I took the snowmobile for an hour ride before I got home. I went along a lot of the old trails and then to some of the trails in other areas. It was quiet. I was the only thing making noise.
Pendleton and the surrounding area is all old country New York. In the city, blocks are small, but here, the blocks between the roads are a mile or two by a couple of miles, sometimes many miles. There are houses and farms along the roads, but the center is uninhabited for the most part. Just woods and farm fields. Through those woods and around all those fields are trails for tractors, snowmobiles, four wheelers, and of course hunters. The woods are loaded with tree stands. Some metal that you’d buy at the store, many wooden and many left abandoned and unsafe. I can get from the restaurant to the family homestead through the trails without ever touching a road, but it’s about a mile’s worth of driving at the most direct route.
This night though, I drove for miles, even crossed some roads. I was trespassing in certain spots on a technical level, but I knew every farmer in the area. There’s an understanding for the most part. It also helps keep the roads safer when guys would drink and drive through the fields rather than on the roads. If you’re going to drink and drive, risk your own life and not everyone else’s.
Chief Lyman Beck might try and get you if he thinks you’re drunk and operating an off-road vehicle, but he wasn’t going to catch you. That’s for sure. His deputy Tyler Graveline grew up with us, and he saw the advantages in looking the other way sometimes. He played football with us but was a year younger. Good kid and isn’t such a stickler for the strict adherence to the law as Chief Beck. Now don’t get me wrong, Chief Lyman Beck is a good man. He and my father were friends, way back. Used to come over to the house for dinner and parties when we were young. He’s just old school. Served in Vietnam and didn’t take crap from anyone. And no favoritism. While that’s good when you want justice, it’s bad when you need leniency.
Back when we were kids, there were no police in Pendleton. Didn’t need them. You might get a sheriff’s deputy driving through, but that was it. There wasn’t a lot of crime. People left their doors unlocked, the area was small, and everyone knew everyone.
The school was located in Pendleton. It was called Starpoint because it served five towns and, even so, the class sizes were small. It was considered a small school when it came to sports and, as a result, we played in the division with the other small rural schools, most of which were up along Lake Ontario. I think the towns were the towns of Lockport, Cambria, Wheatfield, Sanborn and of course Pendleton. The central school was the center hub in a star-like wheel with five towns at the points. Beyond those towns, you had the City of Lockport to the east, the City of Buffalo to the south on the other side of Amherst and Williamsville. To the southwest and west were the City of Kenmore, the City of Tonawanda, the City of North Tonawanda and the City of Niagara Falls. One of the “Seven Natural Wonders of the World” is in our Niagara County. To the north were just more rural towns and then Lake Ontario. It was a great place to grow up. You could get to any of those cities in two shakes of a pig’s tail, but you didn’t have to deal with the psychoses of those cities.
Then it started to change. Pendleton nearly doubled in population because people in those big cities wanted to escape. The parents would still work there, but they didn’t want their kids growing up there. Who could blame them? Pendleton and the surrounding areas changed a bit. There were now houses along roads that had previously had farm fields right up to the road. Parts of the farm field were sold, and homes were built. Nice homes with small trees that had just been planted in strategic places by people with the big picture in mind. They weren’t always going to be small trees.
The school grew so much they had to build a new high school on the old track and football field. They built new fields, of course. They then combined the old high school wing with the junior high wing to make the new junior high. Instead of playing sports against the small schools up along the lake, Starpoint played against the bigger schools in the Buffalo suburbs like Williamsville, Kenmore and Sweet Home. But the Starpoint teams were still great. I’d put a callous-handed farm boy up against a soft delicate-fingered city boy any day of the week.
Even still, we knew how to laugh at ourselves. We, the students of Starpoint, had nicknamed our school “The Starfarm.” The school paper was called “Down on the Farm,” and my brother named the bar “The Trough” to signify the trough from which farm animals drink. He had a mural on one wall showing a few cows wearing varsity jackets and standing up on two legs against a bar with beers in their hooves. It didn’t look as absurd is it might sound. Although, one of the cows was wearing a Spartan helmet to honor our Spartan mascot. In order to sip from his beer, he had to lift the awkward helmet off his snout to see the beer he was drinking. A varsity-jacketed cow in a Spartan helmet drinking a beer – what’s not to love?
