Karma takes care of what the law does not.
It should be noted that Matthew never intended to become what it is he became. It was just one of those things that happened, an evolution of sorts. Oh sure, he did it the first time just to see what it would be like. After that, well, he just got better and better.
People say to forget the past, to keep it where it belongs—which is to say in the past— and just move on. Countless self-help books, along with many so-called professionals and people who just mean well, confidently assert cleverisms such as “our future does not depend on our past” or “your past does not define you or your future.” But sometimes, the past can do just that, and quite subtly too. Other times, it defines our present and, in Matthew’s case, the present is quite terrifying.
Would he actually go through with it? He really did not know, but he was certainly eager to find out. And so, here he sat. Waiting. Patiently.
The one hundred and eighteen car train led by four diesel electric engines traveled along the steel rails, making its way through central South Carolina. After lumbering through the small town of Chapin, the variable frequency drive system increased the speed of the metal mechanical centipede as it traveled though Irmo.
It was somewhere between 11:15 and 11:30pm. He had last checked the time when he glanced at his watch at 11:15 as he sat in the edge of the woods. The passage of time was distorted in his mind. The anticipation was making him very antsy, even nervous, making seconds feel like minutes. Conversely, the excitement had him hyper-alert which was having the opposite effect and making minutes seem like seconds. All he knew was the freight train would cross Rauch-Metze Road somewhere between 11:15 and 11:30. Well, at least he thought it would. He had checked out this site for the last several weeks and found that was the normal time for the train. But this was not Switzerland where renowned Swiss precision had trains on a very precise schedule, down to the minute and, at times, seemingly to the second. He had visited Switzerland for snow skiing several years ago and the train between Zurich and the Swiss Alps was very precise. If the Swiss said a train was going to be somewhere at 6:23, it was indeed going to be there at 6:23, not a minute earlier and not a minute later. Even the trams to the ski areas were precisely and accurately timed.
“Toby! Toby! Toby!” came the taunts in his mind.
He hated that name. During show-and-tell in the second grade, Matt had presented the DVD Toby Tyler to the class. He gave a nice review of the movie, and even said it was one of his favorite movies. Neither of those were a problem. But when he said he wanted to run away and join the circus like Toby did, the class burst out in hysterical laughter. He simply stood there. He turned to the teacher for help, but even Mrs. Palmer was laughing, though she was at least trying to hide it by holding the palm of her hand over her mouth. He first felt the tears streaming down his cheeks, and then he felt something else; the urgent need to urinate. Was he peeing himself in front of the class? He did not know; he only knew it was time to go. Dropping the DVD on the
floor, he ran out of the classroom, struggling with the door as he made his way into the hallway, leaving the laughter behind. He kept running until he reached the bathroom. Fortunately, his pants were dry; he had not yet started peeing. He locked himself in the stall for the next ten minutes until Mr. Lohman, the science teacher in the classroom next to Mrs. Palmer’s room, came into the bathroom to retrieve him. The next day, the kids in the class were referring to him as Toby behind his back, but it only took a matter of days until he was openly referred to as Toby. The name stuck.
“Eat it! Eat it! Eat it!” the taunts continued.
Matthew held the live goldfish between his thumb and forefinger, about six inches above his wide-open mouth. His head was tilted back while the fish dangled in Matthew’s right hand.
“Toby! Toby! Toby!”
It started as a dare. Less than two weeks ago he was dropping the Toby Tyler DVD on the second-grade classroom floor and running out the door, and now, here he was at Susie Hendershot’s birthday party on a Saturday afternoon. Kelly, the cute little brunette with a smattering of freckles on her cheeks, innocently asked Matthew why he wanted to join the circus. He liked her; she was always nice to him. Matthew replied that he liked animals. Teddy Thompson said, “Well, if you like animals, then eat that goldfish. I dare you.”
“I double dare you,” added Fred Miller.
