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FICTION


Sometimes it’s hard to be honest with yourself, even if you have every intention of doing so, but I truly can’t recall now whether I believed I was dooming people to die.


Thigpen during my next library trip and interrupted my ordered sense of the world. It took me awhile to find anything because I


couldn’t remember her first name, if I ever knew it at all—Agatha. It’s odd how often names seem to fit. A short blurb in the San Francisco Chronicle ten days earlier led me to a longer piece published in the Contra Costa Times about the murder of Agatha Thigpen. She was found in her Concord home by a neighbor who came over to complain about the blaring music, “something classical, like with violins,” coming from inside. The Concord Police blotter indicated the matter was still under investigation and no suspects had been identified. There were no further details about the music playing when she was found, but I’ve got a feeling I know the song. Go to the police—that’s the natural thing, the


sane thing, the right thing to do, right? I didn’t. I was too freaked. I just wanted it all to go away. My anxiety produced the logic that there was nothing that could be done for those two people and if I did get another note, God forbid, I just wouldn’t respond. I took two sick days in a row to settle my nerves,


but knew I’d be pushing it if I took a third. On my next day back, I got another note. Hey Toll Man, help me choose. Which should it be:


the Butcher, the Baker, or the Candlestick Maker? I can’t believe I missed it. All during my shift,


I had carefully looked for the notes taped to the back of the one-dollar bills. It slowed my pace down considerably, but I didn’t care. I’d collect the bills, take a good look at both car and driver, and quickly flip the ones over to scan the backs. Looking at the latest note more carefully, I realized my mistake. This time, it was attached to the front of the bill on the bottom portion, as if my attempts to check had been anticipated. I thought again about going to the police, but fear prevented it. I balled up the note and threw it away, determined to end the game. A week and a half later, I


24


was still a player on the field. Hey Toll Man, “if you choose not to decide, you still


have made a choice.” I’m a little disappointed in you. Without your input,


I had to Rub-a-dub-dub all three. Here’s your chance to return to my good graces: Which should it be: plane, train, or bus? The note was attached to a five-dollar bill. I was


such an idiot I wasn’t even checking those. I made another trip to the library. It took me


hours to find what I was looking for and my favorite librarian, the one who always wears the black patent Mary Janes that sparkle beneath the fluorescent lighting, rudely threw me out three minutes before official closing time. The Sacramento Bee covered the murder in Elk


Grove of Jonathan Butcher, shot in the head by a high- caliber rifle while walking his dog, a Yorkshire terrier named Snuffleupagus. Both The Daily Democrat and The Davis Enterprise wrote a story about the murder of Celia Baker, found stabbed to death on her front porch just off of County Road 98, two miles south of Woodland. The third was more elusive. Victor Sanchez was found dead in the early morning hours beside the loading dock of the East Bay Brass Foundry in Richmond. The only other details I could find about the incident were that he was an employee of the company and the cause of death was unknown. I was just about to move on in my search, for there are a lot of deaths to read about if you ever find yourself with a reason to look, but I stayed with it for a bit longer. Among the many products produced by the East Bay Brass Foundry, which apparently is the place for all your custom casting needs, are brass candelabras and candlesticks. The police treated me like a nut job. I had


written a detailed timeline and organized all of my research printouts in a 3-ring binder with color- coded tabs. I told them everything: the notes and the subsequent deaths of my old geometry teacher, the Caltrans director, and the three most recent victims. Detective Anthony Rodriguez was professionally smooth and politely patronizing. He’d nod at all the right places, cupping his chin with the palm of his hand as he stroked his cheek with his index finger. I showed him the most recent note with the plane, train, or bus question and pleaded to be taken seriously. Five people had already been killed and more were likely in grave danger. He assured me that I was being taken seriously, asked to hold onto my research binder, and that he


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