Diogenes by Frederick Foote
by Frederick Foote
The heavy, humid days of Omaha are taking their toll on me. I have lost my sea legs for high humidity and seething heat.
A police car rockets by me – sirens blasting and lights flashing – as I pull into the hotel entrance. Something is happening a block north of the hotel. An ambulance races past me, a burst of noise and a blur of flaring lights, as I give the valet the keys to my rental car.
It’s 4:00 P.M. and I take refuge in the cool dark of The Lantern, a bar across the street from my lodging. I order a local draft beer and motion for the bartender to give the only other customer: a tired-looking, forty-something bottle blonde, another of whatever she is drinking; and to pour himself one.
I move away from the blonde and the bar to a far table to enjoy the cold beer and the cool solitude of the bar. It is almost a bit of heaven until I look up, and the junkie-thin blonde is standing at my table.
She is what we call PWT or “poor white trash” back in Sumter or “trailer trash” up in Richmond. Her face is tired and old before its time, with bags under her bloodshot, skittish brown eyes, which complement her crow’s feet and wrinkled forehead. She may be thirty-five or fifty.
Her drink is in her bony hand and a pleading look is on her narrow face. I should just tell her I’m not interested and send her on her way, but there is in her an air of desperation… a hint of fear. I have seen it too often before. I motion for her to sit. She sits quickly with a thankful sigh.
I reach across the table to shake her hand. “Hi, I’m Ray.” She looks confused as if shaking hands was a kind of odd and perverse ritual. The woman offers her hand hesitantly, and I take it gently. She’s quaking with fear; it vibrates from her cold hand and up my arm. Now, she is squeezing my hand – holding on for dear life. I try to warm her hand with both of mine.
Her eyes are closed and tears are racing down the sharp angles of her cheeks. We sit like that for a minute or two. I don’t have the words to reassure her or comfort her, I only have the touch of my hands.
She finally sobs out an introduction, “I’m… I’m… My name is Trudy. Thank you. Thank you.” Trudy reluctantly releases my hand to pull a crumpled tissue from her small purse and tries to dam the flood from her eyes and stop her now dripping nose.
“Trudy, god, I have never met a Trudy. Now you have made my day special.”
Trudy tries to laugh, but it comes out like sharp little barks. Her attempt at a smile shows her crooked tobacco stained front teeth. And now, I’m sorry I even came into this bar or to this town. I think this might be more than I want to handle today or any day.
“I think my mama had it in for me from the get go. ‘Trudy,’ she had to hate me to name me Trudy.” She sniffs and dabs at her eyes. “I changed it to Judy in the first-grade… but it was already too late. They called me Trudy-Judy.”
Now she laughs a real laugh like she is blowing all the disappointment, debris and dirt out of her life. I laugh with her.
She touches my hand again and leaves her hand on top of mine.
“I’m a mess. I’m sorry… I just… Ray. It is Ray? What do you do? You’re not from here, from Omaha.”
I pull out a business card. A fancy, high-tech one with my picture in the right-hand corner. When you look at the card from a different angle, you see our company logo where my picture was both in vivid color and 3D.
Trudy-Judy is delighted by the card and holds it at different angles trying to see my picture and the logo at the same time.
“I almost can see both of them. I almost can.” She is as happy as a child on Christmas morning.
“Wow, Mr. Raymond Allen, Chief of Performance Evaluation Division, you must be living in high cotton to have such a fancy card and title and all.” The laughter leaves her voice, and she is leaning into me with big serious eyes, “Mr. Allen you’re a kind man, I see that. But, Mr. Allen, are you a good man?”
The question and the mood change catches me off guard. I bend forward to look deeper into her eyes. I’m looking for something important, but I don’t know what it is.
It’s disturbing in there, in her eyes. I look away, blink and wonder. I think about the question. I don’t owe her any answers, we both know that. I also know I have to answer this question, not for her but for me.
We sit in silence. The bartender brings us new drinks on the house.
She sips and watches and waits.
I take a long swallow of my beer. I steel myself, focus trying to get the right words, to get the words right.
“I’m not so kind. I’m not the kind of person you think I am.” She is concentrating on me one-hundred percent now. “If I’ve done some good things, it’s been by accident.”
I stand up. I finish my beer and look around the bar. I look down at her.
“I’m not a good man.” I look into those dangerous eyes. “I’m not going to heaven, Trudy. I might even get rejected in hell.”
I sink back into my chair. I’m exhausted. “I think I’m going to call it a day. Nice meeting you, Trudy.”
I settle up with the bartender.
When I step out into the swamp outside, Trudy is waiting for me.
“Mr. Allen, I need a place to stay for an hour or so and to be with someone. I need it in the worst way.”
The fear is there in her, but she tries to control it.
I’m as tired as I have ever been. I don’t need company right now. I don’t need this needy, seedy, dangerous Trudy company ever.
But, she touches me deeply, reminds me of someone or something. I offer her my arm and we go up to my hotel room.
I have a suite with a kind of sitting room with a comfortable leather couch and a big, easy chair. Trudy’s shivering as she falls onto the couch rubbing her arms to restore warmth. I turn up the thermostat, grab a blanket and place it around her shoulders.
