|Jul/Aug 2014 Fiction|
Image credit: Darryl Leja, NHGRI, Digital Media Database, www.genome.gov
Greg Faulk ran what law enforcement officials would later describe as "a very complicated and massive suburban drug operation." He graduated from Bloomington High years before, and he grew up in this New Jersey town, a rural community famous for being the home of the philanthropic Polly Prince, a woman estimated to be worth $1.3 billion. Greg made good money in the Bloomington-Mansfield area, selling to anxious adults and kids still in school, so he never left. He also had nothing better to do.
When drug dealing, Greg didn't discriminate against age or any other factor. Most especially, too, he prided himself on getting all of his narcotics from Newark, straight from the gangs. He boasted about never having to drive down 287 to New Brunswick, to Rutgers. Greg had only one run-in with the cops, an Officer Jonathan Rogers, since he had begun his vocation: parked on his friend's front lawn, he had once passed out in his 1997 Volvo with an opened backpack of scales and individually packaged bags of weed. He didn't receive any significant jail time, however, as his family had a lot in savings and could hire a good lawyer. The only evidence of his crime appeared in The Bloomington Gazette (a money-losing venture). It was reported by me, the poorly compensated senior columnist and aspiring local historian, David P. Simpson.
A few years later, following his mother and father's retirement to Florida and their subsequent disownment of their son, Greg bought a house in the shoddy town over, next to the Mansfield railroad tracks. This train line, it's worth noting, ran behind Greg's place, around the estate of Polly Prince, and right beside the trailer of Officer Rogers. It connected them, I suppose, in a rather industrial and economic way.
Greg's home was a two bedroom with a kitchen doubling as a living room. In one bedroom, he had a mattress on the floor and a dresser in the corner; in the other, he hoarded all his drugs and paraphernalia. Tanks of nitrous gas, from which he filled balloons and walked around the house, huffing. A wardrobe filled with pot and coke and the occasional bag of heroin. Drawers stuffed with acid tablets and mushrooms and a variety of pills—Xanies and Percs and Adderall. He was an indecisive dealer, and his commitment problems—which had been his folly according to the many ex-girlfriends I interviewed—stretched into other aspects of his life. He could never quite settle on a single supplement. The contents of this room were said to be worth almost $200,000 and could place the young entrepreneur in prison for at least 20 years.
Greg also kept guns in his home, but he never had to use them, and he didn't think he ever would. He always locked the door to his spare bedroom, and he never dealt drugs at his residence, as he preferred to do it in a "safer location," which he usually determined to be the Quick Mart parking lot. He'd pull his car up next to the buyer, roll down his window, and toss it into the car. The guy purchasing the drugs would also open his window. It avoided what Greg called "direct, person-to-person contact."
Greg had one true friend left in town, Danny Shackler, a 24-year-old man with a bushy moustache and a seemingly perpetual supply of white tank tops. Danny recently kicked heroin and went into business in the copper trade. Meaning he still occasionally did heroin, and he started breaking into buildings and railroad yards and stealing copper to scrap. He couldn't unload the lifted metal in one haul, as the owners of the Newark yards were suspicious of questionably former drug addicts selling pounds of copper every day. Greg agreed to store some of the lifted goods, in exchange for 20 percent of the profits.
He never agreed, though, to aid a criminal-at-large.
It wasn't Danny's fault, he told himself late on the night of June 4, 2010, that the daughter of an immensely wealthy tobacco tycoon owned property in Bloomington. And he wasn't responsible, either, that her 200 acres of fields and woods, those behind her 19-bedroom residence, which was enclosed by a 50-foot high brick wall, attracted the majority of the surrounding area's deer population. Nor was he to blame, he knew, for the fact that this pill-popping heiress, Polly Prince, had gotten a facelift weeks before at the age of 83, and under the effect of a various mix of medication—for the reconstructive surgery and for all the other ailments that come with being 83 and a spawning addict—had fallen down her mansion's Victorian stairs and broken her neck. That Danny had figured out a way to break into her fortified dwelling, and that he had been there with Greg at the time of her death, and that he may or may not have accidentally pushed her down the steps while attempting to exit with her Picasso blue period painting under his arm, was something he considered superfluous information.
Danny had always been aware of the woman's massive security system, so he wore a ski mask over his face. What he only learned a few weeks ago, however—what led him to believe he could sneak into and out of the home unnoticed—was that Greg had begun, a month or so earlier, to supply Polly Prince with a weekly stash of downers. His friend spent an hour every Friday in Polly's company, sorting out pain meds. How he came to know this information, as he would summarize in the back of Officer Rogers' car, I imagined, was nothing other than a stroke of fate.
