It had been decades since he’d been back to the old town. Catching up with old friends and seeing the folks he knew as a kid had been fun. But he was really here for another reason.
He had to go back to the cabin. Part of him hoped it was still standing. And a bigger part of him hoped it had long ago collapsed on itself, burying their secrets with it. A bunch of kids, they were what they were, at the time had found the old cabin and used it as a clubhouse of sorts for years. Keeping their secrets from the world. And their parents.
It was the third night in town when he had a chance to sneak away unnoticed. Leaving his car by the road he took his flashlight and found the old stone path that had led to the cabin. At one time he was sure it had been a really nice place, but even back then it had been a wreck. The years had been as kind as they could be to a dilapidated house. It was still standing. In the moonlight, he made out the shape of the old building. Closing his eyes he could hear his friends calling him, and in his mind, he replayed the last summer. The games they played and towards the late summer, before they went to high school, they had discovered girls. They had all taken turns bringing girls up here. But things got out of hand. And stuff happened. And Becky, Becky Lane her name was, disappeared the next day.
Of course, he knew what had happened, and had sworn to secrecy under penalty of death. The look on her face as she fell and hit her head, and rolled to the floor still haunted him every night when he went to sleep.
They had panicked and hid her in the floor of the cabin and never returned.
That fall into winter all everyone talked about was the disappearance of Becky.
But they never said a word. No one searched the cabin, in fact, they never even searched the woods where the cabin was. Which surprised him. It was a well-known spot for the local kids to play. But for some reason it was assumed that she’d never go there, it just wasn’t “like her” to go into the woods, she was too much of a homebody and “Goody Two Shoes” to actually go outside and play in the woods. While no one said it specifically, that was what they all thought. He, of course, knew better.
Pushing his way through the brush that had overgrown the path, he found the door. The moon was shining just like it had that night. Breathing hard, he closed his eyes as he touched the old door. He felt his heart racing and the lump in his stomach was almost enough to make him throw up. Swallowing hard, he took a few deep breaths.
He pushed the door open. It almost fell off the hinges as it opened inward. The stale musty air hit him but he blocked out the smell and stood in the doorway. Shining his flashlight around the room, he thought how much smaller it was than he remembered it being. The posters once on the wall were either lying on the floor or hanging by a thread. In the far corner was “The Stash” as they called it. The stack of dirty magazines that was almost two feet tall. Now a pile of wet and soggy glossy pictures whose colors and pictures had long ago run into each other and become unreadable. He spotted the table leaning against the wall, its legs broken. Broken that night when Becky fell against it. She hit the wall so hard it knocked the old rifle that had hung on the wall since long before they had started using it as a clubhouse. The barrel had landed squarely on her head, and that coupled with the fall had been enough to render her unconscious. They felt for her pulse as best they knew how, and there was none. She was dead.
They panicked. No one wanted to admit to bringing her up there. Then the whole thing would come out, all the girls they’d brought up, and the books and pictures and other stuff they had up there.
So they buried her under the floorboards of the shed. And they left.
And never came back.
Until now. He had to know if she was still there. For his own peace of mind, to know she was still buried in the shed.
It took a few minutes in the dark to remember exactly where they had buried her.
But he found it. Pawing through the dirt with an old loose board, he found nothing. No bones, no clothes. Nothing.
“Looking for me?”
He literally peed his pants at the sound of the voice behind him. Standing up, he turned back to the door.
The voice had been quiet and steady. But he recognized it.
Becky stood in the doorway holding a shotgun. The shotgun.
She interrupted. “Thought I was dead?”
“Yeah, we all did.”
“I know. You didn't notice that you didn’t see Frank around town when you got here?”
“Yeah, I wondered about that but just thought since he was older and on his own, he left town so no one would ask. I wasn’t sure he was still around.”
“He is, he is under the floor over there. He came back that night looking for me after you ran. I think he realized that I wasn’t dead or wanted to make certain I was. By then I had decided what I wanted to do and he could ruin it for me.” She moved the barrel of the shotgun ever so slightly to indicate the far corner of the room. He glanced at it, and then back to her.
“You killed him?”
“Yes. He egged you into trying it on with me that night. You could have said no, it wasn’t right, but you let him push you. And when I fell, I hit hard and the old gun fell down. It damned near did kill me, but I woke up after you left. Dug my way out of the floor just before he showed up. I killed him, buried him, and disappeared. Yeah, let the whole damned city think I was dead. While I hid out and watched everyone chasing in circles trying to find me. I saw my parents. I spied on them. Even snuck into the house, and heard them when no one was around. They were glad I was gone. Oh, they put on the front and made out how they missed me and wanted me back. But I knew better. So I stayed gone.
I changed my name and went to a new town, invented some kind of bullshit story, and they believed it. And the next thing I knew I was adopted and living on the good side of town. It has been great all these years. So I guess I should thank you for almost killing me while trying to get into my pants.”
“How did you know I was here?”
“I’ve been watching you since you got into town. I hoped you would come out here to make sure my body’s still here. Saves me having to move you afterward.”
“Look, I’m really sorry, we didn't mean nothing by anything we did, we were just kids.”
“That might have worked then, but not now. It’s too late, far too late for me. I’ve already gone down this road, and I’m going to finish it.”
With that, the shotgun flashed. He never heard it go off.
Looking down over the street, I tried to block the noise filtering through the old windows. The sound of the taxis blowing their horns and people yelling at each other, along with the distant sirens echoing through the streets made me numb to the silence that was filling the apartment.
Closing the blinds on the window of the Brownstone apartment five floors above the fray, I turned and looked at him.
“So we’re really going to do it, eh?”
“I don’t know. I hate it but I think we have to do it.”
“Okey, let's get this done.” We closed up the apartment and locked the door behind us.
The hallways of the old Brownstone had long seen better days. The once glorious wallpaper was now varying shades of a crappy brown color with spots that had once been a pattern of some sort. That's was where wallpaper remained on the walls. Most of it had been worn off by decades of people rubbing against as they moved about their lives in the building.
