On August 4th, 1892, Lizzie Borden’s father Andrew and step-mother Abby were brutally murdered in their home in Fall River, MA. Lizzie, who was at home at the time of the murders, was accused of killing her father and step-mother. Her trial for murder was a media sensation around the world. The all male jury acquitted her, leaving the homicides unsolved to this day. August 4th, 2017 marks 125 years since the brutal crimes occurred. We at Nine Muses respectfully mark this anniversary of the deaths of Andrew and Abby Borden, whose lives were cut short on that hot August morning in 1892.
The late author Richard Behrens, who wrote The Lizzie Borden Girl Detective Mystery Series as well as non-fiction journal articles about Fall River and Lizzie Borden related topics, sadly will miss the August 4th Borden-related activities in Fall River for the first time in many years. It was his plan to participate on a panel of Lizzie Borden writers and to hold a book reading of his latest book. Because of his illness and subsequent tragic death, his book The Audible Amnesiac and other Lizzie Borden Girl Detective Mysteries has been delayed, but we at Nine Muses plan to publish it before the end of the year, in keeping with Richard’s wishes. Please check back for future updates.
To mark the 125th anniversary, and in memory of Richard, we are printing the second chapter of his last completed Lizzie Borden Girl Detective mystery, “The Audible Amnesiac.” We hope you enjoy it!
The Audible Amnesiac
Chapter Two: A Mind Removed
To Lizzie’s surprise, Homer Thesinger was asleep on the couch, snoring sonorously, his bowler hat slumped over his brow. The young inventor who had joined Lizzie in many adventures looked weak and thin, his hands rubbed black with charcoal dust. Traces of the dust wove patterns on his lower sleeves. She could take in at a glance that he had been awake all night, judging largely from his exhaustion and from the deplorable condition of his wrinkled and creased clothing. She also deduced that he had been working on his iron-ore extraction project, simply because the stains on his hands could not have been caused by anything other than grinding charcoal to roast with iron pyrite to extract gold dust. In fact, it was plausible that he was employing arsenopyrite, a rock that gave off dangerous vapors when heated with coal. The poor boy was poisoning himself, which accounted for his inability to stay awake. As he snored, he would wheeze and twitch his nose, then rub it with his stained fingers before slumbering again.
But none of that was important for the present. Seated next to Homer on the couch was another man, thin and nervous, with a pointed face, a triangular chin, and a peaked brow that sported two bushy eyebrows that crawled towards each other with almost pained reluctance. Balanced on his nose was a pair of pince-nez spectacles while a trembling moustache almost obscured his small mouth. The man was swathed in a tweed jacket that had all the signs of domestic neglect as it was missing buttons on the sleeve, had threads frayed at the edges of the pockets and lapels, but which also whispered of an unusually penurious nature. He had not yet removed his gloves; one hand rested on a walking stick made from stained cherry wood with a polished ivory handle, and his congress boots looked as if he had just purchased them from a men’s dressing shop. Other than the fact that he was a Freemason, had recently walked a dog that was covered in light brown fur, and was currently enduring a competition between his wife and his housemaid to keep up his appearance, Lizzie could tell nothing else about him.
The man’s eyes twinkled when he first saw Lizzie, but then his face slackened into indolence as if his expectations, brightened by her entry, were now diminishing. “Hopeless,” he muttered in a wheezy voice. “It will never work.”
“What will never work, Mr.—“. Lizzie waited for him to complete her sentence.
“That is the problem,” he said. “I do not know my name. When you entered, I thought I knew you. But I think that of everyone I meet nowadays. Everything is so familiar and yet, I cannot recognize anything.”
His voice, despite its thinness, stirred Homer into awareness. The boy inventor shook his checks, grabbed at his tousled hair, and swallowed as if to remove a bitter taste from his mouth, no doubt some residue from his late night experiments. “Who?” he said as if his mind was starting to open its lids. “What?” he continued.
“Exactly,” his companion lamented. “Not only am I plagued by the ‘who’? But also the ‘what’? What am I? I would foreswear the ‘who?’ if I could just ascertain the ‘what’?”
“Oh,” Homer said, realizing where he was. “Yes…Lizzie…allow me to introduce my new friend.”
“What is his name?” Lizzie asked amusedly. “Surely you must—“
“I call him Policeman Lot for lack of a better term, because when I first met him he was babbling those words.”
“Were you?” Lizzie asked, taking a seat just opposite their couch.
“I don’t remember,” the man said, rubbing his chin. “Does that mean I’m a law officer? I hardly know. I can’t remember.”
“When did you first meet him?” Lizzie asked Homer. “For if I am not mistaken, you have been spending all night in your barn laboratory working on your ore extractor, and this man you call Policeman Lot has been up since dawn getting shaved in a tonsorial parlor and buying a new pair of congress boots. Unless you have accompanied him on his shopping excursion, I would estimate that you met him almost two hours past.”
Homer smiled wryly and tapped open his pocket watch. He nodded then muttered, “How did you know about the ore project? Oh, yes, the stains. And I suppose he has particular dust on his shoes that tell you he has been on North Main Street.”
“On the contrary,” she snipped. “It is the lack of dust on his shoes that tell me the story. That plus the advertisement in yesterday’s Herald that there will be a shoe sale at Tyler’s this very morning, doors opening at eight o’clock. Added to that is the left-handed style of his chin shave that could only have been produced by the barber on Columbia Street, which also gives me a good judge of the distances that he covered.”
Lot tapped Homer’s forearm and admitted, “You are right, she is uncanny. I couldn’t even have told you that.”
Homer smiled at Lizzie. “He seems to lose his memory every half hour. Soon you’ll have to introduce yourself all over again.”
