Behold, a Pale Corpse

A Clamtown mystery of pandemic proportions

By Gavin Keenan

As we find ourselves deep in the Greenhead season in our small town on the Great Marsh, I am drawn to reminisce of certain events which occurred during my lengthy enlistment in the local constabulary. Always the trained observer, I made an effort to maintain, in meticulous fashion, notes of my adventures appropriate not only for judicial proceedings, but for my own later entertainment and other nefarious purposes. When my hitch with the law was up, I swiped those notes, along with all adverse information in my personnel file, from the official I.P.D. archives and deposited them in an undisclosed, multi-drawer, high security, cardboard file box for later reference. Thus it is hoped that my treasure will become your pleasure, as I have a whopper of a tale to tell.

The story seems like it happened only yesterday, but actually took place early in my career. When reading through you may recognize some locations, personalities and landmarks of Ipswich when it was Ipswich; smaller, kind of working class, self-righteous and often raucous. Yet change was in the wind and like the Greenhead fly, just as aggravating. Allow me to speculate that yes, this is a story not only of those bygone days but one for our times as well. And yes, there will be blood.

The year was 1980 something. This was the period of my budding awareness that not everything was at it seemed, but that some things were just as they appeared. The hard part was determining one from the other. I was working overtime on a Sunday cruiser shift in mid-July. It was sunny and over ninety – five degrees in town that day. The boss was Sergeant Rock. Working with me was Detective Chuck “Tex” LeCoupae. (Detectives actually pulled weekend shifts in those days.) Sgt. Rock hated the heat. He hated Ipswich in the summer and he hated working the desk and answering a million calls for directions to Cranes Beach. (Actually Ipswich Beach, but that’s another story.) Only fifteen minutes into our shift, he had answered at least a hundred calls from pesky out-of towners demanding directions, information and all manner of assistance in making their sojourn to Clamtown an enjoyable and memorable event.

Seated comfortably in the control room, I perused the Sunday Herald comics as the phone rang for the one hundred and first time. The Sarge snatched up the receiver. “Police, we don’t give directions to any beach….what’s your emergency?”

I saw his face change from crimson to purple as his jaw tightened to suppress a response that would likely land him in hot water with the Chief on Monday. “No………I don’t know…. You’ll have to call them,” he grunted in a controlled fashion. “Kayak? What the hell is a kayak?” he barked into the phone. “Nope, I never heard of a Pavilion Beach in Ipswich, why don’t you try Georgetown.”

But the caller wouldn’t go quietly, insisting that he had been given reliable information that Ipswich had a beach named Pavilion that was “simply ideal” for launching a kayak. Rock’s bulging forearm muscles pulsed as he tried to squeeze the life out of the receiver. He had to use his ace card to finally shut down the caller.

“Look, I just had a 747 crash into a B&M passenger train, I gotta go.”

The call ended, but the damage had been done. The Rock’s normally black eyes had turned a bright, fluorescent green, and his head was rotating 360 degrees on his massive neck and his carotids resembled charged fire lines. I determined it was a good time to hit the street. As it was the height of Greenhead season, I grabbed a 12 gauge Remington pump riot gun and loaded up with bird shot in case I needed to contend with the little bastards. Then I skedaddled down the hallway and into the back yard where the cruisers were parked.

Gavin Keenan early in his career with the Ipswich Police Department.

The white Ford Fairmont sedan was a cheapo version of a real police car manufactured for a cheapo town. Only three weeks off the show room floor with less than 15,000 miles on the odometer, it was already on its last legs. A mass of green-headed monsters was buzzing around the car attempting to smash in the driver’s side window. I knew that I would need appropriate protection to effect an entry without losing an eye or other important organ. This was the pre-Homeland Security era, so no military-style equipment such as Kevlar vests or reinforced flyswatters were provided to local police by the Feds. One had to improvise to survive. I slipped on a welder’s helmet willed to me by an Uncle, and a vintage London Fog raincoat purchased at Todd Farm that I had soaked and cured in a brine of ten parts DDT to one part horse urine. I walked with confidence toward the cruiser and marveled as the pesky flies expired immediately upon contact with my serape. The perfume of the DDT reminded me of my childhood, running through the white cloud of pesticide belching from Armand Michaud’s spray truck as it fogged the streets of Ipswich in the late 50’s and early 60’s.

I adjusted the coat hanger that acted as an antenna for the chintzy AM radio. I climbed into the cockpit, immediately sinking through the collapsed seat down to the floorboards. The ambient atmosphere was malodorous of super-heated, week-old pizza and flatulence. I turned the key and the undersized alternator sparked with minimum power to fire up five of six cylinders in the puny engine. Spinning the radio dial with care, I tuned into the Litwin Polka Variety Show on WESX and got into the swing and sway. But my reverie was soon shattered by the commanding sound of the Rock’s voice over the cruiser radio.