"I saw him," he told Officer Rogers, once he realized he had been caught and couldn't afford a well-respected lawyer. "Every week. Same day, same time. Same everything."
"And how did you go about doing that?"
"I like to hang out by the railroad."
"Maybe it's actually better if I stay silent."
Late on the afternoon of June 4, 2010, Danny arrived at Greg's house, the back of his car scraping against the asphalt, the trunk weighed down with over 100 pounds of copper. From the inside of his house, Greg heard the vehicle dragging. He went outside to check on the noise, only to see Danny cradling copper in his arms, walking toward him.
"You can give me a hand if you like," Danny said, brushing past Greg to the opened front door. It was a one-floor home, the Schedule I drugs and expensive metal storage facility posing as the first bedroom on the left.
"Where did you get all of this?"
"Don't ask, don't tell."
"That wasn't part of the deal."
"It is now."
Greg helped Danny carry the copper into the building, and after the chore they sat at the kitchen table, drinking cans of Bud Light. Danny chugged his drink, put a cigarette in his mouth and lit it.
"Don't get too comfortable." Greg finished his beer, crushed the can with the palm of his hand. "I have to go."
"Got a deal to make."
Greg reached into his pocket and pulled out a bottle of pills. He dumped them, capsules of varying sizes, onto the table. He began organizing them into piles.
"Who's buying?" Danny flicked ash into his can.
"It's probably better if you don't know."
"Are you still on heroin?"
"It's probably better if you don't know. Where did you get that copper?"
"It's probably better if you don't know."
Greg stood and poured the pills into a Ziploc bag.
Gunshots went off in the distance. Neither of them seemed to record the sound. In this suburb, where miles of trees still stood, yellow notices taped to the bark, signifying where and where not to shoot deer and raccoon and the occasional bear, these noises were common. Most common, in fact, in those fields and forests owned by Ms. Polly Prince, where the yellow notices stuck to the oaks informed men that they were trespassing unless given specific, written permission by the owner herself. Even so, these blasts were so accustomed, and so faint, that Bloomington natives considered them, if anything, simply part of their aural atmosphere.
One who called this town home, in other words, would have to hear many of them, at once—and from a short distance away—to be rattled.
Danny crammed into Greg's trunk that evening. His oldest friend sped on the winding roads around the North Jersey fields, shining his headlights at unsuspecting deer in the ditches and on the shoulders. Bloomington had an overpopulation of deer, and they often posed a threat to drivers. The Township remedied this matter by having an annual hunt in the early months of summer. The police hung signs all over—in delis, liquor stores, bowling alleys—but no one ever paid the warnings much attention.
The trip from Greg's house to Prince's property consisted of just under six miles of these zigzagging streets and sharp hills, primarily on a stretch known as Mallory Road. As he bounced up and down in the trunk of the rundown 1997 Volvo (Greg was smart with his finances, he believed, never buying flashy commodities), Danny thought about how little he knew of Polly Prince.
To him, she was nothing more than a lazy descendent of enormous wealth. She was a rich, elderly lady who spent her father's endowment to support her mysterious and eclectic passions and, following her hip replacement surgery and facelift operation in the spring, to maintain a steady stash of Alprazolam. But then again, he was only certain, really, of the pursuits in the last 20 years of her life, as long as he had been alive. From the late ‘80s until my forced retirement 30 years later, I loaded my gossip column in The Bloomington Gazette with references to the philanthropist's purchases, which mostly consisted of paintings from the modern masters—Picasso, Cezanne, and Miró. Various reporters, including me, quoted Ms. Prince as valuing "Picasso's Man with Pipe" the most out of any of the art she had accumulated over the last two decades. We also cited her, several times, stating she hung "Man with Pipe" above the fireplace in her study. Danny wanted this one, if the opportunity ever presented itself, though he hadn't given it much thought. Plus, the work was probably in a copper frame.
"Two birds," Officer Rogers later said, "with one shoddily organized crime."
Danny wasn't aware, though, as his parents had been, of the precocious details of Ms. Prince's long, early history in the tabloids: her self-beneficial affairs with foreign diplomats; her noble attempts at a number of occupations requiring a fierce constitution (an international correspondent for a European newspaper, a fashion designer in the Montmartre arondissement in Paris, a World War II nurse in Cairo); and of course, her foray into the competitive surfing world in Hawaii's Ke'ei, Kealakekua Bay. Danny had no knowledge, either, of her dealings in the middle of her life, which included two divorces from men of privilege, a string of legal battles—among others, successfully suing her stepmother over discrepancies in her late father's will—her extensive involvement in horticulture, including but not limited to, the conservation of her family's botanical garden in Bloomington, and perhaps most notably, her ongoing passion of illegally housing exotic animals, especially rare Indian peacocks.
