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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Chapter Nineteen - Notice of Intent

Happy Birthday, Charlie! This one's for you.


See, here's what happens: In Psych 202, I was taught that anger is part of the grieving process. This isn't academic so much as it is organic. Indeed, Theresa's grief counselor told her that picking fights and battles is a healthy outlet for emotional release. It is one of the many coping mechanisms that one's brain will deploy in order to keep itself from coming apart entirely.

To lose one's child in such an horrific manner, and to have failed at life-saving attempts, is enough to qualify a person as having suffered from "extreme mental trauma", according to my source at Kalamazoo County Mental Health. Compound that with an obviously erroneous black mark like a suicide determination, and you can't necessarily imagine the feelings she is going through.

My KCMH source (this is the beauty of having grown up in Kalamazoo - I know just about everyone) tells me, in fact, that there are really no qualified therapists who can help anyone deal with something of that magnitude. There's nothing anybody can do. But the brain will not accept that; it will work the problem incessantly, the way someone's tongue keeps exploring a broken tooth. That's why it gets turned into anger, intrinsically, almost the same way carbs get turned into fat.

So, anger... Some people just snap under the strain, you know. Often, they turn their rage inward, whether in an acute manner (like suicide) or a chronic one (like depression). Or they lose their ability to contain their pain and turn it loose on others. Nobody knows where anybody's breaking point is - the dude from "The Jenny Jones Show" blasted his fellow man to death with a shotgun for sandbagging him on TV with a gay crush. It's crazy.

However, those are rare reactions, the ones that go so far. Most people try to find outlets that are positive, so as to make some lasting memory out of the loss of their loved one. To honor her son Charlie, who would have just turned 13 years old, Theresa started a charity that gives bouquets of flowers to people who might need to have their spirits lifted. She has given away some 600 floral arrangements to date.

But that doesn't let the hurt out. Especially not when the hurt was made so much worse by a bunch of petty, arrogant bureaucrats who can't get over how offended they feel that some commoner would deign to question their decree (even though it is unlaughably phony on its every facet). They'll rarely even bother to yank the silver spoons out of their mouths long enough to reply anymore. They comprise a herd of offensive boorish prigs, and nothing more elegant than that.

And that, I must now disclaim to you, is not even remotely the thing that makes her feel the worst. The thing that makes her feel the worst is that WMed, after dissecting her son's prepubescent body, handed it off to a man who had served time in prison for raping a teenage boy he had stalked on the Internet. A pedophile. We'll get to that later... You can't make this stuff up.

All of it makes them an appropriate subject for the grieving process's anger phase. I raised Charlie as if he were my son for four and a half years, and I'm going through it, too, as you have read in this space for quite some time now.

I do things my way. Theresa does things hers, and that's why there are all these official complaints and grievances flying around the State of Michigan these days. She worked in government for a long enough time to know who to call (and, again, we grew up here). She's not going to stop until every last... Well, she's not going to stop.

In the process of her trying to have the State force Joyce deJong - who has a track record of doing shoddy work -  to change the death certificate, Theresa was told that only the County can handle such matters. They gave her the email address of a so-described County Administrator, Thom Canny. So she told him the whole story. That's a neat trick, the way these professionals take care of themselves. Mr. Canny, it turns out, is Kalamazoo County's Corporate Counsel.

(By the way, is there anybody there who isn't double-dipping? I mean, we've revealed that the Compliance Officer is also the Dean of Finance at WMed... Joyce deJong has more titles than the public library does, and charges good money just to talk to attorneys, pediatricians, etc... Even the Chairman of the Board of Directors at WMed, John Dunn, is also the President of Western Michigan University.)

This Canny fellow invited my sister, very politely, to a meeting with himself and deJong and the County Director of Health and Community Services. To address our questions and concerns. To look at anything she thinks might help explain said questions and concerns. Bring anyone you want along with you, he says. The purpose of this meeting, I suspect, is not to change the certificate's cause of death to accidental; if that was the case, they'd have just changed it and sent it to us.

The aforementioned County Director, by the way, is the stepmom of one of my best childhood buddies. (See how that keeps happening?) Her husband was one of my Dad's colleagues at WMU. I ate many meals and spent many nights at their home over the years.

He attended Charlie's funeral. I spoke with him there. I sent him a link to this blog a couple of weeks ago, and now his wife is mixed up in this? Why? To try and talk my sister down, convince her that WMed's blatant bullshit is somehow true? I would hope not... Very strange.

I guess I could just go over to the house and catch the man mowing his lawn. I could ask him what the Hell is going on here. And he might even tell me, since he's known me since before I was born.

But why should I? Why should any of us bother with these people anymore? Especially when the entity on the other end of the line is their corporate attorney? They've had ten months to rectify this situation. Ten agonizing months of foot-dragging, stonewalling, obfuscating and sweeping dirt under the rug.

Between the deliberate delays, the falsified pretenses and the back-channel planning, there is no question in my mind (and none in the mind of the lawyer who told me this) that Kalamazoo County has set itself up to be sued handily with an NIED claim. That's Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress. Not familiar with that one? Heh.

Anyway, why should we settle for yet another meeting with some more of WMed's insiders, when I can instead attend (and speak at) the County Board of Supervisors meeting on the second Monday of every month? Or at some other time and place of our choosing; generally, a courthouse.

pH 5.29.16

Friday, May 27, 2016

Chapter Eighteen - Appendix 'A'


PSYCH! Don't you love it when someone implies that something is about to reach its epic conclusion, and then the thing just turns on its heel and... doesn't? I hate that, too. It's kind of like that one time when Lyin' Jo Catania told my sister that Charlie's case was going before a "peer review".

But then it just... didn't.

Welcome back to the story of WMed, ladies and gentlemen, otherwise known as The Land of Make Believe! Anyway, where did I put that long form copy of the M.E. report? Oh, there it is, on my phone. Anybody want to parse an official piece of garbage with me? Come on, it's fun. We can do it the way they taught us back in journalism class: Line by line.

However, I should begin by advising you that the report I'm about to tear apart is repetitious in one regard. Again and again, at the start of each false sentence, the report advises the reader that it was the "mother" (my sister, Theresa) who "advised" this, that or the other thing that they made up.

Never mind that much of what the M.E. advises that she advised is easily refuted in police reports and on police car dash-cam audio. I was also there, by the way, and I would advise you that nobody gathered in some cozy den or library over single-malt scotches and some cherry Cavendish to sort all this out. That didn't happen.

Recovering from abdominal surgery and destroyed by the loss of her only son, despite her own efforts to save his life, Charlie's Mom laid in bed moaning and wailing and keening and sobbing and crying and writhing while detectives stalked through her house and sand-blasted her with questions, which she tried to answer through her physical, emotional and spiritual agony.

She was also on prescribed narcotics at the time, per her doctor's post-operative instructions. Pretty much nothing she said that night, under such extreme duress, would be allowed as evidence in a court of law. Everybody knows that. But besides all of that, the coroner's report still got it demonstrably wrong. I'm not accusing them of merely dissembling - I'm saying they flat-out lied.

Anyway, the following statements are the result of an unholy union between Medical Examiner Joyce deJong and her Investigator, Kai Crony - er, Cronin. They are in direct conflict with a couple of the Ten Commandments, but that's okay by them, so everyone grab a shovel and let's start digging.


CASE SUMMARY: Death of a 12 year male presumed suicide by hanging.