Cash covered the walls with photos of the great Starpoint athletes over history, and even had a section to highlight the feats of the new kids. He did more to promote the athletic department than the members of the booster club. He tried to join them and sponsor them numerous times, but they rejected him because he ran the bar. Didn’t want to promote alcohol and drinking. He understood though and didn’t let it change his mind. So, he sponsored a little league team. Glory days needed to be celebrated, and he had a lot of glory days.
It was about 5:30 AM when I parked the sled in the barn. Unfortunately, I smelled something burning and figured I’d try to remember to mention it to Cash later. Let him fix it. Imagine that though, something wrong with the snowmobile right when it’s snowy enough to ride. What are the chances?
I called it a night and went into my brother’s house. He’d set his bedroom up in my parents’ master bedroom, leaving our old room, the barracks, as a dust-collecting memorial museum to our youth. I thought about checking it out but was too tired. I took a seat on the couch and started watching an old TV show on Nick at Night. I was asleep before it was over.
I woke up around 8:00 AM, all startled that I was late for work and not in the right place, but I wasn’t. I remembered Cash was supposed to stop over about 9:00 AM, and we were going to switch our identities back. Just another fun year of switching it up without getting busted. Too easy. No five-dollar bill switching hands this year.
I went back to sleep. Meeting up with Jake had me up much later than normal. I was tired. I figured Cash would wake me up when he got here. But around 10:30 AM, I awoke again. Cash was an hour and a half late? That wasn’t like him. This wasn’t something we played around with. The goal was to never get caught. It was an obsession to both of us. Neither of us wanted to be the one that got busted. It would ruin the game forever once someone had realized what we’d been up to for the last thirty years.
Did my wife figure him out? I sure hope not. She was already crazy. How did a woman who was so amazingly sweet and wonderful turn into such a shrew? Maybe she thought Cash and I would be suitable replacements for her true love Jake Charm, and maybe we both failed miserably.
Then Jake freakin’ Charm shows up just in the middle of this mess – what are the chances? The competitive side of me wanted Cash to be caught, but the rest of me didn’t want to give up next year’s opportunity to take a break from my life and my wife. That latter desire was much stronger than my desire to win a thirty-year-old five-dollar battle. Playing the game was better than winning it, like watching a movie you never want to end.
I waited another half hour and then called the house. No answer. Maybe they were outside. I called again in fifteen minutes and still no answer.
Maybe this was the year we got busted. I got in Cash’s Chevy pickup and drove over to my house. My Trailblazer and my wife’s car were both in the driveway, parked just like normal. Mine on the right and hers on the left. I just drove by. So, they were there.
I then drove over to the Convenient Store at Five Corners. Five Corners is the center of Pendleton where three streets intersect to make five corners – one road ends at the intersection. My bank is located just off the southeast corner, next to the Star Pharm pharmacy, which is obviously run by another Starfarm graduate. The Convenient Store was on the northwest corner. I went there because they still had a pay phone. True, I could have used my cell phone, but I didn’t want the caller ID to pick up too many calls from me. Callie might think something was up. No answer again.
As I was getting back into my truck, I saw Daren Flacks coming out of the store with some milk and a paper bag folded under his left arm.
He looked at my vehicle and then at me. “Hi Cash.”
“Morning, Daren.” He got into his car and took off. I did as well.
I took another pass by my house. Nothing was changed. I drove around the block and then pulled into my driveway. I parked behind Callie’s car on the left and went through the small garage door. The big two-car garage door was closed. The cars would have been parked inside, but I had a project in the garage I hadn’t finished yet. I hadn’t moved all the sawhorses and tools.
The driveway had been shoveled recently, but there was still snow on it. Just not as much as on the two parked cars. Cash should have known I don’t normally shovel the driveway until before I have to leave, unless we’re getting a crap load of snow, in which case, I’d shovel it multiple times a day so it wouldn’t get overly burdensome. Nonetheless, the driveway had been shoveled after the cars had been parked for a while. No wonder you’d been caught. Little mistakes. Sucker. I’m about to be five bucks richer, Cash.
I walked in through the small doorway to the garage, which led to the doorway into the kitchen. At first, I went to open it with my key, but I didn’t have my keys. Cash had them. Good thing. I knocked like Cash would. Only strangers knocked on our front door.
I knocked again. No answer.
I knocked again.
Nothing. Not a peep.
