It Was the Hipster Who Done It by Caleb Coy
We didn’t want to go to the mystery dinner theater, but we kind of always wanted to, and so none of us knew which of the others would be the one to offer it as an option. It was Asa, Jude, myself, and our friend Raoul, who was a total hipster.
Paint the town; that’s what we had in mind. We were general practitioners of the metropolitan class, and so having a night free meant we had to hang out downtown, but without going to any of the typical venues.
We tried to figure out where to get a drink. Asa offered The Crater, and we all said no. Raoul offered The Songbird’s Poison, and we all said no. Then we laughed about it, and we all said yes.
“What if we totally went to The Songbird’s Poison, got hammered, and then went to the mystery dinner theater and tried to solve it?”
That was how Raoul put it, chuckling as he said it, because neither of us truly wanted to do either of those things, but doing both of those things would be a riot.
It was no dive bar, though that would have offered us cheap beer, and honestly, we were cheapskates. You had to be in this city. Songbird sounded more like a coffee shop, but was more like a jazz bar without the jazz. Something trenchant played over the radio.
We all sat down, and I was grinning like Pan even though they didn’t serve any IPA. We ordered our drinks. Jude thought it was cute to ask for a martini when everyone else was going for good ol’ tap in the glass. Asa, with the best redneck inflection he could muster, asked for Miller Light. It was a Sam Adams lager for me. Raoul said he would need to look at the menu.
“What if I started with the boilermaker? I feel it would capture my rugged blue-collar vibes.”
“You have to drop the glass in,” I said.
“Do it,” goaded Jude. “Seriously. Do it.”
Raoul relented. “Okay, okay. Don’t dragoon me.”
We commenced with baring our souls as we waited for the first round of drinks to arrive.
Jude began, “Oh-my-god, guys, last night I watched this outrageous documentary called the Science of Sex. Awkward!”
“Was it any good?” I asked.
“The sex wasn’t bad, but the science was terrible.”
We shared in an equally mendacious chortle. Jude would always dress fairly prudish, but tease us with a more coquettish mind, only to express ultimate ambivalence for romance or physicality. She was quite the social-intellectual tease.
Asa was restless from nothing, and none too buoyant. He shuffled with us and our incongruous taste because he wouldn’t shuffle with anyone else. He would not take himself more seriously than he had to. He was pretty quiet for minutes, until he let out a compact monologue, sensitive and sinister.
“That’s just like my mom would do. She’d take baby pictures of me and make them into Christmas ornaments. No joke. And it became like a decorative hobby for her. It’s probably because my dad stopped showing her affection. Little baby facsimiles of me in every room. Which didn’t hamper my development into an adult at all.”
“That is so kitsch,” said Raoul. “Your mother was literally—I can’t defend this—she was literally perpetuating a simulacrum of regressive embryonic maternity. It’s a panopticon of passive-aggressive codependency.”
Asa rolled his eyes and nodded. “Sure.”
We weren’t sure why we even brought Raoul along. He was an ostentatious, obscure, shabby Bohemian of the millennial variety who had a doctorate in philosophy. But he never flouted the doctorate itself. It was more the posture he maintained, which he could have without the education, but needed a defense mechanism against anyone calling him out for passing everything off as vapid.
We’d ask, “How you doing, Raoul?”
He’d say, “Oh, I’m just trippin’-the-light fantastic over here.”
He would answer his questions like that, oozing with sarcasm so effortless there had to be a perpetual—one might say—Sisyphean dedication to the task of writing off everything in existence.
Our server came by to ask how our drinks were.
I didn’t know who said that at first, but I thought it was Raoul after completely draining his boilermaker. (When it arrived, we dragooned him into dropping the shot into the mug, and he laughed like a child.) But it was the man alone in the booth across from us. He had emptied a tall glass and scribbled some words down on a pad in front of him. I pictured him as some harried reporter who’d lost his lead and proceeded to bury his head in some cheap rye.
“I think he’s on to something,” said Raoul.
“How many has he had?” I asked.
The server, a masculine and tall girl with a skeletal horse tattooed on the back of her neck, appeared unnerved. “I apologize if he’s rude,” she said. “If he becomes a problem, we’ll gladly have him escorted out of here.”
