This is all 21 parts of my recent fiction serial, in one complete story.
It is a long read, at 23,940 words.
We used to lay on the grass by the bank, the sun in our faces. Most of the time, the river flowed by fast. But on really hot days it seemed reluctant to move, like liquid chocolate, or molasses.
The dragonflies hovered over the water, and every so often, we heard the plopping sound as a fish took a bug off the surface.
Close to our favourite spot, it wasn’t deep enough for swimming. But a short walk along the bank led to a place where there was enough water for a shallow dive, and a welcome swim during the hottest summers. Whenever we got out of school, or during the holidays, you would be sure to find us there as long as the sun was out.
There were always at least three of us, sometimes four or five. At weekends, we would be joined by the girls, Melanie and Donna. They were the only two girls around who didn’t hang out with the older guys, the ones who were in the sports teams, or drove their own cars. In the company of other girls, they stood out as different. But with us they were accepted, and special.
Small town life back then could be oppressive, if you let it. It could also be very dull, if you didn’t make your own amusement. There were only so many times you could go to the cafe for a milk shake, or to the old cinema that showed the same film all week.
And we walked a lot, or rode our bikes. My parents were not about to run me around in the car, and the same went for my friends. We were not poor, not like some. But we certainly were not in the same group who drove out to the country club, or holidayed at the coast. We knew who we were, and where we stood, and didn’t ask for or expect much more.
Those summers seemed to last forever, and the long hot walks to and from the river became a ritual that I welcomed. Nobody bothered us, and in that spot, we felt secure. At home.
I didn’t really notice it much then, but we were getting older. We stopped talking about what car we would like to own, or which job we would do when we we left college, and started to talk about girls. Long discussions about what we liked about girls, and which girls we liked best. Their hair, their legs, their chests, even what they wore. It was all rather pointless of course, as we only knew two girls well enough to ever think about dating, and many of those we really liked wouldn’t have looked in our direction as they walked past.
But we carried on talking about them, never tiring of the same subject, every day.
When it was cold or wet, we walked further along the bank, then up the lane to Old Man Henderson’s barn. It wasn’t really a barn anymore, as the doors had fallen off, and the roof leaked in places. Nothing was stored in there since he had given up farming, and he never came by to check on the place. It gave us some shelter, and somewhere to meet up when it wasn’t hot enough to lounge around on the grass.
The retired farmer could often be seen fishing. He would stand in the water in his big waders, the fly-rod flicking back and forth as he concentrated. It was our tradition to wave to him as we passed. But he never acknowledged us, or waved back. Old Man Henderson was an unknown quantity. If you asked anyone around town about him, they would tell you a different story. He had come back from war a changed man. Or he had never gone to war. He had lost his wife and son in an accident. Or he had never been married.
One time, I asked my parents about him, hoping for the definitive answer. My mother shrugged, and glanced at Dad. He turned away from his newspaper, and looked serious. “Clay, you keep away from Henderson. He’s nothing but trouble”. He wouldn’t say any more than that, so naturally my curiosity was piqued even more.
What I still think of as ‘the last summer’ was hotter than ever. That Sunday is fixed in my memory, yet my memory of it is blurred. It feels like I am looking at it through water. The water in the river perhaps. It wobbles, skips by fast, and then slows down. I don’t search for that memory, believe me. But I will never be able to shake it.
There were five of us that morning, stretched out on the bank, chewing long stems of grass, and drinking cokes that Freddie had brought along in a six-pack. They had got warm too quickly, but we didn’t care. The girls arrived close to midday. They took off their dresses to reveal swimming costumes underneath. Placing towels on the ground, they sat on them, talking about going swimming later.
Eddy had been bitten all over by bugs, and was scratching his arms and legs. Duke was sullen, as he usually was around the girls. Awkward, unsure of himself. Donna was smiling at Tommy. We all knew she liked him, just as we all knew that Mel liked me. But we hadn’t quite got to the stage where we would give up on our friends to go off with a girl.
Though we were very close to it.
The afternoon got to that point where it was too hot. Eddy said he was going home, and Tommy suggested to Donna that it was time for a swim. She wouldn’t go unless Mel went with them, but I wasn’t in the mood to get wet. Duke and Freddie said they were going, and I watched them walk off along the bank, shielding my eyes from the sunlight.
That was the day everything changed. For all of us.
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”.
They had caught up with Tommy and his parents forty miles north of Renton, at a roadblock set up to check for the missing girls, or suspects. He was wearing the same clothes, and obviously covered in scratches from the thorns. The very fact that they had run away didn’t sit well with the authorities, and attention began to focus on him.
But that didn’t stop them hauling us all in for the trip to the County seat, at White Oaks. Things had escalated overnight, and the small town Police Department led by Sheriff DeWalt was not considered to be up to the task of a double investigation. Dad took time off from work, and drove me to White Oaks to give my deposition. He had got me a lawyer, just in case, and that guy told me to say as little as possible, but to tell the truth.
I was upset by everyone telling me to tell the truth. As I told them, that was all I had been doing up to now.
With school still out for the summer, it was hard to have to stay around the house and not be able to see my friends. Mom rang in to where she worked part-time, and they understood her need to take personal time until things calmed down. She suggested a visit to Donna’s parents, but Dad was adamant that would be a bad thing. “They have enough to worry about, losing their girl. The last thing they need is us turning up. Besides, I doubt Sheriff DeWalt would be too pleased if we did that”.
And we had to deal with reporters and TV crews too. They came from as far away as Renton, trying to get me to say something. When they set up camp outside most of our houses, one of the deputies had to move them on, as far as the edges of the properties at least. Then the phone calls started. At first, they were mostly sympathetic. Friends and neighbours asking if I was alright, and trying not to pry too much. Later, there were the disturbing calls. Unknown voices screaming that I should tell the truth about what had happened. Threats about what was going to happen to all of us who were there that Sunday.
Even someone saying they would burn the house down.
Responding to the third call from my Dad, Vince DeWalt drove out to the house to talk to us. The best he could come up with was that Dad should contact the phone company, and change our number. Mom decided to leave it off the hook instead, hoping things would calm down soon.
The search for Melanie continued, with the State Police bringing in special dog teams. Meanwhile, more facts about Donna started to get leaked. After the newspapers had spent two days speculating, County Police released an official statement. The cause of her death was drowning. They classified it as a murder though, as she was found naked, and covered in bruises. The medical examiner had found signs of sexual assault too, so they were investigating known offenders and not ruling out anyone.
The fact it could no longer be called an accident set off a spark in town. Riverdale had a small population, and it wasn’t known for being easily riled. But small crowds began to appear outside the Sheriff’s Office, and at the Town Hall too. Mayor Jenkins seemed at a loss to be able to cope, and passed everyone on to the Sheriff. When Mom went to buy groceries, people looked at her funny, and she saw them whispering about us out of the corner of her eye. At the lumber yard, Dad’s workmates were happy to believe that I had nothing to do with it, at least to his face.
Eddy Silverman’s Dad owned a small watch repair and jewellery shop. He also sold gifts for special occasions, and did engraving on trophies. They were the only Jewish family in town, perhaps in the whole county, and nobody had ever troubled them about that before. But now nobody would go into the shop, even when it was reported that Eddy had left the river before anything happened. I found out just how soon people can turn nasty, when something unexpected happens.
They were hungry for an arrest, and didn’t seem to care who got arrested.
Dad came home from work that night and told us about Tommy. When he had got home, still acting crazy and unable to make any sense of what had happened, his parents had quickly arrived at the conclusion that he was somehow involved. In a moment of madness, they decided to try to run, and make it to Canada. They must have been insane to think that they could get across two-thirds of the country without being stopped, but they tried anyway. Tommy was now in the hospital at White Oaks, undergoing evaluation for mental illness. His worried parents got off with a warning, followed by a strict telling off from Vince DeWalt. After that, they shut themselves in the house, and wouldn’t speak to anyone.
As for Freddie and Duke, nobody had seen them since we had left the Sheriff’s Office that night. We had been made to give our statements at different times, so that there was no chance of us seeing each other. Frankie’s Dad, Mr Hayes, ran the car dealership on the road leading to the Interstate. He didn’t show up there, leaving his salesman Harley to cope with all the reporters, and riled-up townsfolk. When the reporters turned up at Duke’s place, his step-dad threatened them with a shotgun, and Deputy Tyler had to drive out and calm things down.
Things were getting real tense around the town, and there was a feeling that something had to give, and soon.
Then on the third day, they found Melanie.
The dogs had been searching the riverbank for evidence of anything, when one of them took off straight up the path to Old Man Henderson’s barn. It had already been searched the night everything happened, but not with dogs. When the Police Dog stood and barked next to some wood in the corner, the handler ordered a full search.
Under the planks they found some disturbed earth, and Mel’s naked body in a shallow grave.
The State Police turned up at Old Man Henderson’s place with a search warrant. It took us all a while to find out what had gone on, but Vince DeWalt had a quiet word with my Dad later that week. He said he wanted to lay it all to rest, so everyone in town could get on with their lives. He also mentioned that Melanie had not been molested, as he put it. Her cause of death was strangling, and by hands too. Dad was sworn to secrecy about that of course, but he didn’t reckon that meant me and Mom. Not after what we had already been through,.
Behind the old farmhouse, they found a rusty oil drum containing Donna’s swimsuit, and Mel’s too. They were just dumped in there, in plain sight. Henderson denied knowing anything of course, and said he had never seen the items of clothing before. But he had a poor alibi for that Sunday, as he claimed to have been fishing west of White Oaks, but didn’t have anyone to back up his story. Besides, that was on the same river, and only twenty miles or so from Riverdale.
When they took him in for questioning, they also dug up a juvenile record, in another state. Allegations of improper conduct with women when he was younger, a long time before he moved down here and bought the land. Even though he was sixty-six years old, not as old as I had expected him to be, he was judged to still be strong enough to overpower two girls easily, and became the main suspect.
That may have taken all the pressure off of us, but I let it be known that it didn’t sit well with me. It was glaringly obvious that nobody with half a mind would just leave the dead girls’ things where they could so easily be found. And what had actually happened that Sunday? We still didn’t know. There had been three boys and two girls at the swimming spot, so if Henderson was guilty, where had the boys got to? And how had Tommy ended up in that condition?
If I could ask myself all those questions, how come professional police officers were so ready to believe the worst of Henderson? The Sheriff told my Dad that they thought Tommy had witnessed something that had made him lose it. That might have been so, but what about Duke and Freddie?
The two-faced townspeople were happy to accept that the grumpy old farmer was in the wrong. He had never been popular, and the fact he never went to church and was so anti-social had been the cause of gossip long before things got so bad in the town. I couldn’t shake the idea that something was very wrong, and resolved to go and talk to Vince DeWalt. I didn’t mention anything to my parents, and walked into town alone.
He agreed to see me in his small office at the back, next to the three cells that he used to lock up drunks or troublemakers. I repeated the concerns that I had about how Henderson could have done all that with three boys around, and that as far as I knew, his name hadn’t been mentioned by any of us. Vince listened to me very carefully. He employed his wise nodding once again, something I was sure he did to cover up when he was wrong about something, but didn’t want to let on.
“Well Clayton, you are quite the detective, I see. When you finish college, you should come work for me. I thank you for coming to talk to me about this, but the State Police are in charge now, so I guess we just have to let them go about their business in their own way. As far as your friends’ stories go, well they are part of the evidence in these two cases, and I’m not about to discuss them with you. I know you were sweet on Melanie, but you have to let us do our jobs. Just be grateful the heat is off you boys now”.
