“It was the hat that attracted me.” The woman looked up at me from her chair. “You know those ones with the round tops? A bowler, right? Or a derby? I’m not sure what the difference is.”
“I think they’re the same thing,” I said, taking a seat across the table from her. “Mostly I hear them called bowlers. I don’t know for sure, though. I don’t wear hats myself.”
“It was made of this black felt material. Real classy, you know? Most of the men who come into the park wear ball caps, which are kind of silly. Grown men wearing ball caps, like they were still kids. But this guy was wearing a black bowler, and it looked good on him. It was something he could have worn to church. He’d have to take it off once he got inside, of course. But he could wear it afterwards outside when we gathered to socialize. He looked good in it.”
“Tell me how you met,” I said.
“Well, I was walking my terrier, Peanut, and he came up from behind me with a Pomeranian on the end of his leash. First thing I think is that he must be walking his wife’s dog, because a Pomeranian isn’t really a man’s dog, you know? They’re all poofy and kind of feminine, even if they’re male. And he’s all coming up from behind me, you know? Like he wanted to catch up to me, which he admitted later that he was. Anyway, then I notice his hat, and I’m thinking, hey, that’s a good-looking hat. And I’m wondering if maybe he’s gay, you know what I mean? Because, you know, the poofy dog and the bowler hat and all. But that’s okay with me, even though being gay is a sin. But I think it’s just a small sin, and even though they’re all going to Hell, that doesn’t mean I can’t have a conversation with one of them, right? I mean, I don’t think their sin rubs off on me, you know?”
I wanted her to be comfortable, to tell her story her own way, but I felt like we were straying too far afield. “Did he try to hit on you then? When he caught up to you?”
She shifted her gaze to the corrugated fiberboard ceiling over my right shoulder and frowned. “Not right away. I mean, he didn’t just come out and toss me a pickup line. You know, like, ‘Did it hurt? When you fell from Heaven?’” She shook her head. “You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve heard that one. Like angels are supposed to all be sexy young women, instead of the awe-inspiring and dreadful manifestations of God Almighty. But, no, he didn’t come at me with a line. He just said ‘Hi’ and asked me if my dog was a Norwich terrier. Which, yeah… I mean, that’s kind of a line, I guess, in the sense that it’s an obvious ice breaker. I get that. But it’s not blatantly sexual, you know? It’s not the kind of line you’d hear in a bar, right? Not that I’d ever take my Peanut into a bar, of course. But you know what I mean.”
“Right. So you didn’t think he was hitting on you.”
She shook her head. “No, not really. I just thought he was looking for some conversation in the park on a sunny Saturday morning. And, like I said, at this point I think he might be gay. And he gave off a good impression, you know? I mean, he was nice! To be honest, I was kind of impressed that he even knew what a Norwich terrier looks like. Because Peanut does kind of look like one. But then I say, “No he’s a Norfolk terrier. And I give him a little smile, because, you know, Norfolk. It sounds a little dirty, right? Like ‘NOR f-word.’” She giggled.
“It sounds like you were giving him a line.”
She responded with the “little smile” she probably used on the vic. “Maybe. Maybe. Anyway, I could tell by his reaction that he wasn’t gay. At least not exclusively gay. You know how some of them swing both ways?”
“I’ve heard about that,” I deadpanned.
She gave me an impish smile. “My, I don’t think my minister would be happy hearing me talk about such things. The world is pretty simple for him. What the Lord wants is good, and what the Lord hates is evil. Not that I disagree. It’s just that sometimes what the Lord wants isn’t always so clear cut.” She shook her head, getting back to her story. “Anyway, this one turned out to not be gay at all, not that it mattered all that much to me.”
“Just take me through it,” I said, holding in my impatience. “What happened next?”
