Ben was nobody’s fool.
I’m a detectuv. I know what that is ‘cause I saw it on TV. I don’t have my own TV but I do have a tape recorder. I’m talkin’ into it right now. I have to be careful ‘cause Tonia gave it to me and if it breaks she can’t give me another one. See, she’s dead. Stuck dead. By the hand of God, Carmel said. Sumbody stabbed Tonia with a knife — a little knife like the one she used to cut up apples.
Tonia liked me. She used to tell me I have up syndrome, though I know I have Down syndrome. I hardly ever feel down but when my mom died I learned that dead is sumthin’ that makes me sad.
Sumthin’ that makes me mad is that they say Ira killed Tonia.
When we lived at the hall me and Ira slept in the same room with lots of other guys. He never talked to me but he stopped big guys from pickin’ on me. There was this counseluh there who used to hold Ira’s hand and talk to him nice. I told her Ira talked to himself about her all the time, but she didden listen.
One day he kissed her. When she pushed him away Ira got mad. He went into the kitchen and got a butter knife and tried to stab her.
When the hall closed they put us in a nice house in a real naybuhhood. Since we knew each other they musta figured me and Ira would get along if they made us roommates again. Ira just watched TV. They gave him a lotta meds because Tonia said he had a reputashun. I think the counseluhs were scared a him. But they don’t have to worry no more ‘cause the puhlice took him away.
I learned a lot about the puhlice by watchin’ the cop shows the counseluhs put on. For a zample, I know what cops do is investuhgate. I got a chance to watch them do that the night Tonia was killed. They were all over the place askin’ queschuns, dustin’ for fingerpaint.
But they only talked to three of us: me and the other high-funkshuning clients, Wanda and Alfred. I don’t know what they got outa Wanda, but I bet they coulden unnerstand Alfred because he mostly mumbles. And all they asked me was did I hear anything. I told them I didden hear nuthin’ ‘cause I was asleep when Tonia was killed.
I also learned cops look for a motuv. Carmel told me that was when sumbody doesn’t like sumbody real bad. Ira didden have no motuv ‘cause he didden have no problem with Tonia like he did with the counseluh at the hall.
After the puhlice left, though, I did some thinkin’. I figured out I was the only one who knew Tonia had a visitor that night. She stayed over at the house ‘cause one of the ladies who works overnight coulden come in.
After the other clients went to bed I stayed up with Tonia and listened to her talk. Though I don’t think she’s ‘sposed to, she was tellin’ me about her luv life. Then she called up Desmond and asked him to visit. He drives the mini-bus we ride to our day program. I remembered how I always saw him and Tonia talkin’ — fwirtin’, I think they call it — when he waited for us to get in the van.
After Desmond came over Tonia asked me to sit outside the door of the house supavisuh’s office. She said knock if anyone from the ministrashun came or if a client needed her. Desmond and her went in the office and closed the door.
I got mad. I wished I could be the one in there with Tonia. After a while they came out, Desmond left, and I went to bed. The next thing I knew the other counseluh was screamin’. Soon the puhlice and the ministrashun came. They found the knife next to Ira’s bed and even though I heard it didden have any fingerpaint on it they took Ira away.
Carmel said they’re gonna fry him. Oh no, I got that wrong. They’re gonna try him. First Tonia was gone, then Ira. My head was all balled up.
I knew Tonia was gone forever, but Ira wasn’t dead so maybe there was a way to bring him back. I started thinkin’. Ira never had nuthin’ to do with that applin’ knife. But a couple of the other clients did.
The day after Tonia was killed I went to Alfred’s room where he was watchin’ TV as ushual. He looked at me through his thick glasses and started grumblin’. He was always afraid sumone was gonna turn off the TV or change the channel on him. But when I sat down on his bed and he saw I wasn’t gonna do that his grumblin’ turned to mumblin’.
“Did you put away the dishes last night?” I asked him.
Alfred’s job was takin’ the dishes out of the dishwasher and puttin’ ‘em away.
Mumble, mumble. He did.
“The knife too?”
Now he was grumblin’ again and I knew why. Every night after he put the knife and forks and spoons in the drawer, Tonia took out a applin’ knife. She put it on a plate with a apple or pear she was gonna eat later.
