vanillafluffy: (Florida oranges)
[personal profile] vanillafluffy
All I knew about the house I bought for the cost of its delinquent taxes was what I could see on Google maps. It was a couple miles outside a small Florida town--rural, on a couple quiet acres. The county property assessor’s listing said my new house (built in 1936) was 1168 square feet with two bedrooms and one bath, and it was in my price range.

Perfect, right? After chalking up twenty years in the Air Force, I’d gone as far up the promotion ladder as I could. I was tired of seeing suck-ups getting ahead of me, tired of knowing nothing was going to change, in short, I was ready to retire. I’d dropped a chunk of savings on the house, and budgeted another whack for repairs and living expenses while I got the place fixed. Then I’d see what kind of job I could scare up to pay the bills, because I’m another twenty away from collecting my pension.

Driving toward the house from the road, I halfway expected dinosaurs to come charging through the overgrowth. The wild foliage scraped the sides of my vintage Dodge Coronet, and I winced at the insult to the glossy black paint. No one had been out there in years, by the looks of it.

The house itself was a stucco cube surrounded by giant hibiscus bushes. The windows were shuttered, what the locals call hurricane shutters, probably rusted in place...getting them open was going to be the first thing on my to-do list, or I’d be stuck in a hot, humid cave. I was prepared to do some roughing it, but there were limits. I was thinking along the lines of an air-mattress in one of the bedrooms, not pitching my tent in the freaking jungle because the house was so bad.

Of course, I didn’t have a key. I could have probably forced the door open, but I might end up needing a new one if I did that. First, I strolled around the house looking to see if anyone left a spare under a convenient rock. After all, this was the kind of small town where people could get away with trusting crap like that.

Well, what do you know--it wasn’t under a rock, just tucked inside a big conch shell beside the back porch. There’s a stroke of luck.

There was a can of WD-40 in the trunk of the Dodge along with the rest of my tools, including a ginormous flashlight with the camping gear. I sprayed the lubricant on the lock of the front door, gave it a minute to work, then coaxed the key to turn the protesting tumblers.

The door swung open.

Sweeping the beam of my torch around the living room to the left of the front door revealed furniture--I didn’t expect that, although the upholstery looked like mice had been at it, and the rest looked old-fashioned. Probably not even antique--just old. Hideous flowered curtains framed the shuttered windows.

A doorway at the far end of the room led to a dining room, and that was where things got interesting. More old wooden furniture filled the space: a full china cabinet, a buffet, and of course, a table surrounded by chairs. The whole thing was suitable for big family dinners to be immortalized by Norman Rockwell.

One of the chairs was pulled away from the table, another had toppled onto its side. On the floor beside it...I moved closer, playing the light over the object to make sure it was what I thought it was: a skeleton, sprawled face-down on the stained carpet, finger-bones still wrapped around a gun.

The bones were picked clean, there was no lingering smell--the whole house was musty from being closed up, but I know what dead bodies smell like. So whoever the guy was, he’d been there for a long time. Even knowing that, my pulse was thumping faster than usual as I straightened up and moved in the direction the dead man was pointing.

There was another doorway in line with the first, this one leading into the kitchen. From my earlier recon, I knew there was a backdoor, and on this side of it was another skeleton. This skull had a silver dollar-sized hole in the back of it.

Studying the two bodies relative to each other, I reconstructed how it went down.

They had been sitting around the dining table, when First Skeleton was popped by Second Skeleton. Closer examination revealed Second had an automatic tucked into the back of his trousers, and I’d bet if I could run tests on the fabric, it would show that the gun had been fired shortly before being put there. No doubt after shooting his confederate, Second had been making tracks out of there.

Looking closely at the dried blood stains on the dining room carpet, I could tell that First had dragged himself from where he’d fallen to the doorway of the kitchen, where he’d gotten off a shot at Second and taken him down.

I shook my head. After all, isn’t the first lesson in Crime Dramas 101, “Make sure the guy you shot is actually dead.”? This illustrated why that was so important.

What had the dispute been about? My guess was it had something to do with the locked briefcase Second was slumped over.

I could have called the cops. I probably should have called the cops. The thing is, if I did that, my peaceful retirement would go to hell before it even started. The officials would come in and turn my new house into a crime scene. I’d probably end up having to camp out on my own property for days, or even worse, shell out money I had budgeted elsewhere on a hotel. When news of the bodies got out, everybody in town would connect me with a double murder that probably happened when I was in diapers, and I wasn’t ready to deal with that kind of shit.

Instead, I double-bagged the bones and their guns in a couple heavy-duty trash bags--I’d brought cleaning supplies with me, knowing the house would need some work--wearing rubber gloves for the whole process, naturally. They could go out with the trash, and once they made it to the landfill, no one would be the wiser. If anyone missed either of these low-lifes, I imagine they’ve long since given up on hearing from them.

The house is coming along nicely. I’ve got the shutters opened, bringing light into rooms long dark. A rented dumpster holds the chewed-up sofa, over-stuffed chairs, mattresses. Every scrap of carpet is in there, along with the ugly floral curtains. I’ve scrubbed the messed-up linoleum in the kitchen, but plan to replace it with basic vinyl tiles.

I only get a couple channels on TV, because I haven’t gotten around to getting cable yet, but that’s okay. I work on the house during the day, and at night I’ve been systematically trying to unlock the briefcase. With literally a million possible combinations, I figure it’ll keep me busy for a while. So far, I’m up to 102,030. Yes, I suppose I could break it open, but where’s the fun in that? Besides, you never know--it might be booby-trapped.

I’ll get it open one of these days, and then we’ll see what was worth killing for. If it’s drugs, I figure I’ll flush them. That’s not my thing. On the other hand, if it’s cash?

My retirement will be a lot more comfortable, since my home will have paid for itself.


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