“Whatchoo got to be scared of, Little Aleppo? Disease. Spiders. Yourself. Smart move to be a bit scared of yourself. You don’t know what you’re capable of. What else is there? Draculas and werewolfs and the zombified? You know they ain’t real. The boogerman in the closet and the shadow’s shrike under the bed. Those are just for the kiddies, right? You’re grown. A man said that there was nothing to fear but fear itself, but I bet that man was petrified of stairs, ha ha ha.
“Easy to trust your eyes when the sun’s up. It’s 8:19 in the morning here on KHAY–Hey!–and you’re not worried. Only thing to be scared about at 8:19 in the morning is the next eight hours, right? Scared of the boss man, scared of lunch meats, other folk’s sweat at the gym. That ain’t scared. That’s anxious. That sort of thing produces stress. Not fear. Stress and fear are different animals. Marathon runner versus a sprinter. One erodes, the other explodes.
“Nothing to fear but monsters, ain’t that right?
“Little Aleppo’s had some monsters.
“Seems like they came with the territory. Ever read Doc Wallop’s First Years in the Valley? Doc got here in 1853, set up shop at the end of the Main Drag, which wasn’t even called that yet. Turnaway Lode was bringing ’em in, man. Dozen men a day. Lot of gold in those hills, and gold creates need. The mine needed men to work it, and the men needed other men to take their money. Everyone a stranger to each other, and most a stranger to himself. The promised land, cats and kittens. No one ever said what the promise was, just that one was made, ha ha ha.
“Lots of need. Sometimes, there comes along a person got a real specific need.
“Clappy Strothers. A miner. He was the first one who disappeared. Last week of March in ’58. Didn’t have a lot of friends, so no one noticed for a few days. Left his bedroll in the tent camp, though. Someone stole it. People figured he went up into the hills when he was drunk. Bad idea going up in those hills alone back then. Fall into a gulch, slip down a gully. If you’re lucky. More than just the terrain up there back then, cats and kittens. No one worried too much about Clappy. Gold to mine. Shovels and whiskey to sell.
“And then a fellow everybody called Alabama, No one knew his real name, so when they dug his body out of that shallow grave in the wooded glen that made up the south of the neighborhood and reburied him in Foole’s Yard, the wooden marker at his head just had Alabama on it. A drunken preacher named Franklin Farthing went missing, but they did not find his corpse with the others, so he might have actually gotten eaten by a squatch or a puma. Leo West was a gambler. Bad one. Used to play faro in the Wayside Inn. ‘Faro’ is Old West for ‘sucker.’
“Except that Leo was a funny guy, according to Doc Wallop. Charming. Bit of a dandy, even when he was down on his luck. Not like you can sell costume jewelry.
“And then that Norwegian family’s son.
“Neighborhood got antsy after that one. Adults might scamper off in the middle of the night back to America, but kiddies stay where they are until someone moves ’em.
“Now you got fear. Rumors started up. Loudmouth named Henry Bales starts spouting off about a Chinaman he saw acting suspicious the night the Norwegian boy vanished. Add some whiskey.
“And that’s what happened to Little Aleppo’s first Chinatown, cats and kittens. The Doc’s book says around 40 died, but some eggheads from Harper College brought a GPR machine over to the Verdance. Ground Penetrating Radar. Like an ultrasound for Mother Earth, ha ha ha. Those eggheads put the number of bodies around 75.
“Week or so later, a little fellow called Johnny Bender walked into the Wayside for a drink. Miss Valentine–you know Miss Valentine–well, she served Johnny his drink and noticed he had one of Leo West’s fake rings on. Couple of her men asked Johnny some questions. They must have asked him too hard, cuz nobody saw Johnny after that night. Maybe he scampered off somewhere, ha ha ha.
“That was a conversation that stayed in the Wayside. Wasn’t gonna bring the Chinamen back, Miss Valentine figured.
“You been up Mt. Faith? Spent a little time with the Sebastianites? That monastery of theirs wasn’t always so holy. Used to be the Sanitarium du Lom. We’d call it a health spa today. The word sanitarium’s like the word tyrant: they used to mean positive things.
