Mountain Justice

"You Vernon Ashcroft," the slightly pudgy deputy sherif asked.

"Yep," I answered. I'm not much of a talker.

"You got a brother named Samuel Ashcroft?" he asked.

"Uh huh," I replied.

"Where is he now?" the deputy asked.

"Charlotte," I answered.

"He a lawyer down there?"

"That's right." The county cop was having a problem reconciling my brother Sam with the sight of me. It must have taken him most of the day, just to find me.

"You got any other kin?" he asked.

"Nope," I was getting tired of him already. I knew he wanted me to ask why he was standing outside my shack.

"Well I don't know how to tell you this," he said. It was obviously true. He was nervous. He also kept his right hand very near his pistol.

He seemed to be waiting for me to ask what it was he hated to tell me. I kept quiet. I had learned long ago that people will tell you if you just wait them out.

"Your bother is dead," he finally said.

I wasn't shocked since I knew it had to be something like that to bring anyone up that mountain. I simply nodded waiting for him to continue.

"He got himself murdered down in Charlotte. The cops down there don't really know why yet. They are going to have to figure that out before they know who did it. When was the last time you spoke to Sam?"

"Two maybe three year ago," I replied.

"I don't suppose you would know anyone who might want to kill him?" he asked.

"Don't go no idea," I answered.

"Well the cops would like for you to come to Charlotte. You need to go down there to settle his affairs." He reached into his shirt pocket. "Call this number just as soon as you can."

I took the piece of folded paper, then turned away from the deputy. I entered my shack. Once inside I looked through the dirty glass window. I watched as he shook his head then began the long walk back to the road.

"He's gonna' be on overtime before he gets home." The thought made me laugh. I hadn't thought of time work or overtime in ten years. When you strip life back to it's basics, you do away with all such thoughts. Just surviving on the mountain took all my energy and thoughts.

I looked long and hard at the scribbling on the paper. I really didn't want to go back into the world. I didn't even want to make the call. I knew I had to though. Sam had to be laid out.

I began to wonder what changes had taken place in the world during the last ten years. It might be more than I could cope with again. I thought about it a long time, then decided I would make the trip outside, but I wouldn't stay very long.

I hadn't been totally isolated during those ten years. I had hiked down to the country store a few times a year. It was as close as I ever came to the outside world. My life wasn't as empty as it must sound to an outsider. Five miles down the mountain, there was a family trying to scratch out a living on a farm consisting mostly of rocks. Once in a while, one of the kids would come get me to help with some especially hard job Bob was working on. In exchange for my help, his wife would load me down with stale bread and homemade jam.

Since life was hard on the mountain, I often took them fresh meat. It was mostly small game or maybe part of a deer. In exchange Bob or his wife Ruth would send me vegetables from their garden. In the dead of winter I appreciated those home canned vegetables.\tab

After the first year, I had traded my rifle for a crossbow. I had no money to buy ammunition for the rifle anyway. The cross bow bolts could be made from carefully whittled tree limbs, though I preferred aluminum rods. Since I couldn't make the rods, I was very careful in their use. I never fired an aluminum bolt at a squirrel. I didn't relish the idea of climbing a three to recover a stray bolt.

My mind suddenly switched to Sam. I found that once my mind had freed itself of all that outside garbage, it tended to roam where ever it chose. One minute I would be thinking about survival and the next it would drift to something entirely different.

Sam was only two years younger than me. It seemed as though it should have been more. I never much liked school but Sam loved it. I guess that's why he seemed so much younger. I was out in the world while Sam seemed to be a school boy forever. I moved to the mountain only a couple of years after Sam was graduated from college.

I spent most of the light remembering Sam from our childhood. It was about the only memory I had of him. After I left high school, Sam and I never really spent any time together. He was still in school and I just kind of took off one day.

During the next ten years, I kind of beat around from one thing to another. I just never seemed to fit anywhere. I was so out of touch, that it took six months before I knew our father had died. I returned home only for a few days. I just didn't fit into the small town life so I headed out on the road again.

