By Cindy and Walt
“Lisa do not call me on the phone about anything except your wedding pictures. I will eat breakfast at the restaurant. If you want to talk be there between 7 and 7:30 AM. Stop by my table and say hi. Then I will meet you at my studio. You can also just drop by the studio. Tell Robert to do the same thing.”
“Yeah, I know better than to use the cell phone,” Lisa said.
I went home to assess the depth of the crap in which I found myself standing. Best case scenario: The cops were going to find a pile of ashes at the catfish farm. They would definitely find the body when they sifted through the ashes. They would have a charred body in a house that burned. For a while at least they wouldn’t be able to do much. The three of us had time to get our stories straight. We didn’t have to start acting till the death notification was made to Lisa, which should happen sometime in the morning. There might be enough confusion to postpone the notification for a day but probably not.
Also pluses for us, no blood evidence and no fingerprint evidence were going to be available to the cops. They might or might not recover the shotgun pellets from the body. With no blood evidence there would be nothing pointing to an exact cause of death. Sure they might come up with gunshot, but no ballistics evidence was possible. The catfish farm was remote, so it wasn’t likely that anyone saw what happened.
My guess was anything of value in the way of evidence burned in the fire. If Lisa and Robert kept their cool, we should all be good. If one of them got a case of remorse, we could all be screwed. I thought that Lisa was the weak link. Actually I didn’t feel comfortable with either of them holding my fate in their hands. Could I kill them both just to save my ass, without a doubt.
I told you all along I am, if not a psychopath, at least a sociopath. I have very little remorse and my self preservation instinct is very strong. So yeah I could kill them both. The problem was that one clean murder was very hard to pull off, three was impossible. So even if it were preferable it was not feasible.
I would have made a better plan if I was going to kill Sam, but I did the best I could with what I had at the time.
Worst case, Robert had told someone he planned to kill Sam, if his wife was indeed fucking her father. That would pretty much put the cops on the look out for Robert, if he had made threats. I needed to talk to the two of them, but not on the phone or in their house. The restaurant was also out of the question.
Of all the available conference locations my place would be the least likely to cause any bell or whistles to go off. We could be talking about wedding pictures.
I fell asleep running more what if scenarios through my mind. The truth is I slept pretty damn well. When I awoke on Saturday morning, I wondered if anyone knew I was seeing Sam. I decided that it was likely someone has seen his truck outside my place on an afternoon and evening during the last week.
If his place burned down, I wouldn’t know about it until someone told me or I went by to visit Sam. That being the case I went to breakfast at the Dairy Queen. Since neither Lisa nor Robert stopped by, I figured they were laying low.
Back in the studio after the breakfast sandwich, I gave some thought to just running away. It was a knee jerk reaction, because I knew I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t even mention the possibility for at least a year.
I had not been able to concentrate on anything else that first morning. When Miss Sadie came by at lunch, she came into the studio. Something she never did.
“Iris honey has the Sheriff been by?” she asked while standing just inside the door.
“Why no, is something wrong?” I asked in my concerned voice. I was a very good actress. I had been forced to become one over the last couple of years.
“You asked me about Lisa and her father Sam the first of the week,” she said.
“Yes that’s right,” I agreed.
“Were you seeing Lisa’s father?” she asked.
“He had been by to see me yes,” I replied. Giving too much information was just as bad as lying at times.
“Well his house burned last night,” she said.
“Is Sam alright?” I asked. I hope I had the right amount of concern and surprise in my voice.
“One of the volunteer firemen is my grandson. He told me the house burned to the ground,” Miss Sadie said.
“How awful, is Sam okay?” I asked again.
“My grandson says Sam may have been inside,” Sadie replied.
“How awful,” I said sitting down. “Does Lisa know?” I hoped she did know better than to contact me.
“I think so. It is all over town. Sam was a hard man to like, so there aren’t a lot of tears,” Sadie said.
“I thought he was okay. He was a little pushy, but seemed alright to me.” I did not try to advance any other explanation for his visits.
“Yes he was a little pushy indeed,” Sadie admitted. I had to wonder if she knew how pushy.
“I don’t know what to do,” I said sounding bewildered.
“I don’t have any Idea,” Sadie said. “I just thought you might like to know.”
“I never dated anyone who died while I was seeing him. I had some die afterward, but not while it was going on.