Presumed by whom? KDPS Lab Tech Terry Thomas reported he had responded to an "accidental hanging", and damn near every witness interviewed said that Charlie was not depressed, suicidal, or even acting in an unusual manner... In any event, even if you did wrongly presume that, why a full post-mortem autopsy if you knew he had died of hanging? Whatever could be the rea$on, Joyce?

SYNOPSIS: Dennis Wolf... was found by neighbor, hanging by the neck and unresponsive... pronounced dead at 2035 by W-Med Dr Metzgeers.

Uh... Who? I've seen this "Metzgeers" spelled several ways throughout their jumble of paperwork, "Metzgers", "Metzger"... Here's all I know about this person: He is a horse thief, a card cheat, a barnyard rapist, and his wife is fat and ugly and is a lousy cook besides. He wears an adult diaper and uses a penis pump to inflate his ego. How can I get away with saying all that about him without fear of a defamation suit? BECAUSE HE DOESN'T EXIST.

He's just another figment of WMed's wild imagination. No such person was ever at our home. I can show you all of the cops' dash-cam videos, and I can identify every person in them. Don't believe me? Call 'em up and ask for the guy's voice mail. There is nobody there by any of those names.

Medical Examiner Jurisdiction invoked pursuant to MCL (a): The Individual died by violence.

No, he didn't. He died of an accident, the kind that unfortunately takes place more often than anyone would care to know. Again, cf. KDPS Lab Tech Terry Thomas's reports of an accidental hanging. And MCL 52.202 is most commonly used in the deaths of hospice patients and prisoners in custody, not in accidental deaths of children.

Arrived and met with KDPS officers, EMS paramedics and W-Med physicians advised that the decedent appears to have intentionally hung himself and despite life saving efforts the decedent was pronounced dead by Dr. Metzgeers at 2035 07-26-15. Neighbors, unknown persons at the time of investigation, had seen the decedent walking around the tree, "It appeared that he was looking for something in the tree", approximately ten minutes later another neighbor, walking her dog found the decedent hanging in the tree, unresponsive. Both neighbors and the decedent's mother, THERESA HELLER, advise "it took some work to free the decedent from the rope before we could lower him to the ground."

I have pored over every word of the police reports, and no police report states what the M.E. says. None of them. Not even close. As if this whole "investigation" didn't instantly reek of wrongdoing on the part of the coroner's office, then they turn around and quote an "unknown person". That's so bush-league I shouldn't even dignify it, but worse than that, it's a lie, because a known witness, Travis Horton across the street, told the police he saw Charlie hanging there at 6:30 pm, an hour and a half before the 911 call was placed, but he didn't take it seriously. Further, neither Theresa nor any neighbors told police about the state of the rope and the difficulty of taking him down. Our house guest, Psychiatric Nurse Rhea Canlas, did and said that... And I can assure you that she did not refer to her best friend's little boy as "the decedent" when she did so.

Theresa did advise that one of the decedent's best friends is at Bronson hospital for a suicide attempt by hanging that occurred 1-2 days prior, a 14-year old female.

That is nothing but fiction. No friend of Charlie's - indeed, no person of any age, race, gender, color or creed - was at Bronson hospital for any such thing. This is a fabrication. It did not happen. I defy anyone on this planet to demonstrate that it did. In court, Joyce deJong will have to say that she has no idea what her own statement means, because no such thing ever happened.

Theresa advised that the decedent was excited for a visit with his father, that he had planned a pool date for 7-27. Following the phone call, Theresa advises, the decedent was very upset, decedent stating the father made him feel bad and would not be picking him up.

Charlie saw his Dad whenever either one of them wanted, and the "pool date" was a regular Monday event over at Uncle Vince's house. People who don't know us are trying to explain a family tragedy in a way that suits their own motivations; disgusting.

But they also go on to state that "very little is known" by us about Dennis, Charlie's Dad. That's kind of funny, since I gave Captain Ledbetter his phone number and, literally, drew a map to his house and told him what kind of vehicle would be in the driveway. Lab Tech Terry Thomas also photographed several text messages from Theresa's phone. Text messages showing their normal pattern of cooperation and co-parenting.

DISPOSITION: Due to speculated reason for death, transport to W-Med for post-evaluation.

Finally, a kernel of truth. They admit speculating, and they used that speculation to justify taking his body to the morgue instead of to a medical facility, which would then have released him to the funeral home of the family's choosing. It's a cross between hideous and ridiculous.

According to my dictionary, "speculation" is a noun. It is defined as "the forming of a theory or conjecture without firm evidence".

And that just doesn't cut it.

pH 5.27.16


NEXT WEEK: Chapter Nineteen - "Notice of Intent to Sue"

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Chapter Seventeen - The Police Reports


The following are excerpts from reports submitted by the incredible professionals at the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety. Before asking you to rely on their word and judgment, which is based on an oath to provide service and protection, I would like to thank them again for how hard they tried to save my nephew's life on July 26 of last year. For standing with us while we wept in our yard as the darkness crept in that night. For attending Charlie's funeral. In gratitude, I will let them tell the story as they know it.


"As I neared the address a female came into the roadway and began waving her arms. I could see a young child laying on the ground on his back. A female was kneeling next to him attempting compressions on his chest. Approximately 2-3 feet from the child laying on his back was a tree with a rope hanging off one of the branches. The rope did not go all the way to the ground (unsure on exact distance from the ground, however, it was more than a couple of feet). The rope had several knots in it forming loops of different sizes. There was a white table with metal legs set up between the tree and the rope. The table was closer to the rope nearly touching the rope. The table had small spots of vomit on it. In front of the table was a tennis shoe that matched the shoe that the victim was wearing on his other foot." - PSO Kelly Pittelkow


"I arrived shortly after PSO Pittelkow. Upon arrival I observed a male child, Wolf, lying on the ground. The child's mother, Theresa Heller, was performing chest compressions. Wolf appeared to be a grayish color and was limp. I saw that Wolf was only wearing one shoe, which was on his right foot. A matching left shoe was on the ground a few feet away. I could see marks on his neck that appeared to be consistent with a rope pattern." - PSO Ryan Shank


"I arrived on the scene and observed the child lying on the ground near a tree with officers performing CPR on him. I was handed a bag valve mask and I attached it to our oxygen tank. The child had a large amount of vomit coming from his mouth and had ligature marks on his neck. I assisted providing rescue breaths using the bag valve mask until I was relieved by PSO Shank. After being relieved from the bag valve mask, I performed one complete round of CPR on the child." - PSO Emily Kane


"I arrived on scene and observed the child lying on the ground near a tree. I further observed a table near the tree with a rope hanging from a branch. The child had vomit coming from his mouth and had ligature marks on his neck. Officers began chest compressions on the child. I assisted in providing rescue breaths using the bag valve mask... I then completed approximately 4 rounds of chest compressions, until the child was pronounced deceased." - PSO Ryan Perez


"PSO Perez and I arrived on scene together and I observed PSO Shank giving the subject (Wolf) chest compressions... This is a residential neighborhood with a 25mph speed limit... The tree that Wolf was hanged from was a large Maple tree located to the west of the residence in the front yard. This tree had 4 steps that were constructed out of 2x4's on the west side of the tree. At the top of the 4 steps was a crotch in the tree where branches split off. At that crotch there was a small wooden platform. There was a plastic table that was underneath the tree very near the rope upon my arrival. This table was moved during CPR for ease of access to Wolf." - PSO John Stolsonburg