Alfred hated anything to be out of place and Tonia knew knives were never to be left out. But I guess she didden care that a client could take it and hurt himself. Or sumbody else.
Wanda lived at the house longer than any other client. She was old and I heard the counseluhs say she was ornerary. She was smart, too, but crazy — and fat, like a potamus. I don’t know if she was mad at Tonia but she was ushully mad at sumbody, especially Ira ‘cause he was the only client who woulden take her guff. When she yelled he’d stomp his feet and scream.
I never knew Wanda to pick up a knife and freaten sumbody. But sumtimes at dinner if the counseluhs forgot that she didden like mashed potatoes and gave them to her she’d hold her fork up high like she was gonna stick sumbody. And I think she scratched every client at least once.
I went up to her before dinner.
“Hey, get outta my way,” Wanda said.
I guess I walked in front of the TV.
“Remember how Tonia used to fix your hair?”
“Yeah, Tonia made me pretty,” Wanda said and smiled. “Where is she anyway?”
“Well, she better be here tomorrow. I need some lipstick.”
“She’s dead. Don’t ya remember?”
“Good. I got sick of her always trying to make me take a bath.”
That sounded like a motuv to me. Maybe I could get her to tell me what happened.
“You know how ya always get up in the middle of the night?” I asked.
“I gotta go to the bathroom.”
Ackshally she wet the bed and the night person made her get up to change the bed. After that she ushully stayed up for a while.
“Do ya ever stop in the kitchen to get a drink of milk?”
“Yeah. And a knife.”
“Sometimes I brought Tonia her knife and fruit. I was hopin’ she’d give me a piece but she never did. That’s another reason I’m glad she’s dead.”
“Did you bring them to her last night?” I asked.
Wanda looked at me like she didden unnerstand the queschun. I forgot she coulden tell the days apart. Carmel told me Wanda had wisenhimer dizeez. Or whatever that dizeez is that makes old people mixed up.
But Wanda coulda took the knife. And she was just mean enuff to leave it by Ira’s bed. I went to Carmel.
Carmel was new and ushully it took me a while to get used to a new counseluh. But she was nice to me like Tonia was and pretty too. Her hair was the color of a penny and her skin looked like the coffee they give us which is ackshally mostly milk.
I told Carmel I thought Wanda killed Tonia.
“What?” she said. “Have you been raiding the meds closet?”
Why did Carmel have to go and say that just when I was startin’ to like her? The meds closet was always locked except at meds time. And I was the only client who didden get any. Then I saw Carmel smile. She was kiddin’.
“When Tonia went to give Wanda a bath last night,” Carmel told me, “Wanda set to howling to wake the dead. We called the company doctor and he prescribed a sedative. Do you know what that is?”
I nodded, though I didden really.
“She went out like a light and slept through the commotion. I heard in the morning she was drenched.”
I knew I shoulden a thought this, but I was a little disannointed. If sumbody had to kill Tonia I was hopin’ it was Wanda so the puhlice would take her away. Anyway, now that I’d asked the only two clients who made sense when they talked, besides me, I figgered I better ask the counseluhs.
I hated to think Carmel coulda killed Tonia. But another thing I learned from TV is that a true detectuv even has to investuhgate people he likes. And I remembered Carmel and Tonia got in a argament once.
“Did you like Tonia, Carmel?”
“I might have,” Carmel said, “if she did her share of the work. Who wants to know anyway?”
“I’m just singin’ in the choir.”
Carmel looked at me funny. Then she said, “Oh, you mean you’re inquiring. We all want to know who killed Tonia, Ben. But it’s like I told the police. Forget Ira and check the three boyfriends she played off each other. Wouldn’t you be mad if you were one of them?”
“I wished I was one of ‘em.”
Carmel rubbed my head and laughed.
“If you find out who did it let me know,” she said.
Carmel crossed her arms and held herself real tight. I think she was afraid whoever killed Tonia might come back and kill her. And what about me and the other clients? I told myself a detectuv can’t let fraidiness get in his way. I hadda be brave.
I thought about what Carmel said and guessed that Desmond musta been one of those boyfriends. But I never saw him mad at anybody. Then again, I could never even tell if he liked anybody. He always had this sleepy look, and when he drove he just listened to regular music. He was too lazy to say it right. He called it reggay.
