The first victim—that I’m aware of anyway; there may well have been others who never came forward—was a dentist named Smith.
What matters isn’t his identity, it’s what happened to him one fog-bound evening in January outside his practice on North Sixth Avenue in Granford.
As he was fumbling for his car keys in the ill-lit parking lot, a man he was afterwards unable to describe—or rather was able to describe only as dressed in a long black coat flapping about him like a cloak—stepped out of the shadows, stabbed him in the shoulder, and fled with a high-pitched laugh. Fortunately, the wound wasn’t serious enough to prevent Smith from driving himself to Grenadine Community Hospital, where he told police he couldn’t think of anyone who might have it in for him.
—That would make him highly unusual among dentists, wouldn’t it?
Maybe so—but the point is the incident was sufficiently bizarre to catch the eye of Tom Fiedler, the crime reporter at the Granford Daily Dose. The six-inch story he turned it into so excited Van LeVine, the city editor, that he fired off a message to Mike O’Brien across from me at the copydesk.
“I know how late it is but Fiedler’s come up with a talker and it’d be nice if we could get it in ahead of the TV stations.”
O’Brien, who knew a command when he saw one, damned LeVine under his breath and yanked a couple of obits off page 3A to make room for the story.
Mysterious attack on local dentist, the headline he wrote proclaimed.
“I know the guy, too,” he told me. “He once botched a root canal on me.”
—You said Smith was the first victim. That implies there was at least a second. Was somebody else stabbed that night?
No, but, on a jogging path in Waterside Park two nights later, a Rotarian named Jones, head of the local office of the Rockbottom Insurance Company, heard urgent footfalls behind him and, before he could get out of the way, was stabbed in the right buttock by—once again—someone in a long flapping coat who fled with a high-pitched laugh.
At the hospital, where he was treated and released, Jones, too, told police he had no enemies.
“That’s what he thinks,” O’Brien said. “It’s thanks to him our deductible’s gone from a hundred bucks to a thousand.”
Gina Fleming, to the left of O’Brien, was taken aback. “I play golf with Ed Jones. He never mentioned he’s the one who sold Mr. Scroop on changing plans.”
“I had it from Burt Dunkler in accounting.”
To my left, Craig Lamm nodded. “Dunkler told me the change saved the company a lot of money—at our expense.”
“Easy, gents.” From my right, Jack Lyons thought it prudent to intervene. “Okay, so maybe we’ve got to pay a little more out of pocket, but at least we’re still covered for anything major.”
“Let’s hope you’re right,” O’Brien said bleakly.
Asked by Fiedler if he thought the two stabbings might be the work of the same individual, Ron DeLand, Granford’s chief of police, said it was highly likely, and that his officers were doing their best under the circumstances to find the culprit.
“I hope residents will keep in mind how overextended the police department is when they go to the polls next week to vote on the public-safety levy.”
LeVine understandably deemed the ten-inch story Fiedler then filed an even bigger talker than its predecessor. Promoted to page 1A, and accompanied by a mug of DeLand, it ran above the fold, under the headline: Serial stabber among us?
I wrote that headline—which I mention, not to cover myself in glory, but because the paper had hardly been delivered when H. Thomas Scroop, our publisher, thrust a copy in front of Lyons in his capacity as news editor, with my contribution circled in indignant yellow marker.
“I just got off the phone with Chief DeLand. He thinks the use of his mug with that headline makes it look like he’s the serial stabber.”
I’d be lying if I said the same thought hadn’t crossed my mind when I was placing the mug. DeLand, after all, not only had the face of a guy who wouldn’t hesitate to stick a knife in you, but the mug was cropped just below his chin, so there was no badge or uniform visible to reveal he was a cop.