Stacks of Cord Wood

By David Larson

Chapter One

The bodies were stacked like cord wood. Four high like dominoes.

Except these weren’t flat like dominoes. Nor like pizza boxes. More like the old glass bottles soda pop came in. Try to visualize four odd-shaped potatoes stacked.

I’ve been a homicide detective for twelve years now. My partner and I have investigated satanic murders, brutal beatings, drive-bys that took out whole families, and scenes from slasher movies. I’ve seen some gruesome crime scenes in my time, but this one was weird.

The day started normal enough. My partner, Ontime Oscar Orsatti, was late as usual for breakfast. He looked like that old pair of socks you were ready to throw out. I thought he had a date last night and didn’t say anything as I didn’t want to hear about his amorous adventures. He could be crude. So it was fine with me that he arrived late and quickly got down to destroying a breakfast. The man ate with his mouth open, and bits of food would fly out, sometimes reforming as a biscuit. I was glad he just ate and didn’t talk as I was still hungover from the bar I went to with the county coroner. He made me drink his favorite drink; whiskey, root beer, and cocoa. He also drank quickly and forced me to keep up with him. Which meant I ingested more alcohol than usual. I left him at the bar at about eleven. What he did after that was something I didn’t want to guess.

I finished my food, and while waiting, I read the newspaper. It’s frustrating when the stories all end with the same line, ‘the rest of this story is on our website.’ I didn’t have one of those internet gadgets, so I didn’t know if little Susie got her cat back down from a tree. Or which middle school won the lacrosse tournament. You’d have thought they could put that in the headline, something like Quigley Wins.

After Oscar showed up and got his breakfast. I kept the paper up as his spittle was chunkier than usual. I’m not sure what he was eating, but it was noisy. When the shelling of my paper stopped, I put down the paper to look. I was amazed as the fallout from his mouth had formed into a recognizable shape. It was the left breast of the actress in the zombie movies. A bit of strawberry had landed where the nipple would be if it was slightly off-center.

“Fitz, why do I have to wait for you every day? Let’s get moving. We have a case.” I could never figure out how he could be late every day and think I was the one tardy.

If I hadn’t mentioned, my name is Titus Fitzwilliam. The guys usually call me Titswillie. I prefer Fitz.

I always drive as Oscar’s output would cover the steering wheel, making it sticky and gross. He started chewing gum, so I gave him the paper to keep the windshield clean.

If I hadn’t said it already, the scene at the crime site was weird. Really weird. I made sure Oscar threw his gum away so his DNA wouldn’t be all over. We arrived at a warehouse. One with an overhead door and plenty of empty space.

There were four bodies piled, one on top of the other, resting on a pallet. I guess resting is the wrong word. These were not small people, or rather, were not small bodies. They were dead. They didn’t fall over. Dead bodies are just dead weight; pardon the pun. You can’t easily lift one to make a pile of two, much less put three and four on top of the first two, so they wouldn’t tumble over.

I had to stare at the fleshy monument to construction. Weird but impressive. I asked Oscar to slap me to ensure I wasn’t still drunk. He walloped me. I was hungover but not drunk.

Oscar looked at the tower and laughed, saying it must be a fraternity stunt, like seeing how many goldfish would fit in a phone booth. I knew that was silly. You can’t find phone booths anymore.

The bodies weren’t put together like a pyramid. The bodies were laid in the same direction, face up. I had to wonder if whoever did this was into Feng Shui. Would that guarantee the former humans would go to Valhalla or wherever they planned to go once dead?

I had to stop a beat cop from trying to get a picture. He was using watercolors and got the skin tone wrong. His painting was uglier than the pile of people. They had to have been killed as you don’t find four people who decide to climb on top of each other to die. But was this murder?

The coroner’s assistant, an intern from a local college, bumped the pile accidentally. The bodies crashed to the floor and were now a heap of flesh in the middle of the floor. I didn’t notice a skewer going through all four, like a toothpick in a BLT. All you could see was white gooey stuff. This stuff smelled sweet. My first thought was mayonnaise, but that couldn’t be. I was going to wait on the coroner to tell us what’s what.  Oscar must have thought of a BLT also, as he wanted to order a sandwich with extra crispy bacon for lunch. I reminded him it was nine in the morning. Plus, the newspaper was so soggy it wouldn’t survive another onslaught. Although I would like to see if he could create the right breast of the actress. If the sandwich had tomatoes, that would work for the nipple.