“How singular,” Lizzie said, staring at him with renewed interest.
“Yes,” Mr. Lot said glumly. “My earliest memory is being in this room meeting Mr. Thesinger and hearing him describe your unique talents. I am delighted that such a remarkable mind will be dedicated to solving the problem of my identity.”
“I have heard of such a condition,” Lizzie said, tapping her temple. “There have been reports from Europe and a famous case in Philadelphia from earlier in the century. I consider this to be the ultimate challenge, and a mystery refreshingly devoid of any criminal activity.”
“That we can’t say,” Mr. Lot shifted uncomfortably on the couch. “I am also filled with a tremendous dread, an anxiety of drastic urgency. My instincts tell me that I am in danger, that someone I am hiding from will find me and damage me. I cannot see the face of the person pursuing me, but I can see a shadow coming up a staircase. I am filled with the most awful feeling, that my most intimate secrets will be exposed and I will be destroyed.”
“Are these the only impressions that survive your recurring amnesia?”
“No. Well, excepting one. I can clearly see the face of a monkey, some sort of howler creature from the jungles of South America. It is laughing at me, as if I am an object of great ridicule.”
“You have been laughed at by a monkey?” Homer said, surprisingly.
“But it is not just a monkey. It is wearing a tricorn hat.”
“Tricorn?” Lizzie gasped. From the wide grin appearing on her lips, Homer could tell she was taking the bait. This was a mystery that she could relish.
“Like in the war of independence,” Mr. Lot explained. “And he has on a printed silk jacket and is holding a lace handkerchief.”
“Not like any monkey I’ve seen,” Homer quipped. “Perhaps he is conflating two exhibits he saw at the menagerie.”
“No,” Lizzie said. “I sense that there is an even more meaningful explanation. But enough of that, we are poised at the beginning of a strange journey. We have a man who clearly is married, lives in comfortable middle class conditions, doted on by his wife, harassed by his housemaid, and sports a rather expensive cherry and ivory walking stick. He can afford the finest of clothing, clear enough from his habit of buying a new pair of boots when the old ones get dirty, and yet wears his jackets until they fray. There are odd contradictions here.”
Mr. Lot looked at his stick as if seeing it for the first time, and then pulled at the threads wafting from his jacket. “Oh,” he said. “So I do! Perhaps I should go buy a new jacket.” He gingerly patted his pockets. “I don’t suppose anyone here can lend me some money. I fear I have come sans sous.”
“And with a knowledge of French customs,” Lizzie added.
“You know so much about me,” Mr. Lot said hopefully. “Can you tell my identity?”
“Nothing other than you are a member of a Masonic lodge or so the ring on your left hand informs me, and at some point this morning, after putting on your jacket but before buying your congress boots, you took a small dog, perhaps a Pomeranian, for a walk.”
The man checked the ring and the hairs on his overcoat with great interest then turned his attention back to Lizzie as if he were profoundly engaged by a doctor’s diagnosis.
“Perhaps it was on this sojourn that you had your morning shave on Columbia Street by a left handed barber, I would say Samuel Borden who is just this afternoon taking off on a vacation to the wilds of Maine, hence the haste with which he missed some patches of growth on your right chin.” Mr. Lot turned to Homer and grinned. “She’s very good! What did you say her name was?”
Before Homer could reply, Lizzie resumed. “Now if we confine our search to this city, we can use various techniques of a mental nature to distill from these clues, as Homer distills gold dust from pyrites, where you would live, who you would have as associates, and make the rounds to ascertain an identification. Your Masonic lodge is a good place to start, or Sammy Borden himself who you may have employed on a regular basis at a time when you knew your real identity. I don’t see this case as particularly complicated, nor do I expect it to take very long, and since it is Homer who has brought you to me and he is a dear friend of mine, I will even perform this investigation gratis, expecting nothing in return but a good evening’s banter over a delightful home cooked meal, good company and a mug of medicinal syrup water. Eh, Homer? Doesn’t that sound grand?”
“Not complicated?” Homer asked. “Lizzie, I don’t think you understand what’s going on here.”
“Don’t I?” Lizzie’s smile had turned sour.
“I met this man outside the police station. He was part of a crowd that was gathering to get news of the murder.”
“Murder?” Lizzie recoiled.
“Yes, the murder of Sam Borden. He was found dead in his barber shop not two hours ago. His throat was slashed with his own razor.”
The room fell into a painful silence as Lizzie lost her sense of direction. She was swooning, watching the walls turn about the ceiling. Homer raced to her side and held her in position as she slowly regained her senses.
When she had found her balance, she stared at the man seated on the couch opposite her, assessing him with a fresh set of eyes. Now his ordinary face seemed sharpened to the point of treachery. His gaze, once blank and neutral, now seemed coarse and cruel. Perhaps the sinister shadow in his memory was himself, and he was on the verge of confronting his own guilt, his own sins. Lizzie’s instinct was to call out to her father, charging it to him that he would confront this beast and save her from this unpleasant feeling of danger.
“Mr. Lot,” Lizzie said shakily. “Do you have any idea what happened to the barber Mr. Borden?”
“Who?” Mr. Lot responded. “I’m sorry but have we met before?”
“We have been in discourse for about ten minutes,” Lizzie assured him.
“Have we?” the man said alarmingly. He turned to Homer and gasped at his face. “Oh dear,” he said. “It’s happened again.”
“What has happened again?” Homer asked desperately.
The man thought for a moment, blinked and then said with all sincerity, “I don’t know.”
Lizzie’s palpated breaths had reached a zenith, but she summoned enough energy to blurt out the only words that she could articulate:
“Father! Call Dr. Bowen!”
copyright 2016 by Richard Behrens
copyright 2016 by Nine Muses Books