I was boxing when mom passed away. I hadn't really been in touch with any of the family, but somehow Sam found an old address book of mother's. He called a promoter who happened to know which county fair I was fighting in at the time.

I returned home for the funeral. I even allowed Sam to convince me to wear one of his sport coats to the funeral. It was kind of sad to see how broken up Sam was at the funeral. I felt bad, but it didn't show on me like it did Sam.

Sam and I had a talk after the funeral. He had been headed for law school. It appeared as though he might have to go into hock for the rest of his life to swing it. Mom's estate wasn't very large.

The next morning I met privately with the lawyers. I signed over my share of the estate to Sam. He should have been able to go to law school without incurring a staggering debt. It's what my mother and father would have wanted. I'm sure they would liked to have had one child amount to something.

I went back on the road. I quit boxing when the rubes started winning. I worked around the fair for a few more years then said to hell with it. I began looking for a place to settle. Somewhere away from everyone. I had just had all I could take of people. I expect there was something wrong in my head all my life. I just never learned to get along with people.

It must have been the middle of the night when I finally fell asleep. I slept past sunup, which is something I did often. At least I did in the summer. In the winter there was just too much to do to sleep. If I didn't hunt, or find and carry wood almost everyday, I would not survive in the winter. Fortunately, I had built my shack above a stream. The stream ran swift enough so that it never froze solid.

I didn't plan to be gone long, but I didn't want to see my meat go to waste. I had killed a doe, the day before. I packed it to the Bob and Ruth's place first thing that next morning.

"What in the world brings you down the mountain?" Bob asked.

"Sheriff came to see me. I have to go outside for a while. I wanted you to have this here dear. Don't want it to spoil," I said. It was probably more words that Bob had ever heard me string together before.

"Anything wrong?" he asked.

"Got to take care of my brother. Should be back in a week or so," I replied.

Bob was still curious but he didn't ask anything more. He simply nodded. "You got any money?" he asked.

I knew he didn't have any so I figured he was just trying to be nice. "Some," I replied.

"Well, is there anything I can do for you? You want me to drive you out?"

"Nope, I got to be moving on now," I said.

I turned without another word. I began to follow the stream down the mountain. When it crossed under the highway, I left the stream and began walking to the country store. It was a couple of more miles. Ten miles of truly hellish country sounds like a lot of walking. It had been for the deputy no doubt, but for me, it wasn't far at all.

I made the country store by two that same afternoon. Granny Emerson the owner was seated outside the store on an old metal lawn chair. She was about eighty and her eyesight was getting worse every year. She didn't recognize me at first.

"howdy, you got car trouble?" she asked.

"No ma'am, I just came down to get the Greyhound," I replied.

"Vernon?" she asked.

"Yes ma'am," I answered.

"I'm sorry, I didn't recognize you." She paused a moment. "Where you headin'?" she asked.

"Charlotte, I reckon. I need to use your phone, could you break up a ten for me?"

"Sure, come on in," she answered as she rose slowly from the chair. I followed behind the tottering old woman. After she made the change for me, I went to the phone booth just outside her door. I called the operator. I hadn't used a phone since the company discontinued most operator assisted calls. It took me three tries to get the directions straight. I finally got to speak to a real person. She seemed a little snippy, but she put me through to the number on the scrap of paper.

"Wilson and Wilson attorneys at law," the voice answered. "How may I direct your call?"

"This is Vernon Ashcroft, I'm Samuel's brother. I got this number from the sheriff," I explained.

"Oh Mr. Ashcroft, I was told to expect your call today. Please hold for Mr. Wilson."

I managed to get a word out before she switched me. "What Mr. Wilson would that be?" I asked.

"Mr. Edward Wilson, he is the senior partner," she informed me in a very pleasant voice. It was the kind of voice, you would use when talking to a child. Evidently Sam had told them all about me.

"Mr. Ashcroft," the man's voice boomed at me.

"Yep," I replied.

"Where are you sir," the voice boomed again.

"On the mountain, waitin' for a greyhound," I replied.

