Marilyn and Beatrice arrived at work early, as usual. Beatrice opened the door and held it open for Marilyn, as usual. The ladies took off their coats and put on their sweaters, as usual. They started re-stocking the books that had been checked in the evening before, as usual.
The body of the head librarian lay in the Historical Fiction aisle, her lifeless eyes and bluish tint signifying that she was well and truly dead.
Marilyn wiped her glasses, the grim expression on her face softened somewhat by the absence of eyewear. When she spoke, the grimness on her face seeped into her tone.
“I reckon ol’ Becky won’t be doin’ any work today.”
Beatrice sniffed and shook her head.
“Honestly, Bea, I was just lookin’ for where I left the mop last night when I spotted her.”
The two women were sipping coffee from their respective Thermos bottles and sitting behind the library check-out counter. Becky Stuberville being dead wasn’t the worst news in the world, in their opinion, but a murdered Becky Stuberville was a different story. And she had been murdered. Strangled, judging by the bruises around her neck.
“Guess we oughta call Sherrif Daniels,” Beatrice said, sighing.
Marilyn graced this remark with a frown.
“I reckon not. We’ll be prime suspects. Everyone knows how much we hate her.”
“Hated,” Beatrice said.
“I still hate her. She done put us in a bad way, Bea, bein’ all dead here in the library.”
“Her killer did that.”
“Yes,” Marilyn said thoughtfully. Becky was liked in the community because she got married to the head football coach, and because she remained married to the head football coach. As far as any other redeeming qualities she might possess, Marilyn and Beatrice would be hard pressed to name any. She had at least one enemy, one serious enough to put paid to her breathing any more of God’s air.
“I still think we oughta call the sheriff.”
Marilyn shot Beatrice a withering look.
“Absolutely not. We’ll wind up in jail, face a kangaroo court, and find ourselves in prison with a bunch of women who are actual murderers.”
Beatrice nodded. What Marilyn said seemed probable.
“I hear those prison women don’t use deodorant.”
“Yes, Bea. That would be the worst thing about prison. B.O.”
“And some of them are in relationships with each other,” Beatrice whispered.
“Why are you whispering? Afraid Becky’s gonna hear you?”
Beatrice blushed and shook her head.
“Anyway,” Marilyn continued, “don’t you see the irony of it all? Everyone thinks we’re lesbians, so they’d think we’d belong in such a place.”
“But – but we ain’t.”
Marilyn stared at Beatrice.
“Thanks for the update, Bea.”
“No need to get all snitty. Just because there’s a dead body in the Historical Fiction aisle doesn’t mean that you have to get your panties in a twist.”
“Agreed. And – sorry. But a dead body seems like a panty-twisting event.”
“Maybe, but it’s the most exciting thing to happen in Soda Springs since Amy Morgan came to church drunk and fell over on the Jesus statue.”
Marilyn shook her head, her grimace tightening.
“That poor statue. It still ain’t right. I think Preacher Dan left out some pieces when he glued it back together. It wobbles somethin’ terrible.”
“Well, let’s get movin’. We got things to do before we open the library.”
Marilyn stared at her friend, puzzled.
Beatrice started moving to the body, talking over her shoulder.
“Gotta get poor ol’ Becky someplace safe.”
Marilyn’s legs stopped obeying instructions from the brain. It occurred to her that a) Beatrice was right, b) a killer was on the loose, and c) they were in deep shit.
Marilyn took a healthy gulp of coffee and willed her legs to move. It was going to be a long day, and dead bodies didn’t just hide themselves.
The winter evening arrived quickly and with snow flurries. Beatrice and Marilyn drew in their breath at the shock of cold air that confronted them when leaving the library. Each woman busied herself buttoning up against the frigid night.
“I’m none too happy about leavin’ her in the barn out back. You know them high school kids canoodle in there from time to time,” Marilyn said, her grimace returning for an encore performance.
“Not on a night like this. I reckon their hormones are frozen.”
“We gotta move her. The poor girl’s probably frozen solid by now.”
Beatrice gave her friend a steady stare.
“I don’t think she minds much at this point.”
“And I don’t relish haulin’ her skinny ass up a tree.”
“It’s a good place to hide a dead body, Mar. I mean, who’s gonna look for an anorexic coach’s wife up a tree?”
Marilyn had to admit that it was a good idea, but getting a dead body up a tree seemed fraught with difficulties.
“I don’t know why we can’t leave her out there in the oil fields. Them sumbitches deserve to have a dead body found, what with all the frackin’ they’re doin. I expect an earthquake any day now.”