This was a party of course and, being a bit of a loner, it was not often that Matthew was invited to parties. And, he had just been dared, doubled dared. What was he supposed to do? All he really wanted to do was fit in. He was always an outsider; now was his chance to change that. So, to the chorus of “Eat it!” he reached into Susie’s fish bowl and snagged the lone goldfish. At first, he was not sure if he would actually eat it or not, but once the chants of “Toby” began, his mind was made up, and now here he was, holding the wiggling fish above his open mouth. He was going to be a cool guy; he was going to be part of the group. He surely would get some respect for this.
He released the fish and it fell into his mouth, sliding straight down his throat. It was a weird feeling, it almost tickled as the goldfish wiggled all the way down Matthew’s esophagus and into his acid filled stomach where the fish was very short lived.
Susie cried and screamed hysterically. Kelly stared at him in disbelief. Some of the kids were laughing, laughing at him, while others shook their head in dismay. Teddy said, “Wow, what a jerk,” and Fred said, “I can’t believe he did it.”
Mrs. Hendershot called his mother, while Mr. Hendershot promptly loaded Matthew into the car and drove him home without saying a word the entire trip.
Ed Hendershot pulled into the Stockmore’s driveway. Matthew slowly got out of the car, and quietly uttered a single word, “Sorry.”
Frank Stockmore was waiting when his son walked through the door. “You are a real piece of work,” he said as he sat his fifth beer of the afternoon down on the coffee table.
“Frankie, don’t do–”
Frank turned and glared at his wife. Then he pointed at her as he spoke and Katie knew it was going to be an unpleasant evening, “You. Shut. Up. Now.” Pausing for a moment, Frank took a deep breath, and calmly added, “I will take care of you later.” He turned his attention to Matthew.
Matthew did not go to school Monday or Tuesday.
He felt the rumble of the train before he heard it. The memories of second-grade and goldfish and childhood beatings quickly evaporated. His heart rate increased and he quickly got to his knees. Sweat formed on his brow. The steady gentle hum of the engines grew closer. Matthew had read online about the engines. He knew each of the 270,000 horsepower train engines consisted of a large V-12 diesel engine running at a constant speed. Those engines drove an electric generator, with the alternating current output of the generator powering four variable speed electric drive motors. The output of each generator was enough to power approximately 1,000 homes.
The red crossing lights on each side of the tracks began flashing while the bells began simultaneously dinging. The crossing arms lowered as a car came to a stop at the white stripe painted on the southwest side of the tracks and the lead engine came into view. He was on his feet now. The excitement was unreal. The tingling he felt was almost like electricity coursing through his body. Fifteen seconds later the train began crossing Rauch-Metz road.
He wiped the sweat from his face. Reaching into the waistband at the back of his pants, he removed the small Springfield XD sub-compact semi-automatic 9mm pistol. He walked towards the stopped car, approaching diagonally from the left rear of the vehicle. Extending his arm, he held the gun about a half of an inch from the driver’s side window. The driver was oblivious to the figure dressed all in black on the other side of the glass as the gun fired. The sounds of gunshots were mostly drowned out by the clickity-clack of the steel wheels on the steel rails and the screeching of metal on metal as the train made its way past them. Though the gun held thirteen rounds plus one in the chamber, he did not use all of them. He fired five shots through the safety glass of the window into the driver’s head.
Matthew “Toby” Alan Stockmore had just taken a human life. He was now a killer, not only of animals, but of people too.
The train cars kept rolling past while Toby disappeared quietly into the woods.
He was wide awake by 6:15. Matthew was still trying to process things as soon as he had awoken.
Wow! What a rush! What a thrill! He still had a bit of a tingling sensation running through his entire body. He was amazed he was able to sleep at all. He wondered for a moment if last night was even real. Did he do that? Did he really just do that? Wow! He guessed he did.
“Wow!” he said aloud to the open empty room. “I just killed someone,” he said to no one, bursting into laughter. “And you know what else? It felt grrrrreat!” and his laughter resumed.
