By Pete Tucker
Part One – The Crew
Among the farmers of Sussex County, Joe Pansenhagen was well-liked. How could he not be? It didn’t matter if a man milked cows, finished beef, raised hogs or just grew crops. Sooner or later, they all needed Joe! Even poultry men and shepherds looked to Joe to do a job that they would rather not. Better to give the work to someone who does it every day.
Joe ran the local abattoir. He jokingly slung that word around. It made an inglorious profession sound quite exalted, he thought! It also made for a good deal of levity. Joe liked levity and that’s what people liked about him.
It was 1977. Five or six years ago when Joe bought the business and the real estate, he hung a new shingle at the mouth of the drive way that lead to the slaughterhouse. It read:
Pansenhagen and Sons, Abattoir
The property had two large buildings. Most of the space in the slaughterhouse building was occupied by holding pens where livestock awaited tomorrow’s reckoning. The other building, separated several hundred feet from the first, was the butcher shop. It was in that building where Joe and his small crew of meat cutters and wrappers spent spent most of each working week.
Joe knew that changing the name of his new venture might cause confusion. What was this French word? But, the venture wasn’t new. He was just the new owner. Farmers had known where his place was for years and years. He had already sent a letter to all of the past customers, anyway. The addresses, of course, had been provided by the previous owner.
Indeed, those customers were loyal! They had scratched their heads a little bit over the abattoir thing, but they had soon found out that Pansenhagen did better work than the guy before. Joe was brutally honest, as well. His customers picked up on that. In fact, honesty had become the most important asset of his business.
A farmer may have nurtured for two years, from birth to slaughter, bringing his cattle to market. Of course, he sought assurance that the neat little packages that he was getting back were the same beef that went live to the abattoir! Why wouldn’t they be? Well, the custom meat processing industry was fraught with mostly unverifiable stories of bait and switch!
Those little rumors didn’t stand a chance when someone was dealing with Joe Pansenhagen. There was really no good reason to do that anyway. But Joe was meticulously forthright with his customers on the subject. Whatever his customers brought to him was what they got back. End of story! A creed to that effect was framed right there in the shop.
The business was simple; no need for shenanigans in the first place. Farmers raised livestock to put in their freezers, or maybe neighbor’s freezers. They needed somebody with the knowhow, with the equipment and facility to do the job. Now and then, there was a farmer who professed capability to do this work himself. Sometimes they could, but, interestingly that same farmer would eventually come back to Joe Pansenhagen. Of course, that may have had to do with the fact that this was brutally tough work!
Joe was always happy to invite customers to the shop to watch the whole process of their animal being butchered. They much enjoyed that. Surely it was educational. It also fomented the credibility that Joe was constantly seeking to foster. Further, it was a social event, if the reader might fathom same in a butcher shop!
Joe was an altogether affable sort. His right hand man in the shop, Jim Lindermann, had a devilish sense of humor. So, between the two, these customer visitations could become jocular occasions! It was a win/win. Customers went home satisfied and thoroughly entertained. Who knew? All of this in a butcher shop!
Customers kept coming back for a couple of reasons. Plain and simple, Joe had a good crew that consistently did quality work. Jim Lindermann had a dark side, but that never got in the way of his work. In fact, Joe much appreciated the style with which Jim interacted with customers. Joe thought that Jim was as good at it as he was.
Lindermann had picked up a bit of a habit that he nicely kept to himself, but amphetamines helped him get through the day. He found “speed” especially necessary on slaughter days. They were rigorous, as were the days back in the Son Tinh district of South Vietnam in 1968. Jim had spent some dismal days there. Now, eight years later, his Vietnam habit stayed with him.
Just like his habit, Jim kept those days to himself. They were painful! No one needed to know about My Lai, but Jim would occasionally muse to himself in the slaughterhouse. This was ironic! He was a butcher because he enjoyed cutting meat. It put a roof over his head.
To think that he used to slaughter in Vietnam; a whole different kind, in much greater numbers! But, no one needed to know about that, either.
Pansenhagen’s meat wrapper had just quit. It was an amicable departure, but the poor lady was getting older and couldn’t keep the pace anymore. To replace her, Joe’s wife, Lydia, had stepped in to do the job.
Lydia could keep up, but let all know that the arrangement with her husband was temporary! She was good natured about it, but had no designs on this being her career. Lydia would be happy to train a new wrapper, if Joe could find one.
Rounding out the crew was Ross Halder. Ross was an apprentice, but under the close guidance of both Joe and Jim Lindermann. He was a tough read. A local Sussex County boy, age 20 and not all that mature. His work ethic was lukewarm, not a quality that would auger to his favor in this business.
Ross was from a broken home that apparently troubled him. Joe and Jim had their work cut out with Ross Halder.
How Ross would fare over the long haul at Pansenhagen’s was still an open question. For all Joe knew, Ross could be gone tomorrow. His personality was on the quirky side. Was he blending well with the job? That seemed to depend on what day it was!
Joe had two sons that he hoped might someday be involved with the business. They were young yet, but seemed to be chips off the old block from a personality standpoint. As one might surmise, however, this business wasn’t for everyone.
Time would tell if Joe Jr. and Roy would measure up when it came time fill the offal cart! Eviscerating wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Joe accepted that.
Part Two – Aphis
It was Monday. Inspector John Lajchrzak awoke at 4:30. This was not his favorite day of the week, not just because it was Monday! John lived in a fairly dismal apartment on the edge of Newark, N.J., but this morning he had to drive all the way up past Sparta to his job. It was snowing. It was a long haul. Monday was slaughter day at Pansenhagen’s.
John Lajchrzak worked for the United States Department of Agriculture, APHIS, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. John was a meat inspector, a twenty two year veteran. He had three more years to go before he could retire and he was already counting the days! Each day he became just a little more crotchety.
His function at Pansenhagen’s was of dubious value. He knew that. Surely Joe knew that, but there were rules of the trade. Players in the industry had to follow the rules, plain and simple. Joe and Jim both knew the abnormalities that the inspector was looking for in the first place. They very rarely were found at this facility, anyway.
At this time, the big hot button for APHIS was the use of D.E.S. in cattle. A growth hormone in cattle feed, Diethylstilbestrol was the big no-no of the day. Joe and Jim would try to poke fun at Inspector Lajchrzak over D.E.S., something to the effect that if a grown man ate D.E.S.- laced beef, he’d turn into the Incredible Hulk!
Inspector Lajchrzak was not easily humored. Seldom would one get a reaction. He probably didn’t know who the Incredible Hulk was, anyway. More likely, his gruffness stemmed from a stark childhood in his native Poland.
He had first made his way to the states in his late teens. This morning’s snow was reminding him of his grim boyhood, a stone’s throw from the Lithuania border in northern Poland. Lajchrzak never lost his Polish accent.
Lajchrzak had long had the suspicion that the USDA was seeking his early retirement.
Obviously, slaughterhouse duty wasn’t anything that motivated a seasoned employee to strive toward notable achievement with APHIS, especially up here in the boondocks of Sussex County at a very small operation.
So, Lajchrzak was thus destined to stand there the day long to gloat over the occasional heap of viscera. It took way too long to get up here in the first place! This duty about made him a little bitter. Enough so to engender his early retirement? Not so far.
So what did the U.S.D.A. do to curtail the use of Diethylstilbestrol? The process had to have instilled fear into the heart of every cattleman, that, of course, said facetiously! They had to sign a piece of paper. Lajchrzak called it a cer- teef eefeecate.
That’s right. The owner of each animal delivered to Pansenhagen’s had to sign a certeeficate to the effect that the animal had never consumed D.E.S. Did the U.S.D.A. seek to verify anything beyond that? Probably not. Did Inspector Lajchrzak care? Certainly not, but those certeeficates he was serious about keeping in order and properly arranged, almost as though his retirement depended on it!
