My first case after I’d been promoted to homicide was a real how-do-you-do. It was June of ‘92, the air was humid, the Nirvanas and the Pearl Jammies (a popular all-child, all pajama-clad Pearl Jam cover band that would later reform as the Goo Goo Dolls) were tearin’ up the charts as well as a place in our hearts. It was a magical time to be alive, but it wasn’t all ripped jeans and bootlegged VHS tapes. There were also pogs. And murder. I still remember the morning we got the call; there was a body found pretty messed up in an apartment in northeast. It was my second week in and I still hadn’t gotten to investigate any murders, since back in ’92 people just didn’t really kill each other that often. What we found was a man tied to a chair, clearly having been dead for days, maybe weeks, covered in burns. There was a single napkin covering his genitals, or at least where his genitals should have been. When we removed the napkin, we found that his penis and testicles had not only been completely burnt off, but worse; they were burnt and given time to heal. Considering the extent of the healing, he had to have been kept alive for at least two weeks after they did whatever it was they did, and that’s not even the strangest part. Where the victim’s genitalia used to be they had left, held in place by a thumb tack, a single curly fry. It would later be determined to have been from Arby’s.
Arby’s began in 1971 with a simple menu of roast beef sandwiches and curly fries. It was widely considered that the roast beef sandwiches were subpar but the curly fries? Delightful. The Arby’s curly fry is perhaps the most altered fast food item in the United States. Since it’s inception, the ingredients have changed dramatically. They were originally created by Theodore Arby when he realized that the curly little tails on pigs looked delicious. At first he would simply deep fry pigs in his parent’s bathtub and remove their tails, then discard the rest of the animal in a local receptacle or an abandoned nursery. His brother, Hubert Arby, would devise a seasoning that would really give them some zing and before you knew it they were making hundreds of dollars (roughly equivalent to two hundred million when adjusted for inflation). Only using baby pigs, as they were cuter and they assumed that meant they would taste better, the Arby brothers would eventually realize that the pigs that died slower, with true fear in their hearts, produced better curly fries. So they began torturing them. The media caught wind when it was brought to light that three of the five Babe’s from Babe 2: Pig in the City ended their lives this way. The Arby brothers used their money and power to cover it up, but they still had to change their ways. So in 1989 they were forced to change the recipe. Instead of using pig tails, they simply used potatoes and extracted the fear juice from the baby pig’s brain. Most pigs don’t survive the process and the ones that do seem different. Quieter, colder.
After investigating the first body they discovered that the penis and scrotum were deep fried and snapped off like a graham cracker. By the end of ’92 we’d found 5 people in similar or worse states than the guy we found in June. The victims came from all walks of life, dentists, mechanics, child pornographers, guys who sell mildly offensive hats at those stands at the mall, there seemed to be no pattern other than they were all found with nothing between their legs but a golden brown crime against humanity. Other than that, they all only had two other things in common; there was always a curly fry where their genitalia used to be, and they were all male. We assumed the reason for them being all male was that they wouldn’t know where to put a curly fry on a woman. The murderer never left any fingerprints and if there were any security cameras in the area their tapes would just happen to go missing. The guy was good. Down at the station we gave him the nickname, “Curly” probably due to the fact that “City Slickers 2: The Search for Curly’s Gold” was tearing up the record books down at the ol’ movie house. The kids just couldn’t get enough Billy Crystal. Hell, neither could I. I must have seen that movie at least 12 times in the theater.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t just Billy Crystal’s razor sharp wit and incredible acting chops that kept me coming back for more (though it certainly didn’t hurt). That summer my fiance Rebecca and I had been fighting a lot. After I’d seen that first body I was pretty shaken up and it just got worse. I put on thirty pounds, I drank constantly, smoked way too much crack and couldn’t get an erection for nearly a year and a half. I couldn’t tell her about the case, it was my burden to bear, not hers, she didn’t sign a pledge to protect and serve. She was just a simple girl from a small town that performed brain surgery on the criminally insane. It would have been too much for her. So when I couldn’t meet her eyes or get hard enough to get anything of significance done, she would often ask me why and I would lie, say, “I guess you’re just not very attractive,” or, “Sorry, babe, I have a headache from looking at you all night. You’re not very attractive.” Sometimes she would cry, other times yell and throw things, eventually she would just stop asking. It was painful for me to do but at least she didn’t have to know the truth; that God’s letting some weirdo with a box of curly fries burn people’s genitals off and there didn’t seem to be a damn thing I could do about it.
