The River: Part Twenty-One

This is the final part of a fiction serial, in 995 words.

If I had thought Tommy wouldn’t be talking that day at the hospital, I was wrong. Although he made the attendant stand by the door, he spoke loud enough for us both to hear what he was saying.

When I got into the room he was smiling, animated, more like the old Tommy I remembered, and I had hardly sat down before he started to speak.

“So, that Renton cop finally got to you, Clay? You come to get me out of here? ‘Bout time”. I shook my head. “Don’t know what you’re going on about, Tommy. I’m just here to see how you are”.

He leaned forward in the chair, and I could see some uncertainty in his expression.

“But I told him. Told him I saw you. Told him it was you killed the girls, and I couldn’t do anything about it. Told him how you chased me through the brush, said you would kill me. Thought you’d be in jail by now”. The attendant was chuckling, as if Tommy had just told a good joke. “Me, Tommy? How do you figure that? All this time you have sat in here, never said nothing. Now you come up with the crazy idea it was me all along”. He sat back and folded his arms.

“I saw you, Clay. The girls were swimming. Donna had teased Duke, and he stomped off. Freddie tried to smooch with Donna after, and she told him to come back when he had growed up. He didn’t like that, said he was going home. I was upset the way Donna was acting, and walked over into the brush. Reckon those girls were growing up faster than us, and thought we were too young for them. That’s what I was thinking. Then you showed up. You must have crossed the river after we left, and walked along the bank on the Henderson side. Duke must have seen you, as he headed home that way.
You couldn’t see me, behind the bushes”.

The attendant was grinning now, and I grinned too.

“Tommy, I was at the usual spot. Remember you came back all crazy, and cut up by the thorns? You wouldn’t say what had happened, and I went for help”. Tommy raised his voice now, and the attendant took a step forward. “That just ain’t true, Clay, and you know it! You lay down on the bank with Donna, kissing and stuff. Mel was really pissed at you, I could tell. Then Donna pushed you away, and started shouting something. Next thing I know, you are holding her in the water, and she ain’t wearing no swimsuit. Mel screamed and ran off down the track to the barn. Then you turned and ran after her. Donna floated off down the river, and I followed you to the barn. I didn’t go inside, but when you came out all dirty and sweaty, that’s when you saw me hiding and came after me. I got all cut up running through the brush, but you didn’t catch me”.

I put a hand up to stop him talking.

“Then why didn’t you help them, Tommy? If what you say is true, you could have run back to the river to stop me hurting Donna, or gone after Mel and protected her. You were the same age and build as me back then, you could have stopped me. Why didn’t you?” He seemed to have no answer, and sat thinking a while. “Reckon I was too scared. Makes me ashamed to think about it. Then everyone thought it was me, including my folks. Nobody ever suspected you, good old Clay. Then once Henderson was arrested, my Dad told me to say nothing. That’s why I stayed here. Couldn’t face myself, ‘spose. But I told that detective, so now he knows and will get the evidence to arrest you. You better watch out, Clay”.

I leaned forward, my tone sympathetic. “That detective got himself shot dead in a robbery, Tommy. There’s not gonna be any arrests, no new evidence. Certainly not based on what you have to say after being in a Mental Ward for most of your life. You have to get over it, Tommy. It was Old Man Henderson. He got charged and convicted. I never thought he had done it, but if it wasn’t him, it must have been you. So I let it go, to protect you”. Tommy started crying, and I turned to the attendant. He raised his eyebrows at me and slowly shook his head. I waited for Tommy to get himself together.

“So you reckon I killed the girls, then took their swimsuits and left them in the old oil drum behind Henderson’s? What about Detective Doherty? I presume you think I killed him too? Maybe I knocked on his motel room door, cold-cocked him with a club, then shot him with his own gun? Then I drove home, had a shower, and went to sleep. Is that your idea too, Tommy? What else are you going to come up with, I wonder?” Tommy looked shaken. He hadn’t known about Doherty, obviously. With the detective gone, it was once again just the word of a crazy man who hadn’t spoken for decades until recently.

The attendant walked back to the table. “You want to go back to your room now, Tommy? You’re getting yourself all agitated, and we know that’s not good”. Tommy nodded, his body slumped, and his eyes looking at his shoes. The attendant turned to me. “Sorry about that, Sheriff. Since he started talking again, it’s mostly nonsense”. He opened the door for me, and I turned to Tommy as I left. “I’ll say goodbye then, Tommy. I’m retiring soon, moving away. You won’t see me again”.

