The Perfect Murder
The murder was perfect.
The murder was perfect.
The man dangled from the tree, his body twisting in the fierce wind. Thunder cracked — an ominous portent of the coming storm.
I planned for the storm.
I planned for everything.
Guy’s depressed, goes camping thinking, yeah, nature will lift his spirits, but sometime between setting up camp and catching trout for dinner, he realizes what an asshole he is, and says, fuck it, I don’t want to live.
Least that was the scenario I presented to the wife who wanted her cheatin’ hubby dead.
It was the best goddamned murder I’d ever committed.
Too bad I killed the wrong guy.
I had a description, an old fishing photo, and the location. It wasn’t like I memorized his face. This isn’t a slick Hollywood movie where a picture of perfectly posed actor is given to the hitman with exact instructions. This is reality. Reality is messy, imperfect, and, more often than not, surprising. The guy was supposed to be tall with shaggy dark hair and, most important, he was supposed to be at Campsite #5 near the creek.
It’s not that I’m sloppy or that I don’t care about my work. It’s just…okay, okay. I made some assumptions and fucked up. It was the hiking boot that tipped me off. The left shoe had a six-inch thick sole and the right one was a regular sole. This guy was a gimp. My guy wasn’t. Unfortunately, I made this discovery after I killed him.
If I believed every whining jerk-off who’d said, “You got the wrong guy,” I wouldn’t have a single kill on my record. How the hell was I supposed to know that this time, this one fucking time, the guy was telling the truth? Before I snapped his neck, he’d babbled about switching campsites. Apparently Dickwad Hubby traded a prime spot by the creek for a crappy little space deeper in the woods.
I’m lean and muscled, but it took some effort to pull the corpse up the tree. And I had to climb it first and make sure I didn’t break my own neck by falling out of it. The rope creaked as wind gusted around the body. Some early morning hiker would discover this poor bastard, then scream or faint, and nearby campers, including me, would run to the scene, gasp in awed disgust, then talk in hushed voices about the tragedy of suicide.
I started down the well-worn path just as the rain started to pound. Beautiful, cold, virginal rain, sweeping away minute evidence that might…might…implicate homicide instead of suicide.
Death isn’t cheap and I sure as hell I don’t kill for free. I’m pissed about the guy I just did. No compensation. Might have to forfeit the other half of my fee just to keep the customer happy. She was expecting an early morning phone call from the police. Instead, she’d have to put on a happy face for the husband she hates. I’d have to start all over now. One freebie and one half-price.
What a shitty night.
* * *
The screams reminded me of Jamie Lee Curtis’s blood-curling cries in Halloween. Now that woman knew how to scream. So did this one. In fact, if she didn’t shut up soon, I’d have to kill her.
I pull on a sweatshirt and jeans then push aside the tent flap and crawl out. I’d picked a site near other campers. The idea was to come together in surprised camaraderie and, if necessary, vouch for each other’s whereabouts. I’d made damned sure the night before my neighbors knew I was going to bed at 9 p.m. I stuffed pillows in my sleeping bag and played a tape of snores, snorts, and coughs.
The first person I see is the blonde ninny who’s spent the last two days whining about her boyfriend. She looks puffy-faced, but alert. I smile, fix a puzzled expression on my face, and ask, “What the hell was that?”
“I dunno. Scared the piss out of me, though.” She lights up a cigarette, sucks on it, then blows smoke upward. I appreciate the attempt to divert the smoke somewhere other than my face, but I still get a big whiff of ashy air. I don’t understand why people choose to kill themselves slowly with smoking and drinking and drugging. Why not put a bullet in the brain? Quick and painless and helluva lot cheaper.
Another camper, a big guy with a red beard and sleep creases on his right cheek, joined us. “Someone go for a shit and get bit by a snake?”
Blondie and I laugh, then we all talk some more. The inanity of conversation about fishing and camping and last night’s storm tears at my composure. Crap like this is why I don’t mind killing people. Most of ’em are boring and stupid.
After a few minutes, two men supporting a woman between them come over the hill. Jackpot. The woman is one of my camping neighbors. She’s a thin-faced granny who likes to power walk. She looks pale and she’s crying. The men, an older guy who I think is her husband and a younger one who might be Blondie’s boyfriend, console her.
It’s not long before the story is told. Claire, the power-walking granny, discovered a body hanging from a tree.
Suicide. That nice young man from the campsite near the creek. Hadn’t they just talked to him? Yes, he did seem a little depressed and preoccupied. What a tragedy. If only they’d recognized the signs. Why hadn’t they invited him for dinner? Oh his poor mother. Thank God he wasn’t married.
Red Beard, Blondie, and I go take a look. My handiwork looks good in the sunlight. I shake my head. The perfect murder wasted on a guy who didn’t deserve it. Well, maybe he did. But I wasn’t paid to do it and that chaps my ass. No money for services rendered.
