A Good Day to Bury Charlie

By Thomas A. Hauck

The punk had talked tough, but after a good beating he quickly caved in. He had begged for his life like a frightened kid. Heck, at age nineteen Charlie Kasko practically was a kid. He was in way over his head. Thought he was slick by playing both sides. But you can't be an FBI informer and a member of the North Shore Gang for very long. The kid should have known that. And his stupidity had been confirmed when he agreed to come to a meeting at the house on Willow Street. What a nave fool! When Johnny "Pistol" Carrigan had suggested to the kid that he come to the house to "clear up a few things," Johnny half expected the kid to make up some excuse: he had to work or take care of his mother, or some crap like that. To Johnny's satisfaction the kid had readily agreed. Sure, Johnny, no problem, he had said. His eyes were big and full of trust, like a hound dog. What an asshole. No one crosses Johnny Carrigan and lives to tell about it.

Johnny and Junior had led Charlie to the basement. The rec room, they told him. For privacy. Didn't want anyone snooping into their business. Charlie had hesitated — a glimmer of apprehension had flitted through his overactive mind. But Johnny had clapped him on the back and reassured him that everything was cool. They were brothers.

Johnny believed that you can tell anything to a rat. It's okay to lie to someone who has broken the oath. Charlie had relaxed, said okay, no problem. We're brothers. And with a swagger in his step he had gone down into the basement.

At the point of a gun Charlie had allowed himself to be chained to a chair. He thought maybe he had done something wrong and Johnny was going to give him a beating. Nothing serious, just a slapping around for some stupid infraction. He didn't believe that Johnny, the guy who had brought him into the organization, would kill him.

When the chains were drawn tight around his chest he realized what was going on. Tried to stand and twist free. A whack with a two-by-four across the kneecaps had solved that problem. Then Charlie tried to bargain. Appealed to Johnny's sense of kinship. "Hey Johnny," he said, "I look up to you. Respect you. You're like a father to me. C'mon, let's talk about this."

Johnny didn't want talk. He wanted answers, and to get them he used the two-by-four. When Charlie's face started to look like a mangled tomato he broke down. Begged for his life. The rat became a singing bird. Confessed everything.

Yeah, he worked for the feds. They were going to bust him. Send him to federal prison. He had no choice. Said he'd do anything to make it up to Johnny.

It was hard for him to talk because of the busted teeth and the blood that kept filling his mouth. Pissed his pants, too. A mess on the floor to clean up, but that would come later. Bleach will do it.

"This bird will never sing again," said Johnny as he twisted the clothesline around Charlie's neck. It took about five minutes for Charlie to have no pulse. The bastard took a long time to die! No matter. Dead is dead. He won't sing again.

Johnny had planned the operation with meticulous care. He wanted nothing left to chance. No possibility of Charlie escaping the snare. No possibility of discovery. That's the way Johnny was, and it was why he was both successful and feared. When Johnny pulled off a job it was always clean. No tracks, no evidence.

The house had been scouted and bought for cash. It had a small back yard. Maybe half an acre. There was a tall fence around the perimeter and lots of lilac bushes. You couldn't see into the yard from the street because the house blocked the view. The neighbors couldn't see into the yard either. It was secluded. Private.

The previous owner of the house had been a woman who was a gardener. She had planted all kinds of shrubs and flowers. Johnny didn't know anything about flowers but when he visited the house he liked to look at them. He was a brute who fancied he possessed a certain level of sophistication. It was summertime now and many of the flowers were in bloom. There were red flowers and blue ones.

Johnny also liked to watch the hummingbirds that patronized the flowers. He'd watch as they hovered at the flowers and probed them with their tiny pointed beaks. After a few seconds they'd zip away in a zigzag pattern, and then fly up to a tree to perch for a awhile.

They'd fight, too. Johnny liked that. If one hummingbird was at a flower and another approached, the first one would defend its territory. They'd tussle in midair until one gave up and flew away.

That's what life was like, thought Johnny. Always a battle for the flower.

As the warm corpse of Charlie Kasko lay on the basement floor wrapped in a sheet of plastic and secured with duct tape, Johnny sat for a moment at the little garden table on the back terrace of the house. He pondered which spot would be the best to bury the body. There was a maple tree in the far corner of the yard, but trees have roots, and roots can make digging with a shovel difficult. The grave had to be dug good and deep, and it had to be dug by hand. He and Junior couldn't use a backhoe. One would never fit through the narrow path that led from the street to the back yard, and anyway it would be too noisy, too conspicuous. Goddamn Charlie — not only did you have to be a rat, but now you needed a hole dug, which meant several hours of backbreaking work.

