A Souvenir for Petey
"Attorney Shank, my name is Detective Joseph Demity; this is my partner Detective Rhonda Jones. We’d like to ask you some questions."
The Shark gestured with his right hand for them to sit. He was breathing through a tube in his neck, shunted in just beneath the Adam’s apple. Over his mouth was a plastic device keeping the jaws somewhat ajar and blowing a gentle medicinal mist over the remains of his tongue, which had been stapled, and was swollen like a funky tomato. In his left arm, an intravenous line pumped electrolytes.
Merlin Shank was a lucky victim. He’d live, and he’d even be able to communicate orally after some rehabilitation. His days as a courtroom orator were probably over, but, truth be told, he’d purchased a high-price disability policy. If he could no longer litigate, he’d have plenty of money to invest.
Although the press had reported that his tongue had been severed, the truth was that something less than inch of tissue had been sliced off. Petrine had grabbed The Shark’s tongue with a pair of plyers, and pulled it taught. Whenever The Shark proved recalcitrant, Petrine would trace a faint track down the tongue with his switchblade, forcing The Shark to gag on his own blood.
It took all of about two minutes for Petrine to get what he needed. There was no doubt in his mind that The Shark had been truthful, and, indeed, The Shark had been. Even so, Petrine sliced about a one inch sliver from the left side of The Shark’s tongue. He dropped the meat into a baggie and stuffed a handkerchief into The Shark’s mouth before dumping him on the parkway. "A souvenir," he told his partner, who had kept a gun trained on The Shark’s throat throughout the ordeal.
The Shark’s surgeon explained his good fortune.
"Another quarter of an inch, and you most likely would have bled to death," Mr. Shank.
"You see, the tongue is served by ranine arteries. These are off-shoots from the linguae artery, which runs from your heart. It is, as you know, an extremely sensitive area. Heart patients often insert nitroglycerine tablets beneath the tongue for quick access to the heart; drug users often place crushed speed crystals beneath their tongues for an instant rush." How old was this doctor, twelve, maybe thirteen? Shank wasn’t listening, but the doctor kept talking. At least Shank’s wife, Janice, appeared attentive.
"Anyhow, the tongue is mostly water. The average male tongue weighs about 70 grams. We estimate the portion of yours," the doctor searched for the right verb," um ... missing weighed about 10 grams, and was about an inch long." Shank’s tongue had been stapled together; he felt like he had a throbbing picnic basket in his mouth, sharp straw poking this way and that. A mask covered his mouth, and his throat was dry, a pool of liquid kept collecting at the base of his throat. It was hard to swallow and a stream of liquid kept running down his chin.
"You did not lose as much blood as would be expected," the doctor continued. "We expect to discharge you in a couple of days, after the swelling subsides some and you can breath on your own. As soon as you are able, we will begin speech therapy," the doctor chirped, checking his clipboard to be sure he covered all the topics. He was an intern, and this was his first severed tongue case.
Merlin was miserable. His tongue, for Christ’s sake, his second joy stick. It was the key to his livelihood, and, frankly, to many hidden pleasures. Rehabilitation. Yeah, that’s rich, he thought. He tried to wiggle it and felt nothing. He wouldn’t for a while, his doctor told him. A consequence of shock.
"Attorney Shank, my name is Detective Joseph Demity; this is my partner Detective Rhonda Jones. We’d like to ask you some questions." Merlin wasn’t sure whether he was hearing this for the first time, or whether the two strangers had just arrived. He passed easily from dream to a pained alertness.
"Can you tell us who did this to you?" Demity asked. He took out a vest-sized spiral notebook and a blue ball point Bic pen. He started to hand them to Merlin.
"Ugnnnn," a sound seared Merlin’s throat. He winced, and shook his head no.
Demity looked over to Jones. Was Shank refusing to cooperate?
"Attorney Shank," Jones was speaking now. "You may not recall me. I was one the investigating officers in the Jakes larceny case you defended six or so years ago," Jones leaned closer to Shank’s bed, placing a hand on the mattress.
"You did a great job, even if we did get the conviction," Jones recalled a vicious cross-examination. It was only after the trial that she learned his nick-name was The Shark.
"What has happened to you is shocking, and I want to get the people who did this." Her voice was soft now, dropping a line of compassion to see what it would draw.
Shank seemed actually to shrink as she spoke. He was drawing into himself and hearing Petrine’s warning. "Next time I take the jewels, both of them," Petrine had said, as he nicked a testicle through Shank’s trousers. The press, fortunately, had not caught wind of that. "I will always know where to find you, counselor." Had Petrine actually said that, or was it a hallucination? Shank’s ears were still ringing with the sound of his own choking.
Shank shook his head no. His eyes were closed now.
Jones and Demity looked at one another, now unexpectedly helpless.
"Mrs. Shank?" Jones tried another avenue of attack. Janice sat in a corner eyeing the officers and her husband with the same wariness.
"Yes," she replied. "Call me, Janice." She did not offer her hand in response to Jones’.
"We need your husband’s cooperation," Jones looked again at Shank. She could not tell whether he was asleep. "Do you have any information that can help us figure out who did this?"
Janice knew little about her husband’s business. He liked it that way, and she’d learned long ago to keep her own counsel. It was simpler. Dinner out on Saturday’s, and talk about the boys, Randy, 12, and Simon, 10. Shank’s accountant paid the bills, and was always ready with extra cash if she ran dry. But she’d stopped asking her husband about his, well, affairs, a decade ago. Shortly after that she had stopped caring.
"I’m sorry. There is really nothing I can say," she said.
Demity and Jones were stumped.
"Well, let me leave you my card," Demity said, handing one to Janice and leaving another at Shank’s bedside. "When things settle down some, give us a call." Janice silent now, eyes open but as far away as her husband’s.
"We’ll check back tomorrow," Demity said.
Outside the hospital, a phalanx of reporters swarmed over the detectives.
"We’ve been given solid and credible information that will help us resolve this case quickly," Demity said, lying through his teeth. "Although it is too soon to say that an arrest is imminent, we have suspects in mind, and are confident that it shall soon be solved."
Eight blocks away, Peter Petrine was watching the news.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," he said as he watched Demity speak. "Shank ain’t talking," a cigarette dangled from his lips as he muttered. Before him on the kitchen table was a zip lock bag. Petrine was busy wiping it again, this time with Windex. He didn’t want to leave any fingerprints.
"Smells like a fucking steak," he said aloud. There was no one at home with him, but he liked to anchor himself in the sound of his own voice.
In the bag before him was a browned and dried out thing that looked like a freeze-dried prune. It was still warm from the microwave. He planned to let it cool some before he dropped it off. He planned to wrap it in a news story about The Shark’s tongue.
Maybe he should send it Federal Express. That way he could sit across the street and watch him open it. "That would be freaky," he said and chuckled.
"Naw," he said, "too risky." Smiling now at the mere thought of it.
"I better take this one myself."