“This was the 1890’s. Gilded Age, right? Robber Barons and whatnot, rich folks all over America with too much money, and you know that rich people never feel right. Always something paining them. But it was the 1890’s, so medicine hadn’t really been invented yet. I mean, they had a little bit, but you didn’t want it, ha ha ha.
“Parfait Lom said he came from Paris. It would later come out that he was from Minneapolis, but he fooled folks that had property there, so he must have done his homework. They never quite figured out whether he was a real doctor or not. Had all kinds of theories on nutrition. The phlegmatic should only eat green foods, the bilious should stick to red. He was real tall and imperious. Stuff that would sound dumb coming from a nervous schlub makes sense when someone real tall and imperious says it.
“Rich folks flocked to the Sanitarium du Lom. Magazines used to write about him. Town Fathers gave him a commendation for putting Little Aleppo on the map.
“This is the part where I tell you that Parfait Lom was killing those rich folks, right? Nah. Doctor Lom was smarter than that, Rich folks get missed! Rich folks get looked for!
“But not sanitarium attendants.
“He used to put ads in the papers Back East. Change of scenery, and high wages. No one missed them. No one looked for them. Doctor Lom had theories about medicine beyond nutrition. Stuff that ain’t fit for the morning radio. The doctor tested his theories.
“Cops never found any corpses, not a one. Found a closet full of sulfuric acid, but no corpses.
“He’d been at it for seven years.
“You can kill a lot of people as long as you kill the right people.
“Between 1930 and 1937, eleven women disappeared. All the same type, short and blonde and a little chubby. They looked like your old pal Frankie Nickels, ha ha ha. They’d find the bodies up in the hills. Most of the bodies, anyway. The Cenotaph called him the Blonde Butcher. Cops had a million leads, so did the peanut gallery at the Morning Tavern. No one ever got arrested.
“Last girl went missing in March of ’37. Student at Harper College named Jeannie Goodman. She was studying economics. Her head turned up the next month halfway up Mt. Charity.
“And then no more. Fear turned into memory turned into ghost story.
“All sorts of competing stories about the Butcher’s identity. The reputable historians say it was a guy named Bill Gull who owned an art framing shop. Died in the summer of ’37. The weird ones say it was a time-shifted dinosaur, or Fatty Arbuckle on one last tear.
“Chicken Hirsch. You remember Chicken Hirsch, cats and kittens. How could you not? Practically a cottage industry at this point.
“Called himself the Sword of Satan in those notes he sent. Can you imagine that? A man named Chicken being the Sword of Satan?
“Well, we believed it. Shot that couple, the Bergens, in the Verdance on their second anniversary. Snuck into that house on Varbiner Street and sliced that family’s throats. Marsha Bowles, she was an old lady all the way on the Upside. Family came over on the Mayflower. I won’t tell you what he did to her. You don’t wanna know.
“And all the while, sending those notes. To the cops, to the paper. Sent one in code. They deciphered it after they cleared the bodies out of the library. He had walked in on a Tuesday morning and shot everyone inside. Two librarians, and five patrons. Turns out he was calling his shot: the note read ‘I’m going to shoot everyone in the library on Tuesday morning.’
“Chicken screwed up, though. Shot a woman named Nancy Briggs twice. Should have shot her three times. She gave the cops a good description. Cops went out and violated the hell out of the neighborhood’s civil rights. They found Chicken, though. He lived to see trial, ain’t that amazing? Lucky for him. He got to give all those interviews. Spread his wisdom over all those journalists. The one that wrote that book, the other one who made that movie.
“He’s still kicking. Still keeping up with his correspondence. A girlfriend of mine used to write him as a goof. She showed me the letters. For a serial killer, he’s got lovely penmanship.
“Go on out and be yourself, Little Aleppo. Take the day by the horns, seize the bull.
“Don’t you worry about monsters. You’ll never see ’em coming, anyways.
“Ha ha ha.
“You up for some music, cats and kittens? Yeah, me too. How about the one about the midnight rambler? The one you’ve never seen before?
“You’re listening to the Frankie Nickels show on KHAY-Hey!–and, honey, it’s no rock and roll show.”