All my life, people have been telling me to shut my mouth. Never once has anybody seriously asked about my opinion or my side of the story. It’s always “quiet, fool!” or “zip it, Philip A.” Well, now it’s my turn to talk, and y’all have to listen whether you want to or not. It’s a crying shame that I had to die for this to be, but so be it!
Now, y’all are gathered here at the Methodist Church to hear my last will and testament. No doubt, I’m coming to you through a TV screen right above my corpse, unless my friend and legal representative, Mr. Dumfries, failed to carry out my final request. Since I’ve known Paul since he was knee-high, I’ll proceed under the assumption that he did all that I asked of him.
I’m sure many of y’all just want me to rush to the part where I parcel out all of my worldly belongings to each and every one of y’all. Well, I’m very excited to say that none of you, not a single goddamn one, is gettin’ anythin’. That’s right—nothin’! Y’all can just go jump in the lake and drown. Y’all treated me like dog dirt while I was alive, so now in death I’m returnin’ the favor. And seein’ as how my time came up, this gatherin’ gonna be a confession, and here it is.
I, Philip Alan Dennison, son of Hiram Maxwell Dennison and Myrtle Galloway Dennison, on the night of March 18, 1962, murdered Betty Lakewood. Quite shockin’, ain’t it? Me, the village idiot, committin’ the only unsolved murder in the history of Preston County and gettin’ away with it for forty-eight years. How does that grab you, Sheriff Thorne? Maybe you’ll tell me when we see each other swimmin’ on the Lake of Fire. As for the rest of you lousy, no-good kin of mine, y’all just went about your bidness suspectin’ nothin’; all the while I smiled on the inside about what y’all didn’t know while I pumped your gas or cleaned your windshield. Y’all had a murderer right in front of you the whole time and were none the wiser. Heck, I was never even officially questioned. After all, Phil Dennison was too stupid to even know how to kill somebody. Let me tell y’all a little a truth: killin’ somebody is the easiest thing in the world—you just pull back and punch. Even a complete mon-go-loid could do it with some success. Here’s how I did it.
As y’all know, I began workin’ at the gas station, the only one in town, when I was fourteen, back in 1951. I kept that job regular until last year when they told me I had lung cancer. The same job for fifty-eight years. Never moved up nor quit; just kept right along. I got to know everythin’ ‘bout cars, from the tailpipe to the headlights, and everythin’ in between. I grew to like cars more than people, even the Jap ones. Yessir, Phil Dennison was the right man when it came to cars.
But, by 1962, I was bored with it all. I was twenty-five and I had a wild hair up my behind. I was havin’ daily thoughts about leavin’ town and the station, even though I knew in my heart of hearts that I wasn’t cut out for anythin’ else. Then one day in December, Earl Lauderbach came around the station and told me about the bank heist in Kingwood. Y’all surely remember Earl, the town gossip queen with the peg leg. Well, Earl told me that day that them robbers made off with fifteen thousand dollars—a whole lot of money in 1962. Naturally, I wanted to hear more, so Earl told me all ‘bout his theories about how them robbers got into the bank and how they made off with all the money.
Earl believed that the robbers had staked out the bank for weeks, and that there was three of them, all heavily armed. To Earl, them robbers had to have been a professional gang from Maryland or Pennsylvania; that was the only way he could explain their success against “Bullseye” Hank McAteer, that ancient security guard. At the time, I bought into Earl’s theory. It was only months later that I learned that them robbers were actually Junior Simmons and Randy Davis, two local boys with huntin’ rifles. But, as I said, I didn’t know this ‘til months later. In the meantime, I filled my days with daydreamin’ about all the things I could do with fifteen thousand dollars.
It got to the point where I would first use the money to buy a new car: a Ford Galaxie 500 XL Skyliner with white walls and a big, fat bumper. A crimson red one. I’d sit in the office and think about all the drivin’ I’d do in that fine auto-mo-bile. Yessir, every wakin’ hour and every night I dreamt about that machine. Me behind the wheel smilin’. Sometimes I’d share that car with Jayne Mansfield, but most of the time I was by my lonesome.
I must’ve been wrapped up in one of them dreams when Betty Lakewood pulled into the station with her rust bucket Chevy pick-up. I had always fancied Betty, what with her meaty thighs, tight breasts, and curly red hair. My oh my, did she ever set me runnin’ fast. All she ever had to do was flip those lashes and expose them big brown eyes and I’d come racin’ to her feet without so much as a word.
On this particular occasion, Betty needed to fill up her tank, but Mother Nature, that cruel old bitch, was just not willing to cooperate. It was during that freak March snowstorm that killed Widow Ridgeway, and snow was just as high as the mailbox everywhere in the county. Betty was willin’ to test the elements, but I persuaded her to come into the station’s office to wait out the blizzard. She reluctantly agreed.
I pulled out the bottle of Kentucky Gentleman that I kept in my right hand drawer and two clean glasses. I remember lookin’ out the window and seein’ just a blanket of snow movin’ helter skelter. Betty took a glass that was full near the brim, inhaled it, and took another snort. She was wearin’ a fur-lined overcoat over a pale blue sweater that was tight enough to make Pastor Polling sweat. I too was getting’ a little hot and bothered.
After a few minutes of silence, I asked Betty about why she even bothered to come out in that weather.
“I got business up in Wheeling. Very pressing.”
“Wheelin’? Heck, that’s more than three hours from here. No way you gonna make it tonight.”
“Might as well try at some point.”
“If you do, you’re gonna end up buried either under a snow drift or six feet of consecrated earth.”
I remember her gettin’ very nervous after I said that. She visibly began to shake in the hands, and she couldn’t help but to look out the window every five seconds.
“Gee, Betty. I didn’t mean to frighten you or nothin’. It’s just not a smart thing to be on the road right now.”
