by Ilene Schneider
Originally published, October/November, 2015, issue of Suspense Magazine.
“Is…is he dead?”
“I don’t know. He’s not moving. And look at the color of his face.”
“Maybe we should take the duct tape off his mouth, see if he’s breathing.”
Fran walked over to the bed, bent over, and ripped the tape off.
“He didn’t flinch,” said Millie. “I guess he is beyond feeling anything.”
“How could this have happened? We didn’t do anything lethal to him.”
“Maybe ‘dying of embarrassment’ isn’t an exaggeration.”
“This isn’t the time for jokes, Millie. We’ve got a problem here. A big one.”
The two women stared at the corpse. “What do we do now?” Millie asked.
Fran shrugged, “Why are you asking me? I have no idea. I deal with real estate law, not murder.”
“Murder? Did we murder him? We only meant to humiliate him. What do you think happened?”
“I’m a lawyer, Millie, not a doctor. I don’t know. A heart attack? Stroke? Choked on vomit?”
“I wonder if it was anaphylactic shock. Did Trish ever mention Burt the Bastard had an allergy to peanuts?”
“Not that I recall. But…wouldn’t she have said something when we told her what we had planned?”
Millie tried to remember the drunken night they had decided to help Trish get revenge on her about-to-be ex-husband. “Ex” as in “divorced,” not “deceased.” “We only told her about the bow. We never mentioned peanut butter and glitter. Remember? We had added those touches while she was in the bathroom. At least, I think we did. I was in a bit of an alcoholic fog at the time. The details have blurred.”
They turned and looked at Burt the Bastard again. The body was rather distinctive looking. It was of a middle-aged man, skinny, balding, not bad looking if you ignored his swollen, hive-pocked, red face and purple lips. But what set him apart from all other dead, middle-aged, skinny, balding, not bad looking if you ignored, etc., men was the way he was displayed. He was laying on the bed, on top of a tarpaulin, handcuffed, his ankles bound to each other with duct tape. The tarpaulin was a thoughtful gesture by the two women so the motel housekeeping staff wouldn’t have to deal with a bed stained by the peanut butter and glitter that was slathered on his now limp body. Not that the housekeeping staff hadn’t dealt with far worse effluvia in this rent-by-the-hour, we accept cash, no ID required, dump.
Also limp was his rather small penis, around which a scroll of paper was bound with a big red bow. It was the peanut butter, glitter, and bow that made his body noteworthy.
“How did we get into this mess?” asked Fran again.
“A better question,” said Millie, “is how we’re going to get out of it.”
“Let’s get out of here and go somewhere we can think. Like a bar. I need a drink,” said Fran.
“And that’s exactly how we did get into this mess. Maybe we should keep clear heads and not drink. I’m sure there’s a coffee shop nearby. A diner – a nice, crowded, noisy diner where no one can overhear us – would be even better.”
“I wonder if it’s safe to leave the room. We don’t want anyone to see us. And if the ‘do not disturb’ sign falls off the doorknob, the housekeeper might come in. We should try to cover up our tracks as much as we can before his body’s found.
“I hope we’re not on any video tapes. Did you notice any surveillance cameras?”
Fran made a face at Millie. “You really think a place like this has surveillance cameras? Maybe at the front desk, in case of a robbery – it is a mostly cash business – but neither of us went to the front desk. If they have any tape, it will just show Burt the Bastard paying cash to use the room for the night. A very drunken B the B.”
She looked around the room. “Maybe we can make it look like a natural death. Or at least try. First step: get rid of our finger prints. We’ve left them all over the room.” Fran went into the bathroom and emerged with all the towels she could find. “Get to work! We’ve got to wipe down all the surfaces.”
“What about the tarp? Won’t that hold prints?” Millie asked.
“We’ll have to roll his body onto the floor, roll up the tarp, and take it with us. And don’t forget the divorce papers.” It was the divorce petition that was wrapped around B the B’s penis. When Trish reported to her friends that Burt had refused to accept the papers, never answering the door, sneaking out of the house to hide out at a mall or casino, Fran had devised the unique method of serving them. The red bow was Millie’s idea.
