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Unpublished Draft

Peabdy the Crooner

 

Bingo Harris was sitting on a folding chair behind a table facing a huge mirror. The room was cold and his wrists hurt where handcuffs dug into his skin. Det. Jones had finished interrogating him and Bingo was still sweating and shaking when Det. Murphy took his turn. The man sat across the table wearing a sympathetic grin.

“So, you’re facing a charge of murder in the first-degree,” he said, “and you’re saying it wasn’t premeditated. Justifiable homicide, is that correct? Standing your ground? You don’t have to talk to me if you don’t want to and you have the right to call your lawyer. We can bring in a public defender if you don’t have one to call. Or we can get you a phone book so you can look one up in the Yellow Pages.”

“Nah, I’d rather do this alone and get it over with. Once I explain everything you’ll understand why I had to do it. I don’t think you’ll want to press charges after you hear my side of the story,” Bingo said.

He reached down to adjust his boxer shorts, which were damp and itchy from wetting his pants while Det. Jones grilled him mercilessly, slamming his fists on the table and screaming, “We’re going to string you up by your gonads for this, you smart-ass motherfucker! You’ll be talking like a girl when you have your date with the electric chair!”

“Very sorry if my partner was a bit rough on you, Mr. Harris. He’s really a nice man once you get to know him,” Murphy said. “Now, tell me how you feel about this, you know, on an emotional basis. Everybody has the right to express themselves. You killed a fellow human being. How do you feel about that? Do you think it’s okay?”

“Absolutely, Det. Murphy,” Bingo said. “The man had to be killed and it was my privilege to shoot him. He had it coming. He’s the guilty party, not me. He just wouldn’t shut up!”

“I see,” Murphy said. “Say, would you like a cup of coffee, Mr. Harris? Sugar or cream? We have half and half in the fridge for you if you’d like. May I call you Bingo? You can call me Dave.”

“Thanks Dave,” Bingo said. “I’d like it with a little bit of that half and half.”

While Murphy was preparing filter-drip coffee in the break room, Jones sidled up to him, close enough that Murphy could smell the man’s overdose of cologne interacting with the stench of his un-flossed breath. He imagined his tempestuous partner eating raw meat for breakfast. “Lemme at him again,” Jones said, cracking his knuckles. “I’ll get him to confess. I’ve been watching through the mirror and you’re just beating around the bush in there with your namby-pamby touchy-feely act.”

The two detectives didn’t always see eye-to-eye on interrogation methodology. In fact, they hated each other’s guts.

“He’s already confessed, shit-for-brains,” Murphy said. “And now he’s going to spill his guts for me. If you go in there and bash his face in he’s going to clam up.”

Bingo watched Murphy come through the door balancing a tray with two mugs of steaming-hot coffee and a plate of cookies.

“Let’s relax now,” he said. “Take a deep breath and think about the happiest moment in your life, like going to Cub Scout Camp in Maine or losing your virginity to a cheerleader. Any experience you cherish most.”

“Can you take the cuffs off first?” Bingo said. “I can’t reach the cookies.”

“You betchya. They’re all yours,” the detective said. “My favorites are the white chocolate chip mint macadamia nuts. Here, take the last one. I’ll have to bake a new batch tonight.”

Bingo tried to fight off the urge to eat the white chocolate chip mint macadamia nut cookie, suspecting his cheerful interrogator was tying to gain psychological advantage over his prey. But he sounded so sincere. Bingo caved in and ate the cookie.

“Go on now, you were saying the victim had it coming,” Murphy said. “Let’s hear the whole story now. I’m a very good listener.”

Bingo tried to remember exactly when it all started. He wanted to tell Det. Dave everything. He wanted to please the cop. He started from the beginning.

“It started when Peabody returned to the office from his medical leave,” he told Murphy, waiting for a nod of approval. Then he launched into the sordid tale of Peabody’s crime.

* * *

Everybody on his floor liked Peabody. And they respected him, despite the minor jealousies harbored by some the younger and more completive salespeople. Peabody had ranked first in quarterly sales for five years running but he never gloated. He was the oldest worker in the bawdy refrigerator magnet sales group, always cheerful and willing to help others.

