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Boffo The Elephant and The Dramas of Gretchen Lock


by Devon Pitlor
I. In the "panoramic" parking lot of Home Festival On an indeterminate date somewhere in the second decade of the Twenty-First Century, in a Time that was neither morning nor evening, day nor totally night, sunny-bright nor totally cloudy--- a sturdy, able-bodied twenty-three year old college senior at Crest Ridge University was driving his late model Ford 150 pickup around a vast parking lot filled with every sort of plodding shopper imaginable. The parking lot was filled to capacity with vehicles. and the back and forth motions of the multitudinous shoppers made navigation of its passageways almost impossible. Far, far in the distance, the huge box store Home Festival loomed in the shoulder-high mist of what at times seemed to be a warm but yet oddly chilly winter's day when piles of snow were rapidly melting in places and just as rapidly freezing in others and dirty slush lined the caravan routes of the streaming patrons as they formed endless lines leading both in and out of the distant store. Some were dressed for winter weather, as it may have been winter indeed. Others wore clam diggers and short pants around their bulging girths. Most seemed fat or at least beyond any aesthetic weight parameters. Many wore stocking caps, and few were attired in red and white Christmassy garments. From the speaker system which dominated the huge parking lot, a confusing mixture of Christmas and summery tunes rasped out, as if emanating from scratchy 33 RPMs or at least very worn CDs. The steely gray slate sky was almost as low as the tops of the cars, vans and SUVs that enclosed the seemingly inaccessible store--which could be glimpsed only in the void, so great was the extent of the massive parking lot. It was hard to tell whether it was a happy day or not because of the unreadable faces displayed

on the legions of shoppers, but the young man did not care. His was a frenzied goal. He needed to find a parking space up close to the store, and this despite the vigor and health of his young body. Locating such a space was his sole obsession. He knew that for sure. It was one of the only things he knew with confidence. The other was the reason. His aim was to purchase a wood chipper---for reasons unknown at that moment even to himself. He would need a close-in parking slot for that end. Other than these two over-riding notions, the young man's mind was blank, consumed like a friable vacuum by two thoughts alone: Find a convenient parking place and buy a gas powered wood chipper. He did not know, question or remember the reasons why. And so he circulated again and again around the immensity of the parking space, which was larger than any such terrain that he had ever seen in his life. He navigated anxiously behind the slowly ruminating crowds, the careless children and the slow-moving trucks and seemed to make no measurable progress whatsoever. The young man's name was Elijah Foxton, and he was a lifelong resident of The Enclave, a subdivision on the better side of Eaglesmont. He had no clear memories of ever having been to Home Festival before for any reason at all. In The Enclave, home improvement tasks were usually the sole business of paid entrepreneurs, and during his twenty-three years of life, Elijah had never paid these much attention nor did he need to. Again his only clear thought was to find a close-in parking space and buy a wood chipper. Elijah did not even know what a wood chipper looked like and only had a vague notion of what it was used for. Chipping wood, he thought dismissively, not pursing the fractured logic any farther. In front of him rolled the titanic backsides of women dragging children and clutching the arms of

their husbands or boyfriends. All of these impeded Elijah's forward motion. In a state of hazy but definite desperation, Elijah wove his fingers around the steering wheel of his truck. His knuckles, he noticed, were turning white. He had been driving around far too long, but exactly how long he could not begin to say. In fact, he had never driven in one place so long in his life. Since day and night did not seem to exist and there was no sun in sight, Elijah could only conjecture at how long he had been circulating. It may have been days...but no, that was not possible. Or was it? A parking place and a wood chipper. These filled nearly all the empty places in Elijah's wits like gas balloons blown out of proportion which nudged every other reasonable concern into unimportant and inaccessible mental crevasses. The only other remarkable thing about Elijah's continued and hopeless trajectory was that his crotch and genitals were growing patently painful, as since the start of his quest, he had maintained a huge and vibrating erection, which, though pleasant at first, had lasted too long and for no good reason and now was making his entire genital region feel taut, stretched and swollen. He managed to wonder at times about the prolonged erection, why he had it, what it meant. He had seen no girls of his class or age that might have provoked it. In fact, most of the shoppers who surrounded his truck in its dawdling and fruitless progress were obese and ungainly. There was no reason for a lingering erection here. But then again, the obsession remained: the parking space and the all-important wood chipper. He had to get them. Parking at a distance from the mammoth store was not an option. Buying a wood chipper somewhere else was not either. And so as he laboriously trundled his truck in first gear through the trails of slush and processions of shoppers, Elijah felt frustrated and confused that his entire life, which he considered rich and abundant up to this point, had come

down to this. Some moisture filled his eyes as this thought crept in to his awareness. He would never find a parking space near the store and he would never get a wood chipper. His life, as it were, would be cancelled out. His failure in these dual respects would be the final breakdown of whatever he was now and whatever he was destined to be. His life would in effect be over. From some of the ubiquitous pole lights hung the trappings of the Christmas season: Santa Clauses, elves, sleighs, bells and crepe paper evergreens. But from others, glimpsed only occasionally, there were red hearts pierced with arrows and from others hung an egg or two or a pink Easter bunny. From some corner of his uneasy awareness, Elijah remembered that it had been middle October when he began his search at Home Festival. He had no idea how he knew this. It was something to do with the upcoming election in November. Surely that had not taken place by now. Elijah was political, or as political as young college senior at Crest Ridge could be. He was a member of the Young Republicans. He remembered that much. He was strongly in favor of Crispin Boonfowler, the white Republican candidate. He was strongly opposed to Norris Tadabak, the darker skinned "pro-government liberal," who was the incumbent and who Elijah remembered his Young Republicans and nearly every neighbor in The Enclave wanted to see defeated before, as most said, "he gave away the country to the unproductive moochers who had swept him into office on a pack of lies and unfulfilled promises." But that remembrance was dim and overshadowed by Elijah's feverish need to find a parking space and buy a wood chipper. A circuit around the entire parking lot seemed to take about forty minutes, or so Elijah reckoned. It was maddening. Who were all these people anyway? What day was it? And why were so many of them shopping? Then passing under a flickering lot light, something abruptly happened. Elijah

glanced to his right side and became swiftly aware that his passenger had bolted upright in her seat. In truth, he had not been aware that he had a passenger, as he did not remember starting the mission with one in the truck. But there she was. A girl named Gretchen Lock. Apparently, Gretchen had been with him all along. Perhaps she had been slumped over sleeping. At any event she was here now, and she would not approve of his inability to park and shop. II. Gretchen Lock Elijah only abstractedly knew Gretchen Lock. They had been in a few classes together at the academy, but she was patently not the sort of girl one notices. Her dingy taupe-cum-chestnut hair fell down on her shoulders in mismatched strings, and her chest was a flat as a floor plank. She had no discernable curves, and no discernable personality traits whatsoever except that she exuded a sense of mousy vulnerability. Her face was almost totally featureless, thin strips of uneven flesh passing for lips and a totally unremarkable nose. Her eyes were cloudy and seemed dryer than human eyes should be. He cheeks were almost sunken into her mouth, and Elijah felt he could see the outlines of her molars under her thin and monochrome skin. She wore no make up and her hands looked like little box hooks with rounded nails which she probably bit down to the quick. She wore a formless knit sweater and appeared to be in the part of the day's crowd that felt the weather was cold. When she spoke her sharp little tongue darted disturbingly out from between her lips. What on Earth was Gretchen Lock doing with him here in the Home Festival parking lot and what might happen if anyone Elijah knew saw her with him. Gretchen was not the sort of girl one could brag about. And yet...

