A criminal gets more than he bargained for when greed takes an otherworldly turn.
Sins, Wash Away
The world gotta way of makin’ things right. Good, evil, and all that’s in between, keeps balanced. I seen it before, many times. Sometimes it’s strange. Can’t say I always understand. That strangeness seems to creep up more often around here. At least, the stories of that strangeness do. Like the story ‘bout Franky.
He was a bad seed. I mean wrong, deep inside his heart. Bad ran through that boy's blood. It filled every vein and soaked through the pores of his skin. He was naturally bad. Built that way. Like the devil himself laid out the plans.
He was a redheaded boy, pale as can be, freckles and such. He was like the milk against the fire, and he had singed everything in his path from day one.
From a young age, his wicked ways kept this town on its toes. It seemed like every time I turned around, Franky’s mischief was feedin’ the fire. And I mean mischief. Who would’ve thought that wickedness would make Franky a legend? Children all over the region have been tellin’ his story for years. Kind of a boogey man story to keep ‘em from goin’ down the wrong path. You know. But in Franky’s case, there ain’t no boogey man. That story is all true. I don’t care how it sounds - it’s true.
Franky came from a good family. His mother, a lovely woman, did everything she could to put him on the right path. Despite the moral, Christian upbringin’, well, let’s just say some people are born to do wrong. I could tell from early on that boy was headed for trouble. I remember when he got caught dropping a whole mess of firecrackers into Mr. Humphrey’s birdbath. Blew the thing up. He was caught red-handed, but lied his way through the situation. Six years old and playing with firecrackers.
That boy could lie with the best of ‘em. Probably could’ve been a lawyer if he paid any attention at all to school. Franky wasn’t much for schoolin’. The birdbath incident was the last time Franky ever got caught for anything, that is until the last time he ever did anything.
He was a smart boy, a damn criminal genius. He was under suspicion so many times he became the sheriff’s go to guy. Never could make a charge stick though. They accused him of doin’ everything from skinnin’ cats, to setting the woods on fire, to stealin’ from the church collection box. He done it all, but they just couldn’t catch him.
As he got older, the mischief got bigger. He ran numbers out of the corner bar and did his own collectin’. Believe me when I tell ya there was quite a few broken bones in this town when Franky ran numbers. If you lost a bet and couldn’t pay, you were gonna pay somehow.
Lots of nice cars went missin’ when Franky was around. Houses got broken into. Supposedly, that boy did some grave robbin’ too. You know you gotta bad seed on your hands when ya watch ‘em steal valuables from dead ones.
Franky had the run of things for awhile. But the boy wasn’t smart with money. Pissed it all away. Had to be a big shot and live bigger than his pocket.
When he got to be in his thirties, something’ told him that he couldn’t keep doin’ what he was doin’ forever. The boy was on borrowed time. He had no savings and his only income was criminal. He got to thinkin’ that one day his luck would run out. Franky needed a big score. No more of that petty crime. He needed something that could put him on top.
In this town, gossipin’ is a way of life. Folks gossip to pass the time. Some of it is true, some damn lies, some fall somewhere in the middle. Franky got interested in one particular rumor about old man Raimi. According to the rumor, old man Raimi had a lot of money. I am talkin’ lots. You wouldn’t know it by his tattered clothes and run-down house. Supposedly, he was hoarding it. I guess for a rainy day. But the man was damn near a hundred, so there wasn’t gonna be too many more rainy days. They said he buried it in his backyard.
No one was sure how old man Raimi came by that money. Some say he made a deal with the Devil in exchange for his soul. Only, after old man Raimi received the money, the Devil fixed it so he couldn’t spend none of it. We’re not sure how, only that he had to bury it. People say that’s why old man Raimi keeps on livin’ so long. His way of getting’ back at the Devil. Long as he’s alive, the Devil ain’t getting’ his soul.
Franky started askin’ a lot of questions about that rumor. He asked everybody. He got to thinkin’ that this could be his ticket. And he wasn’t much for church, so the Devil wasn’t nothin’ to fear.
One night, while old man Raimi was playin’ bingo at the Baptist church on the other side of town, Franky snuck over to the house with a big sack and a shovel. He had all intentions of diggin’ up the whole yard if he had to, as long as he got his greedy hands on that money.
Franky was drawn to one particular spot, cause it was the one place where there was no grass. Just a big area, free of grass, just dirt. And it was a strange dirt. Bright red like a stop sign.
Franky got to diggin’. In no time, he was a few feet down, when he hit something hard. Franky gave a big shout of triumph. He dropped to his knees and stuck his hands into that red dirt and pulled up a wooden box – about the size of a coffin.
Franky took the shovel and brought it down on the box about a dozen or so times ‘til he turned it into a bunch of splinters. And out poured all this money. It was the big score that boy was hopin’ for.
Just as Franky was collectin’ it, stuffin’ the money into that sack, old man Raimi came around the corner. Before he could get a word out, Franky swung the shovel at him. Knocked old man Raimi’s head clean off.