“Station to car three.”

“Car three is on, Sarge.”

“I know that. Proceed to the Candlewood Golf Course and investigate a report from a motorist who said her windshield was shattered by a golf ball. She says that the kid who allegedly did the damage is denying it and told her to…… well you get the picture.”

“Roger Sarge. Enroute.”

“I know that.”

I maneuvered the patrol car into the heavy Sunday morning traffic. At County and Argilla, the cars were backed up twenty deep. Left turns onto the “Beach Road” were nearly impossible to make and people resorted to using their middle fingers for hand signals.

I decided the best way to get through the scum was to jink lengthwise across South Village Green, and I did, although the group of aimless yooots smoking weed and playing Frisbee there were pissed about having to run from the path of the cruiser.

At the auto mile, business was steady at Means Chevrolet-Olds and Ipswich Ford, despite the summer heat. Gus Means and Bob McNeil were in their respective showrooms closing some post-Fourth of July deals. Approaching Whittier Corner, I saw a Trojan horse advertising the all-you-can-eat for a price Greek Picnic. Yogi and Louie were furiously spinning the money wheel and folks were lined up for Baklava. At the Whittier Motel, tourists were at the pool and I could have sworn some were skinny- dipping, or maybe they were just mooning the cruiser.

I looked up toward Cable Emergency. Several ambulances from Poor’s, O’Brien’s and Lyons were lined up dropping off early victims of Greenhead bloodletting. Once eastbound on Essex Road, I stomped the accelerator and opened the rear windows to suck the dozen or more Greenheads out of the cruiser. I passed Corliss Nursery doing thirty nine mph, but several bugs still refused to leave. Steering with one knee, I turned around in the seat and swatted at them with the London Fog, killing them instantly.

Scene of the first crime, Candlewood Golf Course

At Candlewood G.C., my attention was drawn to several people engaged in a heated discussion near Bob Robinson’s Buick LeSabre. A young lady with flaxen hair was alternately giving a piece of her mind to Dave Whipple while swatting away the greenheads. I observed a smug looking teenager with an impossible blond hair cut and unsightly gut standing a few feet away leaning on a brand new Ping driver. His attitude expressed boredom and annoyance. I approached them with authority.

“What’s the problem here?” I asked.

The young lady got her say first. “The problem is that when I was driving to Essex this little shit deliberately golfed a ball at me and it smashed my windshield. And now he denies it. He’s got these two to lie for him too!”

She pointed to a crushed windshield on a jet black 280-Z. “This is my boyfriend’s car; he’ll be sooooooo pissed.”

“What do you have to say?” I said, pointing to the kid.

“She’s crazy, man. I didn’t do it. Someone else did it. These old guys will back me up on it too. And if that’s not enough, my old man will get me off.”

“Who’s your old man?” I asked. He named a well-known area attorney who had bounced a number of quality arrests I had made over the years through a combination of perjured testimony, phony witnesses and inflammatory accusations made against my stellar character. One strike against this kid.

I asked Dave and Bob their version and both saw the windshield explode but claimed the kid had not swung the Ping at the time. Bob added that the kid couldn’t connect with the ball if he tried, which he wasn’t inclined to do anyway.

“That’s bogus, old man,” the kid chirped. I’m only here because my wealthy and powerful father is making me do this and you just violated our Non-Disclosure Agreement.” Two strikes against this kid.

I then examined the Z. The windshield was smashed dead center alright, but I noted that the point of impact was oozing a green slime mixed with what appeared to be human blood. I pulled out my switchblade and probed the hole. I extracted several fragments of brittle cartilage and the remains of two large green eyes. This confirmed my suspicion that what had actually struck the windshield was not a golf ball at all, but one of the recently discovered Murder Greenheads. They average two inches in length and have a steel-like carapace for protection. They can drain three pints of blood with one bite and you definitely don’t want one in your car.

My skinny ass was clearly stuck on the horns of a dilemma. I was torn between doing justice and doing what was right. I walked over to the kid. He sneered, “See, I told you cop. I didn’t do anything. She sucks, golf sucks, and the police suck, too.” Three strikes kid. You’re out.

I observed his collection of golf balls on the grass. They were monogrammed with his sleazy father’s name and law firm phone number. He tried to drive one with the Ping and whiffed just enough that it rolled toward the Z where the girl was standing. As he turned to Bob and Dave to whine and blame them for his sucky life, I picked up the ball and handed it to the young lady.