Driving back to Riverdale, I wondered if plush had been the right choice for the upholstery in the Winnebago.

Corduroy would have been more hard-wearing.

The End.

55 thoughts on “The River: Part Twenty-One

    1. Thanks, Frank. I never hid the fact that Clay was almost certainly the killer, and even spread a few small clues around. But many of the readers were completely shocked by the ending, which was most gratifying for me.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Ooo another great sequel well done Pete!! I was unsure of which of the boys did it, fluctuating between the other 3 as the story progressed, until the Detective came along, and his cold welcoming of him into the town made me suddenly suspect Clay – after all, up until this point he was keen to clear Hendersons name, so surely he should be welcoming him with open arms…!!!
    I love that through his narrative, he never once seems to recall the real version of events, even to the point of agreeing to come to the river…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, MBB. I never tried to disguise that Clay was the killer, and thought that many people might guess. His ‘version’ of events was as he had to see it in his mind, to avoid guilt. The open desire to clear Henderson was to shift blame onto Tommy. He knew that Tommy would never be believed as he was a psychiatric patient.
      Glad you enjoyed it.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I suspected it was Clay due to a few discrepancies between Clay’s account of events and the statements given by the other boys. The fact that the story was told in the first person gave me pause, but didn’t throw me off, as I recalled the first person account of Marie, the main character in Alexandre Aja’s “Haute Tension,” who depicts herself as both a witness to murder and as a victim herself, but who is revealed in the end to have actually been the killer. In the film, Marie gives her false version of the story while confined in a psychiatric hospital room. As with “The River,” Marie’s motive for killing is related to sex. Interestingly, in “The River” it’s Tommy, not Clay, who is in the Mental Ward.

    I enjoyed the story, Pete. It looks like Clay will never be punished, although I did take pains to pun-ish his story!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You did indeed, David! πŸ™‚
      I thought it was obvious all along it had to be Clay, and didn’t try to hide those small clues that revealed that. But I had to have the meeting with Tommy to ‘reveal’ the story, or we would never have known for sure. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I guessed it was Clay, but it worried me that he seemed to want to pursue the case even after the old man had been charged. You’d think he’d be happy to let it go. A good one Pete, I enjoyed this a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Clay wanted it to appear that he was trying to clear Henderson, to divert any suspicion from himself and to imply by default that it must have been Tommy. That was also the reason he decided to stay in Riverdale, so he could ‘control’ any further investigation into the case.
      Thanks, Jude.
      Best wishes, Pete. x

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Well done, Pete. I never believed it was Clay. I must have missed some subtleties along the way. The story was absolutely fabulous, one of your best, yet the ending seemed rushed, too sudden. Another chapter or two would have been perfect. I hope you are okay with my saying that. I loved this serial.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I appreciate anything you say, Jennie. I could have strung out the ‘reveal’, but decided to use the ‘six weeks’ skip in part twenty, as it was becoming more difficult for me not to let on it was Clay. I had originally decided on twenty episodes, so it was actually one more than I had anticipated.
      Despite the ending, I am very glad you enjoyed it.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I really liked the story, Pete. I can see where it would have been hard to write more, and not let on it was Clay. When I went back to reread the last episode, it was clearer to me. Many thanks and Happy New Year!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Excellent read, Pete. I think you wrote in American really good. Ha! (A bit of jocularity and yankee self deprecation…It’s the least we can do. Ha!)
    Seriously, this may be my favorite serial so far. Happy New Year!
    –Pam

    Liked by 1 person

  6. After 30 years of teaching English literature I ought to be open to the possibility of an unreliable narrator. But not at all. Apparently I jumped right in and believed Clay throughout. Well done Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I was there, but you still managed to twist it in the way it was confessed, nicely done Pete, another great read.
    I didn’t know for certain until I read the line abut Clay putting his clothes on to go to the motel after the shooting, somehow it just all made sense then πŸ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

          1. It was Clay all along, Richa. I thought I had made that reasonably clear without actually stating it, but that might be because I was writing it. πŸ™‚
            Many thanks for reading and commenting.
            Best wishes, Pete.

            Liked by 1 person

        1. Thanks Sue. This was my ‘American’ experiment. It worked well most of the time, though David Miller kindly pointed out a few language differences for me by email.
          (Fill out a form, not fill in, etc.)
          Best wishes, Pete.

          Liked by 2 people

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