“Jimmy . . . Jimmy! Wake up! Wake up, Jim. C’mon, I need to talk to you. Hellooo, Jimbo! Can ya hear me?”
Jack waited and heard nothing. Jimmy was his younger brother, born 58 seconds after Jack. Identical twins, now 22 years old.
Raised near the mountains in Hamilton, Montana, Jack and Jimmy went everywhere together, often arm in arm, like drunken polka dancers. They talked alike, dressed alike, ate and drank alike, and were of the same mind in almost everything. Except Jack was messy, Jimmy neat. Jack liked long, hot showers. Jimmy short, brisk ones. Otherwise, they were clones.
The duo backpacked the Bitterroots in summer and skied Lost Trail in winter. Both were on the ski patrol. Each started for their high school football team, the Hamilton Broncs, and played key roles in winning the state championship, beating Laurel 21-7.
But after high school, they began to change. Instead of the upbeat, outgoing kids they’d always been, they turned inward, became quiet, often sullen. Jimmy would have dark moods and Jack seemed to join him. Both the same, as always. Their parents thought it was depression and paid for visits to a local therapist, a father of one of their teammates. The therapist prescribed the same medication for both.
Jack went to work at Wildwood Brewing, where he helped make their signature IPA and built a video/sound system for the bar and deck.
Jimmy had a more curious mind than Jack and tried several jobs before starting to do remodeling and repair projects for homeowners. He liked to work on his own. Neither was interested in going off somewhere to college.
In July, 2021, both men caught COVID and were quarantined for two weeks. Once released, Jimmy recovered and felt fine, but Jack had lingering symptoms. They got worse. He began having waves of nausea and threw up often at night. Doctors tested him, checking for food poisoning and other possible causes, but found nothing.
It seemed odd that one twin got dreadfully sick and the other didn’t. It was assumed Jack’s COVID had taken a nasty turn. But unlike most COVID cases, Jack began losing his hair, rapidly.
Jimmy was extremely nervous about his brother. He quit taking remodeling jobs and spent most days with Jack, who was now in the hospital. Jimmy was disconsolate about his twin and acted more depressed. Their parents were frantic about Jack, and Jimmy as well. They brought in specialists and began a battery of tests to determine the cause of Jack’s sickness.
One morning at breakfast, they got a phone call. The parents were asked to come to the hospital right then to meet with their doctor. They were ushered into a back office where their doctor was waiting with another man, a Hamilton Police Detective.
Everyone was introduced and the doctor spoke, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but we’ve confirmed that Jack was poisoned.”
“What? Poisoned?” Jack’s mother was shaken, her face the color of flour.
“Yes,” the doctor said. “It’s . . . very rare.”
The detective leaned forward, “Somebody tried to kill him.”
“Who’d want to kill Jack?!” the mother shrieked.
“That’s what I’m wondering,” the detective sat back. “Who’d do that?”
“Poisoned by what?” the father spit out.
“Polonium,” the detective said. “It’s a deadly form of radiation.”
“Isn’t that what the Russians used to kill that spy in London?” the father asked.
“It is. Polonium 210. It could kill him fast. We need to find out who did this.”
“And start treatment,” said the doctor. “We need to tell Jack.”
“And Jimmy,” sobbed the mother.
They spoke more in detail, then left. That afternoon, Jack and Jimmy were told about the poisoning. The twins were shocked. Jack threw up in the wastebasket. Jimmy thought he would puke too and ran for the bathroom. Neither had any clue as to who would want to poison Jack.
Treatment started that day and Jack was admitted to the hospital. Jimmy went home, saying he wanted to toss all their food and drinks. But he was told no, they needed to test every item in the fridge and all other food in the house. They wanted a list of everything the twins consumed over the past two weeks, and everywhere they’d been.
Jimmy and Jack lived together in a large rental home in the woods two miles south of town. Each had his own bedroom and bathroom with shower.
Their parents saw Jack every day, but also kept a close eye on Jimmy, worried that someone might want to harm him like his twin. Jack and Jimmy both had an irregular heartbeat and there was concern that the radiation could cause Jack’s arteries to clog and lead to a stroke or other heart problems.