And yet, there was that feeble and totally yielding vulnerability, and Elijah remembered that she was with him because he had offered her a ride back to The Enclave, where she lived in a split-level not far from his parents. He had offered her a ride with a certain design in mind, and that was to see whether he could profit from her overwhelming defenselessness because other guys had done that before and she was said to be an easy mark, and Paisley had been away for the weekend, and Elijah was horny, and, well, there she was. In high school there had been stories that she had frequently been taken advantage of and by more than one boy at a time, although Elijah had never participated in any of that. His plan, he suddenly recalled, was to have a little bit of a good time with Gretchen, because, hell, everyone else did. They would ride around the Cone Palace for a few minutes and then go up to Pine Hill Park and he would take her under the branches of the huge trees. She would be grateful. Guys never gave Gretchen a second look. He would give her a little of himself. She would be happy. Or so Elijah thought. But that must have been days or at least many hours ago. How long had they been in this lot? There was no way Elijah could access that. How long had she been in his truck? Same problem. The recall simply wasn't there. A quick volley of either fat rain drops or hard grains of sleet suddenly pelted the windshield of the truck. Once again, Elijah was halted behind a crowd of bumbling, inelegant shoppers---some in snowsuits, others in hotpants---who slogged nonchalantly ahead of him completely blocking the lane. As Elijah jerked his hand down to flash the wipers, his elbow brushed against his evertumescent penis, and it was painful. Everything hurt down there. He had been erect too long, far too long. Gretchen shifted in the passenger seat and faced him as they sat waiting for the

swarm to disperse. The store seemed eternal acres in front of them, still shrouded by either a cold or a warm mist, still only partly visible. A huge cardboard valentine fell onto the hood of the truck and then slid off into the dirty slush. "Valentine's Day," said Elijah quietly to no one in particular. "Maybe," said Gretchen. "And then maybe not." Her words were desiccated and concave. Elijah noted that she was wearing a drab skirt under her gray knit sweater. She had knotty knees and thin, vein-streaked curved legs. Why on Earth had he...oh forget it. He needed to park. He needed to get a wood chipper. Gretchen, without smiling, continued: "So." "So?" "So how long do you want to keep doing this?" "Doing what?" "Driving around this stupid lot with that ghastly hard-on looking for a parking space that doesn't really exist. Trying to buy a wood chipper that you don't even know how to use." "You use words like hard-on?" "Sometimes when I need to," Gretchen replied shifting her gaze to the throng still blocking their futile advance toward the distant store. "What you really need to be thinking about is where you really are and just how dangerous it could be."

The words seemed enigmatic to Elijah. He knew very well that he was at Home Festival and that there was a lot of aggravation but no danger here. "Danger?" he said. "What danger?" "There could be a lot," said Gretchen rolling her huge yet alarmingly uninviting eyes. "I mean where you really are." Elijah had no idea of what the lackluster girl was talking about. But the word danger stuck in his mind. Somewhere behind the dark curtains of his occluded thoughts there was, he knew, danger. "What should I do?" he finally said in a kind of wit's end desperation. "Keep your goddamn hands where they should be and quit acting like you're some kind of self-offered prize to girls who have no interest in you and in whom you have no interest other than to fuck for fun." "Fuck for fun? You really do have a way with words. I don't know what you are talking about." "You will soon. I'm getting tired of watching you." With that Gretchen turned toward the passenger door and slid out, slamming the door behind her. For several seconds all was dark surrounding the truck. When luminosity returned it was in the form of red and white flashing lights. Elijah was no longer in the unbearable parking lot of Home Festival, but rather stationed up next to a brick wall that he at once recognized as the perimeter of his gated

community. He was still behind the wheel of his truck, but two police patrol cars were now at his side, and a uniformed officer was rapping at his side window. "Wake up," the cop said. "I'm not sleeping," said Elijah, stunned but still in some kind of trance, a sort of hangover from what he remembered to be endless hours---perhaps days of driving. "Get out of your vehicle." Elijah complied and stood obediently beside his truck as two officers passed the beams of their over-large flashlights across his body and face. One of them seemed extraordinarily interested in his eyes and held the light on them longer than it was comfortable for Elijah to look. "It's against the law to sleep in cars around here," mumbled one of the officers. "How much have you had to drink?" "Nothing I can remember." "Spread your legs and put your hands on top your head and count backwards from 78 for me." Elijah did as requested in a kind of steeled panic. His numbers came forth loud and clear without confusion and he did not totter as he stood. "Bend as far over as you can and put your hands on your opposite feet." It was obviously a sobriety test, and Elijah had taken one before. After several more agility and vocal exercises, the main officer handed his driver's license back to him and said "Get out of here. Get home. And don't sleep in your

truck." Elijah watched as the cops walked back to their cars shrugging their shoulders. It was a warm, dry late October night. There was no sleet or slush. There was no music, Christmas or otherwise in the air. There were no pedestrians and few other cars. Moreover, Elijah realized that he no longer had a painful erection, although his testicles and penis felt sore and the memory of that particular physical sensation lingered most unpleasantly. He was less than three minutes from his parents' house. Shaking his head as if to dispel what he now felt was a bad dream, he jerked the truck into its usual place on his father's driveway and went inside. His parents, apparently still in love, were snuggled together on the couch watching some movie from which the continual singing precluded any conversation---not that Elijah wanted to have any. Elijah went into his family kitchen and took a beer out of the refrigerator. In his mind the parking lot of Home Festival and the milling crowds were still as fresh as the memories he had of the house he had grown up in. Suddenly the music stopped and his father Bryce, a successful attorney with a downtown Eaglesmont practice entered the kitchen. "Whatcha up to, partner," he said, winking at his tall and well-formed son. "Where's that girl of yours? It's Friday night and..." "She's out of town," snapped Elijah somewhat annoyed by the disturbance. "Well, don't make a federal case of it," said Bryce smiling. "I'm still your old man, in case you forgot." "I didn't forget."

"You study too hard, Elijah. I graduated law school and passed the bar without hitting the books as much as you do. You need a break." Elijah looked at his smiling father. It seemed at once galling to him that his parents were still so much in love. His brother Donovan was in the tenth grade and would graduate in two years. His sister Sherry was already married and living in Pittsburgh. Wasn't it time for his parents to start pulling apart from one another now? But then his thoughts changed. He looked squarely at his father who was twisting off the cap of a beer and said: "Dad, do we need a wood chipper?" "A wood what???" "Chipper." "Not that I know of. We don't have any trees here. And the few scrubby shoots that pass for trees are taken care of by maintenance. That's what we pay the membership fee for." "Do you know of any reason why I needed to go to Home Festival? I mean, did you send me there for something?" "What is Home Festival?" Elijah grimaced and took a deep swallow of his beer. "Oh nothing," he said, shrugging his shoulders. "I need to get some sleep." And with that he eased past his somewhat incredulous father and took the stairs up to the only bedroom that he had slept in during his twenty-three years of life.

Once in bed, he glanced at his telephone messages. There was a call from his best friend Joshua Brooker. In fact, there were three calls from him, none of them with a voice mail. There were several texted messages as well, one from Paisley Zain, his girlfriend, who missed him. But even in her clipped and shortened text words, there seemed to be a ring of suspicion. It was hard to define why. Something about the way she placed her LOLs or some other trite abbreviations. Then there was another strange number but no message. Elijah stared at the digits for some seconds before he decided to return the call. Almost without being told, he realized that the live voice on the other end was that of Gretchen Lock. "Hope everything is all right," she said blandly. "Yeah sure." "You behave yourself and you won't need that wood chipper any more." The words were stark and reverberated like a tinny echo. They gave Elijah a strong shiver up his spine which was accentuated by a pain in his groin. The effects of his protracted erection had not yet dissipated. Without warning, Gretchen hung up. Elijah, anguished, did not find the nerve to redial. Funny stuff happens, he said to himself as he lay awake on the bed listening to the dry leaves rustle against the eaves of his family house. Funny stuff happens.

III. Bonnylou Formby, principal of Marygrove Academy Like everything else at Marygrove Academy, Bonnylou Formby was staunchly Protestant and conservative. Her neat serge business suit and her clipped hair suggested a no-nonsense approach to life, and she conducted the affairs of her exclusive academy with due respect to a hidden scroll of invisible yet living rules that had been handed down to her from generations past. The only out of place thing about Marygrove was in the name itself, which to persons like Bonnylou seemed annoyingly Catholic at times. In fact, the name had some vague connections with Eaglesmont's Catholic past in that the school had been named back in the Nineteenth Century for a grove of trees in which some of the early unconverted German Catholic settlers had claimed to have seen a vision of the Virgin Mary, who was manifestly associated with Catholicism, and thus, while the name remained, the vision was rapidly forgotten as a better class of professionals moved into North Eaglesmont and made fast work of erasing all traces of popishness in favor of a clear-sighted vision of industrious Calvinism which reigned among the respectable Presbyterians and Methodists of the surrounding developments. On Wednesday, the 31st of October, which was just coincidentally Halloween, an occasion not recognized at Marygrove, and which was exactly ten days after Elijah Foxton's perplexing episode at Home Festival, a trio of starched investigators from the Federal Bureau of Prisons had come calling on Bonnylou, who received them with the cold dignity that one public official reserves for another in the perfunctory decorum of an inescapable situation. "I didn't know the prison people conducted investigations," said Bonnylou dryly from behind her desk, separated from the somber men only by her rather intimidating desk plaque. "Sometimes we do," said the most seemingly senior of the men. "If needed."

