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Mark Nosack

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Faceless Death
By Mark Nosack
Monday, July 13, 2009

Rated "PG" by the Author.

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A police detective mourns the death of his only son. But the mourning is starting to control other aspects of the detective's life.


The smell in the air was sweet and filled with the transparent odor of the grey marble floor that was cool to the touch. Barkley sat on the matching grey marble bench in the mausoleum when the beep from his cell phone disrupted his sobbing.
The place was capacious and bright, with gleaming slabs that concealed the niches into which caskets had been placed. Barkley’s tear-filled eyes were fixated on the alcove near the high, wide windows that flanked the main entrance, shimmering squares of glass permitted mourners to stare within much smaller niches and view the bronze urns that contained the ashes of their loved ones.
He’d chosen cremation for his fifteen year old son because he couldn’t bear the thought of his cherished child decomposing in a coffin. He couldn’t bear the thought of his son lying in the cold frozen ground where the elements would envelop his already ravaged body. Logic told the part of Barkley’s remaining rational mind that cold wouldn’t bother Phil now that he was dead.
But it mattered, just as it mattered that each Friday afternoon he made a ritual of driving out here to the mausoleum, of sitting on the marble bench across from the wall of glassed-in urns, and talking to Phil about what had happened since the previous Friday, about how he prayed he was happy, about how much he missed him.
Phil had been dead for a year now, and that was supposed to be a long time, but Barkley couldn’t believe the speed in which it had gone. At first, friends were understanding, but as time moved so did the patience of those well-intentioned associates. Only one person in Barkley’s life understood the depth of the grief that was slowly gnawing away at his soul, Susan, his wife.
The sound from the cell phone coming from his gun belt was one of many tools that Barkley carried every day of his life. This particular tool was suddenly trespassing with violence into his moment of sorrow.
“What?” He barked into the cell phone.
“Jake, it’s me. Is something wrong?” Susan said with alarm.
“No, I’m sorry. I just had a bad day.”
“Could you stop by the store and grab some eggs and bacon? I forgot and I want to be able to serve my parents breakfast tomorrow,” Susan said causing a little alarm in Barkley.
“Your parents, what are you talking about?”
“Don’t you remember? They’re staying the night because they’re going to the play.”
“That’s right, I forgot,” Barkley said remembering. “I’ll grab the stuff and be home in an hour.”
“Thanks, I love you,” she said with meaning.
“I love you too,” he said hanging up the phone and rubbing a tear off his cheek.
Barkley drove down the wide street and looked over and saw the 7-Eleven sign on the corner and pulled into the parking lot. During the past year he had pulled into this particular parking lot probably a hundred times. Every time that he did, he put himself through the same ritual of pulling up along side of the building and opening the car door. He would get out of the car and start to walk back to the rear of the store as he unsnapped his holster. His hand wrapped around the butt of the gun as he approached the rear alley. He would hear the sounds of gunfire shattering the air and simultaneously see the flash of light that was caused by the flames that had obviously shot from the barrel as he peered around the corner. 
Barkley shook his head trying to force the thoughts out. He turned and snapped the gun secure to the holster and walked back to his car. He needed to stop at another store and get some eggs and bacon.
He walked in the house through the garage door and first saw his beautiful wife rinsing something at the kitchen sink. He walked over to the counter and set the sack of groceries down as Susan rounded the corner of the counter to kiss him. He smelled the sweet odor of Tabu.
“Hey,” he said embracing his wife.
“Hey,” she said with a smile.
Barkley turned and saw his father-in-law walk into the kitchen carrying a glass filled with the amber bourbon and water that was John’s trademark. Shirley was waddling after John at about the half speed that she had fallen trap to.
“How ya doing Jake?” John asked raising his hand to shake.
“I am great doc,” he said shaking his father-in-law’s hand.
“You don’t look great,” Shirley said wrinkling her brow. “You look like you got hit by a truck.”
“It must have been a small truck because I’m still walking,” he said with a smile.
“I don’t think you’re taking good care of yourself,” Shirley said looking over at Susan.
“Mom, he’s fine. He just had a bad week at work,” Susan said showing that she had my back.
They ate chicken breasts and rice for dinner and drank a nice Merlot. Most of the table discussion was about the afternoon play that John and Shirley came down to watch. Shirley thought the costumes were wonderful and so full of color. Barkley remembered seeing “Cats” with Phil and remembered how the boy so much loved the colorful costumes that filled the stage. Barkley’s chest cramped and a bitter bile rose in his throat. Barkley drank.
