The Risks of Empathy, a Novella
When Harry drove up, the small crowd in front of Vivaldi’s Delicatessen was being pushed back by uniformed officers who were stringing a bright yellow ribbon around the area in front of the entrance. Warning! Police Line! Do Not Cross! shouted the bold black block letters over and over again. Harry nodded to one of the officers and stepped over the ribbon and into the store. He quickly surveyed the scene.
Two women’s bodies were sprawled on the floor in pools of blood. A man’s body appeared to have crashed backwards through the glass front of a food case. He was dressed in white and had a large dark red hole in his chest. His head was twisted sideways and lying in a large bowl of three-bean salad. A cash register drawer was open behind the counter. An officer was taking notes and talking to a man sitting on the floor against a wall. The man was splattered with blood and had his arm around a young boy who looked to be in shock.
“So what do we know?” Harry asked.
“How are ya Mahoney?” answered the officer who looked up from his inspection of one of the women on the floor.
“Could be better. Was it a robbery?”
“No. At least not a planned robbery, as far as we can tell. The man and his son,” nodding toward the man and boy against the wall, “were standing in line behind these two women when another man and a woman came in and immediately started talking loudly about murder and the meat in the window. Apparently, Mr. Vivaldi,” nodding toward the man in the case, “came around from behind the counter and started shouting back and tried to push the man out of the store. The witness is a little confused about where the gun came from, but says that the woman screamed something, and Mr. Vivaldi turned toward her and she shot him.”
“How did the women get shot?” asked Harry.
“The guy says that the man took the gun from the woman then and said something about cannibals and murder and maybe revenge and shot the two women, one after the other. The witness says he pleaded for his son’s life and tried to shield the boy. The next thing he recalled was the police sirens. He said he never noticed the couple leaving because he had his eyes closed.”
Harry looked around and noticed the ever-present video camera over the door. “Has anyone pulled the disc yet?”
“Not yet, but I saw the recorder under the counter.”
Harry walked around, careful not to step in the blood, ejected the small disc and put it in his pocket. He walked back from around the counter and looked once again around the small store. In the cold case, next to the man with his head in the beans, were plates of sausages, long pepperonis, an olive loaf, a couple roasted chickens, a pig’s head with an apple in it’s mouth, a sliced beef tongue, a pan of ground lamb with a small sign stuck into it proclaiming its great age and high fat content.
Behind the counter a quarter of a beef hung alongside strings of dried sausages. A blackboard announced the prices of everything in yellow chalk. Someone had drawn flowers down one side and colored them with red, blue and green.
Harry noticed that one of the women had a bag under one arm, and a white butcher paper package had fallen out. He imagined the cutlets wrapped inside that she was taking home to prepare for dinner.
The officer said to Harry, “This is the third case like this I had this week. It’s odd as hell. I liked the jumpers better; at least I didn’t worry about someone going berserk afterwards. Now, I worry about my wife and kids all the time. She’s always shopping. What do you think’s going on?”
Harry had an idea. “Have you seen the animal TEs?”
The officer seemed confused for a second, seemed to shake it off, and answered, “No, but I really like that football quarterback one, have you done it yet?”
Harry shook his head.
“My brother sent me some with this hot little redhead chick in them….”
Harry shook his head and the officer cut it short, sensing that he had missed the point and maybe offended Harry at the same time.
“Make sure I get your report,” was all Harry said.
An ambulance arrived just as Harry was leaving the delicatessen. Since no one had been in need of immediate life-saving care, the medical people had taken their time getting there. Harry nodded to them and heard one comment to the other, “I’m getting sick of all these meat market murders.”