After Greg parked the car at the top of the Prince U-shaped driveway underneath several Greek-style pillars—the man in the trunk had heard the gates open, the salutary buzzer buzz—Danny waited ten minutes before he kicked down the back seats and crawled out. He hadn't thought about how he would enter the house once he made it beyond the fence, but to his great fortune, almost every bottom floor window was open, letting in the summer breeze. Other than the Grecian pillars supporting a stone, rectangular roof under which vehicles could be parked (if not in the garage), the main house on the Prince property looked as if it were an English abbey. There were several barns scattered throughout the distant forest and hayfields, restored when Polly became the single proprietor.
As Danny walked, he tucked a handgun into the back of his pants, a weapon he had taken from Greg's house (he knew where they all were hidden), and started toward the side of the mansion. He determined his best course of action would be to enter directly through the study's window, which he wasn't aware was located on the second floor. He began, though, by sneaking around the back, through the unlit botanical garden.
It was a maze of Japanese flowers. With the help of minimum-wage laborers and plant experts, to whom she paid an unquestionably (though unverified) large amount, Polly strove to create a narrative of her life in this garden—to utilize Hanakotoba, which translated in Japanese to the "language of the flowers." She planted (meaning those whom she paid, planted) ambrosias (symbolizing piety), yellow camellias (symbolizing longing), and sagisos (symbolizing the following of one's thoughts into another's dreams), among many others. Winding around one another, and often interlocking into hybrid breeds of flowers, they told an intricate tale that, in the end, didn't really amount to anything meaningful.
Danny tore through these plants to an open window, one he thought would lead into Ms. Prince's study. Entering through the window, Danny arrived in the library.
Inside, he first noticed the portrait of a young man with a thin moustache. The aristocrat wore an all black suit and held a gentleman's cane. Danny's lack of insight about the Prince family ancestry precluded him from recognizing the man as William C. Prince, Polly's father and the person responsible for the 100-year fortune, nor did it permit him to analyze the thick brushstrokes and the implementation of color contrast of the black background against the subject's garments as a signature of John Singer Sargent. Danny had no idea, either, that Polly adored her father, that after he passed away from complications of the heart, he bequeathed his daughter so much money she became, in her first solo article in the mainstream press, "the richest girl in the world." William C. Prince and his brother, Henry, inherited a tobacco company from their father, and after decades in the trade, they made millions when they earned a license to operate what became the first automated cigarette-making machine. Over the years, the brothers consolidated their competitors into a monopoly, dominating with this new technology. They even took over the markets in the United Kingdom, until Teddy Roosevelt's anti-trust laws in the States required them to break-up the cigarette conglomerate into four separate entities, each with control of its respective country.
The Prince family history was likely recorded in one of the thousands of volumes in this two-story library. The books were lined along the walls on dark shelves, easily accessible, but they appeared to be more antiques than tomes to read (in this area of the museum, the shelves are currently roped off—the knowledge caged—and only deemed necessary to look at). Danny didn't care about any of these observations, however, because he knew what "Man with Pipe" looked like—he had seen countless photographs of it in The Bloomington Gazette (courtesy of me)—and he didn't see it here.
Danny continued walking through the home, down the dim hallways, his feet soft on the hardwood floors. He heard voices far away, but he was careful not to approach Polly and his friend too closely.
Along with the botanical gardens and the surrounding acreage, Prince's dwelling has now been preserved as a museum, her original furniture and books and tapestries untouched. Except, of course, for Pablo Picasso's "Man with Pipe."
Danny didn't have the urge (or the time) to visit every room in Prince's manor, but if he had, he would have learned she had conserved much of her father's original designs. Each of the 19 bedrooms, located on the second and third floors, had a color scheme all its own, to give every guest the effect that his or her stay, no matter how long, would be unique. All the fabrics, most notably the curtains and sheets and blankets, were shipped from Venice, and she rarely washed them in her later years as no one came to visit and she longed to preserve what she called "that European dust." Like the exterior, the inside was decorated in much the same mode as a Victorian-era hall, one a duke or an earl or even an uprooted prince might own.
Having tried every floor on the first level, Danny ascended the stairs. Soon, he came upon the study, near the landing on the second floor, a room with high, stained-glass windows, a small table, and a leather chair in the corner (the leather, of course, having been bought in Florence, the finest baby cows had to offer, and the stained glass windows displaying, as one might suspect, stock images from the New Testament: Jesus on a donkey, Jesus turning water into wine, Jesus curing the sick).
Above the unlit fireplace, he saw the painting.
