by Bill, from 1990
The Leaky Weekly’s motto used to be: “It’s Not Just A Newspaper, It’s A Piece Of Us.” This was quickly perverted by the locals into: “It’s not just a newspaper, it’s a piece of ass.” So the motto was changed to: “It’s Not Just A Newspaper, It’s A Family Newsletter.” And that’s what they put on the outside of the Leaky Weekly building. Of course, it was not long before someone scratched out the word “just” and tore off the words “it’s a Family Newsletter,” so that it ended up saying: “It’s not a newspaper.” As it turned out, this was the most appropriate motto after all.
On the morning of July 8th, Betsy Talbot was the first to arrive for work at Leaky Faucet, California’s local newspaper, The Leaky Weekly. On her way to the restroom to fill the coffee pot with fresh water, she found the newspaper’s advice columnist Larry Askis on the floor in front of the restroom door, clutching the knob with his outstretched hand.
Betsy normally would have assumed he was drunk again and given her usual speech on the evils of alcohol and the need for professional decorum in the workplace. But today was different. There was a knife plunged to its hilt in Larry’s back. Blood was everywhere.
Betsy screamed in horror and dropped the coffee pot. She left the shattered glass on the floor and called the local sheriff’s deputy.
Leaky Faucet is a small town somewhere in California’s Central Valley. It was given its name by town founders with either a great sense of humor or a definite mean streak, not that there’s much difference. Leaky Faucet is, according to the huge billboard along the highway, the “lima bean capital of the world.” Until recently, lima beans and its ridiculous name were Leaky Faucet’s only claims to fame.
The Leaky Weekly, that “Bastion of Periodic Excellence,” as its dimwitted motto (yes, another motto) stated, was actually a biweekly publication. It had begun as a weekly, but there soon proved to be too little news to warrant such regularity.
The Leaky Weekly’s editor and publisher, Charles Foster Crane, upon inheriting his current position in his mother’s will several years ago, officially changed his name from Jan Lesley Crane to Charles Foster Crane to more closely resemble that of his hero, the fictional Citizen Kane. He never liked his first and middle names, anyway; they were girl’s names.
Now forty-three years old, Crane was beginning to worry that his dreams of journalistic glory and fame were slipping from his grasp. When he first took over The Weekly’s operations, Crane figured he would slowly buy up all or most of the papers in the county until he had his own little publishing empire. This empire would continue to grow through the efforts of his as-yet-unborn progeny until he was the patriarch of one of the country’s leading publishing families.
That dream never came to pass. He had no wife or children, which pretty much ruled out the leading publishing family thing. And his “empire” still consisted of this one lousy biweekly newspaper. Somehow (through no fault of his own, of course), things had not worked out as planned.
Crane was also beginning to feel his own mortality. The men in his family had a propensity for dying young. His father, two uncles and a grandfather had all been murdered by the age of fifty. Hardly natural causes, but not a good family track record for longevity. Two of those “murders,” those of his grandfather and an uncle, were self-inflicted. They were officially ruled suicides, but in both cases family members were of the general opinion that it was more than “just suicide.” Both men had a history of multiple personalities. Everyone assumed each man was “murdered” by one of their own personalities, for they were both overheard arguing with themselves just before shots rang out.
When Crane woke up this morning, he had a feeling something bad was going to happen. He had this feeling almost every morning. He usually hoped something bad would happen, actually, since it would give him something to put in his newspaper.
As he sat on the edge of the bed rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, images from last night’s dreams assailed him. He had dreamed of murder again last night; though, upon waking, he could not remember exactly who was murdered.
Almost every night for the past week he had been having this vivid, recurring dream of murder. Yet, every time he awoke he could not picture the face of the murder victim. It was the strangest thing. Everything else in the dream but the victim’s face was easily recollected. Also, he did not know if in the dream he was merely a witness or the actual murderer. It felt like a combination of both somehow, if that was possible.
A few days ago, desperate for some peace of mind, Crane mentioned these troubling dreams to Betsy Talbot. She was touched by Crane’s efforts to reach out to her. It was the first time he had ever done so.
She cleared her throat, adjusted herself in her seat, and came up with a rather lengthy response. “Well,” she began, “if you’re the one being murdered in the dream, it probably means that your life, or maybe just your career, will soon be over.”
“‘Just’ my career?” said Crane.
