Western Short Story
A thick blanket of damp fog draped the somber funeral procession. Two stately white horses were in the lead They strained as they pulled a heavy black carriage toward the top of the grassy knoll. The road was narrow and winding. It led to the local cemetery known as Kings Hill.
Jason Womack, one of the towns’ leading citizens was about to be laid to rest…or so they thought.
It was a tranquil last resting place that overlooked a small fertile valley. The bustling little town of Norfolk could be seen nestled among the evergreens below.
The mourners were dressed in their finest black apparel and tightly wrapped in long wool overcoats. They sang the standard Christian funeral hymns as they trudged through the mud behind the horse drawn carriage. It was a cold and somber affair.
The carriage held an ornately carved casket. It had been hand crafted in Boston with materials of the finest imported hardwoods from South America and trimmed with California silver inlaid with mother of pearl. Six golden pallbearers handles adorned the sides. The inside was lined with crushed red velvet and a soft feather pillow.
This was no ordinary casket, but then, Jason Womack was no ordinary man.
He was filthy rich in times when a decent wage was no more than a dollar a day. The bulk of his fortune was made off the backs of hard working men.
Some admired him for his business prowess. Others hated him for it.
Personally, Jason Womack didn’t concern himself with such trivial matters as public opinion. It was all business to him. He was sly and crafty, taking advantage of every possible opportunity.
His untimely death came on the heels of one of his most successful ventures. To finance the venture he borrowed heavily from the local bank. He also convinced other prominent citizens of Norfolk to risk large portions of their wealth.
It was a can’t lose investment he swore would make them all filthy rich.
He preyed upon their greedy minds with bold promises of extreme wealth. In truth, his can’t lose investment was nothing more than a well conceived ponzi scheme. Carefully designed to enrich only himself and a few unsuspecting investors. He only used them to make the scheme look legitimate.
From day one the scheme had been managed with extreme caution. That was five years ago. Recently investors were becoming anxious to see proof of their growing wealth and some were beginning to question the legitimacy of the venture.
It had been three days since Jason Womack had carefully analyzed the current status of his scheme. He had come to the conclusion that it had finally run its full course and like a house of cards, it was about to come undone.
Knowing he would soon be found out, he retired to his study, removed a twelve-gauge shotgun from its cabinet, placed the barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
At least, that was the story Lydia, his beautiful wife of fifteen years, had told the sheriff.
Like the ponzie scheme itself, the story was a complete fabrication.
The ponzi scheme was true, and so was the fact that it was about to come undone. But, that’s where the truth ended, and that’s where Jason Womack began his new venture. A well-laid plan to save himself, his wife Lydia, and all the money that had been invested into the plan over the past five years.
Jason called out from his den. “Lydia, do you have a moment? We need to talk.”
Lydia entered the den and took a seat in front of Jason’s desk. “What is it dear?”
Jason looked across the desk. There was a sense of urgency in his demeanor. His tone of voice confirmed it as he began to explain the situation. “Do you recall our discussion concerning the ‘investment’, and what we decided we would do at some distant point in time?”
“Are you talking about the point where it looked like it was all going to come crashing down around our heads? Questioned Lydia. “Why yes, I most certainly do recall that conversation.”
“Well my dear,” continued Jason. “The time has come. I can’t hold this thing together any longer. If we try to continue, we’ll be found out in short order. It’s time to put our survival plan into action or we will both find ourselves behind bars for the rest of our lives.
That is of course, if the good folks of Norfolk don’t hang us first.”
The thought of being hung or caged like some wild animal behind a curtain of cold steel bars was not an appealing thought to either one of them. It was Lydia who had long ago devised the escape plan, and now the time had come to put it into action.
That evening, under the cover of darkness, Jason paid a visit to Nathan Crow, the local undertaker.
He discretely went to the darkened back door and knocked lightly. Nathan, unsure of who it might be at such a late hour, cautiously opened it just enough to peer through a slight crack.
As the door opened, Jason urgently inquired in a hushed voice, “May I come in?”
Nathan, recognizing Jason, opened the door fully and without saying a word, Jason slipped in.
“Nathan,” began Jason, speaking in a low but authoritative voice. “How would you like to make two hundred dollars?”
Nathan,was reasonably intelligent, but on occasion his sensibilities tended to lapse.
He was always open to making easy money and had no qualm against using a bit of underhandedness in order to do it. With the offer of a quick bundle of money to be made, he didn’t need to consider the answer for any length of time.
Without asking a single question he replied with a quick, “Yes.”
“Good answer,” replied Jason. “Here is what I need you to do.”
Jason confided in Nathan as to his plan to disappear, but not the real reason why. He then continued to explain the steps he needed Nathan to take to insure the plans’ success.
They walked into the viewing parlor and looked over the casket Jason Womack had purchased some time ago. After a short conversation, Jason sealed and locked it with a special key. He then handed Nathan a different key. At some point, Nathan would be ordered to open the casket. He wouldn’t be able to comply..
