in China? With available recordings and revivals, I can still be familiar with them, can’t I? You all know what a musical nut I am.”
Jerry: “No shit, Sherlock!” The men laugh.
“Oh, now. Also, the girl’s middle name, Athena, is attributed to the virgin goddess, whose statue stands in the Parthenon, built in her honor.”
“You don‘t say! I hope her parents didn‘t expect their daughter to remain a virgin for her entire life.”
Colin: “Yeah, how about that? But as it turned out, Danny, she did!”
“You got that right. How did the killer know for certain that this girl was really a virgin?”
“With his obviously unlimited resources, he must have made sure somehow. Guys, I am greatly distressed by this murder in particular. Of course, the deaths of all of the others are not any more deserving, but to kill an innocent child for no reason is totally unforgivable. This guy seems to have no conscience whatsoever. I keep thinking that that could have been my Ariel, if being a virgin was the main qualification.”
Danny: “No, Sam, your daughter doesn’t meet the name or birthday requirements. So, she was completely safe, thank goodness. But you can still be grateful just the same, I suppose.”
“Hey, Sammy! What in hell is a virginal? I see here that this girl played one.”
“It’s a keyboard instrument, Jere, similar to a harpsichord. Yes, of the vast number of instruments she could have chosen to learn how to play, this one picked a virginal, of all things.”
Danny: “Hey, guys! Do you know from where they get virgin wool?”
Jerry: “I‘m not sure. Where?”
“From very ugly sheep.” The others have to think about that for a moment. Then they all get it and laugh.
Colin: “Baa! Humbug!” More laughter.
Jerry: “I knew this fast gal in high school named Virginia. They called her ‘Virgin’ for short…but not for long.”
Danny: “Oh-oh!“ More laughter.
“You guys are so bad! Now this next guy, Roman Pound, is posing a bit of a mystery for me.”
Colin: “How so?”
“Well, he was found all broken up at the bottom of a gorge up in Canada, and there was this narrow, makeshift platform extended high up across the crevice from which he could have fallen, I suppose. But why was he up there, I wonder? Did the killer push him off, or did he fall on his own volition? So, if he fell on his own, was it really murder? Did he go up there voluntarily or was he forced? I‘m thinking that this killer must be quite a charmer. It appears that he somehow must gain his victims‘ trust, to be able to get them alone somewhere to kill them.”
Colin: “What is the Zodiac connection with this guy, then?”
“Well, as this one would be Libra, the Balance (or Scales), the biggest tip-off was the scale that was found next to the body, and my guess is that the elevated platform was a ‘balance beam.’ The locale is referred to as Balance Point. He must have picked that locale just because of its name. Then I found out that he worked for a technology company in Kansas City, also named the Balance Point Corporation. And what do you think he did there?”
Danny: “Tell us.”
“He was an accountant. He balanced their books, of course!”
Colin: “Ah, so! I guess that does make him the Libra victim, then.”
“In addition, it appears that what led up to his fatal fall involved libration, which is the act of balancing. But check this out. Are you aware that the abbreviation for the unit of weight, the pound, that is, lb., stands for libra, and that libra is also an ancient ‘Roman’ unit of weight, equal to about 12 ounces?”
Colin: “So, that’s it, then! I’ve always wondered about that.”
Jerry: “What do we know about the Scorpio death, Sammy?”
“I found this one interesting as well, guys. This woman was a scientist who studied animal behavior, and according to her friends who were questioned, she had a special fascination, practically an obsession, with scorpions. She even changed her name to honor that passion. ‘Nge’ is Swahili for scorpion, and Antares is a star in the constellation Scorpius! Appropriately, her murder took place at Scorpion Mountain out in Washington state.”
Colin: “O Death, where is thy Gordon Sumner?”
“Well, Sting might have been on the music player singing ‘Desert Rose,’ Colin, but with “I Got Stung” and the Scorpions’ Deadly Sting CD there, perhaps our killer considered that would have been a bit much. You know, ‘overkill,’ if you will pardon the expression.”
Jerry: “Yeah, it’s enough that the poor woman was gang-stang to death. And it seems that Billie Capra was very fond of goats, but that didn’t matter to them. They killed her anyway.“
Danny: “You got that right! I suppose it’s no coincidence that Billie was killed on a hill on Goat Island and the chosen song was ’Billy Goat Hill.’ But for her, it was more like ‘Billy Goat Hell!’”
“I hear you, man! Hey, Sammy, are you getting as big a kick as I am about how all of these victims were chosen because of their names?”
“I sure am, Jere. The relevance is quite astonishing and revealing. We’ve already dished A. Reese Ramin, Ella Toro and the Gemini Twins. Let’s now throw some more shade on Louise Crabbe.”
Jerry: “Oh, her.”
“The last name is apparent, but if you take the ‘i’ out of Louise, you get ‘louse,’ as in crab louse.”
Danny: “Ha-ha! That’s precious! She did die in a lousy way, didn’t she?”
“Take your Billie Capra. Other than her living in Capreol, Ontario, the Capra part itself suggests ‘goat.’ So then you have ‘billy goat.’ And as she worked as a nanny, you also have ‘nanny goat.’ Ain’t that a pisser?”
Danny: “Oh, you kid!” They all groan and then laugh. “Hold on! We haven’t yet discussed the Sagittarius murder.”
Colin: “Yeah, what‘s the lowdown on that one, then?”
“I really like this one, guys, I’m sorry to say. Sagittarius is the Archer, and the killer finds somebody who runs an archery club, so the victim is an archer himself by profession. And his name just happens to be Fletcher Bowman. You guys are aware, aren’t you, that a fletcher is an arrow maker? He worked at Cupid’s Retreat, an appropriate name, as Cupid is an archer of sorts, and the facility offers a dating service for its members. I am glad that they sent us that video found at the scene. It shows somebody in a Robin Hood getup and a mask to disguise his face, who is obviously the killer himself. I’m only guessing that it’s supposed to be Robin Hood. He is dressed as he is usually depicted, in period costume, and Robin, too, was an archer, and is on horseback. You see, Sagittarius is also a centaur, half man, half horse. A horseman. Get it? Plus, this all takes place in Tell City, alluding to William Tell, who also was an archer! I mean, this guy is good!”
Colin: “But who made the film, then? I am assuming that there were only the two of them there.”
“Well, I suppose that the killer must have set up the video camera ahead of time, before Bowman came outside and after everybody else had left. He must have had remote operation capabilities. You know with these newfangled contraptions, you can do virtually anything now.”
“You’re right about that, Sammy.”
“There’s something about the way in which he was killed that is also significant, guys.”
Colin: “How’s that, then?”
“The Christian martyr St. Sebastian is usually depicted with his body riddled with arrows. It’s no coincidence that Fletcher Bowman’s middle name is Sebastian!”
Danny: “Well, how do you like that!”
Jerry: “How about the song he picked for poor Bowman? I mean, ’Arrow Through the Heart’? How fitting.”
But even though finally they have figured out the killer’s sick but ingenious game, it’s no use if they cannot predict the next victim in order to prevent his murder. Where will this guy strike next, for one thing? They have discerned at least that the next one, Aquarius, will have something to do with water, most likely, and it should be a man, if in keeping with the killer‘s alternating gender pattern, and they can surmise the date as well. Even from the earlier-provided video, they are not absolutely sure that the killer is a man. Samantha, thinking out loud while checking her atlas…
“Let’s see. There is a Waterbury in New Hampshire and Vermont, a Watertown in South Dakota and Wisconsin, both a Waterbury and Watertown in Connecticut, a Waterville in Arkansas, Maine, Ohio and Washington, an Atwater in California, a Chugwater in Wyoming, Clearwater in Florida, Coldwater in Kansas, Michigan and Ohio, and he might consider having him killed in a rest room in Waterloo, Illinois, Iowa, New York or Quebec. Get it, Colin? I’m starting even to think like him now!”
“I got it, Sam. Cute.”
“New York State also has a Watertown, Waterville, Watervliet and a Stillwater, to boot! He could throw us off the track further by venturing into Aguascalientes, Mexico or to Canada for Clearwater, British Columbia and Manitoba, Coldwater in Ontario, and Bridgewater or New Waterford in Nova Scotia. Then there are your ‘Creeks’ and ‘Falls’ and ‘Lakes’ and ‘Rivers’ and ‘Shoals’ and ‘Springs,’ too. So many possibilities. Hell, he might even lure him to the Watergate Hotel in DC to kill him! There is just no way to determine which or even whom he will choose. By returning to the same state more than once (New York and Washington, for instance) is another way to throw us off, if we expect a different state each time. ‘Is a puzzlement.’”
AQUARIUS, THE WATER BEARER
Barry Waters, 21, drives a truck that delivers Aquafina bottled water to its various distributors and general customers. During his research, after selecting him to be his next victim, John discovers that Barry is a local boy who grew up in Waterbury, New Hampshire. A regular childhood activity was for him and his homeboys to climb the town’s water tower and play up there. Of course, it was supposed to be off-limits, but you know that kids rarely heed legal restrictions and are not concerned with potential dangers or harm to themselves. So the boys got away with it for years. Barry’s workdays are Friday through Tuesday, and he has Wednesdays and Thursdays off. For New Hampshire this time of year, the weather is unusually mild.
John learns Barry’s Sunday (February 11) delivery schedule and seeks him out, with the ploy of wanting to purchase a water jug from him, directly off his truck. As usual, he is taking a casual, non-threatening approach.
“Uh, excuse me, young man. I would like to purchase one of your 5-gallon bottles of water, if I may. I just moved into this neighborhood, and my plumbing is not quite up to par just yet. I will pay cash, if that’s okay.”
“Certainly, sir.” Barry fetches a jug off the truck and hands it to John, who is wearing gloves, as usual. “With the sales tax, that’ll be eleven dollars even, please.” John pays the man with all singles, and Barry pockets the bills.
“Do you need a receipt, sir?”
“No, that won’t be necessary. Say, you are Barry Waters, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, but who are you? Do I know you?”
“Well, no. My name is John Smith. But listen. I’m going to tell you something that you are not supposed to know. I was in your Pizza Hut earlier today, and I overheard a couple of your friends planning a surprise birthday party for you. Today is your birthday, is it not?”
“Well, happy birthday, Barry! Anyway, since they didn’t know me, they didn’t bother to whisper, so I heard everything they were saying. I heard that you and your friends used to play up on your water tower when you were kids. So, for old times’ sake, they thought it would be nostalgic and fun for a bunch of your friends to throw you a party up there tonight. But they want it to be a surprise. I went over to their table and volunteered to get you there when you get off from work. They will be already up there waiting for you. They told me that you drive a bottled water delivery truck and even told me where I could find you. And here you are!”
“Who was it that you spoke to?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t get their names. But they must know you, don’t they?”
“It was probably Howard and Stanley. Those crazy guys! They are always doing shit like that. Well, I guess I shouldn’t spoil their little scheme, should I? I have one more delivery, and then I‘m done for the day. It should take no more than fifteen minutes? You can ride with me, if you want.”
“No. You go finish your work. I have stuff to do myself. I’ll just meet you there in a bit. Just climb on up when you get there, okay? As I said, they‘ll be waiting.” (Sucker!)
Of course, this is all bullshit on John’s part. He hasn’t spoken to anyone in town. He’s made the whole thing up. And clueless Barry is buying it all. It’s too bad that some people are so gullible. If it’s supposed to be a surprise, why is this guy spoiling it all for him? He is believing the word of a perfect stranger, without any corroboration. John then goes to preset his props for later. It wasn’t easy lugging that water jug up the ladder with him, but he managed somehow.
Twenty minutes later, Barry arrives at the water tower. It’s dark by now, so nobody can see him climbing the ladder. When he gets up to the landing platform, Barry is expecting his buds to emerge from somewhere and yell, “Surprise!” But instead, it’s John who gives him the surprise. After knocking him down on his back and straddling him, he produces the 5-gallon plastic water bottle, which he just purchased a little while ago.
“So, Barry Waters, since you are a water bearer, let’s just see how much water you can bear!” And with that, he turns the young man into a human trough. John sticks the nozzle of the bottle in Barry’s mouth and proceeds to pour the contents down his throat. It doesn’t take long for the poor guy to choke and gag, and he is dead by drowning even before the container is empty.
John then skips and dances around the perimeter of the landing, scattering a plethora of his mother’s flowers. “Flores! Flores para los muertos! Flores!” This time John has gone all out by decorating the water tower with water-chestnut, water chinquapin, water gum, water hemlock, water hyacinth, waterleaf, water milfoil, water pepper, water pimpernel, water plantain and water purslane. He also leaves the empty water bottle next to the body. There are many water songs to choose from, but John settles on “Pouring Water on a Drowning Man” by James Carr. His letter card is an “M”.
When Barry does not show up for work for two days, it begins an inquiry as to his whereabouts. (# Water boy, where are you hiding? #) Nobody saw him at all yesterday. On Tuesday, Chuck Forrest, a friend of Barry, happens to be walking by the water tower and sees the Aquafina truck parked on the street. (Is that Barry’s truck?) He goes over to look and does not see anyone inside. He next notices that the ground around the base of the tower is muddy and damp. It hasn’t rained or snowed, so why is the ground wet here? Out of curiosity, Chuck then proceeds to climb the ladder, which he had done many times before as a kid. (Feh! What is that awful smell?!) What he finds at the top is a real shocker. Barry’s body looks like a bloated seal.
Jerry: “Well, our friend, the Zodiac Killer, has struck again!”
Samantha: “Yeah, so I understand. Of course, we expected it. We just didn’t know who it would be or where it would happen.”
Danny: “Is it true that this most recent one, Aquarius, the Water Bearer, the guy really was a water bearer, so to speak, and his name is Barry Waters?”
“That’s right. His sun sign is both his occupation and his cause of death.”
Colin: “Note that the water tower, too, where he was killed, is a water bearer of sorts, then.”
“Yeah, I didn’t even consider that as a possible murder site, not that it would have mattered. There are water towers all over the place.”
Jerry: “And don’t forget that he was from Waterbury, New Hampshire!”
“Yeah, but who knew which ‘water’ town the killer would choose?”
Danny: “That is too much. I mean, I drink a lot of water myself, but I guess one can overdo anything, can’t they? There is only so much one can bear.“
Colin: “That was the test after all, wasn’t it? What do you want to bet that it was Waters who provided his killer with his own murder weapon? He most likely got the water bottle directly from Barry himself.”
Jerry: “I’m sure you’re right, mate. Oh, the irony! How about his song choice, too–’Pouring Water on a Drowning Man’? You know? There seems to be a song for every situation in life.”
Jerry: “And death, too, I believe. This reminds me of when Patsy Cline died in a plane crash, and when it was announced on the radio, they paid tribute to her by playing ‘I Fall to Pieces.'” They all laugh.
Colin: “Although I guess we shouldn’t laugh. My favorite song appropriation occurred when I attended a church service on January 1st one year, which is the Feast of the Circumcision, and the congregational hymn on that occasion was ‘O Sacred Head Now Wounded.'” More laughter.
Danny: “That’s precious. I love it.”
Samantha: “This guy is obviously a music lover with a vast and diverse record collection. Dame Julie Andrews advised Leo Lyon, ‘Don’t Go in the Lion’s Cage Tonight.’ It’s too bad that he didn’t get the warning early enough to heed it, not that he probably would have anyway. That’s rather a sick joke, to warn somebody of something after the fact, when it’s too late to do anything about it. And when they found Donna Parthenopolos, she had turned blue from being strangled, and there was an obscure song on the music player entitled, “Song to the Dark Virgin.”
Colin: “The chap does possess a rather twisted sense of humor, then, doesn‘t he?“
Danny: “He does at that. And to go to all that trouble to purchase all those portable music players to place at each murder scene. That calls for real dedication, doesn’t it?”
Samantha: “It sure does. He’s quite conscientious. He has actually turned mass murder into a new art form. I just hope it doesn’t start a trend. I mean, this is a major production, with on-location sets, scenery, props, costumes, music, the whole bit. For Leo, he even provided an audience. It’s classic grand guignol, but for real. He is also the director and occasionally is acting in it as well.”
Jerry: “Yeah, he’s just a homicidal Woody Allen, Clint Eastwood or Tyler Perry, isn‘t he?”
Samantha: “With those that he had direct contact, he must have portrayed clever and convincing con men.”
Colin: “How about the fact that with Bowman’s murder we got to see the ‘daily rushes’ for an actual snuff film?”
Danny: “Ain’t that the truth! As the producer he is incurring all expenses and serving as his own casting director, too. It must require a lot of research and work to find these people that fit his special criteria, don’t you think, Sam?”
“It really does. That is what’s so fascinating about this whole thing. This guy apparently has a whole lot of time on his hands. He also must be self-sufficient financially. This has proven to be a very expensive undertaking. He probably flies his own private plane. He wouldn’t risk taking commercial flights, which could be traced. So other than fuel and the items that he needs, he‘s had to pay off a lot of people to help him carry out his murder plans, plus the fact that he must pay cash for everything, so as not to leave a paper trail of credit card or debit transactions. He has succeeded in covering his tracks, as there has been no witnesses to the murders, at least those that he actually committed himself, and he leaves no fingerprints anywhere. He’s a phantom. He strikes, and then he’s gone. All we have are the clues that he leaves behind. But that‘s not enough, it seems. It‘s so frustrating!”
Danny: “I have to hand it to him. This guy has actually found a way to get away with murder, I am sorry to say.”
“He’ll slip up somewhere, though. They always do somehow.”
“Not always, Jerry. We still don’t know for sure who Jack the Ripper really was, for instance. And how do we know that this guy is not the original so-called Zodiac Killer, who was never caught? Maybe he took a break for some reason and now has decided to resume his killing and do it the real way this time.”
“I suppose we can’t rule out that possibility. But speaking of Jack the Ripper, Danny, and why he was never caught… You must know about the long-standing theory that the notorious Ripper was actually Prince Albert Victor, Queen Victoria’s grandson.”
Danny: “Yeah, I have heard that story, Colin.”
“So, in addition to his having diplomatic immunity, when it was eventually discovered that the Prince was the killer, undoubtedly there was a major cover-up by the Royal Court, and they would have had to put him out of commission, too, then. I don’t believe it myself, however. The whole thing is merely of urban legend status today, based not even on any circumstantial evidence.”
Jerry: “Well, our guy may be almost done. I hope he will quit after dispatching Pisces.”
Samantha: “Yeah. It will be March 12th, if he keeps to his strict schedule.”
PISCES, THE FISHES
The last victim, Bonita Whiting, 35, an ichthyologist, is your true ichthyophile. I mean, she loves all kinds of fish–but in their live state, that is. She’s merely a collector. She doesn’t eat them or use harmful hooks to catch them. She’s like Don Knotts’ character in The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964). She often wishes that she were a fish. (Be careful what you wish for.) So it is not surprising that she would devote her life and career to pisciculture. Bonita, a single lady, is confined to a wheelchair as a result of incurable paralysis from the waist down. Twelve years ago at a friend’s party, she tripped and fell down a long flight of stairs (Lummox!) and severely damaged her spinal column, rendering her a permanent paraplegic.
Bonita maintains a large aquarium at her home in Fishkill, New York, where she can view and study her collection of various fish species. She has all the common varieties as well as the less-common and tropical specimens. She has a few humuhumunukunukuapuaa, a Portuguese man-of-war, and even the very rare coelacanth latimeria. The predator varieties, like sharks, barracudas and such, are in separate containers, as are her school of Brazilian piranha. As dangerous as these creatures are, still Bonita is fascinated by them. When John found Ms. Whiting, he was delighted that she lives in Fishkill. It will suit his purpose perfectly.
Just as she is pondering what she would like to do for her birthday today (Monday, March 12th), Bonita receives an unexpected visit from John Smith, posing as a reporter for Field and Stream magazine, telling her that they want to do a story on her and about her piscine avocation. Finding John to be quite attractive, Bonita welcomes him into her house, is flattered by his expressed interest in her and glad to have the company, as she seldom entertains. She enjoys showing people her fish collection, and John feigns interest during the tour, until he asks her if she has any piranha. He already knows that she does.
“Oh, I certainly do! Do you have a special interest in them, too, Mr. Smith?”
“I do indeed, dear lady. Where are they? I would love to see them.” Bonita then leads him over to the piranha tank, which is situated in the floor and requires that they be viewed from above. There is a thin glass covering on the tank and a light inside to be able to see the contents.
(Bonnie…you in danger, gurl!) “How many are there? Do you know?”
“At last count, I believe there are twelve.”
(Perfect.) As they are peering down into the tank, Bonita casually mentions that her babies have not been fed today.
“Oh, really? Well, let’s feed them, then!“ And with that, John grabs the handles of her wheelchair and pushes it forward and over, causing her to land on the top of the tank, which breaks the glass, and she falls into the water, which immediately turns red as the ravenous fish devour her in twelve minutes’ time. Before he leaves, he drops some seaweed into the tank. Since this is his last one (probably), he needn’t go to too much trouble with the plant thing. Her letter card is an “L”. For her song selection, John has chosen the prophetic “Fish Bite” by Ramsey Lewis. “Fait accompli.“ (Mission accomplished) John notes the time to be 12 noon. He returns home and decides just to wait and see what will happen.
MEET THE PARENTS
“So, where have you been, boy? We haven‘t seen much of you lately.”
(Well, that’s typical. I have been all over the country and even to Canada killing people for the past year, and he’s just now asking me where I’ve been.) “Oh, here and there, Dad. What do you care anyway?”
“I don’t care. It’s your mother who is concerned. She’s the one who frets when she doesn’t see you most of any day.”
John finds his mother in her kitchen, preparing dinner.
“Hello, Mother. How are you?”
“John, where have you been? I haven’t seen you all day.”
“I just made a little trip upstate. It was nothing special. Do you need me for anything?”
“No, not at the moment. I am finished working for the day. I just miss having you around, helping me in the gardens. Is everything okay with you, son? You know I don’t like to pry, but you seem to be a bit preoccupied lately. For several months, actually. You tend to keep to yourself a lot. That’s all right, I suppose. You’re grown, and you have your own life. I shouldn’t complain. Forgive me.”
“Oh, Mother, don’t go on so. I’m all right. I’ve just been working on a new project that has taken up a lot of my time. But it’s done now, so I will be able to spend more time with you. Okay?” (Until I no longer can, that is.)
“I’m sorry, baby. I’m just an old worrywart. Don’t pay me any mind. You know that I love you, don’t you?”
“Yes, Mother. I know you do. And I love you, too. You know that.”
John can’t help wondering, (Why hasn’t anybody figured me out yet? What do I have to do, turn myself in? I certainly have left them enough clues. They have everything they need to catch me. What is taking them so long? What’s up with the law enforcement venue in this country? So, have I gotten away with it all? Well, that’s no fun. What’s the point if I don’t get the proper acknowledgment? It all will be for nothing.)
ZEALOT OUTWITS DETECTIVES
INVESTIGATING ASTROLOGY CASE
It is now Friday, March 16.
Jerry: “So, the son-of-a-bitch got away with it again, dammit!”
Colin: “It’s too bad that we couldn’t do anything to stop it. I feel so helpless.”
Danny: “That poor woman! What a horrible way to die. Can you imagine being fatally attacked by piranha?”
Samantha: “All those deaths were truly horrendous, in my opinion. But don’t beat yourself up, fellas. I feel bad, too. We were bested by a superior mastermind. I, for one, am not going to give up, however. I am going to catch that monster, if it’s the last thing I do! I hope you’ll help me.”
“Of course, we all are here for you, Sammy. What are we doing? Have we learned anything new that might help the case?”
“Actually, Jere, in hindsight I understand more, but only after the fact. We know that all the victims were killed by some element of their sign. Well, now it makes sense that this last one would occur in Fishkill. The obvious choice, right? But how were we to know? Plus, the victim’s name is Bonita Whiting. Both bonito and whiting are kinds of fish. Thus, two fishes. Are you aware that the sign Pisces is always depicted as two fishes? In addition, since Pisces is a water sign, too, she died by drowning in water while being devoured by fishes. There’s something else.”
Colin: “What’s that, then?”
“Being another instrumental selection, the killer announced the song to be “Fish Bite,” and the musical artist is Ramsey Lewis. Do you see the significance of that?”
Danny: ”No, no more than the obvious. What do you mean, Sam?”
“Ramsey, New Jersey is where our first victim came from, and Fishkill is in New York state, where the first murder took place. Don’t you see? He has come full circle, in a way, as the Zodiac is a cycle, after all. I tell you, the guy is an absolute genius!”
Colin: “That is quite something, then.”
“I have a question, Sammy. How did they know what happened to Bonita Whiting and how she died, since the fish had eaten her all up?”
“Well, since the woman was an invalid, lived alone, her wheelchair was right there next to the busted fish tank, and now she‘s missing, so what would they think happened to her? She couldn‘t have gone anywhere. Besides, she was not disposed of entirely, Jere. There were some skeletal remains in the water along with scraps of fabric, which one of her friends identified as pieces from a familiar garment of hers.”
Colin: “I wonder what is to become of her fish collection, then? That‘s quite the responsibility for anyone to take on.”
Samantha: “I suppose they will be donated to a zoo aquarium somewhere.”
“Or they could throw a major neighborhood Fish Fry.”
Danny: “Ha-ha! Waste not, want not, eh, Jerry? What about Reese Ramin’s sheep, too? In fact, all of the victims had to leave behind their possessions and their businesses. They were all unprepared, not knowing that it was to be the last day of their life.”
“Which is why I try to impress upon everyone I know to make out a will, regardless of their age. You never know when your time is up.”
Jerry: “You sure are right about that, Sammy.”
Colin: “Do you think he wants to be caught, then, Sam?”
“I am sure that he does. Do you think he would go through all of this and then not receive any recognition for it? I mean, what would be the point? If this were not a game for him, then why all the clues and help along the way? He as easily could have not left any clues, and we would be even less close to finding him. No, he’s daring somebody to catch him, and that person is going to be me. I have to meet this guy.”
“Hey, it sounds like you have a thing for this nut, Sammy”
“Well, it’s more of a mental attraction really, Jere. We seem to connect on an intellectual level. Aside from his penchant for killing, I love how he thinks. Deciphering all his clues and references has been a real treat for me, I must admit.”
Danny: “Your obvious delight and enthusiasm did not escape any of us, Sam.”
“No, I don’t suppose it did. I would like to know what makes this guy tick, what would cause him to do such a thing. I’ve been doing a lot of analyzing. My favorite line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet is, ‘Hoist with his own petard,’ which means to be done in with the very device you had intended for somebody else. By the same token, in several of these cases, particularly the animal signs, the killer used the very objects of these people’s occupations and/or obsessions against them.”
“I see what you mean, Sammy. Like Ella Toro being killed by the very animals that she used to fight and undoubtedly killed in her former profession. You know, what goes around, comes around, doesn’t it? The obsessed ones would be Dr. Antares and her scorpions, Billie Capra with her goats and Bonita Whiting and her fish.”
Samantha: “Then look at how he used differing aspects of the sun signs for his murders. Those who were killed by the animal signs are Taurus, Cancer, Leo, Scorpio, Capricorn and Pisces. Some signs were the actual victims: Gemini, Virgo and Aquarius. Sagittarius was both the killer and the victim! In addition, his actual hands-on murders were Aquarius, Sagittarius, Gemini, Virgo and Aries, the latter two using elements of the signs, that is, a virgin wool scarf and the horns of a ram, rather than the actual animal. Moreover, we could say that Cancer and Libra voluntarily killed themselves, she, inadvertently and he, I am assuming, by suggestive coercion.”
Colin: “Yes, instead of a common M.O., this guy prefers variety then, doesn’t he?”
“So it appears. The killer managed to locate and go to wherever his chosen victims happened to be on their fatal day. Some he lured to private locales. He personally must have transported Roman Pound to Newfoundland, where he died, and a few he dared to dispatch at their place of employment. In the case of Ella Toro and Bonita Whiting, he managed to kill them at their homes. Ms. Whiting was offed right inside her house, using her own property as the murder weapons!”
Danny: “The noive of that guy!”
“Right? Realize, fellas, that the local law officials in each place that this killer’s murders occurred don’t know the whole story as we do. They are thrown off by thinking that the killer would do the same thing every time. They cannot establish a motive for any of the victims, therefore there are no suspects even to pursue. They all are under the assumption that there is always a motive to murder. But in these cases, there isn’t. These unfortunate individuals were killed for simply being born at the wrong time and having the wrong names. It wasn’t personal at all.”
Danny: “Another bizarre factor that all the victims have in common is that they all were killed on their birthdays, which happens to be the date of the number of their individual sun sign! How incredible is that?”
Samantha: “We see that the killer doesn’t discriminate either. We’ve had white, black, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian, Jewish, men and women, young and middle-aged, able-bodied and physically-challenged, gay and presumedly-straight. He didn’t care. When the name and situation were right, anybody was up for grabs. But the fact that all of the murdered victims were single says something, too. If there were other candidates, at least the killer chose those who were without loving spouses and offspring to grieve them.”
