By Troy Blackford

When I first saw the abandoned accident, all sorts of ideas came into my head. Crazy ideas. Towering over them all was the idea that I had to act fast. That made the rest of it — the details — swirl around faster, get harder to take hold of. Because it was all right there: when I first saw the body on the side of the road, left to rot miles away from the closest town and without a soul in sight. My problem was picking through the pieces, like sifting for gold, and then putting them together to make some kind of plan.

It was the answer to all my problems at once. It was the way out, the way over, the way through. It would stamp one big "PAID IN FULL" mark right on my file and let me start again. But I had to act fast. And if I didn't pull it off, it would be my ass on the line instead of hers. I couldn't let that happen.

It was a fine line I had to walk. But I knew I had to try. If I failed, then I failed. My life couldn't get worse than it already was, even if I couldn't pull this off.

So I thought... go for it.

* * *

First thing I did was go to the butcher store. It didn't take long to get there. Asking folks where I live, way out in the country, to drive more than a half hour for slabs of fresh meat is like asking a goat to solve arithmetic. Petey Palisades sold me what I wanted, and was damn happy to do it. Quite a sale for old Pete.

Had to make up some bunkum story about having a barbeque but I thought, "You know what? I pull this off, I will have a barbeque: a celebration." So it weren't really a lie, the way I figure it. Then I had to do a hard thing, compared to the others. Kind of a bad thing, real risky. I had done it before, course. I just saw it as being the one part of my plan that could trip me up.

I had to go by her work and take her car, you see. Borrow it for a while. That was basically the whole deal right there — no car, no plan. At least I had the situation tipped in my favor.

She doesn't work around other people, and that was going to be a big help to me. If anybody could vouch for where she'd been all morning, that dead guy by the side of the road wasn't going to do me a damn bit of good. I happened to know she slipped out of her work all the time to go do other stuff — hell, probably other men — so I figured she must have some way of making it look like she was at work the whole time to her higher-ups. No matter what she tried to say about being there that morning, she can't show one way or another. If they look into it really hard, they'll catch her up about lying all the time about her whereabouts while she's on the clock, and that just helps the case against her as far as I can see.

I reached town proper and got almost to the lot, when it struck me that maybe she wouldn't be there now. Or maybe she would try to leave while I had her car and think it had been stolen. If she called the cops to say her car had been stolen, I'd be a cooked goose.

I had to hope for the best. It was all I could think to do. I was about to pull in the lot, whooping to myself when I saw her old sedan parked right there in front of me, when I realized that if she did come out while I had her car, she'd see my car in the lot and that would shoot my plan all to shit.

I drove right on past the lot entrance and parked a few blocks down the street. Had to get far enough away, but not so far that I'd have a long walk and slow the whole operation down. I figured as how the coroner lady down at the county morgue would have ways of knowing how long that guy had been lying there dead, and I wanted everything to jibe with the story I was trying to piece together. Everything had got to look just the way I wanted it to look.

So I didn't walk back to the lot, I ran — with Marsha's keys jangling in my pocket. I must have felt for them in my pocket two dozen times between my car and the lot, all anxious about forgetting them and blowing the whole thing. It sounds silly now, the idea that the keys were going to not be in my pocket on like the thirteenth time I looked. But I was full of adrenaline, scared to fail.

When I eventually jogged close enough to see, my heart leapt in my throat. Her car was sitting right there, mine for the taking. I tried not to let myself get too carried away. I hadn't gotten to any of the hard parts yet. This was all just set-up for the tricky stuff. From here on out, it would all be the real deal.

I bet I looked like a right idiot, slinking across that lot like a thief and hopping in her car. I didn't dare close the door hard until I was off the lot. I bit my lip while I started the engine, hoping I wouldn't see any curtains swish at the sound, and have Marsha staring out at me. Not that she would know, at this point, exactly what I intended. She'd just think whatever bad things she already thought about me, only twice as hard.

I unclenched my jaw when I saw that she hadn't noticed the engine, and pulled slowly out of there. When I got about a block away, I slammed the door and gunned it until I reached my car. Working as fast as I could, I heaved the side of beef into her trunk. Petey Palisades had wrapped it all up nice, like any butcher worth a buck would do, but I bundled that bad boy up in the tarp I always had in my trunk before I slung it into Marsha's car. I didn't want any residue or whatever you call it to get in her trunk and give the game away.