“Trudy, do you need a doctor? The hotel…”
She cuts me off and motions toward the mini bar. I collect two miniature scotch bottles and sit beside her with my arm around her shoulders.
Trudy drinks the scotch in a quick swallow. I place my bottle in her trembling hands.
Slowly, the shaking subsides. She looks up at me. “Mr. Allen, what…”
“Call me Ray. Mr. Allen is my father.”
“What did you do so bad? Did you do it for power or money?” Her voice is shaky and slurred.
I look around my comfortable room from the vantage point of my good life without want or scarcity. She has closed her eyes. There is the hum of the heating unit and the sound of a door closing in the hallway.
“Acts of kindness… of a sort… I thought they were… I did it, I did it for love of beauty or to pass the time… I’m not so sure anymore.”
Her breathing is soft and regular, and her face is relaxing. I feel at peace.
“Was it worth it?” It is a soft whisper of a question.
My answer is even softer. “I don’t know. I’ll know when my bill comes due.”
Now she reaches out and takes my hand to comfort me this time.
There is a loud, persistent pounding on my hotel door. It wakes me, leaves me disoriented. Trudy is gone. I’m still on the couch. The blanket is over me. It is still daylight.
I stumble to the door and open it to find two cops, detectives probably, in street clothes. One a tall stoop shouldered man in his forties with an aggressive beak of a nose bookended by kind eyes.
The other one is shorter, with a big belly and a stout build. He has mean little pig eyes in a round face.
“Mr. Raymond Allen?”
I nod yes.
“I’m Detective Sherpa and this is Detective Wintersmith. Do you have a minute to assist us in an investigation?”
Sherpa has a nice baritone voice, well-modulated like he has stage or public speaking experience.
“About what? What time is it?”
“We need to talk to you in private, Allen, not in the fucking hallway. We won’t take much of your precious time.”
I turn to look at Wintersmith. He stares back at me with the same irritation on his face as he had in his voice. “Detective Wintersmith, you will not take up any of my time, precious or otherwise. Good day, detectives.”
I start to close the door.
“Wait, wait just a minute. There has been an accident.”
“Detective Sherpa, I don’t engage in conversations where I’m kept ignorant of the nature of the discussion.”
“We can do this downtown, Allen. Get your coat.”
“Only if you have a warrant or reasonable suspicion and even then I will only talk when I have an attorney present.”
Now Wintersmith is in the winter of his discontent. His cheeks and nose are as red as Christmas berries. He is clenching and unclenching his hands in frustration.
Sherpa calls up his soothing baritone. “No, no need for that.” He pulls a picture from his jacket pocket and holds it out in front of me. “Do you recognize…”
It is an enlarged driver’s license photo of Trudy with red hair and less luggage under her eyes and fewer lines in her face.
I push my door closed.
The baritone booms through my door, “Mr. Allen, I think you recognize her. Mr. Allen, she’s dead.”
There is quiet in the hallway as if the whole floor is waiting for my response. Even the AC is holding its breath.
I open the door, let them in. I grab another scotch and sit uneasy in my easy chair. I glance at the time on the clock radio, it is 10:10. I can’t recall ever having slept so long before or so well.
Sherpa sits on the end of the couch next to my chair. He removes a clear plastic evidence bag from his jacket pocket with my business card in it. “She was holding this in her hand when she died, we had to wait until your San Diego office opened to find you. How well did you know her?”
I sip my scotch and try to understand how well I knew her. Sherpa is patient, but Wintersmith is in a rude rush.
“Was it a professional relationship, Allen? She was a pro.”
I turn back to Sherpa. “I met her yesterday. I just knew her name. That’s about all I know.”
“Did you give her the business card?” I nod yes to Sherpa.
“When did you meet her, Mr. Allen?” Sherpa has a notepad and pen out now as he waits for me to answer his question.
Wintersmith wades into the interlude between question and answer, “Did you know her in the biblical manner or was she too washed up for a high roller like you?”
“I met her in The Lantern, the bar across the street, about … a little after four.”
Both officers come to point like bird dogs. They are pointing at me. They exchange looks, and both turn back to me with greater intensity.
“Mr. Allen, you say you met Wilma Street, the victim, a little after 4:00 P.M. yesterday?”
“No, I didn’t say that. I met the woman whose picture you showed me at The Lantern at a little after four. She said her name was Trudy. What’s the problem?”
“Allen, where were you just before you met the victim?”
I turn to answer Wintersmith. “I was outside the entrance of this hotel giving my car to the parking valet.”
“Which valet? Do you remember?”
I think a minute before responding to Wintersmith’s question.
“White, male about six-foot tall, brown hair, brown eyes, light beard … Al, Albert, Alec – his name is Alec.”
Baritone takes his turn. “Was there anything out of the ordinary going on when you were there with Alec?”
“Not really. No, wait, there was a police car and an ambulance full of lights and sounds racing up the street to an incident a block north of the hotel.”