“He looks pretty entertaining to me,” said Raoul.
“Don’t look him in the eye,” said Asa.
We downed our drinks and got into our second round. We got into talking about how much we wanted to visit this art exhibit inside an abandoned warehouse, when Raoul mumbled something nobody understood. Something about The Glasgow School. We all kind of ignored him. He seemed pretty sour about it, but we were too buzzed to take personally anything so slight. Raoul was giving off the air that everyone else was feeble-minded for not being as narrowly cultured as he was, so narrow that he was outside the purview of everyone around him, and therefore outside our scrutiny. And for this he might have felt scrutinized.
We were having a good time with our drinks, with still plenty of time until the dinner theater, which didn’t start until nine. (There was an early five-o-clock show and then a nine to make room for two a night.) Not a patron there could have been lacquered up so early, we thought, but there went the guy in the booth again, four empty glasses in a row before him, muttering obscenities and cursing the very perfume of his distilled breath.
“Annoying,” said Jude.
Asa pretended to fawn over him. “He just needs a hug.”
“He needs to pay his tab,” I said.
Asa scrolled through his phone and mentioned something about a movie coming out that he had no intention of seeing.
“There are infinite possible iterations of the same formulas,” Raoul spat. “What is it now? Fast and Furious 40?”
“I think all the actors have to be over forty,” said Jude.
“Hey, Lucy.” Asa asked me, “What’s a good feminist movie? Are there any out?”
I feigned genuine shock, because I knew Asa was putting on the airs of assuming I kept tabs on good feminist movies, and he enjoyed playing the part of a male chauvinist bent on domination by way of teasing.
“Are you saying I would know because I’m a woman, or because I’m doing feminist studies?”
“The former, obviously.”
“Wonder Woman, obviously.”
“Women’s studies has become the Holy Grail of academia,” Raoul said with the cringing gall of a conservative. “It’s all about what women are not, and it just changes every five years. Women don’t have to be angels. Women are not just there to be dissected. Women are not toys. Women are not property. Women do not have to be on the margins. You could pretty much run the gamut with race studies and queer studies, as long as you stay in the qualifying negative.”
The table was quiet from exhaustive listening.
I said, “What blog did you read that in?”
He flinched away. “Why don’t you write a blog?”
“I do have a blog.”
Minutes into what might or might not have been a titillating discourse, Asa noticed a lack of spinal erectness in the lone imbiber across from us. He had begun a dozing phase of sorts, eyes closed, body slouched.
“Finally,” said Raoul. “Our evening is saved.”
“I thought he’d never shut up,” I said.
Raoul nudged my side. “You won’t go over there and take a selfie with him.”
Jude got wide-eyed. “Do it, Lucy. Do it. Come on.”
“You won’t,” said Asa.
I did. I snuck over to the table, sat beside our drunken companion, and snapped a photo of myself smiling, to my own delight, beside his clueless form.
The others joined in, one at a time, of course. Raoul had to go first, as it was his suggestion in the first place, and he wouldn’t dare have been the last to hitch on to a growing trend. We each had our singular fill of snapping a pic with our human statue without his consent. Common criminals.
“We could make it an exhibit,” said Raoul.
“It could be a commentary on alcohol and rape culture,” said Jude.
“Or the illusion of interaction on social media,” said Asa.
I shrugged. “We should send them to him later.”
“How?” said Asa, bewildered. “You’d have to unlock his phone. You could grab his finger and do it.”
“You won’t do it,” said Raoul.
Our behavior was without the embarrassment of sobriety, even after the inebriated fool stirred, grumbled loudly enough to bother every other patron, and gulped down the remainder of his final glass.
“More?” said Raoul. “This is like the Holy Grail of indulgent exchange. I’m suddenly uncomfortable.”
“You are not,” I said. “You’re enjoying every minute of it.”
Raoul was, without question, an epicure of the derelict and indecipherably topsy-turvy to a level so annoying that even we could hardly tolerate him. We tolerated him because we enjoyed just how intolerable he could be.
“Watch him drink himself to death and us be the last humans he ever touched,” said Asa.
“I didn’t touch him,” said Jude.
“Raoul dragooned us into it,” I said.
“Don’t use my word,” he retorted.
