The Evil That Men Do: The Shocking True Story of the Murder of Marcel Proust

Anatoli Styf/

All things considered, a lovely day out here on the beach, thought Kierkegaard. Suspiciously empty, he had to admit, but lovely nonetheless. There were not many things he liked more than putting on his black overcoat and bowler hat and heading over to the warm sandy beach for a good old frisbee game with his friends Clive Staples and John Ronald Reuel (who were on this day impeccably clad in a fine black three-piece suit and a wool pea coat with matching knitted hat and scarf, respectively). After a masterful throw from the most elegant wrist of Ronald Reuel, Kierkegaard was about to pass the disc to Staples when goddamn it, he thought, not again. Proust.

    Proust was indeed headed toward him, in his favorite red swim trunks, carrying his favorite red beach towel and a copy of his favorite book, The Garden Party and Other Plays by Václav Havel (with a red jacket), and wearing…Yes, try as he might, Kierkegaard could not deny it.

He was wearing black leather boots.

Look at those boots, thought Kierkegaard. Who the hell wears boots to the beach? His other friends, noting the sour expression on Kierkegaard’s face, glanced at Proust and also saw the reprehensible boots, immediately ceasing the frisbee game. They were not the only ones. Thomas Hobbes, the notorious cowboy and bank robber of Pasadena, was burying his friend Henry James in the sand when he saw the beach-footwear-faux-pas out of the corner of his eye. He placed his hat on his head and spit out the last bit of chaw from his mouth, while his friend James rose and dusted the sand off his rose-colored ball gown. Moments later Kierkegaard, with Reuel, Staples, James and Hobbes by his side, stood over Proust and loudly cleared his throat to gain his attention, the man now sitting on his beach towel with his boots out on the sand, delving into his favorite book.

    —Hello there.    


    —Lovely day, no? You’d be hard pressed to find a more perfect day to sit out on the warm, sandy beach under the sun, no?

    —I guess so.

    —Enjoying that book there?

    —Yeah, it’s pretty good.

    Kierkegaard glanced at the page. Proust was in the middle of the one-act play Unveiling. A pretty good one. He cleared his throat even louder than before.

    —So. What’s, ah, what’s with those boots there?

    —Oh, these? These are my beach boots. I always wear these to the beach!

    Proust patted the sides of his thick boots. Kierkegaard then squinted, so as to suggest that either the bright sun was in his eyes, or, more probably, that he wished to convey a tone that conveyed more severity than usual to deal with an equally severe situation.

    —No one wears boots to the beach. That’s preposterous!

    —Yeah, added John Ronald Reuel, —no one wears boots to the beach!

    —Yeah, his friend Clive Staples chimed in, —that’s preposterous!

    —Yeah, the cowboy Thomas Hobbes helpfully added, —no one wears boots to the beach!

    —And rightfully so, replied Henry James, —for such an absurd behavioral mannerism would indeed be nothing short of utterly preposterous!

    Kierkegaard let out a small sigh, vexed by James’ show-offishness, and once again took control of the situation.

    —Look, we’ve noticed that you’ve been coming here an awful lot wearing those boots of yours. It’s really diminishing the tone here, so I’m gonna have to ask you to take them off please.

    —Why? I’m not breaking any rules.

    —But what about the tone? whimpered Clive Staples.

    —Listen, I really don’t see what harm I’m causing here. All I’m doing is minding my own business, and wearing my own beach boots. if you don’t mind I’d like to get back to my book. It’s very compelling.

    It did look compelling, thought Kierkegaard. He motioned to his friends to step away from Proust and his offensive footwear and huddle, that they could take a moment to discuss their plans in secret. When they broke the huddle Kierkegaard loudly cleared his throat again.

    —So, we decided that if you don’t take off those boots, we’re gonna kill you.

    —You’re not gonna kill me.

    —Yes we are. 

    —No you’re not.

    —Yes we are, retorted Clive Staples.

    —No you’re not.

