[ fiction - november 12 ]
His wife was in the bag, well, what was left of her. Vincent had been able to get rid of one of the hands when he’d stopped for gas, providing a very hungry and very scrawny dog with a decent meal, and he knew that if he could just make it to Forester City, he’d be in the clear. His brother, Trevor, an undertaker, would burn up the leftovers in the crematorium oven, and then he’d be home free. Being the close brother that he was, Trevor was more than willing to help, especially knowing what that wretched wife had done to little Timmy.
Just as Vincent’s blood was beginning to boil, the thought of what his wife had done making his skin blister, he heard the squeal of tires approaching from behind. His own car had broken down a few miles back, and a brief look under the hood confirmed the fact that the engine had finally died once and for all, the wife having always insisted any money saved for a transmission overhaul be spent on herself instead. With at least another thirty miles to go until he reached Forester City, Vincent stuck out his thumb, hoping to herald a ride, knowing that the sooner he disposed of his wife’s body, the better. It was only too late that he realized, his thumb sticking out like a homing beacon, the runnel of dust settling and the tires screeching to a halt, that he’d flagged down a county sheriff.
Just my luck, he thought bitterly, cursing everything that had brought him to this point. The car that had broken down, the person who he’d decided to spend his life with who’d destroyed everything he’d ever loved. Standing there, Vincent just wished he could go back in time, before the nightmare that had become his life. Back to when Timmy was still alive, when they were struggling, but surviving, in Jamestown, a place he could never return to again. It seemed to Vincent that life wasn’t without a terrible sense of irony, because the cop’s car that pulled up next to him bore the blazing insignia of the Jamestown County Sheriffs. Figures, Vincent thought. He’d only made it three cities away from home before the car died, unfortunately still within county lines. But the whole situation still made him seethe. It just wasn’t fair.
“How y’all doin’?” the cop asked as he exited the car. “Awful hot out to be walkin’, ain’t it?” He was a burly man with a broad-brimmed cowboy hat that didn’t seem to be doing its job, judging from the large lobster-red sunburn beneath both eyes. Now that the cop mentioned it, Vincent realized just how hot it really was. He was sweating profusely, and he prayed the sheriff didn’t take that for a sign of guilt.
“Uh, I’m fine, actually. Just doin’ a bit of travelin’.” Vincent spoke with that same southern drawl the sheriff did. Having grown up and spent his entire life in Dixieland, it was as much a part of him as a love of grits and jazz, but the officer’s inflection was far more pronounced, a good old boy if Vincent had ever seen one.
“Well, now, that’s a relief. See, I thought you was in some trouble. Need a lift?” It was one simple question that put Vincent in one hell of a situation. If he accepted the ride, it was almost certain the cop would find out he had a body in the bag. But if he refused, especially after flagging the officer down, then it was almost certain that he’d be detained and searched, and that was completely out of the question.
It was a lose-lose situation, but Vincent figured that given the choice, he might as well spend the his time in the cool air-conditioned confines of a police car, rather than sprawled spread eagle along the side of a dusty road. He gauged his chances of making a run for it and realized the futility. There was nowhere to go. Trying to keep the fear from his voice, Vincent smiled, “Appreciate it.”
“Good. Could use a little company. Been investigatin’ all mornin’ and I jus’ want a li’l human company to brighten my day. I saw a car a couple miles back, a clunker stashed off to the side of the road. That wouldn’t be yers, now would it?”
Not knowing exactly what the cop knew, but hoping his plates hadn’t been run, as he was probably the prime suspect in the disappearance of his wife, Vincent effected an air of nonchalance. “Nope. No car. Just out fer a li’l walkin’ trip.” The officer stared at him through reflective lenses, but said nothing. Vincent tried not to let the cop have any more time for questions as he scurried around the backside of the patrol car, hoping to drop the body as soon as possible. “Could ya pop the trunk?”
Vincent swallowed hard when he heard the officer’s response, “Oh, here, I’ll take that bag fer ya.”
Vincent’s stomach knotted, each footfall of the officer’s seeming impossibly slow, realizing that it was the beginning of the end. And as the officer unlocked the trunk, Vincent was sure that the cop could smell the decomposition of his wife’s body, could just feel that horrid offal stench pervading his nostrils, offending every olfactory sense. But the officer said nothing and merely took the bag and tossed it in the trunk. Vincent could barely believe it, expecting at any second to feel the sting of handcuffs on his wrists, but the officer gave the bag no more than a second thought, slamming the trunk shut and getting into the car. Vincent, not wanting to press his luck or raise any more suspicion, hurried into the passenger seat as the cop fired up the engine.
After the initial question of Vincent’s destination was answered, the two men drove for a few minutes in silence, the whole time the passenger convinced he could smell a permeable aura of death emanating form the trunk.
“Name’s Zeek,” the cop said, extending a meaty palm. Vincent took it quickly and shook it, praying that the cop wasn’t sensing that same pungent odor he was now certain was filling the cabin of the car. “What’s yours?”
“Mi...Micheal,” he stammered.
“Mike, my boy, you don’t know how good it is to be talkin’ to another livin’, breathin’ soul. I’ve been investigatin’ since early this mornin’ an’ I keep thinkin’ I’m gonna go insane if’n I don’t get some real human contact.”
“So whatcha been investigatin’?” Vincent tried for anything that might divert the cop’s attention away from questions about why his passenger had been walking along a deserted road carrying a suspicious looking package. Questions with no good answers. A sign in the distance provided a slight sliver of hope, “Forester City - 15 miles.” Vincent knew if he could just keep Zeek’s mind occupied for a few more minutes, he might be all right.