As I walked home, I thought about going to see Duke or Freddie, but I knew their parents would make a fuss, and I couldn’t handle any trouble at home.
On the next Saturday evening, Reverend Powell held a special service for the girls, and the whole town turned out. The bodies couldn’t be released from the County Morgue until any trial, so with no funerals allowed, the Reverend thought some kind of memorial would be something to heal the wounds in the town. Still, it was suggested that none of us boys went along. Despite Henderson being held in custody at White Oaks, Powell thought it was for the good of the community that the three of us stayed home.
They charged Old Man Henderson the following Monday. Two counts of murder one, and no bail, as he was deemed to be a flight risk. According to those who had turned up in court to watch, his lawyer argued about the lack of any real evidence, and the fact that the police had stopped investigating anyone else for the crimes. It had all been too quick, in their rush to close the case, and get someone under arrest. The newspapers and TV news had a high old time of it. Interviewing people who had only bad things to say about Henderson, and hinting at the juvenile stuff about him showing himself to women in a public park when he was still a teenager.
By the time it came to the trial in Renton, he was as good as guilty, as far as everyone in town was concerned.
Everyone except me.
When we went back to school, we had already been cautioned not to discuss the case. Tommy was still in hospital, and nobody knew when he was being let out. Most of the other kids continued to ignore us. We were so far out of the social circle, that even though they were bursting to ask us about what had happened, they refused to lower themselves to be seen to talk to us.
I caught up with Duke at lunchtime, but he waved me away as soon as I started to talk to him, then turned his back on me. Eddy didn’t show up for school at all. Talk was that Mr Silverman had sent him to live with relatives in Florida, and he was never coming back. Freddie was friendlier, but also flatly refused to talk about what had happened to the girls. “Clay, they’ve got Old Man Henderson now. Just let it go. Nothing good can come from going over it”. I had known those boys since I could walk, and I just knew they were both keeping something from me.
When home time came, I wrote a note, and handed it to Freddie so nobody could overhear me if I spoke. What I wrote was clear enough.
‘Meet me at the river, Saturday morning. Usual spot. Bring Duke.’
I got there at nine, in case they were early.
When they hadn’t shown up by midday, I knew they weren’t coming.
There is something about boys, and friendship. Girls can have a falling-out, then make up by the weekend. They can say and do the most hateful things, which are then forgotten in a heartbeat. But I soon learned that this doesn’t happen with boys. Or men. Once something strains long term friendships, or an issue comes between a close-knit group, the damage is done, and can never be healed.
As the leaves began to turn, the heat came back. Not the good summer heat, with the clear air and blue skies, the oppressive heat. When it feels like a storm is coming, but never arrives. The flat sky has little colour, and a short walk has you sweating through your T-shirt until it clings to your chest. The weather reflected my mood as that year drew to a close, when breathing seemed to come harder, and the future was uncertain for all of us.
I could feel the change in me, just as I felt the change in the temperature. We had all grown up that last summer, and sleepless nights in the airless heat meant long hours of reflection about how things had turned out so differently to how I had expected.
I carried on going to the river, and that same spot where it all began. As the weather cooled, I watched the birds flying south overhead, and thought about how quickly friendships can vanish. Frankie had taken to nodding at me as I passed him in the corridor, and Duke spent as much time away sick from school as he did in it. The only news about Tommy was all bad. He was being kept in hospital now that the treatment hadn’t worked. People smiled grimly as they walked past his parents in town.
Nobody really knows what to say in situations like that.
One day I got caught in a heavy shower as I sat on the bank, and decided to take shelter in Old Man Henderson’s barn, just like we used to. I ducked under the crime scene tape, and stood looking at the spot where they had dug up Melanie. People said I was sweet on her, but they got that from her. It was the other way round. She had a thing about me since we were ten years old, and always just happened to be in the same places. “What ya doing, Clay? Where you heading to, Clay?” Mel was always there.
I liked her well enough. She was heavier than all the other girls, but I didn’t mind that at all. The weight on her face made her skin look good, and her smile was cute. And she developed faster, in those places where it mattered to boys. But I was never really sweet on her, not like everyone thought.
They hadn’t filled in the dirt, and as I stared into that small space, I wondered how it must have felt for her that Sunday.
Once it got cold enough to wear my padded coat, Old Man Henderson stood trial in Renton. People in town grabbed the papers every evening, keen to read what had happened in court that day. Against the advice of his lawyer, he took the stand to deny everything. But that left him open to some awkward questions about not having an alibi, and the judge ruled they could ask him about his juvenile record too. The prosecutor suggested he was exposing himself to the girls, and it had all gone wrong. It was claimed he killed both girls so they wouldn’t tell on him.
I was no expert, but I reckoned he was railroaded on flimsy evidence.
Still, when he got ninety-nine years with no parole, it certainly put an end to the matter as far as the people of Riverdale were concerned.
But not for me. I let everyone know I didn’t believe a word of it. Folks said he was lucky we no longer had the death penalty in the State, or he would have fried for sure. They told me to let it go, to stop talking about it. Then Dad got involved, ordering me to never mention it again, and told me I was upsetting Mel’s and Donna’s parents. So I did as I was told, and got on with my life.
They had both funerals in the church at the same time, and this time we were allowed to go. I went with Mom and Dad, and Frankie showed up with his family. But Duke was nowhere to be seen. People said he might still be sick.
Dad got me a weekend job at the lumber yard. He said if I saved some money, he would match that, and I could get a car. The thought of being able to drive started to occupy every waking minute. I had hardly ever been anywhere, and I imagined myself just driving in any direction, and never stopping. We had been to South Carolina to see Grandma, before she died. But I hardly remembered anything about that trip, as I was so young. I did remember it was hot, and there was a beach where I played. And there were fancy trees that my Dad told me were Palmetto trees. I couldn’t say the word properly, and Mom laughed. Maybe when I had that car, I could go back there.
But I never did.
Working with men at the yard was a new experience for me. They expected you to work hard, and not complain. And they talked about man stuff. How their wives were no longer attractive, and how their kids talked back to them. Football and baseball, drinking bourbon and beer, and sexy film stars. They didn’t include me, but didn’t exclude me either. And nobody ever talked about that Sunday when I was around. They knew my Dad worked there, but didn’t mind speaking about him to me, taking it for granted I would keep my mouth shut. The work mostly involved stacking the cut planks onto trucks. I had to buy some really heavy-duty gloves to protect my hands from the splinters, and at times the monotony drove me crazy. I had to switch my mind to other thoughts, and those thoughts were mostly about the happier times down by the river.
It was hot early that year, and Spring felt more like Summer. I got my licence, and Dad drove me up to White Oaks where he knew someone who was selling a reliable car. I would have liked something sportier, and something that wasn’t dark green. But Dad shook on the deal on my behalf, and handed over the cash. He handed me the keys with a grin. “Be careful now son. Take it easy at first, and try not to get yourself lost”.
I drove west, to the fishing lakes outside White Oaks, and sat in the car by the picnic tables.
I tried to imagine Old Man Henderson fishing there that Sunday, with no idea about what was going to happen to him.
Having the car was great at first. I spent all my spare cash on gas, and drove all over the state in my free time. Not that I had much free time, as I was still working at the lumber yard, and that took care of my weekends. I also discovered that driving alone is not that much fun. Going out with your friends in the car is what it’s all about, and as far as I could tell, I no longer had any friends. Duke came back to school looking thin and tired, and he still wasn’t interested in talking. Freddie started dating Sally O’Connor, which was a surprise. She was one of the popular girls. Always on the sports teams, and with a big group of friends, Freddie was the last guy I expected her to like.
Dad wanted to talk to me about college, and sat me down for one of his awkward man-to-man talks. I shocked him by saying I wanted to study law, at the nearby college in White Oaks. I could drive up there, and wouldn’t need to move out. He didn’t seem to know what to say, and when I asked him what he thought, he looked really uncomfortable. “I kinda thought you might consider joining the Army, son. It can be a good career for a young man”. I looked at him across the table, and realised he didn’t know me at all. His suggestion also made me wonder if him and Mom wanted me to move out, and have some time on their own.
I had taken it for granted that they would welcome my decision. Something else I got wrong.
College was like a breath of fresh air. I hardly knew anyone, except for some of the Riverdale girls who had never spoken to me anyway. Freddie and Duke had supposedly decided not to go to White Oaks, and it took me a while to discover that Freddie had decided to skip college completely, and work with his Dad at the car dealership. His time with Sally had been short-lived, when she had moved on to someone with better teeth, and better prospects. Duke had gone to live in Renton, to work in an engineering company there. His step-dad had fixed it up, and got him a room at a relative’s place too. I drove past Mr Hayes’ car place one morning, and saw Freddie standing there in a suit and tie that seemed too big on him. He was shaking the hand of an old guy I didn’t know, and I guessed they had just agreed a deal on the pickup truck next to them.
It would be a long time before I ever saw Duke again.
Although I was happy enough at college, I still didn’t make many friends. Mainly because I was driving home every evening, and never participated in any of the sports. I had only just got a good enough diploma to allow me in to study law, and the work was harder than I had expected. The department was small, and most of the students were male back then. Only two girls went to my class, and they were pretty snooty types. Everyone seemed to grasp it faster than me too. Sometimes, I got out of the house with my books, and went down to the river to study in the fresh air. But that was too distracting, as I would always start to think about what happened.
Working at the lumber yard every weekend didn’t help. I missed most of the social events around college, and always had to study late into the night during weekdays. One day in class, the teacher asked each of us to stand up and explain why we wanted to study law, and what we hoped to get out of it. Most talked about working as a Public Defender or Prosecutor, and a couple whose Dads were lawyers mentioned going into private practice. When It got to my turn, I said I wanted to become a Police Officer, maybe a Deputy Sheriff in Riverdale. I could hear them snickering behind me at that, and the teacher looked unimpressed.
Still, the next Spring, I got myself a girlfriend. Not one of the girls from College, none of them seemed interested. No, she was a waitress at a diner in White Oaks. I sometimes went in there for breakfast, to check over my work. She used to smile at me, and never minded that I didn’t leave her a big tip. One morning, she asked me if I had seen the film playing in town, and I shook my head. “Well I haven’t seen it either, so maybe we could go together?” It had never occurred to me that she was interested, and I blushed at being more or less asked out on a date by a girl. Of course I agreed, and arranged to pick her up. She wrote down her phone number and address on a napkin, and directions to her place too. I told her I worked at weekends, so we settled on Friday night.
So Lauren Ressink became my first date. Almost two years older than me, the same height, and a heavy build, I wondered if she reminded me of Mel, and that was why I had agreed. But she was very different to Melanie. Confident to the point of being a little bossy, she told me not to be late, and to be sure to bring her some candy. I wasn’t sure if she was joking or not, but the prospect of having a real girlfriend overwhelmed any indecision on my part.
Mom told me I was wearing too much cologne, which made Dad laugh because I hardly needed to shave anyway. “The poor girl will need a gas mask, Clay. Go and wash some off”. I bought a nice box of mixed chocolates, and got to her street fifteen minutes early. I sat in the car and waited until I was just five minutes early. Dad had warned me not to appear to be too keen. “Act cool, son. Girls don’t like to have a doormat for a fella”. Lauren’s Dad answered the door, and he was a lot friendlier that I thought he might be. He shook my hand, and asked my name. “Clayton Farlowe, sir. From Riverdale. He smiled. “Riverdale eh, small town. Hmm. I understand you’re a college man? What are you planning to do with yourself, Clayton?” I felt awkward standing in the hallway clutching the box, and shuffled my feet. “Well sir, I am hoping to become a police officer”.