Colin: “To hell with other family members and friends, then, huh?”
Danny: “I wonder if he will stop killing now, or maybe he’s too far gone and is unable to help himself. He might be thinking, ‘I got away with that, so why not keep it going with another project?’”
Colin: “Yeah, he might consider taking on the Chinese Zodiac, for instance.”
Samantha: “I sure hope not. Anyway, if we assume that he is through killing, at least for the time being, we should have all that we need to catch him. It appears that he has been straightforward with us the whole time. As far as we know, he never was misleading. Everything he did means something and has important relevance.”
“Like those letter cards, for instance, Sammy? Now that we have them all, presumably, might the letters together spell out something significant?”
“I’m sure they do, Jere. He is into wordplay. There are 13 letters, one for each victim. A-H-I-L-M-N-O-O-P-S-T-T-U. Let’s see if we can make something out of this. Do you want to help me?”
“Sure.” After several minutes and a number of attempts, they finally came up with a likely solution.
Samantha: “Hey, I think this is it. SOUTHAMPTON, L.I. What do you want to bet that’s where he lives? I mean, how much more direct can he be?”
Danny: “So he is a New Yorker, as we suspected.”
Colin: “And we know that he comes from money.”
“You know what, guys? I just realized some other 13 references from earlier that I didn’t get at the time. Do you remember that first sign I found? The killer told us how many killings there would be with his ‘E pluribus Unum’ message. You see, the Latin phrase consists of 13 letters. And get this. ‘The game‘s afoot’ also has 13 letters! So does ‘Study the stars.’”
Danny: “Wow! You said that everything that guy does has some significance.”
Colin: “Not only that, but we see that his clues tend to have multiple meanings.”
Danny: “He must like the number 13, you think?”
Samantha: “Not necessarily. That’s just how it worked out in that instance.”
“So, how about all those flowers at the murder scenes, Sammy? That’s been a constant throughout, too. It must mean something as well, don’t you think?”
“Why, Jere, I was just about to address that issue this very minute. They might prove to be the most important clues of all.”
Samantha has had experience with other serial killers in the past, and she learned that they invariably take something from their victims as a souvenir. This guy has taken the other approach. Instead of taking something from them, he leaves certain items with his victims. Other than the music clues and letter cards left at each crime scene, Samantha discovered that all but one of them were found with some kind of flower present. Nobody thought anything of it at first, because each one was different. But then they decided to do some research to identify these placed items. Fortunately, the local authorities in each place had the good sense not to destroy anything, just in case they proved to be important evidence. But not being privy to the whole story, none of them knows what to make of it. Samantha insisted that they all share everything that they find with her team, but she doesn’t think they did that with each other.
In keeping with his Zodiacal theme, Samantha learned that Reese Ramin was found with ramie and ramtil, Ella Toro with bullbrier and bulrushes, the twins with twinberry and twinflowers, Louise Crabbe with crabgrass and crab cactus, Leo Lyon with dandelions, and Donna, the virgin, had some virgin’s-bower and Virginia creeper. Dr. Antares, the scorpion fanatic, was found with stinging nettles and eglantine. Samantha learned further that Eglantine was Nge’s real name before she changed it. She expects the killer knows that little fact, too. Fletcher Bowman had arrowroot and arrowwood with him, and goatsbeard and goat’s-rue flowers were found with Billie Capra. There was a huge assortment of water plants with Barry Waters.
Samantha explains to her team about the derivation of dandelion. “It’s from Old French, ‘dent de lion,’ which means ‘tooth of the lion,’ so called from its jagged leaves. So then, it was the lion’s teeth that killed Leo Lyon, hence those dandelions were the perfect floral representative and metaphor. They found seaweed in the piranha tank, by the way. Either the killer put it there, or it was already there.”
Initially, there was a problem with Roman Pound. “There was no plant of any kind found with his body. I thought it strange that the killer would deviate from his modus operandi that one time. Maybe he couldn‘t find an appropriate example. But would he just give up like that?” So, she tracked down the man in charge, George Ferguson, to ask him if there was anything else with the body, other than that scale, the letter card and the music player. He told her that there was a book at the scene.
“A book, you say? What kind of book?”
“Well, it’s a ledger, really, I guess you could call it. It has ‘LOG BOOK’ written on the cover. But there is no writing in it anywhere. It‘s completely blank.” Samantha thought for a moment. (Okay. A ledger is a type of book.) Then it struck her. (The Latin word for book is liber, which originally meant the inner bark of a tree, the surface of which could be written upon. Plus, it is a ‘log’ book. Aha! There is his botanical connection! Is this guy sneaky, or what?!) Out of curiosity, Samantha asked Ferguson if he happened to know how much the book weighed.
“Yes, I have that information, Captain. It comes to 340 grams in weight. It is rather thick.”
“Do you happen to know what that is in ounces, George?”
“Oh, pardon me, Captain. You would want the U.S. equivalent, wouldn’t you? Then that would be approximately…12 ounces. Is that important?“
“It is to me, George. Thanks for telling me.“ (Twelve ounces. The same as the Roman libra, or pound!) Samantha again finds herself drawn to this unknown, erudite genius. If he weren’t such a remorseless killer, she could really go for him, big time! Samantha has now concluded that this guy must be some kind of botany expert with access to all these different specimens. (These things don’t just grow anywhere. There must be a common source. Where did he obtain them, then? Internet time!)
Back to the team, a few minutes later. “I have decided to pursue the botanical angle. Maybe that will get us somewhere.” (Well, it’s about time!) “There is a branch of botany called floristics, which deals with the kinds and number of plant species in particular areas and their distribution. I just did some checking and learned that the leading specialist in the field is a woman by the name of Flora Aster–ha-ha! Another appropriate name! According to her web page, she is the world authority on the subject. She is a horticulturist, a consultant, a distributor, the go-to person for anything botanical. Anybody want to take a guess where she lives?”
Jerry: “Uh, in Southampton, by any chance?”
Samantha: “Did Rose Kennedy own a black dress? Yes, in Southampton!”
Colin: “Well, what do you know. Wait a second! Do you think the killer could be a woman, then?”
“Well, again, at this point we shouldn’t rule out the possibility, guys. We have to keep an open mind. I neglected to ask but I have wondered how they were able to identify all those flower specimens for their report. As there was no mention of Flora Aster, I suppose they could have consulted an illustrated plant guide for the answers. But then, there was no follow-up, apparently. I think it would behoove us to pay this Aster woman a visit, anyway. It’s being a rather small community, if she is not the killer, she could very well know who it is. Who wants to go with me?”
Danny: “I can’t, Sam. I have a previous commitment with the wife this evening that I can‘t get out of. Sorry.”
Jerry: “I can’t either, Sammy. Junior has a game that I promised to be at.”
Colin: “I’m free, Captain. I’ll go out there with you, then.”
“Thanks, Colin. I would like the company. I‘m free as well. Ted has Ariel for the weekend. I have the address. Let’s roll, partner!”
“All righty, then. Tally-ho!”
It was 3:00 when they left, and it took two hours for Samantha and Colin to drive out to Southampton on Long Island from their police precinct in midtown Manhattan. They find their way to the Smith-Aster estate. They also notice what appears to be a hangar on the premises. As Flora is in the main house alone–John is in his own quarters across the way, and Earl is still at the high school–she answers the door when Samantha rings the bell. Flora does not employ any servants, as she prefers to do her own cooking and housework. She has the time. She is one who likes things done her way and contends to the adage that if you want something done right, do it yourself. Incidentally, Flora goes by her maiden name in her work and business, hence the Aster.
”Yes, hello. May I help you?”
“We hope that you can, Ms. Aster.” They flash their badges. “I am Captain Samantha Marlowe of the NYPD, and this is Detective Colin Spenser. We would like to ask you a few questions, if we may. May we come in?”
”Certainly, Captain. Come right in. What is this about?”
“We are working on a case which may require your help. We understand that you are a world authority in the field of floristics.”
“That is true.”
“Let me try to explain what is going on. We are on the trail of an elusive serial killer. They have killed 12 people in the last 12 months, and each murder corresponds to a sign of the Zodiac. Thus, they have been dubbed the Zodiac Killer. You probably haven’t heard much about it, because the murders have occurred in different places all over the country and even Canada, so the local authorities in each city naturally assume that their murder is an isolated incident and not part of a bigger conspiracy.”
“My goodness, that’s terrible! But what does any of that have to do with me?”
“Well, here’s the thing, Ms. Aster…”
“Oh, please, call me Flora.”
“Thank you. Here’s the thing, Flora. At each murder scene was found a flower or plant that corresponds to the signs of the Zodiac. Just bear with me, please. Let me know if you are familiar with any of these (she reads from a note pad): ramtil, bullbrier, twinberry, crab cactus, virgin’s-bower, stinging nettles, arrowroot, goatsbeard, water purslane, to name a few.”
“Yes, I am familiar with all of those that you named, but I still don’t understand.”
“Well, my point is, or rather my question is, these are things that the average person would not know about, let alone have access to, so where did they get them?”
“Oh, yes, I see. Wait! You don’t think I have anything to do with those awful murders, do you?”
“I don’t know what to think at the moment. That is why I am asking the questions. Do you have any of the specimens that I mentioned in your possession, Flora?”
“I don’t think I should say any more. You have made me very frightened.”
“There is no need to be alarmed, Flora. We don’t think that you’re the killer. You are married, aren’t you? Where is your husband, by the way?”
“My husband? You suspect him now?”
“Well, if you have any of this merchandise, and I think that you do–your husband would have ready access to it as well. You are all we’ve got to go on so far.”
“Will you kindly leave my house, Detectives. I have nothing else to say. Please.”
“All right. We’ll leave. We don’t have a search warrant anyway. But we will be back. You can be sure of that. This is not over.” Flora shows the detectives to the door, and they leave.
“So, what are you thinking, Sam?
“I think I want to talk to Mr. Aster.”
“But, Sam, his name is not Aster. It’s Earl Smith. Aster is Flora’s maiden name.”
“Dammit! Of course, it is. I know that. I just had a temporary brain fart is all. So, you’re not so useless after all, are you?”
“Well, thank you and fuck you, then!…Bitch!” They both laugh.
A greatly distraught Flora Aster Smith hies it to her greenhouse and decides to take a thorough inventory, which she had not done in quite a while. She did notice almost immediately that some of the rarer specimens of the plants that the detective mentioned to her are indeed missing! She is pretty sure that few, if any, people would have water purslane lying around their house. It grows only in watery, muddy places. She grows it here under special conditions. It had to have come from here. She could no longer resist the incredible notion. (Could my baby be a mass murderer? It‘s hard to believe, but if not he, then who? John is as well-versed on the subject as I am. It certainly can’t be Earl. He doesn’t know a daisy from a dahlia. Besides, I am always aware of his whereabouts. He doesn’t go anywhere except to school. John is the one who is gone a lot, sometimes whole days at a time. He has his own plane and his own money. He certainly could pull off something like that. He has access to this facility, and I can’t be here 24/7. It would explain why he has been so preoccupied. He said that he has just finished a project. Is that it? Going around the country killing people? I can‘t just get rid of everything. This is my life‘s work. Damn you, John! Lord, what am I going to do?)
Flora walks over to John’s bungalow. He is there watching an old movie on television. “John, honey? I would like a word with you.”
“Why, hello, Mother. How are you?”
“I am very upset. Very upset indeed.”
“Why? What’s the matter, love?” Flora sits on the couch with her son.
“Two New York police detectives were just here to speak to me.” John visibly winces.
(Well, I guess they have finally tracked me down.) Feigning ignorance, “Why? What did they want with you?”
“Never mind that right now. Is there something you’d like to tell me, son?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“What is this secretive project that has kept you so busy for, let’s say, the last 12 months!?”
“What are you getting at, Mother?”
“Just answer the question, John! What have you been doing?”
“I don’t know what you want me to say. What do you mean, what have I been doing?”
“What is this ‘project’ that you just finished? And don‘t lie to me. I want the truth.”
(‘You can‘t handle the truth!’) “Uh, I don’t want to tell you.”
“Well, then, let me tell you something. I think that you are the Zodiac serial killer. How about that?”
John gasps and clutches his pearls. “What are you talking about? Where did you get an idea like that?”
“It’s not my idea, Sonny Boy! That’s why the police were here. They know, John! They came here asking about the flowers that you left at your murder scenes. How could you be so careless? Nobody except me has virgin’s-bower lying around their house, for Christ‘s sake! Of course, they would come here!”
“All right, Mother! There’s no use lying to you. I admit it. C‘est moi (he purposely pronounces it ‘sest moy‘). I am the Zodiac Killer.”
“Oh, John! I was so hoping that they were mistaken. How could this be? I am totally undone!” Flora begins to sob.
“I’m sorry, Mother.”
“Sorry about what? That you did it, or sorry that I found out? John only shrugs. “But still, son, I don’t understand how you could do such a thing. You’re such a good boy. Did you really kill all those innocent people? Did you even know any of them? Why, John?”
“It was just a self-indulgent game. I was bored, I guess. I wanted to match wits with somebody, to see if anyone on the police force is as smart as I am. I never expected that I would pull it off completely. They could have stopped me at any time, but they didn’t. I left them plenty of clues. And I wasn‘t being careless. I left those things there on purpose.”
“But why? Do you want to get caught?”
“I guess I do, Mother. How else will I get the credit for my magnum opus?” Flora wrings her hands in exasperation.
“John, they say that you killed 12 people. How is that even possible?”
“Uh, well, it was thirteen, actually. I guess they neglected to count both twins.”
“Mother, it really wasn’t all that difficult. And for the record, they weren’t all that innocent either. Some people are just too trusting. And they will do most anything for money, or when they think they are getting something for free.”
“Please spare me the gory details. I don’t want to know. I’m still too upset. My son, my beautiful boy, a mass murderer. It‘s absolutely mind-boggling!”
“I think another reason why I did it is because of Dad.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Well, you know that I am not his biggest fan. You’ve heard how he puts me down, like I don‘t even matter. He has never told me that he loves me or that he is proud of me. I got rich from an innovation, and that didn’t do it for him. I was hoping that if he learned that I pulled off such an elaborate coup as this, he would finally take notice and show me some respect.”
“By killing people, John? That makes no sense at all. I doubt very much that that is the way to win over your father.”
“Well, that’s how I feel anyway. So, where are they? Why haven’t they questioned me, then?”
“I asked them to leave. They don’t know about you, specifically. I think they might suspect your father.”
“Oh, please! Are they serious? Dad doesn’t know a daisy from a dahlia.” Flora had to smile at that.
“They said that they would be back. What are we going to do?”
“You said that they don’t know about me. They must not have any proof, or else they would have arrested me. You’re not going to turn me in, are you, Mother?”
“What do you care? You just said that you want to get caught.”
“Yes, but I want them to catch me. Your turning me in or my turning myself in is not the same thing. It has to be on their diligence. How else will I know who won the game?”
She sighs. “Okay, John. Have it your way. I won’t say anything, then.”
“I would appreciate that. Merci, ma mere. Let’s just wait and see what happens.” They hear a car drive up.
“Your father’s home.”
Both feeling a bit peckish, instead of going back to Manhattan, Samantha and Colin decided to get some dinner in town before going back to the Smiths. This time Earl Smith answers the door.
“Yes?” They show their badges and introduce themselves.
“We were here earlier and spoke with your wife, and now we would like to have a word with you.”
“What is this about, Officers?”
“Uh, didn’t your wife fill you in?”
“No, I just got home a little while ago. I haven’t spoken to my wife. She‘s probably in the greenhouse with her flowers.”
(Doing inventory, I would imagine. I hope she’s not destroying evidence. We still don‘t have a search warrant, but maybe we won‘t need it.)) “Well, what this is about and what we explained to your wife…Look, I’m going to be quite frank with you, Mr. Smith. We have reason to believe that she, and/or you, have something to do with the recent crime spree that we are investigating.”
“What are you talking about? What crime spree?”
“To be specific, it’s the Zodiac Killer case.”
“Excuse me? The what?”
“During the last twelve months, there has been a gruesome murder, one every month, each one in a different city and locale, and each one corresponding to one of the signs of the Zodiac.”
“Yes, I think I heard something about that on the news, although I didn’t get the whole story. But what does any of that have to do with us?”
“You see, the killer, whoever it is, took the approach to be helpful in finding them, by placing all sorts of clues, one of them being that they left a plant specimen at each crime scene, some which are quite unusual and rare, which is why we came to talk to your wife.”
“Well, I can understand that. Flora is the expert on that sort of thing, after all. But you can‘t possibly think that she‘s guilty of killing all those people!”
“Well, no, we don’t think she did it.”
“What, you’re not accusing me, are you?”
“Well, sir, we have concluded that the plant specimens must have come from here. Nobody else that we know of has such a collection.”
“I understand that. But hell, I don’t know a daisy from a dahlia! And how could either of us have accomplished such a thing? My wife hardly goes anywhere, except to the supermarket. She’s always here working in her gardens and the nursery. And I coach football at the local high school. When I get off from work every day, I’m right back here. I don’t go anywhere either.”
“Well, it does seem rather unlikely that either of you would have the means or opportunity.” (Or the inclination.)
“Have you spoken with our son? Was he able to help you?”
“Uh, pardon me? You have a son?”
“Why, yes. John.” Samantha and Colin cast a glance at each other.
Colin: “So, your son is John Smith, then?” (J.S.!)
Samantha: “Is your son at home, Mr. Smith?”
“Well, I have not seen him since I got home, but he’s probably here. He lives in that bungalow out back.”
“We would very much like to speak to him, sir.”
“Fine. I’ll take you to him.”
A CONGENIAL CONFABULATION
Earl opens the unlocked door to John’s house without knocking. They are in the kitchen/dining area.
“John, come here! Where are you?” John and Flora emerge from the other room.
“Hi, Dad! I didn’t know that you were home.” He lied.
“I got in just a little while ago. Hello, Flora, my dear.”
“John, these people are from the New York Police Department. This is Captain Marlowe and her associate, Detective…I’m sorry, I forgot your name.”
Colin: “It’s Spenser, sir.”
“How do you do, Detectives?” They shake hands.
“Quite well, Mr. Smith. We are very pleased to meet you. Very.” She gives John an admiring and rather flirtatious smile. (Oh, great! He would have to be good-looking, too!)
“And I, you, Captain Marlowe.” John gives Samantha a furtive wink that is unseen by the others in the room, then does a graceful bow. “Komomai no kaua ika hale welakahao. That just means, roughly, ‘Welcome to my humble abode.’ May I offer you good folks something to drink?”
(And polite, too! Yeah, he’s a charmer, that one.)
Samantha: “No, thank you. I’m fine. Actually, I would like to speak to John in private. Would that be all right?”
“Certainment, Captain.” On purpose, John pronounces the word like it’s spelled. “I would like that very much.”
Colin: “I would like a spot of tea, then, if it’s not too much trouble.”
“You will forgive me for being a little cop shy. Mother, would you get our guest some tea? You know where everything is. Follow me, please.”
Samantha: “This shouldn’t take too long.”
“Enter!” John leads Samantha into his adjoining living room and closes the door behind them. He is dressed casually in a light shirt, denim jeans and canvas sneakers. The whole house is immaculate, everything so neat and in its place. This is a spacious room, and the walls are covered with shelved cases that contain thousands of books, photo albums/scrapbooks, LPs, cassette tapes, CDs and DVDs. About the room are several file cabinets, containing his personal papers and keepsakes, as well as a large, flat-screen TV and stereo system with components. A large, ornate Persian rug adorns the polished hardwood floor. There is a laptop computer on a desk. On one wall hangs a beautiful portrait painting of John holding a cat. Samantha notices a very handsome black cat with large green eyes over in the corner, lounging on its pallet. There is a white baby grand piano on one side of the room. Acknowledging it, Samantha inquires, “Do you play?”
“Yes, I do, somewhat. I did study, but I don’t consider myself a virtuoso by any means. I still do tinkle on it occasionally and when I need to check pitches. Let’s make ourselves comfortable, shall we?” They sit on a large, black leather couch, which is in the middle of the room. “May I know your first name, Captain?”
“May I call you Samantha? And of course, you may call me John.”
“I don‘t see why not. There’s no need to be formal. Although we only just have met, I feel as if I already know you.”
“Oh, really now! And how is that?”
“We’ll get to that in just a bit.” Samantha looks around the room. “What a dump!” John gives a pleased chuckle. “No, I don‘t mean that, of course. You have a beautiful home, John.”
“Come on, I know what you meant. You were just quoting Bette Davis’ famous line from Beyond the Forest.”
“Very good, John. Not many people know that. Albee didn’t even identify the film source when he used the line in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
“It was the last feature that Bette made for Warner Brothers in 1949.”
“That’s right! Who did your portrait there?“
“It’s by an Italian-Argentinian artist named Leonardo.”
“He’s very good. Wow! And what a record collection you have, too!”
“I have virtually every type of music genre you can name. My musical tastes are quite varied.”
“I have no doubt about that. You must be well-read, too.”
“I am. Are you fond of musicals, Broadway and otherwise, by any chance, Samantha?”
“I am indeed. I love ‘em. One of my fun diversions is quoting song lyrics and lines from shows and movies and playing What’s-That-From? with the people I’m with.”
(Yes, indeed. I am liking her more and more. This should be fun.)
“Uh, let‘s not beat around the bush, John. I know that you are the Zodiac Killer.”
”Well, duh! I know that you know. Why else would you be here?”
“You mean you are admitting it, just like that?”
“Why deny it? Who else could it be? You must have ruled out my parents. I had opportunity, means and the know-how to pull it off. By the way, what took you so long to track me down? I left you enough clues along the way, didn‘t I?”
(He does have a point. What did take us so long? I have to think about that.) “Oh, you were quite helpful in that respect, but challenging at the same time.”
“Well, thank you, Samantha. I wanted to be fair without making it too easy. I mean, where‘s the fun in that?”
“So, this was just all a game with you, then?”
“Yeah, that’s what it was, basically. (And still is, really.) I needed someone to play with. That’s why I sent out the invitations. I trust that you did find my notes and figured them out?”
“You mean the sign in Central Park and the two billboards. Yeah, I got them. The 13-letter phrases indicating how many you were planning to kill. You were even gracious enough to sign them with your initials, and you told us where you live via those letter cards!”
“Good. You got that, too. I am very impressed, Samantha. Well, you know that artists always sign their works. How did you discover my billboards anyway?”
“It was purely on a hunch. I wondered if ‘twin cities’ had more than one meaning, so I called those towns, made an inquiry and discovered that it did. Now, your Central Park sign I just happened upon inadvertently. I took it, and retained it, out of curiosity and because it should not have been there. Of course, as it turned out, I am glad that I did.”
“Yeah, I went there a couple of days later, and it was already gone. I wondered who had removed it.”
“‘It was MEEE!'”
“Ha-ha! That’s from Liar Liar, when Jim Carrey’s character admits to farting in a crowded elevator.”
“Right again. I think that was one of Carrey’s best performances.”
“I agree. I am indeed impressed, Samantha. You must be the only person who put the whole thing together.”
“I suppose I am. The way you killed those people, following a specialized theme, was truly inspired. Your esoteric references and wordplay. The ‘log’ book instead of a flower left at the Libra scene and weighing just 12 ounces was a stroke of genius. I hate to admit what a kick I had figuring it all out. It’s your attention to the little details that I so admire, John.”
“Why, thank you! I was so hoping that somebody somewhere would figure out the game plan and get on board with me. Otherwise, it all would have been for naught. I am pleased that that person is you, Samantha. Your admiration and praise are greatly appreciated. And I am so glad that you are not afraid and feel at ease with me. I assure you that I would not harm you for the world.”
“Yes, John, I do believe that. I’m not so easily intimidated. You wouldn’t kill me here anyway, even if you could. This time you have witnesses. You shouldn’t have anything against me personally (Other than the fact that I am the one who will have to arrest your crazy butt!), and not to any of the people you killed, for that matter. They all were just convenient victims of circumstance.”
“Exactly. I see that you understand.”
“Of course, I do. My crime team and I also enjoyed your music clues and the sometimes sick humor suggested by them.”
“Well, what is life without some levity, Samantha?”
“I quite agree. John, to me you don’t seem to be an evil person. Help me to understand why you would do what you did. Will you explain that to me, please?”
“I’ll try. I guess it was that murder is considered to be the most heinous of crimes and the most difficult to accomplish without eventual discovery. So this was a challenge to myself as well. I wanted to see how far I could go with it before I was found out. Then to make it more interesting for all concerned, I decided to make a game of it.”
“Okay. But why the Zodiac as your theme?”
“Well, it hadn’t been done before, for one thing. That other so-called Zodiac Killer was a fraudulent misnomer. I decided to do it for real. In the words of Stephen Sondheim, ‘You gotta get a gimmick.’” Samantha chuckles. (Gypsy, of course.)
“So that was mine. Thanks for acknowledging my efforts with that referential name, by the way. So, the Zodiac provides many possibilities and variety, which I like, but it has its limitations as well. I didn’t want this to go on indefinitely. And it is a cycle, as you probably figured out. It required a lot of work, research and expense, as you well know. I had selected all of my victims even before I started. I think that was the most fun for me–finding these special people and then deciding and figuring out how to dispatch them. I got the idea right after New Year’s. I was bored and needed a project to occupy my free time. Other than my mother, I don’t have any close friends to hang out with, not even any siblings. I am very much a loner. Of course, to do everything in strict order, I waited until April to start. I didn‘t expect to complete the mission, though. I thought I would be stopped at some point. I assumed that my many clues would be a sure giveaway. But nobody stopped me, so I kept going until the end.”
“Well, I have to take some responsibility for that, I guess. Maybe we did allow it to go on longer than it should have, and I have to live with that.”
“Yeah, but even so, it appears that you and your partner are the only ones who persevered and figured it all out.”
“Well, I wasn’t going to give up. I just had to meet you. I, too, am an only child, by the way. I expect that you have your own private plane, John. I did notice the hangar out there as we were driving up.”
“Mais oui, Madame. How do you think I got to all those disparate places? I couldn’t drive everywhere. I do have to make contact with Air Traffic Control whenever I fly somewhere, but all they require is a handle, which I can make up if I choose, or even a number to which to refer to me. They direct our flights, but they don’t keep track of where everybody goes. I am not the only one flying at any one time, after all. I think that I covered my tracks in all instances.”
“That, you did. You were very thorough, in fact. No witnesses and no fingerprints. I loved your centaur Robin Hood, by the way, and your St. Sebastian tribute. I trust you’ve had some archery training?”
“I have. I thought it might come in handy someday. It was about the same time that I was learning how to fly, to get my pilot‘s license. I discovered that I have a knack for animal training, too. I did train those goats to attack on my command. What‘s the use of having special skills and talents if you don‘t put them to practical use?”
“I can’t argue with that. I have to hand it to you, John. As misguided as you seem to be, you have a brilliant mind.”
“Uh, well, thanks…I guess.”
“I’m sorry, John, but you must know that what you did is not something to be regarded favorably.”
“All right. I will give you that.” The cat saunters over to where they are sitting and jumps up on John’s lap. She is basically black with white patches on her chin and underbelly.
“My, what a pretty cat!”
“Isn’t she, though?”
“What’s her name?”
“Why, that’s Indonesian for ’cat,’ isn’t it?”
“That’s right! How do you know that, Samantha?”
“Oh, I manage to pick up things here and there. I am very much interested in languages, as I take it you have studied a few as well.”
“I have indeed. Latin, Spanish and French, in particular.”
“So, does your mother feed Kutjing when you are away for extended periods of time?“
“No. It‘s not necessary. I always leave plenty of food for her. But she doesn’t eat a lot anyway. Cats can be quite self-sufficient when they need to be. Do you own a cat, Samantha?“
“No, I don’t. I don’t have any pets. I don’t have the time to give them the proper care that they require. It’s enough that I have a young daughter to look after.”
“So, you’re married?”
“No, I am divorced.” The cat gets up and goes to settle herself on Samantha.
“Well, look at that! That’s her way of greeting you and accepting you. She must like you, Samantha.” (As do I.) Samantha pets the cat, who is purring.
“She seems very sweet. How old is she?”
“She’s ten. I’ve had her since she was a kitten.”
“Oh, the same age as my daughter, Ariel.”
“Really! Ariel, huh? Was that inspired by The Little Mermaid, by any chance?”
“Yeah, it was. It’s one of my favorites, and now, one of hers as well. The name is quite fitting, too, as it turns out. My Ariel loves the water. She was born in it, in fact, which may have something to do with it, I suppose. Yes, we actually did the aquatic childbirth experience. Plus, she is a Pisces, who astrologically-speaking, tends to have a special penchant for water. Ariel really is a little mermaid.”
“How very interesting.”
“John, I am guessing that you are a Virgo. Am I right?“
“Why, Samantha, I do declare! I am. Why would you think that?”
“Elementary, my dear Watson. Oh, your acute methodology, your attention to detail. I’ll just bet that your books and records are arranged in alphabetical order.”
“But of course, they are. How would I be able to find anything otherwise? I believe in everything in its place. I hate to have to look for stuff.”