It was getting to be time to head on over to our dinner theater, which none of us were looking forward to and, therefore, all of us were giddy about. Our neighbor had not arisen for quite some time. I asked our server if they should do anything about him.
“I don’t know if he’s a regular,” I said, “but he looks like he’s seen better days.”
Raoul couldn’t help but sound derisive. “Yeah, maybe you should check his pulse.”
The server looked either concerned or put off by Raoul’s tone, and perhaps it was both.
“I don’t remember this guy,” she said. She put her tray down and leaned slowly into the booth to check the man’s pulse, per Raoul’s suggestion. Once the idea was in the air, she felt compelled to act on it. At Raoul’s snarky compelling, Asa reached for one of the glasses on the tray and stole a sip.
“You’re such a thief,” Raoul said to him.
“You made me,” said Asa defensively.
Raoul rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I made you.”
A startled whine came from the server. “Uh, I think he might be—oh, my god.” She took off toward the back of house.
The four of us exchanged looks. Upon closer examination, a strange foam emitted from the lifeless man’s lips. He could have drunk too much, but then again, there was something completely off about his look.
“No way,” said Asa.
Jude stared at the unmoving guy. “Is he . . .”
I gulped. “We just took selfies of a dead guy.”
Raoul slammed his glass on the table and wobbled in mock anger. “Well, that really puts a damper on the evening.”
I was a little bummed out that we were required to stay until the EMT’s came and confirmed the man’s death, which meant that we might be running late to our mystery dinner theater, but the excuse would free us up for some other activity. I really wouldn’t care if we all went and got some food truck noodles. However, the inkling I had that his death was not only certain but caused by some toxin other than alcohol was quickly confirmed once a detective arrived on scene and the four of us were corralled at one end of the bar.
“I sense foul play,” I said. “Did you see the way he was drooling that pink foam?”
“Like blood?” said Jude.
“Keep your voice down,” said Asa. “We could be suspects.”
“And why would you be suspects?” came a voice. A woman in a tight black blazer and hair in a bun stood at our table. She carried a pen and notebook, but she was not our server.
“Awkward,” said Jude.
Raoul quickly rolled up a twenty like a cigar and jiggled it in front of his face, doing his best Groucho Marx.
“Either this man is dead or my Apple watch has stopped.”
“So this is funny to you people,” the woman said. “I’m detective Quinn. You’ll be answering some questions for me tonight. I understand you had some interactions with Mr. Cadere before he passed.”
“Wait,” I said. “Cadere? As in cadaver?”
“Yes, I get it,” said the impatient detective. “You’re all so educated. Thank you for taking this seriously. It would be in your best interest not to treat this like some kind of dinner theater.”
The detective took our names, then our phones. The procedure was torturous. She would comb through our photos and implicate us in the murder. We were done for.
“How is it murder for a guy to drink himself to death?” said Asa. “When my uncle did, they called it suicide.”
“Society is guilty, in my opinion,” said Jude.
“Everything here is a crime,” said Raoul. He slammed a fist on the table like a bad actor in a courtroom drama. “Violence, hypocrisy, robbery, betrayal. And that’s just what pop radio is guilty of.”
I sighed angrily. “Would you knock it off, Raoul? We could be in serious trouble now.”
“We didn’t do anything,” said Jude.
“I concur,” said Raoul. “This is a non sequiturial sequester.”
“What if we did do it?” said Asa, eyes scanning the table like a lighthouse. “Like, one of us?”
“I’ll have the detective order us takeout,” said Raoul.
It was rare, but it was real. Between the four of us there was enough of a buzz to make light of our own paranoia. We lackadaisically considered the possibility that one of us was a murderer, if only to make a game out of it. The scenario didn’t seem real. The man was passed out, and the cop was an amateur. We just wanted our phones back and didn’t know what to do with ourselves without them. We were like children when the storm knocks out the television.
Jude gestured at me with an empty hand. “Well, I guess we’d have to blame Lucy.”
“Why would it be me?” I said.
“You took the selfie before anyone else did,” said Raoul.
I spun to face Raoul. “It was your idea, you cretin.”
He shrugged. “I provided the pictures, you provided the war.”
