Discovering the Relevance of Words
“Did you see the cops?”
She asked the question before she was all the way through the door. I replied that I had not.
“How is that even possible? They blocked off the whole street.”
Now, I am not known for my powers of observation, but a police presence enough to block off an entire thoroughfare would have caught even my attention. This meant that whatever went down there happened in the fifteen minutes between when I drove through the neighborhood and when she did. Hard to believe, but possible. I pressed her for details. She didn’t have many. There was a car, she said.
“Maybe somebody got hit.”
Maybe. Lots of people ride bikes through this neighborhood. Maybe it was just an accident.
But detectives don’t get to think that way.
I am not a detective, in case that sentence was misleading. But I do watch a shocking amount of true crime TV and visit a lot of crime library websites. Seriously, I’m probably in a database somewhere, if Homeland Security is doing their job.
I was instantly fascinated. I had to know what happened. Not in a ‘let’s actually make an effort to find the facts of this situation’ kind of way, but in a ‘let’s have a few drinks and speculate wildly’ kind of way. I would know the facts of this situation, even if I had to make them up myself.
I got in the car and headed to the store, passing the crime scene several times in my car on the way. By the time I stopped circling the block and actually made my way to the Chevron the cops had definitely noticed me. They watched as my car passed the second time. The third time I think one of them pointed at me.
Its cliché to note how fascinated we are as a culture with the violence we do to one another. It’s also cliché to say that things are cliché. So, you can’t win. But everyone at the gas station was talking about the crime scene that closed down Swan road. Everyone. It was pretty cliché.
The girl at the counter inside said she heard there was a brawl and somebody got shot. She saw that on Facebook, she said, which has been proving lately to be only slightly more reliable than the twenty four hour news channels. The guy working the pumps outside said she was wrong. It was an accident. A guy got hit crossing the road. Drunk driver.
“But they didn’t look like they was tryin to save anybody or putting anybody in the car. They was all standin around.” People behind me were waiting to pay for their gas, but she went on, “I think they were waiting for CSI.” She said the abbreviation like she knew some kind of code, but really she’d just been watching the show for the last ten years. Actually, I bet she stopped watching when Grissom left. Wait, isn’t Ted Danson on that show now?
I left the service station with a couple new ideas about what had happened and a twelve pack of beer, but still no facts. Driving home, something about the whole exchange struck me. I couldn’t remember the last time I had talked to anyone in that gas station, and I went there all the time. Beyond the usual cash register chit chat I had never had the desire to engage any of these familiar faces in conversation. The dead body on the corner of my street and the scene it created changed all that. In my mind, it had brought our little community together like no yard sale ever could.
This is usually where I’d have to take a moment to realize this is, or was, a human being we were talking about. We all knew that as we gossiped, I suppose, and on a larger level of the family of humanity felt some kind of natural sadness born of empathy. But it’s also natural to be caught up in the excitement of an event that doesn’t happen every day. Plus, the mystery of it all gave it a distance. The body was still just a body to us. We didn’t know anything.
There were more cars on the scene when I passed to get home. I could see the little red hatchback, its windshield covered over with a yellow tarp. The back window was uncovered, and as I drove past I swear I saw a shape in the driver’s seat, slumped forward and heavy. I wondered who was responsible for that and where they might be running to. I wanted to know what happened so I could tell the girl at the cash register and the guy at the pumps.
I wanted to gather us all together and watch the episode of Forensic Files that was sure to follow. Hell, I wanted to write it. Sell the script to Dick Wolf.
But when I got home the news was already on. Suicide, they said. Simple as that. They said his name but I didn’t recognize it.
I slumped a little.
Next time I filled up my tank, the girl at the register didn’t even make eye contact. I said nothing to her, or the guy at the pumps.
I guess they heard too.