Before he could tell me what he thought of that, Lauren breezed down the stairs looking like a million dollars in a smart dress and heavy make-up. I thought she was done up pretty fancy for going to see a film, but wasn’t about to mention that. As we walked to the car, her Dad called from the front porch. “Make sure you have my girl back by midnight young man”.
I was left in no doubt that Lauren had dated other guys. She talked all the way to the movie house, as if it was required to tell me her life history in ten minutes. “You’re the first college man I ever dated, Clay. I’ve had enough of guys who want to take me to a bar and drink beer, and who work at the slaughterhouse or water pumping station. I may be just be a waitress, but I want something better out of life, and no mistake. I read books, and know something about the world. I don’t intend to get stuck in White Oaks for the rest of my life, I can tell you that”. As I parked the car, I couldn’t help but wonder what she would make of Riverdale. But it was only our first date, so I said nothing.
Lauren offered me a chocolate from the box, but I shook my head. “They’re for you”. She took me at my word, and ate them all before the film was halfway through. I didn’t really watch the film. Instead, I sat looking at the side of her body and her legs, occasionally illuminated by the light from the screen. I started to think about what she would look like without that dress on, and whether or not I should slip my arm around her and try to kiss her. I never did muster up the courage though, and to this day I still don’t recall a single thing about that film.
Back in the car, she checked the tiny watch she was wearing. “It’s early yet. Why don’t we go for a drive? I know somewhere quiet”. She gave me directions until we arrived at a picnic spot close to the river. It wasn’t that far from where I had sat in the car that day, thinking about Old Man Henderson. When I switched off the engine, she turned and grinned. “Let’s get in the back, more comfortable there”.
I would like to say that we made love on my back seat that night. But that would be a lie. She grabbed me and started kissing me, pressing me so close I could hardly breathe. To say she got me aroused with all the stroking and squeezing was an understatement. Then she whispered “You got a rubber, yes?” I had to admit I didn’t. The last thing I had expected on a first date was for the girl to be sprawled on the back seat of my car with her legs in the air, and her panties in her hand. I expected her to think I was a loser, and to be annoyed. But she seemed pleased. “Not done it before? That’s okay. It’s actually kinda cute. You got a handkerchief? ” I produced a clean handkerchief from my pocket, and she opened it around her hand. When she unzipped my fly and started to stoke me, it happened so fast she squealed excitedly. “Oh man, you really needed that”.
I dropped her off outside her house before eleven forty-five. She leaned over and kissed me goodbye, then whispered in my ear as I got out to open the door.
“Next time, Clay, bring some rubbers”.
Lauren and I became a habit. I suppose you could say she was my girl. Every Friday, and sometimes on a Sunday night, I would drive over to pick her up. If we didn’t go to a movie, there wasn’t much else to do. She never wanted to go for food or ice cream, because she worked in a diner all day. Inevitably, we would end up at the picnic grounds, making out in the back of my car. She had stopped talking about seeing the world, and started to talk a lot about what happened when I finished college. It had never occurred to me that she thought of us as a long-term thing, and came as something of a shock when she asked why I had never taken her to see my parents.
Meanwhile, I was doing better at my studies. It had started to fall into place for me, and although I still found some parts hard, I was getting a good enough average to graduate, if I kept on at that same level. As I had no intention of going on to do any further studies in law, it didn’t matter that I didn’t get any distinctions. I was happy to let the smart kids boast about their high grades.
As promised, I took Lauren to meet my folks one Friday evening. Mom was excited. “Well, it’s about time, after all these months”. Dad was suspicious, and took me to one side. “Tell me you haven’t got the girl in trouble son”. A big spread was laid on, and Lauren dressed up as if she was going to a fancy ball. She even brought flowers for Mom, and that went down well. Part of me hoped they wouldn’t like her. I had started to feel a little trapped in our relationship, as it always seemed she called the shots. But what young man is going to turn down an eager girl in the back of his car? Certainly not me.
Mom and Dad liked her right off. Mom stood behind her at the dinner table and gave me the thumbs up. And when Lauren insisted on helping Mom wash and dry the dishes, Dad leaned over to speak quietly in my ear. “She’s a keeper, Clay. I tell you, a good one”. They couldn’t have known then that their very approval was the last thing I wanted to hear. I liked her a lot, but I had no intention of her becoming my fiance, or wife. I left early to take her home, and she asked me to take her somewhere quiet. “You know, some nice place where we can celebrate”.
I knew what she meant by a quiet place, but her use of the word celebrate worried me a lot.
I drove off the road close to the river, and parked on some grass near our old spot. Instead of getting in the back as usual, I sat and told Lauren about what had happened that Sunday. She said she had heard about the case when Old Man Henderson stood trial, but had no idea I had been involved. “So you knew the girls, Clay? Everyone in the diner talked about that. It was horrible. That nasty old man”. I polished the story a little, making out that I was much closer to Melanie than I had been. And then I told her that I didn’t believe Henderson had anything to do with it. She shook her head. “No, Clay. They found the swimsuits at his place, and he was known for bothering girls and ladies. It was all in the papers”. I tried to explain that it had all been too easy, too obvious. But she argued against me, even though she had only heard gossip.
By the time we had finished talking, it was too late to get in the back, and she acted miffed all the way back to her place.
The following week, I didn’t go into the diner for breakfast. On Friday, I phoned and told her I was having trouble with the steering on my car, and wouldn’t be able to drive back later that night. She went and asked her Dad if he would bring her down to Riverdale instead, and I was relieved when he told her no. We talked on the phone for a while, and I promised I would get the car fixed over the weekend. When she phoned on the Sunday, I said it was too expensive to fix, and I didn’t have the money right now. I would have to get the bus into college, and that meant we would have to wait to see each other.
I left it five days before I phoned again. Her Dad answered, and said she had gone out with a friend from work. I never heard from Lauren again.
Despite thinking I had a lucky escape, I did miss her. Well, I suppose to be honest I only missed the sex. It wasn’t like we talked much. I carried on working at the lumber yard and studying hard. Mom and Dad guessed things hadn’t worked out, and to my great relief, they decided not to ask me about her. The rest of the year just slipped past, the way years tend to do when you are not really thinking about them.
At the end of Spring Break the following year, I went and sat by the river again. I watched the water bubbling around the rocks for a while, then something came over me. I pulled off my shoes and socks then rolled up my jeans. The cold water made me catch my breath as I waded in, but I soon got used to it. I walked up to the swimming place, with no real idea why. The deeper water there wet my jeans, but I carried on. I walked all the way to where the railroad bridge crossed over, and sat looking at the spot where they had found Donna. I tried to imagine her propped against the heavy wooden support. She would have been very white, and looked pretty skinny too, I reckoned. A goods train passed over the tracks above, shaking down dirt and dust. That snapped me out of my thoughts.
The next day after college, I drove over to the Sheriff’s Office and asked to see Vince DeWalt. Since the murders, the town had made more money available for policing, and there were two new deputies. One was Vince’s daughter, Olivia. She was a mean-looking woman, almost as big as her Dad. People knew she lived with Velma, a black girl who worked at the motel cleaning rooms. They said they were just room-mates, but nobody was fooled. Vince kept me waiting twenty minutes, then waved me into his office. “What can I do for you, Clay?”
I was up front. I told him I was studying law, and asked if he had a job for me when I graduated. When he hesitated, I reminded him. “Remember when I spoke to you about Old man Henderson? You said I should come work for you. So I am am taking you up on that offer, if the offer is still good”. He did that familiar nodding, as he thought about his reply. “Tell you what, Clay, you come see me after your graduation. If you still want the job, I will send you to Renton for training, and all being well, you can come work for me. But think about if you really want to. Don’t forget you know folks here. Being a cop in a small town is not for everyone, I tell you”.
I stood up, and extended a hand. He gave the handshake without standing up. As I left his office, I turned in the door.
“It’s what I want, Sheriff, I will be back after graduation”.
I worked my last shift at the lumber yard the week before graduation. The manager told me I could come back and work for him anytime. “You did well, Clay. You’re a good worker, and always welcome back here”. I thanked him, and didn’t bother to say I would never be coming back. I had saved a decent amount of money, and was thinking about getting myself a different car once I started work. Mom and Dad were none too enthusiastic about my choice of career. Mom thought it was a waste of my law studies, and Dad had the same worries as the Sheriff. “But Clay, you know so many people in town. If you want to be a cop so badly, why not join the State Police in Renton?” They didn’t understand that I wanted to stay close. I needed to.
My parents attended the graduation ceremony, and insisted on the usual photos in the gown and hat. Inside, they were proud of me, I knew that. But they had asked a lot of awkward questions about why I had so few friends, and why I never got another girlfriend after Lauren. I was evasive with my answers. I couldn’t very well say that I just didn’t need people around anymore. Those few years had made me happy enough in my own company. Involving others in my life just complicated things.
No time was wasted in going to see Vince. He congratulated me, and shook my hand. Then he handed me a stack of forms to fill out, and warned me that there would be a background check, and I had to have my fingerprints taken. “If everything checks out, I will arrange for you to go up to the training school in Renton. But you will have to buy your own uniform, and a gun too. Hoogstraten is coming up for retirement soon, so I will bring him into the office for his last year. You can take his place out on patrol”. I took the forms to fill out at home, and as I walked to my car I thought of the cost of all that uniform, and a handgun. Looked like I wouldn’t be getting that new car after all.
It took over a month to process my application, and I got a letter with a start date two weeks later. I would have to live in the dormitory at Renton, and be away for twelve weeks. The cost of the training would be paid for by the Sheriff’s Office in Riverdale, and as long as I passed with no problems, I would get a contract to sign.
After my home town, Renton seemed big and busy. It wasn’t of course, and even though it called itself a city, it was no bigger than most large towns in the state. I just wasn’t used to them. The training school taught the basic course, so there were new entrants from the State Police, County Police, and another couple of would-be Sheriff’s deputies like me. We were looked down upon, as if we were small-town hicks, but that didn’t bother me.
It was more boring than I had expected. Traffic laws, arrest procedures, warrants, and lots of paperwork. There was also some PT, as well as being taught self-defence, and how to take someone down who was resisting arrest. First Aid, and how to call for assistance or an ambulance was all covered in one short morning session.
The latter half of the course was more interesting. Giving evidence in court, some role play outside, and then we got to training with our nightsticks, pepper spray, and finally the shooting range. I was only an average shot, according to the instructor. That didn’t bother me, as I had no intention of ever firing my pistol anyway. Besides, there was a shotgun in the patrol car, and I reckoned I could hardly miss with that. We all passed, and there was a low-key parade, where we received our certificates. I didn’t tell my parents about that, as there was no need for them to go all that way to watch me take some paper from the hand of a guy I hardly knew.
The day after I got home, I took my certificate into Vince, and he gave me a big smile as he shook my hand. “Welcome to Riverdale Sheriff’s Office, Deputy Farlowe”. Then he gave me a contract to sign and a typed list of everything I had to buy before I could start. I whistled when I looked at it. Summer shirts and slacks, Winter pants and a heavy coat. Hats for both seasons, and regulation shoes and boots. Then there was the leather belt rig to hold all the equipment, and last but not least a pistol and holster. I was wondering if I still had enough cash for all that, when Vince started talking again. “It takes around two weeks for the stuff to come from the supplier. Meanwhile, read up on what you learned, and go buy yourself a handgun. I recommend one of these”. He pulled out his .45 automatic, and slapped it on the desk with a grin. “Nice and heavy, so you can use it like a club”.
