Thursday, 12 September 2013

The Riverboat Chapter 2


The Riverboat
Two
George had dropped by Clare's office with flowers and
chocolates only to be told she no longer worked there, that she had quit.
"When did this happened?" George asked.
"Five fifteen Monday after noon, to be exact I remember the
exact time because I was just about to leave for home when the phone rang and I debated if I should answer it or not," the moon-faced lady behind the desk informed him. “She phoned in and said she was quitting, to forward her papers to her address, that she would not be back in. She added that Clare was taking a long-deserved vacation and she had a better job with an adoption agency when she returned. “That's as near to her exact words as I can recall. Just what is your interest in her?," the lady asked.
"I thought I was a good friend of hers, I met her a few
times at coffee shops and this was going to be our first date. It just doesn't make sense, when I left her around three that afternoon she had agreed to meet me here today. Does that sound like some one that was going to quit her job?", George asked.
"Anything is possible. A lot of people do funny things on
impulse," the lady countered.
"OK, thank you for your time. Just one more thing: Did she
enter her last job report?"
"Come to think of it, no. Just a minute, yes, here it is. Her last job assignment was to check on the Everett kids. You're the fellow that was with her on that assignment, aren't you?"
"Yes, I am," George replied.
Well this is all I have of that report, the job description but no conclusion to the job report. Didn't she leave with you?" the lady asked.
"No she had to return to the river boat, she said she had
left her purse there. I offered to go back with her but she
insisted it was OK. I left after that."
George got in his truck and headed for Highway 20, back to where he had left Clare. He parked the truck around the
-21-
same place he had on that day. “Something just doesn't set right here,” he said to himself.
Climbing out of the truck, George walked to the end of the trail. At the river's edge the only trace of the river boat he could find was the churned up muddy bottom of the river where it had once sat. The roiled mud and silt from its
passage still smudged the river bottom, indicating it had gone in a northerly direction. He had one more place to check out to confirm his already forming suspicions.
At the Morganza precinct George gave the description of Clare's car, a red '93 Mustang, Louisianna licence plate EC3 X24 to the officer in-charge.
When George was alone on the road he would play a mental game of how many licence plate numbers he could memorize and how many makes of cars he could identify to pass the time. He had become quite astute at playing this game and it had come in handy in assisting the police on a few occasions.
A sergeant came back out of his office with a clip board.
"I believe you'll find the vehicle in question at the North
End Impound. It was towed away just this morning, It had been sitting at the same location on the side of the highway for two days. Twenty-four hours is the statutory limit" the sergeant informed him.
"I would like to report a possible abduction," George
announced. He then proceeded to report to the sergeant every
thing that he knew.
"You say indications are that the river boat went north?,"
the sergeant asked.
"Yes I do sir," George answered
"Would you happen to know the name of the owner of the riverboat?”
"No sir. All I know is that there were three children and
their mother living aboard but I suspect the mother was no longer with the children."
"Why do you suspect the mother is no longer with the
children?," the sergeant inquired.
"Because when ever I would go by there on the river to go
fishing farther up stream, all I saw was the two older children and on occasion I think the baby was by herself.
-22-
I haven't seen any adults there since the drunken husband left about four months ago."
"That would be Dan Everett," the Sergeant said.
"You know him?" George asked.
"We certainly do, a nasty man when he's drunk. He spends
more time in lock up than on the street, a bar room brawler is what he is. We have a list of misdemeanors on him longer than this room, but nothing serious enough to send him to the big house, but I'd lay a bet that some day he'll end up there. Haven't seen him for a while though," the sergeant informed George.
"How long will it take before you take action on this
missing persons report? Possibly two missing persons." George added.
"It could take anywhere from two days to a week. We have to
look at every possibility before we go public with something like this. Furthermore they could turn up any time while the investigation is taking place. At any rate we usually give four days for adults and twenty four hours for children from the time of report. You did say she told her superiors that she was going on a vacation?"
"Yes sir, but what about the car?" George asked
despondently.
"It could have broke down and she just never bothered to
return for it. We find abandoned vehicles on the highway all the time where the owners never come back for them."
"Thank you for your time sergeant, just one thing more
before I go, I'm also taking a vacation." George informed the sergeant.
"If your going after the river boat, just one word of
caution, If you see Dan Everett around, stay away from him and call us."
"Thanks, sergeant, George looked at his badge and added,
Duffy." George drove home and loaded his twenty four foot
Catamaran. Next he drove to his service station and asked Jim, his attendant, to take over and manage things for him for a few days, that he had other business out-of-state to attend to.
Dan Everett was on the run. He had killed his wife, Melanie, and had left her body lying on the floor in a puddle of blood in his cabin nearly four months ago.
