...the sounds of silence - Editor
All Silent on the Flint
by John P. Wilson
It was an early, frozen morning during the month of December when Sheriff Jones climbed into the boat, lit a cigarette and wondered where the dead girl was hiding. He stared silently at the blood sky and dark clouds. Bats screeched as they glided over the river bank, disappearing beyond the pine trees.
A thick mist engulfed the Flint River, and he listened to the lapping waves softly slapping the launch ramp. It was a cold, bitter morning, and cigarette smoke stung his eyes as he observed his surroundings. The camp ground was empty.
“Bobby!” he said. “Go ahead and back her in the water.”
Deputy Bobby stuck a fist out the pickup’s window and gave the sheriff a thumb’s up. The truck backed down the ramp until its rear tires were at the edge of the river and the boat trailer was halfway submerged in water.
“Keep going!” Sheriff Jones said.
“Whoa. Whoa! Stop right there!” Sheriff leaned overboard and disconnected the winch strap. He stood up and clutched his back. Another kidney infection; hurts like hell. He slowly made his way from the bow to the rear of the boat.
“Go!” Sheriff Jones said, sitting down.
“Alright,” Bobby said. The trailer disappeared into the water, and the boat slowly drifted to the channel. Sheriff lowered the motor into the cold, murky water and had it cranked by the fourth pull.
“You can take the truck back up and park it!” Jones shouted.
The pickup moved forward. Sheriff guided the boat to the ramp so Bobby could jump on board.
Bobby reappeared moments later, stumbling as he ran.
“Be careful, Bobby. The boat’s real wobbly.”
“I’ve done this before, Sheriff,” Bobby said, placing his right foot onboard. The vessel leaned to the right, and he quickly brought his other foot inside, taking a seat.
Sheriff Jones took them to the center of the river and killed the engine.
“Bobby, I reckon you’d better use the trolling motor until we get past the rocks.”
“Alright, Sheriff. Say, how’s Mary doing?”
“She’s just fine.”
“What about your boy?”
“Danny called last night and said he couldn’t wait to come home. Hell, when he left for college I thought I’d be happy, you know? Turn his room into a model room for my cars, have more food in the fridge . . .” sheriff quit speaking and thought about his son. “Yeah, I miss him somethin terrible. Can’t wait for him to get back home and hug his old man.”
“I’ll bet it feels good to know he loves you. Shit, if I went off to college, ain’t no damn way in hell I’d come home to see my folks.”
“How’s Stephanie doing?” Sheriff asked.
Bobby frowned and shook his head. “Shit, we’ve been through for a long time now.”
“Hell, don’t be, Sheriff. Ain’t a damn thing I’m gonna miss about that woman. She did have some nice legs. Too bad our serial killer don’t like her type.”
“That’s a cold thing to say,” Jones said.
“Hell, I didn’t mean a word of it. I just miss her is all. I heard she left me for some young’un at the college. Boy ain’t but 18 years old.” Bobby looked away from the sheriff, and his voice cracked as he spoke. ”Sheriff, I’ll be honest with you. I didn’t even see it comin. I thought we was in love. Hell, we were naming our future children the night before she left.”
“Bobby, if there’s one thing you should remember it’s this: things are never as they appear to be. Always remember them words. Trust no one and no thing in this life, son.”
The boat slowly cut through the water. Jones lit another cigarette and stared at the passing sand bar. He wondered if anything had started eating the dead girl. He shook the image from his mind.
“Bobby, you can get in some good fishin right yonder.”
Bobby turned his head to the sheriff. “The sand bar?”
“Yeah. Me and my son caught the hell outta some brims. Reckon we caught fifty of them in that exact spot.”
The boat struck a rock and Bobby turned to the front, guiding it to calm waters where no rocks or rotten tree stumps surfaced.
Sheriff flicked his cigarette butt overboard. “Shit, I’m sorry your girl left you. That’s the problem with bitches these days. They have no loyalty or honesty for anyone or anything but themselves.”
“Damn, Sheriff, not all women are like that. I probably was to blame somewhat for her leavin me. Maybe I should have told her I loved her more or married her a long time ago.”
