Tuesday, October 9, 2018
KARMA: PART ONE
By Daniel Skye
One of the detectives handed Melvin Gotticker a white cloth. He used it to swipe away the beads of cold sweat that had accumulated on his forehead. Melvin’s gray jogging suit was soaked through with sweat. The detectives were patient; they gave him time to collect himself.
When the police had found him, Melvin was on the verge of catatonia. His eyes were fixed on the carnage in the alleyway, his lips parted as if frozen in mid-speech, unable to convey the horrors he’d witnessed. But the initial shock was slowly dissipating, easing Melvin back to the grim reality his mind desperately tried to evade.
“Mr. Gotticker, I’m Detective George Sloan. This is my partner, Detective Michael Turner. I need you to tell us everything. I need you to tell us exactly what you saw, and I need a description of the assailant. Take all the time you need.”
Sloan and Turner were virtual opposites. Sloan was clean shaven, kept his hair short and easy to maintain, and spent most of his time in the gym. Turner’s hair was wild and bushy and he sported a goatee, though recently he had been reduced to dying them both jet-black, as age was starting to catch up with him. And he barely saw the inside of the gym. While Sloan was doing cardio, Turner was wolfing down donuts by the box.
Sloan was the good cop. Turner was the bad cop. But in this scenario, neither was playing the role of the bad cop. They just wanted answers.
Melvin still had that gaping, faraway look in his eyes. His eyes refused to blink. They were incapable. He was a man in the grip of fear.
Melvin’s doctor was concerned about his cholesterol. He was afraid Melvin may be venturing into what he called Heart Attack Country, hence the late night jogging routine. Melvin was on one of his nightly runs when he heard the frantic, ear-piercing screams that drew him towards the alley.
“Mr. Gotticker, are you ready?” Sloan asked.
Gotticker wiped at his bangs that were pasted to his forehead. He took a deep, laborious breath and began.
He spoke fast and overexcited, like a child rushing through a story so they don’t forget or omit any of the details.
“He was tall. I mean, like, as tall as a basketball player. Seven feet might be an exaggeration, but hell, I’m 6’4 and the creep towered over me. He was…”
“Go on,” Sloan encouraged him, then added, “Please.”
“I know how ridiculous this sounds, but…he was dressed as a clown. The suit, the makeup, the floppy shoes, the whole nine yards. He had black diamonds painted over his eyes. White grease paint splattered all over his face. Just smeared right on. Nothing meticulous about it.
“His teeth were the stuff of nightmares. Razor-sharp and thin, like needles, with huge gaps in between. They looked all filed down. Tufts of green hair on opposite sides of his bald head. Toxic green; the color of slime. His suit had red-and-black stripes. And those eyes…the darkest eyes I’ve ever seen. As black as the Devil’s eyes.”
“And the victim,” Sloan pushed on. “Did you get a good look at the victim?”
“There wasn’t much to look at,” Melvin said, growing queasy at the thought. “Most of his face was chewed off.”
“I saw it with my own eyes. Haunting. Like that video of the guy on bath salts. He was gnawing on the man’s face, ripping at the flesh, tearing off the skin and…oh God…” he retched and cupped one hand over his mouth to stifle the urge to vomit. “He was eating it. Well, eating it isn’t the right description. I didn’t see him actually chew. Just swallow. Swallowing patches of flesh whole. Oh, Jesus, I think I’m going to be sick.”
Turner took a few steps back to protect the suit that he’d just gotten back from the cleaners.
“So this man, he saw you and he ran?” Sloan asked.
“No, he laughed. He saw the shock and fear in my eyes and he laughed manically, like the villain in some bad action movie. I can still see the bits of flesh stuck between those teeth. I screamed for help, turned my back for a second to see if I could find a police officer cruising the streets, and when I turned back, he was gone. Like he vanished into thin air.”
Silence filled the already empty room. There was nothing but a short table separating Melvin from the detectives. He waited for their response, or for further questioning, but got neither.
