His face was so heavy that the skin under his eyes was pulled down, exposing red meat to the hot, boiling sun. For a moment, I thought his face was a Halloween mask. I almost expected him to be holding a little cardboard box, asking me if I would please donate a few pennies to the local leukemia fund. But instead he lifted the phonograph needle with the dexterity of a diamond cutter and placed the tiny arm over the first song, on the second side.
Whistling noises permeated the air as "Sweet Sticky Thing" by The Ohio Players began to play. His wave of mass shifted and re-parked itself into the couch across from me. I pulled my father's handkerchief out of my back pocket and used the family heirloom to wipe the beads of sweat off my brow.
"Fricassee?" was the first guttural word offered to me from the flaps of his barnacled mouth. Upon this painful gesture, a few bits of epidermic shingles cracked and dislodged from the belly of his wet eyelids and were caught in the wind of his words, soaring towards me with the rage of a kamikaze aviator. I politely dodged the encrusted debris and quickly responded "Cow or fowl?"
"Cow," he affirmed.
Our first meeting was unusually informal. He had created an immediate world around himself, never having to lift more than a finger. A huge window magnified sun-rays on the left side of his mass, slowly grilling his flesh. A humidifier filled with cologne smoked the air so that one could conduct meetings without gagging on the morning's breakfast.
"Let's get to the thing at hand, Mr. Thanks. How often do you actually step outside this room?"
"Once a month," he admitted, ashamed.
I half smiled, while searching for a toilet, a bedpan, a box of large diapers--something that would enlighten me as to how he relieved his daily dose of fricassee.
He lifted his bag of an arm and waved at a closed door. "Bathtub. Once a month."
The intermittent pumping of spraying cologne, combined with the image of Mr. Thanks' anal cavity opening the gates of an unholy brown hell, was working overtime on my delicate constitution as this morning's black coffee and an onion roll shellacked with I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, Butter climbed the back of my throat.
I decided to leave it alone, digesting the sour bile that had filled my mouth. "And...how long have you had this skin condition?"
As he formed the words to answer me, he accidentally flexed his cheek fat and a long overdue pimple on the side of his neck popped, spilling a stream of blanched pus gravy. I could tell that the sensation of minty-white coolness washing over his hot left side, relaxed him.
"A year. The light is supposed to heal the sores. The doctor says that if I keep up the daily sun baths and reduce my weight, that eventually I'll be back to normal."
Back to normal. These three words reminded me of how distorted a man's perspective could be about reality. What I saw and what he lived (much less what stared back at him in the mirror) was about as normal as a hamburger ground from Phyllis Diller's inner thigh.
How could this well-established Supreme Court judge, offer an objective point of view about what had happened the night before in this very room? It was impossible to hope that Mr. Thanks' fevered brain could perceive the truth, let alone recall even a minute clue as to the origins of last night's heinous murder. His testimony was about as useful as the last page torn out of a murder mystery.
I suddenly became sad as the song ended and he lifted the needle.
"That was our wedding song." He began to weep.
Choking and sneezing on his own remorse, his face was a rain of mucous, hydroplaning combinations of salt and oil. Every pore on the sausage side of his skin leaked tiny bubbles. They were like a million sperm, wriggling their way around blindly in search of eggs.
Then the smell happened.
It fought its way through the humidified perfume and sautéed flesh. An odor of lasting resonance. The smell of guts. The smell of new shit. The power. The horror. The sound came after. Like thunder in a storm. Except I didn't have to count the seconds to gauge how far away the lightening was, because I knew exactly where it had come from. It ripped through the air with the force of a mule being hacked in half with an axe, its lungs bursting like two fifty-pound water bottles released simultaneously underwater, echoing off the walls of a porcelain tuba.
Mr. Thanks had farted.
The formality of the interview shifted and began to take an intimate route. Mr. Thanks had signaled, in the only way he knew, how much he wanted my services. He was willing to risk rejection, hoping that this last primal gasp would secure my allegiance. Was this a similar scenario as to how he possibly serenaded his wife? Was he trying desperately to make me a friend, a "drinking buddy" as it were?
I cleared my throat, ignoring the invitation, and continued the interview; "You had fallen asleep at your usual hour and when you awoke, you found Mrs. Thanks's head under the rug. In the middle of the floor."
Mr. Thanks nodded. "Yes."
Then it hit me like a Hefty bag of dismembered Vietnamese abortions. It was at this moment that I began to feel dizzy. It must have been a retroactive response to the odor that now wallpapered the room. I became paralyzed with nausea and I stared at the monster sitting in front of me like a deer caught in the headlights. I dribbled, as the back of my throat gushed with saliva like a water slide at Great Adventure.
I threw up.
I puked up the skeleton of a deep-fried pork-chop that I had eaten seven-and-a-half years ago in a Cuban diner. I had perpetuated the offense by ordering it with fresh-cut garlic, swimming in a pool of corn oil. The dining experience had rendered me useless for a full week, and had never really been properly dealt with until now.
His instincts were to get up and help me, to extend a friendly hand. But his body betrayed his good intentions and his mass mud-slided from the couch and poured itself across the carpet.
"Noooooooo!!!" Mr. Thanks screamed.
"It's wet! The rug is still wet!!! Get me up. Get me up!!!"
In his hysteria, Mr. Thanks had flipped up on his back and was wriggling about like a tortured turtle in heat. He wasn't actually moving: he was too big to actually move his bulk all at once. On close inspection, his shaking appendages looked like four piglets struck with Tourette's Syndrome. If you were to step back and gain a clear perspective, you would have noticed a wave of flesh rolling back and forth from nape of neck to pud of toe. Like the tide in the ocean, the vision made one wonder: is his epidermal husk in fact mimicking the moon's gravitational pull?
That was it. He broke me. I couldn't keep my mind on the investigation anymore. The homicide had been stamped "unsolved" and filed away in the back of my mind, replaced with the car accident that crashed before me.
I picked myself up and dragged what was left of my sanity to the exit door. I was saving my life and doing him a favor. I was giving him a dose of reality. Nobody is going to help you out but you yourself. Those are the rules. You can have all the money in the world and pay anybody to do almost anything. You can dress the best and own all the new things. But, there's one thing you can't buy out. The truth. You can't lie to the truth. Not to yourself.
I wanted to turn around and apologize, but I couldn't play the game. It would only add to the charade that he was living. Some higher power had played an awful trick on him. Something had taken his purpose in life and laughed at it. Something had mocked him by leaving him with but one human attribute. The facility to dream.
Then I realized. That was my job. I hadn't been hired to find his wife's murderer. I had been hired to wade through the polite greetings and the mannered dinners and the political functions that he had suffered through ever since he first stepped into the public arena. He was paying me to stare him in the face and call it like it was, to show him the respect that every man deserved. To embrace the tragedy and show him love.
But I have a lousy constitution. So, I tipped.
I left poor Mr. Thanks to soak in his own misery. Lying there on his back in the blood-stained carpet where his wife's head had been found underneath the night before. Lying there thinking about the truth. Clawing for a dream.