Something’s wrong in Texas
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by Sandra Yuen MacKay
It happened in a small town in Texas that you could miss in an instant, when driving along the freeway. But small towns carry big secrets.
“Clarence, my darlin’.” I felt the delicate touch of fingernails on my bare arm. “I’ve been waitin’ for you to show.” The cute yet inebriated blonde slid onto the barstool beside me. “I’ll have what he’s havin’,” she said to the bartender.
I polished off my Scotch and water. Her perfume was Chanel No. 5 with no mistake. I didn’t know if I was intoxicated from the Scotch or the perfume but it made no difference. So she’d mistaken me for someone else, but I wasn’t complaining. She was a doll.
“Come here often?” The words slid out easily. I put my hand on my pocket to reassure I had a condom on me. I rarely missed an opportunity.
“I feel I need to explain what happened. I didn’t mean to do it.”
“Start from the beginning. I’ve got all night.” I turned off my cell phone.
“November first I’ll never forget. It was the day the world changed for me. I can never go back.” She closed her eyes, leaned back and sighed.
I smiled inwardly at her melodrama. I had no idea of what was in store.
“Clarence, where were you when I needed you the most?”
“You know I’m staying not far from here,” I said, gazing into her eyes. Our knees touched.
She leaned close with whiskey on her breath and whispered, “I had to kill him on my very own.”
“Excuse me?” Startled, I just about fell off the stool.
Her fingers caressed the back of my hand. “I did it for you, darlin’. Meet me outside in five minutes.” She went to powder her nose. I paid for the drinks and considered my options. I didn’t even know her name. Was there someone who looked so much like me, the blonde couldn’t tell us apart?
“Clarence! Son of a gun,” a tall man with a moustache, threw down his cowboy hat on the counter and sat next to me at the bar. “Haven’t seen you in donkey’s years.”
“W-what’s your name?”
He slapped me so hard on the back that I coughed. “I’m Henry,” he replied. “Too much whiskey, buddy?"
“Oh, how do I know you?”
“Don’t deny it. You’re here with Sherry. We all know what happened but your secret’s safe with us. Isn’t that right, boys?”
I turned my head and saw a couple of guys in cowboy boots nod their heads. This was really getting weird. I headed for the door. I desperately had to get out of this town.
Sherry nabbed me outside. “Look, lady. I don’t know who you are. My name is Matthew Dunner and I’m not Clarence,” I protested.
She shoved a gun into my ribs, twisted my arm and forced me into a Ford pickup. Her stylish appearance gave no indication of her physical prowess. “Here’s the keys, darlin’. Drive to the farm.”
I put the car in gear and followed her instructions to get to the farm. A curving gravel driveway led to a large, white house. She pushed me out of the vehicle and onto the front porch. My hands were shaking. I tried to grab the gun from her as she unlocked the door. She smacked the gun across my jaw. Blood oozed from my chin.
“If you try that again, I’m goin’ to shoot you where it counts. Get inside.”
By now I was dizzy and disoriented. She sat me down in the living room. “I killed my bastard husband for you. Ever since our affair so long ago, I wanted you to come back. In your love letters, you promised we’d be together once Andrew was out of the way. I buried the body behind the chicken coop. I’m scared. You gotta help me out of this jam.”
“Does Henry know?” Perspiration stung my eyes.
“People talk. He thinks you did it.”
I just about peed my pants. “I won’t turn you in. Just let me go.”
There was a loud rap on the door. “Police! Let us in!”
Quickly, she stood up and propelled me toward the french doors leading to the garden, but I was too slow. The cops busted down the door. Immediately, Sherry threw her gun down. It spun on the hardwood floor behind the couch. She put her hands up in the air. I stood trembling beside her and did the same.
“He’s the murderer. I found him.” Sherry pointed at me.
My heart pounded so hard it hurt. “I’m not Clarence. I’m not from this town. I swear I’m an insurance salesman here on business.”
“Let’s see your identification,” said one cop. I passed him my wallet.
The police exchanged a few words. “Let him go. We’ll take the woman in for questioning. Sherry Pratt’s our main suspect.”
She protested but was led out in handcuffs.
I picked up my car and headed for the motel. I looked up Andrew Pratt on my laptop under active company files. Apparently in March, he had taken out a $500,000 life insurance policy on himself. The beneficiary was listed as Sherry Pratt. I considered the course of events. She hadn’t made a claim, meaning she probably didn’t know it existed. The insurance company had not been notified of his death as yet. I considered my next move. If Sherry were convicted, she wouldn’t need the money. I held my itchy fingers over the keyboard. Without further deliberation, I altered the encrypted electronic form and erased her name as beneficiary. I filled in the blank with my name.
No one questioned the reasons I came into money. In fact, my co-workers congratulated me on my good fortune. My overworked boss didn’t ask about my relationship with the deceased or the investigation of the case, after I passed him a check for five thousand dollars. It also didn’t hurt that I was one of his best salesmen.
I visited Sherry in jail after she was convicted of first-degree murder. I empathized that death row was no place for her. I told her I would take care of her house and possessions temporarily. It was the least I could do. Her lawyer planned to appeal the verdict. She looked beautiful even in prison garb.
I went back to that bar, out of curiosity. It was uncanny how my life had changed in one evening. Henry greeted me with another slap on the back. He winked. I shared a beer with him and his friends.
After they departed, I slung my jacket over my shoulder. As I walked to the door, a man brushed by me with his head down. I knew instantly, he was Clarence. I ducked out and never looked back.