“Well, I was investigatin’ a domestic call, back in Jamestown. Funny thing was, when I got there, wasn’t no one home. But there was blood. Lots of it. Nowadays it’s awful hard to prove someone’s dead ‘less we got a body, so that’s what I’m on the troll fer. Car was gone too, and records say the missin’ guy’s got family in Forester City, so that’s where I’m headed. And seems as if it’s yer lucky day, now don’t it, pardner?” Vincent couldn’t help but cringe, his stomach churning, his hands growing clammier by the second. The cop was talking about him, there was no doubt about it. Zeek leaned in close, pulling off the reflective lenses as he did. “Y’all married?”
Vincent knew the end of the road when he saw it. This whole time, the cop had been toying with him. Forester City. A clunker stashed off to the side of the road, that wouldn’t be yers now would it? The cop’s words echoed in his head. He’d known all along. Vincent still felt trapped, suffocated, the rancid smell from the bag in the trunk filling the air with pungent aroma too strong to be ignored. Knowing that he was a goner anyway, Vincent still decided not to give an inch, but instead to play along until the final card was dealt. “I’m recently widowed.” He grinned sardonically to himself.
Strangely, Zeek was all sympathy. “Sorry to hear that.”
Vincent could have either laughed or cried, sometimes that border becoming blurred. “Well, that makes one of us.” As the cop shot him a strange look, he continued. “She was the most horrible person I’ve ever known. I hope she rots in a river of darkness. Gave me misery ever since I slipped that ring on her finger. Ya know, I worked two jobs jus’ to feed our family and it wasn’t never enough. She always took it out on our son, real abusive. I don’t have no education. Could only do what I could. Would’ve done anything for that woman, but it weren’t ever good enough. Ever.”
“Well, you could say she just went to pieces.” Vincent couldn’t help but chuckle, wondering if this was what it was like to stand on the brink of madness.
“Huh. Ya know, you look real familiar, pardner,” Zeek said with his own smile.
Those words. The curtain was about to be drawn, the game most certainly up, like a Twilight Zone version of Let’s Make a Deal where the only prize left was Death Row. Vincent was about to open his mouth to admit his guilt, tired of the whole charade, when Zeek spoke again.
“Now, I know it. That’s who y’all look like. My partner investigated a case ‘bout a month back, I seen the pictures. It was a mother who drowned her own son, ‘cause they couldn’t afford fer all three of ’em. Pure evil, she was. But man, if’n y’all don’t just look like that husband. Said he was workin’ at the time but he was sure she’d drowned the boy. But with no witnesses, we had to rule it an accident, even though he had so many bruises. Poor li’l boy. Timmy was his name. I’ll never forget it.” Zeek smiled, but there was no humor in it. “That’s mighty funny, seein’ as how y’all look so much like that man, ‘n it was that woman’s disappearance I was investigatin’.”
Just get it over with, Vincent thought bitterly, the whole time feeling like he could just drift away, float off to somewhere peaceful where values were still held and things still made sense. The unreality seemed to sweep him up in its grasp.
Zeek continued on, as if nothin’ was wrong. “But ya know what? If’n that husband ya look like had decided to get rid of that monster, I wouldn’t be blamin’ him one bit. I had a sister murdered ‘bout fifteen years ago. Beautiful girl, killed by a drifter. She’s the reason I became a cop. Never did catch the guy, he’s still out there somewheres, but I’m watchin’ fer him, always. My sister’s with Jesus now, I know that sure as I know the sky’s blue, but I tell y’all, much as I hate to admit it, even after all these years I’d give anything just to see the look in that bastard’s eyes as I squeezed the life outta him. I know what that man felt like losing his son and I feel mighty sorry for him, but I wouldn’t wanna be in his shoes. We got an eye out for him. We gotta nab him ‘n bring him in, much as most of us don’t want to. The law, ya know?”
Vincent hated the way Zeek was beating around the bush. Yeah, great, y’all feel sorry for me. I’ll think about that as I gather dust in a cell awaitin’ my execution. Just do it already, he nearly screamed within his own mind, just slap on the cuffs and take me in. No more tauntin’, no more tormentin’. The smell of rotting flesh assailed his senses once again, seeming as if the cabin of the car had become filled with the oppressive stench of decomposition. The silence hung between them like a shroud.
“Well, here we are. I gotta go talk to the husband’s brother,” Zeek said with a grin, as he pulled to the side of the road. Vincent could see the funeral home in the distance outside his window, just past the meandering Muddy River that ran deep throughout the county. So this is where it’ll happen. This is where he’s gonna get me, just a few feet from freedom. He could almost taste the irony, bitter on the back of his tongue. But as Zeek opened the door and popped the trunk, Vincent didn’t feel the sting of handcuffs being clenched down upon his wrists.
And as the cop handed over that bag, Vincent was sure that this was the coup de grace, to be the caught with bag in hand. Zeek merely smiled sadly and said, “Thanks fer the company.” And even as a drop of blood fell from the bag, landing between them, Zeek didn’t seem to notice, leaving Vincent in the road, no cuffs, no questions asked.
As he walked away, waving all the while, Vincent could hear Zeek’s parting words, ones which he took to heart. “Ya know, I think drowin’ the bones in the Muddy River would be fittin’. And seein’ as we already dredged it this mornin’, I don’t think nobody’ll be lookin’ there again. Just some advice, now. Take care, Vincent.”
And as Vincent stood there on the side of the road under the sun’s bright rays, the promise of a new day and a new start at hand, he gave a little prayer of thanks for everything that had happened and thanks that he had been fortunate enough to be left holding the bag.