Friday, March 28, 2014

Rainy Kulman by O. D. Hegre

A guilt-ridden detective interviews an obsessive compulsive man who saved someone's life after a traffic accident; by O. D. Hegre.

"I shouldn't have been driving." Walter Henderson's voice was about as stable as the coffee cup he held in his hand. With effort he negotiated another sip. "No, no," swallowing hard, "...no, I shouldn't have been driving." Clasping the shaking Styrofoam vessel with his other hand, Henderson almost managed to get it safely back onto the desktop. "Sorry."

Detective Jim Parker waved off the apology. He just sat patiently - note pad in his lap. The bespectacled fifty-three-year-old male sitting across from him had saved some poor vic's life. So why was the guy in such turmoil, Parker wondered?

"The therapy," Henderson dragged his fingers across his forehead, up into his thinning hair, "I've been doing it for... well," unsteady hands again reached out, "maybe a month or so. But for sure, I should not have been driving." The coffee cup quivered once more at the man's lips.

The detective leaned forward. "Just take it easy, Walter. Try to relax and tell me exactly what happened." With a tissue, Parker sopped up the spill, then sat back - pencil in hand. Most of the guys used their laptop. He was old school - liked the feel of number-two soft lead on a thick pad of paper.

Walter fidgeted in his chair.

"You okay, Walter?" Parker really felt sorry for the guy. "You want me to heat up that coffee, pal?" The detective rolled the yellow cylinder between his fingers. "You did take your meds? Right?" It was a safe assumption that Henderson was on some sort of medication.

"My pills are at home, Detective. I messed up - forgot to refill the prescription. That's why I went out ... why I was driving. Coming back from Walgreen's, I thought I saw something in my rear-view mirror - like a flash of white swerve off the road. I wasn't sure; I wanted to go back. But then I heard the doc's words in my head: Fight it... count to ten and then think of something pleasant. Fight it.

Walter paused to sip his drink.

"I've been practicing on some of my other... well... things. But the driving is the worst - the hardest. I just wasn't ready. You don't know how many times I've had this happen to me. I'm driving along, you know, thinking about something other than the road ahead, and then I make a lane change without consciously telling myself to check the mirror and the blind spot and then BANG! I'm not sure I didn't just screw up and push some poor wretch off the shoulder into the ditch. I'll tell myself it's not true."

Walter again sipped the coffee.

"I tell myself that for the next five miles but in the end I turn around and go back and check - sometimes twice."

Parker watched again, as the coffee cup made its way among the clutter on his desk - this time safely.

"Look Walter, everybody drives like that at times. At least you weren't on the phone or texting or something stupid like that. Parker paused. "And..." he leaned forward looking directly into Henderson's eyes, "you didn't kill anybody."

The hint of a smile momentarily crossed Walter's face.

"Now." Parker picked up his note pad. "So you went back and -"

"The car was in the ditch, really messed up. I called 911 and then went down. The guy was bleeding something awful. I used my shirt - pushed on his forehead. All the while he's muttering something like 'ainy human' or 'ainty hulman'. I told him to take it easy - that help was on its way. They were there in ten minutes. I just pushed down on his head."

"Ainty hulman?" Parker scribbled in his pad. "Did he say anything else?"

"Nope. Just 'Ainy hulman' or such. No idea, Detective. He was pretty much out of it."

"You saved his fricking life, Walter. EMTs said the guy - one Ambrose Chaney - might have bled out if it wasn't for you - if you hadn't gone back."

"Yah, well I shouldn't have been driving and what if I didn't go back? This always happens to me. Jesus Christ, I almost killed a guy. How the hell was I going to live with that for the rest of my miserable life? Jesus Christ."

The number-two pencil slid from Jim Parker's fingers. He watched poor Henderson bury his head in his hands. The guy was some kind of mess.

For a millisecond, the 'incident' flashed in Parker's head - then the image of his wife Karen's beautiful face. Yah, well aren't we all, Parker thought.

