It was the early morning when they found him curled up on a bed of straw in the barn. The air smelled of a fresh rainfall and the four brothers, Ed, Gary, Rick, and Paul were preparing to feed the animals in the barn. It was spring, and it was the perfect time to prepare the fields according to Rick, the second-youngest. The brothers stopped dead in their tracks and stared at the man laying on their pile of straw. The man shifted in his sleep and Gary, the second-oldest, put his hand to his mouth to stifle a gasp. He turned to his other brothers and motioned for them to follow him outside.
Outside, it was barely morning. The roosters hadn’t even woken up yet. The sun was only just thinking about coming over the horizon. The brothers gathered around Gary as he slowly closed the barn door and replaced the lock.
“Why are you locking it? We have to go back in there,” said Ed, the oldest brother.
“We can’t waste any time here, Gary. We need to get to work. We need the bulls fed so we can plow the fields,” said Rick. “The soil is just right to be plowed and if we hurry we can get seeds in there early and have a higher yield later this year.”
“Relax, Rick,” said Paul, the youngest brother.
“Why are you here Paul? Why don’t you go write your sermon for Sunday? Or better yet, go be useful and get breakfast going. The hens oughta laid some eggs by now,” said Ed.
“Guys, stop. Listen to me. That man in there, I know who he is,” said Gary.
“Ask him to leave then,” said Paul.
“No it’s not that simple.”
“Who is he, someone from the market?” asked Rick.
“No he’s not from the market,” said Gary.
“I’ll go make him then. He’s trespassing,” said Ed, reaching for the keys to the lock.
“No,” said Gary, pulling back. “That man,” he paused and leaned in to whisper, “That man is Fred Getz.”
The brothers were silent for a moment as Gary looked around to see their faces.
“The fireman whose house burnt down?” asked Ed.
“No that’s Larry Geissel. Fred Getz - he escaped from prison. I saw his face all over town when I was at the market the other day. I asked Officer Fielding about it and he said he was on the run from the law,” whispered Gary.
“What’d he do?” asked Rick.
“He went to prison for killing the Offerman family about four months ago. You remember the Offeremans right? Doug and Karen?” said Gary, “They operated the stall next to me at the market. They have a farm on the other side of town near the Saskatchewan.”
Ed and Rick sighed and shook their heads.
“I remember the Offermans, I baptized their children. They were at church every week; never missed a service. I had wondered where they went,” said Paul as he looked at the ground and frowned. He made the sign of the cross.
“Well they were murdered by Fred Getz, the man sleeping in our barn,” said Gary.
The brothers stood for a moment looking at the barn doors.
“So what should we do?” asked Ed.
“We should call the police, is what we should do,” said Paul.
“I don’t know,” said Rick scratching his graying beard, “We’re some ways away from the city and Officer Fielding and his boys won’t be up at this time. It might take them a while to get down here.”
“Rick’s right, it would take them until morning at least to get here,” said Gary.
“We should still call them regardless. If that man is gone by the time the police arrive we can at least give them information to help their search,” said Paul.
“I’ll not have a murderer on my farm,” said Ed, again reaching for the keys from Gary who pulled away again. “Stop pulling them keys away, let me get in there. I’m not going to let a murderer sleep in my barn.”
“What if he hurts you, or worse, kills you?” asked Gary.
“You saw him, he can’t out-muscle me. I’ll beat him good if he tries anything,” said Ed.
“He could be armed.”
“He ain’t armed.”
“How do you know, Ed? Did you search him?”
“He didn’t look like he had a gun.”
“I really think we should just call the police and leave the barn doors locked,” said Paul.
“He can still escape through the hay loft, there’s the opening and the platform and ladder on the other side of the barn,” said Gary.
“No, I blocked it with a few bales yesterday,” said Ed, “Packed a few more in.”
“I moved the bales out of the way, not enough air was getting in,” said Gary. Ed wrinkled his forehead and shook his head.
“Okay so there’s the loft door, but if we stay watch out here, we could tell him to get back inside if he does try to escape,” said Paul.
“That won’t work,” said Ed.
