Friday, October 11, 2013

E-I-E-I-O Spells Dead (Podcast #6)

OR -

          America was founded on agriculture. Tending the land and livestock to put food on the table is so patriotic . . . so laid back, hayseed, John Deere Americana. Farmsteads where the sun rises over waves of wheat and seas of corn, where a man fights to work at an honest living in tune with Mother Nature. A setting where chemicals dissolve your lungs, invisible gases asphyxiate, tools disembowel, machinery rips off limbs, and animals, given the right situation, eat you right down to the bone.

          Imagine all that opportunity in the hands of a diabolical killer.

          Most mystery readers imagine more mayhem in urban areas. In the country, however, murder can be hidden in a hog pen, under the lower forty acres, or amidst the livestock feed. So many natural causes and accidents with easy cover up, and fewer people to notice.

          And the methods can creep you out.

          A simple manure pit seems no more than a stinky collection of feces. You sure don’t want to know its many uses. It takes a pump or auger to syphon the crap to a truck for transport, and often these items clog or break. Someone tries to free up the flow. Fall into that pit and the collection of methane, hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide and ammonia will suck the life out of you in mere moments. Of course, if somebody pushes you . . .

Or using another angle, an opportune spark can make the fetid, slimy mess explode. What a shame how accidents can happen.

You know the old cliché of suicide in a closed garage with a car running? Same goes for any combustion engine in a barn or storage area, from a tractor to a generator. A carbon monoxide death is simple to accomplish, and easy to explain as a farming mishap.

Also, there’s no better place than a farm to find poisoning agents. Pesticides, fertilizer, fumigants, and chlorine. Breast cancer, leukemia, Parkinson’s Disease and more occur from chemicals like Atrazine. Benzene, a proven carcinogen, is readily found in many pesticides.  Even metal fumes from welding cause flu-like symptoms, with the more severe exposure to particular types of metals causing shock, collapse, convulsions, shortness of breath, yellow eyes, rash, vomiting, watery or bloody diarrhea or plummeting blood pressure. And these are symptoms related to accidental exposure. An author could enjoy depicting the damage that done by a deranged killer with such chemicals at his disposal, simply sitting in bags, buckets or drums for the taking.

Some farms have silos, where chopped silage (usually corn) is stored and fermented for livestock feed. Fermentation results in the release of natural gases, such as nitrogen and carbon dioxide. They are odorless and colorless and replace the oxygen, killing you much like the manure pits.

But in a particular type of conventional silo, nitrogen dioxide forms, smelling like bleach. It builds then dissipates, reaching its peak in three days, gone within two weeks. But the gas is heavier than air, so it flows down chutes and collects in lower areas around farm buildings, in corners, under feed bunks, even against the floor. What may seem only like a nasal irritant can result in a person dying in his sleep hours after exposure from fluid collection in his lungs. Your crazed antagonist can lock up your hero and open a chute to expose him to the poison, then let him loose to die hours later alone, the murderer nowhere around.

          And while we’re on silos, don’t forget the old suffocation by grain routine. An auger can get clogged, a person walk across a crusty bridge of grain in attempt to free the flow, and suddenly sink. Submersion takes less than twenty seconds. How convenient to drop your character into a pile of grain and watch him suffocate, telling authorities he slipped.

          Augers used in this farm work are corkscrew, twirly pieces of equipment that carry grain, feed, manure, dirt, or whatever is needed to be moved from one container to another. They can catch your clothing and rip your fingers, arms or legs off in a most gruesome, mangled manner. Some rate the auger as the most dangerous tool on a farm. A slight nudge at the right time can eat up an arm to the shoulder, snapping and grinding bone, ripping arteries, sending mutilated muscle along with the red-stained grain up the line, leaving the innocent party to bleed out. Law enforcement writes off the event as a horrendous abomination of fate.

          And for a most entertaining death, there’s murder by hog. If a hog is hungry enough, easily accomplished by not feeding him for a while, he becomes angry and aggressive. They are not sweet pink pigs. Hogs raised for slaughter run 200 to 300 pounds at maturity. Brood animals, particularly certain breeds, can reach 800 to 900 pounds. Make them cranky or threaten one of their piglets, and a person learns just how deadly their bite can be. Pigs are carnivores. They eat meat, regardless what bones it’s on.

          Old MacDonald might be quaint, but he dabbles in danger daily. Toss in a bad guy on a mission, and E-I-E-I-O means death in the most remarkable, despicable ways.

Carolina Slade, the protagonist in C. Hope Clark's Lowcountry Bribe, Tidewater Murder, and the upcoming Palmetto Poison (early 2014), understands that farming can be deadly, because she's solving crime amidst it all.  

No comments: