Detective Story

By James Lineberger

Featured art by sir Edwin Landseer

When I worked as a janitor at the courthouse
I met a detective in the Sheriff’s department
whose son, I learned, had committed suicide
some months earlier. Having lost a son myself
in a car-train collision, I tried to offer my condolences.
“Your boy kill himself?” the detective asked bluntly.
“We never knew,” I replied. The detective grunted
noncommittally and opened his desk drawer to take out
a photo of his son, a young man in his twenties, kneeling
and embracing a dog as he grinned for the camera.
“Two days before it happened,” the detective said.
“About the same age as our son,” I said.
The detective stared at the photo for a moment.
“You got a dog?” he asked.
“Two,” I said.
“Thing about a dog,” he said, “a person can screw up
a hundred ways, and his dog will love him when he can’t
even love his self.”
“Our son’s dog still sleeps at the foot of his bed,” I said.
The detective turned the photograph over on its face
and glanced up at me, his eyes as cold as stars.
“Ain’t his dog,” he said. “It’s mine.”


James Lineberger wrote the book and lyrics for the first American rock opera, The Survival of Saint Joan. His screen adaptation for the Devery Freeman novel Father Sky was filmed by Twentieth Century Fox as Taps. His poetry has appeared in Prairie SchoonerBerkeley Poetry ReviewVerdadBoulevardHanging LooseNew York QuarterlyOxford MagazineSonora ReviewSeneca ReviewTexas Review, and Verse.

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