Trish was an emotionally abused wife who finally, through the encouragement and support of her two best friends – her only friends – had finally found the inner strength to dump Burt the Bastard, as he was known to the group. He was not pleased. He didn’t mind ending the marriage – in fact, he had told her three years earlier that he planned to “throw your oversized butt out the door” in four years – but he wanted to be the one to do it.
His psychological warfare against Trish had escalated since her announcement. He accused her of having affairs with her co-workers. (Untrue. She had been tempted but never succumbed.) He claimed he had given up his lucrative career as a convenience store cashier to be a stay-at-home dad to their twin daughters. (Untrue. He had been fired for pilfering from the cash register. The store didn’t press charges, but didn’t give him a reference and let perspective employers know exactly why he had been fired. He now worked part-time from home doing internet sales for products just this side of being scams.) He said his wife was a negligent mother. (Untrue. She had gone to every back-to-school night and after-school activity in which the girls were involved. She had supervised homework and taken them for their annual checkups. The teachers and doctors thought she was a single mother, as they had never even heard his name.) He called the girls at their colleges and yelled that they were lazy, ungrateful bitches who wouldn’t have a roof over their heads if not for him. (Untrue. Tuition was paid for from a combination of scholarships, loans, and college accounts funded by Trish’s salary. The girls paid for incidentals from the salaries they earned working full-time during summers and part-time during the school year, all while maintaining 3.5 GPAs.) Trish was profligate with their money. (Untrue. The “new” car he kept railing about was a six-year-old clunker she bought only after her twelve-year-old clunker died on her way to work.)
The proverbial straw was when he copied-and-pasted an obituary of a twenty-year-old boy who had died in a car accident. “Look at what he accomplished in his short life,” he wrote all in caps in the email. “And what have you two ever done except waste my [his italics] money. If you two died, there’d be nothing to write about you. And no one to care.”
After her daughters forwarded their father’s email to her, Trish called Fran. “It’s time.”
Fran drew up the divorce papers, gave Trish free legal advice, and kept a file of all Burt the Bastard’s accusations, many sent in emails or scribbled on scraps of paper affixed to the refrigerator with magnets. Millie, an accountant, compiled a spreadsheet of all their finances and who contributed how much money to pay the bills. Millie’s fifteen-year-old computer nerd son was able to extract from B the B’s laptop (given to him as an anniversary present by Trish) all the emails he thought he had deleted.
They had come up with the idea after Trish had called Fran in tears about the failure in serving the divorce papers to B the B. Fran immediately called Millie, and the two of them took Trish for a night on the town. They spent the time plotting revenge.
“What’s the one thing Burt hates the most?” Fran asked.
“You mean besides work?” Millie asked.
“Being made a fool of. Right, Trish?”
Trish nodded in agreement. “He lives in perpetual fear of someone taking an unflattering picture of him and posting it on FaceBook. He doesn’t belong to FaceBook, and besides, he has no friends. But no one ever accused him of living in the real world.”
“That’s what I thought,” said Fran. “So let’s think up the ultimate humiliation. Like posting a picture of him online with the divorce papers tied to his penis.”
It turned out to be surprisingly easy to entice B the B to the motel. He had never met Fran and Millie. He loved to gamble in the Atlantic City casinos. Trish let her friends know the next time he went. She then called the credit card companies, said she had lost her wallet, and canceled the cards, leaving Burt with no money. As expected, he called and screamed at Trish, demanding she drive the hour to the casino and give him some cash. She made arrangements to meet him, but instead called Trish and Fran.
They had no trouble finding him at the bar, literally crying into his beer. They commiserated with him about his ungrateful wife, and invited him to spend the night with them in a sleazy motel outside Atlantic City. They gave him the cash to pay for the room for the whole night, and said he should park right outside the room door so they’d know where he was by his car. He was so drunk by then he didn’t wonder why they insisted on driving to the motel in a separate car and meeting him there. He didn’t know that Plan B was for him to get arrested for drunk driving.