Now Franky never killed nobody before. He had done a lot of bad things, but not killin’. At that moment, he crossed the point of no return. Once a man kills for greed, there ain’t no turnin’ back.
Franky gathered up the rest of the money and his shovel, and ran like the Devil was chasin’ him. He ditched the shovel in Stoney Creek and headed for home. Along the way, he had to stop a few times to heave, cause the guilt of killin’ a man got to his stomach. When he got home, he hid the money in the wall behind the bookcase. It was where he kept the ledgers for book makin’. He threw his clothes in the wood stove and started a good, strong fire and headed to the bathroom to clean up.
Franky was too busy coverin’ up his tracks to notice his hands ‘til he got to the sink and was pretty shocked when he saw ‘em. They was as red as could be, cause of that strange dirt. It was in every crevice and every pore. He got the soap and a sturdy brush and went to work on scrubbin’ them hands. He scrubbed for damn near an hour before that dirt washed away. Scrubbed his skin ‘til it was raw.
While Franky was scrubbin’ and coverin’ his tracks, the sheriff was tendin’ to the decapitated body of old man Raimi. Gertrude Evans, old man Raimi’s neighbor, heard someone diggin’ and called the police. By the time the law got to gettin’ around to checkin’ out Gertrude’s complaint, the deed was done and the culprit was long gone. Word got around fast and people from all over town showed up to see what happened.
People started up with their usual gossipin’ even before old man Raimi’s body was in the bag. The sheriff listened in on that gossipin’, cause the town was talkin’ about Franky. They was talkin’ about how that boy was interested in that rumor about the buried money.
The sheriff was curious. They knew Franky was no killer, but they got to thinkin’ that maybe he was startled and how greed does horrible things to people. And they knew Franky was greedy.
A few hours later, they showed up at Franky’s house. As he was scrubbin’ off the evidence, he heard a knock at the door. He ignored it at first and kept on scrubbin’ ‘til those hands was completely free of that strange red dirt. He scrubbed so hard, he took some of the skin right with it.
His visitors kept on knockin’, persistent-like. They banged on the door and called for Franky ‘til he finally came to answer and was face to face with the sheriff.
Franky invited the officers in, keepin’ his battered hands in his pockets while he was talkin’. The sheriff explained their reason for coming around and Franky tried to act surprised about old man Raimi’s untimely death. They asked Franky where he was earlier that night, why he was askin’ around town about the rumor of old man Raimi’s buried money. Franky had answers to all the questions. A smooth talker like always, even when he was in the worst trouble of his life.
The sheriff kept probin’ for answers while he looked around the house. Franky was smilin’ the whole time, tryin’ to put on his best poker face. That is until he took a look at his hands. He was shocked to see that the red dirt somehow made a second appearance. Franky slipped his hands back in his pockets and excused himself, as polite as he could be, tryin’ to maintain that poker face.
He locked himself in the bathroom and got to scrubbin’ again, horrified that the dirt was back. He scrubbed and scrubbed, but it just wouldn't come off.
After about twenty minutes of waitin’, the sheriff, sayin’ they’d be back in the mornin’ to ask some more questions. Franky kept on scrubbin’. He replaced soap with turpentine, then gasoline, even bleach. Nothin’ worked.
He finally gave up, his hands raw and bloody. They stung like the devil and they was still covered in that strange red dirt.
Later that night, Franky lay still in his bed. His hands were on fire. It felt as though somethin’ was boilin’ his blood. He did everything he could to get his mind off the pain, imaginin’ what he was gonna do with all that money. But the pain kept comin’ and spread up his arms to his neck, chest, stomach, ‘til it reached his toes. When the pain became too much for Franky to take, he threw off the covers and threw off his clothes and threw on the lights and saw that his entire body was covered in that dirt. It felt like the dirt was eatin’ him alive.
He screamed ‘til the fire reached his lungs. Franky gasped for air. He fell to the floor, clawin’ at the rug, wailin’ around. He struggled for air ‘til there was no struggle left in him.
The next mornin’, the sheriff came back to Franky’s house with a warrant. They was plannin’ on searchin’ the entire house for evidence of old man Raimi’s murder. They gave about ten minutes worth of their persistent knockin’. When there was no answer, they went in on their own. They called and called but Franky didn’t answer.
When they made it to the bedroom, they saw a sight that made ‘em both question the reliability of their own eyes. They found Franky, layin’ on the floor, covered in red dirt, with it pouring from his mouth, nose and eye sockets like they was funnels. Franky was very dead. In fact, he was more dirt than anything else.
The sheriff had the coroner cut the boy open. There was nothin’ left inside. No blood, no organs, nothin’ but red dirt. Nobody ever figured out what happened to Franky. Of course, there’s the rumors. Like how Franky found the money. But the police never recovered it. Some say it’s still in the house. As far as this town’s concerned, it will stay there. They may just be all rumors, but nobody wants to touch that money. Let the world be all tied up in tidy knots. Balanced and all.
© 2018 by Thomas R. Reilly
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