Herman Webber took his car keys to his Ford Fusion and opened the trunk with his right hand and stuffed the duffel bag full of clothes, money, and toiletries into it with his left, peering around wide eyed the entire time. He had checked and rechecked enough; it was time to run.
Herman Webber had embezzled over two and a half million dollars and needed to split town.
He had no wife, never even had a girl friend for longer than a year, nor did he have any offspring. He was single, free, and capable. Now he would be rich, single, and, with the surgeries to change his appearance, attractive. Herman Webber was by all accounts from the opposite sex, ugly. He never acknowledged this growing up and after his parents divorced, he was determined himself to exact revenge on his hometown, to swindle the society that had raised him. He blamed the entire social system of the little mill town of Walker's End for sending his parents on the path of separation. His mother had one true friend in the whole of the town in a fellow teacher. They spent lots of time together which in turn germinated the thought that they were more than friends. Soon, this rumor came to the ears of Herman's father. He did not appreciate the fact that his wife was friends with this teacher and nothing more. Herman watched as a silent witness to the power of perception. It was a lesson that he took to college, learning the ways of school administrators and finally, the financial side. He planned the complete deception and death of his hometown. He smiled now at the thought of so many years, so many hours, planning and waiting finally coming to an end.
He looked around again and saw no one watching him on the barren street outside the elementary school. He had become superintendent of the local school system and earned the trust of not only all the teachers (well at least the one's that really mattered) but also most of the parents (the influential ones with money). He moved all the money that he skimmed and stole from the system (his masterpiece, moving money that he claimed to be going to the school bus budget and music programs into his own accounts out of town) into a local account and had been taking it out slowly, no one being the wiser. He grinned out of one side of his mouth as he got into the car, thinking of all the budget meetings where he had talked in circles and over the heads of the local bumpkins, and got ready to leave. He was adjusting his mirror and looking at his face, touching the areas that he thought needed fixing when he noticed the outline of a person in the trees near the bank across the street. He stopped touching his face and stared at the shape in the mirror. It was facing him, watching his every move. The sensation of being watched raised the hair on his arms and neck, but also reminded him of being at one of the budget hearings. There had been someone in the audience that kept staring at him. He could not call the name into recognition.
Herman Webber turned in his seat to get a clear look at the person in the shadow, but in the early morning light, with most of the sodium street lights still on, the shadow made by the trees was complete, covering the face and shoulders of the observer. Herman's hairline broke out in rain drops of sweat and his face turned a mottled gray.
Moving quicker, more urgency in his movements, he started the car and began to back out of the space, turning the car so that he could speed away. Now the figure was almost next to the car and waving, though Herman could still not figure out who it was. He had to stop for fear of running the shape over and decided that he didn't want manslaughter or even murder on top of extortion. He didn't think he could kill anyone anyway. Taking the money of the town was revenge enough for what they had done. The shape knocked on the window and Herman, who felt his stomach slide around uncomfortably, rolled the electric window down letting the drizzle in.
"Herman, what has you in such an uproar this morning?"
"Nothing, I am fine. Why do you ask?"
"Well, you seem to be in quite a rush, if you don't mind me saying." The shape turned out to be the one person that Herman did not want to see this morning: the local sheriff, Louis Leclair. Leclair was known to be very meticulous in his local war on crime. He kept in shape by swimming the Walker's River, against the current starting in the spring into early October. He had solved the only murder in the town six years ago when a Mrs. Jessup had shot her husband after he had beaten her two days prior in a drunken haze. Mrs. Jessup had killed her husband in order to protect her daughter, at least, according to her statement/ confession. Then she had run away to her sister's house in Loweham in the southern part of the state. After looking over the crime scene for twenty minutes, Leclair deduced what had happened and had contacted Jessup's sister asking if she would turn Mrs. Jessup in. Somehow, Leclair had gotten her to turn in her own sister after nearly an hour on the phone. He was the most feared and respected man in Walker's End. And he was here now when Herman most decidedly did not want to see him.