“I quite agree. I am the same way. Because I am, too, I guess it takes one to know one.”
“Hey, wouldn’t it be a hoot if we have the same birthday? Come on, let’s say it together.”
Both simultaneously: “September 5th!”
John: “Too much!”
“That‘s amazing! I suppose that I do have a few more years on you, though. How old are you, John, about 30?”
“Exactly. I see that you are a Sherlock Holmes fan as well, Samantha.”
“I am indeed. And you are a real life Professor Moriarty, aren’t you?”
“Ha-ha! You flatter me. So, maybe our competing as intellectual opponents was meant to be, then.“
“You may be right, John.”
“Uh, Samantha. You must have realized, too, that I have a special interest in names. So you must know that the significance of your name with your profession has not escaped me. Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe are both fictional detectives, and the fact that you are a detective–and an excellent one at that, I might add–and share both of their names, couldn‘t be merely coincidence, is it?”
“John, your astuteness astounds me. And thank you for the kind compliment. You see, my father, Phillip Marlowe–he spells his name with two ’l’s’–is a big fan of vintage mystery novels. He happens to be a retired cop. Thankfully, both my parents are highly ‘edumacated’, something that I am grateful they instilled in me. When my dad gave up his frivolous life as a free spirit, he decided to go into law enforcement. When he discovered that Raymond Chandler had created a character with his name, he naturally deemed him one of his favorites. Then when I came along and turned out to be a girl, Daddy figured that Sam, after Sam Spade, another favorite, would still work as a girl‘s name, even though my full name would be Samantha. After my divorce I reclaimed my maiden name. The fact that I became a detective myself is, I guess, serendipitous and just meant to be.”
“That is truly fascinating.”
“I could say the same about your mother, John. I mean, Flora Aster, the flowers expert?”
“It’s fifteen years for me on the police force, I am proud to say.”
“You should be proud.”
“Crime-solving often involves puzzle-solving and considerable deductive reasoning, which is one of the reasons why I enjoy my job, and why I found your case, in particular, so interesting and challenging. But while we are discussing names… That Donna girl is right out of Hair, isn’t she? Including the tattoo!”
“Isn’t that something? I didn’t know if anyone would get that reference.”
“I did. And I trust that you know that Eglantine is Nge Antares’ real first name?”
“But of course, I do. I thought it only fitting that I would honor her with her namesake flower.”
(Not that she got to appreciate it. But isn’t that white of you to do that.)
“Here’s one for you, Samantha. Where would you find a Disney character named Eglantine?”
“Let’s see. You must be referring to the amateur witch, Eglantine Price, portrayed by Dame Angela Lansbury in Bedknobs and Broomsticks.”
“That’s the one! Very good, Samantha. Then you must know the song about her.”
“Oh, you mean…” Samantha starts to sing, and John joins in with her. “# Eglantine, Eglantine, oh, how you’ll shine! / Your lot and my lot have got to combine… #” They both laugh.
“Samantha, you are ‘on fleek,’ Girlfriend!”
“So are you, John.” They laugh again. Kutjing hops off of Samantha and goes to another part of the room. “I have another question for you. Where did your enormous wealth come from? You obviously don’t have a regular job, and you probably did not inherit it.”
“No. I happen to be one of the co-founders of YouTube and own a large share in the corporation. Its success has done very well for me, as you can see. I receive a big check from them every month since I was eighteen. You may not know this, Samantha, but YouTube originally was intended to be an online dating service, and it was I who steered them in the other direction. There were already several dating sites but nothing for music videos and the like. You see that my suggestion has paid off.”
“I see it has. No, I didn’t know that. That‘s remarkable, John. So then, this project of yours was not a financial burden for you at all, was it?”
“Hardly. I have no dependents. I have more than enough money to live on. Instead of paying rent, I do give my mother a monthly allowance to help with her business expenses, and she does not have to pay me for working with her, so it all works out well for both of us.”
“So, now tell me something else. What I would like to know is, how you managed to commit your murders seemingly so easily?”
“Hmm. As I tried to explain to my mother just before you came back…”
“You told your mother?”
“Actually, she told me. She knows that neither she nor my father did it, so who does that leave? She figured it out only after you spoke with her, however. Until then, she didn’t have a clue to what was going on right under her nose. Anyway, I was telling her how those foolish people–most of them, anyway–aided in their own demise. I couldn’t have done it without their cooperation. It takes two to tango, you know. They were so trusting and gullible or otherwise just unaware or merely mercenary. They believed anything I told them without question. If I said it, it must be so. I never once told them to trust me, but they all did anyway. They didn’t know me from Adam but went anywhere I told them to go and bought every story that I gave them.”
“So, are you saying that it’s your victims’ fault that they trusted you?”
“Yes, it is, in a way. You can be betrayed only by someone you trust. Take Louise Crabbe, for instance. Her stupidity did her in. Samantha, would you eat something that a perfect stranger on the street offered you? Oh, I suppose a hungry, homeless person would, but I wouldn‘t. But then again, I have heard of street bums accepting food handouts from strangers which turned out to be tampered with in some way, so you can’t trust anybody. I would tell myself, I‘m not eating that. I don‘t know whence it came. I don’t even buy anything from those public food vendors. And the fact that someone is giving it away for free would make me suspicious. I did give Louise a choice of four crabs, by the way. I take you to be a suspicious person, Samantha. You would have to be, in your line of work.”
“You are not too wrong about that, John. Dr. Louise did make a wrong and foolish decision, I agree. By the way, John, where did you get the poison that killed the doc? The pathologist said that it was some unknown substance with which he was totally unfamiliar.”
“Oh, that was my own concoction. I did my homework. I found the ingredients that would have the desired effect I wanted, and I made a serum of them myself. I have also studied chemistry.”
“Well, that explains that, then. So, are you saying that people who trust others deserve to die?”
“No, not necessarily, but their naiveté does have its consequences, and I guess I did take advantage of it. To survive in this world, one needs to be more vigilant and discerning. They shouldn’t just accept everything at face value. That might sound a little cynical but having that attitude could have saved those people’s lives. I suppose it’s okay to take certain chances in life, but with that, you also have to accept the results of the risks you take. Okay, I will admit, too, that a few of them I did take by surprise, to no fault of their own, like Ella Toro, Nge Antares and Fletcher Bowman. The others, however, had the choice not to believe my malarkey, but instead did. I told the twins that there was a ‘mechanical problem’ in their locker room. They could have told me, ‘But you are supposed to the handy man. Figure it out and fix it. What do you need us for?’ Leo Lyon agreed to risk his very life on my word alone, just because I offered him some money. Bonita Whiting, for another example, just let me, a perfect stranger, into her house and didn’t even bother to check my credentials or anything. It was the same with that teenager and Billie Capra and Barry Waters, too. They just blindly followed me, no verification requested.”
“I suspect that your appearance and apparent allure undoubtedly have something to do with their unbridled compliance. John, you are a very good-looking man. And with that, you automatically receive unmitigated, though at times unwarranted, trust from people. Too many contend that physical attractiveness carries with it absolute ethical righteousness. They think, ‘How could somebody this fine be up to no good?’ But that is where they often make their mistakes. It worked in Ted Bundy’s case, for another example. One’s appearance has nothing to do with their moral character, which they all found out too late. Knowing how I am, and despite your winning charm and cuteness, I believe I would have been on to you right away.”
“Of course, you would, Samantha. Even I didn’t believe the inane bullshit I was feeding them.”
“I know that you work those assets to your advantage.”
“Well, maybe I do. So, you think I’m cute, huh?”
“Oh, stop it. You know you are.” John gives her a self-satisfied smirk. “I do have to agree with you, though, about people’s being too trusting. I am one who never contends that a certain person would not ever kill or commit a crime. I don’t put anything past anybody. I don’t care who they are. That’s why I am good at my job. I even suspected both of your parents until I was satisfied of their innocence.”
“I appreciate that and your attitude, Samantha. But anyway, I never tried to mislead you. All the clues I left you were valid. There were no red herrings. I think you know that. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have found your way right to me.”
“And I can appreciate that. It was I who disregarded the obvious longer than I should have.”
“I also told my mother that I was hoping for some approval recognition from my father. He‘s always regarded me as a disappointment, and nothing I do is ever good enough for him. I acquired a fortune on my own, making me self-reliant. I don’t have to ask him for anything. And yet he treats me like I don’t matter for shit. I thought maybe if he can get past the killing thing, he might consider the fact that I accomplished a virtually impossible endeavor, all by myself, and so far have gotten away with it, I would finally get from him a ’Good job, Son. Well done.’”
“There is some logic to that, I suppose (twisted, albeit), but it still doesn’t excuse your predilection for murder.”
“I hope that you, at least, can recognize the ars magna involved, Samantha.”
“Great art, John? Is that what you want to call it? I admit that I enjoyed the process, planning and organization of what you did, so I guess there is a certain artistic aspect about it all, but you seem to have enjoyed the actual killings.”
“Well, one should enjoy what they do or why do it at all? Wouldn’t you agree, Samantha?“
“I don’t quite know how to answer that, John.”
“As I got into this…project, I came to realize the personal element of it all, by employing my passion for music and botany. I was hoping to educate as well as entertain by introducing little-known plants to interested parties and displaying my eclectic taste in music. I originally considered using Chanticleer’s recording of Josquin‘s ‘O Virgo Virginum’ for young Donna, but I decided on the more wry selection instead, when given the choice.”
“So, this whole thing was basically about you, then?”
“But don‘t you have any qualms about the people you killed?”
(Ala Edith Piaf:) “# Non, je ne regrette rien.# You see, Samantha, I don’t do anything that I think I will be sorry for later on. If I feel that way about something, then I won’t do it at all. As a result, I am never sorry about the choices I make in life. I will admit, though, that the first kill was the hardest. But I found it to be true that after your first one, it does gets easier.”
“But John, not that you care, apparently, it seems so heartless to kill these people on their birthdays.”
“Why? That’s as good a day as any. The way I see it, I helped them to celebrate the day of their birth by making it also the day of their death. What could be more fitting?” Samantha just stares at him in pained bewilderment.
“So, even strangling that little girl, that didn’t bother you at all, John?”
“Um, not really. She was just in the scheme of things. So, no. What’s done is done anyway. Que será será. Hakuna matata.”
(I wouldn’t say that. Actually, you have a whole lot to worry about, I would think.)
John: “So, what happens now?”
“Well, I’m going to have to take you in, of course.”
“Uh, excuse me? Take me in for what, exactly?”
“For what? You just confessed to being the Zodiac Killer!”
“Yeah, but can you prove it? Do you have any physical evidence that connects me personally to any of the murders? Of course, you now know the truth, but those flowers could have been put there by somebody else. Nobody saw me put them there or kill anybody. Can you place me at the scene of any of the murders? An admission is not real proof. Sure, I told you, and my parents know–I’m sure by now my father has been told–but I will deny it if anyone else asks. It’s still my word against yours. I am not being recorded, am I?”
“Unfortunately, no, John.”
“Well, then. Besides, if you arrest me, I can pay any bail that they should impose, so they can‘t hold me.”
(Yeah, especially if you have money and are white. So, he is correct. We can’t hold him on suspicion alone, if there is no actual proof.)
“So, until you can prove, beyond a doubt, that I am your perp, we are at a stalemate. We’re not done quite yet anyway, Samantha.“
“You mean we’re still playing, then?”
“We are indeed. The game definitely is still on. There are still more clues out there to be discerned. I’ve given you all that you need. It’s now up to you to put it all together. Actually, I will be disappointed if you don’t find the proof to convict me. It‘s not over until the fat lady sings.”
“You sound as if you want to be convicted.”
“Well, goodness gracious, Samantha! I killed 13 people–you forgot to count both twins, by the way–so I think I deserve some kind of punishment, don‘t you? It’s only fair that I be willing to accept the consequences of my actions.”
“Actually, John, I did count the twins. It’s Roman Pound that I didn’t count, because I’m not all that sure that you killed him. Did you push him off that beam, or did he fall? And then, did you force him to go up there in the first place? I mean, did you hold a gun to his head, or threaten him or anything?”
“Hmm. That is a very good point, Samantha. I never considered that. I did not force him to go up on that beam. He went up there voluntarily.”
“But why on earth would he do such a thing?”
“I bet him that he couldn’t balance himself up there for just seven minutes, offered him a lot of money, and his hubristic ego…
(Well, that’s the pot calling the kettle beige!)
…and greed wouldn’t allow him to turn down the bet. He did meet the challenge, by the way, but then he slipped and fell just the same, which I was hoping he would. So, I guess I didn’t kill him after all, did I? He killed himself–but with my help, albeit. I still have to take responsibility for putting the man in that position. It is possible to kill by compulsion, I suppose. I mean, I took him there, and directed the scene, so I guess it’s partially my fault that he happened to die while performing the stunt. Incidentally, Samantha, this is another prime example of blind compliance from my victim. I mean, this guy just went along with everything without objection. He didn’t even ask how the beam got there or who put it there. His boss, Frank Abrams, too, didn’t know anything about me. We never met in person, we never even spoke. He apparently didn’t bother to check my credentials to see if I was on the level, not that it would have mattered, since he wouldn’t have been able to find me anyway. He and Roman both just saw dollar signs dangled before them, and that’s all they cared about. Abrams just let his employee and friend go off to parts unknown with a total stranger. So, should I be blamed for people’s unbridled stupidity? You know, Libra was my greatest challenge. Other than being the only inanimate sign, it’s the only one that doesn‘t even have a real plant reference, which is why I had to get more creative. I think it‘s rather ironic that the one that required the most work and preparation, and considerable expense as well, is the one that I can‘t take real credit for, that is, Roman‘s actual demise. Thank you, Samantha. I guess I still can call it a ‘baker’s dozen’ though, can’t I? And for the record, I don’t do guns. That‘s not my thing at all.”
(But you don’t mind riddling a person’s body with a barrage of arrows, or strangling a helpless child to death, do you?)
“Well, John, if it’s retribution you want, we’ll see what we can do for you. You know, it just occurred to me that you have something in common with another famous serial killer–Albert DeSalvo, the Boston Strangler.”
“Oh, you must mean that DeSalvo was accused of killing 13 people, but all women, in his case, and that he was a fellow Virgo…September 3rd?”
“That’s it! So, you are aware of that, then.”
“Of course. Samantha, I would like to know something. You came here originally to speak to my mother. She didn’t tell you about me, did she?”
“No. It was your father.”
“Oh, really! Hmm. That is interesting.” (Dear old Dad, huh?)
“Before then, we didn’t know about you at all. It came as quite a surprise, in fact. Unfortunately for us, your mother’s webpage doesn’t give any of her family information. So, I initially suspected Earl.”
“Say, may I try this little poser on you, just for fun?”
“This has nothing to do with the Zodiac. It’s something else entirely. I’m sure you will get it, though.
Somewhere in midtown Manhattan
Amidst couturier toil,
A statue sits there a-tattin‘.
Might it be Motel Kamzoil?”
“Did you just make that up, John?”
“Yeah, I did. Can you remember it, Samantha? If I had left you a clue at that mystery location, would you know where to look?”
“Hmm. I’ll have to think about that for a bit. But yes, John, I’ll remember it. I should have an answer for you the next time I see you. By then I will have figured out all your other clues as well.”
“I have no doubt that you will, Captain.”
“I am going to leave you now. I did so enjoy our little chat. I find you utterly fascinating.”
“Well, the feeling is mutual, my good woman. The pleasure was ours.” They get up, and John walks Samantha to the door.
“Oh. One last thing before you go. Do you like Alfred Hitchcock, Samantha?”
“Yes. I enjoy his work. Why do you ask?”
“Oh, no reason. I just wondered.” Samantha happens to notice that even though the door to the room opens to the right, and it would have been more natural to use the right hand to open it, he opens it with his left hand.
(Aha! So, he is left-handed, as I suspected.) “Colin, let’s go. We’re done here for the time being. John, I must tell you not to leave town. ‘I’ll be back.’ Thank you all for your time and cooperation.”
Colin: “Flora, the tea was lovely. Thank you.”
“You are quite welcome, Detective.”
Earl: “Pleased to have met you both.”
As they leave, “Flora, Mr. Smith, John. We bid you all adieu for now. Good evening.”
John: “So long, Dearie!”
FATHER AND SON CONFRONTATION
(“Lucy, you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do!”)
“So, what happened? Why didn’t they arrest you?”
“Arrest me for what, Daddy-O?”
“Arrest you for what?! That Spenser guy thinks you are the notorious Zodiac Killer! Is he wrong?”
“’Maybe. And maybe not, too.’ No, he’s not wrong.”
“Then what? Those cops apparently think that it’s you.”
“They can think anything they want. They have to be able to prove it.”
“John, I am greatly disappointed in you!”
“Really, Dad? So, what else is new?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I’ve always been a great disappointment to you. Why should this time be any different?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve always been proud of you, son. Your achievements, your intelligence, independence and self-reliance…”
“That’s the first time I’ve heard it. You’ve never said any of that to me before.”
“Why should I have to say it? You should know how I feel.”
“How would I know if you don’t express it? I can’t read your mind.”
“I love you, John. Don’t you know that?”
“I wasn‘t sure. It’s the first time you’ve ever said it.”
“I’m so sorry, son. I had no idea that you were harboring these dark feelings. Is that why you killed all those people, just to get back at me?”
“No, not entirely. But I guess you are part of the reason.”
“Now, what does that mean?!”
“Dad, I created this fantastic…thing. I don’t even know what to call it exactly. It was quite a production. Artistic in every way. It took me a whole year to execute. I set it up as a game and invited interested parties to play with me. Samantha Marlowe is the only person who took up the challenge and figured the whole thing out. She’s quite a woman, Dad. So a few stupid people died in the process, it still turned out to be a brilliant exhibition. Samantha said as much herself. This was sort of a test for you and Mother, too. I wanted to see how long it would take you to figure out what I was doing. And since you found out only today after it was all over, means that you both failed the test miserably. You didn’t even find out on your own but had to be told. Samantha was way over in Manhattan and was on to me, and my own parents, whom I live with, had no idea.”
“You’re not blaming us for doing what you did, are you?”
“Of course, I’m not blaming you. But the fact that you didn’t know what was going on under your own roof, says something about you, wouldn’t you agree? I do appreciate your respecting my privacy, but as my parents, I also expect you to show some interest in my activities outside of my work here. Dad, the other day was the first time in ages that you asked me where I have been. And then you said that you didn’t care. I confessed to Mother only because she asked me point-blank if I was the killer, and I chose not to lie to her. Oh, Mother, by the way. The flower thing is a tribute to you and our work together. So, I would like to know, Dad, now that I actually pulled it off…I mean, come on, so far I am getting away with multiple murder! Aren‘t you even a little bit impressed?”
“Are you serious right now, John? Do you really expect me to be impressed?! I can’t believe that a son of mine could do such a despicable thing! I don’t know how anybody could do such a thing. You must be insane, John!”
“There he is! That’s the dad I’m used to. You couldn‘t let me have this one thing, could you? And by the way, Father! Every killer and every other kind of criminal is somebody‘s son or daughter. So why should you be exempt from having one? What makes you so special?” Earl harrumphs and shakes his head in disbelief. “And another thing, Daddy Dearest! I learned that it was you who ratted me out to the police. They were not even aware of my existence until you opened your big mouth.”
“Oh, I am sorry about that, son. But how was I to know that you were who they were looking for?”
“Well, Mom figured it out soon enough and had the good sense to keep her trap shut. You know, there are no accidents. Maybe you gave me up on purpose. When they accused you of being the killer, you said, ‘It‘s not me! Why don‘t you speak to John!’”
“That’s not what happened.”
“That’s exactly what happened! You brought them right here to my house!”
“I don’t know what else to say, John.”
“I think you have said quite enough, Dad.”
“Flora, you’re awfully quiet over there.”
“I’m still in shock. I am stunned by what I’m hearing. I don‘t think I will ever get over this. Earl, our son is a killer! I thought I knew you, John, but I don‘t know you at all.”
“Sure, you do, Mother dear. I’m your darling little boy. But aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did enjoy the play?”
“Oh, John! Now he‘s making light of it. How can you be so cruel and unfeeling?” Her sobbing continues.
Samantha and Colin are driving back to Manhattan.
“Well! You two must have had quite the discourse, didn’t you, then?” Colin sings. “# What’s the buzz? Tell me what’s happening. What’s the buzz?… #”
“Jesus Christ Superstar! Are you an Andrew Lloyd Webber fan, Colin?”
“I am, actually, Sam. We attended the same prep school in England. Westminster. Different years, of course.”
“Is that right? I like his stuff as well. That guy is loaded! But, to address your query… Our little powwow did take longer than I thought it would. I love talking with him. Colin, John Smith is some piece of work, honey! After confessing to me that he is the killer, he had the audacity to dare me to try to prove it.”
“Well, we did the ‘mutual admiration society’ bit. He was so pleased that I, well, we, figured out his clues. He admitted that that was the whole point–to ’get’ him, you see. I find it quite disturbing, though, that he has no feeling about the people that he killed, no remorse whatsoever. It‘s just a non-issue with him. It’s rather unsettling that he is so cold and unfeeling about human life. But he’s really nice. It just doesn’t make sense. He even tried to justify it by blaming his victims for their own deaths, because they were gullible enough to believe anything he told them. Although there is some validity to that, it doesn’t excuse him from taking advantage of those people’s blind trust. I do have him figured out somewhat, though. John is your classic sociopath with a narcissistic complex. These killings were all about his satisfying his own self-indulgent ego. And the game aspect and providing the clues is to show the world how smart he is and to receive the much-desired recognition and admiration for his efforts. But that being said, he is willing to take responsibility for and accept the consequences of his actions. He is so conflicted. He wants us to apprehend him, but he doesn’t want to give himself up voluntarily. I almost feel sorry for the guy. Colin, would you believe that we have the same birthday?”
“You don’t say! Hmm. So you two must have some sort of astral connection, then, don‘t you?”
“Apparently, we do.”
“Yeah, we heard you two singing and laughing in there. You seemed to be having a good time with each other.”
“I really like the guy. He’s charming and funny and pleasant to be around. I think he’s very lonely, Colin. He has no friends. He seemed so pleased to have someone to talk to and with whom to play his mind games. I don’t suppose that his cat provides any stimulating entertainment for him. I am convinced that the main reason for doing this terrible thing was for the hope of meeting someone like me. He pretty much admitted that. If it weren’t for the killer thing, we possibly could have something there. We might even be soul mates. He’s just 30, by the way. You know how I sometimes mispronounce certain words on purpose? Well, John does that, too! He also is into musicals and foreign phrases. It’s uncanny how much we have in common. Oh, well! I guess it just isn’t meant to be. So, what did I miss with the parents?”
“Those poor blokes! They just can’t believe it. I feel sorry for them, too. Mr. Smith insisted that I be up front with him. I didn’t say definitely, only that we strongly suspect that John is the Zodiac Killer. Flora didn’t say anything, even though I‘m sure that she knows. She’s just trying to protect her son and not incriminate him.”
“How did Earl respond to the news?”
“Just stunned disbelief, basically. He asked me, ’Who is he supposed to have killed?’”
“As far as we know, in every case it was random strangers whom he didn’t know personally, but they fit into his special qualifications.”
“I don’t follow you, Spenser.”
“Are you sure you want to hear this, sir? It‘s quite grisly.” Earl nods his head. “All right, then. His Aries victim was killed by having ram’s horns rammed down his throat and up his bum. He hacked a pair of conjoined twins to death with a double-bladed axe, separating them in the process. That was his Gemini kill. He fed a woman a poisoned crab that gave her terminal cancer. He strangled a teenage virgin. He drowned his Aquarius victim. Others were killed by actual bulls, lions, scorpions, goats and arrows, all provided by him. For his last kill, Pisces, he flung a crippled woman into a tank filled with piranha–her own, I might add.” Throughout Colin’s account, there is audible distress from Flora.
Earl: “Stop! We’ve heard enough!”
“Well, you asked. So, there was a specific theme to be followed, you see.”
“I’ve never heard anything so depraved in my life! And you think our John did all that?”
“He is our only suspect. And his flower trail is what lead us here. That must be what he wanted. I realize that is hard to accept, Mr. Smith, but that’s how it looks.”
[End of flashback]
“The rest of the time we just did small talk. I drank my tea and Earl had a beer. We talked sports, I asked Earl about his job. Poor Flora was still too upset to contribute to the conversation. How did you leave things with John, then?”
“Well, he reminded me that we don’t have any direct evidence to connect him to any of the murders, and he’s right. He told me that the game is not over until we can prove it. So we still have our work cut out for us. He said that there are still some clues out there that we apparently have overlooked. We won’t do any more work tonight, however. I’m beat. I’m going home. But I will be at the station bright and early tomorrow, and we can continue our investigation.”
“That sounds like a plan, then.”
“Remember, it’s the early bird that gets the worm.”
“Yeah, but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese.” They both chuckle.
THE FINAL CLUES
“So, how are my guys this morning?”
Jerry: “I’m great, Sammy! Junior won his game!”
Colin and Danny: “Yay!”
Samantha: “Way to go, Junior!”
Danny: “I’m good, too, Sam. How did it go with the Asters yesterday? She is married, isn’t she?”
“Uh, Smiths, as it turns out. It’s Earl and Flora Smith. Aster is Flora’s maiden name.”
Danny: “You don‘t say. So, is Earl the Killer, then?”
Jerry: “Or are they both in it together?”
Colin: “Nope. They are both innocent. But guess what, mates? They have a 30-year-old son.”
Jerry: “Oh, really?! So, what‘s his story?”
Colin: “His story is that his name is John.”
Danny: “What?! John Smith? As in, ‘J.S.’, John Smith?”
Colin: “You got it.”
Danny: “Holy shit! So, he‘s The Guy?!”
Colin: “Oh, he’s The Guy, then.”
Jerry: “Did he confess? He didn‘t actually confess, did he?”
Colin: “Oh, yes. He confessed all right.”
Jerry: “So, then you arrested him and brought him in.”
Samantha: “Not quite, fellas.”
Danny: “What do you mean? Why not?”
“Because we can’t prove it…yet. We can‘t physically link him to any of the murders. All we can offer is suspicion, and that‘s not proof.”
Colin: “And he knows that. That is why he was so forthcoming. He practically dared Sam to find the proof to convict him. He wants her to, in fact.”
“And that’s why we are here today. John told me that the game is not over until we can prove his guilt.”
Jerry: “Goodness! What chutzpah!”
Colin: “You got that right.”
“I have a confession, too. I trust you guys and hope that you won‘t judge me too harshly for what I am about to say.”
Colin: “What is it, dear girl?”
“As terrible as it was, I am not sorry that he got to finish his project. It would have been a shame not to complete his masterpiece. Do you all think less of me now for thinking this way?”
Danny: “Of course not, Sam. In fact, I kinda feel the same way as you do. You must have noticed that we haven’t done a whole lot to help solve the case. You’ve done practically all of the work yourself. We all have enjoyed listening to you analyze the clues and how much fun you seemed to be having doing so. We can’t fault you for that. Shoot, once we got so much involved in the case, I, for one, secretly wanted to know how it all would turn out.”
Jerry: “I agree with Danny. I have learned so much this past year. You are a brilliant broad, Sammy. You amaze us every day with all the shit that you know. No, we don’t fault you at all.”
Colin: “Count me in, too, then.”
“I do appreciate what you’re saying. The thing is, though, I think on a subconscious level, we didn‘t want to stop him just yet. It was John who called me on it yesterday, wondering why it took us so long to find him. I had to think about that. I mean, we all knew about the botanical thing and could have pursued it long before we did. That was, after all, how we eventually found him. But we farted around and didn’t do anything, like, we were waiting for him to finish up first. So I sort of feel guilty for allowing all those people to be murdered, when we possibly could have prevented some of it.”
Danny: “Then we all need to accept responsibility, as we are all guilty. I remember all of us anticipating the Pisces kill, for example, wondering who it would be and how he would do it. So this isn’t just on you, Sam.”
Jerry: “Don’t you worry your little head, darlin’. We are with you all the way.”
“Aww, I love you guys. I just didn’t want you to think bad of me for expressing such admiration for a serial killer.”
Danny: “Are you kidding? This is the most fun I’ve had in a long time!”
“Thanks. I feel a little better now. Realize, though, that if he had not been as helpful as he was, leaving us all those clues, we never would have found him. He would have gotten away with it entirely. We caught him only because he wanted us to. Before yesterday, we still had no idea even who he was. Think about that.”
Jerry: “Yeah, I hear you, Sammy.”
Colin: “But, mates, have you considered that we are the only ones who stayed on the case at all? Nobody else seemed to be interested. If it weren’t for us, he would have gotten away with it.”
“You know? John made that very acknowledgment to me yesterday.”
“So we should give ourselves some credit, then.”
Danny: “That’s a very good point, Colin. But that’s all behind us. So, what now? He’s had his fun. It’s up to us now. How do we get that conniving, arrogant bastard?”
