The town thought they had buried him. Only two people knew the truth and they weren’t talking.
Cool morning air and a thick blanket of damp fog draped the two white horses. They slowly pulled the long black carriage up the narrow winding road. Their destination was the cemetery located at the top of Kings Hill. The mourners, dressed in customary black coats and hats followed close behind.
The cemetery overlooked the little town of Norfolk and the fertile valley below. It sat among a thin stand of evergreens at the foot of the hill. A large group of mourners had gathered for the service. They wore their finest black apparel hidden beneath long wool overcoats. It was a sad affair, as one of the towns’ leading citizens was about to be laid to rest… or so they thought.
The casket was an ornately carved box. It was hand crafted in Boston and used some of the finest hardwoods imported from South America. The top was trimmed with silver and inlaid with mother of pearl. Six golden pallbearers handles adorned the sides. This was no ordinary casket, but then, Jason Womack was no ordinary man.
He was a self made man. Filthy rich in times when a decent wage was but a dollar a day. His fortune was made off the backs of others. Some admired him for it. Others hated him for it. Personally, Jason Womack didn’t concern himself with such trivial matters. It was all business to him. He was sly and crafty. He took advantage of every possible opportunity.
In his latest venture he had borrowed heavily from the local bank. He flattered other prominent men in town to risk large portions of their wealth in a shady investment venture he swore would make them rich.
He preyed upon their greed with bold promises of extreme wealth. The investment was nothing more than a well conceived ponzi scheme. The payoff would only enrich himself and a few early investors. He used them to make the scheme look legitimate. The scheme had been managed with extreme caution for close to five years. Now the investors were becoming anxious and beginning to ask questions.
Three days earlier Jason Womack was carefully analyzing the current status of his scheme. He had come to the conclusion it had finally run its course. It seemed as if it was about to come unraveled.
Knowing he would soon be found out, he retired to his study where he removed a twelve-gauge shotgun from its cabinet. He placed the barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
At least, that was the story Lydia, his beautiful wife of fifteen years had told the sheriff.
The truth of the matter is that this is not what happened at all.
The ponzi scheme was true, and so was the fact that it was about to come unraveled. But, that’s where the truth ended. And that’s where Jason Womack began the next phase of his venture. A well-laid plan to save himself, his wife Lydia, and all the money they had siphoned out of the ‘investment’ over the past five years.
“Lydia,” called out Jason from his den. “Do you have a moment? We need to talk.”
Lydia entered the den and took a seat in front of the desk. “What is it Jason?”
“Do you recall our discussion concerning the ‘investment’?” He asked.
“And what we would do if it looked like it all was going to come crashing down around our heads? Well Lydia, the time has come. I can’t hold this thing together any longer. If we try to continue we’ll be found out. It’s time to put our survival plan into action or we will both find ourselves behind bars for the rest of our lives.”
The thought of being caged behind cold steel bars like some wild animal was not appealing to either one of them. Lydia had long ago devised an escape plan. Now the time had come to put it into action.
That evening under the cover of darkness, Jason paid a visit to Nathan Crow, the local undertaker.
He discretely went to the darkened back door and knocked. Nathan, unsure of who might be knocking at such a late hour, cracked open the door enough to see who might be outside.
“May I come in?” Asked Jason in a hushed voice.
Nathan recognized the voice and opened the door fully. Without saying a word, Jason slipped in. Pleasantries were exchanged. Jason was not planning to stay more than a few minutes. He didn’t bother to remove his gloves or unbutton his coat.
“Nathan,” began Jason, speaking in a low but authoritative voice. “How would you like to make a quick five hundred dollars?”
The question surprised Nathan. He was intrigued enough to keep listening. He wasn’t stupid. He instinctively knew a “quick 500 bucks” had the sound of something illegal attached to it. But he was no saint and wasn’t against using a bit of underhandedness in order to make a quick buck. He didn’t need to consider his answer for any real length of time as he replied with a wide-eyed, “Yes.”
“Good answer,” replied Jason. “Here is what I need you to do.”
Jason confided in Nathan as to his plan to disappear, but not the reason why. He then continued to explain the steps he needed Nathan to take to insure the plans’ success. After they talked, the two of them walked into the viewing parlor and looked over the custom built casket Nathan was holding for him.
Jason closed the lid and locked it with a special key. Then with a quick sleight of hand, he handed Nathan a different key without him realizing it. After getting the proper assurances from Nathan that he would follow his instructions to the letter, Jason handed over the money. He then left the same way he came in.
