Constable Bill was able to convince Carla that she needed to stay with someone else for a couple of days while the investigation was going on, and also to make sure she was safe and sound from her notorious ex-husband.
Pastor Meningsbee suggested she stay with Mary and Martha, the two sisters from the church, who would love the companionship. They had an old Cape Cod home with three extra bedrooms, so there was plenty of room.
So Tuesday and Wednesday night, Carla tucked herself away in the loving hospitality of the congenial–and talkative–sisters.
On Thursday morning, Meningsbee stopped over, telling Carla that the police thought it was safe for her to go back home, and try to return to her schedule. Meningsbee decided to accompany her, as did Mary.
When they arrived at the stairs leading up to Carla’s apartment, they were surprised to discover Bill was already there. He had been driving by, and thought he would check and see what the status was on the property, and peering to the top, discovered that the door was open.
He had gotten into his squad car, circled the neighborhood, and lo and behold, came upon the faded red-rusted pickup truck that had been sitting out in front of the diner just two days earlier. Opening it up, he found a bloody seat, maps, Gus’s driver’s license and an empty box of bullets.
So he hurried back to the apartment to secure it before allowing Carla to settle in.
Seeing that the group had arrived, he told them to stand back, pulled out his gun and headed up the stairs. He was about halfway along when Carla broke rank, ran up the stairs, pushed past him, opened the screen door, kicked the inside door with her foot and bolted in.
Everyone was screaming at her to stop. The constable recovered first and scurried up behind her, followed by Meningsbee and Mary. Each one reached the top and peered in like little birds peeking over the top of the nest.
Carla was standing completely still, staring down at the body of Gus, who was perched in a chair, apparently having bled to death from his wound.
Bill walked over, checked for a pulse and shook his head. Carla asked him, “Is he dead?”
“Dead as they get,” he said.
She stepped up, reached into Gus’s pocket, pulled out the gun and aimed it at him. She shot once, twice, three times.
Meningsbee shouted at Bill, “Aren’t you gonna stop her?”
He shook his head. “No. He’s already dead. It’s not against the law to kill a dead man. She’s got a lot of pain to work through, and if I’m countin’ right, she’s only got three more shots.”
Carla stopped at four and handed the gun over to the officer. She fell to the ground in a heap as Mary came over to hold her.
Meningsbee said to the constable, “What do you think happened?”
Bill replied, “Well, I’m no professional with autopsies, but I’d say he died.”
Meningsbee sighed. “I know that. I mean, why here?”
“Well, my guess is, if you look at where he’s sittin’, he’s got a direct shot at the front door. I don’t think he planned on giving her another chance to stab him.”
“Damn,” said Meningsbee.
Bill laughed. “That’s kind of funny. My mother used to have an old saying she’d pop off with when she ran across something unusual. She’d say, ‘That’s like hearing a preacher cuss.’ And here we are. And I just did.”
No family could be found for Gus, whose real name was Gerald Blevins. Suggestions were made to send him to a pauper’s grave in the big city, but Meningsbee felt it would be good to have the funeral right there in town, at the church, so that a very damaged and distraught Carla could be surrounded by loved ones.
On Saturday morning at 10:00 A. M., a funeral was held for Gerald Blevins, who no one had known one week earlier. Since there was no family, there was no eulogy, and since there was no eulogy, there was no need to “praise Caesar.”
Meningsbee felt he had one purpose–to let Carla know that the 128 souls who showed up for the funeral were there for her, not a murderous stranger.
He took his place in the pulpit rather than his usual position on the floor to add more gravitas to the situation. He began.
“I knew Gerald Blevins for about twenty-three minutes. I can’t tell you much about him. He claimed to be a Christian, although we know he did many un-Christ-like things. Of course, we all do.
“Now, I’m not saying this to compare each and every one of you to this dangerous fellow. I’m just saying that none of us know the height breadth and depth of our loving and merciful God. For if we found out there was some limitation, all of us might need to shiver in our boots because we exceeded His grace.
“But this gathering is not about Gerald. Gerald will have to make peace with God and settle his own score. This is about Carla. This is about a woman who has struggled all her life. She’s worked harder than any lady should have to, and raised two wonderful children, only to be invaded–yes, that’s the word–invaded by this foul presence.
“Gus said he wanted money. I suppose he did. I have no idea what he was going to use it for. He never told me. I offered to give him a couple thousand dollars of my own money that I have squirreled away from my book royalties. I actually told him I won it in Las Vegas. First, I would never go to Las Vegas. Second, I would never win.”
A nervous chuckle.
“But in that moment of his life, money was more important than his soul, his future, and the feelings of another human being.
“Carla, all of us gathered here today want you to remember, this is your home. There’s no other town in America that’s going to love you any more than we do. And we want you to stay. We want you to try to find happiness. We want you to continue to be part of us. And we want to watch as the love of God settles into your heart and creates healing.
“Would some of you folks come up here and give Carla a hug?”
Carla embraced everyone who came her way in a dutiful manner. She thanked Richard for his kind words. She checked with the constable to make sure no expenses had been incurred by the county for the burial.
Then she went up to her apartment, packed her bags, got in her car and left without saying another word.
Meningsbee was heartbroken. But he understood.
When you live in a small town, once a major tragedy happens in your life, you’re almost always remembered as “that lady who had the crazy husband, who died in her living room.”
Sometimes it’s hard to heal when other people keep probing for a sign of an open wound. Somewhere out there in America, nobody knew anything–and that was the next place Carla needed to call home.
Meningsbee prayed for her. Meningsbee thought about her.
And being a man, Meningsbee always wondered what could have been.