Now near work, Lajchrzak’s car skidded off the road. A little ice covered with fresh snow is a treacherous combination. Lajchrzak, of course, knew that. He had avoided that very peril a hundred times, but this time it got him! There he sat, unharmed, but a death grip on the steering wheel. The car’s angle didn’t appear to be too severe. Maybe he could back up right onto the road.
The first try in reverse retrieved a few feet before John’s wheels started to slip. Back to drive, same thing. Reverse again, worse still. Lajchrzak knew that he couldn’t repeat that too many times before he’d wear a rut that would never allow him to escape. So there he sat. With any luck, a passer by might stop to lend him a push.
It was not a heavily traveled road. Surely somebody would happen by sooner or later. But, then, this was the back country of Sussex County! Who knew? John got out of the car to survey the situation. If he was standing right next to the car when someone drove by, certainly they would stop to help, Lajchrzak reasoned.
Now it was really snowing ! To avoid getting covered, John stepped back into his car. Just as he did, a car approached. John re-opened his door just as the car neared. He was able to see the car in his rear-view mirror. It’s wipers were on, but the car just kept on going. He had been able to see that a woman was driving, but she just kept right on going!
“Borgia moi! What the hell was the matter with that idiot woman?” Lajchrzak fumed. “Couldn’t she at least offer to go get help? She could see that I needed it! Worthless cow!”
There sat Lajchrzak as the snow continued to dump. He contemplated. He fumed.
“What the hell is the matter with people, especially women? If she was in the same situation, wouldn’t she expect me to stop and help? The damned cow!”
Another car stopped! A fellow in a suit got out. Lajchrzak railed to him about the last passer-by, but the gentleman cut him short.
“I’m in a bit of a hurry, my man. If we’re going to do this, we gotta get to it.”
Lajchrzak gladly acquiesced. Hey, this guy didn’t seem to mind if he got his suit dirty! This was suddenly turning into Lajchrzak’s lucky day! Turned out, it didn’t take a whole bunch of heft to free John’s car. The kind gentleman only got one pant leg Qmuddied and a mouthful of dirt from a spinning tire. The two shook hands and Inspector Lajchrzak was on his way.
The inspector hobbled into Pansenhagen’s slaughterhouse, an hour and twenty minutes after starting time. One carcass was already on the rail. The offal of the second was waiting for inspection in the tray.
“This won’t do”, Lajchrzak admonished.
Joe, already POed that he should have to be concerned about this in the first place, was already locked and loaded.
“Look, John! I can’t help it if you can’t get to work on time! The offal from the first kill is out in the bin outside. If you want to go stick your head in there and have a look, be my guest. The second tray has already held up the works. If you don’t get your apron on in a hurry, we’ll slide that in the bin, too. And, for your information, they were both clean, anyway.”
Lajchrzak cowered. This was the first time that Joe had ever unloaded on him in such a manner.
“Continue”, he said. “Don’t let me delay you!”
The snow tapered off. The balance of he day proceeded without incident. What would the net result of Lajchrzak having missed the day’s first inspection? The answer to that question was unspoken. The world would go on. So much for APHIS!
Part Three – Professor Joe, Professor Jim
Out of the blue, Joe was contacted by a woman from the Sussex County Adult Education program. She had an idea that she wished to discuss with him. Joe was all ears.
How about a short course that instructed residents on how beef was butchered? The various cuts, the steaks, the roasts, what gets used for ground meat; details that most folks know little about. Further, how about if the course was taught by Joe Pansenhagen? Payment would be in the form of goodwill gleaned by Joe’s business.
“I’ll do that!” Joe enthused. “When would you like to offer the course? It would be perfect to do this with my right hand man, Jim Lindermann.”
The Adult Ed. lady and Joe went on to discuss details about a course to take place next fall. By their conversation’s end, they had pretty much mapped out how things would proceed. Joe was very pleased with the call. What an opportunity to put his best business foot forward!
Time marched on. Joe and Jim occasionally shared notes as to how to present their course. They were both looking forward to it! Playing off of each other would be fun. When the class was in session, both resolved to refer to each other as ‘Professor’.
The class would first convene briefly at the slaughterhouse, not while business was in session. There they could, at least, display a side of beef, before it was broken down to forequarter and hindquarter. They would demonstrate that first step, then load the two quarters onto the pick-up and the class would follow the truck over to the butcher shop.
The first evening of the class came. Joe and Jim were impressed with enrollment, mostly young housewives. There were two men. It later became apparent that both men were married to classmates in the gathering.
Another woman was a bit older than the rest; then another looked to be not a day over twenty. Some of them already knew each other. That made for friendly, enthusiastic banter among them right from the get-go.
Joe opened with hearty thanks for their attendance. Then he introduced the good-looking fellow to his left, Associate Professor Jim Lindermann. Right away, there were giggles!
“Now ladies and gentlemen, and I do note, mostly ladies”, Joe addressed the class still outside the abattoir, “I’ll ask your understanding of a few essential facts here before we proceed. If you will think of this class as a book, this book is NOT what some of you might refer to as a “chick book!” (A few chuckles.)
“The class is being taught by two ruffians who work the day long in one of these two buildings, doing work that, generally speaking, has no appeal to the effeminate gender. We understand that! (a few chuckles). Why then, one might ask, is this class being attended by a lovely assortment of women?
I can only surmise that there would be one plausible reason for that… and that would be the eminent good looks of Associate Professor Lindermann! ” The class laughed, heartily this time. Even Lindermann laughed. Any ice had been broken.
“Before I forget”, Joe continued, “and you might have already picked up on this, we want this to be informal. If you have a question, call it out. Who runs a formal butcher shop, anyway?”
With that, up went the first hand!
“Look at that”, said Joe. “We haven’t even gotten started yet and there’s a question! Yes, ma’am.”
“What’s an abattoir?”, one of the ladies questioned.
One of the husbands in the class didn’t skip a beat. “That’s French for brothel.”
Well, if the ice wasn’t already broken, that one brought down the house! Loud guffaws were everywhere as the husband took a serious poke in his ribs from his embarrassed wife!
“I’m glad you asked”, Joe replied, “although I didn’t think we’d be that informal! The gentleman is correct. It is a French word…. for slaughterhouse!”
“One further note”, Joe continued, “we first have to step, briefly, into the abattoir. Don’t worry, Ladies! Nothing’s going on in there. It’s spanking clean! The high rails in this building allow us to move a whole hanging side of beef with sufficient clearance from the floor.
Jim and me will separate forequarter from hind, so you can see that. Then, in five minutes we’re out of the slaughterhouse and over to the butcher shop.”
And so the class proceeded. Once in the shop, Joe and Jim explained how hind and fore were broken down into “primal cuts”. How each primal was then cut for steaks or roasts, depending upon its specific nature, how tender or tough it tended to be. All the while, the two butchers interspersed their delivery with bits of humor, much to the delight of the class.
Questions started to flow. Why this? Why that? Why was chuck a roast and loin a steak? What made fillet mignon so tender? Couldn’t that steak be a roast instead? Couldn’t that roast be a steak instead? How do you tie that knot, anyway?
Joe commended the class on their questions. Folks were obviously getting a lot from this! The twenty-something girl, remarkably good-looking, raised her hand when the Top Sirloin was extracted from the hindquarter.
“That can be one tough piece of meat. Do you ever make specific recommendations to customers when they’re giving you cutting instructions?”, she inquired.
Aside from her notable good looks, Joe was impressed with the question. She obviously knew something about beef cuts.
“In fact, we do,” Joe replied. “When we’re taking cutting instructions from someone who we have no history with, we first ask some questions. What are their preferences, roasts or steaks? Do they use a CrockPot or a pressure cooker? Do they prefer a little or a lot of hamburger? Do they cook a lot outside on the grill?”
