“Chief,” said Nell, sauntering into my office. “You called for
me?” She closed the door and sat without asking, her diamond earrings glinting
in the hollow yellow light of my desk lamp.
“I have a confession,” I said. I
lit a thick Cuban cigar with a lighter held in my giant, brown flipper. “I’m a
Nell’s walnut-brown eyes narrowed.
That was all the reaction she allowed.
“You,” said Nell, picking her words
carefully. “You’re a… a walrus…”
“Correct,” I said, blowing smoke
between my two-and-a-half-foot-long tusks. “I’m sorry to break it to you like
this. I tried to think of a better way, but none appeared. I’m sorry… baby.”
Her breath probably quickened and I
bet the heart underneath her glorious chest might have even skipped a beat, but
I’ll be damned if she showed it. She was a hard dame, Nell. That’s why I’d
hired her. That’s why I loved her.
“So, you want me to believe,” said
Nell, straightening her back. “That the best goddamn precinct in New York City
is run by a four-hundred-pound aquatic mammal?” She shook her head. “Nuh uh…
I’m not buying it.”
She was so beautiful like that —
angry, confused — it nearly broke my enormous heart. “Nell I—“ I said. She cut me off
with a flat palm in front of her. Her hard façade was cracking. Below us, sirens
from the city street wailed up at the closed window. Nell sat up, shaking her
“You’re a walrus,” she said. “You
think I’d fall asleep every single night thinking of a walrus? You think I’d write
out drafts and drafts of the words I’d use to break it off with my fiancé for a
walrus? You think I would have felt my stomach do a somersault when I heard
that I was wanted in the office of a walrus?!”
She got up and stormed for the door,
wiping quickly at her eyes. I felt the need to say something, but what could I
say, propped as I was with both flippers on my mahogany desk? I thought of
“Nell,” I said. “Just listen.” She stopped, didn’t turn. Standing
there, her black hair framed against the smoked glass of my door, she looked
like a silhouette of a dream. God, the professional way she dressed, trying to
hide curves that refused to be hidden; I’d have swam through arctic waters just
to be with her. “I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I’ve gone crazy.
But no matter what I am and what you believe: I still want only you...”
It was pretty good for off the cuff,
I must say. Nell turned. Her eyes shimmered red; she wanted to let me keep
talking. She wanted us to work out no matter what. I wanted that too.
“Please, Nell,” I said.
She started to say something
herself but Detective Alvarez burst in the door without knocking. Nell casually
hurried to the window.
Alvarez’ eyes were bloodshot and
his red hair askew. The thin, red mustache that lined his upper lip like
mascara quivered with sweat. “Chief!” said Alvarez, panting. “Chief
we have a triple homicide out in Jersey City and… hello Nell."
Alvarez was Nell’s fiancé.
“Hi,” Nell said, turning from the
window, the picture of normalcy.
“If you’re telling me about a
homicide in Jersey City,” I said. “That means it’s him again, right?”
“Party kids. Spring break from Oklahoma,”
said Alvarez. “All eighteen years old. Two males and a female. Yeah Chief, we
think it’s him.”
“Goddamn it,” I said, slipping my
government-issue suit jacket over wherever a walrus’ shoulders are. “Nell,
we’ll finish this conversation later.” Nell nodded, a true professional.
I flopped out of the squad car onto the frigid
pavement. Red and blue lights painted the lone building abutting the lot.
Eight motionless officers leaned against their squad cars, sipping at lukewarm
coffee in the weed-strewn lot. We were out in the boonies of Jersey City, no
place for three revelers to end up. What a shame.
“Same arrangement,” said Detective
Alvarez, getting out of the passenger’s side. I nodded. The kids’ bodies were arranged
on the ground, two prone, one bent at the torso. The dead skin of their pale,
skinny bodies glowed opalescent in the full moonlight. Their bodies formed a W shape on the ground. Or was it an M? We’d seen this two times before and
it was starting to get on my nerves.
I hunkered down to look at them. These
murders were all alike, three young, innocent kids — two males, one female —
taken from their natural habitat in the packed jungle of bars that made up the
meatpacking district, brought to a foreign place, poison froth leaking from
their mouths. Who was this maniac? What was he — or she — trying to prove?
“Chief!” said Alvarez. “Look.”
I humped next to Alvarez; he had
the girl’s skirt lifted. “He’s taunting us,” he said,
pointing to words etched over the faint blue veins of the girl’s pail thigh.
This was new. He’d never sent us a message.
