With the exception of a rather happy-faced gourd that Melissa contributed to the Halloween display, I carved each of the eleven pumpkins with a variety of devious faces, one of the few activities I remember doing with my mom; Halloween was my favorite holiday as a kid and I still enjoy the sights and décor of the season. Give me a carving tool and I’ll create the most horrific expression you’ve ever seen.
So why am I concerned about Deputy Beaumont’s interest in my lawn display? I once read about a Belgian trader who stacked the heads and hands of Africans around his villa. I loved that image so much that I’m pretending these pumpkins are my victims. One of them contains the skull of a young woman named Shannon McGuire, whom I met about five years ago at a summer fair in Batesville. She had a pretty face, and I would every now and then gaze upon it in a jar filled with formaldehyde. I took the head out of its container at the top of October and placed it in a pumpkin. The face is slowly fading away, almost in sync with the wrinkling gourd, but my memory of a wonderful August night lives on.
I saw her working a hotdog cart near the rock band stage. She looked so forsaken and forlorn that I resolved to strike up a conversation with her. She opened up to me not because I have one of those faces (my mom used to say I have kind eyes), but she liked my REO Speedwagon t-shirt. We talked initially about music and her favorite bands, but I soon learned that she had gotten into a fight with her boyfriend. She had left her three-year-old daughter with her ex-husband because of the turmoil at home. I quickly came to despise her weak mind and servile heart. I was going to kill her anyway, but when she seemed to revel in her victimhood I knew I would find myself ripping her head out.
Of all my victims, Shannon the Pumpkin Head, as I like to call her now, was the only one I killed and kept hidden. I stuffed the body inside an abandoned well in the woods near my mom’s trailer. She’s still considered a missing person. When I nabbed her I made sure to take her purse and cell phone, both of which I destroyed—items, in other words, that a person would not leave behind. I wanted to keep out the possibility that she left everything to live in Mexico or the Caribbean. Her family and friends never believed it; they suspect the boyfriend to this day. The police have questioned on numerous occasions and probably had him followed; but of course they didn’t have any evidence of foul play.
I admit I kept the woman’s maroon knit cap, the one that made me the butt of Sheriff K’s joke at the Peterson crime scene, but I hung onto it less as a “souvenir” than as a fond reminder of my grandma who knit caps in the basement.
I need to explain briefly why I kept her head before you hastily conclude I’m some kind of monster. I took my 8mm camera and slammed it into her left temple; that’s the penultimate cause anyway. It sounds like a stretch, but I was worried the police could identify the blow as inflicted by a camera, maybe even my camera. As a student of forensic at the university, I saw a photo of a man who had the butt of the killer’s gun imprinted on his chest. It wasn’t visible to the naked eye, but investigators managed to identify it with testing.
“Deputy,” I said. “Care for some apple cider?”
“No thank you.” My question was strange, granted, but it took his eye off dear old Shannon.
I responded to the sheriff’s question. “I went home after the store. I live a boring life, sheriff. I do drink coffee on occasion, and I had some work that I knew would keep me up late on Thursday night.”
“That mini mart was a bit out of your way, wouldn’t you say?”
“No sir. Like I said, I was coming back from Batesville.”
“Visiting your mom.”
“Have you ever been to Batesville, sheriff?” Yet another strange comment came from my lips, but you’ll understand later why I wanted to ask this question.
“Passed through it, here and there. Hardly a town I haven’t seen in my 61 years.” Sheriff K took off his hat and scratched his head. “Mr. McMasters, we want you to come to the station nonetheless.”
“I’m a person of interest, I take it?”
“You must be kidding!”
“You know as well as I do, Mr. McMasters, that a person of interest isn’t quite the same as a suspect.”
“Isn’t it?” I was a bit surprised that the sheriff would use such a colloquial phrase.
“Be that as it may.”
The time had come for me to confront a self-righteous sheriff with his transgressions. He had found Peterson’s killer, or so it seemed, even if he lacked conclusive evidence.
While Deputy Beaumont was in an adjacent room looking at one of my posters, I grabbed a manila envelope of photos off of my desk and handed it to the sheriff. “Perhaps this will be of interest to you?”
He looked at the name written on it, Lyle Kasperbauer and Karen-Larson Lekranović, and slightly winced.
He opened the envelope and peered inside it. He had a look of sheer horror as he pulled out a nice 81/2 by 11 black and white glossy of Sheriff K wearing shades and smiling and a woman, hand in hand coming out of a Holiday Inn Express near Dallas. I have only a bad memory of taking the photo. I had been waiting in my car eating McDonald’s. When I saw them come out, in my haste to take pictures I knocked over my coke, which spilt over some precious film rolls in the passenger seat.
