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Vol. 5, No. 1

Disentangling
by Peter Rock

II. Auguste Dupin

 

Outside the Lancaster Hotel, Dr. Ralston Bender pauses to pull on his galoshes. He kneels on the cold pavement, and the boy stands nearby, watching, as if waiting for something more. The two have not spoken since before they went into the hotel room; inside the room, it was silent; they finished their business, then descended, without words, in the elevator. The silence between them is unbreakable.
    Now, finally, the boy turns and walks away. Dr. Bender does not call out after him, he just watches him go. That all went quite well, he believes. Just as he'd planned. Now, for the rest of it, he can only hope; he can only believe. He hasn't felt this hopeful since he was a boy, over fifty years ago.
    Dr. Bender senses that he is needed, somewhere; his eyes search for a pay phone. He'll never carry a pager or a cell phone, since he wants to always concentrate on the time and place where he is, to frustrate all distractions. He does not even have a telephone in his apartment.
    Picking up his murder bags, one in each hand, he begins to walk. The darkness closes around him. People are hurting tonight, that is certain. The neighborhood slips past. He can walk anywhere without fear, and this is not only due to his size; the way he spends his days renders him impervious. No outcome is unforeseen-neither dreadful nor surprising. Three boys with hoods over their heads stand around the pay phone. Brightly colored pagers show on the waists of their low-slung jeans.
    "Yo," they say. "White giant. Use another phone."
    "No," Dr. Bender says. "This one is convenient. I will not be long."
    "Fuck you," they say, but do not come any closer.
    The receiver is cold against his ear. His frozen mustache bristles. He dials the number of the answering service.
    "Dr. Ralston Bender," he says.
    The woman on the other end says the call came in just minutes before. She wants to know how he does that. "Is it urgent?" he says.
    There is a case that needs his attention. At 16th and Locust. If he can alert them as to his whereabouts, they will send a car to pick him up. They await him before proceeding.
    "I will not need a car," he says. "I will arrive there in between half an hour and forty-five minutes. Please relay this message, as I am not currently in a position to do so. And, please, make it extremely clear that the scene is not to be breached until I am present."
    He hangs up the phone, then looks back and forth, searching for a bus stop. Most of the streetlamps are dark. Shoes festoon electrical lines, hanging from laces like sinews.
    Glancing once at the boys, who still wait, he picks up his bags and begins to walk. The bags seem to have become heavier, as he's grown older; at night, his shoulders ache, their joints gone rough and arthritic, but he has no choice. He needs every single thing he carries. The scissors and forceps, tweezers, scalpel handles and blades. The syringes, needles, cotton swabs. The gloves, sponges, sketchpads and notepads. The thermometer, the chalk and tape, the body bags and I.D. tags, the evidence scale and the cameras, both regular and Polaroid-he's learned not to rely on the police photographers. And no matter how many tools he carries, how essential they are, Dr. Bender never forgets that the most important thing he takes to a crime scene is his common sense.
    As a medical examiner, he is somewhere between a detective and a doctor. There's an M.D. after his name, and he is admired in the cold rooms of the morgue, but he's earned his respect on the street. He has to remain attuned to feel the clues; he's learned their ways, how they arise from people and the spaces between people. This is why he is always ready, why he carries everything with him. He rarely goes to his office, for he needs to be out among it all, surrounded, to feel the gentle push and pull, the tendencies and possibilities all around him.
    Eighteen to twenty thousand people die each year in Philadelphia, and he sees a fair fraction. The cause of death is natural, accidental, homicide, or suicide. Only he has the power to say what happened, to lock it down. He's seen the skin of a hand come off like a glove, the scar from a braided whip, and the dark nostrils where a double-barreled shotgun's been placed. He can figure the shooting distance from the spray of the pellets, spread through a body, or the presence of gunpowder, if the weapon shot a solid bullet. In a skull, he knows the difference between entry and exit wounds. Bullets go haywire, ricocheting inside people; knife wounds are so much cleaner, simpler. He's seen mummification, and how rigor mortis comes and goes, and the pinkness of carbon monoxide poisoning. He's tested the food left behind, uneaten; he's sniffed for the bitter almond smell of cyanide.

