Seeing as though my first post of some fiction was pretty well-received, and I was asked to post some more, here is something a little longer to read. This was my first ever attempt at writing in the first person. Not a true story (that I know of).
Christine MacArthur’s body was found in the cemetery almost thirty years ago. Her body was found on a Thursday and I know this because I was settling into my second piece of banana cream pie from the Winchester Diner. Thursday was the only day that banana cream was served, and I was eating it, so it had to be a Thursday. When Timmy Belter ran into the diner, huffing and puffing, taking off his Yankees cap as he brushed sweat from his brow, and told us all that the police had found her in the cemetery, well, it grew awful still.
Belzoni wasn’t a busy town to begin with. Most of the visitors we got were truckers driving to or from Jackson on Interstate 82. But when news of Christine’s finding hit town, Belzoni grew noticeably still. The town thought that her re-appearance would provide clues to the deaths. The other murders, but few people called them that. No one liked to think that somewhere among us was an animal capable of such things.
The mind is funny and it always amazes me what one can and cannot remember. The taste of the banana cream pie was especially sweet that day, the bananas over ripe and darkened, softer than normal, and that last bite remains with me while other events are clouded. Age too, forces a terrible burden on a person. I can’t remember my first kiss, or much of my time in Viet Nam, but I can still remember the taste of that pie and can still see the faces of the victims that had my little town stunned.
The MacArthur girl was well liked in the community. A high school senior whose family had been upstanding members of Belzoni since it was founded, pretty near. It was a real shame, or should have been, if not for her secret.
Rumours started to circulate around Belzoni as quickly and crowdedly as seagulls around the parking lot at the diner. Most people found out their news not from the papers but from Norma Winchester herself. Norma was a great cook, a terrific hostess, but an even better gossiper and social commentator. Nothing happened in the state of Mississippi without Norma knowing about it and wanting to comment on it. Looking back, I find it funny that I heard the news of them finding Christine while sitting in the diner since this is where I learned most of my knowledge, good or bad.
Now, I didn’t hear the news from Norma herself but got it filtered on down the counter until people near enough to me were talking about it. Norma didn’t speak to me once I came back from Nam, said I had changed. And not for the better neither, was how she put it. There were times when Norma would look right through me when I ordered, like I wasn’t even sitting there, but I got used to that too. Ed, her husband, always had hearing problems, even as a child, so he didn’t, or couldn’t go to fight some war. I hated him for that, but I learned to forgive him, yet Norma couldn’t learn to forgive me. I wasn’t well liked by Norma, but I did have money and ate at her place regularly so she let me in. Norma always did have a weakness for money.
The diner was quiet when Norma and Betty-Lou Michaels, the resident hairdresser and fashion advisor sat down to talk about the sinful activities of Christine MacArthur and that Watkins boy. Mark Watkins was twenty-eight and a good for nothing son-of-a-bitch. He had bounced around from job to job until ending up working in the mill as a janitor. Could have been a ball player and attended a camp for the Dodgers but left two days in ‘cause he said he missed home. Most people accepted that, always knew he was close to his mom, feared his dad and did whatever he said, but some of us knew the real reason. His family tried to keep it a secret, didn’t want to bring anymore shame onto a family history of alcoholics and retards. Watkins knocked up some young girl from Yazoo City, about 30 miles from Belzoni. She was only fifteen, which is bad enough for most, but after her father beat her to an inch of her life, destroying whatever chance she had of carrying that baby; many people believed that Mark deserved to suffer too. Instead of suffering he was running bases with Willie Mays and spending his signing bonus on women and booze. Until his father demanded that he come home and keep his nose clean. Rumour has it that the rest of the signing bonus was given to the girl’s family to keep them quiet. Well, almost all of it. Mark did come from a family of alcoholics.
Turns out that Mark Watkins didn’t learn from his past mistakes. Still liked to drink, still hung around the school watching all the girls walk home. He’d lean up against the fence, his black hair slicked back, flight jacket over his shoulder, his left sleeve rolled up exposing his “Snake” tattoo he carved into himself with a razor blade. Whenever he got the chance he’d offer Marlboros to any girl who asked. He was a good-looking kid, but he was trouble. Some girls like that. Christine MacArthur was one of them.