After dinner Susan and Barkley got ready for bed when Susan turned and studied her husband.
“Jake, I’m worried about you,” she said sitting down on the bed.
“Why, what’s there to worry about?”
“Remember when I told you about finding you sleep walking a couple of week ago?”
“Yeah, a one time deal, there’s nothing to worry about,” Barkley said thinking about how odd it was that he never remembered a thing.
“No, it’s not a one time deal. You’re sleep walking almost every night,” she said with a concerned look on her face.
“What do you mean? Why didn’t you tell me?” He said astonished that he never knew anything about it.
“The other night I woke up hearing the front door close. I got out of bed and you were walking down the hall,” Susan said shaking her head. “I asked you what you were doing and you said you were looking for your ball.  When I tried to stop you and ask you what ball you were looking for you got this crazy look on your face and it really scared me.”
“What do you mean, crazy?”
“It was like you were in a trance. Your eyes have a crazy look in them when you sleep walk,” she said, “I’m getting scared.”
“What else have I done?”
Susan looked down at her feet showing reluctance to go any further. “I don’t know if I should tell you.”
“Tell me.”
She looked up at Barkley and a tear was falling down her cheek. “Last night I woke up to find you urinating on the bedroom carpet.”
The sound of that was revolting to Barkley’s ears. “I peed on the floor?” He said in a loud whisper as his intense eyes looked at Susan.
“Yeah, and it’s not the first time.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I thought it would just stop.  I didn’t want to embarrass you,” she said standing and walking over to Barkley.
Barkley embraced his wife and said, “I’ll make this stop, I promise.”
“Promise me that you’ll go in and see Eric.”
“I promise,” Barkley said putting his shirt back on.
“Where are you going?”
“I need to get some air and think about this. I’m just going to fix a drink and get a cigar and sit out on the front porch and think,” Barkley said. “You go to bed and I’ll be back in a little bit. I love you.”
“I love you too,” Susan said holding her husband real tight. “Jake, I’m hardly sleeping anymore because I’m afraid of what you might do. I lay awake nights waiting for you to get out of bed and then I follow you around the house. I’m scared.”
Barkley sat on the porch drinking a whiskey and smoking a little cigar thinking about what his wife had revealed to him. He had a degree in psychology and he knew that sleep walking was often caused by stress. He decided that he would never cause that kind of alarm in Susan again. He spent most of the time on the porch concentrating on, his term, “mind fucking” himself. He repeated the line, “get out of bed, wake up; get out of bed, wake up” over and over and over in his head. He believed in self hypnosis and he believed he could cure himself of this stupid affliction. Barkley wondered what in the hell was causing so much stress in his life. He’d been a cop for two decades and he had experienced stress to the extreme and it had never had this type of effect. What the hell is going on?
The ringing jolted Barkley upright. He could still feel the numbing effect of Bourbon suppress his mind’s ability to understand what had awakened him. Then the phone rang again. He answered it.
“Jake, this is Tess down at dispatch. We got a bad one for you,” Barkley heard the dispatcher say trying to interpret the words into reality.
“Whatcha got Tess?”
“Dead body. Looks like a fifteen year old boy.”
“How, what?”
“They’re not sure yet; maybe an overdose or maybe not.”
“Okay, give me the address and I’ll be right out.”
Barkley drove through the streets regretting the day that he accepted this assignment in homicide. He had seen a few hundred corpses and the horror and sorrow that accompanied death and murder. He glanced out the right window as he passed the 7-Eleven and saw images flash through his mind. He shook his head.
Walking up to the crime scene Barkley held up his badge and the blue uniformed officer lifted the yellow crime scene tape allowing the detective’s entrance.  Barkley walked toward the front door of the Spanish adobe home wondering why people built these ugly pink monstrosities amidst normal brick and wood and rock homes. He approached the front door and pulled a pair of cloth booties out of one pocket and rubber gloves out of another. He signed the crime scene sign-in sheet and slowly opened the door. Inside the living room were two other uniformed officers writing on their yellow pads.
“Whatcha got Deano?” Barkley said recognizing one of the officers.
“Not sure, it looks like a teenage kid. He’s in a bad position lying on the floor with his head all tweaked,” the officer said.
“What do you mean tweaked?”
“The older sister found him lying on the floor with his head up against the bed. She moved him trying to see if he was okay and she noticed that his head stayed in the same position. She realized he was dead.”
“Let’s take a look.”
