Paula was sitting in the corner of Greg’s front room crying. Greg had done his best to try to comfort her, but this time it wasn’t about him, and he wasn’t making much headway.
“I’m hurting people, Greg”, she wept. “Just like when you got shot. Now people are watching over their shoulders for this Raymond Johnson guy, and who knows who he’ll shoot next. The last words out of their mouths will be ‘You’re that guy Paula Rogers was talking about on the news...,’” and she began crying again.
“Come on, Paula,” said Greg, “where’s that tough blonde I saw interview that serial killer? And how about that child pornographer – those were harder than this case.”
Paula shook her head. “The serial killer didn’t kill anyone I knew. I led this Ray guy to this city, and now Larry is dead and you’ve been shot.”
Greg was finally beginning to get that this was more than just being about the violence against people she had known, but that Paula was feeling personally responsible – like an accessory to the crime.
Greg had been trained about what to do when witnesses began to feel guilt by association, so he kicked it into high gear. “Look at me Paula.” She stopped whimpering and sniffed. She looked up. “You didn’t do this. He did. If you had told me you didn’t want to do the story, I would have called until I found someone who would do it.”
“Plus,” he said as soothingly as he could, “there is no way we can control what others do – we can only control what we do.”
This was probably the wrong thing to say to her.
She pushed up her sleeves, squared her shoulders and said directly to his face without hesitation, “That’s why I’m going to quit the broadcasting business. Then I won’t be hurting anyone else.”
John was back to making lists. He was feeling so confident that his luck would hold he had decided to prioritize his wish list. Just a few things for himself, like a jet-ski, or a motorcycle; then a few things for Reba, like the hot-tub she was always talking about. Maybe a diamond bracelet, or an Alaskan cruise. It didn’t hurt that he could also use Reba’s gifts, except the bracelet. He almost crossed it off. College tuition for the kids, maybe a cabin, maybe the rest in savings. One hundred thousand dollars didn’t go as far as John hoped it would.
As John was scribbling away on his list, his principal came and tapped on the open door. “Could we talk for a minute, John?”
“Sure, Scott.” He cleared a space for his boss to sit. “Sorry for the mess.” John’s office was always cluttered with scripts, assignments, and books.
Scott always got right to the point. “Everything all right? I mean is this shooting and murder thing interfering with your classes?”
John smiled. “I have become the celebrity of the day, and everyone wants to hear the story. It mostly interfered with my lunch today.”
Scott chuckled. “So much for duty-free lunch, huh? Everyone wants to hear all the details?”
“Yeah, and the kids keep trying to get me to talk about it,” John said.
“Well, you look like hell, but keep up the good work,” Scott said. “I know you won’t let this stuff affect your work.”
And that was that. Scott was all business, and hadn’t even asked anything about the gory details that were spreading around town, especially the rumor about Ray and some kind of ice pick. Scott trusted John.
John trusted himself, and went back to making his list, thinking for a minute he really should get back to grading those papers. But maybe he would jot down just a few items more for the kids while he still remembered them.
Ray didn’t like being tied up. But here he was on the ground, eating the dust from the dirt road, and Simon was hog-tying him. Literally. Just when Ray thought he might be able to knock the gun from Simon’s hands, he was already tied.
“Nice knot, huh?” said Simon. “I was the all around cowboy champion, mostly because I could tie off a doggie in less than two seconds.”
“Who the hell cares how you tie up your dogs,” Ray spat out, also spitting out mud.
Simon just laughed. “A doggie is a calf. You jump off a horse and knock it to the ground, then tie up its legs. Just like you’re tied up now. Now, get on your feet and start walking down the road.”
“What makes you think I’ll stay anywhere close to where you tell me to go?” insisted Ray. “What’s to stop me from just running into the woods?”
Simon spat some tobacco onto the ground. “Well, Bertha, that’s my shotgun here, makes a pretty wide spread, so I don’t have to shoot so exact as you and your fancy pistol here.” Simon crammed Larry’s gun into his overalls. “Plus, you can run through the woods if you want, but that’s just the kind of noise a deer makes, and the black bears come running when they hear that.”
Simon decided to let some of this sink in. Ray decided to be quiet, too, but was now looking nervously into the nearby trees.