But Tonia liked him. She said he had a great head of dead rocks. Does that sound like a compelment to you? It doesn’t to me. Then I remembered sumthin’. I was prob’ly the only person who knew Desmond was at the home that night. What if he came back and killed Tonia?
The next day, when I rode in his van, I said, “The cops didden know you were at the house before Tonia was killed.”
“Then let’s keep it our secret, little dread,” he said.
“Did you kill Tonia?” I asked.
Desmond turned around real fast. His hair swung aroun’ like ropes and hit him in the face. I never saw his eyes wide open before.
“Yes,” he said, “and I’m goin’ to kill you so you don’t tell the police.”
Now it was my turn to open my eyes wide.
“Just kidding,” he said.
Regina began laughin’ real loud. She was the aide who rode on the bus. That hurt my feelin’s more than Desmond scarin’ me. I learned that you can’t ask a person a queschun like that. They’re either gonna make fun of you — we get enough of that from the counseluhs — or lie to you.
It looked like I was runnin’ out of people to ask. But I figured that if a real detectuv has to investuhgate his friends, he ought to investuhgate himself too. After all, I was the one who was mad at Tonia for goin’ in the office with Desmond. But I didden know how to ask myself queschuns. I’d have to wait for the puhlice to do that if they wanted.
But I could try to find someone else who might be mad at Tonia for goin’ in the office with Desmond like I was. I thought maybe it wasn’t a guy Tonia made mad, but a girl who liked one of the guys Tonia fwirted with.
Ushully the doors at the house were locked and if sumone opened them they beeped. Maybe Tonia forgot to lock the door when Desmond left and sumone came in later. I wished I could get sumone to make a confusion — I mean confeshun. But I didden have a big, bright light like the puhlice to shine in sumbody’s face.
The next day on the bus Regina began fwirtin’ with Desmond, sumthin’ she used to do when Tonia wasn’t aroun’. This time he didden pay no attenshun to her. Regina got mad and looked out the window. I didden know what to say so I shared my feelin’s the way Carmel was always tellin’ me too.
I said to Regina: “I’m mad too.”
Regina looked at me.
“You hear that? Ben’s mad,” she said to Desmond. “What does he have to be mad about? He lives rent free in a nice house in the suburbs and everything is handed to him on a silver platter.”
Ackshally, I’m a ambishus guy. I work at Happy Land Hamburgers after school every day and I want to live in a small group house without much supavishun.
But I said, “I’m mad ‘cause sumbody killed my friend.”
“Can you believe it, Desmond?” Regina yelled. “Ben thinks Tonia was his friend. But she was just using him. Tonia made Ben sit outside the office while she went inside with someone who shall remain nameless. I’d say what they were doing, but I don’t want to mess with Ben’s head like Tonia did.”
Desmond shook his head and his hair went back and forth. I didden know what she was talkin’ about, but I had a feelin’ she was doin’ the same thing as Tonia — sayin’ stuff in front of me that clients shoulden hear.
Regina got me thinkin’. Why did Tonia ask me to sit outside the office? It was like she was sayin’ you could never be my boyfriend but I’ll let you be my favor boy. If Desmond was Regina’s boyfriend and Tonia stole him away maybe Tonia deserved what she got.
When I got home I didden eat my snack. I went right to my room and woulden tell Carmel what was wrong. I was gonna throw the tape recorder Tonia gave me on the floor. But then I remembered that with Tonia gone I might never get another one. Tonia — she mighta done some things wrong but I missed her and I started to cry. Carmel came in and told me how bad she felt that I lost my friend.
Wait a minute, I thought. How did Regina know I was sittin’ outside the office when Tonia and Desmond were in there? She musta been lookin’ through the window.
“Callin’ all cars,” I yelled. “Callin’ all cars.”
“What is it?” Carmel asked.
I told her about Regina.
After Carmel heard my story she said, “Regina must have put on the latex gloves we use when showering you guys and then killed Tonia. Afterwards, she put the knife in Ira’s hand.”
Then, after she called the puhlice, Carmel said, “I’ve done the same thing.”
“You stuck sumbody, too?”
“No, Ben. We all say things in front of you guys that we shouldn’t because we don’t think you can understand. Now I know better — you’re nobody’s fool.”