Heard from a friend about a retired football guy whose wife got all drunk and crashed into a fellow in some big city, then drove off and tried to hide it. They had all sorts of scientists crawling all over that car, saying what hit where and if the car was going over a certain speed when it happened and which way the guy was facing when he was hit and all that. I knew our local coroner, and though she was good, she weren't "big city good."

There weren't going to be a team of scientists swarming Marsha's car. The couple of people who were going to look at it out here would feel proud just for figuring out that Marsha's car had hit something that day. They weren't going to, like analyze it in depth or nothing like that.

So I got to the place where the guy's body was laying; some kid with weird hair and a shirt showing some band I ain't never heard of. That sort of encouraged me, you see, because the only reason I could imagine for a city kid to be lying out here was that he was out joyriding with friends when he met his misfortune, and they just left him and bailed. All sorts of ideas of what might have happened popped in my head — like his girlfriend starts driving off without him after he got fresh with her in a field or something and she pressed too hard on the gas while he was trying to stop her from taking off without him, and she clocked him. Or maybe he wandered off from a group of campers, stoned out of his mind, and walked in front of a car that didn't stop.

Obviously, nobody had called the police about it when it happened, or they'd have gotten to the body before I had a chance to get back here. Nobody was trying to claim the guy or report the accident. That made my plan easy. I'd just have to make sure somebody did take the blame, that's all.

Hanging the side of beef was easy. I just used some rope I kept in the trunk and slung it over a thick branch overhead, then tied the other end to the ring on the big slab of cow carcass. I don't know if it's the same everywhere, though I expect it is, but Old Petey Palisades charges for his sides of beef by the "hanging weight," and each chunk of cow gets strung up on this rail thing that weighs it before he slops the price on the register. It's a real nice system, I always thought, especially then when I was using the embedded ring to hook this cow to a tree.

This was a real thorny part of my plan, because if someone else came down the road right now, I'd have a bit of explaining to do. No adequate response for "So, why you hanging a mostly-frozen cow from a tree and, say, is that a dead body on the side of the road?" I had to act fast, but I couldn't let that throw me all willy-nilly. I also had to act right. Had to keep some horse-sense.

So I tied off the cow and hoisted it up, tying the other end to the tree. Then I ran back and looked at the body. This kid was all smashed up on the right side. I looked at the way he was lying there, and looked at the front of Marsha's car, and tried to imagine how he was hit to make the kind of injuries he had.

That story Buck told me about that football guy's wife, the scientists crawling over her car telling the court this and that about when and where and how that guy hit the hood, all ran through my brain like bugs swarming over old food in a dump, and I tried to shake them away. It only sort of worked.

I figured I'd got it set to what I needed, so I got back in Marsha's car and lined it up. I only had one shot at this one. I took aim, floored the gas, and closed my eyes and braced myself to smack a hundred pounds of cold cow.

The impact went just like I expected...for the first two seconds. Once I actually struck the side of beef, the knot I had tied around the tree to anchor the makeshift pulley unraveled and dropped the whole weight of the thing down on the hood. I slammed on the brakes, mad at first until I realized that what had happened was probably more realistic.

Okay, now I had to scramble. My window of time was closing, and I had a couple more parts left to my plan. I strung the cow down — at this point, the heifer had gone through more than any cow ought to be subjected to, and it would be a mercy to eat the thing — and slung it back in Marsha's trunk, along with the rope. Then I started hightailing it back to Marsha's work. So far, I was amazed at how well my plan had worked.

That's when the deer rushed out in front of me. I didn't have time to stop. I must have been going about fifty miles an hour, and all the stories people had told me about deer going right through their windshield flashed through my head. How the deer's death throes inside the car could send their hooves right through your temple, shatter your skull into a thousand tiny shards.

I bit my lip something fierce when I hit that deer, only to watch in wonder as it rolled up on the hood — its long, thin legs kicking briefly in the air — and then rolled off. Just like that. No glass-shattering, certainly no death-frenzy. Just a graceful roll on, roll off.

I ran my hands through my hair, mind reeling. How did this affect my plans? I got out and looked at the front of the car, and couldn't really see any more damage than the cow had done. The deer was just twitching its last twitches in the ditch. I got back in the car and drove to town.

