The worst day of Gary McPhee’s life was the day they put Caroline Dwyer in the ground.
The worst day of Mark Bullock’s life was also the day they put Caroline Dwyer in the ground.
Caroline was many things to many men, but chief amongst these things was a good time. She was fair and young and spirited and blessed with skin as soft as warm satin, as any man who did as little as hold her hand will attest to. Gary and Mark fared better than most of her suitors. They were both quick-witted and handsome and free with whatever cash they had. They both courted her like serious, love-struck men, and they both felt stung by her rejections of their calls for monogamy. They each went out with her twenty-six times, and they each can tell you every single moment of every single date. Particularly the sexy parts.
Gary always figured the reason Caroline was never really his was Mark. Mark always figured it was Gary. To them both, every other guy that Caroline spent any time with was just a way for her to while away hours that would otherwise be spent staring at the television or into a bottle. The other guys were entertainment. Gary and Mark: they were serious prospects for her heart. That’s what they told themselves, at least.
Gary and Mark’s resentment for each other built slowly but bitterly over the years. It never boiled over nor got ugly, until that day Caroline’s coffin disappeared into the ground. Then there was shoving over who got to throw the first flower into the open grave. There was bickering and name-calling. There was good scotch at the wake, imbibed by Gary and Mark at such heroic levels that it caused a rapid melting of good sense, some epic trash talk and a flurry of thrown fists. The brawl spilled out of the funeral home and into the graveyard, where the two men, entwined, rolled over graves, tore each other’s finest suits, split each other’s lips and swelled each other’s eyes shut. By the time Caroline’s weeping mother and uncle separated the men, they looked like horror movie versions of themselves. It didn’t help that the local hospital was so full they were forced to share adjoining beds like skinny, hayseed versions of Rocky and Apollo, and tempers subsequently flared again.
Cooler heads remarkably prevailed, however, under the influence of strong pain medication and threats of jail time, and things took a turn to the philosophical. They discussed the nature of love and the meaning of their lives now that Caroline was gone and realized that the only reason they had left for living was one that was dark and old and as pure as the love they had felt for her – revenge.
And revenge, they realized, was a dish like tapas – best served with company.
Arnold Ketter stood behind the bar of The Butcher’s Arms, his hairy tattooed forearms folded across his beer gut.
“What are you two fucksticks doing here?”
Mark put a five dollar bill on the bar.
“We want some information.”
Arnold glared at the crumpled bill. He picked it up, un-crumpled it, blew his nose on it and stuffed it back into Mark’s top pocket.
“Heard you two dipshits busted up Caroline Dwyer’s funeral. Classy.”
Gary leaned over the bar. “Yeah, well, that’s in the past now. We’re here because we know Caroline was here the night she…the night it happened. We want to know who she was with.”
Arnold laughed so hard a button popped off the belly of his check shirt and into the beer glass of another barfly.
“Wait…wait…what is this? Super Nerd Team-Up? Go back to the fucking video store or wherever it is you work again.”
Gary worked at 7-11. Mark at Mini Mart. Brand rivalry was another source of conflict between the two in the past.
It is, at this point, that perhaps some physical descriptions are in order before we proceed. Mark and Gary were lithe but soft men, built for academia and other learned pursuits. Not combat. Never combat. The reason their graveyard tussle was so competitive was that they were so evenly matched in their physical uselessness. Arnold the barkeep, inversely, resembled a partially-shaved bear from some un-enlightened, communist hell-hole circus just itching for a chance to mete out some righteous violence on his captors.
Gary produced a twenty and slid it across the bar. Arnold glanced at it, unbuckled his XXXL jeans, picked up the twenty, stuck it down his ass-crack and removed sweat and rogue fecal matter from his butt-dreads with it. He rolled the bill into a ball, bounced it off Gary’s nose and buckled his pants.
“Take a hike, losers.”
The barfly with the button in his beer, sensing an epic forthcoming wave of blood-spatter, wisely moved to a table at the rear of The Arms. The move was a wise one, but not in the way he was expecting.
Under the counter at Mini Mart there once was a baseball bat and an illegally-procured .357 Magnum, the consequences of the possible use of which the store manager lacked the foresight to see. Mark had lifted both bat and gun during his first shift back at the convenience store following his hospital discharge. He’d given the gun to Gary, being mistrustful of firearms, and had sewn a ragged scabbard of sorts into the lining of the leather trenchcoat he now wore – you know the sort, the kind that only high-school spree killers or horribly inadequate, socially-maladjusted men wear when attempting to appear “cool.” This scabbard may have been ragged, but it was surprisingly functional and Mark drew his slugger forth smoothly.
Arnold stood, mouth agape.
“Fuck me. I wondered why you looked so hunchbacked.”
Ever since Caroline’s death, Mark had had re-occurring dreams of his beloved. Dressed only in a skimpy, diaphanous negligee, Caroline would beckon him into her bedroom. Getting there was like navigating some gothic maze designed by Freud, but get there he would, only to find her cold and dead to his touch. Each time, he contemplated doing the deed with her anyway, but would always awaken at that moment, sickened at the sight of his own hard-on.
It’s this image (Caroline as corpse, not his boner) that he held in his mind as he stared Arnold down and proceeded to beat the man-bear’s face in with his bat. They weren’t great swings, what with the puny arms doing the swinging and all, but they were enough to smash Arnold’s nose and send spurts of hot blood raining down on the bar.
Gary, gun drawn, leapt the bar whilst Mark chased the remaining patrons from The Butcher’s Arms with insane bellows and berserker swings of the bat. Gary proceeded to pistol-whip the ever-loving shit out of Arnold, who slumped back into some empty beer kegs. Gary also said some things at this point, the gist of which, stripping as much cliché from the dialogue as possible, was,
“Talk, you hairy fuck!”
