Max Fly, Private Eye
President & CEO of
Max Fly Private & Nefarious Investigations & Pest Control
Liz Tureen, Cub Crime Reporter – Burnt Corn Daily Gazette

This is another episode from the files of Max Fly, Private Eye, President and CEO of Max Fly Private & Nefarious Investigations & Pest Control Services located in downtown Burnt Corn, Alabama, where we have been protecting the innocent people of Burnt Corn from murder, narcotics distribution, robbery, extortion, loansharking and other nasty mafia behavior as well as rodents for over ten years.

Our corporate meeting, where we discussed bringing in a line of ultraviolet equipment to sell to augment our work in case we experienced a downturn in our business, ended with a 3-1 nay vote. Tommy Sneakers Corona was still on an extended leave of absence in Costa Rica so he didn’t vote. The only one voting in favor was Luigi Lips Licavoli, our V. P. of Operations whose uncle was the sole owner of the ultraviolet equipment distributorship out of Cleveland, Ohio.
Chico Zippy Doo Rodriguez was picking up the empty lunch cartons and disposing of the leftover Pork Brains stewed in Camel’s Milk and Sundried Texas Armadillo Tenders lathered in Opossum Gravy that was delivered from the Soon Fatt Chinese Take Away Restaurant.
I poured a plastic snifter half full of Napolean brandy as I was close to wrapping everything up for the day. I began to clip off the end of my Cohiba when Wanda Winchester, the head of our Reconciliation Department, who was staring at the parts lying on her desk from the unassembled oscillating fan that had stopped oscillating, yelled out, “Max, I think this is a lost cause. There is so much cigar smoke and dust in this motor it can’t breathe, let alone oscillate. I think we ought to get a new one.”
Wanda, who grew up in a rough neighborhood, claimed she had gunpowder with her porridge while she clung to her mother’s skirt ducking incoming rounds every morning. When she was sober, which usually occurred between Tuesdays and Thursdays, she was in charge of our firearms safety courses.
The phone rang and Wanda yelled out again, “Max, line one is for you.”
“Wanda, we only have one line. Who is it?”
“It’s that new lady at the Burnt Corn Daily Gazette, Liz Tureen.”
“If she’s a reporter, she’s no lady, Wanda” I replied.
I knew who Liz Tureen was. I met her last month at the Burnt Corn Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Golden Stool Bar and Night Club, whose owner, Mike Rotch, reserved a back room the first Wednesday of every month for the chamber meetings. Mayor Sam Manella introduced the new members and Liz Tureen was in the group. She was cute as a button but her brassiness left a bad taste in my mouth.
I sighed as I picked up the phone. “This is Max Fly, how may I help you?”
“Mr. Fly, this is Liz Tureen. I’m the new crime reporter for the Burnt Corn Daily Gazette and I am working on what may be one of the biggest scoops I ever had and I may need your help.”
“I’m doing fine, Miss Tureen. Thank you for asking.”
“I am sorry for my poor manners, Mr. Fly, it’s just that I am so excited. What do you know about that guy who was at last weeks chamber luncheon? The one who is renting that run-down warehouse on Choctawhatchee Boulevard where he plans to start a fertilizer plant.”
“Who, Harry Verderici?”
Yes, that’s the guy, Harry Verderici. His assistant is a fellow named Willie R. “Billy Dick” Romano.”
“That chamber meeting is the only time I met Harry Verderici and I have never met Billy Dick. Why do you ask?”
“Something smells in there, Mr. Fly.”
“You do know fertilizer is supposed to smell, don’t you, Miss Tureen?” I replied.
“Yes, I know but this fertilizer smells different and I’m afraid it might be something very bad.
“Like what?” I enquired.
“I can’t say over the phone. Would you be available to meet me for dinner tonight at the Six Feet Under Pub and Fish House on Saugahatchee Creek Road? I have a table reserved, table 13, my lucky number.”
“Of course I know where that is, what time?”
“Sixish, if that is okay with you.”
“Sixish? What’s sixish?”
“You know, six, six-fifteen, six-thirty; goodbye Mr. Fly.” She hung up.
The Six Feet Under Pub and Fish House table number 13. It was located in the back of the restaurant near the pastry cart which was filled with glazed and frosted petit-fours and donuts.
