The Double Cross

Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry 

Joe Dobleu took a bite out of his cold ham and cheddar cheese sandwich while managing to keep his eyes on the house across the street. It was all a game.

Nothing happened all night, and now the sun was slowly crawling into its place in the sky, while Joe was chomping down on his sandwich. As he chewed the front door opened and a man walked out.

He swallowed the remainder quickly and straightened up in his seat. Joe was in a new white Nissan Rogue with windows tinted black all the way around. The man across the street was checking his mail box. Joe picked up his camera, rolled down the window, and took a few quick snapshots. For the record.

He watched the man walk back into the house while sorting through a pile of mail. Taking out a notepad from the glove department, Joe jotted down some observations. It had been a week now.

Each day he waited in another type of car. Parked in a different spot. Starting down the end of the street, his daily progress forward eventually aligned him directly across from the house and it’s inhabitant on the seventh day.

Joe picked up his cell phone and called the person who hired him.

“Hello…Ms Bradley?”

“Yes,” the woman on the other end answered impatiently.

“It’s me. I’ll drop off my final report and notes to you today.”

The tone of the voice on the other end softened, “So…can you give me a brief summary?

“Your son leads a very quiet life. As far as I can tell he doesn’t have any friends. Male, or female. He goes to his office every day and is quite punctual. He stopped at the grocery store twice this week and bought food and drink. No alcohol.”

“That’s all? He didn’t go anywhere at night during the week, or this weekend? I know the little bastard is plotting to put me in a retirement home and take my money,” she groused.

“No. I’m a night owl. Between my partner during the day, and myself at night, we’ve had eyes on his place around the clock as requested.”

“Thank you. The money will be transferred to your account this afternoon – as per our usual arrangement.”

Joe smiled and rolled the window down. Derrick Bradley, the object of his wealthy widowed mothers constant scrutiny, came out the front door and walked up to the car.

“Hey Joe!” he said in a jocular voice, without a worry in the world.

“Always nice to see you Derrick.”

“Here’s a cashier’s check. I’ll continue to pay you twice as much as my mother in order to gain my privacy. I gotta hand it to you,  going through the motions for her…just in case.”

“You can never be too sure. Like I told your mother, ‘Your son leads a quiet life,'” Joe chuckled.

He watched Derrick get in his new Cadillac ATS-V Sedan and pull out of the driveway, wondering how long his lucrative business arrangement could last. The private eye business was slow lately. Real slow.

If it wasn’t for his connection to Ms. Bradley, and her son, he’d have to tell his partner it was time to close up shop. At least once a month she paid them to spy on her son. He was never really sure why, but didn’t question her about it.

The son, Derrick, was a pretty clever fellow himself. He figured out Joe was watching him the first time he staked out his house. Rather than get upset however, Derrick made a counter offer to protect his privacy.

The arrangement was a year-old when things started to go bad.

Derrick, who was in fact a drunk, was starting to become ugly and accused Joe of being a parasite, and a lot worse things. The writing was on the wall. The arrangement was shaky and likely falling apart.

Joe would have to tell his partner, John, their cash cow was gone, and it was time to retire. Once he made the decision he felt better. Ms. Bradley seemed miffed that he was no longer going to continue with the job, but thanked him for his services and promised a good recommendation should he need one.

Feeling relieved, he went to Derrick’s house a few days later to inform him of his decision to move on. He knocked on the front door. No answer. Without thinking he tried the door knob and it opened.

Derrick! It’s me, Joe!

Beyond the open entryway he could see the living room and Derrick’s body sprawled out on the carpeted floor. His head was twisted at a funny angle. His open eyes seemed to accuse Joe of the crime. He turned and ran out of the house!

The police came while Joe was waiting for his car to be serviced the next day. They were reading him his rights as they escorted him to the police cruiser. On the way to the jail Joe badgered the officers, “What did I do?”

“Like I said when I read you your rights, you’re being charged with the murder of Derrick Bradley who resides at…

Joe didn’t hear the rest. His mind was racing. What was going on?

When they got to the station house he was escorted into a little room with a table and two chairs. When the detectives came into the room, Joe was still trying to figure out what they knew that incriminated him.

He knew he was innocent. How could this have happened?

One of the detectives sat down across from him and laid out a folder with photos and notes in it. It was Derricks house.

“Have you ever been to this house?

“Yes…but…

“Did you kill Derrick Bradley?”

“No! wait! You don’t understand! I’m a private eye. I was on a case for a client.” 

“Did the client hire you to kill Mr. Bradley?”

“No! Of course not…”

“What then? Did you have a grudge against him?

“No! Damn it! His mother hired me to watch him. That’s all it was. She just wanted to know what he was doing with his life!”

The two detectives looked at one another.

“Mr. Dobleu, would you like a cup of coffee? We’re going to verify your story. It shouldn’t take too long.”

When they returned four hours later they both looked grim.

