...There was speculation and many rumors
in the parking lot about Baxter Slate's suicide, and several members
of the Wilshire nightwatch spent a lingering fearful evening handling
calls, cruising, smoking silently, trying to avoid thinking of that
most terminal of all policeman's diseases. Wondering how one catches
it and how one avoids it.
None of the choirboys took the initiative
to do police work that night. It was as though a monotonous routine
would be somehow comforting, reassuring. The only thing out of the
ordinary done by a nightwatch radio car was that 7-A-29 drove to West
Los Angeles Police Station, the area in which Baxter Slate had resided
because he loved Westwood Village and the cultural activities at UCLA
and the theater which showed foreign films and a small unpretentious
French restaurant with wonderful wines.
"I'd like to see the homicide team. Whoever's
handling Officer Slate's suicide," Sam Niles said to the lone detective
in the squad room.
"All gone home, Officer. Can you come back
The detective wasn't much older than Sam
and like Sam he had a mustache. His suit coat was thrown over a chair.
He wore an uncomfortable looking shoulder holster.
"I'd like to see the death report on Baxter
Slate," Sam Niles said.
"I can't go into homicide's cases. Come
back tomorrow. You can talk to..."
"Please," said Sam Niles. "I only want
to see the report. Please."
And the detective was about to refuse,
but he looked at Harold Bloomguard who turned and walked out of the
office, and he looked as Sam Niles who did not walk away. He looked
at Sam's face and asked, "Was he a friend?"
"Please let me see the report. I have to
see it. I don't know why."
"Have a seat," the detective said and walked
to a filing cabinet marked - "Suicides - 1974" and pulled out a manila
folder, removed the pictures in the file which Sam Niles definitely
did not want to see and gave the file to the choirboy.
Sam read the perfunctory death report which
listed the landlady as the person discovering the body. The person
hearing the shot was a neighbor, Mrs. Flynn. He saw that Baxter's mother
who was in Hawaii has not been contacted as yet. His married sister
in San Diego was the nearest relative notified. The speckled pup which
Baxter had been caring for since he found her on the street outside
Wilshire Station was taken to the animal shelter where she would soon
be as dead as her master. The narrative told him nothing except that
Baxter has fired one shot into his mouth at 11:00 A.M. that morning
on a sunny smogless delightful day.
In the file was a note to the milkman which
Baxter had written asking that two quarts of skim milk be left. The
handwriting was scratchy, halting, not the sure flowing stroke of Baxter
Slate. No more than that horrible grimace of consummate humiliation
in Gina Summers apartment had been a Baxter Slate grin.
The report said that several books were
scattered around the table where the body was found. Baxter Slate had
gone to the classics at the end. Disjointedly. Desperately. The detective
had torn several pages from the clothbound texts. He had thought the
pages marked by that same spidery crawl might prove enlightening.
One marked passage from Socrates read: "No
evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death."
Another from Euripides said: "When good
men die their goodness does not perish, but lives though they are gone.
As for the bad, all that was theirs dies and is buried with them."
Baxter had marked a passage from Cicero,
the only one not specifically mentioning good and evil and death. It
made Sam Niles groan aloud which startled the nightwatch detective.
It said: "He removes the greatest ornament of friendship who takes
away from it respect."
Sam removed his glasses and cleaned them
before reading the last page. The pages was powdery from dried blood.
Sam's hands were shaking so badly the nightwatch detective was alarmed.
Sam read it and left the squad room without thanking the detective
for his help. The passage was underlined. It simply said: "What
is it? Catullus? Why do you not make haste to die?"