Out on the roof of the veranda, it occurred to Motsie that Cousin Garnet was more directly acquainted with murder than Motsie was, mainly because murder in Benvenue was the soup du jour. Cousin Garnet prattled on about Nevada Taint killing her husband, Donnie, the night before, while Motsie distracted herself from her hideous deer-hitting experience with a few bong hits and some careful consideration of how Benvenue was turning her younger cousin into a psychopath.
Generally speaking, the way they handled murders in Benvenue was that, as long as the dead entity was recognized as a person who needed killing, the only thing for the live entity to show a jury was whether or not the right person had done it. Whenever that detail was clear to two out of the three Benvenue police officers, no charges were brought up before any jury, and as long as all three cops could be fairly certain based either on their personal knowledge or convincing accounts by neighbors, no report was written. At least that was what Motsie could garner from her cousin’s stories of killings there.
You may think an outsider would have supposed Benvenue was rife with villains due to the relative impunity with which murders were met, however that was far from true. Motsie reasoned this in her mind whie Garnet blathered on about things Motsie had not known until then. An outsider, it turns out, would have known nothing of this impunity since most people in Benvenue held outsiders in low enough regard not to air personal matters around them. Besides, most anybody in town with a three digit IQ and no serious addictions behaved well enough to avoid becoming the dead object of a community service. The end result was a quiet little eastern North Carolina town who successfully culled out infiltrators and other uncouth undesirables. Motsie totally wished she had grown up there.
Cousin Garnet had just gotten the braces off her legs, she said, about the time Dr. Bunn, Benvenue’s only “lady-doctor,” was discovered to have left his earthly embodiment along with several pints of blood under the scuppernong arbor behind a stone and brick house that had once belonged to Huhu. This macabre discovery capped a legendary mystery that had started when Garnet was only a baby, and heard the grown-ups mention behind the doctor’s back. Apparently, Caleb Cobb, sweet as molasses and just as dark, had beat the doctor down with his family Bible back in the 60s, in the presence of several Cobb relatives and neighbors. This occurred during a house-call to the ramshackle tenant farm Caleb worked with his Lumbee Indian wife, Malinda Blue, right after the doctor delivered the Cobbs’ second daughter. No charges were filed against Caleb, curiously enough, as Dr. Bunn generously explained Caleb’s behavior away as “overcome with emotion over a second daughter, pretty and pale as pickled pine.”
After that came generalized speculation around Benvenue about why on earth Dr. Bunn purchased Huhu’s former home, directly behind his own home, for the entire Cobb family to occupy right in the midst of a bunch of glow-stick baptists who were none too certain how to reconcile themselves with a freshly blended neighborhood.
Cousin Garnet explained to Motsie that Cobb daughters went to a private Christian academy in the adjacent county, and their daddy drove them there and back daily in the blue Chrysler New Yorker that had previously belonged to Mrs. Bunn. About once a week Cousin Garnet saw them pull up to the doctor’s office across the street from her house in Benvenue, trot inside for about five minutes, and then flounceback out to the Chrysler grinning perfect orthodontic smiles that inspired Cousin Garnet’s utmost envy.
During Dr. Bunn’s recent wake, according to Cousin Garnet, who attended with her parents and great aunt Huhu, the doctor’s widow remarked several times what a coincidence it was that her husband’s throat had been “rather clumsily slit, slit I tell you, s-l-i-t! in such close proximity to Caleb Cobb,” the very man who had once beaten her husband in the head with the word of the Lord. The word “slit” was screeched had been screeched like a rusty hinge, accompanied by that illustrative hand-across-throat gesture with each repitition. Meanwhile, Caleb and his wife wept unconsolably and abundantly audibly, in separate rooms of Huhu’s former house on the other side of the block, having been banned by the widow from attending the doctor’s wake and funeral.
If the widow shed a tear over her husband’s death it must have been on her way to the bank, nevertheless, there was no autopsy, no embalming, no open coffin, official cause of death on the certificate was “natural,” and that case was considered cold before the body was. The Benvenue police went around to check on the Cobbs, but couldn’t find anything to indicate any of them had had a hand in the killing. Just one of those things, they concluded. People in Benvenue had a pretty good idea of what might have happened that night, though, including Cousin Garnet.
