Brett James Freeman You Donʼt Speak to the Colonel: An investigation in 5 parts

1.

The Colonel died, at last, in May, but perhaps I am getting ahead of myself…


The nature of my profession is that of the Detective, though the title, I am afraid, is a narrow representation and does no service to fully encompass the nature of my trade, which borrows from elements more esoteric and, indeed, philosophical than one would attribute to the average gumshoe. To that end, much of the work I do is driven by the desire to know, and an interest in mystery and the occult that may border on obsession…but I digress – most cases I find myself in are unpaid, unreasonably dangerous (perhaps even recklessly so), and generally life-affirming. I take pride in the fact Iʼve put almost all my cases to a close, but there are some…there are some that refute closure, that lie like whispering ghosts in your mind, in the darkness of a lonely room. The case of the Colonel involved no vice, did not involve me getting beaten by colossal thugs (which, actually, is a common occurrence in detection), there were no beautiful dames, no crime, and outwardly, was seemingly innocuous, yet it still clings to me, even to this day…


The Colonel, as I have said, had died. A man of high esteem, he was well-liked by all he encountered, a man of wealth and of no small valor. To me, he seemed made of roughly hewn iron, and possessed the quiet reserve and humility of someone who had suffered through a great deal and made it to the other side. I, myself, had lived in his company for many years, and understood him to be a person of uncommon dignity. To that end, his death was not unnoticed.


I wonʼt mislead you, for it was not his death that was the focus of this case. No…cancer, that pale torturer, had consumed him, and I had watched the last breath rattle from his throat in that dimly-lit hospital room. However, it was a catalyst, and a seed had been planted in my brain….

2.


In the hours and days that followed, I began to dissect his past and re-animate it in the arena of my mind (which had become like a magic lantern), and the longer I thought, the more the seed earlier sewn began to grow…taking root and burgeoning, and the fruit it bore were questions…questions so basic they may never have been asked, if that makes sense. Questions about the true nature of the Colonel. What in reality, did I actually know of him? The more I thought about him, the less I could remember…it was like trying to hold onto a live eel, and the harder I clasped, the faster it
slid from my hands. More accurately, it was like watching an eroded super-8 film without the sound, or a sound reel that had been badly damaged. This was most puzzling. Highly curious. “What do I really know of the Colonel?” I thought. The public loved him magnanimously, but as one so often finds in this world, you shouldnʼt believe everything at face value, and people tend to have more than one face. What do I really know about the Colonel?

3.


A week or so after his funeral found me standing at the door of his country home. I had begun in earnest to investigate the true nature of the Colonel. It was a grey day, and had been drizzling…if smelled of fresh things and new and green. I still owned a key to the house, and walked in without hesitation.


Dust was already prevalent here, so it didnʼt necessarily illicit any kind of sentimental response in that regard. Indeed, I walked straightaway to the troves of memories – boxes of letters, boxes of photographs, particularly well-read books with broken spines, the cupboards, strong boxes, closets, video cassettes, audio cassettes, record collections, and really anything I could get my hands on. I hoped that all these things, when distilled and combined in the right order would create a simulacra of him, his personality.


I began my tedious work. At first, I took carloads of evidence back to my office to examine in the familiarity of my own surroundings, but soon realized the futility of this venture, and instead began to simply dissect everything as I found it, and so proceeded, I thought, like some sort of short-term archaeologist. As I became more immersed in my work, I suspected I may have been too close to the whole thing, and the austerity of logic was perhaps becoming tarnished by emotions that waited patiently to be released. All the ephemera scattered around me as I sat in the great leather chair of the Colonel were traces of life, pathways to the past. They seemed unpretentious and quiet, but as a detective, one learns that death is but a minor hindrance, and even objects can speak for the deceased if one knows how to listen properly. People infuse themselves in their surroundings, and go on as images, or objects, or parts of their children, until perhaps all these things have disintegrated, and the world fades into cosmic dust and entropy.


All these items like bones laid out, in the home a mausoleum, and I sat in the chair with my hands folded. The dusk gave way to night, as the voices began to speak louder…spoke of many things….

4.


After months of investigation, sleepless nights and copious amounts of drink and smoke, I was left with my final conclusions, which I had typed in a fever, and so seemed new to me, this sheaf of papers on my desk.


I will say, dear reader, that great obstacles of memory were toppled, and many questions were answered in a more or less acceptable fashion. Then again, in my subsection of investigative work, “concrete” and “definite” are words not frequently used. I learned many things about the Colonel, but still…deep in my heart…I felt resentment towards the hero of war.


I could only think of my young days, and the great metal man who tried to shape me in his image. Years of moulding and carving, though trying to shape me must have been like fashioning sculptures out of petrified wood. We argued, insulted, belittled. I lacked his perspective, and in his world there was not room for more than his unifying presence. You see, you donʼt speak to the Colonel, you listen and take orders.

5.


All in all, the case still hangs open, like a broken, yawning door. All of the conclusions I had reached were superficial and still defied classification. I believe that life is, essentially, composed of black and white, even if they almost always run together into shades of gray, and that eventually, some strange alchemy would transform that mass of gray to pure white or coal black.


In truth, I cannot hate the Colonel, because I am a part of him. Metaphorically speaking, one cannot be born from a Titan, cannot clash with a Titan, and not become affected in was both profound and subtle. There may be exceptions, but I am almost every bit as exacting and analytical as he, a perfectionist. I can be cruel, and a real bastard. The Colonel placed a rebellion in me, an unquenchable fire.


Similarly, I can honestly assess my strengths, compassion, and inclinations of justice also fused into my being, for there were good times, golden times, even, between us. Afternoons like impressionist paintings in the orchard, those rare conversations, and times of laughter. I could not hate this man, but I was still confused…though it was a comfortable confusion. I did not want him to die, and I miss
him every day, though I feel him all around me, and it makes me think of all the people in the world, and how these ghosts roam freely all about us, and we never notice. Weʼre headed there as well, to that uncertain destination, scattered across the world, as energy, as memory, as feeling, and itʼs alright. Itʼs alright.

He was my father, and in the face of everything, I loved him.

Brett James Freeman
You Donʼt Speak to the Colonel: An investigation in 5 parts
Landscape Stories, 2011

© Brett James Freeman – 2011