by R.L. Corn
The gray and rain-soaked sky covered the city like a wet blanket blocking any light or hope that might have tried to break through.
Zzzzzzp. John snatched the paper out of his typewriter and without looking tossed the crumpled paper over his shoulder into the fireplace behind him. He never missed. He had had a lot of practice.
The gale force winds drove the falling rain into the windowpanes of the old stone building like tiny missiles.
Zzzzzzp. Another sheet was ripped from the jaws of his old Underwood typewriter. In a singular motion the paper was removed, scrunched, and sent to join the hundreds of other pages that had preceded it.
John was experiencing a bit of writer’s block. Even his old-school typewriter could not help him tonight. It was not his typewriter’s fault. If anything, the old machine usually inspired him, but his splitting headache was not making this any easier.
John had a love for so many things from the fifties and sixties. He had stopped collecting vinyl albums in the early seventies but never stopped listening to the ones he had. He had a rotary dial telephone in his office that his parents had used when they owned the house. The harsh tone of the Western Electric bell still scared him each time the phone rang, but he would have it no other way.
If he could not write the first line of his next book, what chance did he have of meeting his publisher’s deadline. His mind drifted once again to the idea of buying a computer and retiring his typewriter but tossing the thousands of “false starts” over his shoulder into the fire was the closest thing he had to exercise these days.
He pushed back from his desk and walked over to peer out the window. Maybe it was the relentless sheets of rain outside his room that were sapping his creativity. The almost constant claps of thunder were so loud that they were rattling the glass panes in his office windows. It felt as if each bolt of lightning was getting closer, and with it, the thunder. It would not be long before he lost power. And that was just one more reason to love his old Underwood.
“Maybe I should order some pizza before the power goes out,” he thought to himself. Then he remembered that his old rotary dial phone worked whether they had power or not. Another reason to love the older technology. Still . . . he was hungry, and any idiot would choose delivery over pickup in this kind of weather.
“I would like to order a large Tamale Lover’s pizza, please, and I would like it delivered.” John said to the voice on the other end of the line. John sensed a lack of enthusiasm from the employee at Casa Pizza for taking a delivery order in the midst of a deluge. He rationalized that pizza was their chosen profession after all, come rain or shine! If they did not like getting out in the rain, they should have chosen another profession.
“Great. Just an excellent choice. Can I have a name for the order please?” the employee said through gritted teeth.
“Certainly. John Bardston,” said John with the sudden concern that the delivery person would certainly spit on his pizza before delivering it.
Another earsplitting thunderclap accompanied the sound of the exploding power that serviced the dead-end street that he lived on. John’s neighborhood was instantly thrown into complete and utter darkness. John was not one to be afraid of the dark, or any of the other things that people conjured up in these circumstances. He had candles, a working phone, his bulletproof typewriter, and a tamale pizza on the way.
Lighting several candles, he settled back into his writing chair. He hoped that this small interruption might have motivated some unused synapse in his brain to fire; a new thought that would get his creative juices flowing once again. As he placed his fingers on the keyboard, a strong gust of wind blew the door in the living room open and slammed it against the wall. The sound was like that of a gun being fired.
Of all the things John was not afraid of, there was one thing that made him a little nervous. The lock to the porch door in the living room never quite worked right. It was a simple fix, but like so many other small jobs around the house, this one was always placed on the back burner. But when it was late at night, he would obsess about not being able to lock the door. If the door was slammed hard enough, sometimes the latch would catch and it would lock. But in his nightmares, he could never slam the door hard enough.
There was no need to try to lock the door as the pizza guy should be there soon, but this evening had a strange feel to it. He could feel that something was amiss, and he didn’t like it. Once again, he pushed back from his desk and walked to the front door. He tried with all his strength to slam it shut. He tried the lock, but of course, he either did not slam it hard enough, or the lock had just “given up the ghost”.
When the phone rang, the piercing bell made him jump. The sound not only scared him but elevated his headache to a new level. Shaking his head at his own lack of control, he took a deep breath and walked to the phone.
“Hello,” John answered attempting to sound casual as he fought to control his breathing.
“This Bardstons?” asked the voice on the other end.
“Yeah,” responded John a little taken aback by the phrasing of the question.
“Bardstons? 555-474-8988?” the voice on the other end of the phone asked again.
“Yeah. I said it was. What do you want?”