Within a month of Dr. Bunn’s unfortunate trouble, a Fuller Brush salesman from Passaic, N.J. was strangled with Luther Lowrie’s leather belt after a lively game of Yahtzee at the Community Center went deadly. No emergency calls were made at all, and the press was not alerted. The other players simply chucked the oily body into an open Northern Pacific boxcar and sprinkled some kitty litter and hay over him, figuring he’d get all the coverage he needed once the train got him back up north; six feet of it, they all laughed.
The summer of ’75 had found a smelly series of emaciated dead folks with unfamiliar black faces scattered around on the Brantley and Bissette properties, then two more on the Bass farm. The one detail these three farms had in common was that they shared a crew of migrant Haitians headed up by one Jean Luc Derriere, who contracted migrant labor jobs for work on the trail from Homestead to Bangor, and had a full set of gold teeth. Jean Luc sold balogna sandwiches and Pixie cups of tap water to his workers every day on credit , and he housed them in the same school bus that carried them from state to state. Then he charged them enough with interest for these commodities that they all ended up owing him more money than they could possibly earn in a lifetime of picking Florida’s cumquats, Georgia’s peaches, South Carolina’s indigo, and cropping North Carolina’a tobacco. Jean Luc somehow became strung up on the Bass place from a tree near enough to the hog pen that it seemed more expedient for the Benvenue police to just cut him loose and let the hogs go wild than to try to determine whether the the Haitians had risen up against Jean-Luc-Baby-Doc for his comp’ny-sto’ enslavement of them, or whether the three local farmers had grown tired of having their pre-paid manpower drop dead in the fields before their cropping was complete.
Just this past spring, 1976, there was a so-called mule-thief from Lizard Lick who died under somewhat curious circumstances. Well, they called him a mule-thief after he showed back up dead, but what he had really stolen was Mr. Privette’s John Deere tractor. It was brand new at the time. The thief’s name was Bobby Taint, first cousin to the one killed on August 19, ’76 with that Winchester Cousin Garnet had brought over for Motsie to hang onto. Besides Mr. Privette’s John Deere tractor, Bobby Taint also apparently stole more chain than he knew how to swim with, further argument supporting the famous Taint stupidity, although he did manage to avoid prosecution by sneakily drowning, wrapped in his stolen goods. Taint’s were certainly a devious lot, Cousin Garnet repeated the general Benvenue consensus.
Bobby Taint’s cousin, Donny, got perforated by his wife, Nevada, not so much for preferring to raid the treasure chests of their trashy daughters, Tennessee and Kentucky, to raiding hers, as for using the last bit of toilet paper. It was such an awful feelin for Nevada to be there needing the paper, and there not being any left, and she knew she’d put some in stolen from the Texaco station, and that Donny’d been the last one in the bathroom. He wouldn’t bring her any either, so she came out with her pants around her calves and grabbed one of his wife-beaters off the bare linoleum floor to wipe herself. That was when some arguing started, and Garnet was somewhat undecided as to whether she should go on home or watch the fun. Of course she stayed.
Clearly Nevada Taint needed none of Cousin Garnet’s help knocking scrawny little Donny’s drunken ass down and snatching the locked and loaded Winchester she kept under the bed. Practice makes perfect, and Donny was not the first husband she’d shot dead. It was that practice that caused her to fear the possibility of having that beautiful modified Winchester 1892 confiscated, so she had Garnet hide it for a while, and got Donny’s K-Mart made-in-China gun out of the closet and blasted him a few extra rounds to make it convincing for the police. Motsie raised the gun up and aimed at the stop light on the next corner, lined it up in the sights. It was a very nice gun. Who knew how soon she’d be legally forbidden ever to own or possess such an item? Nobody did yet, but it was going to be really soon.
Cousin Garnet said that Tennessee and Kentucky were glad their daddy was dead. Motsie stared at her wondering at her cavalier attitude, wondering when it had started, wondering what ever happened to that crippled little red-haired girl who used to sit on the feather bed sharing a bowl of Cheetos and listen to Motsie make up lie after lie for entertainment, wondering what would ever become of a girl like her if she ever got out of Benvenue, and what would ever become of her if she never did. The kicker was that it wasn’t going to be very long at all before Motsie found the answers to all of those wonderings about Cousin Garnet, too.
It occurred to Motsie that if she ever were to live up to her senior superlative of “most likely to commit murder,” Benvenue would be the best place to pull it off with impunity.