I would like to thank Zen Master for his help in editing this story.
This story transpires in the year 1979, in the county of Palm Beach, Florida
Murrr derrr, murderrr. The way the word rolled off my tongue seemed to fascinate me. Especially since that was the reason that I was sitting in the dark, on damp grass, with a gnarled cane pole in hand and I wasn’t thinking about murdering fish. I was planning to kill Bill Brown.
My thoughts would bounce from the word to the question and back. The question being, Can I get away with this? Can I really murder someone and not get caught? Not only not get caught, but make it seem as though it was one of another of the many traffic fatalities on Death road, (State Road 80), leading out of West Palm Beach toward Belle Glade Florida.
At 5:00 am on a Monday morning, no one would pay much attention to a man fishing, waiting for the sun to come up. It’s unlikely that any one would even see the beat up old black Dodge Dart resting a few yards away at the bottom of the bank, the roof several feet below the surface of the road. I bought the old car from a guy in Ft. Lauderdale just for this purpose and I did not transfer the title into my name. Once I kill Brown, I will junk the Dart in West Palm, pick up my service truck, and go to work fixing peoples plumbing, just like every Monday for the past five years.
I was shivering, some from the damp air, but mostly from anticipation.
He will be coming by soon, just like every other week day. I’ve been following him off and on for the past two weeks and I have his routine down. Many of us are very predictable, apparently Bill Brown more so than most.
The scent of the canal water permeates everything out here, an earthy, muddy sweet smell, reminding me of bream and catfish. I could barely make out the cattails and water hyacinths that surrounded my bobber. Discarded Styrofoam worm containers keep me company as I pretend to fish, while little invisible sticky toed frogs argued with each other in the dark.
I keep an eye to the north, vigilant for the car with the dim right head light and the broken parking light lens. It’s a good thing he is as lazy as he is arrogant, or he might have fixed them by now, but I checked just a couple of hours ago, when I dropped off my service truck near the junk yard and picked up the black Dodge that was soon to be scrap. Nothing had changed. I had broken the parking light lens and lightly sprayed silver paint on the headlight late last Thursday night and waited here early Friday morning for him to go by. I had no trouble spotting him.
The land out here was practically a swamp. A foot lower and it would be under water. That’s why, when they built the roads they had to dig a canal alongside the right of way and use the material from the excavation to build a dike of sorts, to put the highway on.
Highway, ha, a narrow twenty two foot wide ribbon of asphalt on an eight foot high ridge that fell away sharply on either side. The surface of the road had more bumps and dips than a gator’s back. Mainly because of the heavy sugar cane trucks that passed by the thousands during season and the fact that this rural area did not have the clout to pry highway funds from the county of Palm Beach. Not to mention that last year’s highway funds were ravaged by over runs, which meant that the following year’s budget would have to make up the deficit.
My heart sped up as I made out headlights making the turn south from West Palm Beach. That curve was about two miles away from my current fishing hole. This morning was clear and I quickly determined that it wasn’t him. Some days the fog rolls over this area so thick that the mosquitoes are grounded.
The lights in the distance grew brighter as the vehicle neared. It was a battered pickup that rattled by me at about forty five miles per hour, bouncing across the low concrete bridge that I was sitting beside, immediately making the tight sweeping right as he came off the bridge. The truck was going too fast and had to drift into the oncoming lane.
He had probably planned to drift anyway, because the driver could see the empty road for miles around the turn to the west. Everybody drives too fast out here especially at this time of the morning. My victim likes to push the edge of the envelope when he’s behind the wheel. I suppose it keeps him on his toes and less likely to fall asleep on the fifty-minute drive from his house in Lake Worth to the high school in Belle Glade.
I had picked this spot because of the bridge and the turn, but mainly because of the hundreds of accidents that have happened at this spot. Everything else just seemed to fall into place. The rough deserted road, the fact that he had to be at work by six am, but most of all, the deep canal on the outside of the curve with Australian pine trees along the thin strip of land between the asphalt and the water.
These trees were old and half rotted. The highway department had planted them when they built the road, back before God was born. The reason was to keep cars from driving into the canals. The problem was that the trees were so unyielding that when a vehicle did strike them it would usually destroy the car and more often than not, kill the occupants.
In recent years, because they were old and rotting, large pieces of the invasive trees would fall into the roadway causing even more accidents. Now, the Department of Transportation was systematically cutting down the trees and installing guardrails, but not here, not yet. Many trees were missing at this particular spot due to collisions and old age. The once uniform fence of trees now looked more like a six-year-old child’s smile.
An eighteen wheeler rumbles by headed east toward the coast. Even down the bank where I am the blast of air rocks me as I impatiently wait. I check the lines to make sure that they had not become fouled after the truck had passed.
