Chapter Three — Monday
What was I thinking?
The mud from the river would act to preserve the body, not break it down. I had not been careful enough.
It wasn’t until I signed my name in that guestbook that I realized how shoddy my ad hoc plan was. The florescent lights in the lobby were blinking, and it gave me an instant headache.
I paid in cash and signed his name, Bruce Walter, in the register, forging as best I could.
I found a cheap motel in Bakersfield where I could sleep a couple hours.
I started the engine, drove back from the main road, careful to avoid that stout desert cactus. I dusted off my clothes and checked the car. No blood. There was a streak of dirt where his shoe must have scraped against the inside of the passenger door when he fell out. I spit on it, and it came clean.
I set the silver watch on the empty leather of the passenger seat. The watch looked shiny and new, and the second hand was in perfect rhythm with my heart.
There were stars above in a spread of glory, and looking up I got the sense the world was round.
I made a wish.
I was the new Bruce Walter.
What’s your name? I asked the body. That’s right. You don’t have a name.
I unlatched the silver pocketwatch from his suit.
I took the leather wallet from the back of his slacks, and rolled him into the stream.
It was odd, his body in that position, with his legs out straight and stiff and his head leaned way back. His skull hung limp and unnatural pivoted over those rocks.
His jaw was unclenched, lips parted to the night.
I had never seen a freshly killed man before.
I dragged him by the armpits, careful not to get any blood on my pants, and dropped him onto a crop of rocks by the stream. He was wearing trousers.
On the ground, I hammered him more than a few times, enough to put him back to sleep. It was pure focus, swift and hard.
Just as he was waking up, I shoved open his door and snapped the hammer over his skull and pushed him so he collapsed head first onto the dirt, with me tumbling over him.
I reached behind the Atlas for and felt the rubber grip of the hammer.
I stretched over him to pull up the lock and open the passenger side.
The night was pitch and I killed the engine.
As we neared the base of the hills there was a stream, and I followed it a few minutes. There were no headlights around, not even in the distance. Nobody knew we were there—it was an impossibility.
Walter was tranquilized in a deep roofie slumber.
I turned off the road into the wide expanse of the landscape.
The shrubs lay in patches on the dusty ground.
A jackrabbit turned with ears like a pair of quotes.
Another sign was upside down, and the wood looked it had been gnawed away by a wild beast. The car smelled heavy with burnt coffee.
I pulled off the side of a state highway and pretended we were lost.
I pretended I was not pretending to pretend. A sign was ridden with bullet holes and bent up and weathered in all the right directions.
I drove straight past Vegas while Walter was napping, veered south into the heart of Death Valley. I wondered if I had given him too many roofies. And if roofies were counterindicated with morphine.
Walter was still checked out when I was caffeinating at Marge’s Stop and Pump.
I-80 was long and without variation for hours—but I was punching 100 mph through the arrow of western Nebraska and Colorado.
I crumpled the receipt and placed the hammer in the door pocket behind the Road Atlas.
Before I picked up Walter, I slowed in front of a hardware store on Dodge Street just under the I-80.
The air was fresh with just the slightest rumble of storm. The door jingled when I walked in.
Without speaking to the man in overalls, I pointed to a hammer with a rubber grip. The grip had spots of texture on it, and I guessed it would feel good under my digits. He rung it up, and the cash register dinged. He handed me three bills and change.
Back at the Marriott, I slipped Walter a roofie for breakfast, and we set out from Omaha. Things were very well.
I kissed Aunt Megan on the cheek, and backed out the driveway into the cul-de-sac.
Phoenician wool? she said.
Balderdash! I said. You’re as strong as a Galician bull.
Don’t wait so long to come again. I may not last through the autumn.
The crepes were delicious, and I commented not long before she squinted and kissed me on the cheek, and told me how wonderful it was to see her long lost nephew.
Aunt Megan and her monocle had not noticed a thing was out of place, and my confidence was by then unshakeable. I had mimicked Walter’s voice well enough to pass—stuffy ambiance, nasal, yet sharp around the edges.
I stayed for Barry Manilow live at Yoshi’s—it was the hippest thing she had to offer, aside from the strawberry butter for the crepes Suzette. Damn good strawberry butter.
When Barry was singing Copacabana, I was right there singing along with him.
Shall we sit down, my lovely? she said.
My back is what does me in.
Oh, no, I said. She stayed back home. She’s not one for much travel these days.
Is Elena with you now? At the hotel?
Wonderful bubbles, I said. Immensely pleasurable.
And that champagne. I tried to keep the conversation rolling.
How could you forget? she said. For a minute she had me worried.
I remember it well.
What a wedding, she said. You always did look young for your age.
She had a pink carpeted staircase with photographs, and I had convinced her that I was Bruce Walter in that tuxedo getting married, years ago, in a land far away that never existed.
Her house was one of those 1980’s fabrications that used to rest on the edge of an endless green field, prairie kissing sky. Then it was just another shoddy construction along the ends of a strip mall, and could have been anywhere, America.