~

It is not long before the bus eases toward him, the square lights of its windows coming into focus. Dr. Bender climbs on board, drops his token in the slot. He likes buses, the way they sway and moan, how they hold strangers together for a time, how all the scenery wheels through the windows. He likes them best at rush hour-all the people standing and leaning in the aisles, their bodies pressed against one another. Now, the bus begins to move. He prevents himself from speculating about tonight's case; he prefers to arrive at the scene with his mind clear and unsullied, with every explanation still possible.
    He's in a good mood still, from helping that boy. Michael, back at the hotel. Dr. Bender had tricked him a little, paying a woman to talk on the phone this morning, but now he sees that wasn't even necessary-the plan was so pure that the boy sensed it, that he wanted to come, that it was clear in his eyes. A sense of duty, even, more than curiosity. And there is no doubt that Dr. Bender chose correctly; he had never seen the boy before, yet he sensed the need, a coiled aimlessness, an energy waiting for purpose. The sight of him lit on Dr. Bender like a surprise, the answer to a question he had been struggling to formulate. How might I spread hope?
    The brakes catch when the bus slows; the driver's hand waves the wheel around as they swoop through corners. Outside, people lean into the cold wind, clutching the lapels of their coats. All the trees' branches are bare, fragile. Dr. Bender prefers the night; any point requiring reflection can be examined to better purpose in the darkness.
    Now the bus is passing through his neighborhood, his apartment only short blocks away. He imagines it now, the place he's lived for over thirty years, with the pale red light seeping through the windows and his cat, Pluto-who does not fear the smell of him, who likes everything about him?asleep or patiently waiting, holding the room still.
    One single lamp hangs from a slender gold chain, its bulb hidden behind a ground-glass shade. An octagonal table rests in the middle of the room. On the walls hang two large paintings-a landscape holding barren hills, one lone tree; a portrait of a dark-haired woman he does not know. He bought them both at an estate sale.
    There are no mirrors, no shining surfaces; the heavy curtains are capable of blocking all light. The red velvet sofa is covered in black cat hair. Often, Dr. Bender falls asleep here, and he awakens in the early afternoon, with Pluto on his chest.
    The large window behind the red velvet sofa frames the yard next door, which holds a black, wrought-iron raven, its outspread wings over six feet across. As wide as Dr. Bender's own arms, held out to his sides. It perches there, atop a post, because the house there was once rented by Edgar Allan Poe. Poe lived in those rooms over a hundred years before, with his young wife and his mother-in-law; he wrote his best tales here, marked down the words. Now the house is a National Historic Site, and Rangers lead tours, most days. What would Poe make of them, in their stiff polyester uniforms and wide-brimmed hats, the ties that close with metal snaps around their necks?
    Tours do not interest Dr. Bender. Some nights he looks through this window, though, and imagines that a dark figure stands in the windows of the house, looking back at him, sharing his thoughts. This does not frighten Dr. Bender-far from it. Some nights he even descends from his fire escape, the rusted ladder scrolling loose from inside itself, and walks across Poe's lawn. He looks through the low window, into the basement, the low ceiling and the crumbling mortar of the false fireplace, a perfect place to hide a body. He feels close to Poe, these nights, a chill burning inside, where effects find their causes and do not fork away.
    Before he moved here, he'd never read Poe. And once he began, he could not stop; now he's read it all. The tales, the poetry, the criticism, the letters. He reads the collected works, all thirteen volumes, circling through them as if they have no beginning or end, which they do not. His fingers still tense and shock, holding the pages.
    It's true that Dr. Bender has grown the mustache, and let his hair stretch toward his shoulders; it's true, perhaps, that he and Poe share a sensibility, their nerves wound tight, that there is a similarity in their eyes. But it's preposterous to imagine he's trying to perfect a further similarity-at six-four and over two-fifty, Dr. Bender is twice Poe's size.
    In any case, it never was Poe who Dr. Bender emulated. Not exactly. It was Auguste Dupin. It still is. Dupin, Poe's detective, who went out only at night, when the mysteries were illuminated for him. Dupin, who solved the Rue Morgue murders, who out-thought both criminals and policemen. Dupin, the occasional poet who developed every side of his brain, who was fond of enigmas, of revealing the complex as far from profound.
    Poe never really described Dupin, physically, though Dr. Bender suspects the detective looked very much like himself. A larger, stronger Poe, with equal acumen yet more ability to survive in the world. Like Dupin, Dr. Bender smokes a meerschaum pipe, filled with cheap tobacco. Even with the smoke thick in his clothes, and his cologne-musk, it says on the bottle-people still sense there is something about him, a reason to step back. He cannot help this. He has changed in tiny increments, so gradually, to become what he is, until his loneliness is like a scent, a kind of electrical membrane cast around that holds everyone away.

