“Et Tu, Driscoll?”
“Behind His Mask,
He Was Only Human,
A Person Who Feels
Like You And Me.
The Clown Is Dead,
The Laughter Is Gone,
The Clown Is Dead,
A Life's On The Run.”
-Sung by Axel Rudi Pell
(“The Clown is Dead”)
We all laughed.
We helped Barney up and checked out his vest. Driscoll had hit in a chillingly tight circle.
At that point there was a knock at the door. It was Manheim, our company doctor.
“Hey, Doc,” I said, “If you check out the cold car you can report that Walter Simonson died. We hit him with three slugs (don’t say they were post mortem) and you can say if that hadn’t killed him he would have died from pre-existing causes, that you will describe after the autopsy.”
“How is our duplicate bullet cushion?” he asked good-naturedly.
Barney showed him the bruises under his vest, and the Doctor prescribed aspirin.
“That’s modern medicine,” Doc Manheim joked, “Take two aspirin for your gunshot wound and don’t call me until I see your insurance.”
As per his request, since his performance had to go to waste, we poured a nice glass of champagne for Barney.
“My friend,” I toasted him with my glass of Dr. Pepper, “You are an Artiste’ Par Excellence, and it is a shame you didn’t get to extend your performance. But the face on Coggen told me to cut it short and not give him the chance to grill you. Too much rides on this, including your life.”
He raised his flute and said, “As long as you put me in your Rolodex and call me for other jobs, I can live with the $100,000 you paid me already.”
He began to take off the prosthetics and add some new ones that would make it impossible to connect him to the persona of Simonson in any way.
By this time the boys had transported Simonson’s body to our cabin, so it would have time to warm up before the police surgeon had arrived.
With the precision of a CSU team, we excised any clues to the contrary from the car. Only a moment after we declared it clear, the banging came to the door. The police had fought their way through the fans and the reporters to get to the train. Leading the team was their M.E. who could have be a cousin of Manheim (turns out he was a brother-in-law to our doctor, which we found out as they met before us)
“Gus!” Doc Manheim said as he extended his hand to greet his old friend, “Wish we could meet again under better circumstances.”
“Barry, what are you doing here?” The confused medico took his hand and shook it with gusto. “Why didn’t you write?”
“Well, I had been asked to accompany the Reverend and the detectives from the prison. You know he was terminal, right?”
“I had read something. What was it?”
“Ependymoma. He had the severe headaches, which made him irritable and prone to vengeance with small provocation. He didn’t exhibit a lot of the nausea and vomiting, but his vision and coordination were impaired,” Doc told the other Doc.
“If I am right, there should also have been neck pain, difficulty walking…”
“Yes, yes, and the fatigue,” our physician filled in. “He had it all, but he was a driven man with physical strength and stamina, so he didn’t let on. He could have died at any moment and no one would have seen it coming.”
“Well, bullets can have that effect also,” was the response. “You could say it was a horse race between the disease and the ballistics.”
Doc smiled, and they both laughed.
We knew he had taken a couple of hours before we put Simonson on the train to “prepare” the body for inspection. You can’t just shoot into a dead body and make it look like the guy died from it. If he had been alive he would have bled, but dead people refuse to do it. But Manheim had pumped blood through the pulmonary system so it would erupt from the holes in the chest. Our make-up people worked with “wet work” manipulation to also make it look as though he had just been killed. Still, we knew thorough autopsy would detect it all. But when Doc uncovered the body, I handed the beautifully forged document in Simonson’s own hand that filled in his religious beliefs about after death handling of his body.
Doc had removed the bullets from Simonson and presented them to his relative in an evidence bag, while the other doctor read, “No autopsy, due to religious belief, even if I’m murdered.”
Gus shook his head. “I don’t know. This is irregular, very irregular. In a murder….”
Harry had been on the phone with the D.A. and handed it to the doctor.
The doctor had to put down the document, after he had just read about the “Immediate cremation” clause in Simonson’s aftercare demand.
The conversation over the phone was heated and quick.
With that, the M.E. asked Doc to write a note that he had removed the slugs from the body and found nothing that would be of additional interest legally, as the District Attorney had requested. That done, he authorized us to convey the body to a local crematorium with haste, and end the entire odd situation.
We let him know that we would have to do it clandestinely, since his fans would disrupt anything public, probably being his reason for his writings.
At this point we arranged to have the train drop off the box containing him in Columbia, Missouri, their next stop, where it would be secreted to a local mortuary and crispied up.
Now, since this fellow named Barney, was about the right size could Gus take him on a stretcher (covered, of course) to the coroner’s lab? He could leave afterward and the M.E.’s report could fill in the missing gaps. All with the truth (as he knew it).
Still shaking his head, Gus agreed and called in his two assistants. I shook hands with Barney and watched as he lay down on the stretcher and got covered up.
We all snuck a look as the party exited and passed Coggen and his people on the platform, who then left without a word.
They didn’t seem angry or suspicious, but they lived to conspire, so there were no locks on what they were really feeling.
There was a knock on the door.
We found Driscoll on the other side. He entered and looked a bit shook up.
“What’s wrong?” Chester asked him.
“They almost caught me,” he informed us, “I tripped over a teenage couple who were lying down and making out. I planted the gun in her purse.”
“No prints?” I inquired.
“No, but when they do the ballistics they’ll match. And the kids can give each other alibis, and describe me perfectly.”
Harry pointed out that Driscoll hadn’t removed the entire make up visage yet: there were still a couple of strands of the beard stuck to his chin.
No one could have linked this kid’s face with the wooly, bearded old bum he had been before shedding the guise he had worn when he stumbled over those kids.
We had covered all possible bases.
Now we were ready for the final inning.
It felt like it was the last half of the ninth, bases loaded and Babe Ruth was coming up.
And he wasn’t on our side.
© C. Wayne Owens