It should work. I have it all planned out. The only thing that could screw my plan up is my timing, or another driver close enough that they could witness the event. In the case of a witness, I just wait for another day, no problem. But if my timing is off, I might not get another chance. I’ve practiced time and time again and the device works perfectly. At least the part I could practice. It’s what happens after he runs over it that will be the test. It should work. It has to work. It’s too simple not to work.
The device is a one by six inch piece of pine, three feet long with pieces of twisted scrap metal loosely attached to the surface of the wood, placed so that the sharp edges would punch large holes in a tire when hit. Attached to it are two thin nylon ropes stretched across to my side of the road so I can drag it from its hiding place on the other side onto the pavement into Bill Brown’s path.
My timing has to be perfect. I must not pull too early giving him a chance to avoid it, and yet not wait so long as not to be able to get it in front of his left front wheel. Once his tire strikes the apparatus, the metal pieces will slice the tire open and be scattered randomly. Chunks of metal and debris are often found in the road in this area, having fallen from ragged pickups or farm machinery.
Whenever I handled the scrap metal I wore gloves, like the ones I have on now, so that I would leave nothing of myself on them. I will haul in the board and dispose of it later along with the car and my clothing. A blow out on the left front should rip the steering wheel from his hands and send the car careening over the bank to the waiting trees and black water below. It’s going to work. It has got to work.
There was the very faint glow of a new day off to the east, when I saw him round the bend. I could see no other lights in either direction. He was late. He probably drank too much last night making it hard to get up this morning. I was lying on my stomach in the tall grass, near the edge of the road, with the nylon cords in my hand. All I had to do was firmly and steadily, yet quickly draw the board upon the highway so that the end closest to me touched the centerline.
Knowing it was him headed toward me seemed to make time slow down. Almost lazily took up the slack on the nylon cords. I knew he was doing at least fifty, yet his lights just seem to hang out there.
I started thinking about why I was doing this. Pictures of my wife kept flashing in my mind. She had come through the door sobbing and shaking, she cringed when I reached out to comfort her. I had no idea what was wrong. She was unable to talk coherently, and I became frightened. She rushed into the bathroom and locked the door. Dread ripping through me, I rapped on the door and asked her to tell me what was wrong.
Through the sobs she managed to tell me, “Please, just wait.”
Wait! My world seemed to be exploding, and I’m being asked to wait, ... okay, ... I wait.
Nervously, I paced the bedroom. Listening to the crying slowly subside only to be renewed seconds later. I could hear the shower now and she seemed to be calming down. What could have happened? I knew that she was supposed to be at a two-day educational conference in West Palm, she was a counselor at the local high school. We had agreed that she would get a hotel room rather than drive back to Belle Glade over that terrible road at night. Yet here she was. The conference still had another day, yet she was home.
I was lying on the bed blindly staring through the ceiling when I heard the bathroom door open. I had been so wrapped in thought that I hadn’t even noticed that the shower had stopped. I sat up, waiting expectantly. She had a towel wrapped around her body and one at her face like a huge hanky softly crying into it. Slowly she came over to the bed and sat next to me. I said nothing. I carefully put my arm around her and she became tense. We just sat there. Both of us had tears running down our face.
Finally she began to relax in my arms and in a horse whisper said, “He raped me.”
Startled, I asked her to repeat herself, as if I had not heard the words I did not want to hear. She started silently crying, and her whole body started shaking, with the effort to subdue the hurt within her.
“Who raped you?” I asked, my voice trembling.
“Bill! Bill Brown!” Burst from her lips in a mighty sob, followed by a painful wail that made me feel as though a mass of frantically withering snakes had taken up residence in my gut.
“Bill Brown? The principal? Your boss?”
Still wailing she hung her head and nodded.
“How did it happen? Where is he? Have you reported it to the cops?”
“NO!” She shouted. “No police! I couldn’t bear the talk. You know this town. I’m ashamed. I couldn’t face them. Besides it was partly my fault.”
“How was it your fault?” I half screamed at her.
“I let him in my room to use the phone.” And a renewed wail filled the space around us.
“So ... that’s all?”
She nodded, and was now making that hiccupy crying sound that a three year old makes when the hurt has started to fade.
“Do you hate me,” she asked?
Crying, I said, “No ... I don’t hate you. I love you. Are you okay, I mean physically? Did he hit you or anything?”
“Not really,” she sobbed. “I’m sore, but I’m not hurt. Look, I really don’t want to talk about this right now. Can we talk about this tomorrow? I took some sleeping pills and I need to rest. Please, I promise, we can talk about it later.”