Dad wanted to take me to the gun dealer, but I drove out there on my own. I was going to be a deputy, and look out for myself. The last thing I wanted was my Dad taking over things like he always did. I settled on a .38 revolver instead of an automatic. If I ever had to use it, I didn’t want it jamming on me. When I told the guy in the shop it was for police use, he gave me a discount, and let me have one hundred rounds of ammunition for the price of seventy. Then he sold me a holster with a leather safety strap that went over the hammer, so it wouldn’t fall out if I was running. When I got home, I looked at the pistol in its box for a while, then put it away until my uniform arrived.
Now it all felt very real.
With time to kill until my stuff arrived, I felt the river beckoning. Most days, I would take a sandwich and flask down there, and just sit, thinking.
When I got back from training, Dad had told me that Old Man Henderson’s appeal had been denied. It had been in the paper.
I watched a heron fly away from the bank, and guessed he would die in jail after all.
Trying on the uniform made me feel very grown up. Especially the hat. I bought myself some mirror-lens sunglasses too, to complete the look. Driving into work wearing the belt rig and the pistol in the holster felt strange that first day. Vince seemed amused to see me looking like that, and raised his hands. “Oh my Lord, look what we have here! Deputy Farlowe, all growed-up and looking for all the world like a real po-lice-man”. He opened a drawer and handed me two bright badges. One was to wear pinned to my shirt, the other to go on my hat. They looked just like the badges worn by Sheriffs or Marshals in western films, and I didn’t hesitate to get them fixed on.
I spent the morning with Hoogstraten. He showed me where all the forms and paperwork was kept, and how to lock somebody in one of the cells if I had to. He seemed pleased to be off patrol, and was exceptionally friendly. I had brought a sandwich for lunch, and Vince told me I would be riding with him that afternoon. “You can drive me around, Clay, get the feel of things. I reckon you should be good to go by next week, then you can try things on your own”.
Once we were out in the car, I saw the other side of Vince DeWalt. he talked a lot about taking no nonsense, and making sure people knew who was boss. “Anyone talks back to you, Clay, don’t be scared to give them a good whack with your stick. I’ll always back up your side of things”. He told me to drive out to the gas station on Forest Road. That was on the road to the Country Club, and he said if we sat in the car out back we would be sure to catch some speeders there, late afternoon. I asked if he kept the radar gun in the trunk, and he roared with laughter. “Radar gun, boy? We don’t need no radar gun. We say if someone was driving too fast, and that’s the end of it”. I could see that studying law had been superfluous. We operated by a different set of laws.
Vince DeWalt’s laws.
After ten minutes sitting supposedly out of sight, Vince sent me in for coffee and donuts. I poured two coffees into styrofoam cups, and went up to the counter. Bernice looked at me funny, and I realised she hadn’t recognised me. “And two donuts please, bear claws”. As she put them into a paper bag, Bernice grinned. “So it’s you, Clay. Didn’t know you were working with Big Vince now”. I offered some dollar bills in payment, and she put her hands on her hips. “Come now, you know you boys never pay”. I felt embarrassed, but had learned another lesson. Cops in Riverdale don’t pay for stuff. I hadn’t known that, but wasn’t about to argue the case with Bernice.
Forest Road was quiet, and I saw Vince check his watch a few times, shifting his weight in the seat. A convertible went past, music playing on the car radio, the driver with a big smile on his face, and a girl in the front passenger seat with her head thrown back, laughing at something the driver was saying perhaps. Vince slapped my thigh. “Get going, Clay. He’s your first speeding ticket”. The limit was forty, and I guessed the driver wasn’t doing a great deal over that. But I did as I was told, and pulled out behind the car, turning on the lights and siren. Expecting a chase, I got up a good speed, and felt the short thrill of going too fast on a road I knew well. I soon caught up to the convertible.
He stopped the car so quickly, I almost ran into the back of him. Following procedure, I called up on the radio, advising Milly I was stopping a car, and asking her to check the plates with County. She sounded surprised. “Are you still with Vince, Clay?”. I confirmed I was, and the Sheriff started to chuckle. “No need for all that, Clay. Just get up there and give him a ticket”. I put on my sunglasses, and approached the car with my hand close to my holster. We had been shown this many times during training, and it felt pretty cool to actually be doing it for real.
The guy driving the car was still smiling. He looked to be about thirty, though the girl with him was a lot younger. “Is there a problem, officer?” I stood up straight, and removed my notebook. ‘Licence and registration please, sir”. He handed them over without hesitation. I reckoned he was used to being stopped like this. “You were driving over the forty limit for this road, so I’m afraid I am going to have to give you a ticket for that”. He just shrugged.
After writing everything down, I filled out the speeding ticket, gave him a copy, then reeled off how he should pay, and how long he had to do so. The girl was staring at me as if I was something in a cage at the zoo but the guy didn’t seem at all bothered. Vince suddenly appeared at the passenger side. His booming voice made the girl jump out of he skin, and startled me too. “Out the car! Let’s see if you have been drinking. Get round the front”. The driver had stopped smiling now. From his address, and the shiny new convertible, I guessed he was pretty wealthy and had probably been at the Country Club earlier. He got out quickly, and walked to the front of the car to stand next to Vince.
What happened next was obviously for my benefit. The guy may have had a drink before, but he certainly wasn’t drunk, and didn’t even smell of alcohol. The Sheriff made him close his eyes, then touch his nose with one finger, then another. Then he made him stand on one leg, as he timed that with his wristwatch. The girl was starting to look scared now, probably wondering how she would get home if her date was arrested. Vince continued to speak loudly. “Now, walk that white line at the side of the road there. One foot in front of the other. Nice and slow now”. The driver did as he was told, and Vince walked behind, urging him on. “That’s the way, keep going just like that”. After ten paces or so, I saw the Sheriff’s cowboy boot extend, as he tripped the man. He fell to his left side, extending an arm to stop himself ending up in the scrub.
As he got up, rubbing his hands to shake off the road dirt, Vince was grinning at him. “I will put that down to you falling. I don’t reckon you’re drunk. But I don’t want to see you speeding in Riverdale again, you hear? Off you go now. Take your sweetheart straight home”. When we were back in the car, the Sheriff turned to me with a serious look on his face.
“Like I said, Clay. You have to show them who’s the boss”.
Sheriff DeWalt was true to his word, and sent me out on my own the second week. He kept me off night shift for a while though, until I was feeling confident enough. We used to operate two cars on days, one taking half of the town limits, north or south. Vince’s daughter Olivia was in the second car. Seemed she was going to run alongside the same shifts with me. Luckily, I didn’t have to see too much of her, except at changeover, when we picked up the patrol cars. I was still a bit afraid of her, mainly because I didn’t have the first idea what to say to the scary woman.
I chose the northern patrol, as it would keep me close to the river, and the Henderson farm. Driving around on a regular route only took around forty-five minutes, and I would be back where I started. Hoogstraten told me I could go up as far as the Country Club, and over onto the edge of the Interstate if I wanted. “Try not to get involved in anything outside of our jurisdiction though, Clay. It gets messy once you start dealing with County and the State Troopers”. Vince was supposedly available to back up me and Olivia, when he wasn’t getting a free breakfast from Betsy, or drinking bourbon and milk in Leroy’s Bar.
Obviously, not much happened. I had lived there all my life, so I already knew that. The murders at the river had been the most exciting thing in the history of the town. Riverdale Sheriff’s Office was mainly window-dressing, keeping people happy that they were protected, even though there was nothing to protect them from. I wrote some traffic tickets to make it look like I was earning my pay, and checked on some of the local shopkeepers to let them know I was around.
In my first month, the most exciting thing that happened was a burglary at Widow Claiborne’s place. I got the call on the radio, and rushed up there as if it was life and death. At least it was something to do. The old lady was more excited than scared. “I can’t believe I slept through it all, they broke a window and all. Will it be in the newspaper?” I took a report of what she claimed had been stolen, and looked around at the back of her house. I could see some good shoe-prints, and also fingerprints on the window glass they had smashed to get in. Before I left, she insisted I had some coffee and cake.
I went back to the office to file the report, and asked Milly to contact the County Forensic team. “There’s some good prints out there, and shoe prints too”. Milly smiled. “I will have to run that past the Sheriff, Clay. We get billed by County for all that stuff”. She took my report into Vince’s office, and he returned with her. “Good work, Clay. But that stuff she had stolen will be long gone by now. And even if we catch who did it, she won’t get it back. Likely it was kids anyway, not very professional, don’t you think? And Miss Claiborne wasn’t hurt, was she? Just file it for now, see if there are any other similar cases later on. If she has insurance, she can claim”.
No point kicking up a fuss. It was still Vince’s laws that applied there.
I started to spend more time at the river. Sitting in the patrol car by the old spot, or taking the dirt road on the other side of the bridge, to where the railroad bridge crossed. On my last day shift before Vince said I should try night duty, I saw my first official dead people.
There had been a bad crash at the junction with the Interstate. Olivia had taken the call, and asked for me to go and back her up. By the time I got there, the Fire Department had shown up with their ambulance. A small Volkswagen had been hit by a truck, as it turned onto the Interstate. There wasn’t that much left of the car, but the truck seemed to hardly be damaged. The truck driver looked shaky, but he was talking okay, and giving his version of what happened to Olivia. The bodies had been taken out the car, and were at the side of the road, covered up. I waved the traffic around for a bit, and then Olivia asked me to check the dead couple for any I.D. The man was messy, his head pretty smashed, and lots of blood all over. By contrast, the woman looked like she was asleep. One of the Fire Department guys shook his head. “Shame. Broken neck, I reckon”.
I checked her purse that had been taken from the car, then fished around inside the man’s jacket and found a wallet. They had the same name and address, probably a married couple. The address was out of state, and according to Olivia, that meant County would deal with it. She told the guys to take the bodies to the County Hospital at White Oaks, and she would go back and phone County to hand over the case. Young Clyde Morrison turned up with his Dad’s tow truck, and she told him to load the wreck, and take it back to his garage. “Who’s paying, Olivia?” She shrugged. “Better bill County, Clyde. It’s their case now”. Once the road was clear, I went back on patrol. I was starting to wonder if there was anything we did actually do. No wonder Vince hadn’t been considered capable of dealing with a double murder that day.
Night shift was a real drag. We only had the roadhouse out on Palmer Road and Leroy’s bar to worry about, and hardly anything happened in those places, except maybe at weekends. The motel was usually busy with people passing through, but we rarely got troubled with any calls to there. I checked the locks on the shops and businesses, and wrote that down on my paper log. Olivia was nowhere to be seen, and I guessed she was cuddled up at home with Velma, hardly bothering to drive around. I felt like I was the only one stupid enough to be doing my job. Tyler was supposed to be answering the phone and keeping an ear on the radio. But when I drove past the office, it was in darkness. He was probably asleep in one of the cells.
But I didn’t mind. It was easy money, and I would soon be established and accepted.
Once that happened, I could start to do what I had joined up for.
By the time Summer came around again, it felt like I had always been a deputy. I spoke to Mom and Dad about maybe getting a place closer to town later that year, and they agreed it was probably time for me to move out.The job was second nature by then, and I had slotted into the routine of the shifts. I had even made a couple of arrests. One was a drunk-driver, and the other a guy who beat someone badly in a bar fight at the Roadhouse. Then there were the regular drunks at weekends, but Vince normally let them go in the morning, once they had sobered up.
