Inmate Hertzler scurried toward his cell lugging another packet of art supplies sent by his faithful old Mom back in Oklahoma.
Once inside, his filthy fingers ripped off the brown paper around the cigar box. A glut of tubes of Winsor Oil Paint gorged the Roi-Tan cigar box. Under them, a detail brush with sable hair had been Scotch-taped to the bottom. Hertzler grinned and his rotting front teeth appeared briefly like a Jack O’lantern. He sniffed in the strong scent of cheap cigars. How he missed them! His appreciative low chuckle was enough to frighten even the cockroaches.
All packages and envelopes searched before release from the mailroom required listing and dating. Next to Hertzler’s name- extra three sheets had been loosely attached.
Lieutenant Bennett shook his head with boiling disapproval and grunted out loud to himself.
This inmate pushed Warden Ayala’s liberal policy to the breaking point.
“This freak can’t even paint!”
Indeed, Hertzler’s cell was crowded with stacks of finished clown portraits--awful child-like splotches of misshapen approximations. Garish abortive eyesores half-finished and drying leaned against the concrete wall next to the toilet/sink. On a wobbly easel in the middle, a red headed clown awaited the final touches from the detail brush.
Lt. Bennett half-marched down the hallway to the Warden’s office muttering under his breath. Bennett had been a Drill Instructor in the marine corp and had no space allotted for nonsense inside his 200 lb. six-foot frame.
He swiveled left and entered Ayala’s office without knocking.
“We gotta put a stop to inmate Hertzler’s clown painting rampages. He got another box from his mother today and that makes 113 this year. Just give the word and it’s done.”
Warden Ayala slowly looked up from his desk where he had been trying to memorize his grand children’s birthdays. The dates were printed in his wife’s neat pencil figures on a sheet of paper and thrust into his hand with a glare. He’d missed the third grand child’s birthday and it was--to his wife--an unforgivable lapse of character.
“What did you say? Hertzler? He’s not hurting anybody. What do you care? Besides, I asked him to paint a red headed clown with freckles for my granddaughter’s birthday for me. She loves clowns.”
Bennett stiffened. Ayala had the last word on prison policy. Ayala was a man accustomed to getting his way; a man who took no counsel from others.
He gave orders and heels clicked.
“Beggin’ your pardon, Sir. Hertzler’s cell smells like paint thinner and he’s probably using that stuff to get high--not just clean his paint brushes.
Other inmates are trading him smokes so’s they can hang his shit on their walls. Now the entire 2nd floor of building 4 looks like a clown gallery from hell.”
Ayala shrugged and went back to memorizing. His message was clear--’Get the hell out of my office and leave me alone.’
Bennett’s jaw clenched. He about-faced and marched out. His face and neck glowed like molten steel in a blacksmith’s forge.
Three days later.
Inmate Hertzler scurried toward his cell lugging another packet of art supplies sent by his faithful old Mom back in Oklahoma. Once inside, his filthy fingers ripped off the brown paper around the cigar box inside.
The disgusting little man’s eyes narrowed and the look of surprise momentarily resembled the facial expression of one of his horrid clown portraits.
“What’s this, Mom?” He mumbled.
The tips of his filthy fingers scraped at the bottom of the cigar box as he fumbled aside a random assortment of used paint brushes. A cigar stuck to the bottom and a book of matches, too.
The toothy Halloween grin widened.
“Awww, Mommy--I love you, too.”
Lt. Bennett followed behind Hertzler after mail packet pickup, discreetly and purposefully. As the insufferable convict scratched a match against the matchbook cover and the fat Roi-Tan cigar dangled between his lips, Bennett smiled a cold-blooded expression of amusement only a mortician might admire.
Drawing in a lungful of sweet, pungent smoke, inmate Roy Hertzler exhaled slowly and closed his eyes in dreamlike reveries of remembrance.
His last puff of a Roi-Tan had been as he stood over his handiwork looking down. The newspapers would call it the fifth of a series of Clownface murders. Hertzler had been glimpsed by witnesses to his first tour de force and reported to police what they’d seen.
Yes, he wore clown makeup--so what?
These desecrated corpses had--minutes before--beheld the last vision any of them would ever see: an angry clown. . . a rejected entertainer. A man denied his livelihood by Ringling Bros. and their minions. Why? Why? Just because he had lost his temper that one time?
Everybody is entitled to one mistake! But no--child stomping was against company policy.
Nobody saw it go down. Nobody could be sure it wasn’t just as he’d described it.
“Oh yeah--it was awful the way that elephant stepped on the little kid. The child wuz uh fuckin’ with Ringo the elephant and I warned him not to. You know how kids are.”
Some people just have it coming. The little boy was one of them, or so Hertzler thought.
The little brat had mocked him instead of laughing. The little bastard tossed elephant shit in his face. That--THAT was something unforgivable! Hershel Hertzler was a great artist deserving of dignity, respect, and an appreciative audience instead of mockery and elephant shit! The boy should have listened. He brought it on himself.
Inmate Hertzler drew in another savored moment of hot cigar smoke and sighed the billowy cloud back out again.
It was that last victim where it all went wrong.
The policeman with the red crew cut had figured it all out. He was one step ahead of Hertzler.
The cop explained to the newspaper reporter after the arrest.
“The killer’s family were circus folks going way back two generations before their son came along and fucked things up for them.
He is definitely some kind of Sociopath or Psychopath--whatever the latest word being used. Each of his victims was relatives of circus management--people who had refused to give him back his job. It was Tiny, the circus midget, who ratted him out quietly to management. He overheard Hertzler raving to himself.They didn’t press charges because of bad publicity. An elephant accident is one thing--but deliberate murder and by a clown? It would destroy their business forever. So, they fired him and told him not to come back. He didn’t listen. The guy is nuts. So, he started in--one by one--gruesome revenge murders: clown paint and elephant shit--a real bad way to go.”
Lt. Bennett was laughing quietly, gleefully--a deeply satisfying, heartfelt laugh welling up from the soles of his black shoes to the bald spot on the back of his sunburned scalp.
He spoke just loud enough for his own ears.
“Any second now.”
Just then, the sound of a .357 magnum bullet exploded inside the cell of Hershel Hertzler. The percussion wave rocketed from the concrete walls and reverberated into a shockwave of surprise clear to the other end of Building 4.
Lt. Bennett’s heart swelled in pride of a job well done. He self-appreciated his scathing scheme: the oldest clown prank in the world: a cigar load!
Instead of a small squib of black powder, Bennet had substituted the magnum bullet with the lead inserted within the Roi-Tan, pointed right at the back of the smoker’s head.
The splatter of Hertzler’s blood blossomed into a spray of tiny droplets. The almost-finished portrait of a redheaded clown received the final freckle touch ups, completing Warden Ayala’s commissioned birthday gift.
The following day, his granddaughter squealed with delight!