He pointed again to a glossy but quaintly distorted blown-up photo of a girl that had been placed in Bonnylou's view. "What about her?" Bonnylou rose from her desk and looked out into the courtyard. Uniformed students were passing from one building to another. Most of them were carrying books. The scene was very calm and orderly. Bonnylou liked it that way. Bonnylou, despite her worsted blue business suit always immaculately ironed, was a rather portly woman, and it was clear that a part of her torso was confined to a clearly defined girdle, which prevented her from being too agile when rising and sitting. The girdle kept her back stiff and straight, and Bonnylou liked it that way. Who were these prison "guards" to come into her school and ask questions? "Are you prison gentlemen important enough to have access to FBI or police files?" she asked with undisguised contempt. "Sometimes," said the senior man, unruffled. "Then you should know all about Gretchen Lock. She attended Marygrove for four years. In her junior year, we had an unfortunate incident. She was a plain, unassuming girl. Nobody liked or disliked her. There are children like that. She lived with her aunt in The Enclave, a closed community not far from here, and as far as I know she still does." "We know that," said the senior man again, his subordinates nodded somberly in quiet assent. "We wanted to get a little background on the...well...the case...from an involved party . The police reports are very matter of fact and don't say much. There was a suicide and no trial. Things come out at trials that throw light...."

"I know," interrupted Bonnylou rising once again, her cylindrical girdle keeping her back more rigid than is humanly normal. "The whole thing was an embarrassment to the academy. Girls like Gretchen... Well, I'll never go as far as to even hint that she may have been inviting it, but..." The senior agent made a hand motion to wave Bonnylou's words aside as if they were worthless. "Don't go there," he said. "Lots of girls get raped. Assaulted. Overcome. Molested. They don't have to be pretty." "I wasn't talking about her looks," said Bonnylou matching the man's defiant tone with her own. "I was talking about her being mousy and weak and acting like a victim. Predators can smell victims. You of all people should know that. It isn't always the girls who put on a display. Sometimes its the ones that hide behind their hair as we say. Gretchen was like that. She kept her eyes on the floor all the time, and very few of us her ever got a clear look at her face. That is how she was. Self-effacing. No spine. No ability to stand up for herself." It was now the senior prison investigator's turn to stand up. He did so by putting a solid hand on Bonnylou's desk and pushing himself up. In the process he shoved the principal's name plaque off in an angle. Bonnylou was quick to put the plaque squarely back in its place. "And so she was sexually assaulted, molested, raped in a utility room by one of your part time custodians, and you did your best to assure the community that..." "Unfortunately," interrupted Bonnylou, "or rather fortunately, you gentlemen never got a chance to meet him. That was better for everyone."

"The newspaper report says that Gretchen identified him right away to the Eaglesmont Police, and they went off to nab him. A guy called Dietrich Knebel, wasn't it? He made a run for it and got as far as a service station out on Route 316. He was ahead of the cops too. But then he just goes into the station, buys a plastic fuel can, fills it with gas, goes into the men's room, douses and lights himself and goes up in a blaze that almost destroyed the filling station as well. Only funny thing about the case was how sudden he did it. The police record says that he called the attendant 'doctor' and wanted to buy some ointment to relieve himself of body lice or whatever." Bonnylou stiffened up again. "That's the story. You read it the same as I did. We run police checks on our help here now. So why may I ask are you bringing this all up again? Gretchen was not injured in the assault, except mentally, which can't be denied. She went on to graduate. She is at Crest Ridge now, I think." "Yep. Second or third year in college. Still living with her aunt in The Enclave. No reported signs of mental distress, though these are not always observable." "So are you going to tell me why the Federal Bureau of Prisons is digging into her file again?" Almost on cue, the three men rose to their feet and began pulling the creases out of their suit pants. The senior man extended his hand across the desk to Bonnylou. "Nope," he said. "We are not. I apologize for taking your time." After the men left, Bonnylou Formby took a bottle of pills out of her desk and swallowed two of them. This was followed by a quick swig from a silver flask which she also concealed behind some papers inside her desk.

I ardently pray, she said to herself almost aloud, that I never see that girl again. And after the tranquilizers and the liquor had produced their desired effect, she confidently strolled out into the academy courtyard and began giving the passing students subtle dress code reminders about falling socks and untucked shirts. This is what the principal of an upright academy is paid to do, she thought. And I am doing it. Before the day was over Bonnylou Formby had forgotten all about the rapist janitor Dietrich Knebel, but she had not forgotten Gretchen Lock. Nor had she forgotten how she had spent one month of summer vacation in 2008 aboard a Spanish anchovy fishing boat which was trawling near the Canary Islands, a "cruise" during the whole of which she had sat on the deck, totally ignored by the sinewy crew and staring blankly at the burgundy waves rolling off the side of the vessel. That was, of course, Bonnylou's memory and Bonnylou's story. But a private sanitarium overlooking a fetid pond in the Alleghenies had a different version of what she was staring at. And it was at a wall and not water. But who knew the real truth? And who knew the not so secret and rather clumsy steps she had initially taken to hide the guilt of Dietrich Knebel in order to save the reputation of Marygrove? Her actions had been honorable. The standing of the school was more important than the predicament of any one student. But in 2012, did these things matter any more?

Two years away from retirement, Bonnylou Formby had long ago convinced herself that they did not. IV. A strange document surfaces once again It should be noted that the Federal Bureau of Prisons does not usually conduct police investigations in the United States. Normally their activities are confined to the management of federal prisons, and the Federal Penitentiary of Eaglesmont, a sprawling Depression-era maximum security facility, generally delineated the extent of any police authority agents of the Bureau could exercise. But the lead investigator, whose name was Ethan Malverholt, had been sent down from headquarters in Richmond, Virginia with certain plenipotentiary powers---at least powers which impressed the small town Eaglesmont Police Force, the directing members of which willingly opened the file on the rape of Gretchen Lock by one Dietrich Knebel, formerly a vagrant who had somehow burrowed his way into Marygrove Academy as a boiler technician. The record hinted, of course, that Bonnylou Formby had not contested his part time employment, nor had she requested a background check. In certain places, the examiners in 2008 had found some scant scraps of evidence that Formby, even then an over the hill single woman, could have possibly been linked romantically with Knebel, but these facts were limited and had been summarily dismissed as negligible. In point of fact, Madam Formby had developed a sort of crush on the strapping utility janitor, an affinity that had been noted and just as rapidly forgotten by only a few at the school. One of these few was the then-librarian, an aging woman named Janice Spycer, who had taken the quiet, mousy, vulnerable, plain and unassuming Gretchen Lock under her wing as an assistant in the academy library, where the latter

sorted books and presumably confided certain things only to Janice. One of these things was that Gretchen was genuinely frightened of people, especially boys and men, and that she was positively terrified by her aunt Seraphina with whom she lived. The reasons for this terror were never disclosed. Another thing that Janice Spycer learned by befriending Gretchen Lock was that Gretchen wanted a tranquil job away from people, such as that of a librarian, but later she opted for training as an elementary school reading teacher. In 2012, as the agents of the Federal Bureau of Prisons were carrying out their rather questionable investigation, Gretchen was, in fact, still working toward that end at Crest Ridge University. This was about all the police had learned about the relationship between Gretchen and Janice, and it was nearly everything that could be learned because Janice had passed onto her reward in 2009, the year of Gretchen's graduation. But in the file there still remained a handwritten document composed by the librarian which meant very little to anyone until it was uncovered by Ethan Malverholt and his cohorts during the week of their investigation. Deemed inconsequential by the Eaglesmont Police, it was tucked in the file nonetheless but most likely had not been read until Malverholt paged into it on November the first of 2012. Since it was very short, we shall reproduce it here: I have always tried to shield that girl. She is so fragile. The boys avoid her. Some tease her. Some may be trying to take advantage of her as well. I have let her stay in my library during class breaks and after school, and she helps me with the

catalog and the filing. I really pity her. She just lets everyone run over her. She never fights back, and I think she does what people tell her to do---whether it is the right thing or not. Because I trust her, I have let her into the Briney Collection of Childhood Verses and Tales. This is a private collection of very old children's books that were bequeathed to the school by the founders in the mid-19th Century. They are stored in a vault in one of our unused basements, and most date from earlier than 1900. Some are very creepy, as was the style of children's literature in those days. The drawings are downright spooky at times, but I think the idea was to scare kids into being good. They had different notions in those days. I know I have violated one of the Foundation's rules by letting Gretchen see these books, but I feel that they are of no other use, so if they give pleasure to the girl, I am quite content to break this little rule. Once again, I feel sorry for Gretchen. She has had a rough time in life. Signed, Janice C. Spycer, general librarian, May 3, 2008 Upon seizing this forgotten document, Ethan Malverholt did a double take. He flung it over to one of his unnamed associates and told him to read it right away. When the man had finished, he immediately handed it to the third in the party, who upon reading it bulged his eyes as wide as pie tins and stared at his colleagues. "Did you both see what I saw?" said Malverholt, almost breathlessly. "Yes," said both men almost at the same time. Malverholt glanced over his shoulder to see if a policeman was observing him and then folded the document and put it in his jacket pocket.