The few people we met in the halls were more interested in minding their own business then wondering what we were carrying in the big sack between us.
Taking the back stairs we made our way to the basement. The furnace was a throwback to the old days when the place was heated by a big boiler that fed hot air through the vent system in the building. The closer to the lower floors you were the warmer you were in the winter as the hot air cooled as it made its way up the vents to the higher floors. These days the vents were used mostly as a garbage dump by the tenants who knew it existed and every so often the building maintenance guy would burn what trash he could in the furnace. Most of the younger folks didn't bother and their garbage lay in the halls attracting rats and other critters waiting for someone else to pick it up.
To my surprise, the air was better down here than in the halls upstairs. Maybe because the stench of trash and other obscene smells wasn’t as bad. At any rate, I could breathe better. Which helped me a lot as there was still a dirty, smelly job to do.
We said a silent prayer between us as we stood before the furnace and shoved the remains of one Lee J. Roswell into the fire.
We knew he wouldn’t be missed. If he was, it wouldn’t be for long.
I had done a thorough investigation of him. I knew everything there was to know about the man. From the place he was born, who his first girlfriend was and what became of her, his three wives and all his kids, to how he had really made his money. I knew why we found him hiding in a dump of an apartment in the middle of New York City and I knew who had been looking for him. The five other people we had made disappear had also been studied and planned out to the last detail. Contingency plans made in case things went wrong. Fortunately for us, each had gone off exactly as planned. The entire process took six months and involved traveling to several other countries where if we were caught, we were on our own. We were down to our final two.
Stoking the fire, we made sure anything identifiable was burned to a crisp. The smell of burnt flesh was something I never got used too. I still hated it. It was almost worse than the actual killing of the victim.
Once it was done we wiped the entire furnace down with damp cloths as well as the doors and walls we may have touched.
An hour later we were well out of the neighborhood.
There was a small flurry of activity when he was discovered missing. As expected, no one had a clue as to who the old man really was, and he was quickly forgotten about.
A week later another old man disappeared. Again, a small hornet's nest appeared but was s quickly dispelled when it was clear he as a drunk who’d gone off a bender and didn’t make it back.
Six months later my partner and I sat in a law office in Washington.
“Here’s your cash. You two did a great job. Both in finding them, and eliminating them. The world is a better place without them.”
My partner and I had been charged by the US Attorney General to find and eliminate half a dozen wanted criminals that the government couldn’t touch for one reason or another. Only two had been in the states, the rest had been in places that US law couldn’t touch officially. So they paid us very generously to make them disappear.
As the Attorney General said, things that needed doing.
The first thing he noticed was the old door.
The blue paint had long ago submitted to the elements. In fact, the rest of the old bath house had given up long ago. Windows that ran across the top of the wall just under the eaves to let in light and maybe some air on hot summer afternoons were broken and paint on the cement walls was faded and peeling.
As he approached the door he noted that the louvers on it had somehow managed not to be cracked and broken, in spite of the heavy use it had seen in its day.
It was then he noticed the small pink sand bucket hanging on the door handle. It stopped him in his tracks for a minute.
The bucket was new.
It had not seen the years of weather and rust that the rest of the old beach house had. Looking around he saw no signs of anyone having been there recently.
The little bucket sent chills up and down his spine. Who had been here?
And more importantly, are they still here?
He carefully removed the little bucket from its perch on the door handle. Setting it on the ground next to the door, he gently tried the lever. The lever released the door from its catch. The hinges squeaked with annoyance at being forced to work.
The room was dark, with only light streaming in shafts making odd shapes along the floor and walls. Glass was scattered around the floor.
Standing in the doorway, he surveyed the room. What he could see of it in the dim light. It was clear it had been years since the glass had been broken. It had been walked over many times over and ground into fine shards. In a few spots, it had been roughly pushed to one side making small piles of shattered glass and fine glass dust.
He felt the chill again as he looked around.
On the bench on the other side of the room lay a neatly folded beach blanket.
This too was new. Approaching it he saw it was a child’s blanket. At least the print on it indicated that it was probably a child's blanket.
But where were they?
Listening he heard nothing but the waves gently working their way in and out some distance from the house. A light breeze came through the open windows as the breeze shifted slightly and moved a torn piece of notebook paper lying next to the blanket. He hadn’t noticed the paper, which caused a shudder to run though him. It took some time for him to work up the nerve to pick it up.
Bending down, he carefully picked up the paper. He recognized the writing immediately. It was his wife's.
Reading the hastily scrawled note, he pushed it into his pocket and picked up the small blanket. Under the neatly folded blanket was a picture. The picture showed him and his wife in better days. He knew where the picture had been kept. In their bedroom. This told him all he needed to know.
He stopped at the door and took the small bucket from the sand by the door. Carrying everything, he put it in the back of his car.
The gravel flew in several different directions as he turned his car around in the dirt driveway. He drove for several minutes before his mind cleared.
Images of what could be happening to his wife tried to force their way into his mind. He refused to let them stay. Almost physically pushing them out.
By the time he reached his house, he had a plan. Sort of.
Checking the house, he found it as he feared. Empty. And sure enough, the picture was missing from the dresser in their room. Standing in the middle of the room, he studied it. He knew exactly how his wife liked to keep everything. Going over their usual morning routine in his mind. He knew what should be where. Her nightgown lay on the bed. The bathroom showed the telltale signs of a recent shower. And the damp towels hanging neatly on the rack waiting for the trip to the laundry basket later that day. Checking her dresser, he found a set of clothes missing. So, she had gotten dressed before they came. In the kitchen, coffee was getting cold in the pot.
Going into his office he opened his safe. Taking out the guns, he loaded them. First, the pump shotgun, four slugs in the tube magazine, and one in the chamber.
Then his revolver. Taking a speed loader and dropping the shells into the chambers of the cylinder of the gun then closed it, keeping a box of ammunition and reloaded the speed loader. Guns and extra ammunition in hand he closed the big safe. He already had the rest of his gear, a knife, and a flashlight.