Talk Arnold did, revealing that Caroline was indeed out at The Butcher’s Arms, in her lowest cut top, on the night of her death, with Deputy Charlie K. Cain.
Caroline Dwyer was found by the side of a lonely and bleak stretch of highway with nothing but ugly shrubbery and empty, dented beer cans for company. She was found by a passing motorist. Her autopsy revealed, aside from the obvious strangulation marks, a still-wrapped, Japanese-brand condom shoved into her pussy. She was not pregnant, for those thinking it, there was no signs of semen present, nor any other penetration aside from the digitally inserted rubber. Her stomach contained beer, bourbon, beer, more bourbon and some nacho cheese Combos.
Digression over. Now, onward with our tale.
Charlie K. Cain opened the door of his trailer with his Deputy hat on, a beer in one hand and the other stuffed down the front of his Batman boxer shorts.
“What the fuck do you two dweebs want?”
Mark conked Charlie on the head with the slugger. He and Gary stepped over Charlie’s unconscious body and entered the trailer.
A rapid ransacking of Charlie’s home followed whilst the man himself made weird unconscious-guy groans and snorts upon his filthy linoleum floor. The boys didn’t turn up a lot, until, as they helped themselves to Charlie’s beers, Gary scanned Charlie’s DVD collection. He discovered a fairly sick stash of Japanese pornography centered on substances best expelled from the body and then thoughtfully disposed of.
Next to this rather unsavory collection – pictures of Caroline Dwyer on the toilet.
Out in the woods, lit by the headlights of his own truck, Charlie, a knot on his head the size of a fist, kept on digging the hole. He paused for a moment, touched the lump on his head.
“Guys, come on. I didn’t do nothin’.”
Gary and Mark were pretty tipsy by this point. They looked at each other and swigged some more beer.
Mark belched loudly.
Gary said, “That hole there you’re digging? We’re putting you in it. We’re putting you in it unless you give us a reason not to. Why do you have pictures of Caroline on the toilet? Next to your collection of Asian shit-porn?”
Charlie’s shovel made an earthy chunk sound as he wedged it into the ground and leaned on it.
“She gave them to me.”
“Boys, you need to really, like, use those nerd-brains you’ve been squandering working at fucking 7-11.”
Mark belched again, “I work at Mini Mart.”
“Whatever. Who the fuck cares, okay? Did it look like I, uh, coerced Caroline into doing something she didn’t want to do? Did it?”
Gary and Mark shot each other a glance.
Charlie played with the handle of the shovel.
“You boys….you don’t. You don’t know how Caroline paid the bills, huh?”
Gary took a step forward, his grip on the gun clammy.
“She didn’t have a job. She lived with her mom and her uncle and…”
Charlie laughed. It was oddly high-pitched. Like a little girl being tickled.
“All Apple pie and church on Sundays, huh? Listen up, dipshits. Caroline sold certain….things online. Her dirty panties, her fingernail clippings, her used tampons, her shit. I, yeah, I bought a bunch of her turds and she sent me pictures of her laying that cable down. We decided to start meeting at The Butcher’s Arms because, well, fuck, why post it across town when you can just deliver it by hand? She liked the personal touch, that gal. I never, look I didn’t love her, I didn’t hurt her, but I didn’t love her either. Where’s my motivation to kill her? As you saw from my DVDs, my tastes generally run to the more…exotic. Look, I know it’s not like, the most wholesome of, uh, kinks, or whatever, but there’s no law against it and I should fucking know, as I am a fucking deputy of the law and you two obsessed geeks have assaulted and abducted an officer of the law and you are forcing him to dig his own –“
Gary fired the gun into the air, bringing conversation to a total, abrupt halt. He practically threw his shoulder out as the gun went off.
“So who did it?”
“How the fuck do I know? I was at home, sealing her poop into Tupperware and refrigerating it. You know, as vigilantes, you both suck. Didn’t you never read Batman? You need clues and you need deductive reasoning. You guys, you get a gun…from somewhere…and hear that I met up with her and go off on a rampage. This is not how bad guys get caught.”
Gary sat down on the ground. His ass immediately dampened upon contact with the wet grass.
“So what do we do? How do we catch the killer?”
Charlie smiled weakly.
“Sometimes, kid. Sometimes the killer just comes to you.”
Charlie pointed at a large figure coming through the scrub:
His busted nose made him look like a cubist portrait of himself. He clutched a roughly cut sawed-off. He scratched at poison ivy scrapes he’d managed to accrue whilst getting the drop on Mark and Gary. He smiled, put both hands on the shotgun and unloaded it.
Arnold gave Charlie shit about his Batman drawers, but it was all cool as far as Charlie was concerned; at least the big douchebag had showed. Arnold even apologized for dropping his name to Gary and Mark, but they were some psycho nerds, and he’d needed the breathing room.
They spent a few hours in shifts, widening and deepening the hole that Charlie had begun the excavation of and then rolled Mark and Gary into it. Then they filled it and pissed upon it. They shook hands and went their separate ways, a pact made to go straight home and delete from their hard drives the snuff movie they’d made for some rich Japanese pervert that Charlie swapped DVDs with.
Cameron Ashley is the co-editor of CRIME FACTORY, which can be found here: www.crimefactoryzine.com . He'd like to thank, and we would too, Jimmy Callaway for threatening him with physical violence if he didn’t finish this.
"Heading for a Hole," in trucker speak, means heading for a place with poor reception. Who would've thought it didn't mean terrible, violent death?