Trigger by Doug Hawley

Tuesday, February 3, 2015
A good-for-nothing crook crosses a line when he kills two strangers without really meaning to, and he wonders whether he will get away with it; by Doug Hawley.

I was out target shooting in the country when I heard the gravel crunch and somebody yelled, "Hey asshole, what are you doing?" Without thinking, I turned and shot him. Well shit, nobody should have sneaked up on somebody and scared him like that. Before I could check him out somebody else came running up with a handgun and screamed, "You shot my brother." I turned around and shot him too. Him carrying the handgun, I figured it was self defense. The first guy was sort of an accident.

When I checked them out, I found that they were both dead or near dead. Considering that I didn't really have a good explanation for my nearly innocent part in all this, I cleared out and went home.

I suppose this was a long time coming. I always had a hair trigger going back to grade school. There were fights every other day, inattention in class, talking back, small fires that never did much. Mom and dad never cared much; they thought it was standard boy activity. I can't say that they were too happy about hitting the dog with his brush or wetting the bed. Fortunately for me they were more worried about paying the rent and buying whiskey than what I was doing. The tight ass youth authorities would come around from time to time, but except for a few stints in juvenile detention, I was mostly left alone. Detention taught me a few things about petty thievery that I could use later in life.

I dropped out of high school my sophomore year after knocking up a cheerleader. I don't remember her name or what happened to her. By then I was drinking and smoking pot. I got lucky and got a job at the local mill. I was underage, but it was a small town and nobody checked. I made good money. Nobody checked ID at the bars, which is a good thing, because that is where I found the babes on the lookout for bad boys, of which I was about the baddest. I lot of them were married to boring guys. They told their husbands that they were out with the girls. Kinda like the Eagles song "Lying Eyes", except I wasn't a rich guy. By this time I always wore rubbers to keep from making the same mistake I made with the cheerleader.

We had a lot of fights in the bar parking lot, but it was all fists and knees. None of us knew any martial arts (but I thought I was always good at unmarried marital arts). My method was just to hit or kick the other guy first while he was still thinking of what to do. I not only won most of the fights; I regularly went home with the other guy's girl. None of us thought too much of it, it was just what we did and our parents did before us. In fact, I'm the result of a fight in which my daddy won my mother. I suppose that I was a son of a bitch. Anyhow, you could see how I ended up as I did.

Unlike the city, out in the country guns are mostly used for hunting animals rather than killing people. Just about everybody has at least one shotgun for birds, a rifle for deer and a handgun for pests like rabbits and porcupines. Nobody has any expensive gear, it's all for practical use. There is no need to hit anything at a thousand yards. Mostly we poached or hunted out of season. We shot from the road, we spotlighted deer, all that illegal stuff, but nobody cared and we had no law enforcement to speak of.

It was unusual for me to be out target shooting that day I shot a couple of guys. I didn't know if I was on somebody's property or if it was government property. I didn't care. At that time I was pissed off about the gal that I had taken back to my apartment the night before who turned out to be a guy, and I just wanted to blow some holes in something. Maybe I'd been a little too drunk to check out what I was taking home. Anyhow, after I beat the crap out of him/her and pushed her/him down a flight of stairs, I was justifiably in a bad mood. Fortunately, he was too ashamed to complain. I suppose that you could blame bad timing for the dead guys.

Back at my apartment, I started to wonder if I could get in any trouble. Since I didn't know either of those guys, I didn't think anybody could accuse me of having a motive to kill them. I didn't steal anything from them that could connect me to them. When I got home, I wondered why I hadn't seen what was in their wallets. I wouldn't have taken any credit cards, but I could have taken cash money. There would not have been any way to trace that.