Everyone had got used to seeing me cruising around in the patrol car, and the local traders liked how I never took stuff for free, and always paid my way.
Then one hot August day, something happened in Riverdale.
I was parked out by the river, staring at the spot where I had seen Tommy sit down in the water, and suddenly Olivia’s voice came over the radio. I could tell from her tone that it was bad, and then Vince came on too, with an ‘all units’ order. Saying ‘all units’ in Riverdale was rather overstating the case. There was me and Olivia out there, and Vince as backup, with Hoogstraten as a last resort. That was it. For the Sheriff to sound so stressed, It had to be something out of the ordinary.
Someone was robbing the bank in town, and Margie had set off the alarm.
I drove faster than I ever had. The bank was a small affair, and barely managed to stay open. There was talk that the head office would close it soon, and folks would have to travel to White Oaks to do their banking. Only two tellers worked there, and they mostly operated with just one position open. Mr Lutz was the manager, an old guy who sat out back, and dealt with loans, foreclosures, and the good customers.
I stopped the car at an angle to block Main Street. Vince and Olivia had already done the same with their cars at the other end. They were both out and kneeling by the car doors, handguns ready. Vince waved me over, and I crouched next to him. My heart was racing, and I had a real tingle of excitement in my gut. Vince looked really calm, and winked at me. “We wait until he comes out, then drop him, okay?” I was wondering whether or not the Sheriff had ever dealt with anything like this before, when the door of the bank opened.
A skinny guy ran out, holding a sports bag. He looked around and didn’t seem to see the police cars, or the fact that there was nobody on the street. As he started to turn and run to his left, Vince and Olivia both started firing. The noise of the gunshots broke the silence, and made me jump out of my skin. I lost count of how many times they fired, but the robber was on the ground long before they stopped. Olivia ran across, covering him with her pistol, and Vince stood up with a big grin on his face.
It was only then that I realised my revolver was still in its holster.
People started to emerge from nearby shops, and peered along the street. Mr Lutz and Margie came out the door to the bank and Mr Lutz clapped Vince on the shoulder. Olivia called me over. “He’s dead, Clay. Check the bag”. I unzipped the bag and found a sawed-off shotgun inside. I cracked it to make it safe, and was surprised to discover it wasn’t loaded. I lifted it to show Olivia, but she shrugged. “Margie weren’t to know, was she? And neither were we”. She took the shotgun from me, as I searched the dead robber. He had nothing on him, and certainly didn’t look like a familiar face from around town.
I was expecting something to happen, but not sure what. An investigation, calling in County, maybe even the State Police. But Vince just handed the bag of money over to Mr Lutz, and smiled at Margie. “You okay honey? Not hurt or nothing?” Margie just grinned. “I’m fine thanks Sheriff”. Then she turned back to Mr Lutz. “We better get back to work”. So, no crime scene, no real investigation. The small truck came from the funeral parlor to take the body away, and the nearby shopkeepers brought out mops to clean up the sidewalk. Olivia found an unfamiliar car parked behind Leroy’s bar. That turned out to have been stolen in Renton two days earlier. Nobody took any photographs, and the only statement from a witness was given my Margie, when Olivia went to the bank close to closing time.
Vince was going back to the office to file a report to be sent to County, and the State Police. But not before he slipped into Leroy’s for a free bourbon and milk. He took the shotgun to be marked as evidence, then sat in the bar with it on the seat next to him. Even after such a startling event in quiet Riverdale, and a man gunned down on the street without so much as a shout of warning, life for Vince carried on as if nothing had happened.
Olivia walked over to where I was standing by my patrol car. “You best get back out on your route, Clay. And next time, at least draw your gun, even if you don’t want to fire it. Okay?”
After driving back across the bridge, I took the dirt road until the path to the Henderson barn. Even though it was still uncomfortably hot, I went into the barn and sat down at the back, thinking.
Things were going to have to change, whether Vince liked it or not.
On a day off, I decided to drive up to County Hospital. I wore my uniform to make it look official, and didn’t tell anyone I was going. Nobody seemed to ever talk about Tommy anymore, and I didn’t feel like bothering his parents. Even though I looked the part when I arrived at the Mental Ward, the staff were unimpressed. They made me fill out a form with my information and the reasons for my visit, and said I had to leave my pistol in a locker at the nurses’ desk. Then they kept me waiting for a long time before escorting me to a room where Tommy was sat in a chair, staring at the corner.
A big male attendant came inside with me, and stood with his arms folded, and his back to the door. I moved the only other chair in the room across next to Tommy, and sat close, speaking in a conversational tone. “Hi Tommy, it’s Clay. Look at me, I’m a deputy now, can you believe that? I work with Big Vince, and I’m still in Riverdale of course, living at my folks’ place. Been thinking about moving into town though, there’s a small apartment for rent over the hardware store, so I would be close to work”. Tommy continued to stare into the corner, not a flicker of recognition on his face.
“Tommy, did you hear they put away Old Man Henderson for Donna and Mel? Looks like the old guy will die in jail. What do you think about that?” Still nothing. I tried again. “It’s me, Clay. Why don’t you look at me, Tommy? You know me. I just wanted to talk to you about that day at the river, and to see how you are doing here. Why don’t you say something?” He suddenly stood up, and without giving me so much as a glance, walked over to the attendant. The big guy looked at me, and nodded. “Looks like your visit is over, deputy. Seems to me Tommy doesn’t want to talk to you”.
As I was waiting for the nurse to get my pistol for me, I called out to her from the small counter. “Tommy wouldn’t speak to me. Is that usual?” The woman came back and handed me the holster, her face was a picture of boredom and indifference. “Never says nothing, that boy. Never has, maybe never will”.
As I drove home, I thought about Tommy not speaking. Maybe that was a good thing for him, I couldn’t be sure. I diverted into town and went to see Mr Lucas. I said I would take the apartment over his shop, and paid a month in advance. He sure looked pleased when he handed me the papers. Having a cop living over your business was better than any insurance policy. The place was furnished, so all I needed was some bed linen, towels, and my clothes. When I told my Mom I was moving out the next day, she didn’t seem surprised.
There were times when I thought they didn’t really like me that much.
Late afternoon, still wearing my uniform, I drove out to Mr Hayes’ car dealership. Freddie was sitting in the office when I walked in, on the phone to a prospect. “I promise you sir, you won’t get a better deal than the one I offered you. Tell you what, you call around. Hell, drive up as far as Renton if you want. If you find the same car at a better price, then I will match that price. What do you say?” Whatever the customer said, Freddie hung up and turned to grin at me. “Clay, don’t tell me you’ve finally decided to get rid of that old man’s ride? Dark green? What were you thinking?”
“You got a Jeep Cherokee, third row back. The red one. Will you do me a deal on that, Freddie?” He seemed relieved that I was there to talk about cars. “Sure I will, Clay. Let’s go look at it”. He picked some keys from a rack at the back, and I followed him out to the car. I wanted something like that Jeep. Four by four, big engine, easy to fix, four doors, and plenty of room. Before Freddie could launch into his usual sales pitch, I put up my hand. “This is me, Freddie. Take my old car as the deposit, and I will fill out the papers for a loan on the rest. You know I’m good for it. And if the car is no good, I know where you are. We’re old friends, so I will trust you not to sell me a piece of junk. Besides, I’ve got a gun now.” I laughed at the way his face fell when I said that. “Come on, Freddie, can’t you take a joke anymore?”
In the office, I watched him as he did the paperwork, then made the phone call to get the loan approved. When he put the phone down, I spoke first. “Just been up to County Hospital, to see Tommy. Thinking of going to Renton soon, have me a good talk with Duke. We never did get to the bottom of what happened that Sunday, did we?” I had wrong-footed him, and it showed on his face. “Well Clay, you know the cops told us we couldn’t talk about the case. I mean, Old Man Henderson was guilty, and he’s in jail now. I don’t see what good can come of going over it again now. Things have changed, and we are all different now. Time to move on and forget that day, don’t you think?” He smiled weakly, sliding the papers across the desk. There was an ‘X’ marked where I should sign, in two places.
I signed, and handed over the keys and registration for my old car.
“No, Freddie. I don’t think that. Not at all. I will be around to see you again, you can count on it”. I grabbed the paperwork, and the two sets of keys for the Jeep, then walked out. As expected, he picked up the phone as soon as I closed the door.
I had a good idea who he was calling.
It was close to three weeks later when I got the chance to drive to Renton to talk to Duke. That wasn’t his real name of course, just something his real Dad called him. Paul Tyson was known to everybody as Duke, even the teachers at school. But when I called County to check on his address through his driver’s licence, I remembered to use Paul. I regretted not being able to get up there earlier, as I was sure Freddie had called him that day I bought the Jeep. I was worried that he had skipped town, and wouldn’t be around to talk to me.
Despite being on a busy street close to the centre of town, the house looked like some run-down shack in a country district. It was the home of Duke’s step-father’s brother, so I guess you could call him a step-uncle. I wasn’t wearing my uniform that afternoon, but I had my badge ready to flash if need be. It took a while for someone to answer my knock. The woman looked to be around fifty, and her clothes were stained. She was smoking a cigarette, and holding the pack and lighter in her hand, ready for the next one. I was very polite.
“Sorry to trouble you, ma’am. My name is Clayton Farlowe, and I’m an old friend of Duke’s from Riverdale. I was up in Renton for something, and hoped to be able to look him up. It’s been a long time since we got to have a good talk”. She didn’t reply, but turned in the doorway, yelling. “Woody! get out here! Someone to see Duke”. She stayed where she was, holding the door almost closed. I could actually smell the man before I saw him. Beer and sweat, overpowering. His clothes were stretched tight across his bulk, and his jowly face was red from the effort of walking from his armchair.
“What d’you want with Duke, boy? He owe you money or something?” I stayed polite. “No sir, nothing like that. We are old friends from school, down in Riverdale. I haven’t had much chance to see him since he moved here. Is he around? Still at work maybe?” The woman exchanged a look with Woody, as she lit a second cigarette from the stub of the previous one. She flicked the butt over my head into the front yard. Pulling up to his full height, the man shook his head. “Duke’s gone, boy. Job didn’t work out. Said something about going north, Chicago maybe. Pay’s better up there, so he said”. The woman turned and walked back inside. I heard the volume on a TV get louder.
“Would you have an address for him, sir? A phone number even?”. The fat man grinned. “Reckon if he wants to speak to you, he will call you”. He closed the door without another word.
When I got back to my apartment, I thought about my old friends. Tommy was not saying anything to anyone, and Duke was running, so he wouldn’t have to talk. I could apply some pressure on Freddie of course, but then I would never know for sure if he was telling the truth. I needed to get them all together, and thrash out the story. But that seemed unlikely to happen, anytime soon. Meanwhile, Mom told me Dad was ill. He was off work, and complaining about finding it hard to breathe. Stubborn as ever, he wouldn’t go see the doctor. I gave her some cash to make up for his lost pay, but couldn’t see any point in talking to him about it. As far as he was concerned, I would always be his kid, and someone like Dad took no advice from kids. Years of inhaling sawdust at the lumber yard, and a fondness for Chesterfields had taken their toll. He wasn’t that old, but he didn’t look too good.
I went back to my routine. For many it might have seemed boring, but it was fine for me.