“I just killed someone.” What was that song? By some country singer. Something about being in love with a waitress and not even knowing her name. “I just killed someone and I don’t even know her name.” Know her name? It occurred to him he did not even know if it was a her or a him. He did not know how old he or she was. He did not if he or she was white or black or brown, or heck, even red, yellow, blue or green. What difference did that make? All he knew is it was fun! Okay, he thought, maybe it might be nice to see the person the next time. “The next time?” he said aloud. “The next time?” His very next thought was, of course there will indeed be a next time. There has to be. That was fun.
Last month is what really got the ball rolling. He had been helping a friend in Chapin do a few repairs on a house. He was not exactly an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but he was a bit handy and could handle simple repairs. And, he was pretty good at following directions if someone told him what to do. Internet videos were often a great help; he could watch them for instructions on how to do things, and he could also see someone else doing it.
One evening he was painting a bedroom and a hallway. The woman he was helping left after about half an hour to go on a date. He knew Christie had no interest in him, but it still seemed a bit insensitive and inconsiderate. The thing that did bother him was that she said nothing about it, she simply said she needed to leave for a bit to go meet a friend. Oddly, her teenage daughter came home and was surprised to see Matthew there working. “I can’t believe you are here working while my mom is out on a date. She should really appreciate that. No other guy she knows would help her the way you do. Have you ever consider—oh, never mind.”
He did not need to hear the end of the sentence to know what she was asking. He had perhaps thought about it. But it did not really matter what he thought. What mattered is what the other person thought. It always mattered what someone else thought. He just found it funny was all, that she of all people would be asking. It was no secret the daughter did not like him. In fact, her mom had told him that several times before. The curious thing is when he was over here doing work one day last week, Christie said something completely out of the blue about her daughter. “Trish thinks you’re ok.” Matthew responded that he thought Trish did not like him. He was surprised to hear, “That was definitely true, she really did not like you, but she thinks you are okay now. She and her friends were talking about you, about how hard you were working on the porch. Remember, they were all sitting on the driveway for a while? She said her opinion of you really went up. She lectured me after you left about how I did not really appreciate you and that maybe I should open my eyes.” Open her eyes? Right. She was not the only one. Most people ignored him. Somehow, it seemed he just always blended into the woodwork. It was okay for people to sometimes ask him for a favor, but he knew that if he could not do something to help them, they probably would not give him the time of day. And really, he guessed he was kind of okay with that for right now. Well, no, not really, but what choice did he have?
But oh well, he was there to paint and paint he was going to do. Five hours after starting, he was done with both the painting and the cleaning up, and he was walking out the door at 11:03 pm.
Just after 11:15 he turned from Highway 76 onto Rauch-Metze Road in Irmo. About a quarter of a mile down the road was a set of train tracks. As Matthew approached the tracks the red lights began flashing and the bells began ringing as the crossing arms lowered to block the roadway on either side of the tracks. He pulled up to the crossing arm and stopped. There were no cars on the other side. Looking in his rearview mirror, he saw there were no cars coming down the hill behind him.
He heard the sound of the train’s horn and saw the beam from its undulating headlight just before the train came into full view at the crossing.
Matthew instinctively began counting cars. It was a habit he picked up when he was a kid. Counting four engines, he figured it was going to be a long train and he was going to be here for a while. He was not sure where he had heard it, or perhaps he had read it, but he seemed to recall that a train engine was about seventy-five feet long, while the length of a rail car was about sixty-eight feet long.
He turned the car’s ignition off. Thirty seconds later both the radio and the car’s headlights automatically shut off.
It was dark. Very dark. He was no longer able to reliably count the cars. It was sometimes difficult to make out on this cloudy night where one car ended and the next one began. The only sound was that of the train lumbering along the rails. The sound of the cars themselves, the rumble of the wheels, and the metal-on-metal screeching of the steel wheels on the steel rails.
