The Accident

A death occurred in the small town of Pinkerton, Texas on October 16th 1952. William Carver, a longtime resident, was found dead at the edge of his property with injuries that appeared to be the result of an attack. Walter A. Lunden, a man new to the town, was arrested under suspicion of murder. He calmly surrendered himself to the local police, all the while stating that he was innocent. Once he arrived, he was immediately questioned by two separate deputies. After the second was done he led Walter to a small room at the end of a hall with one window and nothing but a table and two chairs in the center of the room. There, Lunden waited for three hours until the town sheriff J.R. Riley entered the room.

“So Mr. umm…Lunden? I’d like to ask you a few questions about what happened this morning.”

Walter rubbed at the indentations the handcuffs had left in his wrists and offered no response.

“We’ll get to exactly how and why you murdered Mr. Carver in a moment, but first I’d like to start with what you’re doing in my town.”

“I didn’t murder anybody.” Walter kept his gaze directed at his wrists.

“Why won’t you look up? Now, I don’t trust people who can’t look me in the eyes. How about you Buddy?”

Buddy was yet another deputy who, up until this point, hadn’t said a word to Walter. He’d just sipped from his cup and stared at him from the corner of the room, removing his glance only to look down as he stirred his coffee and replied, “No sir I don’t.”

“I didn’t murder anybody!”

“Then whatcha’ here for?

“My wife and I were supposed to vacation at the cabin we rented from the Marshells, and she had to come two days earlier than me because I was called back to work. When I arrived yesterday I found a note saying that she was contemplating leaving me and needed some time to think alone.”

“Why’d she leave you?”

“She hasn’t left me yet.”

“Sure, she hasn’t been around for you to see her leave, but not showing up’s the same thing isn’t it?”

“I suppose.”

“That must have made you extremely angry.”

“More sad than angry.”

“Whatever the emotion, why take it out on Mr. Carver?”

“That was an accident.”

The sheriff noticed that Walter’s voice cracked a bit when he answered.

“Well explain how you accidentally nearly cut a man’s head clean in half.”

“I was trying to chop down a tree.”

“Well you sure missed your mark now didn’t ya? By about 30 yards or so?” He paused. “Why were you trying to chop down one of the Marshell’s trees?”

“I was drunk and angry, and I wanted to put a hole in that tree as big as the hole my wife had left in me.”

“But the hole ended up in Mr. Carvers skull.”

“The axe handle slipped out of my hand when I swung it at the tree and Mr. Carver happened to be in the path.”

“Wrong place, wrong time huh?”

“It would appear so…for both of us.”

The sheriff looked skeptically at Walter, confused by his calm demeanor. Walter didn’t really seem nervous at all.

“Did you know Mr. Carver?”

“No.”

“You’d never met him at any point in your life?”

“No, I’d only been in town the one night.”

‘You’d never had any disagreements with him?”

“I told you I’d never met him.”

“So you’d never spoken to the man or had any quarrel with him?”

“No sir.”

“Must be angry with a man to take a hatchet to him, don’t you?”

“It was an axe -”

“An accident! That’s what I’d bet happened. Heat of the moment sort of thing. Maybe you just meant to scare him and it went too far.”

“No sir. I had no reason to.”

“You had to have some sort of reason. You don’t seem psychotic to me. He don’t seem psychotic to you does he Buddy?”

“No sir, he doesn’t.”

“See, Buddy doesn’t think so either, and Buddy has one hell of a nose for how people’s minds work, don’t you Buddy?”

“Yes sir, I do.”

“So if you’re not a psycho then it would stand to reason that you had a damn good motivation to kill that man and I’d be willing to bet that once I found out why, that I’d side with ya. I may be sworn to uphold a certain set of rules and regulations, but I am not naïve enough to believe that there aren’t often times extenuating circumstances.”

“Extenu-”

“Extenuating circumstances, that’s right. You know what that means son? It means when there are factors in a crime that make it less deviant in its nature. Something that diminishes the criminal intent… and without intent, Mr. Lunden, there’s no crime.”