"Okay. Okay. So you were in the vicinity when the accident happened but you didn't cause it, Walter. You hear me Henderson? It wasn't your fault." Parker took a sip of his coffee. "Maybe you caught a glimpse of Chaney's car hitting the ditch or maybe it was like you said, you couldn't be sure... couldn't remember whether you looked over to your blind spot before you changed lanes. But the car that was involved in the collision had some significant damage. You looked at your car didn't you?"

"Yes."

"You didn't see any damage did you?"

"No. But I could have -"

"Walter, listen to me. I told you the 'hit and run' turned herself in this morning. My guess? She wanted to sober up before facing the music. But officers got her bar tab from last evening. This is going to be hard on her; you can count on that." The detective put down his pencil. "Now stop with the woulda-shoulda-coulda. Will yah, pal?" But Parker knew that was almost impossible for the poor guy.

"But don't you see, Detective. I realize now I wasn't responsible for the accident. But at the time I thought I was... so I went back. If I had followed doctor's orders, I wouldn't have returned and the man - Chaney- might have died. But I didn't do what the doc told me. I just let me be myself - be the way God made me and went back and that's how I saved the man's life. If I hadn't, in my mind, I would be responsible for Chaney's death. Don't you see Detective?"

After twenty years on the force, Jim Parker knew logic wasn't the strong suit of people under stress. He sipped his coffee. He'd seen it all, he thought - every kind of nut bag that existed out there. But this Henderson guy was something else. Parker's mind drifted for a moment to his childhood and his aunt Mildred - silly Millie they called her (behind her back of course; his ma would have smacked them good if she ever heard him and Sis gabbing that way). Still, Aunt Millie epitomized weird. Every time she talked to you her eyes would rise up and almost disappear into the top of her head. And when she wasn't talking, she was looking. Jim would watch her eyes trace the edge where the wall met the ceiling - run along with her gaze until she got to the corner and then down the next stretch. Then Millie would look away, like she knew she was doing something strange and sit there for a moment or two. You could see it was just killing her. And then back to tracing the corners of the room. Why she was doing that looking thing? Who knew? No doubt she had some form of this obsessive/compulsive disorder.

Henderson sat motionless, eyes cast downward.

Parker had his own demons. Through his psychiatrist, he had learned more than a bit about obsessions and compulsions. Patients with OCD knew their aberrant behavior - checking and double-checking on things like locks and stoves, repetitive washing of hands, etc - had some reason, usually the fear of hurting themselves or someone else. The patients realized they were acting irrationally but they just couldn't help it.

Parker again sipped his coffee.

But Parker's bane was the opposite, the shrink had said. It was the incessant analysis of a past event with the same thought plaguing his mind, over and over again: what could he have done differently? Parker had examined the situation rationally a hundred times - maybe a thousand times in his waking life and more in those horrible hours before dawn, when the nightmare came again and again.

Walter looked up from his coffee cup.

"Do you believe we are here for a purpose, Detective?" The man's gray eyes stared into Parker's.

"Well sure... I guess."

"No. I mean for a greater purpose - beyond just doing our jobs and living our lives. The doctor tells me I'm supposed to fight these urges. He tells me it's not my fault; that it's a weakness in my brain and for me to lead a normal existence, I must overcome this hurdle and bring a balance back into my life. But now I see. I thought God had forsaken me and laid this great suffering on me for no purpose, but now I see clearly."

"Well, look Walter, I'm not so sure -"

"Oh yes, Detective. My OCD is a gift and as you have said, because of it - because I ignored the best advice medical science had to offer - I saved a man's life. It's God's will, Detective - God's will."



"Put the gun down, Terrance. PUT IT DOWN. NOW!" Parker's arms stretched out before him - out in a pair of thin blue lines. At the end, the glistening 38 Smith & Wesson wavered slightly in his clenched fists.

Terrance Blake just stood there - no more than fourteen years old - slowly raising his own weapon.

"Don't do it." As always, Parker was fixated on the kid's face - the lips - the moving lips.

"I can't, sir. I can't help it. I just ainy hulman, sir."

The gun continued its ascent.

