“I’m so glad you came down to breakfast,” the landlady said, smiling. She was seated alone at the dining room table in the front parlor, and there were pale, dusty old drapes on the win-dows.
“I was just on my way out,” the stranger said. His bag was at his side.
“You’re not leaving us?”
“Have to. Business.” He was lying, of course, but he just didn’t like the feel of this place, especially not with the hard-looking husband lurking somewhere about. You could pull the wool over these old ladies’ eyes, but not the husbands’. He had a sense the husband would be trouble.
“Please, at least stay for breakfast.”
“Thanks for putting me up on the spur of the moment.” He turned to leave.
“Not so fast.”
And when he turned again and faced her, a gun was pointed at him. “Your face is in the morning paper. And you seemed such a friendly type.”
“You’ve got me mixed up.”
“Do I?” She came around to his side of the table, a huge mistake.
The newspaper was there, and she pointed to it.
“May I?” the stranger said. He reached for the newspaper, and in a quick beat had backhanded her and knocked the gun to the floor. He was first on top of it, and up again, backing her up.
“Don’t shoot me.”
“Where is he?”
“He’s at work. He gets up early for work.”
“The other boarders?”
“There are no others.”
“I swear.” A huge mistake, because indeed she was telling the truth. “What are you going to do?”
“Please. I won’t say anything.”
“Where’s the cellar?”
“No -- please.”
“Well, if you insist.” And he pumped a slug into her, the gunshot making a sharp crack, and down she went. He stood over her. She seemed dead, but one didn’t take chances in this circumstance. He fired again, then he carried her out into the downstairs hall and into the kitchen. He found the cellar door and threw it open -- Christ, there he was, the old man, coming up out of the semi-darkness.
The stranger jerked upright and flipped the old lady’s corpse off his shoulder and down on top of the startled husband, knocking him to the foot of the stairs, his old bones thudding and crunching along the way. Now the stranger must finish the job, and he climbed over the old lady’s body down into the darkness. The husband was lying crumpled in a heap and looked pretty bad. But he wasn’t without signs of life. Before he could plead for mercy, the stranger had raised the gun and pointed it at him, and with two sharp reports pulled the trigger that would end his life.
The stranger moved quickly, arranging both bodies in a corner of the cellar. He tucked the gun in his belt and went back upstairs. From the downstairs parlor window, he surveyed the front yard to be sure he would avoid detection. It occurred to him at that moment the landlady might be lying. There might be boarders after all. So he headed up the stairs.
Room after room was empty. And there weren’t many rooms to begin with. It was then he noticed the little mounds in the backyard, almost like grave markers. It was then he wondered if perhaps there wasn’t a reason why there were no boarders. Had he stumbled on some kind of psychopathic murdering couple in the middle of the woods?
There wasn’t time to think about this. He headed back down the stairs and grabbed his suitcase. In no time, he was safe in the cab of his pickup truck. It was not impossible that the police had ID’d that truck, so he’d have to ditch it. In fact, not ten miles up the road, he found a used car dealership.
“Swap?” he said.
“Cash,” the yard man told him.
The stranger’s billfold once again came into play. “You sure carry a lot of the green stuff on you.”
“That Chevy pickup will do,” he said, pointing to a battered truck. “Twenty-five hundred?”
“Plus the trade-in.”
The stranger signed the papers inside the dirty little shed that served as an office, and drove out into the late morning in his new wheels. He needed a new base of operations, and so he swung north and figured to add another twenty miles of distance between himself and Baton Rouge. Safe distance. Those nagging newspaper headlines were beginning to play on his nerves. Who did they think they were, trying to portray him as some kind of lunatic? He only wanted what was right-fully his. There were those who would consider this insane, of course, this knocking down of the Big Katt’s old flames like ten pins. But they didn’t know what the Big Katt could do to a man, how jealous a man could be made to be.
A rental room, George Lesslie good and dead, and then the big prize. These occupied the stranger’s thoughts on this warm and friendly morning. He hit the gas pedal and sped on down the road.