Slowly, Jack began to recover. His hair stopped falling out and his severe nausea waned. His white blood cell count stopped dropping. After two weeks in the hospital, he was allowed to go home and live with Jimmy. Jimmy would help with the daily medications.
Their therapist resumed seeing the twins, together at first, then separately on a more personal level. Jimmy divulged that, although he was overjoyed at seeing his brother recover, he was jealous. His brother always got the attention, even from girls, and it had long grated on him. He said it was always Jack first.
Jack and Jimmy tried to get back to their normal lives. They would go hiking in the mountains west of town and talk about who could have poisoned Jack. Meanwhile, the investigation stalled.
Before long, Jack again began throwing up and experiencing nausea. It seemed to be worst when he was in the bathroom taking a shower. He didn’t tell anyone, not even his brother. But Jimmy could tell Jack was sick again. Jack started feeling morose and would often disappear by himself, telling Jimmy he wanted to go for a hike or fish. Alone.
Jimmy thought he was lying. He thought about following him, to see what he was up to. He decided the next time Jack took off, he’d trail him. He never got the chance. The next day, Jimmy vanished.
He had gone out early that morning for two coffee drinks. Upon return a half hour later, while walking up to the front door in the bright sunshine, he saw a shadow behind him. The shadow leaped and an arm gripped him around the neck and yanked his head back. A hand with a white, damp rag reached up and covered Jimmy’s mouth, smothering him. In seconds, his world went from white to black.
Around noon, Jack called the Police. Told them Jimmy had gone to get coffee five hours ago and hadn’t returned. He felt he might be in trouble. The Police came out and searched the area but found no signs of Jimmy or his Jeep. They knew both twins well and said they’d keep an eye out for Jimmy. Jack said please find him.
“Jimmy, can ya hear me? Wake up . . . wake up, man.” Jimmy made no sound. Then he stirred. His eyes blinked. Flat on his back, his shoulders shook.
“There ya go . . . c’mon, man, wake up. Open your eyes, Jim, I want to talk to ya.”
Jimmy opened his eyes, blinking fast. “What? Where . . . am I?”
“Well, remember that dirt path we drove up off Shiloh and got stuck? You’re about a mile up that road, thirty feet off in the woods. Under a tall pine by that little pond.”
“What? What is this, what’m I in? Jack, what’ve you done?”
“Well, for starters, bro, I built a coffin. Nothing fancy. But I did add a battery powered light and camera so I could see you and a microphone so we could chat. And I added a small vent with a tube to bring in air. But I’d advise you not to get agitated. Breathe easy, brother.”
“Oh my god, Jack, why, why? No!” Jimmy pushed on the wood above his head and beat his fists on it. He kicked his feet, but there was no room.
“Then I knocked you out, threw you in your rig – you’re gaining weight, bro – drove out there and buried your fat ass. Then I hid your Jeep and hoofed it home. You’re about four feet down. Nothin’ but dirt above ya.” Jimmy smelled the dank earth around him. Like a root cellar.
“So how ya feel?” Jack asked.
“Jack! Get me outta here! Now!”
“Sorry, bro. No can do. We need to talk.”
“Jackie, please, don’t do this! Please, get me outta here. You can’t be serious! Dig me up! It’s hard to breathe!”
“Oh, you can last awhile. Don’t be a baby, little bro.”
“Why would you do this? Jax, for God’s sake!”
“I’ll ask you the same. Why?! Why’d you do it?”
“Try to kill me! Poison me with Polonium! That’s a nasty way to kill your twin, ya think?!”
Jimmy didn’t say anything. Jack watched Jimmy’s face on the computer screen in front of him. He saw a look he’d never seen before. True fear. He could feel it and shuddered.
“I know you did it, Jimmy. You somehow got hold of some Polonium and poisoned me!”
“How would I do something like that? Why?” Jimmy said.
“I finally figured it out,” Jack said. “I kept getting sick when I took showers. Started reading up more on Polonium and found out you don’t have to swallow it, just breathing it can kill ya. Online I found a radiation home-test kit and whaddaya know, my shower is a radiation hot spot! I wondered, hmmm, how did that happen? Who would add radiation to a dude’s shower?! Could it be the guy who installed the shower perhaps? His own twin? Ya think?! The glass walls in my shower are covered with Polonium! It’s clear and odorless, so how would I know? But you knew! You put it there. Admit it, Jimmy. You wanted me dead. Why?!”