"No, no rush. I just remembered something that I needed this weekend. You kind of scared me standing there in the bushes." Herman nodded to the place that Leclair had walked out of beside the school too shed.
"Didn't mean to frighten ya." Leclair smiled. He wore no hat and tried to stem the drizzle from reaching his eyes by wiping at his hair.
"What can I do for you, Sheriff?"
"Well, I was wondering if you might actually give me a lift?"
Herman looked up at the sheriff, his eyes widening. His mouth opened and closed. Finally he found his voice.
"Sheriff, you need me to give you a ride?"
"Well, yeah. If you don't mind?" Leclair laughed in between his first couple of words.
"That's okay, isn't it? I mean, the patrol car seems to have broken down and I was going to have you drop me at Moody's to get it towed."
"You could just call it in?" Herman looked up at him and tried to look helpful.
"Yeah, but George is working at Moody's today, and I was going to go over and shoot the shit with him for while anyway. Do you mind?"
Herman thought for a moment. He wrung the steering wheel in his hands and licked his lips, trying desperately to think of something that would take precedence over this favor and coming up with nothing. He just hoped that Leclair did not get nosy and ask what the luggage was for. Moody's was on the way out of town anyway.
"Yeah, hop in. I have some errands to do out of town and that's on the way."
"Well I thank you in advance there Herman."
Herman grinned, but it felt forced. He watched Leclair climb around the car and felt that cold, sick feeling in his stomach again. The sheriff climbed in and sat down with a sigh.
"Herman, you forgot something."
Herman gripped the steering wheel causing his knuckles to go white. "What's that sheriff?"
"Buckle up or I will write you a ticket."
Herman let out his breath and laughed, a high and thin sound in the car.
"Sure thing." Herman clicked the lock home and relaxed a little bit.
"What kinds of errands do you have in town?"
"Oh, I have to get some stuff for the house. Looking to fix up the garden, maybe redo my gutters."
"I see. Yeah, good weekend to be thinking about gutters," Leclair said, looking out the window at the drizzle running down the window and everything beyond.
"Say sheriff, where is the cruiser, I didn't see it anywhere back there?"
There was silence from Leclair and when Herman looked over, he was grinning, bigger than Herman had ever seen.
"Oh it was on the other side of the bank."
Herman frowned, his lips pursing and he stared out the window. He had gone by the bank to get to the school and hadn't seen any car, much less a police car sitting there. He turned to say this to the sheriff when he heard another metal clicking sound, not unlike his seat buckle engaging.
"Herman, you don't need to take that left to go to Moody's after all. I changed my mind. I like your car and I think I will take it."
Herman looked at Leclair who had a .45 leveled at Herman's chest.
"What . . . what are you . . ." Herman veered to the wrong side of the road and almost lost control of the car, the wheels slipping at the sudden movement on the rain soaked road.
"Easy Herman, this is a bad time to be driving. In fact, the fifteen minutes after it starts raining is just about the most dangerous time to be driving, this time of year anyway." Lecliar grinned a little. "All the oils of the road come to the surface and make it slick." He put emphasis on the last syllable.
Herman Webber felt his bladder fill and the pressure was almost instant. He started to cry a little and blinked for a long time on the straight away to keep the tears in.
"Herman, don't get upset. I want you to pull of on the next turn left, okay?"
Herman just nodded and tried to think of what the jail sentence was for embezzlement. He thought maybe it was ten years, but he didn't really know for sure.
"Don't stop here. Let's just keep going down this road for a while." Leclair spoke with a calm, assertive tone, but there seemed to Herman to be something else in it. He could not identify it, but it unnerved Herman. He sat up straighter in his seat, trying to keep an eye on Leclair without looking at him directly. Lecliar hadn't taken his eyes off Herman.
The road turned to dirt and Herman had no idea where he was. They had only been driving for maybe ten minutes, but Leclair seemed to know where they were and looked out the rear window back at the tarred section of road. He seemed pleased and grinned again showing some of his back teeth.
"Herman, my boy, that is a lot of money that you have."
