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Drama Mystery

   The frayed blue tarp rustled as the two men pulled it over my body. It was the one I used to cover the Ford 5000 seat. I hated getting on a wet tractor seat in the morning. Though since the cows were gone now, I fed later so that location was usually dry. The old grain caught in some of the folds rained down on me, smelling of mold and fermented booze.

    The back doors of the van slammed, and the motor started. The skip in the engine rev told me all I needed to know about the geniuses who were now carting me around. Not mechanics. Not forward thinkers. When I told them, I didn’t have any work, they hardly waited to whack me. Just swung the tire iron right there in the yard. No class.

    As the van backed up and then pulled over into the pole barn, I bumped against the metal ridges on the floor. Funny, I didn’t think there were that many potholes in the yard. At least it wasn’t painful. The branches of the bush at the corner scrape against the vehicle’s side like fingernails on a chalkboard.

    “Jesus, Walter, watch where you’re goin’.” I recognized the voice as the man introduced as Buddy.

    “What are you bitchin’ about? This piece a shit van won’t even notice another scratch or two.” Walter appeared to be the brains of the outfit when they knocked on my door. He was the one who found the money in my sock after Buddy had already frisked me. I wondered if anyone will notice I disappeared.

*****

     The drive into town was more entertaining than I am used to because there was conversation. Well, an argument.

    “I told you, we can’t stay at the farm because someone might come out and check. How would we explain being there?” Walter said.

    Buddy was a whiner. “The story was we were takin’ care of the animals while the old man was away.”

    “And you don’t see a problem with that story?” Walter made the hard right onto State Route 79. The ride became much smoother.

    “Should I?” Buddy was probably scratching his head as he stared at Walter. Though I can’t see from my current position under the tarp, it would make sense.

    “Dude, that story only worked when there was a farm. A working farm. My old cell mate said this guy and his brother used to carry their cash on them all the time.” He laughed, “One day a wad fell out of a pants pocket. He said it was over $7000. But it’s not a farm now. There aren’t any animals to take care of.”

    “So?” Buddy was slow on the uptake.

    “Soooo, why would he need a couple of guys to take care of things while he’s out of town? He doesn’t. We parked the truck in the barn out back. We got the keys. And we got three grand to get some supplies and gas.” The van started to slow as the town center approached. “We’re in good shape. So, don’t screw it up.”

    “OK,” Buddy sounded beat down as the van pulled into a parking spot.

    The scrape of stiff bristles on the sidewalk told me they parked outside Rosencrantz’s General Store. Fred liked to start the day with a clean sidewalk and a view of what was happening in downtown.

    The doors creaked open and then slammed shut as the two took stock of the area. They headed for the store doors. Fred kept sweeping, allowing his wife to handle the inside transaction. He made note of the van, its license plate, scratches, rust spots and dings. It was one of his quirks the Sheriff relied on. The broom continued to move over the concrete with its bristly scrape, as if it were shaving the dust off the surface.

   The men came out with a couple of bags and Fred was ready. “Looks like you boys have been traveling quite aways,” he said.

    “Some,” Walter replied as Buddy opened the passenger door and stretched to set the bags down between the front seats.

    “I see ya got state plates but you’re not from around here, are you?” Fred asked.

    “Nope, we came in from the western part of the state. Just checking things out. May decide to look for work if the area is nice.” Walter motioned Buddy up into van then closed the door.

    “Feel free to come back for anything else you need.” Fred watched the scruffy man walk around the van to the driver’s side door. There was something that tickled in his brain but he just couldn’t pin it down.

    Walter closed his door, started the van and after checking the mirrors, backed out of the parking space. As he drove away, he kept his eye on Fred in the mirrors. Watching to see if the old man ran in to call the law.

    “Watcha doin’, Walter? I thought we needed gas.” Buddy brought his mind back to the plan.

    “We do. You’re right. Got to stay focused.” The vehicle quickly slowed and the click of the blinker directed them into the gas station. The tires thumped over the signal hose to let the garage know someone was out front.