Betsy continued unabated. “If someone else is murdered, it probably means you just wish that person were dead. Of course, it could also mean you’re concerned for that person’s safety. It depends on the details of the dream.”
Crane was now rolling his eyes and shaking his head.
“Finally,” she concluded, “if you are the murderer, it probably means you’re subconsciously trying to end some aspect of either your life or someone else’s. Again, it depends who the murder victim is.”
“In other words,” Crane summed it up, “you don’t know what to make of it, either.”
Betsy glared evilly at him. “Why did you ask for my opinion if you were just going to shoot me down?”
“It makes me feel better,” he said flippantly, and disappeared into his office.
Whatever the interpretation, Crane’s dreams were very real to him. And this morning, like almost every other morning this week, he woke up in a cold sweat. First thing after crawling out of bed and visiting the bathroom, he staggered barefoot to the kitchen table and turned off the tape recorder. He unplugged its connection to the police scanner and turned up the scanner’s volume. This was an every-morning ritual. Although there was hardly ever anything of interest broadcast across the police airwaves, night or day, he was deathly afraid of not having the scanner on for that one instance when there was something noteworthy.
The automatic coffeemaker had a fresh pot waiting for him and he poured himself a cup. He was in the middle of pouring when he heard over the police scanner what he almost knew he would hear: There had been a murder last night!
Upon hearing the news, Crane dropped the coffee pot. It shattered on the hard tile floor and splashed onto his bare feet. He jumped at the touch of the searing liquid, landed hard against the edge of the kitchen counter, then ran to the bathtub to run cold water over his scalded feet.
Sitting on the edge of the tub, his feet throbbed under the cooling water. Beads of sweat dotted his forehead and he almost passed out. He had to hold onto the shower door for balance.
As the pain in his feet and his dizziness subsided, he noticed a new pain. This one came from his right side, caused by his landing hard against the kitchen counter top. He remained seated on the edge of the tub and allowed himself the luxury of a few minutes of self-pity.
Then it occurred to him what a great story this murder would be for his newspaper. It was just the kind of bad news he had always hoped for. It was just the thing his miserable little publication needed. Advertising revenues had been down lately and he was on the verge of making stories up, just to sell more papers.
Making up stories would not be necessary now; at least, not until the murder story lost its appeal. He actually had a real story! Within a few minutes, he had forgotten all about his pain and was soon brimming with excitement. He phoned Running Bear Johnson, his printing press operator, and ordered him to the office at once to warm up the presses in preparation for a special edition. “A very special edition,” Crane added.
“What could be so special in Leaky Faucet?” Running Bear wanted to know.
“Just get down there!” Crane bellowed. He could hardly wait to get there, himself.
Sheriff’s Deputy Carl Hummer showed up at the offices of The Leaky Weekly in his patrol car shortly after receiving the call from his dispatcher. His newly hired Junior Deputy, Drucilla Lee, pulled up a few seconds later in her own personal “vehicle.” (She never referred to it as a “car.” To her, it was always her “vehicle.”)
Dirk Ritchie, photographer/reporter for The Weekly, was in front of The Weekly’s office and about to go inside when Deputies Hummer and Lee came careening into the parking lot. The deputy’s vehicle missed the photographer by just a few feet as it screeched to a halt.
“Don’t go in there!” Drucilla barked at Dirk as she jumped out of her car.
“Why not?” Dirk asked.
Drucilla ignored the question. “What are you doing here?”
“I work here,” said Dirk.
“It’s just as well that you’re here, Dirk,” Deputy Hummer interrupted his gung-ho deputy with a soothing tone. “We need someone to photograph the body.”
“Body!?” Dirk said.
“There’s been a murder,” Drucilla said gravely, watching Dirk’s face for a reaction. Trained to scrutinize a suspect’s initial reaction to shocking news such as she had just given, she was eager to detect something incriminating in Dirk’s face. But Dirk only raised his eyebrows, grabbed hold of his ever-present camera, and beat the two deputies through the door into the office.
Once inside, as Hummer and Lee hovered over Larry Askis’s body, Dirk took photos of the crime scene and pretty much everything else in sight. When Charles Foster Crane stormed into the office, Dirk took pictures of that, too. Drucilla wondered if Dirk went anywhere without his camera. Probably even showered with it, she supposed. But that brought to mind the image of a naked Dirk, and she dropped the thought.
“I heard the news over the police scanner!” Crane shouted excitedly. “Where’s Running Bear?”