I wanted to say no. I wanted to know everything that had happened and I wanted to know right now, but I knew that was not what she needed. So I hung my head and nodded.
She got up to put on her night gown, uncharacteristically putting it on before she removed the towel. As she lay down on the bed, I went to turn the lights out.
“Leave them on.” she frighteningly blurted. Then more calmly, “Please ... just hold me.”
I lay awake all night, listening to her breathing, staring at the ceiling and thinking about how I was going to kill Bill Brown.
Over the next few days, the events of that evening came out. At the conference she and Bill had attended several seminars together. Afterward, they had a few drinks (many for Bill), some friendly exchanges between other co-workers and dinner together, Dutch treat.
After dinner he asked her if he could use the phone in her room to call his wife to let her know that he would be home soon. She had seen no problem with that. He had never made any move on her in the three years that they had worked together and other than the occasional sexual banter that co-workers engaged in Bill had never given her any reason to distrust him.
As soon as they were in the room he grabbed her and roughly kissed her. She fought to get away but he held her close and drug her over to the bed, threw her down and fell on top of her. She fought him, trying to push him off as his hands roamed her body. During the struggle he swung around and accidentally hit her in the head with the back of his elbow, and tiny lights fired off in her brain. Frightened by his apparent determination, she stopped resisting and just lay passive, hoping that he would not hurt her any further.
Then with his forearm across her upper chest, under her chin. He unbuckled his pants, threw her dress up, ripped her underwear off and forced himself into her.
Afterward, he almost immediately seemed to fall asleep. Listening to his regular breathing, she slowly extracted herself from under his limp form, grabbed her belongings and ran from the room.
I tried to convince her that we should go to the police, but she would have none of it. I tried to assure her that it was not her fault, yet she insists on taking the blame.
It’s been five and a half months now. She doesn’t seem to want to be around me anymore. We tried to make love once a few weeks after the attack. She was cold and unmoving, so I withdrew and turned off the lights. That night when my body was attached to hers, I had never felt so alone.
She has been going to therapy for about five months now. She didn’t trust going to a local doctor, so she goes to West Palm every Wednesday after work and gets home around ten PM. It’s been several weeks into therapy she has begun to cover herself up, wearing long sleeves and dresses that button at the neck. She is never naked in my presence and will not let me touch her. She tells me things get worse, before they get better.
She does not know that I am out here, lying alongside this ragged highway preparing to remove Bill Brown from the list of the living. She just thinks that I have learned to really enjoy fishing.
She was not home this weekend. She had another conference. This time she has made arrangements to stay with her friend Carol, who would be at the conference as well.
He’s getting real close now. I can see the broken light lens clearly. The nylon is cutting off the blood to my fingers where I had wrapped it too tightly around them. As I prepare to pull the device onto the roadway I notice another set of headlights in the distance making the turn towards us. Will this other commuter be able to see what is about to happen? Too late, my arms seem to act on their own, drawing the board out across to the exact spot that I had practiced.
I now notice that he seems to be going faster than I thought, and he is already moving left, into the oncoming lane so that he can come off the bridge and cut down into the inside of the curve. His left front tire is already well into the north bound lane and there is no way it’s going to strike the metal. I could not react in time to move the device into the path of the tire. He continued to drift my way when his right front wheel struck the steel scrap on the far end of the board and exploded. I could see the right front of the white Buick drop, swerve slightly to the right. Then the right rear wheel came off the ground, like a dog preparing to relive himself and Le Saber rolled left, over and down the bank towards the trees.
I could not see over the bridge and down the far bank from where I was, but what I hear is a huge crash that sounded like someone throwing a hundred metal garbage cans simultaneously off a roof to the concrete below. A splash ... then silence. It felt as though my heart would burst, it was pounding so hard from the excitement. I drew the board the rest of the way to me and lay there and trembling, when another sound startled me.
The lights of the trailing car were upon me and I sank low into the grass trying to commingle with the ground. It shot past me, bound around the corner and accelerated to the west. It was a Florida Highway Patrol car, bound for some unknown destination. The cop never noticed the automobile that had been ahead of him, leave the roadway.
I slowly got up, my legs shaking so badly I could hardly control them and looked around for other traffic. There was nothing but blackness. I started to run across the bridge towards the accident. Along the way I kicked a piece of scrap metal near the edge of the roadway off into the water.
I was dragging the piece of deadly pine behind me across the bridge and down the bank. It snagged a small bush and nearly jerked me to the ground. Cursing I untangled it from the vegetation, wound the nylon cords around the timber and resumed my search for the result of my efforts.