"You mean a bus?" he asked.

"Un huh," I answered.

"We can't have that. Tell me where you are and I'll send a car for you," he demanded.

"Would be easier to get the greyhound than explain where I am. You could have a car meet me at the terminal in Asheville," I suggested.

"What time will you be there?" he asked.

"I don't rightly know. Hold on a minute." I turned to Granny Emerson. "What time does the next Greyhound headed toward Asheville get here?"

"Be around seven tonight," she said.

"Gonna be here around seven tonight. That would put me there sometime after midnight I expect."

"Don't worry, I'll have someone there." Wilson boomed at me.

"Be fine," I said as I hung up the phone.

"Vernon, what you going to do till seven?" Granny asked.

"Don't rightly know," I replied.

"Don't suppose you would be interested in picking me some apples?" she asked.

"Shore," I replied.

"You follow that creek over there about half a mile and you will come to a rundown orchard. Just fill me up a tow bag," she instructed.

"Done," I said picking up the burlap bag. I walked along the bank of the creek till I came to the orchard. Granny was right, it was mighty run down. I could have picked up the bag full from the ground, but they was mostly bruised.

I found me a few limbs near the ground on each tree. The limbs were pretty well weighted down with apples. I filled the bag in only a few minutes. I almost made it out of the orchard before the woman came.

"What the hell you doin'" she asked.

"Pickin' Granny Emerson some apples," I replied. She stood behind the double barreled shotgun just starein' at me. I could tell she was just a little younger than me. She probably had the prettiest red hair I ever saw. She also had the freckles to go along with it. Freckles are pretty on a kid but on a middle aged woman they seem out of place.

She kept the shotgun at the ready while she asked, "You that hermit up on the mountain ain't you?"

"Don't know," I replied.

"You the one lives up in that shack on top of the mountain?" she asked.

"My place ain't on top," I informed her.

"Well near the top," she corrected herself.

"Yep, that probably be me," I admitted.

"My Will said you was crazy," she stated it as a fact.

"Probably true," I replied.

She studied me a while longer then lowered the shotgun. "You tell that old Granny thief, I want two apple pies from them apples," she said.

"Done," I replied as I turned to leave. She stood with watching to make sure I left her orchard.

When I was again in front of the country store, I said to Granny, "Girl said she wants two apple pies."

"That be Bess. I guess she caught you fair and square. I'll bake them for her. To bad you won't be here to deliver them." I didn't answer so she went on. "Bess lost her husband last winter. Some kind of flue, then a heart attack. Weren't much of a loss if you ask me," Granny said. "Bastard let her daddy's orchard go all to hell. Damn apples only good for bakin' now. I used to sell them, now I couldn't five them away."

I sat listening to her but I didn't have anything to say. I just sat in the metal chair thinking about the woman. She had been pretty enough, but she was somehow awful sad lookin.

"You hongry?" Granny asked.

"I guess."

"Why don't you go inside and find something to eat?" she suggested. "You know payment for the apples."

"None needed," I replied.

"If you hongry, then go in there and get yerself something," she demanded.

I walked into the store. I got myself a can of pork and beans. I also found some crackers laying on the shelf beside the beans. I took them out to the dirt parking lot. I returned to my chair and began to shovel them into my mouth with the plastic thing which was both a fork and spoon. When I finished I tossed the can into a barrel of trash.

"How much?" I asked.

"I told you it's pay for the apples," Granny insisted.

"Don't owe me nuthin for the apples," I replied.

"Sure I do, I couldn't get them myself," she replied.

I nodded rather than answer. An hour went by with neither Granny nor I speaking. The sun was getting low when the bus came around the bend in the highway. I heard it laboring up the mountain before I actually saw it. If I hadn't, I would never have had time to flag it down.

I waved to Granny as I climbed aboard the bus. The driver looked at me for a long moment before he allowed me on the bus. I paid him the three fifty for the ticket before I turned down the aisle.

