There is comfort in ritual.
There is order.
There is the security of knowing that our most
precious needs and urges can be protected simply
by enclosing them within the high, strong walls
of familiarity and precision.
Kenny understood this. He understood ritual.
He recognized the need for it, the joy of it.
He cherished the keen anticipation of each deliberate
act. Kenny practiced his rituals as carefully
as a priest performs high mass.
One of the keystones of Kenny's ritual was the
ten o'clock news. Kenny watched the news the way
other people read obituaries. Once he knew his
name wasn't going to be mentioned, he could get
on with planning the next day's work.
But not just the ten o'clock news. The ten o'clock
news on channel seven. Kenny preferred to get
his news from channel seven, because it tended
to carry the most lurid stories. Kenny liked to
hear the breathless outrage in anchorwoman Donna
Kirkland's soft voice when she said words like
startling and gruesome, almost as
if she derived sexual pleasure from them. He liked
the way her plump little lips wrapped around the
vowels and her eyes widened at the words.
but that wasn't something he figured he should
dwell on when he had his new friend with him,
as he did tonight.
Flower. Her name was Flower. It was such a wonderful
name, Kenny thought, turning to her.
"Ten o'clock is the only time to watch news,"
he said as he settled himself back down on the
nubby brown plaid couch and wrapped his arm around
her shoulder. "By now, anything that's going
to happen has happened. No big surprises, ya know?"
"Today," Donna Kirkland intoned with
barely suppressed delight on TV, "a grisly
discovery in Forest Park..."
Grisly. Another word she seemed to get
off on. Kenny found himself getting hard. Reaching
over to retrieve his beer from the end table,
he took a long swig. Beer went well with the news.
Beer went well with everything, but Kenny especially
liked it with the news.
So he smiled. He had his beer, Flower was here
with him, and there was murder on television.
And to make it all perfect, Donnatheanchor--Kenny
always thought of her as that: Donnatheanchor,
as if it were her entire name--was excited by
"...two park rangers found the partially
clothed body of a woman in the woods while clearing
On the TV the camera panned over the obligatory
stand of dead trees silhouetted against a gray
sky. Caught clustered in a fold of land like cattle
sheltering against the wind stood about a half
dozen uniformed officers bent almost double, an
ambulance cart, and a couple of fat guys in down
vests and baseball caps.
"Now they'll get the official report from
the homicide officer," Kenny said with some
disgust. "You'd think they'd change the format
just a little."
"Jamie?" Donnatheanchor called out
to the reporter. "Have there been any official
A slick twentysomething guy showed up, standing
in front of the downtown police station. "Well,
Donna," he said, frowning, "identification
has not been made. We spoke with a representative
of the medical examiner's office a few minutes
"Not homicide?" Kenny objected.
The TV now showed the inside of some generic
government office. A woman stood quietly listening
to a question being asked off camera. Kenny saw
her and forgot all about the homicide officer
he'd expected. He forgot the story entirely.
His heart suddenly raced. He felt the surprise
right there in his throat. Squinting, he leaned
closer. He opened his mouth to say something and
then didn't remember to say it. He thought, maybe
he'd stopped breathing.
"My God," he whispered, stunned.
She was petite, small-boned and trim. Short,
neat auburn hair. Bright brown eyes with laugh
lines and lots of experience stamped on almost
pretty features, small hands tucked in the pockets
of a serviceable gray suit jacket.
Older, much older, it seemed to Kenny. But then,
so was he.
"My God," he breathed again, shaking
his head. "It's her. Why didn't I
"The medical examiner believes the victim
to have been at the site for about four days,"
she was saying, not smiling at all now. "We
won't know the cause of death until the autopsy
has been performed in the morning."
Kenny always remembered her smiling. But he remembered
this look even better. Her sad look. Kenny remembered
her looking at him this way, like she wanted to
say something or do something that could make
it all different.
Maybe that was why he suddenly recognized her.
He'd finally seen her sad look. The look he'd
always thought was all his.
Forgetting his beer, forgetting his friend Flower,
he focused on the TV, so excited he could hardly
"Molly Burke is a death investigator for
the city of St. Louis," Jamie the reporter
said as he appeared again on the screen.
"Molly...." Kenny's laugh was sudden.
"Oh, yes, Molly. Yes, of course!"
He turned to Flower then, truly thrilled. "You
don't understand," he said. "I knew
her. I know her. I wondered for so long
what's become of her, and now to realize that
she's been right here, that I've seen her!
I wasn't sure...I mean, you hope, ya know...but...well,
I've just got to let her know I'm back."
Kenny turned to the TV, but he was too late.
Donnatheanchor had moved on to recap the top news
story, which charted the various government agencies
that were temporarily shut down in the wake of
the latest congressional budget deadlock. Molly
was gone and wouldn't come back. But Kenny knew
where she was, and he knew just what to do about
For a few moments, he just sat there alongside
Flower and considered his good luck. Kenny had
never been the kind of person who had good luck.
And even on the rare occasions he did get it,
usually he didn't know what to do with it.
Well, he knew this time. He knew because for
twenty years he'd been anticipating what he'd
do if this very moment ever came. He'd been practicing
hard in his head so that it would be perfect.
Twenty long years. And now he would finally get
to act out his most precious dreams.
Tilting the long-neck Busch up to finish it,
he set the bottle down and stood up.
"Time for lights out," he said to Flower.
"I'm going to have a busy day tomorrow."
His friend Flower smiled back. But then, she
always smiled. So Kenny smiled at her, because
tonight he was happy, too. Then, with the exquisite
care he showed all his friends, he lifted her
head off her shoulders and put it back in the
refrigerator where it belonged. Then, turning
off the lights, he went to bed.