Things looked bleak for Norvis LeRoy Underwood, venerable caretaker of Apache Flat's Victory Hill Cemetery. Both Nelda Isselfrick's and Pinky Finkelfrack's flower gardens had been weed whacked in broad daylight. Norvis had been a would-be suitor of both, and refused by both. On top of that, the pumpkin patch Hooter had planted atop his adjoining cemetery plots had been brush-hogged into oblivion. Norvis had been an outspoken opponent of the cemetery board allowing Hooter to use his plots for agrarian purposes. He was picked up fleeing town aboard the cemetery's mowing tractor. Now, held by Apache Flat's volunteer police force at the abandoned Wittmeyer packing house, he was ready to explain his innocence to volunteer police chief, Claud Burkhart.
After the rest of the boys had shuffled out of the musty old meat locker, Norvis' folding chair squeaked as he shifted his weight. He stared up at the ceiling and cleared his throat.
“Claud, I'm gonna' tell you exactly what happened. But you have to keep an open mind because you may find it fairly hard to believe.”
“Go on,” said Claud. “All we want to do is find out the truth.”
Norvis' chair squeaked again. “It was my brother.”
“Your what? Norvis, I'll repeat, all we're after is the truth. You've been around here longer than most of us have been living and none of us have never known you to have a brother.”
“I know,” said Norvis. “That's the way mama wanted it.”
“But Norvis, when I took this position, I went back and looked at the town census, who all lived here, and how they came to be here. I distinctly remember seeing a picture of your mama, Eugenia, holding you. It said, ‘…the widow Eugenia Underhill and her only child, Norvis.”
Norvis leaned forward, easing his unibrowed face into massive, calloused hands. “If it's the picture I'm thinking of, that's not me, that's my little brother.”
Claud was pacing now. “Norvis, you've got me lost as a small red ball in tall weeds. Go on.”
“See, it's like this. Me and my little brother are twins. Mama always told us we didn't have much to start life with, but one thing we did have, long as we kept our mouths shut, was an edge. If no one knew there was two of us, then it would always look like one of us could get more done than any two men, so we'd always be able to find a job.”
“You mean to tell me you have a twin brother who's been living here all these years and no one knew about it.”
Claud looked at his watch in agitation. “Well, Claude, you best start telling what you do mean, exactly, because we're running out of time. All those people parked outside are going to want an answer.”
Indeed. Even inside the old metal locker, you could hear the low hum of the town's people gathered outside eager to take in the spectacle.
“See, me and LeRoy—that's his name, LeRoy Norvis Underwood—me and him never got along so well. He took off years ago, when we was still teenagers, and I never heard from him again, which was fine by me. Until about six weeks ago, he just shows up, says he needs a job. I told him I had one that barely supported me. I also told him if he went and spilled the beans and told everybody in town there was two of us, I'd probably lose my job and he wouldn't be able to get one because nobody would ever trust us again.”
Claud pulled up an old wood crate for balance. “Go on.”
“Well, after that, he'd disappear, then show back up again. Every time he'd ask me about this and that, like passing the time, but now I know he was just pumping me for information and putting his little plan together, just like when we was kids.”
“He didn't tell me, but I now know this to be true: he figured he could get me fired from my job, then he'd take my place.”
Claud rocked back until his head bounced off the metal wall. “Get you fired and then take your place? Norvis, that doesn't make any sense. If he got you fired, and planned to be you, why would the folks who just fired you, hire you, I mean him, back?”
“Now you see what I've had to put up with all these years,” says Norvis dejectedly. “LeRoy never was that smart. Mama always said I got the brains and he got the looks.”
The dots in Norvis' tale were in bad need of connecting and Claud was having a tough time making his pencil work. “O.K. Let's say you've got a twin brother named LeRoy that no one around here ever knew about or has ever seen. Let's say he planned to get you fired from your job at the cemetery. Two questions: Why didn't you tell someone, and where in the world would we find him, this LeRoy, where would we find him now. It's the only evidence that will prove you right.”