“I’m sure the Sheriff will get around to you,” Sadie said.
“I guess I should go see the Sheriff,” I said it but there was no chance. I was a new comer with an ID that wouldn’t hold up. I planned to be as cooperative as it took to keep them from investigating me, but not enough to trap myself. I wished I had time to kill Sam myself. I could have done a better job.
I had wondered since I got home, how I would be told about poor Sam. So now I knew it was up to me to decide how much I would volunteer. After Miss Sadie left for her lunch I decided it was believable that he and I had talked about Lisa’s pictures after the wedding. He came by the studio on Monday afternoon so I fixed dinner for him and we talked a while. He told me he was lonely. He left before 9 PM. Tuesday I did not see him. That was my story because no one could prove otherwise. Wednesday and Thursday he came by for dinner and yes we had sex. Friday I rode my bike to Lisa and Robert’s house for dinner as payment for taking their wedding pictures. Sam did not show up. The three of us had steaks and some kind of vegetable I didn’t recognize.
After Sadie left I went to Lisa’s House to comfort her. “Has the Sheriff been by,” I asked on the porch.
“Yes,” she said.
“Did they ask you about your dad?” I asked.
“Of course, I told them Robert and I planned to go by tonight to see him. We hadn’t seen him since the Wedding, but I had called him. I couldn’t remember exactly when since I was very upset.” she explained.
“Did you tell them I came for dinner last night,” I asked
“Yes Robert cooked venison for us,” she said.
“Good I’ll change my story to match that one. What time did you tell them I left?” I asked.
“I thought 10 PM was about right,” she said.
“Good, remember what you told them be sure to stick to the same story. Also if they want you to come to the courthouse for an interview take a lawyer or ask them to appoint one for you,” I said. We went into the house where I spent just enough time to make it look good. She had other friends who were comforting her as well. Robert was at the restaurant.
I was back in the studio by 6 PM. I heated a Beef Pot Pie for dinner. After supper I sat around with a glass of wine and remembered Sam. It wasn’t hard to remember him, I still had pain. In a small town with nothing to do 10 PM was late, so I didn’t mind killing my lights and opening the drapes. I lay on my sofa bed while I looked out at the night. It was a beautiful winter night even if it was over fifty degrees at midnight. Nothing moved outside my window but somehow it wasn’t peaceful. I was working on helping a man get away with the murder of a man I had been obsessed with.
What really gave me pause was how easily I had committed the crime of accessory after the fact. I would like to think I did it for Lisa and the abuse she suffered at the hands of Sam. I would like to think I did it because the man who loved her wanted to set her free. I would even like to think I did it because Robert also set me free and that Sam was a despicable predator. The truth was less noble, I did it to protect my cover. Not an acceptable reason for helping a man get away with murder, I know.
I lay awake trying to come to terms with what I had done. I fell asleep still trying to justify it. I had no regrets but I needed to be able to tell myself there was some good in what we did. If I was still with Swamp Dog I would ask their computer geek to check for missing persons cases in the state of Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, or Georgia. I remember that I once had that nagging thought. Fuck it that geek asshole owed me.
After breakfast and before my morning shower I rode to Williamston. I bought a burner phone from a convenience store. I wore my hair under a knit cap and wore clothes two sizes too big with two more layers underneath. Just for the CCTV I also looked away from the camera.
Once I activated the phone I called Sylvia’s personal number. I left a message on her voice mail. “It’s me flower, return this,” I said nothing else.
In less than five minutes she was on the phone. “What do you want,” she asked not at all angry.
“I want a favor from the bastard that owes me one. I need to know the names and case files of all white girls under thirty who went missing between 2008 and 2011 in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida. It’s important to keep me out of prison,” I said. “I would rather you not be involved.”
“I’ll pass it on. He will be more likely to do it, if he knows I am involved,” Sylvia said. “Do you have a dead email?”
“Petunia401, you know where,” I said then hung up. We had been on the line long enough.
For some reason just being proactive made it easier for me to clear my mind. I was even able to work on the drawings again after a while. Since I could work, I passed the day working on pen and ink drawings from the old farm.
I awoke Monday and fell back into my usual routine. My body no longer had the sharp pains. It had moved to a more manageable pain. I worked on the drawings from the old farm right through lunch, which wasn’t unusual.