“What’s that, Lyle?” asked Deputy Beaumont, noticing his white face.
“Dennis, why don’t you go to the MDC [mobile data computer] and pull up the digital photos. I’ll want to show Mr. McMasters.”
“Are we going to take him to the station?”
“Just do it, Dennis.” His deputy walked out to the truck with a confused look on his face.
In the few seconds of silence as I stood facing the man in the Stetson my Poe image turned into a spaghetti western.
Sheriff K shot his steely grey eyes at me. “What is this?”
I relished in the irony of the moment: Sheriff K has discovered the killer and confronted him, only to be confronted with his own transgressions.
“I take photographs, sheriff. That’s what I do. And sometimes I capture some interesting scenes, yes I do.” I’m now in control and he must listen. “You’ve been unfaithful, sheriff. Meanwhile, good old Darlene is wasting away. You see, I know about you, Lyle Kasperbauer. You love your wife, in your own way. But…”
“Why are you doing this?”
“I knew you’d say that.”
“What else would I say? Is this some kind of cruel game?"
“You’re judging me? Let’s not forget who the transgressor is here.”
“Do you want money? I don’t understand.”
Sheriff K never asked me about killing Peterson, not yet. He had a moral dilemma. He didn’t want things spelled out; he knew I killed Peterson, and that was enough. I’m a decent judge of character, and when it comes to Sheriff K I think I know him inside and out; yet I couldn’t be sure if he’d violate his duty—namely, arresting the perpetrator of a violent crime—in order to keep the secret of his long-term affair from his dying wife.
“Are you stalking me? Why would do you do this? What is it you want?”
“You’ve been seeing Mrs. Lekranović for six years this December. Alleged conferences covered the countless hotel rendezvous and trips to Aruba and Las Vegas.”
Before you write me off as a pathetic lowlife following the sheriff around from tryst to tryst, you should know that I’m mentioning only the tip of the iceberg. I not claiming to know every clandestine meeting, or even relationship, Sheriff K was involved in. Ms. Lekranović was not his only fling, though.
“You know all this? Why, I say?”
“I’m a curious person, you might say.”
“You got a lot of gall prying into my affairs…”
“Affairs?” I duly noted his Freudian slip.
At this point Deputy Beaumont came back inside. The moment of truth for the sheriff had arrived.
“Got the photos loaded in the computer, Lyle.”
“Hold off on that, Dennis. We’ll be in touch, Mr. McMasters.”
“Hold off on that, Dennis. We’ll be in touch, Mr. McMasters.”
“Lyle?” Deputy Beaumont raised his eyebrows. “Don’t we want to show him the pictures?”“Yes, sheriff,” I said. “I’ll be here.” I watched them through the window walking out to their truck. What the sheriff was telling his bewildered deputy I can only imagine
“We’re good here….for now. We will probably have some follow-up questions for another time, Mr. McMasters, so don’t go too far.”
He never acknowledged that I killed Peterson. This might seem obvious, given what appears to be my attempt to blackmail him. I’m sure it dawned on him, but his worries centered on his woman problems.
I didn’t have much time to brew over these thoughts, for I had agreed to meet Melissa for dinner a couple hours later. We’ve been dating for three weeks and have not consummated the relationship. I’m not sure how it’s going to work out, however. She intimated that sex is the next stage in the relationship. I told the little whore that I have a congenital limpness in my genitalia. I actually enjoyed her discomfort with this revelation, which I hasten to say was a lie.
I must admit that my desire to kill her had increased tenfold since the “confrontation” with the sheriff. I took her back to her apartment and we parted with a certain degree of finality. Before I left, I opened the trunk of my car and looked longingly at a butcher cutlery kit that I usually keep in my garage but had brought along in case the temptation to kill become too strong. It did.
What was different this time was that I had no vision and no plan. You don’t have to tell me how stupid it would be to kill her when the sheriff’s department has me on its radar for Peterson’s death. But that’s the point, isn’t it? Melissa lives almost an hour outside Mueller County, anyway—four counties removed from Sheriff K’s jurisdiction.
Since it was still early when I dropped her off, I waited in my car at a nearby park. This happened two days ago and I can’t make sense of it. No thoughts were running through my head as I sat there waiting. I resolved to kill her in her apartment and my previous vision for her death, which I didn’t think would ever come to fruition, seemed to evaporate. I’ve never killed anyone outside the controlled environment of my home and studio.