“Well, our dogs got along well enough, Peanut and his poofy Pomeranian. We found a bench and talked a while. I couldn’t keep my eyes off his hat! I liked the way he wore it tilted a little on his head, so that it was pulled down above his left eye. It made him seem like quite the rogue, if you know what I mean. Just a little bit bad, but not too bad, you know? I started to believe that the Lord liked that hat—and the way that man looked in it—as much as I did. So, anyway, we talked about dogs and the weather, and then the talk got friendlier and friendlier.” She smiled at the memory.
“You were flirting?”
Her smile widened. “I was enjoying it, because he wasn’t clumsy about it at all. He knew all the right things to say. Like he could compliment my hair or my figure without making it sound like he was coming on to me, you know, in the arrogant, self-entitled way that most men do, like they’re doing you a favor by choosing you. Like, you know, he didn’t hit me with something common like, ‘You’ve got a great body. I’ll bet you spend a lot of time in the gym.’ He was more subtle than that. He asked me if I had a bicycle, which I thought was cute. I told him I didn’t really work out, and that I just watch what I eat and take long walks with my dog.”
I leaned forward. “Did he tell you he was married?”
“No. But I could tell that he was, even though he didn’t wear a ring. It was that dog, you know? And the fact that he was walking it in a park where a lot of young mothers come with their kids and dogs. He’s not the first man I’ve met who used the old, ‘Honey, I’m going to take Rover out for a walk’ line to get out of the house.” She sighed, and her lips twisted into a half smile.
“We’ll get back to that,” I said. “So this was yesterday, right? You took him back to your place?”
She rolled her eyes. “Oh, come now, officer. You make it sound so, I don’t know, tawdry.”
“It’s detective. And I’m just trying to get the facts.”
“Sure, mister detective. In that case, yes.” She sighed. “He accompanied me to my home. Satisfied?”
“What happened next?”
Her smile disappeared, replaced by a scowl. “Once the door closed behind us, he changed. It was like a demon had descended on him. I asked him if he was thirsty and offered him a glass of soda, but he didn’t have time for that. He’d been kind and polite in the park. Friendly and patient. But suddenly he was in a big hurry. He’d seemed like such a gentleman, with his fancy hat and his poofy dog, but, let me tell you, detective: once he got me in his clutches, so to speak, the mask fell right off his face. I mean, he wasn’t a gentleman at all!”
It struck me that the woman wasn’t so much upset at what had happened, even when recalling the savage encounter, but baffled at the sudden turn the afternoon had taken. “How do you mean?” I asked.
“He became downright rude! I was no more than three steps into the living room when he grabbed me in a bearhug and started pressing his disgusting lips all over my face. I mean, he pushed me right up against the wall! Peanut started barking, and his poofy dog got agitated and started running around the room in a panic. The darned thing peed on my carpet!”
I kept my voice restrained, clinical, just a professional trying to ascertain the facts of the case. “I see. What did you do?”
“Well, I managed to push him away long enough to say, ‘Hold on, mister! What’s your hurry? Let’s put the dogs in the backyard first, and then we can make ourselves comfortable.’ Then we managed to get the dogs out back, but he wasn’t the type of man who cared much about comfort, I’ll tell you that! Next thing you know, he’s pawing at me and fumbling at my clothes, like he’s going to rip them off. I pushed his hands away, and that’s when he hit me. With his fist! Gave me this bruise on my cheek.” She brushed her fingers over the discolored flesh on her swollen jaw.
“Uh-huh. What happened next?”
“He pulled out a knife. Not a big one. Just a pocketknife. But he points it at my throat and says, ‘Where’s your bedroom, you little whore!’ Can you believe it? And I thought this guy was a gentleman.” She shook her head, her expression registering neither grief nor trauma, but profound disappointment.
“What did you do then?” I asked, studying her carefully.
Her lips twisted. “He followed me into the bedroom. That little knife of his was poking into the small of my back the whole way there. I’ve got little pin pricks back there now, by the way, and I could really use some disinfectant. Do you think you could take care of that for me?” I nodded, and she continued. “Anyway, he forced me into the bedroom and held the knife on me while I took off my clothes.”