I arrived at 5:55 p.m. to avoid any confusion. The dining room was separated from the bar by a long planter filled with fake greenery, plastic philodendrons rising nearly to the ceiling, purchased from the Burnt Corn Nursery, Plants, and Cemetery Lots run by Clay and Helen Earth. The sales tags were still visible.
I had a nervous stomach so I went first into the kitchen to pay my respects to Nick the cook and smell the fish and then I went to the men’s room to relieve myself before coming back and taking a seat across from Crime Reporter, Liz Tureen. She was sitting on the other side of the roundtable, where she could see anyone entering the dining room. She reminded me of a nervous little bird. I guess fertilizer can do that to you.
Dr. Kent C. Strait, proprietor of Burnt Corn Optometry And Glassworks, who was blind in one eye already and the other one didn’t work too well either, was sitting at the end of the bar trying to read the fine print on that most important publication, the Racing Form, and his well-endowed fiancé, Emma Royds, who I had a history with, was next to him applying a foundation to her Botox injected cheeks. He saw me looking at her and nodded.
I returned the nod.
“My editor recommends this place. Have you eaten here before, Mr. Fly?” Liz Tureen said, bringing me back to the present.
“I have. Many times and please, it’s Max.”
“Okay, Max, what do you suggest?”
“I highly recommend the Slimehead. It is delicious. They serve it over a bed of rice with candied baby carrots, Baked Mushrooms, Potatoes with Spinach and artichokes.”
“Most places refer to it as Orange Roughy, which I think is a dull, uninspired name that captures nothing of the grandeur of the defining characteristic of these deep-sea fishes. They take up to 30 years to reach maturity you know.”
“Wow, what I do know is why other restaurants have it on the menu as Orange Roughy. It’s a bit more appetizing.”
“Miss Tureen, you will find out folks here in Burnt Corn are a bit different than people from other parts of the country.”
“Please call me Liz. Why do they call them slimeheads?”
“Okay, Liz it is; but they don’t call the folks in Burnt Corn slimeheads, it’s the fish. They possess a system of sensory organs that run the length of the fish’s body and detect minute changes in pressure. The lateral line allows the fish to detect nearby vibrations and movement. It also consists of a concentrated array of mucus filled canals in the head. These canals are the inspiration for the moniker slimehead. Beyond inspiring a pretty sweet name, these canals can sense low-frequency sound. This makes slimeheads very good at avoiding predators and helps explain how such a tasty fish can survive for more than 100 years.”
“Wow, that’s very impressive, Max, probably more than I care to know. Why do you know so much about this fish?”
“An old girlfriend grew up in Mobile and her old man was a deep sea fisherman. He knew just about every kind of fish that swam in the gulf. He also claims to have had an on again off again relationship with a mermaid before he got married.”
After we finished our main course of the Slimehead plate grilled and a slice of raspberry cheesecake we got down to the business at hand, fertilizer.
“What exactly has you so worked up about fertilizer?” I asked.
“I think they have dead bodies,” Liz Tureen exclaimed.
“Dead Bodies?”
“Yes, when they first moved in, they brought in four tractor-trailers and parked them in the back of the warehouse where it is really dark.
I drove there later that day to look around and nobody was there, just some big guy doing pushups in the office. The place stunk like rotten meat. I looked in one of the trailers and there were a bunch of black plastic bags stacked up in the trailer. They looked like bags a mortician puts dead bodies in and I think it was dead bodies.”
“Dead bodies? Why dead bodies?”
“I dunno, what else could it be?”
” I’m not sure. Where would they get two truckloads of dead bodies?”
“Chicago? Why Chicago?”
“Do you know how many people are killed in Chicago every week?”
“No, I don’t.”
“No? Well, I’ll tell you, dozens, that’s how many; dozens. Where else do you hear of a bunch of dead bodies lying around? Nowhere, not even Detroit. They are killing about 60 people a week. That’s a truckload of dead bodies every month. Plus I saw the bill of lading on the front seat in the cab. It said its origination was Chicago. They picked the bodies up there and are hiding them down here in Burnt Corn. I’m sure of it.”
“Why would they bring them to Burnt Corn Alabama?”