Johnny mopped his brow. The day was humid. He flexed his hands. Whacking Charlie with the two-by-four had made them stiff. No matter. There was work ahead.

Junior had wanted to take the body out in a boat and dump it at sea. Johnny nixed that idea. Bodies tended to float. You had to weigh down the body with chains and concrete blocks, and even then there was no guarantee that the bloated corpse wouldn't bob to the surface or get caught in a fishing net. And the Gloucester waterfront was busy twenty-four hours a day. There were security cameras too. Any fisherman seeing suspicious activity would get nosy and maybe even call the cops. Or worse, get that private detective Chris Mark involved. The guy was dangerous. He had a knack for putting people in jail. One of these days someone — maybe Johnny — was going to put a bullet in his head. Take him off the streets and out of the business of people who just wanted to make a living.

Then Junior suggested chopping up the body in the bathtub and leaving the parts in various dumpsters around town. "Idiot!" said Johnny. "Someone would find an arm or a leg. That would trigger an investigation by the state police. Media attention. Headlines. And you can't always be sure you get rid of traces of blood on tools and from the plumbing." Hacking up Charlie was a stupid idea.

No, they were going to plant Charlie right here in the back yard. Good and deep. No evidence would leave the house. When they were done Junior would put on some gloves and drive Charlie's car across the bridge. Park it on a side street in Salem. Let the cops find it in a week or two. Even better, some neighborhood entrepreneur might steal it.

As he pondered the details of his foolproof plan Johnny took stock of his environment. Except for two noisy crows squawking on the overhead power lines on the street, the immediate neighborhood was quiet. From many blocks away came the faint hum of a lawn mower. In the harbor a ship blew its horn. These everyday things were not a problem. Johnny took pride in his ability to sense anything unusual, especially any peculiar sounds from beyond the fence and the protective barrier of lilacs. His senses had never failed him. Maybe that's why he was still alive when so many of his competitors were either dead or in jail.

He watched the hummingbirds as they darted amongst the flowers. Over the past few weeks he had counted five. Johnny thought that there were two males and two females. And then there was the one extra hummingbird. Johnny couldn't figure out exactly what it was. It had the dull coloring of a female, but was a little bit bigger than the other two females. She never stayed at a flower very long. She would come into the yard, fly around, hover, and then zoom away.

She had been here earlier today. He saw her with the others. But he didn't see her now. She must be in some other garden.

Johnny noted with satisfaction that it was a good day to bury a body in the back yard. The late afternoon sky was overcast and the light was dim. Johnny craned his neck to look up through the branches of the trees at the dense blanket of clouds. The cops had drones now. Goddamn little helicopters and airplanes that could fly hundreds of feet overhead and watch you on a video feed. On a clear day they could be high enough to be invisible. But not today. They'd have to fly low, which meant you could see them or hear them.

No neighbors, no wiretaps, no cameras. Good.

Johnny went into the kitchen and told Junior to finish his beer. It was time to get to work. After retrieving two shovels from the basement Johnny showed Junior where they were going to dig. It was a spot around the corner from the kitchen door, out back by the property line. Out of the direct sight of the path that led to the street. And for extra insurance Johnny had bought a magnolia tree sapling from the garden supply store. Supported by its big round root ball of clay mud, the sapling sat on the scrubby lawn. If anyone happened to walk into the back yard — maybe some asshole from the gas company who had to read the meter — two guys digging a hole would make sense. They were planting a tree. Only this tree was going to have some extra fertilizer.

After pacing off six feet, Johnny used the tip of his shovel to turn up the sod at each end. He then paced off two feet for the width. He wanted a nice neat job.

Junior fetched the tarp from the basement. Johnny insisted they put a tarp on the lawn next to the hole. The top layer of sod and the dirt would go on the tarp so that when they were done they could easily refill the hole and replace the sod. The lawn wouldn't be ruined and the outline of the grave would quickly disappear as the pieces of sod knitted together.

After the sod had been set aside they started to dig. Johnny hated digging. It seemed like such a ridiculous activity, and dirt was always much heavier than you had imagined. But it had to be done.

After an hour they had gotten down only about three feet. Junior wanted to quit and dump the body in the hole. His back hurt and the hole was adequate.

