The Flip-Phone Murders

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Someone Hates My Car

By next morning the paper was on its way to press, Miss Iceland was back in Burlington and I was where I was at my best- on the couch with a coffee, a stack of dollar store Oreos and a volume of Alan Sillitoe short stories. As I dove into the tale of how a 1950s British working class hero was not something to be, despite what John Lennon sang, I pondered putting my own life into novella form. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Drunkard leapt to mind as a possible working title when my phone rang.

This was, for me, a record breaking third out-of-office phone call in less than 24 hours and as I angrily jammed the torn piece of newspaper I used as a bookmark into place I pondered how I was supposed to get anything done with all these interruptions. I checked the flip phone display before answering. It was my sister. “What’s up?” I started in with immediately while realizing Caller ID had rendered the art of exchanging pleasantries practically moot.

“Hey. Andrew wanted me to call you.”

“Really?” I replied thinking this sounded very CIA back channel-ish like I was about to be asked to broker an arms deal with the Mujahideen.

“He said to tell you the county detectives came out this morning, reviewed the evidence and signed off on the department’s theory of the murders. As soon as the mandatory toxicology reports come back from Montpelier Chief Bowden will issue a statement,” she said very matter-of-factly. Then added, “oh and you and your little floosy should stay out of Johnny Java’s and the Episcopal Church.”

“Floosy?” I answered, cocking an eyebrow then un-cocking it since I was on the phone. “Well you know the plan was to meet Scott and Zelda for some bathtub gin but the speakeasy was closed. And why shouldn’t I go to the coffee place or the church for that matter.” The first part of her message came straight from the Chief. It was this latter part of the message that I found most curious.

“Listen, you don’t like those pretentious drinks anyway and you wouldn’t know a scone from a hole in your ass so just stay away,” she started. “Plus I heard you and your friend scared old Pastor Brooks right out of town. Stop trying to impress Blondie and do like I’ve been telling you. Go on the internet and don’t be too choosy…Rueben-esque is not a deal breaker.”

“Ok, we’re done here,” I started, but by the time I was finished there was a scream, a cry and then a dial tone on the other end.

Well that had ruined my morning so I downed the last cookie, took the coffee to the bedroom and got dressed. Clean-wise I was down to a Nehru jacket and a pair of my Dad’s old Bermuda shorts so I pulled a Kris Kristofferson found my cleanest dirty shirt, pulled on yesterday’s jeans- that at this point were up to being last week’s jeans- and headed for the Falcon.

An internet search the night before had yielded the info that Ted Sheehan was indeed divorced. The filing date was six years ago and as far as I could tell from subsequent searches there were no children involved. The reason for parting was not part of the public record, but the fact that Monica Carson was a nubile senior the year it went down had me intrigued.

The plan was to hit Artfield High first and dig amongst some of my contacts on the staff for anything they might know about this supposed Ted Sheehan-Monica Carson relationship. I’d parked around back to avoid Helen and pretty much any neighbors. A chat-er I am not. Then just as I was about to put the key in the car door- because on the Falcon you still had to do things like that- I saw it. On the hood, amidst the rust and chipping paint, a large, fragrant turd.

It was clear someone had placed or shat- I believe that’s correct, however I did not anticipate having to conjugate the past participle of the verb ‘to shit’ at this point in my life so bear with me- it there on purpose. This because it occupied point (0,0) had the hood been one of those X,Y charts that students are forced to work with in Freshman Algebra. In fact if the perpetrator had gotten up there to do it in say muddy shoes I could’ve calculated the slope-intercept of such an effort using the formula y=Mx + b…or in this instance maybe y=Mx + bm would be more appropriate.

I had no idea who would do such a thing. What I did know was it was intentional, it was human and they were apparently going for a bow before running out of steam. None of my exes would’ve wasted this kind of effort on me and I hadn’t given Miss Iceland any reason though it was still early in our acquaintance. Besides I couldn’t imagine anything coming out of that apple of an ass but rainbow sherbet.

Between the difficulty in trying wrap my head around such an act and the smell I decided it was time to take action. I went to the nearby recycling bin, grabbed a piece of cardboard and flicked the offending pile into the bushes. I’d ponder the whys and what fors later and since the Falcon couldn’t look any worse I eschewed trying to find a hose, fired her up and headed out.

On my way to the high school the smell began seeping in through the holes in the dashboard where things like the radio and glove compartment door used to be. I was thus forced to open both front windows which required a pair of pliers and the flexibility of a gymnast while trying to give at least a minimal nod to the rules of the road.

