Sorry, we are Sold Out of This'll Kill Ya
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Chapter One Detective Keith Bright entered his dull-grey office and removed his wet see-through plastic raincoat. He stepped past the large cluttered desk and hung the dripping raincoat on an old-fashioned wooden coat rack in the corner. He took off his black suit jacket and draped it on the chair behind his desk. While he stared unseeing out the dirty casement window, he loosened his black tie. He stepped to the large metal bookcase beyond the filing cabinets and fingered some manila folders. He moved to the desk and turned on the radio. Again he stepped to the window and stared out, hands clasped behind him. The radio announcer's voice filled the dingy office. "... funeral of Mr. Titus Cramp, held today at Providence Church in this city, with the Reverend Kent Boyer officiating. Mr. Cramp was an experi-enced and highly respected police detective who worked thirty years for this city's law enforcement department. He was unmarried, and dedicated all his time to his work and his church. Now turning to the weather --" Keith sat behind the desk. "Rain has continued throughout the night and early morning. Clearing is expected by late afternoon, with a high temperature --" The detective snapped off the radio. His secretary, Tracey Ellsworth, strode in from the outer office. "Here's that autopsy you wanted. Came this morning." She handed him a manila folder, and brushed imaginary lint from the front of her stylish dark blue uniform. "What's it say?" Keith asked as he took the folder. "Not much. Heart stopped. No reason why." Keith glanced at the paper without really reading it. "Not poison?" he asked. "Nope." Keith stood up. "I can't understand it. A perfectly good man, sitting at his desk, doing his job -- drops dead. Not a mark on him. Nothing wrong with him. What could have happened?" He stopped and pondered, and shook his head. "To think that Titus is gone. And we don't know why." "Why?" Tracey looked at the ceiling, thinking hard. "Why did Titus die? Deep question. Why does anyone die?" "Stop that," Keith said flatly. "No philosophy games. I mean what caused it?" "We don't know," Tracey said, somewhat philo- sophically. A side door opened suddenly and Police Chief Maureen Kelly stalked in. Tracey looked sharp and exclaimed, "Good morning, Chief!" "Good morning." Chief Kelly's voice was tense, and she appeared to be under severe strain. "Chief, you look awful," Tracey said with concern. "Damn rain," she muttered in reply. Tracey started toward her door to the outer office. "Yeah, the rain just adds to the misery." Chief Kelly addressed Keith. "Here's your next assignment." She held up a manila folder. Tracey paused at her door, curious. "So soon after the funeral?" Keith asked. "But, then, why not?" He smiled wanly. "May as well work as sit around and feel bad doing nothing." "Nobody sits around here doing nothing," growled Chief Kelly. She handed Keith the folder. "You're right. And you're the chief." Keith said, taking the folder. "Anything interesting?" "It could be your most important case," the chief said. Tracey stepped toward Keith, very much interested. "Oh, something big, huh?" Keith was more casual. "What's up?" he asked the chief. "Read that and find out," she told him. "And keep it quiet." To Tracey she added, "No reporters, no leaks, no nothing." She turned back to Keith. "That's what Titus was working on. His last case." Keith opened the folder. "If it IS a case," she added. "What does THAT mean?" Keith asked. He fingered the papers in the open folder. "Not much here." He lay the folder open on his desk and flipped papers. "Newspaper clippings. Obits. And this." He picked up a paperback book with a clean white cover. "What's this?" "That's a book," the chief said testily. "Titus was reading it at his desk. It's part of that file." "It explains the