It was much too shallow, insisted Johnny. "We don't want a neighborhood dog digging up the corpse. And we need to make it deep enough to plant the magnolia tree on top of him."

"Plant the tree?" asked Junior.

"Of course — what did you expect, that we would just leave the goddamn tree sitting in the middle of the yard? We gotta plant it. Right on top of Charlie."

They kept digging and dumping the dirt on the growing pile on the tarp. The hole was now deep enough so that Johnny had to stand in the hole in order to keep digging. It was a laborious process to heave the dirt out of the hole and on top of the pile. Johnny was grateful that during his life he had never had to earn a living as a gravedigger. He'd rather put a bullet into his head than dig up dirt every day.

Junior set down his shovel and announced that he needed to take a leak. "Okay," said Johnny. "We'll take a break for five minutes." He climbed out of the hole and brushed off his pants. Junior went into the house while Johnny sat at the little garden table on the terrace. He was tired. Getting too old for this shit. He wiped his brow with his sleeve.

The hummingbirds were out. The presence of people doesn't bother them. While you're in your back yard they just go about their business. They aren't scared the way most birds are. They're not bothered by the busy sparrows that congregate in the lilac bushes and on the lawn. Speed gives them confidence.

Johnny saw that there were two hummingbirds in the yard. One was poking around the red flowers by the back fence. The other was that oddball bird that was larger than the others. She zipped into the yard and hovered near some blue flowers. Then she inspected the magnolia tree. Finding nothing of interest, she flew over to the hole in the ground. Then she flew near to where Johnny was sitting and hovered for a moment before abruptly zipping away over the high fence in the direction of the neighbor's yard.

Johnny shrugged. If that hummingbird ever came near enough to him he'd snare it and kill it. But it was too fast and too clever to be caught. And who cared, anyway? Just a stupid bird.

The sound of an aircraft engine intruded into Johnny's thoughts. A small plane. There was an airport nearby and during the summer the little Cessnas and Beechcrafts would circle Gloucester. Sightseeing, looking at the boats and the beaches. Johnny peered up at the cloud cover. With the houses around to reflect sound it was hard for Johnny to tell from which direction the plane was coming. Then he saw it. Single engine, high wing. The plane made a lazy circuit around the harbor before motoring off to the south. It became a speck and the sky was quiet again.

Junior emerged from the house. Ready to get back to work. They took up their shovels and resumed their labors. They dug another foot deeper, and then another. Sweat trickled down the back of Johnny's neck. The handle of the shovel was slippery. His arms ached. God, what a thankless task.

As the sun was setting over the harbor Johnny told Junior that the hole was finished. It was well dug and professional. Six feet deep and with good straight sides.

The time had come to bury Charlie. This was the most dangerous part of the operation: bring the body outside, dump it in the hole, and cover it up. It would take about five minutes to get the body sufficiently covered with dirt so that the hole would no longer be a grave but would become a flowerbed with a magnolia tree in the center.

Those five minutes were critical. Johnny and Junior needed to act quickly.

Johnny had planned the operation very carefully. After they had buried the corpse and planted the tree, they'd go down to the basement and wash the floor with bleach. The floor was old concrete and stained with decades of paint and grease. The bleach wouldn't change that — after they were done, the cement surface would look like it hadn't been touched. Then they'd bust up the chair and burn it. Take the chains and drop them in the harbor. A few days in salt water would destroy the DNA.

An hour from now, Charlie Kasko would be just another missing person.

Johnny and Junior dragged the wrapped corpse across the basement floor and up the rough stone steps leading to the bulkhead door to the outside. When they were halfway up the stairs they paused. "Wait here," said Johnny. He stepped around the body and grasped the old latch to the bulkhead door. From around the edges of the door burned the rectangle of bright daylight. He was about to shove open the door when he stopped. It would be safer if he went around through the basement and up into the kitchen, and then out the back door into the yard. Once he was in the back yard he could verify that no one had entered the property while they had been in the basement.

Johnny told Junior to wait with the body until he had opened the bulkhead door from the outside. Junior nodded.

Johnny went through the basement and out the back door. In the early twilight the yard was quiet. The hole was there, and the big pile of dirt on the tarp too. The magnolia tree waited in its root ball. A hummingbird zoomed to a blue flower, hovered, and zoomed away. Overhead a seagull gave a harsh cry. Johnny looked to the sky. No planes. A light wind rustled the trees. Johnny peered down the path that led to the street. The path was deserted. On the street, a car passed the house and was gone.