    —Yes we are, retorted John Ronald Reuel.

    —No you’re not.

    —Yes we are, retorted the cowboy Thomas Hobbes.

    —No you’re not.

    —Consider such a thing the quintessential truth of things that will inevitably come to pass, for we gathered before you are endowed with an iron conviction that only the hand of the Leviathan himself could sway our otherwise unshakable resolve, retorted Henry James.

    —Yeah, and that’s from the Bible, said the cowboy Thomas Hobbes.

    —No, you’re not! How do you think you’re going to kill me, anyway?

    —You just keep those boots on and you’ll find out soon enough.

    —Look, this is ridiculous. For the last time, I’m not doing anything wrong, so leave me alone!

    —Oh, well, since you put it that way, fine!

    Kierkegaard turned to walk away, laughing and throwing his hands up in the air to suggest that the outrage of Proust’s unacceptable footwear was not an outrage, but with a sarcastic tone that conveyed that it was anything but not an outrage. The others followed suit.

    —Sure, we’ll go ahead and leave you alone. The boots? Yeah, no big deal. It’s not like they’re diminishing the tone around here or anything. We’ll just leave, and, you know, we won’t bludgeon you to death with a traffic cone.

    What, traffic cone? As Kierkegaard and his friends walked away laughing, Proust briefly pulled his attention away from the compelling dramatic work of Czech playwright and former president of the non-Soviet-bloc nation of Czechoslovakia, Václav Havel. Better not let it bother me, he thought. They were all obviously out of their minds.    


    —So it looks like we won’t know much about the crime until the DNA tests come back from the labs. There were no usable fingerprints.

    —No need for any of that, said Detective Bob Zimmerman, —it’s obvious what went down here. It’s a clear case of homicide by traffic cone.

    —You think so?

    —Absolutely, said Detective Bob Zimmerman. —The victim has a traffic cone where his head used to be.

    —So, the fingerprints…

    —This is a public beach, isn’t it? asked the Detective Bob Zimmerman. —My God, it could be anyone within a five mile radius! Hey, wait a second!

    —What are you thinking, Detective Bob Zimmerman?

    —Take a good look at this, replied Bob Zimmerman, detective. —Think back to your forensic training at the academy.

    —It looks like he was wearing boots!

    —You’re goddamn right he was, said Detective Bob Zimmerman.

    —That’s crazy! Who in the hell wears boots to the beach?

    Detective Bob Zimmerman put on his sunglasses.

    —No one, that’s who.


    Kierkegaard stood over the broken body of Henry James, holding the blood-stained traffic cone in his hands, and pointed with it at Clive Staples, John Ronald Reuel, and the cowboy Thomas Hobbes.

    —Anybody else here want to “just try on” the boots?

    The others, at a loss of words in utter fear and trembling, either shook their heads or stared at the blood and brain matter dripping from the orange cone, brain matter which had only recently contained an impeccable vocabulary.

    —I didn’t think so.

    Kierkegaard lifted the cone in the air and embedded it into the head of Henry James.

    —Oh man, said the cowboy Thomas Hobbes, —now he’s got a traffic cone where his head used to be.

    —Literally, replied John Ronald Reuel. —Guys, we should go to the police about this.

    —No! No one’s telling anyone! I won’t go to jail again, understand?

    The others looked to each other, hoping that one of them would understand. Clive Staples was still looking at the brain matter splayed on the traffic cone. Maybe if I swallow it, he thought, I can learn what the word erogenous means.

    —Listen, we’re in this together! As long as we’re here, we’re gonna stick together. No one’s ratting out anyone! Got it?

    The others, still confused, made no reply. I wonder how it will taste, thought Clive Staples. Maybe it tastes erogenous? Only one way to find out…

    —What is the matter with you people?! Do you need me to spell it out for you? Do I actually have to show you how to not tell anyone about this?!

