After an embezzler listens to a voicemail from a coworker, he knows he’s going to have to pay for silence. But the price is much higher than he thinks.
It was after nine on Friday night when Gary got home from work. At 60, he was getting too old for these long hours. He’d paid a high price for being a loyal employee for thirty years. Lost most of his friends due to neglect, and then finally, his wife. But in eighteen months he’d relocate to Mexico and live like a king. He had vacationed in Playa del Carmen twice and couldn’t wait to retire there. Live the high life. Have all the women he wanted.
He walked into the kitchen and noticed that his answering machine was blinking. Every day he told himself it was time to dump the land line, but then he’d have to go public with his cell number, which he refused to do. Only the office had his mobile number.
There was one new message from an anonymous caller. He pressed the play button.
“Gary, this is…well, I’m sure you know who this is.”
It was obviously Peter Harris, a fellow accountant at work. He’d know his whiny voice anywhere.
“And I know what you’ve been up to. You thought nobody would notice, and quite frankly, you did a great job of hiding it. But I figured it out. I suppose by now most of it is in an offshore account, but I’m betting that some of it is right there in your house, locked away in a safe.”
How did he figure it out?
“But you’re too smart to have spent much of it. People would notice if you went out and bought a yacht or a mansion. But now you’re gonna have to spend some of it to keep me quiet. One-hundred-thousand, in cash.”
“Meet me in the city park tomorrow night, at the big statue near the creek. One o’clock AM. Come alone, with the cash, and be on time. Otherwise, I’m gonna report you to the authorities. This is no joke, Gary. Follow my instructions to the letter or go to prison. Those are your choices.”
Gary couldn’t move. Was his heart even beating?
He pressed a button on the machine.
On Saturday night, at 12:44 a.m., Gary drove to the city park. He got out of his car, strapped on his backpack, and walked into the park. He was wearing sweats, a jacket, a cap, and running shoes.
His coworker, Peter, had correctly guessed that some of Gary’s stolen money—the bulk of it—was in an offshore account, and that he’d been holding the remainder in his safe. Most of that cash was now in the backpack. This was not how he’d planned to spend it.
He’d never been impressed with Peter until now. He was shocked that little wiener dog of a man had somehow unraveled his convoluted embezzlement scheme. Would Peter really go to the cops if Gary didn’t pay up? He couldn’t gamble on that possibility. He’d worked too hard for too long to let it all go down the drain.
But it was insane to be walking around at this time of night with so much money. The park was surprising well lit, but deserted, and Gary didn’t see any security cameras. A mugger would have free reign to assault whoever was foolish enough to be there. At least he’d brought some protection: his .22 pistol, in his pocket.
He arrived at the statue at 12:58. Where was Peter?
Gary began to wonder if he had the wrong time or place. He’d been so incensed by Peter’s message that he’d stupidly erased it before bothering to write down his instructions. He pictured the cops strutting into his office, yanking him out of his chair, and slapping on the cuffs. Perp walking him out of the building.
“I knew you’d come.”
Gary turned around.
It was Peter. “Did you bring the cash?”
“Yes.” Gary pointed to the backpack.
“Smart man. So, give it to me and get out of here.”
“How do I know you won’t keep coming back for more?”
“I won’t. This is it.”
“So, I’m just supposed to trust you?”
“Well, what do you want? A contract?” Peter stepped in closer and held out his hand.
Impulsively, Gary pulled the pistol out of his pocket. “Hold it.”
“Are you crazy? Put that thing away.”
Gary didn’t respond.
Peter said, “You wanna go the prison for embezzlement and murder? I don’t think so. Just put the gun away and give me the money.”
“I’ve changed my mind,” Gary said.
“So, you want me to turn you in?”
“Go ahead. I’ve got you on my answering machine blackmailing me. I’m betting that you don’t want to go to prison either.”
“I need the money,” Peter said.
“Yeah, well so do I, and you’re not getting it.”
Peter lunged at him and tried to wrestle the gun away.
“Let go before I accidentally shoot you!”
Peter was surprisingly strong. He twisted the gun with both hands and took it away from Gary.
Gary threw his hands up. “Okay, okay. Take it easy. I’m gonna set the backpack on the ground and just walk away. Okay?” He took the backpack off his shoulders and set down in front of him.