"Let's go," he said silently to his assistants. The three men thanked the police sergeant and left. They climbed into a large Buick sedan marked with the seal of their bureau and drove away. V. An incident in which a young woman's breasts may figure prominently On Friday, November 2, 2012, just four days before the presidential election, the Young Republican Club of Crest Ridge University was holding a gala in the ballroom of the Thomas Tyler Golf Course Inn in Eaglesmont. The Young Republicans, issuing mostly from the best families of the north side, wore striped, button down shirts and some wore ties----at least up to the point where outright inebriation would compel them to loosen and or discard these. Kegs of dark German beer abounded, as did certain prohibited substances which were mostly consumed in the spacious marbled restrooms in front of mirrors. The Young Republicans naturally favored the white candidate whose name we have already learned was Crispin Boonfowler over the darker and "disgustingly liberal" incumbent Norris Tadabak. This was an unsurprising fact that was taken for granted by most all in attendance. The music played for the occasion was something called "sensible rock" by the attendees. Things like Martin Playbone and the cool jazz of Lee Gembeck. Jarring music was just not in keeping with the tenor of the occasion. There was a certain veneer of upper crust Republican respectability that had to be maintained, although many of the young men in attendance had their eyes on goals other than the coming election and were sure that their political evening would have many happy outcomes in the previously booked rooms of the Inn. Among the attendees we should note Elijah Foxton and his father (who enjoyed hobnobbing with younger people) as well as Elijah's best friend, a rather dashing specimen named Joshua Brooker, who by ten o'clock and not

accompanied by a father, was well on his way to inebriation. Joshua was a selfadmitted ladies man, although he did have a pretty girlfriend named Courtney-something that he had, for reasons of his own, not attempted to invite. In fact, Joshua had a roving eye and was putting it to use by scanning the sleek torsos of the many Young Republican ladies who were in attendance next to the beer and in the bathrooms. The third member of this group was another young male Republican, who really didn't give a shit, by the name of Snoz Blackthorn. Snoz was not as attractive as Joshua or Elijah were to the girls, so naturally he was always trying harder to find a compliant and more malleable target. But for some reason that night not much was happening. There was an actual air of social conservativism that permeated the crowd. Perhaps too many fathers and mothers had been invited. Family values, as a merit, was high on the agenda of the Young Republicans, who all wanted to somehow emulate the outrageously successful Crispin Boonfowler, who presented a totally faultless faade in his moral trappings. 2012 was the year of living clean and family values, something that the incumbent, being of a darker race, did not emblemize. And so by ten thirty, after several clumsy attempts at dancing, the three boys found themselves without female companions. It should be mentioned here that Elijah Foxton's former girlfriend Paisley Zain was not in attendance because just two days prior she had definitively broken up with Elijah because, as she said, he was just acting too weird. His weirdness was manifested in multiple ways and sprang from his interlude in the parking lot of Home Festival or next to the wall of The Enclave or wherever the hell he had been, and Elijah still didn't know. It can be left to the reader's imagination how this newfound strangeness revealed itself, but suffice to say it was distasteful to a girl of Paisley's status and she had summarily dumped Elijah.

After stumbling around the kegs for a while and attempting to strike up provocative conversations with some of the precious few unescorted young ladies in the hall, Elijah, Joshua and Snoz began making for the door. There had to be some action somewhere else, and Elijah's father was more than happy to see his son go off with some friends for some "boyhood fun." Bryce would find his own way home, which was not far off. But as they were leaving, the three respectable Young Republicans chanced to notice that Gretchen Lock and her aunt Seraphina were arriving. Seraphina was displaying an enormous set of breasts with ample cleavage, this in contrast to the limp and shrinking Gretchen who was as Snoz noted "flat as a chopping block." Gretchen, who hated crowds, had been pulled into the gala by Seraphina, who was patently looking for a certain man, whom she must have immediately spotted upon entry because she at once dismissed Gretchen to her own devices and said "Amuse yourself" as she bustled into the crowd of older men standing around the wine table. "Let's fuck Gretchen," whispered Joshua. "I almost did it in high school at Marygrove." "Good idea," slurred Snoz, "but I go first." "No way," countered Joshua. "I thought of it first. You get the leftovers." Gretchen was eyeing the trio as they spoke, and she watched them long enough to see Elijah turn on his heels and abruptly shake hands with his two friends and beat a hasty retreat back to his father's table, where presumably he would bury his head into an ongoing political discussion of a markedly conservative nature.

Snoz and Joshua surrounded Gretchen like predatory tomcats, holding up their arms, jostling her and making it impossible for her to twist away from them. They made garbled sounds and slurred things like "Come on, babe." And at one point Joshua, being the boldest and perhaps the most drunk, pulled Gretchen out onto the dimly lit dance floor and cupped her almost non-existent buttocks in his hands. He gyrated briefly with the timid girl in the absence of any music until she finally whispered something in his ear and he pulled her toward the door. Outside they went into a parking lot filled with huge Beamers, Range Rovers and Hummers as well as Silverados and Porsches, the preferred carriages of the prominent and flourishing. Joshua, who drove a late model Lexus, pulled Gretchen into the back seat and motioned for Snoz, who was now seemingly under his sway, to sit in front. "I'm going to fuck this bitch once and for all," he smirked. Gretchen looking frail, overpowered and totally inoffensive---the very soul of her famous withdrawn introversion and vulnerability--sat crumbled in the huge seat next to the drunken twenty-three year old. She was visibly overwhelmed and beaten. Joshua pushed his hands under her buttoned blouse saying: "Let's see what those tiny tits look like. Fried eggs, I suppose." Then the expression on his face changed, and so did the one on Snoz's face, as the latter had been diligently observing in the retrovisor. "My god," exclaimed Joshua, "what in the fuck are you hiding here?" He proceeded with certain lustful salacity to unbutton Gretchen's blouse and rip off her bra. Beneath it were two extremely large and well-formed, full-grown luscious, nubile and voluptuous female breasts with full areolas and protruding nipples. That the breasts were too large for Gretchen's small frame seemed to be lost on both boys. How had she been hiding these for so long? Salivating in his desire, Joshua began to feast on the newfound jewels.

"Stop," said Gretchen in a bolder than normal voice. "You want to just push yourself onto me? I say we do it the right way. Your car is big enough and I will accommodate you both. I've been a wallflower long enough." "Let's go," said Joshua beginning to unbutton his own shirt. "Do me a favor first," said Gretchen, opening her purse and taking out a slim, dark-covered book. "Turn on the light and tell me who signed the first page of this book. I forgot my glasses." "What kind of fucking book is that?" asked Joshua. "An event book. I was supposed to get a signature from Doctor Raybest, the host here. He's the campus sponsor of the Young Republicans and a strong supporter of Crispin Boonfowler. I promised my aunt." Joshua took the dark and somewhat stale book in his hand and shoved it under the light which was above Snoz's head. Both young men looked at the first few pages of the book and grunted in disinterest. "No signature here," said Snoz, "Let's move onto action." "Then do this," said Gretchen coyly, retrieving the book and putting it back in her little purse. "Take this sheet of stationery and give it to my aunt. Tell her to get a signature." "You mean go back in?" said Snoz. "Yes, both of you. I promise I will be here when you get back." With this she fondled her own breasts seductively. "I've been waiting a long time for this."