“A murderer isn’t going to listen to a couple of farmers and a priest, Paul, that’s why,” said Ed, raising his voice.
“How do you know he won’t listen to reason, Ed?” Paul asked, taking a step towards Ed and bumping into his chest.
“Criminals aren’t reasonable, it’s a fact.”
“I like to think people can always listen to reason. It’s my job to think that,” said Paul.
“Guys, don’t fight here,” Gary jumped in between the two separating them as they continued to argue with each other.
“What if we killed him?” said Rick. The brothers were arguing loudly over whether or not a criminal would listen to a reasonable request and did not hear him. He tried to break up the argument by pulling the brothers and shushing them.
“What if we just killed him?” said Rick a second time.
The brothers stopped arguing and Ed looked over to the barn door again.
“Say that again, Rick,” asked Ed sticking a finger into his ear and wiggling it about, “I think I must’ve misheard you.”
“I said what if we killed him.”
Gary and Ed crossed their arms and looked at each other while their faces looked deep in though.
“Absolutely not,” said Paul who shook his head and raised his hands. “That can not happen.”
“You said it yourself that the police won’t be here until morning, and he could escape at any point, and that he already killed the Offerman family. What if we’re next? We should use this time to act instead of argue,” said Rick.
Ed looked over to Rick with his mouth open as if to say something but he closed it again and put his hand on the back of his neck. Gary looked at his brothers, and then at the barn, and then back at his brothers and he sighed. “I think Rick is right.”
“What? Gary how could you be okay with this? You knew the Offermans, surely trying to avenge their deaths by killing their murderer isn’t what they would want,” exclaimed Paul.
“Paul, doesn’t the Bible say ‘an eye for an eye’?” Gary said.
Paul sighed, “Yes, but it also says ‘thou shall not kill’ and I’d much rather follow that. I can’t be the priest that killed a man, my reputation would be ruined.”
“You don’t need to help then,” said Ed.
“I can’t let you kill him, I’m sorry,” said Paul, looking at his brothers. “I simply can’t let my brothers commit the same crime they so harshly condemn. I can’t even believe you’re considering the idea. I’m going inside to phone the police, and then I’m going to get food going. I sincerely hope you’ll join me.” He started to walk off toward the house.
The remaining brothers watched Paul walk off. They turned their heads towards the barn. Ed turned and faced Gary and put out his hand for the keys to the barn. Gary again shook his head.
“We need a plan. Once we enter that barn, we need to know exactly what we’re doing before we go in there,” said Gary.
“He’s right. What would we do when we get in there? Beat him with a bucket?” said Rick.
“Well what’s the plan then?” asked Ed.
“We could always cut his throat,” offered Rick.
“The blood would ruin that hay - and that’s good feedin’ hay,” said Ed, and then, “Maybe we could shoot him. We’ve got that rifle in the house.”
“Paul would see us getting it, and he’d know what we’re up to,” said Gary.
“We can tell him it’s for guarding the door in case he escapes.”
Gary just shook his head.
“He’d hear it if we shot him,” said Rick.
“So what then? We can’t shoot him, and we can’t get too dirty with blood. What’s that leave us?” asked Ed throwing his hands up.
The brothers scratched their heads and Rick suggested they each take a few minutes to think of a way to kill Fred Getz and they would decide on the best one.
“Okay, I’ve got it,” Ed said, as the sun was starting to come up over the treeline towards the back of the farm. “There’s an old pistol I brought back from the army, I keep it in an old saddlebag in the tractor shed. We could go in there, shoot the guy in the head, and then we get him up on a cart and wheel him over to the lake and dump him in there.”
“No no no no, that wouldn’t work. We already said we can’t shoot him because Paul will hear the gunshot,” said Rick.
“I’ve got that covered too. I managed to take a suppressor home with me. We were given them on Vimy. I still have it with the pistol,” said Ed, “It would keep the shot quiet. He might not hear it way over in the house.”
“What if the police found him in the lake?” asked Rick.
“We could say he drowned,” said Ed.
“Drowned with a bullet hole in the head? Not likely.”
