By Mark Kodama
(Inspired by “A Taste of Friendship” by Shawn Klimek
And used with his permission.)
I. The Condo
It was the greatest birthday party ever: raucous singing, lunatic dancing, and heavy drinking. Hermann, the neighbor below me, repeatedly banged his ceiling with the end of a broom stick handle and pounded on my door, yelling at me to hold it down or he would call the cops. What a party! What a pity! I was the only one there.
Head throbbing and nauseated from a massive hangover, my reflection stared back at me in the blank living room television: a scraggy middle-aged fool dressed in a ridiculous party hat, teddy bear onesie and foam slippers. Last night, I defiantly sang happy birthday to myself as tears rolled down my face.
I prepared my homemade remedy of ginger and honey tea foe hangovers. When I opened the refrigerator door for ginger, it was all still there – the hors d’oeuvres, pepperoni pizza, chicken enchiladas and the clam dip. Melted wax from the candles shined on the untouched birthday cake. I had wasted all my considerable charm in a noble effort to befriend these unworthy, ungrateful neighbors. “What a bunch of losers,” I said aloud then ran to the toilet and vomited.
Peering through the peephole of my front door, I unlocked the two dead bolts and the chain and opened the door to get my newspaper. But what was this? A colorful gift box on my newspaper. I laid the newspaper and gift box on the kitchen table.
Thankfully, the newspaper was untouched. Fernando’s dog used to tear apart my morning paper. I spread laxative on it – killing the dog. I did not intend to kill the dog; but only wanted to teach him a lesson. Boy, was Fernando and his American girlfriend upset. I could hear them crying through the door. I grieved as much as the next person. Fernando – a baker at a donut shop – should have taken better care of his dog. Now, Fernando has a new puppy.
In my defense, I warned him about the newspaper. He only said “No hablo Ingles.” People should not come to this country and not speak English. Still I slipped a party invitation under his door. What is done and done. People should let bygones be bygones. I made the chicken enchiladas for him.
Since Fernando could not read his invitation, I drew a cake, party hat, balloons, streamers and confetti. I even drew his dead dog happily frolicking at the party with x’s where his eyes should have been. Even if Fernando did not understand the party invitation his American girlfriend would be able to figure it out. She was a pretty girl with a gap tooth, about half his age. She often times wore her county animal shelter uniform while visiting him.
The kettle whistle blew. I poured the boiling water into my mug and let it steep. Maybe the gift giver could not make it to the party. This was his way of saying thanks for reaching out. I removed the ribbon and wrapping paper. Inside the box was a single red chocolate velvet cupcake with a sweet cream cheese butter icing, dusted with cocoa. The icing with white with a red and blue balloons and sprinkles on top. Very artistic. I peeled off the paper liner. The cupcake was soft and moist to the touch. It had an inner cream cheese vanilla filling. I alternately sipped my tea and nibbled the cupcake savoring the sweet, velvety chocolate that melted in my mouth.
Where was that missing note? Perhaps, my new friends were Dick and Ethel Hetherington – the old crippled couple. Old people are quite forgetful.
The old pharmacist smelled like urine and menthol cough drops. Ethel’s cheap perfume sometimes concealed his embarrassing smell. She must have bathed in it. Unlike most people, I do not blame old people for being stinky.
I wanted to greet them – Dick in his wheelchair. But I had to hold my breath every time I saw them. They should be more considerate, using the stairs instead of the elevator. Ethel could exercise her arthritic knees and the taxi driver would appreciate the extra tip for carrying the wheelchair up and down the stairs. I attached a thought-provoking DVD to their invitation written in large print about euthanasia that I slipped under their front door.
What about the recipe? The secret ingredient of that velvet cupcake was possibly love. Maybe my new friend was the divorcee, Nora Smithfield. Nora wore younger women’s dresses several sizes too small. Her pudding body and double chin jiggled as she moved. She squeezed her big feet into her garishly red high-heeled shoes.
Sometimes, a faded flower like that relies upon the kindness of strangers. That’s one thing about me – I am a kind person. When she moved in to the building she asked about rats. “I hate rats,” she shivered. I assured her that the building had no rats.