Barkley followed the officer down the hall to the bedroom and as he entered he first noticed the boy’s stocking covered feet.  His eyes followed the legs up to the torso and then to the head. The boy was lying on his back but his head was up off the floor with his chin touching his chest. The boy’s eyes were restfully closed. Barkley walked over and kneeled next to the body and lightly grabbed each side of the boy’s head and tried to twist gently.
“Rigor mortis. That’s why he’s in this awkward condition. He died with his head up against the bed and he’s been here long enough for rigor to set in,” Barkley said as he lifted one of the boy’s stiff arms. He unbuttoned the sleeve of the long sleeved denim shirt and rolled it up. The arm had many obvious red and pink needle marks. Barkley felt his throat start to constrict. 
“Something like that would scare the lights out of ya,” the uniformed officer said.
Barkley walked slowly through the bedroom looking at the contents on the dresser and a small desk. The top drawer of the desk was locked. He walked over to the boy’s body and knelt and started feeling the front pockets of the boy’s trousers. Barkley slowly pushed his hand into the right pocket of the trousers.
“You’re a better man than I am Barkley. Ain’t no way I’m putting my hand in the pocket of a dead guy who’s pissed himself.”
“You get used to it,” Barkley said pulling out a set of keys.
He stood and walked over to the desk and tried the keys until he found the right one. The drawer opened, revealing a clear bag containing a half dozen hypodermic needles. Next to the bag was another baggie. Barkley picked up the second baggie and looked at it closely.
“Meth. Must of got himself a hot shot.”
“How does a kid get himself hooked up at this age?” The uniformed officer said shaking his head.
Barkley finished his crime scene investigation and went to the neighbor’s house to interview the sister. One of the things that cops hate to do is break the bad news of death to family. Barkley was grateful that the sister already knew.
“Hi, I’m Detective Barkley. Can we talk?”
“Yes. Please sit down,” the eighteen year old said with puffy eyes.
“What’s your name?”
“Tell me what happened?”
“Our parents are out of town and I went out on a date last night,” puffy eyes said blowing her nose. “I didn’t get home until almost seven. When I walked down the hall to my bedroom, I noticed that Ben’s light was on so I went in to see. That’s when I found him,” Emily Sanders broke down sobbing.
“I know how hard this is, Emily, but did you know whether Ben had a drug problem?”
The puffy eyes looked back up at me. “We knew he was into something because his grades went to hell the past few months.”
“Okay, when will you parents be back in town?”
“I called them and told them about Ben. They’re driving back from Las Vegas right now.”
“Thanks, I’ll be in touch,” Barkley said standing and turning toward the door.
“Detective, did Ben go through a lot of pain?” Puffy eyes said looking up at me.
“No, he didn’t feel any pain.”
Barkley walked out the door and saw the medical examiner’s car in front of the adobe house.  He walked over and made contact with the M.E. investigator. He showed him the drugs that he had collected and told him that it was a probable overdose. The officer working the crime scene tape lifted the yellow tape allowing the body snatchers with the gurney and black body bag to pass through. Barkley lit a little cigar. What haunted him was that he couldn’t remember what the face of the boy looked like lying on the floor inside the house.
He looked up at the morning sunrise starting to peek its pretty face over the tips of the Wasatch Mountains. The wispy clouds were drenched in color as the sun spilt golds and oranges and reds and pinks through the atmosphere reflecting off the cirrus formations. The scene was a breathtaking view of saturating color mesmerizing Barkley for the moment. He drew from the little cigar and turned toward his car.
Barkley drove down the street wondering why he had to deal with the death of another fifteen year old boy. As he passed the hospital he slowed and pulled into the parking lot. He got out of the car and walked through the sliding doors and made his way to the stairwell. Barkley walked into the children’s ward and entered the all too familiar waiting room. How many hundreds of hours had he spent in this room and the small room down the hall that housed Phil’s frail body? An eternity he decided.
Phil had suddenly become very sick and by the time the doctors diagnosed the leukemia, Barkley and Susan were told that it was too late. He refused to accept it. He yelled at the doctor who said that the disease had progressed beyond treatment. “He’s only fifteen years old.  You can’t give up on him. You’ve got to try,” he yelled.
Barkley sat in the chair staring down the hall where Phil’s room was. One side of him wanted to make the walk down the hall and find Phil sitting up in his bed smiling and playing a video game. The other side of him dreaded ever getting close to that room. He felt his throat tighten. Barkley stood and walked away.
