The Height

by William Stoddart

Eugene could smell burning flesh and jet fuel. Body parts hung from trees like swamp moss in Savannah. Debris was scattered over a wide swath of his property. The wallet was covered in blood. He looked around several times before picking it up. The bills were still warm. He lifted the wad from the wallet carefully, folding it as he pulled. Placing two five-dollar bills back in the wallet, he let it drop to the ground. With eyes closed, he placed the wad under his nose and drew-in the fresh body smells. He couldn’t resist the urge to sing “Pennies from Heaven” after finding the wallet. He wiped his hands on his coveralls. He’d commingle pig blood on his clothing in case there were questions from the police. He knew it was wrong. But someone had to pay. 

He grew up on his daddy’s pig farm, and now it was his pig farm. He drove into the small town every Saturday in his 1972 Ford 250 pick-up. He lived alone after his daddy died. He worked hard and was going to get his share. That airline company owed him. It was their plane all over his property. All he wanted was a new truck. The money he took from the wallet was enough for a down payment. He figured it was heaven-sent. 

Eugene pulled the wad of cash from his coveralls, licked a finger and thumb, and began counting the bills out loud, placing each bill on top of the salesman’s desk. “Twenty-one hundred heaven-sent dollars.” 

“Someone die and leave you money?” The truck salesman asked Eugene. 

Eugene started to laugh. He stopped laughing long enough to hum a verse of “Pennies from Heaven.” After Eugene left with his new truck, the salesman discussed the transaction with his sales manager. Remembering details of the plane crash, the manager became suspicious and called the local chief of police. The chief made a trip out to the pig farm to talk to Eugene. 

“The cash down payment—we both know you don’t have that kinda money lying around. There was cash missing from one of the crash victims. You were first at the scene. I remember blood on your coveralls,” the Chief said, crossing his arms high on his chest. 

“Now Chiefy, what I do here for a livin’? I raise and slaughter pigs. You ever slaughter a pig? You ever crush a skull with a sledgehammer? You ever slice open a pig’s throat? You ask ‘bout blood? What you know ‘bout blood? Shit, I swim in the stuff here. You get the hell off my property ‘less you got a warrant.” Eugene slammed his door in the police chief’s face. 

The police returned with a warrant and Eugene was arrested and hauled off to jail. On the day of his trial, he was led from the holding area to the courtroom. His manacle chains clinked rhythmically like a thurible during the height of a High Mass. He was convicted and spent six months in county jail. Since there was no one to take care of his pig farm, the bank foreclosed. Television news crews were waiting to interview him upon his release. Eugene refused to answer questions as snow began to fall from a sunny sky like manna from heaven. 

William R. Stoddart lives in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, just east of Pittsburgh. His fiction has appeared in Fast Forward Press and 34th Parallel magazines. 
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