Art by Vizie
His scanner was tuned to the police channel, so when the call went out—a body spotted in the Groveland Gorge—the detective spun the wheel of his blue LeSabre and turned the car around. The LeSabre groaned as it climbed the rise. As he approached the lookout, a hiker waved him down. The hiker looked flustered, and moved both arms energetically—one to wave at the detective as he stepped out of his car, and one to point, with a jabbing style, down and into the gorge.
The detective thought the body in the gorge might belong to the missing actress he’d been hired to find. She’d been known to frequent canyons, the floors of deep declivities. He pictured her laid out at the bottom, lying on her stomach. A wine-colored gown, a white fur cape covering her shoulders and arms, and all of it washed in the orange dust of the deep bed. He tried to prepare himself for the worst. He’d met her, once, at a party: they shared a cigarette on a portico covered in potted plants. She’d been known to frequent porticos. They’d stared into the dark valley, inhaling smoke and cool night air. Her lipstick stained the filter; when he brought it to his lips, the taste reminded him of childhood summers—an iced drink, a cold confection nearly forgotten. “You look for trouble, detective,” she said, assuming he was a kindred spirit. Behind them, in light and sound, the party lurched on. “It’s a living,” he replied.
“There it is,” said the hiker, still pointing. “I was just walking by.” No wine-colored gown; no fox-fur cape. Whoever it was was wearing a blue windbreaker, and the actress never would’ve worn a blue windbreaker, not even as a disguise. The actress never would’ve let herself die faceup like that, no matter the cause. “Mind if I borrow your binoculars?” he asked the hiker, who also watched birds. A certain man, a certain style of facial hair, a way of pointing, a binocular quality—it was clear this hiker watched birds. And it was clear he did mind if the detective borrowed his binoculars. He started acting a little skittish—suspicious even, you might think, if you didn’t know better, but the detective knew better. “They’re carefully calibrated,” said the hiker, whining slightly. He was feeling guilty. Not because he killed whoever was down there, but because instead of thinking of that broken body in the windbreaker, he thought of the birds he could be watching, was missing out on. But there was something else, too. This birder was a Peeping Tom—the detective could see it. A certain brand of shoe, and creases around the eyes from squinting, straining—Peepers give themselves away. So the hiker was also mentally counting, two by two, all the breasts he could and should’ve been, by now, beholding. Birder and Tom, he didn’t do one to excuse the other. He did them together, jointly, with equal zeal and scruple, and was good at them for similar reasons. Now, pursuing neither, he regretted making the 911 call. The area birds were flying away from him forever. But the breasts, yes—they too were gone, getting clad and retreating from even the most practiced views.
They didn’t get to talk before the police arrived. The officers stepped out of their cruisers, equipment chirping, nodding at the detective in recognition. To the hiker they said, “Step away from that edge, sir.” They recognized his type, and were less sympathetic than the detective. They had locked perps up for less than what his greedy eyes had seen. “Oh, it’s okay,” said the hiker, pointing at himself in the chest. “I hike here. Very familiar with these edges,” but he was overconfident. Hiking is a modest act, but birding, peeping? To feel that God-given right to behold? A man might forget he didn’t create the fruits of his appraisal—and might forget he didn’t know his edges as well as he thought. The detective knew that type, too: the type to lose his footing. That’s what the hiker did, lost his footing. “Whoops,” he said, as his feet slid. (The type to say whoops on the way to death.) For a moment, it looked like the hiker might catch himself, and he even said, “That was close,” but a detective knows the difference between a close call and a senseless death. Still, the detective reached out to stop it, sighing, and grabbed the hiker by the calibrated binoculars around his neck, but the strap broke, as straps do, and the detective was left holding the binoculars with their dangling strap while the hiker fell—a little ways at first, and then more, and then the rest of the way, all the way, landing right on top of the body, which couldn’t be the actress’s, at the bottom.
(This was another indignity the actress never would’ve put up with, let alone allowed herself to be exposed to the very possibility of. She had worked hard to cultivate a certain image of herself. She’d said so, on the portico, moonlight on her bare shoulders, fingers of a nearby frond casting shadows across her face: “I’ve worked hard to cultivate a certain image of myself, detective. Haven’t you?” But at that moment the detective happened to swallow an ice cube. He coughed into the nearest fern, which shook suggestively. If he could’ve responded, he would’ve said, “The only thing I cultivate is next month’s rent.”)
