“Life is a movie. Death is a photograph.” Susan Sontag

“Suicide is a way of disappearing—carried out quietly; it’s a form of submission.” Pavese

“Paranoia is the other side of love. Once you give in to paranoia, it ceases to exist. That’s why I say submission is a gift, just give into it, don’t resist.” Manson quote in Rolling Stones Mag

 “I was looking at my soul, the incorrigibly wild, insane, scurrying little beast in each of us.” Ralphie in A Christmas Story (after being hit in eye with snowball)

Chaz Diary Entry: Saturday, 6 Dec 1969, Altamont Speedway Wasteland. The landscape resembled the images Eliot evoked in his poem of the Wasteland. Je suis fatigue. Le sound system was woefully inadequate against the freeway’s noise; scenery devoid of trees, nothing but dry terroir and dust. I cannot help but recall the stench of unwashed bodies, cheap beer, and overflowing toilet odors wafting onstage. All subterfuge for what was really happening. Why did I agree—was it because Jones death was so fresh? Rock ended that day for me, and for too many Altamont fans. No more.

Pavese Diary Entry: “America; riotous and happy, obscene, fertile, weighted with all pasts of the world, but also innocent and young, was far preferred to Mussolini’s Italy. I would submit to neither. No one could guess the [name of the] American I praised for writing about murder and sex…”

Nora McGreer’s Baffling Bulb: Being a semi-famous lyricist and composer used to provide the perfect foil in the fame game. Celebrities counted you as one of them. Only a few fans made the connection; the rest ignored you or guessed you were a promotor or a monied fan. You’re invited to the hottest parties; score front row seats and back stage passes; and only ocassionally have to pose for photo ops or sign album covers. Your subterfuge is seldom challenged because you are indeed authentic, though you hide in plain sight. Hillarie Chaz Delecroix hid in plain sight in Key West until someone drugged him and set him on fire.

That was the opening paragraph for Part 2 of my news magazine series. However, Dmetri and I still hadn’t learned why Chaz had become a semi-recluse. Was he being threatened because he knew intimate details about a celebrity—someone the police and press said committed suicide but was really murdered?

We now knew Chaz was at Altamont Speedway that infamous December day in 1969, and was acquainted with Rolling Stones instrumentalist Brian Jones, founding member of the Stones and the 27 Death Club. Chaz had admired Jones mastery of the rhythm guitar, harp, harmonica, reeds, and incorporation of jazzy notes into the Stones’ music. The two men also had an unfortunate affinity for certain drugs, which they liberally mixed with liquor. Jones 1969 death was ruled misadventure. He died in his pool at Cotchford Farms, said to have been the inspiration for A A Milnes Winnie the Pooh acres. He and his guests were stoned on hash cakes that night. One guests, builder Frank Thorogood, had been arguing with Brian about money paid (or owed) for work done on the farm. He was considered a person of interest but never charged.

Since his demise, conspiracy theories have abounded. His face appeared on the cover of the Stones Through the Past Darkly album, with a shattered mirror version on the back cover. Rumors circulated his Satanic bandmates did him in. Were they jealous of his musical credits: I Wanna Be Your Man, his riff on Under My Thumb, instrumental versitility in 19th Nervous Breakdown, recorder showmanship in Ruby Tuesday?  Or had the royals had someone off him because of his friendship with Princess Margaret?

I flashed back to college years as a pseudo-groupie. I couldn’t sing, didn’t play an instrument, wasn’t the mother hen type, nor built to be a roadie. I was the late night girl that dated the boys in the band. I liked being comped free drinks and food during those money tight years. I also dated a few waiters, whose shifts didn’t end until midnite. How many times had I uttered the words ‘I’m with the band?’

One guy I dated did become semi-famous before giving it all up to assume the reigns of his family’s carpet & tile business. He used to beg me to recite poetry to him. The closest I ever came to being called a muse was when a drummer told me I was amusing. The boys in the band drank too much, popped pills, snorted powder; and most of them had oversized egos. How did I ever find them appealing? The deal breaker was being called groupie, instead of the main squeeze of the guitar player. I had no time to further speculate on my choices in the coming weeks.

Dmetri accompanied me to my college campus to listen to a lecture given by Professor Gideon Moody, a pioneer in the field of criminology. He took an early retirement to write a series of books on the budding field of forensics and the high tech tools used to process evidence. But what really sold the books were secrets revealed after interviewing a half dozen serial killers. He was a proponent of predicting future crimes via data analysis and pattern detection. We chatted with him after his lecture but he had no suggestions.

While I taught back to back classes, Dmetri investigated our modest library and then gravitated to the inner courtyard to bask in the sun. It wasn’t long before a group of 20’something females were basking like cats around him, licking up every Italian scented word he exhaled. When I stalked over to where he held court under the swaying palms, he introduced me as his ‘mistress of murder.’ I didn’t know whether to laugh or lunge at his charmingly tanned throat.

“I was telling these ladies about our quest to find the killer of magnificent songwriter and composer Chaz Delacroix, and of my father, sea captain Dorian Alexi. These two murders are surely linked.”