Everyone in the department started eating Arby’s brand curly fries as a way to get into the killer’s head. While this ultimately yielded no results, the fries were excellent. Their dark golden brown color mixed with that zesty, oh so slightly spicy seasoning and just enough crunch to really give it some texture was truly a delight for all of the senses. How a man so twisted could love such a wonderful fry was beyond us. By the time the next summer rolled around the bodies had piled up to nearly thirty and we still had nothing. The media really started to come down on us and we started getting desperate, did some things that weren’t necessarily legal. We started detaining all of Arby’s fry cooks in a fifty mile radius. They didn’t know anything. We asked if they knew of any enemies of the Arby’s franchise, perhaps a disgruntled employee or a purveyor of inferior curly fries, but we came up empty, and a lot more perfectly nice folks came up dead.
Meanwhile things at home were getting worse. At this point I had bought a copy of City Slickers 1 & 2 on VHS and watched them both damn near two hundred times a piece. The tapes were so worn out that you could barely make out Billy’s wacky facial expressions in contrast to Curly’s hilariously gruff demeanor, which was a shame, but it was still the escape I needed it to be. I saw less and less of Rebecca at home. She was getting ready to leave me, I could feel it. Thinking back there was a good chance that she was cheating on me. That doesn’t really bother me as much as I think it maybe should, but I was barely a man anymore, I couldn’t give her what she needed. What she deserved. Considering what happened to her… I hope she found at least a little happiness before the end. It certainly wasn’t going to come from me. If I wasn’t at work I usually had my face buried in an Arby’s menu or a study about the health effects of fried foods. I couldn’t focus on anything but the case. Before long I knew more than a man should about any fast food giant. Too much to stay sharp. I couldn’t see the forrest from the trees and I realized far too late that the answer was looking right at me the whole time.
When Arby’s made the transition from a mom and pop restaurant to a full-blown franchise, the Arby brothers knew they needed to add new menu items. They couldn’t simply skate by on curled fries and roasted beefs. They added shakes, chicken sandwiches, BLTs and eventually even ruebens. The Arby brothers had become wealthy beyond their wildest dreams. Unfortunately, the fame and the money was too much for them and they grew increasingly reclusive. By the mid ’90s, nobody had seen either brother in 7 years. People say that when they were forced to change the recipe of their curly fries they severed all ties to the Arby’s restaurant, wanting nothing to do with the compromised menu.
On November 8th, 1993, Curly finally slipped up. Some beat cops were responding to a report of screaming followed by a loud thud in an apartment just off Lyndale. When they got there they found two men torturing another man using, you guessed it; a Backyard Pro All Stainless Steel 30 Quart Fryer Kit/Steamer. Much like the City Slickers franchise, we had two Curly’s on our hands all along, maybe more. One of them escaped out the window but luckily they managed to put a bullet in the back of the other. I got down there as fast as I could, knowing I may not have much time to question him. The second I walked in the door I knew who the man was. I’d seen his face almost every day for the last year and a half while researching this case. It was Hubert Arby.
Hubert wouldn’t tell us anything. He just kept saying crazy stuff, like that the Curled Ones will rule the world one day, to go ahead and kill him, that if you eat one of us, two more will simply get deep fried in their place. Surely, this was our guy, and I had a pretty good idea of who his accomplice was. I just needed proof. I needed to keep Hubert alive. I used my CPR training to get the bullet out of him and tried to stop the bleeding. He might have made it. We’ll never know. Unaware to us, he had a packet of Horsey sauce between his molars. He bit down, overdosing on the richness of it within seconds, and right after I wrecked my second favorite shirt with an attempt to apply pressure to the wound. If he knew he was going to die it would have been polite to do it before I went to the trouble, but I guess it wasn’t his fault, he was sick in the head. When his body got down to the morgue we found out just how sick.