“I just found this on the floor of your boyfriend’s car. It’s clear to me that this grossly negligent kid smacked the ball dead center into the windshield. I think you may have suffered emotional trauma and physical injury as well. If I were you, I would sue for every nickel you can get, his old man’s loaded.”

I asked her name, she replied, “Hillary.” I then gave her a business card of a vicious, female attorney that I knew. Initially bewildered, she nodded in growing awareness as I said, “The attorney on this card is my sister-in-law. She’s a litigation assassin with killer instincts who will bring this privileged punk and his sleazy old man to their knees and make them pay you a ton for all of the harm that they have caused or could have caused, or may cause you in the future. She offers a free ten minute consultation and gets thirty percent of any claim she wins for you. It’s best that you leave now.”

She jumped into the Z and flipped the kid off as she laid a strip down Rte. 133. I told the kid what was coming and got back into the Fairmont. As I started back toward town, the kid mouthed “Pig.” Dave and Bob each gave me two thumbs up.

Satisfied with my role in securing justice, I decided to reward myself with a well- deserved coffee break. I pulled into Bruni’s Market and pushed past the crowd of obnoxious, elitist, likely liberal out-of-towners reeking money and assumed status. Inside, Joe was shouting at a yuppie not to make a meal out of the sample crackers and bean-dip. I brought my large coffee, blueberry muffin and fruit cup to the register and added a two- dollar scratch ticket. I stood in line behind a tall, blonde trim-looking WASP wearing a salmon polo and classic-cut LL Bean cargo shorts and sandals.

He looked down his long pointy nose at my supplies and smugged, “My, we must be busy today.”

My Irish up, I determined he was likely an alumnus of the Effete Snobs Vote McGovern Society. I nodded at his collection of high-priced munchies and pointed to a thirty dollar bottle of Rose.

“Loose the wine pal, we still have Blue Laws in this state.”

“But I’m attending a Hayden Concerto at the Barn at Castle Hill. What will I do for refreshments?”

Usually I would be inclined to look the other way on this stuff, or direct a thirsty tourist to Alyce’s on East Street. But this guy didn’t seem the Budweiser type. “Go to Seabrook, like everyone else,” I replied.

I gave Joe a five (this is a work of fiction, you realize) and pocketed the change.

“Thanks for nothing,” he muttered.

I then headed to the peaceful grove of Don Bosco to enjoy some down time. I parked in the shade of a spreading Beech tree. The Over-Thirty Softball League had called their game early due to the heat and had left to patronize their various sponsors. The community pool was empty of Betty Dorman’s swim class, but a couple of geese were crapping in the water. I extracted a worn copy of National Review that I carried around in my duty bag, along with a paperback Webster’s to help me understand the big words.

Don Bosco is normally a peaceful place, except during Oktoberfest when the barbarians come to town. This “family festival” usually starts out calm enough; face painting, cotton candy, donkey rides, but as the sun crosses the meridian the children and mothers are stampeded in horror by the arrival of the beer trucks and Visigoth’s. Then it’s drunkenness, debauchery, dueling and human sacrifice. All to support a good cause, of course. When it becomes too much for us local cops to handle, the Governor activates the National Guard who clears the grounds with fixed bayonets. It’s a great detail to work.

The sky darkened as a swarm of Greenheads blocked the sun. A bad omen for sure. Just then the Rock’s voice came over the air,

“Station to car three.” “Three is on.” “I know that. I just got a call indicating a motorist with a flat tire off of Jeffrey’s Neck Road. Proceed to that location and render assistance.”

“Now?” “No. Next week…..Of course now!”

“Roger, my Sergeant.”

I swallowed the final draught of the coffee and prepared to answer the call. That was a lot of coffee so I stood behind the Beech tree for a minute to answer another call, then got back into the Fairmont and jammed it into gear. I was in no hurry to stand outside in a Greenhead Ground Zero and change a flat tire for someone who should know better, so I took a circuitous route to the scene. I have a Zen faith that left to their own tendencies; things likely work out on their own agency. After fifteen minutes, the Rock came back on the air.

“Station to car three, are you there yet?”

“Ah, negative.”

“What’s your location?” Rock asked.

“Hood’s Pond.”

“That’s unacceptable. I just got another call on that breakdown. A resident of Island Park Road says that there’s a man outside the car in trouble and a woman screaming from inside. Proceed Code Three!”

I flipped on the emergency flashers and siren. The Fairmont immediately lost 1000 RPM’s. Tex the Detective called me on the radio and said he would join me at the scene. I asked his location.

“Right behind you.”