"Upon arrival, I saw Wolf lying on his back and several officers were performing CPR on him. I saw a rope with several knotted loops hanging from the large tree in the middle of the front yard. I also saw a medium size folding table standing on its legs just off to the side of the hanging rope and I saw one shoe on the ground. Wolf was wearing the other matching shoe. LIFE EMS paramedics arrived and began life-saving efforts. Wolf's mother, Theresa Heller, was present and becoming distraught as the minutes passed... I performed one round of chest compressions on Wolf. As more officers arrived, I then began to manage the scene." - Sgt. Michael Treu


"INTERVIEW WITNESS (JENNIFER COTE): Cote advised that she lives in the area and was walking her dog past this address. Cote said that she noticed Charlie hanging from his neck from the tree. Cote said she initially thought he was just joking around. Cote advised that she called his name and he did not respond and he appeared lifeless." - PSO John Stolsonburg


"Heller identified herself to me verbally. She also identified the child/victim as her son, Dennis Charles Wolf... Theresa said that Dennis commonly uses the rope to swing from the tree. Theresa said that Dennis is a normally happy child and had been acting normal all day. She did not think that Dennis would have intentionally hung himself. She said that Dennis had mentioned he was looking forward to going swimming the next day. Theresa asked about our rescue efforts. I explained that we were continuing CPR and that we have to pause sometimes for the AED to assess him. When Theresa's parents arrived I left her in their care and assisted again in rescue efforts." - PSO Ryan Shank


"On 7/26/15 at 2008 hours I was contacted by dispatch on a rescue at 3809 S. Park Street on an accidental hanging. Upon arrival I made contact with Lt. Handlogten and Sgt. Treu who advised known male was found hanging in a tree by his neck unresponsive. Life saving efforts was underway as I arrived on scene. Victim Dennis Wolf was pronounced dead a short time after my arrival on scene. Capt. Ledbetter was contacted and detectives were being called in to investigate the incident." - Lab Tech Terry Thomas


"Canlas described Wolf as having no movement, not gasping, being discolored (yellowish) and not breathing. I asked her to describe to me how Wolf was positioned. Canlas said that the plastic table was positioned under the tree and that Wolf's legs and buttocks were pushed against the table. Canlas said that the table was resting on two legs and was unable to fall over due to Wolf's body weight resting against it. Canlas said that she beleived Wolf's legs were off of the ground." - PSO John Stolsonburg


"The family advised they were parishioners of St. Joseph Church in Kalamazoo. I contacted the church and spoke with Father Mike Hazard who responded to the scene." - PSO Ryan Perez


"Dr. S. Hendren called the time of death of 2035 hours. The child's mother became very distraught and went inside the residence. Other PSOs on scene alerted that the mother had armed herself with a firearm. She immediately placed the weapon down and came back outside. I went inside the residence to conduct a protective sweep of the residence. During the protective sweep I located several long guns inside the residence. The weapons were taken for safekeeping and I turned them over to Lab Tech Thomas on scene." - PSO Brett Bylsma


"After the family was notified of the victim's death, I was advised that the mother of the victim had gone into the house to get a gun. Shortly thereafter, it was announced that the mother was safe and was with Sgt. Treu near the front entrance to the house. Sgt. Juday, PSO Bylsma, PSO Stolsonburg and I performed a protective sweep of the house to make sure there were no injured parties inside and to make sure the guns were located so nobody would harm themselves." - Sgt. Michael Ferguson


"After the child had been pronounced deceased, I overheard an officer yell 'gun' and was told that the child's mother ran inside to get a gun to possibly commit suicide. I began alerting and directing the medics and doctors to move away from the house and take a position of cover in the event a firearm was discharged. After the scene was declared safe, I allowed the medics to go back to their duties. I saw neighbors begin walking towards the house so I decided it would be best to put police line tape at the intersection of Parker and S. Park to prevent neighbors from entering the area." - PSO Emily Kane


"After Wolf was pronounced dead, Theresa Heller ran into the house and locked herself in her bedroom as she grabbed a long gun. After a couple minutes, Heller came out without any weapons and once again broke down in tears. She told me that she didn't know how to use the gun. She also told me that she gave her first child up for adoption and she waited 20 years before having 'Charlie' and he was everything in her life." - Sgt. Michael Treu


"I stood by with Theresa for over an hour and a half while the scene was processed. During that time Theresa continued to imply that she was going to try and kill herself. She never said when or how she was going to do it. She advised she no longer had anything to live for. Scene command was made aware of Theresa's mental condition. The information was passed on to the family so Theresa would not be left alone." - PSO Kelly Pittelkow


"MEDICAL EXAMINER: M.E. Kai Cronin responded to the scene. M.E. Cronin contacted a removal service who responded to the scene." - PSO Ryan Shank


"Medical examiner Kai Cronin arrived on scene and investigated the incident. Cronin used body tag #0076932 after Wolf was placed and secured in the body bag. Cronin advised an autopsy would be conducted at Western Michigan University Forensic Pathology Department with date and time unknown. Wolf was removed from the residence by Daniel Removal Services." - Lab Tech Terry Thomas


"Charlie seemed fine and happy and asked Paul to drop him off at his dad's house but Paul told him he couldn't because he had to go to work. Paul left around 330pm to go to work and was at work when this incident occurred. Charlie was inside the house when Paul left. Paul said that Charlie was a happy, funny kid who did not have any problems with depression, etc and had no recent problems that they knew of. He said he did not believe that Charlie was suicidal... Paul said the rope out front had been there for years, that all the neighborhood kids liked to play on it." - Det. Kristen Cole


"INTERVIEW WITH FRIEND (Calvin C******l): C******l stated he has been a friend of Wolf's for the past few years and last spoke with him on 7/25/15. The only contact between C******l and Wolf at that time was Wolf saying 'hi' as he rode his bicycle past C******l's house... I asked C******l if he noticed anything unusual or different with Wolf in the days leading up to this incident and C******l stated 'no'. C******l explained he commonly played with Wolf and Wolf's demeanor had not changed." - PSO Matthew Bruce


"I asked Cote if she has had interactions with Wolf prior to today and she said yes. Cote advised that Wolf has watched her dog in the past and that he is a sweet child." - PSO John Stolsonburg


"I spoke to Charlie and Rita Heller together in the kitchen of the home. They both said that they live down the street and were close to Charlie and his mom. They both said he was a happy kid, funny and smart with lots of friends. He recently turned 12 yo and had approx 40 kids at the house for his birthday as he was well liked. They said Theresa did not have problems with Charlie and he was not known to be depressed or have any suicidal thoughts." - Det. Kristen Cole


"Detective Dahlinger and Detective Hecht made contact with Wolf and learned that he was aware of his son's death. Wolf had been told by Charlie's mother, Theresa Heller... Wolf feels Charlie's death was an accident and that it couldn't possibly be a suicide. Wolf stated that Charlie didn't have any problems and that he was a happy kid. Wolf recalled Charlie being a little upset when he didn't pick him up as planned on the date of Charlie's death. Wolf described Theresa Heller as a good mother that allowed Wolf to take Charlie whenever he desired... Wolf stated that whenever Theresa Heller couldn't afford something for Charlie, his grandparents would step in and buy him whatever he needed."- Det. Sheila Goodell


"INTERVIEW WITH FRIEND (Delaney M*******n): Delaney described herself as a 'very close' friend to Wolf. Delaney stated Wolf had made a statement to her about how he was 'going through a phase' a couple of weeks ago however Wolf never stated what the phase was. Delaney stated she didn't notice anything unusual or different with Wolf." - PSO Matthew Bruce


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Chapter Sixteen - "What Did the Cops Say?"


