By Renée Henning
The whole town knew that Jed Harris and “Mac” McCoy hated each other. In Texas, feuds can last a long time. This one began in elementary school. Over the years the two males chased the same girls, were sports rivals, played malicious pranks on each other, and fought with fists and cudgels. It was Mac who had started the feud, and it was Mac who kept escalating it.
Jed’s hope for a truce ended when both men were twenty-five. That night he was playing poker with some acquaintances. One of his buddies, who was standing at the window, suddenly said, “What happened to Jed’s truck?!” Through the glass, Jed saw his most prized possession, his black pickup truck. Someone had splashed pink paint over it and had slashed the tires.
Jed grabbed a phone, called his enemy, and yelled, “Mac, I’m coming to kill you!” Then he ran through the streets to Mac’s apartment and banged on the door. “Open up, you coward!” he shouted. Receiving no response, he kicked the door down.
Nobody was home. Mac had fled so quickly that he had forgotten his wallet and coat. Enraged, Jed tipped over furniture and broke lamps.
Afterward he left with Mac’s wallet, planning to put the money toward repairs to his truck. A week later, after Mac was reported missing, the police showed up at Jed’s apartment and found the wallet.
Jed was put on trial. He expected to be found innocent because he was innocent and because Mac’s body could not be found. However, the prosecutor introduced the testimony of two poker players who had heard Jed declare his intent to kill Mac and the testimony of a woman who had seen Jed pounding on Mac’s door soon after. Additional evidence concerned the busted door, the overturned and broken furnishings indicating a terrible fight, the discovery of Mac’s wallet in Jed’s possession, and Jed’s fingerprints at the crime scene. After only an hour of deliberation, the jurors concluded that Jed had hidden the corpse and found him guilty of premeditated murder.
Life in prison was tough. To try to forget the boredom and the daily humiliations, Jed would sometimes fantasize in his cell. On better days he would imagine having a wife and children and being rich and free. On darker days he would invent cunning ways to kill Mac someday and get away with it.
During the years Jed was incarcerated, Mac seemingly was spotted in town three times. Twice the look-alike said it was a case of mistaken identity. The third time, when the look-alike was observed exiting the McCoy mansion, the man claimed to be Mac’s cousin.
The third sighting raised no doubts about Mac’s fate since by then Jed had admitted to the slaying. He had confessed hoping to get released early for good behavior and for showing remorse.
After thirty-five years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Jed finally was set free. Life was still hard after his release. No business wanted to hire a convicted murderer in his sixties with hardly any work experience. He survived on occasional odd jobs and scavenging.
Several years later the patriarch of the McCoy clan died. The following week Mac showed up with his beautiful family, moved into the McCoy mansion, and claimed his inheritance.
Mac told people he had fled town fearing for his life and, bored with his old life, decided to create a new one. He denied having any contact with anybody in town during his long absence. He claimed that he had heard nothing about the murder trial and nothing about Jed.
Although Jed had brooded some in his broken-down trailer, Mac’s triumphant return made things worse. Jed had no children, no wife, no girlfriend, no vehicle, and no real job. At an age when he should be thinking of retiring, he had no pension and no money saved. It was a stark contrast with Mac’s life, one Jed might have lived had his tormentor not pretended to be dead. As bitterness grew, Jed began to plot revenge.
He started with surveillance of the McCoy mansion. He wanted to learn the household schedule to catch his archenemy at home alone. He also hitchhiked to a big city to buy a handgun with a silencer.
On the chosen night Jed slipped into the mansion after picking the lock on the basement door. He walked quietly through the house to the master bedroom. “Welcome home, Mac,” he said with a cold smile.
Mac woke up with a jerk. He stared in horror at the gun pointed at him. “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!” he screamed. “You don’t want to kill me and get sent back to prison.”
“What makes you think I’ll get sent back?” Jed replied coolly. “I can hide your corpse in a place where no one will ever find it.”
“If I go missing, the police will know you killed me,” Mac answered.
“You deliberately disappeared from your life once. People will think you did it again,” Jed said. “But even if your wretched body does turn up one day, I’ll be in the clear.”
“That’s impossible,” Mac responded. “In fact, you’ll spend another thirty-five years locked up.”
“What - no credit for the thirty-five I already served for no reason?” Jed replied. “Anyway, I guess you haven’t heard of double jeopardy. I already got tried and convicted of your murder. I can’t be tried for offing you again.”
Mac looked terrified as Jed’s words sank in. He began to blubber.
“I can kill you any time I want,” Jed said. Then he pulled the trigger.
Anne Whitehouse is the author of six poetry collections: most recently Meteor Shower (Dos Madres Press).