Barkley drove in the 7-Eleven parking lot and pulled up along side the building. He got out of the car and started walking toward the rear alley. “BANG, BANG!” The sounds of gunfire sounded coming from the rear of the store with accompanying white flashes. Barkley unsnapped his holster and withdrew his .45 Sig Sauer. His heart suddenly jumped. The thought went through his mind that his partner was dead in the rear of the store. He approached the corner and kneeled and peered around the corner. In the shadows he could see the man holding a gun. The lights of the alley were in Barkley’s eyes. He couldn’t see much. The man turned in Barkley’s direction and raised his gun. Barkley shot. The man fell. Barkley approached him with caution and saw the man wasn’t a man at all. He was a boy.
“Why are you here to see me?” The psychologist asked.
“Susan said that if I ever want to get off the couch, I had better come see you.”
“Susan’s a smart woman,” Eric Nielson said leaning back in his chair.
“Yeah, well she wasn’t smart enough to kick me out long ago.”
“She loves you.”
“Yeah, and that’s why I’m here. I’m sleep walking.”
That raised an eyebrow on the head doctor. “Oh, what’s going on?”
“That’s just it, I don’t know,” Barkley said shaking his head.
“How often are you sleep walking?”
“Susan says it’s just about every night.”
“That’s not so normal. Usually adults start to sleep walk when there is some serious stressor that occurs; divorce, death, loss of a job,” Eric said tapping a pencil.
“None of those things have happened.”
“Except Phil’s death.”
“That was a year ago.”
“Still, it depends on how you’re dealing with it. Some people actually deteriorate and worsen. Some people heal fairly quickly,” Eric said studying Barkley. “How often do you visit Phil?”
“Once a week.”
“Do you take Susan with you?”
“No, she says that a couple times a year is enough,” Barkley said avoiding eye contact.
“When you visit Phil, what do you say to him?”
“That’s pretty personal.”
“This is all pretty personal, but I need to know what’s going on with you.”
Barkley sat and thought about last Friday’s visit. “I tell him what I’ve been doing. I tell him how much I miss him. I tell him that I pray for him to be happy.”
“You do this every week.”
“Actually, every day,” Barkley admitted.
“The last time I saw you was after your shooting,” the psychologist said tapping the pencil.  “When we talked then I hadn’t realized that your shooting occurred on the same night of Phil’s death.”
“Yeah, sometimes coincidence sucks.”
“How often do you think about the shooting?”
Barkley shifted in his seat. “Um, just about every day.”
“That’s not uncommon; however, the memories should be receding by now,” the tapping pencil said. “How often do you go back to the scene?”
“What does that matter?”
“Maybe it doesn’t.”
Barkley shifted in his seat again and stared at a blue bird sitting on a branch outside the window. “Maybe once or twice a week.”
“What do you feel and hear and see when you return to the scene?”
“I hear shots and see flashes and then I usually see that faceless boy with blood draining from his chest,” Barkley said closing his eyes.
“What do you mean faceless?”
“That’s kind of weird; I can remember what the boy looked like,” Barkley said rubbing his temples. “I’ve seen his picture a bunch and I still can’t remember what he looks like.”
“Not so weird, I’ve seen a number of cases where a cop gets involved in a shooting and he can’t remember the name of the person he shot,” Eric said scratching his beard. “I think we should try hypnosis.”
“I don’t think I’m a good subject for hypnosis.”
“I don’t like anyone else to have control over me.”
“I won’t have any control. I can’t make you do or say anything you don’t want to.”
“Do you think it’s important?”
“Let’s do it.”
The psychologist walked over and dimmed the lights and then had Barkley slightly recline in the chair. He sat in the chair across from Barkley and softly spoke requesting that Barkley concentrate on a single object. Within just a couple of minutes Barkley was in a deep hypnotic state.
“Jake, I want you to remember July 27th of last year. The time is just after 7:20 in the evening. You responded on a shots fired call,” Eric Nielson said in a smooth voice. “I want you to see the events unfold as if it happened yesterday.”
“I see it; I’m there.”
“What do you see?”
“I’m just pulling up to the side of the 7-Eleven. I call Sean on the radio and I instruct him to approach from the south. I’m getting out of my car and start walking toward the rear of the store. I just unsnapped my holster and grab the butt of my gun. “BANG, BANG!” I hear the sounds of gunfire coming from the rear alley. My gun’s in my hand and I’m hustling toward the rear corner. God, don’t let Sean be dead,” Barkley says as he raises his clasped hands as if he is pointing a gun.