Unable to count train cars, Matthew’s thoughts drifted. He thought about something that had happened a few weeks earlier, about a dog he intentionally killed. It may have been spontaneous, but it most certainly was intentional. Oh sure, he had eaten a goldfish, had killed a few fish in a lake with his dad, and had accidentally killed a cat. But those were different. He was curious what it was like to intentionally kill something. He had almost forgotten about the squirrel and the pellet gun, but that was when he was a kid, something like eleven or twelve years old.
He was out walking along Riverfront Park in Columbia one day, just minding his own business. Out of nowhere a little white poodle came up to him, wagging its tail. He reached down to pet the little dog. The dog seemed happy, and then stood on its hind legs, putting its front paws on Matthew’s shin, as if it wanted to be picked up. Matthew obliged. The small dog was happy being held, and Matthew rubbed its little head. Surely this little dog belonged to someone. Looking around, he saw no one, not a single person. He stepped off the paved path and to the edge of the trees. Glancing around, he still saw no one. He grabbed the little dog by its hind quarters and swung the little white head against a tree. The dog was immediately motionless. Smiling, Matthew tossed the lifeless dog into the trees.
“Excuse me. Have you seen a dog, our little white poodle?” he heard the young couple asking passersby five minutes later. Ignoring them he continued back to the parking lot, trying unsuccessfully to suppress a wry smile.
Suddenly, he was back to watching the train cars pass by.
A thought occurred to him. As dark and deserted as this place was, someone could easily walk up to his car and shoot him. It was dark, it was loud, the car was off, even if it was not off, there was no place to go because there was a train in front, and there was no one, absolutely no one, around. This was a great place for a murder.
Three days later he was again doing some work for Christie. He noticed she was extremely cordial. She cooked dinner for him and even had some of his favorite beer. She seemed to occasionally brush lightly up against him; perhaps it was innocent, perhaps not. Regardless, he told himself it was. And she seemed to smile at him, a lot. It almost seemed like she was flirting with him. Matthew surmised that her date the other night must not have gone very well. Either that, or her daughter had lectured her again. Either way, it was not his concern. He certainly was not going to make himself available to her just because her current situation did not work out. She would be looking for someone else soon enough and then she would be done with him — that is just what women like her did. Nope, he was having no part of that merry-go-round.
As he did three nights earlier, he arrived around 11:15pm at the crossbucks heralding the train tracks crossing Rauch-Metze Road. Roughly 8 minutes later the crossing arms lowered preparing for the over a mile-long mighty freightliner of the rails.
Again, the darkness of the place was impressive. About fifteen seconds after his car’s headlights automatically turned off, he saw the glow of light bleed underneath the train. Matthew instinctively knew this was from the headlights of a car stopped on the road on the opposite side of the train.
As the last car of the train passed, Matthew could see three vehicles on the opposite side of the tracks. There were none behind him on his side of the tracks. It was time for a test.
Keeping his car off, he simply sat in the driver’s seat and waited, staring straight ahead, and waiting, simply waiting. The crossing arms raised up, the clanging of the bells stopped, and the cars began crossing the tracks before the arms returned to their full upright position just before the red lights stopped flashing.
The three cars drove past, one at a time, and still Matthew did not move. None of the cars stopped to check on him, none of the cars slowed down so their drivers might look at him. Instead, the cars with their occupants anxious to resume their journey after having been inconvenienced by a train for the past three minutes and forty-seven seconds, accelerated. He shifted his gaze into the rearview mirror where he watched the taillights of the cars move up the hill and fade out of site.
This is a great place for a murder, he once again thought. This would indeed be a great place.
Matthew pondered for a bit. Some people kill for a specific reason: money, revenge, hate, spite, sex, and self-preservation, among others. He had no reason, other than to see what it would be like to kill a human being.
He wondered if he killed someone else—if? No, it was a matter of when, not if. He wondered if the feeling would be the same. Would he get the same rush, the same thrill? He had to know; he had to find out.