“Probably still asleep,” Dirk replied.
“No,” Crane said. “I called him the minute I heard about Larry. We need to get out a special edition! This is the biggest story of the year! Where’s the body?”
“Over here,” Deputy Hummer replied from the hallway.
Crane followed Hummer’s voice. Upon seeing Larry’s body for the first time, Crane stopped cold and leaned against the doorway. He dabbed at the perspiration on his brow with a handkerchief. He had never seen a dead body before. He was thrown off by the sight of it. After his initial hesitation, however, the morbid curiosity of the true reporter came through and Crane moved toward the body. He crouched down and touched Larry’s lapel.
“Don’t touch him!” Deputy Hummer shouted. “We haven’t dusted for fingerprints yet.”
Crane pulled his hand away.
Dirk Ritchie took pictures throughout “the dusting of fingerprints.” Once finished dusting, Drucilla instructed Dirk to make extra copies of the pictures for her scrapbook. Dirk raised an eyebrow at her for a moment, then shrugged and rewound his used-up roll of film and inserted a new cartridge.
When Running Bear Johnson meandered casually into the office, Crane immediately shouted at him. “What the hell took you so long?”
“Traffic, C.F.,” Running Bear dead-panned.
“Traffic?” Crane spat. “In Leaky Faucet?”
“School bus, C.F. It’s illegal to pass a school bus when the red lights are flashing.”
From her position next to the body, Deputy Lee turned and smiled at Running Bear’s understanding of and obvious respect for the law. Running Bear smiled back at her.
His smile faded, however, upon seeing the body. “Damn!” he said. “Who’s that?”
“Larry Askis,” Deputy Hummer said matter-of-factly.
Running Bear was speechless as he stared at Larry’s prone body. Crane shook him out of his reverie by shouting at him again. “Why aren’t you warming up the presses? We’ve got a special edition to get out!”
Running Bear gave Crane a mock salute and disappeared into the press room. As usual, Crane found himself bristling at Running Bear’s insolence. He would have fired him a long time ago, but in a town the size of Leaky Faucet it was difficult to find someone able to run a printing press. He turned his attention to Betsy Talbot.
“Betsy, call the rest of the staff. Get them down here now! What the hell am I paying them for anyway? This is a newspaper, damn it!”
He finally had a real story to report and he did not want to blow it. Too bad Larry Askis had to die to provide such a story. But that’s the way it goes sometimes in the newspaper business.
A few minutes later, Boris Dutikov, a recent Russian immigrant and The Leaky Weekly’s sports reporter, wandered into the office. Betsy shouted out, “The rest of the staff has arrived, Mr. Crane!”
Deputy Hummer watched grimly as Deputy Lee and Dirk carried Larry Askis’s dead body out the door. He winced as they almost dropped him on their way through the office. After a few moments of appropriate grimness, however, Hummer approached Betsy Talbot.
“Do you mind if I ask you a few questions, Betsy?”
“Yes, but go ahead, anyway,” Betsy snapped.
Betsy could not stand the sight of Carl Hummer. Ever since he had arrested her for indecent exposure over a year ago, she had not spoken two words to him. It was not “indecent exposure” at all, she had explained at the time. She was merely crouching behind a bush one night in the park because the public restrooms were locked and there was not another one for at least a mile. She simply could not wait.
Hummer had stared at her bare bottom then with obvious glee as she pulled her panties back up and adjusted her skirt. He offered to “pretend this whole thing never happened,” in return for a “quickie.” But when she declined his offer, he stated, “The law is clear in this situation.” And he arrested her.
Too flustered at the time, she did not realize that at that moment she held Hummer’s career in her hands. She could have charged him with attempted extortion. By the time she realized it several months later after reading about just such a case, however, she decided to just let the whole thing drop. She was raised to believe Hummer’s was acceptable, almost expected, behavior from men.
Now oblivious to Betsy’s smoldering wrath, Hummer proceeded with his murder investigation. He asked the routine questions: What time did you arrive at the office that morning; were you the first to arrive; what were your actions from the moment you left your house to the moment you found Mr. Askis’s body; what were your feelings toward the deceased; have you ever had sex with him?
Betsy gave a complete accounting of her actions, beginning with a sarcastic report on how much time she had spent in the bathroom that morning. Hummer scribbled furiously on a note pad as she spoke.