“It’s the perfect cover,” I said. “You made me go first so it wouldn’t look like your idea.”
“Or maybe it was Asa,” said Jude. “He wanted revenge because we didn’t choose The Crater first. And he predicted the guy would drink himself to death.”
I caught a ride. “And he snuck a drink when the server wasn’t looking.”
Asa was visibly offended. “So why would I kill a random patron?”
“He reminds you too much of your uncle,” said Jude.
“But the unsatisfied patron wasn’t that old guy,” I said. “Deep down, it was also Raoul. He poisoned the patron because he was the patron.”
Asa’s jaw dropped. “The epitome of projection.”
“Whatever,” said Raoul, uncomfortable. “If you want to talk projection, Asa was the first to suggest it was one of us. That’s a partial confession in my book.”
Asa shrugged off the accusation. “Have we considered that it might be Jude? She’s the one who expressed the most awkwardness tonight. Why? Because she was plotting manslaughter.”
“That was the worst effort,” said Jude.
“You were complicit with your instigation of the selfies,” said Raoul.
“Exactly,” I said, but turned to Raoul. “And that’s what unnerved you. You didn’t think of it first, so you had to go and ruin it.”
“Go on,” said Asa.
“Just look at him,” I said. Everyone looked at Raoul. His glasses were thick-rimmed, his T-shirt bore the logo of a band nobody recognized, and the cap on his head was from another century.
“Raoul is a total hipster,” I said. “Why does he choose anything that he chooses? It’s because he’s a complete ascetic. Who chose where to drink tonight? Raoul. Who chose the most absurd drink in the house? Raoul. Who made the most lunacy of our selfies? Raoul. Who mocked the justice system when the detective appropriated our phones? Raoul.”
“This is my favorite kangaroo court ever,” he said derisively.
“You’re kind of proving her point,” said Jude.
I championed my argument further. “Who among us has the most irascible appetite for what one does not at all like? The hipster known as Raoul. All things done with grinning disdain.”
“That’s because everything is bigoted,” said Raoul. “And you all are just blind to it.”
“You’re not helping your case,” said Asa.
Raoul was struck dumb. He had no defense in the face of our critique now that he was the one critiqued.
I stood before the table and continued my argument.
“A serious study of our friend Raoul will find that he restrains his appetites with a religious duty so well practiced that we would never even notice how much he can’t stand the experience of life itself.”
However damaged, half of him stuck out his chest like one of those yogis who might as well be flipping off the universe, with one arm perpetually held in the air for no other reason than to withhold themself from enjoying the low-hanging fruits of society. He would rather starve than eat with the rest of us.
I said, “If we look at the selections that Raoul curates for himself, you will see that he abstains from everything imposed on his own self in the presence of everyone. By default, he can’t ever allow himself to be seen sincerely enjoying anything he indulges in. And this makes him a hero of fasting.”
Raoul rolled his terrible eyes. “You’re totally stealing from The Hunger Artist.”
Asa pointed a finger. “Nietzsche reference. Check.”
I counted the offenses of the night on my fingers. “The Songbird’s Poison. The dinner theater. The boilermaker. The admittedly rape-y selfies that we should all probably do some penance for. Where did they originate? And more importantly, who thought of them before they were popular, only to dismiss them once we all assented to it?”
“Wait, wait, don’t tell me,” said Raoul. “The suspense is to die for.”
“Behold,” I said, “the sorry scenester who devours the luxury of that which he ridicules, able to both enjoy it and enjoy hating it in simultaneous planes of existence, neither of which he fully inhabits, rendering his being incapable of fault. He especially seeks what he detests, and vice versa.”
“The hobo who goes anywhere but a hobo camp,” said Asa. “Lucy, you’re brilliant.”
“So Raoul is literally the killer?” said Jude, confused.
“Not so much that,” said Asa. “But I’m convinced he’s actually kind of a jerk.”
I grabbed a pile of napkins and placed them out on the table in squares. “Suppose I bought twenty records at random and laid them in front of our critic here.”
“Why do they have to be records?” said Jude.
Ignoring her, I continued. “Would we be able to guess which one he would pick? More importantly, how would we know he wouldn’t pick the one he hates the most? Of course, he would want to select Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, but only if we’d never heard of them. If we are all fans of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros—”
“They’re okay,” said Raoul.
