The first time they almost caught him shook Vernon to the core and made him change his methods. No more would he keep the girls around for a few days afterward to lament what he’d done, trying to build a contrite attitude by striking himself about the head with his fists to make him reconsider his evil ways. The treacherous calling inside couldn’t be curbed, though.
He needed to get rid of them quicker. That was his fatal mistake.
Otherwise, a neighbor kid might hear a scream, tell his parents, and they could call the law. Next thing Vernon know the Sheriff’s rig would case his place and drive around the country block in suspicion. Vern considered himself pretty sly but couldn’t be too careful.
All these years of doing these deeds, what the devil done called him to do, didn’t make no dummy. He kept the gate locked, shades pulled, lights out.
“Nobody’s home, Johnny Law.” Peeking from behind the blinds he was sure to be sniffed out, he made sure his girls couldn’t be seen from the road before he took them for disposal. He laid low until dark, and then took them out to the furthest reaches on Granddad’s old property. Far as they neighbors knew, no one even lived there any more. The antiquarian disappeared two years prior and left the place vacant.
Catching a different case meant a latest stint in jail and Vernon losing his own place, so he’d come to squat at Pistol’s little hovel. Everyone called him Pistol since hardening of the man’s arteries left him crazier than a coon hound with a treed wildcat. He sat for days with a handgun pointed out the front window at the off chance a government worker came by to check on him.
“You done scared that last lady off the porch when you pointed your .38 at her, huh, Grand?” Vernon was the only one Pistol allowed through the door.
“Huh …” Pistol snorted between shots out of his bottle. He stayed drunk most of his waking hours to stave off the confused thoughts in his head at the dementia, wondering where his long dead wife had gone and where those good for nothin’ twins done disappeared to. One grandchild, Vernon, promised to check in on him from time to time when such erratic behavior drove the kids to court for an order of commitment for their father that the county was derelict to serve. Too many other legal concerns steered them away from bothering old Pistol.
“Remember her, Grand? The one with the prissified hairdo all up on toppa her dead?” He kicked at the man’s bare foot to get his attention. It sat like a lump of lead, the man barely moving from his seat in so long any motion became constricted with muscle decay. A miasma of stench within the dank room brought Vernon to notice he’d likely not left the area to go to the toilet either.
“Hmmm …” Pistol couldn’t hear much at well over 100 years old. To say the man’s build was slight was a complete understatement. He looked downright emaciated.
That last conversation had been well over eight months ago, and he’d likely starved to death soon afterward. As addle-minded as he was and with no one there to look after him, the mean old bastard probably forgot to eat and wasted away to worm food. Vernon hated to bury him out on the south end, but he’d no money for a proper funeral and couldn’t afford the attention a coroner would bring either.
The old man’s passing left Vernon the perfect opportunity to store his prey where no one would be the wiser. With no family of his own near enough to concern themselves with the man’s affairs, Vern still tried to carefully space out his stalking in time, the captures being far apart from each other in vicinity as well.
The fatal mistake came with transit of the victim’s body. Vernon later asked himself why he’d not taken out his remnants further away from the house than the corner by the burn barrel. Had the man not been no lazy, he’d have discarded her carcass in the night and not left the morning light to expose it.
A warning of “NOTICE: NO TRESPASSING” on the power post at the end of the driveway coincidentally didn’t keep the public away from noticing his deadly deeds. Sixty-mile-per-hour winds whipped up a heckuva storm and took out the tallest Cottonwood on the place. The trajectory of its fall happened to cross paths with the electric lines leading to the tiny house and almost pulled the pole over with it but drew the tether taut when its mushy base of muddy gravel gave way. The County spared expense by refusing cement bases for those poles, so its unsteadiness drew a workman with a suspecting eye to repair the damage. No one gave the shack a second glance until the loose line took out their ability to use their Cuisinart. If not for some incomplete cupcakes, the young woman’s disappearance may’ve gone unsolved.
It didn’t take any serious detective work for the lineman to spy a baby blue pair of Nike running shoes on the end of thin white legs laying supine around the corner of the house. He knew the old man’s house to be as decrepit as its occupant, no one paying his absence any mind and all, and with none of Vern’s family members being aware of young girls being nabbed for his sick pleasure, neighbors losing electricity brought the situation to notice.
“Thanks for calling in, Mr. McBeevey. County owes you a debt of gratitude, as well as that girl’s family.” The deputy sheriff shook the lineman’s hand once he had Vern in cuffs and man-handled into the squad car.
“It weren’t me …” Vern protested. “It were Pistol, and he done took off.” Pistol’s disappearance was reasonable enough with no one at an adjoining property giving a good Goddamn what had happened to the old coot. No shot gun blasts at gas can behind his house tended to be more favorable once the man aged out of that practice, which is all that concerned anyone else nearby.
Having no alibi and DNA evidence linking only a single male assailant to the victim, Vern’s guilt was easy enough to prove. Still, he denied culpability to the end. Right up to his final request for the governor’s pardon at the end.
No one believed him.
His denial being so vehement, and the County’s duty so derelict, they never checked the outer back pasture. Back where Pistol had been buried, he had several indigent graveyard companions. With no one to claim them missing, their memory went to the electric chair with Vern.
He told no one. Only he knew how many bodies lay there ill at final rest.