“I want to read something to you Mr. Dobleu. According to this statement Ms Bradley has been concerned for sometime that someone was stalking her son. When these photos were given to her it was proof that someone knew where he lived and could hurt him at anytime.

“In the statement she testified you threatened to kill him if she didn’t give you a monthly allowance!”

“No! You have it all wrong! I want a lawyer!”

A mansion in North Hollywood

Ms Bradley sat back and sipped her tea as she watched the television. Joe’s partner walked into the room and sat down next to her.

“Dear John…” she said, whatever would I do without you?”

As It Stands, sadly, money means more to some mothers than their own children.

Trouble In No Hope

Folks in No Hope, Kansas, were clannish.

Like many small rural towns across America, everyone knew everyone else’s business. The population had been on a decline for years, and now, in 1933, there was only 1236 residents on the county books.

It was a tough year for everyone. For the second year in a row the U.S. mint didn’t bother making nickels because circulation was so low. Strangers were always passing through town. Most were on their way to California, hoping to get jobs there.

The town mayor, who had gout so bad he sat most of the time, was “Big Bob” Carmody. He knew everyone, and where their skeletons were hidden. He always made a point of having the sheriff urge people to move on when they passed through.

No Hope, unlike other towns, discouraged visitors. It made no attempt at beautification and never held celebrations, regardless of the time of year. There were no children. Most of the people there were “getting on” in age.

Big Bob and the local sheriff, Orville Landletter, were the youngest people in town. Both were in their early 30s. They were the sons of lifetime residents who could trace their family history back to the town’s founding in 1833.

The two men were like brothers, having grown up together in No Hope. Orville’s tall and willowy frame stood in stark contrast to Big Bob’s girth and height. Some folks in town kidded them and said they looked a lot like Laura and Hardy.

There was nothing funny about a recent development in town that shook everyone to the core today however.

Murder. Old man Swenson was found with his neck slashed from ear-to-ear, in a rocking chair in his apartment.

Orville, who never had to deal with anything nearly this bad in his life, stumbled around the apartment looking for clues after the body was taken away. He was having trouble pushing that picture of the terrible wound from his mind. It looked like a hideous mockery of a smile.

There was a well-attended town hall meeting that night. Big Bob did his best to ease people’s fears while Orville stood silently at his side trying to look positive. Not counting himself and Big Bob, that left 1234 suspects.

The meeting lasted long into the night. It was daylight by the time everyone left. Grumbling and afraid.

Two days later, Mary Jane Watkins and her husband James were discovered hanging from the bell tower of the church. Their chests were cut open and still sticky blood soaked their clothing, congealing on the floor below.

Folks pulled out their old revolvers and shotguns and took to carrying them around town after that. Sheriff Orville deputized a half-dozen men and tasked them with finding the killer…or killers.

Three days later when Orville went to the saloon to grab an early stiffening shot of whiskey for the day, he found Sam the bartender laid out on the bar. His eyes were missing and his head was barely connected to his neck!

After that Big Bob warned everyone to travel in pairs and avoid being alone until the killer was caught. County marshals offered their help in investigating the case, but Sheriff Orville politely declined. He could take care of it, but appreciated their offer.

Privately, Big Bob and Orville were baffled. The murders were random. No clues were left behind. No citizen was able to provide any help in solving the senseless slaughters. Doors that were already locked, got padlocks added to them.

For most of his life Benjamin Bottoms was ignored by children and adults. He was born “slow,” folks said to strangers when they asked why he stood there drooling outside the barber shop. Benny was never quite right. He was short, on the stout side, moody, but generally sociable.

Who knows what goes through the mind of a man like Benny? What motivates them? What causes them to act violently? Maybe it was the death of his mother six months ago by natural causes. He was left alone because his father died many years ago when he was younger.

Folks came by to see if he needed anything since her passing. Benny was always grateful, but become reclusive. The visits had slowed down to a stop last month.

A powerful underflow of anger was coursing through Benny’s veins, and the neurons in his brain. Who knows how many days it took before Benny started acting out violently or when he began going into murderous trances?

One thing was for sure; Benny became another person who could kill and then cover it up, before reverting back to his normally placid self.

The murders might have gone on for years, but for a lucky break one night.

While on patrol, Orville saw Benny in the back alley of the general store and called out to him. Benny ignored him, and went inside the back door of the store. Something connected in Orville’s head and he ran toward the open door.

When Orville burst inside he saw the store owner Grant Livingston struggling with Benny who had a hunting knife in his hand! It was apparent old man Livingston was going to lose that battle, and Mrs. Livingston was on the floor unconscious.

Orville pulled out his service revolver, the one that once belonged to his grandfather, and shot Benny in the back twice. Old man Livingston sunk to the floor. Benny turned around and looked at Orville with surprise in his eyes.

He took a step towards Orville, who fired again.

The next day the townsfolk got together and agreed to bury Benny by his parents, even though he was a murderer. He was, after all, one of their own.

As It Stands, call it a case of tribalism gone bad.