They’d be seen together at the theatres and the pool hall. Never alone but they were starting to become a pair. Norma started reporting that Christine’s grades were slipping and her family’s proud name was being tarnished by a silly little girl. I’m not so near sighted as Norma is, or was rather, she’s been dead some ten years now, and know that Christine and her family buried an awful lot of sins, many of them in that graveyard they found her in.
The church was horrified by the event. How could the great granddaughter of Reverend Richard MacArthur bring such shame to the church that he founded? How could her parents let such a vile and un-Christian thing to happen? They soon forgave her though. Repent and ye shall be forgiven and Christine did. Her sins absolved; her family free of shame.
Since that day I’ve wondered if God sees sins as differently as man does. I went to a foreign country to fight a war that I believed America wanted me to fight but I returned home the subject of ridicule and shame. We were all heartless murderers when we returned home, if you could call America home for us on our arrival. We had sinned in Viet Nam. We were all bad people, full of hate and violence. Upon our return, we felt this hatred and violence against us. Repenting did nothing to ease the glares and guilt. Our sins, the sins carried out for our nation, would go unforgiven. We were Christians doing un-Christian things and, in the eyes of many, we should not be forgiven. Yet, Christine had her sins wiped clean; wiped clean by the church that she had a claim to. The same church who offered me no admission of redemption. The same church who offered me no cover from the eyes that bore into me. The same church whose eyes cut me the deepest. A thief and a murderer couldn’t change in the eyes of the Lord I was told, and I believed them. After all, it was hard to forgive someone you didn’t recognize.
Christine MacArthur was the fifth body found within three weeks. The other four didn’t stir up as much outcry or pity. Perhaps that is because Christine was carrying the sixth victim as well, although that was never found. Or perhaps it was just because the other victims were deemed worthy of death. Forgiveness was granted easier by the Lord than by the good folks of Belzoni. The good ole folks of Belzoni.
Barbara and Edward Klein were the first bodies found. Not hard seeing as though they were lying on Main Street. They were battered, bruised and broken. Edward was under the right front tire of his car, while Barbara lay, legs grotesquely bent into right angles, arm limply hanging loose in its socket, face down on the curb. This had been no accident.
Earlier that year, and I can recall it effortlessly, Edward was driving Barbara home from the clinic at around ten. The sun was still climbing and danced off the windows and signs that lined the streets. Poor sighted at the best of times, as the whole town knew, Edward squinted through his windshield as he clipped along.
The court heard how the deaths were accidental. Edward said the height of the sun was a major factor in the accident. As was the fact that the mother and carriage came out from between two cars. Edward simply had no time to react. Barbara told the papers that the unwed mother was unfit to have a child anyway and her reckless behaviour in crossing the road in such a manner was all the proof the court needed. This was God’s way, she pleaded. If God could forgive Edward for the horrible accident then the court should too.
I can still see the graphic pictures of the baby lying beneath the right front wheel of the car, the carriage mangled, mom worse than the carriage, bent at impossible angles, face down on the side walk.
Edward had found forgiveness where the young mother could not. But now as he lay, crushed beneath the tire of his own Ford, he and the young mother would finally share the same punishment for their sins. Barbara’s death was no conciliation for the death of an innocent child but a point had to be made, I suppose.
Once the town knew that Edward and Barbara had been beaten and not run over the perception changed from one of grief to one of fear and it opened some eyes that had been closed for an awful long time. What kind of monster could do such a thing to such harmless people? What kind of demon was lurking in the streets of Belzoni?
Most people didn’t want to admit that it could have been any of a number of people. Every man has the ability to kill, to take a life with ease. Some have no choice. Some are given a rifle and told to shoot before getting shot. Shooting a “dink” on his soil is not like taking a bat to two pensioners and relieving them of their sins but it takes the same kind of man. And there were plenty of those men walking the streets of Belzoni, and every other town in America, only most were not acknowledged.