Someone gets a ranger from the visitor’s center, who calls the police, and soon people in uniforms and suits are all over the place. Everyone gets questioned, but it’s obvious to me they’re going through the motions. The questions are routine. Did anyone talk to him? Did anyone see him leave? Did anyone hear or see anything suspicious?
No, no, and no, because I did my job right.
Finally the cops leave. Claire and her hubby pack up their camper and drive it out of the area. Blondie fights with her boyfriend because she doesn’t want to be near any place where someone died, then goes off in a crying, stomping fit because he refuses to cave into her demands. Red Beard takes a fishing pole and a cooler of beer to the creek.
I’m curious about my mark. Despite the hullabaloo, he hasn’t made an appearance. I go to the visitor’s center and claim I found a fisherman’s jacket near the creek. I describe my guy to the perky little junior ranger behind the counter. Luckily, she remembers him and tells me how to get to his campsite. It’s not far from my own. I grab my jacket from the tent and hike through a grove of trees. I don’t like meeting my marks, but sometimes it’s necessary. Like I said, people are stupid. They think because they talk to someone once or twice, they know all about ’em. That kind of familiarity, the “Oh yeah, I remember you, wow, isn’t this a coincidence?” has worked to my advantage a number of times.
I see a beat-up truck parked near the fire grate. On the opposite side is a one-man tent. It’s green and ratty and droops in the middle. As I edge toward the tent, I step on a twig and the snap echoes in the stillness. No wind. No twittering birds. No scurrying wild life.
I know this kind of silence.
“Hey, mister? Sorry to wake you, but I found your jacket.”
My voice is loud and intrusive, but nothing stirs. My heart kicks up a notch. I haven’t felt fear in a long time. There’s no point to being afraid. All it does is screw up your thinking, your control. But a cold creepy feeling slithers up my spine nonetheless.
Fuck this. I stomp toward the tent and yank open the flap. “I found your — ”
Dickwad Hubby is splayed against a sleeping bag.
Well, I’ll be damned.
Stupid prick shot himself.
Sometimes I wish I could give courses in Proper Suicide Techniques. Always put the barrel in your mouth. No getting out of it that way. No grazing the brain, no accidentally missing, and no goddamned chickening out.
I back out of the tent and start screaming. It doesn’t take long for people to run through the trees and find me, horrified, pointing to the tent with a shaking hand.
“I thought — his jacket — ” I hold up the coat and burst into tears.
Red Beard arrives, takes a gander inside the tent, and puts his arm around me. “It’s okay, honey. Sssshhhh.”
“Rebecca,” I said through my tears. My voice is trembling. “Please, call me Becky.”
“Two suicides? What the fuck is going on?” Blondie’s boyfriend looks around, obviously unnerved. What? He thinks the suicide fairy is granting wishes?
“This place is cursed,” said Blondie. “Joe, I want to go home right now.”
Joe nods. “Yeah, babe. Sure.”
* * *
The police take longer this time. Yeah, they’re suspicious of two suicides less than a half mile apart, but they can’t find any evidence supporting foul play. Three different detectives ask me the same questions, but my story doesn’t change. Sometimes, I tear up just for effect. Being a woman really has its advantages. Whether or not men like to admit it, a crying female affects them.
It’s past dinnertime when the cops finally leave again. The campground is closed. People who aren’t going home are reassigned sites in other areas. I pack up my tent and prepare to leave.
Red Beard appears and gives me his phone number. “In case you need to talk,” he said. The lecherous glint in his eye tells me he’d like to do more than just talk.
“Thanks. I’d love to have coffee sometime.” Yeah, right. I climb into my SUV, wave bye, and get the hell out of Dodge.
As soon as I hit the highway, I get out the burner cell and call the wife.
“I thought he was supposed to hang himself,” she said.
“The bullet did the trick, didn’t it?”
“Look, I heard the news. There was another suicide in the same area. A hanging. Isn’t that a coincidence?”
I didn’t respond. People hate silence. It makes them nervous, so they fill it up with words.
“I mean, right!?” she said. “Two guys offing themselves. Or whatever. I’m just trying to get my money’s worth.”
“You did. Your husband is dead.”
She huffed. “Fine! You’ll get the rest of your goddamned money.” She must have remembered she was talking to an assassin because she added, “I’m sorry. It’s just…I’m stressed. This whole situation is — ”
“Yeah, yeah, it’s a terrible thing. You know what to do.” I ended the call. Then I rolled down the window and tossed the burner phone into oncoming traffic.
All in all, it worked out. The mark’s dead. I’m getting my full fee. And I have whole week’s vacation before my next job.
Some days, it just feels good to be alive.