Adam’s target was fixed in the scope of his rifle; no tremors caused the crosshairs to shake, and nothing obscured his view of his prey. Adam adjusted until the lapel of the red plaid coat came into view, and hesitated. Steeling himself, he shook off his doubts, and fired. Although he was too far away to hear the scream, he knew it intimately. It was his brother.
Adam thought he’d have felt some pang of emotion, killing a man. Killing Brian. But all he felt was hollow and numb, and in need of a smoke. He rested his rifle on the log beside him. It was all over now. Surely, the police would chalk it up to a hunting accident. It happened, especially at this time of year. After all, what motive could they possibly find for him to kill his only brother? They had always been on amicable terms, there was no financial gain for Adam with Brian’s death, and the gun itself was a popular model among hunters in the area.
Picking up the rifle, he walked back to his pickup and drove to the nearest gas station. Adam put on a nondescript black ball cap, bought a package of Lucky Strikes, and after checking the parking lot to see that it was empty, left the unloaded rifle in the back of someone else’s truck after wiping it down for fingerprints. The night before, he had filed off the serial number. It could belong to anyone, and with any luck, the driver would be someone headed far away from the scene of the crime. There hadn’t been any out of state license plates in the lot, but beggars can’t be choosers.
Lighting a cigarette, he drove away without filling up. There was a chance they’d catch him still, but Adam found himself perplexingly nonchalant about the possibility. He had done the best he could, under the circumstances. The past week he’d watched crime shows incessantly, taking notes in a beat up legal pad he still had leftover from his brief stint in community college. By the end of it, he felt confident his plan could work, with a bit of luck, and a bit of good timing. Certainly, a hunting accident wasn’t the perfect crime, but to construct something more elaborate and foolproof would have meant knowing that his brother was still alive for a day, a week, a month longer. All things considered, Adam knew he had to act quickly.
It would look suspicious to the police that no one had reported anything if it truly was an accident, but not unprecedented. No one wanted blood on their hands, a chance to be sentenced for murder instead of manslaughter. It would seem plausible to some small town cops that some grizzled old buck hunter had fired into the brush, and then been so horrified by what he had found that he’d gone straight home and never spoke a word of it to anyone. To admit what they had done was to bet that the justice system worked perfectly, and anyone with half a brain knew that wasn’t the case. Who knows what “justice” they’d receive at the hands of some merciless attorney, some bored judge? Better by far to leave it unreported and hope it became just another cold case. According to the Internet, Adam was pleasantly surprised to discover, about 40% of murder cases went unsolved. Those were odds he was willing to take.
A month ago, the entire cold-blooded affair would have turned Adam’s stomach, but he found that his heart had hardened remarkably fast after finding out that Brian had killed his wife.
Her passing had been a decade ago. At the time, it was widely assumed that it was a drifter, some robbery gone horribly wrong. They’d never caught her killer. Obviously. Just another example of how the cops were useless. For months after her murder, he had badgered the cops, chasing down new leads or new suspicions, until eventually the sheriff had sat him down and told him it was over. There simply wasn’t enough evidence to go off of.
Erin had been home alone that night. Adam had been at a friend’s poker game, a weekly routine that the police mentioned was probably the reason the culprit had chosen that night. He’d known Adam would be away, that Erin would be home alone. Even all these years later, knowing that some psychopath had been stalking them, making note of their routines and when to strike, felt unbearably painful. If he hadn’t gone to that stupid poker game, he’d thought to himself a thousand times, maybe Erin would still be alive today.
But if it hadn’t been that night, it would have been another. He knew that now. That did nothing to ease his own guilt though.
She’d been shot, point blank, by a stolen handgun. Her murderer had went on to ransack the home, pulling clothes out of closets and drawers, breaking into the safe and stealing the cash that had been there. They’d hoped to save that money to pay for their future children’s college tuition. He’d stolen some of Erin’s jewelry too. It was hard for Adam to reconcile the image of the shooter with Brian. In his most vivid daydreams, he never would have seen it coming, had he not seen the unmistakable proof. He had always imagined the murderer to be some burly thug. Not at all like quiet, considerate Brian. Brian, who had never forgotten to call to say “Happy Birthday” in all the years they’d been brothers. Brian, who never failed to give Adam a lecture on how smoking was bad for his health, and how he should give up the habit.
Taking another drag off his cigarette (his fifth, now) Adam wondered to himself if he would be happier not knowing. He had drifted through these past years without Erin in a fog, punching in and out at his day job, still deeply unhappy. He had never remarried, although there had been women he’d gotten involved with over the years. They never lasted too long, probably catching on to the fact that he wasn’t capable of moving on from the memory of his dead wife. Most of his friends had found it too uncomfortable to talk to him while he was in the thick of his grief, and had wordlessly lost touch with him over the years. His parents had died in a car crash when he had been thirteen, and Brian had been nineteen. For all intents and purposes, after Erin had died, he had been alone. Brian was his only family, his best friend.
It had actually been on a blind date Brian had set up for him that Adam had discovered the truth. The woman, Laura, had been wearing a necklace shaped like a crescent moon. At first, Adam had been jarred, but shrugged it off. Erin had had that exact necklace, but it didn’t mean anything. It wasn’t something unique, after all. Until he’d commented about it, and Laura told him it had been a Christmas gift from Brian.
Adam had left the date halfway through, throwing some cash on the table to cover their bill, and drove home. He'd made up some flimsy excuse that surely Laura would see through, but Adam had to know for sure. The jewelry box, still on his armoire, was missing the crescent moon necklace. It wasn’t enough on it’s own, Adam knew that, and yet he was certain. It had been Brian all along. A stolen necklace wouldn’t convince a jury, but it was all the proof Adam needed to take vengeance on his wife’s murderer. He'd been living with this guilt for nearly a third of his life. Now, for the first time since Erin had died, he felt completely at peace.
Afterwards, days turned into weeks. The local newspaper published an article about how Brian O’Conner had died of a tragic hunting accident. No solid leads at this time, but the police were looking into out of town hunters as suspects. Folding the newspaper up and setting it down, Adam found the corner of his mouth turning up in a lopsided grin. Looks like you’re not the only one who’s going to get away with murder, Brian.