The Bigger They Come When Farmer Tom is brutally murdered, his best friend seeks justice.

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Jun 1, 2018 No Comments ›› admin

FICTION
By Lynn Woolley

Editor’s note:  At the time I wrote this mid-70’s story, I enjoyed creating a narrative, packing it with subtle clues, and setting up a surprise ending that wouldn’t be revealed until the final sentence. I’m sure you’ll see this one coming way before you reach the end!

What would you do if you were a witness to your best friend’s murder? Investigate the case yourself? Try to block it out of your mind? How well I remember when I found myself in that very situation.

It all happened on the small farm where Tom Masters and I lived and worked the land. We both enjoyed the rural life – the quietness of the country, the privacy, and the feeling of independence. We didn’t have a lot of land, but it was enough to get by. We usually planted a few rows of corn, and Tom kept a small vegetable garden behind the house. He also kept a few chickens around for eggs and an occasional barbeque, and only rarely did we have to make the twenty-mile drive into Cedar Falls for supplies. Tom didn’t have many friends, though he did drop in on Sheriff Culbertson when he went to town. Yes, it was pretty quiet out in our neck of the woods, so you can understand why I was surprised one day to hear startled voices leaking from the farmhouse.

At first, I was excited about the prospect of having company for a change, but as I drew closer, I could tell that the conservation wasn’t friendly. I could hear Tom, and also the voice of what sounded like a very large man.

Old farmhouse Williston North Dakota (Jeff Swan)

“You should learn to mind your own business!” thundered the deep bass voice.

“Claude! Please!”

Claude? I recognized the name, and suddenly got a sinking feeling. If Tom was in there with our nearest neighbor, Claude Meeker, he just could be in real trouble. I had only seen Meeker a couple of times, but I remembered well how awesome-looking he was. To say that he was six foot six, and weighed close to 280 pounds seemed totally inadequate as a description. There was always a twisted frown on the man’s face and a devilish look in his eye that made him seem as dangerous as a coiled rattlesnake.

Meeker kept on talking without saying anything, as I crept beneath a window where I could better hear. Suddenly the oration was accompanied by a hard, rhythmic pounding, and in my mind’s eye, I could see Claude Meeker’s giant right hand folding into a massive fist, and coming down hard on the kitchen table.

I kept wondering what he wanted from Tom. Only the two of them knew, but Tom was willing to trade whatever it was for a chance to go on living.

“Claude, don’t do something you’ll regret. I’ll give you the envelope. It’s over there – in that bottom drawer.”

I heard a rustling sound as if Meeker was moving across the room and going through the drawer. Then, the drawer was slammed shut as if the giant hand had found what it wanted.
Tom refused to beg for his life, even though it was clear to me by this time that he was being held at gunpoint. It was also obvious that Tom was no longer concerned about the contents of the envelope.

“That’s it, Claude. Go on – open it. Everything you want is in there.”

There was an uneasy silence as Meeker ripped open that folder. My heart stopped beating; it was like the calm before the storm. Meeker broke the silence with a grim laugh.

“It’s here all right,” he said.

Then a shot rang out. I heard the sound of a body falling onto a wooden floor. More sounds. Footsteps. A door opening…closing. A car starting. My heart beating like a trip hammer. I could sit still no longer.

I made a mad dash around the corner of the house, and found myself squarely in front of the car. It was Meeker all right; a smoking .38 still in his hand. He held that pistol out of the window, aiming as best he could from an already moving vehicle. The screeching tires sounded a warning like a red alert board ship, and somehow, I was able to avoid the bullets. A dozen heartbeats later, Meeker was gone. I thought about Tom.

I had trouble forcing myself to enter the house, because I knew that Meeker was too thorough to leave a job half done. The scene I found on the kitchen floor was actually worse than imagined. There was Tom – my best friend – lying on his back in a small pool of blood with a bullet hole in his head.

It was a while before I could think clearly again, but even then I didn’t know what to do. Tom and I had no telephone on the farm; there were no neighbors other than Meeker; and I couldn’t drive Tom’s old pickup. I took some comfort in the knowledge that Tom had planned a trip into Cedar Falls that week. I thought maybe somebody would miss him, and drive out to the farm to check. In the meantime, I decided to bury my grief, and go look for evidence that might convict Meeker of the murder. I began the mission the next day.

It was quite a distance to the Meeker place, but the thought of getting my paws on something that would hang the man drove me onward. Most of the way was farmland, but for a short stretch before the end of my journey, there was some woodland, and a meandering creek a couple of feet deep. The stream snaked its way though some brush, and under a bridge on the road. I didn’t follow the creek that far, because I wanted to approach the house from behind.