“When we know these things, we get a better feel for how they’d like their beef to be cut. And, you’re right, anyway. Top Sirloin is so-so, tenderness-wise. We’ll sometimes suggest using it for pot roast.”
Presently, on the cutting table there were the primal cuts from a forequarter and a hindquarter. From the fore, the rib, the shoulder, the shank, even the skirt. From the hind, the tallow, the loin, the top sirloin, the top round, the eye round, the bottom round, even the flank steak.
Time for this session had flown by! The ladies had already asked a load of good questions. Joe indicated that the scheduled time for the class was drawing nigh. They would discuss the cutting options for each primal cut next week.
“It’s ironic,” Joe observed to them. “For the remaining time of the class, Professor Lindermann and me had planned a question and answer period. It seems that this whole class has been just that! But, I know that you ladies have been looking to swarm around The Professor, so try to remember what your question was!
And, thank you all for coming! Safe trip home.”
With that the class delivered an applause! For starters, most of the ladies swarmed around Joe. Some had further questions, others just wanted to render kudos for the class. They expressed how grateful they were to learn about something that they knew so little about, but was so pertinent to goings-on in their kitchens.
Then, Eureka! A lady from over in Wallpack Township introduced herself saying that she and her husband had never done business with Pansenhagen, but that the next finished steer would be coming their way. Perfect! That’s what Joe had hoped would come of this effort.
One of the men waited for a break in the conversation that a few bubbly women were having with Jim Lindermann. At a verbal pause, the fellow introduced himself to Jim as Paul DeVry. He ,too, expressed his appreciation for the class. The ladies took that opportunity to bid Jim thank you and goodbye.
Jim got on with this fellow quite well. He was talkative, but Jim found conversation with Paul to be engaging. Somehow in the course of their chat, they touched upon the fact that Paul had fought in Korea. Reluctantly, Jim felt obligated to acknowledge same about Vietnam.
Most of that conversation, however, centered on Paul’s days in Korea.
While talking, Jim noticed out of the corner of his eye that Joe’s harem there at the other end of the shop had mostly dissipated. But, damn it! Now he was shaking hands with Miss Twenty Something! What a killer smile she had!
“So when were you in Nam”, Paul asked.
Jim had to jolt himself back into the conversation.
“Ah, sixty eight”, he replied.
“Where were ya”,
“Son Tinh Province for a while.” Jim replied distractedly.
“Ut oh! My Lai?”, Paul guessed.
Jim glanced aside to see if anyone was in earshot. This guy knew more than was comfortable.
“Yeah, I heard of it.”
“That was a travesty”, Paul commented. “Surely one of the darker chapters in the Vietnam book!”
“Listen, man, we followed orders! Yeah, it was messed up, but we followed orders. You gotta understand that. The place was supposed to be a Viet Cong nest. We were sent in there to take out every body. Villagers, women, farmers, kids… Everybody, just like dominoes. We took out four hundred people. There was nothing right about it. Who the hell gives orders like that?”
Paul held his hands up as if to surrender. Obviously, he’d touched a raw nerve.
“I understand, soldier. It made no sense! Did they try to pin anything on you?”
“Yeah, they tried. Bastards. It took two years, but nothing stuck.”
Paul placed his hand on Jim’s shoulder.
“Hey, thank God you made it back safe and sound.”
Jim forced a veiled smile.
“Yeah, not like they didn’t keep a piece of me!”
Jim glanced over to the other end of the shop. Most everybody had left. Joe was ushering Miss Twenty Something out the door.
Paul held out his hand to Jim.
“Hey, listen. I have to go, too. I’m sure my wife is waiting for me in the car. How ’bout I see you next week when your class continues?
The two shook hands. Jim smiled and apologized for getting a little riled.
“It never goes away, ya know?”
Paul smiled, too. The two men locked eyes momentarily. Both were a little emotional.
Paul replied,”You’re right about that, soldier. It never goes away. I’ll see you next week”.
As Paul closed the door, Jim collected himself back together and turned to see Joe. Perfect, he was alone now, cleaning up a little from the class.
“All right, Joe! Out with it! Who’s the little hottie?”
“Well, don’t you want to first discuss how our class went”?
“We have all of tomorrow to do that. Who’s the Honey?”
“First of all, you’re probably old enough to be her father, so calm down a little. She’s a very pleasant individual.”
“Hey”, said Jim,”anybody with a smile like that is a pleasant individual. You guys talked for a long time. What was she up to?”
“Well”, Joe paused for a moment. “She was looking for a job!”
“Are you kidding me?”, Jim exclaimed.
“Yeah”, said Joe.”she was a wrapper at a FoodTown in Passaic County. She just moved up here with her boyfriend. She’s only been job hunting for a few days.”
“Well, she sounds qualified to me”, Jim enthused.
“I know”, Joe replied. “She starts next Tuesday”.
Part Four – Tough Getting Help
The next day it was business as usual; no classes, no Professors explaining the exacting details of meat cutting, just a normal day’s work in the butcher shop. There was, however, lively conversation between Joe and Jim about last evening’s festivities. Lydia Pansenhagen, not having attended last night, was amused by the descriptions of the interaction between the two Professors. The highlight, though, was the new development. She was being replaced next Tuesday.
Jim let an intermittent tidbit slip out as to the new wrapper’s favorable looks. They weren’t lost on Lydia.
“I’ll have to show up at the next class just to make sure that you boys are talking about T-bones and not skirt steaks”, Lydia teased.
Her comment elicited a chuckle from both professors.
“Hey, where the hell is Ross”, Joe questioned.
Ross Halder was twenty minutes late for work. That didn’t particularly bother Joe, but it did with no communication from him.
Jim and Lydia both indicated that they had no idea. He hadn’t indicated yesterday that he’d be late this morning. They all wondered if they’d been so busy yammering that none heard the phone ring.
The location of the closest phone in the shop had been a problem. The nearest phone was in the office. From the butcher’s tables it could heard, but background noise was a factor. There being no secretary at Pansenhagen’s, Jim or Joe or Lydia….. or Ross would have to walk to answer the phone. Add that to the list of things that needed attention! Calling the phone company was something that Joe or Lydia just hadn’t done yet.
Ross Halder had been “shaping up” a little bit. There were plenty of things for him to do, everything from answering the phone to emptying the offal tray into the big outside bin on slaughter day. In a way, he’d become the “go to” guy for a lot of details, so where was he?
The phone rang! No problem hearing it this time. Lydia had just put the final piece of tape on a package, so it was a good spot for her to make the walk. She did. A moment later she leaned on the office door jamb.
“Joe”, she said in a more muted tone,”It’s the New Jersey State Police. They want to talk to you.”
Joe put down his knife, wiped his hands on his apron, assumed a serious posture and retired to the office. He closed the door. Patrolman Pindar explained to Joe that Ross Halder was being released on his own recognizance and that he would be to work shortly. He had been arrested much earlier this morning on disorderly conduct charges.
Joe and Pindar had a good man-to man chat about Ross.
“Ya know, it’s none of my business, but you’re with this kid every day. You might want to try to slip in a little guidance here and there. I’ve had a chat with him, but the next time he’s arrested on a similar charge, it might not be so good for him!”
Joe thanked Patrolman Pindar for his work and assured him that he’d keep a watchful eye on Ross. Their conversation closed. This had been yet another experience that Joe had had with the perils of being an employer. Nothing in any trade school taught about this stuff. The small businessman was on his own!
Joe opened the office door and resumed his position at the cutting table. He announced that Ross would be at work soon and that he may not wish to discuss his morning thus far…. And that no one was to inquire! If Ross wishes to talk about it, he will.
The balance of the day proceeded smoothly. They all got a lot of work done, including Ross. At day’s end, Joe called Ross into the office. Ross was nervous.