“Hey, we are just confirming your delivery. We show that this is a residence,” said the voice on the other end.
“You don’t make deliveries to residences?” John asked indignantly. “Where do you normally take them?”
“Look, no problem here. We’re just not used to it that’s all. We will make the delivery anywhere we are told. We just wanted to double check.”
“Why is it taking so long anyway? “John shot back.”
“The fire was hotter than we expected, so it just took longer. And let’s face it, the weather is well–awful. What we don’t want is another accident. We’ll be there as soon as we can.” And with that, the voice on the other end of the phone clicked off.
The van drivers for the county morgue sat for a moment staring at each other. “Should we call back and make sure that we got the right number?” asked Samson.
The other driver shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. “We are going to be dealing with this new funeral home from now on. There is no need to get started off on the wrong foot. If they want the bodies delivered to a residence, then we will deliver them to a residence. Maybe they do some overflow work at home!” answered Jethro.
“Is that even legal?” asked Samson.
“Do I look like a lawyer,” said Jethro. “We were given the name of the funeral home, the telephone number, and the contact’s name. They all checked out. That is what we were told to do and that’s what we are going to do. We’ll let the brass sort it out in the morning, but in the meantime, we have a delivery to make.”
Bardston’s Funeral Home had opened their Clarksville location just days before. Working through a contract with the county, Bardstons would share accident victims within a fifty-mile radius surrounding their new location with other funeral homes in the area. There had been a single car accident on a secondary roads ten miles south of Clarksville. The car traveling at a high rate of speed had left the road and hit a tree. When the car burst into flames, the burned remains of two John Does were left to be carried to the new funeral home. Identification of the bodies would be left to the authorities later tomorrow. It was unfortunate that Bardston’s Funeral Home’s new telephone number was only one digit off from John’s telephone number. It would not be the last time the number to the funeral home would be misdialed, but this was the first.
John made the walk back into his office a little more cautiously than he had before. He sat back at his desk and reflected on the call from the Casa Pizza. The call had surprised him. He was used to confirmation calls on pizza orders, but this one seemed different. It just did not feel right. And what was the fire they mentioned? Their brick oven always had a fire going. And why was there concern over another accident? It never took this long for pizza to be delivered. But then again, it was a terrible night to be making pizza deliveries only to get a tip that would hardly cover the gas it took to get there.
John tried to keep his imagination under control, but he was getting a little jittery. His headache was only making it harder for him to take the perfectly rational situation into focus. John looked around his office for something to protect himself with. You can’t be too careful these days he thought. He felt foolish and knew that he was letting his nerves get away from him. Then again, he brought his high school baseball bat out of his closet and put it next to his desk. Why not? It did not cost him anything to have a little extra security.
In the candlelight surrounding his typewriter, John started typing once again.
The trees standing in the wet grayness outside looked like mourners at a funeral.
Zzzzzp. His attempts at crafting the first line of his next best seller were getting worse, not better.
He noticed that his thoughts were getting darker. Another amateurish attempt at writing hit the fireplace. The next thing John heard was the explosion as a gust of wind blew the front porch door open again. This time it drove the door knob through the sheet rock on the adjoining wall. He thought a bomb had exploded. He got up to close the door, but then saw an older Chevrolet station wagon turn into his driveway with its headlights dim in the sheets of rain.
When the phone rang, the last of John’s nerves snapped. He was caught mid-stride between closing the door and answering phone. The phone was closer.
“Yeah. I’m kinda busy here. What do you want?” John said frantically.
“We are almost there with the bodies. Shouldn’t be long now.”
“Bodies!” exclaimed John. “What bodies?”
“The burned ones,” the voice on the other end of the line casually responded. “We called about thirty minutes ago and confirmed. You wanted to have them delivered to your residence. We called. You confirmed. We should be pulling into your driveway any minute now. Don’t forget we have a contract. If you have a problem, you can take it up with the boss man in the morning. But we have been driving all night, we’re tired, and we have a delivery to make. It is too late to be changing the delivery location now. Work it out with Bardston in the morning.”
“I’m Bardston!” screamed John.
“Great. Then you will know what to do with the bodies.”
“Don’t you dare bring any bodies here,” said John to the dial tone at the other end of the line.
John had completely forgotten about the car pulling into the driveway and the front door that had blown open. He looked up to see a flashlight beam searching the walls of his living room. A deep voice pierced the darkness as John heard, “Delivery for John Bardston.”