I found an empty seat about halfway back. I sat alone in the seat for two. The movement of the bus made me sleepy within ten minutes. Ten minutes later found me sound asleep against the window. I awoke only when I sense the movement of the bus stop. I looked around to find that we were parking in the bus terminal.

I followed the other dozen or so passengers from the bus. While they milled about finding their luggage, I walked inside the terminal. I looked around but didn't see anyone who looked as though they were looking for me. I was just about to go outside to look for a cab when I heard my name being called on the public address system.

I went to the ticket counter. "You called me?" I asked.

"You Vernon Ashcroft?" the young woman asked.

"Yep," I replied.

"Are you sure?" she asked in disbelief.

"I always was," I replied seriously.

"You got a brother in Charlotte?" she asked skeptically.

"Did," I replied.

"What was his name?" she asked still not sure.

"Samuel Ashcroft, was some kind of lawyer," I replied.

"I guess you are. You have to forgive me, you aren't exactly what I expected,"

"Done," I said.

"So where are your bags?" she asked.

"Ain't got none," I replied.

"Okay," she answered cautiously. "So where do you want to go?"

"Charlotte, I reckon."

"No, I mean don't you want to clean up and maybe buy some clothes?"

"No just yet, I want to see to my brother first," I replied.

"He's being held at the hospital until you make the arrangements. His will was very specific that you and only you arrange for his funeral," she informed me.

"Yeah," I answered.

"So you want to go to the hospital?" she asked.

"Speck so," I replied.

"Don't you want to get some clean clothes first?" she asked.

"Okay, take me to Sam's place," I said.

"That might be a good idea. So let's go. By the way, my name is Lou, short for Lucille."

I nodded my understanding. I followed her to the large automobile. I had no idea what kind of car it was. I hadn't seen many cars on the mountain.

"You want to sleep while we drive? It's going to take most all night."

I nodded again.

"Then why don't you get in the back seat. By the way, I worked for your brother. I was his paralegal. I have been assigned to help you for the next couple of days."

I nodded again, even though she couldn't see it in the dark car. The lull of the road put me to sleep again. I awoke only when the car stopped at a stoplight on the edge of Charlotte. Lou noticed that I was awake.

"You okay back there. If it hadn't been for the snoring I might have thought you dead," she informed me.

"I be fine," I said.

"We should be at Sam's condo in a couple of more minutes," she advised me.

I nodded again even though she still couldn't see me. It was actually another half hour before we arrived at the complex. There must have been five hundred townhouses in the complex. The builder tried to make each appear different but there was just no way. In the end it just looked like pure hell. At least it did to me.

I was surprised when Lou came into the townhouse with me. She didn't explain and I didn't ask. She turned on the lights as we wandered through the place.

"I came over yesterday and cleaned up. Your brother was a neat freak, but I washed a few dishes and did his laundry. I guess that was pretty stupid. I mean he isn't going to need the clothes anymore."

"Let me get you some clothes. I expect everything will be the wrong size, but at least they will be clean."

I nodded. When she returned with an armfull of clothes, I went into the bathroom. I took a long shower under the hot water. It was the first shower I had taken in ten years. It wasn't the first bath of course, but it was the first shower. I must have washed my hair five times before the dirt stopped coming out of it. When I stepped from the shower, I took a look at myself in the full length mirror attached to the door.

God, I hadn't realized how old and thin I had become. I was still on the morning side of forty, but I looked fifty. My hair had a liberal sprinkling of gray but my beard was almost completely black. I stepped closer to the mirror to examine my face. There were the scars from my boxing days, they had been joined by deep wrinkles around my eyes. "Too many hours of squinting into the sun," I thought. Even cleaned up I looked like a hermit. My hair was shoulder length only because it was easier to cut when it was long.

I tried the clothes Lou had gotten from my brother's closet. I found them to be too big and too small at the same time. The waistband of the slacks was a couple of inches too large, while the pants where at least an inch too short. After I put on the loose fitting shirt, I left it outside the pants to hide the bunch of the waistband.