Norma wouldn’t admit that something evil was taking place and the diner became a safe haven for those who would rather not talk about it. “Probably some trucker on his way through” she’d often comment when the odd customer brought up Edward or Barbara. As far as she was concerned, Sgt. Peters would figure it out, trace it to some “negro” in Jackson and that would be it. Some eyes still remained pretty closed, I guess.
While it was easy for Norma and many others to blame the coloured, I hung my head in pity. I had fought with many of these men who owed their country nothing but watched as comrades, friends and brothers died and kept fighting on till it was time to go home. These men weren’t evil, untrustworthy or criminals. These men were just like me. But to Norma and a lot of people around I guess that is what we all were.
So I sat in her diner more and more sitting in my corner booth, my new foxhole protecting me from empty stares and verbal shells that would sometimes come my way. But I was forgotten about when the next body turned up. She was identified as Kennedy Adams, a runaway from a broken home and abusive family.
She was a girl who should have been pitied but after her second failed suicide, slicing her wrists in the grocery store, people just saw her as a freak. After her second spell in a half-way house in Jackson she had returned, supposedly cured of her anxieties. However they fixed her, it wasn’t too long before she was broken again.
Kennedy was a mess when they found her. All carved up behind the grocery store for the early morning crew to find. Her hands cut off at the wrists, her belly slit wide open. Cops say that she was still bubbling from her wound when they found her. She had been cut from the left earlobe to her belly too.
Sgt. Peters was in the diner two days after they dragged her away, nearly splitting her in half, and was giving his opinion on why there may be the possibility of two killers. He believed that while the Klein murders were just barbaric the Adams girl was barbaric but had signs of expertise. May have been a surgeon or a veterinarian. Perhaps a butcher or meat cutter from the store, he reckoned.
I’m no surgeon but from what I know any person who has ever had to skin his own food could have carved her open in the manner in which she was found. The flesh is softest in these parts and easier to peel away. Well, it is on game. I do know that ears bleed more than one would guess. We used to make necklaces from them over in Nam. Couldn’t keep them very long as the heat and humidity caused them to rot and stink after a few days. Always good to keep a souvenir of a kill we were told. Some people just kept personal things like papers or pictures, but others, like me, preferred ears or fingers.
I thought it was silly of Sgt. Peters to make such accusations when so little was actually known about anything. He had questioned so few people that he looked rather comical. Most of his information he was receiving came from the diner. This whole thing just showed me how far behind Belzoni really was. How near sighted and unprepared for the demons of life that these people were. But I sat there, eating my pie and minding my own business. If they weren’t interested in me I was not going to give them any reason to be.
When Mark Watkins was found in the school ground, castrated, slurring his words together begging for the pain to stop, the town finally took notice. He would never father another child. He would never knock up another young girl with a future. Unfortunately, when they found him, blood soaked, delirious, choking back pain and sorry, he had few words to say. He died shortly after. Loss of blood perhaps, perhaps the sick feeling of having just a gaping wet wound where his whole reason for life had once been was too much for him. Whatever it was, he finally succumbed to it.
The town was combed over as they searched for clues. The town wanted answers, Jackson wanted answers, and the state wanted answers. I sat and watched. Norma was questioned as she had access to a lot of knives. Ed was questioned as he often worked late. Various truckers who had made trips this way were brought in and questioned. Eyes were starting to open but they still didn’t see everything. They refused to see everything.
Watkins was found on the Monday and that Thursday was the day that Christine MacArthur was found in the cemetery. I’ve seen men walk through a jungle for days with bullets and explosions ripping their friends apart show more nerve, more calm than I witnessed in the hours that unfolded after her body was brought to the hospital. The diner was the hub of the activity and Norma relished her role as ringleader. She would bark out solutions and observations like Big Rob the auctioneer at the barn every second Saturday. If someone missed something, not to worry, it would be repeated.
The investigation continued for weeks, months, years. They got no closer than what they knew after Edward and Barbara turned up dead. The eyes were opening but still not open enough. The ears heard secrets and rumours, but never listened for the truth. The answers were always there. I was never asked though. So I never told.