A Chapter of Accidents – by Will Tate

Will Tate

Commended at Cambridge Writers Short Story Competition 2013

    A bunch of them clever professors up at Harvard, or maybe it was Oxford, England, or someplace, reckon the whole universe was caused by accident; some Big Bang or something. Now I ain’t too sure what the good Lord has to say about that partic’lar theory, but I do know that a lot of folks come into this world accident’ly. Plenty of the folks I knew left it accident’ly too. 

    You never know when an accident will come a-sneaking up on you. Especially on a farm cos farms is mighty dangerous places. Now it weren’t my fault my boss Ned Woolrich hadn’t done nothing about fixing that hydraulic hose on the tractor. So, one morning he was cussing at me for not getting on quicker, ranting at me like I was some sorta simpleton. He started a-waving his arms about like he was on the parking lot at the ballgame, guiding me into the barn with the loader spike on the tractor to pick up a bag of fertiliser. His invaluable help musta saved me ‘bout three seconds. I’d just lifted the bag up high when the pipe burst, oil spurting everywhere. But there weren’t no point reminding Ned about it cos now he was under the half-ton bag, the loader having gone and dropped like a stone. All I could see of him was his boots sticking out at kinda funny angles. I eased myself out of the cab and eventually climbed down the steps. I asked him if he was alright. He didn’t answer. I couldn’t lift the loader so I slowly climbed back into the cab and rummaged around, finding a couple of quarters and a few smokes in a crumpled packet but no knife. Then I recalled  I had a pocket knife on me all the time. It weren’t very sharp but it did eventually chew through the  plastic. I pulled at Ned’s boots and I’d just hauled him out when Buck came into the yard. He started giving Ned the kiss of life, but he was soon spitting in the yard and his lips went red; from the fertiliser, I s’pose. It always makes your eyes smart and you’re s’posed to wear protection, but Ned never bothered with them reg’lations.

    When Doc Leipheimer arrived all he did was feel Ned’s neck and shake his head real slow. The coroner said Ned died from internal injuries and inhaling the fertiliser. I s’posed I coulda left the bag on him, then he wouldn’t have got all that muck in his lungs, but they praised me for trying to save him and I got some time off. Post-pneumatic shock they called it, but it weren’t like I’d been fighting the I-raqis or nothing. Doc Leipheimer gave me some sleeping tablets, but I figured the only reason I couldn’t sleep was cos I were stopping in bed till gone ten. Ned dying didn’t really trouble me at all – he’d always been a mean son-of-a-bitch. His widow soon took off to run a gas station east of Westlake with a feller she’d been seeing for years. Seemed I’d done her a favour, cos Ned had some tidy insurance.

    I got used to being off work but my wife Nancy didn’t appreciate it. She said that as I wasn’t really ailing, there were plenty of chores I could get on with. So I had to try and mend stuff, which ain’t really my forte, while she lounged on the sofa watching old movies and gabbling on the phone all day. No wonder she’d got so fat. Not that she ever was what you might call skinny, but in her younger days she hadn’t been no worse than obese. To be fair she did try and lose weight, but she didn’t do nothing as drastic as moving about. She got a big tub of them fat-burning tablets, one of them there homophobic remedies. Funny thing was they looked just like my sleeping tablets. One afternoon, while she was sprawled out watching ‘Top Gun’ yet again, she called me to bring her tablets, with a gallon of root beer to wash them down. Said they gave her energy and, after watching Tom Cruise, she was feeling all raunchy. Heck, she took about five tablets and took me to the marital bed, which hadn’t seen much action since good old Mr. Bush went into the White House. The first Mr. Bush that is. It weren’t exactly an unqualified success. She couldn’t figure why she felt so sleepy, reckoned she’d been working too hard. That made me laugh, just quietly to myself, like, so I got her some more tablets to pep her up. I did my husbandly duty and she fell sound asleep, snoring like a hog. I went and watched the ballgame on the T.V. The Braves and the Royals were level at the top of the ninth. Kansas won by one run in the extra inning and I had a beer to celebrate, then I went back to bed. The snoring had stopped so at least I got some shut-eye. 

    Doc Leipheimer told the inquest that Nancy had taken a fatal overdose of sleeping tablets. Said she’d taken enough to knock down an angry Brahma bull, which seemed a sorta apt comparison. It was a regrettable accident, he said, and he felt bad for giving me the pills. I had more time off work, cos now I was bereaved. I sat looking at Nancy’s list of chores, but not so many of them got crossed off. Money weren’t no problem cos she hadn’t never made no will and I got the insurance too. I started going to the roadside diner on the way into town and I soon got mighty friendly with pretty young Amy Cornell who worked there while her husband Jim was delivering truckloads of meat all over the Mid-West. At least him being away gave the bruises he’d given her a chance to heal. Anyway, it weren’t long before little Amy was a-gettin’ her own special meat delivery. She didn’t need no pep pills; bucking harder than a spurred mustang. It sure helped me forget my bereavement.

    All went well till Jim had a week off. One day at the diner he asked if I wanted to go duck shooting with him down on Thompson’s Creek. He lent me a gun but I ain’t never been keen on killing innocent critters. There weren’t no ducks about anyway, so Jim started pouring most of a quart of rye down his neck. Then he started boasting of all the girls he knew, Biblically, so to speak. Seemed he knew all the cat-houses in the Mid-West. That made me mad, and I told him that if I had a wife like Amy I sure as hell wouldn’t even look at another girl. Course he took it the wrong way. Maybe he’d seen the way Amy smiled at me. He jumped up and swung the heavy paddle at my head – don’t know why he did that when he had a shotgun by his feet. I ducked and he overbalanced and fell, knocking his head on the side of the boat before he plopped into the water. His dog sorta half thought of diving in to save him, then looked at me and lay down. Reckon he too had had plenty of what Jim had given Amy. So me and the dog settled down beneath an old blanket and I had a tot of the rye to keep warm. I poured the rest away, but I kept the bottle handy so, when the state troopers found us drifting in the creek the next morning I just told them I couldn’t remember what had happened and kept asking where Jim was. The dog didn’t say nothing neither.