I watched Perry Mason reruns every night at 8pm on independent channel 26, so I had a pretty good idea how the "real" murderer (never his client) is caught. I already knew that I had no motive. How about opportunity? Was there some way that I could explain the time that I was shooting that nobody could check? Had anyone seen me leave my apartment? I could not claim to have been in my apartment all day. After I had left town, I didn't see anyone or any cars. I thought that most of the sinners were in church. So I could have been swimming at the lake in the opposite direction. Not much any way to check on that. Weapon? Well I bought the pistol from some shady character in the Big City, so it was unlikely that it could be connected to me, but just in case, I buried it. I can't remember anybody seeing me with it, because I mostly used my shotgun or rifle for hunting. My record wouldn't make me a suspect. I didn't have any felony convictions and most of the guys my age around here were hell raisers.

The newspapers the next day covered the deaths. I found out that the brothers were a couple of rich bastards that lived in the Big City and just visited their property from time to time to see if they could hassle trespassers. Sometimes they came out to hunt and fish. My good luck, the bastards had called the cops on a bunch of guys that they had caught trespassing, so the cops had a bunch of people with possible revenge motives to check on. So far, so fine.

My life continued as if nothing happened. After a few nights, I picked up local slush Jen - slush is a local term for a slut who is a lush. It seemed like everything was fine at the time. I even let her stay overnight, which was way magnanimous of me. But here was the bad part - she woke me up around midnight asking me why I was talking in my sleep about killing. I said it was just a nightmare and she went back to sleep, but I couldn't. What if she blabbed to someone else? She was known to kiss and tell to her fellow slushes. I started to sweat. What did I have to do to be sure she would not talk?

While she slept, I wracked my brain about what to do. If I asked her not to repeat what she heard, she would repeat what she heard. If I didn't ask her not to repeat what she heard, she would repeat what she heard. Maybe a few more drinks would cloud her mind. People had seen me leave with her and if she were murdered, I would be a suspect.

After I paced the floor for an hour, mumbling to myself, a gamble occurred to me. What if I doubled down on the drinks? She was known as a reckless driver and was even worse when she was drunk. She had to drive past a 200 foot drop off on her way home. Wait a minute. What if she had a flat as well? While she was still sleeping, I went out and put a nail part way into her tire. From Perry Mason class, I knew that a cut brake line would be suspicious. OK, drinks plus flat tire and I hoped for the best. It wasn't like I was killing her, it was up to fate. If she survived, I just hoped that she would forget about my talking in my sleep, or I could talk my way out of it. Like I told her, I was just having a nightmare.

Next morning, I offered her a few stiff drinks and she went for it.

Next day after work, the sheriff came by. I was ready. He asked me, "Did Jen Hudson stay with you last night?"

I said "Ye-s-s-s." I responded like someone who expected bad news and hoped for the best. The sheriff said "I'm sorry to say that she died in an accident last night. She went over Shelly's Cliff at 60 miles an hour. The accident is under investigation, but knowing Jen as we all do I expect that she was stone drunk. We know that she drank at the bar, did she have anything here?"

I was ready for that. "She helped herself to several shooters. I tried to stop her, but she just grabbed the bottle."

At this point a guilty party would have claimed that he was greatly shaken by Jen's death. I knew how phony that would sound, so instead I said, "You know I'll miss her, she was a good time girl, but the way she lived we all knew she wouldn't last too long." As nearly as I could tell from the sheriff's reaction, I had hit all the right notes.

Over the next month or so, I did not hear anything new about the double killing or Jen's "accident". I was in the clear.

One night at the bar I noticed a real babe checking me out. She looked nothing like any local talent - way too classy. She came over and asked if I'd buy her a drink. She said that her name was Joyce. Later at my place, while Joyce and I were having more drinks, she asked me if I recognized her. I absolutely did not. Then she dropped the bombshell. "I'm Jen's sister." I called bull, because she looked nothing like Jen - Joyce was 6 inches taller and weighed 20 pounds less. She replied, "Well not exactly sister, I'm her half sister. Our mother left her father and got herself a real trophy in my father after she moved to Portland. He is rich, tall and good looking; he is the opposite of Jen's father. How mom pulled that off, I'll never know, because my mother is no prize. Maybe she got him to knock her up, and he did the right thing by her. Anyway, it turned out well for me."

