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“Helping the Detectives,” by Christine Brandel

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Dear Detectives,

If you are reading this, it means one of two things: I’ve been arrested or I’m dead.

If I’ve been arrested, you’d damn well better have a search warrant before you go nosing around my private business. Instead of reading any further, just have a good think about yourself and your life choices, you fascist pigs.

If I’m dead, however, I’d like to help you out. I don’t mean to imply that you’re incapable of doing your jobs, though I confess I don’t have much faith in the police (see Par. 2). I’m just saying I don’t want to end up a name scribbled on a cold case box hidden away in your station’s basement.

First, we need to decide if my death was the result of natural causes, suicide or homicide. Have you found me crumpled on the floor underneath a tall ladder, my body bruised and covered in white paint? There’s your natural cause, my friends. Would you mind taking a minute to look up and admire the ceiling I managed to get to before my fateful fall? Thanks.

Otherwise, the causes aren’t likely to be natural. I am super duper fit and have no family history of anything bad at all, except narcissism, which is annoying but not fatal. On a day-to-day basis, I am ever so safe. The electrics and other utilities in my house are regularly tested and maintained. My emergency plan for bad weather is foolproof (I’ve done a trial run and all). If I’m dead, it was a human—not fate or a terrible accident—that killed me.

Suicide or homicide? Well, at this point, I can’t be sure. But there’ll be obvious clues. Most suicides don’t leave a note, but you know what? I’m not like most suicides. The letter you’re holding in your hands should be evidence enough to the fact that I love the sound of my own voice. If I’ve topped myself, trust me, there will be a suicide note. It shouldn’t be difficult to locate. You’ll find a sealed envelope on my desk or, if I was feeling particularly dramatic, clutched in my right hand. Pry it away from my pale, stiff fingers, and your case is solved. Of course, a clever murderer might just be trying to fool you. Don’t be suckers. Any spelling or grammar mistakes in the note? If so, I didn’t write it. I wouldn’t be caught dead including typos in any suicide note of mine.

If you’re still not sure, you’re probably thinking you need to talk to my closest friends. Here’s where you’re going to hit a roadblock. See, I don’t have any closest friends. I don’t any friends. I guess that’s partly why I’m offering you this help. I know that the police, despite your being fascist pigs, have a heavy workload, and I’d hate to be a contributing factor in your own premature deaths by stress-induced heart problems.

Check the calendar on the kitchen wall for a date with a red circle around it. Move ahead twenty-one days. If my time of death falls within that week, there’s a chance I was suicidal. I once wrote a story called “Helping the Detectives” about my own demise; find the file on the computer and note when it was last edited. If it too coincides, well, maybe I was feeling preoccupied by thoughts of my own mortality. See if you can find the final image ever recorded of me—you’ll want to look at the security tapes at the gas station up the road (fast forward to an hour before closing time the night I died). Enlarge it and focus on the eyes. Do they look as empty as the eyes of the corpse currently toe-tagged in your morgue? If so, suicide’s looking better and better.

If not, I’m afraid you’ve got a homicide on your hands, gents and/or ladies. Who did it? Obviously, I can’t tell you, but I hope I can keep you from barking up any wrong trees. I’ve got three ex-husbands, but don’t bother trying to finger one of them. All three were nice enough chaps but each took the money and ran, so there’d be nothing to gain from bumping me off. I was never that important anyway. None of them would risk his now prosperous life just to rid the world of me.

Workplace motivation? No. I’m a coatroom attendant at a restaurant. I work on my own, and the patrons don’t acknowledge my existence. I doubt even good detectives like yourselves could describe the face of the last coatroom attendant who hung up your jackets. Being inobtrusive is in my job description, for Christ’s sake. No work interaction led to my slaying.

Alas, I’ve really got nothing in terms of solid leads for you. I mean, in sixth grade, Bobby Lee threatened to tie my body to a tree and leave me to the grizzlies, but I’m sure that anger has subsided by now. Besides, I think I read in some alumni newsletter that he succumbed to cancer a few years ago. Survived by a wife, three kids and a brand new grandchild—how he found even one person to love him, I have no idea. I flipped the bird to a guy who cut me off on the freeway last week; I didn’t get the license plate number, but he was driving a blue hatchback. I’m sorry, I’ve just never been into cars, so I can’t give you the make or model. I was in the right lane, driving only a little above the speed limit, so if he came after and killed me for that, be sure the prosecutor trying the case drives home my stellar record behind the wheel to emphasis I was an innocent victim.

I’ll be honest with you: the perpetrator is going to be a stranger. I know you don’t want to hear that, they’re the hardest cases to solve. But there’s just no one who knows me well enough to want to kill me. That’s why I keep my house so incredibly tidy (I bet one of your officers has already commented on this). It’s the only other thing I can think to do to help you. There will be no fingerprints anywhere in this house, save mine and my landlord’s (you’ll have his on record from a drunk and disorderly arrest about eight years ago). If you find anyone else’s, you’ve found the killer.

I hope I didn’t die naked. If I did, would you mind keeping that detail out of the papers?

Thank you.

About the Author:

Christine Brandel is a writer and photographer. In 2013, she published her first collection, Tell This To Girls: The Panic Annie Poems, which the IndieReader described as a “well-crafted, heartbreakingly vivid set of poems, well worth a read by anyone whose heart can bear it.” To balance that, she also writes a column on comedy for PopMatters and rants and raves through her character Agatha Whitt-Wellington (Miss) at Everyone Needs An Algonquin. More of her work can be found at clbwrites.com.

Image Credit: © Kreatiw / Dollar Photo Club