Death Lives In The Water – Snippet 16
Gary knew that Bridgette was not going to be an easy conquest. She was a good girl. Bridgette was genuinely good. She tutored the little kids, protected them from bullying, helped her neighbors, and was unfailingly cheerful. And he wanted her. Not just in a fleshly way. He wanted her to like him, to want to be with him. The other guys would tease him unmercifully if they knew how he felt. They all lusted after her with a verbal vulgarity that nearly broke his temper. They referred to her as Miss Goody Two-Shoes, which also infuriated him, though he was careful never to show it.
Gary wondered if having the admiration and loyalty of these boys was worth the role he had to play. He knew he would have to give it up if he were to have any chance with Bridgette. He had so far refused her pleas to join in the tutoring sessions or the food deliveries for some of the older residents of Harper’s Landing. But he felt himself weakening, and not for the first time wondered why. Certainly her physical charms were breathtaking, but she was most definitely not his type. Or at least he had thought so. Now he found himself longing to find some purpose, some goodness that would stand him in good stead with her. He needed some kindness in his life, something to soothe the rage he felt toward his drunken and abusive father. And his mother, who refused to stand up for him or to bring a complaint against his dad when he beat or shook her.
He brought his attention back to the three boys splashing and swimming in the pond. He felt ashamed of his fear, of being unable to let it go and jump in with the others. He doubted he would ever be able or willing to go swimming anywhere. As he watched he saw a strange swirl forming in the middle of the pond. He stood up on the hood to get a better look. It looked like a whirlpool, and he began to shout to the others.
The three boys felt the pull of the current and started toward shore. Their laughter quickly turned to screams of terror as the vortex grew larger and stronger. Gary jumped to the ground and grabbed a fallen limb beside the car. He ran to the edge of pond, and extended the branch out to Billy Martin, who was closest to him. Billy caught hold, and Gary pulled. The strength of the growing whirlpool was too strong, and he watched in horror as Billy, Steve, and Mike were sucked into a large gaping hole. Gary jumped into his Mustang as the whirlpool grew larger and the pond started lapping at the tires. Before he could start the engine, the raging current pulled the car with him in it into the pond, where it slowly sank under the surface. Gary struggled and finally got the door open, but when he started swimming upward, something grabbed his leg and pulled him deeper into the pond. The water continued to swirl for a few more minutes, slowing, until the surface of the pond was once again still. The mustang was completely submerged. The bullfrogs began their spring song once again.
He stared in horror, again. What was it thinking? Four heads. Four. Human. Heads. Was it taunting him? Was it angry? Hadn’t he managed to steer the deer into the pond, where it quickly disappeared? Was that not enough?
Four heads, all human. He dared not think upon it, dared not look closely at the faces. If he did, he might know who they were, as he had known the first one. He did not want to know. He would have to drop these into the river, like the first one. After dark.
Were these a gift? Perhaps he had not been clear enough with the Provider. He only wanted animal heads.
Did it see us as animals? He shuddered at the thought. He could just as easily be next. It was inhuman; it did not speak, it only radiated hunger and evil.
Jeremy put on his taxidermy gloves. Gingerly, he picked up the heads and put them into a burlap bag.
The Provider seemed to read his mind, so it was obvious he had not been precise in his thoughts. No more human heads. He would be precise. As he had with the fox.
He put the bag in the back of the truck and drove to the southernmost end of the river. He forced himself to go slower, not to panic. He opened the bag and emptied its horrible contents into the river. The current of the Martin’s Way was strong here, as it flowed into the mighty Mississippi. Jeremy watched as the heads bobbed and then sank. This time he was sure they would not be found.
At home, he washed the truck bed as before, and burned the burlap bag in his fireplace, making sure that nothing was left. He got the small shovel and bucket he kept beside the fireplace, scooped up the ashes from burning the bag, and carried them out deep into the woods.
He then returned to the house, and carefully placed the bucket and shovel back in their place on the hearth. Before he went to bed, he checked everything: his tools, the house, how he had parked the truck. Everything was in its proper place. Good work requires good work habits. Mother always told him that.
Sunday lunch at the Rectory dining room had become something of a ritual. Jim and Arthur both picked up their Sunday meals at Morey’s on Saturday evening after dinner, and it seemed natural just to put the food into Arthur’s big refrigerator and warm it up after Sunday services. Mary and Bull Harper started coming sometime mid-summer, and their daughter Jen and granddaughter Bridgette joined them. Arthur extended an invitation to Martin Rutledge, the town’s only attorney. He was a lively dining companion and a welcome addition to the group. Linda Collier also became a regular and brought with her a wealth of interesting stories and a slightly risqué sense of humor.
It was early summer. School had let out the previous Friday, and the tourists were beginning to show up. This might well be one of the last meals they would all attend until tourist season was over. The group had just sat down to eat when Jim’s cell rang.
“Jim?” It was Linda Collier, who had begged off from lunch that day because of what she referred to as “pressing business” at the paper. “You’d better get down to your office, unless you want me to send them up to you there at Arthur’s place.”
“Beth and Dan Miller, Tina and George Martin, Michael and Nancy Blinder, and Suzie Stoneman. I wrote all the names down for you. They’re waiting outside your office. They all claim their kids are missing, four of their boys, teenagers.”
“I suppose Beth and Dan would be Gary Miller’s parents,” replied Jim.
“Yeah. I know you think Gary’s a troublemaker, and maybe he is sometimes, but that father of his is a mean bastard, and Beth’s sporting a good big bruise on her arm. So I would handle him with kid gloves. If you don’t know him, he’s the tall one in the red plaid shirt with the military grade haircut.”
“You know, send them up here. Arthur can help keep anyone in a good mood.”
“Will do, Jim,” she said and hung up.
“Got a crowd of folks coming up here,” said Jim. “Arthur, I know you can sit more people around this table. Can you rustle up some more coffee mugs?”
By the time the seven parents arrived, chairs had been found and placed at the long table. More coffee was made, mugs were set out, and a stack of plates sat on a side table in case any of the parents were hungry. There was more than enough food to go around.
The parents arrived as a group, Dan Miller leading the way. They were exhibiting varying degrees of worry, anger, and confusion. As they entered, Dan Miller and Suzie Stoneman started talking at once.
“My son Mike is missing, and it’s his kid’s fault,” she said, pointing at Dan.
“Gary and his friends have gone missing,” said Dan at the same time, glaring at Suzie.
“Okay,” said Jim, raising his voice slightly. “Everyone just calm down and talk one at a time. First, I know you, Suzie, and I’ve met you once, Dan. The rest of you, I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure.”
At Arthur’s urging the seven parents sat down and accepted coffee. Dan reached out and snagged a roll, as did Mike Blinder. The others declined any food.
Mike Blinder introduced himself and his wife, Nancy. Their son Steve was a junior at Harper’s Landing High School. George and Tina Martin were the parents of Billy Martin, a senior. Suzie Stoneman was a single mother to Mike, who was fourteen and just a sophomore. They all seemed somewhat embarrassed to admit that they did not attend Sunday services, but Arthur waved off their apologies.