The detective was ready to rule her out entirely. He tried to look through the binoculars, but the gorge was out of focus. He spun some of the knobs, making it worse. He tried to spin them back, making it worse.
“That hiker didn’t cry out as he went down,” said one officer to another, his mouth full of sunflower seeds. “Do you consider that an admission?”
“It doesn’t scream of innocence,” said his colleague, spitting a shell over the edge.
“Have you heard any screams of guilt?”
“More than a few.”
“The detective had seen it all before. Not every rookie could fit in—that was a fact.”
Down in the gorge the hiker didn’t move, didn’t make a sound. He seemed dead. The face that had been his had landed on the face that, in the detective’s view, had never been the actress’s. By now several more cop cars had arrived, and several more officers were standing at the top of the gorge, looking down and in. “What’s the situation,” the Sergeant asked, tossing some sunflower seeds in the general direction of his mouth. “Two bodies,” one of them replied, spitting his shells, and tossing in more seeds. “What do we do, Sarge?” “Let’s take a look,” said the Sarge, “via binoculars. Who’s got binoculars?” “Thorkell does, Sarge.” “Thorkell, let me see your binoculars.” “They’re not calibrated, Sarge.” “Damn it, Thorkell. Then someone should go check on the bodies,” said the Sergeant, spitting shells, tossing seeds, giving it some thought. “Let’s send the rookie.” The Sergeant called over the rookie, a young man named Randall.
The detective could tell Randall wanted to be brave and eager but wasn’t. Randall was scared—of gorges, bodies, sergeants. He was scared of hearing his own name called. But most of all, he was scared of letting his fellow officers down. He was having trouble fitting in, and blamed himself. The detective could guess the reasons. The rookie hated sunflower seeds. He didn’t like eating them, not even to spit the shells with his peers. He didn’t like that the station, and all of his paperwork, was covered in seeds and shells. The detective could see it, plain as day. The rookie didn’t want to go down and into the gorge, but he pretended he had no problem with it. He wanted to go home and finish the magazine article he was reading. There is a certain look a man has when, instead of thinking about his job, he is thinking about an unfinished magazine article, or several unfinished magazine articles. That was Randall’s look. It was dangerous to descend into a gorge when your mind was elsewhere—on the potentials of long-form journalism, for instance—but Randall tried anyway. He started to pick his way down the rocks. He didn’t want the others to worry about him, so he said, “It’s not so bad, guys,” and they were happy to hear it. They loved the rookie, the detective could see that, it was all over their faces, that love, even if it was in a generic way, a rather abstract brand, a love extended to all rookies. To be honest, the detective could tell they thought the rookie was a little odd, what with his love for magazine articles he was always telling them to read, his xeroxing of those articles and his always leaving the copies on their desks. Sure, Randall ate sunflower seeds with them, but not in the same way, not in the right way, and he spit them with no apparent pleasure. Sometimes he made a face when a shell or seed fell onto one of his xeroxed magazine articles. When it came time to toss more seeds into their mouths, Randall delayed, and then when he did throw them, he threw fewer seeds than everyone else, and he swept up those that missed, his and others, with a little broom and dustpan. His colleagues didn’t bother asking where he’d gotten the little broom and dustpan. The detective had seen it all before. Not every rookie could fit in—that was a fact. The detective himself had once been a rookie, just like Randall. Only in the detective’s day, it wasn’t sunflower seeds—it was cocaine. Sure, the detective had liked cocaine, it was hard not to like cocaine—but not in his workspace; not on his paperwork. It turned out he had not liked it as much as his peers. He’d even had a little brush, too, just like Randall, to clean up the messes and residues. He had even earned the nickname, The Brush. In some ways, thought the detective, a detective is a brush, a broom, and a pan to gather sweepings.
“It’s not so steep,” Randall shouted. “I’m going in.” “That’s great, rook,” they called back. “It’s just some dumb rocks, you guys,” he laughed. “Show them who’s boss,” they laughed back, absentmindedly. “Tell Thorkell to calibrate his binoculars.” “I’m trying, rook,” called Thorkell, twisting the focus wheel, making his binoculars worse. “Save me some of those delicious sunflower seeds,” Randall called, the last thing he said before he fell. They heard him tumble and scream until, fresh out of the breath of life, he stopped screaming and was still. His body had come to rest, faceup, on top of the hiker. “Rook?” said the other officers. “Randy?” said a young officer, the rookie’s best friend from the academy, the detective surmised. He’d had a best friend, too, once. “Randy, you okay down there?” There was no response from the bottom of the gorge.