When it came to the question of her sleeping with Larry, she replied acidly, “Before or after he was dead?”
“Before,” Hummer replied, taking the question in stride. To his way of thinking, hers was not a totally weird question. Several years ago as a rookie deputy in Los Angeles County, he could have had sex with a recently deceased actress. She had died of a drug overdose, so there was no blood or anything, and she lay completely naked on her bed. Left alone in the room with her for several minutes, he seriously considered it. It was only at the last minute that he decided against it.
“All I will say,” Betsy sighed, “is that Larry and I knew each other better than anyone was aware.”
“What does that mean?” Hummer asked.
Betsy rolled her eyes at the deputy’s stupidity. “What do you think it means?”
“You tell me,” Hummer said evenly.
“It means, you idiot,” she shouted, “that yes, Larry and I were having an affair up until a week ago. Jealous?”
The entire office went silent as everyone turned and stared.
“Ah-ha!” Hummer broke the silence after a few moments. “And it was after he snubbed you for another woman that you killed him, right!?”
“Wrong, Sherlock,” said Betsy. “I didn’t kill him. And he didn’t snub me for another woman.”
Hummer shrugged. He did not actually expect his guess to be correct. As usual, he was just throwing darts, hoping something would stick. He wrote down everything Betsy had said and prepared to question the next person.
As Hummer stood in front of her desk, looking for his next victim, Betsy dropped a bombshell. Quietly, she said, “Larry didn’t drop me for another woman.”
“Yeah, you already said that,” said Hummer.
“He dropped me for another man.”
Visibly shocked, Hummer did not want to hear about it. He was pretty sure it had nothing to do with the case, so he frantically went in search of his next interviewee; who turned out to be Boris Dutikov, the sports reporter.
“Mr. Dutikov,” Hummer exhaled the words, nervously glancing back at Betsy for fear she might reveal some more disgusting secrets about Larry Askis’s personal life. “Boris, I couldn’t help but notice you were the last one to arrive this morning. Would you mind explaining this to me?”
“Well,” Boris replied in his broken English. “I show up exactly 9:15. When I get here I see everyone else already here.” He raised his hands and smiled as if this explained everything.
Hummer nodded, trying to decipher whether or not Boris was being sarcastic. He decided the man was probably too stupid for sarcasm, and he scribbled Dutikov’s answer on his note pad.
“I’ll get back to you later,” said Hummer.
“I’ll be here,” Dutikov said cheerfully.
Hummer next questioned Charles Foster Crane. When Crane first arrived that morning he mentioned hearing about Larry Askis over the police scanner. Hummer was fairly certain Larry Askis was never mentioned by name over the radio. He mentioned this discrepancy to Crane.
“Did I say that?” Crane replied nervously. He hadn’t noticed. Now that Hummer brought it up, however, Crane realized that, somehow, he did know it was Larry Askis who had been murdered. How could that be? Was Larry the one in his dreams? At this last thought, Crane went pale.
“What is it?” Hummer caught the look of guilt on Crane’s face.
Crane fidgeted for a moment. His thoughts had betrayed him! Of course, he knew he was not the murderer. At least, he didn’t think he was the murderer. But he also knew by the look on Hummer’s face that he was suddenly a suspect. He had to think fast.
“Oh, I must’ve just assumed it was Larry,” said Crane, making it up as he went along. “I mean, after all … uh … I mean … except for the Indian and the Russian, Larry was the only one missing when I walked in, and I had just spoken with Running Bear on the phone.”
“Uh huh. Sounds reasonable,” Hummer replied, nodding thoughtfully. “A bit of friendly advice, Mr. Crane. Never assume anything. Assuming makes an ass out of you and me.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Crane blustered.
“Don’t you get it?” Hummer explained with a playful jab to Crane’s shoulder. “It makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me.’ A-s-s-u-m-e. Pretty clever, huh?”
“Yeah, clever,” Crane grimaced. He was in no mood for word games. “If you don’t mind, Sheriff, I have a newspaper to get out.”
“Deputy,” said Hummer.
“I’m only a deputy,” Hummer explained.
“What do you mean by that?” Hummer growled.
“I just meant that, as the editor of the town newspaper, I should have known you were a deputy, not a sheriff. That’s all,” Crane lied. He was beginning to impress himself with his ability to think fast and come up with plausible lies.