Back in his car, he noticed his breathing and heart rate were up. Leaning back in the seat he closed his eyes. Breathing in and out slowly he was able to bring his respiration and heart rate down. Not to where it should be, but he was calmer at least for the moment. Pulling out the note from his pocket. He read it again.
Damn, he was almost out of time. He pushed the car harder than he had before.
Pulling into the dirt road, he pulled the revolver from his holster and laid it on his lap. Edging the car a foot at a time down the road he finally found the clearing.
The old cabin looked like a set from a movie. Stopping the car in the mouth of the driveway that led to the cabin. He got out.
“Where is she?” he called.
“Right here.” She stepped out of the shadow of the building.
“You're late.” Another voice came from the other corner of the building.
He recognized the voice just as he appeared in the sunlight.
Raising the shotgun he released the safety.
She approached him. It was then he noticed the pistol in her hand.
“Did you really think I didn’t know about her?”
Her eyes narrowed as she positioned herself directly in front of him.
“Or about your plan to kill me and run off with my money?”
By now she was within a few feet of him, directly in front of his shotgun.
“Go ahead, pull the trigger. You’ll be dead before I hit the ground.”
He stepped back a few paces to give himself time to think and room to move.
It came together. The kidnapping note, and the old beach house.
He had spent many a happy day there decades ago, with his first wife.
It had been so long he forgot about the beach house and the connection with his first wife now dead. Oh, he knew she was dead. He buried her in the ravine near the cabin where he’d shot her.
“Charlene was her name? Right? And your grandpa’s name was William Webber?” she prompted.
“And your real name is Webber, Cole Webber. Not this bullshit name you made up when you met me. In fact, this whole life is bullshit. A lie. To con me out of my money. If that doesn’t work, kill me and inherit it. Either way is ok with you.” Her voice trailed off into a half cry and whisper.
He spun around looking down the barrel of his shotgun. First at her. Then at James, her brother. Both holding guns. He lowered his gun. He knew there was no way he could shoot his way out of this.
His only hope was to talk his way out.
“You’re right. My name’s Cole Webber. And I did, I did kill my first wife Charlene. But you must understand what she did, and the games she played. And lives she ruined.”
“And you're not playing games and ruining lives?” She visibly trembled. He imagined from anger.
“Yes. Yes, I guess I am. It didn’t start out like that. Honest. I love you, but...”
“But you loved my money even more,” she interrupted.
“NO…! I wanted to stay here with you, but I had to have the money to pay off some people I owe.”
“Yeah right, how much money can you owe these guys?”
“20 million,” Cole stated flatly and with a finality that caught her off guard.
“20 million? Who owes that kind of money and to who?” Even her brother James was taken aback by the numbers.
“It’s a long and complicated story. The money I got from my grandpa, William, was robbery money from a job he did decades ago. Long before he married. It had been hidden away for years. He had let it slip one night when he was drinking. And when he had the heart attack, I remembered it and found it and kept it. I thought it was safe to use. After all, it’d been decades from the robbery. I used some to set up a new life and invested some in an internet scheme that stole data from secure servers. And used the information to make more money. It all went pretty good. Until…”
“Until what, Cole?”
“The people grandpa stole it from found me. I guess through the money, they must have had traces on the serial numbers. When the bills started showing up again, they found me.”
Cole leaned against the car. Too tired to put up a front.
“Let me guess, they wanted their money back?” James pushed. Stepping closer, he was starting to relax.
“With interest. The principle which was about 5 million, and interest over the last 30-40 years comes to a round figure of about 20 million, so they say.”
“I don’t have anywhere near that,” she observed.
“I know, but what I could get out of you would hold them for a while, while I figured out what to do next.”
“So you were going to kill me to save your skin?”
Cole shook his head. “No, no, I never wanted to hurt you. Steal your money, only because I had to, yes, but never hurt you.”
“Why do you think I came here with these?” Cole indicated the guns. “To rescue you from what I thought was a kidnapping.”
“I’m not sure I believe you. Even if what you say is true, what do we do now?”
“I don’t know.”
“I do. Go directly to jail.” A voice came from out of the woods. Cole turned and raised his shotgun, aiming it where the voice came from.
Clayton Morris. His old friend stood before him, holding a shotgun. The badge pinned to his coat told another story.
“Cole Webber or whatever the hell you're calling yourself these days. You're under arrest for the murder of Charlene Webber, your wife, and the suspicion of the murder of William Webber, and the federal theft of military secrets and a lot more I don’t have time to go over.” Several more uniformed officers appeared out of the woods and from inside the cabin.
“You alright Mrs. Reynolds?”
She nodded. Opening her blouse, she pulled the clip from the front of her bra, handing the microphone and the tiny box connected to the wire, to Clayton. “Here. You get everything?”
“Yes ma’am, more than enough to convict him.”
The officers relieved Cole of his shotgun and the revolver.
As he was being put in the unmarked police car, it all began to make sense.
The drive back to the police station was long and quiet. Clayton rode in front while an officer sat beside him, his gun never too far from his hand.
Hours later, after being booked and fingerprinted and logged into the federal system, he sat in an interrogation room. It was empty except for the chair and table which had been bolted to the floor. His handcuffs had been removed and longer cuffs that were mounted to the table hooked to his hands.
Clayton Morris came into the room. Sitting down, he plopped a large stack of files on the table in front of him.
“Cole, I knew you as a kid. But none of that matters now.” He let it hang.
“I always suspected that you killed Charlene but could never prove it. We never found the body. You disappeared right after she did, so folks just naturally assumed you two left together. When you didn't come back, we began to wonder, but with no hard evidence or body, we didn't have anything to go on.” Morris smiled. “Until now. We ran your prints through Interpol, and half a dozen other databases. And we got a hit. Robert James Lacy. That's your real name, you were adopted by the Webbers. You’ve probably forgotten it. Been so long since you heard it, I suspect. At any rate, that's the name we’re charging you under. Along with the alias you’ve collected and used over the years.”
