It was about hair
December 23, 2011
The twentieth century has created a number of characters (stereotypes in a way) who did not exist in earlier times. Chaplin’s Little Tramp. Bogart’s hard boiled detective. James Garner’s fast talking Maverick. And the detective. Sherlock Holmes. And my favourite, the bumbling detective. Clouseau is an example. But my favourite is the library detective on Jerry Seinfeld.
I used that same character for this short story. (He appears again in other stories in the book trilogy ‘Open 24hrs’.) He is a derivative character that came out of the 60s. There were a lot of people who acted like this. They were vicious, opinionated, mean spirited and angry. I worked for one. During the 70s. It was a summer job. Working in the parks for the city. I was called into the big bosses office and interviewed. It was about hair. The supervisor’s name was Cock. Could you lie about something like that? He was a Scotsman. (I’m part Scottish). He was stubborn, short, and cranky. And he was on a mission. The speech lasted about 20 minutes. The policy of the city (or Cock, the two were interchangeable) was to make sure that there weren’t any hippies employed. That meant of course long hair. So in order to get a job everyone had to get a haircut. I couldn’t afford not to have this job if I wanted to go to university. There were over a hundred of us hired so Cock must have spent near a month interviewing. So of course I like everyone else showed up in early May with our hair cut. Which we did not cut again until the next spring. And the interview. With the City’s Cock.
EVERYONE IS PRESUMED GUILTY
Paul McGregor and Ralph Sampson. Clerks in the pharmaceutical. Stood at attention. Against the bathroom wall. Line-up. There was a slight breeze off the hand dryer. Their eyes were directed straight across. Like lasers. In ole L.A. At the opposite wall. The store detective was dressed in a grey trench coat and fedora. Like he was going to ask, what can I do for ya. Strolled back and forth. In front of. Them. A toothpick waving. Like a baton. Up and down in his mouth. The marching-meister-mister. In a parade. Of one.
The detective stopped in front of Paul. The shorter, paler, younger of the two clerks.
“And this is where the excrementum was located?”
Paul stared at the detective. The detective ground his teeth on the toothpick. Impatiently. That yo-yo mind. Spinning its wheels.
“The feces,” the detective said. “Let’s be professional about this…”
Still Paul looked perplexed.
“The shit! The goddam turd!.” The detective cried. Blood pressure climbing up.
“Yes, sir,” Paul responded, glancing down at the floor. The detective’s laces were undone. Fed up. Ready to go and get up.
“You were there, sir.” Paul looked at the detective. With a look of confidentiality. “You’re the one that took the photograph of it. Before I cleaned…”
The detective stepped toward the young clerk. Who did not retreat. Forfeiting his personal space. He did not retreat. Because… well, there was a wall behind him.
“What are you implying, kid?” The detective’s forehead was now pressed against Paul’s chin. Paul stared at the detective’s scalp. A rash was spreading. Through the detective’s thinning hair line. Brush fire. Paul wondered if he should mention anything about the rash.
“Well!” the detective roared into the clerk’s throat.
Sweat began to roll down Paul’s forehead. Ran down his cheek. Like an eaves trough. Dripping off his chin. A stalactite in the making. Onto the roof. Of the detective’s head.
The detective moved away from Paul. Snorted. Stepped toward the far corner of the room where he addressed the taller, darker, older clerk. Ralph Sampson. And remembered his grandfather. Remembering when there were no black folks in Toronto. Who were not employees of the Canadian National Railway.
“Pretty sure of yourself. Aren’t you?” the detective asked.
“Tall!” The detective spit the word out. Like he’d done Heimlich. On himself.
“Excuse me, sir.”
“You tall people make me sick.” The detective crunched his shoulders. “There was a time in this country when people weren’t so damn tall. We were a proud people. We stood tall. Or at least we thought we did. Until your sort showed up.”
Ralph looked at Paul unable to make out what the detective was about. Paul shrugged his shoulders.
“Okay Houdini. Where were you on the said day?”
“Today?”” Ralph asked.
“What other day would I be referring to?”
“I was working, sir.”
“Can you prove that?”
“Prove what, sir?”
“Prove what?” the detective cried. The detective was fond of repeating questions. It gave him time to think. And it sounded like he was angry. Anger was good in an interrogation. “That you were working that day?”
Ralph nodded. “You can ask at the office.”
“How do we know that you weren’t conveniently visiting Niagara Falls?”
