THE RED BELT
An Experience in the Life of a Salesman
By Charlie Raskin
“The rain in Spain, mainly from the plain” couldn’t even touch it. The fury of that downpour drenched every inch of me. Right down to the bone. No wonder my wife Kathy looked worried as I entered my home in Wayland, back in April 1970. The loving emotion on her face was comforting. But I never got the hug and kisses I so needed at that moment. All of her worry and love was washed away five seconds later when she told me that the Boston Police Department was very much in need of my presence.
“My name is Detective Murphy,” the officer said. “I’m heading a murder investigation here in the city of Boston. We found a red belt, manufactured by a firm called ‘Paris’ and was informed by Filene’s Department Store that you were the salesman for this company. We’d appreciate some information concerning this piece of evidence.”
At this point, I excused myself and reached for the telephone to call my wife. Detective Murphy immediately obstructed my motion and informed me that a call to the suburbs cost money. I used my A.T.&T. credit card to let Kathy know that all was well.
The credit card led to another call—this time, to my Chicago office. The belt was small (30-32”), and it was red. A cotton fabric comprised the body of the belt, and it was attached at each end with very soft, supple leather. One part of the leather was attached to a buckle with a hook that slipped easily into any one of the three holes in the leather on the other end. The soft leather showed a deep crease behind the first hole and a very slight crease in the third. The middle hole showed no wear. The few numbers stamped on the belt showed that it had been delivered to a military PX in Hawaii.
I asked the detective if they had made any assumptions about whether either the victim or the assailant was gay. A crescendo of voices in the room responded with the same question: “How did you know?”
In the 70s, as a salesman, I had come to recognize that a number of gay men who were out of the closet wore clothing in the high color range. And, in my estimation, a good many of them knew how to coordinate colors.
It turned out that the victim was a well-known gay man in the antique business. He had been left, nude, on the floor of his apartment. The only item that didn’t belong in the apartment was the red belt found near him. It was much too small for the victim.
I was asked for more impressions.
Well, I told them, the well-worn creases in the leather showed that the owner had lost a great deal of weight. That and the evidence that it had been purchased at a PX led to my thinking that the owner had been in the U.S. Navy.
The detective told me that the department had a huge supply of other clothing stored in a cell in the basement of the building and asked me to look it over to see if I could make suggestions about their original wearers. I came back the next day and took a look, offering a comment here and there, but nothing that I thought provided the detective bureau with any inspiration.
About a month later, I was called by the department to thank me for the investigative road I had suggested to them. It led to the conviction of three young servicemen stationed in East Boston. And my comments about the other clothing actually produced detective action on other cases.
It occurred to me that, in addition to holding up the weight of the world, the belts and suspenders and ties that I sold added a lot of high color to our daily lives.
Since this is the first piece I’ve ever written for any publication, it might be my last. Inspiration to write came from Liz David, who happens to have an inside track to aging. Also, thought it might be another road to “Conviviality.”
Hope others will take a stab at writing too!