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Death in the Fort - Chapter One

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Jan Hoffman | The Journal Gazette

Chapter 1

The first thing you should know about Fort Wayne is that everybody here knows everybody else.

This is a small town, or at least it likes to pretend it is. For a typical Fort Wayner - and I'm talking about a lifer here - a week doesn't pass without running into someone who knows your second cousin's step-uncle or once dated the woman who waxes your ex-roommate's mustache or something. Here's an example. I've lived here my whole life and have yet to meet one native who hasn't at least heard about that girl I went to high school with, the one everyone called "Rip." (She moved away eventually, if you're wondering. No one could blame her.)

Fort Wayners can be friendly, too. But we have a nasty habit of sending the welcome wagon out only after you've lived here for 10 years. At least. But that doesn't mean we haven't been watching you - mentally cataloging your decisions to recycle your mustard jars and plant corn in your backyard. Locals keep an eye on stuff like that.

Which is why Darleen Fitz seems so strange.

First of all, her name was Darleen, and she was only about 30 years old. Jessica, my roommate, thinks this is hilarious. But Jessica is a Jessica. My name is Martha, so I understand Darleen's plight.

Darleen was born in Fort Wayne, a native and a proud North Side River Rat, she said. But the longer we knew her - and she lived next door to us for nearly a year, attending our barbecues and dropping off spare keys before leaving town - the more we doubted it.

She'd grown up in the Lakeside area, just like us, she said. And yet she didn't know anybody from the neighborhood. Mention any one of the Parishes or the Didiers - and there are plenty to choose from - and her face was a complete blank. And then she'd tilt her head, twist a bit of frizzy blonde hair around a finger and say, "I wasn't very popular."

Everyone from Fort Wayne knows you don't have to be popular to know a Didier. But that's beside the point. Darleen seemed to have no recollection of any of the nostalgic things everyone in the neighborhood remembers - the raft race, hanging out in the parking lot of Karma Records, Mikey's Mustache. (If you wanted a quality perm or mullet, that was the place to go.)

"Darleen is a mystery," Jessica would say. "A mystery that knows no Didier."

Well, she was a mystery. She's not anymore.

Two days ago, I shot Darleen Fitz. But it was OK. She was already dead anyway.