Joyce said, "You're probably wondering about why I picked you up tonight. Jen called me after she left your house before she started driving that morning. She told me you had been acting very suspicious while you thought she was asleep, and if anything happened to her, you were to blame. Obviously, she didn't think it would happen so soon. I don't know how you did it, but I don't think the accident was an 'accident'."

I then told Joyce that she was just crazy, none of that made any sense. She gave me a strange look and said, "If you are right, then I should not have poisoned your drink. You have about an hour to live."

If I was going to go, then she was going to go first. I grabbed a knife out of the drawer. She yelled, "Wait, wait, wait," but by then I was cutting her ten different ways.

I called for an ambulance and said that I'd been poisoned. The driver couldn't help but notice that Joyce was bleeding on the floor, so he took both of us.

Hours later, I was still alive and had no ill effects. Maybe the hospital had an antidote.

The sheriff checked in later. I told him that Joyce had poisoned me and wanted to kill me. I was just defending myself. The sheriff said, "That might work except you were never poisoned. By the way, Joyce said before she died that you killed her sister."

I went to trial for Joyce's murder. They didn't try to get me for Jen, no point in two murder charges. I got some half-assed public defender. Because we were in Oregon, there was no chance I'll ever be executed, even if I asked, thanks to the too-moral-for-execution many-divorced governor. We tried insanity, low IQ, bad parenting, whatever, but nothing worked. Unfortunately, I'm white, partially educated, somewhat normal, so there was no sympathy.

The prosecution had a little trouble explaining why I claimed to be poisoned. Their theory was that out of desperation, I tried and failed to poison myself at the hospital in order to have claimed self defense. They said that I killed Joyce to cover up Jen's murder. I got life.

I think that a fair minded person would see that all of my so-called murders were either accidents or self defense. Anyway, everybody that died, with the possible exception of Joyce, deserved it. I've been trying to figure why she said she had poisoned me. Did she hope for a death bed confession? She had a tape on her, which she didn't have a chance to turn on, so maybe that was it. Boy, did she screw up, and she wasn't the only one.

James Farnsworth

Editor's Note - We think that this story in our 'Caged Pages - Lifers Write' anthology is a deluded attempt to gain sympathy or more likely a way to buy a better life in prison from his proceeds from the story. Farnsworth's opinion of Governor Kitzhaber is his own.


  1. Brilliantly executed story (no pun intended); you pitched the alienation/poor me narrative exquisitely, you got into the mindset and understood without condoning. Whilst doing this you also left the impression that society gets the crime it deserves when it lets the poor and dispossessed down so badly in the interests of the rich and powerful. If Farnsworth has to take responsibility for his actions, then so too do the rest of us? The Editor's Note at the end worked very well indeed - I even found myself double checking your name for a nano second - to see if it was a note from Charlie! Exceptionally well done, thank you,

    1. Thanks - I glad that you explained what I was doing because I had no idea. For me this was a cross between what happens if somebody kills a couple of people and the movie "Roadhouse". Farnsworth is an evil Patrick Swayze.

  2. I agree with Ceinwen, first class, also like the hard boiled approach.
    Farnsworth, a very finely drawn character, not somebody you could feel sympathy for
    what goes around, comes around?

    Mike McC

    1. Hard boiled story from soft boiled Perry fan.

  3. You liked it, you really liked it.

    Thanks, Doug

  4. Hi Doug, I admit you certainly know how to pick a despicable character, one that has carved his selfish life the hard way. This story flowed with ease and the matter of fact couldn't care less tone reflected the depth of the character. Someone who was setting himself up for a fall, not sure if he was normal?. It is the fact that he finally was punished that allowed a sigh of relief from me. I enjoyed reading this.

    James McEwan.

    1. Thanks - I was wondering what it would be like to be evil. Much better to write it than to be it.

  5. Don't know why I didn't read this earlier but better late than never. Oh, and I enjoyed it. - Don