Losing his job as the obit editor at the newspaper didn’t surprise Arthur Belsnap. The staff had been shrinking for years. But Killing Eunice Bunch surprised the hell out of him. He’d never killed anyone before. All the blood, real blood, disgusted him. And he felt bad for Eunice, one of the few people in the world he rather liked. Now he was compelled to kill again, and he wasn’t looking forward to it at all.
Killing Eunice had been easy. Arthur knew where she worked, of course, and he knew where she lived. Eunice hosted a party at least once a month, usually on a Friday night after ten when the first edition was put to bed and Arthur, herself, and most of the other editors got off work. Arthur was never invited, but sometimes he would follow her home, lurk around the corner and watch to see who was.
He’d usually see Jimmy Miller, the sports editor; Marcus Orenstein, the features writer who was popular with everyone; and LeAnn Lebowski, the copy chief who always smelled so nice. And of course Bob Limpus, the managing editor, typically arrived later when the final edition went to press. Other colleagues were invited now and then. Twice he’d even seen Marvin Peters, the city editor who nobody liked but who always seemed to get his way in arguments over style, length, and edits. Arthur had written Marvin’s obit several times, taking significant liberties to expand on the cause of death beyond what’s typically found in an obit.
“Marvin Peters was discovered by a local fisherman during an extremely low tide a month after his disappearance, his feet embedded firmly in concrete.”
“Marvin Peters died slowly and painfully in a late-night, single-car crash on a remote, wooded road where nobody found him until the next morning, moments before he expired.”
“Marvin Peters was found strung up by the balls in a barn north of the city, goats licking his corpse.”
These were not obits for publication, of course. Just a hobby of Arthur’s, fueled by the same voice in his head that helped him write about death expertly and without undue empathy—in fact with a measure of glee, some said—on all manner of means to an end, for forty-seven years. In his apartment, on an old Smith Corona typewriter, Arthur wrote obits on anyone he didn’t like. Most people got just one. He had stacks and stacks of them dating back to his first year in journalism school, all written on the same typewriter, given to him by his parents for high school graduation. Of his real obits, colleagues said Arthur had a unique voice for grisly details and could turn one around faster than anybody in the news business.
When Eunice told him that the newspaper was cutting back again and his job was eliminated, he just nodded, went back to his desk and started putting his belongings in a box the company had provided.
That’s when the voice suggested he put the gold-plated letter opener, which he’d been awarded for winning the state Obit Writer’s Lifetime Achievement Award twenty years ago, in his coat pocket. It was a rather blunt, clumsy weapon but it got the job done. It took a good ten stabs before the wide-eyed, started, silent Eunice Bunch finally went limp on the deserted sidewalk in front of her apartment. It had taken ten more before Arthur was sure she was dead.
After Arthur finished washing the blood off his hands, changed his clothes, and spent twenty minutes at the Smith Corona, the voice reminded him that Bob Limpus, the managing editor, had probably been the actual decision-maker on his firing. The voice was getting impatient. Arthur used to be able to ignore the voice, or reason with it. Clearly those days were behind him.
Bob Limpus always left the paper around midnight. It was eleven-thirty. Arthur grabbed his jacket with the letter opener still in its pocket, stepped out of his third-floor walkup, down the stairs and out onto the sidewalk, where he was approached by a heavy-set man in a brown suit and rumpled coat.
“You Arthur Belsnap?”
“I’m detective Boroughs,” the heavy man said, flashing a badge. “Homicide.”
“Excellent,” Arthur said. “Her obit is upstairs. If you hurry, you can get it to the paper before the final edition goes to press. Give it to Bob Limpus, the managing editor. It’s one of my most detailed and it would be a shame to miss deadline.”