“You, of course, know,” Joe began, “that anytime you’re going to be late for work, we need a phone call.”
Ross was extremely apologetic and assured that it wouldn’t happen again.
“You know, your work is starting to get better. You’re starting to make a real contribution here, but I can tell you this much”, Joe said. “There are certain basic protocols that have to be followed.”
Ross was flustered.
“Yes, sir. I know what you mean! ”
“Good. I thought so. Now get a good night’s sleep and l’ll see you in the morning.”
Ross sprang to his feet and extended his hand.
“Good night, Joe.”
“Good night,Ross, and watch your step.”
“I will sir!”
Ross stepped lively out of the office, through the shop and said ‘good night’ to Lydia, who was just finishing up.
Lydia stepped into the office doorway.
“What did you say to him”, she asked Joe.
Joe told her near exactly what he had said to Ross.
“I told him he should watch his step, that his stupid stuff becomes known by more people than he thinks, including his boss.”
Part Five – Starting Day
The new meat wrapper showed up at 7:45 AM. Joe liked that. On time, with 15 minutes to spare. She was nearly effusive with her politeness and enthusiasm to get to work. She was appropriately dressed, with a pair of boots that fit the part.
Joe walked her out to the cutting room floor where Jim and Ross were both at their sharpening stones, where any good butcher would be at the day’s beginning. Lydia was posting the cutting instructions for the first forequarter of the day.
Joe asked for their attention. They all turned to face Joe and the new arrival.
“Everybody”, Joe said,”it is with great pleasure that I introduce to you Miss Pam DeBoehr, who will be Lydia’s trainee for a while, til she’s able to settle in”
“Pam, this is my wife,Lydia”, Joe continued.
Lydia, already prone to the occasional gaffe, shook Pam’s hand and said,”How do you do? Wow! I can see why Joe hired you!”
As soon as Lydia had said that, she wished that she could take it back.
“Well”,Pam smiled. “I thought it was because I could wrap meat!”
That too got a laugh.
“Pam, this is Jim Lindermann.”
“Oh, I remember you,” Pam replied. “You’re Associate Professor Lindermann!”
Well, already the wheels were further greased.
“And, fair warning” Jim added. ” Pretty soon, we’re gonna be slinging the beef at you so fast, your head might spin!”
Pam giggled and replied,”And, we’ll be chewing the fat at the same time!”
Well, it hadn’t taken long! In no time, Pam was one of them. Joe and Lydia walked Pam around the entire facility. Pam was particularly interested in the slaughterhouse. Being of the supermarket genre, she had never seen such a facility, or even full sides of beef, for that matter.
“Well, before you get too excited about it, just remember what goes on in here,” Joe warned.
“Yeah”, Pam replied. “I’m not sure how I’d do with that. Probably not too well!”
Joe noted that they’d better get back before there was a backup in the wrapping department. Good thing they did. By the time Pam and Lydia got there aprons on, a goodly stack of work laid in wait. Within a few hours, Pam was picking up the nuances of the Pansenhagen method. It also became obvious that she was fast; and at the same time, funny.
Wow! Joe’s new hire was one sweet package, Jim Lindermann thought to himself. It was going to be fun working with her. The fact that she was eye candy was now just an added bonus! Even hapless Ross Halder interacted well with her. Preliminary indications were that Pam was going to be a fine addition to the team.
Jim couldn’t help but fathom the notion of spending a little time with her. He mused to himself about the time that Joe had suggested that he, Jim, was old enough to be her father. After a few hours, Jim could see that that was probably the case. Ah, so what, he figured. Stranger things have happened, but Jim admonished himself. Just work with her for a while and see how that goes.
In a way, Jim knew better. He had been divorced a few years back. He had been married not long after his return from Vietnam. It had been stormy. Shivers went up his spine just thinking about it. Was any relationship with a female anything that he should even be contemplating? Probably not!
Pam finished the day, gladly working past 5:00, the appointed quitting time. She had enjoyed the day. The balance of the crew had enjoyed working with her. In a quiet moment, Lydia pulled Pam aside and apologized for the crack she’d made early this morning. Pam replied that surely no offense was taken. They gave each other a hug.
Joe called Pam into the office to thank her for her day’s work. Pam, who had rendered her share of humor for the day, replied by asking, “Now you’re not gonna do this every day, are you?”
Joe, not to be outdone, retorted “That depends on how many times you screw up!”
They both laughed heartily. That the two of them could joke with each other like this at the end of one day spoke volumes about this starting day. That sentiment went unspoken, but they both knew it! Joe and Pam bid each other a Good Night. It had been a good day for everyone at Pansenhagen’s.
Part Six – Missing
Four months had passed since Pam DeBoehr’s starting day. All had gone well. For the most part, Lydia’s assistance was no longer needed. Pam was faster at this work, anyway. The day soon came when Lydia’s help was only occasionally needed. Nonetheless, business at Pansenhagen’s had never been quite this brisk! They were very busy.
One late afternoon, Pam made her way over to the slaughterhouse to carry a lug full of livers and kidneys over to the shop. Today was Tuesday. Yesterday had been slaughter day.
Pam stepped out of the cooler where the livers were stored and was startled by a stranger standing there on the kill floor!
An older fellow, he was by himself. Pam was uncomfortably aware that she was alone with him. How did this guy get in here? He had to have just arrived.
“Whoa!”, Pam exhaled. “I’m sorry! You startled me! Could I help you?”
“No”, the man replied. ” I’m Inspector Lajchrzak. I forgot my certeeficates from yesterday. I need to bring them to my office.”
” Oh, OK”, Pam replied, a bit relieved. She had no clue what this fellow was talking about, but it sounded legit.
” I don’t see you here ever”, Lajchrzak said to her in his notably broken English.
“That’s because I only work over there”, Pam replied, nudging her head in the direction of the shop.
“I’m only here Tuesday nights. Joe pays me a little extra to make batches of scrapple.”
“That’s good”, Lajchrzak smiled, rubbing his stomach. “I like with molasses”.
“Whatever”, Pam countered. “I never heard of it that way, but whatever floats your boat!”
Pam realized that Mr. Lajchrzak didn’t understand that expression, but Lajchrzak smiled anyway.
” Well, I have to keep working, Mr. Lajchrzak. I’ll see you later. Nice to meet you. Oh, I take it you have a key?”
“Yes” Lajchrzak muttered. “Good.”
Back at the shop, Pam told the crew of her by chance meeting with Inspector Lajchrzak.
“He’s a bit of an odd one,” Pam opined.
Jim barely managed a chuckle.
“You would be too, if you were born in Kraków!”
All the crew laughed.
Dan Moebus was one strip-cropping, sod busting, good old boy, if ever there was one. A long-time Pansenhagen customer, he raised beautiful Charolais cattle up on his farm near Vernon. Dan also held the Sussex County record for having bagged the largest Black Bear in New Jersey a few years back, at 831 pounds.
Dan was one colorful character and today he graced the Pansenhagen shop with his visit. Any visit from Dan made for lively conversation. Today he spoke of his immediate business at hand. Later, Dan had 35 acres of hay to bale.
This gave rise to all sorts of questions from the crew about the hay making process. They were butchers, not farmers! Certainly their questions confirmed that fact. Pam asked,” What do you have to wear when you bale hay?”
Jim volunteered, with inflection in his eyebrows. “As little as possible!” Chuckles followed.
“Actually,” Dan added, “as much of your arms and legs as you can stand to have covered on a hot day. Otherwise, you get pretty rashylooking.”
“Hmm”, Pam smirked,”sounds like fun.”
“Maybe we should all take a field day, pardon the pun, and go help Dan bale”, Jim sort of jokingly suggested.