    The van stopped and the motor cut off. Walter rummaged around in his pockets before getting out to pump gas. Peeling some money off the roll from my pocket.

    I recognized Dave’s voice as he came out of the garage bay. He was probably wiping his hands on the black greasy rag hanging out of his pocket. He never went anywhere without a rag.

    “Can I help you fellers?” Dave asked. He cleared his throat and hocked a loogie onto the pavement.

    “No, I got it. Just want to fill the tank. Can I pay cash?” Walter sounded friendly as he walked around the van toward Dave.

    “Sure, sure. Just let me turn the pump on for ya.” Dave moved to the counter inside and flipped a switch. His voice sounded closer as he stepped back out into the driveway

    Buddy got out of the van. “Can I use your restroom?” he asked.

    “No prob. Key’s hanging by the door inside,” Dave said as he watched Walter go through the motions of starting the fueling process. “Where you boys from? Don’t think I’ve seen you around here before.”

   “No sir, we’re just traveling through from out west.” Walter watched the dial turn on the pump and listened to the swish of the liquid. He wished the nosey-parker would go back to the building. Not thinking about the fact the man was waiting for his gas money.

    A white SUV with red and black lettering and a light bar slowly drove by the gas station on its way out of town. Walter glanced at it but kept his face down focused on the dial. The nozzle bumped against the van a couple of times as he tried to guesstimate the flow and hit an even dollar amount.  

    “Wow, forty dollars,” Dave said as he walked to the van and accepted the money. “Your tank was pretty thirsty.”

    “I guess,” Walter said as he watched Buddy open the door and get back in. He started the van and said, “Thanks.”

    “Come back if you need anything.” Dave walked back toward the garage bay with the sedan spilling its innards around the floor. He frowned as he spotted some drips of blood on the pavement. “Damn kids, ain’t time to be out jackin’ deer yet.”

*****

    I heard the van rattle into my yard this morning. Not much traffic out my way so I came out of the barn for a look-see. Couple of guys got out. Fake wannabes. Sure, the jeans were worn and they’re wearing work boots. But the wear marks were in the wrong place for real work to cause them. And the boots were clean. No scuffs, no dirt.

    Besides, I don’t need a long-haired heathen running around my place. “Can I help you?” I called as I crossed the yard toward them. My bones may be old and crotchety but at least my dirty jeans were real.

    “Hello, sir. We’re looking for work and we heard you might have something.” The spokesman smiled as he said his piece but the emotion stopped before it got to his eyes. He looked me over like he was calculating my value or how much I weighed.

    The younger one turned a moon-shaped face toward me, crowned with an unruly shock of thinning brown hair. His jaw hung slack giving him a vacant expression. Probably not the brains of the outfit, I thought.

   “Well boys, I don’t know who sent you out here, but I really don’t have much call for more workers.” I lifted my baseball hat and rubbed my hand over my forehead to wipe the sweat off. “I appreciate you coming out, but you best try back in town for work.”

    “We appreciate your honesty. Thanks for the suggestion.” The pony tailed one motioned to moon-faced boy to get back in the rusty van.

    “But Walter…” the young one said. He was cut off with a flick of the wrist.

    He stepped up into the van and nodded to me as the other one slammed the door shut. The van started and I turned to head for the side door of the house. As I got inside, I realized they hadn’t pulled out of the yard. They stalled when he shifted into forward gear.

    I waited a little while and fixed my lunch. ‘Days of Our Lives’ was on the tube, but you could see where the plot would be tomorrow. How did the actors stand it? They never seemed to advance—marriage, divorce, death threats…repeat. The same year after year. I looked out again and they were still tinkering under the hood.

    Putting my hat back on, I walked over to see if I could help. As soon as I got close, ponytail swung the tire iron on me. I dropped fast and the moon-faced perp started whining.

    “What did you do that for, Walter? I thought we was gonna scare him and get him to tell us where the money is.” He was almost wringing his hands as he watched the other one pat me down and turn out my pockets. Wad, truck keys, wallet….

    Gotta give ponytail credit, he found the stash in my sock. The wad in my pocket was just a distraction. Something easy to satisfy a mugger.