clippings, maybe? And these obits?" "Maybe," growled the chief. "You find out." She started toward her door. "That's your assignment." "I'll get to my desk," said Tracey. She went out and closed the door after her. Keith was riffling through the book as Chief Kelly passed through the door to her inner office. "Hey, Chief!" he exclaimed. She wheeled back into his office. "What?" "The last pages here are stapled shut." "That's right," she said. "Leave 'em that way." Keith opened the book nearer the front and read a little. "Hey, what IS this stuff?" "You read it. Carefully," she added. Keith read aloud. "THE GUILT PAGES." He held the book closer to his face in order to read fine print. "CAUTION! IF YOU BELIEVE THAT TAKING THE BLAME AND WALLOWING IN THOUGHTS OF GUILT ARE BAD, READING THESE PAGES MAY BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH." He looked up at Chief Kelly. "What is this?" He held the book at a normal distance from his face and continued reading. "I BROKE THE LAMP." He ran a finger down the page, reading each line slowly, as if reciting a poem. "I PEED MY PANTS. "I LIED ABOUT THAT. AND THAT. "I TOUCHED HER BREASTS, AND IT WAS NO ACCIDENT. "I TOUCHED HIS CROTCH AND HE GOT A HARD-ON." Keith looked up. "Chief, what the hell IS this?" "It's a book. Read it." "I never saw such stuff." He turned several pages and continued reading. "THE GUILT PAGES CONTINUED. "I SEDUCED THE MAILMAN. "I CHEATED ON MY INCOME TAX. "THERE IS NOTHING SECRET THAT SHALL NOT BE MADE KNOWN." He looked up again. "Stupid crap. Why is this in Titus' file?" He turned the page and read more. "I SPENT THE NIGHT IN A WHORE HOUSE." "Really?" asked the Chief. Keith shook the book and glared at her. "I'm reading this crap!" He looked down and continued. "I HIT MY KID, AND IT WAS A BEATING, NOT A SPANKING. "I VOTED FOR A LIAR, AND THEN A CROOK." He closed the book. "Look, Chief --" "I don't mean for you to stand there and read the book to me," the chief stated. She pointed at his chest. "I mean YOU read it. And get to the bottom of it." She turned away and went into her office, closing the door behind her. Keith read silently for a little. Tracey opened her door quietly and came in. Keith jerked, as if guilty, and slammed the book shut. Then he grinned sheepishly at Tracey. "Listen to this damn book, Trace." He opened it again. "I never saw the like." Tracey sat and Keith began reading. "THE VIOLENCE PAGES." He held the book close again for fine print. "CAUTION! IF YOU BELIEVE THAT THINKING VIOLENT THOUGHTS IS DANGEROUS OR INJURIOUS, READING THESE PAGES MAY BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH." He held the book at a normal distance. "I CATCH A GRASSHOPPER AND PULL OFF ONE WING AT A TIME, THEN ONE LEG AT A TIME, THEN I PULL THE BELLY-PART OFF, AND THEN THE HEAD." Tracey made a face. "Yuk. That's terrible." Keith continued reading. "I PUNCH MY FATHER IN THE MOUTH, KNOCK HIM DOWN, KICK HIM IN THE BELLY AND THEN IN THE HEAD, AND THEN CUT OFF HIS TESTICLES." Keith licked his lips. "God Almighty." Tracey raised her hands and pursed her lips in disgust. "That's horrible." Keith read on: I CATCH A ROBBER IN MY HOUSE. I TIE HIM UP AND PULL OUT HIS TOENAILS AND FINGERNAILS WITH PLIERS, RUN A HOSE UP HIS ANUS AND TURN ON THE WATER. WHEN HE OPENS HIS MOUTH TO SCREAM, I CUT OFF HIS TONGUE WITH TIN SHEARS. "Jesus Christ!" exclaimed Tracey. Keith looked up. "Ah, yes. The Inquisition." He turned the page. "Let me read some more." I AM OPERATING A MACHINE GUN IN A BATTLE AT THE EDGE OF A BIG FIELD. I TURN THE GUN ON A LINE OF MEN AS THEY COME OUT OF THE WOODS AND DOWN A DIRT BANK. I HIT THEM IN THE CHEST, IN THE HEAD, IN THE BELLY. THEY FALL AND BEGIN TO PILE UP ON THE BANK. THE BODIES SQUIRM. MORE MEN KEEP COMING OUT OF THE WOODS AND I KEEP MOWING THEM DOWN. Tracey held her stomach. "That's sick." "That's war," Keith muttered. He flipped the page and read more. I TIE HER ON THE