~

At Walnut Street, Dr. Bender transfers from the 57 to the 21. This bus is almost empty. Copies of the Inquirer and the Weekly cover the seats. Only a week ago, they'd both run articles about him, about his upcoming retirement. They recalled some of his most famous cases-the blowfly eggs taken from the nose of a corpse, the pupae tested to provide toxicology information on the victim; the dismembered body whose parts were matched by the marks of the same vise on the ankles, wrists, and skull; how he matched the jagged round circles around the nipples of a victim by taking casts of the suspects' teeth, then tested them on Jane Does in the morgue, corpses still fresh enough to bruise.
    He refused interviews; he does not desire publicity. The papers had talked to some of the technicians, though, and to Detective Farnsworth, and had even gotten a quote from the police chief, a man Dr. Bender has never met.
    Once, though it sickens him to think of it now, he had considered collecting the cases himself, detailing them in a book. Adipocere formation vs. mummification, his theories on fingertip-type bruising, a chapter on rationality and the criminal mind. He had bought a bound notebook of expensive paper, a fountain pen with a gold nib. On the first page, he wrote the title he'd been saving-Disentangling-and, below it, his epigraph, a description of Auguste Dupin by Poe:

    As the strong man exults in his physical ability, delighting in such
    exercises as call his muscles into action, so glories the analyst in
    that moral activity which disentangles.

      The remaining pages in Dr. Bender's expensive notebook are blank; they will remain blank. The idea was self-serving and beyond that. Distasteful. People's curiosity is not about the disentangling at all-it is for the details that shock and thrill them, a thirst for all the sexual deviance cases that some consider his specialty. And, Dr. Bender admits to himself, he has not always been innocent of pandering to such people. On more than one occasion-at dinner parties or receptions he could not avoid-he'd let someone start questioning him. He'd warm up by explaining that hair and fingernails did not, in fact, grow after death, and before long he would hear himself regaling a growing crowd with tales of mutilation and postmortem ejaculation, of every prurient detail. The sound of his voice, in these times, came to disgust him. It made him question whether his work was, in fact, a "moral activity"; it made him wonder what he might do to make it so.
    Dr. Bender has realized that he's never known a happiness he could not pick apart. He has practiced too long at looking backward-all his work has been in the past, about things that have, always, already happened. This is why he is retiring early, while there is still time to change.
    No one knows how effects are managed like he does, few have traced them so far back. Poe found purity, but he'd never been able to move forward-Dr. Bender believes he can go beyond this. All the polarities inside him have been reversed; instead of explaining past tragedy and sadness, he will project future happiness. He will plant the causes deeper than anyone could know or recognize. Tonight in the hotel was only a beginning, one beginning. There will be others.