"Let Snoz take it in," said Joshua. "No fucking way," snapped Snoz. "You'll fuck her and drive off. We have a bargain here. We both go." "Promise you will stay?" said Joshua. "Take my blouse and bra," said Gretchen. "I can't go anywhere without them. In fact," she continued," take my skirt and my panties. It's warm enough in your car tonight." Darting a few suspicious glances at one another, the two Young Republicans bunched up Gretchen's scant garments and stuffed them into their jacket pockets, took the sheet of stationery and left the car. When they arrived back at the double doors of the hotel ballroom an entirely different spectacle confronted them. Instead of the room being filled with an overwhelmingly white and blatantly conservative mass of attendees, it was literally swarming with black men and women who were dancing in frenzied displays of flesh and "booty" to loud and scathing musical numbers that can best be described by the general term "acid rap." The lyrics, if you can call them that, were all about slashing, raping, killing, and getting money wherever money could be found. Many of the younger black men were not only overwhelmingly muscular but bare-chested and wearing dangling necklaces which featured huge dollar signs or clenched African fists. The women were shaking their buttocks in all directions and many were attired only in fishnet hose. In the darker corners, couples were crunching together and humping on one another. The snippets of shouts came from all directions: "crunk, word, bitch, motherfucker, niggah." In all, the scene was predominantly black, and violent black at that.

And, jumping ahead, when both young men found the opportunity the next week to discuss the scene with one of their few black Republican friends, the latter laughed and said " expect me to believe that? What you're describing is blacker than any black motherfucker ever could be. This is a white man's version of what a nigger party is like. So shut the fuck up." And this part was true. There was in the several minutes that Joshua and Snoz remained in the hall a definite stereotypical totem of what "black America" was thought to be by white people isolated from that particular population by neighborhood covenants and social standing. This, however, was not what our Young Republicans felt at the time. They felt fear. In every word shouted over the loudspeaker, in ever bottle of malt liquor, in the jingle-jangle of every piece of swinging bling, there was Black America, the very Black America that neither Joshua nor Snoz had been exposed to in their brief existence. And it should be noted that it was a fresco of Black America that Gretchen had not seen much of either. If she had, it would have been more authentic. But none of this was known at the moment. Fear caused the boys to run back to Joshua's broad Lexus, and in the back seat they saw not the nubile breasts of Gretchen Lock but what looked and smelled like a pile of cowshit. Frozen in terror, they squirmed into the front seat and drove off looking for a place to hose the car out, or so they said. When they reached Snoz's campus dorm, they parked, ran out and looked for a hose. There was always one on the lawn, even in the fall. Pulling the hose back to the car, they were surprised to see that the manure was gone, but the smell lingered. On the seat was a torn scrap of paper upon which a weak hand had written the single word "cowshit." Joshua stared wide-eyed at Snoz, who returned his gaze.

"Fucking niggers," said Snoz finally. "Fucking cowshit," replied Joshua. And it was not until after the election that both Joshua and Snoz in discussing matter with their black conservative friend decided that what they had seen had simply been a parody performed of course by actual black people but, in all, far too black and way out of date for that matter. They came up with no explanation for the cowshit, however. The black candidate Norris Tadabak, who was far from stereotypical, won reelection incidentally, and nothing much came of that either. And the only result of that night of macabre revelry was that both Joshua Brooker and Snoz Blackthorn began to reflect on the nature of their own sanity in ways that, not unlike Elijah Foxton, had subtle ways of repelling the young females of their social class and frequency. VI. The reader is not stupid. I know that. It is more than evident at this point that somehow, somewhere over the course of vacant years and childhood abuse, Gretchen Lock had become a master thaumaturge, a type of mesmerizing shaman who could thrust the susceptible into a state of delusion, hypnosis and illusion. Where she had learned this art has not yet been ascertained, but it is by now clear that Gretchen could make her targets see, feel and hear what she wanted. It is also plain that her hallucinatory creations could endure for as long as she wished them to last, an hour, a month, a year---perhaps a lifetime, as we shall presently see.

And so it was justified and fitting, decently appropriate if you will, that Elijah Foxton, Joshua Brooker and Snoz Blackthorn, as well as Bonnylou Formby and perhaps countless others needed to guard their silence and keep as far away as possible from Gretchen. Who knows how long the fake African-American club scene would have lasted if the young men had stayed? Who knows what would have happened to them in it if they had? Who knows how long Bonnylou's sea "cruise" on a sardine boat could have gone on? Or how long Elijah Foxton would have been kept circulating in a huge, and incidentally non-material, parking lot looking for an item that probably didn't even exist. Who knows how far the rapist Dietrich Knebel could have fled before mistaking another gas station for a pharmacy to rid himself of imaginary lice? And, above all, who knows how Gretchen performed her hallucinatory miracles? These are all questions that we shall have to answer in the sections that follow. For the moment, we know only that the once defenseless Gretchen became a sort of monster; that is, if one wants to look at it that way. And so the story, unfinished, continues in the office of Chief Warden Emberson Wrottle of the United States Federal Penitentiary of Eaglesmont. VII. A pointless interrogation In the central turret office of the Federal Prison of Eaglesmont, Emberson Wrottle, chief warden, sat beside a huge computer monitor which had been cued with different cuts of closed circuit footage from the morning of Monday the 29th of October. As with all huge penal facilities, the cameras had recorded the same events from several different angles. Wrottle, who was resigned to his

own perplexity, asked all present to take a seat and watch what had been filmed. Seated in the back row, were three federal investigators, led by Ethan Malverholt, with whom we are already acquainted. Malverholt and his two assistants had seen the footage several times before, but this time they were looking for something they had previously given little thought to. In his neatly pressed suit coat pocket Malverholt still carried the folded, handwritten account written in 2008 by Marygrove Academy librarian Janice Spycer. There was something in that brief commentary, written by a woman now deceased, that he wanted to verify. But the main purpose of the early morning meeting was to confront four on-duty correctional officers with what appeared to be an unforgivable and grievous error. It was the error and its apparent urgency that had caused the three investigators to immediately leave Virginia and descend on the prison. "None of this is going to be explained any better than it was before," said the world-weary Wrottle, "but a crime may have been committed here, and, sorry to say, I feel that you gentlemen, against all manual regulations, allowed it to happen. The question is of course why. And how? There is always a why and how to these things." Then he lit a pipe, settled back in his plush leather seat and motioned for his personal secretary, a thin, intelligent-looking trustee named James, to cue the video to the initial scan of the sidewalks along Bullford Road which ran out of the main part of Eaglesmont and directly in front of the colossal stone walls of the prison. Though the video did not have extreme clarity at that distance, it unmistakably outlined the slow and deliberate progress of a very young and very delicate woman with long, gristly taupe-brown hair walking toward the central control point and pushing the communicator button and then looking up into the eye of a roving camera which halted in its sweeping rotation to

frame the unadorned young woman. The audio section was scratchy but quite distinct: "I am Ines Vandermast from the Governor's Office of Safety and Fire Inspection. Your facilities warden, a Mr. Smithwick, authorized a routine tour of some of your empty cellblocks for me this morning. I have his signed pass here in my hand. Please zoom in." The camera immediately did so. What the close-up showed caused a conspicuous murmur, if not an audible rumble, to pass through the coterie of viewers. In her hands the young woman held open what appeared to be a picture book with drably colored drawings of circus animals on the two inside pages. Alongside the drawings were lines of script, unreadable by video, but obviously printed in a font style that was both ornate and antiquated. It was not immediately clear on the recording whether this script was in English or some other language. Ethan Malverholt tapped the eraser of a pencil on the desk in front of him and shot a fleeting glance at his two colleagues. "Some kind of old-timey children's book," he said in a barely audible voice. "I swear..." began one of the summoned correctional officers. Warden Wrottle raised his hand to stop the man. "I know what you swear, Petersen. You and the others all swear it was a legal pass signed by Brickmore and countersigned by me. You have said that before. But it appears not to be." The various segments of what was Gretchen Lock's entry through manifold sliding gates and turnstiles into the front guard post of the institution then followed. In every cut, Gretchen carried the dreary book in her hand, showing

it to whoever manned the post she was passing and was admitted, portal by portal, into the huge prison. Her final admittance into the gigantic and intimidating edifice was also clearly recorded. Once again, a neatly uniformed guard listened to her repeated explanation, briefly examined the book, ran a detection wand over her body and allowed her to pass. Her progress down the main corridor leading to Building B was also recorded with great lucidity, lucidity so great that the title of the antique book also became legible. It was called Boffo the Elephant, and the picture on its cover showed a rather malevolent looking, although comically rendered, elephant standing on its back legs and being led by a cuff around its neck by an equally sinister monkey. The drawings were intensely detailed and plainly the sort of retro-sub-reality depicted on books from an era long past. Boffo the Elephant and his monkey captor looked strangely human and flaunted huge eyes that expressed among other things anger and sadness. "Bet that's a fun read," said Emberson Wrottle shifting in his chair. "I've seen books like that at flea markets. I've never allowed my grandkids to touch them. No creepy pictures are going to scare today's children straight or whatever they were trying to do a hundred years ago." Malverholt nodded at the warden and said only "The book doesn't officially exist. We've checked that. It was just like something she found. We didn't pay much attention to it at first until we learned that it was probably stolen from a like collection of old spooky kids' books that they have been keeping in a vault at Marygrove. Gretchen Lock had access from 2007 on to these books, and apparently she took one." "But my men have sworn in official testimony that it was a signed pass from both you and the governor," said Petersen, the only vocal member of the uniformed officer contingent.