Another thought occurred to Matthew. So, when he killed someone else, would that make him a serial killer? Hmm. He needed to look that one up at some point. Heck, why not now?
Picking up his smartphone from the nightstand next to the bed and opening a browser, he searched for “how many victims before someone is classified as a serial killer.” Selecting Serial Killer Victim Selection at crimemuseum.org, he began reading. “To be defined as a serial killer, an individual must satisfy a few criteria, specified by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The person in question must have murdered a minimum of three individuals (not simultaneously), there must be a period of time in between the murders (to prove that multiple victims were not killed during a single fit of rage), and the circumstances of each murder should indicate that the killer felt a sense of dominance over the people they have killed. The victims must also be vulnerable to the killer in some way, a characteristic which indicates that the killer has sought to achieve a feeling of superiority.”
Well, three people I could do. I think. If I kill two, I might as well kill three, he mused. I think. We will just have to see. If the second is as much fun as the first, then why not do another?
But the rest of that stuff, the part about a sense of dominance, the superiority, and the victim feeling vulnerable to him? None of that applied to him. He did not even know the person in the car last night. The person in the car felt nothing towards him. Heck, they did not know he even existed and they certainly never saw it coming. As for dominance or superiority, he felt none of that. The only things he remembered feeling were excitement and anticipation in the minutes before it happened, and a sense of excitement, a definite thrill, afterwards. Dominance or superiority? Nope. He did it just to see what it would be like. He guessed he would not be allowed into the serial killer club after all. That was okay. They would probably charge a membership fee, have a secret handshake he would need to learn, and he would probably feel compelled to buy a club t-shirt. He had enough t-shirts, thank you very much.
Nonetheless, if he was going to do this again and, who knows, maybe again and again, he needed to be smart about it. He needed to make sure each one would be different with no way to link them together.
His modus operandi would be that there would be no real modus operandi. The only thing the killings would have in common is they would have nothing in common. Okay, maybe there would be something in common: someone was going to die. Okay, and maybe one more thing: Matthew would do the killing.
Reading a bit further in the crimemuseum.org article, “It is generally accepted that most serial killers feel a strong urge to commit acts of murder. They are, however, thought to be extremely cautious people who will not choose a victim unless they feel the chances of success are very high.”
Now that, that he agreed with. He liked the thrill of the first, and he wanted to see if he got it again from the second and third and fourth or however many. And if he wanted to be successful, of course he would need to be cautious.
Matthew “Toby” Alan Stockmore was restless. He was anxious. He was trying to figure out his next move.
Matthew saw the small cat at the edge of the parking lot as he was filling his motorcycle with gasoline on the way to work. He could not help but think about a cat he once briefly had.
One day, two or three years ago, a little stray kitten had wandered onto his front porch. After a few days, he decided to put some water and food out for the cute little thing. About a week later he let the calico kitten inside. The kitten he named Gwen seemed to love him. It was as if the kitten knew how good she had it and was very appreciative.
Every time he sat down, the kitten Gwen hopped up in his lap and went to sleep. There was something that was calming and relaxing about this. Frequently, if he reclined the sofa back, she would climb up on his chest purring and rubbing her little face on his chin. He usually thought this was so cool, so adorable.
One Wednesday evening about six months after he brought the kitten inside, Matthew was sitting on the sofa, with the back reclined, drinking a beer and eating a slice of delivery pizza from the box sitting next to him. Gwen tried to climb on his chest. He pushed her away. Undeterred, she tried again. Matthew was just raising the glass of beer to his mouth when she hit the glass, causing him to miss his mouth and spill beer on his chest.
His temper erupted and he threw her across the room. Hitting the wall, she fell motionless to the floor. He took a drink from the glass of beer. “Hey cat.” The feline remained motionless on the floor. “Hey Gwen.” Still no movement. He got off the couch and walked over to Gwen. The kitten lay motionless on the floor with her eyes open. He noticed the pool of urine beginning to form as the kitten’s bladder let go. “Oh great.” He picked the kitten up and placed her little body into a plastic shopping bag he had saved from the grocery store. He felt no remorse for having killed the kitten. It really was no different than dropping a cookie on the floor, picking it up and throwing it in the trash. It was merely a momentary annoyance.