2016 has thus far brought us a cool Spring. Some years, Southwest Michigan skips the season altogether, switching the weather from cold and slush to heat and humidity over the course of, say, a weekend. This is not one of those years, though, and we are looking at a week of upper-60's temps with mostly sunshine.

So now would be the time to get any heavy-duty projects off the slate, before we get the warmup, when such jobs become more misery than benefit. With that in mind, I bust the wheel off my Honda to replace the driver's side axle shaft - work that I've been putting off for a while.

You have to get kind of far into the wheel-well to do that. And inside, where the axle meets the transmission, there is this tiny little piece of metal called a C-clip. You need a special pair of pliers to get that clip off - well, you can do it other ways, but ideally you'd like it to go back together, so mangling it isn't a very good option - and I don't have that kind of pliers.

So I'm hunched up in there, like a monkey loving a football, when a heavy finger taps my shoulder. I uncork myself from the vehicle, turn on my heel in the squatting position - and I drop my needle-nose pliers, because there stands Mick the Mechanic. He's come back from The Beyond to tell me I don't have the right tool - and so much more.

"Hey," I exclaim, startled because I know he died last January.

Those won't work, dude. It's a Honda. You gotta have metric needle-nose pliers.

(He always thought that was a good one.)

"Oh, God," I say. "Do you have a pair on you?"

Ha. The question is, Heller, do YOU have a pair? What the hell is going on with your nephew's case?

"It's complicated," I say, because it is. "I'm bangin' on 'em pretty good, though."

Yeah, I read it. 

"They have Internet in the afterlife?"

Of course. We all read your stuff. But you've been fuzzy about the whole thing. Nobody's really sure where this is going. Some of these dummies don't even know what it's about. You have to spell it out or it's nothing but a story.

"What haven't I said?" I ask. Because I think I've pretty well covered it. "Anyway, you're up there, you know what happened. Ask Charlie yourself."

Oh, I know what happened, just like you do, just like your lawyer does, just like your sister does. We all know. But Doctor Miss Murder She Wrote down there at Slab City lied on your family.

"Right," I reply, appreciative that someone could put it into such a nutshell. Mick, however, does not like my answer.

Whattaya mean, 'right'? What's with all this 'make them cry' bullshit, anyway? Why aren't you hitting them harder? Don't make 'em cry. Make 'em pay.

"Make them pay?"

Sue their sorry asses for mental anguish. Go for $50 million, or better, $100 million. That's what I'd do. Make it sting so they don't ever do this same thing to anybody else.

"Well," I explain, "We asked a civil attorney about that, and he told us that the coroner's office has immunity from lawsuits." Mick snorts.

No, they don't.

"I didn't think they did... Anyway, I'm not after their bloody money. I'm out to sink their ship entirely." Mick looked and sounded dubious.

How you gonna do that, Heller?

"I'm going to shade their reputation with so much light and truth that their funding will dry up, their faculty will slink away and they will have no students to speak of. Can't really be a medical school without any students, I figure. Then they can leave my hometown and take their dirty business elsewhere... Valparaiso, I'm thinking."

Mick shakes his head, even though he has seen me do it before. More than once.

It's never gonna happen. They're entrenched.

"Then I'll have fun trying."

Paul, listen. They lied on official paperwork. You can prove it - Christ, you already did. Their paperwork lists three false reasons why Charlie would've killed himself. One, he had a close friend or relative commit suicide by hanging a day or two before. That's a lie. They said he had a crisis the week before, also a lie. And the third thing is just gobbledegook.


Absolutely. So Doctor Mrs. Sweeney Todd used made-up bullshit in order to cut up poor little Charlie. As if your family's suffering wasn't bad enough. 

I sigh. "It's been established. They did it for the money."

No, it hasn't. You've been vague. Why don't you just come out and say that their investigator is a certifiable nut-job with his own suicidal and homicidal tendencies, and that you know who he is because he was friends with Stoltman, and besides, you worked with him at Pizza Hut 20-odd years ago? So you know what a crazy asshole that dude is.

"Well, yeah, plus I found a long report about him online, written by his ex-wife's new husband, who is a federal law enforcement officer. [REDACTED] fired a gun at his wife, did you know that?"

Yep, I knew that. But he's in good with the Portage cops, so the prosecutor took care of him, made sure he could have his guns back.

"Yeah. And there were much worse allegations than that in there. Funny thing is, when I went to look it up again, in the event we might need it if we ever go to court... It was gone. I've published thousands of online articles, Mickster. Do you have any idea how hard it is to make something like that disappear?"

But you had a copy saved. Right? You had a copy saved?

"Sure, we did, it's on thumb drives and email servers and the like, and I even printed off a few copies. I've got all the time in the world to delve into that later."

What did the cops say?

"Ah, see, the next thing I want to do is go through the police reports and quote the many instances in which neighbors were asked about Charlie's demeanor and such, and they all said he was a funny, happy kid who had no issues. That's what the cops reported."

But the coroner went ahead and did you dirty. Twenty years ago, you wouldn't have been writing about it. You'd have gone ahead and done something. I know you.

"We all get older, man."

No, we don't. 

My friend reaches past me with his bear-claw hand and yanks the C-clip out of its stubborn mooring. He hands it to me.

You should be able to get it back in no problem with your metric pliers, there. Sorry I can't do more than that.

"Thanks, man," I say, because Mick always cared more about the gratitude than he did about the money. He stands up, blotting out the sun, and I can tell he has to go back now.

"Say," I ask, "Can you do me one more solid? Can you say hi to the kid for me? Tell him how much we all love him and miss him."

Mick nods.

He knows that. He's just waiting.

"For what?"

To see if you're really the wild, ass-kicking sumbitch Uncle Paul that you always told him you were... Or not.

And, with that, my friend was gone.


pH 5.18.16


NEXT WEEK: Chapter Seventeen - "The Police Reports"

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Chapter Fifteen - Blood Money


(Editor's Note: Given that WMed took over as the de facto coroner for several counties in the region back in 2012, I've decided to turn over the pertinent public data to an out-of-state research specialist, who will crunch the numbers. If any discrepancies exist - with regard to the number of deaths deemed suspicious and/or any correlative cost increases - from before and after WMed's takeover, I'll let you know. I'm just waiting on the stats, is all, so that I can paint a complete picture of all the cash this nonprofit has been raking in... I would remind you that the National Football League, too, is a nonprofit. I'm in no hurry to get that part of the story written; they aren't going anywhere, and neither am I. But this isn't about that.)


Kalamazoo is famous for a good many things, most of them already described in this space. There's more than just our industrial and historical fables. Weird shit happens here, always has, since I was a kid. For instance, we had an Elvis sighting here in the 1980's. He made an appearance at a well-known fast food chain near the campus of WMU - the employees must've thought it was the Burger King himself.

Most recently, our humble city's name ambled across the bottom of all the cable TV news channels' screens, when a fellow named Jason Dalton came unwired and went on a shooting rampage. Amidst picking up fares, he struck like the devil in three different locations, including the Harold Zeigler car dealership on Stadium Drive (where Derek Jeter once worked) and the Cracker Barrel over by Kalamazoo Valley Community College.

For the national viewing audience, though, the media broke it down into less localized terms: It was the Uber Driver Shooter who shot up the Cracker Barrel. Simple as that.


Charlie's father, Dennis, is in some ways a lucky guy. I'm sure he would qualify that, since losing one's only son is bound to make anyone feel about as unfortunate as is humanly possible. The kind of luck he does have, though, is the kind that often makes you the 5th caller on the radio when they're giving away shwag and tickets. He's always listening, he always dials in, and he wins a lot.