“Good ‘cause there wasn’t any intent -”

“Now that’s not to say that I don’t believe you meant to kill him when you did…but any information about what lead up to that point could greatly reduce your punishment. People do things when enraged that they wouldn’t do otherwise. Crimes of passion for example… Had your wife ever met Mr. Carver?”

“Not to my knowledge.”

“Well, the thing is, is that Mr. Carver was a single man, but when they found him there was red lipstick smeared on his bottom lip and chin. Does your wife wear lipstick”

“On occasion, and if it were her lipstick then I wouldn’t have any knowledge of it and I doubt she’d leave me for some old man she’d only known for a day or two.”

“So the fact that one’s dead and the other missing doesn’t seem odd to you?”

“She’s not missing if no one’s looking for her. She knows where she’s at because she’s there. That’s not missing.”

The sheriff took out another piece of paper.

“This is a letter from the owner of the food market that says that he witnessed your wife buying two bags worth of groceries at around 4:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon. You say you arrived at 5:00 p.m. So why was she buying food if she didn’t plan on cooking for you?”

“I couldn’t answer that. She didn’t leave the grocery list with the note.”

“Look son, don’t be a smart ass now. I’m trying to help you. I just need to know everything that happened.”

“Well I already told you what happened.”

“Not all of it I’d bet.”

The sheriff paused and looked straight into Walter’s eyes. They were void of any emotion, empty almost. He’d seen these sorts of eyes before. Once in a man’s eyes after he found that his family had just been killed by a tornado and the other in the eyes of a man who’d lost his mind and killed three relatives. He just had to decide which Walter was, distraught over the day’s events or just a coldblooded murderer. Walter had a good poker face. So the sheriff continued.

“Hell, I don’t expect people to be completely honest with me when we first meet. I don’t blame them. They’re nervous, they’re scared, and the bad part is that truthfully they should be, and they know it. Worse than that, they don’t know me from a bean in Colombia and it’s quite natural to hold back details from a stranger. When you first meet someone you don’t tell ‘em your middle name, do ya?”

“Listen sir, I didn’t know the man, nor did I plan to kill him, nor did I mean to kill him when I did. It was an acc -”

“It was an axe all right, there’s no doubt about that. It was the intention behind that axe’s trajectory that’s in question.”

There was a long stagnant pause, broken only by the sound of Buddy sipping at his coffee.

“I had no intentions of causing harm to anybody. I didn’t know him. I didn’t even know anyone lived over there. I didn’t know that the Marshell’s property bordered his. And I especially couldn’t have known that he’d be that close to the edge of his lot”

“Unless, maybe someone had asked him to meet there…a woman maybe? A woman who enjoyed cooking? We found quite a meal prepared over at Ol’ man Carvers. A meal I’m sure he wasn’t the preparer of since the man et down at the tavern just about every night for 10 years.”

He looked deeply into Lunden’s eyes. He couldn’t get a read on him.

“We’ll get back to that later…So you hadn’t heard of Mr. Carver before you killed him?”

“Well yes sir, I overheard some men speaking about Mr. Carver down at the pub last night.”

“And what’d they tell you?”

Walter smirked as he stared into the sheriff’s eyes. “I said I overheard them…I was sitting by myself at the bar and they were sitting two tables down.”

“And…”

“And they said he was a mean old bastard that used to beat on his wife and kids till they ran off.”

“What else did they say?”

“Just that he had a big ol’ piece of property and he barely ever came off it but for hunting supplies.”

“Well maybe that’s how you heard about the where he lived…and the money.”

“What money?”

“Mr. Carver’s fabled fortune. Maybe they told you, or just maybe you knew about it before you rented the cabin.”

“They never mentioned it, and I’ve told you a thousand times that I had no previous knowledge of Mr. Carver.”

“Then how’d you know about the money?”

“How could I know about it?”

“That’s not an answer Mr. Lunden.”

“I didn’t, and how could I? We weren’t relation and I’m not from around here. So how would I know? Besides, I come from a family with money. Why would I need to murder someone to get it?”

“I don’t know Mr. Lunden. I’m just trying to figure out why you murdered him.”