The intern tried stacking the bodies again. He thought he could do that as they were sticky. He got one of the cops to help lift one onto the first. That body promptly slid off the first. Then the coroner said to stop. Oscar and I realized all four bodies were men. Lumpy men, which meant they would be harder to stack. Although a shapely woman would give you the same problem. The assistant licked his hand and said the white stuff tasted like Marshmallow fluff. He was told to stop.

Usually, some rookie would be puking in the corner at the sight of four bodies. This time, they each got a finger full of goo to taste. You could almost hear their brains asking, “How and why would anyone waste good fluff”? And could they find a couple women into fluff to try stacking on their day off?

Oscar commented that if the men had been sporting stiffies, the erections would hold the group together if clamped together by butt checks. Only if the men were well endowed. I decided that was something for the coroner to check out. I was glad my name wasn’t Fitzwoodie.

Did I mention the bodies were nude? And I am sorry to say, these men were not attractive when alive. And certainly not now. The only thing that came to mind was Russian nesting dolls. Only they went from small to large, larger, and largest. Or an infant’s stacking toy done backward.

I hoped the coroner would figure out how they died. Did they ingest something that made them want to strip down and climb onto the next guy?

The coroner smiled when saying, “I love a good mystery.”

I realized I didn’t want this case. But it was mine. Did I say before that this was weird?

Chapter Two

Oscar and I started looking around the building for anything which might identify the victims. It was just an empty warehouse. We found no wallets or clothes other than a bag with four pair of wadded-up chonies. The bag was from a sandwich shop in the area and once held sandwiches. Oscar again said he wanted a big sandwich for lunch. If Oscar did get one, I would need a large magazine with thick pages to protect myself. Plus, he wanted to leave now.

I put on gloves to inspect the BVDs. First to make sure none of my DNA was transferred, but second, they were crusty to the touch. One of them shattered into pieces when I took it out of the bag. The other three were soiled and smelly.

Oscar carefully picked up a pair, smelled it, and said lasagna. I looked at him, confused. He said the stain was from a lasagna trouser cough after a meal at Luigi’s Spumoni Taco Stand. My partner picked up the other two still in one piece, gave them a sniff, and said Lutefisk Pizza and PB&J Bar-b-que. He looked at what was once a pair of boxers, saying they smelled like bleach. That must be why they shattered. We searched every nook and corner and found nothing else. I hoped the coroner, Dr. Scampy Monroe, could find something to help. I hoped he was sober enough to work. Would the dental records, DNA, or fingerprints be in the system? And was the white stuff marshmallow fluff? I asked the beat cop if the door was ajar when he went by. It was. That was why he stopped to take a look. He added he didn’t taste the bodies.

I did have one clue to follow up on. I knew Oscar would be no help, so I was on my own figuring out who the victims were. He now suggested lasagna and peanut butter on a stick. I guess that’s like a corn dog. The sandwich bag had a receipt with the day and time of the purchase yesterday.

I took photos of the faces of the dead guys. After stopping for hot dogs, I took Oscar and headed toward the restaurant. The receipt said four sandwiches were purchased. Hopefully, someone would remember who bought four Messy Jessie sloppy joes and the bubble gum shake. Is it possible these four men bought sandwiches while naked? Or just wearing boxer shorts? Surely someone would remember that.

A cute waitress named Linnea waved at Oscar and blew him a kiss as we entered. She thanked him for the lovely time last week. She asked if the bruising was healing. I knew he would blow her chunks of a sandwich if we ate there. But when Oscar wants to eat, we stop to eat. It was strange that he ordered lunch yesterday at this diner. Oscar and I ate hot dogs down the block. I asked why he came here for another lunch after eating with me and why he had left me alone.

He said the answer was simple. He needed to take a whizz, and he wanted to thank Linnea for a good time. And that I would get in the way of his romantic intents.

Now, other questions came to mind. Where did the chonies come from, and how did they get into a bag that once held sandwiches? Why was the bag at the sight of four dead guys? I wanted to ask those questions of Oscar and hoped to get a reasonable answer. I also wanted to ask how he could eat four sloppy joes after having hot dogs with me? I was afraid of the answers, so I didn’t ask. Some things are better left unsaid.

We sat down in a booth and were given menus. Oscar was still hungry. I was glad it was one of those vinyl-covered booklets. It would offer good protection from the debris. Oscar ordered two double Messy Jessies on kaiser rolls and a grape milkshake. I said I needed time to study the menu but would take a large cream soda. When the food and drinks came, I still pretended to be studying the menu as I knew the debris would be flying.