It was well into the afternoon when the car pulled up in front of the studio. I had no doubt that the man and woman who stepped to the curb in front of my studio were cops. No all cops do not look alike, but these two looked like cops.
The lady was about fifty pounds over weight and the guy was very close to being too skinny to keep his job. He likely had to do a Barney Fife to pass the fitness exam.
I opened the door for them. “Come on in,” I suggested.
“We are Detectives Wilson and Ames,” the lady said. “You are Iris Martin?”
“Yes I am,” I said. I noticed she said it somewhat skeptical.
“You know that Sam Everette died in a fire at his home?” the man asked.
“I heard a rumor and no one answers his cell phone, so I assumed it was true.” I made five calls over the period of Saturday and Sunday. As I expected the cops did nothing on Sunday. The case wasn’t hot enough for overtime. I also didn’t have anything in the petunia 401 email, so it appeared that neither did that prick Wilson.
“So would you tell me exactly what your relationship with Sam Everette was?” the lady asked.
“I really don’t know. I only met him a week ago Sunday. I did his daughter Lisa’s wedding pictures. She mentioned to him that she hadn’t paid for them. He came after the wedding and offered to pay me. I explained that I wasn’t a photographer, so there was no charge. He stayed to talk a bit. He seemed lonely.”
“Then he came by unexpectedly on Monday afternoon and offered to take me to dinner. Since I had decided to stay in, I invited him to stay and eat with me. We had a good conversation and he left. I saw him two more times before the fire,” I said.
“Did you sleep with him?” the guy asked.
“What possible business is that of yours?” I asked sharply.
“We are just trying to get a feel for your relationship,” the woman explained.
“Okay yes, but it was just sex. There were no commitments of any kind,” I said. “I feel awful about what happened.”
“Just a fuck buddy?” she asked ignoring my statement of sorrow.
“I wouldn’t say that, but you could I guess. He was rather good in bed,” I suggested. Now it was time to see how much they really knew about his personal life.
“Okay so you didn’t see him on Friday night,” the woman asked.
“No, I was with his daughter Lisa and her husband. We talked about the pictures, then Robert grilled some venison for me.” I almost added some details but held off. Those details could get me in a world of shit. If I said I didn’t care for the venison, and Lisa said I loved it, then there would be alarms. With that in mind I answered with just the information necessary.
“So do you know if he was having a problem with anyone?” the woman asked.
“No, we didn’t discuss the catfish business,” I said.
“Okay would you take a polygraph,” the man asked.
“If my lawyer says it’s okay, sure,” I replied. It was a strong but harmless answer. They evidently had not done a background check on me. It wasn’t sloppy unless I was a suspect. The murder didn’t fit a woman’s profile. I knew it was the kind of murder the cops would look for a male suspect first. Robert was alibied out, plus he knew nothing about committing a clean murder.
“If you think of anything call us,” the woman said handing me her card.
“Sure,” I said. Unless these two came up with a good case against someone else, I had nothing to say. I wasn’t above putting the victim on trial though. I had decided that Sam was a pig by that time.
As it almost always did time calmed me down. I really slept quite well after my meeting with the mismatched detectives. It was two more days before I had an email dump. There were fifty missing women in that time frame. Wilson did a couple of things I hadn’t requested. He lumped them by body characteristics then by geography of ‘last seen at’. So I had something at which to take a long look.
I stopped by Lisa’s house toward the end of the week. She hadn’t heard from the Sheriff’s Office since Frick and Frack came to see her. I asked her about Daddy Sam. She told me he sold catfish to restaurants in Alabama and Mississippi. And that he showed an interest in girls who had boobs but definitely not young children.
When I got back to the studio I checked the dump material again. I discarded any girls younger than fifteen. I had to narrow it down by something. I pulled the two states that Sam traveled. There were enough girls along his route to make it a little too many for coincidence.
It was time to put a bug in the investigator’s ear. I made the call from the mall twenty miles from Mossberg. It took me almost all day to do it but I found a pay phone. I called the local police tip line. I gave the tip then got the hell off the line. I figured what they did with it was up to them. It was almost a week later when Miss Sadie came by the studio.
“Did you hear the volunteer fire department drained two of Sam’s catfish ponds?” she asked.
“Why would they do that?” I asked.
“I don’t know, but the Sheriff’s deputies are crawling through the muck at the bottom of the ponds today,” she informed me.