I looked at her love handles in a brotherly way, suggesting that she would be more attractive if she lost weight and wore dresses more suitable for someone her age. “Keep your opinions to yourself,” she said.
Adapting and becoming more diplomatic, I encouraged her by saying “carrots” and “celery.”
When she became annoyed, I said, “Moo.”
When I personally delivered her invitation, I smiled. She forced a smile back. She claimed she had a date that night.
But it could not have been that old Nazi Hermann, the pest exterminator who lived below me. He was probably upset because I did not invite him.
I started to feel so strange. I began to wonder if I had been poisoned: I felt so restless, my head and jaw hurt and mouth tasted like metal. I saw flashing lights so. I called 911.
“Yes, I think I’ve been poisoned. . . . Is this going to cost me anything?”
“Walter . . . Walter Faff.”
“Walter Fast. Where do you live?
“It’s Faff, not Fast. I live at 5555 Beulah Road, Springfield, Virginia. Apartment 308.”
“Mr. Fast, what symptoms are you experiencing?”
“I have a headache and my jaws are locking up,” I said. “I am seeing flashes and my calves hurt.”
“Please hurry. I think I’ve been poisoned.”
“Health insurance company?”
“Who are your insured by?”
“Who the hell cares? Please hurry.”
“Mr. Fast, an ambulance is coming.”
I undid the chain and unlocked the deadbolt and went to bed. My calves stiffened and then started to rhythmically jerk. My toes curled and my breathing became labored. I touched my ear lobes. They were burning hot.
Sirens wailed – faint and then louder. Everything went dark.
When I awoke I was in the emergency room. “Mr. Faff? I’m Dr. Jenkins,” said the female voice. “Don’t be scared. We’re going to take good care of you.”
A male nurse sheared the teddy bear onesie from my body in the dark room and then sponged my chest. I hurt all over.
“We think you have been poisoned,” the woman’s voice echoed. “We drew your blood. Your CK levels are off the charts.”
“You are going feel a pinch,” the nurse said and inserted the IV into my arm.
“We need to give put some fluids and medication,” Dr. Jenkins said. “The phenobarbitol will control your convulsions and dantrolene will relax your muscles. We will give you morphine for your pain. How are you feeling?”
I wanted to speak but nothing came out. Dr. Jenkins patted my arm. “I won’t lie to you. You are in a serious condition but we will get through it.” She nodded to the male nurse. He shot something into my arm, putting me to sleep.
I awoke to a dark room. I was dressed in a hospital gown with an IV stuck in my right arm. A nurse came in and fluffed up the pillows behind my head.
“Mr. Faff, I’m Precious,” she said with a Jamaican accent. “I am your nurse. We need to take your vitals.”
“Hello, Mr. Faff,” Dr. Jenkins smiled. “It looks like you are going to be okay.” She wore no makeup on her face other than lipstick, a tiny piece hanging on her upper lip.
“Thank you,” I croaked.
“You were poisoned by strychnine,” she said. I watched the piece of lipstick bob up and down as she spoke. “Do you know how that might have happened?”
“The cupcake – the red velvet cupcake,” I said.
She wrote it down. “You take it easy,” Dr. Jenkins said. “We will talk some more later. The detectives want to see you.”
I turned on the television with my remote. CNN. Something about President Trump. Election interference. Russian collusion. Porn star hush payments. Cover up. The light and sound made my head pound. I shut off the television.
My sister Mavis called me about my birthday. She was shocked that I had been poisoned by one of my neighbors. She urged me to sell my condo. “What is this world coming to when you can’t even trust your neighbors?”
Mavis invited me for Thanksgiving dinner. I declined. “I know you and Lyndon have your differences. But he is your brother and you need to forgive and forget.”
“I cannot talk much now,” I said, barely above a whisper. “My jaw and lungs hurt.”
“You take care of yourself,” she said. “And be careful.”