The way I saw it, hitting that deer wasn't going to have any effect at all. It might even help. It sort of fit in, you see? Marsha hits a kid, tries to run, panics, goes too fast and hits a deer, and then leaves that there, too. It was almost better. Marsha hitting that deer was totally consistent with someone fleeing the scene.

I mean, that's why I hit it, right?

Okay, so I was down to the home stretch now. I pulled up next to my car and tossed the battered beef and the rope back into my trunk. The only thing that beef was going to have to do now was to get ate at a party — a fitting conclusion for such a helpful critter.

I pulled in, got out, and slowly closed the door, watching the window for curtain-swishing the whole time. Nothing. When I closed the car door as much as I could without making a sound, I laid down on my back and put my two feet flat against it, closing it with just a little click instead of a loud "slam." This was going pretty well.

I ran my ass out of that lot like a rabbit who spotted a cat in the yard, knowing that by far the worst of it was over. I started pumping my fist in the air as I got back to my car, I don't mind telling you, and then I jumped inside and sped off. Not back towards the home place, but towards the lake.

* * *

There were just a few steps left. The window of time was closing. First off, I needed not to have keys to Marsha's car. This wasn't a problem. Marsha had caught me driving it a couple months back, and I told her I'd get rid of the spare keys. She hadn't caught me using it since then, so she probably actually believed that I had. I walked down to the shore of the lake, strode up to a grill-covered drain pipe, and threw the spare keys back as far as I could. The dark water swallowed them whole.

From that point on, as far as the world was concerned, I really had got rid of her keys a couple months ago. Only one thing left: the crime needed to be reported. I headed over to the local discount store. We don't rate a Target around here, not even a Wal-Mart. We have some rinky-dink, bankruptcy-fighting-off place called "Pamida." I've never seen one in any other town. I rushed back to the electronics section and bought one of those cheap, prepaid phones and put the bare minimum amount of time on it.

Heading out into the parking lot, I cruised up the road aways to the nearest park and made my call. I didn't call 911. That would get recorded. I called the police station directly, just the regular office number. I knew Rick Demper down at the station, and he was always complaining about how the department didn't have enough money in their budget for the basics. I couldn't imagine the regular calls getting recorded.

I called up, and told the lady who answered what I had "seen," gave them Marsha's license number (she had one of those vanity plates saying something stupid: easy to remember, so it wouldn't seem even slightly fishy that some random dude had noticed it) and said that that was all I knew about it. They asked who this was, and I said I was a passerby who didn't want to be involved in no small-town police matters. I talked in a funny voice so I wouldn't be recognized, but knowing I wasn't being recorded, that might almost have been overkill.

My little speech finished, I hung up the phone. Before I dumped it in the trash at the park — making sure it went down under all the fast food hamburger wrappers and empty soda bottles that was already in there — I took the battery out and wiped off the fingerprints. I know these phones have GPS chips that can tell where you are from space, and after everything I had done, I didn't want to get caught up in no technicalities.

After that, I went two towns over, to the big party store, and started getting a few favors suitable to a BBQ shindig. Then I stopped at their big grocery market for chips and dip and a few other odds and ends like that. This was to establish my alibi, should I need one, but also for practical purposes. Once my shopping was mostly done, I started calling my friends.

"Come on over tonight, right around seven," I said. "I got the place to myself. We're gonna have ourselves a big ol' barbeque."

It was a damn fine barbeque, too. "Chuck," one of my friends said to me, "this is the best damn beef I ever ate in my life." I had to agree. Not just tasty, but useful too. Funny how a thing like that really brings out the flavor of a thing. The sweet taste of victory.

All in all, it ended up being a great party. Every one of my friends was there. Every one of them except for Marsha.

Troy Blackford is a 29-year-old writer living in the Twin Cities with his wife, a son on the way, and two cats. He has stories published in the Missing Slate, Roar & Thunder, Bewildering Stories, Rose Red Review, Inkspill Magazine, Roadside Fiction, The Glass Coin, and many others. He has an audiobook collection out through "In Ear Entertainment" entitled "They Who Cry Out Seek to be Heard," as well as a print short story collection entitled "For Those With Eyes to See."

Copyright 2013 Troy Blackford. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!

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