"Yeah, sure. Also, they have said that this Gretchen girl or whatever you called her was dressed professionally and wore picture ID around her neck. Whatever the legerdemain involved here, she got into our prison and got escorted around where the public is not supposed to be. That, gentlemen is both the crime---if there is one---and the mystery. Five of my trained professionals admitted her, and one accompanied her into Building B to look at the empty cellblocks and rooms." "I asked her if..." began another one of the accused officers. "Yep," interrupted Wrottle. "We have that on tape too. You asked her if she wanted to visit the occupied cells and check for whatever she said she was checking for where the active inmates are living, and she said no. All she wanted to do was look at the empty cells. That should have set up some kind of alarm with you." The officer, incapable of explaining his motives, shrank back down into his seat, crouching nervously like his peers and simply allowing the review to continue. Barred cell after barred cell passed under the scrutiny of the closed circuit camera. At several of these Gretchen Lock stopped and widely scrutinized the accommodations: one sink, two beds, a stainless steel toilet erected in the center of the cell, everything spotless empty and clean. There apparently had not been enough federal crimes to fill these spaces for the moment. "I notice," Malverholt interjected, "I notice that this so called fire and safety inspector never looks at anything but the corridors and cells. She gazes at the bars, the commodes and sinks from inside and out, almost like she is in a trance. She never looks at wires, fire extinguishers, alarms or any other safety devices."

"True," said Wrottle. "And what is even stranger is that we have---as these gentlemen would know---an entire army of you feds coming here to check for safety among so many other things. Highly paid professionals on federal salaries that come in nearly every day of the week. The governor of this state has nothing to do with prison safety on the national level. But apparently that never occurred to my officers." With this Wrottle motioned for his trustee to switch off the monitor screen and settled once again back into his chair. He took a long drag off his now extinguished pipe and in some little exasperation dropped it down on his desk. "Let me summarize," he began. "I'll give you my take. These officers were carefully screened over and over again. Also, our internal unit interviewed each one of them separately, and their stories all match. Signed pass. Governor's office. Brief, non-threatening tour of an empty cellblock. No cameras on her person. No apparent motive for a little girl in an ill-fitting skirt to visit us. Yet my men let her in. In my opinion and that of my staff, they violated about seven regulations of the penal code, but they committed no crime. I have recommended their re-assignment to other facilities and no dismissal. Something abnormal happened here last week. Something we will probably never know. A young woman in plain clothes walks---not drives--up to this place from the street. Shows a queer children's picture book to some highly trained professionals, gains unlawful admittance, walks around and looks at a few things and then strolls away down the street as if she had never come. Weird yes. A punishable crime, no. After all, we have had on occasion actual groups of school children tour this place. I mean children with bona fide passes and a teacher that spent months gaining permission, which we only grant on very special days and/or occasions. I am at a loss for where to turn now."

Ethan Malverholt squirmed uncomfortably in the wooden chair that had been provided for him. "I don't know what to do either," he muttered. "I'd love to see that book, but I guess that is not going to happen. I'd also like to see the collection of other books they keep in that vault at Marygrove...." "But you don't have the authority," said Wrottle. "You've already extended your authority farther than you're supposed to anyway." "Everyone we've spoken to has openly volunteered to talk with us," countered Malverholt. "Except this Gretchen Lock." "Unless a crime has been committed, we can't just go and arrest her. Nor can we subject her to an official scrutiny. We are not the FBI." "You could always just drop by and ask her. She's a legal adult, twenty-two I believe." "We've been hesitating on that," said Malverholt, standing up. "I suppose we could charge her with illegal entry, but your men here so readily opened the gates for her. That would be taken into account in a trial if it ever came to that." Emberson Wrottle threw his hands up in the air and made a gesture of futility. "Beyond these walls," he said, "I cannot advise you. I have already told you my plan, and these officers know and accept it. Other than that, I've cautioned everyone to keep quiet about this. It doesn't need to be in the papers or on the news. I trust you federal guys know that." "We do," said Malverholt. "And this is an election year, for what it is worth."

"It's worth nothing," concluded Wrottle. "Nothing at all." VIII. Bonnylou Formby again, and then an interview with Gretchen Lock. "No," she said, arising, still stiffly packed in her girdle, from her desk and characteristically scanning the court yard of her academy. "No, I can't let you look in the archive vault unless you have a legal warrant. It is against Foundation and Trustee Board policy. Janice Spycer had no business letting that girl in there for so long. She had no business going there herself. The archives of Marygrove are private, as is the school, which I suppose you know. Until you show me a warrant, I deny all access. And let me remind you that I have the full authority to do so." Ethan Malverholt knew she was right and had no intention of prolonging the second interview. There was a certain aura generated by the dowdy middle aged woman that spooked him but for reasons that he could not easily verbalize. Followed by his two colleagues, he found himself taking a fast pace in leaving the academy. "I hope I will never see this place again," he muttered ruefully to himself as he passed through the open stone gates of Marygrove. "Damn bunch of rich kids in stupid uniforms." An hour later he was sitting along with his ubiquitous adherents on some hastily assembled patio chairs at the Enclave residence of Seraphina Lock, who in the company of her niece Gretchen had pleasantly consented to allow the prison investigators entry to the premises. "We have nothing to hide," she assured them, and then glancing at the somewhat cowering Gretchen said "Or do we?" Gretchen typically lowered her head and pretended not to notice. Clearly she was overpowered by the forceful presence of her aunt, and Malverholt could see that. He requested with firm politeness that he be able to interview Gretchen in private. Seraphina huffed a little and dismissively said

okay, got up and walked away. In a very low tone, one of Malverholt's normally silent companions said: "She's a looker, isn't she? Even for her age." It was true. Although rather Rubenesque, Seraphina, unlike her niece, made no attempt to hide the curvaceous and full-bodied attributes that nature had endowed her with. With her aunt gone, Gretchen breathed a sigh of audible relief. Bright, early November morning sunlight cascaded down on the four individuals huddled on the brick patio. Malverholt then asked a simple question. Why had she visited the penitentiary? That was, in effect, the only sensible question to ask. Malverholt was at the point where he was determined to skip small talk. Gretchen's answer was both furtive and enigmatic. She looked away from the men at the autumn leaves surrounding her house and said "I'm not sure. I just have always wondered what the inside of a prison looks like. I needed to get a view." "Why did you lie to the guards? We have that all on video, you know?" "So I could get in. They seemed very willing." "You have committed, I think, a federal crime. You could go to a prison, instead of just visiting one, for that." "I didn't take any pictures or plan any escape. Fact is, I never saw any inmates where I went." "We know. We know everything about your visit except its purpose. Could you expand on that?" "Not really," said Gretchen, shrinking slightly. "I just needed a view, a

panorama. I always wanted to see the inside of a big prison." "You may get to see another one close up and very soon," responded Malverholt, stiffening his tone. "We really want to know how you convinced everyone to let you in. I mean if you could do it, anyone could." "Not really. I mean I just have a knack for being innocent. Do you need to know anything else? I may need to see a lawyer..." "Don't bother. Lawyers are expensive. I don't think you are going to need one, unless of course something develops from this." "It won't," said Gretchen firmly. "I promise you it won't. Is there anything else?" It suddenly occurred to Malverholt that the weedy and fragile girl was actually asking him to continue probing, and so he took the bait and did. "Do you mind showing us that kids' album or whatever it was you brought with you?" Gretchen brightened up. "Of course," she said almost cheerfully. "You mean Boffo the Elephant. It was printed in 1884 right here in Eaglesmont. It's kind of spooky and hard to understand, but it has to be a real collector's item. Let me go find it." With this Gretchen seemed to bound into the house. She took precious little time in bringing the fading edition back out and placing it in Malverholt's hand. "Be careful," she admonished. "It's kind of worn and fragile." "A book you stole from Marygrove," said Malverholt sullenly. "That too is a crime." "Not stole, borrowed. I just forgot to return it."

