“Dial 911. Lay the phone receiver down on the counter. Don’t come to the back room. Thanks for being my friend. Get yourself some cable.”
That was the note – and there was $1000 in cash on the dining room table beside it.
The house looked like normal when Debra got there. She had knocked, but there was no answer. The door was open, which was unusual. He never left the front door unlocked. Never.
She called out, “Robert,” several times with no answer, then she saw the torn envelope on the table and the cash. She did as instructed, and left the old green phone receiver on the countertop in the kitchen. It was the only phone in the house, and had been since 1982.
She walked to the back bedroom – not to her designated room where he had installed a padlock on the outside of the door to lock her inside when she misbehaved, but to his bedroom. She knew it well. It was quiet, the dog wasn’t barking, and his blood was covering the walls and bed from the corner of the floor all the way up to the ceiling. His body was beside the bed, knees propped apart with a fake gold picture frame shaped like a V which had cradled the butt of the gun. He was frozen on his side on the floor. His left hand was still on the barrel of the .303 rifle. Bits of jaw and brain were sprayed across the room. His head was mostly missing, but she recognized his 336-pound body lying there on the floor. Those were his socks and his pants and his shirt.
She thought, “Don’t touch him. They’ll think you did it.”
So she walked back to the living room and sat down quietly in the old yellow chair. The police would be there soon. She’d left the phone off the hook like he said.
She didn’t dare touch the $1000 on the table.
It was May 29, or maybe May 30. She wasn’t sure. They asked her, but she just wasn’t sure. Yes, it was definitely 2014, and she had been his friend for 20 years. And she found him this morning. She had left last night around 10 PM, and he was fine. That’s all she knew.
The police officer asked if she knew who shot the dog. She started crying because she knew he loved that dog.
“I don’t know,” she whimpered.
So many questions…they asked her so many questions. The slow Southern drawl of the officer was soft, and it comforted her. She knew what they were thinking though: she’s black and he was white. In this backwoods Louisiana town, she was guilty until proven innocent. She focused on keeping her composure.
Convinced that she didn’t have the mental capacity or physical ability to kill a man as large as Robert, the police drove Debra home. She left behind the money he’d given her. She stayed in her tiny upstairs apartment and cried alone about her lover’s death. The neighbors heard her and, one by one, knocked on her door. She simply told them, “Robert’s dead,” and closed the door. “I’m sorry for your loss,” each one would say. She didn’t deserve this — not after the way he had treated her all those years.
His youngest daughter got the call.
“This is the Minden Police Department. I’m sorry to inform you that your father has died.”
She relied on her husband to work out the details. She didn’t call her siblings until later. She had to fall apart first. He was HER daddy; the others had ignored him all these years. And she wanted to get in that house…that house held so many secrets, and she wanted first dibs. She was the only one who cared about him, after all. They had been so cruel, so unforgiving…she was sure they would be sorry now.
She submitted a prayer request at church so everyone in her congregation knew that she was going through a difficult test sent from Satan himself. She coveted their sympathy now more than ever.
Her siblings were relieved to hear the news. Finally, the nightmare was over. Should they feel sad? Or angry? Should they feel guilty for being happy that he was finally dead?
They were not close, the four of them. When they were younger, they would have died for each other. They almost did on several occasions. They would have died for their mother, the long-suffering martyr of the family. That was a long time ago, though. Things were very different now. Life was safer.
The youngest daughter made all the arrangements. She wanted flowers and a military funeral. Her three siblings went along with her plans out of compassion for her loss. She took things from his house, and tried to donate his belongings to a local crisis pregnancy center. One brother stopped her, and she never told the others of her plans. She was blunt with her siblings about her desire for a full reimbursement of her expenses from the funeral.
$18,000.00. That’s how much the gun-blast cleanup cost. The company was appropriately-named “Aftermath.” All but one sibling saw the humor in it. Laughing helped as they cleaned out his hoard of cigarettes, broken televisions, AA batteries, razor blades, and lawn mowers.
Having removed all bank account records and valuables from the house, the youngest daughter was content to let the others clean out Robert’s belongings and prepare for his “estate sale.” Each of the four siblings split the proceeds equally at about $250 each…hardly worth their effort, as predicted.
The lawyer completed the paperwork. There was no will. What was left of Robert’s substantial inheritance from his wealthy parents had been whittled away to $150,000 and change. The house was falling apart. The junked cars were scattered around his property like shipwrecks. His loyal dog, a rescue from the local pound, had been carted off the day of the suicide – found dead from a bullet wound from his .38 pistol. The flies still circled the bloody spot where the mutt had been shot in the head.
The whole mess could be sold as soon as the succession was complete. All that misery, sold to the highest bidder. It seemed too good to be true.
“If he did that to himself, I can only imagine what he did to you,” said one friend. She had no idea what he had done to us behind those walls.
That’s how my daddy died.
I keep that V-shaped picture frame on my bedside table. It’s the last thing I see each night before falling asleep, and thinking about its ultimate purpose always makes me smile.