“Where do you think they can dispose of all those bodies in Chicago, huh? Nowhere. The cemeteries must be running out of room so they have to find someplace else to take them and, I am pretty sure, Mr. Fly, I mean Max, it’s Burnt Corn, Burnt Corn Alabama, that’s where.”
“Well, Ben Dover’s God’s Garden is in receivership, and I don’t mean that they are receiving bodies, they are looking for a new buyer so nothing is being planted out there. Where would they be burying them?”
“Maybe they aren’t going to bury them. Have you heard of dog food, Max?”
“Of course I’ve heard of dog food. Are you implying they are going to grind up human bodies and make dog food out of them? You must be out of your mind.”
“Okay, what about bombs? They use fertilizer in making bombs. Perhaps they are planning to overthrow our government. You can’t dismiss something like that when you are dealing with the mob. Remember JFK? He was assassinated, you know and some people think the mob was involved in that murder.”
“Have you gone to Sheriff Wyatt Hertz and discussed this with him?”
“I tried to but all I get is his answering machine. What’s with that by the way?”
“I don’t know, you’ll have to ask the mayor, Sam Manella, he’s the sheriff’s cousin.”
“Well, I was told Sheriff Hertz is in Tuscaloosa with his fiance, Lacy Shortz. The National Gun and Knife show is up there and he had Deputy Hiram Firam drive them; evidently, Sheriff Hertz doesn’t like to drive on Interstate highways.”
“Miss Tureen, I mean Liz, in all honesty, by any stretch of the imagination, believing that a plot to overthrow our federal government is being hatched here in little Burnt Corn Alabama is a bit too much.”
“I am telling you, Mr. Fly, I mean Max, size doesn’t matter. It could happen anywhere.”
“I agree with you, Liz, size doesn’t matter, but Burnt Corn? So, what is it you want me to do?”
“I want to hire you, Mr. Fly, you have a stellar reputation and come highly recommended by Mr. Frank Ferter, Head of Security over at the Burnt Corn Walmart. I have been allotted some money in my budget by my editor to hire you so I can get to the bottom of this, this, this deep state attempt to overthrow our Federal Government. I believe we must do something to protect and preserve our constitutionally elected government. This could be worse than Watergate. Are you in or out, Max?”
I stared at her for a few moments before answering. “How much did you say you were paying?”

To be continued…

Sergeant Belch And Detective Smallberries – Burnt Corn Police Department


Homicide Sergeant, Crispian Belicheri, a twelve year veteran of the Burnt Corn Police Department, known as Belch to everyone in Burnt Corn, and his partner, Detective Ivan Smallberries, were sitting in their unmarked patrol car. Belicheri was reading the Burnt Corn Daily Gazette’s sports page, wondering how the Burnt Corn Hornets could have blown a 24 point lead at halftime and lose to the Monroeville Zephyrs in a double overtime, while Ivan picked his nails with a small, red Swiss Army Knife.
The sun was just beginning to crack the horizon on that chilly Saturday morning with a hint of dampness in the air when their police radio squawked, “Hey, Sarge, we caught another one, out in Golden. A dead body lying in the driveway of one of them old shotgun houses they built in the ’40’s and ’50’s. I’m headin’ that way now. Do you have Smallberries with you?”
“Yeah, we’ll be there in five,” he replied, folding up the paper and tossing it in the back seat to join a pile of empty coffee cups and fast food bags along with some dirty gym shorts and tennis shoes.
Detective Smallberries tripped the blue light and siren as Belch pulled away from the curb.
The area called Golden is located on the North side of Burnt Corn and got its name from the old sock factory that used to be there, Golden Hosiery Mills. It was once the largest employer in Burnt Corn before all the jobs went out of the country leaving the residents of Burnt Corn, like most of the South’s small towns, without employment. Now all that’s left around the area of the dilapidated mill, standing in disrepair, are the old clapboard houses, that once provided homes for Golden Mills’ employees. They are now occupied by people on welfare and food stamps and an occasional retiree or two, attempting to live on their meager social security checks and Medicare.