“They’d probably toss her down a well. They just don’t give a shit, Mar.”
“Still. A tree? Seems like we’re makin’ our lives difficult.”
“Don’t worry. We have rope and a pickup truck. Easy peasy.”
Marilyn didn’t think that “easy peasy” would be happening. Sure, rope and horsepower sounded good, but they had never hauled a dead body up a tree before. It seemed like some practice was required to do it well.
The still-living women got the dead woman into the back of the truck and sped off. Beatrice had a tree picked out already: a massive live oak that stood five miles outside town. Marilyn nodded in appreciation of the tree that her friend had chosen. It was indeed massive, and full as well, even for winter.
“Tie this rope around her chest and under her arms, Mar. I’ll get the other end over a branch and tied to the bumper.”
Marilyn started tying up the dead woman.
“Should we undress her?” Marilyn stopped her rope work to enquire.
“Heavens no. A dead librarian is bad enough, but a nekkid dead librarian is an affront to God,” Beatrice said, as if she had studied up on this particular subject.
“Hmph. Well, I hope we didn’t leave no NBA on them clothes.”
“Whatever you say, Bea. Let’s just git this done. I’m cold and in need of my supper.”
Beatrice leaned out of the truck window and laughed at her friend.
“I reckon we could both do without a supper ever once in a while. My pants are gittin’ tight.”
“Less of the diet talk, Bea. We ain’t here to discuss cuttin’ down on carbs or shit like that.”
“You done yet? My toes are numb,” Beatrice yelled.
“Ok. Let ‘er rip!”
Beatrice gave the truck too much gas, the result being that Becky Stuberville raced through the air, up the tree, over the branch, and landing with a heavy thud on the ground.
“Dammit, Bea! You smashed her nose!”
“Yeah,” Beatrice said, eyeing the damage dispassionately. “I think we need a higher branch.”
“I think we need to find a different place to hide her.”
After a quick consultation, the women decided to hide her in an altogether different place. A place, they agreed, that was perfect.
The body was finally hidden. Their night’s work done, the women went home and sat heavily on the sofa. A bottle of wine sounded like a good idea, so Beatrice retrieved it and sat two glasses out.
The women drank in silence for fifteen minutes, until a thought occurred to Beatrice.
“You reckon Coach Stuberville did it?”
Marilyn shook her head decisively.
“No. The man has a no-balls policy in coaching, so I figure he’s the same way in life. You remember that playoff game last year?”
“’Course I do. The dumbass went for a field goal at the two-yard line instead of a touchdown. Got blocked and the other team ran it back for a touchdown and won the game.”
“That’s what I mean. So I don’t reckon he has the fortitude to kill his wife.”
“Well, who then? You got a good sense of this stuff, Mar.”
“I got nothin’. I’d say us, except we know we didn’t do it.”
“Well, I’m pretty drunk and I figure there’ll be a hullabaloo tomorrah. I need my beauty sleep.”
“Go to bed, old woman. I’ll finish off the bottle first,” Marilyn said, then burped.
“You’ll snore all night if you do.”
“Don’t care. I reckon I got a right to snore after hiding a dead woman.”
Beatrice yawned and nodded.
“Church is tomorrah.”
“Yeah. That’s what scares me. Jesus may be damaged, but He still sees us.”
Preacher Dan was in fine form this morning. Hellfire and brimstone sounded hotter than ever, and the congregation approved. They relished the thought of whores and homos and vegans going to hell and burning forever. It was basically the same sermon every week, with different groups being castigated. Last week, he railed on the sins of voting Democrat and the evils of driving electric vehicles.
“Can he say ‘homos’? That’s a little inappropriate,” Beatrice whispered.
“He used to say ‘queers.’ Then them high school kids got on ‘im about it.”
The church was well built, sturdy, solid – all in the name of God. The wind whipped through the countryside, but the church stood firm, oblivious to the vagaries of a rare east Texas cold snap. But the church, robust as it was, would feel the effects of the drilling outside of town.
Just as Preacher Dan was wrapping up his sermon, the ground shook. It didn’t shake a lot, but it was discernible. A low, rumbling sound came from beneath the building. Then it happened.
The plaster statue of Jesus, already a little unsteady, toppled over slowly, as if it were undecided on whether or not to let gravity have its way with it. It decided in favor of Newton’s discovery.
With a resounding crash, Jesus fell, splintering into several pieces and throwing up dust in the vicinity. A woman screamed, but not because Jesus was broken. She screamed because the body of Becky Stuberville was seated behind where Jesus had been. Her stiff manner and mottled, bluish tint said it all. Also, she was tied to a chair so she wouldn’t fall over.