~

The bus departs, and Dr. Bender walks the block and a half to Locust Street. All his senses bloom in anticipation. The traffic is easing; there are few pedestrians on the dark sidewalks. As he approaches his destination, he sees that there are no reporters yet, no press waiting. That is fortunate.
    One police car is double-parked out front, and the door of the row house is propped open. He steps inside the narrow, haphazardly lit hallway. Cracks run through the brown paint, stretching along a stairway where the three men sit waiting. Detective Farnsworth sits at the bottom, the two policemen spaced equally above him. All three stand and begin talking at once; Farnsworth looks back and the officers go silent. He takes a step forward, with his slouching body, the loose skin around his sad eyes, his pale gray halo of hair.
    "Good evening, Detective," Dr. Bender says. He holds out his official ID for inspection.
    "I know who you are, Bender," he says. "Christ. It's been how many years? How many cases? And you're a short-timer now, too. Relax a little."
    "I understand there's a situation here," Dr. Bender says. "How do the facts stand?"
    "Well, the smell is what alerted the landlord."
    Dr. Bender has already taken note of the odor of decomposition; he has unconsciously switched to breathing through his mouth.
    "And it's clearly coming from behind that door."
    It is the only door in the hallway. Below the brass #1, someone has drawn a black shape-rather hastily, it seems-with a piece of charcoal.
    "A crow," Farnsworth says, "or some kind of blackbird."
    "I beg to differ," Dr. Bender says. "That bird is decidedly a raven."
    The two policeman are still on the stairs, prepared to begin.
    "And what," Dr. Bender says, "has your initial investigation revealed?"
    "The landlord is upstairs, awaiting questioning," Farnsworth says.
    "And behind this door?"
    "We haven't opened it, yet. We were waiting for you."
    Dr. Bender takes off his overcoat and hangs it on the newel post of the banister. He pockets his cuff links, then briskly, with a snapping sound, rolls his shirtsleeves to his elbows. He takes off his galoshes, then dials the combination of one of his murder bags, so its hinges open like jaws. Inside, it is extremely organized. He takes out his sketchbook and a dark graphite pencil, and stands. Looking once at the expectant men, he opens to a blank page.
    As he begins to sketch, he is assembling what he has to work with, here. Farnsworth is dependable, in his way, yet extremely squeamish-he avoids a corpse every single time. And the policemen are so young; the white one has acne on his cheeks, razor burn at his throat. The black officer, Wilson, has worked with Dr. Bender before, on a recent case. Wilson had cut himself, somehow, and had refused help, had said he'd wait for a doctor who handled living people. That's how it is-they keep their distance, fear his touch. They never shake his hand, always lean away when he tries to clap them on the back. Still, they are not bad men, not stupid men. It's after eight now, and they're already thinking of going home to their wives, their families.
    Just as Dr. Bender finishes his sketch, Detective Farnsworth clears his throat.
    "Can we begin?" he says.
    The policemen, who had returned to their seats on the stairs, rise again.
    "Are you ready?" Dr. Bender asks.
    "We've been ready for the last hour."
    "I realize that. I appreciate that fact. Have you heard any movements behind this door?" From his bag, he takes out four paper face masks, four pairs of latex gloves.
    "Nothing at all," Farnsworth says. "And it might be best-I mean, in light of preserving fragile evidence, you know-you might not want a lot of people in there, milling around."
    "Of course," Dr. Bender says. "I'll go in alone, with these two gentlemen prepared to respond, should I require their assistance. Until that time, I will require, as usual, absolute silence."
    He cannot have the air busied with talk, words loose in his head. Taking the key from Farnsworth, Dr. Bender unlocks the door, holds his breath, and pushes it open. A wall of hot, foul air collapses over him; the other men gasp. He hits the light switch and steps inside.
    One bare bulb swings from the high ceiling, two hundred watts or more. The ceiling is perhaps fourteen feet, the room perhaps twenty-five across, and square. It is empty, not one stick of furniture. One window faces the street; there are two doors, closed, on his right. On the wall straight across from him, written in the same charcoal, is the word TELL-TALE. The letters are over a foot tall, perhaps midway between the ceiling and the shining hardwood floor. The odor of decomposition is stronger here, thick and strangling.