When I returned to the living room, I found Lou asleep on the sofa. Why not she had driven all night. I moved quietly to sit in a chair across from her. I sat quietly and watched her sleep for over an hour.

She jerked herself awake. The first thing she did was to look at her watch. "My God, I've been asleep for two hours." She noticed me sitting across from the sofa. "Have you been there the whole time."

I nodded.

"You don't talk much do you?" she asked with a small smile.

"Got nothing to say," I replied.

"Well you look a lot better. You want go to the hospital now?"

"Speck so," I said.

"How about we stop for breakfast on the way. My treat," she added quickly.

I shrugged my indifference. She took it for a yes. The restaurant she chose looked a great deal like a giant thermos bottle, all shiny aluminum and glass.

You don't get a lot of eggs living from the land. You also don't eat a great deal of bread. As a matter of fact there are times you miss a few meals. When I found myself at the table, I didn't know what to order. I had never seen a menu quite like the one at the 76 Grill.

Lou noticed my dismay at the menu. "How about I order for us both. How do you like your eggs?"

"Don't matter," I mumbled.

"How about an omelet?" she asked.

"Be fine," I replied.

When the young man came to take our order, she gave it to him in what might as well have been a foreign language. He had brought coffee as he came to take the order. I drank the hot coffee while we waited. It was the first coffee I had in several months.

"Vernon, we need to talk about a few things before we go to the hospital." She waited in vain for me to ask. Finally she just went on. "They are going to ask you what mortuary you want to come for Samuel's remains. Do you know one?"

"Nope?" I replied.

"That's what we thought. The partners have arranged for a mortuary to take care of it. That is if you approve. There will be no question of money, the firm handled Sam's estate. There is plenty of insurance to take care of everything. Mr. Wilson will see you this afternoon to explain about the estate." She seemed a little embarrassed to be talking about money.

I made absolutely no response. After sitting quietly for a while she went on. "Vernon, do you know what kind of service you want for your brother?" she asked.

"Vern," I said.

"What?" she asked.

"Folks call me Vern," I replied.

"Okay Vern, have you given any thought to what kind of service you want for Sam?" she asked.

"Nope," I replied.

"Then let me suggest a small chapel service." She was shocked when I interrupted her.

"No service," I said.

"You have to have a service. Samuel's friends will want to pay their respects."

I removed an old beat up wallet from my pants, from it I carefully removed a folded piece of paper. I handed her the first page of the letter.

The letter had been sent to me in care of Granny Emerson. It was six months old. I had received it when I went down for my winter supplies.

The scrap Lou read had been torn from the letter. It was written in Samuels own scrawl. "If anything happens to me. I do not want a funeral service. I do not want those phony bastards acting like they cared about me. I want my body sent home to lay with momma and daddy." His words weren't those of a high priced lawyer, they were those of a scared child.

When I got the letter I knew something was bad wrong, but I didn't have any idea how to help. When the sheriff brought me the news, I had almost been expecting it.

The words had shocked Lou. She sat for a long time staring first at the scarp of paper then at the coffee cup before her. I expected that she was speechless for a reason. She knew that Samuel had felt that way.

She rose from the table suddenly with tears in her eyes. She removed the cell phone from her purse, then walked to the parking lot. I saw her through the window as she talked into the small black box.

When she returned both plates of food sat on the table. I had waited for her to return before beginning to eat. As soon as she was seated, I began on the omelet. She pushed the plate away without even tasting her food.

"Are you always this quiet or is it just because you despise us all?" she asked with tears in her eyes.

"Don't talk much, but when I do, you better listen," I said going back to the omelet.

"What are you going to do?" she asked after a long pause.

"Send Sam home," I replied.

"Then what?" she asked somehow knowing there was more.

I looked deep into her eyes. I could tell she had been in love with my brother. She had a depth of pain in her that wasn't just for her boss.

"Gonna see a man," I replied in almost a whisper.

"Who?" she asked.

"Can't say," I replied.

"The police have the man who killed your brother. You do know that?" she asked.

"Hadn't heard," I replied more interested.