“What’s your idea then, Rick? You don’t seem to fond of mine so let’s hear what you have to say,” said Ed.
“I haven’t figured it out yet.”
“Figures. All that schooling you did and you can’t solve this problem.”
“I’ve got one,” said Gary.
“Oh yeah?” said Ed.
“Yeah. Okay, look: I knew the Offermans. And it tears me up inside knowing that their killer is fifteen feet from me. I sold next to them for years. They were very good friends.” He sighed. “The police would arrest us if they found the body in any way. We’d be in big trouble and that means we have to completely get rid of it.”
“How do you plan on doing that?” asked Ed with his arms crossed.
Gary ran a hand over his head, “I’m not sure yet. All I know is we need to kill him now.”
“We could bury the body out in the woods,” Rick suggested. Both Gary and Ed looked out towards the trees that were behind their cornfield a mile away.
“No, I don’t think he deserves a Christian burial, let alone any burial,” said Gary. “What if we burned him?”
“What, set him on fire and let him go that way?” asked Ed.
“No, that’s just how we get rid of the body. We burn him, turn him to ashes which we can throw in the woods later,” said Gary.
“It’s not a bad idea, but how do we kill him first? Is he already dead when we burn him or does the fire also kill him?”
“I think we have to kill him first, he set the whole barn on fire if we just sneak up on him and light him on fire,” said Gary, “No, we definitely have to kill him first.”
“How do you plan on doing that though?” asked Ed.
Gary paused for a moment and suddenly a sick smile crept across his face. “Violently,” he said, as he ran off to the small shed by the house. He came back with an axe, a crowbar, and a large tire iron. He passed the tools out to his brothers, keeping the axe for himself.
“We’re going to chop and beat him to death?” Ed almost shouted. Gary put a finger over his lips to shush him.
“A few blows to the head should be enough,” said Gary.
“I don’t like the look in your eyes Gary,” said Ed.
“He’s killed people I know, Ed. I’m avenging their deaths.”
“I get that, but what if a few blows to the head doesn’t work?”
“Then we keep going.”
“Until his head is smashed in, and then we use the axe to cut him up and then we burn him,” said Gary in a flat tone, staring off into the pines.
“What about the smoke?” said Rick.
“Smoke?” asked Gary, who snapped out of his trance.
“Where there’s fire, there’s smoke.”
“That’s now how the saying goes,” said Ed, “It’s ‘where there’s smoke there’s fire.’”
“Yeah, I know but it works the other way around too, if there’s fire there’s going to be some smoke, and the smell too. Burning bodies isn’t a a pretty smell,” said Rick to Ed.
“We could burn garbage with the body. And that way if Paul asked about the fire, we could say it was for burning garbage!” said Gary, snapping his fingers.
“It takes a while to burn a body. We don’t have enough garbage to fuel it,” said Rick.
“And how do you know that?”
“Because I burned a load of garbage two days ago. The amount I burned would have been enough, because it was over two weeks old, but the new pile is still small. We wouldn’t have enough to bring all of it to ashes,” said Rick.
“W-well what if we kept the body and burned it in pieces. We could burn some of it now, and then some in a few days and even more in a few more days,” sputtered Gary.
“How long do you think we can keep a rotting body on the property before Paul finds out? Plus as time goes on, the smell would become too much and people would definitely find out we killed someone.”
“Well do you have a better idea then Rick? You’ve been so vocal in shooting down both mine and Ed’s ideas, so what’s yours, eh?” said Gary, stepping towards Rick.
Rick stepped back as Gary got closer and stepped into a puddle. He looked down at his boot in the water and looked back up at Gary with a smile on his face. “I’ve got it.”
“I can’t wait to hear this,” muttered Gary turning away.
“Well we already established the most important rule: the death has to look like an accident so we don’t get locked up once the police come. So here’s my plan. It rained hard last night. We all saw the troughs were full of water, right?” said Rick.
“Yeah, okay,” said Ed. Gary nodded.