Hummer nodded and made a mental note to speak with Crane again later. For now, however, Running Bear Johnson was next in line for questioning. Hummer hunted him down in the press room.
Deputy Hummer and Running Bear were very familiar with each other. It was Running Bear’s long-standing contention that the land now occupied by the town of Leaky Faucet was, by rights, the property of the “Wapwah Indian Nation.” And, as the last known surviving Wapwah, the land, therefore, belonged to Running Bear personally. He regularly printed petitions and “proclamations” and posted them all over town, including the inside walls of the mayor’s and Deputy Hummer’s offices. Deputy Hummer had lost track of the number of citations he had given Running Bear over the years for “unauthorized promulgation.”
Over the noise of the printing press, Hummer shouted, “Running Bear, is there anything you’d like to tell me?”
“I can think of quite a few things,” Running Bear shouted back and smiled.
“This is serious,” Hummer huffed. “Don’t you take anything seriously? A man has been murdered! And can you turn this thing off for a minute?”
Running Bear shut off the press. “What do you want to know?” he asked soberly.
“That’s more like it,” said Hummer. “Was Larry Askis aware of the fact that you are an Indian?”
Running Bear rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Now who’s not being serious? I’m not an ‘Indian.’ I’m a Native American. Wapwah, to be precise.”
“Whatever,” Hummer replied, short on patience.
“Not ‘whatever.’ Wapwah!”
“Right. Was Larry aware of this?”
“Can’t see how he wouldn’t be,” Running Bear replied. “My name kind of gives it away, doesn’t it?”
“Did you know Larry Askis was a member of the Ku Klux Klan?”
Actually, Larry Askis was never a member of the KKK and Hummer knew it. He was simply using an old ploy he had learned at the Academy: Give your suspect something to dislike about the victim in hopes that the suspect will, in an emotional outburst, reveal his true feelings and, thus, implicate himself – or at least give you a valid excuse to throw him in jail. Hummer had never actually seen this tactic work, but he always liked the idea and used it whenever the opportunity presented itself.
“Wait a minute. Wasn’t Larry half Jewish?” Running Bear asked.
Hummer squinted his eyes, as he always did when unable to follow someone’s line of thinking. “What’s your point?” he asked.
“Well, seeing as how the KKK hate just about everyone who isn’t white and Protestant Christian, it seems highly unlikely that Larry, being half Jewish, would be a member of such an organization.”
At a loss for both words and any idea of what to do next, Deputy Hummer turned beat red, puffed out his chest, and stomped out of The Leaky Weekly offices. He had never conducted a murder investigation before, and he did not like the way this one was going. He would fill out his report in the comfort of his office and then decide what to do next.
Charles Foster Crane spent that entire morning writing articles for The Weekly’s “special edition.” When the last of the articles was written and Running Bear had run off the first hundred copies, Crane excitedly distributed them around town himself. It reminded him of his days as a young paperboy.
Back then, he did what he could to help his mother pay the bills. He and his mother were hard-pressed in those days after his father ran off with another woman, only to be shot in the head by an unknown assailant a month later.
Crane remembered now that his mother had never shown any emotion whatsoever at the news of her husband’s murder. Sure, she complained that with her husband dead it removed any possibility of his making child-support payments – not that he would have, anyway. Aside from that, though, she seemed to take the whole thing remarkably well.
For a fleeting moment, Crane toyed with the thought that perhaps his mother was the murderer. With a shiver down his spine, however, he buried that thought deep into the recesses of his mind. How could he think such a thing? His mother was a saint.
Besides, that was a long time ago, and Crane now had a new murder to worry about. He marshaled his thoughts and directed his enthusiasm toward this new murder.
“NEWSPAPER COLUMNIST MURDERED! Hummer Baffled” read The Leaky Weekly’s banner headline that day. He liked that one. It made Hummer look bad.
The next article’s headline read “Is Anyone Safe Anymore?” Below that, came “Who Was Larry Askis, Anyway?”
Crane was quite proud of himself. He was sure his mother would have been proud, too.
As Deputy Hummer went over his notes after interrogating the Leaky Weekly staff, Charles Foster Crane stuck out as the most likely suspect. How did Crane know Larry Askis had been murdered? Hummer could have sworn he never mentioned it over the police radio. To prove it, he replayed the tapes of everything the dispatcher had said and heard that day over both the police radio and the telephone.