“He screamed as he went down. What do you make of it?”
“The rocks. They were hurting him.”
“Is that all?”
“No, that’s never all.”
“Is Randy okay?” asked the rookie’s best friend. “Don’t let him see the body,” said the Sergeant, studying the gorge bottom through Thorkell’s binoculars, then frowning, and fiddling with the focus knob. “Body?” said the rookie’s best friend. “Uh,” said the Sergeant.
From experience, the detective knew that Randall and his young friend, who was now biting his knuckles and moaning “nononono,” had been more than friends. They’d been lovers. They’d dreamed of coming up through the force together, of treating each other’s wounds with warm sponges, of kneading each other’s sore muscles with strong hands. They’d fantasized about pulling their squad cars close, leaning through the open windows to kiss under lightly falling rain. Together they would xerox magazine articles for the entire station and start a little reading group to meet after-hours. The detective thought of old friends. He had lost friends before, too—the name Michael Cooper came to mind—but none to a gorge. Randall and his friend had planned a future together, and now one of them was dead and the other was crying “Randyrandyrandyrandy” and getting dangerously close to the edge, trying to get a last look at Randall’s face, no matter what condition that face was in. “Hold him back, dammit,” the Sergeant said. Too late the detective offered the friend the binoculars. He held them out, and he was just about to say, “You’ll have to figure out the little knobs,” but Randy’s friend wasn’t there, he was over the edge, dragging the officer holding him back with him. They tumbled—together, then apart, then together again. They came to rest.
The detective adjusted the little knobs, tried to look through the hiker’s binoculars, but all he saw were blurred shapes and colors, as though the skin of every body and object had torn to spill out its pigment, its essence. There was blue, he saw blue, but the blue merged with brown. He saw some things that might be bodies. He saw red, but a vague red. He couldn’t trust his eyes, but he could trust his intuition, which told him that Randy’s friend had fallen on Randy. Their lips had locked together, mouths sliding into the familiar groove of one another, mustaches fastening like Velcro, hooks finding loops.
He could just go home. He had a can of soup at home. He had a packet of crackers. He had a little bourbon. He had a magazine article to return to—probably the same one Randall had been thinking of when he fell, the one everyone who read magazine articles was thinking of. It was from a reputable magazine. He played with the knobs again. He could hang it up and go home, be done with detective work. He began to seriously reconsider his brother-in-law’s business proposal. The detective rubbed his eyes, trying to look into his future. In this future, was he selling Jacuzzis for his brother-in-law? Jeff Fletcher, Jacuzzi King of Groveland, his sister’s husband? Or was he looking for missing actresses? He looked through the binoculars again, but the shapes were even blurrier than before, no longer even shapes, just shades of haze. For a moment, he thought he saw his brother-in-law’s face rising up through a scrim of steam. But it was a lifeless face. It was the mask of a dead man. It was a corpse, bobbing in warm water, pummeled by motored jets. He lowered the binoculars.
Finally, some of the top brass arrived on the scene and tried to take control of the situation. Too many bodies were piling up, the top brass said. They brought in the tape team and the rope expert. Near the edge the tape team strung up some barricade tape, though they lost a few good officers in the process. More than a few of their fellow officers stared into the gorge, pondering how unfair it was that no one taped for the tape team. The rope expert nodded at the detective. There was respect there, maybe even warmth. No one knew fibers like the rope expert, who was now expressing his qualms to the top brass. He was saying this wasn’t a ropes situation, and his team hadn’t trained for it. But the top brass, thinking of their rookies, and the optics of their rookies’ deaths, had no time for qualms. They gestured at the barricade tape: officers had died to make the gorge a little safer for the rope expert and his team. The rope expert gestured at the barricade tape: it was more tape than barricade. But the rope expert was forced to send his team down the ridge in their police-issued harnesses, badges stitched to their waist-belts. The ropes snapped, and they fell. The rope expert stared into the gorge, trying to feel stunned. He seemed almost as tired as the detective. He was likely weighing the business proposals that had been posed to him. He had a brother-in-law, too.
“Is it true that ropes are used to hurt?”
“It’s true sometimes, but it doesn’t mean they’re bad.”
“Are you saying all ropes are faultless?”
“I’m saying they’re made from plants.”