“Hey, look, I’m just telling you what I saw,” Melvin said in his defense. “I’m doing my best to cooperate. And I’m telling the truth, with God as my witness. This is what I saw. Pull a tube of my blood. Test it. I’m not on drugs, I wasn’t under the influence, it wasn’t a hallucination. I saw what I saw.”
“I believe you,” Sloan assured him, though he didn’t sound quite as convincing as he had expected to sound. “If you’ll excuse us for just a minute, my partner and I need to discuss things privately.”
“Am I being held here or charged with something?”
“Absolutely not. And we do appreciate your cooperation. It’s just…it’s a lot to process. Please excuse us. To be continued.”
Sloan and Turner made their exit and snuck into the room next-door where they could observe Melvin Gotticker through a two-way mirror. They studied his eyes, his facial expressions, any gestures or hand movements that would give them a hint that he was hiding something. But he didn’t have that look of guilt or remorse or even secrecy. He had the look of fear in his eyes.
“I’ll put out an APB on Ronald McDonald,” Turner quipped, followed by a harsh chuckle.
“What do you make of all this?”
“I say he’s full of shit. I think he killed that poor vagrant and he’s making up some convoluted story to get himself off the hook.”
“I don’t know, Mike. It kind of feels like John Mendelson all over again.”
“John Mendelson was a lunatic who chopped his family into coleslaw with an axe and tried to slip through the noose. His story never checked out. We never found any giant footprints outside his house, no prints inside the house. No hair or skin samples. No DNA of any kind. Only his DNA.”
“Maybe the guy is just that good.”
“I find it hard to believe that there’s a seven foot clown stalking the streets of New York. I think somebody else would have reported it by now.”
“Maybe the ones that see him don’t live long enough to report it. Plenty of unsolved murders in New York.”
“You’re really buying into this guy’s story?”
“I don’t know what to believe. I do know that we have a body in the morgue and a man who insists he saw a clown do the deed.”
“So, what? We let him go?”
“We don’t have anything to charge him with. We can hold him a few more hours. But eventually, he’ll ask to call a lawyer. He’s cooperated so far. Usually the guilty ones request the presence of a lawyer before we can even ask the first question.”
“I don’t like this, George. I don’t like it one bit.”
“Neither do I. Something’s rotten in Denmark. And it’s not the expired milk carton in the back of my fridge. Put a word out to all the boys. Tell them to keep their eyes peeled and their ears open. If what Gotticker says is true, we’ll find this guy.”
George Sloan was a smoker. His doctor urged him to quit. His wife practically begged him. He’d cut back immensely, limiting himself to a few a day. He always kept gum or breath mints handy, stashed a bottle of hand sanitizer in his car. Anything to hide from his wife that he still enjoyed an occasional smoke.
But he knew quitting was the right thing to do, eventually. He’d watched lung cancer devour his father, inside and out. It was the last thing he wanted for himself, and the last thing he’d want to put Darlene through. But if this job had taught him anything, it’s that there are plenty of worse ways to die. He would never tell Darlene the half of it. He rarely discussed his job outside of the occasional tidbit or mention of his partner. All wives were curious about their husband’s partners. Their very life was in the other man’s hands. A wife wants to know who’s watching her husband’s back.
Sloan lit one up as soon as he got out of the precinct. He wouldn’t smoke inside his car, so he’d have a quick cigarette on his walk through the parking lot. He saw Turner pulling out in his Oldsmobile Cutlass, its headlights illuminating the parking lot for the briefest of moments. And in that moment, Sloan saw something that made him halt in his tracks.
He glanced over both shoulders. He surveyed the empty parking lot, looking for the culprit or culprits. It could have easily been a prank. He wouldn’t put it past the boys. Cops love to break each other’s balls. But this didn’t feel like a joke. This felt like a calling card. This felt like someone was making a statement.
He walked to his car slowly, cautiously, with one hand on his holstered pistol. But there was no one in sight, nothing to protect himself from. The culprit was long gone. All that remained was what they left behind.
A single black balloon, tied to the antenna of Sloan’s car.