Peter pointed the pistol at him. “Change of plans.”
“No, please don’t kill me. Come on, Peter, we’ve worked together for a long time, and—”
“Why didn’t you ever take me out for a beer? We’re both divorced. I’ve been so lonely for years, but nobody at work cares. None of you know anything about what’s going on in my life.”
“Well, then tell me. I care, really. What’s been happening with you lately?”
“Sure you care, now—as long as I’m pointing this gun at you.”
“Well…what do you want me to say?”
“There’s no money in the backpack, is there, Gary? What’s in there—newspapers?”
“No. It’s the money. It’s all there—in cash—just the way you wanted. Take it.”
Peter said, “Hmm. If I kill you, what would I do with your body?”
“There are lots of big rocks over there on the creek bank. I could fill the backpack with rocks, strap it on your body, and roll you into the creek. They say it’s twenty feet deep. I don’t know for sure. But the weight of the rocks would probably be enough to sink you to the bottom. And that water’s muddy. You can’t see more than six inches below the surface—even in bright sunlight. So, that’s a pretty good plan—don’t you think?” He aimed the gun at Gary.
“No, no, no.” Gary knelt down. “Please don’t.”
Peter turned the gun on himself and fired. He collapsed.
Gary went to him. Peter had shot himself in the chest.
There was no pulse.
But it made no sense. Why would he kill himself just as he was getting the money he wanted. Obviously, Peter was mentally unstable.
Gary wondered if anyone had heard the shot. The nearest home or apartment was several miles away, so unless someone was in the park or was driving around on the periphery, there was a good chance that nobody had heard it. He decided to wait a few minutes to see if anyone showed up.
If he called 9-1-1, he’d have to answer a lot of questions. What were the two men doing in the park at this time of night? Why did Gary have a gun with him? What caused Peter to shoot himself? What was in Gary’s backpack?
No. He could not call the police. And since nobody had shown up after a few minutes, he began to consider other alternatives. But there was really only one: follow Peter’s own plan for hiding Gary’s body. It would be days before anyone went looking for him. He lived alone and apparently had no friends. It just might work.
Gary put the backpack on, picked up the gun and put it in his pocket, and dragged Peter’s body to the creek. He took the plastic bag of cash out of the backpack and replaced it with stones from the creek bank—just as Peter had talked about. Then he strapped the backpack onto the body, using Peter’s belt to secure it.
He rolled Peter into the creek and watched his body sink. The police would have no reason to think there was a body at the bottom of the creek. Meanwhile the fish would be feasting on his carcass.
Thanks for great idea, Peter.
He took off his jacket, wrapped it around the plastic bag of cash, picked it up, and headed for his car.
Gary walked into his apartment and went straight to the safe in his bedroom. He keyed in the code, opened it, and put the bag of money and his pistol inside.
He felt certain that no one had seen him at the park, and that he would probably get away with murder. No, not murder—hiding a body. That’s all he’d done. Peter had killed himself. He wondered what the maximum sentence was for hiding a body. He could look it up.
No! He couldn’t—because if the police ever investigated his internet search history, he certainly wouldn’t want them to find that.
Gary needed something to settle his nerves, so he went into the kitchen, grabbed a bottle of vodka from the freezer, and poured himself a shot.
He would not be setting an alarm for the morning. It was Sunday. He turned the ringer down on his home phone and powered down his cell. He planned to take the entire day to recuperate and forget all about this weird night.
Gary woke up Sunday morning at 10:53 a.m. He’d had nightmares about Peter and the park and the gun and the creek. But it was over now. He could move on with his life. Everything was good.
He got cleaned up and went into the kitchen to make coffee. The flashing red light on the answering machine caught his eye. A new message had come in at 9:10 a.m. while he was sleeping. An anonymous caller.
“Where’s my money, Gary?”
It was Peter.
No, it couldn’t be.
He was dead.
At the bottom of the creek.
“We’re gonna do things differently this time. Tonight at 3:00 a.m., you’re going to drop off the money at this address: 2379 Westbluff Circle. There’s a mailbox in front of the house, at the road, and it’s clearly marked with the address. Bring the cash in a sealed, cardboard box and place it in mailbox. Then leave, and never go back. If you do not follow my instructions, you will be sorry.”