A few minutes after I forded the creek, the Meeker place came into view. I surveyed the situation from behind an oak tree that was a good distance from the house. I noticed a barn a couple of hundred feet away, and a rather stout woman (who must’ve been Meeker’s wife) hanging out clothes, and mumbling something I couldn’t decipher at the distance. Meeker himself was nowhere in sight, so I decided to make a try for the house.

My best bet seemed to be a picket fence that surrounded the back yard. There was a row of shrubs not far from the oak tree, and I used them to sneak my way to the fence.

It was easier than I expected. I made it to the fence, scurried through a gate that someone had left open, and entered the house while Mrs. Meeker was still putting clothes on the line at the far end of the yard. I breathed a sigh of relief, and then began looking for my evidence.

It was a modest farmhouse – better than our own to be sure – but still, nothing fancy. I did notice that the furnishings were quite nice: a new color television set, a new bed and dresser – the bed was even king sized to accommodate Meeker’s huge frame. I went from room to room, even checking closets when I could, but I found nothing to link Meeker to Tom’s death. About that time, I heard a noise, and I remembered Mrs. Meeker.

I made a run for the back porch and hid behind an old dresser that must have occupied the bedroom until the new furniture arrived. I made it just in time to avoid being seen by the woman who had just finished her chore, and was about to enter the house. She was still muttering to herself in a voice almost as gruff as her husband’s. I was within earshot this time, and I could tell that she was impatiently awaiting the arrival of her new electric clothes dryer.

When she was safely inside the house, I bolted out the door, through the open gate, and back to my hiding place beneath the oak. I ran so hard that my tongue was literally hanging out of my mouth. In a moment, I was rested. I collected my thoughts, and decided to take a peek inside the barn.

This time, the investigation was a bit easier since there was no woman to worry about. The door was cracked, and I cautiously slipped inside.

The first thing I noticed was a monstrosity that appeared to be a huge machine. It was covered by a big plastic drape, so I couldn’t tell much about it.

I continued to explore the barn, until suddenly I saw what I was searching for. On a table over behind the covered machine lay the envelope that Meeker had wanted so badly that he would kill for it. I examined the package, and was satisfied with it. I turned and headed for the exit.

My escape didn’t go according to plan. As I reached the door, a shadow fell over me, and I fond myself face to face with the murderer.

He came toward me like a juggernaut, swinging one fist, and grabbing for the all-important envelope with the other. I was smaller, but much more agile. Even so, I felt lucky to get past the giant, and reach open spaces. I ran, expecting to hear gunshots. The gunshot came all right, but by that time, I was too far away. I kept running.

At last, I was home, but the thought persisted that Claude Meeker would soon come calling. Sure enough, there was a car in the driveway, but it turned out to be a patrol car belonging to Sheriff Culbertson. My relief was great. The Sheriff must have missed Tom’s visit to town as I had hoped.

I approached the Sheriff and presented him with the folder containing my precious evidence. Before he could examine its contents, another car came speeding up the road.

This time it was Claude Meeker. When he noticed the Sheriff’s car, he screeched to a halt, made a hasty U-turn, and retreated back down the road.

“Luke, you’d better chase him down!” the Sheriff instructed. “I’ll stay here and see about Tom.”
The deputy started the patrol car, at the same time radioing for some assistance. Then, he sped off in the same direction Meeker had gone, while Sheriff Culbertson went into the house where Tom’s body still lay.

The lawman stopped over the inert form.

“Dead,” he muttered. “I was afraid of this when he failed to keep our appointment.”

That was when I realized that Tom had been working with the Sheriff to develop some kind of case against Meeker. I still wasn’t sure what kind of case it was. About that time two cars pulled up in front of the house. It was Luke, with a second deputy, and Claude Meeker, wearing a pair of cuffs.

Sheriff Culbertson’s grief at Tom’s passing was tempered somewhat at seeing the guilty man in custody. He gazed inside the envelope, and then waved it in front of the captive.

“This is all we need to shut down your printing press, Meeker. I knew we’d get you on the counterfeiting charge, but I never thought there’d be a murder rap too.”

Meeker was silent like a dormant volcano; only this time, he couldn’t erupt.

Luke, and that other deputy, and the Sheriff began discussing how they were going to take Meeker into town, and notify the nearest special agent of the FBI, and have Tom’s corpse taken care of. They were so wrapped up in all the details that I thought they had forgotten all about me.

But just then, the Sheriff walked over and gave me a pat on the head.

“Good boy,” he said. “Tom would’ve been proud of you.”

Then he put me in the car, and promised to take me to town and find me a good home.

THE END

© 2018 by Lynn Woolley. All rights reserved.

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