    Seems to me the lawyers in Leonard County can’t be doing much work, cos Jim was another one died interstate, but them insurance boys, they must be working harder than them old plantation slaves down south, cos Amy got a big policy payout. I said we oughta pack up and leave, go to Florida and run a diner. That made Amy smile, cos she hadn’t never seen the ocean, but she said we ought to wait a while.

    Amy’s folks had a farm up north of Westlake but old Mr. Cornell was getting bad with arthritis and needed someone to manage the place. It puzzled me how old Ned Woolrich had always got hisself so het up cos all I had to do was drive round in a big old Dodge and check the corn was still a-growin’. Amy moved into my cosy little house; just to be close to her poor old father, of course.

    One afternoon I was watching the ballgame, when old man Cornell came in. He wanted me to change a wheel on his Chevy so he could drive Mrs. Cornell into town. I soon changed the tire but the spare was a bit flat so I went to get the compressor from the barn. I peeked in at the game. The Royals were a run up at the top of the eighth, with two men out and the bases loaded so I stayed awhile. When I returned the Chevy had gone. I looked at the spider wrench lying in the yard and wondered whether I’d tightened up them wheel nuts.

    I soon got my answer. I’d been to see if the hogs had enough mud and when I got back Amy was wailing and sobbing, telling me her folks were dead. The Chevy had gone over the old bridge on the turnpike road and plunged into Elmore Creek. One wheel was found way back on the highway. Amy said her father had been getting so forgetful he couldn’t even put his boots on the right feet. I told her to go in the house and fix some drinks and I’d join her when I’d finished tidying up. There’d been a spate of farm break-ins so I locked the wrench and the compressor in the barn.

    Amy took being orphaned mighty well. Inheriting the farm probably helped ease the pain and in the summer we got wed. Folks said it was only natural, seeing as we’d both suffered such tragic loss. They were awful kind. Young Marty Hammett was specially attentive. He was a tall, handsome young feller with an insurance office in Westlake and he told Amy that I ought to have some policies, seeing as farms was such dangerous places. He did all the papers, which was real good of him; he even brought a pen for me to sign them. 

    For a while life was mighty sweet. The corn kept growing and the hogs kept getting muddy. Amy got a job in Marty’s office for ten bucks an hour. She earned plenty – working so late most nights that all she wanted to do when she got home was sleep.

    After the harvest I could relax again. One night I wanted to watch the ballgame but the darned T.V. wouldn’t work. Amy told me to go and watch it at the diner and the Royals were leading by a run in the fourth when the game was rained off. So, even after another beer, I got back home early. I figured I could hear someone snooping around in the barn so I grabbed a shotgun and nudged  Jim’s old dog off his bed. The stupid mutt ran on ahead, wagging his tail, cos who should be in the barn but Amy and Marty, and the dog liked Marty real well. Marty was wearing some old overalls ‘stead of his sharp suit and he was carrying a jerry can in his hand. The whole place reeked of gasoline. When I asked them what the heck was occurring Marty, for once, was struck dumb. Amy explained that the farm was now worth more as a heap of smouldering ash, all thanks to one of Marty’s insurance policies. I thanked him for being so thoughtful but said I’d rather keep the farm and that was when Amy pitched the curve-ball, informing me I was worth a lot more dead too. She started hollering about how I’d messed up their plans to hide up and bash me on the head when I got home, then drag me into the barn and start the fire, but now they just stood looking stupid. I told Marty to hightail home and the first thing he could do in the morning was cancel all my insurances. The second thing he could do was advertise Amy’s job cos she wouldn’t be a-coming back, and if I ever saw them together I’d shoot him dead. That struck me as mighty reasonable.

    He cottoned on real quick and headed off to his Cadillac, still carrying the gasoline, then the dog ran out to chase along beside him, like he always did, ‘cept this time Marty was driving real fast. He swerved but he hit the dog, then he locked up and crashed into a fence post. Straight away the car went up in a ball of flame. There weren’t no way we could get to Marty. Amy was screaming, firstly about Marty but then she saw the mess the old dog was in, yelping real bad. She told me to put him out of his misery, so I shouldered the gun but, heck, I just couldn’t do it. Amy called me a useless, good-for-nothing idiot and grabbed the gun. She aimed at the poor dog but then swung to point it in my face. I gulped and saw her finger move on the trigger but the gun sorta backfired and took half her face off. She fell over backwards in the yard, stone dead. Guess that shotgun hadn’t never been cleaned since I went duck shooting with Jim. You’ve gotta be real careful with guns.

    Anyway, I called the sheriff and they came and took away the bodies. Then they took me in to answer some questions. I just told them the truth, but they didn’t seem to believe me, especially after they found the spare wheel from Mr. Cornell’s Chevy when they searched the barn. Doc Leipheimer informed Sheriff Chandler that the old man’s arthritis was so bad that he couldn’t never have changed no wheel. That’s when the Sheriff’s imagination took over, but there weren’t no stopping him till he’d convinced the district attorney that he’d uncovered the whole plot.

    The papers were full of the story of the trial of Leonard County’s most prolific serial killer. How I’d killed Nancy and Jim to be with Amy, how I’d killed Amy’s folks and married her to get the farm, then killed Amy and Marty when I’d found out ‘bout their affair. Heck, I even got done for old Ned. And now they’re gonna strap me in a chair and kill me too, and that definit’ly ain’t gonna be no accident.

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