(This is a recent piece of fiction I was working on. Enjoy.)
“Do You Feel Like We Do” by Peter Frampton always pulls me out. Or does it push me back in? I still haven’t figured that out. A few weeks ago, I was on a stakeout. Some woman in Swindsor thought that her husband was cheating on her, so I tailed him for about a week. It turns out that he was really, really into UFOs. Apparently he didn’t let her in on this, but he would go to group meetings a couple of nights a week. One of these nights, I was parked in my Cavalier in front of some old storefront where Bill Birnes was speaking. I had my radio turned to some Jurassic rock station when Frampton came on.
It wasn’t until I was older that I suspected the tune was actually recorded in a studio. The crowd noise sounds like it was from a loop of tape. I don’t care what they’ve ingested; no audience could get that excited about “Do You Feel.” I dig it, but I find the talking guitar hypnotic. The next thing I know, it was 1976; the Bicentennial. I was home because I was on convalescence leave. Binlow rolled over his Camaro on the road to Nashville while I was riding shotgun. On July 2nd, I went to Frank’s Supermart to buy some stuff for the family picnic we would be holding after the town celebration. The fife and drum corps would give a recital at the gazebo on the town green. For some reason, I was rather excited about this. Anyways, the girl rang up my bill and it came to $19.76. This can’t be, can it?
I was eight years old in 1976. I was in an accident while I was a soldier stationed at Fort Campbell and Binlow was the driver, but that was many years later. To make a strange scene even stranger, Lynn Rice showed up at the recital. He was my mortgage banker when I bought the townhouse. He was holding a cell phone to his ear as he walked by me. “Varno,” he said to me sotto voce, “this is a call that could set me up for life.” And he gave me a thumb up. This didn’t seem that strange even though he was out of place and time. I doubt he’s ever been anywhere near Dobsonville. He wasn’t the only person with a cell phone, either. I felt a vibration in my left front jeans pocket and I dug out a Samsung flip phone from underneath my keys and coin purse. The display didn’t flash a phone number or a name. It said “R.I.P.” It made my stomach churn, but I picked it up “Phil Ottawa…” it was Phil Ottawa’s voice. I hadn’t heard that since ‘Nam. Next came a robotic voice “… is dead. He was murdered last night.” I threw up on some poor little girl. Ottawa was a Catholic chaplain who I met in Saigon in 1971. He was the reason I was able to get back to the world in one piece. I had to get out of there. I didn’t feel like celebrating the Fourth of July.
Walking was hard. It was actually easier to get from point A to point B by swimming through the air, but it was hard to get more than a few inches off the earth’s floor. The current seemed to swirl so much that you were always swimming against the wind no matter what direction you went.
So I drove. I find that to be the most relaxing thing in the world. Cars and other vehicles weren’t as affected by the ocean of air as pedestrians were, but they weren’t tether to the road either. As I would go over a hill, my car would sometimes float after reaching the crest and then gently settle back on to the blacktop. I drove into the hinterlands of Western Massachusetts in my Buick LeSabre that wouldn’t be manufactured for another twenty years. Is it really 1976? At this point I didn’t care. I was grief stricken, but I was also hungry. There was an all night diner up ahead so I pulled in. I was craving key lime pie and I needed strong black coffee. You wouldn’t believe who sat next to me at the counter. It was Will Carroll, the famous author of books about sports medicine. I loved his writing. I wasn’t sure what year it was, but I felt like asking him about Tommy John’s chances of coming back from his experimental surgery. Instead, he started talking to me. First he started talking about jazz-rock groups like Chicago and The Ides of March. Then the discussion turned to the Viking probe that was landing while we talked and life on Mars. It was more of a monologue than a dialogue. I had trouble getting a word in edge-wise.
I had to break the sad news to Whitman, but I wouldn’t be able to see him until Saturday. Whitman went to high school with me. I’m not sure how, but he also knew Fr. Ottawa. This would be tough. Whit is an emotional guy. Saturday nights, you could find Whitman at a joint called the Alamo. It was like clockwork. So I Chevroleted there about ten o’clock in the evening. But when I went through the door, it was another place. I was in the Post Road Tavern, which was another local watering hole. Whitman wasn’t there, but his brother John was, so I had a drink with him. John said that Whit was indeed there, wherever we were, but he was in the basement playing cards. There was no basement. At least there wasn’t until a waitress gave me a large concoction made out of rum that tasted very lemony. Then I found a stairwell that went down. It led to the bowels of New Jerusalem General where I used to work security. In a perverse way, this was starting to make sense.