“How could this be happening?” John thought as he grabbed his bat and moved quietly through the darkness into the living room. John could make out the silhouette of a large figure behind the glare of the flashlight walking slowly through the room.
“Hey, is anybody here? This is the last delivery of the night and I want to go home.” A few seconds passed. “Is there anyone here? If not I am going to leave your delivery on the front-porch, and you can work this out in the morning.”
John stepped out of the darkness and into the flashlight’s beam and swung his bat. There was a sickening sound of wood against bone, and the man fell to the floor. The other sound John did not hear was a small crack as his sanity started to split. A sound that he would never hear or acknowledge as his headache slowly faded away.
John thought, “No one is going to be dropping dead bodies off on my front porch tonight.” And there, laying at his feet was the pizza he had ordered over an hour ago. John picked up the flashlight lying next to the body and shined it on the boy. Casa Pizza was emblazoned on the back of the young man’s jacket–the young man who had looked so large behind the glare of the flashlight’s beam.
John panicked. Dropping to his knees, he checked the young man’s pulse. The delivery boy had been right. This wasgoing to be his last delivery of the night. John’s mind raced as he wondered how this night could have gone so terrible wrong. “How can this night get any worse?” John thought as he heard the voice behind him.
“Lord, Lord son. What have you done?”
John’s head snapped up. His eyes looked directly into the shocked eyes of the van driver from the mortuary. Without thinking, John grabbed the bat and as he stood, he took a savage swing hitting the driver squarely. And just that quickly, he realized that the man on the phone was right. He had two dead bodies lying in his living room floor whether he wanted them or not.
“Think John, think!” John heard his voice speaking. He knew that the other driver would come in sooner or later when the first driver did not come back. John dragged the two bodies behind the couch as quickly as he could. Grabbing the van driver’s clipboard and pizza box, he threw them both on his desk. He grabbed the bat and waited behind the door. “What the heck. I have already killed two men tonight–what’s one more?” John thought morosely to himself and he tried to control his breathing.
John heard muted footsteps approach his porch door through the sound of the pouring rain. “Sampson. You in there?” asked Jethro’s shaky voice.
John waited and held his breath. When Jethro stepped through the darken front door, John swung his bat for the third time in less than five minutes. John pulled Jethro’s body out of the path of the front door and slammed the door. John could hear the lock engage as the front door finally settled into its sweet spot.
“Well, of course. Now is the time you decide to work Mr. Lock!”
John slumped to the floor and sat. For the first time in his life, he was in real trouble. This was not some fictional story he was writing. He did not get to determine the outcome by some clever turn of a phrase. He had just killed three people in cold blood in his living room. This would have been a great story if he wasn’t the one living it.
And then he stopped. He was a writer. He knew how to create a believable plot. All he had to do was come up with a plausible storyline. Instead of writing it, he would have to actually make it happen, but he had time. It was still only 11:00pm. Maybe he could pull this off? Of course he could. He just had to be smart. And it might just be fun.
His writer’s mind started to work. He grabbed the pizza off the floor and went to his office. He took a minute to gather his wits about him and then went to work. He had written murder mysteries before, but he had always left a clue so that the bad guy would get caught in the end. But this time, he was the bad guy. No. Not a bad guy. A guy with bad luck. He just needed to devise a plan without any clues left behind.
He had five bodies that he needed to dispose of. He had several hours to move the bodies to a location far enough from his house and come up with a logical explanation for their deaths. It was still raining cats and dogs outside, so a car accident would be a logical solution. The guys from the mortuary were already worried about having an accident weren’t they? How hard would it be to stage an accident a mile or two away from his house? He just needed time.
Back when he used to exercise, he would jog every morning. His route down a secondary road was not far from his house. He could make the 3 mile loop in about twenty-five minutes. Since he would be driving half the distance each time, he should be able to make the run back home in about fifteen minutes. The built-in cushion would be required as he had not run in a year or so.
If, and it was a big if, he could stage an accident, set the cars on fire, and not kill himself in the process –he could make this plan work. He turned to the three bodies in the adjacent room and discussed his plan with them. He took their lack of response as a positive sign.
John went into his office and started storyboarding what he needed to do in the few hours he had to work within. Eating his tamale pizza as he laid out the details, he found that he was starting to enjoy the process.