“So start walking, and I’m going drive your car behind you,” said Simon. “I’ll have my gun poked out the window, and yes, I do shoot left-handed. You can stop when you get to my house, about one mile straight ahead.”
Ray looked back at the old man who was now sitting behind the wheel, with the barrel resting on the doorframe, pointed straight at Ray. The car started up, and Ray recognized that it was time for a strategic retreat, like when he let his brothers think he was really hurt in a fight. When they came up to get him to stop crying, he would jam his knee in their groin.
This old farmer would get his own wake-up call soon.
Smitty was thinking out loud, trying to help Greg tie up all the loose ends that didn’t make sense. They had both been blindsided by Larry’s murder, never anticipating that robbery would turn so deadly.
“So, the guy gives up his dim-witted friend so he can keep the money,” Smitty said. “Then he makes up a fake bundle to throw under the train, which is found and turned into you.”
Greg grimaced. “It just doesn’t make sense, does it? I mean, why kill Larry for his key and shoot me just to get the last $1800?”
Smitty waited while Greg connected the dots.
“Unless he didn’t keep the rest of the money,” muttered Greg. “Unless the rest of the money is still somewhere here in town.”
Smitty was nodding, but still said nothing.
Greg’s eyes got wide. “John Graham has the rest of the money?”
Smitty finally spoke. “I suspected it the first time you called, but since he’s a close friend, I didn’t want to alert you to the possibility. But remember I did tell you to get some surveillance on him.”
Greg slapped his forehead. “Because you thought Ray Johnson might connect the dots, too. He would be here in town to get the money from John. He would be here to get it anyway he could, including killing one of my friends.”
Smitty jumped in, “And I think he’ll be back as soon as he finds out the package is a little light. Is there somewhere we can set up and watch John Graham’s house without us knowing?” This time Greg was nodding.
“There’s an old house across the street that has been empty for the past year. I can talk to the owner and we can camp out there,” Greg said. Then he began shaking his head.
“What?” said Smitty.
“I can’t believe I didn’t see it. Just because it’s someone I’ve known practically my whole life. It’s a rookie mistake. I should have seen it,” Greg said.
“But it wouldn’t have made any difference, and if you had known,” said Smitty, “who knows if you would have waited for the bad guy to come to town. The bank might get their money back earlier, but we would have lost Raymond Johnson forever.”
Raymond Johnson was lost somewhere out in the country. Simon knew where he was going, but following Ray in the car wasn’t the same as leading him to the house. So Ray just kept walking, hoping that sometime soon they would get there, and that Ray could kill this stupid bastard and then go get his money.
Simon could guess where Ray’s thoughts were going. “Hell,” he thought to himself, “if someone came up to me and stuck me in the ribs with a gun, hog tied me and then made me march up the road; I’d want to kill him, too.” The old farmer had dealt with plenty of angry animals in his life, including those who hadn’t especially wanted to be castrated at that moment. Simon wondered if this guy would scream like those little pigs used to.
Then Ray saw the house. The car was slowing behind him, and Ray could tell that Simon was planning on parking out by the front door, which gave him the opportunity to play dumb. He kept walking, and Simon shouted out, “That’s far enough. Stay right there.” Ray waited to hear the brakes applied, and figuring that stopping the car and shooting at the same time wouldn’t be so easy if you were as old as the hills, he ran around the side of the house. A shot rang out just behind him as he turned the corner, and Ray heard Simon curse as buckshot peppered the side of his house. Ray ran into the barn just behind house, and tried quickly to find something to cut the ropes on his wrists.
Simon was out of the car and just around the corner when he saw Ray go in the barn. “This is getting fun,” he thought to himself, but then he remembered the pitchfork, the saw and the other sharp tools he usually kept stored back there in the barn. Ray would want him to run into the barn so he could stab him, he reasoned, so the best thing to do was to wait. The entire barn was visible from the back of the house, and unless this crook ran straight back from the barn, Simon would be able to see him come out. So Simon pulled out the rocker from the back porch and settled in. It was still an hour before it would get dark, and he could always call the police anytime he wanted.
There was no back door to the barn and only a small window, and if this youngster wanted to take on old Bertha by running from the front door to the back of the barn, Simone was ready to oblige. But Simon figured he hadn’t lived more than seventy years and not learned a trick or two, and learned to be especially patient. He figured Ray would be coming out eventually.
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