“Now, wait a minute”, Joe interjected. “That would first have to get by Corporate!”
“Actually, now that you mention it, you’d be surprised,” Dan Moebus chimed in. “My wife works for one of these here corporations down in Boonton. Her office goes on little field trips like that now and again. Huh, they call it team building! Can ya imagine that! Sweat your ass off in the haymow for a few hours, and the corporate team gets built!”
That got a chuckle from the whole crew.
“Actually, I don’t think we should do this,” Jim said.
“Why not?” Ross questioned.
Jim replied, “Because I can’t handle the thought of being with Pam in a haymow.”
Pam swatted Jim on his shoulder.
“You’re getting a little frisky there, boy!”
“Just can’t help myself”, Jim replied with a smug smile.
Actually, Dan Moebus had made an appearance here today to give Joe cutting instructions for a steer they’d slaughtered yesterday. It would have to hang for a couple of weeks before the cutting was done, but Dan wanted to get this detail out of the way while it was fresh in his mind.
So, Dan and Joe slipped into the office to jot down the details. The notion of the team-building hay making trip would have to wait.
A week passed. Truth be told, it was a daily effort for Jim not to further reveal the inclinations that he was feeling toward Pam. Don’t even go there, he kept telling himself that Wednesday morning, but he was really liking this girl. Was it even possible that there was any reciprocity? If nothing else, their daily interaction in the shop was a blast. Pam seemed to be enjoying it, too.
At a few minutes before 8:00 AM, Pam hadn’t shown her bubbly self yet. That was unusual. The phone rang. Ross answered and turned to Joe. It was Terry, Pam’s boyfriend.
“Now there’s a buzz kill,” Jim thought to himself. Joe took the call in the office.
Terry was quite upset! Pam hadn’t come home last night. Joe did his best to calm Terry down by asking a few questions without getting too personal. Yes, Pam normally got home at around 9:00 PM on scrapple night. No, there wasn’t anything she had planned after that, as far as Terry knew. No, they hadn’t had any sort of scrum. No, Terry had no idea what might be going on. No, Terry had not called the police.
“All right, now listen”, Joe said to Terry, “I want you to hang up with me and call the State Police immediately. I mean now! And you gotta recognize something, right from the get go. God forbid, if anything has happened to her, but you are going to be there number one suspect. That’s OK. That’s standard police work. Be patient with them and cooperate as best you can. You will have helped yourself that you called this in.Will you do that as soon as you’re done talking to me?”
“I surely will, Mr. P.,” Terry replied, “I surely will.”
“Oh, and Terry”, Joe said, ” let me know how you make out. Also, say a little prayer for Pam. With any luck, we’ll be out of the woods on this in no time.”
“OK, Mr. P. Talk to ya soon”.
With that, Terry’s voice cracked. He hung up the phone.
Joe immediately called Lydia. She was in the house which was a few hundred feet from the shop. Lydia was startled by the news and quite understood that she’d be needed for wrapping immediately. Joe stepped back into the shop. Before he even began talking, it was obvious to Jim and Ross from the look on Joe’s face that something was very wrong!
The crew, given this painful absence, got to work. One could almost hear a pin drop in the shop.
Jim couldn’t quite handle the silence.
“Hey, C’mon you guys. We don’t know what has happened. We know something’s up, but she may be perfectly OK. Let’s not be in mourning here when we don’t have a clue.”
“You’re right”, Joe replied to Jim. “We gotta hope for the best.”
Part Seven – The Investigation
Joe hadn’t heard back from Terry before there was a visit from a state cop there at the butcher shop. The man in blue introduced him self as Officer Nettle. He would be asking “a few preliminary questions.”
Nettle’s questions took an hour in Joe’s office. Nettle had questions that Joe hadn’t even thought of!
Where had Pam come from before he hired her? Did Pam talk about anyone back in West Orange who sounded like they might have had some beef with her? How many employees worked at Pansenhagen? What were their ages? Their sex? Their home addresses? Did any of them have a problem with her? Did any vendor who did business with Pansenhagen have a problem with her? Was there anyone who had a romantic interest in her other than her boyfriend?
With that, Joe gave Jim Lindermann a cursory thought, but silently dismissed the notion. Joe’s crew was fractious, at best. He didn’t need to complicate things with a speculative guess that would roil things unfairly.
The questions continued, on and on.
Joe didn’t even know the answers to some of them. Nettle assured Joe that this would be an exhaustive investigation. It seemed so.
One would have thought maybe a torn hint of clothing on a door jamb or some other sign of a
struggle would be found somewhere, but that was a little ‘cart before the horse.’ At this point, there was no reason to believe that there even was a struggle. This was a missing person investigation.
Nothing! The extent of the findings this morning was a trace of fabric nabbed by a pealing paint chip on the top edge of the offal bin. That was it! That could have occurred just in the regular course of activity at that location.
Before departing, Nettle made a few comments to Joe. It was early yet. If Pam wasn’t found by nightfall, this thing would get a whole lot more intense. In the meantime, Joe might well be key to this investigation.
Nettle instructed, “If your employees say anything that is peculiar or suspicious, if they don’t show up for work at the normal hour, you must alert me immediately.”
Nettle, checking his watch, continued, “Ms.DeBoehr has already been missing more than twelve hours. If she’s not found in another twelve, I have to tell you that you, your wife and your employees are surely persons of interest.”
Joe shook his head. “I guess that’s to be expected.”
Nettle extended his hand. “Thank you for your cooperation, Mr. Pansenhagen. Let’s hope this is over shortly.”
The two men shook hands while Joe thanked Officer Nettle.
Joe re-joined Lydia, Jim and Ross back in the shop. Of course, they were full of questions about how the questioning had just gone. Joe wished he had something good to tell them.
“I can tell you this”, Joe said “if we don’t hear some real good news pretty quick, he’s gonna have a bunch of questions for all of you.”
One thing was for sure. This day in the butcher shop was a long one! No news was not good news. The phone rang. All four four felt a pulse in their muscles to go grab it, but Joe was closest to the office, anyway. Pam’s boyfriend, Terry, was finally calling Joe back.
Terry had just finished a marathon questioning session with the State Police. He was obviously a mess!
“Sorry, Mr. P”, Terry said. “I finished with the police, then I called Pam’s sister, and now I’m calling you!”
Joe felt a little sheepish. He didn’t even know that Pam had a sister. His talk with Terry was otherwise as he expected. Many of the questions had made Terry feel like he was a suspect. Joe assured him that that was to be expected. Terry told Joe that he felt confident that he’d persuaded the police that he shouldn’t be a suspect.
Their conversation came to a somber close with both assuring that they would keep each other posted. The work day at Pansenhagen’s drew to an equally dreary end. Jim, in particular, was taking this hard, for a guy who had seen a load of heart wrench in his day. Still, Jim encouraged all to keep ‘a stiff upper lip’. They would hit it again in the morning.
Joe informed the crew that Terry had indicated that Pam’s sister might be visiting in the morning.
“I felt badly”, Joe said. “I hadn’t known that Pam has a sister”.
“Yeah, she does”, Jim said. “Her name is Laura. She’s Pam’s twin sister.”
Jim and Pam had obviously had a chat at some point, minus the earshot of the crew.
Morning came again at the butcher shop. Last night had rendered no news one way or another. The crew began their day with a collective pit in their stomachs. It had fast become obvious that, in the relatively short order of a few months, Pam’s presence here had become a very positive fixture. This morning there was a painful void.
It was a blessing that there was so much work to be done. Joe looked into hiring a “temp” to lighten Lydia’s load a bit. Thus far, no bites.
Officer Nettle and a plain-clothed gentleman showed up at Pansenhagen’s. Nettle introduced him as Detective DeTalle.
