The first came in at nine thirty. A bag lady. Large plastic shoppers and canvas sacks hung from her shoulders. Even more burst through the metal frame of the grocery cart she left in the lobby. Hair wrapped in a kerchief, body wrapped in at least three coats, she handed a newspaper wrapped package to Officer Hill. He promptly vomited. Those of us who had been making coffee or taking calls now gathered around to absorb the horror. Lt. Mahoney let out a low whistle before snarking,“Somebody pissed somebody off.”
The next one stormed in at about ten. When asked, he declared himself a street performer. His curls were weighed down by sweat and gel. In a rhinestone glove, he clutched what he had hoped was a discarded sub sandwich. The station was at a loss for what to do with the piece. We put it in a Sterilite tub next to what the bag lady brought in. We left a message for the coroner and talked in hushed tones.
Then, a woman came in with a cardboard box that started to drip as soon as it met the forced heat in the building. Her overcoat was covered in pigeon shit. When I asked why she didn’t just call us and leave the box at the scene, the bird lady gave the same answer as the other two. No phone to call from. No one around. I sat her next to the bag lady and fake Michael Jackson, who chose to stay in the warmth of the station. Sgt. Jacobsen placed the box on top of a trash bag in a conference room. He locked the door behind him.
Midnight was when the floodgates burst open. A sobbing girl in a cheetah print jacket and pink fishnets dropped a stained apple crate on the front step and asked me to call her mom in Iowa. A man we knew as Brother Harmony Solstice dragged in an entire aluminum trash can because he wasn’t sure if he should touch the duct-taped burlap sack inside. Three calls came in quick succession. The priest at Saint Bart’s made a grim discovery in the donation bin. A tarot reader saw someone drop a Hefty bag filled with dark energy into her compost pile. A vice cop called in a hysterical fit, worried she had found what was left of one of her informants. I wish I could say that was the last of it.
The lobby began to fill with shivering witnesses, and the conference table began to fill with packages, bags, and newspaper wads. We called the coroner again. No answer. We called the press. Channel 3 and 6 hung up on us. The Chronicle suggested we label this one “NHI”. No humans involved.
By three, we had almost all of it. All of her. Lower and upper legs. Arms and shoulders. Including the lower torso junkies found in the railyard, we confirmed eleven dumped pieces. Average build. No tattoos. Young, maybe. We just needed the head. We called the coroner one more time. That’s when Marta found the memo announcing the coroner’s retirement effective as of five o’clock yesterday. The backup arrived an hour later, red-eyed and sour from an abruptly ended maternity leave. When she saw the pile of human bits in assorted containers, she blurted “Oh, fuck this!” and left for a cigarette. I don’t know if she ever came back. Instead, the menagerie of night crawlers filled the dead air with their own theories.
“That girl definitely fucked the wrong person.”
“Or didn’t fuck him.”
“I’d sooner kill a bitch that didn’t.”
“They never gonna catch this fucker.”
“You ever seen TV? There’s probably all kinds of fibers and shit all over those bags.”
“Mine was in a box.”
I was on hold with the state investigators, praying that they could take this case off our table. A recording just played over and over:
“Stay on the line. Your call is very important to us. Stay–”.
“What the hell?” I slammed the phone down. The veteran who brought in a soggy A&P bag was sitting at attention in his wheelchair.
“She’s probably a hooker. They get themselves killed all the time!”
The girl in fishnets started to sob again. No one in Iowa had answered the phone. Brother Harmony Solstice meditated solemnly. The drifter who brought in a bloody milk crate slipped doughnuts into his pocket. The bag lady busied herself with the rags in her cart until she said with sing-song sweetness, “It’s just what you get when you go around the city with cars and boys and liquor.”
A weak chorus of bare and rhinestone-clad hands clapped in agreement with this verdict. When the sun rose, Sgt. Jacobsen declared that the crew had overstayed their welcome. Names were checked and double-checked on a clipboard. Contact cards were passed out as the group filed back out into the city one by one.
With an uneasy stomach, I went to clock out and lose myself in a dreamless sleep at home. But I was struck on the back.
“Where you want me to put this?”
I turned to see a kid, tall and lean, holding a squeegee in one hand and a heavy plastic bag in the other.
“Wh– What is it?”
“Man, I don’t know! He just gave me a twenty to bring it inside.” Whatever was in the bag was covered in thick layers of dollar store wrapping paper. Bigger than a basketball. About as round.
“And no, I don’t know who he was,” the squeegee kid continued. “And no, I didn’t do nothin’. Can you take this now?”
I silently took the twelfth piece. The squeegee kid left. I didn’t think to stop him. With shaking hands, I removed the round package. Taped to the top was a faded driver’s license with the face and name scratched out. Under it was an index card that read:
I did what was right.
8 thoughts on “The Levite by R. R. Setari”
Now this is a great idea. Here’s hoping it isn’t a serial killer. or things could get extra messy. Also, the parade of people from the streets is very well done; they stick to memory and don’t get lost in the details. .
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Creepy as all get out and leaves the reader wanting to know more!
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Loved it. Your characters, downtrodden street people, each had dual purposes in mind by bringing the victim’s pieces to the police, civic duty and getting warm. They were the stars of this tale. Well done.
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I think the press would definitely be interested in this one. However, that would be real, and this is surreal, kind of shines a light on those forgotten. I felt really bad for the murdered person, I liked the concept of the street people and others in the community rallying around to bring in the evidence… The last line reflects back on some of the lines the people said as reasons for the crime, as if the victim deserved it. Pretty chilling.
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Open to interpretation. Mine is that the killer is the Good Samaritain and the victim is the Levite, who is ignoring the plight of the homeless. Well done in any case.
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I was intrigued by your title and the twelve pieces.
But who would want to bend over for a killer as they could always argue their case!
This is a very thought provoking piece of work that can be looked at in many levels!
This may sound extreme. Wouldn’t the number of mass murders have seemed extreme a few short years ago? Now its “Who did it this time and where was it? Yawn.” Nazi Germany – the frog in hot water.
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I love the array of colourful, tawdry characters you describe so well. The dialogue is super sharp and snappy too. Really engaging writing.