"Some low life drug dealer named Samuel. Not there is a sick coincidence," she said bursting into real tears.

I nodded. I knew they didn't have the one who ordered the killing. Samuel had named the man in his letter to me. He knew that he might be killed by a drug distributor. A client forced on him by the senior partner. Sam knew too much, he had written me fearing for his life. He even knew the advice I would have given him. He said so in his letter. He explained that he couldn't just take off. He had too much invested in his life. He explained that he would attempt to solve his problem and stay in the 'Big Time'.

Lou drove me to the hospital, where I said goodbye to Sam. She actually made the arrangements for his shipment to Greensboro. I just signed the papers.

Once in the car she said, "We need to go talk to Mr. Wilson. He wants to read you the terms of Samuel's will."

I nodded my agreement.

"What are you going to do?" she asked.

"Don't rightly know," I replied. I knew damned well, I just wasn't planning to tell her.

She drove the car to a ten story modern office building. Wilson and Wilson took up a whole floor of the building. She led me to a conference room, where another woman brought me coffee in a fancy cup. I waited alone in the room for about ten minutes.

"Mr. Ashcroft, my name is Edward Wilson," the fat man bellowed. "I spoke to you on the phone. I just want you to know how sorry I am about your brother."

I took his outstretched hand, then just nodded.

"Lucille tells me you decided not to have a service here in Charlotte. I am a little disappointed Sam had a lot of friends here."

I had just met the man but I knew instantly that he was a phony. Probably a lot of it had to do with Samuel's letter, but I think I would have known anyway.

He like everyone else waited for me to speak. I had nothing to say to the bastard, so I just stared at him. He finally became uncomfortable enough to speak. "Well I guess we should get on to the reading of the will. I guess you want to accompany Samuel home."

"No need to rush. I will be stayin' here for a day or two. I done said my goodbyes," I replied. For me, that was speech.

"Would you rather do this at a later time?" he asked.

"Don't matter none to me," I said.

Wilson looked disturbed. "Well then I suppose we might as well continue." He took a seat at the head of the table. "Please have a seat Mr. Ashcroft."

"Don't reckon I will," I said as I stood over him.

"It is a little uncomfortable with you standing over me," Wilson said trying to smile.

"I reckon it is at that," I said but I made no move to sit.

"Mr. Ashcroft is there something wrong?" he asked.

"Yeah, but it will wait," I replied.

Wilson was very uncomfortable. "Would you prefer someone else read the will?"

"Nope, you go right ahead," I said.

"Would you mind if I cut right to the bottom line?" he asked nervously.

"Go ahead," I replied.

"Sam left everything to you. All of his assets together total over half a million dollars. If you like I can list them for you."

"Don't bother yourself none. I don't \'91spect a man in prison has much use for money," I said menacingly.

"What makes you say that?" he asked squirming in his seat.

"People gonna begin dying soon," I said.

"Are you threatening me?" he asked. I couldn't tell exactly what his frame of mind was at that moment.

"Could be," I replied.

"I think this conversation is over," he said. He didn't try to stand though.

"Won't be another one," I replied.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" he asked angrily.

"Mean as hell, I spect." I kept a close eye on the old fart while he moved to the door. I gave him time to get out before I left the room. I walked from the conference room, then to the elevators. I was standing outside the building when I heard her voice.

"What the hell is wrong with you Vern?" Lou asked as she walked from the building.

"Don't like that place," I said as I walked away.

"Hold on, where the hell are you going?" she asked.

I stopped turned to her, then said. "Don't know fer sure."

"Then come with me. I have all the papers you need to sign to gain access to your brother's things."

"What things?" I asked.

"You know bank accounts, insurance settlements, that kind of thing," she informed me.

"No need," I replied.

"Sure there is, you do want to be able to pay for his internment."

"Ain't gonna be my problem," I replied.

"Just what the hell are you talking about?" she asked.

"Nuthin," I replied.

"I want to help. Isn't there anything I can do?" she asked.

"Need a ride to the K mart," I replied.

