Butades – The First 10 Chapters August 30, 2017 11:03
I live in a small town with frequent murders. Every now and again a voice comes on the phone.
A short time later, I’m on my hands and knees. I’m alone. I insist upon it: a clear space in which to work. I look up at the sky as if waiting for a sign. A bird, a cloud, the slightest hint of a breeze. Then I fall to it.
When the rest have gone, I go back in. That is, I ‘go in’ a second time—that’s how they say it, and it seems appropriate. I circle around and point the camera, one- handed. A steady click, click, click.
They know I do it. I know they know it. But no one says a word, at least not until today.
Back at the studio, I work up the shots. Still wet, they swing from their pegs. Black and white, and already beautiful.
Later, the slides come. I’m working and I hear Jonsen the Swedish postman come whistling up the drive. I let him call and run his fat face along the screen door. Then the sound of a small parcel dropped on the porch. I wait all day until dark, knowing it’s out there. Then I clear away the few sticks of furniture. I do it in a clean arc of movement, with long arms and my weight all inside of me. I light a cigarette, just to feel the time stretch, and project the slides up on the one good wall. The smoke pours upwards, blue in the beam of the projector. The projector fan whirrs. The ceiling fan too. I turn a chair, lean forward, smoke, and look at slide after slide.
—You come down here from wherever you come from—
When he gets like this, I don’t look up. I make it a point not to look up.
—And you chalk up bodies, and—
—I don’t chalk up bodies.
I lean too heavily into a line and the charcoal snaps. The Chief looks across, with that look. He needs to know. It’s in the Chief that he needs to know.
—Well. What’s all this?
It’s hot, he’s a big man, and he turns slowly, his voice
pitched above the heat. He waves a large hand in the general direction of the walls.
I say nothing. I just rub the line back into true.
Some days he just stands and looks, breathing badly. Some days he slicks his hair—black as a new tyre, still—and presses his hat back on. But he doesn’t leave for the longest time. He stands at the screen door, looking down, thinking those thoughts.
After he’s gone, I turn the key in the lock and slip it into my pocket.
I work quietly now for the rest of the day.
And when I get to feeling right about it, I pin it up. With the others.
Out there, there’s mostly just the heat. A patch of weed, trashcan with no lid, flies most days up against the screen door. I pay no attention.
Out there, where for miles there’s no one, you can wait a long time for a breeze. It’s cooler then, and you have the sky too, high and bluest blue. There’s nothing up there. Nothing but the odd cloud drifting, holding and losing its shape, until the last trace goes.
But after a while you get to thinking about it: what business a breeze has, stirring about up there and blowing cool down here. And you go back indoors.
At first the Chief didn’t understand.
He would come in all restless from the heat and the work. He would pace about, feeling intrusive and useless, with an excuse that didn’t survive even the telling.
When he got to know there was beer, and where the beer was, that eased the problem. Pretty soon he would say his hello and nothing more until he felt cooled and maybe even a little doused and the first bottle stood empty. This I preferred.
At this point, having nothing to say, he would talk about the case. He would walk around the walls with a second bottle in his fist. He had a way of raising his head. Some days he would ask a question. Just as often not. Then he would look to the bottle in his hand.
—The one thing that puzzles me—he would say eventually.
And each time it was not a detail but the whole thing, that it was happening here, and we were in this small house, the two of us, and it was our business to discuss it, really our business.
On this particular day, he said of the drawings:
—You don’t label them.
He was right. I didn’t. I didn’t know, after a while, after the third, or the fifth, which was which. But that wasn’t the issue. It was the issue for the Chief but not for me. He needed to impose an order on things, and not just for the sake of the town. I guess that’s why he was Chief of Police.
—I don’t know what they are. Yet.
—When was the first?
—My first, or the first?
It was in early fall. In this part of the world a long shadow comes across the earth, the leaves come down without wind. People stay indoors, and the wooden houses throw up smoke. A person could tramp about all day and not meet another.
They found him a mile or so out beyond the edge of town, where the Welcome sign stands.
First murder in eleven years. (So their first too, in a way.) A sixteen-year-old farm boy.
Back broken. Clean as a snapped stick of chalk. Only bleeding internal.
The Chief got on the phone and couldn’t pronounce my name. There was an awkwardness.