“You’re probably right. Got any more whiskey?”
I poured her another drink, then another, then another, then another ‘til I poured her six glasses in all. Needless to say, Betty got skunked. The alcohol only increased her agitation, and she began pacin’ the office like one of them large cats in Africa that I’d read about often in the dentist office’s magazines. She clearly wanted to attend to her bidness that night, but my sound advice (plus the snow) kept her back.
“Damn this blizzard. Damn Preston County.”
“Now, now there. All your kin are here in this county. Don’t go damnin’ them.”
“Damn them, too. They had the nerve to raise me here and almost kill me with boredom.”
“It can’t be all that bad.”
“Oh it is, Phil. It’s a slow death with nowhere to go. You get born here, you work some dead-end job, then you die and they bury you behind the Methodist Church.”
“You don’t have a dead-end job. You have a good job. A bank teller at the Kingwood Credit Union: now that’s good money.”
“Yes, you handle everybody else’s money for a pittance. All that green and so few of it finds its way back to you.”
“Heck, look at me. I pump gas, clean this office, and fix the occasional car and all I have to show for it is my room upstairs.”
“Then why do you do it? I mean, if I was you I would leave here the first chance I got. Do you not feel that way?”
“I reckon I never really thought much ‘bout it. Sure, I’ve dreamt ‘bout it, but people like me, you know, stupid, don’t have much choice but to be happy with what we got. Me, I got this here station, and that’s my cross to bear.”
“What if you had fifteen thousand dollars?”
“And where would I get that kinda money?”
“What if you robbed a bank?”
“Say, isn’t that how much them robbers over in Kingwood made off with?”
“Yes…fifteen thousand smackers.”
“You wouldn’t happen to be one of them robbers would you?”
Betty smiled one of the biggest smiles I had ever seen. She titled her head back and laughed loudly. A little too loudly. The whiskey had fully taken control.
“No, but I have the money all the same. It’s out there in my truck.”
“How did you come by it if you wasn’t in on the robbery?”
“Simple: I stole it from the two who stole it first.”
Betty then proceeded to tell me about how she got the money from Simmons and Davis. Seems that Simmons and Davis loved to drink at the Mill Ground Tavern in town, and they loved to drink buckets and buckets of cheap beer. It just so happened that Betty liked to blow her paycheck at the Mill Ground, too, and they both ran into each other on the night before she came into my station. I wasn’t the only lad in town to fancy Betty—Randy Davis was plumb wild ‘bout her, too. Betty and him grew up together, and Betty was well aware of Randy’s infatuation. Maybe she was drunk or maybe just feelin’ frisky; either way, Betty started to drink with Simmons and Davis.
After several rounds, Simmons passed out, while Davis and Betty continued their conversation. Now Randy Davis was never a sharp one. In fact, he once drank motor oil thinkin’ that it was coffee. When Betty was added to the mixture, Randy became that much dumber.
Randy, under the influence of love, lust, and enough Duquesne to sink a ship, told Betty all about the money he and Simmons had stolen from that bank in Kingwood. He even went so far as to tell Betty about how he and Simmons had the money stashed away in Davis’ outdoor privy. With unbridled greed in mind, Betty suggested that Davis and her go find some place more private. Davis suggested his house out past the county route turnpike, and Betty readily agreed.
At some point durin’ the drive, Davis stole a few minutes of shut-eye before he and Betty did the big thing. Recognizin’ her golden opportunity, Betty pushed Davis out of the car and drove away. Betty snatched up the loot and tried to make her way out of town, but, well you know.
So that’s where she stood at the time of our meetin’. It was near one A.M. when she finished her story. The snow had finally started to let up a little by then. I suggested that Betty and I take a look and see if she could continue the journey to Wheelin’. By this time a lot of horrible thoughts were swimmin’ around in my head, and I was listenin’ to all of ‘em.
“What’s in Wheelin’ anyhow?”
“Gambling. Country music. Most importantly, a Greyhound station that can take me to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.”
“Got family in Myrtle Beach?”
“Something better than family: anonymity.”
“Anony-mity. I like the sound of it.”
“What? The word or its meaning?”
With that, Betty drunkenly stumbled into her car. Those awful thoughts in my head got so loud that I had no other recourse but to silence them. I grabbed Betty by the hair and slammed her against the car door. I punched her square in the face. Then I followed that up with a knee. I alternated between fist and knee, then when Betty was motionless on the ground, I started kickin’ and stompin’. I didn’t let up ‘til I beyond the numbers that I could count.
I put Betty’s corpse back in her truck and drove north for a little while. I drove real slowly, and I enjoyed the time. When I came to the Little Sandy I left Betty and the truck. I walked to Albright, the nearest town, and phoned Earl Lauderbach for a ride. I got back to my station at three AM and went to sleep with a smile on my face.
The rest of the story y’all know. Sheriff Thorne put Davis away, seein’ as he was the last person seen with Betty while she was still breathin’. Being a two-time loser, no one believed Davis’ claim of innocence. Even Simmons testified against his former partner-in-crime. Davis died three years ago of a heart attack. He had fifty-two years left on his sentence.
As for me, I lived the rest of my life the same way I did in 1962. I never had a wife or any children, but I had plenty of cousins and I kept up with all of ‘em. That’s y’all. All cousins who saw me as the dumb one in the family. Never knowing that I sat on fifteen thousand. I never spent any of it and now it’s just ashes. That’s the truth of it all. I killed Betty Lakewood just to burn all her money. I guess I did it to experience firsthand that beautiful word she used, too. Anonymity.
Benjamin Welton is a freelance writer based in Boston. He has been published in Sanitarium, The Atlantic, Thuglit, Social Matter, and other places. His blog is The Trebuchet.