Some of the officers began mourning quite loudly and raucously. “He won’t be able to live with the guilt,” they were saying about the rope expert, who was sitting right there, living with it. “Let’s sing for him,” they said, and they did, but also for the tape guys, the rookie, the rookie’s friend, the officer holding back the rookie’s friend, each other, themselves. “He loved the force,” they said, vaguely—about one of them, all of them, each other, themselves. They were crying now, singing songs, drinking to his memory, their memories, to memory in general, the very concept. They sorrowfully cheersed the detective, mistaking his binoculars for a pint glass.
The top brass sighed. They didn’t want to watch any more of their officers die in the gorge. Not on this night, at least. They had beds brought in, enough for everyone if they shared. They got into them. The top brass summoned the detective to their bedside as they got under the covers. “We can’t tell you what to do,” they said, yawning, pulling the covers up. “It has to be voluntary.” The detective was prepared for this moment, and agreed to go down and in. The top brass fell asleep. The detective straightened their blankets.
“Is it true that a detective goes down and in while others sleep?”
“You’re hogging the covers. A detective sees what we don’t want to see.”
“It’s getting cold, isn’t it.”
“A detective isn’t scared of being scared.”
He picked his way down the gorge. He expected to see broken, ruined bodies, but he saw none. In fact, as he got closer, he saw people at work, their bodies neither broken nor ruined. Once at the bottom he went straight to the pile, where the hiker was still lying on top of the body in the blue windbreaker. They were locked at the lips, and, due to the weight of the bodies above, locked all along their other parts. This didn’t surprise the detective, who had imagined them snugly fitted together. What surprised him was that the body in the blue windbreaker did belong to the actress, and she was alive, and so was the hiker, and so was the rookie, and the rookie’s lover, and the officer who’d tried to hold the rookie back. “Officer Danner,” said Officer Danner, extending his hand from the pile, letting it be shaken. “Call me Mitch.”
“I didn’t think it was you,” the detective said to the actress. “I didn’t think you’d be in a position like this, wearing…” “I like blue,” she said, after separating her mouth, with a wet sound of suction, from the hiker’s. “I like a blue windbreaker. That image of myself? That I worked so hard to cultivate? I came to hate it.” The detective nodded. He wanted to join the pile. He no longer cared for his image either, the one he’d cultivated; someone else could be the one who journeyed into night. He wanted to lie down, like the others in the gorge, those who had decided to stop cultivating their images.
“We had needs up there,” the hiker said. “I couldn’t just hike; I had to bird and peep, too. I admit it now. I couldn’t do any of them well because I was distracted by the other two. Go on a hike, catch a flash of skin in the distance, chase after it and while chasing hear some migratory cry, whip around and see a beautiful plumage up in the tree, try to keep an eye on it while continuing the hike to the next outpost that might offer favorable views of unclads—all three done badly, distractedly. That was life for me. For all of us, in some fashion. You must know what that’s like, detective.”
The detective did. He saw himself trying to sell Jacuzzis. He saw his brother-in-law soaking in a showroom Jacuzzi, nodding, a gold chain around his thick neck, saying, “You’re doing great, Ryan. You’re a natural.” The detective’s name wasn’t Ryan—not in the ways that mattered.
“So a detective goes down and into something?”
“And then comes back out.”
“He doesn’t get to stay?”
“He doesn’t get to stay.”
He knew a detective went down and into something and then came back out of it, and didn’t get to stay, but it hurt all the same. “Can they see us from up there, detective?” asked the rookie. The detective shook his head. He told him the officers were having trouble with the knobs on their binoculars. They all made a noise of understanding: they too had had knob trouble in the past. “Do they miss us up there, detective?” asked the rookie, softer now. The detective considered singing the song the officers had sung for them, but decided against it. He saw that the tape team and the rope team were working together on some sort of structure. He noticed other groups of people, piles even, scattered across the gorge bottom, in caves and under overhangs, out of view from up above. He recognized a few celebrities; he knew the detectives who had taken on their cases and were looking for them. He recognized other people, too. Was that his dentist? The detective didn’t have a dentist, not anymore, not after his dentist went missing, but here he was, Dr. Darling, DDS, in his white lab coat, sandwiched between what appeared to be an oral surgeon and, unless the light deceived him, a local endodontist.
“Thank you, detective,” said the actress. That was her way of saying goodbye, of telling him he had to go back up to the surface, tell everyone it was time to go home. “Come back when you’re ready.”