“Well, he intimated that there are still some clues out there that we have overlooked. So that’s what we need to find. Anybody got any ideas?” They all think for a moment.
Danny: “Do we know for sure that some place that he went this past year, he didn’t leave any indication that he was there? Maybe he stayed overnight somewhere, and there is a sign-in record of his being there.”
Jerry: “You know? That’s not a bad idea. We never pursued that line of inquiry.”
Samantha: “That’s true. I don’t think that he flew everywhere. He must have driven to the closer locales, or when he needed a car. He couldn’t very well rent one without using a credit card.”
Danny: “You’re right. Living out where he does, I am assuming that he drives. Then let’s figure out where he might have stayed overnight and had to use local accommodations. We just might get lucky.”
Colin: “So, we know that he didn’t stay in Brooklyn that first night, because he went to Central Park to place that sign. Besides, that’s so close to his home. But how about Bullhead City, Arizona, then?”
Jerry: “Why would he need to stay? If his cattle rustling was accomplished all in one day, after he killed Ella Toro, it was time to fly back home.”
Samantha: “But not right away. Remember that he made those two stops in Montana and Ohio first.”
Jerry: “Oh, that’s right. I forgot about that.”
Danny: “But he probably did not stay overnight in either place. Why would he?”
Jerry: “Yeah, I suppose that ordering a billboard could be accomplished in one day. But even if he had to stay there a couple of days or longer–I mean, he had to wait around in order to sign them–I am assuming that he could have slept in his plane, instead of going to a motel.”
Colin: “That sounds feasible, mate. Consider, too, that the entire gesture might have been for naught anyway, as he couldn’t know for sure if anyone would even find his signs or understand them.”
Samantha: “We still don’t know if he visited Twin Falls in Idaho. I neglected to ask about that one.”
Jerry: “Now Minneapolis-St. Paul is a possibility, though. He must have had his car, in order to transport those bodies to the bridges. He even might have arrived the day before, so that he would be well rested for his big kill the next day.”
Colin: “I like that, Jerry.”
Danny: “You know, something else just occurred to me. How did he deposit those bodies on the bridges without anybody seeing him? Inquiring minds want to know. Can somebody enlighten me?”
Samantha: “It must have required perfect timing. Maybe there was a lull in the traffic. And for one brief moment, or two, actually, when nobody was on the bridge, he dumped them.”
Danny: “I guess that’s possible.”
“So, with that then, here’s another thought. Although he killed those twins on a Saturday, which would have been their birthday, he must have waited until early Sunday to dispose of them, when there wouldn’t be as much traffic. That is when the bodies were discovered after all.”
“Hmm. That’s good thinking, Jere. So where did he sleep those two nights? I am going to do a check of the hotels and motels in the Twin Cities. Maybe he stayed in one of them.”
Jerry: “My guess is that he would pick a minor, low-profile motel rather than some fancy, mainstream hotel.”
Danny: “I agree. There would be fewer people to deal with, for one thing.”
Samantha: “And now that we know how his mind works, I’ll bet he would have picked one whose name has special significance.” Samantha googled Minneapolis-St. Paul accommodations. Quite a few listings came up, but one in particular caught her attention. Copshy Motel in Minneapolis. (Why does that seem familiar somehow?) She thought and thought. Then it hit her.
“Well, I’ll be damned! Viola! [sic] I’ll bet you that’s it!”
Jerry: “What’s it, Sammy?”
“The Copshy Motel! He actually told us last night. Colin, you were there. Just as we were going to have our private conversation, he said to us, ’You will forgive me for being a little cop shy.’ Do you remember him saying that?”
“Yes, I do, now that you mention it. I thought it was merely a non sequitur. I didn’t take any stock in it.”
“I took it to mean that he felt timid around police officers, although he certainly didn’t seem to be. But what he was doing was giving us another clue, subtle as it was. I am calling the Copshy Motel right now.” Samantha found the number of the motel and dialed it. She pushed the speaker button, so that they all could hear. They picked up after two rings.
”Copshy Motel. This is Amber Anston speaking. How may I help you?”
“Ms. Anston, is it?”
“My name is Captain Samantha Marlowe of the New York City Police Department. I would like to ask you a few questions, if I may.”
“Certainly, Captain. I am pleased to help. What do you want to know?”
“Were you there at your motel on June 2nd of last year?”
“Most likely I was. I’m always here. This is my motel. I run the place. I live here as well.”
“Then let me pick your brain. Do you remember on that day, June 2nd, checking in a young man about 30, Caucasian, very handsome? He may have signed the register ‘John Smith’ or some other name. Does that ring a bell, by any chance?”
“I do indeed remember him, Captain. I don’t even have to consult my register. That is the name he signed in with. It was at night. Firstly, I naturally did assume that he was giving me a fake name. That’s the name a lot of men use when they are sneaking around. But we tend to be discreet here, and I don’t judge or pry into anybody‘s business. He did appear to be alone, though. Are you telling me that John Smith is his real name?”
“Yes, it really is, as strange as that may seem. Is there anything else?”
“There is. I also remember him, because I noticed that he was a lefty, like me. I even commented on it. I said, ‘Oh, a fellow southpaw! We’re very special people, you know.’ And yes, indeed, I, too, thought he was quite cute.”
”Is that all?”
“No. There was one other thing we discussed. It’s something that I ask all my guests who come here.”
“What would that be?”
“I asked him if he was into anagrams. And he replied, ’I must be. Why do you think I chose this particular motel?’ That was it. He went to his room, and that was the last time I saw him. According to my maid, he did stay with us for two nights, though, and must have checked out early Sunday morning. Since he had paid cash, he didn’t need to come by the front desk. Does that help you at all, Captain?”
“You have been extremely helpful. Now, Ms. Anston, if you will pardon me for what I am about to ask you. I don’t mean to offend you, but this is rather important that you give me an honest answer. Okay?”
“Okay, I think. What is it, Captain?”
“Would you be considered a full-figured gal?”
“Well, that’s putting it mildly. Most people consider me fat. But I have learned to live with it. No offense taken.”
“Well, thank you for your candor. You have just solved a major murder case, my dear.”
“You must have heard about those murdered twins last year?”
“Why, yes, of course. That was awful. People here are still talking about it.”
“Well, you have just given us the proof we need that it was John Smith who killed them.”
“What?! My goodness! So, I was harboring a murderer? He seemed like such a nice young man, too. That just goes to show you that you can’t always assess a person by their appearance, can you?”
“You are certainly right about that. I will let you go, Ms. Anston. Thank you so much for your help. Goodbye, now.” They hang up.
Danny: “Well, how do you like them apples?!”
Jerry: “So, I was right. Does that mean we got him now?”
“Well, we shattered one of his alibis, anyway. We can’t place him at the actual scene, but he was in the city on the day of the murders. I just thought of something else that John hinted at. He didn’t say that we couldn’t place him at any of the murder scenes. He posed it as a challenge by saying, ‘Can you place me at the scene of any of the murders?’, meaning that it will give us the proof that he was there. And that is what we just did.”
Colin: “I think it’s enough for an arrest, then. We can make a case after he’s in custody.”
Danny: “So, that was his big mistake, signing in with his real name.”
“But was it a mistake, Danny? I think that John is too smart to slip up like that. He could have given any name. I contend that he did that on purpose, with the hope that nobody would put it together, or conversely, that somebody would. He did lead us to that motel, after all. Realize that everything he does is a test, for us and for the sake of the game. He actually could have slept in his car, or anywhere, if he had wanted to. He didn’t have to go to a motel, necessarily.”
Colin: “I think you’re right, Sam.”
Danny: “He must have hidden those bodies in his car for all that time. Ugh!”
Jerry: “Hey, Sammy! What made you ask that Anston dame about her size?”
“It’s because of something John said to me when he was suggesting that we were still playing his game. He said that it wasn’t over until the fat lady sings. I asked only out of curiosity. We see now that he was referring to Amber Anston. John tends to make even common expressions literal.”
Danny: “So, does finding out that he’s a lefty matter for anything, Sam?
“Well, it establishes the fact that the man at that motel in Minneapolis is the same man we met yesterday. That’s when I actually confirmed what I already suspected. I saw John open the door to his room with his left hand. Either he did it on purpose, wanting me to notice, or it was instinctive, not thinking about it. But my first tip-off that he was left-handed was from his Central Park sign and the billboards.”
Danny: “What do you mean?”
“In each case he signed his initials in the left-hand corner. I told you that everything he did was relevant and intentional.”
Colin: “Blimey, Sam! You don’t miss a trick, do you?”
Danny: “She never ceases to amaze me. Her phenomenal memory is also a great asset.”
Jerry: “Yeah, you go, gurl!
“Look at how much he told us about himself, even before we knew who he was. He gave us his initials, told us where he lives, let us know that he’s left-handed, that he’s rich, very smart, musically-inclined and an expert in floristics. He was being as helpful as he could for us to find him. It is we who didn’t put it all together as soon as we should have. He’s still trying to be helpful, in fact.”
“Of course, you are right, Sam. So, our corpulent informant mentioned something about anagrams. What’s that all about, then?”
”I am working on that right now, Colin. Actually, I should have asked her what she meant by that, but I think we can figure it out for ourselves. That John! He is so sneaky with his clues and wordplay. I see now that all his remaining hidden clues are verbal rather than visual. During our conversation yesterday, he suggested that I recognize the ars magna in all of this, which means ‘great art.’ I thought he was just showing off by using the Latin instead of English, but I realize now is that what he was doing was throwing me another clue. You see, the Latin phrase itself is an anagram of ‘anagrams’! So he was telling me to look for anagrams. John told Ms. Anston that he had picked that motel because of its name. I’ll just bet you the name is an anagram. I’m scrambling the letters. Let’s see what we get.”
“Would you like some help with that, Sammy?”
“No, I got it, Jere. But thanks anyhow.” Samantha starts to rearrange the letters. “SHY COP? No, I don’t think that’s it. S-P-Y-H-O-C. No. P-O-S-H-C-Y. Nope. How about, H-O-S-P-Y-C? Uh, no. Let me try… P-S-Y-C-H-O. Hello! Psycho!”
“Of course. Don’t you see? John did pick that motel because of its name.” Samantha smacks herself upside the head. “Well, shut my mouth and call me dumb, and beat me; I‘m a kettle drum!”
Colin: “What is it, Sam?”
“Well, it’s from Carmen Jones, for one thing. But I just had another epiphany. Remember that earlier comment? He wasn’t just saying, ’Forgive me for being a little cop shy.’ He was also actually saying, ’Forgive me for being a little psycho‘!”
Danny: “Oooh! And the truth shall set you free!”
Colin: “Bob’s your uncle!”
Danny: “But ya are, Blanche! Ya are a psycho!” They all laugh.
Jerry: “Can I get a ‘amen’ up in here?!”
“So, he admits that he‘s a blooming psycho. He may be crazy, but he’s by no means stupid. You know, Sam, maybe John has a bit of a conscience after all. He recognizes the fact that he is a sick man but would like us all to excuse him for it.”
“I think you may be right about that, Colin. But even that reveals his psychosis. He’s saying, ‘Yeah, I know that I am a nutcase, but so what? Love me anyway. I have other redeeming qualities.’ Which he does, I’ll admit. Listen to this. Psycho can be a noun, short for psychopath, or an adjective, but it can also be a combining form for psychotic, psychodramatic, psychodynamic, psychogenetic, psychokinetic, psychoneurotic, psychosocial and psychosomatic, all of which I think apply to our John. He also might be psychosexual, although we didn’t get into that part of his character during our little tête-à-tête. He did admit to having no friends, no romantic relationship with anyone or ever having one. He even may be a virgin, taking his own sun sign to heart. Who knows? He might have a secret fantasy of maybe losing his purported virginity to a bunch of brutish inmates in prison. Can you imagine what will happen to him in there, being as hot as he is?”
Danny: “Maybe he will get the chance to find out. It’ll serve him right.”
“I’m sure that comment was also meant for his parents, who were present at the time as well. They didn’t get it, however, as they don’t know what we know. He even tried to explain why he did it, but his logic was self-serving and unconvincing to me. There appears to be some unresolved issues with his father. Although John did not want Earl to take the credit for his own actions, he seemed pleased somewhat that we did consider him at least. He also seemed disappointed that his parents were not even vaguely aware of what he was doing. Short of his confessing to them himself, what were they supposed to do if they had found out? Would they have done their own investigation to verify his claim? How would they go about that? Then what? Would they tell him to stop, turn him in or protect his secret? It’s their child after all. Not exposing him would have made them both accessories after the fact. You know, while we’re at it, I am a bit suspicious of Amber Anston, too…her name, I mean. John made the comment to me that I was a suspicious person. Perhaps that was a hint, too. And he did imply ‘anagrams,‘ plural. So there must be more than just the one somewhere. Might she also be an anagram?” After trying several combinations, “This is too much! You guys won’t believe this.”
Danny: “What did you get?”
“Drum roll, please!” The men do a paradiddle on their desks. “I present to you…Norman Bates!”
Jerry: “No way! Are you shitting us, Sammy?”
Danny: “You don’t mean Norman Bates, like the guy from Psycho?”
Samantha: “That’s the one!”
Jerry: “Now, there has to be more to that story.”
Danny: “You think?”
Jerry: “Yeah, I do. There is truly something up with that broad.”
“Colin, I am in total awe of that John. He was dropping subtle hints left and right. Do you know what he said to me just as we were leaving his room?”
“He asked me if I liked Alfred Hitchcock. That was another clue! He again was directing me to check out the ‘Bates Psycho’ Motel.”
“I’m sure he will be thrilled that you figured it all out. Sam, do you think that Amber knows that about her name and the motel’s name, too, for that matter?”
”It was she herself who said that she was into anagrams, so how could she not know? And with John’s admitted fascination for names, I’m sure that he is on to her as well. By now it probably has dawned on her why John chose her motel at which to stay.”
Danny: “Like, their being kindred spirits and fellow psychos, perhaps?”
Jerry: “Ha! Could be. One never knows. Do one?”
Colin: “So, I guess we should go pick him up, then.”
Danny: “I want to go this time. I have to meet this guy.”
Jerry: “So do I. Let’s all go!”
Danny: “Yes, he may not want to come along peacefully.”
PLAYING THE NUMBERS
The crime team all pile into Samantha’s car and drive back out to the Smiths in Southampton. On the way there, Samantha and her colleagues discuss an additional discovery about the case.
“Another intriguing thought has occurred to me since yesterday.”
“What is it, Sammy?”
“Well, it’s some offhanded comments that John made during our conversation that got me to thinking. It’s not really more clues, just an added element to his gameplay. In addition to the victims’ birthdays being the same as the number of their individual sun sign, it appears that corresponding numbers have played a part in all the murder scenarios.”
Colin: “What do you mean?”
“Okay. Let’s go through them one by one. So, A. Reese Ramin (Abel) was Victim No. 1. On John’s first sign he said, ’one out of many,’ referring to Reese. The card left at the murder scene had an A on it, which is the first letter of the alphabet. There were two bullion coins found with Ella Toro. Although they were not placed together, we now know that there are two ‘T’ cards, Ella’s and Louise’s, the first two female victims.”
“T for two, then. Heh-heh!”
“Colin! He followed that with the two billboard signs, which led to his double murder of the twins, including the two ‘O’ cards, although there were three “twin” towns, that we know of, that he could have used, and there were three chewing gum wrappers at their murder scene. And we recently learned that John spent part of three days in Minneapolis–Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the only place and time that he did that.”
Jerry: “Yes, I see where you’re going with this.“
“The autopsy report on Dr. Crabbe mentions that only four of her internal organs were damaged by the cancer–her stomach, her lungs, liver and kidneys. John told me that he had offered her four crabs from which to choose. But I imagine that they all were tainted. Not only was it five lions that killed Leo, the dandelion bouquet also numbered five. But did you know that five $100 bills were found in his pocket?”
Danny: “You don’t say! That must be how much John paid him for the circus gig.“
Jerry: “Which turned out to be a real dead end job, didn’t it?”
Danny: “Ha-ha! You got that right. He didn‘t get to spend it, but somebody must have kept the money. Please continue, Sam.”
“We all are aware of the many virgin references. ‘Virgin’ has six letters. The coroner in Donna’s case deduced from the distinct markings on the girl’s throat, that John had squeezed it six times by which to choke her to death. And get this. The scarf he used was made up of six stripes!”
Jerry: “No shit!”
“John also told me that the bet he made with Roman Pound was that he could not balance himself on that scale for seven minutes. He did, as a matter of fact, but then he fell anyway. If we disregard the initial article, the two song titles he chose for Roman, ‘Balance of Nature’ / ‘Until the Balance Tips’, are made up of seven words. John used exactly eight scorpions to kill Nge Antares, and her ‘H’ card denotes the eighth letter of the alphabet. Nine arrows were found stuck in Fletcher Bowman’s body, the killer’s and victim’s names, that is, John Smith/’Robin Hood’ and Sebastian, all contain nine letters, and his ‘I’ card is the ninth letter of the alphabet. There was a total of ten goats on Goat Island, which has ten letters. There were eleven different plant specimens left with Barry Waters, whose name has eleven letters, and eleven dollars were found in his pocket, which I believe is what John paid for the water bottle that he purchased from Barry. Somebody counted twelve piranha in Bonita’s fish tank, and her ‘L’ card is the 12th letter of the alphabet. Without naming them all, I have figured that John’s murder mission required him to visit 11 U.S. states and one Canadian province, making 12. And of course, we already cited some of the number ’13’ references. There may be other number citations that we are not aware of that only John knows about.”
“That is truly amazing. But couldn’t some of it just be mere coincidence, Sam?”
“Well, Danny, we know that John didn’t leave much to chance. Much of it was definitely deliberate on his part. I contend that he knew exactly what he was doing every step of the way. You see that even those letter cards were not just randomly-assigned. However, having said that, I can believe also that some of it was not always intentional. But those inadvertent coincidences are part of the fun and amazement, don’t you think? I’m sure that John would agree. It appears that he did make an exception with his Taurus kill. Whereas all the other animals he used to kill his victims were the same number as their particular sign, he chose to employ more than just two bulls for that one, because only two bulls would hardly constitute a stampede, would it?”
“Hey, Sammy, you missed one.”
“I noticed that ‘Waterbury NH’ also has 11 letters.”
“Well, what do you know. Jere, you sly dog! Your observational skills are greatly improving, I see.”
“Why, thank you, Sammy! I’m learning.”
John is not sure when the detectives will be back there to arrest him, but he has already taken precautions, just in case. Flora has agreed to look after Kutjing while he is away, but everything else will remain right where it is, in the event that he does get to return at some point. As the house itself is his storage area, nothing needs to be moved anywhere.
Jerry: “I hope he hasn’t flown the coop.”
Danny: “He had better not.” When they arrive at the estate, they go directly to John’s bungalow. Samantha knocks, and John answers the door.
“Well! Back so soon!”
“John, may we come in?”
“By all means. Come right in.” He steps aside and allows them all to enter.
”John, this is the rest of my team, whom you haven’t met. Detectives Gates and Olson. John Smith, as you know.”
“How do you do, Gentlemen.”
Danny: “Pleased to meet ya.”
Jerry: “Charmed, I’m sure.”
“May I offer you gentlemen and the lady anything to drink?” The men all refuse.
Samantha: “No, nothing. We’re fine. We won’t be staying long. John, we came to tell you that we had a little chat this morning with Amber Anston at the Copshy Motel. Or should I say, the ‘Psycho’ Motel? It’s over, John. The fat lady ‘sang,’ so to speak.” John applauds.
“Brava, Samantha! My, that was fast! It didn’t take you long at all to ferret out my new clues. I congratulate you and your colleagues on a job well done.” He sings. “# You did it, you did it, you said that you would do it, and indeed you did! #”
“Well, just you wait, ‘Enry ‘Iggins. What that means is, with ‘Norman Bates,’ I mean, Amber Anston as a witness, we can now place you in the city on the very day that your double murder occurred. You no longer have an alibi. Plus, you had means and opportunity. And with your confession, I believe we can get you your conviction. Your denying it won‘t hold up anymore, as too many people know that you’re guilty. There are the four of us and your parents. With a subpoena, they won‘t be able to lie for you, in the event they have to testify. Consider this, too, John. Even though we can‘t prove that you were in any of the other places where your murders occurred, your mother’s flowers were there. And ruling out your parents, that leaves only you, as a direct link. I‘m afraid it‘s checkmate, my friend. It’s time for you to hang up your jock.”
“’Curses! Foiled again!’ ‘You got me!’ ‘It‘s coitains!’ ‘Mr. De Mille, I am ready for my close-up.’ ‘What do you think I asked you here for…company?!’ ‘We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!’ ‘Klaatu barada nikto!’ ‘Putinontheriiiiitz!!’ ‘Fiddle-dee-dee! After all, tomorrow is another day.’ ‘Get the hook!’ ‘Damn you! Damn you all to hell!’ ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.’ In the words of Adolfo Pirelli, ‘I give-a da up.’”
Jerry, whispering to Colin: “Mercy! What was all that? Is this dude off his rocker, or what?”
“Quite balmy, I’ll say, then. But we had determined that about him already, hadn’t we?”
“No, he’s all right, guys. It’s just a bunch of famous movie quotes, for my benefit. There is another song from The Boys from Syracuse that seems appropriate for this moment, John. It’s called, ‘Come With Me to Jail.’”
”Ah, yes, # I remember it well. # ‘Play it, Sam.’”
“Maybe later. Will you place your hands behind your back, Gigi, I mean, John. We have to handcuff you. It‘s procedure. You understand. Besides, we can‘t trust you. You are definitely and literally a flight risk.” As Danny proceeds to read John his Miranda rights, he puts the cuffs on him, purposely locking them a little too tightly on his wrists.
“Hey! Not so tight, man!”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Do I look like I give a flying fuck?!”
“Oh. ’You‘re so strict.’ Where is that from, Samantha?“
“Heh-heh! Harvey Korman says that to Cloris Leachman as Nurse Diesel in High Anxiety, when she deprives him of his fruit cup because he is just 30 seconds late for dinner. That happens to be my favorite Mel Brooks film, by the way.”
“Ha! It’s mine as well! And of course, you’re right again. I can’t seem to stump you, can I?”
“Well, you can try. You did get me on a couple of your submitted songs, John. I didn’t know ‘Dr. Crab’s Prize’ or ‘Fish Bite,’ for example. Both smart choices, by the way.”
“Why, thank you, Samantha.“
“Colin, why don’t you fetch a jacket for John. It’s a bit chilly out.” Colin finds a nearby closet, takes out an appropriate jacket and places it around John‘s shoulders, then proceeds to escort him out of the house.
“John, would you like to say goodbye to your parents before we cart you away?”
“They are both away at the moment–shopping, I believe.”
“Well, you will have to see them later, then.”
“Who in the hell is Adolfo Pirelli?”
“He’s a character from Sweeney Todd, Jere. The first one that Sweeney kills, in fact.” (He would be referencing another mass murderer!)
“Well, excuse me!” They all get into Samantha’s car. She decides to ride in the back with Colin and John in the middle, and Jerry is in the front with Danny, who is driving. John is not very comfortable in a crowded car with his arms tightly handcuffed behind his back, but the others don’t feel all that sorry for him. Let him endure a little unpleasant discomfort as a mild punishment for his prior actions.
“Samantha, I would like to tell you how doubly impressed I am with your extraordinary acumen–in that you managed to solve the entire case without even going to any of the murder locales. It’s like when Miss Jane Marple solves a murder, which occurred elsewhere, while she is laid up in bed at home with a broken leg in The Mirror Crack‘d, or when Adrian Monk, after seeing a mention about it in his newspaper, solved a murder which occurred in Paris, France, while he was in San Francisco!”
Danny: “And the cops who were at the actual locations didn’t know who or how they did it.”
“Yes, you are quite amazing, Samantha.”
“Aw, shucks, fellas! It was nothing. But thanks anyway for the lovely compliment, John.”
Danny: “I would deem her to be as brilliant as that literary character Robert Langdon.”
Colin: “Hah! I think that she is smarter than Langdon. He knows only what his creator, Dan Brown, knows, and that‘s limited at best. Samantha‘s vast knowledge goes far beyond his. In his Angels & Demons, for instance, he thought that ‘seraphim’ is a singular noun.”
John: “Then I take it she is the one who discovered Amber Anston’s other identity?
“Uh, I’m right here, guys.”
“But I wonder if you good folks know the whole story?”
Danny: “Ooh, the plot thickens.”
“Now, you know that I am not one to gossip, but… What if I tell you that your Amber Anston used to be a man, and Norman Bates is actually their real name!?”
Samantha: “What?! Well, I’ll be!”
Jerry: “A goddamn tranny!? Didn’t I tell you that there was something up with that…person? The voice was a giveaway for me.”
“Yeah, I sorta sensed it, too, Jere. I just wasn’t sure. How do you know that, anyway, John?”
“I could have stayed anywhere in town. When I came across that motel, the name intrigued me, for one thing, and when I met that odd-looking proprietor, I was compelled to learn more about her, although her sexual demeanor did seem rather apparent to me. I even signed in with my real name, and with my subtle hints, I had hoped to point you, or whomever, in her direction.” Samantha and her partners all shoot a nodding glance at each other. “I wanted you to meet her as well. It’s another case of a person’s name influencing their occupational destiny. In addition, I noticed that there is a spooky-looking house on a hill behind the motel.”
Danny: “Oh-oh! Life imitating art, huh?”
Samantha: “So, it would appear. I wonder, though, if this Norman became his mother!”
Colin: “I suppose that anything is possible, Sam.”
John: “‘A boy’s best friend is his mother.'”
(Yeah, you would say that, wouldn’t you?) Incidentally, John, because of the hints you dropped yesterday, I am also on to your little numbers game. You know what I’m talking about. And I figured out your riddle, too. It’s quite clever. It came to me right after I left you.” Before revealing the answer, though, she relays the quatrain to her guys, but none of them get it right away.
“Somewhere in midtown Manhattan
Amidst couturier toil,
A statue sits there a-tattin‘.
Might it be Motel Kamzoil?”
(Hah! She did remember it, word for word. Amazing!.)
“Anyone? No? Okay, here it is. In Manhattan’s so-called Fashion District, at the corner of 7th Avenue and 39th Street, there is a sculpture entitled The Garment Worker, a Jewish man (most likely, as he is wearing a yarmulke) sitting at his sewing machine. Therefore, the reference must be to Motel Kamzoil, Tevye’s son-in-law in Fiddler on the Roof, who happens to be a tailor.”
“Very good, Samantha. I knew you wouldn’t fail me.”
Danny: “I know of what you speak. I just never made that connection before.”
John: “It occurred to me the first time I saw it. Motel Kamzoil is one of my favorite character names–along with Cruella De Vil, Howdy Doody, Elmer Fudd, Foghorn Leghorn, Scrooge McDuck, Strangé, Truly Scrumptious, Pootie Tang and Darth Vader.”
Samantha: “Ha-ha! That is too much! Would you believe that those are mine, too, John?”
“Really. Let’s see if you know this little bit of esoterica, Samantha.” He sings, “# Skid a lit day, skid a lit day. Ratty boo. #”
“Oh, please! That’s from Leonard Bernstein’s one-act opera Trouble in Tahiti, another one of my favorites.”
“Damn, gurl! You sure do know your stuff!”
Danny: “Utterly astounding!” They all shake their heads with awed admiration.
“‘My heart is full.‘ Where is that line from, John?”
“Hmm. Okay, I will give you two answers. Other than part of Hattie McDaniel’s Oscar acceptance speech, which her studio execs wrote for her, by the way, the line is also Joanne Woodward’s simple acknowledgment speech when her real-life daughter, Nell Potts, wins her school’s Science Fair award in The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, directed by her husband, Paul Newman.”
“You are right on both counts, John. That was an Oscar-worthy performance, too, in my opinion.”
“I quite agree, Samantha. I love her in that. Drat the luck! Just when I finally have found my true soul mate and intellectual equal. Oh, well. Next!”
Danny: “You know what? You two are something else. Pardon me for saying so, Sam, but I now see why you like this guy. You are so much alike.”
Jerry: “I’ll help you say.”
“It’s true. I really do like you, John. Getting to know you for this brief period has been quite a treat–playing What’s That From? and all your little word and number games. But, unfortunately, we have our job to do. I wish this could have turned out differently. I must leave your fate to the courts and justice system. No doubt you now will gain the fame, or rather notoriety, and receive the recognition that you so desire, although you shouldn‘t expect any appreciative admiration from anyone other than me. I am pretty sure that the families and friends of the people you killed will all hold you in ignominious indignation. And I seriously doubt that you will find any defense attorneys who will be able to get you off, no matter how much you pay them. With that methodical mind of yours, I doubt that anyone will consider an insanity defense for you. I wouldn’t even bother with a trial. The purpose of a trial is to prove your innocence. And since you are not, why don’t you just confess to it all, plead guilty and accept your punishment. It would save a lot of time and expense. Your one saving grace is that New York does not have an automatic death penalty. I’m afraid that you are going away for a long time, Buddy Boy. I don’t think that even good behavior will cut it in your case. That’s such a shame, too. ‘You could have been a contender. You could have been somebody.’ ‘All this time, we could have been friends.’ Thanks for the game anyway. It was great fun. Nobody actually won, as it turns out. Although our delayed diligence allowed you to accomplish all of your intended kills, due to our unrelenting perseverence, you won’t be getting away with it. And just one more thing, John. I want you to know that I do forgive you for being a little psycho.“
Jerry: “Ooh, shade!”
