By Andrew Pence
“Where are you going?” Carl asked, knowing the answer.
“Out,” Emily answered without elaboration, putting the finishing touches on her makeup.
“Again, Christ. That’s three times this week and it ain’t even Friday.”
“So? You can go out as much as you want. I don’t try to stop you.” Emily replied, checking herself one last time in the bathroom mirror.
“Before you ask, I’m going by myself. Don’t wait up for me.”
Carl pulled himself off the bed. It was a chore, the mattress sat on the floor, and he had added a few pounds over the last six months. Piles of washed and unwashed clothes were scattered across the room. Black plastic trash bags lay tied up in one corner, containing most of their other possessions.
Emily and Carl had lived in a cheap, two room apartment for six months. Carl was unemployed. He hadn’t had a job since being chaptered out of the U.S. Army for being overweight and failing too many physical fitness tests. The unemployment checks ran out three weeks ago. Emily waitressed at the Short Stop restaurant in Abilene, Texas.
When they first started dating, they got along fine. They agreed they’d have an “open relationship.” Carl agreed at once. Emily was entirely out of his league and he knew it. The arrangement worked out at first; at least Carl felt it did. He wasn’t aware of the string of lovers she had throughout their relationship.
As Carl’s prospects continued to nosedive and his waistline grew, Emily’s activities became more obvious. She frequented the clubs every night she didn’t work, staying out till dawn on more than one occasion.
Carl walked over to Emily.
“Why don’t you stay home, I’ll go get a twelve pack and we can rent a movie.”
“You don’t need any beers. You need a few salads… and a job.” She patted him on his protruding gut and pushed past him. Carl grabbed her firmly by the arms and turned her to face him.
“You’re not going,” he said, trying to sound tough. It didn’t work.
“Watch me,” breaking away from his grip with relative ease, heading for the front door.
Carl lumbered after her.
“Stop God dammit.”
He reached, looping his arm around her waist. Emily ripped free and whirled to face him.
“Don’t you ever touch me again, you fat, disgusting shit.”
“That was a cheap shot,” he said. It sounded wimpy to his own ears. Carl was out of shape, flabby, and Emily never missed a chance to needle him. He was slow to anger, but if she kept on, that might change. He had never hit a woman, but he was beginning to give the idea serious consideration. He tried to tamp it down.
“Listen. Please. Just stay home. Give it a rest for one night.”
“Why?” her voice becoming shrill. “Stay in this shitty apartment. We got no cable, nothing decent to eat, and the company sucks.”
“You ought to know about sucking.” He regretted saying it the moment the words came out of his mouth.
Emily’s eyes soften just the slightest bit. She took a step toward Carl, smiled, and spat in his face.
“You’re right. I like to suck. How does my lover’s cum taste?”
Carl lurched at Emily, hands out-stretched. She easily side stepped him and he crashed into the flimsy sheetrock, putting another hole in the wall. Emily let out a roaring laugh. Carl turned, leaning against the wall and launched himself at her. He moved quicker this time, his anger approaching the boiling point. Emily wasn’t prepared for it and he knocked her onto the matted tan carpet. A TV tray toppled over onto the couch.
Carl moved quick, straddling her body and pinning her arms to the floor. Emily struggled beneath him, but he was too big. She loaded up another mouthful of spit, preparing to fire. Carl turned his head and the spittle landed on the side of his head. Emily’s earlier insult repeated in his mind.
“You’re not going anywhere tonight sweetheart,” he grunted.
Carl’s heart was pounding, his face turning red, and he was gulping in big mouthfuls of air. Beads of sweat burst onto his forehead. Emily broke out into giggles. The dam of Carl’s temper burst in a flood.
“I’ll leave as soon as you have your heart attack, you sack of shit.”
Carl let go of one arm and pressed a forearm across Emily’s throat. Emily’s laughter was cut off instantly. Her eyes widened and she scratched at his face with her free hand, opening three deep scratches on his face. The blood oozed down his cheek. Carl leaned in with all his weight. Emily freed her other hand. She grabbed at his forearm, digging her nails in deep. Carl ignored the pain and leaned in. Emily thrashed her body in a desperate effort to get free. She kneed him in the crotch repeatedly, but it did not stop him. She didn’t have the strength or the right angle. She realized he meant to kill her. Only seconds left. He’d either choke her to death or crush her windpipe. Carl maintained pressure on her throat, sweat dripping from his brow and onto Emily’s face.
Emily’s vision began to narrow, her lungs begged for air. Her strength was leaving her. Her mind clouded, darkened, and faded to black.
Carl maintained his hold on Emily for better than a minute. Exhausted, he rolled off her limp body and onto the carpet. He laid on his back trying to catch his breath. The anger began to subside. He tried to sit up, couldn’t do it, and laid back on the floor. His arms and legs were rubbery, used up. He flung his arms over his head, stared at the ceiling, and tried to figure out what had just happened.
Carl rolled to a sitting position, dropped onto all fours, and leaned over Emily’s face. Her eyes stared blankly into space, her mouth open. Her smeared, red lipstick had taken on a purple tinge. He watched her chest. No rise, no fall. He put his cheek an inch from her mouth. He couldn’t detect any breathing. He plopped back onto the carpet.