I reached Artfield High a little after 9:30 AM and chose a spot in the rear of the student lot in range of a security camera hoping to catch the Midnight Pooper in the act. Though I realized this wasn’t likely given normal digestion time. Plus based on the size and firmness noted earlier he/she appeared to be reasonably healthy of colon so I’d probably have to wait them out.

The high school itself was fairly large relative to the town population since it was a regional school drawing also from more rural communities to the North and East. However despite its stately lawns and blasé brick exterior inside it resembled nothing so much as the bar of a Bangkok brothel. Now I assume there is a dress code designed to guide the fashion choices of the 14-18 year old girls in attendance, but apparently enforcement was, to be kind, lax. Bare midriffs, Daisy Dukes, yoga pants, mini-skirts, tiny tank tops it was like a Pat Robertson-version of a Hieronymus Bosch painting. Of course I could never feel sympathy for those creepy male teachers who slept with female students, but considering what passed as “school appropriate” clothing I was stunned one of their lawyers had never tried entrapment as a defense.

I showed my ID, signed in and got a visitor’s badge. I realize 9/11 and Sandy Hook was the reasons for these precautions, but I also felt it was an equally good idea to keep track of any indiscriminate men walking around these halls. I could only imagine the leering of middle-aged outside contractors. The corridors had cleared by now with the ringing of the late bell and I quickly made my way to the gym to see what info I could shake out of Lip.

Max Lipper was the fittest, tannest 60 year old Jew this side of Boca Raton. He spent his days playing basketball, volleyball and what have you with students and his evenings participating in practically every adult sports recreation league Artfield and the surrounding areas had to offer. When he wasn’t pitching in a softball league or posting someone thirty years his junior low in the paint he could be found on a stool at Pete’s Pub sipping Absolut and cranberry and hitting on anything that moved.

“I can’t believe you’re still teaching,” I said, sneaking up from behind as he set up plastic cones for that period’s activities.

“My 33rd glorious year,” he replied, turning around and grinning ear-to-ear. He then bypassed my outstretched hand in favor of a giant bear hug.

“So I guess you were grandfathered in on Megan’s Law?” I joked.

“I miss you, bud. When you coming back to play with us?”

“With my knees forget it. You have a better chance of seeing me here teaching than on a softball field.”

“You don’t want that,” he said, laughing and shaking his head. “Those that can do and those that can’t teach.”

“Yeah and those that can’t teach, teach gym.”

We could of busted balls and told war stories all day, but the first kids were trickling out of the locker rooms so I figured I better get to the point.

“Bud, can you help me out? What did you know about Ted Sheehan?”

“Not much. As Vice-Principals go I liked him cause he left us alone.”

“Are you saying he wasn’t doing his job?” I questioned. If so maybe he was screwing around with Monica Carson; texting and SnapChat-ing his way through a mid-life crisis.

“No, I just mean he was good. Didn’t sweat the little stuff. No drama.”

I’d heard that the High School could be a crazy place. In the Elementary Schools they went on Lockdown every time a kid cried. At the High School, on the other hand, any day they didn’t have to bring the cops in was considered a win. “So what was he like personally?”

“Don’t know. Nice guy always said hello unlike most of the administration around here. But outside of school stuff he kept pretty much to himself. Even when he was teaching he never did Happy Hour or the Holiday or year-end parties.”

The gym class was completely in and while the clothes were actually more sedate- baggy shorts, long t-shirts- there was enough Spandex to make me wonder if turning Lip loose in here wasn’t akin to inviting Roman Polanski to a Sweet 16.

Lip dropped the last cone in place, blew his whistle and the milling students dropped into their squad spots just like we used to in our Supertramp Breakfast in America concert shirts and shorts over sweatpants- why the latter I’m not still not sure.

I was about to cut out when Lip had one last thought. “You know who you might want to see is Mr. Barton, 10th grade English teacher. I heard he was friends with Ted. They always did lunch duty together. We’ve got sophomores in here now. Check the lounge or Room 130 or 131, he should be free this period.”

Lip gave me another huge hug and I shoved off to find Barton. I knew the school fairly well from covering various functions here for the paper. The Faculty Lounge came up first with nothing between it and the gym except the Special Ed. rooms; tiny boxes where a teacher and classroom aide are crammed in with 6-8 ADHD and Oppositional Defiant students in what looks like a Texas Tornado Steel Cage match. It’s a noble job for as the humorist David Sedaris once commented, “I’m sure there are plenty of kids with legitimate learning disabilities, but aren’t a lot of them just assholes?”