I looked in the rear-view and spotted the unmarked Ford Fiesta Hatchback that the detectives had to drive, close on my tail. It was laying out more smoke than that old DDT truck I mentioned earlier. It was an effective bug killer, but an awful police car.

“Stay on me,” I said. “I’ll clear the road.”

With the lights and siren blaring ahead, and a contrail trailing behind, we swept the road front and rear. Rock then chimed in to tell us that the ambulance would be delayed due to heavy casualties at the beach.

“Which beach, Sarge?” I asked.

“Don’t be an ass,” he replied.

We crossed town in record time, waved on through Lord Square by Wilbur Trask. Once on Jeffrey’s Neck, the Fairmont began to take heavy flack from thousands of greenheads. With the squished bugs jamming the radiator, the temp gauge was glowing red. “Mayday, Mayday,” I called over the air. “I’m about to lose all power.”

Scene of the second, most hideous crime

I shut down the lights and siren as we were neared the scene. Just past Island Park Road and off to the side I observed a Yellow VW Bug with a couple of canoe-like looking things on the roof and a Dukakis-Bentsen bumper sticker. From inside my car, I could see that the right front tire of the Bug was flat on the bottom, indicating it had lost air. A skimpy jack lay on the ground. The greenies were in the thousands and swarming the yellow car. No one seemed to be around.

“We’re off, Sarge. No one seems to be here. We’ll be clear.” I reported.

“Did you at least get out of the car and look around?” He snapped.

“Do you want me to?”

“That’s your job, yes.”

“Fine.” I sighed. I suited up in my welder’s helmet and London Fog. Stepping outside, the roar from the bugs was deafening. Tex stayed in the Fiesta as I approached the VW to investigate. The right front fender, flat tire and surrounding ground were soaked in deep, red blood. A trail of blood led into the salt marsh. My attention was drawn to someone whimpering from inside the VW and looking further, I saw a woman shuddering on the passenger floor.

I tapped the window. “Everything’s okay here, right?” The woman then jumped up into the seat and pounded the window screaming, “Them! Them!” She pointed toward a greenhead incubator trap located in the marsh approximately 150 feet from the road. “Them,” she shrieked again, “Them!”

By then Detective Tex had joined me. He wore a black leather biker jacket, a sailor cap and waders for protection from the swarm. I squinted at the greenhead trap through the dark lens of the welder’s helmet and could see what appeared to be a person, probably lifeless, lying beneath it. A thick cyclone of swarming greenies formed a funnel cloud over the area. I pointed out my observation to Tex.

“We better go check it out,” he said.

“You got a mouse in your pocket?” I asked.

“We’re cops,” he scolded. “It’s our job. Besides, I’m senior to you.”

“Fine,” I pouted, and went back to the cruiser and retrieved the shotgun. We walked out onto the marsh and at forty yards I shouldered the Remington and pumped five rounds of deadly bird-shot into the swarm. I also destroyed the greenhead trap and tore my rotator cuff in the fusillade. But, I had blasted a wide enough gap in the raging tempest allowing us to rush in and retrieve the supine sun worshiper. It was a male, approximately twenty-seven years of age, wearing a pair of earth shoes, denim cut- offs, either a tie-dyed or heavily bloodstained tee shirt and a Ben &Jerry’s headband. His skin was ghostly white where it wasn’t swollen by greenhead buboes. Tex and I each grabbed a wrist and ran for the road. The body was remarkably light, as if he was down a pint or two.

Aside the cruiser, Tex said, “We have to get him to Cable. There may still be hope.”

I radioed the Rock and reported what we had. He informed me that the ambulances were still tied up and that I should transport in the Fairmont. I replied that the Fairmont wasn’t an appropriate ambulance. The Rock told me it wasn’t a hearse either, but what difference did that make?

Tex and I plopped the male party into the back seat. Tex took charge of the traumatized woman and escorted her into the Fiesta for the ride to the ER.

I got back on the horn and told the Rock we were Enroute to Cable with two. I also requested R&R to tow the Bug.

“Schultz in route,” he replied. “Anything else?”

“Yes. Send the Fire Department to wash down the road.”

At Cable the Doc took one look at the male and ordered an immediate infusion of life-saving fluids. When the nurse hooked up the IV and opened the tap, I was shocked as the fluid spurt from his numerous skin punctures like he was a lawn sprinkler.

“Can’t you add some Stop Leak?” I asked.

“I’d do CPR,” the Doc said, “But he doesn’t have any blood in his veins to circulate. What happened?”

