The smell of bacon cooking in the kitchen of our rooming house brought back memories of my father...
I became engrossed in dentistry when he died from an infected root-canal filling. I was eighteen; he was like a big brother to me – and I still missed him. We used to go hunting together; he showed me the finest way to stalk and hunt mule deer – the same way as the Dakota Sioux. I lived for the thrill of the chase and the visceral feeling that welled-up inside me at the kill – when bright, alarmed eyes focused on the knife in my hand. The Indian knife that would cut the doe’s throat and send sprays of blood over my hunting pants and drip onto my moccasins. We would skin and roast our deer over a campfire, and my father would drink a half-pint of moonshine whiskey. I would drink deer blood.
They were the good times.
Now, I had only my mother – and her cats. And now, my prey was human...
‘You seen Minx around?’ my mother asked me. She put my plate on the table; eggs, sunny side up, and crispy bacon rashers. ‘Been gone a couple of days, now.’
My mother was a homely woman; dyed red-brown hair, short and dumpy with false teeth. Ever since we moved here, she has worn the same washed-out housecoat at breakfast. She was wearing it now; one button was missing, there was a white thread dangling, and there were grease marks down the front where she had wiped her fingers.
I hated it.
‘It happens,’ I replied. ‘Cat’s probably out stalking chickadees.’
‘Not for two days, she doesn’t.’
I shrugged, picked up my cup, and sipped some coffee. The Plain Dealer held my interest that morning. There was a picture of Eliot Ness, Cleveland’s new Safety Director; the man responsible for bringing down Chicago’s Al Capone. He was thirty-two, the same age as me. Reducing crime and corruption would be on his agenda, but he was no Indian and he wouldn’t be able to outsmart me.
‘I’ll take a look around,’ I said, picking up my fork and jabbing it into the egg yolk. ‘Maybe got locked in someplace.’
I laid low after the bodies were found. The newspapers ran article after article ad nauseum, and the city police were on high alert, although Ness seemed more interested in cleaning out corrupt cops and improving traffic safety than chasing me. Folks were fearful, too - and so was my mother.
‘Check the basement while you’re at it. Minx could be there.’
My experiments on the blood of Old Man Jackson and Edward had proved fruitless, so I returned to testing animals again; looking for new inspiration. Burlap bags full of dissected strays began to fill up my surgery.
‘What she look like?’
‘Pay attention. I told you before. She’s white with brown paws.’
I looked up. My mother was slicing soda bread.
Now I remembered.
‘Ah, yes,’ I said.
I waited until the end of January. Cleveland was gripped in a freeze that lasted for most of the month. It kept me indoors, my supply of strays dwindled, I was getting edgy, and I needed to test my new theory.
The female reproductive system held a fascination for me. The pregnant rat I dissected in college opened up my eyes to their enigmatic world. My recent animal tests yielded another investigative avenue. Would women harbor the activator that inhibits tooth decay? And if so, where would it be stored?
The clock struck eight, Friday 24th January. It would be dark outside; bleak and cold. I wrapped up well; two layers of clothes and a heavy woolen overcoat on top. My thrift-shop boots – extra large, size twelve - hat and woolen mitts are regular brands that any Joe would buy. I looked the part: middle class, certainly not a bum.
Time for the hunt.
I pushed open the door to Pat’s at the corner of East 20th, cut my way through the smog to the bar, and ordered two shots of Jameson. I could drift in and out of these joints in the Roaring Third, just another punter. Rich or poor, alcohol was a common bond.
A spluttering coal fire was struggling to cut the chilly atmosphere. Several hardened men with tobacco stained fingers were sitting at tables close by, swigging pints and looking morose; the face of the Great Depression. I took my time, sipped my whiskey and blended in to the surroundings. The shabbily-dressed black man with one arm opened up the opportunity; he was with a chubby prostitute with red hair I’d seen before on one of my previous visits.
There were several prostitutes that hung around, I’d cased them all, but this one seemed ideal. She called herself Flo.
A doe with baleful eyes.
A few drinks and Flo become abusive. Voices were raised and they had an argument. The black man swung his fist; she swore, and started to brawl. Punters were shouting encouragement and a few chairs were overturned. I kept out of the way until the bartender stepped in; dragged her off and slung her out. It quietened down; the black man shrugged and carried on drinking.
I downed my drink, slung two bits on the counter, and followed. It was too easy; I caught up with her at the corner of Carnegie Avenue – where she lived – and propositioned her.
‘It’s a short walk to my place.’
She gave me the once over. ‘Mister, it’s freezing, and I’m tired.’
‘I’ve got a fine bottle of whiskey.’
She hesitated. I could see an acquisitive look in her eyes; she held out a hand. ‘Money up front.’
She had bad teeth.