Pondering this I peeked into the lounge which was just a converted classroom with a dining table, second-hand furniture, a bank of computers and a giant, overworked copy machine that probably chewed up a rainforest of paper a day. Still it was large and brightly lit unlike the dank caverns of yesteryear, so filled with cigarette smoke that it wasn’t clear whether exiting teachers were leaving the Faculty Room or the back of Cheech and Chong’s van. Through the window I spied three female teachers: two at the table grading papers, the third feeding stacks of papers into the copier as part of what I once heard referred to as the “give ’em worksheets till their hands bleed” theory of education.

I continued on, made a left, then a right before winding up in the boiler room where a custodian with a key chain so heavy it could’ve been used for the Olympic hammer throw directed me to Mr. Barton in room 131. Walking in I was confronted by a man who was everything I “could’ve if I’d done the things I should’ve” as Robert Earl Keen once crooned. Approximately my age, neat, fit, well-dressed and groomed to within an inch of life. I was exhausted just looking at him. I used to joke with Gladys at the office that I was always late because it took me two hours to get ready in the morning. Then I’d run a hand up and down my slovenly self and crack, “Do you think this just happens?” Ron Barton could say the same thing only without the sarcasm.

“Hi, I’m Luke Williams from The Artfield Review. Do you have a minute to talk about Ted Sheehan? This won’t take long.”

“Sure,” he said, extending a hand and giving me a firm, confident shake. “There were some reporters here the other day, but I was doing grief counseling in the Guidance Office and must’ve missed them. Ted was a great guy. It’s been tough.”

He finished writing that night’s homework on the polyurethane whiteboard that had replaced blackboards in all the rooms, I’m guessing because chalk dust was afflicting too many teachers with “white lung disease”. Capping the marker he took a seat on a stool and motioned me to a one piece desk/chair in the front row. Dropping down and squeezing in I was reminded just how bad my knees and how big my waistline had become.

“So I hear you were fairly close with Ted,” I began.

“Close as anyone I guess.”

“He kept pretty much to himself, huh?”

“Personally yes…professionally though he gave everything he had to the kids.”

“I noticed. Going through the yearbooks it looked like he was involved in every fundraiser there was. What was the name of the club he ran?”

Barton had gotten off his stool and moved over by his desk. “The Random Acts of Kindness Club. It was one of the most popular in the school because of him.”

“Right. They didn’t have that when I went here. Though me and a coupla guys made up the ‘Vicious Acts of Vengeance Club’…though I don’t believe we were ever sanctioned by administration.”

He laughed politely and opened the big file drawer on the near side of his desk. “Ted loved fundraisers because they were all-inclusive. Jocks, nerds, cool kids, artsy-types they could all participate. And they were into everything,” he said as he began pulling novelty giveaway items from the drawer. “Here’s a ‘Donate To Darfur’ button, a ‘Hurricane Katrina Aid’ magnet, ‘Autism Awareness’ drink cozy, ‘Red Nose Day’ noses.”

He held out one of the latter as if to give it to me. “No thanks. I prefer to get my red nose the old-fashioned way…alcohol.” As he shoveled the giveaways back into the drawer I looked around thinking perhaps I missed my calling. Maybe I should’ve been an English teacher, surrounded by books and saying things like “There are no stupid questions, only stupid students” or “I don’t know can you go to the bathroom?” not so much because I thought it funny, but because I felt contractually obligated.

“Have the police released any information about the crime,” he asked, waking me from my reverie. “I can’t understand why anyone would want to kill Ted.”

I figured this was the perfect time to leak the police theory and gauge the reaction of someone who actually knew Sheehan. “The word I’m hearing is Ted and the girl were involved and the father didn’t approve.”

Involved in what?”

This was not the reaction I was expecting. I thought ‘involved’ could only mean one thing in this scenario, but Barton was clearly confused. “You know…romantically,” I clarified.

He shook his head. “Not possible.”

This was the standard line on shows like Dateline and 48 Hours. It was never possible the brother, cousin, son, neighbor could’ve chopped up his family with a Ginsu knife and buried them in the backyard, but of course in the end he did. So I pressed him. “Why not? Ted was single, on his own. And Monica Carson was a looker.”

“Doesn’t matter,” he said and fixed me with a look of absolute certainty. “Ted Sheehan was gay!”

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