I went out the back door of the garage to the back yard. Once on the porch, I knocked on the sliding glass door. No answer. Nothing inside looked amiss. I walked around the house and peered into the windows. The shades were down, but there’s always a small sliver of view.
I saw nothing new. The bedroom was upstairs, so I couldn’t see what was going on there. I went back into the garage and remembered I’d stashed a key in the nail and screw compartment box I had on one of my workbenches. It was hidden under an emptied box of finishing nails so it wouldn’t be seen by someone rifling through all the little clear-plastic drawers.
I opened the kitchen door and wiped my feet as best I could on the rug in front of the door. There were actually water spots on the kitchen floor, probably when Cash had walked in after shoveling the driveway. They were partially dried because you could see a ring of salt left at the outer most reaches of the drying puddles. As the water dried, the spots got smaller. Cash must have wanted to get caught. Callie doesn’t go for stuff like that, and he knew that. She’s a clean freak compared to us. There goes my yearly vacation, jerkwad.
Callie’s actual husband – me – hoping to preserve peace in my world, would have grabbed the mop from the closet and started to clean up the mess, but I didn’t. If Callie walked into the kitchen to see Cash mopping her floor, my cover would be blown. When it came to keeping the bar clean, Cash knew what to do, but he wasn’t married like me. Living alone and able to retire to his bachelor’s castle at the end of the day, he was still impervious to the pleas and demands of women for his domestication. He’d never voluntarily mop a floor just to keep from having to hear my wife’s complaining. But her real husband would. I couldn’t risk it. I had to leave it and hear about it later.
As I walked through the kitchen, I said, “Helloooo. Hellooo? Anyone here? Curt? Callie? You guys here?”
As soon as I walked into the dining room, I saw little amiss. The wooden floor was covered with water like the kitchen. The table was cleared and dusted, other than the centerpiece. I looked into the living room area, which was just beyond the front-door entrance. The door was to the left, and the stairway was to the right. At the foot of the steps, I saw my baseball bat and a small puddle of blood that had dripped off the bottom step.
A shot of fear ripped through my body. I had beads of sweat forming on my forehead and my heart started pumping as if I’d just finished running a six-minute mile. When I picked up the bat, I saw it was speckled with dried blood, but I grabbed it for the security of knowing I’d have something to defend myself if necessary. I didn’t have a gun on me. I looked up the stairs and saw Cash lying face down on the wooden stairway. He’d been shot, and his blood had made its way to the floor. He was wearing my flannel pajama pants and one of my t-shirts. That’s how I’d be dressed if I wasn’t in bed yet.
Did Callie shoot my brother? Why would Callie shoot my brother? Or was she shooting me? Did she want out of our marriage more than I did?
I stood there for a moment completely unable to move. Sure, I’d gone there to find out why Cash hadn’t met up with me as per our prearranged plans, but this was no longer about avoiding being discovered. It wasn’t a game anymore. My twin brother was lying dead in front of me, and it was like looking at my own dead body.
What if he’s not dead?
I checked his pulse. “Cash, you still with me? Cash, I’m here.” There was no pulse, and the blood on the bat was dried. Dried quicker than the water on the floor. He’d been there for a while.
My gosh, my brother’s dead.
“Callie. Callie.” I walked upstairs carefully. I did whatever I could to avoid walking in the blood. I got to the top of the stairs and quickly looked to the right to see that no one was in the bathroom. I turned to the left and walked towards the front of the house where the door to the master bedroom was on the right.
Callie wasn’t on the bed, and the sheets were pulled back. Our bed was queen-sized with four lathe-turned wooden posts connected to a headboard and a footboard. The head of the bed was up against the far wall. Her dresser was to the left, and my dresser was on the other side. I walked to my side of the bed. Her body was face down on the floor, partially under the bed. There was a bullet hole in her head and a large puddle of blood soaked into the purple rug under her. It looked like she was hiding under the bed, but they pulled her out by her ankles. Her left arm was still under the bed. Apparently, they eventually pulled her by her right arm as well. It fell to her side after it had been dropped.
I was sweating. The fear of being killed had subsided because the killer or killers were gone, but I was sweating and shaking like never before. What do I do? Fight or flight is kicking in, but there’s nothing to fight, and where do I go?
I knew well enough not to touch the crime scene, but I didn’t have the first clue of how I was going to handle this. I stood there and contemplated my situation without disturbing the crime scene any more than I already had.