Ralph swallowed deeply. He glanced over at Paul who was looking up at the ceiling.
“Don’t try to get the answer from him,” the detective barked.
Ralph smiled. But not in a good way. “Why would I go to Niagara Falls?”
“The same as everyone else,” the detective answered.
A bead of sweat trickled down Ralph’s forehead into the corner of his eye. It was salty and stung. Ralph’s voice broke.
“To watch the water go over the falls?” Ralph responded.
“The water going over the falls?” the detective repeated scornfully.
The detective stared at Ralph for several seconds then rushed toward him, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a photograph of the excrement. On his Iphone. Or in it. Figuratively speaking. He placed it directly in Ralph’s line of sight. The Iphone. And not the turd.
“Look familiar?” he cried. The detective was showing his teeth. Which weren’t all there. And the ones that were. Were stained. From coffee. Smoking. From that girl who worked in the spa. And never washed her hands. Tartar buildup.
“Yes, sir.” Ralph nodded.
“Ah,” the detective cried, “so it was you who left this little memento?”
“No, sir.” Ralph shook his head sideways.
“You said you recognized it.”
“I know what it is,” Ralph explained. “I didn’t mean to imply that I took ownership of it.”
The detective stared straight into Ralph’s eyes.
“Pretty fancy words for an immigrant,” the detective responded sarcastically. He didn’t like immigrants. Didn’t like the way they dressed. Like the rest of the citizenship. Hiding. Camouflaged.
“I’m taking night school.” Ralph smiled.
The detective took the toothpick out of his mouth and placed it behind his ear. Why would an immigrant try to better himself? Wasn’t the country good enough without him advancing himself? Trying to climb over those who were cued before him? But the detective did not raise the issue. He was an immigrant himself. Instead he put the Iphone back in the pocket of his trench coat. And stepped away from the two clerks.
“I’ve questioned all the male staff.” The tone in the detective’s voice had become darker. He was sulking. “You two were my last hope.”
“Perhaps it’s one of the female staff?” Paul suggested.
The detective glared at the clerk.
“A woman would never commit such a vile act. Its not in the female DNA. And if she did… the sample would not have been so… elongated. It would have been more in the shape… more like a pie.” The detective thought for a moment. Then he shook his head as if he were trying to escape the clutches of a disgusting image. “No, this is the work of the masculine gender.”
“Did you speak to Mr. Edwards?” Ralph asked.
As soon as Ralph asked this question, Paul let out a whine. Overwhelmed either by Ralph’s courage for suggesting Mr. Edwards as the culprit, or shocked by Ralph’s stupidity.
“Mr. Edwards?” The detective rubbed his chin. He looked down at the floor, deep in thought. Then he glanced at Ralph and returned to his thoughts. The owner of the drug store. Never thought of him. Might be an immigrant. Somewhere. Back there. In his ancestors.
“It could have been a customer,” Paul said.
The detective looked at the clerk.
“What did you say?”
Paul repeated himself.
“Jesus!” the detective cried, kicking a dent in the garbage can. “A customer? There must be thousands of them. This case may never be solved!”
“Perhaps we have some suspects?” Paul suggested. “The regulars. Regular customers.”
“Yes.” The detective stepped up to Paul McGregor. “Any one jump out at you?”
“No, sir.” Paul smiled.
“Then why did you suggest that you might have your suspicions?”
Paul grinned sheepishly. “You looked so discouraged.”
The detective turned to Ralph. “Give me some names. Off the top of your head. Before you have a chance to think.”
Ralph struggled for a moment to come up with a name.
“Louie,” he finally said.
“Who the hell is Louie?” the detective asked.
“He runs the dollar store,” Paul explained. “And what about Big Bob from the hardware store. Or Tom Paine. Or Mr. Newton. One of those exterminators. Or that social worker, Mr. Macdonald. Mr. Singh…”
“Not Mr. Singh,” Ralph said.
Paul nodded. “That’s right. Mr. Singh would never use our washroom.”
“And why is that?” the detective asked.
“He and Mr. Edwards don’t get along,” Paul explained. “There is Mr. Martins.”
“Not Mr. Martins,” Ralph objected.
“You’re right,” Paul agreed.
“And why not Mr. Martins?” the detective asked.
“Because he’s a friend of Ralph’s,” Paul replied.
The detective grabbed Paul by the shirt and pulled him towards his face.
“I don’t know where you come from kid. But in our system. Under our laws. Until we find out who did this. Everyone is presumed guilty.”