—This... thing. You don’t have to do it...
—I’ll do it.
—You’ll do it?
I’d say he didn’t want me to do it. He didn’t want some fool woman—some out-of-state appointee from some crazy federal work scheme—gettin’ mixed up, and maybe messed up, in an already bad situation. Murder was bad. And a woman was bad for public confidence, if word got out.
Gonzales was worse. Wouldn’t stay back when I told him. At first.
I let them know how I was to do it. The conditions. The
set-up. They fought it, but I did it.
—How did it feel?
It didn’t feel. I didn’t feel. I just did it straight.
The boy lay across a knot of grass, as if set up there in the sun. He wore a plaid shirt. I saw straight away that chalk wouldn’t do. I prepared some lime. It left a too thick line, but I didn’t graze the clothes, or the shiny new work boots, hardly worn, or the hair, or the pink young hands. The line ran true and came up strong in the shots, white on grey. The brush sounded dry on the stiff grass as I dragged it around. I closed the line, saw it was good, and called. I could feel them breathing as they came, snorting distaste. They hauled the boy and set him in a pick up. Only the Chief stayed.
I had to tell him about the photos. He disagreed. I reminded him of my contract, and he sat in his car, a way off, the whole time.
The camera clicked with a strange, empty sound unlike before. And I noted that an unsteadiness had entered into things.
—Paperwork, explained the Chief’s voice. He didn’t introduce himself.
—Your name: Butades. Is that...?
I heard a sound like pages being turned. A typewriter maybe, in back.
—O.k. First Name: D_____
Silence. At both ends. Then I just said it. —Don’t use it. Not ever.
Silence again. What did he want? I said it again. —Just Butades. O.k?
Where I come from, the children, barefoot, dirt poor, play a game in the dust.
We have our own language back there, and our own songs.
One child dons a cloak of black cloth, drawing it over him like a burdensome thing. He hunkers down, hood and shadow, facing the earth. The others stand apart, and again apart, until they enclose him in a circle.
—Black Angel, they call at last.
—Black Angel! Is it not Time?
The Black Angel rises and takes his stand at the null heart of the ring. The children step back a single step. From the Angel’s throat comes a voice so isolate that it seems to issue from another world.
—A song for those who don’t know.
The Black Angel begins to spin, counter-clockwise, in an in-gathering trance.
The ring of children moves clockwise around him.
—For those who don’t know, It’s absolutely true, That Death will be...
An arm protrudes from the cloak. A thin finger
straightens itself. The Black Angel ceases to spin. —The Death of...
He takes a violent step forward and stamps his foot. The lean finger lengthens and points—at the child caught opposite in the ring.
The appointed child slumps to the ground, and the others gather about. The black cloak is passed between them, each in turn touched by its blackness. Then the cloak is draped, with a show of solemnity, along the length of the body.
After a few moments the child awakens, as if from a long and lifeless sleep, and wraps himself in the covering cloak.
—Black Angel, the children call.
The Black Angel walks off. And, one by one, in silent procession, the children follow him.
When I told McGruder this, he said nothing.
Either it was bullshit, or the world was weirder than he had bargained for.
This was after murder number three, I think.
McGruder was called in to do a profile of the murderer. Weighed down by qualifications, he was billed as some hotshot psychiatrist from out of state. And being from out of state, he was not popular. I too had problems in that area. So he was drawn to me.
The Chief sensed this and did the smart thing. He had McGruder prepare a profile of me.
His reasoning was impeccable.
If, after eleven years without a murder, you get three within three months... and, if those murders begin one month after a stranger arrives in town—what must you conclude?
McGruder alerted me that he was obliged to do the profile, and the interviews began.
I asked him how he was doing with the murderer.
—There’s nothing to go on.
—Nothing you could call anything.
He asked me how I did the outlines, and this became a pattern. Question for question, I got to know about the murderer and McGruder got to know about me.
After the second—the second was strange...
After the second, I went out beyond the Welcome sign, where the boy had been killed.
I drew up by the knot of grass and sat awhile in the car.
I looked at the land. Flat red dirt stretching to the horizon; hills on one side, long and blue in the distance, emptiness on the other.
The sun flaring in the nearside mirror began to distract me, so I tried to fix it some way. It was then I noticed, parked a long way back, off to one side of the highway, and oddly canted, an Oldsmobile.