The analog clock that hung above the door was two minutes slow. And in Valerie Reed’s world, two minutes meant everything. Two minutes was the difference between an exclusive story or another newspapers sloppy seconds. Yet Valerie never bothered to adjust the time. She kept it two minutes off to remind herself of all the minor imperfections in the world, including her own.
Valerie sat at her desk, typing until her fingers ached and threatened to tear at the seams. She had her earbuds in, but the volume on her iPod was muted. Valerie–or Val, as she often preferred–was a loner. Half the time, her earbuds were an accessory, just for decoration so to speak. She used them to avoid social interaction whenever possible.
Her earbuds were a constant fixture dangling around her neck or jammed into her pocket, ready to be plucked into her ears at a moment’s notice.
Gina Vasquez tapped her manicured, acrylic nails on Val’s desk and she knew she couldn’t disregard her editor the way she did her co-workers. She yanked the earbuds out one by one and turned to face her. Her chair squeezed as she spun around. Everything in the office was old, outdated, and in need of repair or replacement.
“Yes, Ms. Vasquez?” she said, feigning congeniality. Vasquez was Val’s editor. And she despised her editor. All journalists did. But Val felt her hate was justified. She didn’t care for the fact that Vasquez was a bed-hopper, or that she had slept her way to a promotion. A promotion that Val or any of her colleagues were more deserving of. She didn’t care for the way Gina used her beauty as a weapon. And lastly, she didn’t like Gina Vasquez because Gina never liked her.
She was a tall, slim woman with dark hair and caramel skin. She was gorgeous, and she knew it. And she used it to the best of her advantage.
Val sat with her hands folded in her lap, waiting for Gina to explain this disturbance.
“John Mendelson has agreed to an interview.”
“Shouldn’t you be talking to Chris about this?”
Chris Ford was the Daily Buzz’s star reporter, a local celebrity and the one who always had first dibs when it came to the big scoops and high profile interviews.
“This is where you get lucky. I know that’ll be a new experience for you.” Gina couldn’t resist dispensing her colorful insults whenever she could. “Ford has bacterial meningitis. He’ll be out for two weeks. The big bosses don’t want to wait that long. They want this story on the first page ASAP. And that’s where you come into the picture. If you don’t want it, I’m sure someone else will ask the routine questions and take all the credit.”
“No, I want it,” Val assured her, somewhat vehemently.
“Good, because you’re leaving today. I booked you a hotel, the closest one to the prison where John Mendelson is being held. You’ll stay there tonight, interview tomorrow, and head straight home afterwards.”
Val Reed stepped through the metal detector and let a female CO pat her down for safe measure. She left her belongings at the front desk, all except a tape recorder and a tiny notebook for backup in case Mendelson refused to speak on tape.
Val trailed behind the female CO, who led her through the first gate. It slammed shut behind them and Val shuddered at the realization of where she was. The CO walked her through the first cellblock. Row after row of men wasting away behind bars. Some of them didn’t even bother to look up from their reading materials. Others were napping or busy exercising, trying to maintain their former selves or better their current ones. Some men hooted and catcalled at her presence. Val would have been a little flattered if the men were not all convicted muggers and rapists and murderers.
They walked through another door that sealed shut the moment they walked through, and had to pass through another cellblock.
“Is this the way to the visiting room? It’s not very convenient.”
“John Mendelson is in solitary. And he’s in solitary for a very good reason. He doesn’t leave his cell. Didn’t your editor tell you this?”
That bitch, Val thought.
“So I’ll be speaking with him–”
“There’s a chair waiting for you outside of his cell. The door is solid steel, no bars. But there’s a plate glass window. You’ll be able to see him. And there’s a slot at the bottom of the door where he takes his food. So you’ll be able to hear him and communicate.”
The female CO led Val down to solitary and kept her distance, but there was no way she’d leave Val all alone with this man. There was an orange plastic chair waiting for Val, just as the woman had promised. For a moment, she felt like Clarice in Silence of the Lambs.
The slot was open. She peered through the glass before she sat down and got a glimpse of the man himself. John Mendelson didn’t look like a killer to Val. He was pale and meek, a man of average height and weight. His hands were small and unblemished. Not the hands of a worker or a doer.
