It was Bertram’s fault. He wanted to rent the out of the way place, a waterside cabin on Lake Winnipeg. His family used to go there when he was a youngster. Now that he was terminal, he wanted to relive the places he’d been as a youth. I was foolish enough to follow him the last six months, visiting out of the way places that only a 13-year-old would have loved.

There were two cabins near the lake, hidden in the woods. Bertram insisted on the one with the better view, the one that he had stayed in as a boy. The cabins were rustic. I’m sorry; that is being generous. They were run-down. Maybe 50 years ago, they were rustic. Nothing had been done to improve either of the buildings: the slanting steps, the soft floors, the rusty sink and shower.

The view was a million-dollarone, though, I had to give Bertram that. I was unpacking our weeks’ worth of food, even though we were only staying three days, and then it was on to the next place. I hadn’t yet figured out how to tell Bertram I was tired of “vacationing” and I was ready to go home. Back to a normal life.

I knew we would never have a normal life. Brain cancer is no picnic. He had headaches from hell. They were becoming more frequent, and there were times he didn’t know who I was or where we were. When the bad spells went away, he would be his old self.

We picked black raspberries that morning. Bertram wanted to make a jam just like his mother had when he was a boy.

We bought sugar, fruit pectin, and the jars to make the jam, but Edwina was fresh out of lids. She grabbed a large block of paraffin wax, letting us know this would work just fine.

“After the jars cool, pour the melted wax, make sure it covers the entire circumference of the opening, and the jam will be sealed.”

When we got back to the cabin, we cooked down the berries. We were making jam, so, unfortunately, the sweet goodness would be filled with seeds, but I wasn’t about to buy a strainer for a dozen small jars of jelly. The smell was wonderful. Bertram filled the small jars, letting them cool on the counter, suggesting we go fishing while we waited for them to cool.

A Jeep Wagoneer pulled up to the other cabin. The guy stared at us as we sat on the pier. Bertram had a line in the water.

Bertram waved and then said to me, “Well, there went our peace and quiet,” he sighed. I had to agree with him. It was quite lovely staying here without a neighbor. Loud radio music wafted down to the lake. Our new neighbor liked country and Western. Bertram swore he was now getting a headache. He reeled in the rod, picked up the bucket, and poured the bluegill back into the lake. I knew we wouldn’t be eating supper at all, now that he was sick.

“Maybe we should pack up and leave,” I told Bertram. I didn’t know why we would want to stay any longer now that we had someone breathing down our backs. He shook his head no and then said he needed to take a nap. He went straight for the cabin, and I walked over to the other cabin.

“Hi, my name is Nettie Bask. We’re in the cabin next door.”

“Ned Fenwick.” He extended his hand, so I shook it.

“I wonder if you might turn your music down. My husband is not feeling well; he has a headache and has gone to take a nap.” Ned stared at me with a look that made me feel as if I had asked him to give me his wallet. He walked over to the transistor radio and twisted up the volume knob. He then looked me up and down like I was a prize beef. “Husband sick, heh?” It was unnerving.

“Well, thank you for your understanding.” I walked back to our cabin, already making up my mind to pack up and leave that night. I was putting the dry goods in a box. I had carried them out to the car. Realizing I would have to finish the jars of jam before we left, I put the paraffin on the stove over low heat. The jars had cooled enough to seal them.

The music finally went down a bit. Ned Fenwick must have been a little bothered by the volume. Perhaps my neighbor thought better of his conduct. Peeking in on Bertram, I found him lying on the bed. He had a cool rag over his forehead. I could tell by his heavy breathing that he’d found relief in sleep. He was in no condition to drive anywhere tonight. I would get us packed tonight, and tomorrow when he felt better, we were leaving this weirdo behind. Maybe I could convince him to go home once and for all, praying that our endless vacation would come to a stop.

We were going to have to stay the night at least. I closed the door quietly behind me. Bertram had probably taken one of his pills and would be sleeping for a while. I said a little prayer that he would sleep through the night and be out of pain.

When my eyes could read no more, I went inside. The paraffin was transparent and liquid on the stove under the low setting. Grabbing a dish towel and picking up the metal-handled pot, I began sealing the blackberry jam by pouring the melted wax into the jars. It worked pretty slickly. The hot wax ran across the jam around the edge of the jar. I had a lot of wax left over. I put the pan back on the stove. Looking out the window at the sunset on the lake, I was startled when Ned’s face popped in the window. I shrieked, jumping back. Ned chuckled and continued with a lantern in his hand toward the pier. I turned the deadbolt on the door. Ned was a psychopath, and a deadbolt wasn’t going to keep him out if he wanted in.