Johnny went to the basement bulkhead door and pulled it open. Junior squinted up at him. So did the gaping face of Charlie Kasko from inside its plastic cocoon.

"Okay, let's move," said Johnny. He grabbed a handful of plastic and pulled. Junior picked up the feet. They hauled the body out of the bulkhead and slid it onto the brick pathway. Junior scrambled out of the bulkhead. Johnny bent down and grasped the plastic that was bunched by the body's shoulders. Junior hoisted the feet. They carried the corpse across the lawn, past the magnolia tree, to the edge of the hole, where they brusquely dropped it on the ground.

"Let me get his watch," said Junior. He bent down to open the plastic wrapping.

"Are you fucking crazy?" said Johnny.

Junior protested that it was a Rolex. No sense in wasting it.

"Fuck the watch. We're gonna bury it with him. Now let's get going."

At that moment Johnny saw the hummingbird. The big one. It had flown up the garden path from the street. It circled the yard. Its tiny wings were a blur. It darted around the magnolia tree and then ventured close to the hole. At a distance of ten feet from Johnny it hovered.

Goddamn little bugger! Johnny picked up his shovel and swung it at the intruder. The tiny bird instantly flew backwards a few feet, the way a boxer leans back to avoid a punch.

Junior laughed. "Who cares about a stupid bird? You'll never catch him."

From the corner of his eye Johnny saw the intruders running into the yard from the garden path. Helmets, boots, flak jackets, automatic weapons. All black. Sharp commands to drop the shovel and get down on the ground. Johnny and Junior were encircled. Facing a dozen black muzzles of automatic weapons. There was no escape. No hope. With his hands over his head Johnny knelt on the soft grass and then lay flat on his stomach. Rough hands searched him as his arms were yanked behind his back and his wrists cuffed. A voice said that Johnny Carrigan and Robert Holmes, Jr. were under arrest for the murder of Charles Kasko. They had the right to remain silent. Johnny was hauled roughly to his feet.

One of the cops wasn't a cop. He was dressed in jeans and a baseball jacket. He approached Johnny, looked him in the face, and smiled.

"Chris Mark," sneered Johnny. "You think you got me. Good for you."

"We know we have you," replied Mark. "Courtesy of our little friend it's all on film. You and Junior brought Charlie to the house. Took him into the basement. And now his corpse is wrapped in plastic on your lawn."

Over Mark's shoulder flew a hummingbird. The same bird at which Johnny had swung his shovel. Mark held out his hand with the palm up. The bird hovered over his hand before gently setting down on it. The wings stopped moving and the bird lay inert. It was now that Johnny saw that the bird's eyes were nothing more than dull plastic. Embedded in its white feathered breast was the tiny lens of a camera.

"The great Pistol Carrigan," said Chris Mark. "The great Pistol Carrigan brought down by a hummingbird!"

Thomas Hauck is a writer living in Gloucester, Massachusetts. His first novel, PISTONHEAD, tells the gritty story of a guitar player in a rock band who faces a life crisis. LUCAS MANSON, his second novel, is a literary horror thriller that pits agent Mark Dylan against a charismatic evangelist who is the leader of a bloodthirsty hominid species.

His third novel, AVITA DOESN'T LOVE YOU (Whiskey Creek Press, October 2014), is an international thriller that traces the moral and physical challenges faced by agent Kevin Lone as he battles an implacable global enemy.

Thomas's short stories have been published in The Armchair Aesthete, The Bitter Oleander, Over My Dead Body!, and The MacGuffin. His collection of short stories and poems, Public Image: Stories and Poems, was published in 2009. The Body on the Rocks, a collection of short stories featuring detective Chris Mark, will be published in April 2014.

Thomas is the editor of Renaissance Magazine, America's leading national magazine devoted to contemporary renaissance faires and culture.

A former member of the Boston powerpop band The Atlantics, he's a rock musician who has released two solo CDs available through CDBaby and iTunes. His most recent CD, Valentine to the Future, was released in April 2014 under the name Telamor.

Thomas earned his B.A. in History of Art at Tufts University, graduating magna cum laude. He earned his M.B.A. at Endicott College in 2004.

Thomas lives with his wife Kim Smith, a published garden book author, photographer, and documentary filmmaker. Thomas and Kim have two children.

Copyright 2014 Thomas A. Hauck. 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!

Return to Over My Dead Body! Online.