But we were shocked when he suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage and was rushed to the emergency room right in the middle of a Days of Our Lives episode we were watching during lunch on the break-room TV. We were all crestfallen when doctors gave him a poor prognosis for survival.

Then we were jubilant when Peabody made a miraculous recovery and came back, wearing his signature yellow plaid pants and the broad smile that seemed glued to his face. Old Peabody was the Mr. Nice Guy at Hanes & Warbucks Novelty and Sex Toy, Inc. He was a stolid model salesman, tall and handsome.

Then the singing started.

It happened like this: One day when I was chatting by the water cooler with Ms. Schwartz, the hot new intern, when she described a dinner party she attended over the weekend and ended a sentence with the words “enchanted evening.”

Peabody stopped in his tracks, spun on his heels like an oafish ballerina and launched into a Broadway tune. Some enchanted evening, you may see a stranger, you may see a stranger, across a crow—ded room.

Peabody didn’t have a bad voice and people in nearby cubicles rose to laugh and applaud. Peabody took an exaggerated bow. He was funny and he broke the monotony of making cold calls to wholesalers and large-size sex toy retailers across the nation, pitching the wonder and utility of bawdy refrigerator magnets. The stock phrase was: “They hold the important notes you cannot forget.”

Later that day it happened again. Twice. The Boss told Peabody that Mrs. Snowden-James in the naked furry critter section was having trouble with her speed-dial phone. He asked Peabody to give her a hand. Peabody replied with a Beetles song. Oh yeah, I’ll tell you something, I think you’ll understand . . . I wanna hold your hand, I wanna hold your hand!” Peabody danced like a go-go girl when he sang this. When he finished his performance he strode across the blue industrial carpeting to Mrs. Snowdon-James’s cubicle to hold her hand.

Mrs. Snowdon-James was English and while Peabody was pecking successfully on her keyboard, she innocently said a word still in currency in her native land. “Why thank you, Mr. Peabody, that’s super!” This was a mistake. Peabody stood and sang. “Oh, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, even though the sound of it is something quite atrocious.” The occupants of neighboring cubicles rolled their eyes, giggling and guffawing.

At first, we humored him. Peabody had survived a life-threatening disease and we agreed that the poor bastard was suffering from delusional consequences of a severe posttraumatic brain injury, like the shell-shocked servicemen and servicewomen coming home from Afghanistan. We just needed to be patient until he recovered.

The next day it started getting really weird. We were in the middle of our morning sales meeting when Peabody jumped out of his chair with a flourish and proposed—in keeping with proper Robert’s Rule of Order—a motion that made us cringe. “I propose we sing this all instead of talking nonsense!” He sang this to the tune of Oh Suzanna. Some got a kick out of it because these meetings were stultifying, but the rest of us were deeply embarrassed for the poor bastard. The Boss told Peabody to sit down in a dry tone, suggesting nothing unusual had happened, then asked him how many sales he made yesterday. Peabody always went first in these meetings because of his seniority. “Just seven,” he chirped in falsetto, “but it’s going to get better soon.” None of the other salesmen and saleswomen had sold more than four fun-units – our term for one gross of refrigerator magnets. We had to acknowledge Peabody’s acumen.

In due course Peabody didn’t say anything anymore. He sang it. He was getting on everybody’s nerves in a big way, so a few of us marched into the Boss’s office to complain. “Look, if you slackers sold half the merchandise Peabody does you might have the right to speak up, but as annoying as he is with this singing thing he’s still the best damn salesman I ever managed,” the Boss said. “So get out of here and start making calls. Sell me some magnets!”

We were all careful to speak quietly and end our sentences with prepositions instead of nouns, fearing Peabody was in hearing range. But the man had big ears and super audiological powers. He continued to torment us with his musical retorts. Then we all started wearing telephone headsets to muffle the singing, even when we were away from our desks, but he got progressively louder. Peabody expanded his repertoire to arias from The Magic Flute and Madam Butterfly. The man was ill and we clung to the false hope that sooner or later he’d get well and our old beloved Peabody would be back.

