Detective Marilyn Grendel took a drag off her cigarette like a teenage boy giving a hickey. She flicked the spent butt to the ground with a loathing usually reserved for relatives who owe you money. Adjusting her three-dollar blazer over shoulders that said “Express Aisle: 10 Items or Less,” Marilyn stepped over the Highway 5 guardrail with the agility of a dancer with sciatica and a trunk full of black-market bongos.
“What have we got?” the detective barked, her eyes darting along the embankment like a hobo waiting for hummus to fall off the falafel cart. She bent to lift the sheet covering the body lying there unflatteringly on a patch of gravel.
“Just like the others, Sarge,” said the plainclothes officer whose name does not concern us.
“I see,” Marilyn muttered. “No pants?”
“Completely pantsless. No evidence of pants whatsoever.”
“Hmmm,” hummed Marilyn, who was wearing a skirt herself, because it was Wednesday. The body under the sheet was male, Caucasian, Gemini. His face was frozen in a rictus like Rick James after a night of deep-sea apple-bobbing. Wearing a double-breasted jacket over a four-flusher shirt, the victim was naked from the waist down, and not in a good way.
“Did you look under there?” asked Marilyn, not taking her eyes off the corpse, who would not be enrolling in a correspondence course any time soon.
“Under where?” asked the officer.
“Heh-heh,” chuckled Marilyn softly. “Gotcha.”
She lowered the sheet over the body and stood erect only partially out of habit. It was the fifth pantsing this month, and police were no further ahead in discovering the pantser. They’d interviewed everyone who had a history of violent untuckings or involvement in gangland wedgies. Every one of them had perfect alibis and blemish-free skin. The city was on edge.
“Dammit, Grendel,” the superintendent shouted one sentence later. “The city is on edge! Belt prices are soaring through the roof! People are even stitching their pants to their shirts!”
“Don’t be impertinent, Detective! We have a pantsing panic on our hands. Don’t forget this is an election year, and the last thing we need is voters accusing the commissioner of being soft on slacks!”
Back in the place where police do stuff, Marilyn was wracking her brain like a dog trying to figure out if it was the one that made that smell. “Think, Marilyn, think!” she found herself saying to herself as one does with oneself. “There’s got to be a connection.”
And that’s when she saw it: that M&M she had dropped, like, three weeks ago. Turning back to photos of the victims, she suddenly noticed, on each left hip, letters raised ever so slightly under the skin, the letters “L-E-V-I-S.”
“Wait a second,” Marilyn growled through gritted teeth that were least likely to win a prize for dental hygiene. She ripped a sheet of paper out of a notebook, ruining a perfectly good notebook, and wrote the letters down. She began unscrambling them: V-E-I-L-S. No, they were leg coverings, not face coverings. L-I-V-E-S. True, lives were taken… V-I-L-E-S. All those victims, without their pants on, pretty vile, sure, but…
And then she saw it. “So obvious,” Marilyn declared like a tax form. S-E-V-I-L. She picked up the phone, which was on the floor. She put it on the desk, then picked up the receiver and dialed a number, which for privacy reasons we can’t reveal. “Get me the next flight… to Spain!” she shouted.
Fourteen hours later, Marilyn walked through the arrival gate at the Seville airport. She pulled out crumpled note paper again, looked at it again and said, “Oh.”
Fourteen hours later, Marilyn was back in the superintendent’s office. She slammed the note on her superior’s desk like she was placing a bet on how much hummus a hobo could eat. “E-V-I-L-S!” she imparted impatiently. “Something evil is pantsing the citizens of our unnamed city! And I plan to find out who – or what – it is.”
“Well, you better hurry,” said the superintendent, “because you only have a few more paragraphs.”
“Yes, sir,” said Marilyn, turning to the door.
“And Grendel.” She turned back to her boss. “Make them scary.”
Suddenly, at the exciting climax, Marilyn found herself pinned to the ground by an invisible violent presence outside the abandoned insane asylum that used to be a slaughterhouse and was now a portal to a dimension of terror (Forever 21). Her plan to lure the evil pantsing entity by wearing the latest in-style blue jeans had paid off, and now she was fighting for her life – and pants.
“What are you?” Marilyn stammered unsymmetrically, clutching at her waistband with the determination of a dozen drunk frat boys.
“We are the combined spirits of fashion critics and old-school tailors,” uttered an otherworldly voice that hinted of a deep respect for hyphens.
“And what do you want?”
“STOP! WEARING! RIPPED! JEANS!”
As the entity attempted to de-pants the detective, Marilyn whipped out her cell phone and clicked open an Instagram account filled with nothing but young people posing in outrageously ripped jeans. Overwhelmed by the unholy holey-ness, the entity shrieked in agony and began to fade.
“Die, you sons of britches!” screeched Marilyn.
In the silence that was like the waiting room of a podiatrist with foot odor, Marilyn caught her breath, confident that the foul thing was gone. Disgusted with the ripped jeans she was wearing, she removed them herself and held them out before her, amazed that people would pay good money for what looked like a mistake. She could not help but be grateful, however, for the sturdy midsection that had kept her from being another victim of the pantsing.
“Such a waist,” she said.