Detroit murder mystery

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, January 06, 2010 | , ,

The Mies van der Rohe buildings in our Detroit neighborhood aren't tastefully lit; instead security lights shine outward all night, towards the grounds and sidewalks, brightening bushes and corners to deter would-be burglars, muggers, and rapists. Move along muggers, rapists: you'll find no cover here

With all this light, it's clear the neighborhood rabbits propagated well this year, their peppery coats even more obvious these days against the illuminated snow. There is almost always one out there at night, but even in daylight we see them. I also keep seeing possums, and twice that old raccoon. In the mornings, prints in the fresh snow hint at the exploits of this wild syndicate during the hours we slept. The dog, I think, sleeps with one eye open all night, watching their muscles twitch in the cold and dreaming of opened doors.

* * * * *

There's a blood trail in the park where I bring the dog each evening, right under the trees where he harasses the squirrels. As the neighborhood's self-proclaimed #1 menace to small mammals, I naturally suspect him. "What did you do?" I ask, but there's an innocent look to his eyes and the blood leads to the silent corpse of a small rabbit, pristine except for the cavity in its chest where all its slithery guts were yanked out in a hurry. The next day I bring the kids to the park and the body is still there, a bunnysicle, and we stare at it, speculating about the culprit. "Was it Wendell?" my daughter asks. "No honey, it was something else," I say, and we move away.

* * * * *

I get a call from one of the two saints whose townhouse shares a wall with ours and who suffer all our family noise. "Have you seen the fox?" he asks. He describes several red fox sightings. We saw him chasing something along the sidewalk; and we saw him a few days later on the other side of the neighborhood. I begin to ask ever neighbor I run into on the sidewalks, "Have you seen the fox?" Soon tales begin to emerge: I was jogging along the river and saw a pair of them standing out on the ice; I opened my front door and there he was, darting across my path. Finally, at dusk a few days later, I glimpse the little fox myself.

There's the culprit, I think, and wish him luck on further hunts. To a poultry farmer, he might be a menace. But here, in the heart of the city, he is a most welcome murderer.

* * * * *

I drop my daughter off at school and her classmates are not on the playground. We spot them across the street, in a vacant field wandering among the shards of a great fallen tree. "We saw a pheasant on the playground," her teacher explains. "We followed him over here." My daughter is unimpressed. We see ring-necked pheasants almost every day.

Half an hour later, my son and I are out with the dog for his morning walk, all bundled up, searching for fox tracks in the field not far from where I spotted him. We see squirrel prints; rabbit; Bichon Frise? We find suspicious paw prints under a female gingko, passing among the fallen fruit that smells like rancid cheese even at 20 degrees. I want to find his den. A couple of neighbors walk past, the same couple we see out there every morning, and I ask them if they've seen the fox. "No," the man says, "But look up there."

He points high in a bare honeylocust, where a massive red-tailed hawk is perched and curiously watching my toddler stomp around in the snow. A few silent seconds later, the bird swoops down out of the tree towards some distant part of the field, where he scoops up a fattened black squirrel in his deadly claws.