Once, when Peabody took a bathroom break – we could hear him belt out Oklahoma through the wall – I phoned his wife Sue to see if there was anything she could do, maybe take him to a psychiatrist or something. She started weeping hysterically. “I’ve tried everything, Bingo,” she said. “I’ve taken him to a neurologist, a psychiatrist, musicologist and a numerologist and they’re all stumped. I can’t live with it anymore. I’m just now packing my bags and moving to Crimea. I have a cousin there.”

The next stage was shocking. He started warbling Grateful Dead songs into the telephone to entertain potential clients. Truckin’, got my chips cashed in. Keep truckn’, like the do-dah man . . . “ Evidently the clients loved it because he continued selling record amounts of fun-units. He got them to sing back to him. Peabody turned on his speakerphone so we could all hear a lady trill a Barry Manilow song. It was like karaoke on LSD.

You could tell the Boss was reaching the limits of his patience. He was wearing his winter earmuffs to work and he put egg cartons on his door in a vain attempt to block the sound of Peabody’s singing. One morning we were aghast to hear Mr. Crenshaw, the number two salesman or saleswomen on the floor and Peabody’s long-time rival, sing his sales report in the morning meeting in soto soprano. He used the tune Oh my darling Clementine. It was sick.

The Boss finally came to his senses when he examined the books and realized that while Peabody was making record sales the rest of the department had been performing very poorly. This month was the tipping point. Revenues had declined by 30% from the month before and he could only attribute this to the nuisance of Peabody’s incessant singing. To top it off, Peabody’s latest act was prancing and bumping across the floor like a drag queen singing disco tunes. “Stay’n alive . . . ah, ha, ha, ha stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive!”

“Peabody!” the Boss yelled, taking off his earmuffs. “Get your singing ass into my office right now.” Nobody could hear the conversation that ensued behind the acoustically reinforced door, even after we removed our telephone headsets and iPod ear buds. But we had high hopes something momentous was about to change.

Peabody waltzed onto the sales floor the following morning, crooning Sinatra’s I did it my way. He waived to his workmates with the little hand-swivel used by British royals on parade. On his first sales call he did a bizarre baritone rendition of It’s a Small World After All. He couldn’t help himself.

During the morning break I dashed home to get my uncle’s double-barreled shotgun out of the garage, making sure it was loaded. Tension was high in the bawdy refrigerator magnet sales group when I invited Peabody to an early lunch at the Chucky Cheese outlet down the road. He was singing Good night ladies when I drilled him full of holes in the parking lot.

* * *

Det. Murphy was barely able to hold back tears when he reached out and touched Bingo’s arm like a nun delivering dispensation. Det. Jones, who had been listening to the confession from the other side of the mirror, entered the room with a somber face. He approached the suspect to shake his hand. “You did a brave thing there, son,” he said. “It must have been totally maddening. I would have used an AK-47 and blown his brains out.”

Bingo was on tenterhooks as he watched the two cops conferring quietly by the doorway, raising their heads now and then to glance at him with harsh expressions, then resuming their deliberation, nodding and shakings their heads. Bingo was able to make out much of what they were saying.

“The prosecutor’s office doesn’t need to know about this,” Jones said in a low voice. “We haven’t even done the paperwork or filed the arrest report yet.”

“We’ll have to get the shotgun and the shell casings out of the evidence room and incinerate them. How about the Jolly Rogers Crematorium over on Elm Street? I know a guy there who owes me one,” Murphy said. “And we got to erase the video tape of the confession.”

“Right. Don’t forget to wipe his finger prints off his coffee mug,” Jones said. “I’ll take care of the coroner.”

Det. Jones approached Bingo. “You smell like urine. Why don’t you stop by the unisex restroom to clean yourself up before we escort you out the back door,” he said. “The deal is that we did not apprehend you. You were not here. We never saw you in our lives and you never saw us. This whole thing did not happen.”

Bingo couldn’t argue with that. He’ll be a hero when he gets back to the office.

“Do you want some cookies for the road?” Det. Murphy said. “I confess I lied to you, Bingo. I actually do have some extra white chocolate chip mint macadamia nuts cookies in the back. Sorry, it’s just part of the modern science of interrogation. I’m glad we didn’t have to go the next step and start singing Leonard Cohen songs in your face. It’s cruel, but very effective.

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Copyright  © 2015 Karl Schoenberger

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