Much like Picasso's "The Old Guitarist," "Man with Pipe" was painted with different tones and shades and hues of blue, as well as flat expanses of black and gray. It showed a lonely and abstractly rendered man smoking a pipe.
The dimensions of the work were measured as 49.7 inches by 33.4 inches, and it was rumored Picasso had painted over a previous painting—that "Man with Pipe" had another painting underneath its blues—but Polly Prince never allowed researchers to examine it, as she insisted they wait until her death to do so.
Danny wasn't familiar with the controversy, nor did he care about any of the specifics. He just knew it was expensive.
He removed "Man with Pipe" from over the fireplace and exited the study.
The table in the dining room where Polly and Greg sat was brought over from Germany, built of the finest wormy chestnut, an uncommon lumber because scientists have recently unearthed the cure for the disease that makes the chestnut tree "wormy." The rest of the eating quarters were modeled in a medieval theme, the walls a solid black and portraits of Prince's extended family (other Sargents) hanging throughout the space. An armored knight with a sword said to be that of a squire in the latter part of the 13th-century, adorned the north entrance to the room; at the sound end, at the other opened doorway, stood a marble statue of Poseidon, completed, scholars believe (this is what the informational card in the museum now reads; I couldn't find any additional details on the topic) somewhere between 1574-1612 AD.
As a single woman and sole benefactor of the Prince fortune, Polly had recently established in her Will a charitable organization that would open her grounds to the public. She hoped her mansion would serve as the state's best museum, home to a lauded private collection of artwork (most importantly, Picasso's "Man with Pipe"), and her property—the woods, gardens, and expansive straw fields—would transform into a park. With the help of legal counsel, she stipulated with terse and detailed clauses that the Township of Bloomington could not develop anything (condominiums, supermarkets, chain restaurants) on her land.
The rest of her money—the funds that would have been passed to her heirs, perhaps, if she had any—would go into a trust with the purpose of more firmly supplanting her name in history, which meant generous donations to cultural institutions and the subsequent awarding of a plaque.
Greg sorted the pills on the table.
"I hope you know," Polly said, "that I'm not a drug addict."
"It's okay." Greg counted pills, slid them across the table to where Polly sat.
"It's just the hip surgery." She grabbed some of the pills, held them in her palm. "And the other surgeries."
"I'm not judging you."
Greg judged her. He looked at Polly's distorted face, her cheeks pulled tight. He didn't know how pretty she had once been, how critics and admirers and stalkers and fans had once deemed her a big-breasted Marilyn Monroe. I had been in love with her then, too. We all were.
But that was a long time ago, and he didn't know any of that. It was at a time, I've categorized, when Polly had everything she could have ever wanted. It was at a time before all her things had lost whatever purpose she assigned them. It wasn't until she was nearing the end of her life, when she tried so hard to hold onto these objects, to make them worth something (other than their monetary value), that she became clinically depressed.
That, along with her surgeries, is where the drugs came in.
Greg stood, having completed the transaction. He put out his hand, offering a shake.
"You can stay if you like," Polly said. "We can take a walk through my gardens"
"That's all right."
"Or do you enjoy reading? My library's filled with the classics, dating all the way back to Aristophanes, maybe even sooner."
"I'm good," Greg said. "Thank you."
"I have some great artwork, too."
"I should get home."
"My father used to say, what house is worth living in if death doesn't turn it into a museum?"
"That's so beautiful."
"He knew all along, I think, that I'd never have kids."
"I wish I could stay and talk."
"I hate for you to come here and just leave."
"It's my job."
Polly led Greg to the front door.
"I think I'm going to go to bed early," she said. "Call it a night."
"Are you sure there's not anything else I can do?"
"Actually," Greg said. "You got a bathroom?"
Polly pointed to a room two doors down the hall, only 20 or so feet from the exit. "I'm heading upstairs."
"The door locks on its own," Polly said. "You can let yourself out."
The Bloomington-Mansfield trains ran so sporadically—much of the rail line to Newark and New York City had been damaged by the most recent hurricane—it took Officer Jonathan Rogers and his colleagues almost a month to realize at least $50,000 worth of copper had been stolen along the 20-mile stretch between Mansfield and Bloomington. That, and the squad had been preoccupied with preparations for the deer hunt to occur on June 4, 2010, from dawn to sunset, as advertised in the numerous fliers they scattered throughout the town.