Inspector Harry Michalski and his partner Doug Brown interviewed me. Michalski was a big Pole with large hands and a shock of white hair. He had a craggy, pock-marked face and broken nose. He wore a cheap sports jacket that smelled like tobacco smoke. His breathe smelled like cigarettes, even through his hospital mask.
They wore sterile gowns since I was quarantined. They had been in my condo. It had been taped off as a crime scene. I told them about Pedro Alvarado – the Mexican doughnut baker with the dog. It turns out that Pedro Alvarado was his real name. I did not tell them about how I had accidently killed his dog by smearing my newspaper with laxatives. I did not want to confuse the issues.
I also told them about the retired pharmacist Hetherington and his wife Ethel, the divorcee Nora Smithfield and her hostility to men, and Hermann, the Nazi downstairs.
Inspector Michalski found strychnine in the gift box and the cupcake lining and the crumbs and icing they found on my onesie.
Michalski assured me he would find the criminal who did this to me. He gave me his business card. “We’ll be in touch,” he said. “Somebody wants you dead.”
III. The Workplace
When I returned to my job, I told my boss I had the flu. I worked as a copy editor at a trade weekly covering the federal government. My boss Bart Scholtz sat in his glass office.
“Faff, we have a number of stories in your queue,” Scholtz said. He did not even say hello or shake my hand. He looked at me and then sprayed his hands with disinfectant.
“The new girl started while you were gone.” Scholtz adjusted the pictures of his wife and children on his desk.
I smiled weakly. “Oh, what is her name?”
“Tina Bottoms,” Scholtz said. “Pretty girl. Just out of journalism school.” He licked his lips.
“Where did she graduate from?”
“I don’t remember,” he said impatiently. He looked at his watch. Then he looked at me his eyes narrowed.
“Oh, yes,” I said. “Stories in my queue to edit.”
Scholtz grimaced. I held out my hand.
He looked at my hand and then turned to his computer and began typing. He sprayed his hands again with disinfectant and rubbed his hands together.
I returned to my gray cubicle. I looked at the stories in my queue: Donald Trump, the Federal government, and federal workers on furlough and working without pay.
The new girl Tina Bottoms entered and sat down in her cubicle. She wore a freshly ironed red blouse with slacks. Her large leather bag slung over her right shoulder. It was 9:15 a.m. She was 15 minutes late.
Her music was so loud I could hear it through her head phones. She jumped when I tapped her shoulder. She turned, her false eye lashes blinking.
“Walter . . . . Walter Faff,” I said holding my hand out toward her with a most friendly smile. She shook my hand, with her ice-cold hand.
“Oh, Tina . . . . Tina Bottoms,” she said, trying to size me up.
“I’m one of the copy editors here,” I said.
“Oh, that’s nice,” she said.
“What is your beat?” I asked.
“Oh, the postal service,” she said.
“That’s one of the most interesting assignments here.”
“Yes. It will make you go postal!”
She laughed and held out her hand again.
“Nice meeting you,” she smiled.
What a delicate young flower! I resolved there and then I would protect her against that pig Scholtz.
Upon returning home that night, I tried to make sense of it all. Who would want to poison me? I was the nicest and most caring person.
I surreptitiously watched my neighbors. My leading candidate was that Mexican Pedro Alvarado with his beady black eyes. As a baker he knew how to make cupcakes. And I had accidently killed his dog.
It could have been the Hetheringtons. Dick was a retired pharmacist. He certainly would know how to mix the poison. He probably resented that I sent him that DVD on euthanasia.
It could have been Nora Smithfield. She was a real black widow. She also hated rats. She must have known about rat poison.
Or perhaps it was that Nazi Hermann, an exterminator. And who knows what he did in Germany.
Inspector Michalski would get to the bottom of it. I had my locks changed and bought a .45-caliber pistol. You can never be too careful.
After several weeks. Michalski’s partner Doug called me about my relationship with my neighbors, particularly with Pedro Alvarez. He was annoyed I did not tell him about Pedro’s dead dog and the party invitation.
Months went by and nothing happened. Meanwhile, Scholtz and Tina were getting chummy. That old wolf told her some sad story about how unhappy he was with his wife and only stayed married to the harpy for the sake of the children. Why are women always so attracted to bad men?