The congregation was silent, stunned by what they saw. Preacher Dan stared at the dead body in horror, which baffled Marilyn and Beatrice.
“Damn. The man acts like he ain’t ever seen a stiff in his life. He done buried a dozen people in this town,” Marilyn whispered.
“I don’t think Jesus can be fixed this time. His head just exploded,” Beatrice said. She stared in fascination at the shards of the Savior scattered across the floor.
“Oh, dear Lord! I didn’t mean to kill her! Please, please forgive me, Lord!” Preacher Dan fell to his knees as he uttered these fateful words.
The congregation erupted into shouts, exclamations, confusion, and anger. Coach Stuberville pulled out his gun, aiming it at the preacher, and had to be restrained by other gun-toting men. The sheriff handcuffed Preacher Dan and hurried him off to his office to get a confession while the confession-getting was good.
Everyone spilled outside and gathered into groups, discussing the turn of events. Various theories abounded. One group thought that Preacher Dan was a CIA operative and was sent to take out Communist sympathizers. Another group was sure that he was a serial killer preying on coach’s wives. Yet another group thought that Becky Stuberville must have been a whore, a homo, or a vegan, and God sent preacher Dan to administer some Godly justice. All agreed, though, that Jesus falling over to reveal Becky Stuberville had done in his nerves.
It turned out to be a mundane motive. Preacher Dan had been having an affair with the coach’s wife, and she was ending the relationship. Preacher Dan, incensed, went a little too far with his actions and throttled her. The upshot of this was that Preacher Dan was sent to prison and Coach Stuberville was inundated with baked goods and offers of marriage.
Marilyn was made head librarian, which suited her and Beatrice just fine. Besides, no one else wanted the job, so giving it to an alleged lesbian was the best that the town could do.
Summer in east Texas arrived as it always did: early and forceful. Humidity and heat ruled the region, with breezes hard to come by and shade trees sought out eagerly by denizens that insisted on being outdoors. Marilyn and Beatrice, ensconced in the cool of the library, reminisced about the events of last winter.
“I reckon it was a miracle, Bea. Ol’ Jesus fallin’ over like He did and makin’ preacher Dan confess.”
Beatrice sipped her tea and shook her head.
“All that frackin’ did it. Just a coincidence.”
“Maybe, but that was the first time we had a tremor. It don’t feel like a coincidence.”
“Agree to disagree?”
“Really, Bea? You know how I hate that sayin’.”
“Anyway, I like the new Jesus. Bertie Cooper is a magician with that chainsaw. He looks lovely.”
“A little rugged, I think, but I reckon Jesus was rugged. And they bolted Him to the floor. He ain’t gonna fall over anymore.”
“Nope. Jesus is here to stay.”
The two women nodded to each other – or maybe themselves – and continued to sip tea and nibble on their lettuce wraps. A recent health kick resulted in both women losing a good twenty pounds each. They both felt better, but the talk around town of them being lesbians increased with each pound lost.
“You ever wanted to get married again?” Beatrice asked Marilyn without looking at her.
“No. I reckon bein’ married to one dumbass in a lifetime is enough.”
“Same here. Well, at least they went out in a blaze of glory.”
“They got drunk, fell out their boat, and got ate by gators. I wouldn’t call that a blaze of glory.”
“I think they liked each other’s company better’n ours,” Beatrice said.
“I reckon they did us a favor, Bea. I probably woulda kilt my man eventually. Then I’d be in prison with other murderers.”
Both women laughed, trying not to think that a fat, juicy hamburger would round off their lunch quite nicely.
“You think ol’ coach Stuberville gonna be happy with his new wife?”
“Dunno, Mar. Marryin’ Preacher Dan’s ex-wife seems a step down. I reckon he was fine with Becky. Lordy, though! The teacher marryin’ the preacher’s wife. Those two are a caution!”
“I reckon so. They’re the talk of the town.”
“Well, Becky’s in the ground now. I expect she’s happier there than in a barn or a tree.”
“Or behind an unsteady Jesus,” Bea said, eyes twinkling.
“I still think it was a miracle.”
“Don’t be so sure, Mar.”
“Well I am. As far as I’m concerned, a damaged Jesus can still git the job done.”
Beatrice wasn’t in the mood to argue with Marilyn because Marilyn might be right. The Man had a habit of coming through when the chips were down. Bea abandoned this line of thought because it made her think of potato chips.
Life, she mused, can be hell for dieters.