On Sunday evening, December 12, 2010, the dead body of an unidentified clown was found in the quadrangle at the hub of the Bronwell Corners University campus, an apparent victim of a gunshot wound to the soul of his inner child. A thorough review of township records confirms the fact that no other person, not before nor since this darkest night of intellectual agony, ever died in Bronwell Corners, most especially not in the university quadrangle, and certainly not under the dreary veil of ludicrous impossibilities.
Mayor Carlton Ewing, who discovered the body soon after he awoke from a good night’s sleep on the wooden bench beside the public rest rooms that were named after his father-in-law, Billy Bonatelli, insisted to Deputy Rosco Galileo that he did not kill this particular clown. “Lookee here, son” said the mayor, “I’m an elected official with a keen sense of humor and an unassailable reputation to protect, so why would I shoot a man who wore lipstick and tried to make the kiddies laugh? I like clowns, so please don’t look at me that way.”
Several uniformed members of the township’s special task force, known to area locals as the Bronwell Brigadiers, arrived at the scene just in time to tamper with what little evidence they could find. A black gun lay beside the dead clown’s head, but the brigade’s chief lab technician, Mr. Arnold Fetuccini, who had never before been pressed into duty, determined that it was a toy. “My investigation reveals the fact that the gun was a play thing, which does not rule out the possibility that it was indeed the murder weapon,” he said. “Of course,” he continued, “that’s assuming that this clown’s corpse was a recent and unfortunate victim of homicide and not the remains of a funny philosopher with suicidal aspirations. There’s got to be a study sitting somewhere deep inside a dusty library that reveals the high rate of self-annihilation for those who live their lives wearing costumes and masks.” Mr. Fetuccini said all of this without stopping to think, and then he bent down close to the dead clown’s decomposing body and studied it for signs of foul intentions.
There was no blood on, nor in the vicinity of, the corpse. But the dead clown’s spirit most definitely looked damaged, ragged and frayed at the edges, wet and sticky to the touch, hard and cynical at its center. As the undeniable evidence of mortality slowly sank into the dull minds and weary hearts of horrified investigators, the clown’s smile loosened, sagged, stiffened in its new position, and then surrendered itself to reveal the vague outline of a life misspent.
“Grab the gun before we bury him,” cried Rosco Galileo to the mayor. “We cannot allow this clown to take an unregistered weapon with him to his grave.”
But before Deputy Galileo could wipe the sleep from his eyes and expel the shock from his system, the gun disappeared.
“If you consider this tragedy from the perspective of those of us who must go on living, then perhaps you’ll realize that we didn’t need the gun after all,” said Rosco Galileo. “One death, a death by violence or by any other means, is one death too many for the fine folks of Bronwell Corners,” he said. “We will get to the bottom of this mystery, even as we guard our township’s citizens from the threat that’s sure to gather steam beyond our borders. What we discover inside the belly of of this beast may confound our efforts to sleep in peace. In fact, we might never solve this case — nor should we ever attempt to solve any case that defies the truths we hold self-evident and inexplicable — but we’ll know a lot more about the relationship between death and laughter by the time we cremate this clown.”
Harriet Hampton, sole reporter for The Bronwell Bulletin, arrived at the scene of the crime just in time to hear Deputy Galileo make his grandiloquent speech and draw his vain conclusions. The story she penned that evening about this episode was based on rumor. In paragraph two Mrs. Hampton wrote that the purpose of all conversation among human beings is to quell one rumor by raising yet another. She went on to explain that our trade in fearful gossip is what we name our soul. Uninformed, delicious chatter, claimed Harriet Hampton, was perhaps what killed the clown.
The Bronwell Corners City Charter requires that all township citizens sign an oath, a promise never to threaten a friend with a lie and never to destroy an enemy with honesty. The populace, for the most part, remains pleased with, and faithful to, this arrangement. They therefore have no problem with existential mysteries and disappearing guns. Yet, this one dead clown lying in the middle of an otherwise peaceful quadrangle gave many people pause to consider the fact that no one knew the man, and no one ever would.
When the town’s mortician, Harriet Hampton’s husband Creighton, scrubbed away the dead clown’s makeup, he discovered that beneath the grease and gloss the man owned no face. So he stated in his report that the clown was indeed an impostor and not an actual person. This apparent fact, insisted Creighton Hampton, did not lessen the severity of the crime, although it did help to explain the nature of a bloodless death.
“A poet,” said Mayor Ewing next morning. He stood before the town’s one television camera and spoke into the microphone that the station’s manager had borrowed from the grammar school auditorium. Key members of the Bronwell Corners Brigadiers surrounded him at the lectern.
“A poet?” asked Harriet Hampton. She quick picked up her reporter’s pen and pad and recorded the mayor’s reply.
“Yes, a poet. It must have been a poet. Only a poet would kill a clown. The only poet who lives in Bronwell Corners is my father-in-law, Billy Bonatelli. We found him Monday at midnight, which would make it the first tick of Tuesday, hiding under an old wooden bench.”
“So you consider the mystery solved?” asked Mrs. Hampton.
“Not at all,” answered the mayor. “The suspect escaped the Bronwell Corners Community Jailhouse just ten minutes after we’d finished interrogating him. But we got enough out of him to determine his guilt. So although the mystery may not be solved — as we’ve not been able to relocate the toy gun or nail down the exact cause of death — the case is closed. The fine citizens of Bronwell Corners may once again rest easy tonight.”
Hanging high on the pine-paneled walls of The Bronwell Corners’ Township Council Chambers is a portrait of Warren G. Harding. Council members that very afternoon met and agreed that a return to normalcy was in order.
“Mayor Carlton Ewing is right,” said Arnold Fetuccini. “The killer must have been a poet. And we all knew that Billy Bonatelli, being as he was a poet and a hermit, was a narcissistic scoundrel.”
“What’s that you say?” asked Mrs. Hampton. “A narcotic what?”
“Let’s just decide how to settle down our neighbors,” said Mr. Fetuccini. “What’s our plan of action?”
“Remove the wooden bench from the university quadrangle,” said Mayor Ewing. “That’s what Warren G. would have done.”
And with a show of hands they all agreed.