-23-
He could not remember clearly what had happened. All he could remember was going to the river boat with the intention of making amends to Mel. Some thing had gone wrong and he remembered hitting her, that was all he could remember.
The next day he had awakened and found her on the floor dead. In a panic he had stolen some ones boat and in a drunken haze he had gone north on the Mississippi. At one point on his journey the distraction of constantly looking behind him for flashing red lights had almost brought about a disastrous end to his flight.
Looking ahead once more after such an occasion, he was forced to swerve sharply to the right to avoid a canoe that had appeared out of nowhere before him. There was a loud thud, the bow of the boat shot straight up and he found himself airborne. He had hit one of the many grassy mounds of sand that dotted the river. When the bow came down again he could see a dock before him on which sat a couple who were enjoying the evening, looking at the stars. The hull of his boat sailed mere inches over their heads. Barely clearing the side of the dock he hit the water on the other side in a spray that drenched both him and the couple.
For three days he had continued northward, only stopping
for gas and a new supply of Scotch whisky. On the last night he had run out of gas and rowed the last two miles to Helena, Mississippi. Finding the closest bar, he had gone on a binge and had picked a fight with one of the patrons. Two of the town's rough necks who served as the bar's bouncers had beaten him unconscious and thrown him in a trash bin at the back of the bar.
The next day he felt like the trash he laid in, He needed a
drink, but more urgently he needed the money to buy it. Using a service station washroom he cleaned himself as best he could and walked down to the marina where he had left his boat. Luck had it that he was able to obtain a job as a gas jockey. That night in a secluded cove, he filled the stolen boat with rocks, pulled the plug and watched it sink slowly below the muddy waters of the Mississippi.
He had a plan. He figured if he stayed sober and did his job
job well he would gain their confidence sufficiently so he could run about the place at will, allowing him to case the business for a later heist.
For five nights he sweated and shook violently. Delirium tremens nearly drove him insane during those nights in the aluminum shed that served as his quarters.
-24-
He needed a drink but he knew that if he did he would blow any chance of pulling off his planned caper.
When sleep finally did come it was filled with the night on the river boat. His fist came up hitting Mel squarely on
the right cheek. He would see her falling sideways and hitting her head on the corner of the counter with a dull wet smack, her limp body going to the floor and convulsing twice, then lying still - too still.
He knew even through his drunkenness that she was dead. He
had to get her out of there before the kids discovered it.
He picked her up and carried her, staggering all the way to the highway. Throwing her in the back of a pickup that he had borrowed, he slammed the tail gate shut then slid to the ground behind the truck, winded and crying. “Maybe she's not dead. I'll bring her home and she'll be alright in the morning. That's what I'll do.”
Dan dragged her into the cabin and dropped her on the floor not far from his cot where he would be able to keep an eye
on her. Going out again he drove the pick up down to the river's edge and cleaned all traces of any blood then returned it to the owner.
Back at the cabin he sat on the cot talking to Mel and
drinking until the bottle slid from his fingers and he fell over sideways in a dead weight and passed out.
In the morning he found her on the floor where he had left her. She hadn't moved. She was lying on her left side. All around her head was a pool of blood. Turning her over onto her back he discovered that she had a big gash on her left temple with blood and something else oozing out. He would wake up screaming, He could not get peace in sleep or
wakefulness.
Dan remained at the marina for four months. For four months he hadn't drank and felt much better, but the nightmares still haunted him. He thought that they would haunt him till the day he died. There had been no sign
of police investigations yet. Maybe they won't find her in that cabin up there in the woods. He had grown a beard just on the outside chance that someone might be looking for him. Every day he would go to Billy Cline's Bar not to have a drink, but to watch the news. Each day he came out of the bar a little more relieved.
“A week from tonight Danny, that will be the night for the
heist. With that festival in town the marina will close early and there won't be any one around except Ralph, the
-25-
night watchman." he assured himself aloud. “I'll slip him a mickey with a little added bonus and that will take care of that.”
He had watched Ralph on many a night taking his pleasure when he thought no one was watching, so Dan knew he liked his grog. He'd also have a pick of any boat he wanted for the getaway. “Where will I go? Maybe I'll go up to Minne- sota. The farther north the better.”
That night he dreamed the same dream except the end was different. In this dream he was still aboard the river boat when he discovered that Mel was dead. Ray, Sandy, and Natty stood staring at him.
"Get out of here you brats! You did this, not me. You killed
your mother!" He screamed at them, then lunged forward towards them. He stopped, something was happening, Hair grew on their faces and they grew in size like deformed apes. What used to be Ray, opened its mouth to reveal incisor teeth that could easily tear him apart. Ray walked slowly towards him saying, “I'm not afraid of you and you can't break my arm any more. You're not going to hurt any one ever again, father!" Dan backed into a wall. There was nowhere to go. He was cornered.