He walked outside and deposited the bag into the trash can. “Well, I guess that sucks.” By tomorrow the bag and the kitten would be just another part of the county landfill.
Walking out of the office after clocking in, Matthew made his way through the warehouse and into the breakroom.
Alfonso and Ted were sitting at the table, drinking coffee and apparently guarding what was left of a dozen donuts.
“What happened here? Is there a hole in the bottom of that box, or something? Did all the donuts fall out, or what?”
“More like a hole in Ted’s mouth. He ate like three of them.”
“Man, why do you want to tell lies against me? No respect, I get no respect, man.”
“What, did you really eat four,” Matthew said as he sat down at the table.
“Don’t you know it, man,” Ted said chuckling.
“How’s it going, Matt?” Alfonso asked, never taking his gaze from the three remaining donuts.
“Ah man, it was a weird night last night,” Matthew replied as he walked over to the coffee machine.
“Weird? How so?”
“Well, I was hungry last night, so I figured I would open a can of chicken noodle soup. So, I went and got the can out of the refrigerator.”
“You keep soup in the fridge?”
“You know, that is exactly what I was thinking. Since when do I keep soup in the fridge? Anyway, I took the can out. Huh. Since when is soup in a twelve ounce can, I wondered. I popped the top. Well, at least some soup cans do have a pop top, you know. I emptied the can into a tumbler. Hmm. Since when do I pour soup into a Tervis tumbler? Wait a second! There are no noodles, I said to myself. There was no chicken either! Silly me. It was not a can of chicken noodle soup. It was a can of Elysian Space Dust IPA. Come to think of it, I have no cans of soup in my house. Oh well, I figured I would just have to drink the beer.”
“Man, you are not right.”
“Well, it’s almost a true story.”
“Almost a true story?”
“Well, I did drink a beer last night,” Matthew replied with a smile.
“Yo, Matt, you are good with heights, right?”
“Yeah, I suppose so.” He could not very well admit he did not like heights. Though not quite afraid of heights, they did make him nervous. “I prefer keeping my feet on the ground, but I do not have a problem getting high.”
“Getting high,” Ted said laughing. “We know you do not mind drinking, and smokin’ a lil’ somethin’-somethin’, but that is not the getting high he is talking about.”
“Funny boy, I replaced the flood lights up on the roof here a month or two ago. Do you not remember? No one else wanted to go up that high.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Alfonso said while slowly shaking his head. “You ever do any roofing?”
“Yeah, like putting on a roof.” Alfonso explained that he wanted to replace the roof on his house within the next couple of weeks. This would involve getting up on the roof, removing the existing shingles and felt, and then installing new felt and shingles.
“Hey, Alf. Are you sure about this?” Ted asked Alfonso.
“Sure about what?”
“About asking Matthew to help with the roof,” he said laughing. “After all, he does not know the difference between chicken noodle soup and beer. Heck, he might get confused and bring a cooler full of soup to drink.”
“Okay, okay,” Alfonso said, shaking his head and laughing, “Matthew does not bring the beer.”
“See? There is method to my madness,” Matthew exclaimed. “I just got out of buying the beer!”
“So, I take it you are in?”
“Sure, just let me know when and where and I will be there. I have never done any roofing, but how hard can it be? Count me in.”
“Lookie here, boy,” Frank said to his son.
The 10-year-old boy obediently looked at his father. When the man said do something, the boy did it without question and without hesitation.
Frank picked up the fish from the white 5-gallon bucket that sat next to him at the end of the dock. Matthew had just caught the bluegill a few minutes earlier. Reaching into his pants pocket with his right hand, he produced a small firework. “This here thing, boy, is called an M80. It’s the real McCoy. It ain’t one of those wimpy things they sell nowadays. This here thing will blow ya hand clean off.”