"Sure, my car is parked in the lot. I have to warn you, I am awfully sleepy though."

"Shore," I replied not giving it any thought. Her problems belonged to her.

She led me to a small Chevrolet. The large car from the night before must have belonged to the company. At the K mart store, I bought a hunting knife, a sharpening stone, and a city map.

"You are going to buy some clothes aren't you?" Lou asked.

"Don't need none," I replied.

From the store Lou drove me to Sam's condo. She again slept on the sofa. She found her own blanket in the closet.

She slept for six hours. Even the summer sun had set before she awoke. She looked sleepily up at me from the sofa. "What have you been doing all afternoon?"

I held up the knife and stone for her to see. It was the only answer she was to receive.

"So what are you going to do now?"

"Walk," I said heading for the door.

"Be careful where you go. Some of these neighborhoods can be pretty rough," Lou warned.

I turned, then nodded to her. I walked into the center of town, then walked almost to the far edge. Some kids shouted at me, but I kept walking. They were just kids making noises in the night. I was surprised to find Lou asleep on the sofa when I returned just before sunrise.\tab

"You still here?" I asked when she awoke.

"Dammit you worried the hell out of me. I almost called the cops," she said.

"No need," I replied moving to the bedroom. I fell onto the bed exhausted from lack of sleep. Just before I drifted off, I heard the outside door open then close.

When I awoke late in the evening, I was starved. I found a can of tuna in the refrigerator. I didn't much like tuna but it was easy to prepare. I opened the car, then put the contents on crackers.

After I had eaten I found Sam's coffee pot. I made and drank two pots, while I sharpened the knife some more. Just after dark, I slipped back into the night.

That night as I walked, I talked to the street people as I went. Most of them were pretty spaced out, but a few knew which way the wind blew. One or two actually read the papers. Those were the ones who knew the most.

The next two nights were about the same as the first. Martin Thistle lived in on the tenth floor of an apartment building several miles from Sam's condo. As a matter of fact the whole tenth floor of building had only two apartments. That piece of information I knew from Sam's final letter. Sam knew what would happen if he were killed, so he sent me the information I would need in the letter.

From a homeless Viet Nam Vet, I learned a lot about the building. The vet slipped into the building on cold nights. He slept in the basement. He explained to me that he had always left before the doorman arrived and never made a mess. No one even knew he slept there.

I gave him ten bucks to show me how he entered the building. It hadn't been worth ten bucks when I discovered how easy it was. The basement parking garage had a metal door which was controlled by the tenants. Each tenant had a remote for the door.

The homeless vet had lifted one of the units. Since no one ever stole a car, the codes weren't changed. All the vet ever did was slip into the garage, then into a basement storeroom. he only did that on especially cold nights.

For the same ten bucks, he agreed to get me into the building. He also warned me about the security guards. The parking garage was under video surveillance. The trick was to wait until the guard walked outside for a smoke. He stayed out about ten minutes even on the coldest night.

The vet stood at the corner of the building waiting for the guard to come to the door for his cigarette. When he was outside, the vet ran back to open the door for me. I slipped into the building as quickly as possible.

Once inside I jimmied the staircase door. The camera's were in the elevators according to my new friend, but not on the fire stairs. The tenants didn't use the stairs. The camera's were for their protection after all.

I climbed the stairs quietly. When I reached the tenth floor I peeped through the small glass panel. I didn't see any guards, but I knew there would be guards inside the apartment. I had chosen my victims by order of their importance. The first was the man who ordered the hit on my brother. He was the resident of half the tenth floor.

My friend the vet had told me there were at least a dozen monitors at the security station. I figured one per floor plus a few for the garage and elevators. I scanned the hallway but couldn't spot a camera anywhere. I was just about to say to hell with it and rush the door, when I noticed a small wire over the emergency door. The wire was clipped to the metal doorframe. The wire ran into a hole in the concrete floor. I retraced my steps to the ninth floor landing. There I found an identical wire joining the one from the floor above.

