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Forensic Cosmetology II


.... by D. Grant DeMan


"With my glamour, things are much better, but it's ultimately deceptive, a facade which isn't really me … I could be a hallucination, a section of your own mind playing back to you," an author writes, giving rise to law enforcement recollections of magical camouflage making things appear as they were not. By cops. And by those pursued by cops.

Such was the Case of the Safe Illusion - shall we say, "prescribed?" - by the Indian picture painter.

At the Western Fair Rita and I barely contained our admiration for toothless old Seneca artist, Rembrandt Xanadu, whose Iroquois graingathering renderings were so colorfully real they bounced. "Can't you just smell the campfire and hear drums?" queried my companion as she handed him ten-dollars in exchange for a small depiction of women husking giant multihued cobs of corn. "Here's a little house warming gift for your new place, Mister Policeman."

"Well, bless you. It shall reign in a place of honor," I responded, tucking the masterwork under one arm while offering Rita the other. "Notice how clean and clear is the signature."

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"You like that?" The Native smiled. "When I was a little boy who made pictures and my tribe chose a white name for me, they took that Rx from a drug and tobacco store with a wooden Indian in the doorway, and thought it was neat. I like that sign for it has been with me since these many years, a recipe for prayer that the spirit sings within my work."

"I feel that spirit, a healing prescription for living, toiling people. You are a great artist, Mr. Xanadu. Thanks so much." Rita smiled back, and we carried on to the dairy exhibit.

Rita's gift did indeed become a part of my life as I settled into the routine of patrolling the township as a member of the four-officer Blue Squad. Soon I acquired the East Strip beat during which I made particular note of the huge Cretestone office high on the south side, with it's towering floodlit safe facing the street, reportedly the target for the most ambitious safecrackers in the county.

"That safe has been drilled, peeled and blown up, but they never get to complete the job, for it takes too long to blow a safe that solid in plain sight." Squad Commander Fred Cronkite told me one morning. I felt a chill of premonition for the telephone rang just then.

"You bet. We'll have a man on it right now." The dispatcher was mighty excited, "It's you guessed it the vault at Cretestone. Split wide open. The grave yard boys missed it completely."

It was easy to see why, for as I approached I saw the clean steel doors shining back at me, unscathed by human hand or machine. Only upon examination could I wonder at the ingenuity of the thieves, for behind that first façade lay the remnants of a messy safecracking, with contents spilled on the marble floor. "My gawd. This here's a painting in front of the real safe!"

"No wonder your night patrol didn't spot them, officer," Remarked the manager. "This must have hidden the crooks like a stage canvas while they worked behind. That would fool anyone, even up close."

I stood back admiring the artistry: each crack, each knob within that artwork, gleamed as real under floodlights. And then I noticed the object in the lower left corner.

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The south side along the railroad was cluttered with shanties: cardboard, a little wood, shingled with rusty corrugated steel pierced by billowing stove pipes rising in a forest of TV antennas like fiery totems behind tumbledown fences, encircling stampsized yards littered with auto parts. It took some time to find the appropriate shack. I knocked and the door swung open. "Good to see you again," I said quietly.

"Do something for you mister police?" asked the old man.

"Reckon you don't remember me, Mr. Xanadu?"

"Can't say I had the pleasure."

"I have one of your paintings. I treasure it."

"Good. Wanna 'nother, do you?"

"Nope. Came here about one you musta lost."

"Seems I can't remember any got astray on me lately."

"We found this one up on the strip. Reckon you can claim it by coming into the police station. Remember the big safe?"

"Have no idea to what yer referring, officer." Rembrandt Xanadu mumbled.

"Perhaps you'll be good enough to tell us about the customer who purchased it." I smiled.

"Shet. That was an onymous project. Can't recall the buyer. A quick fifty bucks is all." He began to tremble. "Hey, how you figure it's my work, anyways?"

"A little tip for you, Rembrandt. Next time you wanna do an anonymous job, it might be a good idea not to sign your work with your signature Rx." I laughed.

"Shet! Did I do that? Shet I did!"

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We caught the larcenous mob on a job six months later, Rembrandt failed to claim the vault painting, and as far as I know it is still there for the world to discover in the Middlesex County Forensic Institute.

Soon after, Mr. Xanadu fell face down drunk on the tracks and was run over by the four-ten east bound freight, but his Corn Festival - accompanied by memories of Rita - hangs joyfully from my study wall.

Funny how it all seems more genuine than ever, and grows in reality with time.

Pretty damn fine for a hallucination I'd say!


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