On the night of the Uber Driver Shooting, it was his pair of tickets that my nephew Bryan and I used to get into the State Theater to see a night of live comedy featuring Chick McGee, Ralph Harris and the mighty Auggie Smith. Nobody in our family has had much to laugh about since the middle of last summer, so it was a welcome respite in many senses.

Plus, y'know, Bry is all grown up now. He and I can do grown-up stuff. We also took a trip to New York City together, compliments of so much generosity that I can't list it all here. It's what uncles and nephews should do. That evening, I showed him how to get free parking downtown when there's a packed show at the State Theater: You park at Papa Pete's.

The show was great, better than I expected, and part of the ticket package included a meet-and-greet with the talent before the show. We joked about Flint's lead-tainted water, it was great. They were all quite funny. The radio station gave us last-row seats, but that's okay - we were the first ones out of the venue.


Afterward, as we walked down Burdick street back to the car, Jason Dalton cruised through the main artery of Kalamazoo, just a half a mile from us. He was on his way to his next victims. At the dealership, a man and his teenage son were looking at cars under the parking lot lights. Dalton rolled up, got out of his vehicle, and emptied his magazine into both of them. The boy's girlfriend sat silently in the car, daring not to make a sound in response to the horror she had just witnessed.

Dalton then headed out Stadium toward the Cracker Barrel, where he finalized his gory pact with infamy, gunning down two cars full of people in the parking lot. Many of them were senior citizens. All in all, he killed six and gravely wounded two.

The six bodies were at WMed, the news reported, within hours for their obligatory autopsies.


For people who had just been shot to death.

Autopsies that cost the county, at the bare minimum, $2,500 apiece (it has proven problematic, pinpointing precise price points, even with a FOIA request we have been unable to obtain the actual bill that the ME's office sent to Kalamazoo County for the utterly over-the-top work they did on Charlie).

For a little while there, it actually looked like there were seven victims of the Uber Driver Shooter. A 14-year old girl was also shot among the numerous poor souls at Cracker Barrel. She was, in fact, declared dead at the hospital. But that brave girl proved that miracles happen for some families. From the Other Side, she squeezed her mother's hand, and the heroic medical professionals - the ones who are trained to preserve life - brought her back.

She's going to make it, and will endure as a symbol of the kind of hope that seldom arises, but absolutely can and does, from such tragedies sometimes.

Based on my interactions with their bureaucrats et al, I can say I believe the coroner's office may have felt cheated by life out of that one. I can also say I think it's a good thing that girl squeezed her mother's hand... And not somebody else's.

pH 5.15.16


NEXT WEEK: Chapter Sixteen - "What Did the Cops Say?"

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Chapter Fourteen - Just a Glimpse


Let me share a moment with you, not a huge one or anything, just a glimpse at what goes on behind my mask... Thanks.

Yesterday was typical of Michigan in May. It starts out cool but sunny, and then, right about the time it's supposed to get warmed up, the breeze kicks in, the clouds pull their wet, cold, gray blanket up to the sky's chin, and you wait for the darkness and the rain to make their decisions.

At the end of a long work day, Larry and I are hanging out in the garage, swilling down our after-work beers (if you don't water your work ethic, it will shrivel up and die). We talk about the work we've done, and what we have to do tomorrow... Maintenance, repairs, construction and the like.

He looks down at his hands and says, "I gotta go scrub my dirty pig-paws." Mine are no better, so we mosey inside. Larry heads for the kitchen sink and I go straight to the back bathroom.

On the way there, I lean my head around the doorway so I can see what Charlie's doing. And a frozen I-beam of horror, anguish, sadness and fear slams right through the middle of my chest.

For just a moment, I had traveled through time back to May of 2015, when my mind was not occupied by a tragedy that most of us can barely speak of. This time last year, we were wondering what kind of a party to throw for Charlie, whose annual Birthday Bash dovetails nicely with Memorial Day weekend on most years.

Yep. Charlie had a birthday party every year of his life... How many of you can say that?

My fried mind had somehow allowed itself to forget that he was gone. In that one instant, he was alive and well and sitting in front of a screen with his favorite meal, pepperoni and milk, growing warm on the table next to him...

And then the moment ended. I'm not sure if I will have any more moments like that one again. I'm not sure if I want anymore moments like that one again. I'm not sure.

Either way, today we go back to work. Just a glimpse of the new typical Michigan in May.

pH 5.1o.16


NEXT WEEK: Chapter 15 - "Blood Money?"

Monday, May 9, 2016

Chapter Thirteen - More Like Guidelines


Like all boys his age, Charlie loved the movies. He wasn't even genre-centric about it; he loved 'em all. Sci-Fi, check. Horror, oh yes. Adventure, absolutely. Comedy, couldn't get enough. So when something came along that sort of combined all of those elements, namely Pirates of the Caribbean, it was a film that he could watch again and again without ever getting tired of it.

As much as he enjoyed the characters Captain Jack Sparrow and Will Turner (played by Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom, respectively), it was the undead Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) that amused him the most, especially when he told Elizabeth Turner (Kiera Knightley) that the Pirates Code wasn't really a code "so much as guidelines".

Of course, that only reinforced a notion that had already beset the boy - he knew that rules were meant not to be broken, but that didn't mean there wasn't some room to bend them here and there. As he would have grown older, such nuance would have served him well in today's world - well, that, and good looks and charm and brains. Charlie was one of those kids who sort of combines all of those elements, too.

With that in mind, I would like to peruse WMed's official "Code of Professional Conduct", a very well-designed .pdf I found lying around on the World Wide Web. As you read these laughers, and compare them to the behavior that has already been displayed by these... people, please do keep in mind that the 13 pages' worth of stuff I'm cutting and pasting from is, in fact, more like guidelines. It was updated in December of 2014.


We achieve excellence by: 
· Promoting innovation and lifelong learning 
· Acting with integrity and professionalism 
· Demonstrating leadership, teamwork and collaboration 
· Showing compassion for all, and 
· Valuing inclusiveness and diversity 

(Oh, okay. Teamwork, I've seen that amongst the Kalamazoo County Medical Examiner's Office, for sure. Integrity and professionalism - uh, guidelines. Compassion... Not seeing it. Inclusiveness and diversity, maybe, if they screw over everyone else as bad as they screwed over the Heller and Wolf families. But let's move on.)


The Code of Professional Conduct applies to all conduct on the premises of the medical school and when participating in professional, educational, or social activities sponsored by or associated with the medical school, as well as any activity that may adversely reflect on the medical school or show an individual to be unfit for participation with the medical school. 

The medical school may take disciplinary or academic actions for an on- or off-campus conduct. 

(Under different circumstances, the above sentences would have me laughing until snot burst out of my nose. Sorry for the visual, but it's true.)


Retaliation or reprisals against a person who, in good faith, reports or provides information during an investigation is prohibited and may result in separate academic or corrective action.

(I'm going to assume that this paragraph was redacted in the copy of the Code of Professional Conduct that was provided to non-Compliance Officer Tom Zavitz, who covered himself in something other than glory when he tried to get Dean Hal Jensen to take legal action against Yours Truly.)


Standards and Behaviors 
Honesty and Integrity 
· Being truthful in communication with others in personal communication, representation and documentation of patient’s findings, presentations, research, and all other aspects of interactions 
· Being fair 
· Keeping one’s word and following through 
· Consistently demonstrating the highest standards of behavior and refusing to compromise these professional standards and one’s personal integrity 

(These are just meaningless words, just nuggets of garbage dribbling from the lips of the ivory-towered elite. They amount to nothing.)