BED, ONE WRIST TO EACH HEAD-POST AND ONE ANKLE TO EACH FOOT-POST. SHE IS NAKED. SEE ALSO THE SEX PAGES. I STRIKE HER WITH A SMALL LEATHER WHIP, ON THE LEGS, ON THE ARMS, IN HER UNDERARMS, ON THE INSIDE OF HER THIGHS. I TOSS LITTLE NEEDLE-POINT DARTS AT HER BREASTS AND BELLY. I TAKE OUT A SHARP KNIFE AND -- Tracey stood and interrupted the reading. "For God's sake, stop that!" Keith looked up at Tracey, a little pale in the face. "Gets to ya, doesn't it?" He turned the book over, holding his place, and looked at the plain white cover. "Where the hell did that come from?" Tracey asked. "That's what I gotta find out," Keith said. "I guess." He turned a few more pages and read again. "THE VIOLENCE PAGES CONTINUED." He looked up. "It's like a poem." "Some poem," growled Tracey. "No, I mean the way the page is printed." Tracey curled her lip. "Read the damn thing." Keith read: I HATE, AND AM READY TO MAIM AND KILL, ALL JEWS. I HATE, AND AM READY TO MAIM AND KILL, ALL CATHOLICS. I HATE, AND AM READY TO MAIM AND KILL, ALL PROTESTANTS. Tracey interrupted. "Well, he gets 'em all." "Yep." Keith ran his finger down the right hand margin. -- ALL NIGGERS. -- ALL CHINKS. -- ALL SPICKS. -- ALL HONKIES. -- ALL MICKS. -- ALL ARABS. Hmmm. Hmmm. Hmmm. I HATE, AND AM READY TO MAIM AND KILL, ALL CHILDREN. Tracey interrupted again. "Oh, that's awful." "Take it easy," said Keith. "It's just a book. A stupid, sick book." He read further. "I HATE, AND AM READY TO MAIM AND KILL, ALL WHALES." He ran his finger down the margin again. "-- ALL SEALS. -- ALL PANDA BEARS. -- ALL ELEPHANTS. -- ALL LIONS. -- ALL TREES." He looked up at Tracey again. "Get his last line -- "I HATE, AND AM READY TO MAIM AND KILL, ALL LIVING THINGS." He closed the book. "This person is seriously ill." "What person?" Tracey asked. Keith glared at the cover of the book. "The author of this stuff." "What else is in the file?" "Good question," said Keith, laying the book down. "Let's see." He picked up a newspaper clipping from the folder. He dropped it and picked up another. "Obit clippings. A woman in her living room. Unexpectedly." He dropped the clipping and picked up another. "A woman on the bus. Unexpectedly. Autopsy inconclusive. Church funeral. Pall-bearers." He looked up at Tracey. "Why is Titus collecting obits?" "Beats me," Tracey admitted. "Are they related? To each other, I mean." Keith spread out several clippings on his desk. "Let's see." He studied for a moment. "Well, now, here's a husband and wife. Both unexpected. A week apart. And here's a Mrs. Flandermeyer --" He began flipping through loose yellow legal sheets. "What was Titus up to?" He read from the sheets. "`Mrs. Flandermeyer -- on the bus. Mr. Manling -- at home in bed. Mrs. Manling -- at home in her living room. Hypothesis --'" Keith looked up. "Here we go. Titus's hypothesis." He read carefully. "`Each victim died after reading the book. Mrs. Flandermeyer died on the bus. Mr. Manling, the bus driver, took the book home, after the ambulance attendants left it, behind the seat, or someplace. He died in his bed, reading the book. His wife, a week later, still in possession of the book, died in her reading chair in her living room. I now have possession of the book in question.'" Keith stared into Tracey's face. "What kind of silliness is this?" "I'm sure I don't know," whispered Tracey. The door to the inner office opened and Chief Kelly entered. Keith stared into Tracey's face and continued. "I can't believe Titus could be serious." "About what?" barked the chief. "About this whole business, Chief. It's too crazy -- too stupid. If I understand Titus' notes, he thinks there's a connection between three unexpected and unexplained deaths." "So?" said Chief Kelly, arching a black eyebrow. "Get to the bottom of it." "And he thinks the connection is this book!" cried Keith. "So?" Chief Kelly brushed her red hair back with her hand. "Check it out." "Is