“Call 911. Maybe it’s not too late,” he thought. They had no phone.
“The payphone in the courtyard.” He struggled to his feet, took two hesitant steps toward the door, and stopped.
“No, no, no. No good. I’ll go to jail whether she’s dead or alive.”
Carl turned and stared at Emily. Her eyes stared at nothing and had a vacant look. He walked into the bedroom, pulled the blanket off the bed, and returned to the living room. He draped the blanket over Emily’s body and stepped back. He repositioned the blanket and rolled her up in it. Her body had seemed to gain weight
He moved to the couch, tossed the TV tray aside and sat. He needed to think.
“Need to make a list. Just to make sure I don’t miss a thing.”
He stood, walked into the kitchenette, and dug through a drawer until he found a pen. He picked up an envelope off the counter, one of many containing unpaid bills, and returned to the couch.
Carl licked the tip of the pen and wrote his list.
First, get rid of the body. Second, call the cops and report Emily missing.
“Not much of a list,” he muttered.
He wrote, “How to get rid of the body?”
Carl sat with the pen poised for a full minute. He gazed at the ceiling hoping for inspiration. None came.
“Ah, put her in a dumpster,” he wrote. He scratched it out. “Trash pickup is tomorrow. Not smart.”
He remembered a story from his days in the Army. He recalled a guy had hidden his wife’s body in a septic tank somewhere out in the country. He only got caught because he was stupid enough to have his tank drained two years later. The guy sucking the tank had to stop half way through the job due to a clogged hose. When he checked the obstruction, he found what turned out to be the remains of a pair of blue jeans. A woman’s pair of jeans. A single finger bone snared within the pants. Carl didn’t know anyone with a septic tank, so he kept running ideas through his mind.
“A graveyard. Bury her in a graveyard.” Carl saw possibilities. He strode back into the kitchenette and retrieved the phone book. He thumbed through it until he found the section labeled cemeteries. There were several in town. He scanned the list looking at the addresses. All of them were within the city limits except the last one. The address was 4187 FM 2130. The FM designation meant Farm to Market road. Country roads. Carl thought the graveyard might be out in the middle of nowhere and so, less chance of being spotted. He flipped to the front of the phone book and examined the maps. He traced a dirty fingernail along the map until he located FM 2130. The road ran east to west, about five miles south of the city limits. He only cemetery listed on the map was Brownwood Cemetery. He tapped his finger on the map, a smile spreading across his face.
Carl dropped the phonebook to the floor and walked back into the bedroom. He opened the closet, leaned in, and began throwing things over his shoulder. Mostly clothes. “Jesus, she had a ton of clothes,” he mumbled. He found what he was looking for, an olive drab plastic sleeve. It contained his army entrenching tool, a shovel.
Carl checked the bedside alarm clock. 10:35PM. Still too early to head out, especially at this apartment complex. People would be sitting outside their apartments, drinking beer, and smoking cigarettes till at least midnight.
Carl spent the next hour and a half collecting most of Emily’s nice clothes, makeup, and personal items. He stuffed them into an oversized suitcase. Carl peeked out the door. A man and a woman were seated on lawn chairs in front of their apartment. Carl figured he could reach the parking lot without being spotted. He needed to get the suitcase into Emily’s Kia. He picked up the suitcase and opened the door.
“Keys.” He set the suitcase on the walkway, Christ it was heavy, and re-entered the apartment. Carl remembered where the keys were: in Emily’s pants. He bent beside her body and turned her over. She was face down. He reached under her and ran his hand over her front pockets. He ran his hand over a lump in the right one. Carl got queasy touching her lifeless body. He struggled to dig his fingers into the pocket. The jeans were skin-tight. He grasped the fob and slid them out.
Carl rolled her body back and stood up. He had an urge to wash his hands, but decided against it. His hands would be plenty dirty by the end of the night. He dropped the key into his own pocket, picked up the suitcase, and carried it to the car. Carl wedged it into the cramp backseat. It barely fit. He saw no one and he was sure no one saw him.
“Phase one complete,” he thought.
Carl waited until just after midnight. Peeking out the window facing the courtyard, he saw no one in sight. He struggled to get Emily off the ground and up onto his shoulders. His legs trembled under her weight. He took several deep breaths and opened the front door. Carl carried Emily’s body in a fireman’s carry. He had to stop once, breathing so hard, he worried passing out was a distinct possibility. Using the key fob, he opened the trunk. The wind had picked up considerably and the trunk lid flew open, banging against its stops. Carl looked at the sky. Heavy dark clouds obscured the moon. They were moving fast from west to east.
“Thunderstorm coming. Better hustle,” he whispered.
Carl dumped Emily’s body into the trunk and slammed the lid. He scanned the parking lot. Empty. Good. Only a few lights on in a couple of the upstairs apartments.
