Atropos' Mistake: Pt. 1
I, Kevin J. Stone, being of sound mind and body, do hereby swear that the following events are true to the best of my recollection. I regret whole-heartedly any suffering caused by my actions. Please believe me. It was unintentional. It is because of the way events transpired, I had no viable alternative other than to act as I did. In any case, I will take care of the formalities of a Last Will as follows: All my belongings—those which haven’t been repossessed by the vultures at Cloviston Savings and Loan that is—are hereby bequeathed to my dear wife, Helen.
If this sounds like my Last Will and Testament, that’s because in a way it is, for if you are reading this, then I am either already dead or hidden away so well that I may as well be dead.
This document is much more than my Will, however. It is also my confession. I feel the need to make it clear that it was I who, acting alone and in complete secrecy, killed the person known to you as Timothy James Adams. I also feel it necessary to absolve myself from any wrongdoing. I did what I had to do. I hope that as you become aware of the events that drove me to murder, you will reach the conclusion that I acted as anyone else might be expected to behave when placed in the same circumstances.
Let me explain.
* * *
I remember clearly that seventeenth of July three years ago. It was a Friday morning, the first long weekend I had had in months, and I decided to sleep in. It was nine a.m. when the sound of my neighbor’s lawnmower interrupted my peace. The smell of fresh cut grass rolled through my open bedroom window. Even now, sitting here in this motel room, with the salt air from the ocean pervading everything and chilling me to the bone, I can still call to mind the sweet aroma of that summer morning.
Deciding to abandon any hope of getting back to sleep, I rolled out of bed and went downstairs. Helen was brewing coffee. She smiled me a good morning as I slipped into my chair at the kitchen table.
“Breakfast?” she asked.
I shook my head. “No thanks, just coffee.”
“I thought you wanted to sleep late?”
“I did, but Timmy’s lawnmower had other plans. Anyhow, it’s such a beautiful day, I thought I’d see if I couldn’t talk Tim into a trip up to the lake for a little fishing.”
She smiled mysteriously. “That’d be nice,” she said, as she poured me a cup of coffee and sat down in the chair beside me. “Both you guys need a break.”
“You said it!” I agreed, bobbing my head up and down. I needed more than a break. At times I would have welcomed a full-fledged breakdown. Tim and I both worked at The Cloviston Steel Works. Tim drove a forklift. I was a welder by trade. Blue collar Bob; that was me. The fact that we both worked at the same place was not surprising. CSW employed over half the town. They had recently acquired a contract with the navy, and while the overtime pay was great, the demand put on us employees was tremendous. The only problem was that I was so busy I never had time to spend any of it. Sipping on my coffee, I slipped into a daydream. Boy, wouldn’t it be nice to take the boat out for a few hours, maybe kill a couple beers, and just plain relax. I pictured myself sitting on the deck of the boat, watching my pole, thinking about nothing but that instant when its tip would bend, and I would know I had a bite. I would grab the pole, and at the next twitch, with a deft flick of my wrist I would embed the hook in the mouth of the biggest bass taken from the south end of Powder Lake in . . .
“Earth to Kevin. Come in, Kevin.” Helen prodded my arm with her finger.
“Wow, you were out there. I was just saying that I talked to Linda last night and we decided that we would like to spend the weekend at the cottage. You boys can fish to your hearts’ content, and we’ll fry up whatever you’ve caught when you come in.”
“It sounds as if I’m in the midst of a conspiracy here,” I said with a smile. “I guess if you two decided it, then that’s exactly what we’re gonna do.”
“You’ve got it, buster. We could all use a little vacation, even if it’s only for the weekend. All you have to do is convince Timothy.” Having delegated to me my role in the affair, Helen got up from the table and went into the living room to finish her coffee with Regis Philbin.
* * *
Clad only in my pajama bottoms, T-shirt, and bedroom slippers, I padded out the back door. Timmy was just finishing his back yard. I knew he would stop to fill the gas tank before starting on the front, so I walked over to the chain link fence that ran between our properties to wait for him to complete his final lap. I shouted good morning and waved, but either he didn’t hear me, or he was ignoring me. When he finally killed the engine, and I spoke to him again, I realized with some indignation that it had been the latter.
“Morning, Tim, my man,” I said again.
“What do you want?” His tone not only irked me, it hurt. In the twenty years that we had been friends and neighbors, he had never spoken harshly to me—except on those rare occasions when we would have a falling out over some inconsequential thing, that is. I imagine those things happen to everybody. This morning though, his ire was unwarranted. Rather than feed into his anger with some of my own, I decided to act concerned, which I was. “What’s bothering you, Tim?” I asked. “You can talk to me.”