The detective noticed a rope lying on the ground. He picked it up and gave it a tug; from up above, the tug was returned. He started climbing up and out. At several points he stopped to look back at the progress being made in the gorge. The first structure was up, but it was just the first of many. Sunflowers had started to grow, and they would grow tall. Their faces would track the sun across the sky. The detective wondered which way was east. Some people in the gorge would harvest the flowers, eat their seeds, spit their hulls; some people would hate that. Looking back, in the direction he thought was east, the detective saw that the gorge had its own gorge. He could even see Mitch and the rookie wandering over to look into it. Now they were gesturing to the others—gesturing, pointing down and in. They’d spotted something. People were getting close to the edge to have a look. The endodontist seemed overconfident, and took the first step in.
At the top of the gorge, the rope expert helped the detective over the last little bit.
“Drink?” proposed the rope expert, and the detective accepted. Around them the sounds of deep sleep rattled and gasped from the beds of the top brass and the cots of the officers of the law.
“It’s official,” said the rope expert, pouring bourbon into two coffee-stained mugs from the station. “Tomorrow I start the new job.”
“He’s putting me in Paddle Equipment.” His brother-in-law owned a sporting goods store in a shopping plaza. “He says everyone cuts their teeth in Paddle Equipment.”
A detective is someone who wakes you up and tells you you can go home now. He tells you there’s nothing out of the ordinary down there in the gorge. Just a certain bottom. Just death, and dust, the bones of dogs, the husks of seeds. You can all go home, where you belong. The bourbon burned his throat. He looked to the presumed east, where the sun would soon rise on gorge, sub-gorge, and non-gorge alike. The new flowers would start to move. Somewhere, someone would sweep up some seeds, fiddle with a knob.
He would go see his brother-in-law tonight, he decided. A phone call would do, but a detective is someone for whom a phone call, sometimes, won’t do. He would walk in through the front door, hear the music coming from the second floor. His trench would brush the baluster as he climbed the stairs, he would walk to the end of the hall, he would straighten a framed family photograph. He would enter the master suite, walk to the master bath, the source of the music, where his brother-in-law soaks. The detective must remind himself this is his sister’s bathroom too; if he must destroy it, he must also live with guilt. He walks up to the Jacuzzi, making sure not to knock over any of his sister’s things. His brother-in-law sees him approach the generous tub, smiles, gestures at an extra swimsuit hanging on the towel rod. “Come on in,” says his brother-in-law, but detectives need no invitations, don’t accept them either. “I have something for you,” says the detective. “For me?” says his brother-in-law, curious, smiling bigger. You could almost see how a smart girl with a degree in engineering could fall in love with a smile like that. “Here you go,” says the detective, handing over a rubber stopper. The brother-in-law takes it, tries to look grateful, but he’s confused. Is it a symbol? Should he put it in his mouth? The brother-in-law’s Jacuzzis don’t use rubber stoppers. But he hears a gurgle from the depths of his bath: the water draining, right onto the floor of the bathroom. He looks to the detective for an explanation, as if detectives give explanations, but the detective is walking out, because walking out is what they do. The brother-in-law panics, tries to hold the water in. He tries to stop it with the stopper, but his Jacuzzis don’t use rubber stoppers. The warm water moves across the tile, into the hall, chasing after the detective.
“Will the Jacuzzi water catch him? It’s cascading down the stairs.”
“He’s already out the door. He moves between the worlds.”
“But it’s running down the front walk.”
“He’s already in his car, halfway down the street.”
His brother-in-law screams, calls for help, cries out and into the night, and up and down the block lights come on, the neighbors stumble onto their porches in plush robes, still wet from their Jacuzzis, water running down their legs and into their slippers, into their tufted green lawns, into the suburban earth. But by now the detective’s on the other side of town. The trash and cans along the freeway shiver as his car flies by. He turns on his scanner, a call comes through: someone’s found a foot down by the docks. The detective spins his wheel. His tires howl in the night.
Fall / Winter 2023
Walker Rutter-Bowman received his MFA from Syracuse University. He has received fellowships from the Edward Albee Foundation and the Ucross Foundation. His work has been published in Tin House Online, Joyland, Nashville Review, and elsewhere. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
VIZIE pursued art from an early age. Together with his brother NEKST, he helped bring the Houston graffiti scene to prominence in the late ’90s and 2000s. In addition to his graffiti career, VIZIE’s practice includes printmaking, photography, illustration, and painting, with projects in zine-making, large-scale murals, as well as commercial work. His projects have taken him to many cities in the US and abroad, with long stops in Kansas City, San Francisco, Oakland, Chicago, and eventually New York, where he has lived and worked for the past fourteen years.