I could have cut all the wires. If I had it would kill the monitors, but I didn't know what the security guard would do in such a case. I looked up to find the roof access hatch. I climbed the metal ladder only to find the hatch secured with a padlock. My misspent youth traveling with the carnivals had taught me to be a fair burglar. Padlocks were not the easiest locks to pick, but it could be done.

The hardest part of picking the lock was the awkward position I found myself in. It takes two hands to pick a lock. I was forced to do it while balance precariously from a ladder with no tilt. It was a pure D bitch, but I got it done. Once on the roof, I began checking it out carefully. I found to my great surprise and pleasure that each of the penthouse apartments had a pyramid shaped sky light. The panels opened for fresh air during the summer. It would have been only slightly better had one been open, but no matter. The locks were meant to keep the windows closed not to keep burglars out. The thin bladed knife easily slipped the lock.

Even better the skylight was directly over the bed where my victim slept. If I had brought the crossbow, I would even have had to go inside. I began to think about my escape after the killing. I would be in his apartment therefore forced to go out the door and into the eye of the camera. The armed guard would be waiting for me on either the stairs or at the elevator. A strange man in the halls at three a.m. would alert him for sure. Not to mention a probable alarm on the stairway door.

I was however too close to walk away from the kill. What I needed was a way to kill him without going into the apartment. I was standing almost directly over his bed with a clear shot at him. Surely there was a way.

I took another look around the roof. I got the idea when I saw the Satellite dish mounted on a ten or twelve foot pole. I sure hoped the person who owned the dish wasn't watching TV at that moment.

Since it was a small dish, I was able to bring it down without too much trouble. The guide wires were all held by turn buckles. Releasing them was easy. The pole itself was on tripod legs which were anchored to the roof. I quickly found that by twisting the and pulling the pole I could work the anchors loose.

With the lower section of one of the guide wires, I tried the knife to the pole. It was a simple matter then to use it as a pike. I stabbed the victim four times in the chest before I raised the pole. I removed my knife then retraced my steps. I almost laughed when I imagined his body guards pacing the room outside while their boss died.

I knew I had been lucky. I also knew that the victim had guarded himself with all kinds of high tech security, but had fallen victim to one of the earliest weapons. It was almost humorous. I didn't really see the humor in it until I retraced my steps to the garage. I hoped someone would be leaving before the body was discovered. I planned to slip out behind a resident.

I waited hidden in the garage for two hours. I should have been nervous, but I wasn't really. I had taken care of the man most guilty in my brother's death. If I got the other two fine, if not so be it.

It must have been around six a.m. when the man in the black sports car raised the gate. I waited until he was outside the garage before I slipped from the building. The walk to Sam's condo somehow seemed shorter after the kill. I was actually surprised how easily I had done it. Not the method, the fact that it didn't seem to bother me at all.

When I returned to the condo, Lou was not to be found. I expected she had given up on me, which had been the idea all along. I slept most of the day. When I awoke I killed the remaining afternoon sharpening my knife. It was after dark when I again turned to the city map. \tab The walk to my next target's house would take most of the night. I didn't mind since daylight or darkness wouldn't matter. I began the walk across town. It was easy walking since the town itself had sidewalks. Even in the suburbs the shoulders were firm and flat. It was much easier than walking in the woods. I made good time, so good in fact that I had to wait for the victim to wake. I would have gone in after him but I didn't want to harm his family.

When he walked from his house toward his fancy car, I took him from behind. The knife was so sharp that it almost cut his head off instead of just his throat. I held him in my arms while he bled to death. After Wilson was dead, I sat quietly on the curb waiting for the police. I had heard his wife scream so I knew they would arrive soon enough.

The cops tried to make me talk for several hours before they finally locked me away in the county jail. In the day room, I found the man who had killed my brother. I walked behind him, then broke his neck as I had broken the necks of wounded deer. He died quietly.

Lou came to visit me only once. I refused to explain any of it to her so she never returned. Since I had destroyed Sam's letter no one ever really knew my motives. I didn't want them to know.

It worked out for the best. Life on death row isn't all that bad, unless you really want to live.

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