Sherpa flips through his note pad. “Mr. Allen, at 3:50 P.M. a doctor from this very hotel declared Wilma Street dead at the scene of the accident you noticed.”
They are leaning toward me waiting for a response. I let them wait until Wintersmith starts fidgeting and making fists again. I let him get his mouth open before I speak.
“Maybe I’m mistaken, perhaps I met someone else. You could check with the bartender on duty last night at The Lantern or the hallway and lobby cameras.”
Sherpa is quick off the mark. “Mr. Allen, are you speaking of the hotel’s cameras?”
“The very same. Trudy spent some time with me here in this room.”
“I bet she did, Allen. You fucking lied to me. I asked…”
“There was no sex, Wintergreen. No money changed hands, sorry to disappoint you.”
“Then what the fuck was she doing up here in your room?”
I turn back to Sherpa. “Apparently, there is an identification problem. Let’s talk again when that issue is resolved.” I stand, cross to and open my door.
Wintergreen turns on me snarling, “Bullshit, asshole, you can’t…”
Sherpa’s phone rings. He raises his hand to silence his partner. “Mr. Allen, would you give me just a minute? I might have some insight into the identification confusion.”
We both watch Sherpa as he goes through a series of yes and no responses. He concludes his conversation and fusses with his phone for a minute.
“Records has sent me the file based on Mrs. Street’s fingerprints.” He consults his phone. “The dead woman was using Wilma Street’s ID. The prints belong to a Trudy May Anderson, born in mobile, Alabama thirty-five years ago. She has an extensive record of prostitution, theft, embezzlement, fraud, possession, and blackmail: all before she was twenty.” Sherpa pauses, and his stare grows sharp as he looks at me. “Her young, but impressive criminal career ends suddenly after she is released on bail from her last arrest. They’re going to send me her booking photo.”
I shrug. I shake my head. “Well, that is interesting. We still have the problem of me meeting with a dead woman though, so if you will excuse me I have a conference call I have to take in ten minutes.” My cell phone rings. It is my office. I usher the officers out. Sherpa gives me his business card and Wintergreen gives me threatening looks.
I can’t even get to the bathroom. There are major unforeseen issues with our conference call. One hour and ten-minutes later, all is well in the Performance Evaluation Division again.
As I dash toward the bathroom, there is an impatient knock on my door that sounds unwelcomely familiar.
It is the two detectives. They look a bit disturbed and as always Wintergreen is angry.
Wintergreen pushes his way into my room. “What the fuck are you trying to pull asshole? Do you think we’re all stupid in the Midwest? I’m about to arrest your California ass on GP.”
“Mr. Allen, we do have a problem. Would you just sit for a moment and see if we can make sense of this… confusion?”
I nod at Sherpa as I settle into my easy chair. Sherpa returns to his former place on the couch. Wintergreen moves behind my chair out of my vision.
“We talked to Fields, the bartender, and he confirms that you were in the bar with a woman at the time you said you were. And the hotel cameras and staff confirms that you brought that same woman to this room.”
I wait for the punch line. They wait for me to respond. It’s a standoff.
Finally, Sherpa removes his phone and makes some adjustments and hands me the phone. There is a picture of a very attractive dark-haired girl about nineteen or twenty years of age. The very type of woman who fascinates me in the extreme. She is the perfect age for me. I find her irresistible. I stare for far too long. I flick the picture and there are shots of me and that beautiful girl approaching my room. I keep flicking through the pictures, back and forth, back and forth. I know who she is. Her name was Ashley when I met her. I should have recognized her when I met her in The Lantern. She was my first one. My first true love. How could I not recognize her even in a different body?
I reluctantly return the phone.
“Mr. Allen, do you know who this woman is?”
I nod yes. “Detective Sherpa, do you know who she is?”
The detective looks distinctly uncomfortable. He stares out the window and looks up at his partner. He works his phone for a minute and hands me back the phone.
“She, the woman you were with, bears an uncanny resemblance to Trudy May Anderson at age nineteen.”
There is a mug shot of Trudy at nineteen. Her beauty turns the mug shot into a work of art.
“Why did you lie to us about how she looks? I mean that was stupid.”
I don’t turn around to respond to Wintergreen. I keep my eyes on Sherpa.
“You didn’t lie, did you? You told the truth about what you saw.”
I acknowledge the accuracy of Sherpa’s statement with another nod.
“Mr. Allen, whoever she is, we saw pictures of her coming to your room and entering your room, but none of her leaving this room.”
Ashley was number one. There have been fifteen since. I know where Ashley is and how she is. She’s in my bathtub in this hotel room with her head; arms and legs removed, and her limbs severed at the major joints. Every cut executed with gentle affection. Her head, beautifully coffered hair and exquisitely made-up face, rest on her chest with her eyes open and looking out in loving wonderment.
I didn’t do it this time… I gave her sweet repose fifteen years ago… or maybe I did it again. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter anyway. I loved them, each and all. I showed them every kindness possible.
I wonder whether Sherpa will grant me the small kindness to use the bathroom before they arrest me. My bladder is about to burst.
* * * * THE END * * * *
Copyright Frederick Foote 2015