Malverholt's colleagues clustered around him as he began paging through the almost incomprehensible book and examining the several pages of its spooky, overly detailed drawings. Boffo the Elephant, the main character, had escaped from a zoo. A lively and determined monkey, who wore a waistcoat and white gloves, had managed somehow to put a collar around Boffo's neck and was bringing him back under the light of a sallow but full moon. Certain indefinable forest and jungle animals watched this progress from the shrubs and from behind the trees along the moonlit path the monkey and elephant followed toward what looked like a castle rather than a zoo. On the last page, iron bars were closed behind Boffo and a sinister dwarf wearing only a peaked hat was dumping gold coins into the monkey's hand. The text, what little there was of it, said that Boffo had been bad but now had been returned to his owner's private menagerie where he would spend the rest of his days well-fed and secure. "Like a prison," said Malverholt, closing the slim volume in obvious frustration and disgust. "Yes, rather like a prison. Boffo was returned to his private menagerie where he really belonged. I guess that was the lesson." Gretchen seemed anxious but pleased. "Creepy, goddamn pictures," grumbled Malverholt handing the book back to Gretchen. "Animals with disturbing, almost human eyes. A monkey with a collar and chain. A dwarf with gold coins. Crap." "Yes, crap," said Gretchen. And then paradoxically: "I've lived a very sheltered life, you know. There are things I need to see, lots of things because if I don't see them, I get stuff wrong."

Neither Malverholt nor his followers took much notice of her final comment; however, it should be noted that this was a mistake. Malverholt was on his way to making more. After the three federal prison agents left the Lock residence, things happened rather swiftly. A county judge, summoned from his afternoon nap, willingly sanctioned an on the spot search warrant for the archive vaults at Marygrove. "I hate that damn place," he said. "Tell the police if you find any bodies." Fifteen minutes later, Bonnylou Formby who was preparing to go home after the finish of the school day, begrudgingly escorted the agents down below the Axelrod Building to the library vault. She unbolted the door and flung it open for the three men, switching on a light for them before parting. "I'm not going in there," she said. "I know the rules. You have the warrant. If you need me, I'll be at home. Close the door when you are finished. It will lock itself." Malverholt and his colleagues entered the dusty room. What they saw before them were rows and rows of antiquated decorations intended for the major yearly holidays. Retro Santas and huge grinning jack-o-lanterns, malevolent looking and usually bucktoothed Easter bunnies and embroidered valentines along with some patently Saint Patrick's shamrock streamers. Everything was shoved into the corners and collecting dust. There were no books. Only an unsightly array of unused ornaments that had not seemingly been strung up at Marygrove for years. "More crap," said Malverholt. "We need to get out of here and write a report. We've already over-extended our authority. Wrottle has the best idea. Keep this shit quiet. No real crime was committed and that girl is...well, she is just plain nuts. A real closet-case psycho. A girl like that can't hurt anyone and she

certainly can't aid in the escape of any prisoners. Let's go. I'm sick of this town and this prison. I recommend we stifle the whole thing. Write it off as a fluke." The men who had continuously accompanied Malverholt solemnly walked out to the black sedan they had driven to Eaglesmont from their office in Richmond. Standing by the side of the car, Malverholt searched the sky above Marygrove. The weather was exceptionally fine for the start of November. Not a cloud was in the sky and the sun made the investigators suddenly as a one take off their coats. This act of coat removal was a kind of signal that their work was done. "Let's get the fuck out of here before the blizzard comes," said one of the unnamed ones. "It might be a rough drive home." "Yeah, let's," said the other. "This case is closed, huh boss?" "Closed it is," agreed Malverholt. "Let's go." By the time they pulled the black government sedan onto the interstate highway, ominous dark clouds were hanging over the peaceful Allegheny landscape. A cold breeze was blowing in from the west. Automatically, the driver switched on the car's heater. None of the other two objected. A few miles farther toward their home destination, the clouds began producing large flakes of wet and then frozen snow. "The blizzard," said Malverholt. "It's supposed to hit before nightfall or a little after." "The blizzard," agreed one of the others. And indeed the road became icy and dangerous. It was not yet Thanksgiving, but the early blizzard had been predicted and it arrived with a fury. By the

time the trio reached Antioch, piles of fresh snow lay in dangerous furrows over the highway. The driver slowed with appropriate caution and turned the heater up another notch. Then he applied the windshield wipers as the snow became thicker and blocked his view. He slowed even more. Several fast moving vehicles, including one 53 foot truck, passed the government agents at a fast pace, two of them blew their horns almost ferociously as they sped by. "Stupid, crazy bastards," said Malverholt, watching them pass. "Don't they know enough to slow down in a blizzard like this one?" Inside of one of the rapidly passing cars that had honked, an impatient father glanced at his equally impatient wife and said "Stupid, crazy bastards. Why are they driving so goddamn slow on such a beautiful day and on dry pavement?" Neither question was ever answered, and the federal agents never again returned to Eaglesmont. A brief, dismissive report was later filed when the investigators arrived back in Richmond after having braved the first dangerous snowstorm of the year. "It was a rough drive," Malverholt said to his administrative assistant, a woman named Evelyn, who was rarely puzzled by anything the normally sober-minded chief investigator ever said. Richmond had apparently escaped the blizzard that had struck central Pennsylvania. Or not. IX. An after the election outdoor community barbecue at The Enclave

On the afternoon of Saturday, November the tenth, four days following the presidential election, the residents of the gated community where Elijah Foxton lived gathered as planned to have a community cookout. The event was naturally dampened by the election of the "nearly Communist" Democratic incumbent Norris Tadabak, who had won handily over his conservative white opponent Crispin Boonfowler on Tuesday. But on the flipside, the late fall weather was stunningly beautiful and had been for days--and this throughout all of the central and southeastern USA. Most of the better families of The Enclave, mainly Republicans to be sure, gathered at the grills and roasted whatever meats they had brought along to cook. Beer, wine and some spirits flowed freely. The Enclavers were almost to a one crestfallen that their man had lost, family values had lost, government independency had lost. Welfare and state dependency had won. Etcetera. Then ensued the often angry course of several conversations usually prompted by Bryce Foxton, Elijah's father, who at times seemed to be the most dissatisfied of all. But this was American politics, and around the edges of the gathering, some of the younger invitees were sick of politics. Elijah Foxton was one of these. So were his two friends Joshua Brooker and Snoz Blackthorn. "I'm tired of the Young Republicans," said Elijah to his friends. "All those dull people sitting around thinking of themselves as superiors probably just because they are white." "They weren't all white," said Joshua somewhat somberly. "So you said before," said Elijah. "I never did catch your meaning about the black hip hop thing." "We didn't either," rejoined Snoz, "and I don't think we ever will."

At that very moment a little voice chirped up out of nowhere. "It was all wrong, you know. It was just my idea of how blacks are when they party together. I've been very sheltered in my life." It was, of course, Gretchen Lock, who had brusquely arrived at the barbecue in the company of her aunt Seraphina and another man who often spent the night with Seraphina but who was unknown to most of the invited Enclave dwellers. Gretchen knew him well. His name was Brantley Rannesset. He was Seraphina's longstanding boyfriend, although their relationship was often a loose one, as both pursued their interest in the availability of others. Like Seraphina, Brantley was a staunch Republican and much dismayed by the election results. "The welfare class is taking control," he said to no one in particular. "Those who don't work or pay taxes and expect the government to take care of them." Gretchen, seeing young men of her own age, quickly disengaged herself from her aunt and Rannesset. In truth, this creator of hallucinatory illusions hated both of them, and for reasons which we will soon discover because these reasons will comprise the final episode of this story. As she approached the three young men, they took immediate steps away from the inconspicuous and inornate girl. "Don't run away," she laughed. "You'll just get snarled up in their reactionary politics again. We can all talk about something else. We never really have talked, have we? I mean since Marygrove." Joshua, emboldened and somewhat irate, stepped forward with full glass of brown spirits in his hand. That he had started drinking early was evident. "Where are your tits?" he sneered. "You have them strapped down pretty good again today."