Jimmy shifted his body. No words came.
“If you fess up and are honest, I may come out there and dig you up. Or not! Talk fast, asshole.”
“Lisa,” Jimmy said.
“What? Lisa? You did this because of your old girlfriend? No, dude.”
“I was mad about Lisa and I just . . . I don’t know, snapped. I’m so sorry, Jack. Sooo, sorry. I’m over her. I’ll never hurt you again. We need each other!”
“She doesn’t even live here anymore!”
“I know, it’s terrible. You were with her. You knocked her up. You may not know it but you did. She told me. She got an abortion, then broke up with me. I would have fathered that kid, but she couldn’t bear it. Then she split to Chicago and you just went on with your happy-go-lucky life. I hated you then.”
Jack remained quiet, shocked at the news of Lisa’s pregnancy, his child.
Jimmy began to cry. “This is all my fault. Please, Jackie, let me out. Save me, I’m begging you!”
“I don’t know, man. Why didn’t you just push me off a cliff or something? Why poison me? With radiation? What are you, a secret agent or something? That’s just . . . messed up.”
“Not as cruel as this, burying me alive! You’re such an ass. I wish you’d never been born.”
Both twins burst out laughing, right on cue. Tears fell in sync.
Jack recovered first, “So, how’d you get the Polonium?”
“I read about it, when that spy was killed. I got curious. And, believe it or not, I bought some online. You can buy it for-”
Jack cut in, “I know! You think I didn’t research it? It’s pretty damn common – Polonium. Industrials use it in factories to get rid of static electricity – keep dust off lenses and building products and shit. No safeguards. New York Times said you could get a lethal dose for $22.50 plus tax. Enough to kill you, ingested or inhaled. Anyone can buy it online if you know where. Apparently, you do.”
Jimmy said, “When I got it, I just kept it. Then I got so curious and I was out of my mind and I decided to test it on your shower. I didn’t want it to kill you, I swear!”
“Oh Jimmer, what are we gonna do? I’m as mad at you now as you were at me. What a pair.”
“Jacko, come get me. Please, brother. We can keep it quiet and never tell anyone. Our secret.”
Jack was now sobbing, “I don’t want you to die, Jimmy. You’re my twin brother . . . but, I don’t know . . . being alone would be . . . I don’t know.”
“Yeah, you know. You’re my older brother and you know what’s right for us. You know you need to come dig me up right now. Before I die! Hurry, Jackie! Please! Do it!”
“Alright. You’re right. But we can never tell anyone about this. Ever!”
“Duh, bro! We’re both going to jail if we do! It’s our secret.”
“I’m on my way. Hey, I’m curious, how’s the air down there? Can you hear me okay?”
“Yes, I can hear you and no, the air is bad, it’s running out.”
“Thought I made that tube large enough.” Jack laughed, “Live and learn.”
“Shut up! Get over here!” Jimmy’s body shook and he closed his eyes tight.
“Hang on,” Jack said. “Be there in twenty. Or faster.”
“Love ya, bro,” Jimmy said.
“Ditto, dude. But damn, man, hit the gym would ya?”
Jack clicked off his computer, grabbed his keys, and sprinted to his Jeep. In the back seat was a dirty shovel.
The next day, a news story appeared on the front page of the Hamilton Times. The story reported the death of a local man in a vehicle accident. Jack Krone of Hamilton died when his Jeep crashed into a tree off Shiloh Road. He was dead on the scene according to authorities. He had passed several vehicles and witnesses said he was speeding. One driver thought she saw him slump over the wheel as he passed by. Police say he may have suffered a heart attack while driving.
The medical examiner said tests are needed, but a heart attack is possible. It was also stated the attack may have been caused by radioactive poison the victim ingested two months ago, in what is considered an attempt on his life. That crime is still under investigation.
To deepen the mystery, the story reported that Jack’s younger brother, Jimmy Krone, also of Hamilton, has gone missing. He disappeared yesterday and has not been heard from or located. Anyone with knowledge of his whereabouts is asked to contact the Hamilton Police Department.