So, it came to be that Robert James Lacy/Cole Webber was charged with the murder of his wife Charlene, embezzlement, extortion, and a host of federal crimes stemming from his little venture on the tropical island a year or so ago.
Word got back to the guys who William Webber had stolen the money from all those years ago where to find Cole.
Early one morning, a prison guard found him dead in his cell.
Two more palm trees came crashing down on the beach as the computer finished final preparations for automatic shutdown. The automated weather station had triggered a shutdown when the rains and winds had hit certain marks.
The solar panels and a small wind turbine, that generated power that ran the inverters and batteries that ran the station, began to shake on their foundations as the winds and rains picked up.
Meanwhile, deep inside the stone and concrete building, an automated computer had been monitoring communications on the tiny island of Leetown, a private island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The waves began to crash against the outside of the building. Within minutes the tiny island was covered in twenty feet of water which crashed over and through everything. While most of the smaller less well-built buildings lay flat in a matter of minutes, the old stone-and-block building didn’t completely submit to the water. It remained standing.
However, the ancient mortar-and-cement casing did partially give way to the intense weight and pressure of the water as it swept across the small island. Water found its way into every little nook and cranny that had an opening at all, forcing blocks and stones to shift and let in more water. When it was done, three feet of water made itself home throughout the tiny building. Computers and electronics were waterlogged and fried.
Several weeks later, Cole Webber made his way back to the tiny island.
In the weeks following the storm, he had made a financial killing off the data siphoned off the internet and private networks he had been tapping into for several months. The cost to set up the substation had been high. But the need for secrecy was higher. This particular island had been chosen because of its location to the main backbone of the internet running under the ocean and to the nearest land-based server center—thus allowing him direct access to the main trunk traffic of the internet and the ability to piggyback on others who were spying on the internet. Also because it was so far out in the middle of nowhere, it would never occur to them that anyone would set up a hardware system to tap into the servers.
The usefulness of the substation was now past. He had what he needed from it, and with the storm destroying everything, he thought it was time to come in and rip everything out.
As he expected, the island was a total washout. By now most of the water had subsided and found its way back to the ocean. However, there were still pockets where several feet of water sat and the bugs were making themselves at home.
The solar panels and inverters and all of the external hardware that had run the small computer station were in ruins outside the building.
Pushing the door open, he was greeted with water up to his knees. The water came gushing out of the door around his legs. Using his flashlight he looked around inside the small building.
There on the far wall, mounted high, was a single monitor, its cords dangling against the wall. To his surprise, a single light was flashing. The screen had a small blinking oblong dot in the upper left corner. Cole recognized it instantly as a DOS prompt.
Stepping into the room, now covered with slime and mud, he saw computer components lying all over the tables and floor. He approached the one screen still working.
And the built-in speaker spoke to him.
“Hello, Cole, we’ve been waiting for you.”
The winds whispered through the trees.
The sounds they made reminded me of the secrets I was carrying in the back of my soul.
I caught sight of the sun, just as I almost tripped on one of the logs that had fallen across the path. Judging from the rot and decay, it had been there for decades. My foot easily went through the outer bark into the porous soil that had once been a tree standing proud and tall in the forest.
But now it lay along with dozens of others on the forest floor. Slowly feeding the next generation of trees that were protecting it from the morning sun. But I quickly pulled my thoughts away from the fate of trees long dead. My more immediate concern was the cabin at the end of the trail. I hoped against hope that it was still there. The chances of the small log cabin still standing after the decades of being forgotten were slim, but I had to try. If I was right, she was there.
I reached the clearing where the cabin still stood. The weeds had long ago taken over the landscape, and the pond behind it was now green with the scum that often took over when fish and wildlife died. In fact, the whole place was falling apart.
But I really didn't come to see the dying cabin.
She was there.
“I said I would.”
“But you swore you’d never come back again.”
“Yeah, I did, at that, didn’t I?”
I bowed my head looking over the top of my glasses. “I lied.” I paused. “And I found Grandpa’s Money.”
Charlene seemed to light up at the mention of the money. “You what? Where? How?” She came running toward me.
“Right where you left it.” I pulled the revolver from under my jacket.
She stopped in mid-step.
“I still haven’t worked everything out yet, but you knew where he buried the money before he died. How I don’t know, but somehow you knew. Why you had me going through the bullshit with the pills, try to remember I don’t know. No matter, the jig is up. And now you going to pay for killing my grandpa. He would have never had that heart attack if you hadn’t helped it along with the pills you were sneaking in his coffee and beer.”
She tried to look shocked and confused.
“I was only sixteen at the time, but I knew something was bothering him. He would never say that, but it got me thinking. And your instance that I try to remember something I didn't know. I still don’t know what that was about. But. I’ve done some checking, and you knew him. All too well. You knew what no one else knew, he had a soft spot for young girls. Girls that liked to show a little too much skin and teased a bit too much. No, he wasn’t perfect, but he was my grandpa, and I loved him.”
“But you love me,” she pleaded.
“I did. Once, when I was spellbound by your body, and your charms, but that wore off a long time ago.” I took a step closer to her. “Now—now I see you for what you are, a gold digger and a slut. You used your charm and body to get to grandpa because you knew he was well off, and you wanted what you couldn’t earn on your own. How many other men in the city did you con and use, and ruin their lives for sex, and money?”
She stared at me. I could see the wheels in her mind working.
I leveled my gun at her, drawing back the hammer on the revolver.
“You never loved him. Hell, you never loved any of them, not even me. I woke up about six months ago. Started digging into your past. Found out about the police records sealed because you were a minor, talked to families all over the county and found out the truth. Saw the pictures of you with the old men. Saw it all, Charlene, I saw the truth. You didn't just “Run into me,” at the diner that day, you stalked me, and targeted me because you knew who I was.”
I took a deep breath, bile rising in my throat “And I fell for it. The whole thing even married you. But it’s over now. Yeah, grandpa was an SOB, but he was an honest SO, and he never cheated or killed anyone. I count at least three old men who you killed, but no one can prove it.” I shifted positions, to get a better shot at her. The gun was getting heavy in my hand. I needed to end this soon.