He placed the firework into the mouth of the 12-inch bream. “It has a waterproof fuse too.” Taking the cigarette that dangled from his mouth, Frank touched the lighted end to the green fuse sticking out of the fish’s mouth. “Down the hatch,” he exclaimed as he pushed the explosive further into the fish and then tossed it into the water. The fish immediately swam down under the surface of the water and out of sight.
Matthew was both hurt and confused. “What did that do? Why did you throw my fish back?” he asked as tears slowly made their way down his cheeks.
“You just stop ya crying and watch, boy. This is going to be good,” Frank said as he took a long swallow of beer from the longneck bottle that sat atop the handrail of the dock.
About that time there was a muffled “blahbloop” sound, and pieces of fish began to appear on the surface of the water.
“WhadITellYa?” he said, almost unable to control his laughter.
Matthew turned around and ran down the twenty-foot long dock and up across the sloping yard. He could hear his father calling to him, “Boy! Get back here boy!” Refusing to turn around, Matthew ran up the six wooden steps and into the mobile home to his mother.
“He blew up my fish. Daddy blew up my fish!” and the tears began to flow unabated. It took Katie a full minute to get Matthew’s crying under control.
She heard the stomping across the deck and knew this could not be a good sign.
It did not matter to Frank that it was not their lake home as he violently kicked the black front door open.
Paul Jessup and his wife lived in Elgin, just over a hundred miles away from the lake home in Waterloo. Paul had bought the place at a steal in September for $97,000. With a lot of hard work rehabbing the home and clearing and beautifying the almost six tenths of an acre lot, the lake home with a new dock was listed for sale eight months later for almost $220,000. Of course, relying heavily on friends for help, Paul did not do all or even most of the work himself. Frank was one of those that pitched in. There were promises of a “big shindig” when everything was finished. All that went out the window when Paul was hospitalized in March.
Frank still could not understand that one. Paul was just fine, he seemed healthy as a horse. One day he walked the seventy feet to the end of his driveway to get the mail from the mailbox. About halfway back he noticed he was tired. Ten feet away from the front door he was so exhausted, he was not sure he was able to make it back inside. Fortunately, Edith was just coming out the front door to water the plants hanging on the front porch. Rather than help him inside, she helped him sit down, then immediately went inside and called 911.
Paul was admitted to the hospital and, after two days of testing, was diagnosed with leukemia, acute myeloid leukemia. He was released two days later and, two weeks after that, a week after chemo treatment had started, Paul was more like a frail old man. Frank could not figure things like that out. Someone seemingly fine was suddenly diagnosed with a horrible disease and shortly thereafter they rapidly declined and, more often than not, died. Some survived, some fought and survived. What he could not understand was the rapid decline. Was it that the diagnosis sapped most peoples’ will to live? Was it the treatment? Or was it simply coincidence, that the disease was that bad and, whether there was a diagnosis or not, the person was soon going to experience the full impact of the disease, and the treatment was too late to make much difference except to delay the inevitable?
Frank himself had been out here more than a few times to help. He and three other guys cut down about twenty trees over a weekend in late October. Frank did not know much about felling the trees, but he quickly learned how to use a chainsaw to remove the branches once the tree was on the ground.
The following weekend he learned how to use the heavy equipment Paul had rented to clear and grade the land. He had gotten pretty proficient at operating the Skid Steer, using the eighty-inch-wide bucket to clear the land and move dirt and debris, and using it to grade the land while driving the Cat 226D in reverse. In early November, Frank helped Paul and two others build the deck and porch, and they built the dock over Thanksgiving weekend.