Tina was good at wheedling information from people. But she needed to slow down and improve her writing. Break up her paragraphs and vary the lengths of her sentences. She was young. So I showed her some things. She was truly appreciative.
One day after work Tina asked me if we could go out to dinner together as friends. During dinner, she said she and that creep Scholtz were having an affair. She was confused because she was not that kind of a girl.
I told her that she should stop sleeping with that bastard Schlotz forthwith. He had done this over the years to several new female reporters. Scholtz would never leave his wife, the daughter of the publisher. Afterward, Tina kissed me on the cheek and thanked me for my sage advise.
Spring turned to summer and summer to fall and still nothing so I called Michalski. He still had nothing to tell me. He suggested I sell my condo and move. But I could not do that. I had not received a raise from that stingy rat Scholtz in ten years. I resolved to take my life into my own hands. How many years did it take for the government to find and kill Osama Bin Laden?
By then I was sure that Pedro tried to kill me. So what was good for the goose was good for the gander. I watched YouTube videos on how to make red velvet cupcakes. I practiced making them with plastic gloves, leaving no fingerprints. I bought rat poison at the hardware store.
I left a plastic plate full of red velvet cupcakes at his door, covered in plastic cellophane. A few days later, the police and the coroner were at his apartment. Yellow tape was draped across his door. “Police lines. Do not cross.”
Inspector Michalski told me that Pedro had been killed by strychnine poisoning. He urged me to move from the building. He said a psychopathic killer was on the loose.
A few days later, the killer left another red velvet cupcake with red and blue balloons on white icing at my door. Inspector Michalski took the cupcake and dusted the area for fingerprints. The cupcake was laced with strychnine.
V. The Funeral
I went to Pedro’s funeral at the local Catholic Church. The priest spoke kindly of him to the overflowing crowd. A teen-aged boy spoke how Pedro Alvarez was like a father to him. Many people cried. Pedro’s American girlfriend “Kris” also spoke at his funeral. She told about how they met at the local animal shelter, near the state penitentiary. Pedro loved animals and often volunteered at the shelter and would bake pastries for the shelter’s fundraisers. She held his new puppy dog. The service was mostly in Spanish. We followed the hearse to the cemetery where Pedro was buried.
At the repast, a skinny teen-age boy balanced his plastic plate on top of an overflowing trash can. He raised both arms. Touchdown! There was all kind of Mexican foods: tamales, baked chicken enchiladas and Mexican rice. They also had my favorite red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese filling. Afterwards, I became depressed. Given the fact I received another poisoned cupcake, it was clear I poisoned the wrong person. Pedro was not the killer.
I changed my mind and accepted my sister Mavis’s invitation for Thanksgiving dinner at her house in Los Angeles. I needed to get away. My older brother Lyndon and his family would be there. I can’t stand him.
I boarded the last plane out of Dulles International to LAX, sitting next to this smelly fat guy who spilled over into my seat. Immediately after takeoff the chubalard fell asleep and snored. The guy sounded like the San Andreas Fault had finally shifted. His mouth opened and he drooled. Needless to say I did not get much sleep.
I am the only unmarried sibling in my family. Lyndon and Mavis think I am a loser. Lyndon is a school teacher and Mavis is married to a lawyer named Purvis. They think they are better people than they are.
Mavis picked me up at the airport in her newest black Mercedes SUV. She kissed me on the check and hugged me. “How are you big brother? You look a little run down. I’m worried about you.”
“Oh, you know the same. How are you?”
“The boys and I just got back from a mini vacation. Purvis took us to Santa Barbara for the weekend. Do you like my tan?”
“Looks nice. At 45, you still are the hottest girl in LA.”
“I know,” she said fluffing her hair in the rear-view mirror.
“You’re so conceited.”
They both laughed. “I know,” she said again.
“I was watching a YouTube video on narcissists,” I said. “It really fits your personality.”
“You think so?” she said, fluffing her hair some more and then tossing her head.
“So how are the kids?”