She was also halfway deaf and blind.
She never suspected I was anyone other than her own nephew, Bruce Walter.
Aunt Megan was gaining in the years and had eye and ear trouble. She had a monocle that seemed clouded over with glaucoma just like her “good” eye.
It was as successful a test run as passing off for Walter could have ever been. I spoke slowly and over-enunciated my consonants with a plugged up nose. I was about his height, maybe slightly under, but that could be explained as shrinkage or posture.
It was a beautiful thing, this con. Perfection.
I happened to like her suburb, I even knew how to pronounce it, Papillion, stress on pill, although I was aware of the etymological similarities to a French butterfly. Driving alone through the concrete nothingness of those empty Midwestern streets with the windows rolled down and the freshness of Juniper, Elm, and Maple in the air, I had formulated just what to do and how.
I pulled out of the hotel parking lot in the leather sedan to visit his Aunt Megan.
Walter stayed at the hotel, mouth agape in an opiate coma, snoring on his back, probably dreaming of hunting quail in charming old England.
At first light, I flopped him into the passenger seat and drove with renewed vigor for eight hours, stopping only once to refuel, then booked us into a Marriott in Omaha with his Yorkshire Bank credit card.
It did not take much to set him back to slumber mode in the room with a dropper of twenty milligrams morphine under his tongue. I liked to keep a supply handy for these slow going moments.
His morning after was a fait accompli, and he slept unencumbered by anything resembling even a sliver of consciousness.
Bruce Walter was becoming a professional sleeper.
Chapter Two — Sunday
Aunt Megan’s address was listed in one of the documents under surviving relatives of Harrison Walter, Sr III: Megan Josephine McAllister.
I flipped through a few more of the documents.
As he lay there atop the bed fully dressed, I returned to his leather bag, just where he left it. Before I turned out the light, I flipped open that pocket watch he was always holding. Inside was a diamond pattern etched in silver, and the initials B.W. engraved there.
He passed out in full suit without any idea what I had planned. I must have played the stool with conviction.
I kept him talking and drinking, and with a strategic hangover in mind, I ordered virgins for myself until four a.m. while he was getting plastered and still waxing sentimental, only I could not understand what he was being nostalgic about anymore.
When I returned to the bar, I told Marley I was not interested. He looked lost and hurt because of it, but what did I care?
You’ll regret it, Marley said. That Cleopatra is sure to give back.
Plans have changed, I told Marley, checking quickly to make sure Walter was still drinking at the bar. I can’t go through with it. Don’t tell the Swede.
I was going to be the new Bruce Walter.
I had passed my own audition.
L.A. was the city of magic, after all. Hollywood. I could fake his identity, seeing as all his papers were there.
All I would have to do is change a photo or two, and then, a signature. All the documents were already notarized with the stamp and signature of the notary public. I could have a passport laminated in L.A, and within a few days be on a flight to San Juan and that cabana, far away from The Swede. It was all there in Walter’s leather bag, and I could have it.
I could have my very own Paradise Ranch.
But how much inheritance were we talking? At the bottom of one page, a figure jumped out: $1,250,000. Not bad for a drive across the country filled with small talk about Jackson Heights and American Indians.
The other documents in the bag were all the proper identifying documents, of course. There was a whole folio of documents in the bag. I couldn’t help but read a few.
As I read, I felt as if I were standing on different ground.
Dear Mr. Walter, began one of the letters.
Please bring all the proper identifying documents with you to our office in Los Angeles to claim the inheritance from your uncle.
Signed, Executor of the Estate, Trevor Williams.
Walter’s only luggage was a leather shoulder bag that he left atop the green Ottoman in the room. I went through the bag and found a lot more than five-hundred in cash—there were a few stacks of it—and I put some of that green in the front pocket of my slacks.
I caught the elevator back down a few thousand bucks richer.
Marley knew me well enough to make sure Walter didn’t make any critical moves. Marley was looking for hush money. That was the depending part.
Not in these pants, I said, picturing the shoulder bag Walter left upstairs, but I could get it from the room. What are you doing in Chicago?
The Swede send you?
I could pretend I missed you, though—depending.
See the guy in the fancy suit?
The one you were sitting with?
Yes. Wait here a minute and watch him.
If you’ve got five grand, you’ll make out with fifty, Marley said, and he was not one to exaggerate. Ten to one—no kidding. Have you got it?
Paradise Ranch, you say? How good is the payout?
As sure as you’re standing here, he said. Old world knowledge pays.
How sure? I asked.
Cleopatra, Marley said, is a sure winner. Jockey trained in England, some place called Paradise Ranch for these well bred cash-out horses. Officially 10 to 1, but between you and me, Cleo is going to bankrupt the clueless.
I felt disoriented when I saw Marley fingering a cigar by the elevator. Did the Swede have something to do with it?
I excused myself and went to talk to him.
(to be continued…)
Image © 2015 by Beatriz Albuquerque.
© 2015 by David Moscovich, all rights reserved.