His reply was the strangest thing that I had ever heard him say. “Look, Kevin. I don’t even know if you are who you are.”
Now, thinking back to that summer of yesteryear, I know exactly what he meant.
* * *
We had finished trolling the shore and were trying our luck in deeper waters, when Tim started to open up. “I’m sorry I snapped at you this morning, Kev.” He chucked his empty beer can back in the cooler and pulled the tab on his fourth. I was surprised; he usually stopped after three whenever he was on the boat.
“That’s all right,” I told him, “I’ve been a bit cranky myself lately, what with all the overtime at the plant and everything.”
“Yeah, I guess.” He frowned and gave me a sidelong glance. I was afraid he was going to clam up again. It had taken every bit of my powers of persuasion to talk him into this little excursion. I had pointed out every attribute I could think of; about how much we needed the relaxation, how we never got to have any fun since the navy contract, about this and about that. I think what finally convinced him to come was when Helen and Linda started loading my Blazer with supplies. We both knew that when our wives got something in their heads, it would take nothing short of an act of God to change their minds. He had remained silent during the hour drive to the cabin, limiting most of his dialogue to monosyllabic grunts and nods. Maybe the beer was loosening him up. Whatever the cause, I was glad to see him coming out of his shell. I had to keep him talking.
“Sure, buddy. We’ve all been under a hell of a strain lately. There’s been times I’ve nearly bitten Helen’s head off for telling me good morning.”
Tim seemed to be struggling for something to say. He studied his beer can. Perhaps he felt he could find inspiration written in its label. Finally he looked at me, straight in my eyes, and said, “Can I trust you? I mean really trust you?”
This was a question he needn’t have asked. Tim had been my best friend ever since our junior year at Cloviston High. He was the brother I never had. We shared nearly everything. The cabin was a joint venture. We worked together. We had even shared women on occasion—back in our wilder, pre-marital days, of course. I set down my beer. “Of course, Tim. You should know that.”
He mulled it over for a moment and then said, “Okay, but first you have to promise me something.”
“Just promise me you’ll hear me out, and you won’t think I’m crazy.”
“Too late. I already think your nuttier than a bag of peanut M&M’s.” Things were getting a little too solemn to suit me, and I felt the call for some levity.
Tim, however, felt otherwise. “Look, Kevin, if you’re gonna make fun of me, I’ll just forget it.” His voice cracked, and for a moment I thought he was going to cry.
I mentally kicked myself and agreed to his conditions. He then spun me a tale so extraordinary that, when he had finished, I found that for the first time since we had become friends I had broken one of my promises to him. I wondered if I was sitting in a boat, in the middle of a lake, with a lunatic.
Now, I know better.
* * *
Tim sighed heavily, dropped his empty into the cooler and came out with another—his fifth.
“Don’t you think you ought to slow down a little?” I asked.
He just gave me a look that said ‘shut the hell up and mind your business’ and popped the tab. “Where do I begin?” he asked, after taking a long swallow of Coors’.
“Why not at the beginning?” I suggested. He gave me the look again. This time I took heed.
He leaned over the side of the boat and stared into the lake. Without looking up he asked, “Do you remember a couple of weeks ago at the plant when all those orders got mixed up because I supposedly put everything in the wrong aisle?”
“Yeah, it was screwed up for awhile, but it was no big deal. Besides, anybody could make the same mistake, especially in the rush we’ve been in. So don’t worry about it.”
“Well, lemme tell ya, I am worried about it, but not for the reason you might think. I’m worried because it wasn’t me that screwed up.”
I couldn’t figure out where he was going with this, but I gave him his head. “So, what are you saying?”
“I’m saying that I didn’t put those boxes away.”
This was the first time I had heard him deny it, and frankly, I was startled. I had seen him carrying the shipment down the wrong aisle, but I hadn’t said anything about it at the time. For all I knew, they had rearranged things in the warehouse again. “Okay,” I said.
“Kevin, it wasn’t me that caused that foul-up.”
“Goddamnit, Kev. I said it wasn’t me!” He was looking at me, and I was amazed to see tears running down his cheeks. “Can’t you say anything but ‘okay’ or ‘yeah’?”
“Just what the hell am I supposed to say?” I tried not to let my aggravation leak into my voice. “You know, Timmy, I saw you with that order. I was going to ask you where you were going, but I figured you knew what you were doing.”
“Oh, so you saw me, huh?” He chuckled softly. “Now we’re getting somewhere. All right. Now, listen carefully and try to keep an open mind. Okay?” I nodded. “Kevin, that couldn’t have been me you saw because I wasn’t even at the plant that day.”
“Of course you were. I saw you.” I was all logic.
“That wasn’t me.”
“What do you mean?”