Who was being killed – Curt or Cash? Most likely me, Curt. Right?
When I report this, how do I explain that my brother Cash was killed with my wife and not be a suspect in the murder of my brother and my wife for apparently having an affair?
Do I admit that I’m really Curt and that we were playing a game?
If I do, that will mean I hadn’t yet been assassinated and thus make me a target for death again.
What if I just report it as Cash discovering my brother Curt and sister-in-law Callie dead? Can I get away with it? At least then I’ll be alive to figure out who did this and get justice for my brother and wife.
If I tell the truth that I’m really Curt, I will be the number-one suspect for sure. Can’t do much investigation from the jail.
Is there a chance that Jake Charm did this after he walked home from the bar last night?
If they were murdering Curt and not Cash, why were they murdering me? This does not look like a robbery.
I looked around a little to see if anything was indeed stolen. Nothing seemed to have been touched.
I carefully made my way to my office on the other side of the stairway. It was the other room on the front of the house. My first step onto the dark hardwood creaked like normal. I made my way to the desk that faced the doorway. My desk was left as it was. I doubt Cash had even sat in it. I sat down and rolled over to the safe behind my desk. It seemed undisturbed, so I opened it. The papers were untouched, and so were the four stacks of cash. Each stack was $9,900 in hundreds. I grabbed two of them and put them in my coat pocket. Since only two people on the planet knew how much money was in there and one was dead, I figured I could get away with this without causing too much trouble for the investigation.
I closed the safe and then sat at my desk. My laptop was sitting right in front of me. It was closed. I went to open it but remembered that, if I did, there’d be record that I opened it as soon as I plugged in the password. That would be bad if I chose to remain as Cash. Even if I didn’t, it would look bad because the investigators would wonder why I went on the computer before I called the police. Making me an even bigger suspect.
The best way to make sure they don’t have a lot of questions for me is to make sure they have nothing to suspect. Which means I must tell them I’m Cash. Otherwise, I’ll never get out of there. I’ll be suspect number one, and the real killer or killers will get away. I sound like freakin’ O. J. Simpson. This is not good. Understatement of the year, dingbat.
I grabbed the computer and the power cord, and I stashed it under my left arm. The stacks of cash were secure in my pocket. I walked out and made my way down the steps without disturbing the blood. I took a quick look at the rest of the house to make sure this wasn’t some sort of burglary gone wrong but could find nothing missing.
In the garage, as I opened the door to the driveway, I realized my footprints were going to be in the snow, as well as my car prints. That’s who must have shoveled the driveway – the killer or killers. They may have left snow tracks in the house, but they made their tracks outside disappear. I looked to where I kept my shovel, but it was gone. They didn’t bother to bring it back. It was one of those big ergonomically correct plow shovels from the Home Depot. I had a snow blower, but unless there were huge drifts and blizzard-like amounts of snow, I just shoveled instead. Gave me a chance to get out of the house and breathe the fresh cold air.
Forget about the tracks. I’m the one that discovered the body, and I’m the one that will call it in. I’m just not doing it from the crime scene because I didn’t want to disturb it. Sounds good, I guess.
I really just had to go and hide my computer and the stacks of cash. It’s not as if I knew all of my brother’s bank codes. I needed the cash to get me through for a while. The computer’s mostly useless, but I did have an offshore account with money that couldn’t be traced back to me. The info on that account – and this was probably a bad idea – was on that computer. The only problem, taking the computer makes it look like a potential burglary if they discover the computer missing. I then regretted not having wiped away the dust that might have fallen around the computer on the desk. There might not have been dust, but even a little would be noticed by the investigators. Crap.
Driving back to Cash’s house, the pain of losing my wife and brother started dominating the adrenaline rush of figuring out how not to be blamed for a murder with which I had nothing to do. Writing this is like experiencing it again, and I’m baffled at how I didn’t just break down and cry. I wanted to, but I hadn’t cried since I was a kid. Cash and I were taught not to. Mom was allowed to cry, but we weren’t. Our dad would say, “Quit crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.” After hearing it hundreds of times, we learned not to cry.