The previous story was inspired by the other movies and TV dramas that feature a series of murders executed by following a certain pattern or theme. Kevin Spacey in Se7en (1995) kills perceived sinners via the Seven Deadly Sins. Vincent Price as The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) uses the Plagues of Egypt to dispose of the surgical team who operated unsuccessfully on his wife, and in Theater of Blood (1973) Price, as an egomaniacal, Shakespearean actor, dispatches members of the Drama Critics Circle who passed him over for an acting award, by incorporating death scenes from the Shakespeare plays he appeared in. The Bishop Murder Case (1930) uses Mother Goose nursery rhymes, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (1945) incorporates “The Ten Little Indians” song, and her The ABC Murders is rather self-explanatory. Murder Under the Mistletoe, a Miss Fisher Mystery, employs “The 12 Days of Christmas.“ The serial killer in The Raven (2012) gets his murders from those found in the stories of Edgar Allan Poe, and the one in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011) is inspired by certain verses from the Bible book of Leviticus. In Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons (2009) there is a natural elements (earth, air, fire and water) serial murder plot. The killer in The Spiral Staircase (1946) and its 1975 remake cannot abide imperfection in people and goes about the town murdering women who have some physical disability, like blindness, deafness, mutism, being crippled, whatever. In Copycat (1995) some sick individual is copying the modus operandi of other famous serial killers!
I am of the belief that everyone believes in something. There wouldn’t be any reason to live if we didn’t have something to believe in—life itself, the care and welfare of our families, work, love, hope, whatever. The concept of believing is accepting something without absolute proof of its existence. This is what is known as faith. When we have proof of something, we say, “I know…” If we can’t prove it but accept it to be true, we’ll say, “I believe…” Since everyone does not believe in all the same things, it’s not fair to criticize or negate other people’s beliefs. We all should have the right to believe what we want, and we mustn’t regard other people’s beliefs to be any less or more important than our own.
Some people contend that if they personally have not seen or experienced something, then there must be no such thing. No one knows everything there is to know. I am not much of a skeptic, in terms of proven world phenomena, and I am humble enough to accept the fact that just because I don’t know something or have not witnessed it with my own eyes, does not mean that it does not exist. I have not seen the actual Taj Mahal, for instance, but I believe it to be in India, as I am told it is. I have never seen a comet or a duckbilled platypus, for that matter, but others have claimed that they have. How does anyone expect to see and experience everything there is on this earth and beyond, let alone the Universe, in the course of a single lifetime? So many things we just have to accept on faith.
I am a pretty good judge of character and can usually recognize bullshit when I hear it. So, although I’m not a gullible person, I don’t always have to see something to believe it. I tend to let logic and probability guide my beliefs. Then there are those who when they do encounter incredible sights, they still won’t believe it. They would rather think that they are crazy or delusional. So, seeing isn’t always believing. There are just some things in this world that we cannot yet explain. It is erroneous to say, “There is no such thing as …” and then call it by a name. Simply, if there is a name for something, then it must exist, even if you yourself don’t believe in it, it is something merely theoretical, not yet experienced, or something dreamed up in one’s imagination (which I’ll discuss in a moment).
What do the following things have in common: Barnard’s Star B, black holes, brown dwarfs, cosmic rays, the earth’s core, the complete electromagnetic spectrum, francium, gravitons and quarks? They are all scientific objects that never actually have been seen. Then how do we know that any of these things really exist? Everything is not visible or tangible. Does anyone doubt the existence of love or truth just because we can’t put a finger on them?
Some people are arrogant enough, though, to deny the existence of something just because they themselves don’t believe in it. Someone might say, “I’ve just seen a ghost!” Then the skeptic might reply, “Oh, you couldn’t have. I don’t believe in ghosts. You must be imagining things.” Well, just because you don’t believe in them, doesn’t mean that this person didn’t see one! The universe is not governed by one’s personal beliefs. We often hear this common movie line, stupid and hypocritical as it is: “What’s wrong? You look as if you’ve just seen a ghost!” Well, you say that you don’t believe in ghosts, so how do you know how someone looks when they’ve just seen one? All world phenomena is not dependent on what any one person believes. Who are you to have such a power or privilege?
Realize that much of organized religion is based on supernatural aspects. Devotees believe in the Holy Ghost and Second Comings and such, and hoping to meet Jesus and/or God face to face when they die. The concept of Heaven and Hell is all fantasy, the belief that there is some mystical place in the sky or down below somewhere that we are transported to after death, depending on our goodness or naughtiness in life. What is the source of that ultra-hot fire in Hell, for instance, and how is it kept going for all eternity? There must be magic involved. So many don’t believe in real magic while they are alive, but they do after they die?
I don’t deny the existence of Heaven and Hell, per se–remember, if it has a name, it must exist–I just have a different idea about them. Instead of postmortem places, I believe them both to be earthly states of mind, which varies from person to person. See my blog on Heaven and Hell for my specific thoughts on the subject.
I happen to believe in all sorts of supernatural beings and the paranormal. I believe in guardian angels (I am pretty sure that I have at least one of my own), ghosts and other spirits (although I don’t think that I’ve personally seen any), demons and demonic possession (I have known individuals who seemed to be possessed by some evil influences), dybbuks, incubi and succubi, extraterrestrials (how do we know for sure that we haven’t met any, since some of them are supposed to look just like us?), gargoyle protoypes (those figures must be modeled after something), sasquatches or Bigfoot, yeti (the Abominable Snowman), even the Loch Ness Monster. There are scientists who even study these elusive creatures. They are called cryptozoologists. If none of these things are real, are these people wasting their time and money on nothing?
I don’t deny the existence of the fairy world either, including your elves and gnomes and the like. I’ve never seen a leprechaun or a banshee, but then, I’ve never seen a real shamrock either. I believe that these supernatural beings and creatures simply exist on another plane, and most of us, I suppose, just are not attuned to their special world. The people who deny the existence of unseen and speculative societies and civilizations do so because they don’t want people to regard them as crazy for believing in such things. But since I acknowledge the fact that I am a little crazy anyway (but that’s not necessarily a bad thing), I don’t care if people think that about me. And what’s the harm in merely believing in all these things? People should be allowed to believe in whatever they want to without judgment or negative criticism from anyone. We all have that right.
What is real, anyway? Reality, too, is a state of mind. If we think it, then it is. If other people claim to have experienced certain psychic phenomena, for instance, who am I to doubt their word? I believe that everyone has some degree of psychic power, and although some persons’ extrasensory gifts may be more highly developed than others, most neglect to use their power out of fear, skepticism or mere unawareness. I am certainly aware of my own psychic ability, but probably not its full potential. My mother had it to some degree, so it could be hereditary.
Here is something that happens to me much too often for me just to discount it as mere coincidence. Numerous times I’ll be sitting at home and a name will come into my head for no particular reason, and just seconds later the phone will ring and it’s the very person that I was just thinking of! Apparently, when the person decided to call me, it sent a telepathic signal to me to let me know. Sometimes I will think of someone while I am out on the street, and however unlikely, they will immediately appear! There is a common expression, “Well, speak of the Devil! We were just talking about you!“
There must be a great bunch of living psychics out there, in this country alone, judging from all the psychic companies that used to operate by telephone, although I don’t hear much about them anymore. Then there are your Gypsy fortune tellers and “psychic readers” everywhere you turn. I don’t know how people can throw away good money on such nonsense as that. It’s not that I don’t believe that there may be some bona fide psychics somewhere, but consider what you are paying for. What do they really tell you? Mostly things about yourself that you already know. And they give you general fortunes, not unlike those that you might find in Chinese fortune cookies. “You are going on a trip and will meet a stranger.” Well, everybody goes somewhere at some point, and we are always meeting new people. That’s not a unique prediction. “You just made a major move … You like working with your hands.” “Wow, she’s good! How did she know all that?!”
But even if they are accurate in their assessment of you, so what? Why pay somebody to tell you things you already know or even what you don‘t know, for that matter? “I see death in your future.” Well, duh! I also see death in your future! Everybody dies at some point. Give me an exact when and how. Now that’s a prediction! If something is destined to happen, it’s going to happen whether I have fair warning of it or not! Besides, most people pooh-pooh the future anyway. They tend not to heed the warnings of psychics and fortunetellers, until their predictions actually come to pass, then it’s too late to do anything about it. They are convinced only after the fact. You should have listened!
I have a theory about precognition. I believe time to be a pre-ordained continuum, that all of life’s occurrences are already laid out. You know, what will be, will be, unless somebody does something to change it. But as life is based on a series of choices, an attempt to change a past event would prove to be chaotic, if not catastrophic. Everything we do affects the outcome, especially dealing with people. For instance, if I had never been born, like if my parents had not gotten together, then every contact that I have had in my life with another person would never have occurred. Everybody’s life would have taken a different path. That concept applies to every single person. Therefore, every single person’s mere existence has an affect on the world in some respect. That makes us all connected and important to somebody.
Moreover, we think of memory as being able to recall only past events. But why couldn’t a person remember in the other direction? Memory could be a two-way street. Just as one can recall the past, some people could be able to recall the future as well. If we accept that everything has a place in time, then one person’s future is also somebody else’s past. So then these so-called psychics are receiving “memories” that have not yet occurred in their present place in time but in the future. Then, too, it is possible to alter the future, as nothing is absolutely set in stone. If we interfere with an event that was originally supposed to happen, it then becomes a new past or future memory. For instance, if a person gets wind that a certain plane that they are booked on is going to crash, and they decide not to take that particular flight and tries to warn others about their vision to no avail, and the plane actually does crash, at least they are spared by not being on it when it happens. They may not be able to prevent the event itself, but they can keep themself from being victimized by it. So if I suspect that that building is going to blow up or collapse, I’m going to keep my butt out of there!
I also have always been fascinated by time travel. I would like to visit past periods in history when desired, but only as an unseen observer. There are many times and places that would not be conducive to my presence or safe for me to be there, if you know what I mean. I am a bit more apprehensive about the future, however. New technology we will know about soon enough, as we are experiencing it all the time, but I don’t think that I would like to be privy to the fates of people that I know and care about and not be able to do anything about it. Imagine being like the character of Gary Hobson on “Early Edition,” knowing what’s going to happen a day ahead of time. I don’t think I would enjoy running all over the place trying to prevent disaster before it strikes. That would really work my nerves! I’m no hero. I think there should be some mystery to life. For me, it keeps things interesting.
I believe in faith healing, to a certain degree, the power of prayer and the power of the mind. I’m not much of a prayer myself, but I don’t doubt that it works for those who do. All prayer is, in essence, is wishful thinking—you know, wanting something badly enough to will it to come true. The human mind is a very powerful, as well as dangerous, thing. There is even a branch of research being conducted now called Noetic Science, which explores the power of the human mind and its potential to change the world in real physical terms. For example, I believe that sick people can think themselves well if their will and faith are strong enough.
Here is my theory about faith healing. Imagine that we are at one of those tent revival meetings with a charismatic evangelist at the fore, and they get to the part of the service when infirm members of the congregation are encouraged to go up to be healed of their particular malady. A man in a wheelchair rolls up, and Brother Whatshisname lays his hands on the man’s head and says, “Be healed, my son! Get up and walk!” The man, because he wants so badly for it to work, actually gets up out of his chair, stands, then takes a few steps towards the evangelist. “It’s a miracle! Praise the Lord!” But what if the man was already able to walk, he just didn’t know it? Maybe he was told that he would never walk again, so he never even tried prior to tonight. He could have been walking long before now if he had had the positive encouragement and belief in himself to do so.
We had a Ouija board in the house back home in South Bend, Indiana, where I grew up. I used to play with it with my mother, brother and neighborhood friends. And you can believe what you want, but those things really work! When we asked the board a question, the planchette would actually move without our guiding it. I think it has a lot to do with mental influence and will power. My stronger-willed friends could make the thing answer the way they wanted it to just by willing it so with their mind, even if it’s their subconscious at work. I think it’s similar to how a lie detector works. The wires that they hook the person up to are affected by their nerve impulses, which, in turn, move the needle on the polygraph. By the same token, by touching the planchette, we transmit impulses from our brains to the board via our fingertips. There is nothing magical or supernatural about it. It’s all neurological and mechanical.
I believe in the possibility of telekinesis, pyrokinesis and channeling. I believe vampirism and lycanthropy, as well as boanthropy, cynanthropy and galeanthropy, to be mental conditions (I didn’t say “disorders” because that would be a judgmental assessment), where a person has the delusion or takes on the behavior of vampires, werewolves, oxen, dogs and cats, respectively. They may drink blood and sleep in coffins by day. I believe in “Cogito, ergo sum—I think, therefore I am,” so if a person thinks that they are a vampire, then they are a vampire!
I do have a hard time accepting corporal transformation, though—you know, people actually turning themselves and others into things. To me, that defies the laws of natural physics. How can anyone rearrange their atomic structure at will? Evolution is a very slow, indiscernible process. I have already accepted the fact that just because I cannot actually see something, does not mean that it’s not there. So invisibility could be a real thing. I even accept the possibility of unassisted levitation. Since I contend that the human mind is powerful enough to counteract gravity, and that the mind may be able to move objects along a plane and possibly catch them on fire, then why wouldn’t it be able to lift things as well and make them float around the room, including oneself?
I am fascinated by teleportation—you know, the process of transferring the actual physical body from one place to another. I love to travel, but I don’t like the time it takes to get to faraway places. Like on “Star Trek,” I would love it to be possible for “Scotty” to beam me over to Australia in a matter of seconds. I admit, though, that I am somewhat leery about the process itself. It involves completely disintegrating one’s bodily molecular structure and then reassembling it exactly (hopefully) in another place! Whew, that’s scary! What if something goes wrong in the process? Remember The Fly movies? As incredible a phenomenon as that may seem, I believe that some day it will be a reality, if it isn’t already.
I am not a superstitious person at all. I’m not afraid of black cats (some of my pet cats were black) or of walking under ladders, the number 13, breaking mirrors, spilling salt, or any of those other silly old wives’ tales. How can common, everyday activities, like opening an umbrella in the house, whistling in a theater dressing room or merely uttering the name “Macbeth” cause any kind of cosmic upheaval or influence anyone’s luck?
There are even certain religious aspects that border on superstition, like the ritual of baptism or christening, for example. Some people are firmly convinced that by sprinkling or pouring plain, ol’ tap water on a baby’s forehead or immersing their whole body in water will guarantee their place in Heaven. And not to do it, then that person is doomed for Hellish damnation. How preposterous! “May the Saints preserve us!” I have heard some say. What does that even mean? Whenever TV detectives, William Murdoch and Catholic priest, Frank Dowling, encounter a dead body, they always cross themselves. Why?! I’ve seen it done by real life people as well in other situations. What is that supposed to do? That gesture has no more effect than to knock on wood or to clutch one’s pearls.
Instead of wishing someone good luck, these religious devotees will say, “I will say a prayer for you” or “I will light a candle for you.” How are either of those supposed to accomplish anything? “The show was a complete success. It must have been because of that prayer and the candle that you lit for me.” Yeah, that must be it. The performers and stage crew had nothing at all to do with it.
By the way, I hope that you are not one of those who fears the number 13. I find it pointless and stupid to omit the floor numbered 13 from apartment dwellings, hotels and other buildings, just because certain superstitious people are wary of living or rooming on that floor. Just because they call it something else, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Since the next ordinal number after twelfth is thirteenth, the floor now numbered 14 is still the 13th Floor, no matter what they call it! I may not like the number 9, but these same people don’t avoid it for my benefit. There may be more people who consider 13 to be a lucky number rather than unlucky, so why leave it out for those few others? The guilty parties that comply with the omission are only perpetuating the silly convention that it is by playing into people’s irrational triskaidekaphobia. They should always include it, regardless, and just let those phobic people deal with it.
I recently learned that a Las Vegas hotel (the Wynn) omits the 4th floor in deference to its Asian guests who deem the number to be unlucky. Apparently, “four” sounds a lot like “death” in Japanese and Chinese. If some Asian customers have a problem with the number 4, just put them on another floor. The builders didn’t have to leave it out just for them. There are some buildings in China that even go so far as to skip every floor that contains a four. So the one that bills itself as “100-stories” really has only 81 stories. How stupid is that? With that absurd thinking, “nine” is “no” in German (nein) and their “six” sounds like “sex” (sechs), so why don’t they leave out those floors as well? Haven’t they learned that you can’t please or satisfy everybody?
I do believe in the powers of witchcraft and voodoo. These people would not be practicing these things for thousands of years if there was nothing to them. Actually, a lot of people have the wrong idea about voodoo. Thanks in part to Hollywood movies, voodoo has been characterized as an evil practice of casting spells and curses on innocent people, demonic zombies and sticking pins in dolls, yet most Voodoo practitioners actually do it for good and helpful purposes. The word itself is West African in origin (from Dahomey and Togo via Haiti) and means, “God, Creator or Great Spirit.” So there.
I have actually known persons who claimed to be witches and warlocks. People who don’t believe in witches are denying an entire religion, or science, called Wicca. This, too, has more to do with naturalism and earth worship than with casting evil spells on people. There are always individuals who will use their special powers and influence for evil, but everyone is not guilty of ill will.
I am a fan of magic shows and illusionists, and although I realize that they perform tricks that aren’t real, I enjoy trying to figure out how they do certain things. There is always a simple explanation when you know how it’s done. But there are a couple of guys in the business who I believe to be real wizards, if there are indeed real ones in the world. They are Criss Angel and Mat Franco. These guys perform what appear to be impossible acts of magic. They seem to defy the rules of physics. I have seen them accomplish telekinesis, unassisted levitation and even teleportation. I am not easily fooled, as a rule, but the things I have seen them do go against all logic and possibility. Maybe magic is a real thing and there are actual sorcerers living among us; unless it is all done with camera tricks, and they just don’t tell us viewers that. Then are the spectators right there in on the deception?
My late friend, Lloyd, was a pooh-pooh naysayer when it came to real wizardry, but as a self-proclaimed “Jesus Freak,” he did buy into all aspects of the Christ Mystique. He believed all the miracles and incredible events that are reported in the Bible, especially those having to do with Jesus, but hypocritically would tell me that magic is not a real thing when it refers to modern-day, practical application. He never witnessed any of those Biblical accounts but accepted them all on faith, and then would discount an act of magic performed before his very eyes.
He even contended that the magicians that disappear in one place and then reappear in another place have identical twins helping them. There are more than a few that regularly do that. They all can’t have twins. How could they keep them secret? Somebody would know if they had a twin or not. The brother would not have a life of his own. He would have to stay hidden all the time and emerge only during his brother’s performances. I don’t think anybody would agree to that, even if it were possible.
Most so-called supernatural beings have possible scientific explanations. I believe that ghosts, for example, are restless spirits that have unresolved issues or other unfinished business on earth. You may have heard of those haunting ghosts that make regular appearances in the same place (usually where they actually died) and do exactly the same thing each time. One explanation that seems plausible to me is that they are manifestations of some sort of ethereal recording, if you will, that merely replays itself over and over again. It’s sort of like a hologram.
I, myself, have never seen an actual ghost or spirit, but I would welcome the experience. I would regard such a sighting with interest and curiosity rather than fear and dread. Why do people freak out so to something that is basically harmless? I don’t expect that an ethereal apparition can cause one bodily harm, and reports say that they don‘t make actual contact with you, so what are you so afraid of? I would try to communicate with the entity to find out what they want or how I can help them to pass on. Maybe one of the reasons why they remain is because those who encounter them usually freak out and flee instead of trying to find out why they are there. Of course, evil spirits abound as well that do intend to distress us, but they usually make their intentions apparent from the get-go. They don’t bother first to try to win your trust before they inflict harm on you. They probably won’t even give you prior warning.
I am a fan of ghost stories. I have noticed that in movies about haunted domiciles it’s usually the children who first become aware of the supernatural presence(s) on the premises. Their innocence makes them more susceptible, I suppose, and depending on their age, they have not yet been taught that they should fear the unknown. They regard monsters and other strange creatures with natural curiosity and fascination. That dead girl becomes the child’s friend and confidante. But then they have the problem of convincing their parents and other adults that there really is something present. Little Mary’s “imaginary playmate” is not real, she is told. But what if it is? Just because you can’t see it or hear it doesn’t mean that it’s not there.
There are your religiously-devout parents who talk to God on a regular basis and claim Jesus to be their good friend, but will turn right around and try to convince their young daughter that her imaginary friend is not a real entity and only in her head. “So, Mommy, you can have your fantasy confidante, but I am not allowed to have my own? That’s not fair! The thing is, though, my friend is real–she is standing right over there. Where is this Jesus guy of yours that you talk to all the time?” (Ooh, shade!)
The new reboot of “To Tell the Truth” had three people on there one night who all claimed to be professional ghost hunters. One of the panel members asked each of them what ghost movie was the most true-to-life, in their opinion. One of the guest contestants cited Ghostbusters, another picked Poltergeist, and the third one chose Casper (the Friendly Ghost) as the most realistic. Of course, people laughed and everybody automatically ruled her out, and the panel all voted for either of the other two. It turned out that “Number 3” was the real deal after all. When asked about the frivolous answer she gave, she explained that in her experience, all the ghosts that she had encountered in her work were all non-threatening and harmless, not menacing and disruptive, like most people expect them to be. So there, again!
That little ditty demonstrates my preference for the number 5. Danny Kaye used to perform it in his routine, and Barbra Streisand did it years later for her first TV special in 1965. I have concluded that the number 5 has been a prevalent recurrence throughout my life. I was born during the 5th hour of the 5th day of the standard workweek on the 5th day of the month in the 5th decade of the century. I have five genetic siblings—four brothers and a sister. Although my sun sign, Virgo, is the 6th sign of the Zodiac (I missed it by one), there are five letters in its name. The name I go by primarily, Cliff, also has five letters. I made my stage debut performing, thus beginning my life’s career, when I was five-years-old. My symphony consists of five movements. Those who were alive at the time remember where they were when President Kennedy got shot. I was in 5th period music theory class in high school when I first received the news. I have been hospitalized five times so far, I have five noticeable, distinctive, permanent scars on my body, the result of injury and surgery, and sadly to say, I have been incarcerated five times in my life. I hope that is all. I am not a criminal, mind you, just an occasional victim of unfortunate circumstance, due to unwarranted police harassment.
I have dabbled in numerology only as a curiosity. I once took an Enneagram Test online, which asks a series of personal questions whose responses then determine one’s personality assessment. Not surprisingly for me, I turned out to be a Type 5 individual. In numerology, 5 is the Pentad, or Great Mystic Number, and the letters of the alphabet all have numeric value. The letters of my full name just happen to add up to 5, making it my special Life Number. I arbitrarily always choose 5, or multiples of 5, as my “lucky” numbers. Suffice it to say, I really am a five, okay?
I have only a casual interest in astrology. I think that there is something to it as a science, but I don’t take it too seriously. I don’t let the stars rule my life, by any means. I believe that there is something to personal biorhythms, though. I’ve done my chart periodically, and they have been amazingly accurate. I truly believe in what I call “karmic justice,” that what goes around, comes back around. Therefore, I am not a vengeful person. I don’t need to be. If someone does me wrong or causes me harm, I don’t bother to seek revenge. I just sit back and wait for them to get theirs. And they always do too, somehow.
I believe that more than one person can come up with the same idea or invention or even make up a word or coin a phrase, often simultaneously, it seems. I once was explaining the plot of a movie that recounted the events that lead up to a previously-written story. Since this sort of thing should have a name, I made up one of my own, or thought that I did. Since a sequel follows succeeding events, I frivolously coined the word “prequel” to denote those events which precede the already established. It was my own personal word which I had not used in public, so I was quite surprised when very soon after, I heard the media use that same word! I thought, What?! That really is the word for that?! What makes this more of an amazing coincidence, if that’s what it is, is that the first film with which I associated the term was 1972’s The Nightcomers, starring Marlon Brando, which introduced the characters who later became the ghosts in Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. When I looked up prequel in the dictionary, I found that the word had come into common parlance in 1972, the same year I first used it!
The same thing happened again more recently. One of the female houseguests on the fifth season of the TV reality show, “Big Brother,” one day decided to give herself a mohawk haircut. You know, that’s the one with the straight patch of hair across the middle of one’s head, leaving the rest of the pate all bald. Well, this girl, Jennifer (aka Nakomis), did not cut off most of her hair but only shortened it on the sides. I considered her new ‘do more of a “faux-hawk” than a real mohawk. I thought to myself, Hey, I just made a clever bon mot. Then just a couple of days later I came across a magazine ad touting a new hairstyling product, saying that it is suitable for short hair, crewcuts and…faux-hawks! Well, I’ll be damned! Somebody beat me to it again. I guess great minds do think alike. I made up a word to describe a person who is not up on all his rules of proper grammar and syntax: a “mal-literate.” Let’s see how long it takes for that neologism to catch on in the media.
But the one that really blew my mind is an occurrence of my seemingly-influential will. This is what happened. It was late February 2008, when I was looking at the Arts and Leisure section of the Sunday supplement of The New York Times, specifically the various reviews of the shows currently playing on Broadway. One of the articles cited a website to which users can suggest shows and parts they would like their favorite actors to perform. Madame Arcati is a character in Noel Coward’s comedy farce play, Blithe Spirit, who is an elderly, eccentric, psychic medium who rides a bicycle and who is held responsible when she inadvertently conjures up and then subsequently tries to exorcise the pesky ghost of the lead character‘s dead first wife.
For a while at the time I had the notion that Angela Lansbury would be perfect for that role. The 1945 film adaptation stars Rex Harrison as the harried husband, and Margaret Rutherford is a hoot as the moxie medium. There is also a musical version of the play, called High Spirits, which played on Broadway in 1964 and starred Beatrice Lillie as Madame Arcati and Tammy Grimes as the Ghost. Geraldine Page played the part in the 1987 Broadway revival of the play. I love her, too.
So anyway, I visited the interactive website and submitted my idea about Angela coming back to Broadway in a revival of High Spirits. I received a response from someone saying that due to her recent unsuccessful stint in the play Deuce, Ms. Lansbury would not be returning to the stage any time soon. Oh, well. I just thought I would put it out there.
So now it’s about eight months later when I was watching a Walt Disney documentary on TCM, narrated by Ms. Lansbury. TCM’s commentary host was the late Robert Osborne, who introduced, as well as offered bits of trivia and information about the features shown, and on this occasion, after giving us some of her career credentials, mentioned that Angela would be back on Broadway in the spring starring in Blithe Spirit! Now could that be merely a coincidence when I had made that very suggestion only months before? Did someone close to Ms. Lansbury mention my idea to her which prompted her interest? Of course, I had suggested the musical, but maybe Angela didn’t want to take on the musical version and opted for the play instead. Even so, it’s the same role that I wanted her to do.
When I went to see her in the play, and I would have waited for her at the stage door of the theater after the matinee, but Lloyd, whom I was with, didn’t want to wait around until Angela came out, so we didn‘t stay. I wanted to ask her how this project came about for her and to find out if I was in any way responsible. So until I learn differently, I am claiming to be the one who advanced her career by willing the great Angela Lansbury back to Broadway, which resulted in her winning her fifth Tony Award in the process! She is tied with the late Julie Harris, who also won five Tonys. Audra McDonald now holds the performance record with six Tonys to her credit, tying with the now-deceased director Mike Nichols. The record for technical achievement goes to Oliver Smith, who has won 8 Tonys for Scenic Design, and Jules Fisher also has 8 for Lighting Design. But the all-time record is held by producer-director Harold Prince, who has won 21 Tonys!
Incidentally, someone was really wrong about Angela’s not wanting to do Broadway again, because even after Blithe Spirit closed, she next starred in a revival of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music with Catherine Zeta-Jones, in which she even sang, followed by a revival of Gore Vidal’s play The Best Man. Now maybe I can get someone to produce a biopic of Pearl Bailey, to be portrayed by Queen Latifah.
In theory, I suppose that nothing is absolutely impossible. We just don’t know how to do everything just yet. It was once believed that human aviation, for example, was an impossible feat. How is a vessel that weighs 82,000 tons able to float effortlessly on the surface of the water? That still seems pretty impossible to me. Then consider all the other “impossible” things that humankind has accomplished over the centuries. Realize that at some time in the past, everything we now have was once impossible, until somebody figured out a way to do it. We tend to take so much for granted, as if all our modern conveniences that we use and enjoy on a daily basis have always been a reality.