The handwriting was hurried, the
blood still not fully congealed. It read, “Monkey see. Monkey do.”
inclined to agree with Alvarez — that this was just another taunt, another
piece of the puzzle — but it didn’t sit right. I scanned the scene again, two
guys and one girl. Far away from home. I gazed up at the lone abandoned
building looming behind us. Its façade was grim, chipped brown concrete
framing rows upon rows of windows. So many windows. He’d underlined see. He
sees. He could see us.
here,” I said, rearing up on my hind fins. “He’s still here! Form a perimeter!”
The scene sprung into action. Coffee
cups rattled to the ground and service pistols were cocked. Policemen bristled
from behind the parked cruisers like some epileptic phalanx. I caught my breath
behind my vehicle — walruses aren’t meant to hustle. Alvarez, seated next to
me, his pistol up in front of his flushed, red face, gave me a look that said I
was either nuts or a genius.
hell is going on, Chief?” he asked. I twitched my tusks towards the abandoned
building. It stood not fifty feet from us, five stories of windows, some
broken, some yellowing to opacity, lining its five dilapidated floors.
“He’s in that building,” I said. “Let’s
go catch this maniac.”
The front door opened with a grating shriek, as if its
hinges hadn’t been moved since the twenties — they probably hadn’t. Behind us,
police officers spread out in a perimeter in case our killer tried to make a
slick escape. I shuffled in first, a flashlight raised in my flipper; Alvarez
followed close behind. I could hear his pistol rattle in his shaking hands.
Around us oily dust was pushed up
in piles next to skeletons of machines. It was just another manufacturing
plant, from back when Jersey had jobs for the middle class. My thick brown hide
rasped against the aged concrete. Chipping paint and the odd spray of graffiti
littered the walls and girders that somehow held this hollow carcass up.
“Chief,” whispered Alvarez,
shaking. He pointed to footsteps in the grime. They were fresh, leading deep
into the back. I nodded and we trudged deeper.
My flashlight created more darkness
than it pierced, shadow darted behind shadow. Crack heads and squatters had
taken everything of use; only forgotten debris remained. My thick torso’s
scrape echoed against the concrete walls. We followed the footsteps back and
back until they came to a door. Painted on its cracking wooden face, in what
used to be beautiful hand-written calligraphy, was the word “Foreman”. I motioned to Alvarez and he raised
his pistol, releasing the safety. We got into position beside the door and I
started counting. Even my whisper echoed.
“3… 2… 1…” I threw my girth against
the door, splintering it like Styrofoam. I bellowed for the killer not to move.
First, there was silence. Then a bang echoed through the darkness and a blunt
stick knocked the flashlight and gun out of my flippers. Both went clattering uselessly
toward the far wall.
“Alvarez!” I yelled. “Get your
light on!” But there was only silence again. The smell of the place inundated
me, engine oil mixed with dirt and mold, a forgotten smell. But there was
something else… something acrid to it that I just couldn’t place. Maybe it was
my own fear. I tried to slide toward a corner, I had no idea where this maniac
might be or what he’d done to Alvarez.
As I flopped helplessly, I heard a
“Chief,” it said. It was a deep voice, more
gravel than I was used to hearing in it. But it was a voice I knew.
Alvarez flicked a light on his face;
it was pinched up, rage or madness or some admixture of both boiled on the
surface. He was across the room, sitting with his feet up on a desk. “I know
you’re a walrus.”
What? How could he know? I’d never
told him. Alvarez shined the flashlight in my eyes.
“I’m a what?” I said, squinting
against the glare.
“You think I didn’t notice?” He
said, his voice a sickly growl. “All those pounds of whole fish sent to your
office? The way you never talk about family, where you came from. Oh I picked
up more than you think.”
Alvarez turned the light’s beam back
on his face. “I know about you and Nell. I know the way you two skulk around
like your feelings aren’t on your sleeves! But you don’t know Nell like I do. And
that’s why you’re here. That’s why I wanted to show you this…”
Alvarez flicked a switch and
electronic buzzing filled the room. Halogen lights jittered on, dazzling my
eyes. Slowly, the images coalesced. The walls were covered in pictures. That
had been the acrid smell. Pictures, so many, but of whom I couldn’t tell.
“Look,” said Alvarez, cocking a
silenced pistol and leveling it at my brown dome. “Look at them!” I raised my flippers
and complied. Sidling to the wall I focused on the one closest to me. It was of
Nell, younger than I’d ever seen her, looking happy, eating a banana. The next
photo showed Nell prone in a cage, naked, a dart sticking out of her neck. The
next she was sitting in a tree, people were watching her through bars. And more
and more: people in lab coats teaching Nell sign language, Nell picking mites
out of someone's hair. There was something connecting all these, some
pattern or reason in all these images… I just couldn’t figure it out.
