“Listen, sheriff, I didn’t murder my wife!”
“You’re a liar, Mr. Martin! If you didn’t murder her, where is she?”
The two men were nose-to-nose. Finally, Martin broke eye contact and stepped away.
“I… I don’t know. Anna just disappeared.”
“Bullshit! She didn’t just disappear. You murdered her and buried her out there somewhere.”
Martin folded his hands across his chest. “I swear to you, the last time I saw her, she was walking towards the woods at the back of our property.”
The sheriff scoffed. “And then she just ‘disappeared,’ huh? Let me get this straight. After a loud and very public argument, the two of you leave the restaurant together, get into your car, and drive away. The next day, your wife mysteriously disappears. C’mon, Martin, give me a break.”
“It’s true, sheriff. We made up during the drive home. In fact, we made love and went to sleep in each other’s arms. “ Tears filled his eyes .”When I woke, I realized she wasn’t in bed. I searched the house. Through the back window, I saw her walk into the woods. I opened the door and called out, but he didn’t respond. Anna never returned from that walk.”
The sheriff walked over to the living room window.
“Martin, you got damn near ten acres of land out there; two of them are just useless woods. Nobody in their right mind would walk into those woods. But I know you buried your wife out there. And I won’t rest till I find her.”
“I would like you to leave now, sheriff.”
The sheriff smirked. “I bet you do.”
“Why, you getting nervous?”
“No. I’m getting tired of your false accusations. Now please leave my home.”
The sheriff stared angrily at Martin. “You know, you big city slickers come down here and woo our small town girls. Then when you get tired of them, you throw ‘em away. You didn’t really love Anna. She was just a trinket, a showpiece for you. But you didn’t know, Anna Bartlett the way this town knew and loved her. So I begged her not to go away and marry you. But she won’t listen. Gone two years, she only came back for her mother’s funeral. As much as I wanted to see her, I wished she would’ve stayed away. She’d be alive today.”
“Sheriff. I’m sorry you feel that way. But I swear, I loved Anna and would never harm her.”
“Mr. Martin, why don’t you do yourself a favor and leave Prattsville. The people here will never forgive you, and you’re gonna be shunned by everyone. And I promise to make your life a living Hell.”
“Thank you for the warning. Sheriff Gunny. But I’m not leaving Prattsville until I find out what happened to my wife.”
“Pig headed,” the sheriff said as he walked out onto the porch. “Don’t say I didn’t warn ya. I’ll be watchin’ for you to slip up, then wham! I’ll come down on you with the full weight of the law. Hear me?”
“I hear you,” Martin replied., then closed the door.
The following day Martin sat for hours in the rocking on the porch, hoping to see Anna walk out of the woods. Then, finally, he walked towards the area where he last saw his wife.
He stood, staring at the edge of the woods.
He shook his head as he thought, “Look at the overlapping and interlinking branches. Anna couldn’t walk through this.”
Martin began to think maybe he didn’t see Anna enter the woods. Maybe he imagined it all. But if he did, where could she be?
Martin drove into town to shop for groceries and buy some supplies at Riley’s Hardware store. The people in town either ignored him or stared as he walked the streets for the most part. Conversations would stop when he approached. A few people awkwardly returned his good morning greeting.
As he walked through the grocery aisle, people hurried away. He turned down the aisle and saw a young woman stocking the shelves.
“Excuse me, Miss, where would I find olive oil?:
Before she could answer, he eased her out of the way.
“Dorie, open register three. I’m the manager. May I help, sir?”
“I wanted to know in what aisle would I find the olive oil?”
“That will be in aisle ten, sir. May I help you with anything else?”
Martin could hear the tenseness in the manager’s voice.
“No, I just want to pick up a few more items.”
Martin placed his groceries in his cart and headed towards the cash register. He was surprised to find lines at all three cash registers,
The manager walked over. “We’ll check you out on register three, Mr. Martin.”
“But what about all these other customers. I don’t want to go ahead of them.”
“Not to worry. It’ll be fine.”
“You’re not trying to get rid of me, are you?”
The manager smiled. “Of course not, sir. We’re just trying to expedite your shopping experience in our store. In the future, take advantage of our home delivery.”‘is that your way of saying I’m not welcomed in your store?”
“Not at all, sir. I thought home delivery might suit you better.”
“Sure. I’ll consider that next time.”
As he exited the store, he heard a round of applause coming from inside.
Martin walked across the street to the hardware store. When a few customers noticed him, they walked out of the store. Mr. Riley approached him. “Can I help you?” He asked dryly.
“Yes, I need a box of drywall screws. And a roll of duct tape. And yeah, some rope.”
“Aisle seven, bottom left for the screws. Aisle four for the duct tape and rope.”
Martin gathered the items and walked to the front of the store. As he handed the clerk his money, Mr. Riley said, “Ya know. There’s a real nice hardware store in the next town over. They got more of a variety of stuff.”
“I like this store just fine.”
“I think you’ll like the other store better.”
When Martin walked out of the store, he saw the sheriff’s patrol car parked across the street. Although the dark sunshades hid the sheriff’s eyes, Martin knew he was looking at him.
Martin decided to go to the diner to eat. He walked in and met cold stares and half glances. He waited a while for the waitress to come and take his order. Finally, he called a waitress to his table.
“Excuse me, Miss, but I’ve been waiting here more than ten minutes, and no one’s come over to take my order.”
“You know, mister, Anna worked here for years, and everybody loved her -especially the cook. For your own good, sweetheart, I wouldn’t eat anything from here.”
\ “Thank you,” Martin said as he slipped her a twenty-dollar tip. The waitress riled back, grabbed the bill, and crumpled it, then tossed it into Martin’s face. . “I don’t want your money. I want my best friend Anna back. Now git.”
The patrol car trailed Martin as he walked to his car,
The Sherriff leaned out of the window. “How was your shopping experience, Mr. Martin? How do you like our friendly little town?”
Martin stared at the sheriff. “I guess you know how it was, don’t you.”
The Sherriff chuckled. I guess you thought if you dressed up in your fancy denim shirt and pants and wore your expensive cowboy boots, people might forget what you are, huh?”
“What am I, Sheriff?”,
“Just a murderer, Mr. Martin. A plain old murderer dressed up in fancy clothes.”
Martin returned home and sat on the porch. Although his experience in town upset him, he’d stay until he found out what happened to his wife. The answers to his wife’s disappearance had to be in those woods. So Martin, armed with a pistol and a flashlight, walked towards the woods. As he searched the edge, he saw a small opening and crawled in.
At ten o’clock the following day, male hikers entered the sheriff’s office. They told of finding two bodies at the base of the edge of the cliff. The hikers directed the sheriff and his deputies to the location. The lawmen, led by the hikers, climbed to where the bodies were lying.
“How did they get down here, sheriff?” The deputy asked.
“This is the back of Martin’s property. You know, the woodsy area. There looks like there was a hidden drop-off,”
The sheriff found the remains of Anna. But he was shocked to find a body next to her dressed in fancy denim and expensive boots.