Today's Reading

"Police!" she yelled again. "Stay where you are."

They kept coming. Both ends of the street, at least twenty of them, now.

The first lot had reached the car. If she moved toward them, the others would reach the gate before she could stop them. She did the only thing she could do: retreated to the crime scene, barring entry through the gate.

Carver joined her. "Where the hell did they come from?" he murmured.

"I do not know," she breathed.

He yelled, "Stay back!" and the crowd halted six feet away.

Casco baton in hand, Ruth picked on a tall guy in a beanie hat. "This is a crime scene," she said. "You need to move back."

He gave way by half a pace.

Carver spoke quietly into his phone.

"Hey, I know you." Beanie Hat turned to the others. "I know him— he's the one that got shot." The rest of the crowd paid no attention; they were watching the light show.

"What is that?" someone asked. "Looks like bits of brain," another said.

Exclamations of disgust, a burst of nervous laughter. Someone swore. But the shock didn't dampen their enthusiasm for long: in an instant, it seemed that every one of them had a mobile phone in their hands. They got busy, enlarging, photographing, and video-recording the scene.

A sudden flash. The audience flinched as one. Ruth turned.

A line of text began streaming in LEDs across the bottom of the crate: "Statistical Uncertainty: Learn to Think Outside the Box."

Ruth Lake glanced at Carver.

With the sound of police sirens approaching, she turned on her phone video app to record the crowd: some of the onlookers would vanish into the night as soon as the uniforms arrived on the scene. If the perpetrator was among them, they might just catch him on camera.


They ran a trailer for that episode of Fact or Fable? for three solid weeks. Watching it now, I have to admit it is beautifully shot. The city cast in shadow and light is reminiscent of the chiaroscuro techniques of film noir. Does the program maker have any notion that the technique is borrowed from Renaissance art, I wonder?

Perhaps not. But he/she/it caught the mood: dark alleys, reflections of light on water.

"Six months..."

The rich bass notes of the voice-over is backed by suspenseful string music.

"...Twelve men."

A lone male figure enters the frame. Let's call him Dillon. Although it could be John, or Tyler, or any one of another half dozen. For the sake of illustration, we'll stick with Dillon. I watched him walk his plump girlfriend home. They cooed like doves, kissed like virgins, and then he did the gentlemanly thing: he headed toward his cold bachelor pad—and fell off the cliff edge between life and death. All because he decided to hoof it home, instead of getting jiggy with Miss Piggy, his fat amore.

The double irony is this: she was perfectly safe—from me, anyway. And if he'd been less the gentleman with his porky princess, he might still be alive today.

On-screen, a young man strides down a moonlit alley, his footsteps ringing out. Behind him, a hooded figure casts a long shadow; it creeps closer and closer, finally overtaking him. He begins to turn, horror-movie victim style, and his eyes flash, wide with fear. The shadow engulfs him and the screen fades to black.

Very dramatic. But in reality, they never saw me coming.

Tennent introduces the theme, and for the next few minutes the narrator recaps the story: the disappearances; photographs and sound bites from anxious families; tearful encomiums from the friends left behind. Fear stalking the streets of Liverpool; hysteria and paranoia among young males in the city. They deal with time slips first, needing to get that nonsense off the slate fast—this 'is' supposed to be a serious scientific program, after all.

Then Tennent talks through the stats of assaults, stabbings, and shootings in the city during the past five years, listing alongside the victims of violent crime impressive numbers who've died of drug overdoses, or alcoholic poisoning, or been dragged under buses, or mangled in car crashes. Fact or Fable? is all about balance.

Smug and disparaging, he tells his rapt audience how many men aged twenty to thirty-five go missing every year, how they are found, the duration of time missing. Reasons for disappearance: drunken binges; the call of the wild; escape from relationships and responsibilities; depression; drugs (somber face); and suicide.

He concludes that there is no evidence that the so-called Ferryman exists.

I cut him off midsnarl, click to a recording of my exhibit on Stone Street just before the police arrived. Three disks, three slices of life—irrefutable evidence that the Ferryman is no fable.

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