“I swear to you sir, it was an accident.”

“Would you swear it to God?”

“I would, but I’m not a believer, so it wouldn’t carry no more weight.”

“He don’t believe in God! Now I don’t trust people who ain’t Christian. How about you Buddy?”

“No sir, I don’t.”

At this point the sheriff sat down with a groan, pulled some reading glasses from his chest pocket, and began to read the contents from inside a manila folder aloud.

“I, Ronald W. Carver, am a man with many regrets. I have lived for myself and myself only, and have placed many burdens on those who’ve had the misfortune of having their stars cross with mine. I was born a son of a bitch and that’s how I’ll die. To my knowledge both my wife Hazel and my son Enoch died during the pox outbreak of aught twelve. I have lived alone since well before that and have lived the same way ever since. I’ve accumulated a good amount of money throughout the years. All honest work, never a sneak thief or anything of the like.

It has long been rumored that I have a large sum of money hidden on my estate and I tell you now that these claims are true. I’ve lived on little since a child so doing so once money was readily available was only natural. I’ve saved every penny that weren’t necessary for my survival for the past thirty-years at an average of twelve hundred dollars per month. The sum total is 432,000 dollars over that period. I have no need for such wealth, but assume that others may. What’s done with it is up to the town to vote on. If a concessus cannot be reached before my burial than the money will be buried with me. The needs of the community should be obvious and little worth bickering over. I have a map drawn to the location which accompanies this will and hope that my cantankerous behavior over the past can somehow be assuaged by this donation. Now I go to meet my wife and child and pray that they know my face and forgive my transgressions.”

Walter’s eyes swung back and forth from the sheriff to Buddy who winked at Walter once the sheriff was done reading.

“We have a problem Mr. Lunden. A problem I’d bet you could help us out with. The map that accompanied the will, well strangely enough it was missing.”

“Well I don’t have it.”

“I’m sure you don’t. Why keep it around once you’ve found the money?”

“I didn’t murder Mr. Carver and I didn’t steal his money! Maybe he’d decided to bury it somewhere else and taken the map to change it. I don’t know anything about the man’s dealings with his own will.”

“Who said it was buried?”

“Well…I just assumed since he had so much property…I didn’t think he’d keep it in his house.

“The will said his estate. That would include his home. Could’ve been sitting under his bed this whole time.”

“Then why would he draw a map to his own damned bed? He’s got acres of land to bury something on. It only makes sense.”

“Maybe the will’s missing because some seductress talked him out of it?”

“That’d have nothing to do with me sir.”

“Unless you were in cahoots with this seductress, say your wife?”

“If he gave it to her then I’m sure that I won’t see a penny of it now that she’s left me.”

“Well once we find her we’ll ask her side of it.”

“I’d like to know some of those details as well.”

The Sheriff dropped the papers he was holding, wiped some sweat from his brow with a red bandana and returned it to his back pocket.

“What would you see done with the money Mr. Lunden?”

“I thought it was missing?”

“No, I said the map was missing.”

“Same difference.”

“Not quite,” he looked back at Buddy still in standing in the corner. “So what would you do with the money Mr. Lunden?”

“I don’t know. Like I said, I don’t need any money so I’d have no use for it.”

“So you’d just let it sit around collecting dust? Couldn’t find any good use for it?”

“I guess I’d donate it to an orphanage or the like.”

“A Church led organization.  I thought you said you didn’t believe in God.”

“Doesn’t mean I don’t believe in putting food in the bellies of some orphans. I was an orphan for a period of time and that’s no way to spend a childhood.

The sheriff stood up and walked over to Buddy, whispered something in his ear and excused himself from the room.

Buddy nodded and kept his eyes down as he stirred his coffee. He raised his head to look out of the room’s lone window, then turned and caught eyes with Walter for a second. Suddenly, he formed a Cheshire cat-like smile and said, “I’dda done it too.”

The sheriff returned a few minutes later and explained that the death was still under investigation, but that they would allow Walter to leave as long as he stayed in town to which Walter agreed. The sheriff sent him out to fill out paperwork and his release papers, and sat down on the edge of the table.

