A scene from an unpublished teledrama: The Oval Office of the White House. Behind the desk, the President of the United States. He speaks into an intercom.
Bill Clinton: Are there any more appointments today?
Voice from the intercom: There is just one more. The park ranger in charge of the investigation into poor Vince Foster’s suicide would like to make his report to you.
BC, grimaces, but responds politely: Send him right in, please. From a door, stage right, emerges a middle-aged man with slumping shoulders, wearing the uniform of a U.S. Park Ranger and a worn raincoat. He looks confused as he enters, then sees the President and brightens up.
Park Ranger: Oh, Mr. President, there you are. So good of you to meet with me, Sir. BC: Not at all, Park Ranger. I’m happy to see you.
PR, shaking hands: This is a real pleasure. Sir.
BC, looking at his watch: This will only take a few minutes, won’t it. Park Ranger?
PR: Oh, yes. I think so, Sir.
BC, beckoning to a chair in front of his desk: Please make yourself comfortable.
PR, sitting down: Thank you, Mr. President. It’s quite an honor to meet vou. Sir. I am afraid I am very nervous. Sir. Could I ask you a favor? Would you mind if I smoked a cigar while we talked, Sir? It would help me concentrate.
BC: Well, technically the Oval Office is a “smoke-free zone,” but I guess what the First Lady doesn’t know won’t hurt me. Will it, Park Ranger? As they both laugh, the ranger takes out a cheap cigar and lights it.
PR: No, Sir. I don’t suppose it will. Although, to speak frankly, smoking lost me my last job. I used to work for the Los Angeles Police Department, for 20 years, Sir, but I was let go for violating the “smoke-free zones” too many times. So I am rather sensitive on the point. And you mentioned your wife, Sir. Before we begin, I want to say one thing. My wife thinks your wife is sensational. The First Lady can do no wrong in her eyes. She is going to be tickled pink that I got to meet you. Suddenly looks embarrassed. And you are no small potatoes yourself, Sir, if I may say so.
BC, smiling benevolently: Thank you, Ranger. Very kind of you. Eh, could we get down to business?
PR: Why, of course, Sir, I don’t mean to take up much of your time. Takes out a pocket notebook and stares at it, then looks up nervously.
BC: Are there any problems. Ranger?
PR: Oh no, Sir. Nothing serious, that is. It’s just that I have a mind that is bothered by little details, and I write them down in my notebook. If I could just go over a few of them with you, Sir?
BC: Certainly, Ranger.
PR: For instance, Mr. President, there is the matter of the fingerprints on the suicide note, the one Mr. Foster ripped up and threw away. Sir.
BC: What fingerprints?
PR: Exactly the point. Sir. I have tried again and again to rip up a piece of paper and leave no fingerprints on the pieces, but I just can’t do it. Mr. Foster ripped up his suicide note into more than 20 pieces, and the FBI found no fingerprints on it. I just can’t figure it out. Sir.
BC, smiling: I believe I can help you there. Park Ranger. I remember that back in Arkansas Vince often helped dry the dishes after he had finished working on the finances with the First Lady. My theory is that he had just finished drying the dishes when those awful Wall Street Journal editorials finally got to him and he wrote down his intentions and then ripped up the note, still wearing the rubber gloves he wore to do the dishes. That would explain the lack of fingerprints, wouldn’t it, Ranger?
PR: Yes, it would. Sir. That would explain it well enough. Tell me, Sir, did you help with the dishes back in Arkansas?
BC, chuckling: To tell the truth, Ranger, I’ve never been very good with figures and my evenings were pretty busy, even back then.
PR: Of course, Sir. I understand.
BC: Is that all, Ranger?
PR:Yes, it is. I believe so, Sir. Looks back at his notebook. Oh, yes, Mr. President. There is one little matter. The powder burns, Sir.
BC: Powder burns, Ranger?
PR: Yes, Sir. There were no powder burns on Mr. Foster’s face or clothing. I just can’t figure out how he did it. Sir. A man committing suicide usually puts the gun right up to his face or even inside his mouth. Sir, I’m having a problem imagining how he did it. Holds his hand at full length away from his face and wags his thumb vigorously. You don’t usually hold the gun so far away that there are no powder burns. In fact, I don’t know how you can do it.
BC: What are you suggesting, Park Ranger?
PR, looking baffled: Suggesting, Sir? I’m not suggesting anything, Sir. I am just having some problems figuring out exactly how he did it.
BC, looking impatiently at some papers on his desk: Is there anything else, Park Ranger?
PR: Oh no. Sir. I don’t believe so, Sir. Pages through his notebook as he speaks. Oh yes, Mr. President, there is one more thing. The position of the gun, Sir. When Mr. Foster was found, Sir, the gun was in his hand with his fingers tightly wrapped around the grip. Normally the force of the explosion will knock the gun right out of a suicide’s hand. It’s all very puzzling. Sir.
BC: Really, Park Ranger, I would like to hear more of your interesting speculations, but I am expecting an important phone call from, er, Boris Yeltsin. I hope that you will excuse me.
PR: Why, of course, Mr. President. I’m just grateful you could spare me this much time. Gets up and walks to the door. As he reaches the door, the President speaks to him and he turns around.
BC: Before you leave, Park Ranger, I have a little question for you.
PR: For me. Sir?
BC: Yes. What did you say your first name was?
PR: Oh, Sir, nobody calls me that but my wife, Sir. Just call me Park Ranger Columbo.
BC: Park Ranger Columbo, you mentioned that you used to work for the LAPD. I didn’t realize that they had a Parks Division.
PR: Oh no, Sir, they don’t. I used to work in Homicide, Sir. I was a lieutenant in the Homicide Division. Well, I’ll just leave you alone now, Mr. President. And thank you again for your time. Exits stage right through the door by which he entered. When Columbo is gone, the President stares after him, and what he has heard begins to sink in. He presses the buzzer on his desk.
BC: Get Hillary, Janet, and George in here on the double.
Voice from the intercom: Is there a problem, Mr. President?
BC: I have just been talking to a very depressed man. I have a horrible premonition that a valued member of the United States Parks Service is on the verge of suicide. The President sits back pensively in his chair.
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