“As you know, Bob is getting his Ph.D. Shelly was just accepted at Harvard. They both worked so hard. We are so proud of them. You know, Purvis just won trial lawyer of the year for a second year in a row.”
“How is Lyndon doing?”
“Teaching history,” she said. “Coaching soccer. Last year, they won division but were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs. You know Lyndon”
“Yeah, do I know Lyndon. What a loudmouth loser.”
“Be kind,” she said. “You are a lot like him.”
“How are his kids?”
“You know James is in his first year of law school. Junior, you know, is still trying to find himself. He was in another auto accident. This time they took away his driver’s license. Remember, you did not hear this from me.”
“Was he drinking again?”
“I don’t know.”
“You know. The church and charitable work keeps me pretty busy. Everybody talks about how amazing and kind I am. What about you Walter?”
“You know, still searching.”
Mavis really rolled out the red carpet for Thanksgiving. Turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potato, corn on the cob, crab salad, buttermilk rolls and pumpkin pie.
Purvis said grace. Afterwards, he thanked Mavis and kissed her on the cheek. There seemed something cold and formal about them. Their hearts were not in it.
“Ah, remember the Thanksgivings we used to have,” Lyndon said. “I was always mom and dad’s favorite. Remember when dad made Walter finish his dinner in the garage that Thanksgiving. He was so scared of spiders. Hahaha. Dad warned him not to take more than he could eat. Remember dad used to say ‘get what you eat and eat what you get.’ Hahaha.”
“No offense guys but my kids are the smartest of all,” Lyndon said. Lyndon rose to his feet bumping the table. He noisily rummaged through the refrigerator and helped himself to another beer. Marvis looked knowingly at Purvis who quietly laughed. I pictured myself cramming an arsenic-laced red velvet cupcake down Lyndon’s throat.
Lyndon spoke about how unfriendly his neighbors were and about the loss of community in our society. “We used to have great neighbors Our new neighbors are strangers. I invited our new neighbor – a Chinese guy – for lunch. He said he and his wife don’t have time for those kinds of things.”
He spoke about how stupid his students were. “One kid mixed up Mexico and Canada on a geography quiz and a second kid copied him.” His wife seemed bored.
“Hey, Uncle Lyndon, how goes the soccer team?” Bob said, trying to change the subject.
“Yeah, Uncle Lyndon, are you going to win division again?” Shelly said.
“This year we are going all the way,” Lyndon said. “It is all about discipline. When my kids become ineligible because of their grades I line them up at the goal and have the other kids shoot penalty kicks at them. It’s the way dad would have done it.
“Say, Walter,” Lyndon said, his eyes glowing with wicked satisfaction. “How’s your love life going?” His wife kicked him under the table. I could see the white table cloth shake. “They say that if you let too much sperm build up in your body it clouds the brain.” He laughed like crazy at his own joke.
“You know I’m kidding, don’t you? I love you, Walter,” he said. He stood up and helped himself to another beer.
The next night I took the red-eye flight back to Washington, DC. Mavis offered to drive me to the airport but I took an Uber. There is only so much of my family I can stomach.
When I left Mavis hugged me and Purvis shook my hand. “Don’t listen to Lyndon,” Purvis said. “He has a stunted personality.”
“Don’t be so judgmental with people,” Mavis said. “If you want to only have perfect friends, you will have no friends at all. Same with family.”
On my plane trip back home, I thought about who tried to kill me. It was that Nazi Hermann. He was an exterminator, right? He had a cold, cruel face. He probably gassed Jews during the war.
Poison could not be used this time. No, I had to do something else. I decided to quietly follow Hermann. I am great at being stealthy.
I watched Hermann from my window, noting the license plate number of his work van. I wore my fake mustache and shadowed him during my off time.
After work and on weeknights, he frequented a nudie bar. His favorite girl was Trixie. After the bouncer at the door checked my identification with his flashlight, I sat in the back of the club so Hermann would not notice me.
Hermann ate and drank beers with Trixie. When she danced on stage, he stood at the foot of the stage and generously tipped her. Trixie was beautiful but she had pink and blue spiky hair and earrings that pierced her nose and lips. Her music was electronic and when she danced she was not in sync with her music. Hermann looked like her grandfather.