· Maintaining the confidentiality of patient information 
· Admitting errors 
· Accepting responsibility 
· Not intentionally misleading others or promoting oneself at another’s expense 

(Trustworthiness? I've met snakes in the desert that I'd trust more than this organized racket.)


Interpersonal Relationships 
· Being thoughtful and professional when interacting with patients and their families 

(Or, if it's about that thing from last summer, just cover your eyes and maybe they'll disappear.)


The Code of Professional Conduct prohibits conduct by an individual or group that: 
· Demonstrates disregard for any person or persons 
· Threatens the health, safety, well-being, or property of any individual or group 
· Adversely affects the pursuit of medical school objectives 
· Adversely reflects on the medical school community 

(Are you seeing a pattern here, Dear Reader?)


Includes, but is not limited to: 
· Furnishing false information to any official 
· Forgery, alteration, or misuse of any document, record, account, or computer account 
· Representing or acting as an agent of another individual or entity without authorization 

(This gem was buried on the bottom of page nine.)


I suppose you get the idea. WMed's guidelines were held in no regard whatever by people like Joyce DeJong (who has conducted thousands of autopsies), someone who has yet to direct a single word of communication to the bereaved family members of the boy upon whom she performed an invasive and unnecessary autopsy, which can be neither justified nor rectified at this point.

Her colleague, Investigator JoAnne Catania, has responded to me with exactly one email, which contained no manner of truth in it - after I described to her my dismay that she had ignored my sister's plea for a status update on their coverup - er, sorry, investigation, she sent back only this:

"I have been in communication with Mrs. Heller's attorney."

Well, that's nearly true, in the sense that she had, in fact, met him once. But I specifically asked about a request (the one that went ignored) from nine days previous. I was very clear about it, and when I asked said attorney if WMed had contacted him since my pointedly referenced time frame, the attorney said no. So the one time she bothered to wave me off, it was with what amounts to a lie.

Thus, everything that Lyin' Jo Catania (if I may channel my inner Trump) has ever expressed to me has been dishonest. In my experience, the ME Investigator assigned to our case is essentially a pathological liar (everything she told me was false in nature and intent). And who better than a pathological liar to cover up for a rogue pathologist?

pH 5.o9.16


NEXT WEEK: Chapter Fourteen - No title yet, but it should be entertaining... We're gonna take a look at WMed's books. You know. Their finances.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Chapter Twelve - Terrible Treatment


Blogging can be fun, and rewarding, even if it does get you sued out of existence once in a while. But the real money is in script writing. Y'know, for the movies. Hollywood. In order to write for the pictures, though, you have to be a member in good standing of the Screen Writer's Guild. That, in general, lends itself to living in the Los Angeles area, which is an overcrowded shithole that has plenty of well-paying jobs and decent weather year-round. Go figure.

Still, I might as well pitch this thing over to my buddies out West, see if their people can't sell it... It's a courtroom drama.


In The Balance

Copyright Paul F. Heller 2016



RALPH FUELLE: The Plaintiff's Attorney
WILLARD FILLMORE: The Presiding Judge
CLIFF LOWMAN: The Defense Witness, an M.E. Investigator
RICO STYLES: The Defense's Attorney
CANDY SWEET: The Stenographer
RANDY: The Bailiff



SETTING: A typical, contemporary American courtroom. Ceiling fans whir almost silently above. The attorneys' papers are splayed out across their respective desks before the bench.  As Bumper Music fades, we see Investigator Cliff Lowman being sworn in by Randy the Bailiff while Stenographer Sweet transcribes. Presiding Judge Willard Fillmore is settling into his seat. 


JUDGE WILLARD FILLMORE:  Jurors, members of the court, those of you in the gallery, please be seated - not you, Randy - as our proceedings begin. I know you've read my instructions and been sworn in. Opening statements have already been submitted to you in writing, so we'll  start with you, Mr. Fuelle.

PLAINTIFF'S ATTORNEY RALPH FUELLE:  Thank you, Your Honor, members of the jury, opposing Counsel. I'd like to call, as my first witness, Investigator Cliff Lowman of the County Medical Examiner's Office.

(INVESTIGATOR CLIFF LOWMAN takes a seat in the box next to the bench as FUELLE stands up, stretches slightly and picks up a yellow legal pad in one hand and a silver Tornado pen in the other.)

FUELLE:  Mr. Lowman, would you please state your name for the record?

DEFENSE ATTORNEY RICO STYLES: Objection, Your Honor. The witness isn't on trial today. He doesn't have to state his name. His name is already listed in the pertinent court documents and filings, and the witness's identity is already known to Counsel.

JUDGE FILLMORE:  Objection sustained.

STYLES:  Thank you, You Honor.

FUELLE:  Very well. Mr. Lowman... Have you and I ever worked together before, in the food service industry?

STYLES (stands up):  Objection, Your Honor. The witness is perfectly entitled not to answer that question, just based on his Fifth Amendment privileges. It might well be an incriminating statement, admitting that he knows Counsel, given what we know about him.


FUELLE (shrugging):  Mr. Lowman, the matter at hand in this case has to do with erroneous reports, or false, if you --

STYLES:  I object, Your Honor. Those are two completely different words. It's like calling an apple an orange. Completely different definitions.

FUELLE (Holding up a thick book in one hand):  Your Honor, in Roget's Thesaurus, the words 'false' and 'erroneous' are listed as synonyms for one another. See Roget v Webster, 1852.

JUDGE FILLMORE:  Overruled. Proceed, Mr. Fuelle.

(STYLES scribbles furiously on a legal pad with his Bic Biro Medium Point)

FUELLE:  So, Mr. Lowman, in this official court document that you generated, it states three reasons for suicide being the determination as the cause of death of a pre-teen boy, the subject of this case. However, as the evidence clearly demonstrates --

STYLES:  Your Honor, I object. No public interest can possibly be served by reciting any information from any public record in such a sensitive environment as a public courtroom. It's unheard of in this day and age.

FUELLE:  Your Honor, if it pleases the Court, these public documents were obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, they cost us $18.21 and are critical to our claim that the stated cause of death is erroneous, i.e. false, and we are requesting a change in order to remove this unfair conviction of a happy, healthy, beloved child's reputation, and that of his family.

JUDGE FILLMORE:  The objection is overruled. Proceed.


FUELLE (as he strolls toward the witness box):  Mr. Lowman, would you agree that the report that you submitted in regards to this case is what led the Medical Examiner to conclude suicide as the cause of death?

STYLES:  Objection.  My client doesn't have to "agree" with anything Counsel says.

JUDGE FILLMORE (eyebrows arched):  Your client?

STYLES (flustered):  Uh, I... The witness, I meant to say, of course. I misspoke.

JUDGE FILLMORE (shaking his head):  Sustained. Plaintiff may proceed.

FUELLE (looking over his glasses at the witness):  Mr. Lowman, the primary reason listed among  "Suicide Circumstances" in your office's report says, "Recent suicide of friend/family". If you read it further, you'll see that it includes the statement, "by hanging". Could you please --

STYLES:  I strenuously object, Your Honor. We've already closed the books on this one. It's a matter of public record, requiring no further justification. People just can't accept the truth sometimes, okay? We get that... And if Counsel wants to go fishing, he can do so in the oceans of public records that are his disposal. The witness isn't the Rand-McNally Atlas.

JUDGE FILLMORE: Would both Counsels please approach the bench?

