Summer of The I-40 Killer Chpt 4

The first light of day broke pale blue then violet over the North Canadian River bottom.  A chorus of bird song took up where the frogs left off against a melody of coursing water and the maddening rhythm of cicadas.

Up past my knees in the rich sandy soil, I stopped only to drink from my canteen.  By nine a.m. golden morning had already blanched to a scorching lemon tinged glare.  My leather gloves were soaked with sweat, and my body, caked with earthy grit.  I needed to finish soon.  The mosquito repellent was wearing off.   

By ten I was satisfied with the depth, chest high, almost too deep.  It took me two tries to get out as the soft earth at the edge cascaded into the hole and tried to take me with it.

I left the shovel under a mound of honeysuckle near the pile of rocks I’d collected and hiked through the buzzing, crawling undergrowth to the abandoned oil field road where I’d parked the car.  Few people came out this way in the daytime and those who did weren’t prone to asking questions.  Washed out dirt tracks snaked all over this area.  Just south of me lay a graveyard of bullet riddled appliances, discarded furniture and stripped vehicles.  

It’s fair to say I’m not the only one who ever dug a grave out there.  

I drove home awash in the warm contentment that came from physical labor.  All I had to do now was present an opportunity that didn’t look contrived, no doors or windows left ajar.  Best case scenario, I’d set my trap and catch him alone with a .22 short in the base of the skull.  Just a tiny pop.  He’d never see it coming and the neighbors would barely miss a beat.  I guessed his companion would wait a day or two, maybe a week before moving on.  If not, I might have to go after her. 

The apartment complex was an old extended family homestead, now a collection of small houses divided into efficiency apartments around a large gravelled courtyard that served as parking.  My apartment was in a shotgun duplex, the adjoining unit, empty.  Their’s was the ground floor of a two-story cinder block building.  A young couple with a passion for liquor and loud arguments lived upstairs.  Timing to avoid drawing attention would be key.  Casement windows are hard to jimmy, but I was fairly certain I could pick the deadbolt if it came to that.

So I watched him watching me.  I went about my daily routine but I slept every night in an armchair around the corner from my unlocked back door, a .22 revolver in my hand.  Days went by. 

I wondered if  I should try a more direct approach.  I wondered if that was what he was counting on. 

I took a chance and left the back door cracked and took my position in the chair.

Hours later, somewhere not too far away, someone was screaming in my dreams.  I bolted to my feet before I could see and stumbled to the door, alarmed at how deeply asleep I felt. 

The lights were on in the upstairs apartment across the courtyard.  Two figures were backlit in the open door, struggling with each other.  One of them swung, the other pitched down the stairs. 

Before I could think to react, red and blues were sweeping across the walls, then blinding me with their strobing brilliance as two squad cars pulled up.

Nothing more would happen now.  I eased the door closed, locked it and went to bed.

The next morning, the van was gone.  I never saw it again. 

I had the same feeling I get when I see a photograph of some who’s died.  Something intangible was missing, but I waited two days before I broke into the apartment, just to be sure.  They left nothing personal, bills and a Bible in the name of Kenneth Palmer.  Reverend Kenneth Palmer. 

Even now, it bothers me.   I look twice every time I see a white Chevy van.  I wonder who else they’ve killed, what I might have done to stop them, if they’ll come back for me.  The only thing I’m sure of is, that man was no preacher.

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