The years passed. Olivia resigned as a deputy, and went into nursing. I got a new shift partner, Clyde. He looked up to me, though he was older. Vince started to slow down. I knew instinctively he didn’t have too long left in the job. so took my time until his inevitable demise. All those years of free food and bourbon had taken their toll, and I was happy to wait him out. Hoogstraten had taken his pension, and Tyler had no ambition. I was about all that was left, so I reckoned that if I stood for election for Sheriff, nobody would bother to oppose me.
My Dad died less than two years later. He ended up in County Hospital on a respirator, but he had left if too late. Died young, so everyone said. Mom sold up and went to Indiana, to be close to an elderly aunt. That pretty much convinced me she and Dad had never been that bothered about me.
I was left as the senior deputy after Vince. Tyler was looking to go when he could, and marking time. I began to canvass opinion about being elected to Sheriff, once Vince called it a day. The feedback was good, but I knew I had to wait for my time. When Vince had a mild stroke not long before my twenty-seventh birthday, I was confident of getting his job.
And I did.
Now I could start to delve into the available records.
******TWENTY FIVE YEARS LATER******
Not long after I became Sheriff, everything started to change. It was no longer viable for a small community like Riverdale to bear the whole cost of running the office. The town was growing, and there were more people to deal with. I had a meeting with the Mayor, and it was decided we would approach County in White Oaks, to talk about becoming part of the County Police. I was keen for that to happen, as it would give us access to all their facilities and resources. Everything we did would carry on as normal, and all that would really change would be that we worked for County, and would come under the authority of the Captain of County Police in White Oaks. We kept the name of Riverdale Sheriff’s Office, just so folks wouldn’t be alarmed by any drastic changes.
I called in my deputies, and gave them what I told them was good news. All the old faces had gone except Tyler, and he was happy at my suggestion that he took care of the office and radio, now that Milly was retiring. We never saw anything of Vince since his stroke, and people said he wasn’t able to leave the house without help. I didn’t think that much about him. He was well past his time, and had enjoyed a good run. He was drawing his pension, and one day his name would fade from memory.
I had spent a long time going through the few records Vince had bothered to keep, and was not at all surprised to discover that they contained only the flimsiest details of that Sunday at the river. So I requested copies of the statements taken by County in White Oaks at the time, and a transcript of the trial of Old Man Henderson. I stayed living above Lucas Hardware, as it suited me, so I laid out all the papers in time order, and spent my evenings poring over them until my eyes hurt.
After all that hard work, I didn’t find out that much. Duke claimed to have left the swimming spot while Freddie was still there, and the girls were still in the water. He didn’t mention me at all, except to say I had stayed at the bank further down. Freddie’s statement was that he had watched the girls swimming, but had decided not to join them. When he suggested moving on, he claimed they had decided to stay in the water, and said they might see him later. He made no mention of me at all. Eddy Silverman stuck to the fact he was suffering from the bug bites, and had gone home before anyone even got into the water. As for Tommy, he was interviewed by a State Psychiatrist, but she recorded that he had refused to say anything. Before the swimsuits were found at the Henderson farm, Tommy had been considered to be the main suspect.
Once the search at Henderson’s revealed the glaringly obvious evidence, everything else had just been filed. All the documents concentrated on the old man as the killer, and mentioned his historical sex offending. During his trial, there was little mention of the rest of us that day, and he continued to claim he was fishing at White Oaks, so knew nothing about what had happened. They used Freddie’s and Duke’s statements to allege that Donna and Mel were alone at the swimming place for an unknown time, and concluded that must have been when Henderson carried out the crime. He was wrapped up and ready for roasting, before he even stepped into the court.
What I read over those weeks was pretty much as I had expected. As soon as Henderson was charged, they had all but forgotten the rest of us were ever there.
It was all boxed up, and sent back to County. I had found out everything I could, and nobody was going to thank me for raking over it after all this time. Freddie and his Dad bought into a second dealership in Fairview, and Freddie left town to run things down there. So I got on with being one of the County Sheriffs, responsible for the same territory. I changed what I could. No more free meals, coffee, or anything else. My deputies had to pay for what they had, or there would be trouble. They also had to stick to procedure, rules of evidence, and reading anyone their rights. No more fake speeding stops, or using their nightsticks for no good reason. As Riverdale grew, I like to think our office grew with it, and finally had some real respect.
That Sunday at the river stayed in my mind as I got older, but work was busy now, with a new mall, and three fast-food joints built out on the road to the Interstate. They relocated the bank to an upgraded site on the strip mall, and the shops in town started to suffer a little. The cafe was struggling, but I always ate there, and paid of course. I didn’t like to see the centre of town looking run down, and unloved. It was still my town, to my way of thinking.
Then not long before my fifty-second birthday, I got a call from the State Police up in Renton. Some detective wanted to come and see me. He was interested in the murders at the river. He told me Old Man Henderson had died of cancer in prison, years earlier. He had lived to be ninety-one, and made a deathbed statement that he was completely innocent, and had been framed. It struck me that I had never been concerned to find out about Henderson in all that time. Nobody had even bothered to tell us he had died. His place was still shut up, and no relatives had ever appeared to claim it.
The detective’s name was Liam Doherty. He told me he specialised in old cases, and unsolved crimes. I told him the Henderson case was solved, and I didn’t see what he hoped to gain from talking to me. “I have gone over that case in detail, Sheriff Farlowe, and it doesn’t ring true to me. I understand you were unhappy about Mr Henderson being a suspect at the time, and I would like to come and talk to you about that Sunday”.
I couldn’t very well say no, so I arranged for him to come on the following Friday.
Liam Doherty had always wanted to be a cop. He joined the State Police as soon as he was old enough, and excelled in the Training School, getting the award for Outstanding Student. For a few years after that, he did the regular duties. Traffic patrol, searches, breaking up fights in Renton, and arresting people wanted on warrants. He played it by the book, and earned a reputation as a straight-up guy.
But there was something about him. He didn’t make friends at work, lived alone, and had an unhealthy obsession with small details. He was often described as ‘picky’, and didn’t hesitate to criticise a colleague if he thought they were doing wrong. After some solid work on a kidnapping case, he got approval to apply to be a detective, qualifying almost three years earlier than was usual. When he moved upstairs, the old hands avoided him, embarrassed by his efficiency and success rate. He couldn’t keep a partner for too long either, as he didn’t appear to work well as part of a team.
When he approached the Captain and asked if he could work on unsolved cases, it came as a relief to the rest of the squad. They gave him his own small office, and delivered stacks of case files that soon lined the walls.
When he solved a fifteen year-old abduction and murder of a teenage girl all by himself, the Captain started to wonder if he had done the right thing. A retired cop was disgraced because of it, and there was a lot of resentment from the others who had worked on that case, and were still around. It was something nobody in the department had ever dealt with before. A detective who was just too good. It didn’t seem natural.
But Liam was oblivious to all the whispering behind his back, as well as being completely unconcerned about his own popularity. Most days he was in the office for at least twelve hours, sometimes more. Or he would be out driving around examining former crime scenes, talking to witnesses who had all but forgotten what happened, and slowly piecing together those old cases like a simple jigsaw. His mind was beyond analytical, it was as if he could look back into the past, and actually see what had happened.
Then one day some of the other cops decided to play a prank on him. They waited until he was out, and delivered almost two hundred case files to his office, stacking them in piles on top of his desk and chair. None of those cases were unsolved, they were all closed and settled. When he asked why they had been allocated to him, Sergeant Rogers smiled. “Well it’s like this, Doherty. Those files are supposedly closed, cases solved. But most of them didn’t seem right to us, so we thought you might like to run your eye over them. No rush, let us know what you think”.
If they thought that was going to upset him, they were very wrong.
Those new cases were just the sort of thing that Liam liked to get his teeth into. To the dismay of the Captain, who hadn’t been in on the supposed joke, four of the first ten cases examined by Doherty had to be re-opened. He had found serious discrepancies, everything from no written record of someone reading a perp their rights, down to some tainted evidence that should never have been presented in court. The squad received a stern warning not to do anything similar again.
But Liam had already started looking at the eleventh file.
More than a quarter of a century after the murders in Riverdale, Liam had to catch his breath at how shoddy the investigation had been. With the first suspect being one of the boys, which from the description of his condition, and the fact that his parents had fled with him to Canada seemed likely. Then they had abandoned that idea after the supposedly incontrovertible evidence had been found at the Henderson house, and focused on the old man. As far as he was concerned, Liam could see no good reason why someone who had killed two girls, and had sexually molested one of them, would be so stupid as to carry their swimsuits back to the house, leaving them in plain sight to be discovered. Especially as he would have had time to dispose of them before the cops ever showed up.
If Henderson had still been alive, Liam would have been advising him to sue his incompetent trial lawyer. And he had also lost the appeal, mainly because everyone had been concentrating too much on that one incident of exposing himself some fifty years earlier. There had been no careful scrutiny of any fingerprints, and no conclusive examination of the bodies of the girls, other than to establish a cause of death. The boys involved had been brought in to give a short statement, then allowed home without being properly interrogated. No effort had been made to substantiate any of their accounts of what had happened that day, and as soon as Henderson was charged, the reports were filed away. Shaking his head, Liam started to make some notes. This was a travesty of justice, as far as he could tell.
More detailed reading late into the night revealed something that interested him a great deal. One of the boys involved had later become a deputy sheriff in the same town, Riverdale. Now he was the actual Sheriff, part of the expanded County Police. His name was Clayton Farlowe. It was easy to get the number, so Liam called him the next day, hoping he would have his own theories on what had happened to the girls. He would arrange to drive down and see him, stop over in a local hotel if necessary.
He expected Sheriff Farlowe to be excited to get the call. But he didn’t seem that interested. Then again, he could hardly refuse to meet with a State Police detective when asked to do so.
Liam was looking forward to next Friday.
I had guessed Doherty would be on time, and he was. He was like no detective I had ever seen before. Stick-thin, and dressed in a dark suit, he looked more like an undertaker than a cop. Cropped black hair, and pale skin that didn’t seem to have ever seen sunlight. He insisted on showing me his shield to identify himself, and refused my offer of coffee. “I don’t drink coffee, Sheriff”. I started to be concerned about him right off. Who doesn’t drink coffee?
He wasn’t a man for pleasantries either. No small talk, straight down to what he had come for.
“Sheriff, I will need to speak to various people around town, and also to Frederick Hayes, who I believe has moved south. I have already contacted County Hospital with a request to go and talk to Thomas Clinton. As for Edward Silverman, I have spoken to him on the telephone, and I am happy with what he told me. I just wanted you to know that I will be around, out of respect for your position here. However, I do not need you to accompany me. I will stay at the motel for now, as I would like to speak to you once I have made my investigations”.
There was something strange about the man. It was as if he wasn’t all there. I had let him ramble on without interruption, but it seemed to me he didn’t really know how things worked outside of Renton. “Detective Doherty, I am sure you will agree that it might be better if I went along with you? People don’t take kindly to strangers in towns like Riverdale, and me being there might make things easier for you”. He carried on staring straight into my eyes as he spoke. “I’m afraid that will not be possible. You were one of the boys at the river that day, and it would not be appropriate for you to listen to what anyone tells me”.
I knew I wasn’t going to like this man. Not one bit.
“Then you do what you have to do, detective, and good luck with that. It all happened a long time ago, and memories play tricks. Besides, you won’t get anything out of Tommy. He’s been on the Mental Ward since that Sunday, and has shut down completely. I tried to get Duke to talk to me, but nobody knows where he is. Last I heard, he had gone to Chicago”. Doherty opened a leather briefcase and removed a slim folder. “Paul Tyson is still in Renton, Sheriff. He works at an engineering company. I have already spoken to him”.