(CANDY SWEET pulls out her iPhone and starts texting someone. RANDY shifts uncomfortable in the pair of shoes he's owned for far too long, the only nice pair he has. STYLES and FUELLE approach the bench, where JUDGE FILLMORE is leaning over. For his part, LOWMAN stares dispassionately at his fingernails in the witness box.)

JUDGE FILLMORE:  All right, you two. What kind of jurisprudential jiggery-pokery are you trying to pull in my courtroom?

STYLES:  Judge, he's totally badgering the witness, plainly. He's demanding answers and stuff.

FUELLE (mildly gesticulating):  Your Honor, we're trying to get this mute to talk. You know Clarence Thomas; you know how hard it can be.

STYLES (tartly):  My client can talk, thank you very much. I'm sorry - my witness. The witness.

FUELLE:  Then why won't you let him demonstrate it?

JUDGE FILLMORE:  Gentlemen... Let's move the ball here.

(The attorneys return to their tables as RANDY warms up JUDGE FILLMORE's coffee)

FUELLE:  Investigator Lowman, can you please tell the court who the alleged person was, the friend-slash-family member of the deceased, who had committed suicide in the days leading up to this accidental death, as is stated in your report? The identity of that person, please?

STYLES (placing one hand on his lower abdomen):  Your Honor, move to recess... I have to urgently use the restroom.

CANDY SWEET (while typing): Oh, my God.

FUELLE:  I believe him, Your Honor.

JUDGE FILLMORE:  Motion denied, Mr. Styles. Get over it. Please proceed, Mr. Fuelle!

FUELLE:  Thank you, Judge. So, who was it, Mr. Lowman? Do you have a name? A case number? I mean, you work for the Medical Examiner's Office, which would have had to conduct an autopsy on any body that came in under such suspicious circumstances as you described, isn't that correct?

STYLES:  Objection! He obviously can't recall, Your Honor.


FUELLE:  Your Honor, we ask that the witness be compelled to answer this question. Can I at least explain to the jury that no Lexis-Nexis search, no media outlet database anywhere in the country, no anecdotal evidence of any kind has ever shown any 12-year old boy anywhere to have --

JUDGE FILLMORE (hammering with his gavel and raising his voice): My ruling stands! Objection sustained.

FUELLE (bitterly):  Fine. Let the record show that, given ample opportunity, the witness did not attempt to explain himself in any manner.

(JUDGE FILLMORE frowns. CANDY's nails clatter against the keys as she stenographs furiously)

FUELLE:  Moving along, Mr. Lowman, your second listed "Suicide Circumstance" states as a reason for your errant belief --

STYLES:  Objection.


FUELLE:  Your second reason for your (ahem) belief, that this tragic accident was an intentionally self-inflicted death, is that the deceased had a "crisis in past 1 week". Please explain to the court what that 'crisis' entailed.

STYLES:  I object.

(Awkward silence)


STYLES:  I... I just... Object.

(JUDGE FILLMORE glances over at RANDY, who affixes and maintains an angry glare in STYLES' direction)

FUELLE:  What was the nature of the alleged crisis, Investigator? Who are the other principals who were involved in it? What evidence do you have as to the fact that any crisis existed at all? For that matter, does your office even have an actual legal definition of the word "crisis", and if it does, did you adhere to it in this instance?

STYLES:  Objection, Your Honor, the witness is not responsible for reading, aloud or in silence, any or all of his employer's legal definitions. He doesn't make the rules.

FUELLE (turning toward STYLES):  Well, then, you do it, Rico.

STYLES: And he can only answer one question at a time.

JUDGE FILLMORE (gaveling): Order in the court!

STYLES:  Your Honor, the plaintiff has no right to pillory this person, to pepper him with damning questions in front of people whom he does not know. It would reflect badly on the witness's work as a professional, on his profession itself, indeed on his very employer, if he had to answer such questions on record.

FUELLE:  Your Honor, I concur with most of Counsel's statement.

JUDGE FILLMORE (impatiently):  Objection sustained. Try to gain some traction, Mr. Fuelle.

FUELLE:  Yes, Your Honor, I'm definitely trying to... Mr. Lowman, please explain your third attempt at a "Suicide Circumstance", the part in which you say there were "other relationship problems." What were they exactly?

STYLES:  I object. He can't just stand there and ask the witness to explain everything, for crying out loud. It's unduly burdensome.

FUELLE:  Your Honor, can you at least have the witness stick his tongue out at Candy, or Randy, whoever, just so the Court can ascertain for a fact that he has one?

STYLES:  Objection! Calls for speculation.

JUDGE FILLMORE:  Sustained. Wrap it up, Mr. Fuelle. Last chance.

FUELLE (slamming his legal pad down on the desk):  Okay, then... Mr. Lowman, do you still beat your wife?

CLIFF LOWMAN (leaping to his feet):  WHAT? How the Hell did you find out about that?


pH 5.o3.MMXVI
NEXT WEEK: Chapter Thirteen - "More Like Guidelines"

Monday, May 2, 2016

Chapter Eleven - The Boxer


I have this recurring dream. Well, sort of recurring. The scenario is the same each time - I'm a boxer, and the well-dressed, neatly-coiffed ring announcer is about to introduce the contestants. The thing that's different each time is my opponent across the ring.

This time, it's a direct descendant of Neanderthal Man. Lupine face, slicked-back graying hair... Looks a lot like Governor Rick Snyder, but I know it's not him because he would never, ever, get in the ring with me. (It's beneath him.) I actually have no idea who this pug is until the announcer tells me.

"In the red corner, we have our challenger, wearing the yellow trunks with the yellow trim, the 147th ranked fighter in the world. He has a record of 14 wins, five by knockout, 19 defeats and one disqualification. Weighing in at 191 pounds, from Mount Pleasant, Michigan, please welcome... Dom Rabbits!"

There is a smattering of boos mixed with a few cackles of wicked laughter. A handful of folks in the balcony clap understandingly; his relatives. It's this way in every bout, because in my dreams, I am the crowd favorite.

"AND IN THE BLUE CORNER," the announcer goes, "Wearing the green trunks with the gold trim," the crowd excitement accelerates as they begin cheering. "Weighing in at 189 pounds, with a record of 3,418 victories and ZERO losses, ladies and gentlemen, the Undisputed, Undefeated Cruiserweight Champion of the WOOOOORRRLLLD... From Kalamazoo, Michigan... Paul 'The Frenzy' Heller!"

My corner woman, who is gorgeous, rubs my arms and says, "Go get him, baby." I nod.  Before heading to the center of the ring to meet with the referee (a tiny little old man with one glass eye and a patch over the other) to get the standard instructions, I give the crowd about two and a half beats of the River Dance. They love that.

Once the bell rings, everything happens in slow motion, as it does in every dream bout. I have no idea what my opponent will do because I never watch film on the other guy. It doesn't matter what he does if I do my job the right way.

In the dream, I can hear the broadcaster's voice in my ears as we approach each other. "Rabbits closes in on the champ. He circles to Heller's left, wary of that big right hand. Heller flicks a left jab, flicks it again, looking for his range... Rabbits comes in with the - Oh, man."

Rabbits uncorks a big one, everything he's got it looks like, but I move out of the way long before his telegram ever arrives. He's put so much behind it that his arm stretches and elongates, like Plastic Man's arm, and his torso twists like a stick of gum. He hits himself so hard that one of his tassled loafers comes right off. It seems like a smaller than normal shoe to me, for some reason, as though a man shouldn't have feet that small.