Herman Webber felt every hair ring electric. He knew and now he was going to beat a confession out of him.
But that didn't seem right, at least, it didn't fit Leclair in Herman's mind. So what was going to happen now, thought Herman.
"Herman my boy, I have seen a lot in my years of sheriff. Some of it was gruesome. You remember that accident on the Travers' farm a few years back?"
Herman remembered it well. Ed Travers had been tilling the land late in the fall (supposedly, according to some of the old timers at Bill's Tavern, one of the better times to turn over a garden) when he fell off the tractor and was pulled under the tillers right before his boys eyes. The boy, Jackson Travers, had never been the same. He claimed that his father had heard a siren and had spoken of it more than once. Not one of the local fire or police, but one of the old, Greek kind, that Odysessus had heard and seen on his voyages. Herman thought that the whole family was likely cracked and that Ed, seeing as how money was very tight on a farm that wasn't really producing much, probably staged the whole thing, leaving his kid as a witness so as to properly cover himself on the suicide claim. Jackson Travers had turned to drugs, not that the town had been surprised. Mrs. Carlyle had personally told Herman that she had seen him on the front lawn, before school on her way to the office of the only lawyer in town, Jackson laying on his front, a straw into a tank of gas. He had been huffing it, she said. She had heard that from her nephew in Boston that kids did that now, huffed the gas fumes. Jackson had died of a drug overdose five years after this alleged sighting. The drug then was cocaine.
Herman shook his head at this memory and Leclair told him to stop the car by the low bank with the ferns up ahead.
"Yeah, and that accident on four with the teenagers and that pulp truck. God was that a mess. Tragic."
Herman remembered this as well. Four teens had perished in a head on collision with a large pulp truck going to the local mill while trying to head to one of the basketball tournaments over in Augusta during the Februrary break from school. It was a long standing tradition to watch the local high school teams compete, but it was snowing heavily that night. They probably saw the truck, but were in such a bad spin that they could not have righted the car and gotten out of the way of the truck, colliding with it and the collision sending the battered car and its occupants into the river. All four were killed, but Herman had hoped that they had gone quickly and had not drowned. He didn't remember their names. They weren't from Walker's End at any rate.
"yeah, some pretty fine messes, that is for sure. You though, man, you looking to make one fine mess of this whole damn town aren't you?" Leclair was grinning the back tooth grin again. He reached over and turned the car off and slid the keys out of the ignition. Herman had his hands up and was shaking slightly.
"What are you . . . what do you mean?"
"oh Herman. I may be a small town police man, but I still think like a big city cop. Luggage being loaded, going to the office and the bank yesterday. Your secretary said that you had been acting out of sorts the other day and asked me to check on you. Well, I checked all right."
Herman's face slowly went slack and red at the same time. He closed his mouth until it was just a line in his face and cursed his secretary, Amy Paul, under his breath.
"Now that is not something that I would call a lady, Herman. They really don't care for that word. Come to think of it, neither do I."
"Sorry, sorry sheriff." He muttered. There was a long silence which was broken by Leclair.
"Herman, Herman. What am I going to do with you?"
There was silence in the car for a long time. Then, Leclair spoke, low and slowly. "I have actually had my eye on you for a long time, Herman, my boy. I thought that you were kind of talking out of your rear at the meetings about the budget."
Herman was crying now openly and started to wail and explain, all the while Leclair looking at him with something of wonder and a malicious smile on his face.
"Herman," Leclair almost whispered, gently pointing the pistol at his head. "Let's get out and get some fresh air."
Herman nodded and opened his door first. Leclair looked at Herman's face and almost laughed out loud. Herman was starting to panic. He had known at the meetings. Herman didn't know how he had known, but he recognized the predator gleam of Leclair's stare.
They locked eyes and both opened their doors at the same time. Herman looked in the rear view for any sign of something that he could hide behind or run to once out of the car. Ahead to them, about thirty feet, Herman saw a bend in the road and thought hard, his forehead frowning and opening his door wider. Leclair matched him move for move, watching for any sudden moves as he informed Herman not to make any.