“What are ya, dense or something? I’m tellin’ ya it wasn’t me. I didn’t even go into work that day.”
Well, he’s finally blown a gasket, I thought. Not wanting Tim to know I had broken my promise, I asked, “So, who was it then?”
He glanced around the lake, ran his fingers through his thinning hair, and then leveled his gaze on my face. His eyes held an unsettling, dark look. He drew a deep breath and said, “It . . . it was someone, or some . . . some thing that looked just like me. I know this sounds crazy, but believe me, Kev, it’s no bullshit. There’s this guy who looks just like me. Sounds just like me. Hell, he might even smell like me for all I know, but he’s real, Kev. He’s just waiting for the right moment, and then he’s gonna kill me and take over my life, and nobody’s ever gonna be the wiser.”
* * *
Almost an hour after Tim told me his incredible tale, I was still trying to absorb it. The sun was baking us to a crisp, and I suggested we move into the shade by shore. I wasn’t ready to go back yet. I wanted to talk privately some more.
After we had anchored in the shade, we dropped our lines in the water. To tell the truth, I don’t remember even baiting our hooks. We were through fishing. I was on my fifth beer, having reached and exceeded my personal limit as well. Tim was on his eighth. Now I knew why he had insisted on packing the entire case we had bought at the package store in Cloviston. My friend had grown sullen again. I, on the other hand, needed to speak. Cautiously, I broached the subject that I felt was important.
“Tim,” I said, “have you seen a doctor about this?”
“That’s it then. You think I’m crazy, don’t you?”
“No, no,” I lied. “It’s just that we’ve all been under a lot of pressure lately and . . . well . . . it can get to you, if you know what I mean.”
“Pressure, smessure. Kev, how long have we been friends?”
He was slurring, but at least he was talking again. “Over twenty years now.”
“That’s right, twenty years. And in those twenty years have I ever lied to you, or ever given you any reason to doubt my sanity?”
“Twenty years of friendship, and not once have I ever given you any reason to doubt me, Kev. Not once. And now after twenty years, I come to the one person I think I can trust, and he asks me if I’ve seen a doctor. Some goddamned friend you’ve turned out to be.”
His words stung me. I felt like a big chump. What's the matter with you? There are things in this world that are beyond explanation, I told myself, open your mind a little. To Tim I said, “Okay. You said you didn’t go to work that day. So where were you?”
Tim gave me a smile that warmed my heart. It said, ‘okay, brother, I knew I could count on you.’ From then on I decided to listen very carefully to everything he had to say.
“Well, it’s like this,” he said. “For the last three months I’ve been moonlighting at Jenkins’ Bakery. Taxes just about put me under this year, good buddy, and I needed the extra dough. No pun intended. Anyway, it worked out great for the first two months. I was working nights on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Then Sheila Gush, she’s the daytime baker, fell and broke her hip. So I started filling in for her one day a week. Thursdays. She’s old, Kevin, and she just can’t afford to lose her job. I knew I could get in trouble at the plant if they found out, but, to tell you the truth, I didn’t give two farts from a cat’s ass what they said. Anyway, when I got my check from CSW, there wasn’t any time docked. I figured it was some sort of computer glitch or something. Besides, who am I to complain about getting paid for not working?”
“You mean to tell me you’ve been holding down two jobs for the last three months. Why didn’t you come to me? I would have helped you out.”
Tim’s smirk answered my question. Of course he wouldn’t come to me, just like I would never go to him. We both had that stupid thing called pride. “Yeah,” I said and smiled. “Go on. You were saying.”
“I was saying that every Thursday for the past month I’ve been working from nine ‘til three-thirty at the bakery.” He pulled out his wallet, took out some folded up pieces of paper, and handed them to me. I unfolded and scanned them. They were his pay stubs from Jenkins’ Bakery. Sure enough, every Thursday for the last month he had been there, baking donuts, or bread, or whatever the hell he baked.
“Wait a minute,” I said. I racked my brain for a minute and then said, “It was a Thursday that the orders got messed up.”
“But it says here you were at Jenkins’. . . but . . . but, I saw you.”
“I already told you, that wasn’t me.”
My mind skipped, like a phonograph needle sliding over a scratched LP. I saw him at work that day. I saw him driving his forklift. I thought it was odd that he’d go down the wrong aisle . . .
“Still think I’m loony, Kev?”
I just shook my head. I couldn’t answer. At that moment, I was beginning to wonder about my own state of mind. I started to speak, but he cut me off with a wave of his hand.
“There’s more,” he said.
End of Part 1
Thanks for reading what I have so far. All comments are welcome. I can not only accept criticism, I welcome it. I hope you enjoyed what you've read so far enough to want to read more.