“You think Burnt Corn has a serial killer on its hands? This is the second murder this month. Before that the last murder in Burnt Corn was in 2007, the year before I joined the force,” Detective Smallberries said as he unwrapped a piece of Juicy Fruit gum and jabbed it in his mouth.
“I don’t think so. Two don’t make a serial,” Belch replied.
By the time they arrived on the scene, Patrol Officers, Howitt Fiehls was taping off the area around the house with yellow crime scene tape and his partner, Natalie Klad, was bending over a body that was lying in the driveway.
“Who is it, Natalie Klad?” Belch asked as he bent down to get a closer view. The victim was wearing a stained white sleeveless t-shirt and dark navy pants sans a belt. Tattoos filled both arms. He was thinner than gruel and his skin was as gray as a cold winter day, probably due to the loss of blood. He was sporting a third eye high up on his forehead.
Natalie Klad looked up and replied, “The vic is John McCubbin, a cook at Lloyd’s Diner. He was ex-army with a couple of assault charges and no appreciable skills. He was enrolled at Snead State Community College for a couple of weeks until he found out he was supposed to attend classes. He dropped out and bounced around the country for a while, going from one job to the next, abandoning a wife and several girlfriends before landing back here after his mother died and he inherited this house. As far as we know, he has kept his nose clean since he returned.”
“Did you find anything on the body?”
“Nothing but that bullet hole between his eyes. His wallet was emptied of everything except his driver’s license and insurance card. Any cash he might have had is missing.
Lloyd said he pays him in cash every Friday so he should have been flush. McCubbin works the night shift. Everyone in Golden knew it was payday. Anyone living in this burg could have offed him. Every Friday they are like rats, eyeing a piece of cheese. Looks like somebody was waiting for him when he got in this morning. The front door was opened about three inches when we got here but it appears McCubbin never made it inside.”
“You go in it, the house, I mean?”
“Yeah, just to make sure nobody was in it. We cleared it and Fiehls started stringing tape.”
Belch stood up, placing his hands on the small of his back, he stretched out his lean six-foot frame. “Make sure you keep everyone out, especially that dick wad Max Fly character and any of his cohorts if they happen to come by. Everyone has the right to be stupid but Max Fly is abusing the privilege.”
“Will do, Sarge,” Officer Klad replied.
Belch looked around, getting a lay of the neighborhood. It looked pretty seedy.
“Who lives here?” he said, pointing at a freshly painted house next door, sporting an immaculate lawn and a freshly poured driveway.
“A lady named Lilly Jablomey and we think her boy Haywood. But nobody is home.”
“Nice clean place. What do you know about her?”
“From what we know, she retired from working at the Hairy Arms Apartments doing maintenance work or something like that. She cleaned the apartments when tenants moved out. She is one of those hard-used blue-collar women who have neither the energy, the disposition, nor the brains to plan and carry out a successful murder like this.”
“Okay, we’ll go talk to her,”
“She isn’t home. We checked.”
“Okay, we’ll wait,” Belch said, walking back to his squad car and opening the trunk. He turned to Smallberries. “Hey, help me get this out.”
“Is that a net?”
“Yes, take this,” he replied, handing Smallberries a can of tennis balls.
“Tennis balls? What are they for?”
“Tennis of course.”
“No, I mean what are we going to use them for?”
“To play tennis.”
“To play tennis?”
“That’s what I said. Listen, if you are going to repeat everything I say, I’m going to put Duct tape over that pie hole of yours. Follow me and tie that end of the net to the pole leading to the electric meter on the side of the Jablomey house and I’ll tie the other end on the tree on the other side of the driveway. There we go. Now grab that racket.”
“Are we really going to play tennis?”
“That’s right. This driveway is perfect for us to volley. Whoever poured it did a great job.”
“But, I don’t know how to play tennis.”
“It’s easy. Here, shake my hand,” Belch said, holding out his hand and grasping Smallberries right hand. “This is how you hold the racket like you are shaking hands with it. Now get over on the other side of the net and let’s get some exercise.”
“Why don’t we get some lunch at Finn & Hattie Frye’s Fish ’N Chips Restaurant and just sit in the car drinking coffee and eating like other cops do?”
“Look at those love handles on you, Smallberries. Tennis is good for working on your obliques.”