The dispatcher was a 67-year-old retired Department of Motor Vehicles clerk named Marge Smith. Usually, when Hummer replayed the dispatch tapes he had to wade through an endless dialogue of Marge gossiping with her friends before he heard anything relating to the Sheriff’s Department.
Luckily, Betsy Talbot had telephoned the Sheriff’s Office first thing in the morning, so he only had to fast-forward a little before hearing Betsy Talbot’s frantic voice.
“Hello, police?” she said. “I’d like to report a murder.”
“A murder?” came Marge Smith’s testy reply. “In Leaky Faucet? Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure!” Betsy screamed.
“Don’t raise your voice at me, young lady,” Marge scolded. “Who is this, anyway?”
“This is Betsy Talbot at The Leaky Weekly. Are you going to send someone down here or not?”
“Not so fast, Betsy. What makes you think it was murder?”
“Well, there’s a knife in his back. So, I think that rules out suicide!”
On the tape of the police radio conversations, Hummer listened to the conversation he had had with Marge earlier that morning. “Calling all cars, calling all cars . . said Marge (even though she knew there was only Hummer’s and Deputy Lee’s cars. She just loved saying “calling all cars.”) “… got a call from The Leaky Weekly. Very rude woman there says there’s been a murder. Probably one of their publicity stunts. Maybe you should check it out, anyway. Over?” This was followed first by Deputy Hummer’s then Deputy Lee’s acknowledging responses.
Hummer was right. There had been no mention of Larry Askis by name over either the police scanner or the telephone. That meant that either Crane was the murderer or he knew who the murderer was.
Before jumping to conclusions, however, Hummer decided he should make a thorough investigation. He went to the library for back issues of The Leaky Weekly and Larry Askis’s column with hopes of finding anything that might give clues as to why someone might want to murder Askis. He hoped he would not have to read very far back.
As he read, he was astounded by the crap Askis put in his column. He had never taken the time to read the column before. As he read now, it was almost a wonder Askis had not been killed a long time ago.
“I’m not one to gossip,” Askis began one article, “but was that Mary Gilbert I saw with Bobby Johnson at the movie theater the other night? I’ll bet Mary’s traveling salesman husband would like to know!”
Hummer remembered now how he and his former junior deputy, the late Dwayne Biccup, had to restrain Bobby Johnson from snapping Askis’s puny little neck when the two crossed paths in the grocery store the next day. Askis had to admit in the next issue that he had, in fact, never seen Mary Gilbert and Bobby Johnson even remotely close to each other, let alone at the movies together.
Another article read: “I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I wouldn’t let my son join the local church choir, given the clergy’s notoriety for pedophilia!” The parson himself had to be restrained after that particular issue hit the newsstands. Once again, Askis was forced to print a retraction.
There were several other similarly incendiary articles from the poison pen of Larry Askis. Hummer had to wonder if any of them was enough to inspire murder, though. It was not until Running Bear Johnson called a couple of days later with a key bit of information that Hummer had anything resembling a case against anyone in the Askis murder.
It was late afternoon and Charles Foster Crane was in his office basking in the glory of his newspaper’s new-found popularity. Those first hundred copies sold out in a matter of hours that first day. The news spread fast, and over the next couple of days people from all over the county traveled to Leaky Faucet to buy copies of Charles Foster Crane’s newspaper. Crane could even be found out in front of The Weekly’s building offering autographed copies for an extra 25¢. All those showing up there for their copy, however, specifically requested an un-autographed copy.
It was around 4 o’clock when Running Bear finished running off the third special edition. He stopped by Crane’s office to advise him of this fact.
“Don’t think you’re done yet, R.B.,” Crane accented Running Bear’s initials, the same as Running Bear irritatingly called Crane “C.F.” “This story could set all kinds of records! If we’re lucky, you’ll be running those presses all night, all week!”
“Somehow I doubt it,” Running Bear droned and wandered off toward the coffee machine.
A few minutes later, Deputies Hummer and Lee barged in. They ignored Betsy Talbot – who was at her desk pretending not to notice them, anyway – and headed straight for Crane’s office. Without knocking, they entered the small glass-walled enclosure.
“Charles Foster Crane?” Deputy Hummer boomed in his most officious voice.
Crane looked up from his typewriter. “Deputy. Deputy,” he nodded at them cordially. “What can I do for you?”
“You’re under arrest,” said Hummer without preamble.
“You said I could say that!” Drucilla protested.