How could Peter have possibly survived being shot in the chest, weighed down, and dumped into the creek? Gary had checked Peter’s pulse. His heart had stopped beating. But had the cold water of the creek revived him? Had he scratched and clawed his way along the creek bottom until he reached the bank? Was that possible?
It was the only explanation.
Early Monday morning, just before 3:00 a.m., Gary drove into the lower middle class neighborhood, guided by his GPS, and made his way to 2379 Westbluff Circle. He had packed the money in a cardboard box, taped it up, and put the address on it, in a feeble attempt to disguise it as real mail. But of course, there was no return address, postage, or postmark.
He stopped at the mailbox, placed the box inside, and drove away.
Gary’s alarm woke him up at 8:00 a.m., after just four hours of sleep. He wasn’t expected at the office until nine. He went into the kitchen to make coffee. There was a new message on his machine. It had come in at 6:54 a.m. He was surprised that the call hadn’t woke him up. Then he remembered that he’d never turned the volume back up.
The caller ID was Anonymous. No. Not Peter again.
“Thanks for coming through for me, Gary. I knew you would—to save your own skin, of course. So, now I can let you in on a little secret. Before I went out to meet you in the park Saturday night, I scheduled a couple of automated phone calls. Did you know you can do that, Gary? Anyway, my plan was to force you to kill me in the park.”
“Yeah, you heard me right. I knew you wouldn’t give up the money easily and that you’d probably bring a gun. So, on Sunday morning, you received my first scheduled call on your answering machine. If you answered, there would be a hangup. But if the machine answered, my message would be left. Eventually, you’d receive the message, and you would follow my instructions and leave the money in the mailbox. And if you didn’t do it, well, then I would have lost the game. In the big picture, I lost anyway—since I’m dead. But when the cops find my body and the medical examiner figures out that I was murdered—look out, Gary.”
He yelled at the machine, “I didn’t murder you! You shot yourself!”
“So, I’m sure you’re wondering about why I wanted you to put the money in that mailbox—you know, since I’m dead. It’s because my daughter and her kids live in that house, and we’ve been estranged for years. I wasn’t a good father, and I’ve never been able to make amends. But I figured if I could leave her some money—say, one-hundred-thousand dollars—she just might forgive me a little. And whether she does or not, I wanted her and my grandkids to have it. I’m sure you understand.”
You creepy little—
“Or maybe you don’t. Whatever. But if you did leave the money in her mailbox, don’t try to get it back because that would open quite a can of worms. If you tried to say it was your money, how would you explain where you got it?”
Gary shook his head, seething.
“Anyway, I guess you’d better think seriously about taking an early retirement, and doing it right now. And of course, you’ll need to leave the country. But I’m sure you’ve got plenty of money in your offshore account. So, good luck! Oh, and by the way, I was terminal. The doctor said I only had a couple of months to live. But unfortunately for you, it’s still murder.”
“I! Didn’t! Kill! You!” Gary erased the message, snatched the machine off the counter, yanked it free from its cords, threw it on the floor, and stomped it over and over again, until pieces of plastic and electronics were scattered all over the floor.
Now what? He’d take the gun and dump it somewhere, and catch the first flight to a country that had no extradition agreement with the U.S.
He went to the bedroom, threw some clothes and toiletries into a carry-on bag, along with the pistol and the remaining twenty-thousand dollars from the safe, and headed for the front door.
When he opened the door, two cops were standing there.
“Where are you headed, sir?”
“Just, uh, going for a little drive in the country.”
“With a suitcase? On a Monday morning? Don’t you need to go to work, sir?”
“We need to question you in regards to an email we received this morning.”
“Yes, an anonymous email.”
“Well, I don’t know what it says, but how can you trust it if it’s anonymous? It’s probably from some nut job.”
“It’s very specific.” He took out a sheet of paper and read from it. “It says that you embezzled 3.47 million dollars from your company.”
“That’s nonsense. And I can prove it.”
“It also says that you murdered Peter Harris.”
“Oh, come on. That’s ridiculous.”
“What do you have in that suitcase, sir? Mind if we take a look?”
Copyright © 2017 Robert Burton Robinson