Once standing up, Herman did not bolt. He simply stood and watched Leclair watch him. The two men stood in silence for a while, a silence that was broken by the cawing of a crow in a nearby tree. Herman looked toward the source and saw nothing.
Leclair looked down into the car and started wiping the drizzle from the window. Herman took this as his chance.
He turned his body to the back of the car and saw out of the corner of his eye that Leclair meant to cut him off. Herman skidded to a halt and changed direction, though he felt something tear in his knee as he was moving faster than he had in ten years. Leclair was rounding the trunk and still grinning. Herman only dared look at him through his peripheral vision. He dove over the small bank of ferns and earth that separated the road from the small decline to the river. He rolled once and then started a galloping run down river, hoping for some sort of path to the mill and then the road. There was a crack and soil in front of him spewed away and into the river, making numerous splashing sounds. He stopped and put his hands up.
"Well, who knew you could move like that, Herman?"
Herman kept quiet and turned around slowly. He was wide eyed and sweating profusely now. The drizzle mixed with his sweat causing him to look worse than he was.
"Leclair, maybe we can . . . you know, make a deal or something."
"Hmm," said Leclair looking down at his feet as he continued to get closer to Herman. Herman backed up until he could feel the sandy drop down to the last four feet of bank until the river.
"What kind of deal are you thinking?"
"Well, that's a lot of money in there."
"Is it? I guess it is. Again, what were you thinking?"
Leclair had the gun hanging in his hand at his side now. Herman grinned a little, he couldn't help it. This was a good sign.
"Well, how about 50/50? I mean, that seems fair. I got it out, so, you know, if I get caught, they don't know where half of the money is."
"Hmm. I was thinking more like 90/10."
Herman's smile faltered a little. There would be some bartering them.
"How about . . . 70/30?"
Leclair laughed and rubbed his chin. He had a day's worth of stubble going and Herman could hear the hairs scraching. He could hear everything now that he stopped to think about it. The water behind him could be heard licking the banks with that wet sound, the drizzle hitting the large ferns and bending them with the weight of moisture, the crows, cawing and cajoling at the sound of a gun being cocked.
"I think I will just take it all. I don't think you can be trusted to keep quiet or even not get caught. Me, I think I know more about this sort of thing than you." Leclair grinned again, making Herman actually relieve himself, the dark stain spreading like paper towels getting wet.
"Oh Herman, that's just gross."
Herman finally found his voice.
"You go to hell."
Leclair, still grinning, raised the gun to Herman's eye level.
"You bet." The force of the bullet smashed through Herman's eye socket and pushed brain matter and bone out the other side. Herman looked up at the gray slate of sky with his remaining eye and back flopped into the river.
"Now you just float on down to those turbines and let them chew you up." Leclair said to the drifting corpse. He took out a small set of binoculars and followed the body all the way to the mill. He watched as it was sucked under and chewed up by the turbines that powered the mill. Ice was normally chewed up in such a fashion in the spring. Herman's remains were pulp and gristle within seconds. He staggered back up the bank to the car and took off slowly through the increasing mist.
"So long, and nice doing business with you Herman." Leclair drove into Auburn and dropped the car off in a Walmart parking lot, after purchasing rubbing alcohol to rub the car down of his prints and fibers. He rented a car from the new Enterprise car rental depot on Center Street. He used Herman's name and a credit card of his. The clerk never even bothered to check his ID. Leclair smiled at this. The check he cashed in a South Carolina bank and sent it on ahead of him to Mexico. From there, he went to the Caribbean. The authorities never found his trail after that.
Folks in town blamed Herman of course. Two mill workers had taken a break when Herman's body had been destroyed by the turbines and they had seen red, frothy water come out the discharge spout on the other side of the small dam. The rumor mill claimed that Leclair must have caught on, he was always a sly one, and Herman, who was probably desperate, had taken him behind the mill and killed him, dumping his body in the river. Leclair had laughed when he read this in the news on his way out of town.
The two workers who saw the water turn red, well, they never swam in the river again.