The end result is mortifying. His right fist meets his face just above the scapula on the passenger side. He hits the canvas as if thrown from a building.

The referee runs over and starts counting him out while I River Dance over to a neutral corner. I look over at my corner woman, who gives me a bemused shrug. Rabbits isn't moving at all. Looks like another KO... After the ref says "Ten!" I go over to my corner and face the center of the ring, my gold Everlast gloves raised above my sweatless head.

I feel my corner woman's arms slip around my waist from behind. She murmurs in my ear, "You've still got it, Champ." I smirk. God, is she beautiful... I hear the crowd lowing in discontent over the price of tickets as they leave their seats... How they didn't get their money's worth again. Whatever.

The official ring doctor is called in to attend to Rabbits. He is a tall fellow, heavyset, wearing a blood-red shirt. His name badge says only, 'K. Cronin'. He checks Rabbits for vital signs, shakes his head, and motions to a couple of guys in white jump suits. Their skin has the orange pallor of cheap spray-tan. They climb into the ring and start unrolling a blue tarp next to the fallen fighter.

The doctor comes over to my corner. In a hushed tone, he says, "Okay, listen. He's not going to make it. But it isn't your fault."

"I know that," I say. "I never touched him. Besides, this falls under the auspices of the Michigan Boxing Commission." He sighs, exasperated. My corner woman is rubbing a soothing mint oil onto my chiseled trapezius muscles.

"That's not what I'm saying. What I mean is, this was a death by violence, and we're going to have to rule it a deliberate suicide. We know that he had a personal crisis in the week before, and other relationship problems as well. But most of all, we suspect that he did this to himself intentionally due to the fact that, within the past couple of days, he had a close friend or relative who also died... By punching himself to death."

Through my gritted teeth, as I use them to tug impatiently at the laces on my gloves, I say, "No shit? Wow. That's unbelievable."

The doc says, "I know, right?" And then everything freezes, as if the universe had just hit the big Pause button on its remote control. I look at the bagged-up Rabbits, being wheeled away down the aisle. I see the crowd shuffling for the exits. I notice the one tassled loafer, still sitting there on the canvas, like it's lost.

I focus on the ring doctor. On his posture. His hair. The way his glasses rest on his nose. I look at his name badge again.

"Cronin?" I say. But he is in the frame of a still photograph. He can't answer.

"Kai Cronin?" Suddenly, I feel as though I'm the one who got his block knocked off, and I am vaulted out of my sleep back into the real world.

"From Pizza Hut?"

pH 5.o2.16


NEXT WEEK: Chapter Twelve - "Terrible Treatment"

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Chapter Ten - Alphabetical Order


Flashback to April 1, 1989. Think big hair. Sunglasses at night. Whitesnake on cassette. My ride is a fern-silver Camaro Z-28 with T-tops. Life is good. Mick and I (among others, including his bride-to-be, Mary) are all cohabiting a two-bedroom apartment near the WMU campus, because it's just cheaper to live that way.

It's very early in the morning, and the telephone on the nightstand next to my head rings. Obnoxious: My phone is made out of shiny golden plastic, and it is actually shaped like a sports car.

"Mnmnnn..." I say, "Hello?"

It's Jamie Houston, another of my boyhood best friends. When I was in third grade, the Houstons moved into the house two doors up from us. He wound up to be, literally, a giant of a man, standing 6'8" tall, built like a Sequoia. But I still see him as he was on that first day we met, the tall, gangly kid who came riding down to my house on his banana-seat bicycle, wearing (for reasons even he cannot clarify) a karate gi.

"Hell-man," his voice comes through the receiver with the whale-tail spoiler, "Are you sitting down?" I inform him that I am in fact lying down.

He says, "Good, 'cause I got some bad news, man." A pause. "Brady Gallagher died in a car accident last night."

"April Fool," I mumble. Hoping to God. That big man's voice cracks as he replies, "Oh, man. I wish..."

I'm 21 years old. Not even four months into my official drinking career.


It is impossible to understand Charlie's story without knowing certain things about Kalamazoo, Michigan. Until the late 1960s, this place was one link in a long chain of industrial cities that powered the postwar American economy. Tree-lined streets, verdant meadows, lakes and streams, ranch homes... This was the home of Gibson Guitars, Shakespeare Rod and Reel, Checker Motors, Statler Brick, James River Paper, many others. We even had a General Motors plant here.

That's all gone now. Now we're a college town is all, with Western and Kalamazoo College. We have Pfizer in Portage (Big Pharma). There's still Shakespeare's Bar downtown. Our more reliable employers are the two hospitals, a few plastics factories and a med-tech company named Stryker. The rest of us mostly work, or don't work, in the service industry.

When you think about what happened here, what should have happened, what didn't happen, you understand that this town is no stranger to heartbreak. You could ask the Gallaghers, except that you can't.

Some years after Brady died in that rollover during his sophomore year at the University of Michigan (he was a passenger), his little brother Patrick ended his own life. He really loved his big brother, I remember that much about him. Not long after that, unable to bear the weight of misery, their mother also ended hers.

That's how it often goes when a young person dies in a terrible accident. The other dominoes tend to fall.

I knew Brady from Loy Norrix High School. We were in Drama and Forensics classes together, along with another of our wise-ass friends, Milt Houghtaling. We were somewhat inseparable due to the phenomenon of alphabetical seating - Gallagher, Heller, Houghtaling.

Jamie knew Brady even better than I did. He was naturally funny, as in he didn't ever really try to be, he just was. We hung out a couple of times in the year after I graduated. Then we all went off to do our things. Not boys anymore, young men, off to our futures, whatever they might be, however long they might last.


Fast-forward to November, 2006. I have received an invitation to my high school's 20th reunion. They're doing it at Thanksgiving, at the Radisson downtown. I had to climb all the way to the top of Heller Mountain to write a column about it.

That's just stupid, I say. I'm not coming up to the Hinterlands in late November, not when I could be golfing for the entirety of the four-day weekend. Holiday travel isn't any fun. Besides, they included a list of people who they had been unable to locate, and they of course asked if anyone could provide info on their whereabouts.

Scanning that ledger of names, I wrote, confirmed my decision to skip it. Most of the people on the Missing Persons list were the only ones I would want to see anyway, I said. If Jamie Breyfogel isn't going to be there, if big Jim McAnaw isn't, if Milt Houghtaling isn't, then the only ones who would be in attendance were mostly people I didn't know or like anyway.

I published that. It was one of the lesser-visited pieces out of the thousands I wrote back in that bygone era, from the comfort of my Biltmore-area home with the little rock fountain that burbled into the swimming pool all day, back when the economy was flush with equity-loan money. My ride was a late model Mustang convertible. Life was good.

A couple of days after that one went up, though, I got an email from another Knight from the Class of '86, Lori Mackey. Everybody liked her - especially Milt; they would go on to be engaged later, but it didn't work out.

Lori, who I'd not seen or heard from in 20 years, told me that she was not going to the reunion, either. Nor would Milt... Because he had died just a few weeks before. Whatever the reason, however it happened, he shot himself on Halloween.

You know he wouldn't have gone anyway, she told me. Milt was always too cool for school.

Gallagher. Heller. Houghtaling.

Every year, a $2,500 scholarship goes out in Brady and Patrick Gallagher's names to an outstanding senior at Loy Norrix High School. That amount would represent a reduction, of course, in the college tuition obligations of the Kalamazoo Promise.

pH 5.o1.16

Next Week: Chapter Eleven - "The Boxer"