The ground was not as torn up as I had expected. Apparently the car rolled cleanly down the embankment and except for a couple of divots, some depressed grass and a big chunk of bark torn from one large Australian pine, was the only evidence that anything had happened here.
Carefully, standing on clumps of grass so as not to make any footprints, I approached the bank. Peering out, I could see that the car had ended mostly right side up. The heavier front end had already disappeared into the inky depths and the rest was sinking fast. In only a few seconds, the right rear quarter panel, a small section of the trunk and the upper corner of the roof were still visible, when the vehicle appeared to stop sinking.
Bubbles that escaped the auto’s interior were the only sound that disturbed the still morning air. The faint smell of gasoline and the still glowing tail light were the only things that marked the passing of Bill Brown.
Satisfied, I turned and began to find my way back to my car. I put all my gear in the back seat, got behind the wheel and began to pull out slowly with my head lights off. I thought I had heard a “pop,” like I had run over a bottle or something. This was not a good time for a flat tire. The smooth tires on the old heap were so thin you could practically see the air in them.
I pointed the car towards the east coast, and when I was safely on the roadway, I turned my lights on and accelerated to the speed limit.
Forty five minutes later the sky was bright and I was in a donut shop, sipping hot decaf, waiting for the mechanic at the Exxon to put four new used tires on the Dart. I then drove two miles down State Road Seven to the inconspicuous place that I had parked my plumbing van. I put my fishing gear and the one by six into it and drove the Dodge its last block to Bob’s Scrap Metal yard.
I put the fifty bucks they gave me for the car in my pocket and pretended to sign the title where the man I had bought it from had signed it. Then I walked the half mile back to my cargo van. I got in the back, took off my tennis shoes, changed into my uniform and put on my work boots.
I drove north to a Circle K store, parked at the side of the building, pulled off the brown paper that I had taped over the identification on the van. I then removed the nylon rope from the one by six and broke the wood into three pieces by placing one end on the bumper and the other on the ground then stomping on it. I put the brown paper and one of the pieces of wood in the dumpster at the store.
I then drove to Ferguson Plumbing Supply, picked up a few parts I needed for a job back in Pahokee. I shot the bull with a couple of guys behind the counter and headed back to Belle Glade.
I threw another piece of wood and a tennis shoe out along the highway, deep into the brush. Instead of going by the crash site, I came in the back way, through Pahokee. I went to my first service call at Martha Hilliard’s and fixed her leaking kitchen faucet and dumped the clothing in her garbage can at the edge of the road. Today was collection day.
As I was leaving Martha’s I got a call from dispatch to go to Clewiston, It seemed that Bobby William’s toilet fell right through his trailer floor, Bobby’s wife just happened to be on it at the time. Bobby’s wife is a rather large woman so I wasn’t really surprised.
Traffic was backed up on Main so I jogged over one block and caught First Street. As I drove I glanced down a connecting avenue and saw several police cars with their lights flashing, must be a pretty bad accident, I thought, I hope a kid has not been hit, ... the high school is just down the street.
On the way to Clewiston, I threw out the last piece of wood and stopped about a half mile from John Stretch park at an old abandoned pump house and threw the remaining tennis shoe in the canal behind it.
I was about half way through securing Bobby’s pipes under his trailer when a Florida Highway Patrol car pulled in his dirt drive, sirens blaring and lights flashing. He skidded to a stop out front in a cloud of dust and got out. I crawled from under the trailer hoping my legs would support me.
How could they have found out? Where did I go wrong? They must have located me through the dispatcher at the shop.
Shaking, I walked over to where he and Bobby were standing. Bobby was pointing at me. The cop asked my name, I told him. He asked if I lived at two twelve Canal St. in Belle Glade, I nodded yes. He asked if my wife’s name was Barbara, again I nodded yes. He asked if I owned a hand gun.
I told him, “A thirty two caliber revolver.”
He asked, “Chrome with black plastic grips?’
Stunned and confused, I nodded with my mouth hanging open.
“Would you please come with me, there’s been an accident and your wife has been injured.”
My knees buckled under me. I fell to my knees as if I were praying yet my arms were limp at my sides. Bobby and the officer lifted me to my feet and helped me over to the tan and black Crown Victoria and put me in the back seat. I sat with my hands in my lap, dazed as he drove me to the hospital, my mind was numb I couldn’t think or speak.
Finally I asked, “How bad is she hurt?”
He said he didn’t know that I would have to speak to the doctor.
“Has she been shot?”
The cop didn’t think so.
I asked, “What makes you think it is my wife?”
He said that they didn’t know for sure, but there was a purse in the car with her identification in it.
I started sobbing, my whole body was shaking, and I couldn’t breathe.