A couple of weeks earlier, I had what I thought was a dream where I was back working as a guard at the hospital. It was a slow Saturday, so Grateful Ted and me decided to do some exploring. We went up some stairs we never noticed before. We had the master keys to everything in the hospital, so we unlocked the door at the top. We wound up in a bar where a bunch of folks were watching Notre Dame versus Miami. So there is some consistency in where I go when I sleep. What if I am dreaming now and that’s reality? What are the laws of physics in Dreamland? What was in that rum drink and why am I thinking deep thoughts like this?
The scuttlebutt that I picked up since the Fourth was mildly shocking to me. Word was that he didn’t take his vows of celibacy seriously and had a girlfriend. And another one. One of them likely killed him. I felt it my duty to bring whoever was responsible to justice. I had to do it for Fr. Ottawa. I didn’t realize this until I fell into this place, but he saved my like. Binlow wasn’t the only guy who rolled over a vehicle on me. One time I was in a Jeep headed for the Delta when it rolled over. Ottawa pulled me away from the accident before the Jeep caught on fire and would have killed me.
Whitman had fallen on to hard times lately. He was a water park tycoon, but his More Cowbell themed park opened in the Catskills recently. It was a flop and word was that he overextended himself and was running out of money. He did look pretty haggard when I saw him. He gave me a bear hug. I’m a terrible bearer of bad news, so I tried to ease into it. I made some small talk about sports. We talked about the Oakland Raiders and their chances in the upcoming season. Suddenly, when I wasn’t looking, the topic turned to Joe Namath and the Jets. Ottawa was originally from Long Island and loved the Jets. I turned around and Whit had turned into Ottawa. I woke up.
I worked for a few days, tailing UFO boy, ate, drank, spent some time with my wife, and slept. I didn’t see Ottawa in my dreams again, but I started keeping a record of various things that happened in Dreamland. I visited my grandparents in 1961 and told them about me and their other future grandchildren. I saw my dad another nite, like he never died from lung cancer. Time was not an arrow, but it did follow some laws. I just couldn’t figure them out yet. And space wasn’t exactly Euclidian. Streets and hallways stretched. But they did so in a linear fashion. I figured out that I had to hear a talking guitar again, if I wanted to see Ottawa. I’m not technologically savvy, so I couldn’t figure out how to download a Frampton song. And the last music store near me closed years ago. Well, there were some places that sold old vinyl, but I haven’t had a turntable since I was a kid. I tried calling stations to request “Do You Feel,” but I couldn’t get through to a DJ. Finally, I was cleaning my car out one day when “Sweet Emotion” by Aerosmith came on. I spilled something on my leisure suit. Leisure suit?
I was in the parking lot of The Alamo. I went inside and Ottawa awaited me. “I’m not really dead,” he said. “It was a close call and I’m still not out of the woods. If I do, go. I want you to do me a favor.”
I couldn’t say no. He saved my life.
“I want you to confess to my murder. Girl A really shot me, but the truth would hurt too many people. I need a fall guy.”
But how could I confess? I need details or the cops won’t buy my story. But Fr. Phil was weak and he was fading. I called for a doctor, but it was too late. I had to find Girl A and get to the bottom of this. She was still on the run, but I had to get to her before the cops could find her.
I’m a private eye, but I never investigated a murder before. It turned out I wouldn’t have to. Fr Ottawa’s girlfriend was a cruciverbalist.
It took me a while to get back to this particular land of Winken, Blinken, and Nod once again. Somehow, the sound of the talk box was responsible. I was this close to going to Daddy’s Junky Music when I was watching the 2007 World Series. They played “Rocky Mountain Way” by Joe Walsh and next thing I know, I was back in Dreamland.
Whoa! This building must have the volume of a mountain. And the elevator buttons are in hexadecimal. I was giving my buddy Darren some baseball stuff. There was a Pujols sweatshirt and a blue Brantley Red Sox jersey. Jeff Brantley? He never played for the team. Wierdsville. Somehow the Alamo moved to this building, which reminded me of the Pru Center in Boston.
“Nance, can I grab another Molson, please?” Irv Townshend’s voice drowned out the news report from the TV overlooking the Alamo Bar. He was seared next to Roger DeCarlo, the proprietor who was working on his third crossword puzzle of the day. Both men were in their mid-thirties. Roger was a former NFL place kicker. In his former life, Irv was a naval officer. Although Rog was a self-proclaimed “acrossianado”, he was not above seeking an occasional clue from a friend. Irv, whose brain was a font of useless knowledge, was usually more than happy to oblige.
“Hey Irv,” said Roger, “What was the name of the first sub to cross under the North Pole? It’s eight letters and starts with an ‘n.’”
“Dude, that was the Nautilus.” Irv replied.
“Thanks, much. I knew that I could count on an old salt to solve that clue.”