I thought there was something wrong with my drink. I believe half-and-half was used in the soda water instead of whole cream. No, it might have been the whipped cream-like stuff in a tub. I didn’t really care; I just wanted to hide behind the menu.

Oscar said I needed to look at something, so I peeked around the menu and saw he was smiling. He asked if I recognized something. He had dumped all the sloppy out of the buns into a pile of Jessie. He put the two kaiser rolls together and set them on the table, side by side. It took a minute, but then it came to me. Those two rolls looked like a bare tushy.

Suddenly a glob of Jessie came out of his mouth and landed on one of the rolls. There was now what looked like a mole. It was the tushy of the blonde in the chainsaw movie. I hadn’t had a date in a while, so my mind must have reminded me of the fairer sex. At least the one who used a chain saw.

Oscar would tease me about my lack of a love life, so he might have been making the breast and tushy shapes to taunt me. He was devious that way. My partner then asked if my fitzwoodie was ready for action. I didn’t answer, but he was.

Changing the subject, I said for him to finish his meal so we could go see the coroner. We got up to leave while the table looked like a tornado had hit. I noticed the busboys standing at the side with mops and buckets. I handed them $20. I think they wanted more as I got a couple nasty stares.

Once we arrived at the HQ, we went into the squad room. I asked if there were any missing person reports from last night. The desk sergeant, Beau Gyman, said the only call he received was about a missing cat. Detective Grzlck Majekowski said he got a call about a missing husband, but he was found hiding in a closet.

We headed down to, what we called, the meat locker. Dr. Monroe was glad to see us.
“Boys, I’ve got some answers for you. I found it interesting that the men had weird symbols written on their chests. And the white stuff is marshmallow fluff.

I determined all four died due to suffocation. The nasal passages were filled with fluff. I also noticed marks on each side of the body like they had been hugged too hard.

My first thought was that they were involved in satanic rituals, and the symbols were a spell. But one of the men had an exclamation point on his chest. What the marshmallow fluff was for, I didn’t know. My assistant, Liman Beener, provided the answer to one question.

When Liman took his jacket off to put on his smock, I noticed similar symbols on his shirt. He said he belonged to a fraternity at the university, and what I saw were poorly done Greek letters. He realized the four men were being initiated into one of the frat houses.”

When I asked which fraternity they belonged to, Liman said we needed to figure out the correct order of the letters. It took us a few minutes to figure three of the guys would stand with the letters, and the one with the exclamation point would stand at the end. Which meant we had nine different possibilities.

Oscar asked if they had figured out the correct order of the letters and was told that was our job. I told Oscar to call it a day, and we’d meet again in the morning. I hoped a missing person report would come in about the four.

Chapter Three

I purposely had Oscar meet me at the HQ, although I’d like to see if he could create another breast at breakfast. So I went straight to the office. There were no missing person reports but one of a missing forklift truck. I asked Oscar if he had any ideas. He thought and said a burger called the Juicy Lucy sounded good.

The address for the missing forklift sounded familiar, so I suggested we go there. Oscar wanted to eat, but being the senior officer, we went to look for a forklift. It turned out that the address was around the corner from the warehouse with the four bodies. And it was a company that takes large vats of marshmallow fluff and puts it into jars. Once inside, we saw people scooping fluff and filling up jars. They then put the jars in boxes that sat on the floor. The boxes were starting to pile up.

A person who looked like a boss approached us. After identifying ourselves as the police,  he demanded to know if we had found his forklift. He added that the boxes of fluff were too heavy to be moved by hand. So he needed the forklift pronto.

One of the employees yelled she had found another hair in the fluff and for the others to be careful. Even Oscar realized this was the crime scene but only said we shouldn’t rule out suicide.

I wanted to go to the university to look for a fraternity with funny letters. Oscar said he would stay and look for the forklift. That was fine with me. I didn’t want to watch him devour a Juicy Lucy. I wasn’t sure what it was, but it sounded too moist to observe. Oscar added to his original thought that we might be investigating a murder-suicide. He said it would take several people to hold someone under the fluff until they died. Then murderers would be filled with remorse and dive into the vat to off themselves. I said we needed a few more theories.

I hadn’t been on the campus since being called to break up a ‘Free the Nip’ rally. The rally wasn’t violent, and the police outnumbered the topless women, six to one. We took plenty of photos to document the frenzy.

