Short Stories

Cool Morning Murder

Mason walked along the country road, enjoying the crisp fall morning. Chimney smoke from nearby farms blanketed the valley. Bright orange and red leaves created a patchwork of color as far as Mason could see. It was the sort of scene people buy and hang on their walls.

The sun was low on the horizon. Like most created things, it preferred to rise later in the crisp morning. Mason paused, took a deep breath, and moved forward at a deliberate pace. Just ahead on the left, he saw a blue tarp and ragged clothes piled together. They stuck out like a sore thumb on this beautiful fall day. Mason crossed the street. To his horror, there was a man underneath the tarp.

The stranger was ashen and cold against Mason’s hand. Mason’s eyes widened, and he pulled back his trembling fingers. Then he noticed a faint rise of the stranger’s chest. Whoever he was, he was alive. Mason heard a vehicle coming up the road and went to flag them down. A rusty old pickup truck with two men pulled up and stopped. Mason walked around to the driver’s door. Both men had black circles under their eyes. Their dirty and worn coveralls looked as tired as their owners.

Mason leaned in towards the driver’s partially opened window. “Please, you need to help me get this man to the hospital.”

The stranger in the pickup scowled at Mason. “What business is he of yours!? I suggest you just keep on walkin’ mister.”

Mason noticed the broad hunting knife sitting on the passenger’s lap. The dried blood let Mason know it had recently cut into some flesh. “I see. Okay, boys, I’ll keep walking.”

Mason turned on his heels and started walking. The truck sat there for five minutes until they were satisfied Mason was far enough away, and then sped off in the opposite direction. He walked until the truck’s engine was no longer disturbing the still morning air.

Mason turned back around and ran as fast as he could to the injured gentleman in the ditch. He pulled out his cell phone and dialed 911. “I found a stabbing victim on Grove Church Road. I’m near the old Lewis farm. The men who did it are nearby. Tell the police to look for the blue tarp. I will be in the bushes hiding.” Mason drop the phone in his pocket.

He gingerly removed the tarp. Brown stains marked up the freshly cut shirt. Likely helped somewhat by the cold air, the stranger’s bleeding had long since ceased. Mason carefully dragged the man into the bushes. He took off his warm coat and grabbed some branches. He filled his jacket with the twigs and wrapped the tarp back around those. Mason went back into the foliage and covered the injured man with leaves and dead brush to help hide him and keep warm.

The familiar sound of the old pickup engine was far in the distance but gaining in volume quickly. He could hear the rattle of the rusty old truck bed as it grew nearer. The pickup began to slow. Mason hid a few feet from the dying victim, praying God would blind the men’s eyes to his ruse. He held his breath as the truck slowed to a stop next to the tarp. Both strangers got out.

Mason recognized the large hunting knife in the passenger’s hand. He could barely breathe as the driver pulled out a sawed-off shotgun. The driver walked around without hesitation and fired into the pile of brush, and Mason’s favorite jacket, under the tarp. He fired again, and the tarp blew off. Both men cursed and looked down at the ground. The driver pointed to the bushes.

Mason sat frozen in fear as they cautiously began to step in his direction. Then they stopped. Mason’s lips curved up. The unmistakable whine of a police siren. The men cursed, and the passenger spit. They ran back to their truck to take off. In his haste, the driver slipped the clutch of the old manual transmission and killed the engine. The passenger was hollering something in panic when the truck roared back to life. The driver threw gravel and left rubber in his haste to put distance between himself and the scene.

Mason peaked out. The police pulled up just as the old rust bucket was dipping below the horizon. The policeman got out of his car. Mason rose from his hiding place with his hands raised.

“He’s in the bushes.” Mason pointed to where he had hidden the man. “They just left. One has a shotgun and another a knife.” The policeman radioed for backup.

The cop then walked to the bushes and began to clear the cover off of the victim. The policeman keyed his mic, “This is Henry. Tell Frank to step on it, I’m not sure our victim is going to make it.” He turned his attention to Mason. “What’s your name?”

“I’m Mason. Is he going to live?”

The policeman took off his coat and covered the man to help warm him.

Henry turned around. “You may have saved a life. I don’t suppose you got a good look at who did this?”

Mason told him about the two men and the rusty pickup. The two men walked over to the patrol car. “I don’t suppose you got a tag number from that old truck?”

“I did, and you won’t believe it, OLDTRCK.”

“Well, I believe we can find that without too much of a problem. Those two boys are part of an old moonshining bunch. They’re usually nice fellas unless they think you lied or stole from them. I guess I’ll find out more about that later.”

The EMTs arrived, and Mason stepped to the side. After several minutes we walked up to Officer Henry, “If you don’t mind, I’d like to walk back home.”

Henry shook his head. “Sorry, Mason. Not today. I’ll drive you home. Until I pick those boys up, I recommend you refrain from walking down the road.”

Mason’s shoulders slumped. “How long do you think that will be.”

“One hour, two hours tops. I’ll call you when we have them in custody. These men aren’t hard to find. Hop on in my car, and I’ll give you a ride home.”

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