This is the second part of a fiction serial, in 1165 words.
I guessed I had been asleep for some time. The sun was getting low to the West, and my eyes took some time to adjust. It was the sound of splashing that had woken me, getting louder as whoever was splashing got closer.
Tommy was wide-eyed and crazy looking. His legs were scratched and torn by thorns and branches, as were his arms and hands. He had no shoes on, and his swim shorts were still wet around the bottom. It seemed he was going to run right past me without stopping, so I sat up and called out to him. “What’s wrong, Tommy? Where’s everyone else?” He shook his head and sat down heavy in the shallow water. I walked to the edge of the bank, and watched as he dropped his head between his knees.
He was sobbing.
He crawled out of the river on all fours, and collapsed onto his chest. “Gone. They’ve gone. The girls have gone. Mel, Donna, gone”. I couldn’t get any sense out of him. He just kept repeating the same thing over and over, despite me yelling at him to tell me what had happened. So I left him where he was, and headed along the bank to the swimming place, sure I would find the others still there.
Nobody was there, and when I got back, Tommy had gone too. I got a really bad feeling, and started back to town. As the sun got even lower, I broke into a run.
The Sheriff’s Office was at one end of Main Street. It looked much like a shop front, but went back a long way, with a parking lot behind. I burst through the door panting, out of breath from the long run on a warm evening. Deputy Tyler was sitting in a chair at the front desk, and stared at me as I started to blurt out what I knew. “Trouble at the river, Mr Tyler. Missing girls. Tommy Clinton told me, but I don’t know where he’s gone”. Tyler looked unimpressed. “Now, Clayton, calm yourself down boy. Get your breath, and tell me properly, from the beginning. Missing girls you say? Which girls? What are their names?” He opened a notebook, and sat with his pen poised.
Five minutes later, I had told him all I knew, right from us walking to the river that morning, the girls turning up, and then everyone but me going swimming. He checked his notes, his mouth moving as he silently read them to himself. Then he picked up the phone, and called Sheriff DeWalt. While we waited for the Sheriff, he got me a drink of cold water from the cooler, and I noticed he was eyeing me up, unsure whether to believe what I had said, it seemed to me.
Vince DeWalt was a big man, in every sense. Years of super-size breakfasts and a fondness for Bourbon and Buttermilk had left him with a gut hanging over his gun-belt that looked like a sack of rice, straining the stud fastenings of his uniform shirt. He loomed over me, six feet four in his heeled boots. “I know you told Deputy Tyler, Clay, but tell me again”.
When I had finished the story, he sent Tyler out to go to the houses of both girls. Then he phoned the off-duty deputy, Hoogstraten, and told him to check out the houses of my friends, and bring them in if they were home. Last of all, he phoned Milly, the woman who answered the phones and operated the radio during the day. “Milly, I’m sorry to ask you honey, but I need you to come in. I’m guessing we are going to be busy tonight”.
Almost an hour later, the small office was crammed with people. My parents were there, along with Eddy and his Dad, Duke, Freddie and his Dad, and Mel’s parents. Donna’s family were not at home, and nobody could find any trace of Tommy, or his folks. Once the Sheriff was satisfied he had all the details down, he had to telephone County Police, in White Oaks. They notified the State Police in Renton, and by the time it was dark, the search was well and truly on. My Dad drove me crazy. He just kept saying “Tell the truth, Clay. Don’t you go lying now son”. He must have said that ten times, even though I swore to him that I had.
Big Vince pulled up to his full height, and stuck out his gut like it would intimidate us even more. Despite his bulk, he was as fit as a mule, and could move fast when he had to. Many of the local bad guys had good reason to regret having misjudged him on appearance. “Last chance, boys. They have everyone out looking for those girls, even the helicopter from up in Renton. If there is anything else you want to tell me, now’s the time. Best get it off your chests”. We shook our heads in turn, and Vince turned away, nodding sagely.
It was almost midnight when they found Donna. Well, Donna’s body. It was in the river, wedged up against the railroad bridge, almost five miles north. Two policeman from County came in, and whispered the news to the Sheriff. But it was too loud a whisper, and we all heard it. After that, they took our fingerprints, and scrapings from under our fingernails. Our parents were sent home to bring us fresh clothes and shoes because they were keeping the ones we were wearing, and one of the deputies had to go to Duke’s house to collect the same. His Mom hadn’t been able to come in, as she had recently had a new baby by her second husband.
There was no chance for us to speak to each other, so I cast around the room, looking for any trace of guilt on the faces of my friends. They just looked scared, like I probably did. After all, we were now the only suspects in what might turn out to be a murder.
We had to change our clothes in the locker room, watched by both deputies. They placed them into bags as we took them off, writing names and codes on labels at the top of the bags. When that was over, they took us out to get another talking to from Big Vince. “Now, I am letting you boys go home for now. You are not to talk to each other, is that clear? I am expecting your parents to take note of that, and to watch who you speak to on the phone, and to keep you home until you hear from me tomorrow. You will all be coming back in for questioning, make no mistake about that”.
As we drove home, my Dad started again. “Anything you want to tell me now there are no cops around, Clay? The truth now, this is serious”.
I shook my head at his eyes in the rear-view mirror.
“No Dad. I don’t know anything. Honest”.