“Well ladies, I’ll see you and you in class Thursday. Meanwhile you can read all about our investigation in Sunday’s newspaper. The first of a three part series runs this weekend. Adios muchacha bonitas.”

“Goodbye my cuties?”

“Mistress of Murder indeed. You know my Spanish is limited, so’s our time. Why don’t I drop you at my favorite travel agency so you can figure out what flights are available and when? I’m going to check out a few more bars, particularly the ones York liked, since he hinted he knew something about Lydia.”

“Va bene.” Why wouldn’t he give you the information?”

“York departed for LA in a pissed, non-grateful for being alive with no charges pressed for breaking and entering mood. He thought I owed him Chaz’ guitar and still insists I tried to poison him. My parting words to him were something to the effect of grab a handful of straws on your way off the island because you suck.”

“Sei una donna cattivo.” Dmetri grinned and pulled me towards him. “You will find this Lydia.”

I told Dmetri I’d pick him up in an hour and then we’d visit a place he might find of interest before grabbing dinner. In the back of my mind, after scouring several more of Key West’s 232+ bars, I had to wonder if Chaz’ true mistress wasn’t untamable, unpredictable music, which he anthropomorphized into a lady named Lydia, an ultimate seductress, fodder for several hit songs?  Which of Nashville’s cowboy singers warbled ‘a sad song don’t care whose heart it breaks?

Chaz never wrote a country song, but there was one that was quite a departure from his typical sultry ballad song style. This is for Your Unfilled Shoe was an experiment in punk—early gothic rock, which Chaz regretted, despite it being a hit for an emerging euro punk band. Several catch phrases from the song, like ‘you sit, flicking ash, not quite famous, not enough bad;’ and ‘I couldn’t stay, or stay quite gone—you chattered on—teeth barred, dewdrops of blood…’ inadvertently became punk rock anthems. I didn’t understand the new emerging sounds: punk, shock, and glam rock; grunge, indie, heavy metal. Old Georgie B. Shaw would have agreed. He said “Hell is full of musical amateurs: their music is the brandy of the damned.

### *** ### *** ###

No trip to Key West is complete without a trip to the Martello Museum on South Roosevelt, home to exhibits by local artists and writers, examples of native and cuban influences, and odd, quirky things. Or rather, I should say odd, Kirky things. After I picked Dmetri up outside the travel agency, I wanted to head for a favorite watering hole and drown myself in 101 proof something. I also wanted to give Dmetri the full 2 ½ mile isle tour, which included a visit to our historic museum, once part of a civil war era fort.

As we exited the museum and I was about to suggest a liquid dinner and free hors’d buffet at a tucked away bar two blocks over from Duval Street, we were ramrodded by Kirky. He was jumping up and down. His eyes were wide as demitasse saucers. Kirky kept repeating he was coming here to live. I replied I didn’t think his mom would like that and he stamped his foot. For a second, I thought he was going to kick me in the shin. Instead, he huffed, then said rather enigmatically not me, him. He tells me stuff and I do it, but I can’t get to him where he is.

This felt like a similar conversation we’d had with the lad. I wondered if Kirky had been baking in the sun too long. His round face was flushed. I asked what he meant and where this HIM was. ‘In the tower window,’ he replied and ran down the block. I shrugged; Dmetri sported a puzzled look and gave a thumbs up to drinks, adding we should annegare i propri dispiaceri nell’alchol (drown our sorrows in booze).

The island was flea-lousey with tourists and parking was a real challenge, even blocks over from main drag Duval Street and its famous sunset view. We ended up parking the car at home and hoofing it to The Bottlecap, a locals bar and hangout. As we rounded a corner to head down Eaton, we were a bit surprised to see Kirky again. He was staring at the turret windows of a large Victorian era mansion at the corner of Eaton and Simonton. When he saw us, he pointed and asked if we saw him, if we could help free him.

“Ah, you mean Robert the Doll. I heard the big fellow was tucked away in a cedar chest.”

“That’s not his name. He’s Sango Chango. He gave me this.” Kirky pulled an oreo sized smooth, black stone from his pocket.

I reached out to grab it, but he withdrew his hand and told me it would cost $1 to touch it. Meanwhile Dmetri was gazing at the window and commented that someone was up there moving about.

“Not you too. I’ll tell you all about the Otto Artist House and its creepy lore over drinks. You probably just saw someone who lives there, or a guest. As for you Kirky, I think you’ve succumbed to decades of tall tales. I heard them too when I was a kid, but no one ever called him Sango. He’s always been Robert the Doll or Robert Otto, Robert Eugene Otto’s best friend. So you think you’ve seen a 3 foot tall doll at the window?”

“Not a doll; he’s a god. He’s got real powers and he’s my friend, not yours. You better watch out or you’ll end up dead too.”

Once again chubby Kirky took off down the street at a surprisingly fast clip. Dmetri called his name, started to sprint after him, but Kirky disappeared between two houses and an assortment of banana trees and poinsettia bushes. “Thirsty work there; it’s a good thing it’s happy hour, two for one drinks.”