Officer Rogers loaded a pump-action shotgun in his trailer on the border of Bloomington and Mansfield, a township divide made ever clearer by the economic advantages and overt displays of luxury from the latter. He lived around 300 yards away from the south end of the Prince estate, the Athenian marble columns in complete, unobstructed view. He and the other hunters were finishing their two-hour dinner break (they opted to eat lunch on the job, to extend their supper), and he was nearly about to get back to work. As Ms. Prince held the largest collective shelter for deer in a 15-mile radius, she granted the police—and the armed townsman they allegedly approved—permission to engage in an organized killing of the pestilent animal on her property. Like most, she viewed this creature as a major inconvenience, one that spread its bowel movements throughout her grass, soiling the aesthetics of her land and bringing about an incessant annoyance, one particularly hard to remove from the bottom of her shoe when she went on her evening walks. She tolerated the police presence once a year, however, under the assumption they would all be careful, or in the least, not bring down the price of anything valuable. She also completely ignored them.
Ten other men accompanied Officer Rogers in the deer hunt. All of them carried their own hunting licenses, approved by the state, though shooting on private property, even with consent of the owner, skirted the lines of legality. But the police let it slide.
The hunting group included Mr. Harvey Matthews, a history teacher at Bloomington High who obtained all of his teaching material—and his knowledge of world affairs—from blockbuster films. (When asked by a student about evading taxes, he quoted Andy Dufresne from that scene on the roof in The Shawshank Redemption.) It also included Mr. and Mr. Joseph Waters, the only gay couple (Joseph and his partner, Bill) in town, whose civil union had dominated the front page of The Bloomington Gazette for weeks, especially when they debated which of their last names to take. Also in the group: Lawrence Berger, the coach of the middle school baseball team, and his son, Larry Berger Jr., an assistant coach of the middle school baseball team; Rodney Parsons, an IT worker who believed his three sons, whose names all began with the letter "R," would become Division I athletes in three different sports; Vincent "Vin" Santini, the leader of the non-profit Sons of Italian Immigrants Foundation who, on the surface, had no money-paying job but was really (it was a rumor posing as a common fact) an associate in the Genovese crime family; and of course, three other members of the Bloomington Police Force. The three officers consisted of 23-year-old Jacob Yelfin (formerly a criminal, now the youngest man on the squad), the middle-aged Ken Skamski (a 30-year veteran who worked the day shift at Bloomington's Wine Cave & Liquors, which also sold beer), and Ryan Simmons, a veteran of the Korean War, just a year shy as of June from a much needed retirement.
At 7:00 p.m., about an hour or two from sunset (the sun was to go down at 8:24 p.m., information which The Bloomington Gazette featured at the top right-hand corner of its perpetually thinning publication), Officer Rogers and his ten volunteers reconvened at "The Splinter Boy," a statue paid for by William C. Prince at the turn of the 20th-century and placed in the northern end of his partially fenced tract.
Mr. Prince spread sculptures such as "The Splinter Boy" throughout his diverse grounds. There were many showcased, including "The Farmer" and "The Catalonian Matador," but "The Splinter Boy" was his most treasured, having discovered the work on one of his many European excursions. Carved by the artist Aleksander Freidrich Walter Haraldsson, a native of Bergen, the capital of Hordaland, Norway, the piece depicted a young boy removing a splinter from his foot. Of all the landmarks to choose—of the manmade waterfalls; the intricately re-carved cliffs; the hydro-powered lakes; the remodeled, English-style hay barns; the glass-encased greenhouses, which sought to cultivate new species of flowers—Officer Rogers chose "The Splinter Boy" not because of the notoriety it held with its previous owner, but because the work of art had been placed underneath an assortment of apple trees, the only such plants on all 200 acres.
The deer in Bloomington loved to gather around these trees—and therefore, "The Splinter Boy"—eat the fruit, and defecate. Every summer, Officer Rogers and his team posted in the trees, or behind "The Splinter Boy," or in the brush, and murdered the animals. This year, by seven o'clock, they already shot 143 deer, only seven shy of their 150-animal quota. They placed the carcasses in an 18-wheeler the Township had rented with the help of elevated property taxes. Officer Rogers had struck a deal nine years ago to sell the venison to a man named Connor George, a former butcher and widower who lived on the outskirts of Mansfield (almost not in Mansfield anymore, in the questionable and more poverty-stricken small city of Gainesford), and who enjoyed storing and eating the fresh meat. In total, if the men shot 150 deer, each with an average weight of 200 pounds (accounting for the differing sizes between male and female), they could make up to $30,000, around $2,700 split 11 ways. That was more than Officer Rogers made in a month. Why more people didn't hunt in such a manner and then sell the dead deer to Mr. George, was, again, a major question of the law, which the Bloomington Town Board, the Mayor, and other necessary and influential local politicians covered up in order to expedite the elimination of what they considered to be the most pesky problem in their lives.