What we call science fiction is fiction only in the sense that the actual events of the story may not have yet taken place. The specific elements used in the storytelling are usually quite conceivably plausible, as in any tale of fiction. So then, it is more likely to be precognition on the part of the author or artist. Maybe it hasn’t happened yet, but it could or will someday. Author Jules Verne wrote about space travel and modern submarines long before they came into practical being. Writer Arthur C. Clarke introduced videophones, e-mail, laptop computers and space communication satellites to the literary world years before we knew that someday there would be such things. And all those once fictional stories about robots, genetic engineering and cloning have now become a scientific reality. The new hands-free vacuum cleaner and sweeper that we see advertised is merely a modern version of Rosie, the robot maid from “The Jetsons” TV cartoon series decades ago. They even now have hospital robots that do the work that orderlies and candy-stripers used to be responsible for. Just like in the movies, doctors are now experimenting with brain transplantation, as well as transplanting the face and even the whole head!
In Fantastic Voyage (1966) a medical team was miniaturized in a submarine to microscopic size and injected into the blood stream of a human body, with the intent to localize a cancerous tumor (I think it was) somewhere in there and eradicate it. Now only 43 years later, instead of a submarine, they have come out with a “smart” pill (it’s called the iPill) that has been infused with computer circuitry along with medicine and programmed to target a specific malady in the body and fix it. Pretty amazing, huh? Fantastic, indeed!
The fantasy films Christine (1983), The Love Bug (1969) and its sequels feature automobiles that are able to drive themselves. Well, now we actually do have a robotic car that drives itself. Is it scientific progress or demonic possession? We have also seen movies that feature cars that fly, and somebody has come out with an actual flying car! And do you remember Michael J. Fox’s Hover Board that figured prominently in the Back to the Future (1985-90) films? Well, that is now a reality as well.
A TV episode of “Elementary” did a story about a genetic research genius who found a way to manipulate certain genes to use to infect people with fatal genetic diseases. He was even able to duplicate DNA, which he used in order to frame someone else for a murder that he had committed himself. I wonder if the writer of that episode knows someone who can actually do that?
On an episode of “FBI,” a series of what was believed to be copycat murders pointed to a man already serving prison time. It seemed that the real murderer’s DNA matched that of the incarcerated man. How could that be, they all wondered? It turns out that the wrongly-convicted guy had donated his bone marrow at an earlier time, so the killer who had received it had the exact same DNA as his donor! The unfortunate guy who kept maintaining his innocence really was after all. If either of those scenarios is possible, which I don’t doubt that it is, it will get so that we won’t be able to trust even DNA evidence anymore, which, up until now, has proved to be so reliable in crime-solving.
We now know about computer viruses and worms that are created to wreak havoc and even destroy our personal computers. On an episode of the “Scorpion” series somebody has gone a step farther by which a vengeful cyber genius has found a way to infect a specific computer with a mysterious pathogen which makes the user deathly ill. Again, I wonder about the validity of that method of murder, or are these show plots giving people ideas?
Visualization is the primary impetus for invention, discovery and wish fulfillment. An unforeseen concept must be thought up before it can be realized. Designers and architects usually sketch their ideas then create the tangible item from the drawing. I wouldn’t be surprised if those exotic, eldritch creatures in the Cantina scene in Star Wars: A New Hope (1977), for example, all really exist somewhere in the Universe.
I didn’t believe for a moment that our world would end on December 21, 2012. For one thing, I don’t see how the ancient Mayans could pinpoint a specific future date that accurately. But even if something does happen during my lifetime, I don’t think that it will be a matter of world destruction. The word apocalypse means “revelation” or “an unveiling.” Some believe that it may be the coming of the Age of Enlightenment.
Interestingly, though, I find that I do believe in the legend of the Antichrist. There are several theories and opinions on who or what the Antichrist is. Most agree, though, that it’s a powerful political figure, but it may refer to more than one specific person. It could be someone in public office or in a high position, a world leader, like a Chief Executive or even the Pope! From what I know about it, the events that will supposedly lead up to Armageddon are, in my opinion, quite plausible. Then with all the national unrest in the world, a major cataclysmic holocaust is certainly feasible.
There is already tangible evidence of global domination via our ever-increasing technology. It is entirely possible for a person in power to woo the people of the world to be his faithful minions and force us against our will, even those who don’t want to follow him. There may come a time when none of us will be able to buy or sell anything unless we have received the “Mark of the Beast,” which could be accomplished in a number of ways. For example, there has already been talk of implanting microchips into people’s children and pets (and adults, too), to be used as tracking devices, in the event that they ever get lost or abducted. But that would mean that they could always be located, even when they might not want to be. There would be no more privacy, even less than what we now enjoy.
Suppose they make it compulsory, that if we don’t accept the tracking implant, we will be imprisoned or killed. Or we could be recruited through our home (and office) computers. They could set up a certain seductive website, and when we log on to it, they would have our number, as it were. Already we are subject to numeric identification everywhere we turn. All our corporate dealings require account numbers, I.D. numbers (PINs), Social Security numbers, telephone numbers…numbers, numbers!
The creation of artificial intelligence is also an inevitable probability. If they haven’t already, someone could figure out how to make a computer think for itself, without human influence or control. And as all knowledge can always be used for evil, what if someone programs a machine or robot with their own nefarious agenda? Maybe that will turn out to be the Antichrist. It would be acting on its own, and it would be virtually impossible to stop it. You can’t kill it, because it’s not a living thing; it’s a machine and has a built-in anti-destruction feature. Remember the Terminator films or HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey? Also, Dan Brown’s Origin touches on this issue in a disturbing way. What did I say about so-called science fiction’s not really being fiction? Those films (I might cite Transcendence , as another example), can be perceived as frightening cautionary tales, which I can only hope that the Powers-That-Be will take heed and govern themselves accordingly. I only hope to be long gone by the time all this comes to pass, if or when it ever does.
What is imagination? The images created in our minds must come from somewhere. I believe imagination to be random access memory, particles of matter floating around in space that eventually make their way into our mind’s processing unit. That would explain how more than one person can come up with the same idea. There is nothing new under the sun. I believe that everything has been thought of or experienced by someone else before us. Everything we encounter or “invent” is merely a re-occurrence, discovery, a variation or modification of pre-existing knowledge. All those monsters and creatures of fantasy and mythology that artists and writers conjure up for literature and visual media may be the result of pre-existing phenomena from somewhere in the Universe. Who is arrogant enough to think that nobody else in the entire history of the world or the universe could have possibly come up with your unique idea? Are you that special?
The unicorn, at least the equine variety, does not seem all that incredible a creature. The reason that we don’t see any around today is because perhaps they have been rendered extinct, like the dodo and the mammoth. Unicorns still exist, however, in the true sense of the word, meaning “having one horn,” in the guise of the rhinoceros and narwhal, also known as the sea unicorn.
Similarly, I don’t deny the former existence of dragons either. They have figured throughout medieval folklore and history by disparate cultures divided by time and distance. Could they all have imagined the exact same thing? Were all those people who spoke and wrote about them for centuries making the things up? St. George was said to have battled a dragon. If he was a real person, might the story be true? The dragon is a predominate symbol and cultural icon of the Chinese, in particular, and they even include it in their zodiac. All the other animals used are real, so why not the dragon as well? Even the ancient cartographers, when depicting uncharted or unknown regions on their maps, acknowledged their existence by writing on there, “Hic sunt dracone–Here be dragons.“ Maybe the traditional ones have all died out, have been killed off or the remaining few are in hiding somewhere. Just because we haven’t seen a certain creature during our lifetime, doesn’t mean that they don’t or never existed. Although now endangered, we still have the Komodo dragon, which is very real and could be merely a smaller species of its much larger ancestor. Some prehistoric crocodiles, like the land-dwelling poposaurus, looked very much like some dragons.
Dinosaurs did not completely die out either. They only evolved. Birds are really your modern-day dinosaurs, according to the animal scientists. Also similarly, I consider merfolk (half-human, half-fish creatures) to be a somewhat reasonable plausibility. They could be some kind of evolutionary, amphibious anomaly, perhaps the result of one of the instances of extraterrestrial cross-breeding or mutants from Atlantis, perhaps. Maybe they have chosen to remain elusive because of the common people’s reaction to them. Look at how they treated The Creature from the Black Lagoon (aka the Gill Man or “merman,“ if you will) upon revealing himself, when all he was looking for was a girlfriend. And might the similar-looking creature in The Shape of Water (2017) be based on a real thing? There are many sea creatures that I have never seen live and up close, but I don’t deny their existence. Our oceans are vast and virtually limitless and unexplored. Nobody knows for sure what’s under all that water.
So then, I guess that dreams must work on the same principle as imagination. We are responsible for our dreams because they are conjured in our own minds. An indication of my mental stability is that I have never had a real nightmare—you know, the kind that causes one to wake up screaming or bolt upright in bed. I have had mildly disturbing or somewhat unpleasant dreams, but none to the point of terror or audible distress. I think that’s pretty remarkable, on my part, as nightmares seem to be such a common occurrence among people.
People love to blame everything that they don’t understand, or what they are unwilling to accept, on their dreams. It’s a vehicle for Denial. A little girl might tell her mother, “Mama, Daddy got into bed with me last night.” “Oh no, he didn’t, honey. You must have been dreaming.” But maybe he did. Were you watching your husband every minute last night? “I got up to look out the window and saw Aunt Hortense down in the garden.” “But your Aunt Hortense is dead. You were just dreaming.” “I don’t care if she is dead, I still saw her! And I wasn‘t asleep either.”
Aren’t people able to tell when they are awake or not? When I go to bed and then awaken hours later, I know that whatever I thought I experienced during that time must have happened while I was asleep. I can settle into my dreams, but I am always aware that it is a dream. I often dream about my parents and other dead friends of mine. I will go along with the dream, not even think that something is not right about it, but then it will later occur to me, ‘Wait! My father’s dead. This is just a dream.’ My dreams always occur in various locales and situations. I know that I am not in those places. I’m wherever I was when I went to sleep, lying in bed with my head on my pillow, for instance. What’s to question? My dream apartment is quite different from the one I actually live in.
Now, I often experience feelings of déjà vu, when I can’t remember if it really happened before or whether I dreamed it. But if I’m out walking around on the street and I witness something strange or incredible, I don’t have to ask myself, ‘Is this a dream?’ or, ‘Will somebody please pinch me to see if I’m awake?’ I know when I am awake.
I was at a party once where a group of people were discussing dreams, and somebody asked if we dreamed in color or in black and white. Such a question would never occur to me because I naturally assumed that everybody dreamed in color, just as I always do. Apparently, that is not the case, and I learned that some people do dream in black and white. So, why would a person, dreaming in black and white, think that what they were dreaming could be real? That would be like watching a black and white movie. At least in color, the dream would seem more realistic. To add to it, I am always myself in my dreams, as opposed to watching my other self doing something.
I don’t know what purpose your zombies serve, even if I believed in them. But if a supposed dead person can be reanimated to get up and walk around on its own, then they must not have been really dead. A body needs brain activity to motivate itself. The same goes for the legendary vampire who is supposed to be dead yet alive and immortal. I don’t believe in physical immortality. Everything dies; nothing is forever. The earth someday could be destroyed by outside forces. It’s possible that even our own Sun will burn itself out some day, as all stars eventually do. Of course, I expect to be long gone if and when it does.
Dying is a part of life and is the only thing in life that we all absolutely have to do. It used to be that the only things we had to do were to die and stay our color, but, of course, the latter is not true at all, as people are forever changing their real color all the time. Another life’s certainty is that we all have to pay taxes. But do we have to? If a person never received a pay check or never bought or owned anything, they would not be subject to income, sales or property taxes. It would be difficult to get through life that way, but it is possible. I would think that the millions of homeless people all over the world, for instance, are able to avoid paying taxes altogether. As far as I know, no one has been able to conquer death completely.
I am certainly not ready to die, as I do so much enjoy being alive. But although I do want to stay here for as long as I can, I am not afraid of death. Our life is whatever we do with it, but we have no control over death. It’s an inevitable reality to which we all eventually have to succumb, so it can’t be such a terrible and frightening experience. What would be the point of dying, other than to maintain the balance of nature and population control?
I believe that death is merely another phase of existence. I contend that we do “pass on” to the next phase. I do wish that I could live as long as I want to and choose to die when I am ready to. I don’t want to be 300-years-old and in poor health and physical condition, however. If I did get to live a long time, I would want to be able to enjoy myself and do things, or what‘s the point? I believe the people who claim to have experienced out-of-body episodes and those who have actually died and come back to life. There have been too many incidents of this phenomenon, with similar reports, just to discount it completely.
Moreover, I do believe that our souls and spirits (which are forms of energy) take on other forms after death, so I do believe in reincarnation. I don’t entirely understand how it works, though. There are several theories about it. Some believe that we keep coming back as other people, that we all were somebody else in a former life. There have been claims of people experiencing past life memories, which I think could be possible. Another theory about some dreams is that they may be memories of past lives. For myself, I feel as if I might have been an Italian peasant woman in some previous life. I occasionally get images of a buxom, blousy, earth mother (ala Sophia Loren or Anna Magnani), standing over a stove, cooking, with a bunch of young children all around. That would explain my penchant for Italian men.
Some believe that they come back as other creatures, but I’m not sure if I buy that one. Why would I go through this lifetime as an intelligent, productive human being, then come back later as a lowly earthworm or something? Along those lines the Buddhists believe that if a person lives a good, moral life, they will come back as human, but if they were bad, then they will come back as some kind of animal. Another school of thought is that each time we die, we attain an increasingly higher level of intelligent existence, until we are eventually one with God. You know, just keep coming back better and better until we get it right. I like that one.
That would go along with my theory about the Meaning of Life. I believe that every living creature was created for a reason. Nobody asks to be born, and we have learned how to prevent it. So now that I successfully made it into the world—and I’ll be dead soon, relatively speaking—what will I do during the short time that I am alive? I think that I should contribute something to the world at large, or why else be here, not doing a damn thing except taking and using up precious space? So, the meaning of life to me is, “Don’t just sit there…do something!”
As a creative musical artist, entertainer, educator and writer, I believe that I have made and continue to make a significant contribution to the world. That is indicated by the vast number of people over the years that have come up to me after my various performances and have actually thanked me for enriching their lives with my talent and gifts. I receive written notes and letters on a regular basis thanking me for my artistic participation in their lives. So there you have it. My life has proven to be significant and appreciated.
I have conflicting opinions about suicide. On one hand, I consider it an act of cowardice—that someone should be so afraid to face certain adversities of life that they would kill themself as the easy way out. But on the other hand, I could look at it as a very courageous thing to do. I think it takes great nerve and courage to murder yourself. I suppose that both schools of thought are valid. We get both kinds; it depends on the individual and the circumstances. Some just get tired of living, as in the case of very old, sick people. But how can a 15-year-old suicide victim be tired of living already when they’ve hardly done anything yet? Some feel that their life has become too much to deal with. They don’t seem to realize, however, that whatever they are going through right then will eventually pass. Just have a little patience. Death, on the other hand, is irreversible and permanent.
I don’t think that I go as far as to consider suicide a crime, though. Since no one asks to be born, one should have the right not to live, if continuing to live is not their desire. People should be in control of their own lives, with regard to the right to die. Nobody has the right to forbid another person to take their own life, if they choose to do so. We can counsel them and try to talk them out of it, but if they really want to do it, they will. Therefore, I condone self-requested euthanasia, but only in extreme cases, when the patient’s situation is definitely hopeless, and it’s only a matter of time. If the patient is in dire pain and discomfort, for example, with no hope for recovery, this may be valid grounds for euthanasia, but only if the person themself gives their consent to end it all for them. I would be wary about coma patients, however, since they have been known to recover after many years, in some cases. And then, too, they didn’t give their explicit permission to “pull the plug.” For myself, I want to be the one to decide whether to let me go or not.
While we are on the subject of suicide, here is an interesting bit of trivia. In my decades-long quest of collecting records and songs, I have come to the conclusion that there is a song for virtually every situation of life. You can name any topic or idea, and there will be a song somewhere written about it. Suicide is no exception. Besides the theme song to M*A*S*H, “Suicide Is Painless,” in 1933 Hungarian pianist-composer Rezsö Seress published a song entitled “The World Is Ending.” When Sam Lewis put English lyrics to it in 1936, it turned into “Gloomy Sunday” and became known as “The Hungarian Suicide Song.” One line in the song proclaims, “My heart and I have decided to end it all.” An urban legend abounds that listening to the song has caused an incredible number of suicides over the years, as if they needed an excuse. Seress himself eventually committed suicide in 1968. The song was once banned from radio airplay, but even so, there are numerous recordings of it and by major artists. I have several versions myself, including Billie Holiday, Ray Charles and Bjork! However for me, repeated listening of the song has never compelled me to kill myself.
If I were ever to off myself, which I don’t think that I will ever do—but I have learned never to say never—I would do it in one of two ways. I would simply take sleeping pills and just go on to sleep—no muss, no fuss. Or I would take the more dramatic approach by getting real stoned and throwing myself, appropriately, off of a high cliff. Consider it bungee-jumping without the cord. I love the sensation of falling, and if I am still conscious by the time I hit the ground, I can only imagine the feeling of my body being dashed to bits on the jagged rocks below or splattered on the pavement at that speed. Ooh! What a rush!
I saw an absurd tabloid story one day about a man who supposedly had tried to kill himself about ten times and had failed. He declared, “If it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to commit suicide. Even if it kills me!” You go, boy!
I have not posted anything new on here in a while. I do, however, occasionally make additions and revisions on existing articles. Today being Thanksgiving, I thought I would reflect on what I feel thankful for. It’s something that a lot of people do as part of their dinner festivities. Since I live alone and have no immediate family nearby, family holidays, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, are just regular days to me, nothing special. As I have spent 47 Thanksgivings in New York City, most of those were spent alone in my apartment. A few times over the years I had dinner with friends at their places or a group of us will go to a restaurant. Other times I might be on the road touring with one of my various performing groups.
I am the type of person who doesn’t complain or dwell on what I don’t have but always appreciate what I do have. We should all be mindful of the fact that however bad off you think you are, there are always others who have it much worse than you do.
The thing that I am most thankful for is the fact that I am still alive and active. I have survived 75 years plus of life, whereas so many of my friends and acquaintances did not make it this far. I survived the AIDS epidemic during its heyday in the ‘80s and ‘90s, when so many were not so fortunate. Up until the last decade of so I have been blessed with good health all my life. I was never sick outside the common cold. I’ve never even had a headache. I never missed a day of school due to illness. I must have a natural immunity to the flu virus, as I have never had it. Typical to aging, my short-time memory has suffered in recent years, but I still have my basic wits about me, and I can retain prior acquired knowledge and trivial facts. I keep my mind sharp by doing crosswords and other puzzles, and writing is a great mind stimulator.
I am thankful for always having a roof over my head. I’ve never had a lot of money–I still don’t–but I have managed to withstand a New York existence. I have lived alone for 50 years and have been able to pay my rent all by myself. And I have accomplished that by never having a 9-to-5 job but maintaining freelance employment throughout my adult life. Most people find that amazing in itself. I tend to live within my means, you see. I don’t buy anything that I don’t have the available cash for, therefore I don’t incur any debts and I don’t owe anybody anything. If I should want something that I cannot afford, I will just do without it. Although I needed one, I did without a piano for many years until I finally got the cash to purchase one.
Nowadays that my Social Security is enough to cover my rent, it is a great load off my mind. So even during occasional employment slumps, I don’t have to worry about making my rent for the month. I am grateful for all the breaks and concessions that I receive as a senior citizen, and I take advantage of everything that is offered me. My insurance plan provides me complete medical coverage, which include doctor visits and follow-up care, hospitalization, prescriptions, plus eye care and dental coverage.
Even with my modest monetary means, I have all the comforts of home–my computer, TV, music-generator items, plenty of reading material, records and videos at my disposal. Therefore, I am never bored. I can always find something to do. I can cook, sew, clean house and make minor household repairs. The only thing I don’t have are a washing machine and dryer on the premises. I still have to shlep to the Laundromat. But you can’t have everything. I know people who do have a washer but are lacking a lot of things that I have.
My mother passed in 2015, and I am thankful that she lived long enough to experience my adult life and musical career with me. I am also thankful for the positive, stress-free upbringing I received from her as well as her unconditional love and support. Although both my parents are now deceased, all my siblings, four brothers and one sister, are still alive. I intend to follow the example of my uncle Lester, who lived to be 111-years-old!
I am thankful that I still have my voice and am able to do what I enjoy most, that is sing. There has not been as much paid choral work in recent years as there was in the past, even before the pandemic shut down everything completely. I am grateful to have received a well-rounded education and always had many outlets and opportunities for artistic expression.
I am thankful to have many good, loving friends in my life. When I hook up with somebody, it is almost always a lifetime commitment. I have friends as far back as elementary school, high school, college and my Army years. I love sex and I am proud to say that I can still get it up! All things considered, I have much to be thankful for. I love my life and I will hate to have to give it up someday. So I am just going to enjoy it as long as I can.
I have watched and followed every season and episode of “Big Brother” since its inception in 2000. The summer of 2023 designates 25 seasons! I can’t believe it’s been that long. Now don’t judge me. It’s one of my guilty pleasures. Look, I don’t get on you about some of that shit you watch! But if you, too, are a fan of this particular reality TV show, maybe you will understand and appreciate my comments about it. Anyway, due to my devotion, I have learned a few things about how to play the game.
First of all, let me tell you that I would not go on the show myself, if given the opportunity. So this is merely a theoretical assessment. I don’t relish that kind of exposure to so many people. Although I am an exhibitionist (but not so much anymore, since I‘ve gotten fat), and whereas I love interacting with people and sharing my wit and wisdom, I don’t want everybody seeing and knowing all my business. I need my alone time.
The rule that no one is allowed to sing in the House, because of copyright restrictions, would be a major deal breaker for me. I’m sorry, I have to sing! Other than for my own amusement, it would be my way of entertaining the houseguests on a regular basis. I don’t think they are allowed any radios or portable music players either. I could not abide not having any music to listen to, even my own, for however long I was in the House. I would consider it, however, if it were an unmonitored situation, without the cameras everywhere, but that would defeat their purpose, wouldn’t it? Instead, I would like to be able to talk to the contestants directly and give them my unsolicited advice and offer my opinions.
But if I were a contestant/houseguest on the show, I would attempt to use the unheard-of tactic of complete honesty with the other players. On the very first day in the House, I would lay out my game plan and tell the others exactly what to expect from me. I would never intentionally lie to anybody, and when they are convinced that I am always truthful, then they might tend to believe everything I say. Truth and honestly could be contagious if given the chance, but I suppose that would be too much to hope for.
Every season the new contestants come on claiming that they are big fans of the show and have watched it every season. Then why don’t they learn from past seasons how to play the game? The players are always forming alliances and promising each other that they will protect them and never nominate them for eviction. So they are already lying. Then they feel all betrayed when somebody that they trusted eventually turns on them, as they always do. As there can be only one winner, everyone will be put out eventually. They never seem to get that little fact. They act surprised and hurt when they catch somebody in a lie or when they go against their word. “He lied right to my face!“ Well, duh! You chose to believe him, so don’t blame him for telling you what you wanted to hear.
I would not want to be in any alliances with anybody. They’re only temporary anyway. One season the boys tried to establish an alliance with each other against the girls, but by the second week, a couple guys wanted out of it already. Another time, with only 15 people in the house, they tried to form an eight-person alliance. Now with two Heads of Household, who were both exempt, and four players being nominated each week for eviction (that‘s already six), that didn’t leave any extras to choose from. So, of course, that alliance didn’t last very long.
One woman formed a “secret” alliance with three other girls and laid out her plans on who she would be targeting for eviction once given the chance. One member of this group immediately went to the person in question and told him what had just transpired. Well, so much for that so-called alliance! I think that everyone should play for themself and not depend on other players to help them along.
That being said, however, an alliance could work if it is carefully orchestrated and everyone involved sticks to the plan. This was brilliantly exemplified one recent season when for the first time in the show’s history a black person was declared the winner of “Big Brother”! To honor the “Diversity Clause,” the producers always manage to get at least two non-Caucasian contestants to compete, but they always got voted out in due course. This time out, however, out of 14 players, half of them were Persons-of-Color. At the very beginning, the blacks were determined for one of them to win the game. So they formed their own secret alliance, unbeknownst to the others, and systematically got rid of all the white folks one by one, until there were only the six of them remaining! The seventh, a Japanese boy, was let go before any of them were. They successfully pulled it off by not divulging what they were doing to the targeted players. The clueless dupes didn’t know what had hit them until it was too late. By that time, the remaining houseguests didn’t much care who actually won, as they had at least accomplished their goal. So I guess an alliance can work if they keep it on the down-low. I had been against the alliance strategy until those guys actually pulled one off successfully. Now I see that they do provide interesting gameplay, due to the fact they usually don’t work out.
The word “trust” is always being thrown around the house. “I do trust you.” (Big mistake!) “I don’t know who to trust.” Exactly. Then don’t trust anybody! That word should be banned from the game. It has no validity and serves no good purpose at all. This game is not based on trust. There can’t be any trust in a competition where the goal is to get rid of everybody there. I don’t know why they don’t get that. I’m not making any deals with anyone, and I don’t trust anyone. That way I can’t be disappointed. You can be betrayed only by someone you trust. I have no loyalty to anybody either. Getting rid of the trust factor would make them all responsible for their own choices in their gameplay. They wouldn’t be able to blame anybody but themself for any mistakes they make.
Whenever a player goes against another’s wishes, they will immediately turn on you. So, you are my friend and on my side only as long as I do what you tell me to do? They will criticize and judge harshly the person who is playing only for themself and to hell with everybody else, when that is what they all should be doing. Some will get mad when they learn that a player is coming after them. Well, that’s the game, to go after each other. Don’t take it personally. Aren’t you doing the same thing, or should be if you’re not?
Invariably, most houseguests will team up with another player (a “showmance” or whatever) and then swear to each other that they will protect each other and never put them up on the eviction block or vote them out. Don’t be telling anybody that. That’s a promise that you can’t possibly keep, for it will eventually come the time when you won’t have a choice. They might be the only one left to nominate for eviction. Maybe these two “best friends” have to face off in a one-on-one competition. So now they will have to decide whether to honor their pact, sacrifice themselves by throwing the competition and letting the other one win, or decide that all bets are off, to hell with you, I want to stay. That has happened, in fact, more than a few times.
Ofttimes a player will be put on the eviction block as a “pawn,” telling them that the other nominee is the real target, and that they shouldn’t be worried. They don’t seem to realize that in the game of Chess it’s the pawns that are sacrificed first to get at the more powerful pieces. More often than not, these human pawns are the very ones to be evicted, even after being told that they were safe. One trusting idiot one season had the opportunity to take himself off the block, but instead decided not to do it, thinking that his “friends” would all save him. Of course, he was promptly dispatched. I guess he learned his lesson.
“Everybody is against me and are lying to me. I can’t trust anybody in this house.“ Oh, boo-hoo! Get over yourself! Nobody, me especially, is impressed by your crying and feeling sorry for yourself. You just reveal your weakness by doing that. It’s just a game. As Tom Hanks’ character says in A League of Their Own (1992), “There is no crying in baseball!“ My advice is to get it together, and don’t let the other players get your goat. If you can‘t take the heat, then get out of the kitchen! One paranoid girl on there kept going around the house asking everyone, “Are you all conspiring against me?” Well, they are not going to admit it if they are! “Oh, yes, Ms. Thing. We are all conspiring against you. What are you going to do about it?”
Players often base their decisions on what has not happened yet, rather than playing for the moment. “If he wins HoH, he swears he won’t put me up. I guess I’ll have to trust him.” “If Travis wins the Veto competition, he’ll take Claire off the block, and I know that Derek won’t be put up as a replacement. He wouldn‘t do that.” Are you sure? One player had the opportunity to use an earned privilege, which would have given him temporary immunity. But he decided to hold off for the bigger prize to be offered next week. Well, he didn’t make it to next week because he was backdoored and eliminated that week. They don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. Don’t be concerned with “what if…?“ The situation is always changing. They need only to worry about today.
Also, some houseguests have not learned to keep their game plans to themselves and not to be so sharing. “If I win HoH, I am going after Kyle.” Then the person you just told goes right to Kyle and tells him that Taylor is gunning for him. So now she becomes Kyle’s target. And since she never got to be HoH, she has already doomed her fate. Again, they tend to make decisions based on what-if situations before the fact. Don’t tell these people all your business. They are not your friends!
Every week those on the Eviction Block get a chance to save themselves by winning a Veto Competition and taking themselves off the block, which requires them to be replaced by another player. Some HoHs choose to employ a “backdoor” tactic, where the replacement is another whom they want gone. The only way they can save themself then is to talk the other players into voting to keep them there. I would keep my backdoor plan to myself. Let it be a surprise to everybody. When they tell even one person what they plan to do, which they have done in the past, it always gets back to that person before the fact, so they are not blindsided when it happens and already has begun their campaign to sway the votes in their favor.