Gretchen glanced away from him in the direction of the still retreating Elijah Foxton, but Snoz, not to be outdone, moved in closer and said. "Fucking drugs in the beer, that's all." "Not really," said Gretchen, offering no more of an explanation. Then she lightly pushed the two boys aside and strode straight up to Elijah, whose path now was blocked by a grill covered with sausages steaming over the embers. "Where's Paisley?" she asked pleasantly. Elijah made a signal for his two friends to keep their distance and allow him and Gretchen a little privacy. He had determined several days previously to find the courage to talk to her again. "She's not here," he said. "We broke up. Or rather she broke up with me." "You could amend that, you know. Probably all you have to do is act with a little more forcefulness. I've always though that you and Paisley were made for one another." "You have become suddenly more conversational than you ever were in school." "There's a few reasons for that. I've been meaning to talk to you." "What about? Home Festival, a wood chipper or your stupid book that you showed me." "Maybe. You know, I am getting braver every day. I'm starting to not care. And no, I did not put drugs in your beer or anyone else's. What I did is hard to explain, and I don't think that is what I want to do anyway."

"What do you want to do then?" "Be friends, that's all. I want you to go somewhere, pull out your phone and call Paisley. I can assure you she would come here tonight if you asked her with some kind of spinal fortitude." "Okay," said Elijah without really knowing why. "I have to take a piss. I'll call her from the bathroom." "Don't flush the toilet while you are talking," Gretchen laughed. Almost like a dazed automaton, Elijah went into the bathroom, took out his smartphone and dialed Paisley, who surprising answered, and yes, she would be delighted to come to the about an hour...was that okay?...and let's just talk and forget the peculiar stuff...okay? When Elijah walked back out into the delightful afternoon sunshine, he was immediately set upon by Joshua and Snoz. "Look, man, dude..." one of them began. "The chick is evil and ugly to boot." "Forget it," said Elijah, staring both friends squarely in the eye as he brushed past them toward Gretchen who was standing by the community wall observing her aunt and Brantley Rannesset bouncing about in the crowd, commiserating with those who were still in a state of crushed shock over the failed election. "You were right," said Elijah. "I guess she was waiting for me to call." "I'm often right. But a couple of times I have been a little off. Like with your buds." She glanced contemptuously at Joshua and Snoz who were still

drinking as fast as they could. "You gave them drugs?" "No I just gave them a stereotype, but it doesn't matter. I told you I have been sheltered. Lots of stuff I don't know enough about, but I think I have it right this time." "Like what?" "Like it doesn't matter, at least to you. Want to hear an interesting story?" "Sure. But you need to make it fast. Paisley is coming." There was a genuine excitement as well as a touch of brotherly gratitude in Elijah's voice. "When Paisley gets here I want to ask her a very small favor. I need to meet her before she comes around the houses into the commons. Let's watch for her car." "Okay. I owe you one, I guess. Paisley will definitely text me before she comes in. That has always been her way. She can be a little shy at times. Introverted like you used to be." "I still am. Okay, let's sit by the wall and watch for Paisley, and I will tell you my little story, but remember it is a secret." Elijah shrugged his shoulders in consent and sat down alongside of Gretchen at a point near the wall that was the farthest from the milling throng. "Fucking hag chaser," said Joshua from a distance but audible enough to make himself heard to both Gretchen and Elijah. "Let's get the hell away

from here." With no further prologue both Joshua and Snoz, taking a bottle of whiskey each, walked away from the cookout and off toward their cars. "Good riddance," said Gretchen. "Now what I wanted to tell you was about my family. It is kind of personal, but you and I can be personal now. That man you see with my aunt over there---Brantley Rannesset---owns a chain of dry cleaning shops that he bought with money mostly borrowed from my aunt. None of them are doing very well, so he is still really in her debt. But she is in his too. You see, he killed my father." Elijah choked a little on the beer he was sipping. "Seraphina is my late father's sister. After Mom suddenly died, and under unexplained circumstances I might add, she moved in with us. My father always thought he was sick, and it turns out he was. I was only eleven years old at the time just before his death. He wanted someone to provide for me, so he willed the house and everything he had in the bank to Seraphina. And Seraphina got this creep, her on and off boyfriend so they say, to poison him. He did it with small doses of anti-freeze in Dad's drinks. Little by little my father withered away and finally died. Don't ask me how I knew about it. I just did. I overheard some phone calls. Seraphina didn't give a damn for her brother, and she wanted the house and the money. Rannesset was all too happy to help. There was no autopsy, no investigation. Slow death by antifreeze in small but repeated doses really leaves no traces. So Brantley over there killed him, and Seraphina always suspected that I knew. She made my life hell. There was nowhere I could turn. I had no friends. Just one nice old lady at school who...well, let's not go that far. Just believe me when I tell you Rannesset is a murderer. I have all the proof I need. In fact, Seraphina more or less admitted the whole thing to me when she was high on one of her crazy medications. She almost went as far as to threaten the same death for me, claiming that Rannesset would do anything she asked him to."

Then Gretchen fell silent. Elijah, a bit stunned, stared at her for a moment and then said: "So that thing you said that you finally got right was how you're going to kill him, I suppose?" "Not at all. I not a killer. I did it once...well, that is a story I'm not telling, but no. I don't like the risks. I think he deserves another punishment." "You seem to be able to mete out punishments." "Sometimes," said Gretchen pensively, her thought abruptly broken by the crunch of gravel on the Enclave guest parking slab. "Paisley," she said. "Let's go meet her. You can introduce me. I guarantee you she won't be jealous, not of me." The two of them jumped over a dip in the Enclave wall and met Paisley Zain as she was getting out of her Honda Civic. Elijah wrapped his arm around her waist and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. Then he introduced Gretchen to her. "An old school friend," he said. As Paisley had not attended Marygrove, the explanation was as plausible as any other. He also said that Gretchen had a small favor to ask of her. Paisley nodded her head in agreement, and Elijah once again felt his deep affection re-ignited with the pretty, dark haired student he had dated for over a year. "You don't know anyone here except Elijah's family, do you?" said Gretchen not wasting any words. "No," replied Paisley somewhat bewildered.

"Good. Then take this little package over to that man you see by the brick oven, the one in the checked coat. His name is right on the wrapping paper. Brantley Rannesset. Just say 'Mr. Rannesset, I'm sorry to bother you but I found this lying in the driveway as I drove in.' Then just walk away. Make sure he takes the package." With this she handed Paisley a square object wrapped in white paper. Paisley took the wrapped article and walked smartly into the group of older adults and handed it to Brantley Rannesset, who eyed her somewhat lasciviously as she walked away. "What was that?" asked Elijah. "Something you've seen before." And that was all that Gretchen ever said on the subject. From a distance Gretchen, Elijah and Paisley watched as Rannesset, portly and with a certain set arrogance, ripped off the wrapping paper and examined the contents---page by page---of what lay inside. "That stupid book," said Elijah. "That stupid book," said Gretchen. Then the three of them decided to go somewhere else. As they drove past Gretchen's house, the three suddenly became the two. Later that night, the lawn party finished, Gretchen met her aunt and Rannesset at the door. She stared at Rannesset for a moment and said blandly "I'm glad you made it home okay." Even for Gretchen, it was a very dull and seemingly meaningless remark. X. Conclusion

For many years now Gretchen Lock has been missing from the town of Eaglesmont. There is no telling where she went or how she got there. She simply disappeared. Strangely enough no one really seemed to notice or care, except perhaps Elijah Foxton, who was now a senior partner in his father's successful law practice and married to a pretty woman whose name we of course know. A few roly-poly children graced their three story brick home in one of the new subdivisions that had been constructed farther north of Eaglesmont. The President of the United States was an ultra-liberal, socially-minded Hispanic woman named Paloma Colmenares. Elijah, but not his father, liked her policies well. So did several of Elijah's old college and high school classmates, whose names are no longer worth a mention. In the vast, foreboding Federal Penitentiary of Eaglesmont, there was a dying prisoner, a stunned and mute individual who spent most of his time sitting undressed on the stainless steel toilet in the center of his cell to which he had been confined alone. He spoke to no one, took no physical activity, and eventually went on a self-imposed hunger strike which had caused the medical officials of the prison to begin forcefeeding him with stomach tubes. As this procedure cannot last forever, the prisoner, a late middle aged man named Brantley Rannesset was slowly fading away. By now he had occupied his cell for over ten years. It appeared that he was going to very shortly die there. And we must suppose that the words "it appeared" are the operative ones here because this man, who only remembered in a cloud of the most shrouded vagueness the arrest and trial leading to his incarceration, was actually somewhere else, and in that somewhere else he was every bit a burden on his caretakers as he would have been in the federal prison, where he was not. Perhaps it was in a private sanitarium, or maybe in a closed room in a house

located in a gated community called The Enclave. Still again it may have been on a fishing boat somewhere off the coast of Spain. At any event, his sentence was permanent and absolutely irrevocable. ___________________________________ Devon Pitlor -- October, 2012 /*/*/*/*/~~/