I can hear him, Parker thought. For the first time in the multitude of these nightmares, Parker could hear the words. What was he saying? 'Ain'tee human' - was that it? 'Ainy hulman.' What the hell did that mean?

Parker made a concerted effort to steady his hands. Where the hell was his backup?

The kid had turned his gun gangster style.

Parker looked into the opening - the huge opening.

"Help me, sir. I'm ainy hulman."

Parker saw the smoke materialize from the aperture, slowly billowing. Then, punching a hole, the silver slug emerged, spinning and growing larger.

"I'm ainy hulman."

Parker heard the words again and felt his index finger squeeze down.



Parker jolted up in bed, sweat pouring off his brow. Each breath came with increasing difficulty. A heart attack? No. No - the nightmare, again. Getting shot in a dream felt just about as bad as the real thing; Parker knew a lot about that. He'd paid for the experience with the lower lobe of his left lung and two shattered ribs.

An early morning rain pattered against the windowpane. Parker reached over and took a long draw of water from the bedside glass. It crept up on him as the liquid slid down his throat - the clarity - like the sun peeking from behind clouds. The words the kid with the gun said, "ainy hulman." Parker had heard those same words today - in the debriefing room with the nutcase, Henderson - the same muttering Henderson had heard from the accident victim - "ainy hulman." But now Parker knew. He felt sure. He looked over at the droplets of water edging down the bedroom window. Ainy Hulman - it was a name: Rainy Kulman. Rainy - fricking - Kulman!



The drought ended the day he was born. (The woman's voice had broken a bit.) The heavens opened and God poured his love all over us - on the land and on our marriage. We named him Rainy. Just seemed right.

Parker sipped his coffee. He remembered the interview with the mother of a missing child on the local PBS station. Mary Kulman was holding up pretty well considering. Parker drained the last of his cup. Abductions, homicides, rapes, the unceasing wave of urban crime: that was part of his reasoning for getting out of the city - for taking the job in Canton. Part of it.

Parker refilled his cup. He had called Phil as soon as he had put it together. A long shot but - Rainy Kulman had disappeared on his way home from school. He was eight. That was two months ago. The Kulman kid was the fourth missing preteen in the Tri-County area in the last year. Phil Dodger, Parker's first partner on the force some twenty years ago, had been put in charge of the task force. The last time they had talked, Phil had made it clear: they were getting nowhere.

It had been just too weird to ignore. The nut bag Henderson said the accident victim - Ambrose Chaney - was muttering 'ainy hulman' over and over again in his semi-conscious state while Henderson tried to stop the bleeding. According to the police report, Chaney's car left the embankment, ending right-side up in the ditch: back right door sprung as well as trunk and hood. Turned out Chaney was a contractor so it didn't seem that odd that the trunk contained a variety of tools including shovels and a pickaxe. The lye was a little out of the ordinary but - why was the guy murmuring the name - if Parker hadn't gone off the deep end - of a missing kid?

Phil had listened quietly. "It's a bit of a stretch, Jim."

Parker agreed, hearing the concern in Phil's voice. Just cause I suffer occasional bouts of depression doesn't make me a complete nut bag, Phil. He wanted to say it but he didn't. Instead, he simply asked his old partner what other leads they had. After an extended moment of silence, Phil said he would look into it.

Parker sipped the last of his coffee. A stretch, he thought? Why was the kid Parker had killed - three years ago in the line of duty - calling out the missing young boy's name in the nightmare? Now that's a stretch for yah, partner. Parker had decided to leave that detail out when he talked with Phil.



"You watching the television, Detective Parker?" Henderson's voice had a tone of 'I told you so' to it.

"I am, Walter. I sure am." Twenty minutes earlier, Phil had given Jim a heads-up on the unscheduled press briefing. In fact, the eyes of the entire Canton police department staff were glued to the commissary television screen. Detroit cops were escorting a young boy - about eight years old - through a throng of reporters and bystanders. The kid looked pretty bad, emaciated with obvious bruises. "I'll be back on the line with you, Walter, when it's finished." Parker went over and turned up the volume.