    Yes, they were right to wait for him. Turning, Dr. Bender sees the policemen waiting in the doorway, pale blue masks over their silent mouths. They find nothing dramatic about this; they want to have it behind them, to be on to the next thing, or at least out driving the streets.
    Now he notices the galley kitchen, which had been behind him, half-hidden behind a sliding door. His footsteps are heavy, too loud; he pauses after each one, his ears straining. The chrome of the faucet shines. The cupboards are clean and hold nothing-no plates, no glasses, no utensils. There is no sign of habitation whatsoever.
    Turning again, he crosses to the closed doors. The first is an empty closet, holding only three wire hangers. The second door opens into the bathroom. He pulls the hanging string and a fluorescent light flickers over the medicine cabinet. The mirror reflects his tie, his shoulders. The tile is covered with a layer of dust; there are no footprints, no messages written in it. There is no curtain on the shower, and there's no body here. When he turns on the spigot, rusty water coughs out. He closes it down, pulls the string, steps back onto the hardwood floor. On his right, the round thermostat juts from the wall. The red arrow points just past 98°. He dials it down, into the fifties.
    Standing motionless in the center of the room, he feels his muscles tightening around his bones. He must restrain himself from hastening toward conclusions.
    "What do you make of it?" he says suddenly, whispering.
    "Nothing through those doors?" Wilson says.
    "The apartment appears to be empty," Dr. Bender says. "Perhaps the mystery here is too plain, do you think" A little too self-evident?" He gestures to the word on the wall, but they do not seem to notice his movement, nor the implication.
    "We could bring in the dogs," says the white officer.
    Dr. Bender cuts that idea short by narrowing his eyes. The canine corps always wants to bring in the dogs; the mounted police always believe horses are the answer; the officers in the wet suits, the frogmen, suspect all answers are underwater. Such complication is more than unnecessary-it invites distraction. Dr. Bender steps into the hall, reaches into his open bag, and hands a roll of yellow CRIME SCENE tape to Wilson. The other officer, it says on the badge, is named Jim O'Connor. He looks ready to suggest the dogs again.
    "Perhaps," Dr. Bender says, standing, stepping back into the room, "you, Detective Farnsworth, could prepare the landlord for questioning. I will be with you shortly." He unlocks, then opens the window. "We must pause before proceeding, to ascertain our direction."
    "To let the air clear," Wilson says.
    "Exactly."
    Dr. Bender is beginning to feel acclimated. Sitting on the window's sill, he writes in his sketchbook: Entry at 8:36 p.m. Strong odor of decomposition evident. Room temp extremely high. Initial inspection reveals no body. Fragile evidence not apparent. Physical layout as below.
    As he begins to draw his diagram, he hears Farnsworth's footsteps, wearily climbing the stairs. There is traffic outside-horns, car radios-yet Dr. Bender is not distracted, not even by Wilson's low voice, telling O'Connor a story.
    "Dude had a wire going into a copper pipe," he's saying, "and that plugged straight into his asshole. Yes way. Would I make that up" Plus, another wire attached to an alligator clip, you know, and that clamped onto his lower lip, and he's got an electrode taped to each nipple, spliced into some speaker wire-"
    Dr. Bender hardly hears it. He looks up, then back into his sketchbook. He must not let himself begin guessing, bringing his subjectivity into play. He must move in increments, attentive to every sensation, every clue. Does he feel threatened, is he in danger? He does not believe so.
    "So," Wilson is saying, "this dude had taken pictures from skin mags, you know, and glued the faces of his family and friends onto the bodies. Then, and I shit you not, the doctor here decides to hook the whole thing up to the amplifier again, just to see how strong a shock it was putting out! I mean, the dude's dead, but I thought the body was going to get up and dance!"
    "Dr. Bender closes his sketchbook with a slap. Both officers look up, startled, masks still on their faces. The yellow CRIME SCENE tape bisects their chests. Stepping closer, he bends to get under the tape, then stands next to them.
    "This room can be contained," he says. "Perhaps one of you might circle the block and see if anything arouses your suspicions."