“Wonder what they are looking for. I guess we will find out on channel 15 in about a month,” I said and laughed.
“You know I’m better than any TV station. I got grand children everywhere,” Miss Sadie said with a laugh. Sadie was always happy it seemed.
After Sadie left I drove over to Dairy Queen because Lisa was working the afternoon shift. I got a cup of coffee at the counter and made eye contact with her. After a couple of minutes she came out around the back of the building. I got on the trike and rode it around back.
“Cops are draining Sam’s fish ponds, are they going to find anything?” I asked.
“I don’t know. What could be in there?” she asked.
“Body parts, if the cops come up with any less than two years old, we could all be fucked. So tell me are there any in there from your time here?” I demanded.
“If there are I know nothing about them. That is the honest to God truth,” Lisa said.
“Okay, we go with that, but get your shit together,” I said.
On the drive to the studio I wondered, could I take care of her, if it was the only way to save my own ass. I have no idea why I wasted time thinking about it. I knew the answer, of course I could. I knew there was something wrong with my thinking, but I would do it without remorse.
I might try everything else first. In the end if it came to me or her, then it would be her. Like I said I probably wouldn’t even feel bad for a minute, since it was just reality.
I spent a couple of days making picture of the locals. The deal with the locals was that I would give them the digital file, in exchange for a release allowing me to make a pen and ink drawing. I also provided the web address for a print maker.
The plan was to get myself known, so that when I pulled the camera out on market day, people wouldn’t get all bent out of shape. In order to get the word out, I put a notice on the bulletin board at the Cafe and one at the Grange Hall. It was all part of making an effort to keep up my cover.
“Hello Iris,” Miss Sadie said from my front door on the third day after the drain.
“Why hello Miss Sadie, I have been wanting to talk to you,” I said.
“Oh why is that?” she asked.
“I want to do a drawing of the downtown from fifty or a hundred years ago. I don’t suppose you have a photo of it?” I asked.
“I’m sure I do somewhere. I’ll look when I get home.” She paused before she changed gears. I was sure I had given her enough thought to believe I didn’t really care about the gossip she came to share. In actuality it was my main concern.
“You know my grandson helped to drain the pond. So my great niece is the crime scene girl. She helped with the muck raking. They found bone fragments on the bottom of all the ponds. They think they are human,” she said.
I gave her my horrified look. “You don’t mean someone put bodies down there?” I asked.
“Cindy says the bones looked like they went through a grinder or a wood chipper,” Miss Sadie shivered when she said it.
My thought wasn’t, how disgusting, it was I wish I had known Sam had a wood chipper. If I had his house wouldn’t be in ashes.
I walked down to the Cafe with Miss Sadie. I had the lunch lady special. That day’s special was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich made on Texas toast and grilled in butter. It came with a bowl of soup made by the boxer. Since I liked the iced tea, I had it with my lunch. Miss Sadie had milk with her meal from the small menu. I paid the bill in exchange for use of the picture she promised to find for me.
Things began to run together for me. The human bones in the fish pond never did make it to the news. It was kind of a secret the town shared with each other but not with outsiders. The coroner ruled Sam’s death a murder. The sheriff’s detectives did the necessary interviews but the case went on the back burner with the discovery of the bones in the fish pond.
The DNA from the bone fragments pretty much made sure no one would ever give a damn who killed Sam. I felt a lot better after two months passed without a follow up interview with me. Robert and Lisa seemed to be people of no interest to the sheriff. I had a feeling it was a case of good riddance.
The science lab in Montgomery kept trying to identify the bone fragments. That took the focus off the murder of Sam. Then some jackass pathologist suggested that Sam had fooled everyone by committing suicide.
His theory was so bizarre everyone wanted to believe it. He even had an image file of a test dummy. The dummy was soaked in gasoline. He leaned over the shotgun and pushed the trigger down with a plastic rod from a set of mini blinds, like those known to be in the house.
The shotgun went off destroying the dummy’s chest. The explosion from the shotgun shell ignited the gas on the tummy and then it ignited all the other gas and finally caused the explosion. That silly theory got enough traction with the media for the Sheriff and the State pathologist to accept it as a possibility without question, mostly because they wanted to close the case.
So Robert got away with murder. He would never be a hero, but he and Lisa could have a family. I just hoped the sins of the father ended with the father.