I rechecked Bertram, hoping he would be awake; we could just leave now, forget about packing. I was afraid to stay here longer. Bertram had not changed his position; the soft snoring was reassuring, showing that he was resting comfortably.

I heard footsteps on the wooden porch, then a clunk like something had been tossed against the door, and then moments later the screen door at the other cabin.

Flipping on the porch light, I saw our distributor cap laying on the porch. The wires had been cut. I tried to swallow my panic. I wished my phone worked. There were no bars out here. We had no Internet. I told Bertram we shouldn’t stay here for that reason alone. What if his condition worsened?

“Nettie, I’m terminal. How much worse can it get?” Once unpacked, we spent some time out on the lake with the little rowboat that came with the cabin. No motor; just an old-fashioned rowboat that had been painted forest green. It looked as if they just put another coat of paint on the boat each year, judging by the different levels of peeling. I was surprised it still floated. We’d been having a wonderful time until Ned pulled up. Now we were stranded.

I ran back to the bedroom, trying to rouse Bertram.

“What?” he said groggily.

“Bertram, he pulled out the distributor cap, he cut the wires.”

“What wires?”



“Ned, the guy next door, he’s nuts. I asked him to turn down his radio; he turned it up. He was peeking in the cabin through the windows, and now he has taken the distributor from our car and thrown it on the porch.” Bertram tried to get up. He was groggy from the drugs. I heard the window break. Ned had taken something and broke the window on the door. I ran to the kitchen and saw his arm reach in and turn the deadbolt. A sound escaped me. I felt this was the end for us.

“Leave us alone! What do you want? Money? I’ll give you what we have.” Ned laughed and kept coming forward.

“I don’t want money,” Ned pushed me back into the cabinets; his hands were all over me. I was an old woman; why would he want me that way?  I screamed for Bertram. Ned had pulled some of the buttons from my blouse before the kitchen chair came down on him; he fell over.

“Bertram.” Relief flooded over me.

“Find an extension cord, a belt, something we can tie his hands and feet with.” Bertram grabbed his head. I knew he was in excruciating pain. I grabbed the belt from my bathrobe. Bertram tied Ned’s feet together and looped the belt under the heavy metal kitchen table. I cut the cord on the window blinds. Bertram hogtied the man’s hands; stretching his arms over his head, he tied the cord to the refrigerator leg. Bertram staggered to the bedroom.

Ned was on the kitchen floor, trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey. Bertram had temporarily restrained him, but his words still haunted me.

“Nettie, it could be so good, you and me. Come on, untie me.” I ignored him, wondering what I could do to shut him up.

“Shut up!” I kicked him as hard as I could in the ribs. He doubled over in pain. It gave me some satisfaction to make him as uncomfortable as he had made me. Again, he started in with his filth, that wretched sing-song voice telling me what he would do to me as soon as he was able to get free. He told me he had a knife in his pocket and he would gut Bertram and make me watch. I couldn’t listen to it any longer.

I realized that the paraffin was still on the stove. I’d forgotten to turn it off. The clear liquid was still simmering on the back burner. I crossed the kitchen, grabbing the pan on the stove with a dishtowel, turning the burner off. I moved the pan to the cool burner.

Ned kept spewing poison. I heard Bertram moaning in the bedroom. I couldn’t risk Ned getting away and gaining a foothold over us. I don’t know what came over me. I grabbed the pan of wax off the stove. I poured a little on Ned’s face. When he opened his mouth to scream, I poured the wax down his throat. Ned bucked and gagged trying to empty his mouth, but it was already hardening in his throat, choking off his wind. I watched him writhe in agony. The bastard had it coming; I felt no remorse.

Poor Bertram was in so much pain. I stroked his head, grabbing the rag he had and pouring water over it. I came back from the bathroom, laying it on his forehead. He was restless, but finally went back to sleep. I walked back to the kitchen.

Ned was dead. The hardened paraffin wax had sealed off Ned’s throat as well as it had the black raspberry jam jars. I touched him with my foot. Then I felt a wave of nausea as I searched his pockets. He certainly did have a pocketknife and the keys to his Jeep. I grabbed the keys.