The interior of the club was a dark garish red. Cherry, the stripper on stage, finished her dance to Jimi Hendrix’s Little Wing, her naked figure swinging on a pole. She daintily put on her red and black lingerie on stage
As she got off stage, everyone clapped. The next stripper Carolina put a dollar into Cherry’s garter belt and mounted the stage. Afterwards, Cherry came to my table. I cracked a couple jokes. “Do you like Abraham Lincoln?”
“He’s my favorite president,” she said as she stretched open her red garter belt. She laughed and I tucked a five spot into her garter belt. She snapped it close on my fingers. She demurely smiled and then turned and waved to me before flying to the next table. I waited for 30 minutes after Hermann left before leaving myself.
As I passed the alley, he grabbed me and threw me against the brick wall. “Are you following me?” The dank, dark alley smelled of urine and rotting garbage.
“I don’t know what you mean.”
He tore off my fake mustache. “Why are you following me?
“Yes, you are. You are the strange little man who lives in the apartment above me.” He turned me around and twisted my arm behind my back.
“Ow . . ow . . . . ow.”
“Why are you following me?” he panted, as the stench of his beer breath blew into my face. As he pushed me up against the brick wall of the building, he slipped on wet garbage in the alley and fell to the ground. I slipped away from his grip and punched him in the face, knocking him backward.
I pulled the .45 from my coat and shot him in the face and again in the side of his head as he lay sprawled on the ground. Blood spattered on my shoes. I ran for my life.
VI. The Killer
I thought about Tina Bottoms. That wolf Schlotz was bold. I pretended not to look but I watched them from the corner of my eye. Sometimes he massaged her back at her cubicle. Other reporters gossiped about her.
When Tina left the ladies’ room, her eyes were red.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“I trusted you,” she angrily said.
“What do you mean?”
She burst into tears. “I was fired,” she said.
“Five minutes ago.”
“That dirty Scholtz,” I said.
“What am I going to do?” she asked. “What am I going to tell my parents?”
“I’m shocked,” I confessed. “I don’t know what to say.”
“At least he promised to help me get a new job,” she said. “Some of his friends told me to send my resume. He would put in a good word for me.”
“Stop,” she said.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“Go away,” she said. “This is none of your business.”
She filled a box with her personal items –her files, her dictionary and her thesaurus. I carried her box to her car.
Tina stiffly stuck her hand out to me. I shook it.
“Walter, you are the only real friend I had here at the newspaper.” She got in her car and left. I watched her car leave the parking lot and then disappear down the street.
That night I received another red velvet cupcake with red and blue balloons on white icing. Things were getting confusing. If the killer was not Pedro or Hermann, who could it be? I called Michalski. He came that night with forensic experts.
I sold my condo. I gave Scholz my two-week termination notice.
“Why?” he asked.
“I have my reasons,” I said as I laughed at him. He glared back.
“Put it in writing, Faff,” he said as he sprayed disinfectant in his hands and rubbed them together.
Michalski called me the next day. He told me Hermann Schmidt, the man downstairs, had been shot and killed. The murder along with the death of Pedro Alvarez was front-page news.
I turned down Michalski’s suggestion to go into hiding.
At this point, I thought about my remaining neighbors. It could only be the Hetheringtons or Nora Smithfield, I resolved to kill them and then flee. I closed my bank accounts.
That night I went to the Hetherington’s apartment with my tire iron in hand. I knocked on their door.
“Hello,” Ethel said. “Who is it?”
“Delivery,” I said, disguising my voice. The dead bolt clicked. She opened the door.
I pushed the door wider. “What do you want?” she demanded.
I struck her head with the tire iron and she fell backward, crashing to the floor.
She tried to crawl away on all fours. I hit her again and then again with the tire iron, cracking her skull.
“Ethel,” her husband called. “Ethel, what is going on?”
I entered their bedroom. Dick’s eyes grew wide. He tried to turn in his bed. I began hammering his head with the tire iron. There was blood all over his sheets and comforter.