“And then we had sex.” A thoughtful expression came over her face. “It wasn’t bad, except for the times he slapped my face and called me rude names. He really got off on the c-word.” She shook her head once, her lips stretching into a wry smile. “He finished way too soon, of course. They always do.”
“He raped you?”
She lifted an eyebrow. “Rape?”
“We tested his DNA, and the results implicate this man in a string of rapes over the past several years.”
She shrugged. “I guess you could call it a rape, but I don’t know. I mean, things didn’t exactly go according to plan, but we ended up where I expected we would from the start.” She giggled. “Can you believe it? He didn’t have hardly any hair under that hat of his. Just a big old receding hairline. When his hat came off, it was like he aged ten years, I swear to God!” She clapped her hands over her mouth, rattling the chains dangling from her wrists, and turned her eyes to the ceiling. “Oops—sorry, Lord! That just slipped out.”
She lowered her head, and her wrist restraints clanged against the table as she braced herself on her forearms. “That’s when Jesus came to my aid.”
“Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior,” she said, her expression solemn. “That man was still laying on top of me, pinning me to the bed, all moaning and breathless, a big old dead weight on my body, when Jesus guided my hand to the knife under my pillow. It’s a lot bigger knife than the one he’d been poking at my back with. Sharp, too. I drove the blade into his throat with all of the power of Christ.” She smiled. “The look on his face was priceless. He never saw it coming. He reached up, you know? To try to plug the leak? That’s when the Lord filled me with his strength, and I rolled him off of me. Then I sat on top of him and watched the blood pour through his fingers and onto my bed. As he was bleeding out, the Spirit of Jesus entered into me and pleasured me until I was screaming out his name. Jesus! Jesus! Thank you, my dear sweet Lord Jesus!” Her eyes rolled back into her head.
I watched her, not knowing what to say, amazed that I could still find myself stunned while questioning a perp, wondering why the lieutenant hadn’t entered the interview room.
When her breathing slowed, I asked, “How many was that?”
Her eyes restored themselves to their normal position and met mine. “What do you mean?”
“We have a team of men digging up your backyard. So far we’ve uncovered five bodies. How many are we going to find before we’re done?”
She sat back with a satisfied grin. “He was the twelfth, which means my work is done.”
“Done? What do you mean?”
“Twelve men. One for each disciple of Jesus. They’re all there in my yard. The first one was Judas, of course. I like to think of that last one as John, because he was supposed to be the favorite of my Lord.”
I was puzzled. “Are you saying you were killing Jesus’s disciples?”
She nodded. “It was the task my Lord Jesus gave to me. Twelve men had to be punished for his betrayal.”
“I thought Jesus was betrayed by Judas.”
That comment got me a look of patient condescension. “Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. But all of the disciples were guilty of standing by and allowing their Lord and Savior to be arrested by the Romans.”
“Wait. Didn’t Peter fight back? I thought he cut off one of the soldier’s ears or something.”
“Peter also denied knowing his Lord. Three times.” She shook her head. “No, the disciples were all equally guilty of betraying Christ. And now the justice of my Lord has come to them all.”
“Is that right? Well, the justice of the state is about to come down hard on you.”
Her eyes softened, and her lips parted slightly. “I am the handmaiden of my Lord Jesus, his Lady of Magdalene. It has been my honor to be chosen as His tool of retribution. It is done, and my Lord Jesus is satisfied.”
I stared at her in silence for several moments. “And what about you?” I asked, finally. “Are you satisfied, too?”
She closed her eyes, a beatific smile plastered on her face. After a minute, I nodded, stood, and left the room.
— Dr. Douglas Lumsden is a former history professor and private school teacher. He is the author of a series of fantastical noir mystery novels featuring hardworking private detective Alexander Southerland, who wanders the mean streets of Yerba City while navigating his way through trolls, witches, otherworldly demons, political corruption, and femme fatales from the depths of the sea. Dr. Lumsden lives in Monterey, California, with his wife, Rita, and two cats, Cinderella and Prince.