A short while later a car came to a stop in front of the Jablomey’s house as Belch slammed a backhand past a diving, perspiring, and gasping Smallberries.
The lady in the car was staring directly at them. Shortly she got out and walked over to where they were playing tennis.
“What in the hell are you two doing?”
“Waiting for you to get home. “Thought we would get a little exercise while we waited.” Belch replied. “Are you Lilly Jablomey?”
“Yes I am,” she replied, sternly.
Belch reached into his pocket and removed his badge and ID. “Who poured your driveway, by the way?”
“Who poured my driveway? Are you nuts? Why are you here?” She yelled as she stared at his gold shield.
“Belicheri, are you Polish?”
“Italian. You can call me Belch. Everyone does except my wife. I don’t think it’s necessary to tell you what she calls me.”
“I can imagine. Now, what is it you want?”
“You have a nice driveway. Great pitch, should give you good drainage and very smooth. Was it someone from Burnt Corn who put it in for you?”
“What? Yes, yes, um Billy Watamaniak. Billy lives out near Monroeville off Highway 84. He and his brother, Tommy poured it.”
“That’s good, they did a great job. I’ll have to keep them in mind. Now, how well do you know your neighbor, John McCubbin?”
“I don’t know him. He only moved into his mama’s place about a year ago. I know what he looks like and that he is as mean as an ol’ junkyard dog. He wasn’t here much but when he was, all he did was complain about this and complain about that. All I gave him was my middle finger. That’s all he deserves.”
“Well, somebody gave him more than their middle finger, he was found shot this morning. That’s him lying in his driveway over there, you know anything about it?”
“Shot? Heck no. Why would I know anything about that? I don’t know nuthin’.”
“You sure?”
“Yes I’m sure and I don’t give a damn either. As I said, I ain’t no fan of his. If anybody needs to be jerked to Jesus, it’s that boy, John McCubbin.”
“Well, I don’t know if he is with Jesus or not, but he ain’t here no more. Who’s that sitting in your car?”
“What difference is it to you?”
“We’ll want to speak with him. Does he live with you?”
She glared at Belicheri for a moment.
“’No, it’s my boy; he’s just visiting.”
“He doesn’t live here?”
What’s his name?”
“Haywood Jablomey?”
“Okay, thank you. Ask him to get out of the car, please.”
A tall lanky young man, sporting gold ear studs with an acne-scarred round face got out of the car and casually loped up the driveway with his fists clenched. There wasn’t much to him. He didn’t look hard. In fact, he didn’t look like much. He was already bristling.
.“What the heck you doin’ in our driveway?” he yelled.
“ Calm down, now. I’m just teaching him how to play tennis. Is it your driveway? Your mother said you don’t live here.”
“I don’t.”
“Well, then you don’t have anything to say about it, do you?”
“Well, it ain’t a city park. What are you doing here?”
“Your neighbor, that guy living next door? He was shot and killed and we would like to know if you know anything about it?”
“Hell no. Why’d I know anything about it?”
“That’s what we are asking you. Where were you between nine p.m. last night and five this morning?”
“I was here with my momma all night.”
“Did you hear anything that sounded like it might have been a gunshot?”
“Hell, what night don’t we hear gunshots? Something is going down in this neighborhood about every night.”
Belch noticed Officer Natalie Klad walking over and he left to go meet her.
“What is it, Officer Klad?”
“One of the neighbors just informed us that McCubbin was actively involved with a group out of Monroeville that operated a chop shop. Do you think he might have got crosswise with those boys and they took him out?”
“It’s possible. A chop shop, huh? What do you know about this chop shop?”
“Nothing much. We did a joint sweep of the place a few months ago with the Monroeville Police Department but didn’t find anything. Monroeville thought they might have been tipped off by someone before we got there.”
“Okay, give Smallberries their address and all the names you have associated with it. We will head over there after we finish here. Oh, and tell Smallberries to get over here. We have to finish our tennis match.”
“Okay, Belch.”
After Belch and Smallberries finished playing tennis in the Jablomey’s driveway, they took down the tennis net and put it in the trunk of their squad car along with the racquets and balls and crawled in the front seat. Belch grabbed a can of Right Guard and handed it to Smallberries. “Here, use this. You sure sweat a lot, even for a fat guy. We’re going to Monroeville and talk to some boys about a chop shop.”