~

The landlord's apartment smells like an ashtray. Newspapers stand in unsteady columns as tall as most men. There are enough tables and chairs, stacked precariously atop one another, to furnish the room downstairs, as well. Dr. Bender steps carefully, afraid of setting off an avalanche.
    The man himself, Joseph Kimmel, sits in a kind of clearing, deep in a threadbare armchair. He is a retired white male of sixty-seven years, who has resided in this house thirty-nine of them. His white hair tangles around his head; his eyes blink rapidly. He looks at Dr. Bender and Detective Farnsworth as if he is happy to have company, proud to play the host.
    "He lives here alone," Farnsworth says.
    "I do," he says, with a note of triumph. "I own it. What I don't understand is why you just don't take the body out-hell, you've been here for hours, and the smell's getting worse."
    "This is not an everyday situation, sir." Dr. Bender shakes Kimmel's hand; he has not taken off his latex gloves, for he expects to need them. "We will," he says, "return this situation to its previous condition. This will be accelerated with your cooperation."
    "Here's the lease," Farnsworth says.
    Dr. Bender takes the folded document, but he does not open it.
    "It's legal," Kimmel says. "He paid for a year, cash, so there's three months left on it."
    "The room downstairs shows few signs of habitation," Dr. Bender says. "Were you under the impression that your tenant lived alone?"
    "He was a black guy, nice clothes, I don't know. I didn't ask too many questions. I guess I saw different people go in there-men, women, different kinds of clothes, whatever."
    Kimmel holds up his hands; talking seems to tire him. Through a doorway, colored light flickers along a wall, where a television has been left on. There are voices, laughter, increasing in volume for the commercials.
    "Did you ever see," Dr. Bender says, "more than one person enter that downstairs apartment at one time?"
    "No. I did not," Kimmel says, after some hesitation.
    "In your opinion, could the people you describe possibly have been the same person, wearing a variety of disguises?"
    "Bender," Farnsworth says. "Really."
    "They came in, they went out," Kimmel says. "Sometimes I heard the phone ringing, through the floor, and then it stopped."
    "Is there next of kin on that lease?" Farnsworth says. "Contact information?"
    Dr. Bender unfolds the paper and begins to read it. He stands still for a long time before speaking.
    "Do you recall your tenant's name, Mr. Kimmel?"
    "I only met him that one time, when I showed him the place, gave him the key."
    "The name on the lease is 'Auguste Dupin.'" Dr. Bender pauses. "Does nothing about that name strike you as strange? 'Auguste Dupin.'"
    "I never saw his driver's license, if that's what you mean." Kimmel blinks, clearly confused. "What answer do you want? I just can't tell what you're getting at."

