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Rodney Franklin was a happy man. Thirty years out of the Marine Corps, he kept to himself except for a Friday night beer in the nearest bar, ran his farm single handed when he could and hired in some help for the jobs he couldn’t manage. When he first bought the farm in ’72 some of the locals laughed that he always hired in help to slaughter his livestock rather than doing it himself, but once he told a few people he’d seen enough death in Vietnam and would see no more, the story got round and people stopped laughing.

He was checking the foundations for a new hog pen when he was disturbed from his work by a voice from the past.

‘Well hello Mr Franklin. How are you today?’

Rodney turned slowly, knowing yet still dreading who he was going to see.

‘Lenny Bertrand. Back again?’

‘Why yes Mr Franklin. I think it’s about time you made me a small gift, don’t you?’

‘I paid you, Lenny. I paid you ten years ago and almost every year since. Why am I still paying you?’

‘Because you really don’t want Sherriff Hunter to know what you did with Mrs Hunter at the barn dance all those years ago, now do you? I’ve kept my end of the bargain. I left town with the money you gave me then, I only come back when I need a top up and no one ever knows I’ve been. Unless you tell them?’

‘I don’t tell nobody nothin’ Lenny. But I don’t see why I should keep paying you year after year for one fumble in my truck. Anyhow, Elaine Hunter’s been dead these last five years.

‘You think the Sherriff cares about that? You think he wants her memory spoiled? I don’t want much Mr Franklin, just enough to see me south and set up for the winter.’

‘Now that’s all you want. But you’ll be back. Again and again. You’re going to keep coming until I die aren’t you?’

‘Or until the Sherriff dies I guess, yes.’

Or until you die The thought popped into Rodney’s head.

‘Wait there. I’ll get your money, you bloodsucker.’ He said, and made to walk towards the farm house. Lenny turned, even he had the decency to give the man he was blackmailing some privacy. That’s why he didn’t see Rodney sneak up behind him and hit him over the back of the head with a shovel. He fell in to the open trench. Rodney looked over, saw the unmoving body and, realising what he’d done, retched up his lunch.

He ran to the house, thinking of different excuses he could give to the Sherriff for finding the dead tramp. He considered throwing the body to the hogs, he knew they would eat almost anything. In the end he decided to simply cover up the body. He couldn’t bring himself to look at it again, so he started up his digger and half filled the trench with hard core to form the foundation of his new hog pen.

 *

Rodney’s success continued. For five more years he lived on his farm. His hogs thrived, he made enough money and carried on living his simple life. He drove his truck to the nearest bar one night a week as he had always done, drank a couple of beers and drove home again. If anyone had known him well enough they may have noticed that he had something on his mind most of the time, but everyone had their own worries and anyway no one was that close to him, so no one noticed.

 *

But something was playing on Rodney’s mind. He’d read Poe. He could hear Lenny’s heart beat every time he went to the hog pen. He knew that one day he would have to move the body or go mad. Finally the day came. He could stand it no longer. Rodney let loose the hogs and drove his digger through the pen walls. Then he dug. He dug down to where the body should have been and saw nothing. He dug further, and still no body. He got out of the digger and dug with a shovel. Still nothing. Finally he started scraping at the ground with his bare hands. He was on his hands and knees when the trench collapsed in on him. If anyone had been there they would have seen a filthy, crying man shouting over and over again ‘She wasn’t worth this! She wasn’t worth this!’

 *

The Sherriff arrived a couple of hours later. Someone had called him after seeing hogs loose on the highway. Sherriff Hunter recognised that they were Rodney’s. He saw the damaged pens and re-opened foundations but could not work out why Rodney would have done that much damage. He assumed some sort of accident or vandalism. Worried, he went looking for Rodney. When he couldn’t find him around the farm he eventually called for some help and dug down in to the reopened trench. That’s where they found his body.

No one in town ever worked out what happened or why. The only man who might have known saw a news report of the mysterious death while nursing a sandwich and coffee in a Salvation Army hostel two towns away. Lenny Bertrand rubbed the scar on the back of his head, hidden by his long greasy hair. Yet again he thanked his lucky stars that the one farmer who tried to kill him was probably the only one on the country too squeamish to check he was dead before leaving him alone in the trench with enough time to climb out and slip away.

(c) Chris Johnson 2019

 

The following is a repost from a closed blog.

There are various posts that do the rounds on writers’ and artists’ sites and forums which make fun of the idea of working for ‘exposure’. They are often phrased as adverts from the artist asking for tradesmen to work for free or simply pointing out that, in no other industry, is it so common for people to be asked to work free. Largely, I agree. Before I go any further I would say that any cheeky offer, particularly to someone for whom a creative art is their main income, should be treated with the contempt it deserves. But when is an offer cheeky and when is it something that should be considered – even welcome? As a writer I, like all artists, need exposure. So would I be so wrong to dismiss such an offer out of hand?

On reflection there are probably three key things I (and other artists) should consider before turning down such an offer.

1 – How much exposure?

2 – Should I consider doing this as a favour?

3 – Is it a legitimate business to business deal?

How much exposure?

My point here is this. If a magazine with a multi thousand person readership, especially my target audience, offers me the option to publish a story, unpaid, ‘for the exposure’ of course I’m going to take it. Let’s face it, lots of writers provide free content to magazines and blogs etc. when they start out. I accept, there’s probably a cut off point when the cost of production outweighs the savings gained from getting free advertising. And I can’t tell you where that is. For example, I might work free for a start up magazine which is aimed directly at my target audience as it’s worth taking a chance on the sales that could follow. It’s getting free advertising. But I’d be less likely to do so for a random start-up with no indication that my work will get to a relevant target audience, or any audience at all.

Should I consider doing it as a favour?

Human, and business, relationships are never cut and dried. If a friend is starting up an imprint or a magazine or blog I’d be far more tempted to do them a favour than I would a random stranger. Things I do all day every day for a salary I may also do for free for a charity. Likewise, if you have a chance and the opportunity, what’s wrong with giving someone else a start? Who’s to say that the random stranger who is asking for your help now isn’t going to be the next big publisher/agent/whatever. Sometimes it’s worth playing a hunch.

Is it a legitimate business to business deal?

Ok, strictly business to business is a sales transaction, one business selling to another. But there is also the option of fair exchange. Ten hours of my work for ten hours of yours. I write the text for your website, you take my author pictures and no money changes hands. And this loops back to point one. If you are treating your art as a business, then working for exposure is a legitimate business to business transaction if the business you are delivering it to is in the business of giving exposure.

There is probably a fourth option. Do I just want to do it anyway? Most hobby artists effectively give their material away. My Blog is me giving away my work – arguably to build an audience in the hope they will buy my books in the future, but also because I want to share my creativity with the world. So, is giving my work away through another route, ‘for exposure’ any different?

My advice, therefore, is this. By all means decline offers to work ‘for exposure’ if you don’t think the person offering is genuinely able to offer the exposure they appear to be claiming to offer. But don’t decline such an offer without any thought as to the value.

© Chris Johnson 2018