“Do you want me to switch on the lights?” Smallberries asked, tucking in his shirt after spraying his armpits with deodorant and handing back the Right Guard to Belch.
“No,” Belch replied, pulling out his shirt and giving a short pump of Right Guard to each armpit, “No point showing our hand if there’s no need. That’s being poker savvy, something else you probably never played.”
“No, I’ve played poker. My wife and I play liars poker with her folks every Friday night when I am not on duty.”
“Liars poker, yeah, that’s good. Liar’s poker. Geez.”
The faded red and white wooden sign nailed over the door of the alleged chop shop read, Rench Exhaust Repair – Alan Rench Proprietor. “I’m surprised he knew how to spell proprietor,” Belch said as he got out of the squad car.
“Hey, look, Belch, isn’t that Max Fly’s car, the Fly Mobile? Do you think they heisted it and are gonna chop it up?”
“Are you kidding?” There isn’t a market for ’58 Oldsmobile parts, except in Cuba. I got me a bad feeling about this, Smallberries. Whenever anything concerning Max Fly pops up, things don’t seem to turn out in my best interest,” Belch said slipping his Colt from its holster and easing up the walkway, staying to the side of the doorway with Smallberries staying close behind him.
Belch pushed the door with the toe of his boot, and it swung open on well-oiled hinges. He took a deep breath and slipped quietly through the doorway and into the office with Smallberries in lockstep behind him. Belch thumbed the safety off his .45 and peered around the door facing the work bay area.
“Oh shit,” Belch exclaimed, holstering his .45.
“What is it?” Smallberries asked?
“Come on, it’s that damned Fly. Max, what in the hell is going on here?”
Max Fly and his assistant, Chico “Zippy Doo” Rodriguez, were standing over three greasy mechanics, trussed up with their hands tied behind their backs.
Max Fly looked up and put down the phone, “Oh, Belch, how are you? Hey, Smallberries, how have you and that pretty little wife of yours been doing?”
“Pretty good, Max. Our third anniversary is next week. You ought to…”
“Shut up, Smallberries,” Belch yelled. “I asked you a question, Fly.”
“Belch, I was just calling your office to let you know we broke up the chop shop that’s been operating out of this place. I know you and the Monroeville Police have been trying to get the goods on these guys for a long time now. We have it all on tape right here,” he said, holding up a small tape recorder. Where they got the cars and where they were selling them. Zippy Doo and I were operating our own sting on these guys. The Monroeville Police are on their way over here now.”
“You son of a bitch, Fly, you got your damn nose in my business way too much and it’s going to get blown off one of these days.”
“Now don’t get yourself too worked up, Belch. We also have them on tape confessing to a murder last night. Evidently, they killed some guy over in the Golden district of Burnt Corn by the name of McCubbin. You hear about any murder over there?”



The man was alone with his thoughts, thoughts about the girl. The girl he met at the lake where they talked for hours while the gentle winds pressed her translucent dress against her slender frame.The first time he saw her she struck him as being vulnerable. She had long, dark hair. He couldn’t recall the color of her eyes. Brown, he thought. A dark brown. She was just – pretty.
Yes, pretty. She had pleasing features, clear skin. She wore makeup. Lots of eye makeup. That’s all he remembered.
He wasn’t particularly fond of heavy makeup.
They sat by the edge of the lake and talked for hours. When she said she had to go he was surprised at how late it had become.
He told her he wanted to see her again.
She reached into her purse, a clutch, really, and pulled out an elegant gold inlaid vellum card.
It said her name was Prudence. There was no other information inscribed.
He looked up and her lips lightly brushed his cheek before she turned and walked away. She looked back over her shoulder and purred, “If you like, I will be here again tomorrow,” and she disappeared into the night.
“Jake, my name is Jake,” he called after her. He didn’t know if she heard him or not.
He dreamt of her that night. She was floating in the lake. The water was murky and her body was floating face up with her long dark hair spreading like fronds of dark seaweed, washing up on shore like frayed ropes. Her eyes were bloated from the water and were opened wide like they were surprised at what they saw. Her clothes, that alluring gossamer dress, was ripped by the jagged rocks and had disintegrated into rags. He woke with a heavy dread. It took him a moment to realize where he was. The t-shirt he wore was damp with sweat. He had to go back to the lake to find her. To make sure she was safe, protected.