After getting the proper assurances from Nathan that he would follow his instructions to the letter, Jason handed him two hundred dollars in cold hard cash. He left the same way he had came in.
Nathan hid the money and retired for the evening.
Upon his return home, Jason gave the original key to Lydia.
While Jason was off visiting with the undertaker, Lydia had gone to work on her own part of the plan.
Her first step was to kill several of their chickens and collect their blood. She then busied herself in the den. She took a feather duster, dipped it in the blood and used it to splatter the wall behind his desk and the ceiling above. She pooled some of the blood on Jason’s desk and around on the floor.
When Jason returned, he took the twelve-gauge shotgun from its cabinet and blew a hole in the ceiling just above his desk and dropped the shotgun to the floor.
He then strapped on a large, overstuffed money belt under his shirt, grabbed up his travel bag which also contained a large amount of cash, kissed his wife good-by and disappeared into the night.
The next morning Lydia continued the dupe. She went to the sheriff’s office. Distressed and weeping, she reported the news that her husband, Jason, had killed himself.
The sheriff was shocked to hear the news.
“I’ll head out to the house right away. You should stay in town for now, Lydia. I’ll have one of the ladies from the boarding house come by and fetch you. In the mean time, I’ll get the undertaker and we’ll take care of the body. Don’t you worry about a thing. I’ll handle this.”
Through her crocodile tears, Lydia spoke up. “That’s already been done. I met with the undertaker last night. He came right out and took care of things for me.”
“What do you mean ‘He took care of things for you?’ He isn’t to touch a thing until I’ve had a chance to investigate the situation.”
“I’m sorry,” replied Lydia through her sobs. “But the shotgun blast… it made such a horrible mess of poor Jason…” Lydia began to cry uncontrollably. “I’m sorry Sheriff, I didn’t want to leave Jason there all night. I made him do it.”
“Well, this is highly unusual, but what’s done is done. Just the same, I’ll still need to go out to the house and take a look.”
“Yes, I understand.” replied Lydia as she dabbed a handkerchief at the corners of her eyes.
The sheriff was half way out the door when he turned back to Lydia. “I think I’ll stop by the undertakers first and take a look at the body.”
“I hope you don’t mind if I don’t accompany you,” remarked Lydia. “I couldn’t bare the sight.”
“Not at all,” replied the sheriff. “I fully understand.”
The sheriff and Nathan Crow stood next to the coffin as Nathan played his part well.
“What do you mean, you can’t open it? I want it opened and I want it opened now,” demanded the sheriff.
“It’s locked,” Nathan vehemently replied. “I don’t understand why the key doesn’t work. Once I set him inside and closed the lid, it either jammed or somehow locked itself. The key won’t open it.”
The sheriff grabbed the key from Nathan. “What do you mean, ‘It somehow locked itself’. That’s impossible.” The sheriff gave it a try. The lid wouldn’t budge.
“This is highly unusual, highly unusual,” snapped the sheriff angrily. “Are you sure he’s in there?”
“Everything but the top of his head,” answered Nathan. “He was a mess.”
The encounter with Nathan had put the sheriff in a furious mood. He stormed out of the parlor and headed for the Womack residence.
As he entered the den, he put his arm up across his mouth as if not wanting to breathe the air.
Blood was everywhere and a hole from the shotgun blast was blown in the ceiling. The shotgun still lay on the floor by the desk along with some small pieces of plaster and possibly fragments of Jason’s skull.
The sheriff had a weak stomach. He quickly left the grisly scene. That afternoon, on the trusted word of Lydia Womack and Nathan Crow, he reluctantly signed the paperwork confirming the death of Jason Womack.
The night before the burial, Lydia paid one last visit to Nathan Crow. She needed to complete the final part of her plan and make sure everything was in order.
The following morning Lydia asked the blacksmith, who sometimes helped Nathan when he was in a pinch, to hitch the horses and drive the carriage to the cemetery.
When the sheriff realized that Nathan wasn’t on the carriage, He inquired as to where he was.
“I haven’t seen him today, sheriff,” answered the blacksmith. “Mrs. Womack says he told her he had to take care of some urgent business out of town and wouldn’t be back for several days.”
The casket was laid in the ground and covered with Kings Hill dirt.
The casket was laid in the ground and covered with Kings Hill dirt.
On the day of the burial, Lydia Womack mysteriously disappeared.
Two weeks later she arrived in the village of La Cruz, deep in the heart of Mexico. Her husband, Jason Womack, happily greeted her. “It is so good to see you my dear. How did things go?”
“Things went very well,” she replied.
“And what of Nathan,” inquired Jason. “He was the only person who knew of our plan.”
“Nathan?” Replied Lydia. “He fit into your casket quite nicely.”
© Copyright 2019 by Scott A. Gese All Rights Reserved.