The two men indicated that they wanted each of the crew to come with them to the police station. Transportation would be provided. This was for questioning, with a promise to Joe that it wouldn’t take as long as yesterday. The provision of transportation was obviously a protocol to prevent the crew from any sort of collaboration prior to questioning.
“You realize”, Joe said to DeTalle,”that this puts me totally out of business until these folks get back here?”
Detective DeTalle assured Joe that they would get through this “as expeditiously as possible”.
Expeditious took three and a half hours. Nettle and the detective returned with Joe’s crew. Before leaving, they asked to see Joe again in his office. Joe acquiesced.
“Mr. Pansenhagen”, DeTalle opened,”in prior questioning, you indicated that you had three employees, other than your wife. However, one of your employees mentioned someone else working at the slaughterhouse, a Mr. Li…”
“Mr. Lajchrzak”, Joe chimed in. “Yes, he’s the inspector. He’s not an employee.”
“Then who does he work for?”, DeTalle questioned.
“He works for the U.S.D.A.”, Joe replied.
“What all does he do here?”, DeTalle asked.
“Well, after cattle are eviscerated, he inspects the guts”.
DeTalle had to ponder that for a moment. Some guy comes up here to the middle of nowhere to pick at an intermittent heap of guts? What a dismal existence!
DeTalle smirked a little.
“And what’s he looking for in those guts?”
Joe explained that the inspector was looking for abnormalities that may indicate disease in the animal. DeTalle seemed satisfied with that answer. He was still trying to get his arms around the fact that someone was a cattle gut inspector for a living!
“Does Mr. Lajchrzak have any problems with Ms. DeBoehr?”, DeTalle quizzed Joe.
“They don’t even work together”, Joe replied. “Pam’s over here. Lajchrzak’s only in the slaughterhouse.”
With a few more clarifying questions, DeTalle was done with Joe for the time being. The two spoke briefly about the situation. The detective verified something that Joe was aware of, probably from some TV whodunit show. If Pam wasn’t found by tonight, the chance was not good that she would be found at all… alive!
The day progressed. The beleaguered crew limped along, minus their normal joviality. A stark reality was beginning to set in. It was well into the afternoon and Pam’s sister hadn’t shown yet. It promised to be one gloomy visit when she did. Who knew? Maybe she would show up tomorrow, and they could all share in some good news!
Toward quitting time, Joe had a brief recollection of Pam having mentioned a quick meeting with Lajchrzak a few days back. Joe hadn’t even thought to mention that to DeTalle. Not a big deal, Joe thought. It had been a brief, inconsequential meeting from the sounds of it, anyway.
Yet again, a new day dawned at Pansenhagen’s. Joe checked in over the phone with Detective DeTalle. The search was now in progress in three states, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. Thus far, things were not looking hopeful. In fact, after more than 48 hours total of multiple searches and question sessions, the result was a giant goose egg, not one plausible clue.
DeTalle was quite hopeful, however, that something would get kicked up in short order. How he felt that way, Joe wasn’t sure, but DeTalle was the pro, Joe figured.
Part Eight – Ghastly News from Matamoras
Matamoros was the first Mexican town to be occupied by U.S. troops in the Mexican-American War. How did a little town in Pike County, PA. become its namesake? Joe didn’t know or care! He just knew that Matamoros was conveniently close to his business.
BX Rendering was located in Matamoros. They performed the unsavory task of trucking away the offal after each slaughter day. They had a truck with a huge hydraulic arm that lifts their customer’s bins full of offal and empties them into the BX Truck. How did BX get rid of it from there? Joe didn’t care about that either! He just paid them to take it away.
Mid-day, Wednesday, Detective DeTalle received a bizarre call from the Pennsylvania State Police. They had received a call from BX Rendering. An employee at BX, while unloading his truck, had spied what appeared to be a human ankle and foot with a boot on it, protruding from the tonnage of viscera in his truck! The driver, fraught with angst over his discovery, apparently bolted into BX’s office seeking to assuage any notion of his involvement with what he had just discovered.
The Pennsylvania cops, aware of the missing person hunt in Jersey, made contact with N.J. State Police. Meanwhile, the Pike County Coroner had the horrific task of extricating a partially clothed female body from BX’s truck and was standing by for identification of the body. The coroner cleaned the body for that purpose. Despite an impending autopsy, the coroner revealed to Pennsylvania’s cops that there was what appeared to be a bullet hole in the victim’s forehead.
Detective DeTalle, via some rudimentary police work, determined that BX had made a pick up at Pansenhagen’s early this morning. DeTalle arrived at Pansenhagen’s at mid-afternoon for another session with Joe. Joe was floored by the news. Now this thing was uncomfortably close to home. Now this was a murder case. Now it appeared to have taken place right under his nose! Nothing was conclusive, but it was probably Pam’s body.
Joe’s gut wrenched with the news.
Joe sat in his office with DeTalle, his head buried in his hands. Things were caving in. Or, was this a real bad dream? DeTalle was loaded with questions, wanting to establish a timeline. Yes, Pam had been there Tuesday night, but Joe hadn’t seen her. He just knew that the scrapple was made. Pam had left it in the slaughterhouse cooler, like always.
Joe couldn’t say when the BX truck had been there, but that wasn’t unusual. He oftentimes did not see their truck.
“Let me ask you a question, Mr. DeTalle”, Joe inquired. “Who would do something like this? This isn’t just tragic, this is appalling! It’s vile!”
“One word”, DeTalle replied. “A physcopath. One sick, deranged individual!”
DeTalle continued his questioning.
“When we last spoke, you indicated that no firearms were kept anywhere at your facility. Do you stand by that answer?”
“Sure do”, Joe said.
“Well, how then do you initially drop a steer when you slaughter it?” DeTalle countered.
“That’s easy” Joe answered. “With a stun gun.”
“Gun?”, DeTalle questioned. “That sounds like a firearm to me!”
“Well, it’s not what you or I would think of as a gun.”
“Well, then what is it?” DeTalle persisted, already knowing from the Pike County Coroner’s comment that a victim had a hole in her forehead.
“Well, for starters, it doesn’t shoot a bullet. You load it with a little explosive cartridge. It looks like half a bullet. When you pull the trigger, the gun expels a projectile into the brain, assuming it’s been aimed well, and the projectile is retracted back into the gun. So, it has the same effect as a bullet.”
“When it fires, is it loud?” the detective further inquired.
“Not hardly”, Joe said. “You can’t hear it here in the shop”.
DeTalle was still trying to understand.
“Well, I’m not looking for a quick course in your business here, but why don’t you just use a pistol?”
“Can’t do it”, Joe assured DeTalle.
“U.S.D.A. Regulations”, Joe said. “You see, there’s four or five pounds of cheek meat in that beef head. We want that meat, but it can’t be used if anything metallic is retained in the head.”
DeTalle shook his head. He understood, but he continued to pursue this “stun gun.”
“So, a steer enters the chute over there in your slaughterhouse. It sounds to me, if you use this thing effectively, that steer would have to stand perfectly still for the trigger man to land a perfect shot.”
“You want a job?” Joe asked.
It felt good. This was the first time he’d smiled in a couple of days. Even DeTalle smiled. Joe feared that more smile-less days were ahead.
There was a knock at the office door. Jim stuck his head in.
“Sorry to bother you, Joe. Pam’s sister, Laura, has been here for a while. She has to leave, but wanted to meet you before she does.”
Joe felt the overwhelming pressure of the situation. He had not yet met Pam’s sister. He had not yet told his wife or his employees of the latest details from Matamoras. Further, a body lay at the Pike County Coroner’s Office. It would probably need to be identified by Laura.
DeTalle quite understood.
“I’m afraid that I’m going to have to put a gag order on you and your crew until more facts are known here, Mr.Pansenhagen. Nothing is to be said about this publicly until my OK. Do you understand ”
“Yes, Sir”, Joe responded, seeming half in shock.