~

Both policemen stand at the bottom of the stairs, waiting. Dr. Bender can feel their impatience; he sees their watches' faces flash. No one likes to slow down, to hold back so things can clarify, so it's possible to recognize the correct moment to begin.
    "Listen," Officer O'Connor says, "are we doing anything here? Because already I feel like I'm going to have to burn this uniform I'm wearing, the stink's in so deep, and so far it seems like we're not seeing any action at all."
    "Next," Dr. Bender says, "we are going to exhume the body. I assume that will be sufficient action?" Kneeling, he opens his second murder bag; he hands a hammer to Wilson, a short pry bar to O'Connor.
    "I have a feeling," Farnsworth says, "that I may no longer be needed here. I don't want to get in the way-I'll head down to the station, start the paperwork, so when you come in you can just fill in the blanks."
    "Very well," Dr. Bender says, turning away, dismissing him. "Now, gentlemen, if you will be so kind."
    He leads them into the middle of the room.
    "The body," he says, "is directly beneath our feet."
    "In the cellar?" O'Connor says.
    "No." Dr. Bender points to the wall, the word TELL-TALE. "Beneath the floorboards, of course-you know the story."
    "Now what?" O'Connor says. "No, I don't."
    "The boards look perfectly fit together," Wilson says.
    "Exactly. Someone has spent a lot of effort to do this right." Dr. Bender takes the tools from the officers. He widens one groove between the floorboards; wood splinters along the seam. Chipping out enough so he can get a bite with the pry bar, he uses the hammer's head as a fulcrum, then leans in with his weight. Nails whinge, giving way. The smell rises, thick through the narrow gap; he's guessed correctly.
    The officers reach out their hands without taking hold of anything, like boys watching their father work; they won't face the task straight on, either, as if something might erupt from the floor, a hand scratching for their eyes.
    Dr. Bender works methodically, but he is far from calm. Every detail of this case points to him, every clue is in his language. He levers up the floorboard and sees the foot, then the leg. He slides the pry bar farther, lifts, and the board cracks. As it gives way, something shines, reflecting. A photograph, then another, then a third.
    "Stay back!" he says, but the officers are already in the hall, their gloved hands over their noses and mouths, their eyes squinting back at him.
    He palms the photographs, shielding them, then slides them into the pages of his sketchbook, which rests on the floor. He lifts the next floorboard.
    "What is it?" Wilson says, his voice low. "One body or more?"
    "This is an unusual situation," Dr. Bender says. "What we have here does not seem to be human. It appears to be the remains of a dog, in a moderate state of putrefaction."
    "A dog?"
    "Exactly."
    "Why?"
    "Yes," Dr. Bender says. As the officers slowly approach, he holds out his magnifying glass. His hand, usually steady, is shaking; he must not let his agitation show. At least there are no more photographs, none he can see.
    Standing, he bends floorboards until they give-a strongman trick, almost, the officers watching-and the dog's whole length is uncovered. Next, he returns his sketchbook to his bag, and comes back with the cameras. Even if he is only going through the motions, he must do so correctly. He checks his watch; it is now 9:44. The dog is gaunt, rangy, its coat black. He photographs it with the Polaroid, from each side, then with the 35 millimeter; between the flashes of light, there is only the sound of breathing.
    "That's some kind of pit bull mix," Wilson finally says. "That's one big dog."
    "Satanism," O'Connor says. "Some kind of ritual or something."
    "That's a very romantic notion," Dr. Bender says. He carefully puts the cameras away, then opens a plastic body bag and lays it on the floor, next to and above the dog.
    He feels the officers watching as he touches the body with his latex-gloved hand. A greenish mold is growing along the dog's jaw. An insect slithers out its ear, disappears under its fur. The dog is still, yet the weight shifts inside. The body sags as he lifts the head, then the tail end. He slides it into the body bag, then zips it shut. In the space where the dog had been hidden, there is nothing but dirty boards, a puddle of thick fluid in the shape of the body, the rough edges where the pink insulation was torn out. Dr. Bender looks into this hole, then up at the officers.
    "I'd like you to deliver this body to the morgue," he says.
    "But it's a dog," Wilson says.
    "I'd like you to treat it as if it were a human body."
    "This is not our job," O'Connor says. "Crime technicians, maybe. Animal welfare, probably. It's just a damn dog."
    "At the very least, it's evidence," Dr. Bender says.
    "Evidence of what? It's not like you're going to pull a fingerprint off that thing."
    "There are many facts," Dr. Bender says, "that we do not know about this animal. The circumstances under which we found it might lead us to proceed with some caution." He holds up his hand to stave off interruptions. He wants to be alone, to have a closer look at the photographs; he is as eager for the officers to leave as they are, yet he does not want them to sense this. He wants them thinking in other directions.