The sound of the wind and the night creatures gave tongues to the forest as he walked with a sense of urgency he had not felt before. The shadows from the trees lining the trail danced across the small dirt pathway leading to the lake.
He saw a slight movement far away through the damp mist and then the roar of a car approaching. Soon a ray of light knifed through the dark, illuminating the area around him. He stepped deeper into the woods the pitch of his heart rising. A cool breeze caressed his cheek. He hoped they hadn’t noticed him. He was pretty much exposed. His only chance was for them to pass him by.
The car drove on and, with a sigh of relief, he continued to walk.
About fifty yards to his left was the clearing and the lake where he and Prudence met the night before. A sadness and foreboding fell upon him. He shivered slightly and pulled his overcoat closer to his neck, attempting to keep the chill away.
There is no point in turning back now, he thought.
Two dark shadows appeared in front of him, wearing hats and hunkering down in their overcoats. They were preparing to get into a boat tied to the dock. Soon he heard the oar-locks groan as the oars dipped into the water.
He ran as fast as he could. The lake was bordered by rocks and shaded by trees. The only boat left when he arrived was a small skiff. The shallow water, rippled against its side, rocking it gently back and forth. He looked inside and was relieved to see that there was a set of oars lying across the seat.
The boat with the two men was a good distance ahead of him by the time he started rowing, only a fading shadow in the evening mist. Occasionally, he would see a beam from the flashlight one of the men used to guide their way across the water. It appeared they were heading straight to the island Prudence was telling him about, where young kids would go to drink and party.
He saw their boat tied to a tree and silently rowed about fifty yards away before going ashore.
The darkness on the island surprised him and it was difficult walking through the trees and brush.
He heard a thud off to the left. He grabbed onto a small sapling and braced himself.
Then he heard a snapping of a twig, It was close.
He tried to muffle his raspy breathing by placing his hand over his mouth. He crouched against the tree, hunched over with his knees to his chest. He listened to the sounds of footsteps as they approached.
A beam of light struck his face, blinding him. A set of shining eyes locked onto his.
“What are you doing here?” A gruff voice called out from behind the light.
“Why I,I,I, I’m looking for a friend. Who are you?”
“Don’t come any closer. This is a secured area.”
The man lowered the light and replied. “I’m Sheriff Welsey. What’s your name?”
“It’s Jake, Jake Martin.”
“Well, who is this friend you are looking, Mr. Martin?”
“ I don’t know for sure. Just Prudence.”
“Just Prudence?”
“Yes, that’s all I know. You said this is a secured area. What happened?”
“There has been a murder out here and we are still gathering evidence.”
“A murder?”
“A local girl, Prudence Vanderbloom. Floated to shore last week. She was pretty bloated by the time her body was found. It is evident that she drowned.”
“Prudence? That can’t be.”
“What do you know about this girl?” the Sheriff asked, showing him a picture of an attractive young girl whose features closely resembled the girl he met.
For a long moment, he stood frozen, holding his hand to his face. He was unable to speak. He wanted to run home, fall back in bed and stuff his head under his pillow and wish this all away. “Nothing,” he said. “Nothing at all. I just met her last night and she said she would be here again tonight and I should too if I wished.”
“When did you meet her?”
“Last night. Right over there,” he said pointing to a group of trees about twenty-five yards away.
“Listen, pal, I don’t know what you are trying to prove or what you are doing out here, but Prudence drowned last week.”
“Why, that can’t be! I was with her last night,” he shouted. Blood drained from his head and his fingers shook. A thousand thoughts raced through his mind. What is going on? He couldn’t move. He just stood there, shaking in his damp clothes. Then he saw something in the Sheriff’s hands. Handcuffs.
“I want you to turn around and put your hands behind your back,”
“No…,” he said, but he didn’t get to finish. He was slammed to the ground, hitting his cheek and splitting his lip.
The Sheriff was straddling him and grabbed his left wrist and clamped a steel cuff tightly around it.
“You have the right to remain silent…”