    Walter checked for a pulse after making sure he found all of the cash. Nothing. So, they loaded me into the van, tarped me and started this road trip. Blood pooled under me from my head wound. But not too much since my heart stopped pumping awhile ago.

*****

    “We should stop and get something to eat at that diner. Then we can ask about possible work in the area.” Walter was good at thinking on the fly, or at least he thought so.

    “Food would be great.” Buddy was the yes-man. His job was to agree and not cause trouble.

He started to extol the possibilities of a double cheeseburger, chicken-fried steak or French fries when flashing lights kicked on behind the van. The white SUV was pulling onto the side of the road.

    Walter looked at Buddy and said, “Be cool.” He rolled his window down and waited for the officer to approach.

    “Do you know why I pulled you over?” the deputy asked as he held the clipboard to one side. His sidearm strap was unlatched as he stood looking at the two occupants. His partner was shining a light into the back of the van, looking at the tarp.

    “No sir, I don’t,” Walter said with exaggerated politeness. He kept both hands on the steering wheel even though the officer had not made the request.

    The officer fixed the pair with a steely gaze while his partner continued to move. “What’re you boys doing here in our county?” His voice brooked no nonsense.

    Walter knew better than to smile and try to be friendly. “We are checking around and may be looking for work.”

    “Really, well that is great to hear.” He flicked a glance at his partner. “Make sure you check the job board at the diner.” He lifted the clipboard up and make a notation. “We noticed that you have a tail-light out. You might want to stop by the Texaco and see if Dave could fix that for you. If you are planning to travel very far, the state police take a very dim view of non-functional lights.”

    “That sound like something we will do. Thank you, officer.”

    “Drive safe.” The officers backed up and returned to their vehicle.

    The men watched for a clear spot in traffic and then pulled slowly out. The Sheriff vehicle performed a U-turn and headed in the opposite direction.

    “Wow, Walter! You handled that smooth.” Buddy started to mimic Walter’s voice. “Yes, Officer, No, Officer. Anything you say, sir.”

    Walter looked at him and growled, “Cut it out. We can’t screw up now. Let’s get some food and figure out where we can dump the body.” Walter pulled into the diner parking lot near a beat-up black pickup truck with high sides. I recognized the smell as they got out of the truck.

*****

   The flashing lights started before the van got back out near my place. They hadn’t decided where or how to dump me. I was leaking fluids, resting underneath the stinky tarp. I could hear Sheriff Johnson order them out of the van and then down onto the ground. His voice boomed across the air. A female deputy cuffed them and emptied their pockets. That turned up the remainder of the original stash they took from me.

    The other deputy flipped the tarp back after opening the van’s doors. I was laying there in my bloated glory. Fluids pooled underneath me and slowly running out of the van through the rust spots.

    Johnson lightly kicked Walter’s boot as he watched the evidence revealed. “You boys didn’t think this one through. The reports of blood on the street wasn’t a surprise since the dead cow man was in town at the diner yesterday. But Mrs. Baxter over at the bank called to report the smell from the night deposits. That’s when we knew we had a problem.”

    Walter lifted his head slightly and looked at the law man.

    “Yessirree, last time the Thomas brothers came in and spent some serious money buying that truck, the bank had to fumigate the vault…well, really, the whole building.” Johnson bent down and grinned an ice-cold smile. “If you had left town, it might not have been noticed. But here, we all know whose money smells like that. And when we couldn’t find Jed this morning, people remembered the two of you hanging around.”

    The deputies lifted Walter and Buddy up off the ground. Their cuffed hands pulling their shoulders back as they shuffled forward in their leg irons. Walter stared at the Sheriff.

    “Yep, you just can’t have money spend that kind of time around sweat, manure and animals and not pick up some kind of eau-dour. It’s a special kind of perfume. You boys think about that while you’re waiting up in the big house.” He rumbled a big belly laugh as he watched them get loaded into the State Police van. Then he walked over to where the undertaker was about to zip me closed into the body bag. “Sorry Jed, wish we could’ve caught them faster.”

September 17, 2020 17:57

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