Then it came to him. “It might be overkill,” he giggled to himself, “but if I move the two burned bodies into the front seats of the van and then put the two morgue employees into the body bags, the car fire might just confuse things enough to throw the police off track.” This was even more fun than writing.
The next thirty minutes were like a blur for John. He found some latex gloves that he had used when he stained furniture. The gloves would prevent him from leaving any fingerprints. He had seen enough episodes of NCIS to have a general idea of how investigations worked, but he also knew that the local police were certainly not a team from NCIS. And even if they were, they would not put that kind of effort into one of hundreds of car accidents.
He pulled the morgue van into his garage and shut the door. Fighting off the temptation to turn on the siren even for a second, he set off to work. Fortunately for him, the van drivers were not big men and with the help of a two wheeler, he was able to get them out of his living room and into the garage without having to drag their bodies through the yard. Covering the garage window with old blankets, he lit more candles. Moving the burned bodies into the front seats, and the two drivers into the body bags was more disgusting and time consuming than he imagined, but then again, this was his life at stake. He only had one shot at this, so he had to take the time and do it right.
Next, John lifted the pizza boy out of his living room and into the delivery boy’s car. He found the keys to the car in the ignition. “Gee Pizza Guy–may I call you Pizza Guy? Don’t you know better than to leave your keys in your car? This can be a scary neighborhood!”
Keeping the headlights turned off, John drove the old Chevy station wagon to the secondary road about two miles from his house. As he drove, he tried to make light conversation with his passenger. “So, what got you started in the pizza business?” John asked inquisitively. “You don’t say? By the way, you didn’t spit on my pizza tonight, did you?” John questioned Pizza Guy matter-of-factly.
Arriving at a curve on Hwy 35, he left the car in the middle of the road and moved the boy into the driver’s seat. All he needed now was time to run back home as quickly as he could and drive the van back to the same spot. “Hang tight, Pizza Guy. Be back in a sec.”
It took John less than twenty minutes to run/walk back home. His adrenaline was pumping. He went back into his office and thought through the process one more time. He was a little concerned that he might get hurt when he crashed the van into the Chevy. Brilliance struck him once again. He had his old football helmet in the garage and his football letter-jacket. It couldn’t hurt. He would wear his high school jack protect his arms and chest. Maybe he could get through this without any cuts or bruises. The jacket and helmet would give him a fighting chance at not leaving any his blood or DNA at the accident sight.
He opened the garage door by hand and loaded a can of lawnmower gas into the van. He found his football helmet right where he remembered it was and put on his heavy coat. The coat was dismally small due to the twenty five pounds John had added on since high school, but he squeezed in. With the turn of the van’s key, the engine roared to life. “It’s showtime,” he thought to himself in a voice eerily like Jack Nicholson’s. He headed down his street for the second time within the hour with the head lights off.
John found that he enjoyed talking to dead people. They were good listeners and did not ask many questions. “I know that it is not any of my business, but I would wear a stronger sun screen the next time I went to the beach if I were you two. No, no, I’m just kidding,” said John. He started to slap his new friend on the leg but thought better of it when he glanced at the burned bodies in the passenger seat.
John arrived on the road where he had parked the other car. It seemed undisturbed. “Okay, friends. I hate to put you through this for the second time in one night, but it has to be done,” John said. “This is where the plan works, or it doesn’t.” He strapped on his football helmet, tried to zip up his jacket and tightened his seat belt.
John was deciding how fast he could hit the Chevy station wagon without killing himself. It was a great plan, but it would be pointless if he killed himself in the process. Pulling a number out of the air, he gave his new friends a thumbs up and then accelerated to 35mph. The van hit Pizza Guy’s Chevy square on.
John was not sure if he had passed out, but if he hadn’t, the impact had certainly rattled his brains. It took him a moment or two to get his bearings. The air bags had deployed and that had certainly helped him. Time was of the essence now. He moved one of the burned bodies into the driver’s seat and put the seat belt back around the body.
He got out of the van and checked the Pizza Guy in station wagon. There had been no air bags in the Chevy. John figured that might work to his advantage in explaining the head trauma that the boy had suffered. Now it was time for the last step of his plan. John grabbed the gas can from the van and poured equal amounts of gas on the hood and under the gas tank of each car.