“You said you found the money. We can go away together and forget all of this.”
“How dumb do you think I am? I’m not going anywhere with you.”
“The money was here alright, but not where he hid it. You flashed your boobs at him, or worst, and got him to tell you where it was, but then you took it, re-hid it, hoping to come back for it. But it was easier to con me into finding it. It would look better if I found it and no one connected you to it. You made up the bit with the pills and remembering. The only problem is I remembered.” I waved the gun in the air. “Remembered it all, how I had seen you sneaking out the back of the house a few times, right before he died.”
“That wasn’t me. You’re crazy, I wouldn’t do that.”
Laughter gurgled from my throat. “I didn’t tell you all I remembered. Then I found the pictures. And the letters. That's right. I found out the whole ugly truth.” She began to back up as I continued. “Grandma never knew. It would have broken her heart and killed her. It did kill her. Because she died right after he did of a broken heart.”
She was breathing hard. “Now what?”
“Now I do what needs to be done.”
With that, I touched the trigger on the revolver. The gun bucked in my hand.
The recoil sent it upward as the barrel went up ever so slightly as the shot fired and I saw Charlene slowly fall to the ground just past the end of the barrel.
The shot echoed in the woods. She never heard it. The sound of the birds and the woods slowly returned as the echo died off in the distance. But I heard it. I could still hear the ringing in my ears for several hours after. A constant reminder of what I’d done but this too would pass.
It was late by the time I had buried her.
I had had it all planned out. Exactly what I was going to say to her. Hell, I didn’t say half of what I wanted to, but I decided it didn’t matter in the end. She knew I knew exactly what she’d done, and why, she had to die. That's was what mattered.
As I slowly drove from the end of the trail back toward the main road, I thought it had gone perfectly. I had avenged my grandpa’s murder and found the money he had stolen from the bank decades ago. Yeah, she never knew the money was from ill-gotten gains, but I’d found that out too.
Turning onto the main road, I smiled. Now I could live my life in peace and luxury.
The fire had long ago burned out. There was nothing left but ashes.
I turned toward the door, forgetting about the lone chair in the room, and tripped, sprawling across the floor. I got up slowly, right knee stinging, but kicked the chair out of my way. The grating sound it made as it scraped across the wooden floor was satisfying. Damned chair.
I grimaced as I gave the chair a wide berth and walked to the door. I turned the old worn knob, its luster long gone. Hell, the door and knob, even the chair was older than me. In another time I had sat in the chair reading by candlelight and the glow from the fireplace. Music from a long-ago era had filled the room. Now the room was only the remains of a life I had known decades ago.
Returning to my grandfather’s dilapidated homestead had been a mistake. As I walked into the entry hall, memories crept into my mind. Grandma baking cookies. Grandpa playing cards. The hours I spent with him learning to hunt and fish. His old shotgun still sat leaning in the corner next to the entry door. I picked it up, cracking open the double barrel and the breach. Sure enough, it was loaded. The brass ends of the shells were now corroded from years of sitting in the gun untouched and uncleaned. He would have been appalled. Grandpa never let anything get dirty, least of all his guns. I put it back.
I pushed open the front door and exited the house. The porch once held a hanging swing where I’d spent many an hour listening to him tell tall tales while we drank lemonade. It was now barely recognizable, lying on the rotted deck in a broken heap. The once beautiful lawn he’d kept was now a sea of overgrown weeds and hay, dotted with the occasional flower that managed to eke out an existence in the tall grass and weeds.
Plowing my way through the weeds I found his old truck. After a bit of a struggle, I pried the door open. The interior was covered in dust and junk. The tools he’d used last were still sitting on the passenger side of the bench seat. He’d died in this truck—heart attack hit him, and he was gone. Grandma died a month later from a broken heart. I shuddered, the memories were becoming overwhelming. Slamming the door shut again, I spun so fast I was dizzy, but I had to get back to my car and away from this place.
“Robert!! Wake up!! You were dreaming again.”
I blinked from the glare of the sun streaming through the window and sat up, rubbing the sleep from my eyes.
She sat on the edge of the bed. “You dreamed about the farm again?”
I nodded. “Yes. this time I made it to the truck.”
“But you didn’t see the box?”
“No, I didn’t see the box. I don’t know where grandpa hid the money.” I threw the covers back and got out of bed. “All I have are these nightmares from the damn drugs. They aren’t helping me remember what happened all those years ago.”
“You told me there was a box of money. You saw him hide it.”
“I was sixteen years old when he died. I thought I knew where he hid it but when we searched the place it wasn’t there. I just can’t remember where it was. Damn it, Charlene, it’s been nearly twenty years.”
“But baby, no one’s been there since your grandparents died but us. We’ve gone over and over the place. The only way we’re gonna find out where he hid the box is for you to remember.”
“All the damned drugs you’re shoving down my throat are giving me a headache and flashbacks to things I don’t want to remember.”
“But baby, it’s a lot of money.”
Those baby blue eyes of hers were misty as she gazed at me.
“Okay, I’ll keep taking the drugs until we find the money.”
It was hot and dry. But that didn't stop the humidity from hanging in the air like a damp towel thrown over a curtain rod.
Every living thing oozed moisture. What wasn't living had a thin layer of sweat sitting on it or running off it.
It hadn't rained in several weeks
But it scarcely needed too. The humidity hung in the air was like a raincloud.
The oppressive heat and humidity had made his life miserable
Actually, it hadn’t: It only greatly contributed to it.
Cramer Forrester had been contemplating several things. None of them good.
Today he made up his mind on the least offensive thing. Killing his wife.
Actually killing her would be the easy part.