Paul and Edith had an offer on the place and it looked like it was sold, but the deal fell through May 13th and the property was going back on the market for the same $219,900 price. Frank knew the Jessup’s were selling their prized property only because of Paul’s medical issues. He knew Paul was in no condition to travel anywhere and Edith certainly was not going to come out here by herself. Since the sale had fallen through, and the house was not quite back on the market yet, Frank figured there was no time like the present. He decided he would “borrow” the lake home for the weekend. He figured he was entitled to it because of the time and labor he invested in it. Of course, Katie did not know the Stockmores were uninvited guests. Katie also did not know the Jessups; she had never met nor spoken with either of them and knew Paul only as someone Frank knew.
The day before they arrived, Frank had been in Greenville and drove back to their home in Cayce via Waterloo. Before leaving Greenville, he stopped by Lowe’s and bought a lockset. Once at the property in Waterloo, he drilled out the doorknob on the entry door, removed it, and replaced it with his own lockset. When they were finished with their weekend stay, Frank might leave the key under the door mat, or he might throw it in the lake, or he might take it with him. He really did not know, nor did he care. It would not be his problem.
“Where is that boy?” Frank bellowed as he walked through the door. “Woman, get me a beer. Now! Ok you,” he said pointing at his son, “come here, boy.”
Katie felt the baby kick, and she instinctively put her right hand on her stomach. The baby girl inside her seemed to get active, even agitated, whenever Frank went on a rampage. Oh God, how
she hoped Frank would treat this little girl better than he had treated their son. Matthew, poor Matthew. Katie prayed Frank would never lay a hand on their daughter. Oh, she prayed, too, that Frank would stop hitting and beating Matthew but, somehow, she felt it was too late for that.
Sniffling, Matthew hesitantly walked towards his father.
“And stop that crying right now. If you want something to cry about, I’ll give you something to cry about. Is that what you want?”
Matthew slowly shook his head.
“I said, is that what you want?”
“What was that, boy? No?”
“No, sir,” as he sniffled again.
“I said stop that crying. No boy of mine is gonna stand there crying like a little sissy.”
“Frank, please, he is not a sissy,” Katie said gently as she handed him an opened beer. She smiled, trying to diffuse the situation.
“What? Why are you always taking his side?”
“He is ten years old, for cryin’ out loud. He is just a boy, Frank.”
“If I had ever cried like that, my old man would have beat the tar out of me.”
Katie knew better than to say anything about Frank’s father. “Well please, just let it go. Alright? Let’s just enjoy the weekend. It was so nice of Paul, isn’t that his name, Paul? It was so nice of Paul to let us use this place for the weekend to reward you for all your hard work here.”
Taking a long pull from the longneck bottle, “Yeah, okay. Let’s take a walk, boy.”
Standing at the end of the dock, Frank tipped back the bottle and swallowed the remaining contents. Dropping the empty bottle on the dock, he reached down and picked up another one, removed the top, and took a swig.
“Okay, it is your turn now. Here is a fish I caught. I blew your fish up, so you can blow mine up and we’ll call it even, okay?”
Unsure of what to do, Matthew simply nodded his head.
Frank pulled an M80 from his pocket and handed it to Matthew. “This thing here, this is an M80. They’s illegal now. Leastways the real ones are.” He took a long swallow of beer. “It is a very powerful firework. They were originally made by the military. They used them for training exercises to simulate artillery fire and explosives or something like that. So, they ain’t toys. You understand me?”
“Good, now get over here and let’s have some fun.”
One more swallow of beer and, setting the half-empty bottle on the deck, he lit a cigarette.
Frank reached down and pulled a ten-inch bluefin from the bucket, squeezing the fish to open its mouth. “Alright, Matt, now put that firecracker right inside here. Leave that green fuse sticking out, that’s what you need to light.”
Matthew slowly put the explosive into the fish’s gulping mouth.
“Now take the cigarette from my mouth and light it.”
Matthew did as his father instructed.
“Quick, now throw the fish in the water!”
Parts of fish floated to the top of the water.
“Hey, that was pretty cool, Dad! Can we do another one?”
“Sure, but you do this one all by yourself.”
Being out of M80s after three more explosions, the remaining fish in the lake were safe.