At 7:15 p.m., the group returned from dinner and took up their positions: Officer Rogers and Officer Simmons directly behind part of "The Splinter Boy"; Lawrence Bergen, Larry Bergen Jr, and Mr. and Mr. Joseph Waters hidden in the bushes; and Harvey Matthews, Rodney Parsons, Vin Santini, and Officers Yelfin and Skamski spread out in the branches of the many apple trees.
"Why do these fucking things keep coming back?" Simmons said to Rogers, resting his gun on his shoulder. They all carried the Ruger M77 Hawkeye Compact, a so-called "American Classic" of a rifle, with single-shot features and a light, walnut stock. "With us slaughtering them, I mean."
"The apples, I guess," Rogers said.
"Shut up down there, you'll scare away the deer," a voice said from in the trees.
Harvey let-off a shot, surprised by the noise, thinking it was movement. The bullet careened off the hand of "The Splinter Boy," nicking the rock.
"Oh, for fuck's sake," Officer Rogers said. "That thing's worth like 200 grand."
"Why don't we just take that?" Officer Simmons said, pumping his rifle. "I won't need to wait for my 401k."
"How would we go about moving it?"
"You think we'd be able to drive a crane over here?"
"She lets us come armed, 100 yards away from her house, doesn't she?"
The group settled, and in some minutes, a deer approached an apple, right at the foot of "The Splinter Boy."
Every single man fired, so none of them registered the sound of a gun going off inside Polly Prince's home.
The first string of rapidly fired artillery caught Danny off guard, so he didn't see Polly Prince climbing onto the landing of the staircase where he now stood. Alarmed, he swung around, only to knock the woman in the torso with the left corner of "Man with Pipe" and send her flying down 52 steps. Danny had seen many movies and heard many mythologies addressing the last second of a person's existence—"life," as they say, "flashing before one's eyes"—but he learned, then, none of it was true. How could this woman, he thought, recall her best moments as she tumbled down a wooden incline, slamming her neck and head and shoulders at least 20 times? He heard her spine snap, too, when she reached the bottom floor, as she sprawled out down there, dead, a fish not even given the chance to flop.
Danny went to her, checked the pulse on her neck and wrist, but he knew, even before he placed his two fingers against her veins, she had died from one of the multiple impacts her spine and other important bones had sustained.
Hearing the gunfire, Greg exited the bathroom with his pants loose. He stepped into the first floor foyer to see a masked man in a white tank top, clutching "Man with Pipe" under his left arm and peering over a dead Polly Prince.
Danny looked around, as if Greg was talking to somebody else. Greg ripped the mask off his friend's head. "You should have worn something to cover your tank top."
"I wasn't thinking."
"What the hell did you do?"
"It was an accident."
"Why are you here?"
"To be honest, I came to rob this painting." He placed "Man with Pipe" on the floor, vertically, so Greg could observe. "I steal from the rich and give to the needy."
"Who are you giving that to?"
"Did you hear the gunshots?"
"It sounds like the Civil War outside."
"We need to leave."
"How did you get here?"
"Don't ask, don't tell."
"I'm asking you."
"I don't want to tell you."
"There's a dead woman on the ground."
"That wasn't part of the plan."
"She was just lonely."
"She isn't anymore."
"Is that my gun?"
"Just in case." Danny brandished the handgun. "That wasn't involved in the plan, either."
"She has security." Greg pointed at cameras, in all four corners of the landing, where the wall met the ceiling.
"We need to erase the hard drive."
"How do you intend to do that?"
Before Danny could answer, however, there came a second onslaught of gunshots. Neither of them was counting, but there were, in retrospect, exactly eleven.
Then there was another noise, what sounded like a body slamming into a door, coming from down the hall.
"Did you hear that?" Greg asked.
"I thought you referring to the banging in here."
They seemed to be on the verge of devising a startled strategy—or at least some semblance of what to do next—when a rare Indian peacock sprinted into the foyer, its purple body and fluorescent feathers overtaking the scene. Believing it to be a witness to the crime (a person, not a peacock), Danny pointed the handgun and fired a shot directly into the animal's stomach, as 11 more gunshots echoed outside, many yards in the distance.
Though Officer Rogers and the others did not hear the shot that took the life of Prince's peacock, they did witness a car speeding out of Prince's driveway and recklessly turning across a field moments later. It was shorter to get to Mallory Road in this fashion, skipping the mile-long asphalt path leading from the house to the street and simply cutting across this part of unfenced field. If Greg and Danny had read the posters in town, they would have known, naturally, that the controlled deer hunt had been occurring until sunset, which at 8:18 p.m. was going to happen shortly.
Additionally, had the getaway been delayed, Officer Rogers would not have recognized Greg's 1997 Volvo—the one he sped across the field approximately 90 yards away from the hunting group in the dimming light of the evening, and the one which Officer Rogers remembered from his previous arrest of Mr. Faulk, years earlier, when the drug dealer had fallen asleep, drunk, with illegal substances in plain sight.