    Five minutes later, Kierkegaard was standing before Clive Staples, John Ronald Reuel and the cowboy Thomas Hobbes, who were cross-legged on the sand. A young man beside Kierkegaard watched the goings-on.

    —Okay, let’s pretend that this person right here is someone you might be tempted to tell the thing you’re not supposed to tell. Let’s practice not telling him, shall we? Okay, who wants to go first?

    John Ronald Reuel and the cowboy Thomas Hobbes both raised their hands. Clive Staples was too busy retching out a piece of Henry James’ brain to raise his own hand in time. Kierkegaard called on John Ronald Reuel, who said:

    —Guess what? We killed a guy for wearing boots. And then we killed one of our friends for also trying on the boots!

    A sudden look of concern appeared on the young man’s face. Kierkegaard drew a small pistol and fired it into the young man’s head, who fell to the sand with a thump.

    —What did you do that for, said John Ronald Reuel, —isn’t that what I was supposed to say?

    —No, that was in fact the complete opposite of what you were supposed to say.

    John Ronald Reuel thought hard for a moment.

    —Oh yeah, you’re right.

    Kierkegaard pointed the gun at John Ronald Reuel’s head and fired. He fell next to Clive Staples, who saw bits of brain and gagged once again. The cowboy Thomas Hobbes pointed to the anonymous young man.

    —So, why did you kill that guy?

    —Because he knows what he did.

    —And why did you shoot him? asked Clive Staples, pointing to John Ronald Reuel.

    —Because he told this guy what we did.


    A lifeguard, alarmed by the sound of gunshots, approached them. He pointed to the dead young man.

    —What happened to that guy?

    Clive Staples pointed to Kierkegaard.

    —He shot him.

    Kierkegaard let out a frustrated sigh and shot the lifeguard in the face.

    —Why did you do that? I didn’t even say anything about those other guys we killed…

    —Why would it be okay to talk about one murder but not another? Murder is illegal! Don’t talk about murder!

    Clive Staples thought hard for a moment.

    —Oh yeah, you’re right.

    Kierkegaard likewise pointed the gun at Clive Staples’ head and fired. The cowboy Thomas Hobbes raised his hand and pointed at the second beachgoer.

    —So, why did you shoot him?

    —Because he knows what we did!

    —And, why did you shoot him? asked the cowboy Thomas Hobbes, pointing at Staples.

    —Because he told this guy about what we did to this guy, who knows about the thing we did before!


    A third beachgoer approached them. The cowboy Thomas Hobbes waved and said hello.

    —What’s going on?

    The cowboy Thomas Hobbes shrugged, and the beachgoer walked away. Apparently, he reasoned to himself, nothing was going on at all. Kierkegaard holstered his weapon.

    —Very good! Now see, that’s exactly what I’m talking about…

    He had just removed his hand from the handle of his weapon when out of the corner of his eye, he saw an odd thing. He had glanced at the cowboy Thomas Hobbes’ feet, and thought he saw something black and leathery, something no one in their right mind would wear to a beach, something that would surely ruin the tone for an otherwise fine establishment such as this. In short, he thought he saw the cowboy Thomas Hobbes wearing

    —Boots! Why are you wearing the boots?

    —What boots?

    —On your feet!

    The cowboy patted the sides of his thick black boots with a smile on his face.

    —Oh, these? Well, I’m a cowboy, so I always wear boots to the

    Kierkegaard pointed the gun at the cowboy Thomas Hobbes’ head and fired.

    —No one tells anyone about anything, and no one wears the boots! Got it?

    No one answered. Kierkegaard assumed by their silence that they all had indeed got it.


    —Jesus, it’s a bloodbath here, said Detective Bob Zimmerman, —isn’t it?

    —It sure is.

    —Hey you, said detective Bob Zimmerman to the man in the black trenchcoat and bowler hat, holding the smoking gun over the bloodbath, recently classified as such by Detective Bob Zimmerman, —I noticed you’re holding a smoking gun.

    —I guess I am, he replied.