“We could drown him in the trough. It wouldn’t look like anything happened, and if the police get here in time, and they probably will as the sun is already coming up, they’ll just find a soaking wet dead man laying on the soaking wet ground after a hard rain and a few brothers going about their morning work,” said Rick, smiling proudly.
“The minute we go to pick him up, he’ll wake up,” said Gary.
“That’s where a piece of your plan comes in, actually. We’re going to have to knock him out first. Bang,” he slammed his fist into his hand, “right on the head, and then we quickly drag him to the trough to drown him. It’ll take all of us to hold him down, but he’ll drown quickly,” said Rick.
“So what do we do after he’s dead?” asked Ed.
“What do you mean?”
“How do we hide the body?”
“We don’t. We won’t have enough time. The police will be here and they’ll find Fred Getz, who they’re looking for, and they’ll see he’s dead, but there won’t be any marks on him showing that we did it,” said Rick.
“Are you sure though? I’m okay with the first bit of the plan, but it doesn’t sound like an accident. A guy can’t drown by sleeping in the rain. It’s ‘41 and the police have better ways of figuring out how someone died. That’s the last piece of this,” said Gary, scratching his head.
Ed looked over at the barn, and walked around to the side. The other brothers watched him walk off silently. Ed came back and asked Gary, “When you moved those hay bales in the loft, where did you move them to?”
“Um, looking out of the loft I think I moved them to the left side, why?”
“I’ve got a few bottles of old whiskey hidden up there for a special occasion. I hid them behind a few boards on the right side of the loft door,” said Ed.
“Why do you have so many things hidden around the farm?” said Gary.
“It’s all the things I put there years ago and forgot about. I never trusted you guys with my good liquor so I kept it where you’d least expect to find it.”
“And the pistol?”
“Especially that. Officer’s pistol, that. Very rare,” said Ed, looking proud.
“So the whiskey?” prodded Gary.
“We can pour it on him, make him smell like he had a wild party last night and leave the bottle lying near him. Make him look like he drank himself to death,” said Ed.
Rick snapped his fingers, “That’s the one. That’s how we do it.”
“Okay so one more time then?” said Gary.
“We go in there and knock him out with the crowbar - just a few hits to the head should do, then we drag him over to the trough and hold him under until he’s dead,” started Rick.
“And then I go up to the loft and grab a bottle of whiskey and we pour it on him and leave the bottle nearby. It’ll look like he drank himself to death,” finished Ed.
“Exactly. There won’t be too many marks left on the body so the police won’t question us,” said Rick.
“But where do we go after it’s all done?” asked Gary.
“Inside, I guess,” said Rick.
He sighed and looked over as the sun was almost all the way over the trees. A breeze picked up and Rick shivered. He looked over at his brothers. They looked back at him. For a few moments, they all stood in silence soaking in the weight of what they were about to do.
“We’re going to be just like him,” Rick whispered. His brothers sighed and looked to the ground.
“But we’ve got to do it,” said Gary. Ed reached out his hand to Gary who put the keys in his hand. Ed headed to the barn and slowly unlocked the door. Rick and Gary looked at each other and nodded and followed Ed into the barn.
* * * * *
The morning was already underway when Officer Fielding and his deputy showed up at the farm. The sun was up above the trees in the distance. They made their way over to the house and knocked on the door. Paul opened the door and welcomed the officers in. He explained the situation to them, that him and his older brothers had gone into the barn to feed the animals and they had found a man lying there who Gary had identified as Fred Getz, the recently-escaped murderer. Officer Fielding’s deputy scribbled notes into his notebook as Officer Fielding and Paul spoke about what he and his brothers saw. Paul thought they should go to the barn to arrest Fred Getz so that Paul’s brothers could begin their work.
When they arrived at the barn, they found the door unlocked, and Paul did not see his brothers outside like he had expected. Officer Fielding and his deputy walked around and inspected the barn. Paul opened the door and screamed. Officer Fielding ran back to see what the scream was about and he found Paul inside the barn staring at his brothers’ bodies. The bodies were lying on the pile of hay with their heads caved in. A bloody crowbar lay beside them, and Fred Getz was nowhere to be found.