The day came. It was time to do what was to be done. Cramer Forrester administered the drug as planned. It was to be a quiet peaceful death. More than she deserved. But it also solved a lot of questions. As he didn’t have to be there at the time. He’d had switched her medication several weeks ago. Being careful not to leave any prints on the bottle or any pills he doctored to double their medications. He had held the bottle of doctored pills back for several weeks. Finally, the time was right. He went in and said good morning to her and did the usual things one did with a bedbound person. But this would be the last time. He was going away later that day for a business trip and would be out of the country for several weeks. When she was indisposed, to took the chance and poured the good medication down the drain. And filled the current bottle with the doctored pills. Hiding the old bottle he had brought in the doctored pills in he calmly left the current bottle by the bed, along with the rest of her medications.
Cramer Forrester kissed his wife goodbye and left. Knowing full well, by the time he got back from his trip abroad, she would be dead. And there was no way to connect him to the pills. He had been careful. Only taking a couple of pills at a time, Just enough not to be missed. When he had collected enough pills. He doctored about a dozen pills. Along with the regular pills. They all looked the same and would be impossible to tell a doctored pill form a regular one. Of this, he had been most careful. He had been careful not to touch any of the pills with his bare hands, for fear of leaving trace DNA, or worst yet a partial print on the bottle or pills. He knew his prints would be all over the house and her room. He was there every day, and he'd touched many things. But he had always been careful not to touch her medications. Always making a point that if he didn’t touch it, he couldn’t screw it up. Thus letting the nurse and other caregivers handle the medications. The part of about not wanting to touch the medications was true. He had always said that long before he decided that she must die.
Stepping outside was like stepping into a steam room. Cramer Forrester felt the heat and humidity the second he left his wife’s house. The hour he’d spent there had been the longest hour he’d lived through in a long time. But now it was done.
He got into his car, immediately turning on the air conditioner, as soon as he started it. But even the air conditioner of the expense foreign car was working hard on conditioning the air in the cabin. Soon it was at least tolerable.
He arrived at the airport. Collecting his suitcase, and carry on the bag, which was ridiculously small, he entered the main concourse of the airport. Checking his tickets he found the gate number he needed and made his way to the gate. Soon he was in the line to check his bag and process his ticket.
“Cramer, Cramer Forester.” a quiet calm voice called his name from behind him. Cramer stopped in his tracks and turned around. Several men greeted him.
“I’m Detective Lewis Sinclair. I’m arresting you for the attempted murder of your wife, Gloria Forrester.” He explained calmly. Cramer stood still in shock. How could anyone know about his plans, and what he'd did that morning?
One of the other detectives slid over from where he was standing. There behind them was his wife. She was standing on her own two feet. Completely dressed and looking better then he’d seen her in a very long time.
He was at a loss for words. The detectives came over and collected his bags and handcuffed him. The ride in the police car a was a blur. It didn’t seem real. Here he was locked up in the back of a police car. Once that the station the dream continued. Questioning, booking, fingerprinting searching and finally a holding cell.
Later that day he found himself in a small interview room. The kind of the one-way glass mirror. And a camera or two propped up in the corners of the room. Recording everything said and done.
Cramer Forrester never imagined that he could or would get caught.
But yet here he was. Detective Lewis Sinclair came into the room along with one of the other arresting detectives. He never got his name.
“Mr. Forrester, we are charging you with the attempted murder of your wife Gloria Forrester, and the murder of your mother in law, Dorothy Evans,” he said flatly and with no hint of emotion. The detective plopped a large file in front of him. Loudly. The thud of the file hitting the table was deafening in the small room.
Sitting down he continued.
“Mr. Forrester. You Need money don’t you?” he asked.
“Who doesn't?” came the replied.
“But you need a lot and you need it in a hurry. If your wife died you’d inherit her fortune, which would pay off your gambling debts, and other outstanding bills”
“We’ve been watching you for a long time. We suspected that the death of Dorothy Evans was suspicious but we couldn’t prove it. We thought it probably happened like you planned for your wife. So we waited and watched. The accident your wife was in was staged to put you in a position to have to do something. Which you finally did.”
It all came to him. The accident, and the sudden drain on his cash flow from her. It was calculated to make do something. And he fell for it hook line and sinker.
Well, there was one good thing from it all he resigned himself to his fate.
At least he was rid of his wife.
“Is he dead?”
“Well, let’s see, His heart has stopped beating I see no movement of his chest. He’s stone cold., Yeah, I’d say he’s dead.”
Standing up from examining the body, He turned to his friend and gently guided her away from the body.
“Don’t go all soft and weak on my me now. This is what we wanted. He held her close to him. They kissed.
“Now for part B of the plan.” he said and they went back over to where the body lay. Together they managed to move the body from the living room floor.
It took a while but they managed to get the body into the freezer.
“There, that’s done.” he said Now we have to get back to our jobs before we’re missed.” With that he kissed her again. She collected her pocketbook, and hat and went out the back door. Before he left he had things to do. First he wiped down the freezer and everything they had touched. He had been careful not to touch anything when he arrived. In the living room he took out his smartphone. Opening the gallery he referred to the pictures he’d taken earlier. Making sure everything was exactly as it had been before Satisfied that was nothing out of place he carefully left by the back door.
No one had seen him in several days.
When the police had come and gone. Questions answered, stories told, and lies told. Lies with just enough truth in them to be believed.They finally breathed again.
Neither had dared to so much as look at each other for fear of giving themselves away. But the passions stirring within them.
They knew they had wait it out.Several months past before they felt comfortable enough to risk seeing each other again. Every day was another challenge. They secretly jumped at every phone call, every knock on the door. Always waiting for someone to find his body. But they never did.
Finally they had to know. They had to know if he was still in the freezer. Of course he was. Dead bodies don’t get up and move themselves. Definitely not out of a chest freezer. But why hadn’t he been found? It had been six months since they bashed him on the head and hid him in the chest freezer at his estate. Why hadn’t he been found? The not knowing what was happening was killing them.
So they did it. They returned to the scene of the crime.
The estate looked as it had when they were there last. They knew he had a staff that kept the place running. But they figured with a day or two at the most someone would miss him. And go looking for him. He was missed. They looked for him. But he was never found. They had had intended to delay his being found only by several days at most. Not six months. Why hasn't someone looked in the freezer?