“Go ahead and let up your trolling motor. We’re deep enough to crank up.”
Sheriff brought the motor down and cranked it. It roared and the boat shot across the river, forming waves that slapped both sides of the banks.
They rode on top of the waves for about a mile, water slapping Jones in the face, wind howling. The loblolly pine trees lining the banks swayed and rotten limbs fell into the water.
And then Bobby was shouting over the wind and pointing at the body, floating facedown in the Flint River. Sheriff Jones killed the motor and tossed an anchor overboard.
"That her, Sheriff?"
Jones put a cigarette in his mouth and lit it. The sky had turned a deep blue; mist was thick on the water.
Bobby unbuttoned his shirt, tossed it on the floor of the boat and kicked off his boots. The small aluminum vessel wobbled as he stood up.
"Keep her steady now, Bobby.”
"Sorry. Didn't mean to rock the boat none."
Jones laughed and broke into a coughing fit.
"Just choked on my smoke."
Jones took a drag and stared at the corpse as it slowly drifted with the current.
“This is the fifth killed body floating on the Flint this month,” Bobby said. “Turnin into a bloody December, ain’t it Sheriff?”
"Fourth, Bobby. Don't say five until you’re sure. That girl might of drowned."
Bobby turned away from the sheriff and jumped overboard. His splash sent water spraying in the air and ripples lifted the body.
"Cold enough for you?" Jones said.
"Man, you just don't know! Don’t feel like nothin’s below my waist."
Bobby reached his hand out and grabbed several flowing strands of the corpse’s auburn hair. He yanked.
The head, with its mane of wild red hair, shot out of the water and there was a gasp, a release of air buildup. The bloated, rotting body stood and violently slapped the water with its flailing arms.
Bobby screamed and jumped back.
Jones could tell she’d been ripped open from her chest to her lower abdomen and gutted like a hog. He stared in silence as the two flaps of her skin, like an opening to a tent, struggled to hide what was inside her. She was also missing her nose.
“Shoot! Shoot!” Bobby said. “Shoot!”
The sheriff shook his head, the trance gone, and reached for his .45. The pistol was heavy in his hand as he drew a bead on the corpse. He pulled back the hammer with his thumb and fired.
The bullet ripped through the corpse’s face and the body fell backwards, arms outstretched, submerging itself in the water.
“Why in hell did I do a fool thing like that?” Jones said. “Bobby, that woman was deader than hell. How we gonna explain a fresh bullet hole in the head to the coroner?”
Bobby looked dazed standing in the water. He stood there for about a minute staring at the sheriff.
Jones didn’t speak a word either. They just looked at each other.
“Let’s leave,” Bobby said and headed for the boat.
He let out a sudden shriek and disappeared under the water.
Jones scanned the water for air bubbles, anything that would let him know his deputy was alright. He saw nothing but ripples where the boy had stood.
He studied the murky river closely. The ripples ceased and the sky and pine trees reflected on the water.
An arm shot out of the river.
Bobby surfaced, gasping for air.
“Bobby! You alright?”
The deputy nodded his head. He sloshed toward the boat.
“I felt fingers on my ankles,” Bobby said. “She was holding me under, Sheriff. I could feel her face pressed against my back.”
He turned and looked behind him. The body was drifting away.
Jones shook his head. “You probably just slipped and got tangled up with that girl. That body’s workin on your mind, ain’t it?”
“I’m getting the hell out this water right now. You want to take her out the river, you get her your damned self.”
Bobby grabbed the edge of the boat and pulled himself in. “What in the hell just happened?”
“Don’t really know, Bobby. Maybe it was gas buildup. I read somewhere that corpses build up gases that erupt. Maybe that’s what happened with our floater.”
Bobby shook his head. “I’ve never been that afraid in my life. She had me goin.”
Jones grabbed a rope and started bringing in the anchor. “Well, we know her general location. Wouldn’t hurt to come back a little later today.”
“Damn right,” Bobby said. “Want to get a biscuit?”
The sheriff lit another cigarette and sighed. “Did you recognize her, Bobby?”
“Yes, sir. That was Sarah Franks. Now that I’m thinking about it, ain’t no wonder she rose up like that.”