So the couple had lied to me that day. I should have known better than to believe them. I hadn’t bothered to check afterwards, and now this strange guy was making me look stupid.
Removing another folder from his case, Doherty carried on. “Milly Hooper. I understand she was working that night? I have an address for her here in Riverdale, but I have been unable to contact her”. I shrugged. “Milly’s long gone, detective. She seemed like an old lady when I was sixteen. She retired when I became a deputy, and died maybe ten years later. You will only find her in the cemetery”. I was sure he already knew that, and wondered why he had mentioned her. “Pretty much all of them have gone now, Doherty, so other than me and Freddie, I don’t really know who you expect to be able to speak to”.
Sliding his files back in the case, he stood up. “That’s all for now, Sheriff. I will call you in a couple of days to arrange to speak to you. Once I have done what I need to do around here”.
He didn’t offer his hand, so I kept mine in my pocket. I walked out behind him so I could see what car he was driving. The black four-door was a typical detective car, and would be easy to spot around town. I intended to keep an eye on this guy.
Liam drove out to the motel and booked a room for two nights. He had easily spotted the new Jeep Cherokee in his rear-view mirror. Dark Red, and hanging back just far enough not to seem too obvious. When he had turned into the driveway leading to the motel, it had carried on up the road at normal speed. In the room, he unpacked some clothes and hung them up in the wardrobe. But he wasn’t about to leave any personal stuff around. And his files and notebooks would all be locked in the trunk of his car. He knew enough about small town motels to know that the manager wouldn’t hesitate to let a deputy or the Sheriff into his room when he wasn’t there.
There was still plenty of time to drive down to Fairview. Liam called from a public phone rather than use the one in his room. Best if nobody knew who he was calling. He spoke to Hayes, and told him he was on his way. When he drove out onto the road from the motel, he soon noticed the Jeep again, parked to the left of the bridge. But this time, it didn’t follow him.
Freddie Hayes was a lot heavier than he had been in his youth. Marriage and good food had filled him out, and thickened him up. Since his Dad had died, he had expanded the dealership, and was doing real good, as far as he was concerned. The last thing he needed was some pencil-neck cop asking him all kinds of questions about that Sunday. But here he was, sitting across from him at the desk.
“Like I told you detective Doherty. When I got to the deep water, I didn’t really feel like swimming. The girls were in the water for so long I got bored. When I suggested we go into town for some ice cream, they said they wanted to stay in the water. Duke had already left. He was awkward around girls, you know? So I went home. It was awful hot that day, and I went up to my room and lay on my bed. My folks gave a statement that I was home, you must have read that?” Doherty didn’t answer that question, and asked more of his own instead. “What about your friend Tommy? What was he doing all this time?” Freddie smiled. “Well we all knew he was sweet on Donna, and supposed she liked him too. But when we got down there she kind of ignored him. She was chatting and laughing with me and Mel. Tommy got in a sulk, and stomped off into the bushes. I didn’t see him again that afternoon”.
Liam was writing in a notebook, and spoke again without looking up. “And Clayton Farlowe?” Freddie smiled again. “Hell, Clay’s the Sheriff up in Riverdale, you can ask him yourself. Far as I recall, he stayed on the bank at the usual spot. Said he didn’t want to come with us to go swimming”. Still writing, Liam pressed the point. “So you didn’t see him anywhere around the swimming place? According to Paul Tyson, he thinks he saw him heading there as he walked home”. Freddie shook his head. “Nah, Duke’s got that wrong. I was there for a good while. When I left, the girls were still in the water, and Clay wasn’t around. Besides, he was still at the same spot when Tommy showed up, all crazy and cut up. He was the one that went for help”.
The detective closed his notebook and stood up.
“Thanks for your time, Mr Hayes. Be aware I may need to talk to you again”.
Detective Doherty wasn’t fazed by the attitude of the staff at County Hospital. He handed over his service pistol as requested, and filled out the required form.
Tommy was sitting at a table in a small room, flanked by a burly attendant, and the lawyer that Doherty had insisted be present. He opened his notebook and clicked the pen, but before he could say anything, Tommy spoke. The attendant almost fell off his chair. He had worked there for sixteen years, and had never heard a word out of Tommy. The voice sounded much older than the fifty-two years of the man suddenly talking. “You State Police, right? Not Riverdale Sheriff’s Office?” Doherty nodded, and flashed the I.D. in its leather pouch. Tommy didn’t really look at it. “Okay then, but I won’t say anything with these two around”.
Liam was always a stickler for procedure. “I do believe it is in your best interests for you to have a lawyer present”. Tommy shook his head, and the attendant spoke up. “He cannot be alone with you. Don’t care if you’re police or what, he don’t get left unattended. They would have my job if they knew”. The lawyer needed no second bidding to depart, grabbing his bag and leaving the room without so much as a word. He would get paid, either way. Tommy turned to the attendant. “You could stand by the door though, will that work?” The big man shrugged. “Fine with me, long as I don’t leave the room”.
Once the man was over by the door, Tommy beckoned Doherty to lean across the table. He began to whisper, close to the detective’s ear. As he listened, Liam wrote hurriedly in the notebook, worried that the man might stop talking all of a sudden. After a couple of minutes, Tommy sat back, indicating the interview was over by staring vacantly at the opaque window and its white-painted bars. Liam stood up, and the attendant let him out.
By the time it got dark that night, Doherty had also taken statements from former deputy Hoogstraten, and Tyler too. Sitting on his bed at the motel, he reflected on a productive day. Then he phoned the motel desk to extend his stay, before calling in to Renton to advise the Captain he would be there the whole week.
I knew that Doherty would have noticed my Jeep, so the next time I followed him I used a rental car, and wore sunglasses. It didn’t take too long to work out he was heading for White Oaks, and when he took the road for the County Hospital, I knew for sure he was off to see Tommy. I stopped and turned around, heading back to Riverdale. The next time I spotted his car, it was outside Tyler’s house. That guy was sure making himself busy.
When Freddie answered my call the next morning, he didn’t seem too concerned by my question. “Yes, I had a visit from that creepy guy. He was asking what I remembered about that day, Clay. He’s a scary dude, for sure. But like I told him, it was just as we all said back then. None of us were anywhere near the girls, so it must have been Old Man Henderson”. I stayed friendly and cheerful. “If you see or hear from him again, Freddie you be sure to call me, you hear?”
Just before lunch, Doherty came into the office, and asked to see me. When he sat down across from me at the desk, he seemed more affable. “Sheriff Farlowe, I thought it only fair to apprise you of my investigations so far”. I spread my hands, and he opened his notebook. “I have just come from speaking to Mrs Riley, the mother of Paul Tyson. Her recollections of that Sunday are surprisingly clear. She has just told me that her son returned quite late that afternoon. She remembers her ex-husband arguing with him about chores that were not done, and that Paul went out again after the bust-up. He didn’t return home until shortly before a deputy came to collect him to bring him here that night. This doesn’t go with what he told me in Renton, so I wonder what your thoughts are?”
It was like having a conversation with a lizard. His face was expressionless, and his mood impossible to calculate. I wasn’t even that sure if he had actually seen Duke’s mom that morning, and I was beginning to wonder if he had ever spoken to Duke in Renton, as he had claimed to. I had got him wrong. The guy knew his stuff. “Duke was always awkward around girls, detective. He didn’t know what to say to them, or how to act with them. If they fooled with him, he would take it personal. Never saw the joke, you know? But I can’t imagine for a second he would ever have hurt Donna and Mel. I never saw him so much as squash a bug”. His face didn’t move, not a feature. I wasn’t sure the guy even blinked. Was that possible? A human who didn’t blink? Maybe Doherty was a new species. I was still staring at him when he spoke again.
“Sheriff, I think it would be most beneficial to get Paul Tyson down here. Along with you, and Frederick Hayes, we could go out to the river where it happened, and perhaps attempt some reconstruction of the movements of everyone that day. You wouldn’t have a problem with that, would you?” I shook my head. “Course not, but what would be the point? Henderson is dead, and memories can play tricks after so long. Besides, who’s to say whether Freddie or Duke have ever told the truth about that Sunday, and if what they say now is to be believed?” I was waiting for him to mention his visit to Tommy, but he said nothing about that.
Before he could reply, the phone on my desk rang. It was a cop from Indiana. My mom had died. Dropped dead in a line at the Post Office in the town where she lived. They found my contact details in her purse. They wanted me to fly up there and arrange her funeral. I hung up, and looked over at Doherty.
“It will have to wait. I’ve got to go to Indiana”.
After landing at Indianapolis, I rented a car for the short drive to Shelbyville, where I had booked a room at the Hampton Inn. It was late, but I called the number I had been given for mom’s lawyer, and arranged to meet him at his office the next morning, before going to the funeral home.
Mr Hendricks had taken over the office from his late father. A serious man in his thirties, he shook my hand with a firm grip, extending his condolences. After going through some paperwork, he told me that mom had inherited the house from her sister, and also had most of the money from selling up in Riverdale. I instructed him to sell the three bedroom home just outside Shelbyville, and agreed a commission percentage for his time and trouble. He seemed happy enough, and I liked his calm efficiency. “Once the documents are all signed and sealed, you should be receiving a substantial amount, Mr Farlowe”.
The Sexton funeral home was like any you might see in a small town. I wasn’t surprised to see a dignified elderly man greeting me, his face a practiced picture of solemnity. I explained that I didn’t have a lot of time, and as I was the only living relative, there seemed little point in arranging any kind of function. I chose a mid-range casket, and paid for a plot at the cemetery, with a simple headstone to follow. Mr Sexton was understanding. “It could be arranged to bury your mother close to her late sister, if you would like that”. I nodded. “That would be good. I doubt I will ever get back up here, so I would also like you to contract someone to take care of the grave”. He nodded. “You can leave all that with me, Mr Farlowe. I assure you of our best and most respectful service”. I gave him a check for the funeral costs, and signed some papers before leaving.
Mom always liked to go to to church, so I let Sexton arrange a minister for a quiet funeral service in two day’s time. It was pretty cold up there, so I bought a padded jacket in town as I hadn’t brought anything warm. Then I kicked around the hotel for a while, and drove out to the Blue River park, watching families with kids enjoying the open space.
To be honest, the funeral didn’t affect me at all. I was the only one in attendance, unless you counted the four men from Sexton’s who stayed in the chapel to make it look good. The minister said the usual stuff about mom being a good wife and mother, as well as being a devoted younger sister to my aunt. After some handshakes outside, I drove back to the Hampton and packed my stuff.
At the motel in Riverdale, Liam was going over all his notes, and making some phone calls. He was hoping that Farlowe would be back by the weekend, as it seemed that a Sunday might be appropriate for what he had in mind. Everything was coming together, but to his way of thinking, it was important for all those men to be together when he asked his questions. He wanted to see their interaction, so as to be certain of his theories. He spent an hour drawing out a careful chart, based on the time line of that Sunday when the murders happened. No matter how he traced it, it always came down to the same result. He was sure that his suspicions were correct.
When I got back from the airport, I didn’t contact Doherty straight away. I decided to drive straight the office, and see if there were any messages for me there. At the far end of Main Street, I stopped at a light. When I saw the man and woman crossing in front of my car, I knew immediately it was Duke. Even after all this time, he was unmistakable. His hair still dark and flopped over his eyes, and that awkward gait of someone who had never really got used to being tall. I pulled the car over into a spot when the light changed, and walked quickly back to where I had seen them.