“He would have to be more subtle about it,” said Asa.
“That is precise,” I said. “If he picked the freaking “Macarena,” we would know. We could all happily detest the “Macarena” and, therefore, covertly enjoy the “Macarena.” He would be the first to try it, and lay claim to dissing it as well. The perfect cover-up for murder.”
“The ultimate expiation of boredom,” said Raoul, sneering.
“See?” said Asa. “There he goes pretending he’s not infatuated by your spot-on assessment of his ascetic lifestyle, or lack thereof. I find him guilty.”
“Of what?” said Raoul. “General indifference toward mediocrity? Weariness of the mundane?”
“Of committing the most ironic of murders,” I growled with enthusiasm. “You could not stand the sight of a complainer who kept sipping on that which he complained about. The stubbornly self-inflicting patron was a mirror of yourself, bare and beleaguered by your own bored betrayal of the belly.”
“Stop alliterating,” said Raoul. “I hate excessive alliteration.”
I stood my ground before the jury of three. “His motive was clear. Raoul drinks offensive poison every day, and so he finally poisons the worst likeness of himself, out of spite, and makes a show of it in front of everyone.”
Jude’s face grew twisted. “Like . . . as a joke?”
Raoul tittered to himself. It seemed he had finally cracked.
“Holy Mahatma,” said Asa. “You really did do it. Like, not even metaphorically. Like, literally.”
“You see?” I said proudly. “This is what the hipster hates the most: murder. Society is so mundane and meager that it murders every good thing, and so the soul who could bear it no longer finally committed that which he hated the most.”
“We get it,” said Jude. “Sit down.”
“I can’t sit down beside a killer,” I said. “I don’t feel safe.”
“You really don’t want to be a reformer, after all, but a destroyer,” said Asa, looking glumly across the table at Raoul. “It’s all just relative to you, isn’t it? You always hang out with us because you hate us. That’s the joke, isn’t it?”
Raoul shrugged his shoulders. “Come on. You guys hate me too.”
The detective appeared, sullen-faced, and threw our phones back on the table.
“No need to question you guys. You’re lucky our primary suspect broke down right in front of me.”
It was then that we saw a cop leading our server away in handcuffs.
“What happened?” I said.
“That man you so respectfully toyed with in the last minutes of his life was Hollis Cadere, the city’s most renowned food and wine critic. He hated this place, always gave it a damning review.”
“Then why did he come back to it?” said Jude.
“Beats me,” said the detective. “But it looks like someone put our server up to the task of silencing our critic once and for all.”
“The owner?” said Asa.
“We have no official comment on that. But we have identified a suspect who is about to give a full confession. Looks like their honesty did us all a favor. And here I was thinking this locked room puzzle was going to last all night.”
“Just long enough to make us late for our next venue,” said Raoul.
Detective Quinn crossed her arms. “A man just died tonight. Right beside you. You know, you guys might be societal scum for your crass disregard for a man’s life, but for once, you’re innocent tonight. Enjoy it if you can.”
She left our table, leaving us to do the inevitable: Google Mr. Cadere’s reviews and spill the beans on social media about his demise. It was the Holy Grail of eyewitness calamity. We’d had to settle for mystery beer theater, and we were all too clever to have solved it. Yet it turned out that none of us had done the deed, not that I seriously thought any of us had.
“Regardless,” I said, “I still think our friend Raoul committed murder tonight.”
“Your repetition is in vain,” said Raoul. “I get it. I’m not appreciated.”
Asa performed a slow clap. “Way to go, Raoul. You hijacked our murder mystery.”
“Hope you’re happy,” said Jude.
The accused crossed his arms in defiance, stewed over the implication, then relaxed.
“At least we got our phones back. I bet drinks are on the house, eh?”
We eyed him silently.
“Hey, you guys wanna get some street food?”
Caleb Coy is the author of the hipster novel, An Authentic Derivative. His work has also appeared or is forthcoming in Shotgun Honey, Mystery Tribune, North Dakota Quarterly, Hippocampus, The Common, and elsewhere. He has a Masters in English from Virginia Tech. He lives in southwest Virginia, but all his friends live in Nashville, of course.