“He seems like an honest enough fella, don’t he Buddy.”

“Well he don’t seem nervous like most guilty people.”

“You’re right, he sure is calm. He’s too damn calm. Hell, he just killed a man. If you ask me he’s lying through his goddamn teeth Buddy. His story don’t add up. Who drinks all evening and all night and is aware and awake at 7:00 a.m.? He said he came from money, then he said he had been an orphan. Wife left him after buying groceries? The meal set up at Carvers? I don’t know Buddy… I don’t know how much longer I can do this. I’m starting to question every story that anyone tells me. Everyone I see is just a suspect to a crime I haven’t discovered yet. I don’t want to see life through this lens anymore. After this case I may retire and get that ranch me and Ida had always wanted.”

The sheriff stood up and walked to the door and stopped as he passed Buddy.

“You don’t do nothing else in your life, you do this. As long as you’re a man of the law, you search and you search until you find someone who you can trust with anything. Find someone whose eyes you can look into and know for a fact that they aren’t some cold blooded fucking killer. I had Ida but now she’s gone.” The sheriff took a few steps out the door and turned back to Buddy. “I even wonder about you sometimes.”

Walter walked down the road that led to the pub. He turned at a side street that he’d previously discovered as a shortcut that led around behind the pub. As he rounded the corner a large van partially blocked his path. He used it to block the wind so he could light a cigarette and knocked on the window as he passed.

“I don’t think you’re allowed to park here ma’am.”

A very pretty woman with bright red lipstick stuck her head full of blonde hair out of the window till they were almost nose to nose.

“I’ll park wherever the hell I feel like it and ain’t no man on God’s green earth is gonna tell me-”

She was cut off as Walter grabbed her by the head and kissed her so hard their skin stuck a bit as they pulled apart leaving a smudge of lipstick on his bottom lip.

“This sheriff ain’t as dumb as he looks. I’ll be in the bar. Best to get you outta town, they’re looking for ya. Best to keep that wig and glasses on until you hit the state line. Looks like I’ll be staying a little while longer.”

“Why? What’s going on?”

“He had a will…said where he’d hidden his money.”

The woman’s face turned a red similar to crimson. “He’s a lonely old man, you say. He doesn’t have anyone to leave his money to so he doesn’t have a will, you say. You dumb shit.”

Walter grabbed her again, but this time with less sexual arousal and more harmful intent. “You shut your mouth,” he said “Now get this van the hell out of town and I’ll call you when this shit simmers down. I’ve got everythin’ under control. I’m ten times smarter than these dummies, but cruising around showing off that unfamiliar face in this small town ain’t gonna cause nothing but trouble.”

The woman rubbed her head near her temples and wiped the opposite side of her face around the cheekbone. It could’ve been to pull back her bangs or to wipe away a tear. She sped off, leaving Walter in a cloud of dust that might as well have been a slap in the face, out of town in a minivan carrying a dirty shovel, a pair of men’s clothing covered in blood, and three suitcases filled completely full with cash and coins.

Meanwhile up on the road facing the front-side of the bar, the Sheriff stared down at the corner waiting to see Walter come around the other side. The Sheriff was curious why he was taking so long. Was Lunden sitting there crying knowing the sherrif was on his tail? Was he thinking of his next move? Retracing his steps to make sure he hadn’t missed any clues?

The Sheriff’s vision of the bar was obstructed abruptly by a beautiful blonde in a van with a painting of fruit on the side and handwritten letters that read Peggy’s Produce. The Sheriff tipped his cap to the lady as she passed him and drove off out of town. He looked back to the bar and saw Walter stepping around the corner and inside.

The reflection of Walter talking to himself as he entered the bar pranced across the Sheriff’s dark sunglasses.

The Sheriff looked into his rear-view mirror at the dust cloud that had arisen and suddenly he thought of the pretty women who’d just passed in the produce van and that bright red lipstick she was wearing. A sly smile crept across his pockmarked face as he reached for the gear shift and pulled it down into reverse.

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