I had a large pair of scissors in the glove compartment. I had been wanting to go out and cut the grass, still white with the dried lime. At nights, I had been thinking about it. The outline, the profile, white on green. It was somehow indecent, untended out there beyond the Welcome sign. Best to erase it.
The Oldsmobile sat glinting in the sun.
I couldn’t do it while he was there. Gonzales. Only Gonzales, I reckoned, would think to tail someone in a small town like this in an Oldsmobile. But what did I know about cars? Maybe he considered it the best possible cover to be so outright visible. I knew it was Gonzales because his brother Eddy ran a used car lot. And the station had no money. And the Chief wouldn’t spend a cent. And Gonzales was Gonzales before he was any kind of a cop.
I stood out on the road and stared.
Sure enough, the engine started up. The Oldsmobile swung into reverse, raising a cloud of off-road dust, pulled abruptly forward, and regained the highway at an angle of ninety degrees. As the dust settled, the window came down and a dark-hatted head looked squarely in my direction. After a long moment, the car turned away and diminished slowly on the asphalt.
This was a month and more after the event, and the grass was still white with lime. As I cut into it, shearing it right down and dusting the blades into an envelope, I couldn’t give it my attention. I couldn’t shake Gonzales out of my mind.
Was he really following me? In an Oldsmobile?
McGruder was bringing order into my life. So he liked to tell me.
By day he worked at the station, priming the computers, dealing in data down the phone. He ate and slept at the hotel, and silently established himself according to his manner. In between, he drove out to my place. A lot.
McGruder was interested in everything. Origins, for example.
—How does a person start killing?
—Your accent? Where did you get it?
He started a way of talking that soon caught on.
With the Chief, Gonzales and the others (who never quite acquired names). He would talk of scene three, or scene six, never mentioning the who of the crime—neither murderer nor victim—only the atmospherics, the incidentals. He would drive out and sit on the scene.
—Where were you this afternoon McGruder? The whole damn county was looking for you.
—I was out at three, he would say.
And soon the others were saying the same.
Me, I didn’t go along with it. And McGruder, who noticed everything, eventually got around to asking.
—You don’t say scene. You don’t say anything. Don’t you have a word?
It required no thought to answer. The matter was settled in my head.
—Scene I don’t like, McGruder.
Everybody called him McGruder. He didn’t look like a doctor. It was hard to say what he looked like. More a mood than a man, he was so devoid of physicality he could look like anything and nothing. Everyone was agreed on that. So McGruder it was.
—When you start talking about scene one, and scene three, and scene six...
There have been only five, McGruder’s look told me. Are you expecting another?
—When you talk like that, you start thinking—I start thinking—in theatre. Pretty soon, you’re spelling everything out in acts. Like Shakespeare.
What would he read into Shakespeare? This was making me careful.
—You know, three acts, three movements— beginning, middle, end.
He’s thinking of how it’s going to end. How the end is in the beginning. Origins again.
—You think of...
—Of what, Butades?
Don’t call me Butades.
—Of an actor.
—You mean the murderer.
He wasn’t asking; he was saying. That the murderer was
on my mind. I wasn’t about to deny it. But it wasn’t the only thing on my mind. Not even the first. I had my work.
—I think site. Though I don’t say it.
This is going to interest you so much that you can write
it up into a whole damn thesis—that’s the look I meant to give him. A look to stop him in his tracks, and yet to draw him out. I didn’t know where it was leading me, but I carried right on. He showed no special interest—but that’s just his way, his modus operandi.
—A site is a place. A piece of ground. No theatrics. Just concrete or grass. It’s hard to think of site three, or site six...
(I’d said it again.)
—I need the image, the lie of the land—when empty—the plain look of things.
Did I say that? Not in so many words. But I got it across. That when I went out there, it was to a place that had been marked by the event. I saw the land but I didn’t see any actor, or any ghostly re-enactment. I saw only the land and the point was to try to let it in, the residue of what had happened there. To let it in and feel it. How the land was marked by such things. And to think that, later, we walk by it and across it and right into it and fail to even register it. What could it mean?
McGruder saw that I had stopped pushing at the line I was on.
—I’ll let you get on with your work.