by Mike Meginnis
Once the community had agreed that Mr. Reed would have to die, including Mrs. Reed and the sheriff and all the sheriff’s deputies, everything was simple and easy, and the murder came quite naturally. John Taylor was chosen for the job, on account of his relative neutrality concerning Mr. Reed – they did not want this to be a hateful act, unduly painful or otherwise immoderate – and his ownership, legal but generally frowned upon in their town, of a handgun. The gun was a .357 caliber Smith & Wesson Model 60, which some believe to be the most widely-owned handgun in America, though 9mm models have become more popular in recent years.
Because of what Mr. Reed had done, it was easy to point the gun at him, and it was simple to pull the trigger. Mr. Reed was shot three times. Once in the right shoulder, once in his gut, and once in his heart.
The entrance wounds were small, and though they bled profusely this was not a cause for concern, because Don Knight owned a carpet warehouse, and his sons would replace the carpet the next day. Mr. Reed had been watching television when the murder took place. They also disposed of his easy chair, and this was simple, as well.
When Mrs. Reed came home with her children, she told them the stains on the floor and the chair were from ketchup. “You know your father, how he puts ketchup on everything,” she said, “and what a messy eater he is.” This was, of course, a slander; for all that had been wrong with the living Mr. Reed, he ate neatly, and was scrupulous in using his napkin. His son and daughter were young, and believed what they were told.
When he died, Mr. Reed changed the channel, which he had just begun to do before the door opened and John Taylor shot him three times. Because he was alone before they killed him, no one knew what he had been watching before. In any case he died watching a slug crawl into a conch shell. The music in that moment was soothing – breathy woodwinds and cool, synthetic burbles – which the community agreed was a good thing for Mr. Reed, who in any case shouldn’t be blamed for shortcomings that may well have been God’s handiwork.
Mr. Reed’s body became hard and cruel in death. His toes curled up in his shoes. His prick became stiff, and his guts clenched as if to strangle some live game trapped inside them. His hands squeezed themselves into tight balls of muscle. His right hand broke the television remote. When the children asked where their father was three days later, Mrs. Reed explained that he had disappeared, and that he’d taken the remote with him, which answered their next question.
There was a brief moment where Mr. Reed was still conscious, watching the slug crawl into the conch shell, feeling all the blood fall out. He did not look at John Taylor, possibly out of contempt, possibly because he could not turn his head. “So it’s true,” he said. “Everyone wanted me dead, and always has for as long as I’ve been here.”
John Taylor had been struck by the same feeling often. He said, “I’m sorry Hal. There was a vote.”