“I kneel at the corner of the alley and I slowly look around the corner and struggle to see. There’s a bright alley light shining in my eyes and I can barely see beyond the light. Wait. There. I see the man crouching. He’s got a gun in his hand. I yell “Police.”
“The man stands and turns and looks at me. He suddenly raises his gun in my direction but it’s not suddenly. The entire world is slowing down and I’m starting to see every detail like I’m looking through a microscope. I know I’m in a terrible position, illuminated by the light, but I don’t have any choice. I fire three rounds and I can actually see the bullets travel through the air. I watch each bullet hit the man. Two hit side by side slamming into his chest and the third ripped away the left side of his throat. I watch as the man slowly floats toward the ground. He’s falling but it seems like an eternity.
“The man lands on his back on the pavement and I see his gun tumble a few feet away. I think the sound of the gun tumbling is wrong. I stand and start walking toward the man, my gun still pointing at his chest. As I get close to him I can see the blood draining from the wounds in his chest and I grab a wrist and turn him over on his stomach and handcuff him. I hear footsteps behind me.
“I turn and see my partner quickly approaching and suddenly feel a great sense of relief. My cell phone rings and I wonder who the hell would call me at a moment like this and then I remember that Susan said she would call me if there were any problems with Phil.
“Hello,” I listen to Susan tell me that Phil just died. I can’t even speak. The tears are blurring everything.  My cell phone falls to the pavement. My chest feels like its being crushed with a vise. I drop to my knees and I’m sobbing uncontrollably and I forget that there is anyone else in the world around me.
“Then I look down and see fire fighters turn over the body of the man I just shot and I look at his face. No, NO! It can’t be. It can’t be. I realize that I’m looking into the face of my own son. I killed my own son. Oh my God! Oh my God. I killed Phil!”
“Okay Jake, listen to what I have to say,” Eric Nielson said interrupting Barkley. “When I count to three you will open your eyes. You will not remember anything that you told me. You will open your eyes and you will feel very refreshed. One, two, three.”
Barkley slowly opened his eyes and raised a hand to his cheek and brushed away the tears. “Well,” he said looking over at the psychologist, “you didn’t make me prance around acting like a chicken did you?”
            “Not a chicken, more like a turkey,” Eric said with a smile. “Tell me Jake, when did you find out about Phil’s death?”
Barkley crinkled his forehead in thought then shook it. “I don’t remember. Isn’t that silly, I don’t remember.”
“Not silly, some things people just block out,” the psychologist said scratching his beard. “Remember what kind of gun the kid had when you shot him?”
“Shit, that’s something you can’t forget. It was a paintball gun,” Barkley said shaking his head and rubbing his temples. “They found out that the shots we heard and the flashes we saw were actually cherry bombs.”
“Jake, have you ever considered killing yourself since Phil’s death?”
Barkley squirmed in his seat. “The months after he died I thought about it a lot. One weekend Susan was out of town and I got in my car and drove up the canyon. I sat in my car and drank a bunch of whiskey. I had the whiskey in my left hand and my Sig in my right. I drank and drank and drank, trying to build my courage. Then Susan infiltrated my brain. I knew that I couldn’t cause her more hurt. I couldn’t put her through what we had both already been through. I’ve never thought about it again.”
“Let me tell you what’s going on with you Jake,” Eric Nielson said sitting up straight and forcing eye contact. “Within the course of just a few seconds on the night that Phil died, you learned that you had killed an innocent boy and you learned that the most precious person in your life had died. You were involved in the most horrible moment in your life and it was compounded by a more horrible moment. The two are connected, yet the two are totally separate.”
“You’re saying that I can’t let go of what happened at the 7-Eleven because of Phil’s death?” Barkley said crinkling his forehead again.
“You can’t heal from Phil’s death because of what happened at the 7-Eleven.”
Barkley walked out of the therapist’s office and got into his car. He drove down the street and looked over and saw the 7-Eleven. He started to pull into the parking lot, and then he pulled back out onto the street. He drove south thinking that it was the first time since that rotten night that he was able to pass the store and not stop. He drove. He looked down at his watch and realized that it was 4:00 on a Friday afternoon. Barkley pulled into the cemetery and parked near the mausoleum. He stepped out of his car and lit up a little cigar. He smoked. Barkley threw the cigar down and crushed it with his shoe. He opened the car door and drove home to be with Susan.

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Reviewed by Louise Outhwaite-Berthiaume 7/14/2009


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