The coroner called my home at 3 that morning. Rebecca and I were both still up, fighting about something. Probably erections. It was always about erections. Which isn’t totally fair, I mean, she hadn’t had any erections in the entire time we were seeing each other, why were they all on me? She was upset with me for taking the call, when I told her I had to go she said that if I leave this house I’ll never see her again. She was right, in a way. I would see her one last time. At least most of her.
It seemed at first that Hubert had been drinking his own Kool-Aid brand soft drink. When the coroner removed his clothes he found that his own penis and testicles had been burnt off, exactly like that of his victims, but that wasn’t all. The coroner also found a hallucinogen in his system. The combination of psychotropic drugs and the mutilation of his genitals would have made him incredibly docile, easy to control, which explained his earlier behavior. Did this mean that Theodore mutilated and poisoned his own brother, using him as some kind of neutered slave? It seemed likely, if a little science fiction-y, but we still needed proof. In the meantime I put out a press release stating if anyone saw Theodore Arby that they should contact the police immediately. My face was on every television in the city, I didn’t take the time to think what that would mean.
I stayed at the office all night, praying we would catch him before he skipped town. As the sun came up I knew we’d lost our chance, maybe forever. I decided to go home, see if I could catch Rebecca before she left, at least get a little closure on this thing. As I walked to my door I smelt something wonderful, something perfectly seasoned, reasonably priced and relatively warm if they were still giving off this much of a scent. At first I thought that perhaps Rebecca had changed her mind about leaving and gotten curly fries to celebrate. But when I saw them simply laying in a pile in front of the door my world went dark at the edges. I opened the door, walked inside in a haze as I followed the trail of fries laid out like candy for a homeless alien. I followed them to the kitchen. They seemed to lead up to the sink. I opened the cupboard. I guess Rebecca hadn’t left after all. I couldn’t accept it, just kept telling my brain to tell me It couldn’t be her, it had to be something else. When there was nothing left to do but accept what I was seeing, my emotions flipped off like a switch. It would be years before they flipped on again, and only partway. Like a dimmer switch that was stuck at the point where there’s kind of a decent amount of light but it would still be pretty hard to read. The curly fries continued to lead into the hallway closet. That’s where I found the rest of her. Well, almost the rest of her. We never did find her thumbs.
When we did a search of the Arby brother’s estate we found more mutilated men, dozens of them, but these were different; they were alive. What we’d been finding for the last year and a half weren’t simply murders, they were failed experiments. Theodore had been trying to build some kind of army, what Hubert must have meant when he referred to the “Curled Ones.” When we got into the basement we found them just standing there, still, starved and naked, curly fries dangling in the breeze. As soon as we turned the light on they all simultaneously bit down on their Horsey sauce packets. Maybe that was for the best.
The question was; how many more of the Curled Ones were out there? What were they capable of? Did Theodore have his army? And if so, what were they for? Hell, we didn’t even know with absolute certainty that it was Theodore, he could have been in the same shape as Hubert for all we knew, just another puppet. But I somehow doubt it. The way he cleaned out all his foreign bank accounts and went into hiding seemed pretty damn guilty to me. For a time I thought about trying to hunt him down myself, beating the life out of him with my bare hands, but what good could that really do? Rebecca would still be dead and it would still be my fault. I’d just be taking one murderer out of the world and creating another. Instead, I lost myself again in Billy Crystal’s delightfully comic vision of the west. I’ve never gotten sick of watching him rope that calf. I likely never will.
To this day, Theodore is a free man, Arby’s is a supremely profitable enterprise and they still make one hell of a curly fry.