“Good, let’s go out and meet Pam’s sister. I’ll do the talking”.
“Fair enough”, Joe complied.
Walking out into the cutting room was borderline surreal for Joe. Laura was not only Pam’s sister. She was the exact look-alike. That immediately struck Joe as a cruel hoax. There the crew was busy at their work while they conversed with Laura.
Jim introduced Laura to Joe and DeTalle. With that, DeTalle raised his hand momentarily as to garner everyone’s attention.
“Everybody”, he summoned, “I have been assigned by the New Jersey State Police to head the investigation into the disappearance of your co-worker, Pam DeBoehr. This is a tough one for everybody, especially for you, Laura, Pam being your sister.”
“We are making progress, but do understand that this is an active investigation. We are seeking to verify a number of things. To that end, I will ask you, all of you, not to discuss this matter with anyone. Period. Falsities can spread like wildfire in a situation like this and they are counter-productive to police work. Please, do not be part of that!”
Now, Laura, I must ask if I may see you outside for a moment. Joe, I’ll ask you not to leave until I am able to re-join with you. I’ll be a few minutes.”
With that, and with tears in her eyes, Laura bid everyone Good Bye and joined DeTalle outside. Joe got to his first actual work of the day, feeling guilty over his anxiety that they were falling further behind on the work load.
DeTalle and Laura leaned on her car. He had to break the news to her about the gruesome news that possibly related to her sister. He asked If she could summon courage that she might not know she had. This body needed to be identified. Laura had to do this for her sister. She wept grievously as DeTalle tried to console her.
Laura provided her phone number to DeTalle. She drove away; a painful departure. Over the police radio, DeTalle made tentative arrangements for the body to be immediately transported to Newton , N.J. for an immediate autopsy. He was that sure that it was Pam’s body that had been discovered in Matamoras.
He stepped back into the butcher shop to see Joe. The crew wanted to ask him questions, but they declined. DeTalle went back into the office with Joe.
“Is that stun gun stored over in the slaughterhouse”, DeTalle asked Joe. “Yeah”, Joe replied. “Do you want me to go get it?”
“No”, said DeTalle. “In fact, I don’t want anyone’s fingerprints on it. I’d like to look at it, then temporarily have our lab examine it.”
“I don’t get it.”, Joe said. ” You’re gonna see. It doesn’t make sense for anybody to try to shoot somebody with the thing.”
“That’s just it,” said DeTalle. “Sometimes psychopaths don’t do sensible things. They think they’re wily, when they’re stupid. They take dumb chances. Oddly, they invite detection.”
“Ya know”, said Joe, reflecting,”this is so beat. I hated seeing Laura walk out of here like that.”
“She has tougher spots ahead of her”, DeTalle replied. “This is never easy.”
“Show me that stun gun.”
DeTalle went to his car on the way over to the slaughterhouse. He grabbed special evidence bags and a pair of channel-locks. There was the stun gun on a shelf. Without either of them touching it, Joe pointed to features of the device. He even slipped DeTalle a few of the cartridges used to fire the thing. Gingerly, DeTalle lifted the stun gun with his channel locks and placed it in a bag.
He looked once more around the slaughterhouse.
“How did I miss this,” he said to Joe, pointing to a narrow sliver of a door in a corner near the holding pens. “What’s in here?”
“Well”, said Joe,”you might have missed it because you can hardly see it.”
“What’s in there?”, DeTalle asked.
“Well”, said Joe,”the U.S.D.A. says that their inspectors have to have an office at each facility that they service, complete with a lockable door, even if the office is the size of a shoebox. This office is the size of a shoe box, if that!”
“What’s in it?”, DeTalle asked.
“I don’t know”, said Joe. “It’s locked.”
“I’ll have to get inside of it”, DeTalle announced.
“Inspector Lajchrzak has the key”, Joe informed him.
“I’ll pick that lock in ten seconds “, DeTalle countered.
Joe was interested to observe the way that DeTalle worked. This guy was on a mission!
Indeed, DeTalle futzed with the lock. The door was opened inside of a minute. The tiny space housed but three items: a rag, several empty syringes and a glass vial , half filled with a purplish liquid.
“What’s this stuff?”, DeTalle asked Joe.
“Search me”, Joe said. “Never saw it.”
DeTalle placed the items in an evidence bag. He surely hadn’t struck on anything here that looked like it could blow this thing wide open.
“If he discovers that this stuff is missing”, Joe inquired,”won’t that alert him that we’re onto him?”
“By the time he notices”, DeTalle replied, “it may not matter. But, you’re starting to think like a detective, Joe!”
This was the first time that DeTalle had ever called him by his first name!
Hmmm, Joe mused to himself. We must be working well together.
The day was getting long in the tooth. DeTalle bade Joe farewell for the time being. He thanked Joe for his help and was out the driveway in short order. Before the day was over, he was to accompany Laura DeBoehr to the Coroner’s office. With any luck, he would sleep tonight! She probably would not.
Part Nine – The Results Come In
Detective DeTalle wasn’t as confident as he had been. Maybe Lajchrzak wasn’t the guy! It was a matter of waiting now. Finger print analysis wouldn’t take long. If Lajchrzak’s prints were on the stun gun and the autopsy’s results were consistent with use of the stun gun, case closed. Joe had confirmed that Jim Lindermann was the only one in the slaughterhouse who used the stun gun; Lajchrzak never had cause to even touch it.
The fingerprint lab soon rendered its results: there were none! Not a single print was on the whole device!
“The little bastard”, DeTalle commented to the technician who spoke to him of the examination.
Surely, a thorough job of rubbing the gun clean of any possible prints was undertaken, but that seemed to confirm that DeTalle was still on the right course. Nobody had polished up the stun gun for the fun of it, but cracking this case just became a whole lot more difficult, pending autopsy results that confirm the gun was used.
An incidental to the fingerprint results was that prints had been lifted from a small metal box containing the cartridges used in the stun gun. They proved to be the prints of Joe Pansenhagen, Jim Lindermann and Ross Halder. This wasn’t to be discounted as far as DeTalle was concerned. The usual slaughter protocol at Pansenhagen’s, was the only trigger man was Jim Linderman, but sometimes Joe. The case thickened.
The autopsy was expedited promptly, beyond DeTalle’s expectations. The coroner prefaced his whole report with a general caveat. This body had been embalmed for a few days in an unconventional mixture!It was a guessing game as to how his findings may have been compromised, the body having soaked for a few days in the full offal bin. Attempt was made to note whenever this factor would certainly not have made a difference in his report.
One such note was made regarding the hole in the victim’s forehead. The coroner had been in possession of the specific details of the projectile inside the suspected stun gun. The hole was completely consistent with those details.
Bingo, DeTalle noted to himself, a major arrow in the prosecutor’s quill, but that arrow proved nothing about who pulled the trigger. Back to the detective’s drawing board! The suspect had to be in the Pansenhagen crew, maybe still, the inspector; someone who knew that the offal bin was where it was!
One odd note was in the autopsy report. In the victim’s nostrils and esophagus were traces of nitrous oxide, an casually used drug among the younger set, commonly known as “laughing gas”. Known as such for obvious reasons, particularly strong doses of the drug can be temporarily debilitating.
Separately , Ross Halder had recently picked up a habit over which he was receiving a little jazz from the crew.
“Ross”, Joe admonished him, “why would you wait all these years and now start to smoke. Are you looking to improve your health?”
But, Ross puffed away anyway, only at break time, of course. Before break one day, he was reaching in the pocket of of his Carhaardt vest to make sure he had his lighter, when he mistakenly pulled out and dropped to the cutting room floor the proverbial wad of paraphernalia that habitually accumulates inside one’s pockets , lint, debris , sundries. Flustered, Ross scrambled to retrieve the array back into his pocket.