"Rainy Kulman, missing for two months, was found by authorities today in a home in Fensville, just outside of Detroit. Authorities went to the residence of Ambrose Chaney on a probable cause warrant. Mr. Chaney was hospitalized yesterday after an automobile accident. What led police to Chaney, a local contractor, is not entirely clear at this time. According to young Kulman, Chaney abducted him from his schoolyard and drove him to this house where he was held against his will. Rainy said he spent the time chained in the basement with at least one other child and was forced to perform sexual acts on Mr. Chaney as well as the other captive. No other children were found on the premises. Three other children have been reported missing in the Tri-County area in the last eleven months. Authorities have begun a search of the property based on indications from cadaver sniffing dogs. We'll have further details, as they arise, on Eye Witness News at nine. This is Silvia..."

"Hello Walter," Parker pressed the receiver to his ear.

"The Lord works in mysterious ways, Detective. I save a man's life to save my soul and in doing so one of the Devil's minions on this earth is stopped from his heinous crimes and awaits mankind's justice."

"Well it's hard to argue with the facts, Walter, though I am not as sure as you of cause and effect here, my friend.

"You take your time, Detective. Take time to think about it."

"One thing is certain, Walter. You saved more than one life in all this. Of that you should be pleased. I wish you further good luck and," the detective cleared his throat, "I think you should reconsider your decision regarding further treatment." Parker could hear a muffled laugh on the other end.

"Not a chance, Detective. Not a chance. Good bye."

"Good bye Walter." Parker saw no point in telling Henderson that even had he stayed the course and fought his obsessive-compulsive 'God-given' nature, the outcome would have been the same. Chaney would have died of his injuries (instead of an almost certain future lethal injection) and the authorities would have gone to Chaney's home to inform next of kin. There, they would have found Rainy. In fact, by saving Chaney's life a far worse scenario might have ensued. The 'saved' Ambrose Chaney likely would have left the hospital after a few days. With no cops coming to the house, Rainy Kulman would still be in his own personal hell (or out in the backyard with God knows how many others) and Chaney would still be doing his thing.

"And that didn't happen, my friend because of some damn good detective work. Congratulations partner." Phil had called back after the news conference. "Pulling that name out of that mumbo jumbo was... well, inspired. That's all I can say: inspired." Phil's voice cracked a bit - then silence. "You are the one that saved that kid's life, Jim. His life and God only knows how many others. How long before anybody would have ever stopped that bastard -" Another pause. "It ought to help, Jim. It just ought to help, my friend." Another pause - this one a little longer. "Call me if you decide to take me up on the offer, pal."



Parker poured himself a Scotch. He hadn't had a drop since Karen left seven months ago. God how he missed her. She was his muse. He had driven her away with the anxiety and the depression, the nightmares and the drinking. Of all nights, tonight he needed to relax so he could think. Inspired detective work. Phil had it half right. Inspired, yes... but the inspiration came in a dream. It came in a fucking nightmare from the mouth of the fourteen-year-old kid Parker had killed three years ago this month.

Parker swirled the liquid, the ice cubes tinkling, then set the glass back down.

Walter Henderson was convinced that the events of the last few days confirmed his contention that he - that we all - have a greater purpose in life. Parker had taken a life and now he had saved one. Could that even the score? Did that even the score?

Parker picked up the glass again.

Is that why Terrance Blake came back, again and again, in Parker's dreams? All these years Jim had seen it as a nightmare when all along it had been preparing him for an inspiration that gave purpose to his life. He needed answers.

Parker stared at the drink in his hand. Maybe the booze would take the edge off. Then he set the glass back down; pushing it aside he picked up the phone. Karen never went to bed before ten.

2 comments:

  1. A whole new way of looking at a cop's "hunch." Your characters come to life here and a nice slowly developed twist keeps the reader glued to the page - ah, err, screen ;-) I have to admit I almost passed it over, but the writing kept me reading!

    ReplyDelete
  2. i agree with Jim, excellent characters, good story going in an unexpected direction

    Michael McCarthy

    ReplyDelete