“Actually, I already did that puzzle this afternoon. There’s something real freaky about it. Are you almost finished with it, Rog?”
“Everything except the lower right hand corner.”
“Cool! Check this out. The puzzle actually makes reference to the killing of that priest.”
“Get the fuck out, Irv! It does not.”
“It does too.” Irv pulled a yellow highlighter out of his shirt pocket and marked three words. “Look. 55 Across – Father, 28 Across – Ottawa, 7 Down – Shot. Father Ottawa Shot. That’s eerie, man!”
“Aw, c’mon. That’s got to be a coincidence, Irv. These crosswords are syndicated from New York or Chicago. Remember the puzzle that referenced D-day code names before the invasion? That was pure coincidence.”
“Actually, the Monday and Wednesday crosswords in the Courant are done by some freelancer name Mindy Dawson. She’s probably local. And the fact that this crossword puzzle was printed before the body was discovered indicates, to me, that this Dawson lady either murdered the priest or knows who did.”
“You watched too many Colombo episodes growing up.”
Irv stroked his chin, thoughtfully. “I have about a years worth of Courants bagged up over at my condo. We could go through them and see if Miss Dawson has dropped any more clues about the murder.”
“What do you mean by we, Irv? I have a wife and daughters that I have to go home to.”
“Yeah, but the puzzle addict in you wants to do this. Look man, I’ll make a friendly wager on this. You give me fifty if there’re more clues in the puzzles, I’ll give you fifty if there aren’t.”
“Make it a hundred.”
I was there at the bar that nite and these guys didn’t even notice me. This was awesome! They could uncover clues for me; clues that weren’t known to the general public. And I could convince the police that I was the killer.
The Alamo closed down for the night around one. Roger followed Irv to his condo by the industrial park. It was a clear autumn night. The cloudless sky sucked up any remaining heat from the earth. All of the trees on the roadside had been stripped down to their skeletons. T. S. Eliot was full of shit. November is the cruelest month. At least it is in New England. I was able to follow them by swimming along Irv’s car. It was tough to keep up with a car, but I was in pretty good shape. And Roger and Irv were none the wiser.
In one of Irv’s closets, he had bags upon bags of newspapers. The two went through the bags and clipped out all the stories about the murder. They taped them into an old notebook, like it was a junior high current events project. Then, they took all the Tuesday and Thursday papers. These contained the solutions to the Monday and Wednesday puzzles. Each guy grabbed about half the solutions and went through them to see if they contained hidden messages.
“Irv, the newsprint fumes must be getting to me. I’m starting to see messages in these puzzles. Check out October 13th. 5 Down – Cheating, 45 Down – Friar, 38 Across – Special. I wonder if the murder weapon was a .38 Special.”
“Hold on loosely, on November 7th I have Smith Wesson Revolver. That jibes with your theory.”
“She’s a cocky mofo, too. On the 12th she taunts the police. Five of the entries make these two sentences: ‘Crime Remains Unsolved. Detectives Idiots.’”
By now, the sun was starting to come up. “What do we do now, Irv?”
“I don’t know about you, but I’m getting some shut-eye. Let’s gather this shit together after we wake up and take it to the State Police Homicide Unit.”
State Police Major Brian Boyle was in a foul mood. A popular priest had been murdered and he was stumped. Meanwhile, he was catching hell from the brass, the press, and the general public. He was pacing in his office on Thursday afternoon, when his AA knocked on his door.
“Major, there’s too gentlemen here to see you. It’s about Fr. Ottawa.”
“Of course it’s about the Fr. Ottawa!” he bellowed, “Every crackpot in central Connecticut is playing Sam Spade, thinking they’ve solved this case that we pros haven’t been able to crack.”
“Shall I send them in?”
“Sure, go ahead. What do I have to lose?”
Irv and Roger entered the major’s office, gave him the notebook, which contained the news clippings and puzzles, and explained to him what they discovered. Boyle just sat there, glaring at the two.
“Why don’t you go down the hall and see Detective I Don’t Give A Rat’s Ass and Lieutenant I Could Care Less. Of all the crackpots theories I’ve heard this is the worst. Everyone around here thinks they’re Sherlock Freakin’ Holmes or something. Get the hell out of my office!”
The two amateur sleuths were taken aback by Boyle’s reaction. They left his office and were heading out of the State Police barracks. Irv and Roger were almost at the front door when they saw a young man in a three-piece suit walk on down the hall. That was me. I was next in line to see Boyle. Bless me Major, for I have sinned. This is my confession.
Was it worth it to confess for this crime in a world that may or may not exist? I still haven’t figured out if I dream that I am in a prison cell or if I dream that I tail UFO junkies for a living.