“Ya klutz!”, Lydia chided, looking over at Ross fumbling on the floor.
Moments later, continuing the taping of a package, she paused mid-task as if in video stream placed on slow motion.
“Whoa, what did I just see?”, Lydia thought to herself. Not wanting to appear conspicuous, she resumed the movements of her wrapping.
“Good”, she resolved from the corner of her eye, “Ross didn’t pick up on my double take.”
Right away, Lydia started to doubt what she was thinking. Did she really just see what she was sure that she saw? Ross had stepped outside to take his drags. Lydia took advantage and stepped into the office.
“Pssst”‘, she garnered Joe’s attention, motioning him to come inside.
“Ross has Pam’s locket! I saw him drop it on the floor!”
“Are you sure”, Joe replied, incredulously.
“Well, let’s put it this way”, Lydia offered. “it sure looked like it.”
Pam had worn a locket around her neck. It was sort of nondescript-looking, but, surely, she had worn it every day. As far as Lydia knew, none of the crew had ever discussed it with her. It probably contained something personal or sentimental. Likely, it was something that the two of them would have discussed, had their working together continued further down the road. The thought alone wrangled a tear in Lydia’s eye.
“Joe”, Lydia whispered, “should we tell DeTalle about this?”
“We better”, Joe hushed. ” How does he happen to have that, anyway?”
Later, in the confines of the office, Joe got DeTalle on the phone and told him of Lydia’s locket incident. DeTalle didn’t mention this to Joe, but he had heard enough to pursue a search warrant.
DeTalle dropped by the butcher shop later on that day on a hunch. What would Lindermann have to say about using that stun gun as a murder weapon? It wasn’t practical for that use, was it? Why not?How comfortable was Lindermann at discussing the question in the first place? DeTalle ended the outside session, thanking Jim for the chat. DeTalle saw nothing curious about Lindermann’s demeanor while answering his questions.
At the same time, Ross was about to leave.
“Hey, Halder”, DeTalle summoned Ross. “If you had powdered sugar from a jelly donut on your cheek, would you want me to tell you?”
Ross, on his way out the door, looked at DeTalle quizzically.
“Of course”, Ross smirked, pressing his sleeve to his chin.
“Then come over here. There’s a paint chip stuck in your in your vest.”
Ross ambled over while DeTalle told him to turn around. DeTalle plucked the chip from the back of Ross’s Carhaardt.
“Thanks Mr. DeTalle”, Ross acknowledged.
“No sweat”, answered DeTalle. “Have a good night.”
The crew left for the day. Joe had observed that final little exchange.
“Mr. DeTalle”, Joe said. “Don’t discard that paint chip.”
DeTalle held it up, pinched between his thumb and index finger. With a big, cheesy smile, he replied,” No way, Jose!”
Part Ten – The Devil Was in the Details
It was Saturday . DeTalle got his search warrant. He had already cheated a little yesterday. When Ross wasn’t looking, he had checked both pockets of his Carhaardt vest hanging in the shop.There were plenty of trashy contents but, no, the pockets did not yield Pam’s locket. If it was to be Ross’s trophy possession, perhaps he had had a moment of clarity since he dropped it on the butcher shop floor. After all, that was no way to treat the coveted heirloom of a woman who was never to be his?
On to Ross’s house, a tiny little bungalow that he rented about four miles from the shop. The interior of the place was to be expected, the quarters of a single young guy who obviously cared not for any doctrine of neatness. The place wreaked of tobacco, there was dust and hair in most corners, empty beer bottles, chock-full ash trays with an occasional joint roach mixed in.
The intent here was not a drug bust, although police did bag a few vestiges of past highs, including a most ornate bong. This was not what the cops were looking for. The locket would be the catch of the day. Where was it? In a drawer, in a pocket hanging in a closet or was it already prominently displayed on a wall in one of the four rooms? This shouldn’t be a tough search.
Bingo! After an hour of searching, the gloved hand of a state cop lifted the locket from the top shelf of a hutch in Ross’s living room. There it was, a grim reminder, the locket that Pam DeBoehr had worn around her neck each and every day.
Beyond what had already been bagged, the searchers found little else except a small glass jar of clear liquid. Unsure what it was, into a bag it went with the sparse booty of the raid, thus far. The cops kept after it for a while, lifting a few fingerprints, but called things off before too long. It hadn’t taken very long to pick the place clean, if it may have been described as such!
Next day, DeTalle sat at his desk. He needed to get his head around this investigation. While the pickings from yesterday’s search were lab-bound, he sat to assess if the evidence thus far might equal an arrest warrant.
Where to begin?
For starters, there was the evidence that he didn’t have; finger prints on the suspected murder weapon.
DeTalle started to number items of evidence that he did have or seemed close to having.
- Ross’s fingerprints, and those of other’s, on a tin container that held the firing cartridges for the suspected murder weapon. Ross was not the regular trigger man. This was circumstantial.
- The victim’s locket was in Ross’s possession.
- A paint chip that was embedded in Ross’s vest was an exact color match of the paint that coated the offal dumpster at Pansenhagen’s facility. In fact, there was no other item at the facility that was of this color. An attorney worth his/her salt could rip that to shreds, however.
- A trace of fabric had been recovered on the top edge of the offal bin that was consistent with the fabric of Ross’s Carhaardt vest. Again, not strong evidence as Ross worked at that bin regularly.
DeTalle was listing the entirety of these items when, uncannily, a call came in from the crime lab. A small glass jar recovered in the search of Ross Halder’s house contained, none other than nitrous oxide. DeTalle contacted his office to obtain an arrest warrant which was forthcoming in short order.
None of the evidence proved that Halder ever had his hand on the suspected murder weapon, but some evidence was otherwise compelling. DeTalle and a few state cops knocked on Ross’s door. It being Saturday morning, there was a good chance he’d be home; maybe still sleeping.
They knocked. No answer. Indeed, Ross’s car was in the driveway. They knocked again. Not a sound. They stood there for a moment and chatted. One of the officers stood sentry at the rear of the house. The time for niceties expired. With a screwdriver, DeTalle had the door open inside of a minute.
Ross did not greet them at the door. DeTalle and three men in blue, hand guns drawn, entered the house. No Ross! One of the bedroom doors was closed. DeTalle opened it with the standard defensive posture of a cop looking to avoid a bullet. There was Ross Halder, lying face down in a pool of coagulated blood on the floor. A 44 Magnum pistol lay on the floor, a few feet from his right hand!
There was no pulse.
“We’re a day late and a dollar short”, DeTalle postulated off-handedly. “Too bad. I was looking forward to putting it to this guy.”
Nonetheless, the ambulance showed up and gave Ross Halder his final ride. The other cops eventually bade DeTalle adieu for the day. DeTalle would wait for a forensics official to finish his work.
All settled down. No one was left. DeTalle had watched as the ambulance finally pulled out onto the road and slowly disappeared into the Sussex woods. This case had apparently solved itself. He pondered as he watched. This was the part of his business that he liked the least. He thought of the people with whom he’d soon be in contact.
There is Pam’s Sister, already grieving. Joe Pansenhagen and Lydia, whose lives just went topsy turvy. Even DeTalle had become wise to sparks that flew between Pam and Jim Linderman. Nascent as they were, who knew what may have happened there. Linderman would be in rough shape on Monday.
Further, Pam must have parents somewhere, he continued to commiserate.They’ll soon be in a world of hurt. Even Ross Halder’s parents will soon vex over the monster they’ve brought into the world. Here in this tiny, obscure location just too many people have been wounded by a heinous act, the detective thought to himself.
DeTalle sat up straight in his car seat on the way home. The last few days had been tough. What people do to people! Tomorrow would have to be a better day. An anomaly in Sussex was over.