“She’s a witch, sheriff.”
Jones lowered the motor in the water and tugged on the cord. It sputtered to life.
“Bobby, that ain’t nothin but a religion. She ain’t got no magical powers. She just likes to wear all black and worship the moon. That’s all that is. She’s just one of the many fruitcakes livin down this way.”
Bobby stared at the sheriff. “Sheriff, I ain’t feelin too good.”
“Little wonder. I don’t reckon anyone would feel good after what just happened to you. You are lookin a little pale though.”
Jones frowned. Bobby was starting to look mighty white. He was shivering in the cold morning air.
“Take your pants off and wrap your coat around you. This weather’s going to give you pneumonia if you don’t watch out.”
“Sure,” Bobby said. He pulled his pants and drawers off and covered his lap with his coat. He put on his dry shirt and rubbed his hands. “Damn it’s cold. Colder than hell!”
Jones leaned over and picked up his thermos. “Have some coffee, Bobby. That’ll make you feel a bit better.”
The deputy nodded his head and reached for the cup the sheriff was pouring him. He took a sip and sighed.
“I always thought you put sugar in your coffee, Sheriff.”
“I did. But the doctor says I can’t no more. Them days are gone Bobby. The things you love most in life always leave you when you want them most.”
He lit another cigarette. “They say these days that everything gives you cancer. Nothin’s healthy no more, Bobby. Not even the water.”
Bobby closed his eyes.
There was no other noise but the hum of the motor and the waves slapping the boat as they cut through the murky river. The frosty breeze soothed Jones as he thought about his future. Did he want to run for reelection again? Maybe it was time to move on.
Bobby opened his eyes and a strange expression crossed his face.
“Did you know that Sarah girl?”
The sheriff flicked his butt overboard and lit another cigarette. He squint his eyes as a trail of smoke stung them.
“Not really, Bobby. I knowed her folks. They was pretty nice people. Kind of simple in their ways. I’m sure they would have been ashamed of her bein a wiccan.”
“You know, she had red hair like all the others. You think that’s his profile?”
“The killer’s? Maybe.” The sheriff frowned. “You know, Bobby, that last body we found, Sally Stewart, she had her hair dyed brunette. How’d you know she was a redhead?”
“I could just tell sheriff,” Bobby said, smiling. “You think the killer’s a local?”
“Hard to say, really.”
“Sheriff, why do you think the killer kills these women?”
“Don’t really know, Bobby.”
Jones had a gut feeling something wasn’t right. His deputy had never been a great thinker before.
“I think he kills them because he’s got a little dick!” Bobby shouted, spit flying from his mouth
“Maybe,” the sheriff replied, startled at the sudden outburst.
“You alright, Bobby? You seem tense.”
“I’m mighty fine sheriff. And why do you think he kills them with a military Kabar knife, huh? Do you think it’s a ritual?”
Jones couldn’t conceal the shock on his face. His hands shaking, he stared Bobby in the eyes and slowly reached for his .45 resting in its holster.
“Bobby, I didn’t release that information to anyone in my office or the public. Only me and the county coroner know how he kills his victims. How in the hell do you . . .”
Jones skinned his pistol and brought it to his deputy’s head.
Bobby was fast and slapped the barrel away. He grabbed the sheriff’s hand and twisted it until the gun fell with a thud at the bottom of the boat. He grabbed the weapon and tossed it overboard.
Jones watched in disbelief as Bobby leaned down and grabbed his wet pants off the ice chest. He put them on his lap and removed a folding knife.
“What you gonna do with that knife, Bobby?” Jones asked.
It was Bobby’s hazel eyes that examined him from Bobby’s round face. But it was the dead girl’s voice that replied to his question.
“Retribution,” Sarah Franks said.
“Bobby, why’re you talking like that? What the hell’s wrong with you?”
Sarah grinned and opened the knife. “Why did you kill me?”
“Damn it to hell,” the sheriff said. “Bobby, what’s wrong with you?”
“Do you like killing red heads? Is that why you cut me up?”
The sheriff sighed. “Shit fire. I didn’t kill you, bitch. The devil made me do it.”
Bobby raised the knife above his head and rocked the boat.