by Renée Henning
“Mac” McCoy was the son of the richest and most important man in town. His father owned the McCoy Construction Company, the biggest employer in that part of Texas. Although the boy loved his dad, he looked forward to the day when he would inherit and would take over the man’s paramount position.
Mac was used to people fawning on him. His parents considered their only child the crown prince. Others also treated him as special, to earn favor with the senior McCoy. Though Mac had some good qualities, he was, even as a child, selfish and determined to be the boss among his peers.
Growing up, he had one challenger at school for the role of class leader. It was Jed Harris, a boy from a poor family. The whole town knew that Mac and Jed hated each other. Their feud 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.
He took things too far when both men were twenty-five. The boiling point concerned jealousy over a pickup truck. Mac drove a new one, a gift from his parents for his job at the construction company. He felt he deserved a more manly truck. He disliked his vehicle because it was beige and partly covered with company advertisements. In contrast, Jed’s pickup, though secondhand, was black and gleamed from weekly polishing. The truck was Jed’s most valuable possession.
“It’s time for another prank,” Mac told himself. “I’ll make Jed look like a sissy!” He stole several cans of paint and a sharp tool from his worksite. That night, while drunk, he splashed pink paint over Jed’s pickup and slashed the tires.
Afterward Mac went to his apartment and barricaded the door. He planned not to answer when a furious Jed came knocking.
Suddenly the telephone rang. The caller was Jed. “Mac, I’m coming to kill you!” he yelled.
Mac acted quickly. He fled, leaving the door unlocked. In the rush he left his wallet and coat behind.
Minutes later Jed arrived at the apartment and banged on the door. “Open up, you coward!” he shouted. Receiving no response, he kicked the door down. Enraged at finding the vandal gone, the man tipped over furniture and broke lamps. Soon he left with Mac’s wallet, intending to put the money toward repairs to his truck.
Mac ran through the cold to his parents’ mansion. By midnight the three McCoys had devised a plan. They agreed that Mac would disappear from town and return in six months, after his victim had cooled down. While the dad made arrangements for the stay in Dallas, the son would hide in the cellar from the maid.
During the week Mac hid out at home, his latest girlfriend grew increasingly alarmed. She went to his apartment and saw the busted door and damaged furnishings. She showed up at his job and visited his favorite bar, but nobody had seen him. Next, fearing the worst, she went in a panic to the McCoy house.
Mac’s parents, who knew he was still in town, acted worried about her news. They could not publicly ignore circumstances indicating that something dreadful had happened to their son. To avoid suspicion, the father filed a missing person report. Subsequently the police showed up at Jed’s apartment and found Mac’s wallet.
The McCoys kept Mac’s whereabouts secret even when Jed was put on trial for murder. In their view, the misery of the trial would teach him never to threaten Mac again. They expected a not-guilty verdict since Jed was innocent and no corpse had been found.
However, during the proceedings the prosecutor introduced the testimony of two men who had heard Jed declare his intent to kill Mac. Additional evidence concerned 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 deliberating, the jurors concluded that the defendant had hidden the body and found him guilty of premeditated murder.
Jed was sentenced to a long prison term. To punish him, the McCoys resolved to keep Mac’s existence secret until he moved back from Dallas. At that point Mac, who had already postponed the homecoming date once, promised to return in eight months.
The man ended up residing in Dallas for decades. He found the big city exciting. If he could not be the top male, he preferred a metropolis to a hick town.
Mac’s life in Dallas was chaotic. He worked at the junior executive job his dad had found for him at a construction company. (His parents supplemented the salary with a hefty allowance.) Typically he went in the evening to bars, where he was popular for his good looks, humorous stories, and generosity in paying for drinks. Mac got divorced twice. (When he was on good terms with his ex-wives, he would handle their household repairs.) He fathered five children, including one out of wedlock. He loved his kids and spoiled them as his dad had spoiled him.
Following a few drunken brawls, Mac spent a month in jail. He loathed the experience. It pleased him that conditions were far worse for Jed at the Huntsville penitentiary.
During the period that Jed was incarcerated, Mac occasionally returned to his hometown at night. Generally it was to wheedle more money out of his indulgent mother. He was recognized only three times. Twice he said it was a case of mistaken identity. The third time, when he was observed exiting the McCoy mansion, he claimed to be Mac’s cousin.
For years Mac’s mother kept up her part in the family conspiracy, the conspiracy to hide the fact that there was no murder. She talked, rarely, to friends about her grief over her child’s death. That won her sympathy for her actual heartache, i.e., she hardly ever saw her son. The woman felt a little sorry for Jed. However, in her opinion, any person who might pose a danger to her precious boy should be caged.
Eventually the woman became gravely ill. With months left to live and a troubled conscience, she phoned Mac.
“Son,” she said, “I need you to do a favor for me. As your father told you, I have hardly any time left. I’m asking for your help to put things right. I want you to get Jed out of prison before I die.”
Mac replied, “Don’t feel guilty, Ma. Sure, he was framed for murder, but you were barely involved. Anyway, I intend to spring Jed, just not right now. After ten years locked up, he’s desperate for revenge. As soon as the punk comes out, he’ll attack me.”
“I know how to get him released while you stay safe,” she answered. “Just walk down our main street in daylight. People will speak to you. They’ll wonder if you’re a ghost. Pretend during the conversation to be surprised about Jed’s murder case and fate. Say that you’re on your way to visit your parents, who will be shocked to see you alive. That way, nobody will suspect that the McCoys helped condemn an innocent man.”
She forced herself to go on despite her weak state. “Afterward head back to Dallas and continue to hide out there for a while. Everyone you talked to will spread the story of your return. Then Jed will get freed.”
“This is a bad time. I’m busy with my kids and other stuff. I’d rather wait until the fall.”
“Please do it before I die. Son, I’m begging you!” Mac, fearing Jed might somehow kill him for the decade of wrongful imprisonment, refused his mother’s request.
The man was not yet a monster. He had not meant to keep Jed behind bars that long. However, there seemed to be no good time to right the wrong.
More seasons passed. Every year the inmate grew angrier and the de facto jailer had fewer nightmares about the retaliation to come.
Eventually Mac decided never to rescue his foe. His favorite child got diagnosed with cancer, and the girl ultimately lost her fight to live. For a long period he was hurting, and he wanted Jed and the whole world to suffer, too.
Jed finally earned his freedom after thirty-five years in prison for a crime he had not committed. Life remained hard for him. 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 Mac’s father passed away. He had felt zero remorse for the McCoy conspiracy because of the never-ending feud between Mac and Jed and the latter’s death threat.
The next week Mac showed up with his third wife and their youngsters, moved into the McCoy mansion, and claimed his inheritance. He had finally achieved his dream of becoming the richest and most important man in town.
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 to have heard nothing about the murder trial and Jed. Yet he never left home without a pistol.
Jed had brooded some in his broken-down trailer, but 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 the life his tormentor had destroyed by pretending 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 Houston 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 snapped awake. 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.
Renee Henning does write fiction and non-fiction on other subjects. She is an international author and an attorney. Her written work has appeared in her book Mystery and the Adopted Child and in other publications in North America (e.g., Washington Post), Europe (e.g., Oslo Times), Asia (e.g., ActiveMuse), Africa (e.g., Modern Ghana), and Oceania (e.g., Freelance).