If none of this had happened, Officer Rogers, accompanied by Officer Simmons, Yelfin, and Skamski, would not have left the rest of the group to pack up the truck, now filled with 152 dead deer. They would not have thought to investigate, and they would not have entered the home of Polly Prince as the sun was setting to uncover a dead woman, a dead peacock, and a missing painting.
In Greg's house, Danny ran into the second bedroom, the one holding Greg's collection of illegal items, and tried to gather as much his copper as he could. He left "Man with Pipe" in the back of Greg's car.
"How much weight do you think I can carry and still be able to run?"
"What am I supposed to do with all these drugs?"
"Get rid of them," Danny said, folding his shirt into something resembling the inverse of a parachute, a little self-made pouch. "You have time."
"They'll know it's us. She had cameras everywhere."
"I could have been fine, if you hadn't ripped my mask off."
"You killed the lady," Greg said. "And the peacock."
"We need to leave town." Danny nodded toward the door. "Now."
"You go." Greg tossed Danny the keys to his car. "I need to do something about this room."
Danny would have waved to his oldest friend—embraced him for what might (and actually would) be the last time he'd ever see him—but his hands were filled with copper rods, and he was in a hurry.
The police were only 20 minutes behind.
Officer Rogers subdued the copper-handed Danny as he struggled to open the front door of Greg's Volvo, while the rest of the squad—Officers Simmons, Yelfin, and Skamski—entered the home. Some backup would arrive shortly. Officer Rogers cuffed Danny and stood him up, leading the fugitive to the car.
"Why is it that you do the things you do?"
"Aren't you supposed to read me my rights?"
"Nobody has any rights."
"That's not true."
"Answer the question."
"That's a good reason."
"Why does anybody do anything?"
"I didn't know you were a behavioral scientist."
"I didn't know you were a economist."
"You have the right to remain silent…"
It was then, as Rogers guided Danny into his cruiser, that the police officer spotted "Man with Pipe" in the back seat of Greg's car.
Officer Rogers didn't trust to leave Danny alone, so he decided to drive the suspected robber and murderer (and the painting) to jail, as backup and ambulances arrived on scene.
As he pulled away, he felt proud because in a moment, in the span of a single day, he had solved the case of the missing railroad copper, the murder of Polly Prince and her peacock, and the theft of a valuable piece of art.
When Officers Simmons, Yelfin, and Skamski, along with several other members of the Bloomington police force, arrived in Greg's house, they discovered many drugs, as well as the other suspect unconscious on the kitchen floor (though not yet dead), with a deflated balloon in his hand and a note taped to his t-shirt:
I didn't steal the painting. And I didn't shoot the lady—or the peacock.
At the Bloomington Hospital (known for its successes in treating trauma victims), the doctors determined Greg had numerous conscious-altering substances in his system, and therefore, they could not be sure whether he died from the marijuana, the cocaine, the heroin, the painkillers, or the nitrous oxide.
His radio was broken. With limited finances, the department couldn't afford to replace Officer Roger's two-way walkie, which he busted almost weekly during bouts with what doctors diagnosed as "unresolved anger issues." As a result, he communicated, even with other officers, on his mobile device.
While on his cell phone, Officer Rogers pulled his cruiser onto Mallory Road, the most direct route to the police station, but also the most direct route to any place worth going to in town. He hung up the call.
"You've got a lot of answering to do."
"This is no time for jokes," Officer Rogers said. "Drug-dealing, copper-stealing, murdering—quite the day's work, Mr. Shackler."
"I plead the fifth."
"Your friend's dead."
Danny didn't say anything. He only sunk his head into his arms. "We need stricter gun laws in this state."
"No," Officer Rogers said. "It wasn't that."
"I don't understand."
"He had one last bender before he kicked it."
"Coward." Officer Rogers held the steering wheel with one hand, pounded on the gas pedal. "Would have put him in jail for least 20, maybe life. And that's not even counting today's activities."
"I don't know what you mean."
"She has everything on tape," he said. "Only a matter of time."
Danny paused, defeated. "I know."
"Do you happen to know any good lawyers?"
"You couldn't even spare the peacock."
"It has to be against the law to have something like that roaming around inside a house, like not in its domestic habitat, or whatever."
"You're missing the point."
"I thought it was a person."
"A majestic animal, not even given a damn chance."
"I mean, I didn't shoot anything."