I gave the Doc my observations and theory of causation. He nodded his head in concurrence and said, “Clearly a case of Traumatic Greenicide. Worst I’ve ever seen. I’ll fill out the death certificate later. Is there a next of kin here?”

Tex brought the traumatized woman into the room. “I found her ID. She’s from Cambridge and said the guy is her boyfriend. He lives; I mean he lived in Brookline. They came out to Ipswich to go….what was it… kayaking or something? I’ve never heard of that, but it sounds interesting.” Ted checked his notes. “She also said that they picked up a nail in the tire of the Bug driving in from Georgetown.” He closed his notebook. “Why go to Georgetown? It doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Because the man’s death was deemed “suspicious” by the District Attorney, a State Police Detective responded to the ED. He was six foot, four inches tall, athletic in appearance and with close-cropped hair. Resplendent in a Brooks Brothers summer weight suit and matching tie, his shoes were polished to a high gloss. He carried a Gucci notebook and wore mirror sunglasses day and night.

Tex and I were still wearing our protective gear. The Trooper looked upon us with disdain. Brushing past us, he splashed over to the soggy corpse and asked, “Who offed this guy anyway?”

I recited my theory and mentioned that the Doc had concurred, but the Trooper wasn’t buying it.

“No blood in his body? Are you kidding me?”

He looked suspiciously at the sobbing woman next to Tex. “What is she, some type of vampire?”

“I think she’s a kayaker,” I answered.

“I don’t care where she goes to church,” he brusquely replied, and addressing the woman said, “Look at me sister, and just tell me what happened.”

The woman remained mute for a moment and then looking at the Trooper, released a hideous shriek, “THEM! THEM!”

“Who’s she mean? You guys?”

The Doc, Tex and I took the Trooper aside and again laid out our theory in complete detail of how the tragedy unfolded, enlightening him on the unique aspects of summer fun in Ipswich. The Trooper seemed slightly less skeptical, but insisted on viewing the scene of the carnage. I gave him directions noting he should look for the destroyed fly-trap.

“I’ll be in touch,” he said. We never heard from him again.

At shifts end, the Rock put Tex and me through a critical-stress debriefing in the locker room. After my second Michelob Light, I was able to finally purge myself of the day’s trauma. I stood at the crud-encrusted sink adjacent to the urinal and splashed tepid water over my forehead.

“It was a horror Sarge, a horror,” I blabbered.

“Suck it up there, partner. This is the career we’ve chosen.”

As I pondered that statement, the Rock mused, “What I don’t get is how he wound up under the greenhead trap. Who does that?”

Tex theorized that he had been running for his life away from the greenies and not knowing that the black box was a greenhead breeder, thought it would provide him some shelter from the swarm.

“He never knew what hit him,” said Tex.

“You mean what bit him,” concluded the Rock.

Gavin Keenan

The years flew by and as the Century turned, The Rock, Tex and eventually me all made it to the finish line and moved on. Rock needed some time and distance, so he bought a motor home and joined the circus. He traveled the lower forty-eight working as the trigger man on the Howitzer that launched the Human Cannonball under the big-top every half hour on the half hour. After a few years of this and with the police world finally out of his system, he took advantage of the duel citizenship he earned at the old St. Stanislaus School on Washington Street and moved to Newfoundland, where there are few telephones, no greenheads and no Cranes Beach. He is at peace.

Tex and his bride sailed to St. Croix where they operated an eco-tourism company specializing in high-end kayak and motorcycle excursions of that beautiful island. Eventually they moved back to the mainland where they jet between several vacation properties they own up and down the East Coast.

Me? I stayed local. I peddle around on an old Schwinn ten-speed chronicling the change that I see and like any old fart, lament most of it.

The poor guy who ran afoul of our Town predator? His body was released to his family, who followed his wishes that it be donated to medical research. They made several offers to prestigious, area medical schools, including Harvard, Tufts and U-Mass. But the competition was stiff. He didn’t get into Harvard.

More from Gavin Keenan

13 thoughts on “Behold, a Pale Corpse”

  1. Your a heck of a writer,don’t ever stop entertaining.Good storytelling is a gift whether it’s fiction or real life’s experiences. 😎😎

  2. Great story . Needed a good laugh tonight and you provided several. Love the local references too. You are a very talented writer and entertainer 👍

  3. Loved this story, Gavin! The references to Bruni’s market and Saint Stanislaus school were special to me. There’s so many things that made me laugh. Thank you.

  4. Man … you are a good story teller. I make my living from writing and I’m envious. You have a way with words. I noticed all the above comments say basically the same thing, so I reckon I’m not telling anything you don’t already know.

  5. Wow! That brought back so many memories! I will go back and read or reread some of your previous pieces!

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