“What are you trying to show me?” I
asked. Alvarez cackled, his mania growing by the moment. “You know, Chief. I
know you know.”
I didn’t know. Did I? Hadn’t I
suspected this since the moment I laid eyes on her? Hadn’t I felt it in the way
she walked with her knuckles lightly grazing the floor? Hadn’t I noticed her
swinging from the pipes of my apartment when she was happy? A tear rolled down
my giant wrinkly cheek. “Nell is a chimpanzee.”
“Yes!” shrieked Alvarez, spreading
his arms wide. “And how does that make you feel?” Alvarez leapt onto the desk,
kicking a stack of dusty paper to the floor. I was confused. Nell, is a monkey?
It blindsided me, sent me reeling. I slumped into a corner. “How does it feel to have something hid from
you?! Still love her? Can a walrus love an ape?!”
“Nell is my
love,” said Alvarez. “My love. You
can’t even begin to know what that means. You love Nell the person. You could
never love Nell the stinking simian!”
I straightened my back, shook my
girth. What was I thinking? What did that change? Nothing!
“Of course I still love her,” I
said, puffing my chest out to its full barrel splendor. Alvarez stepped down
from the desk and raised his gun. I began to ebb towards him. “Did you kill
those girls? What the hell is wrong with you?”
Alvarez’ gun shook slightly. “You
think I could get the chief of New York City’s most honored precinct out to
just any old crime? You think I could get such a figure — such a walrus! — to
join me into any old dilapidated building? You think I didn’t know that there
was only one way I could break you and Nell up and still get away with it?”
Alvarez shot me, the bullet hit just
below the sternum, taking some meat on its way out my back. I groaned, stopped.
“Do you think they’ll find you?” Alvarez
pulled out a remote with a red switch on top. “I mean… five stories of brittle steel
and chipped concrete. That’s a lot of shrapnel.”
I didn’t know what he was talking
about. I was focusing on the next breath. It felt like an elephant seal was
sitting on my chest.
Alvarez kicked open a back door,
letting in the sound of sawing crickets. The room hovered at the very
extremities of focus. I had to get him, but I didn’t know where he was. My body
felt heavier than it already was.
“Well,” Alvarez said from somewhere
in the onrushing blackness. “Got to get back to Nell.”
I heard a click and then the shut
of the door. I didn’t even have time to bellow for help before a dull thud
rumbled out from deep in the factory. A large pillow of shrieking warmth wrapped
itself around me, lifting my body from the ground. Everything seemed to suck
inward as the air was filled with the unthinkable wrenching shriek of falling
I woke up to blinding light and the soporific beep of a
heart monitor. Phosphorescent light stabbed my pupils, so I squinted until it
only hurt a lot. I tried to roll over and stopped immediately as pain tore
through my chest.
Next to me
on a little tray was a piece of paper, folded in fourths. I gingerly moved a flipper,
the same pain growling with every inch. I flipped the note open. It read:
I know you know. Alvarez
disappeared. I can’t see you, not anymore.
I lay in
the bed listening to machines tell me I was alive. I didn’t believe them. I’d
get Alvarez for this, all of it. I’d make Nell understand it didn’t matter what
she was. I’d fix everything if I could only move.
TO BE CONTINUED…
*bows at the foot of a bagel altar*
Light on the Dough
$1/2 — For the quality of the eats, the money is well worth it.
Bagels themselves aren’t pricy; the baked goods by the counter can run a bit
more — in the $4.00 – 6.00 range. Scratch is filled with fluffy pastries that
won’t leave your wallet light.
Goods on Display
Bagels are fresh and copious. A horn-of-plenty’s worth
of savory and sweet delights await you by the front counter. Fresh cream
cheese awaits in the fridges. It’s a walk-in-and-get-what-you-need sort of
place with a nice, homey ambiance for good measure.
Chipper, fulfilled-looking people manned the cash register. Working
at a place that’s producing a product of very obvious quality certainly
pervades the workspace with a feeling of wellbeing.
EAT OR SKIP:
If you hadn’t already guessed, Scratch has my number. The
quality and care they put into their baked goods is abundantly apparent first
in the layout of the shop — baked goods cover nearly every flat surface — and
second, upon biting into one of their heavenly bagels. A Scratch bagel’s
crisp crust enwraps a matrix of fluffy inner-bagel-flesh that, when lathered
with their insanely tasty, made-from-scratch cream cheese, is a piece of
gustatory splendor. Seriously, I’ve been back already this week. I will not,
however, give Scratch the nod over my all-time favorite bagel spot, Brookside Bagels, but it is a close — and delicious — second. Go there. Eat
bagels. Love life.
Scratch Baking Co.
416 Preble St, South Portland, ME 04106