The next few seconds would determine the success of the plan and John’s fate. After several failed attempts to get a match to light in the wind, the fourth try proved successful. Throwing the match toward the vehicles, John exclaimed, “Let the games begin.”
John ran for all he was worth. He was shocked by the initial ignition, but when the gas tanks from both cars exploded he was knocked off his feet. There was not going to be anything subtle about this accident and John knew he had to get home now.
John ran faster than he had since high school. Wearing his football helmet and letter jacket, he carried the empty gas can under his right arm and ran for all he was worth. With his left arm extended, he wove his way through the defense. He was unstoppable. The goal line seemed further away than it used to be, but when he arrived at his house, he knew he had scored.
He took a few minutes to catch his breath and eat another slice of pizza. The crowds were still cheering, and he accepted their adulation with humility. He still had a lot of loose ends to tie up and cleaning up to do, but he did not mind. Finishing up the pizza which had been exceptionally good this evening, he threw the box along with anything else he thought might be incriminating into the trash can and sealed it.
It was getting close to 4:00am. John had never felt more alive than he did right now. He sat down at his desk, and with a smile he watched as his fingers flew across the keys. This was a great story, and he knew it would be his biggest #1 seller. At 4:10am, the lights flashed back on, but John had already fallen asleep as his adrenaline wore off.
John awoke to someone knocking on the front door. He had expected a call from the police as he had been the last pizza delivery of the night. The police would certainly be calling on him just to fill in the blanks on their forms. All he had to do was to be cool.
John wrestled with the lock on the front door until it finally gave in and unlocked. Detective Mason stood erect at John’s door. Mason stood like a statue and just stared at John for a moment before speaking. “Sorry to bother you so early, but there was an accident last night. I was wondering if I might ask you some questions?”
“Certainly Officer. Won’t you come in?” John said casually. What may I help you with?”
“I just have a few questions for you,” Officer Mason hesitated while looking down at his notes, “Uh, Mr. Bardston. Before I get started, I have to ask, he started, “why are you wearing a football helmet and what, a high school football jacket?”
John reached up with both hands and felt the football helmet that he had not removed from his victory on the field last night. “Oh this! I was just playing around last night, and I must have fallen asleep. I do the craziest things sometimes.”
“Um hmm,” responded the officer, “happens all the time. Anyway, did you order a pizza last night from Casa Pizza?”
“Yeah I ordered a tamale pizza about 8:00pm. I remember because it was right before we lost power,” John responded.
“When was the pizza delivered?”
“Well, that’s the thing. I never got the pizza. I was going to call and check on it, but the phones didn’t work since the power was off. My cell phone was in the car, but the rain was just too bad to go out to get it. I ended up just making a sandwich.”
The detective looked at John’s muddy shoes, rain soaked jacket and jeans with dirt caked up to his thighs. “So, you did not go outside last night?” he followed up.
“And you never heard back from Casa Pizza?” Officer Mason asked one more time.
“Nope. Why do you ask?” John asked enjoying this game of cat and mouse.
“The car that was delivering your pizza had an accident just a mile or so from here.”
“Oh man, that is awful. Was everyone okay?” John asked with his best impersonation of sincerity.
“No. Unfortunately, the delivery boy was killed in the accident.”
John pretended to be faint and sat in the closest chair. “Aw man. That is awful. I hate to hear that. I liked Pizza Guy.”
“You knew him, did you?”
“No we never talked much, you know, just polite conversation whenever he delivered pizza. He didn’t talk much,” said John.
“Okay, Mr. Bardston. That is all the questions I have for the time being. Have a good day,” said Detective Mason.
Mason stood on the front porch for several moments after John had closed the door. “That guy is a nut,” thought Mason to himself. But you can’t arrest someone for being crazy. Half the population in town would be behind bars if that was the only criteria.
As Officer Mason walked back to his patrol car, he noticed a wet piece of paper plastered to the driveway. He carefully pealed the soaked piece of paper from the asphalt and carried it into the squad car. It was a receipt for a Tamale pizza from Casa Pizza with yesterday’s date. “Gotcha,” smiled Mason to himself.
Returning to the door, Mason rang the bell again. John showed up still in his helmet and muddy clothes. “Hey John,” Mason started, “Some of the guys and I down at the station are playing football today. You look like a serious player. Care to join us?”
“Absolutely,” John replied. “Let me just get my baseball bat. You can’t be too safe these days.”
Detective Mason just agreed knowingly.