The news spread like wildfire. Sitting there abandoned on the curb was Frank Critchton’s well-known Studebaker Champ pickup. It really awakened the sleepy little town of Doolittle on that hot Sunday morning.
You had to hand it to old Frank: He was one of the most shrewd and conniving real-estate agents that had ever graced the Earth. He had an angle on everything, and could create a desire for beach houses in the Yukon. He was one-of-a-kind, and had spent many years honing his talents.
Frank was a fixture around Doolittle. If you needed a house or land, you went to see Frank. If you wanted to sell, you went to see Frank. Frank was, simply, real estate; anyone else in the area attempting to sell real estate could not get traction.
Everyone knew Frank had created his own monopoly. While nobody trusted him, he was also like the electric company–there was no competition or alternative.
If you were to ask any person in town about Frank, each would have their own story about him, and nearly always a negative one. Misrepresentation, falsification and conflicts of interest were the trademarks of Frank Crichton. To say there are a lot of people holding a grudge against him would be like saying there are a lot of people who are right-handed.
The typical scenario went something like this: Somebody is looking for a house and contacts Frank. Frank would tote them all around the area in his Studebaker, showing them sub-standard houses listed at astronomical prices. When the person would start to become disheartened, disgusted or mad, Frank would suddenly remember a house that “really needed to sell, as the owner died and the kids want it gone.” Frank found that this is when the unseasoned buyer would typically bite and purchase the house Frank wanted them to have. Invariably, this house would have issues of some variety.
If you were a seller, generally your house found a buyer when Frank wanted you to have one. If you made Frank mad, you should figure on owning your house for a while longer and on seeing his Studebaker puttering around with yet another person in the cab of–as many referred to the Studebaker–“The Lion’s Den.”
Frank had had quite the scam going. Yet, like Napoleon, Frank met his Waterloo. Perhaps Frank had grown complacent; getting one’s way for so many years can sometimes do that to a person.
It was a transaction like any other: An out-of-town buyer had approached Frank; naturally, Frank started his sub-standard house routine. The buyer quickly informed Frank to not waste his time, and again stated what he sought. Frank, sensing trouble but not wise enough to avoid his old habits, showed the buyer what he desired. Soon a deal was made, and at first everyone was happy.
After a few months the buyer called Frank, who puttered out to the house in his old Studebaker shortly before nightfall.
The subsequent law-enforcement investigation determined that it was the last time anyone had seen Frank driving his Studebaker.
Frank’s body was left in the bed of the Studebaker and discovered by a couple of young seminarians out for their morning walk. In a town of 3,500 persons, the news spread quickly.
Viewing this spectacle, it appeared half the town soon congregated around Frank’s Studebaker. All the women wanted to see Frank’s corpse in the bed, yet were concerned about the children getting too close. All the men were looking inside, drinking coffee, and talking about last night’s Kansas City Royals’ game. In truth, all of them wanted to confirm that Frank truly was dead.
The sheer number of people present presented an obstacle to law enforcement, and only after a threat to arrest anyone within 150 feet did the crowd start to vacate the area.
Despite their best efforts, investigators could not stop the highly accurate rumors that immediately began flying around town. The owner of the house at his last known location was not to be found; Frank had both a .357 and a bottle of Southern Comfort under the seat of the Champ; and it was learned that Frank had really bad diabetes.
In such a small town, how could this not be a lively subject?
The truly juicy information was what nobody knew–and what was not easily determined.
Frank had been carrying the pistol with him in the Studebaker only for the last few months. Several anonymous and harassing phone calls had prompted him to carry it, as every phone call promised retaliation for what he had done to the caller, of whose identity Frank had no clue. It was what had driven him to drink: He knew the alcohol would only make his diabetes worse, but for the first time in his life he was scared.
Everyone knew Frank had never married; they just thought his figurative screwing of people was his life. Actually, it was more than just figurative–Frank did have another side.
A close observer would find that most weekends, Frank and his Studebaker Champ headed to St. Louis, where he indulged in a variety of activities that were only whispered about.
All activities and behaviors do have their cost, but Frank went on for years before he learned that. You see, the house Frank had sold just a few months earlier was sold to a person with whom he had crossed paths. Frank thought nothing of this stranger from out of town when the house was purchased; after all, when a person meets as many people as Frank did (and in the type of encounters he frequently had), it is understandable not to remember them all.
So when Frank started to receive the threatening phone calls, he never made the connection, and became worried. When a demand for money came into play, he was scared. When threats of leaking details of his entire life were made, he was terrified.
Frank should never have gone to his former client’s house that evening. How would he have known that the glass of lemonade, offered under the pretense of a new and profitable deal, had been spiked with a sedative? Frank had no reason to suspect that; how would Frank have known that this person really didn’t want his business help or his money, but something else? How could Frank have known that this person would wait for the sedative to work and then give him a fatal overdose of insulin?
Getting the Studebaker Champ back into town was the toughest part of the stranger’s entire plan–yet in a town like Doolittle, where so many had such grievances against one man, finding people willing to help really wasn’t that difficult.
Time brings a higher degree of subjectivity to our past actions. Enough distance will also bring a higher degree of enlightenment. How do I know this? I was Frank Crichton.