The campus police helped by narrowing my search down to three. I found all three fraternities and went inside. I asked if anyone was missing. I showed the photos of the victims. All three said they were not missing any of the brothers and didn’t recognize the men covered with fluff. Nor were they missing any jars of marshmallow fluff.

As I started to leave the third house, I became fascinated with the photos of past members. There were pictures of parties, pep rallies, and panty raids. Guys at games stood up with their frat letters showing for the camera.

There was one photo showing three guys carrying thongs and bras. It was covered with spittle. I got a napkin and wiped the chunks off the glass. I could now see three men with letters written on their chests. Letters were written like the ones on those found on the dead guys.

I got the guy who claimed to be a leader and asked what was happening in those photos. His reply was that it was part of an initiation into the fraternity. That year, pledges had to steal ladies’ undergarments and walk around campus, wearing nothing but the stolen bras and panties. I asked if everyone who pledged to the house made it through initiation. He nodded no.

A closer look at the photo made me more curious. I questioned who one of the men was and did he know his name. The house officer took me to a group photo. There I found the man of interest. The man was twenty years younger, and it was Oscar Orsatti. The sputum on the photo should have tipped me off earlier.

My next question was if he had seen Oscar recently. He said yeah, Oscar was here two nights ago. He was the guest pledge master. He was to put the pledges through initiation. I asked if the pledges were here and were told no, they must have decided not to join the fraternity. He added many just give up and go back to their dorm.

After thanking him for the information, I headed back to help find the missing forklift. And Oscar. Once at the fluff factory, I was told Oscar left soon after I did and hadn’t come back.

The question now was, which direction did Oscar go. Was he hungry enough to go for lunch? Did he go to hide the forklift? Or wipe it down if his prints were on the steering wheel? Or did he just take off running?

Oscar always claimed he was the one who solved our cases, but I know the truth. I did. I let him take credit because the various female body parts his spittle created were my love life. I’m not happy about it, but it was all I had.

 I looked around and found Oscar sitting on the forklift two blocks away. He looked at me and said, ‘I know you know. I was trying to run away, only the truck ran out of fuel.’

I then asked my partner what had happened. He was almost crying when the whole story came out.

“Fitz, I’m sorry it was an accident. I took the pledges for their initiation. They were to get covered with the white stuff, put the undies on their head, and walk through town back to campus.

The first guy jumped in and didn’t come up. The second guy went in after him, and he didn’t come up. Then all four were in the goo and not breathing. I found this crane-like thing used to pick up heavy objects. I got it above the vat and got the clamp on the side of each guy. I lifted them out of the vat and put them on the pallet.

The fluff was still somewhat soft when I took them out of the vat, but it hardened once on the pallet. The bodies were stuck together good. I went around the corner and found the empty warehouse with an unlocked overhead door. I drove the forklift with the pallet of bodies into that building. I was going to put the BVDs on their heads, but it was getting late, and I was nervous and forgot, leaving the bag.

So I left and hid the tow motor here. I suppose you are going to take me in. I know I did a bad thing. Please write this up so I don’t look so bad.”

We went into the fluff factory office and told the manager where he could find the forklift. I then asked if I could use a computer to write up the report while it was fresh in my mind. I typed up a storm and printed out the report while Oscar quietly sat in the corner. We then went to the precinct.

Oscar walked in with his head down. He knew what happens to police when they go to jail. I told our boss we had found the missing forklift and had something for Dr. Monroe.

We got to the meat locker and spotted the doc. I was always curious, so I asked if Scampy was his real name. He looked at me and smiled.

“No, Fitzy, my name is Scampanon. I was a bit of a rascal in college, so I was called Scampy for my escapades. I could tell you stories about this girl with a spider tattoo, but that can wait until we go for drinks again. What do you have for me, and why does Oscar look so depressed”?

“Doc, I’ve got the answer to our recent mystery. I found this letter indicating it was a murder and a suicide. This note should be enough to close the case. It doesn’t say which one was the murderer. Let’s just hope we don’t get another one this weird.”

Oscar looked at me, “Fitzy, I’ll get that little Fitzwoodie of yours some action. Thank you.”

Bio: Bio: Dave Larson is best known for his research and writing on professional baseball in the early 1900s. His work has been published by SABR in journals and online. “Stacks of Cord Wood” is his fifth story for The Yard: Crime Blog. His other stories include, Buxom Burgers and Flirty Fries, Burger Babes Truck Off, along with Crash and Dash, and I’m Tired of Murder. He lives in the Orlando, FL. area.

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Publishing Editor for The Yard: Crime Blog.

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