“Cattivo bambino. I did see someone at the window, wearing a hat like what your American sailors wear.”

“Oh my stars. I’ve often thought the story was a bit of subterfuge used to attract tourists and encourage visitors to stay at a house haunted by a turn of the century Harlequin doll from Germany.”

“Si, I know this Harlequin. He’s Italian, a how you say trickster character from Bergamo.”

“Okay, though the French would argue that the name Harlequin originated in France, and was some sort of funny, black masked demon that appeared in 11th or 12th century French passion plays. They also called him Pierrot.”

“Are we talking about the bambino or the Robert/Sango doll?”

“Possibly both,” I replied.       

We found two seats at the far end of the bar, ordered drinks and loaded our plates with savory happy hour offerings. Then I told him the story that’s been circulating since the 1930’s about the Otto family and Robert the Doll.

The large house was built in the late 1890s by Thomas Otto after a huge fire had decimated a significant portion of Key West architecture in the 1880s. There were at least three children, two brothers, one of which was named Robert Eugene, and a sister. That made Eugene a third generation conch. His grandad arrived here in the mid 1800s from Prussia. It’s thought he was a physician. There are several stories regarding how the doll came to live at 504 Eaton Street. I tend to favor the first version, which is it was a birthday present given to the boy, around 1904, by his grandad. The doll was unusual, over 40 inches tall, made by the German toy company Steiff. Can you guess what else Steiff made? Teddy Bears, named after our 26th President, or so the story goes.”

“Yes, very interesting, but what does that have to do with the person in the turret?” Dmetri started on his 2nd drink.

 “Very little; I’m getting to the good part. The doll may have been a window display and probably sported a Harlequin costume. At some point, the doll was dressed in a sailor outfit of Eugene’s that he’d outgrown, and included a sailor cap.” Dmetri choked on his drink, a Negroni. I handed him a napkin.

“It didn’t have a pretty face; little beady black button eyes, a nob of a nose, no hair, and odd shaped ears. The body was felt and stuffed with straw. Locals say Eugene took the doll everywhere. If something got broken or Eugene forgot to close the door or pick up his toys, he’d blame the mishap on the doll. They were inseparable.

It was embarrassing. The young man was labelled an eccentric. Though it seems other family members were also a bit strange. They had a pet deer they named Elfina and buried her in the family plot, along with three Yorkie Terrier dogs. Eugene’s parents were strict, even harsh with their servants, who were of Cuban and Caribbean descent. That’s where version two of the story comes in. We better order another round of drinks.”

“It’s rumored Eugene’s parents mistreated the staff. His favorite servant, a Bahamian or Cuban woman, was punished by Eugene’s mother. She talked back after being accused of something she didn’t do. She was fired. Before she left, it’s said she was the one that put the sailor suit on the doll and enchanted it. Or cursed it, depending on what stories you heard. Others claim the servant gave him the doll, which makes little sense as it was made in Germany.

At first, his parent’s would hear a man’s deep voice talking to Eugene. But when they opened his bedroom door, Eugene was alone, and all the servants were accounted for elsewhere. Other odd things happened—silverware would fly out of a drawer if Eugene was scolded for not eating his food. Or the doll would be spotted in his room, propped against the window, then seconds later would appear on the main level, tucked into a corner of the room. High pitched giggling would be heard when someone got in trouble or said something Robert the Doll or Eugene thought was amusing.

When Eugene went away to school, the doll was locked in a trunk, though he apparently escaped a few times. It somehow parked itself next to a turret window. Eugene studied architecture and advertising, but then decided to become an artist. While attending art school in Paris he married a woman (around 1930) named Anette, a pianist, and brought her to his house in Key West. From her first introduction, she loathed the doll and apparently the feeling was mutual.

There was an unexplained event after Eugene and Anette had a fight. A glass vase on a sideboard shattered and a single sharp edged piece left a deep gash on Anette’s arm. Robert was relegated to the Turret Room, where Eugene did much of his painting. It was said whenever Eugene left the house, you could see Robert stationed in the window, though the doll appeared to move from one window to another.” I paused and took a deep toke of my planter’s punch. So when do you leave me?

Dmetri stared into his glass, then placed his hand atop mine. “It would seem both stories could be true. It would also seem whatever date I leave will make us both sad, no? This name Sango Chango. What does it mean?”

“I’m not sure; it sounds like one of the Voodoo loa gods, or perhaps it’s the name of a Cuban god of importance to practitioners of Santeria. Or maybe spooky Kirky just made it up. I’m going to have a talk with his mother Dolores.”

“It’s curious, the house that intrigues Kirky was built in the Victorian era. It’s from the Victorian’s we get the notion of the innocence of childhood and children. Those crazy Vic’s thought children were free of sexual and evil impulses. Even further back, I think Rousseau suggested everyone starts out good. He captured a wild child and thought he could civilize him. I wonder what he’d make of feral child Kirky? We need real food. How about a Cheeseburger in Paradise?”

Next up: Act 10, Acts of Devotion and Desperation and Chapter 4 of Remains to be Seen, A Bundle of Thorns