Not taking any chances, I went to Nora’s apartment and knocked on the door.
“Who is it,” said a gruff voice from the other side of the door.
“Moo,” I said.
She opened the door. I shoved against the door, breaking the chain lock. She was waiting with a drawn revolver. I hit her arm with the tire iron, knocking the gun from her hand. “I loved your cupcake,” I said and then bludgeoned her to death.
I washed my hands, changed my bloody clothes and shoes and then fled in my car into the night. I left my cell phone at my apartment so I could not be tracked.
My bloody clothes, the rat poison and the tire iron were thrown into a dumpster behind the supermarket. I wondered for a moment, “What if it was another neighbor?”
VII. The Getaway
The newspapers said the police were trying to find me. I wore my fake mustache and used cash in all my transactions. My picture was on the front page. I was dubbed “The Red Velvet Cupcake Murderer.”
I drove to a remote two-story motel in the mountains. I would stay there until things cooled down. It would give me time to think. A woman named Frances checked me in. She was a pretty no-nonsense woman with dark brown hair that fell down to her shoulders.
The motel and restaurant were owned by Frances. She lived there with her teen-aged son Aaron.
I rented a room on the upper floor. I could see the entire parking lot and the entrance from my window. My alias was “Gary Cooper.”
The next day it snowed. I put on my mirrored sunglasses and fake mustache and went to the motel restaurant. I bought a newspaper from the stand outside the front door and then sat down to order. At the counter by the cash register, a glass displayed featured red velvet cupcakes.
“Good morning, Mr. Cooper,” Frances cheerfully said from the kitchen. A waitress named Lily took my order. Alone Again played on the restaurant music track. Two other customers in the restaurant – an old married couple – both wore red “Make America Great Again” baseball caps. Aaron, Frances’s son, sat a table doing his algebra homework. School was closed for the day because of the snow.
I ordered corned beef hash, two fried eggs sunny-side up and fried potatoes with coffee and orange juice. The paper said Donald Trump this and Donald Trump that. Donald Trump negotiating with Kim in Vietnam. Michael Cohen, his former lawyer, testifying on Capitol Hill. Wasn’t there any other news? You turn on the news. That is all you hear. After I finished my breakfast, I read the newspaper. “A red velvet cupcake and more coffee,” I said.
“How is it going, kiddo?” Frances asked her son.
“I just don’t get this Algebra stuff,” Aaron said.
“I’m sorry, I can’t help you there,” his mother said.
“Excuse me, perhaps I can be of assistance,” I offered. “Algebra was a long time ago but I was good at it.” I did get an A in the subject in junior high school.
We had a look at it. It was a plane problem. If plane X took off from LAX and flew to Chicago O’Hare airport at 400 mph and plane Y took off from Chicago O’Hare airport and flew to LAX airport when would they meet? Very logical. Once explained, Aaron caught on.
“You know mathematics is so important,” I said. “It explains the universe.”
We worked on his mathematics homework all morning and then his English composition assignment.
Aaron was the star of the high school basketball team. But he was in danger of losing his eligibility because of his poor grades.
I explained to Aaron the geometry of basketball. He arched his shot is because the hole of the basketball was larger for an arching shot than a flat shot. Aaron was impressed.
He asked if I would see his basketball game on Friday. I agreed.
I first watched the junior varsity game and then the varsity game. Aaron was absolutely magnificent. He scored twenty points, pulled down ten rebounds and blocked two shots. He was unstoppable.
When we got to the restaurant that night, it was still busy. Lily brought us steaks, baked potatoes and a chef salad.
“On the house,” she said and smiled.
Lily brought Aaron a chocolate milkshake with whipped cream and a cherry on top. I shook my head. “You’re in training,” I said. “You know I saw Pistol Pete Maravich play against the Lakers in Los Angeles. You remind of Pistol Pete.”
“Yes, Mr. Cooper,” Aaron said. “Send it back, Lily.”
“Mr. Cooper, you know so much.”
“Aaron, I’ve been around. I know a thing or two.”