But I wanted to. And not just for Cash. For my wife. I know I had my problems with our marriage, but that had much more to do with her own hang-ups. Maybe depression. Probably. I couldn’t fix it or control it. It frustrated me to no end. She wasn’t willing to tell me what her problem was, or maybe just wasn’t able to tell me. So, my life needed to be miserable, and she needed to make sure it was. That doesn’t change the fact that I loved who she was. She was truly a special woman. I just preferred who she was before we were married. Maybe it was the marriage, and maybe it was my fault, but she really was amazing. Even though I thought about getting a divorce and decided against it, I did indeed decide against it and to dedicate my efforts to fixing the marriage. That was my choice. Not divorce.
Now she was dead, along with my twin brother. I mean, these are the two people I loved more than any others on the planet. Gone at once, and I was going to be the number one suspect. No way around it. To top it off, Cash was my contingent beneficiary for most of my accounts. Callie’s sister was too, but Cash will inherit much of my money. While that is good if I stay as Cash, it’s also another motive for murder.
I wanted to mourn. I wanted to break down and curse God for giving me something I didn’t think I could handle, but I just didn’t have time. I don’t want to come off as a heartless guy. I’m not. I didn’t even want to curse God. I was really praying for guidance. I just didn’t know if I was getting any.
When I drove through Five Corners again, I remembered I made a phone call from the pay phone, even though I was carrying my cell phone. That will have to be another reason I didn’t call from the house. I didn’t have my cell phone, which I have to remember to leave at home.
I drove past The Trough and decided to keep it closed today. People would understand later.
Before I got out of Cash’s truck to go in the house, I covered the computer with a blanket I’d found in the back seat. After making sure no one was watching me, I made my way in. The house was a purplish-grey three-story with a big white porch that matched the trim on the garage that sat in front of the U-shaped driveway-slash-parking area situated between the house and the barn. It wasn’t a working farm, but there was an old barn and a garage big enough for three cars.
Inside the house, I put my cell phone on the dining room table and went upstairs. Then I climbed the second flight of steps into the barracks. I hadn’t been in our old bedroom in years. It was the attic, and it was the size of most the house, other than the add-on in the back. The floor was unfinished tongue and groove fir wood. The walls leaned inward and then up to the peak. When we were kids, our dad put insulation in them, ran some electricity and then covered the walls with knotty pine. There were windows on all four sides of the room. We, being kids who loved to play war, cops and robbers, or cowboys and Indians, called it the barracks. We were soldiers and mercenaries preparing for a life of war and adventure, and we could see our enemies coming from any direction. That’s how God wanted it. All our friends loved sleeping over our house. It was built for the youthful mischief, and we lived up to our calling.
In addition to our dust-covered beds that were still there, there were numerous boxes. Cash was using the barracks as storage. Not a surprise.
I moved my bed off the wall and walked around to the corner of the room. When we were kids, we used a drill and a jig saw to cut through the tongue and groove of a few of the floorboards under my bed. It was my idea. We created a secret hiding spot that we used throughout our time in the barracks.
Anything we didn’t want our mother to know about went there – snacks, nudie mags, guns, bottles of liquor, a bag of weed, cigars, cigarettes and maybe a few other things. We were good kids, but we weren’t angels. We were soldiers of fortune, and this was where we kept the spoils of our mercenary lives, the kind of lives our mother didn’t want for us. She might have drunk too much in her later years, but she really was a good mama. We respected and loved her enough to make sure she didn’t know all we were up to. It was out of love for our mama. A mercenary never tells the whole story. Some just can’t handle the truth.
I used a key to lift the third board off the wall. I didn’t think there’d be much there, other than a couple of forgotten trinkets from our childhood, but once I lifted all three boards, I discovered that Cash was up to something, probably no good. There were stacks and stacks of cash. Living up to your name, I see.
I didn’t have time to count, but, in between the three floor joists, there were about eight piles of stacks of different denominations: mostly twenties, fifties and hundreds. Each of the eight piles were two stacks high, meaning there were up to about sixteen banded stacks of cash, each with about a hundred bills. I put my computer and charger over some of them, and then I put my twenty thousand dollars on top of my computer so as not to mix the monies up. The boards had just enough clearance. I lifted the bed back into place, careful enough again to lift from the bottom so as not to disturb the dust.
Crap, Cash, what are you up to? This must have been why you were so insistent we skip the switch game this year. Must not have wanted to answer the question I was sure to ask if I’d been curious enough to check our old secret hiding space. What if you were the real target and not me, Cash? If I report the murders as you, and you were the target, the assassin’s bound to come back for me. Come on, Cash, help me out. What am I missing? I’m still talking to my dead brother.