“I shoulda told, I know that now,” said Norvis. “But, he is my little brother, by about two minutes, but he is my little brother. I think I know how you can find him, but if I tell, you gotta promise you'll take it easy on him and not lock him up.”
“Norvis, I swear, you could make St. Peter himself take to cussing. If you tell me how to find him, if your story holds up and it was him that did all the vandalism, I won't lock him up, but I will make him take care of restitution. As far as your employers, that will be up to them what they do with you. Fair?”
Norvis scrunched up his single brow and thought a minute. “Yeah, that's probably more fair than we deserve. I reckon you can still find him on the same road where Dennie picked me up. I wasn't running when you caught me, I was chasing LeRoy. He's on a purple Schwinn bicycle. God forgive me, he's got a yellow Poulan weedeater tied on the handlebars. Don't seem right, him being able to outrun my mowing tractor.”
Running for the Border
Sure enough, about five miles outside of town, Dennie Bratton spied LeRoy Underwood pedaling like a madman, weedeater glinting in the sunlight.
“Hey, LeRoy, pull it on over,” shouted Dennie. “We know the whole story. Norvis told us.”
LeRoy continued his pedaling, glanced over at Dennie. “Don't know what you're talking about. Who's this LeRoy guy? I'm Norvis.”
By now, Dennie was leaning clear across the cab of his pickup, right arm dangling nonchalantly out of the passenger window as he steered with the fingertips of his left hand. “Naw, you're not Norvis,” he said with a smile.
“Sure I am. How would you know otherwise?”
“That's easy,” said Dennie. “Norvis knows I'd just as soon run this pickup square over the top of you as not. So, if that's how you want to play…”
LeRoy dug into his handbrakes so hard he almost went over the handlebars. “My own brother,” he said with disgust. “I can't believe my own brother would tell on me.”
“And I'm betting your own brother is having a hard time figuring out why you'd try to get him locked up.”
Justice is Served
By the time Dennie unloaded LeRoy and his getaway bike back at the packinghouse, everyone in town knew the story. And, everyone stared in silent dismay at the Norvis look-alike they never new existed. Everyone that is except for Nelda and Pinky.
“Tulip masher!” shouted Pinky, making a lunge for the grizzled Underwood.
“Rose robber!” cried Nelda, swinging her saddlebag of a purse in unison.
Hooter and the boys escorted LeRoy inside.
“Kerr dog,” breathed Norvis when he saw him.
“Skunk head,” breathed LeRoy back.
“Boys!” said Claud, staring at the dueling reflections in disbelief. “Time's ticking. LeRoy, you fess up, and we're not going to do anything to you other than make you re-plant the ladies flower gardens as they were.”
“And my pumpkins,” chimed in Hooter.
“And his pumpkins,” said Claud. “You don't fess up and we'll lock the both of you up until you do.”
LeRoy looked at Norvis with a sly grin. “Yeah, LeRoy, go ahead and tell them what you did.”
Just as the volunteer lawmen were starting to contemplate the horror's of playing this game of who's who into the wee hours, quick as a hummingbird's pulse, Norvis had snagged the wood crate and brought it crashing down over LeRoy's head.
“You tell or I'm gonna hang you upside down in a hill of fire ants,” growled Norvis.
“Alright, alright. I'm LeRoy. I've been a bad boy. I did it. Satisfied? Mama always did like you more than me.”
Before the daylight weed whacker could recant his confession, Claud sent for Pinky and Nelda to explain the re-planting restitution that would take place and make sure it was suitable to the ladies.
After a lengthy discourse on botany and low morals, the ladies reckoned how they would settle for it, as long as someone would supervise LeRoy's working sentence.
“O.K. Any questions?” asked Claude, looking at the twins.
“Just one,” said LeRoy, winking at the ladies. “Now that that's settled, and seeing how there is two of us, you ladies wouldn't want to double date sometime would you?”