If I find out a secret about somebody, I won’t volunteer the information unless I am asked directly about it. So if you have a secret, keep it to yourself, because once you divulge it, it‘s not a secret anymore. “I’ll tell you something, if you promise not to tell anybody.“ The problem with that is, that’s the same thing that they say to everybody that they tell, until everybody knows about it! One season when a player figured out that a fellow houseguest had a secret twin sister in the house, and they were both playing unbeknownst to the other players, instead of keeping that knowledge to herself and using it to her advantage, she went and told other people, which did not help her game at all.
Players are always boasting or making the claim that they alone were responsible for getting somebody evicted or saved. No one can do that all by themself. Both of those are a group effort. You are only one vote out of many. Just because the Head of Household nominates somebody, doesn’t mean that they will be evicted right away. They have opportunities to save themselves. The HoH does not get a player evicted. All they did was nominate them. Then it’s out of their hands. They‘ve even been known to boast, “I‘m getting rid of her ass this week.” But that’s not up to you. You don’t get to vote. Or you are only one vote.
In the event that I get to be Head of Household and have to nominate somebody for eviction, don’t think that any of you are exempt. Don’t take it personally, because somebody has to go up, so why not you? You are no more special than anybody else there. As everyone gets the chance to save themselves every week, it does not necessarily mean the end of the line for them. So if you want to stay in the house, do what is required to guarantee your safety. There have been players who were nominated almost every time but managed to stay in the game until the very end.
So far, it was a few seasons ago, there has been only one player who did what I would do. When she got HoH, she made this announcement to the entire house. “None of you will be coming to my room to discuss who to nominate or who you want to leave. I am not sharing my strategy with anybody. I am the Head of Household and I am making my own decisions. You will know who I have chosen when the time comes.” I loved her for that. There was nothing they could say, because she wasn’t doing anything wrong or unethical. That’s what they all should do.
There is a player every season who tries to run and control the game. They will tell the HoH whom to nominate and then tell the other players whom to vote out. I don’t understand why so many of them go along with this guy and tend to do whatever they are told. Then when this “puppet master” eventually turns on one or more of them, they feel all betrayed and taken advantage of, when they are the ones who allowed themselves to be taken in by this person.
“I thought we all agreed to vote Ian out, but you went against the House.” ‘Well, first of all, I never agreed, and besides, I like Ian. I don’t want him to go yet.’ Don’t tell me whom to nominate or whom to vote for eviction. Whom I vote out is my decision alone. If you want a certain person to go up, then win HoH and you can nominate them yourself. Don’t ask me to do your dirty work for you. I would tend to nominate those whom I like the least, so to quote “Talking Tina” (the killer doll from a “Twilight Zone” episode), “You’d better be nice to me!”
I have heard players tell each other, “Everybody likes him, and he is a really good player. If we make it to the Final Two, I know that the Jury would pick him over me. So he has to go.” Well, if he is a good player and well-liked, I would think that he deserves to stay. If all of the better players are evicted, then that leaves only the tired ones there. So they would rather have a floater or someone who never wins any competitions to be a finalist instead of the better player whom everybody likes? If that’s their criterion, why even bother to play the game? Just sit around and bide your time until everybody else is voted out.
A case in point. There was a woman on there one season who merely coasted along the whole summer. She won no competitions and was put up for eviction almost every week, primarily as a pawn. But the other player up with her was the one that would get voted off every time. She was deemed as no threat to anybody, you see. So ironically the deemed worst player ended up in the Final Three and could possibly have won the game!
Looking at it another way, though, maybe that is a good strategy in itself. Just lay low for the whole game and don’t do anything. So the mere fact that they are not considered a threat by anybody is how they manage to stay in the game until the end, while all the other stronger players are being voted out around them. If they make to the end, by whatever means, that makes them a good player, doesn’t it? I’ve heard evicted houseguests complain, “She has floated through the entire game.“ Yeah, but she’s still there, isn’t she? And you’re not. She must be doing something right. My methods probably won’t get me to the end (but then again, they might), but I can leave the House with my head held high.
1 Holly Street
New York, NY 10005
December 25, 2021
Thank you ever so much for the fabulous present. It’s really the most fun gift I’ve ever been given. The partridge is so cute, and he just adores his little pear tree. Of course, they do sort of dominate my one-room apartment, but I’ll make do, even if it does mean putting one of my favorite armchairs in storage. But I love your gift. I really do!
All my love,
THE SECOND DAY
1 Holly Street
New York, NY 10005
December 26, 2021
Another present! What a surprise! Now, Marvin, Honey, don’t think that I’m not appreciative, but really, Sweetie, two turtle doves flying around an apartment can really make a mess. Remember my red carpet? It’s now two-toned. I know your heart is in the right place, but don’t you think the partridge world have been enough for one Christmas?
THE THIRD DAY
1 Holly Street
New York, NY 10005
December 27, 2021
If your latest gift is your way of telling me that you’re for the birds, then you have succeeded! Did you know that French hens cannot be domesticated and that their deadliest enemies are turtle doves and partridges? Did you also know that I have a cleaning bill of over $200 for the blood and feathers? Did you also know that I am now known throughout my building as “That Crazy Bird Lady”? No more! Please!
THE FOURTH DAY
1 Holly Street
New York, NY 10005
December 28, 2021
Let me tell you about calling birds! THEY CALL TO EACH OTHER! MORNING, NOON AND NIGHT! 24 HOURS A DAY! NON-STOP! Thanks to you, I am now on tranquilizers and wearing earplugs! Needless to say, I have stopped entertaining. Parties just don’t make it in a bird sanctuary! Now PLEASE!! BUG OFF WITH THE GIFTS!!!
THE FIFTH DAY
1 Holly Street
New York, NY 10005
December 29, 2021
Dear Big Sport!
When I got the five “gold” rings, I figured you were finally coming around to your senses by giving me something I could use. Naturally, I was wrong. Five minutes after putting them on, my fingers turned green!
Marvin, you are the pits! One more gift and I get tough!
THE SIXTH DAY
Quigley, Farquahr, Gribble and Stubbs
Attorneys at Law
200 W. 57th Street
New York, NY 10019
December 30, 2021
Mr. Marvin Truelove
12 St. Nicholas Avenue
New York, NY 10026
Dear Mr. Truelove,
My client, Ms. Carol Yule, has instructed me hereby to order you to cease at once the sending of geese, hens, doves and other birds or gifts of any kind to her. Should you fail to comply with this order, we have no course but to take immediate legal action.
Very truly yours,
THE SEVENTH DAY
1 Holly Street
New York, NY 10005
December 31, 2021
Dear Mr. Truelove,
I am the downstairs neighbor of Carol Yule, and she has told me to send this bill to you.
For water damage to my apartment and possessions following flooding caused by seven swans overflowing upstairs bathtub.
Please remit at once!
(P.S. from Carol Yule: “Marvin! See what you have done?! For God’s Sake–STOP!
THE EIGHTH DAY
THE CITY OF NEW YORK
Department of Housing
ORDER TO REMOVE VIOLATIONS
January 1, 2022
To: Ms. Carol Yule
1 Holly Street
New York, NY 10005
You are hereby ordered to take immediate steps to remove the following violations as specified under Section 4, Paragraphs 5 and 14, of the Residential Zoning Law, which states:
“No dairy farm or establishment providing milk produce, and no zoo or aviary may be permitted in a multi-unit dwelling.”
Dept. of Housing
THE NINTH DAY
Police Department of the City of New York
January 2, 2022
Ms. Carol Yule
1 Holly Street
New York, NY 10005
By order of the Police Commissioner, you are hereby ordered to appear at Civil Court to answer the following charges:
1. Operating a cabaret with nine dancers without a license.
2. Using a private residence as a wildlife preserve.
Failure to comply with this summons will result in your arrest.
THE TENTH DAY
Acme Realty Corporation
245 E. 42nd Street
New York, NY 10017
January 3, 2022
Ms. Carol Yule
1 Holly Street
New York, NY 10005
Dear Ms. Yule:
It has come to our attention that you are in direct violation of the terms of your lease in our building at 1 Holly Street. In the aforementioned lease, you agreed that you would be the only person living in your apartment and also that you would keep no pets. According to complaints by other tenants, you are now sharing your apartment with 10 leaping men, 9 dancing women and 8 milkmaids, with their cows. In addition, there are reports of various numbers of swans, geese and other birds on the premises. We have no choice but to evict you, preferably before the end of the month.
Very truly yours,
Manager of Rentals
THE ELEVENTH DAY
Harley Stagmire, M.D.
234 E. 66th Street
New York, NY 10021
January 4, 2022
Mr. Marvin Truelove
12 St. Nicholas Avenue
New York, NY 10026
Dear Mr. Truelove:
I feel that it is my duty as a psychiatrist to warn you that your actions toward my patient, Ms. Carol Yule, are causing her great mental anguish and bringing on severe traumas. She came to me today in a hersterical state, screaming uncontrollably about “eleven pipers piping,” followed by other complaints I could not make out. I learned from her that you are responsible for her condition, which may require her to be committed to a mental institution. For her good, I must insist that you remain completely out of her life.
Harley Stagmire, M.D.
THE TWELFTH DAY
Quigley, Farquahr, Gribble and Stubbs
Attorneys at Law
200 W. 57th Street
New York, NY 10019
January 5, 2022
Mr. Marvin Truelove
12 St. Nicholas Avenue
New York, NY 10026
Dear Mr. Truelove:
I regret to inform you that Ms. Carol Yule took her own life today. In her suicide note, she stated that she wished to repay you for all the things you have done for her. Therefore, I am obeying her last wishes by sending to your apartment the following of her personal possessions:
12 Drummers drumming,
11 Pipers piping,
10 Lords a-leaping,
9 Ladies dancing,
8 Maids a-milking,
7 Swans a-swimming,
6 Geese a-laying,
5 “Gold” Rings,
4 Calling Birds,
3 French Hens,
2 Turtle Doves,
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree.
[The lesson to be learned here is that of karmic justice–what goes around, comes back around. Have a happy holiday season and a fabulous New Year.]
(Sung to the tune of “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance)
We are the very model of today’s Episcopalian,
We’re high & low & broad & wide & somewhat Bacchanalian;
We’re mystical, political, we’re secular and clerical;
We can be charismatic, but we seldom get hysterical.
We’re traditional and modernist and socialist-monarchical,
We’re protestant and catholic, but not too hierarchical;
About ordaining women we are teeming with a lot o’ views,
As well as on the Prayer Book that our Bishops say we gotta use!
We’re prosperous, by daily work, our stewardship is merited,
Abetted by the little bit that some of us inherited.
The portion that we give the Church is best described as comical,
But please don’t call us stingy–we are simply economical.
We’re very well acquainted, too, with matters theoretical,
In spite of being vague about our methods catechetical.
A knowledge of our church remains to most of us a mystery;
(Some day we’ll take the time to learn our heritage and history!)
Don’t ask us what we mean with our responses demigogical;
They sound so grand they must mean something highly doxological!
In short, we’ve just a smattering of elementary Sunday School,
Including cheerful facts about the meaning of the Golden Rule.
The Church accommodations, like the clergy’s residentiary,
Has been a perk only since the beginning of the century;
But still in matters practical that we all dabble daily in,
We are the very model of today’s Episcopalian.
We are the very model of today’s Episcopalian;
We do our work and no one seems to care if we act gaily in
Committee and Convention; we’re a competent and cheerful band;
Get four of us together and you’ll always find a fifth on hand.
We’re known for our diversity and heterogeneity,
(Be careful not to confuse that word with hermaphrodeity!)
On controversial subjects you will seldom find that two agree;
Episcopalians are each the World’s Leading Authority!
We’re educated, talented, creative and progressional;
So proud of our humility we don’t need the confessional;
We’re very open-minded in all matters strange and alien,
We’re only narrow-minded towards another ‘Piscopalian!
[Disclaimer: If you have read my A Critique of Catholicism, don’t assume for a moment that I am condoning this faith over the other one. I love humor, cleverness and wit, no matter what the sentiment or subject matter is. I did work at an Episcopal church for 25 years, but it was simply a job and nothing else. I hope you can just enjoy it for what it’s worth.]
What follows is a discussion of the traditional Nativity story that we all are familiar with and that many seem to accept as truth and historical fact.
In my opinion, the circumstances of Jesus’ birth, as well as his conception, are highly suspect, to say the least. First of all, there is no proof that Mother Mary was a virgin. The passage from Isaiah (7:14), on which this assumption is based, reads, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son…” The original Hebrew text, however, never said so. The word which the New Testament renders as “virgin” is almah, which means “a young woman of marriageable age.” The Hebrew term for a virgin is betullah. The two words don’t exactly mean the same thing, do they? When the Greeks translated the Bible, they erroneously translated the Hebrew “young woman” as “virgin,” and it is this mistake that the Gospel adopted.
I would think that people would be wary of translations, especially the Bible, which has undergone so many. Moreover, Isaiah did not mention any names or dates, so who’s to say that this Mary person is to whom he was referring? That’s making an unwarranted presumption right there. No doubt there were many young women of marriageable age who had baby boys at some point, but we don’t know if Mary was one of them or even when it occurred. Isaiah’s verse goes on to say that the “virgin” shall name her son “Emmanuel.” Mary named her child Jesus, so they might not be the same kid. It might be Emmanuel Lewis to which he was referring, or he might have been reporting on some girl who lived in his village and at the present time, for all we know. A virgin conceiving is nothing special or unusual. Everyone is a virgin before they have sex for the first time. Virgin brides often get pregnant on their wedding night. Even if this unnamed girl was a virgin when she conceived a child, that doesn’t follow that she remained so during her pregnancy and childbirth. People tend to read too much into things.
According to the Biblical account, Mary was already going with Joseph when she became pregnant. How do we know for sure that the baby was not his, or perhaps some other local suitor’s? Furthermore, some scholars report that Mary and Joseph had several other children after Jesus, so how has Mary managed to maintain her virginal status even until now, according to the Christian religions? Those other children weren’t all divinely conceived (either). Actually, the Catholics vehemently negate the sibling theory so that they can continue to regard Mary as The Perpetual, Sexless Virgin.
While I’m at it, I should explain the Roman Catholic doctrine of Immaculate Conception, for those who don‘t know what it is. The claim of “immaculate conception” has nothing to do with the physical birth of either Jesus or Mary. Mary, all authorities agree, was born in the usual, natural way. But as the future mother of Jesus, she differed in one significant aspect, that of “original sin.” Ever since Adam’s disregard of God’s command not to eat of the Forbidden Fruit, everyone, until the coming of Christ, was born with sin in their soul, except for Mary. Her soul, at the moment of its creation and infusion into her body, “was clothed in sanctifying grace.” The stain of original sin was excluded from her so that she would be worthy to give birth to the Savior. But how would anybody know that before the fact, as if it were pre-ordained? This is what is meant by her immaculate conception. So you see, Mary’s supposed immaculacy, as well as her virginal status at the time she conceived Jesus, are arbitrary, manmade conventions, not based on any real proof or truth.
I am wondering, too, if “God” wanted a son so badly, why didn’t He just create one already full-grown, like He did Adam? Why bother with the whole gestation and birth thing. A baby serves no useful purpose until it’s old enough to be able to work and do something. If Jesus was destined to die the way he did, they could have just cut right to the chase and foregone all that preliminary stuff. That’s another reason why I suspect that Jesus’ conception and Mary’s part in the proceedings were all very natural.
And what about this? Has it ever occurred to you that if Mary was a virgin, and as Joseph probably didn’t know how to perform a Caesarian section, her hymen would have to have been broken from the inside in order to give birth. Then that would mean that it was Jesus himself who busted his own mother’s cherry! Ouch!
(# …Where was he born? / Born in a manger… #)
There is nothing in the Bible to justify the popular belief that Jesus was actually born in a manger. I’ll bet you that most people don’t even know what a manger is. The word, meaning “to eat,” in French, is a feeding trough or box for barnyard animals. Now, why would someone, under any circumstances, get into an animal’s feed trough to give birth? Mary might have placed her baby in there afterwards, however, as one of the versions of the Scripture suggests. It’s just another interpretation, but I don’t think that “she laid him in a manger” means that she laid him like a bird lays an egg or that she had sex with him.
Pictures representing the Wise Men worshiping Jesus in a stable surrounded by cattle and horses are not based on Scripture either. Nowhere does the Bible mention a stable in this context. Some scholars have suggested that the manger in which Mary was said to have laid her child was in the courtyard of an inn or caravansary, and others suppose that it was a grotto or cave near Bethlehem.
Twelve days after Christmas, referred to as the Epiphany, is the day that commemorates the arrival of the Three Kings from the East to pay homage to the Christ Child. Now whether it took just 12 days or much longer for them to get there, it seems a bit far-fetched that Mary and Joseph would still be in the same place. They only stopped there for the night so that she could have her baby. I don’t imagine that they took up indefinite lodging in the place. I would think that they would already be long gone by the time the Kings, Amahl and all those shepherds and other folks allegedly got there. “Uh, Joseph, dear, we can’t leave just yet. We’re expecting a lot of visitors.” “When, Mary?” “I don’t know for sure. One day soon, I guess. Besides, look, we have all the comforts of home right here.”
It’s said that the couple were on their way to Bethlehem to be registered, but they must not had made it there yet. So, was Jesus really born in Bethlehem or somewhere else entirely? And where had they planned on staying when they did get to Bethlehem? Their mission probably took more than one day to accomplish. But if that was Bethlehem where they encountered the fully-occupied inn, had they neglected to call ahead to make reservations?
And what about those “gifts” that the Kings presented to Jesus? Now what is a little newborn baby supposed to do with gold, frankincense and myrrh, which were all symbolic in some way? The child neither understands the symbolism nor cares. He needs food and diapers. How practical is that other stuff?
You see, I am one who questions everything, instead of accepting it on face value. If it doesn’t make logical sense, I will comment on it. For example, how did all those people—shepherds, Magi and whoever else—find out where Mary and Joseph were holed up? They couldn’t have sent out a press release. The new parents didn’t even know where they were going to be. They ended up in that place only on a whim and as a last resort. Now the story goes, according to St. Luke, and let’s face it, it is just a story, a fairy tale, if you will, but instead of actual fairies, we have angels to play a part, okay?
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, a Fairy Godmother, I mean, an Angel from God, appeared to some really freaked-out shepherds and announced that a Divine Baby Boy had just been born in their midst, and insisted that they go worship Him. “…And this shall be a sign unto you. Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” (Long pause) “That’s it? That’s all we get? And why are you telling us anyway? We ain’t nobody! What are we supposed to do with this information? We’re simple shepherds, not bloody detectives! Now let me get this straight. So, you expect us to drop what we are doing, just leave our flocks unattended and go look for some damn baby who knows where, to do what, worship it? And this is on the word of…who did you say you were again? An Angel from God? Right! Thank you, no. I don’t think so. Homie don‘t play that!”
But for those who did take up this alleged quest, how in the world did they find Him? He undoubtedly was not the only baby born during that same time. (This idea was explored and spoofed in Monty Python’s Life of Brian ). And certainly there were more than one manger throughout the land. Did they do a farm-to-farm search until they found the right one? There was no kind of media communication in those days, no tracking devices, no GPS, nothing. And again, why would the family still be in the same place by the time the others got there, who knows when? Do you get my point about the implausible silliness of the whole thing?
The Planetarium in New York City gave a very interesting presentation one year. It must have been around Christmastime, because the show was a speculative explanation about the circumstances of Jesus’ birth. That very bright “Star-in-the-East” which supposedly guided everybody to the Christ Child, was the result of the alignment of several planets, a celestial phenomenon that occurs only once every few thousand years. Others contend that it was the periodical appearance of Halley’s Comet. Some people at the time may have wanted to associate such an unusual occurrence with a very special manifestation or birth. But even so, who is to say that Jesus was that special birth? It is all conjecture.
And then it’s said that the Wise Men “followed the Star,” which led them to the Christ Child. Now, how do you follow a star? Can you follow the sun or moon? Was this particular star moving all around and had a big, flashing arrow on it pointing, “This Way to the Kid”? Or as one version of the scripture says, “The Star came and stood over the place where the young child lay.” Come on, how can the exact location of anything on earth be physically determined, based on where a star is in the sky? And then, too, they are giving intelligent conscience to a star! How did this star know where the baby was or who he was, or cared?!
With what we know now and our sophistication of worldly matters, if anybody reported these events today, who would believe it? It was all illogical, supernatural nonsense even at that time. Just because it’s in the Bible does not make it true. Read my blog, For the Bible Tells Me So, where I debunk other stories and commonly-accepted accounts of historic happenings therein.
(# What month was Jesus born in? [Well, it wasn’t…] The last month of the year… #)
(# Long time ago in Bethlehem, so the Holy Bible say, Mary’s Boy Child, Jesus Christ, was born on Christmas Day… #)
What is that, the Gospel According to Jester Hairston? Nowhere, other than in certain songs, does it say that Jesus was born on December 25, Christmas Day. That is not the case at all. There was no such thing as Christmas until a couple of centuries after the fact. It’s merely a man-established commemoration date, just like Columbus Day is. Not only that, one must consider the calendar that we now go by. During Roman times, for instance, according to them the year consisted of only ten months, began in March and equaled only 304 days. The other 61 days were merely an unspecified winter period. When the Julian Calendar was established, and subsequently, the Gregorian Calendar, it gave this winter period the names January and February and added July and August in the middle to honor the Caesars, making the year now twelve months (365 or 366 days) long. Didn’t you ever wonder why September through December are the ninth through twelfth months when their names suggest the seventh through tenth months?
That planet conjunction is said to have occurred in late February or early March. Others speculate that Jesus may have been born in August or September, based on the account that there were shepherds tending their flocks on the night in question. You see, they did this only during the blistering days of late summer when it is too hot for the sheep to graze in the daylight hours. So, considering all these facts, who can say for sure when Jesus was actually born? Unless one is an astrology fanatic, why should it even matter?
But Christmas occurring in the last week of December, and specifically the 25th, is no accident, but an arbitrary decision. The early days of Christianity (about 300 years) were met with much persecution, by the Romans, mainly. They used to feed Christians to the lions as public entertainment. So people didn’t go around announcing that they were Christians. They tried to keep it pretty much on the down-low. So, starting around 212 A.D., by holding Jesus’ Feast Day during the same season as the Winter Solstice, Saturnalia, Sacaea and some other established religious ceremonies, like Chanukah, Sol Invictus and the Mithraic Festival, the Christians could celebrate right along with everybody else without drawing special attention to themselves. That date works out well for the Catholics, especially, because seven days later is New Year’s Day, which symbolizes for them a new beginning and a new Covenant and all that.
So you see, the practice of changing and moving people’s birthdays around for convenience’s sake is not a new thing. Even the Sabbath for Christians, Sunday, is a result of an arbitrary change from the Jewish Sabbath of Saturday to the pagan’s weekly veneration day of the sun, hence the name. Incidentally, it is purported that the pre-Christian Persian God Mithra—called “the Son of God” and “the Light of the World”—was born on December 25, died, was buried in a rock tomb, and then resurrected in three days. Sound familiar?
Dec. 25 is also the birthday of Adonis, Dionysus and Osiris, and the newborn Krishna was presented with gold, frankincense and myrrh. In fact, no aspect of Christianity is original. Everything about it is based on prior religious conventions, practices and symbolism, which makes me even more convinced that the whole Nativity Story, as we know it, is merely an adaptation. The 1965 Biblical epic The Greatest Story Ever Told in other words could be called, “The Biggest Fabrication Ever Related.” I don’t mean to make fun of anybody’s faith (well, maybe I do), but this is just another way to look at it and something to think about.
[Related articles: A Critique of Catholicism; For the Bible Tells Me So; Heaven and Hell; Jesus H. Christ!; Oh, God, You Devil!; Sin and Forgiveness; The Ten Commandments]
For those of you who don’t know or remember Anna Russell [1911-2006], she was sort of a music humorist, similar to Victor Borge (remember him?), who in her concerts did demonstrations and sketches on various music-related subjects. This English-Canadian artist also sang and played piano. One of her most famous and popular routines is a hilarious synopsis of Wagner’s Ring Cycle operas. There are recordings of it available, if you want to check it out for yourself. Why the bit works so well is because it is funny even if you are not familiar with the operas themselves. One can enjoy a good story that they haven’t heard before. I only mention this because I am doing something similar with an opera of my own choosing for analysis.
My favorite one-act opera happens to be Amahl and the Night Visitors by Gian-Carlo Menotti. This is the first opera to be commissioned specifically for television, and it premiered on NBC on Christmas Eve, 1951. Since I know the work very well, having heard it often, studied it and even performed it several times, I am aware of the incongruities and illogical elements in the story, which I am about to point out. Menotti himself did his own libretto, so he is the one at whom I will be throwing shade. It’s too bad that he is not alive to receive my critique. I hope you enjoy my irreverence.
The title character, Amahl, is a 12-year-old, “crippled,” shepherd boy, who walks with a crude crutch, which he made himself, he tells us. His mother, who is unnamed, is purportedly a widow, and Amahl’s father is never mentioned. We don’t know who the hell he is or how he “died.” Those are sardonic quotation marks, by the way.
The opera opens with a short prelude for string orchestra then segues to Amahl sitting on a rock outside his hut, playing on his makeshift pipe. But what we hear instead is a virtuosic oboe! I am already thinking, Gee, if he is that good a player, why isn’t he enrolled in a music school or playing in a youth orchestra somewhere? It is night and we don’t know what time it is, but Amahl’s mother calls him inside to go to bed. We don’t know if this is a school night or if Amahl even attends school, so why does he have to go to bed when he’s not tired or sleepy?
You know about the famous Star-in-the-East. Amahl tries to tell his mother about this fantastic Star that is lighting up the whole sky, and it has a tail, no less! But instead of taking a look herself to verify his story, she just comes right out and calls him a liar. You see, he’s always making up stuff, so why should she believe him this time? She then informs her son that since they had to sell all their sheep and everything else of any value, they will have to become door-to-door beggars. This news actually delights Amahl, and he sees it as a fun adventure. He is a little Pollyanna, that one.
As soon as Mother and son retire to their straw pallets, the Three Kings (and their Page) start their approach from wherever…on foot! We don’t know why they picked this hut at which to stop. You will see later that there were plenty other options. Was it the first one that they came to? They don’t say. So when King Melchior knocks on the door, instead of the Mother getting up to see who it is, she orders poor, crippled Amahl to hobble over to the door. I mean, it’s night, and she is the adult who should be the one answering the door. Whoever it is, they are probably calling to see her, not Amahl.
Then when he tells her that there is a king out there wearing a crown, of course, she doesn’t believe him again. The knocking continues, and twice more she sends Amahl to the door. The third time when he informs her that now the Kings are three, and one of them is black, that does it. “Oh, Lord, what am I going to do with this boy?!” Well, you could go to the door yourself, which you should have done in the first place! She finally does, and finds that everything Amahl has said is entirely true, including that bright Star with the tail that is guiding the Kings’ journey. She never apologizes to Amahl, however, for accusing him of lying to her. I wonder why Amahl did not see all three Kings when he went to the door the first time. Maybe the other two were around the side of the hut taking a piss or dump.
King Balthazar introduces themselves with, # May we rest a while in your house and warm ourselves by your fireplace? # The woman explains that she ain’t got shit to offer them, but they are welcome to come in anyway, accompanied by a sprightly, orchestral march. The Mother then leaves to go gather some wood for the fire, leaving her young son with four perfect strangers. In this day and age, who would do that? Even then, it was not a smart thing to do. It would have made more sense to send Amahl out to gather the wood. She doesn‘t know anything about these men. They could be imposters posing as kings to gain people‘s trust. They might be combing the countryside, looking for children to sell into slavery and prostitution. Why did they pick this particular house to visit? Amahl appears to be the only thing of any potential value here. And, too, why is she getting more wood now? She is being so considerate about these strangers’ comfort. I guess she didn’t care if she or her little boy froze to death during the night.
But this gives the boy a chance to make amusing repartee with the Kings, especially with the hard-of-hearing Kaspar, with his vicious parrot and his drawered box containing precious stones, colored beads and licorice! (# This is my box…I never travel without my box. #) Amahl, at least, must have some suspicions when he asks the visitors if they are real kings and wants to know where they came from. The Mother could just as well have been present for the scene. In fact, these are questions that she should be asking!
The Mother returns with the firewood and actually accuses Amahl of being a nuisance. Then why didn’t she stay there with them then? So now she sends Amahl out to summon the neighbors to bring whatever they have to offer the guests. A little while ago, the Mother was so insistent about Amahl going to bed. Now she has him answering the door and running all over the creation doing stuff that she should be doing. I thought that the boy needed so much rest, according to her.
While Amahl is gone, the Mother takes note of the gold and stuff in the room. King Melchior informs her that the gold and other gifts are for the Child. “The child! Which child?” she inquires excitedly. They don’t know. They are only following that Star. They then do a lovely quartet, “Have You Seen a Child,” the Kings referring to the Christ Child, and the Mother referring to her own child, Amahl, who needs the gold more than some baby that they don‘t even know. In the song, the Kings give a detailed description of some child that they have never laid eyes on.