By the time the women arrived, Burt was even more drunk. He didn’t question the tarp, or that they stayed dressed while he disrobed, or the handcuffs. He only started to get suspicious when they wound the duct tape around his ankles, and he definitely knew something was wrong when they slapped the tape over his mouth.
“Consider yourself served, sir,” said Fran in her best lawyerly voice, which contrasted with her mini skirt, midriff-baring tank top, four-inch heels, and fishnet stockings. Millie, similarly dressed, was putting the final flourishes on the bow.
“What do you think, should we decorate him with the peanut butter and glitter?”
“Absolutely. And then take some pix. If he later complains to the authorities or gives Trish any more grief, we’ll make sure they’re posted on every social media site there is.”
If they had noticed his eyes bulging out with fear at that point, they would have thought he was frightened at the possibility of being exposed as the idiot he was. The idea he was allergic to peanuts never entered their minds. And so they were now stuck with an inconvenient corpse. One that needed to be dealt with.
“We can’t leave him like this,” said Fran. “It’s doubtful even the most lazy hick town detective would think he’d covered himself in peanut butter and glitter.
“The bathtub,” said Millie. “Forget rolling him onto the floor. Let’s get him into the tub and wash off all the goop. If we leave him in the tub afterwards, maybe they’ll think he died of natural causes, like a heart attack.”
“He doesn’t have a heart; if he did, it would have attacked him a long time ago,” Fran said. “But it’s a good idea. It won’t be easy to move him, but let’s try.”
“Then let’s go to that diner you suggested. I figure with the ‘do not disturb sign’ on the door – and I doubt it will fall off – we’ve got a couple of days before the smell alerts the staff that he’s not in here having a wild time with a group of sexually ravenous whatevers. We should be able to figure out our next step from there.”
He was skinny enough that they did manage to get him into the tub and rinse off all the peanut butter and glitter. They did it slowly, allowing the water to drain down so there wouldn’t be a clog. Then they laid him down on the bottom of the tub and filled it with warm water, as though he had slid down after becoming unconscious. They hoped the unnatural color of his face and lips would look as though he had drowned.
They took a final look around the room, refolded and piled up the towels neatly after a final rub down of all surfaces, took the extra room key so they could get back in if they decided it was preferable to get rid of the body, opened the door using tissues, made sure the ‘do not disturb sign’ was firmly affixed, and, with much more confidence than they felt, left the room and got into Fran’s car. As far as they could tell, no one saw them.
They drove to a nearby restaurant. It was noisy and crowded, so it was unlikely anyone would overhear them.
Millie asked, “What are we going to tell Trish?”
“Why do we need to tell her anything?” Fran answered. “She knows what we were planning, minus the peanut butter and glitter. We’ll just say he was so drunk he took the papers without realizing what they were.”
Millie looked distinctly uncomfortable. “I, um, emailed her a picture of him. It was before he went into anaphylactic shock. He looked so funny.”
“Has she responded?” Fran took out her cell phone. So did Millie. They both blanched as they read the text message Trish had sent them: “What the hell did you do? Please, please, please tell me that’s not peanut butter. He’s deathly allergic to peanuts.”
“Maybe we don’t have to tell her. We’ll say it was soy butter.”
“You know, that may not be farfetched.” Millie stared off into space as she thought. “Okay, how’s this sound? We tell Trish it was soy butter and get rid of the body – no, I haven’t figured out how. We then post the picture of him all over social media, so Trish can plausibly tell everyone that he was so mortified he decided to disappear. Now we just have to figure out how to dispose of the body.”
“We should be able to get him out of there without anyone noticing. If this were a movie, we’d find a conveniently abandoned laundry cart and housekeeping uniforms, and just wheel him out of the back door and dispose of him in a dumpster several blocks away. Or, better, a trash compactor.”
“Or the Blue Hole,” said Fran. “You know, that bottomless round lake in the middle of the Pine Barrens? You must have heard of it.” She looked at Millie’s blank expression. “Okay, maybe you haven’t. I’ve never been there, but I read about it in Weird New Jersey. No one knows how deep it is or how it was formed. It’s a constant temperature and deep blue in color. Legend says it’s the Jersey Devil’s bathtub. No one would find him there.”