He realized he forgot the entrenching tool and jogged back to the apartment. He worried he was making too many mistakes, but time was running out. At this rate it’d be after 1AM by the time he reached the graveyard. He had no idea how long it would take to dig a grave, especially with an old entrenching tool. He needed to be done before sunrise, so he estimated he had less than five hours to do the job.
He opened the driver’s door, slid the seat back, and slid the key into the ignition switch. He half expected the car wouldn’t start, but the little engine started on the first try. Carl backed out of the parking spot and drove out of the lot.
Carl had little trouble finding Brownwood Cemetery. He saw two signs pointing the way. He arrived at the arched gateway leading into the cemetery 35 minutes after leaving his place. He turned off the Kia’s headlights and crept under the archway.
The condition of the cemetery surprised Carl. The grave markers were neatly arranged and evenly spaced. The grass had been cut recently. Flowers and small American flags adorned many of the gravesites. The flags standing at attention due to the strong winds. A medium size metal building sat at the far back of the cemetery. A lawnmower sat beneath a wooden pole barn to the right of the building. A single high-intensity halogen light illuminated both structures and cast a pale glow across the entire area.
Carl scanned the gravesites. At the extreme left side, Carl saw a small backhoe. A large pile of dirt sat beside it. His streak of luck continued. A freshly dug grave.
Carl parked the car in the shadows on the left side of the metal building. He grabbed his entrenching tool and strode over to the backhoe. The wind whipped at him as he walked. Flashes of lightning were visible near the horizon, followed seconds later by the booming of thunder.
“Storm heading this way,” he thought.
Carl walked around the side of the backhoe and saw a rectangular hole in the ground. The mound of freshly dug earth piled to one side. It was almost five feet deep. He dropped the entrenching tool. A headstone had been placed at the head of the open grave. Date of death, two days ago.
Carl remembered reading something about funerals. The hole is always dug the night before the funeral service.
“All ready for the dearly departed,” he chuckled. He wondered, “This might be the perfect crime. Dig another foot into the soft earth, roll the body in, cover with dirt, and tamp it down. No one will know.”
The temperature dropped twenty degrees in the blink of an eye. Carl understood he didn’t have much time. He walked back to the car, opened the trunk, and struggled to get Emily onto his shoulder. Halfway to the grave, sporadic raindrops began to pelt the ground.
He dropped Emily at the foot of the grave and took in great gulps of air. He was exhausted. He picked up the entrenching tool. He stripped off the case and tossed it aside. He dropped into the hole. The raindrops fell with increasing regularity.
Carl unfolded the shovel and began to dig. He worked feverishly, throwing small spadesful of dirt over his shoulder, most of it landing loosely on the existing pile. He had dug down a foot deeper in the grave when the clouds let loose. Instead of rain, thousands of small hailstones began to fall. The hailstones pounded Carl’s head and back. It was like being pelted by hundreds of BB’s. Each impact caused a small explosion of pain. The hail fell and Carl dug.
“Just a few more,” Carl whispered through gritted teeth.
Just as suddenly as it began, the hail stopped falling. A moment later, the rain came. It fell in sheets. The water so cold, Carl began to shiver. The bottom of the grave filled with water. Before he realized what was happening, the water was over his ankles. His boot soaking wet and filling with water. Watery mud flowed down the sides of the grave.
“Good enough,” he said, and tossed the shovel out of the grave.
Carl stood on his stiff legs. He could barely see the grass surrounding the top of the grave. He reached out and grabbed at the ground. The grass was waterlogged. He scrabbled his feet on the side of the hole. They slipped and he fell back, landing squarely on his ass. He held two large clods of dirt and grass in each hand. The rain pounded relentlessly. He struggled back to his feet. The slush at the bottom of the hole had taken on the consistency of cake batter. Mud flowed from the shrinking pile at the side of the grave like a chocolate waterfall. It was up to his knees and rising fast. Carl began to panic. He reached frantically for a handhold, but the earth had turned to mush. He sloshed to the foot of the grave. He hoped he could grab hold of Emily and use her body as an anchor. If it worked, he could pull himself out.
The muddy water had reached his crotch. He groped around the grassy surface and latched onto Emily’s foot. With both hands. He pulled. Emily’s body slid slowly to the edge of the grave. Her feet dangled over the opening in the ground. Carl wrapped his hands around her ankles and pulled with what remained of his strength. He began to pull himself up the side. He wished he hadn’t worn boots, between them and the water, they added ten pounds to his weight.
Carl’s shoulders emerged from the hole, now he held Emily’s thighs. He thought he was going to make it and a smile broke out on his beard-stubbled face. He stretched out as far as he could with one hand and hooked Emily’s belt. He pulled for all he was worth. He inched forward and then Emily’s body moved. She moved toward the hole. Carl grabbed Emily’s belt with his other hand and held on. Emily slid on the water soaked ground and fell into the grave, taking Carl with her.
Carl sank to the bottom of the grave, Emily’s dead weight on top of him. Mud flowed into his nostrils, clogging them, he instinctively opened his mouth began to gag on the mud. He panicked, thrashing wildly. He struggled to push Emily off him, but there was nowhere for her body to go. Carl’s body spasmed, his movements slowed, and then stopped forever.