Afterwards, Frances thanked me. “You know being a single mom is difficult. Fridays are the busiest nights for us. I have yet to see him play a game. Mr. Cooper, thank you for going to see my son play. It meant the world to him.”
“Please, call me Gary,” I said.
“Okay, Gary. Thank you.”
Things were going great so it was inevitable that everything would come crashing down.
One early morning, I saw the SWAT team pull up. It was still dark but I could see them under the glow of the pink-orange street lights of the parking lot. I grabbed my coat and pistol and went to the motel office. It was snowing.
I woke up Frances and Aaron and took them hostage. The police sealed off the area and began evacuating the motel. I opened the curtain. Numerous state police cars and country sheriff cars had pulled up. I helicopter circle above.
“What is the meaning of this, Gary?”
“I’m not Gary,” I said. “I’m Walter Faff.”
“You are the man they are looking for in the news?”
“Yes. That’s me.”
Her mouth dropped open. Aaron began to cry.
“What are you going to do to us?” Aaron asked.
“You can do whatever you want to me but please let Aaron go,” Frances said. “He has his whole life ahead of him.”
“No one will get hurt if you cooperate,” I said.
“Walter Faff,” the police said over bullhorn. “This is the police. You are surrounded.”
I saw police officers running into position through the curtain of the front office window.
“Walter Faff, give yourself up,” he said.
A second police officer took the bullhorn. “Walter, this is Michalski. We don’t want to harm you. Please surrender.”
Both Frances and Aaron were now crying.
“Please Mr. Faff,” Frances pleaded. “We know you are a good man.”
The telephone rang. I picked up the telephone. It was Michalski.
“Walter, is everybody okay?” he said. I could hear running outside. “Are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m fine.”
“Who is with you?”
“The owner of the motel and her son.”
“Are they okay?”
“Yes, they are.”
“There is someone here who wants to say something to you.”
“Hello, Walter. This is Mavis.” She was crying.
“Walter, please. This is not you.”
I did not know what to say.
“Please give up and let those innocent people go.”
I started to cry.
“Walter, please. I know you. You are a good man. There must be some kind of mistake.”
“C’mon, Walter.” It was Michalski again. “Let Frances and Aaron go and surrender. We don’t want anyone hurt, including you.”
After I surrendered, a SWAT team member violently tackled me from my blindside, causing me to fall face forward and breaking my front teeth on the concrete sidewalk. I tasted the blood from my split lip and myy face went numb. I felt the cold steel barrel of the police officer’s pistol pressed against my head. Another police officer jerked my hands behind my back and handcuffed me. After they frisked me for weapons, they took me away. My arrest was on the news and in the newspapers.
All the media was at the show trial. They called it the red velvet cupcake murders, even though only one person died from being poisoned by a cupcake. Of course, Michalski accused me of poisoning myself to hide his own incompetence.
The prosecutor called me a monster for killing my neighbors. If Michalski and Smith had done their jobs to protect and serve the public I would not have killed anyone.
My lawyers hired an expert witness to testify that I was insane. I should not have agreed to it. The crazier you are, the more likely they are to lock you up. I did what I did to protect myself. After deliberating for as long as it takes for a hungry man to finish his meal, the jury unanimously found me guilty.
Here I am now alone on death row. I live in a concrete cell with a toilet. At mealtime, the prison guards shove my meals through a slot in the door. Every once in a while my lawyers come to see me. I exercise once a day in the yard. I read all I want. I have all the time in the world.
Mavis visited once. Lyndon apologized on the news to all the victims’ families on behalf of our family. Bart Schlotz said in a television interview that he would never have suspected me of being a serial killer. “You never really know anybody,” he said. They both seemed upright pillars of the community. I feel like Jesus Christ being crucified for all of mankind’s sins.
My lawyers tell me they can tie up my execution for decades by appeals. I’m not going anywhere.
Not far from the state penitentiary, a gap tooth woman named Kris in her animal shelter uniform baked red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese filling for a fundraiser at the animal shelter. She painstakingly drew red and blue balloons with an icing bag on the white frosting of each cupcake.