The went back in the ways they had before. The living room where he had been killed was untouched. Then they returned to the freezer where they had put him.
With a mixture of fear and anticipation the opened the freezer. It was empty.
Not only was it empty. It was spotlessly clean. It looked brand new.
They knew they were in trouble now. He had been found and moved.
They decided their best course of action was to get out of there as quickly as possible. As they were about the reach the back door, they had came in at.
“Are you looking for me?”
A familiar voice asked quietly from somewhere behind them. They stopped dead in their tracks. Slowly they turned around to face back into the room.
There he stood. Big as life, and twice as real.
They were at a loss for words.
“Actually it is a new freezer. The one you stuffed me into got pretty gross by the time I got out. So I replaced it.” he explained calmly.
While they tried to process the new turn of events, he continued.
“Yes I was dead. At least to you at the moment. I knew you two have something planned. So I took certain precautions. I made sure I appeared dead when you hit me. It wasn’t pleasant being bashed in the head but it better than some of the alternatives. I was deceased for a short time, while you hid me. The bit with your phone to make sure everything was in place was good. You see I saw the whole thing later when I reviewed the video. The police did come, and I did talk to them. I showed the whole video, of you bashing me in the head. Hiding me. Everything. We decided they wouldn’t find me. And we waited. We didn’t think it would take six months for you to come back. But you did. And now they’re here he arrest you for murder. Oh I was deceased, But only Temporarily Deceased.
Things happened no one figured on. Such as David Davis killing his ex-partner. The “Double D” as folks called him, was an impressive figure of a man. At over 6 feet tall, and as mean as they come. He had no qualms about bouncing you out the door of his nightclub if you were stupid enough to be an idiot on the floor. If you were lucky, he only threw your drunk ass out. letting you find your way home on your own. Some nights if he was feeling particularly mean, he’d beat you up a bit in front of the crowd, sort of give them a show. I think the main reason he did it was to remind folks who the boss was, and not to mess with him. He was known to have gotten his hands dirty on more than one occasion. Stuff everyone knew happened, but no one ever talked about, at least not in public, and definitely not to the cops.
This is where I came in. His ex-partner, Longfellow, was found dead in his office. over on the east side of town. The night housekeeper found the body as she was getting ready to clean up in his office. She said the lights were on, she figured he was working late again. She went to the office, and there sat Longfellow, in his chair behind the desk. Stone cold dead. She called me. Well, actually she called the cops, and I came.
Looking at the dump of an office. I found no indication of foul play. Other than the stiff sitting in the chair, with a bullet hole in his head. It wasn’t all nice and clean and neat like they show on tv. It was a god awful mess. The bullet was probably a personal defense load. It expanded in his brains. The force took the backside of his head off. Brains and blood and bone were plastered all over the wall behind the desk. The stench, was enough to make you gag. which is what I did, and still did, even after I’d been in there for several minutes. The crime scene crew came in and took over. How they were able to process the room I don't know. I had to get the heck out of there before I threw up.
Back at my office at the station. I went over the reports of the officers first on the scene, and the coroner's report finally came in late the next day. I was right. It’d been a large caliber self-defense round, probably a critical defense round. From the looks of what they got out of the wall behind him, Probably either a .45ACP or .357 mag. They didn’t find an empty shell in the room. So either he took the case with him or it was a revolver. In which case the casing never left the gun.
It was no secret there was no love loss, between Davis and Longfellow. They had fought on a number occasions. Davis claimed Longfellow had cheated him out of a lot of profits several years ago when they first opened the nightclub. They had since dissolved the partnership. Davis bought Longfellow out.
It is well known that Davis like guns and usually had at least one on him at all times. I know he liked the-the old Smith & Wesson revolvers. That was my bet on what he used on Longfellow. Probably that .357 magnum he carried most of the time. Knowing it and proving it are two different things. I knew that, along with every cop in the world.
I headed over to Davis’s nightclub, late in the afternoon. Pulling up at the front door. I could see the bouncers waiting to keep people in line later when they opened for business. Approaching them, I flashed my badge. I knew one of them. A low-level thug for any number of bosses in the city. He knew I’d toss his ass in jail just for laughs. So he opened the door, and let me in.
The main floor was dark, except for light over the bar, and a few wall sconces near the doors. David Davis was big even sitting down at one of the big round tables in the front of the bar. The lights from the bar behind him made him look even bigger than I knew he was. I walked up to the table. Pulled up a chair, and sat down across from him. We didn’t say anything for a few seconds.
I let my brazenness irritate him for a minute.
“David, You know Longfellow is dead? They found him shot to death last night.”
“Yeah so, I haven’t been to his office in months. Not since we split the business.”
“It was a mess, a nasty smelly bloody mess. A mess only a big gun can make at close range. A gun like, say, That cannon you have there, “ I indicated the large K frame revolver Davis had in his shoulder holster.
“OH, you mean this?” He slowly and carefully slides the large revolver from his resting place. Laying it on the table in front of me. I took out my handkerchief and used it to pick up the gun. Carefully sliding the cylinder catch opening the cylinder. All six of the cartridges in the cylinder were new. The gun looks to be freshly clean. I saw no powder residue anywhere on the inside of the frame, around the barrel gap, or the neck.
“Let Me guess you just cleaned the gun?” I said. I eyed the cylinder and closed it. And handed it back to him.
“It is a nice gun. How many more of them do you have? I can get a search warrant to take all your guns. And eventually, we’ll find the one you used to kill Longfellow with. Of you can tell me exactly what happened.”
I sat back in my chair, and let him think. I knew he did it, and he knew I knew it. But getting him to talk was the key.
I also left out that they found his prints in the office. And not just on the door and the like. But on Longfellow's computer keyboard, and safe. From talking to the secretary, he had only just gotten the computer several days ago. As the old one had finally died. There was no other way that Davis’s prints could get on the new keyboards unless he’d been the last one to use it. There had been attempted to wipe the keyboard clean of prints, but it had failed. The ballistics had said it was a .357 Mag they dug out of the wall behind his head. And there was just enough to match to a gun. I had him dead to right, but I wanted him to say it. I didn’t tell him all this. Not yet.