he blaming those three deaths on a book?" "It's a hypothesis. Every one of those persons, it appears, was reading that book." She gestured toward it as it lay on Keith's desk. "At the time of death. Autopsies aren't explaining anything." "Three deaths, caused by a book." "Four," corrected Chief Kelly. "Four?" Keith scratched among the clippings and then suddenly jerked back. "Oh, my God! You mean Titus, too!" "Evidently. Titus was reading that book at his desk at the time of death." Keith became excited. "Well, run lab tests on the book, on the binding, on the glue in the binding, on the ink. On the staples in the back." He looked at his hands, and wiggled his fingers. Chief Kelly was crisp and businesslike. "Titus was an old pro, Mr. Bright. He did that already. No chemicals. No poisons. No indication of poison in the autopsies, or in the lab analysis of the book. And don't worry about the staples." "Why not?" "Because I stapled it, just before I handed the file over to you." "Whatever for?" "I don't want you killed." Chief Kelly was deadly serious. "Killed?" howled Keith. "How'm I gonna get killed if there's no poison?" "I don't know. I know I need you on the case. If there IS a case. Danger is part of the job here, but I don't want you hurt needlessly or carelessly." "Danger!" gasped Keith, staring in disbelief at his boss. Tracey reached toward him. "Titus is dead, Keith. Take it easy, and pay attention." He exerted force to calm himself down very deliberately. "O.K., O.K. Now lemme get this straight. Three -- no, FOUR people are dead. Titus thought this book --" Keith stalled. He picked up the book gingerly, and then looked at Chief Kelly. "You think --" He stopped and scratched his head. "You think the danger is in READING it?" The chief raised her shoulders and gestured "Who-knows?" with her hands. "Reading it," Keith continued. "Reading ALL of it. So you stapled the last pages shut." He paused. All three were silent a moment. "That's incredible," Keith said, finally. He waved the book just a little in his hand. "There's certainly been no effect on me so far," he said with a faint smile. "Are you sure?" the Chief asked quietly. Keith touched his chest, pulled his ear with his free hand, scratched his hair. "Sure. I feel fine. Fine." Tracey fluffed her hair and rubbed her lower arms. "And hearing it didn't hurt me any," she said to Chief Kelly. "I don't think," she added. Keith held up the book and read the cover. "THIS'LL KILL YA. THE LAST WORD ON CENSORSHIP." He held the book closer to his face, to read fine print on the cover. "CAUTION: READING THIS BOOK MAY BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH." He looked up again, glancing from Chief Kelly to Tracey. "A line swiped from the tobacco and liquor people." "No, Keith. From the Surgeon General," Tracey corrected. Keith opened the cover and read the title page. "THIS'LL KILL YA. CAUTION. PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK." Again he stopped and looked at the women. "Aw, c'mon. Is this some gag?" "No, Mr. Bright. No gag." The Chief headed toward her door. "Four dead people. And the only clue is that book." Keith waved the book after her. "You really think that this is the book, which, if you read it, it'll kill ya?" "I don't know," the Chief admitted very soberly. "I think Titus believed that." "Why'd he read it, then? Why'd he LET it kill him?" "I don't know," the Chief said quietly. "I don't know whether it kills, or how. Your assignment is to clear this up. And don't get killed carrying it out." Keith shook his head. "Thanks for the concern." He opened the book again, near the middle. "I just can't believe it. This is the book that, if ya read it, it'll kill ya. So read it, but don't let it kill ya. It's too crazy." "Lots of deadly things are," the Chief stated ominously and went back into her inner office.
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