Now here is where it gets a little strange, or more so, if you‘re already there. Amahl is supposed to be out telling the neighbors about his distinguished guests. First of all, why didn’t his mother do all that herself while she was just out there? She might have had more credibility. Why would they believe anything Amahl has to say? They all know what a pathological liar he is, and his own mother doesn’t even believe him most of the time. And second, if it is late enough to be bedtime, wouldn’t the others all be abed as well? So Amahl has to wake everybody up with this fantastic story about these three Kings (and Page) at their hut, and they buy it?
But here they all come anyway. This is your standard opera chorus. Check out what they bring to the party: a big assortment of fruit, nuts, cheese, herbs, spices and sweets. Now, I ask you… If they have all this food at their disposal, why had they not shared any of it with Amahl and his mother before now? The poor blokes are in there starving, and these other folks are living high on the hog! What’s up with that? Also, if there is fruit and cheese and other stuff available for everybody else, apparently, why doesn’t this woman have access to the same items as well? That doesn’t make any sense. But they are willing to bestow all these goodies on some errant strangers just on the word of little lying Amahl. How did they know that these Kings even existed until they actually saw them in the flesh? The boy might be trying to con them for his own purposes.
Plus, the score has these choristers billed as Shepherds. So, if they have flocks of sheep to tend, why did Amahl’s mother have to sell all of hers? With them all living so close together, how could they discern which sheep belonged to whom? I would think that they would have a situation like sharecroppers. If the people in the community all do the same thing, why wouldn’t they share what they have with each other? When they are first introduced in the opera, it’s made to look like Amahl and his mother are living alone in isolation wherever they are, and then we find out that there are all these neighbors nearby who are apparently doing all right for themselves. Is the woman just lazy and will not work?
Since I tend to question everything, I am wondering, to whom exactly did she sell their sheep, and what did the purchasers of same do with them? Whatever it is, couldn’t they have done the same with them and cut out the middleman? Also, where are Amahl and his mother going to do this door-to-door begging? Surely not these present neighbors, or they would have already hit them up. Is there another residential town or village nearby, and if so, why didn’t the Kings (and Page) go there instead of out here in the boonies?
Now comes the compulsory dance sequence. I suppose the Kings use this time to eat, because when the dance is finished, Balthazar politely tells them all to get the fuck out, so that they can get some sleep, as they still have a long way to go. # Thank you, good friends, for your dances and your gifts. But now we must bid you good night. We have little time for sleep and a long journey ahead. # There is no mention in the score whether all the vittles were consumed, and if there were any leftovers, did the shepherds leave it there or take it all back with them? The ensuing orchestral interlude, the same music that opens the opera, denotes the passage of time of several hours, I suppose, as the lighting outside the hut indicates it is now dawn.
The Mother is the first to awaken and immediately is fixated on the Kings’ treasure and sings an aria about what she could do with “All That Gold.” The others must be really sound sleepers, because the aria builds in volume and intensity until near the end, when she is screaming fortissimo high G’s, and nobody wakes up! That is, until she actually seizes the gold, waking up the Page who is guarding it.
It is at this point that the Page finally gets to sing something. We all thought that he was mute until then. Since this is a made-up story, it’s okay to embellish it with extra characters, so I guess this added Page serves as the Kings’ sidekick or squire. He charges Ms. Thing of trying to steal their gold, and they struggle over it. # Thief! Thief! I’ve seen her steal some the gold. She’s a thief; don’t let her go. She’s stolen the gold! Give it back or I’ll tear it out of you!… # Amahl tries to defend his mother by attacking the Page with hits and kicks.
The Kings, however, go easy on her, and Melchior even tells her that she may keep the gold, as the Christ Child does not need it. Well, isn’t that white of him? I mean, that’s the least they can do. After all, this impoverished woman took them in for the night, gave them a place to rest and sleep, fed them and entertained them. They should pay her something, don‘t you think? She is not in any position to be giving out free room and board. and to wealthy royalty, besides! So I don’t consider it stealing, exactly, as she was only taking what she thought was owed her. But then the woman offers to give back the gold! What’s wrong with her? Take the money, honey! You deserve it. Why are you feeling all guilty now? They said you could have it, so just take it and shut up!
Let me mention this about the Kings, incidentally. Melchoir seems to be the head King, as he has the most to sing in the opera, and Balthazar, the traditional black one, has the least to sing. Oh, he gets to comment here and there, but he does not have a real aria, short as they are anyway, like the other two do. You can assess that decision by Menotti anyway you want to. I’m just saying. If I had my way, I would make Melchior the black king. Why not? It wouldn’t change anything. Amahl only says that one of them is black. He didn’t say which one.
As the Kings (and the Page) prepare to leave, Amahl, too, wants to give something to this mysterious Child. But wait! Amahl was outside when the Kings were discussing the Child. This is the first he’s heard about it. So why didn’t he ask, “What you talkin’ about, Willis? What child?” The only thing he has of his own besides his pipe (oboe) is his crutch. So he offers that, saying that the kid may need it someday. And, of course, that is the only available wooden stick in the entire kingdom, right?
Get ready. It’s “miracle” time! Amahl holds up his crutch to give to the Kings and takes a step toward them. The Mother immediately tries to stop him, insisting, “But you can’t, you can’t!” But he can, apparently. After he has walked over and hands his crutch to Kaspar, Amahl proceeds to jump and caper around the room. Of course, the Kings all believe that the boy has been healed by the grace of God through the Holy Child, located who-knows-where.
Here is what I think. It really was no miracle; what happened was just this. What if Amahl was already able to walk and was never lame at all, but only was told that he was by his mother? It’s never said what Amahl’s specific affliction is. Does he have polio or something debilitating? How was he getting around before he made his crutch? Maybe at some time years ago he had trouble walking on his own, but if he had never attempted to since or lately, how would he know if he could or not, until he tried? Even so, he was at least ambulatory, with the help of the crutch. He wasn’t paralyzed in a wheelchair or anything. So it was not some great miracle that he could walk without the crutch. Give me a break!
I don’t trust that Mother anyhow. Maybe she wants to keep Amahl disabled, so that he will have to depend on her always. Some parents do that to their kids, you know. Keep them ill so that they will never leave them. There is even a name for it: Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. Consider, too, that they will have a better chance at begging with a poor crippled child in tow to pity.
As Amahl is enjoying his newfound mobility, his Mother warns him, “Be careful now, my darling, you must take care not to hurt yourself.” Oh, leave the boy alone! She sounds as if she does not want to him to be well. I also contend that a person who is always doubtful of other’s words is usually because they are a chronic liar themself. Is she really a widow, for instance? We have only her word for it. What else might she be lying about?
The Kings (and the Page) then make a strange request. # Oh, blessed child, may I touch you? # What? Why do they want to do that? Maybe they are pedophiles, after all! Amahl does allow it. I guess it is up to the individual director of each production where they should touch the boy. When the Page asks to cop his feel, however, Amahl is reluctant, as he is still miffed with him for assaulting his mother earlier.
Now “Mommie Dearest” is about to do something else very strange. Amahl wants to go with the Kings (and the Page) to give his crutch to the Child himself. And she lets him go! She has been so overprotective of him, but now all of a sudden, she is going to relinquish her only child to a bunch of strange, dirty old men? She doesn’t even ask where exactly they are going or when they will return. Doesn’t she care? They assure her, “We will take good care of him. We’ll bring him back on a camel’s back.” Oh, really? If they have a camel (or more) somewhere, why are they all walking? Yeah, I’ll just bet they will take care of him. Maybe they do plan on molesting him, selling him or pimping him out. If it were my child, I would go along with them. Why did she choose to stay behind? What is keeping her there? Her actions don’t make good sense. Maybe she wants some time alone in order to hook up with a local, secret paramour, perhaps? You know, get rid of the kid for a while so that she can do some trashing.
As they are saying their goodbyes, here are Mother’s instructions to her son: “Don’t forget to wear your hat.” And what will happen if he doesn’t wear it? # Wash your ears. # Is that the only things that he needs to wash? The boy does not even own a toothbrush! # Don’t tell lies. # Take your own advice, bitch! Then Amahl makes these requests to his mother: # Feed my bird…Watch the cat. # Uh, what bird? What cat? They don’t have anything to eat themselves, but they have the means to care for a fucking bird and cat?! I’m not making any of this up, you know.
So then off they go to who-knows-where. The Shepherds are up now, too, to sing us one last parting chorus, as our travelers make their way down the road…on foot. Now, little Amahl has just learned how to walk unassisted only a few minutes ago, and now they are making him walk this long distance?! You know, now would be a good time to produce that alleged camel they alluded to earlier. Amahl starts playing his pipe again (which still sounds like an oboe), and it’s the same tune as before. It must be the only song that he knows.
Anyone who has studied music or sight-singing knows that the lines and spaces of the musical staff all have letter references which had to be learned. To help us remember them, our teachers came up with corresponding acronyms. All reading from bottom to top, for the lines of the treble staff, E-G-B-D-F, we were told that “Every Good Boy Does Fine,” or as the Moody Blues named one of their albums, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour. For the spaces, F-A-C-E, it was simply “face.” For the lines of the bass staff, G-B-D-F-A, we were assured that “Good Boys Do Fine Always,” and the spaces, A-C-E-G, was “All Cows Eat Grass.”
I am always making lists of all sorts of nonsense, and I came across a scrap of paper one day that had some sentences written on it that suggested a theme. I had apparently thought up some alternative mnemonics for the lines of the treble staff, so I’d like to share them with you. At least these are not sexist like the traditional one is.
“Eat Good, But Don’t Fast.” “Even Great Bodies Diet Frequently.” “Enemies Grapple, But Do Friends?” “Elvis‘ Guitar Broke Down Friday,” “Eydie Gormé Bedded David Foster (or any appropriate names).” “Eventually God Bestows Death, Fornicator!” And my favorite, “Elephants Got Big Dicks…Feet!”
When I get around to it, someday I’ll probably think of some cleverer alternatives for the other lines and spaces as well. Remember the old slogan for Lucky Strike cigarettes, “L.S.M.F.T.—Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco”? It could also stand for, “Loose Sweater Means Floppy Tits,” or “Let’s Screw, My Finger’s Tired!”
Opera singers, in particular, have been known to be quite catty with each other (or “throw shade”) upon occasion. There are a couple of stories in opera circles about soprano diva Zinka Milanov. She was once being interviewed and questioned about her up-and-coming rival Leontyne Price. “So, Miss Milanov, what do you think of Leontyne Price?” “Well, the voice is…okay, I guess, but I think that she should confine herself to roles that she is more suited for.” “Such as?” “Bess.”
Here is the other one. At the end of Puccini’s Tosca, the lead soprano jumps from a parapet to her death, and the stunt is traditionally staged with a trampoline to secure the singer’s fall. One night as Eleanor Steber, in the role of Tosca, was executing her “suicide leap,” she missed the trampoline and broke her nose when she hit the floor instead. Ms. Milanov, upon learning of Ms. Steber’s unfortunate mishap, exclaimed to the press, “You see? I told them that she was not right for the part.”
The spiritual gala with Kathleen Battle, Jessye Norman (aka “Jes’ Enormous”) and conductor James Levine, in which I participated in 1980 in NYC, later went on tour to various places (without me, I’m sorry to say). During one of their stopovers (I don’t know where it was), Ms. “Battleaxe” was standing at the backstage bulletin board reading a recently-published review of their program. The article seemed to be commenting on how “these great, black divas” were one thing and “those wonderful, black sopranos” were something else and black this and black that. Kathy complained, “Why does this person have to say ‘black’ all the time? I hate that. Why can’t he refer to us as just great divas or singers or whatever?” Then she walked away in a huff. Ms. Norman was standing nearby and having overheard Kathy’s tirade, made this comment to whomever was in earshot, “Well, somebody had to tell her.”
Once while soprano Eileen Farrell was working with gay conductor Thomas Schippers, the maestro made a vocal criticism to Ms. Farrell that she apparently did not take too kindly to. She retorted with, “Tommy, I’ll make a deal with you. If you will leave the singing to me, I will leave the cock-sucking to you, all right?” (Ooh,::snap!::)
American soprano Isola (pronounced “I-so-la”) Jones was once being introduced during a radio appearance by someone who apparently did not know her at that time. “What is your name, dear?” “Isola Jones.” “We have here with us in the studio today that up-and-coming operatic soprano, Ola Jones.”
I heard this story about Evita Peron. You won’t find this scene in the Madonna movie. In case you are not aware, Eva Duarte (her real name) was a popular South American film actor in the early ’40s, until she married Juan Peron and became Argentina’s First Lady. During the same period, “Evita” was enjoying a less-than-friendly rivalry with Mexico’s leading actress at the time, Maria Felix [1914-2002]. I don’t suppose that they exactly hated each other, but I imagine that they sometimes competed for some of the same movie roles, and maybe even the same men.
Well, when Evita died of cancer in 1952, at the age of 33, Ms. Felix happened to be in Buenos Aires working on a film, so she deigned to pay her disrespects at Evita’s funeral. While Maria was viewing the body in its coffin, she was overheard making the comment (in Spanish), “Ah, together at last!” A mourner standing next to her inquired, “Do you mean Evita with her God?” Maria explained, “No…her legs.”
As if she had any room to talk, being an alleged whore herself. Maria was married four times and had many lovers throughout her life. With her son, Enrique Lara, Maria had once planned to make a film about the incestuous relationship between a film star and her son. Although the film was never made, it was rumored that the subject was autobiographical. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
One of my favorite personalities is the legendary Tallulah Bankhead. There are many stories about her, and I have a few I would like to share. Now some of these may be just jokes that have been attributed to her, but from what I know of her, they all could as well be true. She did admit that she could never remember anybody’s name, and that’s why she called everybody “Dahling.”
Some friends of Tallulah once invited her to attend a High Episcopal church service with them, and since it was her first time, she was quite intrigued by all the pomp and circumstance of the liturgy. At the point in the service when the thurifer is processing around the sanctuary swinging his censer full of incense all around, Tallulah, sitting on the aisle, felt compelled to tell the guy as he passed her pew, “I think that your drag is simply divine, Dahling, but are you aware that your purse is on fire?!”
Once when our Tallulah was taking a dump in a public restroom, she finished her business then realized, to her chagrin, that there was no toilet paper in the stall. She became aware of a person in the stall next to her, so she politely asked, “Excuse me, Dahling, but I regret that there is no paper in here. Would you please be a dear and let me borrow some of yours?” The woman replied, “Oh, I’m so sorry, Miss Bankhead, but there is none over here either! I just finished the roll.” There was a pause and a sigh, then some rustling sounds of Tallulah getting something out of her purse. Tallulah then asked the woman in the next stall, “Before you leave, Dahling, can you change this five?”
Another time, a friend she was with asked her, “Tallulah, did you just fart?” She replied, “Well, of course, I did, Dahling! You don’t think that I always smell this way!?”
As you can see, Tallulah had no inhibitions and actually loved to shock people. I found this account in one of her biographies. When Tallulah and Marlene Dietrich were at Paramount Studios together in 1932, they had adjoining dressing rooms. Marlene wore gold dust in her hair, for a role she was playing at the time. Tallulah got some and put it on her pubic hair, then she would show herself to the crew and comment, “Guess what Marlene and I’ve been doing, Dahling.” Since they both “dabbled,” some even might have believed it.
Tallulah once granted an interview to gossip columnist Liz Smith, and when they had finished, Tallulah walked Liz to the elevator in her hotel. When the elevator door opened and they found it crowded with people, Tallulah said to Ms. Smith, “Thanks for the wonderful interview, Dahling,” and then just as the elevator door was closing shut, she added, “You are just about the nicest lesbian I have ever met.” (And she actually was, too.)
Tallulah once publicly defended a friend of hers who was being accused of having Communist leanings. It soon occurred to Tallulah that she really didn’t know if her friend was a Communist or not, so she asked her. “My whole family were Republicans, and I guess I’ve always considered myself a Republican as well,“ was the woman’s response. Tallulah replied, “A Republican? That’s worse than being a goddamned Communist, Dahling!” I’ll help her say. Her response to the notion that cocaine is addicting, “I know for a fact that cocaine is not addicting, Dahling. I’ve been taking it for years!”
This next story is really about movie director Alfred Hitchcock, who was known for his rather wry sense of humor, but it involves Tallulah as well. One day during the filming of Lifeboat in 1943, one of Hitchcock’s assistants came to him in a tizzy with a complaint about his star player. It had come to his attention that Ms. Bankhead was in the habit of not wearing any underwear on the set, even during shooting. “What shall we do about it, Hitch?” “Well, I’m not quite sure,” pondered the director. “I haven’t decided whether this is a problem for wardrobe, makeup or hair.”
This next happened during the filming of The Birds (1963). They were about to shoot the scene where the birds attack the children while they are leaving school. Real live birds were used for the close-up shots of the attacks. One of the schoolchildren was juvenile actor Morgan Brittany (billed at the time as Suzanne Cupito) who really had a fear of birds. She was so upset about doing the scene, she ran to Hitchcock and told him, “I am so frightened of those birds, Mr. Hitchcock. I’m afraid they might kill me.” Hitchcock patted the girl on the head. “That’s all right, my dear. This is the last day of shooting anyway.” After the release of the film, a journalist interviewing Hitchcock wanted to know how he got all those birds to perform on cue and to do their part as required. Hitchcock told the reporter, “We paid them very well.”
When Zsa Zsa Gabor was a guest one night on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson, she came on with her pet female cat, which was sitting on her lap, and she was stroking her while talking to Johnny. At one point Zsa Zsa asked Johnny, “Do you want to stroke my pussy?” Johnny replied, “Sure, if you move the cat out of the way.”
Broadway star Ethel Merman once was a featured guest on “The Loretta Young Show” on TV. Whereas Ms. Young was purported to be a prude and did not allow any swearing on the set, Ethel was known to be quite the potty-mouth. Ethel slipped up several times, prior to the show. The first time, when Ethel said, “You have a hell of a crew here,” Loretta chided her and told her that she must deposit a quarter in the “Curse Box.” A little later Ethel was heard complaining, “Where is the God-damned coffee that I ordered?” and Loretta again presented the box in which to deposit her quarter. Next, when Ms. Merman said, “Shit! What’s my next line?” and Loretta brought the box over to her, Ethel told her, “Loretta, here is a ten-dollar bill. Now go fuck yourself.”
Although he never came right out and said so, I think that everybody figured out that comic actor Paul Lynde was a big ol’ queen, and those who were not aware just were in denial, because he didn’t really hide that fact, did he? He was always himself on TV and in the movies. Remember when Lynde was a regular celebrity guest on the old “Hollywood Squares,” he frequently gave campy, witty responses to the questions asked him. I am amazed how he got away with it on the then-conservative network TV. Here are some of my favorites. When asked what the “D” in D-Day stands for, Paul answered, “Doris,” and said that the Pink Panther was a gay militant. “Do female frogs croak?” “Sure, if you hold their little heads under the water long enough.” When asked, “Why do the Hell’s Angels typically wear leather?” Paul quipped, “Because chiffon wrinkles too easily.” “Besides politics, Paul, what is the other subject considered to be in poor taste to discuss at nudist camps?” “Each other’s measurements,” was the reply. “What is the most abused and neglected part of your body?” Paul said, “Mine may be abused but it certainly isn’t neglected!” “Paul, what would be a reason for pounding your meat?” Paul: “Loneliness.” “What state was Abraham Lincoln born in?” Paul: “Like all of us–naked and screaming.” “What good might come out of a forest fire?” Paul: “Roast venison.” “Which is prettier, a fairy or a pixie?” Paul: “Well, looks aren’t everything. But I’ll go with the fairy.” “What, if anything, brings tears of joy to a monkey’s eyes?” Paul: “Learning that Tarzan swings both ways.”
Bono and U2 were on tour somewhere one year, and when they first came out onstage for one of their shows, Bono began clapping his hands every few seconds. This went on until the crowd finally quieted down, and Bono said to the audience, “Every time I clap my hands, a child in Africa dies.” Some man from the audience yelled, “Then stop clapping!”
There was a staged production somewhere some years ago of The Diary of Anne Frank with Pia Zadora in the title role. Pia doesn’t exactly have the reputation of being a great thespian, and her performance in this particular production apparently proved to be quite tedious, at least to one bored spectator. There is a scene in the play where the Nazi Gestapo are storming private homes looking for Jewish refugees, and while they were searching the premises where Anne and her family and friends were hiding, some disgruntled man in the audience yelled out to the stage, “She’s in the attic!”
Another stellar performance was Debby Boone as Maria in New York City Opera’s production of The Sound of Music some years ago. When Maria first falls in love with the Captain, all confused, she runs to the Mother Abbess at the Abbey for some counsel and advice. “There, there, Maria,” the Reverend Mother comforts Debby. “Now tell me, my child, what is it you cahn’t face?” (Sounds like “cunt face.”)
There is a story about humorist/writer Dorothy Parker that she and her other writer friends used to play a word game when they got together. They would challenge each other to use common words cleverly in a sentence. Two of Dorothy’s most famous concoctions are these. Horticulture: “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.” Fornication: “Fornication like this, let’s have champagne!”
There are those who like to answer a question with a question. If an affirmative reply is appropriate, for instance, instead of “yes” someone might say, “Does a bear shit in the woods?” or “Is the Pope Catholic?” The one I like to use is, “Did Rose Kennedy own a black dress?” Think about it.
One of the appeals of The Boys in the Band being one of my two favorite plays (the other being Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), is the number of campy, funny lines in it, that I don’t hesitate to quote at appropriate moments in life. In the play, Michael’s party guests are trying to show him how butch they can be when his purportedly straight friend, Alan, arrives. The nelliest, most obvious one in the bunch, Emory, asks Donald, in a deep voice, “Do you think the Giants are gonna win the pennant this year?” To which Donald replies, “Fuckin’ A, Mac.” (I haven’t been able to discover what the “A” stands for, however.) I actually got to use that line one day in the subway station, while waiting for the D train at Columbus Circle. One train had just pulled out of the station when a young man approached me and asked, “Excuse me, what train was that that just left?” To which I replied, ‘Fuckin’ A, Mac!’ That made my day. I learned that there is a musical version of The Scarlet Letter which they have entitled, Fuckin’ A. Don’t you love it?
I toured for many years with Robert DeCormier, and occasionally we would have group parties while on the road. We were in Great Falls, Montana one year, throwing our lighting engineer, Laura Mraz, a birthday party in one of the motel rooms. Another satisfying moment was when they had brought out the cake and the Birthday Girl had made her wish, I softly said to her, “Blow out your candles, Laura.” In case you don’t know, that is the last line of The Glass Menagerie. I used this same person once for a pun that parodied a 1978 Faye Dunaway movie: “Eyes of Laura Mraz.”
Contrary to what is often said about New Yorkers, that we are an unfriendly lot, I’ve always found us to be helpful and accommodating when asked for directions and how to get about the City. Throughout Manhattan many of the numbered avenues and cross streets have alternate names in certain sections of the thoroughfares, to honor people who were influential to New York City history in some way. Like, Leonard Bernstein Street is located behind Lincoln Center and Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. runs through Harlem. Some of the honoree street aliases are not that familiar. For instance, my block (and the next one east) of W. 43rd Street has the alternative names of Leon J. Davis and Adolph S. Ochs Street. I did some checking and found out that Davis was a U.S. labor leader and Ochs was a former owner of the New York Times, which was located on the very block and street. Once while walking on the Upper West Side, a gentleman stopped me to inquire about where Edgar Allan Poe Street was. I happened to know that one, having worked on that particular street for a time (in Paul Simon’s manager’s apartment) as a carpenter‘s assistant. So I recited, “Edgar Allan Poe Street / Is West Eighty-Fo’ Street.”
SHOULD HE REVEAL THE FAMILY SECRET?
I have a problem. I have two sisters. One sister plays the oboe and my other sister is a street prostitute. My mother died in an insane asylum when I was 5-years-old. My brother is a mass murderer who was just sentenced to death in the electric chair, and my father peddles narcotics to “special education” schoolchildren. Recently, I met a woman who was just released from prison, where she served time for smothering her newborn baby to death. Abby, I love this girl very much and want to marry her. My problem is this. Should I tell her about my sister who plays the oboe?
Robert Hill and his new wife, Betty, were vacationing in Europe, as it happens, in Romania near Transylvania. They were driving in a rental car along a rather deserted highway. It was late, and raining very hard. Visibility was poor when suddenly the car hit a large puddle and skidded out of control! Bob’s attempts to control the car were for naught, as he swerved and smashed into a tree. Moments later, Bob shook his head to clear the fog. Dazed, he looked over at the passenger seat to see his new bride unconscious and bleeding profusely from the head. Braving the elements and not having a working cell phone, Bob knew that he had to carry her to find the nearest telephone to call for medical help. After a short while, he saw a light coming from a large old house. Frightened, he knocked at the enormous oaken door. A small, hunched man opened the door. Bob blurted out, “Hello, my name is Bob Hill, and this is my wife Betty. We’ve been in a terrible accident, and my wife has been seriously injured. Can I please use your phone?” “I’m sorry,” replied the hunchback, “We don’t have a phone, but my master is a doctor. Come in and I will get him.”
Bob brought his wife inside as an elegant man descended the stairs. “I am afraid that my assistant may have misled you. I am not a medical doctor. I am a scientist. However, it is many miles to the nearest clinic, and I have had some basic medical training. I will see what I can do. Igor, bring them down to the laboratory.” With that, Igor picked up Betty and carried her downstairs, with Bob following closely. Igor placed Betty on a table in the lab. The traumatic events finally caught up with Bob, who collapsed from exhaustion and his own injuries. Igor placed Bob on a nearby table. After a brief examination, Igor’s master looked worried. “Things are serious, Igor. Prepare a transfusion.” Igor and his master worked feverishly, but to no avail. Bob and Betty Hill subsequently expired from the injuries they sustained in their accident.
The Hills’ deaths upset Igor’s master greatly. Wearily, he climbed the steps to his conservatory, taking a familiar seat at a large pipe organ, a refuge where he has always found solace. As he began to play, a stirring, almost haunting, melody filled the house. Meanwhile, Igor was still in the lab tidying up. As the music filled the air, his eyes caught a brief movement. Astonished, he saw the fingers on Betty Hill’s hand twitch and Bob’s arm began to rise as well! He was utterly shocked when Betty and Bob sat straight up! They were alive! Unable to contain himself, he dashed up the stairs to the conservatory to share the miraculous news with his master. Interrupting the doctor’s emotional recital, Igor burst in and shouted at the top of his lungs, “Master, Master! The Hills are alive with the sound of music!”
It is often hard to shake
Catsup out of the bottle;
But when it does come out,
Instead of a little, a lot’ll.
In 2008 I answered an Instinct magazine challenge, in order to win the just-released DVD of Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. We were asked to write an original verse or two about Johnny Depp. I decided to do a song parody on both subjects, as a sort of quasi-roast, and this is the result. There are 44 references to Johnny’s films and roles. It has been revised several times since my initial submission, and this is the latest edition below. My entry did win the prize, by the way.
THE BALLAD OF JOHNNY DEPP
(Sung to the tune of “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd”)
Attend the films of Johnny Depp;
His acting’s dope, his roles are hep;
The characters he plays are cool,
He’s never attended an acting school;
He has a most impressive rep,
That Johnny Depp—
Killed in A Nightmare on Elm Street.
His movies range from bad to good,
From Private Resort to Ed Wood;
We watched his talent taking shape
When we learned what was eating Gilbert Grape.
For brilliance he deserves a nod
As Sweeney Todd—
Tim Burton’s favorite actor.
We’ve seen you get high, Johnny;
You do drugs in Blow,
Also, Once Upon a Time in Mexico.
(What about From Hell, too?)
As Donnie Brasco, Johnny’s great,
A rare-book sleuth in The Ninth Gate,
His Barnabas Collinsis a scream,
Is romantic in Arizona Dream,
A gypsy in The Man Who Cried,
He voiced Corpse Bride, The Tourist, Lost in La Mancha.
Johnny won fans in many lands
When he played Edward Scissorhands.
He has bit parts in The Source and Platoon,
But stars in Cry-Baby and Benny & Joon.
Johnny frequently commits crime,
But is a good guy in Nick of Time.
Sometimes he does or does not marry—
Like, Ichabod Crane or James M. Barrie, Dead Man and Cannes Man and The Libertine,
The Mad Hatter with Bonham Carter’s Red Queen,
Black Mass, Chocolat, Deep Sea, Don Juan DeMarco, Gonzo, The Professor, Public Enemies, Secret Window, Rango!
I love the films of Johnny Depp;
(We love the films of Johnny Depp)
He acts with vigor and lots of pep;
(He acts with vigor and lots of pep)
He plays Jack Sparrow as rather fey,
And Willy Wonka must be gay;
(Come on, right?)
But not Johnny,
Not Johnny Depp—
Appears in 21 Jump… Street.
And finally, to all you kemo sabes out there–“Hi-ho, Silver, away…on the Orient Express. Into the Woods, Mortdecai!!”