Officer Rogers' head had been turned as he talked to the young man, whom he had shoved in the back of his 2007 Dodge Charger (Bloomington police vehicles were now of this make and model, painted black in an attempt to be more intimidating to would be speedsters), so he may have been unaware he was coming up on an 18-wheeler in the lane ahead.
There would have been no way for him to know that after he left to investigate Prince's home with Officers Simmons, Yelfin, and Skamski, the rest of the men (those who weren't cops) had failed to correctly latch down the back of the semi-trailer, and as they sped to Connor George's to unload the venison, the door had come loose and eventually, open. It was a completely unavoidable occurrence, once Officer Rogers noticed whom he was tailgating, that both vehicles made a tight turn on Mallory Road, and numerous of the 152 deer carcasses came pouring out, several of them rolling up over the hood of Officer Rogers' car and striking his windshield.
The men in the truck kept going until they abandoned their rented semi at a rest stop in south Jersey. There, they were apprehended by state troopers and charged with hunting with the aid of a motor vehicle and the unlawful sale of deer parts. They each served approximately five years in jail, though every single one of them disappeared following the conclusion of their parole.
George Connor never received his venison, as the state police took him into custody at his Mansfield home, arresting him for the illegal purchase of deer parts with intent to distribute. Connor's lawyer, however, successfully argued the "intent" part away, and Connor faced only three years in the state prison, released after two years and four months for good behavior. He moved back into the same shack in Mansfield, though he refuses to talk to anybody, including me, about that day.
On June 4, 2010, at 11:37 p.m., the night shift of the Bloomington Police Department responded to an accident off Mallory Road. Deer lay all over the street, halting traffic. It dismayed the cops to discover their fellow officer and the young criminal he was transporting to the station, Danny Shackler, had been killed, either in the avalanche of deer or the subsequent engine fire. Sadly, too, Pablo Picasso's "Man with Pipe," which the art scholar, Igor F. Horiarty, would later price at $27.5 million (more, perhaps, if it had the chance to go to auction), was reduced to ash, as Officer Rogers had placed the stolen artwork next to him on the passenger's seat.
Concluding, police ascertained Rogers, after losing control, had crashed his Charger at over 60 miles per hour into an oak—a tree bearing a yellow, cautionary note informing the townspeople not to hunt on Ms. Prince's property.
Though reputable scholars were never given the chance to analyze "Man with Pipe," many have determined through years of study it is likely Picasso painted the solitary man with his pipe over the portrait of a family: a father and a mother, cradling a baby boy. They've learned, too, the subject in the painting is probably based on Alfonso Flores, a Spanish nobleman and friend of the artist who lived much of his high-class life in Paris and was said to be something of a pipe collector. I can't say with any certainty what any of this means, but it seems, I think, important information to share, especially since we'll never know the truth, as not even the cremains were preserved.
It's odd to imagine what would have happened if Picasso never painted over his original. And why did he even do so? Was it at Flores' insistence? Did he want to be remembered as a regal figure with presumed wealth, instead of a man dedicated to his young wife and child? If Picasso had kept the picture of the family, Polly Prince may have never had the urge to purchase it, and if that's the case, Danny Shackler would have had nothing to steal. It leads one to wonder—at least it leads me to wonder—how much of history is dictated by such revisions, by such last minute attempts on how one is remembered, and how one chooses to live.
I wasn't sure, even many years later, if I had a story people might want to hear. It took me almost half a decade, after The Bloomington Gazette finally folded, for me to start drafting an extensive history of my hometown and the events of June 4, 2010. Though I had lived in a suburb of roughly 2,500 people, I hadn't known any of the deceased—Greg Faulk, Danny Shackler, Polly Prince, or Officer Jonathan Rogers—all that well. They were, as so many other neighbors, people I never really had the opportunity to engage. Yet we all shared something in common: they were men and women, just like me, trying to make a modest living in small town America. In the end, what shocked me most in my research, was to learn how little I was familiar with any of my fellow Bloomington natives.
Despite much of my obedience against modernity, I eventually led the fight to digitize old issues of The Bloomington Gazette, and flipping through the online archives one morning in my retirement, I found the first article about the June 4th tragedy by a now dead colleague, with the headline, "A Very Complicated & Massive Suburban Drug Operation." It was an excerpt from a long statement released by the Press Office of the Bloomington Police Department. I enjoyed the title—it was, after all, appropriate—but as I re-read the story, refreshing my memories of the day, I finally made sense of everything: I discovered, really, that what everyone had missed wasn't how bizarre or how coincidental or how convoluted the occurrences turned out to be, but instead how prevalent the dichotomy was between old money and new—how these men, each in their own way, had tried to attain all the things Polly Prince's father had attained a century before.
It was, I wrote in my best-selling book on the subject, how we all came to embody the finest forms of capitalism.