Bob scowled, then turned to size up the rookie. Jim looked innocent enough in his well-groomed hair and polished shoes that mirrored the commissioner’s office, but innocence is a quality not always amenable to homicide work.
“I don’t think we actually need to take on an additional homicide detective” Bob finally said, still looking at his annoyed reflection in Jim’s shoes.
“Just do it as a favor to me” insisted the commissioner. “Jim’s grandfather Joshua was very instrumental in the founding of Gnostipolis, and Jim’s father is in good standing with the community.”
Bob scratched his mustache. “It sounds to me like someone has job-security anxiety, plus I don’t owe any favors to anyone.”
The commissioner ignored this, and slid a gun and badge across his desk. “Jim. Understand that detective Bob Durabum here will be overseeing your initiation and training. You are to follow his lead. Are we clear?”
Jim nodded. Bob muttered a curse in resignation.
It was that next Tuesday that Bob realized that things may be far worse than he had first anticipated. They had been dispatched to investigate the murder of a white male at an address on Aquinas Avenue. Three blocks from the scene Jim, staring straight ahead in the passenger seat, cleared his throat and eerily proclaimed “It was Abner.”
“What was Abner?” Bob shot back. Jim sat silent.
The supine corpse lay in bed with 3 stab wounds to the torso, plus a kitchen knife still lodged between the 8th and 9th ribs. After several photographs, Bob donned a glove and slowly extracted the weapon while Jim looked on, his face more ashen than the body.
Bob turned the knife over several times, then placed it in the evidence envelope. “Check the kitchen” Bob instructed. “For what?” inquired Jim. Bob looked up and surveyed Jim’s face incredulously. “For missing knives.” “Oh, of course.” said Jim as he spun himself in the direction of the hallway.
There was, in fact, a knife missing from a wooden cutlery stand in the kitchen. But by the time Jim had started back down the hallway, Bob was emerging from the bedroom. “Well, that should wrap it up.” he said. “Let’s get an APB out on a Mrs. Mark Mills, first name Cynthia.”
“But Abner did it!” Jim’s expression was as in earnest as his words, and Bob hesitated long enough to disguise any amusement in his voice. “And…just who is this Abner?”
“Abner is the murderer.”
Bob defaulted to a scowl. “And you know this Abner?”
“Well, sort of.”
“And how do you know he is responsible for the death of Mr. Mills?”
Jim now looked a bit annoyed. “How do you know he didn’t?”
That odd question somehow sounded like a fog horn for the sandbar of irrationality, but Bob steamed on ahead. “Well, there is the mail box on which ‘Mark and Cynthia Mills’ is stenciled. The front door was locked when the first policeman arrived. There is the kitchen knife as you know, and I’m assuming you saw the shattered photo frame on the floor of the bedroom with the newly-wed faces of a blond woman and of the corpse, only pinker of course. And there is this here cell phone of the deceased I found on the nightstand opened up to a screen of multiple call entries to a woman with a name not even close to ‘Cynthia’.” Bob patted the evidence envelope under his arm, then paused. “However, I am open-minded enough to hear you out on this guy Abner.”
“Abner’s a ghost” declared Jim.
Bob fingered his mustache a moment, then turned on the hall light. “Could you elaborate on what you mean by ‘ghost’. Do you mean Abner is a rather elusive person?”
Jim’s hand began to gesticulate even before his lips did. “Abner is the bad ghost. The good ghost is Joshua, my grandfather. Years ago, they quarreled over who was the rightful mayor of Gnostipolis. Joshua banished Abner from the city limits, and ever since, the ghost of Abner has been sneaking into town killing and hurting people.”
Bob, trying not to make eye-contact, placed a hand on Jim’s slight shoulder. “Let’s go have doughnuts and coffee.”
At about the third stoplight, Bob broke the silence. “So let’s assess where we are. Cynthia had nothing to do with her husbands murder. Instead the ghost of Abner killed him due to a feud he had with Joshua a couple generations back. Do I have it right so far?”
“That’s right” said Jim. “And Abner wants to hurt all of us, and we all deserve to be hurt, because we are all basically murderers like Abner, and Joshua wants to save us from Abner, and all we need to do is have faith in Joshua to save us.”
“And what sort of evidence are we talking here?” asked Bob politely.
“Well…Mark Mills.” said Jim.
“But…” Bob said slowly. “Doesn’t the evidence we collected seem to suggest that his wife did it?”
“That’s exactly what Abner wants you to believe! Since Abner is a ghost, he could have gone through the front door, and he could have, through a quantum interface, placed those call records on the phone!” responed Jim. “It is so clear! Listen to your heart. You know that Joshua wants to save you and the whole city of Gnostipolis.”
Bob confined himself to the most accommodating mode possible given the situation. “I’m sorry, Jim. But I don’t believe in Joshua, Abner or ghosts of any sort. It’s just not reasonable.”
“So where do you go when you die?” Jim demanded.
Bob replied “Well, based on the evidence, I’ll just decay like any normal corpse.”
“What if you’re wrong? And how can you just reject the long tradition of beliefs in ghosts? Do you really believe that once you’re dead you’re dead?” Jim’s voice was beginning to crack at the edges.
“Yes” said Bob.
“I don’t believe you” said Jim. “We all have within our hearts a ghost-sized hole that only the ghost of Joshua can fill. I have a personal relationship with Joshua! You are just rebelling against Joshua because you want to pursue your own selfish agenda!”
“I have no argument with you there” Bob responded, now a bit irritated. “But my agenda happens to include keeping your butt safe from real killers instead of this voodoo Abner malarkey that you’re suggesting.”
“So you’re saying that there is no ghost of Joshua to save us! I wouldn’t want to live in a city that did not have Joshua around to protect us.” Jim spoke with conviction, sincerity and confidence, and this made him feel warm.
At the Doughnut shop, Bob took a brief sip of his black coffee, then looked up across at Jim. “So who else believes in ghosts?”
“Nearly everyone in town!” asserted Jim.
And Jim was right. More than half of Gnostipolis residents subscribed to some ghost story or other. Not that it was always the same ghost hero. There were the ghosts of Abdalla, of Siraj, of Niran, and a multitude of others, all with their own appearance and voice, but all invisible and inaudible.
Bob scratched his mustache. “And, just to clarify, they all believe that, if they misbehave, some ghost or other will likely work some scary hocus-pocus on them, is that right?
Jim nodded. “That’s right. Can you feel Joshua working in your heart? All you have to do is believe.”
“I do believe” said Bob, and he left the statement unqualified as he gulped down the rest of his coffee.
A few weeks later, the fine city of Gnostipolis implemented a pilot program initiated by the highly-lauded homicide detective Bob Durabum, and run by the newly-promoted detective Jim Feeblebum. Forty modified ice cream trucks were equipped with loudspeakers, decorated with Halloween artifacts, and assigned to forty devout citizens who could preach every evening as the sun set on the dangers of misbehaving and faithlessness. The terrified citizens predictably drew their curtains and huddled within the safety of their living rooms around storybooks of ghosts and ghostly matters. On top of that, the murder rate in the now ghostly city of Gnostipolis dropped by four percent, and every citizen was in bed by nightfall.
Except for Bob, of course, who drove to the nearest normal metropolis and misbehaved to his heart’s content.
I know this story seems a bit contrived. I knocked it out rather quickly. Your suggestions are welcomed. -phil