Upon his return home, he gave the original key to Lydia. “You know what to do with this.” he commented.
Lydia took the key without a word. Her sly smile was all the answer he needed.
While Jason was off visiting with the undertaker, Lydia had gone to work on her own part of the plan.
She had butchered several of their chickens and collected their blood. She then busied herself in the den pooling some of the blood on Jason’s large desk. Taking a feather duster, she dipped it in the blood and used it to splatter the wall behind his desk and the ceiling above. When Jason returned, he took the twelve-gauge shotgun from its cabinet and blew a hole in the ceiling over his desk. He strapped on a bulging money belt under his shirt, grabbed his travel bag filled with cash, kissed his wife good-by and disappeared into the night.
The next morning, Lydia went to the sheriffs’ office. Distressed and weeping. She reported the grim news that her husband, Jason, had killed himself.
The sheriff was shocked to hear of it. He did his best to console her.
“I’ll head out to the house right away. You should stay right here for now, Lydia. I’ll have one of the ladies from the boarding house come by and fetch you. In the mean time, I’ll get the undertaker and we’ll take care of the body. Don’t you worry about a thing. I’ll handle this.”
Lydia spoke up. “Why, I’ve already taken care of that Sheriff. I sent for the undertaker last night. He came right out and took care of things for me.”
“What do you mean ‘He took care of things for you?’ He isn’t to touch a thing until I’ve had a chance to investigate the situation. He should know that.”
“I’m sorry,” replied Lydia, sobbing. “But the shotgun blast… it made such a mess, and poor Jason…” Lydia began to cry uncontrollably. “I’m sorry Sheriff. He didn’t want to. I made him do it.”
“Well, this is highly unusual but what’s done is done. Just the same, I’ll still need to go out to the house and take a look.”
“Yes, I understand.” Sobbed Lydia.
The sheriff was half way out the door when he turned back to Lydia. “I think I’ll stop by the undertakers first and take a look at the body.”
“I hope you don’t mind if I don’t accompany you,” replied Lydia. “I couldn’t bare the sight.”
“Not at all,” replied the sheriff. “I fully understand.”
The sheriff and Nathan Crow stood next to the coffin.
“What do you mean, you can’t open it? I want it opened and I want it opened now,” demanded the sheriff.
“It’s locked,” replied Nathan. “I don’t understand why the key doesn’t work. Once I set him inside and closed the lid, it somehow locked itself. The key won’t open it.”
The sheriff grabbed the key from Nathan. “What do you mean, ‘It somehow locked itself’. That’s impossible.” The sheriff gave it a try but he too couldn’t get the lock undone.
“This is highly unusual, highly unusual,” replied the sheriff. “Are you sure he’s in there?”
“Everything but the top of his head,” answered Nathan. “He was a mess.”
By this time, the sheriff was furious. He stormed out the parlor and headed for the Womack residence.
As he entered the den, he put his hand up to his mouth as if not wanting to breathe any foul air. Blood was everywhere and a hole from the shotgun blast was blown in the ceiling. The shotgun still lay on the floor by the desk. The sheriff, not having the stomach for such things had seen enough. He quickly left the house to catch his breath.
That afternoon, on the trusted word of Lydia and Nathan Crow, he reluctantly signed the paperwork confirming the death of Jason Womack.
The night before the burial, Lydia paid one last visit to Nathan Crow. She needed to make sure everything was in order.
The following morning Lydia contacted the blacksmith. She knew he sometimes helped Nathan when he was in a pinch. She asked him to load the casket and drive the carriage to the cemetery.
When the sheriff realized Nathan wasn’t on the carriage, He inquired as to where he was.
“I haven’t seen him today Sheriff,” answered the blacksmith. “Mrs. Womack says he told her last night that he had to take care of some urgent business out of town and wouldn’t be back for close to a week.”
The casket was laid in the ground and covered with Kings Hill dirt. The day after the burial, Lydia Womack mysteriously disappeared.
Two weeks later she found herself deep in the Mexican interior. She had traveled to the village of La Cruz where Jason happily greeted her. “It is so good to see you my dear. How did things go at my funeral?” He eagerly asked.
“Things went very well,” she replied.
“And what about Nathan,” inquired Jason. “He was the only other person who knew of our plan.
“Nathan?,” replied Lydia. “You needn’t worry. He fit into your casket quite nicely.”
© Copyright 2023 by Scott A. Gese All Rights Reserved.
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