“You can read him his rights,” Hummer snapped back at her. “Would you stand up please, Mr. Crane?”
Crane arose. “This is ridiculous!” he protested. “I’m under arrest? On what charge?”
“Murder, Mr. Crane,” Deputy Hummer said grimly. “You’re under arrest for the murder of Larry Askis. Turning to Drucilla, Hummer said, “Cuff him.”
Drucilla resolutely strode toward Crane and put the handcuffs on him. Beaming shamelessly, Drucilla recited: “You have the right to remain silent. Should you give up that right, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law . .
After Deputy Lee concluded her recitation of the Miranda rights, Crane howled. “I’ll have you fired for this, Hummer! You, too, Drucilla! You’ll both be lucky to find jobs cleaning toilets at McDonald’s!”
“We don’t have a McDonald’s here,” Drucilla quipped. Crane only glared at her.
Hummer cleared his throat and spoke to Drucilla. “Uh, Deputy? You’re supposed to cuff him with his hands behind his back.”
“Oh!” Drucilla said, and she began to unlock the cuffs. Hummer stopped her.
“Next time, deputy. Next time. Just bring him along as is.”
As the deputies took Crane away, Running Bear, who had witnessed the whole thing from across the office, shook his head and smiled. He always knew this was how C.F. Crane would leave The Leaky Weekly some day. Of course, his little phone call to Deputy Hummer the day prior helped bring it all to pass.
Running Bear felt a certain sense of satisfaction. Of course, Crane’s downfall had not gone entirely as Running Bear had hoped. He always sort of hoped Crane would be taken away in a strait-jacket, not handcuffs. But then, who’s to quibble about minor details?
“Now what?” Running Bear turned and asked Betsy Talbot.
Betsy seemed to be in a mild state of shock. Her jaw was slack as she watched Crane being put into the back seat of the deputy’s car. It took her a moment to respond to Running Bear.
She finally just shrugged her shoulders and said, “Well, I guess we go home. And she gathered up her purse and walked out the door, leaving Running Bear to close the office.
Running Bear went back to the press room and put the freshly run newspapers onto a pallet jack. He carted them out to the loading dock and separated them into several stacks for the delivery boys.
Running Bear then entered Crane’s office, sat down at his desk, and started writing the next edition of The Leaky Weekly. He banged out the banner headline:
“NEWSPAPER EDITOR ARRESTED. Wapwah Heir Named Interim Editor.”
Crane’s trial came and went in what seemed like a blur. And now, as Crane sat in his bed in the hospital for the criminally insane, his whole life seemed like a bad dream.
He never expected Running Bear to tell the cops about that one article Larry Askis had written that Crane had removed just moments before the paper went to press. Askis, Crane and Running Bear were the only people who ever saw that article. Of course, Crane and Askis were the only ones who knew for a fact that it was true.
And who would have thought Crane would turn out to be homosexual and have an affair with Larry Askis, only to end up killing Askis, not just in his dreams, but in real life? The fact that he killed him while sleep-walking made it even more bizarre.
According to the psychiatrists and the “dream regressionist” at his trial, however, that is exactly what Crane had done. “The heinousness and immorality of Mr. Crane’s homosexuality,” the psychiatrist explained during the trial, “proved just too much for Mr. Crane’s conscious mind to accept. He kept it all bottled up inside, hidden away, even from himself, until his subconscious self finally did what his conscious self was not man enough to do. He arranged for one last rendezvous with Larry Askis at the offices of the Leaky Weekly. And, while sleep-walking, mind you, he stabbed Mr. Askis in the back repeatedly until Mr. Askis was dead.”
Crane broke down at that point during the trial and admitted that everything the psychiatrist had said was true. “And I’m glad I did it!” he had shouted defiantly, in spite of his lawyer’s attempts to muzzle him. “I’m free now!” Crane babbled on. “I’ve never been more free in my life!”
Then Crane had spotted the court stenographer and said to her, “That’s a lovely dress. Can I borrow it?” The bailiff had to restrain him from attacking the poor woman and tearing her dress off.
Crane’s lawyer, of course, used the “not guilty by reason of insanity” plea. The judge (and everyone else) happily went along with that.
So, in a sense, Crane “won” his case. He was found “not guilty.” The only problem was that he would now have to spend the rest of his life in a hospital full of drooling idiots. Of course, it would not be a whole lot different than working with The Leaky Weekly’s staff.