    Detective Bob Zimmerman put on his sunglasses, then took the gun from his hand, flipped a small switch on the side of the firearm, and gave it back to the man in the trenchcoat and bowler hat.

    —You should always leave the safety on when you’ve got a gun. Otherwise you could kill somebody with that thing.

    Detective Bob Zimmerman took off his glasses, then took another look at the bloodbath to confirm its bloodbathness.

    —Jesus it’s a bloodbath here, he confirmed, then looked up at the man in the trenchcoat and bowler hat. —Do you have any idea who might have done this?

    —No sir.

    —Huh, figures. Well, move along, nothing to see here.

    The man in the trenchcoat and bowler hat moved along.

    —Now we gotta get rid of these bodies, noted Detective Bob Zimmerman. —You brought the gasoline?

    —Right here.

    —Marshmallows? Hershey bars and graham crackers? asked detective Bob Zimmerman.

    —Right here, sir.

    —You like s’mores? asked detective Bob Zimmerman.

    —Sure do.

    Detective Bob Zimmerman put on his sunglasses.

    —Then let’s get to work.


    —What are you thinking about, Detective Bob Zimmerman? Aren’t you happy we wrapped up that homicide case, and we’re eating all the s’mores we want?

    —Well, said Detective Bob Zimmerman, —when you’ve been on the job like I have for forty-five years, you really start to think about the evil that men do, and then, well it just gets to you, you know? You should thank your lucky stars you’re still a rookie, that you haven’t seen the things I’ve seen.

    Detective Bob Zimmerman took off his sunglasses.

    —I keep having this recurring dream. In the dream I see my father before me, astride a magnificent steed, a rainbow-dappled Appaloosa of the Arabian mountains, and he’s calling me. He’s saying, son, son, come ride away with me. And I want to follow him, but I can’t. I just can’t. I can’t because, well, for starters, I’m not on a horse myself, be it a rainbow-dappled Appaloosa of the Arabian mountains or any other breed. As a matter of fact, I’m in my first-grade classroom, my first grade teacher is teaching my old first-grade class and I arithmetic, and I’m not wearing any clothes. And there’s also an elf, and this elf is giving me fellatio. And I’ll be damned if that little elf isn’t giving me the best oral sex I’ve ever had in my life. So I finish up with the elf and I give her twenty dollars and I say thanks and then she skips along on her way to the magical elf land of, Elfland. And then I see a frog, rabbit. A frogit. It’s mostly a frog but it’s got big rabbitey ears, and it’s wearing a top hat. Got two little holes poked in the top for the rabbit ears to go through. And it’s got a cane, too. It can hold a cane because it also has hands, a handed frogit. Jolly little frogit, it was. Jasper, that’s his name. Jasper the frogit. So this little frogit hops up to me, you know, both of those animals are known to hop, so it makes sense that he would too. He hops up to me and says hey there, would you happen to know where the city of London is? I point to London and I say it’s right over there, and he says thanks and hops away in the general direction of London. I reach into my pocket, which is a little flap of flesh on my leg that I can open and close, since, as you can recall, I’m not wearing any clothes at the time. Little flap to keep things in, you know, like a kangaroo, but on my leg instead of my stomach. So I open my little leg-flap and I pull out my wallet, and there’s pictures of my son and daughter, and my wife of forty-five years. I look at the picture of my wife, and my wife looks at me and says, well how do you get to the city of London from here anyhow? And I remember that I had just recently told Jasper the frogit how to get to London, so the location still fresh in my mind I point to London and I say it’s right over there, you just follow the little frogit and you’ll get there soon enough. She says okay, and then she says by the way, I saw your father a while ago, he was calling you, astride a rainbow-dappled Appaloosa of the Arabian mountains. And I tell her, yeah, I know, I saw him this morning, he wanted me to come ride away with him, but I told him I can’t. I just can’t.

    Detective Bob Zimmerman put on his sunglasses.

    —And then I wake up.

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