“Hey, Duke. Long time no see”. I nodded to his mom. “Ma’am”. Duke didn’t seem surprised to see me. “Hi, Clay. I had to come down, got called by that State Police guy. He says I’m not to talk to you though. Told me you would likely find me and try to talk. Said I should say nothing”. His mom looked scared, but was glaring at me. She pulled at his arm. “C’mon Duke, let’s go home”. I smiled. “Just saying hello, Duke. That’s all. Good to see you again. The detective tells me you are doing okay up in Renton”. He turned and walked away without another word.
As expected, I did have a message from Doherty. It was written on a sheet of paper left on my desk. The handwriting was so neat, it looked as if it had been typed. ‘Sheriff, if you are back by the weekend, can you please meet me at that spot by the river at one in the afternoon on Sunday. I have arranged for everyone to be there. Please call the motel to confirm’. He hadn’t signed it, but had stapled his card to the paper. I knew he would have checked the airlines, to see when I got back. No point avoiding the guy. I called the cellphone number on his card, but there was no answer. I left a message.
“Detective Doherty, this is Clay Farlowe. I got your message, and I will be there on Sunday”.
The next day was Saturday, and I went into work to help out with a new deputy. Barbara Hill was from White Oaks, and had applied for a job in Riverdale because her fiance lived there. I let her drive me around, just like Vince had, on my first day. She was keen enough, but edgy and nervous. I told her not to worry, as not much happened in town, and she would be fine. We stopped at the gas station for coffee and donuts, and I gave her the money to pay for them. It was still a good spot for catching speeders, but I didn’t make her pull over anyone that morning.
It was close to two in the morning on Sunday, and I was sleeping when my phone rang.
There had been a shooting at the motel.
By the time I got into my uniform and out to the motel, two of my deputies had already sealed off the scene. Bill Phillips was a solid guy, ex-army, and very reliable. He had already called in for the forensic team, and advised the State Police too. He met me at my car. “Sheriff, it’s that cop from Renton. Seems like a burglary in his room went wrong. Shot with his own gun, by the look of it. The room’s trashed, and I can’t find any of his personal stuff. Someone has been in his car too, you can see the trunk is still open. Night manager claims to have heard nothing, and there are only two other guests. I have them all in the lobby, waiting to take statements”.
I thanked him for his efficiency, and followed him to the room, after slipping some plastic covers over my shoes. “We have all been using covers and gloves, Sheriff. Any prints or marks will not be any we have left”. Bill pushed the door open for me, and I looked in. Doherty was on the bed, wrapped up in the sheets and blanket, with two pillows to the side of his head. He was only wearing underwear, and all the blood was around his head and neck, with splatters up the wall. Bill spoke from behind me.
“One shot, I reckon. In the throat, and out the back of the neck. Looks like he was struggling with the perp on the bed, and the pillows might have deadened the noise some. Strange thing, one of the other guests only heard someone messing around with the car. He got up and checked, in case it was his car, and saw the door open to Doherty’s room. Then he went and got the night manager”. I turned and walked out. “So he was shot with his own gun, how do you come to that conclusion, Bill?” He pointed behind me. “It’s on the floor of the room, other side of the bed. A nine-millimeter automatic. I reckon if it had been the perp’s, he would have took it with him”.
I heard the sirens before I saw all the flashing lights. Three cars sped up the driveway, and two of them had State Police markings. A heavy man got out of the unmarked car, and looked around. “Where’s the Sheriff? I want to talk to him now”. It was Doherty’s Captain, from Renton. I guessed he would want to take over, and he did. I was happy to let him, and after Bill filled him in on what we knew so far, he stared at me, visibly shaken. “I haven’t lost a man from my squad in the eleven years I have been in charge. I want whoever did this, Sheriff, and I am counting on your full cooperation”.
Forensics showed up, and they set up floodlights, took lots of photographs, and did all the usual stuff those people do. The Captain told me that the Staties had roadblocks all over, and the helicopter was up too. “This time of night, can’t be that many cars driving around. I have issued orders to stop everything, wherever they see it”. He wasn’t too interested in my input, so I didn’t bother to suggest that whoever had done this might be on foot, perhaps even still hiding close by. The Captain was fixed on a car being used, so I let him get on with it. If any mistakes were going to be made, they wouldn’t be made by me or any of my guys.
Two hours later, and they had taken statements from the other guests, and the night manager. He confessed that he had been sleeping in the back, until he was woken up by the worried guest ringing the bell on the counter. More State cops had shown up from Renton, including some detectives from the same squad as Doherty. Some of them were grinning, and none seemed too bothered that their colleague was dead. A full search of the room showed that there was no wallet, no car keys, and most of his notebooks and files were gone too. The trunk of his car was empty, save for the spare wheel, and an empty gun safe. The Captain came to find me.
“Looks as if whoever did this just grabbed everything and left. The files and notes will be no use to him, so I reckon they might have been dumped. He’s sure to have blood on him, and if he was struggling with Liam, he may have injuries too. I would appreciate it if your deputies could start looking around for anything that was dumped by the roadside. I have someone checking the hospitals in case he tried to get treatment, but someone should check any doctors in Riverdale too, as well as any who have offices on the roads leading out of town, north and south”. I nodded, and instructed my guys to do as he had asked. As Bill walked to his car, I caught his arm. “Bill, get everyone in who is off duty. And get that new girl too, Barbara. I know she is green, but she can sit in the office and answer the phone”. He nodded. “Will do, Sheriff”.
It was getting light by the time the medical examiner allowed the men to take the body out of the room and put it into their small truck. The Captain looked exhausted. “We are taking Liam’s body back to Renton, Sheriff. I take it you won’t have a problem with that? Some of my men will be staying on to cover the crime scene, and I would be grateful if you and your guys helped them with whatever they need”. He extended his hand, and I shook it firmly. “Sorry to meet you in such circumstances, Captain. You can count on us to help all we can. Contact me anytime”.
I drove back to the office, where a very relieved Barbara was pleased to see me. I told her I was sorry, but she would have to stay on duty, and I walked to the back to make some calls.
Mrs Riley sounded sleepy when she answered. “Mrs Riley, it’s Clay, Sheriff Farlowe. Can you tell Duke that the afternoon meeting at the river is cancelled today please? The detective from Renton is no longer available”. I didn’t make any small talk, and hung up when I was sure she understood. Freddie answered his phone after just one ring. His voice sounded thick with sleep. “Freddie, it’s Clay. No need to show up at the river this afternoon, something has happened to that detective. I will call you tomorrow”.
Sitting back in my chair, I stretched hard. My bones felt weary.
I wasn’t going to get any rest today, that was for sure.
For the rest of that week, the State Police threw everything at the investigation. My deputies got no time off, and everyone started to get cranky and exhausted. Dozens of cars had been pulled over and searched, followed by a nationwide alert for the personal effects of Doherty turning up. His cellphone history and calls from the motel were looked into, and the Captain called me from Renton. “Sheriff, seems to me that Liam was arranging something for that Sunday. Do you know anything about that?” I told him about the reconstruction plans, and how everyone had agreed to meet him down at that spot on the riverbank. “Captain, I have no idea what he was hoping to achieve with that. Freddie and Duke already told him what they knew, as had I. Tommy is still on the Mental Ward ever since it happened, and Old Man Henderson is long dead. But I had agreed to go along with whatever detective Doherty wanted”.
He wasn’t amused to hear that. “You should have mentioned that, Sheriff. Now I have to consider Tyson and Hayes as possible suspects”. I was unapologetic. “Captain, I presumed your man had kept you up to date with his investigation here. Duke has gone back to Renton, and Freddie Hayes is down in Fairview, so it will be easy for you to talk to them. Let me know if I can be of any help”. When he hung up, it was clear to me that he had no idea what Doherty had been doing down here.
The shooting naturally attracted a lot of attention. I had given interviews to the newspapers, and to the local TV station out of White Oaks. Watching myself on the news was a strange experience. I looked old, but I came across as professional and efficient, so was happy with that. After ten days, and with no suspects or evidence to go on, I let my deputies get back to regular duties, and we began to get something of our routine back.
I drove out to a dealership the other side of White Oaks, and looked at some nice Winnebago motor homes. I had done over thirty years in the job now, and was thinking of taking my pension, and handing over to Bill. He would be a natural for the job, and could be sure of my recommendation. After spending all my life in one state, and not travelling much, I thought it might be nice to just hit the road, and see a lot more of the country. I could just pack my stuff into the RV, and go anywhere I wanted. The salesman said he would take my Cherokee in trade, and worked out some figures on a luxury model. I had plenty of money coming from my inheritance, and I wanted to make the break while I was still young enough to enjoy it. I told the guy I would be back in a few weeks. I think he was upset that I wouldn’t sign that day.
The next morning, one of the detective squad guys from Renton was waiting to see me at the office. He wanted to go over a few things, so he said.
When he had a big mug of coffee in front of him, Detective Kelly relaxed back in the chair and smiled at me. “Sheriff, the Captain asked me to come tell you what we know. Ask if you have any ideas. There was no forced entry at the motel. Seems like Doherty let in whoever shot him. The autopsy revealed he had a small skull fracture above his left ear, hit by a club or something. It would have been enough to knock him senseless, and probably before he was shot”. He opened a small notebook. “Those guys Hayes and Tyson both have pretty solid alibis provided by one guy’s mom, and the other’s wife and kids. As for Clinton, well he was under lock and key up in County Hospital. There has been no trace of Doherty’s phone, car keys, or wallet. As for the files and notebooks, same thing. We don’t have any fingerprints, shoe prints, and not one single decent suspect. You got any theory?”
“Well, Liam spoke to a lot of people around here, detective Kelly. and he wouldn’t tell me who, where, or when. Did it all in secret. Seems to me he might have upset a lot of people, raking up that old case. But as for a theory, I can only think of a burglar. If someone went out there intending to kill him, then why would they risk him jumping them, and not have their own weapon? Maybe it was just opportunist. He was a city guy, with a new car. Maybe they presumed he might have money, or something worth stealing in his car? If that’s the case, then it won’t be anyone around here. We don’t have burglars like those here in Riverdale. I would know. As for letting him into the room, I don’t see that. More likely he heard someone messing with his car, opened the door, and got jumped. The guy hit him with something so he is dazed, then searched the room for valuables. Liam comes round, grabs his service pistol, there’s a struggle, and he gets himself shot by accident. I doubt anyone went there intending to kill him”.
Kelly hadn’t bothered to take any notes. “Sheriff, between you and me, Doherty was a strange guy. Not popular on the squad, and couldn’t keep a partner. He was creepy, secretive, and not a team player. I always thought something like this would happen one day. He worked in secret, and rarely told anyone what he was up to, even the Captain. As far as I’m concerned he’s no great loss. But that said, he was one of us, like it or not, and I can’t see the Captain letting it go unsolved”. He stood up and reached into his jacket, handing me a card. “If you think of anything, give me a call. I’ve got stuck with putting it all together, and have to do a case report for the Captain”.
Six weeks later, I phoned the number on the card, and asked Kelly how he was getting on. “Thanks for your call, Sheriff. We still have nothing. Reckon the whole thing will soon be filed as unsolved, and I can get on with my normal job”.
My next call was to County, giving notice that I was taking retirement in three months. I recommended Bill as a replacement, and said I would urge him to apply for the job. Then I called the RV dealership and ordered the Winnebago.
I discussed the available options, and settled on a top of the range model.
Before leaving for the day, I contacted the supervisor at County Hospital, making arrangements to visit Tommy the next afternoon.
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.