I sat waiting.
“Tell me what happened. You argued, and he said or did something and you shot him.” I prompted. I deliberately didn’t say anything about the keyboard.
In the dim light from the bar, I could barely make out his face. Just enough to tell me he was worried. I never said where we found him, or what exactly he’d been shot with, just that it was big, which could be any of several calibers. I waited. A waitress brought him a drink. I asked for a scotch. A minute later it appeared. I played with the glass. Barely took a sip. It was good. But that was to be expected. Davis’s place always served the good stuff. No cheap booze here. I noticed he didn’t touch his drink.
“I didn’t kill him,” he said flatly.
“Oh, Explain.” I didn’t believe him. But stranger things have happened before.
“Yes, I didn't like him. Yes, we’d had a falling out. But I didn’t kill him.
I told you I haven’t been near him in months. He stays on his side of town, and I stay on my side. It's better that way.” I knew all that.
“I have enough evidence to to arrest you for the murder of Longfellow.”
“In fact, I am now arresting you for his murder,” I said getting up. As I expected, He got up quickly. Suddenly my gun appeared in my hand. I fired twice. Both shots hit him center mass. At that range, I couldn’t miss. David Davis dropped dead, in the middle of his own nightclub.
It was now going to be easy to pin Longfellow's murder on him. I had just enough circumstantial evidence to convict him. And now he was dead, the case was closed.
I did it. For a minute there, I wasn’t sure he was going to do what I wanted. But he did. In the dark nightclub. It looked like he was going for his gun. So I acted in defense. And shot a murder suspect.
I got away with two murders. I killed Longfellow, left just enough clues and evidence to point to Davis, but nothing too obvious. Then in trying to arrest the suspect, I had to kill him too. Case Closed.
And I retired a year later. The 10 million dollars I got from Longfellow's safe should give me a very nice retirement. The bonus is that I also married Davis’s widow, and we moved somewhere warm and sunny, and no extradition treaty.
Every town has one. The abandoned mansion the town has taken over for back taxes.
For the price of one single dollar they sold it back to him. The old house and grounds had seen better days. The lawn hadn't been mowed in a couple of years. Grass was waist high, and weeds were as abundant as grass. The house itself was a shadow of its former self. The roof had long since began to leak. Shingles were either missing or loose on most of the roof. In many places one could see the original roof boards under what's left of the old shingles.
The clapboards were worn down to bare wood in most places though the house traces of white paint were left only in places where weather couldn't get to . Most of the windows were either broken, or gone completely. The front porch was missing large sections of rail, and had many places where the floor was falling into the crawlspace under it. The ravages of time and teenagers had taken it toll on the porch and first floor.
It was home, or at least it used to be. The origins of the old estate were the stuff of legend. His grandfather had been an original settler of the small rural Texas town. Over the years there had been many years of boom and then years of bust. Such is the natural cycle of a town. The last few decades have been extremely hard on the small town. It had once been a bustling center for the county. The local hub for the major railways were located there. Thus bringing in goods and people from all over the area. Downtown once had several large hotels, that were filled most of the time. The bars and restaurants, and general stores, all were hopping with business. The outskirts of town became a sort of a suburb.The houses ranged from simple wood cottages, and some brick, to large estates, with rolling lawns. Estates which had a staff of people employed to keep it running.
Such was his old mansion. What had once been a landmark of the area, was now a busted down old farmhouse. He knew the history. Hell, he’d lived most of it. He walked around the old house. Memories came back as he rounded the corner. The path around the house was barely visible through the weeds. He almost didn’t need the path to remind him where to go. The back of the house opened up to a grand lawn. Or at least it used to. He remembered playing in the yard as a kid. The outbuildings were falling apart as was everything else on the property.
Once upon a time grand parties were held in this yard. Deals were made here, hearts were broken and mended here. The rich and powerful from at least three local counties would meet and mingle. The swimming pool had seen more pranks and hi-jinks than a school pool could ever. The pool house was the scene of several marriage proposals. The weddings held here were grand. But that was in the past.
He slowly found his way to the old pool house. The french doors broken, pulled open and left open to the elements. Inside the pool house was a old table and chairs. The chaise lounge that had once sat on the porch in front of the pool house was now in the back corner, covered in the remains of the table cloths from the poolside tables. he lifted the old tablecloth. For a moment he was 20 again.
Back on the veranda by the pool. Debbie was young and pretty. His mind came back to the moment he asked her to marry him. She said yes. From that moment, his mind played the next few years . It came back to him. It had been over 50 years since her father disappeared. There had never been any answers as to what happened to her father. It had tore him up inside. Knowing where her father was. He could never tell anyone what had happened. The fight came back in vivid detail. How he had meet him behind the pool house right after they had been married. Her father had demanded that he have the marriage annulled. Or divorce his daughter. He had steadfastly refused. The old man had pulled a gun on him. In A desperate move he lunged him. The gun went off. It was dark that night neither could clearly see what they were doing. But the recoil of the gun going off shook him up. The next instant, He was looking down at his father-in-law.
No one had heard anything. A they were all in the house celebrating the wedding. He knew he had to do something quick. He hid the body. The old man was known to have too much to drink, and wander off and fall asleep. and wake up hours later. He had counted on this. So as quietly as he could he rejoined his new wife in the house. He made passable excuses about where he’d been. The next morning her father could not be found. The remains of the party goers spent some time looking for him. They never found him on the grounds. Police were called in. They never found him. It became a local mystery. A mystery only he knew the truth of.
Going around behind the pool house he plowed through the weeds. There buried behind what had once been the back garden, was his father-in-law.
Seeing that the land was undisturbed. and had not been touched for decades.
He slowly turned around. He made his way back to his car. Once inside his car, he cried. Turning the car around he drove back down the long driveway.
“Is he still there?”
“Yes Debbie, the old man is where we left him.”