“And how do you propose we get him out of the room and into a car?” Millie asked.
“Easy. We back our car to the door, and stuff him in the trunk. Even better, we back his car to the door. One of us will drive his car and the other will follow. I’m glad we drove together.”
“Okay, let’s do it. You drive and I’ll call up the Blue Hole on GPS.”
By the time they got back to the motel, they knew there was a flaw in the plan. There was no way to drive to the Blue Hole. The closest they would be able to get by car was the unpaved parking lot at a shooting range next to an archery range. Then they’d have to drag the body along a sugar sand trail for about a half a mile. If they found the right trail. And if they weren’t spotted by birdwatchers, hikers, geocachers, hunters, or archery enthusiasts.
Fran wasn’t a fan of the outdoors, but Millie was. “The Pine Barrens cover over one million acres. There must be someplace we can hide body. You’ve roamed around there, Millie. Think.”
“The problem is every place I’ve been has been a well-known location, like Sugar Pie Hill or the Carranza Memorial. They’re mostly along the Batona Trail, so there are hikers every weekend. We need a place that no one goes to. But we don’t have a four-wheel drive or off-track vehicle, so we’d be in danger of getting bogged down in the sugar sand. That stuff can be as treacherous as snow.”
“People disappear all the time. How can it be so hard to find a hiding place? Let’s just drive around until we find somewhere likely. You drive Burt’s car, Millie, and I’ll follow. Just go to the most remote place you can think of. In the meantime, let’s get the body out of the tub and into the trunk of his car.”
It turned out to be more difficult than they thought to carry the body, wrapped in the peanut butter and glitter smeared tarp. “Now I understand what’s meant by ‘dead weight,’” Fran was having trouble catching her breath.
They then headed out toward the Carranza Memorial. “Who’s he that he got a memorial?” Fran asked.
“I can’t believe you don’t know anything about local history,” said Millie. “He was known as the Mexican Charles Lindbergh. He was making the return leg of the first round trip flight from Mexico City to New York City. The memorial is on the site where his plane crashed during a thunderstorm in 1920-something. There’s still a ceremony every year there on the anniversary. Anyway, the road is paved to just beyond the memorial. Then it’s gravel. If we drive out, we should find a side path where we can hide the car in some trees. It’s not ideal, but it’s the only place I can think of where I won’t get lost. I hope.”
It took about 45 minutes to get from the outskirts of Atlantic City to the farming community of Tabernacle. They drove past hunting clubs, cranberry bogs, corn fields, country stores, and farm markets, turned onto Carranza Road, went past the stone monument engraved with Aztec symbols, and continued onto the gravel path. At a dense stand of trees, Millie turned off onto a sugar sand road and abandoned the car, then walked back to the where Fran waited in the other car.
As planned, they told Trish they had used soy butter and had uploaded the pictures onto all kinds of social media pages because Burt had become confrontational. Three days later, Trish reported Burt as missing to the police, who were less than zealous in their search. They questioned Fran and Millie, who said Trish knew nothing of their plan ahead of time. They also swore Burt was fine – angry, embarrassed, belligerent – when they had left him unbound in the motel room. It was surmised that he had run off and taken a new identity to avoid being recognized as the peanut-butter-and-glitter guy. There were periodic sightings of him, but eventually Burt was forgotten.
Six months after Burt’s disappearance, there was a wildfire in the Wharton State Forest. Several acres of pine and oak and cedar trees were destroyed. After the fire was extinguished, the burned out hulk of a car was discovered, along with some charred bone fragments. No one bothered to do any forensics on the bones, figuring they were from animals nesting in the trunk.
Trish read about the discovery, and wondered if it could have been Burt. She knew he hadn’t voluntarily disappeared, but was dead. She relished the memory of overhearing her friends discuss slathering Burt with peanut butter. She would smile whenever she thought of how terrified he must have been. And she would laugh when she thought of how she had gotten away with murder.
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