"Cornered like the rat you are, father," Ray Spoke as if he was reading his father's mind.
Sandy stood next to him saying, “I'll start with the torso you take the arms and legs.”
“Save the heart for me, I like heart!” Natty yelled. Dan sat up in bed in a cold sweat.
"Is it possible they may come after me for revenge?" Dan
asked himself. I wish I could leave now, this place gives me the creeps! It's still to close to home,” Dan said, shivering from the cold - or was it from his sickened conscience? “How could I have sank so low on the scale of life? I once had a loving wife and two beautiful children, a good job and good friends. How could this happen to me? Now I have nothing and I've killed my wife. Nothing matters any more except to survive at any cost and drink
myself into oblivion where there are no dreams. What kind of
monsters have I made of my children, that they have begun to
haunt my dreams?” Dan curled up in the fetal position and pulled the covers over him, wishing for the oblivion he knew alcohol would bring him.
George cruised into a marina at Vicksburg, Mississippi, as the light of dawn had just begun to creep over the trees
-26-
that lined the river. He was weary from the long journey through the night. He needed fuel and some thing to eat. Maybe he would stop for rest up-river a little further but for now he could not afford the luxury.
George gave the best description he could of Clare and the three children to the attendant at the pumps. The attendant shook his head, indicating ignorance of any knowledge
of the persons he described. George jumped onto the catamaran and pushed away from the dock, no further enlightened than when he had left Morganza, Louisiana. They apparently had not stopped any where along the way not even for fuel, he thought.
George tried to think of all the alternatives. There was always the possibility that they may have taken any one of the tributary rivers but he did not think so. If someone was running away from somewhere in the south on the Mississippi they would more likely go to the north as far and as directly as they could go, or from the north it would be straight to the south. He had one advantage over the riverboat: He could raise sail and go indefinitely
without fuel. They could not. Sooner or later they would have to put into port and refuel. He hoped it would be sooner. His only disadvantage is that he had to sleep. The two teens aboard the river boat could take alternate shifts.
On this day he had been lucky and had his catamaran towed up river by a passing barge while he caught up on a little sleep on the deck behind the helm.
"This is it mister! That's as far as I go," a voice from the
barge brought him out of his sleep. Sitting up he saw the captain of the barge throwing down his tow rope.
"Good luck mister, I hope you find those people."
"Thanks," George answered sleepily.
The barge turned into a tributary and disappeared around a peninsula. George stretched and looked around to see where he was. Coming around a wide bend in the river he discovered that he was at a place called Natchez, Mississippi, nearly a hundred miles from his departure.
He had covered a good forty miles while he slept.
"That should give me a bit of a jump, he thought, raising
the sails. There was a warm wind blowing and he sailed smoothly through the choppy river. For mid-April the air was warm, but he knew it wouldn't last. There would be cooler temperatures and rain ahead further north.
-27-
George erected a lean to of poles and canvas over the helm and controls of the catamaran to keep him dry when the rains came.
Anchoring offshore he went below deck in one of the hulls he used as the galley to eat and to study the assortment of maps he had kept for just such an occasion as this. He had always wanted to take a long voyage on his prized vessel.
It had taken him years to build his “cat boat” from scratch. Now that his dream had been completed he had never found the time or had procrastinated on his venture out with it. If they were covering around sixty miles a day and they had a two day jump over him, he roughly calculated that this would place them around Clarksdale, Mississippi. Seventy some miles up further than he was. If he sailed through the whole night he hoped he would gain on them. They would have to stop some time, he reasoned.
Being as far up the river as they were he hoped they would start to feel a little safer from pursuit and would start relaxing their steady flight northward. They would want to stop for food and maybe a little entertainment. “My immed- iate concern is, what have they done with Clare?”
He thought back to what he had learned of the children. What he had noted from a distance is that they didn't appear like the violent or druggy type. They were protect-ive of the baby and acted no different from other children their age. He had even seen them on several occasions playing with the baby, along the bank of the river, gay laughter drifting his way. The girl would sometimes sing to the baby; the baby would respond with giggles and much hand clapping. These children seemed closely knit if anything.
“No I don't think that Clare is in any immediate danger,” George thought. “What worries me is what the sergeant said.” the words came back to him loud and clear: “If you see Dan Everett stay away from him! He is dangerous.”
What if Dan decided to come looking for the children? That would place Clare in danger. He had this gut feeling and so had the sergeant, that Everett would cross trails with them. He had to get to them before Everett did.
"Why are you fretting yourself over this woman you hardly
know?," a little voice inside his head seemed to ask him. “Maybe I'm not just doing it for the woman anymore. After watching those children from a distance for the last two years, I've come to know them in some ways and I come to think of them as my river friends. I don't particularly want to see that drunken animal catch up to them. I called
-28-