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.”
“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 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…”