I unlocked Ned’s vehicle and pulled it around to the back of our cabin. I started chucking everything we owned into it. We would leave as soon as Bertram was awake. I had everything packed, even the black raspberry jam in the cute little jars. Exhausted, I went to the back bedroom and fell asleep on the bottom bunk.

“Nettie! My God, what have you done?” I woke to Bertram’s panicked voice. Jerking up from sleep, I walked to the kitchen. It hadn’t been a nightmare. Ned was still dead, trussed up and stuffed up.

“Bertram, he was going to kill us. He cut the wires on the car. Look out on the porch.” Bertram saw the octopus of a distributor cap lying on the wooden floor.

“What did you do to him?”

“I sealed his vile mouth, that’s what I did. What should we do? The car is packed and I am ready to leave, Bertram. Now, please.”

“I think we need to dump him in the lake,” Bertram said quietly after much thought.

“What?” I couldn’t believe he was saying this to me.

“In the lake, we will load him down with rocks, take him out in the rowboat, and sink him. Then we will take his vehicle as far as we can.” I told Bertram I wanted to go home. I didn’t want to relive his childhood anymore. I just wanted to go back home. He agreed with me.

Dragging Ned across the woods on an area rug was easier than I thought it would be. We rolled Ned down the pier, dumping him into the rowboat. Bertram was having a good morning. He was with me and in the moment. We rowed to where Bertram knew there was a drop-off. All the while, I was sewing the carpet we had filled with rocks around Ned.

Between Bertram and I, we threw Ned over the side of the rowboat. Ned floated. I panicked for a moment. Then the carpet started to take on the water, and the rocks took Ned down into the deepest part of the lake.

Bertram asked me to drive; the exertion from rowing and lifting had brought on another headache. He took a pill and told me to drive until I couldn’t anymore and get a motel room.

I had crossed two states before I stopped for gas. I filled the Jeep up. Bertram slept. It was dusk when the red and blue lights stopped us. We were only a couple of hundred miles from home. With a sinking heart, I realized I didn’t have a registration for the vehicle. The plates were out of state plates. I shouldn’t have pushed the speed limit. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I rolled down the window.

“License and registration, please.” The officer shined the flashlight on Bertram, who moaned and turned away from the light. I reached in the glove compartment. I was amazed that the registration was there. The vehicle did not belong to Ned. I gave him my license. The officer went back to his squad. I waited while he talked with the dispatcher, I assumed. He came back to the driver’s side.

“Get out of the vehicle with your hands up.” Oh my God, they found Ned. He must have floated up from the drop-off in the lake. Guilty as charged, I stepped out of the vehicle.

“What’s wrong with him?” the officer played the flashlight on Bertram again.

“End-stage cancer. We are on the way home.” He handcuffed me and put me in the back of the squad. I watched as he knocked the flashlight on Bertram’s door. Then he pulled it open. Bertram fell to the ground. I shouted at the officer. A while later, the ambulance came for Bertram.

I was taken back and locked up in the county jail. I didn’t say a thing, because I didn’t know why the cops stopped me. When my lawyer got there the next morning, I asked her why I was in jail?

“You are wanted for murder.”

“Oh.” I thought she meant for Ned, but she continued.

“You are wanted for a string of murders across several states. The vehicle they stopped you in was reported stolen from the last murder committed in Virginia.”

“I’ve never been to Virginia,” I told my attorney. The jailer came in, handing a note to her. She opened then closed the letter.

“I’m sorry, but Bertram died at Memorial Hospital this morning.” I was numb.

“No, he had a few more months yet. The doctor said we had more time.” I started to cry like a baby. I knew this was how Bertram would go, but somehow, I pretended it wasn’t happening.

I never admitted to the murder of Ned Fenwick. I was a murderer anyway, so if I killed one person or ten, what was the difference? Now that Bertram’s gone, I don’t really care to go home to an empty house. I feel grateful now for the many adventures we had over the months we vacationed, and now I think he was right. If we had stayed home, we would have sat around and waited for him to die. Bertram did it his way. We saw all the favorite memories from his childhood. He passed his story onto me. Unfortunately, now that I am on death row for multiple murders, I will never be able to pass that story on to anyone else.

It was Bertram’s fault. He wanted to rent that out-of-the-way place, a waterside cabin on Lake Winnipeg.

One day, the carpeting will rot, or my hastily made stitches will break open, and Ned Fenwick will rise to the surface of Lake Winnipeg. When that happens, they will just pin that murder on me, and for once, they will be right.