Mendelson had been an investment banker in his previous life, a man of wealth. And it showed. She couldn’t picture him swinging an axe. She couldn’t even picture him mowing his own lawn.
His cell consisted of nothing but a cot, a stainless steel toilet and sink, and a shelf for any personal items they allowed. The shelf was bare.
“Mr. Mendelson,” Val began.
“Please, call me John,” he spoke. How modest, she thought.
“John, do I have your permission to record this conversation?”
“Absolutely,” he said. It sounded like he was practically insisting. “I’m not a bad person. I’m not what the papers and the news channels say I am. I would never hurt my family. I loved them more than anything in the world. Sure, my wife and I had our differences, but I’d never harm her. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.”
“I believe you,” Val said. She didn’t really know what to believe. But if saying it helped him in any way, it was worth it for the sake of the story.
“You sound very convincing. Almost as convincing as the last reporter. But I sincerely hope you’re different.”
“I’m very different,” Val assured him. She pressed the red button on her tape recorder. “Are you ready to begin?”
“Yes. And I suppose that’s what I’ll have to do. Start at the very beginning. It was early December. An unexpected snowfall shut down the entire town. It was a Saturday so I was home from work and the kids were off from school. It made no difference to us that there was a curfew. All the kids wanted to do was sit in front of the TV and drink hot chocolate. And I didn’t care what they were watching as long as we had a fire to keep us warm. I went outside to grab some firewood, and that’s when I saw the tracks.
Gigantic footprints in the snow. They started at the edge of the woods and led all the way to the backyard. But there were no footprints leading back to the woods. I found it strange, but I did a full walk around the perimeter and found nothing out of the ordinary. I checked the house, too. Again, nothing strange. Nobody hiding in the closet or lurking in the basement. The son of a bitch must have been hiding in the crawl space. It’s the one place I didn’t bother to check.
I thought about calling it in to the police. But what would I have told them? I saw some footprints outside? I wish I had called it in. At least it would have been on record. By the time the cops arrived the next day, the snow had covered up the tracks. And they found no evidence of a break-in. All they had was me. I was an easy scapegoat. Sheryl and I were having marital difficulties, to put it mildly. And I had money. If she divorced me, she would’ve gotten half. That was enough motive for the local police.
As for my story, they didn’t believe me. I mean, who would? A seven foot tall monster in a clown costume? I must’ve sounded crazy and they figured I was going for the insanity defense. But I’m telling you, with God as my witness, I didn’t murder my family. That freak, he hacked them up limb from limb. I never heard the children scream. I didn’t even hear Sheryl scream. I took a mild sedative that evening to help me sleep. That bastard chopped her up right next to time and I never heard a sound. I woke up drenched in blood, with this giant figure standing in my doorway.
He had an axe. I was…I was weak, scared. I didn’t know what to do. I just stayed there, frozen in bed until he drifted away. I regret that more than anything in the world. I should have done something, anything. I should have fought back, even if it meant my life. And this whole time I thought he spared my life because he wanted me to take the fall. Now I know the truth. He wanted me alive because he wants people to tell his story. He wants his work to be known.”
“Can you describe the costume and the makeup? I know it was a few years ago. And I know it was dark.”
“Oh, I remember it vividly. He had black diamonds for eyes. White makeup slapped all over his face. Floppy white jumbo-sized clown shoes. Fingerless gloves. Tufts of green hair. A one-piece clown suit with red and black vertical stripes. And his teeth…they were like spikes. Not fangs, but spikes.”
“I can’t blame you for being scared,” Val said. “That sounds utterly terrifying.” Not one hundred percent convincing, she thought. But still completely terrifying. And while she remained uncertain of the details, what scared her the most was how convinced Mendelson was of his tale.
“It has a name, you know?”
“The clown, of course.”
“Oh, and what do they call it?”
He paused momentarily, as if to brace Val for the impending ramifications. As if speaking its name meant to summon it.
He moved closer to the door and whispered through the open slot.
To Be Continued