    "If not fingerprints," he says, "we may find strands of human hair, tangled in the animal's fur. I have even read of cases where human remains are hidden, found within a body such as this one. The morgue would be the correct place to investigate such a possibility."
    "Don't argue with him," Wilson says, taking hold of the body bag, the handle on one end. "Let's end this." They lift the body, duck under the CRIME SCENE tape, and turn around in the hall.
    "Happy holidays to you, too, doctor," O'Connor says, disappearing.
    Dr. Bender can hear their voices outside, blurred-ridiculous is the only word he understands-and then the trunk slamming, and the doors, and then the rattle of the squad car's engine as they pull away.
    He is relieved to be alone again; now there are no distractions. Stepping into the hall, he retrieves his murder bags and his overcoat, brings them inside the room, and closes the door. He sits on the floor with his back against the wall, fresh air blowing through the window, onto his face. This night is only beginning.
    He takes out his sketchbook, opens it to the page where he'd slipped the photographs.
    The first image is of a city street, in the summer-people wear shorts and sandals, dark glasses; they make way for the large figure in the middle of the sidewalk. It is Dr. Bender himself, in his dark suit, a heavy bag swinging from each hand. His head is higher than anyone's, alone at that height, and the expression on his wide, white face suggests that he is not there at all, not among these people, that he is working out a distant confusion.
    Dr. Bender is not surprised, not exactly. He chuckles to himself, rummages through his coat's pockets for his pipe. He packs in the tobacco, then lights it. The photographs still smell of the dog, the air caught in the space between them. He shuffles the top one under, and realizes the next image is actually a postcard. It is the one they sell in Poe's house, in the gift shop there-the engraving from a daguerreotype, Edgar with his tight high collar, tie knotted like a noose, his wide brow, his uneven mustache, his eyes dark, gleaming with sensibility and soul. Dr. Bender turns the card over; only one word is written there, stretching from edge to edge. Nevermore.
    He does not feel threatened; challenged, perhaps, yet whoever set up these clues is mistaken, has arrived too late. Who could it be? Dr. Bender is scarcely curious-yes, it is all very clever, he won't dispute that, yet the time has passed when he might have risen to this, when he might have let it concern him. It's a taunt that can't touch him now, for his concerns are beyond himself.
    The final photograph is grainy, out of focus, yet he immediately recognizes the dark silhouettes. His own hulking figure leans to look into a window-the window at Poe's house. Above him, against the pale night sky, is the jagged wrought-iron shape of the raven. Farther above, the moon, waxing full.
    Smoke weaves around the bare bulb, settles in the high corners of the room. Dr. Bender stacks, then places the photographs in the sketchbook, and the book into its place in the bag. He unrolls his sleeves, his pipe clamped in his teeth, and replaces his cuff links. He prepares to leave, to let this settle inside him; he sits one last moment, on the verge of embarking.
    And then the phone begins to ring. Distantly, as if in another room. He taps the pipe's bowl against his palm, and throws the tobacco out the window before it burns him. The phone rings five times, six, and then it stops. There is a voice; a muffled, woman's voice. Dr. Bender stands, maintaining all silence except the voice, locating its source.
    He steps over the hole in the floorboards, across the room. When he opens the door to the closet, the voice is louder-its tone insistent, as if trapped-and yet the words are still indistinct, and the closet is empty.
    The voice stops. Dr. Bender holds the small pry bar in his hand; he does not remember picking it up, and he doesn't need it. With his fingertips, he gently pushes upward on the edge of the ceiling. It gives. He slides the loose sheetrock over and, reaching above his head, grasps the telephone.
    It's a phone and answering machine in one, with a tiny speaker next to the headset. Phone and electrical cords snake from it, down inside the wall. Dr. Bender opens the phone's plastic case, and takes out the tiny microcassette. He puts it in his pocket, then places the phone back in its hiding place. Carefully, he replaces the false panel, so the ceiling once again appears whole, unsuspicious.
    He closes the closet door, then locks the window, draws the plastic blinds. Carefully, he repacks his murder bags, then snaps the hasps, spins the numbers of the combination locks. He puts on his coat, smooths his mustache, opens the door, and ducks under the yellow CRIME SCENE tape.
    In the hallway, Dr. Ralston Bender kneels and pulls on his galoshes. He peels off his latex gloves. Closing the apartment's door, he affixes a paper seal that stretches from the door to its jamb, that cannot be broken. Along the bottom of the seal, he signs his name.

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